Clement’s thrashing was a nasty thing to watch. Arms and legs jerked like a puppet. But in there, under the sheet of flames, was a real man with his flesh being flayed off in layers.
The Omega was dying too. It was hard to distinguish which part of the burning form was Clement, and which was Epsilon Rex zombie Blob. The fire was hot and loud. The cordon of volunteers retreated. Their eyes glowed with despair and horror.
Tam couldn’t get a break. She was just thinking that her ordeal was finally over when a flaming comet catapulted from the flames. Clement was dead, but the Blob still had some fight in it. Glowing charcoal pieces fell off it as it sailed in a fiery arc. More sparks were shorn away when it hit the ground. The posse gasped and started babbling. Mayer’s voice rose above them.
“Close in on it!” he yelled. “Move!” The more agile veterans managed to get to the spot about ten seconds after the Blob had hit. But there was no sign of them attacking anything. Tam couldn’t move. Her feet were spiking agony.
“What’s happening?” she said to anybody who might hear. There were shouts from another direction. The Omega had distracted everyone from what had previously occupied all of their attention: the Wrecks still shambling around. A group of them had almost sneaked up on the scene. More members of the posse split from the action to take them on.
Then someone shouted, “Oh, God!” and pointed upwards as if UFOs were arriving to steal the show. Tam craned her neck to see. Smoke billowed from one of the upper floor windows of the museum. Everyone still standing around was galvanised and went straight in the door to tackle it before it took hold on their most precious building. Tam was left on her own to watch Clement burn.
After a while the Wreck-hunting team came back. They had been successful. A fire extinguisher appeared and Clement was freed from the bars of fire that held him. But honestly, the fire had almost burned out on its own. Only a black skeleton and two ruptured tanks were left. The Omega hunters came back too. Rapid chatter informed Tam that they couldn’t find the Blob. There was so much burned meat left behind, nobody could imagine how it was still moving.
Tam was carried, by some fit pensioners, back to the headquarters. The place Clement had called Forward. They placed her tenderly on a foldout bed. When her head hit the pillow, she was instantly swallowed by painful and chaotic dreams.
It wasn’t long before Mayer’s nephew shook her awake. “Somebody’s asking for you,” he said. Caleb’s face flashed into her mind. Who else would be asking for her? His face. Thick-looking, dense with black beard. Searching, caring eyes.
Her feet had been bandaged while she slept. When she sat up there was a large woman with chalk-white hair looking down at her. She gave Tam a couple of painkillers with a glass of water. Tam wondered if she could take painkillers while infected. It suddenly came back to her: she’d been bitten repeatedly by Epsilon Rex. Omega Rex, actually. Would she turn into the old-school Wreck or a Blob-ambitious Omega?
They had brought a wheelchair. She had to get out of it to climb downstairs but the pain wasn’t as bad as she expected. Outside, she saw Mayer talking avidly to some soldiers while a towering Humvee blocked the street.
“Miller,” said Tam.
Sergeant Miller looked as good as new, though it was hard to imagine he’d had any sleep since they last met. He nodded to her politely and waved at the Humvee. “Get inside,” he said. “Get yourself a shot.” He returned to his conversation with Mayer.
Tam went round the back of the Humvee. Zelinski was inside. His hands, neck and face were streaked with medical gauze. It was wrapped around him in uneven loops. He was wearing a camouflage uniform, anonymous because it lacked insignia and badges. He sat still on a bench with his eyes closed.
Giulianova saw Tam and smiled. He was sitting in the front seat. He nudged Zelinski. The doctor did nothing. Tam climbed in slowly. Zelinski frowned as if he didn’t want to be disturbed. “Hey,” said Giulianova. “Give her a shot. An injection. The medicine. Doctor. Do it.”
Zelinski took a deep breath and opened his eyes a fraction. He reached for something. He found a syringe and a bottle of Adlea, the speculative chilli-based drug. Tam sat opposite him. He grabbed her arm and tried to inject her before she had rolled up her sleeve. She stopped him and did that bit for him. The needle pinched her, and it was done. She finally caught his eye. He showed no sign of recognising her. His eyes were utterly glazed, robotic. There was a split-second connection between them. Then he took a ragged breath and closed his eyes again. He clenched his teeth. Tears poured down his face. His mind was damaged. Badly.