"Why are you doing this

Well, she's not bleeding on the ballroom floor

Just for the attention

'Cause that's just ridiculously… odd

Well, she sure is gonna get it

Here's the setting, fashion magazines line the walls now

The walls lined with bullet holes

You sure you sure you let her have it

You sure you sure

Have some composure

Where is your posture

Oh no no

You're pulling the trigger

Pulling the trigger all wrong

((Yay! Another chapter! This one is pretty long, so I'm not going to post again until I get 4 reviews. Get some friends to read it, if you want it quicker! It's kind of grim in near the end of this chapter, so heads up.

Thanks to: Someone aka Me! This chapter is dedicated to you, since you've stuck with this even though it's been a while!

Eli

Sam! Flap! Pull up! Do something! the Voice said. It seemed angry, almost shouting. Yeah, yeah, just a minute, I though back. Even though I was dropping toward the ground at an alarming rate and suddenly had new extremities, I was strangely calm. The- no, my wings seemed to move instinctively. The muscles felt familiar, like I'd lived with them all my life. I stretched them out and casually shifted, feeling the air like it was a solid object. I pulled up, blasting back toward the sky with about a hundred meters between me and the trees.

I whooped in excitement. Holy crap! I had wings! I started to fly up through the clouds, back to the flock, but slowed suddenly. What would they think? I dove down again, hesitating as I hovered in the air. I glanced down at myself, (with perfect eyes, might I add. I could practically count the pine needles far below me) taking in my appearance.

I was a slithard, but with blackish scales that had a gold sheen when they caught the light right. My claws were ivory, and I instinctively knew my eyes were pure gold orbs, no pupils. I grinned around my hooked fangs, then frowned. The flock would likely kill me if they found me like this.

So, Voice, you seem to know everything except my name. What do you purpose to do? I thought. To my surprise, it answered back.

Change back. Concentrate on your normal 'human' self. I could practically hear the quotations around human. Picture yourself with skin, hair, normal eyes, etcetera.

I obeyed without a thought (going down into the trees, first, and getting soaked thoroughly with snow), and the scales faded rapidly. My vision faded to average, and I felt my hair on my shoulders. My tail shrunk into my spine, but I stopped short of the wings. I wanted them there. They were comfortable, and I folded them neatly under my shirt. The leathery skin fit into my back perfectly, hidden better than the flock's feathery wings. I noticed hidden wing slits in the back of my shirt, and a practically invisible hole in the seat of my pants for my tail to slip through. When my tail was demorphed, the hole seemed to disappear, a tiny flap of jean falling over the hole and staying with Velcro.

Okay, and now? I should be a pancake right now.

Lie down on the ground, but get rid of your wings, first.

Why? I like them,I defended.

Because, when Polo finds you in a moment, he'll… 'check' you over for injuries. Your back won't be left unchecked. I didn't need any more than that. I reluctantly make them fade, sighing as they shrank into my back. Then I lay down on the snow, trying to arrange myself into a position I would've assumed if I'd fallen.

I should be unconscious at the least, I thought.

I can help with that. This might hurt a bit, though.

Okay, but hurry up, I'm freezing. Wait. Once I wake up, we need to talk.

I'm not sure if you could call this talking, the Voice said snidely. But I understand. We will, don't worry. I thought I heard a teasing note, but wasn't sure.

The Voice did its thing, and it brought a surprising amount of pain in the back of my head. Then my vision blurred and turned red, then went out completely.

)()()()()()()()()()()()()()(A While Later)()()()()()()()()()()()()()(

I opened my eyes slowly and groggily. The Voice hadn't taken any shortcuts; I really felt as if I'd fallen a looong way into unforgiving tree branches.

The first thing I saw was Polo's face staring down at me, concerned. Then I took in the trees around us. Funny, I thought I'd been out for a long time.

"Eli! Are you okay?" he said, staring at me with concern. I felt another burst of anger.

Treating me like a weak human again! I'll tell him-

Sam, you can't let him find out. You'll become an outcast, the Voice warned. I almost snarled out loud at it, then realized Polo would think my random growling would be weird. He might suspect a concussion.

"Yeah, I'm fine. After falling out of the sky, fighting my way out of a secret lab filled with evil mutants, and getting kidnapped can't hurt me," I growled, struggling to get up. Whatever the Voice did, it really worked. I felt bruised all over. Probably because I actually was bruised all over. I noticed my shirt was rumpled, and my pants were rolled up.

"Wha-," I froze, eyes widening. "Did you…?" Polo's face turned red. Ye gods, he was actually blushing.

"I- I had to check to see if you had any broken bones. I didn't look much, I just rolled up your pants and… and took off your shirt," he said in a rush. I could feel my face reddening to match his. Quickly, I straightened my shirt and rolled down my pants, hoping he hadn't noticed the scars around my shins.

"Where's the flock?" I asked, changing topics ungracefully. He looked relieved.

"They went to meet the flight, and I said I was staying with you. They wanted to carry you, but I didn't want to move you in case there were any spinal injuries." He offered a hand and helped me to my feet.

"Okay. Where are we going to meet up with them?"

"A playground about a mile south of here," he said, starting to walk in what must've been a southerly direction. "I can't carry you alone, and I'm honestly too tired to try."

An idea struck me as I caught up to him, then matched his fast walk. Voice? Do I have, like, hollow bones and air sacs now?

Yes. Wow. A direct answer. I was shocked. That's what part of the 'seizure' thing changed in you. Your bones were becoming stronger and denser, using the mass from the middle as they became hollow. Air sacs grew, and the dormant slithard DNA began to spread. Your metabolism skyrocketed as it changed any fat into pure muscle, and the DNA enhanced your sensory nerves.

"… something about Angel being leader, and Max not acting like leader anymore, and Gazzy being depressed. Fang, Gazzy, Iggy, and Nudge have new powers," Polo was saying, all fact and no feeling, Mr. Emotions-Of-A-Deodorant-Stick.

"Did you see Max's face when she first saw you?" I asked. His jaw tightened.

"Yes."

"Do you know why she looked like that?" I prodded, remembering her shocked look.

"No," said Mr. Deodorant Stick.

"… do you have any ideas of why she looked like that?" My patience was drawing to an end. He seemed to notice, and took pity on me.

"Maybe she was freaked about the cages. It might not be about me." He hesitated, then added, "I look a lot like Fang, too."

I did a double take, mentally comparing him to Fang. It was true, he had dark hair, dark eyes, and the same shape of his face. A sudden suspicion wormed its way to the surface. Yes, it was definitely possible… there was the correct timing and everything… No, I wasn't going to mention it. I could be just leaping to conclusions.

Expect the unexpected, Sam. I almost groaned. Stupid fortune cookie inside my head.

Why can't you just tell me? I snarled. Of course, it didn't answer.

"Look," Polo said, interrupting my thoughts. I could see a clearing up ahead, and instinctively knew it was the playground. I recognized it to be Gary Memorial Park, a place I'd gone a lot when I was little. A sigh of relief escaped my lips. It was sunny out, but still pretty darned cold.

We stepped out of the trees, and the flock, and what I assumed was the flight. Or they were a bunch of Olympic bikers or something. Unlikely.

They all turned and looked at us, suddenly quiet. I smiled brightly, striding up on silent feet.

"Hey guys. So what've you decided about me?" I asked, grinning.

"We weren't talking about you," a guy with red hair said. I could tell he was the leader of the flight from the way the others stood slightly behind him, and he had a commanding aura.

"Don't lie. You were too," I said, rolling my eyes. Max's eyes narrowed.

"How do you know we were talking about you?" she said, stepping forward menacingly. Even though she was around 24 years old, I knew she could beat me in a fight. If I didn't turn into a slithard, that is.

"I grew up in a civilization based on a social caste system," I explained. "I know when someone's gossiping." I saw Polo suppress a smirk beside me.

Max stepped forward again, saying, "You sure you don't have something to tell us?" I hid my fear carefully. I was an experienced liar, despite my sweet, smart, good-girl reputation. It's not that I don't lie, it's that I'm very, very good at it. But Max was probably just as good as I was, probably better. She might've been able to see through me. Oh, God, she can't know, I thought frantically. I opened my mouth to reply, but the redhead leader seemed to notice the hostility, and stepped in between us, clapping his hands and assuming a kind yet brisk tone.

"Yes! Well! Introductions should be done, of course. I'm Carlos, 14, and I can create illusions," he said quickly. A petite girl with blond hair and gray eyes stepped up.

"I'm Bekka, 13 years old, and I can talk to animals," she said. Karma stepped up next, puffing out his chest proudly.

"I'm Karma, and I'm 11. I'm fast." He started to step back, then added, "I'm Bekka's brother."

"I'm Missy, 9 years old," an African-American girl said, smiling sweetly. She was tall for her age, and looked about 12. "I can make big winds and sort of… sense vibes, like, if someone's evil, or good, or wants to do something evil or good," she explained.

A boy who looked like he should be 8 stepped up. He had black hair and strangely gold eyes. "I'm Zane, and I'm six. I can make myself look different," he said, grinning. As I watched, his hair turned white, his eyes pinkish-red, and his skin got very pale. Before my eyes, he'd just turned himself albino, then the color leeched back into his skin. I was surprised he was six. Maybe it was the lack of baby fat that made him look too old.

"Polo. 14." That was all he said. I smirked slightly.

I realized everyone was looking at me, and it was my turn. I swallowed, meeting their eyes with as much confidence as I could muster.

"I'm S-Eli," I said, fighting back that strange compulsion to say Sam, again. "I'm 15, and yes, I'm the writer, the human." Seeing Carlos's shocked face, and Iggy's confused one, I started to tell them about my book. "I've wrote a book, called 3XP3R!M3NTAL: Maximum Ride. It's the flock's exact story, and I didn't know the Home was real until a day ago." Had it been only a day? It felt like much longer.

"We've seen and read the book," Carlos said. "We saw it in someone's comment on Fang's Blog. How did you know the story, then?"

I shrugged, not wanting to explain the dreams. "I thought I was just making it all up, like any other fiction writer."

"So, you know all about us? Everything about us?" Nudge asked. I nodded, and she squealed. "Ohmigod! That's so cool, and kinda creepy! I can't believe you would just make that up, and it was real! Why do you think that? I-," her voice was suddenly gone, and she was just mouthing words. She seemed to realize what happened, and glared at Iggy. He was smirking. To show that she wasn't angry, she kissed him on the cheek, making him blush, his smirk becoming a sheepish grin.

"Moving on," Max said. "You all know us. To catch you up, Iggy can make sounds louder or quieter, as he's just displayed, Fang can blow stuff up, Gazzy can make illusions," here Carlos smiled, looking at the 18-year-old cheerily, but Gazzy didn't seem to notice. He was staring blankly at the snowy ground. I remembered Polo saying something about the Gasman being depressed. Carlos waited, then his smile faded, leaving a puzzled look.

"This is all nice and such, but I'm freezing," Bekka said, shivering. I silently agreed with her."Where are we going to go?"

Everyone turned and looked at me again. I blinked, then realized what they were indicating.

"Oh! Right! Uh… okay, my house is near here. I've got a playhouse thing that's got heating, and a little kitchen, and stuff. You all can stay there," I said, already distributing the place in my head. The flock was six, the flight was five, and Polo made a total of twelve… I was suddenly unsure if they would all fit. "I'm not sure if you'll all fit, though," I said slowly, biting my lip. Carlos stepped forward, his leaderness showing.

"Okay then, we can just rent a hotel. Polo, I heard the Home mutants were passing the Maximum Ride credit card around. Do you think you could rent us six rooms?" Polo nodded, and I smiled in relief.

"There's a hotel kind of near my house, only a mile away. My house is this way," I said, starting to walk there. Then I froze. "Oh, crap… how am I going to explain my sudden disappearance for a whole day?" I groaned, shoulders slumping. Sue was probably worried sick, and as bad as I felt for her, I knew I couldn't go back for a while. The erasers and slithards knew I would go there.

"You can stay with us," Polo said. "We'll still get six rooms, but Missy, Zane, and Karma should probably stay in one room. You can room with me." I nodded, and we started the walk to the hotel. Polo had already packed bags for us, and stole them during our escape from the Home, so we were walking in the opposite direction of my house. Everyone agreed the erasers and slithards would be watching the air. They wouldn't suspect anyone walking.

Ten minutes later, we were standing in the lobby of the hotel, basking in the warmth from our icy walk. Max (she was oldest, and could pass as a responsible guardian for all of us) casually asked for six rooms while the rest of us hung back. I would've asked because I looked most normal and least ragged, but I was sure Sue had set up some sort of search for me. A lot of people knew me, so I wasn't safe. The flock and flight stood around me and I kept my head down.

We distributed the rooms: Fang and Max, Iggy and Nudge, Angel and Gasser, Carlos and Bekka, Missy, Karma, and Zane, me and Polo. The rooms each had two double-beds, so everyone got a bed, except Zane and Missy, who were sharing. We took long, hot, awesome showers, then ordered six veggie pizzas to be delivered to our rooms from the local pizza place. It was actually kind of fun, like a slumber party.

Just before bed, everyone met in Max's room. We looked halfway normal, actually. Angel was playing with Zane, Nudge was braiding Missy's hair, making dreadlocks, Iggy was asking Bekka about her 'talent' with animals, Max, Fang, and Carlos were whispering urgently to each other, and Gazzy was sitting with Iggy and Bekka, listening with an actual expression on his face instead of a blank, lifeless mask. He looked curious.

When Polo and I walked in, we immediately grouped. Angel asked the first question.

"Okay, can someone tell me where you all came from?" she said, running a hand through her long, wavy, blond hair and folding her long legs. It still surprised me to see a tall, smart looking sixteen-year-old when I expected a little t-year-old girl with a ragged teddy bear and a dog.

Carlos instantly started describing the flight's history. "We were created at the School, after it was rebuilt off funds the Home had kept secret, in case something like the bomb happened. You already know that Bekka and Karma are siblings, and that's pretty much all we know about our real families. We haven't even really tried to find this stuff out. We were taken out of the School before it blew up, like everyone else, but the erasers caught up with us. We were among the youngest; I was only two or something. It was a little while after the flock split up and Angel became leader.

"We escaped about two years ago, and have been hiding out ever since. We lived in Florida for about a year and a half, then heard rumors of another lab up in Maine. We were headed up that way when we saw Polo's message on Fang's Blog, so we really booked it trying to get here fast. And that's all," he finished lamely. "I've got a question. What was that snake thing?"

"A slithard." I jumped when Polo suddenly spoke up. "That was Molt, actually. My enemy, you could say. I thought he was an eraser, but apparently, in my short one-day-long absence, they changed them all. They'd already created slithards, and must've decided they were going to make the switch. They probably changed Molt into a slithard somehow, but got rid of the erasers and put in the slithards. They keep Molt because he's the leader of the Immune System. He's the fastest morpher, fighter, and thinker. He's strongest, smartest, and cruelest.

"Those slithards have hard scales, as you've seen. They're usually dark red, dark green, or dark blue. Molt is the only dark gold one I've seen." I suppressed a shudder, thinking of my own scales, but nobody noticed, and Polo plowed on. "They've got hooked snake fangs, not poisonous (thank God) and retractable claws. A long, whiplike tail with scales, a flat nose, and feet like one of those raptor dinosaurs, with the long claws, backward knees, and claw thing halfway up their calves."

There was a long pause after his speech. It was the most I'd ever heard him say at once, and made me rethink him a bit. Maybe he wasn't as silent as Fang, just tried to cover everything up. Like those kids who were excited as heck about a party, but tried to act cool by acting like they didn't care as much.

"Okay, I think that's all for tonight. Get some rest, everyone. We'll probably stay in this hotel for another… two nights, then go South. Eli…" she paused.

"I know. I don't have wings, so I can't go with you," I said, unable to keep the disappointment from my voice. Angel had a knowing look on her face, a small smirk. I hoped she wouldn't read my mind too much.

"Wait," Polo said. "She got mad when the erasers were first trying to catch her, and changed. She isn't all that human. Her hair turned maroon, and so did her eyes. Maybe we can get some wings out of her!" Oh, shiiit.

Go with the flow, Sam.

What's that supposed to mean? I struggled to focus on the room and the conversation, acting like I was thinking so Max wouldn't make a connection.

Exactly what I said. They want to see wings, so show them wings. Just keep the scales and stuff away.

Are you crazy?!

You're the one with a Voice in your head, it said smugly.

I hissed out a breath, furious. Polo was staring at me with concern.

"I- I need a walk," I muttered, getting up. Nobody stopped me, perhaps because of the slightly insane look in my eyes. I walked out of the room, then down the two stories of stairs, unable to stand the elevator. I got outside, and it was freezing. Reminded of my purse Polo had thought to bring, I headed toward a small L.L. Bean outlet. I walked quickly to the bathroom, then stood in front of the mirror.

My hair wasn't as messy as I'd thought. A hand brushed through it fixed it as best as I could. I wiped away the slightly smudged eyeliner, and pulled my sleeves down over the claw mark on my arm from the tussle with Molt.

I took a deep breath, and concentrated on my slithardness. Only the wings, though. It took five tries to get the wings only, and when I got them, I was suddenly angry at myself.

"Why can't you be perfect?" I growled, banging my head against the mirror.

"Uh... sorry? I just want to pee…" someone said from inside one of the stalls. I gripped the sides of the sink and suppressed a shriek of frustration. I needed my knife.

Sam, you need to stop that right now, the Voice said as I folded my wings under my shirt, slipped into a stall, and started rummaging through my bag.

Shut up. What is with you calling me Sam? I'm Eli. Not Sam.

Eli is the name you're used to, but Sam is who you really are.

Damn you, Voice, I thought as I found my knife. I flicked it open, and pulled a band-aid from my bag. I could faintly hear the other person leave the bathroom, but it didn't really register in my brain. I put the toilet lid down and sat on it, rolling up my pant leg.

The knife flicked open, the black rubber handle fitting comfortably into my palm.

Sam, I am demanding you to stop. I ignored it, pressing the blade into the skin, about an inch above my ankle. I slid it across the skin, then waited patiently for the blood to come. It did, slowly, making the cut visible. Twice more I dug the knife in, deepening it, until I felt completely happy.

With practiced movements, I cleaned the knife on a square of toilet paper and snapped it closed. I opened the band-aid and stuck it on the cut, positioning it carefully so it covered the inch-long cut. The faint scars around it seemed to wink happily at me under the bright bathroom lights. The knife was stored back into my bag, the pants were rolled back down, and I left the bathroom cheerily, the cut stinging pleasantly.

I bought a light blue and black winter jacket, a pair of black mittens, a hat to match, and ski goggles, just for good measure. Then I went back to the hotel in a much cheerier mood. I calmly took the elevator and strode back into Max's room, where everyone was still talking. They looked up when I walked in.

"There's an L.L. Bean right next door. You all should get some winter stuff, 'cause it's going to be at least two days before we get into the warmer states," I said, displaying my jacket. "Ski goggles would be a good idea, too."

"'We'?" Fang asked.

"Oui, 'we'," I answered. "That's why I went on a walk, I was debating on telling you all. I needed to clear my head. When I was in a cage, I think they did something to me. I've had wings since we left, I just was afraid to tell you."

"Whaat?" Polo exclaimed. "Show us!"

I turned and slowly extended my wings from my back, biting my lip when I heard a chorus of gasps. I could hear Angel describing what happened quietly to Iggy.

"Those are slithard wings," Nudge said, her voice shaking a bit.

"Yes, Eli, care to explain why you've got demon wings? Are you going to grow fangs, too?" Max said, her voice venomous.

"It's not my fault I've got different wings," I defended. "I didn't choose this. And do you think I could have wings without scales? If I was a slithard, I'd be covered in scales right now."

Max stared at me for a long moment, then spun to face Angel. "Angel. What're you getting from her?"

Angel frowned, looking reluctant to say in front of everyone. "Well… I'm not actually getting much at all. I know she doesn't want to hurt us, and I knew she had wings from the moment Polo mentioned it. She was swearing inside her head… but I'm mostly getting bits of our story, her book."

"Missy? Is she good or evil?" Carlos said, turning to the little girl. She paused, her face crumpling with her effort.

"She's not evil," she said. I saw Carlos's shoulder slump with relief, and Nudge pecked her on the cheek, then resumed braiding.

"Okay. We're all tired, so let's get to bed," Max said. The flock stacked fists, did their famous fist-tap thing, then the meeting was over. And I wasn't dead yet.

I slipped into bed, flicking off the lights, as Polo did the same on the other side of the room. I closed my eyes, feeling a thrill of exhilaration. I was going with the flock and the flight.

Got anymore cryptic messages for me, Voice? I asked silently.

Go with the flow, Sam. Get some sleep, you need to be rested.

And with that, I was asleep.

Polo

How the hell was I supposed to sleep with her so close? And the room smelling like oranges… yummy oranges… I wondered if she tasted like citrus, too…

((Woot! Long chappie! 7 pages in Word, single-spaced! Four reviews for the next chapter!))