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Maximum Ride: The Final Warning

In this breathtaking new story from the astonishing imagination of James Patterson, a girl has to save herself from an army assembled just to capture her–and maybe save the planet while she's at it.

Maximum Ride is a perfectly normal teenager who just happens to be able to fly, the result of an out-of-control government experiment. Max and the other members of the Flock–six kids who share her remarkable ability–have been asked to aid a group of environmental scientists studying the causes of global warming. Their ability to fly could help the scientists conquer this epic problem. The expedition seems like a perfect combination of adventure, activism–and escaping government forces who watch the Flock like a hawk.

But even in Antarctica, trapped in the harshest weather on our planet, Maximum Ride is an irresistible target in constant danger. For whoever controls her powers could also control the world....

Maximum Ride is James Patterson's greatest character, a heroine who manages to be human and fearless at once. THE FINAL WARNING is an unrelenting new adventure from the writer Time magazine has called "The Man Who Can't Miss."

Part One | ANOTHER PART OF THE BIG PICTURE

Chapter 3

A DIFFERENT FOREST. Not telling you where.

Okay, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that funerals suck. Even if you didn't know the person, it's still totally sad. When you did know the person, well, let's just say it's much worse than broken ribs. And when you just found out that the person was your biological half brother, right before he died, it adds a whole new level of pain.

Ari. My half brother. We shared the same "father," Jeb Batchelder, and you can believe those quotes around "father."

I'd first known Ari as a cute little kid who used to follow me around the School, the horrible prison–science facility where I grew up. Then we'd escaped from the School, with Jeb's help, and to tell you the truth, I hadn't given Ari another thought.

Then he'd turned up Eraserfied, a grotesque half human, half wolf, his seven- year- old emotions all askew inside his chemically enhanced, genetically modified brain. He'd been turned into a monster, and they'd sent him after us, with various unpredictable, gruesome results.

Then there had been that fight in the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. I'd whacked Ari's head a certain way, his neck had cracked against the platform's edge . . . and suddenly he'd been dead. For a while, anyway.

Back when I thought I had killed him, all sorts of sticky emotions gummed up my brain. Guilt, shock, regret . . . but also relief. When he was alive, he kept trying to kill us– the flock, I mean. Me and my merry band of mutant bird kids. So if he was dead, that was one less enemy gunning for my family.

All the same, I felt horrible that I had killed someone, even by accident. I'm just tenderhearted that way, I guess. It's hard enough being a homeless fourteen- year- old with, yeah, wings, without having a bunch of damp emotions floating all over the place.

Now Ari was dead for real. I hadn't killed him this time, though.

"I need a tissue." Total, our dog, sniffled, nuzzling around my ankles like I had one in my sneakers.

Speaking of damp emotions.

Nudge pressed closer to me and took my hand. Her other hand was over her mouth. Her big brown eyes were full of tears.

None of us are big criers, not even six- year- old Angel, or the Gasman, who's still only eight. Nudge is eleven, and Iggy, Fang, and I are fourteen. Technically, we're all still children.

But it takes a lot, and I mean a whole lot, to make any of us cry. We've had bones broken without crying about it. Today, though, it was like another flood was coming, and Noah was building an ark. My throat hurt so much from holding back tears that it felt as though I'd swallowed a fist of clay.

Angel stepped forward and gently tossed a handful of dirt onto the plain wooden box at the bottom of the big hole. A hole it had taken all of us three hours to dig.

"Bye, Ari," she said. "I didn't know you for very long, and I didn't like you for a lot of it. But I liked you at the end. You helped us. You saved us. I'll miss you. And I didn't mind your fangs or anything." Her little voice choked, and she turned to bury her face against my chest.

I stroked her hair and swallowed hard.

The Gasman was next. He too sprinkled dirt on the coffin. "I'm sorry about what they did to you," he said quietly. His spiky blond hair caught a shaft of sunlight and seemed to light up this little glen. "It wasn't your fault."

I snuck a quick glance over at Jeb. His jaw was clenched, his eyes full of pain. His only son lay in a box in the ground. He had helped put him there.

Bravely, Nudge stepped closer to the grave and tossed some dirt onto it. She tried to speak but started crying. I drew her to me and held her close.

I looked at Iggy. As if sensing it, he raised his hand and dropped it. "I don't have anything to say." His voice was gruff.

Next it was Fang's turn, but he waved me to go. Total had collapsed in sobs on my shoes, so I gently disengaged him and stepped over to the grave. I had two hothouse lilies, and I let them float onto the coffin of my half brother.

As the flock leader, I was supposed to come up with a speech. There was no way to sum up what I was feeling. I had killed Ari once, then watched him die again as he saved my life. I'd known him when he was a cute little kid, and I'd known him as a hulking Eraser. I had fought him almost to death, and I had ended up choosing him over the best friend I'd ever had. I'd hated everything about him, then found out we shared half of our human DNA.

I had no words for this, and I'm a word queen. I've talked my way out of more tight spots than a leopard has, but this? A funeral for a sad, doomed seven- year- old? I had nothing.

Fang came up behind me and touched my back. I looked at him, at his dark eyes that gave away nothing. He nodded and sort of patted my hair, then moved forward and dropped some dirt onto the coffin.

"Well, Ari, I'm sorry that it's ended like this," he said so quietly I could hardly hear him, even with my raptor super- hearing. "You were a decent little kid, and then you were a total nightmare. I didn't trust you–until the very end. I didn't know you much, didn't care to." Fang stopped and brushed some overlong hair out of his eyes. "Right now, that feels like the biggest tragedy of all."

Okay, that so did me in. Mr. Rock being all emotional? Expressing feelings? Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I covered my mouth with my hand, trying not to make a sound. Nudge put her arm around me, feeling my shoulders shaking, and Angel held me tight. Then everyone was holding me, total flock hug, and I put my head on Fang's shoulder and cried.

Copyright © 2008 by James Patterson

Read by Jill Apple

Jill Apple is a voice-over artist, having lent her voice to hundreds of television and radio commercials, animation projects, and audiobooks. She lives in New York City with her husband, Maury, and her Boston terrier, Otis.

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