It wasn’t the Sensor’s fault that he didn’t care about Nobodies. That was just the way things were. And this man, this dear old man who the granny inside of Claire was already sizing for a scarf—cared. Not about her and not about Nix, but about someone. About a her. And he cared about this her enough to risk everything for her safety.
“You knew your partner would overdose on the Nobody serum.” The conclusion was one that Claire spoke a millisecond before she actually reached it. “You wanted to talk to us. You planned this.”
“I warned him not to do it,” the old man said. “And I may have also been the one who left the extra serum unguarded in his presence.”
With shaking hands, Claire opened the file. There was a picture clipped to the front. A little girl, about seven or eight, with bright red hair and a scattering of missing teeth.
“Your daughter?” Claire guessed. “Or granddaughter?” She revised her guess for the man’s age.
“No,” the man said. “Subject N-632. Natalie.”
Claire flipped through the papers attached to the file. More pictures of the same child. She had wide green eyes and appeared openly fascinated with the world around her. The last picture gave Claire pause.
There were two other small children in the picture: dark-haired, blue-eyed children, being held underwater by gloved hands. Adult hands.
And the little red-haired girl was just watching, the same bright smile on her face.
Nix glanced down at the page and blanched. Claire felt him leaving her, going deep into his own memories, and she scooted closer to him in protest. She ran her hand up and down his arm, and slowly, he came back to her.
“They’re Nobodies,” Nix said.
“Natalie?” Claire asked.
“No. The other two.”
They couldn’t have been older than five, maybe six. One boy. One girl. Their resemblance to each other was obvious.
Their resemblance to Nix was a bullet straight to Claire’s heart.
“This must have been what you looked like,” Claire said softly, leaning into his body, forgetting that Nix still had a gun drawn on the Sensor. “The black curls. The eyes.” Claire swallowed, hard. “They look so scared.”
“Can’t fade when they’re scared,” Nix said, his throat closing in around the words and forcing them out as a grunt. The sound—anguished and gruff—turned Claire’s heart inside out. “Their trainers are holding them under, forcing them to fade, and they can’t, because they’re scared.”
Claire wished that she could melt into Nix. Physically become a part of his body and take away even a single layer of his pain.
“Who are they?” Nix asked. Claire felt his body tense with each labored word.
The Sensor shrugged. “Natalie is—”
“I don’t care who Natalie is. Tell me who they are.” Nix jabbed a finger at the dark-haired pair.
“Subjects X-17 and X-18,” the Sensor replied, pointing first to the little girl and then to the boy.
“X-17,” Claire repeated. That was what Sykes had demanded for his continued cooperation. What he’d wanted The Society to give him.
A weapon. A Nobody. For “reconnaissance” and “threat removal.” An assassin, a spy—
The Sensor cleared his throat. “I believe their trainers call them Nix.”
This time, Claire was the one who had to be restrained. She threw herself at the man, tearing into him—scraping her nails down his face, digging her teeth into his shoulder, kicking him, screaming.
Nix dragged her away.
“I thought you said Nobodies were incredibly rare.”
“Well, naturally, yes, they are. And rarely identified before the kill point, as you can imagine. But about Natalie—”
The man’s eyes were desperate.
“No,” Claire said, struggling against Nix’s hold. “Not about Natalie.”
It was one thing for this man to be cold toward her, and to Nix. But to children? Kids who’d never get to be forgotten at Walmart or left out of a school play or abandoned on a field trip to the zoo, because their caretakers were too busy attempting to drown them?
Claire knew suddenly what it was like to really, truly want to hurt another person. The instinct was overpoweringly strong, and if she hadn’t given Nix the gun, Claire might have done it.
“Please,” the man said, unaware of the reaction he’d provoked. “You have to listen to me. Natalie—”
Natalie, Natalie, Natalie. It was every other word out of the man’s mouth, and Claire wondered how he could justify it to himself—betraying everything for one little girl, and not being bothered in the least by the systematic torture of another.
“Tell us about these children, and we’ll listen about Natalie.” Nix’s voice was dull, and Claire wondered how he could be so calm. She curled up against his body, and he settled his free arm around her stomach.
“They’re Nobodies. Still quite young. Haven’t made their first kill. When The Society acquired Natalie, Dr. Milano insisted all three be housed together.” The man’s voice took on a reverent note every time he mentioned the little girl’s name. “They’ve been serving as donors, for the serum.”
“To inoculate a Sensor against a Nobody’s powers, you need Nobody blood, among other ingredients. Powerful stuff, Nobody blood.”
Claire pictured these little ones. Crying. Bleeding. Not crying, once they’d learned their tears were worthless. Claire bent her lips inward, holding them in place with her teeth and trying desperately to hold everything together.
“Why do they look like me?”
The question laid Nix out bare. Claire could see all of his hurts, all of the things he’d never let himself want. She could see him as a little, little boy.
“As I said before, Nobodies are notoriously hard to locate in the first few years of their lives. We haven’t managed to harvest one before the kill point from the general population since the mid-fifties. But they do have their uses, so in the past two decades, certain members of The Society have provided us with Nobody infants in exchange for positions of wealth and power within the organization.”
“And how exactly do they do that?” Claire asked, knowing from the rhythm of Nix’s heartbeat that he was suddenly terrified of the answer and incapable of asking it himself.
“Nobodies suffer from a rare birth defect. It has been found over the years that certain mothers—although Normal themselves—are more likely than others to produce defective children. The Society has been known to recruit these women. To offer them incentives.”