Tam’s heart was pounding and her mind was screaming wrong more than any other time in the last week, if that was possible. “What’s going on with them?” she said. She and Kosik walked slowly back to the helicopter and the Wrecks, or whatever they were, didn’t follow. They seemed half-human. In Tam’s mind it was a far worse threat than straight-up zombies. At least those guys you could quickly identify, and justify setting on fire without a shred of doubt.

From previous examples I’d guess they are evolved,” said Kosik. Her face was scrunched up. Tam thought she might be mid-fifties. Her iron-streaked hair was designed to take care of itself. Her face was lined more by concentration than emotion.

You mean they’ve been through the Cause?” said Tam. “But they’re not exactly… Super-Wreck.”

As I may have said before,” said Kosik, “the evolution of Ep Rex into Omega Rex doesn’t always result in an improvement. Ep Rex can only speculate on what might make it function better. Then it undergoes a transformation.”

There was a dark figure coming onto the road ahead of them. Tam and Kosik both gasped and crouched down, ready to run, jump, sprint or anything else they could manage.

Easy,” said the shadow. It was Rand. Jesus Christ.

Kosik asked him what he was doing out of the helicopter. Rand hadn’t been very active as his infection progressed. “Something weird about those Wrecks,” he said. “I want to see closer.”

It seemed less than safe, but he was protected by the smell of Ep rex emanating from his pores. Kosik allowed it. Rand walked slowly towards the three men, who were now a hundred yards away. The single streetlight made deep silhouettes of both him and the Wrecks. It was like a scene from a war film where Rand was the Allied hero sneaking up on three Nazi guards.

He stood still halfway between them. Then he waved come here to Kozik and Tam. Unlikely. They looked at each other. Tam sighed. Kosik shook her head and shrugged. Hopefully he knew what he was doing.

The three Wrecks didn’t move as they approached but they were still muttering. “Something special,” said one. “Drink smoke,” said another. It sounded like a stream of consciousness thing. But they only used vague, cheerful words.

Rand was utterly fascinated. He had re-acquired some of his youthful enthusiasm. “They’re completely reprogrammed,” he said. “I can see what they’re trying to do by their… aura. They’re telling me to do the same.

It’s a new strategy. They use words plucked from the host’s brain that imply calm, comfort, wellbeing. And keep their movements neutral. These Wrecks think they can draw their prey towards them instead of chasing it down. There’s a range, a sort of personal space. If you close within that range, they’ll attack. Outside it, they’ll just keep up the happy pretense.”

The helicopter’s engine sound increased in pitch. It was gearing up to take off. They couldn’t see it, since they had landed in a field which was off in the night-time gloom somewhere. Still, all three of them looked that direction before deciding it would be wise to run back.

He hadn’t left without them, but the pilot got an earful when they were back on board. “I thought I saw something to the southwest,” he said. The tall grass obscured their view. He lifted off. He wheeled round and switched on the floodlight. The Omega Blob was already in the same field, closing on them. It had made good time.

They retreated to a high altitude. Kosik explained to Rand what she thought had happened to make these Wrecks so chirpy. The Omega rolled through the field and onto the road like a hive of a billion insects moving as one. It went straight for the evolved Wrecks.

It was hard to imagine that they had both been through the same process. Caleb’s Omega was a physical demon, the worst kind of horror imaginable. Half a ton of rotting human flesh, bones and organs somehow moving along like a worm. The other Wrecks, apparently Omegas also, were just like zombies who were lazy about acting the part.

The Blob paused for a moment near the three Lazy Wrecks. Then it struck out with unbelievable speed, completely covering one of them in a heartbeat. All on board the chopper made some involuntary sound.

The Lazy Wrecks circled the Blob. Foolishly, they attacked it. With their favourite weapons, their teeth and claws. They succeeded in tearing one or two small pieces from it before the Blob loomed over them one by one and overwhelmed them in a wave of flesh. Tam saw half-stripped skeletons floating to the surface, then disappearing. She wondered how Zelinski had got away with it.