Three weeks, two days, and eight hours. Fang sighed and dropped his arm back down to his side once the night-light on his watched flipped off again, letting it dangle and brush the tree branch he was perched in. He refused to let anyone, especially himself, believe that Max could be dead.
But that didn't stop him from making it a possibility. It'd been too long. They were taking too long to track her down. West, he'd chanted that day, but they'd gone west. They'd gone to the facility in California. And Colorado. And Texas, though that one was still smoldering from…whatever had happened.
That's where they'd decided to stop and breathe. They wanted to wait for the emergency responders to leave, the FBI to abandon it, so they could comb the shell of a building and look for anything that might work. He'd hope Nudge might be able to find something she could work with. That was the current plan, anyways.
He watched the rest of the flock sleep. His mind raced as fast as his bird-kid heart as his mind drifted back to her, like it always did over the last year or so. Always on his mind...
Three weeks. Three whole weeks and they had yet to find her. Sure, there had been many leads and small traces, but nothing big. They had no idea where she was. What would he do if he never saw her again? Max was the glue that kept the flock together, and now that she's gone…they're all slipping. Nudge was quieter, Angel was less enthusiastic, Iggy was wordless, Gazzy was trying to put on a bravado act, and besides the pounding headache that sometimes left him spacey, he tried to step up and be the leader.
He'd never been the best leader of the flock, but a slight democracy had been working out, he thought. Working as a team to get their fearless leader back.
I opened my eyes. Darkness...Attempt number two, I opened my eyes. Still darkness. I started to panic. Attempting to spread my wings, I could feel the muscles working, but I felt no movement. None. I screamed. Or at least, I tried to. No sound. I took a deep breath. That, I felt.
Okay, I thought to myself, calm down. I could feel my heart pounding up a storm in my chest. I had to stay sane long enough to figure out where I was. If ever there was a time I wished the voice hadn't vanished, now was the absolute best time it could reveal itself.
But, of course I was never that lucky.
No, this was familiar, I realized, my heart starting to stutter at the terrifying, real possibility that this was a sensory deprivation tank. I pleaded with myself to think of the flock, my family, my mom, Ella, but all I could think was about the very fact that I would never see them again if I was trapped in a tank.
My resolve to stay calm shattered the same time a bright light broke through the darkness. My heart thumped wildly in my chest. So much so that it was painful now. I welcomed the blackness when it came.
I breathed heavily. Fighting off whitecoats would do that to you. I must have been getting weak if they didn't even need Erasers to restrain me. After they buckled me into a chair meant for mentally insane people, Jeb walked to the head of the table and flipped through some papers.
"What did you guys do to me now? "I asked, feeling weak. My eyelids were heavy, my wrists a little thinner than usual in the restraints. It had taken only three whitecoats to keep my flailing ass in the chair.
He found the one he was looking for and leaned on the table, staring at me. I filled my eyes and my face with as much anger and hate as I could, hoping it showed.
"What do you want?" I rasped, still squinting slightly at the bright florescent lights. "Three years. We defeated Itex three YEARS ago! What else do you want from us?!"
"No," Jeb said softly. "Just you. This 'us' you keep mentioning—no, it's just you."
"What do you want?" I ground out, somewhat relieved. If they just wanted me, then they'd leave the rest of the flock alone. But a memory bubbled to the surface from that last time I'd woken. The four whitecoats. They'd mentioned trying to find the flock…
"We here talked about just that in the eight months you've been in the tank—"
"Eight months?!" I whispered, horrified.
"—and we've created a schedule that spans about the next five years."
"Really…" Where was the flock? No attempts to break me out? No. I can't lose faith in them just yet. Not ever. I blinked, suddenly, realizing just how much trust I still blindly had in this man. Who's to say he wasn't lying? How could I believe him so easily when he'd said it had been eight months?
"Here's how it plays out—"
"Oh, goody, I get to know what hell looks like beforehand! It's like friggin' Christmas!" I cheered sarcasticly, a bite in my voice despite my fatigue. "Praise the heavens, this has never happened to me before! A warning of things to come!"
Again, he continued as if I hadn't even spoken, but I know he heard me. "First, we're going to replace that chip back into your arm—"
"Mind if I ask what it does?" I pressed, pulling lightly on the straps.
"It tracks progressions in your life. Reactions to your environment and such." Finally! An answer! "Then, after we replace the chip, you'll be put in a new deprivation tank—it'll be a bit easier on your heart." He smirked. "Can't have you having a heart attack on us." He winked.
Disgusting. "Go to hell," I snarled.
He ignored my comment. Glancing down at the table, I noticed it was metal, but the restraints wouldn't let me bash my head against it.
"Then we'll run regular daily tests for about six months after which we'll be working on a new experiment, now that you'll be of a safer breeding age—"
Jeb looked up at me and blinked. "We've just acquired the other part of the equation, so a lot of my colleagues are pushing for the experiment to be expedited." He flipped through a few pages. "We'll be moving you to a cell at that time—not a cage." He paused expectantly, and I watched him, disgusted at the thought he might be waiting for me to laugh at his poor joke. He sighed. "We need you to heal faster than the tank is allowing."
My eyes narrowed at the insinuation. "What if I refuse?"
He seemed to be picking and choosing which of my comments to acknowledge. He didn't answer. Well, not verbally. He lifted up a remote that I hadn't seen and, aiming over his shoulder at the plasma screen hanging on the wall, turned the large television on.
I coughed, choking on air, a failed sharp intake of breath caught in my throat.
Fang was sitting, shirtless, against a wall, running his hands through his hair like he did when he was angry, really, truly, honestly angry. This was beyond the livid, dangerously silent Fang. This was a Fang that didn't care who saw his emotions, because he was seething. His face was angled down toward his knees, away from the camera.
"We'll kill him."
My glare shot to Jeb.
"That won't be so easy," I assured him.
"Oh?" He pressed another button and the camera angle changed. Same room, but a different view showed now. Fang's head was still angled away, but another figure was in the center view. Iggy. He was sitting against a wall perpendicular to Fang. Well, at least I solved the mystery of Fangs shirtlessness. Strips of black cloth were tied tightly around Iggy's thigh, right above the knee.
"Dude." Iggy's voice came through the speakers distorted, and vaguely recognizable. Despite the crystal clear visual technology, their sound system must have been from a decade ago. "I'll be fine. Everything will be fine." He paused, but not in a hesitant way. "When we get out, you should go see a doctor or something. I may not be able to see, but, dude, really," he joked. But the pain—from his leg, I guessed—was evident in his voice.
"I'll be alright," Fang said, his words sounding slurred and forced.
Liar. When he looked up to respond to Iggy, I caught a glimpse of him. Even through a camera lens, he didn't look well. His usual olive tone faded to a deathly light pale, and bright hectic spots of pink covered his cheeks and forehead.
"Let him go," I started to say, but while I had been preoccupied with Fang, a whitecoat had come up and sedated me. How weak was I?
Fang and Iggy snapped their heads toward the screeching of the large metal door being opened, tensing. Fang tried to slide up the wall to his feet, preparing to defend himself and Iggy.
"Put her in here with them until the tank is ready," Jeb ordered and a whitecoat gently, yet still roughly, placed Max on the ground and shut the door quickly.
"Max," Fang breathed, stumbling over and kneeling next to her. Iggy slid across the floor next to him, audibly gnashing his teeth with every quick, jerky movement, and helped Fang get her to a more relaxed position on her back and away from the door.
While his blood ran cold at finally seeing what the School had done to her, he couldn't stop the tidal wave of relief that washed over him at seeing her just breathing in front of him. He brushed her hair from her face, damp and cold.
He scanned her quickly, a loose fitting sweater and a pair of ratty scrubs covering her legs. The bones in her wrists were a little more prominent than he remembered, her cheeks a little more sunken. But he tried to commit her face to memory. Fang had panicked a few times, waking from a light, fitful sleep where he had dreams he couldn't remember what she looked like. It'd been so long…
But he couldn't find signs of torture, lingering effects of any experiments they'd done. Physically, at least…