She was beautiful. Casey couldn't stop thinking about that. His mind was clocking a million miles an hour, Zeke's drugs still carried in his bloodstream, but like a satellite orbiting the Earth, no matter how fast he went, he still centered on Delilah.
It wasn't even her anymore. You could tell, like the hidden Jesus in the photo, once you saw it you couldn't stop seeing it. The shade of her eyes was brighter and her skin pursed in places, like goosebumps that moved, and the veins that stood out in her skin weren't veins at all. He wondered why he had ever thought it was Delilah. He wondered why he still wanted her.
Delilah… or whatever she was… looked down at the slugs tumbling down Casey's shirt, shriveling into dust. A minute ago, they had been burrowing into his face, a pain he had almost felt through the drugs. Then they had squealed and died and Casey would've thought that was funny as hell even if it weren't for the drugs.
"Okay," Delilah had said. "We can wait."
Now he was tied up. In a fit of bad-joke irony, the sobering up he'd wanted from the second he took the drug would also be his death sentence. He wouldn't be Casey anymore. He'd be Casey 2.0 or something. A straight A student.
"You remember when we were kids?" Delilah said, and even though it wasn't her, her voice saying that gave Casey whiplash. She didn't like to admit they had known each other all their lives, or at all. "We were so happy, running around." She got a far-off look in her eyes, and Casey wondered if the alien inside her were accessing the real Delilah's memories, or communing with her, or interrogating her. "You liked being chased, right?" Something threshed under her skin. "I didn't think you'd mind."
"It's not like you'll let me say no. So why are you talking to me?"
"I like talking to you." Delilah smiled like the sun shone and the grass was green: perfectly. "You're smart. And the process can hurt if you fight it."
"Did it hurt Delilah?"
She tested his bonds again. When she got that close he could smell her, not at all like back in the closet in the faculty lounge (a million years ago). She smelled like a beach, pleasant, but not how Delilah had smelled, with that exotic perfume and the lavender shampoo…
Casey wished he could stop thinking how this Delilah was exactly like he imagined Delilah really was underneath the sedimentation of condescension and sarcasm.
"You liked being chased," Delilah informed him. "Being free feels like that. Like I don't have to date the captain of the football team and you don't have to get your nuts smashed into the flagpole every morning. We're all kids again."
He thought about the crisp, jangled pain of a broken arm on a snowy winter day, the warmth of the chase deserting him and the cold seeping in, as if to remind him that it'd been there all along. "I'd prefer to grow up."
She loosened the rope just a little, enough for his arms to wiggle. "That more comfortable?"
The drug was making him think of her naked, adolescent fantasies about saving the day and getting the girl, her fingers hooked in his belt loop and his hands undoing her bra strap.
"I've always thought you were kind of cute."
He tilted his head back, trying to get away from her bedroom eyes. "Could you please shut up?"
She rubbed his chest sympathetically, like she had touched his cast before he told her it hurt. "I'm really sorry for breaking your arm."
He laughed. It figured it would take an alien invasion for Delilah to apologize for anything.
It seemed less and less funny as time went by, Delilah sitting next to him in one of those awful rubber school chairs, tracing invisible patterns on his skin with her fingers. She seemed especially fascinated with the scar from when Gabe had tripped him and he'd cut his arm on a locker door. He supposed for a creature from a water planet, the idea of abrasions and roughness was fascinating.
"Do you have a lot of pain?" she asked, her voice nothing at all like Delilah's… no modulation, no trace of an accent, nothing but the English language. "Yes," she continued, back to doing an impression of Delilah. His skin crawled.
"So who was the queen?" he asked. He didn't know if he'd die when they got him, but whatever was going to happen to him, he might as well not go out in ignorance.
Delilah favored him with an endearing look, like she was charmed by his interest. "Technically, they produce asexually, so the word 'queen' is inaccurate."
"The saviors. The ones who set us free? What, did you think one of them was sitting in my brain, typing in a little keyboard? They just give us advice, and the advice makes so much sense. If you could only know how frustrating it is to see all the mistakes you're making because you don't have one!" She took a deep breath, cutting out her evangelical zeal. Something about her pep was more intimidating than the gloating, maniacal villains in all the sci-fi movies. "But if you must know, it was Mary-Beth. Did you guess?"
For a moment, it was like they were talking school paper lay-outs or something. "I didn't suspect it would be one of us. The odds of her happening to be part of our group, they seem pretty high."
"We know how to deal with troublemakers," Delilah said with a dazzling smile. Then her eyebrows popped as if she had just thought of something. She leaned in to whisper in his ear. "Fucking after being freed is so much better."
The implications of that took the last merciful cob-web out of Casey's mind. He felt like crying, like he'd just run into every bully in Herrington High and they'd all taken turns stomping on him.
"I'm sorry," Delilah said immediately, sincerely. She wiped his eyes with the cuff of her sleeve. "It's okay. There won't be any more tears. The cast is coming off."
What happened next, happened like a bone breaking. A moment of sheer wrongness jerking into his awareness, then came the pain. The door to the room shot open and a jock stumbled in, eyes bloody, feelers wiggling from them like absurd eyelashes. Zeke was in next, finishing the jock off with a tire iron to the back of the neck.
Delilah hissed, some new skeleton distorting her face, and Zeke threw white powder in her face. She choked and went down.
Casey shook the last of the drugs away. He was pretty sure this wasn't a hallucination and if it was, he was going to use all his alien powers to kill Zeke.
"C'mon, scrotum, it's the clichéd rescue scene," Stokely said. She had one of those huge knives Navy SEALs used and Casey cringed before he realized she was cutting the ropes.
"Marybeth is the—"
"We know. She got Stan."
Casey got up, rubbing his wrists more because that's what you did after you were tied up than because they hurt. "Zeke, you have any pens?"
"Shit, you've tumbled to our elaborate alien plan. Stokes, put him back."
"Not for you, for Delilah."
"Of all the—" Zeke said, but he was digging a pen out of his pocket and broke off to toss it to Casey.
Casey leaned over Delilah, ignoring the feelers groping his skin for moisture, shoved the pen into one nostril and pinched the other shut. "Hold her down!" he ordered, and in a second Zeke was pinning her to the ground with him.
"We don't have time for this," Stokely said, kicking some of the fallen powder into the twitching jock, but she said it in the world-weary tone of someone who knew they wouldn't be listened to.
Whatever Delilah was now, she still needed to breath. The powder disappeared up the pen and she stopped struggling.
Casey and Zeke backed off her, Zeke brandishing the tire iron again. Casey took a moment to wipe away the sweat that had been stinging his eyes.
She twitched ceaselessly, like a person trying to hide in her own skin, and Casey mumbled something he couldn't really remember later. It had sounded apologetic.
Delilah vomited up something that shrunk on the ground like Styrofoam being burnt.
Casey didn't think she was in any shape to move, but it wasn't like he had any more upper-body strength than the bare minimum being male guaranteed him. Zeke shoved the tire iron into his hands, then scooped her up. They ran, passing a half-dozen "people" spasming on the floor.
"Air ducts," Stokely explained. "Works in every sci-fi movie. This strike anyone else as a lot of trouble to go through for Delilah Profitt?"
"Fuck you, Stokes," Casey said, but it was the good kind of fuck you.
It was a bad day to be a human. Cars were headed out in every direction, people who weren't people going to see distant relatives and vacation destinations.
They knew who the queen was, but had no idea where to find her. They got to a motel room, the rinky-dink kind of place that no one would stay in in utopia, and Zeke took first watch.
Casey gladly let him take over, glad nothing else would go on his mind for the rest of the night. They all slept in the same room, stripping the bed for blankets and then leaving Delilah on it. She still hadn't quite woken up. Foam occasionally built up on her gums.
Casey woke up to Zeke's horrendous smelling sneakers nudging his face. When he pulled himself up, he saw Delilah was awake too.
"She knows where the queen is," Zeke said, then gave a nod to say yeah, they were all on the same page. "We need a new car."
Zeke knew how to hotwire a car, to Stokely's snorting amusement that someone always knew how to hotwire a car (she called shotgun). Delilah and Casey rode in the back, not looking at each other. Herrington was weird enough to be worth looking at. Deserted, like a zombie movie but creepier because there weren't even zombies. Just some jocks, still in football uniforms, going from house to house like demented Jehovah's Witnesses.
Casey chanced a glance at her. She looked smaller somehow, walking wounded, sometimes rubbing her throat like she wanted to make sure there was no trace left there. Delilah had been his friend once. Then she'd burst out of her training bra and started wearing contacts and people she'd loved had died and he hadn't known what to say. He hadn't even been able to figure out that she wanted him to say something, which seemed so obvious now he wondered how she could ever forgive him for believing her when she said she was alright.
"You wanna talk about it?" he said at last, which seemed nicely neutral at least.
"It's not high on my list of things that rock," she said with such disdain that Casey smiled a little. "It was kinda like smoking pot. A lot of pot."
"I've never," Casey began, and realized it was a big list. He left it at pot.
"I know this guy who can hook us up." Delilah grinned, and even if it was just a mask, it was a good mask.
"Kids, don't make me turn this car around," Zeke said.
"Humanity is so fucked," Stokely said.
When they parked in front of the aquarium, Delilah gave Casey's hand a squeeze, and all Casey could think was how sweaty she must think his palm was before he realized she was trying to be reassuring.
"Well, look who's come home," Marybeth said, her accent obnoxiously fake, like a caricature of a Southerner, of all humanity. "Knew you couldn't stay away, Dee-lie-lah."
The floor was wet enough to squish when they walked and she was naked, the light from the aquarium windows playing on her like tentacles. They'd already bum-rushed four guards before locking themselves in, down in the dark.
"Fuck the interview, rush her!" Zeke said. He moved first, Stokely second. Marybeth's arm, now something more like a tentacle, threw him against the window into the shark tank. It spider-webbed, then hit him with a torrent of water as Stokely was snared by a tendril that made bullshit of everything Casey had ever read about conservation of mass. It tightened around her wrist until she dropped her pen.
Casey didn't know why Zeke had given him the gun. Maybe he'd just thought Casey needed it the most. He pointed it at Marybeth and kept pulling the trigger.
The wounds didn't bleed, they shifted, like holes ripped in wrapping paper to reveal the box underneath.
"Did ya ever think to ask Delilah how much betta it was?" she persisted, still turning Delilah's name into a little taunting sing-song. "C'mon, she can't be that good a liar."
Casey feinted toward Zeke as he threw a pen to Stokely. Marybeth's head whipped back and forth, slow enough that Stokely jammed it into the tentacle. Marybeth sloughed it off and was human again, backing into a window with one arm simply missing.
Somewhere behind them, doors burst open and light poured in.
"Now!" Zeke said, and Casey knew exactly what he meant. They ran toward Marybeth, pens held low. Then it wasn't Marybeth anymore, it was a thousand tentacles snapping at them, the walls, the tanks, filling the air with the sound of glass fracturing.
Then the sound slowly died away. The tentacles sagged, broke off, and finally it was just Marybeth standing there, her hair falling out in clumps, her fingers and toes turning white.
Delilah stood behind her, fingers just as white around an empty pen. "There's an emergency exit with the lock broken. I used it when I came here to make-out."
Marybeth fell to her knees, then curled into a fetal position, and Casey felt the absurd urge to comfort her, put his jacket over her or something. He and Zeke and Stokely and Delilah formed a circle around her, watching as she died.
"I did it for people like you," Marybeth said to Delilah, her accent once more sweet as pie before she slipped away.
"You didn't change my father's death. You just made me forget it."
"I shouldn't have bothered," Marybeth said, not looking entirely human anymore.
"No," Casey said, and they backed away before what was left of her got on their shoes.
The guards and the evangelists were on the ground when they came out. They looked like the bodies left behind from some terrorist attack. Zeke checked the pulse of Coach Willis, then turned him on his side so the foam spilled out of his mouth. "We don't want them to choke on this shit."
They went their separate ways, turning people on their sides because that was the only thing left to do after you'd saved the world. One of the infected had been driving a car when it'd happened and he'd hit the brakes. Now the car was crawling forward. Casey went to stop it before it ran over a cat or something and saw Delilah there too. He reached into the window and turned the key, then she helped him pull the driver out and lay him on his side.
"Thanks for saving the world," Delilah said with the fakest smile Casey had ever seen, but at least it was a world where the smiles weren't real all the time. That didn't really make sense to Casey; he was pretty tired. He didn't think it would make a lot of sense once he had slept on it either.
"I think that was you."
"You saved me, I saved the world…" Delilah trailed off. Shook her head. "So, are you a pretty cool human being when you're not Sigourney Weaver?"
"I try to be."
She nodded. "You know, you could've totally done it with the skanky alien me."
Casey laughed until it hurt to breathe.
No one ended up choking to death on the foam, even if they weren't turned on their sides.