-- Puppet

Author: Maiyri

Rating: PG13/K+

Category: Max II after the bomb at Itex.

Disclaimer: I don't own MaxII or Jeb, or anyone else you recognise. I do own Lukas and his team.

Author's Notes: This is the way things should have gone. It was written after MR2, and has been edited up a bit.

--

Fire and pain and sound and light.

Waves of each slam through my senses, seemingly simultaneously, although that's impossible, because Light travels so much faster than Sound. My brain's just not capable of telling them apart. I'm slow, clunky, outdated.

It hurts.

My world exploded. Literally.

The bomb that they had ripped through the room.

My world exploded. Metaphorically. Unfortunately. But that happened first, and was far worse.

Explosion. Piffle. I've had worse.

I'm conscious again, although I'm not sure I ever lost it. Maybe just a little stunned. Things are out of my control, and as I hold the fragments of my life I wonder if I ever had any in the first place.

Everything's in pieces.

There's concrete covering me, as chunks and as dust. It's everywhere, my hair, my skin, and in my mouth. I taste it, and I decide that I don't like it very much at all.

It's a metaphor for my life right now. I seem so hard, but all it takes is the right amount of force to turn me into rubble.

What I've seen. This is all a test, all a game, bigger than my bosses know. And Jeb Batchelder has got something to do with it. I know that. He's the insubordinate subordinate. A brilliant geneticist. He's nuts, if anything, and he's outside his bounds. I know it.

And I know that I have no reason to live. The only reason why I am still alive is because She is too weak to kill me. Or maybe She's just too good. Too Nancy-Pants-Smart-Alecky-I'm-the-perfect-winged-girl.

I hate my wings. I hate to fly.

I hate her.

Rain falls down onto my face. Wet cold drops. I'm in the basement of a top-secret research and development laboratory, and it's raining.

I open my eyes. There, a patch of stars. There's a big hole in the wall. When did that get there?

The explosion. Right. There's got to be some screws loose upstairs, both in the brain and in Itex's first floor. No matter. That can be fixed.

My ears, so much better than they should be hear groans. Two Whitecoats are arguing. About me, I think. No, about her.

Maximum Ride.

No, about me.

Maximum Ride's stupid little inferior clone, who never should've been made in the first place.

Batchelder's one of them, the arguing Whitecoats. They're deciding my future. They're deciding whether they should try again, or as Batchelder says, to terminate the Doppelganger Project. Now. His voice stabs through me like a laserknife. He's ordering my death, calling me inferior. I'm not.

And I'm gonna kill the bastard, just because I can, and damn them all if they're stupid enough to Resurrect him. Again. You'd think being dead once would be enough.

I sit up. Concrete succumbs to gravity, thudding to the ground. Stomach muscles complain. I ignore them, because they're not important.

And as per my training, my extensive training in explosives, weaponry, martial arts, strategy and tactics, I make a decision in mere seconds.

Three squads of Erasers and the termination team lie scattered around the room. Sensitive ears mean that the Erasers won't fight me on Batchelder's orders.

The termination team, five guys, humans all, are what I have to worry about. Two are down, three are not. And the leader, Lukas Zhebrigiev, will not hesitate to follow orders.

I liked Lukas. He taught me to fight. He gently put my dislocated fingers back into place, and then taught me the best way to punch. Seven foot of muscle, hands like dinner plates, he can play the harp beautifully.

I know him, he knows me.

And he takes three steps back, turns to his still standing men, Jones – short and dark – and Bambera – bald as an egg -, and tells them that they've got to check their fallen squadmates. Make sure they're still breathing. All three leave the room.

Thank you Lukas. It won't be forgotten, and I'll do everything I can to never see you again. And that's the best I can do. I'll not have you be my killer.

I'll do anything to prevent that. And it's not like I have any reason to live. Not anymore.

Somehow I'm on my feet. I take my first step, and wobble a bit. The ground is unsteady, I tell myself, littered with all that concrete. I take another, which comes more easily.

The nearest Eraser clutches his furry ears and whimpers. It's easy enough to walk to him, and slide the backup he carries from its holster. I don't recognise him, must be new.

He doesn't see me, too caught up in his own pain. That's Erasers for you. Tough as nails until you hurt 'em, and then they're complete sissies. It's biological, they come off an adrenaline high from a fight, and then the endorphins don't kick in. They don't have them. They get the full blast of pain, the dial turned right up.

Inferior design, that.

I look at the cold metal in my hands. What now? What else is there left?

I load the pistol; slide the bullet into the firing chamber. One tiny click. I flick off the safety with my thumb, the second tiny click.

Third time lucky. I aim.

Time stands still.

Third click. I pull the trigger.

Sound races through my ears, the unmistakeable gunshot. Cordite explodes through my nose, singeing hairs. Then there's silence.

One banana, two banana, three bana…

Then the screaming starts. A woman, the other Whitecoat. There's blood all over her white labcoat, staining.

A body slides to the ground with a wet thud.

The yelling starts. Lukas's voice, in the corridor. Calling for backup over the radio, as per protocol. He's a good soldier.

And I explode again, up into the air, on white and tan and concrete grey wings. Through the hole in the wall. Into the night, up to the stars.

I've just killed Jeb Batchelder.

I've shot him. And I can only hope that they know better than to Resurrect the bastard again.

I fly for a while, then I hear the beats of chopper blades in the night.

The air wasn't safe anymore. A likely clearing was barely visible in the half moonlight. I decide that cutting my losses is the best thing at this point, and land easily. I might hate flying, but I'm good at it.

Outdated formerly-military Iroquois helicopters buzz annoyingly overhead like monstrous metal mosquitos, the distinctive thok-thok of the blades telling me exactly where they are. They'd always underestimated how much I knew, always judging me by the ignorance of the First, the Real, the Original, the Non-Cloned Maximum Ride.

I swat a mosquito away from my face with one hand, leaning against the tree. Nobody had ever really taken me seriously before. Now they would. Another whine, another smack. Bloody mosquitoes. Always out for your blood. Bit like Erasers.

I knew that they had trackers on me. I wasn't an idiot, and they'd told me that they had them to watch me while I was with the flock. The problem was, I didn't know how many trackers they had, or where the probable secondary, and the possible tertiary were hidden.

I snap the bracelet that I had been given by the Operations Controller off my wrist. It was a pretty thing, but simple, the tiny tracker was hidden inside the clasp. Suppressing the urge to jump on it several times, I throw the tiny thing as far away from me into the mud of the swamp as physically possible. Which is a great deal further than any normal human could throw.

Next on the list was to find the next tracker. I knew that it wouldn't be quite as powerful, less accurate, but still one hell of a problem. First place to check – wings. Like nails, there's very little feeling from your feathers, only the recognition of pressure. And with fourteen foot of wingspan…

I get lucky. Truth is, that wings are thick enough that it's pretty hard to find anything tangled up in feathers. Especially if they don't want it found. Lucky for me that they made a mistake, planting it on my left wing near the wingtip. They should've planted it near the wing joint, I would never have found it there.

But then, they didn't know that, because, yet again, I'd neglected to mention something. Oops, how forgetful of me.

The second tracker came out easily, if easily includes yanking out a few feathers painfully. They're quite firmly stuck in for a reason, no good if they fall out, and therefore yanking them out hurts.

That one went into the swamp too. The feeling of hopelessness began to lessen slightly, although I knew that it was going to be damned hard to stay out of the School's and Itex's sights. Max and her Flock were always being watched, how little they knew, how ignorant they were.

Ignorant and valuable.

I was neither. Too long spent studying a subject that I was supposed to become. Too long pretending to be someone I was not. I wasn't her, and I really did hate them for trying to make me something I wasn't, having to be someone, for failure, like always, meant termination.

And termination means cold hard death, no second chances.

I wished that Maximum had the guts to go through with it. Or was it that she actually had 'compassion'? Compassion I lacked? Was it that she was better than me, because she decided not to kill me, or was I the better, because she was too much of a coward to do it?

She didn't kill me, and I would have killed her, the fact is, we were, we are, different. And I can argue, that as different, we don't compare.

I begin to run. The blades of the choppers do their work and I know that they've picked me up on scanner. Or, more correctly, the trackers. I have get away from them, as far away as possible, as fast as possible. In the air, even with the super speed ability that both myself and Max the first have, they'd still see me. And if you can see it, you can shoot it.

So on the ground it is, trying to dodge choppers and infra-red scanners.

Trying to run, trying to live.

This is me.