FEATURE: Scott Roche

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Some creatures feed on blood and revel in the screams of their prey. Scott Roche craves only caffeine and the clacking of keys. His writing and podcast can be found on his website.

Excerpt from Coming Home Again

The weight of this man’s hand on his leg was pleasant. Heat passed through the thin cloth of his pants. He did nothing to remove it, only leaning across to retrieve his beer and then sitting back. In the process, he inhaled enjoying the after shave and scent of cloves. After taking a sip, he smiled. “You’re not the only one who’s been augmented.”

Rogers raised an eyebrow. “How so?”

“Nothing quite so elaborate or interesting, but one of my retinas was replaced with a vat grown version and I have a replacement knee. I blew mine out in college.”

“You played sports in college?” The emphasis on the word sports and the slightly widened eyes were almost insulting in their comic surprise.

Blair winced, the expression exaggerated. He wasn’t as bulky as the pilot, but he’d worked hard to maintain a lean, tight build. “I did, thank you very much. I played lacrosse and some competitive swimming.” He didn’t let the ribbing bother him. Much.

“No real sports, then.” Rogers took another sip of beer, full lips smiling around the bottle’s head.

Blair mimed punching him. “I could probably take you in the pool, thank you very much.”

“You could, but you’d be mine in the boxing ring.” Rogers sat down his bottle.

“I’m not much for hand to hand combat, so you’re right there.” Blair took a longer pull at his beer and tried not to think too much about a sweaty pilot in boxer shorts. That image would come to him later that night. “Is there anything more you can tell me about the Reptiloids? As a doctor I’m fascinated by the proof that there are other sentient races in the universe.” Just saying that sentence aloud made him giddy.

Rogers glanced up at the ceiling and back down at Blair. “There’s a lot to tell and a lot I don’t know. They believe their race evolved from genetic material seeded on their world by a much older race. Generally speaking they’re peaceful. While they haven’t put war behind them, there hasn’t been an armed conflict of any significance on their planets in the last couple of centuries.”

Blair held up a finger. “There’s a lot to chase down in that sentence. The first of which is planets.” Especially, the use of the possessive. Did they ‘own’ planets? That notion made a red flag pop up. Langstrom wouldn’t like that.

“I thought the more significant one would be just that ‘significant’.” Rogers winked.

Blair snorted and took another pull on his beer, this one longer. The room had grown warmer in the last few minutes, and he was thirsty. “Sure, that’s important, but I recognize what that means in this context. I’d be surprised if they had zero armed violence. But if they have multiple planets under their influence,” it was his turn to use air quotes, “that’s going to be an interesting component to our relationship with them. Did they colonize these planets?”

Rogers pursed his lips and cocked his head forward and to one side, while he rubbed his chin. “No. Well, not in the sense that there were any sentient races on them. They seeded them in a way not unlike their earliest ancestors were seeded. They ran into overpopulation concerns and used these other planets to expand their home base. As far as they were able to tell me, there aren’t very many planets which hold life like them or like us. Most life is simple, not above the complexity of single cell organisms. They’ve encountered two other sentient races besides us. They didn’t tell me much about them.” He paused for a moment and it seemed to be mostly for dramatic effect. “Other than the fact that one of those two have also visited Earth.”

Blair’s mouth fell open. He couldn’t help but assume that the powers that be already knew about the visitations. Would it be something like the grays? After a moment, he recovered himself. The job really hadn’t prepared him for this as much as the X-files had. “You say they didn’t tell you much. What do you know?”

Rogers shook his head and wagged a finger at him. “I’m going to hold on to that card. I’ve told you a lot about myself. I’d love to know some things about you.”

“That’s fair.” More than fair, since Blair felt like he was pumping Rogers for information and not strictly counseling him. “What would you like to know?”

“Tell me about your family, or why you came to work for the Air Force, or your last relationship.” There was a subtle emphasis on the last option,

Two of those three were intensely personal. He was reluctant to share either of them since they would both involve the possibility of coming out to this man. He wasn’t ready to do that, yet. No telling what his reaction would be like given the time he came from. Still, he could kill two birds with one stone and not risk it. “My dad was in the Marines. Mom was a physical therapist. I loved them both so much and respected them. I think what I do now is a sort of homage to them. The Marines weren’t for me. After doing some research and taking tests, I decided the Air Force was just the best fit. It would allow me to be a doctor, pay for my schooling, and serve my country. I don’t regret it for a moment.” He hoped the lack of regret would continue past this particular assignment.

“A lack of regrets can be good. I have a lot of those in my past. I think my biggest one was not pursuing a particular relationship when I had the chance.” Rogers leaned in a little. “You have anything like that in your past?”

In his past? No. In the present? Maybe. “I think there are always chances we could have taken that seemed too risky in the moment. No one’s free of that sort of regret.”

Rogers sat his empty bottle on the table. “I live my whole life for taking risks. I’d like very much to take one now.”

Blair’s throat tightened. “You would?” The words came out a little raspier than he would have liked.

A war was being fought behind Rogers’ eyes. He looked everywhere but into Blair’s. Finally, with a nod to himself, he spoke. “We don’t talk much about our emotions, when I come from.”

“You seem to be doing just fine, so far.” That wasn’t the risk Blair expected or hoped for, but it didn’t loosen the lump in his throat.

“Thanks.” Rogers’ tan skin had darkened a shade. “I like you a lot, Doctor Blair. Do you understand what I mean?”

Blair thought he did, but he needed to be sure. He put a hand on Roger’s knee. “I like you to, Rogers.” The continued use of the man’s last name, seemed so stiff, so formal. “Mickey?” At the pilot’s nod, he continued. “I like you too, Mickey.”

Rogers covered Blair’s hand with his own and squeezed. “I like you in a way that men couldn’t really talk about openly back home.” Once the words were out, some of the tension in his body relaxed. “Is that better?”

The blush Rogers had seemed infectious. “Better? Yes. More complicated, too. I like you a lot. You’re kind, smart, and handsome. I’d say that I’m attracted to you. Anyone with any sense would be.” He turned his hand over and grasped Rogers’.

“Does it surprise you to know that I like men, too? In a romantic sense and that I’m attracted to you?” Rogers’ face came perceptibly closer.

“I… I guess it would a little.” Blair’s face felt hot enough to ignite a match. “It takes a lot of courage for you to say that. I mean I know back in your day it would have been difficult to have that kind of relationship in the military. At least openly.”

Rogers laughed, the sound thick in his throat. “Try impossible. I never bothered. There were people I liked in that way, but you never knew how much you could say without getting beaten or kicked out. Not so much now, though?” The note of hope in his voice was impossible to miss.

He focused on how the man’s tongue flicked on his teeth. Then he shook his head and as much as it pained him he slid back. He couldn’t go far thanks to the arm of the short couch. “It still has complications. You’re my patient. I’m your superior officer, if you’re still considered a part of the Air Force.” His head swam.

The hope which had been reflected in his eyes didn’t shatter, but it cracked. “Those things can be overcome, though, right?” Rogers leaned in.

When Blair interposed his finger on Rogers’ lips, slightly rough where he must have been chewing them. Stopping the advance was the hardest thing he’d done in a long time. “Can.” His throat was dry. He stood, though it was uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and took his finger back before the airman could do anything enticing to it. “But maybe shouldn’t. Yet.”

Rogers’ brow furrowed. “Well, ‘yet’ is good. Maybe once all this is over?” He looked at Blair through a sidelong squint.

The fight against a frown, so deep it would threaten to dislocate his jaw, was titanic. “Maybe.” Blair’s heart felt like it was being squeezed by a steel hand. “I should go.” His eyes stung. “We’ll continue this tomorrow.” He turned and hurried out of the room before the tears could come. There was the regret he’d talked about and it wanted to swallow him whole.

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