Author's Note: Yeah, everyone gets inspired by fireworks and the Fourth, and I'm no exception. My inspiration just happens to take a slightly different form than most people's. Well, it's my first MR fic so please let me know what you think of it - the set-up may be a little long, but the - ahem - fireworks are well worth it. Pun intended. If you like it, let me know. If you don't like it, let me know. If you appreciate the FREEDOM OF SPEECH the Constitution has given you, USE IT to let me know. If you don't have an opinion... well, that's your problem.

Disclaimer: James Patterson wrote the MR books, but this story is mine. And there actually is a huge fireworks display with cannons and everything in Boston, so not all locations and events are fictitious.


Twilight's Last Gleaming

Genetic engineering does have some advantages. For example, all six of us can out-run and out-fight a grown-up man. Not to mention out-fly. We're also smart, good-looking, tall and thin, and even Angel would be in the running for first place in a hot-dog eating marathon. And did I mention smart? Not to boast or anything.

But just because I'm a glass-half-full kind of girl, I'm gonna have to mention that smart in our case may be defined a little differently than in yours.

And no, I'm not talking about my big mouth.

For an average non-winged, non-mutant human, the word "smart" may bring to mind the local math whiz or computer genius. Not that we're bad at math - especially ratios, which I'll talk more about later - or computers. I mean, if Nudge were a regular kid, she'd own Microsoft by now. Then again, if she were a regular kid she wouldn't have that special talent of hers either.

So yeah, we're smart-as-in-intelligent, and smart-as-in-cocky-kids-with-few-manners (NOT my fault AT ALL - the flock really needs to pay attention to my etiquette lessons and stop eating roasted miscellaneous life forms on sticks) and smart-as-in-...hmm... I guess "street smart" would be the expression. "Sky-smart " would be a more accurate description.

The point is, we can analyze any situation like a military officer, come up with escape plans and back-up plans, decoys and bluffs and feints and outright lies to put as many miles between us and the Erasers as possible. (This is where the ratio business comes in - for example, a 3:1 Eraser-to-flock ratio is manageable, whereas a 5:1 Eraser-to-flock ratio is serious bad news).

The point of that point being that I'm starting to ramble on like Nudge here... the point of the point of that point being, we were flying a decoy route to get the Erasers off our collective tail.

It was brilliant. Fly near enough to the actual destination (Washington, DC) to fool the Erasers into overlooking it once we reached - and disappeared from - the fake destination (Boston, Mass). Throw them off our scent and keep 'em busy for a few weeks trying to find us while we continued the search for our parents.

I just wish it had been my idea.

OK, so it was sort of my idea, but since I'm naturally full of grace I'll give credit where credit is mostly due.

Fang thought of it. Which is sad, because a) it wasn't my idea and b) it shows that he's even more paranoid than I am. All we need on our hands is a paranoid Fang.

"Hey, Max, the next time we land, can we buy sunglasses?"

Nudge's voice cut into my thoughts. That amazed me because it meant that she'd actually been silent for a while.

I turned my head to look at her and immediately caught the full blast of the setting sun in my eyes. I could see her point. "Sure," I answered, holding up my hand to shield my eyes. Could looking directly into the sun really blind you? I didn't really want to find out.

"That's good, cuz the sun's in my eyes a lot when we fly, and anyway it's summer. And you know, while we were in that mall the other day, I saw this really cool pair, it had like, rhinestones on the rims? And it looked like something maybe an actress would wear. I think I'd make a good actress someday, don't you? After all, I have to do a lot of pretending nowadays. Like the other day when -"

I let her ramble on and tried to enjoy the - relative - silence of the summer evening. The sunset was gorgeous. I mean, if you want to feel like you're in heaven, just fly up to 1500 feet at sunset. Floating through sheets of golden light, surrounded by a sea of pink and purple and yellow...nothing can compare.

Bear with me here, though - I really AM capable of appreciating beauty - but it would be all to easy for a squadron of, say, fighter planes to come at us out of the sun. We were totally blind in that direction - except for Iggy, who was blind in all directions. Fortunately, planes are loud and fly a lot higher. Yeah, I have a paranoid streak too. Or maybe I'm just paranoid with a few normal streaks. Cages will do that to a girl.

"Max?" It was Angel. "After you save the world, could we get a house and decorate my room with curtains like this?" She gestured to the sheets of light streaming around us. "Like floaty pink and orange curtains around my bed, kind of like a princess'?"

My heart melted. Angel has that effect on me - and I'm positive she wasn't influencing me. I considered trying to hug her in the air, but that didn't work so I blew her a kiss. "Of course, sweetie," I said, because she totally deserved so much more than this miserable on-the-run existence.

"Hey! Max, can I get a whole bunch of monster trucks and one of those Hot Wheels tracks and a big chemistry set?" chimed in the Gasman, who was close enough to hear us.

I sighed.

That's why we play fair, Max, said my resident Zen master the Voice.

I don't need a lecture on parenting, thank you very much, I shot back. Make yourself useful for a change and tell me how to get out of this mess.

If silence could smirk, it did.

"Oh, and while we're at it, can I have a roomful of electronics and explosives? A job at DuPont? Three edible meals a day? And, heck, seeing again would be great," came Iggy's sarcastic voice.

Well, at least I wasn't the one raining on their parades.

"We're just asking," yelled the Gasman, annoyed at Iggy's pessimism. Realism.

"Yeah, well Max isn't Santa Claus," he retorted.

"Yup, cuz if I was, I'd be too heavy to fly..."

"Heads up, something's coming." Fang's calm voice instantly froze the conversation. I didn't know whether or not to be grateful.

Iggy cocked his head, listening, and I looked over my shoulder. And frowned. Hawks? Why was Fang worried about a bunch of hawks? Sometimes I even think he prefers their company to ours.

I shot him a look, and his black eyes drilled me. I looked back again, closer this time.

My heart fell into the basement. From the top of the Empire State Building.

Big, black flapping objects. Coming in fast.

Flying Erasers???


We'd wanted to draw them out with this decoy route. Lucky me, it worked. OK, so this idea sucked. Fang's fault - and my eyes told him that immediately. The corner of his mouth lifted and he shrugged ever so slightly. Not totally my idea, he was saying. I rolled my eyes.

"Angel, stay with Fang! Iggy, Gazzy, top and bottom. Nudge, you're with me. Fang, get rid of the dog!"

Angel went ballistic at that. I sighed - talk about lousy parenting. One moment I'd promised her the world, the next I was ordering her dog's death. But war is war.

Nudge and I disappeared into the last of the sunlight while Iggy and Gazzy went high. I cut around the side and met the Erasers first. Let slip the dogs of war and all that. I chuckled at the irony as I smashed a foot into a wolfy jaw. The Eraser spun and thrust out a two-footed kick. I tucked in my wings and dropped, coming up under another with a vicious snap kick.

A distant boom told me that Iggy had joined the fray with his seemingly unending arsenal. I rolled to avoid claws and grabbed Nudge away from a rear strike. We dropped together as Fang came down hard on the Eraser's wings. Ouch.

I pushed down hard with my wings and rocketed up and over the Erasers - and my wings almost skipped a beat as I looked around. We were holding our own, but reinforcements were arriving. Fast.

I made a famous snap decision. "Bonzai! Bonzai!" I yelled at the flock, grabbing Angel away from an Eraser and heading into a steep dive. The flock immediately fell into formation behind me, and we rocketed toward the ground at 180 miles per hour.

Taken by surprise, the Erasers stalled before throwing themselves down after us. It was nearly dark now, and I wasn't about to risk a crash into the Massachusetts hills - I took a shallower angle, still carrying our speed from the dive, but covering more horizontal distance.

Then suddenly the world exploded around me, and I saw a cascade of glittering stars around my head.


I blinked rapidly, trying to recover my sight after the flash, rapidly checking to see if I was 1) airborne and 2) alive. Both checked out, but what had --

Boom!

I braked with all my might, narrowly avoiding running headfirst into a column of fire. "Iggy, look where you're throwing those things, idiot!" I yelled pointlessly, but I couldn't exactly ask him to hear where he was throwing.

I rolled up and away as something exploded and rained yellow sparks onto my feathers. Now I was MAD. I didn't mind Iggy blowing up the bad guys, but nothing is worse than going around with burnt feathers for a week. People start wondering where the smell's coming from.

I furiously searched the sky for the flock, but all there was was colored smoke and -

Another explosion, this one so close that the shock knocked me sideways and the flash blinded me. Iflapped in panic, not knowing whether I was rising or falling, until I felt something - someone - tugging me upwards. I panicked, thinking Eraser and he's gonna take me back to the School, and started a hard elbow to the face.

Happy Independence day, Max, said the Voice, following its usual habit of making random comments while I'm fighting for my life.

I stopped in confusion, enough time for the Eraser to make mincemeat out of me, only -

It wasn't an Eraser. It was Fang, thank God - and thank God I hadn't hit him! If it hadn't been for that Voice's stupid comment...

Independence day?

As in, Fourth of July?

As in, today?

As in, FIREWORKS???!!

Ohhhhhh. Now there's an idea...

My eyes cleared, and Fang let go of me. We looked at each other and I swear I saw an evil glint in his eye. But maybe it was a reflection from the one in mine. We grinned. And flew.

And were followed by a herd of ungainly Erasers - straight through the fireworks display over the Charles River. To the theme music of "Pirates of the Caribbean".

How cool is that? We'd do so great in the movies - us weaving our way through an exploding minefield of fireworks, leaving Eraser bits in our wake.

I cackled meanly and sang the last lines of "Grand Old Flag": "Should auld aquantaince be forgot..."

The Eraser behind me suddenly felt sparks on his fur and dropped.

"Good riddance, you losers!" I yelled, even though it didn't rhyme. Boy, this was sort of fun and I wasn't even a pyro.

The last of the Erasers retreated from the barrage, and I slapped a high five with Fang. Then I blinked and realized that we were silhouetted in dazzling lights and colored smoke. I hope the crowd down there thought the special effects guys were on a field day - although Peter Pan music may have been more appropriate for that.

And, because life is not fair, even on the 4th of July, our problems continued to multiply. What is it with us and math?

Anyway, we'd lost track of Iggy, Gazzy, and Angel - never mind that I'd told Angel to stick with Fang. Big problem. We shot rantic glances at each other (except for Mr. Fang the Vulcan) as we realized they were gone, then started diving and climbing and searching and calling as loud as we dared. Need I say more?

The search was frustrating. But I'll bet I was even more frustrated when I found them - you won't believe this - sitting on the bank of the river, with front row seats and even some little flags and sparklers (Gazzy and Iggy, of course) - watching the show, clapping in time to the music.

Like normal American kids, for crying out loud! Angel was humming along to with the music while Gazzy stared raptly at the pyromania and described the explosions in an awed voice to Iggy. As if they hadn't been fighting mutant monsters five minutes ago and giving me a heart attack over their disappearance.

Gazzy even had the nerve to look up at me with his beautiful blue eyes and smile sweetly. "That was so awesome, Max! You guys rock!" he said, before returning to his firebomb-enduced trance.

Sigh.

Kids.

Someday they'll be the death of me, I swear.

But hey, that fireworks show was pretty awesome.. and the music...

Sigh, sigh, sigh. It was Angel's fault, I promise. She says she didn't, but I guarantee you that she influenced me...

We stayed for the rest of the show.

Gazzy and Iggy were totally engrossed in the fireworks and came away with a whole stock of dangerous ideas and a few stray explosives. And cannon rounds they somehow filched from the National Guard, but that's another story.

Nudge and Angel sang their little hearts out - note to self: enroll them in a choir, they have gorgeous voices.

And when the orchestra played that dreamy waltz and the fireworks were all glittery and soft and beautiful and all the couples around us started dancing...

Ahem.

Never mind. Nothing important. Heck, I didn't even know I could waltz...

AHEM.

Bottom line - I LIKE FREEDOM. Freedom from Erasers, worries, annoying Voices, whitecoats, cages, etc. Freedom to - um, sit on the grass and watch massive government-funded light shows. Yeah.

It was my first true American holiday, and, though I hate to admit it, well worth it. Despite all the evil geneticists and secret mutant programs, the USA got a big thumbs-up from me. I even went and bought a cute little flag t-shirt from a vendor later - don't tell Angel or Nudge or they'll ask for one too.

But I can't wait to wear it. It says, "Proud to be an American". Maybe one day I'll be able to insert the word "Avian" in there, but for now...

I'll sit back and enjoy the show.