Maximum Ride: Any Idiot Could Write It by Happi Zebra

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2008-05-27 00:24:12
Updated:2008-12-06 09:23:15
Packaged:2021-05-07 02:31:47
Summary:An MR FF set as IC as my skillz can get it. The setting in relation to the other books is uncertain so read it as an idividual work rather than picking out continuity flaws, if you would. Thanks and happi reading. R&R.

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4
5. Chapter 5
6. Chapter 6
7. Chapter 7
8. Chapter 8
9. Chapter 9
10. Chapter 10
11. Chapter 11
12. Chapter 12
13. Chapter 13
14. Chapter 14
15. Chapter 15

1. Chapter 1

Okay JP crushed my soul - I'm writing my own version to crush everyone elses. It's set in Aussieland so if you don't understand something that's prolly why. Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and shizz you know the drill. Though I do own the original ones, le duh. And I have been told sigh that I need to wh0r3 for reviews. -.- So please review, thank you.

Man Left Behind

Chapter One

I crouched on the tree branch, my flock strung out in a line to my left. A kookaburra broke into a raucous laugh and I jumped, hearing Fang's quiet chuckle from beside me. I glared down at the scene before me with doubled intensity, my embarrassment fuelling the hate I felt for the people below us.

You're wondering what we're doing in Brisbane, Australia, staring down at people from this huge old fig tree? Well, we are bird kids – human birdies tend to need big trees. But back to the staring – and the Brisbane-ing, I suppose. This is Itex – but not Itex, it's the new Itex, new branch anyway. And watching the equipment and laboratory cages being carted inside was not going to put them on my Christmas card list.

We couldn't actually do anything yet, but I was hoping to shut this place down before it got half a chance. A new influx of lab techs – probably ordinary science students from the universities – were heading inside, a few checked their watches as they went as if there were some meeting they'd be late for. This was our chance – we could pass for university aged.

"You four stay here. Angel, hear a threat? You tell Iggy and get the hell out of here," I told her, my tone and eyes telling her how serious I was. I turned to Iggy with my next instructions, "If we don't come back, meet at the tallest building in the city, wait three days and if we don't come back we probably aren't going to," he nodded, just once and may have muttered a small 'good luck' but we were already moving – timing was everything and we couldn't be one of the stragglers.

I nodded to the rack of coats provided for the techs and we walked casually up to them, trying our damndest to look like we belonged.I pulled the coat around me, feeling a shiver of dread I associated with anything reminiscent of my childhood and sped through the door, feeling Fang's comforting presence at my back.

The flood of people headed straight into an auditorium where presentations of the company's work would one day be seen. There was no opportunity to break off from the crowd to do our own little exploration – I mean, to look for a bathroom – so we settled into seats for whatever this was. The voices quieted and all eyes turned to the front or to the clipboards some techs had on their laps – pen poised to take notes.

We looked up to the lectern and stared. I wondered briefly if he actually had to work at crushing my soul at every opportunity, but a far more worrying thought kept at me – Why was he here? Did he know we were too? Was this a trap? My eyes scanned the crowd for threats but none of the people around us seemed to care about us. My eyes came to a halt to the left side of the stage.

At first I thought she was a young girl, younger than us, in fact. She was crouched, her arms wrapped around her knees, long dark hair tied back at the nape of her neck. And her eyes. She was totally transfixed with the speaker. At first, I thought the look was innocent, her face was blank, head cocked a little to one side, but then I noticed the intensity, listening to every word, watching his every motion, like a predator studying her prey.

The girl's head swiveled to stare into the crowd, as if sensing my eyes on her, but it didn't take long before her eyes were drawn back to Jeb, addressing the lab techs on company policy and their responsibilities. Jeb – working against us again.

2. Chapter 2

Chapter Two

We left with the newly indoctrinated techs, nobody even attempting to stop us or cause problems – nobody even indicating they knew what we were. A security guard bumped against me, jostling the crowd as he pushed through to a corridor running off this one and I tensed, freezing as I felt the folded piece of paper that hadn't been in my pocket a moment ago.

I kept moving, not reaching for it, a low whistle letting me know Fang was still close behind me. I took a deep breath as I felt the sunlight on my face again, glad to be free of the institution style corridors and floors. We threw the coats back onto the rack and found our way discreetly back to the others.

I waved them down and we started towards the nearest mall. "Did you see the girl?" I said, turning to Fang without filling in the others. Iggy and Gazzy were involved in whatever explosive discussion they'd been having before and were happy to keep it going until we'd compared notes on what we'd seen in there. Nudge and Angel were almost doing the same – Nudge talking a mile a minute while Angel barely listened to her and concentrated on what was in our minds.

"She wasn't really a girl," Fang said, "I'd have pegged her at twenty-one, twenty-two," he said softly, wavering his hand.

"That's if she was completely human," I pointed out, not finding fault with the idea she was part animal – maybe a new kind of Eraser, I added silently, remembering the predatory gleam to her eyes.

"I suppose she could've been his bodyguard,"

"What?" I said, snapping out of my musings.

"Jeb's bodyguard – if she was an Eraser or some new combo she might be trained to protect him. She was sitting by the door, remember? And the way she looked around? Could've been checking for threats,"

"Oh… yeah that's pretty possible,"

"Jeb was there?"

"Uh huh, let's find somewhere to talk and eat," I said.

"Let's have a picnic!" Nudge announced as we passed family groups on bright blankets.

"We don't have any food, yet," I said, wondering what was so different about a picnic here than our normal 'picnics'. "Okay, we'll get some sandwiches and drinks and have a picnic… but not somewhere this public," I added, heading for a snack van.

It wasn't hard finding a less public place that was just as picnic-y, even in the city there were plenty of parks and greenery. We found a huge old park that was deserted – it didn't have covered picnic tables or a park barbeque, earning it very few points in reputation for the city-goers but was perfectly fine for us. If we had to take off fast we didn't need it being caught on family videos – or going splat on a table's shelter either.

I lowered my voice unconsciously as I told them what we'd seen – it wasn't much to go on but the circles of power in the company seemed to have shifted if Jeb was given a new facility and a bodyguard.

"How much use could a girl be as bodyguard anyway?" Gaz asked innocently, earning a mock-glare from me, he'd have definitely caught a whack over the head if I thought he meant it. Gazzy grinned, trying to stifle a giggle and I stared at him suspiciously, then glanced at Angel who'd come over to my side of the table a moment before.

I second later Iggy stiffened, "The Gasman should really go play or something," he said, emphasizing the name as he turned his face away to breathe.

Gazzy grinned, jumping up on his seat, "I still got it!" he exclaimed, doing an adorably idiotic dance and laughing.

I heard a crack go over my head and leaped to my feet, my eyes going wide at the sight of Gazzy.

3. Chapter 3

Chapter Three

Gazzy stood still on the seat for a long drawn-out second. Time seemed to have slowed to inch by on long milliseconds. The look of surprise in his wide blue eyes almost hurt more than the sudden fear and the blood rushing out of his face. Gazzy's hands raised to claw at the air for balance as he fell back.

I leapt over the table as he hit the ground with a soft thump, my hands going to the spreading stain in the centre of his chest.

"Gazzy? Gaz, can you hear me?"

Angel squatted down beside me and I glanced at her, she shook her head sadly, "He can hear you, but his mind is getting fainter – did it go straight through?" she asked, and my mind almost couldn't comprehend what she was talking about. The fact that my baby, my Angel could still be calm when her brother was almost dead almost made me forget what she'd asked.

I lifted him slightly, sliding a hand behind his shoulders and felt fresh blood pumping onto my hand, "It went through," I said, pressing against both wounds, trying futilely to stop the bleeding.

"Gaz…" I said, hopelessly as his eyes glazed and the harsh bubbling sound that had been his gasps for breath stopped.

"He's gone," Angel said quietly, and she leaned against me, sagging as if all the calm she had mustered was gone. I felt Fang's hand on my shoulder and I turned to look up at him with tear-filled eyes and blood on my hands.

"Max – they sent a message, we have to go,"


"A warning," he pulled me to my feet and I almost cried out at being torn from Gazzy's side, but allowed myself to be taken away, the swirling emotions too new to face yet.

"Here," he said, stopping at the table, another bullet lay embedded in the metal support almost exactly where I'd sat, "They're saying it could've been you – it could have been any of us. They're giving us a chance to leave," he added.

But I didn't take any notice frozen with my hand in my pocket – a message, how could I have forgotten the message! I pulled it out expecting the worst – a threat, some warning that might have saved Gazzy.

Run, Max! This isn't a fight you can win – I'm not in charge. Run, fly, whatever you have to do, DO IT.


"Do you think he did this?" Fang asked quietly.

I just shook my head, not willing to tell him I was beyond thinking. Gazzy was dead – I didn't now if I was mad or sad, probably a combination of the two.

"Come on, guys, me and Fang will carry-" My throat closed over before I could say his name and I shook my head, moving to his side.

"Max," Fang said slowly, "There's large black vans arriving and I don't think they plan on letting us escape with… everyone,"

I looked from the vans to Gazzy, lying against the grass, his wings spread slightly where my attempt to slow his blood flow had moved them. Blood. So much blood.

"We can't take him, Max, we need to leave and the others need help," a taint of urgency entered his voice and I thought I heard a car door slam. But he'd said the one thing that could ground me in a crisis like this: the others needed help.

I looked for them, Nudge had her fingers clenched, her big brown eyes focused on the limp form that had been a part of her family. Iggy had his arms around her, rocking slightly and staring just as blankly ahead – though what he was seeing on the inside was anybody's guess. And Angel. Even now, blood stained and tear-streaked, she looked like an angel – a broken angel.

She sensed my attention and looked up at me, eyes brimming with more tears that had yet to fall, "Why couldn't I hear them?" she asked helplessly, finally understanding how much she had relied on her ability to keep them safe.

I had no answer, "Up and away, guys," I said, my voice soft but sounding strangely hollow to my ears. Iggy stood stiffly, lifting Nudge with him. Angel stood and took my blood encrusted hand in her small trusting one and we rose as a flock skyward. The flight of mourning for the man left behind.

4. Chapter 4

Chapter 4

"She won't see you, sir,"

"She'll see me," Jeb replied confidently, "Just tell her who I am and she'll see me,"

The young secretary paused, "Uh, with all due respect, sir… she knows who you are, you work beneath her. She won't see you,"

"She's head of-" Jeb paused at the man's expression, "She can't possibly know every-"

He shook his head, "I'm sorry, sir, but she's very thorough… and she won't see you,"

Jeb gave a growl of frustration and stalked back down the hall; he needed to see her. This woman had single handedly taken out one of the Flock – his experiments. How could she achieve what Itex had attempted so many times? She was aiming only to kill though, not capture, it can make all the difference.

"Wait – sir, hold up,"

Jeb turned to glare at the secretary, stopping completely when he saw the door beyond the man open a crack. "What?" he said, walking back with as much dignity he could muster.

"She won't see you personally… but someone else will,"


"Your guardian angel," a voice said from behind him.

5. Chapter 5

Chapter 5

"Well, not your Angel, of course, she's with the flock, cute kid I might add – but point is I'm watching over you just the same,"

Jeb stared at the girl, she wasn't lying – he'd seen her at the orientation, "We haven't had the pleasure of a formal introduction," he said, offering his hand, "Jeb Batchelder,"

The girl glanced at his hand but didn't take it, moving her own closer to her. He noticed her hands blended against the black of her long sleeved shirt, she wore leather gloves, black jeans.

"Winter," she said shortly, her eyes flickering.

"So, what are you, Winter?" he asked, lowering his voice.

"Your baby-sitter mostly, I'm meant to make sure you don't screw up here," she told him coldly, ignoring the intended meaning of his question.

"I-" he started, but was cut off by Winter's grip on his collar, his breath knocked from him at the force of being slammed against the wall.

"You make one mistake, one false move, just one step towards working against us and you'll find out how we really operate, Jeb," she said threateningly, her voice low. "You're alive because you're a damn good scientist, but don't think that'll keep you alive for long if you make mistakes. Nobody. Is. Indispensable. Understand?"

"I-I understand," he forced out, fear making his heart pound. He was right – she wasn't human, no normal five-foot-nothing girl could push him around like that… or be that menacing either.

She smiled, revealing slightly pointed teeth, "There's a good boy," she said, patting his cheek, "Now run back to your lab and order your new rats around – but remember, I'll be watching," she added in a sing-song voice.

6. Chapter 6

Chapter 6

"Did you put the fear of God into him?" a voice said from the darkness of the room.

"No, I put the fear of me into him," Winter replied, flopping lazily into a leather recliner. "No good making him fear God, if I did that he'd have even more motivation to turn against us,"


A delicate hand swung from the dark, the crack of the palm against her face mingled with her cry of pain.

"Do not play word games with me, Winter, you aren't a child any more – learn some respect,"

"As you wish, mistress," she said stiffly after a long pause.

"You did well with the hit today, I want you to take Marco – follow the birdies to roost,"

The room went still and silent for a long moment, "Don't you need him here?" she finally asked.

"No, this facility is new, I don't want too many of you running around these corridors,"

"But he's a-"

"Liability, I know. Take him, teach him and don't kill him, if I get wind you let him die I will not be pleased. I know he's a rookie, but he's now your partner – get used to it."

"How do you feel about this, Marco?" she asked the room at large, though her eyes were drawn to a shadow in the dark.

"Oh, I'm up for anything, especially as it means I'll be spending all my time with you, darling," he purred, and she felt his weight on the back of her chair.

She shivered and stood abruptly, "If we're going to be working together I suggest you take it down a notch, if you keep this up… well, I can't be held accountable for my actions," she said maliciously.

A small chuckle came from the opposite chair and the shiver turned to a dread chill down her spine. "Oh, yes, you can – and you will. So play nice, Winter, my dear, or I'll have you reassigned,"

7. Chapter 7

Chapter 7

We landed as soon as it felt safe again.

…That's so not true. We landed on a hilly suburb where the city was almost overrun by trees in places. We landed because I was holding on so hard not to fly at super speed just to dry my tears, maybe try to escape reality too. I couldn't leave the others alone at a time like this. So I couldn't fly any further – most certainly NOT because we felt safe; I wasn't sure I'd ever feel safe again.

I looked around, checking for threats without taking much notice of the scenery. The sun was hot and the air was still and humid but I didn't really feel it. I felt cold. Angel hadn't left my side once during our flight and she didn't now, landing neatly beside me and taking my hand as she folded her wings. The others crowded in around us, huddling together as if around a fire.

Iggy stood directly in front of me, deathly pale even for his fair colouring, his hands were clenched in his pockets – I could see the muscles standing out on his arms for the effort – and he didn't move at all, statue still, jaw tight. I looked away, unable to bear his pain as well and found myself staring at Fang. His eyes were distant and focused at some point over my head. He met my gaze after a moment and a felt tears well up as my own grief and horror was mirrored in his eyes.

I didn't dare look at Nudge but I could hear her sniffles and the occasional gasped sob. Angel's small hand rested trustingly in mine and I felt a whole new wave of guilt. She shouldn't trust me. I was meant to keep them safe. I had failed. Again and again, I'd failed them. Just because we got out okay the other times didn't make me deserving of their trust. I had failed them. Permanently.

There was no saving Gazzy; no amazing rescue to plan, and, like a normal, everyday, wingless human, my mind turned to revenge.

"It had to have been this new Itex,"

"Max…" Fang started.

"We have to destroy them, find who put out the order and wipe them from the face of the planet,"

"Max." he said again, his voice filled with resignation.

"We can… we can…" I swallowed hard, trying to fight the tears that were pressing against my throat, constricting my voice… I let out a sob and gasped for breath, the pain that I might never see The Gasman, hear Gazzy singing some wildly inappropriate song, had become too much to bear stoically.

Strong, warm arms wrapped around me, pressing me to a familiar chest. Fang, comforting me again, taking care of me again, what kind of leader has a second-in-command more in command than she was? I thought as I sunk to my knees. The flock followed though, Angel and Nudge burrowing against me as Fang and Iggy's arms encased us.

I cried out my grief until I felt even more hollow and worn out than before. And, between the hiccoughing broken sobs, with no tear left in me to cry, I screamed. Long and loud and filled with every bit of pain, grief, anger, shock and rage that I could force out.

My scream faded to nothing and I gasped to catch my breath, a heartbroken sob escaping me as I looked for Fang, crouched behind me. He watched me levelly and I stared back, meeting his eyes with determination. His mask slipped. I watched as the steadfast, strong Fang's mask finally slipped up – and saw utter hopelessness.

8. Chapter 8

Chapter 8

I walked through the sunlight and happy families with a creeping unease that I held in check beneath my façade of cold superiority.

"I bought you an ice-cream,"

"Shut up, Marco, I'm not eating anything you give me," I glared at him threateningly but he just grinned and took a lick of his own, holding one out to me. I sighed and took the cone, giving the ice-cream on top a suspicious sniff before I decided it smelt too yummy to ignore.

"I wouldn't poison you," Marco said, bouncing a little every step he took. I didn't disagree since I knew he wouldn't; Marco was a reasonable guy – just untrained and relied a little too much on his emotions. I didn't really fear poisoning either – I had partial immunity to a lot of dangerous substances and very few people knew I existed.

I sighed, wondering why I bothered trying to fight my orders, throwing a sideways glance at Marco as I walked. He was taller than me, by a lot, standing at six foot two he was more than a foot taller than me. He was slender though, like me, or like all of us really and had the same thin, angular face. His hair was much the same as all of us – dark brown and sleek, though his fell just short of his eyes, while mine reached the small of my back.

I shook my head, knowing I was only trying to distract my thoughts to escape the unease. I had to face it, examine it, overcome it. I couldn't bear this fear making me weak. Marco could sense it too; I wasn't sure if he actually felt it but he would at very least pick it up from me. It was stupid, but after a life time of artificial lighting and night outings I would never feel safe in the sun – practically a vampire syndrome.

I was torn from my musings by Marco's voice, earning him a scowl before he even finished his sentence.

"I heard you went super strength on Batchelder?" he said with a questioning lilt.

"Yeah, so?" I answered brusquely, stretching out my long fingers before cracking my knuckles.

He paused and I counted to twelve before he replied softly, "Are you okay?"

I snarled at him, chucking the ice-cream unerringly into a bin several feet away, "We have a job to do," I forced out, stalking past him back to the roadside. Since we didn't officially exist and fake I.D's could be traced we didn't have a car so I had to stop when I reached the bus stop and try to pace out my frustration before Marco caught up.

It didn't take him long (curse his long legs!) so I had barely fitted my mask off civility back on when he caught me by the shoulder before I plowed right into him – personal note: angry pacing should only be done with full awareness of your surroundings.

I stared up at him defiantly for a moment while he looked hurt and innocent and worried. I clenched my fists by my side then pushed him behind the bus stop and away from watchful eyes.

"Okay, lesson number one: I am always, positively fine – you don't need to ask how I am because that is my answer – I am fine and so are you. You don't feel pain or regret or guilt, you feel fine, got it?"

Marco stared at me, "I'm fine, how are you?"

"I'm fine," I said and nodded, "Now that that's established you never need to ask me that again."

"No," he said, then after a moment added, "because you're fine,"

I looked away. God, how I wished it were true.

9. Chapter 9

Chapter 9

"Running away?"

I turned, facing silhouette-Fang, "No," I said slowly, "I wouldn't do that to them,"

The corner of Fang's lips tweaked into an ironic smile, "No, not to them," he agreed softly and I flushed, glad for the moonless night.

"Gazzy is dead," I was proud and a little disappointed when my voice remained steady, I heard Fang's sharp intake of breath.

"I know," he said shortly, his voice darkening. I felt a wave of regret at his tone. Why was I doing this? Emotional distancing, keep our grief apart, share nothing – I suppose my early years hadn't made me one for sharing; it wasn't as if the scientists told us to play nice or share our dog crates.

I cleared my throat and pushed away the urge to apologize, "Did you see the shooter?" There'd been several large trees towards the far end of the park and I'd caught Angel whispering that she hadn't heard the birds.

No bird minds meant either there were no birds – we knew that wasn't true – or it was beyond her range of 'hearing'. How could the sniper have known? Even we'd never considered how far exactly Angel could pick up minds from.

Fang shook his head, "Max, please… just let it go," he said, then added, "I didn't see anything," as if he'd thought better of ignoring my question.

That didn't stop me from going right ahead and ignored his answer.

I glared at him, "Let it go? Like you made me let Gazzy go?" my voice broke then and I gulped, feeling my eyes grow hot. I folded my arms around myself and drew my wings in tight holding back from completely breaking down and sobbing.

"Max," Fang started his voice softer and understanding, "Please, you know we had to leave him – there was nothing we could do." He sighed and I imagined he closed his eyes, or maybe I could see a small glimmer of reflected light where his eyes were, "We cannot take these people on, they warned us away, they use deadly force and they don't miss," he shook his head as if willing me to understand – but I already did.

Revenge was stupid. It wouldn't bring Gazzy back and it would most likely lose another one of us. But letting him go… it didn't seem possible, like there might be some way to get him back, some way to bring him back. If they could bring back Ari, why not Gazzy? Of course, I knew the answer to that one, I killed Ari, Gazzy had been killed by them – they didn't want him alive.

"What do we do?" I whispered feeling more lost than ever. Before there had been living – finding food, finding shelter, staying safe, but now? Now there was nothing, the bad guys had won, there was no living.

"We survive," Fang said, moving closer and breaking through my thoughts, "We do what we've always done and when, someday, we find out who gave the order, we come back, we find them and we destroy them,"

We said nothing for a long moment, letting his short speech sink in, side by side.

"Revenge is stupid," I said, not looking up at him.

Fang turned his head to stare down at me, "Yes, but we're mostly human – emotion rules us, not practicality or even reason, so we'll bide our time awhile. Recover a little from the shock. Then we'll get our revenge,"

I hate to admit it but I liked his plan. I'd never been a very patient person, but for this I could wait. We'd find whoever did this to Gazzy, to us, we'd find them and we would utterly destroy them. And maybe then the world would stop feeling so threatening.

10. Chapter 10

Chapter 10

I almost expected things to seem better in the morning. The flock waking up, stretching from the puppy-pile where we'd huddled together for comfort, shaking off the nightmares of the day before. But it wasn't. My eyes hurt from crying, my throat hurt from screaming, my jaw hurt from clenching my teeth on the whimpers that tried to escape me. And my heart ached with a pain that felt like it would never go away. I didn't even want it to.

I waited for Nudge to say she was hungry but she didn't.

I watched her, plucking at the sleeve of her jacket and she looked up, sad brown eyes meeting mine. She searched my face for comfort and I looked down – there was nothing comforting about your leader letting you down.

"So… we're going to bide our time a little – try to do some real research instead of just aiming in what we think is the right direction. Gazzy's killer cannot get away; we have to do this right," I said intently, "They've raised the stakes, it's time we did the same, but for that we need to know who and what we're facing. We need to find how far these guys are in, how high the order came from – meaning how much support they'll have from around the world."

I took a deep breath ending my spiel there and took in the determined faces around me. Fang gave me a small approving smile and a nod; I was being the leader they needed – they wanted this and, for once, there was absolutely no disagreement on how it would go down.

Marco wasn't the worst company I could have had. Our kind was notoriously cocky – we were, of course, made that way. If we were born without that particular personality trait we mightn't be at all useful. There wasn't much point in a shy spy. The trait made being with others of our kind a form of torture, always competing and trying to outdo the other – we'd been developed with a feline edge and cats were not usually social animals. As with any animal, we needed a hierarchy, a chain of command, and that's where most of us would have trouble.

Fights for dominance were not allowed. We could only go so far into letting our nature affect our mission. I struck lucky with Marco for a partner – he was a rare submissive and had no problem with bowing to my greater experience (cocky, remember?). He mimicked me when it came to teaching him and didn't try to improve on what I said – the perfect beginner student. Not that I didn't welcome improvements, if he could work out a better way to do things I was smart enough not to shoot him down for it, but when it's the basics there usually isn't a better way to do it.

Right now, for instance, I was slinking along a thick branch silent even to my superior hearing and Marco was doing exactly the same to my left and a few feet above. We were closing in on the Flock. It wasn't quite dawn yet so not a bad time for them to be getting themselves together to move on. Marco and I had tracked them through the night though. I inhaled deeply and started untangling the various scents

to find each of the flocks, it was hard work tracking them when they could fly but knowing their scents would help for when they'd touched down. They didn't smell like normal humans.

I searched the young faces and saw the grief that hadn't been there yesterday. I frowned and peered more closely at them, something was missing, but it wasn't from them. I didn't feel the rush of adrenaline and pride that the others described, when you see the direct impact of what you've done reflected on the faces of your surviving enemies – when you see you have weakened them.

Angel looked towards us, like I knew she would, and Max followed her gaze. I shifted, meeting Max's eye, she stiffened as the weak light of day caught my eye, flashing green for a moment.

"Max," I heard Angel's clear, high voice, "She pulled the trigger,"

11. Chapter 11

Chapter 11

I stared at where Angel pointed, my heart beating hard in my chest, thundering against my ribs, She pulled the trigger. I hadn't expected this. I wanted to bide my time, so what do I do when the murderer follows us? Did 'she' – whoever 'she' was – know who gave the order? Should I even want her to pay when she was probably just following orders? I didn't know whether she should be held responsible but she would know something of the people she worked for… hopefully, anyway.

I lunged forward, leaving the ground with a push from my wings and carried the leap into the air towards the glint of light I had seen. I felt Fang beside me and Iggy, Nudge and Angel fan out behind us, Angel spoke softly to the others but I was too far ahead, or maybe too intent on my target, to catch what she said.

I didn't stop when I reached the leaves, shooting through and knocking the girl I'd seen at the new lab back against the trunk. I drew back my fist before she could react and punched her, hard. Her head snapped to one side and jerked back so fast I barely registered the movement, a surge of adrenaline rushing into me as she bared her teeth and snarled, almost a cross between a hiss and a roar. Her eyes flicked to the side as if ashamed of her reaction but she didn't slow in her retaliation, slipping back a little before hurling herself at me.

I tumbled off the branch backwards, my mind working fast to unravel the mystery of the tiny, immensely strong little mutant – also to think through how painful falling so far straight onto my open wings would be. I flapped urgently trying to slow our decent and tried to stretch my wings to their fullest but they wouldn't budge and I realized her gloved hands were against the joint keeping my movements restricted.

"Let go," I screamed, feeling the ground rushing up to meet us, surely she didn't want to hit the ground; even on top of me it would hurt like hell. My eyes met hers and she blinked, staring at me blankly, I went cold at her look knowing that something wasn't registering and it seemed that something was the fact that we were about to go splat.

She moved, like lightning, she pulled her hands from behind me and flipped us in mid-air. I suddenly found myself right way up with my wings free and flapped hard, feeling the air fill my wings and the panic ease back. We were still falling but we'd slowed considerably. That was when she let go.

Cats always land on their feet. I let go of the bird kid and let myself fall, twisting to land neatly in a crouch. I looked up at Max, her face a mask of complete shock, too much happening in too short a time. She landed nearby and her eyes narrowed – I was still the enemy. She took a step towards me and I moved back and to my left.

"Who sent you?" Max asked, not moving forward again.

"What do you mean?" I asked back, looking to either side of her.

"Gazzy," she answered, "You shot him, dead, just like that – no warning shot, no warning at all. I want to know why,"

"I was told to," I answered simply, shaking my head, "You know that, you should also know I don't know who gave the order – the mind reader could tell you that,"

Max glared at me for a moment then took a step forward again. I moved back and to the right, watching her suspiciously.

"You have to know something useful," she accused.

I smiled at her naivety; she didn't understand how little we were told. "The Master sent me. She told me to track you until you left and to kill the little boy and kill more of you if you didn't take the hint,"

"Who was next then?"

"If you don't leave? You want to know who will be killed next if you keep this up? Ask the mind reader,"

Her eyes went past me to where Angel had come back down to listen in and read my mind, "You are, Max," I heard her say in a small voice, "If we stay you're going to die,"

12. Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Max was staring at me, trying to digest the news that I'd try to kill her if they didn't leave soon, when I heard a struggle behind me and Marco dropped from the tree, followed by the other three bird kids. He stumbled past me and caught me by the shoulders as if using me as a shield. "We're not meant to make contact," he muttered but didn't try to remove me from the situation.

"We don't know anything useful, what does it matter?" I asked, rolling my eyes.

"Winter… " he said and I could tell he was about to run through one of the first lessons we were taught – 'Do as you're told,' of course. I always loved that one.

"Winter?" I heard Max repeat doubtfully, "Who the hell named you?" she scoffed mockingly.

I laughed cruelly at that, "My mother, what about you?" Of course, since all the surrogates for us kitty kids had died before we were even meant to be born, my mother had never laid eyes on me. She did name me. She just didn't live to see me. Not that I really cared, we weren't trained or created to have that family feeling – it didn't fit with what was needed of us.

My words had had the desired effect but soon Max's expression cleared and I glared at Angel, knowing she was responsible.

"Just leave us alone, we don't care about you, we just want to be safe," Max said slowly, I could smell her rage but she kept her voice as clear of emotion as she could. I smiled and shook my head, I wasn't stupid.

"You want to take down the new facility; my Master is in charge of the facility. I do what I'm told – do you see the conflict of interests?" I asked, "If I let you live you'll come back and I'll be dead quicker than a mouse in a sprung trap."

"Yes, a conflict of interests," Max said bitterly, "Did they make you so you have no compassion, or are you just a sadistic little b*tch?" her voice dripped with venom as she glared at me with rage and pain filled eyes.

My strength faltered and panic clouded my mind for a moment, "They made us like this," I answered without thinking, feeling Marco press closer to me. God, was it that obvious? I'd have to bluff my way out of this… shit, the mind reader.

I lunged forward suddenly, summoning every ounce of strength I had and putting it into the movement, Max dodged to the side and I hit the ground, pushing myself into a spring up the tree. My claws sprang through the leather of my gloves and scrabbled against the bark, before I caught my grip and hauled myself up. I could hear Marco making his way up the tree behind me, keeping slow and turning to shout distracting insults at the bird kids, concentrating his words on the youngest.

She could not discover this weakness. I blanked my mind in the hopes of keeping it safe but already I could hear Angel's sweet voice, "Max…"

Must escape… this wasn't going to work, where could they go that the bird kids couldn't reach them for a while? They were meant to flee first, damn it. Them, not us.


"Yes?" I heard his voice from closer than I'd thought he was and started.

"Go back to our rendezvous, I can't make it… wait for me until I come back," And I would be coming back, arrogance again? Maybe, but I'd never been captured for long. They may not even want to catch me, they can't fly with me so it would be abandon or kill. All or nothing.

"I can't just leave you, I have my orders," Marco said, determinedly.

"I'm not trying to get you killed or escape you, Marco, just go and I'll meet you when I can,"

Marco sighed heavily, "This is what you call no contact," I heard him mutter before he was naught but a blur of motion, fleeing ahead and onto the street.

I sighed, much the way Marco just had, and climbed out onto the tree branch above the clearing. If they planned anything when they had me there was no way in hell I was going to be conscious for it. I crawled to the underside of the branch so I was hanging upside down and withdrew my claws from the bark. I had to work at keeping myself still as I fell and closed my eyes before my back smashed into the ground. I felt a burst of pain along my spine. It travelled through my head until it reached my eyes and everything went black.

13. Chapter 13

Chapter 13

As much as I wanted to tear the little killer apart, it still shocked me when she hit the ground like that; I feared for her life and felt instantly guilty. She was responsible for Gazzy's death and I was worried about her? We all crowded around her, tense and waited for a moment in case she was going to get up. She showed no sign of doing so – Angel informed us that she'd been knocked unconscious and for that I was glad. I was in no mood for a chat.

"This isn't right, guys…" I said after a moment.

"What do you mean? She fell, got knocked out, what more is there to it?" Iggy asked, prodding the girl with his foot to get a better idea of her position.

I shook my head, "It's not right. She didn't fall, when we fell the last time she let go of me seconds from the ground and still landed on her feet, here she fell from there," I said pointing up at the tree branch jutting above us, "And she didn't think to do her cat thing? Why?"

"You're right," Fang agreed thoughtfully, "And why was she there in the first place? They were escaping and that branch leads no where,"

They stood in silence for a long moment, thinking through the strange girl's actions until Angel spoke up.

"She's trying to hide something,"

"What, though?" I asked vaguely, not expecting an answer.

"Her weakness," Angel answered, "She couldn't fight any more so she had to escape, she kept distracting her thoughts to make it harder for me to find,"

I stared, my mouth slightly open – gaping like a fool, I suppose, "Did you find it?" I finally choked out.

"No… I suspect it's the reason she let herself fall though – she wanted to be unconscious,"

"Max," Fang started, and I looked at him, a little annoyed at being interrupted from my thoughts, "We can't stay here, the guy might be planning to come back, what should we do with her?"

Down to my decisions again, great, I'd made such good choices up to know hadn't I? I thought to myself bitterly. Okay, my options. I could kill the girl right here while she was still knocked out. Kill her in cold blood. Like she'd done to Gazzy, I reminded myself, with a stab of fresh grief. Could I kill her? It was true she'd just been following orders, did pulling the trigger really make her responsible – especially as she'd have been raised with zero tolerance for disobedience? I sighed, no closer to the answer, and moved on to consider the other options. We could always abandon her here, she'd recover, return to her people… and come back to kill me. Why was there never an easy out for their situations?

"Do we risk leaving her to try again?" I asked aloud.

"No," came Fang's resolute answer before the other's had even considered the implications, "We won't let another of us die, Max,"

"Not even someone as bossy and annoying as you," Iggy added, earning a round of small smiles.

"Well… I don't feel right about killing her before we know the full details," I said, neglecting to mention that I wasn't at all sure I could go through with the kill. An accidental death when an opponent was doing their damndest to kill us was one thing, killing an unconscious pawn was completely different. Even if that pawn were a cold blooded killer.

"We'll have to take her with us," Fang finally said, "Max and I can take her at first and we'll rotate with Iggy so we don't tire."

I felt cold to the pit of my stomach at his words but I knew it was the only option. We couldn't take Gazzy's body so we could grieve and give him the dignity of not being laid out on a cold table and studied but we were about to carry off our enemy… it wasn't fair. But life, as we'd all learned young enough to have the lesson ingrained in us, was rarely fair.

"Okay," I said and took up her slight shoulders while Fang held her around the knees.

14. Chapter 14

Chapter 14

I knew I was dreaming straight away – I do not swim. But the sensation I felt could only be likened to swimming up towards the surface and since everything was black I'm assuming it was consciousness I was swimming towards. The thought made me hesitate mentally, who knew what I'd find when I broke the surface? Well, one sure way to find out, of course. I opened my eyes blearily and squinted.


Why would I see blue? The last thing I saw was the green leafy shoots off the branches above me. I inhaled deeply aiding my struggle back to consciousness and felt an overwhelming sense of dislocation. The air wasn't right. Not one bit, either I was a long way south or…

If I weren't in an utter state of panic it would have been totally funny hearing the yowl of terror issuing from that girl's mouth. Unfortunately, Winter had the bad sense to kick out viciously before her groggy mind could make the connection that being in the air meant escaping was not a good idea. Fang dropped fast, clutching his groin where Winter's feet had caught him but he regained his altitude quickly, his face strained and his shoulders hunched to brace against the pain still.

"Iggy!" I shouted, following the call by a sharp whistle; neither was necessary, Iggy would have had to be more than blind to miss the commotion in the air in front of him. He was already level with Winter's feet and flapping hard to draw her level and reduce the strain of the girl's dead weight on me. "Land!" I added the command for the rest of them hurriedly, as I surveyed Fang's hunched flight.

We circled down as quickly as possible to land in a large paddock. A couple of horses grazed off to our left but they paid us no mind so we did them the same – not that we'd be wanting pony rides with a murderer as our captive.

Winter struggled free of the restraining hands and hissed, her eyes wild and panicked. She had no where to go, I reasoned, so I took a step back and watched as the flock did the same; surrounding her nonetheless but giving her enough space that she wouldn't start clawing eyes out or something equally disturbing.

"She looks kinda crazy," Nudge said uncertainly, "She did hit her head pretty hard,"

The girl turned her head quickly, getting an idea of her surroundings and calming sufficiently for speech. "Why did you bring me here?" she asked after a painful sounding gulp.

"You said you'd come for me next, what choice did we have?" I asked coldly, feeling my heart harden to the hopeless expression on the girl's face.

"But I-" Winter looked around fearfully and shook her head, "Where have you taken me? How far from the city am I?"

"What does it matter?"

"What does it matter! I could be in the last few minutes of my life!" I stared as the feline girl got more and more distressed; this wasn't exactly what I'd expected from the controlled figure she'd made in the city. Was this a case of dependence? No confidence when she wasn't backed by her 'Master'? I looked at Fang, wanting to read his face for his thoughts, but from the closed off expression he was still more concerned with the pain in his groin than the girl's obvious panic.

I asked the only thing I could think of, "Why?" It was a legitimate question. She hadn't seemed the type to be worried about back up, too confident, too independent.

Winter bit her lip, which emphasized her sharp teeth discomfortingly, and she took two slow, calming breaths before she answered me – that tried my patience a little, but I much preferred the controlled, reasonable Winter to the panicky wreck of a few moments ago; hard to anticipate someone who wasn't in control of themselves, "We aren't allowed out of the area. We have a little wiggle room for business, but if we cross a certain point we're terminated."

Okay, even I had to admit that seemed a pretty reasonable response for the 'what does it matter' question. "How does that work?" I asked suspiciously, wondering if a team of Eraser's would descend on us at any moment. Of course, I hadn't noticed a single Eraser in the whole country so maybe just a normal human team? Who knew?

"A tracking device rigged with explosives at the base of my neck – all of us have one. They alter the safety zone when they need us outside the city," Winter explained, "Please take me back," she added.

I scoffed at that, take back the assassin gunning for us? Yeah, right. The girl must have seen my answer in my expression because she changed her tact without waiting for a reply.

"Fine, don't take me back, just leave me here and I'll make my own way back," she said reasonably, "You'll be away, which is all they wanted, I won't die, which is all I want, and if they want you taken out it'll give you days to get a head start or go to ground,"

As much as I hated to admit it she was right – and since I didn't want to kill her there wasn't much else we could do.

"Alright, up and away, guys,"

15. Chapter 15

Chapter 15

It took me four hours to get back to Marco at the rendezvous point. He was still waiting as I'd told him to and it made me a little more confident that he would obey orders in an emergency – abandoning me when I told him to may have done a little to help convince me of that too, but that was beside the point. I didn't like the way he looked me over though, it was a look that was unerringly followed by the words 'Are you okay?' I could kill him quicker than he could speak those words – the Master had made it blindingly obvious that she didn't want the guy dead though. Shame.

"Let's go," I said to Marco, before he could say a word and thankfully he nodded and followed without comment.

"What happened?"

"They took me for a joy flight," I answered shortly, "They're heading south-west, out of town, out of the way, mission complete."

"Master will have our safety zones expanded; we received new orders to continue tracking them," Marco informed me and I struggled not to splutter a protest. Follow orders. That's my mission.

"Of course… we'll head back to headquarters now then?"

Marco spared me a lop-sided grin, "What? You're asking me? I'm just the rookie," he said in mock surprise.

I glared at him, "You're the one who got the new orders, Marc," I said, glancing down as we started across a bridge.

He blinked at me, "You just called me by a nickname," he said and stopped.

"Dropping the 'o' is not a nickname," I muttered defensively, not sure what he was getting at.

"Aw, you're getting used to me… we've bonded!" he exclaimed and hugged me. Hugged me! I moved so fast I didn't even realize what I was doing until I heard the splash. I looked over the handrail and saw the ripples where Marco had gone under, feeling a flicker of unease. The river wasn't big or quick and all of us could swim to some degree… but that didn't mean we had to like it.

He wasn't surfacing like he should and the river wasn't big – great if you can't swim very well, not so great if you crack your skull on the rocks. "God save that bastard if he's screwing with me," I said finally and jumped onto the railing, crawling down until my body dangled over the water where I let myself drop.

The water rushed up to meet me and I felt cold briny liquid fill my mouth and nose. I choked and ducked under the surface, opening my eyes to cast about for Marco. My eyes burning instantly from being so unused to water forced me to squint and at first I didn't see the limp form being dragged alone the bottom. I surfaced for a mouthful of air and dived after him, wrapping my arms around his chest and kicking hard to propel us towards the bank. It seemed a life time until my head broke the surface again and air rushed into my lungs. The only feeling better was the scrape of gravel and sand against my back as we made it to the rivers edge.

I thumped just once against Marco's chest but it was enough to make him vomit up the water that he'd inadvertently swallowed. I saw his eyelids flicker and open and breathed a sigh of relief that he was fine; assuring myself that my concern was completely selfish all the while.

"How can you not swim?" I asked scathingly as he focused on me.

He blinked and his jaw dropped, "Y-You're blaming me for this? You threw me in!" he swore violently and brought his hands up to his head.

"I thought you'd catch yourself," I said distantly, examining his head for the wound. A trickle of blood mingled with muddy water found its way down his neck and I traced it back to a small gash, "Jeez, that isn't worth getting knocked out for,"

I ignored his glare and spat on my hand, "Hey! What are you doing?" he struggled, pushing away from me, "You're not putting that spit on my scalp!"

"Stop being such a baby, it'll help-" I stopped trying to help Marco, my mind turning fuzzy around the edges and shook myself. He looked up at me curiously and I opened my mouth silently, unable to form the words I had to, his eyes clouded with concern and I dropped. My pulse slowed dangerously as the last waves of consciousness fled me and I passed out into Marco's arms. If I didn't feel like I was about to die I'm sure my last thoughts would have been shame and embarrassment; weak again within sight of the wrong eyes.