"This is Adam," Jess said when she came to a stop next to the tree I'd just climbed out of. "I found him walking through town."
I studied the young man. The first thing that struck me wasn't his age, which was late teens or early twenties though the constant hunger that leeched away baby fat made it impossible to tell for sure. It was that he didn't look like any survivor I'd seen in recent years. Even young children had the constantly moving eyes of people who spent a lot of their lives watching as if their lives depended on it. People who lived outside of communities usually looked like it; hodgepodge protective gear and weapons were minimum standard gear.
Adam wore what looked like a brand new t-shirt, a faded pair of jeans, an old bomber jacket, and a scuffed pair of leather work boots. He was taller than me--so, somewhere over six feet--but built like a swimmer. Lean and muscular, obviously not starving. I could see muscle through the shirt.
"You don't have a weapon or any gear?" I asked, a little confused. "Were you on your way back to whatever hideout you've got here?" It seemed obvious the kid spent a lot of time indoors; he was incredibly pale and lacked the weather-beaten look most survivors develop over time.
"I don't have anywhere," Adam said. His voice was deeper than I expected, but not smooth or rich. Even those few words had broken edges to them, as if he'd just finished going through puberty.
"How long have you been alone?" I asked. "Must've been a while."
He looked at me with surprise on his face. "How did you know?"
"You haven't had anyone to talk to in a while," I said. "We've met more than one survivor whose voice needs time to get used to speaking again. So, what were you doing just walking down a street full of zombies unarmed? Seems pretty dangerous."
Adam looked away. I'd have thought it was embarrassment but he didn't blush or fidget. He looked...worried seems like too simple a word for it. Scared, sure, but also instantly tired. As if he'd just remembered a heavy weight he had momentarily forgotten was on his shoulders.
"That's why I brought him back with me," Jess said. "When I say he was walking on the streets, that's what I mean. I watched him for ten minutes. Couldn't believe my eyes." She gestured toward the kid with an upraised hand, taking in his entire form with a lazy wave. "Adam walked right past every zombie, old school and New Breed alike, and they never so much as glanced at him."
I frowned. "That's impossible. Even with scent blockers, they still notice movement."
"Not when I'm the one moving," Adam said quietly. "I don't know why. It started almost three years ago, and some...people found out about it. Studied me. I escaped a while back, I don't know how long for sure."
Jess and I shared a look. Did this kid have something to do with the assholes who'd hit the farm? It seemed way too coincidental that he'd show up so close to us with what had to be a weird and possibly unique mutation in the Chimera colonizing his body right on the heels of a deadly attack.
"Why are you here?" I asked as politely as I could. "I mean, here specifically. Why Iowa?"
Adam's brows knitted together in confusion. "I'm here to find you. Your settlement, I mean. I ran into a friend of one of your people. She knows a guy named Mason, apparently he was her contact with the western communities. She told me where to find you, that you guys could keep me safe and help me figure out what makes me different."
I gave Jess a questioning look. Her eyes narrowed in thought. "Cassandra, I think? She's the scout who does, or I guess did, all the rendezvous meetups."
I blew out a breath. "Okay, well, I don't know what my wife told you, but the farm is gone. Our people are scattered. Right now we're on our own, and we need to get into the town you just left and find a car we stashed there. If you're willing to help, I think we can at least try to find somewhere you'll be safe. Haven would be, for sure."
As I spoke, Adam took a half step back. It was unconscious, just a bit of body language. But it wasn't a good sign, that much was clear.
"I'm not sure," he said. "Look, I don't know if I can trust you. But even if I could, it's not safe for other people to be around me."
This got Jess's attention. "Why, does your invisibility cloak or whatever put off toxic gas?"
"No," Adam said with a shake of his head. "I've been staying a few steps ahead of them, but the people I ran away from are still looking for me. If I stay with you..."
Then we'd be in the crosshairs, too. Good to know some things didn't change.