John Wiseman

He was carefully putting away his tools when he smelled someone coming from the tunnel behind him. He did not turn around.

It was Form. She must be ending her work cycle too. She stopped at her pit, one away from his, and began cleaning her legs. He felt his armpits grow cold and damp.

This was a good a chance as he could expect. He glanced at her while he unslung his rucksack. "Hi, Form. Going home?"

"Yeah." She drew her shiny, hairy leg through her jaw comb dislodging grains of sand and small arthropods, which sleepily crawled away into the darkness. Even in the mundane act of cleaning debris from her body she had an ease that he desperately admired, and envied. Maybe that was what he should ask for, if he could articulate exactly what shade of grace it was that set him apart from the others. He suspected that precision would be paramount.

Wait, had he already decided to accept the red ant's offer?

Alright, the key was to rush ahead without thinking. Isn't that what most successful people did? Don't slow down or the paralysis will hit. The few times that they had talked she had been nice to him. Sometimes it had seemed like she laughed at something he said.

Just pretend that it comes naturally. Myrm paused and turned too deliberately to face her. "Hey, do you want to go to the TIVO FESTIVAL with me tomorrow night?"

He felt his body start to go numb. "Because I was already going to go and..." The world shrank into a tiny disc centered on Form's head. It was worse than the time he had eaten the bright fungus with the trio of mute drones. His middle legs went limp and fell loosely against the gravel with small scuffling sounds. His own voice sounded like a dreamy echo and he knew without being able to smell it that he was releasing a large load of pheremones. "I thought we could go together, I can--"

"I'm already going," she said. Her mandibles were interlocked seriously. Her gear had been put away and she had put her jacket on. She was standing on her rear four legs, looking directly at him now.

"Oh." What did she mean? Was she going with someone else? It might not be unusual to go alone; he had never been so he didn't know for sure. Of course she had probably already been asked by someone else.

"Maybe I'll see you there," he said, and she gave him a tight smile, turned around and walked until he lost sight of her around the bend in the tunnel.

He decided then to meet the red ant tomorrow and make the exchange. He had nothing to lose.