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Maximum Ride is used to living desperately on the run from evil forces sabotaging her quest to save the world—but nothing has ever come as close to destroying her as this horrifying prophetic message. Fang is Max's best friend, her soul mate, her partner in the leadership of her flock of winged children. A life without Fang is a life unimaginable.

When a newly created winged boy, the magnificent Dylan, is introduced into the flock, their world is upended yet again. Raised in a lab like the others, Dylan exists for only one reason: he was designed to be Max's perfect other half.

Thus unfolds a battle of perfection versus passion that terrifies, twists, and turns...and meanwhile, the apocalypse is coming.


Chapter 4

"OKAY, FLOCK," I SAID, finishing wrapping up my bleeding ankles. "So who's ready to start saving the world, one person at a time? Say aye!"

"Aye!" Nudge cheered and took a last swig of water. Just twenty minutes earlier we'd landed in front of the astonished locals. The others, still worn out from the camel crusade, chimed in a little more sluggishly. Except Fang, who gave me a strong and silent thumbs-up.

Patrick Rooney III, our CSM contact, led us to our assigned area. I hadn't seen a refugee camp before. It was basically acres and acres of tattered tents and mud huts. Two larger tents were being set up for donated medical supplies and food. Nudge and Iggy were set to unpacking crates and sorting materials, Fang to helping set up medical exam stations, which were basically plastic crates with curtains around them.

Gazzy and Angel were, essentially, the entertainment—their pale blond hair and blue eyes were causing a commotion among the refugee kids. Not to mention the wings. Some of the youngest kids were running around, their arms outstretched and flapping, their smiles huge with delight.

Not that there was much to be delighted about. The six of us, the flock, had seen some hard times. We'd eaten out of Dumpsters and trapped small mammals for dinner. I'd eaten my share of rat-b-cue. But these people had nothing. I mean, really nothing. Most were skinnier than us lean'n'-mean bird kids.

"People are going to be coming through here, getting vaccinated against hep B, tetanus, mumps, whatever," the nurse, a guy named Roger, explained. "The grown-ups may be suspicious and unsure; a lot of the kids will be crying."

Okay. I could handle that. I knew being Mother Teresa wasn't gonna be easy.

"Here are some sacks of rice—they weigh sixty pounds each, so get someone to help you move them." That wouldn't be necessary—one of the few advantages to being genetically engineered in a lab. "The adults each get two cups of raw rice." He handed me a measuring cup. "Give the kids these fruit roll-ups. They've never seen them before, so you might have to explain that they're food. Do you speak French?"

"Nooo." Just another one of those pesky gaps in my education. "I don't speak African either."

Roger smiled. "There are thousands of dialects in Africa—Chad alone has two hundred distinct linguistic groups. But Arabic and French are the official languages of Chad—France used to own Chad."

I frowned. "Own it? They're not even connected."

"The way England used to own America," Roger explained.

"Oh." I felt really dumb, which is not a common feeling for me, I assure you.

A few minutes later, Fang was by my side, and we were handing out two cups of raw rice per person. It was all I could do not to just give them everything I could get my hands on. Fang and I kept meeting eyes.

"It reminds me of—so long ago—before Jeb sprung us out of the dog crates..." My throat caught, and Fang nodded. He knew it was a painful memory.

But it wasn't the memory that was getting me. It was seeing so many people looking they were still waiting to be let out of their dog crates. Despite everything we'd been through—some of it the stuff of nightmares—we were still way better off than the people here.

I was a little dazed by the time Angel strode up to us, leading a small girl by the hand.

"Hi," said Angel, her face still caked with dust and grit. Her blond curly hair stood out around her head like a halo—which was a bit misleading in her case. "This is Jeanne. Jeanne, this is Max and Fang."

Angel had that look that made me brace myself and prepare to explain that we could not adopt this sweet little girl. We'd already adopted two dogs (Total and Akila, now back in the States with my mom, Dr. Valencia Martinez, in Arizona). But this Jeanne was so adorable, I was almost afraid I'd just say what the hey.

Jeanne smiled. "Merci pour tout les aides."

"Uh, okay," I said. Jeanne came and gave me a hug, her thin arms wrapping around me. She patted my shoulder, her small hand rough against the back of my neck. Then she hugged Angel the same way.

"Jeanne has gifts," Angel said seriously. "Kind of like us. She's very special. Let's show Max, Jeanne."

Jeanne smiled shyly and held out her hand, palm up, as if she were waiting for us to put something in it. Another hungry child, desperate for food.

Angel pulled an arrowhead-shaped rock from the pocket of her cargo shorts. It was so sharp it looked like the tip of a spear.

"Angel, what the—?" "Just watch, Max," she said, as she started to drag the rock's point across the heel of Jeanne's open hand. And blood began to flow.

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Jill Apple

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