She felt like she might never go back. Like the rules and morals that governed the real world didn’t apply here.
Power. We have it. They don’t.
The more ugly, meaningless word-sounds poured out of the young Sensor’s smirking, sneering mouth, the less Claire felt like Claire, and the more she felt like something else. A girl with a gun.
Smirk-Sneer was holding another little pink-tinted vial, but Claire couldn’t talk her eyes into looking at it. She couldn’t parse the man’s voice into words. All she could do was watch the flecks of light around his ears.
Claire barely felt her arms floating upward. She barely registered taking aim.
“Claire. No.” Nix’s voice cut into her thoughts, but only slightly.
What Smirk-Sneer was doing to his body and the flicker surrounding it—his energy, his aura, his power—was wrong.
It affects your own energy, alters the metaphysical building blocks of your entire being. Claire remembered the older man’s warning and finished it for him. There’s no telling what might happen.
The lights surrounding Smirk-Sneer’s ears grew brighter. They bubbled up on themselves, like blisters rising on the surface of burned skin.
“Give me the gun, Claire,” Nix said softly. For a moment, Claire considered his request, but then the younger Sensor—bad man, ugly-solid man—stuck another needle in his skin and the flicker of light around his face exploded outward, doubling, tripling, quadrupling in size. Light. Swarming the bad man’s body. Not just his ears.
It spread down his body with the speed of a lit fuse. Each tiny fleck of light split in two and then in two again, and the whole time, they were growing, growing, growing.…
Claire’s arms stiffened. Her finger slipped easily around the trigger of the gun. She was faded, and the bad man was looking directly at her. He was talking to her. “I see you,” he said, his lips twisting maniacally as he went for his own gun.
“Claire!” Nix yelled.
Claire didn’t care. She didn’t hear it. All she could think about, all she had room in her mind for, was the light.
Claire could stop this. Stop the man who wanted to hurt them.
“Hide-and-seek is over,” her target said, ignoring Claire and her gun and speaking directly to Nix. “How much do you want to bet I can make her lose her fade? A few well-placed words and a little pull of the trigger—she dies.”
Claire didn’t look away, and she didn’t fire her gun. She watched as the bulging flecks of light wound themselves around and around the Sensor’s body. Attacking his skin. Pushing their way in, and then back out. So many of them, in and out.
Everything in this world has an energy.
Maybe our energy is different. Maybe it’s weaker. Maybe it’s just set to a different frequency.
Nobody and Null. Nobody and Sensor and Null. Different kinds of wrong aren’t supposed to mix.
With sudden clarity, Claire knew what was going to happen. She dove for the ground. The Sensor, mistaking her reasoning, adjusted his aim, training his gun on her. Nix threw himself at Claire. And then, before Nix’s body could collide with hers, before the two of them could stop time, the Sensor who’d injected himself with three times the limit of The Society’s experimental Nobody drug smirked and sneered, one last time. He went to pull the trigger, and his entire body exploded in a ball of light, the forces he’d been playing with devouring him whole.
The explosion, and the shock at what had happened, knocked Claire back into the physical world, and she and Nix fell the last inch to the ground, their limbs tangled together in a mass of arms and legs. Outside of the fade, there was no trace of the explosion: no light, no energy, no corpse.
It took Claire a moment to realize that the gun was still in her hand. That it hadn’t gone off, and that, with instincts she’d never been aware of possessing, she was aiming it at the remaining Sensor.
Unfaded. In public.
A passerby slowed down, his eyes on Claire sprawled out on the ground and holding a weapon, his brows furrowed, as if he couldn’t quite process what he was seeing.
“Claire?” Nix whispered. “Gun?”
Claire bit her bottom lip and then nodded. Nix placed his hand over hers, and without ever changing its aim, he transferred the weight of the gun from her palm to his.
The Sensor—the last man standing in this team of five—nodded and closed his eyes, waiting for the axe to fall, but instead of putting a bullet between his eyes, Nix spoke, his words the sweetest sound that Claire had ever heard.
“Why don’t we go someplace a little more quiet?” Nix stood and stepped in front of Claire, placing his body between hers and the Sensor’s. “I think we have some things to discuss.”
Society operatives had standing orders to self-destruct rather than risk exposure. Hidden somewhere on his person, their captive doubtlessly had a small white pill—deadly and discreet, for situations such as these.
“Hands where I can see them,” Nix said softly, his gun resting on the small of the older man’s back, reinforcing the point. There was no way was he letting his captive fall on the metaphorical sword before explaining what exactly had just happened and how the hell it landed on the possible side of the possible-impossible divide. And that wasn’t even taking into consideration the information they needed to destroy the Null drug and associated research, to bring The Society to its knees—cripple it the way he’d personally crippled most members of this man’s team.
Moving quickly and drawing little attention, Nix forced the Sensor into a back alleyway, Claire on their heels.
Revealing yourself to a Nobody probably doesn’t even count as exposure.
If this Sensor did attempt to take his own life, Nix doubted it would be because The Society’s secrets had been compromised.
It would be because the Sensor had failed.
Three members of this man’s team were incapacitated—permanently. The fourth was dead by his own hand. And yet, the Sensor seemed remarkably unconcerned.
We can’t scare him. Nix realized that this might make torturing information out of the man difficult. Nobodies were assassins, not specialists. They trafficked in death, not fear.
“I imagine that you’re coming to realize your predicament, much as I’ve come to realize mine.” The Sensor’s tone was completely conversational.
“You shouldn’t be able to imagine anything about us,” Nix replied evenly. “My words should fall deaf on your ears. You shouldn’t care enough to wonder what we’re thinking.”