For a moment, neither Nix nor Claire said a word, and then, finally, Claire broke the silence. “It’s like something out of a bad movie. ‘This is Evan Sykes, and she doesn’t know who she’s messing with.’ He sounds like some kind of egomaniac.”
“He sounds like a Null,” Nix corrected, but this time, the single word took on new meaning. Because Evan Sykes wasn’t a Null—not when he lost those elections early in his career. Not when he paid attention to his wife and daughter. Before he became—how had Abigail put it?—a pod person.
Before he became persuasive.
Before The Society had made him into the perfect plant.
“The drug.” He said the words out loud and waited for Claire to catch up, but she didn’t know enough about Nulls to see the pattern. Didn’t realize how incredibly impossible this was.
“The Society gave him a drug that made him a Null. Or like a Null. Didn’t you hear what his daughter said—once she shoots up with it, she can’t feel anything. And Nulls don’t—they don’t feel anything, and they’re persuasive, and they have no conscience.”
Claire crinkled her forehead, her nose. “They gave him the drug so that he could talk Congress into their corner. Sykes turning into an egotistical maniac who thought he could blackmail them—”
Nix couldn’t believe they were actually talking about this. Like it was actually possible. Like a drug could take a human and turn them into a monster. How long did it last? Abigail seemed human enough, and she’d used the drug before.
A quick survey of the safe revealed that there were no more vials. No more needles.
“He was almost out of the drug when he died.”
“And he just assumed someone would find the tapes. His own daughter didn’t even try to listen to them.…”
“She must have cared about him when he was alive. She was probably crazy about him. Not even angry that he didn’t care about her. But once he died, his hold on her disappeared—”
“And now she hates him.”
“Abigail Andrea, don’t you leave this house! You can’t talk to me like that! You can’t!”
“Oh, go make yourself a Long Island iced tea, Mother. I can do whatever I want.”
The sound of a slamming door, reverberating through the large house, broke Nix out of his stupor. “Grab the tapes.”
That would give them something on The Society.
But not enough.
“The daughter has the drug. We can’t let her take it. Normals aren’t meant to be Nulls. Look what it did to her father. And now she’s going to give it to some boy?” Nix tightened his fingers into fists.
“We’re going after her.” Claire beat him to the punch, and he nodded.
“Give me the tapes. We’ll have to hurry to catch up with her.…”
“We don’t need to hurry,” Claire corrected, touching his arm softly. “Just fade.”
Nix stuffed the tapes into his pocket, hung his future on them, made them an extension of himself.
Five, four, three, two …
The world can’t touch me. The world can’t hurt me. The world can’t hold me down.
Claire was the same Claire every time she crossed over. No boundaries. No worries. No inhibitions.
The solid girl she and Nix were following would never understand that. They were flaming comets; Abigail Sykes was a firefly with a broken bulb. And as the aforementioned firefly scurried across her little mortal plane, her eyes tearing up and her too-short skirt bouncing as she ran, Claire flew.
Abigail stopped running. Claire forced her body to still, forced her feet to return to the earth.
“We’re back at the cemetery.” Nix’s voice broke through the hum of nothingness in Claire’s mind. “Why would she come here?”
She as in Abigail. A sound clawed through the fog in Claire’s brain.
Claire grappled with the thought, knowing that it didn’t belong in the fade and that if she let herself think it for too long, she wouldn’t belong there either. She wanted to stay here. With Nix. Wanted to touch him.
Abigail Sykes is crying.
Claire heard a sound—halfway between the ripping of Velcro and the slamming of a door—as Abigail’s tears—and her empathy for them—tore her from the fade. She settled into her physical body, missing the fade so much it hurt.
“Hey, baby. You feeling dangerous?”
“I’m feeling like I could do you right here.”
Claire tried not to blush. She really did, but Abigail Sykes had chosen that moment to stop crying, and her boyfriend—Dustin? Austin? Justin?—had arrived. They were practically undressing each other with their eyes.
And … ummm … their hands.
“Did you bring me something?”
Abigail slowly lifted up her shirt, revealing the syringe tucked into the band of her miniskirt. Claire glanced sideways. Beside her, Nix had eyes only for the drug.
“How are we going to get it away from her?” Claire asked, keeping her voice to a whisper, even though Abigail and her special friend seemed to be paying absolutely zero attention to the fact that they weren’t alone in this cemetery—if they noticed it at all.
“We get the drug by walking up to her and taking it,” Nix said.
“Oh. Simple as that.”
“Simple as that,” he confirmed, but something held him back, kept him from moving. It wasn’t until Claire fully absorbed their surroundings that she realized exactly what it was.
Abigail Sykes was standing in front of her father’s grave. She leaned back against his tombstone, tempting Dustin/Austin/Justin with her flat, tanned stomach, and the needle lying nearly flat against her flesh. “Some for me and some for you.”
Claire felt wrong for watching this. No matter what Sykes had done once he’d gotten in bed with The Society, the man buried under Abigail’s feet had been her father. Heavy mascara coated the girl’s eyelashes. Instead of tear tracks, black streaks marred her artificially tanned face. And the boy she was with—muscular, leering, clean-cut—didn’t bat an eye.
Didn’t ask her why she was crying.
Didn’t bring her a single thing.
“I’ll play first,” the boy said instead, reaching for the needle. Abigail ducked away.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what it is?” she teased.