… EPISODE ELEVEN…
It takes twenty minutes and more than a little groveling to get Jeremy to my place.
I’m in the middle of arguing with Draven (when aren’t I arguing with him?) about bringing someone else into the group, when a van rumbles into the driveway.
Holding up a hand to keep Draven from retorting—I’m getting the last word this time, ha!—I turn to look through the open garage door just in time to see my ex-boyfriend roll to a stop at the top of my driveway.
Jeremy climbs out of the van. He’s trying to pull off the badass look as usual— ripped jeans, leather jacket, dark sunglasses. I bite my lip and try not to laugh as, next to me, Draven stiffens and I can feel him bracing for a fight of the hero-villain variety.
Clearly some people are buying the act.
I start to tell Draven not to worry—Jeremy might look the part, but he battles with his keyboard, not his nonexistent brawn—but then Dante whispers incredulously to Rebel, “That’s Kenna’s ex?”
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My spine stiffens. There’s no reason for him to sound so surprised. Sure Jeremy’s hot, and no, I don’t look like a runway model, but I do have other redeeming qualities. My brain, for one. My quick wit, for another. And most importantly, my ability to listen to even the most ridiculous of Jeremy’s conspiracy theories without laughing out loud, even when I really, really wanted to.
For Jeremy, that’s a critical trait in a girl.
Then again, at least one of his theories is proving to be not so ridiculous after all. During the seven months we dated, I spent hours listening to him go on about
secret hero experiments, experiments I never in a million years actually believed could be true. And yet, here we are.
He is so going to make me eat it on that one.
Draven steps in front of me, and for a second I can’t figure out what’s going on.
Then it registers: he’s trying to protect me. From Jeremy.
I bite back another laugh. I took on Draven, Dante, and Nitro and came out victorious—except for the whole getting-tied-to-the-lab-table thing. I can certainly handle my ex-boyfriend.
I shove past Draven. I am more than capable of taking care of myself. He raises one dark brow at me, like he has no idea what I’m upset about.
Which only annoys me more. If he expects me to trust him and Dante, then he needs to trust me. I wouldn’t bring someone onto the team who would sabotage our mission.
“Thanks for coming,” I tell Jeremy, and mean it.
“Any chance to hear you say that I was right…” He wraps an arm around my shoulders in a loose hug, then squeezes.
I’m a little surprised at the warmth of his greeting. Our breakup was unfriendly, to say the least, his conspiracy-theory rants having finally sent me over the edge.
A year ago, our relationship went down in flames when he tried to convince me that the League was melting the polar ice caps so that Boulder could become beachfront property. We were in our favorite restaurant, and I ended up dumping a chocolate cherry milkshake—his least favorite flavor—on his head. It only went south from there.
But if he can put that incident behind us, so can I. Global warming is a problem for another day; I hug him back. We were friends long before we dated.
And he did come all the way over here to help me the moment I told him about my mom.
However, as I pull away, I realize there’s more at play here than a simple greeting. Jeremy is smirking—actually smirking—at Draven, while Draven stares him down.
For a split second, I wonder what’s going on behind Draven’s storm-tossed eyes, but he’s not giving anything away.
And I have more important things to worry about than some juvenile pissing contest.
“You were right. You were right. You were right,” I tell Jeremy, repeating the words like a mantra. When it comes to saving my mom and Deacon, I have no pride.
Besides, it turns out he was right when he said there was a secret faction of the superheroes doing evil in the name of justice—assuming they actually believe they’re doing a good thing. I wish I’d believed him twelve months ago, but since this theory was sandwiched between one about seeds with a latent gene that would trigger the zombie apocalypse and another that suggests Pop-Tarts are actually the government’s vehicle for mind-controlling teenagers, it was hard to take him seriously.
And we’re all paying the price because I didn’t.
“Hey, Reb.” Jeremy glances over and gives my best friend a sexy wink. “How you doing, girl?”
It takes all my restraint not to laugh out loud. Rebel and Jeremy? That’s too funny, considering he’s actually terrified of her.
This over-the-top flirty attitude is just his defense mechanism. He’d had to ask me out ten times before I saw through the smarmy act to the sweet guy below.
Rebel squeezes Dante’s arm before flouncing over to give Jeremy a hug. “Thanks for coming, Jeremy. Everything’s a mess.”
“Don’t worry, babe. I’ll fix it.”
“Don’t call her ‘babe,’” Dante says, stepping forward.
“Who’s going to stop me?” Jeremy asks cockily. “You?”
“Damn straight.” Dante lunges, but Rebel steps between them, wrapping her arms around her boyfriend’s waist and pulling him in close.
“Jeremy calls everyone ‘babe.’ It doesn’t mean anything.” She gives Dante another squeeze to reassure him whose babe she really is. “Besides, we need to stop sniping at each other and figure out what we’re going to do.”
“If we’re going to be working together,” Jeremy says, “do you want to introduce me to your new friends?”
“This is Draven.” I nod at the scowling villain standing behind me. “And that’s Dante.”
Jeremy jerks his chin at the guys in what could have been a friendly greeting if they hadn’t just snapped at each other.
“Now that everyone’s acquainted, can we get down to business, please?” I start to drag him through the garage and into the house. Thanks
Jeremy lets me lead him to the threshold, but refuses to go any further. He mouths something to me, but lip-reading has never been my thing.
“What?” I don’t get it.
He repeats himself three or four times, with increasingly exaggerated gestures, but I still have no idea what he’s trying to say. I throw my hands in the air. A glance at the others shows they’re as clueless as I am.
“Hey, dude, are we going to stand here playing charades all night?” Dante finally asks. “Or are you going to—”
Jeremy clamps his hand over Dante’s mouth before he can finish the sentence.
Needless to say, Dante doesn’t take well to what he perceives as an attack. He shoves Jeremy’s hand off his face, twisting his arm into a position that it was never supposed to bend. “Don’t touch me.”
“Ow, ow, ow!” Jeremy squeals. “Don’t hurt the typing fingers!”
“Let him go, Dante.” I tug at his arm until he releases Jeremy.
“Geez, touchy much?” Jeremy shakes out his arm and stalks over to the whiteboard. He grabs the red marker and scrolls in huge letters, Has anyone checked the house for BUGS?
It takes a moment for his meaning to sink in, but when it does, my stomach twists. Draven and I were in the house for a good ten minutes, talking and strategizing, trying to figure out what had happened to my mother and my house. The idea that those douche nozzles might have overheard our conversation—my private fears— triggers a whole new set of emotions.
I shake my head, as does Draven.
Jeremy just rolls his eyes, like we’re too stupid to live.
Wait here, he scrawls.
Then he strides into the house.
Draven, Dante, Rebel, and I stand frozen in the garage, staring at one another.
Then we scramble after him.
I’ve seen Jeremy at work before, but usually that involves drinking chocolate milk by the gallon and eating sour gummies while he sits at his laptop, his fingers flying over the keyboard.
I’ve never seen him walk around a house, eyes closed and arms extended, like some kind of witch doctor with a divining rod.
Technopaths are so weird.
Even weirder is the eerie quiet that follows in his wake. A Jeremy who isn’t spouting off how secondary radiation from listening devices causes cancer in cockroaches, who thinks this situation is as serious as we do, is terrifying.
We trail him through the house, Draven behind me, followed by Rebel and Dante, who bring up the rear. I can feel the tension emanating from the villains, their distrust growing by the second. And this time, I don’t blame them. This is bizarre, even for Jeremy.
Except we’ve barely made it into the kitchen before Jeremy is squatting to get a look at the underside of the counter. A moment later, he holds up a miniscule black bug.
Oh God. I try not to freak out, but it’s hard. This wasn’t a simple break-in. Yeah, I’ve known this had something to do with the superheroes and what’s going on at ESH—but this confirms a whole new level of intent, a new level of danger.
As we walk through the rest of the house, Jeremy finds bugs in the family room, my mom’s office, my room, and the bathroom. Ewww. I feel utterly violated.
These bugs have been here for longer than a few hours. The one in the family room was under a decent layer of dust. Whoever planted them has been listening to us for a while. Who knows how long?
This isn’t just about Deacon. This isn’t just about my stealing Mom’s badge or her work at the lab.
What are they listening for? What do they think they heard?
Panic turns the room dark and shadowy around me. I stop, closing my eyes and bracing my hands on my knees as I try to force oxygen into my lungs.
Someone rests a gentle hand on my lower back, their thumb rubbing over the bare skin between the bottom of my tank top and the top of my jeans in a soothing motion. I shiver from the skin-to-skin contact, and I turn, surprised to find Draven staring down at me.
His face is blank, but his eyes are turbulent as he watches me. He doesn’t say a word, but then he doesn’t need to. The comfort he’s offering comes through loud and clear.
I want to melt into him, into his touch, into the reassurance that rolls off him in waves. But sinking into Draven is not an instinct I can give in to right now. Or ever. So I jerk away. Yank my shirt down to meet the waistband of my jeans. Then turn to follow Jeremy out of my bedroom, down the stairs, and into the kitchen.
Back in the kitchen, Jeremy dumps the handful of bugs into the microwave and presses start before wheeling around to face me.
“Geez, Kenna, what the hell did you do to the superheroes?” he hisses, his eyes wide and haunted. “Your place is trashed! And those bugs? Serious business. Definitely not your typical Internet-ordered surveillance devices. Those babies are top secret, state-of-the-art bugs that can pick up conversations a hundred yards away. They could hear anything and everything that went on in your house.”
Behind him, the bugs start to snap and pop like gunfire in the microwave.
“I’ve been saying it for years,” he continues, ignoring the mini-explosions. “The heroes are in bed with the government and breaking every law in the League and in the Constitution. For what? To turn us into mindless zombies who do whatever they command. I wouldn’t be surprised if those bugs came equipped with a mind-control signal.”
“Really, Jeremy? Again with the mind control?”
The microwave lets out one final blast before the end timer beeps.
Jeremy squints at me. “You’re not being controlled right now, are you?”
I punch him in the shoulder. “Of course not!”
He rubs his arm as he glances over my head with suspicion.
“How do you know? The Kenna I know would never willingly work with villains.”
He whispers the last, as if it’s a bad word.
“Yeah, well, that Kenna’s mother hadn’t been kidnapped, and she still had some faith in the system.” Was it only yesterday that I was arguing with Rebel about how crazy her antihero rant sounded? It feels like a lifetime. “Now they’re both gone. Why wouldn’t I stoop to working with villains?”
“So flattering,” Draven says to me, sarcasm ripe in his tone.
“It wasn’t meant to be flattering,” I answer, flipping him off, even as I keep my attention fixed on Jeremy. “Just truthful.”
“Well, I’m not too thrilled to be working with a hero girl,” he throws back.
“Then you shouldn’t have let your cousin start dating one.”
“She’s your best friend.” He jerks his head in Rebel’s direction. “You didn’t even know they were dating.”
“Because she knows how much I hate villains.”
“Yeah, almost as much as I hate heroes.”
“Enough!” Rebel shouts.
Suddenly, my feet lose contact with the floor and I find myself looking down at her. Hands outstretched, Rebel’s face is a mask of irritation as she holds Draven and me three feet off the ground.
I glance over at him just in time to see panic flicker across his face. Looks like someone is afraid of heights.
Rebel lowers us gently back to the ground. She shakes out her arms, clenching and unclenching her hands in a tell that means she’s only a couple small steps from losing it completely.
If we thought Dante losing it was bad, wait until someone pushes Rebel to the breaking point. Like during the last big throw-down with her dad. He had to resod the entire lawn behind her house.
“If you two are done fighting, we need to make a plan,” she says. “And quickly. We have to get Deacon out and find Kenna’s mom.”
The reminder shuts down our bickering.
“Is it safe to talk here?” Rebel asks, casting a wary glance at the smoking microwave.
“My sweep caught all the live bugs,” Jeremy says. “But there could be dormant devices or voice-activated transmissions or heroes with super hearing trained on this address or—”
“Jeremy…” I warn before he launches into another stream of paranoia—more out of impatience than disbelief because, really, at this point his theories make more sense than not.
He smirks. “I can shield the house.”
I look around at the destruction in my kitchen and have to admit, “I don’t feel safe here.”
“Then we’ll go somewhere else.” Rebel wraps an arm around my shoulders.
“Somewhere no one expects us to be,” Jeremy offers.
The guys’ house is out, because if my house is bugged, then surely the home of the head villain is also being watched. And Rebel’s house is no good for obvious reasons.
Jeremy adds, “If it’s outside, that would be even better.”
“There’s a park,” I suggest. “About a half mile from here.” Dante pulls out his keys, ready to drive.
“We should walk,” Jeremy and I say at the same time.
Draven scowls, and Dante shoves his keys back into his pocket. If my house had that many bugs, I don’t even want to think about what kind of tracking devices might be in our cars. And we need Jeremy’s focus on something other than keeping eavesdroppers out of our business—like figuring out how to break into one of the most secure facilities in the world.
Ten minutes later, we’re settling at a picnic table in the park. As far as war rooms go, it’s not great, but any port in a storm and all that…
I pass around the six-pack of soda I pulled from the broken fridge and a bag of chocolate chip cookies from my secret stash. I can’t remember the last time I ate.
Jeremy settles his backpack on the table and pulls out his laptop. He shrugs out of his leather jacket, revealing a T-shirt that says There’s no place like 127.0.0.1. Draven and Dante exchange a WTF look.
I don’t get it either. Jeremy has an odd sense of humor. But he’s a freaking computer wizard.
Only a couple of minutes pass before he’s got a schematic of the lab, which is a million times more detailed than the one I drew on the whiteboard in my garage.
It’s multilayered, like blueprints, including everything from the ductwork to tech and security wiring.
We crowd around him, even Dante and Draven forgetting their distrust long enough to pore over the plans.
“This is too complicated to read,” I say after a minute. “How do you even know what we’re looking at?”
“I’ve spent a lot of time studying the lab schematics and security systems over the years. I memorized the layers.”
“Why?” Dante demands, suspicious again. “Did you have a reason to break in?”
Jeremy tsks. “Are you kidding me? Do you know the kind of experiments that go on in that lab? Irradiating rabbits to give them cognitive thought? Weather bombs? Bacteria that can realign the Earth’s tectonic plates? With shit like that going down, I want to be ready to act. It pays to know the best ways in—and out.”
“So what is the best way in?” I demand, cutting a glare at Dante. Are they trying to send him off on a rant?
“That depends where you want to go.” He spends another minute or so clicking on the screen, and suddenly the multilayered diagram disappears. In its place is one very detailed schematic, with every entrance, exit, window, and air duct clearly delineated.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Dante crows, clapping Jeremy on the back.
I swear, I don’t know what it is about guys that makes them ready to beat each other’s brains out one minute and be best friends the next.
“We need to get to sub-level three,” I tell him.
“Ah, sub-level three: the holy grail of League supersecrecy.” He cracks his knuckles. “I’ve searched everywhere for blueprints, a diagram, anything that remotely confirms the secret sub-level exists.”
“Oh, it exists,” I reply.
He turns to me, eyes wide. “How do you know? Where did you get definitive proof?”
“I’ve been there. Is that enough proof?”
Without answering, Jeremy turns back to his computer and punches a few more keys, calling up a blank schematic in the general shape of the lab. “Tell me everything you can remember.”
“Do we really have time for this?” Rebel demands.
“If you want to get into a level so well-protected that there is absolutely no sign of its existence on the freaking Internet or League intranet, then yes, it’s necessary,” Jeremy all but shouts. “I need as many details as you can remember, and then…”
“And then what?”
“Then I’ll check it against the new security protocols and try to extrapolate what measures they’re using to protect this level.”
“Extrapolate?” Draven barks. “You mean, you’re going to guess?”
Jeremy smiles at him over his laptop screen. “Pretty much.”
“My cousin’s life is on the line, and you’re going to make guesses about how to get him out?” Draven looks like he’s ready to kill something.
Not that I blame him. None of us knows how long Deacon can last.
Jeremy shrugs and reaches into his backpack for a bag of sour gummy worms.
“Good thing for you I’m a good guesser,” he says as he pops a handful in his
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