It was early, now, Fang and I still sitting by the fire. The kids and Iggy were asleep. Iggy had managed to keep Total with him, somehow, though they'd lost all the food, an apparently the cloths they'd bought for Fang, Angel and I. Bummer, but at least they had managed to bring the dog back. Angel had had hysterics when she couldn't see him at first, then Iggy had dug him out of his back-pack, and the little girl had nearly strangled the animal. She was a little happier now, and curled up around the black dog, sleeping quietly beside her brother who was snoring softly. Iggy's breath was soft and he was lost in the world of sleep. I turned my attention back to the fire, feeling Fang's gaze on me, and flickered a look at him.

"What?" We'd been silent for hours, but it was a nice quiet, not one of those awkward ones.

"Those pictures," He started, and I groaned inwardly, flushing. "There's a wound on your left side." I turned to look up at him, puzzled.


"Liz said you said you were shot. When was that?" He was deadly serious, and I tilted my head, lost. I think it was the worry, lack of sleep and all that jazz, you know.

Fang sighed and ran his finger across the back of my shoulder, and slightly onto my wing. I sat shock still. "There." He said, watching me.

"Oh, yeah. That was ages ago." Fang remained silent, and I realised he wanted the whole story. Dang it. "Remember when we first left to look for Angel?" Fang nodded slightly. "And I saw that girl, down below?" His jaw tightened, and I knew he remembered. "Yeah, well the bozo boys had a gun. I beat their ass and told Ella to run, and belted out of there. One of them got a lucky shot in." I lifted my hand to my shoulder, "anyway, I found Ella's house by accident, and her mum's a vet." I snorted softly, "And she fixed me up. That's why I had an x-ray and how we found the chip." I widened my eyes innocently and looked up at Fang. "That's it… The end."

Fang didn't really look convinced, but let it ride. "So she knows about your wing?" He asked.

"Uh-huh. She x-rayed me. 'Course she knows. I didn't tell her about you lot, though… Not that matters now, she'd have gotten the paper and stuff…" I shuddered and chucked a piece of wood on the dwindling fire. Dawn was probably closer than I thought, since the sky seemed to be lightening. My sense of time has been really screwed up lately.

Fang didn't reply, but then, I wasn't really expecting one. I switched my gaze over to the flock, watching as Iggy stretched and sat up before wandering over.

"Morning Ig." I smiled up at the tall mutant, who dropped to the ground beside Fang.

"Hmm. Leaving soon?" He asked, extending a hand for one of the few bars we had left. Fang dug him up one, and he munched on it.

"Yup. Give the kids a little longer." I said, and he nodded.

"Give me your card, and I'll go get some more food." Fang said, looking into his backpack. I looked expectantly at Iggy, whose face had gone paler than it already was.

"Liz had it." He said softly, blind eyes wide. Fang and I stared at him. Fang's eyes narrowed suddenly, and a sly smirk ghosted over his lips.

"Why did little Lizzie have it?" He queried, and despite the dour situation, I had to smother a grin. Iggy flushed and his blind eyes narrowed in return.

"She nicked it. How old is that girl?"

Fang and I both shrugged, "About Nudge's age." Iggy rolled his eyes.

"Acts more like you." Fang laughed.

"Thanks." I said dryly, getting up to wake Gazzy and Angel.

We left just as the sun was coming up, and it was damn cold! Winter was really hitting in on us, Christmas was only a little way away, and I was determined to spend it at the hawks with my flock, Total, and Liz and Bree, if we could get them back.

The flight was uneventful and boring, to say the least. Without Nudge, there was no one to fill the silence, and no one to tell to shut up. We were all silent, no one bothering to speak at all. We rested almost not at all, and quickly returned to familiar grounds: and it made all of us way jumpy. Total silently watched us all; looking surprised at how jumpy we were, though he said nothing. Maybe the dog does have some brains in there.

"Welcome," I said sarcastically, "To Death Valley." And we landed lightly


Liz's POV

Nudge went silent, her voice chocked off as Jeb asked about Max II, her brown eyes widening in her dark face, and a glare of death was sent to Jeb. I didn't really understand this. Of course, Bree had given me mild over-run of what he was doing when he snatched me away from the Whitecoats what seemed forever ago, but honestly, I didn't really get all of this.

Winged kids? Ethically challenged scientists? A clone? What was with the world I was so sure I'd known? I mean, I'd been bitching about what I was going to wear out with my friends, then was swiped one day after school, shoved into a van and given a thump to the head. I don't really remember much more than that, to be honest. I remember being here for a while, maybe two weeks, I remember being in a room with some other girls, and a couple of guys, of watching white-coated men and women stalk in, take someone, and then never see them again. I was left alone for a long time, before they finally took me to that Room.

I shook my head, shivering down my back, making the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I felt goose-bumps rise along my arms. I didn't like this place, but I had nothing on what the other's had been through, and if it weren't for their pearly looks, I wouldn't think it was all that bad.
After all, I'd been treated OK on my last visit. They were only questioning me when Bree burst in. But what could they have done?

God knows... Or maybe he doesn't...

"I don't know," Bree said, sounding irritated, and I wondered how much of the conversation I'd missed. I glanced sideways at Nudge, but she had her arms over her head, hands towards the back of her neck, and was mumbling something.

"Very well then," Jeb said with a sigh, and stood up, stepping away from Bree's cage, leaving the chestnut-haired bird-boy to glare at the scientist.

"Now, Liz, am I right?" He dropped to his knees by the door of my own crate, his eyes looking drawn.

I narrowed my own green gaze at him, and pursed my lips, not answering.

"Yeah, that's Liz." Bree put in, giving me a dirty look.

Treacherous as-shole! I thought, glaring back at him.

"Good, good." Jeb said, looking pleased, and opened my crate, stepping back and gesturing at me, "Come out, Liz."

A wary glance at Nudge, who was now looking at me with wide-eyed fright. Probably wondering if I'd been in on all this with Bree; Or maybe she was horrified at the black streaks of eye-liner and mascara running down my face from my previous tears.

Maybe I'll ask her later.

"Come along, my dear. Now, is Elizabeth your full name?" Why the hell would he be interested in my full name?! I frowned at him, and then shrugged.

He frowned back at me, and took my upper arm in a firm grip, making me shiver in disgust. Ehk. Perverted, maniac men. Delightful.

After a short walk, Jeb lead me to a room, knocking a couple of times, the door was opened from within, where two women and a man were talking animatedly, looking excited. I felt my blood run cold as they all turned their hungry gaze's on me, and I wondered if they would turn into those Eraser-thingies. No, they weren't that good looking. I glared at them, and I must have looked pretty intimidating in my running makeup and oh-so-deadly twelve-year-old glare.

"This is her," Jeb said, pushing me forward and releasing my arm, "Elizabeth Mariah Winters." I started at my full name, usually only spat out when I was in trouble. All of them looked at me eagerly, and one of the women stepped forward, and smiled warmly.

"Now, my dear, hold still while I... There... Catch her, damn it Dr.!" She squawked as the injection she'd shoved in my arm before I could pull away took effect, and darkness claimed my mind, leaving my body to topple to the ground like a rag-doll.


I have no idea what I'm doing. God! How are we supposed to bust the three of them out? Jeb must so know we're going to by now…

"Max?" I started and blinked guiltily at Fang. He was frowning at me. The rest of the flock was behind us, hidden in a little thicket of shrubs and rocks. I was sitting a little ways off, under a half dead tree in the shade. Winter it may be, but this place still held the heat during the day. Of course, we'd all freeze our feathers off come night.

"What's up?" He sat down next to me, now looking out towards the cold-blue of the sky.

"Mmhmm?" I sounded, not looking at him, but dropping my gaze to my knees, which were pulled up before me, arms wrapped around them. God damn!

"Any ideas yet?"

Damn it again. Always reading me like a children's picture book.

Relax, Max. Oh, jeeze, like I was stressing out to make myself happy. Give me some credit.

"No." I ground out, irritated. Fang glanced sideways at me in surprise.

"Relax, Max" He said, unwillingly quoting Voice, and I slumped my head forward, bashing my forehead on my knees with a groan of protest.

If I'd confused Fang before, he was now looking at me in shock.

"Like it wasn't bad enough, you knowing what I'm thinking, now you're quoting Voice!"

"What?" I saw Fang's eyes widen when I glanced sideways at him from my head-against-my-knees position.

"Both you! The pair of you are like – Ahh!" I sat back suddenly, cracking my head against the tree (can it even claim to be a tree?) and felt tears prick my eyes. Great. Like I needed this.

"Damn it all!" I said, furious at myself and the whole damned world. Fang was still staring at me like I was insane. I resisted the urge to sneer at him… or something. He's lucky I was obsessing over my now pounding head and didn't see his smirk. That would have awarded him death via the most painful route I could think up.

But I didn't, so he get's to live. I wonder if he appreciates me as much as he should. I doubt it.

"I quoted The Voice?" He asked, making it sound like some fancy title. I frowned at him, still fingering the back of my head.

"Yes, O mighty Fang. Are you sure you can't read minds?"

Fang grinned, "Only yours," he said teasingly (what?) and I rolled my eyes.

"So, Voice told you to relax?" He asked, tugging my hand away from my head and parting my hair to see the damaged inflicted. I shrugged.


"Why?" He prompted, letting my hair drop and absently pushing it back into place. I shrugged again.

"Because Jeb must know we'll try to save at least Nudge. Which means there will be traps, yes?" I glanced at Fang, who was watching me in a bemused sort of way. "What?"

He shook his head, not answering. "Well then, we should do something they wouldn't expect."

"We are NOT leaving Nudge in with those lunatics!" I snarled, bristling at once.

"Of course not," He said pacifying, "we should just change our tactics." I snorted darkly.

"What tactics?" I picked up a stick and started terminating it. "Besides, you can't use brains against brainless idiotic Whitecoats."

He stole my half mashed twig, and put it delicately out of reach, as if it were something precious, his dark eyes alight with amusement. I thumped him in the thigh.

"True. Since we usually just storm in there and take what we want, perhaps we should try something else."

I frowned at him, confused. "What do you mean?" So I admitted I was completely lost. And Fang was grinning smugly. There's a first for everything, apparently.

"We could knock on the door," Fang started, still watching me in amusement, though I also noticed he had his hand on his thigh. Must've got him good. Haha.

"I don't think so," I said bluntly, switching my gaze back to the open sky.

"Or we could do a night-flight," he continued, not listening to me.

"Or you could be our guests," Fang and I both started, spinning on our rumps to stare at the Eraser's behind us in utter shock – Even Fang's face was a painting of surprise.

"What?" I spat out, eyes still wide and my heart pounding. My head was too. God only knows what I did to it, but the spinning wasn't good.

"Little birdies want their friends. So we'll take the little birdies in," He said sweetly. You know, it was only then that I realised he wasn't morphed, but just watching us all relaxed like and looking hot in that freaky un-morphed way Erasers did.

Yes, you did read that right. Un-morphed Erasers are hot. If you avoid the dead, cold eyes and the predatory smile… Or the fact that they turn into huge bird-kid-eating monsters.

"And we should do as you say, why?" I demanded, rubbing the back of my head again.

"Just a couple of little reasons," The model-looking man said, that predatory grin finally forming on his face. I shuddered inwardly, but only quirked a brow outside. Mr. Eraser took this as his moment to bring out the hostages, and I groaned as I saw Angel, Iggy and Gazzy all bound and being dragged. Iggy had some nasty looking bruises forming on his face. Angel was scowling furiously and Gazzy looked a little dazed.

"Let them go!"

"Oh, I don't think so, pretty birdie. You're all late for a very important date," A woman stepped forward, her hands on her hips and smiling sweetly.

Dear Lord… I can't think of anything else.

Very amusing, Maximum. Voice put in, and it actually sounded mildly amused. Now, do you remember those four words?

Hu? What four words? I asked, trying to look disgusted at the Erasers. Fang was now standing up, and he practically hurled me to my feet, sending daggers at the Erasers.

'Go with the flow' Voice said sweetly, and then vanished.

Ohh, like I really want to go back to School. Damn it all to hell and back.

"Fine," I ground out, feeling my blood go hot and cold. Fang glanced warily at me, while the three being held by the Erasers all let their jaws drop. A classical 'wtf Max?' look. Got to love their faith in their almighty Leader. Pah.


I snarled as I was thrown into a crate, landing on my left shoulder, and whacking the back of my head against the side. I saw stars as the bruise I'd recently acquired was re-coloured. Blinking away the tears that shot to my eyes from the shock of the pain, I staggered into a technically sitting-up position, though I was using one hand to hold me up, and the other was gingery feathering over the back of my head.

"Jesus fucking Christ!" I swore blackly, causing a couple of surprised gasps from the crates around me. Okay, I swear sometimes, and it isn't like blasphemy is unknown to me, but I can honestly say I've never sworn that badly. Iggy's usually the one with the dirty mouth.

"Max?" Gazzy's voice sounded high and frightened, and I grimaced, squinting to see past the stars and look at Gazzy, who was staring at me, wide-eyed from a crate across the floor of the van we'd been dumped in.

"Yeah?" I asked, still fingering the back of my head.

"Why didn't you fight them?" Iggy asked, his blind eyes wide open as he leaned back in his crate beside me, looking paler than his usually pale complexion should have allowed for. I grimaced.

"I have a plan," I lied, and glanced sideways at Fang, who was on my other side. "We're trying a new tactic." I actually had the wonderful delight of seeing Fang's face blanch. Wow, does that count as revenge? Hmm.

"Well, what is it?" Iggy demanded, picking at his sleeve hem.

Ahh… I thought, frowning. "Well, Jeb knows we're going to bust them out. If he doesn't he's even more stupid than I give him credit for," I started, thinking at turbo speed for a plan, "So we need to find Liz, and Nudge, and Bree." Okay, that was all good, "and then I'll tell you the rest." Hah, go me.

Fang gave me a flat, 'dear Saviour' look, and I ignored him. Angel was also looking at me with an arched eyebrow, most likely having read my mind. Dang it.

I narrowed my eyes at her, and she nodded ever so slightly, before pulling her knees up and wrapping her thin arms around them, resting her chin there.

As the van started up and moved off, I lowered my hand from my pounding head.

"You all okay?" I asked, remembering Iggy's bruising face and Gazzy's glazed over look.

"Yeah," Gazzy said, sounding a little high-pitched still. "Iggy got bitch-slapped," He swore before I could correct him, and amusement just touched his voice. Iggy gave an irritated sort of snort.

"Hurts like hell, too."

"I can't control them," Angel put in quietly. Well, that explained her furious look, but still.

"How come?" I asked, puzzled. Angel could control anyone. Of course, she had withheld from using her power on me, for which I was very grateful.

"They had their minds blocked somehow… It was like a black emptiness," she sounded confused, and when she finished speaking, I didn't push for more.

We were in the van for longer than I figured we should have been, the ride was longer than it should have been, and I swear by my wings that the Eraser driving went through every pot-hole that he could find just to make my headache worse.

Well, at least it was a normal head ache. How sad is that?

Depends on your classification of sad, Maximum.

Delightful, you're back. I thought spitefully, what now, then? I'm in the van on my way to the school - Any more bright ideas?

Perhaps they will teach you about manners. Voice said, ignoring my questions.

They teach fear; and little else.

So, you fear the school? Voice asked.

More like what they might do to the flock. I retorted, frowning.

But not yourself? Voice didn't sound convinced.

Of course myself; they hurt me by hurting my flock.

But they cannot hurt your physically?

What on earth are you trying to get at? I was so totally lost it wasn't funny. Thinking of Total…

"Where's the dog?" I asked, wide-eyed.


Liz's POV

I came-to slowly, feeling a deep pain in my whole form, as if my insides were no longer whole, but at the same time it was something more than that, something I can't begin to explain to you. I hurt like all hell, though, and even before I realised that I was conscious once more, I knew that I was in great pain, knew it was going to hurt even more when I woke up properly, and I tried to find that peaceful blackness that I had, until just then, been buried in.

Quite simply, I did not want to wake up, and fear began to flow through my veins like my blood.

"She's waking up." The voice was clear, and though I knew the person who spoke was a long way away, I could hear them oh-so-clearly. It was odd, and I groaned almost inaudibly. I couldn't see anything, even with my eyes wide open, and for a moment I panicked, thinking I must have gone blind, or they had made me blind. Why me? I was just an ordinary twelve year old girl; I liked to shop, hated my school, and missed my parents. Why was my world being turned upside down? Why was it important that my name was Elizabeth Mariah Winters? Not a one of those three were unique names or meant anything special. That I knew of.

I groaned and staggered into what I considered an upright position, but I'm not sure many people of the world would agree with me. I was right, before, when I said waking up would hurt. I hurt like all hell and something worse. Every muscle felt as if it had been shredded, my bones from the top of my head to each of my toes ached. I think I would have preferred to be dead, actually.

"Evening." I looked up, frowning slightly, picking out the subtle shades of a human through the darkness, and my eyes narrowed, legs folding up before my chest, arms wrapping around them, retreating into myself and pulling my body into a ball. I was dressed in one of those hospital robes.

"What do you want?" My voice was a dry croak, barely audible, even to myself

"We have been waiting for you to wake. Now that you have, I am going to turn on the lights, okay?" His voice was warm, and slightly worried, but I wasn't sure why. Maybe he feared I had magically become Maximum Ride and was about to whoop his twisted ass.

I wish.

"Whatever," I said lowly, no longer looking at him, but at my shadowed knees. The Whitecoat nodded at me, and spoke into a walkie-talkie that he had on his left shoulder, asking for the lights to be switched on.

I screamed as the bright light seared my eyes, feeling as if lightning had just gone off but refused to retreat; my arms flew up over my face, and I pressed my knees into my eyes with all my might, as if that might stop it.

I heard the Whitecoat speaking: "Tone them down, you fool! Do you want to destroy her! Damn!" The lights toned down, I know this because they were no longer searing me through my knees, and I hesitantly lifted my head from my knees, looking cautiously at the Whitecoat before me. The light was almost not there, really, like an after-glow when you turn off a light, the room was lit. But I could see everything perfectly, and a frown pulled my brows together, lips pursing into flat lines to hide my fear. I had never been known for great eyesight.

"Please come here, Miss Winters," the man said, and his warm smile was back. Now, I've heard stories of all the evil that the Whitecoats are made of, but this man just didn't fit in with what seemed to be the main stream, or the inner circle. For one, he was old, and I mean old. Like, maybe seventy odd years, perhaps even as old as eighty. He was plump and short, with silvery white hair and a round face. His eyes were a crystalline blue and warm. There was nothing threatening or fearful about this old man who stood before me, asking me to step up before him.

That put me on alert straight away, but I obeyed him all the same, frowning still as I got up cautiously and walked towards him, my movements stiff and jerking as it hurt to move.

"There's a good girl." He smiled at me, the warmth washing over me, and I looked up at him. For all his short height, he was still taller than me. I am only 5 foot, and though I know I've still got some growing to do, I don't think I'll be as tall as any of my friends. They are mutants, but they are also over my height – only Angel, at just over 4 feet, was shorter than me. How sad is that?

We talked for a while, and I learnt a lot of things. Perhaps the most important was that I'd been out for five days, meaning I'd been in this dump of a place for nearly six days. I asked about Bree and Nudge, but Santa – that is the name I gave the Whitecoat that I first saw because he wouldn't tell me his real name – wouldn't tell me anything about them. I didn't know what had happened to the rest of the flock either, but at the time, they were less than first on my list of important things.

"Why do I hurt so much?" We were just getting somewhere now. Santa had left me to get used to the light after feeding me and making sure I was awake and aware. He was back now, and I picked absently at a slice of apple.

"That is understandable," Santa started, pursing his lips for a moment, looking like he was thinking how to phrase what he was going to say next. "We've manipulated your DNA."