Waterwings, страница 1
Copyright © 2009 by James Patterson
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Little, Brown and Company
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First eBook Edition: March 2009
Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Prologue: THE MADNESS NEVER STOPS
Part One: FREAKS AND M-GEEKS
Part Two: WE ALL LIVE IN A DEADLY SUBMARINE
Epilogue: JUST LIKE HEAVEN
A Preview of "Witch & Wizard"
The James Patterson Pageturners
The Maximum Ride Novels
The Angel Experiment
School’s Out — Forever
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
The Final Warning
The Daniel X Novels
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X (with Michael Ledwidge)
Daniel X: Watch the Skies (with Ned Rust)
Also by James Patterson
When the Wind Blows
The Lake House
For previews of upcoming books by James Patterson and more information about the author, visit www.jamespatterson.com.
To Joshua Chamberlain Perry
Many thanks to Gabrielle Charbonnet, my conspirator, who flies high and cracks wise. And to Mary Jordan, for brave assistance and research at every twist and turn.
To the reader
THE IDEA for the Maximum Ride series 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. Max and the other kids in the Maximum Ride books are not the same Max and kids featured in those two books. Nor do Frannie and Kit play any part in the series. I hope you enjoy the ride anyway.
THE MADNESS NEVER STOPS
Near Los Angeles Basin, California
Devin raised his right arm and focused directly over his wrist. It took less than a millisecond to calculate the trajectory — he didn’t have a built-in computer, but his 220 IQ served him well.
He slowly breathed in and out, getting ready to squeeze the trigger between breaths, between heartbeats. His sensitive nose wrinkled as the ever-present smog that hovered over the Los Angeles Basin filled his lungs. He hated to think what the pollutants were doing to his brain cells but accepted that some things were necessary evils.
His light eyes expertly tracked the objects flying overhead: one, two, three, four, five, six. Seven? There was a small seventh object, unexpected but quickly determined to be unimportant. Actually, all of them were unimportant. All but one. The one in front.
He knew they had raptor vision. He merely had extraordinary eyesight. It was good enough. All the same, the crosshairs in the gun sight attached to his wrist made missing an impossibility. He never missed.
That’s why they saved him for extraspecial missions like this one.
Many, many others had already failed at this task. Devin felt utter disdain for them. To kill one bird kid — how hard could it be? They were flesh and blood, ridiculously fragile. It wasn’t like bullets bounced off them.
Once more Devin raised his arm and observed his prey, catching her neatly in the crosshairs, as if they could pin her to the sky. The flock flew, perfectly spaced, in a large arc overhead, the one called Maximum in front, flanked by the two large males. Then a smaller female. Then a smaller male, and the smallest female after him.
A little black object, not bird kid shaped, struggled to keep up. Devin couldn’t identify it — it hadn’t been in his dossier. The closest thing he could imagine was if someone grafted wings onto a small dog or something, as unlikely as that was.
But Max was the only one he was concerned with. It was Max he was supposed to kill, Max whom he kept catching in his sights.
Devin sighed and lowered his arm. This was almost too easy. It wasn’t sporting. He loved the chase, the hunt, the split-second intersection of luck and skill that allowed him to exercise his perfection, his inability to miss.
He looked down at what used to be his right hand. One could get used to having no right hand. It was surprisingly easy. And it was so superior to have this lovely weapon instead.
It wasn’t as crude as simply having a Glock 18 grafted to the stump of an amputated limb. It was so much more elegant than that, so much more a miracle of design and ingenuity. This weapon was a part of him physically, responsive to his slightest thought, triggered by almost imperceptible nerve firings in the interface between his arm and the weapon.
He was a living work of art. Unlike the bird kids flying in traceable patterns overhead.
Devin had seen the posters, the advertisements. Those naive, do-gooder idiots at the Coalition to Stop the Madness had organized this whole thing, this air show, this demonstration of supposedly “evolved” humans.
Wrong. The bird kids were ill-conceived accidents. He, Devin, was truly an evolved human.
The CSM zealots were wasting their time — and everyone else’s. Using the bird
A joke that could not be perpetrated without this flock of examples. And the flock could not survive without its leader.
Once again Devin raised his arm and closed his left eye to focus through the gun sight on his wrist. He angled the Glock a millimeter to the left and smoothly tracked his target as she arced across the sky.
One breath in, one breath out. One heartbeat, two heartbeats, and here we go…
FREAKS AND M-GEEKS
“AND A-ONE, and a-two —” Nudge said, leaning into a perfect forty-five-degree angle. Her tawny russet wings glowed warmly in the afternoon sunlight.
Behind her, the Gasman made squealing-brakes sounds as he dropped his feet down and slowed drastically. “Hey! Watch gravity in action!” he yelled, folding his wings back to create an unaerodynamic eight-year-old, his blond hair blown straight up by the wind.
I rolled my eyes. “Gazzy, stick to the choreography!” He was sinking fast, and I had to bellow to make sure he heard me. “This is a paying job! Don’t blow it!” Okay, they were paying us mostly in doughnuts, but let’s not quibble.
Even from this high up, I could hear the exclamations of surprise, the indrawn gasps that told me our captive audience below had noticed one of us dropping like a rock.
I’d give him five seconds, and then I’d swoop down after him. One… two…
I wasn’t sure about this whole air-show thing to begin with, but how could I refuse my own mom? After our last “working vacation” in Ant-freaking-arctica, my mom and a bunch of scientists had created an organization called the Coalition to Stop the Madness, or CSM. Basically, they were trying to tell the whole world about the dangers of pollution, greenhouse gases, dependence on foreign oil — you get the picture.
Already, more than a thousand scientists, teachers, senators, and regular people had joined the CSM. One of the teacher-members had come up with the traveling air-show idea to really get the message out. I mean, Blue Angels, Schmue Angels, but flying mutant bird kids? Come on! Who’s gonna pass that up?
So here we were, flying perfect formations, doing tricks, air dancing, la la la, the six of us and Total, whose wings by now had pretty much finished developing. He could fly, at least, but he wasn’t exactly Baryshnikov. If Baryshnikov had been a small, black, Scottie dog with wings, that is.
By the time I’d counted to four, the Gasman had ended his free fall and was soaring upward again, happiness on his relatively clean face.
Hanging out with the CSM folks had some benefits, chiefly food and decent places to sleep. And, of course, seeing my mom, which I’d never be able to get enough of, after living the first fourteen years of my life not even knowing she existed. (I explained all this in earlier books, if you want to go get caught up.)
“Yo,” said Fang, hovering next to me.
My heart gave a little kick as I saw how the sun glinted off his deeply black feathers. Which matched his eyes. And his hair. “You enjoying being a spokesfreak?” I asked him casually, looking away.
One side of his mouth moved: the Fang version of unbridled chortling.
He shrugged. “It’s a job.”
“Yep. So long as they don’t worry about pesky child labor laws,” I agreed. We’re an odd little band, my fellow flock members and I. Fang, Iggy, and I are all fourteen, give or take. So officially, technically, legally, we’re minors. But we’ve been living on our own for years, and regular child protection laws just don’t seem to apply to us. Come to think of it, many regular grown-up laws don’t seem to apply to us either.
Nudge is eleven, roughly. The Gasman is eightish. Angel is somewhere in the six range. I don’t know how old Total is, and frankly, what with the calculations of dog years into human years, I don’t care.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Angel dropped down onto me with all her forty-one pounds of feathery fun.
“Oof! What are you doing, goofball?” I exclaimed, dipping about a foot. Then I heard it: the high-pitched, all-too-familiar whine of a bullet streaking past my ear, close enough to knock some of my hair aside.
In the next second, Total yelped piercingly, spinning in midair, his small black wings flapping frantically. Angel’s quick instincts had saved my life. But Total had taken the hit.
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE, I rolled a full 360, spinning in the air, swooping to catch Total and also performing evasive maneuvers that, sadly, I’ve had way too much practice doing.
“Scatter!” I shouted. “Get out of firing range!”
We all peeled away, our wings moving fast and powerfully, gaining altitude like rockets. I heard applause floating up to me — they thought this was part of the act. Then, I looked down at the limp black dog in my arms.
“Total!” I said, holding his chunky little body. “Total!”
He blinked and moaned. “I’m hit, Max. They got me. I guess I’m gonna live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse, huh?”
Okay. In my experience, if you’re really hit or seriously hurt, you don’t say much. Maybe a few bad words. Maybe grunting sounds. You don’t manage pithy quotes.
Quickly I shifted him this way and that, scanning for wounds. He had both ears, and his face was fine. I patted along his wings, which still looked too short to keep him aloft. Bright red blood stained my sleeve, but so far he seemed to be in one unperforated piece.
“Tell Akila,” Total gasped, eyelids fluttering, “tell her she’s always been the only one.” Akila is the Alaskan Malamute Total had fallen for back on the Wendy K., the boat where we lived with a bunch of scientists on our way to Antarctica.
“Shh,” I said. “I’m still looking for holes.”
“I don’t have many regrets,” Total rambled weakly. “True, I thought about a career in the theater, once our adventures waned. I know it’s just a crazy dream, but I always hoped for just one chance to play the Dane before I died.”
“Play the huh?” I said absently, feeling his ribs. Nothing broken. “Is that a game?”
Total moaned and closed his eyes.
Then I found it: the source of the blood, the place where he’d been shot.
“Total?” I said, and got a slight whimper. “You have a boo-boo on your tail.”
“What?” He opened his eyes and curled to peer at his short tail. He wagged it experimentally, outrage appearing on his face as he realized a tiny chunk of flesh was missing near the tip. “I’m hit! I’m bleeding! Those scoundrels will pay for this!”
“I think a Band-Aid is probably all you need.” I struggled to keep a straight face.
Fang swerved closer to me, big and supremely graceful, like a black panther with wings.
Oh, God. I’m so stupid. Forget I just said that.
“How’s he doing?” Fang asked, nodding at Total.
“He needs a Band-Aid,” I said. A look passed between me and Fang, full of suppressed humor, relief, understanding, love —
Forget I said that too. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
“Got your sniper,” Fang went on, pointing downward.
I shifted into battle mode. “One sniper or a whole flotilla of baddies?”
“Only see the one.”
I raised an eyebrow. “So, what, we’re not worth a whole flotilla anymore?” I looked down at Total. “Wings out, spud. You gotta fly on your own.”
Total gathered himself with dignity, extended his wings, and jumped awkwardly out of my arms. He flapped frantically, then with more confidence, and rose to keep up with us.
“What’s up?” Iggy had coasted on an updraft for a while, but now he and the others were forming a bird-kid sandwich around me.
“Total’s okay,” I reported. “One sniper below. Now we gotta go take him out.”
Angel’s pure-white wing brushed against me. She gave me
“Thanks, lamby,” I said, and she grinned.
“I felt something bad about to happen,” she explained. “Can we go get that guy now?”
“Let’s do it,” I said, and we angled ourselves downward. Among the many genetic enhancements we sport, the mad scientists who created us had thoughtfully included raptor vision. I raked the land below, almost a mile down, and traced the area where Fang pointed.
I saw him: a lone guy in the window of a building close to the air base. He was tracking us, and we began our evasive actions, dropping suddenly, swerving, angling different ways, trying to be as unpredictable as possible. We’re fairly good at being unpredictable.
“Mass zoom?” Fang asked, and I nodded.
“Ig, mass zoom, angle down about thirty-five degrees. Then aim for six o’clock,” I instructed. And why was I only giving Iggy instructions? Because Iggy’s the only blind one, that’s why.
We were moving fast, really fast, dropping at a trajectory that would smash us into the sniper’s window in about eight seconds. We’d practiced racing feet-first through open windows a thousand times, one right after the other, bam bam bam. So this was more of a fun challenge than a scary, death-defying act of desperation.
The two things often look very similar in our world.
Seven, six, five, I counted silently.
When I got to four, the window exploded outward, knocking me head over heels.
THREE DAYS LATER…
Here, in no particular order, is a massively incomplete list of things that make me twitchy:
1) Being indoors, almost anywhere
2) Places with no easy exits
3) People who promise me tons of “benefits” and assume that I don’t see right through the crapola to the stark truth that actually they want me to do a bunch of stuff for them
4) Being dressed up