AN ~ This is my first, and so far only, Maximum Ride ffic. It's just a one-shot, and I wrote it quite a while ago for a competition on another site. Just thought I'd post it here :)

Disclaimer: I don't own the Maximum Ride series or its characters, or 'Everybody's Fool' by Evanescence. I do own Alfia though :)

Perfect by nature

Icons of self indulgence

Just what we all need

More lies about a world that

Never was and never will be

Have you no shame,

Don't you see me?

You know you've got

Everybody fooled.

- 'Everybody's Fool,' Evanescence

Everybody's Fool

I watched with great care as Alfia the Peregrine Falcon weaved through an obstacle course behind the glass. Her name has Hispanic origins, just like me. It means 'fair' - and fair she certainly was, crossing the red line with an effortless twitch of her wings. She was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.

"3.79 seconds," my assistant announced. "She's easily the fastest."

I smiled and left my assistant to log the information as I slid into the enclosed room. I pulled on thick leather gloves and called Alfia over.

"Good girl," I crooned, stroking the top of her head. I took her out a back door to a large enclosure where we kept our three Peregrine falcons. It had such a high roof that it looked open-topped. Alfia saw her beloved sky and immediately took off, batting me in the face with her wings so that I was startled, but I recovered in time to watch her glide and circle against the blue. I sighed and leant against the doorway, watching dreamily as Bracken and Lightning joined their companion. I wished I could be up there with them, soaring the air currents effortlessly. What would it be like to have wings? I wondered. What does it feel like to fly? These were questions no science could ever answer. Unless of course, some genius-going-on-lunatic decided to graft wings onto a human.

At that moment, Genetic Engineer Jeb Batchelder tapped me on the shoulder.

"Dr Martinez, I've made a discovery that I think you will be very interested in." His eyes were lit up with excitement. "We have found a way to graft avian DNA into a human embryo. Can you imagine that? People with wings?"

He paused, waiting for my response.

"Oh my God," I breathed at last. "You really are a lunatic."

.o.o.o.

"It would be a great achievement," Jeb preached with passion. We were now inside the Avian Research Department building, and I was trying to ignore GE Batchelder as much as possible as I watched a frame-by-frame computer-generated cross-section replication of the flight of an albatross. As usual, though, he was stubborn and relentless. And right.

"Just think - you and me, creators of the world's first human-avian hybrid. It would be monumental. Think of all the research that can be done, all the innovations science can make. We can learn what it feels like to fly."

I stopped suddenly and turned to face him. Jeb struggled to hide his smile as he realised he'd got me. The glint in his eyes made it seem so real, so possible, so wonderful.

"Okay," I breathed, nodding.

Taking into account the awkwardness a physical relation might put us in - and especially the damage it would do to our careers - we decided to use artificial insemination. This, Jeb and some other scientists assured me, would be better for the child's survival too.

As they offered me a mask exuding anaesthetic, they told me that I would be given an array of hormone injections and vitamin tablets to ensure the embryo would be strong enough to withstand the genetic altercations that would be made. I nodded numbly, grinning like an idiot as I settled into a happy half-sleep. A vision of what could be achieved was flying around in my head - literally.

A girl - I'd always wanted a girl - with huge, glorious wings, white but speckled with brown: they were as glorious as Alfia's, if not more so. The girl smiled and waved at me as she looped through the sky, outlined by the radiant Arizona sun. She would be homeschooled, of course, and would have to give a substantial amount of time up for tests and the like, but we could teach her to fly. I would stand and watch from my porch for hours, admiring the beauty of science and nature that was about to be created. What would my colleagues in the AR Department think about that? I felt a little smug at the thought.

.o.o.o.

Some time later, I woke up in a hospital bed in what used to be a lab. Jeb was sitting in a chair at my side, grinning at me. He held up a clipboard, featuring a labelled diagram of a DNA strand, including modifications they had made.
"98% human, 2% Peregrine Falcon," he told me proudly. "Two weeks to wait, and then we shall see if we can pull off the greatest scientific feat of the century - or maybe of human history! Sit back and relax, Dr Martinez, you will have the finest care on the planet. Nothing we can't spare for the mother of the world's greatest child."

He stared at me, still smiling, for a second - as if he couldn't believe he was in my presence - before reaching over to a small table by my bedside and holding out a small plastic cup full of tablets. I scowled at him.

"Well?" he asked, shaking the cup to encourage me to take it.

Think of what can be achieved, Valencia, urged a voice in my head. I gritted my teeth and snatched the cup off Jeb.

"Get out of my head," I snapped. "I'm not doing this for you, you know." I tipped the cup into my mouth. Jeb held out a bottle of water, pre-opened, and I snatched that and almost drained it to get the tablets down. I hated tablets.

"Oh, I know." Jeb nodded, trying to keep the smile off his face as he watched me swallow the last of the foul little capsules.

"It's not funny." I gave him my best Look, which, considering I was still recovering from anaesthetic and had just downed a small handful of mixed tablets and almost a litre of water, was kind of pathetic. Unsurprisingly, Jeb laughed.

"See you tomorrow," he said, waving as he slipped out the door. I was starting to feel very tired, but there was something even more urgent I had to take care of.

"Jeb!" I cried, leaning towards the door as much as my position allowed, trapped between the tightly tucked bed-sheets. "Jeb, where's the bathroom? JEB BATCHELDER!"

He chuckled to himself and continued down the hall.

Some things we must discover for ourselves, the Voice piped in. I grabbed a pillow and pressed it to my face. I groaned loudly into it, "Damn you, Jeb."

.o.o.o.

Two weeks passed. Aside from the fact that I hadn't been allowed out of my temperature-controlled, glass-walled, white-linoleum-floored hospital-room-slash-prison for those two weeks, it wasn't so bad. I even managed to bargain a chocolate bar this morning.

"Dr Martinez, if you would," a young man in blue scrubs gestured towards a pair of white-coats waiting to lead me to a lab where the embryo would be tested for viability.

After another gassing and a bunch of needles and all sorts, I woke up back in the hospital room. Jeb wasn't in the chair this time. Nobody was here. I looked around and saw Jeb arguing with two other researchers outside. One of them was the head of the ARD; Dr Brian Nelson. The other was a sport scientist I didn't know the name of. For a while, Jeb held his own in the argument, but finally he was defeated. He slinked towards the door with his head down, and sluggishly plugged the code into the handle. He dragged it open and mumbled an apology as he forced himself into the room.

"Jeb, what's happening?" I demanded, scrambling for a way to sit up straighter as Dr Nelson and the sport scientist filed into the room after him. One last time, Jeb looked to the other scientists, imploring them to change their minds - though about what, I couldn't tell. Jeb's eyes were bloodshot, as if he hadn't slept. His hands were shaking. With sad eyes and a solemn expression, he finally looked at me.

I braced myself for the news. I shouldn't have been surprised, really, that this embryo wouldn't make it. Labs had tested many non-viable DNA combinations; this one had passed all the pre-tests, but there was really no way of knowing what would happen when theory was put into practice. Still...for the past two weeks I had been practically living off my vision of my very own, very loved, very real angel. At one point - granted I was half asleep - I had even envisioned myself making chocolate-chip cookies for her and her friends. I rarely cooked at all, let alonebaked, but the thought had left me so happy I was breathless. I had actually looked into my daughter's eyes - well, how I imagined them, at least. There are no words to describe that feeling. To have that torn away, no matter how unlikely it had been in the beginning, was heartbreaking.

"I understand, Jeb," I said, somewhat more choked up than I had intended to sound. "We got our hopes up. We didn't consider that it might be non-via-"

"No, no, the embryo is viable," he assured me, a brief smile flashing across his face before it returned to its sombreness. At this point, the sport scientist decided to step in.

"We have evaluated that you are becoming too personally involved with the experiment. You will become an obstacle in our research. By doing so, you may destroy not only this experiment, but detriment others because of inaccurate information. Your ignorance may also lead to the underdevelopment of the child, holding it back from its true potential."

I gaped at him, instinctively putting a hand over my abdomen. How dare he accuse me of ruining my child's future? And worse - how could he not think of it as a child? 'The experiment,' he called it. How could he say that with such control, so little emotion?

"Personally involved?" I screeched. "Personally involved with the experiment, am I? Oh, big surprise - it's inside of me. Whether I like it or not, that makes it personal."

I decided not to mention that I did like it. I liked it very much. Somehow I don't think that would help my case. I glared at the sport scientist, daring him to say something else. He did not. Instead, it was my own colleague who spoke next.

"Yes, Dr Martinez, we understand that perfectly," Dr Nelson assured me. "That's why we have decided that you must be removed from the experiment."

"R-removed?" I squeaked.

"We could remove the embryo and grow it artificially, where it will receive all the nutrients it needs. We will monitor its needs carefully and teach it to use all its resources, reach its full potential. You want that for your child don't you?" The sport scientist pressed. Oh, so now it was a child; now that they were acting all compassionate. I still didn't understand why I couldn't be here to help monitor and teach this wonder of science and nature, this amazing child. I loved it, whatever it would turn out to be. I had to be here for it, that was my duty. A mother's duty.

"You can't- you can't separate us," I stammered. We both wanted the same thing for the child. There must be other ways to do this. I looked to Jeb. He looked away. Dr Nelson spoke again.

"The other option - and probably safer for all of us, though we thought you'd prefer the first we offered - would be to terminate both of you and start over. We'll give you some time to think it over."

As Dr Nelson and the sport scientist filed out of the room, I found myself staring at the covers over my stomach area. Jeb approached and gently moved my hand away, taking it in his. I pulled away, trying not to speak as I felt a tough lump setting itself in my throat.

"I'm sorry," Jeb told me, his tone laced with sad sincerity. I sniffed and, blinking back hot tears, turned to face him. Trying to sound strong - and failing miserably, I might add - I made my decision.

"Fine. Take the child. Send me home. I want nothing more to do with this."

.o.o.o.

By the end of the week I was home. Bleary-eyed and jet-lagged I trudged through the door, dumped my keys in a bowl on the bench and made myself a cup of tea. I returned to the porch for a little bit of fresh air, and absently looked up at a patch of bright blue sky, streaked with bright sunlight, where I had imagined my extraordinary child would one day fly. I closed my eyes and visualised it again. Maybe, if I wished hard enough, it would come true.

But the sky was empty.

The house was empty.

I was empty.

My breath caught in my throat.

Sacrifices must be made for the greater good, the Voice tried to comfort me.

"Leave me alone!" I screamed, throwing my tea - cup and all - against a tree a few yards away. I had been used. Deceived. Tricked into believing that what I was going through was real, and that I would be able to keep my child once it was born. Maybe those scientists were right. Maybe I had gotten too attached to the experiment because I was a fool. They had tricked me, and I had happily swallowed it all up. And I had ended up giving them my child, to be used as yet another pawn in their quest for scientific development toward a better world. Well if anyone else has to feel like this for their 'better world,' it's not worth it. I'm glad they sent me away. I want no part of this stupid mission.

They'd broken my spirit and my heart by taking my child away. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist their will if they chose to use it on me. I could only hope that my child - the one I had given into their ruthless hands - would get out of there before the worst of it. My poor baby...how could they do this to us?

Angry, abandoned, betrayed, and heartbroken, I slid to the ground and cried.