Luke went down hard.
“Is he dead?” Roger asked. Luke looked dead. His arms were flung out across the carpet, and he was very still.
Constance bent down, grimacing. She was still gripping the iron with both hands. Roger thought that it served Luke right, being enough of a prep to do his own ironing. Constance freed one hand just long enough to hold one hand in front of Luke’s nose, and she shook her head. “He’s not dead. But he should be.”
She straightened and glared furiously at Roger – or through him, maybe. “He wanted to kill me, and who knows what the hell he’d have done to you. Or to—to the spawn.”
Oh, right. The spawn. Roger rubbed at that icy knot that had settled just under his ribs. It didn’t do any good. “He wouldn’t hurt me,” Roger protested feebly. “He’s my friend.”
Constance snorted. “Well, that’s nice for you.”
Fair point. “Okay, well, what do we do now?”
Constance gave him long look that finally settled on his stomach. “How are you feeling?” she asked. She stepped in close and pressed her palm against him.
Hell if he knew. “Weird. Cold. Like I’ve got an ice cream headache, but it’s in my stomach, you know?”
“Yeah.” She bit her lip and pressed a little more firmly, like that’d tell her something more than she already knew.
Hell, she was an alien; maybe it would. Maybe she had magic hands. Heh. Roger giggled.
Constance blinked and pulled her hand away. “We need to get you out of here.” She took him by the arm and helped him step over Luke, still prone and dead-looking. “We can go to the sorority house. My sisters will take care of us.”
Roger stumbled at the door. She was moving too fast. Everything was moving too fast. She’d hit Luke over the head with an iron, and Roger was pregnant. He gripped the doorframe and said, “Am I gonna need my toothbrush?”
She squeezed his hand. “We’ll get you a new toothbrush.”
Normally Roger was fine with walking. Nothing he really cared about in this town was more than a twenty-minute stroll from the dorms, and if it was, then he didn’t care about it. Simple. Luke was a sucker, pouring cash into that junker of his – not that Roger didn’t enjoy taking advantage of the junker on occasion, when it was running. And in between times, walking was good exercise, right? He liked it, even.
He didn’t like it now. He had a giant ice cube lodged just forward of his spine, and his legs didn’t want to work quite right, and he couldn’t catch his breath. Constance making finger-shaped bruises in his arm didn’t help a whole lot, either.
But, his alien babies. And Luke.
Roger put his head down and kept one foot moving in front of the other. He watched the cracks in the sidewalk pass underneath him. When he lost his footing, Constance kept him upright. She was really strong, he noticed. Alien strong, maybe. That was kind of hot. Or he thought it should be, anyway; he wasn’t quite feeling it right now.
“Okay,” Constance said.
Roger looked up. It took a moment of glancing around to figure out where he was: at the back entrance to the Pi Beta Omega house. Constance helped him up the steps and pulled open the door. He looked around for signs of tentacles or ray guns, something he’d missed when he’d been here before, but it all looked so normal.
They found one of the blond girls – Vicki? – and Constance said, “Is Lilly around? Or Natasha? It’s kind of an emergency.”
Vicki kept sneaking Roger wide-eyed glances. After she’d gone in search, Roger gave up on uprightness and sagged against a wall. “I must not look so hot, huh?”
He didn’t like the look Constance gave him or the way she bit her lip. Those were not good signs. But she leaned in, kissed the corner of his mouth, and said, “You look plenty hot to me, baby.”
Somehow still didn’t make him blushy, after everything. “You have to say that now, ‘cause I’m your baby daddy.”
“That’s right.” She wove her fingers between his, and, obscurely, that made him feel a little better.
He zoned out like that for a little bit, and then, very distantly, he heard a noise.
“Oh my god,” Constance said, pulling her hand away. “It’s Luke.”
“It is? How can you tell?”
“She says he’s got a freaking flame thrower.” Constance looked wildly around her, and then she grabbed him and dragged him towards a door. It was a bathroom. A bathroom in a sorority house, oh yeah. She shoved him inside. “Lock the door behind me,” Constance said. “Don’t open it for anyone except me, do you understand? I’ll be right back.” Before he got a chance to work up an answer, she gave him a peck on the cheek, and she was gone.
“Huh,” Roger said to the empty room. It was small, just a toilet and sink and mirror. He dutifully locked the door and then went and sat on the toilet lid. He waited.
He couldn’t have said exactly how long it took Constance to come knock on the door. It felt like a long time. “It’s me, Roger, let me in.”
He unlocked it, and she grabbed him and took down a different hallway then they’d come. The pushed through another outer door, down another flight of stairs, and into a parking lot. Constance opened the door to a sweet little black coupe. “It’s Vicki’s,” Constance said. “I stole her keys.”
“Can you even drive?” Roger asked. He tried to put on his seat belt, but the chest strap lay right across his cold spot.
“Close enough,” Constance said.
They didn’t peel out of the parking lot, but it was a close call. Another five minutes of Constance fixing all her concentration on the road in front of her and the pedals at her feet, and they were on the highway out of town.
Roger tried to think how long it’d been since, well. Since he and Constance had made love. Three days, she’d said, before the buns in his oven were cooked. Seventy-two hours. He had to be down at least two of those, right? “So what now?”
Constance gave him a very brief glance. “I don’t know.”
“What?” He sat up a little straighter.
“I just wanted to get us out of town. We could go find a hotel to hole up in. I have one of the joint credit cards. It has to be some place out of the way, though. We can’t have Luke tracking us.”
Roger opened his mouth to say that Luke wouldn’t do that, that Luke wasn’t nuts like that, but then in his mind’s eye he saw Luke wielding that blow torch, and he closed his mouth. He thought about places out of the way, places Luke wouldn’t track. He had an idea. “Hey, I have this uncle. He has this cabin? A ways out? Like two hours from here. We could go there.”
“Does Luke know about this place?”
Roger thought hard for a moment. “I mean, I don’t think so? I don’t remember telling him. And the lights should be on and stuff. He and my aunt go out there sometimes after Christmas.”
Constance blew a long breath out her nose. “Do you know the way?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know the way.”
An hour out, they stopped in a little two-stoplight town to get supplies: an ice chest and ice to put in it, an electric blanket for Roger – “We can’t warm you up from the inside, baby, sorry.” – and food for them both, although Roger’s portion was heavy on bananas and spinach salad. “Potassium and iron,” Constance explained. “Important for development.”
“Sure,” Roger said, and rubbed that same cold place in his chest.
Uncle Pete’s cabin was off the highway, down a long, winding gravel drive through the pines. It occurred to Roger that this was the way lots of horror movies started, but then again he had the alien tentacle babe on his side, so probably it didn’t count.
Roger found the key under the frog sculpture by the window and let them in. It was cold inside, of course, and in solidarity that internal chill he’d been carrying around for hours suddenly swept out into his extremities. His teeth started chattering. “Okay, I need a fire in that wood stove, like, twenty minutes ago.” He rubbed his poor chilled hands together and then caught a look at Constance’s expression. Unenthused didn’t begin to cover it. “You don’t want me freezing to death, right?”
Constance took a sharp breath up her nose and exhaled again, hard. She slumped and shook her head, and something in that chilled Roger in a place no wood stove could have heated. She looked tired and scared, and Roger couldn’t deal with that, because one of them needed to know what the hell they were doing. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, it’s okay.” He pulled her into his arms. “We’ll figure it out, right? I’ll get a fire going, and you can leave a window open, and in a couple of days, hey, babies.”
“Babies,” Constance agreed. She pressed her palm to his belly and managed a feeble smile. “The first ones, you know.”
“You guys can give me a medal later.”
She laughed. God, she was gorgeous. “Okay.” She pressed a kiss to his jaw, just shy of his ear. Which didn’t warm him up the in the slightest, unfortunately, but they had the woodstove for that.
While Roger got the fire started, Constance opened all the windows. He ended up sitting by one, wrapped up in his blanket, because Constance was afraid he’d get too warm otherwise and kill the babies. Well, the word she used was spawn, but that was still a bit kinkier than Roger was up for on an everyday basis, so.
Even the cold and all the day’s weirdness couldn’t keep him awake, though. Before long felt himself nodding off wedged between the window and Constance’s firm shoulder.
The cabin was ice cold when he awoke. Thin winter light filtered through the pines and into the cabin’s few narrow windows. Stiffly Roger got to his feet and got a fire going again, and by the time he was done, Constance had breakfast for him: bananas and a sad spinach salad with dubious dressing discovered in his uncle’s fridge.
“I’m not sure I’m really hungry,” Roger said. It was the truth, too, even before he saw the salad. “Can I even eat? I’m sort of, you know. Occupied.”
“You can still eat. You need to. You and the spawn both need the nutrients.”
The food felt weird going down, probably because of the weird cold lump that had, he assumed, attached itself to his stomach lining, but by the time he’d eaten the banana and most of the salad, he felt better.
When he’d gotten it all down and washed up the dishes, he asked, “So what are we going to do for three days?” Or two and a half now, really. He shoved that thought to the back of his mind.
“I mean, unless you have a term paper to write...” Constance rolled her eyes. Suddenly curious, Roger asked, “Were you even enrolled in classes? Or did you just tell us you were?”
“No, I took the classes. Bio, anat and phys – everything we could learn about the human body was an asset, you know? And the more we knew about your science, the better.”
Suddenly this talk of we and you was weirding Roger out a little. “There’s cards in the chest,” he said, pointing. “And Scrabble.”
“Cards?” Constance repeated skeptically.
So on the floor of his uncle’s cabin, shivering and sort of pregnant, Roger taught a hot alien babe gin rummy. She picked it up terrifyingly fast. “You’ve played this before,” he accused after she went out for the third hand in a row and caught him with a fist full of points.
“Nope,” she said, pinked-cheeked and smug.
“Or you, like, you downloaded it into your brain, before you got here. On that crash course you took of everything Earth. Like in the Matrix.”
“No again. But—” She leaned in and whispered, like a secret, “But I am really smart.”
“No shit,” he said, shaking his head. He totaled their scores on the notepad, and then he sighed over them.
“Aw, baby. Was I supposed to let you win?” She scooted over to rest her chin on his shoulder.
“Uh. That depends.”
Roger tested out the next words in his head. They were the kind of thing Luke said. Roger only said them in his dreams. Then again, Constance was pretty much straight out of his dreams, so he ventured, “On how you make it up to me?”
“Well,” she said, her tongue teasing over her eye teeth on the end of the word, “how about I show you, and you tell me how I did?”
“Yeah, okay,” Roger squeaked, even though he wasn’t sure he’d even be up for any of the kind of activities she clearly had in mind. He was pretty cold. And pregnant.
Neither of those turned out to be as big a deterrent as he was expecting. He got up just fine, once Constance really put her mind – and her mouth – to it. And he both came and didn’t get ice cubes jammed down his throat, so it was already the best sex of his life.
Sometime that evening, huddled on the bed in the corner of the cabin, Roger worked up the courage to ask, “So how am I—how are they—how am I getting not pregnant?”
Constance closed the freezer door and turned to him, popsicle in hand. He’d tried to tell her how old the popsicles probably were when she found the first one, but she’d been too busy blissing out on it to listen to him. Or possibly she didn’t care. “How do you think?” she asked.
He’d thought a lot of things, and they were all both too dumb and too horrible to voice. “How about you just tell me?”
She bit her lip, which did nothing for Roger’s confidence. “They’re coming out the same way they went in, baby.”
“Oh.” Roger wrapped a hand around his throat. “Ow. Won’t I—are you sure I won’t choke?”
“They won’t be very big.” Constance ventured carefully closer, like he’d spook if she moved too fast. “This is just the first stage. After they’re born, they need to be kept cold for a few days, and then they need to soak in a nutrient bath for a couple of months.”
That... wasn’t really what Roger had expected at all. “You know human babies die if they get too cold.”
“Roger,” Constance said, very, very gently, “you know they’re not human, right?”
“I—” He fumbled under the blanket until he could run his hand over the cold ache that he’d kind of almost gotten used to. “I mean, they’re half mine, aren’t they?”
Constance settled cross-legged next to him. “In some metaphysical sense, sure. But they’ll be my species. Your species doesn’t need tentacles and male hosts to reproduce, or so I’ve been told.”
The corner of her lip lifted, just a little, and god Roger needed that hint of humor just now. “Not so much.”
“So yeah. They’re kind of all me.”
“Well, you’re pretty great, so—” Roger shrugged. “I guess that’s okay.”
Constance stared at him for a long moment, and she shook her head as though trying to shake away her smile. “You’re unbelievable.”
She dug around in his blanket until she found his hand, and then she folded her fingers around his. “You’re welcome.”
Sometime later, after the happy glow had worn off, Roger asked, “So if they’re not human, will they still look like you?”
Constance pulled away to look at him for a while. Finally she said, “You know this isn’t what I really look like.”
“Uh.” Roger squinted at her. Nothing about her changed – blond hair, sweet eyes, tits that just filled his hands, all check. “Could have fooled me.”
“It’s a disguise,” she said. “So we’d fit in. If we appeared as we really are, they’d have just called in the National Guard. We wouldn’t have stood a chance. People would just run away screaming, even you.”
“I wouldn’t!” Roger protested.
She shook her head. “Roger, all this – the hair, the killer ass – none of it’s real.”
“Then—” Roger paused to puzzle over this. “Then why are you so much hotter than all the other alien girls? Why don’t they all look like you?”
Constance shrugged, but by the turn of her lips, he could tell she was at least a little bit pleased. “I have good taste, I guess.”
“You have awesome taste,” Roger agreed.
“And I bet you’re hot the other way, too. As an alien.” Constance rolled her eyes, and in a burst of courage, Roger said, “You could show me.”
“That sounds like the worst possible idea. Anyway, it’s not like makeup. It doesn’t just come off.” Constance pushed to her feet. “I’m gonna go outside and cool off. Do you need anything?”
Roger didn’t need anything – certainly he didn’t need anything from outside, aka the barren frostbitten wasteland of despair – but he knew an ended conversation when he saw one. He huddled deeper in his blanket and shook his head.
In the moments in between, when they weren’t playing cards or kissing or eating or sleeping, Roger worried a little. Constance was great, and the cabin situation was maybe not great but mostly okay, but they couldn’t stay in his uncle’s cabin forever, eating popsicles and bananas and bags of frozen fruit from the freezer. (Roger thawed his near the wood stove; Constance ate hers straight from the bag. Of course she did.) This thing had a deadline, after all. In two days there’d be a litter – a hatch? a swarm? hell if Roger knew -- of alien babies to take care of.
He and Constance had to return to civilization sometime.
Roger wanted to ask Constance what happened then, but he was a little bit afraid of the answer. She’d have what she wanted from him then. And she had responsibilities, probably. He didn’t really know what they were – every time he asked about her alien relatives, she grimaced and changed the subject – but saving her species surely took precedent over, well, him.
Long-term relationships didn’t start with the girl fucking your throat with her tentacle, Roger was pretty sure. They probably didn’t even start with the girl trying to go down on you in the sorority house bathroom. Or maybe they did; it wasn’t like Roger had the experience to say. But he doubted it.
When Roger woke up the next morning – fricking freezing, not even exaggerating, he was just damned grateful all his fingers were still the right color – he felt weird. Weirder. He sat up in the bed and closed the window, just for now, just so he could think. “Baby?” Constance asked, eyes barely open.
Roger swallowed, and that felt almost okay, but not quite. He tried it again, and then on a hunch he felt under his t-shirt until he found the cold spot. “Oh,” he said shakily.
“Roger?” Constance sat up. He let her peel away his many layers, and then he took her hand and put it where his been, so she could find what he had found. “Oh.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Oh, Roger.” Her smile stretching wide, disbelieving. She bunched his shirt up his chest so she could see the swelling below his ribs: kind of lumpy at the surface, like someone had stuck their fist underneath his skin.
It wasn’t that he’d had any doubts before. He’d seen the tentacle flying at his face, certainly felt it shoving down his throat, and even if he could have disbelieved in either of those things, he’d spent the last thirty-six hours with a block of ice where his stomach should be.
Still, it had taken a kind of faith to believe that all this meant alien babies and not just something horribly, fatally wrong with his innards. That was still a possibility, he supposed, but not one he could take seriously anymore, not when he could feel the bumpy swell of his very own alien pregnancy under his palm.
“Wow,” he said.
“Yeah.” Constance didn’t sound a lot steadier than he did.
“It’s really happening, huh?”
“Yeah.” There was a funny note in Constance’s voice.
Roger scooted back a little. Alarmed, he said, “Hey, don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying.”
Roger supposed that was technically true, but any moment now the brightness in her eyes was bound to spill over. “It’s okay,” he said feebly.
“You have no idea,” she said, turning her face to his. She was still smiling despite the first tear running down her cheek. “You don’t know what it’s been like for us. You travel halfway across the galaxy looking for a way to save your race, and you turn yourself into some totally different and you figure out how to have sex with this species you didn’t know existed a year ago, and you work so freaking hard, and then...” She sniffled and traced her fingers over him, over the babies. “I didn’t even think I’d care that much, you know?”
Roger thought she might have lost him a while back. “You didn’t?”
“I'm gonna be pretty important, you know. I did it first.” Gently she rubbed his belly, as if he might forget what exactly it was she’d done. “I got it right before Lilly did, god.” She shook her head. “That’s all it was. Save the species. Win the day.”
“And now, I don’t know.” She searched his face, like he might have the answers. He didn’t even know what the question was. “They’re mine, you know? I didn’t think I’d care about that part.”
Roger thought maybe he understood that. Not that he was overcome with dadly feelings – he was fricking nineteen years old, what the hell did he know about those? – but he did feel something for the icy cold babies growing below his ribs. And they were mostly Constance’s, but still, “They’re kind of ours, though, right? A little?”
Constance grinned at him through her tears, and then abruptly she put her arms around him and pulled him close. Roger fumbled to reciprocate. Hugs hadn’t really been in their repertoire so far, but this one was nice. They should do it more. “Yeah,” Constance said. “Yeah, they’re ours.”
That morning, Constance dug out Roger’s uncle’s cooler. Later she’d fill it with snow, and when the babies were born, in they’d go. In the meantime it sat by the door, reminding Roger of what was coming and how soon.
The weird feeling he’d woken up with kept growing, too, as the babies did: by afternoon the swelling was obviously bigger. It’d have been visible under a t-shirt, he thought, if he were ever warm enough to take off that many layers.
He was colder than ever, if that were even possible. He hadn’t died yet despite feeling like the Arctic had taken up permanent residence in the center of him, so maybe alien biology prevented hypothermia from being a danger. That didn’t mean he enjoyed constantly wobbling between numbness and teeth-chattering shivers.
He was cranky as shit, basically. And scared, too. And he was pregnant with alien babies.
Constance eventually quit trying to talk to him. She spent a lot of time poking around in the car or just sitting outside with the front door cracked. Roger slept a lot; often he’d wake up from a nap to find Constance curled next to him. Asleep, she didn’t look much better off than him.
Shortly after dark, Roger gave up on pretending he wanted to be anywhere but in bed. When he crawled into it, Constance turned off the last light and wordlessly got in with him. She even wiggled under the covers this time, despite his body heat – not that he was sure he even had that anymore. She spooned him from behind and draped an arm over his side so that her hand could rest over his belly, although she couldn’t possibly have felt anything through his blanket, jacket, and two layers of shirts.
He folded his fingers over hers. “So, tomorrow?”
Her breath was cool against his neck. “Yeah.” She squeezed back. After a moment, she added, “It’s going to be okay.”
Roger didn’t think even aliens could make that kind of promise. He gripped her tighter.
Roger woke to something squirming in his insides. “Holy shit!” he said, struggling to sit up, as if that would fix whatever was going inside. It was pitch dark still, and after some thirty seconds of Constance’s disoriented questions and Roger’s incoherent answers, Constance managed to turn the light on. “Hey,” she said, gripping both his hands in hers. “Hey. It’s okay. What is it?”
“I can feel it,” Roger said. “In my. I mean. I’m freaking out here, okay?”
“I know,” Constance said soothingly. She ran her fingers up his arm. “It’s gonna be fine, Roger.” There was that promise again. It sounded even less trustworthy now while Roger was trying not to puke from sheer alarm at whatever was happening in his stomach. Constance coaxed, “Come on, show me.”
With trembling hands, Roger shrugged himself out of his blanket and coat, and then he pulled up his shirt and bared his stomach to frigid open air. “I can’t look.”
Constance’s fingers tickled across his belly. “They’ve quickened.”
“What does that mean?” Roger demanded, his gaze fixed on the wall over her shoulder. The cross-stitched Habs logo was looking a little grimy, he noticed.
“It just means they’re moving with enough strength that you can feel them. You can even see them now, if you look.”
“Do you have any idea what it feels like in there right now? It’s freaking—freaky.” It was like he had a ball of snakes in his stomach, squirming and writhing and maybe poking a curious head up his throat— “God, I’m gonna puke.”
“Not yet, baby.” Constance wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “The longer you can keep everything down, the better.”
“Oh, god.” Roger tried to zip his coat back up, but he was shaking too badly. Constance helped him finish, and then she wrapped the blanket around him until he was snug as a bug. A seriously freaked out, grossed out bug.
“Hey,” she said. She brushed his cheek with her thumb, and that’s when he realized he was crying.
“It’s okay. Baby, you’re doing so good.” She tugged his head down to her shoulder and kissed his temple. “It’s okay to freak out.”
“Well, good. Because I am.” Roger tried not to sniffle. He failed. “It’s just a lot, you know?”
“And I don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards. Am I ever going to see them again after they’re born?” Did he even want to? He tested out the thought, and somehow even in the midst of freaking the fuck out, yes, he wanted to see them again. He wanted to know what happened to them. And not just them. “Will I even see you again? Or are you going to go be alien president or something?”
“I don’t want to not see you again.”
Constance tugged him closer and began to stroke the back of his neck. “I don’t want to not see you, either.”
Roger tossed away the last remains of his torn and tattered dignity. “Really? For real?”
“For real. I promise.”
Roger heaved out a long, shuddering sigh of something too fragile to be relief. He pressed his face into her neck, and she kept on massaging his scalp until finally his breath started to even out.
Roger woke again when it was barely light, slowly, unpanicked this time. The longer he lay still, just breathing, the more insistent the movement in his stomach became. The queasiness from the night before came back, but he swallowed it down and slipped his hand under his shirt.
The first thing he noticed was that things were definitely bigger than when he’d gone to bed the night before. He might even look pregnant for real now, in a lumpy sort of way. The second thing he noticed was how those things were moving under his hand. He took a deep breath in, let it out. Repeat. He tried to think about nice things. Tadpoles were nice. He thought about them swimming around with just a flick of their tadpole tails. That’d feel kind of squirmy, right, if you were the pond?
He didn’t think about snakes or tentacled octopuses from the deep. Tadpoles.
Eventually he noticed that feeling the motion through his fingers somehow made it a little less freaky, even as it made it more real. Reality was weird enough, but it was his imagination where the really wrong stuff happened.
He’d be okay, he told himself, him and Constance and the alien tadpoles, too. Just a few more hours.
By midmorning he’d changed his mind; none of them were getting out of this intact. Nausea had risen gradually, like a tide; now it felt like he was queasy from the pit of his stomach all the way up to his throat. “I just want to get it over with,” he moaned. He was sitting half-upright on the bed, because lying down made it worse.
Constance kept on rubbing his back. “Once you start throwing up, you probably won’t be able to stop again for longer than a minute or two. But they’re not ready yet, so it’d be hours before it even did you any good.”
Roger groaned miserably. At least when he was hung over, people let him go puke up his guts in peace.
“The longer you can hold everything down, the faster it’ll go later. Try to think of something else”
He drew his blanket even more tightly around him. “I can’t.”
“We could play cards.”
“I’d probably just barf on them.”
Constance was quiet for a moment. She was holding in her impatience; Roger could tell by how carefully she drew her breath. His mom used to sound exactly the same. Suddenly he missed his mom more fiercely than he had in years; it was like a physical thing, sharp, lodged just behind his breastbone. If she were there with him—well, she wouldn’t know what to do, either, but he was certain just having her nearby would have made him feel better.
Interrupting his morose train of thought, Constance asked, “Well, what can I do to help?”
Get my mom was an impossible task, even for aliens. Get your alien spawn out of me was hardly more helpful, however heartfelt a request it would have been. Roger spent a couple of moments breathing very carefully and also thinking, and finally he said, “You could tell me about your planet.” When Constance didn’t immediately answer, he added, “Please?” He didn’t even have to try to sound pitiful. It came naturally at this point.
“Okay,” she said. “Sure. What do you want to know?”
“Anything? Where’d you come from? Do you have a spaceship somewhere? Can we go visit it?”
She chuckled. Then she settled back against the cabin wall and tugged on him until he was leaning against her. She threaded her fingers through his. “We’re from a star system about thirty light years away—”
“So your ship has, like, hyperdrive?”
“Hyperdrive isn’t a real thing. And we don’t exactly have a ship. How we got here, it’s kind of one-way.”
“So you’re stuck here. On Earth. In Canada.” He was never getting over that one. Sure the Maritimes were pretty, but come on now.
“Well,” she said, smirking, “I did hear you have these things called airplanes.”
Whether he was really that pitiful or whether Constance had been looking for some excuse to talk, it seemed to all come spilling out now: the remnant left on the home planet ready to beam out—his phrasing, not hers—to another destination if the Earth team failed, the months she and the other sorority aliens had spent preparing. She talked about the planet she’d left behind, a population contracting over millenia leaving the abandoned husks of civilization behind. She smiled over memories of winter – real winter, she said, which from her descriptions sounded to Roger approximately as appealing as a vacation on Hoth.
He couldn’t always focus very well, but he tried. This was what she’d come from. This was who she was. It seemed important.
Roger edged closer and closer to the puke of no return. He was sweating now, and he couldn’t even tell if it was because he was too warm or for some other reason; his internal thermometer was too far out of whack. He had a headache, too, which Constance worried about. She said it wasn’t a symptom in males of her species. Roger wasn’t worried. Compared to what he had going on in his stomach, a headache didn’t even count.
Roger was wondering for maybe the thousandth time if this was the inhale that tipped him over the edge when Constance said, “Do you hear that?”
“What?” Roger asked, too startled to pay attention to his breath. Constance gripped his knee and held herself very, very still, like a cat on alert. A good ten seconds later, Roger heard it, too: a car motor. It rumbled and sputtered too loudly to be healthy, and Roger knew a truck that sounded exactly like it. “Shit.” He’d known this place was a horror movie waiting to happen. Of course the maniac with the blowtorch would find them. “It’s Luke.”
“Oh my god.” Constance scrambled to her feet. The first thing she did was reach over and lock the door. Roger craned his neck, trying to see anything in the cabin that resembled a weapon.
The motor stopped. Constance had been digging around near the wood stove; now she came up with the short-handled axe she’d been using to cut kindling. It wasn’t much. Footsteps crunched on gravel, and a door slammed with a squeak that erased any lingering doubts Roger might have had. He knew that squeak.
A muffled voice called, “I know you’re in there, bitch.”
“Shit,” Roger said. Constance stepped in front of him, axe in hand. What the hell good that she thought that’d do, Roger couldn’t imagine.
“You’re in there, and you’ve got my friend. You want him to burn, too?”
Constance cast Roger an anxious glance. Her expression spoke for her: Should I answer?
Roger shook his head violently, which of course brought on a fresh wave of nausea. Not now, babies. He ran his hand over them, writhing and wriggling, like maybe that’d soothe them enough to stay down just a little longer.
“I don’t really care,” Luke called. “Keep him or don’t. I’m still going to huff and puff and burn your house down.”
“No,” Constance said, soft but sharp. “Roger, I can’t let him get you, too.”
“Are you joking? He’s gonna take one look at me and freak! He’ll want to kill the them as much as he wants to kill you.”
“I don’t care about the babies. I care about you.” Before Roger had a hope of responding, Constance called through the door, “Let Roger go!”
“Open the door, then!” Luke said.
Constance cast Roger a last hopeless glance, and then she stepped forward, unlocked the door, and cracked it open. “You’ll let him go?”
The door crashed open. The force of it sent Constance flying to the floor. The axe skidded Roger’s feet. Roger stared at Constance, too stricken to even move, but she was already getting to her feet when a pillar of flame leaped from the door and struck her square in the chest. She screamed like Roger had never heard a person scream, like a rabbit in its death throes, and then she burst into flames.
“No!” Roger cried, trying to push to his feet. He was struck with vertigo so bad it was a miracle he didn’t go face first into the floor. He could only sink back onto the bed and watch as the fire peeled her skin away in little licks of flame, leaving a blackened, charred-looking husk that didn’t look even remotely human. It lay very still on the floor. “No,” he sobbed. “Constance.” He turned to Luke, standing in the doorway and holding a goddamned flamethrower. “How could you do that?”
Luke slid the goggles up his head. “Roger, she was an alien.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Roger spread his arms wide. He’d ditched his last shirt an hour ago; everything of there was to see of Roger was right out in the open.
“Shit.” Luke took a step back. “Roger, buddy, it’s okay, we’ll get you help.”
“I don’t want help, you murdering asshole. I want my girlfriend. I want—” A sob hiccupped in Roger’s throat. It burned. “Oh, shit.” He pressed his fist to chest. Not now.
“She brainwashed you,” Luke said wonderingly. “And who the hell knows what else. Are you even human anymore?”
But Roger was too busy curling in on himself to answer. He held his breath, trying desperately to hold himself together for a just a little while longer.
Luke gripped his shoulder. He was saying something; Roger couldn’t have cared less what it was. Then Luke gripped Roger’s chin and twisted his head, and Roger retched stringy, dark, poisonous-looking bile on Luke’s shoe.
Luke swore. Roger ignored him. His entire stomach felt like it was trying to come up his throat all at once. He’d lost all control; he could only bend over the side of the bed and retch through each fresh wave of nausea.
Luke swore again. Startled, Roger looked up to see Luke looking at Constance’s burned corpse.
The corpse was moving.
Two seconds was all it took. Roger grabbed the axe, shoved to his feet, and drove the head of the axe into Luke’s temple with the force of all the terror and rage and relief Roger had in him. With a soft moan, Luke collapsed to the floor and was still.
Roger sat back on the bed and retched some more. Finally the need for it seemed to ease a little. Roger remembered Constance saying something about a few minutes’ reprieve now and then. He had to make the best of this one. He pushed off from the bed and got down next to Luke, although more by falling then sitting. He checked Luke’s breath. There wasn’t any. Roger tried to feel bad about that, but he didn’t try for very long. He had more important things to do. On hands and knees, breathing very, very carefully, he made his way over to the black figure lying curled on the floor.
Once he was there, he could see the figure’s chest was slowly moving. Its eyes were open, tracking his awkward motion. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, baby.”
This was her. This was the real Constance. What he’d thought was soot and char was just the color of her skin. Her limbs were bony and thin. Wisps of white were all that was left of her hair. Her face was like a mummy’s: the skin stretched taut over her cheekbones and drawn back to show her black gums.
“Constance, come on.” He took one of her hands. The skin was velvety-soft, flocked with very fine hairs; the fingers had too many joints. It felt completely, utterly inhuman. “You have to get up. I can’t puke these babies up without you, okay?”
The hand squeezed back. From her throat came a soft squeal.
“You’re gonna be okay, all right?” Roger throat was starting to tighten with tears, and that couldn’t be good. He swallowed a couple of times, trying to relax - trying to keep everything in his body still and not convulsing for a little while longer. “Are you hurt? Did he burn you?” He traced his fingers up her arm, looking for injuries, as if he’d even know one if he’d found it.
She seemed warm. Not that he had any sense for temperature anymore; it had to be below freezing out and he was sitting there in an open doorway in his boxers, but still, it seemed like she was warm. “How about we get you outside? Maybe the snow will help, huh?”
She didn’t respond in any way he recognized. Shakily Roger got to his knees and helped her sit up – she didn’t seem to have an ass to speak of, did aliens even sit? – and then he got his shoulder under her arm. Together, comically feeble and while Roger tried his damndest not to puke, they shuffled to the door. At the threshold, Roger pulled them up to their feet. Thank god she seemed steady enough on hers to help keep them both from falling over. Still, when they got across the ice driveway, he pretty much dumped her into the snow.
“Is that better?”
Lying awkwardly on her side, she made another of those squealing sounds that Roger decided meant yes.
“Cool. Um, I’m gonna go puke my guts out in the cabin, okay? Call if you need me, I guess?”
Feeling his reprieve speeding to an end, Roger stumbled his way back to the cabin and swung the door mostly shut. That final motion was too much. Fresh bile forced itself up his throat. He bent over on hands and knees and gave himself up to it.
Sometime later, when he was down to dry-heaving and still exactly as pregnant as he’d been two hours ago, someone knelt at his side. “Hey, baby.”
He turned to find Constance kneeling at his side – human Constance, kind of. Her face was like a mask put on and stretched too thin, but the warm, fond expression was familiar, if a little distorted. “You’re okay.”
She smiled weakly. “Close enough.”
His smile back was surely just as sickly. “I thought you were dead.”
“We’re pretty resilient, actually.”
He could have looked at her face for a lot longer, but he got distracted by some more retching. The next time he came up for air, he said, “I can’t—it’s not working.”
“Shh,” she said, rubbing his back. Her fingers might still have had too many joints, and wow did he not care. “It’s just going to take a while. I’ll be here the whole time, okay?”
Feeling like his heart was in his throat – which might’ve been romantic if it weren’t literal truth -- Roger said, “Okay.”
It did take a while. A decade, maybe. By the time it was over, Roger’s abs lit up like they were on fire every time he took a breath, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to swallow right again.
He took a long look into Uncle Pete’s cooler, where Constance had laid nine black, squirming alien babies. They were the size of newborn kittens, and they still glistened with whatever unholy fluid they’d been floating in in Roger’s stomach.
“We did it,” he said hoarsely. He didn’t really have a voice anymore, either.
“Yeah, you did.” Constance’s smile was a little less crooked now. Her whole face was less crooked. Sometime he’d have to ask her about that.
For now he said, “Now what?”
“We need to get them back to my sisters. They can deal with this asshole, too,” she added, kicking dead Luke’s shin. “And we finally—we know it works. Our species doesn’t have to die. It changes everything, you know?”
“Everything?” Roger asked. He tried to keep the quaver out of his voice. It probably didn’t work.
Constance leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. Looking him very seriously in the eye, she said, “Not everything.”
“Okay. Cool.” That seemed inadequate to express the glow that’d taken up residence in Roger’s chest. Then again, he was pretty freaking tired.
Constance must have seen it. “Come on, baby. Bedtime.” She tugged him down onto the bed and got the covers arranged over them both. The last thing Roger felt was the cool tickle of her breath on the back of his neck.