It was dark, and the helicopter pilot guided them by instruments alone. They headed towards a fire. It went out before they reached it, but the army truck stood out.
No humanoids or amorphous terrors were in sight. Kosik ordered the pilot to circle the area. He turned on a beautifully dazzling halogen spotlight. It lit up a succession of bad news. Chunks of flesh scattered on the ground. Burned craters where explosions had taken place. Discarded rifles. Shredded army uniforms.
They made sure the Omega was nowhere near, then landed. Kosik got out, wary. Tam followed. The whine of the rotors made Tam’s ears ring. Rand stayed behind with the pilot.
The bloodstained uniforms confirmed that Sergeant Miller’s men, Ramraid and Hardwire, had been devoured by Omega Rex. Tam saw something in her peripheral vision and spun round. Somebody was standing in the rear door of the truck. It was Zelinski. But only barely.
He was covered from head to foot in congealed blood. He looked fitfully between Tam and the helicopter, which seemed to alarm him. It was winding down anyway. Tam walked over to Zelinski. He refused to come any closer. “Hey,” she said. He didn’t answer. She climbed into the truck and looked at his face.
He looked like he had been bitten hundreds of times by somebody with only one tooth. He smelled of vomit and rotten flesh. Tam realised with a massive surge of horror and disgust that he had been inside the Blob. It must have attacked him, but changed its mind about ripping him up and digesting him for some reason. His eyes were glazed. He was in deep shock and quite possibly insane.
“Come on,” said Tam.
“Don’t touch him!” Kosik screeched. She looked at Tam like she had just staggered home drunk. “Are you insane? He’s covered in Ep Rex bacteria. He can’t come with us. There’s no way, I’m sorry.”
Tam tried to imagine herself staying here with him for the rest of the night. She couldn’t. There was a crackle from inside the truck. It was Miller, calling on the radio. Tam ran to get it. Kosik shouted, “Be careful what you touch!”
Tam picked up a radio headset, pushed a button and hoped for the best. “Miller?”
After a pause, the voice said, “Is that Tamara, over?”
“Yes, yes!” said Tam. “Listen, Miller. I’m sorry, but your men were… taken. Caught. By Omega Rex. Zelinski’s still alive but he’s out of his mind. And looks infectious.”
Another pause. She sensed the gravity in his voice as Miller said, “Keep away from him. Tell him to stay put. We have a GPS signal on the truck, we’re on the way.”
She couldn’t believe she was doing it, but she had to leave him. Kosik was not going to stay, and Tam was safer in the chopper. She told Kosik to give her a minute, the found the First Aid Kit. Luckily, it had a bottle of iodine in it. She held it up to Zelinski’s frightened face. “Take your clothes off,” she said. “Clean yourself with this. There’s swabs and cotton in there. Clean yourself. Miller’s on the way. Stay right here and you’ll be fine. Understand?” Zelinski nodded. That surprised her.
She got out of the truck. The helicopter revved up. Zelinski said something. She went back to him. “What?”
“Did you ever think what it’s like to be a worm?” Zelinski said. Tam stared at him. His eyes seemed apologetic, like he had no idea why he’d just said that. She was choked with pity and guilt.
“Good luck,” she said, and left him.
They took off and scanned the area for signs of the Omega’s direction. There was a flat trail in the grass. Tamara couldn’t bring herself to tell Rand what she’d just witnessed, but Kosik brought him up to speed. He nodded, indifferent. It felt like everyone was broken. Even if they won, surely Epsilon Rex had beaten them if it torpedoed their hearts and minds.
They caught up with the Blob a mile away. They extrapolated its course, much as Miller had done before, and found a road it was due to cross. They were near some tiny one-horse town. If they were lucky there’d be a filling station and some brave souls. They landed in a field. She and Kosik went to check the surroundings.
Three figures were standing outside under brown-coloured street light. None of them moved. They were in conversation. Which made them human. Tam relaxed for a split second. Then Kosik grabbed her arm. “Slow down,” she said.
Paranoid. Tam stopped anyway. No point being reckless. Kosik shouted, “Hello!”
The three silhouettes looked at them but did nothing. They were just standing. Tam got goosebumps. They were about fifty yards away. The Helicopter’s engine slowed. The men were carrying on their conversation. With less background noise, Tam could hear it.
“Sunny summer perfect wealthy sex profit purest winner,” one of them said.
“Future security family Disney major major,” said the next.
Tam and Kosik backed away slowly.