Adelle Montessori set down her landline, again infuriated with how her husband’s divorce lawyer chose to play the game she intended to win. Taking a calming breath and reminding herself she was sitting behind her office desk – her domain – she exhaled to look up as her glass office door opened.

‘The… freelancer has finished packing up his equipment,’ her assistant, showing that frightened glint in her eyes Adelle had grown to disdain, shared. ‘He’s waiting outside.’

‘Well, show him in,’ she instructed, before rising off of her leather chair.

Adelle was a slender, yet curved, African woman in her mid-forties with a short and well maintained black Afro. Always preferring more refined attire, she wore a dark grey business dress and stylish heels. It was going on 8:00 in the evening and her grey outfit still hadn’t creased, much to her satisfaction.

The assistant, still put off, wasn’t inspiring much confidence.

‘It’s only ink,’ Adelle told her assistant, unimpressed.

A second passed before the assistant, hesitantly, did what was expected of her.

The freelancer casually walked into the office wearing a sweeping black coat with matching shirt, battered cargo pants and boots – his heavy looking gear bag hung off one shoulder.

Adelle smiled as she extended her hand, a tiny part of her hoping that his claws, which she was certain were overgrown fingernails polished black, wouldn’t do her smooth dark skin any damage. The claws couldn’t be longer than an inch, she guessed.

‘Mr Wyvern, on behalf of myself and my superiors, I want to thank you for your exemplary work.’

The Binary Maestro (she’d started personally using his moniker out of habit now) shook her hand, gently, and smiled back. Current interactions were nothing like the first and initially intimidating impression – the Binary Maestro was more or less calm and quiet, but also capable of conversation.

Adelle withdrew her hand whilst almost convinced that the man’s… snake skin… tattoos had rubbed off on her. She reminded herself to behave, she being the only member of Icarus’s higher ups to speak with the Binary Maestro simply because she hadn’t been put off by his imposing appearance. Adelle was made of that which was fiercer.

‘We’re very impressed with, and grateful for, your abilities here,’ she spoke honestly.

‘I leave a lot of people feeling that way,’ the Binary Maestro replied.

To say Adelle was impressed was an understatement – the freelancer standing before her had segregated the foreign viruses harvesting the firewall and had re-engineered them to retrieve the significant data that had been stolen in the first place. This freelancer had put the company’s very own specialists, well-educated and highly regarded men and women, to shame.

‘Your fee, which I must admit is quite humble, has been deposited into your nominated account.’

‘Don’t mind the sound of that,’ the Binary Maestro said.

‘I would hope so Mr Wyvern,’ Adelle added with a smile. ‘Additionally, as the senior operations manager of this branch of Icarus, I’ve been authorised by my superiors to offer you an ongoing contract with us.’

The Binary Maestro’s mostly yellow eyes widened.

How does one get their sclera’s turned yellow? Adelle asked herself, complimented by the surprise now accompanying the unnatural colour. The black markings around his piercing eyes reminded her of the ink blots psychiatrists showed patients.

‘I wasn’t expecting that.’

‘Now that surprises me,’ she replied, genuinely. ‘The contract stipulates you’d have your own space, should you prefer it, a not so humble salary and additional benefits including the use of our company’s fleet and properties.’

The Binary Maestro went silent, adding in some way to his intimidating appearance.

He looked like he was going to accept the offer, Adelle assumed, having just placed ten Christmases and more before him.

The Binary Maestro was a fascinating character, this she couldn’t deny, and a selfish part of her hoped for him to take the job so his workplace presence could rob her of the unwanted attention she’d had to endure – some of her superiors and rivals were still perplexed, in an insulting manner, as to how one Ugandan orphan could come so far in the corporate world. She intended to make examples of them one day.

‘I like what you’re offering me… and it is a lot to take in,’ the freelancer spoke politely. ‘It’s a great offer Mrs Montessori but I’m meant to be somewhere very soonish so could I give you a more definite answer tomorrow?’

‘Of course – I have a car waiting to take you wherever you’d like to go.’

It felt like a done deal, Adelle thought, shaking his hand once more and still liking the craftsmanship of his almost inch long claws. The Binary Maestro looked appreciative when he smiled. She was about to instruct her timid assistant to walk him out before said assistant’s frightened glint got on her nerves once again. Adelle sighed discreetly.

‘Please allow me to walk you out, Mr Wyvern.’

Adelle escorted the Binary Maestro to the elevator, all the while fighting the curious urge to ask him those questions.

#

Normally a very relaxed driver, Donal Gaines kept both of his coarse-looking hands on the company BMW’s steering wheel. A pink skinned and broad, suited man late in his forties, he stared out the front window at the quiet city street all the while wishing he could be watching a football match instead. Despite his unease, he kept sneaking odd peeks via the rear vision mirror with his small and dark, narrow eyes. Curiosity always got the best of him and life loved berating him for it.

What the fuck? The line repeated itself, over and over, in his head. What. The. Fuck?

‘Can I light up?’ It, the passenger, asked from the backseat.

Donal looked back at it, with a cigarette at the ready between its lips.

This was going to be a hell of a story to share with the lads later, he told himself.

‘Nah, ah, sorry they don’t like smoke in these things.’ Donal’s round face looked to redden as he spoke. He saw it put the cigarette behind one of his two pointed ears.

The tattoos were black or some kind of dark bluish grey, Donal figured, and they covered its entire clean shaven head. It must’ve had some foreign things implanted under the skin covering the skull because its head wasn’t perfectly round. It had yellow and black eyes and short, black claws.

Shit! What the fuck? Donal thought for the hundredth time. Why do people do this shit to themselves? How do they do this shit to themselves? What was the appeal of it all?

Donal breathed out before he could fatally drive the BMW into something.

‘They a good crowd to work for?’ It asked from the back seat.

‘Sorry?’

‘The company, Icarus Corp… in the big building we’re driving away from,’ it went on. ‘Are they all right to work for?’

Did that black boss lady offer this thing a job?

Seriously?

‘They’re not the best,’ Donal answered, feeling like he was going to throw up on the steering wheel. Saying anything negative was in his best interest, he thought, so as to avoid another stint of driving this thing around.

‘Don’t pay enough for overtime?’

Donal took a breath before braking at a red traffic light. How long until they were at this diner, he asked himself – it shouldn’t be taking them forever to get to the city outskirts.

‘Yeah, the pay’s shit,’ he kept lying. ‘Bullshit bonuses as well.’

‘Ouch.’ It said, looking out the window again.

The traffic light turned green again and Donal was accelerating, wanting the ride to end.

They were in the outskirts several minutes later when it spoke up. ‘We’re almost there.’

Donal looked back, noting the anxious expression that had presented itself on its face. Maybe it was dying for that smoke? Maybe it had wanted to die at some point? He could imagine that happening well enough – fucked up freaks like him always wanted to call it quits at some point. The car turned another corner before coming into view of a diner glowing through its wide front windows.

‘This is it,’ it said. ‘You can drop me here.’

Donal gladly braked along the footpath before breathing out, distinctively, in relief. It got out as Donal pressed for the boot to open (its big, black bag had been stored in there). Once the boot was closed he was ready to speed out of there, intending to forget all of it, before it tapped on the driver’s window. Donal turned reluctantly to look.

‘Have a good night,’ it said, through the class, before grinning.

Donal’s face paled before it walked towards the diner – his lower jaw had dropped to form a perfect O.

What the fuck? He watched the vicious looking man light its cigarette and take a long drag as the air caught the tails of its coat. Fangs? It has fangs?!

#

‘Oh my God,’ gasped one of the other diner customers.

Trish Wyvern, line-ridden and well into her sixtieth year, looked up from her table just as everyone else had. She wore a knitted blue cardigan and very large, circular glasses from decades past as Marcus slowly approached, passing by others who couldn’t stop looking and whispering.

Oh my God, indeed.

Trish had known a change was in the works, but she’d never truly anticipated how severe it would be.

Once Marcus had come to a stop at her table in the diner, she stood up to look him over closely. She’d consciously decided not to look at the photograph he’d emailed her before tonight – she’d remained oblivious to his new form, up until now, so she could reinforce something important to herself.

Trish wanted to convince herself she could still love her boy, regardless of what ever inhuman appearance he’d willed upon himself.

They’d mutually agreed that the diner was the best place to meet. Henry, her youngest, was on a pub crawl with friends and Trish didn’t want to run the risk of him coming home early with them, or some loose thing kissing him all over, whilst she tried reconnecting with Marcus. Those thoughts always left plenty of queer feelings in her gut.

Her youngest was disastrous – Henry had slapped her for giving part of his so-called inheritance to Marcus, the vicious memory striking at her hard. Her youngest, and far more self-entitled son, had forced her to apologise for the so-called betrayal – her words had been hollow but Henry hadn’t noticed. She recalled Marcus promising the money would be repaid, anyway, which had been a moment of pure, parenting bliss in her eyes. It was enough to have her wondering how she’d had two such peculiar boys.

One had always believed he wasn’t human, yet knew exactly what he wanted, whilst the other was a destructive wreck penetrating his bits in all places. As much as it was horrible to believe, she was the mother of two monsters.

Trish returned focus to her eldest child, now changed from what he’d once been to something unique and visually fierce, and considered everything.

Marcus no longer had any hair on his head, beard and eyebrows included, which had him resembling a type of humanoid… snake or lizard. It was her best description for the otherworldly form he’d long since been obsessed with. Trish swallowed a bit of spit, not intended for him whatsoever, and detected a bad scent coming from the thick and woollen black coat he’d owned prior to the transformation.

‘You’re still smoking?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ he admitted, slowly, and looking guilty.

Trish took a long moment to process everything one final time – he no longer had the colouring of her skin and hair, or possessed his late and loving father’s eyes but he was still very much her Marcus. He was still the son who could put a beaming smile on his mother’s face. She always refused to make the call but something selfish within had her deciding Marcus was her favourite. Henry could never say he hadn’t given her reason enough.

‘Come here,’ Marcus told her softly.

Part of Trish had imagined his voice sounding with menace but it was still the same. It was comforting to her. She stepped closer and they embraced, despite everyone else in the diner looking at them with understandable curiosity and bewilderment on their faces. After a minute that to her had felt like hours, Trish welcomed Marcus to her table – it was time for renewal. She hadn’t seen him in a year so there was plenty to discuss.

‘Unique on the outside as you may be, finally,’ she told him, ‘do you still take your hot chocolate with marshmallows?’