Origins by Emmy-loo

Category:Maximum Ride
Characters:Jeb B.
Published:2008-09-28 19:16:21
Updated:2008-12-31 13:15:56
Packaged:2021-04-04 15:29:31
Summary:A family does not spring from nothingness - it is created through shared experiences, understanding, and, most importantly, love. The story behind how the flock began.

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2

1. Chapter 1

I present to you my epic tale of awesomeness: Origins. It is the first part of three, the beginning of a trilogy, if you will. I hadn't intended on posting it yet, but I loved how this first chapter turned out, so it's a little early. I hope you like it!

(Sorry to those of you who have me on alert for other fandoms – give this a try, I think you might enjoy it!)

Disclaimer: Maximum Ride belongs to James Patterson, not me.

The birth was long, difficult and messy, and Valencia was covered in sweat, blood and tears by the time it was finally finished. It almost didn't happen at all, Jeb reflected. Its wings, already more than two feet in length, had complicated things more than they had predicted. But the experiment had survived, and that was what mattered. More than survived - it was thriving. The long birth had provoked some fears of perinatal asphyxia, but after a brief scare where its heart rate slowed below their predicted rates, everything had proceeded as planned. Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief. They could not afford any more failures.

Jeb stopped briefly at the window looking into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, taking in the tufts of blonde hair and downy brown wings speckled with white before continuing his brisk walk to Valencia's room. Caleb had told him that she had been asking about the experiment, even going to far as to refer to it as her baby. Jeb shook his head. It was an experiment, not a child. Still, he allowed a brief surge of pride. It was, after all, his experiment, his genes that had contributed to the success.

Approaching the door, he paused. He knew how stubborn Valencia could be, stemming from many years of experience. But this was something that they had discussed, more than once. Still, he mused, perhaps this was a maternal instinct kicking in. It offered interesting scientific opportunities... but no. She would have to get over it. Any attempts at "protecting" the experiment would be extremely detrimental, not to mention annoying. He pushed the possibility from his mind at the same moment he pushed open the door.

He couldn't deny it - she looked terrible. Though she was sleeping, she was muttering and stirring restlessly. She was sweating, and her hair was still wet from her earlier shower. Despite her caramel-colored skin, she looked pallid. The bags under her eyes had grown more defined, not less, since he had seen her last. Steeling himself, Jeb went to sit beside her bed.

She woke as he approached, breathing heavily and glaring at him. He ignored the expression and sat beside her, taking her hand. Though he was inwardly disgusted at the sweat covering it, he smiled at her.

"Don't give me that look," she snapped, tearing her hand away. "Where is my baby?"

Jeb wiped his hand discreetly on his pant leg and continued to smile. "The experiment is in the NICU, Valencia. You knew it was going there."

"Don't. Call. Her. It," she said, her voice dangerously low. "Even birds have genders, Jeb."

"All experiments are referred to as it," he reminded her. "And this one is no different."

"I would say this one is different!" she screeched, and Jeb flinched. "Considering I gave birth to her!"

Jeb smiled again, "Valencia, Valencia, Valencia," he soothed, "how many times have we been over this? You agreed that minimal contact would be best. As a matter of fact, you signed a waiver."

"Yes, well," and here she seemed to falter for the first time. She may have been stubborn, but she was far from stupid. "I changed my mind," she said, quieting. "I want to see my baby."

Jeb didn't pretend to smile this time. Though he and Valencia had never been romantically interested in one another, she was still a very good friend of his, and he felt sorry for her. She honestly thought that she had a chance of keeping the experiment to herself.

"I'm sorry, Valencia," he said, taking her hand once more. "You and I both know that that's impossible. You gave your notice, remember?" And she had. After recovering from the birth, Valencia was leaving, starting work in a veterinary hospital a few hundred miles away. Most were glad to be rid of her. She had been getting more and more vocal in her protests of the experiments they were running.

"Impossible?" she asked, a few tears leaking out of her eyes, much to Jeb's surprise. Valencia hated when other people saw her cry.

He hesitated. Not much was impossible for him, and Valencia was an old friend. Besides, most of the staff would be too busy getting tipsy to notice anything out of the ordinary... "Well," he said, slowly, "I guess one look couldn't hurt anyone."

"Thank you, Jeb, thank you!" Valencia exclaimed, her smile radiant. She looked much more like a new mother now, he noted with detachment. She made to push the covers away, but Jeb stopped her. "Not now," he said, exasperated, watching her face fall. "Later, when everyone is drunk from the celebrations."

She nodded, though she still looked disappointed. He released her hand and stood, looking to the door.

"Get some sleep," he said on his way out. "You're leaving tomorrow."

He still couldn't quite believe how this had happened - hadn't he entered the room with the intention of letting her down gently, and helping her prepare to leave? He sighed. Things never went quite to plan where Valencia was involved.

His predictions had been correct - besides the staff in the NICU, who were grumbling as they waited for their shifts to end, everyone was busy toasting one another, the champagne flowing much too freely for his tastes. No one would be able to function sufficiently tomorrow. He ran into no troubles on his way to her room, but he hadn't been expecting to.

"Valencia?" he asked, poking his head in the door.

"Right here," she said emerging from the bathroom. She looked much better, he noticed, her skin healthier and her eyes brighter. She was practically vibrating with excitement.

"Right this way," he sighed, still smarting over how easily she had totally and completely convinced him.

She rocketed past him and didn't stop until the end of the hallway, where she slowed and turned. She shot him a look. "Well are you coming or not?" she asked.

He allowed himself a brief, small smile and followed. She was clearly quaking in anticipation, forcing herself to walk more slowly than she obviously wanted to.

"What does she look like?" she asked him suddenly, startling him out of his reverie.

"Well," he began, "the wings are gorgeous. Not fully formed yet, of course, but still, there are wings! I think it may actually eventually be able to fly!"

"What about the actual child?" she asked, anger seeping into her voice. "Or are the wings all that matter, Jeb? She is a real person, born from a real mother – not from a bird. Tell me what she looks like." The command was almost frightening in its intensity, not that Jeb would have ever admitted that.

He paused. "Its hair is blonde," he said, awkwardly, hoping he wasn't mistaken. Valencia's wrath was definitely not something he wanted to provoke. No, it was definitely blonde, he remembered that much.

"Like yours," Valencia stated, and Jeb started. He hadn't considered looking for similarities to himself, only thought of how, out of all the DNA strands they had tried, his was the strand that had worked. It gave him a somewhat twisted sense of pleasure – almost some sort of payback for the years of bullying he had endured in elementary school, before he had wised up and learned martial arts. It was validation that he was good for something, no matter what anyone else said.

"What about her eyes?" Valencia asked when Jeb didn't continue. "What color are they?"

"Brown," he muttered, again hoping he was right, trying to remember the tiny face, and not the marvelous wings attached to her back.

"Like mine!" she exclaimed, almost childishly, obviously glad of some shared trait. Jeb didn't respond, and it was in that second that they rounded the corner that led to the NICU. The ward was dark save for a soft nightlight in the corner. There were two technicians on duty that night, but they were both friends of Jeb's, as well as dependent on his good will, so they let the two of them in with no fuss.

Valencia moved as if in a trance to the only occupied incubator, where the experiment lay. As she got closer, Jeb thought he could see tears leaking out of her eyes, but he couldn't be too sure. With a look a one of the technicians, who nodded, Valencia went to pick up the experiment. Jeb was too fascinated by the interaction to worry about the repercussions of this, or to remember that he had only promised her a look.

She picked her up, the wings not an obstacle at all, and the expression on her face was one of marvel. Jeb thought that in the dim light, she looked something like an angel, radiant and bright. Cooing at the still-sleeping baby, she ran one of her fingers down the side of her cheek. The experiment let out a small breath and settled in Valencia's arms. Valencia sniffled, and then laid a light kiss on the small forehead.

"My baby," she crooned, "My baby. Welcome to the world, little one."

2. Chapter 2

Sorry about the delay, but I have quite a few stories and I'm trying to find the right balance. Tell me what you think of this chapter!

Valencia's goodbye was fast and efficient, the way to do things around the School. There was no farewell party, no gifts from fellow employees. Hold your breath and get it over with; that was the motto. Much like a Band-Aid, Jeb reflected after she was gone. The faster the better. Valencia had looked faintly flabbergasted all day, as if unable to figure out quite what was happening as she was hustled through the Outgoing doors.

"My baby," she had muttered, so softly that no one but Jeb had heard. "My baby."

He had ignored the stirrings of his chest as he heard that, turning away from Valencia as he led her to her car. She was leaving, and all of this drama would be over. That was what Jeb needed: a drama-free environment where he could do his work in peace.

As much as it bothered him to see one of his very few true friends leave, Jeb was back to work in no time at all. There were things to do, after all. Experiment 12-501A needed to have its blood taken every hour on the hour, not to mention X-rays and CAT scans, among countless other tests. There were also the five others of the avian series that still needed daily check-ups, to ensure that the fetal development was still proceeding as planned. Jeb had his hands full, and he couldn't afford to fall behind. Janssen would be stopping by in only a few days, to check on his progress, and there was nothing like a visit from the boss to motivate a person.

He had just finished labeling the latest blood sample from 12-501A when Kurst came running into the lab, face red and glasses askew.

"Jeb," he panted, "The surrogate for 12-501B was just escorted in. She's in labor, the contractions are ten minutes apart—they need you down there!"

Jeb removed his gloves and carefully stowed the vial away. He turned to his assistant, Caleb, who nodded. He could handle bleeding duty for a few hours.

"Okay then," Jeb said, straightening his lab coat, "lead the way."

The labor was long and intensive—even longer than Valencia's, which worried him. This was the first of the subjects that had had the avian DNA grafted on after conception, and if it failed, it did not bode well for future experiments. They already had two others in development using the same method, and a twenty percent success rate was not something Jeb wanted to face. Janssen would skin him alive.

"Come on," he encouraged the surrogate, wiping the sweat off of his face with the sleeve of his lab coat, "I can see the head, you're almost there!"

The surrogate gave one last push, making a screeching noise that Jeb shuddered to hear. He was suddenly glad beyond belief that he wasn't a woman.

The baby slid out and Jeb caught it, expecting a cry. There was none. He checked the pulse frantically, wondering if maybe the ultrasounds had been wrong and this experiment was not okay, but it was going strong. He checked the airway, but it was clear. No mucus or anything to speak of. The child simply wasn't crying. Frowning, Jeb took another look at the child.

Its wings were downy, and a charcoal looking shade of gray—they would turn black, Jeb thought, by the time the experiment had finished infancy. It had dark hair already, covering its small head thoroughly. Male; and looking healthy enough.

He handed the experiment to one of his assistants and removed his gloves slowly. That was two live ones—he was two for two, now. 12-501C would be arriving in a few weeks, if all went as planned. Jeb absentmindedly adjusted his glasses on his face, the nosepiece digging into his skin. He wandered over to the sink, taking in the scene behind him. The surrogate was being sedated, now, asking frantically after her child. Jeb frowned. That could grow to be a problem, if every surrogate reacted as Valencia had. He would have to double check the waivers—the ones that removed all parental rights—and make sure that they had all signed.

"You all right, Jeb?" he heard Kurst ask from behind him. Jeb turned to him and nodded blankly, but his thoughts were a million miles away. This maternal instinct was more powerful than they had anticipated. It left an oddly bitter taste in his mouth.

"Fine," he heard himself answer, as he turned the handle to the door. "Just fine."

He left the commotion of the delivery room—they had need for only one—behind him and wandered down the empty hallways, lights turning on as he walked by. He checked his watch. It was past ten. There would be no one in the lab save the night nurse. That was fine with him. He would just check in on his experiment and go home.

To an empty house, he thought, surprising himself. He had never felt bitter about his bachelorhood before. It was probably just the strain of Valencia's departure, he told himself. Nothing more. He wasn't a sentimental old fool quite yet.

He let that train of thought trail off as he entered the lab—his lab. The night nurse had a novel open in her lap—from the looks of it a sordid romance—but everything looked to be in order. The chart was filled in neatly every hour on the hour. He didn't know why he had to check every time he came into the lab, but it had become habit by now. He sure as hell wasn't going to let some nurse's carelessness ruin his experiment.

The nurse carefully placed a bookmark in the book and put it down onto the desk, cover down. "Any problems?" Jeb asked, moving over to his lab bench where he grabbed a pair of latex gloves.

"None," she answered. Jeb frowned. That wasn't Jennifer's voice. Jennifer had a prominent southern drawl, immediately recognizable. He finished putting his gloves on and turned slowly, wondering where she was. She had never missed a day of work before.

"Blood tests normal?" he asked, keeping his voice light.

"Perfectly," the mystery woman answered, lifting the chart up as if to inspect it. Something in Jeb stirred—he recognized that voice. He just…couldn't place it. "Beyond perfect, actually. I'm quite proud, Jeb."

Ah. Janssen was back. "Thank you," he said carefully, aware as always that everything Marian Janssen always had a purpose. She wasn't one to compliment unless she expected something in return.

She put down the chart and headed for his experiment. His chest tightened, but he didn't move. Janssen wouldn't harm the experiment. She needed it to succeed as much as he did. Still, he was reluctant to let her too near it. Bad things tended to happen where Janssen was involved.

But she did not seem inclined to do anything that would put the experiment at risk; rather, she reached out gently and picked it up, cradling it to her chest. Jeb had to fight back an incredulous expression. If there was one word he would never pick to describe Janssen it was 'maternal'.

And yet that was exactly the picture she produced. With her blonde hair and creamy skin, he noticed with slight astonishment, she looked more like the experiment's mother than Valencia did. She even had the same expression as Valencia had—slightly overwhelmed but completely in love. Jeb got slightly dizzy even thinking about it. He had never, never seen Janssen emotional. In a good way, at least, he amended to himself. He had seen her angry more times than he cared to account.

"The other birth was a success?" she asked eventually, now inspecting the experiment's wings.

Jeb nodded. "No complications," he said. "Though it didn't cry when it was born. A first."

"Male or female?" Janssen asked, watching in amazement as the experiment opened and closed its tiny fist.

"Male," Jeb answered. "You can definitely see the Common Black Hawk in its wings already. They should be a solid black in a few months."

Janssen murmured in assent. The experiment had closed its eyes again and Janssen put it down, her weirdly maternal expression already fading. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, her normal expression—one of single-minded focus and determination—had taken its place back on her face. Oddly enough, Jeb preferred this face. He knew what to expect when Janssen was like this.

"When are the x-rays?" she asked, moving over to where the collection of charts was located.

"I've scheduled them for next week," Jeb ventured, following her. "Should I move them up, so you can see them?"

She nodded once. "Do that. And while you're at it, I want some of the blood you're taking. I want to see what happens when it gets to high altitude."

Jeb raised an eyebrow. "You think that will have an effect?" he asked, taking a look at his notes and flipping through them.

"I have my suspicions," she said, as if that answered his question. "But I'll need several vials to test them. You have enough in supply?"

"Plenty," Jeb answered, making his way to the fridge where such vials were stored. "We've been taking samples as often as we can."

He retrieved several—spreading them out so Janssen had at least one sample for every week—and stored them in a carton that she could travel with. "Will that be enough?" he asked, hoping she would say yes. He wanted her to leave. Having other scientists—especially his bosses—in his lab made him weirdly uncomfortable. It was his territory.

Janssen peered at them, holding one up to the light. "Yes," she said decisively. "That should be plenty."

Jeb let out a breath but didn't let his relief show. "Is that all?" he asked, again hoping that there was nothing else she needed.

She packed up the vials and closed the cooler with a snap. "Remember her purpose, Jeb," was all she said as she turned toward the door. "Don't forget that she was made to save the world."