NOBODY by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Excerpt 3 White walls. White floor. White bed. Nothing to look at. Nothing to do. Tired of the pretense that the door, locked from the outside, could keep him caged, Nix made the decision to fade. With expert precision and unnatural ease, he let go of his grip on the physical world. He let go of his thoughts, his emotions, his body, his name. He let go of the hard-earned whispers of pain from his newest cuts. Less than shadow. Less than air. Nix let go of everything that mattered to him and became nothing—the kind of nothing that didn’t have a right to anything in this world, because it was incapable of giving back. The world was made of energy. Most people didn’t even realize it was there—inside them, outside of them, everywhere. Except in Nix. The world could touch him, but he had nothing to give in return. At his worst, he wasn’t even good enough for gravity. Less than shadow. Less than air. Nix faded. He was there, but the world couldn’t see him. Couldn’t feel him. Couldn’t smell him. Couldn’t hold him down. For all intents and purposes, he was invisible. Immaterial. Unimportant. And as only someone completely nonexistent could, he walked straight through the thick wooden door and came out the other side. Keeping his thoughts still, Nix flowed through the halls and safeguards of one of the country’s most secure buildings. This was his domain, the only home he’d ever known. From the outside, the institute looked like nothing so much as a sprawling country manor, but inside, it was state-of-the-art, immaculate, secure: a perfect match for The Society itself—ancient, secretive, a thing of legend, but on the cusp of modern science, all the same. Nix slipped into the shadows. He waited and watched. The Society was a machine with many moving parts, many members. Even those who came within a hair’s breadth of him remained blissfully ignorant of his presence. They were Normal, and he was nothing. Invisible. Faded, Nix could see the way the light played off one man’s eyes, a woman’s fingertips, the odd nose. Sensors. To the average person, they would have looked just like anyone else, but faded, Nix got a visual reminder that Sensors were different, that of all of the Normals in the world, they were the only ones who stood a chance of recognizing him for what he was. Most people had no idea that there was an energy to life, an underlying, immaterial something that made them who and what they were. But Sensors were different: sensitive to the presence or absence of energy. They could smell it, taste it, feel it—the particular sense varied from person to person, but one constant remained. Sensors knew energy, recognized aberrations. And still, they walked by Nix, unaware of how easily he could have reached out and punched his immaterial hand through their bodies. They couldn’t see him. Couldn’t feel his presence in the pads of their fingertips or the buds of their tongues. Unless he was solid and they were looking for him—and why would they? Why would anyone?—his lack, his deficiency, his presence went unnoticed. It was just as well that Nix was faded. Sensors and Nobodies didn’t mix well. “The old man is certain?” From the conference room behind him, Ione’s voice broke into Nix’s thoughts, and he read in her tone and words that she’d found his next mark: another name to be slipped under his door, another life for his hands to snuff out. Nine months. Six months. Two. The time in between his assignments was shrinking. Not weeks now, not months. Days. “Cyrus confirmed the diagnosis that his sixteen-year-old apprentice made this morning. He’s quite satisfied with this demonstration of Mariah’s progress as a Sensor, but obviously upset with his own performance. To find this girl there, in his zone, lazing about a swimming pool, right under his nose—Cyrus was embarrassed to have missed something like this up until now.” “Well, these things do happen.” Nix processed Ione’s words. The Sensors must have found another Null. Nix’s grip on absolute nothingness began to waver. He still blended. He was still unimportant. He was still deadly. But in mere moments, he’d lose his fade and be solid again. Real. They always brought out this reaction in him. Not Ione, who’d been the director of the institute for as long as Nix could remember, or the Sensors, who’d been the backbone of The Society for thousands of years, but their topic of conversation. Nulls. Psychopaths. The ultimate some-bodies. The terms were as meaningless as the scientists’ theories as to how and why it happened that some people were born with an enhanced ability to leave their marks on others—and immune from being marked in return. Nix didn’t need to know why. He hated Nulls, hated that as little as he could affect anyone else, he could affect them less. Soulless, broken monsters. Master manipulators, devoid of human compassion. Animals that had to be put down. That was what Nulls were. That was why Nobodies existed—to hunt them. To protect the rest of the world. The Normals. With his last moments at full power, Nix slipped into the conference room. Rematerializing fully, he walked forward. If he’d been a normal person, Ione and Richard, one of the oldest Sensors, would have felt his stare as a physical thing. They didn’t. Instead, Nix was able to sidle up to them undetected. Standing eerily close, he leaned forward and whispered a single word into the backs of their necks. “Mine?” he asked, something like and unlike anticipation in his voice. If he’d been anything or anyone else, his sudden appearance would have made them jump, but Nobodies couldn’t inspire fear. Or hate. Or any emotion, really, other than a vague discomfort. “Oh, it’s you.” Ione turned to look at the area just over Nix’s shoulder. She probably thought she was looking at him, but she was wrong. “You’re not to leave your quarters on your own.” Nix shrugged. He knew every inch of this building, knew it better than they did. What were they going to do? To punish something, you had to see it. You had to care about it. You had to catch it. The Society had other uses for him. “My target?” Nix asked, nodding toward the folder and taking it as a foregone conclusion that he’d be the one assigned to the case. Normals like Ione—the kind who could give and take energy, affect other people and be affected by them, love and be loved—didn’t stand a chance against this kind of psychopath, and a Sensor wouldn’t fare any better. To take down a Null, you needed a Nobody. And Nix was one of a kind. Without another word, Ione passed him the file. With that single motion, the thing she’d ordered was as good as done. The Null—whoever she was—was as good as dead. I wonder what Ione and Richard see when they look at me, Nix thought. Not the tattoos, one line for each of his kills. Not the scars, the ones he’d given himself. Not danger. Not Nix. He could have pulled a knife on them, and still, their adrenaline levels would have stayed exactly the same. Nix dropped his eyes from their faces, and his fingers tightened around the file. So what if he was as good as invisible, even to the only people in the world who had genuine motivations to see him? That was exactly what made Nix so incredibly proficient at his job. Nobodies were born assassins.