Authors: Scott Speer
is a movie and music video director and a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He directed
Step Up Revolution
and has worked with Will.I.Am, Jordin Sparks, Paris Hilton, Ashley Tisdale and other Hollywood personalities. He is also the author of
, and is currently working on the third book in the series. Scott lives in Los Angeles, California.
and its sequel
Natural Born Angel
have been more than books; they have been an amazing journey with amazing people. I’d like to thank my incredible team: Brian, Claudia, and my editor Laura, as well as my film agents and managers Simon, Allen, Brian and Susan. To my family and friends, thank you for your unwavering support, and your patience. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
he massive blood-red disc of the sun sank into the ocean just ahead of the aircraft carrier USS
. The sky seemed to catch fire and burn as the sun set along the horizon; it appeared almost close enough to touch.
The tremendous nuclear-powered navy vessel was an impressive sight as it powered its way through the darkening waves deep in the middle of the Pacific. As the sun continued setting, the ship’s formidable form was silhouetted against the blazing sky. On the flight deck, navy personnel wearing large white earmuffs scrambled. A pilot was manoeuvring a fighter aircraft on the thick steel surface, setting it into the football-field-length, steam-powered catapult that would hurl the jet off the carrier’s short runway.
The fading light radiated off the silver skin of the supersonic fighter jet, an F/A-18E Super Hornet. Inside, First Lieutenant Troy “Showtime” Jenkins began the normal course of checking his instruments and ensuring his rudder and ventral flaps were operational. Everything seemed good to go.
Behind the plane, the crew lifted the wide jet blast deflector. As soon as he saw it was safe, Lieutenant Jenkins turned on the powerful jet engine. The roar was incredible as it fired to life. Steam rose off the flight deck as the crew made last-second preparations for lift-off.
The voice in his radio crackled:
“Raider one-one-two, this is Giant Killer. You are cleared for take-off. Ready when you are, Showtime.”
“Roger, Giant Killer, this is Raider one-one-two. Looks like a beautiful night for a Sunday drive,” Troy said, looking out on the sunset. The jet engine whined as it reached full power, ready to thrust at the right moment.
Giving a thumbs-up to the catapult operators on the flight deck, the lieutenant used one hand to clutch the handle in front of him. His hands ached with the tight grip. He said a quick prayer.
The steam catapult activated like an enormous gun. The pressure was unbelievable as it slung the fighter jet forward at one hundred and sixty-five miles per hour.
One moment, the F-18 was sitting on the flight deck. The next, Lieutenant Jenkins and the jet were flying one hundred and sixty-five miles per hour above the dark, cresting waves of the Pacific.
Just clocking in for another boring day at work
, Lieutenant Jenkins thought to himself with a smile as the fighter screamed along the ocean.
“Giant Killer, I am outbound at one-one-four SE, ascending to one-zero ten thousand feet. Clear skies as far as I can see, over.”
“Copy Raider one-one-two, that’s affirmative. Proceed to one-zero ten thousand.”
Pulling back the centre stick, the pilot began making his climb towards the clouds. Suddenly a strange blip appeared on his green heads-up display screen in front of him. Something very low. And then, just as suddenly, it disappeared.
“Giant Killer, did you just see that on radar?” Lieutenant Jenkins asked.
“Affirmative, we are checking if there are any bogies in the area.”
The pilot’s concentrated gaze focused on the screen. Nothing. For a moment there was a small blip again. But then it vanished.
“Showtime, we’re showing no activity in this area, and the bogey has disappeared. Probably just a fluke. Proceed to one-zero ten thousand feet, over.”
Lieutenant Jenkins looked out over the endless horizon, where whatever he saw on the radar had been.
“Negative, Giant Killer,” the pilot said. “I’m going in for visual.”
Tilting the stick forward and to the left, he steered the jet closer to the ocean again, screaming towards the setting sun. The exhaust on the back of the fighter jet burned the same fiery orange as the horizon.
“Showtime, proceed with your original flight plan. Raider one-one-two, do you copy?”
“Roger, getting visual on unidentified bogey.” Lieutenant Jenkins smiled – what were they going to do, fire him? He was one of the only guys around who knew how to do this. Well, do it this well, at least.
The lieutenant tried not to listen to the series of curses from the control tower coming over his radio.
Within moments he was nearing the position of the unidentified object on the radar. But he still didn’t have visual contact. He craned his neck around, looking through the glass as the fleeting light darkened the sky. He saw nothing, not a trace.
“Where are you? Where’d you go?” Jenkins asked the unknown object.
Dropping down even further, the nimble jet roared to just barely above the rolling, deep Pacific waves. The lieutenant scanned all around. Still, he saw nothing.
Suddenly, his radar beeped. It was right in front of him. But he couldn’t see it.
“Giant Killer, unidentified bogey at my twelve, within range but I do not see anything. Pretty spooky, over.” There was a taste of fear in the pilot’s voice this time.
“Where the hell are you?” the pilot said aloud.
“Showtime, get out of there now. That is a direct order!”
The pilot’s eyes grew in terror and shock. He saw it: just ahead of him, emerging from the waves, was some sort of enormous, terrible, black, smoking object. It seemed to be on fire. And he was heading straight for it.
“Showtime, you’re on a vector for collision. Take evasive manoeuvres. Now, now!”
The cockpit erupted in alarms as all of the F-18’s instruments suddenly began failing. With all his strength, Jenkins pulled on the stick to pull the jet up, but he was helpless: it wouldn’t respond. There was no changing course. He was being drawn in.
With supreme terror, the pilot saw the giant, flaming
turn towards him as it surged further up from the roiling waves. He saw its eyes. Red and unblinking.
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY
The giant hand of the thing reached towards the screaming F-18 and pulled the jet down to the ocean, with Lieutenant Jenkins in it, as easy as a child playing with a toy. The aircraft crumpled under the impact. Instantly igniting, the jet fuel turned the fighter into a tumbling mass of fire, human body parts and shrapnel.
“Raider one-one-two, do you copy? Raider one-one-two, do you copy? Jesus, Showtime, answer!”
they called from the tower. But Lieutenant Jenkins could not hear them. There was no more Lieutenant Jenkins.
The burning flotsam of the shattered and twisted remains of the jet floated atop the waves, pouring black smoke into the darkening sky.
Satisfied, the terrible thing slowly submerged again beneath the murky waves, as if it had never even been there. Slipping underwater, it somehow continued flaming and roiling hot smoke even as it dived. The fiery creature flared with menace as it slowly drifted ever deeper undersea, a bonfire burning into the ocean depths.
addy woke with a start, her eyelids popping open, her breath coming quick and shallow. She pushed herself up in bed and sat there gasping, letting the terror of the horrific nightmare slowly bleed out of her. A cold sheen of sickly sweat clung to her skin.
Just a dream, Maddy
, she told herself.
It was just a dream.
Lifting her head, she looked out of the window. There it was, like a ghost in the misty half-light – the Angel City sign. It loomed huge and silent on the hill, perfectly framed by Maddy’s bedroom window. She sighed. The final remnants of the dream faded to nothing, replaced by the reality that she was still living in Los Angeles. Still stuck in the Immortal City.
She looked out of the window at the brilliant Southern California morning. The grass on the hill beyond her bedroom window was brown and dry from the hot summer, and the towering, fifteen-metre letters of the Angel City sign gleamed in the sunlight above it. She let her eyes drift from the window to the walls of her bedroom, which seemed strangely naked, no longer covered with childhood posters and mementos of her youth, and then to her nearly empty wardrobe, which had a few lonely wire hangers in it.
The nightmare had plagued Maddy more than a few times now. And it was always the same: Jackson Godspeed came into her uncle’s diner, just as he did the first time they met, except in the dream he wore a casual T-shirt and faded blue jeans. The truth was, it didn’t matter what he wore. He was the world’s most famous Guardian Angel, and he had the perpetual look of a model who had just stepped out of a fashion magazine or off a billboard. He came in, looked at her with his pale blue eyes, and told her she was going to train to be a Guardian. Just like he had done in real life almost nine months before.
And in the dream she always hesitated.
“I . . . I don’t know what to say, Jacks,” she said to him. “I guess I need time to think about it.”
“Maddy,” he said, looking at her and yet seeing right through her, his eyes distant in a way she’d never witnessed when she was awake. “You don’t have a choice. You don’t seem to understand. You’re already changing.”
In the dream, she opened her mouth to speak, but the words died on her lips as a sharp pain erupted in her back. The muscles of her back contracted violently, twisting into excruciating knots. Maddy staggered backwards across the dining room. Her hand flew out to catch herself but managed only to knock over a nearby table, sending cups and dirty plates shattering on the floor.
Jacks hadn’t moved.
She convulsed again, and all at once she realized it was more than a muscle spasm in her back. Much more. Something was
back there. Something inside her was alive. The skin on her back stretched tight, pulled taught like a drum. She choked back a wave of nausea as she felt the thing – no,
– twist inside her again, pushing eagerly against her, trying desperately to get out.
Then she heard it.
It started like the sound of tearing construction paper, followed by a tremendous
. It was the sound of her skin splitting along her spine. There was the feeling of something exploding out of her back, and then with a sudden
of air, she was pushed hard against the floor.
She had wings.
They protruded out of her back, jutting up through her shredded waitress uniform and the mangled remains of her back. She lifted her head to look at her reflection in the plate glass window. Her wings looked nothing like Jacks’s wings, nothing like the beautiful, luminescent wings of the Guardians. Maddy’s wings were horrific. Deformed and sickly, they thrashed uncontrollably on her back like the ill-formed appendages of something that was never meant to be.
The wings of a monster.
Recalling the nightmare again, Maddy shuddered and ran her hands across her back. She put one foot, then her second foot on the floor next to the bed. Pulling up the T-shirt she slept in, she quickly spun and looked at her back in the full-length mirror. She knew it had been a dream. But she wanted to make sure, nevertheless.
The wings of her nightmare were not present in the mirror. Instead, what looked to be two elegant tattoos remained on her back. These were her Immortal Marks, the mark of every Angel, indicating Maddy was not – or at least not entirely – human. They were different from Jacks’s marks, or any of the other Angels’, for that matter. Full-blooded Angels had marks that were elaborate and ornate. The marks that had begun forming on Maddy’s back over the last several months were simpler and smaller than most, but they were also undeniable. They were a sure sign that the secrets she had learned about her past were true.
The doctors thought her Angelic traits were activating with the end of puberty, and that more changes could be on the way. By that, they meant the superhuman abilities of the Immortals, including, of course,
and the ability to fly
Beyond that, she had no idea what might be lurking inside her, or how she might be changing. No one did.
Maddy sighed in relief and let the T-shirt drape back down to her waist. She wondered if the nightmares would start to taper off once she was out of Angel City. She looked at the corner of the room, where she had stacked a couple of small boxes, all ready to be taped up and sent to Northwestern University, where she was going to begin college in just a few days.
To the left of the boxes sat a suitcase. She’d packed it the night before. After cleaning and sorting through things, she was surprised by how much of her eighteen years could be condensed to a small, neat pile in a corner of her room.
She had already seen her best friend, Gwen Moore, off to university; Gwen was attending Arizona State and had left the week before. Things were changing quickly.
On the nightstand, Maddy’s phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID and saw it was Jacks.
“Hey!” she said, answering.
“Hey,” Jacks said on the other line. Even now, almost ten months after they’d first met, his voice still made her feel butterflies in her stomach. “What’s my favourite college student up to?”
“Weelll, I just woke up,” Maddy said. “And, technically, Jackson Godspeed, I’m not a student yet. Not until I register when I arrive on campus.”
“Just a technicality,” Jacks said, trying to remain light-hearted. Maddy knew it was hitting Jacks hard, her decision to pursue a degree halfway across the country.
“So. . .” Jacks said.
“Can I take you out for ice cream later? These days are precious. Pretty soon you’ll be off in Illinois curing cancer and learning Chinese and reading philosophers and coming back cleverer than everybody.”
, we’ll see each other once a month, like we planned,” Maddy said. “And then for summers I’ll be back. As long as I can get good internships here in Angel City.”
Below the surface of their conversation lay a complicated backstory. Ever since Jackson had walked into her uncle’s diner and given her the Archangels’ offer to become a Guardian, Maddy had known her decision was going to be one of the most difficult of her life.
Jacks had wanted her to stay in California and embrace the life of an Angel. Of course, it would probably be a dream come true for most people, to be offered the chance to become a rich and powerful Guardian Angel. But Maddy wasn’t “most people”, and the truth was that she had got into some very good universities, even getting a scholarship at her top choice, Northwestern. College had been a dream of hers ever since she could remember. Plus, if she chose to cultivate her Angelic side and explore her supernatural ability, who was to guarantee what she was capable of? Could she really save people’s lives? Was there enough of her father in her?
Would she even ever get her wings?
Maddy’s uncle Kevin, who had raised her from childhood, had been no aid at all in helping her decide. He stayed quiet, telling her she had to make her own decision. But she knew how he felt about Angels, whom he blamed for the death of his sister, Maddy’s mom, and she could imagine what he would have chosen for her.
Maddy had waited until the final weeks of her senior year at Angel City High School before making her decision. But ultimately she chose to continue with her life-long dream, her university plan. And move out of Angel City.
Which was a secret relief, as much as she was going to miss Jacks. The Angel lifestyle as she’d experienced it with Jacks was too much. The constant attention, the paparazzi camped out on the pavement outside her house, the never-ending hubbub wherever they went: Maddy had never asked for these things. Just by being around Jackson for nearly a year she’d got a good taste of what it might be like to be a Guardian.
But she and Jacks couldn’t bear to break up, not when they’d gone through so much just to be together. They were going to try to do the long-distance thing and were both hopeful it could work out, though she knew Jackson was terribly disappointed she’d be leaving.
Jacks’s voice continued on the phone: “You can’t blame me for wanting to spend as much time as I can with you before you leave on Friday, anyway. So ice cream it is?”
“That sounds good,” Maddy said, smiling. “As long as they have strawberry. Pick me up at three?”
“I have treatment until three thirty. But I can be there by four,” Jacks responded.
“How are you feeling?” Maddy asked tentatively. “Is it . . . any better?”
“No,” Jacks growled in sudden anger over the phone. “I had more tests yesterday. They’re going to try a different procedure next month.”
Jackson had almost been made mortal in a vicious attack, and his wings still hadn’t recovered. Mark Godspeed, Jacks’s stepfather, was paying for every treatment known to Angelkind; they’d reattached Jacks’s severed wing using cutting-edge surgical technology, yet Jackson was still not making much – if any – progress towards flying again.
“Sorry for getting like this . . . I’m just frustrated, that’s all,” Jacks said.
“It’s OK, Jacks. Anyone would be.” Every day that passed without being able to assume Guardianship weighed on Jacks, Maddy knew. She felt a pang.
“See you at four?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Maddy put the phone down, sighing, sorry she had brought up his wings. She constantly tried to let Jackson know she loved him regardless of whether he was an acting Guardian or not. That love had deepened over the past year as she had got to know Jackson more and more, spending more time with him, sharing their thoughts and feelings and the private little jokes they came up with. They’d sneak away to dodge the paparazzi and have secret picnics high in the Hollywood Hills, or Jacks would have her over for dinner at his own new gorgeous house in Empyrean Canyon, and they’d stay up late cuddling and making out, streaming cheesy TV shows from when they were younger.
Even though he was
Jackson Godspeed, Maddy just felt comfortable with him. Like she could really be herself for once, free to express herself without shyness. And even when they talked about sex, Jacks was a true gentleman. Maddy of course
to have sex with Jacks – sometimes she was so attracted to him that she almost couldn’t believe it – but she also wanted the first time to be the right time, and she wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge. They’d talked without embarrassment, and they agreed that she should focus on finishing high school and starting university before they actually took things to a more physical level. “We have a lot of time,” Jacks had told her. She loved him for that.
On her bedroom desk sat a framed picture of her and Jacks in front of the pond in Central Park – he’d taken her on her first trip to New York City as a graduation present that spring. The Plaza Hotel and Midtown skyscrapers rose from behind the screen of lush trees and the duck-filled pond they stood in front of. They had been so happy that week. She picked the photo up and studied their glowing faces before putting the photo on top of her suitcase. There was no way she was leaving it behind.
She walked downstairs, yawning, each step of the staircase in the old house creaking as she descended. Every step had a different creak, and at this point she knew them by heart, like notes on a scale.
Suddenly, a jolt coursed through Maddy’s body. Her hand gripped the banister tightly. Her vision rapidly became blurry – everything seemed to grow grey and foggy. She could see nothing concrete, and she felt like she was going to trip forward into an empty expanse, a grey void that would expand for ever, with her falling through it.
All at once, she felt heat. The worst kind of heat she could imagine. Blistering, searing, inescapable. Smoke appeared, with flames following. Maddy’s pulse raced as she realized it was a fire.
From the smoky darkness suddenly emerged a small boy in a striped shirt whom she had never seen before. His hands stretched towards Maddy as he attempted to escape the flames. The child’s eyes bulged terribly out of his pale skin as he began coughing. Coughing blood.
And just as suddenly found herself standing on the stairs in her uncle’s house, gasping for air, her fingernails making marks in the wood of the banister. There was no fire.