Excerpt: Smoke Signals

Out of a sudden need to break up the rhythm, Mike asked, “So why’re you in human form all the time when I come around now?” He smiled when Zali’thurg looked up, thumbs pausing. “Is it just so you can use the computer more easily if you want to?”

Pseudohuman,” Zali’thurg corrected with his usual sharpness, enunciating the term. “I thought that you would appreciate it if I talked to you more on your level.”

“Oh yeah,” Mike said. He’d thought as much, but it was good to get confirmation. He looked Zali’thurg over, grinning. “I appreciate it lots. Love it, really.” That didn’t exactly explain why Zali’thurg had done it pretty reliably since the second visit, but there was a lot about Zali’thurg that was hard to explain.

Zali’thurg appeared to miss both the gentle edge of teasing and the flirting, which was pretty much what Mike expected. It was, on the one hand, kind of a shame, but it also made doing it a whole lot more guilt-free.

“Of course you appreciate it,” Zali’thurg said. He licked a fingertip, his long tongue wrapping around it briefly. That was something that had been a real shocker the first time he’d done it. It was apparently just a form of smugness-based grooming, but Mike also found it really hard to get out of his mind whenever Zali’thurg did it.

Mike cleared his throat, turning back to the computer and checking the time. “That’s the last install I’ll do tonight. I’ll finish the rest up tomorrow, so I’m clocking out now.” He switched to his own laptop briefly, remoting in to his work desktop to log his time, then shut it with a click. “So…”

“So what would you like to play?” Zali’thurg asked, grinning and showing his sharp teeth.

That was the other thing they’d taken to doing while Mike was visiting, as soon as his work hours were over—and he’d only just managed to talk Zali’thurg out of doing it during work too. It was one thing to have a TV show on in the background while he downloaded and installed over and over, and another thing entirely to play games that would make it impossible for Mike to do work.

Zali’thurg had tried to insist, but when Mike pointed out that playing made the client pause its other processes, Zali’thurg reluctantly gave in with only a token effort or two toward card or board games in its stead.

But after the work was done? That was all good. There was no need to just go back to his borrowed room on his own any more. Instead they sat together, playing multiplayer games on their own computers or, occasionally, with Mike giving advice while Zali’thurg played a single player one on his own, shoulder bumping lightly against Mike’s. The texture of Zali’thurg’s arm was firm and a little rough, even through his clothes, and viscerally memorable.

That night, when Mike went to bed, he thought he could still feel it. He lay there, way too turned on to cope, but also too embarrassed to do anything about it in someone else’s home.

It was a shame, though—he knew the sensation would fade by the time he was back in his own bed, at which point he knew he’d wish he’d had the guts to take advantage of it.

© 2019 Meredith Katz. All Rights Reserved. Art by RubyDianArts.