*This is basically a re-post of this story, but in more manageable chapters, with some editing. I've been meaning to clean this up, and with Nevermore coming out soon, now is as good a time as any. This fic takes place about a year after Fang, in place of Angel (which I wasn't thrilled with). The chapters alternate between third person and Max's point of view, like Patterson's writing.
Dr. Gunther-Hagen peered through the small window embedded with chicken wire, into the room containing one of his newest genetically enhanced clones. The clone looked to be sufficiently broken down, in spirit, if not physically. The doctor chose one of the five keys on his key ring and slowly unlocked the door, keeping an eye on the occupant cowering in the corner.
"How are you today?" he asked.
The clone looked up with fearful eyes.
"Come now." Dr. Gunther-Hagen held out his hand. "I won't hurt you. I want to help you."
The good doctor's assistants had been doing an excellent job depriving the clone of food and sleep. Not to mention instilling the terror of unnecessary experimentation and threats of death. Good cop, bad cop was such a cliche, but it worked wonders on those with very little life experience. And here was the doctor to offer hope. At a price, of course. He transferred his cane to his left hand and held out his right. The cane had not merely been an affectation, but a necessity after losing half of his right foot due to frostbite. Being locked in cold storage by the flock was an equitable punishment. He'd had it coming, he supposed, after almost killing Fang. The cane only added to his benign facade.
The clone held out a trembling hand.
"I know you're frightened, but I can help you get out of here and to a family that will take care of you. Give you a normal existence." Dr. Gunther-Hagen said gently.
"Thank you," the clone said weakly. "Thank you so much. I don't know how to thank you enough."
Of course, Dr. Gunther-Hagen did. "First, let's get you out of here."
Biting a lip, the clone looked cautiously around, then followed the doctor.
The doctor, trying to act as if he had just come up with an idea, said, "You know, maybe you can help me. Some very dangerous mutants caused me the injury that forces me to use this cane." He exaggerated his limp to garner sympathy. "The others are being taken to a safe place. You could join them. They will probably cross paths with those dangerous creatures. Perhaps you could find a way to bring them to justice." He paused. "Oh, but I'd hate to make you wait to join that family. It may take months."
The clone was only too eager. "No. I mean, if it would help you, I'd be willing to go. I want to repay your kindness."
Dr. Gunther-Hagen smiled. If only everything was this easy.
I heard the light rain on the roof trying to lull me to sleep. I couldn't even close my eyes. I wanted tomorrow to come and go and be over with. No one in the house has even mentioned it. Tomorrow would mark one year since Fang left. I thought of him every day. Tonight I could think of nothing else. I heard my door click open and then gently shut.
"Angel?" I asked. She'd been coming in to sleep with me sometimes, trying to comfort me. There was no answer.
"No, it's me," a deep voice answered. "Can't you sleep?"
I was suddenly wide awake when I realized it was Dylan in my room. He'd never been in there before, even in the day time, much less in the middle of the night.
"What do you want?" I asked, irritated.
"You seemed restless tonight," he said. "Can I help?"
"I'm fine, go back to bed."
I felt the other side of the bed jiggle as he sat down. "I know what tomorrow is," he said quietly.
"I really thought he'd be back by now." I said, almost in a whisper.
The tears started to burn in my eyes. Everyone else pretended to not remember, but not Dylan. He couldn't hide anything, always to the point. In truth, he's refreshing that way, considering the other men in my life. As far as I know, he's never lied to me. But his honesty was brutal sometimes.
"You're going to go look for him, aren't you?" He said it more as a statement than a question. "Even though he asked you not to."
I rolled over toward him and held out my hand, "Nice to meet you, I'm Max. I don't take orders well."
He laughed. He was finally getting better at spotting sarcasm.
"I hate to see you cry," he said as he leaned in to hold me, "no ulterior motives here. I promise."
So I let him hug me and stroke my hair. And he let me cry myself to sleep, like a baby.
When I woke up in the morning, I was alone. It was the first decent night's sleep I'd gotten in a long time. I didn't even hear him leave. I looked over at the clock. 10:00. 10:00?! Why didn't anybody wake me? I got up and wandered past the flock in the living room, into the kitchen. Iggy was busy whipping up something and it smelled heavenly.
"Is that breakfast?" I asked.
"Nope. Anniversary cake."
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me. Iggy finally broke the uncomfortable silence.
"You know, for Total and Akila," he said, laughing forcedly.
Angel walked in and put her arms around me. She looked up at me and whispered, "And the bad anniversary too. We all think about it, but we don't want to make you sad."
"I know sweetie," I said, "but not talking about doesn't make it go away. Everyone misses him."
"I don't think Dylan does," she laughed.
I ate four or five bowls of cereal. A light breakfast. I went back into my room to change. I decided to go to the cliffs where we lived for a while among the hawks. Fang's note said to meet there in 20 years but I couldn't wait that long. I was hoping he couldn't either. I found myself getting nervous and excited. What would I find when I got to the cliffs? How would I feel if he wasn't there? There was only one way to find out. I took care combing my hair-believe it or not. The clothes I chose were comfortable jeans and a t-shirt with no blood stains or rips. I wanted to look nice. Finally, I was ready to go.
"I'm going out," I said quickly and went to the window as fast as I could so no one would have time to ask where.
Not fast enough.
"Where? Where? Can I go too?" Angel and the Gasman asked.
"No. Dylan, keep an eye on everyone." I didn't bother elaborating. He knew where I was going. Angel probably did too. If they really needed to find me, they would.
I jumped out the window and spread my wings. The sun felt so wonderful on them. It was the perfect kind of day for flying lazily around. Warm sun, but not too warm. Not too chilly-even up here. No time to linger for me, though. I wanted to get to the cliffs as soon as possible.
It seemed to take forever to get there. In reality, it took about two and a half hours. When it was in sight, my stomach started to get that butterfly feeling inside. Except it was more like bats. I was really afraid I was going to throw up all that cereal.
I landed and looked around a bit. It didn't look like anyone had been there recently. No fire remains, no footprints, no food wrappers. I decided to wait for a while. My mind wandered back to the time we were all together. Fang and I were just starting to get that more-than-friends-feeling. He first kissed me here. Why did I fight it so hard?
All at once, I felt someone else's presence and quickly turned around.
"I knew you'd. . ." I trailed off.
There was someone standing at the entrance with the sun streaming behind. I couldn't make out the details but it definitely wasn't Fang. For one, the wings were white.
"Who are you?" I demanded.
"Fang's not coming, Max," she said. She? She knew Fang?
At first, I was speechless. Me. Yes. Speechless. What the heck is going on?! There were a thousand questions going through my head at once. Who was she? She seemed familiar. How did she know Fang? How many bird-people are there out there that we don't know about? How did she know who I was? Finally, I picked one to ask out loud.
"How do you know Fang?" I asked. Not sure if I wanted the answer to that one. So I asked another right away.
"Is he okay?"
"Where is he?" I tried not to sound desperate, which, of course, I was.
"Can't tell," she said coldly.
I was fuming. I needed to calm down and figure things out. If I was going to get answers out of her, I needed to pull myself together and be rational. Ha!
"Okay, obviously, you're another experiment. You know Fang. You know who I am." I started out nice enough. "Do I have to beat the snot out of you to get some answers?"
"I am. I do. I do. And I'd prefer not." She was a girl of few words. "I'll answer what I can, but there are things I just can't tell you."
I got up from the floor and walked to the mouth of the cave. She turned toward me, the sunlight on her face. Oh My God. She looked just like me. Jeez, another one?! There were subtle, and not so subtle differences. Her eyes were green and her wings pure white. They were beautiful, like Angel's. And, boy these scientists were cruel-she had red hair. Perfect.
As if reading my mind she said, "Your DNA is floating around out there. Somebody was going to use it again sooner or later."
"Yeah, you're number three. Get in line." I quipped.
"But I'm the new and improved you. So I'm me. My name is Miranda.
"I'm educated, too," she said. "Unlike you."
Okay, now I was mad. I'll bet she didn't grow up in a dog crate. Well, I guess she could have.
"I've kicked my butt before, I can do it again."
"No doubt. But I'm not your enemy," she began. "Someday we'll work together. We're learning everything we can so we can join you. Fang is training us."
"Us? There are more of you? They don't all look like me, do they?" It sounded stupid as soon as I said it.
"Don't be so full of yourself. They made me look like you so Fang would accept me more readily. Not fight it, like you've done," she explained. "There are four more of us."
And just like that, a little light bulb went on over my head. Dylan for me. Her for Fang. And four more for the rest of my flock. In a way, it made sense. I mean, who else are we really going to have lasting relationships with-regular people? Just traveling alone would be complicated. It worked for Total and Akila, but they're dogs.
"Another girl, about your age, maybe a little younger," Miranda interrupted my inner monologue. "She's for Iggy. I'm sure you can figure out the rest for yourself."
"Are they cloned from people we know?" 'Cause that would be weird. Even weirder than me.
"None of the others have formed passionate relationships with anyone else yet. The illusion isn't necessary," sounding Vulcan-like.
"Uh, passionate relationships. Like boyfriend and girlfriend stuff," I paused. "So do you and Fang have. . . a passionate. . ." I couldn't even finish that sentence.
"He's warming to me." That didn't tell me much. "We are like a family. Fang is training us well and someday we'll be fighting on the same side. And we'll continue the human race. More or less. If you know what's good for you, you'll accept Dylan. Don't keep looking for us. It'll just set everything back."
I wanted to hate her. So much. She was trying to take my place. I guessed she already did. But Fang didn't come here himself. He knew I'd be here and he didn't come. He sent her. Was it really over? I wanted to cry, but no way was I doing that in front of her.
"It's what he wants. He's a good leader. Let him lead." Miranda said. "He left a note at your mother's house. Go see her."
She turned to leave when we saw an object flying toward us. Did he come after all? My heart skipped a beat. As the object grew closer, I could see that it was Dylan, looking confused.
"What the heck did I miss?" he asked, his mouth agape.
"Close your mouth. I'll explain later. She was just leaving," I said to him. To her, I said, "If you're lying about any of this and Fang's in trouble, I will kill you. I promise you that."
"Yeah, I know you will. I know you can. But I have no reason to lie," she said as she turned and spread her wings out, shiny and white. "Go to your mother."
"Will you tell him I was here?" I said, trying so hard not to cry.
She glanced back with sympathy in her eyes, "Of course." And then she was gone.
I spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes trying to fill Dylan in on the story. It was all so overwhelming. Everyone kept telling me we would all be leading our own flocks someday but I still held on to the notion that we were going to save the world as it was. Not save it for future mutants. Then I realized I never asked her where she came from or how Fang found them.
"You need to go back. You're supposed to be looking after everyone," I said to Dylan dismissively.
"Jeb's there. And they can take care of themselves. I want to go with you."
"I really need to talk to my mom alone," I stood my ground, but softened at the look of disappointment on his face. "Please?" I paused and gave a half smile. "And don't tell anyone about Miranda just yet. Not until we figure what exactly is going on and who's behind it."
He smiled ever so slightly, "It'll be our little secret." And he left before I could rain on his parade.