Miller and Giulianova went offroad, rumbling through a field of stubble. They threw up dust and dirt but the Humvee was able for rough ground. They passed the Omega, its zombie bodyguards and the Payload. Then they got back on the road and spun to a stop.

The Wrecks were quicker on their feet than the Blob of Omega Rex. They followed the attacking humans. Miller and Giulianova, indistinct stick-figures in the setting sun, got out of the Humvee and started taking shots with their rifles. From the helicopter it looked like they were trying to light cigarettes with lighters that weren’t working properly.

It wasn’t easy to put down an Ep Rex victim completely. But maybe that wasn’t what Miller had in mind. Crippled Wrecks hit the ground but kept crawling. The soldiers backed up and fired more rounds. The injured Wrecks gave up and lay still. Miller had put them down in close proximity to the bomb. There were more Wrecks but it was getting dangerous out there. Timing was also an issue. Suddenly, the two men were back in the Humvee and it made a hasty escape. Sure enough, the Omega slowly closed in to hoover up the food lying around.

Ingrid Kosik ordered her pilot to retreat from the blast. They caught up with the Humvee half a kilometer away. Miller and Giulianova were out on the roof, watching through binoculars. Behind them, the Omega was still just visible.

Miller detonated the Payload. There were two things Tam hadn’t realised. Firstly, the sun was gone down and it was getting rapidly dark. Second, the Payload was not just a bomb, but an incendiary device. It lit up with a canary-yellow flash that turned into an expanding doughnut of flame and everybody in the chopper was briefly blinded. When they could see again there was a neat little mushroom cloud over the scene. A circle about two hundred metres wide was scorched black. Its edges were burning. A corona, just like a solar eclipse.

At some point it had occurred to Tam that an explosion would just blow the Omega into a thousand pieces that were potentially still alive. At the very least, the bigger parts of it could survive. But the military knew what they were doing on this score. Epsilon Rex was vulnerable to fire. That beast was dead.

With it, Caleb was gone for good. Then Tam remembered that the Omega had split in two, like a bacterium multiplying. She shouted, “There’s another one like this.”

Kosik’s voice crackled in her headphones. “Where?”

Tam didn’t know. She looked at Rand. He studied their surroundings with his one eyes and gestured to the east. Zelinski would be there, studying it. Tam wondered if he was still alive.

They saw Miller and Giulianova below, waving at the them. Tam waved back. But they couldn’t possibly see her. Then the helicopter veered to the side like a rollercoaster and accelerated eastward.

Rand told Kosik everything he knew about Omega Rex. The METMA senior seemed pleased with the report. She even nodded a couple of times as if she had been expecting parts of it. Then Rand brazenly asked her, “What’s the situation nationally? Winning, losing? Rigging the game?” Maybe he felt brave after giving a concise and accurate briefing. Or aching curiosity got the better of him. Either way, she answered.

Oh, we’re winning. It’s a mop-up. The campaign moved out from the major cities when Headquarters saw that they weren’t the best target for Epsilon Rex. Easily suppressed. The risk has been rural areas.”

I thought so,” said Rand. Listening to them on headphones was like hearing an old radio play.

Kosik went on. “This thing you describe, the Cause, has been happening all over. Ep Rex feels the need to transform itself like a caterpillar. The curious part from METMA’s point of view is that each Cause bears different fruit. We’ve seen things far more dangerous, mysterious and in some cases downright ridiculous than your flesh-piles.”

Are we really going to be okay?” said Tam. It seemed too good to be true, and yet neither Rand nor Kosik focused on its implications. The matriarch looked at Tam briefly, then thought of something and spoke to Rand again and Tam didn’t exist.

I wouldn’t have put a dollar on us in the beginning,” she said. “But Epsilon Rex is flawed. It’s getting it wrong. The behaviour of Wrecks changes after a transformation. When they meet other Omegas and Wrecks, they have different prerogatives. They’re getting confused. They’re fighting each other.”

Holy shit,” said Rand. He fell back in his seat and stared out the window at the dusk. Then he started to laugh softly. Tam joined in. They were happy for different reasons, but she didn’t care. At least they were laughing. Kosik didn’t laugh, but she looked smug about being the messenger.