“We don’t kill all of you,” the Sensor said, quite cheerful. “Consignment is an option for Nobodies located before the age of five.”
White walls. White bed. White floor.
Life in a lab.
Trained to kill as soon as they could walk.
“Traditionally, once they reach a certain age, Nobodies become more recalcitrant. Hardly worth training …”
“Stop.” Nix couldn’t take watching Claire’s face as she heard the Sensor’s careless words.
This was the big mystery they’d set out to solve. The reason Nix had begun looking into his previous kills. Because he couldn’t imagine why The Society wanted Claire dead. And even though they’d considered this answer on their own, even though they’d considered it likely—
Hearing it out loud was different. Especially for Claire.
“You must be thinking about killing me,” the Sensor said, turning around, so that Nix’s gun was pressed into his stomach instead of his back. “I would imagine that, in the abstract, someone in your position might want to kill someone in mine. But you’re not likely to meet a more knowledgeable source on The Society’s infrastructure, or one more sympathetic to your cause.”
Nix gouged the man in the side, and beside him, Claire winced.
“Sympathetic was perhaps the wrong word,” the man wheezed. “Forgive my imprecision of language and allow me to rephrase. I feel nothing for either of you, but my feelings toward Ione and the heads of the South American and European institutes are not what one would call positive. The Sensors they’re producing are subpar at best and dangerous to Normals at their worst.”
“Like the one who blew up,” Claire said blithely.
The Sensor inclined his head. Nix tried to follow the conversation, but found himself stuck on the idea that there was more than one institute. That there might be more to The Society than he had seen.
That there might be no place on earth outside The Society’s reach.
What I knew was the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t David and Goliath. This is David versus Goliath and a few dozen of his closest friends.
“We have a drug.” Nix hadn’t meant to admit that out loud, not yet, but he had to know. “It gives Normals some shade of a Null’s powers—and their indifference to others. A U.S. senator was killed because of it. If you’re so familiar with The Society’s infrastructure, you can tell me where the drug is made, who knows about it, and how far this thing has spread.”
“Ahhh … the senator would be Evan Sykes, I suppose?” the Sensor said, thinking out loud. “I’d heard he got issued the first dose of the Null-2.”
“Null-2?” Claire asked.
“The Nobody serum is at stage one: it helps inoculate us to your powers, but doesn’t give us any of our own. As you saw with my impetuous young partner, trying to distill the ingredients into higher concentrations proves somewhat … fatal. But the scientists have made significantly more progress with the Null drugs. Null-2 is the second stage: it doesn’t just protect against powers. It induces them.”
The Sensor wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t already know.
“Nulls are easier to study than Nobodies, you know. Especially once they started piloting Null-1.”
“What do we do?” Nix issued a very specific question. “About the serum?” To destroy it and take The Society down? Nix didn’t say the last part out loud, but figured that it was implied.
He figured wrong.
“Well, I wouldn’t advise taking it. Energy is tricky. Nulls and Nobodies … I’m not sure what you’d get if you mixed them. The results would be unpredictable. Anything could happen, really.”
Nix thought of the feeling of unease and disgust that had rippled its way through the fade when Claire had crossed over holding a vial of Null-2. The way that vial had changed colors, reacting to the fade.
“What do we do with the serum to destroy it and take The Society down?” This time, Nix was explicit. “We’re going to eradicate the serums, and then we’re going to expose The Society. You’re going to tell us how. The government? The media? The police?”
The Sensor shook his head. “The Society has plants everywhere. It’s strong, boy. Old. Many branches, many powerful people. And even if you could expose us—ask yourself this: do you really want the government to know that you exist? That Null-2 exists?”
The Sensor wasn’t asking Nix anything he hadn’t already asked himself, but still, it rankled. Nix had been The Society’s assassin for three years. He had no desire to play that role for the U.S. government and no confidence that it would be able to resist using him in exactly the same way.
“If we can’t expose The Society, what will it take to make them stop coming after us?” Nix asked, trying not to sound desperate. Not to feel it. Everything they’d done, everything they’d discovered—and still, they weren’t safe.
Weren’t ever going to be safe.
The Sensor didn’t reply, and Nix sighed. “In the abstract, what would it take?”
“Ione’s removal as the head of the North American unit. The physical destruction of the North American institute, along with any physical or electronic files on either of you. The eradication of the serums and with it, the memories of those files.”
“Why are you telling us this?” For once, Claire seemed properly suspicious. Nix narrowed his eyes at the Sensor as the man shrugged.
“I’m dissatisfied with the current quality of—”
“No.” Nix interrupted him. That wasn’t a reason to hand over a plan for The Society’s destruction—partial or otherwise.
For a long moment, the Sensor was silent, and then he reached slowly into his pocket. Nix’s pulse jumped in his throat, but Claire held him back, staying his trigger finger and allowing the man to withdraw a file.
A file, Nix thought. Someone from The Society was giving him a file. That could only mean one thing.
“You want us to kill someone?” he asked dully.
“No, I don’t want you to kill someone.” The man swallowed, his Adam’s apple bouncing like a buoy on water. “God help me, I want you to save her.”
Claire took the file gingerly from the Sensor’s hand. There was a part of her that wanted to forget how little she mattered to the outside world, and that part wanted to hurt this man for reminding her, but the moment his face began to crumble, Claire knew that she wouldn’t be able to do it.