Here is the first chapter of Office Aliens Book 4, The Guy Next Door, Kez and Bia’s story. It feels to me like there’s a lot of exposition in this chapter, I would have rather not done it this way, but when both characters are aliens, there’s no human to learn things slowly. It doesn’t make sense for Kez to keep stuff back from the reader. I’ve read and revised this chapter a few times, so I think now it’s more or less in it’s final form. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Kez reached his front door and stopped. The corridor around him was dark, almost black except for the white sconces that glowed just enough to keep humans from walking into the walls. He listened, but the only noises came from several doors down; a TV on his left, a laugh on his right. Nothing from the apartment next to his.
He pulled out his keys, pressing the ring against his palm to keep it from jangling, and unlocked the door with a click. He waited. Nothing. Maybe he was going to get away with it today? He pushed the door open, stepped inside, pivoted to close it, but he heard the latch release next door. He threw his door shut just as Bia called “Kez?”
She had an annoying way of separating his name when she called him. “Ke-ez?” He didn’t know why she did that. Of course, it was already annoying that she insisted on calling him that, instead of his full name, no matter how many times he corrected her. She also refused to tell him her full name so he was forced to use the abbreviation for humans.
He stood in the dark of his apartment, waiting and tense, watching the door. Maybe she would go away. He counted heartbeats, and was just on the verge of relaxing when she knocked, and his shoulders slumped. His nose curled and he turned away, stripping off the shirt he wore to work and plucking out his shaded contact lenses. He walked through to his bedroom, undoing his pants. Human clothes were so restrictive. He stopped at a hall closet and opened it, reaching into his pockets for the things he had stolen that day, considering them as they lay in his palm. Three paperclips, a stack of sticky notes, a thick black pen, two sugar packets, a wooden coffee stirrer, a lid for a takeaway cup, and a nickel he had found on the floor.
He sighed. Today hadn’t been a good day, he had been stressed about a team meeting and taken more than usual. Even as he thought that, he totted it all up for a total value of about seven dollars, maybe ten. A good haul, definitely enough for a day’s food if need be. The pen was the only thing anyone would miss. He put that back in his pocket and tipped the rest onto the pile on the closet floor. Bia knocked on the door again and he scowled at it, then looked back at his pile, scanning it for items to return the next day. He chose a lanyard with an empty plastic sheath and a stress ball. That would do.
He closed the door and continued to his bedroom, working his trousers down his hips. He really hated human clothes, even those cut for Teissians. They were just too tight in all the wrong places, determined to cover as much of his body as possible. Getting the pants over his twin-jointed legs was especially difficult.
He had just sat on the bed to start the process when he heard the front door open and leapt up, tugging the pants back into place as Bia called out “Hellooo? Ke-ez?”
He stormed through to the sitting room that also acted as a hall. “Don’t just come in!” he scolded her.
“It was unlocked,” Bia pointed out. “I thought you wanted me to.”
“Why would I want you to?” Kez sighed, folding his arms, then running one hand over his face and crest. Bia always made him speak English, when he just wanted to speak Balin after a day of work. He knew she spoke it, she just refused to.
“Well, you didn’t answer when I knocked and I heard you come in so I thought… Can I put some lights on?”
He sighed and turned a nearby lamp to its lowest setting. Kez couldn’t see in the light; Bia, being Balor, couldn’t see in the dark. He had tried to use this to drive her out in the past, but she just stayed and knocked things over.
Bia was his neighbour to the right, and lived with an old Balin female who acted as her guardian. On Teiss, their homeworld, the Balor dominated and tormented the Balin, forcing them to work as slaves. Kez, being Balin, hated the Balor, and Bia’s personal history made no difference. She had lived with her Balor parents above-ground in their mansion until her adolescence. Then her parents had been killed in an Ypex attack and she had fled underground, taken in by the Balin before being evacuated with them a few years later. Her guardian, Narasontilanieu, or Til to the humans, was always reminding Kez of her sad story as if it would change his opinion of her. It didn’t.
Today, Bia was really on form. Her scales were naturally royal purple, and she polished them until they glistened. Her coloured patches were cyan, surrounding her eyes and wrapping around her right forearm in stripes. Those were the only ones he could be sure of because, in the Balor tradition, Bia painted over them, extending them with swirls or dots or flowers, until he lost track of which parts of her stayed the same.
She was wearing a grass green T-shirt which bared her stomach and had some cartoon face on the chest in yellow, with yellow bands hemming the sleeves, and hot pink shorts with white spots on. The Balor were always greedy for colours and walked around wearing as many as possible. Bia liked human clothes, and this was the result. He thought he should be used to the clashing mess of colours by now, but somehow she always surprised him.
She was carrying a metal tray covered in foil. Kez eyed it suspiciously. Bia looked at him, her focus jumping between his face and his bare torso. Kez grit his teeth. The Balin did not normally dress their top halves and wouldn’t blink twice at what Kez was wearing. Bia, on the other hand, flustered like a human in a movie.
“I made chocolate cupcakes,” she said, lifting the tray in offering. Her voice was light and young, and made Kez feel old. He had been an adult for many years, but Bia was only just there. He had no idea why she insisted on forcing her way into his home the way she did.
“I saw it on TV.”
Of course. Kez sighed and turned away. “I don’t like cupcakes,” he said, realising his pants were still undone. He tugged the two sides together to make sure he was decent as he walked back to his bedroom.
“Oh,” Bia said, looking down at the tray. “I could make something else? I still have some chocolate left. Cookies?” She followed him and he shut his bedroom door to keep her out while he changed. If she’d had a hand free, she’d have opened it and come in anyway.
“I don’t like chocolate,” he called back. And neither do you! he thought. Few Teissians did. The humans considered it almost sacred, but between themselves, the Teissians agreed chocolate literally tasted like shit. He didn’t know what Bia was thinking, making chocolate-flavoured anything, but then, he knew she did her best to pretend to be human. Eating chocolate though… He shuddered, and hurried to exchange his work pants for the loose, silk shorts the Balin made for themselves. This pair wasn’t a favourite, having a base colour of black, but he liked how the orange pattern looked almost gold. They clashed with his scales but he still wore them.
He opened the door and found her just outside, her mouth pursed as she stared down at the tray of cupcakes. She quickly looked up at him, her smile springing back up. He edged past her towards the living room, knowing she’d follow. He didn’t want her snooping around his bedroom, or the closet in the hallway.
“Sorry!” she said. “You like lemons, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Like every other member of our species… Lemons were one good thing about Earth. They tasted like fresh little mouthfuls of sweet spring water, or a bite of a cloud filled with sunshine. Kez didn’t like much, but he liked lemons.
“Lemon cake is so boring though,” Bia complained, following on his heels. “Maybe I could do limes, or grapefruit? They’re kind of like lemons… I wonder if I can find a recipe online.”
“I don’t need you to make me cake.”
Bia dropped her eyes and smiled shyly. “I want to.”
Kez rolled his eyes at that little performance. He dropped onto his sofa with a whump, his legs splayed with one arm on the rest and one along the back of it, letting his head fall back. He was always tired after being in the office all day. “Why are you here, Bia?”
“Because I made cake.”
“So I wanted to give you some.” A fracture threaded through her voice. He was hurting her feelings. He had to stop himself from appealing for patience to the Balin gods who had not followed him to Earth.
She slid the tray onto his breakfast bar and hurried over to the sofa to sit next to him. She sat with her body turned to face him, her leg bent under her and her hands squeezing her calf. She was too close. Kez watched her, his eyes mostly closed, hoping she’d take the hint. She never did. Her eyes drifted down his body again.
Kez fixed his eyes on her and hissed, wrinkling his nose. He didn’t raise his crest to back the threat up, since she was female and it might be misconstrued, and he wasn’t serious anyway. He just wanted her to retreat a little. Instead, she just blinked in surprised, then smiled.
Kez huffed and pushed himself up and off the sofa, twisting so that he fell instead into the adjacent armchair that was only big enough for one. Bia was so clueless that she didn’t even understand a good hiss. Moving from a Balor mansion to the Balin tunnels, then to the transporter ships a few years later had left her with mixed bits and pieces of the different Teissian cultures, with some human thrown in just to make sure she’d never understand any of them completely.
Kez had no idea how or why it had fallen to him to be constantly harassed or why no one tried to stop her. Was it just Balor entitlement? Did she just see a Balin as something she could have for the taking, despite the fact that the male in question was old and ill-tempered? If it had been a Balin female his own age, he would have been flattered, charmed, excited by the attention. But not Bia.
Kez knew what he was. He was grouchy, grumpy, what his friend Ro’s human mate Maggie called ‘a downer’. He was bad company, ‘no fun’. He was also a thief, unable to stop even after landing on Earth. On Teiss, he’d done whatever he’d had to to make a living, which included stealing, gambling (and cheating), blackmail, and what humans would call drug-dealing. That way of life had got him exiled in the end, but it was that or be killed in a brawl when he inevitably angered the wrong person. He had turned his banishment into evacuation, ending up safe on Earth while the rest of his clan probably got ripped to shreds by the Ypex. He couldn’t say he was particularly sorry, they had made life difficult and empty for him because of his last, and biggest secret.
He was half Balor.
He didn’t consider himself Balor in any way, had been raised by his Balin mother until her death, but it was still a part of him, one he couldn’t get rid of. On Earth, where nobody knew him, he passed as just a particularly boring Balin. Good-looking Balin had dark base scales and bright ‘colours’, the patches that marked their bodies. Kez was dull and dark all over, his scales too green, his red colours too dim, with almost none of the bio-luminescence other Balin had. Their colours were determined by the choba their mothers ate while pregnant, so others probably thought his mother had been overly ambitious and tried to give him two colours instead of the one she could afford, falling short of both. They still accepted him as Balin, just a bland one.
They didn’t know his green scales and dull colours came from a Balor father muddying his genetic waters. Back on Teiss, however, everyone had known. It had made him an outcast, so Bia’s interest in him was not something he had ever experienced before. That did not make him want to indulge her however. She was too young, she was Balor, and often fawned over human ideas of ‘romance’ learned from the TV. Balin relationships were not like that. They did not date or hold hands or cuddle, or make goo-goo eyes or kissy face. Balin only needed a partner when they were in heat. If mating produced a child, then obviously the male would help, but it was functional. It wasn’t romantic and Kez wasn’t interested in anything else.
He didn’t know why Bia hounded him the way she did, but even if no one else was going to stop her, he would. She was pushy and annoying and tried too hard to be human or, failing that, Balin, without any of the correct culture or attitude. She was constantly invading his space and the way she clamoured for his attention just felt… sticky.
She adjusted her seat on the sofa now that he had moved, taking the spot he had just vacated and facing forwards to be closest to him. Kez was pleased with his unassailable place on the armchair.
“Did you come here because you made cake or did you make cake so you could come here?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
Bia looked shifty. “I bake along with the TV. I can’t eat it all myself.” She played with her claws in her lap. Today they were painted a shade of sky blue that almost matched her cyan scales and set with plastic gems, one of them even having some sort of charm dangling from the end. Bia had been young enough on the transporter ships from Teiss to avoid vocational training and go into general education instead, and now she was waiting for her GED qualifications to come through so she could get a job. Because she was unemployed, she hadn’t had to file down her claws like Kez had, and he found his eyes drawn to them. Not many Balin were able to keep their claws curved. It had been too long since he had seen natural claws, even if hers were currently blue and lumpy with beads, and it made him jealous.
Curved claws were the mark of a privilege Kez didn’t have. On Teiss, the Balin used their hooked claws for digging, for work. Now work made them file them down. In either scenario, the Balor got to do what they wanted, painting and decorating their hands because manual labour was beneath them.
Her curved claws also reminded him of the fact that, despite how they treated each other, the Balor and the Balin were the closest-related of the Teissian races, and the only two capable of interbreeding, of which he was unwilling evidence. Most Teissians, and especially the Balor, either didn’t know or pretended not to, keeping it as a dirty little secret. Kez didn’t think the humans knew, and he wondered if Bia did. The biggest physical difference between them were their scales, impossibly bright on a Balor, and dark on a Balin, but that was only due to their diets. The Balor benefitted from rich crops of coloured choba farmed by Balin who couldn’t afford to eat it themselves. Balin night-vision and glowing colours were relatively recent evolutions. The Balor liked to pretend they were superior, but in fact the two races were just warring brothers.
Kez forced his eyes away from Bia’s hands so he was no longer staring at her lap, and bit down on his envy and bitterness. She was young. She would be put to work soon enough. This wasn’t Teiss. They were equal here.
Bia stopped fiddling. “Do you want to watch TV?” she asked, looking hopeful.
Kez had seen this tactic from her before. Some ruse to get her into his apartment, then once she was there, she would suggest anything that allowed her to stay.
“I like your shorts,” she said, trying again.
“Go home, Bia.”
“Why? Did I do something wrong?” She pulled her lower lip into her mouth and she picked at her claws again.
“Because I’m not in the mood. I just got home from work. I’m tired. I want to eat and relax.”
“I can cook!” she said, springing up.
“No you can’t.”
“I can! I learned how to make a lasagne just yesterday, it was on the morning show.”
“That’s human food.”
“So…!” He was getting frustrated now, getting to his feet to herd her out. He forced himself to take a breath and lower his voice. “So I don’t like human food.”
“But that’s not fair! How am I supposed to learn to cook Balin food on Earth?”
“She says she can’t get the ingredients!”
Immediately, Kez’s mind provided a list of all the different traders and contacts he knew who could supply Balin food and spices, but he kept it to himself. If Bia ever learned how to cook food he actually liked, she would really be impossible to get rid of. He pushed her towards the front door. Her shoulder felt small and bony under his palm. The top of her head came no higher than his collarbone.
“That’s too bad.”
“Ke-ez!” she moaned, as if she knew he was withholding his help.
He pushed her out the front door and she stood pouting in the hall. “Go home, Bia. Eat. Study.”
“Can I come over later then?”
“No.” He was closing the door.
Her hand hit it, claws curving around to keep it from latching, her almost-navy iris in her pale, pale cyan eye peeking through the gap. “What if you gave me your contact details? I could message you!”
“No, Bia!” He made to slam the door and she jerked her hand back, presumably to save the paint on her claws because it wouldn’t have hurt her. For a single quiet moment, he just listened.
“Okay, well… Enjoy the cupcakes!” she called from the hall.
He whipped his head around to look over his shoulder, saw the cupcakes in his kitchen, and cursed.