The angel experiment, p.1
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       The Angel Experiment, p.1
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         Part #1 of Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
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The Angel Experiment


  Copyright © 2005 by SueJack, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

  The Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

  First eBook Edition: April 2005

  ISBN: 978-0-7595-1418-8

  The Little, Brown and Company name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Contents

  Copyright

  Prologue

  PART 1: FLOCK FRIGHT

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  PART 2: HOTEL CALIFORNIA, SORT OF

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  PART 3: SCHOOL—WHAT COULD BE SCARIER THAN THAT?

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  PART 4: NEW YAWK, NEW YAWK

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Chapter 80

  Chapter 81

  Chapter 82

  Chapter 83

  Chapter 84

  Chapter 85

  PART 5: THE VOICE—MAKE THAT MY VOICE

  Chapter 86

  Chapter 87

  Chapter 88

  Chapter 89

  Chapter 90

  Chapter 91

  Chapter 92

  Chapter 93

  Chapter 94

  Chapter 95

  Chapter 96

  Chapter 97

  Chapter 98

  Chapter 99

  Chapter 100

  Chapter 101

  Chapter 102

  Chapter 103

  Chapter 104

  Chapter 105

  Chapter 106

  Chapter 107

  Chapter 108

  Chapter 109

  PART 6: WHO’S YOUR DADDY, WHO’S YOUR MOMMA?

  Chapter 110

  Chapter 111

  Chapter 112

  Chapter 113

  Chapter 114

  Chapter 115

  Chapter 116

  Chapter 117

  Chapter 118

  Chapter 119

  Chapter 120

  Chapter 121

  Chapter 122

  Chapter 123

  Chapter 124

  Chapter 125

  Chapter 126

  Chapter 127

  Chapter 128

  Chapter 129

  Chapter 130

  Chapter 131

  Chapter 132

  Chapter 133

  Chapter 134

  Epilogue

  For Jennifer Rudolph Walsh; Hadley, Griffin, and Wyatt Zangwill

  Gabrielle Charbonnet; Monina and Piera Varela

  Suzie and Jack

  MaryEllen and Andrew

  Carole, Brigid, and Meredith

  Fly, babies, fly!

  To the reader:

  The idea for Maximum Ride comes from earlier books of mine called When the Wind Blows and The Lake House, which also feature a character named Max who escapes from a quite despicable School. Most of the similarities end there.

  WARNING

  If you dare to read this story,

  you become part of the Experiment.

  I know that sounds a little mysterious

  but it’s all I can say right now.

  Max

  PROLOGUE

  Congratulations. The fact that you’re reading this means you’ve taken one giant step closer to surviving till your next birthday. Yes, you, standing there leafing through these pages. Do not put this book down. I’m dead serious—your life could depend on it.

  This is my story, the story of my family, but it could just as easily be your story too. We’re all in this together; trust me on that.

  I’ve never done anything like this, so I’m just going to jump in, and you try to keep up.

  Okay. I’m Max. I’m fourteen. I live with my family, who are five kids not related to me by blood, but still totally my family.

  We’re—well, we’re kind of amazing. Not to sound too full of myself, but we’re like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

  Basically, we’re pretty cool, nice, smart—but not “average” in any way. The six of us—me, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel—were made on purpose, by the sickest, most horrible “scientists” you could possibly imagine. They created us as an experiment. An experiment where we ended up only 98 percent human. That other 2 percent has had a big impact, let me tell you.

  We grew up in a science lab/ prison called the School, in cages, like lab rats. It’s pretty amazing we can think or speak at all. But we can—and so much more.

  There was one other School experiment that made it past infancy. Part human, part wolf—all predator: They’re called Erasers. They’re tough, smart, and hard to control. They look human, but when they want to, they are capable of morphing into wolf men, complete with fur, fangs, and claws. The School uses them as guards, police—and executioners.

  To them, we’re six moving targets—prey smart enough to be a fun challenge. Basically, they want to rip our throats out. And make sure the world never finds out about us.

  But I’m not lying down just yet. I’m telling you, right?

  This story could be about you—or your children. If not today, then soon. So please, please take this seriously. I’m risking everything that matters by telling you—but you need to know.

  Keep reading—don’t let anyone stop you.

  — Max. And my family: Fang, Iggy, Nudge,

  the Gasman, and Angel.

  Welcome to our nightmare.

  PART 1

  FLOCK FRI
GHT

  1

  The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective. Take right now, for instance.

  Run! Come on, run! You know you can do it.

  I gulped deep lungfuls of air. My brain was on hyperdrive; I was racing for my life. My one goal was to escape. Nothing else mattered.

  My arms being scratched to ribbons by a briar I’d run through? No biggie.

  My bare feet hitting every sharp rock, rough root, pointed stick? Not a problem.

  My lungs aching for air? I could deal.

  As long as I could put as much distance as possible between me and the Erasers.

  Yeah, Erasers. Mutants: half-men, half-wolves, usually armed, always bloodthirsty. Right now they were after me.

  See? That snaps everything into perspective.

  Run. You’re faster than they are. You can outrun anyone.

  I’d never been this far from the School before. I was totally lost. Still, my arms pumped by my sides, my feet crashed through the underbrush, my eyes scanned ahead anxiously through the half-light. I could outrun them. I could find a clearing with enough space for me to—

  Oh, no. Oh, no. The unearthly baying of bloodhounds on the scent wailed through the trees, and I felt sick. I could outrun men—all of us could, even Angel, and she’s only six. But none of us could outrun a big dog.

  Dogs, dogs, go away, let me live another day.

  They were getting closer. Dim light filtered in through the woods in front of me—a clearing? Please, please . . . a clearing could save me.

  I burst through the trees, chest heaving, a thin sheen of cold sweat on my skin.

  Yes!

  No—oh, no!

  I skidded to a halt, my arms waving, my feet backpedaling in the rocky dirt.

  It wasn’t a clearing. In front of me was a cliff, a sheer face of rock that dropped to an unseeable floor hundreds of feet below.

  In back of me were woods filled with drooling bloodhounds and psycho Erasers with guns.

  Both options stank.

  The dogs were yelping excitedly—they’d found their prey: moi.

  I looked over the deadly drop.

  There was no choice, really. If you were me, you’d have done the same thing.

  I closed my eyes, held out my arms . . . and let myself fall over the edge of the cliff.

  The Erasers screamed angrily, the dogs barked hysterically, and then all I could hear was the sound of air rushing past me.

  It was so dang peaceful, for a second. I smiled.

  Then, taking a deep breath, I unfurled my wings as hard and fast as I could.

  Thirteen feet across, pale tan with white streaks and some freckly looking brown spots, they caught the air, and I was suddenly yanked upward, hard, as if a parachute had just opened. Yow!

  Note to self: No sudden unfurling.

  Wincing, I pushed downward with all my strength, then pulled my wings up, then pushed downward again.

  Oh, my god, I was flying—just like I’d always dreamed.

  The cliff floor, draped in shadow, receded beneath me. I laughed and surged upward, feeling the pull of my muscles, the air whistling through my secondary feathers, the breeze drying the sweat on my face.

  I soared up past the cliff edge, past the startled hounds and the furious Erasers.

  One of them, hairy-faced, fangs dripping, raised his gun. A red dot of light appeared on my torn nightgown. Not today, you jerk, I thought, veering sharply west so the sun would be in his hate-crazed eyes.

  I’m not going to die today.

  2

  I jolted upright in bed, gasping, my hand over my heart.

  I couldn’t help checking my nightgown. No red laser dot. No bullet holes. I fell back on my bed, limp with relief.

  Geez, I hated that dream. It was always the same: running away from the School, being chased by Erasers and dogs, me falling off a cliff, then suddenly whoosh, wings, flying, escaping. I always woke up feeling a second away from death.

  Note to self: Give subconscious a pep talk re: better dreams.

  It was chilly, but I forced myself out of my cozy bed. I threw on clean sweats—amazingly, Nudge had put the laundry away.

  Everyone else was still asleep: I could have a few minutes of peace and quiet, get a jump on the day.

  I glanced out the hall windows on the way to the kitchen. I loved this view: the morning sunlight breaking over the crest of the mountains, the clear sky, the deep shadows, the fact that I could see no sign of any other people.

  We were high on a mountain, safe, just me and my family.

  Our house was shaped like a letter E turned on its side. The bars of the E were cantilevered on stilts out over a steep canyon, so if I looked out a window, I felt like I was floating. On a “cool” scale from one to ten, this house was an easy fifteen.

  Here, my family and I could be ourselves. Here, we could live free. I mean literally free, as in, not in cages.

  Long story. More on that later.

  And of course here’s the best part: no grown-ups. When we first moved here, Jeb Batchelder had taken care of us, like a dad. He’d saved us. None of us had parents, but Jeb had come as close as possible.

  Two years ago, he’d disappeared. I knew he was dead, we all did, but we didn’t talk about it. Now we were on our own.

  Yep, no one telling us what to do, what to eat, when to go to bed. Well, except me. I’m the oldest, so I try to keep things running as best I can. It’s a hard, thankless job, but someone has to do it.

  We don’t go to school, either, so thank God for the Internet, because otherwise we wouldn’t know nothin’. But no schools, no doctors, no social workers knocking on our door. It’s simple: If no one knows about us, we stay alive.

  I was rustling around for food in the kitchen when I heard sleepy shuffling behind me.

  “Mornin’, Max.”

  3

  “Morning, Gazzy,” I said as the heavy-lidded eight-year-old slumped at the table. I rubbed his back and dropped a kiss on his head. He’d been the Gasman ever since he was a baby. What can I say? The child has something funky with his digestive system. A word to the wise: Stay upwind.

  The Gasman blinked up at me, his gorgeous blue eyes round and trusting. “What’s for breakfast?” he asked, sitting up. His fine blond hair stuck up all over his head, reminding me of a fledgling’s downy feathers.

  “Um, it’s a surprise,” I said, since I had no idea.

  “I’ll pour juice,” the Gasman offered, and my heart swelled. He was a sweet, sweet kid, and so was his little sister. He and six-year-old Angel were the only blood siblings among us, but we were all a family anyway.

  Soon Iggy, tall and pale, slouched into the kitchen. Eyes closed, he fell onto our beat-up couch with perfect aim. The only time he has trouble being blind is when one of us forgets and moves furniture or something.

  “Hey, Ig, rise and shine,” I said.

  “Bite me,” he mumbled sleepily.

  “Fine,” I said. “Miss breakfast.”

  I was looking in the fridge with naive hope—maybe the food fairies had come—when the back of my neck prickled. I straightened quickly and spun around.

  “Will you quit that?” I said.

  Fang always appeared silently like that, out of nowhere, like a dark shadow come to life. He regarded me calmly, dressed and alert, his dark, overlong hair brushed back. He was four months younger than me but already four inches taller. “Quit what?” he asked calmly. “Breathing?”

  I rolled my eyes. “You know what.”

  With a grunt, Iggy staggered upright. “I’ll make eggs,” he announced. I guess if I were more of a fembot, it would bother me that a blind guy six months younger than I am could cook better than I could.

  But I’m not. So it didn’t.

  I surveyed the kitchen. Breakfast was well under way. “Fang? You set the table. I’ll go get Nudge and Angel.”

  The two girls shared the last small b
edroom. I pushed the door open to find eleven-year-old Nudge asleep, tangled up in her covers. She was barely recognizable with her mouth shut, I thought wryly. When she was awake, we called it the Nudge Channel: all Nudge, all the time.

  “Hey, sweetie, up and at ’em,” I said, gently shaking her shoulder. “Breakfast in ten.”

  Nudge blinked, her brown eyes struggling to focus on me. “Wha’?” she mumbled.

  “Another day,” I said. “Get up and face it.”

  Groaning, Nudge levered herself into a crumpled but technically upright position.

  Across the room, a thin curtain concealed one corner. Angel always liked small cozy spaces. Her bed, tucked behind the curtain, was like a nest—full of stuffed animals, books, most of her clothes. I smiled and pulled the curtain back.

  “Hey, you’re already dressed,” I said, leaning over to hug her.

  “Hi, Max,” Angel said, tugging her blond curls out of her collar. “Can you do my buttons?”

  “Yep.” I turned her around and started doing her up.

  I’d never told the others, but I just loved, loved, loved Angel. Maybe because I’d been taking care of her practically since she was a baby. Maybe because she was just so incredibly sweet and loving herself.

  “Maybe because I’m like your little girl,” said Angel, turning around to look at me. “But don’t worry, Max. I won’t tell anybody. Besides, I love you best too.” She threw her skinny arms around my neck and planted a somewhat sticky kiss on my cheek. I hugged her back, hard. Oh, yeah—that’s another special thing about Angel.

  She can read minds.

  4

  “I want to go pick strawberries today,” Angel said firmly, scooping up a forkful of scrambled eggs. “They’re ripe now.”

  “Okay, Angel, I’ll go with you,” said the Gasman. Just then he let rip one of his unfortunate occurrences and giggled.

  “Oh, jeez, Gazzy,” I said disapprovingly.

  “Gas . . . mask!” Iggy choked out, grasping his neck and pretending to asphyxiate.

  “I’m done,” Fang said, getting up quickly and taking his plate to the sink.

  “Sorry,” the Gasman said automatically, but he kept eating.

  “Yeah, Angel,” said Nudge. “I think the fresh air would do us all good. I’ll go too.”

  “We’ll all go,” I said.

  Outside, it was beautiful, clear and cloudless, with the first real heat of May. We carried buckets and baskets as Angel led us to a huge patch of wild strawberries.

 
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