Maximum Ride: Dance with the Devil by Happi Zebra

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2008-12-08 08:59:25
Updated:2009-01-31 02:27:37
Packaged:2021-05-07 02:29:45
Summary:Max didn't save the world... so everyone's screwed. Just read it, I suck at summaries. R&R

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4

1. Chapter 1

Maximum Ride: Dance with the Devil

The Eraser took a staggered step forward, towards me, and I shot him. The bullet punched through his forehead and I felt a rush of savage pleasure at the blood that trickled from the small wound. The beasts eyes rolled back into its head and it dropped heavily to the ground.

I wasn't always like this, you know? Once upon a time I'd never have considered using a gun. But things change. Since the plan to halve the world's population succeeded a lot of things had changed. So many dead. Their estimates weren't even close to accurate. So many bodies.

Angel touched my hand and I looked down at her; her cheeks were stained with charcoal, the skin beneath pale and fragile. Her blue eyes as she looked up at me were sunken and strained. She'd seen too much, heard too many thoughts of the dying, to be the same kid she was. We'd all seen too much.

I felt Iggy's presence at my back, his hand resting on my shoulder comfortingly. I used to wish it was Ig who got caught in the cross fire. Ig to be the one choking up the blood that filled his lungs. That the the blood had stained pale skin, not olive. I'd have wished anything just to have Fang back. He wasn't coming back.

Iggy knew, of course. How could he not? I'd screamed as much at him when he first tried to motivate me to leave Fang's side. It was Angel who made me leave. She made me leave him. I couldn't forgive her for that; I knew he was dead, that there was nothing more I could do, but I shouldn't have left him. I wouldn't have left him. She took my choice away from me, to keep herself safe, to keep all of them safe, even knowing that I'd hate her for it.

Angel was the real leader. She did what was best for us all; I just kicked ass and pointed out the direction we should head in. I tried to keep their conscience clean. I'd killed so many for them. Our world was simpler now. There were the Crazies; humans who didn't die, but lost it when the bombs went off. They went from the daily grind to apocalypse war time in the space of a week. Did I blame them? Well, yeah, but it really wasn't their fault.

Then we had the Erasers. I don't know how they happened. I hadn't thought they were meant for this new world but they were everywhere, hunting alone or in packs, breeding. They weren't like they used to be, evolution aided by man: stronger, faster, more savage, unrelenting, blood thirsty. They didn't stop until they were dead. The Soldiers were military men from all over the world and were still all over the world. They lived on military bases roving out in the darkened days to search for sane humans; they didn't have much luck, but a gold star for trying.

The Freaks were like us; sane little mutants that had nowhere to go and nothing to do. All we could do is live and even that is in the poorest sense of the word. We just killed, struggled to eat, searched for clean drinking water and shelter safe from the Crazies and the Erasers and the Soldiers. The Freaks we avoided just for the hell of it. We didn't want anything to do with them and they didn't seem to want much to do with us.

I looked up from the corpse, wishing vaguely I were still human enough to care how many I'd killed, nobody was human anymore. This dark world wasn't made for humans, it was a place of nightmares and everyone here was a monster.

"Up and away, guys, let's find some place to roost for the night," I said in a bitter charade of myself. I wasn't always like this, but nothing changes the past; there was no point pretending I was still Maximum Ride: idealist winged kid. I thought life was tough then, but this was hell, and one of these days I was going to come face to face with the devil himself. I couldn't wait for that day to come.

2. Chapter 2

Chapter 2

We alighted on a small once-grassy knoll not far from a pathetically small stream. We tried not to drink there often as it was within a pretty big pack of Erasers' territory. They often drank there in the evening before heading off to sleep and hunt. Humans really shouldn't have taken nature into their own hands – the Erasers weren't inherently nocturnal or diurnal. They divided their number into both groups and hunted. Constantly.

No time was safe and as water got scarcer and more polluted there were increasingly fewer safe places that we could survive in. The world that was open to us was shrinking as quickly as the Erasers could reproduce. It hadn't been long since everything was normal, who knew how long it would be until Erasers were all that was left of humanity.

Gazzy appeared by my side, as if from no where and I felt a pang of loss, remembering Fang doing the same, "Anything?" I asked shortly and he shook his head.

"They haven't moved from that stand of pines for the last hour. I think I caught sight of a few ba- uh, pups, but that wouldn't explain why they're so reluctant to go out. We've scouted packs with young before,"

I nodded, Gazzy had adapted best to this world; he was still young and unlike Angel, didn't have to face the billions of dead. He could be desensitized in a way Angel could never hope for. Every death was personal and there was no way to get used to that. "We'll drink here: see if we can lure them out…"

"Max, do we want to lure them out? I thought you just wanted us to fill our water bottles up," Iggy asked hesitantly, he almost always spoke hesitantly now, like if he tried to take charge I'd start screaming at him again. Telling him he wasn't Fang. I didn't blame him, closer to the event I might have, not now though, nothing mattered anymore.

"I need to know what they're hiding," I answered, I didn't have anything more to say, I wasn't sure myself why I cared so much, but I did and I wouldn't be satisfied till we found out the reason. If they had some fatal weakness we could exploit it and take their land, if it was something that didn't affect us, well, we could always leave. We had the air to escape to if we couldn't handle a fight and we used it. Flying Erasers hadn't worked out, they didn't breed and I doubted there were any left anymore. The skies were ours.

A warning howl broke loose from the stand of trees Gazzy shielded his eyes, unnecessary in the unfailing gloom, and pointed out a lone figure some thousand feet above. So the sky wasn't all ours. It disturbed me that an avian was this close to our roost and made a mental note to keep an eye out for them. Freaks on their own were rarely good news, thieves and murderers the lot of them, like we were any better. The howl ended abruptly as if silenced by a more dominant wolf or maybe they had been pulled off scout duty. Erasers were set in their ways and major changes put them well off balance, which came in useful for us.

Iggy and Gazzy's bombs worked like magic to give us the upper hand in a fight. I no longer hampered their collection of explosive materials, the lack of usable resources in this new world made it hard enough to find what they needed, so we didn't have nearly enough to waste them on avoidable fights.

Angel was sitting on the ground a few yards away, examining her hands for some unknown sign, she glanced up at me and I looked quickly away, every fight did her more damaged. "I just have a bad feeling, guys," I finally said, almost to myself, "I need to know what's happened in there,"

She studied me for a long moment and nodded, "Come on, I'm thirsty, we don't have time to get water somewhere else anyway," she said in a decisive, weary tone. It wasn't like before, when Angel spoke everyone listened, because she'd never let them down. Unlike me.

3. Chapter 3

Chapter 3

I felt eyes on my back from the moment we set down by the stream, "Come on, let's do this," I muttered, feeling an urge to be gone and fast. Maybe we really didn't need to know what they were hiding. Gazzy and Iggy dropped into a crouch, pulling water bottles from a knapsack and filling them, I kept watch, Angel by my side, staring out at the stand of trees.


"Angel," my voice sounded weak and she looked up at me, I felt the faint flutter of thought as she entwined her mind with mine, shutting out the Voice. It didn't come to me often. Not nearly as frequently as it had. I was glad for Angel's comforting presence, protecting me from whatever suggestions the Voice had to make. It had to belong to another Freak – no human or soldier could do this.

Max. It came again, insistent, pushing against the protective barrier Angel had created for me, I saw her brow furrow and she bit at her lip. I'm waiting. I turned horror-movie slow towards the trees. Nothing had changed. It looked just as still and silent as before, but there was the faintest trace of motion, the sense of things moving beyond the field of my vision. I glanced down at Angel and she caught my hand in hers.

"Don't go," she said, her voice trembling. She looked exhausted, pale and drawn and shaky, I shouldn't do this to her. If I died she'd have even more to worry about, another death to live with, I should not do this to her. I shook loose my hand from her tight grasp. I could not believe I was doing this to her. She tried again, to stop me, silently this time, using only the force of her will and her mind, but the Voice had gained a foothold in my consciousness and it wasn't letting her in, wasn't letting her take away my free will. I had to go. Hell, I wanted to go. I couldn't explain why but the urge was there. Maybe I didn't have as much free will as I'd thought.

I took a step towards the trees. Iggy's hand closed over my shoulder again, his voice questioning. What was I doing? Who knew? I shook him off and didn't answer. Angel mouthed something about me being controlled. She motioned the others back. She knew I wasn't being controlled. Sometimes I didn't know whether I should hate her or feel grateful to her. Usually I decided on the latter. It was easier all round. I stumbled and broke into a run, my wings forgotten in my desire to reach the tree-line. I didn't want to fly; I wanted to run.

It wasn't super speed but, damn, was I moving. The shade of the leaf-covered branches above me came as a surprise, the cool shadows stretching over me, both welcoming and ominous. I hesitated, my strange confidence deserting me as I realized what I'd done and where I was. I'd abandoned my flock… to enter enemy territory. What the hell was I thinking? I stepped back, but didn't leave the shade, I'd brought myself several feet forward while I'd been lost in thought, the desire to move forward had left my mind but it was like my body was still possessed by it. Wanting to go forward, go to the Voice. I shouldn't. I knew I shouldn't. Gotta turn back. Make my body listen.

"Maximum Ride, is that really you?"

My head jerked up and I took in the man before me, scruffy clothes in khaki – not military issue, but maybe to imitate the camouflage they wore. Did he live among them or was he trying to slip by their radar? Didn't matter, not right now, answer him. "Just Max these days; Maximum Ride died in the early aftermath."

"A tragic but inevitable death," the man responded giving a slight nod.

"What do you want from me?"

"Absolutely nothing," the man replied, "But your father wants to see you,"

I gaped. What the hell was going on? My mind raced and my wings flickered uneasily, ready to spring open for my daring escape. Ping. The dart hit me from behind; I never even had a chance, or that's what I'd tell the flock. They didn't need to know how sick of life I'd become.

4. Chapter 4

Chapter 4

When you cry – not from heartbreak or grief, but from everything just becoming too much, too much to think about, too much to deal with – the pain doesn't come from your heart. It starts in your jaw, your teeth, it's a feeling of wilting around the edges, collapsing in on yourself, like your carefully composed façade is crumbling and caving in on yourself, shards of it spearing at the inner you, the softer you. It's not a feeling I like to experience. Watching as the Erasers – Erasers I had thought were working, no, living upon their own initiative – followed orders and marched about to my captor's tune was just one of the moments where everything became too much. Everything I knew, ever opinion I'd formed about the strange new world I'd found myself in, had been a lie. Or at very least not the whole truth.

I felt the uncomfortable drawing sensation, where you clamped down and tried to hide the bending on the edges of your mask, trying to duct tape over the cracks spreading in the outward projection that was you. And then Jeb stepped in. Ordering about the Erasers like his personal army. And the mask just… smashed. My eyes stung and my jaw ached and I felt the salty taste that meant I was going to cry, the pressure building.

"Max… it's so good to see you survived, it took me a long time to find you," I glared at him, fighting off the tears, it was too much, he was meant to be dead. Once you question one truth all the others fall into doubt. And for this, my heart did ache – because the truth I wanted so desperately to question was the one I knew couldn't be false. Fang had died; in my arms. I'd never known for sure that Jeb was dead. Jeb was alive, Fang wasn't. I couldn't start wondering about something I'd seen with my own eyes. Whether my world was right side up or upside down it didn't change the bullets in Fang's body or the blood frothing on his lips. Didn't change a thing, really, not to my flock.

"What do you want from me, Jeb?" I asked, turning my face away, I realized I was lying on a stretcher, still held by the Erasers and that I'd turned my face away into the messenger's jacket. I looked around for him but he either wasn't there or was hidden by the Erasers bustling around. I tried to sit up, to get off that damn thing, but I couldn't even lift my head. My flock and the scientists had commented on my hard-headedness, but it was a rare occasion that my head actually felt like it was filled with rocks. I surmised that whatever drug they'd used in the dart had been more than enough to take down one recalcitrant birdkid.

"I need your help Max… to stop one of your flock. They're controlling this new world, forcing it into an even more dire situation than the original aftermath, they caused the billions of deaths, they triggered the additional explosions – using back up weapons we'd accumulated. You think the prevalence of insanity among the surviving humans is shock? We had biological weapons, Max, and one of your family set them all off."

"Who?" I croaked, Jeb had taken my hand and I wanted to let go, but I didn't – I couldn't. His cool hand in mine felt like the only thing holding me from slipping back into the comforting nothing that only unconsciousness and death could offer.

His features tightened and I thought I saw a look of real pain on his face, emotion, something he'd always hidden so well. We'd been like his children; it never really occurred to me that he'd feel just as betrayed by us as we often had by him. I hadn't thought of him since I'd made my assumption that he must be dead. Everything had been so black and white before the world changed, now I was seeing it all in shades of grey.

"Nudge… she hacked the computer's launch system, fired off everything we had, we'd never intended the devastation she caused," he shook his head, real regret etched into his face, "She controls every working electronic system in the world, if not for her, humanity would have begun to recover, instead we have to portray total anarchy, we've bred more and more Erasers. We send out newly created one's to make it seem as if they've evolved to procreate naturally. It won't end until we stop her though, we've been using it all as a smoke screen, keeping hidden, we're running out of time, you have to stop her, Max, you have to save the world this time,"

Great. Because last time worked out so well for everyone. They should have kidnapped Angel.