The Rising(6)

“That’s what I’m talking about, four-two!” he said, helping the smallest kid on defense back to his feet. “That was on you, all you! You made your dad proud, you hear me? You made your dad proud!”

And the crowd erupted in cheers again, for Tommy Banks this time as he jogged back a bit dazedly to the huddle with Alex’s hand wrapped around his shoulder.

“Let me see something,” Alex said, turning the kid’s face toward him with both hands on his helmet.

“You’re not gonna kiss me, are you?” Tommy mused through the blood from a cracked lip.

“Another play like that, and I just might. Follow my finger,” Alex instructed, holding up his middle one to make sure the crunching tackle hadn’t left Tommy’s eyes glassy.

“Very funny.”

Alex glanced at the scoreboard, which showed the Cats up seven points with twelve seconds to go and the Grizzlies forty yards from the end zone.

“Third down, boys,” he said in the huddle. “Stop them two more plays, we go to state. One deep-zone blitz to go. Let’s do it!”

The standing-room-only crowd began hooting it up as soon as they broke the huddle and spread out into position across the line of scrimmage. They got really loud when the Grizzlies’ quarterback brought his team up to the line and tried to shift the offense from the unexpectedly aggressive man-up coverage he was facing. The whole offense looked rattled. The quarterback took the snap, fumbled it, and covered up fast, no choice but to use his final time-out.

“There you go, there you go!” Alex said, slapping the pads of his teammates. “Almost over now, almost done!”

Having no idea in that moment how right he was about to become.



IT FELT WEIRD, SAM thought as both teams gathered on the sidelines during the time-out, not to have her nose in a book. She was currently re-reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, one of her all-time favorites along with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and pretty much anything by Isaac Asimov. She loved reading science fiction dating all the way back to H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, never ceased to be amazed at the ability of those authors to foresee the future.

She’d read the books and saw herself doing something similar for NASA. Not just foreseeing the future, but planning and helping to bring it to pass.

Unless she was suspended for cheating on an AP bio exam. Unless she got caught supplying Cara and her bouncing cheer buddies the answers to the test they’d stolen.

Sam wanted to take it out of her backpack pocket and tear it up then and there. Otherwise, she might very well find herself explaining to her boss at NASA why she’d been expelled from high school instead of expounding on the discovery she couldn’t wait to share with him.

The information was on her iPad, currently stuffed into the backpack pressed against her on the bench. The findings she’d come across could have been coincidence, but she doubted it. And, assuming there was some validity in those findings, what exactly did they suggest?

Maybe nothing.

Maybe lots.

She wouldn’t know until she shared the information with Dr. Donati. The findings may well not amount to much, even if they were accurate. But Sam had never been shy about showing initiative with anything related to science and she wanted NASA to see her as the kind of free, creative thinker they so valued.

But how much would they value a proven cheater?

Again she thought about tossing the stolen exam in the trash and again she stopped short of doing it. Fixating on that again, both the game and the findings stored on her iPad flitting at the edge of her consciousness. All of a sudden, the hero of Stranger in a Strange Land, Valentine Michael Smith, seemed eerily easy to relate to. A human raised by Martians who finally comes home to Earth to find it’s not really home.

A stranger in a strange land, indeed, just like her.

Sam didn’t feel she belonged here right now any more than Valentine when he first came to Earth. And he never stopped being a stranger, she remembered, as the teams broke from the sidelines and gathered in their respective huddles.

Time for just one more play, Samantha thought, rising to her feet with the rest of the crowd and smelling the odd motor oil–like scent again as the man behind her rose too.



FOURTH DOWN AND HALF the field to go now. Alex bobbed up and down in the ground mist gathering on the dew-rich field, the halogen lights strung from poles overhead slicing through the gathering fog to create a haze-like effect that covered only the field. As if the stands were walled off. As if the world extended no farther than this.

With time stopped, Alex glanced toward the sidelines, reminding himself to enjoy the moment, savor it, because being on top of the world wasn’t something that happened every day—never, for most people. But his gaze again drifted to Tom Banks, who was nervously clutching his football like it was a newborn baby.

The “Second Coming,” the most seasoned of Wildcat football fans called Alex, Banks being the first.

Granite Bay came to the line of scrimmage and Alex called out the defensive signals, reading the formation to identify the coming gadget play, a flea flicker or something, with the receiver in motion lagging behind the play to accept a toss from either the running back or tight end. The Grizzlies needed this score just to tie, but he’d seen stranger things happen and crept closer to the line of scrimmage, ready for the snap.

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