The X-Menmeets The Hunger Games in this thrilling debut superhero novel!
Tommy Ward just wanted to go through life like everybody else. Go to school, make friends, meet girls, play video games. You know, the stuff normal high school kids do. But Tommy isn’t normal, and the silver collar around his neck lets everybody know it.
Tommy is one of the Gifted, people born with special abilities that are locked down by the collars. But being a Gifted was outlawed after massive terrorist attacks destroyed half the world’s population. Now Tommy’s father is trapped as a participant in a terrible game show, where the only prize is death.
Tommy and his friends vow to save his dad, but without their powers, how will they do it? Tommy is about to find out that everything has a price, and sometimes you have to pay more than you can afford.
Storm Forged is the first novel in The Darkest Storm, a dark superhero series from Falstaff Books.
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|Publisher:||Falstaff Books, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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High school is a breeding ground for loathing, acne, and peer pressure, and that's on the good days. For me, school was more about dodging bullies than red rubber balls. I slid through the crowded hallways, my head down, trying to avoid being noticed.
"Hey, Ward. Where ya goin', Slag," followed me down the hall. I guess all the mining around town made Slag an insult. Heads turned, some to watch, some to leave as fast as possible. When you have a collar, you don't want to be a handy target. You wouldn't think having a silver band no thicker than your finger affixed around your neck would cause so many issues, but it did. After a short argument between my male pride and my instinct for self-preservation, I ran, hoping none of the pretty girls saw.
I hitched up my backpack, rounded the corner, and headed for the cafeteria. Depending on the teacher, I might get some assistance. Brunner closed the gap as I ran into the cafeteria. Rows of beige tables stood as mute witness to my pending humiliation. Most of the tables sat empty, but the few students around decided to help. Technically, they helped Brunner by blocking my exit, but I'm not complaining, much. Great job, Tommy, run into a room with no teachers. At least once a week we played this game, so I set my backpack on the floor. No sense getting blood on it.
"Mutt, I asked you a question." Brunner, a goon in every sense of the word, cracked his knuckles, the sound proceeding him as he approached. At any other school, he'd have been a star football player, being six-foot-two and over two-fifty. I would call him a Neanderthal, but why insult our ancestors who discovered fire? I doubt those innovative cavemen would be nineteen and still juniors in high school. His fist smashed into my mouth, dropping me to the floor. "I hate to be ignored." "Who could ignore something as ugly as you," I tried to say, but a size-fourteen Timberland boot stopped anything from coming out of my mouth that wasn't breakfast.
"Stay down," Brunner yelled as he kicked me in the side again. Pain exploded through me, and I felt like I would burst absorbing the punishment. I pulled my knees up, struggling to protect myself better. The crowd, drawn to the scent of blood, encircled us chanting, "Slag," as Brunner continued his onslaught.
I struggled up to my hands and knees — standing would take a lot more effort. I'd be damned if I would let him think he had the best of me. I had a reputation to maintain, however pitiful. If only I didn't have this damned collar, even a crappy power like Firework Farley had would have lit him up. I tensed as his foot swung back to deal the final blow.
"Break it up! Break it up!" Mr. Taylor shouted as he bulled his way through the crowd of students encircling us. "The bell is about to ring, get to class."
The kick never landed as Mr. Taylor grabbed Brunner by the shirt collar. "This time you aren't getting away with it."
"Mr. Taylor," Brunner pulled out of his grip, holding up his hands to protest his innocence, "Tommy fell, and I tried to help him up."
"I was born on a Wednesday, but it wasn't last Wednesday. You'll be getting a week of detention and a phone call to your parents."
"I don't think that will be necessary, Mr. Taylor," Vice Principal Robinson said from behind him. Robinson was immaculately dressed in her usual business suit and heels, of which I had a great view. Her blue-black skin made her look almost statuesque, but the flash of anger in her eyes argued otherwise. "Obviously, Mr. Ward tripped, and Mr. Brunner lent a helping hand. Dissidents tend to be clumsy, after all."
Brunner laughed, his friends rallying around him, high-fiving and slapping him on the back. "You'll get yours, Taylor, you freaking terrorist!" Brunner taunted. His friends all laughed as they sauntered out of the cafeteria.
Taylor bent over to help me up. "I will not stand for a student being beaten just for what he is." I groaned as the conversation veered into oncoming traffic and a head-on collision with a semi.
Vice Principal Robinson stepped closer. "Mr. Taylor, I understand your point. The government has worked hard to mainstream Dissidents back into society, but troublemakers tend to end up in The Block, and I would hate to lose one of my best teachers."
Mr. Taylor straightened, his face draining of all color. The Block, one of the maximum-security detention facilities, quelled even the toughest Gifted. Taylor knew she didn't make idle threats. "As you wish. I will take Mr. Ward to the nurse so she can check him for injuries."
I jumped up, fighting to regain my balance. The world spun for a second, but I stayed on my feet, a major accomplishment after being worked over by Brunner. I'd gotten better at avoiding serious damage during these incidents. Mom would be upset if the nurse called her again. "I'm fine, Mr. Taylor." I grasped his elbow as the world slid sideways, my stomach leaping to the back of my throat.
"See, Mr. Taylor, the boy isn't hurt. Please escort Mr. Ward to class and remind him not to be so clumsy in the future. A week's detention should help him think about what he's done."
"He shouldn't need an escort to protect him going to class."
"Mr. Taylor, it's fine. I really do need to be more careful walking to class." I stared into his eyes, trying to convince him to drop it. The last thing I wanted was for him to end up in The Block on account of me. Once a Gifted entered, they never came out again. I couldn't let that happen to him.
"See, the boy understands the situation better than most, Mr. Taylor." She turned on her stiletto heels and strode across the cafeteria.
I waited until the vice principal got out of earshot. I slung my backpack over my shoulder. "Thanks, Mr. Taylor."
"It's not right, Tommy. You can't help being born with Gifts any more than she could help being born black."
We passed through the cafeteria doors, then my mouth flew to where my brain feared to tread. "Did you have your powers before the Reclamation?" It was considered rude and a bit dangerous to ask about a Gifted's powers, but I didn't have anyone else to ask. All the kids my age had been collared in kindergarten, so we didn't even know what our abilities could do.
Mr. Taylor studied me for a bit before answering. "Yes, I did, Tommy."
I trembled with excitement. An actual Gifted who knew what they could do was similar to meeting a rock star. "It must have been amazing?" I blurted out.
"Amazing, but there are costs for using your Gifts. Still, my life ended the day they collared me, but it also saved me. Gifts are always a two-edged sword." He stared into the distance for a moment before glancing over my shoulder. The first bell rang before I could ask more. Vice Principal Robinson watched us from the school office's entrance, her long gleaming red fingernails tapping on the door frame. Mr. Taylor cleared his throat. "If you aren't careful, they'll cut you to ribbons."
"Gotta go. Thanks, Mr. Taylor." I shoved my arms through the backpack's straps and ran for history class, my least favorite subject.
I slid through the doorway, right before Mr. Powell shut the door. Of all the teachers I had to deal with, Lewis C. Powell was the worst. Ex-military and the Reclaimers' chosen representative in Redemption, Powell bore the scars of hunting down Gifted during the Reclamation War. He hated the Gifted with every ounce of his being and made sure we knew it.
"Why, class, look. Mr. Ward, our resident terrorist, decided to grace us with his presence." His angry sneer twisting the scars. "You know these Dissidents think they can come and go as they please. Well, at least they used to before we collared them like the Mutts they are."
The class laughed. They always laughed. And here it comes, wait for it.
"Let's see what Mr. Ward thinks of a week's detention for being late."
The second bell rang announcing class should start. I'd made it in time, but Powell's petty cruelties brought him great joy, and the Norms worshipped him, the Reclamation hero. Two weeks of detention before first period. Another record for the books set by Mr. Tommy Ward, juvenile delinquent.
Mr. Powell stomped to the front of the room, his self-satisfied smirk firmly affixed to his scarred face. "Today, we are discussing the aftereffects of the Reclamation. Can anyone tell me why we are so fortunate to have students like Mr. Ward here?"
A couple of hands shot up around the room, but none higher than Wendell Hempstead's. The school nerd, he would have been bully feed if not for the Gifted. Powell's daily assault reinforced the fact of Gifted were the bottom of the food chain.
"Okay, Mr. Hempstead."
He stood up to answer. Wendell's bad haircut, pasty white skin, and Coke-bottle glasses showed him to be the ultimate kiss ass. "Mr. Powell, after the destruction of the major cities of the world by the Dissident terrorists, the Reclaimers had detention centers built in five locations: Siberia, Poland, Brazil, the Sudan, and here. Collared Dissidents are required to live within a two-hundred-mile radius of one of these detention centers; thus, Mr. Ward is here at our school."
"Very good, Mr. Hempstead."
Wendell beamed at the praise as he sat down. He is such a brown-noser.
"Why are you required to live within two-hundred miles of such centers, Mr. Ward?" Powell said, a nasty gleam in his eye.
"So you don't have to be too far from your boyfriend?" popped in my head and may have made it out of my mouth if I had felt suicidal. While I couldn't be kicked out of school, this being the designated Dissident school, worse things could happen, and Powell would make sure they did. I decided not to die today. "So we can be monitored and have frequent updates to our collars, Mr. Powell, and after reeducation become a valued member of society."
I am such a wuss.
"That is correct." Mr. Powell turned his back and launched into his real lecture on how the Protector saved us all from the horrors of the Gifted menace, how noble his surrender after all the Dissidents had been captured, blah, blah, blah. I failed history every term, but no one cared if I did well or not. Well, other than Mom. She most definitely cared.
The rest of the day crawled like a slug across broken glass. Pre-Calc ended with a reminder from Ms. Hannah to study for tomorrow's test. I grabbed my backpack and headed to the Dissident Protection Center, built to withstand an uncollared Gifted just in case one of us ever broke free. In the fifteen-plus years the Institute had been educating Gifted kids, detention has been its sole use.
I entered what we called the Air-Lock. The room could hold four to five hundred people, even though there are about one hundred Gifted kids going to school here. The door belonged in a high-tech bank, not a high school. Carbinium doors and six-inch bolts were set into two feet of ultra-hard concrete. The walls, floors, and ceiling had been constructed of the same stuff. Rumor had it a nuclear bomb wouldn't damage the Air-Lock. Inside, a wonderland of beige awaited us. The beige walls complemented the light brown floor tile and the off-white ceiling. The lights were some sort of filament tech, no electricity in the lines, just in case. The only "real" thing in the room was an old wooden desk a Gifted teacher sat at during our time here. Most of the kids waited here for the Institute's armored buses to take them to the dorms, but the rest of us, the ones who lived at home, constant "detention" had been implemented to keep us on campus as long as possible.
Jon and Wendi Stevens were already there. Wendi stood out, a rose in a junkyard, with long blond hair and blue eyes; she would have been prom queen, if not for the collar she wore. Her friends clustered around, words flying around like tumbleweed in a windstorm.
Wendi's twin, Jon, stood a head taller than most of the Gifted guys he hung out with. He rivaled any quarterback with the square jaw and wide shoulders. Not that it mattered. Once the collar had been affixed, the label of Dissident, of Slag, applied and everything changed.
I passed by, flashing an awkward half-smile at Wendi, who didn't see it.
"... another Gifted girl murdered, I'm scared," one of the girls remarked, wringing her hands in front of her. "What if it happens here?"
Jon snorted. "We are under guard twenty-four-hours a day. No one gets out of here until they're eighteen."
Wendi smacked Jon's shoulder. "As my rude brother pointed out, it would be difficult to attack anyone here." His head swiveled to face her, the purple bruise around
Jon's left eye, plainly obvious. "Yeah, nobody ever gets attacked here. Tommy got the crap beat out of him by Brunner just this morning."
All heads turned to look at me. My face decided bright red would accent all the bruises developing there. Wendi gave me the puppy dog eyes. As any reasonable sixteen-year-old boy would do, I fled.
I sat down at my desk and took out a book to read. We were supposed to do homework, but none of us ever bothered. Unless your teacher had a collar, you didn't get higher than a C in the class anyhow.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped a bit. Marcel pushed into the desk next to me, sucking in his stomach to accomplish this feat of contortion. He wasn't fat, exactly; Mom called him "big boned." A huge smile crossed his face as he ran his hand through his afro. Marcel's hair could be considered the eighth wonder of the modern world due to the size.
"Hey, Bruh. S'up?" he asked, extracting his Samsung Supernova from his backpack and popping open an app he had written. "I hacked the guards' frequency, and they are going crazy. Someone broke out of The Block."
"Really?" No one had broken out of the Block before. It made Fort Knox look like a tourist trap.
"Yeah, nasty dude called the Grim Reaper. They say he killed twelve guards getting out." Marcel grinned.
"Good for him, bad for us." Whenever problems arose, the Reclaimers cracked down on all the Gifted. Random searches, lockdowns, and emergency practices would be coming soon. When the first of the Gifted women went missing, the Norms freaked out. For a Gifted to have killed a Norm, especially multiple guards, at the world's toughest prison, should be impossible.
Marcel punched me lightly in the shoulder. "Yeah, but Bruh, he got away." He tapped his chin, which indicated a plan in the works, but there was no way out for us, especially without our Gifts. If you tried to escape, they locked you away or put you on TV for Saturday NightShowdown. The Norms loved to see us fight in high def.
I decided to change the subject before someone overheard us. "Mom sent in the paperwork to renew your weekend pass." He nodded, a smile growing on his face. "Excellent. Mom's cooking is a lot better than the Institute's. They served instant potatoes the other night. I mean, who would do that to a poor potato? I guess the spuds must have been Gifted."
We laughed. To the rest of the world, we were opposite in every way. He was tall, big, and black, whereas short, skinny, and white described me, but in our hearts, we had been brothers since the day we met in kindergarten, and things would never change.
The last of the kids filtered in, and the guards sealed the door from the outside. The thump as the Carbinium bolts slid into place reverberated in my chest. My stomach twisted like always because my stupid lizard brain nibbles at the thought: is this the time they aren't going to open the doors again? If everything was normal in an hour or so, we would be released to go home for the night.
High school really sucks.CHAPTER 2
The door banged open. I sat up, startled awake to find my perky, morning person mother standing in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. "I've got some business in Great Falls, so get dressed and let's go."
I groaned and tugged the covers over my head. "I'm not wasting a Saturday sitting around your office. I'll be here when you get back."
"Oh, well, I thought you might like to kick it at The Secret Lair while I worked, but I guess I should let you sleep ..." she trailed off as she started to close the door.
"What!" The cover flew off me as I leapt out of bed, wincing as the bruises from yesterday's beating cramped. "You didn't say anything about that!"
She gave me the sympathetic eyes usually reserved for when I was sick. "No, you go back to bed, you're tired."
The door closed. "I'll be ready in ten minutes," I yelled at the door. I threw on the closest clothes I could find from the floor. I rejected the first shirt I grabbed. It didn't pass the smell test. Laundry would be in my near future, one of the chores Mom had passed on to me as part of making me a real adult. I dressed, ran my fingers through my hair, swished around some Scope, kicked on my boots and winter jacket, and ran for the front door.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stormed Forged"
Copyright © 2018 Patrick Dugan.
Excerpted by permission of Falstaff Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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