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Supernova(4)
Author: Marissa Meyer

But the Dread Warden wasn’t the only one who looked exhausted. Thunderbird’s black-feathered wings were drooping from her shoulder blades, and the ever-present serenity was, for once, gone from Tsunami’s face, replaced with a taut brow and tense lips. Even Blacklight, usually the most laid-back among them, had his arms crossed tight over his chest.

“Fellow Renegades,” said the Captain, his voice booming through the lobby. “A great blow was dealt to us last night. I won’t bother to sugarcoat the details—you can see the truth of last night’s events for yourselves. It is”—his mouth tightened as he searched for a word—“discouraging, to say the least. That we could be infiltrated on such a level by a single villain. That Nightmare was able to disarm our security system and defeat one of our best patrol units. That she could steal from us. That she could”—his voice snagged—“harm one of our own, in such a cruel, senseless way. And not just a Renegade, but a boy, a child, who is good and smart and kind. It’s unthinkable. It is a reminder to us all that there is evil in this world, and it is our responsibility to stand strong against it.”

Nova’s fists clenched as she resisted the urge to scream—I. Didn’t. Hurt. Max!

“But we are Renegades,” Captain Chromium continued, “and we do not cower before evil. No—in the face of evil, we stand taller! We fight harder! Adversity only strengthens our resolve to be the protectors of this world, the defenders of justice!”

A few whoops echoed from the audience.

“We will not dwell on our losses, but look to the future and how we can move forward into a brighter tomorrow. Because—there were losses yesterday. But there was also a great victory. I want to confirm that the rumors you’ve heard are true.” He paused, his attention sweeping over the room. “Ace Anarchy, who we believed to be dead these past ten years, is alive. And he is in our custody.”

If he expected an approving cheer, he must have been disappointed. If anything, the knowledge that their greatest enemy had survived the Battle for Gatlon was met with a murmur of concern, regardless of his capture.

“What about his helmet?” cried Alchemist. “We were told it was destroyed, but now they’re saying that’s what Nightmare came here for.”

The Captain curled his hands around the railing that divided them. “This, also, is true.”

Nova swallowed.

“After the Day of Triumph, I did my best to destroy Ace Anarchy’s helmet,” continued the Captain, “but it was indestructible. The Council and I decided it would be best to tell the world that the helmet had been destroyed, to ease the concerns of our people while we worked on rebuilding society. I convinced myself the helmet would be safe here at headquarters.” A flash of resentment curled his lip. “But it seems I was wrong. Nightmare did come for the helmet, and she did manage to escape with it last night.” A rustle of chatter flooded the room, but the Captain lifted his hands. “Listen to me. We must remain calm. Let me remind you—the Anarchists may have gotten the helmet last night, but they lost their leader. Without Ace Anarchy, that helmet is nothing but a costume accessory.”

Nova wondered if he believed that, and how many of the Renegades would believe him.

She didn’t know much about Ace’s helmet, but she had always assumed that it would amplify the powers of any prodigy, just as it had amplified Ace’s. Otherwise, why would the Renegades have been so determined to destroy it, once they believed that Ace was dead?

Nevertheless, the Captain’s words had an immediate effect. The crowd hushed. “I implore you,” he went on, “for now, news of this theft cannot reach the general populace. Do not speak to the media. Do not tell anyone. The last thing we need is for mass panic to spread while we’re on the verge of finally subduing the threat of villainous prodigies everywhere. From this point, we have two immediate matters of business to address. The first is undoing the damage that was wrought on our headquarters last night and initiating new security protocols. For that, my fellow Council members and I will be reaching out to our international syndicates, enlisting the help of any prodigies with powers that lend themselves to construction and repairs, and we will be assigning those in our home organization tasks based on their skills in the days to come. We are grateful for all your cooperation as we rebuild. If you have any thoughts on this project, I encourage you to speak with Kasumi, who will be heading up this undertaking.” He gestured at Tsunami, who bowed her head in return.

“And, second,” the Captain continued, “by the end of today, we will have a date scheduled for the public reveal of Agent N, after which all active patrol units will be equipped with the substance. This will allow us to defend ourselves against future such attacks, and convey to our citizens how very seriously we will be dealing with prodigies who choose not to follow our code of protection and honor.”

Nova squeezed Adrian’s forearm, though she didn’t realize she’d done it until he took her hand, lacing their fingers together.

“Additionally, we have decided that part of the reveal will include a public neutralization of all prodigies who have been heretofore convicted of villainous behavior … including Ace Anarchy himself.”

Though a chill ran down Nova’s spine, his statement was predictably met with applause—albeit somewhat nervous applause. Agent N had seemed like an exciting development to most of the organization when it had first been unveiled, but that was before some of the substance had fallen into Nightmare’s hands. That was before three of their own had been neutralized, right here in this very lobby.

Now it seemed that everyone was feeling a bit more apprehensive about the Renegades’ newest weapon.

“And what about the patrols who refuse to cooperate?” rang out a voice, shrill and spiked with anger.

A flurry of interest passed through the crowd as Genissa Clark, formerly known as Frostbite, picked her way through the rubble. Rather than the usual Renegade uniform, she was wearing drawstring pants and a loose T-shirt from the medical wing. Her bare arms were littered with bruises and scratches from her fight against Nightmare.

Nova tensed upon seeing one of the prodigies she had fought the night before. Though she had been hooded and masked, her heart still pounded to think that Genissa might have recognized her.

Genissa wasn’t alone. The rest of her team followed in her wake: Trevor Dunn, who had been Gargoyle before his powers had drained away. He was still taller than an average man, but not as gigantic as he had been before, and his skin showed no hint of stone. Then there was Mack Baxter, no longer Aftershock, who moved with a peculiar gait, like he was so used to making the ground shake from his steps that he would have to relearn how to walk now without the ground swelling up to meet him.

Of their team, only Stingray—Raymond Stern—remained a prodigy. Nova had put him to sleep in the surveillance room before she disabled the security cameras, and he had missed the rest of the battle. His barbed tail slid behind him, scattering bits of glass as it flicked back and forth.

“What did I miss?” whispered Ruby, appearing behind them. She had an open bag of turkey jerky.

“Uh … we’ll explain later,” said Adrian, taking an offered piece of jerky and stuffing it through the bars of Turbo’s cage.

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