“You shouldn’t touch me.” His words were soft, quiet, defeated.
She brought her head to rest against his back. “Yes, I should.”
He said nothing in reply.
“You didn’t know,” she tried again.
“They’re the ones who did this. Not you.”
“I’m the one who slipped the poison into his veins. Just like I slipped the poison into Sykes’s. Just like I almost put a bullet in your heart.” He shuddered, one more time, and then pulled away from her. “Get away from me. You need to get away from me, Claire.”
“Stop telling me what I need.”
“I’ll stop telling you what to do when you figure out life isn’t fairy tales and forever. Condition two, Claire. I say when this is over. You run and hide.”
She didn’t let him finish that thought. “It’s not over yet.”
“We wanted to find out who was corrupt. I think this is pretty good evidence for The Society as a whole—or at least, all of the people in charge.”
“You don’t kill people based on pretty good evidence.”
Nix snorted. “Apparently, I do. I killed Wyler because Ione told me to. I saw what my first two targets were like, I saw what they’d done, and so when they sent me after number Three, I assumed that he was a monster, too. They didn’t tell me that his crime was standing in the way of their plans. I didn’t even know they had plans. I did this. I killed him, and he wasn’t a Null.”
Claire balled her hand into a fist and smacked it into his side. “Senator Wyler wasn’t your fault. Sykes wasn’t your fault. You never even had a chance, Nix. But you have a chance now, and if you kill the people behind this—”
“Ione told me to kill you,” Nix said simply. “She tried to kill me. She gave the order to kill Wyler. She gave the order to kill Sykes.”
“Don’t you want to know why?” Claire asked, stalling for time. She couldn’t let him leave the library, not like this.
“I don’t need to know why.”
“The Society put Evan Sykes in the Senate. Don’t you want to know what he was doing there?”
Claire wracked her mind for a question that would spark his interest. Hold him here. Keep him from running off. Getting himself killed. Killing somebody else.
“Don’t you want to know …”
He opened his mouth to interrupt her, but she managed to squeeze the magic words out, just in time.
“Don’t you want to know why Sykes lost his first three elections?”
The words took a moment to register. Nix was already denying interest when they sank in. When he realized the implications.
When the plot thickened.
Claire stepped toward him. He stepped back. She laid her ace on the table. “You asked why The Society would put a Null in the Senate. The real question is, if Sykes were a Null, if he had the kind of energy that made him unnaturally good at manipulating other people—why couldn’t he get there himself?”
Nix tried to concentrate on Claire’s question. On Evan Sykes. But his brain went somewhere else.
Nix is standing in the corner of his target’s bedroom, an empty syringe in his hand. He was supposed to leave as soon as he made the injection, but he didn’t. He stayed. Now he’s watching from the fade. Waiting. Anticipating.
His target’s name is Warren Wyler. Looking at him, you’d never know he was a Null. As Nix watches, Wyler calls his wife on the phone. He tells her he loves her. Nix wonders what this Null keeps chained up in his basement. How many people he’s killed. What he does when he’s not alone in his D.C. residence, flipping channels on the TV.
Finally, without warning, Wyler gasps. Collapses. His head lolls to one side. His fingers twitch. Eyes roll back in his head. A sickly sour smell fills the room. From the shadows, Nix watches. He watches the man stop breathing, watches the fingers stop twitching, watches—and smiles.
The worst thing about the memory wasn’t the fact that Nix could recognize, in retrospect, that Wyler—like Claire—hadn’t been a Null. The worst part was the fact that he had stayed to watch. Nix had killed an innocent man, and he’d smiled.
Wyler wasn’t a Null. He was just a politician.
Normals probably couldn’t tell the difference, but Sensors could. And that meant they’d sent him after Wyler knowing he wasn’t a Null. So that Sykes could inherit his seat in the Senate.
“Sykes was a Null. I could practically smell it on him.” Nix paused. Why would The Society want a Null in the Senate? And more importantly, why would a Null need The Society’s help?
Nulls were charismatic, magnetic, easy to like, and hard to forget. They were very good at getting what they wanted.
“Maybe he was a Null,” Claire said slowly, “but he just wasn’t very good at it.”
Nix had to remind himself that she was new at this. That twenty-four hours earlier, she’d known nothing about energy or Nobodies or Nulls.
“Being a Null isn’t the kind of thing you have to practice, Claire. People just care about you. They’re the puppets. You’re the puppeteer.”
“You’re teaching me how to be a good Nobody. If fading takes practice and concentration, why doesn’t being a Null?”
Nix didn’t want to think about Nulls. He couldn’t think of anything but Senator Wyler lying dead on his bed. “So, what?” he asked tersely. “The Society taught Evan Sykes how to use his powers? Why would they do something like that?”
Claire’s eyes flitted back to the computer screen. “I don’t know, but I’m guessing it might have something to do with Proposition 42.”
Proposition 42? Nix didn’t want to ask her what that was. She’d read about it, obviously, and if he hadn’t been so slow, he probably would have, too.
If he’d been quicker on the uptake, it wouldn’t have taken meeting Claire to realize that something was very wrong inside the institute’s walls. There were so many things he didn’t know about The Society. So much they hadn’t bothered to teach him. So much he hadn’t asked.
He watches Senator Wyler stop breathing, watches his fingers stop twitching, watches—
“You know what? I’ve got this, Claire. I don’t need your help. I don’t need you. What I need is for you to get out of the way and let me read all of that garbage you pulled up on the computer.”