The Omega retreated towards the monumental landmark. It was three stories with roman columns, arched windows, a glass dome and statues at the corners of the buttresses. The streetlights threw a splash of yellow over everything. People retreated from the building. They jogged across the lawn in all directions and disappeared. Tam and Rand slowly edged closer, though she had no clue what the next stage of the grand plan might be.

The street was made up of restaurants and stores, strangely broken up at regular intervals with terraces of homes. It might have been a clean and homely place, if a bit eerie, before unidentified bloodstains and scorch marks appeared everywhere.

Somebody became visible in a doorway, watching the action. Tam stopped to study him. But he turned and saw her before she thought to hide properly. The man jumped in fright and rounded on her with some kind of flamethrower. He was too far away to harm them. They looked at each other in a short stand-off.

Human,” said Tam. But Wrecks were talking now. She had to make more sense. She waved at him and stepped out into the light. “Hi, my name’s Tamara. I’m not a Wreck, I promise.”

The guy answered in a tone that was gravelly but full of humour. “Well shit on me, where the heck did you come from?”

Did you see the helicopter?” said Tam.

Oh, yeah,” said the jocular goatee. “Thought we were in for a rescue.”

She and Rand went to introduce themselves. She checked the shadows for Wrecks. So did her new companion. He was in his fifties, with a long wrinkled face and amazing goatee that was six inches long and cut square at the end. Tam took in his rig. Looked like an arc welder, complete with a tank of oxygen on his back. The business end was extended by two feet of aluminium piping stitched to the nozzle with Duck tape.

Rand apologised for METMA’s behaviour. The guy brushed it off. “Listen, we can talk all night once we fight our way out of this fresh hell,” he said.

That’s an Omega Rex,” Tam said.

What in blazes?” said the veteran. “Some kind of tag team thing now?” The term Omega Rex, and what it implied, were completely new to him. Tam tried to keep it short. The Blob was, after all, still on the prowl just a few hundred yards away.

It’s Wrecks that have torn themselves up,” said Tam. “It’ll grab you and swallow you whole if it can. It can be harmed the same way as ever.”

The guy’s eyebrows raised and he looked Tam up and down. “Oh, you’re the expert,” he said. “I’ve just got to get you to Forward.”

He led them towards the Museum, or whatever it was, but diverted to the left between two buildings. The whole town was laid out in an absurdly spacious manner, like an old western town that was built with a whole lot of money. They stalked to the shadow of a pickup. They checked the surroundings. They moved again, quickly, to the next cover. It was an assured advance.

They approached a huge square structure that was hard to define. They came to a pair of a glass doors. It was a gym or sports centre. As they approached, two shadows said “One-two-three,” and Goatee Veteran said, “Four-five-six.” There were two men guarding the door. They greeted Goatee by name. His name was Clement.

Through a Reception area, into a basketball court. Holy shit. It smelled of war. And the floor was blackened, in some cases collapsed or blown up. There were pieces of clothing and debris everywhere. A sandbag outpost stood either side of the door at the other end. Clement went straight through the door.

They went up a stairway, through a narrow corridor fashioned from filing cabinets. The hall lights were blinkered to only shed light straight down. Through another door, into a kitchen. There, a tiny army worked on explosives made from bleach, sulphur, iron filings, aluminium, and bottles of all kinds of shit from a school chemistry room. It stank like Hell’s stables. Half a dozen people put militaristic pride into pouring their prized chemicals into pipettes, funnels, scales and wads of aluminium foil. They greeted the newcomers with a surreal round of loud and friendly “Howdys”. Tam noticed that most of them, or more accurately all of them, seemed to be retirement age plus.

There was a breakfast counter and a partition. Behind it sat a narrow, bald man with an old roadie t-shirt. His eyes were hooded. He shook his head sombrely as he heard something whispered by a messenger in a leather jacket.

If it’s about that pile of horseshit,” Clement interrupted, “I’ve got the news desk right here.” He pointed at Tam, who felt a bit sheepish.

Well, thank you, Lord,” said the bald man, His expression turned radiant. “I was about to have a heart attack.”