“Keep going,” she told the children, her eyes flashing, weapons at the ready.
“Less than shadow, less than air,” the tiny, childish voices chanted behind her. “Less than shadow, less than—”
“I’m scared!” one of the children—Claire couldn’t see which, though she knew immediately that it wasn’t Natalie—said.
“Don’t be. Don’t be scared,” Natalie instructed. “I just said not to.” Clearly, to Natalie, that settled things. Claire found herself hoping that the little Null was right.
They aren’t faded yet, Claire thought. The guards will kill them before they let me take them.
And that was the last conscious thought Claire had, because the second she heard the first gunshot, instinct took over. Claire threw her arms out to the side, gun in one hand, knife to the other, and within a breath—less than—she fell into the fade and pushed it outward from her body.
This space is mine. The bullet is in this space. It’s mine.
She couldn’t let the guards shoot Nix’s siblings, and the only way to protect them was to—
She felt the power burst out of her body, covering the space around her. You could take an object into the fade with you if you considered it a part of yourself. A gun in your hands. The clothes on your back.
Claire didn’t have time to marvel at the fact that she’d done it—taken the bullet with her into the fade—because now there was an immaterial bullet barreling straight for her immaterial head. Frantically, Claire pictured her mother—ignoring her, talking through her, forgetting her. A trigger. The half-completed thought that jerked Claire out of the fade—
But somehow—impossibly, improbably, miraculously—she left the bullet behind.
The guards continued their onslaught. More bullets, more fading and unfading. Claire moved side to side, twisting and turning, disappearing from one spot and reappearing in another, pushing her fade outward, creating a shield for the children.
Nothing gets past me.
That realization occurred in the curves of Claire’s lips as she smiled, darkly. This was a Nobody’s true power. This was why The Society couldn’t risk a Nobody coming into their powers unless they were Society trained. This was why they’d sent Nix to kill her. This was what made Nobodies more dangerous than Nulls.
She faded again and focused on her adversaries’ weapons. She urged her fade outward. My guns. My tasers. Within seconds, she’d disarmed the guards, bringing their weapons into the fade. And then she solidified again.
As more guards poured into the room, the rush in Claire’s blood, the excitement, the thrill of absolute power had her greeting them with a single raised arm, holding a gun.
“How much you want to bet I can get mine to fire almost as quickly as I can make yours disappear?”
Behind her, Claire felt the exact moment that Nix’s younger sibling slipped into the fade. She felt them, pulling at her, pulling at Natalie, and as the guards eyed her weapon and slowly lowered theirs, Claire faded again, joining the little ones who already held her heart.
“Natalie is ours,” she told them. No room for doubt in her voice. No room for doubt—about what Natalie was and what she might be capable of—in the fade. “We belong to each other, and she belongs to us. She’s like an arm or a leg or the clothes on your body. She’s a piece of your heart.”
And with those words, Claire pushed everything she had, every ounce of absolute power toward Natalie.
Slippery, supersolid Natalie.
Claire’s brain rebelled the moment her fade touched Natalie’s body, revolted, and a shock went through her body—
Just like touching the drug, only worse, reversed, turned inside out—
But Claire clung tight to the power, the joy, the limitlessness of being nothing. She held on to her Nix and to his siblings and to everything that mattered more than the real world, with its bullets and Sensors and cages inside cages inside cages.
The whole world is a cage. Everything that’s not this, not now—
Claire took that thought, that feeling, and she wrapped it around Natalie, coating the little girl in it, like a servant mummifying a pharaoh, one strip of cloth at a time.
“Our Natalie,” she said.
Just a kid. Can’t help the way she was born. Can’t help it.
“Our Natalie,” the twins replied.
And then the impossible happened. Natalie the solid, Natalie the Null, Natalie who mattered—
Joined them in the fade.
Nix had seen the fail-safe chamber before, but hadn’t realized what it was. He’d never noticed the security lock on the door or the fact that a solid person would have had to scan some kind of identification card to enter. The ceiling, floor, and walls were lined with vents, and in the very middle of the room, there was a small activation pad.
Faded, Nix walked toward the center of the room, Sergei’s key in his battered right hand and the key Claire had given him in his left.
Two keys. One activation pad. No margin for error.
Nix went still, less than an arm’s length away from the console that held the means to destroying this building and everything in it. Transferring both keys to his right hand, he took a shallow breath and set his left on the console’s cover, poised to pry it open the moment he allowed it to regain solid form.
Nix forced himself not to think about the poison that would be released into the air the second the cover was removed. He didn’t think about anything other than the fact that his right hand had killed people. Had made it messy.
Not my choice. That wasn’t me.
He squashed down the part of him that would never fully believe that the blood on his hands was anyone’s responsibility other than his own, and instead concentrated on the appendage itself. The fingers. The nails. The palm.
Not mine. None of it’s mine.
Solidity oozed over his fingertips and Nix watched as they gripped the plastic, threw it back.
Touching Claire’s face, her hair, laying that palm against hers.
Nix reclaimed his hand just as a thick white fog began to creep out of the vents in the ceiling, the floor, the walls.
Nix took a deep breath. As his lungs filled with air, he could feel Claire slipping out of the fade. The sensation reminded him of pulling back from a kiss, but he couldn’t think of that or of Claire. He cleared his mind of her influence. Of her current objective. Of everything but the two keys in his right hand and the uncovered activation pad with two identically shaped holes.