These Broken Stars Page 11

The major’s face is drawn, tense. He looks back at me, and for a moment neither of us speaks.

And then a scream of metal tears through the ship, making the pod shudder; it’s still attached to the Icarus. We both look up at the countdown clock—still blank. We’re stuck. I look across at the major, then down at the metal grid floor. If there’s another surge while I’m standing on it, I’ll die—but if there’s another surge while we’re attached to the ship, it could destroy the pod anyway.

Just do it. Don’t think.

I jerk my straps open and drop to the floor. The major protests but I ignore him and make for the control panel by the door. I don’t know what’s happening to the Icarus, but I know that the last thing we want is to be attached to the ship if another surge goes through it like the last one. I just have to get the separation and ignition sequence going using the emergency power, buckle myself back in, and we’ll be safe until the rescue ships show up.

You can do this. Just imagine Simon, and his tools, and everything he showed you before.… I take a deep breath, and open up the panel.

So much for not giving him a story to take back to the tabloids. They’d go crazy for a month with just one picture of me up to my elbows in circuits. No man, woman, or child of my class would own up to something like this.

But none of them would know what they were doing. Not like I do.

I reach in for the bundle of rainbow-colored wires behind the panel, pulling them out and inspecting them. No doubt they’re coded in some way, but lacking knowledge of this particular system, I have to trace them out manually, deciphering amid the tangle which are the two I want.

“Need any help?” The question is tense but civil, revealing nothing.

I jump, jolted out of my concentration. “Not unless you were an electrician out there on the frontier, and given I’ve heard they don’t even have lightbulbs, I doubt it.”

A faint noise behind me, a muffled exhalation. Is he laughing at me?

I glance over my shoulder, and he’s quick to avert his eyes toward the ceiling. No wire cutters, so I use my fingernails. One advantage Simon never had—he couldn’t strip wires bare-handed. And he never would’ve dared use his teeth on live circuits.

The major is silent behind me, and when I sneak a second peek over my shoulder, his eyes are still on the ceiling. A little of my annoyance fades. He did save my life, with no guarantee he’d have time afterward to make it to an escape pod.

I shouldn’t say anything to him. I should make sure there’s nothing for either of us to tell when we return. I should make sure he continues thinking I’m the worst person he’s ever met. But for some reason, when I’ve got a section of the green and white wires stripped, I find conversation fighting its way out of me. I mean to be conciliatory, but despite my best intentions, it comes out as acidic as ever.

“On the frontier, isn’t this how they hot-wire a hover—”

I brush the two wires together, and instantly the rockets ignite, catapulting the pod away from the ship. I have only the briefest glimpse of the wall in front of me careening at my face before the universe goes utterly black.

“What did you think was happening at that point?”

“I didn’t know. There was no communication equipment in the pod.”

“You didn’t try to guess?”

“We’re trained to work with solid information.”

“But you had none?”


“What was your plan?”

“Sit tight and hope. There was nothing to do except wait.”

“And see what happened next?”

“And see what happened next.”



THE POD’S STILL WOBBLING AND STABILIZING as it shoots away from the ship, but we’re not spinning, so I risk unclipping my harness. The gravity’s fading out to half strength already and I know it will go completely soon, so I hook a foot under one of the grab straps on the floor as I kneel beside Miss LaRoux. She’s on the ground, stirring and groaning, already complaining before she’s fully conscious. Somehow, not surprising.

There’s a tempting view down the front of her dress, but I can practically hear her snapping at me like she did before. So I jam a hand under each of her arms and rise to my feet, lifting her and setting her down in one of the five molded chairs. She lolls against me, murmuring something indecipherable as I shove her arms through the straps, yanking them tight around her.

Resisting the urge to yank them tighter still should earn me another damn medal. I check the chest strap, then lean down to grab her ankles, pushing them into the padded plastene clip waiting for them. Closer than I should be to Miss Lilac LaRoux’s legs. And how the hell does she even walk with those things on her feet?

The pod lurches again, and I swallow hard as I stretch over to dump my grab bag in one of the storage alcoves, slamming the lid shut on top of it. Then I thump down into my own seat opposite her, pulling on the harness and strapping in, pushing my ankles back into the clips. In my hurry, I bang my legs into place too hard—the left clip breaks with a snap, the right one holds. The last of the gravity fades out, and I have to strain the leg that’s not secured to stop it lifting up.

I study her bowed head. Where did you learn how to do that? I’ve never met a rich kid in my life who even knew how wiring worked—much less how to hot-wire a state-of-the-art escape pod. She must keep this side of her buried so deep that even the relentless paparazzi don’t find it.

She moans again as the stabilizer rockets fire, throwing us both sharply against our restraints. The pod vibrates, and the constellations visible through the viewport behind Miss LaRoux’s head become fixed points. I can see the ship silhouetted against the static stars. And she’s rolling.

“What did you do?” My sleeping beauty is awake, glaring at me with the eye that’s not swelling shut. She’s going to have a shiner, black and blue in a few hours.

“I fastened your safety straps, Miss LaRoux,” I say. Her scowl deepens, bordering on outrage, and I can feel my own temper bubbling up to match. “Don’t worry, I kept my hands where they belong.” I’ve mostly managed bland so far, but I can hear the subtext in my tone as well as she can. And you couldn’t pay me to try anything else.

Her gaze hardens, but she offers no retort except cold silence. Over her shoulder I still see the Icarus rolling, and in my mind’s eye I see the stopping and blurring of the stars through the viewing deck window, and the books in the first-class salon falling out of their shelves as the room tips and the tables and chairs topple.

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