Supernova (Renegades, #3)

She couldn’t let this happen.

The surface of the star cracked loudly, making her jump. Black fissures marred the bloodred surface.

“It’s okay, Max,” she said, slipping one arm around his shoulders, amazed at how small and fragile he felt. She stretched her other hand along his arm until she felt the heat of the star beneath her palm. “You don’t need to carry this. You can let it go.”

She glanced over at Adrian, who was still clutching the spire, and beckoned him closer with a nod of her head. Though he was dubious, he set down the stone and mimicked her actions on Max’s other side, wrapping one arm around Max’s shoulders, settling his palm over Nova’s.

There was another fracture from somewhere within the star, and a wave of energy pulsed outward. She felt it in the joints of her knuckles and the spaces between her ribs. Power incarnate. Infinite strength. Boundless wisdom. Clarity cascaded through her mind, and she felt like she could understand every mystery in the universe if she only paused to consider it. But at the same time, she didn’t want to pause for anything. She wanted to run and fly and soar.

Tears blurred her vision as the sensation of strength expanded through her limbs and it occurred to her that this must be only a fraction of what Max was feeling. Endless potential. Fathomless power.

In the space between their hands, the star had darkened. It was nearly black now, but with a web of hairline fractures burning white.

This power, this feeling—it didn’t belong to her, and Max couldn’t contain it much longer.

“Now, Max,” she said. “Just let go. We’ll do it together.”

He whimpered. The veins of gold pulsed under his skin.

The star began to cave in on itself, and then—

A flash. An explosion of energy—not just gold, but shades of aqua and amethyst, deep magenta and metallic orange, surging outward in every direction. The shock wave rolled across the wasteland, washed over the city, filled the rivers and the bay and tinted the water coppery gold as far as Nova could see.

It was destruction and creation at once.

It was a supernova.

And then … it was over. In the wake of the cataclysm, the star shrank back into the confines of Nova’s broken bracelet, looking like a chunk of polished lava rock.

Nova exhaled. She felt like she was releasing a breath she’d been holding on to for ten years. She covered the dead star with her hand and watched as the last remnants of its light faded away into the ocean beyond the city’s ports. There were a few more sporadic flashes of color, of brightness beneath the water’s surface, and then all fell still.

For a moment, it was peaceful on the cathedral’s roof. The whole world felt quiet. Waiting to see what would happen next.

Max groaned and slumped forward. Adrian barely managed to catch him before his head struck the stone banister.

“Max!” they shouted simultaneously, crouching at his sides. Adrian pulled him into his chest, pushing back his mop of sweat-drenched hair.

“Is he breathing?” asked Nova, checking for a pulse. The golden veins were gone, and his skin was now pale as parchment.

But yes, he was breathing. Yes, his heart was beating.

“Max!” Adrian yelled. “Come on, kid, stay with me.”

Max’s eyes started to open, fluttering warily, and Nova could feel her relief mirrored in Adrian. Not just to see his eyes open, but to see them returned to normal, if a bit bleary and unfocused.

“Were we heroic?” he croaked.

Adrian laughed and crushed the kid against his chest. “I think you just redefined heroic,” he said through an onslaught of tears.

“Max! Adrian!”

Nova propped herself against the wall, feeling like it would be weeks before she could stand without her muscles wobbling, and turned to see Hugh Everhart and Simon Westwood racing across the roofline, though Simon hesitated when he was halfway to them, his expression torn.

“What was that?” said Hugh, falling to his knees and wrapping both of his sons in his broad arms. “We were coming up the stairs when we felt it and now—” He pulled back, bewildered. “What did you do?”

It took a moment for Nova to understand. She’d been so overwhelmed by the surge of inexplicable power that was inside of her, even for such a short time, she had failed to notice the change that still lingered inside of her. Swallowing, she flexed and straightened her fingers. They tingled encouragingly.

A laugh tumbled from her mouth. Her power. It was back.

She could tell that Adrian was having the same realization. They were prodigies again. Elation rushed through her, and the first thought that crossed her mind was that Adrian would be able to fix her bracelet.

But that was a request for another time. Beaming at him, she slipped the bracelet into her pocket.

The star had returned their gifts.

And yet. Adrian still had his arm around his little brother, and nothing was happening. Nova felt no weakness in his presence.

Could it be that Max was no longer the Bandit?

Simon continued to approach them, cautious, and seemed bolstered by every step in which Max’s power had no effect on him. Then he was laughing, too—they all were, as their family crowded in together, embracing amid the broken stonework and shattered shards of glass.

Feeling like she was intruding on an important moment, Nova heaved herself onto her feet and stumbled across the roof. She stooped to pick up Ace’s helmet. She peered into the opening where her uncle’s eyes had once looked on her, doting and proud.

But his pride, she could see now, was never for who she was. It was only for what she could do. What she might be able to do for him. She doubted if he had ever truly loved her.

“It was indestructible when I took it the first time.”

Nova spun around. Captain Chromium had extracted himself from his family and was standing warily a few feet away. Was he worried that Nova still despised him? Now that he knew the truth about who she was, she supposed it was impossible for him not to think of how she had tried to kill him in front of thousands of adoring citizens.

“I doubt we’ll have any luck destroying it now,” he added.

Nova angled the helmet one way and the other. She could feel the weight of the dead star in her pocket, and wondered whether it could have been used to destroy the helmet. But it was too late now. Whatever power that star had held, it was gone, spread out across the world.

“We can put it down in the catacombs,” she suggested. “We’ll bury it down there, and hope no one will find it.”

“In a chromium coffin?” Hugh suggested, and though his eyes twinkled as if it were a joke, Nova actually liked the idea.

“With Ace,” she said.

The humor faded from Hugh’s face.

“Any public grave will be defiled,” she said. “I can’t forgive him for what he did to my family—” Her voice caught. Inhaling shakily, she forced herself to continue, “But he did give me something to believe in, and to fight for. His vision for the world wasn’t all bad.”

Hugh nodded in understanding. “A chromium coffin, for Ace Anarchy and his helmet.” He started to turn away.

“Captain?” said Nova.

He paused.

“What would you think if … if a villain happened to fall in love with your son?”

He stared at her, a twitch at the corner of his mouth, though he fought to remain serious. “To be honest, I’m not sure there are such things as villains anymore.” He shrugged. “Maybe there never really were.”

He walked away, returning to his family. Adrian was watching them, an arm around Max, a question in his eye.

Nova smiled, hoping that Hugh was right. Maybe there were no villains.

But watching Adrian and Max, she knew there were heroes.

She was beginning to wonder if she might be one of them.





EPILOGUE





WE WERE ALL heroes in the end.

At least, that’s what people liked to tell themselves.

Which, in her humble opinion, was a heaping load of garbage.

She missed the days when the Renegade Parade actually meant something. Back when people would watch the floats passing by and be awed by what they represented. Gifts and abilities that were truly extraordinary. Power too great to be quantified. Back when the word superhero was more than a marketing device.

That was before “the Supernova,” as they had taken to calling it.

One minute, the world had been in an uproar over the return of the greatest supervillain of all time. Mass panic, mass terror, the media drawling on and on about the end of the world.

And then—destruction collided with creation. Devastation met rebirth.

Suddenly, everyone and their mom had superpowers.