Under Foreign Skies

Chapter 1

”All passengers for QANTAS flight QF270 to Brisbane, please proceed to gate 11, your plane is ready for boarding.” A tinny voice echoes throughout the terminal. I stare at the baggage carousel, watching the luggage trundle slowly about its squeaking length. Aha. Finally. I scoop up the battered navy blue duffel which holds what remains of my worldly possessions and walk towards the automatic doors. As they open, a blast of hot, dry air makes me squint at the brightness beyond. A number of workers clad in an assortment of high-vis clothing are standing impatiently at a nearby taxi rank.

My PC buzzes on my wrist. Fishing my earpiece out of a pocket, I pop it in, tapping it to answer.

“Hello?”

“Oi, where are ya? I’m not doing another lap!” a voice demands.

“I’m out front.” I state simply.

“No shit, what number you standing under?”

I look up. “Uh. 23.”

“Right, blue patrol, be there in 2.” A beep as the call is terminated. Sure enough, a blue four wheel drive stained with dust pulls up in the bay in front of me. From the driver’s seat steps the grinning form of my cousin Kyle. Stepping around the vehicle, he grabs the duffel from me, slinging it into the back seat before catching me in a rough hug.

“Glad to see you made it John.” Kyle says, releasing me. “Good flight?”

“LONG flight.”

Kyle nods, walking back over to the driver’s seat. “Yeh, crossing the pond’s a bit of a cunt. Hop in then.”

I hop into the passenger’s seat as Kyle navigates the mazelike exit with practiced ease. Before long, I’m passing a dated “Welcome to Perth” sign, stained red-brown from bore water.

“You’re lucky, you should have seen the nightmare it used to be getting out here before they put the new roads in.” Kyle says, pushing a button on the radio.

“…continuing reports from Jerusalem where Ilian forces have seized control of Al Aqsa…”

Kyle snorts. “Fuck, that’ll go down well.” He mutters, pushing another button.

“…where The Archbishop of Canterbury has just ratified the agreement. The Anglican church is now a part of the ever-strengthening Order of Ilias…”

Kyle stabs another button with a harsh oath. I look at him in surprise. “I didn’t think you were religious, Kyle.”

“I’m not, but now I owe Jeff fuckin fifty bucks. Fucking cuck bishop.” Kyle responds. He sighs, changing the channel again. Middle-of-the-road pop-rock begins its inoffensive assault on my ears. Kyle glances in the rear view mirror.

“Didn’t bring much with you.” He remarks.

“The evacuation was a little sudden, I’m lucky I was able to get out as quickly as I could.”

“Of all the things that would happen to Atlanta, I didn’t think that a pitched battle between monsters and darkies would be its downfall.” Kyle laughs briefly, pausing when my silence is noted. “Aunt Betty and Eric are OK?” He asks sincerely. I nod.

“They’re staying with grandma in Kentucky. From what I hear they’ve managed to keep things pretty normal there.”

“Ah well, just glad you managed to get ahold of me when you did.” Kyle responds, flashing me a reassuring grin. “We’re almost there.”

Kyle pulls up in a quiet street, clearly in what passed for the upper end of town. Kyle pulls out a CV handset from beside his seat. “Jeff, you there? Open the gate.”

“What’s the password?”

“Fucked yer mum”

“Fuck you cunt.”

“Stop playing commando and open the fucking gate.” Kyle grates in exasperation.

The heavy metal gate leading into the stately house opened with a drone of electric motors.

“You still have power?” I ask incredulously.

“Benefits of a lower population mate, less chance they’ll take someone critical. Most of us are still going to work of a Monday, but the boss is less likely to crack shits if you’re late. Plus, we’re still running off 90% solar, so we’ll be OK in a fix.”

“Net?”

“Bloody’ Kangaroo-net even when it’s working.” Kyle laughs

I join in with his infectious laughter as the gate closes behind us. Kyle opens the car door, dropping to his belly and looking underneath the vehicle.

I frown, puzzled at the odd behaviour. “What are you doing?”

“Checkin’ for hangers on. It’s not likely but a snake or two has been known to hide underneath bigger vehicles from time to time.” Kyle mutters, grunting as he regains his feet. Grabbing my duffel, I follow him inside.

“…were taken by helicopter to Royal Perth Hospital, after the Yowies assaulted the assembled students.” I hear from a nearby radio, followed by the harsh laughs of two male voices.

“What’d I miss?” Kyle asks, heading into the lounge room.

“Apparently the Social Sciences department at UWA tried their ‘Stronk Empowered Womyn’ thing on a band of Yowies who came down from out bush. The Yowies took it as a challenge and beat the fuck out of ‘em” A black-haired man replied with a grin.

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch.” Kyle drawled.

“Rainbow hair everywhere, I’d put a tenner on it.” A blond, tanned man laughed. Seeing Kyle, he held out his hand. “Speaking of money, I heard about the Anglicans. Pay up cunt.”

Kyle grumbled, fishing in his pocket and pulling out a yellow bank note. The blond pocketed it swiftly.

“This is my cousin John, by the way. John, this is Mick and Jeff.” Kyle offered by way of introduction. The two men gave nods and murmurs of greeting. “Beer?” Jeff asked, looking at me askance.

“I’m only seventeen” I mumbled regretfully

Jeff shrugged, “Yer only a year off drinking age here mate. I won’t tell yer mum.”

“You corrupting my cousin Jeff?” Kyle chuckled.

Jeff barked with laughter. “If he’s anything like you he’s already had to hide at least one messy night from the folks.”

“Guilty.” I grin.

“He might be a seppo, but he knows the right answers.” Jeff drawled.

“C’mon John, let’s get you squared away.” Kyle offered, grabbing the duffel from my hand and heading towards the stairs.

“All three of you living here?” I ask as we ascend the stairs. Kyle grunts in mock irritation.

“Bloody may as well be for how often they’re here.” Kyle rejoins, casting a glance over his shoulder. “But nah, mostly it’s just the security of being with mates. Easiest way to disappear’s to live alone, after all.” Kyle opens a door on the first floor landing. “All yours, it’s a bit bare but we’ll grab some odds and sods this week.”

I look inside. A plain, double bed and an empty wardrobe greets my eyes, plus an ikea desk and simple chair. Kyle dumps the duffel on the bed.

I sigh wearily. “I’ll put it away later.”

“Fair enough, beer’s getting warm anyway.” Kyle says with a grin. I follow him back downstairs.

“Where is Uncle Peter anyway?” I ask.

“He’s living out on base with mum, they’ve got him doing something important.” Kyle answers with a shrug. “He’ll call from time to time. Mostly to check I haven’t sold the joint from under him.”

I chuckle as we both head out into the kitchen. Jeff passes me a perspiring brown bottle, which I take gratefully.

“Honestly I don’t see why you’re so willing to take them at face value. Look at everything they’ve taken over in the last few months alone!” Mick argues, ignoring my presence.

“But WHAT are they taking? Power stations, Water Treatment, Schools, Hospitals. They’re about the only ones who are fucking bothering to keep society running!” Jeff replies.

“That’s Taxpayer infrastructure, cunt. Never heard of the separation of Church and State?”

“I don’t remember the last time I heard someone yelling ‘Ilias Ackbar’ out a fucking megaphone.”

“I’m still not ok with it. They’ve got an agenda, I’m telling you.”

“Course they’ve got a fucking agenda. Everyone with a few million spare’s got an agenda these days. But between the abos having fucking seizures over the dreamtime coming to life and the muppets in Canberra living with their heads up their arses the Order’s about the only mob who are doing any good with theirs!”

“Are we having this argument again?” Kyle groaned.

“She’s not a God.” Mick insists stubbornly.

Jeff shrugs. “If She’s not a God, then fucking nothing is, Mick.”

Mick turns to me. “What’s your take on it John?”

I frown slightly. “I think I came into this one in the middle. What’s the question?”

“Ilias and The Order, what do you make of them?”

Whew. Tough one. On one hand with the global economy largely in the toilet, The Order allowed a lot of re-settlement for isolated humans who otherwise would have had to consign their lives to what they could carry. On the other, they were damn sure to remind those humans to whom they owed their continued ‘free’ existence.

I give something of a noncommittal shrug. “I’m not sure. The whole world’s a little crazy at the moment. Back in the States you’ve got the Council for Interspecies Exchange insisting that the Mamono just want to integrate with human society, then you’ve got the various fundamentalists, well, what’s left of them, foaming about the end of the world, then you’ve got The Order telling us that they’re here to kill us all.” I pause, as a lump builds in my throat. “Then there’s the kidnappings…”

“Hah. ‘kidnappings’, show me one supposed ‘slave’ who isn’t happy as a pig in shit about his new life.” Mick mocks. I see red, gritting my teeth. Images flash in my head of busting his mocking face in with the beer bottle in my hand. Kyle sees my expression, and grabs Mick by the arm, dragging him into the other room. I hear the words “Father” “Taken” and “Fuckin glass you cunt” being muttered from the hallway before the two come back in, Mick with a sheepish expression on his face.

“Sorry John, I didn’t know about your Dad mate. That was fuckin’ low of me.” He offers with a woebegone look.

I sigh, forcing myself back to calmness. “It’s… OK. You didn’t know. Him and mom had been separated for a while, but it was something of a shock to walk into his house to find a fucking spider had coated half the place in webbing.”

“Shit hey?” Jeff exclaims, “Was he…”

“It’s fucked up, but Mick’s not entirely wrong. I’ve never seen him happier. There were… Things… in the web though, and the spider kept trying to get me to stay the night… I didn’t want to end up one of them.”

Kyle gives a low whistle. “Fucking heavy.”

I nod, taking a long drink from my beer.

“We still on for the pub?” Mick offers hesitantly.

Kyle nods “Ordinarily I’d say no, but fucked if I’m going to stay locked up in the damn house for another week.” He looks at me. “Feel free to crash out if you want Jonno, You’re probably jet-lagged as shit, we won’t be home late and we’ll take the gate remote with us.”
I nod my head. “I’ve been stuck in a metal tube for twenty hours. I think I might turn in.”

Kyle nods. “Number’s next to the phone. Call me if you need anything. Dad’s below it on speed-dial if it’s an emergency.”

I cover my mouth to stifle a yawn. “Thanks Kyle.”

“Oi Jeff, you banging Shaz or what?” Mick’s voice brings me up from the depths of sleep.

“Not for lack of trying.” I hear Jeff admit “What’s it to you?”

“Just don’t want to see you do something stupid for want of some pussy, mate.” Mick said simply.

“The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“You saw them pull the glowsticks, they’re not fucking about any more.”

I stretch. My brain is simultaneously telling me I’ve slept too late and to wake up, and that I haven’t slept enough and to go back to sleep.

Goddamn jetlag. I lie in the dim darkness, listening to my cousin’s friends.

“Hey, a Divine Blessing isn’t something to be sneezed at!” Jeff objects.

“Heh. Divine Blessing. I don’t know what’s up with those glowsticks but if you think that’s the work of God I’ve got a Nigerian princess who wants to give you her fortune.” Mick rejoins mockingly.

“Hey guys, shut up. Johnno’s sleeping.” Kyle’s voice joins the other two.

“I’m up Kyle, Jetlag’s a bitch.” I call down.

“Sorry mate, hope we didn’t wake you!”

I swing my legs out of bed. “Nah, It’s all good.” I reply, making my way downstairs.

“Seriously though Jeff, you’re not actually thinking of joining up are you?” Mick’s voice is muffled, clinking sound of beer bottles.

“Pay’s good… better than the bullshit I’m getting working for DPI.”

“Yeah, It’ll just cost you your soul in the meantime.”

Jeff’s slurring laughter. “Now who’s being a religious nut?” I turn the corner into the kitchen. Mick and Jeff are leaning against the bench, Kyle has paired a keyboard and screen to his PC and is tapping away at something.

“Fuck you cunt.” Mick grumbles, passing Jeff and Kyle a beer. Looking up, he sees me. “G’day Johnno, want one?”

I shake my head. “Feeling a little scattered, think I’ll pass.”

Mick shrugs. “Fair enough mate.”

A buzz at my wrist. “Huh… Network transfer’s gone through.” I mutter, glancing briefly at the e-mail. My PC buzzes again, a call, unknown number.

I pat my pockets for my earpiece, shit, must have left it on the dresser. Screw it. I hit the speaker option.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this John Walden?”

“Yeah, who am I speaking to?”

“This is Connie from the State Office, I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time.”

I glance at the time display on Kyle’s screen. 1230AM. Heh.

“It is the middle of the night, but I’m up.”

“Oh I’m so sorry about that. I just wanted to let you know that St Patricks has accepted the transfer, and will have your enrolment package ready for collection tomorrow.”

Oh joy. School.

“Er, thanks.”

“You’re most welcome. It was very lucky, donchaknow, you moving to Australia. St Patricks is one of the few Human-only schools left.”

“Uh huh.” I don’t give a shit lady, what are you getting at?

“Is your Guardian present at the moment?”

“Speaking.” Kyle called absently.

“Oh, er… Mr Cavendish?”

“That’s right.”

“Please do be aware that it is a condition of John’s visa that he attends. Deportation will not be funded by the State Department donchaknow.”

“Yeh, he’ll get there.” Kyle drawled nonchalantly.

“Okee, thank you so much for your time. Ilias be with you.”

A blip as the call terminates.

“Shouldn’t Uncle Peter be fielding that?” I venture.

“Like they give a fuck.” Kyle snickers. “Dumb seppos didn’t even do their homework.”

“How do you mean?”

“St Patricks WAS a Human-only school… Ten years ago.” Mick chortles. “They integrated when I was in year 10. Made studying for years 11 and 12 bloody interesting, I’ll tell ya.”

Of course. Things just had to get complicated.

“Come on mate, get up.” Kyle’s voice from the doorway

I groan into my pillow “What time is it?”

“Seven, let you sleep in as long as I could. C’mon, shit shower shave, I’ll drop ya off on my way to work.”

I sit up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Kyle grins at me. “Cairn princess, up and at ‘em.”

I stumble into the shower, letting the water finish the process of waking me up before getting dressed and heading downstairs.

“Coffee’s on the pot, there’s still some scrambled eggs and bacon on the tray.” Kyle’s voice echoes from somewhere in the house.

“That’s bacon?” I murmur, looking at the strange cut of meat. Piling a plate and filling my mug with coffee, I sit down and eat… It tasted bacon-ish, at least.

“Reckon you can find your way home after school?” Kyle asks over the seat at me.

“Yeah, it’s not that far.” I reply, hoisting my bag onto my shoulder.

“Good stuff. You’ve got the key, I’ll see you when I get home.”

I smile. “Thanks Cuz.”

“Have a good day poopsiekins!” That last in a comical falsetto.

“Rack off man.” I snicker.

Kyle grins again, pulling his grumbling patrol out of the drop-off bay.

I walk up the pathway, other students, both Human and Mamono beginning to dribble in on either side of me. I’ll admit to being a little nervous, but it all seems so… normal. Shaking my head slightly, I head to the building marked ‘Administration’.

“Hi there!” A sunny Holstaurus greets me as I enter.

“Er, Hi. I’m John Walden? I’m starting today.”

“Oh! Yep! Got your details right here.” The Holstaurus smiles welcomingly. “Now let’s see.” She tucks an errant lock of hair behind a horn, and leans over a terminal, tapping away, her face intent on the screen. My eyes are drawn instinctively down the smooth line of her neck, her plain button-up shirt valiantly containing her absolutely ENORMOUS breasts, shadow of a long bovine tail swishing behind her.

I swallow in a mouth suddenly dry, hope she didn’t notice me looking.

“Here you go!” She declares, holding out a sheaf of paper “There’s a map, and your timetable, and a few bits and peices. Feel free to head on over to Student Services if you need anything else, it’s just down the hall there.” She points at a sign marked ‘Student Services’

Jiggle jiggle… FOCUS dammit John.

“OK… Thanks.” I murmur, locking my eyes to the paperwork in my hands and flipping through it intently.

“Have a great day. Home room should be starting in about twenty minutes.”

I nod, “Yeah… Thanks again.”

I make my way to the homeroom, opening the door and making a show of putting the paperwork in my bag to cover my awkwardness.

“Fresh meat.” A black and gold Lamia murmurs, spotting me and grinning toothily.

“Oh shut up Vicki, you slut.” An oddly shaped Mamono rejoins, kicking long, furred feet up onto the desk in front of her and leaning back on a muscular tail. Was that a Kangaroo?

A black-haired human youth waves me over.

“Don’t worry about Vicki, she likes to give the new guys a hard time. She’s harmless though.”

I nod. “Good to know. Thanks.”

His eyes widen with surprise, “What’s the accent? Canadian?”

I give a snort of laughter.

“American then. Never can tell the two apart.”

“That’s like me calling you a Kiwi, son.” I retort with a grin.

“Fair play mate, no need to go that nasty!” The youth exclaims in mock outrage. “Name’s Chris.”

“John.”

“Howz’goin. What you got first up?”

“History with…” I frown. “There’s just a placeholder here.”

“You’re in my class then.” Chris nodded “Mr O’Brian retired… well… took an extended leave of absence… Actually he’s getting fucked eight ways from sund…”

“We can do without the obscenity, Mr. Clark!” An authoritative male voice rang out as a slender, almost cadaverous old man stepped into the room.

“Sorry Mr. Reiner.” Chris mumbled.

“Ah. My new student. Welcome… John is it?”

“Er, yessir.”

Mr Reiner nodded. “Right then. To the announcements…”

I’ll give it to the old boy, he knew how to control a room. Human or Mamono, he could stare down a misbehaving student with a slight cough and a boring stare from his deepset ice-blue eyes.

“Sorry I’m late.” Came a nonchalant voice, musical and resonant. Feathers stirred the air and I saw a vision of massive wings, brown and gold as the new arrival sat almost imperiously between Vicki and the Kangaroo.

“Is that an angel?” I hissed to Chris. Titters throughout the room. Shit, that wasn’t supposed to carry.

“No. Katherine is not an angel, by species nor behaviour.” Mr. Reiner drawled. “And I trust you have a late note, miss?”

“Er… It… fell out of my pocket?” the winged girl offered lamely. Now that I had the chance to look at her, I noticed my mistake. Her head was feathered, long soft feathers which matched the brown and gold of her wings, which melded into her upper arms, rather than emerging from her back as I originally thought. Her tawny gold eyes flicked momentarily to meet mine and the ghost of a smirk appeared on her full lips.

I suddenly found the surface of my desk very, very interesting.

“Honestly Katherine, you are the only wedge-tail I have ever met to be singularly tardy every week. Must I send another note home to your mother?”

“Why bother Sir, she’d just loose that as well!” A Human girl snickered. Katherine glared murderously at the girl who met her gaze with a curled lip and a disdainful stare.

“Ladies, if we can dispense with the cattiness…”

“I didn’t do anything nyaa~” A Neko cried.

“Not you, Miss Shisume.” Mr Reiner groaned.

“So who do you think we’ve got now?” A student mumbled to Chris as I took a seat next to him.

“Dunno, hopefully she’s hot.”

“Bet still stands?”

“You know it.”

I frowned. “Bet?”

“Who’s the new bloke?” The auburn-haired youth asked, looking at me quizzically.

“John, Kevin. Kevin, John.” Chris offered perfunctorily.

I nodded, “Hey.”

Kevin ducked his head in greeting “G’day.”

“And the bet is a lobster if it’s a student teacher and we can make her cry.”

“A lobster?”

Chris looked at me for a moment. “Oh yeah, you wouldn’t know. 20 bucks. The red note, s’why it’s a lobster.”

“Ah. Gotcha.” I frowned. “Bit mean though…”

“You think that’s bad, you should see what the girls do if it’s a good looking bloke.” Kevin snickered.

“Why would the Mamono…” I begin

Kevin shook his head. “Not just the Mons, mate. The Human girls are just as bloody bad.”

What the hell kind of country was this?

“Good morning students.” A woman’s voice from the doorway. I noticed a few rolled eyes from the Mamono in the class. From the shadow of the doorway floated a… something.

Her skin was pale, mottled in places with charcoal, which blended into the nest of tentacles which sprouted from her back, each one ending in an unblinking yellow eye. Her hair was black, cut in bangs above a large, cyclopean eye which scanned the classroom intensely.

“I am Miss McDavidson. Now, I’ll try and remember all of your names as quickly as I can, but I beg your indulgence on that front. I understand Mr. O’Brian had you studying the late twentieth century?”

A general murmur of affirmation.

“Good. Now, the precursor to the current ‘Net framework was set down in which…”

A covert movement to my left, Kevin had torn a shred from a notebook and had stuffed it in his mouth. Producing a straw, he held it to his lips…

…Lightning fast, an appendant eye flipped around, a thin beam of red energy launching itself from its core, melting the end of the straw. Kevin spat the chewed paper all over himself, yelling in shock.

“Out.” Miss McDavidson ordered simply, pointing a pale, delicate hand at the door.

Kevin mumbled viperously, grabbing his backpack and heading into the hallway.

“That’s assault Miss!” A female human voice.

“Oh?” the teacher inquired in a deceptively even tone “How so?”

“Well you…”

“I melted a piece of plastic.” She interrupted. “He was about to launch a wad of chewed paper and spit at me.” She smiled sweetly. “Which sounds more like assault to you?”

“B-but…” The human girl stammered petulantly.

“You can join him, if you feel so inclined. I won’t waste the time of the students here who wish to learn on snots who can’t be bothered.”

“Y-you can’t say that! My dad is the Member for…”

“Oh here we go…” Chris groaned.

“And at what exact point, dear, am I supposed to care?” Miss McDavidson smiled sweetly, her teeth white and viciously pointed. “Please do be sure to point it out, I would HATE to miss it.”

“Told.” A student drawled. A general giggle rippled through the room. The girl lowered her head, muttering sulphurously under her breath.

“Now, if we may continue.”

“Mr. Walden?” Miss McDavidson’s voice called as I followed Chris out.

“Uh… Yes Ma’am?” I answered, turning.

“We’ll be on the steps near the oval… assuming she doesn’t eat you…” Chris chuckled, waving slightly.

“Funny.” I grumbled, heading back into the classroom.

“You brought up an interesting point about Bob Kahn. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you’ve got an interest in that field?”

I shrug, “I play around some, mostly just finding backdoors for… well…”

“Filthy Animus?” Miss McDavidson grinned toothily

“W-What gave you that idea?” I blustered.

“You have a Doujin in your backpack.”

“H-how did you…”

“Don’t try and get surreptitious with a Gazer, Mr. Walden.” Miss McDavidson chuckled. “And please don’t try and sneak it behind your textbook again, even if you do ‘know all this kiddy shit already’. Or I’ll have you read it to the class… In English, not Zipangan.”

“You can read Zipangan?” I exclaimed in surprise.

“My parents met in Zipangu, I was practically raised there.”

“Wow… What’s it like?”

“A conversation we can have when you AREN’T making me miss my lunch, Mr Walden.” Miss McDavidson replied with that toothy grin.

I grinned sheepishly, “Yes Ma’am.”

Chapter 2

“So y’were out with Naomi last weekend Kev?” I hear Chris’s voice as I descend the amphitheatre-like steps surrounding the sports oval.

“Yeah, what of it?” Kevin’s surly response.

“So…” He spots me heading towards them “Oh hey, Johnno, you live!”

“Yeah.” I grin. “The eyes aren’t all y’all gots to worry about with Gazers, the tongue and the ears are pretty sharp too, apparently.”

“So that’s what she was.” Kevin mused. “Fuck… She could have killed me.”

“Lucky…” I murmur, although I didn’t think luck had anything to do with it. Miss McDavidson seemed far too… controlled.

“Well sit down cunt, Kev was about to tell us about his date with Naomi.”

Kevin gave us a cagey look “What gives you that idea?”

“Don’t be like that, so you had a crack. Interested parties want to know mate…” Chris insisted.

Kevin looked between the two of us for a moment before breaking into a wry smile. “Landing strip.”

“No…” Chris gasped “You got your hand…”

“Mouth.” Kevin corrected, wiping his lips dramatically.

“Her Dad’s order… You know he’ll shove a glowstick up your clacker if he finds out you sullied his little girl, right?”

Kevin smirked “Then you’d better keep your mouth shut.”

“A Princess putting out? I’ll believe it when I see it.” drawled a voice from behind us. I turned to see the Kangaroo and Lamia from homeroom this morning.

“Keep it under your hat Emily?” Kevin asked sincerely. “I’m not supposed to have told anyone.”

The Kangaroo tsked, “Breaking a trust? Kevin…”

“Like she’d talk to us anyway.” The Lamia hissed nonchalantly, coiling up between Chris and myself. “Princesses don’t deign to speak to normal people.”

“Normal. People.” Chris snickered.

“Oh shut up Chris.” A loose coil knocking him to the ground. “You see how mean they are to me?” she wheedled, fixing me with her serpentine eyes.

“Vicki, must you?” Emily groaned, rolling her eyes and rocking back onto her thick, muscular tail.

“Girl’s gotta keep her options open…” Vicky drawled in a hissing tone.

Kevin snorted. “I wonder how Daniel would feel if he knew you were ‘keeping your options open.”

Vicki seemed to blanch at that “N-nobody said we were together!” She stammers desperately.

“Picky Vicki. Kisses the boys and slithers away.” Chris drawled. “Hell, you even led Kevin up the garden path for a bit…”

“Did she now…” Another voice. I look up to see a Human girl staring impassively at us, her auburn hair tied into a tight ponytail. Behind her stood a small group of Humans, all fixing us with the same impassive glare.

“Oh fuck.” Chris murmured.

“Naomi, it isn’t like that…” Kevin entreated, his words honeyed.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop hanging around with those things, Kevin?”

“Oi! Em and Vic have been our mates since kindy, that’s fuckin’ off value.” Chris retorted angrily.

Naomi sighed slightly, “And I thought we had something Kevin… Still… Nothing much lost… A wasted afternoon subject to your fumbling aside.”

“The fuck?” Kevin gasped, “You… You said…”

“Oh I say a lot of things, some of which I actually mean.” Naomi interrupted flippantly. “But so do your friends it seems, don’t they Daniel?”

A boy steps forward, glaring at the Lamia

“I… I didn’t mean…” Vicki stammers.

“Slut.” Daniel snarls, stalking away.

Emily rocks forward on her large feet, glaring at Naomi. “You did that on purpose! You prissy little…”

“Oh I’m so BORED of this!” Naomi groans over her. “Boys, make them sorry.”

Two boys break from the group, reaching into back pockets and producing batons which they extend with the press of a button. The batons arc and crackle with some kind of eldritch energy.

Chris’s eyes go wide. “Glowsticks! You cunts better not, fuckin’ headmistress’ll skin you for a new shirt!”

One of the boys smirks “Who’s gonna tell her Chris? You?”

Emily growls, launching herself at the nearest. The boy slashes at her with the baton and the Kangaroo hits the floor, whimpering and shaking.

“Em!” Kevin yells, running at the boy. The first strike doesn’t put him down, until the second boy joins in, lashing at him until he’s groaning on the pavement.

“I’ll be a good girl, please… I’ll be a good girl…” Vicki is whispering, curled tightly into herself. The two boys snicker as they advance on her.

“Got my back John?” Chris asks sincerely

I nod, hands in front of my face. “Seems some peckerwoods need to learn to fight someone who can fight back.”

“Oooh… Listen to the seppo… Tryin’ to be a hard cunt.” One boy snickers.

“Put the stick down, you dickless wonder.” I grate at him, circling on the balls of my feet.

“Yeah nah get fucked…” The boy smirks, lashing out at me.

In my defense, I did get a couple of good licks in on him before that ‘glowstick’ put me on the ground. I was expecting the pain… I’d gotten hit with a misfired tazer back in the states when some panicking bespectacled boy had tried to stop himself from being ‘proactively dated’, but I wasn’t expecting this.

The sensation was like the look a parent gives you when you know you’ve fucked up bigtime, and you feel it in your guts, but… compressed, distilled. This was ‘Chastisement’ given form.

“See you faggot cunts don’t forget it.” One of the boys panted, spitting blood from a lucky punch before stalking away.

“Fucking pussy cunts” Chris sobbed. I groaned, pulling myself up and putting my head between my knees. I felt like I had been run over by a train.

A screech and a rush of air from above us. “Oh Maou! Are you guys alright?”

I raised my head to see the gold-brown plumage of Katherine before me.

“And where were you, bird brain?” Emily growled, trying to regain her feet.

“Here Em” Kevin offered, taking her arm and helping her up.

Katherine scraped a taloned foot on the ground with embarrassment “Flying…” She murmured.

“Fat lot of good that was, you could have snatched both those fucking sticks and let me split ‘em up the fucking middle.” The Kangaroo spat.

“I’m sorry Em!” Katherine retorted, her eyes brimming with sincerity.

“Dammit Kat… Now Vic’s gone inside her head again.” The Kangaroo snarled, noticing the quivering Lamia. “You boys go on, we’ve got to take care of this.”

“We can stay and hel…” Kevin began

“Rack off! This is between Mamono, and we’ve gotten each other in enough shit as it is.” Emily retorted, stamping her feet on the concrete.

“C’mon y’all.” I offered diplomatically, leading the other two away.

“You’re shitting me, right?” I gasp incredulously.

Kevin shakes his head, “No word of a lie. We can’t say shit.”

I look at him in disbelief. “Kevin, they just whooped our asses using riot batons on crack. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even here.”

Chris grabbed me by the arm, turning me to face him. “Yeh, they’d get kicked out. You might even get charges laid against ‘em. Then one night The Order will come in, beat your whole family to the edge of death, and set your house alight with you still inside.”

That rocked me. “Over a schoolyard fight? Come on that’s petty as…”

“Yeah. Also long game mate. Think about it. Make the kids scared of crossing The Order throughout school. Forms a pattern. If you can’t have loyalty, sometimes fear’s just as good.”

My mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, before I sighed, overcome with the bleak acceptance of my new friends to this… well… bullshit was the kindest word I had for it.

“Alright… I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“Cheers mate. It’s appreciated.” Chris murmured, squeezing my arm.

“Emily said that Vicki went inside her head ‘again.’ Is this something that happens to her often?”

Kevin shook his head. “Nah actually. I can’t remember the last time it happened. I Reckon someone did her some fuckin’ harm when she was younger. I know she’s adopted… Hell, might even have something to do with why she’ll flirt outrageously with guys but never really DATE date one…” His eyes suddenly flick to me as he realizes what he’s just said.

“Dunno if you need to go repeating that shit to her, mind.”

I chuckle helplessly. “Remind me never to tell you anything embarrassing, Kevin.”

Kevin grins sheepishly. “If it makes it any better I’m a shit liar.”

“Uh huh.” I drawl. “What have you guys got next.”

“Physics.”

“Room 112?”

“Yeah.”

The shrill klaxon of the school siren sounded, ending the lunch period.

“Fuck. I didn’t even get to have lunch.” I grumbled.

“If you could all please take out your textbooks and turn to page…”

Ah shit. With all the bullshit at lunch I’d forgotten to get mine.

“Sorry, Mr. Schwartzchild?”

“Yes, John is it?”

“Yessir. I’ve left mine in my locker, could I go grab it real quick?”

Mr Schwartzchild sighed, rolling his eyes slightly. “Go on then.”

I murmured thanks, hurrying from the room and down to my locker. My eyes were still stinging after getting a hiding from those glowsticks, and I took a moment to splash my face at the drink fountain on the way back.

“S-So you see…” I heard Mr Schwartzchild stammer “In ordinary measurements w-we would use this formula to… er…” He coughed uncomfortably. As I opened the door I saw him scribbling frantically on the board, his face crimson.

“Sorry about that Sir, I hope I haven’t… What in tarnation?!” I exclaimed as I turned towards the classroom.

All the girls, Mamono and human alike had unbuttoned the first few buttons of their shirts and were leaning forward on their desks, creating a broad expanse of titflesh. Now I understood what Chris and Kevin were talking about earlier, and why Mr Schwartzchild had seemed so flustered.

So this was a game then? I do like games..

“Thank you, Mr Walden, please take your seat.”

“I’m not sure I want to, Sir.” I moaned in faux-lament, panning my gaze across the room with a lecherous grin. A number of the boys snickered, clearly approving of the gambit.

Sure enough a decent number of the girls started to blush and re-buttoned their shirts. No longer presenting a united front, the remainder sighed and followed suit. Mr Schwartzchild wordlessly took my hand, shaking it gravely.

“Now, Mr Walden, your seat?”

I nodded “Yessir”

“Oh sure, just ruin ALL our fun.” Emily hissed at me as she and Vicki buttoned their shirts. I shot them a wink. Katherine seemed to be having trouble, the vestigial ‘thumb’ on her wing-joint clearly not designed for such dexterity.

“Need a hand Kat?” I murmured as I sat down. Katherine blushed crimson.

“N-no…” She stammered.

“Suit yourself.” I shrugged, as Vicki leant over to assist the Eagle-Harpy.

“That was ballsy mate.” Chris murmured. “Course now someone’s probably gonna get ‘proactive’ with you on the way home.”

“Who dares wins.” I rejoined philosophically.

“Remind your pelvis of that in the morning.” Kevin snickered.

The electronic ‘boop’ of the period ending rang dispassionately over the PA.

“Thank you class, make sure to have reviewed chapters four, six and seven for tomorrow. I will be quizzing you on them later in the week.” Mr Schwartzchild called over the groaning and scraping of chairs being pushed away from desks. “Oh, Mr Walden, Miss Lefleur, could I see you a moment?”

Lefleur? Who was that then?

To my surprise, it was Katherine who joined me by the teacher’s desk.

“I noticed you two talking during the lesson.”

“I’m sorry sir.” Katherine apologised quickly

Mr Schwartzchild waved his hand dismissively “Not what I wanted to talk to you about. Your last test was a little… disappointing, Katherine. And I was wondering, since you and Mr Walden seem to be already acquainted, if he might be willing to help you a little with your study.”

“I’d be happy to help, don’t get me wrong.” I began, glancing at Katherine “But I only just met Kat today. Wouldn’t y’all be more comfortable with Chris or Kevin?”

“Mr Clark and Mr Robinson are inconsistent students at best. You seem to have a knack for physics, you did pick up that mistake I made on acceleration.”

“Don’t wanna blow my own trumpet, sir. My teacher back home used the same ‘mistake’ to try and trip some of us up last year.”

“Humility’s a virtue, John, but the fact remains that you picked up on it. Nobody else did.”

“Guess that’s that then.” I shrugged, turning to Katherine “We’ll sort something out, yeah?”

“Okay…” Katherine agreed, blushing slightly and smiling at me.

“Feel like coming around to mine tomorrow?” Chris asked “Shoot some shit?”

“I thought y’all didn’t have guns here.” I drawl.

“What made you get all Colonel Sanders on us John?” Kevin chuckled.

“Is my accent coming out? Huh. I try to keep a lid on it most times, stops the banjo jokes.”

“U-hyuk” Chris mocked.

I snicker “Fuck you son.”

“Not real guns. I got the new shooter, figured a local game’d be better than trying to predict the future with a 1 second lag.”

I shrug. “I’m in. Disappointed, but in.”

“Fucking seppos.” Chris laughed. “See you tomorrow mate.”

I wave. “Yeah, see you.” I reply, turning and heading for home.

It was hot, though blessedly a dry heat, and the wind spoke of the promise of a cool change in the evening. I strolled along, not really thinking much of anything, until a shadow fell over the sun and a pair of talons hoisted me bodily into the air.

“The fuck?!” I yelled.

“Hi John!” A voice came from above me. I squinted up, the sun above me, but the feathers above the horny, taloned feet which had seized me were brown and gold.

“Kat?” I exclaimed “The fuck y’all doing?”

“Taking you to mine, you’re going to help me with physics!” She replied sunnily.

“Didn’t occur to you to ask first?” I rejoin, wind blowing tears from my eyes, further blurring my vision.

“You weren’t going to say no, were you?”

“Well no… but…”

“Yay!” The harpy screeched, picking up speed as we dove at a blurry, vaguely house-shaped blob below us.

“Get you kids anything?” a matronly harpy enquired, the soft feathers on her head tinged with white.

“I’m fine thank you ma’am.”

“Oooh, he sounds just like Elvis, doesn’t he sound like Elvis, Frank?”

“If you say so dear…” A man’s voice called indulgently yet with clear disinterest from another room.

“Don’t mind Frank, he’s such a stick in the mud when the Eagles lose.”

“Eagles?” I echo.

“Footy. I’m not much of a fan either.” Katherine replies.

“Ah. Aussie Football… Strange game that.” I murmur.

“Dad’ll skin you if he hears you say that.” Katherine giggles. “He met my Mum when she was mascot for the Team back in fifty-five.”

“Star-struck?” I enquire with a grin

“On her part. Dad was in Home and Away.”

I laugh. “I have no idea what that is.”

“Probably for the best” Katherine murmurs conspiratorially “It was awful.”

I laugh with her, before turning back to the textbook. “So, resistance… If we’ve got an object moving along the ground…”

“Urgh. Ground. Why is it always ground?!” Katherine grumbles in frustration.

“Well it doesn’t have to be. There’s different resistances in the air… but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about that…” I acknowledge.

Katherine was staring at me with renewed interest. “Pretend I don’t…”

“OK, so let’s say we’ve got an object dropped from 200 meters and the barometric pressure is 1500hPa…”

“Thirty two seconds.” Katherine answers smugly.

I flip to the back of the textbook. She’s right.

“I don’t know what Mr Schwartzchild was talking about, y’all got every single answer right!” I exclaim.

“But whenever there’s a test it’s always ‘A car is moving along the road at burrrrrrrrrrr” The Harpy groans, fanning her wedge-shaped tail exasperatedly. “And I just go all to peices.”

“I’ve got an idea…” I suggest, pulling the textbook closer to her and shuffling over. “Say you’re looking at that one. You could pretend you’re an astronaut, flying into the atmosphere of a gas giant, and the air suddenly gets really, really dense right here…” I point at the illustration, where the crude vehicle meets the ground. “You’re still ‘flying’, but the conditions just happen to be the same.”

Katherine stares at the problem for a moment, seizing a stylus in her wing-thumb and scribbling on a nearby tablet interface.

“F-Fourteen hours?” She asks uncertainly.

I check the back of the book. “Right again.” I grin.

Katherine screeches, throwing her wings around me. “You’re so smart!” She crows.

“Naw… Just a matter of how you look at things. Once you’ve found a way to tackle a problem like it’s something familiar y’all can usually find a way to puzzle it out.”

“I feel like a total dumbarse now.” Katherine moans. “All that time and all I had to do was replace all that stupid ground shit with ‘flying’.”

“And would you believe I SUCKED at math before I learned to program?” I reply. “One day I just looked at something I was writing and went ‘Hey, that’s math!’ And from that point forward it was easy, I just had to find a familiar way to look at it.”

“Now you two, you’re supposed to be studying, not getting cozy!” Katherine’s mom chides gently, sticking her head into the room.

“Not what now?” I murmur confusedly, looking down to the wings which are still wrapped around my shoulders.

“Oh!” Katherine exclaims, removing her wings from around me. “Sorry John.” She mumbles, blushing.

“S’all good Kat.” I reply… Damn it if my face isn’t burning right now as well…

“How do you know so much about flying anyway?” Katherine asks as we bank towards my street.

“I wanted to be a pilot when I graduated.” I sigh, my stomach heavy with the descent or the memory, I’m not sure which.

“But you’d be in a machine…” Katherine replies, confusion evident in her voice.

“Still gotta know how the air works. My uncle used to say that the best pilots can feel the air through the controls, act like the wings of the plane are an extension of their own body. Every breeze, every eddy, every thermal that rises like an invisible hand from the ground below…”

“Ooh, you know just what to say to a girl…” The Harpy chuckles, setting me down. “Thanks so much again for today… I… I had fun.”

“Physics study isn’t what I call an inspiring afternoon.” I snicker. “But yeah. Me too.”

Katherine darts her head forward, giving me a brief smek on the cheek. “See you tomorrow!” She screeches, rapidly launching herself back into the air.

I touch my cheek where the ghost of her lips still remains. That girl…

“You alright mate?” Kyle exclaims, rushing outside. “I called you a couple minutes ago.”

“Sorry Kyle, I was… flying…” I chuckle.

Kyle nods, “Yeh, saw her… Bit of orright eh?”

“Shut up man.” I exclaim, my cheeks flaming.

“I’m only giving you shit John… Wait…” He stops, turning to me and putting a hand on my face, pulling down my lower eyelid and peering intently at my eye.

“Who fucking glowsticked you?” He demanded.

“W-who said I was glowsticked?” I stammered weakly

“Don’t fuck with me John, I’m a goddamn cop. I know stick-eye when I see it.”

Oh yeah, he was too… I had almost forgotten. Shit.

“I-I can’t tell you.” I mumble, pulling away from his grip.

“Ah. Lemme guess. Order brats.”

“I’m not saying anything man. If you know enough to know that you gotta know why.” I begged.

“Yeah… Yeah I fucking do… SHIT!” He snarls, kicking at the wall and throwing the door open. “Giving the little trouts glowsticks though… That’s a fucking new low.” He opens the fridge, grabbing two beers and passing me one without a word.

“You sure Kyle?”

“Fuck it, I’m not on duty.” Kyle grumbles “And I’ve copped enough of those fucking things to know you probably need one.”

I shrug, opening the bottle and taking a gulp. He was right, the lingering ache did diminish with the cool liquid spilling down my throat.

“Can’t let those shits get away with it though…” He mumbled to himself “…Can’t just have the school searched… too obvious…”

“Kyle,” I offer “Are Manticore spines illegal here?”

“Controlled substance. Obviously the tailpussies can have ‘em, can’t exactly arrest a Mamono for something growing out the poor bitch after all.” He snickered. “Why do you ask? Someone trading ‘em at school?”

“No…” I reply “…but there’s nothing saying I couldn’t have been mistaken about that.”

“What are you… Oh… OH!” He exclaims as understanding hits him. His smile is almost beatific. “You are an evil little bastard, Johnno, and I love you for it.”

“Do what I can.” I grin, raising my bottle in a toast.

Kyle laughs, clinking the neck of his bottle to mine.

“…And I’m telling you. You did the right thing.” Mick’s voice rings through the lounge.

“I dunno… Maybe I can still apologise, I was hasty as fuck after all.” Jeff muses, entering the kitchen with the smaller man following behind.

“You two faggots ever knock?” Kyle lamented.

“Why? You gave us keys.” Mick rejoins, casually fishing beers out of the fridge.

“Sure, use FACTS on me.” Kyle grumbled. “What’s up with you, Jeff?”

“I ran into Shaz in the city today.”

“Yeh, and?”

“Remember what she said to me after the Pub? Before they beat fuck out of those yowies?”

“Yeah, that fucking line about how it’d be hard to find time but if you joined The Order hint hint wink wink nudge nudge.”

Jeff nodded. “She was using the same line on another bloke. Like fuckin’ Word Perfect.”

“Naomi…” I murmur.

“Whazzat mate?” Kyle enquires, turning slightly to face me.

“A girl from school… Apparently her dad’s Order. She went on a date with a friend of mine but dropped him like a hot rock as soon as she found out he didn’t ditch his Mamono friends.”

“And this wouldn’t have anything to do with you getting glowsticked, of course.” Kyle muses.

“The FUCK?” Mick exclaims

“Kyle!” I yell

“Don’t worry mate, Mick and Jeff know how to keep their mouths closed… And if they don’t I can ‘official secrets’ their arses in about thirty seconds flat.”

“Police brutality!” Mick rejoins

“Shaddup fuckya.”

“Still reckon you didn’t dodge one cunt of a bullet there Jeff?” Mick asks, looking seriously at Jeff whilst holding out a beer.

“Yeah… You’re right.” Jeff admits, taking the bottle. “You ok Johnno?” he asks sincerely.

“Someone got a lift home from a VERY tidy lookin’ wedge-tail… I reckon he’ll be ok.” Kyle drawls.

“Noice.” Mick grins.

A bang from outside.

“Jeff!” A harsh voice yells “We know you’re fucking in there!”

“Aw shit.” Jeff groans. “So much for dodged.”

“Stay inside, all three of you.” Kyle commands, hitting a few buttons on his PC and opening a kitchen cupboard. There’s a beeping of an electronic lock and Kyle emerges with a pistol in his hand. Checking the weapon expertly, he loads a magazine into it and chambers a round.

“That’s what I’m talkin’ bout.” I murmur.

“Bloody seppos” Mick chuckles as Kyle steps outside.

“Get off my property. Now.” He orders.

Jeff, Mick and I scramble upstairs, peering through a curtain at the yard below. Four men bearing glowsticks are standing on the driveway.

“This isn’t your concern.” One of them grates. Kyle holds up a leather wallet, presumably containing a badge.

“It is now. You’re already trespassing, want to add ‘threatening an officer of the law’ to that?”

“You’re not that dumb, Officer Cavendish.” Another retorts “You know who we are. There are some very, very influential people who bend the knee to Ilias these days.”

“Yeah, but the Premier and the Police Commissioner still have the square and compasses on their rings, not the wings of Ilias. And will you look here…” He raises his right hand. “…What a fucking coincidence!”

“You better watch yourself, Cavendish, because The Order will be watching you.” The man growls.

“Clearly not closely enough.” Kyle snickers as two squad cars barrel from nowhere into the street. Four uniformed officers burst out, weapons drawn.

“FREEZE!” an officer roars “Drop your weapons and get on your knees!”

“Not the first time he’s heard that, I’ll bet.” Kyle spits venomously. “I don’t care what Miss Wingaling claims to be. There are laws in this country still, and you fuckers ARE not, and so fucking help me, WILL not be above them.”

“Blasphemy!” one of the men shrieks, before being hushed by another. Reluctantly, they place the sticks on the ground, sinking to their knees and putting their hands behind their heads.

“What fucking century are you from?” Kyle bursts in exasperation. “Get them the fuck off my property please, Officers.”

“Gladly, Detective.” One of the officers replies as they slap cuffs on the Order thugs and manhandle them into the back of the squad cars.

“You’re going home in the back of a whippy van, tshh tet tet tshhh tet tet tah tshh tshhh” Mick sings softly, snickering as the cars drive away.

“Mick. Get me some of the big placcy bags out my briefcase, these fuckers left their sex toys behind.” Kyle calls from the yard.

Chapter 3

“So you ended up joining the Freemasons then?” I asked as Kyle stopped at a set of traffic lights.

“With your dad and my dad already in? You’re acting like I was given a choice in the matter.” Kyle laughed.

“Dad always said y’all didn’t pull stuff like… well…”

“What I did the other week?” Kyle finishes for me.

I nod. Kyle sighs.

“Frankly mate, we’ve kinda had to. Think every piece of bastardry and standover bullshit you’ve ever heard blamed on Masonic nepotism. The Order are doing that. Openly and unapologetically. Of course if anyone ever tries to pull the situation in front of Fair Work or an ethics tribunal or anything, they make it go away, one way or the other. We’ve had to play their game just to keep the field level in the public sector. Otherwise they’d be running the cops, the military, and the government by now, instead of just being unduly fucking influential.”

“Something still not right about it.” I murmur.

“And that’s a conversation I have in nearly every Lodge meeting. If there was a way we could play fair we would, believe me. We’re doing what we’ve always striven to do. Be a benefit to humanity.”

“Sorry.”

Kyle grins at me. “Don’t worry about it. Oh. You got any of that horrible Zip porn?”

“That’s none of your business.” I retort.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Leave some in your locker.”

I blink “What? Why?”

“Just trust me on this.” He insists.

“Ok, but if I get expelled I’m blaming y’all, Detective.”

“Yeh orright.” Kyle snickers, pulling into the drop-off bay.

“Form teachers please escort your students to the lockers for an inspection.” A dispassionate voice rang over the PA.

Mr Reiner raised his cadaverous head and stared at the class. “Right. You heard it. In an orderly fashion, if you please.”

We formed lines in front of the lockers, each student roughly opposite his or her own.

…Of course Murphy’s Law would have it that my locker was within one or two away from Naomi’s.

“I hope you didn’t do anything stupid, yank.” She mused almost sweetly.

“Hey, I’m here same as all y’all, ain’t I? And I’m not a damn Yankee.” I reply grouchily… I knew what was coming here.

Two police officers walked in with the headmistress… who turned out to be an intimidating looking black widow.

“Alright students. There has been a report of someone trading in Manticore spines on school grounds. If anybody would like to fess up now, I will consider not expelling you immediately.”

Of course nobody did. They didn’t exist after all.

“See?” I drawled. Naomi gave a ‘hmph’ and turned her gaze away from me, seemingly appeased.

The Headmistress sniffed, extending an elegant, chitin coated arm. “Very well then. Officers, please feel free to search the student’s lockers.”

I never understood the purpose of lockers when there’s a mastercode which can open any of them. The police made short work of working their way up the lines, and to my relief there were a few other dirty magazines which were pulled out by a gloved hand and brandished with a chuckle, much to the owner’s chagrin.

Then it was my turn.

“Whoops, another one… Wow, this is something else, C’mere and take a look.” The first officer quipped.

The second officer peered over “Heh. Only in Zipangu eh?”

“I know right?” The first chuckled. “Who’s 105?”

I gave a gallows sigh “That’d be me sir.”

“This is a restricted publication mate. And unless I miss my guess, it’s a banned import too. How’d you get ahold of it?”

“Brought it over in my suitcase… I’m sorry officer, I didn’t know.” I replied as sincerely as I could.

“Welp, afraid I’m going to have to confiscate it. Sorry mate, learn for next time.” The officer replied, dropping it into the plastic garbage bag with the others. Snickers from the Order-affiliates to my right.

“Yessir, sorry sir.”

The policeman moved on, and the headmistress fixed me with a stern look. “My office, when this is finished” she ordered.

I ducked my head, “Yes Ma’am.”

“Wow, get a load of this one!”

“I-it’s for research! Don’t get the wrong idea!” Stammered a lizard-girl, her face flushed crimson against the burned sienna of her frill.

“Yuh huh. ‘Hot Boys Unlimited’. Researching anatomy, no doubt.” The officer chided.

“Restricted?” the second asked

“Oh yeah. I didn’t even think you could GET this locally.”

“Okay, now let’s see… Alright, 123 and 125, step forward now.” The officer’s tone had changed from amused chiding to authoritative command in an instant.

The two boys who had beaten me and the others yesterday shuffled forwards, their eyes wide.

“You boys want to explain these?” The officer asked, his voice deathly quiet, holding two glowsticks in front of him.

“Idiots!” Naomi hissed

“T-they’re the tools of The Order!” One boy stammered “Wielded to show our Faith in Holy Ilias!”

“That’s a funny way to say ‘Possession of a Restricted Weapon without a permit’… And I’m pretty sure considering this is a mixed school, we can add ‘With Intent’ to that, wouldn’t you agree?” The officer asked.

“Without a doubt.” The second responded severely.

“B-but…” The boy stammered, close to tears.

“Ms Zakyntha, please contact their parents, these boys will be coming to the statio… Whoops, we’ve got a runner!”

Sure enough, the second boy had bolted, sprinting towards the door. With a slithering sound, a length of white spider silk launched itself through the air, tangling the boy’s legs and causing him to fall headlong to the ground.

“Really…” The headmistress sighed.

“Well, that’s that then, you boys wait here until we’ve finished up.”

The remainder of the search was unremarkable, save for an elaborate bong and an impressive slingshot which netted an unsuspecting two other boys an unplanned ride in a police car that morning.

“I owe you an apology.” Naomi said softly to me as we began to leave the lockers.

“Goddamn right.” I growled.

“Oh, your chastisement was deserved. I’m apologizing for suspecting you in the search. Clearly this was simply… unfortunate.”

“Oh. Thanks much.” I retort with as much venom as I can muster.

“Now now, you know we don’t have to be enemies. Us humans have to stick together after all. How well do you know the deviants you’re hanging out with, after all?”

“Well enough.” I retort, turning my back on her “And just a point, I grew up Southern Baptist. That hell-in-one-hand-titty-in-the-other sales pitch is so worn the goddamn sun shines through it, and I ain’t buyin, thanks all the same. Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go get my ass chewed out.”

“Cause at five o’clock, they take me to the gallows poooooole!” Kevin sang mockingly, clapping me on the shoulder. “The sands of time, for me, are running looooooooowwwwwwww!”

“Hit the high note and I’ll be impressed, faggot.” I drawl, chuckling helplessly as I make my way to the principal’s office.

“I’m just saying we’re wasting a golden opportunity here.” A wiry boy with a mop of curly black hair entreated

A tall, brown haired boy frowned at him. I recognised him. Clint, we were in a few classes together. “We’re about to get our asses kicked for having porn at school and you’re lookin’ to exchange distributors?”

“It wasn’t porn…” The Lizard-Girl insisted softly.

“Sure Larissa.” The tall boy grinned “Honestly if you wanted to see hot boys, why didn’t you just ask?”

“I-is that some pathetic way of asking me out?” Larissa hissed.

Clint turned to look at the Lizard-girl, who was glowering at him.

“What if it is?”

Larissa blinked “W-what?”

“Wanna go out with me?” Clint grinned.

“Be serious.” Larissa chuffed.

“Why not, you’re cute. How ‘bout it?”

Larissa’s face glowed pink. “O-okay.” She murmured.

“Touching.” Came a voice from behind us, and we turned as one to see the headmistress fixing us with a nonplussed stare from her multiple, carmine eyes. “Since there’s no way I’m going to fit you all into my office and since I’m far too busy to supervise detention for all of you, I’m going to be gracious. Consider yourselves on probation, if I so much as hear about one of you being caught with illicit material on school grounds again, you’ll come to regret it. Severely.”

“Yes Ma’am.” We murmured.

“Our pervert returns!” Emily crowed.

“Honestly mate, are you going for the ‘scunted by every teacher in the first month’ hat-trick or something?” Chris laughed. “What made you think it was a good idea to leave that in the locker anyway?”

“Probably the same thing that made those two fuckheads think glowsticks were a good idea to be left in their lockers.”

“Yeah. Here’s to glorious Karma on that front!” Kevin snickered.

“Still…” Katherine mumbled, refusing to make eye contact with me. “I’m going for a fly.”

Kicking up an impressive cloud of dust and sand, she launched herself into the sky.

“Ok, that was unexpected.” I murmured.

Vicki smiled, giving me a gentle push with a coil of her tail. “Relax, she’s probably just eggy.”

“Eggy?” I echoed.

“Y’know… Got a clutch?”

“Is that some Australian thing y’all don’t know I don’t know?”

Vicki rolled her serpentine eyes. “That time of the month. She’s going to lay.”

“Kat’s pregnant?” I exclaim

“No… Well… No, actually, not at all. You don’t know about Harpies?”

“Not this…” I admit.

“You know how mammals bleed and we snakes shed? Well harpies lay.”

“Like a chicken?” I ask

“She’d claw your face onto the back of your head if she heard the comparison.” Emily snickered. “But essentially yes.”

“Well that’s good.” I sigh with relief. “I thought she was pissed off at me.”

Emily fixed me with a knowing smile, and Kevin and Chris snickered.

“You two have been awfully close lately.” Emily ventured.

“Well I’ve been helping her with her homework.” I respond with a shrug.

“Alison said she saw you two getting ice cream at the beach the other day… But I’m sure that was a thermal chemistry lesson” Vicki hissed softly.

“C’mon, Kat’s a nice girl. Y’ain’t gotta tease her like that.” I admonished.

“Clueless fucker…” Chris snickered. “Well, I’ve got to get to class. Can you see Kat anywhere?” he asked, peering at the sky.
We all look upwards, peering into the endless blue above us.

“I’ll find her.” I offer.

“Course you will, see you in class.” Kevin chuckled, shaking his head, Chris and Emily following behind him.

Vicki lingered, her eyes on me speculatively. “I know it was you.” She says at last.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about Vic.”

“I can smell it on you.” She leans up, kissing me gently on the cheek. “Thank you.”

As she slides away, she pauses for a moment. “S-she’s very lucky, you know.”

Turning again, she slithers off.

“Kat!” I call, “We’re gonna be late!”

“D-don’t come over here!” I hear Katherine’s voice from behind a low-lying bush.

“Kat? Is everything alright?”

An ear-splitting screech makes me recoil slightly “I said don’t come over here!”

“If you’re hurt, let me help!” I insist

“It’s nothing just… eeeeehhhh… leave me…. Urghhh…” Her grunts become a long relaxed moan of… relief?

Katherine stalks around the bush, looking at me with her tawny eyes. “Why are you still here?”

“I was worried!” I explain

“I’m fine, John.”

“Did I do something to upset you?”

Katherine scratched at the ground with a talon, her eyes on the dirt. “W-why did you have that in your locker?”

“What, the doujin? Would y’all believe me if I told you I read it for the story?”

“No.”

“Heh.” I chuckle “Me either. It’s just a bit of… y’know… there’s no harm in it.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Come on now, it’s just drawings, it’s not like anyone even had to pose for pictures or anything.” I snort.

“No, not that…” Katherine murmurs, looking back up at me. “…I don’t like it when you… when you… look at other girls. It makes me feel… heavy.”

It all came flooding in. The lingering hugs, the pecks on the cheek, the excuses to sit next to me in form…

“Kat… do you like me?”

“Y-you’ve been a good friend, helping me with my schoolwork and all…” She stammers.

“Not what I asked” I replied softly, taking a slow step towards her. “Do you like me?”

“I… um…”

Go on John, take a risk. I put my hand out, stroking the long, soft feathers on the side of her head.

Those tawny eyes fixed on mine again. “I’m not a kitten.” She snapped.

“No, you’re not. What you are though is kind, fun… and really, really pretty, dammit.”

“R-really?”

“Really really. Now are you gonna answer my question?” I repeated, stepping closer to her again.

“W-what if I did?”

“Well I WAS going to ask you if y’all wanted to go out with me but I guess if you don’t like me we can stay frie…” I began, before being knocked off my feet by a harpy launching herself at me.

“Okay! I like you alright? Don’t tease me like that, it isn’t funny!” She screeched, sitting on my chest and mantling me with her wings like hapless prey.

“So you’ll go out with me then?” I grinned, tickling at her ribs until she squirmed and rolled off me.

“Why is it so important for me to say it?” Katherine moaned, flapping her wings in nervous exasperation.

“Because I’m only interested in kissing my girlfriend.”

“K-kissing… Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay…” I murmured, putting my hand to her cheek and kissing her softly. She seemed to shiver against me, her lips soft and yielding against my own.

“Okay?” I repeated.

“Way, way better than that…” Katherine breathed, wrapping her wings around me and kissing me fervently.

“What about your egg?” I murmur.

“Tradition. Give it back to earth and sky. Shut up and kiss me.” Katherine insisted, pressing her lips again to mine.

“Miss Lefleur, I trust you have a good reason for being so incredibly late to my cla… And Mr Walden as well! Oh my…” Miss McDavidson drawled as we entered.

Snickers from the class as Katherine and I murmured apologies and headed to our seats.

“Well? I’m still waiting.”

“John was… helping me with something.” Katherine murmured, blushing.

“I’m sure he was.” Miss McDavidson grinned.

The snickers turned lecherous and a few students turned to grin at me salaciously.

“N-not like that! It was…”

“Oh!” Miss McDavidson remarked, her eyes wide with understanding, her entire demeanour changing in an instant. “I’m sorry for insinuating then dear. Please do let me know if you need to see the nurse at all. I won’t mind.”

“Thank you Miss.” Katherine sighed.

The class droned on, The twentieth century was interesting as far as development went, but trust historians to make it as dry as a succubus in a church service. Finally the period bell sounded.

“Mr Walden, a word?”

“Bloody delinquent.” Chris snickered.

“Shut up man.” I groaned.

“Just glad it’s not me. Remember, Kev’s place after school, don’t forget!” He called from outside the door.

“Yes Ma’am?” I ventured, walking over to where the Gazer hovered above the ground.

“Miss Summers brought a very interesting paper to my attention from your civics class.”

“Oh, the one on meritocracy?”

She sniffed. “No, that was full of holes.”

“And here was me thinking Miss S was just being a picky marker.” I chuckled.

Miss McDavidson shook her head, her cyclopean eye alight with laughter. “Heh. No, She’s anything but picky…” Her lip curled slightly “…In more ways than one…”

I pretended I didn’t hear that.

“I’m referring to the one about ‘white noise in archival procedures’. I was very impressed. It rivalled some of the works I’ve read on the subject at a university level.”

“Really? That was a rant peice…” I murmured.

“Clearly. Your referencing was terrible but the ideas were sound, and in some cases, I would go so far as to say revolutionary.”

“Y’all are gonna give me a big head ma’am.” I murmured, embarrassed at the praise.

“My point is, my father sits on the board of the ACITI Corporation, and one of their subsidiaries hosts a ‘New Horizons’ symposium, where we have young people submit papers on related topics. It’s quite an honour, I’m given to understand. I’d recommend you submit something for it.”

“Really Ma’am? We’ve got exams coming up and I’m not sure I can spare the time…” I began.

“It’s entirely your choice, of course, but I can’t stress how strongly I’d recommend it. Have you heard of ‘Kusanagi Keito?”.

I snort “Who hasn’t? Guy was slated to be the first to develop true AI before Zipangu done dropped the curtain.” I pause. “That wasn’t why they dropped the curtain, was it?”

The Gazer chuckled, shaking her head. “The official account is the accurate one, I’m afraid. The conspiracy theories do make for good stories though. He wouldn’t be anywhere near the position to be as successful as he was if he didn’t take my father’s advice and ‘throw his hat in the ring’, as it were.”

“You sound like you know him.”

“I met him, once or twice. His wife is an absolute treasure.”

“Ma’am, your dad’s a director of a Fortune 500. You’re on speakin’ terms with one of the richest men on the planet… Why in the Sam Hill are y’all teaching history in High School?”

“Don’t you know, John? It’s all part of our evil plan to take over the world in The Name of Maou!” Ms McDavidson intoned dramatically, floating slightly higher and flaring her appendant eyes, which glowed a threatening violet.

I stumbled back, a flash of brief terror running through me like lightning. Then I saw her smile. I chuckled with relief, relaxing.

“Had you going.” She smirked.

“Yeah. Yeah you did. I’ll give it some thought, Ma’am.” I nodded

“Don’t take too long, deadline’s the end of the month.” The Gazer insisted. “Oh, And Mr Walden, if you try and re-edit your paper and submit that, I will feed you your own feet.”

I laughed helplessly. “Yes Ma’am.”

“I’ve got my Dad’s car, we could squeeze into that I guess…” Kevin pondered, studying our small group.

A screech from above me, and the now-familiar sensation of talons upon my shoulders.

“Guess I’ll see you guys there, gotta fly!” I called as the ground fell away. Reaching up, I stroked one of the legs which held me. “Hey you.”

“Don’t! That tickles!” Katherine giggled.

“Oh sure, tell me that now…” I drawled, retracting my hand.

“I would never drop you John…” Katherine assured me. “Well… Not unless you REALLY upset me.”

“Note to self, offend Kat when indoors only.” I mumbled mockingly.

“Git.” Katherine snickered, pressing her claws ever so slightly into me.

“Yowch. Those are sharp babe.” I chided.

“Uh huh…” She replied.

“Uh, babe, Kevin’s house is over there…” I pointed to a cluster of houses passing on the left.

“I know, I figure we’ve got a head start on them. Gives us a little bit to ourselves.”

She set us down on a sand dune overlooking the beach.

“So… What do you wanna do?” I grinned salaciously.

“John… I…” She fluttered her wings, pop-hopping away from me slightly.

I frowned. “What’s up?”

“I don’t want anybody’s pity.” She said forcefully. “I know how nice you are to people. If you just asked me out because you think it’s what I wanted to hear, just tell me now and we’ll forget the whole thing happened.”

“Kat.” I replied.

“I was eggy as hell today, and I know we kinda fell into a situation that might not have been ideal.” She continued, ignoring my interjection. “That’s why I didn’t say anything about it to anyone, why I made the excuse about why we were late to Miss McGazy.”

I chuckle “That’s a cute nickname, wonder if I can get one of the guys to say that to her face.”

“Be serious!” Katherine shrieked at me.

I reached up, stroking one of her impressive wings. “I am, Kat. You like lemonade and green icy poles and chicken rolls with way too much mayonnaise. You interpose your playlists with awful pop music between heartbreaking works by composers I’ve never even heard of. You claim to hate Australian Football yet you’re shrieking on the arm of the chair alongside your Dad when the Eagles play. When you fly your eyes light up like you’re on the verge of touching heaven. And you like me. And I like you. And I want you to be my girlfriend. Serious now.”

“R-Really?”

“I’m pretty sure we already had this conversation…” I chuckle softly, taking her in my arms and kissing her again.

“Where the hell have you guys been?” Chris demanded as Katherine set me down out the front of Kevin’s house.

“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.” I drawled, putting my arm around Katherine’s waist.

“You mean you two…” Kevin mused

“Uh huh.” Katherine nodded with a grin.

“Finally!” Emily groaned with relief. “I thought I’d have to give one or both of yez a good kicking before someone got the guts to ask the other out.”

“Noice.” Chris grinned, shooting me a thumbs up.

“Oi Kev, did your mum make any of those fuckin’ hot-dog things?” Chris calls from the kitchen.

“Stop eating all my food you fat bastard!” Kevin rejoins

“Where are your folks anyway?” I ask, picking up a controller.

“Gone to Unzud for the week.” Kevin replies, scrolling through menus on the screen.

“And they trusted y’all not to trash the joint?” I snicker.

“I’m trustworthy!” Kevin retorts “Mostly…”

“Hullo, e-mail…” Chris’s voice sounds from the hallway as he enters bearing bags of chips in one hand, looking at his PC on the other “…Oh shit.”

“What?” Emily asks, slight worry in her voice.

“Carly’s coming.”

“Ah bugger.” Kevin snickers “We’re all fucked now.”

I frown. “Something we should be worried about?”

“Well… She’ll usually bring beer, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up on winning any games.” Kevin drawls.

“Or playing, for that matter.” Chris adds

“Lemme in you useless faggots!” sounds a female voice from the door.

“C’mon in Carly, it’s open!” Emily calls.

“Full hands hoppy!” Comes the surly reply.

“I’ll get it.” I chuckle, getting up and moving towards the door.

I open the door to see a beer carton with legs.

“Don’t just stand there, this thing is heavy!” The female voice demands.

“Oh, sorry!” I apologize, taking the carton and getting my first look at ‘Carly.’ She’s five foot nothing at most, with round, soft looking grey ears and a cherubic face. Hazel eyes stare at me expectantly.

“What?”

“Sorry, never seen a…” I murmur, pausing as I come up with a blank for what the hell I’m looking at.

“Koala. What, you lived under a rock?”

“USA.” I grin.

“My condolences, shove over, there’s a house full of noobs to waste.” She grunts bluntly, pushing past me.

I try not to look, new girlfriend and all… but God DAMN… that girl had curves for miles.

“Don’t listen to her, she’s a vicious fucking drop bear!” Emily’s voice rings out.

“You’re such a fucking racist hopp… Eeek! Put me down Vicki or I’ll claw your eyes out!”

“But you’re so cuddly!” The Lamia protests “And I missded you!”

“Yeah yeah shut up and gimme that.” She demands, sound of her flopping onto the chair I had just vacated, no doubt claiming the controller.

“Goddamn Aussies…” I chuckle, shaking my head

“Oh you stunlocking scrub cunt!” Carly snarls.

“Trash talk’s for losers…” I snicker, pressing my advantage.

“Oh fuck no, you did not just… Alright little bitch, here comes the pain!”

“Little? I’m pretty sure I could play with my beer on top of y’all’s head.” I snicker.

“Fucking try it faggot, also… boom.”

“What the fuck?” I exclaim, watching as her character unleashes a devastating combo which chews through my health bar.

“What now, bitch?” Carly crows as my character’s head explodes in a font of stylized gore.

“God damn… Alright, you done whooped me. Good Game.”

“Damn right noob.” Carly grates, but the grin she flashes me is one of friendly enjoyment.

I belch softly. “I’mma go find my girlfriend.”

“No shagging!” Kevin orders

“Like I’m gon’ give you poor fuckers pointers.” I snicker with a slight slur.

I spot brown and gold feathers rustling in the breeze in the backyard, and make my way outside to find Katherine.

“What’s a gorgeous girl like you doin’ in a place like this?” I drawl.

Katherine turns to me, grinning slightly lopsidedly. “I felt a bit whoopsie… Came out for some air.”

“Are you drunk babe?”

Katherine shakes her head seriously then hiccups. “Maybe a little…”

“Yeah. Reckon I oughta slow down too.” I chuckle. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, just feels a little close in there with everybody in the same room.”

“Naw, now I saw your family photo. Plenty of harpies in one spot there.”

“Why do you think we took it at the park?” Katherine snickers “We don’t do crowds so well.”

“Well I hope two ain’t a crowd…”

Katherine slides her wings about my shoulders “Definately not.”

Our kissing is interrupted by the bang of a balcony door above us. Katherine glances upwards, pushing me under the eaves. Still in each other’s arms, we listen intently.

“You can’t tell me you’re sore over Johnno and Kat.” That was Chris’s voice.

“No… Well… Not like that anyway.” Vicki’s sibilant tones.

“What’s wrong then?”

A hissing sigh, “I thought I’d get over it, you know? I thought eventually if I just kept putting myself out there, I’d stop being so afraid. I’d stop seeing a different pair of eyes in the face of every boy who leans in to kiss me.”

Shuffling of feet on the balcony. “You know, there’s one avenue you haven’t explored.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“Me.”

“You’re drunk.” Vicki snickered.

“Not that drunk Vic. Look at me.”

“W-why?”

“Because we’ve known each other since we were barely able to string sentences together. Look at me.”

“O-okay, I’m looking at you.”

“What do you see?”

A chortle. “My drunk-ass friend.”

“Absolutely. Nothing else. Just me. I would never hurt you. Ever… And I’ve had feelings for you for ages, it’s just taken me this long to work up the guts to say it.”

“I can’t…”

“Why not?”

“Because what if I end up getting cold scales with you too? I couldn’t bear it, Chris. I just couldn’t!” The sound of Vicki’s soft sobbing.

“I know you’ve been through some rough shit, Vic. And I won’t press it. But the door’s open, even if all you wanna do is talk about it… Just… Just wanted to say my piece.”

Sound of the door opening

“Wait, Chris?”

“Yeah Vic?”

“This might just be the beer, but I’ll bite myself if I let this pass without finding out… Let’s try it… just once.”

“You sure?”

“No I’m not, but get over here and kiss me before I lose my Maou-damned nerve!” Vicki hissed.

Rushing footsteps, wet sounds of kissing.

“Oh… oh wow… Mmmmm”

“You OK?” Chris murmured.

“Did I say stop? Fucking holding out on me all these years, get the hell OVER here!” Vicki’s hiss was urgent and demanding.

Katherine gave a ringing little peal of laughter. “Oh Maou that’s so sweet.”

“Let’s hope they feel the same way when they sober up.” I murmured.

“Even if they don’t, that’s the first time she’s ever been able to do that without… well…”

“Going inside her head?” I finish

Katherine nods.

“Here’s to beer, God’s greatest social lubricant.” I chuckle.

Katherine giggles, leaning in and kissing me again.

“Why on MY bed though?” Kevin laments.

“It wasn’t as if we planned it Kev!” Chris offers consolingly. “It just kinda… fell into place.”

“Oh I bet it did…” Kevin exclaimed sarcastically.

“You didn’t!” Carly gasped.

“Not for lack of enthusiasm, I tell you what…” I chuckled, my arm around Katherine’s waist.

“I think it’s sweet.” The harpy near-pouted.

“Then YOU can wash the sodding sheets, Katherine!”

“Oh dry off Kev, nothing happened but a bit of snogging… Orright and maybe my hands up her shirt… And she put her tongue in my ear…”

“They don’t need a blow-by-blow Chris!” Vicki hissed, her golden face darkening in a blush.

“Sorry Vic…” Chris apologised, taking the Lamia’s hand in his own. She looked down at the contact then back up at Chris, a soft smile in her eyes.

“Still here…” She whispered, her voice a mixture of pride and amazement.

Chris returned the smile, his heart in his eyes.

“This is so cloying I think I may puke.” Emily grumbled “You know you’ve totally screwed with the group dynamic, right? Me and Kev are the only single ones left!”

“Have you met my friend Kevin?” I chortle, waving an arm at the young man grandiosely.

Kevin and Emily looked at each other appraisingly, before bursting into laughter.

“Not on his best day!” The Kangaroo declared

“Too right, it’d be like making out with me sister!” Kevin agreed

A sound of the doorbell.

“I’ll get it.” Kevin offered. “But do try and keep the fuckin’ hormones to a dull roar while I’m out of the room?”

I pulled Katherine to me, “Quick, while he’s gone!”

Katherine flapped her wings against my shoulders, laughing as she buffeted me “Gerroff you perv.”

“Hey Carly, your boyfriend’s here.”

“Ok faggots, that’s my ride. It’s been fun, do try and not be so fucking hopeless next time.” Carly drawled, waving a two-thumbed hand at us.

“Hey cutie.” A familiar voice sounded from the hall.

“Baby!” Carly cried joyously, launching herself into her boyfriend’s waiting arms and kissing him fervently. As she broke the kiss, my suspicions were confirmed.

“Sup Mick.” I snickered.

“Oh shit fuckin Johnno…” Mick laughed. “What are you doing here?”

I shoot him a mocking grin. “I go to school with these guys, what’s your excuse, apart from cradle robbing?”

“Ease up turbo, she’s nineteen.”

“And you’re what, thirty?”

“Twenty six mate, don’t make it any worse than it already is!”

“You are a dirty old man though baby…” Carly chided, tapping him on the nose with a clawed finger.

“But you love me for it.” Mick rejoined, kissing the Koala again.

“Right, all of you, fuck off outta here.” Kevin ordered with mock outrage. “If everyone’s getting some tonight except me, yez can all do it in yer own homes.”

“Spoilsport. Cheers for having us mate.” Chris grinned

“Yeah yeah… Oi Johnno, next time at yours.”

I nodded, “I’ll check with my cousin, fair warning, he is a cop.”

“I do like a man in uniform…” Emily mused.

Kevin stared nonplussed at the Kangaroo. “Et tu, Emily?”

“Need a ride back to Kyle’s place Johnno?” Mick asked, hand in hand with Carly.

Feathers around me as Katherine enfolded me in her wings, making a noise of protest at the concept.

“Thanks Mick.” I smile “But I think I’ve got a flight already booked.”

Chapter 4

“Hey Johnno?”

I pull myself away from the screen at my cousin’s voice.

“Yeah Kyle?”

“Package for you mate, pretty sizeable.”

I frown in confusion “You sure it’s for me? I’m not expecting anything.”

Kyle rolls his eyes. “Unless there’s another John Walden living here mate. Gerroff the computer and come get it.”

I sigh, hitting save and unpairing my PC from the screen and keyboard, before following Kyle downstairs.

“So what are you working on? You’ve been smashing away at that for a couple weeks now.”

“Something for school. My History teacher thinks it’s a good opportunity. Open some doors and that.” I give Kyle a light elbow, grinning at him “You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, fuckin’ stonecutter?”

“Lay off cunt.” Kyle snickers.

I walk into the front room to be confronted by a fat packing tube, probably as long as I am tall, and a solid couple of feet in diameter.

“The hell?” I murmur, bending down and pulling open the connote strapped to the side.

‘Found something when I was going through the storage unit. Thought you might be able to get some use out of it there. Call me sometime.
Love, Dad’

“Huh.” I chuckle, a smile coming involuntarily to my lips.

“Should I call the bomb squad?” Kyle chuckles

“Nah, it’s from Dad. I wonder what it…” I murmur, opening the end of the tube.

Wait.

It can’t be.

It is.

My smile becomes broad and eager. “Ohhh fuck yeah…”

“Whazzat then?”

“I’ll show you outside… Kat is gonna be thrilled.”

“Fucking hell, you sure you know what you’re doing with that?” Kyle exclaimed incredulously

“Trust me, I could do it in my sleep.” I assured him.

“Well… Guess Kat’s there to bail your arse out if you get in too much mischief.”

“I knew she was good for something…” I quip

Kyle snickered, “I’m gonna tell her you said that, mate.”

Oh shit.

“You wouldn’t!” I exclaim

“Dunno mate, make dinner and I’ll think about it.” Kyle drawled.

“Bribery! Police Corruption!”

Kyle gave a half hearted swipe at the back of my head which I easily dodged. “Get on you. And don’t put the whole fucking jar of chillies in this time, I was shitting fire for a fucking week last time.”

I set the meat to browning as I chopped the vegetables. Katherine had come over for dinner recently, and I decided to regale her with my cooking. I didn’t realize that harpies had avian tastebuds, and that chillies didn’t affect them as much as they did humans, so my constant “What do you think?”, offering her a small spoonful was met with “A little bland” up until the damn thing could likely dissolve steel.

Kyle and myself spent the majority of the rest of that evening with streaming eyes, guzzling milk as Katherine laughed at us.

She’s gorgeous, but god damn does she have a vicious streak to her sometimes…

“Oi! Quit fantasizing and pay attention!” Kyle barked, jerking me back to reality.

“Shit!” Damn mince is smoking, I turn the heat down quickly. Good, haven’t burned it.

Kyle gives an amused shake of his head. “You’re right keen on her, aren’t ya?”

“What gave it away?”

“Don’t be a clever cunt.” Kyle drawls, before his look turns serious. “Just… be careful yeah?”

I sigh. “Kyle, they’re not all like…”

“Don’t.” He interjects shortly. “Don’t even bring her up. It’s done. I’m not wasting any more good beer or bad feels on her memory.”

He walks into the backyard. “Lemme know when tucker’s on, yeah?”

I murmur affirmatively. I guess getting left at the altar is something that sticks with you…

“You sure you don’t want a lift?” Kyle asks, hopping into his patrol.

A screech from above me

“Not sure I have a choice!” I yell as the ground disappears.

“Hi Kyle! Bye Kyle!” Katherine cries, soaring upwards in lazy circles.

“Hey you…” I chuckle, stroking the rough talon holding my shoulder

“Hiya!”

“You busy this weekend?” I ask, looking up at my wedge-tail girlfriend.

“Yeah, busy spending time with you, I hope. You’ve been so busy with that thing for Miss McGazy you’ve barely spent any time with me!” comes her petulant reply, her head peering down over her cleavage at me.

I grin. “Of course. I’ve actually got a surprise planned.”

I let my gaze linger… Harpies usually aren’t exactly ‘endowed’ but Katherine definitely leans towards chesty.

“Oi, are you staring at my tits?”

I give a lewd chuckle “Of course”.

Katherine snaps her head up, blushing furiously, before diving towards the school and planting me ignobly upon the ground.

“Hey! No need to get rough honey.” I chide, brushing the dust off my pants and sliding my arms about her waist.

She avoids my gaze, mouth set in a mock pout.

“You are adorable when you sulk…” I murmur, kissing that pouty mouth.

Katherine makes a small noise, almost melting into my arms. This is nice.

A cough from behind us.

“This will be a rare occasion for Miss Lefleur to actually be on time to form… Please don’t let my hopes be dashed, Mr Walden.”

I turn to see Mr Reiner’s cadaverous face staring slightly disapprovingly at us.

“Yessir.”

“And do keep the fraternization to a minimum, if you please. St Patricks has a certain reputation to maintain.”

“Yessir, sorry sir.” I apologise, Katherine mumbling an affirmation and shifting her wings in slight embarrassment.
I smile at her. “C’mon, we should get in.”

Katherine pop-skips alongside me. “What’s the surprise?”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”

She gives a groaning screech of protest “Joooooohhhhhnnnn! C’mon!”

“Nope.”

“I’ll suck your dick!”

“Kat!” I exclaim, taken aback by her forwardness.

Katherine grins, giving me a light smek on the lips. “Gotcha… See you in class.”

“Is this a History lesson or a propaganda lecture?” Naomi quips. Miss McDavidson turns an appendant eye to look at the human girl.

There are two problems with being looked at by a Gazer’s tentacle. One, they display no emotion, so you can’t tell if you’re in the shit or not. Two, that’s where things have a tendency to shoot from if you are in the shit.

“Do go on, Miss Altelange…”

“Well… You seem to be focusing an awful lot on the twenties, and even then you’re only telling it from a Mamono perspective.”

“Of course I’m telling it from a Mamono perspective. I’m Mamono. Do you expect a Boer to tell the story of South Aftrica from the viewpoint of the ANC?”

“I expect you to be Impartial, Miss.” Naomi retorts.

“If you find anything which I’m telling you to be factually questionable, please do bring it to my attention… Of course for your sake I would encourage you to have plenty of substantive evidence to back that up.”

Miss McDavidson turned to face the class. “I’m not blind to the kind of misinformation that’s been spread about my kind. Most of it coming from your father’s office, might I just point out, Miss Altelange.”

Naomi bristled slightly at that.

“My point being. I know what you think of me. I know that there’s a running bet going on if I’m sleeping with Mr Walden or just fattening him up for lunch.”

The Fuck?!

“Y’all better keep me the hell outta that!” I exclaim.

“Don’t be such a prude John. I’ve got a lobster on that she’ll try and eat you.” Katherine snickers from beside me.

“Kat!” I burst incredulously.

“Oh hush.” Katherine muses, winking at me and blowing me a kiss.

“Don’t pretend I don’t see you hovering at the window, Miss Lefleur.” Miss McDavidson retorts. “And don’t think I haven’t seen you mantling him on the oval…” She bares her pointed teeth in a grin. “In fact some of the teachers had a bet if the bite marks on his neck were purely… unintentional.”

Katherine screeches, putting wings to flaming cheeks as the class snickers.

She did have a thing for biting, Miss McDavidson had a point.

“If we’ve all finished playing. To return to the original point, to be impartial, one must take into account the existing bias of the data. There is no Mamono bias. We have one singular organization which is focused on Mamono rights…”

“The most well-funded NGO in the history of the planet…” Naomi mutters.

“And that makes a difference how? Actually thank you Naomi, let’s use that segue. Going back to the 2016 Federal Election in the USA…”

“Can’t stump the Trump!” Came a voice from the back.

Titters from the class at that old catchphrase.

“So, do you have something for me?” Miss McDavidson asks eagerly.

I sigh, rolling up my sleeve and tapping at the interface on my PC. Miss McDavidson’s terminal beeps as the file is received.

“Hmmm…” She murmurs, scrolling through the document. I wait with baited breath.

“I see you didn’t take my advice about cutting the segment on neuroplasticity.”

“Naw. It ties into the later bit when we’re talking about the illusion of self-maintenance on production machinery.”

Miss McDavidson nods. “I see, and I have to admit that you’re right. It would look odd without it.”

She continues scrolling, before reaching the end of the document. She sits back in her chair, wincing slightly as a tentacle is accidentally squeezed.

“Ouch… I’ve been around you humans too long.”

“We’re just as weird to y’all then?”

“Oh, you make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Some of you are kind of cute though.”

“I’m spoken for, Miss McDavidson.”

The Gazer gives a peal of laughter. “Oh, oh no. You’re not my type Mr Walden.”

It was exactly the answer I was hoping for, but it still stung a little. Ego eh?

“In any case, this is, for want of better word, brilliant. I can tell you’ve put a lot of work into it.”

“That’s one way of putting it.” I drawl. I had gotten no end of snarky comments from my friends over how often I had passed up the opportunity to hang out to work on this damn thing.

“I think it’s a good contender. I’ll submit it now, and get back to you.”

I sigh. I’d spent weeks working on it, and to finally have it finished left an odd feeling in my chest. “Thank you Ma’am.”

“No problem. Oh… Just out of curiosity, your cousin Kyle, does he work weekends?”

I frown slightly “No, why?”

“No reason… Have a good weekend Mr Walden.” The Gazer mused, waving me away.

“So what are we doing tomorrow?” Katherine demanded, flapping her wings in anticipation, throwing up a cloud of dust.

I tap away at my wrist, pulling up a map on my PC and showing it to Katherine.

“Meet me here?” I ask, holding up my wrist.

Katherine looked at the satellite image, her golden eyes blinking once like the shutter of a camera.

“Got it.” She assured me. “But what are we doing?”

“You’ll see…”

Katherine grumbled slightly, before fixing me with a sly look.

“Wanna go to the beach?”

“You’re not going to tempt me with you in a swimsuit, are you?”

“Harpies don’t wear swimsuits…” Katherine drawled, sidling up to me and nipping at my shoulder.

“You vixen” I choke, my heart pounding with anticipation.

“Just gotta tell me what we’re doing tomorrow.” She whispers.

“Gah… Kat. It’s a surprise!” I insist.

“Oh well. Then I guess I’m having dinner with Mum. Bye John!” She cries, launching herself into the air, her brown and gold wings carrying her up and up.

Can you call a harpy catty? I don’t care if you can’t.

“Women…” I grumble, beginning the walk home.

“You’re sure about this?” Kyle murmured in concern

I sigh. “Kyle, I’m good.”

“You’ve got the GPS on?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve got the EPIRB app if something goes to shit?”

“Yes.”

“You do realize if I don’t hear from you by four I’m calling in the dog squad?”

“Kyle, my own mother isn’t this much of a fucking nag.” I groan.

“Yeh well, Aunt Betty ain’t dropping you off the fuckin’ Darling scarp on that thing.” Kyle retorted, pointing to the blue and crimson hang-glider which I was checking over.

“Kyle, I’ve already called all the appropriate people, I’ve got clearance. I’ll be fine.” I assured him.

“Just keep clear of the airport.”

“Kyle.”

“Orright, orright… I’m going.” Kyle conceded, heading back towards the patrol. “Oh… How are you getting home?”

I smile. “I’ll get a lift.”

Kyle swears viperously, stomping back to the car. I hooked myself onto the glider, running through the checks in my mind. I looked at the edge of the scarp… the trees might be a problem if I didn’t find… Ah… There… the shimmering air of a thermal, rising off a patch of barren ground.

Taking a deep breath, I grasped the pole, digging my feet in and running towards the edge of the scarp, before launching myself into the air. The wind whistled, and I forced myself to keep the nose down, building speed before pulling up into a glide. Tensing my stomach muscles, I brought my feet up, hooking the crampons on my boots onto the rear of the glider.

I aimed towards the thermal, felt the buck on the leading edge as the hot air spilled under it. Sliding the pole to the left, I banked into a lazy turn, allowing the thermal to carry me up and up.

The wind began to grow erratic, and I knew I’d reached the upper limits of the thermal, Straightening out, I angled towards the coast, looking out for… Ah. There she was, about a hundred feet below me, her eyes intent on the ground.

Pushing into a slight dive, I gave my best impression of a falcon’s whistle. Katherine turned her head upwards, glaring at me.

“My mother’s a what?” she demanded.

“Oh shit. I didn’t know that actually meant something!” I gasped, pulling out of the dive as I hit another thermal, beginning another slow climb.

The glare melted into a delighted smile as she flapped vigorously, pulling herself into a tight circle to ride the thermal with me.
“Nah. I was fucking with you… So this is my surprise?”

I nod. “Do you like it?”

Her face grew soft, and she side-slipped below me, before briefly inverting herself to kiss me tenderly, flipping over again before gravity remembered she was subject to it.

“I love it John… I like flying with you but to have the opportunity to actually fly WITH you?” She gushed. “How could you keep this a secret from me?”

“Well Dad only just sent me the glider the other day. I figured it would be something nice we could do together, y’know?”

“You’re such a romantic…” Katherine mused demurely.

“Yeah well don’t expect much. There’s no way this thing could even come close to matching you in the air… whoops!” I cry, correcting myself as the thermal sputtered out, a rush of cold air knocking the column askew.

“I’ll keep you up!” Katherine said assuringly.

“No doubt, but I’m talking about flying, Kat.” I drawl.

“John!” Katherine shrieked, blushing furiously.

“Gotcha.” I grin.

Katherine shifted her wings, locking them and gliding in front of me. I’m transfixed by the shapely curves of her butt. You could crack walnuts with that butt, no word of a lie.

“Think we can reach the coast?” the Eagle-harpy quipped, looking over her shoulder at me and breaking my reverie.

“That was the plan hun.” I admit.

“Then why don’t we get to it?”

I will admit, there were a few times I thought I was going to be forced aground, but Katherine had other ideas, sometimes physically gripping the leading edge of the glider and hauling me near vertical.

“Dive with me!” She screeched, as the houses started giving way to dunes.

“How can I deny such a pretty girl now?” I drawled, pulling the bar towards me, angling the nose of the glider downwards.

The wind whistled around us as Katherine and I plummeted earthwards. Sideslipping below me, she inverted herself again, this time the kiss was lingering, intense.

“Pull up…” She whispered, locking her legs around my waist.

I pushed forward, hearing the carbon fiber in the struts creak with the added weight, the pull of inertia on me as we displayed our disdain for gravity, Katherine’s lips still fervently clinging to mine.

“Oooohhhhh Maou… That was so hot…” Katherine groaned, releasing me and catching the air once again with her own wings.

“Well we’re not done ye… Ah. There they are!” I exclaim, pointing at a line of brightly coloured dots on the beach sand below us.

Katherine dived ahead of me, landing daintily at the tail edge of the dots.

“Careful John, the sand’s a bit…” She began as the wheels of my hang-glider hit ground… Then promptly dug in, pitching the nose forward in a huge spray of sand.

“Soft.” She finished.

I groaned, hitting the release on the crampons. I stood slowly, checking myself over.

“Holy shit John, I heard the crack from here! Are you alright?” Chris cried, sprinting down the dune towards us, Vicki slithering close behind him.

“I think so… Wait, crack?” I replied, checking the glider

Sure enough, one of the primary wing struts had snapped on impact.

“Goddammit!” I snarled.

“Dead?” Kevin murmured, Emily on the other end of a large blue cooler.

“Until I can source a replacement, yeah, she’s fucked y’all.”

Kevin gave an off-key impression of the last post, holding his hand to his brow in mock salute.

“Let’s do that again!” Katherine crowed, throwing her wings around me.

“My wings are broken, hun.” I apologised, gesturing to the damaged glider.

“Awwww….” The Harpy lamented, kissing me gently. “At least you’re OK.”

She looked up, as if seeing the others for the first time.

“What are you guys doing here?”

Emily and Kevin set down the cooler they were carrying, throwing it open with a flourish.

“Happy Birthday Kat!” We cried in unison.

Katherine put her wings to her mouth.

“I thought you all forgot!” She whispered.

“Forget? John wouldn’t let the fuck up about it for the last two weeks!” Chris snickered.

Katherine looked at me, before bursting into happy tears.

“You’re drunk” Kyle snickered.

“Shhhh… My cousin’s a cop” I slurred, Katherine giggling in the seat next to me.

“Yeah well I’m glad you had the forethought not to fly.”

“Wings’re too wet anyway.” Katherine drawled.

“Well whatever the reason… Did you have a good birthday Kat?”

“Soooo good. John’s the bestest at birthdays!” Katherine exclaimed drunkenly. “Even if he wouldn’t fuck me in the dunes.”

“Kat!” I protest. Kyle snickers.

“Probably better he didn’t. Sand gets everywhere when you do that, take it from someone who knows.”

“Pfft. He was perving on those shark girls.”

“I was making sure they didn’t eat Kyle!” I protested.

“They weren’t looking for dinner, John.” Katherine insisted, cuddling up to me, her wings cool and damp against my skin

“They stole my fucking shirt.” I lamented.

“Lefleur residence. All Harpies get the hell out my car.” Kyle drawled, pulling up outside Katherine’s house.

Katherine pressed herself closer to me, kissing me sloppily. “Call me.” She murmured, stumbling out of the car.

“Kids had a good night then?” Came a voice from the darkness beside the window.

“Yeah. Seems so.” Kyle answered, as I blinked owlishly at the window, Katherine’s father coming into focus.

Oh fuck.

“Mind if I have a word with John?”

“Leave him able to walk, yeh Frank? I don’t fancy carrying his arse inside.” Kyle snickered.

I swallowed, stepping out of the car.

“I’m not thrilled about the drinking, John.” Mr Lefleur admonished.

“It wasn’t my idea, Mr Lefleur.” I protested lamely.

“Don’t pass the buck mate. Besides, that’s not what I want to talk to you about.” Mr Lefleur replied, waving off my comment. “Kat’s passionate… takes after her mother like that. Takes after most Mamono in that respect.” He cleared his throat slightly. “What are your intentions towards my daughter?”

I straightened myself, trying to force the beer-haze from my mind. “I really like her, sir. And you’ve got my word, I ain’t lookin’ to harm her in any way shape or form.”

He nods. “Good lad. Kyle told me about the glider… That was… well, her mother nearly burst into tears when I told her about it. You just… You just do right by my little girl now, yeah?”

“Yessir. Absolutely.”

“Daddy! Stop haranguing my boyfriend!” Katherine’s drunken protest came from where the harpy had sprawled out on the front lawn.

Mr Lefleur gave a groaning chuckle, heading over to the grass and helping Katherine to her feet. Clearly, I was dismissed. I hopped back into the car, and Kyle pulled back out onto the road.

“You’re gonna end up married to that girl if y’aint careful.” He snickered.

“Could be worse.” I muse drunkenly

Yeah… Could be worse indeed.

“Orright! Outta bed!” Kyle’s voice shattered through the blissful reprise of sleep.

“Urghhhhh” I moaned as last night’s excesses made themselves felt “What time is it?”

“Ten, you’re gonna clean the sand out me bloody car.” Kyle replied with an impish glee.

“Goddamn…” I groan “…No chance of just letting me die?”

“Nope! Since I can’t do you for underage drinking, I’m gonna make you suffer for it.”

“You are an evil bastard, cuz.”

“Yeah yeah, C’mon. Clean first, then I’ll fill you with grease.”

I swing my legs out of bed, trying to ignore the light stabbing its way into my brainpan.

“You’re gonna have to… urp… give me a second…” I gulp, before scrambling to the bathroom, retching pathetically.

Kyle’s mocking laughter provided counterpoint to my pained vomiting.

Oddly enough, the wretched feeling didn’t last terribly long, and there wasn’t an awful lot of sand in Kyle’s car, and the breakfast he put on was expansive as all hell.

“Fucking hell man, you should have been a chef!” I murmur from around a mouthful of food.

“Pay’s shit and you’ve got to deal with Holstaurs.” Kyle replied.

“What’s wrong with Holstaurs?” Mick replied from the kitchen. He and Carly had dropped around that morning because… reasons, I guess.

“Dunno… I think it’s the ankles… Just weirds me out.”

“Nothing to do with the acres of titflesh filling your field of vision?” Mick snickered

“What’s wrong with boobs, Mick?” Carly asked sweetly

“Nothing, so long as they’re yours babe.” Mick cozened.

“Smooth.” I murmur, shovelling eggs into my mouth.

A noise was intruding

“You’re ringing, Johnno.” Mick pointed at my wrist.

“Fuck, I didn’t even take it off? How wasted was I?” I exclaim.

“Pretty monged mate.” Kyle snickered.

I tapped the answer button, once again having no idea where my earpiece was.

“Hello?”

“Mr Walden?”

“Yeah, who am I speaking to?”

“It’s Miss McDavidson. I’m sorry for calling you on the weekend.”

“Oh, Hi!” I exclaim. Kyle looks at me with an odd expression.

“Dry off, it’s my teacher.” I shoot at him.

“I know.” He murmurs, His expression unchanging.

“I’ve got some good news. Your submission has been accepted for the New Horizons symposium. I hope you can make yourself available for next weekend.”

“Oh! Shit! Wow!” I stammer. “I really wasn’t expecting…”

“Uh huh. Look, I’ll give you the full rundown on Monday, but essentially, It’s being hosted at the Rydges over two days, so they’re paying for rooms for the entrants to stay overnight. Any immediate questions?”

“Just one.” I reply, a slow smile spreading across my lips. “Can I bring a date?”

“Come on mate, we’re gonna be late!” Kyle’s voice rang from downstairs

“Gimme a minute!” I replied, frantically fussing with my tie. “This fucking…”

“Hang on…” Kyle groaned, and I heard his footsteps on the stairs. Opening the door, he walked over, turning me by my shoulders and fixing the tie with expert hands.

“You are really gonna have to learn this mate. It’s an essential fuckin’ skill.” He admonished, giving it a final tug.

“Yeah yeah.” I grumbled, rolling my eyes.

“There. You look faaahbulouth thweetie.” He snickered, affecting a camp pose.

“Thanks dear.” I chuckle.

“Bit odd that Kat wants a lift. Usually you can’t keep her out of the air.” Kyle remarked as we hopped into the car.

“Yeah… Who knows?” I reply.

We drove in relative silence to Katherine’s house. Pulling up onto the driveway, Kyle gave me a slight shove.
“Go on mate, do it proper like.” He snickered.

“I was going to anyway!” I protested, opening the car and heading towards the front door. Before I could knock, it opened, and there before me stood a vision of heaven.

Katherine was dressed in a gold, strapless gown which hugged her figure, splitting down the sides of both legs and ending in a tassel above her talons.

“What?” She demanded, shifting her wings self-consciously as I stared slack-jawed at her.

I clear my throat “Do you remember the first time I met you, how I mistook you for an Angel?”

Katherine’s mouth pursed, her lips moist and achingly kissable. “Yeah…”

“I was wrong, the heavens themselves are renting bad movies and binge-eating icecream over how far you’re outshining them tonight.”

“Smooth!” Kyle’s yell came from the car.

Katherine gave a delighted giggle, blushing adorably, before leaning in to kiss me lightly, pulling back as I moved to put my arms around her.

“Uh uh handsome…” She admonished. “No mussing!”

“Some bullshit right there…” I muttered, regretfully allowing her to push my hands away with her wings.

“Have fun you two, good luck with the presentation, John!” Came the voice of Katherine’s mother from somewhere inside.

“Thank you Ma’am” I called.

“Ooh, he sounds just like Elvis!” she cried. Katherine rolled her eyes and closed the door.

I opened the door for her, before getting back into the car myself.

“You look nice tonight Kyle!” Katherine remarked.

“He’s Miss McDavidson’s date.” I snickered.

“Am not!” Kyle protested. “She asked me very nicely if I could chaperone, and free drinks at a five star hotel aren’t easily passed up.”

“Sure son.” I chuckled.

The room where the presentation was due to take place was absolute chaos. Katherine quickly gave the milling crowd a cagy look, before excusing herself to ‘freshen up’.

Damn. Forgot about her and crowds.

I went to try and talk to a few of the other entrants, but they were less than congenial, some of them outright turning up their noses at me.

“Old money.” Came a voice from behind me. Turning, I saw Chris’s grinning face.

“What are you doing here?!” I exclaimed, clapping my friend on the shoulder in delight.

“I’m Vicki’s date, didn’t you know she had entered as well?”

I shook my head. “I thought you guys were just… You know.”

Chris laughed. “Nah mate, she’s been hammering it at least as hard as you have.”

Sure enough, Vicki slithered over next to Chris, her ebon hair artfully made up, framing her delicate golden face, offset by the burned sienna of the wrap-around dress she wore which trailed down past her ‘hips’, her black-and-gold coils sashaying beneath it.

“You scrub up well John.” The Lamia smiled.

“Damn Vicki, could say the same about you.” I replied.

“Flatterer. Where’s Kat? I think I saw her talking to Miss McGaz… Er, Miss McDavidson, but I think we’re about to get started.”

“Not sure… You know her and crowds. I’ll go find her.”

“Don’t be late!” Vicki called after me, taking Chris’s hand familiarly in her own.

I scanned the room, spotting a gazer in an elaborate Kimono talking familiarly with a distinguished looking man.

“Miss McDavidson?” I ventured, approaching the Kimono-clad Gazer.

“Mrs.” The Gazer corrected sternly, turning towards me.

I nodded apologetically “Oh. I’m sorry Ma’am. I mistook you for someone else.”

The gazer studied me for a moment, her cyclopean eye widening. “Oh! You must be one of Akemi’s students! I was so pleased to hear that a couple of them would be featuring entries tonight.”

Akemi… Yeah, Miss McDavidson’s name did have an ‘A’ in front of it on my timetable.

“I guess so, Ma’am. I’m John Walden.”

“A pleasure. I am Ume McDavidson, and this is my husband, David.” She replied politely, gesturing to the distinguished looking man at her side.

“Gudday mate.” David replied casually, holding out his hand.

Oh fuck I’m shaking hands with a Fortune 500 director. Don’t spill the pasta. Don’t spill the fucking pasta!

“It’s an honour, Sir, Ma’am.” I offered sincerely, shaking their hands in turn. I noticed a few of the other entrants were giving me death glares, and I allowed myself a slight feeling of smug satisfaction.

How’s that old money treating you now, faggots?

“Are you headhunting my students already Dad?” Came Miss McDavidson’s voice, where she led Kyle and Katherine through the crowd towards us. “And abandoning your date, John? Really…”

“Don’t blame him Miss, I told him I was just heading to the bathroom. I don’t do crowds so well.” Katherine interjected.

Ume gave a sympathetic laugh. “I know the feeling entirely, my dear. Still, we must grin and bear it sometimes.”

“Honestly, I’d prefer to just watch from the air.” Katherine replied, rolling her eyes.

“You and me both, though I suspect you’re a better flier than me.” Ume murmured conspiratorially.

“Mum!” Miss McDavidson protested “Stop giving my students ideas.”

“It’s all in good fun, Akemi.” Ume chided gently.

David looked over towards Kyle. “And sorry, We’re leaving you out of things, Mr…” He trailed off, holding his hand out.

“Kyle Cavendish. I’m helping Akemi with the chaperoning tonight.” Kyle replied, taking the man’s hand.

“You teach at St Patricks as well then?” David ventured. Kyle shook his head.

“Hah, no, don’t have the patience for teaching I’m afraid.” Kyle admitted with a short laugh. “I’m with the WA Police.”

“Ara Ara… Akemi always did have a thing for a man in uniform…” Ume mused with a slightly naughty smile.

“Mother!” Miss McDavidson cried, blushing furiously.

Ume laughed, followed quickly by the MC’s instruction for us to find our seats.

Vicki took a small sip of water, waiting for the chuckles to die down. “Forgive me the levity on what is indeed a serious topic, but we have a lot of fine speakers left, and it would suit none of you, ladies and gentlemen, to be too deeply in your cups from heavy thoughts.”

A ripple of concession from the crowd.

“So.” She continued. “In demonstrating this need for ethical reform, we need to consider if the morals which guided the practitioners of the past still stands today. The Hippocratic Oath has been held to as bedrock for nearly three millennia. If you would forgive my impudence, I would suggest that be reviewed.”

A murmur of confusion.

“In the face of Medically certified home analysis programs, genetic sequencing, nutritional modification… Let’s throw in Holstaur milk while we’re at it…”

Another chuckle, knowing from some corners of the room.

“I would say that the admonition for the physician to do no harm has been well and truly superseded. In this day and age, I would encourage, in closing, given the range of topics we have gone over this evening, that he consider a new oath, to ‘Strive for Good.’
Thank you all for your kind attention.”

Vicki slithered from the stage, navigating the small step with a practiced drop, the gold and ebon of her serpentine lower body tracking behind her in an undulating ‘S’ as she returned to the table followed by the sounds of appreciative applause.

“You were brilliant babe!” Chris mused softly as she coiled back over her ‘chair’, in truth a rough fibreglass curiosity which supported her serpentine build much more comfortably than the standard biped style.

Vicki smiled at him gratefully. “Thanks Chris. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t given me those jokes.”

“Well, I am willing to be versatile on how you choose to compensate me for co-authoring.” Chris snickered lewdly.

“You maou-damn Satyr…” Vicki giggled, blushing slightly.

“Children.” Miss McDavidson murmured warningly, an appendant eye glowing a pale green as it focused on them.

I don’t know what green does, and I don’t want to know. Clearly neither did Chris and Vicki, who reluctantly separated.

The MC resumed the stage, shuffling his notes.

“A wonderful start to the evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks again to Victoria Sassella from St Patricks for being our first cab out of the ranks. How about another round of applause?”

The audience complied with good grace, some turning and smiling their encouragement at Vicki, some shooting foul glares at her which gave away clearer than words that she had stolen some of their thunder.

A progression of other students were invited up to speak. I’d taken a quick look at the run-list so knew I was about halfway. I relaxed, half listening to the presentations, stroking Katherine’s wing absently where she had curved it under the table.
It was clear from some presentations that daddy’s money bought a fair few of these spots. I hardly think a sweating, stammering demonstration of how to empty spaghetti onto the stage, or some vapid miss universe-esque ‘World Peace’ blurb was the kind of thing to make the grade for this kind of event.

“Dear, who chaired the Selection committee this year?” David murmured to his wife.

“I think it was Francis Yeoman, love” She replied.

David nodded. “Remind me to have him in my office first thing Monday.” He mused after a particularly rubbish entry.

“Next up… Oh! Another student from St Patricks. Please welcome John Walden.”

Polite applause as I took the stage. I adjusted the microphone, allowing my eyes to scan the room. Katherine holding up the ‘thumbs’ on her wing-joins before blowing me a kiss.

“Howdy Y’all. As you may have noticed, I ain’t from around here.” I began, thickening my accent somewhat.

That got the chuckle. Always good to lead on a laugh.

“Is St Pat’s a School or a Comedy club?” Came a heckle from the audience.

“Well Comedy is tragedy plus distance, which y’all would know if y’all paid any attention in literature.” I rejoined, not missing a beat.

Chuckles and murmurs rippled across the room, politely indulgent looks became at once more interested.

Of course I planned that. Are you kidding?

“And tragedy, ladies and gentlemen, is what leads us into the topic I want to explore today. The Failiure of AI, why Kusanagi Keito’s Great Leap Upward was doomed from the outset…”

“Mate, that was something else.” Chris congratulated me, flopping into one of the double beds which graced the room in which we were staying.

“Thanks man.” I sighed, sitting on the end of my bed and removing my shoes.

“Something up?”

I shrugged, “I dunno, I guess I was hopin’ there’d be something more than an overpriced steak and the opportunity to show I could string two words together… Maybe I’m just annoyed I didn’t get to spend more time with Katherine.”

“Yeah, It was a bit abrupt. Personally I reckon they wanted to get shot of the youngsters so the Hoi Polloi could get sauced.” Chris chuckled.

I kicked my socks off, wriggling my toes in the luxurious carpet beneath my feet.

“Pretty sweet digs though.” I murmur, looking at the decor of the room.

“Yeah.” Chris admitted, picking up the tv remote “Reckon we can get porn on this thing?”

“I am not watching porn with you.” I state simply.

Chris rolled his eyes at me. “Don’t be weird mate, I’ve heard stories about hotel porn.”

“You’ve got ten times the selection on your wrist.” I insist, pointing at his PC. Chris looked down at the ubiquitous wrist-strap and shrugged.

“Yeah, but it’s a thing, ya know? It’s on the bucket list.”

I sigh, standing up and heading for the door. “I’m going to see if I can convince Kevin to let us out for a bit. If I come back to find your dick in your hand I’m not gonna be happy, son.”

“Why, because you’ll know what you’ll never live up to?”

I snicker. Fucker had a wit on him. I turn the handle to open the door, pausing as voices from the hallway spill in.

“…Couldn’t have been more than about twenty.”

That was Kyle’s voice.

“Hahaha… Oh my! The poor doomed idiot.”

That was Miss McDavidson.

“Chris!” I hiss, gesturing frantically at him. Chris jumps up, hurrying over to stand with me at the door. I crack it a little more to see Kyle and Miss McDavidson standing outside his room, The Gazer looking at him patiently, almost… expectantly? A warmth in her Cyclopean eye.

“Well, this is me.” Kyle stated, scratching at the back of his head like a bashful schoolboy. “Look, Akemi. Maybe this is the booze talking, but… and feel free to belt me one if I’m out of line…”

“Yes.” Miss McDavidson murmured with a smile.

“Ye…Wha?” Kyle blinked

She took his hand in her own, pale and delicate fingers around his rough paw. “Yes Kyle, I would love to come in for a bit.”

Kyle beamed, pulling out his keycard and opening the door. “Great, come on in.”

“Thank you.” Miss McDavidson replied, putting a hand on his chest and leaning up to plant a light kiss on his surprised mouth.

An appendant eye flipped around and focused on the door we were peeking through, and a beam of white energy pulled it firmly shut.

“Miss McGazy and your cousin eh?” Chris snickered, as I sucked on a fingertip which had gotten caught in the doorjamb.

“Goddamn hypocrites.” I grumble. “Getting cozy while we’re segregated. Some Bullshit I tell you what…”

“Oi, Johnno. Quit bitching and think about it. Miss McGazy’s in there with your cousin.”

“Y’all have a talent for the obvious.”

“Neither of them are really going to be paying attention to what us or the girls are doing for a reasonable while yet…”

I pause as the realization hits me.

“Shoot you for it.” I state quickly, holding out my fist.

“Orright. One. Two. Three.”

Shit. Bastard led with rock. I lose.

“If you don’t seal the deal I’m going to laugh at you until graduation. Just sayin’.” I declare as Chris heads out the door.

Chris grins. “I got this, Johnno.” He assures me, closing the door softly behind him.

I flop back onto the bed. At least one of us would be having some fun this evening. I pull up the display on my PC, wondering what Katherine would be doing…

A soft scratching at the door.

“Did you pussy out already you big gir…” I start, opening the door only to pause as I see Katherine standing there in front of me.

“Don’t just stand there, Move!” She hisses, pushing past me and closing the door.

I stand there in the small hallway, frozen with surprise. “How did you…”

“I saw Kyle and Miss McGazy through the windows.”

“How? We’re twenty five stories up… Wait. Sorry, wings.” I chuckle. Katherine giggles.

“I was gonna say, for someone who sounded so smart tonight you didn’t strike me as stupid enough to forget that.”

Katherine takes my wrists in her wing-joins, pulling me over to the bed. “And I thought, since you’ve been so well behaved in not mussing me, I’d let you do it now, since I’m just gonna get bed feathers anyway.”

“Oh, well since you’ve got nothing better to do…” I concede in mock offense, bending to kiss those moistened lips. One kiss turns into several, and somehow her gown has worked its way down around her waist, my hands eager upon her breasts.

They aren’t the biggest in the world, but you cannot fault a harpy for supple or perky, I tell you what.

Her breathing has quickened, and she’s rubbing my tumescent shaft through my pants with a slender, muscular leg. I slide my hand down her body, over her taut abdomen, the cute divot of her navel, down… down…

I’m actually a little shocked when I come to her completely bare mound. Obviously my face gives that away because she breaks with my kiss and looks at me askance.

“I was expecting feathers, I won’t lie…” I murmur, shrugging bashfully.

“Eurgh… and have to clean them every time I go to the toilet? Are you trying to kill the mood John?” Katherine snickers.

“Sorry, sorry…” I murmur, bending to kiss her again, sliding my hand between her legs and exploring gently with my fingers. Katherine throws her wings around me, clinging to me and whispering the secrets of her body through light moans as I stroke her gently.

“P-pants…” She gasps

“What’s that babe?” I murmur.

“Remove ‘em or Lose ‘em.” She demands.

I chuckle, undoing my belt and pulling my pants off, undoing my shirt for good measure. Katherine nearly dives at my midsection, trailing her tongue along my torso perfunctorily before engulfing my dick in her mouth.

Oh sweet God have mercy… My toes nearly curled inwards with the sensation.

“Holy hell…” I groan. “Slow down or I’m not gonna last Kat.”

“Give you something to take your mind off it then…” She murmurs, taking her mouth briefly off me and swinging a leg over my head, raising her distinctive, wedge-shaped tail and revealing her firm buttocks and dripping womanhood.

Well I don’t have to be asked twice to return a favour. We went at it, both of us licking, sucking, kissing in the inexpert passion of horny teenagers.

“I want you. Now.” Katherine groaned, lifting herself off me as my tongue probed somewhere particularly sensitive.

“You sure about this?”

She paused, looking at me with trepidation. “Y-you don’t want to?”

I nod enthusiastically “Hell, I absolutely want to… Just I don’t have any… you know.”

“Oh! Don’t worry about that. I can’t get pregnant this week.”

“Aroo?”

“Heehee, that was adorable…” She giggled, climbing atop me and mantling me with her wings “…We can feel that sort of thing, harpies, I mean. Comes with having a massive egg form in your guts every month.”

“As long as you’re sure. I mean… don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind if it was with you.” I stammer, not knowing what to say. Spaghetti starts leaking from the pockets of my non-existent pants.

“Shut up and take me.” Katherine demands, lowering her mouth to mine and the heat of her nethers onto my throbbing erection.

…I’ll admit, the first time was a pretty disappointing performance on my part, and Katherine seemed to find it very difficult to get comfortable. The second was much better. The third?

“Oh Maou!” Katherine shrieked as I laboured atop her, her pert breasts bouncing lewdly beneath me. “John! I’m gonna…”

She threw her talons about my waist, claws pricking me unintentionally in the backside, driving me deeper into her. Her look of blank-eyed extacy combined with the knowledge that we had brought her there was enough to bring me to bear once more, and I groaned throatily as my orgasm joined hers.

“Oh… Oh wow… So that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.” She breathed.

“Yeah… heh… I think I owe you about three or four more.” I chuckle.

“Don’t you dare… I can’t feel my feet right now.” She protested, hugging me to her, my length softening within her.
We lay there for a moment, relishing in the closeness and the warmth of each other.

“Hey John?”

“Yeah Kat?”

“This doesn’t mean we’re getting married, you know.”

I prop myself up on one elbow

“Come again?”

Katherine shifted herself, covering me with a wing and kissing me gently on the nose. “Don’t look at me like that. I really like you. Even love you. But I’m an eagle, we fly free, and I don’t want to ever look at you like a burden because you’re holding me back from that.”

I laugh slightly. “Kat. We’re seventeen. Let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it.” I kiss her softly. “Who knows… We might just fly right over it and not even notice.”

“That would be nice.” Katherine mused, snuggling into me.

Flying forever with my eagle lover.

Yeah…

That’d be nice.

LackingFairGoodExcellentPerfect (12 votes, average: 4.92 out of 5)
Loading...

9 thoughts on “Under Foreign Skies”

    1. Hmm? Maybe, but my Summer stories predate yours by a bit of you check the stories tagged Australiana… But maybe I retagged them recently? I don’t really recall to be honest.

  1. I liked it! But as someone born and raised in Atlanta, I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard someone use “y’all” in the singular.
    Actually, this makes me wonder what happened to Atlanta – did the mamono pull another Sherman, come in from the north? If you had said a bunch of virgin weebs from Georgia Tech built a portal or something, I would’ve believed it without question.

  2. Dammit I knew someone from GA would chime in with “That sounds nothing like us!” hehe.

    In my defense the Australianisms are exaggerated too. I thought it better to make John ‘Rural South’ to better juxtapose the cultural contrast. If it helps, he was living in Atlanta, but he’s not ‘From’ Atlanta.

    As to what happened? The Third Great Depression, not to put too fine a point on it. Essentially people are being evacuated due to what effectively amounts to a balls out three sided war between Mamono, The Order, and local gangs. The USA is not in a good spot at this point in my timeline.

    (Haven’t yet decided if the South Rises Again… Not a bad idea that.)

    1. They’re not /too/ exaggerated.
      They’re conversations I could conceivably imagine overhearing. If not having them myself though.
      That said, the characters are from Perth and you can’t get less cultured or more behind the times than Perth. No really, they’re 2 hours behind the entire country.

Leave a Reply