The Flock Expands

It was all going pretty good for me and the flock. We were actually taking a break at my mom's house. Man it feels so good to be able to say that--mom. We were actually working on a big batch of chocolate chip cookies-AKA heaven in edible form-when I heard a familiar

Hello Max, from the oh-so-helpful Voice inside my head.

Why now? I moaned silently.

Listen, Max. This is important.

When is it not? I asked sarcastically, Don't you ever drop in just to say hello?

Since when do social calls really matter to you? The voice commented. I didn't bother answering and settled with an exasperated,

Okay, what is it?

You're going to find someone important. The Voice said, sounding very pleased with itself.

Someone? This was a new twist. Normally we went places for missions and stuff, but a person…I was intrigued despite myself.

Just follow these directions and you'll get there soon. The Voice signed off before I could ask any more questions.

I sighed grumpily as Nudge pulled a cookie sheet out of the oven, her eyes glued to the warm pieces of chocolaty heaven. Angel was staring at them intently too. I wondered if she was trying to mentally make them cool. My mom was sliding another tray of cookie dough into the oven to bake-she knows how much we eat. My mouth watered at the thought of the cookies I now wouldn't get to eat.

Thanks a lot Voice. I thought.

"Mom?"

She looked up at me as she shut the oven. "Yes Max?"

"We gotta go."

She didn't ask any questions, just nodded and began taking hot cookies out of the pan and into a brown paper bag. Oh my God my mother was a saint. I exited the kitchen and went into the living room where Iggy was bobbing his head to his I-pod and Gazzy had opened the back of the TV and was examining its circuits with an evil grin I didn't trust. Now Gasman's just a little kid, but him and the TV had a date with danger-forget I said that , it sounded way too corny. Him+TV set=possible explosion.

"We're headed out you guys."

Gasman looked up, with a guilty look on his face and Iggy didn't appear to have heard me. I lightly whacked his arm and he took an ear bud out.

"We're going."

Iggy rolled off the couch and stood up, turning the little I-pod off. Gazzy slowly backed away from the TV, probably hoping I wouldn't notice he had been messing with it.

"Did you break it?" I asked immediately, as he turned to tiptoe off.

"No…it still works fine." He demonstrated by turning the TV on. It sparked a little but the picture came in clear.

I eyed him suspiciously, but only said, "Get ready. We're leaving ASAP."

Fang was already walking up towards the house. I yelled the message out the window and gave my mom a quick hug goodbye. After a quick bathroom break (because there are no bathrooms at 25,000 feet in the air. Gazzy attempted to convince me to let him just go while he was flying once, but pretty much the whole flock yelled 'Gross!' at him. And I said no. He was bummed.) We trotted out the door, I gave my mom one last hug, we got our bag of oh-so-delicious cookies, and we were off. I followed the directions given to me by the Voice. It was nice to be in the air. Total was muttering something grumpily at the time, but no one really paid any attention to him.

It was about five-thirty in the afternoon when we arrived in New York, New York. (If you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere…or so I've heard.) And the directions then got much more specific so we stayed kind of low-key and walked. Because nothing was more conspicuous than six bird-kids flying above the streets of New York….New York.

We finally ended up in about the least likely place I would have guessed: the library. I mean, normally when the Voice sends us somewhere it's a bit more wild or dangerous. But there we were. At the library. The New York Public Library.

"What're we doing at a library?" asked Nudge.

"Your guess is as good as mine," I shrugged.

Go up to floor five. The Voice instructed like I was mentally incompetent. I refrained from being sarcastic because I was curious. Well…almost.

You can count to five? I asked it, falsely astonished. The Voice ignored me. I swear if that thing was as easy to get rid of as some of our more annoying enemies, that Voice would be G-O-N-E gone. But it isn't so on we went into the oh-so-threatening library.

We took the stairs. I know the elevator would've been faster, but we're claustrophobic. Bird kids and elevators just don't mix. So we climbed. Once we got to the fifth floor, the voice gave me oddly specific instructions of how many rows to go over, then how far back. But I followed the instructions. The Voice had a reason.

I stopped after the instructions ran out. There was a girl sitting on the floor, reading a book. She looked about fourteen with dark brown hair with a bit of red in it, big brown eyes, and a frightened look that slowly changed to one of cautious curiosity. I wasn't really sure what to say.

Hello, I'm Max. The voice inside my head told me to come find you. Do you know why? Oh yeah. That would go over real well. But Angel said something before I could, very quiet, like when she talked to animals.

"No, we won't hurt you. It's okay."

The girl's eyes widened and her eyes flickered over our group, then back to Angel. She cocked her head to one side, like a dog when it was puzzled.

"I don't know." Angel told her. She was now sitting on her heels, so she was about the same level as the girl.

I couldn't help but wonder why the Voice wanted me to come see this girl. She didn't look all that useful, honestly. And frankly, the Voice wasn't always on my side.

Look closer Max. The Voice told me.

I looked. Nothing amazing burst into my brain. Ummm, Voice? I got nothing here.

Look at her. Really look at her. The Voice sounded a bit annoyed. I looked again, studying her. Her hair fell to lightly brush her shoulders, she looked thin, but not skinny, kind of wiry really, kind of like …oh my God. Like us. Like bird-kids.

There you go. The Voice sounded smug.

How? We were the surviving ones. I asked. But the Voice had left these questions for me to figure out. As I thought nasty things about it, there was a woman's voice softly calling through the library.

"Cammie? Cammie?"

The girl looked up as an oldish looking woman-sort of grandmotherly, but also very librarian-y, walked over.

"There you are. It's almost time to go." She then got a good look at us. She looked from us, to the girl, apparently called Cammie, then asked calmly-which was really surprising because it probably looked like we were mobbing her or something,

"Cammie, who are these people?"

Rather then speaking, the girl began making weird motions with her hands. It hit me a second later that she was using sign language.

"Ummm, is she deaf?" I asked, feeling stupid, especially since this could very well be a trap. It was too easy. I mean, the chance of finding the last bird-kid left other than ourselves with no violence or fighting or trouble at all was…well pretty much impossible. I was automatically on guard and I shot a glance back at Fang. He nodded shortly and began scanning the area.

The librarian-grandma-woman shook her head. "She doesn't talk."

"Never?" Nudge asked, fascinated. I was pretty sure if Nudge tried being Cammie for a day, she'd go insane. I kind of smiled at the thought, then repressed the smile and got back into fugitive-mode. Trust no one but the flock. Not even a possible bird-kid. Itex was getting too clever nowadays and a bird-kid decoy was exactly the nasty trick I'd expect them to pull.

"I've never heard her talk." The grandmother-lady replied, smiling at Nudge.

A grandmother/librarian? Too easy, too weak. This looks almost blatantly trap-like. Maybe she's a genetic freak too… I thought. The Flock was my responsibility, my family. I wasn't getting them into trouble with a grandma who could possibly be an Itex agent. Or a genetically enhanced lady waiting for us to let our guard down.

"Um…are you her mom?" I felt pretty stupid but asking 'Are you her grandma' would be really insulting if she was her mom. And I didn't want to offend the woman who was looking after a possible bird-kid. My own manners shocked me. Especially since at that moment I was considering escape plans.

"No. I just look after her. She came in here one day and after a couple days of her being in here, I asked her to come home with me. She was just…something special. She always looked so scared. I taught her sign language so she could speak."

The story sounded suspiciously like a weepy Halmark movie so I asked,

"What's the "something special" about Cammie?"

"She just told me you're like her, so I suppose there's no point in denying it. She's got wings." Her voice dropped to a low whisper that we could barely hear. "And she eats like there's no tomorrow."

Fang and I exchanged a glance and we waited for the old lady to say something. I inconspicuously rolled my shoulders, making sure my wings were loose and ready in case I jumped through the window.

"I'm Marie. Why don't you kids come home with Cammie and I today. You can have dinner with us and we can talk."

I looked at Angel and asked a silent, Can we trust her? Angel nodded. I looked back at Marie. There were too many reasons not to do this. It was too much like a trap. This lady's house could be equipped with weapons or she could have tranquilizers in her purse. The Flock could be toast and Cammie could easily be a really good actress who worked for Itex or some other agency of doom. And yet…the possibility that there was another bird-kid on our side, one who needed a flock. I looked back at Fang, who was apparently having the same thoughts as me. He slowly looked at me, then at Cammie, then nodded.

"All right." I said carefully.

She smiled at us and said, "Library closes in fifteen minutes or so. I'll meet you all at the door then. Cammie, you coming?"

Cammie shook her head, then signed something to Marie, who smiled. "Okay." she said, then she headed for the elevator.

Once she was gone, it was a little awkward. Seven bird-kids in a library-it sounded like the beginning of a joke. So seven bird kids walk into a library, then one says to the other- and then some witty, snappy punch line. Cammie signed something to us.

"We don't speak sign language," I said apologetically. "Sorry."

She could be a spy. Why am I apologizing?

Max, Angel's voice came on in my head, She just wants to know about us, she doesn't want to hurt the Flock. She's s good guy.

On the "Cammie is a good guy" front, I was a little iffy, but I just nodded at Angel, then looked to Cammie.

"Is it okay if Angel translates for you?" I asked.

Cammie nodded, then looked to Angel and began signing.

"She wants to know about us." Angel said. I knew this was mind-reading, but it was still a little weird to know that all of those funny gestures had translated to plain and simple English. My "leader-Max" told me that sign language could be a useful tool in recon, so I stored that bit of information in the back of my head and looked at Cammie. We needed information about her and we needed it now. The more information I had, the safer the Flock was.

I began, speaking softly. "I'm Max and this is the Flock. Where did you come from?"

Cammie signed something and Angel said a word that chilled our spines even then.

"She says, School."

"How come we've never met you?"

Cammie signed and Angel spoke again, "She says that there were two test groups. Everyone else in hers died. And ours went away."

"But how did you get out?" I asked.

"She says they let her go, but once she was out she took this tracking chip out of her arm with a piece of sharp metal." Angel translated. Cammie rolled up her sleeve to reveal a large, angry-looking bunch of scars. The flesh was a little twisted and her arm looked kind of like modern art in the way the scars were patterned. You could tell that she's dragged her flesh through the metal several times and there was a spot of scar in the middle that looked a little darker, where she had taken the chip out. Clever bird-kid. Bet the scientists didn't see that coming from the mute little girl. If she was who she said she was, anyway.

It was the sort of horrifyingly ugly thing that fascinated people. I couldn't look away, hypnotized until Cammie rolled her sleeve back down.

"She wants to know our names…who we are." Angel said.

Fang, charming as ever, nodded his dark head. "I'm Fang." Then he wet back to studying the books on the shelves around them. Gazzy also stated his name, then stood and wandered over to the window and peered out over the city.

"Hi! I'm Nudge." Nudge chirped to Cammie, seeming really pleased to have someone to talk to after all the silence on our part.

Angel smiled quietly, "I'm Angel."

I waved, "I already said I was Max."

Iggy raised a friendly hand as well. "I'm Iggy."

Cammie signed something to Angel, who nodded and apparently replied in thoughts. I really wished I could understand them, but the pair kept up their silent conversation for a few minutes while the rest of us kind of sort of there awkwardly waiting to be included.

"Time to go downstairs!" Angel announced abruptly. Cammie's face twisted into a gentle sort of smile as she watched us all gather together. As Fang and Gazzy took Iggy's hand, Cammie turned to Angel and signed something to her.

"He's blind." Angel explained. Cammie cocked her head again and cautiously walked over to Iggy. She gently placed a hand on his wrist, then looked back to Angel.

"Can she touch your eyes?" Angel asked.

Iggy nodded uncertainly and Cammie slowly moved her hand from his wrist to his cheek. He closed his eyes and she gently brushed her fingers over his eyelids. As she lowered her hand, Iggy opened his eyes again.

"Can she read my lips?" he asked.

Cammie nodded, and Angel helpfully input a "Yes."

"Why did you do that?"

"She was curious." Angel said, "She wanted to see if they felt different."

"Oh." Iggy said. Then our party marched down multiple flights of stairs and met Marie by the front doors of the library. I looked over the Flock and thought at Angel,

Tell them to be on their guard. We don't know who these people are and we should be ready for anything.

Okay, Max. Angel replied in mind-speak. She apparently transmitted the thought because each member of my flock slowly looked at me and nodded.

Marie looked over our group. "I may need to heat up more casserole."