Nix stifled a shudder. Nulls were dangerous because they were incapable of forming emotional attachments to other people, of caring about anyone other than themselves, and they were dangerous because it was all too easy for them to manipulate others. But they couldn’t manipulate the physical world. It wasn’t possible.
The same way that walking through walls wasn’t possible.
Nobodies and Nulls are opposites. Oh, God.
“Can you make things do what you want them to, Natalie?” Nix forced himself to say her name, to not recoil at the idea of Nulls, even small ones, even one who’d just saved his life, having that kind of power.
“Things that aren’t people, or things that are?” Natalie asked.
People aren’t things. Nix didn’t try telling her that, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. “Things that aren’t,” he said instead.
“Things that aren’t people are hard,” Natalie said plaintively. “I couldn’t used to do it. The bad doctor taught me. He taught me lots.”
Claire swallowed, hard, and Nix’s eyes were drawn to her lips as they parted to ask the question on the tip of his own tongue. “And the blood?”
Natalie’s blood, his little brother’s. Nix could remember, barely, seeing the little girl pick up the knife, but the haze of pain had been so thick, and all he’d wanted was to look at Claire, at Claire’s eyes. To let the last thing he saw be her.
“Energy,” Nix’s sister answered the question, and he wondered where exactly she’d learned that there was energy in her blood.
Where else? The Society had raised her. It had used her as a lab rat. They’d taught her.
Natalie, sensing that she was losing attention, cleared her throat. “The mean doctor talked a lot. He did things I didn’t like. I didn’t like him. I’m glad he’s dead. I wish they were all dead. Maybe I’ll kill them. I’m hungry. You will feed me. I like hamburgers.”
“Hamburgers?” Claire repeated. “You can have all the hamburgers you want. Do you understand what you just did?”
Nix watched as Natalie’s eyes flicked back toward him, and then she shrugged. “It looked bad. I didn’t like it. His skin was ugly. His voice sounded funny. You were crying too hard to get me food. I didn’t like it, so I made it go away.”
Saved by a Null. An eight-year-old Null, in search of a hamburger.
It took Nix a moment to recognize the voice, and then he realized that somehow, between his losing consciousness, almost dying, regaining consciousness, and almost dying again, Claire had managed to get the five of them to the rendezvous point.
The Sensor—the one who’d handed them the key to the institute’s destruction—was beaming, like he hadn’t just initiated the complete demolition of everything he’d ever believed in. “Natalie, sweetheart, I’m so glad you’re okay. I told you I’d get you out. I told you. I did just like you asked.”
Nix forced his brain to actually function, and then he climbed his way to his feet. “You did just as she asked, and we did just as you asked.” Nix nodded toward Natalie and then looked back at the man. “Our files, please.”
The man’s eyes lost their focus for a moment, and Nix felt a pang in his stomach, tinny-tasting fear that the Sensor might not have held up his end of the bargain. But after a long moment, and several more beaming smiles directed at Natalie, the man fished through his pockets and pulled out a flash drive.
Nix took it from the man’s hand. The man didn’t even notice. He had eyes for Natalie. Only for Natalie. Nix wondered what he’d do with the little girl now.
“We’re going home, Natalie. I bought a house, just for you. It has everything you like. You’ll love it there.”
Natalie smiled, but then, after a long moment, she turned. “Can I bring my stuff?” she asked.
“Of course, sweetheart.”
Nix watched as Natalie gestured to his younger brother and sister. “They’re mine. They have to come, too.”
“No.” Four people said the word at once, and Nix was struck by the way their voices played off one another’s—the little ones’ whispers, Claire’s high and loud, and his own, a rumbling growl.
“I don’t like no,” Natalie said. For a moment, Nix felt something—a pull to let Natalie have exactly what she wanted. And then his eyes were drawn, again and again, to the knife.
Make her happy. Have to make her happy. Give her what she—
The pull from Claire and from the dark-haired pair was stronger. Nulls might have an increased ability to affect people, but nothing was as strong as the pull of like to like.
“Take her and leave,” Nix told the Sensor. The man wrinkled his brow, confused, trying to reconcile himself to the fact that Nix didn’t want to give Natalie exactly what she’d asked for.
“But I want them,” Natalie said, pointing to the other children.
“You can’t always have what you want,” Claire said softly, not looking at the little girl. Looking at Nix.
“I can,” Natalie said. “I do. I wanted the mean people dead, and now they are. I wanted that boy’s uglies to go away and they did. The mean doctor was right. Sometimes, with enough energy, things that aren’t people are almost as easy as things that are.”
Things, like his body. Energy, like the result of mixing a Nobody’s blood with a Null’s.
She saved my life. A Null saved my life.
And we saved hers. Nix felt the second half of that revelation with foreboding and guilt—and the tiniest sliver of hope that maybe Natalie was different. That she’d somehow come to care about his little brother and sister. That she’d saved his life and Claire’s because deep down, she wasn’t a monster. Nix even entertained the idea that being in the fade had changed the little girl, the way it had changed the sheen of Sykes’s Null drug.
“What will I play with if they don’t come?” Natalie demanded.
What. Not who. And yet there was a tone in her voice when she looked at his siblings.…
“I’ll get you new toys. Lots of them.”
Natalie considered the Sensor’s proposition, and her eyes glowed. “Are you rich?”
“No, but Natalie, I love you. You could be my little girl. I’d do everything—”
“Fine,” Natalie said, sounding bored. “I want a hamburger.” She smiled, looking too innocent, too sweet. “And then we can talk about the rest.”