School of Thought by EndOfTheEarth

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Drama, Sci-Fi
Published:2010-06-01 13:30:50
Updated:2011-07-30 20:46:25
Packaged:2021-04-04 15:44:27
Summary:Like any company, Itexicon's employees have their own goals and vendettas. This is the story of how those goals and vendettas resulted in the flock we know and love today.

Table of Contents

1. The Geneticist wants a Raise
2. A Story about Iced Tea
3. Eraser
4. The Master Speaks
5. A Birth
6. Preparations
7. Escape!
8. Captive Angel
9. Brief Discussions
10. Jeb's Plan
11. Dealing with the Past
12. Transition: Stay Tuned

1. The Geneticist wants a Raise

Seven years before The Angel Experiment

Dr. Robert Drake brushed the sweat from his eyes, gave a frustrated sigh, and started again.

None of it seemed to help really. Itex had paid top dollar for climate control, the best microscopes in the business, the finest contraptions for holding the sample plate and fine needle steady, but it didn't change the stress involved in trying to hit a target the size of a slightly largish cell.

His target, in fact, was a slightly largish cell.

Robert took a moment to calm down, held his breath and started again, staring through the eyepiece of the microscope, resting his hands on the needle adjustment knobs.

A millimeter up, a micrometer right, there, there, almost there...

Something bumped into the table and the cell drifted off screen.

"Son of a..." Robert slammed both of his fists down onto the table. The Administrator had no idea whatsoever of just how complicated his job was. Day after day, perched over a microscope trying to get one simple set of DNA into one simple human egg cell. At best he would actually manage to accomplish ten a day on insertion days like this one. What with it being a seven-hour work day, this was not good odds.

Glancing up to the end of the table to see who had been responsible, Robert found himself even more frustrated to be looking into the eyes of the Administrator, Dr. Harris.
"I want a raise," Robert stated angrily.

Despite his skill, Robert Drake was known around the office for being a bit of a hothead, one day firm and direct, the next dry and sarcastic, never particularly in a good mood in relation to the people he worked with.

"You're already being paid top dollar for your work," Dr. Harris pointed out firmly, "You are after all one of our foremost geneticists—"

"Don't give me that!" Robert shouted, "I've been sitting here year after year slaving over these stupid machines. You ask me to construct enhanced lungs for humans, I did it. You asked me to construct wings as a third set of limbs, it was a pain in the rear, but I did that to. Now you're asking me if I can pull off human psionics. I don't even have a clue if any of this is even coming out correctly, and here you expect me to come up with these genetic wonders as if I keep them tucked in my wallet for special occasions! Would it really be that difficult to show me just one result of my work!"

It was a rant that Robert gave on a regular basis. He waited for the inevitable, "Sorry Dr. Drake, not today."

"I wanted to talk with you about that actually," Dr. Harris replied, "The Director has concerns over a product of one of your projects. Do you recall working with the Human-Avian branch?"

"Yeah, I designed them after all," Robert suppressed an evil grin, knowing clearly what the Administrator was about to ask.

"One of the experiments has made it though and has been causing our psychology department a great deal of worry."

Robert laughed at that one, "So that Batchelder guy and his circus of shrinks finally got what was coming to them?"

"It's the way she looks at the psychologists. A six-year-old shouldn't be looking at people that way."

"What do you want me to do, smack her for you?"

"Look at her, tell us what you know, give us some way to sleep at night."

"So this is one that I actually put together?"

"That's right."

"Which one?"

Dr. Harris rattled off an ID code.

Robert grinned, he remembered that one, "Show her to me."

"This is Jeb Batchelder, head of our Subject Observations and Psychology department," Dr. Harris explained, indicating him to Robert.

Jeb didn't seem like much to Robert, especially after hearing so much about him. Just another shrink with a tweed jacket and wire-rimmed glasses—if it weren't for his Itexicon identification badge, Robert would have wondered what the heck this guy was doing here in the first place.

Still though, Robert recognized that he did indeed have to work with this guy on whatever the Administrator was fussing about. He and Jeb shook hands. "Happy to meet the person that makes it possible for us to have anything to study," said Jeb with an amused smile.

"I'm just happy to meet someone who's seen my work. Did everything come out OK?"

Jeb gave a quiet chuckle and led Robert and Dr. Harris to a door, and guided them into a conference room.

The room was dominated by a massive table, on which sat one of the few things Robert thought he'd ever see in his life.

It was a dog crate, containing a little girl, not any older than seven, wearing a hospital gown. She had messy brownish-blonde hair and eyes that seemed to sit bizarrely between brown and hazel, and had an odd depth to them. Is that what they're whining about? Robert wondered to himself, They asked me to write her eyes that way, for the sake of supporting those…

As the girl shifted about, Robert noticed the pair of wings, probably eight feet in span, flutter briefly behind her back.

She stared out at them with utmost hate.

The administrator walked directly up to her cage and looked at her, an amused smile on his face. "One of the few successes. Isn't it amazing Dr. Drake, that the final result functions so well?"

The girl lashed at him from inside her cage, making the administrator jump back.
Robert suppressed a grin.

"Calm down," Jeb stated to the thing in the cage, his voice soothing yet assertive, "That wasn't very nice of you. Dr. Harris takes a lot of time to see that you are kept happy."

"I don't like the way he looks at me," the girl replied, her eyes fixed on Jeb, not as much with hate now, but pleading. Again Robert had to hold his face firm against the girl's high reedy voice. Robert had a hand in that too, and wondered if her voice would sound the way he predicted once the girl reached maturity.

"He's here for you. This man here is also here for you. He helped make you and is here to help us know you better. Isn't that right?" Jeb shot Robert a glance.

"Yeah, that's right," Robert stated, trying to keep his voice as calm and even as possible. His experience with kids was limited, to say nothing of his experience with experimental subjects. "My name is Dr. Drake, but you can call me Robert. What's your name?"

"The girl looked steadily at him a moment, trying to discern the intent behind his face, then, matching his tone replied, "Maximum Ride, but you can call me Max."

For those of you already familiar with my work from MDW, I assure you, this is the only chapter that will mimic that original work. The rest will all be quite different.

Your critiques would be greatly appreciated.

2. A Story about Iced Tea

Robert Drake gave Dr. Harris and Jeb a confused look, "You gave her a name?"

"Giving a person a name is important in identity development," Jeb explained, "We didn't have the option of calling her by her serial number, so we let her pick one."

Robert gave the girl in the dog crate a grin, "Max Ride, eh? That's a pretty tough name for a little girl."

In the crate Max folded her arms and, looking at Dr. Harris noted, "I see they managed to fix your pointer finger."

This made Robert instantly recall how about a week back Harris had checked up on him with his right hand in bandages and a cast. He had been given no explanation at the time. "Yeah, Dr. Harris, what did happen to your finger?" he asked.

Harris gave a grimace and replied, "She bit it off."

Robert's grin turned into a laugh and he jerked a thumb at Max, "I like this kid, she has nerve."

The three scientists sat down at the table and Robert went on, "So, Mr. Batchelder, what's this thing that has your department all tied up?"

"We can't get her to interact in a positive way with the lab technicians."

"Like Dr. Harris here?"

"Not just Dr. Harris I'm afraid. Do you recall Reilly from—"

"Yeah, yeah, go on."

"She broke his collarbone three days ago."

"Huh…" Robert turned to glance over at Max. She was watching them silently, gathering information. She narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you ever try offering her anything?"

"Of course we have," Jeb replied, "Candy, toys, she doesn't want any of it."

"No, not stuff, things like… well you know."

Jeb shook his head.

"Do you let her fly?"

"Of course we have her fly," Dr. Harris argued, "An hour in the wind tunnel, every day."

"No, not have her fly, let her fly. Outside. For fun."

Robert heard a gasp from inside the dog crate and knew he had hit the nail on the head with his line of thinking.

"I guess," Dr. Harris replied with a frown, "She already has a tracer, and our security can probably handle one flighty birdkid."

"That's the other thing," Robert said, hoping to be right twice, "If she knew that she wasn't going through testing alone, she might be calmer."

Dr. Harris seemed about to say, 'no' but was interrupted by Jeb who said, "Well, there's Iggy and Fang."

This earned him two sets on confused looks.

"Who's Iggy?" Robert asked.

"Who's Fang?" asked Max.

Dr. Harris stood up and said, Dr. Drake, do you mind excusing Mr. Batchelder and myself for a moment. You can go and ask the subject questions while you're out."

Robert gave them a nod and soon found himself alone in the room with the kid-thing in the crate.

"So," Robert said with a grin, "I take it you don't like Dr. Harris that much."

"I don't like him at all."

"Well, that's great, because I have this story that you'll probably find hilarious about him, last year's company cookout day, and what must have been at least four gallons of iced tea..."

"You really messed up with that one Mr. Batchelder."

Jeb gave Dr. Harris an annoyed look, "I was just mentioning the other two human-avain subjects in Max's age group. Max deserves some friendship, and the longer we withhold those two from her, the more feral she's bound to get."

"Yes, but not in front of Drake."

"What's the problem with mentioning Fang and Iggy in front of Dr. Drake?"

Dr. Harris gave a sigh and asked, "Tell me, what's the difference between Max and the other two?"

"Well, for one, Max is my daughter, and for another, she's a girl."

"I'm talking about them as subjects, not as people."

Jeb frowned in thought before replying, "Max was from Dr. Drake's line of experimentation, he likes to start from the cellular level. Fang and Iggy were the products of Dr. Engels's experimentation, she likes working with preexisting and fully-formed subjects."

"Exactly," Dr. Harris stated firmly, "You don't have to deal with these people Jeb, but geneticists are prima donnas about their work, they treat it like it's art. Have you ever seen two competing geneticists duke it out? I'll tell you this much: it isn't pretty."

"I'll take your word for it, but we must still introduce Max to these other two."

"Of course," Dr. Harris replied with a nod, "We'll let him get back to his genetics after today, and that will be the end of that."

He opened the door and the two scientists were surprised to hear peals of laughter coming from the girl in the crate.

"…and when I mean all over the front of the Director's shirt, I mean like everywhere," Robert was saying with a huge grin, "And there we all are, silent, sure that the director is going to fire Dr. Harris, but no, instead," he paused for effect, "instead, she shoves him backwards, right into the bowl of iced tea."

Max burst out laughing again, then with a face bright with enthusiasm looked up at Jeb and said, "This guy is awesome; I want to see him more often!"

Jeb glanced at Dr. Harris, who glanced back, their faces communicating the same message.

We have a problem.

3. Eraser

The day following, Max was helped by an attendant out of her crate and into a large hangar. Normally the School kept a cargo plane in there, but as the plane was bound for Itexicon HQ in Lendeheim, Dr. Harris had decided that it would make a good, contained location to allow their three oldest human-avian subjects to meet each other.

Curious, Max eyed the two other hybrids that were being released in the crates across from her. The first practically exploded out of his crate, running over to her, a bright smile on his face. "They told me that there were other bird people!" he shouted excitedly, "And here you are!"

Max gave a small giggle. The boy was funny, his blond hair unruly and bouncy over eyes that darted about as if expecting a whole flock of 'bird people' to spontaneously appear at any minute. She stuck out her hand, as she'd seen some of the scientists do. "My name's Max," she said with a smile.

The boy grabbed her hand and shook it repeatedly. "My name's Iggy," he replied gleefully, "The whitecoats wanted to name me Icarus, but they're a bunch of dummy-heads."

"Whitecoats?" Max asked, confused.

"Yeah, those guys," Iggy pointed at some of the lab attendants who were trying to get the third hybrid to come out of the crate.


The two of them walked over to the crate waving to the attendants to get out of their way. They looked inside, Iggy shouting first, "I'm Iggy! What's your name?"

The kid in the crate had longish, dark hair, and similarly darker wings that contrasted with Iggy's and Max's lighter ones. He gave a shy smile at Iggy's exclamation, and tried to back further into the crate.

Max pointed a finger at Iggy and said, "don't mind him, he's a little loopy. Don't you want to come out.

The boy's eyes widened slightly at her voice, and he hid part of his face behind his arms. For a fleeting moment, Max wondered if maybe the boy had never seen a girl before. She reached her arm into the crate and offered her hand again. "It's OK, we're not gonna hurt you."

Slowly, as if afraid that it might zap him, the boy reached out and took Max's hand. Slowly she helped him out of the crate. "My name is Max," she told him in a quiet voice, so as not to scare him, "What's your name?"

The boy gave a barely audible mumble and looked down at his feet. His wings fluttered uncomfortably.

"What's that!" Iggy shouted. The boy shocked shot up into the air, aided by his wings, and landed a good fifteen feet away, giving Iggy a suspicious look.

"I think he said 'Fang,'" Max answered, "You know, you really should quiet down if you want him to like us."

Iggy shrugged and the two of them walked back over to Fang.

"Are they usually like that?" Dr. Harris asked Jeb, peeking into the hangar through the partially-open main door.

"I'd say so," Jeb replied, taking notes as he watched the three bid kids talk, "Iggy's always been pretty energetic. Always so many things to see and do for him. Whenever we let him out of the dog crate, he's practically bouncing off the walls."

"And the other one?"

"Fang? He's pretty quiet, except when he gets mad, which isn't often."

"Bit of a coward, isn't he?"

"No, just shy." Inside the hangar, Iggy was talking at a rapid pace, waving his arms and pointing at the two scientists. Max seemed to be agreeing on one thing, but disagreeing on another. Fang had a frown on his face, but was mostly silent, simply nodding or shaking his head from time to time.

"Anyway, we know that—"

"Hey, there you are! I was looking all over the compound for you people."

Jeb and Dr. Harris turned and were sad to see Robert Drake striding across the School grounds towards them.

"I thought you said he shouldn't be here," Jeb whispered.

"I did. I told him we'd be in C-Building," Dr. Harris replied with a frown.

Robert said nothing as he walked around the two scientists and looked into the hangar. "Well that's weird," he said after a moment, "I don't remember making any male specimens with those attributes… wait, this isn't my work!"

He pulled his head out from the door and turned to Dr. Harris, "Who the heck did you hire for those two bird boys Harris?"

Dr. Harris swallowed. This was exactly what he'd been trying to avoid.

"Whose projects are they Harris?"

After heaving a sigh, Dr. Harris replied, "Engels's"

Jeb took a few steps back at the boiling look of hatred look on Robert's face. "I knew it! I knew those wings looked like her usual stapled-on pieces of junk! How dare you let my experiment—"

"She's my daughter," Jeb pointed out awkwardly.

Drake spun on him waving a finger and snapped, "You, shut up!" before turning back to Dr. Harris, "How dare you let my experiment mess around with those walking wrecks! I want her out of there!"

"Dr. Engels's experimental subjects are just as legitimate as yours are," Dr. Harris stated, trying to sound firm in the face of Robert's assault, and pointing into the hangar, "It's just a different way of reaching the same—"

Though Dr. Harris had seemed intent on saying 'conclusion,' his rebuttal was itself concluded prematurely by an explosion of feathers that hurled him over backwards, giving him a fine chance to see the three birdkids, Iggy in the lead, rush over him as he fell. With a bleeding hand, he pulled a remote out of his lab coat pocket and pressed a button.

Instantly alarms went off all over the facility. "EMERGENCY!" an automated voice shouted, "SUBJECTS ESCAPING! ALL GUARDS, FOLLOW PROTOCOL NINE IMMEDIATELY."

There was a loud crack as a rifle went off somewhere in the facility. Iggy, barely twenty feet off the ground, crashed into Max, then fell to the ground bleeding out of his left wing. Max fell shortly thereafter, apparently Iggy colliding with her had knocked the wind out of her and she fell too. A pair of guards were at her instantly, flipping her onto her front and trying to tie her wings down.

"No you don't!"

Robert watched with some sense of amusement as fang dropped out of the sky, feet-first, hitting one of the guards square in the face, following up with an amateurish but effective punch that broke the other guard's nose.

Confused, Robert looked around. Hadn't he been told that some of his prototypes were on patrol? What was taking so long.

It just so happened one was. A hulking eight feet of monstrous hybrid of wolf and human genes charged around the corner, it's huge muscles rippling as it moved, the look of a killer in its eyes.

The Eraser charged across the grounds, colliding with Fang at full force, sending him in an uncontrolled flight that ended a good twenty feet downrange and knocking him cleanly unconscious. Drake gave a thin smile. It served that Engles piece of trash right.

Nearby, Max was struggling to her feet. The Eraser rounded on her.

Not about to watch one of his prized experiments rip another to pieces, Robert decided to intervene. "No!" he shouted, running in front of the Eraser, "Stand down, that's an order!"

The Eraser gave a snarl and stopped. Behind Drake, Jeb rushed over to Max moaning, "Thank god you're all right. That wasn't very bright Max, you could have gotten yourself seriously injured!"

But Max wasn't listening. She glanced about, first to Iggy, whose bleeding wing was being attended to by a group of School medics, then to Fang, shy Fang, who had knocked the guards away from her, then taken a charging Eraser for her, and finally to Dr. Drake, who had finally stopped the madness. She gave him a smile, which Robert saw, and gave her a thumbs up in response.

"That's quite the impressive tale," stated Anne Walker, Director of the Itexicon Colorado School of Genetic Research, "From the sound of both of your reports, it must have made for quite an exciting afternoon. Combat-effective Erasers and Hybrids, I can't wait to see them in action at some point."

It was a day later, Robert and Jeb were in the Director's office. Dr. Harris had been taken to the medical ward where he was being treated for several broken bones.

"Yes, quite effective indeed," she turned to Jeb, "Mr. Batchelder, do you think that they Hybrids could be made into an effective combat-and-reconnaissance team?"

"Just the three of them?" Jeb asked, "I doubt it, but give me another two or three and I can probably give you an autonomous and combat-ready group in six years… though I was rather hoping that we would be advertising them as reconnaissance-only specialists."

"I really don't care how much of your genes went into that one hybrid Mr. Batchelder, a combat capable group will fetch a higher price… speaking of which, the one who led this little escapade, Iggy, I believe, needs to be punished. We shall give him visual enhancements to make him a better spotter; I'm sure a week of eye surgery will be enough to get our message across.

"Speaking of messages," she went on, turning to Robert, "the head of Itexicon Genetics wants to speak to you about the Hybrids and Erasers, apparently there are some aspects of your work that he has taken a curiosity over."

Robert couldn't suppress his shock. "Roland ter Borcht wants to talk to me?"

"Yes. He's over at the Institute for Higher Living in New York this week. You'll be sent there by plane tomorrow. I expect to hear good news when you get back."

Robert gave an almost boyish grin. "Yes ma'am!"

4. The Master Speaks

Every act or art has its masters; its Shakespeares, its Beethovens, its Michelangelos.

Contemporary genetic engineering though, had succeeded in producing two such masters. Their names were Hans Gunther-Hagen, and Roland ter Borcht.

Therefore it was with a sense of nervous eagerness that Robert Drake stepped out of the elevator onto the top floor of the New York Institute for Higher Living, clad in his most formal out-of-lab attire. Though it wasn't quite the same as Itex HQ at Lendeheim, it was still a place of power—one of those sorts where as you walked down it's halls you could almost hear the gears grinding in the minds of the people that not only predicted the future, but defined it.

Following the instructions he'd been given by Director Walker, Robert made his way down two long and well furnished corridors before finding himself in a small reception area where he gave his name to the secretary who smiled, nodded, and asked him to take a seat.

He picked up one of the room's magazines, Biotech Weekly, and tried to focus on one of the main articles. Tired has he might though, his attention drifted away from the article on cyborg organisms (What junk, Drake thought to himself) and into his own imagination with regards to what project of his had caught Dr. ter Borcht's interest. Was it the avian-human hybrid project? His Erasers? What if it was something completely new and exciting?

"Excuse me Ms. Dietrich, but the ladies room is out of paper towels, and—"

Robert dropped the magazine. He recognized that voice.

Sure enough, who else would stride into the reception area than Edda Engels, dressed in a business outfit and made up as if going in for a job interview. She hadn't changed since the last time Robert had run into her. Same thin face and wiry black hair.

It took less than a second for her to notice him. "You!" she spat, "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same question!" Robert snapped back, "I didn't think that Dr. ter Borcht would have time to spend on junk geneticists such as you—"

"Junk geneticists? At least it took a bullet to knock one of my hybrids out of the air! Your pipsqueak little piece of trash could barely take a firm shove—"

"Ah, but my experiments have the presence of mind to follow instructions and not actively rebel! If not for my Eraser, I'm sure you'd be receiving a thorough examination—"

"Like the one you received last week?"

"That was for consultation you—"

A new voice interrupted, "As you can see Fraulein Dietrich, your personal statement that they were present was not required."

Of course, when considered with an accent, it probably sounded closer to "Ahs you cahn see Fraulein Dietrich, your personal statement vas not recvired," but Robert had heard so many of the man's lectures that he didn't really notice the accent any more.

There he was, exceptionally tall with blue eyes and thinning sandy hair, wearing a pristine white lab coat and holding a clipboard under his left arm. He had a stern yet slightly arrogant look to his face, as if these two squabbling geneticists were beetles in comparison to him.

Robert and Edda immediately snapped their mouths shut and turned to face him, embarrassed.

"Doctors Drake and Engels, I believe?" Roland ter Borcht asked, giving each one a scrutinizing look before stating, "Into my office, we have much to discuss."

They followed him down yet another short corridor and into a corner office that overlooked southwest Manhattan. In the distance Robert could see the World Trade Center towers.

"I have been considering the report on the interaction between the avian-human and lupine-human hybrids," ter Borcht began, taking a seat behind a large oak desk, "and as a result I wanted to discuss with you some issues with both projects that require immediate attention."

Engels and Drake exchanged a look. As far as either of them was concerned, the entire scenario had been pretty successful.

"First, I wish to address these avian-humans. Dr. Drake, your work is unimaginably sloppy."

Robert gave ter Borcht a confused look, "Sir, I don't see—"

"Dr. Drake, I do not believe you were ever made aware of the mortality rate of your experiments," he leaned towards him across his desk, "Are you aware that you have a success rate of two?"

"Out of?"

"Out of all of them Dr. Drake. Two exactly."

Robert swallowed and didn't stand quite as tall. Engels flashed him an arrogant smile.

Her reaction was cut short though, "And you Dr. Engels," ter Borcht turned his attention to Edda, "The maneuverability of your hybrids are absolutely hideous, at least a 25% reduction from Dr. Drake's."

Engels paled.

"Between the hideous results of both of your directions of experimentation, I have decided to cut the majority of the project's funding—"

"But sir," Edda interrupted, shocked, "The most recent acquirements just came in. I have a young male that I am working on right now—"

"And I just got the base genetics," Robert added, "It wouldn't be cost effective to scrap everything at this point. Please, sir, just let us finish up the current batch."

Ter Borcht gave them each a rather pissed stare, then stated, "Fine. But after you have completed your current work with it, you will be moved to the other projects.

"That is what I wanted to discuss with you today. Dr. Drake, your…Erasers have some merit—"

Robert beamed at the statement. He'd actually gotten a positive response out of ter Borcht!

"—but their current state will not be enough. They must be refined, aspects to assist with blending with normal humans, something to allow them greater areal mobility…which is why I'm transferring your project over to Dr. Engels."

The both gave him another confused look.

"Dr. Engels's methods of alteration have proven quite superior. We will take your designs, Dr. Drake, and apply Dr. Engel's methods to them and the rest of Itexicon's experiments to allow for a lower mortality rate."

"Now that that's out of the way, Dr. Drake, I think your research in psionics may just have an application. Are you familiar with the Bio-transmitter/transceiver that we are working on?"

"What, the Voice?" Robert asked, "I've heard of it, supposedly the whole thing was a flop."

"Exactly. You are going to make it work."

"Uh, where do I even begi—"

"I believe that is everything," ter Borcht stood, "I shall expect reports from both of you on extensive progress by this time next year. Are we clear on the matter? Good. Auf Wiedersehen."

He shook each of their hands, then left, leaving the two of them alone in the office.

"I shall see what I can do to fix your stupid Eraser program," Edda stated coldly, "In the meantime, I may as well wish you luck on your genetic batch. I have a feeling that you'll need it to actually produce another live subject."

She too walked out of the office. Alone, Robert's lip twitched. They'll see, he thought to himself, I'll build a human-avian so powerful that it will be a threat to this whole darn company! Then they can shout at me about cost-effectiveness and mortality rates!

With no one to shout at, Drake left the office, slamming the door behind him.

5. A Birth

Nine Months later (a bit over 6 years before The Angel Experiment)

"Hi Dr. Drake!"

Robert stopped his pacing and turned toward the familiar voice. Sure enough, Max was running up the hall, excitedly dragging one of Engles's birdkids behind her. He'd seen this one before, 'Nudge' they'd called her. Even at age five she had a lot to say—so much that Robert wondered from time to time, as he had in college, if the ability to shut up was genetic. If it was, Engels surely must have missed it in this hybrid.

"Jeb said that today was going to be a very special and exciting day," Max said gleefully.

Nudge nodded quickly, and in a way that reminded Drake a lot of last-year's Iggy blurted, "Jeb told us and we were very excited and I was jumping up and down and Max had a big, big smile and Iggy said something to Fang who laughed and Gazzy didn't say anything because he's too young to say anything and we all came as fast as we could and—" she let out a happy squeal.

Fang and Iggy were the next ones down the hall, Iggy holding onto Fang's shirtsleeve. Robert had learned about a week after returning from New York that Iggy's eye surgery had gone horribly wrong; the kid was now blind. Robert had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the blindness had severely humbled Iggy, making him easier for School personnel to deal with, and as a result Max, his Max, had taken control of the group of birdkids. On the other hand, Iggy's dilemma would likely pose a liability for the flock in any future engagement that the birdkids would be tasked to perform.

Jeb came last with a small group of orderlies, holding a fifth, small birdkid in his arms; yet another Engels creation. This had been the end result of the last of her birdkid material and funding, and Robert had hardly needed to observe the thing for ten minutes to see that Engels had done an even cheaper job than usual. The kid, Gazzy, was born with a severely dysfunctional digestive tract that the School had taken five months and twelve surgeries to fix; even now the kid produced such a stink that Dr. Harris continued to pester the surgeons that they'd missed something, which all the surgeons firmly denied. Robert had reason to believe that at least two of them had quit and were now working for at the Gunther-Hagen Laboratories in Canada.

"Are we in time?" Jeb asked, handing Gazzy over to one of the orderlies (who wrinkled his nose at the prospect of holding the kid), "You never really know with these. Frankly I've only seen this done with your Erasers, and those were always random."

"Or if it will even work at all," Robert replied darkly. Out of nearly three hundred cells, only ten had started dividing, five of these had lasted longer than a day, two had survived the first three months…one of them died off in the fourth. He could now see what Roland ter Borcht was complaining about.

"Hey kids," Jeb said, turning to the flock, "You're going to have to wait out here a moment with Reilly and the orderlies, Dr. Drake and I have a few things to talk about."

The two scientists entered a viewing room which looked down upon the delivery room. Robert looked about; surgeons and doctors were all gathered around a barely-translucent tank in which a dark object was suspended. "It's really different from the real thing," Robert commented, "except the feelings I guess, I feel kind of nervous. Is that usual?"

"Absolutely. I mean, I was nervous when Ari was born." Jeb had only mentioned his kid a few weeks ago, upon his birth. Beyond that, Jeb never discussed his personal relationships outside of work.

"How are Ari and Mary anyway?"

"Ari's doing well. Mary was just diagnosed with leukemia."

"Gee Jeb, your luck with women stinks; it seems like they stay around just long enough for you to have a kid, and then away they go."

"Valencia never intended to marry though."

"And Mary did?"

"Yes, she also knew what we were doing here, and wanted to keep Ari safe."

"That sort of thing never made much sense to me."

"Well, if Subject Eleven is the gem you made her out to be in front of the Director, I'm sure you'll feel it at some point."

One of the doctors below turned toward the observation window and held both thumbs up. They were ready to begin.

The group of doctors and surgeons began their action. Robert couldn't see what was going on very well, but after a few minutes of concerned waiting, someone managed to set up an EKG machine, one that read a firm and steady heartbeat.

Another minute later, one of the doctors entered the observation room and asked Robert if he wanted to inspect the subject. Robert admitted excitedly that he did.

After receiving a quick decontamination procedure and putting on both a mask and gloves, Robert entered the delivery room, where he was lead to a foam-cushioned table.

Subject Eleven was laying on her front, breathing in and out evenly. It was a very curious thing to observe; she looked almost human except for the two large, folded wing-limbs, featherless at the moment, which protruded from her back. Her eyes were shut.

Did it work? Robert wondered to himself, Is it really all true? Is it too early to see? He leaned in even closer, so close that his face was only a few inches from the subject's. He held his breath and put all of his will into one very clear thought.

Open your eyes.

Almost instantly, the baby reacted, partially opening one eye. He could see the deep blue iris that he himself had crafted looking out at him.

His heart skipped a beat. He'd done it!

"Just wait and see," Robert whispered to her through his face mask, "I have so many plans for you, my little angel."

6. Preparations

Four and a half years before The Angel Experiment.

"I believe that Dr. Batchelder is correct in this case," Anne Walker replied with a frown.

"But it's so redundant it's stupid," Robert protested, frustrated at Jeb's amused grin "Five birdkids should be more than enough to begin a reconnaissance group. Why you would need my Angel is entirely beyond—"

"First," Anne replied sternly, "She is not yours at all. Subject Eleven, or Angel as you've taken to calling her, is the property of Itexicon. You are a geneticist—your involvement should never have gone beyond the sequencing room, so why you've decided to take an interest in this experiment—"

"Madam Director, this is the only working psionic that Itexicon owns and you want me to give her up to Dr. Batchelder so he can run away with her and train her for reconnaissance operations? It makes no sense!"

"I need a team of at least five," Jeb said simply, "Iggy is crippled, and Angel is the only other birdkid available at the moment."

"Bull!" Robert snarled, rounding on him, "Import one of the hybrids from The Institute, or go have Engles attach wings to that other kid of yours—"

"No one is touching Ari," Jeb stated firmly.

"And yet you seem quite alright putting Max into this situation," Robert pressed, hoping for the right reaction "How will you feel the first time we send out Erasers against her—"

"You wouldn't dare."

"The first time one runs up and grabs her by the throat—"

"Dr. Drake, I'm warning you—"

"Or breaks the bones in her arm into tiny painful—"

"At least I'll have gotten her away from creatures like you!" Jeb shouted, then, realizing what he'd said, promptly shut his mouth, turned toward the Director and asked, "You wouldn't do that would you?"

Anne thought a moment, in contemplation. "If we withhold Eraser attacks for four years, will that be enough time for the flock to be battle-ready?"

"Three years would suffice. By four they'd be able to outdo any Erasers you could send at them."

"Fine then. The flock will not be interrupted for the first four years. This should give you more than enough time, Dr. Batchelder, to proceed with further observations. In the meantime, Subject Eleven will remain at the school for further observations. I expect results on the brainwashing of the older subjects on my desk by tomorrow morning Dr. Batchelder. You are both dismissed."

Jeb nodded and, giving Robert a stern glance, left.

"Excuse me madam Director," Robert stated, "What do you mean by 'brainwashing'?"

"The older subjects are used to the staff here, you especially," Anne replied without looking up at him, "We must be absolutely certain that they will try and evade us once we begin intensive open-world testing. People with fond memories aren't inclined to leave a place."

"You would understand my doubt with regards to this topic," Roland ter Borcht replied with a frown, "I have never been one to believe in psionics."

It was half a week later, Drake and Engels were making their regular report at the Institute for higher living.

"I've conducted multiple tests," Robert replied, trying to hold in his pride and excitement, "Subject Eleven has outperformed all the developmental expectations, as well as the project expectations. She can flawlessly identify simple thoughts and has shown an ability to learn based off of information received through the mind-reading process. Other abilities, will start to manifest around age six, such as mind control and telepathic transmission."

"I will believe it when I personally observe it," ter Borcht replied sternly, "In the meantime, you know for sure that the Voice works?"

"Yes sir," Robert replied with a nod, "We've been using it successfully on Eraser squad leaders without any issue whatsoever."

"No issues whatsoever?" Engels asked, "That isn't what I heard. Supposedly for the first week the subject is incapacitated by headaches."

"The headaches are not incapacitating," Robert rebuked, "and they only seem to occur when the Voice is added via Dr. Engel's additionory genetics methods, rather than my pre-birth ones. We are in the process of fixing this and should have a perfect product in another few years."

"And how have your projects been performing?" ter Borcht asked, turning to Engels.

"Fairly well. Everything works on a genetics level, except when there are interferences of pre-existing genetic materials," she leveled a glance at Robert.

"Could you provide an example?"

"We've had some problems attaching wings to Dr. Drake's Eraser models—"

Robert burst out laughing. "Eraser's aren't designed to be aerial combat units. If you really want that, I can make it for you, but Erasers?"

"You'll have to excuse me for pointing out that our genetics budget is a little tight at the moment," ter Borcht growled, "Dr. Engels is there anything else you can do on the matter?"

"Not with the viral alteration system I designed."

"So aerial erasers will have to be built from the ground up."


Ter Borcht frowned, "Then I think it is time for you to return to the drawing board, Dr. Engels."

Edda's eyes widened at that one, "Sir, I've spent years working toward my current level, please don't—"

"There is a lab bench in our Netherlands facility with your name on it, Dr. Engels," he gave her a frown and left the office.

"You know," Robert stated, giving her an evil grin, "I can probably rotate you to a higher position within my own staffing group."

"I'd rather take the Lab bench," Engels stated, heading for the door, "Ter Borcht will pay. You can count on that."

Robert would not see Edda Engels again for a long time, but naturally remembered her comment when, later that same year, Roland ter Borcht had his medical license revoked, and then the year following was arrested for 'criminal genetic experiments on humans' and carted off to a rehab center. Both were the results of anonymous tip-offs.

7. Escape!

Four years before The Angel Experiment

It was only on the rare occasion that Robert Drake would stay at The School past 1 AM. Usually it was for the sake of filing some additional paperwork or putting time into a particularly tricky experiment. This morning though, a good chunk of the School's staff had turned up for what was expected to be quite a show. The auditorium in C building had in fact been set up with a screen and projector with a live feed to capture the action.

The reason for all of the excitement was due to the fact that Jeb was going to stage an 'escape' with the five bird kids. All kinds of interesting things had been set up by Jeb and the rest of the psychology department to make sure that the escape seemed convincing. The Director had allowed the psychologists a rather impressive right of way with regards to what they wanted to do (she had drawn the line at the fuel dump though, much to the disappointment of the adrenalin junkies in the staff) and there was talk of everything from explosions and chases to car stunts.

Out of a natural curiosity, Robert met up with Jeb prior to the 'great escape,' to ask him a few final questions and give a few parting comments. This was, after all, the last time they would be seeing each other for at least two years.

When Robert found him, Jeb was loading several duffels full of supplies into the back of an olive-green unmarked van. "Looks convincing enough," Robert commented on approach, "Do you really need that much stuff?"

"Most of the supplies are already at the house," Jeb replied, loading one last duffel bag into the van, "I could have kept everything here, but this is designed to give the van a cramped feeling to it. Remember, we don't want this to feel comfortable for them."

"Very true. You'll really be able to handle five kids on your own for two years?"

"I'll be teaching them how to fend for themselves, remember? The longer I spend working with them, the less work I will have to do in the future."

"What about Ari?"

"Ari? He'll be staying here, at The School, until I get back. I'll of course be sending him letters and such. Two years is a stretch, but Ari's a tough kid, he'll manage. You'll look out for him, right?"

"Absolutely, and you'll look out for Max?"

"She is my daughter you know."

Robert considered debating that point again, but decided against it. Besides, he still had Angel, which reminded him.

"Hey, Jeb, no hard feelings about that thing in the Director's office a few weeks ago."

Jeb gave him an odd stare, "But of course. No hard feelings. None whatsoever."

Half an hour later, Robert was accompanying Dr. Harris back to the auditorium in C-building.

"It's going to make for one impressive show," Harris commented, "We have cameras everywhere, an Eraser team we've trained to chase them, and then when they get to the house we have monitoring equipment everywhere. We've never done a field experiment this big, so naturally we're all very excited…"

Robert didn't hear a word of it. If the scientists thought that the flock was something worth seeing, he couldn't wait to see what they thought of Angel given a few years. Her versus those Engels junk-projects would be a joke, versus Max though…he wasn't quite sure what to think about that.

Deciding to speak his mind, Robert pointed out, "I don't see what the big fuss is, Angel could take down Batchelder's flock easily."

Harris gave him a confused look, "What? Why?'

"Well, it's all theoretical I guess, I don't see a case that would make them need to fight—"

"I thought Subject Eleven is going with Dr. Batchelder?"

Robert stopped dead in his tracks. "What did you say?"

"He was down in her holding area earlier today and I heard him tell the Eraser stationed there that he was supposed to—"

He never heard what the guard was supposed to do. Robert turned and bolted back the way he came, but already he could see that he was too late. The show had begun. Already the alarms were going off inside A-building, and on the other side of the facility an enormous fireball exploded over the empty helicopter pad. He could see the olive-green van, headlights burning through the dark, already gunning down the complex's main road, a small group of Erasers keeping pace just behind.

Out of the corner of his eye, Robert caught another Eraser, leaning against a building, watching the whole performace. "You there," Robert shouted, "Stop them!"

"I've orders not to interrupt the staged escape," The Eraser muttered.

"I'm overriding those orders," Robert stated firmly, "That man stole an experiment that he was not supposed to take, a young girl with blonde hair and wings! Get her! You'll be executed if she escapes!"

The Eraser jumped to attention at that one and immediately darted after the van.

Wasting no time, Robert immediately darted back into C-building, where he could see the chase over the projector screen.

His threat had apparently been an effective motivator, the Eraser had outdistanced the back and was closing in on the van.

Robert felt a sting as he dug his fingers into his palms in suspense. Would the Eraser make it?

It did! The hybrid, in an impressive leap, flung itself through the air and caught onto the back end of the van. The audience in the auditorium gave an excited gasp. Over the projector, he could see that Jeb was swerving in hopes of shaking the Eraser off.

Then, to everyone's surprise, one of the back doors of the van opened and Max, his Max, dived out of the door, grabbing onto the Eraser's head, which snapped it's jaws at her, trying to catch the girl off-guard.

It didn't work, Max jabbed her thumb into the Eraser's right eye and the two went tumbling off of the van. They'll get her! Robert thought to himself excitedly, It's not Angel, but it's a fair trade-off against that sneaky—

But he had thought so too soon. Max quickly picked herself back up, extended her wings and lept into the air, just as the main group of Erasers was almost upon her, instead sending the whole pack tripping over their fallen comrade.

Robert watched as Max sailed back and made a successful landing on the roof of the van. The last thing he saw of her before she left camera range was her face; the definition of triumph and defiance.

"You can't just sit there, you have to do something!" Robert shouted at Anne Walker later that day, "He broke our agreement, and now he's out there with not one, but two extremely volatile combat assets which he is now training to be used against us."

"I can't do anything," Anne reasserted in an unhappy tone, "My hands are tied."

"Send Erasers after them! I sent just one, and look how effective it was!"

"You expect me to send Erasers right to their house, and then for the birdkids to remain in place, despite the knowledge that the house is compromised?"

"Don't you have contacts in the FBI? Send one of them?"

"And reveal to the United States Government that we're running criminal genetic engineering experiments within their own borders? Absolutely not."

"That can't be all."

"I'm afraid it is."

Robert bit his tongue and, with nothing else to say, whirled in place and marched out of the office, his blood boiling. If only there was a way he could get back at Jeb. There had to be a way; something he could twist, maim, destroy so that by the time Jeb got back, he'd wish that he'd left Angel alone.

"Where's my daddy?"

Robert stopped at the sound of the voice. It was a young voice, couldn't have been older than three.

He turned again. Standing in the middle of the hall, alone, with big wide eyes was Ari Batchelder. He'd only met the kid a few times before, but the fact that Ari knew of a connection between himself and Jeb could be useful. Here was his chance.

Crouching, Robert got down on the kid's level, "Your daddy went away."


"Yeah, far away," Robert went on, using his best talk-to-kids voice, "Far, far away from you."

He could see that the kid understood him. Maybe he wasn't as smart as Angel, but he was smart enough to get what was being told to him. "I don't want daddy to go away."

"Well, he went because he likes Max better."

Though not a psychologist, Robert could see that he was getting to the kid. The look on the poor boy's face was one of an ultimate feeling of betrayal. "No!" he shouted, tears coming to his eyes, "No! No! No! No!"

"That's why I'm here," Robert went on, "I'm here to help you make your daddy like you again."

Through the tears, Ari gave Robert a nervous and inquiring look, "And he will like you again, because together, we're going to make you better than Max."

For those of you wondering, this series will continue at least through the end of Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, however new chapters may be a bit slow in coming out.

8. Captive Angel

During The Angel Experiment, Chapters 1-45.

Four long, despicable years; that's how long Robert Drake had waited. Waited while Jeb poured lies into the heads of his prized subjects. Waited while Max's composure and cool sense of humor degraded to paranoia and sarcasm. Waited while his beautiful Angel was subjected to the humiliation of a typical girl her age, her abilities completely unrealized.

True, he was able to watch, but for scientists, especially a geneticist, it is never enough just to watch. Robert craved interaction, even writing a letter would have satisfied him for weeks, but the best he could do was sit and observe.

And now? Now that was about to change.

He was already in a far greater position of control than he had been four years ago. Two years previously Jeb had returned from the Hybrids to find that Ari, of his own desire (or so it seemed to everyone) had become an Eraser. Robert had noticed that the process had been painful. It had, after all, been Engels's fault, as she was the one who had designed that part of the process. Far inferior to his own Erasers, created to be so from birth.

Speaking of inferior, Robert has successfully replaced Dr. Harris as the administrator of the school's Hybrids department. Ter Borcht may have been locked up, but his perfection of The Voice had caught the attention of The Director, not Anne, but Dr. Janssen at Itexicon Headquarters.

So the instant the four years were up, which is to say at four AM exactly, Robert had snapped the lights on in the Eraser barracks, had pulled Ari aside and stated firmly, "I want Angel back, understand?"

Ari, impossibly tall, stretched out, and partially morphed asked, "And Max?"

"Angel first. Max will follow, and then you'll have plenty of time to disembowel her as you prefer."

It hadn't taken Ari's team long, Robert had seen to it that they'd received adequate training, and apparently the flock had been unprepared; out to pick strawberries, Ari commented. Angel had been knocked out along the way; Robert had the Eraser responsible quietly euthanized.

Once he'd heard that she'd arrived and was active, Robert had flown—almost as if he was an avian-human hybrid—off to the observation room. He collected himself, practiced the method he'd developed to block Angel's mind-reading abilities, and stepped over to the window.

And there she'd been, just as he'd seen her over the video monitors, so many times before. She had of course gotten taller since the last time he'd seen her with his own eyes, she even had a full head of blonde hair.

"…I wasn't sure I believed it," one of the scientists in the room stated, "Are you saying this is Subject Eleven? This little girl?"

Darn right it is, Robert had thought to himself. He knew that we'd earned some amount of scorn from many of the lower staff members, due to his obsession with Angel, but he didn't mind. She'd show them all someday.

Yet, even though Angel was now in the same building as him, Robert couldn't quite muster the nerve to go up to her and speak to her again. He had been awake the whole night, worrying about what he'd say, how she'd react. Would she accept him back as her ad-hoc father? Would she even listen to him after all the lies she'd been told?

In the end he decided to begin with a temporary solution, one that would guarantee him contact with her, even if she was relocated.

The next day he procured a mixture of the retroviruses needed to give Angel a Voice. He wasn't sure when he would use it, but he knew that he had to at some point.

Accompanied by another scientist, one who didn't quite understand Angel as he did, Robert walked into the room in which Angel was held. He had to be careful around this scientist, it was a new recruit, and the last thing he needed was to be promoting a lack of security vigillence, especially since the rest of Batchelder's flock was still out there.

The poor girl, they'd installed a shunt in her hand, namely for taking blood, but it would work just as well as an injection location. After the assistant opened the dog crate, Robert knelt down to get a better look. In response, Angel squeezed herself toward the very back of the crate. It seemed that Jeb's lies had indeed been effective.

Still not willing to say anything he reached in, hoping to take her hand, when he noticed a bright read mark across her face. He turned and asked the other scientist, "What happened to it?"

"It bit Reilly earlier," the scientist said, "He hit it."

Robert let his frustration boil over for a moment. Stupid Reilly, he thought to himself, Guy should work in a car wash. If he wrecks this specimen, I'll kill him!

"Doesn't he realize how unique this subject is?" Robert spat, then feeling himself about to go off on one of his rants quickly added, "I mean, this is Subject Eleven. Does he know how long we've been—" a brief pause as he quickly reconsidered his words, "looking for it? You tell Reilly not to damage the merchandise."

He reached in again, now both embarrassed and frustrated. He'd made himself look just like anyone else around here. What was the term the hybrids used? Whitecoat? Just like any other whitecoat.

Angel looked at him with those deep blue eyes of hers. He could see in those eyes that she was too occupied with her own pain to take note of anything he could try to say to comfort her. Maybe she recognized something in his face though, as slowly she stretched her hand out towards him. "That's it," Robert muttered, trying to keep his voice soft, it was the first time he'd directly addressed Angel in four years. He pulled out a needle and test tube; he had after all told the director that he wanted a blood sample. "This won't hurt," he almost pleaded, "Honest."

Angel looked away. He couldn't blame her in the slightest—he'd hated having blood-work done as a child. He noticed though that the other…whitecoat was also looking down at his clipboard.

After removing the blood-work needle, Robert pulled out a hypodermic needle that contained the retrovirus that produced the Voice. He slipped this needle into the shunt. Angel didn't look; as far as she knew, it was just another needle.

By the time his assistant looked up, Robert had pocketed both needles. Angel hadn't turned around the whole time, and in fact retreated promptly back into the dog crate. At the moment, he was the only person aware that Angel had a Voice.

"That's okay, that's perfectly okay."

Robert paced back and forth in the corridors, it felt like Jeb had been in there with Angel for hours. Due to the fact that he now outranked Jeb, Robert had been very insistent with his instructions: The birdkids were to be told that the test was over, especially Angel. Even if the rest of the flock were allowed to escape again, it was imperative that Angel remained with them.

He waited as the door opened and Jeb joined him in the corridor. Dr. Batchelder had changed after discovering what had happened to Ari, he was quieter, seemed to speak in more riddles.

"And?" Robert asked.

"I've done everything I can," Jeb replied, starting up the hall, his pace slow.

"Did she believe you?"

"Would you believe me if I told you that everything you could remember had simply been a test?" Jeb shook his head and walked quietly off.

Robert thought this over as he stood in front of the door to room where his little girl sat. Angel would be difficult to convince, but Robert knew that her safety, her future depended upon convincing her. He would only get one shot.

Robert drake made one last nervous swallow and pushed open the door.

This section contains dialogue pulled from The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, specifically chapters 13, 27, and 45.

9. Brief Discussions

When Robert Drake pushed open the door, he found Angel staring down at her plate, pushing a piece of a carrot around with a fork. He had one chance to say something witty.

"Four hot dogs? Funny, I told Jeb about your accelerated metabolism before he took you. Thirty-five hundred, not three thousand calories. I guess he didn't believe me."

Angel looked up from her food, her blue eyes cold, inhospitable.

"We met earlier. I came to do blood-work on you, remember?"

She continued to stare at him, unblinking. She's thinking 'get to the point,' Robert realized, Smarter than a normal six-year-old for sure!

"My name's Robert Drake," Robert stated, "I made you, Angel."

Angel's eyes narrowed, still she said nothing.

"The other people here, they don't know you like I do. Most of them don't know that you can read minds, as an example."

He thought he saw Angel start at that one, but she continued to remain, for the most part, composed and focused. "In fact," Robert continued, pulling up a chair, "I know you so well, that I know what sort of person you'll be in the future, what you'll look like, what you'll be able to do—reading minds is just the start, Angel. Someday, someday soon in fact, you'll be able to tell many people what to do using your mind, and they will always listen."

"Why do you care?" Angel asked, finally speaking. Her voice held a hint of nervousness; Robert wondered what had gotten her talking. Had it been the comment on mind control?

"Well," Robert explained, "You're very important to me. When I made you, I made sure that you would someday be the greatest power on the whole planet."

"That won't happen."

"Why not?"

"That would mean that I'm better than Max."

Now it was Robert's turn to be shocked. True, he'd designed Max to be able to lead, to be powerful in a fight, even to be able to fly at accelerated speeds, but the way that Angel accepted Max's leadership was appalling.

"I designed her too, you know," Robert pointed out, "and I know that you will be better than her, maybe even in a year or two. Trust me, by then Max will be so drowned in her own hormones that you will be much, much better than she."

Angel thought about this for a moment, then pointed out, "You still haven't told me why you care."

"Well…" Robert thought back to that meeting with ter Borcht where he had privately vowed that he would take down the whole company, "I can't tell you because there are people listening. That means that you'll have to look for yourself. I'm going to lower the defenses in my head, so you can look."

It took Robert a moment to stop his mind block, but he could tell when he had lowered it enough. Angel's eyes lost focus, now it was up to her to search his head, find out why.

As always, Robert couldn't feel his mind being read, it was something that you had to know would happen ahead of time if you wished to block it. Once the block was down though, he knew, Angel could see everything.

He could do nothing but stare at the look on her face as she scanned his mind, probably looking for anything and everything that had to do with her. As she did, her eyes became wider and wider, as if the truth was speeding towards her and intended to strike her upon the nose, finally she gave a brief shriek and toppled out of her chair, focus back in her eyes, scrambling her way away from him.

"Do you understand now?" Robert asked, advancing towards her, "Do you understand why—"

"Go away," Angel cried, curling up into a ball, burying her face into her knees. Robert didn't know what she'd seen that made her react this way. It could have been any number of future traits that he had placed into her, or perhaps it was the truth about how she was raised. Either way, he wasn't going to get anything else out of her.

"I'll be touching base with you over the next few days. As you know, I'll always be with you, Angel, always a voice in your head, reminding you what you can become."

"We got them! We got them!"

The next day Robert opened his office door to find a group of scientists were running down the hall, excitedly, towards the holding area where he knew Angel's crate lay waiting. Curious, Robert caught up with one of the running scientists. He asked, "What happened?"

"We caught three more of the avian-human hybrids," the scientist explained to Robert, "Ari's group got involved in a car chase with them. They hit poor Dr. Rosen as he was backing out in that ugly sedan of his while going at sixty, and the Erasers grabbed them soon after."

"Which ones?"

"The other two females and one of the males!"

Without any further questions, Robert dashed up the hall to the holding area where three new crates sat.

As he had expected, two of the subjects were subjects of Engels's process: Fang and Nudge to be precise. As Robert had expected, neither of the two looked better at their current ages than they had when younger. Their wings still stuck out in an odd fashion that was inconvenient for flight, and now that Fang had grown, he'd lost much of what made him endurable as a child; he now looked rough and grating, though admittedly thick with muscle.

Max on the other hand looked exactly as he had dreamed her to be, her features almost edging on 'sports model,' her eyes wide and alert with a hint of intelligence, her wings perfectly developed to allow for speed, even when burdened with the aerodynamics of the human figure. Except for her broken nose…Robert decided that another Eraser deserved to be euthanized.

Angel's crate was empty, she was out for additional testing.

Max and Fang stared out wordlessly at the scientists from their crates, Nudge huddled toward the back of hers, looking positively frightened.

"Funny," one of the scientists shouted, "I thought you kids were designed to evade capture."

"Better than being designed to sit on a lab stool all day long," Max snapped.

The sarcasm was slightly painful, Robert noted, in comparison to the witty retorts of the old Max. Robert asked her, "What happened to your nose?"

To which he got, "The same thing that's going to happen to your head, the moment this door opens."

He frowned. Jeb's brainwashing had been so thorough, Max couldn't recall him at all. Perhaps it is better this way, he wondered. It would for sure make it easier to transfer the rest of his attentions to Angel.

The door to the room opened and a group of Erasers dragged Angel through, dumping her unceremoniously back into her dog crate. Robert at first followed the other scientists out, then turned and made his way to the observation room.

Now alone in the holding room with the other hybrids, Angel seemed to be in the middle of a discussion with Max. Robert turned up the volume on the rooms microphones and listened.

Angel was in the middle of speaking, "…sorry, Max, this is all my fault."

Robert did a double take, was she really about to tell the others? Robert reached down and pulled a Voice transceivers from the viewing room drawer, setting it to Angel's channel. He didn't want to use the Voice quite yet, but he also knew that he had to interrupt before Angel told Max anything about herself or his plans for her.

Max, fortunately, had taken it completely the wrong way, "Don't be dumb. It could happen to any of us. And it's my fault that Fang, Nudge, and I got caught."

Angel saw that Max wasn't getting it, "Max, there's something I have to tell you." She began to sob, Robert switched on the transceiver, ready to interrupt.

"Shh," Max went on, trying to play the mother figure, "It can wait. Just rest. Try to feel better."

"No, Max, it's really important—"

Just as Robert was about to interrupt, Jeb Batchelder burst into the room below, striding up to Max's crate and exclaiming, "Maximum Ride. Oh, I've missed you so much!"

There was a brief exchange, after which Jeb pulled Max from the room.

"You are not to tell them anything," Robert stated sternly through the transceiver, "Understood?"

Below he saw Angel's hands fly to her head, realizing that was where the Voice was coming from, then slowly her eyes traveled up to the one-way glass of the observation room. Angel have a small, barely perceivable nod.

"That's right Angel, this is going to be our little secret. If you tell the others, they may be in danger. They might think you dangerous. You don't want to put them in danger do you?"

Angel quickly shook her head.

"What's wrong, Angel?" Robert heard Nudge asked below.

Angel turned to face Nudge and replied, "What isn't?"

Some dialogue taken from The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, chapter 59.

10. Jeb's Plan

"Is the Director out of her mind! Doesn't she understand that in losing Angel she is losing an amazing opportunity to study human psyonics—"

"I don't know what plane crash she crawled out of that makes her think that I would let my daughter—"

"There's nothing I can do!" Anne Walker shouted, interrupting them both. Robert and Jeb had exploded into argument following the announcement from the School Director, "Dr. Janssen has requested that all the avian-humans be wiped out. They no longer have a commercial value, especially in light of the By-Half plan. The newest batch of Erasers are a much better fighting force, and besides, Dr. Drake, you've already pointed out to the Director that your Omega project will be far superior to anything the avian-humans—"

"But Angel's a psionic," Robert insisted. He refused to believe that Angel, his Angel, was being categorized with all the other avian-humans, most of which were Engels's mistakes. Now the whole group was suffering over her lousy genetics.

"There's nothing I can do," Anne said simply, "You are both dismissed."

As the two of them walked out of the office, Jeb stated quietly to Robert, "We can stage an escape, but I'll need your help with this."

Robert turned to Jeb. He knew that what Ari had done to himself had driven Jeb out of his mind, but this was a new level of ridiculousness. "How do you expect to do this?" Robert hissed, keeping his voice low, "Neither of us have ever busted experiments out of an Itexicon facility before."

"What do you mean? Four years ago—"

"That was staged, Jeb."

"What's to say that we can't stage this one too?"

Robert paused at this. "Did you have something in mind?"

"No, but it will come to me. Can you go through the procedure for putting down defunct experiments?"

"Well, it depends on the experiment—" Robert began, but then shut his mouth as a lab technician walked past them. Once they were alone again, he went on, "But for hybrids like this, they would probably be given to the Erasers as toys to maim at their leisure."

"In the field, outside?"


"Perfect, now we just need a way to release them, and a way to stall the other Erasers. Can you ask them directly, or is that too obvious?"

"I'm not the one who questions them afterword. The only Eraser who doesn't report directly to Ms. Walker is—that's it! We could instruct Ari to let them go."

"That won't be easy," Jeb muttered, "Ari was always a bit obsessed and temperamental."

"Let me talk to him," Robert replied, "I think I can get him to cooperate."

When Robert explained his plan to Ari, he was met with a nasty snarl.

"So let me get this straight," Ari spat, "You expect me to go against the Director, let myself get hurt, and then let Max go?"

"Exactly," Robert agreed.

"I thought you were going to help me make my dad care about me, not her."

"And I still am. Do you think your father will actually be impressed with you for squashing her while she sits inside a dog crate? Of course not. Now, if you were to beat her in one-on-one combat, and follow all of your father's instructions, that would be another story. The only reason why he liked Max better in the first place was because she was older, and knew hot to follow instructions better than you. Now she doesn't follow instructions at all. I'll bet that even if you can just pin her down, and follow your dad's orders to the letter, he'll quickly think you far better than Max."

Ari purred over this thought for a moment and stated, "Fine, but you're fixing me when this is all through."

Later that day, both Robert and Jeb stood to the side of the execution field. Before them, a squad of Erasers paced, waiting for their prey.

"Did you plant the bomb?" Jeb muttered to Robert. Robert in turn nodded, touching the side of the remote detonator in his lab coat pocket. He had stolen a small remote-controlled explosive from the School armory and had affixed it to the side of one of the motor pool gas pumps. He'd never worked with explosives before, but considering that he'd read the instructions that had come with the device, he was fairly confident that he'd done everything correctly.

They didn't have long to wait, within a minute Ari and another small group of Erasers were striding across the field with a cart upon which the four hybrids, secured in dog crates, waited to meet their doom.

Exactly as planned, Ari stuck his fingers into Max's crate. There was a yelp of pain, and he threw Max's crate off the cart, where it in turn landed next to Angel's, where Max reached through the grating and began to lift the latch on Angel's door. The moment it was open, Robert saw Jeb give a nod, and he reached into his pocket and triggered the bomb.

Nothing happened.

For a fraction of a second no one moved, but Ari soon moved to improvise, picking up Max's crate and shaking it, battering Max about inside.

With no hope left, Robert looked to the sky, as if hoping for a miracle.

What he saw made his eyes widen in shock.

"Jeb," he hissed, "Get down."

The two scientists ducked as a virtual swarm of hawks shot over their heads, barely grazing them. Within moments the hawks were chewing their way into the Erasers, and Max was free, working hastily on the latches of the other cages. With a quick glance around, he quickly located Angel. She was being chased down by a heavyset man with a double chin, intent on catching her.

Not if I can help it, Robert thought to himself, sprinting hurriedly after Angel. Not being the most fit man, he was breathing heavily within seconds and his sides cramped under the stress of the sprint, but he didn't notice either over the burst of adrenaline and the repetition of his own voice in his head shouting My Angel! My Angel!

The heavyset man was almost upon her when, like linebacker out of a football game, Max nudged her way past the heavyset may, almost making him trip, then shot forward at astounding speedsto Angel, who she threw up into the air with a firm pitch.

The heavyset man immediately dropped upon Max, trying to pin her down. It barely took Robert a second to jump to Max's defense, trying to tear him off of her.

Not that Max could tell the difference. She gave Robert a firm backhand wack on the jaw, causing him to howl as a spike of pain rushed through his mouth. He could feel a pair of broken teeth resting against his tongue. As he sunk to the ground, he dimly saw Max knock the heavyset man out with a swift kick to the neck, followed by a wild punch by Fang that knocked another whitecoat completely unconscious.

Robert lay there, eyes completely blurred by tears and pain, hands covering his bleeding mouth, waiting as the battle, birds and brutes spiraled around them. Somewhere he heard Jeb shout his rehearsed lines to Max.

In one brief instance of clear vision, he saw the flock, all six hybrids, meet up in the air. Angel was looking down at him.

Run! He thought out to her, Run!

Her only reply was to look back up and follow the others off into the distance.

That was all that Robert had needed to see. He felt his head roll back and let the pain and blood loss carry him into a deep spell of unconsciousness.

11. Dealing with the Past

If there was one benefit to working at the School, it was the extremely proficient medical facilities. By the next morning not only had Robert Drake been completely patched up, but his knocked-out teeth had been reattached, and all that remained was a dull ache in his jaw.

The day after the escape, Robert was sitting in front of a computer terminal, watching a real-time satellite image of the flock as they flew eastward. The picture had impressive detail, he could zoom in enough and see that Angel, despite her time stuck in the School and outside of his help, was fairing remarkably well. He hadn't talked to her since he'd fainted.

As Robert watched, he heard a door open behind him. He did not turn around to see who it was.

"You've been watching them too, I see," came Jeb's voice.

Robert did not respond, merely continued to watch the terminal. Jeb pulled up a chair at Robert's side.

As they watched, Max's hands flew to her head and she began to drop out of the air like a rock.

Robert looked to Jeb, expecting a reaction, but when he got none, asked, "What did you do to my subject?"

"She's not your subject, she's my daughter."

Robert rolled his eyes, "Fine. What did you do to your daughter?"

"I gave her a Voice," Jeb replied plainly.

Robert glanced back at the screen. Fang had managed to catch Max in mid fall. He couldn't avoid recalling a time seven years ago when the same Fang had stood up to a charging Eraser for Max's sake. Robert gave a grim smile, "An older coding, I take it? The newest versions don't produce headaches, you know."

Jeb didn't return his smile. "I knew you'd done something," he stated coldly, "When I took Angel. I was so mad at you, I didn't expect you to be able to do anything in return, but you got to Ari, didn't you?"

Robert's grin faded and he turned back to face the screen. "How do you figure?" he asked.

"I watched what he did, how he did it, the looks he was giving Max. You've turned them against each other, haven't you? You convinced Ari that the only way to win my attention was to confront Max in combat and defeat her."

Robert glanced at Jeb through narrowed eyes, "So what if I did?"

Jeb leaned in close, so that they were eye to eye. "You shall not touch my family again."

This caused no change to Robert's composure. "Exactly, just as you will never touch Angel again. Nice to see that we're clear on these things."

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"Where should they go next?" Robert asked after a few minutes.

"What do you mean?" Jeb asked.

"Well," Robert pointed out, "We can't have them wandering aimlessly, can we? Itexicon wants them dead; I'd say our course of action is pretty clear."

"Itex has to go," Jeb replied with a nod.

"So we need to give them a place to begin."

"We need to start by letting them know that there's more to this whole operation than just the School. When I was training them, the only facility I mentioned was the School. I figured that it wasn't worth informing them about at the time."

Robert snapped his fingers, "The Institute, in New York. It would give them travel experience, and a perfect place to begin."

At first Jeb nodded enthusiastically, then frowned. "How are we going to direct them there? Max's Voice won't be operational for some time."

"I gave Angel a Voice as well," Robert supplied, "No one, including the other flock members know of this, and I'd like to keep it that way."

Jeb nodded his agreement, "We'll give them information on their parents as incentives."

"The real information? You mean that you're going to tell Max—"

"Of course not, it will all be lies, but it will be enough to satisfy their curiosity."

"Two hours perhaps?"

"They should make camp by then, if they remember their training."

Lighting was dim by the time that Jeb and Robert made their move. Robert sat, Voice transceiver affixed to his head, in front of the computer terminal. Jeb sat next to him, ready to feed him lines.

Jeb gave Robert a nod, who in turn thumbed the microphone switch to 'on' and stated calmly and firmly, "Angel."

On the screen Angel, who had been half asleep, curled defensively into a ball. Her head spun about, her eyes wide as she tried to locate the man who was contacting her.

"Angel, this is Robert Drake, from the lab. Don't make a sound, just nod or shake your head to answer my questions."

Angel promptly shook her head 'no.' It was the best they could hope for at the moment.

"Angel, dear, listen to me, I have important information that you need to tell to Max and the others. Will you do it for me?"

She shook her head again.

"It's important, Angel. If you tell Max, then it will start a chain of events that will allow you to take down the School and all of its helpers. It will leave you free to become what you saw in my head."

Now Angel curled into a tighter ball, shaking her head even faster. No. No. No.

"So you don't think they deserve to know about their parents?"

Angel froze at this one. She made no movement.

"Are you willing to cooperate now?"

Slowly, Angel nodded, then crawled over to Max, tapping her on the knee. Max stirred, and Jeb increased the zoom on the satellite so they could see what was being said.

Angel pointed out to Max that she knew about the flock's origins. Max naturally asked how.

"You heard about it in the minds of the people at the School," Robert stated calmly, something that Angel calmly relayed. Next Max asked if she'd received it from anyone in specific. Angel calmly lied and stated that it was the result of bits and pieces from random scientists. No, she hadn't heard any of it from Jeb; which in itself was true. Jeb had learned Robert's method to block Angel's mind-reading abilities long ago.

"Point out that another place has information about you," Robert went on, "A place in New York Called the Institute for Higher Living."

Angel had started early on this one, and while she had caught 'New York' and 'The Institute' she accidentally garbled the last part. Robert told her not to correct it.

Next Angel pointed out that the information was about the flocks parents.

The first question came from Fang; How had the School done it? How had they been changed.

Knowing nothing about Engels's methods, and not willing to explain his own, Jeb suggested a complex word that would mean little-to-nothing to Max. Robert gave a smirk and stated, "Amniocentesis, before you were born." Roland ter Borcht had refuted the effectiveness of that method long ago.

Now Jeb handed Robert a paper outlining the flock's origins, as a way of knowing what topics to avoid.

Nudge was recovered during a crackdown on a human trafficking operaton by the U.S. border patrol. Her mother was killed in the assault and bled out shortly after Nudge was born. We bought her under the table and presented her to Engels within the same week.

Robert considered the story, and gave a complete opposite, "We took her from the hospital. Her parents were informed that she'd died after birth. They are alive." He looked down at the list again.

Iggy's parents were drugged and forced to give us him, due to our early considerations over his genes and potential as a flock leader. His parents are still alive, in the Washington D.C area.

"Iggy's mother died giving birth to him," Robert went on, borrowing an aspect of Nudge's story.

They saw Gazzy's mouth move. Robert thought for a few moments, then told Angel, "You can tell him the truth, or at least a general version of it."

She did so, crying as she went.

Robert read on.

Fang was one of a set of identical triplets. Since all three were already suffering complications, we were able to fake his death and smuggle him out. His parents and brothers are alive and well, but they have moved to a secluded town in North Dakota.

"Fang was the result of a teen pregnancy," Robert explained, "We still have no clue who the father is. Beyond that, the story is the same as Nudge."

You already know Max's story.

"And about Max," Robert looked Jeb dead in the eye, "you heard nothing at all."

12. Transition: Stay Tuned

To those of you who've read School of Thought over the past year:

Thanks for your patronage, and my apologies for not getting to this story more often. For the remainder of this month, the story will continue, but with a focus shift. Keep your eyes open for Broken Angel, which picks up where School of Thought left off, providing an intriguing perspective on the Maximum Ride series from Angel's perspective.

I expect to get the first chapter up in a day or two. I hope you enjoy it!