Charlie Echo Two-Five had no medicine and no shrinks. Hospitals were not accepting Infected. They’d been ravaged to bloody stumps by an explosive increase in the number of zombie patients. Caleb was gone, and Tam was infected. The Adlea in her system would keep her going until it ran out, then she was on the slippery slope to Rotting Fiend.
Tam had never felt so lonely. She drifted into a morbid daydream where she imagined herself dead, buried in a shallow grave. It was comforting. But these were the meanderings of a disillusioned teenager. She tried to snap out of it.
Miller talked to Giulianova over cold coffee. Zelinski was too busy being shellshocked to join in. The café was how she imagined Israel when Hamas were launching rockets: preppy people stressing out as they drank coffee while anticipating explosions.
Tam’s belly felt tight after the coffee. Or was that Epsilon Rex at work? It started in the digestive system, after all. She shivered at the deathwish fantasy she had indulged. Maybe that was Ep Rex too. Caleb’s mind had been influenced by the lifeform that was taking over his body.
The images in her head matched up, just like a jigsaw puzzle. “It wants to be buried,” she said. Miller looked at her, concerned. “I can feel it. It wants to go in the ground.”
The Sergeant looked at her, then at his sidekick. Then he grinned. “We’ve got jack shit else to go on right now,” he said.
It was worth trying. Though it would look pretty stupid. They took the Humvee out of Rounlin, heading for Varsity. They were looking for Wrecks.
There were plenty of dead ones. They were all either burned or bloodied. They might have died on their feet, or been burned after they fell for some other reason. There was an army patrol of six men with flamethrowers walking down the wide, straight road.
“We’d be better off away from towns,” said Miller. He turned south.
They drove a mile, surrounded by square fields of a hundred different colours. The sun was fresh, bright and clear.
“There,” said Giulianova. He pointed at something in a meadow to their right.
A dozen Wrecks had already dug holes for themselves and were now lying inert. Four more were active nearby. They were digging. Slowly, as if this was not a mission but a hobby.
Miller gave Tam a shovel with a two-foot handle. She had to do this herself.
She walked into the field. The Wrecks spotted her. They came towards her. That wasn’t supposed to happen. She was Infected. They should leave her alone. She stopped dead. She reasoned her way out of a panic attack. What was the worst that could happen? She might get her face bitten off before the cavalry could get to her. But she was already dead, bar the shouting.
The Wreck was a tall dude with black, shoulder-length locks tangled in knots. He wore a shirt and tie. He was bandaged and covered in blood. His face was like an oversized plum. He stopped two feet from her and stared. The stench of ammonia and shit. Another Wreck, this one a kid. T-shirt and jeans. They both stared. Tam kept still. Her heart refused to beat faster.
The first Wreck turned and walked back to his project. Then the second did the same. Tam sighed deeply. She looked over her shoulder. Miller and Giulianova were still in the Humvee, but she could just about see the barrel of a rifle pointed in her direction.
She dig a hole in the earth. The roots of the wild grass were tough. But beneath that, the earth was incredibly soft. This was a good spot, just right for Zelinski’s mychorrizae. The other Wrecks seemed to think so.
She dug a second hole. Then she waved to the Humvee. She took off her shoes and socks. Her bandages looked clean. But when she removed them, they stuck where the blood had hardened. Her feet started bleeding again. She decided that was a good thing.
Miller arrived, sneaking through the long grass. He was dragging the pliant Zelinski. Tam shrugged and put her feet in the ground. She swept soil over them. That bit probably wasn’t necessary.
Miller whispered “Get down,” to Zelinski. The doctor looked at Tam with a surreal combination of amusement and starstruck awe. He lay on his belly. Tam peeled off some of the Band-Aids on his hands. Zelinski voluntarily reached into the earth. He acted like it was the last step before Nirvana. Miller pushed some dirt on top, burying Zelinski’s hands.
How long did they need to wait? How would they know? Tam and Miller discussed it in whispers as she sat on the edge of her little trench. The tall grasses blocked their view. Then, a gunshot rapped. Giulianova wasn’t taking chances.
“Go back,” said Tam. “We’re safe.”
“Two hours, tops,” said Miller.
“That’s about all I’ll be able to take,” said Tam.