I KNOW HE’LL come for me. He has to come for me. Fang wouldn’t let me die here.
I’d been in the cage for days. I couldn’t remember eating. I couldn’t remember sleeping. I was disoriented from all the tests and the needles and the acrid disinfectant smell that had permeated my entire childhood… growing up in a lab, as an experiment. And here I was again, disoriented but still capable of a blinding rage.
Fang hadn’t come for me. I would have to save myself this time.
“You! Get back!” The lab assistant’s wooden billy club smashed against the door of the Great Dane–sized dog crate I was being held in every time I peered out through the front. With each strike, the door’s hinges sustained more damage. Right according to plan.
Steeling my nerves, I again carefully pushed my fingers out through the bars of the crate and pressed my face against it. Timing was key: if I didn’t pull back fast enough, the gorilla-like lab tech could easily crush my fingers or break my nose.
“I said, get back!” he repeated. Smash! A split-second after the club hit the weakened hinges, I kicked the door with every ounce of strength I had left.
“Hey!” The lab tech’s startled yell was cut short as I shot out of the crate, a rush of seriously ticked-off mutant freak, and launched a roundhouse kick to his head. I spun again, leaping onto a table to assess my adversary.
Already a piercing klaxon was splitting the air. Shouts and pounding footsteps from the hallway added to the chaos.
I grabbed on to a pipe on a low section of the ceiling, swung forward, and slammed my feet into a white-lab-coated chest. The bully sank to his knees, unable to draw breath. This was the perfect time for me to run to the end of the table, jump off, and spread my wings.
That’s where the “mutant freak” part comes in.
As hands reached for my bare feet, I shot upward, flying toward a small window high in the wall, then veered off path when a familiar dark shadow suddenly loomed.
He was on the roof outside, watching through the window. My right-wing man! I knew he’d come. He had my back, like a thousand times before. He would always have my back, and I would always have his. With relief, I readied myself to crash through the glass.
The room below me was now filled with shouting people. So long, suckers, I thought, as I aimed and got a flying start. I’d burst through quite a few windows in my fifteen-year life, and I knew it would hurt, but I also knew pain didn’t matter. Escaping mattered.
Wham! My right shoulder smashed against the glass, but it didn’t break. I bounced off it and dropped hard, like a brick. Time slowed. I heard the pop of a tranquilizer gun and felt a dart pinch my leg as I crashed to the ground.
Above me, Fang watched, expressionless.
In disbelief, I realized that he wasn’t here to help me after all; he wasn’t going to break through the window to save me. I writhed on the shiny linoleum floor, losing consciousness.
Fang didn’t have my back. Not this time.
I felt like I was I falling again. Instinct made me scramble to grab on to something, anything.
My fingers latched on to a small, hard branch. As I gasped for air, my eyes popped open, and I realized I was near the top of a tall pine tree—not in a dog crate, not back at the School. The late-morning sun bathed the Arizona mountains in rosy light. It had been a nightmare. Or, rather, a daymare.
I inhaled deeply, feeling the icy claws of adrenaline still in my veins. Cold sweat tickled my forehead and back as I tried to calm down.
It had just been a bad dream. I was free. I was safe.
Except for the worst part of the dream, the one thing that had made everything else a thousand times worse, the one thing that truly terrified and paralyzed me…
Fang really was gone. He didn’t have my back. Not in the dream, not now, never again.
I HAD BEEN in Arizona a week. A week of being with my mom and my half sister, Ella. A week of having everyone in my flock of winged kids injury free, all at the same time. We had plenty of food, nice beds, and Gazzy had managed to win almost forty dollars from my mom in poker before she wised up. Even now, the tantalizing aroma of chocolate chip cookies (homemade, from scratch, not slice ’n’ bake wannabes) wafted out an open window and drifted up to me, perched here atop a huge Apache pine, some ninety feet off the ground.
Everyone was happy and healthy—except me. I mean, I was healthy. No bullet wounds, black eyes, or cracked ribs, for once. But happy? Not in this lifetime, baby.
A mere eight days ago, I’d been about as happy as a fifteen-year-old girl with wings could be. And then Fang, my best friend, my soul mate, my first love—I mean, my only love—took off without a word. He left me a freaking note. Might as well have cut off my wings while he was at it.
I mean, he decided we’d be better apart, you know? It wasn’t a joint decision. Like, if you’re gonna make a decision about me and my life for my own good without consulting me, I’d better be dying and unconscious, and you’d better be following carefully written instructions.
Anyway. After I had been lying in a fetal position on my bed for twenty-four hours, Nudge called my mom. So embarrassing. I’ve been shot and needed less help than I did now. So the flock I’ve taken care of since forever—Iggy (also fifteen), Nudge (twelve), Gazzy (nine, also called the Gasman, for unfortunate reasons I won’t go into here), and seven-year-old Angel—and I (my name is Maximum Ride, aka Max) had flown out here to Arizona. And now they were chillaxing—playing Cranium and baking cookies—and I was up a tree by myself, in too much pain to even cry.
Sorry to dump all this on you. You probably popped open this tome hoping to find some kick-butt battles, some pithy wisecracks, some unlikely but oh-so-possible end-of-the-world scenario, only to find me up a tree, wallowing in self-pity. I’m not good at self-pity. I have not done a lot of it. It’s not pretty, I know.
You gotta believe I wouldn’t be doing this if I could help it. The truth is, I’m hardly even myself anymore. Who is Max, if not part of “Max and Fang”? Every once in a while, I glanced down at the beautiful, old-fashioned promise ring that Fang had given me not long ago. I threw it away after Fang left, then pawed frantically through the trash until I found it again. Gazzy, watching me, had said, “Good thing you didn’t flush it.”
This week should have been one of the best weeks of my life. Instead, I would always remember it as a time of bleakne—
With no warning, a voice came from close behind me. “Boo!”
Oh, thank you, I thought, as I jumped and stifled a scream. Someone to hit.
I WHIRLED AROUND on my branch, muscles coiled to launch myself at my attacker. That’s what I’m good at: Fighting. Evading capture. Outwitting bad guys ’n’ gals. I am not good at being heartbroken. But then you already knew that.
And what saw I, upon whirling? The Bane of My Existence, Part Deux. (Fang is Part Un.) Part Deux’s name is Dylan.
Instantly my eyes narrowed and my fists clenched. The hot, dry Arizona wind lifted my hair and rustled the pine needles all around us.
Dylan, on a branch not two feet from mine, gave me a mischievous grin. He’d sneaked up on me, and my hearing is exceptionally good. The only other person who could do that was Fa—
“What do you want?” I scowled at him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Don’t know who you are without him?”
“I’m so sure!” My eyes glowered, and faster than he could say “ Uh-oh,” I shot out a hard side kick and knocked him off his branch. I wouldn’t have done that a week ago, but a week ago he’d been sweet and lovesick and not a great flyer. When Fang had left and I still wanted nothing to do with Dylan, Dylan had taken a new tack: toughening up, sharpening his sarcastic edge, and honing his flying skills till they were kick-butt.
Dylan is not part of my flock, no matter what he thinks or what he might tell you. He’s another recombinant-DNA life-form, a birdkid somewhat like us, except that he was cloned from some original Dylan person, who died somehow. We, the flock, were created in test tubes from mostly human genetic material. And each of us had a little festive dash of avian DNA stirred in, which explains the wings and other amusing physical attributes.
Dylan caught himself before he went splat, shooting out his fifteen-foot wings like sails, letting them fill with wind. With strong strokes, he rocketed upward, determination on his perfect, male-model face, his dark blond hair glistening, and before I could think “Oh no, he wouldn’t,” he came at me with everything he had, barreling right into me, knocking me off my branch.
My arms windmilled as I fell back, my wings extending. I was dropping fast, fury building, then suddenly Dylan was below me, grabbing me under my arms.
“Get your hands off m—” I started to say, but in the next second, he pulled me close and kissed me—hard.
I gasped and my brain just—froze. I couldn’t think or feel a single thing.
He let go of me unexpectedly and swooped off. I forgot to flap my wings, and the ground rushed up to me at nauseating speed.
My obituary would read “Killed by love.”
IF I ACTUALLY DIED, that is, and if I had such a smarmy obit. Which, please. Spare me. I beg you.
I caught myself, of course, my wings thrusting with power. My sneakered feet barely grazed the dusty, red clay ground before I surged upward, deciding that killing Dylan was an appropriate response.
He had flown quickly to about a thousand feet, and I shot up to him like an arrow. As soon as I was near, he said, “Admit it! Your heart is pounding!”
“That was the free fall,” I yelled, circling him in the sky, trying to find the best angle to take him out.
“Look at you!” he taunted. “Moping in a tree! Feeling all sorry for yourself!” He faced me as we circled each other, our wings rising and falling in unison. “Oh, my boyfriend’s gone,” he said in a high, squeaky voice, which was, I promise you, nothing like my voice. “Oh, what should I do? Oh, I can’t live without him! Ohhh!”
A red bloodlust blurred my vision as I darted in to punch him. He blocked my arm and pushed me back. No one ever talked to me like that. No one would ever dare throw such drivel at me.
“Shut up!” was the best my adrenaline-lit brain could come up with on such short notice. “You don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling!”
“Yeah, you’re sitting in a tree because you’re fine,” he said, his handsome face flushed, his turquoise eyes glittering. “That’s easy to see. I can’t believe this is Maximum Ride, destroyer of despots, warrior hottie, leader of the flock! All you need now to make yourself more pathetic is a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!”
Okay, I’ve been called everything from arrogant to zippy, but no one’s ever called me pathetic. Had I really sunk so low?
“Me, pathetic?” I snapped back. “Look in a mirror lately, loser? I can’t stand you, but every time I look up, you’re making cow eyes at me!” I swung my feet forward and smashed him in the chest—just as I had done to that whitecoat in my daymare. He let out an “Oof” and couldn’t catch his breath for a moment, falling about twenty feet.
Then he rushed back at me, nothing like the thoughtful, eager-to-please guy he’d been when we’d first met. Where was he learning how to fight like this?
He whapped me on my side with a powerful wing, making me spin. I’d actually never been hit by a wing before. It’s feathery but packs a surprising punch.
“Oh, you can stand me,” Dylan said as I righted myself. “You’re just afraid to!”
“You’re a delusional freak!” I shrieked, trying to drop down to him so I could kick the side of his head. But he feinted and swung to the left, then he grabbed my ankle and yanked hard. My wings bent up painfully. I went horizontal so I could box his ears. He sucked in a breath and let go of me, then I managed a weak kick to his arm.
I got it now. That’s where he was learning to fight: from me!
“Why can’t you just get out of here and leave me alone?” I bellowed.
“I can’t!” Dylan shouted back, his face twisted with an anger I’d never seen from him.
“You can,” I said through gritted teeth. “Just point your wings that way and flap!”
“No, I mean, I really can’t!” A look of confusion crossed his too-good-looking face. Suddenly, he lost all bitterness and just hovered in the air near me, his wings working smoothly and steadily. He rubbed one hand across his chin. “I actually can’t,” he said, calmer now, looking at the ground far below us. “And you know why, Max. Don’t make me say it.” He sounded vulnerable, frustrated.
I’d been told that he had been created—literally created—just for me, as my “perfect other half.” Let me tell you—if Dylan was my perfect other half, then I needed to give my first half a serious look-see. It all just seemed like total sciencey bullcrap right now.
“I know why, Dylan. It’s because I’m the only available teenage winged female you’ve ever met. You might want to wait until they start mass-producing them. Better selection. They’ve still gotta work all the bugs out.” I frowned, thinking of Fang finding a bug-free Max.
“Never, Max,” Dylan said. “I’m programmed to imprint on you. You know it. I can’t fight the urge to be with you, no matter what.”
“That’s why you’ve been stuck to me like glue?” I said. “Because you have to?!”
Dylan frowned at me. “Yeah. I think.”
Suddenly his gaze was piercing, haunted. “I think I’d want to be with you even if I were programmed to do the exact opposite.”
There was nothing I could say to that. Instead, I folded back my wings and dropped fast to the ground.
AH, THE GOOD OLD DAYS, when we were running for our lives, eating out of Dumpsters, getting into life-and-death battles on a regular basis, unable to trust anyone…
That was before I’d found my mom, the woman who had supplied my second X chromosome. I don’t usually live with her. I’ll always be part of the flock first, and Valencia Martinez’s daughter second. Amazingly, she understands that. I love the fact that she exists and cares about me. But as I stepped into her house, I felt a burst of nostalgia for the days when life was hard and dirty and dangerous.
“Taste,” Nudge said, shoving a still-warm cookie at me.
My stomach was churning from my little aerial battle with the Cloned Heartthrob, and I wanted to say no.
But she stuck the cookie into my mouth, then peered at me anxiously as I tried not to gag. “Your mom’s teaching me how to cook. Too dry? Too chocolaty?”
“Too chocolaty is an oxymoron,” Iggy said from the couch, where he was sitting next to my half sister, Ella. “Okay, go on. You were just at the part where Tarzan kills the big ape.”
Ella grinned at me, then found her place on the page and continued reading to Iggy. (He’s blind. Lab accident.) As amazing as it was for me to have a real mom, it was equally amazing for me to have a real half sister. I’d been sharing her room at night for the past week, and the conversations we’d had in the dark, when everyone else was asleep, made me feel like a normal teenage girl. That is, until she started talking to me about her crush on Iggy. Then I felt like I was listening to her talking about my son. Who’s the same age I am…
Normal’s pretty fleeting around here. But right now, across the room, Gazzy and Angel were doing something totally unevil, working a jigsaw puzzle together, and they smiled at me with similar smiles. Of the five (formerly six) of us, they’re the only real blood siblings. Which I suppose explains why I have brown hair and brown eyes, Fang has dark hair and darker eyes, Iggy is tall and fair and light-haired, Gazzy and Angel are both blond and deceptively angelic-looking, and Nudge is African American, with light brown skin, curly corkscrew hair almost the same color, and eyes like melted chocolate.
I sighed as I took in the cozy, tranquil domestic scene.
“Hi, honey,” my mom said. She came over and pushed my hair behind my shoulders. I tried to remember the last time I’d untangled it, but after I thought back two days, I gave up.
“Hi,” I said.
“Why don’t you go take a nice shower?” she suggested.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said.
Across the room, Angel suddenly cocked her head in a way that made me stiffen and brace myself.
“Someone’s coming,” she said.
“Who is it?” my mom asked.
Angel concentrated, her brows furrowed. “It’s Jeb,” she said. “Jeb and Dr. Hans. Hans Gunther-Hagen.” And how would she know this, you might ask? Her scary mental powers. She can pick up on people’s energy and emotions, from a distance. And close up? Let’s just say don’t have any private, personal, embarrassing thoughts around her. Yeah. Good luck with that.
“How did they—” I began, then looked at my mom. “You told them we were here?! You know I hate seeing Jeb! And the last time I saw Dr. Hans, he’d just accidentally almost sort of killed Fang!”
“I know, honey,” my mom said, looking unruffled. “But Jeb called, and he said he just had to talk to you. Something urgent—he was very insistent.”
I looked into her warm brown eyes that were similar to mine. Her hair was darker and curlier than mine. We didn’t look much alike.
“I’m not talking to him,” I said, starting down the hall to the bathroom.
“If Max doesn’t want him here, he shouldn’t be here,” Dylan said. I looked back to see him swing in gracefully through a large open window. I hated that he was sticking up for me. I’d rather just dislike and mistrust him and be done with it.
“Don’t worry, Max,” Angel said. She came over to me and took my hand. “Whatever he says, we’re in this together. We’re the flock.”
I stifled a heavy sigh. This from one who was alternately a superamazing, then a traitorous, duplicitous, backstabbing seven-year-old. I didn’t exactly trust her fully either.
I looked around. As flock leader, everyone was expecting me to make a decision. Jeb’s presence here would bring uncertainty, chaos, probably danger.
It would perk up my day.
I shrugged. “Let him in.”
WE ALL HEARD IT: the drone of a small airplane. It landed in a dry flat field behind my mom’s small house. Gazzy, always hoping for an explosion, seemed disappointed it didn’t crash into the trees or go over the nearby cliff.
A minute later, Jeb was at the door with Dr. Hans, who, the last time I’d checked, was still on our official archenemy list. (Yes, we have to keep a list. It’s kind of sad.)
My stomach clenched as soon as they walked in the door. Jeb and Dr. Hans together? It was wrong on so many levels. This was the same Jeb who had abandoned us as little kids, forcing us to fend for ourselves in the mountains of Colorado. Ever since then, my relationship with him had been tentative. Tentative like the relationship between a spider and a fly. I am the fly in that scenario.
I looked at Dr. Hans warily, and he looked back at me. He’d almost killed Fang—I’d had to jab a hypodermic needle full of adrenaline directly into Fang’s heart to save him. Which, now that I thought about it, was so gross.
Both of these guys could be brilliant, generous, pretty useful, and committed to saving humanity. Or, they could embrace the dark side, try to take over the world, or worse: try to make me do something I didn’t want to do.
“So much for my vacation,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. To my surprise, Angel copied me, and then so did the rest of the flock. And Dylan. Angel and I have butted heads on more than one occasion, but I have to admit, she’d been pretty sweet to me since Fang had left. This visible show of support nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Oh, my God. I was pathetic! Dylan was right.
“It was really more of a staycation,” Gazzy mused.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jeb said, “but we really need to talk to you, all of you, but especially Max.”
“This oughta be good,” I said. “Let me guess. We’re needed for a research mission at the coldest place on earth?”
“No,” said Jeb. “This is bigger than you, bigger than all of us. I need you to open your mind and listen.”
“Last time I opened my mind, you injected hallucinations into it,” I pointed out. I hardly ever forgive, and I never forget. “Is it… a crazed megalomaniac who has a secret underwater lair where pollution is creating huge, mutant sea monsters?”
“No,” said Jeb, looking irritated.
“Yeah, because how likely is that?” I scoffed. “That would never happen! It’s crazy!”
“Just hear me out. An evolutionary revolution is happening all over the world.”
“Which means what exactly?” I asked.
“Worldwide, a new generation of children with supernatural powers has appeared,” Dr. Hans said.
“So far, you’re not riveting my attention,” I said.
“You know that there are labs and schools all over the world that are trying to speed up the human evolutionary process,” Jeb said.
“I do now,” I said.
“Dedicated men and women of science are trying to find a way to save the human race. And they’ve been successful. Overwhelmingly successful, for the first time.”
I got a prickle on the back of my neck. The flock and I had been created in just such a lab, a nightmarish place called the School, where another way to say “dedicated men and women of science” was “ power-hungry mad scientists with Frankenstein complexes.”
“You know that, historically, you’ve been among the most successful of the recombinant-DNA life-forms,” Jeb said. “You were the fifty-fourth generation of DNA experiments.”
Some kids get called “bundles of joy” or “slices of heaven” or “dreams come true.” We got “the fifty-fourth generation of DNA experiments.” Doesn’t have the same warm and fuzzy feel. But maybe I’m oversensitive.
“The Erasers were the seventeenth,” Jeb said, and we all flinched involuntarily. (If you want to delve more deeply into the wild ’n’ wacky world of human-wolf hybrids, check out the earlier Max chronicles.)
“Not that I’m not enjoying this little jaunt down memory lane,” I said curtly, “but you’re not making a lot of headway here. In fact, so far you’re just annoying the heck out of me and making me remember all the reasons I never want to talk to you again.”
Jeb glanced at Dr. Hans and then at my mom. She made a face that said, “Way to go, bucko,” and he cleared his throat.
“My point is that you guys were successful,” he said. “I’m sure you remember all the versions that weren’t successful.”
“I’ll have their catastrophic images burned into my brain till I die,” I said. “Are we done here?”
“No,” said Dr. Hans. “These children, this new generation, are the ones you’ll be leading, after you save the world. It’s time you start leading them. Now.”
OKAY, SLIGHT FLICKER of interest. I’d been doing the “save the world” dance for a while, and so far it had been mostly saving the world one small part at a time. It was exhausting. This sounded more like “big picture” stuff.
“What are you talking about?” My mom’s question broke the silence.
“There’s like a ton of new mutants?” Nudge asked, her eyes wide.
“We don’t use the word ‘mutant’ anymore,” Dr. Hans corrected.
“This new generation,” Jeb said, “and it includes children who were genetically engineered as well as a large groundswell of spontaneous genetic evolutions—”
“Or mutations,” I butted in.
“We call them Gen 77 kids,” he continued. “They’re the seventy-seventh generation of genetically modified or genetically enhanced humans. And yes, there are lots of them. Dr. Gunther-Hagen is correct when he says it’s time for you to take on your mantle of responsibility, Max. It’s very likely that there will be a significant number of these Gen 77 kids among the human survivors of the apocalypse.”
“You know, most kids spend their Saturdays arguing about what cartoons to watch,” I said. “They don’t have the apocalypse thrown at them so early in the day.”
“You’re not just any kid, Max,” Jeb said. “You know that.”
“What is this new generation of kids like?” my mom asked. She’s a woman of science herself—a veterinarian. Yes, I know. How ironic. Ha-ha.
“They’re completely unpredictable,” the Hanselator said. “Some of them can breathe underwater, fly, or are telepathic or telekinetic.”
(Check, check, check. Not all of us, but Angel is telepathic, and Nudge has been known to draw metal to herself without touching it.)
“Some of them are brilliant,” said Dr. H. “Some of them have heatproof skin and can see the thermal images of living creatures.”
(Okay, well, whatever.)
“But the important thing is that there are so many of them,” said Jeb.
“You are an exceptional leader, Max,” Dr. Hans added. “We’ve been monitoring the astonishing development of this new generation for a while now, and it’s imperative that we unite all the Gen 77 kids under one leader—you. Together, we’ll be able to prepare them for whatever the future holds.”
“Thus far, you’ve done very well,” said Jeb. “But this is only the beginning of your journey. There is much to do to ensure that humans survive.”
“Humans in any form?” Dylan spoke up for the first time. “Some people will say that mutants don’t deserve to survive at all, much less be among the only survivors.”
“We don’t use the term ‘mutant’ anymore,” Jeb reminded him. “And yes, there will be detractors, of course. There always are. Which is why Max needs to become their leader now, to start laying the foundation for the New World. With this sudden emergence of enhanced children, we have more weight, more power.”
“And that’s not all, Max,” said Dr. HGH. He’d been looking more and more anxious as our meeting went on, and now he turned toward me eagerly. “There are some crucial developments—”
“Hans!” Jeb said under his breath, “I told you she’s not ready for that.”
“Not ready for what?” I asked, just as Angel’s eyes got big and she slipped off the arm of the couch where she’d been perched.
She put both hands to her cheeks and said, “Oh, no. Not that! You have to be kidding!”
I mentioned the whole reading minds thing already, didn’t I? It sounded like she’d read Jeb’s.
“NOT THAT, WHAT?” I demanded, hands on my hips. Jeb and Dr. Hans were looking at each other guiltily, as if they were sending each other telepathic messages. I guess they could have been, but Angel would have ratted them out by now.
“Just tell her,” Angel advised, sitting back down.
“We don’t have to discuss it now,” Jeb finally said unconvincingly.
“Time is running out,” Dr. Gub-Hub said.
“She’s fourteen!” Jeb countered.
“Fifteen,” I reminded him. Everyone in the flock had had a birthday not that long ago. We’d all gotten a year older at once, like racehorses.
“That’s still way too young!” Jeb snapped.
“Too young for what?” I was practically shrieking now.
Dr. Hans turned to face me. “Max, you know that we think something catastrophic will happen to our planet, and soon,” he said. “And that only some people will survive. And that you will lead the survivors.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard all that,” I said. “So?”
“Well, what happens then?” The doctor looked at me intently.
I looked back at him. “We all live happily ever after?”
“No. Say you’re the leader. We don’t know how long your life span will be…”
Ouch. Call a spade a spade, why don’t you? Many recombinant life-forms have built-in expiration dates, when they just suddenly die. The flock and I assumed that we did too.
“So what happens after you die? Chaos? War? A struggle for power?”
Who the heck even thought that far ahead? I sure didn’t. I was still kind of stuck on the whole “save the world” thing at the top of my to-do list.
“Maybe an election?” I offered.
“Elections work in stable societies,” Dr. Hans said. “History has shown that emerging societies function better if there is a consistent ruling hierarchy. That’s why kings and queens played such prominent roles historically. Only very recently have some countries been able to elect leaders, and even so it hasn’t always been successful.”
“So what are you saying?” I demanded. “I’m going to be queen?” I tried hard not to picture myself wearing a tiara. It just wouldn’t work with the shabby jeans and hoodie look.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “In a manner of speaking. And we intend for you to found a dynasty. And that dynasty will rule society until it has progressed enough to—”
“Overthrow the dynasty in a revolutionary, blood-filled coup!” Iggy said eagerly.
We all looked at him.
“Just saying.” He sheepishly took a bite of cookie.
“Okay, you lost me,” my mom said. “What exactly are you getting at?”
“It’s very simple, Dr. Martinez,” said Hansey. “We want Max to… breed. To produce heirs. Who will govern the world after she dies.”
Dead silence for quite some time. We all stared at Dr. Hans, our jaws dropped to various levels. Our lives had reached a new low of inhumanity.
My face flushed. Part of me had assumed, hoped, that if Fang and I lived long enough, we would get married. Maybe have a little flock of our own. But I really hadn’t planned it all out. And he was gone now, anyway. How could I possibly ever find someone…
My eyes scanned Dylan’s face. I saw his discomfort.
“Oh, no,” I said in horror.
“Yes,” Angel confirmed. “Freaking unbelievable.”
“It makes sense, Max,” Dr. Hans continued as my mind spun. “You two were literally made for each other. You’re a perfect match. I’d like you and Dylan to come with me to Germany, where I have a nice home waiting for you. You can marry or not, as you wish, and in time produce children, heirs to your dynasty. To carry on your legacy, your leadership.”
“You have got to be kidding.” My mom’s voice was loud. “Over my dead body, Hans.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, relieved. “So it’s not just me.”
“That’s a crazy plan!” my mom said. She came over to me and put her arm around my shoulders. “Max is barely fifteen years old! It’s bad enough that you’ve saddled her with saving the world. Now you want her to do it with a baby on her hip? Are you insane?”
I love my mom.
“I’m not saying today or tomorrow,” Dr. Gunther-Hagen insisted. “But soon. We’re convinced it’s the only chance for the world’s continued survival.”
“Out of the question!” my mom said. “Jeb, this is crazy! How could you?! You’re going to drop this right now, or you’ll have to leave! I don’t want to hear another word about Max breeding with anyone!”
Dr. Hans looked like he wanted to say something else, but he stopped himself.
The worst part? When I cast a surreptitious glance at Dylan and saw the discomfort in his beautiful turquoise eyes morph into a flicker of hope.
HE WAS COMING. Fang’s first target.
Fang pressed his back against the brick wall, sinking deep into the shadows. For hours he’d been waiting for the gang to disperse, for his guy to head off alone. The group had been shooting hoops, playing dice, smoking and drinking. Fang had heard bottles break and angry disputes dissolve into laughter.
It was late, a bit past midnight. The air was cold. Fang crouched against the wall of the abandoned building, its windows broken and burned out. The deserted lot was full of stuff people probably didn’t know how to get rid of: a stripped car, its side still blotched with red Bondo; an old mattress; naked box springs; half a baby’s crib, smashed and spray painted.
Fang had been waiting here, still and silent, for most of the night. This was what he’d left the flock to do. This is what Max would not have understood.
He could hear footsteps approaching him. It was his guy, no doubt. An empty glass bottle struck the wall and shattered with a force that seemed unnaturally loud.
Three, two, one…
Excerpted from Angel by Patterson, James Copyright © 2011 by Patterson, James. Excerpted by permission.
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