Renegades

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both.

From author Marissa Meyer, comes a high-stakes world of adventure, passion, danger, and betrayal. Renegades is available November 7th from Feiwel & Friends.

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“Name?”

“Nova McLain.”

The man seated at the registration table entered something on his tablet. Without looking up again, he held out his hand.

Nova stared down at it. Was he asking for money? Did you have to pay to become a Renegade? She didn’t recall seeing anything about that. She didn’t have any money. Would they really exclude a prodigy just because—

The man glanced up. “Application?” he said slowly.

Nova flushed and cleared her throat. “Right,” she stammered, pulling the application from her bag and slapping it onto his open palm.

The corner of the man’s mouth drooped as he laid the papers down on the desk and smoothed out the wrinkles.

“Your alias will be announced when you’re called onto the field,” he said. “Are you sure you’re happy with…” He scanned the document. “‘Insomnia’? It can be hard to change after the fact.”

Nova tipped forward, scanning the application upside down, though she knew it all by heart. Was he trying to tell her she should change it? Was Insomnia a poor choice? She liked it, actually, but now she was having doubts. It wasn’t Nightmare, but it wasn’t bad, either. Was it?

“Um… yes?”

The man, expression indifferent, entered the alias into the register.

“Right hand,” he said, setting down the pen and picking a cotton ball from a canister. He dipped it into a shallow bowl half filled with clear liquid, then looked again at Nova, who had not moved. “Right hand,” he said again.

She swallowed and gave him her hand. He rubbed the tip of each finger with the cotton ball and the distinct scent of rubbing alcohol wafted toward her. The cotton ball was cold and his hands were thick and clammy and Nova’s skin crawled the whole time. Though it only took a moment, she couldn’t help but let out a relieved breath when he finished.

The man tapped the top of a small machine. A screen showed a diagram of a hand, the precise spaces where she should place her fingertips indicated with blue ovals.

“Go ahead,” he said. “You’ll have to press and hold for a few seconds.”

Bracing herself, Nova pressed her fingers against the screen. Her hand was trembling, but she did her best to hold steady as a ticker at the top of the screen indicated its progress through scanning her prints.

By the time it finished and Nova eagerly folded her arms again, the man was frowning. He met her gaze again, newly suspicious.

The prints on the screen were obviously mutilated—entire patches of the whorls in her skin cut through with flat, empty planes.

“I burned them when I was a kid,” she said, the rehearsed lie tumbling out of her before he could ask. “You’ll see on my application that I’m really into science—chemistry and engineering, and… um. Anyway, I was doing an experiment. With acid. And… that happened.” She gestured to the screen.

The man’s lips pursed. “Well,” he said, glancing at a second monitor, “they’re not pulling up any matches in our system. So.” He jerked his thumb over a shoulder. “Head on back through those doors and wait to be called.”

Her body stilled. “Really?”

“Really, what?”

“Really, I can just… I can try out?”

“That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?” He peered around her. “Next? ”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

Nova ducked away from the table and scurried through the swinging double doors.

The room he sent her to must have been a locker room at one point—dank, cold, full of concrete and poor lighting, with the faint aroma of old sweat permeating the walls. The actual lockers had been removed, leaving faded impressions on the walls where they had been, and an alcove in the corner still had drains in the tile floor, though only holes where plumbing and shower heads had once been installed.

Now the room was full of uncomfortable benches and a lot of nervous prodigies giving themselves quiet pep talks. A tinted picture window on one side looked out onto the field, where they could watch the ongoing trials. A current Renegade hopeful was making his way out into the center ring. Tables hosting the teams were set all around the field, and a giant paper banner had been strung between two pillars over the middle: Do you have what it takes?

To her right, a platform jutted out over the field, where all five Council members sat watching the proceedings. Even from down here she could see bandages wrapped around Thunderbird’s wing and she felt a spark of pride at the sight.

Last year, Detonator had suggested they stage an attack at the trials, but Cyanide talked her out of it, believing there would be too strong a concentration of prodigies and Renegade supporters for them to be effective.

Seeing it for herself, Nova knew he was right. There were prodigies everywhere. Renegades everywhere. It felt a bit like being surrounded by Queen Bee’s hives, if one happened to be allergic to bee stings.

She focused on the field, where the contestant had just revealed that he had four extra arms emerging from his rib cage. The crowd came alive with red signs, the vast majority proclaiming—Hero!

Nova scoffed. Did they really think that extra limbs made you a hero? Or being able to shoot fireworks from your hands? Or even having a layer of chromium beneath your skin?

Heroism wasn’t about what you could do, it was about what you did.

It was about who you saved when they needed saving.

She crossed her arms, tapping her fingers against her elbows while the trials went on. Prodigies had come from all corners of the city, some from the far reaches of the world, even, in hopes of being accepted among the elite.

Many were accepted, but those who weren’t… the looks of devastation on their faces almost, almost made Nova feel bad for them. That’s what they got, though, for putting so much faith into the Renegades.

She shut her eyes and exhaled. The bitterness was pooling on her tongue, filling her mouth with a sour taste. The smell of sweat and nerves clogged her throat.

She did not belong here. She didn’t even want to be here. If Cyanide hadn’t put the idea in her head, she doubted it ever would have crossed her mind.

But if she made it—if she became a Renegade—she could make a difference. What could she learn from the inside, about their headquarters, the Council, their plans for the city?

Not to mention her new enemy.

The Sentinel.

Even thinking the name made her stomach tighten, and she thought again of the smug righteousness he’d had on the rooftop when he’d said it. I am the Sentinel.

Gag. Ew. Bleh.

He was nothing but a fancy science experiment, but the nature of the experiment eluded her the more she thought of it. He had too many powers, too many abilities for one prodigy. She’d never seen anything like it. And if the Renegades had somehow contrived a way to bestow multiple superpowers on one individual, what would stop them from making an entire army of them?

It was already hard enough to fight against them. For ten years the Anarchists had clung to the last shreds of livelihood and freedom. Nova feared the Sentinel could be the end of life as they knew it.

But not if she could learn more, and find out some way to fight against him, or to destroy him entirely, and anyone else they made in his image.

Knowledge is power.

One of Ace’s favorite phrases, drilled deep into her head over the years. To overthrow the Renegades, they needed knowledge. They needed to know their enemy’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

And if they succeeded… if she succeeded…

To no longer be seen as a parasite in society. To be feared would be so much better than this—the sneering, the mocking, the small-minded insults from people who would rather be kept under the thumbs of their idols than be allowed to live free, by their own will and choices.

She opened her eyes again. Could she really pull it off? She would have to spend days or weeks or even months pretending to be one of them. How long would she be able to maintain such an act? How long before they, too, realized she did not belong?

Out in the arena, the crowd went into fits of laughter as a prodigy demonstrated her power—expanding her head like a helium balloon, then floating a few feet above the ground until it deflated again.

The laughter that filled the stands was amused at first, but soon turned toward cruel. It disgusted Nova. Sure, the girl might have looked silly, but could any of them do what she was doing? Did they really believe they were better than her?

The Renegade teams input their responses and the word Rejected flashed across the scoreboard. The girl was sent off the field to a chorus of boos.

Nova felt sick with abhorrence when she heard her name blaring over the loud speakers.

“Next up—Nova McLain! Alias: Insomnia!”

She cast her gaze toward the ceiling. She didn’t have to do this. She could still leave.

Or she could stay and try to do something worthwhile. She could make her family proud.

She squared her shoulders and marched onto the field.

 * * *

Adrian straightened in his seat as a new prodigy stalked into the center of the ring. There was something familiar about her. She stopped beneath the banner and the blinding lights, looking not at the teams surrounding her, but up. At the Council.

It was the stance that struck him first—the way she held herself, like she was preparing for an attack from all sides. Like she welcomed it. The jut of her chin, the set of her shoulders, feet firmly planted on the ground. Relaxed enough, but ready for a fight.

His eyes widened. It was the girl from the parade. The one with the bracelet.

She was a prodigy?

Well. That could explain why she was so unimpressed by what he do could.

Pushing up the bridge of his glasses, he leaned toward Ruby. “What did they say her name was?”

“Uh…” Ruby looked down at the tablet. “Nova. Nova McLain.”

“Insomnia,” came Blacklight’s booming voice. “You may proceed with a demonstration of your superpower.”

Adrian scooted his chair forward, leaning his elbows on the table. His gaze kept darting between the girl on the field and the big screens above the stands that showed a close-up of her face. Wisps of wavy black hair cut just above her shoulders. A sharp nose and a sharp chin and sharp cheekbones, her determined frown making them all seem much too severe. Rich blue eyes, every bit as wary now as they had been when he’d offered to help fix the broken clasp of her bracelet.

The overhead microphone carried her voice as she responded, “I’m afraid my superpower isn’t one that can be demonstrated on a field in thirty seconds or less.”

A quiet titter moved through the crowd. There was something defiant in her voice, so unlike the other contestants who had been enthusiastic, and sometimes desperate, to show what they could do.

“Then please describe it,” said Blacklight. “Succinctly, if possible.”

She answered, simply, “I don’t sleep.”

Adrian’s brow twitched. The crowd, too, seemed to find this explanation baffling, though after a hesitant moment, there were a few sporadic boos from the seats, and a number of zeRo cards lifted into the air.

Blacklight asked, “Would you care to elaborate?”

One side of Nova McLain’s mouth lifted, just a hair. “Certainly.” She cleared her throat. “I don’t sleep… ever.”

There was some laughter from the audience. Two team leaders tapped reject into their tablet screens, including Genissa Clark.

Adrian felt Ruby and Oscar looking at him, but he kept his eyes on Nova McLain.

Insomnia.

“Now,” Nova continued, “if you would like to know what useful non-super abilities I have, I can tell you that I’m adept at hand-to-hand combat and a multitude of weaponry. I can run a seven-minute mile, long-jump an expanse of eighteen feet with a running start, and I know an awful lot about physics, electronics, and renewable energy sources, among other things.”

Oscar let out a low whistle.

“I can’t tell if that was arrogant,” Ruby muttered, “or just… you know, honest.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Oscar.

“She doesn’t sleep,” said Adrian, tapping his marker against the table. “Could be good for surveillance, don’t you think? We might be able to use her, especially while Danna’s recovering.”

Ruby leaned forward. “But why does she look like she has something to prove?”

Adrian smiled wryly. “This is Renegade trials. Everyone has something to prove.”

And with a power that couldn’t be demonstrated, that had no flash to it whatsoever, he could understand why she was acting defensive.

Realizing the crowd had gotten louder, Adrian looked up into the stands. There was a bigger mix of Zero and Hero signs than there had been for any of the previous contestants—a divided audience, which surprised him. It seemed her cavalier attitude was winning her support, despite her lackluster ability.

But then he looked up at the scoreboard and realized that his was the only team who hadn’t yet responded. All the others had already put in their rejections.

Nova McLain, too, was looking up at the scoreboard, and if she was hurt, it didn’t show. Her face became determined as she looked at their table. Their eyes locked and the expression was replaced with surprise and recognition. She straightened.

Then, again, that slight narrowing of the eyes. That same wariness he remembered from the parade. And even though she was too far away for him to see them clearly, he realized with a start that he could recall the exact shade of her eyes. A deep cobalt, pierced through with the occasional shard of heather gray.

He swallowed.

“Sketch,” said Blacklight, calling Adrian by his alias and making him jump, “do you or your team have any follow-up questions before making your decision?”

Pushing aside the bag of popcorn, Adrian pulled the table mic closer. Nova fixed him with a challenging look.

“So,” he started, drawing out the word as he formulated his thoughts, “when you say you never sleep… you do mean never, ever, ever?”

A few snickers passed through the audience. Beside him, Oscar muttered, “Well said, Shakespeare.”

Nova McLain looked uncertain, like she thought maybe he was mocking her. When the audience had quieted again, she leaned forward and repeated, “Never ever, ever… ever.”

Adrian leaned back in his chair. He stared at her across the field and she stared back, unflinching. A volley of justifications were storming through his head, each more logical than the last.

A prodigy who never slept could be valuable—for surveillance, for security, for the simple mathematics of added work hours on the force. And they were without Danna right now. They were down a hand. They could use someone skilled in combat. She did say she was skilled in combat, right?

Plus, she was interested in science and electronics, and their research and development division was always looking for assistance, always starting new projects and running new studies. Surely they could use someone like this. Surely the Renegades could use her.

But all the logic in the world couldn’t smother the truth that Adrian felt in his drumming heartbeat.

There had been something about her at the parade. He’d been watching her when Magpie had taken the bracelet—that was the only reason he’d seen it happen. Because he’d been drawn to her, even then. Not because she was pretty, though he’d definitely noticed that too. But because there was a fierceness in the set of her jaw that intrigued him. A resolve in her eyes that made him curious.

“Uh, Sketch?” Oscar whispered. “If this is a blinking contest, you lost, like, eight minutes ago.”

Without looking at his teammates, Adrian grabbed the tablet. It was instinct, not logic, that forced his hand. The inexplicable certainty that she was meant to be there. With him.

Well—no, not with him. But with his team. And with the Renegades.

A bell chimed. His response popped up on the scoreboard—Accepted.

Nova turned and stared at the board, as if in disbelief, and there was that suspicion again when she looked back at Adrian.

“Oookay,” said Oscar. “You go ahead with that. Not like we should discuss this as a team or anything.”

“Trust me,” whispered Adrian. “I have a feeling about her.”

On his other side, Ruby snickered. “Yeah, I can tell exactly what kind of feeling you have about her.”

Adrian turned toward her, annoyed. “Not like that.”

She raised a suggestive eyebrow.

An ear-splitting horn blared over the noise of the audience.

Adrian jumped and glanced around, bewildered. It took him a long moment to understand what the horn meant.

Their decision was being challenged.

A few tables down, Genissa Clark stood, hands on her hips.

Adrian groaned and leaned back in his chair, dragging his palm over the top of his close-shaved hair. “Seriously, Clark?”

“The acceptance of Insomnia has been challenged!” said Blacklight, to a roar of glee from the audience. Adrian glanced at Nova, but she was so lacking in expression he wondered whether she knew what that meant.

“Oh, come on,” Ruby yelled. She pushed back her chair and stood, craning her head to look at Genissa. “You’re only objecting because it’s us.”

Genissa sneered. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she yelled back. She pulled the microphone closer, allowing her voice to be amplified to the stands. “We challenge the acceptance of Nova McLain on the grounds that there is no way for us to validate the truth of anything she’s said. We can’t prove whether or not she sleeps, nor have we seen any evidence that she knows about electronics or physics or… any of that other stuff she said. We object to this acceptance on the basis that, from what we’ve seen from Nova McLain today—which is precisely nothing—we cannot determine that she is worthy of the title of Renegade.”

It was everything the crowd had come for. Drama. Doubt. A potential duel.

Adrian sighed and tried to catch Nova’s eyes, apologetically, perhaps, though he wasn’t sure what he had to apologize for. But her attention stayed fixed on Genissa. She didn’t look upset. If anything, a spark of excitement had entered her gaze that Adrian was sure hadn’t been there before.

“There has been a challenge!” Blacklight repeated, for anyone who wasn’t paying attention. “Insomnia, in order to take your place among the Renegades, you must defeat one member of the challenging team in a one-on-one duel. You may choose your opponent. Do you accept this challenge?”

“Wait,” said Adrian—so loud that his own voice booming back at him made him jump. “Frostbite, listen.” Genissa turned a haughty gaze on him, one eyebrow lifted. “I know we can use skills like hers, both on my team and in the broader Renegades organization. I respectfully ask that you retract your challenge.”

Genissa laughed. “News flash, Everhart. The rest of us don’t sleep for sixteen hours of the day, either. It’s not exactly a superpower, and besides, how can any of us be sure she’s telling the truth?”

“Why would she lie?” he said, the question echoing through the stadium.

“Because she wants to be one of us,” responded Genissa. “Because they all want to be one of us.”

“Then why wouldn’t she make up a more…” Adrian flipped his fingers in the air. “…super superpower? Why not—”

“I accept the challenge.”

Adrian’s attention darted back to the field. Nova was standing with her hands clasped behind her back, chin lifted as she stared at Frostbite. “I accept the duel.”

Smirking, Genissa Clark pushed her chair back from the table, ice crystals already forming along the knuckles of her hands.

“Not with you.”

Genissa paused.

Nova pointed a finger at the enormous figure lurking behind Genissa’s table—too big to sit with his teammates, his body too heavy for the collapsible chairs. He lumbered forward and the bright lights of the arena reflected off the rough stones implanted along his gargantuan arms.

Adrian’s jaw dropped.

Beside him, Oscar started to choke on his drink. “Is she nuts?”

On the field, Nova turned her hand over and curled her finger, gesturing for the beast to come closer. “I’ll fight the Gargoyle.”

Excerpted from Renegades, copyright © 2017 by Marissa Meyer.

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