Supernova (Renegades, #3)

“No, let her speak,” said the Captain. Though his jaw was tense, there was compassion in his gaze as it shifted between Genissa, Mack, and Trevor. “We do carry some responsibility for what happened here last night. Tell me, what can we do to make amends?”

“Amends?” Genissa laughed dryly. “That’s hysterical.” Shaking her head, she reached for the band wrapped around her forearm. “Honestly, I don’t care what the Renegades do after this. I’m not one of you anymore. My time as a superhero is over.” Peeling the band from her skin, she threw it at her feet. Mack and Trevor did the same, tossing their wristbands into the rubble. “I hope everyone here realizes that they’re nothing but pawns to you. Just a bunch of pretty foot soldiers to do your bidding, so you don’t have to worry about a bunch of pathetic villains ever showing up to take your power away. Or worse … those pesky vigilantes. But let’s face it, we didn’t become superheroes to play by the rules. We became superheroes because we believed in our ability to change this world for the better, at any cost. Well…” She wriggled her fingers. “Almost any cost.”

Genissa marched through the lobby toward the main staircase. The crowd parted for her and her cohorts. “All I know,” she called over her shoulder, “is that any prodigy who willingly runs around with Agent N strapped to their belt is a damned idiot.”

No one moved to stop her or Mack or Trevor as they reached the balcony. Genissa paused once, seemingly surprised to have only two minions in her wake. She found Raymond Stern—Stingray—in the lobby, unmoved from where he had been standing at her side. A sneer twitched across her face, then she and her companions shoved through the waiting glass doors, letting in a blinding burst of daylight. An excited roar from the crowd outside greeted them, but was hushed the moment the doors shut behind them.





CHAPTER THREE




NOVA HAD BEEN to Adrian’s home once before, and she hadn’t fully recovered from the experience. Not only because this was where he had kissed her for the first time, a memory that still made her knees weak, but because there was something painfully unnerving about standing outside a palatial mansion and knowing to the core of her being how much she did not belong there. He lived in the old Gatlon City mayor’s mansion, with more square footage than all the row houses on Wallowridge combined, and a lawn spanning almost an entire city block.

She tried not to think too much about it as she approached the gate and buzzed for entry. A device on a brick pillar scanned her wristband, confirming her identity, before the wrought-iron gate swung open.

By the time she reached the end of the walkway, Adrian was waiting for her on his front porch, framed by Grecian pillars and large urns with topiaries sprouting from them. The last time she’d been here, he’d been wearing sweats. Now he was donning his Renegade uniform, and the difference in his demeanor was startling.

This was a business meeting.

Still, Adrian was smiling as she approached. “The others are already downstairs. Come on in.” He held his arm toward the open door, ushering her into the foyer.

It was warm inside the house. Almost uncomfortably warm. The sort of heat put off by fireplaces in the dead of winter, first chasing away the chill in the air, before making everyone forget there had ever been a chill to begin with. True enough—as Nova walked past the formal parlor, she spied a fire raging inside a tiled fireplace. With sweat already sprouting on the back of her neck, she unzipped her hooded sweatshirt.

“My dads think it makes the place feel cozier,” said Adrian, almost apologetically. “It’s a lot cooler downstairs. Come on.”

She followed him down the narrow staircase into his basement bedroom and froze on the bottom step.

Oscar and Ruby were there—Ruby perched on the sofa and Oscar facing backward on Adrian’s desk chair.

But what made Nova hesitate was that Danna was there, too, in the form of hundreds of gold-and-black butterflies that filled every available shelf and table and the narrow sills of the high windows along the south wall.

Nova’s mouth ran dry.

Seeing so many of them at once, and not in the blur of battle like Nova always had before, might have been a beautiful sight. Except they weren’t moving. Not a beat of wings. Not a twitch of antennae. And though it was impossible to know for sure, Nova had the distinct feeling that all of their tiny bug eyes were fixated on her.

“She’s been following me around since we found Ace,” said Ruby. “Didn’t come with me to headquarters, but otherwise…” Her worried gaze flitted around at the butterflies.

“Has anyone contacted her dad, to let him know?” asked Adrian.

“I mentioned it to Thunderbird,” said Ruby, “and she said she’d have someone reach out and let him know that Danna is okay … sort of. I figured she’d go home by now, but maybe she thinks that seeing her stuck like this will make him worry even more?”

“Or maybe she doesn’t want to be left out of our exciting detective work,” said Oscar. “She’s still on the team, even in swarm mode, right?”

“Absolutely,” said Adrian. “She did lead us to Ace Anarchy. Maybe she’ll have more input to offer … however she can.”

“Why…” Nova paused to clear her throat and dared to take the final step into the room. “Why hasn’t she transformed back yet?”

“We figure she can’t for some reason,” said Adrian. “She needs all of her butterflies to converge. If even one is missing … not dead, but, like, trapped somewhere or too far away, then the others will be stuck in this form.”

“What I can’t figure out,” said Ruby, fidgeting with the wire on her wrist, “is why she doesn’t take us to that missing butterfly … or butterflies, if there is more than one. If she’s trapped somewhere, why hasn’t she helped us figure out how to help her, like she led us to Ace?”

Oscar shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t know where it is.”

“But they all communicate with one another, even when they’re in this form,” said Adrian. “Like … a hive mind sort of thing. It seems unlikely that she wouldn’t know where the others are.”

Nova sat stiffly beside Ruby, thinking of the night one of Danna’s butterflies had been spying on her and the Anarchists inside the catacombs. They had captured it in a pillowcase and held it prisoner, eventually bringing it back to the row house and putting it in a mason jar.

Like a blindfolded hostage, that butterfly wouldn’t have been able to see where it was being taken. She supposed it made sense that it still didn’t know where it was, and therefore couldn’t call the rest of the creatures to it.

Still, she imagined she could feel the disgust emanating from the insects that surrounded her, making the hair stand on end all down her forearms.

Danna may not be able to speak to the others, but she did know the truth. She knew Nova’s secret.

It was only a matter of time before she figured out a way to communicate it to the rest of the group.

“I’m glad she’s here, at least,” said Adrian. He paused then, studying the swarm. “I’m glad you’re here,” he corrected, because it was rude to speak about someone like they weren’t even there, though Nova wasn’t sure Danna could actually hear in this form. “We’ll find a way to help Danna. There must have been a reason she knew about the location of Ace Anarchy’s hideout.” He drummed his fingers against his thigh. “I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect … if we find Nightmare and the Anarchists, we might figure out how to help Danna, too.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Oscar said. “I sense a transition into actual work coming up, but before we get there…” He reached behind himself and pulled out an old heart-shaped tin box. “I brought cookies!” Peeling off the lid, he offered it to Ruby first. Nova could see that the cookies inside were homemade. A few had burnt edges, and others had gooey, underbaked centers, all nestled into a bed of parchment paper.

“Thanks, Oscar,” said Ruby, picking one out. She held it up and paused. “Are these…?”

“Lemon-coconut-shortbread cookies with white chocolate centers,” Oscar said, his ears turning pink. “Yes. Yes, they are.”

Ruby gawked at him. “That’s … my mom makes … these are my favorite!”

“Yeah, I know.” Oscar cleared his throat awkwardly and held the tin toward Nova. “I, uh, called your mom for the recipe.”

With little appetite, Nova waved away the cookies, while Adrian took three. Ruby continued to stare at Oscar, the forgotten cookie halfway to her mouth. He didn’t return the look. Instead, he slammed the lid back onto the tin and nodded at Adrian, as if eager to move on from what might have been the most blatant confession of adoration that Nova had ever witnessed. “Okay, then. Great. Let’s do this. Where do we start?”

Adrian shoved the first cookie in his mouth and approached a freestanding whiteboard. Grabbing one side of it, he pushed it away from the wall and swiveled it around so they could see the back side.

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