"Hey, Young blood!
Doesn't it feel
like our time is running out?"
The Phoenix, Fall Out Boy
The sun was slowly sinking beneath the horizon, sending long red rays of light across the canyon walls. I was sitting on the very edge of the cliff, legs dangling out over open air, so my well-worn combat boots were painted too. I took a deep breath of summer air. It wasn't much—today had been humid as all-get-out, and even now the air felt like soup. It would take until night for it to be anywhere near breathable. But when you spent the first eight years of your life in an industrial mad science laboratory, breathing air that was more Clorox than actual oxygen, you learned to savor the small things in life, the little bits of freedom that the world gave you every day. Things like dry grass, muggy air, sturdy boots, sunsets, and somebody to watch them with.
My legs weren't the only ones dangling over a couple-hundred-foot drop, but my boots were the only ones that were changing color—black didn't do much in the way of changing with the light.
"Fang," I said, and prodded my sunset-watching buddy in the arm. He gave me a sidelong glance. "Pass the Coke."
He handed me the half-empty glass bottle. I took a swig. Ah, carbonation. God's gift to mankind.
"You know," I said, handing the bottle back, "summer's my favorite season."
He grunted and took a sip.
I elbowed him. "I'm being sentimental. You're supposed to ask me why."
His long-suffering sigh was the most obnoxious thing I had heard that week, and I had suffered through an hour of cartoon reruns with the kids on Wednesday. "Alright," he said, "why?"
I frowned and grabbed the bottle away from him. "Nice try, but losers don't get soda."
This got me an eye-roll accompanied by a middle finger.
"Thanks for your wonderful apology," I told him. "Really moved my heart. Ten out of ten; would accept again."
Nothing. He just rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward to cradle his chin in his palms, pointedly staring at the setting sun. I sighed. He was like that sometimes—well, okay, many times… well, okay. Always.
I leaned forward too; very much aware of how close I was to slipping off the edge. One shift forward would be all that it would take. And then I'd be falling into the canyon below, muggy air turned biting as it rushed against me, my hair pulled free from its braid…
"Summer's my favorite season," I said, "because we don't have to worry about the time. The sun sets super late, so we can have dinner and head out. All we really have to worry about is the—"
I groaned. "Really, Iggy? Really?"
Iggy was leaning out of the window, the one that opened out right over the canyon. His shaggy red-blond hair more or less matched the sunlight, which made his filmed-over blue eyes seem even more out of place with the world around him. "You know it."
"Couldn't you do them this one time?"
It's not like Iggy wanted to watch the sunset with Fang and me—it's not like he could. We all had our scars and oddities, but Iggy had really gotten the short end of the stick.
"Please?" I added, my voice as nice as I could make it. Unlike the other two girls in our messed-up adopted family, I wasn't gifted with a cuteness gene that would let me get away with murder. I'm more of a do this or I'll knock your lights out kind of gal. But it didn't hurt to try.
"And just what do you think you're doing?" This voice managed to blend sarcasm with annoyance—the ultimate dad voice.
I smirked. "Hi, Jeb!"
"Max isn't doing the dishes," Iggy said, climbing back inside the house.
I took a sip of Coke. "Fight me."
Jeb leaned out the window, and the sunlight glinted off his glasses. "Maximum, either do the dishes or mediate with your brother."
I groaned. Hey, wait a second—brother. He didn't say which one. I turned to Fang. "Do the dishes for me?"
This got me my second eye-roll of the past five minutes—wow, I was on a roll. But he sighed in a way that let me know I had won. That was one of the perks of living with Fang—you got really good at picking up on his body language.
I leaned forward again, dedicating my attention to the setting sun. It was bright red in a way that endless white linoleum wasn't, moving in a way that glaring incandescent lights didn't, and showing how rough and uneven the walls of the canyon were, in a way that the mazelike white walls of my childhood weren't. My grin died down, but a different feeling curled up in my throat. I was really blessed. Every day I got to wake up free and surrounded by my family—admittedly, none of them were related to me by blood, but they were my family all the same. I got to run wild around the Gunnison Mountains, not reporting to anybody but Jeb. And I could—
Fang tapped me on my right shoulder. I twisted to face him as he trailed his fingertips down the ridges of my spine. When he hit the middle of my back he pressed his whole hand against me, smirked, and shoved me off the cliff.
I absolutely did not let out a girly shriek as I went tumbling down, my arms and legs flailing. The wind screamed in my ears as the rocky ground rushed up to meet me. I was falling too fast to breathe, too fast for the world to be anything but a blur. I was going to—
I snapped out my wings. It hurt—every muscle in my core screamed as I was abruptly jerked up by what was, essentially, a pair of seven-foot-long feathery parachutes, and it took a few awkward flaps before I was doing anything less than falling at a slightly slower rate. But after six years of complete freedom, I was used to moving around in the air. I circled for a moment, letting my heart slow down. That was when I noticed that my shirt and the thighs of my jeans had soda spattered all over them. I groaned all the way up to the cliff.
"Fang, you jackass!" He was already at the door of our house, but he gave me a glance back. It was amazing how much smugness he could pack into an otherwise completely neutral facial expression. I kicked out at him—completely pointless, because he was a good five meters away, but the gesture was still there. "You made me spill my Coke!"
He smirked and headed inside. I beat my wings down and started off further into the canyon, but something caught my eye.
I stopped, hovering just past the window.
Ari, Jeb's son, was standing stock-still in the main room, his eyes fixed on me.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack, kid," I told him, but spread my arms wide. "C'mon, get."
I didn't think it was possible for his eyes to get any wider than they had been. I was wrong. "Really?"
He grinned at me, and sprinted for the window, clambering up onto the frame and launching himself out into empty air. He took to the air like I took to water, flailing like crazy. But his jump was good enough to send him up for a moment instead of straight down, and for a half-second he was suspended. I caught him just before he started to fall. His arms locked around my neck so hard that it took my breath away.
And I flipped out. Shock coursed through my veins and I dropped, my wings seizing up.
I was used to fighting—I sparred with Fang and Iggy on the regular. And I was used to carrying Ari around—as the oldest and the toughest (and, I'll admit it, the coolest), I was the natural choice for it. But the iron-bar grip around my neck, coming out of nowhere, might as well have erased the six years separating me from my godawful childhood. As I dropped, I was a kid again, caught in a chokehold by one of a thousand different Erasers.
It was the wind whipping around my face that brought me back to my senses, and I pushed down hard, every muscle in my body aching. Coming out of a fall wasn't fun, and carrying Ari wasn't easy. But combined? It was like doing decline pushups with a backpack full of rocks.
A backpack full of rocks that was whooping. "That was awesome!" Ari shouted. "I thought I was gonna die! Do it again!"
I was just about to respond in the hell negative when we passed by the window again, and I caught sight of Jeb, his arms folded over his chest. I groaned and swooped down and in through the open window, avoiding him by about a quarter-inch.
Jeb cleared his throat. "Maximum—human bodies are not, perhaps, the best things to be lugging around hundreds of feet in the air—"
"I was holding on really tight," Ari protested, and my mouth screwed up. He had been. That had been like, half the problem.
Jeb stared Ari down and he shriveled. It was like watching a documentary about autumn, when they fast-forwarded through leaves going from green and flexible to brown and brittle. Jeb's face softened a bit when he looked back to me, but disappointment was still written in the fine lines around his eyes. "We've talked about this, Max. You need to think beyond the moment—you're not a kid anymore."
Now that wasn't fair. I opened my mouth to retort but before I could, a towheaded eight-year-old skidded into the room on his socks, his little sister following behind—walking, like a normal person. The only two biological siblings in our messed-up family of mutants, Gazzy and Angel shared light blond hair that turned a bloody orange in the light of the setting sun.
"Hey, Max!" Gazzy said. "We're gonna watch I Was A Teenage Werewolf. Wanna join?"
Angel frowned at him. "That's insensitive," she said, pronouncing the second word syllable by syllable. "Max has nightmaresabout werewolves."
Even though I'd grown upwith her telepathy antics, it was still like having somebody drop an ice cube down the back of my shirt to slide slowly down my spine. The hair on the back of my neck prickled.
"Hey!" My voice wavered, and I took an unconscious step closer to the window. "I don't…" I bit my lip. Angel knew all too well what I had nightmares about. "I don't have nightmares about werewolves," I clarified. "Erasers aren't werewolves. They don't… change." They just were, spliced with wolves the same way we were spliced with birds. They weren't furry enough to get noticed as freaks, but they had jaws that jutted out to hold their razor-sharp teeth and thumbs that didn't work all the way. And they were able to get a bitbigger than humans, if small-town Coloradans were any kind of indication. It made them easier to spot in a crowd, which was part of the reason I only spent two-thirds of every outing glancing over my shoulder, instead of three-fourths.
Angel put her hand in mine and stared up at me, blue eyes way too serious for a six-year-old. "It's going to be alright," she said. "I promise."
I blinked. "Angel, that's sweet of you," I said. The but you're six years old and Lunchable-sized I figured could be left for another time.
"I promise too," Gazzy said, jutting out his lower lip as he folded his arms over his chest. "They come for us, I'll beat 'em up."
Jesus. He was eight. Wasn't the testosterone-alpha-male thing not supposed to come up for a few years?
"Me too!" Ari chimed in, and I had to bite back a snort at that one. If the day came when I was relying on him to defend me from giant wolf monsters, I'd hang up my combat boots.
It was kind of sweet, in a stupid way. And then Nudge came out of the kitchen, scowling at me and wiping her sudsy hands off on her shorts. The moment broke as she stalked over to switch on the TV and set up the movie, not breaking her glare even as the opening theme started to play and the kids crowded onto the sofa.
I rolled my eyes at her, and her scowl grew even more exaggerated, turning into a pout.
"Fang quit halfway through," she grumbled. "And I had to do the rest and it's not fair 'cause it's your turn."
"And you skipped out last time," I said, mimicking her tone as best as I could. It didn't work perfectly—I'm not sure what bird was used to make me, but it wasn't a parrot—but it got the point across and her pout turned into a glower.
I sighed and crossed the room to ruffle her hair—it was twisted out now—and poke her in the ticklish spot just under her ribcage. She let out a snort and twisted away to sit on the couch, but her scowl broken when she did.
"Maximum," Jeb said. Oh. Right. Lecture. Jeez, he was the one who wanted us to be strong. And I wasn't complaining about that—being strong was something that was mine as much as the wide-open sky. But if he wanted me to be strong so much, then he shouldn't put up a fuss about how much I was goddamn lifting!
"That sure is my name," I said, and gave him one of my best whatcha gonna do about it grins before heading back across the room and scrambling out of the window backwards, only twisting when I was in the air. It was a bitch on the abs, but a pretty awesome way to leave. Once I was in the air I flapped hard. I kept pushing up, until there was nothing around me but purple-black empty sky—and I kept going, higher and higher, until my head started to ache from the speed and the lack of air. I spun in a quick circle and then pulled my wings in and dived, rushing toward the cliff. The wind was screaming against my face, making me squint—making it more likely for me to miss, or to crash into the cliff.
Either way I'd die.
Everything was so clear like this, the ground a tiny circle that I was speeding towards—
I snapped my wings out and beat them as hard as I could, thrashing against the air. My legs were kicking out almost involuntarily, pedaling me into a more upright position. I landed hard on my heels and tipped forward—thank God I was able to throw out an arm to catch myself, or I'd have been eating dirt. I exhaled, grinning, and folded my wings back in.
Behind me and to my right, Iggy snorted. "Klutz." But the way he said it was different than usual. Something was missing.
I straightened up and went to sit by him. "Let's see you do better." I whacked him on the back of the head with a wing, and he gave me a half-hearted shove.
That took me by surprise—Iggy usually wasn't anywhere near apathetic. "What's up?"
He hesitated, shrugged. "It's just… being fourteen. 'S weird. I kinda feel like I'm growing up too fast, kinda feel like I want to be sixteen already."
"Yeah," he said, sounding more enthusiastic. "Sixteen's the year right in the middle of being a teenager. We get used to the hormones from thirteen to fifteen, when we're seventeen and eighteen and nineteen we grow the hell up. Sixteen's the sweet spot. It's a year where you haven't grown into your responsibilities, but you have grown into your ability to party. That's why those white girls have sweet sixteens. And according to Nudge's YA novels, that's when you learn to day-drink and drive."
"Right," I said. "Because they'd let you behind the wheel."
Iggy laughed. "I know, right? I'm too goddamn handsome. I'd cause accidents. I'd get away with vehicular manslaughter. It's for the good of humanity that this beauty is kept in the shotgun seat… while your three outta ten ass ferries me around."
I flipped him off. "I'm a solid five, fuck you and the horse you rode in on."
Fang chose that moment to land on the cliff as well. Even though it had hit eight-five today, he was wearing a black turtleneck and black skinnies, and his black overlong hair hung in a ponytail between his—wait for it—completely black wings. How he didn't trip over himself in the dark, I had no idea.
I tilted my head back to try to focus on him. "What's up?"
He just shrugged and sat down on my right, slinging an arm over my shoulder and wrapping a still-warm wing around Iggy and me. It was super comfortable—like a feathery heated blanket.
"Fang," Iggy yawned. "You beautiful mute space heater."
Fang's grin was a flash of white teeth in the night, and I shifted down so I could rest my head on his shoulder. He was two inches taller than me, which was ridiculously unfair, seeing as I was four months older. But at the same time, the height difference let me use him like a pillow, so… win some, lose some.
By now, the canyon beneath us had filled up with shadows that swamped anything remotely recognizable. We could be in New York for all I knew. I groaned. "I can't see my hand in front of my face."
Iggy gasped. "Really? Me neither! God, we have so much in common—let's get married. Fang, you wear nothing but black, I can't imagine that you can see your hands either—let's make this marriage a threeway. It's legal in Utah—you two can be my wives."
Both Fang and I shoved at him at the same time—me with a hand, Fang with a wing, and he skidded half-off the cliff. I had to grab him and haul him back, which was made easier by the fact that he still, somehow, weighed less than me. Once he was on solid ground he stood and stretched.
"Well, it's been good knowing you losers. But some of us have to wake up in the morning and be productive members of society, so I'm gonna bounce." He headed back for the E-shaped house, for the only source of light for miles.
Fang wrapped his wing tighter around me, and I scooted so we were sitting thigh-to-thigh, his head resting on mine, my head still on his shoulder. I could spend the whole night like this, watching the moon go across the sky, waiting for the world to lighten. I had, in fact, a couple of times. Iggy had made hot chocolate and coffee in varying batches and the three of us had told ghost stories and dared each other to eat various bits of flora. But maybe tonight wasn't the best night to do that. I was already overdue for a lecture from Jeb.
"Y'wanna turn in?" I asked Fang, barely stifling a yawn.
His head shifted against mine.
"A'ight." I swung my legs up onto the ground and pulled free from his wing, stretched, and offered him a hand up.
He took it, and we headed back inside together.
[D. G. has created a group chat on the Departmental Heads board]
[D. G. has logged on]
[S. H. has logged on]
[A. W. has logged on]
[S. J. has logged on]
D. G.: We need to discuss Batchelder.
D. G.: Specifically, the nature of his care for the 1A batch.
D. G.: His reports have been negligent at best, and purposefully evasive at worst.
D. G.: His care as a guardian is suspect.
S. J.: I was thinking the same thing, haha! Not to speak ill of Dr. Batchelder, but…
S. J.: All of his reports about the kids are very, um, very rudimentary! And occasionally inconsistent…
S. J.: He'll occasionally mention nightmares and PTSD, but then in the next report, he'll report that they're all functioning at peak capacity, no reason to worry!
S. J.: I think he might be lying to us…
A. W.: Personally, I think your decision to allow him to have complete control over the children was a mistake.
A. W.: I would have kept them in California, under Dr. Johnson's supervision.
S. J.: (Thanks!)
A. W.: (You're welcome.)
A. W.: Over the years that I've grown to know Dr. Batchelder, it's become evident that he suffers from some kind of megalomania. Exposing impressionable children to that is hardly wise.
A. W.: And with the import that the 1A batch has…
S. H.: (i still think we shoulda called em A1)
S. H.: (yknow)
S. H.: (like steak sauce)
S. H.: that bein said jebs not a bad man and in fact i think the kids r fine with him
S. H.: he took decent enough care of the first three so im sure hell do fine with the others
D. G.: This isn't a question of your certainty. This is a matter of Batchelder's incompetence.
D. G.: He might have already damaged them beyond repair, and with the set date for Phase II drawing nearer and nearer, I believe a conference is necessary.
A. W.: This is Dr. Batchelder. He won't listen unless you have him in a position that he can't get out of.
S.H.: ( ud know about that wouldnt u)
D. G.: What do you suggest that we do?
A. W.: Did he leave his son behind? I would suggest that you use the child as ransom. Threaten to mutate him.
A. W.: Batchelder will send the children or come himself. If he sends the children, find out what they know about Phases II and III. If he comes himself, the children will follow.
A. W.: While I don't advocate harming children, there are times when there simply is no other choice.
A. W.: Now, if you'll excuse me.
[A. W. has logged out]
S. J.: That sounds harsh…
S. J.: A good thing for the kid, then! Dr. Batchelder brought him with the Flock when he left!
S. J.: Speaking of kids… I'd better go! I think I can hear crying!
[S. J. has logged out]
D. G.: Any suggestions?
S. H.: well yeah
S. H.: we don't have any of the tiny defenseless easily mutated kids now
S. H.: (i mean we do but not the ones that batchelder cares about)
S. H.: but it wouldn't be that hard to get some
S. H.: yknow?
S. H.: anyway i gotta go pm me w the deets of whatever you decide to come up with
[S. H. has logged out]
[D. G. has closed the group chat]
[D. G. has logged out]
Heya! I'm kamicrazy, and this is Maximum Ride: New Beginning. Well, more specifically, this is Try Not to Scream. But it's a part of MRNB—one of four. What's MRNB, you're asking. Good question! MRNB is a series rewrite that uses an altered backstory as a springboard for a streamlined and altered plot with SO MUCH character development, ZERO random power development scenes, VERY LITTLE bullshit (I'd like to guarantee NO BULLSHIT WHATSOEVER, but frankly nobody is perfect), HELLA fight scenes, AT LEAST ONE makeout, and nothing but complete honesty from me as a writer to you my audience. In the spirit of that honesty, let's have a very quick recap of things that differ from MR canon!
—Ari and Jeb are at the E-shaped house.
—Ari is still human and seven years old.
—Eraser physiology! They can't morph here because morphing is stupid and doesn't follow actual science rules. So I've altered them to follow as many science rules as possible as to not break my suspension of disbelief.
—Iggy's five months younger than Max as opposed to six. This isn't a big deal or anything, but when I was giving them birthdays, that's how it turned out.
—Gazzy can't mimic voices. I was trying to find a way to make his power useful, couldn't, and decided to scrap it. Likewise, Nudge can't move metal, Fang can't go invisible, Max doesn't have super speed, Iggy can't feel colors, Angel can't shapeshift… et cetera. If these kids find themselves with downtime, they'll be doing something more productive with it than randomly mutating.
—Several original characters have been added, as the group chat informs you. They're not going to completely take over the plot—MRNB is first and foremost about the birdkids.
—MRNB is being beta-read by Tokoloshe Monster, who is awesome, as opposed to MR, which was presumably beta-read by nobody... as awesome.
There are many other things that have been changed, but telling you all of it would get into spoiler territory. Let's just say that you're in for a ride.