"Caution: were-kangaroos crossing"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted September 13, 2013
Gay / Lesbian Romance | Gay / Lesbian Science Fiction
Aiden lives in a future Australia, where the country has
been divided between west and east following a nuclear
accident on the west coast, and cryogenically reawakened
rock group Men At Work are about to give a concert,
including their hit DOWN UNDER which is now the Aussie
national anthem. Aiden's twenty and heads off on his bike
to the border, hoping his store of money will allow him to
cross and see the concert in eastern Sydney. Unfortunately
a robbery leaves him broke, afoot in the red desert and
wishing for Tasmanian devils to gnaw him to death. He's
picked up by a somewhat freaky guy called Matthew, but
Aiden's freaky too - due to radiation his family glows in
the dark. Not that he'd mention it.
By the time the lads reach Sydney, where Matthew lives,
they're in a relationship and Matthew has been obliged to
explain that yes, there are such beings as were-kangas.
Matthew's family are quite large and numerous, and his
father expects him to marry a nice local girl; he's as yet
been unable to explain that this won't be happening.
Aiden's certain that when the family finds out what's going
on, he won't see twenty-one....
Not since Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia stories has
Australia featured so well in written SF as in the first
half of this tale. The second half is set in urban Sydney
and there's little to bring it into the latter twenty-first
century. I would have liked to see a furtherance of the
future vision and the impact of the border split upon the
eastern half of the country. The characters are good fun
however and Aiden is consistent in his horror of conflict
and willingness to believe whatever he is told. As for were-
kangaroos - why not? The one we meet is just taller than a
man and a fearsome fighter. This is a paranormal romance
with a difference, and with a great sense of humour which
is sadly lacking in some urban fantasies. Give DOWN UNDER
by Tam Ames a place on your reading list.
The year 2089 finds Australia split between east and west,
with a wall to ensure the east stays safe. College student
Aiden Taylor is traveling from Perth to Sydney to see Men at
Work, who have been revived after cryogenic freezing.
Regrettably, only days into his trip, his moped is
stolen—and then he meets a naked man from the east. The man
turns out to be Matthew King, who offers Aiden a ride—no
strings attached—all the way to Sydney.
When another attack occurs the following night, Aiden
discovers Matthew’s impossible secret: he’s a were-kanga. At
least that gives them something to talk about when they
experience delays at the wall. One thing leads to another,
and soon friends with benefits turns into something more.
But when the summer is over, Aiden must return to school in
Perth. How can he leave Matthew behind?
“MUM.” Aiden gritted his teeth.
“But it could be dangerous, honey. It’s a long way, and you’re all alone. Who
knows what could happen?”
“Nothing will happen.” He tried to keep his temper under control. The year
was 2089, and he was twenty years old. He was quite capable of taking care
of himself. He had hoped she’d be happy for him. He’d imagined a scene out
of an old movie, with perhaps some confetti being tossed and his mother
waving her handkerchief from the front step. Not that she had a handkerchief.
At least he didn’t think so.
Instead she stood there wringing her hands and trying to come up with
excuses as to why he should stay home.
He wasn’t a kid anymore, though. He didn’t need his mother’s permission to
do whatever the hell he wanted with his life, and he knew what he wanted. “I’ll
be fine, Mum. I’ll call you when I get to Sydney. I promise.” He barely resisted
rolling his eyes. He’d been saving money for the trip to Sydney to see the
cryogenically reconstituted Men at Work comeback concert for an entire year.
Slinging burgers at the Wiley Wombat to those snot-nosed teenagers every
day had been no easy feat.
Ever since the Prime Minister had changed the national anthem to “Down
Under”, the entire continent had been waiting for this day, and he wasn’t
about to miss it.
“Maybe you should go with someone. What about Colin?” It didn’t appear she
was about to give up.
He squinted at his mother. “You know why he’s not coming with me. That
bitch Cindy he’s dating now doesn’t want him to be gone all summer.”
“Aiden! Watch your language.”
“Sorry.” He took a deep breath. “She’s not that bad, but he backed out, and
he’s not coming. Besides, I took judo. I can protect myself.”
“You were thirteen, honey.”
“Mum. God.” Aiden quickly stepped forward and gave his mother an awkward
hug, then slammed his helmet on his head while firing up his vintage sky-
blue moped and zoomed down the driveway on his way to the greatest
adventure of his life.
Aiden expected the trip would take about a week to make along the highway
to the border crossing, and who knew how long to get across once he arrived.
He had a month before the concert, so he was confident he could arrive with
plenty of time to spare. Rumor had it that since Australia had split almost
forty years ago in 2050 and Western Australia had been left to its own
devices, the bastards in New South Wales were doing everything in their
power to keep out what they considered the genetically inferior Australians
from the West. But no one was going to scare him off.
After four days, Aiden knew his mother had nothing to worry about. He was
bored to tears. The highway was dry and dusty, and there was no one to talk
to even at the campgrounds where he’d spent his nights so far. But Aiden was
fine on his own; he was good company for himself, and he kept occupied
searching for any signs of wildlife along the way. Not that there were any in
this godforsaken backwater.
The following day there was more traffic, especially more huge semitrailers,
He almost crashed his bike when a road train of six flew by. But so far he
hadn’t spent much money, the moped was working great, and it hadn’t
rained. He even found a campground nearby and, holy crap, there were trees.
Lots of trees. Real trees too, which was unusual.
The campground was busy too; lots of people had stopped for the night, and
he was lucky to get a tiny spot way in the back. He was getting rather tired of
sleeping on the ground, but he knew it wouldn’t be for much longer as the
border was only two days away. He thought he might splurge on a motel room
for a night, just to give his back a break.
Around three in the morning, Aiden woke with a start, sat upright, and
promptly smacked his head on the top of the tent. Thankfully, smacking your
head on nylon is pain free if disconcerting. He wasn’t sure what had woken
him. He heard a vehicle speeding away down the small road in front of his
campsite, and some sounds from the bushes right behind his tent. Shit. Were
there actually animals around here? The idiots making so much noise must
have disturbed them. What if whatever was out there were Tasmanian devils?
He’d left the half-eaten bag of chips in his tent. What if they tore through the
side to get them and ripped his throat out in the process? Oh wait, Tasmanian
devils don’t live in Western Australia, and it couldn’t be a bear because they
lived in North America.
Maybe it was a were-kanga. No, Aiden knew were-kangaroos didn’t really
exist. They were an urban legend perpetuated by nasty parents to get their
kids to behave. “Be good or the were-kangas will come and get you in the
night.” Some parents even tried to convince their kids were-kangas were
savage beasts that ate children for breakfast. Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever.
“Take a heart pill, Aiden,” he scolded himself out loud. “Probably just a
possum.” Although those things were bloody ugly.
Aiden heard branches being pushed aside. He realized his important
belongings were on the moped, and just in case the noise was thieves, Aiden
decided to make some indication that he was awake. He coughed loudly,
waved his arms around in the small tent to make some noise, and unzipped
the tiny door, trying to make the sound as loud as possible. Aiden was
greeted by silence, which gave him the courage to climb out and see what was
happening. He pulled on his jeans, stepped out of the tent, and, after a quick
look around, froze.
His moped. Where in the hell was his moped? The bike had been parked right
outside the tent. It was gone. Could he have parked the thing somewhere
else? Yeah right, he was in a ten-square-meter space. Where could he have
parked it, in the garage? Maybe someone borrowed it. Sure, in a campground.
His brain blanked out, and he stood and stared at the empty space where his
moped had sat. He heard tree branches once again rustling behind him, and
finally turned toward the sound, hoping just a little the intruder was a
Tasmanian devil that would tear his throat out or some kind of bear that could
swim from America to maul him to death. Either one of those seemed like the
best alternative at the moment. Instead, he was faced with a gorgeous guy
standing in the night. He had short dark hair—maybe black, it was hard to see
—and dark eyes. He was tall, but not freakishly so, with wide shoulders, slim
hips, six pack abs… what the hell? Oh yeah, completely naked and… wow,
nothing to be ashamed of there.
Aiden continued to stare as the guy stared back, and then Aiden said the first
thing that came to his mind. “You’re naked.”
The guy looked slightly embarrassed, but he shrugged and replied, “Yeah. Are
you okay, kid?”
Aiden swiveled back to where his bike had been, promptly fell to his knees,
and threw up the can of stew he’d enjoyed for dinner.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and heard another question of “Are you okay?”
but he just curled up in a ball and started shaking. His dream was over. All the
money he’d kept stashed under the moped seat was gone. His ticket was
gone. Sure he had fifty dollars in his pocket, but that wouldn’t even get him to
the next rest stop, let alone Sydney or home. He was so fucked. Where the
hell was a rabid Tasmanian devil when you needed one?
The man continued to prod at him. “Kid? Kid, are you okay?”
Aiden pushed his curls out of his eyes and scowled up at the guy. “I’m not a
kid. Just leave me here to die in peace.” He curled back up into his ball.
The naked guy stood silent for a second, and then mumbled, “I’m not sure I
can do that.”
Aiden looked up at him and curled his lip. “Why do you care? It’s not your
business. And why are you running around a campground naked? Are you
some kind of pervert?” This time Aiden continued to look the guy over, letting
his gaze roam down his well-defined chest to his abs to Whoa, that’s nice! As
he continued to gaze at the guy’s groin, Aiden saw the man’s cock begin to
thicken. With an embarrassed gasp, Aiden’s gaze flew back to the man’s face,
where he saw a slight smirk.
“I think you should get up,” the guy suggested and held a hand down to Aiden
to help him to his feet.
Reluctantly Aiden took his hand. It would take him too long to die lying there
anyway. Maybe there was a cliff nearby he could fling himself over? Could he
walk to the coast and drown himself? That might work. He’d rather drown
than have to face his I told you somother and Colin. They’d never let him live
it down, and he was determined to prove he was an adult and didn’t need
anyone’s help. He stood and continued to stare at the stark campsite with his
lonely little tent in the middle of the space.
After what felt like forever, the man spoke. “I saw those guys come in and
grab the bike; there wasn’t much I could do, though. They were gone before I
could stop them.”
Aiden whirled around and faced him. “Did you get a plate number? Maybe I
can call the police and get my bike back. Everything was there, my money, my
ticket….” Aiden trailed off as he realized telling a totally naked stranger he
was completely without resources might not be the smartest thing in the
Aiden was starting to get beyond shocked by this point and was reaching
good and thoroughly pissed off. “I told you I’m not a kid, and if you call me
that one more time, I’m going to go all kung fu on your arse.”
The guy looked like he was trying to hold back his laughter, which only made
Aiden angrier, and he started looking for a stick, a big stick, or a rock, or…
Finally the guy said, “Fine, what’s your name, then?”
As Aiden continued to search for his weapon of minor destruction, he
muttered, “Aiden Taylor.”
The guy held out his hand. “Matthew King. Pleased to meet you, Aiden.”
Aiden eyed the hand warily. Why in the hell was a naked guy in a campground,
in the middle of the night, pretending they were having a business meeting?
However, his mother’s hard-core training kicked in, and he shook his hand.
“Pleased to meet you.” Ah well. Weirdness.
Yes, weirdness. This was a dream. That answered everything. He was having a
strange combination nightmare/wet dream. Naked guys that looked like this
didn’t show up in his life, so this had to be a combo dream. First the
nightmare, then the sex part, and then he would wake up and continue on his
way. Everyone would be happy, the world good.
Aiden looked over at naked guy—Matthew—and smiled. It was a dream. He
could say whatever he wanted, do whatever he wanted. No repercussions, no
embarrassment. And it wasn’t like he was a virgin, well, not really. There were
the few guys he’d sucked off at some drunken university parties, and he and
Scott Harleston hadn’t spent all that much time working on the extinct koala
diorama in high school. So those experiences counted. He wasn’t going to
think about the technicalities at this point. Besides, it was a dream.
His smile appeared to confuse Matthew, whose brow furrowed as he stood
looking at Aiden. Aiden walked slowly toward him and raised his hand. He
placed his palm on Matthew’s chest and started slowly moving it downward.
He licked his lips while he watched Matthew’s face. As he reached the navel,
Matthew grabbed his hand and pulled his arm away from his body. “What the
hell are you doing?” he growled. Aiden just smiled and brought up his other
hand to continue the same path.
“Stop it!” Matthew barked out, grabbing his other wrist. “You were on the
ground puking your guts out a minute ago, and now what? You want to have
Aiden’s smile faded, and he frowned. As sex dreams went, this one was
sucking big time. Why wasn’t the guy sweeping him into his arms and kissing
him senseless? He wasn’t supposed to resist. This was a dream; he knew it
was a dream, because if he was awake, that meant his life was over, and he
was only twenty. He hadn’t found the man of his dreams yet. He hadn’t even
finished his degree. And he always wanted to own a guinea pig. This was a
dream, and that’s all there was to it. To reinforce the point, Aiden stamped
his bare foot on the ground as the guy continued to stare at him.
Suddenly, a vehicle rounded the corner, and as Aiden swung around to see
who was coming, Matthew let go of his wrists. A truck bearing the
campground patrol symbol stopped when the driver saw Aiden standing
outside in the middle of the night.
The burly ranger with the name Calvin Leslie embroidered on his shirt stepped
out of the truck. “Any problems, sir?”
At that moment Aiden realized it wasn’t a dream. This freaking nightmare was
his life. The tears started rolling down his face as he tried to explain what had
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