These Broken Stars Page 14

But they’re large enough that the ecosystem has clearly had a while to take. In fact, they’re huge, bigger than any pole trees I’ve ever seen. They stretch up skyward at least half as tall again as usual, their spindly tops bending under the weight of the branches. How did they get so big? By this point, the terraformers should have introduced all manner of other species that would’ve edged the pole trees out of the ecosystem.

Any hopes I had for the communications array are answered with a glance. It’s been ripped off, and if it wasn’t fried by the surge or burned up when we entered the atmosphere, then it’s probably lying somewhere back along our swath of destruction, reduced to its component parts. So my cranky heiress might be right, and her father might show up any minute, but more than likely we’re going to look like one of ten thousand pieces of debris scattered across the planet. We need to find a bigger crash site, a more prominent place, so we’ll be somewhere the rescue party will definitely land.

I study the trees around me that are still standing. Like regular pole trees, they get narrow toward the top, so there’s no way I’m climbing high enough to see any distance. She’s lighter and might manage, but I’m grinning just thinking about it. Come on, Miss LaRoux. Your evening gown will match the trees. The nature goddess look is all the rage in Corinth, trust me. I wonder if she’s ever even seen real leaves.

That’s when I realize, standing there in the middle of this disaster, aching all over from being jerked back and forth against my restraints, but grinning like an idiot—I kind of like this. After weeks trussed up on board the ship, chest covered in medals and days taken up by people who don’t like their war too real, I feel like I’m home.

There’s a hill some way off to what I arbitrarily call the west, because the sun’s setting in that direction. The land rises, and with any luck it’ll offer the view we need. It’ll be a long walk, and as I climb back up into the ruined pod, perhaps it’s my newfound good mood that has me feeling a little sorry for the girl inside. I might be back in my world, but she’s out of hers. I know well enough how it feels.

“Our communications are gone,” I tell her.

I half expected tears—instead she just nods as if she already knew. “They would’ve been useless anyway. Most of the circuits got shorted during that electrical surge.”

I want to ask her how she knows, where she learned to do what she did, but instead the question that emerges is: “What was that? The surge?”

She hesitates, her eyes on the trees visible outside the viewport. “The Icarus came out of hyperspace when it wasn’t supposed to. Something happened, I don’t know what. Didn’t you learn about hyperspace jumps in school?” There’s disdain in her voice, but she doesn’t stop long enough for me to reply. Just as well, because all I know about hyperspace is that it gets you from A to B without taking two hundred years.

“The way ships skip through dimensions, folding space—there are huge quantities of energy involved.” She glances at me, as though trying to figure out if I’m following. “Usually when a ship leaves hyperspace there’s a long series of steps that prevent that energy from backlashing. Whatever’s going on, the Icarus got pulled out of hyperspace early.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that the daughter of Roderick LaRoux, engineer of the largest, finest hyperspace fleet in the galaxy, knows any of this. But it’s hard to reconcile her vapid laughter and scathing insults with someone who’d pay two seconds of her attention to physics lessons.

I certainly never knew there was this level of danger involved with traveling via hyperspace. But then, I’ve never heard of this happening before. Ever.

I’m turning over her explanation in my mind. “Since we came out of hyperspace early, we could be anywhere in the galaxy, then?” No communications. No clue where we are. This just keeps getting better and better.

“The Icarus got emergency power back,” Miss LaRoux says coolly. “They would’ve gotten distress calls out.”

Assuming there was anyone alive in the comms room after that surge. But I don’t say it aloud. Let her think this will all be over sooner rather than later. I know she has to be struggling. “There’s a rise to the west. I’m going to climb up before it gets dark, figure out where we should head. I can get some of the ration bars out for you, in case you get hungry while you wait.”

“No need, Major,” she says, climbing to her feet, then grimacing as one of her heels falls through the grating in the floor. “I’ll be coming with you. If you think I’m giving you the opportunity to abandon me here, you’re sorely mistaken.”

And just like that, I’m not feeling sorry for her anymore.

Abandon her? If only my duty or my conscience would let me. The galaxy would be better off, if you ask me. Who’d even know we were in the same pod?

Except that I would know. And that would be enough.

“I’m not sure your shoes—” I try, before she cuts me off.

“My shoes will be fine, Major.” She comes sweeping across the floor and miraculously keeps her heels from sliding through again, then descends the steps. Her head is up, shoulders back, movements ludicrously graceful—like she’s descending a staircase to a ballroom dance floor. I leave her to examine her new kingdom, and climb up to open up my grab bag, rifling through the contents. This is the emergency gear we all carry, and I’ve never been more grateful for all the time I’ve spent lugging it places over the last two years.

Mine has all the usual—my classified intel on encrypted memory storage, flashlight, water-purifying canteen, matches, and razor blade, plus a few personal items: a photograph of home and my notebook. On board the Icarus, it held my Gleidel as well, since it was uncouth to carry a visible sidearm.

I haul out my gun, curling one hand around the grip and quickly checking the charge to make sure the kinetic battery’s working properly. At least I don’t have to worry about it running down while we’re here. I settle it back into its holster and strap it on to my belt, then scoop a couple of ration bars out of the overhead storage locker. After picking up the canteen from where Miss LaRoux dumped it on the floor, I head back out and wrestle the door closed behind me. No need to offer the local wildlife the opportunity to take revenge for our invasion by feasting on our rations.

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