108 – Look Who’s Talking

Tam staggered into a high-ceilinged room. She tried the light switch but nothing happened. Unreadable historical articles lined the walls. There was a high glass case isolated in the centre of the room. It was maybe ten feet high and six wide and had some uniformed dummies inside. It was all glass except for a wooden lid with an ornate rail. Tam dragged a stand full of leaflets to the edge of the exhibit. She climbed the stand pretty nimbly. She grabbed the lip of the glass case and started to pull herself up. But then, the Blob would be able to climb half the height of the case if she left the stand there. She had to go back down, turn it round, climb it again and kick it over as she pulled herself up on top. And all this in near-darkness. It was a farce. And noisy.

The top of the case was dusty as hell. But it looked a long way down. She caught her breath and waited. Waited for what? She realised that her best hope was the platoon of old-aged arsonists. She should just keep quiet and wait for their Deus Ex Machina arrival. There were some noises in the distance. With luck they were as good at searching large, unlit buildings as they were at taking on Epsilon Rex in the open.

A strange hiss came from somewhere in the room. Then a kind of bleating, farting sound. Then a voice that made Tam shiver instantly. It was the most sleazy, creepy thing she had ever heard. It sounded like a stalker with a speech impediment. It said, “It’s okay.” But drawing out the ‘s’ sound and pronouncing the ‘k’ with a click that made it more like a ‘t’. “Eet-ss ohk-taay…” The same unlikely announcement was repeated.

There was a shadow coming in under the door, black as the Grim Reaper. Tam heard the voice again and realised that it was the Omega talking to her. She found it hard to breathe. This was a massive strain on her sanity. She really did not know what was going on any more. Was it intelligent? Could it communicate with her? Was part of Caleb still in there somewhere? She tried to reason it out. To keep a cool head. It wasn’t easy. Part of her was screaming.

The Blob circled the cabinet. It seemed to smell out her blood, but whether it knew her current whereabouts was unsure. Tam gritted her teeth like a vice.

The Omega spoke again. It only had one word this time, as if it was a toddler struggling with philosophical concepts. “Dreams,” it said.

Her mind and body experienced a short-circuit and she gasped, painfully and loud. The Blob heard her, she was sure of it. She started talking to it wildly.

What do you want? Get away from me. You’re never gonna get me, you hear? I’ll fucking blow myself up before I let you. You’re nothing. Go back where you came from. We’re all better than you.”

I… love… you,” said the Omega.

Tam screamed at the thing to shut up. She started crying and shaking at the same time.

I’m… all… right,” the Blob said sadly. It was at the foot of the case and black fingers were searching the glass for something to hold on to. It slithered up the case until it collapsed under its own weight with a slap. Tam looked for something to throw at it. There wasn’t anything. She cried on, while part of her mind thought of jumping off the opposite side of the case. But her feet were traumatised and swollen and she had seen the Blob move short distances fast when it needed to.

Apparently stymied for now, the Blob paused to chat. “Circus,” is said. She was reminded of Peter Lorre, the black-and-white movie actor. Omega Rex sounded like him.

Voices outside. A slice of light under the door. It opened. The Blob pulled back from the case. Clement was in the doorway. He waved a lapping tongue of flame in front of him.

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” he said, “I will fear no evil.” He was not being ironic. He marched forward stiffly and gave a blast from his home-made flamethrower. It was not crafted well enough to be powerful. But the dull fire lashed the Omega like a whip. The reaction was impressive. It convulsed like someone pulling a disgusted face, then more or less threw itself in the opposite direction. It was gone in seconds.

The old guy didn’t seem to even know Tam was in the room, until she gave herself away with a series of sobs that were startling and comical, like cats escaping from a bag.

Come down from there,” said Clement. “I’ve got you in line for medals. Posthumous isn’t the same.”


107 – Bloody Footprints

Caleb couldn’t think straight. He was a shadow of his former self. He was slower, weaker. Fire. Constant attacks from unpredictable sources. He had been worn away, like a warrior stripped of his weapons and armour. He didn’t occupy the physical area he would like, not any more. He was, in fact, almost crippled.

The fibres of his host body were overworked. And his aura seemed thin. He could barely feel the world around him.

There were no Wrecks helping him connect with the world. The only Wrecks he had come across recently were mysterious enemies, brainwashed by some different programming. They were only fuel now, where he could find them.

He needed to eat. Eat and grow. He guessed the mass of three human beings should do it, for a start. There was fire around him. But also a fresh trail. Blood on the ground. It was better than nothing. He followed the scent, and picked up more as he crawled. It was a familiar trail. He had tasted it before. It made him briefly drunk where he touched it. Still, he was driven forward by the thought of that fuel. All those grinding bones and tightening muscles and cooling fluids.

There was a sound. He didn’t hear it so much as he felt the waves against his flesh. It was the call of a living human. It meant nothing to him. But then fire was coughed up from the ground near him. The heat against his flesh, and the smoke, made him flinch like a giant water balloon. There was evil, death and sickness, in those flames. By now he was becoming far too familiar with the effects. He pushed himself to move faster.

A wall stood in his way. He tried to find a crack, a weakness. He gripped the lip of a horizontal edge, tested what he found there. It was a window. When he slammed it, the glass broke. He heaved himself through, widening the gap as he lifted and pulled and pushed the millions of fibres. At least, it had been millions once.

The angry imps outside pursued him with fire but he escaped them. He pulled a panel aside and found an old fireplace. He climbed the walls of the chimney by filling the space and pushing outwards for grip. The effort took time. But Omega was not concerned. Time, and struggle, were not variables that caused it to react with emotion and change its mind about decisions. Only its goals, which were survival, reproduction and improvement. And the danger that could prevent it from achieving those goals.

A panel, like the first, broke under the pressure of his body as he climbed. He crawled through the gap. He flattened himself on the floor to cover a wide area, and tried to pick up the scent of his prey. Or any prey.

The bloody footsteps came up a flight of stairs, crossed his path and wandered fitfully through several corridors. He was attuned to the freshness of human blood. This blood wasn’t as easy to read, though. It was neutralised, somehow. Almost sterile. Maybe he should just give this one up.

He paused to think. Unexpectedly, he discovered that his mind was enriched by new voices. They were the Wrecks he had eaten. They belonged to another Omega. One with different ideas about the direction evolution should take.

The voices said, “The prey are afraid of us. Fear makes them fly. They are better than us at quick movement and often escape. To prevent them from fleeing, show a less threatening form. They are not afraid of each other. Behave like them. Pretend to communicate. Send messages of calmness and safety to oppose the fear. The host’s brain still contains the scaffolding of their emotions, and how they communicate them. If they receive message of calmness, produced in their own way, they will accept you and come close to you. Then you can capture them by ambush.”

This idea seemed to have worked for the Enemy Wrecks. Their mind was now part of his own. So they were trying to help him with this.

Unfortunately, Caleb’s current host was a pulverised blob of shapeless flesh. He had no mouth, or any of those organs used to speak.

But his form was superior in many ways. He was capable of astonishing feats. And he had experienced sound and speech. It was just a series of waves.

He remembered the shape feeling of the waves on his flesh. He asked the massed minds in his host body to recall words the living humans used to suggest calm and security. He made his flesh quiver, pulsing. It was like a spasm, but tiny and spread across the surface of his whole body.

At first he sensed that the vibration was wrong. He tried again. It didn’t work. But he knew that he could. He refined the pulses in each fibre, making them incredibly fast and crafted.

It’s okay.” The waves emanated from him and he felt them reverberate from the walls. It worked. He was talking.

106 – The Beginning of the End

Unintentionally, Tam had angled towards the oversized historic building. A vision flashed in her mind of hiding places, though she had never actually hidden from the monster in its present form.

There were high panelled windows, a flight of steps leading up to huge doors. Beautiful columns supported a balcony over the door. A combination of fire and ancient streetlights made the whole thing waver in a shifting sepiatone. She left the grass and ran up the path towards the building.

The hard ground tortured her feet, which were bitten raw. Her soles were stabbed with every step. She didn’t dare to look down at herself. By the time she got to the steps she felt that her legs might cramp up in protest. She tried to vault up the steps. It wasn’t happening. She staggered up instead. At the top she hobbled like an old lady to one of the pillars. Maybe she could taker cover there. Maybe she could stay perfectly still. A gargling sound made her turn.

Omega Rex, the wave of predatory rotting flesh, was digesting poor Bill Rand. Rand turned over as he was ripped apart, alive. The flesh was stripped from his head and arms, like he’d stuck them out the window of a train as it passed by brambles. His agony came out of his lungs in crazed, pleading, subhuman cries. Tam choked and wept.

Then something struck the Blob like a bolt of lightning. It quivered, expanded, contracted and even seemed to spin round in a circle all in less than a second. A massive puff of smoke exploded from the middle of it, along with pieces of charcoaled flesh, still burning. It was a volcano.

Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ!” was as much as Tam could manage to articulate. Rand, sacrificing himself just like in a fucking war movie, had shoved a thermite bomb into the Blob. The thing flapped like a sheet in the wind. Smoke and blackened pieces flew from underneath. It pulled itself into something like a doughnut shape. One side of the ring split and the Blob became a crescent. In the middle was a sputtering white flare surrounded by a massive smoking pile of burned meat. The homemade charge sputtered and flashed.

The superhot charge had gone off deep within the Blob and incinerated everything it touched. At first glance that looked like almost half of the Omega’s mass. The Omega, with a movement that somehow signified real fear, rolled back from the glow and tried to coagulate, to regroup. Rand’s twisted form lay discarded beside the thermite. He was lit by the white-hot glare. There was nothing left to save. Every part of him was shedding blood. He was black with it. She hoped he was dead.

The Omega retreated from the lethal heat. It moved slowly now. When it manufactured some sort of shape again, it was only about the size of a horse—the smallest Tam had ever seen it. It shed more burned flesh. Then it carried on like it had always done, as if the thermite experience was an unfortunate mistake, water under the bridge.

And it was moving towards her. With no memory to speak of, the Blob was doing what it always did. Heading towards the nearest source of food. It was so badly damaged, Tam almost felt she could take it on herself. But she had nothing to fight with. She limped towards the building.

The door was actually open. Right inside was a barrier made from heavy desks and cabinets. But it was pulled aside. Tam ducked round it. This whole building might be strategically laid out as a staging point for human-Wreck conflict, but right now neither side was holding the fort.

Though the pain in her feet wasn’t any less than before, Tam was somehow accustomed to it and could ignore it for now. There was a huge entrance hall with a marble floor. Her feet liked that better. Doors. Everywhere, fucking doors. Everything was dark. The brown streetlight only seemed to light the windows, not anything inside. She tried to imagine what she might achieve in here. But she needed time to think. Okay, hide. Hide where? The Omega didn’t have eyes, but it could sense people somehow. So it wasn’t at any disadvantage in the dark. Was it smell, sound? Rand was dead.

Without looking behind, Tam was seized by the thought that the Blob was close, too close. She ran for a door. Thoughts clashed in her mind like driftwood in waves. Where could she hide? Somewhere The Blob could not get access to. The idea almost made her laugh. That was an impossible problem. It could handle stairs. What about a ladder?

She padded into the first room on her left, which looked by the inadequate light to be a high-class office. One thing was definitely up to scratch: the fucking carpet. Oh yes, she could get used to that feeling on her wounded soles.

105 – Things Catch Up

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.

104 – Takin’ On the Jellies

The Blob reared up like a bear, and slammed down on top of one of the Wrecks. Then it lurched at the next victim with an athletic move like a giant Slinky. Made of human flesh. The two manoeuvers were executed in opposite directions. Front, then back. It had eyes on the back of head, it was fast and seemed to have acquired judo skills.

Fucking hell,” said Tam. She really meant it. There was closure, and then there was this.

Mayer’s nephew said, “Napalm’s got a short fuse. Permanganate’s tricky to light. Someone should try to stick a napalm in there.”

Mayer said, “Okay, let’s see what happens. The trick, I guess, is just get in range to throw, then run like bejesus.”

Their practicality was admirable but both of their voices were shaking. Truly, this thing was a new kind of evil. Walking corpses are bad. But the Omega acted like a semi-intelligent animal while looking like a monstrous germ.

Tam realised they were all looking at her. She had the bleach bottle in her hand. That must be the napalm, then. “Okay. I got it.” She was by far the youngest person on the team and it just wouldn’t be fair to hand this off to one of them.

Strike those matches off anything,” said Mayer’s nephew. Tam saw now that the fuse was just two inches long, with a dozen red match-heads taped to the end. “The fuse is about ten seconds. Throw hard and it might just explode on impact.”

Right,” said Tam. She started moving. Her heart battered on her ribcage, howling to get out. The streetlights were like tiny, dull suns and created a lot of shadows. The Blob surged in and out of them around the historic building. Its movement lessened a bit as she approached. At about fifty yards, she wondered how far she was capable of throwing heavy objects.

Omega Rex had killed three Wrecks, and moved to sweep them up one by one. It flowed, jelly-like, over the first one. When it moved on, the Wreck was gone. It was now inside the Omega, being digested at super speed. It rolled to the second. Its flesh glistened. A thin trail of blood stained the grass behind it.

Tam kept moving forward, slowly. The Blob got to the second Wreck, which was struggling with a broken back. The Omega rolled over it. There was a spasm from the Omega like a disembodied stomach retching. The Wreck appeared on top, dragged up. From here Tam could hear something. A hissing sound. The sound of flesh rubbing together at high speed. Up close, it was not all just purple. Parts were red, others blue, or white. The pieces whipped round feverishly. Tam wondered if it would be hot to the touch.

The Wreck turned over, revealing leg bones. Clothing was spat out, shredded, bloody. Tam remembered that this was not just a zombie but an infected human being, a person who would never be buried.

She found herself saying “Fuck you,” over and over like a crazy woman as she stooped and rubbed the matches on the ground. They flared up. The Blob paid no heed. The fuse lit reluctantly. It was a magnesium strip. It flared like a star. The Blob moved towards the next Wreck. They were very close now. The Omega stopped. It seemed to regard Tam. Suddenly, she realised she was well in range for an attack. She’d never been so close before and had been briefly fascinated by the alien freakishness of it.

Now, it was looking at her. About to strike. She shouted “Fuck you!” for the sake of it, knowing that she wanted to Blob to recognise her when she hurt it for killing Caleb.

She threw the bottle hard. It slapped the flesh of the Blob but didn’t break. The white bottle swam around on top of the Blob like a fly on soup. If the bottle turned over, or the Blob absorbed it for some reason, the fuse would go out.

But it went off before the Blob decided what to do with it.

Tam was far too close. Light and heat threw her back. Luckily, this bomb was not designed to have a wide area of effect. The homemade napalm covered the Blob almost miraculously neatly. Hot, persistent flame stuck to the flesh of the Omega. The Blob heaved into several different shapes and threw itself around like a fish on the shore. But you don’t just shake off napalm. It stuck, and kept burning. Tam felt a knife twist inside the creature. Her teeth were bared in an evil grin.

Then it did something curious. It stopped thrashing and shed the burning part of itself, like a snake shedding its skin in a big hurry. It left a pile of blackened, burning flesh on the ground that was about a quarter of its total mass.

103 – The Bigger It Gets

The old gent introduced himself as Albert Mayer. “I’m the town Mayer,” he rumbled. “Should be easy to remember.” He was imbued with a depth that was hard to pin down. Like he had lived many lives. His voice was kind, assuring. “So, this strange alien thing is giving me grief. I lost my blood pressure medicine. Clement tells me you can relieve the stress a little.”

Tam smiled unconsciously. As a teacher, she was at least trained at explaining things in simple, coherent packages. She told him the Blob that had recently invaded their town was an evolved Wreck made from human flesh. It had the same basic programming as a Wreck, so would react to the same stimuli. But it could devour any human being thrown into it, and incorporate that flesh into itself, in a matter of seconds. But, like regular Wrecks, it was highly vulnerable to fire. And averse to chilli.

Not a fan of spicy food?” said Mayer, apparently assuming she was making a joke.

Wrecks avoid anything containing chilli,” said Tam. “You didn’t know that?”

Mayer looked at the guy in the leather jacket. The younger man bore a strong resemblance, most likely a son or nephew. Then Mayer hawed out a hearty laugh. Tam came to the conclusion that he was a control freak, like herself. He got a huge hit from knowing the potential, and the limitations, of any situation he was in. There was nothing worse than unknowns.

He brought Tam back to the kitchen and introduced her to the laboratory processes going on there. They were making bombs from homemade napalm, potassium permanganate and even some kind of backyard thermite.

If there’s anything we can do, we’re here for you,” said Tam. “That Blob ate my boyfriend.” The fact that she was using those words without irony did not strike her as unusual. She just wanted Mayer to know why a complete stranger was gung-ho for fighting the Omega.

Well, we’ve been through a lot,” said Mayer. “No angry Jell-O’s gonna take over my town at this stage.”

They spoke for some time about tactics. Clement and Leather Jacket had disappeared. By the time they came back, Tam and Rand had polluted Mayer’s mind with the risky strategies of the young. Leather Jacket spoke in a practiced monotone.

Got one good shot with the napalm, the thing just lost some weight. Looks like a solid option. The Wrecks are coming out of the woodwork with all the activity. Can’t handle both, we had to fall back to hideouts. But get this, the thing’s eating up those Wrecks for us. We’re thinking about leaving it to it.”

You can’t do that,” said Tam. “If it grows enough it’ll split in two, just like bacteria.”

Jesus Christ,” said Clement.

They each grabbed as many explosives as they could carry, with the notable exception of Mayer. He selected several devices and handed them to Tam and Rand. This made Tam distinctly nervous. She found herself carrying a plastic bleach bottle with a fuse sticking out of it, and a jam jar packed with grey metal filings and another, smaller jam jar. They ran through the complex and out into the street. The poor old people were winded from this simple exertion, though they’d basically just run down a single flight of stairs.

They stalked towards the main street. Rand looked at Tam, and at the two bombs in his hands. He clearly hadn’t a clue what to do with them either.

At the corner, they checked their surroundings. The Blob was nowhere in sight. But there were some unsettling noises. Suddenly, a man flew through a doorway screaming obscenities. Two Wrecks were almost on top of him. Clement shouted, “Bobcat!” The man looked their direction. He came towards them. Clement twisted the nozzle on the oxygen tank he was carrying. He sparked a gas stove lighter and held it to the tip of his flame-thrower-type weapon. It took its time lighting. But when it did, it flared up like an arc welder and Tam had to look away.

Mayer’s nephew grabbed the jar from Tam and threw it. It shattered. Then it erupted into a ball of sparks and think smoke. Bobcat ran straight through the smoke and past them. Clement advanced into the smoke with a truly stunning level of fuck-you bravery. The Wrecks were disoriented within the smoke. Coughing and choking, Clement set them both on fire. Then he got out of there fast. The burning Wrecks were like a postmodern dance routine in the darkness.

The Blob was in the square dominated by the historic building. As the motley crew closed in, Tam could see that the Omega was under attacked from several Wrecks whose allegiance belonged to a different strand of Ep Rex’s evolutionary plan.

102 – Natural Chemistry

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.”

101 – Clocking out

The Blob moved down the street. No more Wrecks came to interfere with it. A dog barked at it but the Omega ignored him.

Does he look smaller to you?” said Tam. Maybe it was the airbourne point of view, but she was sure it looked different. Rand looked at her curiously, and Kosik seemed to be thinking about throwing her out in the next instant. “What?” said Tam.

Rand said, “It’s interesting that you refer to that mess as he.”

She didn’t think of it as a he. And she didn’t know why she’d used that word, or why everyone was making such a big deal out of it. But she couldn’t take it back. “Anyway, I think Miller’s men might have done some damage to it before it got them,” said Tam.

They used grenades on it,” said Kosik. Down below, several shapes emerged into the street. They quickly congregated and ran away. Their movements looked human. But some Wrecks were breaking the rules recently when it came to acting human.

Then Kosik looked at her watch. She knocked twice on the back of the pilot’s seat. Abruptly, the chopper lurched sideways and veered away from the small town, the streetlights, the Blob.

What are you doing?” said Tam.

Sorry kid, we’re off the clock,” said Kosik. The light from the town was fading fast. There was nothing but the monster-green of the chopper’s instruments. Tam couldn’t bear it. She was accelerating away from her purpose by the second.

What are you talking about?” she yelled. “We’ve got to finish the Omega before it gets bigger and splits again!”

I’m not here to fight,” said Kosik. “I’m here to catalogue. What I’ve got to do is debrief my superiors on this new Omega, and refuel the helicopter, and let a new pilot take over before this one falls asleep at the wheel.” Something about her old, stern face told Tam that no consideration, either emotional or rational, would make her think outside the box.

Put this thing down, I’m getting out,” said Tam.

That’s not a good idea, Tamara,” said Rand.

I saw some people. I’ll help them fight it. Or they’ll help me. Whatever. I’m not leaving.”

Well, I can’t justify putting you in contact with Epsilon Rex where it can be avoided,” Kosik said, with a bureaucratic tone Tam knew how to combat. She looked at Kosik as if her words were amusing. She didn’t say a word.

Kosik thought about it, and the seconds ticked away. Then she told the pilot to turn around and head back. They approached the little town from the other side, and the helicopter descended about a half mile out.

I’ll go too,” said Rand.

You must be joking,” said Kosik.

Sorry,” said Rand. He shrugged. “I work for myself now.”

The chopper landed on the road and Tam got out without looking at Kosik. Rand followed. Tam helped him down. His remaining eye didn’t focus easily. Kosik shouted something to him but it was lost in the scream of the rotors. They walked away in a flurry of dust as the helicopter rose like an angel and steered away.

This is too dangerous,” said Tam. They were already heading for the lights of the town.

I have nothing to lose,” said Rand. “And I can help.” He seemed to be able to walk okay. No guarantee that he could run, though.

The night was desperately quiet as they walked towards the orange-lit buildings. They talked about the Omega’s weaknesses: fire, explosions, chilli. “It didn’t eat Zelinski for some reason,” said Tam.

Maybe that stuff he injected into us works,” said Rand. Zelinski had, indeed, injected himself, Tam and Rand with some chilli-based painkiller that he said might inoculate them. She didn’t buy it at the time.

As the street came into full view, Tam saw the low, glistening form of the Omega Rex. A rolling mound of human flesh and bone. “There it is,” she said. They stopped to assess it before getting any closer. The Blob seemed to be searching buildings, probing doors and windows.

Then there was a small burst of flame and smoke. A guy jumped out of an upstairs window onto a car roof and ran away. The Blob flinched, moved away from the fire.

Tam tried to urge Rand into a jog. He wasn’t too steady on his feet. She held his hand and forced him to keep up. They came to the edge of the town.

It was dominated by a huge town hall or museum, which lorded over some restaurants in the middle of a round green. The Blob was coming towards Tam and Rand. But then a slow arc of flame came from the door of the overinflated museum. It was a Molotov, and it exploded close enough to the Omega that it showered the creature with fire.

Goddamn, they’re really taking it on,” said Tam.

100 – Mumblecore

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.

99 – Night Terrors

It was dark, and the helicopter pilot guided them by instruments alone. They headed towards a fire. It went out before they reached it, but the army truck stood out.

No humanoids or amorphous terrors were in sight. Kosik ordered the pilot to circle the area. He turned on a beautifully dazzling halogen spotlight. It lit up a succession of bad news. Chunks of flesh scattered on the ground. Burned craters where explosions had taken place. Discarded rifles. Shredded army uniforms.

They made sure the Omega was nowhere near, then landed. Kosik got out, wary. Tam followed. The whine of the rotors made Tam’s ears ring. Rand stayed behind with the pilot.

The bloodstained uniforms confirmed that Sergeant Miller’s men, Ramraid and Hardwire, had been devoured by Omega Rex. Tam saw something in her peripheral vision and spun round. Somebody was standing in the rear door of the truck. It was Zelinski. But only barely.

He was covered from head to foot in congealed blood. He looked fitfully between Tam and the helicopter, which seemed to alarm him. It was winding down anyway. Tam walked over to Zelinski. He refused to come any closer. “Hey,” she said. He didn’t answer. She climbed into the truck and looked at his face.

He looked like he had been bitten hundreds of times by somebody with only one tooth. He smelled of vomit and rotten flesh. Tam realised with a massive surge of horror and disgust that he had been inside the Blob. It must have attacked him, but changed its mind about ripping him up and digesting him for some reason. His eyes were glazed. He was in deep shock and quite possibly insane.

Come on,” said Tam.

Don’t touch him!” Kosik screeched. She looked at Tam like she had just staggered home drunk. “Are you insane? He’s covered in Ep Rex bacteria. He can’t come with us. There’s no way, I’m sorry.”

Tam tried to imagine herself staying here with him for the rest of the night. She couldn’t. There was a crackle from inside the truck. It was Miller, calling on the radio. Tam ran to get it. Kosik shouted, “Be careful what you touch!”

Tam picked up a radio headset, pushed a button and hoped for the best. “Miller?”

After a pause, the voice said, “Is that Tamara, over?”

Yes, yes!” said Tam. “Listen, Miller. I’m sorry, but your men were… taken. Caught. By Omega Rex. Zelinski’s still alive but he’s out of his mind. And looks infectious.”

Another pause. She sensed the gravity in his voice as Miller said, “Keep away from him. Tell him to stay put. We have a GPS signal on the truck, we’re on the way.”

She couldn’t believe she was doing it, but she had to leave him. Kosik was not going to stay, and Tam was safer in the chopper. She told Kosik to give her a minute, the found the First Aid Kit. Luckily, it had a bottle of iodine in it. She held it up to Zelinski’s frightened face. “Take your clothes off,” she said. “Clean yourself with this. There’s swabs and cotton in there. Clean yourself. Miller’s on the way. Stay right here and you’ll be fine. Understand?” Zelinski nodded. That surprised her.

She got out of the truck. The helicopter revved up. Zelinski said something. She went back to him. “What?”

Did you ever think what it’s like to be a worm?” Zelinski said. Tam stared at him. His eyes seemed apologetic, like he had no idea why he’d just said that. She was choked with pity and guilt.

Good luck,” she said, and left him.

They took off and scanned the area for signs of the Omega’s direction. There was a flat trail in the grass. Tamara couldn’t bring herself to tell Rand what she’d just witnessed, but Kosik brought him up to speed. He nodded, indifferent. It felt like everyone was broken. Even if they won, surely Epsilon Rex had beaten them if it torpedoed their hearts and minds.

They caught up with the Blob a mile away. They extrapolated its course, much as Miller had done before, and found a road it was due to cross. They were near some tiny one-horse town. If they were lucky there’d be a filling station and some brave souls. They landed in a field. She and Kosik went to check the surroundings.

Three figures were standing outside under brown-coloured street light. None of them moved. They were in conversation. Which made them human. Tam relaxed for a split second. Then Kosik grabbed her arm. “Slow down,” she said.

Paranoid. Tam stopped anyway. No point being reckless. Kosik shouted, “Hello!”

The three silhouettes looked at them but did nothing. They were just standing. Tam got goosebumps. They were about fifty yards away. The Helicopter’s engine slowed. The men were carrying on their conversation. With less background noise, Tam could hear it.

Sunny summer perfect wealthy sex profit purest winner,” one of them said.

Future security family Disney major major,” said the next.

Tam and Kosik backed away slowly.