Home > Archenemies (Renegades #2)(11)

Archenemies (Renegades #2)(11)
Author: Marissa Meyer

“And now,” said the Captain, “it’s time to discuss the main reason we called this meeting today.” He gestured toward the Council. “Kasumi?”

Kasumi Hasegawa, or Tsunami, stepped onto the stage and took the microphone while Hugh disappeared through a nearby door.

Pulling a handful of index cards from the sleeve of her uniform, Kasumi said, “To expand on Captain Chromium’s introduction, the Detonator’s attack was a reminder that we cannot allow villains like Ingrid Thompson to remain in full possession of their abilities, without any regulation or preventative measures being taken to ensure these sorts of attacks don’t continue to happen. When prodigies abuse their powers, it is our duty to address the threat they pose—to innocent people, to us, and to themselves. As the Captain said, our citizens are demanding a response to such threats, and today, we will demonstrate for you precisely what that response is going to be. Please note, what we are revealing here today is confidential and to be kept exclusively among Renegades personnel until further notice.”

Nova perked up with interest. She had been following the media’s recent coverage and growing disillusionment with interest. For a decade, people had believed that superheroes would always come to the rescue when needed. Though Nova had long known this to be false, Ingrid’s stunt seemed to have opened other people’s eyes too. The Renegades wouldn’t always be there.

It was time that society realized they’d given all the power to the Renegades and were receiving only empty promises in return.

“We are assembling a press release that will make this information available to the media as soon as we feel it is safe to do so.” Tsunami turned over a card. Her cheeks had become flushed and it occurred to Nova that Kasumi Hasegawa wasn’t comfortable talking in front of large crowds.

How ironic. A superhero, an original Renegade, who must have faced off against guns and bombs and any number of criminals, to be afraid of something as mundane as public speaking.

“For years now,” Kasumi continued, “our talented team of lab researchers have been working on some exciting developments that will serve to assist us in our responsibility of keeping our city safe from prodigies who refuse to follow the code authority. We have developed a tool that is harmless to our non-prodigy population, and therefore puts no civilians at risk, while offering a safe and efficient way for us to neutralize prodigies who refuse to abide by our laws. We intend for this tool to become our most practical means of dealing with prodigy noncompliance. We call it … Agent N.”

Nova’s breathing quickened. She recalled Blacklight’s words at Cosmopolis Park, after the threat of Ingrid’s explosives had been subdued. “This is proof that not every prodigy deserves their powers. It’s because of villains like her that we need Agent N.”

This was it. Whatever Agent N was, they were revealing it here, now. Her heart thumped so hard against the inside of her rib cage it felt like it was trying to escape.

It wasn’t just a hypothetical, an experiment constrained to their laboratories. It was real. Their so-called antidote. The weapon that Blacklight said would make the world a safer place.

But safer for who?

“To tell you more and to give a demonstration of this tool,” said Kasumi, gesturing to the side of the stage, “I invite Dr. Joanna Hogan to the stage.”

Obviously relieved that her part was over, Kasumi returned to her seat.

Dr. Joanna Hogan was older than anyone on the Council— somewhere in her fifties, Nova guessed—though she had a youthful prance to her step as she made her way to the microphone. Her lab coat, stark white and neatly pressed, was contrasted by a pixie haircut dyed bubble-gum pink.

“Good evening,” she said, “and thank you for that introduction, Tsunami. I am Dr. Joanna Hogan and I have been one of the leading researchers here at HQ since its inception. It is my pleasure to tell you about this new advancement, and I’m grateful for everything the Council has done to encourage our work.” She paused to take in a long breath. “Today, I will be telling you more about the product called Agent N and giving a demonstration of its abilities, so that you can see and understand its effectiveness firsthand. I know that some people will want to label Agent N as a weapon, but it is important to keep in mind that this is, at its core, a nonviolent solution to a problem that has been plaguing us for more than thirty years.” She opened her arms wide to indicate such an expanse of time, and a few people in the audience chuckled in uncertain agreement. “In addition to being nonviolent, Agent N is portable and its effects are almost instantaneous. It is completely safe to be used around non-prodigy civilians. I really think you’re all going to appreciate its real-world applications.”

Dr. Hogan reached for a briefcase that sat on top of a stool at the back of the stage. She undid the clasp and lifted the lid, holding it up for the audience to see. Everyone shifted in their seats, straining to get a better view. A few rows away, a Renegade called Optico popped out one of his removable eyeballs and held it up to get a better look.

Inside the case were three rows of vials, each filled with a dark green liquid.

“This,” said Joanna Hogan, “is Agent N. It is a neutralizing agent … hence the name. Here we have the substance in liquid form, which has a number of viable uses, but we have conducted successful experimentation with the agent in capsule form as well.” She pulled one vial from the case and held it up. “This vial, containing just ten milliliters of the agent, has the ability to swiftly and permanently remove the powers from any prodigy on this planet.”

A murmur of surprise swept through the audience, and a few of the Renegades seated closest to the stage scooted their chairs away.

Nova tried to disguise the shudder that worked its way through her shoulders. She felt Danna’s scrutiny on her but didn’t meet her gaze.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Joanna. “In liquid form, the solution must be imbibed orally or intravenously in order to be effective. You’re all quite safe.” She lowered her hand, cradling the vial in her clasped palms. “We see Agent N as a humanitarian consequence for those who defy regulations put forth by our Council. After you have been trained on proper usage of Agent N, we will begin to equip all patrol units with release devices. Once this is in your hands, anyone with extraordinary abilities who chooses to conduct themselves in an unlawful manner will no longer be tolerated. They will forfeit the privilege of being a prodigy.”

The audience’s faces contorted in curiosity and subtle appreciation.

Nova felt queasy, remembering how horrified she had felt after going into Max’s quarantine, when Adrian told her that Max could absorb the powers of others merely by being in their presence. When, for a moment, she thought she might no longer be a prodigy at all.

To have your power taken away, against your will … wasn’t this a violation of prodigy rights, as much as any abuse they’d suffered before the Age of Anarchy? Ace had fought so hard to give all prodigies the freedom to reveal their powers without fear of persecution, but now the Renegades, the very people who should have been fighting on behalf of other prodigies, were determined to eradicate those who didn’t follow their code. Even though none of their new laws had ever been put to a vote or officially accepted by the people. Even though the Renegades had made themselves judge and jury, lawmakers and enforcers.

Nova scanned the room, sure that she couldn’t be the only one who saw the hypocrisy here. To change a prodigy on such a fundamental level, to alter the essence of who they were, merely because they broke a rule that they had never agreed to in the first place? What about fair trials? What about due process?

But all she saw around her were intrigued expressions.

Until her gaze landed on Adrian. He, at least, seemed troubled. At some point he’d taken out his marker and started bouncing it nervously against his fingers.

“Additionally,” Joanna continued, “we are enthusiastic about the opportunity to use Agent N as an alternate sentence for some of the inmates incarcerated at Cragmoor Penitentiary. To date, seven inmates have been neutralized as part of our testing process, and we will be assigning a committee to look at all Cragmoor residents on a case-by-case basis. Their criminal behavior has never been tolerated by the Renegades, and now we will ensure that it can never happen again.”

A murmur of approval swept through the audience, but her words left Nova cold. This was the first anyone was hearing about Agent N, and yet, seven inmates had already been neutralized? By whose order? Under whose approval? Had there been trials set up? Were the inmates given any choice in the matter?

Or had those seven victims been treated as nothing more than lab rats as the researchers perfected this new weapon? Had there been more inmates who had not been successfully neutralized and, if so, what had become of them?

It had to be a violation of human rights, but … who cared about the rights of villains?

Beside her, Adrian muttered something about Cragmoor beneath his breath. Nova cast him a curious look.

Leaning toward her, he whispered, “I saw a transport truck outside earlier. I think they brought one of the prisoners here.”

Nova had only vague memories of Anarchists who had been captured and put in Cragmoor before the Battle for Gatlon, and she assumed they were still there. The other Anarchists never talked about their lost allies and she had paid them little thought over the years.

“I will now be giving a demonstration of Agent N. I think you’ll be pleased to see how simple and efficient it is. Please bring the subject to the stage.” Dr. Hogan gestured at the door the Captain had gone through. Blacklight stepped forward and pulled it open. Those in the front row craned their heads to see who would come through.

“Our subject has been convicted and found guilty of numerous attacks on our citizens. He has used his abilities to brainwash innocent children, which has resulted in injuries sustained by countless individuals over the years.”

Nova inhaled a sharp breath.

She’d been wrong before. She did know someone who was being held at Cragmoor Penitentiary, after all.

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