"This is Jeremy Abernathy, reporting for Superhero News live from the SHN Power Chopper high above the supervillain trial of the century. Today, Rex Yes-I'm-a-Sadistic-Tool Malone and the entire Yeah-We're-Even-Bigger-Tools Collective are opening the trial of obvious-threat-to-humanity Draven Can't-Operate-a-Computer-to-Save-His-Life Cole-"
"Ah, and there's our intrepid on-the-ground reporter now," he continues, his voice coming loud and clear through my earbud. "The situation is probably pretty tense down there in the courtroom. Let's check in with Draven's ladylove, the incomparable Kenna Who's-the-Ordinary-Now Swift. Kenna?"
Someone else on our system snickers. Probably Nitro.
I clench my teeth and fight the urge to respond.
"Radio silence," Riley reminds the group. "Before a big event like this, my dad always scans radio frequencies for chatter in case-"
Riley's feed cuts out abruptly.
Nobody says anything else, not even Jeremy, and I have to admit I kind of miss his annoying banter. Especially since I know he's just trying to keep me from freaking out. Not that it's working-but that's more me than him.
I've never been more freaked out in my life. And after growing up as an ordinary in a world of people with superpowers, that's saying a lot.
Of course, that was back when I still thought the heroes were the good guys. Back when my life still made some kind of sense.
Back before my mother went missing, my best friend gave herself up to the heroes, and my boyfriend got captured and put on trial for crimes he would never commit.
All of which have led me here to League Headquarters.
Into the lion's den.
My fake SHN credentials got me into the courtroom where Draven is to be tried, a courtroom currently filled with superheroes who are loyal to the League. Which means I'm surrounded by them, fenced in on all sides as I sit here waiting for the trial to start, terrified with each moment that passes that one of them will recognize me beneath my disguise.
I'm channeling my inner Rebel, taking a page out of my best friend's book with a platinum-blond wig, hot-pink lipstick, and a blouse unbuttoned just enough to keep security from looking too closely at my face. A face that's been plastered on wanted posters throughout the superhero and ordinary worlds in the twelve days since we destroyed the secret superhero bunker-which means if anyone recognizes me, I'll be on trial right next to Draven.
Mr. Malone doesn't think too highly of villain sympathizers, as he calls us.
And if that isn't bad enough, me getting caught would be the least of our problems. Because we all know that Draven isn't about to get a fair trial. No villain would, but especially not Draven. He's about to become an example. He's Mr. Malone's greatest capture to date, and he knows secrets Rex would kill to keep quiet. He is a secret Rex would kill to keep quiet. Which means once this farce of a trial is over, Draven's a dead man.
Unless we break him out of hero custody today. Now. Before this mockery of a trial can even begin.
Which is exactly what we plan to do-as long as I don't get identified before they bring him into the courtroom.
Just the thought has me slouching in my seat as Rex walks through the door in full superhero regalia-a crisp white jacket with red epaulets, decorated by an array of red, blue, and yellow ribbons over his left pec and a big, gold League badge over his right. As president of the League, he also wears a waist-length royal-blue cape.
It's the first time I've seen him dressed like this in years, and if things weren't so serious right now, I'd probably laugh. Riley's Superman pajamas make so much more sense now. Is it any wonder he grew up with a serious hero complex? Or that Rebel has an antihero one?
Shoulders back and head held high, Rex climbs the steps to the raised stage at the front of the room, walking between the long, curved table and the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. He knows everyone in the room is looking at him, and he is totally eating it all up.
The rest of the Collective follows behind him, all ten of them walking single file, wearing matching white uniforms and smug expressions. I can almost smell the arrogance rolling off them.
Anger wells within me when I think that these are the men and women who've been holding Draven and Rebel for a dozen days, probably the same men and women who've been holding my mother for even longer. When I think about what happened to Draven's cousin Deacon in their hands, when I think about how he still wakes up at night screaming even though he's safe and free and has begun to heal, it both terrifies me and makes my blood boil with rage.
I'm going to make every single one of them pay. For what they've done to my friends. For what I'm afraid they've done to my mother. For what they've done to too many people. I'm going to make them suffer like they've made so many villains suffer in the decades since the Collective came to power.
That's not something I ever thought I'd say, but I'm not the same Kenna Swift I was three weeks ago. I'm done playing their game, done following the rules that the supposed good guys wrote.
If I have anything to say about it, Rex Malone is never going to hurt anyone I care about ever again. And he sure as hell isn't going to kill Draven. Not today.
Suddenly, the lights in the courtroom flicker.
"Hey, something's interfering with my feed," the SHN camera guy next to me complains. He fiddles with his wires like there might be a loose connection.
"Steady," Jeremy warns softly, and I force myself to take a calming breath to tamp down my power and keep it from leaking out before we need it. Wouldn't want the superhero world to miss a single second of the coming spectacle.
It took a few days to get past the brain-freezing shock at the very idea of having a power. After a lifetime of feeling powerless, that was hard enough to process. But the realization that followed was even worse. The mark on my neck declares me not only a super, but a villain. Mom is an ordinary. Which means my dad, one of the most famous and revered heroes of his time, was actually a villain.
I have so many questions and no one to ask.
Rex stops at the middle of the stage, behind the long, curved table, and pulls out the centermost chair. After he sits, his minions do the same, filling in the seats on either side of him.
I slouch deeper as he braces his hands on the table in front of him and surveys the courtroom. I'm sitting in the very back row, with dozens of spectators between us, so he would need supervision to be able to identify me in this crowd, but I'm not taking any chances. The self-satisfied smirk on his face-an expression that says he is king of this domain and that he likes it that way-sends chills down my spine.
When he's done looking over all of the reporters, security guards, and special guests, he nods to the back of the courtroom and makes a come-forward gesture.
For a second I think he's seen me. Recognized me.
My heart stutters and I can't breathe. I feel the walls closing in. My mind starts racing, desperate to figure out how I might get out of this alive, how we can still make the plan work.
Then I sense movement at my side.
Everyone in the courtroom turns to look as Rebel Malone, my best friend and Rex's black sheep daughter, walks slowly, timidly, toward the front. And if I'm channeling Rebel today, then she's channeling Lilly Pulitzer. Dressed in a pale-pink floral dress that skims her knees and a white cardigan, with her usually spiky bleached hair dyed brown and swept back from her face by a matching pink headband, she's as far from the girl I know as Rex is from the hero I once thought he was.
She walks right by me without noticing me. Not that I'm surprised, considering she'd have to look around to see me. And she isn't. At all. She's staring straight ahead, almost like she's hypnotized, following her father's every direction as she finally makes it to the front of the courtroom and sits down in the empty, reserved first row.
Rex nods in satisfaction, then clears his throat before leaning down to the microphone that sits on the table in front of him.
"First of all, I would like to thank the members of the press corps for being here today," he says, nodding toward my section.
I pretend to scratch my forehead.
"The Collective and I have always prided ourselves on our openness and transparency, which is why you have all been invited here to report on this very important trial."
It takes all my self-control not to laugh out loud-or to scream my outrage. Because a month ago I would have been just like everyone else in this courtroom. I would have believed him without a second thought.
But now I know better. Despite Mr. Malone's insistence that secrets are for villains and that everything he and the hero squad do is aboveboard, the truth is that the superheroes keep deeper, darker secrets than I ever imagined possible.
Their supposed openness and transparency is a joke. Or, more accurately, a travesty.
I wait for him to give his usual song and dance about how evil villains are. But he must be as anxious for this trial to start as I am-though for totally different reasons-because he doesn't say anything else. Instead, he gestures to the door on the opposite side from where he and the Collective entered.
I turn to look just as two massive hero guards enter, then turn back and level nasty-looking weapons at the doorway. From this distance I can't tell if they're ordinary guns or special weapons from the hero armory. Freeze rays, maybe, or even disintegration guns.
I wouldn't put it past them, wouldn't put anything past Mr. Malone.
Then Draven appears and I huff out a relieved sob-laugh. I can't help myself.
He looks exactly like the last time I saw him, streaming live on an SHN broadcast. He'd already been captured by Mr. Malone, was already a prisoner of the war we'd just begun to fight. He was standing with Rex and this new and unimproved version of Rebel that I don't recognize, the three of them in front of the mountain Draven's pal Quake had turned to rubble at his behest while Draven was still inside. All part of a plan the villain boys had cooked up to make sure that Jeremy and I got out safely with the rescued prisoners.
Draven's wrists and ankles are cuffed and connected by shackles that only a super with laser vision could cut through. He's wearing a baggy prisoner's jumpsuit-only instead of bright orange it's solid black, with the word VILLAIN painted in white across the chest. And on his head sits the powers-neutralizing helmet.
The helmet isn't one of my mom's inventions, but her research helped them develop the technology that can block a super's powers by creating some kind of Faraday cage for the brain. It may look like a giant fishbowl with a metal collar, but that's no ordinary glass. Tempered, shatterproof, bulletproof, and laced with invisible wires that carry a high-frequency signal that inhibits all powers, it's the perfect villain containment unit.
Draven won't be messing with anyone's memories or manipulating anyone at a genetic level-not that anyone in this room knows about his second power-as long as that helmet sits on his head.
But other than that, he looks surprisingly okay. The heroes had Deacon for only a few days, and they nearly destroyed him. In the twelve days since I last saw Draven, my imagination has drummed up all kinds of worst-case scenarios for the state he would be in when he finally got to stand trial.
I let out a tiny sigh of relief that he appears to be unharmed. We're not any closer to home free, but just seeing him looking...like him makes me feel better. Then again, just seeing him makes me feel better. Knowing that it's only a matter of minutes before I get to hold him, talk to him, make sure he really is all right.
Two more guards trail him into the courtroom and prod him across the room as the first two keep their guns aimed at him. I can't tear my eyes away. I need to see every move he makes, need to count every breath he takes to reassure myself that he's really okay.
"Though Draven Cole is only eighteen years old, he is a grave danger to superheroes everywhere," Mr. Malone proclaims to the rapt audience. "He is the nephew of the notorious Anton Cole, the most dangerous supervillain of our times, whose very existence is a threat to our way of life."
Ugh. Cue the fear-mongering propaganda. Everyone gasps appropriately.
"And more than that," Rex continues, "he is responsible for massive destruction at two top secret hero facilities, as well as assaulting numerous SHPD officers and security guards and kidnapping both Rachel and Riley Malone." Another gasp fills the courtroom at this revelation. "Today he must answer for his crimes."
I want to stand up and shout that Draven's only crimes are being born a villain-and having the misfortune of being Rex Malone's bastard son. Something I'm sure the head of the Superhero Collective doesn't want the rest of the hero world to know. But doing so would ruin everything, so I force myself to stay silent.
The quartet of guards push Draven up the steps to the raised box at one end of the table. As he climbs the stairs, he looks out over the crowd. He might be Rex's son, but instead of having the smug look his father wore when he surveyed the room, Draven looks defiant. Scornful. Like he's daring them to judge him.
His gaze skims over me, past me, and then darts back, the mask he wears faltering for just a moment.
I bite my hot-pink lips to keep from grinning. I want him to know that we have a plan, that we're getting him out of here, but I can't risk drawing any attention.
Even from this distance, I can see Draven's icy blue eyes narrow behind the glass helmet. He shakes his head, a small, barely perceptible movement that only someone who was desperate for any kind of communication would even notice. Still, I get his meaning, loud and clear.
Don't. Try. Anything.
Too bad. We're getting him out whether he likes it or not.
I give him a solid nod.
He's scowling when he looks away, but he does nothing else that might alert the heroes to my presence. Exactly as I expected. He may not approve of the fact that I'm here to rescue him, but he won't risk doing anything that might get me hurt.
"Today we make history," Mr. Malone drones on as the four armed guards take up offensive positions behind and next to Draven. "Today we bring to justice not one but two supervillains. Draven Cole and-"
He points again at the still-open side door, and like viewers at a tennis match, we all turn to see who will walk through next.
"A supervillain even more treacherous, even more duplicitous." He makes another gesture, and two more guards enter, repeating the turn-and-aim procedure we just saw used on Draven. "A supervillain who lived among us as one of our own, even as she worked to destroy us."
The second villain walks through the door.
"No!" I whisper-shout. Then slap my hands over my mouth to keep from blowing my cover. Not that I should worry. Every hero in the room had a similar reaction to seeing a familiar face wearing villain blacks.
"Kenna, who is it?" Jeremy asks in my earbud.
I shake my head, unable to speak. Unable to process what I'm seeing.
Two more guards follow, prodding the second villain to another raised stand at the near end of the table. I watch, in shock as my mind struggles to make sense of this. I might be having a stroke.
"A woman we all believed to be fighting for the right, a woman in whose hands we placed the lives of every superhero, recently revealed as a filthy villain mole." Mr. Malone gestures at the second villain as she defiantly refuses to sit. "Dr. Jeanine Swift."
My earbud explodes with shocked protests from every member of my team.
"Dr. Swift?" Riley whispers.
"Your mom?" Jeremy asks. "No way."
No way. My thoughts exactly. No freaking way my mom is a villain. Not when she's the most respected-and decorated-scientist the heroes have ever had.
This has to be a setup. They must have found out about her ultrasecret projects-like the immunity serum she made me take for years-or that I used her ID to find the secret sublevel at ESH Labs where they were torturing villains. Mr. Malone is setting her up as a villain so he can get rid of her. That's the only explanation that even remotely makes sense.
Mom is an ordinary like me. Well, like I used to be. Or like I thought I was before I found out the truth.
But there she stands, hands and feet shackled, head encased in a helmet identical to the one Draven is wearing. A helmet she helped design.
The villain label stamped across her chest stands out like a neon sign.
When Mr. Malone orders her to sit, she turns to spear him with the most venomous glare I've ever seen her give. And when she turns back around, I see the mark beneath her ear. A villain mark.
A mark I know never used to be there.
Oh God, I've been so stupid.
The truth overwhelms me-as does the betrayal.
All those years she was dosing me with immunity serum, supposedly to protect little, helpless me from superpowers, when in reality she was trying to hide my villain power from everyone, including myself. I thought she was protecting my dad, hiding the power that would reveal his villainous truth. But she wasn't hiding only my powers. She was hiding hers too.
Mom is a villain. Which means...what? That I got my villain mark from her? Was Dad really a hero, or was he hiding his villain identity too?
My hands shake with the enormity of the revelation. And the enormity of the hurt welling inside me. How could she do this? Why would she do it when it meant crippling both of us for so long?
"Our plan is screwed," Nitro says.
"Not necessarily," Jeremy argues. "We just have to adjust."
"How do you expect us to get Draven and the doctor?" Nitro asks. "Riley isn't actually Superman, you know. And neither are you."
"We're getting my sister too," Riley adds.
"Yes," Dante says, for once agreeing with Riley. "There's no way we're leaving here without Rebel."
"Did you miss the part where there is an entire room full of heroes who are going to try to stop us?" Jeremy scoffs. "It will be hard to grab two people, but three is practically impossible."
"You better figure out how to make it possible," Dante tells him.
"We don't even know if robot girl wants to be rescued," Nitro argues.
"Don't call her that," Dante growls.
"Forget getting out of the courtroom. I calculated our escape plan based on a six-person payload," Jeremy continues. "I can't guarantee it'll work with eight."
"Well, it has to," Dante replies. "We're not leaving any of them in hero hands."
Jeremy doesn't let it go. "But once Kenna does her thing, I won't even be able to-"
"Enough," I snarl through clenched teeth. "We're getting them all, and we're going to do it as planned."
"Are you sure?" Riley asks. "What if we-"
His voice gets muffled, like someone clamped a hand over his mouth. That's my team.
"Ready when you are, Kenna," Dante says.
I allow myself one more minute to think. To breathe. To convince myself that things are about to get very, very awesome. I ignore the voice in the back of my head that tells me the other option is that things could get very, very bad. But it doesn't matter. We have to try. Like Dante said, we're not leaving them behind. None of them.
"In one of the most extensive investigations in League history," Mr. Malone explains to the rapt courtroom audience, "we discovered that all recent security leaks can be traced back to the efforts of the woman who was, for so many years, our most trusted scientist."
That's total bullshit. At least some of the leaks are thanks to his own daughter, and he knows it.
But as I look at Rebel, I see her smiling blandly and applauding this revelation. Who is this girl? What have they done to my best friend?
"In fact, Jeanine Swift has been working with Draven Cole for months now, giving him access to the Elite Superhero Lab-access that led to extensive damage to property and personnel. Because this case is so unusual," Mr. Malone continues, "I will be presiding over the trial. We will first present the case against the villains and then will open the floor to opposing testimony from sympathizers."
Right. As if anyone under Rex's command would be willing to risk his wrath by testifying on behalf of my mom, let alone Draven. No one speaks out against Mr. Malone. Ever. Probably because when they do, they end up here. In the middle of a farce of a trial. Nothing else makes sense. How else could otherwise decent people let him get away with what he does?
And despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, I have to believe that some heroes are good. Jeremy is a hero. So is Rebel. And maybe my dad too-one of the best, or so they say. I can't believe they're the only ones.
"I will begin," he continues, "by reading the full charges against the defendants."
"On my count," I whisper.
I give myself an extra couple of seconds to commit the layout of the courtroom and location of our targets to memory. Rebel is a dozen rows in front of me, across the aisle. Draven is at the right end of the judicial table. Mom is at the left end.
Mr. Malone is dead center.
There are ten members of the Collective.
Sixteen armed hero guards.
More than fifty heroes who are either here to present in the case or to witness the trial of the century firsthand.
Plus the real SHN camera crew that is capturing the entire spectacle for the rest of the hero world to see.
Our goal is to get our people out with as little collateral damage as possible. I mean, if Rex and the rest of the Collective get caught in the crossfire, none of us are going to shed a tear. Well, Riley might. But the rest of us think they can all go to hell. The spectators and the camera crew are mostly innocent bystanders, and the last thing we want is for them to get hurt.
Mr. Malone begins reading the trumped-up charges. "Draven Cole, you are hereby charged with the following offenses-"
"Five," I whisper.
"-conspiring against the Superhero League-"
"-destroying the manipulation lab at the original ESH Lab facility-"
"-destroying the underground facility at the Lima Whiskey location-"
"-using your psy powers to turn Rachel Malone to your side-"
"-and participating in the genocidal plans of your uncle, Anton Cole."
"Go," I whisper as I flick the switch in my earbud that Jeremy says will keep it functional through what's about to happen.
I stare straight at Rex as I concentrate my power with my mind. In the days since I discovered I have the power to affect electromagnetic forces, I've been working hard to learn how to control it. And the first thing I learned is that emotion makes it stronger.
So I keep my gaze trained on Rex and let all of my anger and rage toward him build. It isn't hard when I think of everything he's done. I let it build, bottling up inside me like a bubble ready to burst.
Then, in one breath, I release it all.
My very own electromagnetic pulse, an EMP strong enough to fry every electrical circuit in the building.
The lights in the courtroom flicker and then go out.
"Hey, my camera just died," the SHN camera guy next to me says.
"So did my phone," responds the reporter he's with.
At the front of the courtroom, Rex scowls and rubs at his ear, like he's trying to make it pop.
I place my hands over my own ears to protect them from the coming pressure change. Rex pushes to his feet, like he knows something is up, but it's too late.
The windows behind the judicial table explode into a million tiny shards.
And the courtroom erupts in chaos.