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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 3

"QUICK! UP!" FANG SHOUTED, just as the first bullets strafed the air around me with ominous hisses.

I angled myself upward, only to see the shiny silver underbelly of one of the CSM planes, now flying right above us. It was pressing downward—the rough landing strip was maybe a quarter mile away.

"Drop back!" I yelled. We all went vertical as the planes continued to come down practically on our heads. To escape from the bullets, we'd had to fly up right under them. The engines were way too close—the noise was deafening.

"Watch it!" I yelled, as one plane's landing gear almost hit Iggy. "Drop down! Drop down!" Bullets are bad, but getting smushed by landing gear, toasted by jet engine exhaust, or sucked into the front of an engine were all much less fixable.

I could now make out the sun-browned faces of the men on...oh, geez, were those camels? The men continued to aim their rifles at us, and I felt a bullet actually whiz by my hair. In about half a second, my brain processed the following thoughts lightning fast:

1) A bullet hitting the fuel tank on a plane: not a good situation.
2) Slowing down not good: slow + bird kids = drop like rocks.
3) Speeding up not good: fast bird kids + faster planes = getting flattened.
4) The only choice was to go on the offensive.

Fortunately, I'm very comfortable with being offensive—at least on the not-infrequent occasions when someone's trying to gun down my flock.

"Dive!" I shouted. "Knock 'em down!"

I tucked my wings flat against my back and began to race groundward like a rocket. At this speed, these shooters would need radar and a heat tracer to land a bullet on me. I could actually see the whites of their eyes now, which were widening in surprise.

"Hai-yah!" I screamed—just for fun, really—as I swung my feet down and came to a screeching halt by smashing my heels right into a rider's back. He flew off the camel, rifle pinwheeling through the air, and felt the joy of being airborne himself for about three seconds before he landed right in front of his pal's camel.

"Get the rest!" I ordered the flock. "Free the beasts!"

There were about ten of these armed riders—no match for six hot, angry bird kids. We were used to dodging bullets; these guys were not used to aiming at fast-moving flying mutants. And the bonuses of being aloft are infinite: Snatching a rifle from the grip of a maniacal shooter isn't as hard as you might think when you're coming from above and behind.

Iggy flew in sideways and smacked one guy right off his camel, and Gazzy folded his wings around another's face, causing him to panic and fall. I grabbed a gun and used it like a baseball bat, neatly clipping one guy in the gut, knocking him right off his ride. Unfortunately, I didn't rise in time.

Which meant that for the first time in bird kid history, I got plowed into by a panicky galloping camel—with no sense of humor. Its head hit me in the stomach, and I flipped over its neck, landing hard on the saddle.

"Awesome move, Max!" I heard Nudge call from somewhere behind me. Wasn't she busy helping to take these guys out?

My Indiana Jones moment lasted about a second before I was lurched off the beast. Just as my feet hit the sand, I managed to grab a rein and hang on for dear life.

My wings were useless—there was no room to stretch them out—and my ankles were literally sanded raw before I was able to pull myself up hand over hand and eventually clamber back onto the saddle.

"Whoa, Nelly!" I croaked, gagging on dust. I gripped the saddle with my knees and pulled back on the reins.

This camel did not speak English, apparently. It stretched its neck and ran faster.

"Up and away, Max!" Fang yelled.

I dropped the reins, popped to my feet on top the saddle, and jumped hard, snapping out my wings. And just like that, I became lighter than air, stronger than steel...and faster than a speeding camel.

I watched it race off, terrified, toward the nearest village. Someone was about to inherit a traumatized camel.

This mission was off to a good start.

Copyright © 2010 by James Patterson

Read by Jill Apple

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