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WE’RE NOT ALONE
By Channing Kimble-Brown This story will mostly be in Max’s Perspective and is the sequel to Operation: Rescue Max and starts about a month after Operation: Rescue Max ends. PROLOGUE Hey, Max here. This last month has been pretty low key and very vacation-like. We spent most of it going on picnics, eating cookies, flying, pretty much doing all the things we love. It was almost like being at our old house except we’re now surrounded by humans. I loved it, but it feels like something big is about to happen. I’m not if it’s good big or bad big but it’s going to be life altering. At the moment, I was laying on the roof of the house with Fang watching the rest of the flock fly around above us. His hand was in mine and I was just absorbing the heat of the sun. It was pretty much just another perfect moment until something suddenly hurtled across the sky and landed in a nearby tree. Fang and I jumped off the roof and ran over to the strange creature’s landing sight. It was too big to be a bird and didn’t appear to be hostile so we walked over to it to see what it was. When we reached the woods she got up and brushed herself off. She then walked up to us with a huge grin on her face. It appeared to be a child around 10 years old. She had straight, dark brown hair and seemed to be of the Hispanic persuasion. She looked like she hadn’t bathed in weeks and had piercing green eyes and was tall and thin. She seemed like your average everyday kid, except for the fact that she also had wings. CHAPTER 1 “Hi! My name is Kathleen but you can call me Kathy,” she said cheerily. Me and Fang were still in shock but Fang recovered first and said “Hi Kathy, I’m Fang and this is Max,” the rest of the flock walked over looking just as shocked as we were “this is Iggy, Gasman, Angel, and Nudge.” “I’m so glad I found you guys! I had heard of you, but I wasn’t sure if it was true. I’m a human-avian hybrid like you.” Yeah, we kind of got that from the wings on her back. “Where did you come from? What are you doing here?” I asked finally recovering from shock. “It’s a long story…” “We’ve got time,” Then I realized that she looked tired and hungry “but first, how about we get you some food and a shower?” She looked at me like I was some sort of goddess and tackled me in a hug almost knocking me down. After that we lead her back to the house and gave her some food. Then while she took a shower I called a flock meeting.

2 “Angel, did you pick up any evil vibes from her?” I asked. “No, she actually seemed really nice, I like her,” Angel said. “I can’t believe there’s another mutant bird kid like us! Max, do you think there’s more out there?” Nudge asked. “I dunno sweety. It’s certainly possible.” “What do you think she’s here for?” Gazzy asked. “No clue, won’t find out until she comes out and tells us,” I said. So we waited for another 10 minutes and she came out of the bathroom with a big smile on her face. “Thank you so much, I’ve been flying for hours without a break,” Kathy said with a yawn. “So why exactly are you here Kathy?” I questioned. “Well, the first thing you need to know is that there were actually 2 Schools, in case something happened to one, the other one live on in secret. I was created in the second Schoollocated in Washington State. They created us the same time they created you, but when you escaped, they upped the security a bit. The experiments were terrible and scientists just treated us like test subjects, existing only so they could dissect us and inject stuff into us,” I know the feeling “they told us we would never escape. About 3 months ago they started making clones of us. We had no idea what was going on. They were extracting out DNA during their tests and are trying to create an army of us, but the clones aren’t living very long. There are 4 of us including me but I was the only one who managed to escape. We had heard about other bird kids who had gotten to freedom but we weren’t sure if it was a myth or not. I was the only one who believed you really existed. I came here to ask you to help me free my friends and take down my School. I’m not sure what they’re planning but it’s definitely not going to be good.” There’s really another School? I thought we took down the whole operation! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there was something hiding somewhere. Looks like my vacation’s over. “Sure we’ll help. We’re gonna need to know what we’re up against. Before we start on any of that though, we’re all gonna need to get a good night’s sleep. You can stay in Nudge’s room, she has two beds.” “Thank you so much, you’re the best!” Kathy said as she hugged me again and then followed Nudge to her bedroom. Iggy, Gazzy, and Angel followed suit and went to their rooms to get ready for bed. “So what do you think about Kathy?” Fang asked me. “Well, I think she’s telling the truth, but we better keep an eye on her.” “Angel seems to trust her so I think we’re safe for now. Sounds like it’s time to save the world again.” “Yeah, it’s a never ending job. I just can’t believe there’s more out there.” “Why not? Remember the mutants we met in New York?” “Yeah. Good night.” “Night.”

3 I went back to my bedroom thinking about everything Kathy told us. Could there really be another School? Could I trust Kathy? And if so, would I be able to bring myself to willingly go into another School? Well I guess I was going to find out in the morning.

CHAPTER 2 I woke up this morning to the smell of pancakes and sausage. Mmmm, my favorite. It was still pretty early so everyone was asleep except for me and my mom so I decided to go down stairs and fill her in on our new visitor. “Hey mom, we’ve got company,” I said. “What kind?” she asked. “Another bird kid.Her name is Kathy and she seems like a sweet kid. Apparently there are 3 more out there being held captive at a second School and we’re going to have to go save them. The whitecoats also seem to be scheming again and plan on using mutant bird kid clones to do something diabolical so we’ll also have to save the world again,” I said casually. “Honey, couldn’t you call the government or something?” Mom said trying not to look like she was scared. “No, the higher ups just tend to make things worse. Besides, I already promised Kathy we’d help.” “I know, it just seems like a bit much to take on all by yourselves.” “Mom, everything we’ve done seemed like “a bit much” but we’ve always been able to handle it in the past.” “Ok, but I’m still going to be worried about you and your friends. I also forgot to tell you that the veterinarian company is expanding and they gave me a promotion. I’m going to get a huge raise and I was thinking that I should buy a bigger house because you kids need more space.” Before I could respond Kathy and Nudge came into the kitchen. Kathy sat down at the kitchen table and seemed to relax like she’d lived here her whole life. She also appeared to be Nudge’s new best friend. “So how old are you Kathy?” I asked. “Somewhere around 10 or 11. I’m not really sure.” “How old are your friends?” Nudge asked. “Robby and I are both twins, Kelly is around 7 and Jim is about 4. He’s the one I’m most worried about. Jim is barely more than a baby and the whitecoats don’t really take care of us that well…” Yeah, they really fell down in the child care department. “Don’t worry we’ll save the rest of your flock.” I said trying to cheer her up. The Nudge chimed in “We have to save people all the time. We’re real good at it now. In fact, we spend most of our time recuing others. Like once we saved Angel from the School, and once we…”

4 Man, once that girl gets started there’s no turning it off. Soon Ella, Angel and the boys woke up and came down for breakfast. Kathy seemed to fit right in and she was really starting to grow on me, even though I wasn’t completely positive I could trust her. Apparently Kathy had never had pancakes before and wolfed those things down like nobody’s business. It kind of reminded me of how we were when we went to our first fast food restaurant. “Hey Kathy, if you like pancakes, wait till you taste them with maple syrup.” Gazzy said while he drowned her pancakes with the syrup. If I thought she devoured her food before, then this took it to a whole other level. It was almost scary. “Honey, why don’t you slow down, you don’t want to hurt yourself,” my mom said. “It’s just I’ve never had anything like them before, they’re so delicious!” Kathy said. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Ella opened the door “Hey Jeb.” “Hello Ella, what’s going on?” Jeb asked. Right before I could say nothing Ella replied “There’s another bird kid! Her name is Kathy and she came from a second School.” Jeb looked very surprised. “I’d heard about a second School, but I didn’t think it was actually true.” “Yeah, we’re planning to bust my friends out and save the world!” Kathy said enthusiastically. “If it’s anything like what I heard, it’s not going to be that easy.” Now curious I asked “What did you hear?” “I heard that they’ve got new and improved flyboys crawling all over the place. They have them standing guard around the entire perimeter. They also have traps that are triggered if you step in the wrong places to capture the test subjects if they try to escape.” Well that could definitely alter our plans of just barging in a little bit. “Ok, right after breakfast we’re going to go to Washington so get ready. Kathy, Nudge can share some stuff with you because you look about the same size. Gazzy, Iggy, fill up on whatever explosives you can get your hands on.” “Never leave home without them,” Iggy said. “Angel, Fang, and Kathy go prepare backpacks with everything we need,” I ordered. “I have a spare backpack you can use for Kathy,” my mom said. “Thank you!” Kathy said. “Nudge you come with me to the library and we can do a bit of research before we start off. We’ll all meet here in an hour.” “Ok, bye Kathy,” Nudge said. “Bye Nudge,” Kathy said back. And with that, everyone went off to complete the task I had assigned them.

5 -~-~-~-~-~-~As Nudge and I walked back to the house about an hour later we were trying to figure out how to get more information. “I can’t believe there’s nothing on the internet about them,” I said frustrated. “Well, the first School didn’t have anything either so it makes sense,” Nudge said. “But still! You should be able to find something. A map at the very least.” “I really doubt that if they wanted to remain a secret they wouldn’t put a map of their building on the internet for everyone to see.” Before I could say something we reached the house. There were guns and robot parts laying all over the yard. The side of the house had been shot through with lasers and bullets. I looked around desperate to find my family. “Report!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Here,” said Iggy, covered in bruises and cuts while getting up from the ground. “Here,” Angel said looking a lot like Iggy. “Here” said Fang who was lying right next to Angel. “Gazzy and I are here,” Kathy said from behind the house. I went over to see what she was doing and found saw Gasman’s leg. His leg looked like it was infected and was all red and puffy and a lot of blood was running from it. The muscle seemed to have been ripped and covered in dirt. I think he had passed out from the pain. It was the type of wound that you would need to go to the hospital for and we didn’t have that kind of time. But if we didn’t go, Gazzy would die. CHAPTER 3 Kathy had some sort of glowing thing going on with her hands and the blood stopped flowing, and the swelling went right down. She even seemed to be able to fix the broken bone. “How did you do that?” I asked. “It’s just an ability I have. I can heal any physical wound. I’ve been able to do it ever since I could remember,” Kathy said. This could be very useful. “What else can you do Kathy?” Nudge asked. “I can create force fields. I can also control fire. But I’m not very good at controlling it so I try to do that as little as possible. There has to already be fire in the room.” “That is so cool!” Gazzy said as he finally came into consciousness. “Can you fight?” I asked. “No,” She said. “Looks like we’re gonna have to teach you then. But not right now, we’ll worry about that on the way there.”

6 “Ok!” “Good, now where are my mom and Ella?” “Ella went to work with your mom,” Fang said. “I’ll call them when we get there then. Gazzy, how do you feel?” “I feel great!” Gazzy said. “Ok, let’s head out,” I said. We took off one at a time. First Fang, then Iggy, then Angel, then Gazzy, then Nudge, and then Kathy right before me so I could keep an eye on her. A few hours later we flew across the border of Arizona and California. We were pretty close to the ocean so we decided to go to the beach. I had mixed feelings about this because I had some good memories and some bad memories at the beach but it did provide a nice break from all the stress. Fang and I sat in the sand with a picnic basket full of food that we bought at a Wal-Mart we had passed on the way here. We were watching the kids play around in the water when I saw Kathy just standing there, staring at the water. “Sweety what’s wrong? Don’t you wanna swim with the others?” “Uh, no thanks. I’m good standing right here.” “Why?” Fang asked. “Well, this is kinda embarrassing, but I can’t swim,” Kathy said with an abashed look on her face. “Hmm, how about Nudge teaches you how to swim? You’ll be swimming like Michael Phelps in no time.” Her entire face lit up as she nodded her head. She had this sort of natural glow and she was just so adorable. I decided I really wanted to trust her. Why? Maybe because she was just like the flock in so many ways, I don’t know. I just wasn’t sure if the whitecoats were tracking her or using her to lure us into another trap, you can never be too careful. I called Nudge over and asked her if she could teach Kathy to swim. Nudge took Kathy into a more shallow area in the water and started her lessons. I was thinking about Kathy whether I could trust Kathy, and whether we could save her friends, and if we could take down the school. It must have shown on my face because Fang suddenly asked “Thinking about Kathy?” “Yeah, that and our new mission. Nudge and I couldn’t find anything on the computer. It’s also been a two months since I was in a real fight. What if I’ve lost my touch?” Fang thought this over the way he always does and naturally cut right to the heart of the matter. “So you’re worried we’ll fail? Max, you have pretty much gotten through everything they’ve thrown at you. Even death. After all that, this shouldn’t be too hard. Besides, you’ve got help,” he said gesturing to the flock and Kathy. “I’m still at a dilemma. I don’t know what to do about Kathy. Angel said she’s telling the truth but what if the whitecoats are tracking her or something. I just don’t have the heart to abandon her. I really think I’m becoming attached.”

7 Fang of course didn’t say so because he just wasn’t the emotional type but I knew he felt the same way about Kathy from that look on his face. “Easy, we go save her friends whether it’s a trap or not. If we ending up saving the world, then, bonus.” It’s amazing how just a few words could make my entire day. That was just one of the many things I loved about Fang. Right then Angel, Kathy, and Nudge ran up to me with big goofy smiles on their faces. “Kathy has gills too!” Nudge said barely containing her excitement. “And I can swim now!” Kathy said which surprised me because she had only gotten in the water 20 minutes ago. “And I’m hungry,” Angel said. I called Gazzy and Iggy out of the water and we all sat down on the beach and had our picnic lunch of roast beef sandwiches. After everyone had their fill we took off flying north toward Oregon. I decided we should take a moment and stop in Portland to get rested up since it was practically on the border of Oregon and Washington. I also stopped because I was secretly dreading having to go to a place where it rained almost every day. I’ve seen enough water for one life time. We found a nice park with some trees to sleep in. I had first watch because the others seemed extremely tired after flying all day and also because just wanted to enjoy the peace of just listening to the sound of the flock’s even breaths feeling at one with nature. Suddenly, while I was feeling at one with nature and all that I smelled smoke. I was positive that we didn’t make a fire so I looked around. Everything seemed ok until I looked over to see that the tree Kathy and Nudge were sleeping in was aflame. CHAPTER 4 They had both woken up by now. Nudge had been in enough sensitive situations to know not to scream because it would wake nearby people up but Kathy had no such training and was screaming like a banshee. Now the whole flock was awake and trying to figure out what to do when I just jumped into the tree, grabbed both of them by the arm and flew them to a safe distance where the rest of the flock was standing. Nudge looked really scared but Kathy was sobbing. “I’m so, so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to do it! It was an accident!” Kathy cried. “Kathy, calm down, now tell me, did you do that with your pyrokenisis?” “This has never happened before!” she said through her tears. “Honey, it’s ok, I think your powers are getting stronger but you’re safe now. We’ll take care of you.” And you know what? I meant it too. I still wasn’t sure if we were completely safe around her but when are we ever completely safe? She felt like part of the flock now and I knew I would never forgive myself if I let anything happen to her.

8 She gave me that angelic smile (from now I’d call the Kathy look) and I just had to give her a hug. I then said jokingly “Well, at least youcan set fires to the enemy in a fight if they grabbed you or something. But on the other hand, you could burn to death in your sleep.” “You win some, you lose some,” she replied. After that Fang and I went to go see if our backpacks were still ok and turns out we were lucky because we left them at the trunk of the tree so they didn’t get damaged. As for the tree on the other hand, well, let me just say it has seen better days. We packed up our stuff and high-tailed it out of there before someone saw us. It was about dawn as we flew into Washington State when I heard Kathy’s blood curdling scream. I looked over and I saw her losing altitude really fast. Without saying a word Fang and I shot down as fast as we could to try and catch her before she resembled a pizza on the ground and the rest of the flock soon got the memo and followed us down. I was close enough to see that she had been shot in the back and had a look of absolute horror on her face. I sped up and just when I was about to reach her a helicopter came out of freaking nowhere and someone pulled her into it. “KATHY!” I yelled. She set the person on fire but they threw water on him and then doused her in it. Damn helicopters, nothing good ever comes of them, you never see nice old ladies with fresh baked cookies in a helicopter. Then Fang said, obviously sharing my mood said “Why can’t it ever just be a simple rescue mission where everything goes according to plan?” The rest of the flock caught up. We didn’t have to say anything because they already knew that Kathy was taken, I could see it on their faces. Instead of wallowing in my sorrow I decided to continue with the plan and rescue Kathy along with all her friends and the world. “Ok everybody, we just need to revise the plan a little. Kathy’ll be ok. Remember when Angel was kidnapped? Well this is just like that except the security is better and I don’t plan on getting caught this time.” Their faces all changed from gloomy to determined. My natural ability to cheer them up in pretty much any situation was one of the reasons I was leader. “Ok, the school must be somewhere in the area for them to have found us so fast. We’re gonna have to search for it on the ground though because we don’t want to get caught in the air.” “If we steal another car, can I drive?” Iggy said. “Sure, right after I become the queen of England. Then you can drive whenever you want,” I said, “and we aren’t going to ‘steal’ the car, we’re going to ‘borrow’ it.” “You mean ‘borrow’ as in take without permission or the intention of giving it back?” Angel said reading my mind.

9 “Yeah, something like that,” I said not really paying attention while I tried to figure out how to find the School. Then I had a brilliant I idea. I said “Let’s go to the library, it’s been helpful so far and I haven’t had any horrible memories in a library so let’s go.” We found the nearest library and got on the first computer we saw. Nudge immediately got to work looking for information on the school. We were there for about an hour and right when I was about to say “I don’t think we’re gonna find anything” Nudge said “I got something!” “Really? What?” Gazzy asked. “It says there’s a lab about 10 miles north of here. It researches ways to enhance humans.” “Sounds like the school,” I said. Well enhancing was one way to put it I guess. “Print out the address Nudge, then map quest it, there isn’t a moment to lose!” I said. “On it,” Nudge replied. After Nudge did that we left the library. We decided it wouldn’t be so bad to borrow one more car so we found a minivan that didn’t seem to have anyone inside so I hotwired the car and we were soon on our merry way. Unlike last time we were in a car, we didn’t get pulled over by a cop although Fang’s driving wasn’t any better than last time though. You know, I’m starting to appreciate those underage driving laws a lot more. Once we were 2 miles away from the place we got out of the car and decided to walk from there. I didn’t want to take any chances because I was so over losing members of my flock. We had been walking for about 20 minutes and were less than a mile away from our destination when I realized that we were surrounded by flyboys. CHAPTER 5 There were about 50 of them and these flyboys seemed to be a lot stronger than the last batch though, and more nimble. They also had wings that were attached better and more like ours so this was going to be a pretty close fight. Angel tried using her telepathy but it didn’t appear to be working so she resorted to just fighting them the old fashioned way. Iggy and Gazzy either ran out of bombs or didn’t think they should waste them on these guys. I really hoped that the latter was true. Fang was lifting them up and slamming them into each other while he was fighting them in hand-to-hand combat at the same time. Nudge tried to tear them apart like the robots they fought in South America but these guys were put together really well and Nudge wasn’t that strong yet so she just settled on a series of well placed punches and Kicks. Meanwhile I was busy trying to find a weak spot on the new flyboys. We were outnumbered and couldn’t use any of our abilities to help us so this fight was pretty much decided. But did I let that stop me from fighting? No! That just made me fight harder.

10 Unfortunately that wasn’t enough because they eventually overpowered us and soon we were all tied up and thrown into the back of a truck. Same-old, sameold, I was used to it by now although I was extremely pissed that I hadn’t noticed them before. I couldn’t believe that Iggy hadn’t heard them so they must have just appeared out of thin air or something. We’ve been through the whole kidnap procedure: capture, transport, contain, torture and escape, about 50 thousand times so it was nothing new. It’s really sad how unimaginative bad guys could be when it came to food. Well, everyone except for the director, the guy who fell apart in that hurricane. I wonder what they’d give us this time. I looked around the truck and I saw the rest of the flock also bound in ropes with collars around their necks. Man, why is it that everyone seemed to have these stupid collars! It’s not like they sell them at the dollar store. They all looked annoyed but not scared exactly. It’s really sad how many times we’ve been in this type of situation. Then I said “Come one guys, cheer up. At least we have our health.” For the moment. “Yeah, wouldn’t wanna be sick during our first torture session. You always wanna leave a good impression on your first day,” Iggy said sarcastically. After that the truck stopped moving and we were all quiet, waiting for the flyboys to usher us into our newly furnished dog crates. I’m almost positive that they would be upgraded from uncomfortable to agonizing. Instead, the doors opened and we were carried to a conference room. Honestly, being tied to a chair in a conference room was wasn’t much better than being tied up in the back of the truck. Nothing good has ever has ever happened in a conference room and I doubted that that was about to change. There was an oblong table in the room and some roley chairs. After a few minutes of sitting in the chairs the tension soon became tedium. I mean, they take the time to kidnap us, tie us up and then they make us wait for them? Talk about rude. Finally, after what seemed like forever, a tall, red-headed white lady in serious need of a tan walked in wearing a gray business suit and sat at the opposite end of the table. Following her was six of the new-and-improved flyboys. They were carrying a small crate which brought me back to those wonderful days at the School. But instead of the crate I’m used to which had metal bars on it this new crate was completely enclosed with metal all over it except for a small slit on the side. There was also a keypad for inputting the password I imagine. “Can we move this along, we have an appointment later and we don’t want to be late. You really shouldn’t keep your guests waiting, it’s extremely rude,” I said. The lady looked at me surprised like a piece of furniture had just spoken to her. “Well you’re just going to have to cancel. I don’t think you’ll be able to make it,” The lady said coldly.

11 “Now the reason we brought you here is to use your DNA. We are creating an army of human-avian hybrid clones. Unfortunately, none of them have become quite as strong as the originals. We also can only extract a certain amount of DNA from a subject before they die and we wouldn’t want to kill our most successful hybrid species. Since we have extracted as much as we could from our current subjects we needed more to expand our army. After our army is complete we shall send some to every country all over the world and eliminate any who we believe inadequate. The intelligent and the strong will be required to assist us in building up our empire.” So they were basically planning a holocaust with some slavery thrown in. In school when the teacher asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she must have said “I wanna be an evil dictator who either enslaves or kills everyone on the face of the planet.” “You are aware of the fact that people may not be too happy about having a crazy person taking over the world,” I said. “Are you aware of the fact that you have no right to insult me? You fate rests in my hands and no one can help you now,” she said starting to turn red in the face. “That may be true, but there are so many therapists out there that could help you. They even have buildings dedicated to people like you called ‘mental asylums.’ ” I countered. The lady must have just given up on me because she turned around and pushed some buttons on the crate behind her. Inside of it was Kathy! She looked really pale and had bruises all over her. She looked at us with a really dazed expression on her face, like the lights were on but nobody was home. It took all I had not to try and jump up and yell out her name. Besides, even if I tried I wouldn’t be able to because I was tied down. Instead I remained in my seat, acting like the sight of Kathy in that state didn’t bother me at all. Then the lady said “Max, this is the future for you and your flock.” CHAPTER 6 I was really scared, but not because the lady threatened us, I get threatened all the time and think nothing of it. I was scared because they had Kathy but I was going to act calm and cool so they wouldn’t know that. Do you think Kathy’ll be ok? Angel asked in my mind. Of course she will sweety. We’ll save her, just like we always do. I thought back. “I’d love to take all the credit for capturing all of you but I must say Kathy did some fabulous work. We told her that if she got you to come here that we’d set her and her little friends free. We erased her memory of making the bargain because we know about your little telepath. Made her think she actually escaped by herself to get help from you.” I swear, if she wasn’t so dignified and business –like she would have laughed maniacally.

12 “No! Kathy would never do that!” I yelled. Well so much for calm and cool. “How would you know? You’ve only known her for a few days,” the lady said. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t put it past them to manipulate her like this. I was too broken hearted to respond so they just took us to our prison cells. You know, we should collect tee-shirts from everywhere we’re captured that say “I was held captive in ____ and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt.” We could probably set a world record. Our prison cell pretty much looked like every other cell I’ve been in. It had concrete walls, steel doors, lack of furniture, the whole she-bang. They really went all out. Once we were inside they took the collars and ropes off of us. “If you try to use your powers in here, they won’t work. This wall neutralizes any exertion of power so there’s no hope of escape,” said henchman #1. Well that was new. “We will come to check on you in an hour,” henchman #2 said. They left the room. Fang shot me a look that said “How the hell are we gonna get out now?” And I responded with a look that said “I haven’t the slightest idea but we’ll figure out something.” Fang didn’t look very reassured. He may have looked cool and collected to everyone else but I could see that slight tightening around his eyes that said he was worried. We spent about an hour just sitting in the room waiting for something to happen. I mean, it was just so boring! I almost would have wanted to take my chances with the DNA removal to break the monotony. I’m just not very good at sitting still and waiting for things to happen. Just when I thought I would scream just to make something happen I heard something at the door. Suddenly, it seemed like something was slicing through the door, like a laser. The flock and I all tensed up to get ready for a fight but when the door fell down, I saw Kathy, a boy who liked like a male version of Kathy, a little Asian girl with short really dark brown hair, and a boy around the age of 4 who had shocking red hair. “Are you guys ok?” Kathy asked. “We are now!” Nudge cried as she ran over to hug her. Quickly recovering from shock I asked “How did you do that?” “I discovered if I concentrate on one specific spot I can create a laser with my finger. I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, but I'm good enough to saw through doors, that’s how I got us out of our crates. Then we found our way here to bust you out,” Kathy replied with a mischievous smile on her face. I was kind of surprised that she was even capable of plotting like that. He must have read my expression because her twin said “You may think that she’s all rainbows and sunshine but she’s the real troublemaker of the group.”

13 “I forgot to introduce you! This is Robby,” Kathy said gesturing to her twin, “this is Kelly,” she said gesturing to the young girl, “and this is Jim,” she said pointing to the little boy. “How did you sneak out?” I asked curious. “I have the ability dull all the senses so I just made everyone blind and deaf on our way here. You should have seen their faces. It won’t stay for very long though so we’ve got to get out of here soon,” Robby said. Don’t have to ask me twice. “So do you guys know how to get out of this place?” I asked them. “Yeah, we’ve been planning our escape for weeks,” Kelly said. “Good, let’s blow this joint,” I said, and with that, we left. There was some sort of alarm going off that sounded like the siren on a fire truck. We ran as fast as we could and bolted to the front door. I wasn’t sure how I felt about not being the one leading this escape but I’d think about that when we were free. We got to the front door and there were about 5 henchmen standing in our way. Luckily, there was no power damper in the hallway so Fang just lifted them up and threw them to the side like trash. Once we were out the door we ran to the trees as fast as we could. As we ran away I heard the lady from earlier yell “We will find you! There is no place for you to hide!” Like that would stop us. CHAPTER 7 As we flew away I heard a series of loud explosions come from various parts of the school. I looked over at Gazzy and Iggy. They both looked as confused as I was. “Uh, I did that. I kind of took some of your bombs and planted them around the school as we looked for you.” Kathy said looking kind of embarrassed. Wow, insidious and cute, a very dangerous combination. I liked her even more than I did before. She seemed more, I don’t know, human. Ok, not human exactly, but more like us. Too bad the destruction of their building isn’t going to stop them from coming after us again. We’ve really come full circle. We went from kidnappings and rescues to lives of luxury, to kidnappings and rescues again. It’s kind of sad. “Do you have any abilities Kelly?” asked Angel. “I can alter small objects. Like, if I had baseball bat, I could turn it into a crowbar. So far it’s only a temporary change though. I can also phase through solid objects. Sometimes I can even bring things with me if they’re small enough,” Kelly replied. “Sweet! Robby can you do anything else?” Gazzy asked. “I can control water. Basically the opposite of what Kathy can do. I can freeze it, heat it up, and move it. It’s pretty cool, although I can’t do it very well. My sense dulling power only works as long as the person is unaware of what I’m doing with them. None of us really know much more about our powers than the fact that we have them. Jim here hasn’t developed any powers yet, or at least not that we’ve seen,” Robby said.

14 “That makes sense. Angel didn’t have any powers until she was 4 either. But then again, she couldn’t talk that well before so it’s not like she could have told us she heard our thoughts,” I said. Jim was in the center of our formation and wasn’t a very strong flyer yet so Kathy and Robby were holding his hands so he wouldn’t fall. “So where’re we headed Max?” Iggy asked. “Well we can’t go to Mom’s house. I don’t want to put her and Ella in danger. I was thinking we should go to Chicago. There’re lots of people there so we won’t be found as easily,” I said. “Wow, that’s a really good idea,” Kelly said. “That’s way they put me in charge ‘round here,” I replied. “I’m hungry,” Nudge moaned. “Ok, let’s head down and look for some food and a safe place to sleep.” We were flying over Montana and we found a nice little open area surrounded by trees. I didn’t want to sleep in the trees that night because Kathy + trees = really bad idea so we set up camp in the middle of the clearing. Fang and I went off to find food because Angel refused to talk a rabbit or something into being our dinner so we left Iggy in charge. Fang and I were walking through the forest looking for a couple of rabbits. We couldn’t talk or we’d scare any nearby prey away so I just enjoyed companionable silence. Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t had any time alone with Fang for a while now. I really wanted to talk to him but I had to focus on the task at hand. We had been walking around for about half an hour and I was just about to give up when I heard small feet. I looked at Fang and he shot me a look that said “I heard it too.” I looked around and saw two healthy looking rabbits, about 12 feet in front of us. I looked at Fang and he nodded. He moved his hand slowly and lifted them in the air. As soon as he had them immobile I ran over and shoved them in a bag I brought. Once Fang let go of them they started moving around in the bag. After they were in the bag I grabbed one and had to break its neck. I felt really bad for doing it but if I had to choose between letting these rabbits live and eating I’d choose eating every time. Then Fang did the other rabbit and we started walking back to the camp we set up. I was thinking about what we’d do once we got to Chicago and what to do with Kathy and her friends when Fang suddenly stopped. He turned around and looked at me. “Is there something wrong?” I asked. “Have you decided yet?” Fang asked sensing I was troubled. “Decided what?” I said pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about even though I knew very well he was asking whether I decided to let them stay with us or not. “You know what I mean,” Fang said. I hate it that he knows me so well. It was all I could do not to punch really hard him in the shoulder and walk away.

15 “I don’t know Fang, I’m in a dilemma. I can’t abandon them, but I don’t know if I can stand having to protect more people. I just adjusted to having Mom and Ella, now I’ve got 4 more. I just don’t know what to do,” I spilled. “Max, you know whatever you decide I’ll back you up 100%. Personally, I think that we should ask them whether they want to stay with us or not, let them decide. But until that happens, let’s just see how it plays out.” This made me feel loads better. “Fang, I love you,” I said out of the blue. Hit eyes lit up and he grinned. It lit up the immediate area like it always does and he swooped down to kiss me. This was one of those rare moments in my life where I felt safe, loved, and like everything was right. I guess that’s just what happens when you’re kissing your soul mate. After we finally broke apart we headed off to the camp. We had been gone for about an hour and we got back to the camp they had retrieved fire wood and Kathy was practicing making small fires. “Ok, we’re back,” I said. “What took you so long?” Nudge asked. “Those rabbits were pretty fast, took a while to catch them,” I lied. Liar. Angel thought. Shut up, if you say a word I will kill you. I thought back. She didn’t say anything so I figured she got the message. Iggy roasted the rabbits for lunch and we all had our shares. It was delicious, but then again, we hadn’t eaten anything in the last 12 hours so a cardboard box would look appetizing. I thought that we deserved to have some fun and relieve some stress so we found a place that had paint ball. When we got inside I went up to the desk where some guy who worked there was sitting. “Can I have a game for 10?” I asked. “Sure, where’s your parent?” the guy asked. “Oh, we don’t need parents, and you’re going to give us a free game, you’re having a special for groups of 10,” Angel said in a way that told me she was, uh, persuading him to give us a free game. “Lucky for you we’re having a special for groups of 10 so you get to play for a whole hour free,” the guy said. After they got us suited up and ready to play we were split into teams of 5 boys against girls. It was me, Kathy, Kelly, Nudge and Angel against Fang, Iggy, Gazzy, Robby, and Jim. Luckily, the people who were in charge of supervising us weren’t paying any attention or we wouldn’t have been able to use our powers. The girls and I decided to divide and conquer. Kathy, Angel and I went after Robby while Nudge and Kelly went off to go take down Gazzy. Fang would be a lot harder because he could blend in with pretty much anything and Iggy could hear us way before we even saw him so we saved them for last. Even Jim was kind of playing. He was basically running around holding a little gun, it was just so cute.

16 Since we had Angel we didn’t need to say anything out loud and I just shot thoughts to her or told her to tell Kathy stuff. We saw Robby crouching behind a bush. Ok, let’s surround him. On my mark, you guys charge him, guns pointed at him so he doesn’t realize I’m behind him. Then I’ll come in from behind and finish him off. Tell Kathy. I thought to Angel. Yes sir. Angel thought. Kathy looked over at me and nodded her head, we then got into position. Go. I thought to Angel and about 2 seconds later they came out from hiding and pointed their guns at him just like planned. I jumped up and looked like he was about to bolt when I stepped from behind him and shot him with bright red paint 3 times. Robby dramatically dropped down saying “I can’t believe it! My own flesh and blood has betrayed me! Oh woe is me, how will I go on? I feel as if I could die!” “Oh shut up Robby, it’s just paint for crying out loud, you’re so overdramatic,” Kathy said. Right after she said that I heard Kelly yell “HELP!” We ran as fast as we could to where we heard her voice but there was nothing there. We looked around and I realized a second too late that Gazzy could imitate any voice perfectly. “Crap,” I said as we were pelted with blue paint balls by Gazzy, Iggy, And Fang. After we were covered in blue paint they started cracking up. They seemed to have forgotten that there were 2 more of us and were very surprised when their weapons flew out of their hands and saw Nudge and Kelly were standing there with triumphant expressions on their faces. “Come on, we were just playing around guys,” Gazzy said weakly. They took no pity on them and barraged them with red paint. They even smeared some red paint on Jim with their hands so they wouldn’t hurt him. It was a glorious victory for us girls and everyone left feeling 10 times better. You know, it’s days like this that make life worth living. CHAPTER 8 Once we got back to our camp situation we were all exhausted and went to sleep. I had first watch so I sat in the middle of the camp just listening to my surroundings. I was actually kind of enjoying myself despite my sleep deprivation. So I was just sitting there being at peace with the world and one with nature and all that when suddenly, I got a colossal headache. It felt like my head was going to shatter into a billion pieces in a couple seconds. I tried to hold in my shrieking so I wouldn’t wake everyone up but it came out as a high pitched squeal. Of course, everyone woke up and looked at me but I was too busy trying to keep the insides of my brain from shattering my skull. “Max! Is it the headaches again?” Fang asked sounding really worried.

17 I couldn’t even nod my head yes. “What’s happening to her?” Kathy asked sounding really scared. “She used to get these massive headaches a while ago. I guess they’ve come back,” Nudge answered her question. After she said that the pain subsided and left just as quickly as it came. I opened my eyes and looked around. I was surrounded by 9 pairs of anxious eyes and it made me feel kind of uncomfortable. “I’m feeling better now, go about your business,” I said. Everyone lingered for a few seconds more to make sure I was alright and then went back to sleep. All except Fang. After everyone was asleep he dragged me into some nearby trees. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yeah, I feel fine. The last time I had these headaches was right… before… I heard… the voice…” I said finally realizing what this means. Hello Max. It’s been a while since I last talked to you. Oh god the voice was back. Fang seemed to realize this too because he looked kind of surprised. “Why haven’t we heard from the voice before now?” he asked. Well voice, why haven’t we heard from you? Did you go on vacation or something? Actually Max, after you saved your mom I didn’t need to say anything, you were doing perfectly fine on your own. When you died and came back to life I had to reset myself. Reinsert myself into your brain again, that’s why you’re having headaches again. “The voice says that when I came back to life it had to get back into my head, which is what causes the migraines,” I told Fang. Unfortunately you’re going to continue having headaches for a while. “I’m going to have more headaches for a while,” I said. Well that was depressing. “Oh yay,” Fang said very unenthusiastically. We went back to the camp to find they had gathered more firewood and Kathy practiced creating and controlling her fire. “Max! Fang! Look what I can do!” Kathy said. The flame turned blue, then red, then orange, then a deep indigo. “Wow, that’s awesome Kathy,” I said. After that Nudge, Kelly and I went to the supermarket and bought about 10 packs of bacon. We went back to the camp and Iggy cooked all of it and we ate every last piece. Once we were done we I decided it was time to teach Kathy, Robby, and Kelly how to fight. “Ok, lesson one in hand to hand combat, never be surprised by pain. If you get too cocky the enemy will almost definitely win,” I said. “Lesson two; don’t be afraid to fight dirty because the enemy definitely will be. Use everything you have to your advantage. That means powers, physical strength,

18 the enemy’s weaknesses, etc. Now we are going to start with some basic self defense moves.” We spent half the day going over this and they seemed to catch on pretty quickly. “I must say, if you were in a real fight with flyboys, you just may survive,” I said proudly. Right after I said that, as if right on cue, flyboys ambushed us and created utter chaos. Gazzy and Iggy had made more bombs so they flinging them wherever they saw fit. Nudge and Kathy were side by side. Nudge was punching and kicking them while Kathy set them on fire. I don’t know why but once a flyboy catches flame it just sort of stands there. Fang was throwing them against each other with his telekinesis. Robby used the stuff I taught him and he was doing pretty well for a beginner. Angel was helping fight with Kelly and Kelly had turned a piece of wood into a crowbar. Jim was sitting in a little force field Kathy made for him while flyboys attempted get him but Kelly got them with her crowbar. Meanwhile I was busy trying to find weak spot. I tried the stomach, spine, neck, and face. Nothing seemed to work so I just kicked the flyboy in the shin. This rendered his leg useless and he toppled over from loss of balance. Before he could get back up Kathy must have noticed I was fighting him and he burst into flames. I did this to many more flyboys until they realized this fight was pointless and retreated. “Report!” I yelled when the flyboys all left. “We’re fine,” Fang said for Iggy, Gazzy, and himself. “We’re fine too,” Robby said while holding Jim’s hand. “I’m ok,” Angel said. “Me too,” Kelly said. “I’m alright, and Kelly will be in a minute,” Kathy said while healing the gash in Kelly’s arm. “Ok, so everyone’s good. I can’t believe they’re desperate enough to try and take us after we were well rested and well fed, they usually try to catch off guard at the worst possible moment,” I said. Then the voice said Max, they weren’t trying to take all of you. They just wanted Jim. CHAPTER 9 Oh no, Kathy is going to freak. “Kathy, the voice just told me that they’re after Jim,” I said. “What? Why? He’s practically a baby! He hasn’t done anything to anybody!” Kathy said while having nervous breakdown. “I don’t know why, does he have any really special abilities? They took Angel once because of that,” Iggy said.

19 “Well, we haven’t…” Robby started when a flower plucked itself out of the ground, grew little arms and legs, walked over to Jim, and started dancing. We all just stared at him speechless. I have a pretty long list of freaky things I’ve seen and this is definitely way up there. “Kathy! Robby! Kelly! I made a plant man!” Jim cried with joy. I just realized that I had never heard him talk before. Kathy must have realized the same thing and said “Jim doesn’t really like to talk around strangers. The whitecoats all thought he was mute.” “The whitecoats must have known he could do this and that must be why they were after him,” I said. “How come we didn’t know about this?” asked Robby. “Well were you around any plants at the school?” I asked. “No…” Robby said. “Well then, there’s no way you could’ve known. Now let’s go before more flyboys show up. Up and away guys,” I said. We packed up and took off. While we were flying it occurred to me that Kelly, Robby and Jim didn’t have backpacks. “Guys let’s land, we’re going to Wal-Mart,” I said over the wind. “Why?” asked Robby. “Because you guys need backpacks, if you’re going to be coming with us,”I said kind of just sneaking in the second part real quietly. Fortunately and unfortunately he didn’t hear me. It was fortunate because I decided I wanted them to stay. To me, they felt like they had become part of the flock. It was unfortunate because I was going to have to man up and face them eventually. We landed near a Wal-Mart. Kathy and I went inside and looked for some backpacks and supplies. I was in the grocery section by myself because Kathy was getting backpacks when a store clerk who looked about 16 came up to me. He was about my height and had zits all over his face. He also had dark brown hair. “Hello, can I help you?” he asked with a weird look on his face. “Uh, no, I’m good thank you,” I replied trying to get him to leave me alone. “Can I show you to the cosmetics department? Well, not that you need any makeup, you just glow with inner and outer beauty,” he said. It just hit me. This guy was trying to flirt with me. Oh my god how do I get him to leave me alone? “Thank you but I really need to finish shopping and go,” I said. “Why in such a hurry? I’m sure you’re not going to be that late,” he said. He put his hand on my back trying to guide me away from the grocery section. Oh god, if he didn’t stop I was going to have to deck this guy. Right when I was getting ready to punch him Kathy came around the corner holding three backpacks and the creepy store clerk removed his hand from my back and walked away.

20 “Oh Kathy! Thank you so much! You’ve just saved me from having to punch a creepy teenage boy,” I said. Not that I would have minded much but it probably wouldn’t sit well with the rest of the people in the store. “Um, you’re welcome?” Kathy said. “Ok, let’s go buy this stuff and get the heck out of this place,” I said. “Alright, what happened exactly?” she asked me. “That creep you saw when you found me was attempting to flirt,” I told her somewhat irritated. Kathy looked at me and started cracking up. I started glaring at her and after a few giggles escaped from her mouth she finally contained her laughter. Barely. “I swear, if you ever tell anyone I will kill you in your sleep,” I threatened. “I promise,” Kathy said breaking down in another laughing fit. “Fine, go ahead and laugh, I’m leaving you here,” I said as I started walking away. “Ok, I’ll stop laughing,” she said running to catch up. We went over to the cashiers and bought the stuff. Then, right as we were about to walk through the doors we ran into Brigid. Dr. Amazing herself, in the flesh, I was already starting to get nauseous. I don’t think she saw us so I grabbed Kathy and starting walking toward the other exit when Kathy said “Max! What are you doing? The exit is right here. Why are we going the long way?” Kathy asked a lot loud than she needed to. “Max is that you? It’s me, Brigid! I haven’t seen you in so long! Where’s Fang? Who’s your friend?” Brigid asked. She was lucky I had a stomach of steel or she would have been covered in what I had for breakfast this morning. CHAPTER 10 “Max, who’s this?” Kathy asked me. “Kathy, Brigid. Brigid, Kathy,” I said introducing them briefly “sorry Brigid but we have to run, see ya,” wouldn’t wanna be ya I added in my head while quickly dragging Kathy away. “Wait! Where’s Fang and the rest of the flock?” she asked. God, why did she have to be so persistent? “They’re, uh, away at the moment but I’ll tell them I saw you,” I said hoping that would make her go away but, as if right on cue, Fang and the rest of the flock came into the store right at that very second. Fang must not have noticed Dr. Amazing standing right there because he said “Max, we were wondering what was taking you guys so long. We thought you were kidnapped again or something.” Once he was about 5 feet away from me he realized that Brigid was here. No one else might have seen it but he was really surprised. I could tell by the way his eyes got a fraction of an inch bigger. “Brigid,” Fang said.

21 “Fang! I missed you so much!” She said grabbing him in a bear hug. I wasn’t sure if my stomach of steel could take much more of this. She must have realized there 9 more of us standing there watching when she said “Oh I missed all of you guys too!” and gave us all hugs. Then Robby and Kelly introduced themselves. “I’m Robby, and this is Kelly,” said Robby. “Nice to meet you. Oh my god! Who’s this cute little guy!” she squealed and picked Jim up. Jim must not have liked her because he started bawling and screaming. I know how he feels. The scary part was that it started raining and thundering outside in our immediate area. Coincidence? I think not. If we had let it go on much longer there would have been a flash flood in a couple minutes. Kathy yanked Jim from Brigid’s hands and tried to calm him down. Once he stopped crying the rain cleared up and I even saw a rainbow. “Looks like Jim has a new skill,” Fang said all calm, cool, and collected, like a 4 year old child didn’t just cause a thunderstorm because he was upset. We could not let the whitecoats take him. “I’m sorry, did I do something wrong?” Brigid asked. Yeah, exist. “Jim just doesn’t like new people,” Kathy said still trying to keep Jim calm. I think it was a little more than a dislike of new people. “We should probably go, bye,” I said trying to end this as soon as possible. “Yeah, I think Jim needs a nap,” Kelly said. “You can’t go! I, uh, was asked by, uh, Dr. Martinez to tell you to go to this location,” Brigid said. She handed me a piece of paper. “Thanks,” I said not really meaning it. Brigid then walked out of the store and disappeared from our sight. “Well, maybe it’s just me, but I think that got a perfect 10 on the odd behavior meter,” I said quietly to Fang as we walked out the store. “No arguments here,” Fang agreed. After that strange encounter went to a nearby park to sat next to a small lake to figure out what to do. Why a park, you ask, why because we needed to keep Jim occupied while we discussed our next move. Angel, Kelly, and Gazzy were playing with Jim. Meanwhile Fang, Kathy, Iggy, Robby, Nudge, and I were trying to decipher the note. The note said: Go back to Virginia. We have some information that you need. We’ll find you once you get there. - Dr. Martinez Maybe it’s just because I’m paranoid but this note seemed a bit suspicious.

22 “This doesn’t look like anything my mom would write. There’s also no possible way for her to know that we would run into Brigid. Brigid’s up to something, although I’m not quite sure what it is,” I said. “She seemed perfectly fine until she gave us the note. I wonder what’s up,” Robby said thoughtfully. “Oh god Max! What if she’s an evil clone? I’ve seen enough clones for a lifetime!” Nudge said anxiously. As if waiting for a verbal command a whole bunch of Robby, Kelly, and Kathy clones ambushed us. Speak of the devil. I thought to myself. Careful Max, these clones can fly and fight just as well as you can. They even share Robby, Kelly, and Kathy’s powers. The voice told me. Oh crap. “Guys these clones can fly, fight, and they have all of Robby, Kathy, and Kelly’s powers, watch out!” I yelled over the turmoil. Robby was fighting himself, Kelly was fighting herself, and Kathy was fighting herself. Angel, Gazzy, and Iggy were busy protecting Jim. Fang and I were having a midair showdown with 5 of the clones. We had taken them all down but more kept coming. It was looking pretty hopeless until one of the robots kicked Jim and he burst into tears and we were all astounded. I know, you’re probably thinking “why? You’ve already seen him create thunderstorms” but this was nothing we’ve ever seen. This time it was different. There was a storm, but I bet you weren’t expecting a freaking tree to get out of the ground and step on the robot that kicked Jim. CHAPTER 11 Holy crap I can’t believe he just did that. That was one powerful 4 year old, I’d hate to see what he’ll be able to do once he’s older, but no time to worry about that now. It was currently the flock and a giant tree against a bunch of clones. The odds seemed to be in our favor. The tree appeared to have a mind of its own and was taking down clones like nobody’s business. Unfortunately Jim must have calmed down or got tired because the tree got a lot slower and just sort of planted itself in the ground where it was standing. Meanwhile the rest of the flock and I were still fighting the clones. Just as I was about to punch one in the face it stopped, backed up, and flew away. I looked at Fang and said “We’ll that was bizarre.” Then Fang replied “I’m not complaining.” “Report!” I yelled.

23 “We’re all ok, although Jim seems to be taking a nap. That tree stunt must have taken a lot out of him,” Kathy said speaking for herself, Robby, Angel, Kelly, Gazzy, and Nudge. “I’m alright,” said Iggy. “How did they keep finding us?” asked Kelly. “I don’t know. What I do know is that we have to keep moving. Gang, we’re going to Virginia,” I said making one of my famous snap decisions. With that we collected our belongings and flew off towards Virginia. We flew for a couple days only stopping to sleep and eat. The night we crossed over the border into Virginia we stopped and stayed at a motel. It wasn’t very strict about their ‘no children under the age of 18 may rent a room’ policy so we got the biggest room they had. You’re probably wondering how I can afford all this. Well, the bank card I found a few months ago in New York still has money in it. I’m not sure why or who put the money there but it works so I’m using it. Anyway, the room had one bathroom and two king sized beds. Robby and Kathy shared one bed while Angel and Gazzy shared the other one. The rest of us just slept on the floor away from Nudge because she tends to kick in her sleep. A lot. I was reluctant to fall asleep because last time I fell asleep in a motel I woke up in an isolation tank. Not a pleasant experience. Instead I just stayed up and watched the flock sleep. I included Kathy, Robby, Kelly, and Jim in the flock because I couldn’t imagine them leaving us. I wasn’t sure how to ask them whether they wanted to stay or not because I was afraid they’d say they wanted to leave. Maybe I’ll ask them tomorrow. I finally fell asleep thinking all the possible ways they would reject me and leave. Sometime later I woke up to a knock on the door. This, of course, ended up waking everyone up so we were all just staring at the door wondering who it was. I looked at Fang and Fang looked at me. My look said “should I get the door?” and his said “I don’t know, what if it’s a trap?” While I was busy trying to decide which would be a better choice the person outside yelled “Room service!” through the door. Oh, maybe it wasn’t a trap, but I wasn’t taking any chances so I said “No thank you!” in high pitched voice hoping that she would leave. Everyone waited a few more seconds to see if she was still there and let out a breath of relief. “Ok, I’m ready to get out of here, anyone else?” I asked. They all nodded in agreement and we packed up our stuff and walked out the front door. To parking lot was empty except a big red van that had the motel’s logo on it. Now why a motel would need a logo, I have no idea. I took a running start and just as a leaped off the ground and started to extend my wings something hit me. Hard. I was tangled up in what felt like a net but I couldn’t see it. Max watch out behind you! the voice yelled inside my head. I looked behind me to see that in about 2 seconds the rest of the flock was going to collide with me and the invisible net.

24 Kathy was out front and didn’t realize I was stuck until a split second too late and the rest just basically went downhill from there. Once we were all good and tangled in the net someone walked over to us looking very pleased. It was the lady from the school! “Hello, it’s nice to see you again,” she said sounding genuinely pleased. “I wish I could say the same for you,” I said. “You did a naughty thing blowing up the school like that,” she said sternly wagging her finger at us like we were unruly children who had stolen a cookie from the cookie jar. “Please, we were doing the world a favor getting rid of you. But we obviously didn’t do a good enough job,” I countered. “Do you like our net? It’s brand new technology. We call it a web. It’s invisible to the naked eye but it’s strong enough to hold on to pretty much anything. One of our finest inventions,” she said completely ignoring what I had just said. “I’d also like to introduce you to our newest member, Brigid.” Brigid walked out looking at with a look of triumph on her face. Then Brigid said “So we meet again Max.” CHAPTER 12 “I knew we couldn’t trust you!” I screamed at her. “Well, it’s too late for that now. You’re all going down Max, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Brigid said matter-of-factly. “Brigid why?” Fang said looking truly surprised for once in his life. I knew this was a bad time to say ‘I told you so’ but as soon as we were out of this situation I was going to totally rub it in his face. “Fang, you of all people should understand. Everyone called me a freak, just because I was smarter than everyone else. Then you guys came along and you made me feel normal in comparison. I thought if I could be part of your group people would see differently. Fang, I think I was even starting to fall for you. Yeah, there was the age difference, but we could have made it work. Then Max excluded me from your little flock and forced me out of your life. My life sucked until I met Ms. Jones,” she said gesturing to the lady who captured us, “she made me feel normal. I finally found a place where I wasn’t a freak for being smart. I can also get back at Max for taking Fang away from me,” Brigid finished practically frothing at the mouth. Ok, she has got to be trippin’. I looked at Fang and he had a mixture of horror and astonishment on his face. “She has become a vital member of our organization. Already she’s been promoted to supervisor of your confinement,” Ms. Jones said. “God! What is it with you people? What do you want from us?” I demanded. “We want Jim. I have let Brigid decide what to do with the rest of you. Who knows? Maybe she’ll decide you can be useful to us in some way,” Ms. Jones said with a smirk, “We’ll be taking the boy now.”

25 “Over my dead body!” Kathy screamed. “That can be arranged. Now take the boy. Don’t forget to drug him before he gets upset. We don’t need to start a hurricane in Virginia, it will raise suspicion.” One of the flyboys pried Jim out of Kathy’s arms and injected something clear and thick looking into his arm. “Nooooo!!!” Kathy cried and pointed at the flyboy. Nothing happened. No laser, no fire, nothing. “Oh I forgot to mention, the web disables your powers so you’ll be rendered helpless for the time being,” Ms. Jones said. “I designed it myself,” Brigid said proudly as I glared at her, “Ok, put them in the truck.” More flyboys walked up to the web wearing weird looking gloves. I figured it was so they wouldn’t get stuck. They took out small hand held lasers and started slicing through the web separating each of us so we were trapped on our little piece of web. Then they picked us up and tossed us into the back of the truck I mentioned earlier. And I mean they literally tossed us like hacky sacks. It was a very painful experience and I hope none of you ever have to go through it. The worst part was that since there was nine of us, it was a tight fit. We also ended up landing on each other and couldn’t move so it was a very uncomfortable ride. Kathy was lying over my stomach and Iggy’s feet were pinned under Angel. Gazzy and Robby’s webs got tangled together and Fang was underneath Kelly. Nudge just sort of landed in a corner and got wedged inside. “Well this sucks,” Iggy said. “No kidding,” Gazzy said. “That’s an understatement,” said Kathy still in tears. “Let’s think of the positives,” Nudge said sounding like she was on the verge of tears herself. “Well, now we have a valid reason to kick Brigid’s butt,” I said. Maybe it was only a positive to me and me alone but hey, it was still a positive. “Way to think on the bright side Max,” said Robby rolling his eyes at me. “At least we’re well rested and fed for the moment. We should be good for another couple hours,” Kelly chimed in with a sad attempt at sounding cheery. “This is so boring Max, I wish we could just get there already,” Angel said. “There’s always 99 bottles of beer on the wall,” Fang said. This got him a mixture of eye rolls, looks of horror, and a glare from me. After what seemed like hours but in fact was only a matter of minutes, the doors opened. Flyboys picked us up one or two at a time threw us over their shoulders. It was kind of embarrassing but it beat riding in the back to that truck. They took us to a wagon and placed us inside so we were all sitting up. How courteous of them. I looked around trying to get my bearings. We were surrounded by a beautiful lake, a field, and I could see a huge house at the end of the road. That’s when it hit me. This was Anne’s house.

26

CHAPTER 13 Looks like I was in for a day of torture and pain. It’s really sad how calm I felt since I’ve been in this situation like a billion times before. The only thing I was currently dreading was being in the same place with Brigid and Anne at the same time. The flyboys were busy doing something to the car so we were somewhat alone for the moment. “It’s Anne’s house!” I whispered to everybody. “Who’s Anne?”asked Robby obviously not understanding that I was whispering so we wouldn’t attract attention. “Only one of the most evil and distrustful women on the face of the planet. She’s up there with Brigid and Ms. Jones who you’ve already met,” I replied. “Ah, she sounds lovely,” Kelly said sarcastically. “Yes, Max, you seem to know a lot of people like that. Men and women alike,” Kathy commented. Just as I was about to reply a flyboy came over and yelled “Be quiet. Your end is near.” Like I’ve never heard that one before. The flyboy then got into the place where the driver of a wagon sits. What you call that person, I have no idea. Anyway, it started driving towards Anne's house. We drove for like 10 minutes going ridiculously slow. “Are we there yet?” I whined like a small child to see if I could annoy the flyboy. It must not have worked because it seemed to remain unaltered until we suddenly made a hard right. I was about to ask where they were taking us I saw it. There was a gigantic dome, about twice the size of the stadium china created for the Olympics. We’re talking gargantuan here. It looked pretty high tech too. It had schmancy high voltage fences and spot lights and stuff. The flyboy drove us the front of the dome. A camera pointed at us and the gate opened. We went inside the dome and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. As the flock and I gawked at everything in awe Brigid, Ms. Jones, and Anne walked out. Oh joy. “What the hell do you want with us?” I demanded. “We need to test you in extreme conditions. Think of it as a game. We are going to put you and the flock inside our new virtual reality dome. We will find uses for the ones that survive,” Anne said coldly. Ok, this was definitely not going to be a normal kidnapping. Oh wow, my life must be really screwed up to even have a normal kidnapping let alone like 15. “What about Jim?” Kathy said barely containing her grief. “Don’t worry. We’re taking care of him. He could be very useful,” Brigid said.

27 “I swear if you touch a single hair on his head I will kill you!” Robby yelled sounding a lot less threatening than he intended due to the fact that he was sitting in a wagon wrapped up in web. “I’d like to see you try, but not right now. Save your anger and hatred for the virtual reality dome. You’re going to need it. You never know what we might put you up against,” Ms. Jones said. “Well, we’d love to stay and chat but we’ve got work to do. Toodles!” Anne said as all 3 of them walked away. The flyboy driving our wagon then drove us further into the dome. Once we stopped moving more flyboys came out of a door in the wall that I had not seen a few seconds ago. There were 9 of them and they each threw one of us over their shoulder and started walking in several directions. “No! You better bring everyone back here buddy before I kick your ass from here to next Tuesday!” I screamed as I tried to kick my flyboy and failed miserably. “Max!!!” Gazzy, Nudge, and Angel were screaming. “Let go of my brother and my friends you souped up piece of trash!” Kathy yelled sounding extremely pissed. I’m not even going to tell you what Fang said because it involves a long series of curse words that I would rather not say. Let’s just say he has a very colorful vocabulary. Robby and Iggy resorted to attacking their flyboys and didn’t fare any better than I did. Kelly was just screaming her head off. My flyboy finally reached a door and we went inside. It was a small lab with a table in it. It was one of those tables you strap people down for surgery in. Oh god, what’s going to happen to my flock? What’s going to happen to me? I decided that even though I was aware of the fact that I couldn’t do anything I would continue to try and kick the flyboy anyway. He laid me down on the table and strapped me down. Not that that was necessary due to the web I was trapped in but I guess they didn’t want to take any chances. “Good night bird child,” the flyboy said in a robotic tone. That was the last thing I heard before I felt a syringe pierce my skin and everything went black. CHAPTER 14 When I woke up I was in the middle of the gigantic arena. A few yards away from me was another person sitting on the ground with their back facing me. I wasn’t sure who it was but they looked familiar. I walked closer and the person became more and more familiar but I just couldn’t quite pin point exactly who it was. Once I was right in from of I realized who it was. It was Kathy! I grabbed her arms and turned her to face me. She appeared to be sleeping. I started shaking her really hard desperate to make her wake up. “Kathy!” I screamed still trying to wake her up.

28 After shaking her for a few more moments Kathy’s eyes shot open. She looked at me. Her eyes looked like Kathy’s eyes but they didn’t seem to have a soul. “Kathy?” I said starting to get scared. She suddenly jumped up and punched me hard in the face. Oh no, how do I know if it’s Kathy or a clone. If it’s really Kathy I might hurt her! Well you can’t just sit here and wait for her to attack. Defend yourself until you have a plan. The voice said. Thanks for the helpful advice. I thought back sarcastically. I blocked every attack she threw at me. Good thing I taught her everything she knows and that she isn’t as experienced as I am or I would have actually had to hurt her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep this up much longer so I resorted to asking her questions to either prove she was the real Kathy or confuse her if she was a clone. “Kathy, how did we meet?” I asked desperately. “Now… is not… the time… or talking!” Kathy said in between lunges but she hesitated for a half second before coming at me again. Just then a rack of weapons appeared out of nowhere. It had 2 swords on it. We both reached for them at the same time and I blocked her just in time or she would have sliced me in half. Why would they do that? Think Max, why would they want the battle to end quickly all of the sudden? the voice asked me. She must be the real Kathy! Otherwise, they wouldn’t send these weapons, they’re afraid I’ll break through to her! I have to keep trying. I wasn’t a very experienced sword fighter but I got the gist of it and managed to remain unharmed for the time being. “Kathy, what did we do at the beach when we came to rescue Kelly, Jim and you brother?” I pressed on. “Shut up! You are an abomination! You must be eliminated!” she screamed at me while hesitating and then attempting to skewer me with the sword but she wasn’t as fast as before. I parried and thrust until she seemed to get sort of tired. “What did you learn at the beach? Who taught it to you?” She hesitated even longer this time. This time, instead of telling me to be quiet she screamed in frustration. I think I almost broke through to her. Right as I was about ask her another question our swords disappeared and in their place were guns. Kathy pointed the gun at me with her hand on the trigger, but I could tell she wasn’t as sure of herself as before because her hand was trembling. “I do not know you, ok? I was sent here to kill you!” she said slowly as if she were having second thoughts. “Really Kathy? Do you really not remember the day we found you and took you in? Do you really not remember learning to swim at the beach with Nudge? And the picnic we had that same day? Don’t you remember Jim being yanked from your

29 arms just hours ago? Don’t you remember your family Kathy?” I said really driving it home. Kathy looked like she had just had an epiphany. Her face brightened with realization and recognition. “Max?” Kathy said in tears. I just nodded, relieved that she was alright and that I wouldn’t have to die or kill her. She ran towards me in tears for a hug and I squatted down with arms opened wide but just before I could wrap my arms around her, the lights went off and I was unconscious again. I woke up again feeling exhausted. I was back in the lab again and Brigid, Anne and Ms. Jones were there. “I take it I was late for the ‘Haters of Max’ club meeting,” I said. “No, you’re right on time actually. We are going change you a little bit. Something like what we did to Kathy except more permanent,” Brigid said malevolently. Oh god, why me? “No! You can’t do this! We will stop you one way or another!” “No you won’t Max, it’s finally time for you to lose,” Anne said. Last thing I remember thinking was ‘what if they make me hurt the flock? What if they make me hurt Fang?’ CHAPTER 15 Kathy’s Perspective I woke up in a dark room. I don’t think I was supposed to wake up because the room was dark and no one was in here. I tried to move and discovered that my web was removed but I was strapped to a table. All I remembered was seeing Max, running to her, and sudden darkness. I couldn’t move my hand but it turns out I could still use my laser. The only problem was I was working in the dark, I didn’t know when the whitecoats would show up again, and I couldn’t move my hand to cut of the metal cuffs on my hands and feet so I was pretty much stuck. I decided to wait until the whitecoats or flyboys or whoever came in to take me back to the arena. Luckily, I only had to wait a couple minutes. I shut my eyes closed as I heard someone unlock the door. I tried to keep my breathing shallow and my body relaxed as if I was still unconscious. “Is she out?” someone said. “Yeah, the monitor says she’s still knocked out,” another person said. “Ok, you get her arms and I’ll get her legs,” the first person said. “Fine.” They removed my cuffs and lifted me onto what felt like a stretcher. Right before they could strap me in I jumped up and punched one of them in the face. Fortunately, the other one was still in shock so I had time to kick him in the ribs

30 before he called for help. They both seemed to be out cold but I didn’t want to take any chances so I searched the room. I found some web and some cloth to keep their mouths shut. I also stole a few syringes filled with the stuff they injected us with in case of emergencies, which I seemed to be having a lot of lately. I tied the whitecoats together and gagged them so they couldn’t make any noise when they woke up. I peered through the door and saw that to enormous dome was empty. They must be preparing for the next challenge. I snuck out the door all stealthy and quiet trying not to attract attention because I was positive that this place would have cameras all over. I walked further down the wall looking for doors that would lead me to the rooms where my friends were being held. I came to what seemed like a door except it had no door handle. Instead there was a key pad for a password. No problem, I’ll just slice through the door and hope there aren’t any whitecoats or flyboys on the other side. I slice through the door and it thudded on the floor, making a louder noise than I hoped it would. I stood absolutely still hoping no one would come. Today must have been my lucky day because no one came. Ok, probably the opposite of a lucky day but right at that second, I was very lucky. I peered inside the room and the lights were off. Fortunately my raptor vision allowed me to see in the dark. I walked in once I was sure there were no flyboys creeping on the sides waiting to ambush me. The room was identical to mine. I saw someone strapped to a bed and I walked over to see who it was. It was Robby. I had never been so happy to see my brother in my entire life. I started shaking him somewhat violently desperate to wake him up. He didn’t move. “Robby!” I whisper-yelled. Nothing. “Robby!” I whispered a little louder. The corner of his mouth twitched. Ok, looks like I’m going to have to get serious. “I’m sorry,” I said right before I slapped him in the face. His eyes shot opened. He took in a breath to scream but I clamped my hand over his mouth before he could make a sound. Then he bit me. “Ow! You unthankful lummox! It’s me, Kathy!” I told him. “Kathy? Is that you?” Robby asked. “God you can be so dim-witted sometimes,” I said impatiently “Yes it is me, now I have come to save you but you have to be quiet. Understand?” I continued slowly as if I were speaking to a small child. “Fine, but hurry up, these cuffs are hurting my wrists and ankles,” Robby said. I sliced open his cuffs and he got up. Once he was free he got off the table and looked at me expectantly. “So what’s the plan?” he asked.

31 “We go find and free the rest of the flock,” I replied. “And then?” “I haven’t planned that far ahead. We’ll figure that out once we get there.” “If we get there,” I heard Robby say under his breath. “Ok, let’s go.” We left tip-toeing quietly into the hallway towards the next door. When we got there I sliced the door open again. We went inside and the lights were off again. I saw Angel laying there, looking a lot like Robby did when I found him. We went over to her and I started shaking her. “It’s not working,” Robby said. “Thank you captain obvious,” I said back. I slapped her and like last time, she woke up about to scream before I covered her mouth. When I removed my hand from her mouth she said “Boy am I glad to see you guys! How did you get in here?” I showed her my finger and blew it off like smoke from a gun. Suddenly her face had a look of complete horror on her face. “What is – “ I started saying before in the door walked Brigid and Anne. “Well, look what we have here,” Anne said. “Someone’s been very naughty cutting down all our doors like that,” Brigid said looking directly at me. “What shall we do with such badly behaved children?” Anne asked knowing very well what they were going to do. “I think I know what to do with them,” Brigid said malevolently. What have I gotten us into? CHAPTER 16 Kathy’s Perspective Brigid took out this walkie talkie looking thing and was about to press the button on it. I assumed that she was going to call for help and that just wasn’t going to work for me so I shot it out of her hands. There happened to be a glass of water sitting on a nearby counter and Robby did his thing and the water flew at Anne and froze the walkie talkie that Anne had taken out rendering it utterly useless. “Looks like you’re on your own ladies,” I said. “Whatever shall we do with such badly behaved grownups brother dear?” I asked Robby. “Oh sister dear, I know exactly what to do with them,” Robby said trying to look threatening and quite frankly, he wasn’t doing a very good job. It was all I could do to not to breakdown in a laughing fit. “Well, before we do that, let’s make sure they can’t get away,” I said trying to pull it together.

32 They tried to run for the door but Robby started to dull their sight so they couldn’t see and ended up running into a wall. “Nuh, uh, uh,” I said as I grabbed them by the arms. “We’re not done with you yet,” Robby said. Brigid and Anne had looks of pure hatred on their faces which was funny because they were facing a wall at the time. “Ok Robby, tie ‘em up, There’s probably some web around here somewhere. I’ll take care of Angel.” Robby searched for and found some web in one of the cabinets. Meanwhile I was busy freeing Angel from the table. Angel got up once I was done and rubbed her wrists and ankles. She then turned around and gave me a hug that nearly knocked me down. “I’m so glad you found me. They made me go through an obstacle course! And not a fun obstacle course, but the kind you have to dodge lasers and bullets, and you have to jump over boiling pits of god knows what. It was horrible!” Angel said as she cried in my arms. “It’s ok Angel, we’re here to save you, everything will be ok. Alright Robby, that’s one down, 7 more to go.” Robby had just finished taking care of Brigid and Anne and walked over to us. “So, what’s next?” he asked. “We go to the next room, bust them out, and continue from there. But first, I believe we should return their hospitality with a little good bye gift,” I said. “I’m way ahead of you,” Robby said as he walked over to Brigid and Anne and through them in a nearby closet. “I’d like to see them get out of there,” Angel said. The rest of the rescues pretty much went like this except to evil women didn’t barge in on us in the middle each time so it went pretty smoothly. Let’s see, so I had just rescued Robby, Angel, Iggy, Gazzy, Nudge, and Kelly. 6 down, 3 to go. Now all we needed was Max, Fang, and Jim. “Ok, to the next room,” I said expecting it to be easy but of course, nothing ever seems to go according to plan in the real world, why start now? When we got in the next room and the door was open, no one was there. It was completely empty. “Oh god, where is Max and Fang?” I said nervously. “Maybe they went out for some coffee?” Kelly suggested “For some reason, I highly doubt that,” Nudge said sounding as nervous as I was. “Maybe they’ll be in the next room,” I said with false hope because I just knew they wouldn’t be in there. But we went anyway. Once we got into the room the door was locked again. Was Max or Fang inside? Maybe even Jim? Who knows, but I had to find out. “WAIT!” Angel screamed as I opened the door. But it was too late. The door fell in and out flooded about 10 flyboys. We instinctively got into our fighting stances and promptly started kicking butt.

33 The fight didn’t last very long because Angel made about half of them kill each other and the rest of us were perfectly capable of taking out a flyboy by ourselves so it was a pretty even fight. Once the fight was over I said “Ok, they’re not in here and there’re no more rooms. Search the perimeter for secret passageways, hidden exits, anything.” Just as we were about to look around the dome we heard a voice over the intercom. “Children, we know where you are. Why don’t you come to the center of the dome? We have what you’re looking for,” Ms. Jones said. “Should we go? It could be a trap.” I said. “It’s always a trap Kathy. But they definitely have Max, Fang, and Jim. We’re just gonna have to go with it,” Iggy replied “Well, ok.” I said unsure. We walked, well, we flew because the place was huge and it would have taken us a while to walk to the middle. Once we were in the middle a whole in the floor opened up. It was gigantic! A platform rose up with two people standing on it. Are they Flyboys? If there’re only two of them this should be a piece of cake. Then they looked up at us and I recognized them immediately. “Max! Fang! It’s us! We’ve come to save you!” I screamed. I then tried to run to them but Nudge and Gazzy held me back. “Kathy, I think it’s them but they’re not themselves. They’re almost… robot like.” Max and Fang took a step and jumped off the platform. The platform then went back into the ground. Then Max said “We are here to eliminate you. Prepare to die.” CHAPTER 17 Kathy’s Perspective Well this is definitely not good. Maybe they’re just lost like I was when I was fighting Max. I tried talking to them. “We’re your friends, you raised Iggy, Nudge, and Angel and you saved me, Robby, Kelly and Jim’s lives! Don’t you remember us?” I asked desperately. They didn’t look like they heard a single word I said. “Guys, I think this is going to be harder than I thought,” I said. “Really? ‘Cause I thought it would be a piece of cake,” Robby replied sarcastically. “Angel, can you control them? Put thoughts into their minds? Anything?” Iggy asked. “I’m trying! I can read their thoughts I just can’t put anything into their heads. And it’s not like their thoughts are that much help, they’re basically just thinking ‘get them’ and nothing else,” Angel said sounding frustrated.

34 They hadn’t started coming toward us so I took the opportunity to make a plan. “OK, I we’re going to split up into groups and try to wake them up. Think of anything that would make them remember us. Angel, Kelly, Nudge and I will take Max. Robby, Iggy and Gasman will take Fang,” I told them. We split up and my group went straight for Max. “Remember when you met your mom and Ella? You didn’t know they were your family then but you loved them anyway! What did you bake while you were at her house?” Angel asked. Max just started walking toward us. “Remember when we were in Hawaii and we had that water fight?” Nudge asked. Max didn’t even flinch. “Um, guys, I don’t think it’s working,” I said nervously. “She’s right, it’s like Max doesn’t hear a word we say,” Angel said. Suddenly our surroundings changed. We were in an intricate maze. It was just me, Angel, Kelly, and Nudge. I didn’t see Max or the boys. “This is definitely not good,” I said. “No kidding,” Kelly said. “Well, the walls are too high to fly over so the only thing we can do is walk through the maze and see if we can find Max or an exit,” Nudge said. And with that, we started walking. -~-~-~-~-~-~Robby’s Perspective One second we were in the dome with Max, Fang, and the girls and the next second we were in what looked like a video game. It was a circular platform surrounded by darkness. We all had different weapons. Iggy had a spear, Gazzy had a sword, and I had a staff. We had armor too. Sort of a Tron meets gladiator type of look. We had head to toe attire. It was actually pretty cool. “Where are we?” Iggy asked. “Dude, it looks like we’re in a video game!” Gazzy said completely oblivious to the dire situation. “It also looks like we’re in for one hell of a fight. Look!” I said. A door opened up and a bridge to our platform came out of nowhere. There were more clones of me, but this time they had some for Gasman and Iggy too. There were like 60 of them and they had the same armor too. They walked across the bridge and just started attacking us. Pretty soon we were all in our separate fights and I couldn’t tell which ones were clones and which were real. This was really bad because I wasn’t sure if had just punched Iggy or an Iggy clone in the face and I was pretty sure the real Iggy and Gazzy weren’t faring much better than I was.

35 Since there wasn’t much I could do, I tried to just knock them out instead of actually killing them. I hit one that looked like Gazzy in the back with my staff and he crumpled into a heap on the ground. Oh crap I really hope that wasn’t the Gasman. This would be so much easier if I knew who the real ones were. Then I had an idea. “Gazzy! Iggy! Fight the ones that look like you!” I yelled. Then I realized that Iggy couldn’t see. Oddly enough, Iggy seemed to be able to figure it out. Pretty soon I was fighting with my clones, which was actually really weird. I gave a roundhouse kick to one of them and struck another in the leg with my staff at the same time. Right after that two of them rushed at me from opposite directions and I jumped up in the air so I could hover over them and let them collide into each other. I’ve always wanted to do that. While I was in the air I realized a split second too late that the clones could fly. One of them flew up and kicked me in the ribs with a painful crunch. I’m going to feel that one in the morning. Fortunately, it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t ignore the pain so I landed a solid punch on his nose and he dropped out of the air like a rock taking out 3 more that were still standing on the ground. I took the moment to see what Gazzy and Iggy were doing and they seemed to be doing all right. I saw Iggy run his spear through one of his clones and Gazzy slice one of his clones in half. It would have been pretty awesome if I wasn’t busy fighting for my life. I went back to the ground and continued fighting the remaining clones on foot. There were only 2 of me left so I just kicked one in the legs, hit the other in the temple and slammed their heads together. Once I was done them I looked over and saw that Gazzy and Iggy were finished with their clone and waiting on me. I walked over to them. “Great idea Robby! I thought I was a goner for a minute,” Gazzy said. “Yeah, but why don’t we mark ourselves in some way so we know who the real one’s are?” Iggy asked. We were all covered in blood so I smeared some on all our foreheads. Yes, I know that’s disgusting but it’s not like we were carrying any sharpies with us. “Ok there, now we’ll know who’s who. Speaking of which, Iggy, how did you know who to fight?” I asked. “It was strange, like I could feel the vibrations of everything around me like bats. It was amazing! I could tell which ones were my clones since I’m taller than both of you,” Iggy said trying to act like he wasn’t excited. “Wow! That’s so awesome! What do we do now?” Gazzy asked. I noticed the bridge the clones crossed on was still there and the door was opened. “How about we start in there?” I suggested, and we walked across the bridge to see what our next challenge was going to be. CHAPTER 18

36 Kathy’s Perspective We had been walking for what seemed like hours on end. It felt like we were walking through a labyrinth and we were going to find an angry Minotaur in the middle. The only question is what will the Minotaur be? “What do you think is gonna be in the middle?” asked Kelly anxiously. “I dunno Kelly, we’re just gonna have to wait and see,” I replied. All the walls looked the same so there was no way of knowing whether we were walking in circles or not. It was very frustrating. “Ugh! How are we supposed to find our way through this thing?” I screamed to the heavens. “Kathy, screaming isn’t going to help anything,” Angel said knowingly. Well at least it would make me feel better. “Angel, do you sense anybody around here?” I asked. “Nope, sorry.” “What if we never find the center? What if we can’t find our way out? What if we’re trapped in here forever?” Nudge rambled. “Chill Nudge, it’s going to be ok,” I said cutting her off. I’ve known her long enough to know that if you don’t stop her, she’ll probably go on forever. We continued walking and suddenly I heard footsteps from behind us. I turned around. “Uh, did anyone else hear that?” I said feeling scared. “No, I didn’t hear anything,” Nudge said. “Me neither,” Angel said. “Nope,” Kelly said. I’m not going insane, I’m just jumpy, that’s all. Now if I just kept telling myself that, I might start believing it. “Angel can you do a quick recon to see if there’s anything else here?” I asked feeling really agitated. “Ok,” Angel said as she paused and concentrated, “I don’t feel anything. Relax Kathy. We’re fine for the moment.” I still wasn’t quite convinced but I stayed quiet anyway. We walked until we found a place that was completely dark. Absolutely no light reached this area, I mean, we couldn’t even see with our raptor vision. Of course, that was the place we had to go. “Um, it’s really, really dark in there Kathy. I don’t wanna go,” Kelly said. “We have to. Now, grab someone’s hand so we don’t get separated and let’s go. We’re gonna get through this,” I said to them as well as to myself. We joined hands and started walking. I was first, then Angel, the Kelly, then Nudge. “AAAH!” Nudge screamed. We stopped. “What happened?” I asked urgently.

37 “I think something touched my foot,” Nudge said one hop, skip and a jump away from having a total meltdown. “I’m sure it was nothing. Just keep holding Angel’s hand and you’ll be alright,” I said attempting to be reassuring. “Ok,” Nudge said not sounding very reassured at all. We walked on in silence trying not to attract the attention of anything that may be lurking nearby in the dark. Suddenly I heard the shuffling of feet and a muffled cry. Then Kelly shrieked “NUDGE!” “What happened?” I asked afraid of what her answer would be. “I was holding her hand as we were walking and something pulled her away and now she’s gone!” Kelly said through her constant sobs, “What if I’m next? What if one of you is next? We’re all gonna die!” “No we’re not, we’re gonna find the guys, Max, and Nudge, and everything is going to be alright!” I said on the verge of tears. We all got deadly quiet and continued walking going a lot faster than we were before. Pretty soon I heard the same shuffling of feet and I turned around to see Angel and Kelly ripped out of my hands and pulled into the darkness behind us. I was now completely alone. “Angel? Nudge? Kelly? Is this some sort of game? This isn’t funny!” I said knowing very well that this was no game but trying to convince myself otherwise. I continued walking in the dark and finally came to a door. Or at least it felt like a door because when I ran into it I felt a doorknob jam into my ribs. I was walking pretty fast. I got up and felt around for the knob and opened the door. When I went in I saw 2 metal cages with big red buttons in front of them. They were sitting on what seemed to be a big floating platform with a bridge leading to the door I was standing in. They were basically bigger versions of what I was kept in at the school. Inside each cage I saw a Kelly, a Nudge, and an Angel. I walked onto the platform and suddenly a voice came over the intercom. “Choose a cage. One cage has Nudge, Angel, and Kelly and one cage is full of clones. You have one hour to decide. Choose wisely,” the voice said. I think it was Brigid. “Choose us! We’re the real ones! Please!” Nudge in cage number 1 said. “No they’re not! Can’t you tell?” Kelly in cage number 2 said. This is so confusing! How am I supposed to decide? CHAPTER 19 Kathy’s Perspective Kathy! I’m so glad to see you! The clones don’t have our powers but these cages stop our powers from working. Although, I think they only disable powers that deal with physical things because I can still use my telepathy, Angel thought to me.

38 Oh thank god I had no idea how I would figure this out by myself. Now which cage are you in? Wait a second… how do I know that the fake Angel isn’t telling me what to do? You have the same powers. I said. The people who made this thought that it neutralized all powers so they don’t know that I can do this. Anyway, I’m in cage 1 but it’s not that simple, they put me with clone versions of Nudge and Kelly and the real ones are in the other cage with a clone me, Angel thought. Well that could complicate things. I’m not surprised they would stoop to something this low. You can’t let Brigid know that I can use my powers. Ask us some questions and pretend you figured it out that way, Angel thought. A timer appeared floating over the cages. It said I had half an hour left. “This is a question for the Nudges. What happened to the tree we were sleeping in on the way to my school?” I asked. “You, uh… it…” Nudge 1 answered. “You burned it down accidentally in your sleep,” the real Nudge said knowingly as she cut off Nudge 1. “This is a question for the Kellys. What did we do the day we escaped from the school,” I asked. “We were attacked,” Kelly 1 said hesitantly. I’m starting to think these clones were not very prepared for the pop quiz. “We had a paintball fight!” the real Kelly said. “OK, this is a question for the Angels. What happened when Robby and I came into your room to save you earlier?” I asked. “You sliced down the door and cut my cuffs off,” Angel 2 said proudly thinking that she fooled me. “Yeah, you did all that, and we also hid Brigid and Anne in a closet. Unfortunately, they must have found them because I think that was Brigid on the intercom,” the real Angel said. “Brigid! You mixed them up in the cages so no matter which one I chose at least one of my friends would die!” I said to the ceiling. “Yes we did. Your Point?” Brigid said. “Free my friends and get rid of these creepy clones. Now!” I said. “Fine,” Brigid said with a sigh. The clones disappeared and my friends ran out of the cages and hugged me. “You saved us!” Kelly said. “Actually, Angel did. She’s the one who told me how to save you guys,” I said. We remained in our little group hug for a few more seconds and then we broke apart. Soon after that another door opened and a bridge formed. We walked into the next room. -~-~-~-~-~-~Robby’s Perspective

39

We went into the next room and it was completely dark. No platform, nothing. We still had our armor and our weapons so that was cool. We started walking out and it seemed like we were walking on something solid but we couldn’t see it. Very freaky. “Uh, guys? Where’s the floor?” Gazzy asked nervously. “It’s ok, see, solid,” Iggy said jumping up and down. Good thing he couldn’t see. “Maybe it’s glass,” I said. “I dunno… I don’t trust it,” Gazzy said. We reluctantly walked onto the invisible floor. This was one of those rare occasions when I envied Iggy’s blindness. As soon as we were all standing in what seemed like the middle of the floor I felt a punch in the face that came out of nowhere. Next thing I knew I was on the floor looking up at Iggy and Gazzy who had matching looks of concern on their faces. “Dude, what was that? You just fell, hard,” Gazzy said. “It felt like somebody punched…” I said being cut off by Gazzy suddenly collapsing on top of me and knocking the air out of my lungs and air sacs. “Someone kicked me!” Gazzy exclaimed starting to get really scared. “There’s someone else in here… it feels like Fang!” Iggy said feeling the vibrations of the mystery attacker’s footsteps. Oh great, now we have to fight an invisible Fang. “Fang, it’s us! We’re your friends! We’re all on the same side here,” I said trying to convince him to stop attacking us. Iggy was the only person who knew where he was. I also realized that he was remaining invisible even when he moved. Maybe his powers were getter stronger. Just our luck. “WATCH OUT ROBBY!” Iggy yelled as I felt a powerful kick to my ribs and heard a crunch. Now I have to fight an invisible Fang with broken ribs. It just keeps getting better and better. As I was lying on the floor in excruciating pain Iggy started kicking and punching. It was actually kind of funny because it looked like he was attacking the air but I was in too much pain to be amused. Gazzy come over to my side. “Are you ok?” Gazzy asked. “Yeah, I’m just lying clutching my broken rib cage while lying on the floor because I’m perfectly fine! No I’m not ok! You wouldn’t happen to have any aspirins on you?” I asked trying to take my mind off the agonizing pain. I turned my attention to Iggy and saw that he was still fighting. Fang must have lost his concentration because he was visible now. Fang looked like he was winning because he had just tripped Iggy and started kicking him repeatedly. Just as I was about to try and stand up when Gazzy jumped up and tackled Fang from behind catching him completely off guard.

40 Fang turned around at the very least second so Gazzy knocked him backwards. We heard a loud crack as his skull met the ground and after that there was dead silence. Gazzy jumped off of him and backed away slowly. Iggy got off the floor and went over to Fang to see if he was still alive. Gazzy and I watched silence. Iggy felt the back of his head and said “He’s still breathing but he’s out cold.” “What should we do with him?” I said trying not to move my ribcage too much as I talked. “We should take him with us,” Iggy said. “What? He just tried to kill us!” Gazzy shouted. “Yeah, but we were going to need to rescue him eventually anyway so we might as well take him now. He’s not any danger to us now and he’s going to be out for a while. We’ll worry about it when he wakes up,” Iggy said. We saw a door in the distance open up in the distance. Gazzy practically had to pick me up while tried not to cry. Iggy picked up Fang and threw him over his shoulder. After that we walked towards the door and I put most of my weight on Gazzy’s shoulder while Iggy carried Fang. I wasn’t really sure how I would survive whatever he next challenge would be and face it whether we were ready or not. CHAPTER 20 Kathy’s Perspective When we walked through the door we walked into what seemed like a coliseum except there was a roof. “Please tell me we don’t have to compete in a chariot race or something,” Nudge said. “That is the least of our problems. We still have to find the guys, save Max, save Jim, and take down this horrible place,” I said trying to sound confident. “The sooner the better. This place really creeps me out,” Kelly said. “No kidding,” Angel said. We walked to the middle of the coliseum and looked around. “Maybe we’re just supposed to…” I started saying until I was rudely interrupted by the violent vibration of the floor. “What’s… happening… to… the floor…?” Kelly screamed while trying to keep her balance. Right after she said that the ceiling started collapsing. Then a large door opened up to what looked like a dark and ominous cave. Great. “What… are we… supposed… to do…?” Angel yelled over the noisy destruction of the ceiling. “RUN!” I shouted at the top of my lungs and we all ran as fast as we towards to the cave. We jumped, dodged and ducked through all the descending debris until we reached the cave.

41 Once we were inside the cave was completely closed in by the pieces of what used to be a ceiling. There was light in the cave but how it got inside I have no idea. “Well that was scary,” Angel said once our heart rates lowered to a normal pace. Well that was an understatement. “So what now? Do we just wait here?” Nudge asked. “Yep,” I said “so you better make yourselves comfortable. We may be here a while.” It was about 10 minutes later that I became bored out of my mind. I almost wished we were back out with the falling ceiling. “Do you think we’re gonna die here?” Kelly asked. “Nah, we’ve been in plenty of situations like this before. We’ll be alright,” Nudge said nonchalantly. For our sakes, I really hope she’s right. Just as I was about to say something a huge hole opened up in the floor and a platform rose out of it with someone standing on it. I’ve never had a good experience with platforms so I assumed we were in trouble. Luckily the rest of the girls caught on and got into they’re fighting stances. The thing on the platform looked really familiar but I couldn’t quite tell who it was. Once the platform rose all the way up I realized who it was. Max. “MAX!” Nudge cried struggling against the urge to run up and hug her. We weren’t sure if she was still under their control or not, and judging by the blank stare on her face, I believe it was safe to assume she was. “Nudge, stay right where you are, I don’t think Max is quite herself at the moment,” I said cautiously. “Yeah, she doesn’t have any thoughts at all,” Angel said fearfully. “Max, it’s us. Don’t you remember? We’re your friends. You can trust us,” Kelly said gently. She just continued staring blankly. After a few seconds she started walking towards us very slowly. It was very zombie-like. We backed away slowly until we met the back of the cave which didn’t take very long considering how small the cave was so we weren’t very far away from Max at all. She suddenly stopped about 2 feet in front of me. It completely silent and the tension in the air was really thick. It felt like one sudden move would set her off. Just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand still any longer Max hit me with a round house kick to the face. It was so fast it barely registered that I was on the ground. Just as she was about to attack me again Angel kicked one of her shins. It must have really hurt because Max collapsed. That didn’t stop her long though, a few seconds later she got back up and karate chopped the back of Angel’s neck and broke her collar bone. Angel screamed in anguish and fell to the ground so now two of us were left. Nudge flew up in the air and Max flew up after her. It must have been a distraction because Kelly had just broken off a piece of a stalagmite and turned it

42 into a dagger. Nudge didn’t look like she could hold out much longer so Angel and I started yelling to distract her. “Max! Over here! Leave Nudge alone! Don’t you remember us?” I yelled. “You can’t let them win Max! We’ve come too far for it to end like this,” Angel yelled. Max didn’t even glance at us. She was completely absorbed in her fight with Nudge. They had been going at it for a couple minutes when Nudge just flew at her trying to knock her off balance when Max dodged her and let her slam head first into a wall and fall onto the floor unconscious. I was well enough to stand up and I thought I’d be able to hold her off until Kelly could do something but as soon as I got up she turned around, grabbed Kelly and her dagger, and held it to Kelly’s neck. “If you make another move, the girl dies,” Anne’s voice said over the intercom. Looks like we were at an impasse. CHAPTER 21 Robby’s Perspective We walked through door and ended up inside a very long hallway. The walls were completely white and gave me a very odd but strong urge to find some crayons and draw on the walls. We started walking down the hallway with me leaning on Gazzy and Iggy carrying Fang when I suddenly stopped walking. “Dude, why’d you stop? The exit is that way,” Iggy said pointing down the hallway. “I just realized if we keep going through these stupid challenges we’re never going to get out. I’m also in no condition to fight and Fang can’t defend himself so we need to get out. Now,” I said. “That would be a great idea if we could actually escape,” Gazzy said. “Well, I was thinking we could blow the wall in and see where we can go from there. Do you guys have any explosives on you?” I asked knowing for a fact that they did. “I’m hurt that you even have to ask,” Iggy said. He took out a tiny little square and stuck it to the wall. “I’ve been working on this little baby since before we rescued you guys from the school. I haven’t decided what to call it yet so for now it’s just called ‘tiny square bomb.’ We better back up,” Iggy said backing away quickly. Me and Gazzy followed suit. Once we were about 20 feet away from the bomb (it was a very long hallway) we crouched down and covered our heads. Then Iggy pulled out a detonator and pressed the big red button. BOOM! When I looked up I saw a huge gaping hole in the wall. It reminded me of those Kaboom commercials where the guys is like “KABOOM and the stain is

43 gone!” I could see it now. Iggy would say ‘it blows through plaster, wood, and steel and more! Just stick it on, back up, press the button and KABOOM the wall is gone!’ “Nice job Ig, let’s go,” I said. We walked through the hole into complete darkness wondering if Brigid, Ms. Jones, and Anne knew where we were and what they were going to do about it. -~-~-~-~-~-~Kathy’s Perspective I stared at Max for what seemed like an eternity. She still didn’t move. “Let go of Kelly please,” I said gently. “I’m sorry she can’t do that. She has strict orders to take the child hostage and keep her that way until further notice,” Brigid said condescendingly. “Please don’t hurt her Max! Let her go! They’re using you!” I cried. Max just stared blankly. Just as I was about to try and run towards her there was a huge BOOM! I jumped behind a rock and brought Angel with me for cover. Nudge was still unconscious but she fell far enough away that she wouldn’t be harmed. Once the smoke cleared I got up and looked around. “Nudge?” I asked through my coughs and gags. I was about to start freaking out when I saw her arm behind a large rock. I went over to her and she was still breathing so she was ok. “Kelly?” I asked still coughing and gagging. I saw her. Her leg was pinned underneath a huge rock and she had tears streaming down her face as she tried to free herself. I ran over and helped lift the rock of her leg. Her leg was bent at an extremely awkward angle but she didn’t lose that much blood so it wasn’t life threatening. I to the moment to heal her because we weren’t in immediate danger at the moment and if I didn’t it Kelly wouldn’t be able to run at a moment’s notice if we had to which, let’s face it, is very likely to happen. I kneeled down next to her and put my hands over her leg. They started glowing like they always do and I started pushing energy into her wounded leg. A couple minutes later her leg was as good as new but I was feeling somewhat drained. Unfortunately, I still had to fix Angel’s collarbone and figure out what was wrong with Nudge so I went over to Angel and healed her too. “Thanks Kathy! I feel much better!” Angel said as she hugged me. “You’re welcome,” I said feeling sort of out of it. By that point I was feeling kind of light headed but did I let that stop me? No! I walked over to Nudge and checked to see if she was ok. Along with my healing ability, I can sense what’s wrong and where I need to concentrate on. I sensed that she had a slight concussion so I healed that to. Head injuries take a lot more out of me than say, broken bones.

44 When I was done I started seeing spots. I tried to stand up. Bad idea. As soon as I stood up my legs gave way. Last thing I remember was feeling the painful impact of my face on the ground. Right before I fell completely unconscious though, I heard someone scream. “KATHY!” CHAPTER 22 Robby’s Perspective Oh no, Kathy! What happened? I ran over to where she collapsed despite my broken rib. Or well, tried to run anyway. “What’s wrong?” I asked urgently. “She passed out after healing us,” Nudge said in tears. I kneeled down and held her to me. “Kathy, wake up. You’re going to be fine. Kathy?” I said starting to get kind of scared. Then I checked her pulse. Still beating. I checked to see if she was breathing. Ok, she’s breathing. I think she’ll be ok. Unfortunately, now we have to carry two people. I looked over to see that Iggy, Gazzy, and Fang were still alright. Then I remembered seeing Max right before the explosion. “Where’s Max?” I asked fearfully. Everyone suddenly looked panic-stricken and started looking around frantically. I turned around to see Max standing at the top of a pile of rocks looking down at us with her blank stare. “There is no way to beat her. You all love her too much to kill her. Luckily, Max has no problem with that now,” Anne said. I would bet a lot of money that they were up in their little office right now laughing manically at our predicament. After Anne stopped talking Max jumped off the pile of rocks and landed right next to me. Thanks to my broken rib I couldn’t get away fast enough so she punched me in the stomach. I really don’t recommend it. It was a very painful experience. After I was on the ground writhing in pain for like the 5th time today Max turned around and went for Gazzy. Gazzy didn’t have a broken rib so he was able to dodge her blows. How long he’d be able to keep that up, I have no idea. Nudge, Kelly, and Angel tried to help Gazzy but Max was moving fast enough to fight all of them. They must have boosted her reflexes and strength with something new they created. I wouldn’t be surprised. I turned away to see Iggy was joining the fight. Right after he ran off though, I saw Fang’s hand twitch. Then it twitched again. After a few more seconds he raised his hand and pressed it to the back of his head. While groaning, he sat up and looked around. He seemed really disoriented and confused. Wait a second. If he were still under their control he wouldn’t look disoriented and confused! He was back to normal! He looked at me and saw everyone fighting

45 Max. This seemed to come as a big surprise to him. He got up slowly and walked over to where I was laying on the ground. “Dude, what’s going on? What happened?” He asked, wincing as the words came out of his mouth. “Long story short, you were under Anne, Brigid, and Ms. Jones’ control, you fought us, almost busted your head open and passed out, we carried you here with us, and you woke up,” I told him. Hold on, why was he normal now? Right before he was knocked out, he was trying to kill us. That must be it! “Fang, you have to sneak up behind Max while she’s distracted and hit her in the back of the head with something really hard. It’s the only way to make her normal again, can you use your telekinesis,” I said. “No, I feel like crap and my head hurts like hell. I’m not strong enough to use my powers yet. I can fight though,” he said as he shook his head. “Ok, you do that. Don’t hit her too hard though, we don’t want to kill her,” I said. He seemed reluctant to do so but he nodded, got up and looked around for something to hit Max with. Fang’s awake? And normal? How did that happen? Angel thought to me. Well, the back of his head landed on the floor very hard earlier today, I thought back, all you have to do is hit Max in the back of the head really hard. She’ll go out like a light and a little while later she’ll wake up normal again. I hope… Fang is going to sneak up on her so keep Max distracted. Also, let everyone else know or they might start attacking Fang before he gets the chance. On it, Angel thought. Fang snuck up behind her silently with a rather large rock he found. He raised his hand steadily, poising himself to strike the back of Max’s head when suddenly she turned around and kicked him in the arm. Being caught off guard, Fang dropped the rock and staggered backwards. The rock rolled over to where Kathy lied unconscious. Right before Max could punch him in the face he regained his balance and blocked her punch. Max seemed to be very engaged in her fight with Fang so I took the opportunity to shoot Angel a thought. Tell someone to hit Max now! I thought. We can’t, Max will know, her senses are on hyper alert right now, nothing can get past her. Angel thought. Looks like we’re doomed then. Yep. I continued watching Max and Fang battle it out. They seemed to be pretty evenly matched because they probably injected the same stuff into Fang. Unfortunately, Fang couldn’t keep it up very long and ended up being cornered in the cave. We all thought that Fang was about to get it when a rock came out of nowhere and collided smack-dab in the middle of the back of her head. I looked in the direction the rock had come from and saw Kathy sitting up with her hand against her forehead.

46 She looked over at me and grinned. CHAPTER 23 Robby’s Perspective She’s ok! I was so happy I got up and ran over to her. I’m usually not the hugging and kissing type, especially with my sister but I’d make an exception. “Ok enough Robby, I’m alive alright?” Kathy said looking as happy as I felt and pushing me away gently. Seconds after I released her Angel, Nudge, and Kelly ran over and gave her a little group hug. Meanwhile Fang, Iggy, and Gazzy were checking to see if Max was still alive. “Is she alright?” I asked Iggy who was checking the back of her head to make sure her skull wasn’t cracked. “Yeah, I think so. She’s gonna be out for a while though,” Iggy replied. After Iggy was done Fang picked her up and carried her in his arms. Then Kathy got up with assistance of Nudge and Kelly. “Ok, what now?” Gasman asked. “We have to go save Jim,” Kathy said decidedly. “Ok, so how do you plan on finding him?” Fang asked skeptically. “Well, I haven’t quite worked that part out yet, I’m working on it,” Kathy said. “Uh huh. Well I say we get out of this dome and regroup. Once we’re out we can figure out how to save Jim and let Max recover. Besides, they probably took him somewhere else for training or something and we can’t save her with Max in this state. She’ll just be a burden and we can’t leave her alone,” Fang said calmly. Kathy seemed somewhat embarrassed. “Fine. Let’s go with Fang’s plan,” Kathy said reluctantly. Everyone directed their attention to Fang as he explained what we were going to do. “Ok, first we need to get out of this virtual reality dome and into the hallways that run throughout the perimeter. The question is how will we get out?” “When we found the girls in this cave we had bombed our way through a series of walls so we could try that approach,” Gasman suggested. “I don’t think that’s going to work a second time though. They already know we can blast through the walls so they’re probably fixing that now. We’re going to need to do something different this time, something they won’t expect,” Fang said becoming lost in thought. After a while he didn’t say anything. I looked at him questioningly until I suddenly heard Angel’s voice in my head. Ok everyone, Fang told me to tell you guys we’re going to go to the next challenge but this time we’re not going to beat it. He needs us to play dead until someone takes us out of the dome. The reason I’m telling you this in your heads is that they are watching us and can probably hear everything we say.

47 Well, I guess it was better than no plan at all. The only thing I’m worried about is what they’ll do to us after they take us out of the dome. “We know you’re up to something. We’re watching you, and you cannot escape until you either beat all our challenges or die. Whatever it is you’re planning, it is not going to work,” Brigid said over the intercom sounding a bit tense. After she said that we got up and walked through the big hole we had blown in the wall during our grand entrance. Once we were outside there was another dark room much like the one we fought Fang in. As we walked further in the room I looked down. “G-guys?” I said trying not to shriek like a little girl and jump into someone’s arms. “What is it?” Kathy asked looking back at me with a concerned look on her face. Then she followed my line of sight and saw what I was fixated on. We didn’t appear to be standing on any floor just like before but this time I saw water beneath us. The water itself wasn’t the problem though. The problem wasn’t that it seemed to be about 100 feet below us because I’m not afraid of heights (duh). The problem was that it appeared to be bubbling and steaming which is never a good sign. Not to mention that I have never swam before. “No biggy, we’ll just fly out if the floor disappears,” Nudge said remembering that we had wings. This gave us all a small amount of relief until we saw something very large swimming around below us in the boiling water. It left us all dumbstruck. Even Fang had a look of surprise on his face. Well there goes that little bit of relief we had a few seconds ago. Iggy was the only one who wasn’t silently panicking. Another one of those rare moments when I wished I was blind. Before anyone was coherent enough to say anything about it the floor disappeared and we started falling. I was pretty surprised Kelly wasn’t screaming. She must be getting used to the feeling of being in constant danger. We all snapped our wings out immediately which resulted in a chorus of groans. All except Fang of course, but you could see that he was in a lot of pain and having to carry Max wasn’t making the situation much better. We all hovered for a minute waiting to see what would happen next. We were all terrified. Iggy seemed a bit freaked but at least he didn’t have to see the dark, ominous boiling water floating below us harboring a large powerful looking creature. Suddenly the creature poked its head out of the water and stared straight at me. The others shot up to the top but I just stared back at the creature in the water locked in his gaze. My wings seemed to have a mind of their own and wouldn’t let me fly up to safety with the others. “Robby?” I heard Kathy call. I tried to tell her that I couldn’t move but my mouth didn’t seem to be working either. By this point I was really freaking out. No matter how hard I tried I just hovered there as the monster in the water below looked at me with this menacing stare.

48 “Robby?” Kathy called again sounding more concerned than before. “Come on! Get out of there!” Kelly yelled down at me. You know, if I was capable of leaving we wouldn’t have been having this conversation. After I didn’t respond I heard someone flying down to help me. Before they could get to me the monster opened his gaping mouth into what seemed to be a smile. A creepy, disturbing smile that only comes from people, or things, that take great pleasure in harming others. You could see gigantic teeth in its mouth made just for devouring flesh. You could even see the remnants of its latest meal. Yuck. While I was busy being truly disgusted I could hear the sound of someone flying towards me getting louder. I started to feel somewhat relieved when without warning, the creature’s tongue shot out of its mouth and wrapped around my waste. It was like a thick, sticky, pink rope. Fortunately I still couldn’t speak so no one had to hear the girly scream that would have erupted from my vocal chords just then. I may get eaten by a monster but at least I’d still have my dignity. As I was pulled toward the creature I just closed my eyes, my eyelids being the only things I could move, hoping it would be over quickly and painlessly. My last thought before being consumed by the beast was “I hope the flock’ll be ok without me.” CHAPTER 24 Kathy’s Perspective I was just about to grab him when that thing’s thick ropy tongue flew out of its mouth and yanked Robby away from me. “ROBBY! NOO!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I was just about to go after him when someone, Nudge, grabbed my arm and pulled up to the top. I fought against her the whole way. Once we reached the top where the floor used to be I continued trying to free myself from Nudge’s grasp and save my brother. I pulled and pulled until she finally let go. Unfortunately Gazzy and Kelly grabbed me before I could get away. “GET THE HELL OFF ME! I HAVE TO SAVE HIM!” I shouted desperately. Pretty soon everyone was holding me back except Fang who still had Max in his arms. “Kathy, there’s nothing we can do,” Nudge said with tears in her eyes. By now I was pretty much a nervous wreck easily capable of being set off at the slightest thing. I continued trying to pull away and as I finally broke free I flew as fast as I could towards the hole. I was going down so fast I was practically falling. Just as I reached the top of the hole in the floor closed up and I hit the floor at top speed. It was a lot like falling face first onto cement. Not a pleasant experience. After a few seconds I sat up, ignoring the pain, and started pounding on the ground. It was still invisible so I could see the creature lowering its ugly head back into the boiling water.

49 I pounding and punched and kicked the floor to the point where my knuckles were bloody and bruised. Eventually I just gave up and curled into a ball. I had officially snapped. I heard footsteps walking up to me as I sobbed convulsively. It was Angel. She put her arms around me and I just cried. Next thing I knew Nudge, Gazzy, and Kelly joined the hug too. It seemed like forever before I finally stopped crying. I looked up at everyone somewhat embarrassed that they had to see that little emotional display. Once I was in a rational state of mind I stood up. “Ok, now we have to save Jim and Robby. We need a plan. Fang, any ideas?” I asked trying to pretend I hadn’t just snapped. Maybe they’d all stop looking at me with concern if I acted like I was ok. Fang kind of looked at me with a forlorn expression on his face. He had put Max on the ground, probably tired after carrying her all this time. “Kathy, I don’t know how to break this to you, but Robby’s gone. There is no way to save him,” he said gently like one wrong word would make me lose it. “No, he’s not. I know he’s ok. Maybe it’s a twin thing, maybe it’s a power. I don’t know. All I know is that he is alive and we have got to save him before it’s too late,” I said. I just knew that if something happened to Robby I would feel it. Whether they believed me or not was up to them. We just sort of sat there in silence for a while, not knowing what to say. They were all looking at me more concerned than before probably thinking I was crazy. It got so unbearably awkward that I was about to scream just to make something else happen. Instead, I heard a groan. It seemed deafening compared to the dead silence only a few seconds before. We all turned our attention to where that noise was coming from and saw Max. She was trying to sit up slowly and had her hand rubbing the back of her head. Her eyes were closed and she looked like she was in a lot of pain. Fang went over to Max and helped her sit up as the rest of us surrounded her trying to see if she was back to normal. We weren’t sure whether to hug her or prepare for battle so we just waited. She opened her eyes and looked around at all of us. She seemed confused. “Um, why are you all staring at me? What happened? I have a killer headache,” Max said. No one answered her questions. We all just hugged her simultaneously. “Max! You’re ok!” Angel squealed. “Max! Max! Max!” Nudge cried. Kelly and Gazzy just hugged her, thankful that she woke up back to normal. I was really happy and all but I couldn’t get past the fact that my brother had just been taken. I refuse to believe he was killed. After Gazzy, Angel, Nudge, and Kelly were done I hugged her with noticeably less enthusiasm. She looked at me with a ‘what’s wrong’ look in her eyes. The half hearted hug must have tipped her off.

50

-~-~-~-~-~-~Max’s Perspective I looked at Kathy and immediately knew something was upsetting her. She must have known that I knew when she stopped hugging me because she began to explain. “Robby… was taken… by this creature…” Kathy started, sounding like she was one the verge of tears. She said creature with such disgust you could practically see the hatred and pain rolling off of her. “Its tongue shot out… and swallowed him! They all think he’s dead, but I know isn’t. He’s still alive! I can feel it!” Kathy said as tears started rolling down her cheeks. I took her in my arms and rubbed her back trying to console her and she clung to me looking for a shoulder to cry on. I told her “Sweety, it’s going to be fine. We will save your brother. And we’ll save Jim while we’re at it, so stop crying, everything’s going to be alright.” Or at least it will be as soon as my killer migraine stopped. I tried to stand up but my legs didn’t seem to want to cooperate so I just remained on the ground. Fang appeared to be the only one who noticed I couldn’t get up without assistance. “Ok, Max is fine, now we need to figure out how to save Robby and Jim and get out of here,” Fang said as he helped me up. “How are we supposed to figure out where they are? We’re still stuck inside this stupid dome,” Iggy said sounding frustrated. We sat there in silence for a minute when a plan suddenly came to me. “I have an idea.”

CHAPTER 25 Max’s Perspective “We need to just wait here.” I know what you’re thinking. THE Maximum Ride? Waiting patiently? What has this world come to? Well, it was the only way. See, if we kept going, they were just going to keep throwing stuff at us and picking us off one by one. “Are you serious? We’re just supposed to wait here?” Iggy said incredulously. “That’s what I said didn’t I? They’re probably going to try and make us move pretty soon,” I replied and right on cue the intercom started speaking. “You can’t just sit there! You all need to complete the challenges or you are no use to us!” said a voice that sounded like Brigid.

51 “Oh is that so? Then why did you take my brother?” Kathy shouted out in anger. “We needed to run some tests and there was no other way to take him. It’s not like we could ask you to hand him over. We needed to take him by force. Now get up and go through the door.” I guess Kathy was right. Thank god Robby is alive… for now. “Please, like we’d ever listen to you,” I said. “Not without a little encouragement,” Brigid said. I was positive that she smiling when she said that. As she said that a cage appeared. It had someone in it. Kathy recognized him first. “JIM!” she yelled and started running toward the cage. “Kathy stop!” Angel cried and grabbed her before she could get too far. “We have to save him! He’s right there! We can get him out!” Kathy said trying to free herself from Angel’s grasp. Then the rest of us went over to help Angel keep her restrained. “Kathy, that’s not Jim,” Angel said “he’s a clone. It’s a trap! They would never put Jim close enough for us to save him.” It’s times like these when her creepy little mind reading powers really came in handy. Kathy finally calmed down and we all just stared at the cage. Clone Jim was staring back at us. Max, what are we going to do? Angel thought. Instead of doing something, I put my plan into action and sat down. For the first time in my life, the solution to our problem was to do nothing and wait. I wasn’t very happy about it, but it was all we could do. Just wait, I thought back. The rest of the flock saw me sit down and followed suit. We just sort of stared at the cage. After about 10 minutes we all were pretty restless. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could keep this up. I started to fear that my plan wouldn’t work when suddenly Anne’s voice came over the intercom. “We are willing to bargain with you. What will make you continue the challenges?” “We need food, water, and sleep in a real room, with real food. Not some virtual crap you’re probably creating to make us think we’re being fed,” I demanded. “Fine, but you’re going to be guarded at all times and as soon as you’re done you’re going straight back to the challenges.” Wow, I can’t believe they agreed to that. They must really want us to finish these challenges. After Anne was done talking some flyboys came through a door that opened up from behind us. Should we rush them? Angel asked. No, wait until we’re in the room.

52 They came over and threw that web stuff over us. Angel must have relayed it on to the others because they didn’t put up a fight like they normally would. There were about 4 of them and they just picked us up and carried us through the door into a room just like the ones we had been held prisoner in earlier except slightly bigger. Once we were in the room they sat us down and removed the web. Then they put those annoying collars on us and left the room. Instead of being the usual silver and black, this time they were bright orange. Must have gotten a new manufacturer “Ugh, not these things again,” I said feeling miffed. “I know right? They totally clash with my outfit. Orange is so not my color,” Nudge complained. Of course she would be concerned about her clothes in a situation like this. Typical. Pretty soon after that some white coats came in and gave us food. There were 8 bowls and they seemed to have grayish greenish sludge inside. They placed each bowl in front of us and started to walk out the door. “Uh, I wanted food, not something you scraped out of the inside of a sewer pipe,” I said to one of the whitecoats. “Eat it, it’s delicious,” he said to me. “Delicious? How can I eat this? It doesn’t even look edible! Last time I checked sludge was not part of the food pyramid. Why don’t you try it and tell us how it tastes?” I asked. The whitecoat seemed surprised that I asked and totally grossed out at the thought of even touching that stuff. “That’s what I thought. Now I want you to go back to wherever you came from and get me some real food!” I said firmly. He looked at the whitecoats who had come into the room with him and they shrugged. Then they walked out the door, closing it behind them. “Do you think they’re coming back?” Kelly asked. “I dunno, but in the mean time, what is this crap?” Gazzy asked. “What does it look like?” Iggy asked about to put his hand in it to feel it. “Stop Iggy! Don’t put your hand in there! For all we know it might jump out of the bowl and try to bite your finger off. It’s a grayish greenish color and looks really thick,” I said. Gazzy leaned down to sniff it and immediately started coughing and gagging. “Smells worse than it looks too,” he said. Fang was just staring at his with a grimace on his face. Nudge had hers sitting on the floor in front of her. “Oh my god I think mine is moving!” she cried in horror as she back away from it quickly. We went over to look and saw that it was indeed moving. After a few seconds a fly flew out of it. It flew for a few seconds then it suddenly stopped and fell to the floor.

53 After that w just put our bowls in a corner and sat on the opposite side of the small room as far away from that stuff as possible. “How are we supposed to get out of here?” Iggy asked. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead because I didn’t think we’d get this far. Luckily, I didn’t have to because Kathy started speaking. “I’ve been saving these bad boys just in case of an emergency. Found ‘em in the room I was trapped in before,” she said mischievously as she pulled out a bunch of little syringes out of her pocket. “It looks like the stuff they injected us with to put us to sleep. I say we give ‘em a taste of their own medicine and go after Robby and Jim.” “I still think we need to get outside and regroup. Once we have a better plan we’ll come back for Jim and Robby,” Fang said Kathy seemed kind of disappointed and annoyed at the fact that Fang was right and that we couldn’t go after them right that second. “Kathy sweety, I’m sorry. I wanna go after them too but we need to get out of here first. Ok?” I said. Kathy nodded her head glumly. “Ok, I say knock out the next group to walk in the door and get the heck out of here. Sound like a plan?” I said. Every nodded with determined looks on their faces and Kathy handed out a syringe to each of us. A few minutes later 6 whitecoats walked in with trays. This time they had cookies and they didn’t look totally disgusting either. Too bad we couldn’t stay and enjoy them. “Attack!” I yelled. Everyone lunged at a whitecoat. Whatever was in the syringes worked like a charm because as soon as we injected the liquid they dropped like rocks. I looked around the room satisfied to see 6 unconscious whitecoats lying about. “Ok guys, I think it’s about time we got outta here.” CHAPTER 26 We were about to leave the room. “Wait! Hold on,” I said. I went back in the room and grabbed the cookies. Then I found a sac in one of the closets and stuffed them inside. They stared at me questioningly so I said “For the road.” After that we left the room and ran down the hallway to our right. “Soo… what now?” Fang asked me. “Hey, you’re the one with all the bright ideas, why don’t you come up with something?” I snapped back as we were running. “I’ve had my turn, now it’s yours.” “I always come up with the ideas! I’ve also just recovered from getting hit in the back of my head with a rock! Cut me some slack!”

54 “Maybe I would if our life didn’t depend on coming up with a plan to escape.” “Stop arguing! You sound like an old married couple! Why don’t we just find a room, blast through the wall, and see how it goes from there?” Iggy said sounding a bit annoyed. Hmmm… not a bad idea. I’ll get him for the old married couple comment later but right now we had to escape. “Ok, that sounds good. Let’s go into that room and the end of the hallway,” I instructed. We went through the door and ended up in what looked like a storage closet. The strange thing was that nothing was stored in it. It was completely empty. It was relatively large but barely big enough to hold eight bird kids so we couldn’t move around a lot. We all went back outside the closet except Iggy and Gazzy who were putting the bomb onto the wall. They came back outside and Gazzy said “You guys might wanna back up a little bit.” After we were a safe distance away Iggy pulled out a detonator and pressed a big blue button which led to an ensuing BOOM! We checked the closet to see that it lead to a much larger room behind it. There were a lot of high tech looking computers but no one was inside. They probably held all sorts of secrets and plans that they didn’t want us to know about. Should I respect their wishes and not hack into their computers or should I hack into them now regardless of their wishes and blow them up after I was done. It was a hard decision but I was going to have to go with the second one. “Ok Nudge, see what you can find about any plans they have. Fang, you and the girls stand watch. Iggy and Gazzy, I need you to set up some explosives for a fast getaway in case we have any unexpected visitors,” I said. Everyone started doing their jobs. Meanwhile, I realized my stomach was growling so I reached in the sac and very discreetly pulled out a cookie. It actually smelled really good. I mean, they weren’t anything like my mom’s but they were pretty decent and I was hungry. I found out it was the crunchy kind because when I took a bite it was way louder than I thought it would be and everyone in the room heard it. So much for discretion. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me. Once they saw the cookie they ran at me and stole my sac. “Hey!” I said indignantly. They completely ignored me and devoured the cookies I had in my bag. “I was saving those for later,” I continued. “But… we’re hungry now,… so deal with it,” Iggy said between bites. Once they were done the bag was completely empty. “Thanks for saving some for me. I really appreciate it,” I said sarcastically. “You’re welcome,” Gazzy said. “Get back to work,” I said.

55 Nudge went back to the computer and suddenly pulled something up. I went over to see what it was. “What is… this…?” I said as I realized what I was looking at. It was an elaborate blueprint for some sort of super robot. It seemed to be big, strong, and scary. Not a very good combination. “Uh, we need to get out of here, I hear footsteps,” Iggy said. “Ok, Nudge print that,” I said. She printed the blueprints and we all went to the other side of the room. Once we were there Iggy pressed the blue button again and the wall blew up. I waited a few seconds of the dust and debris to clear up a bit and then I opened my eyes. Sunlight! Oh my god I could see grass and trees and plants. Oh it was so beautiful I almost cried. We were finally free! “Come on guys, I do believe we’ve overstayed our welcome. Let’s go,” I said. And with that we went through the gaping hole in the wall and ran. We ran and ran and ran some more. We finally stopped once we reached a wooded area that could hide us pretty well. “Hello sky! Hello tree! Hello dirt! Hello flowers!” Gazzy said as he hugged pretty much everything he saw while the rest of us sat down and rested. “I hate to break up your little reunion Gazzy, but we have to get farther away. They’ll easily find us here,” I said. “Let’s walk until we find a flat place to take off on,” Fang said. We walked a little while until we found a flat open meadow. “Perfect. Up and away,” I said almost giggling with the anticipation of flying again. We took off in twos. Kelly and Angel, Kathy and Nudge, Gazzy and Iggy, then Fang and me. I missed the feeling of stretching out my wings and the fresh air under the sun. I felt like I was invincible when I was up in the air. It’s a wonderful feeling. You should really try it sometime. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. I soon realized that we didn’t have any supplies, clothes, or food. We landed next to the Potomac River. We set up a bonfire to keep us warm. It was somewhat dark outside so I wasn’t sure if any of the local grocery stores would be open. Me and Kathy to a nearby town to see if they had any. None of them were open but there was a convenience store so we went in there. I walked in and we split up. Kathy went to go see if they had any sodas or juices and I went straight for the candy and chips. Once I got there was a boy who seemed about my age in the aisle. I couldn’t see his face but he looked kind of familiar. I quickly turned around and started walking out of the aisle hoping he didn’t notice me. I had just about made it when the boy said “Max?” Oh god I know that voice. Sam.

56 CHAPTER 27 What was I supposed to say? I hadn’t seen the guy in months and last time I did he seemed a bit eraserish. I slowly turned around to face him. I even tried to smile but I had a feeling it looked more like a grimace than anything. He said “Max it is you! I can’t believe it!” Neither could I. “So what are you doing in this neck of the woods?” he asked. I was about to ask him the same question. “Well, just traveling with my, uh, parents. Yeah, they came back from their… mission. What are you doing here?” I asked. “Well, after what happened at school my parents thought that I should go somewhere that wasn’t run by nut jobs. The principal said you were ‘human avian hybrids that needed to be destroyed’ or something like that. If that isn’t crazy, then I don’t know what is. How long are you in town?” “Not sure, not very long. Well, it was nice running into you… bye!” I said as I quickly started walking away. “Wait! Max! I was wondering if you wanna do something tonight, since you’re in town?” he asked pleadingly. What was I supposed to say “No, I’m already in a relationship with Fang”? Sam still thought he was my brother! Oh god, this could only go downhill from here. “Um… well, I’m busy tonight… with family stuff.” “Tomorrow then?” “Sorry, no, I’m busy for the rest of the week,” I said starting to get nervous. “Come one Max, there has to be some time of the day that you’re available. You have to eat sometime, right? How about lunch tomorrow. My treat.” Man, he was persistent. “I have to eat with my siblings, you know, babysit while my parents are… working.” Is that something normal people would do? “Well, why don’t you leave them for a while? You can have your brother, what’s his name, tooth?” “It’s FANG and no, he can’t watch them all by himself. I would never do that to him. I’ve gottago, but it really was nice seeing you again. I’m sorry it isn’t going to work out. Bye!” I said trying to end this conversation, get some snacks and go as quickly as possible. “Ok, bye then. Maybe I’ll run into you again sometime, you’re sure you can’t go out for ice cream or something?” he said sounding dejected. I shook my head no and started to turn around and grab some snacks but Sam grabbed my shoulder. I had to use a lot of self control to not flip him over my shoulder and cause a scene. “Max, wait. Is this because we haven’t seen each other in so long? You think we won’t connect anymore? I think it’s worth a shot. We should see where it takes us. I can’t bear to let you leave without even trying,” he said. I swear, if I didn’t say something he was going to get on his knees and beg.

57 “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I last saw you at school. Please Max, I’m begging you! What’s stopping you?” Ok, first, it was only one date. We technically weren’t even really ‘a couple’ and you cannot determine your soul mate by having ice cream and dinner with someone. Second, I already found my soul mate! Only I couldn’t tell him that because saying you’re in love with your supposed brother is not a very good way to end a conversation. “I’m sorry. I’ve found someone else,” which is true enough “I have to go. My family is waiting.” Well that shut him up. I took the opportunity to grab a bunch of snacks and get out of there before he regained his speech. I checked out my snacks and found Kathy waiting at the front of the store. She had her hands on her hips and her foot tapping with impatience. It was actually really cute. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting here for like 10 minutes! What have you got to say for yourself young lady?” she scolded. “Sorry mother, I ran into someone I knew and he wouldn’t let me leave. It’s taken care of though. I’ll tell you about it later. Just remind me never to go into any type of food or beverage aisle by myself ever again.” I said. Kathy looked somewhat confused but she shrugged her shoulders and we flew back to our little camp site. Once we reached the camp site I emptied all our bags on the ground. “Ok, I’ve got chips, cookies, popcorn, candy, and cereal. Can’t take any perishable items so there’s no milk. No bowls either,” I said. “But I did find some juice pouches! Bon appétit!” Kathy said. “Yes! I’m starving!” Nudge said. “Me too,” Kelly said. We chowed down on all our junk food. It may not be the healthiest meal we’ve ever had but hey! It was better than nothing. Once we were done eating I realized that we were all filthy. “We need to find a hotel or something and bathe,” I decided. “Why? Don’t you love the lovely aroma formed by the combination of our distinct odors?” Gazzy asked. “I think I’ve had enough for a couple lifetimes. Besides, now that we have the opportunity, why not? We can even sleep in actual beds and eat an actual cooked meal,” I replied. “I do need to wash my hair,” Nudge commented. “And a bed would be a nice change from sleeping on the ground or in trees,” Iggy said. “Well it’s decided then. Let’s go find a hotel,” I said. We went into town once it was dark and found a nice little hotel that even served breakfast. Ok, maybe not little. It was actually pretty big. I got us the biggest room in the place and it had 2 king sized beds, and a kitchen! It also had a Murphy bed and a sleeper sofa so everyone could sleep in a bed if we slept in pairs. I

58 opened the cabinet in the living room area to find that there was a huge flat screen TV! It was a huge step for us considering our usual entertainment was beating up bad guys. The flock settled down in the living room and watched TV while I was in the kitchen with Iggy checking out the equipment. “Iggy, we have a microwave, an oven, a sink, and a little refrigerator! I could get used to this,” I said. It was almost like a dream come true. “Can you imagine the things I could make in here?” Iggy said half to me and half to himself while he was lost in thought. I heard laughter in the other room so I was about to see what everyone was watching on TV when someone knocked on the door. “Did anyone order room service?” I asked. Everyone shook their heads no. I went to the door preparing attack if necessary. I opened the door to find Sam standing in the hallway with flowers. Oh no! How did he find me? “Max! I’m sure your boyfriend will understand. You don’t even have to call it a date. We can go as friends,” Sam said. He’s stalking me now? Great. Just what I need, a stalker on top of all my other problems. “Who is it?” I heard Fang ask from the other room. Crap, I can’t let anyone see him here, especially Fang! “No one!” I shouted back as I pushed him backwards, went out into the hallway with him and closed the door behind me. “How did you find me here?” I asked. “Well there’s only one hotel in this town and all I had to do was ask the front desk what your room number was,” he said. What happened to confidentiality? “I keep telling you, I can’t go out with you, ok?” I said firmly. “Just one date. If you still don’t want to go out, then I’ll leave you alone forever,” he said seriously. I wasn’t going to get rid of him unless I did what he asked. This is definitely going to end badly. “Fine, but just one date. Tomorrow at lunch, ok?” I said reluctantly. His whole face seemed to brighten with joy. Good god what have I gotten myself into? CHAPTER 28 I went back inside the room. As I looked around the room everyone was still watching TV so I assumed no one noticed my absence. Well, no one noticed except Fang of course. As soon as our eyes met I knew he was asking me “what were you doing out there?” by the look on his face. I sighed, knowing this wasn’t going to end well and I walked into the hallway again with Fang following behind me.

59 “What was that all about?” Fang asked. “Uh, it was someone we met a while ago. Oh my god! Is Iggy converting that phone into a bomb!” I said trying to end this conversation. “Nuh uh uh. Stop right there. One, you’ve never stopped Iggy from building bombs. Second, what is it that you don’t want to tell me?” Fang said sternly. “Sam is here,” I said really quietly hoping he didn’t hear me. Unfortunately, he had super hearing so it didn’t make much of a difference. “What?” Fang said. He was trying to be calm but I could tell that he was really angry. His eyes were squinting at me and he jaw was tightening. This was how Fang looked when he was really pissed off. “Yeah… he asked me a question…” I said slowly inching my way towards to door so I could hide if he lost his control. “Elaborate,” he said through clenched teeth. “Well… he asked me to go out for lunch tomorrow…” I said getting really nervous. “And you told him?” “Uh, well… I told him… I would go with him.” He closed his eyes slowly as if to keep himself from going off on me. If he was pissed off before this ought to put him into a hissy fit. After a minute he opened his eyes and looked at me. It was kind of scary. “Have fun,” was all he said as he turned around and started opening the door. “Wait, what do you mean have fun?” I asked completely thrown off. That’s definitely not what I was expecting. “Are you serious? I don’t even want to go on this date!” I said. “Then why are you going?” he asked. “If I don’t go he will not leave me alone! He tracked me down and brought me flowers Fang! What am I supposed to do?” I said raising my voice. “It’s fine, go. I don’t mind at all. Like I said, have fun,” Fang said. He sounded weird, like his voice was slightly higher in pitch than usual. Like anyone else would have missed it entirely but I knew him well enough to know that something was wrong. “Are you sure?” I said becoming concerned. “Yeah, go, really. When’s your date?” Fang said. “Uh, tomorrow at lunch…” I said still a bit bewildered. “Ok fine, I’ll take care of the flock until you’re done. Are there any future dates I should know about?” “No, he promised to stop harassing me if I don’t enjoy our date.” “Ok, now let’s go inside before the kids notice our absence.” He opened the door and gestured for me to go inside. I went in thinking of all the possible things that this could go horribly long. It was a pretty long list. Once I got inside I heard laughter in the living room. I went in the room to see what they were doing to find that they had pulled out the Murphy bed and the sleeper sofa and were jumping on all the beds. “Max! Fang! Jump with us! These beds are super bouncy!” Angel squealed.

60 “I think I’ll pass. You can tell me about it when you’re done though,” I said. “Fang! Will you jump with us?” Angel asked. “I’m gonna have to sit this one out,” he replied. “Looks like we’re gonna have to do this the hard way,” Gazzy said. I was about to say “Wait a minute, what do you mean the ‘hard’ way?” but I was too busy being hit in the face with a pillow. I looked over at Fang to find that he had also been hit by a pillow. I looked back at them to see Gazzy cracking up on one of the beds. “Oh it’s on now!” I yelled as I grabbed a pillow and tackled Gazzy. I grabbed him and started beating him with my pillow. Meanwhile Fang was left alone to be pelted with pillows by the rest of the flock. “Pillow fight!” Kelly yelled as she started attacking Fang with a pillow. Fang had caught one of the pillows and started beating deflecting pillows. Kathy accidentally hit Nudge and Nudge started hitting her with a pillow in each hand. Gazzy was still in my grip until Iggy came out of nowhere and knocked me upside the head but hitting Gazzy in the process. Me and Gazzy got up and attacked him. Fang and Kelly were having a one on one pillow fighting match. It went on and on for I don’t know how long. Once we were done the whole room was covered in feathers. We also had feathers all over us. It was a total mess but a lot of fun. “Who wants to clean up?” I asked. Silence. “Gazzy, Kathy, Nudge, Angel, and Kelly! Thanks for volunteering!” I said. “But we didn’t –“ Gazzy started but I cut him off. “Start cleaning,” I said. Fang and Iggy were snickering on the side of the room. “Oh don’t think I forgot about you guys,” I said. They looked a bit startled. Pretty much every pillow in the room had been destroyed and we needed more. “You and Iggy go down stairs and get some new pillows,” I instructed. After they got our pillows and the kids cleaned up the room we all went to sleep, exhausted. The next day we went to the super market. This time we stayed in a group because I really didn’t want to run into any more people I knew. We bought lunch meat, breakfast stuff, pasta, fruits and vegetables, some cheese, and we even got some milk. Once we got back to the hotel we put all the stuff we weren’t using in the refrigerator. Iggy started making lasagna for dinner. It was around noon but it takes a long time to make that stuff. Oh crap, noon. I was supposed to meet Sam for lunch. Guess it was time to go. “Uh, I need to go do something. I’ll be back in a little while. Bye guys!” I said quickly as I walked out the door before questions could be asked.

61 I walked down the stairs and out the door dreading the fact that I had to spend the next hour with Sam. Once I was outside I saw Sam standing there wearing a Navy blue hoodie and jeans. “Hey Max! I was starting to fear you wouldn’t show up,” I said. “Well here I am,” I said unenthusiastically. Well this was going to be fun. -~-~-~-~-~-~Fang’s Perspective I waited a couple minutes after Max left. “I have to go out too. Iggy, you’re in charge,” I said as I tapped his hand. “Ooo are you going on a secret date?” Gazzy taunted. “Yeah, something like that,” I said under my breath as I walked out the door. I turned invisible and walked down the hallway hoping to catch up to Max before she left. If you’re wondering what I’m doing, I’m spying on Max. Was it wrong? Yes. Was I going to do it anyway? Yes. I know I said I would be fine but I was definitely not. How would you feel if the one you loved was on a date with someone other than you? Yeah, not a good feeling. I raced down the stairs and saw her go through the door. She walked over to Sam. He had a big goofy smile on his face. It made me want to punch him. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to just open the door or people might notice. Luckily for me, someone walked in and I walked through the door as the door was closing. Once I was outside Max and Sam started walking away. I walked closer trying to over hear what they were saying. “I love the fall, don’t you?” Sam asked. “Sure,” Max said. “So, what have you been doing since I saw you last?” “Nothing.” “Well I spent my summer working at that convenience store I met you at.” “That’s nice.” Sam didn’t seem to be picking up on the fact that Max didn’t want to be there. They continued talking like that so I just focused on staying invisible. They walked until they came to this Italian restaurant. They went inside and I followed them. The waitress sat them down in a booth. I was Sam talking as Max just looked at the menu. I tried to get a closer view so I sat in a booth that was behind theirs to get a good view. They decided to share a large pizza. Once the pizza came the waitress put it on the table. Max and Sam reached for the same slice.

62 As childish and immature as it was, I got angry. He was about to touch her hand when a waiter walked by with a glass of soda on a tray. I used my telekinesis and knocked it right over his head before he could touch her hand. You should have seen the look on his face. It was all I could do not to falling over laughing and blow my cover. Man would that be embarrassing. “I’m so sorry sir!” the waiter said. “It’s fine. I’m gonna go to the bathroom and clean up. I’ll be right back,” Sam said. Max didn’t respond. As I silently celebrated my small victory in my head I glanced out the window to see Flyboys walking towards the entrance of the restaurant. Uh oh. CHAPTER 29 Max’s Perspective Oh my god that was hilarious. I didn’t want to be rude so I contained my laughter by not saying anything. Barely. It was weird because I could’ve sworn I heard suppressed snickers behind me but maybe I was just imagining things. While he was gone I figured, why let this delicious pizza go to waste? It was practically begging me to scarf the whole thing down but I didn’t want to cause a scene so I ate it slice by slice. After about 10 minutes I became a little worried. I’m sure he would have come back by now but it would be weird to go to the men’s room and check on him so I decided to just wait. As I started reaching for another slice I sensed someone walking towards my table. Assuming it was Sam, I turned to look at them and realized that it was a flyboy and I was about to get really hurt if I didn’t do something. I put up my arms to block his punch but felt nothing. Feeling somewhat confused I put my arms down a little just in time to see the flyboy fall to the ground. Well, more like get tackled to the ground except, nothing was there. Ok now I was even more confused. I got up from the booth and saw that something was on top of the flyboy. It was strange because one second it was there and the next it wasn’t. I wasn’t quite sure what it was but it was doing a pretty good job of beating the crap out of that flyboy so I decided not to interrupt. The thing started to become clearer and clearer until I realized that I knew who it was. “Fang! What are you doing here?” I asked. In a matter of seconds I went from feeling scared, to feeling surprised that he was here, to feeling confused because he was here, to feeling angry at the fact that he was here. It gave me a strange sort of rush to experience so many emotions at once so when the other flyboy attacked me I was more than ready.

63 He leaned over to pick me up and I brung my knee up so it met his chin with a satisfying crunch. After that I used a round house kick and brought him to the ground. I then karate chopped his collar bone. I checked to make sure he was good and broken. Once I was done I saw Fang had defeated the flyboy who tried to attack me. I was glad to see he was ok until I remember I was mad at him. “Fang what are you doing here?” I asked. “Well, I heard they have really good pizza here,” Fang lied. “Uh huh. You just happened to be here when I was attacked. The question is why? Hmm… maybe because someone doesn’t trust me?” I questioned. “Of course I trust you. I trust you more than I trust anyone.” “You don’t trust Sam then?” “I think he’s up to something.” This was probably true but that wasn’t why he was here. There was only one possible explanation for this. I was going to have so much fun rubbing this in his face. “Oh my god you’re jealous! I never thought I’d see the day!” You should have seen the look on his face. It was a mixture of embarrassment and horror. Priceless. Too bad I didn’t have a camera because I definitely wasn’t going to see that face ever again. “I am not,” he denied. I could see his eyes tightening with frustration and his face starting to flush. “Just face it Fang. You can’t help it. I can only imagine how hard it is to share me with someone else.” He started glaring at me. “Now is not the time to discuss this. We need to go, the flock could be in danger,” Fang said probably trying to change the subject. “Ok fine, but this is so not over.” We turned toward the door to see the room had cleared out. It seemed like everyone was smart enough to get out while they could. We walked through the front door and ran towards the hotel. I hope they’re ok. I don’t think I would be able to handle having more of my flock kidnapped. We reached the hotel and ran up the stairs. I pulled my hotel card out of my pocket and swiped it through. Tried to open the door and it was still locked. I tried again and nothing happened. “Lemme try,” Fang said. He tried and nothing happened. At this point I was seriously considering knocking down the door. Fortunately Kathy opened the door before it came to that. “What are you doing out here?” Kathy asked. “My card isn’t working,” I said feeling annoyed. Kathy thought for a second and asked “You do know that you have to wait a second before you can actually turn the handle right?” Oh yeah… “Of course I did. Is everyone ok? We were just attacked by flyboys and I needed to check on you guys,” I said urgently. “Ok, but everything’s fine. In fact, this boy named Sam came to visit,” Kathy said.

64 What? CHAPTER 30 Fang’s Perspective What the hell is HE doing here? First he tries to steal Max and now the flock? I don’t think so. This is going to end here and now! I burst into the room and saw him playing cards with Iggy and Gazzy. Angel was sitting on the side watching. Max had banned her from all card games due to her mindreading capabilities. He looked up when he realized we had come into the room and looked truly surprised that we were here. Startled actually. “Sam, what are you doing here?” Max asked confused. “I couldn’t find you at the restaurant so I came here looking for you,” Sam replied smoothly. “Yeah, we’ve been playing cards for the past hour, and I’ve been kicking his butt,” Iggy said. Wait, just left the restaurant 15 minutes ago, there’s no way we would’ve missed him. Unless… “You knew that the flyboys were coming so you used the soda I spilled on you as an excuse to leave!” I exclaimed. “You did that?” Max asked incredulously, “Man when you get jealous you get JEALOUS,” she continued sounding very amused. “Shut up Max, this is not the time! Sam is probably telling the flyboys where we are right now!” “Excuse me? What’s a flyboy? What are you talking about?” Sam asked innocently. “Oh don’t play innocent with me. You’ve put Max and the flock in danger and for that, you’re going down,” I said with the most menacing voice I could muster, which let’s face it, could probably frighten a young man. The last time I used this voice was when I was trying to scare those guys Max and I had met in the abandoned house we were searching and I told them I was an angel. Sam had a look of horror on his face as I slowly walked toward him. Before I got close enough he jumped up and ran to the door Kathy was still standing in and left. The surprising part wasn’t that he had run away, but how fast he ran away. He ran as fast as we could, which definitely wasn’t normal. Instead of staring at the door, dumbfounded like the rest of the flock, I ran after him. I ran down the stairs and through the door and once I was outside I flew up to him. Sam saw me and suddenly stopped. I stopped along with him. Once I landed I was standing about 10 feet away facing me while we were in the middle of a park. It reminded me of those western faceoff things with the woodwind music. All we needed was tumbleweed. I was glaring at him and Sam started glaring back.

65 “So, you figured it out huh? Too bad they have this town surrounded. There’s no escape now. You’re trapped, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Sam said. “That may be true, but at least I’ll have the pleasure of kicking your sorry ass!” I cried as I flew at him feet first at top speed. When we collided he got thrown back but he was still standing which I wasn’t expecting. “Surprised Fang? Yeah, I was a weak human when you first met me but when I saw you all had wings I wanted power so badly. I was sick and tired of just being another one of your average everyday kids. The day you were chased out of the school the principal made a deal with me. He said if I joined them in bringing about your demise he would make me that powerful. Of course I took him up on his offer and now I couldn’t be happier,” Sam explained. “You may be stronger, but that doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to beat me!” I turned invisible and started coming at him with a series of kicks and punches that would have killed any normal human being. Somehow, Sam just kept blocking all his blows. “Guess what Fang? I can anticipate your next move. You’ll never lay a hand on me!” Hmm… that could put me at a disadvantage. While I was in mid-punch Sam grabbed my hand and I became completely visible. He then twisted my arm behind my back and started punching me in the gut repeatedly. Turns out he’s super strong too. “You… think… you’re so…. cool…. just because… you have… wings!” Sam screamed in between punches. He seemed to be getting really angry which I could probably use against him. I looked up and saw we were standing under a tree. I could just barely concentrate enough power into the tree to knock the branch down and hit Sam in the head. It was a rather large branch and it took Sam by surprise. I don’t care how good he is at anticipating my moves, there was no way he could’ve saw that coming. Sam just lied under the branch in shock. I walked over, pulled the branch off of him and started punching him in the face before he could recover. I then threw him on the ground, grabbed his legs and started swinging him around in circles. Kind of like those hammer toss people in the Olympics. Once I built up enough speed I let go and he slammed head first into the nice solid brick wall of a nearby building creating a Sam sized hole in the wall. I wonder if there’re dentures made for adolescents. He was certainly going to need some. Once that was done I picked him up out of the rubble, held him up by his shirt and looked him straight in the eyes. “You are going to leave me, Max, and the rest of the flock ALONE. I don’t ever want to see you ever again. If I do, you are going to be very sorry,” I threatened. It sounded pretty convincing too. I could’ve sworn he almost wet himself. I was very pleased. I even grinned at him.

66 I then dropped him back in the rubble and turned around. I was about to take off and fly to the hotel when I realized that Max and the flock were standing there watching me. “How long have you been watching?” I asked Max once I reached them. “Long enough to see that you totally kicked Sam’s butt,” Max said as she glanced over at where Sam lied on the ground. “Well, we have to go pack and get out of here. They have this place surrounded,” I said as I looked around to see helicopters and tanks were indeed surrounding the town. “Way ahead of you. We’re all packed up and ready to go. I think I’ve had enough of the easy life for the moment,” Max said as she handed me my backpack. I was relieved to see that we were all safe for the moment but there was one very important question that still needed to get answered. How do we get out of here? CHAPTER 31 Max’s Perspective Fang tried to act like he wasn’t happy, but he really was. I could see the way the sides of his mouth curled up the tiniest bit. “I see someone’s in a good mood,” I commented. “I’m never in a good mood,” Fang said. “Please, you cannot look me in the eye and tell me that you did not enjoy beating Sam.” He said nothing but I could see the satisfaction in his face. I looked around to make sure we were all there. “Ok everyone, up and away. I’m sure we can handle whatever it is that they throw at us. Let’s go!” With that we all took off one by one and flew towards the outskirts of the town. I took off first so I could see what was coming. Once we were in the air I saw that some tanks were waiting for us up ahead along with helicopters for air support. “Ok, this is going to be tricky but I think we can do this guys! Disperse!” I commanded as we split into pairs to confuse the enemy. They started shooting at us. Ah the familiar sound of gunshot. I cried “Disperse!” again and we then split up individually and flew in different directions to further confuse them. It seemed to work because they’re shots became more sporadic and badly aimed. Soon we encountered the helicopters and flew in zigzags to make it harder to follow us. As soon as we shook the copters we flew up as high as we could and were soon out of range for the tanks and too high for helicopters to fly. Don’t let out that breath of relief yet, a few minutes later flyboys flew up after us and World War III broke out in the sky.

67 I couldn’t even guess how many they sent after us so let’s just say it was a lot. While I was busy fighting my own group of flyboys I saw that Fang turned invisible and started using his telekinesis to fling the flyboys at each other. Kathy was setting them on fire and Nudge was just taking them out the old fashioned way. Angel pretty much just told hers to drop out of the sky. Kelly had broken off one their arms (don’t worry, they’re robots) and she turned it into a crowbar. She wielded that thing with fury and determination and took out a whole bunch of them fairly quickly. Once she learned how to make weapons other than crowbars she was going to be pretty deadly. Gazzy had this thing that looked like a taser gun. The only difference was that when it hit the flyboys they exploded. I looked over at Iggy and saw that he was completely surrounded. He was perfectly capable of taking on 6 or so at one time but 15 was just ridiculous. He was fighting as one came up behind him about to kick him. “IGGY!” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I flew down towards him knowing I couldn’t reach him in time and trying anyway. Iggy must have realized that this flyboy was behind him because he suddenly turned around and reached out his arm. I thought he was going to punch him but something else happened. Iggy held out his hand as if telling him to stop and the flyboy started slowing down, as if moving against a strong gust of wind. Iggy then put his other hand out towards the other flyboys and they seemed to be getting blown away. It was truly phenomenal. Once the flyboys Iggy was fighting were pretty far away Iggy put his arms down and looked at his hands in awe. Well, I guess he couldn’t really see them but he was facing them. I guess Iggy developed a new skill. Once I remember that there were still flyboys in the air I started fighting another group. We fought long and hard but there were just too many of them. Just when I thought we were about to be overpowered there was a bright flash. I was blinded and had to close my eyes. The last thing I remember seeing was all the flyboys spazzing and falling to the ground. You’d think I’d be happy that they all just died but I was too busy being worried about what had done this. After a few minutes I regained my sight and opened my eyes slowly. Then I looked around letting my eyes adjust and saw that everyone else was doing the same. All except Iggy of course. I rubbed my eyes and yelled “Report!” “We’re fine!” Nudge yelled speaking for Kathy, Kelly, Angel and herself. “I’m ok,” Fang said was he rubbed his eyes. “I’m good,” Iggy said still marveling over his newfound skill. “I’m alright too!” Gazzy said cheerfully. We all flew closer together. “What was that?” I asked. “Oh, that was my taser! I turned it into an electrical bomb that reacted with anything that had metal or used electricity. Kind of like a smaller version of what we used at that safe house when your mom was kidnapped,” Gazzy said proudly.

68 Good thing we didn’t carry around cell phones. “Ok, how about we leave before they send up more flyboys?” Nudge said. We all agreed and we flew until we reached Maryland. We found a wooded area and set up camp there. Kathy practiced making fire and Iggy kept blowing it out. “Stop that!” Kathy yelled. “Stop what?” Iggy said innocently. “Stop blowing it out!” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just sitting here minding my own business. Maybe you’re just not as good at making fires as you think you are.” This seemed to set Kathy off because she got up, walked over to him and kicked him really hard. “Ow! That hurt!” Iggy cried. “Ok, break it up. Iggy, stop blowing out her fires and Kathy, don’t hit Iggy,” I said knowing that if I let this go any further it would become an all out fist fight. “Fine…” Iggy mumbled under his breath. Kathy just let out a little huff and continued making the fire. Angel, Gazzy, Nudge, and Kelly were busy looking for firewood so that just left me and Fang. I was sitting next to him and holding his hand discreetly so no one noticed. It wasn’t really that hard because Kathy was concentrating on the fire, the kids were in the woods, and Iggy was blind. I had just realized that it had been what seemed like forever since Fang and I had any alone time. I looked at him and he looked at me obviously thinking the same thing. Without saying a word I walked over tapped Iggy’s hand to let him know he was in charge and took off into the sky with Fang following closely behind. We flew until we found a nice little park. It had a water fountain in the middle and benches around the perimeter. It was relatively dark outside. It was beautiful because we could see all the stars. I stepped up on the rim of the fountain and Fang stepped on it with me. It was a pretty thick rim. We walked around it hand in hand in silence for a while content to just be together. Suddenly I remembered that I had to continue making fun of him for being jealous. “Fang, why won’t you just admit that you were jealous,” I asked. “Because I wasn’t. I was concerned about your safety,” Fang replied smoothly. “Oh really? Then why did you spill that soda on Sam’s head.” Fang thought about this for a minute and then answered me. “Ok fine, I was a little bit jealous. But who wouldn’t be? How would you feel if I went out with Lissa, whether I was forced into it or not?” Hmmm… I was gonna have to think about that one. We continued walking in silence when I realized that we were walking on the rim of a fountain filled with water.

69 I looked at Fang apologetically knowing that he was not going to be happy about what I was going to do. He looked back with confusion and I pushed him in the fountain. “AAAH!” Fang screamed. There was a huge splash and I started cracking up. He lifted his head up out of the water and glared at me through his dripping black strands of hair. He appeared to be soaked all the way through which only made me laugh harder. As I was dying of laughter Fang suddenly started smiling evilly at me. He stood up and started walking towards me. “Wait no!” I yelled when I realized what he was doing. But alas, it was too late. He grabbed my arm and pulled me into the water with him. I ended up landing on my butt and drenched from head to toe. I looked up at him with the same evil smile and pulled him down. He end up landing on top of me and we started rolling around in the water and laughing. Once we finally stopped I was laying right next to him my arms in his. When I realized how close I was to him I laid my head on his chest and looked up into his eyes. He smiled back at me and I saw those beautiful glints of gold that only seemed to appear in his eyes when he’s really happy. He looked at me for a while and suddenly said “I love you.” I was about to say “I love you too,” but the intensity of Fang’s expression made me completely forget what I was about to say. Instead I lifter my head up closed my eyes, and put my mouth on his. I felt so alive, more alive than I had felt in a very long time. It was like my heart beat was in tune with his and I soon forgot about the freezing cold water. I had forgotten what it felt like to experience pure bliss. I felt complete, like I didn’t want to ever leave the secure warm feeling of his arms again. Once I stopped kissing him I just laid my head on his chest again and looked at the stars content with just being next to him. It would have lasted a lot longer if I hadn’t realized that we had left the kids back at the camp site. “Fang! We have to get back! What if something happened?” I worried. “Max, I’m sure they’re fine. We can go back but what about our clothes?” Fang said gesturing to our soaked clothes. “We’ll dry off on the way. We need to go back before something bad happens. You know that every time we leave all heck tends to break loose.” Fang nodded in agreement and we flew as fast as we could back to our camp site. We landed in the trees nearby and walked the rest of the way. I heard them all talking and I saw the glow of the campfire so I assumed they were alright. Once we reached the camp site everyone looked up at us. “What’d you do? Jump in a lake?” Kelly asked. I thought about what we were doing and Angel started grinning as she read my mind.

70 Stay out of my head. Would it kill you to give me a little privacy? I swear, if you tell them what happened I will kill you. I threatened. Angel just looked at me angelically but she didn’t say anything so I guess she got the message. Fang and I went and sat around the fire where they were roasting some of the lunch meat I had bought. The warmth of the campfire felt nice as it dried me and Fang off. We all sat in companionable silence until we heard a sudden rustling sound. I looked around at everyone else to make sure I wasn’t the only who heard it. Then Kelly said “What was that?” CHAPTER 32 I looked towards where the sound came from. I looked at Fang to let him know that we needed to go over and check it out and he immediately understood and stood up. I tapped Iggy’s hand to let him know he was in charge and he nodded. Fang and I got up and slowly made our way over to the strange noise. I heard it again and signaled Fang to stop. Right in front of us there was this bush that seemed to be moving. I crept a little closer to the bush. More rustling. At this point I was really close so I pounced on whatever was behind the bush. I couldn’t really see what it was but I tackled something and ended up rolling around with it because it started to resist me. It was hard and felt cold like metal. Once I finally got it to stop moving I looked down to see that I was holding a little robot. Its head was little camera with a blinking red light on top. It had wheels that it used to move around. It actually reminded me of that little robot I saw in a commercial once named WALL-E except it was a little smaller. I seemed to have damaged its neck because there were little wires sticking out of it. I looked up at Fang who had walked over to see what I was doing. “What is it?” Fang asked. “Whatever it is, it was definitely sent here to spy on us,” I replied. I carried the robot back to the camp site to show the others. “That is so awesome! Can we keep it?” Gazzy asked as if it were some stray dog and not an evil robot sent to spy on us so it could help them bring about our downfall. “Think of all the bombs I could build by using the technology in this robot!” Iggy said mostly to himself. “What if it’s armed? What if they’re tracking us right now? What if they find us in our sleep and take us back to that horrible dome again? What if –” Nudge panicked but I cut her off. “Nudge, you need to learn to cut it short. Besides, there’s no need to worry. It’s not armed and I’m almost positive they’re tracking us, but when has that ever stopped us before?” This seemed to give her some reassurance.

71 “What should we do with it?” Kathy asked as she started poking it with a stick she had just found. “Hmm… stop poking it like that! It could be of some use to us,” I said as the gears in my mind started working and producing a wonderful idea. “Iggy! Do you think you could use the robot’s tracking signal figure out where they’re tracking us from? Jim and Robby are probably with them and I think it’s about time we break ‘em out of there,” I said. “That actually could work! It may take a while though,” Iggy said. “That’s fine, just make sure that they don’t realize what we’re doing.” Iggy nodded his head and got to work. Everyone spread out and went about their business. Fang sat down and just leaned his head back on a tree so he could sleep. Gazzy, Kelly, Angel, and Nudge started playing duck, duck, goose. Meanwhile I looked over to Kathy. She had gotten pretty good at working with fire by now and was making the fire move in all sorts of different ways. She even changed the colors sometimes. It was almost like it was dancing. She had this sad look on her face. I could tell that she was thinking about Robby and Jim. I knew how she felt. First, because I’ve lost members of my flock, in some cases the whole flock, before. Second because I missed them too and loved them almost as much as she did. I walked over to talk to her and see if I could take her mind off of them. “Hey Kathy, have you worked on making larger force fields at all? It would be really useful in a fight,” I told her. “I tried a few times but I couldn’t make them very big,” Kathy said sadly. “Come one, why don’t I help you. Let’s go practice in the trees.” She nodded as she got up of the ground and we walked over to the trees. Once we were a good distance away from the camp site we stopped walked. “OK, let’s see how hard your force field really is,” I said as I picked up a rock. Kathy formed a small one in front of her as big as the one she put over Jim before by facing the palm of her hand towards it. I threw my rock at it as hard as I could. It bounced off. “Hmm, ok let’s try something bigger,” I said as I started thinking. “I know!” I said as I started running to the little force field. “AAAH!” I screamed as I jumped on top of it and slid off landing face first in the dirt. Kathy burst out laughing as I got off the ground spitting dirt out of my mouth. “No Kathy, I’m fine, thanks for asking,” I said. I said it a little less coldly then I usually would have because I was glad that she seemed to have cheered up. I glared at her until she finally stopped laughing. “Now that you’ve stopped laughing, try to make one as big as you are. Then see if you can make it surround you completely,” I instructed. “Yes Ma’am!” Kathy said with a smile as she saluted me.

72 She then put her hands out in front of her and started concentrating on the space in front of her. She then drew her hands apart with great difficulty, as if she were trying to move her arms through molasses. I could see her starting to sweat as she slowly as she started to shape the force field with her hands. She twisted around and finally ceiled herself inside of it. While she was making it, it was a very faint blue color and looked like she was surrounded in mist so faint that I could hardly see it. Once she had finished it and it was she shape she wanted it to be it became glass like and a darker shade of blue. I walked over and started tapping on the glass. “Solid as a rock,” I said satisfied. Kathy grinned at me. “Why does it take you so long though? It only took you like a second to make the smaller one,” I said curiously. “I dunno. I guess it’s because I’ve made that one before,” Kathy said as she shrugged her shoulders. “Hmm… that’s interesting. Wait here.” “Ok.” I walked over to a tree and climbed up it. Kathy looked up at me confused. I grabbed a pine cone and threw it at her. “Ow! That hurt! What was that for?” Kathy asked. “You need to work on your reflexes, be ready for anything,” I replied. I threw another pine cone at her and she just threw up her arm for protection. “Make a force field! You need to be able to do this without really thinking about it.” “I can’t!” I threw another one and threw up her arm to shield herself again except this time there was a blue force field in front of her arm. Kathy looked over her arm surprised that she hadn’t been had and saw the force field she had made. She stared at it in shock. “Oh my god Kathy I didn’t know you could do that!” I yelled down to her. “Neither did I…” Kathy said still staring at the force field. Just before I could ask her to try something Iggy yelled “I’ve done it!” We ran back to the camp site to find everyone was surrounding him and the robot. Iggy was explaining how it worked. “Ok, so it’s basically like a long range metal detector except it’s detecting signals. I made this device that looks like a compass that scans the area for matching frequencies and points in the direction it’s coming from. Brilliant huh?” I walked up to Iggy and took the compass out of his hand. “Iggy have I ever told you that you were the best?” “Not nearly enough as you should.” “Pack up everyone, it’s time to go,” I said as I thought about Robby and Jim. Hold on boys, we’re coming for you.

73 CHAPTER 33 Gazzy was holding the compass. Why wasn’t Iggy leading you ask? Well because he was blind. He was good, but he wasn’t that good. We had just finished packing up so now we were in the air and I was flying off to the right of everyone else. Kathy flew a bit closer so she could talk to me. “Max, are we really going to save Robby and Jim?” Kathy said hopefully. “Yep, you didn’t think you were the only one who missed them did you? We’re running on a ‘no bird-kid left behind’ system here. I would never let those people have them without a fight,” I said confidently. Kathy must have felt reassured because she smiled at me and flew back towards the others. I flew towards them soon after she did. I reached them just in time to hear Angel ask “How far do we have to go?” “How should we know? It’s not like I installed a GPS into that thing! I’d need more time for that,” Iggy replied sounding irritated. “How do we know when we’re there anyway?” Nudge asked. “When the compass starts spinning in circles instead of pointing in a specific direction.” We flew a couple more hours and ended up in this place called Poolesville which was pretty much just made up of farms and lots of empty land. As we flew over this large apple orchard the compass started spinning like crazy. “I think –” Gazzy started. “We’re here!” Kathy cried cutting Gazzy off. “Let’s land everyone!” I said. We all landed in the outskirts of the orchard and walked in. “So do we have a plan?” Nudge asked as we were walking. “Well first we need to figure out how to get ins–” I started but was interrupted by was Kelly scream. “AAAH!” I looked over at her and saw her on the ground. I quickly made my way over to her to make sure she wasn’t injured. “Are you ok? How did you fall?” I asked concerned. “I’m fine, and I didn’t really trip. It was like the ground gave way right under my foot.” As she said this, a hole about the size of a manhole opened in the ground next to where she fell. “Well that’s convenient. Nice job Kelly,” I said. “Uh… thanks?” Kelly said still a bit surprised. “Who wants to go first?” Fang asked. Surprisingly, no one volunteered to go into the dark, ominous hole in the ground first so by default, I ended up doing it. Instead of jumping head first into the hole without a second thought I threw a rock down there to see how far it was to the bottom.

74 It wasn’t very long till I heard it hit the floor so I guessed it was about 5 feet. “Ok, you all can come down when I say it’s safe,” I said trying to hide. Everyone nodded thankful that they didn’t have to go first. It reminded me of the sub that we had to ride to save my mom a few months back and let me tell you, it was not a pleasant experience. I wasn’t expecting it to be any better so I reluctantly leaned over the hole. “You want me to go down instead?” Fang offered. “No, no. I’ll do it. Just gimme a minute,” I said mentally preparing myself for the inevitable feeling of claustrophobia and the nausea that always follows. After a minute I just jumped in. I learned that the floor was very solid. Solid enough to support the graceless landing I had just made on my butt. “Ow!” I said as I got up, brushed myself off and looked around. “Are you ok?” Fang asked from up above. “I’m fine!” I yelled back. Fortunately, I had my raptor vision so I could see in the dark only there wasn’t much to see. It was actually a relatively large room. Much bigger than what I expected and very empty. The only thing down there was this door. The problem was that it didn’t have a key hole, a thing to slide a card in, finger scan, nothing. It didn’t even have a handle. “You guys can come down. There’s a door but no way to get in. Kathy, I think you can handle this.” “But when it falls it’s gonna make a loud noise and might attract attention.” Angel said as they all jumped in one by one. “I can cushion it with some air,” Iggy suggested. Once everyone was in the room Kathy and Iggy took down the door. I walked through the door first to find that it lead into a large corridor. I looked a lot like the hallways at the dome so assumed we had the right place and hadn’t stumbled upon some other super top secret evil organization bent on destroying us and taking over the world. I looked around as the rest of the flock came into the hallway. Once everyone was inside we started walking down the hallway. I walked for a little while until we came upon a door that was slightly opened. There were people inside talking. It sounded like Ms. Jones, Brigid, and Anne. “You think they can power the entire thing?” Brigid asked incredulously. “You’ve seen what the young boy can do. He’s incredibly powerful. And the older one isn’t too shabby either.” Ms. Jones said. They must be talking about Jim and Robby! “What if they don’t survive long enough to complete the charge?” Anne asked. “They will. Now what happens to them after that is a completely different matter,” Ms. Jones said. I took all the self control I could muster not to storm in there and punch her in the face. Repeatedly. Unfortunately, Kathy had not mastered her temper yet.

75 “No!” she cried out without thinking. She covered her mouth knowing that she had just messed up big time. “What was that?” Brigid said. “I heard it too,” Ms. Jones said curiously. “I think it was outside,” Anne said. I heard footsteps walk towards the door and there was nowhere to hide. Crap. CHAPTER 34 We ran towards the end of the hallway but we weren’t going to reach the door we came in through in time. They were gonna be out of the room any minute. As I stood there silently panicking and trying to figure out what to do Kathy had something else in mind. She made a little force field like the one we were practicing with. Then she drew her hands apart and it started growing. It grew and grew until it covered all of us. It was pretty amazing, but they could still see us if they came out. “This is unbelievable! I’m glad you figured out how to do that but they can still see us,” I whispered urgently. Kathy looked at Fang. He looked confused for a second and then had a look of realization on his face. He then touched the force field. “What does that d–” I started but Fang put his hand over my mouth. They walked out of the door and looked in the opposite direction of where we were. Then they looked down the hallway where we were all standing. Oh no we’re done for! Forget about rescuing Jim and Robby. Who’s going to rescue us? Fang still had his hand on my mouth so I tried to remove it. Unfortunately, Fang wouldn’t let go. Instead he looked at me and put his finger to his lips to make me be quiet. Who cares if we make noise? It doesn’t matter now that they know… we’re… here… Wait, they weren’t calling back up, or running towards us. It was almost like they were looking right through us. Like we were invisible. That explains why Fang touched the force field! Well this was an interesting turn of events. Wow do I feel dumb right now. As we watched Anne, Ms. Jones, and Brigid they started talking. “I could’ve sworn I heard something…” Brigid said unsure of herself. “It could have been nothing…” Anne said sounding about as sure as Brigid did. “Well, I’m not taking any chances. Triple the security,” Ms. Jones said. She seemed to be the one in charge. She pulled out this walkie talkie and asked whoever was on the other end to triple the security. That would definitely make things a bit harder.

76 Once they went back inside the room Fang removed his hand from my mouth and I turned to ask Kathy a question. “Can you move this thing?” I whispered. “Hmm…” Kathy responded as she contemplated my question. She thought about it for a minute and then she pushed forward. We could still see the force field from the inside so we knew where the boundaries were. She pushed on until we were back at the door. Luckily the door was wide open so if we just walked in very quietly and watched them. Once we were inside we saw large computer screens that showed Jim and Robby in these tanks. They had wires all over them and they were floating in this greenish liquid. Fortunately Kathy put a cap on her anger and concentrated on being quiet but I could tell that this was difficult for her. It was actually getting a bit difficult for me too. I mean, how would you feel if the President, Vice President, and Secretary of your personal hate group were standing right there just waiting for you to attack them? “What should we do with their bodies after we’ve used them?” Brigid asked obviously being new at this whole evil business. “Why don’t you throw them back into the orchard? They can become fertilizer for the trees,” Ms. Jones said having more experience than Brigid had in the art of cruelty. “So the so the extraction is going to take place half an hour from now. Let’s go to the lab to make sure all the preparations have been made. There can be no mistakes,” Anne said. Looks like they weren’t anticipating our rescue. You’d think they’d learn after the hundreds of times it happened before. All three of them left the room and walked down the hallway. I waited a minute and decided it was safe to talk. “Ok, let’s follow them. We can free Robby and Jim once we get there,” I said. Everyone nodded in agreement and we followed Ms. Jones, Brigid, and Anne as Kathy pushed the force field down the hallway. I noticed that it seemed to be getting a lot easier for her. She’ll be able to make this force field as fast as she made the small one pretty soon. Once they reached the room they pressed their thumbs to a little scanner and it let them enter. At this point we were close enough to follow them through the door without having to open the door ourselves. As we walked in we saw all sorts of contraptions and gadgets. Every single one of them looked lethal and dangerous. In the middle of the room there were two gigantic tanks full of that greenish liquid we saw on the computer screens. Robby and Jim were floating in each one unconscious and covered in needles and tubes. It broke my heart to see them floating there helpless and alone.

77 Brigid and Anne were checking each one as Ms. Jones supervised and basically ordered them around. Once they were done Brigid and Anne went over to Ms. Jones. “Everything seems to be in order,” Anne said. “Good, let the extraction commence,” Ms. Jones instructed as they walked into this little area that was sealed off by really thick glass. We cannot let them start whatever it is that they’re doing so a make one of my famous snap decisions. “Attack!” I screamed and Kathy let down her force field and everyone ran in the small room where the three women were. They all looked at us in shock as we ran in the room. “Where did you come from? How did you get in here?” Brigid asked thoroughly confused. “Didn’t you know? Magicians never reveal their secrets,” I said as I wiggled my fingers to suggest we used magic. Anne pulled out a walkie talkie and was about to push a button when Fang used his telekinesis to take it out of her hand and put it in his and crushed it. He then lifted them up so they were floating in the air and incapable of movement. “Nuh, uh, uh. We’re not done with you yet. We’d prefer not to have any uninvited visitors,” I said as I shook my finger at them. They all nodded now showing more horror and hatred than shock on their faces. “First, how do we get Robby and Jim out of these things?” I asked urgently. “You can’t let them out! We need their energy!” Anne cried. “Oh well that changes everything! Why didn’t you just say so? We’ll just be on our way,” I said sarcastically. Brigid obviously hadn’t gotten any smarter than she was last I saw her and said “Really?” “Hell no! Now tell us how to get them out!” I yelled at her. I swear Ms. Jones and Anne would have smacked their heads in embarrassment if they could move. They looked at each other in silence and Anne finally broke and decided to tell us. “See that red button over there? Press it. It’s the emergency release button,” Anne said reluctantly. “See now was that so hard. Angel, is she lying?” I asked. Angel concentrated on Anne for a second then turned to face me. “No,” Angel said. I walked over and pressed the button and two things happened. The first thing was that the tanks opened and the liquid all drained to this whole in the floor leaving Jim and Robby lying on the floor with needles and tubes in them. The second thing was that an alarm went off and there were red lights flashing everywhere. I should have seen this coming.

78 “Kelly, Angel, Nudge, and Kathy, help me remove these wires and help them up. Fang, Iggy, and Gazzy, you guys need to keep the flyboys off our backs until we can get out of here,” I instructed. We all ran to our assigned places. I started pulling the needles out of Jim’s arm with Kathy while Nudge, Kelly, and Angel worked on Robby. Once we were don’t I looked up to see that Fang, Iggy and Gazzy were busy fighting off flyboys that had finally showed up. Then I checked to make sure that they were still alive my checking their pulses. “They’re alive,” I said so happy I was almost in tears. Kathy actually was crying. I was about to hug her when Nudge yelled “MAX!” and I turned around just in time to get kicked in the side of my head. Fortunately I stayed conscious and got up to start fighting. Angel started telling flyboys to destroy each other and Fang was holding some in the air while Iggy and Gazzy through small grenades at them. Kathy put a couple on fire and Nudge just made sure Robby and Jim were alright. Pretty soon the room was full of dead flyboys but I knew that another batch was soon to follow. “Let’s get out of here. I remember where the door is. Kathy, make your shield again and Fang you make is invisible. Iggy, you carry Robby and I’ll carry Jim,” I said and everyone did as I said. After Kathy made her field, Fang made it invisible and we walked out of the room. Soon we saw a large group of flyboys running into the room as we walked down the hallway. It was actually pretty funny but I couldn’t laugh because I didn’t want to blow our cover. Once we finally reached the door we had come in through Fang used his telekinesis to removed the lid that led to outside. I climbed out first and Fang lifted Jim and Robby up second. Then everyone else came up afterwards. We had made it out but it wasn’t time for celebrating yet. We still needed to get a safe distance away. “Up and away everyone,” I said. I was so relieved by those words that I actually felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. We were finally all together again. CHAPTER 35 We flew. We flew, flew, and flew some more. We had been flying for about 3 hours now so I assumed that it was safe enough to take a little break. We landed in a meadow with a playground. Once we landed we laid Robby and Jim on the ground. They were still unconscious but they were breathing regularly so I took that as a good sign. I looked over at Kathy to see she looked happier than I’d seen her in a long time.

79 She was moving the hair out of Jim’s face. Jim twitched and opened his eyes seeing us all standing around and looking down at him. He moved his head away from Kathy and started crying. “It’s ok, you’re safe now. You don’t have to be afraid,” Kathy said soothingly as she picked him and hugged him while patting his back. “Ssh, don’t you remember me?” Kathy asked. “Kathy?” Jim said in a tiny voice. Kathy smiled and hugged him harder. When she finally let him go the girls all simultaneously hugged and kissed him saying how much they missed him. The guys just stood there watching. Trying to be manly and not show their feelings I guess. I picked Jim up after their little hug fest. He looked really tired. “Come one big guy, I think someone’s ready for a nap,” I said. Then I kissed his forehead and laid him back on the ground. Meanwhile Kathy had gotten Robby to wake up. When he came to he seemed a bit disoriented. “Where am I? What happened?” he asked confused. “We saved you!” Kathy said. “Really? I thought you guys weren’t coming for me.” “Please. You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” Kathy said. Suddenly she lost her composure and burst into tears. Robby held her in his arms and she just cried. She looked like she was actually a young girl as opposed to the way she usually is. Resourceful, tough, smarter than your average 10 year old. She actually kind of reminded me of me when I was her age. I decided we should give them some privacy because everyone was just staring. “How about we go play on the playground guys? We haven’t done anything fun in ages,” I suggested. The younger kids cheered and ran to the playground as me, Fang and Iggy walked after them. Nudge and Kelly were on the swings while Gazzy and Angel played on the jungle gym. “Iggy! Come play Gravel with us! It’s no fun with just two people!” Gazzy cried. Iggy got up and joined them leaving me and Fang sitting on a bench supervising. “How are you feeling?” Fang asked. “Relieved, happed, tired, lots of things. I’m just glad Jim and Robby were back safely in one piece and that we’re all together,” I replied. “Speaking of being together, now that Jim and Robby are back safe and sound, are you gonna ask them if they want to stay?” Fang asked. Of course he would ask me the one question I had avoided thinking about for some time now. I’m not sure why, I mean of course they’d want to stay… right? “I will… soon… I think we should go back to my mom’s house first,” I said trying to change the subject.

80 “You need to stop putting it off,” Fang said knowingly in that annoying way he has. I knew he was right. They might be a little tired of the constant danger, fighting and running away. “I’m not, I’m just…” I trailed off as I realized it was futile to lie to Fang. He knew me to well. “Ok, I’m putting it off. I’m just afraid they’ll leave us because of all the danger they’ve been in,” I said glumly. “Max, whether they stay or not, they’re gonna be in danger.” Hmm he had a point. Before I could respond Kathy and Robby came up to us. They had identical relieved smiles on their faces. It was actually kind of creepy how much they looked alike… “I’m hungry, and Robby hasn’t had real food since we last saw him. I’m sure Jim hasn’t either,” Kathy said as she looked over at Jim. As if on cue he woke up rubbed his eyes and looked around. He saw us and got up on his feet. He then walked as fast as his little feet could take him and practically stumbled the entire way over. Once we reached us, instead of going to Kathy like I expected he came over to me and pulled on my pant leg. “Max, I hungry,” he said. He then proceeded to put his thumb in his mouth and look up at me expectantly with his big blue eyes. How could I say no to that little face? Great, the next thing we need is another bird kid that has mastered the puppy dog eyes look. “Fine, we’ll go get something to eat. But first I need to call my mom,” I said. We left the playground and found a pay phone. Luckily I memorized my mom’s home number. The phone rang a couple times which immediately set off my paranoia. Is she ok? Was she kidnapped again? Is she still alive? After a few more agonizing rings she picked up. “Hello?” she said. “Mom! It’s me, Max!” I said glad to hear her voice again. Something about it made me feel more grounded. “Oh honey I’ve been so worried about you! Why didn’t you call earlier? Did you find Kathy’s friends?” I realized that I hadn’t spoken to my mom since before we saved them and she knew nothing about the following events that took place. Maybe it was better that way. “Yeah! They’re free. Can I bring them home with us?” “Of course you can.” As she said this I realized there wasn’t nearly enough space for all of us. “Wait mom, where will they sleep?” I asked.

81 “Well, I was trying to tell you when you left home that I got a promotion. The company is expanding and I need to move. It won’t be far away from where we were before and I can afford a much larger house,” Mom replied. “Seriously? Have you chosen a new house yet? Where is it?” I asked. “We can discuss that when you get home. You are coming home now, right?” Mom asked. It was more of an order than a question though. “Yep. Tell Ella, Total, and Akila that the flock and I said hi. Bye, I love you,” I said. “I love you too,” Mom said right before she hung up. As I walked away from the phone I realized I had to ask them right now. I had to make sure they wanted to stay before I brought them home with us. I walked over to them thinking about the slight possibility of them leaving us. “Kathy, Kelly, Robby, Jim, I need to ask you something. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that you mean a lot to me and the flock. We’ve been through so much together it’s almost like we’ve known you all our lives. I want you to come live with us. It’s about as safe as it gets when you’re like us. I just need to know, do you want to come?” I said. Kathy, Kelly and Robby looked at each other as Jim just looked up at me while holding Kathy and Robby’s hands. “Talk about a stupid question. Max, why would we leave? It’s not like we have anywhere to go. Besides, leaving you guys would just be too hard. Of course we’re staying,” Kathy said as she smiled at me. Robby, Kelly, and Jim had matching smiles on their faces and I felt as relieved as when we broke Robby and Jim out. “Phew. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go get something to eat,” I said. We found a fast food place and ate to our hearts content. After we were done we went outside and I looked at the wide open sky just waiting for us. “Up and away guys,” I said. As we took off I thought about how happy I was right then. We were finally going home.

Epilogue We had finally made it Arizona and landed in the front yard. We walked up to the front door. I rang the doorbell and waited. “Coming!” I heard someone yell through the door. A couple seconds later the door opened to reveal Ella standing there with a lavender t-shirt and a purple plaid skirt on. “Max!” she yelled as she tackled me in a hug. Luckily the flock was behind me to catch me if I fell. “Hey Ella, what’s up?” I said casually.

82 “Pretty much same old same old. Everything around here seems so boring without you guys. I missed you so much!” She hugged me again and then proceeded to hug the rest of the flock until she came to Robby, Kelly, and Jim. Robby looked sort of shocked and Kelly and Jim just stared. “Who’s this?” she asked curiously. “This is Robby, Kelly and Jim,” Kathy introduced as she pointed to each person respectively. Ella looked at them as if she’d known them her whole life and smiled. Robby blushed. “Welcome! Are you gonna be staying with us?” Ella asked impulsively. “Yep! We’re staying for good. I’m sorry about taking up space but we have nowhere else to go,” Kathy said. “You won’t take up space at all. In fact, we’re packing up right now so we can move. I’ve chosen a house big enough for all of us,” my mom said as she came to the door. “Seriously? I’ll get my own room and everything?” Nudge said incredulously. “Yes, you will all get your own rooms. I had a house built that will be perfect for us. The government even sent some money to make sure you guys are taken care of,” Mom said happily. What? She didn’t even consult me? How was she so sure I’d love it? “Uh, Mom, can I speak to you for a second?” I asked. “Sure sweety, let’s go to the kitchen.” We walked to the kitchen and sat down at the table. “Mom, how could you build the house without even asking me about it? What happened to ‘We’ll discuss it when you get home’?” “I was waiting for you honey, but they needed to start construction. Don’t worry. I am absolutely positive that you’ll love the new house.” She seemed so sure. What kind of house was it anyway? “Ok, but I won’t believe until I see it. This better be one heck of a house.” She smiled at me, walked over and hugged me. I hadn’t realized until right then how much I really missed her hugs while I was gone. “Mom I love you and I really missed you and all, but I need to make sure the flock is settled,” I said as she released me. “Wait, Max, didn’t I tell you? We’re moving today.” What?! I looked around and realized that there were boxes everywhere and that everything was packed. How did I miss that? “Oh, ok, well I’ll tell them that were leaving soon.” I went into the living room where everyone was sitting still kind of shocked that we were moving today. Once I reached the room everyone turned their heads to look at me. “Uh guys, don’t unpack, we’re moving,” I said. “We kinda figured that when we saw the boxes everywhere Max, but thanks for confirming our suspicions,” Gazzy commented.

83 I was rolling my eyes when the doorbell rang. I was closest to the door so I answered it. There was some guy standing there with a gigantic truck parked behind him. “Hello, we’re the moving company. Is Dr. Martinez here?” he asked. I nodded. “MOM! THE MOVING PEOPLE ARE HERE!” I shouted. She came to the door. “Hello, we have everything packed up and ready to go,” Mom said. “Good, come on boys, let’s get the rest of this stuff loaded up so we can head out,” he told his coworkers. I went back to the living room and told everyone we were beginning to put everything on the truck. We decided to help them out so it would go quicker. A few hours later, everything was on the truck, and the flock and I were flying towards our new home. Mom had given me the coordinates so we were flying there instead of driving with Mom and Ella. We had been flying for half an hour and starting to get a little anxious. “Are we there yet?” Angel asked. “Does it look like we’re there yet?” Robby said. “I hungry!” Jim said. “We’ll eat as soon as settle into the new house ok sweety?” I told him. “I’m hungry too, maybe we can take a quick snack break,” Nudge said. Before I could respond we reached our destination. I knew it was our house without out even checking the coordinates. I stopped so suddenly that everyone almost ran into me. “Hey, give a girl some warning when you’re gonna stop like that!” Kathy said before she looked down and saw what I was looking at. It was a house that looked exactly like the one we lived in with Jeb except twice as big. “Oh my god…” I said. “What is it? Why did we stop? Are we here?” Iggy asked sounding annoyed that no one was telling him anything. “Iggy, it’s our house! It’s just like our old one except way bigger!” Gazzy said with a huge grin on his face. “Seriously? Then what are we waiting here for? Let’s check it out!” Iggy said excitedly as he immediately flew down towards it. We all followed. When we reached the ground we walked up the house. Mom had given me keys and we went in. I saw that most of the stuff had been moved in before we showed up. We went up to the second floor where all the bedrooms were. We found that each of our rooms had been furnished and decorated according to our tastes except for 4. They had beds, dressers, and desks, all the usual stuff but they were all the same. I assumed she left those for Jim, Kathy, Robby, and Kelly.

84 Our rooms actually looked just like our old ones which was odd because Mom had never been to our house. “This is amazing…” Nudge said in awe. We went back into the hallway after seeing all the rooms. Gazzy was nowhere to be seen. “Gazzy?” I asked hoping he didn’t somehow get lost in this huge house. “There’s like 4 bathrooms up here! And 3 downstairs! This is awesome!” Gazzy shouted sounding muffled through the walls. I heard the door open and people walk in. I went downstairs to see guys carrying in the rest of our stuff. Mom and Ella came in after them. “Mom! How did you know that my room looked like that?” I asked. “Oh Jeb helped me with that,” she replied. “I love it! This place is amazing!” I told her. “I knew you would. Now help us unpack.” I got the rest of the flock and we helped unpack. After a few hours it was around midnight and everyone had gone to bed except me. I went up to the roof and just looked at the moon. It was actually really peaceful. Everything seemed perfect. My family was safe and sound, we weren’t in immediate danger, and I had this beautiful view. Our house was right next to a lake and the moonlight reflected in the water to giving it a dream-like quality. I heard footsteps behind me and turned around knowing it could only be one person. “Hey Fang,” I said affectionately. “Hey. Enjoying the view?” He asked. “It’s beautiful,” I replied. He sat down next to me on the roof and put his arms around me. I leaned into his shoulder to feel his strength and warmth. I looked up at him to see he was looking at the stars smiling. It was the first time I had seen him openly smile in a really long time. “You’re smiling,” I said teasingly. “Why wouldn’t I be? I don’t think I’ve been this happy since you came back from the dead.” We sat there in companionable silence for a while. Suddenly I turned to him. “I don’t want this moment to end. Everything is so perfect,” I said. “I know what you mean, but all you can do is enjoy it while it lasts and cherish the memory.” I knew he was right but that didn’t stop me from wishing. I thought about everything I had been through since Kathy had dropped out to the sky. I thought about all the good moments, and bad moments. I thought about everyone I loved and about Kathy, Robby, Kelly, and Jim. Even after all we’d been through, it was all worth it in the end to meet them and that I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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