Prologue | No More Mistakes!
Itexicon American Headquarters Florida, United States
“We have meticulously crafted the skeleton of our new world,” the Director proclaimed from the large TV screen in the conference room. “Parts of this skeleton are scattered across the globe. Now the time has come to connect those parts, to become one! And, as one, we will commence our Re-Evolution!”
The Director stopped speaking when she noticed that the phone was vibrating in the pocket of her white lab coat. Frowning, she pulled it out and looked at a message. The situation in Building 3 had become critical.
“It’s time,” she said, glancing at a colleague offscreen. “Seal Building Three and gas everything inside.”
Across the conference table, Roland ter Borcht smiled. Jeb Batchelder ignored him as the Director turned her attention back to the camera.
“Everything is in place, and we’re commencing the By-Half Plan as of oh seven hundred tomorrow. As you know, Jeb, the onlypuzzle piece not fitting in, the only fly in the ointment, the onlyloose end not tied up is your obnoxious, uncontrollable, pathetic, useless, flying failures.”
Ter Borscht nodded gravely and shot Jeb a glance.
“You begged us to wait until the bird kids’ preprogrammed expiration date kicked in,” the Director went on, her voice tight with tension. “But you no longer have that luxury, no matter how soon it will happen. Get rid of those loose cannons now, Dr. Batchelder. Do I make myself clear?”
Jeb nodded. “I understand. They’ll be taken care of.”
The Director wasn’t so easily convinced. “You show me proof of extinction of those bird-kid mistakes by oh seven hundred tomorrow,” she said, “or you will be the one to become extinct. Do we have an understanding?”
“Yes.” Jeb Batchelder cleared his throat. “It’s already in place, Director. They’re just waiting for my signal.”
“Then give them the signal,” the Director snarled. “When you arrive in Germany, this foolishness must be over. It is a momentous day...the dawn of a new era for humankind...and there is no time to waste. There is much to do if we’re to reduce the world’s population by one-half.”
“Lay off the freaking horn!” I said, rubbing my forehead.
Nudge pulled away from the steering wheel, which Fang was holding. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just so much fun --- it sounds like a party.”
I looked out the van window and shook my head, struggling to keep my irritation in check.
It seemed like only yesterday that we’d done the pretty impossible and busted out of the very creepy and deeply disturbing Itex headquarters in Florida.
In reality, it had been four days. Four days since Gazzy and Iggy had blown a hole in the side of the Itex headquarters, thus springing us from our latest diabolical incarceration.
Because we’re just crazy about consistency, we were on the run again.
However, in an interesting, nonflying change of pace, we were driving. We’d made the savvy decision to borrow an eight-passenger van that had apparently been a love machine back in the ’80s: shag carpeting everywhere, blacked-out windows, a neon rim around the license plate that we’d immediately disabled as too conspicuous.
There was, for once, plenty of room for all six of us: me (Max); Fang, who was driving; Iggy, who was trying to convince me to let him drive, although he’s blind; Nudge, in the front seat next to Fang, seemingly unable to keep her mitts off the horn; the Gasman (Gazzy); and Angel, my baby.
And Total, who was Angel’s talking dog. Long story.
Gazzy was singing a Weird Al Yankovic song, sounding exactly like the original. I admired Gazzy’s uncanny mimicking ability but resented his fascination with bodily functions, a fascination apparently shared by Weird Al.
“Enough with the constipation song,” Nudge groaned, as Gazzy launched into the second verse.
“Are we going to stop soon?” Total asked. “I have a sensitive bladder.” His nose twitched, and his bright eyes looked at me. Because I was the leader and I made the decisions about stopping. And about a million other things.
I glanced down at the map on the laptop screen in my actual lap, then rolled down the window to look at the night sky, gauge our whereabouts.
“You could have gotten a car with GPS,” Total said helpfully.
“Yes,” I said. “Or we could have brought along a dog that doesn’t talk.” I gave Angel a pointed look, and she smiled, well, angelically at me.
Total huffed, offended, and climbed into her lap, his small, black, Scottie-like body fitting neatly against her. She kissed his head.
Just an hour ago we’d finally sped across the state border, into Louisiana, meticulously sticking to our carefully plotted, brilliantly conceived plan of “heading west.” Away from the laugh riot that had been our stint in south Florida. Because we still had a mission: to stop Itex and the School and the Institute and whoever else was involved from destroying us and from destroying the world. We’re nothing if not ambitious.
“Louisiana, the state that road maintenance forgot,” I muttered, grimacing at hitting yet another pothole. I didn’t think I could take this driving thing much longer. From the Everglades to here had taken forever in a car, as compared with flying.
On the other hand, even a big ’80s love van was less noticeable than six flying children and their talking dog.
So there you go.
I wasn’t kidding about the flying-kids part. Or the talking-dog part.
Anyone who’s up to speed on the Adventures of Amazing Max and Her Flying, Fun-Loving Cohorts, you can skip this next page or so. Those of you who picked up this book cold, even though it’s clearly part three of a series, well, get with the program, people! I can’t take two days to get you all caught up on everything! Here’s the abbreviated version (which is pretty good, I might add):
A bunch of mad scientists (mad crazy, not mad angry --- though a lot of them do seem to have anger-management issues, especially around me) have been playing around with recombinant life-forms, where they graft different species’ DNA together.
Most of their experiments failed horribly, or lived horribly for only a short while. A couple kinds survived, including us, bird kids, who are mostly human but with some bird DNA thrown in.
The six of us have been together for years. Fang, Iggy, and I are ancient, at fourteen years old. Nudge the motormouth is eleven, Gazzy is eight, Angel is six.
The other ones who function pretty well and last more than a couple days are human-lupine hybrids, or wolf people. We call them Erasers, and they have an average life span of about six years. The scientists (whitecoats) trained them to hunt and kill, like a personal army. They’re strong and bloodthirsty but lousy about impulse control.
The six of us are on the run, trying to thwart the whitecoats’ plan to destroy us and most of humanity, which makes the whitecoats crazy. Or crazier. So they have been going to extreme and sometimes pathetic lengths to capture us.
There you have it: our lives in a nutshell. Emphasis on nut.
But if the above whipped your imagination into a frenzy, here’s something even more interesting: Fang started a blog (http:maximumride.blogspot.com). Not that he’s self-absorbed and trendy or anything. Nope, not him.
We “acquired” a wicked-cool laptop when we escaped from the Itex headquarters, and get this --- it has permanent satellite linkup, so we’re always online. And because Itex is a world-class, top-secret, paranoid techfest, the linkup has constantly changing codes and passkeys --- its signal is completely untraceable. It’s our key to every imaginable piece of information in the world.
Not to mention movie times and restaurant reviews. I crack up every time I think about it.
But anyway, with our lovely laptop, Fang is upchucking every bit of info we manage to gather about our past, the School, the Institute, Itex, etc. out onto the Web. Who knows? Maybe someone will contact us and help us solve the mystery of our existence.
In the meantime, we can locate the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts in, like, seconds.
Navigating roads and potholes felt like way more work than it was worth, so I convinced the flock to surrender our wheels and travel by wing.
Back to basics.
By midnight, we had crossed from Louisiana into Texas and were approaching the sprawling, fuzzy glow of lights that was Dallas. Focusing on the least-lit area we could see, we dropped altitude, coasting in slow, wide circles, lower and lower.
We landed in a state park, where it took about a minute to find some welcoming trees to sleep in.
And I mean in the trees, not under them. Let’s hear it for government funding, people! Take it from me: State parks are a valuable natural resource! Let’s protect them! If only for the sake of the mutant bird kids in your area.
“So, have you narrowed the plan down any?” Fang asked me, after we’d done our hand-stacking good-night ritual and the other kids were asleep. I was draped across a wide branch of a fir tree, swinging one leg, wishing I could take a hot shower.
“I keep putting two and two together and coming up with thirty-seven,” I said. “We have the School, the Institute, Itex...us, Erasers, Jeb, Anne Walker, the other experiments we saw in New York. But what’s the bigger picture? How does it all fit together? How am I supposed to save the world?”
I never would have admitted not knowing to the younger kids. Kids need leaders, need to know someone’s in charge. I mean, Idon’t. But most kids do.
“I can’t help feeling like the School is the place to start,” I went on, ignoring the instinctive tightening of my stomach muscles at the thought of it. “Remember when Angel said she overheard people at the School thinking about the horrible disaster coming up, and afterward there would be hardly any people left?”
Yeah, you heard me right. Angel “ov