The damage to the Omega was significant, and Tam assumed, maybe stupidly, that it must be in shock after the experience of being set on fire. So she didn’t run instantly. She took a deep breath, which was also a mistake. There was a burning mass of minced human flesh just a few feet away from her. She choked on the smell, a combination of rotting corpses and burning rubber. Nobody could like that smell. Tam gagged. She turned and retched.

Her movement seemed to shake the Omega from whatever mood it was in. She sensed it moving, and fast. She started running. She turned her head briefly to see what her chances were. Disappointingly, her chances were between slim and none. The Blob was actually pursuing her, and it had morphed into the shape of an actual wave of flesh for the purpose of doing so. Somehow, this made it faster. The sprinting Blob was catching up with her. The crew of retirees standing halfway down the street were shaken by the sight of the Blob coming towards them.

Something slapped her foot, like a pie thrown badly at a food fight. She didn’t want to look behind.

She didn’t have to. The Omega was faster than her. It caught her trailing leg and tripped her. She went sprawling in the grass.

Tam had time to wonder how she’d gotten herself in this situation. Once again, she hadn’t thought things through. She stuck around when it was too dangerous, when any sensible person like a soldier or a horror movie fanatic would split the scene. And that stupid mistake was going to cost her.

She was lying face down, and the Blob quickly spread over her legs. She was right about one thing: it was strangely hot. It was also wet, and sluglike, and full of rough pellets of bone. She thrashed and tried to drag herself free but there was no way out. Its hold on her legs was like quicksand. She felt her shoes and then the legs of her trousers get picked to pieces by thousands of teeth. It occurred to her that this was going to be almost exactly like being eaten by piranhas.

She mentally cried out to Caleb. Part of him was still in there somewhere. She didn’t have anything else to work with. She wasn’t the praying type.

The Blob lunged up over her thighs as it got to work on her feet. All parts of it were autonomous and linked to the whole Omega at the same time. In another time and place she might marvel at the brilliance of it.

The Blob was running up her legs just like a rapist who knows his victim is utterly in his power. Her feet were being eaten. The pain was bad, but the sensation of having her flesh picked off was worse.

Then it stopped. The pain in her feet surged. The flesh flowed over the parts of her that were now raw. Was it playing with her? Unlikely. She thought about Zelinski. Somehow, he had not been tasty enough for Omega Rex. He had been juiced up with some medicine whose active ingredient was chilli. It was his own idea.

Zelinski had spiked Tam with the same injection. She didn’t know how long it might last, though Zelinski hadn’t offered her another injection at any stage.

Suddenly there was a murderous roar which was somehow infused with confusion and weakness. Somebody was attacking the Blob. Tam managed to twist her head. Seeing her own legs inside the creature was almost too much to bear. But right on top of it was Rand, of all people. He had forcefully shoved something deep into the Blob’s flesh as if he was force-feeding it.

Tam screamed, “Bill, no!” But it was far too late for that kind of argument. The Omega had a human being on top of it, and the Omega liked eating people. It folded itself over Rand’s head and upper body like a loaf of bread kneading itself. Tam had time to see Rand look at her. He might have opened his mouth to say something. But he was swallowed first.

Her legs were freed. Omega Rex didn’t want her, and it had a distraction now. Something told Tam that Rand was not crazy enough to run over here and just punch this thing with his bare fist. She got up and ran. It felt like running on hot coals but, for the moment at least, she was on grass.

Whatever else happened, she was probably infected now. The chilli might slow the progress of the infection but she was one of them in that instant. A Wreck. A zombie. Her fate was sealed.