Alex and Dex are local heroes. Suddenly, everyone wants to be friends with Alex, Dex and Sophi. But someone more powerful than Alex and Dex lurks in the background, keeping a close watch until it's time to swoop in and capture them. Still, Alex tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy. He wants to play baseball. As Alex becomes a formidable pitcher, his powers grow and so does his obsession with controlling his powers. With Alex finding less and less time for Dex and Sophi, Dex discovers his cat-like abilities disappear soon after he starts spending time with a girl. As the friends struggle to maintain their friendships, that mysterious someone gets closer and closer. Can the three friends find their way back to one another before it's too late? Or will middle school tear them apart for good?
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The shot headed right for my head almost in slow motion as I rolled out of the way to safety behind my house. It hit a tree in my backyard instead, which meant one thing: I was trapped.
My chest heaved, the cold air turning my breath into vapor as I tried to stay calm and calculate my next move. I could either continue running away or I could fight back.
Another couple of shots whizzed past me and hit the same tree. My enemies were content to stay back and fire from afar ... or maybe that's what they wanted me to think. I was running out of time to decide what to do next and was probably outnumbered. Decision-making time. This was my moment to break out.
I looked around at the foot of snow that blanketed the yard and realized there might be a way to camouflage myself for a sneak retaliation. Maybe if I dug into the white stuff and covered myself quickly, I could ambush them when they came looking for me.
A shot that almost grazed my ear. They were getting closer and my time was about to be up.
The sound came from above, but it was too late by the time I looked up to see my attacker.
A pile of snow hit me in the face, stinging my cheeks and falling into every crevice inside the hood of my jacket.
"Dex!" I yelled. "No powers! We agreed!"
My best friend cackled as he scampered down from the one of the oak trees planted on the side of my house that hung over my hiding place. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist — wouldn't you climb a tree in a snow fight every chance you got if you had cat DNA in your blood?
Dex was the first friend I'd made after moving with my parents to a new town and starting seventh grade at Strange Country Day, a private institute funded by some of the wealthiest people in the country that looked more like a college campus than a middle school. He's not the only one with powers. I found out I had superhuman abilities when the school year began — I could suddenly throw footballs like bullets and fight back against bullies, though I had zero control over when those powers kicked in as one ninth grader found out when I bloodied his nose with a punch I didn't even realize I was throwing.
Turned out my dad was secretly part of a team of government scientists who used unorthodox technology to perform unusual procedures on unborn babies to prevent future diseases and disabilities, and in the process, unwittingly gave some of them extremely powerful and unusual abilities.
Mine were triggered by the nanobots swimming through my blood. They had helped me throw a miraculous game-winning Hail Mary pass to Dex just weeks ago to give Strange Country Day a state football championship, but I still wasn't completely sure.
"C'mon, Alex! It was too tempting not to attack from above!" Dex called over his shoulder. He was also part of Dad's experiments long ago, a kid with feline DNA mixed in with his own. You could see the odd mixture in his face: a grayish complexion, some sharp teeth and slits for eyes. He could also leap ten feet in the air, climb tall trees in just seconds, and jump off them, always landing perfectly on his feet. It made him one heck of a wide receiver, too.
I brushed myself off and ran after him, laughing. A snowball smacked me in the upper arm with some good force. That was courtesy of Sophi, who gave Dex a high five. "Awesome plan, perfectly executed," she said.
Sophi's my girlfriend. I had to fight off a gargantuan offensive lineman known as Flab who thought she was dating him, but I got some help from Sophi — she, too, had been modified by my dad's team, which attached a nuclear-powered battery to her heart, giving her the ability to manipulate electricity. I still couldn't believe I was with a girl who was as pretty and cool as she was. She loved dyeing her hair all different shades (today, it was a dark green, though it was hidden by a winter hat) and she had something weirdly beautiful called heterochromia — two different-colored eyes.
I responded with a snowball that hit her on the leg. "You're my girlfriend, so you're supposed to be on my side."
This was the biggest blizzard of the year, a storm that continued to dump snow on us and gave us the greatest gift a kid could get — a day off from school. We had already spent an hour outside and enjoyed the wet, fat flakes as they continued to fall around us. Maybe we'd get another snow day tomorrow.
I picked up another handful of snow, packed it, and threw it at Dex this time. He ignored our rules again, doing a front flip over the snowball and landing on his feet with ease. I ducked under another Sophi throw and responded with a shot of my own, forgetting my arm strength for a moment. I wound and hurled it at full speed.
I was too accurate. The throw hit her squarely in the face.
"Owwwwww-uhhhhhhhhhh!" she yelled, drawing the word into two syllables. She held her left eye for a few seconds as her face scrunched up. Dex and I stopped in our tracks as she stared daggers at me, but as I began to say, "Are you okay?" she pulled off her right glove and stuck it right in the snow. I knew in that millisecond what was about to happen, but it was already too late.
The waves of electricity hit my body and I clenched my jaw — my body was paralyzed as I fell back to the ground.
The next sound I heard was Dex's squeaky laughter. I picked my head up and saw him perched in another tree. "Remind me never to make you mad, Sophi," he said as he jumped back down.
I knew I had inflicted pain on Sophi, but it was an accident! If she was okay enough to shock me, then she wasn't injured badly. Dex's non-stop high-pitched cackling was getting on my nerves, too. As I prepared to get up, I balled up a chunk of snow as tightly as I could pack it, the snowball feeling like a sphere of ice through my glove. I felt anger and frustration building up inside of me. At that moment, I wished I could tap into my powers just this once.
I leapt up and threw it with all my might at Dex. But I didn't see what happened next ... because my vision was blurry. The smell of marshmallows roasting over a fire, which usually accompanied my powers activating, wafted into my nose as what felt like water shot through my arms and legs. A screechy ringing sound filled my ears.
A second later I heard nothing, not even Dex or Sophi. I shook my head to get my vision back and stared at where I'd aimed.
Dex had ducked, but at that moment, he was turned around looking behind him where the iceball had landed. Sophi's jaw was agape and I saw why. It looked like there was a small dent in the metal siding of my parents' house.
The three of us walked over to inspect further. I pulled off my glove and ran my hand over the spot — sure enough, there was a small indentation. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It had been a month since the Strange Country Day championship football game. I wasn't sure at the time that I had used my powers to make the throw that won the game and thought they had completely disappeared for good. My dad explained to me that my immune system was slowly shutting down my nanobots. But now, I was sure I had "activated," as we called it.
"You okay?" Sophi asked. That snapped me out of the moment. "Are you?" I replied, turning to look at her eye, which didn't look hurt. Lucky me.
"You did it, didn't you?" Dex said. "Your powers worked again!" I wanted to answer him, but I noticed something red blinking on his face. It looked like the reflection from a police siren. We looked up at the windows of the house to see a silent red alarm going off inside.
Oh, no. I broke the house.
"I'll tell them it was my fault," I said as we ran to the front door and stamped our feet on the welcome mat.
"I'm home," I called out.
An automated female voice responded from an unseen speaker near the door. "Voice identified as Ptuiac, Alexander. Welcome home," it said as the front door clicked open. That was just one of the countless tricks the house could do thanks to my dad's modifications.
As we entered, I shut my eyes, prepared for my parents to ground me and make me pay for house repairs.
But there was no one in the kitchen where we came in, just a silent red alarm that continued to blink in various rooms. The three of us exchanged mystified looks.
"Mom? Dad?" I called. "I know they're here. We were out there for a half an hour and they would have told us if they were leaving."
"Maybe you can blame the dent on a wild animal or something," Dex said.
"Maybe I'll blame it on you," I replied.
Sophi ignored us and walked over to the intercom on the wall near our kitchen table. "Mind if I try something?" She didn't wait for an answer, placing her hands on the machine for a couple of seconds. We started hearing it squawk as she fed a small current through it.
"... ... ... ZZZZZZZZZZZwwwwwwwwrrrrrrrrr I'm telling you it's ..... CHRKKKKKKSSSSSSSSSSSS. ... ... Radar is picking it up . ... ... WOOOOOOOOOOOO No visual, three twenty-six?"
One of the voices sounded like my mom's — she was the head of our family's security force, watching our army of guards and protectors and giving orders from an unseen base under our house — but I couldn't identify the others and had no idea what they were talking about. Suddenly, the basement door opened and Dad emerged, looking harried.
"Dad, I have something to tell you ..." I began to confess to denting the house.
"Not now. Kids, I'm sorry, you have to stay inside right now. There's something we need to take care of. It's an emergency."
"What's wrong?" I started to get panicky.
"Don't worry, I'll explain later," he said, putting on a parka with a furry hood. He put his hand on the front door, but stopped. He turned to look at us, focusing on Sophi specifically. "Can you come and help me?"
"Can we come too?" I asked. Whatever was happening sounded dangerous, but now that he was including Sophi, I was too curious. I fully expected him to turn down the request.
"Absolutely not," he said, opening the front door.
"Alex, we don't have time for this!" He hesitated. "Fine. Hurry to the car and don't say a word."
We bolted to the garage, which opened automatically with a wave of Dad's hand, and jumped in the back of his custom electric sports utility vehicle. As we pulled out, two giant black SUVs screeched up to the sidewalk. Dad floored it and we peeled out — one SUV led the way in front and the other trailed us.
Dad weaved sharply through partially-plowed streets, though we never skidded once (he once bragged to me he made a few modifications to the SUV, including a computer program that made nearly instantaneous adjustments to the wheels every second in bad weather). After a few left and right turns, we were heading uphill and out of town to a richer area where most houses were miles away from each other and separated by acres of old farms or woods.
The three of us in the backseat followed Dad's instructions, staying silent but communicating by our expressions. Dex somehow looked excited, his eyebrows rose firmly and a sharp-toothed smile he was trying to suppress. Sophi's brow furrowed in concentration, and she stared straight ahead, not looking at either of us. I decided to focus my attention out the window to figure out our destination, but I had no clue.
Minutes later, we slowed down to pass a group of black SUVs that had made a roadblock, which parted when we arrived. I looked out the back window as we passed and saw a couple of men in vests, boots, and dark aviator glasses unravel yellow caution tape. They were most likely part of the group of protectors, many of them former members of the armed forces and law enforcement.
We pulled up to an area that opened to a vast empty lot, what looked like it could possibly be snow-covered farmland. There wasn't anyone or anything around us for what seemed like miles.
"Sophi, if you don't mind, come stand over by me. You guys stay back by the car," Dad said. They walked over to an area about 50 yards away and my father pulled out a tablet computer. He held it up to the sky and started moving it around — we could hear it beep a few times before emitting a loud "DING."
"See where this device is pointing?" Dad asked Sophi, his voice echoing in the nothingness around us. She nodded. "I need you to give me all you've got and send it exactly in that direction."
Sophi had trouble in the past controlling her powers. On our first date that we spent in the city, she temporarily blacked out an entire block in the touristy part of town, with all of its illuminated signs and advertisements. My dad attributed changes in our powers to our fluctuating hormones during puberty. Sophi had been practicing for the past few weeks, finding ways to turn the juice up and down in her electrical shocks and learning how to keep them at bay.
With that, Dad punched something into the device and took a step to his left, still holding it up for aim. Sophi took his spot, removed her gloves, and shook her hands. She raised them up with her fingertips pointing at the spot where my dad wanted them. A second later, they lit up and fired lightning as Sophi recoiled.
"To the left! A little higher!" Dad called out. Sophi grunted. She was straining now. Dad shielded his face and moved away, then looked down at the device. "A little lower than that. Now right a smidge. Perfect!" Sophi's body started to shake as she scrunched her face up in determination.
"STOP!" Dad yelled.
We looked up to the cloud-filled sky to see what would happen. Pure silence.
Then we spotted it: Something was falling out of the sky. We heard screeches, shattering glass and twisting metal as it hit the ground with a loud BOOM. Dad began running toward it as Sophi fell to the ground. Dex and I jogged over to her and reached down to help her up. "I'm fine," she said woozily. "We need to see what it was."
The three of us walked slowly to where my dad was standing, right in front of a steaming pile of metal. Despite the damage, it was like a tiny airplane with wings and a tail. There was a propeller on the back bent out of shape from the crash.
"It's an attack drone. My dad told me about these things," Dex said, reminding us that his father was once a U.S. Marine and was currently one of our numerous hidden protectors keeping us safe. "They can be flown remotely."
"But who does it belong to? What's it even doing here?" I asked. The sinking feeling in my stomach told me it wasn't good. Memories of the past few months flooded through me — a stranger who unsuccessfully tried to break into my locker during my first football game. The protectors who followed me and my friends everywhere we went. The older man with a white patch in his jet-black hair whom I swore was stalking me and Sophi on our first date, but who my parents said wasn't a threat. The smoldering drone was another reminder that we weren't ever going to be safe.
Dad looked at the disabled machine and shook his head. "All I know is one thing: We've been discovered."
From what we could tell from the grainy footage that we watched later that night, the drone took off from a parking lot miles away, flew up and toward our town. When it stopped and hovered, it didn't seem to be pointing its camera at our house, but it was hard to tell.
It didn't matter to my parents what they saw. They were ready to pack up and leave the next morning.
"You can't!" I protested, tears stinging my eyes as we sat in the secure, secret facility underneath our house that was home to all kinds of computers, machines, and lab equipment. "You don't even know we were being spied on! What if it was some kid's birthday present?"
"You have to trust us, Alex," Mom said behind me, with a hand on my shoulder. "Your safety comes first. If there's a threat out there getting closer, we can't stay. We'll find another home quickly."
"What about my friends?"
"We have security protocols to put everyone in safe places," Dad averted my gaze as he answered. "But they're in a different town and you might not see them for a while, maybe never."
Something in me snapped. I reached deep for anything I could say to sway them.
"Aren't you tired of running?"
They didn't respond.
"I love it here," I continued. "This is home for me. When there's been danger, you've convinced me you have the security and resources to keep us safe. I'm ready to fight. To stay."
"Do you realize what you're asking us to do?" Dad said, rubbing his temple.
"What happens when we move to another town? Whoever it is who's after us will just come after us again!" Dad had warned me the government might be after us after he and the doctors fled. But we had no idea if it was a group of agents trying to track us down or someone else.
"This isn't a discussion," he fired back. "This is —"
Mom silenced the room.
Excerpted from "The Impossible Pitcher"
Copyright © 2017 Charles Curtis.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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