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Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
A Maximum Ride Novel
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of The Final Warning: A Maximum Ride Novel
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"Lay off the horn!" I said, rubbing my forehead.
Nudge pulled away from the steering wheel, which Fang was holding. "Sorry," she said. "It's just so much fun—it sounds like a party."
I looked out the van window and shook my head, struggling to keep my irritation in check.
It seemed like only yesterday that we'd done the pretty impossible and busted out of the very creepy and deeply disturbing Itex headquarters in Florida.
In reality, it had been four days. Four days since Gazzy and Iggy had blown a hole in the side of the Itex headquarters, thus springing us from our latest diabolical incarceration.
Because we're just crazy about consistency, we were on the run again.
However, in an interesting, nonflying change of pace, we were driving. We'd made the savvy decision to borrow an eight-passenger van that had apparently been a love machine back in the '80s: shag carpeting everywhere, blacked-out windows, a neon rim around the license plate that we'd immediately disabled as too conspicuous.
There was, for once, plenty of room for all six of us: me (Max); Fang, who was driving; Iggy, who was trying to convince me to let him drive, although he's blind; Nudge, in the front seat next to Fang, seemingly unable to keep her mitts off the horn; the Gasman (Gazzy); and Angel, my baby.
And Total, who was Angel's talking dog. Long story.
Gazzy was singing a Weird Al Yankovic song, sounding exactly like the original. I admired Gazzy's uncanny mimicking ability but resented his fascination with bodily functions, a fascination apparently shared by Weird Al.
"Enough with the constipation song," Nudge groaned, as Gazzy launched into the second verse.
"Are we going to stop soon?" Total asked. "I have a sensitive bladder." His nose twitched, and his bright eyes looked at me. Because I was the leader and I made the decisions about stopping. And about a million other things.
I glanced down at the map on the laptop screen in my actual lap, then rolled down the window to look at the night sky, gauge our whereabouts.
"You could have gotten a car with GPS," Total said helpfully.
"Yes," I said. "Or we could have brought along a dog that doesn't talk." I gave Angel a pointed look, and she smiled, well, angelically at me.
Total huffed, offended, and climbed into her lap, his small, black, Scottie-like body fitting neatly against her. She kissed his head.
Just an hour ago we'd finally sped across the state border, into Louisiana, meticulously sticking to our carefully plotted, brilliantly conceived plan of "heading west." Away from the laugh riot that had been our stint in south Florida. Because we still had a mission: to stop Itex and the School and the Institute and whoever else was involved from destroying us and from destroying the world. We're nothing if not ambitious.
"Louisiana, the state that road maintenance forgot," I muttered, grimacing at hitting yet another pothole. I didn't think I could take this driving thing much longer. From the Everglades to here had taken forever in a car, as compared with flying.
On the other hand, even a big '80s love van was less noticeable than six flying children and their talking dog.
So there you go.
I wasn't kidding about the flying-kids part. Or the talking-dog part.
Anyone who's up to speed on the Adventures of Amazing Max and Her Flying, Fun-Loving Cohorts, you can skip this next page or so. Those of you who picked up this book cold, even though it's clearly part three of a series, well, get with the program, people! I can't take two days to get you all caught up on everything! Here's the abbreviated version (which is pretty good, I might add):
A bunch of mad scientists (mad crazy, not mad angry—though a lot of them do seem to have anger-management issues, especially around me) have been playing around with recombinant life-forms, where they graft different species' DNA together.
Most of their experiments failed horribly, or lived horribly for only a short while. A couple kinds survived, including us, bird kids, who are mostly human but with some bird DNA thrown in.
The six of us have been together for years. Fang, Iggy, and I are ancient, at fourteen years old. Nudge the motormouth is eleven, Gazzy is eight, Angel is six.
The other ones who function pretty well and last more than a couple days are human-lupine hybrids, or wolf people. We call them Erasers, and they have an average life span of about six years. The scientists (whitecoats) trained them to hunt and kill, like a personal army. They're strong and bloodthirsty but lousy about impulse control.
The six of us are on the run, trying to thwart the whitecoats' plan to destroy us and most of humanity, which makes the whitecoats crazy. Or crazier. So they have been going to extreme and sometimes pathetic lengths to capture us.
There you have it: our lives in a nutshell. Emphasis on nut.
But if the above whipped your imagination into a frenzy, here's something even more interesting: Fang started a blog (http:maximumride.blogspot.com). Not that he's self-absorbed and trendy or anything. Nope, not him.
We "acquired" a wicked-cool laptop when we escaped from the Itex headquarters, and get this—it has permanent satellite linkup, so we're always online. And because Itex is a world-class, top-secret, paranoid techfest, the linkup has constantly changing codes and passkeys—its signal is completely untraceable. It's our key to every imaginable piece of information in the world.
Not to mention movie times and restaurant reviews. I crack up every time I think about it.
But anyway, with our lovely laptop, Fang is upchucking every bit of info we manage to gather about our past, the School, the Institute, Itex, etc. out onto the Web. Who knows? Maybe someone will contact us and help us solve the mystery of our existence.
In the meantime, we can locate the nearest Dunkin' Donuts in, like, seconds.
Navigating roads and potholes felt like way more work than it was worth, so I convinced the flock to surrender our wheels and travel by wing.
Back to basics.
By midnight, we had crossed from Louisiana into Texas and were approaching the sprawling, fuzzy glow of lights that was Dallas. Focusing on the least-lit area we could see, we dropped altitude, coasting in slow, wide circles, lower and lower.
We landed in a state park, where it took about a minute to find some welcoming trees to sleep in.
And I mean in the trees, not under them. Let's hear it for government funding, people! Take it from me: State parks are a valuable natural resource! Let's protect them! If only for the sake of the mutant bird kids in your area.
"So, have you narrowed the plan down any?" Fang asked me, after we'd done our hand-stacking good-night ritual and the other kids were asleep. I was draped across a wide branch of a fir tree, swinging one leg, wishing I could take a hot shower.
"I keep putting two and two together and coming up with thirty-seven," I said. "We have the School, the Institute, Itex… us, Erasers, Jeb, Anne Walker, the other experiments we saw in New York. But what's the bigger picture? How does it all fit together? How am I supposed to save the world?"
I never would have admitted not knowing to the younger kids. Kids need leaders, need to know someone's in charge. I mean, I don't. But most kids do.
"I can't help feeling like the School is the place to start," I went on, ignoring the instinctive tightening of my stomach muscles at the thought of it. "Remember when Angel said she overheard people at the School thinking about the horrible disaster coming up, and afterward there would be hardly any people left?"
Yeah, you heard me right. Angel "overheard people thinking." Another clue that we're no ordinary cast of characters. Angel doesn't just read minds; sometimes she can actually control them too.
Fang nodded. "And we'd survive 'cause we have wings. And I guess fly away from whatever disaster happens."
I was quiet for a minute, thinking so hard my head hurt.
"Two questions," Fang said. His eyes looked like part of the night sky. "One, where's your Voice? And two, where are all the Erasers?"
"I've been asking myself the same things," I said.
Those of you not in the know will be thinking, What Voice?
Why, the little Voice inside my head, of course. You mean you don't have one? I did.
Well, I hadn't lately, but I figured that was just a technical hitch. It wasn't like my Voice punched a time clock or anything. It was too much to hope that the Voice might be gone forever, but at the same time I was a little freaked out by how alone I felt without it.
"The only thing I can think of is maybe the Voice is transmitted inside my head somehow, and now we're out of range?"
"Yeah. Who knows? And then the Erasers, I don't know that either. This is the longest we've ever not seen them," I said, giving the sky around us a quick scan. I still had a microchip in my arm that I was sure was leading them to me, but we hadn't seen a single Eraser in four days. Usually they popped up out of nowhere, no matter where we were or what we were doing. But it had been ominously quiet on the Eraser front. "It's creepy, and it makes me feel like something worse is coming. Like there's a one-ton iron safe hanging over our heads, waiting to drop."
Nodding, Fang said slowly, "You know what it reminds me of? Like when there's a storm coming, and all the animals somehow know to disappear. All of a sudden there's no birds, no noises. And you look up, and there's a twister headed right for you."
I frowned. "You think the Erasers aren't here because they're fleeing before an impending disaster?"
"Um, yeah," he said.
I leaned back against my tree, searching the sky again. Even ten miles outside of Dallas, the city lights dimmed the stars. I didn't know the answers. Suddenly I felt like I didn't know anything at all. The only certainty in my life was these five kids around me. They were the only things I was sure of, the only things I could trust.
"Go to sleep," said Fang. "I'll take the watch. I want to check on my blog anyway."
My eyes drifted shut as he pulled the laptop out of his bag.
"Fans still hanging on your every word?" Max asked sleepily some time later.
Fang looked up from his blog. He didn't know how much time had passed. The slightest tint of pink on the horizon made the rest of the world seem blacker somehow. But he could clearly see every freckle on Max's tired face.
"Yep," he said. Max shook her head, then relaxed into the crook of a large branch. Her eyes drifted shut again, but he knew she wasn't yet asleep—her muscles were still tight, her body still stiff.
It was hard for her to relax her guard. Hard for her to relax period. She had a lot to carry on those genetically enhanced shoulders, and all in all, she did a dang good job.
But no one was perfect.
Fang looked down at the screen he'd flipped off when Max had leaned closer. He thumbed the trackball, and the screen glowed to life again.
His blog was attracting more and more attention—word was spreading. In just the past three days, he'd gone from twenty hits to more than a thousand. A thousand people were reading what he wrote, and probably even more would tomorrow.
Thank God for spell-check.
But the message on the screen now was particularly odd. He couldn't reply to it, couldn't trace it, couldn't even delete it without its mysteriously reappearing moments later.
He'd gotten one just like it yesterday. Now he reread the new one, trying to decipher where it came from, what it meant. Looking up, Fang glanced at the flock, now all sleeping in various nearby trees. It was growing lighter with every second, and Fang was pretty whipped himself.
Iggy was slung across two branches, wings half unfolded, mouth open, one leg twitching slightly.
Nudge and Angel had curled up close to each other in the crooks of wide live oak limbs.
Total was nestled on Angel's lap, one of her hands holding him protectively in place. Fang bet it was incredibly warm with that furry heat source snoozing on her.
The Gasman was tucked almost invisibly into a large hole made by long-ago lightning. He looked younger than eight, dirty, pale with exhaustion.
And then Max. She was sleeping lightly, characteristically frowning as she dreamed. As he watched, one of her hands coiled into a fist, and she shifted on her branch.
Again Fang looked down at the screen, at the message just like the one he'd received yesterday.
One of you is a traitor, it read. One of the flock has gone bad.
We'd never been to Dallas before, and the next day, we decided to visit the John F. Kennedy memorial, as part of our "Highlights of Texas" tour. Or at least the other kids had decided, and they had outvoted me and my wacky "lie low" suggestion.
Now we wandered around the outdoor site, and I have to tell you, I could have used a couple of explanatory plaques.
"This thing is going to fall on our heads any second," Total said, examining the four walls towering over us and looking around suspiciously.
"It doesn't say anything about President Kennedy," the Gasman complained.
"I guess you're supposed to know already when you come here," Iggy said.
"He was a president," Nudge said, trailing one tan hand along the smooth cement. "And he got killed. I think he was supposed to be a good president."
"I still think there was a second shooter." Total sniffed and flopped on the grass.
"Can we go now?" I asked. "Before a busload of schoolkids comes on a field trip?"
"Yeah," said Iggy. "But what now? Let's do something fun."
I guess being on the run from bloodthirsty Erasers and insane scientists wasn't enough fun for him. Kids today are so spoiled.
"There's a cowgirl museum," said Nudge. How did she know this? No clue.
Fang opened his laptop to a Dallas tourist site.
"There's a big art museum," he said, with no convincing enthusiasm. "And an aquarium."
Angel sat patiently on the ground, smoothing her teddy bear Celeste's increasingly bedraggled fur. "Let's go to the cowgirl museum," she said.
I bit my lip. Why couldn't we just get out of here, go hide someplace, take the time to figure everything out? Why was I the only one who seemed to feel a pressing need to know what the heck was going on?
"Football game," said Fang.
"What?" Iggy asked, his face brightening.
"Football game tonight, Texas Stadium." Fang snapped the laptop shut and stood. "I think we should go."
I stared at him. "Are you nuts? We can't go to a football game!" I said with my usual delicacy and tact. "Being surrounded, crowded, by tens of thousands of people, trapped inside, cameras everywhere—God, it's a nightmare just thinking about it!"
"Texas Stadium is open to the sky," Fang said firmly. "The Cowboys are playing the Chicago Bears."
"And we'll be there!" Iggy cheered, punching the air.
"Fang, can I talk to you privately for a second?" I asked tersely, motioning him out of the memorial.
We stepped through an opening in the cement wall and moved a couple yards away. I put my hands on my hips. "Since when are you calling the shots?" I demanded. "We can't go to a football game! There's going to be cameras everywhere. What are you thinking?"
Fang looked at me seriously, his eyes unreadable. "One, it's going to be an awesome game. Two, we're seizing life by the tail. Three, yeah, there's going to be cameras everywhere. We'll be spotted. The School and the Institute and Jeb and the rest of the whitecoats probably have feeds tapping every public camera. So they'll know where we are."
I was furious and didn't know what to think. "Funny, you didn't look insane when you got up this morning."
"They'll know where we are and they'll come after us," Fang said grimly. "Then we'll know where the tornado is."
Comprehension finally dawned. "You want to draw them out."
"I can't take not knowing," he said quietly.
I weighed Fang's sanity against my determination to remain the leader. Finally I sighed and nodded. "Okay, I get it. One major firefight, coming right up. But you so owe me. I mean, my God, football!"
This may surprise you, but people in Texas are very into their contact sports. I saw more than one infant wearing a Cowboys onesie.
I was wound tighter than a choke chain on a rottweiler, hating everything about being here. The Texas Stadium was, shock, Texas size, and we were surrounded by more than sixty thousand popcorn-munching opportunities to go postal.
Nudge was eating blue cotton candy, her eyes like Frisbees, looking at everything. "I want big hair!" she said excitedly, tugging on my shirt.
"I blame you," I told Fang, and he almost smiled.
We sat down low, by the middle of the field, about as far from any exit as we could be. I would have been much happier, or at least slightly less miserable, in the nosebleed section, close to the open sky. Down here, despite the lack of roof on the stadium, I felt hemmed in and trapped.
"Tell me again what we're doing here," I said, running a continuous scan of our surroundings.
Fang popped some Cracker Jack into his mouth. "We're here to watch manly men do manly things."
I followed Fang's line of sight: He was watching the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, who were not doing manly things, by any stretch of the imagination.
"What's going on?" Iggy asked. Unlike the others, he was as tense as I was. In a strange place, surrounded by loud, echoing noise, unable to get his bearings—I wondered how long it would take him to crack.
"If anything happens," I told him, "stand on your chair and do an up-and-away, ten yards out and straight up. Got it?"
"Yeah," he said, turning his head nervously, wiping his hands on his grubby jeans.
"I want to be a cheerleader," Nudge said wistfully.
"Oh, for God's sake," I snapped, but a look from Fang shut me up. It meant, don't rain on her parade. No matter how ill-conceived and sexist that parade might be. Inside, I was burning up. I never should have agreed to this. I was hugely miffed that Fang had insisted on it. Now, watching him practically salivate over the horrifically perky cheerleaders, I got even madder.
"They're wearing tiny little shorts. One of them has long red hair," he was murmuring to Iggy, who nodded, rapt.
And we all know how much you like long red hair, I thought, remembering how it had felt, seeing Fang kiss the Red-Haired Wonder back in Virginia. Acid started to burn a hole in my stomach.
"Max?" Angel looked up at me. I really had to get these kids into a bath soon, I realized, looking at her limp blond curls.
"Yes, honey? You hungry?" I started to wave down a hot-dog vendor.
"No. I mean, yeah, I'll take two hot dogs, and Total wants two too—but I meant, it's okay."
"Everything." She looked up at me earnestly. "Everything will be okay, Max. We've come this far—we're supposed to survive. We'll survive, and you'll save the world, like you're supposed to."
Well, reality just shows up sometimes, doesn't it?
"I'm not comfortable in this stadium," I explained, trying to look calm.
"I know. And you hate Fang looking at those girls. But we're still having fun, and Fang still loves you, and you'll still save the world. Okay?"
My mouth was agape, and my brain was frantically trying to process which statement to respond to first—Fang loves me?—when I heard someone whisper, "Is that one of those bird kids?"
Angel and I looked at each other, and I saw a world of comprehension in her gaze that made her seem much older than six.
It took only seconds for the rest of the flock to hear the whispers and to realize that the whispers were growing and spreading.
"Mom! I think that's those bird kids we saw in the newspaper!"
"Jason, look over there. Are they the kids in the pictures?"
"Oh, my goodness!"
"Rebecca, come here!"
And so on and so forth. I guess some photographer must have gotten picures of us flying away from Disney World and splashed them all over the newspapers. God forbid we should be able to watch a lousy football game with nothing extreme happening.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two blue-uniformed security men starting down the aisle toward us. A fast 360 revealed no one morphing into Erasers, but there were many eyes on us, many mouths wide open in surprise.
"Should we run?" Gazzy asked nervously, watching the crowd, mapping exit routes like he'd been taught.
"Running's too slow," I said.
"The game hasn't even started," Total said bitterly from under Iggy's seat. "I have money on the Bears!"
"You're welcome to stay here and see how the score ends up." I stood, began grabbing backpacks, counting flock members. The usual.
Total crawled out and jumped nimbly into Iggy's arms.
I tapped Iggy's hand twice. In an instant, we climbed onto our chairs. The muttering of voices was swelling, rising all around us, and the next thing I knew, our faces were twenty feet high, being projected onto the enormous stadium screens. Just like Fang had wanted. I hoped he was happy.
"Up and away on three," I said. Two more security guards were approaching fast from the right.
People were moving away from us, and I was glad the stadium had a namby-pamby no-weapons policy. Now even the cheerleaders' eyes were on us, though they didn't pause in their routine.
"One," I began, and we all leaped into the air, right over everyone's head.
Whoosh! I unfurled my wings hard and fast. My wingspan is almost thirteen feet, tip to tip, and Fang's and Iggy's are even wider.
I bet we looked like avenging angels, hovering over the astonished crowd. Kind of grungy avenging angels. Angels in need of a good scrub.
"Move it!" I ordered, still scanning the audience, checking for Erasers. The last batch of Erasers had been able to fly, but no one seemed to be taking to the air except us.
A couple of hard downstrokes and we were level with the open edge of the roof, looking down at the brightly lit field, the tiny faces all staring at us. Some people were smiling and punching the air. Most seemed shocked and scared. I saw some faces that looked angry.
But none were elongating, becoming furry, growing oversize canine fangs. They were all staying human.
As we shot off into the night, flying in perfect formation like navy jets, I wondered: Where have all the Erasers gone?
"It stank, but it was way cool at the same time," Gazzy said. "I felt like the Blue Angels!"
"Yeah, except the Blue Angels are an extremely well funded, well equipped, well trained, well fed, and no doubt squeaky-clean group of crack navy pilots," I said. "And we're a bunch of unfunded, unequipped, semitrained, not nearly well fed enough, and filthy mongrel avian-human hybrids. But other than that, it's exactly the same."
I knew what he meant, though. As mad as I was about our being in that situation in the first place, and as much as I hated being on the run yet again, and as vulnerable as that last little stunt had made us, still—the feeling of flying in tight formation, all of us with wide, beautiful, awesome wings… it was just incredibly cool.
Gazzy gave a hesitant smile, picking up on my tension, not knowing if I was trying to be funny. I sat down, stuck a straw in a juice pouch, and sucked it dry, then tossed it aside and drained another one.
We were hiding in the Texas mountains, close to the border of Me-hi-co. We'd found a deep, very narrow canyon that protected us from the wind, and now we were settled on the bottom, in front of a small fire.
I hadn't been this mad at Fang for this long a period of time since—never. Sure, I'd agreed to his lame-butt idea, but actually, now that I thought about it, it was about six times stupider than I'd realized.
"Hmm," said Fang, looking at the laptop. "We're everywhere—TV news, papers, radio. Seems a lot of people got photos."
"There's a surprise," I said. "I bet that explains those helicopters we were hearing."
"Are you okay, Max?" Nudge asked timidly.
I gave Nudge an almost convincing smile. "Sure, sweetie. I'm just… tired."
I couldn't help shooting a glance at Fang.
He looked up. "I got a hundred and twenty-one thousand hits today."
"Whaaat? Really?" He had that kind of audience? He could barely spell!
"Yeah. People are organizing, actually trying to find out info for us."
Iggy frowned. "What if they get caught by whitecoats?"
"What are you writing about?" I admit I hadn't been reading his blog. Too busy trying to stay alive, etc.
"Us. Trying to get all the puzzle pieces out there, see if anyone can help us put the big picture together."
"That's a good idea, Fang," said Angel, turning her hot dog over to burn the other side. "We need to make connections."
What did she mean by that?
Connections are important, Max.
The Voice was back.
Raves for the MAXIMUM RIDE series:
#1 New York Times Bestseller
Publishers Weekly Bestseller
An ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults
An ALA/VOYA "Teens' Top Ten" Pick
A VOYA Review Editor's Choice
A New York Public Library "Books for the Teen Age" Selection
A Book Sense Summer 2007 Children's Pick
A KLIATT Editors' Choice
A Children's Choice Book Awards Author of the Year for MAX
"A breathless adventure...full of action, swooping flights and fierce fights--a sure bet for the movies."—KLIATT
"Jump on board this MAXIMUM RIDE...Fights and flights are non-stop."—USA Today
THE ANGEL EXPERIMENT:
"BOOK OF THE WEEK...Pace, action, mystery, and cool."—London Times
- On Sale
- May 29, 2007
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- jimmy patterson