Supernova (Renegades, #3)

“No, I know. But if anyone was going to get neutralized, I can’t say I’m sorry it was Genissa and her minions.”

“It’s okay,” said Adrian. “I’m not too upset about that, either. And like you said, Max is going to be fine.” He paused before adding, quietly, “He has to be.”

“Holy smokes, what is that?” Oscar barked. He lifted his cane, as if prepared to stab something on the shattered tile floor.

A tiny creature was scuttling toward them out of the mess of broken concrete and plaster—a fierce little velociraptor, no larger than Nova’s thumb.

“No way,” muttered Adrian. “Turbo!” He crouched and scooped the creature into his palm.

It screeched and bit him.

“Ow!” Adrian yelped, dropping it. It landed on the floor and darted between Oscar’s legs.

Nova leaped after it, grabbing the creature by the back of its neck. It made a pathetic mewing sound and flicked its clawed arms at her, leaving tiny nicks on her fingers. “How is this thing still alive?” she asked.

It seemed like ages ago that Adrian had drawn the small beast onto Nova’s palm, in an effort to prove that his powers hadn’t been drained by Max when he’d gone into the quarantine to rescue her.

Adrian bent down to inspect the tiny dinosaur as it squirmed in Nova’s fingers. “Alive, but not doing so hot. Look, he’s turning gray. And see how his movements are sort of awkward now, more like a machine’s? That always happens when I draw animals. Still—he’s lasted longer than I would have thought.”

“Excuse me,” said Oscar, eyeing the creature with trepidation. “But what is it?”

“A velociraptor,” said Adrian. “I drew him a while back, and Max has been keeping him as a pet. His name is Turbo. Here.” Stooping down, Adrian took out his marker and drew a palm-size cage on the white tile. With a swipe of his fingers, the cage emerged into reality, a three-dimensional carrier for a very small dinosaur. He held open the door while Nova dropped the creature inside. “I’ll take him to Max at the hospital. He’ll be happy to see him when he wakes up.”

When, Nova couldn’t help but note, and for the first time, Adrian sounded truly optimistic about the possibility of Max coming out of his coma. Perhaps he was seeing Turbo’s survival as a good sign.

“He’s probably hungry,” said Ruby. “I mean, your drawings still need to eat, right?”

“I guess so.” Adrian looked like he’d never given it much thought. “Max used to share snacks with him.”

Ruby nodded. “I’ll run up to the cafeteria and grab him … I don’t know, chicken strips or something. I’ll be right back.”

She was gone before anyone could speak, darting between the Renegades who were milling around the destroyed lobby.

“Uh…,” started Adrian, too late, “I don’t think they’ve reopened the cafeteria yet…”

“She’ll find something,” said Oscar. “They have turkey jerky in the lounge vending machines.” The second the elevator doors closed and Ruby was no longer in sight, Oscar eagerly spun on Nova and Adrian. “Okay, now that she’s gone, I need to talk to you guys. I mean, I know with Max and Nightmare and everything, this may not be the best time, but I was up all night thinking about what you said at the gala, and I have a plan.” He fixed his attention on Nova, and she stiffened in response, wondering what on earth she had said. Though the gala had been just the night before, only a couple of hours before she’d broken into the HQ vault, it felt like weeks had passed since then.

“A plan for what?” she asked.

“You know,” said Oscar, insistent. “Telling Ruby how … how I feel about her. Nova was right. I’m awesome, and I am ready to sweep her off her feet.”

“Oh, that.” Nova glanced at Adrian, who appeared equally relieved that Oscar’s plan was for something so mundane. “That’s great.”

“Yeah, go for it, Oscar,” said Adrian. “Way to take the plunge.”

“Thanks, man. So, I’m calling it…” Oscar lifted his hand, as if highlighting invisible words in the air. “Operation Crown Jewels.”

Nova and Adrian gawked at him, speechless for a moment, before Adrian cleared his throat. “Uh … what?”

“You know. Crown jewels … rubies … get it?”

Nova’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “Isn’t that a euphemism for…”

Oscar waited for her to finish, looking so adorably emphatic that she stopped herself. “Never mind. Just … why is there an operation name?”

“Because I have ideas,” said Oscar. “Like, a gazillion ideas. This is going to be a calculated, multistep strategy.”

“So you’re not just going to ask her out?” said Adrian.

Oscar snorted. “Please. Ruby deserves better than that. There will be serenades, gifts, cloud writing … you know, some real grand gestures. The stuff girls go nuts for, right?” He looked at Nova, but she could only shrug. He sighed. “Okay, so I thought we’d start with a poem. I wrote it at, like, five o’clock this morning, so keep that in mind. But I was thinking of leaving a card on her doorstep some morning this week. Here’s what I’ve got so far.” He cleared his throat. “Rubies are red, your eyes are blue…”

“Stop,” said Nova.

Oscar froze. “What?”

“Her eyes are hazel,” she said. “And also, this is not really the time for poetry.” She gestured around at the destruction.

Oscar huffed. “But you didn’t even—”

A burst of red and blue sparks exploded over their heads. Nova ducked, panic rising.

Adrian squeezed her hand and sent her a look that bordered on teasing. “Just Blacklight.”

At the front of the lobby, the five Council members were standing on the street-level balcony, silhouetted by a wall of glass and the hazy afternoon sun. Shadows of journalists and curious civilians could be seen on the sidewalk, held back by caution tape and a handful of Renegades tasked with keeping out anyone who wasn’t a part of the organization.

As the remnants of his fireworks dissolved, Blacklight angled his palm to the doors and dragged his fingers through the air, as if shutting an imaginary set of blinds. A veil of darkness fell over the windows, obscuring both the sunlight and the citizenry.

“Thank you, Evander,” said Captain Chromium, stepping to the front of the balcony, with the rest of the Council forming a semicircle around him. Nova scrutinized the Captain and the Dread Warden—the two adoptive fathers of both Adrian and Max. Though she could guess that neither of them had slept the night before, the exhaustion that was evident on the Dread Warden was lacking entirely from the Captain. His skin was as luminescent as ever, his baby-blue eyes as striking and bright. Only his slightly disheveled hair suggested he was less composed than usual.

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.”

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