MR 5: End Game Wanna Play? by mfingatfan

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2008-12-02 18:04:37
Updated:2009-04-15 20:10:05
Packaged:2021-04-04 14:55:29
Summary:Author's Note again... READ, READ, READ! Need some direction on the sequel that you have been waiting for. Oh - and if you haven't read the story, READ that too! Flock battles baddies - lots of action, adventure, humor, romance FAX - you'd like!

Table of Contents

1. Prologue
2. Part 1 Tick Tock Chapter 1
3. Chapter 2
4. Chapter 3
5. Chapter 4
6. Chapter 5
7. Chapter 6
8. Chapter 7
9. Chapter 8
10. Chapter 9
11. Chapter 10
12. Chapter 11
13. Chapter 12
14. Chapter 13
15. Chapter 14
16. Chapter 15
17. Chapter 16
18. Chapter 17
19. Chapter 18
20. Chapter 19
21. Chapter 20
22. Chapter 21
23. Chapter 22
24. Chapter 23
25. Chapter 24
26. Chapter 25
27. Chapter 26
28. Chapter 27
29. Chapter 28
30. Chapter 29
31. Chapter 30
32. Chapter 31
33. Part II Just Bee u ti ful Chapter 32
34. Chapter 33
35. Chapter 34
36. Chapter 35
37. Chapter 36
38. Chapter 37
39. Chapter 38
40. Chapter 39
41. Chapter 40
42. Chapter 41
43. Chapter 42
44. Chapter 43
45. Chapter 44
46. Chapter 45
47. Chapter 46
48. Chapter 47
49. Chapter 48
50. Chapter 49
51. Chapter 50
52. Chapter 51
53. Part III Chapter 52
54. Chapter 53
55. Chapter 54
56. Chapter 55
57. Chapter 56
58. Chapter 57
59. Chapter 58
60. Chapter 59
61. Chapter 60
62. Chapter 61
63. Chapter 62
64. Chapter 63
65. Chapter 64
66. Chapter 65
67. Chapter 66
68. Chapter 67
69. Chapter 68
70. Part IV Chapter 69
71. Chapter 70
72. Chapter 71
73. Chapter 72
74. Chapter 73
75. Chapter 74
76. Chapter 75
77. Chapter 76
78. Chapter 77
79. Chapter 78
80. Chapter 79
81. Chapter 80
82. Chapter 81
83. Chapter 82
84. Chapter 83
85. Chapter 84
86. Chapter 85
87. Chapter 86
88. Chapter 87
89. Chapter 88
90. Chapter 89
91. Chapter 90
92. Chapter 91
93. Part V Chapter 92
94. Chapter 93
95. Chapter 94
96. Chapter 95
97. Chapter 96
98. Chapter 97
99. Chapter 98
100. Chapter 99
101. Chapter 100
102. Chapter 101
103. Chapter 102
104. Chapter 103
105. Chapter 104
106. Chapter 105
107. Chapter 106
108. Chapter 107
109. Chapter 108
110. Chapter 109
111. Chapter 110
112. Chapter 111
113. Chapter 112
114. Chapter 113
115. Chapter 114
116. Chapter 115
117. Chapter 116
118. Chapter 117
119. Chapter 118
120. Chapter 119
121. Chapter 120
122. Chapter 121
123. Chapter 122
124. Chapter 123
125. Chapter 124
126. Chapter 125
127. Chapter 126
128. Chapter 127
129. Chapter 128
130. Chapter 129
131. Chapter 130
132. Chapter 131
133. Chapter 132
134. Epilogue
135. Author's Note
136. Author's Note AGAIN!

1. Prologue


Itexicon Headquarters

Kanpur, India

"Ve cannot let these insipid children ruin our plans again! Dey must be destroyed! NOW!"

Ter Borcht's face flared up like a tomato ripening in late summer. He and Dr. Marian Janssen were revising plans in a conference room in the newly established headquarters with several other lab technicians and various other independent directors of Itex Corporation. Ter Borcht had managed to slither quietly out of the fiasco in Germany only a month before – Dr. Janssen, not so lucky. After nearly being dropped to her death by the bird kid mistakes, the German Bundespolizei arrested her and several others for, well, lots of felonies – namely "unethical practices in the field of genetics." She was awaiting trial when suddenly – she disappeared – and somehow managed to resurface in Kanpur.

"The By-Half Plan and Re-Evolution has faced a serious setback, " Dr. Janssen stated tersely. "At this moment, we need to concern ourselves with funding, stockpiling nuclear weapons, regenerating our army – the recombinant avian hybrids and the fact that they are still alive is a small issue, a temporary –"

"Small?!" TerBorcht shouted. "Ve have not been able to terminate dem for four years! Dey nearly destroyed everything ve have spent the last century to create! Dey are reckless! Vhen dey deescover that ve are rebuilding…."

Marian Janssen simply rolled her eyes and allowed Ter Borcht to continue his tirade. His rants had been a staple of her time here since she arrived in India, but anything was better than that cold, desolate cell in a German fortress that had been her life for too long.

"… and ve entrusted Batchelder vith vay too much –" Ter Borcht continued by Janssen abruptly stopped him with a raised finger. She decided she had had enough.

"The traitor Batchelder is no longer a concern, the avian hybrids are a minor concern. Jeb Batchelder no longer has ties to Itex, the School, the Institute, or the Program – he cannot help those children as he has so cleverly done in the past. We need to concentrate our efforts on rebuilding, " Dr. Janssen said firmly. "To attack the hybrids now would only bring new attention to ourselves – attention we need to avoid until we are ready to re-execute the By-Half Plan."

"Spoken well, Dr. Janssen," came a quiet but confident voice from the back of the room. All eyes immediately turned in his direction. The respectful silence in the room was deafening. The man who spoke was small in stature – not hunkering over 5 feet 3 inches tall. His narrow glasses and slightly grey hair aged him beyond his young age of 42. In Dr. Janssen's mind, he was the stately picture of a mountaintop guru, a man whose presence spoke volumes. He was the one who was responsible for her "disappearance" from that foreboding jail cell in Germany.

The man strode self-assuredly toward Ter Borcht and Dr. Janssen. He was the new director of Itex, a role in which she had failed miserably only a month before. She was fortunate to be alive, lucky to still be accepted among the leaders of Itex. In front of her now, stood not only her savior, but also the savior of Itex. In one month, he had resurrected the company, reviving the stuggling minions, bringing the institution back together.

"Yes, spoken very well, " Dr. Aarit Singh repeated. "But I do believe Dr. Ter Borcht is correct in his assumptions as well."

Dr. Janssen's face flushed. She could feel Ter Borcht's smug grin extending across his rotund face, his eyes boring into the back of her head victoriously.

"Itex has regained its momentum," he continued. "Our armies our growing larger each day and leaders of many smaller nations are looking to us for a most decisive next move."

Dr. Singh paused. He stared into Dr. Janssen's eyes and stated matter-of-factly, "The avian hybrids need to be … dealt with. More importantly – their leader needs to be … dealt with."

Dr. Janssen cleared her throat and spoke quietly, "Just how would you like us to deal with her?"

Dr. Singh turned away and walked over to a series of large windows overlooking the industrial city below.

He again turned to face the small group. "Maximum Ride is among the last of the hybrids with a soul," he explained, his quiet confidence was domineering.

"We shall simply take that away."

2. Part 1 Tick Tock Chapter 1

Chapter 1

New York City, New York

" Did I die and go to heaven? " yelped Total. "Somebody pinch me! – No wait… if this is a dream, I do not want to wake up!"

"OMG! Max, look!" Nudge concurred. "They have Oscar De La Renta and Donna Karan and did you see that Dolce and Gabbana that just strolled down the runway? Oh Max, could I have a pair of Manolo's? Please?!"

I tried to look away as I was rolling my eyes. I still could not believe I let the flock talk me into coming to a fashion show. What the heck were they thinking? Where was my brain when I agreed to this?

Oh and yes. I did say flock – we are human-avian hybrids - genetically charged with avian DNA – 2% to be exact. There are six of us – all with built in wings and a seriously deprived fashion sense. That's why we are at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City watching this year's latest trends stroll down the runaway.

"Those gold ones are just too cute!" Nudge squealed. "Please, Max – just one teensy pair of shoes?"

Time to rain on her parade – again.

"Nudge, sweetie. Those shoes are very cute." I was such a good liar – really - I deserve an Oscar. "But they also cost in the vicinity of oh say, I don't know – 500 dollars. But I'll leave it up to you – eat for a week or a new pair of shoes whose heels will probably break with the first roundhouse kick to an Eraser."

Nudge's big gleaming smile suddenly quirked downward and I felt a minor pang of guilt for being slightly over the top. Then she shrugged and happily turned back to watching the show. Another crisis averted. Go me.

Let me catch any of you newcomers up to speed – especially because it makes so much sense to start with the 5th book than the 1st one – but hey – that's your choice!

There are six of us bird kids – I'm Max and the oldest. Fang, Iggy, and I are all about fourteen years old, the Gasman (don't ask – just stay upwind) is eight, his sister Angel, six and Nudge is now officially twelve. Total is our flying, talking dog who unfortunately shares Nudge's penchant for haut couture.

Normally we are running for our lives, kicking Eraser and Flyboy butt, avoiding skirmishes with evil scientists who created us. This week – not so much. We had just finished a tour of duty – saving the world – all that good stuff – in freaking frigid Antarctica only to be told to go to freaking frigid New York. I really need to quit listening to my Voice. And for those of you wondering "What voice?!" - the Voice in my head – I seem to be the only one who has one. It's not all that it's cracked up to be.

Anyway – we were here for a summit on Global Warming – the flock and I had become official environmental spokespersons for DoSomethingNow - an online organization dedicated to motivating kids our age to start programs to help clean up the environment and other really cool stuff. As much of an icebox as Antarctica was, we all really felt like we were helping with something good, all of us felt like we had a real purpose other than say – surviving. And we wanted to continue that – right in the heart of winter in New York. I really needed to rethink that one.

Okay so, I guess our whole "lie low and disappear" plan was just not working for us anymore. Why not, you ask! For the past three days, we spoke in front of a bunch of international bigwigs and even put on an "air show" where we flew in choreographed motion to music from the biggest speakers I've ever seen in Central Park. Millions of people staring and ooh and aah-ing us – ugh. But now its over and I'm thinking that people took notice of what we had to say – so – cool.

So how does the fashion show fit in? Today we had a day to sight see – pretty much do whatever we wanted. Iggy and Gazzy wanted to go to Madison Square Garden for a Knicks game, Angel and Total wanted to venture back to FAO Schwartz toy store to buy a matching bear for Celeste. Fang was his usual impassive self. I was just about to pitch in my own yearning to see the Statue of Liberty when Nudge declares, "Can we please please please go to a fashion show? It's Couture week!" How she knew this I have no idea.

And just how did Nudge win out?

1) She gave Fang and I Bambi eyes – and you know we can't resist Bambi eyes, and well, more importantly…

2) today was Nudge's birthday

3. Chapter 2

Chapter 2

That's right… Nudge's Birthday. Well, not her real birthday. We actually weren't exactly sure when any of us were born – just rough estimates. We spent the good first part of our lives in cages – having all kinds of horrible experiments done to us by any number of evil scientists - white coats we so affectionately named them. One of the whitecoats, Jeb Batchelder, had rescued us from that freakish nightmare called the School and hidden us away in the mountains for four years where he pretty much raised us – until of course he betrayed us – but that's another story altogether. And since none of us knew exactly when we were born, he let us pick any day to be our birthday. Nudge wanted her birthday to be on Valentine's day. She thought it was just the neatest thing to have a whole day dedicated to love.

So here we are – on Valentine's Day (ick) watching the over-the-top international winter and spring line strut down the catwalk on some highly anorexic-looking models. Um – note to all those people in charge of the models – feed them. Please. They look like they haven't seen food in almost a decade.

"I want to be a model! " squealed Nudge.


"You know what would be even better than this?" mused Total. "This with a firmly aged bottle of Chablis. How I wish Akila were here to share this with me!"

Angel just ruffled Total's head. She had "acquired" Total in one of our million escapes from the evil scientists and he had been flying with us ever since – okay more like one of us carried him but it's not like he weighed over twenty pounds. And Total had developed wings lately and was able to fly for a half an hour on his own. Total's girlfriend Akila – entirely different story. Akila is an Alaskan Malamute that Total fell head over heels for in Antarctica. And while I hated breaking the two of them up – especially on Valentine's day – Akila weighed eighty pounds. There was no way any of us were flying with her again for any extended length of time.

"This is the best day ever!" exclaimed Nudge for the fiftieth time in the past hour.

My flock was having fun and boy, they needed to – especially after spending the better part of the past eight months flying for our lives. But I was tensing as per usual – enclosed space, worries of Erasers. I was scanning the crowd when I saw Fang and Iggy as close as they could be to the runway – Iggy mouth agape, hanging on Fang's every last word.

"This next one is in a black dress, backless, front cut down to… " His eyes trailed from her neck to her waist line. "… yep – her belly button. "

"Ooh, " Iggy said quietly. "Tell me more."

"Okay – right in front of us – very short skirt – long, long legs."

"This is so much better than a Knicks game, " Iggy muttered.

I started to feel the acid churning in my stomach as Fang did the play – by play for Iggy who was – well - blind. The white coats tried to enhance Iggy's vision while we were still at the school and well – you can see what an oops that was.

So I guess Fang took it upon himself to detail every eensy-teensy bony body that waltzed down the aisle. Yeah – like I was going to do that for Iggy.

"Um – wow, " I heard Fang barely get out. "This one is not in a dress."

Iggy gasped.

Fang continued, "She's covered in some kind of mesh material… " He swallowed hard. "… with lots of holes."

Okay – now my blood was boiling.

For those of you just joining us - the quick back story on why this whole episode might cause me to totally wig out…

Fang and I had grown up together - practically brother and sister. He was my absolute best friend, someone I trusted with well, just about everything. And then he kissed me a couple of times and things were just messed up and weird. And here I stood listening to and watching him and Iggy practically salivating over these scantily dressed models. Ugh. The more I listened, the hotter my face felt.

Breathe slowly. Nothing to worry about. Why are we getting upset about this anyway?! It's just Fang – who cares if he is drooling over these barely dressed, overly made-up, toothpicks for bodies…

Okay – I really needed to get us out of here. I was trying to come up with a little more than some lame excuse for leaving when Angel – our six year old resident mind reader interrupted my thoughts.

Max, where's Gazzy?

4. Chapter 3

Chapter 3


I quickly walked over to the area where Angel, Nudge, and Total had camped out.

"Okay – when is the last time we saw Gazzy?" I asked icily hoping no essence of panic eked into my words. Don't panic. Don't panic. Oh, God. How could I lose Gazzy?

"What's going on?" Nudge asked cautiously.

" I don't see Gazzy, " Angel explained, panic and fear definitely starting to fill her voice. "He was just here a minute ago – okay maybe ten minutes ago and now I don't see him anywhere. I can't even hear his thoughts."

"It's alright, sweetie," I tried to reassure her. "We'll find him. I'll get Fang and Iggy and we'll scan the crowd."

"You mean we're leaving?!" gasped Total – disappointment oozing from his tiny little body. "They were just about to introduce the new Versace line!"

"Total, you can drool all over pictures of this on Fang's laptop later (that actually was an amusing thought) – right now we need to go!" I raced over to Fang and Iggy – my body tensing all over again.

"Alright, Pigs R Us, " I barked as I strode quickly toward them. "Let's roll."

"What? Now?!" Iggy exclaimed.

Fang felt my tension. His dark eyes shone at me questioningly.

"Gazzy's missing, " I stated matter of factly as I hurried them towards the entry way for the show. Several of New York's finest boys in blue hovered by the entrance. "He was with Angel – now he's not - maybe gone ten minutes." Ten minutes is not a long time, but for an eight-year old boy appropriately named the Gasman – one minute would be long enough for him to find trouble.

Here we were in the luxurious Starlight Room on the 42nd floor of the Waldorf-Astoria. Forty-two floors. This was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Secretly I hoped Gazzy would live up to his name so we could track his God-awful stench. You laugh but trust me – it's bad. Really bad.

"Max, where should we go?" asked Nudge. I could tell she was partly bummed about the whole not being able to see any more international style but I also sensed her fear.

Plan. Plan. Plan. Needed a plan.

Why don't you try the basement? suggested my Voice.

Oh, thank God.

"Let's head for the basement." I stated. Fang shot me a quizzical look. I pointed to my head and we both mouthed "Voice".

The six of us quickly made a bee-line for the stairwell. Elevators were out of the question. After spending most of our lives in cages, enclosed spaces completely lacked appeal.

Well, I guess the NYC blue brigade noticed how fast we bolted from the main room – like we were avoiding impending disaster. Technically I suppose we were – there is no telling what Gazzy was up to considering the many times he and Iggy have blown up Erasers with home-grown explosives. About four of them started to follow us, picking up speed as they walked. I momentarily thought of launching ourselves through a window and soaring to the ground but I did not want to bring any more unwanted attention to our situation.

I quickly led the flock through the stairwell doors and we flew – not literally – down several flights of stairs.

The police busted through the entry way to the stairs like they were doing a take down on a staked-out drug bust. They stood at the top of the stairs, looked around, and saw nothing.

We were outta there, baby.

5. Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Two of the cops cautiously began to descend the stairwell. Perhaps they were a little worried that these grungy delinquents, no older than sixteen, with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, who hastily fled throngs of A-list wannabes could be armed and dangerous. Hmmm.

Weapons drawn, they rounded each flight of stairs as though someone was going to blow their brains out at each corner. They kicked open several doors as they completed each flight only to find slightly weirded - out guests and annoyed housekeepers. By the time they had reached the 35th floor, they realized the mangy crew of five children along with their dog had vanished.

One of the men, who looked more like a professional basketball player than one of New York City's finest, radioed the ones who had stayed behind.

"I don't see them anywhere," he stated sounding quite awestruck. "It's like they disappeared into thin air."

6. Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Disappeared – not quite. Although Fang seemed to have some kind of invisibility skill going for him lately. Having had avian DNA grafted into us not only gave us wings, super-human strength, and a various assortment of odd abilities but we could usually outrun the average human on the ground. The blue brigade hadn't even touched the door at the top of the stairwell in the time that we rounded four flights and burst through the portal to the 38th floor. We sprinted down the hallway, rounded a corner and discovered a room two doors down that was in the process of being cleaned.

Barely making a sound, we scurried through the door and towards the French doors that opened up to a balcony. A voice trailed from the bathroom – it sounded like someone was singing. Or at least trying to.

"What is that?" snorted Total. "It sounds like two cats fighting!"

"Shhh!" I whispered.

The voice – belonging to someone I think was feminine – bellowed again. Some incomprehensible song was now going to be permanently wedged in my brain. Not pretty.

"Don't quit your day job." Total muttered again, a little too loudly.

The singing stopped. "Qui est là ?" came a caustic voice from the bathroom.

Fang and I exchanged gazes.

No more tiptoeing through these tulips.

"Go! Go! Go!" I ordered.

Fang led the flock through the double doors and did an up and away as soon as he hit the balcony. I brought up the rear and within minutes we were airborne, our wings fully extended. I glanced back and saw a most petite woman, jaw seemingly close to ground level. She peered around the French doors looking as though she had seen a ghost.

So much for not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.

We banked left and dove downward, accelerating to over 150 miles per hour.

"Hey, New Yawk, " I thought. "You're getting a free show today!"

Fang eyed an alley close to the hotel. It was fairly free of pedestrian traffic. Most people on the streets were actually beginning to form small pods as they outwardly wondered who we were and what we were doing.

"It's those bird kids we saw on the news the other day!" my raptor hearing picked up someone saying.

"Mom, mom – that's Fang's flock! The one whose blog I told you about!"

Fang's flock?! I would never hear the end of that one. Fang glanced over at me as we landed – a smug grin lighting up his face.

"Pull your head out of the clouds, oh cocky one," I snapped at Fang. Ooh – he was going to hear from me later. "Let's get back to the hotel before something bad happens."

We found a service entrance on the back side of the Waldorf-Astoria and darted in behind an unsuspecting waiter with music blaring from the MP3 Player connected to his ears. We found our way onto the first floor only to find a whole slew of policeman and men in black suits looking quite purpose driven and ready for action.

"Uh-oh." Nudge grimaced.

That is pretty much the shortest sentence I have ever heard her utter.

We doubled back and found a stairwell at the end of a hall on the 1st floor. It had been at least 30 minutes since Gazzy had gone MIA. I just hoped he hadn't gone back up to the Starlight Room to look for us. Somehow I doubt that he had. As I was contemplating the millions of things Gazzy could be up to right now – none of which were good – Angel sent me a thought. Yes – I did say "sent me a thought." Angel is our resident mind reader and lately she's been able to look at someone and well- control their thoughts also – a little creepy but we have found it quite useful from time to time. Like today, for instance. It's amazing how one can quickly score tickets to the hottest fashion show in town.

I'm sorry, Max. This is all my fault.

I was about to protest when Angel continued.

Gazzy was going on and on about how bored he was and how he didn't want to be here. And then he said he didn't care if it was Nudge's birthday…. Well, I got mad at the birthday part and told him that if he was bored, he should go play with the subway trains.

Well, that explains a lot.

I stopped abruptly and bent down to where Angel was standing. I could tell her eyes were fighting back tears. Angel was a pretty tough cookie, rarely ever shed a tear. Most of us were. But Gazzy was her real brother (not just flock-related) and I realized she was not only frightened by Gazzy's disappearance but also guilt-ridden about the whole situation.

"It's not your fault, sweetie. Gazzy just made some bad choices (and I would so wring his neck for them once we found him) but we will find him. Don't worry."

Now I just had to convince myself of that.

Quit wasting time, Max.

The Voice was back.

You need to find Gazzy now.

Um… no freaking duh, Voice. We have had just a few minor setbacks. My hands shot up to my temple hoping a quick massage would get rid of the Voice – perhaps for good. Don't get me wrong – sometimes it was good to have a Voice in my head – you know – directing us to the basement. How did it know that? But most of the time it was just a big fat ugly freaking waste of time annoyance – like now. I mean, really. Of course we needed to find Gazzy and now… duh!

"Yo," Fang broke into my thoughts. "You alright?"

"Yeah… just my friendly neighborhood voice," I muttered. I addressed the flock, "Alright, stay close. No telling how many of NYC's finest they have down stairs waiting for us. Just follow my lead."

And down the stairs we went.

7. Chapter 6

Chapter 6

"Stupid Angel," muttered Gazzy as he kicked a crumpled up beer can into the railway tracks. "Stupid everybody… What's the big deal about a fashion show anyway?"

Gazzy had slipped out unnoticed from the Starlight Room and wandered on the floors of the hotel for a long while, desperately trying to find something more exciting than the boredom he left upstairs. He peeked in various rooms as they were being cleaned, awestruck by their elegance and colossal size. The flock had never stayed in a hotel quite like this and he imagined what that would be like. Waking up every morning in a comfortable, bouncy bed, all the food he could eat catered right to he door, opening up the doors to balcony and going for a morning flight. Had to beat sleeping in trees and subway tunnels. "I wonder if we'll ever have a life like this," he thought. The closest the flock had come was when they stayed at Anne Walker's house in Virginia. That seemed like a lifetime ago.

After a whole ten minutes, his excitement waned. He ventured down to the lobby and discovered a large sealed off elevator on the first floor.

Wonder what that's for?

His curiosity got the best of him, as it always did, and he headed for the basement. As he emerged from the stairwell he half-expected a throng of people to be down here – there were masses of people from all over the world everywhere else in the hotel – why was this place so bare? Immediately he was on guard, his body tensed, and fists clenched ready for whatever or whomever he might discover. As he ventured out of the comfort of the stairwell, he realized there were train tracks straight ahead. Cool! This place had a train station right here. Right under the hotel! Wait till he told the flock about this!

Oh yeah. He was mad at them now, especially Angel. She was the one who told him to go play with the subway trains.

Well, take that, Angel! I found a real train! Okay, well a real train station anyway.

As he walked along the rails, he thought about the flock. He should have told Max that he was bored. She was the only one who looked as uninterested as he felt. Every one paid him no mind – too enrapt with a bunch of sticks walking down a platform. Even Iggy and Fang ignored him – what did they see in those girls in the dresses anyway? They were just girls – yuck.

They could have their fashion show. Gazzy had found the ultimate place. The station looked as though it hadn't been used in many years and upon closer inspection, Gazzy discovered another sealed elevator – not the size of normal elevators either – this one was of the double extra large variety. He wondered who might need such a big elevator and why wasn't it running?

"Hmmph, " shrugged Gazzy as he debated what to do with this new find. "It's not like I've got anything better to do."

Carefully scanning the area around him, he quickly began dismounting the devices that had the elevator sealed. Crackpot engineer he was not but he could hold his own with the safecrackers and explosives manufacturers of the world. Within minutes he was in, his super bird-kid strength pried the doors open.

"Wow! This is awesome!" Gazzy cried in amazement. The elevator car was monumental in size, could practically hold a van or a large pick-up truck with the extended cab. "I wonder if this thing still works."

Gazzy did a 180 toward the entrance of the elevator car and that's when he saw it. A dim red glow reflected off the metal of the corner of the car. Gazzy's heart leapt into his throat as he slowly approached the box – well… not exactly box shaped but about the size of a toaster oven. He knew exactly what this was and he knew he should fly the heck out of there right now but he needed to see how much time – did he have time? What about the flock? What about all those people upstairs?

He cautiously turned the glow towards him.

9:32. 9:31. 9:30.

A bomb was set to go off in less than ten minutes.

8. Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Don't panic… ten minutes… what to do. Should I run? What if I can't find the flock? WWMD?! What would Max do?

A million thoughts raced through Gazzy's head. He knew what he had to do. He knew he didn't have enough time to dismantle the bomb so there was only one other option. Oh so carefully, he lifted the box and exited the elevator car. Unfurling his wings he flew as far as his little raptor-sized body could, carrying a bomb that was twice the size of Total. He weaved through the underground tunnel until it forked.

Now what?

He peered down one tunnel and with his raptor eyesight caught the faintest glimmer of daylight. Nope. Have to get this as far away from civilization as possible. Quickly he rounded the bend of the other tunnel – it appeared as though this one had been in progress but abandoned – much like the train depot under the hotel. He flew as far as the tunnel would allow finally terminating flight at a dead end. How far below the ground was he? No time to dwell on that. How much time did he have left? Three maybe four minutes?

Gazzy gently placed the explosive device on the ground floor below him and hastily backed away.

What is that?

A small barely noticeable diagram caught his eye – one he had seen many times before.

Holy crap. Time to get outta here.

He turned on his heels and flew harder and faster than he'd ever flown before. He had to get back to the flock. Had to find Max. Had to warn them.

9. Chapter 8

Chapter 8

The flock and I rounded the corner on the stairwell and headed down the remaining flight of stairs. When it was decided that today's agenda would be Couture Extraordinaire, I decided to use Fang's laptop to do my homework on the hotel just so we could be ultra-familiar with our surroundings and be prepared for quick escape, if necessary. Well, let me just tell you – this place was quite the hotbed of activity! I discovered some pretty amazing things. Not only did this place play host to gobs of special events, it's guest list racked up on the A-listers – including past presidents.

We were heading for the basement which was not your normal everyday hotel basement. It had a freaking train station underneath it! It was abandoned now but my history sites told me that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to use this as his secret access to the hotel when he was trying to keep his polio under raps. Huh?! How's that for history for you! When my Voice told me Gazzy would be here – I had no doubts – this place would hold all the appeal necessary for an eight-year old boy. But, really? How did my Voice know that? It sure did have its own cutesy annoying way of keeping me guessing.

I eased my way through the stairwell door, my flock behind me, tensed up and ready for action.

"Max!" screamed Gazzy as he practically flew right in to me. Relief coursed through my veins at the sight of his mangy little sixty pound body. Didn't we just have baths yesterday?

"Gazzy!" we all cried in relief. Even Mr. Emotional Fang looked as though a huge load had just been lifted off his shoulders.

"Go back!" he shouted. "We've got to get out of here now!"

Um – you just did not question advice like that from an eight-year old notorious for creating explosives out of pretty much anything.

Fang immediately turned on his heels and led the flock back up the stairs. I shoved Gazzy in front of me as I screamed, "What did you do?!"

"Wasn't me!" Gazzy defended himself.

We flew – again not literally – through the door that opened up to the first floor. A quick scan picked up no one. Of course not, anyone who was anybody was schmoozing with the other somebodys on the 42nd floor. Sentry duty seemed to focus on the lobby and other main areas.

Nobody on this floor but us mutants.

While that was slightly comforting, we needed to leave this party and fast. Whatever Gazzy was herding us away from could not be good.

There. Eight doors down.

"Head for the open door!" I ordered as my flock quickly began to follow my commands. "Do an up and away as soon as - "


We immediately hit the ground as the blast resonated through the halls of the lower floors of the hotel. The explosion came from a distance but within seconds the stairwell doors flew open and sent debris soaring through them. Earthquake like vibrations rippled the floor and tore pictures and plaster off the walls. Light fixtures swayed and pelted us with fragments of broken light bulbs. A huge chunk of wood – possibly from the piles we eyed in the abandoned train station – speared my leg and I tried almost unsuccessfully to stifle a most agonizing scream.

I had gathered Gazzy underneath me and through the fog of swirling debris I saw that Fang had done the same with Angel and Total. Nudge and Iggy, crouched low with their hands over their heads, looked as though they were awaiting impending doom from a tornado. When the dust had settled, I jumped to my feet, immediately cringing from the pain coursing through my lower leg.

"Report!" I demanded.

Nudge pulled Iggy to his feet. "Okay here," Nudge replied. "What was that, Max? Was that a bomb? Gazzy, you didn't – "

I quickly held up a finger and flashed her a menacing stare with all the implications of "Not now, Nudge." Once Nudge got talking, she did not care to stop.

"Man, Max. You weigh a ton!" Gazzy declared as he rose beside me. "What'd you eat today? Rocks?"

My raptor hearing picked up an almost imperceptible chuckle from Fang who was easing his way toward me.

"We're good, "he stated as he brushed dust off of his jacket. "Let's bolt." He caught a glance at my leg and cocked his eyebrows at me. I read a hint of concern in his eyes.

I scowled and muttered through clenched teeth, "I'm fine." Okay – maybe not so fine. Blood was spilling down my leg like a waterfall, making my jeans turn a muddy brown color, and I was beginning to feel slightly light-headed from the blood loss. Was that going to deter me? Uh… no. People, the wrong kind of people, were bound to show up any minute. "Let's go."

We hastily entered room 119, tore through the room, and took flight. Thank God there wasn't much traffic here either. Nobody to notice six grubby bird kids and a flying dog escaping through a first floor window after an explosion that left a quarter of New York scrambling for cover. We quickly gained momentum and within minutes we were flying above the clouds.

Ah – there's nothing like flying. The six of us were literally born and raised to fly. Most of the time it was the most exhilarating feeling in the world. Except right now. My leg was throbbing and I knew we should probably land somewhere soon so that I could look at it and patch it up. The bleeding hadn't stopped and I certainly did not need to lose any more blood.

Fang must have sensed my unease because he banked slightly to the right and began to descend upon a high rise on 39th Street. As usual, we were on the same page without having to say anything. I glanced over at him and I became entranced by his dark features. Black outstretched wings so powerful on each down stroke. Butterflies twittered in my stomach as I shifted my attention to his face – definitely aged in the past six months, more rugged but definitely handsome – wait – did I really just say that? I shook my head and refocused on flight. I must have lost quite a bit of blood what with how delusional I was becoming.

"Something wrong?" Fang asked over the cold February wind that was stinging my eyes something awful. He must have felt me giving him the once-over.

Thank God that Fang could not read minds. I surely hoped Angel wasn't listening in.

"Let's just land," I replied.

10. Chapter 9

Chapter 9

As soon as our feet scraped cement on the top floor of the towering skyscraper undoubtedly home to thousands of office spaces, Fang had torn his backpack from his shoulders and began to pull out antiseptic and bandages. He was the only one carrying a pack that day. I had stored the rest of them atop of a few trees in our temporary home – Central Park. The Do Something Now group tried to persuade us into lodging at one of their fancy schmancy hotels they had booked for the engagement but we respectfully declined. Considering our previous hotel experiences had resulted in a bomb delivered to us a la pizza and being kidnapped and locked away in a sensory deprivation tank, we were avoiding the extended stay in hotels for a little while. Don't get me wrong – I missed the hot showers, the comfy bed, the pillows. But lodging in trees and caves would be just fine for now. And when we did need a hot shower or a bath, we just used Jeb's – yes, he was along for the ride on this particular mission.

As Fang pushed my pants leg up (and not carefully might I add – ouch!) and worked on stopping the bleeding, I let my thoughts wonder momentarily to Jeb. Jeb Batchelder kidnapped us from the School when I was just ten years old. He raised us for two years – teaching us not only the finer things in life like - you know – reading, but also the not so finer things – like picking locks and winning fights at all costs. Then, he disappeared. We all thought he was dead, but then he turned up like a bad penny two years later working for the School, helping them to hunt us down. He claimed it was all part of my testing. Whatever. Then, he saved my life and I found out he was my real father. Whatever – and I am rolling my eyes this time. At one point in my not so happy life, Jeb was the source of my happiness and I would have given anything for him to be my real dad. Then he was the object of my hatred. Now – he is my father and I am majorly confused about him. I, we cannot totally trust him although at times I am almost convinced that he is one of the good guys. And then I think about all the evil stuff he let happen to me… to the flock…

I glanced over at my flock while Fang tended to my injuries. This was my family. I didn't need Jeb. I needed these guys. As a flock, we had split up a couple of times – for good and bad reasons. The emptiness that I felt those few times was overwhelming. My flock completed me… we completed each other. I felt a proud smile forming on my face as I watched Nudge detail the new surroundings for Iggy. They were gazing out over the edge of the building and I listened to her ramble incessantly about the various restaurants and theatres and stores in the huge world below us. Gazzy and Angel were playing hide and seek with Gazzy being discovered within seconds each and every time Angel was the "seeker". Yet another game you do not play with a mind reader. Total was curled up in Fang's open backpack, trying to soak up every bit of heat possible in this twenty degree weather.

I gazed up at Fang – determination and concern echoing from his dark eyes and tensed jaw. He was my right- hand man. He had my back no matter what and life without him was unimaginable. There was a brief time when we had decided to go our separate ways. I had chosen to let my half-brother Ari – who as an Eraser had tried to kill us on several occasions – join our merry band of mutants and Fang couldn't deal with that even though I knew that Ari had changed. And then Ari died. Those were some of the toughest days of my short and pitiful life. Fang and I swore never to break up the flock again.

Fang felt my gaze on him and he flashed a half – smile in my direction that made my heart skip a beat. "All better," he stated matter of factly as he lowered my leg to the ground. "Stopped the bleeding for now. Not as bad as I thought."

"Thanks," I muttered as I let him help me to my feet. Our eyes meeting momentarily as I up righted myself. The flock seemed to notice my improved state for they came running at me from all directions.

"Max! I am so glad you're okay," exclaimed Nudge. "I thought we were going to have to go to a hospital again and I really didn't want to because of all the School smells. They would probably have those FBI people there and I really don't want to talk to them again – "

Nudge was like the freaking Energizer bunny – she kept going and going and –

"Anyway, guys," continued Nudge. "You should see what's going on down there!"

We all followed Nudge to the overlook for the high rise. Down below us was mass chaos with a capital C. Ambulances, fire engines, and squad cars lined up as far as the eye could see. There were small fires being put out. Cracks in the pavement from the earthquake that followed from the blast. People wandering – looking all around as if answers for this madness would magically appear in the sky. Cars overturned both from the vibrations and from the out of control driving that could only have resulted from others coming to a screeching halt. Point blankly – it was a mess.

"Alright, Gazzy. Spill." I said. "What happened back there?"

11. Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Gazzy spared no detail as he informed us all about his afternoon. Angel and Nudge were enrapt in his descriptions of the rooms he had visited and the abandoned train station beneath the hotel. He talked of the elevator car and how large it was and then the discovery of the bomb.

"There was enough C-4 in there to take out at least 10 floors," Gazzy stated quietly.

Okay – little alarming! That would have taken down the entire hotel. Us included. The disaster would have been fifty times worse than what was currently taking place downstairs on the streets. Made me think a little of the Twin Tower catastrophe that we saw documented on 20-20 not so long ago at our E-shaped house in Colorado. Yep – the one in which Jeb raised us.

As if reading my mind, Gazzy continued, "I had to get it out of there. All those people – "

I could tell Gazzy was having a hard time with this. I drew him into me and wrapped my arms around him. Tears lining his eyes dampened my shirt. The events of the day were taking its toll on him.

"It's okay, Gazzy," I assured him. "It's okay. You did the right thing."

And then the rest of the flock joined in a massive group hug. Everyone whispering their own assurances and apologies.

This is what I'm talking about. We needed each other. We were family.

We all just sat for the longest time in silence taking in the events of the day. A million thoughts were racing through my head. Who was responsible? Who would want to blow up the Waldorf-Astoria? – that hotel had so much history behind it. Maybe it was a terrorist group or an organization protesting the fashion fest. Or maybe the bomb was aimed for us. As always – a gazillion unanswered questions. I kept waiting for my Voice to chime in with some words of wisdom. No such luck.

Gazzy was the first to break the silence.

"I'm sorry I ruined your birthday, Nudge."

Nudge was about to speak when Angel chimed in.

"No. This was all my fault," protested Angel. "I'm the one who told you to go play with the subway trains."

"Well, technically if it weren't for you telling Gazzy to do that, Gazzy would have never seen the bomb and saved half of New York," Iggy offered.

"Yeah," Fang spoke up. We were all in shock. Fang rarely spoke up. "America's new hero – the Gasman."

Gazzy's face swelled up with pride. He certainly hadn't looked at it in this light.

"Look up in the sky," declared Iggy as he jumped to his feet. "It's a bird. It's a plane. Wait – what's that smell? It's Super Gasman!"

"Breaking wind at one hundred miles per hour," Iggy went on. He was on a roll. "Farts more powerful than a locomotive. He can make a mere man leap a tall building in a single bound with just one whiff."

We were all laughing now. Gazzy was beaming. Iggy just kept going, adding actions to his words.

"Help me, help me," Iggy clutched his chest and made Bambi eyes at the sky. "My little old house is all aflames!"

"Have no fear – Dr. Methane is here!" Fang joined in role playing off of Iggy. Whoa. Didn't know he had it in him. "My flatulence can extinguish your flames," he continued in a deep manly voice.

Okay – seeing Fang jump into that just set the rest of us to uncontrollable laughter. I doubled-down, clutching my sides I was giggling so hard. Nudge was laughing so hard, she snorted and sent us into another round of inexplicable laughter. Angel had tears streaming down her cheeks. Total seemed to be the only one offed by all the uncultured dialogue – he merely rolled his eyes and returned to the semi-warmth of Fang's backpack.

Fang and Iggy went on like this for another five minutes – bouncing off of one another. It felt so good to laugh. It was so good for all of us to laugh, to have fun – especially after the events that previously transpired.

After a few minutes, we collapsed on the icy cold cement. Everyone panting hard. We stayed like this for a long while savoring every bit of this rare peaceful moment.

Then, Gazzy broke the silence – again.

"Um… Max. There's something else I need to tell you."

"Please don't tell me you're about to turn into Fartman," Iggy grumbled.

Gazzy smiled deviously and we all started to inch away from him.

"Not yet," Gazzy replied. "No – this is about the bomb."

The whole floor sobered about ten notches.

"What about the bomb, Gazzy?" Nudge asked.

Gazzy hesitated momentarily, his thoughts flashing back to the logo he saw on the bomb as he fled impending doom. Then he continued.

"I think the bomb was from Itex."

12. Chapter 11

Chapter 11

The whole top floor of the building sobered another ten notches.

"What makes you say that, Gazzy?" I asked cautiously.

"The Itex logo – you know – the one we saw on everything at the School – I thought I saw it on the bomb," Gazzy replied softly. "No – I know that's what I saw."

Okay – this was bad. Way worse than bad. We knew Itex was probably regrouping, but it had not even been two months since we practically destroyed the Itex Headquarters in Germany.

A million more questions began to play in my mind. Were they targeting us? Were they just trying to get our attention? How could they possibly know where we were? Were we going to start seeing Erasers or Flyboys again… or something worse? Not that I imagined there could be a whole lot worse than Flyboys – wolf-like robots that flew and carried built in machine guns.

Back in Germany, tons of Itex representatives were present for the big showdown – the By-Half Plan as they so named it. Itex wanted to reduce the population of the world by a half – get rid of all the "useless" people and begin a Re-Evolution of new species - like a superhuman race that wasn't all that human. Yeah – I know what you're thinking. Scary. Yeah – well – let me tell you – the things I saw in Germany were beyond scary. More like bone-chilling, creepily frightening, and horrific. How's that for the bird kid thesaurus?

Anyway – those that were not destroyed in Germany were arrested when the German police arrived. And while Itex had companies and divisions all over the world, the military orders seemed to come knocking on their doorsteps too. I just did not see them reorganizing this soon.

I glanced at the flock. I felt their tension and unease with this new information. Nudge was the first to speak up. Big surprise.

"This is not good," she stated slowly. "Does this mean we are on the run again? Do you think we will have to go back to the School or the Institute? Gosh, I wonder if we will start seeing those Flyboys again." She paused momentarily. "What are we going to do now, Max?"

The flock stared in my direction. I was their leader. I was supposed to have a plan. So – I reached up my sleeve and pulled one out.

"We're going to do what all birds do for the winter," I mused. "Let's fly south."

13. Chapter 12

Chapter 12

After grabbing our back packs from Central Park, the seven of us began to take to the air in a southwestern direction. We soared above the clouds in even formation exhilarated by the sense of freedom we felt whenever we could spread our wings and just fly. For a long time our flight contained a sense of urgency– we were always airborne to flee our enemies. And while technically now we were attempting to escape whatever Itex might possibly have planned for us, there was not the "fly away as fast as you can" feeling that we experienced one too many times.

A few hours later, a shadow loomed over me and I recognized Fang's dark exterior sliding up next to me.

"Is there a plan for eating?" he asked plainly, staring straight ahead. "My flock and I are getting a little hungry."

My flock?! My face started to heat up. No, wait – simmer down - he was baiting. I was not biting.

"Nope- no plan," I retorted. "You and your flock will just have to starve."

We flew another couple of minutes in silence until Fang piped up again.

"My flock and I were thinking how it might be nice to go to the beach," he continued, still not looking at me.

Okay – Fang was getting under my skin now. He was taking this Fang's flock thing a little too far. I mean really – the beach? It's February!

"Hmmm," I mumbled, appearing as though I was considering the idea. Six months ago – I would have immediately retaliated with some snappy comeback, but time had matured me and I was just not about to let Fang get the best of me.

I gazed at the stretch of land beneath us. We were soaring somewhere over the New Jersey coastline. Large beach houses and tiny cottages dotted the sandy beaches. Up ahead, I could make out a flurry of lights that looked like a hotel, maybe a casino.

Maybe a night at the beach might not be such a bad idea.

"And my flock and I were hoping to find a nice beach house to crash for the night," Fang taunted.

Oooh. That did it. Every ounce of patience that I was trying to muster suddenly collapsed. He was doing this to get a rise out of me and it was working. Wasn't the first time. Wouldn't be the last. I wheeled around and practically stopped Fang in mid-air as I flew right up into his face. So much for that new found maturity.

"You and your flock can take a flying leap into the nice cold ocean!" I shouted, my eyes boring into him like nails. We had both halted flight momentarily. Our wings beating simultaneously to keep us aloft. The rest of the flock slowed as they coasted toward us.

He just looked at me. His dark eyes giving away no emotion whatsoever. Drove me nuts.

"Maybe we'll do that after my flock and I have had a nice dinner," he stated.

"I absolutely, positively hate you," I seethed through clenched teeth and flew ahead of him, making sure that I nudged his rib cage – hard - with my foot as I spun around.

As I flew away, my senses picked up Fang's chuckle and a "tsk, tsk" from Iggy.

I really, really hated them all right now.

14. Chapter 13

Chapter 13

I had flown several bird lengths ahead of them and stayed that way even if it was just to reassure myself that this was still my flock and I was the one to take care of their needs. And maybe I just needed time to think about all that was happening.

Itex… what were they planning? What would be their next move? Would it involve us? What about the School? Was Jeb still involved? He still could not be totally trusted. I was secretly hoping my Voice was eavesdropping on all my brain rambling so that maybe it would provide me with some insight – even one of its crazy mind boggling riddles would be nice at this point.

No such luck.

After several minutes of prolonged silence, I saw Fang wheeling to catch up to me. My thoughts shifted to him as I returned my gaze to the dusking skies in front of me. We were getting slightly back to normal – the nice cozy brother-sister relationship we've enjoyed since we were teeny-tiny bird kids. I mean – we weren't really brother and sister. The only ones who were true siblings were Gazzy and Angel. But we had that "I've got your back" mentality and we fought like cats and dogs – so I guess that was close enough. At times we were so at ease with one another – we didn't have Angel's mind reading abilities but we could look at one another and almost instantly know what the other was thinking. Other times – I felt like we were strangers. Kissing your best friend will do that, I guess. I just didn't know where it was all going and a huge part of me was too frightened to find out.

Just go with the flow, Max. Angel's thoughts were projecting toward mine. You two were meant to be.


I glanced back at a sweet-smiling Angel feigning a rather innocent air.

Um… a little privacy please, Angel, honey.

I really needed to keep my thoughts to myself.

By this time Fang had slowed and was coasting alongside of me. The bone-chilling February evening air brought with it some delightful wind currents that were perfect for mindless gliding.

"Seriously, we should land soon," said Fang. "Nudge is hungry."

"Nudge is always hungry," I replied. "But you're right – keep a lookout for something quick and easy."

"Max!" Nudge squealed, suddenly flying up along side me. She pointed toward the ground ahead of us and excitedly exclaimed, "Look!"

With our raptor vision, Fang and I tried to make out what Nudge was eyeing. She barely gave us a chance.

"It's a Ferris Wheel!" she declared.

Didn't take long for the rest of the flock to glide up and join the excited conversation.

"I see it!" screamed Gazzy eagerly. "It's some kind of amusement park! I see a little roller coaster and a carousel and lots of rides! Max, can we go?!"

"Please, Max," pleaded Angel. "Just for a little while. Please!"

I surveyed my flock. Their excitement over this could not be contained. Iggy was jumping up and down in midair joining the begging and pleading. Even Total appeared thrilled with the prospect of an amusement park – his tiny wings fluttering elatedly. I glanced at Fang. He simply raised his eyebrows willing me to make a decision.

"Your flock. Your call," I charged Fang mockingly.

Fang rolled his eyes, then after a moment decided.

"Ferris Wheel – here we come."

15. Chapter 14

Chapter 14

We touched down behind what appeared to be deserted cottages about a half a mile away from the amusement park. As we flew in, we learned from a big honking welcome sign that we were visiting Wildwood, New Jersey. Summer population – over 250,000. Middle of winter, ten degree freezing cold February population – nobody.

Okay – not "nobody" but the Boardwalk that stretched for a mile along the beach toward the amusement park seemed devoid of life. There were a few shops and restaurants open but not a lot of people milling about which was just fine with us. And it also meant that we might just be able to crash a nice little beach house for the night.

Angel and Nudge took off toward the amusement park as soon as we landed. A short walk later we learned we were at Morey's Pier. Morey's Pier was a three-tiered beachside park that definitely rivaled Disney World in terms of thrill rides and family fun. (I read the brochure) Unfortunately for our small winged troupe, Morey's Pier was only open April through October.

"Well, this sucks," said Gazzy as he kicked a seashell about three yards in front of him.

I had a sinking feeling from the air that the park would be closed. No lights, no people – kind of gives a girl a clue. Of course, every time I attempted to throw this thought out to my flock, their excitement registered a new idea. After hearing Gazzy betting Iggy about how many times on the teacups it would take for him to throw up and listening to Nudge ramble incessantly as to how she couldn't decide if she wanted to ride the ferris wheel and then the carousel and then the roller coaster or the carousel and then the ferris wheel and – well – you get my drift. Nope – no raining on their parade. They were just going to have to get the bad news delivered to them up close and personal.

"Sorry, guys," I told them. I really did feel sorry – I mean – it would have been a nice ending to an otherwise pretty crappy day.

"It's okay, Max," Nudge replied a little disappointedly. "Could we still walk around the park, though? You know – in case we ever come back here."

"Anything for the birthday girl," I responded.

We flew over the gates of the park and toured the outdoor facility. The kids were in awe – each one running up to different attractions, mouths agape. I wondered if they were indulging in fantasies about the rides they could have taken had it not been the off-season. Despite not being able to see, Iggy was as animated as Gazzy about this place. Gazzy directed him to an extremely large roller coaster and detailed everything from the height of the first drop to the three twisting loops in a row. Angel seemed to be taken with the elephants that would lift up and soar in their air. You would think a six year old with wings would be bored with that kind of thing. Personally – I think her fascination stemmed from the fact that the elephants were hot pink and were – well - elephants. Total looked absolutely non-plussed until he ran across a ride called the Himalaya. Memories of Antarctica surfaced and for the next twenty minutes all he could do was whine about how much he missed Akila.

Fang and I hung back, silently enjoying the fun our flock was having. I was shaking my head at Total's latest tirade when Fang motioned for me to join him on a park bench. I walked over to where he was sitting and wait – where was he? Fang had disappeared. He was just here, wasn't he?

"Fang?!" I called out, my voice slightly panicked. I walked toward the bench yet I was scanning the area in every direction.

"I'm over here," he snickered and then all I saw was his lopsided grin. He was exactly where he had been the whole time just taunting me with his new "skill". Fang couldn't exactly disappear, he just sort-of blended into his surrounding – like a freaking chameleon. Just not as colorful – and I am not just describing his personality.

I strode over to the bench and whacked him up side the head. There. Much better.

"Ow," he grimaced while stifling a laugh. "Don't have to be so sensitive." He playfully guarded his face as I bent to strike him again.

I plopped down next to him and leaned my back up against his side. My leg still throbbed a bit from the dagger that impaled it earlier this afternoon. I checked my bandage and noticed that the wound was mending nicely thanks to our quick healing recombinant powers. As I pulled my legs up, extending them across the bench, I reclined into Fang as though he were my own personal Lazy-Boy. The thought kinda warmed me. He turned slightly so that my right shoulder caved into his left one. We sat there like that for a long time, watching the flock. Despite the initial disappointment of the park being closed, they were having a blast. This place felt unusually peaceful. A nice change from the hustle and bustle of our normal routine –you know – like saving the world from terroristic corporations who want to blow up high dollar fashion models.

I closed my eyes momentarily breathing in the cool beach air. Okay – it was a little colder than cool, but hey – it was still the beach.

"This is nice," I said. "I wish it could be like this all the time."

"Yeah," agreed Fang. "So," he continued hesitantly. "What was that all about this afternoon?"

"The bomb?" I questioned as I sat up right.

Fang nodded.

"I've been trying to figure that out most of the afternoon," I continued. "If it was Itex and they were targeting us, how did they even know we were there? And my Voice? It's like it knew Gazzy was down in the basement with the bomb."

Fang held my gaze as I continued.

"I just can't put all the pieces together. And I really thought we had more time." My frustration was pouring out now. I was silently cursing Fang for opening up this can of worms.

"More time?" he asked.

"Yeah," I answered. "We knew Itex would regroup… but so soon? I felt like we could maybe actually not have to look over our shoulders mid-flight all the time…" I crossed my arms pityingly. "So much for that."

Fang ruffled my hair and then sat back with his hands gripping the bench seat. "We'll figure out what they're up to," he reassured me. "We always do."

I sighed and leaned back into the bench. I was beginning to feel the effects of a massive headache setting in when I heard the faintest sound.

I sat up quickly and concentrated my hearing in the surrounding area.

"Is that music?"

16. Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Fang heard the music and sprang to his feet with me. It was faint but grew louder as we both began to walk in the general direction from which the music was coming. We collected flock members as we went.

Gazzy, Iggy, Angel, Total,… Nudge? Where's Nudge?

"Where's Nudge?!" I voiced aloud.

"She said she was going to see the carousel," replied Angel.

We headed toward the carousel, the music getting louder and louder as we approached. As we rounded the area where most of the kiddie rides were located, we saw lights. The carousel was on. It was moving. We all stopped in our tracks, mouths agape.

Huh? What the heck was going on?

As the carousel continued its circular motion, Nudge appeared on a large white stallion. A grin on her face stretched from ear to ear as she moved up and down with her mount. The flock and I sprinted toward her.

"Nudge, sweetie," I started as I hopped over the rails that separated the ride from civilization. "How did - ? What -?" I stammered. I was so shocked by the sudden start of the ride, I couldn't form a comprehensible thought. Finally I just told her to get off the ride for a minute.

"Sure, Max." she replied agreeably. I loved these guys – they just did exactly as I told them – most of the time.

Nudge dismounted her horse and walked off the spinning platform. As soon as her feet left the raised area, the ride stopped. Nudge, unfazed by this, continued to walk toward us.

Okay – I was getting very weirded out.

Flurries of questions were immediately hailed at Nudge.

"What happened, Nudge?" "Why did the ride just turn off?" "How did it do that?"

Nudge just shrugged her shoulders and relayed her story. "Well, I came over here because I know that carousels have all those beautiful animals on it and when I saw this carousel, I just really wanted to pretend that I was riding horses in a large open field. Anyway, I saw the big white one and I climbed on top of it and just kind of put my hands on the reins like this –"

Nudge demonstrated her hands pulling imaginary reins and then continued, "I just sat on the horse for a while, wishing that I could actually ride the carousel, and that's when it just kinda came to life. The music started playing and I started going around and around and up and down. At first I was scared and I took my hands off of the reins and the ride stopped. Well, of course I didn't want that to happen so I just put my hands back on the horse and the ride started up again."

Okaaay – this was beyond freaky. Nudge able to make a ride turn on because she wanted it to?

We all were acquiring a lot of new "skills" lately. Nudge was always pretty adept at hacking into computers – she would merely run her fingers over the keys and passwords would just sort of come to her. She had a sixth sense as to who recently occupied the computer chair; she could feel their presence and see what they were doing. We recently nicknamed Nudge "Magnet Girl" because she was able to attract metal at will. Now it seemed she accomplished a similar feat with computerized theme park attractions. Hmmm. Maybe not such a bad thing – Nudge willing a computer to do her will…

The flock quickly realized what an oh-too-cool skill this was and immediately charged Nudge with turning on every ride in sight. Whoa. Not good.

"Hold up, guys," I interjected. "I know you really want to ride some rides but that would bring a lot of unwanted attention to us right now."

Five extremely disappointed faces quickly shot Bambi eyes at Fang and me. Fang and I looked at one another, desperately hoping the other would make the right call.

Finally, Fang piped up, "Max is right; we can't chance the noise and the lights. How about we all take a quick spin on the carousel?"

He glanced over at me for approval. I shrugged my shoulders, took Nudge's hand, and walked her over to the sea of multi-colored horses.

"Work your magic, girl." I said.

17. Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Nudge mounted her white horse and placed her hands on the reins. She concentrated hard and moments later the carousel whirred to life. Wow! This was still a shocker. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after a few moments. It was pretty amazing, Nudge being able to touch something and will it to life – well, a computerized something. I wondered if it worked on anything that was run by a computer. I was silently thanking higher powers that Angel was not the one to acquire this skill – can only imagine what that would lead to. It was enough for her to be able to read minds let alone control them.

We all grabbed a horse, except for Total who curled up in a sleigh that did not bob up and down. Angel and Nudge giggled incessantly. Iggy and Gazzy, while initially bummed about not being able to ride a rollercoaster, seemed to be enjoying this ride just fine. They rode next to one another and their vibrant conversation seemed to concentrate on the fine art of explosives. Fang and I simply rode in silence. I was trying really hard to enjoy this but I was too guarded. After ten minutes of scanning the area and worrying people on the pier would venture this way due to the noise, I was ready to go. Fortunately for me, Nudge was also.

"Is there a plan for dinner," Nudge inquired. "I'm still hungry."

"Me too," agreed Gazzy.

"I wonder if they have seafood," Nudge wondered. "I mean it is the beach and all and you would think that somewhere –"

"I think I saw one on our flight in," said Iggy with a straight face. We all looked at him and rolled our eyes. The blind kid seemed to forget that he couldn't see.

"We're all rolling our eyes, Ig" I told him.

We commenced our quest for dinner when we saw a flash of light near the towering arch serving as the doorway to the park.


We all froze momentarily and then hightailed it to the back of the park. We did an up and away over the tall fences that enclosed the park and flew out toward the ocean. Looking back I could see several flashlights scanning the park area. Fortunately whoever it was only concentrated on ground level – guess they just didn't imagine a bunch of kids with wings breaking into their park and turning rides on with their minds.

After several minutes of flying out over the ocean, we circled back to the northernmost point of the boardwalk. The sky was already dark and my flock and I were famished. I was very tall and yet only weighed less than one hundred pounds, but I needed to eat way more than the average normal person does. All of us were that way. We hadn't eaten since early that morning and refueling was a priority.

Descending quietly amidst a sea of sand dunes, we tucked in our wings and headed for the boardwalk. Surely, some place would be open for us to have a decent meal. And considering a decent meal for us consisted of foraged leftovers from dumpsters, anything was fair game at this point.

One nice thing about having Jeb with us for our extended gig in New York was the daily food allowance he provided. Earlier this morning, we informed him we were taking Nudge out for her birthday. While he was not too thrilled on the secrecy of the location of the birthday bash, he forked out a couple hundred to assist with our "meal plan". Nice. I felt like a teenager who just asked dad for money to go to the movies. Well – a very rich teenager who was going to a very expensive – oh forget it.

After a late breakfast of pancakes from IHOP (I loved that place!), I still had in the vicinity of – well – a lot of money so I was treating the flock to a nice dinner – on Jeb. I am just too sweet for words.

As we walked along the boardwalk, I was surprised at the number of shops that were open. We first hit the general store for some … appetizers and discovered the mouthwatering taste of salt water taffy. Nudge had half the box sampled before I even paid for it.

"Oooh – this one is peppermint," she squealed. "Iggy, try this one," Nudge continued as she placed a piece in Iggy's hand. "It's supposed to be cherry cola flavored."

I smiled and turned to the register to pay the very cute clerk for our supplies.

"You visiting for the weekend?" he asked. "Haven't seen you around the pier before."

"Uh – you could say that," I stammered, taken aback by the casual conversation with a total stranger. "We're looking for a place that might serve seafood."

He smiled – a pleasant smile that lit up the features of his face. I noticed his hazel eyes and scruffy blond hair and – ugh. What was I doing? My hormones must be going absolutely bonkers. I caught myself staring and looked down at the change he just gave me.

"I don't think you will have to worry about finding a place," the clerk said. "They're all over the pier and most of them are still open. It's the off season so some of them close up during the winter but you still have quite a pick." He paused momentarily, then continued. "My name's Davis. I get off in ten minutes and I'd be more than happy to show you around."

"Don't think that will be necessary," Fang stated sharply as he appeared out of nowhere beside me. Fang quickly ushered me out the door to where the flock was waiting. I barely got a chance to glimpse back at Davis who seemed a little crushed. I glanced at Fang. I noticed a slight tensing of his jaw and wondered what was going on with him.

Things to make a girl go - hmmm.

18. Chapter 17

A/N: Thank you for all the reviews! Please keep them coming! Guess I should finally put a disclaimer in here: Not JP; I don't own MR. But I do own this story - it's been very fun to write!

So for those of you that have been waiting for some Max and Fang action, read on,....

Chapter 17

We started down the pier again taking in our new surroundings. There were a few people roaming in and out of stores and we glanced in a few restaurants that were filled with couples enjoying a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. I don't know if it was the location or the pounds of salt water taffy they just inhaled, but the younger kids and Total were bouncing off the walls. Angel and Gazzy ran up to every storefront window and peered inside, then excitedly relayed their findings. Total savored the aroma from each coffee shop we passed by. Nudge detailed each sight for Iggy and Iggy allowed her to indulge in endless chatter. Fang and I meandered at a safe distance – not letting the flock get too far ahead.

A storefront caught my eye. The store advertised kites – all types and sizes. Rainbow kites, kites sporting the logos of numerous football teams, kites in the shape of cartoon characters. Got me thinking about one of the last outings we had with Jeb before he disappeared from the house in Colorado. It was March and he taught us how to make our own kites. I remember Angel was only four at the time and she just would not stop smiling. Gazzy designed his kite in the shape of Superman. Of course, he was six at the time so his Superman looked more like a peanut. Iggy engineered a monstrous box kite which he flew for ten minutes before it blew up in the air from one of his carefully placed explosives. I remember mine was in the shape of a rocket because I had decided that I was not just going to fly in the air, but I was one day going to fly to the moon. My eyes became misty as I relished in the flash back.

"Yo," Fang broke into my thoughts. "You okay?"

I quickly dabbed at my eyes with the sleeve of my jacket. I was becoming quite the emotional train wreck these days.

"Yep," I replied sharply, sucking the emotions in with a deep breath.

Fang shook his head and we continued walking. A few moments later, Fang grabbed my hand and… he held it.

My heart froze in my chest. I looked up at him. "What are you doing?" I asked shock and fear filling my voice.

"I'm holding your hand," he stated matter of factly, staring straight ahead.

"Why?" I blustered out. I wasn't sure what to do.

"Because I am," he replied flatly, a hint of a smile in his voice.

We walked for a few minutes hand in hand. My palms were getting all sweaty and I was clueless as to what Fang was doing. I was just in shock. Realizing that he was still holding my hand, I pulled it away and said, "What if the kids see us?"

He grabbed my hand again and stopped. He turned to face me, my back up against the paneled enclosure of a closed bookstore. He just looked at me, studying my face. I gazed into his dark eyes as a knot formed in my stomach. My heart was beating rapidly yet I felt like I couldn't take a breath. Fang brushed my hair out of my face, slowly trailing it to my shoulders. A cold shiver went down my spine.

"We should see if the kids –" I barely got out but Fang cut me off.

"When are you going to give in?" he asked softly as he cupped my chin and tilted his head to kiss me. His lips touched mine and his hand went to the back of my neck, angling my head so he could kiss me deeper. This was so, so nice. His hands slid down to my waist, pulling me in closer, his body heat warming mine. I slid my hands up around his neck and this time, I remembered to breathe. This felt so, so right. What was I so afraid of?

"Hey, Max!" shouted a voice from a few feet away.

Oh no. Big mistake. Big mistake.

I don't think two people ever shot apart from each other faster than Fang and I just did.

I cleared my throat as I put major distance between Fang and me. "Yeah, Ig?" I stuttered. Oh thank God Iggy is blind.

"Um… " he continued hesitantly. Crap. Did he sense something? "We found an oyster bar up ahead. You guys ready to eat."

"Sure, let's go," I said and hurried to catch up to Iggy. I took a quick look back at Fang who was strolling behind us, hands in his jeans pockets. He raised his eyebrows and delivered a quizzical look at me.

I whipped my head back around and continued walking. Millions of emotions flooding through me.

Ugh. The purity freaking joys of adolescence.

19. Chapter 18

Chapter 18

"Mmmm… everything smells so good," Nudge said as we waited for the host at Aw Shucks Oyster Bar to seat us.

Angel ran up to me and declared, "They have a big giant aquarium in here! Can we go see it? I want to talk to the fish!"

Yes – she really did say "talk to the fish". Did I forget to mention that skill? She has so many.

"As soon as we get our table, I think that will be just fine, sweetie," I replied.

The hostess returned pulling out four adult menus and two children's menus when her eye caught a glimpse of Total.

"Your dog can't come in," she stated rather condescendingly. "It'll have to wait outside."

Whoops. Forgot about the "no dogs in restaurant" rule. Civilized eating was not usually part of our normal routine. We all looked at each other, then glanced at Total. He gave us a high and mighty pout and quickly turned his head away from us. I could swear I heard a "hmmph" as he did it.

"Ma'am," Angel said as she tried to make eye contact with the hostess. "It would be okay just this once to let a dog into your restaurant."

The hostess appeared very confused. "Yes. Maybe. Just this once," she said caustically as she led the seven of us to a table in the back of the restaurant. I really needed to have a talk with Angel about the ethics of mind control.

After memorizing all exits and formulating escape routes, we managed to allow ourselves to relax into the oversized booth near the kitchen. Almost five years on the run will make even the most carefree person a little paranoid. I made sure that I sat as far away from Fang as possible. I still was a little aghast from our latest smooch session and Iggy almost discovering what we were up to. Even now I didn't know what was going on with us, where things were going, and the last thing I needed was for the flock to figure it out before I did. So for now, I was keeping my distance from Fang.

We ordered bushel upon bushel of oysters and clams and probably could have bought stock in hushpuppies what with all we were eating. No one talked much during dinner. We were all too concerned with shoveling in as much food as possible. Occasionally I would look up from my eat fest and catch Fang staring at me. As I quickly looked away, I would silently wonder what was going through his mind. I'm sure he was doing the same with me.

I paid the bill and we decided to walk along the beach before finding a place to crash for the night. Fang told us to go on ahead and he would meet us there. While I was wondering what he was up to, I was glad my confused self would not have to deal with him for a little while.

I led the way to the beach and immediately grimaced at this insane plan after a very cold wind attacked my face. Of course, this place had nothing on Antarctica, but it was still cold. Gazzy and Angel teamed up on me, seeking to persuade me to let them go swimming. Yeah, right. We stopped for a few moments and I had Iggy start a small fire – yes the blind kid started a fire. He enjoys that kind of thing. We all plopped down on the ground and enjoyed the warmth of the fire as we waited for Fang.

Within minutes he arrived, bag in hand. As he approached us, I arched my eyebrows and gave him a curious stare.

"Figured we needed dessert," he answered my unspoken question. He pulled a large carrot cake out of the bag and placed it in front of Nudge. "Happy Birthday, Nudge."

"Oh, Fang. It's my favorite!" she exclaimed and launched her arms around him. Nudge doted on Fang.

A smile crept onto my face. Not only was Fang tall, dark, and handsome but now we could add incredibly thoughtful and caring to the list. Ugh. Did I really just say handsome - again? While the rest of the flock dug into the cake, I sat back and focused on Fang. I know what you are thinking. Max – you have this great guy sitting right under your nose! Whatever. I just can't get over the fact that he should still feel more like a brother to me than a boyfriend.

I was kicking back with my mushy emotions and jumbled feelings when my raptor vision picked up a black cloud several miles away but moving quickly toward us.

Oh no.

"U and A! Now!" I ordered as I grabbed Total and shoved him in my pack. "Flyboys at ten o'clock!"

We had all launched ourselves in the air by the time I said A, our wings beating hard on every down stroke. I couldn't believe it. We hadn't seen these guys in months. How did they find us?

20. Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Flyboys. There were about forty of them – flying in tight even formation. Flyboys were the robotic form of the wolf-like erasers who served as guards at the School where we had been "raised". Erasers hungered for evil. They thought nothing of killing and viciously enjoyed doing it. My half-brother Ari was one of their leaders and he almost killed us on several occasions. Then Itex "retired" all of the Erasers, except for Ari. His expiration date kicked in shortly after. The Erasers were replaced by Flyboys - no souls and some fatal design flaws, but Itex seemed to improve on that with each new batch. This particular group moved more speedily and nimbly than their predecessors. Our attempts to outrun them failed.

"Try attacking the base of their spine," I commanded, remembering how we defeated them in Germany. I spun a roundhouse kick to one's back and… nothing. They were immune to pain. On to Plan B.

I saw Fang several feet above me grappling with a flyboy for his gun. Problem was – their guns were attached to their arms. That wasn't going to stop Fang. Fang spun around the wolf-bot, pulled its right arm back and pinned it to its side. With his other arm, Fang grabbed the flyboy's left arm and started firing into the swarms of other flyboys. He took out about six or seven until the flyboy wrestled himself away.

"Thought we had a no-gun rule?!" I shouted at him.

"You complaining?" Fang shouted back as he kicked two more flyboys away from him.


Angel! I looked out over the ocean. The last time I saw her she had been buzzing about like a hummingbird, avoiding contact with flyboys. Two flyboys must have gotten hold of her and they were pulling her by the arms across the dark skies. I zoomed toward her and confronted the two hairy monsters. Their red eyes gleamed as they spoke, "You will not win. We are but a few of many." Their voices droned eerily.

"Many what?" I retorted as I grabbed one with all my super bird kid strength and shoved him downward. "Many voice challenged, soul-less, ugly hairy freak-bots?!" My adrenaline was pumping now. No one messed with my Angel. I karate –chopped the other's shoulder. It was a tough enough below for Angel to break free but also tough enough to have broken a bone or two in my hand. Note to self. Do not wallop down on metal.

"Hey! Do you think you could not bounce me around too much?" moaned Total as his head popped out of the top part of my backpack.

I rolled my eyes. "Um – would you rather I left you to fly and fend for yourself?" I retorted.

"Touché," replied Total as he braced himself within my pack.

I left Angel and began to fly into another cluster of flybots when I heard Iggy yell, "Fly away!" I backpedaled hard. When Iggy said to fly away – there was no question about what was going to take place. I watched as three flyboys blew up right in front of me.

There were still so many. Usually we could outrun these guys or take them on mutant to mutant. I was desperately trying to come up with a plan C or D or F when suddenly every single flyboy stopped in mid – air.

What was going on?

They all started to fall and then one-by-one, they all blew up. It looked like a fireworks display high up in the sky.

"Whoa," I heard Gazzy say.

"What just happened?" asked Iggy.

We explained the robotic pyrotechnics show to Iggy and he let out a low whistle. "Sure wish I could take credit for that one," he offered.

We all just looked at each other. Things just got stranger and stranger.

"Let's get out of here," I suggested – for the second time today.

21. Chapter 20

Chapter 20

We flew a bit further south, attempting to put some distance between us and the weirdness of a few moments ago. Down below us the population of beach houses and cottages diminished as the coast of New Jersey narrowed. I remembered seeing advertisements on the boardwalk for Cape May and I believed us to be flying over it. We dove down for a closer look.

Ten minutes later we were behind what looked to be a remote, uninhabited beach house. Oh so carefully, Iggy picked the lock on the balcony of the 2nd floor – within two minutes we were in. Immediately Angel and Nudge began exploring their new surroundings while Gazzy helped Iggy gain his bearings. Total flew over to the kitchen area and began to muzzle through the cabinets. I heard him mumble something about a nightcap. That left Fang and I in the living room – alone. Ugh. I still did not know what to make of us and I did not want a repeat of earlier.

"I'm going to go see what Nudge and Angel are up to," I blurted out quickly and raced up the stairs. I found Angel in a third story bedroom jumping on the bed.

"Max!" she exclaimed in a loud whisper as I peered in. "This place has five bedrooms! We could almost all have our own room! Could I have this one? Please?!"

I looked around at the "princess at the seashore" décor. Great. There were mounds of animals tucked away in the corner just like Angel used to have at our old house in Colorado. Dolls and seashells lined the shelves. A pink canopy topped off the seashell shaped bed. I could see why Angel desired to make this her home for the night. And while I did not want to spoil her evening, I quickly explained how we should probably all bunk in the same room what with the reemergence of the flyboys.

"It would just be easier to keep watch," I informed her.

"Well, why don't we all sleep in here then?!" Angel suggested.

Hmmm. Fang and Iggy sleeping in a seashell bed surrounded by cute fluffy animals and walls that looked like a bottle of Pepto Bismol exploded. Both Angel and I burst out laughing at the same time.

Suppressing laughter, I asked, "How about we all sleep downstairs?"

"Alright, I guess," Angel replied. I could tell she was not totally thrilled but she was being a trooper about it. I ran my fingers through her long blond curly locks.

"How about you choose one of these nice big ones to sleep with?" I suggested pointing to the pile of stuffed animals. "But just for tonight… we'll need to return it tomorrow."

That seemed to placate her and we continued on through the house searching for the rest of the flock. We eventually discovered them in the living room. Iggy was kicked back on a rattan sofa listening to his IPod, Total curled up in his lap. Nudge was helping Fang sift through the pantry in the kitchen, restocking our backpacks with all the food they could find. Gazzy had raided the cookie jar and was stuffing his face full of Oreos.

"Max!" Nudge exclaimed as she eyed me walking in. "Look at all this food they have! There's tons of ravioli and cereal and I know you guys aren't crazy about vegetables but there are so many! We are in hog heaven!" She continued, "So… what's the plan for tomorrow? Are we going to keep flying south? Maybe we could go back to Florida?" By the time she finished she had reached Angel and me. I produced a brush and started brushing through her dark mangled hair as she took a seat in front of me.

"Florida would be nice but-," I started.

"We should go to Disney World again! I bet they're not closed in February!" exclaimed Gazzy though a mouthful of cookies.

"Yeah! Florida!" Angel agreed excitedly.

Fang and I locked eyes momentarily. I drew in a deep breath and said hesitantly, "Maybe… we'll talk more about it in the morning." I glanced around at the flock. "Let's get some sleep – we may need to log some serious flying time tomorrow."

We all completed our hand-stacking night time ritual and began to settle in. Iggy and Gazzy sprawled out on the couch. Angel and Total curled up together in a white oversized papason. Nudge drew into a recliner. They were all out within minutes. It had been a very long, exhausting day for all of us. I turned around to head to the kitchen area and right there in my face was Fang. He really needed to quit sneaking up on people like that.

He stared into my eyes with that "we should talk" look. No thanks. I was so not up for a round of exchanging mushy feelings – not until I sorted them out in my own head. Nope. Not tonight.

"I'm beat," I said quickly, not looking at him. "Do you mind taking first watch?" I didn't even let him answer as I started punching out a pillow and curled up on the floor beneath Nudge. Was I tired? No. Was I going to sleep a wink? Probably not. Anything to avoid a conversation – or worse – with Fang.

I narrowed my eyes to slits and watched Fang. He didn't move for a long time – just watched me, watched the flock. Eventually, he slid over to his back pack and pulled out his laptop. My raptor hearing picked up his soft typing on the keys, undoubtedly updating his blog. The low drone of the computer had a hypnotic effect on me and after about ten minutes, I had drifted off to sleep.

22. Chapter 21

Chapter 21

I struggled to open my eyes – my eyelids feeling as though they were glued to my face. That smell. What was that smell? Summoning all my strength, I forced my eyes open. My heart sped up to twice its normal rate and all the hairs on my arm were now standing at attention. I forced my eyes shut again trying to also close my nostrils so that I wouldn't have to breathe in that odor that I suddenly recognized. Eau de School.

Opening my eyes once more, I realized I was in a cage. How did I get here? My heart leaped into my throat and panic set in. I shook the bars of my enclosure violently until I recognized that the cage door popped open.

I bolted through the opening and sprinted for the door. Locked. My heart still racing I did a 360 as I took in my surroundings. I saw nothing but cages. Cages stacked up atop one another. Cages cluttering every corner. Cages filled with nothing but dead "experiments". I felt the color leave my face as I glared at the make-shift coffins with horror.

Got to get out of here.

Windows. This room had windows. How did I not see them? Quickly I raced for the east side of the room, leapt up into the air and kicked out a tall window with my bare feet – a skill I had practiced many times but with shoes on. I grimaced as I felt tiny shards of glass prick my skin.

I flew fast and away. Glancing back I observed what had once been my home – the School – fading into the distance. Looking below, I saw… Wait. I blinked. I saw the flock. What were they doing here? Had they come to rescue me? I swooped down for a closer look. Our eyes connected. Their faces were filled with happiness, relief. Then, fear.

I looked behind me. Erasers. Crap.

"Find a clearing and get up in the air!" I shouted at my flock as I streaked through the skies. Hundreds of erasers were on my tail and closing on me fast. I zipped down toward ground level and flew into a forest. I whipped through trees trying to shake them, lead them far away from the flock. Soaring into a clearing I took off into the air at over 200 miles per hour. I flew in hypersonic mode for a few minutes then glanced back at my enemies, observing them at a very safe distance.

My flying slowed momentarily as I circled to return to the general location of the flock, making sure no Eraser was following me. As I neared the vicinity of their last position, my heart stopped.

Where were they? Not in the air. Not on the ground. I hoped that they had gotten far, far away from this miserable place.

I scanned the area down below again. There. I saw Iggy's tall lanky body through the trees. What were they doing in the woods? Did I not say "find a clearing"?

They were walking through the woods. What were they doing?! Why didn't they fly away?

I flew down for a closer look and discovered why they weren't flying.

Erasers. At least twenty of them down on the ground – herding my bound and gagged family toward impending doom. Poor Total was duct – taped at the mouth with all four paws bound together. Where were the Erasers taking them? Hmmm. No time to wait and find out.

Hastily I charged the crowd of Erasers and took out three of them as I landed. I bloodied another's nose as he charged me and sent another flying into the air as I launched my feet toward his chest. Still too many. I needed the flock.

As if reading my thoughts, Iggy just finished picking the manacles around his wrists with the post of his earring. I was still trying to figure out just how he did that when I saw he had freed Fang. Fang soared over to help me while Iggy worked on the rest of the flock – but not before taking out a few Erasers with a couple of his homemade explosives. Where did he keep those?

Several Erasers swarmed me and managed to give me a hard kick to the ribs. I doubled over as my breath left me momentarily. Fang grabbed two of them by the neck and banged their heads together, knocking them out instantly. I jumped to my feet before another could get a hit in and sent two bending over in pain with a carefully placed roundhouse kick to areas below their rib cages.

Panting hard after this massive battle with the Erasers, I admired our handiwork. I scanned the skies and ordered the flock to the air. I grabbed Total and took off first with Nudge and Angel a safe distance behind. After Gazzy and Iggy launched themselves into the air, Fang leapt up and flew about thirty feet into the air.

Then he froze and fell back down to earth.

"Fang!" I yelled as I zipped toward him. He just lay there, a crumpled heap on the mossy floor below. Upon reaching him, I turned him over to see his face, get a pulse.

My heart froze in my chest.

He was gone.

23. Chapter 22

Chapter 22

I gasped as I shot straight up to a seated position from where I had been sleeping.

Dream. Just a dream.

Well it was a dream I had been having off and on for the past two weeks but still just a dream.

Okay - more like a nightmare.

"Max?" I heard Fang whisper.

Oh thank God. Fang. Still alive.

He began to walk toward me. "What's going on?" he asked, his voice tinged with concern.

"Nothing – just a bad dream," I replied quietly.

Fang knelt down next to me, trying not to wake the rest of the flock. "You're soaked… from sweat?!," he said as he pressed the back of his hand to my forehead. "What'd you dream about?"

Oh. I don't know. The normal stuff – Erasers, the School,… you dying in mid-air.

Yeah – like I was going to tell him about that.

"Nothing," I muttered as I got up and pushed past him. "I just need some air."

I undid the doors to the balcony and silently shoved them open. The cold air initially startled me and my skin instantly felt clammy but it sure did cure the perspiration blues I was feeling.

Fang followed me and gently grabbed my hand and turned me to face him. "Not nothing," he pressed, persistence in his tone. "I've never seen you twitch so much." I could see the worry in his eyes. "You're face is as white as a ghost!"

I slowly drew my hand away from his and turned toward the black ocean stretched out beyond the sandy walkway.

"I'm fine," I said quietly lost in thought, still troubled by the freakish nightmares my mind was subjected to. I secretly hoped my new skill was not seeing into the future. I glanced at Fang. "Go get some sleep. I'll take the next watch." Don't think I'll be sleeping again any time soon.

I turned back to the balcony railing and lost myself in the roar of the ocean. The moon in its fullness emitted a peaceful glow across the dark barren sky. I propped my elbows onto the railing and stared out into the starless night. There was an incredible calm about this place and I silently wished we could stay here forever.

Fang stood there beside me for what seemed the longest time. Fang is usually extremely patient with me and my moods - with the flock in general - but I could feel frustration heating his core. His fists clenched and released several times in aggravation and at one point he shook his head and headed back into the beach house, only to abruptly turn on his heels and strut right back towards me. He grabbed my arms and whipped me around to face him.

"You are not fine!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "You have been avoiding me like the plague all night – why won't you just talk to me?!"

Fang was strong – stronger than the rest of us, but, I wrestled my arms away and, with all the grace and attitude I could muster, placed my hands on my hips. I hissed right back at him.

"Talk? Seems every time we start talking, your mouth tries to do a face plant onto mine."

He pulled back – stung. "I don't seem to recall you complaining earlier," he retorted quietly.

"Let's just say I got caught up in the whole 'Valentine's Day' moment," I snapped back, emphasizing Valentine's Day with air quotation marks.

Fang shot back, "You and I both know there's something there, Max. Why are you fighting this?"

"Because we have to, Fang," I replied snidely. "Face it. Itex is back. I can't be worried about a 'relationship' when I'm fighting Erasers and keeping the flock safe." I looked at him and could see the hurt and anger he was trying to hide in his eyes. I didn't have a choice. My heart just couldn't risk being all fluttery amidst the terrorism we were experiencing. "And look at what almost happened earlier," I continued. "Iggy has to know something's up. We can't risk the flock's safety over this mushy – gushy nonsense."

Okay – I admit it. I had gone a little too far with that last comeback. Fang slowly turned away from me and stared at the black expanse facing us. He didn't speak for a long time – which is not unusual for him but the silence was killing me. I was mentally kicking myself, wondering why I had been a blubbering idiot. Part of me knew that we had to cool our hormones at least until we figured out what was going on with Itex – you know – save the world again. But a bigger part of me wanted to forget all about our situation and see what would happen if I actually let myself go.

Finally he spoke. "So that's it?" he said, still not looking at me. "You're going to put a lid on this like nothing's even there?"

My heart was in my throat. I couldn't say anything. Tears were forming in my eyes like we were having a big break-up or something – oh wait – I had already done that with him.

He looked at me – his eyes gazing into my soul, reading every conflicting emotion I was experiencing. I sensed he half-understood what I was doing and why I was doing it.

I finally spoke. "I just… don't know if it's a good idea right now."

"You're letting them win – you know," he said quietly. "We're just kids. When are we going to just get to be kids?"

I shrugged and sucked all my tears in with a deep breath. I stared at my feet, my dirty jeans,… anything except Fang.

Another long uncomfortable silence passed. Fang had turned back to the balcony overlooking the ocean. I just simply turned away – miserable with my jilted emotions.

Then Fang broke the silence.

"I can't keep doing this," he started.

What? What was that supposed to mean? My heart froze in my chest. Panic overwhelmed me. I looked at him, searching his black eyes for meaning.

He walked back inside but stopped just short of the doorway. He spun back around to gaze at me. Another round of awkward silence. I absolutely positively hated this. He and I just stared at one another for what seemed to be the longest time – each one trying to read the other. And then the quiet was broken by – yep – Fang again.

"Balls in your court, Max," he sighed and shook his head. "I'm outta here."

Then he grabbed his pack and he was gone.

24. Chapter 23

A/N: Wow.... Didn't mean to strike a nerve with some of you, but I really did appreciate the reviews! I just finished chapter 100 this morning and I have a feeling when all is said and done, my fic might be close to 130 maybe 140 chapters! Hope you can stick with me that long! It's been so fun to write and I am glad many of you are enjoying it too. I will continue to post 2 chapters each day. Today - you are getting 3 because they are a little short! Enjoy and keep reviewing!

Chapter 23

I watched as Fang took off into the dark night, his body immediately enveloped in the black sky. I wondered where he was going, when he'd be back – if he'd be back. I wondered why I had to be such a stupid, stupid idiot. I could feel his hurt, sense his pain. I hated this.

But this is what I had to do. I… we had to keep the flock safe.

Every emotion I could possibly experience came flooding to the surface and I stood outside and let the tears flow. I bent over the balcony and sobbed for the longest time. I thought about all the things he said – he made so much sense. We deserved to be normal kids – they took that away from us before we were even born.

I thought about what he said right before he flew away.

Ball's in your court.

It was up to me to make the next move.

I began to shake and cry all over again.

25. Chapter 24

Chapter 24

You are reading Fang's Blog. Welcome!

Visitor Number: Way up there

Random Thoughts…

Did you ever have one of those moments where you just really hated your life? You know – your mom shortens your curfew to 10:00, your best friend starts dating the girl you really like, you parents ground you for a week. Well, come trade with us for a day. You know – grow up in cages, be on the run always from Erasers or Flyboys or Transformer-bots, can't go anywhere without someone trying to blow you up. Welcome to our world. Yeah – the wings and the flying and the freedom are great and all but sometimes I wonder how nice it must be to not look over your shoulder wherever you go or to actually be a normal teenager experiencing normal teenage things. So the next time you are cursing your parents because they took away your Xbox, be thankful you have parents. Or if you are really hating your life – thank your lucky stars you are not sleeping in trees.

Food for thought.

Anyway – for those of you that enjoyed the nice fireworks display in New Jersey, you can thank your friendly neighborhood Flyboys. They all self-destructed mid-flight. So it looks like Itex is back and we are on the run – again. And for those of you wondering about the sudden earthquake in downtown Manhattan yesterday – we think that was Itex too.

On a less sour note – the flock is all together and safe for now. Max is still as stubborn as always – but I'll take her that way as long as she keeps saving our butts. Angel continues to freak us out with all her "abilities" and Total is managing the great art of flying. His itty bitty chicken wings still make me laugh every time I look at them. Gazzy and Iggy – what can I say – they're just explosive – always finding new things to blow up – like Max's favorite shoes or Max's one and only Liam Rooney tee-shirt. Oh yeah – and Nudge just had a birthday. She's twelve now. Max will turn fifteen in two weeks. We're just growing like weeds.

That's it for now so I'll just answer a few questions.

Billybob from Des Moines writes:

You guys rock, man! What I wouldn't give to have wings!

Fang replies:

Thanks, man but uh… seriously… reread blog post. Not all that it's cracked up to be.

Spunkyflygal from Brooklyn writes:

Fang – you guys are so cool! I so wish I could fly. Me and my BFF KeKe saw your flying show the other day and that was just so awesome! We both think Iggy is totally hot – will you tell him that for us? I mean, you're cute too and all but well – it was kind of obvious you and Max were into each other. Are you dating? You guys would make a really cute couple. So is Iggy really blind cuz it so looks like he could see up there. So hey - we just live in Brooklyn so anytime you guys need a place to chill. LOL!

Fang replies:

Are you related to Nudge? I'll be sure to relay your message to Iggy – well I'll have Max do it – don't know how Iggy will take a guy telling him he's hot. Dating? Is that like – dinner and a movie with a nice stroll in the park after? Wouldn't know anything about that… too busy battling evil bad guys.

Johanna25 from Sydney writes:

I am so worried about you guys. I can't believe Itex is back. I was part of the group that protested Itex in Sydney. We'll do it again!

Fang replies:

Thanks Johanna25. We may need to take you up on your offer.

Kimbizzle11 from Helena writes:

Happy Birthday Nudge and Max! When is your birthday Fang? I'd love to be your present. Xoxox

Fang replies:

I think Max and I have already hit the fifteen mark but I choose to celebrate my birthday on May 13 – no rhyme or reason… just picked a day. If you are wondering about Gazzy and Iggy – they both picked July 4th. Couldn't imagine why.

Thanks – fly on.

26. Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Fang shut down his laptop and stared silently out into the dark night. He had flown the short distance across the bay and into Delaware and chose an unpopulated beach to touch down for the night. He had a strong desire to update his blog after the episode with Max. There were still tons of hits to his site, even more than when he was rallying kids from all over the world to help stop Itex. He wondered if he would need their help again.


What were they up to? Why were they suddenly targeting the flock? Were they rebuilding like Max thought? Would they try to execute their By-Half plan again? What kind of surprises were they hiding up their sleeves?

Would they try to take them back to the School?

Fang shuddered – the sights and smells all came rushing back. White coats, cages, half-dead experiments,… Erasers… Ari…

He forced the thoughts out of his mind as he leaned against his pack.

His thoughts shifted to the flock. He wondered if they were safe. No. He knew they were. Max was there.


Why did she have to be so hard-headed? He pictured her – stubborn and confused. He saw her – hands on her hips – flying off the handle.

Brushing Nudge's hair, consoling Gazzy in her arms.

Her face ghostlike upon waking from her dream.

He relived holding her hand at the beach – how that had flustered her.

Her tender lips beneath his.

He quickly remembered their goodbye – the tears in her eyes.

What did she want from him? Why did she keep pushing him away?

He rolled on his side, trying to settle in.

He thought about what he said to her.

I can't keep doing this.

He knew he couldn't, despite how he felt about her. It was too hard. Maybe, just maybe she would come around.

But it would have to be her move.

27. Chapter 26

Chapter 26

"Max!" I heard Iggy cry out from my seat on the balcony. I hadn't moved much from this railing perch except an occasional look-see on the flock.

"Out here, Ig" I replied hoarsely. My eyes were gritty and my voice gruff from all the crying mixed with the cold air.

Dawn was breaking and I knew we needed to move before daylight struck. Fang had not returned and while I knew he would be back, I was starting to worry.

Iggy followed my voice to the balcony and plopped down in a chair near where I had propped myself up onto the balcony rails. He scanned the area as though he could see.

"Where's Fang?" he wondered.

"He went out for a little while," I stated, hoping my words were not traced with worry. "He'll be back."

I looked back out across the ocean. The sky shone a purple-orange hue as the sun was breaking free of the water in the far east. It was still freezing but the weather appeared to be free of wind – a nice day for flying.

"Anyone else up yet?" I asked Iggy as I continued to scan the skies.

"Nah – Gazzy's snoring should wake them up soon enough."

Hmmm. I pictured Gazzy – curled up in fetal position, mouth open. His blond scruffy hair had finally lost the mohawk he had treated himself to the last time we were in New York. A healthy glow began to return to my face as I mused about my flock.

"Should probably start getting them up soon," I suggested as I hopped off the balcony.

"In a minute," Iggy said still sprawled out on the balcony lounge chair, hands clasped together across his chest, legs dangling over the side. He paused and then continued, "So… are you going to tell me what's up with you and Fang or do I just need to beat it out of him?"

Iggy was anything but subtle.

"What are you talking about?" I quickly blurted out. "Nothing's going on." Well – nothing now anyway.

So – great. Iggy knew. This is so not what I needed right now.

"Uh-huh," Iggy said, sitting up and tapping his long bony fingers on the arm rest. "So just what were you two doing when I came to get you for dinner last night?"

My face flared the color of cherries. Thank God Iggy could not see.

"Nothing," I said unconvincingly. "We were just… uh… coming up with a plan." Good one.

"For what? Your wedding?" Iggy joked. He was trying to suppress his laughter as he stood up quickly to get away from my wrath.

"Ow!" he exclaimed through a giggle while grabbing his leg. Too late. Yes – I had kicked him – hard – in the shins. I was aiming for something a little higher, but Iggy was a little too nimble.

I went in for round two when I heard Nudge from the doorway, "Max? I'm hungry. Is there a plan for breakfast?"

"There's always a plan," Fang said as he swooped in, skidding to a stop a few feet from Nudge.

My heart skipped a beat and a rush of relief filled my soul. I hadn't really been too worried but his presence still allayed my concerns.

Fang produced two grocery bags filled with eggs, cheese, bagels,… Simply put – breakfast heaven.

Nudge grabbed the bags and ran through the living room practically tripping over Total in the process.

"Hey!" I heard an annoyed Total say. "Watch it! I need my beauty sleep!"

Iggy rose and began to walk inside. "Guess I better get to work."

Iggy was our resident chef extraordinaire. Yes – the blind kid could cook too. He was really quite adept at many things – having lost his eyesight at the School heightened his other senses. When we were doing our tour of the frozen wasteland called Antarctica, he discovered he could see whiteness – pretty cool. And Iggy could call the color of something just by touching it. We were just accumulating new skills all the time. Jeb thought we might be mutating on our own – sure did keep things interesting.

Iggy poked his head back through the doorway.

"Now don't you kids do anything I wouldn't do," he teased.

My face flushed and I picked up a seashell and whipped it at his chest.

"Ow! Quit throwing things at me!" he exclaimed as he waltzed back inside.

I glared at Fang and barked, "See?! That's what I'm talking about!" I huffed and with an exaggerated sigh I pushed past Fang and stormed inside.

28. Chapter 27

Chapter 27

An hour and seven full bellies later we were spread out in the living room unable to move. Our normal consumption rate should be at least 3000 calories a day. Problem with living on the run – sometimes we didn't eat at all. So we took full advantage of every opportunity for a good hearty meal. We were lounging around, relishing the peaceful morning and the hushed roar of the ocean outside when Iggy spoke up.

"What's the plan, Max?" Iggy asked with a hint of snicker in his voice. I was so going to kill both him and Fang.

Actually I had no plan. I usually relied on my Voice or my natural GPS for directional advice. Hadn't heard from the Voice in a while so I decided we were going to head for warmer weather.

We're heading –" I began.

Go back to New York, my Voice charged.

"Wha-at? New York?" I exclaimed. Six mutant eyes were staring at me. I walked away from the group, one hand on my temple – attempting to concentrate.

We can't go back to New York! Or have you forgotten the bomb in the basement situation? I reminded it.

You need to finish your work there. Jeb is waiting for you – with Dr. Martinez, explained the Voice.

A huge smile began to form on my face and I felt a warm resurgence of energy floating through every muscle of my body. Dr. Martinez, aka the coolest mom in the world, was a veterinarian out in Arizona. She and her daughter Ella befriended me and took me in when I was hurt and she took a chip out of my arm that the School had put in me long ago. Then, while we were in Germany saving the world, I found out she was really my mom. My whole world just got better after that.

So – back to New York it was.

I turned back to face the flock, all of them eagerly anticipating my orders. Well – all of them except for Fang. He wasn't speaking to me or looking at me. Which didn't ease the pit at the bottom of my stomach but I guess I deserved that.

"I guess we're going to New York," I said as my flock's puzzled expressions grew even more bewildered.

"I love New York! Can we go see another fashion show?" Nudge wondered allowed.

"I say we go to the Met," Total suggested while licking a paw. Six bird kid eyes descended upon him. He looked up to our perplexed faces. "Oh come on…. The Metropolitan Museum of Art?! You people are so uncultured."

Every single one of us rolled our eyes at the same time.

"Well – I guess we're not going to Disney World – again," Gazzy huffed dejectedly. "I am never going to ride a rollercoaster."

I sat down next to him on the couch, placed my arms around his shoulders, and curled him up into me. "Tell you what, Gaz," I said. "As soon as we finish whatever work we have to do in New York, we will find you a rollercoaster." I ruffled his hair as he looked up and smiled.

"So – what's in New York?" Iggy questioned, breaking up the charming HallMarky moment.

"I don't know exactly. The Voice just said we have to finish our work there. Jeb is there," I paused before I continued, a gigantic smile sneaking onto my features again. "And so is my mom."

Fang finally glanced at me with raised eyebrows. Angel and Nudge smiled almost as big as I had. They all loved my mom because well – she was just so awesome.

So that was it. We were going back to the disaster we just left not even twenty-four hours earlier. Wondered what else the Big Apple had in store for us.

29. Chapter 28

Chapter 28

Airborne again. Flying is so underrated. I mean - to stretch your wings out thirteen feet across and soar above the clouds, looking down at an endless expanse of grassy hills and mountains and buildings and cars and people. To catch a current and just coast for miles or to beat your wings hard and have a speed race with Gazzy – who would never win. He had nothing on my warp speed. To fly mindlessy and just have time to think. I guess you wouldn't know anything about that, but trust me – it's the most fantastic, exhilarating experience in the world. I guess it would be kind of like riding your bike down a really long, long hill. But without the wings. Or the seeing from the air part. Or… never mind.

We had been flying for close to two hours and we were gliding somewhere over the eastern border of Pennsylvania. I had enough of flying over the ocean for a bit so we flew inland. I led our tight formation of flying bird kids and bird dog. Usually Fang, my right-hand man, was beside me but today he hung back behind everyone. He still wouldn't talk to or look at me. Again – totally my fault. Just did what I thought I had to do.

Normally when we fought – which we did quite often – he emitted powerful "wring your neck" vibes which tended to boil my blood. Today – I didn't get any of that from him. I gathered more of a resigned, "I'm done with you", hurting vibe from him, which added all sorts of unpleasantries to the growing pit in my stomach.

Angel broke into my thoughts as she sent me one of her own. When you're trying to keep the notion of me and Fang under wraps, telepathy was the hot ticket.

Fang is really upset.

I know, sweetie. I know, I mentally replied.

You should talk to him. I've never seen him this upset. I'm really worried about him. Angel's tone was plastered with concern.

I sighed as I choked back my emotions. It's a little more complicated than that, honey.

He loves you. You love him. How can that be complicated?

30. Chapter 29

Chapter 29

Well, how's that for six-year old mutant recombinant life form logic?

I was about to try to explain it to her, then realized I couldn't even explain my relationship with Fang to myself. Perhaps Angel was right. Why was I making this so complicated?

Time to think about something else.

I was scaling down the list of possibilities when my raptor hearing picked up an awful droning noise. I whipped my head to see what looked like a swarm of hornets coming straight at us.

Ugh. Could we not catch a break here?

"Fang, grab Total!" I ordered. "Let's get out of here – now!"

We dove down beneath the clouds and my flock flew as fast as their skinny little bodies allowed. The Flyboys followed us, their beady red eyes bored on us like a laser through our souls. This group was so much faster than any batch Itex had manufactured before and we were having a teensy bit of trouble shaking them.

A bed of mountains came into view and a light bulb went off in that clever little brain of mine.

"Head for the mountains!" I screamed through a heavy wind. My flock immediately understood my plan. We banked left and dove down at over 150 miles per hour. About one hundred feet from the mountain, we flew straight toward the mountain side, traveling as fast as possible. Just as it looked like we might get strangled in the trees on the mountainside, we turned upward and shot up like a rocket.

Several of the flyboys, not anticipating our move, crashed smack dab into the green forest on the side of the mountain. They either bounced hard off trees or became an instant flint as they exploded into flames.

About half left… not too bad.

We sailed up over the next peak and I eyed a small niche beneath us.

"Fang!" I yelled. "I'll take these guys," indicating the fast approaching wolf-bots, "Take the flock down there!" I pointed to my recent discovery.

I watched them soar downward as I took off for the next mountain top. Most of the flyboys stuck with me while a few forked to follow Fang and crew. I wasn't worried. My flock could handle them.

As I neared the next mountain, I noticed the highway below seemed to be traveling through it.


I hit warp speed as I swooped down toward asphalt. Forty flyboys followed. Although it was mid-morning, traffic was sparse and I believed I could make this new plan work for me. As I neared ground level, I flew into the tunnel. Several flyboys crashed into the walls of the entrance and a few more steam rolled into walls inside from an inability to maneuver their wings quickly enough. But the rest were still with me. I zipped from side to side hoping my robot friends would follow suit. A few more met their demise but there were still so many.

Half way through to the light at the end, I glanced back. These guys were speedy little buggers. Granted I had not turned on my hyper drive but man, were these guys fast and much more adept at flying. I turned back around and – whoa. A whole lot of screaming was going on inside my brain. I was about to come face-to-face with a big honking truck. No – literally honking. What I mistook for the screaming in my head was actually the beeping of the eighteen wheeler stretched about before me, just a few feet away. There was no way I could fly around it, my wingspan was too wide. The truck was trying to slow and I yelled to the driver.

"Get out! Jump!"

I pulled my wings in fast and dropped to the ground running clumsily. The Flyboys – not so lucky. One-by-one they hit the windshield of the truck until the force of so many of them ramming it sent the truck rolling backward and into the cavern wall.

Thank God the driver had listened to me. He jumped at the exact moment I ran by him. I spun around, grabbed him by the waist, and carried his over 200 pounds – I swear – to a safe distance.

The truck collided with a wall and a massive explosion ensued. The department of transportation would have their work cut out for them for a while. In the meantime, I was Flyboy free – just the charred remains of burning metal. Ewww.

31. Chapter 30

Chapter 30

A few minutes later I rejoined my flock in their cozy little mountainside getaway.

"Max!" Nudge exclaimed as I neared the entrance.

"Everybody okay?" I asked, looking at everyone but Fang.

"Good to go," acknowledged Iggy. "Let's blow this popsicle joint."

I glimpsed around. All intact with but a few minor injuries. Nudge was clutching her side and Fang was stopping the bleeding to Gazzy's nose, but otherwise – looking good.

"Alright, guys," I addressed my flock. "Looks like Itex is back in full force. Be on guard all the time. We still don't know about Jeb so be mindful of him too. No telling what New York will bring, but let's just stick together."

Pretty good speech if I do say so myself.

We refueled with the food stocked in our packs and took to the air. An hour later we were coasting over downtown Manhattan when I saw a distinctive wave from the top deck of a parking garage on 21st street.

The pit in my stomach diminished slightly as I waved back to my mom. Happiness overwhelmed me and as we skidded to a halt on the top floor parking deck I rushed toward her and buried myself in her arms.

"I am so glad you're here," I voiced awkwardly.

While Dr. Martinez had been the egg donor that eventually became me, I still only knew her as my mom for the past few months. But I was having no trouble getting used to all this warm-fuzzy mom-daughter stuff.

She arched out of our embrace to study my face. "You okay?" she whispered then eyed Fang leaning against a far wall. She did a double-take to both Fang and me, then said, "Want to talk about it?"

"Maybe later," I shrugged and casually broke from our embrace.

"Max!" I heard for the second time in an hour. I looked around and saw Ella, my half-sister approaching. I hugged her and she continued excitedly, "Mom's letting me miss school tomorrow!"

"I would never hear the end of it if I didn't," added mom.

And then everyone was exchanging embraces and pleasantries. Nudge started rambling on to Ella about the fashion show the previous day and Angel and Gazzy regaled my mom with our trip to the beach – minus the Flyboy part of course. Iggy found his way over to Nudge and Ella and tried to put a lid on Nudge's motor mouth. No such luck. Even Total joined in as he jumped into my mom's arms and licked her face. Gross. Fang just hung back as usual but when my mom carefully approached and produced a Ziploc bag filled with chocolate-chip cookies, he actually fell into a quick embrace. My mom just doted on my flock and they in turn just loved her. Come on - what's not to love?!

Jeb walked up a short moment later. Gazzy, Angel, and Nudge looked at me and I gave them a quick nod before they scooted over and allowed Jeb to hug them. Fang and I were still extremely guarded around him. He had betrayed our trust and we were not as forgiving as the younger crew. But Angel wasn't picking up any evil intent from him so I guess the tension was weakening.

Acknowledging us with a glimpse around and a nod, he then rubbed his hands together as though he were fighting off coldness and asked, "Okay - anyone up for some lunch?"

32. Chapter 31

Chapter 31

Well – you don't have to ask us that question twice.

We found a hole in the wall pizzeria a short walk away and settled in at a cozy little table for ten in the back part of the restaurant.

Our food arrived – hot, piping pizza – one for each of us. We quickly double-checked for any sign of explosives and then dug in. Midway through what was truly the best pizza I had ever eaten, I cut to the chase.

"So – what have you got planned for us today?" I asked flatly and stared at Jeb.

My mom spoke up.

"Well," she began tentatively as she shared a glance with Jeb. "The DoSomethingNow organization is very pleased with everything that you've done for them this week. People have been very attentive to their causes and to you and –"

"The group is going to publish its first bimonthly magazine – both online and in print," Jeb added. "There will be articles about all their causes, events occurring all over the world. They will cater it to a younger adult population but still will aim for an appeal to everyone."

My flock and I stared at my mom and Jeb as we chewed, anxiously awaiting our part in all of this. They both had very nervous expressions drawn on their faces.

"Uh-huh. So – how do we fit in?" I asked impatiently.

Jeb and my mom shared another glance.

"Well… they are working on the initial issue," my mom explained. "And, Max, they want you to be the first cover model."

My flock looked at me, I looked at them, and then six mutant bird kids and one mutant bird dog busted out laughing. Gazzy's milk spewed through his nose all over Total. Nudge grabbed her side where a Flyboy had kicked her earlier.

"Oh. Oh. Oh. Stop," she said through hysterical laughter and tears. "Ow - my ribs. Oh that is too, too funny."

Even Fang was laughing. Not just a chuckle – but a good hearty laugh. Which warmed my heart a little.

"Max! A model?!" Iggy said through a loud guffaw. He turned to where I was sitting next to him. "That means you'd have to wear a dress and make-up and… whoa – you might actually have to brush your hair."

I elbowed him hard in his side.

"Ow!" he yelled. Then he spoke in a hushed whisper that he knew only I could hear, "Of course, Fang might be all into that."

He snickered and I elbowed him – again.

Meanwhile, Gazzy rose from where he was eating and ran to an aisle separating our table from the other restaurant patrons.

"Introducing the spring line," Gazzy began, fake microphone in hand, sounding exactly like the announcer at the fashion show yesterday. One of Gazzy's many unpleasant "skills" is mimicry. And he could throw his voice – like a ventriloquist. Growing up in the E-House in Colorado, there was many an order given from my mouth that I did not actually say. Reason number fifty-three that Fang and I could not let the flock know about us – if there was ever going to be anything to let them know about.

Gazzy went on, "The spring collection by Oscar de la Hoya…"

"La Renta! Oscar de la Renta," Total interrupted with disgust. Angel was still assisting him with removing Gazzy's regurgitated milk from his furry little body. Blech.

"… and modeled by the indestructible Maximum Ride," Gazzy continued. Then he exacted a perfect replication of a model strutting down a catwalk. He walked forward, exaggerated hip sways and all, stopped, fluffed his imaginary shoulder length hair, spun around, and pranced right back to his seat. His uncanny imitation left us in another round of side-splitting laughter.

Jeb and my mom exchanged a warm smile.

Ella chimed in, "Well, I think Max is beautiful. She would make a great cover model."

Score one for my half-sister. However, she had no idea how un-Max that would be. We all knew; hence, the reason for all the hilarity.

I looked at my mom and Jeb. They were still smiling. Our little episode must have come across as rather endearing.

"Sorry, mom," I said through a chuckle. I shook my head. "This is one mission I simply cannot fulfill."

I paused as I stifled my laughter and cleared my throat.

"But I think I know someone who can." All eyes followed mine and rested on Nudge.

A huge smile crept onto her face, a smile that lit up her chocolate skin like a full moon on a cloudless night.

"I'm going to be a model!" she squealed.

33. Part II Just Bee u ti ful Chapter 32

Chapter 32

Nudge… a model.

For her, this was the ultimate birthday present, a dream come true. After lunch, we headed downtown to a conference room at the Plaza Hotel, the site of Nudge's first shoot.

Once inside we were instantly greeted heartily by Dr. Michael Papa, one of the scientists who we worked with in Antarctica. He had flown up for the last day of the summit to assist us with our final speeches on Global Warming. Several representatives from the DoSomethingNow group were present including Gillian Taft. She was a tall no-nonsense woman who looked a lot younger than her forty some years seemed to indicate. She had been the one to introduce us at the summit and stood by with Jeb, her facial expressions dripping with encouragement as we delivered talks to different groups. She also scheduled our agenda and most importantly, fed us lunch.

"I am so glad you are here," she voiced with a sigh of relief. "I hope you were nowhere near the catastrophe that hit the downtown area yesterday. The police are still baffled by what happened. They've even brought in the FBI!"

We all looked grimly at one another. Gazzy immediately stared at his shoes.

"We were around," I answered quickly, my eyes looking everywhere but at her. "But – you know – the wings… saw most of it from the air."

"Well, I am just so glad you are all safe and sound," she added, placing both hands on Angel's shoulders and staring into her face. Angel smiled. Gillian looked as though she were going to reach out and grab her cheeks. She reminded me a lot of my own mom, just a lot more boisterous with her motherly instincts. She noticed my mom standing by Jeb and strolled toward her.

"You must be Dr. Martinez," she said warmly offering her hand. My mom took it. "I am so glad that you could join us." She walked my mom over to me and continued, "Now – we have a special photographer joining us from Milan at no cost to the organization, which is doubly good for us. He is very much a proponent of our group and its causes," she explained. She put her arm around my shoulder and went on, "He'll take several shots of Max-"

My eyes widened. I looked to my mom for assistance.

"Well- there's been a slight change in plans," my mom began.

Gillian immediately stopped and pulled her arm away from my shoulders. Her eyes widened to the size of grapefruits. Her amiable smile was quickly replaced by a not so friendly frown.

"Max thought it might be better for one of her family members to represent your organization," my mom explained. Then, she motioned for Nudge to step forward.

"We think Nudge would be perfect as your cover model."

Gillian stood there for a few moments, her index finger on her lips, thumb on her jaw. She gave Nudge the once-over and then the three-times over. Nudge drew uncomfortable and began to twist her foot and look at the floor.

Gillian finally turned to my mom and me and said, "Excellent decision!" She strolled toward Nudge and directed her to a door off to the right side of the room. "Now – let's go get you cleaned up and ready for the photographer."

I watched Nudge exit the room, a huge smile covering the entire bottom half of her face. My mom and Ella accompanied her – we still had to be on guard with everything. No way I was letting Nudge leave the room by herself. Nudge was ecstatic and I was equally happy for her. And I'm sure our entire evening would consist of nothing but Nudge chatter about her first modeling experience. Yeah.

34. Chapter 33

Chapter 33

I ambled over to my flock who were trying as hard as they could to inherit Fang's ability to blend into the wall. The room was filled with the hustle and bustle of people milling about, preparing for the photo shoot, but we still felt the eyes of everyone in the room. I guess the whole wing and flying thing was still quite a shock to some – and then, of course, add to that a flying, talking dog – yeah I guess I could maybe see why some might gawk for hours on end.

Dr. Papa (still smiled every time I said that name) had engaged Angel in a conversation about the week, taking time to share Akila's daily routine with Total. Iggy and Gazzy appeared to be up to something – what exactly I did not want to know nor did I hope to find out. And Fang – well, he really did blend into a wall because I couldn't see him at all. Not that I wanted to – it just added to my growing discomfort around him right now. I began to take a seat in one of the chairs along the wall when the main entrance doors flew open. My flock and I immediately raised our guard as we jumped to attention.

"I don't care if Tara is dying in a hospital bed! I need her in London tout suite!" a tall flamboyant man exclaimed into his head set as he burst through the doors.

Throngs of personal assistants scurried in behind him, hands scribbling on pads as quickly as their little fingers would let them. The man was quite a presence – his thick blond hair spiked, sporting a goatee and an earring, dressed to the nines in black Armani, barking orders rather effeminately to his crew behind him. He stopped in the middle of the room and gazed around.

Gillian quickly tore through the side door and scurried over to the gentleman in the center of the room.

"Jean-Luc!" she exclaimed as she found her way to his side. "Thank you so much for coming!" She shook his hand vigorously. "We are so excited and so honored for you to join us today!"

He took her hand, raised it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. "It is my pleasure," he expressed genuinely in a most distinctive accent. Then he looked around and clapped his hands in the air. "Let's go, people! We have a show to do!"

Cameras began to appear out of nowhere. Everyone's hustle and bustle just got more hustlier and bustlier. Jean-Luc studied the background, backed away, camera in hand, and practiced taking shots of people who weren't really there.

"I am so glad that is not going to be me," I thought to myself aloud.

"I think you could hang," I heard Fang say as he appeared out of nowhere beside me.

I jumped back, startled, then looked at him.

My gaze turned back to Jean-Luc and the extreme multi-tasking busyness before us.

"He speaks," I said referring to Fang's comment, the pit in my stomach reducing slightly in size.

Fang shrugged, stuck his hands in his pockets, and stared straight ahead. I looked at him and wondered if we were ever going to be back to normal. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know – completely my fault.

Angel trotted over with Total and jumped into my arms. I squeezed her tight then placed her gently on the floor.

"Hey, baby," I said. "What have you and Total been up to?"

"Total's been talking to Dr. Papa about Akila," replied Angel. "Akila's been a little sad – you know – not being around Total and all and Total – well, he's just been so whiny lately and of course after today and hearing all about Akila - it's going to get even worse."

I sighed. I knew where this was going.

Angel continued, "Anyway – I just don't understand why we couldn't keep Akila with us – it would make Total so happy."

Total, lying on the floor in front of us, crossed his front paws, placed his furry little head on top of them, and gazed up at us – with Bambi eyes.

Fang and I looked at each other.

I hunched down so that I was eye-level with Angel.

"Honey, you know why we can't have Akila with us," I explained. "She's just too big for us to carry for any length of time. Especially now, with all that's been happening. We can't be worried about Akila when we're up in the air, battling Flyboys. Plus, she is much better off with a place to run around and actually be a dog." I stared at Total on that last comment.

Angel simply gazed at me, perhaps attempting to will me to agree to this insane plan. Not happening.

Dr. Papa approached a short moment later and plopped down on a chair next to us.

"We sure do miss having you down south with us," he said. "But I know you are right where you need to be – you are truly the perfect spokespeople for global warming." He gave Fang and me a huge smile as he leaned backwards into his chair. "What a huge difference you have made in a week! We have had more pledges and backings to our organization than you can imagine!"

I glanced at Fang and we shared a smile. Well – his was more of a half-smile but that counts for a lot.

"I understand someone might enjoy the company of a certain Malamute a little more often," Dr. Papa stated.

"Please ignore Angel," I quickly cut in. "We all know that Akila is right where she needs to be."

"Actually – I took it upon myself to make arrangements with your mother to care for her while I make several international appearances in the next few months," explained Dr. Papa.

Angel, having overheard this conversation from her sulk fest with Total, immediately zipped toward us.

"Akila's going to stay with your mom, Max?!" Angel questioned excitedly. "Thank you Dr. Papa! Thank you!"

She delivered an elated hug to him while Total jumped onto his lap and began to lick his face.

Dr. Papa laughed as he placed Total into Angel's arms and clarified for all of us, "Don't get too excited – it is only for a few months and Akila will be in Arizona for most of that time."

"We'll take it!" Angel exclaimed.

I was about to protest then quickly realized that this would mean several trips with extended stays to see my mom.

I immediately latched on to this idea.

"Where is Akila now?" I wondered.

"She's at a safe house in upstate New York," my mom elucidated as she neared where we were gathered. A smile grew on my face as she approached.

Wait a minute. Did she say safe house?

She placed an arm around me and continued, "They told me that you refused rooms." She gazed into my eyes as she brushed my hair off my shoulders. "I know you are concerned about safety, sweetie, but I'm just having a really hard time knowing my daughter's sleeping in trees."

"But I'm a bird, mom," I joked, trying to downplay her persistence on this issue.

"Well – you can humor me for tonight." My mom looked around at my flock. "You all can."

"You mean we get to sleep in a real bed?!" Gazzy piped in.

"And watch TV?" Iggy added. I guess Iggy was going to pretend that he could watch television. "What's on tonight? Wait – what day is it?"

Iggy, Gazzy, Angel, and Total bombarded my mom with a trillion questions. I glanced over at Fang who was still hanging off to the side, hands in his pockets, leaning against a wall. He merely arched his eyebrows in response to my pleading for assistance with this decision. Thanks, Fang - big help you are.

I turned to my charges and said, "Safe house it is, but I get the first shower."

35. Chapter 34

Chapter 34

Before I could even begin to relish thoughts of a hot shower, the music in the room amplified twenty notches. As we all did a quick 360 around the room, my mom offered insight.

"I do believe Nudge is ready to make an appearance."

Ella rushed through the side door and made a bee line toward us.

"Just wait till you see Nudge!," she exclaimed through deep breaths. "She looks just like a model!"

Good thing.

Scores of people began to usher in Nudge from the side room towards the main floor. We were anxious for a glimpse of Nudge but after minutes of sore necks from all the craning we were doing trying to see her, we decided to stroll over to the action itself. Well – I decided. My flock followed.

We ventured off to the side of where the shoot was occurring and – there she was. All of us –except Iggy – had to pick our jaws up off the floor. Nudge's beautiful brown curly hair had been straightened, her face made up like – well – like a model. Nudge looked at least eighteen. The stylists and dressers had outfitted her in a multi-colored sleeveless top with a mock turtleneck and a huge silver peace symbol across her chest. Her sleek bottoms were silver lame capri leggings. And they had her in heels – silver ones and with a really high back.

Okay – if they were going for realism here, they were not succeeding. I mean – come on – Nudge soaring through the skies, kicking Eraser tail in three inch heels. I don't think so.

Nudge caught our eye. She was as giddy as a school girl on the night of senior prom. Hmmm. Wonder if I will ever know anything about that.

"Hey guys!" she called out. "Max, do you see my shoes?! They're Manolos!" she said through a gasp. "And they are letting me keep them!"


Jean-Luc rushed immediately to Nudge and cupped her chin in the palm of his hand. "You are perfect! You look just like a young Tyra Banks! Let's get you right over here, and let's have a look at those bee – u -tiful wings." He guided Nudge toward the center of the makeshift stage in the center of the room. Nudge untucked her gorgeous brown wings with a white underbelly and extended them out fully.

Almost simultaneously gasps and aahs filled the room. Initially Nudge appeared self-conscious amidst all the gawking and staring, and she began to twirl her hair. Jean-Luc reached for her hand and placed it on her hip. He pushed her chin up with two of his fingers.

"You look fabulous!" Jean-Luc exclaimed. Then he turned to address his gaping crew. "People!" he yelped. "This shoot will not happen on its own!"

Immediately, the hustle and bustle resumed. Jean-Luc snapped picture after picture. I was amazed at how he took hundreds of pictures in rapid succession. Nudge was in her glory. She stood, she sat, she propped against a column, she walked left and strode right – she even flew a few feet for several shots.

The smile never left her face. I had a feeling it wouldn't for a long time.

36. Chapter 35

Chapter 35

A gazillion shots and several wardrobe changes later, the shoot was complete. Jean-Luc voiced a quick goodbye to all, kissed Nudge's hand and with a wink he was out the door, screaming to his thin and pale personal assistant something about a flight to London.

Throughout most of the afternoon the flock and I hung back and relaxed. We had watched Nudge with excitement as she began the shoot. Okay - that excitement lasted all of fifteen minutes. So we drew back into a corner and kept ourselves productively occupied. Gazzy and Fang invited Jeb and Dr. Papa over for a rousing game of poker – a game I am certain that Dr. Papa's wallet regrets. Jeb knew better and folded on every hand. Angel worked with Total on flying technique while I caught murmurings of Ella's excited conversation with Iggy. Ella filled him in on school and soccer while Iggy detailed our latest adventures – without the scary Flyboy parts. Gillian kept my mom occupied with stories of our week in New York and the future of DoSomethingNow.

As for me, I tried to enjoy the mindless nothingness that comes with just kicking back in a comfy chair and staring out into throngs of people, observing their busyness. Not happening. Nope. Instead my mind raced from Itex to our battles with the Flyboys. I reflected on the battle in Germany – I wondered who was running the show now that the Director, Dr, Janssen, my ex-mom, was in jail. Yeah – and for those of you who forgot about that – yes, at one time, that crazy lady did have me convinced that she was my mom.

Delusional megalomaniac.

And then, thank God I found out who my real mom was. Hmmm. My mom. How nice it would have been to grow up in her small house in Arizona. My eyes misted up just picturing what my life might have been like. Ella. Birthday parties. Christmas trees.

Yeah, right.

No little house on the prairie for me. Instead – I got dealt the growing up in a cage, fight evil wolf people, voice in my head card. That was my reality. Yeah, well – reality sucked big time. Except for my family – my flock. That was the one good thing about my life. And the wings weren't so bad. And the not going to school part.

Okay – maybe my life wasn't so so bad – as long as I could stay away from cages.

I was knee deep in my own personal conflict when my mom tapped me on the shoulder.

"Earth to Max?!" she teased.

I broke out of my daydream and glanced up at her with a smile. Her face gathered a more serious look as she saw the tears in my eyes. She sat down next to me and took my hand. "I think you and I are going to have a date tonight on the couch with a quart of Ben and Jerry's."

I shrugged. I really didn't know if I could talk about all that was going on – especially with Fang. But I sure was warming up to the idea of hanging out with my mom. Just me and her. And ice cream.

Flashing her a quick grin, I cleared my throat and said, "I think we might need a gallon."

Our Hallmark moment was broken up by the girl of the hour.

"Max! Did you see me?!" Nudge yelled as she raced toward us. She was sporting the last of her fifty outfit changes – a tight black tee advertising GreenPeace – in green - and a clean pair of jeans – as opposed to our normal, run of the mill grubby ones. She continued, "That was the most fun I've ever had – even better than our trip to Disney World or Paris or even the carousel last night!"

The rest of our misfit crew had joined us and I observed both my mom and Jeb raising eyebrows and glancing questioningly at one another on that carousel comment.

"Nudge, you were so beautiful up there," said Angel, awestruck. "When we get done saving the world again, you should come back to New York and be a model."

Okay – now all of us had raised eyebrows and eyes the size of soccer balls.

"Um… Angel. I don't think we need to worry everyone - " I cautioned.

"Oh, it's okay, Max. Jeb and your mom can know. We need to tell them everything about Itex and about everything that's been happening to us.

"You see, Max," Angel explained. "You're going to save the world again and this time they're going to help us."

37. Chapter 36

Chapter 36

Well, that just shut everybody up tout suite.

Fang and I looked at one another with that dazed and confused "Huh?" expression that we've been sharing way too often lately.

I turned my attention to Angel. "Sweetie, what do you mean?"

"Just what I said," Angel replied plainly. "We're all going to help you save the world. Including your mom and Jeb."

"But how?" Gazzy questioned.

Angel appeared to be in deep thought momentarily then offered slowly, "Hmmm… I don't quite know yet."

Yet?! What was going on with Angel? Did she have a voice in her head too? Could she predict the future? Oh – that thought was so so scary. And Jeb helping us?! I don't think so. I still wasn't sure we could completely trust him. And while I loved the thought of my mom being with me almost 24/7, she was not about to get near an Eraser battle… or Itex… or any crazy mad scientists. No way.

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" I heard somebody say, breaking up my perplexed mind ranting. I turned around to see that it was Gillian, striding toward us quickly. Our little pow-wow separated like Moses parting the Red Sea.

"What an extraordinary day!" she exclaimed, the exuberance stampeding off her face like a herd of wildebeest. She turned to Nudge. "Honey, you were one hot mama up there! People are really going to take notice of us now. The first publication won't go out for two weeks but we'll include shots of all you flying all over Central Park and excerpts from your speeches. Oh I am just too excited for words!" Her tone then changed as she glanced at her watch. "Oooh… we have to get out of here. We have about ten more minutes in this room before MicroCom and their straight-laced stuffy monkey suits start setting up in here."

I stared around at the empty room. Wow. This party sure cleaned up fast. While we were gathered around Angel and her latest episode of weirdness, the cameramen, personal assistants, organization reps had all tidied up and hightailed it on out of here.

I glanced around at my crew of merry mutants and sidekicks. "So – I'm thinking we grab some dinner and head out to that safe house."

They all agreed in unison and I let Jeb lead the way. I smiled just dreaming of the hot shower that was soon to become my reality.

38. Chapter 37

Chapter 37

"Mmmm,,, this is sooo good," said Nudge as she picked apart her quart of chicken teriyaki. "Except for this long slimy green stuff." She delicately picked a piece out of her container and tossed it to the side. "Eww. What's that stuff called again?"

"Cabbage," answered Total, feeding out of his own quart container of Chinese take-out. "And you should eat it… you're less likely to get cancer."

Yes – because after our numerous battles with evil scientists, Erasers, and megalomaniacs, cancer was our number one concern.

Four hours after Nudge finished her big modeling debut, we were in a cozy little cottage tucked away at the end of a long, bumpy, in desperate need of maintenance dirt road. Somehow, I had managed to let my mom convince us to ride in the eleven passenger van that she had rented from the airport. We were a little tight but it was less conspicuous than flying. After three hours of sitting next to Nudge who just had to provide Ella and me with every teensy-weensy detail about her modeling debut, I was ready to bust through the van's side windows and take to the air. Of course, the silver lining was I didn't have to sit in the back with Fang and Iggy. Can just imagine three hours of nothing but teasing from Iggy and awkward weirdness from Fang. No thanks.

So here we were at the base of the Catskills a short distance from some tiny town I had never heard of hiding out in a comfy three bedroom bungalow that had only one freaking bathroom. My mom and Dr. Papa ventured out to find us dinner while we adjusted to our new surroundings. Then, I took it upon myself to lock the bathroom door and engage in the longest hot shower ever. I didn't even realize they had returned until I strode out into the living room area and discovered my flock devouring all kinds of delish scents.

I plopped down next to Angel on the couch and watched everyone stuff their faces. Total was at the base of Angel's feet trying to share a plate of Lo Mein with Akila – perhaps engage in a Lady and the Tramp spaghetti moment – but Akila wasn't having any of it. She had been pretty happy to see Total though when we first arrived – sniffed Total up and down and all around. Pretty gross if you ask me, but Total didn't seem to mind.

"So - did you save me any?" I asked snidely.

"Did you save us any hot water?" Iggy retorted. "What took you so long in there? Trying to make yourself look all beautiful for – "

I shot up quickly, grabbed Iggy by the arm, almost making him lose his container of Szechuan chicken, and dragged him halfway down the hall, out of sight of the others. Before Iggy even knew what was happening, I had grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him up against the wall.

"For the last time, there is nothing going on with me and Fang! Never has been, never will be!" I seethed through clenched teeth.

Iggy just stared in my direction with his sightless eyes. Then, inhaling laughter, he joked through a chuckle, "If you say so." Then he wrestled his body away from my hold and strolled back to the others, leaving me fuming.

I stood there for a long time merely staring out into the direction that Iggy had just taken. My cheeks were flushed and I could feel my blood boiling to the surface of my skin.

Then I punched the wall – hard - and grimaced at the pain. I swear they put up pure solid cement instead of sheet rock. I walked back to the living room cradling my hurt fist with my good hand. Everyone – even Fang - stared up in my direction. I simply glared back.

"What was that all about?" Nudge asked.

"Nothing," I said glaring at Iggy with the hugest scowl I could muster, which, of course, he couldn't see; thereby, defeating its purpose. Realizing that all eyes were still on me, I relaxed my shoulders a bit and continued, "I guess I am just tired and hungry."

"Well, there's plenty of food!" offered Nudge. "It's like your mom got two of everything on the menu!"

And my night just got a little brighter. I headed toward the kitchen area where my mom, Dr. Papa, and Jeb were hanging out. The kitchen area was actually a third of the great room that also contained the living room and the dining room. I grabbed a quart of some noodle concoction and pulled out a stool at the bar that separated the kitchen from the rest of my flock.

My mom strode over and kissed my forehead and took a seat in the stool next to me. I would never get tired of that.

"Dr. Papa and I just got off the phone with Gillian Taft. She is just so proud of you guys and all the work that you did this past week. And she would like for you to continue the work that you are doing next week in California. There is a global warming conference coming up just outside of Los Angeles and her organization is introducing one of the keynote speakers," she explained. "Jeb and I think it would be a great opportunity for you to continue your mission."

Los Angeles. Tons of people. Smog. Film cameras everywhere. We were just putting ourselves out there weren't we?

Of course, there would be beaches and it might be warm. California was much closer to Arizona than New York was. And they had rights on Disneyland – which would make Gazzy all too happy.

I was warming up to the idea more by the second.

I gazed at my mom through a mouthful of food, finished chewing and said through a grin, "Any chance for a quick visit to see Mickey Mouse while we're out there?"

39. Chapter 38

Chapter 38

"Mickey Mouse! Are we going to Disney World?!" Gazzy shot up and exclaimed while still chewing some chicken dish that was now going everywhere but down his throat. Gross.

"Oooh – we could go on the tea cups and the Dumbo ride and that Peter Pan thing," Angel added as she bounced down on the floor next to Total. "Total, we're going back to Disney World! Maybe Akila could come too."

Hold up. Didn't I just have a conversation with her about taking Akila places? I turned toward Gazzy and Angel and chimed in, "Guys – I don't –"

"Dumbo?!" continued Gazzy, cutting me off completely. "We are riding some serious roller coasters. We were supposed to go to Space Mountain last time but stupid Ari showed up!" He quickly recoiled realizing he was talking about the same Ari who later became our ally and died shortly after. "Sorry, Jeb, I didn't mean – "

"It's okay, Gazzy," Jeb assuaged him as he strode into the living room. He put a hand on Gazzy's shoulder and addressed all of us. "Actually, we were just discussing your upcoming mission." All eyes in the room immediately directed at him. "A summit on Global Warming is being held in Los Angeles and we'd like you to continue your work out there. People have a funny way of taking notice of you, of listening to you. We think you would make a huge difference."

Nice sell, Jeb. That just made my flock grin from ear to ear. Except for Fang – who rarely smiled and was still on the fence with Jeb.

Then, Gazzy's grin took a downward turn as realization set in.

"Wait a minute… Disney World is in Florida," Gazzy eked out painfully. "I thought we were going to see Mickey Mouse."

"Disneyland, silly," Nudge corrected him. "Disneyland is in Anaheim…" She actually hesitated while waiting for Gazzy's light bulb to illuminate. "… you know – near Los Angeles."

Comprehension set in and Gazzy's little frown turned right back upside down.

Nudge continued, "So they sort of have most of the same rides but some different ones too and…"

We all tuned Nudge out to watch Gazzy do his happy dance, a little cross between MC Hammer, John Travolta, and Michael Jackson all rolled into one. Quite amusing actually.

"We're going to Disney. I'm riding some coasters. We're going to Disney. I'm riding some coasters," he sang as he danced.

By the second chorus, we were all giggling and grinning; even Fang cracked a smile as he eased back into the recliner he was occupying.

Our little party was broken up by the sound of keys jiggling in the front door. The flock and I instantly stood up, our bodies tensing, ready for battle. My flock slid over toward me as I scanned the room. Weren't we all here? Who could this be – with keys?

Dr. Papa immediately wandered toward the door, allaying our concerns as he walked past us.

"That must be Melanie," he stated. "I've been wondering when she would get back. Said she had a few errands to run." He looked through the peep hole and began to undo the series of locks and deadbolts on the door. "Yes – that's her." He turned back to us and answered the growing questions on our minds as he opened the door. "She flew in today with Akila and is going to be accompanying me on my international tour."

Melanie entered, blowing rings of ice smoke as she shook off the cold. "This place is starting to remind me of Antarctica." She gazed around at many familiar faces.

"Melanie, you remember everyone," Dr. Papa addressed her as she hung up her coat in a small closet off the entryway. "Let me introduce you to Dr. Martinez and her daughter Ella. Dr. Martinez is responsible for arranging the kids' stay with us in Antarctica." Ella stood from her seat between Nudge and Iggy and offered her hand as Melanie approached. My mom joined Ella and replicated her daughter's gesture.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," my mom stated genuinely. "I've heard so much about you and the crew from the Wendy K, I feel like I already know you. And I am sure that Max already filled you in on this, but she is also my daughter."

I smiled proudly. Melanie Bone was one of the scientists and communications specialists we worked with in Antarctica – one of the good ones. Yes- there had been a couple of spies among us posing as scientists as we performed our data collections and observations throughout the weeks we stayed at Lucir Station. Turned out at least one of the scientists was actually a transformer-bot monitoring our every move for a bunch of crazies who wanted to auction us off to the highest bidder.

Jeb joined my mom in the middle of the living room and offered his hand as well. "Jeb Batchelder," he said. "I guess you could also say I'm responsible for Max… and her friends."

I rolled my eyes at that one.

Melanie glanced around at all of us. Then she said, "It is really good to see you all again. We've been monitoring the news lately and have seen some of your work on CNN."

CNN?! Didn't know we had made it that big time! So much for low profile.

"Brigid sends her regards," Melanie continued. Acid started to churn in my gut as I glanced over at Fang, who immediately became enrapt with the turn of discussion. "She wished she could be here, but in Dr. Papa's and my absence, she is busy training new scientists."

Good. Dr. Brigid Dwyer was another scientist we worked with in Antarctica. While she was clearly seven years older than Fang, they struck up a nice little too cozy for words friendship that simply made my skin crawl. I grimaced just thinking about it.

Melanie strode towards me and sifted through the dinner choices. She settled on a pint of sesame chicken and sat down on the stool next to me. Fang found his way over to us and struck up a conversation with Melanie about – yep – you guessed it - Brigid. Well, they also talked about new findings in their work in Antarctica but the Brigid part did me in. I rose abruptly and ventured over to the couch with Angel, trying to shut out the murmurs of conversation I kept picking up from Melanie and Fang.

I watched as Dr. Papa, my mom, and Jeb returned to the kitchen and continued their conversations about Global Warming, our future, and the future of science. Nudge and Iggy battled endlessly over the choice of television shows, even though it was so clear Iggy couldn't even see what was on TV. He held the remote and his fingers skimmed across the numbers and keyed in the desired channel. Then, Nudge would change the channel – with her mind. Next, Iggy would change it back. Then, Nudge, then – you get the drift. Finally, Nudge had had enough, held out her hand and the remote flew through the air into it. It was like the Force was with her – or something. Gazzy and Angel fought about which rides were going to be the first form of entertainment at Disneyland. Then, Angel willed him into telling her that they were going to spend all their time in Fantasyland. And then Total nuzzled into Akila's side and began to clean her with his tongue. Ewww.

Well, that did it. I was in a whirlwind of mayhem and I needed to get out of here. I looked over at Fang and Melanie, wondering if the conversation was still stuck on Brigid. Yep – definitely needed some alone time. I rose quickly, my right hand carefully placed on my forehead, trying to force out an impending headache, and I hastily strode out the front entrance to the cottage, and slammed the door behind me.

40. Chapter 39

Chapter 39

As soon as I slammed the door, I leapt up into the air, and beat my wings hard. I rose up into the mountain range and soared above the peaks, allowing my mind to clear. I don't know what I was getting so upset about – Fang was here; Brigid was there. And I called the whole thing off with Fang anyway – why should I care if he is head over heels for a girl who was way older than him.

I coasted over a state park and breathed in the freedom that came with flying. Flying solo over beautiful landscapes, banking and catching a current that nudged me along, beating my wings mindlessly so that I might accelerate upward. Nothing like it. I was gradually losing the tension of the evening when I felt a shadow sneak up on my left wing. I turned around immediately.

Fang. Ugh. Crap. Now I would actually have to talk to him. And about what – I just didn't know.

"Land now!" he screamed at me through cupped hands on his mouth.

I rolled my eyes and continued flying. Fang inched his way up towards me and flew into my path. His eyes bore into me as he backpedaled with my forward motion.

"Land now or I will take you down myself," he hissed.

Great. Since I knew I had no chance of winning this argument, I looked below me, pulled my wings in, and dropped several hundred feet. I heard Fang stifle a gasp but then my wings slowed me down and I touched down gently in a Catskills forest. Fang soared down to meet me.

"What the heck is going on with you?" he immediately started. "I mean - I can understand you not talking to me – never mind – I don't understand it but it's become pretty freaking normal lately." He had backed me up against a very tall tree. "But you're really freaking everyone else out too. These kids look up to you, Max. You can't go flying off like that." His night eyes glared at me.

Okay – now I really felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Normally I had some snappy comeback and Fang and I would battle this out for hours. However, I was speechless. Fang was right. I was being a selfish, self-indulgent idiot. I looked down at my sneakers and buried my face in my hands. Tears streaming down my face, I sunk to the ground floor beneath me. My tears gave way to sobbing and I felt my body shaking almost violently.

What was wrong with me? I literally bawled at the drop of a hat these days. I felt less and less like the Indestructible Maximum Ride and more and more like the Vulnerable, Push-over Maximum Ride.

The next thing I knew Fang was leaning down next to me, pulling my sobering body into his rock hard shoulder. His arms wrapped around me and he buried his face in my hair. He just let me weep as he held me and rubbed my back with his tough calloused hands. I cried for the longest time and when I was finally spent, I pulled away and said, "I'm sorry. I guess I am just really tired." And I was – the events of the past two days were taking its toll.

I backed away slowly and added quietly, "You're right. I need to get this leader thing under control."

Fang gazed at me with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. I punched his arm knowingly.

"Yes – I did say you were right."

He sort of half-smiled and I continued, "And I'm sorry about last night."

He frowned – and not for the reasons you may be thinking.

We both jumped up quickly. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and the two of us did two 360's before we jumped into the air and performed surveillance on the area below. We mapped out huge arcs as we scanned the mossy earth floor beneath us.

Someone or something was out there – I didn't know who or what – but I was sure we were going to find out.

41. Chapter 40

Chapter 40

After a quick re-con of the area, Fang and I returned to the safe house. As we skidded to a landing just outside the door, I grabbed his wrist and looked at him.

"Thanks," I said quietly.

Fang shrugged and looked back toward the mountains.

"What about all that?" he asked, referring to our unidentified predators.

I joined his gaze at the mountains and said, "Not sure. But I don't think there's any point in worrying anyone else with it. Just keep your guard up."

"Always," Fang replied as he knocked lightly on the door.

The door swung open and Fang and I strode in. I barely made it through the entryway when I was attacked by four mangy bird kids, a talking dog, and Ella.

"Max!" Nudge cried out, looking up at me, concern plastered on her eyes. "Are you okay? I promise I'll let Iggy watch what he wants on TV."

I bent down to her, which wasn't far. Nudge had hit a major growth spurt in the past month.

"Just between you and me, Iggy can't actually watch TV," I whispered slowly, loud enough for Iggy to hear. I teasingly pointed at my eyes.

"Quit joking about the blind kid!" Iggy shouted. Nudge giggled.

I stood tall and addressed everyone.

"Sorry, guys. I guess the stress of the past two days just took its toll on me," I apologized.

"Why don't you fill us in?" my mom asked as she put her arm around my waist. She looked around at the flock. "Why don't you all fill us in?"

And so we did. We all took seats in the living room and the six of us took turns relaying the events that all started with the Waldorf-Astoria. Gazzy somberly conveyed the bomb episode but managed to perk the room back up with "but Dr. Methane saved the day!" I tried unsuccessfully to cover Nudge's mouth as she blurted out her carousel adventures. I wasn't sure Jeb needed to hear that part. Then everyone but Fang informed the rest of the group about our Flyboy battles.

The room was silent for a long time after we finished. I glanced over at Jeb, partly hoping he could explain some of this.

"I can't help from the inside anymore," he stated, answering my thoughts. "The director was none too happy when you foiled her plans in Germany. Itex has hundreds of branches all over the world. Many were shut down, but not all of them." He frowned. "I am not surprised by all of this – it's just a little sooner than expected."

My sentiments exactly.

"So what can we do?" my mom asked.

"Nothing," I responded through a sigh. "Wait. Find out everything we can about Itex and what they're up to."

I looked directly at my flock.

"And stay safe. Stick together and be on guard all the time."

42. Chapter 41

Chapter 41

"Maybe we should make a time machine," pondered Nudge as she lay in the full size bed reserved just for her and Angel. "You know – so I could come back to today for like – the rest of my life."

I smiled as I raised a cover to her chin. "Well – I bet if anyone could make one, you could," I said.

"I could so do this modeling thing all the time," Nudge stated. "If I ever became a supermodel – you know – like world famous and all, I'd have to change my name. I don't think Nudge would go over too well."

"What would you change it to?" asked Angel as she rolled onto her side to face Nudge.

"Tiffany-Krystal?" I wondered. That was one of the many identities Nudge had assumed while we went to the school in Virginia, when we were staying with Anne Walker.

"OMG, Max – that name is so last month," Nudge said through a smile. "I was thinking of…" She paused then said slowly, "Jasmine Katrina Tova Marie Treasures."

She nodded her head, apparently pleased with her choice.

"Or maybe just Monique. You know – like my real name is supposed to be."

Monique was the name associated with Nudge on all the paperwork we discovered at the School and the Institute.

"Monique is beautiful," I said. "But personally, I like Nudge."

Nudge grinned. Then, the corners of her mouth turned downward momentarily.

"Was I beautiful, Max? I mean, I thought I was, but you never know what other people are thinking. Well, I mean, Angel does. But I just want to know if other people thought I was pretty."

I smoothed out her hair and said, "You were exquisite. Absolutely gorgeous up there." I kissed her forehead. "Get some sleep. We need to start heading west again tomorrow."

Nudge nuzzled into her pillow and I walked around to the other side of the bed and knelt down next to Angel. She gazed up at me and smiled. Angel was my baby – well not my real baby – but close enough. She had been only two years old when we escaped from the School. I helped raise her and then after Jeb disappeared, I did raise her.

"You're a good leader, Max," she assured me, reading my thoughts. I still hadn't gotten over my latest episode of adolescent hormonal craziness, especially when Fang alluded to the fact that I wasn't exactly living up to my leadership role. "And you're a good, mom. You need to relax, though. Just let go. You know – like with Fang."

My eyes widened and I put a finger to my mouth to quiet her just in case Nudge hadn't drifted off yet.

"Oh, it's okay – she's asleep already," Angel reassured me. "But seriously, you should talk to him."

Because I always listen to a six year old when it comes to relationship issues. I really needed to change the subject.

"So – how do you know about me saving the world again?" I asked.

Angel pondered this question momentarily and then said, "I think it's like a sixth sense or something – you know, like ESP.

Angel venturing over into the paranormal – add that to the list of top ten things that will freak you out about Angel.

"And Max," she started, then hesitated.

"Yes, baby."

"I think." She hesitated again. "I think somebody here has gone bad."

43. Chapter 42

A/N: Thank you for being such wonderful faithful readers. I just finished chapter 111 this morning. I'll probably be done in about 25 more (my outlines vary slightly from the actual result). I think you'll like this chapter - and I thought I'd let it "fly" solo today. I'll post three tomorrow.

My profile finally has something more than a picture... check it out if you get a chance.

Thanks for your honest reviews! They are so appreciated!

Chapter 42

I stood outside the doorway to the bedroom we girls were sharing for a long time, thinking about what Angel had just revealed.

I think somebody here has gone bad.

When she flashed me her thoughts as to whom, I stared at her in huge disbelief.

"Are you sure?" I had asked her, once the initial shock wore off.

I'm not getting any read whatsoever.

Which meant Angel wasn't picking up any thoughts from this person – good or bad. Which was possibly bad. Possibly real bad.

I was beginning to wonder if we should maybe abandon this hotdog stand when I felt someone behind me. I whipped around and found myself staring at Fang's chest - which didn't have a shirt on it. I'd seen him shirtless a gazillion times our whole miserable lives but today his muscular upper body and tight abs caught my eye - a little too long, I might add, and I had to shake my head to return to reality.

"Gazzy and Iggy are out," he stated. "I'm going to grab a shower."

He started to turn away, then looked back at me.

"Better?" he asked, referring to my explosive bawl fest in the mountain range earlier.

I shrugged. "A little. Thanks," I replied. I guess I looked like I was going to say something else because Fang didn't move and was waiting patiently with raised eyebrows. So I continued on with what Angel had told me.

"Think we should cut out of here?" he asked.

"I've thought about that," I responded in a hushed whisper. "But then what about my mom and Ella and everyone else? Do we just leave them here unprotected?" I straightened up and made a decision. "Let's see what happens. We're leaving in the morning anyway. You and I will just take turns keeping a very watchful eye on everything… and everyone."

He appeared satisfied with that and turned to go back down the hall toward the one and only bathroom.

I watched him go into the bathroom and then headed down the hall toward the living room. The house was still – most everyone had turned in for the night. Except for my mom. She was waiting for me by the couch with her hands behind her back.

"Right or left?" she asked as I turned the corner.

"Right?" I replied questioningly.

Then she produced a quart of the most delightful concoction of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and a spoon. We plopped on the couch like teenagers and we dug in. I could very easily get used to this.

After I had eaten almost my entire container, I pointed at my ice cream cup and said, "You know what would be better than this?"

My mom licked her spoon as she raised her eyebrows at me.

"Two of these," I stated plainly.

"Well, it's a good thing I hit a grocery store on our way back from picking up dinner," she said as she waltzed over to the freezer and opened it. I had to lick my lips from the salivation I was experiencing. The freezer was lined with wall-to-wall cartons of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I quickly got up to make my next choice.

"I figured we would need at least two for everyone. It should be a nice early morning snack," my mom explained.

We returned to the couch and I curled up next to my mom. She stroked my hair. For months my flock and I had searched for clues about our real parents – hitting many a dead end. Iggy actually found his – then they planned to expose him like a circus freak show. While everyone else got little snippets here and there about who their real parents might be, I got zilch, zippo, nothing. Then the evil crazy delusional Director pretended to be my mom, leaving me reeking of disappointment. Finally, I end up with the as close to perfect as you can get mom and here she was – doing all the things a mother should do. Or at least stuff I thought she should do.

"So – you want to talk about anything?" my mom asked.

I sat back and shrugged, "Like what?"

My mom gazed at me knowingly, "Well – do you want to talk about why you really flew out of her like a rocket earlier?" She smoothed the hair off of my forehead, like I had done with Nudge earlier, and simply looked into my eyes, trying to read my emotions. "Does it have something to do with you and Fang?"

"No!" I replied a little too quickly. My mom merely stared patiently at me with a concerned frown. She knew. I was such an easy read anymore. I continued hesitantly, "Maybe." I immediately stared at my lap.

She put an arm around my shoulder and asked, "Want to talk about it?"

No not really. I actually wanted to push everything I felt way back into a tiny little alcove in my brain. But since that wasn't working too well for me lately, what with me crying at the drop of a hat, I slowly spilled my guts to my mom. She listened intently as I told her about Fang and I growing up next door to each other. You know – his cage just down the street from mine. How we practical joked and constantly looked to one-up the other at the house in Colorado. How we practically raised the kids together.

I quickly brushed over my kissing Fang on the beach, about how it felt when I saw him kissing the Red Haired Wonder back in Virginia. Then Fang kissing me. Me running away. Iggy's teasing. I didn't bother to tell her about the dream I had been having – mainly because I did not care to relive it. She gazed at me nonjudgmentally as I detailed our fight from the night before. The things he said.

You're letting them win – you know. When are we going to just get to be kids?

Every word from that night was so clear.

Balls in your court, Max.

I shuddered and forced the thoughts out of my mind.

Suddenly I realized I had been blubbering about Fang for almost thirty minutes. I looked at my mom and said, "I didn't want to have to think about this. I mean – I have to worry about the flock – keep them safe. Look out for Flyboys on every corner." I looked down at my lap – again. "But it seems to be all that I think about. I just can't shake it."

"Sounds like Fang may have a point," my mom said slowly.

"Wha-at?" I sat up and directed a most shocked and startled stare at my mother. She was not supposed to side with Fang.

"You're fourteen, Max," she said as she put her hand on my shoulder and gazed into my eyes. "You're supposed to be a kid. You're supposed to have these feelings and emotions and experiences. It's how you… grow up, mature – become a woman."

Ugh. I hated where this conversation was going.

She continued. "It's obvious that you and Fang…" I could tell she was watching her wording on this one. "… that you care about each other very much. And I don't think it's the bad guys holding you back, Max." She glanced at me knowingly.

Yeah – I know. It was me. I was the bad guy getting in the way.

"It's just so weird," I explained. "He's been my best friend forever – the closest thing I might have possibly had to a real brother."

"Things can change, Max," she replied. "Sounds like they already have."

I gazed at my lap for a long time before finally looking up and asking, "So what do I do now?"

"That's up to you, sweetie," she said as she kissed my forehead. "You have to decide if you want to take that chance." She paused momentarily as she gazed at me. "But I think you know what you want. Just don't wait too long – you never know if it may be too late."

44. Chapter 43

A/N: Thanks again for the reviews! Note to FaximumTwilight023. Your faxness is coming... hang with me!

Chapter 43

"My men are in place, sir," a young man said as he approached a large wall monitor with six different screens. "We await your signal."

The man at the computer screen turned in his chair to address the troop leader. He placed his hands on his oversized belly and spoke thunderously.

"Good. It von't be long now."

A smile crept over Ter Borcht's face. He had wanted this crew terminated from his first dealings with them. They were pathetic failures and now he had them. He would take them out right here at their "safe house".

He and his small band of soldiers occupied a large, camouflaged van about twenty miles away from the house, set deep in the Catskills low mountain ranges. He had been studying the house for hours, growing more and more impatient and uncomfortable as the minutes ticked by. He turned back to the warm glow of the monitors which provided views into the main rooms of the house. Everyone asleep – except for that insubordinate leader. He couldn't pick her up in any room – wait there she was. Why was she leaving? He switched on the outside feed and observed her settle in on the roof. A devious grin lit up his face as he contemplated her demise.

The six men with him were disguised as well – in fact, they had built in camouflage systems, allowing their skin and clothes to blend in with any environment. Itex had developed these prototypes to sell to other countries, but most of them had been destroyed in Germany. Fortunately, Dr. Singh had ignored the Director's orders and had not allowed his prototypes to join the fiasco, nor had he allowed his successful experiments to be terminated. A few other wise and insightful Itex branches leaders had followed suit.

Another hour or so and they would be gone. Blown to smithereens. The devices were ready – he was merely awaiting his orders from Dr. Singh.

The back door to the van swung open and he turned to greet his visitor.

"Vee are all set here," Ter Borcht explained boisterously. "My men vill move in at oh-three hundred."

"Call it off," Dr. Janssen ordered.

"Vha-at?! Are you kidding?!" Ter Borcht exclaimed. "Vee have been vaiting for this all night!"

"Dr. Singh's orders," the ex-director stated matter of factly. "There have been some new developments. He wants to keep them alive for a while –possibly use them for our greater good – "

She was cut off by Ter Borcht's impatient temper. "That has been tried before! And it has always failed! No vun can control these creatures! Dey must be destroyed… Now!"

Ter Borcht's face was the color of scarlet-tinged magma. He was literally about to blow his top. Dr. Janssen merely observed his tirade through emotionless eyes. How she landed surveillance duty with Mussolini reincarnated, she did not know – possibly punishment for screwing up the greatest project Itex ever undertook. No – she muddled the Plan. Her. Maximum Ride. She glanced over at the monitors that showcased the interior and exterior of the house.

"The Director wants her untouched –" Dr. Janssen commented, pointing to the screens as she crossed the van's threshold.

"The Director is an idiot!" Ter Borcht screamed. Dr. Janssen's eyes widened. "She is indestructible, uncapturable, and incorruptible. She vill never verk for anyone in our position. Vee need to bomb the house and be rid of dem for good!"

"Don't worry," she said with utmost patience. "Dr. Singh is confident she will work for us – all of them will." Dr. Janssen glanced at her watch. "I have radioed my contact. All the devices have been dismantled – except one." She smiled. "That should give them a nice early morning wake-up call."

The entire van shook as Ter Borcht hmmphed and fell back into his chair.

Dr. Janssen continued, "Maximum Ride is not as indestructible as you may think." She reflected on the conversation that occurred within the house several hours prior. Their contact ensured that the entire house would be bugged with cameras installed in key locations. "In fact, she is at her most vulnerable."

She glanced back at the screen. The tall dark-haired boy was on the roof with her now.

"If you recall, Dr. Singh ordered us to attack their souls," she stated. "Have your men ready." She stared curiously at the boy on the monitor. "We may need to take prisoners."

45. Chapter 44

Chapter 44

"Get enough sleep?" I asked Fang as he flew up to the roof to join my perch.

He shrugged and looked around.

"Anything exciting happening?" he wondered.

"Absolutely," I replied. "An hour ago a spider tried to attack me – had to take him out. Oh and you just missed this one… an owl and a a big furry bat were going at it right over there." I pointed to an area in front of the house and then put my finger to my lip, thoughtfully. "Or maybe it was two owls."

Fang smiled and shook his head. "Go on in – I'll take the rest of the watch. My blog needs updating."

"In a minute," I replied.

My mind had been racing since my mom and I had our little chat. I ventured outside for a little mind-clearing but received nothing of the sort. All I got sitting up here were frost-bitten toes. I reflected on her words, her advice. I thought I knew what I had to do but as soon as Fang flew up here, my stomach began doing flip-flops inside my body and I felt slightly light-headed and nauseous.

Get a grip, Max. It's just Fang. You talk to him about everything. You can talk to him about this.

"I'm thinking we need to talk," I said quietly, not looking at him.

I could feel his curiosity peak as he straightened up beside me.

"About what?" he said hesitantly.

"About – "

I froze mid-sentence. Both of us tensed and grew very still. Someone was exiting the house – and fairly quickly, I might add.

Below us, we watched as Melanie carefully closed the front door to the house and zipped to her airport rental. She was nervously fiddling with her keys when I dropped down beside her. She froze – panic whitening her face.

"Isn't it a little late to be going out for that midnight snack?" I commented nastily.

She backed away from me – right into Fang.

"Why don't you tell us what's going on?" I snapped.

"I… I...," she stammered. I continued to back her into Fang's chest.

"Tell us!" I was seething now. Angel was right, as usual. Melanie had betrayed us. Why? How? When? These were all questions I was bound and determined to get the answers to.

Melanie looked up at me, her usual tan features replaced by an ashen, stricken appearance that aged her ten years.

"Get everyone out of the house," she finally stated quietly as her gaze dropped to her shoes.

I grabbed her arm and I yanked her along as Fang and I sped back to the house. Bursting through the door, I started screaming.

"Get out! Everybody out of the house! Now!"

Leaving Melanie unattended in the living room, Fang and I burst through bedroom doors, hurrying the safe house occupants out of bed. Safe house. Yeah, right. I would never associate safe with anything.

My flock immediately grabbed packs and fled. My mom was helping Ella out of our bedroom. Ella groggily glanced my way.

"What's going on?" she said sleepily.

"You're about to find out what we do for a living," I replied as I burst into the room Jeb and Dr. Papa were sharing. They met me at the door and scrambled out, with Akila and Total right behind them.

Within that instant my eyes registered a brilliant flash of light and then I dove on top of the crew in front of me as I yelled, "Take cover!"

A loud boom resonated the halls of the house, spreading charred plaster and a splattering of miscellaneous pieces everywhere.

Within minutes I scrambled off of the sandwich pile I made with Jeb and Dr. Papa. A quick glance down the hall showed me that my mom and Ella were safe. I assumed the kids made it out of the house.

Fang? Where was Fang?

"Fang?!" I cried out as I got to my feet, trying hard not to inhale too much of the thick fog of dust and debris that coated the air. I helped Dr. Papa and Jeb to their feet.

"Right here," he replied wearily. He had a huge gash across his forehead from where his head met tile from his dive into the bathroom after I screamed for everyone to take cover.

I zipped to him and examined his head. His hand immediately shot up and felt the soft ooze of blood. He felt my concerned eyes on him.

"S not that bad," he muttered. Then, he wobbled into my arms.

I grabbed his arm and threw it around my shoulder. As I hobbled down the hall with him, I called out to my mom, "Mom, tell Gazzy to check the van for explosives. Then, you and Ella get out of here!"

She and Ella raced outside with Dr. Papa and Jeb while I tended to Fang. Blood was streaming down his face and I think he suffered a concussion.

"Guess you won't be trying out for Extreme Sports anytime soon," I mused.

We were just about outside when I sniffed the air.


I glanced back inside the house. A faint orange glow was coming from the back bedroom.

Crap. Could this night get any worse?

46. Chapter 45

Chapter 45

I hastily got Fang outside and toward the van when Angel ran up to me, her breathing ragged.

"I can't find Total and Akila anywhere!" she exclaimed. "I think they are still in the house."

"Go," Fang ordered. "I'm good."

I watched him hobble over to the van and then Angel and I took off for the house. Smoke from the house was now pungent outside and I wondered how long we had until the whole house was engulfed in flames. We slid through the entry way calling for Akila and Total. Flames were creeping down the main hallway. Akila immediately ran up to us and directed us to a far wall of the living room.

Angel's face immediately drew whiter than the normal snow-colored features of her face and she gasped loudly. A bookcase had fallen with the explosion and landed on Total. It looked as though it had crushed his back legs. I quickly worked to free him of the bookcase, nervously observing flames creeping closer and closer to our current location.

"Angel! Take Akila and get out of here now!" I ordered. "I'll get Total."

"No!" she screamed back. "I'm not leaving without him!"

Realizing this was a battle I was not going to win, I shouted back, "Then help me with this!"

We worked the tall heavy bookcase off of Total, fire lapping at our feet. As soon as his hind leg was free, I gently scooped him up and straightened up only to face the fire. I felt the intense heat searing my face.

"Back door!" I yelled and we headed for the kitchen. I kicked out the door and ushered Angel and Akila through.

Boy, did the cold air feel good. I ran Total over to the van and handed him to my mom. She examined his hind legs and smoothed his head. Total was completely unresponsive. Angel stood beside me, biting her lip to fight back the tears.

"He's breathing but I think shock has set in. His hind legs appear broken, but not irreparable," my mom stated as she glazed over his tiny features with a careful, steady hand. She directed her concerned eyes at me.

"We'll take Total. I have a good friend not far from here who has a small veterinary practice like me," my mom started. "Take my cell phone. Jeb's number is preprogrammed. Call us when you get to a safe place." Then, looking at Angel, she continued, "He should be fine, sweetie. I bet he'll be flying in no time."

47. Chapter 46

Chapter 46

I watched as the van raced down the long dirt road that had brought us here, here to a "safe house" that was no longer in existence. I glanced around at my flock. Nudge was applying pressure to Fang's forehead with a towel from the van. I strolled over to where everyone was gathered around him and glanced under the towel.

The bleeding appeared to have stopped with the healing process already begun. I grabbed Fang's pack and found the antiseptic and bandages. He winced as I cleaned out his wound and then stiffened as I attempted to place a bandage on his forehead.

"You okay to fly?" I asked him, shoving the unwanted bandages back in the pack.

"Yep," he replied as Nudge helped him to his feet.

"Let's get out of here, guys." I ordered but then froze momentarily as the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention again. We all performed a quick scan of the surrounding area.

"Up and away! Now!" I snapped. "We've got company!"

"Where?" Nudge shouted as she leapt into the air, fanning her tawny wings as soon as she left the ground. Iggy, Gazzy, and Angel had joined her and I was waiting for Fang to follow suit when I experienced a sharp kick to my stomach, leaving me doubled-over in pain. I looked all around and saw Fang doing much of the same. I struggled to straighten up and tensed into fight mode.

Instantly I caught a hard punch to my jaw while Fang took a swift hit to his nose. He spit through the blood streaming down his face, " What the – " He failed to finish as another blow was dealt to his side.

Gazzy swooped down scanning for our assailants.

"I don't see anything!" he yelled.

"Join the club," I screamed back and then grimaced from the pain surging through my jaw. "Fang, get in the air!

We both shot up but were immediately pulled back down and shoved to the ground. I felt strong hands on my shoulders but still couldn't see anything. Wait – I could make out the faintest outline of four men – tall with a highly defined muscular build. Were they invisible? Who were they? Was this Itex again?

Then, one of them was on the ground. Iggy had delivered a sharp kick to one's chest. How did Iggy see - ? Iggy couldn't see. He could never see Erasers either but he always knew where they were. His overly heightened senses of hearing and smell gave him insight into the location of our predators.

As Iggy battled the other one hovered around me, two others quickly forced a cloth on Fang's face and Fang went down within minutes. I spun over to him but not before they shoved him in a large black body bag and took off running.

"Fang?!" I screamed for the second time in an hour. I glared at my flock, most of whom were hovering above me. "Let's go!" I yelled as I took to the air. My pain was replaced by panic and fear. Why Fang? Where were they taking him?

On the ground several yards away, I could see nothing but a black bag floating through the air. Fang's captors were speeding toward the mountains. We had to get to them before they immersed themselves in the surrounding forest.

"Follow that bag!" I ordered as I poured on the speed. These guys were fast, really fast, but they obviously couldn't fly. Who were they and what did they want with Fang?

A large van seemingly pulled up out of nowhere and the black bag flew towards it. We dove down quickly and stopped a few feet away from the van. As Iggy and I decidedly sped into to grab the bag containing Fang, the side door of the van slid open. My mouth dropped and my heart froze in my chest. I could feel Angel and Nudge's surprise as well.

"So nice to see you again, Max," Dr. Janssen said as she stepped out of the van and strode toward us.

"The feeling is not mutual," I fumed. A million questions raced through my mind. Didn't this whack job go to jail? How is she here? How did they keep finding us? Why were they trying to take Fang?

My flock and I hung back momentarily. I was desperately trying to come up with a plan to rescue Fang when I eyed a large round man stomp out of the van and approach my ex-mom.

Ter Borcht. Two evil genetic scientists. Well, this party just grew drearier by the minute.

"Put de bag in de van and let's get out of here," Ter Borcht ordered.

"Over my dead body," I declared as I swooped toward the crew of gloom and madness.

"So be it," Dr. Janssen stated plainly as she pulled out a nine-millimeter and fired at me. Fortunately for us, we all have excellent reflexes and I leapt into the air as the bullet, intended for my chest, barely grazed my sneaker. As she took aim again, I darted down and kicked the gun from her hand with one foot while pinning her to the ground with the other.

"I should have let you die when I had the chance," I seethed. I was referring to when Nudge and I held her high in the air back in Germany and almost let her plummet to her death.

Iggy and Gazzy raced toward the bag containing Fang and I watched as they did a nose dive on the invisible assailants. Iggy guided Gazzy's movement and within seconds they stuck their feet out and landed hard blows to the unseen soldiers' rib cages. Simultaneously, Angel and Nudge hovered around Ter Borcht like hummingbirds zipping in delivering jabs and then zipping out.

"Had enough?" I glared at my ex-mom. Then I looked at Ter Borcht and asked, "How bout you Borchy? Looks like you've been hitting the doughnuts hard lately," I said as I patted my stomach. I glared back at the former director of Itex. "Why don't you tell us why you keep coming after us? Maybe you could shed some light on how you keep finding us?" I bent down to Dr. Janssen, pinned her arms to the ground, and brought my face very close to hers. "Maybe you could tell me what Itex is up to. Or maybe you could just leave me and my friends alone."

I stood up, my face steaming. Facing my flock, I said, "Party's over. Iggy help me with Fang."

We eased Fang's limp body out of the body bag and took to the air, heading deep in the Catskill mountain range. We watched as Dr. Janssen and Ter Borcht sparred verbally with one another before turning our attention to the mountain range before us. Iggy and I were carrying Fang, the effects of the chloroform still taking hold. The two of us were strong but we wouldn't last long carting Fang's dead weight through the air. I almost wished I could have carried Fang myself so that maybe Iggy could have left our friends beneath us a surprise.

Then, as if someone was anticipating my thoughts, a loud boom resonated behind us. We circled back for a brief moment gazing at the van that was now engulfed in flames.

"Good one, Iggy," I offered.

"Wasn't me," he stated seriously.

"Gazzy?" I said as I looked his way.

"Not me either," Gazzy replied.

We all stared at each other, dumb-founded looks freezing on our faces. Things just got freakier by the minute.

48. Chapter 47

Chapter 47

"He awake yet?" Iggy asked me as he entered into our temporary shelter, an icy cleft behind a waterfall in the Catskill mountains. Iggy had been perched outside on a narrow ledge keeping watch. Yep – the blind kid keeping watch – add that to the growing list of Iggy's special abilities. I was inside with the flock, supposedly getting some zees, but I couldn't take my eyes off of Fang.

After Iggy and I attempted to carry him for what seemed like forever, we settled in to this hole in the wall – literally. By far, Fang scored the most points for trauma several hours earlier. His face was turning a nice shade of purple from all the hits he had taken and his body had received several lumps from where invisible boys had shoved him in a body bag. Oh and let's not forget the big gash on his head from where he tried to kiss the bathroom floor earlier. Yeah – Fang was pretty much worse for the wear. Probably much better off in his state of unconsciousness.

"He's stirring," I replied to Iggy. "Been doing that for the last ten minutes."

"That's the moaning and groaning I've been hearing," Iggy stated, and then smiled. "Thought it was you – you know dreaming about you know who."

Had I not had Angel curled up on my lap, I would have jumped up and decked Iggy. But I am trying to be more mature about things, so I just whipped an empty soup can at him. Iggy moved just quickly enough so that can whizzed by his head and out the cavern entrance. He chuckled as he strode over towards me and plopped down on the floor beside me.

"So what's the plan?" he asked.

I looked around and then settled my eyes on Iggy. "Well, we'll hole up in here until Fang can move. Then, I guess we need to find my mom."

A pang hit my stomach as I thought about her and Ella – hoping they were safe. They shouldn't have been anywhere near the ugly scene that just took place hours earlier. Of course, I am sure Ella's soccer games had nothing on the excitement she just experienced.

I wondered about Total. He looked absolutely dismal. Thank God my mom was there what with her being a vet and all. She would fix him – just like she had fixed me months ago when my wing and my arm took a bullet. I glanced down at Angel sleeping peacefully and I stroked her hair. She was trying to stay so strong about Total – but her eyes registered so much pain and fear. I was glad she was getting some sleep to take her mind off of things.

Movement from a few feet away caught my eye. Iggy stiffened.

"It's Fang," I reassured him. "I think he's coming to."

As if on cue, Fang sat up slowly, clutching his head with one arm. He groggily opened his eyes and peered over in our direction.

"Feel like I've been hit by a train," Fang muttered as he stumbled towards Iggy and me. He plopped down next to Iggy.

"Yeah – you look like you've been hit by a train," Iggy replied. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.

"What happened?" Fang asked, still applying pressure to a seemingly gnawing headache. "What'd I miss?"

"Oh nothing much," I responded. "After they knocked you out, the team of undetectables stuffed you in a bag and took off running. Then we ran into some old friends trying to save you."

Fang's eyebrows arched a half a millimeter urging me to continue. So I did.

"Ter Borcht was there. So was the Director. Or I guess we should call her the ex-director."

Fang's eyes grew wide. After the battle in Germany, Nudge, Angel, Total, and I met the boys on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. They had missed the grand fiesta due to Fang "breaking up" with me and going off to "do his own thing"; therefore, I detailed the whole shebang for them. I told them all about the evil witch who claimed to be my mom – how she locked us in a dungeon – forced me to compete with her new line of super humans. Yeah – pretty gruesome.

Iggy continued, "We took 'em out. And then, their van blew up as we flew away, man. Pretty weird."

Fang's eyebrows shot up again – a gesture only I could discern.

"It wasn't Iggy or Gazzy," I explained. "They destroyed it themselves."

49. Chapter 48

Chapter 48

Silence struck the cavern as we all digested this information. They blew up the van. Did it self-destruct? Were they inside? Probably not – that would be only too good to be true. Why? What were they doing out here? And how did they keep finding us?

Well – that was just the question of the day, wasn't it? Although, I think it is pretty safe to assume that Melanie had something to do with them finding us this time. Ugh. My face grew hot just thinking about her. How could she betray us? Why?

Reason number three hundred and two why we trusted no one but each other… and my mom and Ella.

"What happened to Melanie?" Fang asked, breaking the silence. Scary how we were on the same page concerning just about everything.

"Melanie?" Iggy questioned.

"Melanie set the bomb in the house, Iggy," I informed him. "We're pretty sure she's the reason they found us." I turned my attention to Fang as Iggy was apparently processing this information. "I'm assuming she snuck off when we left her alone in the living room. Didn't notice her car when we were outside."

Fang lowered his head and shook it.

"I can't believe it," Iggy said quietly. "She seemed so – genuine."

"We all thought that, Ig," I replied. "That's why we have to stay on guard – all the time."

Iggy pondered this for a moment and then stated flatly, "Well, now I don't feel so bad about taking all her money earlier."

He was referring to the poker game that occurred between Fang, Gazzy, Iggy, and Melanie last night – when she "appeared" to be our ally. Iggy had given everyone a run for their money.

"You wouldn't have felt bad, regardless," I pointed out.

"True, true," Iggy muttered as he jumped to his feet. "Guess I'll go see if there's anything worthy of my attention on the outside." He purposely inched away from me and continued, "Give you two lovebirds a chance to catch up."

My face flared the color of beets as I watched Iggy scamper the short distance toward the entrance, chuckling all the way. I caught just the hint of a grin creeping onto Fang's face and I glared in his direction.

"You just shut up!" I shouted a little too loudly.

50. Chapter 49

Chapter 49

Note to self:

1) Don't scream loudly at Fang in the wee hours of the morning causing everyone else to suddenly bolt upright and stare wide-eyed at you wondering what the heck your problem is

2) Get more than twenty minutes of sleep at night so that you don't overreact and cause everyone to wake up long before you want them to

3) Do not listen to Iggy and his never-ending repartee about the non-existent relationship between Fang and me

4) Scratch number three – much easier to just kill Iggy

Within minutes of the instant wake up call courtesy of yours truly, the rest of the flock recognized Fang's coherent state and immediately swarmed him.

"Fang, you're alive!" exclaimed Gazzy.

"We were really worried about you," Nudge said quietly as she squeezed whatever life was left out of Fang. "We couldn't even see those guys and then they just took you – and they ran so fast. And then the director was there and that big fat Borky guy and I was so scared they were going to take you back to the school or something but then we beat them. You should have seen what happened to their van!"

"I heard," Fang replied patiently. Too patiently. It took everything I had not to duct tape Nudge's mouth and leave her that way for a while.

Angel curled up next to Fang along the cavern wall and gazed at his injuries. His black and blue eye combined with a purplish hue on his forehead and his healing bloody nose almost made him look like a human rainbow.

"Doesn't look too bad," Angel said, indicating his quick-healing wounds. "You look a little tired, though."

"I think you look like crap, man," joked Iggy. Funny – seeing how he really couldn't discern Fang's appearance.

"Look in a mirror sometime," Fang teased back.

"Would if I could, dude."

"Max, I 'm hungry," came a voice from across the cave. Couldn't imagine who that could be.

"Me too, Max," whined Gazzy.

Fang and I glanced at one another. Neither one of had much cash left and we had been through most of the food in our packs.

"Okay, gang. Let's head out – see what we can find," I suggested. "Then, we need to find my mom."

"And Total," Angel added quietly.

I placed my arms around her, giving her shoulders a squeeze.

"And Total," I repeated.

51. Chapter 50

A/N: Merry Christmas! Three chapters again - guess you've been on Santa's nice list. Little preview in chapter 52 to the next part of the adventure! I hope you enjoy! And please take time to review! Thanks!

Chapter 50

Breakfast that morning consisted of doughnuts, bagels, muffins, and other assortments of delectable pastries. All courtesy of your local Dunkin' Doughnuts' dumpster. We felt like we hit the jackpot when we swooped down behind the shop and began foraging. I'm guessing business was a little slow the day before.

And bonus – I could acquire the necessary cell phone service to dial my mom. I had attempted said feat earlier in the low mountain ranges – to no avail.

My mom picked up Jeb's phone before I could even place the phone to my ear.

"Max?" she said. I could hear the relief in her voice. "I was so worried. Are you okay?"

I looked around at my flock and my eyes laid to rest on Fang, whose eyebrows immediately shot up at me. I flashed one of my friendly neighborhood scowls at him and continued with my mom.

"Yeah – some of us better than others." I paused as Angel approached my side. "How's Total?"

"He had a broken bone in one of his hind legs," replied my mom. "I set it and it's almost healed. I think his healing powers are quicker than yours." She paused momentarily and then carried on, "Of course, as soon as he reached consciousness, he ranted about dying and his love for Akila and all the places he'd never seen. Quite comical. I felt as though I were watching Shakespeare."

I smiled and Angel breathed in deeply as she wrapped her arms around my waist.

"Is everyone else okay there?" I asked. "I'm sorry Ella had to be a part of all that."

"Ella is fine. She's conked out on a couch in the waiting room," replied my mom. "Don't worry about us. We're all good here – just tired. You just get here as soon as you can and we'll catch up then."

My mom detailed their location and I committed it to memory. I glanced down at Angel. Her gritty eyes revealed her break down to tears a few hours ago when she had curled up in my lap to fall asleep. I stroked her hair and turned to the flock.

"Total's back to normal," I replied to the questioning faces before me. "Or as normal as Total can get."

"Can we go get him now, Max?" Angel asked, her innocent blue eyes gazing up at me. Innocent – riiight. I had to keep reminding myself that Angel was not all that "angelic".

We made sure that no one was in the back part of the parking lot, took off running, and leapt into the air. Within minutes we were high above the clouds, breathing in the freedom that came with flying. Soaring miles above the ground with my family – nothing could beat this. And it provided a slight tinge of happiness to my otherwise fairly dismal world.

"Where are we going, Max?" Gazzy wondered aloud.

"Somewhere near Syracuse," I answered. "My mom gave me a few landmarks."

Not too much detail though. After all, we were using Jeb's phone. No telling how much we could actually trust him.

52. Chapter 51

Chapter 51

An hour later, Angel was reunited with Total. Total flew into her arms, bad leg and all, and they both cried a river of tears.

"I thought I'd never see you again," Total exclaimed. "I thought I was a goner!"

"Um, Total,… you were unconscious," I reminded him.

"Hmmph," Total pouted as he curled up in Angel's arms. "Well at least Akila was here to listen to me. She understands my pain."

This was too easy.

"That's because Akila can't talk," I said. "But I am sure if she could talk, she'd tell you to quit your whining."

"Max!" Angel exclaimed.

Whoops. There's that effect of no sleep for approximately forty-eight hours coming back to haunt me. Normally, I would have kept thoughts like that to myself. I bent down next to Total and stroked his head.

"Sorry, Total," I said quietly. "I know this has been an ordeal for you. And I am glad to see you are in better spirits."

He gazed at me with his large round puppy-dog eyes and decidedly licked my face. I made an ick face, then realized Total may not appreciate that so I patted his head and stood up before I turned around and dramatically scrubbed the dog germs off of my lips.

We had gathered in the waiting room of a modest-sized veterinarian's office. My mom embraced me with a bear hug that I would never tire of.

"What happened to you?!" she gasped. One look at mine and Fang's discolored facial features explained the delay of our phone call.

"Ran into some old friends," I said quickly.

"Well, I'm glad to see you in one piece," mom offered quietly. "Let me introduce you to Dr. Lydia McKenzie. She is an old friend of mine from college. And she assisted with Total."

Dr. McKenzie held out her hand and I shook it.

"You must be Max," she stated warmly. "Dr. Martinez has told me all about you."

I glanced at my mom skeptically.

"She knows about the wings, Max," my mom replied as she gently grazed my purple-tinted jaw. "I had to fill her in a little after we got Total on the table."

I nodded as my mom continued with introductions of the flock. They all shook Dr. McKenzie's hand as well – even Fang. Dr. McKenzie turned back to me.

"I recognized Total as soon as he was brought in," Dr. McKenzie explained. "I saw you on the six o'clock news last week." I observed her readjust as she attempted not to let too much awe creep into her voice. "You're amazing."

An awkward silence followed. I looked around the room and my eyes laid rest on Ella who was sleeping peacefully on a love seat.

"I'm sorry about tonight," I said quietly.

"Ella and I are fine," my mom said knowingly. "And it's certainly not your fault. What happened back there anyway?"

Just then, Jeb and Dr. Papa entered the waiting area through the lobby entrance. Dr. Papa was fiddling with his cell phone.

"I still can't get a hold of Melanie," he declared, placing his cell phone in his back pocket.

I tensed and looked at Fang.

"Don't think that's going to happen," I stated flatly as I returned my gaze to Dr. Papa. He scrunched his nose narrowed his eyebrows. I continued, "She set the bomb."

My mom gasped as Dr. Papa's eyes grew wide. Jeb's face registered a hint of surprise.

"How?" Dr. Papa exclaimed incredulously. "Why?"

I slowly explained our confrontation with Melanie. As I finished, Dr. Papa lowered his head and shook it.

"Brigid was supposed to accompany me on this trip. Melanie coerced me into bringing her," he said quietly as he looked at us. "I'm sorry. I had no idea."

"None of us did," I responded. I sort of half-wished Brigid would have been here instead too.

A moment later Dr. Papa glanced around at all of us and said, " I guess I need to get back to the city. I have a two o'clock flight out of JFK this afternoon."

"Oh, dear," my mom said quickly. "Ella. I need to get her back today." She glanced at her watch. "We're supposed to leave around noon. Maybe I can reschedule our flight."

An emptiness began to creep its way into my stomach. It could be a long time before I saw my mom again. I swallowed hard and turned to my mom.

"Guess you should get going then," I said quickly.

She took my hand and gazed at me.

"I'll meet you out in California in a few days," she reassured me and pulled me into a long embrace. "We'll have another double date."

I felt Fang glance my way and saw Iggy's ears perk up as a hint of a smile crept onto my face.

I stamped out Iggy's thoughts quickly as I shook my head and said," Just Ben and Jerry, Ig." I licked my bottom lip and sighed. "Mmmm… Ben and Jerry's."

53. Part III Chapter 52

Part III

California, Here We Come...

Chapter 52

"California, here I come. Right back where I started from."

"Put a sock in it, Nudge!" I yelled back at her from my leader position in our tight formation in the air.

I know what you're thinking – let the kid sing. Yeah, okay. You haven't been listening to her sing the same song off and on for the past five hours – and I had simply exhausted all of my patience. Thanks to Nudge I was going to have another unwanted song permanently plastered in my brain.

"Sorry, Max," Nudge said. "I am just so excited! We've never been to Los Angeles before. There are tons of movie stars! I wonder if we'll meet one!"

"LA's not all its cracked up to be," Fang offered.

The boys actually spent some time in Los Angeles after Fang and I "broke up" (all his fault) months ago.

"Uh-huh!" Iggy insisted. "Or have you forgotten all the beach bunnies?"

I scowled at Fang.

"Oh – so that's what you were doing while I was off saving the world," I said. "Nice."

"Lookin' a little green there, Max," Iggy said as Fang was obviously trying to suppress a smile. I heard Angel giggle in the background.

"How would you know, blind man?" I retorted and Iggy chuckled.

"Max isn't green, Iggy," commented Gazzy. "What are you guys talking about anyway?"

"Nothing," I quickly replied. "Forget it. All of you." I glared at Iggy – which of course was pointless.

"Max," Nudge chimed in. "Are we going to stop soon? We haven't eaten since breakfast."

Anything to escape Iggy's taunting.

"How about a late lunch?" I asked looking around. We were flying high over the appropriately named Windy City – Chicago, Illinois. It was afternoon and the sun was shining but the wind chill factor was at least twenty below.

We dove down beneath the clouds and scanned the busy metropolis under us. Busy was the understatement of the century. Despite the cold, the streets were packed with cars, buses, and pedestrians. A fresh snow that had coated the city earlier that morning was a faint memory on the intersections – just piles of icy mush gathered in the few spots that cars had not touched.

"Look guys," Nudge shouted. "Snow!"

You would think she had never seen snow – we only stared at it every day for the past month in Antarctica.

"Maybe we can build a snowman," Angel suggested.

"Or have a snowball fight!" Gazzy chipped in.

Oh, sure. Right in the middle of flying across country, trying to escape the evil crazies back east, my flock wants to play in the freaking snow.

"And maybe we could all cozy up in front of a nice warm fire place with hot cocoa and marshmallows," I said, sarcasm oozing from my voice.

Five bird kid heads whipped toward me. Fang gave me a face that read "What the heck is your problem?"

There's that no sleep thing again. Fang was definitely taking first watch tonight.

"Sorry," I mumbled. "Can we just get something to eat?"

54. Chapter 53

A/N: I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! All I want for Christmas are at least five reviews... Hint. Hint. :)

Chapter 53

Thirty minutes later, we were waiting to order at a fifty's style restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago.

"This place is just too cute," Nudge stated. She pointed at a waiter and waitress punching in orders at the old-fashioned yet computerized register. "Awww. Look. She's in a poodle skirt. And he looks like Danny Zuko."

"Danny who-ko?" Gazzy asked.

"You know. Danny Zuko – from the movie Grease," Nudge exclaimed. "He's so dreamy."

Okay – now Nudge sounded like she belonged in the fifties.

Moments later our waitress skidded to a halt in front of our table. She was on roller skates and not decked out in a poodle skirt. Um. No. This one was tall and sporting a tight short red dress that exposed her midriff. And get this – she had long red hair. I quickly suppressed memories of Fang kissing the Red Haired Wonder back at the school in Virginia.

She quickly greeted us with her saccharine sweet Milwaukee accent and introduced herself as Alyssa. Great. The Red Haired Wonder from Virginia was named Lissa. Lissa. Alyssa. Quelle coinkydink. I glanced at Fang through the corner of my eye and noticed him giving her the once over. Acid began to churn in my gut.

As we placed our extremely large orders, I caught the undercurrents of Fang and Iggy's conversation – all centered around Fang's way too detailed description of our waitress. Possibly all for Iggy's benefit but Fang was enjoying it a little too much. And, as if that weren't enough, she stood just a little too close to Fang as she took his order. The wink she gave him before heading to the kitchen sealed the deal for me.

I shot up from my chair, mumbled something about having to use the bathroom, and took off toward the back corner of the restaurant. Once inside the bathroom, I pulled the stall door shut and sat on the closed seat. My hands shot up to my temples and began a quick massage.

Pull it together, Max.

I didn't know why I was letting this get to me. Fang was free to look at whomever he pleased.

Why don't you just let go?

My Voice was back – how nice.

Nice to have you back, Voice…. not.

Just go with the flow, Max. Your mom was right.

Right about what?

Right about you and Fang.

Okay. Really did not want to talk about this anymore. Especially with the Voice in my head.

The Voice almost sounded liked it sighed before it continued.

Trust your feelings, Max.

My feelings were telling me to find a brain surgeon and permanently extract my Voice.

Yet my Voice continued.

Eventually you're going to grow up – have a flock of your own. You're going to need to start exploring your relationship with Fang at some point in time.

Ewww. Okay. I really did not want to think about this. Time to change the subject.

So what's up with Itex, Voice?

I didn't really expect an answer. My Voice usually only spoke in riddles or gave me insane instructions.

I paused a moment. When I realized the Voice was not going to bestow any insight upon me, I stood up and began exiting the stall.

Itex is stronger than ever. Be on guard, Max. They are coming after you. They want you to help them with their plans.

55. Chapter 54

Chapter 54

I stood over the bathroom sink splashing water on my face, hoping that the cold spatter would erase the Voice messages glued into my memory.

They want you to help them with their plans.

Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen. Fang and I "exploring our relationship" (whatever that meant) held a greater probability right now.

By the time I strolled back to the table, my flock had devoured half their meal. I mean – it doesn't take us that much time to eat, but was I really gone that long? I guessed that I had been because six concerned eyes stared at me as I seated myself.

"Just having a conversation with my Voice," I replied to their questioning eyes.

"What did it say, Max?" asked Nudge.

"Told me that Itex was stronger than ever and that they want us to help them with their evil plans," I responded nonchalantly between bites of my double cheeseburger.

The silence at the table was deafening. Minus the fork that fell to the floor in Gazzy's vicinity, the only sound audible was my chewing.

"Help them?" Iggy cried out – breaking the silence. "Yeah – like that's going to happen!"

My thoughts exactly.

"Is that why they tried to take Fang?" Nudge wondered.

I glanced somberly over at Fang. His eyes met mine and I swallowed hard. Life without Fang – without any of these guys – was inconceivable.

Angel and Gazzy, who flocked my sides at the table, both inched closer to me. Angel curled up to my arm and nuzzled her head onto my shoulder.

"I'm scared, Max," she whispered. "I've got a bad feeling about all this."

I looked into her eyes. They were traced with fright. A glance around the table told me that Nudge and Gazzy – even Total - felt the same way. Time for me to put on my leadership shoes.

"Look – you and I all know there is no way we would help them with their crazy insane hedonistic plans," I started. "As long as we stay together, they can't touch us. We just need to be on guard at all times. Watch your back at every corner."

I gathered Gazzy and Angel in closer to me and continued.

"They screw up every time. Look at what happened the other night. We'll figure out what they're up to and that will be the end of it."

The flock seemed somewhat satisfied with that and slowly continued with lunch. However, a somber mood replaced the giddy, happy-go-lucky atmosphere from not but ten minutes earlier. No one said anything, even after our waitress had cleared our table. Relaying the message from my Voice sure did work like a charm on toning down Fang's and Iggy's testosterone levels though. They barely acknowledged our waitress' presence - which, I hate to say it, comforted me slightly. I paid the bill, with Jeb's money of course, and we took off down the street, found an uninhabited alley, and jumped into the air.

56. Chapter 55

Chapter 55


Fang slid up next to me as we flew high above a plethora of plains. Miles and miles of nothing but flat land flanked by cornfield after cornfield. No hills. Not a valley. No vertical. Just the horizontal. Just plain flat. I began to see why Midwesterners had their interests vested in pastimes like football and baseball. Had to be a nice escape from the lack of excitement in the surrounding geographical region.

After lunch, we flew for a couple of hours in silence, save the occasional unpleasant slip from the Gasman. We were all spellbound by the information brain overload I delivered while we were still eating. Itex was coming for us. They wanted to use us – how? - I didn't know nor did I have any desire to find out. Flying usually had an extreme calming effect on me, especially when I needed to think. But not today. My body was tense, my nerves frayed. How did they even think that we would help them? They tried to kidnap Fang. Was that their plan? Kidnap us one by one? Chills surged through my body and I wrestled with my brain to dismiss more horrific thoughts. I would definitely be keeping a close eye on Fang tonight.

Fang. My brain was still trying to sort through the messages left by my Voice regarding him. Why was everyone suddenly jumping on the Fang and Max bandwagon? Iggy's teasing could not be contained. Angel had been trying to give me advice (which I did not need) on the subject for months. Then, my mom. And now my Voice. Ugh. Did I need all of this right now? No. Did I want this right now? Also no. Was I going to get rid of the nagging Fang thoughts amidst all we were dealing with? Again – no.

I glanced at Fang. His gash from the night before had been replaced by a thin scar line and his face was returning to its normal olive tone. We still had not finished our "talk" from the night before and every now and then I caught his eyes fixing on me, possibly wondering what I was about to say before we were so rudely interrupted by all the violence and mayhem.

"We should find a place to hunker down for the night," he suggested, his dark wings beating in rhythm with mine. "You need sleep."

I rolled my eyes and inhaled deeply as I turned back to the clear skies stretched out before us. Fang was right. I needed sleep; however, I also needed to tend to my flock – sleeping would probably have to take a back seat on this ride.

"Not kidding, Max," Fang continued. "You look like crap."

Fang is just the essence of tactfulness.

My head snapped toward him, my eyes narrowed and a scowl formed on my tired features.

"We all do," Fang added. "Gazzy and Angel can't fly much further. Nudge is giving out too. We need to land soon."

I eyed my peripheral and observed my flock. Fang was right. They appeared slightly ragged in their flight patterns. They needed to rest. We all did. Ugh. I hated it when Fang was right.

"What are you thinking?" I asked.

He was silent for a moment and then squinted as if eyeing something in the distance.

"There," he pointed. My face registered confusion so he continued, "Mountains – off to the right."

I peered in the direction of his finger. I could pick up the faintest outline of - wait – could it be something other than flat land?

We banked a hard right and headed in a northwesterly direction toward a series of mountain ranges. As our destination became clearer, I felt the effects of a massive headache beginning to form. Maybe a little snooze would do some good.

"Where are we going, Max?" Nudge wondered.

I looked over at Fang who was still beside me, then quickly looked back at Nudge.

"We're going to find a place to settle down for the night," I answered.

"Can it be somewhere with a nice comfy bed?" Nudge asked. "And maybe a pool? I know it's cold out and all but maybe we could find a hotel with an indoor pool. Oooh. Maybe a Holiday Inn. I always like those. They have a nice breakfast. Or maybe a bed and breakfast. We've never stayed at one of those."

Did Nudge have an off switch? Seriously.

"Nudge, you know the rule on hotels right now," I reminded her. "Trees and caves. Only places with an easy escape or well-hidden from view. We don't need a repeat of last night." I reminisced about the events of the previous evening. Safe houses and hotels were out for a long while.

"Yeah, that was bad," Nudge replied. "But the bed was comfy."

"Where are we?" I heard the Gasman say.

"Somewhere in the Midwest," I replied. "Nebraska maybe? Kansas?" I really wasn't sure. My geography was sketchy at best. Growing up on the run did not allow much time for formal schooling. Our primary source of education had been what we gathered on the internet or from television.

"Whoa," Gazzy gasped. "What is that?

I peered in the direction of Gazzy's line of sight. My raptor vision picked up a faint outline, but the marker immediately pinpointed our location.

"Guys," I said quietly to my flock, awe slinking into my voice.

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

57. Chapter 56

Chapter 56

As we drew near our destination, a feeling of immense wonderment struck the mood of the flock. One look at Gazzy's discovery and I knew exactly where we were. Mount Rushmore. Our turn had taken us to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We inconspicuously dropped down in a small wooded area typically populated by hikers and campers. Not this afternoon though. Trail paths were a mystery as two feet of snow had blanketed the forest possibly just the day before.

We emerged into a clearing thirty minutes later and filtered into a throng of tourists obviously ignoring the sub-zero temperatures just to get an up-close and personal view of George Washington's persona plastered on the side of a mountain. Stumbling onto a wide walkway called the Avenue of Flags we followed the crowds to a trail that led up through the mountain. The view was breathtaking.

"Okay, so there's Abraham Lincoln, George Washington," Nudge said while counting out past presidents on her fingers. "Who else?"

"Thomas Jefferson?" offered Gazzy.

"Good one, Gasman," I said, a surge of pride coursing through me.

"Thanks. Didn't he write the Constitution?" Gazzy asked.

"Something like that," I replied. "Nice to know you learned a little something at that school in Virginia – you know, other than how to blow up the library."

Gazzy smiled. He hadn't really blown up the library but he and Iggy did come close.

"So – who's the other one?" asked Angel.

We all looked around at one another – exchanging blank stares and shrugs.

"What is wrong with you people?" exclaimed Total. "It's Teddy Roosevelt!"

We now directed our blank stares at Total.

"Teddy Roosevelt?" Total continued in disgust. "Rough Riders? San Juan Hill?" We continued to look absently at Total. "You know – speak softly and carry a big stick."

Hmmm. I seem to remember that one. My mantra is more like speak loudly and carry a bigger stick.

"Was he that guy in Night at the Museum?" Gazzy asked.

"Ugh," yelped Total.

"Oh yeah, the one on the horse," Iggy added. How did he know this? "I think that was Teddy Roosevelt."

"Didn't he fall in love with that Indian girl?" Nudge chimed in. "She had a really pretty name. Sa-ca-ja-wa. Or something like that."

Like I said – most of our schooling had come from the television and the computer.

I swear Total growled at Nudge and then said, "Well – if it weren't for Mr. Roosevelt, you wouldn't have any national parks to sleep in!"

Teddy Roosevelt suddenly ranked up there as one of my favorite presidents.

We continued our history lesson as we smuggled in with a group of tourists. A park ranger was delivering a most passionate speech regarding the origins of the monument and the reasons behind each carving. He led us very closely to each sculpture as he regaled us with stories about some guy named Borglum who actually spent fourteen years carving out this symbol of democracy. As he talked about each president a warm feeling passed through me and I was suddenly proud to be a part of this country that had allowed me and my family to be raised so cruelly. I began to feel almost patriotic.

Once glance at my flock told me they were feeling it too. This place was amazing. I smiled as I returned my gaze to Abe Lincoln's bust. Then, realization dawned on me. My eyes did a double-take on the flock and then performed a quick scan of the surrounding area.

Fang approached my side, feeling my anxiety. I sharply directed my gaze at him and he repeated my actions of a minute ago.

Without speaking, we both gathered flock members and eased our way away from the large group of tourists. Gazzy glanced up at me and then looked around. He knew.

Angel was missing.

58. Chapter 57

Chapter 57

We quickly retraced our steps to the backside of the structure on Mount Rushmore. How could I lose Angel? Within three days, I had managed to allow Gazzy, Nudge, and now Angel to escape my watchful eye. What kind of leader was I?

Max, come see what Total and I found.

Oh thank God.

I concentrated my thoughts hard on sending a crystal clear message to Angel.

Angel, honey, where are you? You can't go sneaking off like that.

I know, Max. I'm sorry. Total really wanted to come in here.

Suuure. Blame the dog.

So – where are you?

We're in a cavern behind the monument. Come see.

I rotated my body 180 degrees and there it was. A doorway in the side of the mountain. I quickly strode towards it – the rest of the flock following my lead.

Once inside we saw Angel immediately. She ran up to me and flung her arms around me. I kissed her forehead.

"No more disappearing, okay, sweetie," I said.

"Got it," she replied, then glanced around. "I like this place! There's nothing here but it feels… I don't know – safe."

I surveyed our surroundings. Angel was right. This place possessed an element of peace. Calm.

"What is this place?" I wondered aloud. The cavern was maybe fifty feet long, but there were no markers to be found.

"Hall of Records," Total answered. "The sculptor built it to house important historical documents. He died before it was finished."

Total looked around at the six of us who were well, dumb struck. Total seemed to contain a never ending wealth of knowledge on many a different subject. Like an encyclopedia. Yeah, an encyclopedia with a scruffy black face, four mangy paws, and a killer holier-than-thou attitude.

Fang and I allowed the younger crew to explore the narrow passage while we guarded the entry way. The sky was darkening and I imagined many of the tourists were heading back to their cars and their homes. Home. Would we ever have a home again? It seemed a lifetime ago that the flock and I could actually relax in our environment, let our guard down. Those days were long gone.

I was lost in an onslaught of self pity when I heard the oh too familiar cry of hunger from Nudge. Fang and I exchanged gazes and cautiously led the flock out of the cavern and returned to the area directly in front of the memorial. The tour had long since departed. With the arrival of dusk, I imagined it had been the last one for the day.

We gave the monument one last long stare, mesmerized by its colossal size and by what it epitomized. The legacy of our founding fathers in the development of our country was moving. Yet I wondered silently if they would be rolling over in their graves if they knew of the torturous lives this free country had allowed us to experience. Hmmm.

59. Chapter 58

Chapter 58

"Iggy!" I cried out while rooting through my pack. "Did you take my I-pod? Again?"

Okay – Iggy had his own I-Pod. I did not understand the constant need to rifle through my pack and take my things. Privacy seemed to be a foreign concept to Iggy. And seriously – it wasn't as though he could actually see anything in there anyway, not like he could actually read my diary (if I had one). No – I think his sole purpose in life was to annoy me.

I sighed dramatically as I headed toward a narrow opening in the cavernous alcove we discovered in one of the high ranges of the Black Hills. Upon departing Mount Rushmore, we flew towards the higher peaks searching for an obscure cleft or cave that could give us temporary shelter for the evening. Turns out we had our pick of the litter. The hills were dotted with several caves and caverns and clefts. Our new home actually had two entrances- one on the side of the mountain and the other led out to a clearing. Perfect – two escape routes. I mentally patted myself on the back – again – for the great find.

I eased my way out the narrow opening and -

"Ow!" I cried out, looking down at the mass of white powder that was falling off my arm. A chuckle from a few feet away immediately revealed the perpetrator of the white pellet that stung me.

"Gazzy!" I yelled, gathering up snow and molding it quickly into a ball. "You are toast, buddy!"

I whipped a snow ball in his direction, striking his leg as he attempted to leap into the air. He grinned and chuckled again.

Just then, I got pelted with four snowballs simultaneously from four different directions. As I tried to recover, I got hit with four more.

"Okay, okay," I said as I cowered to the ground. "This is so not fair!"

Did my flock feel any sympathy for me? Noooo. Within the next minute, more snowballs bombarded me. One hit my head this time and I clutched it in pain. The laughing that came at my expense only a minute ago stopped. The flock carefully approached me from all sides.

"Max, are you okay?" Nudge asked cautiously as she approached. All of them were now within a few feet of my crumpled heap.

"Max, we're sorry –" Gazzy started.

I didn't give him time to finish.

I hastily sprang to my feet and quickly threw five snowballs in all directions, snagging targets on every toss. Nudge took one in her chest and I heard a faint "Oof". Fang took his in the face. His shocked, stung look was priceless.

I strode toward him and poked him in the chest.

"I'm taking it this was all your doing, huh, Kemo Sabe?" I asked him. He suppressed the beginnings of a haughty grin trying to form on his face. "Well – take that." I gave him a long last look of smug victory and then I turned on my heels and strolled back to our temporary home.

I heard Iggy stifling a laugh. As I turned to look fiercely at him, a snowball connected with my face. I froze in my tracks.

Silence encompassed the snow-topped clearing. I wiped the snow from my face and glared at Fang.

"You are dead meat," I stated as I packed a fresh snowball.

And, of course, a massive snowball fight ensued. Angel, Nudge, and I ganged up on the boys. Nudge packed snow as quickly as she could while Angel and I launched them from the air. Iggy took cover behind a massive rock and began to throw snowballs in every direction. Gazzy and Fang quickly joined him in his fort and began to send the snowballs flying our way.

That fort thing did not last long, especially when Angel and I merely swooped behind them and pelted them with a few carefully placed snowballs. Fang and Gazzy fled and we gave chase. I tackled Gazzy before he could get anymore snowballs off.

"Having fun, little man?" I taunted Gazzy as I pinned him down with both hands.

A snowball hit the back of my head.

"Pick on somebody your own size," Fang stated.

Hmmm. An invitation? I couldn't resist.

So I launched myself at Fang's chest and knocked him to the ground. He wrestled me on to my back, pinning me to the same position I had held Gazzy to moments before.

I looked up at Fang and our eyes connected. My breath froze in my throat. His face was extremely close to mine and I felt his deep breaths warming my skin. Was he going to kiss me again, right here, in front of -

I quickly glanced to my left and then right. Angel and Gazzy were exchanging turns chasing one another with snowballs. Nudge had Iggy cornered behind his so-called fort. They were in a different world right now. Thank goodness because I am sure Iggy would be having a mental blast with this if he paid Fang and me any mind.

I returned my eyes to Fang's. We gazed at one another for what seemed like an eternity. My heart was racing. I thought momentarily about wrestling my arms away but I was frozen. I couldn't move. And it wasn't because Fang was that strong. Trust me. I could have easily wrenched my arms away. But I couldn't move.

Moments later, Fang abruptly drew his face away from mine and sprang to his feet. He quickly shook his head and strolled over to Iggy and Nudge.

What was that all about?

I lay there for a moment, feeling quite dazed and confused.

And then a snowball hit my head – again. I heard an all too familiar giggle from Angel. As I rose to my feet, I looked at her and realized that her snowball's connection to my head was not what she was giggling about.

Give it a rest, Angel, I thought as I launched a snowball in her direction.

60. Chapter 59

Chapter 59

Nearly an hour later, we were spent. Our wet, snow-covered bodies were sprawled out on the icy floor. We were laughing and panting hard – the way kids should be after a rousing snowball fight.

"I'm soaked," Nudge stated. "Iggy, can you get a fire going?"

"I second that motion," I chipped in as I rolled to my side.

Gazzy jumped up and then pulled Iggy to his feet.

"I'll help," Gazzy said. "Come on, Iggy."

As they disappeared inside the cave, I rolled onto my back and groaned. Iggy and Gazzy starting a fire. That could not be good.

Nudge jumped up and followed them. Good girl. Keep an eye on them.

"I'm hungry," she said. "Did we have any leftovers from dinner?"

We just had dinner. How many calories did this child need?

"I'll come with you, Nudge," voiced Angel. "I'm hungry too."

I watched them vanish through the cavern wall and I sat up, taking stock of the bruises I collected from the snowball skirmish.

Then, I realized it was just Fang and me. Out here – all alone.

I rose quickly to my feet, brushing off snow from my jeans. I looked around and – no Fang. Where was he? Was he pulling his disappearing act again?

Nope – there he was. He had slipped away from me without a word and was easing his way through the cavern door. Strange.

What was going on with him?

61. Chapter 60

Chapter 60

"Whoever invented smores should be on Mount Rushmore," Nudge proposed as she slid a crispy brown marshmallow onto a graham cracker. It was probably her fifteenth campfire favorite. I lost count at seven. In fact, I lost tally of how many I had. They were so, so good.

After our visit to Mount Rushmore, Fang and Nudge flew into a nearby town to rustle up dinner and returned with all the makings for hearty shiskabobs – meat, chicken, vegetables – sure beat our days of eating desert rat on a stick. Yes – at one time in our pathetic little lives, we subjected ourselves to desert rat, roast of possum, broiled snake. Anything to refuel while living on the run. Oh, but don't tell Nudge. She still believes we were eating chicken. But hallelujah, times have changed. Life with Jeb sure did have its advantages. Or I should say – life with Jeb's wallet.

Along with dinner, they scrounged up dessert –all Nudge's doing. Chocolate bars were now a staple of Nudge's diet. I swear - if she had her way, she would eat chocolate morning, noon, and night.

"I think you should all be on Mount Rushmore," added Total from Angel's lap. He was the only one who escaped the snowball fight unscathed – probably because as soon as I started throwing snowballs, he managed to worm his way back into the cavern and into my backpack.

"Aww, that's sweet, Total," Angel said as she smoothed the fur on his head.

"Seriously," he went on. "You played a part in the development of our country. And you've saved my butt enough times. You should be up there."

"Thanks, Total," I said through a slightly embarrassed smile. "But I don't think there's room for us up there."

"Or – they could give us our own mountain," Nudge said dreamily.

"Yeah," I heard Iggy mutter. "They can call it Mount Mutant."

We all grinned – except for Fang. He was sitting against a wall a little farther removed from the group. His not smiling at Iggy's joke was not abnormal for him but Fang seemed distant. More distant than usual.

"So what do you think, Fang?" I asked as I approached him. "Your face plastered on a mountainside?" I was trying to picture it myself as I sat beside him.

He shrugged, then rose and walked over to the fire.

What? Did I suddenly have cooties? Was Fang avoiding me now? I was definitely going to get to the bottom of this.

I yawned and stretched my arms out above my head. Fang must have seen my movement through the corner of his eye.

"I think we should all start turning in," he noted decisively. Then, he purposefully looked at me – more like glared at me. "I'll take first watch."

"Yes sir," I said teasingly as I jumped to my feet. I gave Fang a salute on my way up. I was not about to argue. I was actually looking forward to closing my eyes.

I glanced around at the flock. They looked beat.

"Come on," I barked. "You heard the man. Let's get to bed. Move it. Move it. Move it."

I put my right fist out over the fire and the others stacked theirs on top of mine. Then, we tapped the backs of our fists with our other hands and settled in for slumber. Nudge, Angel, and Total curled up in a corner of the cave. Gazzy used his pack as a make-shift pillow and instantly fell asleep against a wall. I helped Iggy find his way to a large outcropping of granite and he curled up next to it.

"You two behave yourselves," he teased loudly.

Before I could even decide if I wanted to 1) shriek, 2) kick Iggy, 3) whack him upside the head or 4) possibly all three, Fang spoke up.

"Cool it, Ig," he mumbled quietly yet sharply.

My head whipped around toward Fang. I narrowed my eyes as I watched Fang pull his lap top out of his pack. What was wrong with him? Iggy's annoying remarks typically left Fang chuckling – as only Fang can chuckle.

"Trouble in paradise?" Iggy whispered. Then, he braced himself for my response.

"Ow!" he jokingly exclaimed as his hand shot to his abdominal area. I had settled on a nice swift kick to his side.

I roosted near Angel and Nudge and looked up one last time at Fang. He had planted himself along a wall, a spot allowing him to keenly watch both entrances. He was already engrossed in the computer – probably updating his blog. No telling. I would have a long talk with him later. Get to the bottom of his odd behavior. Maybe finish our chat from the other night. Ugh.

I rolled onto my side and without another thought, I drifted off to sleep.

62. Chapter 61

Chapter 61

Roughly an hour later, I shot up from where I was sleeping, my breathing fast and jagged. My eyes were wide, my skin clammy. I quickly gathered my bearings as I looked around. Angel, Nudge… there's Gazzy. Okay. Good. I smoothed my hair, matted with sweat, off my face and gazed at Fang.

Fang. He was the subject of my nightmare. Again. Well, the whole flock was but Fang seemed to be the only one dying in my dreams. He didn't fall out of the sky this time. Noooo – this nightmare had him strapped to a table, undergoing torturous experiments by our friendly neighborhood white coats. Visions of him writhing in pain, struggling to break free continued to flash into my head. I tried to suppress the nightmarish memories – to no avail. Yeah – those of you who wake up from a dream dying to remember what you dreamed about. Count your blessings.

I recalled screaming through a window. I couldn't help him. And then I watched his body give out. I watched him die.

I felt tears streaming down my cheeks and I hastily wiped them with my sleeve. I looked back at Fang who was now staring intently at me. I rose and ambled toward his perch, desperately striving to regain composure.

"Whatcha doin'?" I chirped as I plopped down next to him.

He took his gaze off of me to glance back at the blue screen before him.

"Checking e-mail," replied Fang. He glimpsed back at my pale-stricken features for a moment, and then returned to his lap top.

"Another bad dream?" he asked with a hint of concern in his flat voice.

"Yep," I replied without looking at him. I pulled my knees up into my chest.

"Wanna talk about it?" He already knew the answer.


We sat there in silence for a few minutes before Mr. Chatterbox spoke again.

"Got an e-mail from Brigid," he said as he studied his screen.

Ugh. There was that name again.

I am guessing he felt my sudden wave of discontent because he took his eyes off his laptop and looked at me before explaining.

"Dr. Papa told her about what happened. She was worried about us."

"Are you sure she's not just worried about you," I said a little too quickly. Fang quickly shot me his famous "Huh?" look and I realized how stupid and jealous I sounded.

"Forget it," I muttered and shot to my feet. I strode to the cavern opening and propped my body up along a side of the frame. Outside, the night sky was dotted with stars and an almost full moon that lit up the surrounding area. I leaned my head against the entryway and stared out into the darkness, trying to shut down thoughts of Fang and Brigid.

Not that there was anything going on there – I mean she was seven years older than he was, but Fang was taken with her. Like an innocent crush on a teacher. Hmmm. Innocent. Yeah – that's us completely.

I lost myself in the dark night, my thoughts drifting to the last conversation I had with my mom. I couldn't wait to see her again. I could still taste the strawberry cheesecake ice cream I had picked out for myself. It was so nice, so normal – the two of us staying up till all hours. Talking about stuff. Then, I recalled what she had said about Fang and me.

Things can change, Max. Sounds like they already have.

Yeah – no more cozy little friendship of yesteryear.

I thought about Iggy and his endless teasing. Constantly throwing this imagined thing with Fang in my face.

And then there was the Voice telling me to explore my relationship with Fang.

I crossed my arms and sunk deeper into the cavern opening.


What if things didn't work out? What would happen to the flock then? What would I do without my best friend?

What if things did work out?

Sheer terror coursed through my soul.

I shifted my weight as visions of Fang and the Red Haired Wonder from Virginia attacked my mind. Then I recalled that waitress from today.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to redirect my thoughts.

My mind flashed images of Fang buying Nudge a birthday cake. Reading Angel a bedtime story. Holding Gazzy's hand.

I saw his shirtless body back at the safe house. His dark wings beating with mine as we flew through the air.

Fang falling out of mid-air. Tortured to death.

My mom's final words to me last night.

Just don't wait too long – you never know if it may be too late.

I grabbed my head with both hands, hoping that would suppress images of Fang that kept dancing in my head.


I spun around to see Fang standing in front of me.

"I've called you four times," he barked in a harsh whisper. "What is wrong with you?"

I gazed at Fang for a moment, images of him re-flooding my brain.

Just then I knew what I needed to do. What I wanted to do, more than anything.

Without hesitation, I straightened, grabbed the back of his neck with my right hand, and pressed my lips firmly against his.

63. Chapter 62

Chapter 62

If Fang was totally out and out stunned by what I just did, he didn't show it. At least not at first.

As soon as my mouth touched his, he returned my kiss. He seemed briefly taken aback but then I felt his hands move to my waist and he pulled me into him. My other hand found his shoulder and I felt him kissing me more deeply, harder, with fierce determination.

And then, he abruptly pulled away.

My eyes went wide and embarrassment flushed my cheeks. I didn't want to look at him, but my gaze settled in on his face anyway. His eyes were as wide as mine – shock setting in.

"You sure about this?" he asked, his voice barely an audible whisper.

No. Not really.

I managed a cross between a nod and a shrug. I guess that was enough for him for his hand came up and gently pushed a few strands of hair behind my ear. My body shivered as he cupped my chin and leaned in to kiss me again.

And guess what – I didn't run away this time. Trust me, though. My fight or flight was on full alert, but instead, I went with it. The kiss, I mean.

We kissed for what seemed like an eternity. This time it was soft and gentle mixed with a tinge of passion and fortitude. When we finally broke apart, we were breathing raggedly. Fang studied my face and I swallowed hard. I didn't know what was coming next. Usually, I was out of there by now.

"You're not running away," he mused quietly.

I swear Fang could read me like a book.

My shoulders untensed and I stomped down on his foot. I cocked my eyebrows and teasingly snapped back at him.

"Give me a minute. I may change my mind."

"Not this time," was all he said as he grabbed my wrist and pulled me into an embrace. I buried my head into his rock hard shoulder and I felt his head lean onto mine. A million emotions overwhelmed me all at once. Fear and terror. Longing. I felt vulnerable. And I hated feeling vulnerable. But this time I also felt like a huge yoke was suddenly unchained from my shoulders. I felt relief mixed with a whole lot of happiness.

Fang held me close for a long while before he leaned in to kiss me again. As his lips intertwined with mine, he forced my body into a tight squeeze. I don't think he wanted this moment to end. For once, I didn't either.

Eventually we broke apart and he led me over to the same rock that Iggy had used as his fort just a few hours ago. We propped ourselves atop of it and Fang took my hand and massaged it in his. I was itching to take a spin in the sky – not to get away from Fang, mind you, but just savor a little freedom. And I wanted Fang by my side. Fang sensed my yearning.

"We could wake Iggy up – let him take watch," he suggested.

Oh sure – give Iggy more reason to annoy me.

"Uh, no," I hastily replied. "I'm okay here."

I nuzzled in close to Fang and leaned my head into his shoulder. The weirdness that I had expected to feel had been replaced by something new. I couldn't quite identify what, but I felt as comfortable and relaxed as I had always felt around Fang – just now with a few fringe benefits.

"It's peaceful here," I stated quietly. "I can almost forget about everything that's been happening to us."

"Yeah," Fang concurred softly.

We returned our gaze to the stars.

"So – I guess I don't have the plague anymore?" I mumbled quietly, a faint smile forming on my lips.

Fang's eyes willed me to continue.

"You know – earlier," I explained. I saw recognition set in to his dark eyes. "Why the cold shoulder?"

His gaze dropped to his sneakers and he dropped my hand. His weight shifted slightly as though he readied himself to say something, but then thought better of it.

I looked away. It didn't matter really. He certainly wasn't ignoring me now.

Fang startled me slightly when he spoke again. He had eased off the rock and hovered before me. He took both my hands and forced me to connect with his eyes.

"You. Me. This." He cleared his throat as he stumbled to find words. "This is the way it should be." He paused for a moment. "I was a little frustrated that you weren't seeing it."

My breath caught in my throat. Fang was sounding most un-Fang like right now.

"Glad to see you came to your senses," he added.

I scowled at him and his lower lip crooked into a smile.

"What changed your mind?" he asked quietly and a barely indiscernible twitch in his jaw told me he wasn't sure if he wanted the answer.

I shrugged and my eyes darted to the blackness surrounding us as I contemplated my response. Fang's hand gently arched around my chin and he brought my gaze back to him.

"Lots of stuff, I guess," I muttered. I wanted to drop my head, not look at Fang. But his dark eyes mesmerized me. I continued slowly. "You're apparently not the only one who wanted this to happen."

Fang smiled. I could tell he was thinking of Iggy and his not-so-subtle remarks.

"Iggy and Angel," I added. "The voice."

Then slowly I added, "My mom too."

Fang's face registered surprise.

"I'm liking Dr. Martinez more and more every day," he said.

A long pause passed. Our eyes were locked. Each one of us captivating the other with a hypnotic trance. My mind was a battlefield right now – trying to decide if I should open up about my dream – tell Fang everything that was swirling around in my head.

His eyebrows rose slightly. He looked through me as though I had this huge wall up and he was peering through the peep hole, trying to acquire a closer glimpse.

Fang's eyebrows narrowed and he asked, "What is it?"

"I've been having nightmares again lately," I finally replied.

His face scrunched and he flashed me a "No freaking, duh" face.

"They're about you," I added surreptitiously.

His eyes widened slightly.

"And the flock," I spit out quickly. "But mostly about you."

I didn't need to say anything else. I sensed he understood the nature of my terrible dreams. Moments later he slid in beside me again and placed his arm around my shoulders. He gently rubbed the upper part of my arm as I once again curled up into him. He was a little tenser now and I mentally punched myself for bringing up the dream.

Then I discovered that wasn't all that he was tense about.

"How about you?" he asked quietly as he stared straight ahead.

I gave him a quizzical look and he caught it through the corner of his eye.

"Did you want this to happen?" he continued, referring to my earlier comment.

Yes. No. Maybe. More yes than no. That sounded about right.

I nodded and managed a weak "yeah". It was enough. He turned me into him and found my lips. We kissed again and all seemed right with the world.

64. Chapter 63

A/N: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your reviews mean so much! Good or bad. They help me grow as a writer. Keep them coming! Oh and be prepared for some unpleasantness in the next few days. Sorry. Don't want to spoil it - so read on.

Chapter 63

You are reading Fang's Blog. Welcome!

Visitor Number: 1,026

Counters broken – for the tenth time. But suffice it to say, you're in the millions.

So - Itex is back. Hard not to notice when they unsuccessfully tried to blow up our safe house the other night. According to the little birdie in Max's head, they are stronger than ever – whatever that means. They are after us as usual and who knows if they are trying to re-enact their loser delusional By-Half Plan again. So I thought I should prepare you for the worst that could happen.

For those of you new here - Months ago, Itex tried to rid the world of half its population and replace it with some kind of superhuman. A Re-Evolution, they called it. Whatever. Max, with some help from yours truly and from all of you – my faithful readers – well, we foiled their evil plans (muwahahahaha). Now – they may or may not be trying to do it again. And they are hallucinating enough to think we will help them. Yeah, right.

A while back you may remember I came up with a list of useful versus useless occupations. Well – I am moving a previously stated "useless" job over to the very useful category. Model. And no – it's not because they are totally hot or barely wearing any clothes. I've learned you can be a model and use that to further good causes. And for those of you trying to picture me in Armani – forget it. The model was not me. It was Nudge. The other day Nudge did her first stint as a spokes model for Global Warming. DoSomething Now will be publishing a magazine in a few weeks highlighting its causes – letting us kids know of ways we can save our environment – you know, save the world. Nudge will grace the cover. Max was their first choice – and while I felt she was uh - qualified for the job – we all know that is not Max.

Anyway, Nudge was a perfect choice. If it wasn't for the wings, I would say she was made to model. Oh – and for those of you thinking nasty thoughts…. she's twelve. I would seriously hunt you down. Of course – you wouldn't want to mess with Nudge. She packs a powerful punch herself.

smackdaddy27 from Bangladesh writes:

Dude – we are so with you! Let's find all their companies and blow them to pieces!

Fang writes:

Appreciate the offer – but let's save the explosives for Iggy and Gazzy to handle. But seriously – we may need you for other purposes.

TLC41292 from Cincinnati writes:

I'm doing a paper for biology on the pros and cons of gene splicing. Could you give me some insight?

Fang writes:

Well – I would consider the flock a pro. Evil crazies chasing us all the time – con. Flying – definitely a pro. Growing up in a cage – con. Having a talking dog… I'll have to get back to you on that one.

flyingmaxlover from Sacramento writes:

Max should have been the model, man. I mean – she is so freaking hot. Mesmerizing. I watched you on CNN last week. Totally into the wing thing.

Fang writes:

My sentiments exactly. On the wing thing, I mean.

Fang out.

65. Chapter 64

Chapter 64

Fang eased his laptop into his pack, diminishing the soft resonance that served as the only sound in this otherwise hushed night. Over twenty thousand hits in the past two days – kids were again preparing for the worst. His apocalyptic messages sent them scouring for information on Itex, organizing protests, searching for new ways to immerse themselves in a good cause.

As the zipper met its mate on his faded black Jansport, he took a glimpse at Max sleeping. She lay next to him, her loose blond hair shadowing her face. She appeared, dare he say, at peace. Her normally tightened fists, relaxed; the typical scrunched eyebrows were outstretched. He reached out carefully to tuck her stray hairs behind her ear. Her sudden movement caused him to flinch. She had grabbed his hand and her eyes shot open, catching his gaze with hers. She grinned as Fang kissed her forehead and she returned to her slumber.

Fang leaned back against the cavern wall. His mouth crooked into a smile as he recalled the events of only a few hours earlier. His mind played back their conversations, her stubborn scowls that softened in moments, her tender lips beneath his. They sat under the stars for as long as they could until Max's tiredness overwhelmed her. She fought her fatigue and he chuckled to himself remembering her head bobbing on and off his shoulder. Finally, sleep overcame her and he carried her back to their temporary home.

Once inside, he kept her close to him. He needed her near him. Iggy had awakened for his watch and a knowing smile crossed his face as he plopped down next to Fang, undoubtedly hearing Max's soft snore on Fang's shoulder. Fang shooed Iggy back to sleep though. He desired time to take all this in. He wanted to update his blog. And he wanted to watch her sleep.


He shook his head and smiled as he gazed upon her. They were connected. Had always been. Just now – in a new way. He wondered what tomorrow would be like. Exchanging knowing glances. Stealing kisses when the rest of the flock wasn't looking. They had decided not to reveal their discovered relationship to the flock – you know – keep Iggy guessing. Angel would easily see it – but she knew enough to stay quiet.

His thoughts drifted back to Max. Her strength, her hard-headedness with him, her delicacy with the flock. He gazed upon her, lost in her unspoken beauty. He was so caught up in her and in his reverie, he never smelled the bittersweet, sticky substance over his mouth until it was too late.

66. Chapter 65

Chapter 65

A piercing glare stabbed my eyes as I rolled onto my side. I grimaced as my eyes opened, wondering instinctively how long I had slept. I closed my eyes quickly to shut out the bright light that filtered in through the narrow opening of our cave.

There. Much better. Just a few more minutes.

I felt groggy. Not the kind of groggy that comes from finally sleeping for a long time after not sleeping for two days. No. This was the kind of bleary that resulted from deep sleep. Problem was. I rarely sleep deeply.

Just then, I tasted it. The sweet aftertaste of something that has been imposed on me only twice before. Chloroform.

My eyes shot open – again. This time I fought the urge to bury them behind my eyelids and shield them from the glaring sun. I looked around frantically. Empty. No packs. No flock. No Fang. Not even Total was here.

Oh no. Oh, God, no. No, no, no. How? Why?

A million questions raced through my mind. Horrid pictures of my flock, my family, Fang… at the School undergoing God only knows what.

I felt sick. My stomach instantly felt hollow, the contents trying to surface. I swallowed hard, suppressing the urge to throw up right here.

Oh, God.

The walls were spinning now. Needed air.

I burst out the cavern entrance and dove down a few feet before extending my wings outward. I flew in low circles throughout the snow topped hills and valleys, searching… hoping that they'd only gone out for a morning flight. I shook my head. Riiight – a morning flight without me.

I flew over nearby towns for the next hour, pressing on in what seemed to be a futile search. My heartbeat was accelerated, my skin so hot that the tears I couldn't fight back seemed to steam when they hit my face. After an eternity, I returned to the solace of the cave.

My knees buckled and I allowed myself to cry. No one was here. No one to see my weakness.

What to do? Plan. I need a plan.

"Voice!" I shouted. "A little help here?"

Silence. Figures.

My tears gave way to frustration and I clutched my head and screamed loudly. Maybe I could beat the Voice out of my head. Maybe then I wouldn't have to get my hopes up – and then crushed – about the insight I so anxiously awaited.

Still nothing.

I sank onto the icy floor and clutched my knees to my chest. My body was exhausted from all the tears I had subjected it to.

I suddenly felt more alone than I had ever felt before.

67. Chapter 66

Chapter 66

After my fourth round of self-pity, I decided to enlist some outside assistance.

I was going to call my mom.

I found a payphone outside a quaint five and dime store not far from the far western base of the Black Hills. I picked up the receiver and began to dial my mom's cell phone when I realized that the receiver was not attached to the cord.


Frustration and anger grew within me. I launched the receiver as hard as I could into the backside of the convenience store parking lot and determinedly strode inside the shop.

"Gotta phone?" I demanded sharply of the clerk at the counter. He looked to be in his early twenties.

"There's one outside," he said indifferently as he indicated toward the door without looking away from the magazine he was reading.

I stomped toward the counter and slammed my fists onto it. He stumbled backward as the magazine fell from his grip.

"S broken," I seethed, fury consuming me. "Got another?"

"N-no. Y-you can use my cell phone," he stuttered. I could see fright building in his eyes. "If that's alright."

I snatched it hastily. The man's squeamish face registered fear, his already pale features growing whiter by the minute.

"Sorry," I muttered under my breath. "How's the reception?"

"Uh… okay. You may want to go outside."

"Thanks," I said. I was already half way out the door.

Once outside, I dialed Dr. Martinez's cell phone. I knew she would be wrapping things up at work, getting ready to meet us in LA. The phone rang endlessly. Huh? After ten rings on five separate tries, I tried the house. Nothing.

I paced with the patience of a four year old on Christmas Eve. I wanted to throw this phone. Fly back to the cave. Crawl in a hole. I didn't know what to do. I had absolutely no idea how they got my flock and where they might have taken them. And why did they not take me? Time was unmercifully ticking away.

Why don't you try Jeb?

I concentrated on making my thoughts as icy as possible.

It's about time, Voice. Where've you been hiding?

Find Jeb. He'll know how to help.

Why don't you just tell me where they are?

Silence. Followed by more silence.

My blood boiled and my face felt unbearably hot. I walked around in three tight circles before throwing the phone onto the ground.

"Would it be too much to ask for you to give me a freaking straight up answer? Just this once?" I yelled out loud to the clouds, oblivious to the scattered passer-bys in front of the store now staring in my direction.

"Parents," I mumbled as I picked up the phone, voicing it just loud enough for my concerned citizens to hear. Most looked away and continued about their business. I was just another rebellious, heartless teenage daughter in their eyes – you know, instead of some raging schizophrenic lunatic about to shoot up the nearest 7-11.

I trudged to the less populated area in back of the store and dialed Jeb's number. The seconds ticked by like hours as I waited for him to pick up. I almost jumped back when I heard his voice.

"Jeb," I said, panic and desperation flaring in that single syllable.

"Max, where are you?" he asked, an anxious tone permeating his speech.

"They took the flock," I stated flatly. "The Voice told me to find you."

"How far are you from Los Angeles?" he questioned.

I mentally judged the distance from South Dakota to southern California.

"I can be there tonight," I said.

"Come now, quickly," he charged softly. He hesitated before continuing.

"Max," he paused again. "Dr. Martinez - your mom. She's missing."

68. Chapter 67

Chapter 67

I staggered backwards, the words slowly sinking into the deep confines of my brain.

My mom – missing.

I fueled my tears into anger as I took off like lightening. The mountainous regions quickly became a distant memory as I accelerated to over 200 miles per hour. I fully concentrated all my efforts and thoughts into finding Jeb as quickly as bird-humanly possible.

By nightfall I was flying across the Mojave Desert. I hadn't eaten since our smore party the evening before and my stomach rumbled with hunger. I felt my eyes glisten as I reminisced about my flock. Nudge, my beautiful sweet Nudge – that girl ate 30 smores – I swear. I smiled as I thought of all the marshmallow Total couldn't avoid in the fuzz around his chin. Gazzy stuffed fifteen marshmallows into his mouth to see how many he could hold in there without puking. Our snowball fight. Then, Fang. Tears were now streaming down my cheeks as I thought about him. What if my nightmares were coming true?

I wished I had something to punch. This really, really sucked. And I was so going to hurt someone or something when I found these idiotic mad freaks who took my family.

Just then, something in my brain let out a piercing screech and my head felt like it was being catapulted with a thousand boulders. I clutched my head and dove downward. There was no one to catch me this time if I fell out of the sky.

The pain was staggering and I struggled to keep my focus. I was almost ground level. Almost there, Max. You can do this.

And then, as quickly as the pain surfaced, it disappeared.

I came to a running stop and skidded so hard that sand flew in every direction. I closed my eyes in haste to keep the soft grains out. Opening my eyes, I took stock of my surroundings. Nothing but sand. No water, no stores, no people. Yeah – there was an occasional cactus – but mostly just sand.

My head was still pounding but for the most part, I felt fine. Just hungry. And tired.

What was that? I asked myself as I retracted my wings. I was referring, of course, to my massive instantaneous migraine. Several months ago, I had gotten several headaches on mine and the flock's trip across America to find our parents. Several times I collapsed completely – sometimes in mid-air. Yeah – not pretty. I owed Fang my life on a couple of occasions. Also not pretty. Jumbled images would flash in my mind. Pictures I wouldn't understand until later. And that's when I first discovered I had a "nice" little Voice in my head.

Hey – could this headache mean the Voice was leaving – possibly exiting the same way it entered. Now that was a nice thought.

I'm still here, Max.

Well – it was a nice thought anyway.

This may help in finding your friends.

Maps of islands appeared like blips on a radar screen. I closed my eyes to see images of low clustered buildings surrounded by people in parkas flash quickly behind my eyelids. The pictures came so quickly. I desperately strived to store each one in the recesses of my brain.

After a minute, my vision cleared and I opened my eyes, feeling more lost then ever.

Well, that was a big help. Sure hoped Jeb would know what some of these pictures meant.

Anything else before I take off again, Voice.

I waited a few moments. Nope. Silence again.

I took a running start across the vast plains of sand and was about to leap into the air when Super Pest returned. I about ran into cactus.

Always remember who you are. What you're designed for.

Okaaay. Care to explain further.

Another round of silence. Guess not. I impatiently waited a good five minutes this time, certain my Voice would speak up as soon as I launched myself into the air. But it didn't. So I leapt straight up, beat my wings hard to remain aloft, and continued toward my destination.

California, here I come. Hope you're ready.

69. Chapter 68

Chapter 68

I located Jeb on a fourth floor balcony of a Holiday Inn. His room overlooked the very poorly lit back parking lot and since there were very few patrons milling about, I inconspicuously entered his loft by way of said balcony.

Relief flooded Jeb's eyes when he saw me and I could tell he wanted to scoop me up into an enormous embrace like he did when it was just us back at our house in Colorado and Fang had just broken my nose – again – in one of our many sparring contests. Actually, if I wasn't filled with so much fear and hatred, I might have allowed the hug. But I was only up for finding my flock.

"Sit down, Max," he said as he pointed to the purple upholstered couch along a side wall. I did a quick 360 of my surroundings. The walls were adorned with a pale yellow and earthy green wallpaper and the furniture looked like it came right out of a hippie catalog. This must have been the one hotel they missed when modernization came along.

I slowly took a seat on the polyester nightmare as Jeb sat in an easy chair across from me. He gazed at me with the concerned eyes of the loving father I used to know. I quickly blinked away the moisture cascading over my eyes as I remembered how he turned on us.

A million questions loomed in my mind and I didn't know where to start. Fortunately, I didn't have to.

"I had tried to contact Dr. Martinez, I mean, your mother, this morning to discuss the week in Los Angeles," Jeb explained. "When she didn't answer her cell phone, I tried the house, then her office. They told me she was scheduled to work, but she never showed up."

My heart sank and my stomach felt hollow again. I knew they had kidnapped her too.

"What about Ella?" I managed to utter weakly.

"She was at school. She was supposed to stay with one of your mom's colleagues while your mom spent time in LA. I simply arranged for it to happen a little sooner."

"Does Ella know what happened?" I pressed.

"Not exactly," came Jeb's forced reply.

"Not exactly?"

"I talked with Ella and told her that her mom needed to arrive slightly earlier than planned." Jeb noticed my wide eyes and raised eyebrows. "No need to worry her."

"She's twelve, Jeb. You don't think she'll figure out something's up when her own mother doesn't call her?"

"Hmmm," Jeb pondered. "I suppose you're right."

"Ya think?" I barked. "Really, Jeb. I thought your parenting skills were a little better than that." I emphasized an eye roll, just for him. "I'll talk to her tomorrow."

"Why don't you tell me what happened," Jeb said quietly.

"Woke up." I shrugged. "They were gone." I knew my short answers would drive him nuts. Of course, the maturing side of me knew that this wasn't helping our situation. So I elaborated - but only after another good hearty eye roll and an exaggerated sigh.

"It had to be early this morning. Fang was on watch – or maybe Iggy. They wouldn't let me since I hadn't slept in a while."

I looked at Jeb. His hands were folded in front of him as he leaned earnestly in my direction. His arched eyebrows urged me to continue.

"I'm certain they got Fang and me first. Knocked us out. Then sedated the others." I paused momentarily, then shook my head in frustration. "But I just don't understand why they took everyone, including my mom, except for me."

"Well, isn't it obvious they want you to come after them?"

"Of course, they want me to come after them," I snapped. Come on, Jeb – I am supposed to be smarter than your average bear. They didn't stimulate my synaptic nerve for nothing. "But what I don't understand is why didn't they just take me too?"

"Hmmm," Jeb murmured as he struck a Thinker pose.

"Unless," I stopped mid-thought, light bulbs illuminating above me. I rose and paced across the creamy shag carpeting. "The Voice said something to me yesterday – about Itex wanting to use us. No – to help them." I spun around and faced Jeb, realization setting in. "They left me behind so they had time."

"Time for what?" Jeb had risen and crossed to me.

"I don't know," I answered quietly. I felt the color leave my face. I didn't want to fathom the unthinkable.

"Did the Voice say anything else?" Jeb wondered. Funny he should ask this, seeing as he, at one time, could actually be the Voice in my head.

"Oh, it beguiled me with its usual insane proverbs that don't make any sense," I replied flatly. "And then it showed me pictures."

"Pictures of what?"

"Islands. Lots of little islands. Then some big ones. Lots of buildings too. Mostly one story. The grass was frozen. There were people in big heavy coats."

I stopped. As soon as I mentioned the word frozen, I noticed Jeb's eyes light up. And not in the good happy way.

"Canada," Jeb said quietly. "They're in Canada."

Okay – that did narrow it down a bit. But Canada was so freaking huge.

"Where in Canada?" I demanded. I felt my patience weakening once again.

"Northwest. Just outside the Arctic Circle." Jeb sat down before continuing.

"The Program. They're at the Program."

70. Part IV Chapter 69

Part IV

Get With the Program, People!

Chapter 69

"What the heck is the Program?" I asked, happy that we at least had a destination.

"I'll fill you in on the way," Jeb said as he rose from his paisley recliner. He whipped out his cell phone and headed straight for the balcony. I raced to his side, grabbed his arm, and turned him to face me.

"Fill me in now," I ordered, my blood pressure soaring on an upswing. "I'm going alone."

Jeb's face exuded exasperation – I got that same look several days ago when I refused to tell him where we were taking Nudge.

"Max," he said calmly. "It would take you two days to fly there."

"Not with my warp speed," I reminded him.

"Still, we would get there a lot faster if we both flew… in a plane. You could get some rest instead of wearing yourself out from flying. Let me make a few phone calls and we'll be out of here within the hour."

Jeb was right. I hated that he was right. And who knows – I may need Jeb's expertise along on this ride.

"Fine," I muttered, making sure I gave him a last, long menacing stare. Then, I sulked my way over to the Woodstock makeover like a two year old.

As promised, within an hour we were accelerating to high speeds for takeoff inside a sleek black private jet, looking more like it was destined for a president than some mutant bird kid on a suicide mission.

"So – tell me about this Program," I asked Jeb as I slid into a seat next to him. "Is it like the School? the Institute?"

"To some extent," he replied. "No hybrids were ever conceived there, though."

My sharp glare willed him on.

"It's official name is The Program for Creativity in Science and Engineering. Gene splicing, cloning… that's where Max II was born – so to speak."

I grimaced as the memories of my dead-set look-a-like vanquished me momentarily. She and I were to battle to the death back at the former Itex Headquarters in Florida. I won, of course – except I let her live, only to later be reunited in Germany. I never knew what became of her.

"And Nudge II? Angel II?" I asked.

"Yes. They had one for each of you. As far as I know, they were all retired."

Retired? That was the evil scientist version of "dead". I suddenly felt very sad. What a horrible life to live – in someone's shadow, always pondering your true purpose, then to be killed because they (the evil baddies) grew tired of you. Awful.

"That's also where Omega was engineered," Jeb continued. Omega was the superhuman designed to stop anything. Then, it met me. I sure did kill that dream quickly.

"Have you been there before?" I asked. Jeb sensed the direction our conversation had taken.

"Many times. When I left Colorado, that's the first place I went. However, the Program was slated to be shut down. They were going to move everything to Germany. And I thought they had."

"So – what fun can I expect on this trip?" I asked with slight hesitation.

Jeb looked at me solemnly. "Max, this will be your toughest test yet. If what you say is true, that they want to use you. Suffice it to say, your task will not be unproblematic."

Great. Toughest test yet. My body winced just thinking about it.

"Why don't you get some sleep?" Jeb suggested, indicating a row of cushions along the back part of the interior of the plane. "We still have several hours until we reach our destination."

"Uh, no thanks," I said. Jeb's brow furrowed and his mouth took a downward turn. "The last time I allowed my self to sleep, I woke up to an MIA flock."

My face turned to stone. Jeb decided not to pick this battle.

"Suit yourself," Jeb said. "At least rest." He reclined into his seat. "I however will be trying to acquire at least twenty winks tonight."

"Where exactly in Canada are we going?" I wondered.

"Tip of the Northwest Territories. Just below Banks Island. Sub-zero temperatures. Be prepared."

Sub-zero temperatures. Oh goodie. My favorite.

At least I was used to it.

71. Chapter 70

Chapter 70

"Angel," Nudge whispered. "Where's Iggy?"

Angel looked around and shrugged, then she returned to the position she had kept these past two days – arms clutching her legs to her chest, her head resting on her knees.

Nudge didn't remember much as to how they got to wherever it was that they were. She did recall awaking once yesterday – in some sort of cargo hold, but then she was instantly knocked out again. When they first got here and she could finally open her eyes, she wished she could keep them closed forever. This place was vaguely reminiscent of the School – that same antiseptic smell haunting her too vivid memories. She knew they weren't at the School, though. The frigid temperatures they experienced, even inside the building hinted at a location much further north or south. A slight bonus– the white coats they encountered upon their arrival did not lock them in cages as had been their usual scenario. There were no cages to be found. Instead, they chained them to walls in this exceedingly white room. There was absolutely nothing in this sound-proof area except the flock and the colorless barriers.

Upon their arrival, she counted five, six if you counted Total. No Max. Did they take her too? What if-? Nudge quickly suppressed the thought. No. Max had to be alive somewhere. Then, almost immediately, the white coats and a whole slew of flyboys entered their prison cell and snatched Fang. They hadn't seen him since. How long ago was that? A day? Two days?

Now Iggy was gone. Nudge assumed Angel's position from her perch several feet away. They hadn't talked much since they arrived – too fearful of someone eavesdropping through the walls. Gazzy had already resigned himself to the mystery misery they would inflict upon the flock. He and Angel were close enough they could hold hands and they did so upon their arrival. But not anymore. Gazzy lay curled up in a ball – oblivious to the fact that his partner in crime had departed.

Hours later, the door quickly slid open and two flyboys dumped Iggy onto the floor beside Gazzy. The first day, as white coats and flyboys entered, Total always sensed they were coming, initiating a low snarl before the door even opened. Not anymore. Total lay in a small heap across the room, his tiny legs shackled as well.

The flock glanced quickly in Iggy's direction and noticed his eyes were bandaged.

"Iggy, what did they do to you?" Nudge asked.

Iggy gave a quick shrug. "Don't know. Don't care." He was surrendered as well.

And the silence continued. A million questions loomed in Nudge's mind and she fought the urge to ask them aloud. Where was Fang? Where was Max? What did they want with the flock? Where were they? And more importantly, was there any hope of getting out of here?

72. Chapter 71

Chapter 71

"This is it? This is your 'Program for Creativity in Science and Engineering" I asked snidely of Jeb as we sat off in a black suburban staring at "The Program". "Looks more like the "Prison for Wayward Mutants."

I mean if the twenty foot high chain link fence that outlined the perimeter wasn't bad enough, the ranks of armed flyboy guards sealed the deal on the doom and gloom. This place looked more like a penitentiary then a center for scientific research.

Jeb appeared to ignore my lame attempt at sarcasm. He unfolded a large map and studied it with extreme diligence.

"This building here," he drew my eyes to a detailed blue print of a structure that was clearly larger than its counterparts. "One of these rooms will probably contain the others. Interior room. No windows. The Program isn't used to housing hostages, so I can't be certain." He looked at me earnestly. "But that will give you a place to start."

Right. I still was on the fence regarding my rescue plan, but I was hopeful now that I may have a destination. I scanned the surrounding area.

"Hmmm… I'll probably have to enter through the ventilation systems in the back," I pondered cautiously as I eyed ten more flyboys join the ranks of the flanks of wolf-bots already in what – position, maybe? I turned to Jeb and asked, "What's your plan?"

"I'm going through the main entrance, of course."

I was slightly taken aback by his straightforward response.

"Huh?" I managed, my eyes stretching menacingly out of my skull.

"These people still know me, Max. My identification will at least serve to enter through the gate."

"Well, then, why don't I just ride through with you?"

"Because I am also certain that my former colleagues have also been tipped off to my new alliances," he replied, then added with a smile, "but I should serve as a nice distraction."

I was impressed. Nice strategy, Jeb.

"Well, here goes nothing," I stated as I eased out of the vehicle and stole quickly to the backside of the wannabe penal complex. I scaled the fence swiftly and discovered an entry way via the heating and ventilation shafts.

Jeb stood correct on the location. Within moments of crawling through long and narrow (ouch) ducts, I found my flock. Well, most of them anyway. Peering through a vent in the ceiling, I counted four mutant bird kids and one indescribable flying dog. No Fang. No mom. My heart rate accelerated. What if they had already-? No. I suppressed the unthinkable.

I noticed Iggy had a series of bandages covering his eyes. Poor Iggy. He had endured so much tampering to his sightless eyes. My heart sank as I gazed upon him. Were they experimenting on Fang now? Was that why he wasn't here? My face paled as I thought of the persecution he might be subjected to. My brain struggled to repress my own torturous nightmares as it unleashed painful images from my most recent dreams.

Suddenly, Angel looked up through the vent and locked eyes with mine. She restrained the smile that tried to force its way onto her sweet, fair, dare I say, angelic face. Good girl. No telling how many cameras the forces of malevolence had hiding in the walls. I flashed her a fleeting smile before I followed her eyes dart anxiously to the door.

Seconds later, the entrance was filled with white coats and flyboys. The white coats eagerly gathered about Iggy, one stooping down to remove the dressings covering Iggy's eyes. I watched as another excitedly shone a pen light in both eyes, straining to observe the faintest glimmer of movement. He rose and turned to converse with his colleagues and I could visualize the frown that had replaced the excitement. The murmurs from the flock of ghastlies exhibited their disappointment.

I glanced at Iggy. I knew he'd be disappointed too.

73. Chapter 72

Chapter 72

Poor Iggy. If he had been blind his entire life, if he hadn't had his sight snatched away so cruelly, he probably couldn't be too disappointed at the prospect of never seeing again. But I knew Iggy. I knew how he would react to their latest attempts at possibly trying to restore his vision. He'd counter with the same emotions and responses that he experienced when he discovered his real parents wanted to use him to further their bank account. That experience left him catatonic for days.

So, that being the case…. why did the blind kid suddenly have a humongous grin splashed across his face?

Iggy's eyes – yes, I did say eyes – darted left and right, up and down, until they locked on me. And then I swear his smile got bigger. He looked at Angel, a smile plastered on her face as well. She knew and she couldn't suppress this grin any longer than she could the excitement in her voice.

"Gazzy, Nudge, look!" she exclaimed. Gazzy slowly up righted himself. Nudge shot up quickly from her hunched position as she interpreted Angel's sudden outburst as a warning of imminent danger. Her face lightened as she eyed Angel's smile and then Iggy's.

"What's going on?" Nudge asked. "Iggy?"

Iggy's head remained still but his eyes breathed in the other four occupants in the room.


Nudge knew. We all knew.

Iggy could see again.

"Can you really see us?" Gazzy asked and Iggy nodded.

"But, a few minutes ago," Nudge stammered. "I mean, they thought you were still blind. I mean - they were shining that light around your face and then they didn't look very happy so I just assumed - "

"You think I was going to let them be the first one's to know that I could see again?" Iggy replied. The grin that had yet to leave his face downsized to a smirk. "I was not giving them that satisfaction."

"Mind if I crash the party?" I asked as I dropped to the floor from my tight quarters in the ceiling.


Was it possible for their smiles to continue to grow? This crew looked like a pack of Cheshire Cats. Even Total perked up. I hate to say this, but I was a teensy bit glad that he was chained to the wall. I grimaced at the thought of all that slobber he would have inflicted on my face.

"Max, you're even worse than I pictured!" Iggy declared.

I stooped down next to him and placed both hands on his shoulders.

"I am so happy for you, Iggy," I said sincerely. My face was taking on the Cheshire Cat look itself.

"Me too," he said quietly.

After a too short Lifetime channel reunion, I began to undo the stiff Velcro hold that kept my flock chained to the walls. As soon as I freed Iggy, he worked on Nudge and Gazzy while I took care of Angel and Total.

"Alright, gang," I said as I undid the remaining band on Angel's wrist. "First priority, find Fang and my mom –"

"They took Dr. Martinez?!" Nudge gasped.

Oops. Guess I forgot that they didn't know about that part.

"Those (insert appropriate curse word)!" yelped Total. "How dare they take my hero, my savior – she saved me from that burning fire that nearly took the life of myself and my sweet Akila!"

Did we have time for all this melodrama? Uh – no.

"Actually, Total. It was Angel and I that –"

"I'll tear them limb from limb!"


"Save the theatrics for later, Total," I said. "How about we concentrate on getting the heck out of Dodge."

We hoisted Iggy up through the vent. The rest of us followed with me bringing up the rear. I was a tad anxious about someone discovering the missing flock. I would have thought for sure that the clandestine room would have been monitored with cameras, surely some kind of bug. But so far, it didn't appear that anyone was tracking us.

We rounded an extremely tight corner in the air shaft corridor and found ourselves above a room that rivaled the finest fitness centers ever created. Our jaws dropped as we took turns watching children no older than Gazzy accelerating to speeds of over 100 miles per hour while running on a treadmill. Others, built like bulls, were bench pressing over 300 pounds. Kids. I silently wondered who their parents were. Did they know?

The next room contained more horrors. The room was larger than the last and was well represented in the animal and plant category. Our chameleon friends from the Catskills were there – training, working out, sparring with one another. Even Omega was there. Well actually not the Omega I defeated in Germany, but more. I counted at least ten in the superhuman category. Scary. I saw spiders in plastic containers the size of guinea pigs. In fact, we noticed a lot of abnormally sized plants and animals stocked away in cages along the wall.

I motioned the group to continue. I had my fill of gruesome for one day.

Finally, we wound our way through the interior of the building and a faint reflection from a side wall mirror caught my attention.

"Iggy, hold up," I whispered loudly. "I think I see something."

"Is it Fang?" Nudge wondered.

"Maybe. I'm going in. Wait here."

I unscrewed the protective caps on the ceiling vent and quietly dropped to the floor. The area was large and included all the makings for an enormous operating room – operating tables, scrubs donning hooks in a corner by wash bins. The potent antiseptic smell would linger with me for days.

A plastic partition separated the room and I strode toward it, but my attention was quickly averted as I heard Angel scream, "Max!"

My eyes shot up to the hole in the ceiling and then to a door that slid open at the side of the room.

And then, total nightmare, standing right in front of me was Dr. Marian Janssen, Roland Ter Borcht, and yep – you guessed it – Jeb.

74. Chapter 73

Chapter 73

Okay – maybe you didn't guess it. I mean, after all, I was pretty much convinced that Jeb was one of the good guys. Ha! Yet here he was, flanking my worst enemies. And what was worse - he was decked out in a white coat.

"Are you sure you're not part cat?" I snapped at the ex-director of Itex, remembering how she informed me in Germany that her DNA had been infused with that of a Galapagos turtle. "You seem to have enough lives?"

"I might say the same for you, Max," she replied as she entered the room.

"Funny seeing you here, Jeb," I snarled. His eyes dropped to his shoes.

"Jeb has been extremely instrumental in helping us find you, on many occasions," Dr. Janssen answered quickly. "Thank you Dr. Batchelder."

My glare could not have been more piercing.

The trio of doom were in the room with me now surrounded by a dozen or so flyboys.

"We have something to show you, Max." Dr. Jannsen spoke with menace. "And a proposition." She motioned to the lead flybot. "But, first, let's invite your friends to join us."

Oh – I so hoped the flock had escaped by now. As soon as the door flew open earlier, I heard them take off through the ventilation shafts. Please let them have made it outside.

The door slid open again and a new crew of flyboys marched the rest of my flock into the now cramped space.

I know – wishful thinking.

I gathered Angel and Gazzy into me. I wanted to take them all out right here but was slowed by the number of guns the flyboys were shoving in our faces. I saw Gazzy's eyes dart to Jeb and I swear I could feel his heart breaking.

"So, maybe you can tell me where the rest of my family is," I sneered at them.

"We are very glad to see the older one has regained his eyesight," Dr. Janssen said. "We don't think it will last more than a few days – teams here have been looking for ways to make it more permanent, though."

Now I could feel Iggy's heart crashing in his chest as well. This woman was unbelievably heartless.

"Where are Fang and Dr. Martinez?" I practically screamed, my last ounce of patience lost with the evil witch doctor's evasion of my last question.

"Well, Max, that's what we wanted to show you," Dr. Janssen calmly stated, with almost a hint of concern in her voice. She drew me over to the partition in the center of the room. "Take a look."

My eyes immediately latched onto the lone table in the far corner. My heart started racing and my hands began to shake as I touched my fingers to the plastic separator. The flock drew into me and I caught sight of the tears welling up in Angel's eyes.

Atop of the table lay a motionless Fang, his face turned upward to the ceiling. The sheet that draped over half his body revealed no rhythmic movements in his chest.

"The scientists here were experimenting with steroid treatments, seeing if – " Dr. Janssen began.

I whipped around to face her, my face hot, my jaw clenched.

"This had better be some sort of sick joke!" I seethed.

Her face was like stone.

"See for yourself," she said coolly as she nodded to Ter Borcht. His face displayed a huge smirk that I wanted to personally remove myself. He jubilantly punched a code into a wall device and the partition slowly began an ascent to the ceiling.

As soon as the temporary wall cleared my shoulders, I ducked under and sprinted toward the table while the younger kids fell into a slow, reluctant approach.

Could this really be Fang? Had my nightmares really become my reality?

I looked down at his lifeless body, the scar on his face still visible from the skirmish a few evenings ago. I slid my hand across his cheek, his skin cold to the touch. I felt my own eyes well up with tears and the floodgates opened. My legs were jell-o and I clutched the table as I struggled to keep my balance.

This was so unfair! How could they take him from me? from us? My vision was blurred from my tears but I could see Angel and Nudge huddled together with Total on the cold linoleum floor, sobbing, shaking. Gazzy just stood there, tears streaming down his face, his fists clenched at his sides. And Iggy. Poor Iggy. Did this really have to be one of the first things he laid eyes on with his restored vision?

This just couldn't be him, could it?

Without thinking, I ripped off Fang's death blanket and frantically folded up his shirt just above his waistline. My face paled as I saw them. The faint pink scar lines from not even six months ago, the marks that served as a memory of a vicious battle with Ari. This was Fang. He was gone. And that's when I broke. I crumpled to the ground, clutched my chest where my heart should have been, crossed my legs, and rocked back and forth. My flock dragged themselves towards me and we crawled into the comfort of one another, mourning the death of one of our own.


A/N: Sorry. Please don't hate me too much. It's all part of the greater plan.

75. Chapter 74

Chapter 74

So – Fang was gone. I just couldn't imagine life getting any worse.

Guess again.

I sucked in my tears from my position on the floor and slowly rose to face the legion of gloom. I put on the best scowl I could muster and strode toward them, my body still shaking from the blow it was just dealt.

"I'm very sorry, Max," Dr. Janssen apologized. "We did try our very best to save him."

"I'll bet you did," I retorted, my voice still shaky and hoarse. "What do you want from us?"

"That depends on what you want. I'm certain you don't want this unfortunate event to happen to any other members of your family." The former director's voice was stern and pointed.

She had us. They had us. I kept racking my brain for a plan B and came up with nothing. For right now, I would have to bide my time – keep the flock safe.

"I'll do whatever you want," I said, resigned. I felt the dumbfounded stares of my flock boring into my back. "Just let them go. Let them all go."

"Excellent choice," Dr. Janssen said. "But I'm afraid that your friends will have to stay here. We need their specialties just as we need yours."

"And my mom?"

"She's here and in good health. Sorry, Max. We can't let her leave either. She knows too much," Dr. Janssen explained.

"No experiments. They'll do what you need, but don't mess," I demanded quietly through clenched teeth. My fists were so tight that my fingernails broke skin.

"I think we can live with that," she replied as she looked at the two men beside her. They nodded in agreement.

Dr. Janssen motioned to the Flyboys to escort us back to our "chambers". I was spent. I couldn't even look at the flock – couldn't let my heart ache from their resigned faces. We had just endured the worst nightmare of our lives and were heading for another.

My entire body was numb and it took every ounce of energy to follow the wolf-bots out of the room. I had just lost my best friend. My "more than friends" friend. My heart was empty, hollow. I didn't even flinch as I heard our good friend Borchy comment as we slid through the door.

"Vun down," he chortled. "Five to go."

76. Chapter 75

Chapter 75

"Max, please snap out of it!" Nudge pleaded as she knelt down beside me. I was chained to the wall as my flock had been days earlier. Or was it weeks? I couldn't track time anymore.

I looked at Nudge momentarily, my eyes glazed over. Then I returned to staring straight out into nothingness. Everything was a blur lately. Since they took Fang from me, from us, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. I forced myself to eat, forced myself to keep going for the sake of the flock, but I was slowly losing that battle. I had been right. Life without Fang was a living hell.

Since that awful day, Janssen had me in training for who knows what. In the prison – ahem, training – yard, she had me sparring with flyboys, then I graduated to the new and improved Omegas. At first, I focused all my fury into fighting. Now – I was like them – a robot. Each day my setting was on autopilot – just going through the motions. And I returned to this cell each day more worse for the wear – both physically and emotionally.

I registered murmurings from the others as to how their day was spent. Nudge spent her days hacking into various "secure" systems throughout the world and Gazzy was forced to mimic the leader of every known country. They put Iggy, who could still see, on bomb detail, of course. And Angel, well, next to me she was the most broken. We hadn't seen Total since well, you know. She resigned herself to going through the motions as well. Each day she faced more sets of minds to control – and each day she passed with flying colors. I thought being locked up in cages subjected to experimentation was bad – this was much, much worse.

I didn't even think Jeb anticipated my reaction. Personally, I really didn't care what he thought. I was right all along. Jeb could not be trusted. He was one of them. At first, he attempted to console me, but my killer scowl and bad attitude made him flee the room faster than I thought possible. I think those were the last emotions I displayed to anyone – even to myself.

"Max, please," Nudge begged. "You've got to try to pull yourself out of this. For us. Think of Ella. She needs her mom back. We've got to try."

Her last words initiated moistness in my eyes but I quickly blinked the tears away.

"Is this what Fang would have wanted us to do? Just sit here and take this? Come on, Max!"

I had to hand it to Nudge – she was quite motivational. But I just forced more tears back and swallowed hard. Then shut the door on the rest of the world.

Nudge is right, Max. This is not who you are. Your flock needs you. Your mom needs you.

I didn't even have the energy to fight back with my Voice.

Max, everything is a test. Suffice it say you're failing this one miserably.

Okay – that got me – a little. My blood started heating and my heart pushed a little harder.

A test? Fang's death was a test? You – whoever or whatever you are – you are sick! You're all sick! You can take your stupid, ridiculous tests, shove them down your throat, and just leave me alone!

The Voice was quiet for a minute while my brain calmed down from rant mode.

Now that's the Max I know and love. I swear I heard a snicker when it said that.


Max. Use this time to learn. Soak up all the knowledge you can. When the moment's right, you'll know what to do.

My shoulders fell and I placed my head onto my knees.

I just don't think I can go on, I thought quietly – if that's entirely possible.

You'll go on. That's what Fang wants. He needs you to do this.

Fang's dead, Voice.

The Voice was silent again momentarily.

Trust your feelings, Max. Things are not always as they seem.

77. Chapter 76

Chapter 76

Two days later, Nudge found herself in a large data base for some huge off sea banking institution. Two white coats eagerly scribbled notes onto their clipboards, documenting her every discovery. Nudge hated this. No. She despised this. She hated this more than desert rat on a stick. She was only vaguely aware of her findings but she knew that she was an accomplice to breaking down barriers for Itex – allowing them to view information that was not meant for them.

The first day, she feigned ignorance, pretended that she was incapable of hacking into any system. That didn't work so well. Her ribs and back were still sore from the pain the flyboys inflicted. So, she attempted the "nice and slow" approach. Dr. Janssen immediately stepped in, grabbed her face, and reminded her how many lives could be lost if she didn't cooperate. Nudge hated that woman. No, wait. She loathed her.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded to bring her back to reality. The white coats anxiously checked their pagers. There were only two today – the first day it felt like the whole freaking "Program" was present to watch Nudge put on a show. Twenty white coats surrounded her as she busily pecked away at the keys. The number gradually decreased over the next three days. As the lone two white coats departed quickly, she was left alone – well, except for the ten flyboys preventing her escape. Of course, it wasn't like they could see or understand what she was doing. Could they?

Hmmm. Maybe just a little look wouldn't hurt. Nudge wondered how much time she had before the white coats returned. Didn't matter. She was in.

She first found the password that allowed her access to the primary informational system for the Program. She scanned blueprints of the facility and tapped into feeds that monitored the on goings of various rooms in each building. Her fingers danced on the keys as she swept the main building, then each of the smaller ones. Her mission – find Dr. Martinez. She had to be in one of these rooms somewhere. Surely they would be monitoring her every move. She had just about decided this was a lost cause when she scanned the monitors for a small remote building toward the back of the complex – only ten rooms. Yes. Right there. Dr. Martinez was in the second room on the right, first hallway.

Nudge paused momentarily, reveling in her discovery. Perhaps this would snap Max out of her stupor. Max had improved to some extent over the past two days, but her motions were just that – motions. She appeared as though she had given up completely; in fact, Nudge seemed to be the only one with any kind of resolve. Well, maybe this new breakthrough would renew their energy; ignite them all to fight back.

One of the flyboys shifted behind her and Nudge determined that she may only have a short amount of time before the white coats returned. She hastily decided to use this moment to discover everything she could about Itex and get to the root of their sinister plans. Nudge returned her attention to Dr. Martinez briefly and then quickly flipped through the rest of the rooms in that building, formulating escape routes for the ripe moment when the flock would rescue her. And they would rescue her and bust out of this joint. Nudge was now set on that.

Her breath froze as she came upon an interior room. What was this? Could it be? Impossible. Her heart raced as she zoomed in for a closer look.

A new alarm practically caused Nudge to leap from her chair. She quickly exited the Program's informational system as her eyes darted to the door. She paused for a few minutes, sighed, and continued with her task. As she garnered a C prompt at the top of the screen and keyed in commands, she felt renewed energy coursing through her veins. Her excitement was coupled only by her impatience. She couldn't wait for the chance to inform the flock of her discoveries.

78. Chapter 77

Chapter 77

Where are we going, Max?

Don't know, Angel. Don't really care.

Max, Nudge is right. We've got to try to do something to get out of here.

I shrugged, staring flatly at the short corridor in front of me. I'm sure Angel and Nudge were right. We needed to try something. I was just out of options right now. I couldn't deal with another one of them ending up like – well, you know…

I felt tears sting my gritty red eyes. I didn't sleep much anymore. Not like I had slept a whole lot before. And I thought the nightmares would dissipate after – after my nightmares became reality. Hardly. Now they were more intensified. The memories of that fateful day stabbing at my heart from all directions. Even now, in my comatose state, vivid pictures flashed through my mind. My eyes clamped shut and my teeth clashed with one another as I vainly tried to repress images of her – that evil witch woman and her lap dog sidekicks. In my mind, I clearly saw the room and his… his body like it was all taking place right here, right now all over again. Even the smells, the bleach, the antiseptic – even they came back to haunt me.

Maybe if I let them defeat me – maybe if I let Omega win in the courtyard… maybe I wouldn't have to endure this pain. Yeah – the flock would be without me, but would that really be so bad?

"Max!" I heard Angel gasp from a few feet behind me.

Oops. Forgot who I was keeping company with.

Sorry, sweetie. Don't worry. I'm not going to try anything moronic. We'll get out of this. Someway. Somehow.

I think so too, Max. I can feel it.

Sorry – about before. I know I've been quite the downer lately.

Ya think?!

I could almost hear an Angel giggle in my head.

We turned another corner in the main building and then were led outside by Ter Borcht and his merry band of wolf-bots. Jeb was with us too. His betrayal had caused the flock renewed pain. Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel had trusted him, had almost regarded him as a father again. Even I was nearly sold on his paternal mannerisms. But that's ancient history. Should have known all along.

Once outside, I eyed Iggy from across the complex. He and four white coats huddled about a large device – Iggy demonstrating the mechanics of his latest work of art. Wonder how many buildings that one could take out here. Hmmm.

Iggy returned to our cozy little cell every afternoon and detailed every sight he took in that day. He was not missing a thing, especially when his tasks focused on demonstrating his handiwork. Explosive exhibitions had to take place outside where there was so much more to see. I hated us being here, but worse I hated that Iggy's only sights since he "lost" his vision several years ago would be a school (ahem… prison), much like the one that we'd grown up in, spread out amidst a frozen tundra wasteland. Dr. Janssen said Iggy's sight was temporary, would be gone in a couple of days. I so hoped she was wrong. Dead wrong.

Iggy caught my eye and I flashed him a quick smile. He responded as only Iggy would. Maybe the next time he stuck his tongue out at me it would freeze in these subzero temperatures.

A flyboy prodded me in my side with the gun that was attached to his arm.

"Move. You are too slow," it droned at me.


I observed their awkward marching behind me and decided to mimic their behavior. I brought my knees up and extended them out sharply all the while flailing my arms back and forth in a matching rhythm.

Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three, four

I barely caught Angel stifling a giggle beside me. Then she joined me in my bizarre cadence. We looked like a pair of toy soldiers – only without those really cool uniforms with the matching tall hats. Oh, and we had built-in-wings, of course. Didn't think toymakers afforded the soldiers that luxury.

This was almost fun. Angel and I had to refrain from looking at one another for fear of exploding into hysterical laughter.

As we arrived at a building somewhat isolated from the others, Ter Borcht and his haughty grin turned to us and spoke boisterously.

"Ve are here to see if duh leetle vun can control duh most powerful minds ve know."

He talked like Santa Claus delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls. I hung on his last word anticipating a sudden "Ho, ho, ho".

"Oh really," I asked smugly. "And just who might that be?"

"Apparently Dr. Janssen seems to think vun of dem is you."

Smart woman.

"I however happen to disagree with her assessment of your… abilities," the not so jolly fat man continued. "You are just a stubborn, rebellious, reckless street rat, incapable of –"

"Careful there, Borchy," I said quickly. "Don't want you to blow a gasket."

His scarlet face immediately turned a deeper shade of red.

"Take dem to room 604, Batchelder!" he barked at Jeb, then glared at me. "You vill cooperate or you vill be terminated."

"Yavohl!" I saluted as I pulled myself to attention.

He abruptly turned and led the way with Jeb down an unfamiliar hallway. The last flyboy hadn't even cleared the doorway when Angel froze in her tracks. The pure milky color of her face was suddenly dull and ashen.

"Angel, honey. What's going on?" I asked warily.

The flyboys were upon her now. Prodding her to move on. One got his gun too close to her ribcage.

"Watch it!" I shouted and shoved the gun away from her.

Immediately, the flyboy arsenal directed at me. Jeb tried to order them down while I readied myself for battle. Suddenly, Angel's eyes rolled up into her head and she fell to the floor.

"Angel!" I screamed as I dove to her side. I searched her body for movement, a wound,… anything that would signal the cause of her sudden collapse.

Shhh. I'm concentrating.

Concentrating on what? I replied telepathically.

Someone's trying to talk to me. Her eyes caught mine briefly, then returned to the floor and continued to send me her thoughts.

I think… I think it's Fang.

79. Chapter 78

Chapter 78

Wha-at?! Fang?!

My face immediately drained color to match Angel's already stricken features. I think two minutes went by before I took a breath and I felt my heart's normal thumping.

Rewind, please, Angel. Who is trying to talk to you?

It's Fang, Max. He's here. In this building.

It took all of two seconds for Angel to leap to her feet and continue walking. I, on the other hand, pushed myself up like an anvil had landed on my chest, and staggered down the hall after her, my knees knocking every bit of the way.

Angel, honey. Fang is… dead. I saw him. We saw him. I could barely spit the thoughts out.

No. I'm pretty sure it's him.

Again, she stopped suddenly, in front of a room marked 608. Ter Borcht glanced at her with disapproval.

Then, as quickly as she halted her movement, she began to march in pace with the flyboys behind us.

Angel, please tell me what's going on.

In a minute. We're here.

My heart couldn't take the anticipation. Could Fang really still be alive? If so, who did we see on that table? My breath became shallow and ragged. It wasn't until we were inside a small conference room that I started to breathe freely again – knowing I was about to get some answers.

"Ve will give duh leetle vun commands, and she vill communicate dem to you." Ter Borcht initiated his orders.

I tuned him out. My brain would never bend to Angel's mind control – not because my mind was that powerful as Dr. Janssen believed, but because I've had lots of practice ignoring a six-year old's demands. Had I learned to not succumb to Angel's will, we would be toting an entire zoo in the air. Trust me.

Angel and I took our seats opposite one another and Angel locked her stare on my suspecting eyes. Jeb handed her a series of cards and she picked up the first one.

"You will tell me your mother's full name and the location of her house," Angel said creepily. I seriously felt like I was watching Poltergeist.

Fang is in a room a few doors down. Angel's thoughts registered loud and clear in my brain. He's fine. Just drugged most of the day. And in a cage.

I stared stubbornly at Angel, my face displaying not an ounce of emotion. Too bad they didn't have a heart monitor hooked up to me – they would have thought I had just run a marathon.

"Hmmph! Next card," bellowed Ter Borcht after a minute of silence on the part of yours truly.

"You are thirsty. Stand up and ask for a glass of water," Angel continued flatly, her stare slightly hypnotic.

But, I still don't get it. He was dead, I wondered silently.

I told him that. He thinks that was a clone – you know, like Max II and Angel II and Nudge II. Oh and he says that you better get off your sorry butt and get him out of there.

I bit my lower lip to stifle the smile that desperately ached to stretch across my face. Only Fang would say something like that.

Angel continued with the test.

"You will now hop up and down on one leg."

What was this? Simon says?

I broke my gaze from Angel and shot a look at Ter Borcht.

"Could we also do the Hokey Pokey and then turn ourselves around?"

His cheeks burned and he muttered something incomprehensible under his breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Jeb stifle a smile.

"Next!" Ter Borcht shouted.

And so this continued for another twenty minutes or so. Angel would give me a ludicrous command and I would stare back and not execute. Well – except for the one instance when Angel contrived her own "order card" and told me to pound my chest and act like a gorilla. I reciprocated gladly and ran around the room in search of bananas.

"Enough!" Ter Borcht glowered at us. "I told her dees vas a vaste of time. Ve are finished here."

He stalked out of the room while the flyboys yanked us from our seats. As they led us back to our cell, Jeb caught my arm with his own momentarily. I looked at him and blinked my eyes three times before my most menacing scowl formed on my face.

"Don't touch me," I snapped and trailed after Angel down the hall.


A/N: So - what do you think?! Only takes a simple click to review!

80. Chapter 79

Chapter 79

The flyboys shoved us into the room where we had been held captive for almost a week. Angel stumbled to the floor and I almost took out the flyboy who pushed her so hard. Ter Borcht roughly secured the manacles on Angel's wrists while Jeb fastened mine. No more super-hold Velcro. These bindings were lock and key. I smiled as I contemplated how much easier that would be to undo.

As soon as they cleared the room and the door slid shut, Angel and I resumed our extrasensory conversation. I was on the wall several feet away from her and so this proved the simplest form of communication.

When? I could sense her nervous anticipation of our impending escape.

Tonight. We'll have to get in that building quickly and get out. I sighed and leaned back into the wall. I just wish I knew where they were keeping my mom.

And Total, Angel added.

And Total.

Ugh. This was going to be complicated. First, we had to break out of this room. Then, free Fang from a cage, in a room halfway across the compound, find and liberate both my mom and Total, and make it out of the Program before Janssen and crew were alerted to our getaway.

No problem. All in a day's work for Maximum Ride.

You don't have a plan, do you?

Sometimes I hated this whole mind reading thing.

Don't worry, Angel. I'll come up with something. I always do.

She smiled and contentedly placed her head on her knees.

Moments later, Angel looked up and smiled.

"Gazzy's coming," she whispered.

The door slid open and Gazzy slumped in. Aside from me, he was the only one who had seemed completely surrendered to an eternity here. Even Angel, sans Total, had perked up as of late. I grew incredibly eager to see the look on Gazzy's face when Angel broke the news.

Once the white coats and flyboys slid out the door, Angel dropped her stoic façade and concentrated on communicating our recent discovery to Gazzy. I watched his face scrunch in disbelief and then, as realization dawned, his face registered a happiness that made my heart give a little squeeze.

An hour later, Nudge was personally delivered back to our chambers by Dr. Janssen herself. Nudge was sporting a new black eye and a slight limp to her normal cheery gait. I immediately sat up to a low crouch, wishing I could pounce on this woman myself.

"Your friend got a little nosy today," Dr. Janssen spoke directly to me.

"The Itex database was on her computer when we returned after… an emergency."

I smirked. Good girl, Nudge.

"Not amusing, Max," she warned me. "Speak with her about her limitations. Next time, I may not be able to restrain the guards."

"Don't worry," I stated smugly. "There won't be a next time."

She glowered at me as she connected Nudge to the wall.

When she finally left, Nudge grinned from ear to ear. I nodded at Angel and then watched as she sent Nudge my thoughts. Surely they would be listening in now, especially after Nudge had discovered some possibly important information.

Angel and Nudge talked telepathically for what seemed like an eternity. Gazzy and I attempted to be patient but I could sense his growing anxiety. I merely tried to garner what I could through their facial expressions. Nudge's face would light up excitedly as she was clearly thinking about all that happened.

After twenty minutes, the suspense was killing me.

"Angel!" I whispered, trying to avert her attention from Nudge.

Patience, Max. Nudge found your mom. Now I'm trying to see if she knows where Total is.

My breathing slowed to its regular rhythm. Nudge knew where my mom was. Tonight I would see her again and save her from this madness.

I glanced over at Angel and saw her dejected face. Nudge had not discovered Total's whereabouts. I hated to think we might have to leave here without him.

81. Chapter 80

Chapter 80

Four hours later, Iggy had still not returned to our cell. Angel and I had seen him outside. He seemed fine, cooperative. Did he pull a Nudge out there? Try to blow up a building or something?

"Max!" I heard Nudge say. My eyes shot a look in her direction.

"What's up, baby?" I asked.

"Well, you know, Iggy's not back and I was sort of worried about him and it got me thinking about Iggy's birthday being tomorrow and – "

Huh? Iggy's birthday was in July – well, not his real birthday – but you know the deal.

Nudge looked up from her hair twisting to see my scrunched eyebrows and the "Huh?" face I wore all too well.

"And, maybe tomorrow," Nudge continued slowly, emphasizing "tomorrow". "Maybe they'll let us celebrate in here with a cake or something. No. Probably not. But maybe when we're all together in here tomorrow, we could sing to him or something."

Clever girl, Nudge. Not that I really thought all this talk of us being here tomorrow was necessary, but Nudge's little plan couldn't hurt. Maybe they'd relax their guard.

"What are you guys talking about?" Gazzy wondered. "Iggy's birthday is –"

"… a momentous occasion," I cut Gazzy off while glaring at Angel. She immediately got to work on sending Gazzy a "let me clue you in" thought.

"Momentous, yes," continued Nudge. "Maybe, I could find a way to make him a card on the computer so we can give it to him to-mor-row – you know, once we get back to the cell. Of course, I'll probably get in trouble again." Her hand reached up and gently poked at the area around her eye.

"Hey, maybe Angel can get somebody to make Iggy a cake – you know – for tomorrow," Gazzy suggested.

"Well, that settles it, tomorrow we'll have our own little birthday celebration for Iggy right here, cake and – " I started, but couldn't finish due to Angel's shushing.

"Iggy's coming!" Angel exclaimed.

The door slid open – again – and two white coats accompanied by ugly hairy guards rechained Iggy to his place beside me. The climate in the room immediately chilled and the giddy atmosphere sobered quickly.

"Iggy? What happened?" I asked gingerly as I stared at a fresh set of bandages across his eyes.

"Don't know," Iggy replied quietly. "One minute I'm standing outside, showing those idiots how my new bomb worked, and everything goes blurry. I remember squinting, thinking maybe the sun was too bright, but when I opened them again,… I couldn't see."

"Is that what the bandages are for?" I asked. "Did they try the surgery again?"

Iggy shrugged and leaned his head back against the wall, staring up at a ceiling he couldn't really see.

Then, suddenly, Iggy tried somewhat successfully to punch the wall behind him. His manacled hands only allowed the blow to be half effective.

"I hate this place!" Iggy shouted. "We need to get out of here, Max. With or without your mom. I can't take it anymore."

"Happy Birthday, Iggy!" Angel swiftly said.

His face registered a slightly dazed expression as he glanced over in the direction of Angel's voice. I watched as Iggy's features softened and then brightened as Angel undoubtedly relayed the news about Fang and our impending escape from this diabolical mad house. The whole "conversation" took less than a minute. Angel could send a thought faster than Nudge could talk.

"Um, thanks," Iggy said after Angel "spoke" to him. "I almost forgot about it."

"Well, silly," Nudge giggled. "To-mor-row we've got some big surprises waiting for you."

Yeah. I hoped the surprise included being any place but here.

82. Chapter 81

Chapter 81

My mind was racing. It had been several hours since I practically ordered the flock to get some sleep. They would require a lot of energy to break out of this joint and since Dr. Janssen and her squeaky clean team didn't feel the need to feed us on a regular basis, sleep would have to be our best attempt to recharge.

The room was pitch black, the only exception being the faint glow sneaking in from the hallway outside. Our night vision was highly acute and I could easily make out four bird kid figures snoozing lightly beside me. Gazzy's snoring stood as the only audible sound – and that was loud enough – so I was pretty much alone with my thoughts.


I couldn't wait to see him. My heart thumped wildly each time I allowed my thoughts to drift to him. Even if our plan to escape failed, the knowledge of his existence was enough. The sheer emptiness that I felt after seeing him – or whoever that was – on the table - well, that emptiness was gone, the pit in my stomach had been replaced by exhilaration, anticipation, and pure happiness.

My body was rigid but inside I was twitching like a mouse high on forty pounds of caffeine. This could not happen fast enough for me. And fortunately, I knew I would not have to wait much longer.

Moments later, the door slid open and shut and I observed a tall shadow slink toward me. Within seconds my bindings were undone and I stared into the eyes of my rescuer.

"Thanks, Jeb," I acknowledged him momentarily and then moved to Iggy's location.

"We don't have much time," Jeb informed me as he bent over to arouse Nudge. "I could only still the feeds for about twenty minutes."

"It'll be enough."

We woke each of the flock and their jaws dropped in a ripple starting with Nudge and trickling to Gazzy.

"It's okay, guys," I explained as I undid Gazzy's ankle restraints. "I didn't know if I could successfully get you out myself. I needed somebody on the inside to …er… help with the situation." I gazed upon their skeptical faces. "Seriously. Jeb's been with us all along. Sorry."

"I knew it!" Nudge exclaimed. "I knew you couldn't be one of them again, Jeb!"

Her forgiveness came complete with arms thrown around Jeb's waist. Jeb casually ruffled her hair. He placed his hands on her shoulders and stared at her intently.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly to Nudge. He then straightened and extended the apology to all of us.

Realizing time was not in our favor; I took Iggy's hand and addressed my flock.

"Alright, guys. Explanations will have to wait." Adrenaline flooded my soul and I my heart missed a usual palpitation. "Let's go get Fang."

I was half way to the door when Jeb's voice cut the silence.

"Just one more thing."

He slid a pack off his back, undid the enclosure, and turned to Angel.

"I know you've been worried about this little guy," he continued as he produced a small black Scottie.


Total leapt into Angel's arms and proceeded to shower her with slobber.

"Oh, Total! I've missed you so much!" Angel said through joyous tears.

I grimaced and turned to glower at Jeb.

"You couldn't have waited until after we rescued Fang for this mushy nonsense?" I asked.

"Ugh. I couldn't stand it in that backpack for another second," Total shuddered. "He had me bouncing around with that laptop."

Fang's backpack. Where were ours?

"Sorry, Total," Jeb replied through a chuckle. And then, as if to my thoughts, "I grabbed the first pack from the back of the truck." He looked around at all of us and said, "Okay, let's go."


A/N: So... what do you think? Reviews are so, so nice! Just one itsy bitsy click away. You don't even have to log in! :D

83. Chapter 82

Chapter 82

We stole quickly down the dimly lit corridor leading to a pair of double doors that would shower freedom upon us as soon as we weighted on their metal belts. The wee hours of the morning warranted only a few guards at our temporary fortress. And any flyboys we did run into immediately splattered to their demise.

Once outside, we sprinted across a courtyard and found the remote building housing both Fang and my mom. Jeb worked his magic on the access panel and I raced down the hall. I could not get to Fang's prison quick enough. Of course, when I reached his cell, I had to wait for the rest of the gang to catch up. I so wished I had Nudge's power to succumb computerized entryways to her bidding.

"Jeb, hurry!" I waved him down to me – like that would get him there any faster.

When he finally did arrive, it seemed to take three times as long to open this door as any other.

"Finally!" I said in a loud whisper as the door began its horizontal motion along a mechanical track.

And then I froze. There he was. Alive. I stared at him in his cage and his eyes met mine. Was this really truly Fang? I wanted nothing more than to rush to him, free him from his solitude, but I couldn't figure out how to get my legs to work.

"Um… Max?" I heard Gazzy whisper loudly. "Are you going to move? You're blocking the doorway."

How long had I been standing there?

"Max, are you okay?" Nudge said from behind me.

I snapped out of whatever stupor I was in.

"Yeah," I lied. "Just making sure."

I jump started my legs and slowly approached the cage large enough for two Great Danes. My eyes didn't leave Fang's not even as Iggy picked the lock or as Fang slid out the cage door. He hadn't said anything either; his eyes locked with mine.

"Fang!" Nudge screamed in a loud whisper, breaking us both from our fixated trance. She threw her arms around Fang. "We thought you were dead!" She backed out of the embrace momentarily to regard his face. "But you're not!"

Nudge didn't say anything else after that. I was half-expecting an incoherent rambling about some nonsense but Fang's rise from the dead had rendered her utterly speechless.

The younger members of the flock each took a turn welcoming Fang back to our unpleasant reality and then it was my turn. For the first time, I had absolutely, positively no plan of action and I seemingly could not get my legs to work – again. I felt slightly faint and I wondered if that was from the adrenaline finally winding down in my system or if it was a result of staring at my previously dead partner in crime in the face. I swallowed hard and cleared my throat.

"I'm, uh, really glad you're not dead," I muttered, then instantly looked at my sneakers with embarrassment, realizing how stupid that just sounded.

"Me too," he said quietly.

Quickly, I awkwardly smashed my body against his and wrapped my arms around his waist, burying my head in his shoulder. His arms gently replicated my actions. I could feel his warm breaths on my hair as he squeezed me a little tighter with each passing moment. A misty puddle formed in my eyes and as I began to feel the tears streaming down my face, I tightened my hold around him.

Moments later, realizing the flock's eyes were upon us, I unwrapped myself from his sturdy hold and allowed my gaze to lock on his just a little longer.

"Guess we better get you out of here," I said after clearing my throat.

"Yeah," Fang nodded.

And yet I froze again.

"Max," I heard from the doorway. "Are you okay?" Nudge took a glimpse of the corridor behind her. "We really need to get out of here."

"Just making sure this is really Fang…" I said slowly as I locked my eyes on his. "You know… not a clone."

Fang's mouth began to crook into a smile and he swiftly pulled me into his tight embrace.

"I don't think my clone would do this," he said softly and then he pressed his lips against mine, my mouth supple underneath his. My already slightly irregular heartbeat pulsed more sporadically and my legs – for the third time in ten minutes – felt as though they would buckle at any moment. He moved his mouth along mine fervently and I responded with my own desire. My hands slid up from their place on his neck to his hair. I latched on to his dark locks and pulled his face even closer to mine – if that was possible. I felt his hold on my back tighten fiercely. I missed him so, so much. And now here we were. Fang and me. Me and -

"Holy crap," whispered Gazzy.

Holy crap – right. I forgot we had an audience. I immediately pried my lips from Fang's and whipped my head around to see Gazzy trying to pick his jaw up off the floor. I slammed my head into Fang's chest.

"What's going on? What'd I miss?" I barely heard Iggy say as I tried to hide my self in Fang's arms.

Gazzy gulped and I could hear stifled giggles from Nudge and Angel.

"They were…. uh… kissing," he stuttered, emphasizing the last word with disgust and a distinguishable "eww" expression on his face that I caught out of the corner of my eye.

I also caught Iggy's grin that stretched across his entire face.


Then, Iggy leaned into the door frame before he said,

"It's about freaking time."


A/N: Hopefully not too fluffy for you... Okay - now that Fang's alive - he is going to do another blog here soon - not a long one - but I thought about using a few of my loyal reviewers' pen names in that particular chapter. Soooo - if you wouldn't mind me throwing your name into my story, let me know. You know - when you review. It is just a click away... don't even need to login! lol!

84. Chapter 83

Chapter 83

"Okay – no clone here," I sputtered out quickly as I separated myself from Fang. "Let's move."

I strolled right up to Iggy who was still arched in the door frame and poked his chest.

"Not a word!" I warned and I pushed past him out the door.

"I so wish I could see your face right now," Iggy teased through a hushed chuckle.

Our presence here still went undetected and we all hoped it would stay that way; therefore, even while ensconced in hysterical laughter, Iggy's voice was barely a dull roar.

Once in the corridor, Jeb met us with several top secret looking file folders in hand. That explained his brief disappearance. Once he used his unfailing access code to open the room that had housed Fang, he snuck stealthily down the hall and rounded a corner disappearing from sight.

"Okay, gang," Jeb addressed us. "Everything's set. My car is right down the road and you can all take off as soon as you exit the building."

Hmmph. Didn't know we needed permission slips.

"Meet me at our disclosed location, Max," Jeb finished.

"Aren't we forgetting something?" I replied dumbfoundedly.

Jeb looked at me with his patient, unwavering eyes. Ugh.

"My mom!" I practically shouted, piercing the sound walls of my whisper.

"I know where she is, Jeb," Nudge offered. "I saw her on the computer feeds today – you know – when they weren't looking. She's right around – "

"Max, your mother is at… home," Jeb said apologetically. "I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you. I didn't find out myself until after we were both inside."

I stared at him incredulously. How could this be? Did Jeb not tell me himself that he tried to reach her in Arizona. He's the one that told me she was missing. Now – she's at home!

"But, Jeb," I heard Nudge say. "I saw her… today… in this building. Or was that a clone too?"

"Probably not. They wouldn't have access to her genetic makeup like they do with you," Jeb explained. "I'm not sure what you saw, Nudge – a holographic image maybe. But I do know that Dr. Martinez is not here."

"How?" I demanded sharply. "How do you know this?"

"Yesterday. I had been indiscreetly searching for her since our arrival, Max. When I could not locate her, I tried to listen to any hushed conversation that was not meant for my ears – to no avail. They are very good at hiding secrets – even from me.

"Then, yesterday, Roland … Dr. Ter Borcht slipped. I heard him mutter something after Dr. Janssen snapped at him for his mishandling of a situation with you, Max. I brushed it off at first, not thinking much of it. However, his words kept replaying in my mind. 'Should have taken her.' I was convinced he was referring to you, but then it hit me – why I hadn't been able to find your mother. This facility is big, but not that big."

"So, we're going on your whim that my mother is not here," I said, sarcastic skepticism reeking through my words.

"No, Max," Jeb continued patiently. "As soon as I realized that she may not be here at all, I tried calling her. She answered on the first ring."

Okay – was Jeb snowing me here or was this the real deal? I mean, could I really truly trust him? What if he was mistaken? What if my mom was here? In some place he couldn't get to? I couldn't just leave her if she was still in this sadistic stink hole. I had to try, right?

My mind continued to race. I needed to decide quickly what path to take. Trust what Nudge saw. Or trust Jeb.

Experience made my decision for me.

"Come on, Nudge," I ordered as I flew down the hall. "I'll need you to open the door."

Nudge glanced sorrowfully at Jeb and then disappeared behind me. The rest of the flock followed suit.

I barely heard Jeb whisper loudly to me as I slid around a corner.

"Max, don't do this! It's a trap!

85. Chapter 84

Chapter 84


No, it couldn't be. And Jeb had to be wrong. Nudge knew what she saw. At least, I thought she did.

So, trap, schmap. We were going in.

"I'm not so sure about this, Max," Angel murmured beside me. She was cradling Total. She hadn't let him out of her hands since Jeb returned him to her.

"One quick look. How bad could it be?"

When we reached the door, Nudge stared at the access panel that bridged the journey between me and my mom. She closed her eyes, imagining the last person who would have opened the door. Within moments, her eyes popped open and she typed a series of numbers into the wall.

I apprehensively awaited the portal's gap to widen. My nerves frayed, my heart pulsed loudly. Not even Fang's comforting hand on my shoulder could allay my anxiety. Not until the door slid open and I stared into… nothingness.

Nothing. No one. Nada. Not a thing.

Okay – there was a cot along the far wall, made to look as though it had been slept in and there was a small table – possibly for eating purposes. But it was very clear, yes- very apparent that I should have listened to Jeb. Should have trusted him.

The realization became all too lucid when Angel gasped and Fang launched himself at a horde of fast approaching flyboys.

"Get out of here now," I screamed at Gazzy, Iggy, and Nudge who had the only clear path down the corridor that led outside. Then, I threw myself directly at two flyboys who had grabbed Angel, knocking Total out of her clasped grip on him.

As I knocked two flyboy heads together, I caught sight of Gazzy leading Iggy outside. Where was Nudge?

"Ow!" I shouted as I flinched from the blow just delivered to my ribcage. My right hand shot to my side while my left shoved the perpetrator into a wall. I saw Nudge holding her own with two flyboys that had come after her and then she took off running down the hall with the flyboys in pursuit. That a girl. Get outside. Taste freedom.

I freed Angel from the grip of her captors and sent her flying after Nudge. She was about the only one of us who could fully extend her wings in this setting. She was halfway down the corridor when she stopped suddenly, and turned to holler something at me.

"Max! Help Total!"

"On it!" I eyed Total attempting to rip apart a flyboy's robotic leg with his baby teeth. I called to him.

"Total, fly away, now!"

He immediately left his snack and leapt into the air.

"Au revoir, auf Wiedersehen, Konnichiwa," sang Total, glimpsing back every two feet or so to stare death in the eye.

Five out. Two to go.

Fang was more than holding his own with the twenty or so flyboys that remained in the hall. He seemed almost cheerful to be fighting them. He had torn into the crowd of flyboys and, with a sheer strength I had not before witnessed, shoved every unsuspecting flyboy that crossed his path into the corridor walls. The week in solitude had left him rather bitter. Hmmm. I'll take the advantage.

While I was certain that Fang could manage the rest of the wolf crew, I joined the melee anyway. Didn't need the ribbing later about how he took on twenty flyboys single-handedly. I delivered a kick to one's chest while forcing another's gun, which was aimed at Fang, down to the floor. The shot that fired ricocheted off the floor and landed square in another's abdomen. I glanced over at Fang who was using one incapacitated flyboy as his own personal baseball bat. Whoa.

"What'd they feed you this week?" I yelled, my voice incredulous.

Fang barely looked up from his war zone, but I noted a slight disheartened shrug. What did they do to him?

"Did they make you eat your Wheaties every day?" My voice now broadcasted its normal sarcastic ring.

"Nope," he replied point-blank. "Steroids."

Huh. My own personal Superman. Fortunately, I was not your average Lois Lane. Feisty, yes. Damsel in distress, no. I'd be doing my own rescuing, thank you.

"What do you say to getting out of here?" I asked as a flyboy performed his eerie march toward me.

"Sounds like a plan."

Fang quickly joined me, grabbed one of my hands, and began to hastily lead me down the hall. I stopped immediately and glowered at him. Did I need Fang to hold my hand and guide me to our exit? Uh, no. Did I like it? Um… maybe just a little.

"Problem?" he asked with a faint trace of arrogance.

My eyes danced from his eyes to our hands. I rested my glare back on his face as I cocked my head to one side. My expression softened as Fang lightly pecked my forehead with his soft lips. I felt my shoulders relax.

"Guess I better get used to this," I muttered, rolling my eyes in defeat. Ugh.

"Uh-huh," was all he said as we scuttled out the door.


A/N: Hope you liked today's adventure! Thanks for all the reviews! I really do appreciate them! Keep them coming!

86. Chapter 85

Chapter 85

Fang and I eased out the door of the building and peered into the dark sky. Blackness swathed the earth. Our eyes tried desperately to pick up the unmistakable outlines of the flock, but all we picked up were a handful of scattered constellations.

As we readied ourselves for flight, my eyes took a turn in a northwestwardly direction and I instantly realized why I had not spotted my family. In the middle of the compound, Iggy, Gazzy, Nudge, Angel, and Total were huddled together – surrounded by hundreds of flyboys.


Jeb wasn't kidding about a trap. My flock had apparently run right smack into one.

I scrutinized the congregation a little more closely – trying to find Jeb amidst the madness. Fang gave my hand a little squeeze and we initiated our death march toward the throng of flock haters.

Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I dropped Fang's hand and we both whirled to face our predators.

"I can now see vy you let de girl be de leader," Ter Borcht chuckled and sent a disapproving glare in Fang's direction.

"Well, isn't that precious?" an overly annoying voice said. "It seems as though we've discovered yet another vulnerability."

I sneered at the ex-director. My cheeks flushed – and not just from embarrassment.

"Well, I guess your vulnerability would be your taste in companions," I snarled back. "Not to mention your insane delusional view of the world."

"Max, our view is exactly what the world needs," Dr. Janssen explained coolly.

"Getting rid of half the earth's population is what the world needs?!" This lady was still seriously nuts. How could she believe this?

"You of all people should understand what is happening with the planet," continued Dr. Janssen. "And while your speeches and propaganda for Global Warming are all very warm and fuzzy, they don't begin to make a dent in the problems our world is facing. This planet needs an immediate fix. Our plan will ensure the right kind of citizens is left to assist with the development of a new race.

"It's unfortunate though that you will be unable to assist us with our plans, Max. You've been quite instrumental in Omega's development."

"Wow… I am just swelling with pride right now," I retorted cynically.

"You should be. Your work, your friends work has all gone to help the greater good."

"Greater good?!" I shouted, staring incredulously into Dr. Janssen's unfaltering eyes. "You can't be serious! Fighting your robot things, hacking into overseas bank accounts, building explosives that could take out half a country? Lady, you need a serious morality check."

"The Re-Evolution will present an opportunity to amend that which has gone wrong. It will soon be time to initiate the By-Half…."

Her voice was shrill and sounded like a broken record. While at the castle in Germany,… while we were in the dungeon, Dr. Janssen's voice droned through the gazillion loud speakers located in every room of the castle. My ears were experiencing a horrible déjà vu; therefore, I shut her out. I strode straight ahead toward the flock, ignoring every new piece of information Dr. Janssen relayed.

I slid into my circle of friends, pressing my arm into Iggy's so he was aware of my presence. Fang stood on the other side of me and gathered Angel into him. She continued to hold her death grip on Total. I still didn't see Jeb anywhere. I really hoped he had escaped this madness.

"Yes, it is a shame we won't have you to assist us anymore, Max," the lunatic continued, never missing a beat.

"Why?" my curiosity peaked. "Had a sudden change of heart?"

"Ha!" Ter Borcht interjected. "You are all slated to be terminated. Director's orders."

Whatever. Like I hadn't heard that one before.

I turned to face the grand monstrosity hovering over me.

"Looks like you have no problem 'letting de girl be de leader'," I mocked.

"You are very misinformed. Dere is a new director now. And he is hardly a woman," Ter Borcht explained.

New director? I shuddered. Could there be anything worse than Madame Megalomania?

"Our new director has incredible vision for the future – more astounding than my own," Dr. Janssen answered my thoughts. "That future was set to include you, Max. However, after the turning events of the evening,…"

She glowered at me, her menacing blue eyes pointing daggers at my heart. Of course, I instinctively delivered my own ominous stare back at her. I truly hated this woman.

Her eyes were the first to divert. She grinned sardonically as she eyed movement to our immediate south.

"Looks as though you will have company for your execution," she scorned.

We all turned gradually to watch several flyboys escort Jeb to our location. I eyed the evil witch through the corner of my eye, her wiseacre smirk never floundering.

I determined right then and there that I would wipe that smile off her face myself – my new lot in life.

"Sorry, Jeb," I mouthed to him as he joined our pitiful band.

"No worries," he replied. "I'm certain you'll figure this one out."

Actually, I really hadn't thought much about an escape plan what with over a hundred flyboys staring us down with a full blown arsenal at their disposal. I would have done an up and away immediately had it not been for their incredible reflexes and my fear of one of my flock getting clipped by gunfire. What we needed was a distraction. I racked my brain for answers. Nothing. I called on my Voice. Still nothing. Then, I felt a familiar nudge on my left elbow.

"Be ready," Iggy said, his low whisper barely audible above Dr. Janssen's and Ter Borcht's orders to the guard.

I stifled a grin. My distraction was imminent.

87. Chapter 86

Chapter 86

Fang's eyes caught mine and he knew. It was time to go. He allowed Angel to read his thoughts as I managed a barely perceptible nod to Gazzy and Nudge. A surge of adrenaline coursed through me. I looked back to Fang, our gaze locked momentarily until my eyes grew wide and my back stiffened as realization dawned.


How would we, how could we get him out of here? My brain soared into hyper drive, scanning through various options for Jeb's escape. How much time did we have before Iggy's –


Well – I guess that answer's that question.

A quick glance to my right registered smoke and a splattering of brick's, glass, and other sorts of building materials begin to fly in all directions. Dr. Janssen and Ter Borcht immediately spun in the direction of the explosion, the flyboys mimicking their behavior. Before they could even turn back Iggy, Gazzy, Nudge, and Angel (with Total) leapt into the air and flew off as fast as their bodies would carry them.

"Fang, help me!" I yelled as I hovered over Jeb. We each crooked an arm underneath Jeb's shoulders and we launched ourselves full force into the night sky. Within seconds I heard the sounds of massive artillery all around us. We were almost clear of firing range and had just about caught up to the rest of the flock when my ears picked up a faint flinch to the left of me.


I quickly scanned his body for whatever may have hit him. He felt my eyes upon him.

"S nothing," he grimaced. "Hit my leg. Let's just get out of here."

I saw it. Minor blood spurting from his lower left calf. He was right. It wasn't bad. But I still shuddered.

Suddenly there were additional explosions on the icy earth below. I watched as shards of flyboy metal flew in every which way but up.

"Good one, Gazzy!" I heard Iggy exclaim.

Good one, indeed. Gazzy's heroics just saved our butts from flyboys catching up with us mid-air. I secretly hoped his bombs took out Dr. Janssen and Ter Borcht but I knew that was wishful thinking.

I averted my attention to Jeb. When Fang and I first leapt into the air with Jeb between us, I took in Jeb's immediate expressions. He had gasped and a faint trickle of fear ran down his face. Now, I looked at him and I don't remember him ever smiling this much. Not even after Angel voiced her first three sentences to him – in his mind – when she was just barely two years old.

"Having fun?" I asked, a smile lighting up my face as well.

"This… is… amazing." Awe oozed from every word.

"Yep," I agreed.

The eight of us flew in silence for several minutes, inspecting the area below us. We had flown about a mile south of the compound and were searching for Jeb's truck. Our raptor vision could pick up every outline of every car, house and landmark from thousands of feet in the air, but Jeb was no help to us in that department. He was the only one who knew where he had hidden his truck; therefore, this felt like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"There," Gazzy called out. "Is that it?"

Through a patch of dense foliage, I saw it. The black suburban that had delivered me to the Program. Now it would help us flee it.

"Saved the day again, Gasman," I said with a smile.

Gazzy simply beamed.

88. Chapter 87

Chapter 87

After a tricky bullet extraction and a quick patch up to Fang's calf from the back of Jeb's Suburban, we all said our goodbyes to Jeb and watched as his vehicle darted off into the distance. I sucked in a deep breath, not wanting to miss any taste of our newly found liberation. But I also knew every delayed second could bring flyboys one step closer to ending said freedom.

"Alright, guys," I said, making myself sound very leaderly. "No telling, how much time we have until the wolf pack finds us. Let's take off and go meet Jeb."

"Where are we going, Max?" Nudge asked.

"Private landing strip outside of Yellowknife," I replied as I ran several feet before leaping into the air. The flock followed suit. Once we were airborne and high above the clouds, I continued the conversation with Nudge.

"Jeb will meet us there. He 'acquired' a private jet that will take us to Arizona."

"What about California?" Gazzy asked quickly.

"Well, the whole conference is over so our presence there is kind of nil now. I mean that was a whole week ago."

"I guess," Gazzy said dejectedly.

Wow. Hard to believe that a whole week had gone by since we were throwing snowballs in the Black Hills and my flock had suddenly gone MIA. I wonder what LA would have been like? I bet the beaches and the ocean would have been somewhat warm. Of course, I would have probably had to listen to Iggy beg somebody to detail every beach bunny we saw… and that was not going to be Fang's job anymore – if I had any say so in the matter.

Hmmm. Fang. Things were even weirder with us now – but a good weird. I snuck a peek at him through the corner of my eye and… he was staring at me. I smiled lightly as I felt the butterflies intensify in my stomach. I allowed him to hold my gaze a little longer and then I redirected my attention to the murky skies in front of us.

I bet it would have been kind of fun to hang out in LA. I wondered if we would see any movie stars – not that that kind of thing mattered to me, but Nudge relished that world. And then, of course, right down the street was Disneyland. Oh no. Disneyland…

"Gazzy." I slid back to accompany him in flight.

"Yeah, Max?" His voice reeked of disappointment.

"We'll get to Disneyland," I promised. "You will have your roller coasters."

Gazzy merely shrugged. He'd been disheartened before.

I ensured that one of my wings touched his on each beat in our rhythmic motion.

"I just need to go to Arizona right now. I need to see my mom," I explained.

"I know," he muttered.

"I'm sorry."

"Not your fault," Gazzy answered. "It's them – all of them! The white coats, the flyboys, the director – they always mess everything up! I hate them!"

A hushed silence befell the group. I hadn't seen Gazzy this upset in a very long time. It rendered us pretty much speechless.

After several minutes of flying in quietness, Gazzy spoke up again.

"That's not the worst part. I hate knowing that I helped them. I hated every minute of that stuff they made me do." He paused and then took his eyes off of me. Gazzy was eight, but right now he sounded ten years older.

"I feel so… evil," he concluded.

Murmurs of agreement followed from Nudge and Angel.

I didn't have an answer. I had been pretty much numb to the whole experience. But I was the one that caused this. I surrendered the abilities of my flock so that they would not be harmed. I allowed my flock to be used – to feel this way. I felt more miserable and disgusting with each realization that crept into my thoughts.


I glanced at Fang through tear stained eyes. He met my gaze and instantly circled around to fly by my side.

"I'm sorry, guys," I muttered. "I let this happen. This is all my fault." If I could have curled up into a ball right then and there, I would have.

"Stop," I heard Fang say sternly. "Stop apologizing. This is on them. They are the one's that did this. You're not the one that had you believing I was dead. You're not the one that had us handcuffed to a wall or locked in a cage. You're not the one who barely fed us or forced us to do things that went against our way of thinking. That was all them. The psychotic evil scientists and their furry flying henchmen. They did this. So quit your freaking apologies because you only did what you thought you had to do to keep the rest of the flock alive."

Um… wow. That was the most I have ever heard Fang say in my fourteen deplorable years of existence. Fang didn't normally make speeches, let alone emotional ones. His normal sentence structure consisted of one to two word phrases. I merely stared at him, silently wondering if someone was feeling my jaw hit their head in northern Canada.

I wanted to say "I'm sorry" again but I could still feel the anger emanating from his bones. So I kept my mouth shut and concentrated my energies on our destination. After returning their eyes to normal size, the remainder of the flock followed my lead.

And no one said another word as we continued our flight south.

89. Chapter 88

Chapter 88

"Alright, Ig. Here goes nothing," I said as I prepared to remove the dressings from his eyes.

As soon as our plane taxied down the short runway, Iggy asked me to get rid of the bandages from his eyes. Okay – pleaded is more like it. I hesitated, fearful of the outcome, but then I realized that Iggy couldn't exactly walk around with gauze sticking out of his eyebrows the rest of his life. Might as well get this over with.

Iggy was seated in the back of the plane with the rest of us hovering around him as I careful peeled back the medical tape and slid the mesh material off of his face. He blinked twice and then his eyes darted to every corner of the plane.

"Yes!" Iggy exclaimed.

My heart gave a little squeeze. Iggy could see again. Wonder how long his visionary experience would last this time.

"This is a much better view than that prison camp. This place actually has color!" Iggy jumped up out of his seat and proceeded to take in every feature this jet had to offer. The rest of us simply kicked back and enjoyed the lively entertainment he was providing. He practically galloped through the middle aisle of the plane, bounced to windows every five seconds to peer out into the dawning skies, pausing only a few times to touch something and ensure it was real.

"Hey – I think I can still feel what color this is!" Iggy declared. "Wait. Let me close my eyes." He dramatically closed his eyes and then turned to us. "Put something in my hands – something colorful."

Nudge snatched Jeb's coffee mug and placed it gingerly into Iggy's awaiting palms. Iggy molded his fingers around the base.

"Black! That's not colorful!" Iggy said as his eyelids pushed back. "Bring me something else." He closed his eyes and rubbed his hands together as though he were readying himself at the line of scrimmage in a championship football game.

Angel delivered Gazzy's backpack and Iggy immediately identified it as a soft shade of cerulean. Amazing.

"That is so cool! Do it again, Iggy," Nudge pleaded.

And so Iggy continued to amuse. Nudge, Angel, and Gazzy traded turns running items to Iggy while Fang and I kicked back in two of the plane's lush accommodations. Fang's knee pressed lightly against mine, sending an electric charge through my veins. I lost myself in his dark eyes while he reached over and grabbed my hand, intertwining his fingers with mine. I smiled lightly, feeling at once breathless. Fang returned my smile – in his own Fang-like way. He turned his body into mine and began to sketch out faint outlines on the back of my hand. My whole body tingled with each graze across my fingers.

"I'm glad you're here," I spit out after several moments and I felt the urge to say something. Of course, that's all I could manage and I mentally kicked myself for spouting out the obvious. Why was I suddenly so tongue-tied around Fang?

"I mean – I'm glad we're all here. You know, safe," I added quickly while shifting my eyes to my sneakers.

Fang shifted his weight and leaned back into his chair.

"Me too."

Another pause occurred before Fang spoke up.

"I must have had a pretty convincing clone," he said quietly, not looking at me.

I knew instantly what he was referring to. When the white coats had substituted Max II for me back in Florida, the flock immediately picked up on the fact that it wasn't me. Of course, her desire to cook gave her false identity away instantaneously. So not me. I don't think Itex would have to worry about killing us off if I actually did the cooking.

But with Fang's clone, it was different.

"Your clone was dead," I explained. "Lifeless. I looked for anything and everything. It had all your scars, every blister in your hand... I just…."

Tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled that miserable hour of my life. I broke his gaze on me and diverted my line of sight to my shoes – again.

Fang squeezed my hand and used his other hand to grab my chin and redirect my eyes to his.

"Hey, forget I said anything," he said intently.

"No… I should have known it wasn't you there. I just never thought…"

Fang smoothed my hair out of my face, tucking it behind my ear.

"I'm here now," he said. "We're all here. That's all that matters, right?"

I nodded. My face was but inches away from Fang's. My heartbeat accelerated and my breath caught in my throat as he leaned in to kiss me.

"Get a room!" I heard Iggy call out from across the aisle. My face immediately jerked away from Fang and I straightened in my seat. My cheeks blushed brighter with each step Iggy took as he neared our location.

Iggy squeezed his tall, skinny body in between Fang and me, where Fang had slid the arm rest upright. Angel giggled and Nudge made "awing" sounds as they approached us. Even Total scampered over with satisfied delight. Gazzy was the only one offed and discomforted by the whole situation, but he nonetheless joined our gathering.

Still blushing, I hunched my shoulders and directed a scowl at Iggy, thrilled that he could now see it. I caught Fang out of the corner of my eye. He was unsuccessfully attempting to repress a smile.

"I knew something was going on with you two," Iggy stated a little too excitedly. "Okay – let's have it. Fill us in from the beginning. Spare no details."


A/N: Sooo - what do you think?! I sure do love those reviews!!!

Oh and FYI - I finished writing the epilogue this morning. 134 chapters. Hope you can stick with me. And I hope it lives up to any expectations!

90. Chapter 89

Chapter 89

"I am not talking about this," I started. "Especially not to you."

My menacing glare only made Iggy laugh. He turned to Fang.

"Fine. Then Fang can fill us in," Iggy teased.

Ugh. I now glowered at Fang, my glare registering a serious "Don't you dare say a word" tone.

Fang's smile instantly vanished. He shrugged at Iggy.

"Sorry, Ig," Fang muttered.

Iggy glanced at me then back at Fang. He slapped Fang's shoulder as he stood and found a seat facing us.

"Dude, you are seriously whipped," he said to Fang. "Of course, this is Max we're talking about here. I'm sure she practically beats you into submission."

A horrified look crossed my face.

"I think this is just so sweet," Nudge chimed in. "Is Fang like your boyfriend now, Max?"

Ugh. I did not want to talk about this. With them. I could barely talk about it with Fang. What part of that did they not understand?

Gazzy broke out of his grimace enough to cautiously venture the next question.

"Are you guys going to – you know –" Gazzy gulped. "Are you – um - going to get married – " His voice turned to a whisper as he concluded his question. " – and have babies?"

My bottom lip immediately dropped and a wave of horror struck my now colorless face. I heard Iggy howl with laughter as Angel and Nudge broke into excessive giggling. Even Total snickered.

I jumped to my feet and tore off for the corner of the plane that maximized the distance between me and my highly insensitive flock. Sinking into the plush upholstery, I curled my knees into my chest and stared out the window. The sun was peeking through the clouds and I drew comfort from the knowledge of our imminent destination.

Mom. Ella. I couldn't wait to see them. Especially now. I knew our visit would have to be short. Our work with Itex was not over by a long shot and we would need to quickly figure out what they were up to. But I was anticipating a few days with my mom. Definitely a gallon of Ben and Jerry's this time. Oooh. And mom's melt-in-your-mouth, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Comfort and fatigue began to overwhelm my body. We had all been up most of the night and I hadn't slept since the night before last. My eyelids grew heavy and I fought the exhaustion half-heartedly. I barely even noticed the blanket that softly draped over me as I drifted off to sleep.

91. Chapter 90

Chapter 90

"Think I can have my shoulder back?"

I snapped my eyes open and slowly straightened as I stretched my body out. I gazed up at Fang, his rugged features softened as I stared at him. He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"How long was I out?"

Fang peered around me through a window of the plane.

"It's almost noon, I think," Fang replied. "Jeb said we're going to land soon."

Warmth coursed through me as I thought about seeing my mom in just a few short hours.

"You get any sleep?" I asked Fang intently.

"Not with your snoring."

I leaned back and without hesitation, punched Fang's upper arm. His wince was all too self-satisfying.

"I do not snore," I snarled.

Fang rubbed his arm and leaned back in his seat.

"If you say so," he said, the corners of his mouth turning upward.

I grunted and curled up to the window side of my seat. Fang reached over and mussed my hair.

"I got a couple hours," he continued. "Iggy took watch. He was way too excited to sleep."

Ugh. Iggy. I resisted the temptation to crane my neck and see what he was up to.

"Hey lovebirds," Iggy said, plopping down on the seat across from us. His chortles caused some serious eye rolling on the part of yours truly.

"Mornin', Ig," I muttered. "Long time, no annoy."

"Ha! You ain't seen nothing yet," he warned.


I shifted in my seat and folded up the blanket from my slumber.

"So – seriously, Max," Iggy continued. "What's the plan?"

"I guess we just rest up with my mom for a few days – try to figure out what's going on with Itex. They're gearing up for another attempt at this stupid By-Half Plan of theirs." A cold shiver trickled down my spine. "Whatever they're planning… it can't be good. For anyone. I just wonder how long we have until it happens."

"Or not going to happen," Iggy corrected me.

"Yeah," I said quietly. "Guess that's where we come in."

"Of course, they'll know we're coming," Fang chimed in.

"Uh-huh," Iggy agreed. "But they won't know when. That will give us a little element of surprise."

"Well, all of this is a moot point, anyway," I grumbled. "We don't even know where we should be going. Itex is huge and the best we know is that the new director is 'hardly a woman'." I exacted my best impersonation of Ter Borcht on that last line. "It's not like my Voice has been much help either."

There was silence for a moment. I could feel my face flush with frustration and my breath quicken with anger. I hated being in the dark about this. My mind sprinted through all the different locales for an Itex gathering, but I came up short each time.

"Does she blush a lot?" Iggy asked of Fang. I snapped out of my focused deliberation.

"Wha-at?" I blurted out. My eyes darted from Iggy to Fang.

"You. Blushing," Iggy explained. I desperately tried to figure out what he was asking and why it was so important.

"It's a normal question actually for someone who has just regained their sight," Iggy continued coolly. "Your cheeks grew red twice in the past ten minutes. I was just curious if this was normal – you know – if I was going to see it a lot. It's a rather cute look on you."

Fang's head steered away from mine as he repressed a grin. I stared at Iggy who was just – well – so freaking composed.

"What does that have to do with anything?" I blurted out.

Iggy's eyes widened.

"They just got redder. I didn't think that was possible," he said in mock disbelief.

"I seriously hate you, Iggy," I seethed as I rose. I stumbled over him as I tried to find my way to a new location on the plane – one far, far away from Iggy and his incessant teasing. But not before I kicked him in the shins for good measure.

I felt Fang's and Iggy's eyes on me as I strode away from them as calmly as possible. Not even their last audible murmuring deterred my swagger, even if it did make me blush – again.

"Your girlfriend's freaking hot when she's angry, man," I heard Iggy say as I walked away.

"Yeah," Fang agreed quietly, a tinge of contentment in his voice. "I know."


A/N: If I haven't told you before, I love reviews! They really do help me figure out what I'm doing right and wrong as I work on my next project! :) All it takes is a little click. You don't even have to login!

92. Chapter 91

Chapter 91

I discovered Jeb toward the back of this small, but roomy jet sifting through a mass of paperwork. His semblance was focused and I watched as his eyes narrowed with each new study of the words on a piece of a paper in his hand.

"Any luck?" I chirped as I assumed a seat next to him.

He gazed at me with a grandiose grin – the kind reserved to welcome home the prodigal daughter returned from weeks of debauchery.

"Well, Max, I do think I have found something here," he stated with all the giddiness of a pirate reclaiming lost treasure.

"What is all that?" I ventured.

"Information I gathered at the Program along with old files still locked away from my time there. I've been sorting through their work in the past two months. They've been developing their super race at a much faster rate in the past month and they've concentrated most of their efforts at the Program."

"Makes sense," I added. "It certainly was remote enough."

"Yes, exactly. And with increased productivity comes a need for more scientists."

"So that's what all that whiteness was," I joked. "I thought it was just snow."

Jeb flashed me his proud papa smile.

"I've poured over this information several times, looking for the largest influx of scientists. And most of them came from Japan," Jeb said.

"I did notice the place had quite the Oriental flare," I mused.

"But that doesn't make any sense," Jeb frowned. "Every single Itex branch in Japan was not only shut down, but destroyed. Their leaders were extremely fearful of non-compliance on this issue."


Jeb sighed.

"After Germany, the UN was forced to take a position. While they recognized the gains that could come from the genetic component of what Itex set forth to accomplish, they also realized the overwhelming potential danger. They shut down all Itex branches and research facilities immediately."

"Well, apparently they didn't do their job very well," I said beleaguered.

"Perhaps I should have reworded that. The UN decreed that all Itex branches should be shut down. Not every country yielded to the summit's demands," Jeb explained.

"But Japan did?"

"Yes. I kept up my contacts with Itex for as long as I could. I learned Japan complied immediately."

"What about China?" I wondered.

"Likely. But for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, I don't think so. They have their own agenda."


"India?" Fang asked as he sidled in beside me. I took a startled turn toward him. I hadn't even heard him approach. How long had be been standing there?

"Exactly," Jeb said warmly. He glanced at Fang, then at me, and smiled. Guess he knew about us too. Goodie.

"India?" I asked.

Jeb inhaled deeply before continuing.

"Dr. Aarit Singh. One of the top men on the totem pole in Itex. He was the overseer for all the Itex branches in India and Nepal. One of the main directors for the Program. His nice long resume gained him stature as Dr. Janssen's right-hand man."

"Impressive," I stated. "So what happened to him after Germany?"

"Well, that's just it. He was never in Germany." Jeb arched forward toward Fang and me. "Second in command and he's in abstentia for the most monumental event in Itex history? His companies were responsible for some of the most creative innovations in genetic engineering. And he wasn't there."

"So what are you thinking?" I asked Jeb.

"I'm thinking we refresh ourselves in Arizona and find out all we can about Itex. Then, you begin your next mission – in India."

Hmmm. I've never been to the Far East before. I wondered if it would be warm there this time of year. I began to tire of my parka.

Jeb stood up and commenced his stride toward the cockpit.

"I'm going to go speak with the pilot. We'll probably be landing shortly." Jeb then turned back to speak directly to me.

"Max, your mother is very excited about seeing you – all of you. When I confirmed our escape this morning, she was beyond words and she's hoping you'll allow her to plan a little celebration."

"Celebration?" I inquired warily. I had a bad feeling about where this was going. I imagined my hearty scowl mirrored my thoughts.

"It's your first birthday with your mother, Max," Jeb answered my thoughts. "She's going to want to do something, especially after all that's happened."

I shuddered. I absolutely positively hated unnecessary and unwarranted attention. Fang sensed my unease and placed his arm around my shoulders. He gave my arm a little squeeze and smiled.

"It's your mom," he said. "Humor the lady. Let her throw you a party."


A/N: Thanks for all the reviews! Only one chapter today. Yes, I know - boo! My next chapter is the beginning of Part V - whose title I love and I will share tomorrow! I know - I am evil - terrible of me to invoke suspense.

93. Part V Chapter 92

A/N: Here it is - the last part... but there about 40 chapters before the end. To those that I indicated there would be a blog today - don't know what I was thinking. Sorry, had a stupid moment. Fang will blog in chapter 95. Possibly tomorrow. Enjoy!

Part V

It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want to

Chapter 92

"Hey, Max! Could you pass the rice?" Iggy asked – more like demanded. "The rest of us are hungry too, you know. Or do you not care about anyone else's needs but Fang's?"

My urgent desire to suddenly whip the spoon I was holding at Iggy – rice and all – was downplayed by the fact that we were in my mom's cozy little house in Arizona, eating dinner like the sophisticated mutants that we were at her dining room table. Add to that Fang's sudden grip on my wrist as my arm shot up instinctively and all thoughts of a food fight were lost.

I caught my mom's warm smile. It was so good to be home. Wait – did I really just say "home"? Well, this is the closest thing to home that I had I guess.

Just two hours earlier, we all had a tearful reunion with my mom when our plane touched down in southeastern Nevada. As soon as my body cleared the doorway I sprinted to my mom's awaiting arms. I don't think anyone else got much of an embrace in – I was being too much of a hug hog.

Shortly thereafter, the flock and I stretched out our wings and sailed into Arizona. My mom had baked another one of her famous authentic Mexican meals that practically made my mouth water. Burritos, enchiladas, fajitas – with real Spanish rice and Mexican beans – and not the Taco Bell, scoop it from a can variety. This stuff was the real deal. And so, so good.

"That's enough beans for you," I warned Gazzy as I eyed him with his third helping. Can only imagine what five pounds of beans would do to his distasteful habit.

"I'm so glad you guys are all here," exclaimed Ella from her seat next to Iggy. "You know – safe. We were so worried about you."

"No worries. Just another Max and company chapter of saving the world," Iggy replied. He and Ella shared a smile – their fifth one in ten minutes.

Iggy had taken in every possible sight since we landed. His initial disappointment at the vast Nevada plains of nothingness was eventually replaced with amazement. From thousands of feet in the air, I watched as his eyes catalogued every tree, every house, every color. He was like the five year old with way too many presents to open under the Christmas tree.

But nothing could top the look on his face when we arrived at my mom's house and he saw Ella. Ella and Iggy had always hit it off, but the way he stared at her with that goofy grin on his face – taking in her eternal tan, her long dark hair gathered in a ponytail – smitten could barely begin to describe Iggy at that moment. I smiled to myself as I tucked my mental picture of Iggy away for a future payback.

"Thanks Iggy," Ella chirped as Iggy put a helping of chicken molé on her plate.

Finally. Something to divert the attention away from Fang and me.

"So – what exactly happened last week?" I asked my mom as I finished a bite of my enchilada. "I never did understand it. I mean – Jeb and I were convinced you were kidnapped too."

"I'm not really sure myself," my mom answered, her eyebrows furrowed. "I hit a detour on the way to work Tuesday morning. A rather long detour. I didn't think much of it – except I did notice after a long drive that I seemed to be the only one affected by the re-routing. Nothing seemed out of place either when I went to call work and realized I didn't have my cell phone with me. I figured I had just left it at home. I've done that so many times before.

"When I arrived at work, my receptionist informed me she hit a similar detour – on the other side of town. Again – didn't cause too much of a pause. The DOT has been doing quite a bit of construction lately."

"But Jeb said he called your work," I said. "And he tried the house."

"I never received a message at work and I've checked and rechecked my voicemail a hundred times. No message."

"Did you ever find your phone?" Nudge chimed in.

"No," my mom said slowly. "I had to get a new one just the other day. Fortunately, they let me keep my number but I lost all of mine that were programmed in." She smiled momentarily. "Next time I will be sure to make a hard copy of all of my phone numbers."

"That's why you couldn't call me," Jeb said.

"No. And I didn't think much of that either since I knew that I would see you in California. Of course, that's when everything hit home." My mom stared at me, then looked around at all of us. "Gillian said there was an emergency situation. I never realized – never imagined how all that had happened could occur."

"Yeah, it was kind of a rough week," I said quietly. I glanced at Fang and he caught my gaze. "For all of us."

A somber mood struck the table. The boys returned to concentrating their efforts on emptying their places as fast as they could. Nudge twiddled with her hair in between bites of her burritos – all ten of them. Angel scratched both Total's and Akila's heads as she gulped down her meal. Even the non-mutants were rather reserved. As for me, I was torn between nightmarish reflections on the past week and relief that I wouldn't have to deal with evil crazies for at least a few days.

The silence continued until my mom rose slowly and began removing plates from the table.

"Max, Ella, why don't you two help me with the dishes?"

Ella groaned but I jumped up eagerly. My mom could have asked me to scale Mount Everest and I would have fulfilled the task fervently.

"We can discuss party plans," my mom continued as she exited the dining area with an extra hop in her step.

"Yes!" Ella exclaimed as she grabbed Iggy's plate and bolted for the kitchen.

My face turned aghast and I immediately sat right back down.

"Nudge, could you please go help with the dishes?" I asked.

"Sure, Max," Nudge ascended from her place at the table.

"Sit down, Nudge," ordered Fang.

Nudge's face drew a confused expression as she slid back into her chair. Fang instantly spun his head in my direction.

"Go," he said quietly.

I didn't move.

"Go and talk to your mom about your birthday," he said a little more sternly.

Ugh. I glared at Fang.

"Why?" I snapped.

Fang returned a scowl almost as impressive as mine.

"Because you need to do this," he retorted. "I know you're not going to do this for you but you can do this for everyone else. We all could use a little celebration. And Jeb is right. Who knows when your mom might get another chance to celebrate your birthday?"

I didn't flinch. Not one bit.

"You've become quite the chatterbox lately, haven't you?" I asked Fang coolly.

Fang continued to stare at me, his face plastered with exaggerated patience.

"A party might be fun, Max," said Angel.

"Yeah, Max, please?!" I heard Gazzy say.

I rolled my eyes. My flock was not helping my cause.

"Oooh… I know exactly what I could get you," Nudge began. "I would have to go to a mall though. I wonder how far the nearest one is –"

"No presents," I ordered as I stood up. Nudge recoiled and the corners of her mouth crooked downward.

"No presents," I repeated a bit more evenly. "But maybe a small party."

Cheers of excitement broke out around the table. I straightened and inhaled deeply as I readied myself to enter the kitchen.

"Okay. A party. Balloons, candles, cake – yes, cake is good." I glanced at my flock, their eyes wide with excitement. I continued with my self pep talk as I walked through the kitchen doorway.

"Just a little party. How bad can it be?"

94. Chapter 93

Chapter 93

My mom and Ella were knee deep in dishes when I cautiously entered the kitchen and placed another pile of flatware on the counter.

"Want me to dry?" I offered.

"No. You relax," my mom said as she looked over her shoulder and caught my eye. "Ella and I can handle this. We just thought we'd run some ideas by you."

"You get to have your Quinceañera!" Ella exclaimed. She nearly dropped the plate she was drying.

"My what?" I asked warily.

"Your Quinceañera! I can't wait to have mine, but I have to wait two more years," Ella explained.

Quinceañera? What was that?

"I still don't follow –" I was seriously clueless.

My mom finished rinsing a plate and turned off the water. She turned to face me before explaining.

"A Quinceañera is a Mexican tradition for a daughter's fifteenth birthday – sort of like a rite of passage. In Mexico it marks a transition from girlhood to becoming a señorita or a young lady."

Ugh. No. This was not a party. Oh anything but this.

"I've sort of been planning for Ella's for two years now, but I would love for you to experience this too," my mom continued. "I remember it being such a profound moment in my upbringing. The music, the dancing – it was such a glorious night – "

Dancing? I felt sick. I winced as I quickly swallowed the taste of a regurgitated Mexican dish.

"Oh, Max, this will be so awesome!" Ella exclaimed but I could barely hear her. I was too busy wiping the beads of clammy sweat from my forehead.

"Oooh and Fang could be your Chambelan," Ella continued, her expression turned dreamy. "That's like your special date and he gets to have the first dance at your fiesta and –"

"Max, are you okay?" my mom ventured circumspectly.

"Huh?" I asked. Why was the room suddenly spinning?

My mom crossed to me in haste.

"Oh dear, Ella. We've overdone this," my mom said. She took my hand from my death grip on the counter. "Max, you don't have to do this. It's okay – we'll just do a small party with just us and cake and presents –"

"No. No presents –" I squeaked out. I felt the slightest buckle of my knees as my mom squeezed my arm.

Then the whole room went black.


A/N: So - what do you think?! I would love to hear from you - good or bad!

95. Chapter 94

Chapter 94

Tall redwoods swayed as Fang and I zipped by them. We were sprinting through a dense forest – so thick I could only glimpse faint glimmers of sunlight as we tore through the trees. What were we running from? What was behind us that sent us into warp drive on the ground?

Suddenly, a flash of brightness caught my eye. Fang grabbed my hand and we charged in the direction of daylight.

We hit the clearing and launched ourselves into the air. Fang soared ahead of me. Why was I suddenly falling? I looked right and left, then at my back. What happened to my wings?

I shot up from my prone position and sucked in a gasp. My eyes had immediately unglued and were surely the size of dinner plates – a normal reaction to all the weird dreams I had been experiencing. Exhaling raggedly, I took in my surroundings and felt a gentle squeeze on my hand.

"What happened?" I asked Fang.

I was on a stately parlor couch in my mom's living room. Fang was on the floor propped onto one knee, staring at me with his usual concerned, worried look.

"You passed out in the kitchen." The corners of Fang's mouth turned slightly upward. "Better not let Itex know you faint when someone mentions dancing."

Ugh. Dancing. Fang was right. Just the thought was nauseating. But that could not have been what caused my spell.

I used the back of my hand to wipe my brow and turned my legs so that they were dangling off the couch. Fang slid up beside me.

"How long was I out?" I asked.

"Not long. But long enough to give everyone a good scare."

I glanced around at the empty living room, then craned my head toward the dining room.

"Where is everyone?" I wondered.

"Outside. As soon as you collapsed, everyone was hovering over you. Your mom thought you might need some space."

That left just me and Fang.

Hoo boy. My hand shot instinctively to my stomach. Would these butterflies ever go away?

"You sure you're okay?" Fang asked softly. His hand once again intertwined with mine. His other hand grazed my cheek momentarily sending sparks through every part of my body and then I watched his eyes grow wide.

"You're cold," Fang said severely. The back of his hand shot up to my forehead to further assess my temperature.

"Really? I feel like I'm burning up." Boy, it was hot in here. I tugged at the collar on my shirt.

"Maybe you should lie back down," Fang suggested.

"Just need some air."

I rose cautiously and felt Fang's death grip on my wrist. He stood beside me.

Suddenly the walls began to whirl and I felt my dinner heading for my throat. I broke free of Fang's grip to cover my mouth.

"Max?" Fang was beyond concerned.

"Bathroom. Now," I ordered weakly as I began a woozy hobble out of the living room area and down the hall. Fang trailed me closely, his hand resumed its death lock on me.

I barely cleared the bathroom door and threw myself over the toilet seat when I lost my cookies in the porcelain bowl. Fang did the gentlemanly thing – held my hair back as I – well – you know. I am sure my episode of weakness endeared me to him all the more.

I swear I emptied the contents of my stomach – and then some. At some point amidst my moments of queasiness I remember a faint knock on the bathroom door. I barely recall my mom swapping spots with Fang. Poor Fang. We've had to endure a lot with one another – massive injuries, moments of unconsciousness. And I've even gotten sick before – but not like this. I cringed as I wondered what thoughts were going through Fang's head right now.

An hour or so later, I was spent – physically and mentally exhausted. I scooted my back toward a wall and pressed my knees into my chest. My mom cautiously knelt down beside me.

"If you didn't want a party, you could have just said so," she teased quietly.

I flashed a faint smile and then stared at my knees. My mom gently placed her arm around my shoulders.

"You okay?" she asked.

"I guess," I muttered. I did actually feel better now that I had lost half of my insides.

"What was that?" my mom asked.

I shrugged.

"Maybe I ate one too many burritos," I sputtered half-heartedly. My mom smiled at the lightness of our conversation.

"I think Nudge put you under the table with the burrito count," my mom countered.

"Bird flu?" I joked, a smile forming on my face. Oh, I felt so much better. What did happen?

I allowed my mom to help me to my feet. My eyes scaled the features of the inviting bathroom, settling on the far corner of the tight space.

"Mind if I take a shower?" I asked. "I don't really want anyone else to see me like this."

96. Chapter 95

Chapter 95

You are reading Fang's Blog. Welcome!

Visitor Number: 2,423,856

Um… wow. First let me start by saying thanks for the huge influx of comments. I know I won't be able to respond to them all but your concern over our whereabouts is mucho appreciated.

So – now the quick back story on why the flock and I have been MIA for over a week. Baddies from Itex kidnapped us – took us to some remote icebox called the Program. Had Max and company convinced that yours truly was dead. Fortunately for all of us, that wasn't a reality.

While there – the evil horde of scientists had the rest of the flock dabbling in the not so nice category. Between Gazzy's impersonations of world big-wigs and Angel's mind control, the world may see some unpleasant policy changes courtesy of the United Nations. Just a heads up, UN people. And check your bank accounts, Nudge may have been forced to reroute some of your hard-earned savings.

But despite all the ugly, a couple of really cool things came out of the week. First, Iggy can now see. Apparently the white coats used him as a human guinea pig for some new vision restoration surgery – and it worked. It's temporary, but Iggy's breathing in every sight he can.

Second – a little good news for me – maybe not such good news for you single females that have posed some interesting ideas about how you'd like to spend your time with me – and I am flattered. Thank you. However – I am officially taking myself off of the "available" circuit. Yep – that's right – Max finally came to her senses. I guess you could call us an item.

That's it for now – glad to be back. Gotta go take care of some planning for Max's Quinceañera. For those of you that aren't up to speed on your Mexican culture – google it. Pretty interesting read. Not sure of the church part that precedes the party, but I'm sure we could all use a little spiritual soul-saving right about now.

watchingcat from Stockholm writes:

Glad you're back, Fang. Is Itex gone for good? What can we do to help?

Fang writes:

Itex gone would only be too convenient. What can you or anyone else do to help? Find out everything you can about Itex and its many counterparts. Be ready. They're planning something big and bad.

EyelinerVampire from Nantucket writes:

Awwww. You and Max make the perfect couple! What are you going to get her for her birthday?

Fang writes:

According to Max, anyone who buys her a present is going to get their butts kicked from here to China. So – I'm not buying her one. I do, however, have something else in mind.

melissaeverlasting from Hartford writes:

I am so happy for Iggy! How long will he be able to see? What's been his favorite sight so far?

Fang writes:

We're not really sure how long, but I would say his item of choice to look at (ahem… drool over) is of the female persuasion. We have to keep reminding Iggy that his tongue belongs in his mouth and his jaw shouldn't be so close to the floor. (snicker)

rootlessdream from Guadalahara writes:

I just had my Quinceañera in December! It was the most special night of my life! Max will love it. Is she Hispanic?

Fang writes:

Happy late birthday, rootlessdream. Max's mom is Hispanic – had her own celebration years back. We're trying to convince the stubborn one that she will have a good time but Max has an aversion to fun these days. I've been working on trying to lighten her mood – not an easy job – but the benefits are nice.

Harleychick from Athens, Georgia writes:

That's too bad about you and Max – if you ever change your mind, come look me up. I'm sending you a picture (pic deleted). Mmmm. You are so Fangalicious.

Fang writes:

Thanks for the offer. Uh… cool picture – not exactly sure what you were doing on the motorcycle but the wings were a nice touch.

Fly on.


A/N: Let me know what you think! Thanks for all those reviews!

97. Chapter 96

Chapter 96

"So where did you say we were going in India?" I asked Jeb.

Jeb, Iggy, Fang, and I were hovering over several maps and printouts from the Program. We had converted my mom's dining room table into our own strategic warzone. An unfolded map of India and blueprints of various facilities sprawled out before us.

"We'll start here in Calcutta," Jeb said, a finger pointing to a northeastern part of the diagram. "That's where the main Itex branch was located."

"Was?" I asked.

"I am certain that after all that has happened in the past few months, Itex has surely relocated its headquarters." Jeb adjusted his glasses, inching them further upward towards his eyes. "I'm pretty sure that the facility in Calcutta was shut down completely, but it's a place to start."

"They'd need a big place, right?" asked Iggy, his long fingers skimming various points on the map. He met Fang's and my confused looks and continued, "You know – to house their massive army of super freaks."

"Right," Jeb agreed. "So that leaves us with a few options. Mumbai,… Delhi,… possibly Bangalore." He cupped his chin thoughtfully. "Of course, I'm not completely ruling out Calcutta. Now if –"

He stopped suddenly and turned his face to the direction of the kitchen. He inhaled and exhaled deeply.

"Your mom's been baking again," he said sounding pleased, heading for the kitchen.

"Chocolate chip cookies!" Iggy bolted for the doorway, practically running Jeb over in the process.

My mom made the most mouth watering chocolate chip cookies in the world. At one time I had made it my mission to find cookies just like them. Nothing came close. And I was so glad I was able to smell something, anything for that matter, without making a beeline for the bathroom. The episode from just two days ago caused me to wince every time I recalled it. I still didn't know what happened to me. I just hoped it would never happen again.

Iggy returned with a plate full of delectable round objects and the three of us dug in.

"Mmmm. These are so… fangalicious," I teased as I sunk my teeth into my second cookie. I wasn't looking at Fang, but I could visualize a huge scowl plastered on his face.

Iggy roared with laughter. I couldn't help giggling myself.

When I finally did allow my eyes to acknowledge Fang's, I did not see the glower I was half-expecting. Instead, he appeared on the brink of a grin.

"Nice to know you're reading my blog," Fang said, a hint of a smirk in his voice.

Yeah – like I was going to miss the post where he finally dedicates some space to me.

I shrugged.

"I was bored," I said nonchalantly.

Fang took the uneaten cookie I was holding and took a bite. His body was just inches away from mine, so close his body heat sent a fire to my cheeks. Fang's confident gaze while he nibbled at my cookie was turning the bones in my legs to sand. I didn't know much longer I could stand upright. Ugh. And those butterflies were back. Or was this me getting sick again?

Fang broke the moment of intense silence. Well – intense for me, that is.

"What? Not enough excitement in your life?" His voice was like swans swimming on a lake. "I can fix that."

Fang drew a step closer and took my hand in his. An electric spark ripped through my body.

Oh. What was going on with me? Was my heart going to melt every time Fang touched me now? Could we really go on like this? I mean- we did have a world to save and all.

Concentrate. Back away. You can do this. More important issues to focus on.

Fang raised his eyebrows quizzically as he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.

What was I doing here again?

Oh, yeah. Saving the world. Itex. Evil bad guys.

I felt Fang's hand on my waist, his face drawing closer to mine.

Who am I kidding? I loved this. I loved him. This was -

"Ahem!" Iggy cleared his throat so that the entire state of Arizona could hear it.

Crap. Forgot Iggy was in the room.

I quickly squirmed out of the hold Fang almost had me in and redirected my attention to the map of India. I felt my cheeks flush as a new wave of embarrassment washed over me.

What was wrong with us? Did the rest of the world not exist to Fang and me anymore? Ugh. We seriously needed to keep these PDA's to ourselves.

Fang approached the table beside me and I felt Iggy give us the once-over.

"You know – you two are getting a little annoying," Iggy said coolly.

"Hmmph," I muttered, then looked directly at him. "Paybacks are hell, Ig."

At that moment, Jeb returned to the room, looking pensive and quite purpose driven. He strode directly to the map of India, then keyed something into his laptop.

The three of us shared a glance, then looked at Jeb.

After ten minutes of watching Jeb type and listening to his silent murmurs, my patience was spent.

"Uh – Jeb," I asked ever so nicely. "Care to fill us in?"

"Kanpur," he stated directly as he looked up from his computer screen.

"We'll leave for Kanpur in two days. I just finished making the arrangements."

"Huh?" I stammered. "I thought we were going to Calcutta." Where the heck was Kanpur?

"I believe Itex has relocated to Kanpur," Jeb said. "I can't believe I didn't think of it before." He saw our blank faces and explained. "Kanpur is close enough to Calcutta but far enough away to not draw attention. It's the largest industrial city in the upper regions of India, but small enough that it won't garner any interest from government agencies. Plenty of temples and other obscure buildings with which to – er – cover up information from the public eye." Jeb paused momentarily before continuing.

"And Kanpur is the closest largest city to the Himalayas – access to China and a great place to hide a training facility."

He gazed at me, his eyes cataloging a grave tone.

"If you thought the Program housed some horrors, - "

His head dropped and he shook it.

And just like that the mood of the room darkened like a thunder cloud had squeezed through the cracks in the windows and taken over the ceiling.

After a few minutes of deafening silence, Iggy spoke up.

"Well – let's get moving on a plan then – my sight's not going to last forever you know. Oooh – that reminds me." Iggy slid into Jeb's spot at the computer. "Something I've been meaning to check out."

Iggy caught our dumbfounded stares.

"I've got some ideas for a new… um… surprise." He grinned deviously and returned his eyes to the blue glow.

Surprise? There were no surprises concerning what Iggy was doing. The only time Iggy's thoughts weren't fixated on Ella was when he was commandeering plans for a new explosive.

I wasn't complaining, though. We would need all the help we could get.

98. Chapter 97

A/N: Two chapters today! Yay!

Chapter 97

"Max!" Nudge screamed as she burst into the dining room. "Guess who's coming to your party?!"

Ugh. Did she have to bring that up again? Why couldn't they just let my birthday pass unnoticed? It's not like the rest of the flock ever had to be subjected to the annual affair.

I forwarded my gaze to Nudge. I couldn't even formulate a "Who?" or a "Could care less" in my brain before Nudge spurted out the answer to her own question.

"The crew from the Wendy K is coming! Well – not the whole crew. I mean some of them have to stay back and do their research and stuff. But Dr. Papa will be here and Brigid and Emily-"

If it was possible for my heart to drop to my stomach and soar up to my throat at the same time – well – safe to say – that just happened to me.

My body immediately tensed as Nudge rambled on. I was clueless as to anything she said after spouting off the guest list. My brain froze as soon as she said Brigid.

Fang sensed my tension and placed his hand on my arm. I cocked my head slightly and met his perplexed gaze for a brief second before turning away.

"You okay?" he said under his breath. "You look like you're going to hurl."

"Fine," I muttered, quickly attempting to regain composure.

Snapping back to reality, I drew my arm away from Fang and focused on Nudge.

"So – why are they coming?" I asked her. "It can't just be for the party."

"It is partly," my mom said from the portal to the kitchen. She strolled to my side. "After all that happened with Melanie and then the past week when you were gone – well – they are just so thrilled that you all are safe and sound. Jeb and I discussed with them a few minor details of our future plans and I was just so excited – I couldn't help but tell them about your special evening tomorrow night."


I was really trying to be a trooper about this whole Quinceañera deal. I sensed how important this was to my mom, a rite of passage only she could arrange for me. I just didn't have it in my heart to tell her that all I really wanted for my birthday was to forget all about it. Now add the unpleasant guest list and I was almost feeling sick again. Okay – not unpleasant. That was mean. I absolutely loved the crew from Antarctica, but the whole Fang and Brigid thing had me reeling with jealousy. And I wasn't even sure what I was jealous of.

"Dr. Dwyer is going to accompany Dr. Papa on his global campaign." My mom flinched momentarily. Several of us in the room did – for different reasons. I am certain that Iggy's and Fang's reaction stemmed from a bad taste of Melanie in their mouth. You can probably guess who set off my cold shudder.

"Anyway," my mom continued. "Brigid was going to meet him in Greenland for their next summit, but they decided to meet here instead and then head off together. Oh and Emily and Paul are taking a short furlough to the states. It just so happens that Emily's family is in San Diego so they are stopping here on the way. I'm picking them all up at the airport tomorrow afternoon."

Goodie. Just can't wait.

My mom studied my face momentarily before venturing a question.

"Max, are you sure you're okay with all of this?"

No. Not really. Would pretty much rather be battling flyboys than have all this attention launched upon me.

"Sure," I lied. I caught Fang's eyes staring at me.

"Oh, good," she sighed. "Because there is one other small detail we need to attend to."

My head snapped up from the lock it had on my sneakers. My heart began to pulse erratically wondering what she had in store for me now.

"What's that?" I managed weakly.

"Well, you'll need something to wear – " My mom hesitated while biting into her bottom lip.

Oh no. Was the room spinning again?

"I picked up a little something I thought you might be alright with," my mom said as she cradled her arm around my shoulders. She led me toward the doorway to the living room.

"It's in my room. You can try it on in there." She stopped in the doorway and took my hand. "And really, Max. If you don't like it, we'll find something else. I know your aversion to dresses."

Dress. Ugh. A gnawing emptiness began to feed on my stomach.

"Max… in a dress!" Iggy cried out. "I have got to see this!"

Could I die now please?

"Wait! I'm coming with you," I heard Nudge say from behind us. "Could I do your hair, Max? I bet I could make you look just like Jessica Simpson!"

Who? A wave of nausea practically swam over me.

Maybe I could just get sick again so I wouldn't have to endure this fiasco.

I could hear Iggy's faint chortle as my mom led Nudge and I from the room. I silently wondered what Fang was thinking - about the dress, about Brigid. A new pit began to form in the bottom of my stomach as I thought about her, their arrival.

Maybe no one would notice if I would just fly away and find a nice hole to sink my head in for a while.

Yeah, right.

99. Chapter 98

Chapter 98

"Oh, Max."

That was the only sound in the room for what seemed like ten minutes as my mom, Nudge, and Angel simply gawked at me. I mean – the dress was beautiful – it was a floor length white gown. Simple, mostly. It gathered at my waist and with just a tiny accentuation of my hips, the dress was a straight fall to the floor. And the top half was a halter – held up by a clasp at my neck. It pretty much left the dress backless – which was perfect for someone like me – you know – with wings.

My mom just thought of everything.

But really – why were they staring? I played with some loose beads near the waistline.

"You look absolutely gorgeous," my mom choked, a puddle forming in her eyes.

Great. Now I was going to have to really do this. Ugh.

"Wow, Max, maybe you should have been the cover model," Nudge said through an awed whisper.

Relax, Max. It's okay. And yes – it is you that is beautiful.

Angel had picked up on my brain wonderings. I guess I was trying to figure out if it was me or the dress that everybody seemed to be speechless about. Which was stupid. I really didn't care what I looked like. Half the time my attire consisted of bloody ripped tee-shirts and grubby jeans.

My mom rose from her bed and meandered towards me. She circled my still figure, looking me up and down. Occasionally, she would tug at the waistline or run a piece of the fabric through her fingers.

"It's perfect," she stated, then gazed at me. "What do you think?"

I sighed. I knew this would make her eternally happy.

"It's… uh… nice… pretty," I finally stammered.

She held her gaze on mine for a little longer.

"Are you sure?" she asked again.

My nod was enough to jump start the excitement in her features.

"Well, then it's settled," my mom said. "Max, why don't you go change in my bathroom? You can just leave the dress on the door." She turned to Nudge and Angel. "Would you two like to come with me to pick up Ella from school?"

"Can Total come too?" Angel inquired excitedly.

"Of course," my mom replied. "Nudge, why don't you see if Iggy and Gazzy want to join us? We can all ride in my van."

A smile crept onto my face as I thought about Iggy and Ella. I watched as Nudge and Angel bounded through my mom's bedroom door and dashed down the hall.

My mom placed her hands on my shoulders and stared at me.

"Thank you," she said. "I'm not going to pretend I don't know how uncomfortable this is making you feel."

"It's fine," I said weakly. I would seriously swim the English Channel for this woman.

She gently embraced me, then said.

"Okay – go change. Before you get sick again. Your face is looking a little pale."

She kissed my forehead and scampered out of the room.

I stood frozen for the longest time. My mind raced to the unknown horror of tomorrow night. Scenarios of the gawks and stares at the private mass my mom had arranged at her church played through my brain. And the dancing. I hated dancing. Fang would seriously have to hold me up right the entire night.

Fang. Maybe there wouldn't even be a Fang and me after tomorrow. He'd probably be too busy catching up with Brigid to pay me any mind. Ugh. Now my blood was starting to boil. I shuddered as I recalled the way his eyes lit up when Nudge mentioned her name. Maybe this whole thing with Fang was just a really bad idea.

I cringed as I wiped a tear from my cheek. This was stupid. Why was I letting myself get upset about this?

Quickly inhaling a sob that was yearning to escape, I strode purposefully to the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror on the back of the door.

Hmmm. I straightened my body as I pressed out the gown where it hung over my thighs. I could actually pass for, dare I say, pretty. I turned sideways and glanced at my back, my wings tucked in.

Pretty. Yeah – pretty freakish.

I quickly pulled the dress off, barely sliding it back on the hanger. I zipped to the tub and turned on the hot water. The steam scarcely had a chance to trail above the shower rod when I jumped in and let the tears escape. The spattering of the water on tile covered my sobs as I just stood in the shower and cried.


A/N: Poor Max... So - tell me what you think! What did you like? What did you not like? Just one click away. You don't even have to login!

100. Chapter 99

Chapter 99

Ahhh. Nothing like a long steamy hot shower to wash away the pain. Well, at least numb the pain. Okay – more like at least help me put things in perspective.

Hmmm. I eyed my reflection in the mirror as I brushed through my hair. Nice not to see an Eraser on the other side of the glass – yes, that was a concern at one time in my pathetic existence. Now I stared at this somewhat attractive girl who reminded me of myself but could probably cruise down a street and not be suspected of underage driving. All this saving the world stuff was causing me to mature at a much faster rate.

I casually dressed in my mom's bedroom and then slid out her door. I barely clicked the door latch to the frame when I observed a dark shadow at the end of the hall.

Welcome back pain and confusion.

Fang's lean form stood propped along the archway to the living room, his hands in his pockets, his night eyes studying me as I approached him.

"That bad, huh?" he asked when I was but a few feet away.

"What are you talking about?" I asked disconcertedly. Were my eyes still red from all the tears?

"I think you just emptied Lake Mead." Fang's brow furrowed and the corners of his lips performed an upward turn. "That has to be the longest shower on record."

I shrugged, my eyes not meeting his. I attempted to push past him and distance myself – a neighboring state appealed to me right about now. However, Fang quickly grabbed my wrists and forced me to connect with his gaze.

"What's going on?" His voice mirrored the concern written on his face.

I tried unsuccessfully to wrench my arms away.

"Nothing," I lied and shifted my gaze to the floor.

His grip tightened.

"Not nothing, Max. Tell me what's going on."

"I told you. It's nothing," I retorted sharply with a noticeable eye roll.

His eyes continued to search mine for answers.

"Why won't you talk to me?" Fang persisted. "Is this about the party? The dress?"

My shoulders slouched and I delivered a glare that read "you are so freaking clueless".

I swear boys could be so dense sometimes.

Fang's eyes suddenly grew wide and he dropped his hold on my wrists.

Okay – maybe Fang wasn't so stupid.

"This is about Brigid, isn't it?" Was that a snicker in his voice?

"No!" I blurted implausibly. I felt a fire ignite in my cheeks. I wanted to run far, far away. Why couldn't I move my legs?

Fang closed the gap between us, his face registered the onset of a haughty grin.

I pushed him – hard – into the wall, causing a portrait of my mom and Ella to sway.

"What's so funny?" I snapped. I was beyond embarrassed.

Fang's smile grew as he strode towards me. He took my hand and practically backed me into the opposing wall.

"Jealousy's a good look on you." Fang's voice was low, husky; his face just inches from mine. "Very hot."

"Not. Jealous," I seethed and pushed Fang away from me – again.

I stomped down the hallway, not daring to glance back. Wasn't about to give Fang a new round of satisfaction. I could only imagine the smile that seemed permanently glued to his face grow larger with each step I took away from him.

I managed to reach the front door and sailed quickly through it. A few quick and determined strides through the front yard and I was airborne. My thoughts cleared immediately as I concentrated on each down stroke. Maybe I could just keep flying forever. Maybe find a nice warm place to settle down – alone. Maybe my own little island.

Yeah and maybe pigs would grow wings like Total and learn how to fly.

101. Chapter 100

Chapter 100

I made it back in time for dinner. Okay – maybe midway through dinner which just happened to be another delectable feast courtesy of my mom. All eyes locked onto me as I strolled through the door and took the only seat available to me. Yep – the one next to Fang.

As soon as I nestled in, Fang attempted to place his hand over mine. I splashed a distasteful scowl on my face and deliberately returned my hand to the table surface. Fang simply shook his head and smiled.

This annoying routine continued through breakfast and lunch the next day. Of course, I didn't just have to deal with the Fang aggravation. It seemed as though every five seconds, someone was wishing me a happy birthday or a Feliz Cumpleaños. Total had to marvel all of us with his translation of the traditional greeting in twelve different languages.

"Gratulerer med dagen," Total spouted in his finest Norwegian.

I personally think he was showing off for Akila – who couldn't understand any of this. But don't tell Total that.

The morning dragged. I endeavored vain attempts at busyness – anything to spare my brain the thoughts of the dreaded nightmares awaiting me. I even at one point was so desperate for something to avert my mind away from thoughts of Fang and Brigid and fears of the celebration that I allowed Angel talk me into playing Battleship with her. The game commenced as it only could with a mind reader. Angel lodged five immediate hits to my submarine and my destroyer. However, Angel registered misses on her next ten turns. Realization finally kicked in after I almost sunk her battleship.

"Why are you letting me win?" I looked upon her with adoring eyes and smiled.

"You needed something to distract you," Angel replied. "No offense, Max, but I was kinda tired of listening to the usual stuff in your head."

Which usual stuff? Could it be the "I can't wait to get this party over with" thought or the "I hope Brigid's plane gets delayed until next week" notion.

"Pretty much both of them," Angel answered my thoughts. She looked at me like a mother ready to scorn her disobedient child.

"Fang thinks you're being ridiculous about this whole Brigid thing," Angel added.

Yeah – we'll see about that.

"He thinks it's cute, but I think it's annoying," she said sharply.

I pulled back and took in her stoic features. Was Angel mad at me?

"Not mad," she said quietly, readjusting her line of sight to her game board. "Just frustrated. It's like you're trying to ruin this – Fang thinks so too."

Okay – this was a conversation that I should be having with Fang – which was not going to happen. Really. What could a six-year old possibly know –

"I know a lot more than you or anyone else gives me credit for," Angel snapped. Her head shot up and her eyes glared at me. "I hear a lot of things, Max – stuff I really shouldn't know about. I know everyone thinks it's all fun and games for me – you know – being able to read minds and all. But sometimes it just sucks. I hear so many things I just really don't want to know about."

I quickly slid over to Angel's side of the game and scooped her up in an embrace. She clutched me tightly. I knew mind reading wasn't always a picnic for her, but she was right – I had no idea to what evils and malcontent her mind had been subjected. And I didn't realize until now how greatly it affected her.

After a few minutes, Angel arched back, tears staining the magic blue surrounding her pupils and she gazed at me with knowing eyes. I would never underestimate her again.

"You know, Max. I don't have to be a mind reader to see how Fang feels about you. He really does love you."

Yeah. Why can't he tell me that? Wait. Did I even want him to tell me that?

"Oh!" Angel said quickly, looking toward the window that opened up a view to the front lawn.


"I think we have company."


A/N: Wow! Chapter 100! Feel free to let me know what you think! I think I may have gone a little ooc with Fang on chapter 99 but I kind of liked it that way. :) Review please! Thanks!

102. Chapter 101

Chapter 101

Company? Didn't my mom just leave for the airport? Why did this part of my day have to pass so quickly?

Angel and I rose and meandered to the window. Well – Angel skipped. My gait was sluggish. I really did not want to do this.

I peered outside and eyed Dr. Papa departing the passenger side of the van. He opened the door to the back and helped Brigid and Emily step out of the vehicle's interior.

I casually looked around the room for Fang. Okay – I tried to act casual. When I didn't see him out of the right corner of my eye, I turned to my left – and there he was. Standing right beside me. I hated when he snuck up on me.

"Would you quit that?" I asked sharply.

"Quit what?" .

I rolled my eyes.

"You know what," I said, returning my gaze to the window.

"Where's Nudge?" Angel asked, scooping Total into her arms.

"Eating. Again," Total responded for us.

"NUDGE!" Angel hollered as she headed for the kitchen. I clutched my ears, a grimace crossing my face as a result of the obnoxious noisemaker.

Fang quickly glanced in my direction, his face registering its usual impassivity.

"Shall we?" he asked, offering his hand.

I eyed his hand – without taking it – and returned my gaze to our visitors approaching the house.

"Why are you being such an idiot?" Fang asked low and hard, returning his hand to his pocket. He resumed his stare out the window, purposefully not looking at me.

"Don't know what you're talking about," I replied coolly, not looking at him.

"I'm talking about us, Max. We were fine. Now we're not." He turned my frame to face him; however, I continued to stare out the window.

Angel was right. I was ruining this. Why was I being such an idiot? Was it just because of Brigid? I was almost sure I was being stupid about that too. Or maybe I wasn't.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I didn't want to lose Fang. He was my best friend, my - well – you know. So why did my stomach hurt so much right now?

"Will you just look at me?!" Fang ordered as he cupped my chin and turned it toward him.

His eyes widened when he noticed my glazed over expression, my misty eyes.

"What is going on with you?"

I tried to push my gaze away. No such luck. His grip on me tightened with each passing second.

"Nothing," I lied for the tenth time in two days. I finally freed my face of his hand and turned away. "I don't want to talk about this."

Fang's hand shot to my upper arm and he forced me to connect with him again.

"This whole jealousy thing is getting a bit stupid." Fang stated, a slight edge to his voice.

I bit my lip and took in his dark eyes.

"Is it?" I muttered.

"Max, you have nothing to worry about with Brigid or with anyone else for that matter. How can you not know that?" His tone was serious now, his jaw set. His hand released my arm and he forced my hand into his.

A turn of the doorknob snapped both of us back to reality. I spun around to face our visitors while Fang resumed his grip on my hand. He leaned in to me, his breath warm on the back of my neck.

"We will finish this." His voice was soft and low. A new round of shivers trailed down my spine.

I shrugged my shoulders, sucked in a breath, and awaited my impending doom.

Of course, what could be worse than anything else that had happened this week?

103. Chapter 102

Chapter 102


My mom always appeared so happy to see me. Even if we were just baking cookies together three hours ago. The tears instantly disappeared and I quickly forgot about any friction between Fang and me.

"Fang, Max. I'm sure you remember everyone," my mom said.

Brigid placed a bag on the floor and strode to us. She embraced me lightly.

"It's so good to see you in one piece. Happy Birthday." Her smile was genuine, her voice warm. I felt a slight pang of guilt for feeling minor hatred toward her because of my stupid jealousy.

Yet I had to divert my eyes to Dr. Papa and the rest of the icebox crew when she hugged Fang. She seemed just a little too happy to see him.

I gave everyone else quick hugs while trying to ignore the undercurrents of Fang's and Brigid's catch-up conversation.

"It looks like you've aged another year just in the past month," I heard Brigid comment. Ugh.

"Being on the run tends to do that to us," Fang said casually.

I glimpsed over and observed them share a smile. Double ugh.

Fang caught me looking and slightly cocked his head, urging me to join them.

Yeah – right. Third wheel, I was not. I deliberately spun around in the opposite direction to speak with Emily.

"Why don't you all sit down," my mom suggested. She was such the pleasant hostess. Was there anything she couldn't do?

"Make yourself at home," she continued. "I'll go get some refreshments. Max and I just baked cookies this morning."

Oh, good. An exit cue.

"I'll help," I indicated to my mom and began to trail her.

"Oh, no. You stay here and relax. Jeb can help me," she said and departed quickly.

Dr. Papa sank into an oversized recliner while Emily and Paul squeezed into a small loveseat near Brigid and Fang who had taken a seat on the couch. I winced at all the coziness taking place. Fang patted a spot on the couch next to him. I intentionally ignored the gesture and perched myself onto the arm of a chair across the room.

"I understand today's a big day for you, Max," Brigid stated with sincerity. "Wow. Fifteen. Seems like just yesterday for me."

"That's because it was just yesterday for you," joked Paul. Dr. Brigid Dwyer had accelerated through school at an extremely fast pace. At twenty-one, she was the youngest scientist aboard the Lucir Station.

"Actually, I've probably been fifteen for a while," I explained. "Fang too." I tried really hard not to look at him. Way too confusing right now. "We aren't sure when any of us were actually born so we just all picked days for our birthday."

"Interesting," Emily chimed in. "So – why February 28?"

I shrugged. Then, Fang answered the question for me.

"She chose February 29." I caught him staring at me, which definitely undid some of the queasiness in my stomach. "Thought the whole leap year birthday was kind of symbolic."

"Yes," I added brashly. "But this isn't a leap year, so I probably shouldn't even be having a birthday –" I felt Fang's glower on me. "But… uh… my mom thought it would be nice to celebrate today."

There was an awkward silence. I hated awkward silences.

So I spoke up. And diverted the attention away from me. Like killing two birds with one stone. Okay – maybe not two birds.

"Who's running the show down at Ice Station Zebra?" I asked, trying to keep my tone from being as icy as Antarctica. I couldn't help but notice that all the leading researchers were sitting in this room. All except for Melanie and I was trying hard not to think about what happened with her.

"I spent the past two weeks training three new scientists," Brigid explained. "Put in a lot of extra time in the past six days so that I could join Michael at the summit in Greenland. And Rachel Donnelly returned shortly after you left. She specializes in climatology and had been at the Lucir station for years before accepting a teaching position at Oxford."

Brigid looked at Fang and smiled before continuing. Why did that bother me so much?

"She's the one that recruited me a year ago." She glanced back at me. "Just like Dr. Martinez did for you."

"Why did she leave Oxford?" Fang asked.

"She missed the research. While she felt as though her teaching might provide some future contributions, she yearned for the immediate results. She missed our endeavors to 'save the world'."

So that explains Brigid. I looked at Paul and Emily. Wait. Were they holding hands?

I guess I had been staring at their love gesture a little too long. Emily answered the unspoken question.

"Paul popped the question on Valentine's day." She gazed at Paul affectionately then continued. "I was up for a short furlough so we decided to spring the news on my parents."

Emily and Paul both looked at me, then at Fang.

"It's easy to lose yourself in the intimacy of our situation down in Antarctica," Paul added. "But I'm not complaining." His look to Emily was terribly adoring.

How did I miss this? They were engaged. How did the news of their relationship escape me? Fang's face displayed no surprise. Of course, that's not all that unusual for him. But still. Was I that wrapped up in myself not to notice?

"Congratulations," I offered, shock protruding through my skin. "I had no idea."

"Oh. I don't think anyone did," Emily explained. "We tried to keep our outward relationship highly professional. I think Brigid and Michael were the only ones in on it. Besides us, of course."

Love was just abounding at Refrigerator Central, wasn't it? I sneaked a quick glance at Fang who was still sitting a little too close to Brigid. Or was that my imagination playing tricks on me? My stomach performed two flips and my head felt light. I desperately needed a change of scenery.

I shot up off the chair.

"I'm going to go check on Angel and Nudge," I said quickly as I headed for the doorway to the dining room. Fang rose simultaneously and flashed me a concerned look.

"Stay," I practically barked. Realizing the harsh edge in my command, I allowed my voice to soften and cleared my throat. "Catch up. I'll be right back."

Just as I was about to clear the entrance, Akila bounded into the room with Total trailing behind. I watched momentarily as Akila trotted up to Dr. Papa and rested her head on his lap. He ruffled the fur on her head.

Angel and Nudge flew through the door next, followed by my mom carrying a tray of cookies. Angel and Nudge immediately showered the crew of the Wendy K with excited embraces. Nudge rambled incessantly about – oh – who knows – I had tuned her out – while Angel perched herself on Fang's lap. She took her seat on the leg that would make her a human wedge between Fang and Brigid. Good girl, Angel. She looked over at me and smiled.

Since I was obviously not heading for the kitchen anymore, I maintained my focus on Fang. I watched as he played with Angel's hair. Sometimes - I swear - he was just too cute for words.

Suddenly Gazzy burst through the front door, panting hard. He scanned the room anxiously and swallowed hard when his eyes settled on me.

"Max, come quick!" he managed between gasps. "It's Iggy."


A/N: Dun dun dun... Okay - small disclaimer - yes - I did steal the Ice Station Zebra from JP. And I searched high and low in MR4 for any indication of Paul and Emily being "involved" with someone else so if I missed it somewhere - let me know. By the way - that was totally random - to this day I don't know how or why I put them together - but it is cute. If you can spare a quick click, I would love to know what you think! Thanks!

104. Chapter 103

Chapter 103

I sprinted out the door and followed Gazzy to the woods that stretched in a vast chocolate expanse behind my mom's house. Fang had almost reached me. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected Angel and Nudge struggling to keep up.

Iggy. Was he hurt? Did he finally blow himself up? Gazzy never bothered to elaborate. As soon as he got my attention, he took off running.

We pushed through trees and stumbled over roots until a small clearing opened up in front of us. Iggy was easy to spot as we drew near, his strawberry blond hair and pale face stood out amidst all the contrasting earthy hues.

"Ig?" I said as I cautiously approached him.

He said nothing, his face registered Fang's normal impassivity. Iggy merely stared five feet in front of him, his gaze locked on an unwavering root protruding from its home in the soil. I pleaded Gazzy with my eyes to give me answers.

"We were working on a new… uh…"

"Bomb," I finished Gazzy's sentence. "Keep going."

"Yeah," he said quietly, staring at Iggy. "And then Iggy just froze. Next thing I know he was cursing and throwing stuff." Gazzy looked at me, his eyes wide with fright. "I'd never heard of some of those words before.

"Well, then he just threw the bomb right into that tree," Gazzy pointed at a tall maple that was clearly missing several branches. My eyes broadened. "It didn't go off – we weren't finished with it yet, but we had been working on it all morning." Gazzy's voice turned to a whisper. "He's been like this ever since."

I observed Gazzy as he pushed several rocks away from his sneakers with his feet. Then, my eyes latched onto Iggy. He still wasn't moving. Hadn't said a word. I felt Fang beside me, Nudge and Angel motionless behind him.

I cautiously wandered to Iggy's side.

"I'm fine. Go away," Iggy stated quietly.

Yeah. Like I was going to do that.

I knelt down beside him and he let me take his hand.

"I'm sorry, Ig," I squeaked out as I squeezed his hand.

Iggy shrugged.

"Only a matter of time. Knew it wouldn't last forever," Iggy muttered.

"Well, your vision did last longer this time, didn't it?" I was trying to sound hopeful. "I mean, maybe next time –"

Iggy straightened and his head whipped in my direction, concurrently pulling his hand free of mine.

"There's not going to be a next time, Max!" Iggy roared. "We are here. They are there. I'm never going to see again! It was all a tease. I wish… " his vociferous shouts de-amplified within seconds. I sensed Nudge's anxiety from across the clearing. She yearned to wrap Iggy in a Nudge-sized hug.

"I wish this would have never happened," Iggy continued silently. My hand brushed his shoulder and he turned to me.

"Now I have to get my bearings all over again."

I looked at Fang and he strode toward us. Gazzy, Nudge, and Angel trailed guardedly behind.

I helped Iggy to his feet and wrapped my arms around him. He squeezed me tightly and whispered in my ear.

"I'm going to miss seeing you in a dress."

There was not a hint of the normal Iggy sarcasm, his voice a gentle breeze. I smothered the tears that began to fog my vision.

"She's going to be so beautiful," I heard Nudge start to say but was halted by Fang's quick hand to her shoulder.

"Uh… I don't think you'll miss much," she corrected.

Iggy untangled himself from my hold and pretended to look at me.

"Yeah, probably not," he stated, sounding more like the Iggy we knew and loved. "Just make sure you brush your hair… and your teeth. What have you been eating?"

I punched Iggy's arm – for old time's sake.

Iggy then turned to address Gazzy.

"Sorry, Gasman. We'll make another one." He placed an arm around Gazzy's shoulder and directed him back to the house.

The blind man piloted the way for all of us as we departed the woods. Slightly comforting to know we were resuming a shade of normalcy.

Well – normal for us, that is.

105. Chapter 104

A/N: I love this chapter - hope you do too! Let me know what you think - (ahem... that means review!) :P

Chapter 104

"Ow!" I yelped as Nudge yanked another knot out of my hair. "Take it easy will you!"

"Sorry, Max."

Nudge had insisted on doing my hair and make-up (ugh) and on helping me accessorize. I seriously didn't know what the big deal was. Couldn't I just put the dress on and get this over with? It was my birthday, after all. Didn't I get any say so in the matter?

Apparently not, seeing as how I was sitting here as Nudge's own personal life-size Barbie. I already had to scrub off half the cosmetics she plastered on my face. Hadn't I told her to be subtle about all this? After I stared in the mirror at my painted over facade, I realized that subtle didn't exist in Nudge's vocabulary.

"Hold still, Max," she exclaimed. "I'm almost done… oops… sorry."

I winced and rubbed the spot where the curling iron had torched my scalp – again. I swear I was not going to have any hair left after this.

A short while later, Nudge skipped around to the front side of my chair.

"All done! Want to take a look?" Nudge grinned from ear to ear.

No, not really.

"Wait!" she cried out as I was about to step to the mirror. "Put your dress on first! You need the full effect."


I pulled off my jeans and splattered make-up all over my t-shirt as I attempted to ease out of it. I was not very good at this girlie thing – nor did I want to be.

Nudge helped me slide the dress on and she fastened the clasp behind my neck. After straightening my dress and primping my hair four more times, she stood back to admire her handiwork.

"Oh, Max," she gasped. The glow radiating off of her smile was blinding. "You're so… beautiful."

And that's all Nudge said. With her mouth agape and her eyes the size of bowling balls, she was pretty much speechless. Maybe I should do this more often. Yeah, no. Maybe not.

Okay – Nudge was still staring at me. What could she possibly be gawking at? I strolled to the mirror to see for myself.

I ceased my stride upon reaching my glass emulation. I stared at the picture stretched out before me and suddenly comprehended Nudge's astonishment. Standing before me was this blond beauty, part of her hair gathered loosely atop her head, the rest flowing in cascading curls across her shoulders, a few loose curls framing her face. Her face almost resembled an angel, tastefully made up with just the right amount of color.

"Who is that?" I inhaled sharply, but then found I couldn't remember how to breathe out.

"It's you, silly," Nudge giggled. "OMG. You need to breathe, Max."

I guess she noticed the blue around my cheeks too.

A whoosh escaped my mouth as I gazed back at my reflection. I really did look like Birthday Barbie. Okay – Birthday Barbie with wings. I suddenly felt a strong need to sit down.

"Max, are you okay?" Nudge was full of instant concern. She rushed to my side and grabbed my arm. "You look a little flushed."

"Nope – that's just all the blush you put on my cheeks," I said as I sat down on the edge of my mom's bed.

"I don't think I put that much –"

"Kidding, Nudge," I reassured her. "You did a great job. I'm just a little… well, no – I am beyond stunned."

Nudge chortled and the melody of her voice warmed my heart and eased my nerves.

"OMG, Max, we have to go!" Nudge decided as she eyed the clock on my mom's dresser. "I hope they haven't left without us!"

That would just be too good to be true.

"Somehow I doubt it, Nudge."

Without another word, Nudge grabbed my hand and flung open my mom's door. I hadn't even cleared the doorway when she suddenly froze in her tracks. A monumental grin crossed her chocolate features. I tried to venture forward but Nudge shoved my arm backward.

"Wait!" she ordered. But she wasn't directing her command to me. Her gaze fixated on the opposite end of the hall.

"Who are you talking to?" I barked as I pushed past her.

I didn't have to wonder long. I froze immediately as I eyed the recipient of Nudge's verbal lashings.

Fang was propped up at the end of the hallway – pretty much the same pose as the previous night. He was dressed in his usual black attire. My mom had outfitted him in a new pair of black jeans and a black sports coat and he added his routine black tee-shirt to round out the darkness. However, I just couldn't shake that there was something very different about the way he looked. Debonair, maybe. Dashing almost. Whatever the case, I had to jump start my heart after a long moment of ogling.

I noticed I wasn't the only one with some serious staring issues. Fang's eyes widened slightly at the sight of me and locked instantly on my frame. I noticed a tight swallow on his part as soon as I looked his way. His gestures may have been totally indiscernible to anyone else, but not to me. His barely open mouth was the equivalent of my jaw scraping the floor.

"Um… I'll go see if everyone else is ready," Nudge stammered and proceeded hastily down the hall. As she passed Fang, I heard her attempt to whisper in his ear.

"Doesn't she look beautiful?"

Fang met her eyes briefly and he nodded. Nudge squealed with glee as she zipped across the living room.

"You look… uh…," I swallowed hard. " …nice." I finally unfroze my legs and slowly approached him. My heart was melting. Fang looked so, so good.

His night eyes never left me.

"What are you staring at?" I asked Fang.

He snapped out of his coma.

"Just trying to figure out where Max is hiding in all of this." He gestured to my hair, dress, and face.

I rolled my eyes and sprang a nice bruise on his arm.

"Oh wait - there she is," he grimaced.

My shoulders slouched and I flared my fiercest scowl at Fang. A hint of a smile crept onto his face.

Fang cleared his throat and I picked up his vain attempt at swallowing. He cleared any distance between us so that we were standing but a foot apart.

"You look… amazing," was all he could manage as he stared at me. His hand carefully brushed a curl from my face and then I felt his fingers graze my cheek, then circle my chin. Goosebumps flared as he continued the trail to my shoulder and then down my arm. As his fingers brushed the last of my fingers, he wrapped his hand in mine and leaned down to kiss me.

All thoughts of anger and confusion and jealousy hightailed it out the window as soon as his lips met mine. The kiss was tender and….

….. very, very short-lived. I don't think our lips locked for but two seconds before Fang pulled his head back and gazed at me.

I looked into his eyes for answers and then quickly shut my mouth after I realized it was still hanging open. Fang answered my bewildered thoughts.

"Nudge would kill me if I messed this up," he said quietly as he wiped lipstick off of his mouth.

"So!" I snapped a little too quickly. My eyes shot to the floor immediately.

Fang chuckled and I glared at him.

"So – I guess you got over your stupidity," he said, crooking his arm at his side.

"Maybe," I sneered as I slid my arm through his.

We sauntered toward the dining room where the flock and company awaited our arrival. As we were still in the living room, Fang stopped just short of the entryway. He untangled his arm, stepped back, and observed me.

"What?" I asked. Did he not want to be touching me around Brigid?

A smile crept onto his face.

"This isn't right," he stated plainly as he studied me, his eyebrows scrunched.

Wha-at? Not right? This was perfect. He was perfect. Was he –

My heart plummeted to my stomach. What was happening here?

"You look like an angel," he said, a hint of awe in his voice.

Huh? I was so confused.

Fang continued.

"and I'm the freaking grim reaper."

He smiled and a rush of relief coursed through my soul. I exhaled deeply and then took his hand.

"Maybe not the grim reaper, but you will probably be the death of me." I laughed. My first good laugh in over a week.

106. Chapter 105

Chapter 105

Fang and I turned into the dining room to the awaiting stares of my flock, the crew of the Wendy K, my mom, Jeb, and Ella – in a nutshell, my party guests. I froze at the archway and squeezed Fang's hand.

"Whoa – mama," I heard Total say. He followed with a low whistle. How did he do that?

I monitored everyone's stares. Jeb and my mom were gathered toward the head of the table grinning from ear to ear. Nudge judged the room for self-validation on her latest creation. The whole crew of the Wendy K beamed like proud parents. I kept waiting for Brigid to look at our hands and sour in disgust, but she warmed the room with her genuine smile. Maybe I really was being a total moron about the whole Brigid – Fang thing.

I glanced at Fang and knew that we needed to move but my legs felt funny again.

"I can't do this," I whispered out of the corner of my mouth.

"You'll be fine." Fang continued to stare straight ahead.

"I'm going to throw up again."

"Then, I'll hold your hair." Fang took a glimpse in my direction and smiled.

He squeezed my hand and led me into the room. I looked plainly at everyone and wondered why they were still gawking at me.

"Alright. Let's do this," I ordered reluctantly.

"Not yet!" my mom declared. "I need pictures!" She sprinted toward the kitchen.

Pictures. Goodie.

As she disappeared from the room, Jeb strode over to Fang and me and placed a hand on my shoulder. He gazed into my eyes. They instantly misted with the memories of the good old days.

"Thanks for doing this," he said. "It means a lot for your mom and it's going to mean a lot for you too."

Then, get this, he lightly kissed my cheek before adding, "You look stunning."

I immediately plastered my all too indifferent look on my face and shrugged. Anything to fight back the tears that were ready to ruin Nudge's handiwork.

"Uh… thanks," I said.

Jeb grinned, then glanced at Fang and his smile grew.

Brigid and company interrupted Jeb's paternal moment.

"Wow. You both look fantastic," Brigid said as she approached Fang's side. "I guess I am just so used to seeing you in jeans and a parka."

Brigid smiled affectionately. I persisted in trying to find something, anything that would validate my obnoxious jealousy, but Brigid just stood there with her warm, happy glow. She didn't fawn over Fang, didn't even grimace when she eyed my hand in his. Nooo. She actually smiled with a hint of a "good for you" chuckle.

Ugh. Not that I really wanted her to be jealous. Okay – I did. A little. It would just prove me a teensy bit right and Fang a whole lot wrong.

My mom zipped back in the room moments later and gathered the flock and Ella in the dining room archway. The whole flock was dressed to impress and my heart smiled. Angel reeked of cuteness and Nudge sported one of her new outfits from the modeling shoot – which, of course, aged her about ten years. As my mom snapped her fiftieth picture of us, I stole a glance at Iggy and Gazzy. They were wearing their Sunday best, looking more handsome than I had ever seen them. Even Total was freshly scrubbed, his fur taking on a glossy shine. It almost felt as though we were gathering for a family Christmas portrait… without the tree… or the lights or… oh – just forget I said that.

My mom snapped picture after picture of all of us, of just me, and then a few with me and Ella. She even shot a couple of Fang and me – and Fang actually had a hint of a smile on his face. Hmmm.

And then it was time to go… to church. Never thought those words would cross my mind. The only time my flock and I had attended church was when we were attempting to evade Erasers in New York. And church functioned more as sanctuary than an actual service.

An hour or so later, I was seated in a pew. Funny name for a church bench. Where did that come from? And no. I don't think it has anything to do with the unpleasant emission from Gazzy during the middle of the service. Three times I had to chastise him for that. His face feigned complete innocence. Yeah, right. Add that to the two times I had to elbow him to stay awake and well – Gazzy's days in the doghouse escalated exponentially. I couldn't understand how anyone could nod off in a Catholic ceremony anyway what with all the stand up, sit down, stand up again five seconds later. Then again, we were talking about an eight-year old boy who had eaten one too many chimichangas today.

I actually had to venture to the altar with my mom, Fang, and Jeb – fly sort of solo during the mass. Had to get my rite of passage into womanhood. Ugh. I still shuddered at the thought. Of course, the Fang thing made the adjustment a little easier. Wait. Did I really just say that?

My mom and her dear friend Father Cook altered quite a bit of the ceremony to tailor it to my specific situation. I think there was supposed to be some sort of grand court (ahem.. Fang and me) and some pledging of my life to God. Considering this was only my second time in the big guy's house, Father Cook approved an oath "to continually better myself in the eyes of the Maker". Even that was a stretch but I assured my mom I would give it my most hearty try.

Once nightmare number one finally ended (I had to wake Gazzy up again), it was time for round two. Dinner and dancing. Two words I would never ever coalesce and expect any kind of enjoyment. I couldn't dance and up until now I never thought I would have to dance. Half-hearted pleading to mom's conscience for the past three days left me with only cheerful reassurances. Ugh.

The brevity of time for planning such a fiasco had my mom calling in special favors from all sorts of clients. My mom somehow managed to score a conference room at the local Holiday Inn. The manager owned several Persians – one of which became fodder for a truck not too long ago and my all too cool mom nursed it back to health. Then, another favor heralded a deejay – he didn't have any animals… just a major crush on my mom. So obvious. And she was – well – polite. After all, he did drop a gig at the local tavern to come play for my soiree.

So – we indulged in dinner and I prolonged my course of prime rib as long as possible. Nibbling on a tasty morsel, my raptor hearing detected a slow melodic waltz. Fang immediately rose at my side.

"Shall we?" he asked, his palm awaiting mine.

I glanced at him surreptitiously. What was he doing?

"Shall we what?" I replied.

"It's time. You're supposed to lead the first dance," Fang explained.

I gazed at Fang momentarily and then began laughing.

"You can't be serious."

Fang merely cocked his head, sighed impatiently, and continued to stare at me, palm still awaiting my connection.

What was Fang doing? I mean – he couldn't seriously expect me to do this? Why would he be doing this? Fang had no more interest in the fine arts than I did.

"I am not dancing," I stated emphatically, then returned to stabbing my fork at a chunk of potato.

"We'll see about that." Fang hastily grabbed my arm and his strength forced me from my chair and toward the dance floor. I had no time to resist. Fang had me locked in a dance frame before I could even realize what was occurring.

The stares in the room engulfed me in a sea of embarrassment. My feet permanently glued themselves to the floor and my pulse quickened. Why was Fang subjecting me to such torture?

"I don't know how to dance," I muttered sheepishly. I stared at my toes, a new wave of mortification heating my cheeks. Why was he doing this to me?

"Then, just follow my lead, you big sissy," Fang whispered a little too confidently in my ear.

I didn't budge.

"Seriously, Max. You're going to have to move your feet," Fang said brusquely. "The song will be over soon."

"Fine by me."

I immediately felt Fang's force push me backwards, my legs uprooted from their position in the linoleum cement. I desperately endeavored to match my feet with his, then surrendered to his lead. He waltzed me around the dance floor and to my surprise – it wasn't completely terrible. We glided across the room, ensconced in our own merriment, when realization dawned.

"How are you – where'd you learn this?" I asked Fang, searching his eyes for answers.

"Your mom gave me a few pointers," he acknowledged lightly, then whirled me around again.

Terror painted my face momentarily. Thunderstruck, I stared at him. My feet instantly froze and Fang practically stumbled over them.

"Move," he ordered.

"Sorry," I muttered and allowed him to whisk me toward the tables where everyone continued to gawk at us.

So – my mom and Fang – dancing. I mentally grinned as the picture took life in my mind. And Fang. Would he never cease to amaze me? I snuck a glance at him and studied his determined rhythm counting.

Hmmm. What I originally conjured up to be a frightening ordeal was transforming into a slightly delightful evening. Surely disaster was pending. No way things could be this good for too long.


A/N: Did you like the big party? Let me know! Oh and PS - only seven more weeks until the real MR5 comes out! So excited!!! :D

107. Chapter 106

A/N: Thanks for all the overwhelmingly positive reviews! You do not know how much I appreciate it. Some of the comments simply take my breath away. Anyway - to address a few FAQ's. MR5 release is March 16 in the states. Of course, JP may possibly put the first 40 pages up on his website sometime in February (he's done that with a lot of his other books) so you may want to check it out. MR Manga is out today! Yay!

As for this chapter - hee hee. I like the ending. But that's just me. I hope my words describe exactly what I saw happening in my brain. Hope you like! And please keep those reviews coming!

Chapter 106

Happy Birthday, Max.

I practically spilled my coke all over my dress with the sudden reemergence of the Voice. Hadn't heard from it since my last days at the Program. That seemed like a lifetime ago.

Uh… thanks. Where've you been hiding? Been doing some early Christmas shopping? Or have you found some other poor hopeless mutant bird kid to annoy?

You're the only one I care to infuriate, Max. I've been observing. Looks like you've been having a good time.

I eyed Fang from across the room. His gaze questioning. I quickly turned my head away and concentrated on my interactive mind.

Is that a problem?

A little fun is good for the soul. The Voice paused before continuing. I see you've taken my advice on several issues.

The Voice was clearly referring to Fang and me. I was not going to allow it the satisfaction of knowing it was right on that one.

Is there a real reason you're here? I asked icily.

You have a big day ahead of you.

Yeah, my week's just been full of 'em.

Seriously, Max. Your trip tomorrow is existentially significant. And you must be prepared for twists and turns at every corner.

Twists and turns? You mean like a rollercoaster? Didn't know there was a Mumbai Disney.

Max, Itex is waiting for you. You need to take this seriously. Your task will not be easy.

And here I thought it was going to be a walk in the park.

There was silence. Had I finally found a way to tick off my Voice?

Itex is very strong. Just remember that you are stronger. Trust your instincts. Things are not always what they appear to be.

Uh-huh. That is the second time in a week the Voice has left me with that riddle. The first time I was certain it was referring to me knowing that Fang was still alive. What could it possibly mean this time?

Anything else you wish to throw at me? I don't think I have enough on my plate, I asked my Voice.

Just this – you look beautiful. All grown up.

My Voice almost sounded proud.

My cheeks flushed. I still wasn't completely comfortable with everyone showering attention over my appearance.

I waited for the Voice to add something else, then realized it was probably finished for this latest round of annoy Max and confuse the living heck out of her.

"You okay," I heard Fang ask from a foot to my left. I about spilled my drink again.

"You know, you and my Voice are going to have some serious dry cleaning bills to pay," I barked.

Fang's brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed.

"Forget it," I muttered and redirected my attention to the dance floor. I leaned back on the table that housed the drinks for the party. Fang aped my stance, his side just inches from mine.

"They look like they're having a good time," I said referring to the flock. Gazzy was teaching Nudge and Angel how to do Soulja Boy. Ella and Iggy were wrapped up in their own little world at a nearby table. I was so glad Ella could take Iggy's mind off the whole not seeing again thing.

"Yeah… they need it," Fang agreed. "Especially before tomorrow."

Way to kill a mood, Fang.

"Yep." I kept my gaze focused on the flock.

A moment passed before Fang spoke up again.

"You ready to cut out of here?"

"I wish," I said as I connected with his eyes. "We still have another hour of this disaster."

"Not us."

My helpful quizzical scowl urged Fang to elaborate.

"I cleared a test flight with your mom," Fang explained. "Let's go for a little spin."

"Well, that would be just all hunky dory, except for this." I flung my hands out to my sides grabbing a few pieces of my dress as I went. No way was I doing a Peter Pan and Wendy in the sky tonight. With my luck, it would be cold and windy and I'd come off looking more like Marilyn Monroe.

"Thought you might say that," Fang said as he pulled open his backpack. He threw a pair of my jeans and a tee-shirt at me.

I caught my saving grace from my current wardrobe discomfort and before I even knew what I was doing, I gasped and blurted out,

"Aahh! I love you!"

I saw Fang's eyes widened slightly and I felt the color drain from my face.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

And then I did what I do best.

I turned away and bolted for the bathroom door.

108. Chapter 107

Chapter 107

How could I be so so stupid? The words "I love you!" replayed in my mind like daggers stabbing at my brain. This time I didn't have the Valium to blame. Nope. Just sheer stupidity.

And I knew that was so not what I meant anyway. I mean – I would have probably shouted that to any member of my flock had they just rescued me from my dressing room nightmare. Yes – that's it. I was sure of it.

But why, why, why did I have to say it to Fang?

After I changed, I stood at the sink for a good twenty minutes splashing water on my face. The makeup had long since come off and for the last five minutes I could experience true attempts at washing away pain.


I snapped myself out of my misery to see Nudge peeking her head into the bathroom.

"Are you okay? Fang asked me to – "

"Tell Fang to go away!" I snarled.

"I got this, Nudge," Fang said as he pushed past her and into the women's bathroom. What was he doing? Clearly there was a sign on the door.

I barely watched Nudge back away as I flared at Fang.

"I did not mean that," I barked. "I would have said that to Iggy or Angel or anyone of the flock."

A hint of a smile formed on Fang's face. He strolled toward me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and kissed my forehead.

"Let's go, moron," he said and took my hand.

We exited the bathroom and I was certain we were going to draw some stares, but no one seemed to be paying us any mind. Gazzy had moved onto the Electric Slide and he had literally everyone in the room following his lead. Even Jeb. Which was rather comical considering I obviously inherited all of my dance talent from him.

I wanted to say goodbye to my mom before Fang and I took off but he simply squeezed my hand and offered a reassurance.

"Come on, we'll see them back at the house."

I sighed and then followed Fang out a side door to the hotel. Within minutes we were airborne and a giddiness I had been suppressing all evening suddenly burst out of me. I giggled as I swooped and banked and almost did a full 360 in the sky.

"Oh, it feels so good to be out of those clothes and that room and – " I stopped, realizing I was beginning to sound like Nudge. I glanced at Fang who had been monitoring my in-air acrobatics show with amusement.

"Thanks," I whispered.

He shrugged and we continued flying.

Moments later, he banked and began a descent over – wait – was that a park? I narrowed my eyes as we performed graceful arcs above a small clearing. Yep – there was a slide…. swings to the left… oh and a merry-go-round. I hadn't been to a real park (outside of the amusement variety) in – Come to think of it, I had never been to a park.

We touched down near the base of the slide and I instantly strode towards it once my feet had hit the ground. My wings were still outstretched. I had them tucked in tight all night and there was no way I was retracting them just yet.

I stood at the base of the steps and glanced back at Fang. A glimmer of youth crossed my features and I quickly ascended the stairs. I swooped down the long and bumpy slide, chortling the whole way down. I looked at Fang and he stared back with a big question mark etched into his face.

"I'm doing that again!" I shouted as I zipped back to the steps.

After five more rounds of uninhibited glee, I made my way over to Fang who was parked on a bench just watching me with bemusement.

"What? You too cool for a slide?" I asked as I plopped down next to him.

"I'm holding out for the monkey bars," he said coolly.

"Game on," I challenged as I punched his arm and hightailed it for a monstrous jungle gym. He sprinted after me and practically pushed me down on his way to being first. We flew across the monkey bars and climbed the poles that led to the top of the structure. I chased Fang as we scaled across the top. He leaped off and headed back to the monkey bars for round two.

We continued like a couple of first time recess-ers for a while, only slowing once when I "accidentally" tripped over my sneaker and landed on top of Fang. I bolted up and took the lead.

Finally, our breathing ragged, we camped out on the swings. We swung back and forth in silence, keeping our pendulum movement low and close to the ground. After my breathing slowed, I gazed at Fang.

"Thanks," I said again. "I've had a good day."

"Makes two of us."

Fang tossed a small box in my direction.

"What's this?" I asked, turning the box over and over in my hands.

"Your present. Happy Birthday."

I whipped the box back at him.

"I said no presents," I snarled.

Fang bared no hesitation in chucking the box back at me.

"Just open it," he ordered.

I merely stared at him.

"God, Max, you are such a pain," he said, his patience waning. "It's not like I paid for it."

My eyes went wide.

"You lifted this?!" I exclaimed. Not like it was anything new to us. Being on the run, we had to perform a few not-so-proud criminal acts for survival purposes. However, we were trying to better ourselves now that we had Jeb's bank account to rely on.

"No, idiot," Fang said as he rose from his swing and approached me. "I made it. Now will you just open the freaking box?"

Oh, God. I felt sick. I stared down at the box, frozen by the knowledge of what Fang had just revealed. He made this? Wasn't that a little too much at this stage in the game? Or was it? I felt like hopping over to the nearest convenience store and consulting the latest teen magazine, hoping to find the answers to all of this relationship nonsense.

Then again, I was the one spouting "I love you's" at every twist and bend.


I looked up at Fang and his eyes melted my insides.

Okay. I could do this.

I lifted the top and gently pulled out a necklace. The band was a thick black leather cord and Fang had somehow managed to engage a clasp on the back. Hanging solo from the band was a large shark's tooth.

"Found that on a beach," Fang sputtered.

I stared at the sentiment. A fang from Fang. Tears welled up in my eyes and I wasn't exactly sure why.

Fang pulled me to my feet and wiped a tear from my cheek. Ugh. I didn't want him to see that. He grinned.

"I'll take that as a thank you," he said quietly.

He pushed a loose curl behind my ear and leaned down to kiss me. I pressed my lips against his and I tilted my head to submit myself to him. I felt his arms wrapped around my waist as he pulled me into him. My arms found their way to his shoulders, my hands closed around his neck.

A warmth surged through me – different from anything I had felt before. I didn't want this moment to end. I loved everything about this. Fang and me – I couldn't even remember why I had been so closed off to him in the first place. I loved this. And, don't tell anyone I said this, but I think I really did love him.

He finally broke away from me after what seemed like only minutes, but I knew my perception of time was completely out of whack. He cleared his throat as he smoothed my hair.

"I think I'll take that as a thank you," he murmured.

Well, there's a whole lot more gratitude waiting. Come on, Fang. Kiss me again.

Did I really just say that?

I suddenly felt lightheaded. Boy. Fang must be having some kind of dizzying affect on me.

I barely felt him take the necklace out of my hand. I watched him undo the clasp.

"Try this on," he managed, his breathing still ragged from our latest lip-lock.

I gathered my hair in a ponytail so that he could slide the necklace around my neck.

He circled around to my backside and then froze as his fingertips met the top of my spine.

"Fang?" I asked after he hadn't moved for minutes.

He seemed to snap out of whatever daze he had been in and finished the connection. He whirled me around to face him.

And then the whole park was spinning. And I hadn't even been on the merry-go-round. My hand shot up to my mouth and I jetted for the nearest receptacle. I clutched the top of the trash can as I launched my insides into it, not even the least bit concerned with the bits of gum and other gross oddities sticking to my hands.

I felt Fang lift my hair and rub my back between my wings. I think I threw up for a good hour this time. What was going on? This couldn't just be a virus? Wouldn't it have run its course by now? Wouldn't I have been consistently sick for the past several days instead of this on and off crap?

After I felt I had emptied my stomach for the last time, I wiped my mouth with the back of my arm and tried to scrub off the residue on my fingers onto my jeans. I felt gross and exhausted. I am certain my gorgeous Nudge hair-do was matted with perspiration.

After a few moments, Fang took my hand and turned me to face him. I really didn't want to look at him. I knew I must look awful. Then again, he's seen me a whole lot worse.

He swallowed hard. I could feel tension radiating from his core.

"What?" I spit out between a cold shiver and a hot flash.

Fang took a deep breath.

"Need to show you something," he said weakly.

He dragged me outside the park and to a car that was parked across the street. It was probably going on eleven maybe twelve, and the streets were deserted. Just the way I like 'em.

"Look," he charged quietly as he helped me down to the level of the driver's side mirror. He pulled my hair up so that my neck was exposed.

"Look at what?" I was confused. I was turned sideways so that I was staring at my ear.

Fang pointed to a spot on the back corner of my neck. I barely made out a blue marking that looked like it stretched across the top of my spine.

I froze. I knew exactly what that was. I had seen it twice before.

Yep – plastered on the back of my neck was - my expiration date.

109. Chapter 108

A/N: Sorry it took so long to update today - just got home - it's dance night. And I also apologize for not responding to your reviews lately b/c I really do like to do that. It's been crazy busy! Anyway - sorry about the last chapter - okay - no I'm not. That had to happen. Sorry. It's not going to be pretty for a while. Just a warning. Hope you keep reading for a while b/c I think you will want to see what happens. Enjoy! And thanks so much for reading and reviewing my story!!!

Chapter 108

I was in the air in ten seconds flat. Fang went to stop me and then thought better of it. Especially when I looked like I was going to push him into the car and set off an alarm. Which I would have, had it become necessary. But Fang knew I needed some alone time. And he knew that I'd be back.

The only thing I felt bad about as I accelerated to over 200 miles per hour was leaving Fang with explaining my disappearance to my mom. I knew she would be worried. I also knew that Fang wouldn't share too much either. That in itself might leave my mom fraught with concern, but Fang and I weren't used to answering to anyone. Didn't think we'd start now.

I flew for what seemed like an eternity. By the time I slowed I realized I may have flown as far as northern Utah. I touched down behind a small convenience store just outside of Salt Lake City. The blinding red and white sign deemed it the Circle K. I pulled my wings in and made sure they were tucked safely underneath my hoodie. The air north of Arizona was cooler and I was glad I had it with me.

Discreetly pouring through the double doors, I immediately set upon my mission. Rounding the second aisle stocked with personal products, I found the item that halted my search. I slid a small mirror into my pouch and headed for the bathroom. I didn't really want to look, but the not knowing was killing me. Locking the door behind me, I slipped my hoodie off and prepared for the worst. I turned my back to the bathroom mirror, noticing that it probably hadn't been cleaned in weeks and wondered if I would even be able to see what I was looking for.

I held the small handheld up and smoothed my hair off my neck with my free hand. I moved the mirror around so that I could make out the inscription on my neck. With each blue digit, my heart sank a little deeper into my stomach.

A puddle grew in my eyes and I quickly blinked away the tears. I didn't want to cry here, not with the grandmotherly clerk just outside the door a few feet away. Nope. I needed to save my weakness for another time, another place. I eased back into my hoodie, returned the mirror to its proper home, and slid hastily out the door.

Twenty minutes later I was flying high over what appeared to be a National Forest. My favorite. I found a delightful looking oak tree and nested on a lengthy and healthy limb high above the ground. As I gathered my knees to my chest, it didn't take long for the tears I had pushed back to resurface. I sobbed quietly for over an hour – or so it seemed. Every time I thought I had dried my last tear, I thought about the marking on the back of my neck and the floodgates reopened.

My expiration date. I had exactly one week left to live.

A new round of blubbering ensued.


You would cry too if it happened to you.

110. Chapter 109

Chapter 109

Fang had left a large window in the dining room open and I eyed it immediately upon my descent into my mom's backyard. As I slid through, I noticed the large grandfather clock statuesque near the china cabinet read 5:15. Wow. I just didn't realize how long I had actually been gone.

The house was dark save for a soft glow emanating from the night light on the refrigerator in the neighboring kitchen. I snuck down the hall in haste and slipped through the door to Ella's room. Years of living on the run had taught me to steal quickly and quietly through the night. Especially when on the run from mad scientists. Or like now – doing something I probably shouldn't.

I grabbed my pack and shot to the door, glancing back only momentarily at my three sweet sisters. Ella had graciously given up her bed to Angel and Nudge the past few days. She and I camped out on the floor each night acting like a bunch of school girls at a slumber party. I choked back a tear as I realized I would never ever be a part of that again.

I moved next to my mom's room and knelt down beside her bed. My presence awakened her immediately.

"Max," she whispered loudly. "Are you okay? What time is it?"

"I'm fine," I lied. "Go back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

She gave me a hug and I resisted the temptation to curl up next to her. She was then out within minutes, at ease with the return of her prodigal daughter.

The guest room was next – the room Iggy, Gazzy, and Fang temporarily shared. I was skipping this one. If Fang wasn't up already, he would be awake as soon as I touched the door knob.

Lastly I went to the fridge and restocked my backpack. I was just about to hit the cabinets when an all too familiar sound sent my heart thumping.

"Going somewhere?" Fang asked, a harshness edging his voice.

"Maybe." I continued my scavenger hunt for edible goodies.

"Maybe not!" Fang grabbed my arm and whirled me around to face him.

I stared at him, trying really hard not to suddenly burst into tears. His eyes were as red as mine. Guess he hadn't slept much either.

I wrenched my arm away from him and turned back to the task at hand.

"Got stuff to take care of – you know – before I die."

My body stiffened as the verbal acknowledgement rang loud and clear. I felt Fang's tension as well.

Fang grabbed the can of ravioli I was about to stuff in my pack. He squeezed his body between mine and the kitchen counter.

"Like what? Write your last will and testament? Fulfill your bucket list? What about Itex? Or have you forgotten we are supposed to board a plane to India in a few hours? What is so important that you have to take care of that you were going to leave without saying goodbye?"

Fang was fuming. And rightfully so. But I knew that what I was doing couldn't be avoided.

"You and the flock can handle Itex. It's just a recon mission. Get in, gather evidence, get out. Let the UN handle the rest. I mean – it's not like they're going to pursue their ridiculous 'get rid of all the good people' plan anytime soon. Jeb said we had at least two weeks.

"I won't even be around for that now." My head took a downward turn.

Fang's fists were clenched. He knew he would not be able to stop me.

"When were you planning on coming back?"

I turned my head back to the cabinets. Realization dawned for Fang.

"You're not planning on coming back, are you?"

I slowly removed a box of Wheat Thins from a cabinet.

"Are you?!"

Fang had spun me around again, his face painted with anger. I had only seem him like this one time before, right before he left me to go do his own thing. His hands locked on my arms, willing me not to move.

"Why? Why are you doing this? This is going to kill the flock. Think about what you're doing to your mom."

I turned my head to the side and bit my lip. I knew what this was going to do to him too.

Fang didn't understand, couldn't understand what was going on; but I sensed his tone soften as he watched me fight back tears.

"Max, stay. We'll get through this –"

"What? Get through my death?" I was suddenly angry. I pulled back from Fang as his grip loosened on my arms. "I watched it happen to Ari, Fang. He died – in my arms. I am not putting you or anyone else through that. Not when I can have a say-so in the matter."

Fang suddenly understood. He didn't like it. But he got the picture.

He was silent for a moment, then spoke again.

"Maybe it's all a test. You know – like everything else you've been through."

Wow. Wouldn't it be nice if that were true? Of course, I wasn't sticking around to find out.

I finished stuffing my bag and slid my arms through the straps.

"You're still leaving, aren't you?"


"Max," he began in a low, quiet voice. "If you do this – "

"What? Then, we're through?" I pushed past him. "Don't think you'll have to worry about that after this week."

Fang latched onto my arm and did the unthinkable.

He pulled me into him and kissed me with more force than I considered imaginable. I briefly allowed myself to sink into his embrace. If anything could change my mind about leaving, this was it.

After a minute, I pulled back and stumbled to the doorway.

"Sorry," was all I could manage as I took off running.

I tore through the front door and set to the air. And not once did I look back. I didn't need to see his face, knowing I had broken two hearts in one night.

111. Chapter 110

A/N: Okay - for those of you who seriously hate me right now for giving Max an expiration date - just stick with me until the end anyway. I'm not going to say no - she won't die or yes - she will b/c that would spoil everything! But trust me - I do believe you will want to know what happens! Thanks again for all of the reviews!

Chapter 110

I was on a mission. Not a good mission, but something that had to be taken care of. Now. Right now. I couldn't get to my destination fast enough.

I didn't even know if I would find what I was looking for. No matter. I was going. I just really wasn't looking forward to another full day of travel. I loved to fly, wouldn't trade it for the world. But after my flight last night, my body was exhausted. I just hoped it was up for a trip back north.

I was returning to the sight of our latest episode of gloominess. Yep – you guessed it – The Program. Part of me yearned to find answers – maybe a way to fix what was happening to me. The other part of me possessed a strong desire to ensure that Dr. Janssen and her overbearing sidekick Ter Borcht could never ever inflict misery upon my flock again.

By mid-day I was soaring high above the clouds, thankful for yet another day of fair weather and sunny skies. My mind was pretty much on autopilot, numb from the events of the previous evening that poured over to this morning. Could I really be dying in a week? I had screamed at my Voice all through the night, desperately striving to have it rescue me from my ignorance. But the Voice was dreadfully mute. Not even a hello, how are you, sorry to hear about your imminent death sentence.

After my sob fest in the Utah forest, I made the snap decision that I was leaving. Half of my decision was based on my need to exact a teensy bit of pain and suffering on two not so friendly evil scientists. Okay – I really wanted them to die for everything they put us through. Might be kind of fun to wipe the smug grin off of Borchy's face as I smashed his nose and caused some serious brain damage. But sadly, that wasn't me. Though, I did have some ideas as to how I could stop them from hurting us – for good.

The other half of my decision – so much more painful. As much as I wanted to run home and bury myself in the solace of Fang's arms, I couldn't put them through what I went through with Ari. No way. That was mortifyingly painful – and Ari had been enemy number one all the way up until the week before his death. And then top that off with the way my flock handled Fang's surprise death. Yeah – I was better off dying at a distance.

I clutched my homemade gift from Fang that still draped about my neck. I blinked away the tears that were becoming a little too natural lately.

Kinda sucked that I didn't say goodbye. But I knew that was for the best too. They had a mission. They didn't need to be worrying about me. Fang knew it too. Or at least he better. He'd come up with something.

As I banked left to keep myself on my northwestwardly mission, I sort of half wondered if I was doing the right thing. And then it dawned on me. Maybe why I hadn't heard from the Voice. A pit of uneasiness settled in my stomach.

Had I been doing the wrong thing – making a big mistake like Fang thought I was making - my Voice would have nagged me to pieces immediately.

So my quest across America was perhaps the thing I needed to do.

By early evening, my stomach was rumbling. And I was tired. Not a good combination. My eyes immediately searched the ground for a possible rest area.


I absolutely loved that the northwest was chock full of national parks. Saved me from having to break into some run down abandoned shed or seek shelter in a subway tunnel. Nope – I had the primo life sprawled out in front of me. Caves, trees – and bonus – not a lot of people. I mean really – who's going to be out at six o'clock at night in Canada – in windy, gusty March?

From the air I saw the weirdest statue I'd ever seen. Not that I'd seen all that many. But it was weird enough to earn itself a closer look.

Making sure no one could see me I dipped down beside a pile of rocks. Yep – that was the statue. A pile of rocks. A pile of rocks in the form of what looked like Dudley Do Right. I circled it twice looking for some helpful placard that might tell me what the heck this was. These Canadians really needed to give clearer markers.

It's an inukshuk.

A nunchuck? I didn't see any ninjas floating around here.

No, Max. An inukshuk. Jasper National Forest is filled with these rock formations. Natives of this region used them as a navigational point of reference or a marker for their hunting grounds.

Thanks, Voice. Nice to know I had my own personal Wikipedia on this trip.

The Voice was silent.

I was having serious abandonment issues this morning.

You figured it out, didn't you? You know you're right where you need to be.

I glanced around at the dawning skies that were painting a hypnotic hue on Mother Nature surrounding me.

Yeah, I suppose.

Another round of silence.


Yes, Max?

Am I really dying?

What do you think?

I think I've got an expiration date on the back of my neck that pinpoints my death certificate at next week.

Well, then?

I sighed loudly.

So, it's not a test? I'm really going to bite the dust?

The Voice was silent. Hmmph. Big surprise there.

I swallowed hard, realizing full well that I may not live to see my sixteenth birthday.

And I didn't hear from the Voice the rest of the night.

112. Chapter 111

Chapter 111

"Where's Max again?" Nudge asked for what seemed like the tenth time since the plane left the runway.

Fang sighed. He really didn't feel like lying to the flock – again.


Iggy relayed the fib to Nudge. The only ones that knew of the untruths were Fang and Angel.

Iggy inhaled sharply.

"Our fearless leader has taken it upon herself to go to Washington and attempt to confer with various government officials. Her mother will be joining her as they meet with Congress and several representatives of the United Nations."

Iggy exhaled, then continued.

"She'll be joining us in a few days in India providing the –"

Iggy turned his body towards Fang's location.

"Alright, cut the crap, Fang. Where's Max really at?"

"In Washington. Saving the world her own way."

"Right. Max would rather be hob-nobbing with senators than fighting flyboys with us?" Iggy reclined into his seat. "Give us some credit, man."

Fang stared straight ahead. Iggy was right. He might as well tell them Max sold her soul to the devil. Anything sounded better than the lame story he contrived.

It's okay, Fang. I think they can handle this.

He glanced at Angel sitting beside him – in the seat that Max should have occupied. He stroked her hair and then straightened, roosting on the edge of the seat.

Fang looked at Iggy and sighed. He leaned into his knees and clasped his hands.

"Her expiration date showed up." Gasps from Nudge slowed his speech momentarily. "Then, she took off. Said she had stuff to take care of."

He shrugged as he resigned himself to her disappearance. Didn't matter so much if she'd be back – she'd eat dirt in a few short days anyway, right?

Who was he kidding? He needed her. They needed her. How could she abandon them when they needed her the most?

"Her expiration date?" Nudge asked through a whisper. "Is she going to… um… "

"Die?" Fang finished and nodded his head reluctantly. "She didn't want you to know."

Nudge had a difficult time swallowing as she grimly processed this information.

"When is she coming back?"

Fang was silent for a moment.

"Couple of days," he lied. No sense really worrying them.

He looked over at Gazzy and Iggy. Iggy hadn't so much as flinched since he delivered the real story. He merely stared directly ahead – well, if he could stare, that's what he'd be doing. Gazzy, on the other hand, was the opposite of stoic, tears streaming down his face. He registered the same position as Iggy but he would crack any minute now.

Angel squeezed his hand. She had already done her share of crying this morning – locked away in the room she shared with Ella and Nudge. Fang couldn't steer his thoughts away from Max, and Angel got the free show. Her eyes displayed the remains of the onslaught of tears that battled their way to her face.

Gazzy abruptly removed his tears with the back of his sleeve and inhaled sharply.

"I am going to kill each and everyone of them." His voice was uncharacteristically composed, his face immediately impassive.

"I'll help," growled Total from Angel's lap.

Okay – their stretch of six seats in the interior of the plane was a little too doomsday for Fang. As much as he wanted to agree with Gazzy, he thought better of it. Time to step up this leader thing.

"That's not what she'd want. Let's just do this – sneak in, get what we're looking for, and hightail it back to the States. We'll see her in a few days."

Not bad. He almost had himself convinced.

I think so too, Fang. We'll see her again.

"What's going on?"

Jeb scooted into his seat next to Nudge and gazed intently on the flock. Nudge was biting a hole through her lip. Gazzy still looked like he was going to kill somebody.

When no one immediately spoke up, Jeb directed his stare at Fang.

Fang met his gaze.

"Max got her death sentence." Normally Fang wouldn't have said anything, but he was hoping for some answers.

Jeb's face was a mask of confusion.

"Her expiration date showed up on the back of her neck last night," Fang explained harshly, almost sounding as though he blamed Jeb for this.

Jeb's brow furrowed and he was silent momentarily.

"That doesn't make any sense," he said, not really talking to the flock anymore. He leaned back in his seat while the rest of the flock departed their misery for a brief second.

Jeb didn't say anything else for a few minutes, then realized he had a bunch of mutant eyes glaring at him, willing him to continue. He settled in towards the edge of his seat.

"Nothing was programmed in, well, not to my knowledge anyway."

More absent stares.

Jeb sighed before continuing.

"You're not supposed to have expiration dates."

113. Chapter 112

Chapter 112

No expiration dates – eh?

Fang's heart skipped a beat as he processed this latest piece of information. Max may not die in a week after all. His face almost broke into a grin.

So that's it. They'd do their duty in India and then he'd scour the country for her, maybe the world. And they – the whole flock would be together. Like it should be. Of course, he'd have to kick her butt for the whole desertion thing. No way she should have done that. That was wrong. But he'd forgive her. They all would.

Sixteen long hours later, they arrived in Kolkata. Well – that's what all the signs read anyway. Fang thought they were going to Calcutta. He guessed they were the same thing. Jeb had booked yet another flight to Kanpur but he flew solo on that trip. The flock wanted nothing more than to unfurl their wings and join the ranks of the other winged creatures in the sky. They made arrangements to reunite at a local zoo, a map permanently etched in Fang's brain.

As they flew over Kanpur, he peered to the streets and noticed a whole lot of busyness going on. It was early evening and the roads were filled with people. There was an incredible amount of color emanating from this already beautiful city. Kinda hard to ignore the ancient temples mixed in with the modern day high rises. But it almost looked like –

"Look, Fang!" Nudge squealed from his left side. "Is that a parade?!"

Fang squinted downward, his raptor vision connecting with the sights that Nudge had just experienced. He was just about to answer when Nudge spoke out again.

"It is a parade! Can we go? Please?! Just one little look?!"

Gazzy and Angel immediately joined in the pleading.

He wished they would just stay focused on their mission. But they were kids. How could he expect total, unwavering concentration?

Hmmm. Wonder if Max constantly had the same pick your battles moments that he was experiencing right now. She was so good at this. He really missed her not being here, by his side. Or him by her side as she would instantly correct him. They would have probably shared a look, and then an eye roll, and then make the decision together without speaking.

"Ah, yes. The Holi Festival," Fang heard Total say. He was flying next to Angel, had flown for over an hour this time, but he was starting to look a little ragged.

"What's the Holi Festival?" Nudge wondered aloud. Far be it from her to refrain from sharing every little thought that crept into her brain.

Total sighed as he accelerated slightly and jumped into Angel's arms.

"You people really need some schooling," he muttered, then continued, sounding like a tour guide about to go postal.

"The Holi Festival is celebrated in early March, mainly to commemorate the arrival of spring. Man casting aside the gloominess of winter and rejoicing in the liveliness of the new season. Very colorful festival."

Sorta symbolic of their mission, huh? Fang thought to himself.

"Total, you're so smart," Angel said through a giggle as she ruffled his fur. Total reciprocated by licking her face.

"So, Fang, can we go? Just an eensy-teensy look?"

Fang glanced back at Nudge, her eyes matted with excitement. And that's when he realized – that's the first time he'd seen her smile since they boarded the plane in Las Vegas. In fact, the whole flock seemed to be flying in their own little cloud of good spirits.

"Five minutes. That's it," he ordered as he banked left toward the remote outskirts of the city.

"Oh, Fang, thank you!"

And I swear Nudge almost tried to hug him in mid-air.

114. Chapter 113

Chapter 113

"I wanna ride in one of those!"

Nudge pointed at a rickshaw twenty feet in the distance.

Fang rolled his eyes. Five minutes had quickly turned into thirty. Thirty into sixty, and well – he was certain Jeb might be getting a teensy bit panicky right about now.

The flock meandered the streets of the city, taking in every sight and sound. Rickshaws whipped past them, trying to rival the buses and other modes of transportation. The atmosphere was busy, lively – a nice strong contrast to the gloom and doom he was certain the flock was about to encounter.

Music flowed throughout the city and people were gathered in groups spraying each other with – was that water? Red water, orange, blue? Yep – Kanpur was being painted all the colors of the rainbow. Those that weren't spraying colored water on their raucous friends were dumping huge urns filled with the same liquid on the heads of very suspecting inhabitants. Fang silently wished they could merely spray a tat of that on Itex and be rid of that murkiness for good.

He glanced around at the flock, breathing in their exuberance. Iggy didn't even seemed to be bothered anymore with his loss of sight. His body moved to the music in perfect rhythm. Nudge guided Iggy with her hand in his, detailing the architecture of each ancient edifice they came across. Fang looked down at Gazzy and Angel who were flanking his side. Angel, who had Total nestled in the crook of her other arm, caught his gaze and smiled and he gently squeezed both hers and Gazzy's hands. He really wished Max were here right now. Even if it were just to experience the beauty surrounding them.

I miss her too, Fang. But don't worry. We'll see her soon.

He gave Angel's hand an extra squeeze before directing his stare back to the busyness before him. He too had a strong feeling they would all see Max soon. But for him, it just wouldn't be soon enough.

"Uh-oh," Fang heard Iggy say. The whole flock tensed immediately, the brightness of a few moments ago lost to the crowds.

"What is it, Ig?" Fang asked as he scanned the crowds, the air, the lofty buildings.

"Wait," Iggy said, his body completely still. "There." His long skinny finger pointed to the skies. Fang picked it up immediately. Storm clouds were fast approaching, but not the kind that brought massive amounts of precipitation.

"U and A! Now!" Fang barked and leapt into the air. Four bird kids shot up straight up after him, Angel securing a death grip on Total.

Flyboys. Would these guys never disappear? And how did they keep finding the flock?

Fang took a brief glance downward and noticed the people of Kanpur had abandoned their water spraying ritual. They were too mesmerized by the show going on above them.

The flock darted to the north with the flyboys closing the distance with every mile charted.

"Head for the river!" Fang ordered upon eyeing a patch of blue in the distance. He was hoping to let the water take out a few of their wolfie friends.

The Ganga river streamed ahead of them and the flock accelerated to over 150 miles per hour as they dove straight for it. The flyboys, about fifty in all, pursued with haste, sounding like massive chainsaws whipping into action.

"Fang?!" Nudge called out to him. He could sense her fear; hear her inquisitiveness in her almost broken voice.

"Get ready for a bath!" he answered quickly and just like that the six of them hit the water. The last time Fang attempted this little stunt, the water was a frigid ten degrees and he practically suffered hypothermia in the chilled December air. This time the experience was slightly more pleasant. India's temperatures hovered in the seventies and the water warmed appreciably.

His feat off the Eastern seaboard several months ago had taken out most of the flyboys that were chasing him, Iggy, and Gazzy. The robotic wolves foolishly followed into the water. Robots and water – not a good combination – like dropping a hair dryer into the tub. Instant sizzle. But tonight, the flyboys reacted uncharacteristically, pulling up at the last second, leaving the flock dumbfounded and wet.

Several hovered in the air above the flock's position in the water while other flyboys posted themselves on the nearby banks. All were armed and poised to shoot.

Fang wiped the water out of his eyes and smoothed his wet hair off his face. He gazed grimly upon his flock.

"Sorry, guys," he said flatly. "Guess now we don't have to worry about sneaking in."

115. Chapter 114

Chapter 114

The early morning skies became my solace as I wheeled across the vast nothingness of northern Canada. I had almost reached my destination – the Program - home of the gruesome, land of the insane. I had been flying for several hours (again – Canada huge!) after a somewhat restful night of fitful sleep and frequent waking nightmares. Add to that the uncontrollable sobbing that came with thoughts of my life ending in a couple of days…. needless to say, about two o'clock in the morning – me and my bad self were ready to depart the comfort of my Jasper National Park home.

You would think that with the imminence of my death that the nightmares would cease – but sadly, no. In fact, they intensified. My dreams of losing my wings were back along with some new ones. I dreamed I was back at the School – but alone. Another nightmare had me eating Thanksgiving dinner at Anne Walker's house… with Erasers. It was like a dinner date with death. My only comfort in the hours that I actually slept was a dream about Fang but even that one turned into a nightmare – he was holding me, sheltering me from some unseen force, and then he vanished in thin air. I thought my life was highly abnormal. My dreams surpassed it in terms of anomalies.

I flew another twenty minutes and then spotted my objective. And something was not at all right.

I dove down for a closer look.

I touched down a few yards from the twenty-foot high fence that attempted to barricade my friends and me in this prison but a week ago. The fence was still here, but where were all the guards? I didn't see hide nor hair of a flyboy. Hmmm. The buildings seemed rather hushed too. In fact, I didn't lay eyes on a single solitary soul.

Time to go in for a closer look.

I took to the air shortly – just enough to get me over the fence and closer to the main building. I quick tug on the door told me they were unlocked. Weird. No one here. Doors unlocked. Definitely felt as though a trap – or something worse – awaited me. I soared through this building and found nothing – no computers, no lab rats, no furniture. Nada. Nothing. A quick recon to the other buildings yielded similar results.

Where had all the people (and other assorted oddities) gone?

As I took to the skies for an aerial perspective, realization dawned and I suddenly felt the need to blink my eyes and wish I could magically teleport my self halfway across the world right then and there.

Where had all the people gone?

India. The By-Half madness was coming sooner than expected.

116. Chapter 115

Chapter 115


"Max! Where are you? Are you okay?"

My mom knew to keep it short and to the point. I knew that she was dying to illustrate how much Nudge was rubbing off of her, but she kept her questions to a three-word maximum.

My knees were shaking, though, as I clutched the diner payphone in the back part of a restaurant somewhere in Dawson City, Canada. Another blast of cold air tackled me as yet another group of patrons entered for the breakfast rush.

"I'm fine. I'm… uh… back in Canada –

"Canada? Fang said you had some important business to take care of before you met the flock in India." Realization set in for my mom, thousands of miles away. "Did you fly there?!"

"Max?" my mom asked caustically after a long silence, courtesy of moi. I didn't even realize I had been in la-la land until she broke my stolen pause. As soon as my mom said Fang's name, my brain headed for instant insanity. I knew Fang would conjure up a story, but just the fact that he had deemed my personal agenda "important" – well, suffice it to say, that boy was possibly getting some serious lip action when I saw him again. If I saw him again. If he'd even talk to me again after the stupid stunt I pulled.

Did I really just say lip action? Forget I said that.

"Sorry, what?" I asked.

"Did you fly there yourself?" my mom repeated patiently.

"Yes. But now I need to go to India. And I don't - . I don't think I can do it myself."

Ugh. I hated admitting I couldn't do something. But my better judgment told me that I needed to travel to the far east in a little more style.

"Where are you? I'll find you a flight out of the closest airport… immediately." I could hear my mom already tapping away at a keyboard as she finished her sentence.

"Dawson City?" I was so glad the owners of the diner had not been original in their choosing a name for the restaurant thing. The Dawson City Diner pinpointed my location instantly.

"Okay, hang on. You do have your passport with you?"

I nodded as I verbally confirmed with my mom. I had everything with me. I hadn't planned on going back.

"Okay, let's see here. There's a flight out of Fairbanks in about an hour. Wait – they're two hours behind me. That should give you plenty of time to get there, right?"

"Right." My heart took an extra beat as I thought about seeing Fang… all of them again.

A few moments later and my mom confirmed the flight information.

"Well, that should do it. You are on flight 693 out of Fairbanks International. They should have a ticket portal near check in. Let me give you my credit card number and my password. You'll need it to access your ticket."

I grimaced momentarily with the thought of my mom's credit card bill. But I also knew Jeb would take care of it.

My mom spit out a long line of numbers and I committed them to memory. I smiled as she revealed her password – it was cute and clever. I know you are dying to know what it is, but alas, it is a password. I was sworn to secrecy.

Okay. So I was going to India. And I was not up to speed on my Oriental culture. Sure wish I had Total with me.

Only one more thing to take care of.

"Mom? I need you to do something for me." This was going to be the hardest part.

"Anything," she replied confidently.

"I need you to go to New York. Call Jeb. Tell him to leave the flock and meet you there. Plead our case with the United Nations. I think things are already in motion over in India."

There was a long pause as my mom processed this new round of information.

"I'll leave immediately," she finally said decidedly.

"And Max, be careful."

Tears stood at the doorsteps to my eyes. The phone blurred as the wetness hazed my vision.

"I'll see you when this is over," I heard my mom say.

"Uh-huh," I lied. The flock would make it back to see her and Ella again.

But I was certain that I wouldn't.


A/N: Hope you liked! Let me know what you think!

117. Chapter 116

Chapter 116

"Wow. This place is so… ornate," Nudge said as she stared at the largely adorned palace walls.

The flock, minus Iggy, shot her an inquisitive look.

Nudge leaned into Iggy and whispered proudly, "I learned that on the House and Garden Show."

"You will be quiet," ten flyboys droned behind us. "Keep moving."

"Why do I suddenly feel like I'm at the Death Star?" Iggy wondered through a whisper, his voice barely audible to the flanks of flyboys marching in even rhythm.

"Well I don't know that I'd call it the Death Star," Fang interjected from the corner of his mouth. "More like Hell at the Hilton."

"Or the Palace of Doom," continued Gazzy in a low whisper.

"Oh, I hope they don't have anyone waiting downstairs to rip our hearts out of our chests." Nudge shuddered at the gruesome thought.

"Someone's been watching too much Indiana Jones lately," Fang teased.

The flock continued a slow stroll down the long hallways that rivaled ancient Greece in terms of architectural merit. After the flyboys had cornered them on the banks of the Ganga River, they had led the flock here – a mountainside palace buried deep in the mountainous regions of the Himalayas. And mountainside palace was quite the accurate description. The majority of the arched entryways, magnificent grand rooms were built in like a wall on the side of an extremely large mountain that boasted a three day hike from civilization.

The flock was pushed around another corner and into the unwelcoming arms of Dr. Janssen and Dr. Ter Borcht. Dr. Janssen's formidable cold sneer was etched into her face as was Ter Borcht's haughty grin on his. Nudge's hand instinctively shot to her chest and laid to rest over where her heart should be.

"They're not getting my heart," she whispered.

Dr. Janssen scanned the flock, letting her eyes rest on Fang.

"I hope you all have been enjoying your stay in India. It really is a most beautiful country. It's a shame you won't be able to enjoy more of it."

Ter Borcht chuckled and Dr. Janssen allowed a smile to emerge on her stone features.

"We have some things to show you. Before your execution. Allow you to experience a small glimpse of what the world will be like after the Re-Evolution." Dr. Janssen's foreboding voice sent shivers down Nudge's spine.

The deadly duo directed the group to a long hallway with three elaborate archways on the left side. The doors flew open at the middle entryway and the flock stared in disbelief at not only the monumental size of the room but also its occupants. Thousands of flyboys stood in tight ranks inside a room the size of two airplane hangars.

Nudge squeezed Iggy's hand. He didn't need to see this. He felt her warning gesture and lowered his head. The flock were beyond shocked but not a one of them would show it on their faces. They hovered in a bubble of indifference as two pairs of beady eyes glared at them, awaiting a reaction.

"As you can see, we are quite equipped for erasing the old generation," Dr. Janssen stated, her composure stiff and unwavering. "Not even your leader can stop us." She directed her menacing eyes upon Fang. "It's a shame she won't be able to join you for your timely termination, but she has her own date with death."

Fang was fully aware the witch doctor was referring to her expiration date, but he raised his eyebrows in mock confusion.

"Max's expiration date should kick in soon. We've seen to that." She turned her glare upon the entire flock; her voice heartless now.

"She will die. As will you."

She turned back to the halls of the palace and motioned them all forward like a tour director with one too many Ritalin-induced nine-year olds in her group that day.

"Come. There is more to see."

118. Chapter 117

Chapter 117

More to see. That was the understatement of the century.

Horror continued to swim over the flock as they viewed rooms containing visions of the new super race. Scores of Omegas filled one room, while prototypes of other assorted freaks filled another. The chameleons were back, along with strangely petite women, not taller than four feet. Fang wondered momentarily if these striking women were meant as mates for the new generation until one of them bared her teeth at the flock. Teeth, no. Fangs, yes. The flock flinched slightly as they watched her grab an unsuspecting rabbit from a cage along the wall and shred it to pieces within minutes. Her sharp incisors did most of the work for her. As she licked the blood trailing from the side of her mouth, she raised her arms and displayed a set of wings. These wings didn't nestle into her back like the flock's. No – these were attached to her arms with what looked to be a webbed material.

"Their temper has yet to be tamed, but we assessed that as a slight advantage right now," Dr. Janssen explained as she studied the unmoving eyes of the flock. "Bats are a most fascinating species. I moved we try this one out myself."

Fang cringed slightly at her pompousness. And then he vowed to never watch Batman again. These batgirls made the Joker look like Santa Claus.

The next room housed children. Children playing chess. Children at whiteboards scribbling out long mathematical formulas. Or at least they looked like math formulas. Children scrawling notes on a clipboard while studying mice in a cage. Children who were clearly not older than three.

"This is the future of science," the cruise director explained. "We stimulated their synaptic nerve, as we did with Max. Except we've trained this group to not be so insubordinate."

After several more stops through the House of Horrors, the flock was led through several more passageways and into the remote interior of the palace. They finally rested in front of a small metal door with very little architectural design to its archway.

The door slid open and the flock realized where they were. Their home until they were retired. The pure blankness of the room clued them in immediately.

"Rest up," Dr. Janssen ordered. "Big day tomorrow. We want you to be our first witnesses to our plan for salvation."

The gruesome twosome and their flock of wolfbots weren't gone five seconds before Gazzy opened his mouth.

"Yeah, plan for stupidity," he muttered.

"Max needs to hurry her butt up and get here," Iggy stated as he plopped down on the dirt floor beneath him.

Fang's heart skipped a beat at the mention of her name. He knew they may not see her again. She was off taking care of her own matters. Whatever that was. And Crazy Lady had confirmed her expiration date. How did they know? Jeb said they weren't supposed to have expiration dates. Did they have something to do with it? And if so, could it be fixed?

He was knee deep in his own thoughts that he hadn't even realized Nudge had separated herself from their circle of gloom. One nice thing about being here. They weren't bound to a table or put in a cage.

He eyed Nudge across the compact space, feeling up the walls.

"Nudge?" he asked slowly, breaking her monosyllablic name into two.

"Just thought I'd see, you know. See if there might be a secret passage or something," she said as she pushed against a wall.

Wishful thinking. Fang allowed her to continue, though. Who knows? Maybe she might find something. This place was just full of surprises.

Wonder what kind of surprises awaited them tomorrow.

119. Chapter 118

Chapter 118

My trip around the world lasted about twenty hours. Which was like two days later when I actually got to India. Which was like yesterday for Fairbanks. I so did not understand this whole international date line thing. I just knew that I felt miserable and tired as I snuck off the plane.

Tired for three reasons. One – I was way too hyped to sleep. Adrenaline (and the caffeine from the five cokes I had in first class – thanks mom!) coursed my veins. Just thinking about Itex and what might be happening over in India could have kept me awake for another thirty-six hours. And my heart kicked an extra two beats with thoughts of Fang and the flock. I had been away from them for too, too long. What I did soared off the charts in terms of stupidity. Would Fang ever forgive me for that? No matter. He was just going to have to deal with me for another two days or so. I silently cringed wondering if my expiration date mirrored Tokyo time or Arizona time. Ugh.

Second reason would have kept me awake for a week. No way I was falling asleep in an enclosed plane with a possible eraser or invisible boy or flybot or some other evil monstrosity sitting in a seat two maybe three rows away. Nope. Just going to have to sleep some other time.

Third thing keeping me awake. I think I lost one of my lungs on the plane. Threw it up in the cutesy little tight for spaces, barely fit my wings in there bathroom. I didn't know if the ten times I hurled was a result of the flight or the whole sickness thing I had been experiencing since right before my death date showed up on the back of my neck. I'm betting on the latter. One bonus – all the getting up, flying (not literally) to the bathroom, and gritty eyes earned me extra meals. Guess the stewardess felt sorry for me.

Okay – so here I was flying over Kanpur. The very busy and highly populated city of Kanpur. How in the world was I going to find my flock in this madness?

Hey! What was that?

I winced as a blinding beam of light came at me again and again from somewhere below. I shaded my eyes and picked up someone waving at me with a mirror in one hand, binoculars in the other.


I wondered if my mom had been able to get through to him. I wonder if she was flying solo in New York right about now.

Nevertheless, I was glad for the little bit of help. I'm not proud. I'll take it where I can get it.

Minutes later, I skidded to a stop in front of Jeb. We were outside a zoo located a short distance from the Indian metropolis. Jeb greeted me warmly.

"Max! It's so good to see you, sweetheart!" he grabbed me and sandwiched me in his arms. This was the first time Jeb had hugged me in three years. Okay – this is the first one I allowed, but I figured – hey – I'm dying soon anyway, right? Why not spread the love?

I stumbled backward and glanced around. My heart sank instantly.

"Where is everybody?"

"They were taken – just the other day. I've been trying to locate them and I think I may have found them."

He stood there for a moment with his proud papa glow. I had to snap him out of it.


"Oh, yes. Well, I had some inkling that Itex had developed some sort of stronghold in the Himalayas. I spoke with a few of the local businessmen and discovered there is a palace buried deep in the mountainous regions just northwest of Kathmandu in Nepal."

"Kay – I'm on that," I charged, emphasizing the "I'm" just a little too much. "I need you to fly back to New York."

"I know. Your mom told me. I'll be on a plane within a few hours."

"Which will probably put you there tonight," I scoffed.

Jeb looked at me and grinned. Then his face took on a more serious tone.

"Let me see it, Max."

See what? My blank stare must have clued Jeb in to my ignorance.

"Fang told us you had an expiration date. I just wanted to see for myself."

So Fang told them. I was so going to kill him.

I turned around slowly and lifted the hair off my neck. A slight gasp from Jeb verified my despair.

He gently skimmed the series of numbers and then walked around the back side of me so that I was facing him again.

His look said it all. I was very possibly going to die.

"It looks official," Jeb mumbled. "But I still don't get it."

"Get what?"

"You and the others were never programmed with expiration dates."

Jeb became thoughtful for a moment before continuing.

"Did they do something to you in Canada? When I wasn't around?"

My brain raced laps inside my head as I searched for the answer Jeb may have been looking for.

"Nothing short of the normal fight for your life against Omega, be strapped in a cell routine I was subjected to day after miserable day."

"Nothing else?"

I was silent for a moment, trying to come with something, anything.


I shrugged and Jeb left it at that.

And then his eyes grew misty. And that made my eyes grew misty.

And then I let him hug me again.

And as I took off in the air, heading for uncertain doom, I wondered if I would ever see him or my mom again.

120. Chapter 119

Chapter 119

A few hours later, I was performing stake out duties from a cozy cavern hideaway in the Himalayas, staring down at possibly the most beautiful palace I've ever seen. You got to hand it Itex. First, a castle; now the Taj Mahal. They sure did know how to take out half the world in style.

After an hour of monitoring the front entrance for sentry duty, I decided to swoop down for a closer look.

The first several rooms of the palace hung at the edge of an immense cliff. The ornate sculpture and the high rising beauty would have put the Taj Mahal to shame. The highest sphere was embedded into the mountainside and it seriously looked like someone inserted this structure into the side of a mountain as though it were a missing puzzle piece.

Amazing. I had to force my mouth shut after a few minutes of awe-induced staring.

Another amazing thing. No guards. No flyboys hovering outside the gates in tight formation. This place looked and felt abandoned. I wondered if Jeb was right on about the locale.

I stole inside and began my sneak down a really long corridor. Still no one. Were they here? Or worse - did Itex know I was coming?

Well – it didn't take but two more turns to find out the answer to that question.

Deep in the interior of a palace, I rounded a corner and standing right in front of me were five unsuspecting flyboys. I was actually almost comforted to see them. I immediately wielded a blow to one's face with my feet. As he crumpled I grabbed two of them, knocked their heads together and threw them against a wall. The remaining two flyboys turned and began a retreat down another hallway.

What? Afraid of a little action, boys?

I took off after them in haste. No need to let anyone else know I was here.

They rounded another corner and I followed and…

… ran smack dab into a crowd of oh maybe two hundred flyboys.

Time to cut out of this party.

I abruptly shifted directions and ran back from whence I just came. As I rounded that same corner, I sprinted directly into – yep – another horde of flyboys.

I had walked (okay, ran) right into another Itex trap.


At least I knew they were here and maybe, just maybe, I would find out where they were keeping the rest of the flock. Maybe.


A/N: Thank you again for all of your reviews - which have been very pointed and very helpful. I know some of you are sooo ready for a positive spin on things and that is where I must say sorry - it will be a teensy bit dismal for a short while. But I hope you will still stay through until the end - which could very well happen within the next week if I keep posting 2 chapters a day (there are 132 chapters). Yes - I know - sniff, sniff - makes me sad too. But please still keep reviewing. I am not super proud of what I wrote until it gets to chapter 132 - my weakness is definitely the bad guy scenes, but I always welcome suggestions so review away! And I was trying to finish this at a time when I was embarking on another writing adventure which I am still working on. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers with that one. Ramble, ramble, ramble - sorry. Thanks for the R & R!

121. Chapter 120

Chapter 120

Wishful thinking.

My hopes of them escorting me to whatever cell or prison or dungeon the flock was currently keeping residence went straight to heck when two flyboys shoved me into a cage built for tigers in a room that was completely bare.

No Fang. No flock. My heart sank to my stomach.

Once my chummy entourage departed, I rattled the doors of the cage. Nope. Would only be too nice of them to leave the door unlocked. No matter. This may just take a hair longer.

I grabbed a bobby pin out from under my hair. The ones we all kept, yes, even the boys, in the hair toward the base of our necks. The only rough part was that we had stripped the pin of its comforting, not going to pierce your skin every time you moved, protective layer. Ouch.

I instantly inserted the pin into the lock and within two minutes of poking and maneuvering, the lock sprung and I jumped through the cage door.

Much better. My skin grew clammy with horrible recollection of School days each and every time I got locked in one of the barred confines.

I strode quickly to the entryway and felt around the door frame. Sealed shut. I wondered if the door was triggered by a computer and immediately my thoughts went to Nudge. My precious Nudge. What I wouldn't give to hear one of her incoherent ramblings right about now. Okay – maybe not. But it sure would have been nice to have her here to open this door. Of course, there may be fifty armed and dangerous guards waiting for me on the other side.

Needed another plan.

Voice. Got any wisdom to impart on my uneducated soul?


Wasn't really expecting much. The Voice came and went as it pleased.

Okay, time for Plan C.

I plopped down on the dirt caked ground and observed my surroundings. Hmmm. Nothing in front of me, behind me, all around me, but wall-to-wall dirt. Literally. I was in a diminutive box of earth.

I recalled zipping down the ornately tiled floors of the hallways and wondered why the palace engineers couldn't lend some of their architectural expertise to the prison cells.

My eyes scanned the walls a third time and my raptor vision came to rest along a far wall. A faint outline caught my eye. I sprung to my feet and rushed to the far recess of my stronghold.

I ran my finger along the lines and then pressed in deeper, outlining a narrow rectangular column with a length about half my height.

When I was finished, I pulled back momentarily and stared at the indentation. I remembered reading online about palaces in our preparations for our trip to India. Fang and I had stumbled across the history in the architecture of the palaces and we were both fascinated by the sheer remarkable beauty of them. We also discovered gobs of information on the secret passageways that were constructed. Most led to places that others were not to know about – like a rajah's underground harem. I didn't really care. I think I had just found one and I didn't care where it took me. As long as it got me out of here.

I pushed hard on the rectangular ticket to freedom and it didn't take long for me to find myself in a narrow passageway. I quickly stumbled down it and chose the left path when I encountered my first fork in the road. Why left? More prisons lay down this way, of that I was certain. I memorized the line of doors that preceded my own temple of doom.


I let my thoughts cry out every five seconds, hoping for a sign. Hoping she was here, somewhere and would connect with my thoughts. After disappearing farther into the behind the scenes world of the palace, I realized I may just as well be on a wild goose chase.

Where was my flock? How was I to find them? And once I did, how would we get out of here?

122. Chapter 121

Chapter 121

I pushed my way through several more twists and turns in this maze of never ending passageways. There didn't seem to be an end in sight; only more offshoots from the road I was traveling. And I seemed to be disappearing deeper and deeper into the earth itself.

I rounded another dirt wall corner and that's when I smelled it. A most horrible, disgusting, make your stomach instantly wretch, beautiful, delightful, need to hurry up and find it stench. I let my nose do the walking as I quickened my step and hurried to find the source of the most pungent yet recognizable odor.

Angel! I tried once again.

This time I got a response.

Max! I knew you'd come back! Where are you?

I could already visualize her smile. Unbridled glee filled me and I followed Gazzy's undeniable scent with more haste.

I'm in some endless maze, but I've picked up your brother's uh… scent. Stay put.

Three more corners and a spin of nausea later, I found my flock. Angel, Gazzy, and Nudge immediately sandwiched me in an enormous embrace, while Total repeatedly licked my face.

"I'm so, so sorry," I apologized into the Gasman's hair. I kissed his forehead and then brushed a loose lock of hair off of Nudge's face. "I will never leave you again."

And I meant it. The pain of being separated from my family for any length of time was too overwhelming.

Nudge glanced up at me and spoke.

"I found a secret door in this cell they were keeping us in. I could tell Fang was about to tell me to stop pushing on the walls so I leaned back on the wall and it just caved in."

Her proud smile could crumble mountains. I smiled warmly and then glanced at Iggy.

Separating myself from the younger crew, I gently touched Iggy's hand. He opened up his arms and I fell into his embrace.

"You don't want to see this, Iggy" I whispered in his ear, indicating our current surroundings.

He shrugged then said quietly, "Glad your back."

And I knew he meant it.

"Your boyfriend's been a little whiny," he added and not as quietly.

I grinned as my gaze rested on Fang. I inhaled sharply and mouthed "Sorry". And that was all I could manage before I slammed by body into his and wrapped my arms around his waist. After a short moment, Fang reciprocated the gesture and I buried my head into his shoulder.

We stood like that for the longest time until Fang broke the silence.

"Don't ever do that again," he whispered into my hair. He smoothed my hair and arched out of our embrace.

"Kay," I murmured. Didn't really think there was much chance of that happening in the next two – three days before my scheduled retirement.

Fang studied my face momentarily before he leaned in and kissed my lips lightly. His face backed slightly away from mine and that's when I lost all reserve. I straightened to match his height, grabbed both sides of his head with my hands, and fiercely pressed my lips against his. He returned the kiss with his own brand of uninhibited passion, his hands grasping the sides of my head and playing roughly with my hair, my neck, my waist. We kissed as though it may be our last and the fact that Iggy and company were standing just a few feet away, undoubtedly gawking at us, well, that fact never crossed my mind. In my mind, Fang and I were the only ones in this passageway and when we finally separated our lips, already yearning for round two, I realized that it really was Fang and me alone in the dirt corridor.

I quickly returned to reality.

"Iggy?" I gasped, turning my body left and right in a frantic search for him.

Iggy and crew quickly appeared from beyond the next bend.

"Are you finally done?" Iggy teased.

I shot him a scowl and then I remembered he couldn't see again.

"Where were you?" I stammered, still a little breathless from – well – you know. Fang's hands on my shoulders as my back was to him was not helping my inability to speak.

"Up here. Didn't think these guys needed that much schooling," Iggy explained and Nudge giggled. "But the Gasman found another passage. I think we should follow it."

And so we did. This one took us down a long, steep corridor. At the very bottom was a cascade of light and an open door.

I did not have any kind of good feeling about this, but our bodies were drawn to it, like a bunch of grubby mutant magnets.

We entered a small mechanical room, possibly used for monitoring the line of cells we had sprung from earlier. A series of television screens hung on the far wall and I marveled at the way this modernized room seemed so out of place in this palace of sheer antiquity.

We entered the room and just like in those scary horror movies, the door slid shut behind us. And another door opened to our right.

And can you guess who was behind door number two?

That's right – Dr. Janssen, our old pal Borky, and this time, they were led by a very short friend.

123. Chapter 122

Chapter 122

Oh yeah – forgot something – the troublesome trio was flanked on all sides by oh a hundred or so flyboys.


The flock and I immediately tensed, my adrenaline surging to fight mode. I wanted a piece of both Borchy and the evil witch woman. But who was the new add? The incredible shrinking man?

As usual, I didn't have to wait long on the introductions.

"Welcome, Max. Allow me to introduce myself," the small man began. "Dr. Aarit Singh. But I am certain you knew that."

I stared blankly at him. This was the new director of Itex? Angel was almost as tall as this Napolean. This was the guy that was going to destroy half the world's population and lead the new freaky generation into a new millennium?

"We've been awaiting your presence, Max," he said rather calmly. His gaze drifted to the flock. "All of you. We have some things we'd like you to see, to be a part of."

His voice was so incredibly calm. Almost mesmerizing. I almost (and note I said almost) found myself drawn in by his hypnotic tone.

"Yes – we wish for you to watch everything unfold – before your scheduled termination."

Well – that just snapped me out of la la land quickly.

"Shouldn't you be on one of these mountaintops somewhere around here?"

He ignored me and turned so that his back was to us.

"Come. We have much to take care of."

So because we are all such compliant good little boys and girls, we followed him. Of course, the hundred or so machine guns staring us in the face helped motivate our legs. Ugh. How were we going to get away from this?

Dr. Singh and company led us through two more rooms that did not look at all like they belonged in an ancient Indian palace. Uh, no. These rooms were war rooms. Huge wall-to-wall flat screens plastering maps of the world, people in uniform hovered about a conference table, others busying themselves in front of computer screens. It looked like World War III was about to happen. Oh wait. It was.

The last room was the largest and I wished I could have just hightailed it out of there as fast as my little bird kid legs could carry me. The flock mirrored my sentiments. Our jaws were just a little too close to the floors right now.

Lying before us, in row-to-row formation, was the end of the world. Twenty-six nuclear warheads (I counted – really) were cradled in beds of metal and wires. I was afraid to sneeze for fear of setting one off accidentally. I gave Gazzy a sharp, knowing look that told him to keep a check on his nasty habit.

"The Chinese and the Russians have been very instrumental in the execution of our plan," the wise guru explained. "It's wonderful what a little money and promises of protection can do for an organization."

His voice was sinister now, the calming tone long gone. I hung on the edge of his last words waiting for that "Muwahahaha" I was sure was coming. Where was Austin Powers when you needed him?

I felt Angel pull closer to me as she sent me a thought.

I have a really bad feeling about all this.

The new director turned and approached us. His hand reached out and grabbed Angel's cheek. He stooped down beside her. Which, by the way, wasn't very far for him.

"And you should, darling." He rose and addressed the entire flock. "You all should have a very very bad feeling about all of this."

He took in mine and Angel's widened eyes and pained expressions and grinned.

"Yes, little one. I can read minds too."

124. Chapter 123

Chapter 123

An evil Angel? Like an archangel. Now that's scary. I wondered if he could control minds too. Or talk to fish. Or morph into a bird of paradise. Okay – the last two didn't really matter too much. But the controlling minds – now that thought was horrifying. Jeb had warned us that this place housed some horrors. Did he know about shorty's skill? It certainly hadn't been included in our dossier.

"We kept Jeb in the dark on many an issue." Dr. Singh provided an answer to my thoughts. I was seriously going to have to keep them in check for the rest of this trip.

"It was necessary," he continued. "I knew that he could not be trusted."

Wouldn't know anything about that one.

"And as for my 'skills', well – let's just say China and Russia became more… compliant when I stepped in the room. Premonitions are a part of my genetic makeup as well."

Which would explain his no-show in Germany. I squeezed Angel's hand and quickly took in the rest of the flock. Gazzy and Nudge were blanketed with sheer terror. Iggy merely gazed at his sneakers. Impassivity was written all over Fang's face – as per usual. Total had his head buried in the crook of Angel's arm. They were terrified. And rightfully so.

"So – what do you want with us, troll boy? Got a premonition about me wiping that smirk off of your face?" I snapped. I figured if this guy could read my mind, I may as well lay it out there full force.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. You will die. And the By-Half plan will begin." His voice was like stone, even more chilling than the ice queen that flanked his side.

He strolled toward me and I had to look down at his diminutive frame. This guy was like a cool and collected Atilla the Hun, a reserved Stalin. I suddenly wondered if my feet were big enough to smash him like a cockroach.

"Actually – we will take great sport in watching your termination. It will be our last amusement before we turn our attention to more serious issues." Dr. Singh nodded warmly at his counterparts. I saw Ter Borcht's smug grin attempt to drown out his oversized cheeks.

I didn't flinch. Nope. Not once. Not even when I looked straight at him and said,

"Papa Elf called. They need you at the North Pole to make some toys."

125. Chapter 124

Chapter 124

I guess Napolean did not appreciate my lame attempt at humor because the next thing I knew, the seven of us were whisked out of the inner earth stronghold and locked up again. This time we were put in cages and we were all placed in separate cells – even Total got his own dog crate in solitude. Oh and the cages were not your lock and key variety. They weren't computerized locks either. I honestly did not know how they kept us locked in. After twenty-thousand failed attempts at breaking free, I resolved myself to the dismal setting and anxiously awaited the next round of mayhem.

Which did not come soon enough for my stark, raving mad bird brain. At least, that's how I felt after hours and hours and hours of nothing but waiting. And thinking. But not too much thinking. Wouldn't want the itsy-bitsy spider to garner a look-see on my nonexistent plans for salvation. I just hoped the rest of the flock would keep their thoughts in check.

Sometime later a slew of flyboys entered my prison. They grabbed the cage I was in and loaded it onto a metal table with wheels. Ushering me out the door, I silently wondered where we were going. Anywhere but the lonely dirt room seemed good to me right now.

As we bumped and toddled down several long passageways, I clutched my necklace and my thoughts drifted to Fang. It scared me to think of what they might do to him this time. I mean, you can't get much worse than dead. I thought about the flock. Angel was the most spooked by our latest encounter. I wondered if she was able to read the gnome's mind. He could certainly read hers. I wonder if she foresaw the horrors I was convinced were about to take place.

Finally, a door slid open and I was wheeled into a monumental arena that would seriously marvel the Coliseum in Rome. Nope – take it back. This place won, hands down. The stands were adorned with white pedestal benches, the floors laid in ornate tile. The whole arena exploded with jewels that lined rails, the walls, and the outline of the box office at the northern most end of the stadium. Everything was white with speckles of rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires. Everything except the arena floor. That was wall-to-wall dirt. Sort of added to the Caesar meets the Rajah flair.

The stands to the right were a mixture of a sea of white coats and a splattering of super humans. I counted fifty some Omegas and at least that many chameleon boys. There were women in the audience too. Women with fangs and evil radiating from their vicious red eyes. On the other side of the world were an army of flyboys. Guess that was to keep the peace. I'm sure they'd hate for a fight to break out over who got to kill me first.

And of course, directly in front of me, bordered by their own personal guard, stood the injustice league: Madame Heartless, Bubble Boy, and leading them now, the Dynamic Dwarf.

I eyed my flock in their cages in various areas throughout the arena. The flyboys led me past Angel, then Gazzy. It was though they were lining us up to die in chronological order. Fang was the last of us kids. My gaze never left his as I rolled past him. Was this it? Was this the last time we would see one another?

Total, fittingly, was the closest to our favorite trio. His dog age equated to some monstrous number in human years; therefore, he was technically the oldest.

And then there was me. Having just celebrated my fifteenth birthday not but a week ago, I was the oldest human and it looked as though the last with a death certificate at this show. My mind played through every possible crazy scenario that Singh's "game" would hold for us.

Of course, none of my "save the world' testing had prepared me for what would happen next.

126. Chapter 125

Chapter 125

"Max, we are so glad you could join us," Dr. Singh chirped as my cage approached him.

Wait. Was there a choice here? Because I certainly wouldn't have picked this option.

"Yeah, well, I had an empty spot in my day planner," I shot back at him. "Me stomping out your short mangy butt carried some appeal."

Dr. Singh frowned briefly, and then turned to his comrades.

"Shall we begin with the festivities? After all, all parties are present and accounted for."

"Absolutely," Dr. Janssen cooed coolly. "Max, we have all gathered here for your final test. We want to see how you handle pressure in the most dire situations."

Final test? Maybe I was really going to expire today. I hadn't checked my calendar lately, but I felt certain I still had another day. Then again, maybe not. I wasn't too sure about anything anymore.

"Bring it on," I retorted in my normal snappy fashion. "What are you going to do? Stick me in an isolation tank again? Sic your evil crazies on me? Or do you have something a little more original in mind?"

"Actually we have been – what's the phrase? Saving the best for last." Dr. Singh's beady little eyes were like steel.

"We wish to see who of your flock is most important to you," the witch woman explained. "Is it the little one you so annoyingly dote on? Perhaps the blind one? Or is it the dark-haired one you seem to have… taken to?"

My body stiffened. I suddenly did not like where this was going.

My eyes shot to each and every flock member. Each one vastly separated from the other, locked away in solitude. Their eyes locked on me, watching me cringe as I thought about what might happen next.

Without warning, I registered a blood-curdling screech from Nudge. A quick glance and I saw what she was screaming about. She and her crate were being attacked by hundreds of rats. My face paled as I watched them crawl up her leg and tug at her hair.

Within seconds of that horror, Iggy's cage was completely surrounded by flames, like a former best friend coming back to haunt him. Straight ahead I saw spiders the size of Total cornering Gazzy to the back part of his cage. Yeah – the same spiders we saw just weeks ago at the Program.

Another scream forced me to snap my head towards Angel. Five flyboys had pulled her from her cage and had snapped both of her legs in two. Two white coats stood but five feet away, syringe's in hand, awaiting an opportunity to conduct experiments on my poor baby.

Even Total was enduring some kind of torture. His furry black paws latched onto his ears, possibly trying to shoo away the horrific sounds that only he could hear.

Fang was already in his worst nightmare – a cage. But that wasn't enough for these guys. Dr. Janssen was now standing in front of his oversized prison. Without hesitation, she drew her gun out of her pocket and shot Fang in the stomach – right where Ari had clawed him to pieces once before.

"Noooo!" I screamed from my crate of desolation. I watched as Fang buckled to the ground, arms clutching his abdomen. I fought viciously with the bars of my cage, to no avail.

"Why are you doing this?!" I felt like I was going to scream and cry all at once. "What do you want from us?!"

"Why, Max," Dr. Singh stated in the most annoyingly pleasant voice. "We want to see if you are indeed strong enough – to help us rule the world."

I felt my face grow cold, then extremely hot.

"I will never help you!" I shouted, practically spitting into his tiny little face.

"Hmmm. We'll see about that," he countered. "Let us see who is most important to you. Which one of your flock will you save first? Or will it be you?"

He nodded at Ter Borcht who immediately drew a pistol from his side.

Before I could even register what was happening, Borchy raised his gun and within two seconds fired off two shots.

Two perfect shots that speared right through my shoulders and took out both of my wings.

127. Chapter 126

A/N: I figured I had better post two chapters today before I receive serious death threats.. :) lol! Anyway - I really do appreciate all of the reviews. We are almost to the end. Hope you enjoy today's chapters.

Chapter 126

Okay – maybe not took out my wings. They were still there, but I wouldn't be able to fly for a long, long time. Then again, I didn't exactly have that much longer to live anyway.

I quickly dabbed at my shoulders, blood streaming from them. I tried really, really hard not to cry out in pain, not even to flinch, but the immediate shock and hurt set in quickly and I screamed loudly as I fell to the floor. The bullets grazed my shoulders and went straight through the place where my wings met my back, but the ache was excruciating. I could barely move my arms let alone my wings and I just didn't see how I was supposed to save anyone. Desolation overwhelmed me.

The cage that had barred me from the world suddenly bottomed out and lifted over my head. I watched as two flyboys carried it out of the arena. Safe to say I wasn't going to be able to do much with or without it. I guess Dr. Singh was aware of that too.

Still, I had my legs. I could run. Could launch a roundhouse kick at an Omega head. Maybe even snap Borchy's ribs that lay nestled under his fat belly. I was about to take off in the direction of my flock when I felt yet another bullet sear into my thigh. I cried out again as I used my good leg to kick the gun out of Ter Borcht's hand. And then I finished with another swift quick below his abdomen. He doubled over and cowered off of the stage.

Just then, the gloomy spectators emerged into the arena. Flyboys descended sets of stairs in rhythmic fashion. Omega after Omega dashed in to join the melee. Guess they were there for extra precautions. As if what was transpiring with my flock wasn't enough. A blizzard of white coats stood prepared – awaiting our demise so they could tear us apart. I despondently watched as most of the crowd entered the arena and strode toward the horrors that were striking my flock.

This was completely and utterly hopeless. How was I supposed to defeat thousands of bad guys and save my flock who were being eaten alive by rats and spiders, who were possibly suffering third degree burns or who endured a gaping side wound. And then, what if – by some remote miracle – we escaped the evil clutches of Ter Borcht, Dr. Janssen, and Dr. Singh. Where would we go? How would we get out of here with so many flyboys awaiting us.

After my blow to Ter Borcht, I almost quit right there. What was the point? There were just too many. But I couldn't give up. Couldn't give up on my family. I took off in the direction of Dr. Janssen who was still hovering over Fang. She aimed her gun at me. Then turned it to Fang.

"Stop! Please!" I yelled to her. She paid me no mind. She fired off another shot – into his leg. I was certain the bullet had lodged. Certain that Fang and I would have matching wounds. Certain that we were facing the worst kind of death imaginable.

Would this nightmare ever end?

Was this it? Were we all about to get our own expiration dates? How could we survive this?

Just then, sounds of an explosion echoed throughout the arena.

I looked in the direction of the flock. The explosion took out half of Iggy's cage and my heart cried as I searched for his body.

I found it, but I was not expecting what I saw.

128. Chapter 127

Chapter 127

Surprises. They came way too often for me – at least they have in the past nine months. A real Thanksgiving dinner, discovering Jeb was my dad, and Dr. Martinez was my mom. Or when Fang was dead – and then wasn't. My expiration date showing up on the back of my neck. Yeah. Way too many shockers in my lifetime. Almost surprised I hadn't bit the dust due to a very expected heart attack. But it took a lot to top this next surprise. It was like birthday present times freaking twenty.

I stood horrified as I scanned the area surrounding Iggy's cage. Half of it was gone. Fire still glowed around it. Where was Iggy? Had he blown up? Was this his end?

The sound of a million turrets sparked the air. My eyes directed to the massive fracas and there stood Iggy. He had somehow managed to blow up his cage – with explosives he hid and where I did not know – and found the nearest flyboy – without his sight. In all the confusion, he turned the flyboy toward a mass of others and initiated a shooting spree. One that was still going on.

Something above the crowds immediately caught my eye. Angel. My beautiful sweet Angel, bad legs and all, had pushed herself into the air and out of range of her captors. Her flight was choppy, but she still managed to zip back and forth through the crowds of evil. I watched with pride as she zoomed down to strike a bat girl hard in the back and zip out as the girl turned and launched her fury on an unsuspecting lizard boy behind her.

Nudge's screaming had halted and my eyes went to her cage. She was engaged in a massive extermination. With some unforeseen bravery, she grabbed at the rats in her hair and tossed them angrily out of her cage. She tossed rat after rat away from her, her resolve growing stronger by the minute. And she tossed some rats so far that some of the bat chicks forgot about us and threw themselves upon their instant dinner – or lunch – or snack. Didn't particularly know what time of day it was.

Iggy ran to her audible yells of "Take that!" and "Don't mess with me – I'll eat you for lunch!" – which she probably would – just reluctantly.

"Back away, Nudge! And get ready to run!" he yelled as he slipped a small device into the bottom corner of her cage. It packed just enough punch to blow out a crevice in the oversized crate, just enough wiggle room for Nudge to squeeze her skinny little chocolate body out.

Iggy ran to Gazzy next. Ever since Iggy blew a hole in his own cage, Gazzy had been using his army boots my mom had bought him to stomp on mutant spiders. Now, as Iggy ran to him, Gazzy pushed hard on his crate and toppled it over, sending the spiders scurrying everywhere. He exerted all of his might and rolled the cage again – and again. And again. Gazzy – the human hamster. With four more rotations, he slammed the cage into a wall of the arena, causing the door of the cage to give just enough for Gazzy to push his way out. He leapt into the air and unfurled his wings, beating them hard to remain aloft. A devious grin formed on his face as he found his partner in crime and he flew down to join him.

I beamed. My flock was doing what I had spent years training them to do. Surviving. Fighting against all odds. And their doggedness fueled me.

With her eyes distracted to the strange turmoil in the arena, Dr. Janssen never even noticed the kick – from my only working appendage – that took out her gun and wiped any chance for another smile off of her face. My final kick sent her flying backwards and into a crowd of very angry and hungry batgirls. Guess she was wishing now that they had worked on toning the temperament of these young winged, blood thirsty creatures. Her spine chilling screams forced me to look away from the destruction that was being imposed on her defenseless body.

I turned my attention instead to Fang whose eyes were on me.

"Iggy!" I cried out as I hobbled to Fang's crate. "Quick! I need you!"

Gazzy guided Iggy to Fang's cage and Iggy initiated to blow out a small hole in the cage sequence. In under a minute, Fang was freed and I fell to his side.

"How bad?" My heart was in my stomach remembering the last time Fang had endured a gaping hole in his abdomen.

"See for yourself," Fang said with just a little too much cheeriness in his voice.

He lifted up his shirt and there was absolutely nothing there. And just a teensy little flesh wound on his thigh.

"Might need a band-aid for that one," Fang said flatly.

"But how? How could she miss you?" I was flabbergasted.

"Max training kicking in," he said with just a hint of a smile. "Good reflexes and a little bit of deception. I just made it look as though she hit me."

"Well – you are definitely getting my nod for a Golden Globe," I said as he helped me onto my good leg. I scanned the arena, observed the vast confusion, and said,

"Time to spring a little surprise of my own."

129. Chapter 128

Chapter 128

Bacheezus! Oohcha!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.

I felt the perplexed stares of the three favorite men in my life. I looked at them and shrugged.

"Just watch," I ordered.

And so they did. We all did. We watched as twenty or so super human Omegas marched into the sea of flyboys and initiated their own battle with them. Their super strength sent flyboy after flyboy careening across the arena, creating piles of scrap metal in several corners. The wolfbots weren't programmed for this nor were they programmed for confusion; therefore, they just fired back at the bay of super boys, taking a few out with well placed shots.

Nudge and Angel eyed us and immediately headed in our direction.

"What's going on? Why are the bad guys fighting the bad guys? I mean – I'm happy they're not fighting with us anymore, but still, what happened –"

Good to see Nudge was back to normal – I think.

Angel gently landed in Fang's arms and Iggy skimmed her legs for the breaks.

"Max? Was that you?" she asked.

I nodded.

"Got a little bored in Canada. Thought this might come in handy some day," I replied.

My time at the Program hadn't all been for naught. While I was to be sparring with Omega, I snuck in some of my own training. Training for the true greater good. Whenever the gruesome twosome weren't paying attention, I taught Omega and company how to shred a flyboy into tiny little pieces.

And if the little bit of extra assistance on the floor wasn't helpful enough, reinforcements in the name of the Armed Police Force of Nepal and the National Police Agency of Japan swarmed the room like this was a terrorist op take down. Which I guessed it sort of was. Once several of the officers wiped the look of pure confusion and dread from their faces, they immediately set to restoring order.

"I'm thinking… exit cue?" I asked my flock.

"Bingo. Let's get Total and get out of here," Fang added.

"Anyone seen shorty lately?" I asked as I leaned on Iggy for support.

"Took off as soon as Iggy blew up his cage," Fang noted. "Guess his sixth sense had a bad feeling about how it would all end up."

"Anyone seen Total?" Angel asked, suddenly worried that she no longer had him in her vision.

One glance at Total's cage and we were all worriedly scanning the crowd. Total's crate was on its side, bottom opened out, and completely devoid of a little black Scottie.

"Thanks for the help there!"

We spun around in the direction of Total. He was flying towards us, his black fur singed by an apparent brush with flames.

"Oh, Total. I was so worried about you!" Angel cried. Total flew towards her and dropped into her awaiting arms. Fang grimaced with the extra weight.

"What happened to you?" Angel continued through repeated dog licks to her face.

"Those monsters!" Total cried. "They kicked my cage again and again. The last boot landed me directly in that awful fire. I didn't think I'd make it! I never thought I'd see my dear sweet Akila again –"

"We got it, Total. You're alive and well. Save the drama for later," I said, gesturing toward an unoccupied exit. "Let's get out of here."

Total humphed and Fang led the way to an archway at the back of the arena. We scurried through the entrance and ventured down a long hall. Armed officers whizzed by us every few minutes and I silently wondered if we should turn around to help them. But something told me they had everything under control. And something told me this might be the last we ever heard from Itex and its hedonistic plans.

130. Chapter 129

Chapter 129

The flock and I hobbled down another long ornate hallway. The sheer beauty of this palace still stunned me. The intricate designs in each and every archway – I swear there were at least a hundred. The walls were dotted frequently with large lamp posts, lanterns speckled with gems that would have put any jewelry store to shame. Tapestries hung from other walls, paintings of a time long ago matted onto them. I occasionally caught myself staring at the walls when I should have been focused on the road ahead.

Oh – and did you notice I said "hobbled". The flock was plagued head-to-toe with battle scars. Nudge's light brown skinny legs were wallpapered with bite marks and I silently wondered if we would have to get her a rabies shot when we got back to the states. I know – I totally get the irony there. Both Iggy and Total sported second degree burns but Total's whining seemed to be the only thing slowing that pair down. Gazzy was the only one who seemed to escape without injury, until he showed us the massive spider bite hardening on the bottom of his foot. Guess mom would need to check that one out as well.

Angel's resolve and adrenaline surge were finally winding down while the pain in her legs soared upward. Iggy noted a clean break in each leg and he felt certain they would set right as they healed, but my little trooper would nevertheless be miserable for a while. She was still in Fang's arms and he looked as though he thought nothing of the extra weight. Maybe those steroids they infused him with back at the Program were still in his system. Oh – and as for Fang's injuries? His teensy, tiny flesh wound seemed to be recuperating just nicely, thank you. I doubted it needed a Band-aid. Actually, I doubted it was even there anymore.

As for me, well I just seemed to be the worst for wear. Pain seared through me anytime I tried to raise an arm past my waist and any time I placed pressure on my bullet ridden leg, I wanted nothing more than to cry out in agony. But I didn't. Just stubborn like that I guess. Was not about to let three gunshot wounds dampen my spirits. Nope. Had an expiration date that would do that soon enough.

After one more turn toward daylight or night skies or whatever the heck time of day it was, injuries seemed to be taking a toll so much so that Fang halted our escape route almost as soon as it started.

"We really should keep moving," I grimaced as he and Iggy dabbed at the tender areas around my shoulders. They had me sandwiched up against a corridor wall.

"What? Like a bunch of winged turtles?" Iggy exclaimed. I stomped on his foot with my good leg.

"No bullets here," noted Fang. Then quietly, "But you can't fly, can you?"

I dejectedly shook my head. This had happened to me once before. Left me grounded for almost three days.

Iggy checked my leg that was still bleeding considerably while Fang held my hand.

"Bullet's lodged in this one good. Submerged in a bone, I think." Iggy said. "Should definitely get you checked out when we get back to Arizona."

Yeah – like I would be going there ever again. I suddenly possessed a strong desire to know what day it was.

"Here – let me check my watch," Iggy voiced sarcastically to my posed query. "Oh wait – we don't wear watches."

"Well, we should," I muttered.

Fang studied me with his eyes as dark as night. He was fully aware of my concerns and why I owned them.

"You're not going to die," he said quietly. His eyes never left me.

"Humph. Tell that to the tattoo on the back of my neck."

I felt every one's eyes on me now. Concerned, confused eyes filled with worry and sorrow. Okay – this was exactly why I flew away in the first place. This was the reason I didn't tell them about my expiration date (thanks, Fang).

"Jeb said we're not supposed to have expiration dates," Nudge offered.

"I know," I said silently. "He said the same thing to me."

"So we're not going to worry about it," Fang interjected to the group, but his eyes were solely on me. "Let's move."

And with that, we eased our way through the maze of Tiffany décor. I wondered with all the turning we were doing if we would find our way out. And then I thought, Would I make it out?

A/N: Soooo - just FYI - there's a preview in the new paperback verison of MR4 of chapters 4 - 7 of the real MR5! SO, SO , SO Good! Except Brigid - I really truly hate her - is back...Ugh. And she has red hair now. Boo. But it really is good!!!

131. Chapter 130

Chapter 130

Good thing we have that built in directional sense because about four turns after our damage control pit stop, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Did I say light? Yes. And lots of it. The light filtered in through the palace entryway, illuminating our door to freedom. It's brilliance reminded me of the flashes of light I recalled seeing just before one of Iggy's toys would detonate - -and take out my last good pair of sneakers or my absolute favorite Mickey Mouse piggy bank. Hmmm. Boys – can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

As we raced toward our liberation from this temple of doom, my thoughts drifted to Dr. Singh and the rest of his demonic crew. I bore witness to Evilene's demise. The flying monkeys… er… bats took care of the wicked witch and I was definitely swearing off meat for a while because of that ugly scene. But Ter Borcht? Did he escape the madness again? And what about the diminutive leader? Fang claimed he slipped out once everything went haywire. Had he been captured? Or was he gone, ready to exact more evil half-way around the world?

No matter. At least for now, anyway. My main concern was getting us out of here and sending my crew home on a nice cozy flight to Arizona. Probably without me. As we exacted our escape plan, I caught a glimpse of a digital time piece through one of the windows of a large control room. The time: 2:42 (I'm guessing P.M.); the date: March 7. My date with death.

When we reached the base of the palace, it suddenly dawned on me that I could not fly out of here. So – I tallied the options.

1) I could let Fang carry me the hour flight to Kathmandu or to Kanpur or to anywhere but here for that matter.

2) We could take the three day hike to civilization. My bullet-chomped bad leg would just have to suffer… excruciatingly suffer.

3) Or my expiration date could just go ahead and kick in. The flock could dig me a nice grave, throw me in, and be gone.

A limp forward caused searing pain in my leg and I oh so wanted to choose option three right then and there, but part of me was really hoping Jeb was right about this whole expiration date nonsense. Like maybe today was not my day to die. My next choice was number two, but Fang wouldn't hear of it. Kept rambling on about how three days is too long for any of us to wait to see Dr. Martinez. Whatever. I pleaded my case though – about five times. Trust me.

But Fang was right. Again. Ugh. I hated it when he was right. He scooped me up like a princessy damsel in distress and took to the air. Fang carrying me. I absolutely hated that I was totally and utterly helpless in this situation. And I worried about how Fang would hold up with the extra baggage. The extra weight caused a fleeting frown during take-off, but then he seemed fine. As was Iggy with Angel. Nudge and Gazzy shared the toting of Total, taking turns carrying the twenty-pounder every half hour. Wouldn't want anyone to feel left out of the cozy, let's fly with someone in our arms picture we painted across the sky.

Of course the situation wasn't a total wash on my part. Fang's rock hard arms wound around my back and under my legs and every so often, his fingers would shift as he would readjust my weight, the soft brush on my shoulder sending a dizzying tingle down my pain wrought spine. Yay. Just one simple touch and Maximum Ride turns to pure mush.

I tried really hard to maintain a hearty scowl throughout the majority of our flight, just enough for him to know that I was not totally happy with his decision. The only time I remotely allowed the tension to ease off of my face occurred when I met his dark eyes with my own and his warm lips pressed briefly onto mine. My mood softened momentarily until he about dropped me from thousands of feet in the air from lack of concentration. The scowl, plus a few choice words that I won't say here, returned shortly after he readjusted.

An hour later we were staring at the gates of the Allen Forest Zoo outside of Kanpur. Home of the Asiatic Lion, cheetah, languor (whatever that is) and a rockin' botanical garden. We set off in search of a phone with which to call my mom and Jeb. Perhaps score some first class tickets back to Arizona. A payphone caught my eye near the gates and we strolled through a flourish of people who seemed to be exiting the park. I painfully brought my arm up to mash zero as I felt a Nudge tug on my now blood ridden tee-shirt.

"Max, I was thinking," Nudge said, twirling her long brown locks. "You know, maybe once we call your mom and get a plane and all. Well – maybe we could go inside the zoo for a few minutes. I mean – I know we're pretty banged up and all, but maybe we could look just a little bit."

Angel snapped out of her miserable state to flash Fang and me Bambi eyes. She practically jumped out of Iggy's arms as she exclaimed, "Oh, yes, Max. That would be so fun! Please let's go to the zoo!"

Ugh. Why couldn't these guys just concentrate on getting on a plane and zipping home. I mean – did I not have a bullet lodged in my leg? And boy – did it hurt!

I grimaced as I realized who I was dealing with. They were just kids. And after what we'd been through – well – they needed a little dose of amusement. Even if half of us were practically writhing in agony from battle scars.

I looked at Fang, his shrug willing me to make the decision – again.

"Okay – zoo it is," I barely got out before Gazzy and Nudge about knocked me away from the payphone. Angel slapped Total a high five –or in Total's case, a high four. And Iggy. He was already up and over the fence before I even agreed to this diversion. Like he knew I would say yes. I guess I caved way too easy these days.

132. Chapter 131

Chapter 131

Mom secured seven first class tickets on a flight out of Kolkata for later that evening. Just enough time for us to take the speed tour of the zoo and make the hour trip to catch our flight home. Yes – I did say home. A nice warm bed instead of a dirt floor or an antibacterial dog crate. Oh – and I did say seven – wouldn't even think about denying Total his own seat on the plane. Or me. I was really hoping I would make it.

Fang led the younger kids toward the primate section of the zoo while Iggy hung back with me. We strode slowly (well - I hobbled in pain) as I detailed every possible feature for my explosive friend, anticipating this may be the last time I could ever do that for Iggy. Plus, ever since I hung up with my mom, he seemed a little edgy and I figured I'd give him a chance to – you know – open up. I was about to break the ice when Iggy spoke first.

"Ella's birthday's coming up."

"Uh-huh." I smiled. My first real smile in days. Ella's birthday was exactly two weeks after mine. Which was two weeks after Nudge.

"And….and I want to – you know – get her something nice. But not too nice." Iggy's white face suddenly took on a crimson glow and I about cried my eyes out right then and there.

"I think that would be nice," I said and carefully placed my hand in Iggy's.

"You know – maybe a necklace. Not quite like the one Fang gave you, but well – you know – "

"I know, Ig," I said as I studied his face for possibly the last time. "Maybe we can look for one when we get back," I offered slowly. Please God. Please let me do this for Iggy.

And then suddenly, I felt a huge pain rip across my chest. I dropped Iggy's hand and threw both hands over my heart, ignoring the searing pain in my shoulders. This pain was worse. Way worse.

I fell to the ground. I think Iggy was at my side muttering something, yelling something. I couldn't hear too well. There was a whole lot of screaming in my head right now. Images flashed each and every nanosecond and a loud piercing whine caused my hands to shoot up to my ears. Please stop the noise. Let me die now. Please.

"Max!" I think I heard Fang scream but it was like a dull whisper in my head. Didn't know. My brain was about to explode onto the monkey exhibit. And my chest. My chest felt like someone was stomping on it. With big metal boots. Big metal boots with anvils attached.

I'm sure I was blubbering like a baby and cursing like a sailor. I tried to cover my eyes to shield my flock's eyes from the tears I am sure were there on my face, but the pain in my chest was too, too great.

"Max!" Was that Fang again? I felt a touch on my wrist. "Max! Fight this! Come on! You have to fight this!"

Fight? Yes, fight. But fight what? My body writhed in agony. So many hurts. My head felt like a bag of microwave popcorn set for way longer than the standard four minutes. And my heart. It felt like someone was smashing it with big heavy boulders. Fight? Okay. Just right after I close my eyes. Just for a little while. Won't be so bad.

Hmmm. The pain was going away. Was I getting better? Behind my eyelids, I saw sheer darkness. Totally black. Wait. No. Not totally black.

Is that a light? Just a faint glimmer. There. Just a few steps away.

Steps? That's right. I was walking now. Walking toward this light. Was this a dream? Had I fallen asleep? Or was this it? Was this the "light" that people always said you'd see once you died?

I didn't feel any pain anymore. Was that it? Was I dying? Death didn't seem to be so bad. Nobody dropping a big heavy piano on my chest. No one screaming in my brain. This was… okay.

I walked closer to the light. A tall figure loomed in the distance. There was someone standing there.

"Hello?" I whispered, as if the light were a big secret to keep hidden.

"Nice to see you again, Max."

133. Chapter 132

Chapter 132

"Ari? Is that you?"

"Hey, Max."

Ari was standing in front of me now. His Eraser face was gone, though. No more wolverine hair and snout destroying his face. Ari looked like a very tall seven year old. Dark brown hair. Clean face. Cheeks that hadn't quite outgrown the baby fat that used to engulf the bottom of his face when he was three and trailing me around at the School like a puppy. Ari looked… human.

And of course, I knew. If I was seeing Ari, that meant I would never see Fang again. Or my mom. Or Nudge. Or anyone else. My expiration day was here. I was… retired.

He reached out his hand and I took it.

"I have some things to show you," Ari said, his voice sang, the melodic undercurrent of an Eraser before it morphed. But Ari wasn't changing.

Ari led me along a path that was just light. Pure illumination. A light bulb with a wattage of a million. You get the picture. It was bright.

Then, we strode toward a picture. Not a portrait. A well-painted picture that was moving. Like a movie. Images of Nudge danced across the screen. She looked older, her dark brown hair cut short to her shoulders. She was at a park, talking with a girl her age. Her black hair and tan skin unforgettable. Nudge and Ella were hovering over a long black box, both grinning with excitement.

Ari walked me further and another picture caught my eye. Of course it did. There was a huge flash of light – brighter than the corridor in which I currently found myself. Then, I saw an excited Gazzy, not much older than he is now, his blond hair spiking upward. He slapped Iggy a high five and wait –it looked as though Iggy could see. Yep. He pointed at the new crater in the ground, produced a slim notebook from his back pocket, and began to transcribe something into it.

"They look… happy." I swallowed hard, tears trying to surface, yet I felt no moisture in my eyes.

"They are," was all Ari said.

The next picture showed Jeb and my mom. And they were holding hands. While I half-expected to feel nauseated by that small gesture, I felt more warmth than anything. Like I had my mom and I had my dad. And now they had each other.

I glanced at Ari to study his reaction. After, all Jeb had been his father too. But Ari maintained the same joyful smile that had been plastered on his face since he greeted me.

The final picture in this long and blinding corridor was of a park again. The same one that Fang and I went to right before he discovered my retirement date. He was with Angel, pushing her on a swing, her long blond curls dancing in the wind. His face was as unreadable as always, but he didn't look unhappy. Was this their future I was seeing? I hoped it was. I hoped he was happy without me. I hoped they all were. It was comforting to see this and know that life had gone on for them without me.

I turned to Ari to ask him a question. My mind was racing with so many; however, he proceeded to speak first.

"Wait. You need to watch."

He redirected my stare to the last picture. Fang was still swinging Angel. But then another figure emerged in the distance. She strode right up to Fang and kissed his cheek, causing the corner of his mouth to turn upward.

I snapped my head in Ari's direction, my mouth agape.

"It's not time for you, Max. You need to go back home."

Yep – the girl in that picture was me.

I felt my mouth drop further and a tear formed in my eye where one had tried so hard to surface before.


"Go back, Max. It's not your time. Not yet." Ari's voice was fading. And my heart began hurting.

"Ari!" I reached out, but he just kept fading away from me.

The light faded, the brilliance disappearing from whence it came. I felt something hit me hard. Ouch! Somebody was beating my chest. With a rock! No! With a boulder!

The blows to my chest kept coming. Blackness encompassed me now. There was no more light.

And then I heard voices. Faint at first, but getting louder. And louder.

I felt my eyelid flicker. And light seeped through again.


A/N: Sorry to make you wait a whole day for this. :) lol!

Well - there you have it... Epilogue forthcoming. I thought I'd wait to post it until Sunday, but then, I thought I might value my life way too much for that. :) I'll post the final...sniff sniff... chapter (Epilogue) tomorrow.

Thank you for all of your reviews!!!

134. Epilogue


"That was the coolest! I wanna' do that again!"

Well, that would make the fifth time Gazzy rode Space Mountain, an in-the-dark rollercoaster at Disneyland. He jumped in line behind a young couple, probably in their twenties and waited impatiently for Nudge, Ella, and Iggy to catch up.

"Come on!" he urged them. "We'll lose our place in line!"

"You know – you could make the line disappear really fast," Iggy commented, sliding up behind him.

Gazzy smiled, a devious grin that lit up his youthful face.

"Ewww. Gazzy, don't. That's just… ewww." Nudge edged away from Gazzy and Iggy and slipped under the ropes that would bring her one step closer to fresh air. Iggy and Gazzy slapped high fives. Ugh. Gazzy and his nasty habits. Couldn't take him anywhere.

Nudge skipped through sparse pedestrian traffic and bounced down onto the bench next to me.

"That was just gross," she began. "Max, this place is just the bestest place ever! I wish we could come here every day. They have cool rides and the most delicious food and oh – can we go back and see that Fantasia show. That was so cool. I almost wish – "

Okay – I'll spare you the rest of the hour long Nudge chat. For those of you who haven't caught up yet – yes – I was here at Disneyland. With my flock. Alive. Alive and well. Okay – not exactly well, but healthy enough to hobble around the humongo park and treat my family to a real vacation. A vacation without the worries of Erasers and Itex and all the bad juju that came with it.

So - short version on what transpired back in Kanpur. I conquered death. Well – Fang helped a teensy weensy bit. Nice to know all that CPR training paid off. He actually pummeled my chest for twenty minutes trying to jump start my heart. Mucho happy he did not give up on me. Guess Ari was right. It was definitely not my day to die. And I sorta owed Fang my life for a while. Or at least that's what he keeps telling me.

Anyway – once we got stateside, my oh too cool mom performed emergency surgery on my wings, shoulders, and leg. A bullet was lodged into my femur and my mom had to execute a bone grafting surgery for the parts of my leg that were torn to shreds. That was three days ago. My wings were pretty much healed. Yay for that. Not being able to fly really sucks when that's pretty much what you're used to. However, my leg would take a few more days. So – yeah. Limping all over Disneyland for me. Gazzy almost had me convinced in securing a wheelchair just so we could all get on rides faster. Almost. Just really didn't care to feel any more helpless than I did.

As for what exactly happened with the whole expiration date thingie – Jeb is still convinced they must have messed with me at the Program, maybe injected me with something to cause all the sickness, the explosive migraine, the heart attack, et cetera. Didn't know – didn't particularly care. I wasn't throwing up every five minutes anymore and I was breathing. I'll take it.

Angel and Fang approached us from the direction of Fantasyland and my heart skipped an extra beat. I smoothed my homemade gift from Fang that still dangled above my heart and wondered how long these butterflies in my stomach would stick around. They seemed to pop up every time Fang was in my radar. And… um… I kinda liked it.

"Angel! Fang!" Nudge exclaimed, leaping up and racing toward them. "You missed the best ride ever! Space Mountain has all these loops and turns and it's totally in the dark too!"

"Maybe we can go after lunch?" Fang offered to Nudge.

"Oooh, lunch! I am hungry!"

Some things just never change.

"I saw this place on the brochure – the Blue Bayou. It's by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride so we could do that too." Nudge was speaking so fast we were having a little trouble keeping up. "Anyway – it's like a Cajun restaurant but they have vegetarian meals so that would be good for me, right?"

Nudge became a vegetarian again after watching the bat girls in action.

Fang and Angel both plopped down beside me on the bench while Nudge unfolded and studied a map of Disneyland. A map worn at the folds from her twenty previous examinations of the brochure.

"How's Dumbo?" I asked Angel as I ran my fingers through her hair. She mussed Total's fur as he curled up in her lap.

"Great! Fang took Total and me way up in the air. We could see the whole park!"

As if we couldn't see that on our flight in. But I digress.

I pulled my little six year old hero into me. Yes – I did say "hero". Back in the Himalayas, when things were looking a little bleak for us, I called in a favor from my Omega friends. Snuck in a little flyboy extermination training back at the Program. Seems as though I wasn't the only one who was angling for the true greater good. Dr. Evil and her fat twin subjected Angel to all sorts of mind control experiments while we were imprisoned at the Program. Angel "spoke" with many leaders from many different countries, all the while trying to read their thoughts to distinguish the good rulers from the bad. Turns out a lot of them were bad, bad, bad. Except Emperor Kumamoto of Japan. When she discerned that he was against Itex and their agenda, she detailed the current situation, By-Half Plan and all, and persuaded him to speak with the United Nations.

My mom and Jeb never needed to journey to New York. Japan and the UN already had Itex under a very watchful eye. Which totally explains their sudden appearance in the Himalayas. So glad they came when they did.

Ter Borcht was discovered shortly after we took off for Kanpur. He's currently spending time in a maximum security prison in Germany. As for Dr. Singh – nowhere to be found. He slipped away from the madness and was gone. And I, for one, hoped he stayed gone. Long, long gone.

I caught Mom and Jeb exiting a souvenir shop by the Buzz Lightyear ride. They strode towards us and I couldn't help but notice how close they walked next to one another. I wondered if any of those pictures Ari showed me were glimpses into the future.

No matter. The one piece of that dream sequence that I had wanted to come true actually did. I was alive and no one was taking that away from me – not if I had a say-so about it.

I felt Fang's hand, his rough fingers intertwining with mine. I nuzzled up into him and rested my head on his shoulder. We were back to the new normal. He irritated me. I scowled. Then he lightly kissed my forehead or lips or some part of my face, and I melted into nothingness. Yeah- pretty pathetic. I've labeled it "growing pains".

"Max – I think I want to get my hair cut – you know – short. Maybe too my shoulders," Nudge said. "Oooh – maybe just in time for Ella's birthday party!"

Hmmm. Maybe those visions were becoming a reality.

"I think that would be nice, Nudge," I said through a smile.


Well, hello Voice. So glad you could join us. Wouldn't want to miss you interrupting my happy moment with another plan for violence and mayhem.

You've saved the world again, Max.


And I think you deserve some fun.

Wow. Was not expecting that. The Voice telling me to have fun?

Okay – so then what? I asked my Voice. Got another crazy adventure for us?

No, Max. I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you. You are certainly living up to every expectation we had when we designed you.

I felt a smile creep its way onto my face. Fang caught my eye from the corner of his.

"My Voice is proud of me," I explained contentedly as I patted his knee.

"Good to know." Fang's voice gave away nothing – as usual. Ugh. Could he not be excited for me? Just once.

Relax, Max. Enjoy the moment. I'll be in touch.

Yeah. Knew that one only too well.

Gazzy, Iggy, and Ella emerged from the rollercoaster exit, all three displaying ear-to-ear grins. Angel sprung to her feet and skipped to her brother, Total crooked underneath her arm. Her legs just about healed from the breaks it had endured.

Nudge excitedly led our crew toward Destination Lunch and I felt tears welling up as I watched my happy flock. We were together and we were alive, enjoying the sunny California soon to be spring weather. Nothing could top this.


I snapped out of my daze and gazed intently at Fang. He had his hand in mine, assisting me in my struggle across the park, all one hundred and sixty acres of fun. Through my joyful tears, I could detect the faintest bit of concern in his dark impassive eyes.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Never better," I replied. We shared a smile, a smile I hoped wouldn't leave my face for a long, long time.


A/N: So there you have it. Hope you liked. I have to tell you how incredibly, incredibly flattered I am with all the positive feedback on my story. I know there are several of you out there who are demanding a sequel and that may come in the future, but sadly - not any time soon. I have got another writing project I am working on that is near and dear to my heart and I just can't get my head out of it. Nor do I want to. And on top of that I have all the responsibilities that life seems to bring me.... good responsibilities, but still stuff I gotta do. But I will probably repost this story from time to time with an author's note here or there - just to keep you all posted.

Anyway - good news. MAX comes out in the US a month from Monday!!!!! So excited. I've read the first seven chapters and I love it, love it, love it. Cannot wait.

If you review, I promise I will respond to those reviews that are logged in - you know what I mean. I haven't been very good about that lately - but I will reply this time. Just not today... gotta date with my Valentine! Happy V Day!

135. Author's Note

Author's Note:

Okay – I know I probably just disappointed half of you with hopes of more chapters – but just an author's note… Was experiencing withdrawals from publishing so I felt the need to come back and update you on what's up with me on the writing front! And MR5 is coming out in less than a week! Soooo excited!!! I know you all are too.

So – I know you all want a sequel (PS – flattered immensely) but I have been obsessed (possibly a little too much) with my own story. I'm about to start chapter 100 and my outline today (it changes) estimates about twenty more – hopefully will be done by the third week of March and then I shall proceed onto query letters to publishers and writers' conferences. Wish me luck. And even if I get fifty rejection letters, I will still self-publish and sell my book out of the back of my car. Yeah – kinda hoping I won't have to do that, but we'll see how that goes.

And if anything big should come of this – you, my fabulous dedicated readers and reviewers, will be the first to know. If you like my style, you'll like this book. I have always written with someone else's characters or using my friends as characters – never have I experienced the immense joy that comes with creating your own. Absolutely positively in love with them. So much so that half the sequel to the book I am currently writing is playing in my head. Don't ever want this ride to end. I'm sure many of you out there have twiddled with that so you know where I am coming from.

Anyway – just thought I'd update. And as for an MR sequel – I still want to do one for the new book. I'm anxious to see what JP has done with the flock. And I may dabble in drabbles (inspiration courtesy of Skye Maxwell :D ). Really like them.

So – thanks for reading my ramble. I'll keep you posted!

136. Author's Note AGAIN!

Just another author's note with a twofold purpose:

a) Am thinking it is about time I start writing that sequel I owe my many flattering reviewers who treat me way too kindly… My question is

Would you like to see a sequel to my MR5 or to the real MR5? I can do either – would just like your thoughts… oh and PS – fair warning – once I start writing – which could be as early as next week – I probably won't post for at least a month – I have to write a lot before I post due to constant back editing on the part of yours truly.

b) If you happen to think about it, say a little prayer or send a happy well-wishing thought on the part of yours truly… I finished my own book and am working on the sequel aaaaand I just sent out the first batch of query letters today. And for those of you who have been asking about the subject material – well, let's just say if my lofty dreams do come to fruition and I somehow manage to see my efforts in print – think superheroes… protagonist named Jamie… and a huge nod to my devoted readers in the acknowledgements section – then you'll know it is me…. Just keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Thanks! You all are awesome! You'll hear from me before the end of May with that sequel!