Vince watched the four racers disappear from one of the camera feeds as they ran deeper into the abandoned mine.
“He’s almost gone already,” Don said.
Vince turned to the screen in front of Don. The man they’d injected with the Munchies was a puddle of blood and bones. The five feeders had torn him apart like a pile of wet paper.
“How long they been down there?” Vince said.
Don checked his notes. “Three days.”
“Shit. Didn’t take long, huh?”
“No, wait. There.” Don pointed at the screen. “That one, in the middle. She went down six days ago.”
Vince squinted. All the feeders had tags through the thick cartilage near the center of the ear. The first tags had gone through the lobes, but the feeders just ripped those out. The woman Don pointed at had a tag with the designation C-2 on it. The rest of the group was all letter E.
“Now that’s interesting,” Vince said. “You think she went all Alpha on them?”
“Could be. We’ll have to see if there are any more instances.”
Vince pressed his palms together. “Roving packs of cannibals fiending for people injected with the Munchies. I can see it. Great for sales, probably not so good for image.”
“Flesh is scarce down there,” Don said. “It’s turning them into savages, which proves the potency of the product but not the real-world effects. They’ll be able to find what they need on the street. Or we could deliver it to them.”
Vince leaned back. “Donny, did you just move into the marketing division of our conglomerate?”
Don blushed. “I think it could work. We’d need to find experts at abduction and rendition. They grab someone, inject them, and by the time they arrive at the delivery destination the Munchies are in full effect. The evidence is gone within hours.”
“Good hell, you’re a maniac. I love it. I don’t love the exposure of kidnapping, but we can spitball that. Target illegal aliens, prostitutes, scientists. You know, people nobody gives a shit about.” He nudged Don, making him laugh. “But this pack behavior—you never saw that in the rats.”
“No,” Don said. “They were very hostile toward each other. No cooperation whatsoever.”
“Now I’m not doubting you here, just making sure we’re touching all the corners. One of the benefits of this formula was that if these junkies don’t eat within a certain window, they die from withdrawals. That’s what happened with the rats.”
“These aren’t rats,” Don said.
“Exactly. So am I gonna have groups of strung-out cannibals walking the streets in search of a juicy morsel? I’m talking Night of the Living Dead reenactments here.”
Don tapped the screen with the pack. “These feeders haven’t gone more than twelve hours without eating.”
Most of them had passed out after gorging. They were in a tangled heap of bloody arms and legs. The woman from group C was crouched in the narrow tunnel staring in the direction of the racers. Her eyes were heavy and sleepy but she occasionally sniffed the air like she’d caught a whiff of their trail.
“I suspect they’re sharing out of necessity, not desire.”
He tapped arrow keys, scrolling through more camera feeds.
The screen showed a painfully thin man slumped against the stone wall of a tunnel narrower than a phone booth. He tried to get up and fell, tried again, then stayed on the rough ground. Vince could see his ribs moving through his soiled shirt. The man was panting.
“This feeder wandered into the deepest tunnels we explored,” Don said. He expanded the display to fullscreen. “He’s on the last camera we hung. And according to his tag,” Don referred to his notes. “Mr. C-7 last ate twenty-two hours ago. Unless someone with the Munchies stumbles over him, he is not long for this earth.”
“Okay, this is good,” Vince said. “A customer has to eat at least once a day. Fantastic for repeat business. Hell, even the most addicted customers don’t eat at McDonald’s every day. And if a feeder doesn’t eat in a day, he just curls up and dies. No rampaging through the local mall chomping kids on the shoulder. And the autopsy is clear?”
“It doesn’t implicate us in any way, if that’s what you mean.”
They watched the man panting on the floor. He bit his own hand and spat the blood out in disgust.
Don said, “This is the behavior we can expect outside our laboratory conditions. The pack is an anomaly. Given the opportunity, feeders will avoid other feeders so they can have more for themselves.”
“That’s a hypothesis,” Vince said.
“One we can prove.” Don scrolled through cameras again until he found the racers. They glowed white and green on the infrared display, feeling blindly along a pitch-black tunnel deeper into the mine.
Don pointed at the smaller man. “That one.”
“David,” Vince said. Rule three of sales: remember everyone’s name.
“He got blood in his mouth.”
Vince leaned in. “Munchies?”
“A small taste, but enough. Pretty soon he’ll be very anxious to get a taste of the girl.”
“Lara.” Vince said absently. He stared at David, who was sweating in the cold air of the mine. To Vince, it looked like the guy was trying very hard to keep it together.
Don said, “Once he gets that taste, I expect we’ll see some very antisocial behavior from our friend David.”