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End of the World – Dee

“What the hell did you do?” Michael roared.

I leapt out of bed with a yell, hitting the floor hard and somehow managing to turn it into a roll. I sprung onto the balls of my feet, flaring my wings for balance and sent my crossbow soaring into my outstretched hand, finally looking to see who was yelling.

“Michael?” I said in shock, seeing him outlined against the pre dawn sky with murder in his eyes. What was more surprising though was the fact that he was squatting deftly on the windowsill and two masses of feathers could clearly be seen behind his back.

“Um…?” I began.

“I’ll say it again,” he said again with deathly calm. Emphasis on the death. “What. The hell. Happened?”

“At a guess I’d say you got wings.” I didn’t lower my crossbow for some reason, it wasn’t loaded but it at least felt like it offered some protection.

“Yeah, I noticed!” he bellowed, back to shouting. “I particularly noticed when I came to my senses five hundred feet above the ground after flipping out and attacking everyone I know!”

There was a pause and I said the first thing that came into my head.

“You were flying? I thought you were afraid of heights?”

To great effect.

Michael stopped dead in his tracks and I watched in morbid fascination as the blind rage on his face was slowly replaced by sheer terror. Then he screamed.

My door slammed open and I whirled to see Jaz rush in, tugging on a dressing gown, closely followed by Zap who had his home made coil gun in hand.

“What on Earth is going…” she began but then spotted Michael and after a fraction of a second’s hesitation, six daggers materialized by her shoulders, their points pointed right at Michael and humming slightly.

“I don’t know you,” she declared quietly, as Michael stopped yelling and stared right into the dagger points. He probably should have been more worried about Zap’s coil gun going off accidentally, but six shards of steel pointed at your face tend to attract attention.

“Jaz relax,” I said in the best soothing tone I could manage and stood up between her and Michael. It didn’t help. The daggers just drifted to the left and right so as to have a clear shot and besides I knew full well Jaz could curve them around me mid flight so it was kind of a pointless gesture anyway.

“He’s…” I paused again, thinking of the best way to put it. “Well… He’s one of the humans.” I opted for honesty, mostly as the second best option was ‘a time traveller’.

Jaz took a deep breath and I felt a faint pressure pushing me to one side, out of her line of fire. Nothing I could do now but watch.

“You don’t particularly look like a human to me,” she said, fixing him with a cold stare which kind of lost its impact as he was attempting to watch all the knives at once.

“Yeah,” he agreed, not losing the rabbit in headlights look. “I’d have to agree with you there.”

“Care to explain how you now have wings?”

“I’d like that to be explained too.” You have to admire someone who can stand up to Jaz when she’s doing her all powerful psychic impression. Except it’s not an impression.

“Dee?” Jaz asked and I quailed slightly. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“We might have met before,” I admitted. “I don’t know about the wings though, nor why he’s here specifically.”

“You pointed out your house on the way back,” he murmured as an explanation. “I just went for the first place that came to mind. Come to think of it, how did I find this place? Can you guys home?”

“Actually yeah,” Zap cut in brightly and I saw Jaz visibly slump. “It’s really odd but we appear to have a natural lodestone in our heads, or at least you get a headache if you put a strong enough magnet against your skull. Though if you were human then it’s interesting…”

“Honey,” Jaz sighed. “Later perhaps.”

“Sorry.”

“And could you put that damn thing down before I have to stop the slug.”

“It’s not actually plugged in,” he pointed out, shouldering the weapon and Jaz and I visibly relaxed. Zap’s inventions tended to go off without warning; he been banned utterly from bringing another of his cookers into the house after the infamous Version Four.

“As we’re on the subject of weapons,” Michael broached cautiously. “Would you mind lowering the daggers?”

“Sure,” Jaz said shrugging and the daggers seemed to flash out of existence. If you were a much better psychic than I, you’d know that she actually just moves them faster than the eye can follow but to a casual observer they just seem to vanish into thin air. It’s far less impressive when you know two of those knives’ primary use is to chop vegetables and they are all kept in a block on the kitchen counter but still, Michael was impressed. Or maybe he was just glad that imminent pointy death was no longer aimed at him.

“Right,” Jaz sighed, crossing her arms in front of her. “I’m going to go get Dat. I shouldn’t be the only one to get woken up for this. You…” She pointed at Michael and waited for a response.

“Michael,” he supplied.

“Michael. Stay here. And Zap keep an eye on him. Flo’s still asleep for now and I plan to keep it that way. So no making too much noise.”

Zap saluted and Jaz rolled her eyes before leaving in a rush, muttering something.

“She’ll be fine when the sun actually rises,” Zap explained and looked Michael up and down. “Rough day?” he asked casually.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Michael answered with certainty that only comes from someone having a really bad time of it.

“Why are you still on the window sill anyway?” I asked, putting my crossbow back down on the bed side table and then wandering over to him.

“My legs have cramped,” he explained sheepishly.

I really shouldn’t have laughed but still, it was funny.

“Just help me down already,” he snapped.

“Spoil sport,” I said brightly and lifted him down from the ledge. Compared to earlier he was definitely lighter, it looked like he’d gotten the whole package with the wings though I was not going to break it to him just how inhuman his biology now was. I mean, we don’t even have similar lungs to humans and the twins have been arguing for years that our brains work in completely differently.

“Happier now?” I asked as he sunk onto my bed.

“Not really,” he admitted, sighing. “It’s been a rough couple of days. I take it Jaz is one of the more powerful psychics you mentioned.”

“She’s in the top twenty,” I explained with a shrug, sitting down next to him and Zap shifted closer looking uneasy.

“Err, Dee,” he cut in. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be telling him this. He is a… well was, a human.”

Michael visibly stiffened at that comment, though possibly it was over the past tense to his humanity than any insult.

“Dat already said he wasn’t a threat,” I protested.

“Well that as may be, but that was before… well, you know. This.”

“In all honesty,” Michael said suddenly, staring at his shoes. “After that display, do you really think there is any way I can be dangerous.”

“And he’s been underground for ten years,” I cut in, leaping to his defence. “Lilly could beat him in a fight.” And just so you know Lilly’s six. Don’t tell Michael though.

“But he’s… human,” Zap protested weakly and Michael just looked at him with mournful eyes. I glared at him.

“I suppose that is a little irrational,” Zap admitted and after an uneasy silence where Michael went back to looking at his feet. “I should probably go check on Flo.”

“And maybe test your psychic detector?” I suggested, purely to keep him away longer.

“Good idea,” he said, brightening suddenly and bustled out. That would keep him occupied for a few minutes at least.

“Doing okay there, Michael?” I asked with my best possible smile.

“As well as could be expected,” he admitted with a sigh and a shrug. He then looked at his arm in confusion. “Have my shoulders changed?” he asked suddenly.

“Probably.” I tugged one of his wings open and he yielded easily, possibly because had no experience in moving them. “These things require a lot of support.” It was quite a nice wing, a russet red with the trimmings for manoeuvrability, rather than mine which are more endurance oriented, and probably from a hunting hawk. It was quite impressive to think that they’d grown in under twelve hours and really made me wonder how the hell that could be possible.

“Okay, that feels really weird,” he said, hurriedly pulling his wing back in and completely mis-folding it.

“What’s it like to suddenly have wings anyway?” I asked conversationally.

“Like suddenly getting another pair of arms,” he said flexing them slightly. “Uncomfortable arms with no fingers.”

“That’s just because you’ve got them folded all wrong,” I pointed out helpfully, gently pulling his wing into a more natural position.

An explosion suddenly shook the room and Michael leapt to his feet, flaring his wings as he did so, whacking one into the wall and sending me flying with the other. Well at least I knew he had the wing muscles.

“That came from The Bunker,” he said sounding shocked, and I had to agree with him. It definitely wasn’t one of Zap’s explosions anyway, they tend to be less earth shattering and immediately followed by an ‘I didn’t mean to do that!’

Michael made a run for the window and I scrambled to my feet. “Where do you think you’re going?” I asked indignantly as he vaulted through the frame and fortunately landed on the balcony.

“The Bunker!” he yelled over his shoulder and leapt off the side, completely failing to unfurl his wings and dropped like a rock.

“No!” I roared, throwing myself through the window after him and managing to kick of the sill as I did so, wrenching open my wings and tearing after him.

Michael smashed through a tree limb which it looked like he tried to grab, but the kid obviously knew nothing about falling with style and I had to barrel roll to avoid losing a wing on the tree. He knew he was in trouble at that point, as he began flailing around for another hand hold and just as I was swooping down to catch him, finally managed to flare his wings. Of course he managed to do that while almost standing in mid air and so the wind caught in his wings and managed to flip him over backwards, right into my arms.

I hooked my elbows under his armpits on pure reflex and felt my shoulders wrench as I went hurtling over his head, completely losing my air-foil and sending us spinning head over heels towards the ground. Through luck or sheer skill on my part, I managed to stiffen my wings enough that we only hit the ground at bone shaking speed, rolling over and over in a ball of crushed limbs and flying feathers. At some point I lost hold of Michael and he went flying over my head to land hard on the forest floor.

I lay stunned, looking up at the pre dawn sky though the canopy and the gaps between the houses.

“Every time we meet, I end up crashing,” I groaned, clasping my hand over my eyes and then heard a scrabbling behind me.

“Hey!” I exclaimed, rolling over and seeing Michael running off into the woods. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What do you think?” he called over his shoulder and I swore softly to myself, leaping back to my feet and ignoring the various aches I’d picked up.

“At least wait for me!” I snapped, sprinting to catch up and rapidly devouring the ground between us.

“They could be in danger,” He retorted as I drew level.

“It’s a bunker,” I protested. “They’re designed to withstand a bloody nuke!”

“No! The fallout!” he corrected. “And that was a big enough bang to have done some serious damage.”

“At least fly!” I yelled angrily. “It’ll take forever if we run.”

“Oh yeah, with these stupid things?” he exclaimed, flaring the tips of his wings and stumbling. “It would be faster to tunnel!”

“We could do a crash course!” I protested.

“Emphasis on crash!” He put his head down and accelerated. I rolled my eyes and kept pace.

We burst out into the bunker’s parking lot a whole fifteen minutes later. Well I say parking lot, it had been replaced with a ten foot deep crater and rubble had completely demolished the surrounding forest. A few car skeletons lay around the site, twisted almost beyond recognition and I spotted Dat, Jaz and a few others who were up at this time of day laying out papers on one of the flatter wrecks.

The doors had been literally torn to shreds. I could just about make out that there had been three originally. The furthest looked like it had been torn apart but some insane hand and the next resembled something that a tank had driven through, but the outer door simply wasn’t there. What I could see of the inside of the bunker didn’t look any better; the walls were blackened and had deep gouges torn by pieces of shrapnel as big as my head, but worse there were bodies everywhere; human and Eraser alike.

Michael stopped dead in his tracks.

“No,” he whispered in disbelief and horror and I skidded to a stop next to him, struck dumb by the sheer devastation. Sure I’ve seen places that got a full blast from a warhead, but I’d never seen anywhere that had been full of life just a few hours before. Even the birds seemed to have fled.

I gagged as the wind carried the stench of death across the ruined lot and someone finally spotted us. Michael began to stagger forwards as if sleepwalking and I went to follow him, fighting to keep the contents of my stomach in my stomach, and felt a resistance ahead of me. Catching Jaz’s eye I stumbled to a stop but Michael keep on going, gaining speed as he ran and was practically sprinting by the time he entered the bunker.

“What happened?” I asked, still sounding completely shell shocked, wandering over to Dat and Jaz.

“Erasers,” Dat explained. “We managed to chase them off but the damage was already done.”

“Survivors?” I asked, not expecting a happy answer.

Dat shook his head. “None save the one you brought.”

“I should go find him.”

“Probably wise,” Dat admitted.

I walked slowly through the devastation. Humbled by the death and desperately trying not to breath through my nose. Outside the bunker there were only Eraser corpses, most felled by our own distinctive bolts, though one looked singed enough to have been caught in the blast, never trust an Eraser with TNT apparently. Inside was another matter, the Erasers looked like they’d been torn apart by gunfire, a lot of gunfire, but the people, well looked like they’d just been torn apart. Hopefully by the doors exploding. I carried on, fighting down my gall.

I followed my ears down the next corridor, all the human corpses here had guns and those that didn’t looked like they’d had the guns taken after their deaths. The whole place had fought to the bitter end, I observed, as I picked my way around piles of Erasers. Of course when fighting Erasers there’s little else you can do.

I walked past rooms that contained only dead bodies and pillaged shelves. It was clear what the Erasers had been after, food, and anything that got in the way was a target. I hurried past the room that looked like a nursery; there was no way I could bring myself to look inside. I doubted my imagination could be worse than reality.

I found Michael sobbing over the corpse of an older woman in a room that looked like a cross between an infirmary and miniature bunker with a two foot thick door. It had clearly been a last stand; there were a lot Eraser corpses around and the four corpses in the room had obviously fought valiantly. I just stood back from Michael as he knelt weeping, before eventually cracking and kneeling next to him, putting my arm around his shoulder. Never saying a word.

Another Day – Dee

“Everyone?” Robin asked in disbelief. “Wow. That’s a raw deal.”

“Tell me about it,” I said sighing, leaning back in my chair and looking up at the gently swaying branches.

Robin and I were on herd duty, and it’s about as riveting as it sounds. Basically there are two of you, up a tree, watching a herd of brain dead cattle chew cud in the nearby meadow and making sure the lights on the electric fence stay on. We were also supposed to be on the look out for anything that might be after the cows, such as Erasers, feral dogs and regular wolves but so far there had been two cases of that happening, six years ago. At least we had chairs, and a small platform, and a moth eaten parasol for some reason.

“How’s the kid taking it?”

“Let’s put it this way. I got him to say three consecutive words yesterday and that’s the best anyone’s managed for the last three days.”

“Ouch,” Robin said wincing. It was painfully little in the way of empathy but then I had absolutely no idea what the kid was going through either. The number of people in the village that had actually lost loved ones could be counted on one hand, and no one had ever lost everyone.

“And how about the wings?” he asked after a moment.

“Actually I think he’s forgotten about those,” I admitted. “It’s not like he’s moved enough to notice them. Besides, technically they saved his life.”

“He’s not going to react well to suddenly being not human though,” Robin pointed out. “And you never explained how he got wings anyway.”

“When I understand it, I’ll let you know,” I told him, laughing bitterly. “Hope said something about changing the way his ‘self’ feels so it was more red-y orange and less bitter tasting and I just gave up.”

I’m not making this up by the way.

“That was shortly before she was grounded until her teens and just after she said she couldn’t turn him back. On the plus side though she apparently got rid of any micro tumours he had.”

“What’s he like though?” Robin asked, leaning towards me a bit and betraying his eagerness.

I just groaned. I’d been being asked that for the last two days. Everyone wanted to meet the human for various reasons and Dat had eventually forbidden entry to our house, which simply redoubled the number of questions. Just why he’s staying in our house I’m not one hundred percent sure; the only straight answer I got out of Dat was ‘he seems to like you’, which is about as useful as a blood feather.

“About as talkative as a lamp right now,” I replied, giving my token response and Robin rolled his eyes.

“That’s what everyone’s saying,” he pointed out.

“That’s what I’m telling everyone,” I countered with a grin. “Besides I’ve managed to get a better conversation out of the lamp.” I’m not kidding about the lamp by the way. At least it doesn’t emit a crushing depression when you try to talk to it.

“Oh come on,” he chided. “We’re friends aren’t we? You can at least tell me something.”

“What’s there to say?” I asked shrugging. “Look, he’s just a normal kid. Probably more normal than us by the human definition. The only real difference is how pasty he is and that’s just because he’s lived underground all his life, there’s nothing sinister about him.”

“So no, ‘burn the world’ attempts?” he queried, dropping into a stupidly deep voice as he said so and I snapped.

“He’s about as threatening as the cows!” I exclaimed angrily. “Just about anyone could beat him in a fight. He can’t fly. He’s no more armed than we are, and doesn’t have even a glimmer of telekinesis to boot. Compared to Kale or the twins he’s a mouse and they’re bloody lions. He is not a threat.”

“You’ve been getting that a lot haven’t you?” Robin asked after a moment, with a knowing grin.

“Why’s everyone so antihuman?” I fumed. “What’s this kid done to any of them?”

“Well, the White Coats tend to hang in everyone’s minds,” Robin pointed out.

“Yeah, but they were ages ag…”

“And don’t forget the first human we met took a pot shot at us,” he cut in.

“True but…”

“And the small wars we had with three of the neighbouring enclaves.”

“Personal survival does…”

“And let’s not forget the nuclear apocalypse.”

“Okay!” I snapped. “So humans haven’t exactly done much to endear themselves, but Michael wasn’t even remotely involved in any of that stuff. Why judge him on the actions of others?”

“What, use objective evidence based on our own personal encounters?” he asked sarcastically.

“Point,” I conceded. Isolation was probably breading more rumours than actually meeting the kid would. “But still he’s not some freak to be paraded in front of the whole village.”

“Shall I remind you of the fact he’s now got wings?” he asked loftily and I just glared at him.

“It’s a sad truth though,” he continued, “people are going to act irrationally towards him. The White Coats left deep scars, and not just the visible ones. Humanity is a chapter that we would quite like to forget about.”

“Robin you’re being profound,” I told him bluntly. “Stop it, you’re freaking me out.”

Robin’s adoptive father is a bit of a philosopher and Robin has a tendency to quote. Or at least I hope he’s quoting, some of the stuff he comes out with makes my head hurt.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Still you’ve got to introduce him to the real world some time. It’s not like anyone’s going to try to burn him.”

“I’m more worried about him rejecting the world than the world rejecting him,” I admitted. “The outside world was not apparently what he was expecting. It was supposed to be dust and craters, not forests, cows and birdsong.”

“You could show him the craters if he wants them so much,” Robin suggested.

“Ah, but he wont fly,” I countered. “Plus I think he’s afraid of heights.”

“Seriously?” he asked in disbelief and I just gave a ‘tell me about it’ look. “Throw him out a window then.”

“I almost dislocated my arm the last time he jumped out a window,” I told him grimly. “And I don’t think that’s exactly going to help him trust us.”

“Well you need to do something,” he declared. “I know I haven’t actually met him but sitting around moping isn’t good for anyone. If he’s miserable, point out how stupid it is to be miserable.”

“You know, he has lost everything,” I said nonchalantly.

“Losing everything only means one thing,” he countered. “There’s nothing left to lose.”

“Profound!” I cut in.

“Whatever!” he exclaimed. “It still stands that depression is not healthy and if no one else is going to cheer him up then it’s your job to do something about it.”

“My job?” I asked sceptically.

“Yes, your job. Of the people who meet him, Jasmine terrifies anyone who doesn’t know her, Zap isn’t exactly stable and Dat has a list of six more important things to do. Besides, he went to you for help. Not anyone else.”

“He hadn’t met anyone else,” I protested. “Besides what am I supposed to do. He won’t stop moping.”

“Take his mind off it,” Robin countered. “Do you know anything that requires total concentration or else you run the risk of going splat?”

“No I…” I began, then got what he was implying.

“Now that’s evil,” I said, a broad grin spreading across my face.

“It’ll work though,” he assured me.

“And you know what,” I declared, standing up. “You’re right. I’m going to shake him out of it right…”

“Dee,” Robin cut in suddenly. “Our shift doesn’t end for another hour and a half and I am not covering for you.”

“But he’s still sitting there wasting away,” I protested.

“And will still be there when your shift is over,” he completed.

“You’re no fun anymore,” I growled, sitting back down.

“It’s called maturity,” he said with a slight air of smugness. “You may need to look it up.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and pulled a wing between us. “Growing up’s for wusses,” I teased.

Robin just raised his eyebrows. “Just look for the second star on the right,” he told me.

That just netted him a blank look.

“Never mind,” he sighed. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Okay,” I said brightly. “Did I mention I managed to bring down four Erasers the other day?”

Robin groaned.

Flying Lessons – Michael

“Michael!” Dee roared, right next to my ear and I yelled in surprise, leaping off the sofa, tripping over my own feet and hitting the ground with a bang.

“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed angrily, trying to scramble to my feet and only succeeding in wrenching my wing, as I accidentally pinned it to the floor with my elbow. I’m still not used to these bloody things.

“Cheering you up,” she said brightly, clambering over the sofa and hanging herself between the cushions and the back.

“This is not cheering me up,” I snapped, sitting up and crunching my wings shut behind my back, glowering at her.

“You’re not moping any more, are you?” she pointed out cheerfully.

“It’s not moping it mourning,” I corrected irritably. “Everybody I know died!”

“Moping won’t bring them back,” she countered.

“Yes! I know!” I roared. “But if you’re expecting me just to forget they ever existed and flit around your blasted tree houses then you are going to be disappointed!”

“You two are going to be disappointed if my sonics slip and Flo wakes up!” Jasmine yelled from the kitchen and Dee and I winced in unison. Jasmine and Zap had been very generous in letting me stay in there house and ‘don’t wake the baby’ is a universal social rule.

“Anyway,” Dee continued in a hushed whisper, sliding down to sit in a more sensible position. “Were they really expecting you to do nothing but mope about them for the rest of your life?”

“Mourn,” I corrected again, getting to my feet and dusting myself off. “And I suppose not. But still it’s the principle of the matter; some tact might have been appreciated too.”

“Tact isn’t in my vocabulary,” she assured me, and you know what? I believed her.

“It’s just like everything’s gone,” I admitted, sitting down heavily next to her. “Probably because it has,” I completed a moment later.

“Well, you’re not gone,” she countered.

“True. But then comes the survivor’s guilt.”

“Well, I guess wouldn’t have any experience with that,” she confessed sheepishly.

“Says the one who watched the world burn,” I pointed out with a bitter chuckle.

“Hey,” she protested. “I was four. I barely have three consecutive memories from the long winter, and none of them involve anything burning.”

“Okay bad example,” I conceded. “Still you guys can’t have come through the end of the world without losing a few people.”

“Not as many as you’d think,” she explained, shrugging. “Only seven have died so far, three in the first two months and the rest over the years to Eraser attacks. It turns out we’re actually pretty difficult to kill, especially now we have Hope.”

I snorted in annoyance at the mention of Hope’s name.

“You know she technically saved your life,” Dee pointed out. “Not just with the bullet, but if you’d been in the bunker when the Erasers came knocking you’d be just as dead as the rest.”

I grunted noncommittally. “If I hadn’t broken out maybe the doors would have been strong enough to hold the Erasers off,” I muttered half heartedly.

“Oh, come on,” she chided. “You can’t honestly believe that anything you did helped the Erasers. They used enough TNT to level a city block.”

“Maybe I like feeling guilty,” I countered darkly.

“Now that just doesn’t make sense. If you liked feeling guilty you wouldn’t be moping, you’d be happy, but as you aren’t happy you must not like feeling guilty and so need something to distract you.” She paused to take a breath and I struggled to keep up with her leaps in logic.

“That’s why I’ve come up with the ultimate solution,” she continued, getting up and then dragging me to my feet. “I’m going to take you flying.”

“What!” I exclaimed in horror, trying and failing to pull against her. Unfortunately Dee’s a good deal stronger than me. “That’s not a solution to anything!”

“Sure it is,” she countered brightly as I attempted to escape and she got me in an arm lock. “Just try to pull off some complicated tricks and if you think of anything else you’ll die. Perfect distraction.”

“This is going to kill me isn’t it?” I asked, as she frogmarched me towards the kitchen.

“Nah, you’ll be fine. We’ll just do some simple stuff; maybe bug whoever’s at the Flyball pitch.”

“And did I mention I’m afraid of heights?” I asked, desperately trying to keep the panic out of my voice.

“Yeah, but you’ve got wings now,” she countered dismissively. “You don’t need to be afraid of the ground now.” She paused a moment. “Well actually you still need to be afraid of the ground. But you’re much less likely to hit it.”

“You just inspire confidence,” I said snidely, as she pushed me into the kitchen.

“Zap gets that look when planning something insane too,” Jasmine observed, sighing and juggling Flo into a more comfortable position.

“You could at least help,” I snapped. “Instead of just sitting there.”

“Insane and good are not mutually exclusive,” she pointed out. “How high do you guys want to be launched anyway?”

“Not at all?” I suggested hopefully.

“As high as possible,” Dee confirmed, still annoyingly cheery. She was enjoying this.

“You guys really are trying to kill me aren’t you?” I asked as Dee went off to get her crossbow. I briefly contemplated running for it, but as leaving the house would involve flying that kind of defeated the purpose.

“Actually higher is safer,” Jasmine explained, setting Flo gently down in a chair by the table and getting to her feet. “You have much longer to sort yourself out and after a certain point falling any further is pretty much redundant.”

“Plus you can go over one hundred miles an hour with a good dive,” Dee added reappearing, now armed.

“Dee, there was this great human invention,” Jasmine said testily. “They called it tact. You might want to look it up.”

“Never heard of it,” she confirmed, grinning and Jasmine sighed.

“You’ll be fine,” Jasmine assured me. “Simple flight is as instinctive as walking. You’re not going to hit the ground.”

“I’m not going to hit the ground if I stay here,” I countered.

“Says the one who was worried the floor would collapse,” Dee shot back, grabbing my wing as she rushed past and almost pulled me off my feet.

“You still haven’t convinced me that it won’t,” I snapped, as I was forced to follow her onto the balcony. I was serious about that. The floor didn’t seem to be made of planks as such, more thousands of short boughs that had been smoothed into something resembling a floor. I had asked but the answer was ‘telekinesis’, which wasn’t actually that helpful.

“Oh don’t be silly,” Dee chided. “You’ve tangled with Ferals. This is easily only a third as dangerous.”

“Stop teasing him Dee!” Jasmine yelled through the door and suddenly I felt like I had all over pins and needles, something that tends to happen just before anyone does something particularly weird. “Now are you ready?”

“Yes,” Dee confirmed.

“No,” I said weakly, not really expecting to be paid attention to.

The wind exploded in my ears and suddenly the forest was dwindling beneath us. It’s apparently a testament to just how good Jasmine is that I didn’t even feel the acceleration. Of course I’d rather have kept my feet firmly on the ground, but getting back to the ground was not going to be a problem. The speed I was going when I hit would be though.

“Now diving is very simple,” Dee yelled over the roar of the wind and I felt us beginning to slow down. “Your wings give you a different centre of gravity, so you should fall head first but if you do get the wrong way up just swing your legs and you’ll be fine.”

“Shouldn’t you be telling me how to fly?” I shouted over the wind and then realised it was practically nonexistent.

“Diving comes first,” she said with a shrug as I felt my stomach sink and I realised that we’d run out of up. “Besides I’ve got over a kilometre to teach you that.”

I looked down at the trees below, they were amazingly small, I couldn’t even make out the houses. Actually I could, as my eyes seem to have been upgraded as well, but I’m refusing to admit that on principle, so all I could make out was a few glints from the solar panels nestled in the foliage. It was surprisingly peaceful up so high. I could literally see for miles and there was nothing but green, save for the sparse human ruins that had been my old town. It looked so insignificant from up here.

The wind was beginning to pick up again as I accelerated towards the ground and I realised that I was failing lesson one and falling feet first. Woops. I tried swinging my legs to right myself as completely failed to do anything except rock a little.

I tried again. Still nothing.

At that point I started flailing.

“Relax Michael!” Dee yelled, appearing beside me, wings folded back and just about staying level with my plummet. “Try and swing your whole body around, not just your legs.”

“What does that even mean?” I snapped back, throwing my weight around once again and just managing to send me into a slow lateral spin.

“Oh, let me do it,” she sighed, flicking herself towards me and grabbing my leg and shoulder then threw me round so I was falling head first. Given the view I got of the ground I would have preferred just to keep falling feet first, but I suppose I had been struggling to keep my wings closed.

“Right!” she roared, flicking away from me. “Now flare those wings!”

I sighed, then realised that I had about twenty seconds until I hit and I very much doubted Dee was going to rescue me if I didn’t do anything. Well, I suppose it was no use fighting it, besides I think I managed to lose my fear of heights about a mile back. I took a deep steadying breath and spread my wings.

The wind caught me like a hammer blow and I felt my self go spiralling out of control, loosely pulling up but more falling into a crazy spin that flipped me over and over before I slammed my wings shut again, resuming my plummet.

“Good try!” Dee shouted, pulling along side me. “Now try and get a bit more coordination or you’ll just… well do that again!”

I nodded grimly; there wasn’t really time to say anything. I was trying to run the numbers in my head but it basically added up to, ‘you’re going to hit the ground pretty soon’. Dee flickered away again and I closed my eyes, just concentrating for a moment. If I blocked out all the sound out it really was quite serene, apart from the imminent death of course.

I opened my wings in a rush, letting my arms go with them and fought the wind to keep them open, feeling the ache across my chest as I pulled up rapidly, and heaved a sigh of relief as the tree tops finally stopped hurrying to meet me.

“Nice,” Dee said, pulling along side of me and I beamed back. “But if you’d done that two seconds later you would have just skimmed the treetops.”

“I’m fine with what I did, thanks,” I told her shakily, knowing there was a silly grin on my face and not caring. I’ll just blame the adrenaline rush. It was actually really weird supporting yourself on what feels like just your arms, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear that I was just resting my wings on the floor. Of course, there was all the distortion around the tips of my wings and a dozen different signals coming from my feathers but I more or less ignored them, mostly as it would be like a pigeon understanding algebra.

“I’m really flying aren’t I?” I asked, sounding somewhere between elated and giddy.

“Well I would suggest flapping a bit,” she said, sweeping her own wings majestically and shooting forwards. “Otherwise we’ll be ending earlier than I expected!”

I arched my own wings and attempted to imitate her and instantly stalled. My stomach lurched again as I began to fall and I threw my wings back out to catch myself, fortunately I’d got the ‘not falling’ bit down pat. I could see Dee going into a loop ahead of me and the trees below me were at least a comfortable distance away so there wasn’t too much chance of me crashing and dying just yet.

I attempted to shrug resignedly, then discovered that that’s practically impossible while flying and instead just rolled my eyes. Well, I was only going to live once. I flicked my wings upwards, felt the lurch in my stomach and swept them down, hurling myself forwards and actually gaining a little altitude.

“Great!” Dee exclaimed, suddenly appearing below me as I repeated the motion. “Now basically flying is all variations of falling and flapping. Just flap harder on one side to turn, and just trim your wings to go up and down. You can also use your legs to yaw.”

“Okay,” I said weakly, very slowly pulling myself into the sky and wondering what yawning had to do with my legs. “What’s first though?”

“Something fun,” Dee said brightly, flicking up towards me, rolling over and furling her wings.

“Tag,” she said, touching her hand lightly against my chest. “You’re it.” Then she dropped away.

“Hey!” I protested, as flared her wings just above the canopy and skimmed along the tree line. “That’s not fair; you’ve got ten years more experience than me!” Somehow though, I doubt she heard me.

I folded my wings, and plummeted after her.

Duel – Dee

“Three. Two. One. Go!” Terrance yelled and the six off us pushed off into the sky, rising rapidly and watching the little brown ball shoot into the sky about a half a kilometre away.

Michael had been practicing flying for about a week now, and as I was convinced he wasn’t going to crash into anything, I’d asked the residents of the Flyball pitch whether we could join in. They had of course proceeded to put us on opposite teams and started placing bets, though at least I had odds of three to one on.

The ball continued soaring into the sky and I groaned to myself. It was going to be a high game, I hated the high games. The loose flock dispersed as we each searched for a friendly thermal and I spotted Michael in the midst of the other team, rising clumsily but steadily into the sky. He hadn’t quite got the concept of air currents and was still struggling getting his wing beats synced. He also tended to lose control whenever he went upside-down. But, he was still learning very fast and definitely had the imagination you need for complicated aerobatics. He just had to learn not to close his eyes while attempting a reverse loop. Honestly; you’d think we’d actually been near the ground when I tried to teach him that.

I reached level with the ball first and shot towards it. Somehow Michael had risen fastest out of his whole team and was also racing towards the ball, concentration etched into his face and brandishing a borrowed stick. Actually it was really odd that his team had fallen so far behind, unless they’d all picked cropped thermals they should at least have been close. I glanced suspiciously over my shoulder and saw my own team dropping back. The move was subtle, but they definitely weren’t hot on my heels.

“Oh, thanks a lot!” I roared over my shoulder, though they almost certainly couldn’t hear me. They just shrugged in near unison as I glowered at them, at least Michael didn’t seem to notice that we were being set up.

The ball plummeted suddenly and Michael and I folded our wings simultaneously and dropped, both using only our feather tips to guide us down. He was getting better at that trick; at least now he’d twigged wings don’t have to be unfurled for you to be in control.

“I thought this was supposed to be a team game!” he yelled over the roar of the wind, as it swept us towards each other.

“Would be if everyone didn’t have their desserts bet on one of us winning!” I screamed back.

He seemed to think about that for a moment. “That makes this war then,” he pointed out.

“Hell yeah!”

The ball was beginning to slow as it reached the psychics and both of us trimmed our wings, desperately trying to squeeze a few extra miles per hour. I was pulling ahead slightly and with about three seconds to go, every inch was vital.

Michael looked suddenly over his shoulder, slowing slightly and I instinctively looked, realising just as I saw nothing but open sky that I’d been had. The ball whistled past my ear and I flared my wings far too late, biting down a swear word and hearing Michael whoop above me as he netted the ball.

My shoulders strained as I fought gravity and desperately tried to pull up; we had managed to get dangerously close to the ground and the houses were closing fast. I let my left wing go slack and barrel rolled around a shop corner, the tips of my feathers brushing the asphalt and I shot into the sky, flapping desperately to close on Michael who was sprinting for the hoop. There was no way I was going to let him get away with that trick.

I charged at him with a roar from six o’clock low and he made the fatal mistake of looking around first. I flashed past; there was the crack of wood on wood and the ball when soaring out of his net. He yelled as I snatched it out of the air and dropped, flaring my wings and banking above street level and just about managing not to crack my skull open.

I shot down the street back towards his hoop, frantically glancing over my shoulder to keep track of Michael who was being less suicidal and skimming the rooftops. An abrupt dead end forced me to veer suddenly and I flitted down a side street. That’s one big problem with flying at ground level, you have to obey the geography, and there also is the slight issue of the imminent high speed death.

After dodging an unexpected wreck, I reluctantly flicked myself into the sky and Michael was on me like a flash, slamming into my stick from below and sending me spinning. Something caught; the stick was jerked from my hand and the ball went arcing away, Michael swooping in after it and on the second swing netted it neatly.

“All’s fair!” he yelled over his shoulder as he shot back down the street and I swore, catching my stick and tearing after him. When I caught him he was so going to pay, though I did wonder if he knew the end to that phrase.

Michael was flying at less suicidal heights and I sprinted towards him, flicking my wings and hunkering down to catch his slipstream, gaining inches at a painfully slow rate. That’s one of the beauties of flying, it’s always easier to chase than lead. Michael wasn’t actually looking over his shoulder and that was buying him a few scant seconds but there was no way he was going to reach the hoop in time.

I was over him in a rush, bringing my stick round in a sweeping arc which completely failed to connect as he plummeted, banking sharply and diving round a corner. Only there wasn’t actually a corner there and he was instead heading right towards a long abandoned shop front. I banked myself, pre-emptively wincing for the impact as he swung his legs forwards and furled his wings, spinning a full three hundred a sixty degrees and missing the wall by a feather’s width. Then he slammed his wings open a moment later and went racing off down a side street.

See, I told you Michael could do aerobatics. You just have to get him hyped up enough that he doesn’t realise just how dangerous it is. I pulled out of my banked dive and shot over the rooftops, trying to predict Michael’s next move; most likely he was going to take the next turn but there was the slight chance that he’d try to trick me. See, that’s why I prefer just chasing, it’s less complicated, he’d have to be plotting his route, dodging houses and desperately predicting where I’d intercept.

The red flash of wings caught my eye and I dropped towards Michael who had taken the first turn after all and was spiriting for the hoop. He obviously spotted me too as first he dummied left, then right, and then didn’t do anything at all as I shot past, swinging wildly and catching myself just before I went splat on the asphalt.

“I’m still here!” I yelled, rising rapidly and dropping in behind him, right in his blind spot as it happened, though that’s fairly redundant as he wasn’t looking around anyway.

“I know!” he shot back. The hoop was getting awfully close awfully fast but still I’d have at least one shot at him, and he wasn’t quite rising fast enough to get a clean shot for some reason.

“You’re not going to have enough time!” I taunted, swooping in below him.

“Ah!” he countered. “But I know where you are.”

“How…” I began, hesitating a second and he suddenly ripped away, banking sharply and spiralling upwards at joint wrenching speeds. I desperately threw myself after him but with a half second head start and wings designed for such a trick, he completed the manoeuvre a good twenty metres ahead of me with a bucket load more speed.

We rushed towards the hoop that was now scant yards away and I desperately tired to gain a few extra feet, riding his slipstream for all I was worth. There was no way I was going to lose this. I’d never live it down.

Michael swung at the very last second, pulling away to avoid hitting the hoop and I roared after the ball, almost knocking him out of the sky as I heaved my wings, desperately trying to glean the last atom of speed. With about ten yards to go I snatched the ball out of the sky and after a moment’s elation realised with a sinking feeling that there was no way I was going to turn in time and I was mostly likely going to crash straight into the hoop.

I hurled the stick and ball away from me, desperately folding my wings and crossing my arms against my chest, there wasn’t even time for me to alter my course so this was going to be just dumb luck, heck I hadn’t even began to fall. My heel clipped the wooden rim and the whole structure hummed as I went roaring through, spinning slowly as I did so and somehow managing to pass through on my back.

The ground rushed towards me as I began to plummet and the stick soared lazily past me. It had just missed the hoop, which was good because that would have counted as Michael’s point, and I reached out a hand to grab it, pulling it two towards me and flaring my wings, tumbling into a reverse loop. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Michael beginning to dive after me and I picked out street that was narrow enough to give me some cover.

Okay situation report. Michael was consistently out thinking me, and had a little more innate manoeuvrability, but I’d been flying since I was four and knew this town like the back of my hand. That had to count for something.

I was at street level before I knew it and was tearing over the asphalt, brushing the tips of my wings along the ground as I barrel rolled to upright. If I flew low enough then Michael wouldn’t dare to make a move, he didn’t like flying too near solid objects. A shadow flashed over me I glanced over my shoulder and saw him ghosting along above me, concentration lined on his face. Okay, so maybe he didn’t have to be actually close to the ground to chase me, but still my plan was technically working.

I threw myself up, and while he was scrambling banked left, shot down a side street and did a half roll, pulling up and darting back down yet another road. Michael burst onto the street a moment later and I dropped right, making it look like I was taking another detour. Halfway into my turn I flipped suddenly and hurled myself towards a too narrow back alley, convinced that I wasn’t going to make it and clipped a wing on the walls as I sped through the gap. I ever so slowly began to lose height as the bricks rushed by a feathers breadth from my face, and I briefly wondered if this was the longer alley on this road or the shorter. I really hoped it was the shorter.

Suddenly I burst out into the sunlight and wrenched myself upright, pulling up hard as a house front rushed towards me, scraping my foot on a gutter and kicking myself into the sky as I dodged death by anther fraction of an inch. I folded my wings as I rocketed upwards and scanned the sky for any sign of Michael. A knot of bird kids were drifting lazily high above and they’d pay for this later but at least for a moment there was no sign of my pursuer.

Michael burst out of the alley a second later, a small cloud of feathers following him and threw himself left, also barely avoiding a crash and I began to fall, just as he spotted me and began to spiral into the sky. I flashed past him at about roof level, already beginning to pull up and he plummeted after me, hanging on to my slipstream with dogged determination. The tarmac loomed in my vision once more and I thought I’d lose him but a quick look over my shoulder told me he was still clinging on, I’d soon sort that out though.

Another sudden turn that skimmed a wall didn’t lose him, neither did a half loop and dive and my attempt to fly a random course through the park just lost me precious time. I was actually really impressed, but still he was trying to beat me so I was not going to go easy on him. In fact it was time to pull out the stops.

I banked early on a turn and went screaming towards the window of Twenty Two B, a house that I’d discovered by accident had a quite interesting layout. Michael pulled out suddenly as I folded my wings and flipped over backwards, bringing my legs round to slip through the empty window, flashed through the living room, still spinning and bust out of the side window frame head first, flaring my wings and catching myself in time to complete the corner and lose Michael.

Then I saw him rush back down from roof level and the chase was back on.

I dove through the gap between two houses and banked into the row of gardens, shooting over trees and hedgerows, Michael still hot on my heels. I so shouldn’t have taught him how to play follow the leader. I dropped right to ground level, flicking a wing closed to avoid a tree and having to arch another to dodge a rockery. Michael was beginning to drop behind I observed, snatching a glance as I darted through a gap in the fence and then threw myself through a hole in a hedge.

A low wall loomed ahead and I popped over it, ducking back down and spotting the end to the garden row tantalisingly close. Michael had pulled out but I don’t think he realised just how close we’d gotten to his hoop. I slammed my wings shut as I rushed through a half open gate and then banked up and round, soaring above the roof tops and spotting the goal only a hundred yards away.

Michael was racing towards me and I reversed my grip on the stick, holding it close to my chest, a move only used by overly sneaky people such as myself. The hoop was getting tantalisingly close but Michael was hanging right on my wing, net at the ready, so I’d have to try a few more tricks.

I flicked the tips of my wings, miming making a turn and varied my speed randomly. He did flinch, though I noticed wasn’t actively blocking me, just waiting for my shot. Well I could make use of that. We raced towards the hoop, showing no signs of slowing and the small knot of bird kids who sat on the roofs around us cheered indiscriminately. At least a third were betting on Michael but I was concentrating too hard to pick faces for my revenge list.

The hoop rushed closer and Michael broke first, throwing himself away and I folded back my wings, rolled and dropped to go screaming about an inch off the hoop, tapping my stick lightly on the rim and letting the ball fly leisurely through.

“Yes!” I yelled, unfurling my wings and punching the air as Michael pulled up along side me and I began a victory lap.

“Congratulations,” he sighed, dejectedly. I wondered if he knew how much you can tell about someone based on how they hold their wings.

“Hey,” I said brightly, shrugging. “I have got ten years experience on you.”

“Well that’s true,” he admitted. “And at least I almost got a point.” He glanced over his shoulder at the others who were trying to find where the ball had landed. “Besides, there’s always a round two.”

“Yeah. It may take them a while though. We’re forever loosing balls.”

“I’d say it’ll take them a bit,” he said with a grin, opening his hand and revealing the ball. I let out a bark of laughter. “Do you want to wager on how long?”

“Depends,” I said smirking. “If we go get lunch we could probably leave them hanging for an hour or so.”

“Shall we then?” he asked theatrically, complete with an overblown sweep of the arms which almost dropped him out of the sky.

“Let’s,” I said with a grin and we flew off towards the village.

The Wider World – Dee

“Okay I give up,” Michael said, watching the people in the fields hoeing by telekinesis. “How does this stuff work?”

It was about two weeks after his own personal end of the world, and Michael had managed to cope rather well. He wasn’t exactly fine but was doing okay, enough to function in society, and it had gotten to the point where Dat had put him on the duty rotor. People had more or less accepted him and gotten on with their lives and even the Flyball kids had forgiven us once we remembered to give back their ball. I can’t say he was being very sociable but at least he wasn’t freaking out whenever he met someone new.

One thing that was getting him though was the telekinesis.

“Long and complicated answer?” I asked. “Or short and simple?”

“Long and complicated please.”

“Damn,” I sighed. “I was really hoping you’d go for short and simple.”

We were on yet another type of guard duty. This time making sure no one snuck up on the fields where we grow all our food. It’s not just us admittedly, because there are a lot of fields, but it was more boring ‘waiting for nothing to happen’ duties, made worse by the fact there was a seven foot fence around the perimeter. I tend to get stuck on the grunt duties because Dat dislikes me for some reason, and as Michael was being paired with me for a while we were going to be stuck up another wooden watchtower for some time.

“Why, so you could say ‘its magic’ in that annoyingly bright tone?”

“Maybe,” I admitted sulkily and Michael rolled his eyes. “And how did you know I’d say that?”

“Pattern recognition,” he replied with a knowing smile that I think he stole off Robin.

There was a brief silence.

“Well?” he asked. “How is it you disobey physics then?”

“Ah,” I said brightly. “We don’t. We disobey the laws of logic, not physics.”

“And that’s different how?”

“Simple,” I explained, levitating a bolt out of my quiver and let it hover above the palm of my hand. “I actually have to supply energy to fight gravity, and if I try this for more than about thirty seconds I get the shakes. All that energy has to come from somewhere after all and I’m not good enough to drag it anywhere but from me.”

“May I ask how it’s getting to the bolt?”

“You can,” I said, dropping the quarrel into my hand and sheathing it. “But I haven’t got a clue. Ask one of the twins if you really want, but I heard something about W minus particles and mega electron volts and gave up.”

“More importantly though,” he mused. “What the hell was it bouncing off the bolt to keep it airborne?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, shrugging noncommittally. “Air maybe. We just kind of do these things. Actually understanding it is a whole new band of ability.”

“I really need to talk to these twins of yours,” he said sighing. “Wait. Bands of ability?”

“Sure,” I said with another shrug, breaking into lecture mode. “Basically all levels of telekinesis fall into five general ranges. Level one people like me can only use energy from their own bodies. Level two can use the energy around them but have to use themselves as a router. Level three can manipulate energy all around them without using themselves as a router and that’s where our really powerful psychics are. Level four’s could start messing around with abstract concepts, atoms and such, and the theoretical level fives can implement E=MC squared.”

“Einstein’s equation?” he asked, surprised. “What’s that got to do with telekinesis?”

“Well, we manipulate energy at a distance. And if mass and energy are the same thing, well…” I left that hanging, mostly because I’m not wholly sure what it means; unfortunately you tend to pick up statements like that when you live with a level three.

Michael’s jaw dropped as he clearly did get the implications of that.

“Holy…” he began, awestruck. “No one has that kind of power do they?”

“Nope. And we’re probably lucky because anyone who did would be border line omnipotent. On the other hand the top five psychics have an energy draw in the megatons, though after a certain point being able to get more power becomes redundant. The twins are both more proficient a psychic than Apollo but he’s got a good two miles of draw over them.”

“Megatons?” he asked in sheer disbelief.

“That or kilotons,” I admitted. “I always get those two confused.”

“That’s very, very scary,” he said weakly. “One person with that much power…”

“Meh,” I said with a shrug. “It’s actually finesse that defines how scary you are. You may well be able to throw the equivalent of a nuke at someone, but that’s fairly redundant when you take out everything within two miles. Yourself included. And I think humanity proved that blowing people up rarely works.”

“That we did,” Michael sighed. I’d shown him some of the devastation from humanity’s final war and let’s just say it didn’t cheer him up much. “Still, it jars to have some people an order of magnitude more potent.”

“Why?” I asked confused. “It’s not like they’re threatening and without psychics we wouldn’t have survived. None of us low levellers would have powers either.”

“Suppose. I’m just kind of used to democracy…” he stopped suddenly. “Wait, why would none of you have powers?”

Ah, that was one of the things I wasn’t really supposed to mention. Until Michael was trusted implicitly Dat had said not to go into to much detail about our telekinesis. It was the ace up our sleeves so to speak. On the other hand Michael was smart enough to figure it out in about two minutes and I did actually trust him with this small titbit of knowledge.

“You have to be unlocked,” I explained sheepishly, glancing round for anyone who might over hear. I don’t know why I did as we were on a good thirty foot tower in the middle of the growing fields, and that basically translates to there being absolutely no one nearby. “It’s a ten second thing by one of the psychics and suddenly you can move objects with your minds. I think its bird people only but I suppose now you’d probably be able to too now.”

“Cool,” he said. “How tough is it to…”

I held up a hand to stop him and cocked my head. I thought I’d heard something, something rather like a storm of people chopping wood and judging from the number of people on the ground dropping their tools and looking into the sky they’d heard it too.

“Is that?” he began as a dark shape roared over the tree line, big as a house and stirring up a storm with twin rotors.

“You guys don’t do Chinooks do you?” Michael yelled and I just shook my head as the helicopter circled the fields slowly.

Alarm flares were going up from the other towers and while I’ve already said I’m not strong enough to do a flare it was fairly redundant.

“Erasers?” he asked, shouting right in my ear over the noise.

“They don’t do powered flight!” I roared back as the helicopter stopped above the rough centre of the fields, and just guess where our tower happened to be.

I would like to say it landed gracefully but that would be lying, it hit the ground with a bang, crushing a crop of corn beneath it wheels and throwing dust into a spiralling cloud that clogged the air. Joy was going to be furious about that later but right now an unknown, potentially hostile, force had just landed in our only field.

I swung myself off the tower as Michael scrambled down the ladder and flared my wings at the last second, completely forgetting the small tornado being created by the helicopter. The wind caught in my wings and I went flying off my feet, desperately trying to clamp my wings shut and went smashing into Michael, throwing both of us to the ground.

“We never mention this,” I growled, getting to my feet and hauling Michael up after me. I’d never live down such a stupid mistake if it got out.

“Greetings!” a Voice boomed though the maelstrom of dust. “This is Lieutenant Parkinson representing the United Peoples of Earth. We welcome you to our collective and offer military support, technological expertise and medical care.”

We rushed towards the centre of the hurricane and saw a pompous looking man shouting into a bullhorn. He was obviously from the military with an overly fancy uniform and a royal stick up his ass. I disliked him on sight.

“You there!” he barked spotting me, using the bullhorn even though we couldn’t have been more than five yards from each other. “Go get someone in charge and be quick about it!”

“How do you know I’m not in charge?” I shot back, stalking towards him and yelling over the cacophony.

He looked me up and down slowly and I put my hands on my hips, glowering at him.

“Get out of my way you silly girl,” he said dismissively, pushing me to one side. “I need to speak to your boss about your joining our collective.”

“And what if we don’t want to join?” I shot back, pushing him back and almost bowling him off his feet.

“Dee…” Michael began cautiously.

“You’ll join for the sake of humanity,” Lieutenant Parkinson said angrily, regaining his feet and puffing himself up in front of me. I might have been impressed if I couldn’t snap him like a twig.

“Ah,” I countered loftily, flaring the tips of my wings for him to see and almost went flying again. “Well there you see is the problem.”

His eyes bulged and I grinned from ear to ear. That had so been worth it.

“Dee!” Dat roared furiously and I winced. Apparently I’d spoken too soon.

Dat landed heavily a hundred yards away and rushed over, flanked by Talon and Apollo. The dust had more or less settled and I realised that I was standing in the centre of a rough circle made up of people who were, without exception, better suited to first contact then me. I hadn’t realised that I was being so obvious.

“If you’re quite done causing an international incident,” he continued angrily. “We can actually deal with this like rational people.”

“Finally some sense,” Lieutenant Parkinson sighed, turning to Dat. “Can you direct me to who’s in charge?”

“I am,” Dat said simply, half yelling to compensate for the rotors. “And I would…” He paused. “Could someone please turn that bloody engine off?” he asked angrily.

There was a momentary pause and then a choking sound as the engine stalled and the blades spun to a stop.

“Thank you,” he said more calmly, and Apollo shrugged. I was guessing it was him; the pilot was desperately trying to restart the engine so I assumed it wasn’t their choice.

“How…” Lieutenant Parkinson began then shook himself out of it, going back to his usual pomposity. “I am here to offer you the chance to join the United Peoples of Earth, we offer military protection, professional expertise and…”

“Military protection? That means you’ll have an occupying force,” Dat cut in.

“Well yes…”

“And you’ll want something in return. Food perhaps?”

“We all have to band together in this difficult…”

“Then no,” Dat pronounced.

“Sorry?”

“We don’t need your help,” he said simply. “Trade? Yes. Collaboration? Sure. But we are not going to accept your sovereignty.

Lieutenant Parkinson scowled at him. “Fine,” he said darkly. “But don’t come crying to us when the sun bleaches your crops and the monsters come to eat your diseased ridden bodies.”

A lovely image there.

“Get the hell off my field,” Dat said levelly, as the engine miraculously started up again.

“You’ll regret this,” Lieutenant Parkinson growled, stepping back into the helicopter and for the first time I realised just how many heavily armed soldiers were in there. I probably could have done with noticing that before.

“Whatever,” Dat said with an offhand shrug. “Come back when you’re willing to negotiate.”

The chopper began to claw its way into the sky and we watched it go, Dat scowling and a good half of the people there had their crossbows loaded. The mood was unpleasant to say the least, people had more or less accepted Michael, but I don’t think they were going to be as friendly with these new comers.

I began backing slowly towards Michael, who’d cleverly slunk into the circle of people, hoping to get away before Dat noticed.

“Dee,” Dat cut in suddenly as the helicopter faded into the background and I froze. “I’d like a word.”

Damn.

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