Dark Side of the Moon by Yessian

Category:Maximum Ride
Genre:Adventure, Drama
Published:2011-01-21 10:16:44
Updated:2011-04-06 00:27:07
Packaged:2021-05-07 02:38:43
Summary:Four years on, Max and company fight against a deranged blast that they had once rescued in the past, with humanity at stake. The first of the DSotM trilogy.

Table of Contents

1. Prologue: The Ave Maria
2. 1: Ships and Dip
3. 2: A Day in the Life
4. 3: Eighteen
5. 4: It Figures
6. 5: Mission Briefing
7. 6: Bigger Than You
8. 7: Red Light, Green Light
9. 8: Jeb

1. Prologue: The Ave Maria

A/N: Somewhere in the middle of watching Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", the book "Let Us Prey", some X-games, and a movie in passing called "The Counterfeiters", this idea suddenly came to mind. A warning to the readers, however - though for most I try to refrain from getting too graphic, but the content may be disturbing and violent, and so may up the rating for safety. Reader discretion(?) advised.

But violent and hopeless moments don't come without their humor, fun, and unfading glimmer of hope. :) Hope you like this.

Disclaimer: I don't own Maximum Ride. All characters except for the Clan and a few bystanders (and some stand-in baddies) go to James Patterson, including Rail (of whom I'd only given the name to, as it wasn't supplied in the series).

Prologue: The "Ave Maria"

Seattle, WA. 0500 hours.

Someone was playing the Bonney's version of "Ave Maria" on a loudspeaker, all around the city. Though there was no audible static, it was the only explanation that the surviving residents could logically reach. After all, that song had, without a doubt, been playing just before the break of dawn, when most of the city was still and traffic had just begun. It was the only explanation for those survivors that had just woke up, or looked up in the middle of setting up shop, or started their cars to go home after a long shift, to come up with.

Everyone had heard the singer's beautiful, haunting, enchanting tones, echoing around in the quieter hours from the office buildings and dusty hotels. Pedestrians paused to listen; road workers turned off their machines.

"Ave Maria! Jungfrau Mild;

Erhöre einer Jungfrau Flehen,

Aus diesem Felsen starr und wild

Soll mein Gebet zu dir hinwehen..."

But not everyone on that peaceful morning could witness the song's end.

Within the first few seconds into the melody came a horrific crumbling sound, of stone and twisting metal, followed by scores of alarmed and horrified screams - and the fall of the first building, without a warning. It had simply collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris.

"Wir schlafen sicher bis zum Morgen,

Ob Menschen noch so grausam sind.

O Jungfrau, sieh der Jungfrau Sorgen...!"

The first minute came, and then there were two, sinking to their shaking knees. The song floated on strongly above the panic and confusion, as bricks and scaffolding boomed amongst the fleeing townsfolk, undeterred, unwavering.

"O Mutter, hör ein bittend Kind!"

A middle-aged woman awoke to the lilting notes of the Angel and followed it, mesmerized, to the ledge of her apartment - and, along with many others that morning, followed it right over the balcony itself. Scores of hypnotized citizens, entranced to their deaths.

By the time the song was over, an entire section of the bustling town, now very much wide awake, was total chaos.

By 0600 hours, as the sun rose over the dirty, ashen clouds in the paleness of dawn, the death toll reeled, and the damage was astronomical. And no one ever found where the song had come from.

"...Ave Maria."

Sacramento, CA. 1300 hours.

A gaping hole had appeared in the middle of a city street, steaming. Sirens and car alarms wailed over the din of yelling and desperate cries for help. Only an hour ago, it had been a sunny afternoon, a normal, busy day. Tourists and sunshine, residents walking their dogs, shoppers and couples walking around downtown, enjoying the noon.

Only an hour ago, that same street had blasted itself apart.

The crater had collapsed the buildings down the main street into themselves, and cracked the remaining asphalt all the way to the Capitol, of whose sturdy structure had also been badly shaken. Chips of mortar still showered from its blackened front, and a facet had appeared in its steadfast dome from the shock. Fires burned in the telephone wires and shriveled trees, scorched cars piled atop one another, and the bodies piled atop the bodies.

"Sacramento, California: Freak Earthquake or Faulty Gas-lines?

At 1 PM today, downtown Sacramento literally exploded. No one is for sure how it happened, but there is suspect of a gas leak beneath the city. Taking it to the workers -"

" - The explosion looks to have taken place right next to a dried up water reservoir beneath the city," a worker told the camera, wiping ash from his face and hands. "As we know, when groundwater dries up, its nothing but an air pocket, and creates a sinkhole when it collapses. The one under the street has gone undetected for quite some time, and it might have taken another ten, maybe twenty years to collapse; but the force of the explosion is what set it off for sure. It could'a been leaking gas into the air pocket, we don't know. Behind me you can see it stretches maybe, at its maximum, almost a good mile. Structures on the edge of the street have had no chance, just no chance at all."

"Firefighters and rescue teams are working feverishly to retrieve the trapped citizens," the reporter went on, panning to a view of the Capitol. "Meanwhile, our Capitol building, for the first time in a long time, has taken actual damage. Luckily, thanks to its structure, no one inside it was seriously injured. The Capitol was built in -"

Fang snapped the computer shut.

It figured. Max wouldn't want to hear about this, when they were on their first real, official vacation in ages. They'd just gotten off the clock for once, four years into this whole mess, and trying to finish settling into a way of life that was good for them - their relationship needed work. And now this.

But it wasn't only his aggravation at having to go back and finish saving the world; it was also the gruesome, and unusual way of the stories on the news website. Fang may not have been an architect, but he knew buildings did not just "collapse" for no reason. And he was also certain that there was no way a natural disaster could have hit so spot on at the Capitol.

Well, like it or not, the military and the government and all that would probably brief them soon enough, whether he was the one to tell Max or not. Fang temporarily ignored the problem. Their vacation had just started. His date with Max was tonight, and he wanted to enjoy the rest of the day they had, at least, before they were yanked out of their beds and put back to work.

The resort was little more than a large, comfortable Tiki-shack, sitting on a very tiny island off of Florida. Fang grabbed some towels and a pair of goggles, then stepped outside onto the sand and into the sunny, perfect weather. The news disturbed him.

The laptop, left up, froze, and then suddenly warped after he left, broadcasting its intruding, silent message on the rum-barrel table to no one.

It was a picture of a painting, of the Virgin Mary, but where her loving eyes would be, were only hollow holes, painted in by computer. In her open hands scrolled the ominous words:

Humans of the Earth. Das Menschen von die Welt. Los Humanos del Mundo.

This world is no longer yours.

This world is no longer yours.

This world is no longer yours.

2. 1: Ships and Dip

Chapter One: Ships and Dip

The ocean's a pretty rockin' place in the summertime, I've got to give it that.

Ship Island was originally an island fort, (Fort Massachussets, I think), about 11 miles off the coast of Mississippi, and was closed to the public for a little while, thanks to the government declaring our need for a personal holiday, so we had the sands and sun and sea all to ourselves for about two weeks. And boy, was it EVER a long time coming!

Gazzy was chasing after a squealing Angel with a crustacean the size of a beach ball, laughing his head off, and Total yapping right behind them; Iggy and Ella built sandcastles above the surf, chatting animatedly.

But Nudge, Mom, and I were the ones having the best of it. The government seemed to have, for once, done a very generous thing, having invested in some pretty awesome professional service for us, too. We stretched out on our chairs in the partial shade of the umbrellas, getting lotion rubbed onto our backs by a pair of, in Dr. Martinez's words, "extremely hunky bodyguards". I didnt' see the point at first - we'd probably need to guard THEM, if anything. But they had their uses:

"They teach Cordon Bleu and Massage Therapy right alongside kicking people's butts with these guys," she sighed dreamily, sipping from that cliché, but REALLY GOOD, drink in a coconut.

"Yeeeeaaaah," Nudge agreed, adjusting her movie-star shades and stretching. "They really got it, this time. It's good to see some 'well-rounded' qualities in a man or two."

The two of them burst out giggling hysterically at this. I rolled my eyes. "The pair of you act like you've got money, or something," I scoffed. They simultaneously looked at me over their sunglasses like a pair of divas. "And you're one to talk, Max...if the manicure by the extra man on your right hand is doing you any justice," they laughed.

What? So maybe a bodyguard (or more) was helpful for something! I could always use an extra person to do my nails. They needed it, too, they were getting quite bad, and this swimsuit model was being just ever SO professional. I smirked and adjusted my own sunglasses with a free hand and went back to relaxing under the skilled palms of our sexy Assigned. "Mmm, I support our previous mentality completely in that I'm never passing up free, and highly necessary, service."

"I second that!" Mom declared, raising her drink. "Ooh, and a little more oil on that shoulder, Garcon, s'il vous plait."

We broke out giggling helplessly again. I don't know how our boys took it, but I hoped they considered themselves flattered. THIS was something a girl could get used to!

But then a certain looming shadow had to spoil it. I looked up. "Oh, hey, where've you been?" I mumbled. Fang twirled a pair of goggles around on his finger. "Windsurfing with Iggy in a second. Monroe is bringing our boards and stuff now. I'd ask you to join us, but..." He raised an eyebrow. I hoped I had a bit of a tan to cover any sort of blush that might have been trying to pop up. What can I say? I usually don't wear bikinis, never owned one...

...And he didn't normally wear trunks when we went swimming, for the same reason. He looked pretty good.

"...You seem to be enjoying yourself."

"You got THAT right," I murmured, as my bodyguard massaged along my back. "Lucas has fantastic hands."

"...'Lucas'?" I heard him mutter, and I noticed the rather darkish look thrown at the Guard he generally reserved for the promise of a fractured skull and an arse-whoopin'. Aww. I couldn't resist. "Yes, 'Lucas'. And, 'Lucas', when you've got a moment, could you get me another ice-pop? Lime this time."

"Of course, miss," wonderful Lucas replied. Ha-ha!

Fang's eye twitched, in the way that told me he was fighting an eye-roll. I had some sympathy and punched him lightly in the leg from where I lay. He smirked. "Not jealous, are you? You guys could trade places..."

"If I'm jealous, it's only because when I do it, I don't get paid," he retorted, and walked off, amid Mom and Nudge practically stuffing their fists in their mouths to keep from laughing aloud. I watched him go lazily, admiring the sun on his strong shoulders, casting a sheen on his great, dark wings.

God, I love that guy.

It's been four years since the rescue of my mom and the expedition to the Arctic. Four years, since the run-in with Mr. Chu, and the poor, deformed radioactive beings under the water that Angel said were called Krelp.

My birthday's around the corner - I'll be a legal adult in society!

That doesn't excite me at all. I'm not a big societal person, and as far as I'm concerned, we've ALL been adults since we could fight. Not to mention, there wasn't much I could do with that title, except get into a fancy place on my own - oh, THAT'S right! I could do THAT before, too! So in other words, this is only a really huge thing for normal humans.

However, it was still a marker in our journey; we'd made it to adulthood, something I never thought was probable, what with people trying to freakin' KILL US every time we tried to get something to eat or lay down to catch a nap. That, and the matter concerning our expiration dates...mine still hasn't popped up, though I've been checking, off and on. I'd feel more paranoid about it, but, I got a job to do.

And no, it's not saving the world right now. It's relaxing. FOR ONCE.

But what happened in the past four years? A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Saving people here, stopping armed forces there, knocking people off political thrones over there, the usual.

Nothing to really tell, except that, as you've probably noticed, me and Fang are a lot easier with each other. We've come a long way in our relationship, through the many obstacles and things called "staying alive until tomorrow", but somehow, we managed to make it. Maybe in the time during the vacation, we could work on it some more.

Ella's looking to be accepted into a place where she can go to school to become a vet, like her mom, but for wildlife. They opened up several rehab and nurture clinics for animals all over the country, endorsed by PETA and CSM and Greenpeace and all that, which is great, because animals don't got a lot of doctors, and it means that if ever we get busted up, we can come to her for help.

"Aaaaaaaand..." She said, making me wake up from my little daydream of replacing dear Lucas with Fang anyway, "...Action!"


She was holding a camcorder in my face. And now, zooming out, and panning around to get a good view of my exposed back. "Here we have the rare and dangerous creature, Maximus Rideus, a unique type of avian-hybrid that can be found ONLY when it wants to be," she narrated, in a light British imitation. "Here we see her on an even rarer moment of her life - relaxing, and being pampered by several of her well-paid, symbiotic, and attractive, hosts. See the deep look of intense enjoyment upon her beautiful face, followed by the increasingly bewildered and curious curve of her eyebrows as she finds that she's been on film for the past ten minutes."

My eyebrows stayed put in their 'increasingly bewildered and curious' curvey position. "Should I even ask?"

"Ella," Mom chuckled, "why are you recording our vacation with only two weeks left? You should have started before then."

"I know, but I've just had a great idea," she replied, focusing it on them now. Nudge was sitting up, having a sandwich, and spoke around her food: "Whut, a documendaree of 'Bird-kids in da Wild'?"

"Actually...yeah." She explained. "I have to do another doc before I go back to school, and I was thinking, why not of us? Not only would I get an easy A, but also, use it to help our cause."

Nudge swallowed. "Not like Hollywood again, is it?" She asked skeptically. Ella shook her head. "No, not at all! With this, everyone can know your history, and what you're doing to help save the world and promote CSM. It could further motivate people -"

"-And not to mention, settle the score with putting a lot of these people behind bars," Mom finished, mulling it over thoughtfully. She had a point. Even though we've been battling the forces of evil and greedy for the past four years, illegal genetic experiments were still just 'rumor and speculation' - which was a load of crap, seeing as we're living proof, among others, and everyone on the planet knows who we are. But, according to Dr. Martinez and Jeb and everyone else, it wasn't the lack of proof that was stopping anyone from putting these people away.

God forbid anyone stop being corrupt for a good cause, but then, even supposed 'heroes' trying to help with the cause needed money, too. Politicians and sponsors, especially. ("They're not bad people, just greedy people," Mom explained to me once.)

"I wouldn't mind doing a movie," Nudge proposed, passing me and her a sandwich, too. "And it wouldn't be too hard to ask for extra camcorders so we can take them with us, and fly with them, and stuff."

"Yeah, I could see that," I said, still a tad uncertain. "But I mean, is it a good idea, what with us trying to lay low again, and all that?" Technically, we still didn't belong to the government. It frustrated them to the point of funny that they could never get us to sign over our lives to them. We just worked WITH them sometimes. Never FOR them. And in return, they were supposed to be keeping us from being found.

"Not like they'll find out where we live unless we tell them," she pointed out, and Ella nodded. "Yeah, we've got the country's army on our side as our escorts. They alone should be enough to shoo away any 'overzealous fans'."

"It's entirely up to you, sweetie," said Mom, knowing from experience our reserved personal rights to paranoia and secrecy. But Ella was pretty good at filming, I'd seen the stuff she'd done for the ASPCA, and PSA's for CSM and the military. At least it wouldn't feel so...creepy...with her holding the camera.

"Well...I'm all for it, I guess," I said, not unhappy to pick up a less-lethal hobby for a change, even if it did sound a bit kooky. Looked like I'd be a movie star, after all. "And if the rest of the flock says yay, do your thing. But you're probably going to need a LOT of tape for this."

"Should I wear makeup?" Nudge wondered humorously. "Heh, or can we edit my lesser points after?"

Ella jumped up to go to the Shack. "Oh, don't worry, I've got it covered, I'll go get -"

And almost ran into Fang and Iggy, coming up to us from their fun.

"WOOO!" Iggy crowed, leaning on him, and Fang just shook his head. "He's still a bit disoriented."

Mom sighed, exasperated. "I'd be too, after that. Whatever in the world made you think of joining him?"

My Tallest picked a long thread of seaweed out of his strawberry hair, giggling to himself. There was a bright pink mark on his forehead, and it kind of looked painful. "So I could sabotage him, of course."

"Iggy, you're blind," Fang said, ironically. And Iggy, used to this, only snerked. "Didn't stop me from making you do a face-plant anyway. That was the whole point of the game."

(We'd watched from the shore. If anyone could perform war on the sea by windsurfing, it would probably be them. I echoed her sigh. Four years, and they were still my kids, still my siblings, still my royal pains.)

"Tch, c'mon Igs, we'll get you your band-aid," Fang grumbled in good humor, towing him to the Shack. Iggy puffed himself up proudly. "I shall wear it as a medal for my outstanding victory, and my bravery in the face of Fugly."

"Huh. You ain't much of a looker, yourself, what with that bright shiny spot on your head."

"I shall wear it too as a medal, a beauty mark of honor, that makes the onlookers, and you especially, pale in my shadow!"

"Did he hit his head that hard?" I asked, a little worried. Ella examined him carefully. "Looks like just a bump...you guys should really lighten up on each other, you're not enemies!"

Fang shrugged. "It's what he gets for thinking he's such a pretty-boy."

"I AM a pretty boy. Prettier than you. Every day, and you're just jealous."

"And he wonders why he got a board to the head."

"Ain't my fault I got dain bramage. I plead gimpiness."

"Of course you would."

"Boys," Mom warned gently, getting up. "Come on, we'll fix the both of you up inside. Ella, Nudge, could you and Max get the others together so we can start that bonfire? After all..." She winked at me over her shoulder, pushing the other two along, "it's a certain someone's special night."

"Oh, right!" Nudge jumped up and grabbed one arm, Ella grabbed another, and they saluted to Dr. Martinez as she led them away. Iggy scratched at his reddish chin-hairs. "Eh? Someone say 'special'?"

"Come, Iggy, the short-bus is leaving," Fang quipped, earning himself a jab in the side of the head.

Nudge and Ella waited for them to get inside, then hauled me away like a sack of potatoes. "Your birthday surprise's tonight!" The squealed, and I, remembering with a jolt, let myself be taken away to the horrors of the unknown.

3. 2: A Day in the Life

Chapter Two: A Day in the Life

West Ship's Island was pretty beat up after Katrina back in '05; the fort was still wracked with water damage and debris, and the once grassy hills that made the fort's roof were bare in some patches, like a sick dog's coat. Whatever other structures there'd been had been damaged or swept away. However, repair work had been on temporary hold, while we made our stay, so I guess you could say we only get busted-up resorts for free.

(You know, just in case we destroy it a little bit, no one will care so much. Or something.)

Nudge, Ella and I chased each other up the white sands of the beach, then raced each other to the fort and flew around it (Ella held safely and ecstatically under the arms). We ran and flew screaming around the maze of low stone arches, jumping off of partitions and tumbling in the sand-strewn grass. The energy was infectious. "I wish I had wings!" Ella yelled, jumping up and down wildly on the top of the fort as Nudge and I sparred in flurries of jabs and airborne kicks and aerial dodges. "Left! Right! Another left! Get her, get her!"

Nudge swung a vicious right. I felt it tickle the edge of my chin as it went by - then warped around her, planning a kick to the small of her back. I was surprised when she dodged it, tucking in her wings and falling out of range for ten feet, and then rocketing back up with a grinning uppercut that I barely blocked. Whoa!

"Watch out! Duck! Go, go!" Ella continued to cheer. I noticed a glimmer in her hand, where the camera was situated, following our every move. Geeze, didn't even have time to do my hair!

"Who's - side - are - you on - anyway?" I growled, whaling away. Just pretend its not there. It took a minute to realize that after three minutes of this, I wasn't laying at hit on my opponent, even with warp speed. Nudge, fashion-queen and motor-mouth she may be, was still trained by me. She, like the rest of us, had grown up in a dog crate, been horribly tortured and experimented on, psychologically and emotionally abused, and more - and yet, she retained her optimistic outlook on life. She was a mutant, too, and every bit as powerful. Hard to remember, her being so cheerful, until you had your ribs pushed into your lungs in the time it took you to blink.

Couldn't hide my amazement. Fifteen years old and just as ruthless as I was four years ago. She never lost her smile, ducking and weaving and launching herself at me from the parapets, rolling in midair out of range like a fighter jet. Was I proud of her? Like you wouldn't believe it.

At last, we swooped down to Ella and flopped on either side, catching our breaths. "It's like you're foreseeing my moves," I panted. Nudge brushed her dark hair and its gold streaks out of her eyes happily. "I was. I found a new way to use my power. I can see what might happen, instead of what already has."

"Seriously?" I said, pleasantly alarmed. "Wouldn't you have to touch me fir - oohhh..." She'd been blocking. And it had just been confirmed that even a split second of touching me was enough to 'know' what I was about to do, and probably what I'd already done that day. (To those unaware, our Nudge is an empath. Read our previous installments, or read further here, if you want more on that.)

"The other avian, Nudgeus Modelus, has just displayed an adaptation of a previous ability, one of empathy. One could say that such a discovery and mastery of said ability could be a step closer to what some would call, 'Psychic'." Like our youngest member, Angel. (I personally hoped not. One super-powerful psychic was enough, thank you.)

I rolled my eyes, and Nudged laughed, striking what she thought might be a heroic pose. She really had matured in that time, we all had. Short, choppy-cut hair, and lovely brown eyes - she had her own fan-base around the world. No doubt she'd look the best in the documentary.

Me, on the other hand...

Ella passed the camera to Nudge and started fiddling with my dirty-blond hair. It had gotten pretty long (Fang had told me once, on a more intimate occasion, that he liked it that way). So I'd grown it out into a ponytail. It didn't hamper my fighting skills too much, but it was getting a bit...heavy. Especially if I was swimming. It needed to be cut, whether some parties liked it or not. My sister twisted a strand around her finger. "We gotta do something about this..." I heard her mutter, and mentally resigned to being groomed against my will.

So I'm not the ideal picture of "socially-attractive". Even now: after out last few battles, we'd found it a good idea to not where expensive clothing. Now it was down to spare army togs - combat shorts and tank tops. Dog-tags if we wanted some bling.

"I had something in mind," Nudge suggested, raising her eyebrows furtively, and Ella exchanged her a knowing look. "What?" I said warily. They only shook their heads, fighting back smiles. Aha. Another part of my birthday surprise, I assumed, and dropped the subject. Nudge and I stood. She somehow wrapped her lanyard around the camera, and I hoisted up Ella, and we jumped off, heading up the coast. We were supposed to be collecting firewood for the party tonight, hehehe.

"Whoooooohoooooo!" Ella held out her arms and closed her eyes, and I couldn't help but smile, and wish that she did have wings, so she could experience the awesomeness of this herself. At over six feet in height, and a wingspan of nearly twenty feet, I was fast approaching one of the largest members of the flock. Whereas at one point, she might have weighed a ton, my arms and hands were strong, and held her steady easily on the way. I'd grown a lot. I looked over at Nudge, with the camera hanging securely at her chest, who looked over at me with a dangerous smile to rival my own. We all have.

The waves sloshed against our toes as we combed the beach for wood. The debris from the towers that had either floated to shore or stuck into the dunes further up had to be checked for usability, according to our gov, but we swiped them anyway - the hurricane had splintered, water-logged, and shriveled the wood up to barely enough to use for toasting marshmallows. Ella had brought some thin rope, and what we collected we tied and dragged behind us.

We could take our time and watch the sea. It was a sight I'd never get tired of, though a lot of nasty experiences had happened here.

But a lot of good ones had, too, like our first kiss here, on the beach. Or Angel discovering her gills and ability to talk to the sea-critters. Or our voyage around Antarctica for CSM. Even finding my mom, and having her back with us. The sea held memories: endings, and beginnings.

Nudge and Ella filmed where we walked and what we saw, forgetting about the documentary for a bit as we showed off shells and crabs, a piece of the fort; shoving a gigantic loitering jellyfish back into the surf with a piece of driftwood; kicking cans above the tide-line; me and Ella fencing fiercely across the super-long dock with washed up timber and almost falling in.

"You'll never beat my crane style!"

"You'll never beat MY foot-to-face style!"

"You fence like my mom!"

"You fence like MY mom!"

"She might have you beat this round, Max," Nudge interjected helpfully, rolling it.

The sun was setting. It was crazy, how flat the beach was, and how the sun cast the sand and fort orange. We made our way back, slowly, sifting our toes in the sand, enjoying the sea breeze and the gentle washing of the waves. If no one ever came back to this place...I would love to live here.

Mom and the others were waiting ahead; I could see up close the grass stands being erected around the beach, Iggy and Gasman digging the fire pit. A bit of anticipation rolled over in my stomach. My eighteenth birthday. Finally. I made it. Forget what I said about it not being a big moment. It was still a goal achieved.

Angel was waving at me now, probably sensing my thoughts all the way from there. I waved back. Somehow, some way...

I made it.

4. 3: Eighteen

Chapter Three: Eighteen

Have you ever read those books or seen the movies where the protagonists are either struck over the head or doted upon so that they can be sacrificed by their grass-wearing caretakers to their fire god? That was something like what I'd just walked into.

The sun was halfway below the horizon when I was suddenly assaulted by a bunch of winged, mask-wearing natives, ushering me into my tent. I laughed helplessly - they were too funny, too cute for this - and obliged to 11-year-old Angel, resplendent in her bikini top and grass-skirt and tiki-mask, do my hair and dress me up for the part while the others put the finishing touches on the event outside.

"Do I have to wear the skirt?"

"Ooga," she grunted. I fought down a smile. "I take it that means 'yes'."


Hula skirt, it was. "Do I...have to wear a coconut top, too?" I asked, tentatively.

Angel cocked her head to the side, as though considering it. "Eeka."

"Was that a 'no', or a 'maybe'?"

She held up a floral silk scarf. Oooooh, okay. I shook my head and bound it around my upper half. Angel secured it for me, then a braided twine with a shell for a choker. The last bit to do was hand me my mask, kind of heavy, and bug-eyed. I put it on, but Angel pushed it to the top of my head. Not yet, she thought to me, and then pulled me outside.

Recorded drum music assuaged my ears. The bonfire blazed merrily on the shore, and five wildly dancing winged Fire Attendants gyrated and hooted around it. Our bodyguards stood at attendance at the bar-setup, where came the smell of delicious gourmet seafood and whatever else that got my mouth watering like a facet. Oh God. Oh my God. It's like Emeril's kitchen back there! Mom showed up with the biggest mask of all (and wearing the coconut bra...she's too cool), bearing a bowl of red paint. I held still while she painted a vertical stripe from under my eye to my chin on both sides, then a red hand-print on my shoulder.

Lucas took the bowl from her and gave her a decorated staff, which she held up. "Ooga la koolay!" She announced. "Maximum aypa la oo-lee!"

The dancing bird-freaks all raised their hands and gave a shout so loud that I jumped. Dang, some party! Made me wanna get up and dance, too! "Maximum aypa OP-TOH!"



Mom spread her arms wide. "In an hour, the finest fighter the world has ever known will have achieved 18 years," she continued in English, raising the staff high above her head. "My daughter will be socially accepted in this world as an adult. And a finer woman there never was, nor probably ever will be."

Another elated shout. I felt pride swelling in my chest, and the corners of my eyes prickling. I wouldn't cry. If I did, I'd smear my paint. Oh, Mom. "Tonight we celebrate her long-sought victory! Tonight we dance, long into the dark! Tonight - we shall sing!"

Another roar broke out, and one of the masked dancers pulled me into the circle. I don't know how to dance, I'm pretty sure none of us do. But that didn't matter. And what's to it, anyway? A little jump here, a little wild shake there - just follow the drums and BOOGIE, baby! Hah!

The Navy, our personal army that came with us to set up the place (bunking on their ship, the U.S.S. Inertia) stood to attention on the deck and on the sand, joining in on our party, taking part in drinks and the pseudo-tropical feast our Assigned had prepared for the occasion. I don't know how long we spent dancing and laughing, whirling each other around in circles and throwing out crazy moves, but I think it went too fast. Before long, the hour was up, and the dark sky suddenly filled with lights and crashes. Firecrackers!

The rockets screamed from the naval craft and exploded and popped brilliantly over the water, the moon backing them in the most spectacular scene I'd witnessed in a long time. Our dancers and music stopped, and everyone removed their masks to sing the Birthday Song. The forces on the ground stood to attention, saluting me. This...this had to be the best birthday, ever.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUUU! And many moooorre!"

And there you have it. I was eighteen at last. A legal adult in the social world. I didn't feel too different - but I definitely take back what I said before. This was HUGE. I really made it!

The sands erupted with applause. Naval officers lined up and, one by one, pressed flower bracelets onto my wrists like we were in Hawaii or something. Ella threw a rosary of them around my neck. And after much toasting, the REAL feast had begun: Monroe, Lucas, Xavier, Brian, and the other BG's, wearing white uniforms that buckled to their chins, escorted trays of baked fish and sushi and roasted seabird and crab-legs and oh good GOD I LOVE food, ANY food, and I could hardly put a name to whatever else was along! Jumbo shrimp on skewers, wonderful, steaming lobster dishes, salads, pasta and who knows whatever else. I tried to hold back and not shovel it down, but you know me...and it was all. SO. GOOD.

"Don't cry, Max," Gazzy consoled, dabbing my eyes with a napkin as they watered up out of pure love. "Yeah," Iggy concurred around a mouthful of lobster. "Save your tears for when we've eaten all your birthday cake."

The cake in question was an enormous, chocolaty, fudgey, double-decker heart-attack on a platter the size of a truck tire, and about as thick. Only reasons I let anyone even LOOK at a piece was because they all contributed in some way - Iggy, Ella, Mom, and the BG's had labored away on that monster until it was perfect; everyone else had to carry it. I blew out the eighteen candles with a flourish, a wish firmly in mind. Iggy passed the knife to me, and I was surprised when the knife just went through it like butter instead of having to be sawed.

Do I even have to go into detail about how good it was? I don't possess enough adjectives in the world to describe it's wonderful, chocolaty, gooey goodness. I could write a book on it alone.

So I'll skip that and get to the goods. We sat around the fire, eating dinner and cake and ice cream, and passing up the presents.

Total and Pola (his first son), with Nudge's help, got me a set of new clothes and earrings for special occasions. Because it was my birthday, and they were just that snazzy, I wore them anyway, their diamonds glinting in the firelight.

Gazzy and Iggy had been responsible for the fireworks; Mom and Ella got me a heavy silver, ornate locket. I didn't know what it was at first, but Angel showed me how to pry it open, and there were their pictures, Ella's on the right, Mom's on the left, smiling from their glass panes. "This way, we won't exactly have to stay behind on your journeys," said Mom. Hey, I thought, better than a microchip! I gathered them both up in a hug, overcome.

But the night's final present was the best. I looked around at them all and their happy, painted faces (Iggy had ironically given himself whiskers, like a cat). Another year alive. Another year complete. We're still together. I know siblings usually don't always appreciate each other, but...waking up to the miracle of them, every day, was something in itself, something I could never take for granted. I'm so glad to have them. They are my everything.

Fang stood up and held out his hand to me, and I took it, wondering if another crazy dance was in store for us. He turned to Dr. Martinez. "With your permission, I will give Max her present now," he said. Ella and the girls were giggling about something excitedly, and my heart raced. I couldn't imagine what was that amusing. Mom popped a chip into her mouth. "That's up to Max. She's the one you gotta ask, now."

Now the guys were snerking, too. I gave Fang a sideways look, and he squeezed my fingers reassuringly. "Max?"


"You want your present?"

I couldn't suppress a skeptical smirk. "Yes...?"

"Then - come on. You won't be disappointed."

Good luck, Max! Angel sent, and I blew her a kiss, bewildered as to what everyone else but me knew. Since it was my birthday, I'd let that pass. It was the only time surprises were fun, after all!

Fang and I did a U&A, up, high above the fort, high above the beach, hand in hand; and then we were winging to the isle adjacent, East Ship Island, where the lighthouse loomed against the moon. I tried to keep it cool. I never asked for much for any occasion, other than to survive another day. This was downright weird...and fun. What could it be?

5. 4: It Figures

Chapter 4: It Figures

Ship Island has had it hard. Hurricane Camille cut the island in half, into West Point and East Point. The island itself is little more than a pair of sandbars, not even a mile across, nor a mile long. The past three hurricanes after - Ike, Gustav, and Katrina - have reduced the East Point to barely a spot on the map, with a few trees; and flying over the incomplete Fort, you could see the damage far better. How the Oil Spill had forced railings to be built to protect the island; how renovations had been done to the rickety dock - how, in a few years time, this island would probably just go under for good.

But it was a beautiful island. West Point was so flat and open to the wind, open to the sky and stars. I don't think I'd ever seen them so big, so close, anywhere. After our flight around it Fang and I landed and walked along the white desert, taking in the sight of the full moon, an ethereal, silver-glowing pearl in the sky. No, wait, an eye - an open, gorgeous eye, lighting our way.

The rubble of the lighthouse had yet to be cleared, and we walked around it, until we were certain we were out of earshot, out sight-range, and hopefully out of thought-range (for Angel's benefit of not hearing bad poetry).

I leaned my head on his shoulder. "So...what's this all about?" I asked at last, his fingers entwined with mine. Fang wrapped a wing around my shoulders. In this stage of maturity, we really were getting to be giants, the pair of us. (Iggy himself was nearly seven feet tall.) Fang and I were almost eye level. In the bird species, the females are always larger than the males. It would be close to see who would out-grow whom in the years to come.

We detoured to the shore, which extended further than I thought into the ocean, if a little stickier to walk in. The water washed above my ankles, and the wind blew back our hair, our grassy skirts. This was a paradise.

Fang opened his mouth, then closed it. He tried again. What's he nervous about? "I...um..."


He cleared his throat and held out his fists to me. "First present. You'll need it for the second part."

I took it, and my eyes widened. It was a knife, seven inches, and gleaming in the moonlight. "Wow...what's this for...?"

And here he took a deep breath, gathering himself up for something. The suspense was killing me! "It's...human tradition - normal human tradition, I mean, that you're grown up when you're 18," he began. "It's a social turning-point in life, the beginning, some might say. And I was...I was wondering if you're ready to start that life."

The irony hit me. This birthday, I'd considered like my 80th! I didn't know I would live this long! Here my expiration could be around the corner, and he was telling me it was a new beginning, as though I were going to be old some day! Like a normal human girl - I mean, woman!

He took my hands in his again, and they were warm, hardened from past battles, yet gentle with my own. It took me a minute to feel something pressed between them. I turned my palms up, and I swear, my jaw hit the sand - resting there, glimmering like the knife-blade, was a ring.

My heart thundered in my ears. That meant that this was - this is - !

"Max." He pressed his forehead to mine, and I inhaled his scent, still not believing this was true. "I was wondering if you were ready to start that life...with me."

I couldn't respond. I wanted to communicate that I needed a shovel and a lever to get my jaw out of the sand. It flapped uselessly. "I know you're thinking of how short a time that might be," he added hastily, attempting to be realistic, "but whether its 'forever and always' like in that Hallmark crap or a few more months, a few days, a few minutes, whatever - I want to live out that time with you."

I searched his eyes. Calm, dark, hopeful, loyal. He'd been by my side since the beginning, and I knew he'd never leave. Fang was...

Because my stupid mouth wouldn't work and I didn't want to keep him in suspense, I did the only thing I could. Pulling away, I unsheathed the knife - and sawed through the thick braid at the back of my head. When it fell, it felt like an elephant had finally jumped off of my scalp, leaving it free and light able to sense the very air, so electrified was this night. And I could only smile.

Fang smiled back - his rare, beautiful smile that shines brighter than any lighthouse - and then held out the ring. It was on a chain (he knew I'd never wear it on my finger), and I bowed my head to let him hook it around my neck, free of the monster's tail that would have stopped him. His hands traveled from my neck to cup my face, a moment's pause, and then were kissing feverishly in the others arms, unable to say aloud what we felt, but at least able to express it. I held him as closely as I could, afraid that should I let go, I'd wake up and this whole thing would never have happened. (SO cliche, but you'd be surprised at how plausible something like that happening is for us on a weekly basis. But do you think that's AIR you're breathing? Heh.)

I never thought I'd be here. Never thought this could ever happen. And yet, rolling around with him in the sand, laughing and crying at the same time and likewise trying to eat his beautiful stupid face, I knew that it was the right thing.

For the first time in a long time, I had no doubts. Yes. We would live it, and enjoy every last second we could capture.

"You just proposed to me in a hula skirt and swim trunks," I couldn't help but point out between breaths, completely bowled and entirely amused.

He made a face and pulled the silly thing off, so it was just his trunks. "So we'll have a story to tell our kids in the future," he replied flatly into my neck.

"Mmmmph...don't get ahead of yourself just yet - "

An all-too-familiar jolt of electricity crossed my scalp at that moment. Something was coming.

Knowing the drill, Fang and I backed off simultaneously and sat up, tensed and listening, senses tuned. No seabirds, just waves, but the atmosphere had stopped being peaceful. A second, then four, and then we heard them - the lazy thwup-thwup-thwup of army choppers. Our raptor vision spotted them to southeast, heading our way, a pair of Black-hawks beaming their blinding flood-lights for the island. Oh, good. Fantastic.

I looked at Fang, and he looked at me.

And as the lights settled on us, bright and white and obnoxious, the sand kicking up in the generated wind around our heads, we deadpanned, at the same time:


6. 5: Mission Briefing

A/N: I really AM trying to be more subtle. :D

To Nathan-p: I can't be more grateful for your reviews, honestly. Thank you. If the text makes you feel something, anything, it means that maybe I'm on the right track with this after all, haha.

Chapter Five: Mission Briefing

I was mildly surprised at the lack of shock I felt flying back to the Fort with the choppers. This sort of thing happened all the time. Even, apparently, on my most important day, my most important night.

("Why couldn't you just wait for morning? What's with the helicopters?"

"We wanted to find you immediately."

"I'm not exactly hard to spot on a stretch of FLAT land a mile across," I snarled.)

I was humorously surprised that the shock was actually replaced by an intense, seething vat of irritation. I was mad. No, I was outright FURIOUS. Sitting on the cold, hard, benches of the Inertia's briefing room with the rest of my family, all sand-encrusted, bare-foot, and not placated by the mugs of off-setting black coffee generously set before us with the Officers.

It didn't help that I was still in my hula skirt, either.

So I meditated, back like a board, trying in vain to find my 'happy place' and restore peace to my raging blood-lust. Lieutenant Richardson cleared her throat.

"Maximum Ride, we apologize for the interruption of your holiday - "

Breathe in.

" - but as much as we're sure that you were enjoying, or about to enjoy, an important event -"

Breathe out.

" - we feel that your services and these circumstances are, once again, more important and immediate than that."

Breathe in. Don't break her face with the coffee mug.



Thanks, Lucas.

I liked the Lieutenant, honestly, I did, but if she kept up with the gab and didn't reach the point soon, she'd be looking for her 'happy place' as frantically as I was. Dr. Martinez must have been just as annoyed, because the edge in her voice was hard to miss: "Not to be any ruder than the 'circumstances' of this meeting, but just what the hell is it that you need now?"

Almost smirked into my cup. You go, Mom.

The Captain frowned and opened his mouth, perhaps in rebuttal, but I got there first. "The POINT. Right now. What is it?"

Monroe very wisely handed over a stack of newspapers, followed by Lucas, who held our computer like a butler. I snatched one, and the gang passed the others around, eager to see what could be SO important as to ruin this night, of all nights in my short-lived history of ruin? Saturday-morning baddies trying to take over the world? Corrupt politicians funding radiation dumps? Cyborgs and deranged scientists playing with genetics again? More fighter-robots with no creativity?

"These are headlines from the past two weeks."

My fury, surprisingly, became shock.

"Sacramento Explodes!"

"Mass Seattle Suicides!"

"Death at the Capitol!"

"Freak Earthquake or Faulty Gas-lines?"

"Whoa, what?" Gazzy exclaimed, snatching the corner of Nudge's. The Captain was grim-faced. "That's not all."

Here was another paper. "Ave Maria to Heaven". "1,200 Dead, Hundreds Injured". "Mysterious Collapses and Unexplained Jumps: Act of Terrorism or Act of God?" The accompanying color pictures, as with the previous papers, showed out-of-focus color-photos of the gruesome event. My interest rose with my disbelief. What in the world? I snatched another paper and skimmed it over. "'...and started jumping'? Just like that?"

"Like they were hypnotized," Richardson confirmed. "A few unaffected and lucky individuals were able to capture it on video and upload it, as well. Everyone's been over the footage a hundred times, and can't find a thing."

"'Death toll rises...'"

Lucas brought the laptop forward and opened it to a news website. I felt Fang stiffen beside me, and I could see why:

This was a different, and much scarier photograph and headliner than the others. It actually made me sit up some. "...You're kidding me."

The shots were blurry, but the shapes were unmistakable. "Damaging Winds in Chicago's Streets. Repair Costs Rise to $40,000 in Damages." "Mysterious Superhumans, the 'Bird-Kids', Behind It?"

There were six blurry shapes, a view looking up from the street. The one in front had swooped so close to the camera-man that its wings filled most of the photo, and it was moving so fast that it didn't even properly register as a 'blur'. It was more like a half-tangible, mostly transparent streak of boomerang with a bare outline.

"Under Attack?"

"Terrorist Activity?"

"Bird-Kids Responsible?"

"Reports of the citizens say 'they first heard a noise, like the ballistic screech of an M16, and then some sort of wind that swept through so fast that a few cars jumped and/or crashed, and people went flying'. The windows of buildings, storm-proofed, blasted out or cracked, telephone wires snapped and began to swing, and every car's alarm went off at once. However, a man taking a photograph for his touring log of the Willis Tower just happened to catch the offending 'wind' on film. As you can see by the photograph, not only was it an actual thing, but perhaps, by the blurs going off the picture, several things at once. The things in question bear a striking resemblance in number and possible structure to the "Bird-kids", escaped evidence of illegal genetic testing uncovered by the faction CSM four years ago..."

"...And NO ONE ELSE, or ANYTHING ELSE, to their knowledge, could have done it?" Nudge demanded. "Are we to blame for everything?"

"Seriously, like clones and robots are hard to suspect, in times like these," Iggy pointed out, tapping his nails irately on the steel tabletop. "Let's trace this one back to the source of ALL of these comic-book cliches, shall we? Anyone got ter Borcht's number? Or Stan Lee's?"

"Ach, der iz no such TING as deez KAH-MIK bookz you speak of," the Gasman imitated, making some of the Officers jump. "Robots and Clones and Professor X are ALL le-gi-tah-maht, ja! Wolverine's friend-ed on mah Myspace! And Jeb's got a Face-book!"

"Reilly is 'dodging the usual', and says 'hi' and 'lol', by the way," Iggy snerked.

"So wait, hold on - what do YOU think this is?" I had to ask. "Are they more clones, more robots, ninjas, what?"

The Officers exchanged glances, and that annoyed feeling came right on back. I crossed my sandy arms. Oh no, I DARE you to keep something else from us.

The Captain began carefully: "Whatever these things are, they're not registered to anywhere."

"So, what, they're foreigners? Mutants?"

"No, ANYWHERE. ...Not on Earth, anyway."

There was a long silence.

Total broke it by barking out a laugh. "ALIENS? Are you serious?"

"We didn't say that -"

"ALIENS!" Iggy threw his hands in the air. "Oh, Sheisse, it's a NEW plot-point! I NEVER saw that one coming!"

The Captain's face purpled. "Now, see here - "

Nudge rested her chin on her knuckles and leaned over to talk to me, ignoring him. "What were the odds of that? I guess we've run through the earthly supply of sentient contractors and finally reached an all-time high."

"If you think of it that way," I replied conversationally, stirring a lump of sugar into my mug. "It means that technically, we've beat out all the world's opponents. We're at the top, so much that even off-worlders want a piece of us. I don't know if I should be greatly flattered or greatly amused."

(Dr. Martinez just sipped her coffee. Her shoulders were shaking.)

"How anti-climactic," Gazzy declared in the Captain's voice with mock horror, and Fang almost spit out his coffee. "And here I thought he was going to say something terrifying - like, our new enemies are STOCK-BROKERS and striking office-workers."

"Hey hey, don't joke like that," Total put in, chuckling from Angel's lap. "The economy's such crap these days, it's turning everybody into a raging psychopath. Actually, let's ignore the aliens and help them out, for a change. All that unemployment and poverty, someone's gotta battle it. Area You-Know-Which can handle the Martians."

I shushed him. "Total, we were going for 'subtlety'," I snickered.

"Do you think the aliens are having economy problems, too?" Angel piped up, stroking his fur. "Maybe they're here for the same reason as everyone else - real estate and legal documents."

Which sent us rolling. Hard.

The Officers waited patiently (if with some aggravated twitching in the temples) for us to laugh it out, and began again with forced control as we wiped the tears from our eyes. "Ahem. As we were saying before your interruption..."

Ahem, yes. It wasn't like they could accuse us of being rude, but maturity and subtlety, people. Do your best to care about less important things, and all that.

"We don't believe they are 'aliens', as in a species not of Earth, so much as they are much like you - ducking the radar and making a living out-of-bounds."

"So they ARE mutants, then?" Said Fang, confused.

"Unregistered mutants, at our best guess. And, in putting together what we've found in the headlines to the happenings of the past year and a half, we've begun to see a pattern that's previously escaped us." The Lieutenant explained. "There have been all sorts of reports and rumors of missing pets, missing persons, power-outages, machine and vehicle malfunctions - all things that happen every day, and are of no importance."

That kind of stung. Unless you count the missing persons. Angel patted my arm.

"Bottom line is that they weren't of any relevance during the political and activist battles against corrupt companies like Itex and such four years ago. The world was too focused on you for that," She continued. "That being said, when we looked back properly at all that was going on, it seems it's become strategic hit locations, advancing amounts of violence. Vandalizing, destruction of property, and looting is the least of them."

"So how do you know they're mutants, if anything? They could be a bunch of nerds pulling a hoax, or another cult out there kicking up a fuss."

"With terrorist-like precision and ability? Hardly likely," the Captain snorted. But Fang held up his paper. "It says here in this article that the Chicago Wind could have been a machine, some new technology. The images are too distorted to make anything out. It only looks like an avian."

"And it really could be aliens too, right?" Said Iggy, steepling his long fingers. "We HAVE seen everything else."

"Yeah, it could be anything," Nudge agreed, serious again.

"Well, the public, and even the government, have reason to believe that you may be under suspicion," said the Captain, holding up his hands hastily to stem an outcry. "We know you have nothing to do with this, but for right now, it may be best that we look for a way to find and neutralize the threat, but keep as far under the radar as possible. There's something about this that is far too much to be coincidence."

A bit of silence as everyone processed this. Not two weeks into the holiday, and we're back on duty, huh. "Why do you need us, though? You still haven't answered that. We can't fight all of your battles for you." We didn't roll that way. We were no one's weapon or faction.

"Because, from what evidence we have, and to the best of our knowledge, we have reason to believe that only you may be a match," Lieutenant Richardson replied honestly. "Really. Things are getting scary. Twelve-hundred people just up and walk off of their apartment ledges to their deaths for no reason. Buildings fall to the ground with no flaws, no visual or evidential attack. Cities dropping into sink-holes and fire within minutes. Rabid...things with WINGS screaming around city streets full of pedestrians and causing thousands in damage. If I might speak plainly..." She looked to the Captain.

The Captain nodded.

"...We might be up against something we've never seen. Call them mutants, aliens, crazed cults, terrorists, or what you will - they need to be stopped, and immediately, and frankly, we might not have much of a chance alone. It's only going to get scarier. By next week, the toll may have risen further. The battle for the future is still raging, and this might be our worst tangle yet."

7. 6: Bigger Than You

A/N: As will later be explained in the chapters, the song choice for what's coming is vocal/ethnically-centered. If you've never heard of Schubert's "Ave Maria" or Enya's "Deora Ar Mo Chroi", then I strongly recommend them, especially before reading. Youtube, and a lot of other places (like your local store, hopefully) should have them next to the classics. :)

Also: The piece in Chapter Four is the largest bit of Fax I will probably write for this story. Believe me, it was much longer and very beautiful, but it took too much away from the plot, so I did away with it. Maybe I'll bring it back, some forty or more chapters in, though, depending on how it goes. There WILL be much more violence ahead, though, so the squeamish and those of poorer constitution have, again, been warned.

Nathan-P: (ALIENS! I won't spoil it! xD) I assumed 'ter Borcht' was a German variant and took a liberty that I'm relieved to find is accurate, at least with the fans (I really have no solid confirmation of his nationality.) And Reilly really doesn't get enough credit nor mention in the MR fandom :)

Sapphire17choco: Thank you :)

Chapter Six: Bigger Than You

Since it wasn't like we could say "no" and really do much about it, we were to be gone within the hour.

Mom argued that we at least spend the rest of the night at the Tiki-shack and leave in the morning - seeing as they'd intentionally, and rudely, ruined it for us, so we packed up the place and slept on the beach-towels, outside with the moon hanging over us like a giant night-light. (The romantic poetry is gone now. RUINED, I say, RUINED.)

I lay wide-awake, turning the ring over and over in my fingers. I'm not afraid of much of anything. The concept of a burning world has never been my priority so much as someone else's problem; I had kids to feed, to protect, and a life to survive. Didn't ask for much, never feared much. My greatest and only fear was losing my family.

They slept around me; Iggy, Gazzy, Nudge, all out and catching all the Z's they could before the next adventure. Fang had gone inside the shack, I guess to go blog on his computer and look up more stuff. Mom was on the Inertia, possibly gathering her forces for when we returned.

I wondered if it were fear I felt now, and came to the conclusion that no, it's just anticipation. Never one to "kick-back" anyway. And it might be fun to get back on the scene and fight something new. The ninjas were getting stale.

Then what was it that was eating me?

Sacramento Explodes..1200...Act of Terrorism or Act of God...Bird-Kids Responsible?

I mean, not like there was a force out there we couldn't handle.

These enemies...call me crazy, but it was like a deep instinct that there was something already wrong with all of this. They were something we shouldn't underestimate. What if - ?

"Hey," Ella whispered beside me. "Angel says you're thinking too loud again."

Oops. My bad. Sorry, sweetie. "Got a lot on my mind."

"Yeah, you still haven't told me about it..." Ella poked my wing playfully, and I realized she was talking about my last present. It's amazing, how I'd gone from worrying about my future to worrying about the world's so fast I hadn't noticed it, like the whole event had never happened; and now that she brought it up, the whole wonderful thing came back at once. I turned over to show her, lifting the chain into the light.

Her eyes widened, and she grinned brightly. "I helped him pick it out," she disclosed ecstatically. "And I'm guessing you said 'yes'?"

I thought back to it. "No."

"But - ?"

Grinned back. "My mouth was otherwise occupied...with his."

Ella barely concealed her squeal of delight.

"Oi!" Iggy hissed.

"Sorry," we whispered back, failing miserably in trying to suppress our laughter. "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod!"

"I know, I know, shhhh, hehehe - "

"But did you, didn't you?"

"I think it counted as a yes. Well," and here I scowled, still smarting from the interruption of a perfect birthday and perfect sort-of proposal, "it would have been more official, if you-know-who hadn't shown up and destroyed the whole thing. Still, maybe it's better this way."

"How do you mean? I thought you loved him?"

"I do, don't get me wrong." Hah, DON'T get me wrong. "It's just, it looks like we're going back into 'fighting-for-the-human-race-thing all over again. I'm giving up any more chances at a long-sought vacation, it's never going to happen. This shit just ain't worth it anymore." Couldn't even have time to have nor hold a proper relationship. Every time I turned around, someone was beaming the Batman Search-light. Even actual celebrities had more time to chill than us.

Ella ruffled my choppy hair affectionately. "It'll happen some day. Karma will swing."

"Hmph," I grunted, turning my face into the crook of my arm. "Sure it will. All over these wannabe world-rulers and baddies. My official, real, REAL vacation will be coming out of the money they used to supply their Goon Workforce payroll and secret labs and air-fortresses and whatever else they got from the Marvel universe." We'd go in, knock 'em down, and come RIGHT back so I could finish out the rest of my rather girlish, but enjoyable, fantasy with my...fiance?

So that's what we'd be called. Had too weird of a ring to it, though. My fiance.

"You two," she snorted, knuckling me gently in the head. "Like Bonnie and Clyde. Cloak and Dagger. Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

"Heh, Ren and Stimpy," Iggy whispered next. Gazzy tittered. "Now shut up!"

(I chucked a convenient canteen at their heads. We'd see about this later.)

"Tch," I chuckled, eyelids heavy. "It's gonna have to wait. As per usual."

A comfortable silence settled, cushioned only by the sloshing sea and warm summer breeze.

After a while, Ella said softly, "Do you have a good feeling about this one?"

"Of course," I mumbled automatically.

"Just another mission, right." Though half-asleep, I got the notion that the same thing was on our minds. "What's the worst that could happen? Seriously, no jinxing, what IS the worst? We've beat everything. We're almost entirely home-free. Don't worry about it."


I waited for more from her, but there was none, just eventual deep breathing. I didn't tell her about the tiniest corner nibbled in my confidence, that always came with fighting a new enemy. I thought it was nothing.

I hoped it was nothing, but I got what she meant.

The stars winked down on us. Maybe they weren't all stars. Maybe they were something else, something watching, something waiting. It was a possibility.

There was always the possibility that there was something out there bigger than us.

Pensacola, Florida

0400 hours.

Jeb played his fingers on the rail of the Wendy K., gazing out to sea. Not like there was a lot to see, at this time, but he was too lost in thought. CSM was here to help with the animal victims of the Oil Spill, working tirelessly for nights on end with the residents to rescue them from the syrupy, toxic shores. It was a shame. Eighteen years into this end of the project, and humans were still making a mess. Jeb never fully shared Max's views on humanity being saved as individuals - in fact, the sooner the plan went through, the fewer everyone would have to deal with.

He exhaled a draft of smoke.

It had taken a long time to earn her trust. Especially since that trust was earned almost entirely on lies. The lines between who was good and who wasn't were far too blurry to be cared about anymore, which was why he was here, consulting with the CSM and their fleet of overhauled disused whalers, listing on the tide and looking forward to another long, sticky, dangerous and aggravating day up to their knees in humanity's latest screw-up.

Times like these, he almost missed working back at the company, plotting the world's rescue with his fellow associates. The real scientists.

A passing marine-biologist passed him a mug. "Hey, Batchelder. It's a bit chilly tonight," he commented hopefully.

Jeb had barely heard him when he took it. "Yeah."

So much for conversation. The other man shrugged and sipped his tea at the other end of the rail, sensing and knowing a lost cause when he saw it.

Speaking of saving the world...Jeb's forehead creased. For once, he didn't know anything about the latest threat to the earth, at least, nothing useful. Whatever it was, it was a definite company screw-up, because it had been overlooked for some time before anyone noticed anything (like say, a building or four falling on them). But how could anyone have missed it? EVERYONE in the states had seen that broadcast, on every computer, every T.V. screen. It was a wonder they hadn't already gone to DEFCON 4.


There wasn't a day gone by he didn't think of her, and lately as less of a fighter and more of a ...person. He always had, sort of. She was his daughter. And he knew that was wrong, considering his dishonesty, his part to play. He wasn't supposed to get attached. They were all pawns and pieces. But maybe afterward, when this was all said and done, he could make it all up to her, properly. It had been two years since he'd stopped doing the Voice, since a mission in Alaska had lead her past a magnetic field that shorted out the chip in her head. She'd been doing all of this on will and strength-of-mind alone.

He flicked his cigarette butt away, and hoped it would be enough now, to ease off of pushing and guiding her in the right direction.

The mug rested in his hand, forgotten.

Sweetie, I -

The other scientist lifted his head. "Do you... do you hear something?"

"Sammy, come back here, what are you doing? Where are you going?"

"Stop this, it's not funny! Hey! Wake up!"

"What's happening, what's going on?"

"Why aren't you asleep? Mommy? Hey?"

"Ba dheas an la go oichei...

Na glortha binne I mo thaobh

'S aoibhneas I gachait gan gruaim

Athas are mo chroi go deo..."

First twenty, and then forty, and then eighty, and more, until the sands were crowded with them, all walking calmly to the shore. Wives and children and husbands tried in vain to stop their progress, but they pressed on relentlessly, still in their pajamas or swimsuits, eyes on the gently heaving sea. The desperate cries of their loved ones were drowned out in the lilting, foreign notes of the song, hovering above them as the stars, the moon, the sky itself.

"Please! Damn it, listen to me!"



Score by score, they waded into the tide, following the voice. Men and women from their houses, their hotels, their resorts, from their boats. Children held their hands and wordlessly followed their families into the shallows, into the depths.

"What is wrong with you? Please, STOP! STOP THIS! Hannah!"

"Come back! Oh God, please!"

"Má shiúlaim ó na laethe beo

An ghrian 's an ghealach ar mo chúl

Níl uaim ach smaointe ó mo shaoil

Deora ar mo chroí go brón..."

"Ferring, what are you doing?" Jeb snapped, seizing the scientist's arm. The man had dropped his mug and climbed onto the rail, eyes blank. "Get down from there - Maria, Brigid, all of you, cover your ears! Do it, for God's sake - !"

Dr. Ferring, still pulling at his hand, slipped.

0500 Hours. The empty beach rang faintly with the last notes in the pre-dawn, lost to time amidst the hurting and mournful cries of the ones left behind, the sirens and city come to fish the lost remainder from the ocean.




8. 7: Red Light, Green Light

A/N: Some training and warm-ups before the battles :)

Chapter Seven: Red Light, Green Light

The U.S.S. Inertia is something called a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, or "Commando Carrier". It's basically a floating helipad or runway for aviators, of both metal and recently mammalian variety; troops, vehicles, and other what-have-you. There's WAY too much to this ship alone to explain it all, but the basics of it is that it's a crowded, noisy, busy, floating city-street of forklifts, cargo, soldiers, sailors, assistants, bird-kids, missile launchers, tanks, four black-hawks, and unsurprising lack of humor.

Especially with the Naval Destroyer U.S.S. Enigma escorting us like a very big, very scary, trusty giant German Shepherd at our side. The guns on that thing was enough to spoil anyone's day.

But the Flight-deck of the Inertia itself was nearly 300 ft. long, plenty of space to spar this beautiful, sunny morning!

The journey from the islands to the mainland would be about two or more hours, not too long, so we started the day on oatmeal and roundhouse kicks. The Officers had been nice enough to set up some boundary tape and upright poles so we could practice, and even donate a few new recruits to the cause ("Getting their butts kicked might give them character," as the Captain had bluntly put it.)

Recruit #43 was still peeling his face off of the concrete when Recruit #44 joined him shortly after. "Come on, 'cruits, put your arms up like I showed you," Nudge instructed, hand on her hip. "Honestly, how do you expect to block a punch to the face if you don't at least try to use something to block with? Now come on, you're supposed to be the Navy's finest."

(Some of the Officers came to watch and make money betting on the sidelines. Ella joined them, camera rolling.)

Iggy, the Gasman, and Fang flew around the deck like bats out of hell, dive-bombing water-filled oil drums twice their weight and flinging them out to sea, then catching them again like a circus of flying, juggling acrobatics. Swing, toss, swoop, snatch, and repeat.

Total and Pola sat with Angel with a look of deep thought, which denoted that our youngest was working on her mental powers at their consent.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deep through my nose, exhaled through my mouth, getting into "the zone". Since the discovery of my warp-speed abilities, came their development: if I focused hard enough, I could slow down and control my speed. I could slow down just enough to get my bearings. Ironically, this method clashes against my jump-in-head-first nature in that it forces me to meditate and THINK about my moves before I make them. This applied to aerial combat as well as ground-fighting.

Ah well. Good combat never won an argument, I guess. Or something like that.

Tucked in my wings and sank into a half-crouch.

Deep breath, hold, exhale.

When I opened my eyes, it was like looking into a fish-tank. Everyone's moves so sluggish and surreal. I wondered, if there was such thing as having a mutant power over space and time, if this was what stopping time was like.

The poles stood waving before me like the trunks of super-thin palm-trees, and I made my moves: front punch, front punch, right block, right chop, left check, side-dodge, TURN, right elbow, step, duck, weave, left uppercut, TURN -

I did this slow at first, speeding up every time I reached the end. Even in warp-stasis it felt like I was moving faster. The bars stopped waving, the sound muted, and all that mattered was the flurry of action against the resistant air as I warped through each space, faster than the naked eye could capture, a blur of well-controlled fighting fury. Left, right, dodge, turn, turn, kick, hyah!

I hadn't spoken to Fang properly since the night before, but it was probably just as well. Naval Time starts early, and there was a lot that needed doing. I let Mom even out my hair some, and of course, got to training early. I wanted to be prepared, wanted to make sure I was back in the groove. I'm sure I put on a little weight since the start of the vacation (how wouldn't I?) He hadn't come out at all to sleep with us, but had stayed inside the entire time. Probably occupied with his blog. I hoped he wasn't put-out with me at all, given the way things were going.

Kick, weave, jab, step, jab, jab, block!

Faster, faster, speeding between the closed spaces and landing lines -

- Until something swooped in front of me so fast I nearly ran into it. As it were, my concentration was broken, and I over-shot, stumbling out awkwardly and landing on my butt. What the?

"RED LIGHT!" Fang shouted, and veered away after the boys, all of them in a fit of hysterics. I shook my fist, any guilt or disillusions I'd had before evaporated on the spot.

"Come on back then, you flying turkeys!" I yelled.

Gazzy cackled and catapulted one of his barrels at me. I sank back and pushed off hard, snagging it in mid-air. The momentum whirled me around, and I let, go, aiming for Iggy's torso. The jerk only laughed and simply dodged out of the way, and Fang followed up behind him, grabbing the falling barrel. And so the game was on. Bunch'a terds.

So what's with the naval ships anyway, you may ask? Why a near-flight carrier, one of the largest of its kind, and a battleship with enough weaponry to sink a country were allowing us their usage? In the past, we made somewhat friends with the humans' Defense category when it came to saving my mother. We also discovered that the Krelp, a radioactively mutated race of giant sea critters, were not the only things out here in the ocean anymore. And not all of them were willing to seek a peaceful resolve (as my Angel would find out at almost the cost of her life, but more on that later).

And then there's the problem with the war. You can bet that EVERY nation wants us to fight for them now, and will stop at nothing. Though the kind of genetic jiggery-pokery that created us was deemed illegal and inhumane, you can bet it probably hasn't stopped any other countries from getting the same idea and trying it out for the war effort. Where IS the creativity these days? Or morality?

We work for no nation, no government, in the way of war. We outright refuse. Nudge once told me about this thing called "Project X-ray", an idea from World War II that involved the use of something called the "bat bomb". It was literally an idea where they strapped bombs to bats and set them free into a country, and the bats, having no idea they were going to explode, would do as bats do: roost in dark eaves of dwellings, mingle with their millions of relations at night, get into places most things generally cant, and spread out across the city, looking for a place to hide and be safe.

And then a remote-control or whatever would ignite them all at once, instigating fires and devastation. Roosevelt himself, I hear, agreed to the plan. It was tested, but thanks to the A-bomb, never used. Probably preferred, as the Lieutenant had once disclosed to me when I asked about this ludicrous concept. "We would have lost a lot less life."

Of people, you mean.

I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of bats detonated wouldn't get a memorial, nor a pension, nor compensation. They were just bats, just pawns, objects of destruction.

And I think that's the best way I can describe our views on 'where we stand' in all of this.

Recruits #58 and #59 swore loudly at their affection-lacking comrades on the cargo crates below, who laughed and cheered them on regardless. Ella grinned behind her camera lens and tossed them a specially-prepared stack of towels for when the going got rough, as placation. I targeted Gazzy, warping up behind him and catching him in a full-Nelson. "Hah, NOW what, ya little -"

Only to have Fang come and do the same thing to me. Gazzy wrenched free and whirled to sink his fist in my stomach. Really, guys, you should know me by now. I brought my legs to my chest, altering my weight towards the rear, and we tumbled forward, the punch ending up in the small of Fang's back instead of my gut. I let gravity carry him the rest of the way over my head and into his giddy comrade. "GREEN LIGHT!"



"The pair of you fly like you were hatched yesterday," I quipped, getting just out of range in case they recovered too soon. A whistling caught my ear and I dodged, just missing a side-along kick from Iggy. The man was practically a Kung-fu master in the air, with not being able to see and everything. His longer limbs had a further, and more devastating, reach than any of ours, and with his size he didn't have to do much in a fight besides just hold whoever messed with him.


I swung for his midriff, and he blocked, right on time (as always) with a dangerous grin. My beloved troops. I hoped the soldiers below were taking notes.

Since Iggy's fighting style was based more on sound and touch, he couldn't necessarily keep up with my warp speed so much as dodge it really well. For everything he couldn't block he would sense and just get out of the way. Block, block, duck, parry, punch -

"HEY," Dr. Martinez called up at us, before it could get too bloody. "Come down here a second, will you?"

I dodged another swing and suddenly angled myself for the deck. "GREEN LIGHT!"

"So what's up?" Gasman panted, landing beside her, his fluffy white hair tousled.

"Yeah, what is it?" I asked. Mom didn't look happy about something. The corners of her mouth were pulling down in that very slight way that denoted she wasn't displeased, so much as worried about something. "I can't get a hold of the others at the checkpoint. No one's answering their phones or pagers. They were supposed to be ready and waiting for us."

"Maybe they're all getting coffee...at the same time..." Nudge trailed off lamely. A pregnant pause hung on the air. Fang was the first to break it. "Maybe they met trouble or had a simple malfunction. I wouldn't jump to conclusions just yet."

But we were tensing. Forty-five minutes from the mainland, and we were all tuning our senses above the noise and grind of the engines and tearing waters against the hull, listening for trouble, expecting the worst. I looked at her. "Jeb didn't answer?"


Max, came Angel's thought. Max, something's wrong.

Where are you at? I wondered.

On the Aerial. I can see pretty well from up here, she replied. And I can hear better. Can you hear it?

I couldn't hear anything over this mess. "We'll be back. Flock, topside."

We pushed off, up to the ship's enormous Aerial, where Angel perched beside Total and Pola, staring North. I balanced just above her and zoomed in with eyes and ears, but Iggy was the first to hear anything.

"Sirens," he murmured. "A lot of them."

Red lights. Angel looked at me with wide blue eyes. And sadness. So much sadness.

9. 8: Jeb

A/N: It's been a WHILE since the last update. Man, school and work is killing me! But hopefully I'll be getting up a few more chapters and re-establishing my routine of updating and reviewing. Sorry for the wait!

Chapter Eight: Jeb

Fang and I stood on the deck of the Wendy K. in coveralls and caps pulled down over our eyes. It had been unanimously agreed that, in the course of common sense, the standard NWU's probably wouldn't work as well to cover our wings and other "not-human" bits (like the skin traces and bumps left behind after the annual molting). Even Iggy made sure to slip on utility gloves to cover up his rapidly-growing talons.

We posed as working-members sent aboard to help check for damages among the medics and guard already there, on both ship and shore: regular citizens, volunteers and emergency/fire crews, helped haul bodies and survivors to shore and console the rest. I could feel the burning anger in my stomach, surveying it all at the rail.

Who or what would, or could, do something like this?

Dr. Martinez, however, was in her element, and Monroe had a tough enough time keeping up with her. "What. Happened. Here?" She demanded. "Where is Dr. Batchelder?"

"My love!" Total yipped, a little black blur darting under our legs and up to the big Alaskan malamute wagging happily at the cabin door. Everyone looked up and around a moment to see where that had come from, then went back to whatever they were doing, and despite the seriousness of the situation, I had to stifle a giggle. Aww. Akila greeted him and Pola with loving baths for their ears. (Total and Pola's wings were hidden under their orange-security jackets - they just felt so important wearing them. Note to self: tease mercilessly later.)

"Max! Dr. Martinez!" A tick began in my jaw. Dr. Dwyer sat next to another scientist we knew, Maria, whose arm was cradled in a make-shift sling. A nasty purple bruise discolored the left side of her forehead, and she looked haggard and disheveled. Dark circles rimmed both of their eyes. "Maria, Brigid! Are you all right?"

Fang had already moved to crouch next to them at the bench and examine their boo-boos close up (though the only thing ailing Frigid-Brigid had to be a Statutory Rape Certificate). Cool it, you're engaged, remember? Oh, right. Breathe. Mom took up Maria's side and examined her bruise. "I'm fine," she stammered, shaking, "but not...not everyone else is. No one knows what happened. Sometime around four in the morning..." She trailed off, unable to say anything more. Mom rubbed her un-hurt shoulder soothingly.

Brigid let Fang pet her hand as she took up the story. You're engaged. Not her. Focus. "No one's really sure what happened. We stayed up late to cover our shift to see if there was any change in the acidity of the water samples, and then several of us just wandered out of the room. We heard shouting up above..."

"I could have saved them," Maria murmured quietly, and a growing sense of unease turned my stomach. "What do you mean?"

"I could have saved them -"

"Shush," Brigid hushed her, pulling her into a hug. Maria buried her face in her shoulder, and I noticed that Brigid looked close to tears herself. She continued, in a shaky voice for her partner, "I got up there just as - just as Dr. Ferring jumped off the port rail. Dr. Batchelder tried to catch him. And M-Maria tried to catch him."

"I couldn't - I'm so sorry," came the muffled wail, as I and the others stood in stunned silence. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

Brigid finished quietly: "They were too heavy. Her arm snapped."

Silence reigned.

So that was it, then. Bull.

"There's no way he's dead," I snapped. "There are still people missing, we could look along the beach -"

"Max -"

"He's ALIVE and he's a JERK because he's hiding out, just like the last time!" Raw anger shook me. Again! "He's hiding out because HE caused it! We have to look!"

"But he was trying to save Dr. Ferring -" Brigid attempted, taken aback by the outburst.

" - Oh yeah, I'm sure that's what it looked like. Jeb doesn't give two shits for anyone, least of all anyone human, why would he do that? I bet you anything he faked his own death to get us to clean up some new mess he started -"

"MAX." I stopped in mid-rant, glaring daggers into the calm, cold stare. Fang's eyes betrayed nothing. We held gazes for a long, tense moment, but after long last, I let loose an unsteady breath. Maria and Brigid's eyes were wide and abashed.

Right. Pull it together. Not their fault. I turned my gaze to the beach. Fang continued to observe me a few seconds more, then turned back to them. "What other casualties, or clues can you give us?" Be calm, like him. Calm down. Focus.

"An-anyone in the near vicinity. The residents of Pensacola, and anyone else within a four mile radius just up and walked into the ocean. What survivors there are haven't been able to give coherent explanations just yet. N-not even those of our own crew..."

I barely comprehended them, mind lost amid the thousands of accusations and scenarios that all housed Jeb to the center. Fool me once, fool me twice, and all that - as much as I might have wanted to go back to the way things were, there was just no trusting a man that played with your life as though you were a winged guinea pig.

A tug on my sleeve shook me out of it. Come on, we'll go looking for him. Fang says to get the computer so we can track his phone. It's an Itex model, Angel advised. I didn't say anything, only signaled to the flock behind my back. Four fingers: heads-up. Tell them this: Nudge, go to the rail where they fell and see if she can find anything; Gasman and Total, take the dogs and go look on the shore - obviously, no fly-bys. Iggy and Fang can use the computer.

I turned to her, ruffled her short, curly golden hair affectionately. Eleven-years-old, and growing more beautiful by the day. Her clear blue eyes held a wisdom and confidence that I only hoped to reflect, myself. And you, sweetie, stay with Nudge and help her? Maybe your sea-buddies might know, too.

She gave me a bright smile and touched the tiny control box and wiring strapped to her temple, and I felt a pang of sympathy; but for her sake, hid it. Angel carried herself with grace, despite her handicap, and didn't want anyone's pity. She'd accepted it without protest. At least in having it, meant we were back on speaking terms. I don't have the words to tell you how much I love you, Ange.

My troops casually split up, Nudge wandering to the side and discretely walking up it, trailing her bare hand on the heavy iron bar. Iggy whistled to Total and Pola (Akila stayed behind for some reason, probably to comfort the crew), and they and Gazzy headed off the boat. Angel followed Nudge.

And I stayed to wait with Fang. I was in hyper-drive. If we can track that phone, we might find him. He never leaves it lying around. But my thoughts clashed against my will. No. I didn't care. You'd BETTER have it on you.

But if he had anything to do with this...