Her thoughts were interrupted by the telltale chitter of an alien Old One, followed by a still-human sounding, “Oh hi. You’re up.”
Carli and Leo both turned without alarm, recognizing the voice. Gordon Danvers came into the room, his near seven feet forcing him to duck slightly under the doorway. Carli carefully kept her sadness at his appearance from her expression.
Gordon had come back with them following their attack on Houston’s Pyramid nine months ago. The Old Ones had imprisoned him there, and like a few of the newer Becoming aliens, he’d been all too happy to help the Freetown soldiers destroy the Pyramid’s inhabitants. Gordon was now one of thirty-six Becomings living in Freetown.
When Carli and Leo had found him guarding the one entrance into the Pyramid, Gordon was still human in appearance. He’d only recently been subjected to the last rite of transformation that was forced on some humans captured by the aliens. Injected with their DNA, Gordon’s genetic code was being rewritten at a fast rate, gradually turning him into an Old One.
He was male in only memory now, the alien changes making him genderless. He still wore clothing, though the stifling heat of the day and frigid cold of the night meant nothing to him at this late stage of the Becoming. Tufts of sandy brown hair sprang in bereft bunches from his elongated pate. Where his nose had once existed, there now only remained a nub. His mouth had taken on the pursed droopiness that was the beginning of a bloodsucking siphon. A single dagger fang erupting from his upper gum peeked out from time to time as he spoke. His arms, obscenely long and bristle-haired where they stretched out of his Texans sweatshirt, had the bent praying mantis look. His hands were now pincers, the fingers fused together.
Usually by the time a Becoming had reached Gordon’s level of transformation, the need for blood made the creature a danger to humans. But Gordon was different. For some reason he seemed immune to the wild rages that could only be calmed by drinking live blood. Freetown’s doctor Elijah Webb had opined it might have something to do with Gordon having Asperger’s Syndrome, an extremely high-functioning form of autism.
Whatever the reason for his resistance to needing to feed on humans, Gordon had been a boon to Freetown. Incredibly intelligent, he had come up with faster and better ways to render animal fat into the fuel that powered the generators. He’d revamped their irrigation and sewage systems to near pre-Pyramid convenience. He’d even rigged motion detectors that could alert the town to roaming Old Ones half a mile away. The man was an engineering genius, and he’d turned Freetown from a ragged collection of militant survivors into an actual civilization again.
Carli greeted him with a mix of sadness and genuine delight. “Hi Gordon, how are you?”
He gave her a mostly gummy smile, his eyes looking slightly over her shoulder. Like many aspies, as he termed people with his condition, he found looking people in the eyes uncomfortable. A marked lack of social niceties seemed to be the main symptom of Gordon’s otherwise amazing brain wiring.
He answered her question with clipped words, almost as if irritated. “Good. Respectable hunting tonight.” Gordon opened his mouth as if to say something else, and then shut it again. His pincers flapped a couple of times and he shrugged.
As brilliant as Gordon was with putting things together and making them run with amazing efficiency, he was always at a loss when it came to simple conversation. Carli and Leo waited patiently as he struggled to put his thoughts into coherent sentences. He’d once told them, “I can hear the words in my head, but it’s like they get stuck on their way to my mouth. And when I do spit them out, they don’t always come out the way I intended.”
So they sat, smiled encouragingly, and watched him struggle with the nemesis of verbal communication. Finally his thoughts burst out, the words spraying like bullets. “Where’s Jeff? Did you see him come in? I can’t find him.”
Leo was very still next to Carli. She was careful to keep her expression neutral, knowing even though Gordon wouldn’t look her in the face, he had her in his peripheral vision. “He’s not back yet?” she asked.
Gordon shook his head. “No, or I wouldn’t be asking. The sun will rise soon, you know.” He clacked like an Old One with worry and flapped his pincers again.
Jeff Tupper was even further along in the Becoming, nearly a pure Old One. He’d begun losing his temper regularly as of late. His abrupt rages spurred the other Becomings to get him out of Freetown as soon as night fell, sending Jeff into the desert to hunt animals for calming blood. Since Gordon was the next most advanced in transformation, he and Jeff had formed a bond despite Gordon’s social hang ups.
“Everyone else got in half an hour ago,” Gordon continued. He seemed to notice he was flapping, a tic he exhibited when he was stressed. He stopped, clenched his pincers together, and glanced briefly at Carli’s face. “You don’t think he would have … you know. Left for good?”
Leo took a breath. His voice heavy, he answered, “It’s been known to happen. When the bloodlust makes the Becomings dangerous to us, they usually take themselves as far away as they can get.”
“Or expose themselves to the sun.” Gordon shuddered. Sunlight was lethal to the Becomings about halfway through their transformation. It was painful long before it became deadly. Giving oneself to the sun was a brutal way to end a Becoming’s life. Most didn’t have the ability to face such sacrifice. “I’ll have one more look around, and then I’ll retire for the day. If you see Jeff, tell him to wake me up to let me know he’s okay.”
Gordon’s words came out as a barked order, though he was making a request. Many who hadn’t gotten to know him well thought he was rude. Tactless at the very least. It made Carli wonder how he’d gotten along in normal society before the world went to hell.
“We’ll be sure to tell him.” Carli swallowed. “Have a good rest, Gordon.”
He nodded and left, his light step tapping away down the hall. Then his footfalls reversed course, returning until he shoved his barely human face through the doorway.
“I meant to say please and to thank you for keeping an eye out for Jeff. Sorry.”
“It’s not a problem, Gordon,” Leo said softly. “Get to safety before the sun rises.”
When the footfalls had receded into silence, Carli leaned her forehead against Leo’s chest. “I hate lying to him of all people.”