Claire couldn’t take listening to this. Not because it meant that her own mother might have had a genetic part in making her the kind of child a mother couldn’t love, but because every word the Sensor was saying indicated that Nix’s mother had willingly given him to The Society.
She’d sold him.
And based on the family resemblance between Nix and the children in the picture, Claire was willing to bet that she’d sold his siblings, too.
Nix hadn’t realized that it was possible to hate a nameless, faceless woman. But he found, in retrospect, that it was actually quite easy.
Hating his mother—I had a mother and she gave me away—was easier than anything except for loving Claire. Just as natural. Just as inevitable. Just as sure.
I hate my mother. And it doesn’t matter, because my hatred doesn’t count.
The thought reminded Nix of the other people he’d hated, the other emotions he’d wasted on recipients who never looked at him with anything other than vague indifference.
Ione, who was Normal, but had somehow climbed to the top of the corporate ladder to head The Society—or at least, the North American branch. Ione, who had never spared him more than a passing second. Ione, who had dyed her dark hair blond, to better match her light blue eyes.
Dark hair. Light eyes. Certain members of The Society have provided us with Nobody infants in exchange for positions of wealth and power.
“Ione is my mother.” Nix tried to process the idea. Mother was an abstract term to him. He’d never had one. He’d only seen one, or two, only allowed himself a few stolen moments watching and listening to their lullabies, from the shadows. “And these two.” He laid first his index finger and then the pinkie of his free hand on the picture Claire held. “Ione is their mother, too.”
“If you’d like to kill her, I have no objections. It will be necessary, if you want to truly free yourselves—”
“And the children,” Claire added. “We have to free them, too.” Nix marveled at her ability to think ahead. To plan. To believe that there was a better life for this Nix and that Nix than there had been for him.
Do you know why we call you Nix, child?
Because that was what they called all Nobodies. It wasn’t even a name. Not really. And these little ones, they deserved names. They deserved naps and stories and hugs. And Claire.
They deserved to be loved.
“Yes! Yes! The children. Once the North American institute is destroyed, and the serums and formulas along with it, you can take them. Hide them. Give them a fresh start.”
“I know the institute. I lived there. If there were other Nobodies on the premises”—brother, sister—Nix’s voice caught as he tried not to think the words—“I would have known.”
“The way you knew about the serums?” the Sensor asked. “The North American institute has two parts: one is aboveground, one is below. They have separate entrances, separate staffs, separate mandates. It’s a typical safeguard against Nobodies—you walk through walls, you rise through ceilings, but you don’t, as a general rule, attempt to sink down to the center of the earth and stumble across things buried four stories underground.”
The words began pouring out of the man’s mouth faster, his eyes glowing with an almost feverish insistence. “I’m giving you information you didn’t have, information you need. You want to destroy the drugs, the research, to weaken The Society and fall off its radar. I can help you, and all you have to do is save the children.”
At first, Nix wondered why the Sensor seemed so desperate to save “the children,” and then he remembered the desperate repetition of the red-haired girl’s name—Natalie, Natalie, Natalie—and Nix recognized, finally, the manic glint in the Sensor’s eyes and the root of his willingness to throw everything away for Subject N-632.
“She’s a Null.”
The Sensor’s lips trembled. “She’s eight years old. She’s beautiful and she’s bright, and it’s not her fault she’s different. She could be good. She could be different. You have to save her. You have to.”
Eight years old, and already capable of manipulating a full-grown Sensor into crippling The Society’s reach in North America.
Nix stared at “Natalie.” In the picture, she looked on, vaguely interested, as his little brother and sister struggled against the hands that held them in the baby-size dunk tanks.
Her indifference wasn’t because they were Nobodies.
It was because she was a Null. Discovering that some of his victims had been Normals hadn’t changed Nix’s feelings toward those he’d killed who weren’t. Murderers. Serial killers. Psychopaths.
I’ve killed, but I can stop. They can’t. They can’t ever stop.
“You realize she’s a monster,” Nix said evenly, trying not to let his thoughts show on his face. “That she’s doing this to you.”
“She’s not. She’s a child! And she’s sweet. She is …” The man—who didn’t seem like a Sensor any longer—was equal parts adamant and broken. “If you want them, you have to take her. I can give you the North American institute. I can give you weaknesses, blueprints, anything you want or need. Just promise to make her safe.”
Nix could do that. He could lie. And The Society could come apart at the seams, just like that.
“We promise.” Claire beat him to it, and Nix cursed himself. He knew her well enough to know that she wouldn’t lie. Not about this. She’d made the promise with every intention of keeping it, and she would never understand that a little, little girl could be dangerous.
So dangerous that The Society should have known better than to think it could keep her caged.
“If she’s as sweet as you say,” Nix said slowly, “then why don’t the other Sensors see it? Why don’t the scientists?”
Claire arrived at the answer before their captive actually articulated it. “If there’s a Null-2, there must be a Null-1, right? A serum that protects people from a Null’s powers? Are you taking it?”
The man shook his head.
He nodded. Nix felt something, akin to pity, in the pit of his stomach.
“And when I stopped taking Null-1, that’s when I met Natalie. The real Natalie, not Subject N-632.”
Nix looked back at the little girl. She was small. And powerful. And sooner or later, she’d be dangerous.