These Broken Stars Page 19

As I watch, the girl expertly snaps a wire into place. I remember the way she stripped them with her fingernails before takeoff. We would have gone down still attached to the ship if she hadn’t. My mind’s eye conjures up the image of the other escape pods, streaming ribbons of fire as they split off from the Icarus during the crash.

Without a doubt, Lilac LaRoux saved our lives. That’s a little hard to swallow.

I clear my throat to give her some warning before I speak. “Miss LaRoux?”

Her head snaps up. “Yes, Major?” She’s keeping her voice polite and even, like she’s at a garden party and I’m some annoying aunt who just won’t back off.

Maybe if I shut up, she’ll electrocute herself. “Need a hand there?”

She huffs a soft, derisive breath. “Unless you know how to bypass the comms relays, I can’t see how you’re in a position to help. If I can force the enviro circuit board to take over for comms, maybe I can use the pod itself as an antenna. It’s made of metal.”

We’re silent for a moment. We both know that I couldn’t point out the environmental controls circuit board with a gun to my head.

She takes my silence as a victory, and smiles that infuriatingly superior smile at me. “If I can get us a signal, then will you admit it’s better to stay put and wait, rather than go trekking across unknown territory by ourselves?”

I take a deep breath through my nose and let my head fall back again. She turns back, crouching in front of the panel. I watch her covertly out of the corner of my eye, as much fascinated by her unlikely expertise as by the sight of the LaRoux heiress absently moving the flashlight to her mouth so she can hold it in her teeth as she works.

It’s another glimpse of the girl I saw in the salon, the one who stood up for a man accosting her instead of letting her lackeys deal with him. Where’s that girl the rest of the time? With a wrench of my stomach I realize that the man in the salon, the reason I talked to Lilac LaRoux in the first place, is probably dead now. Did anyone else survive? Did any of the escape pods break away before the Icarus hit the atmosphere?

At some point, between one blink and the next, I fall asleep.

“What did Miss LaRoux think of the situation?”

“I didn’t ask her.”

“What was your impression, then, of the way Miss LaRoux was coping?”

“Better than expected.”



I WAKE CURLED UP AGAINST A WALL, a blanket around me, my face aching. For a moment I lie there trying to remember what I did the night before, dreading the return of memory, certain that my hangover will be the least of my concerns. Then the unmistakable smell of half-melted plastene jerks me awake, and I wish it was a hangover making my head pound—not the aftereffects of having a spaceship hit me in the face.

I glance at the broken communications array I tried to salvage last night. The wires are fused and melted beyond repair. The whole motherboard short-circuited, leaving nothing an entire team of electricians could salvage, much less me.

I should have just left well enough alone and gotten some rest.

The morning is quiet, which terrifies me. There has always been noise around me, even in our country house. The sounds of air filters and the garden shifting from roses to daffodils with the deft, mechanical click of its holographic projectors. Servants bustling here and there, Simon tossing pebbles at my window to wake me in the night. My father on the holowire at the breakfast table, delivering orders to his deputies back on Corinth while pulling faces to make me laugh.

Here, the only sounds are the faint noises of birds, and leaves whispering against each other high above.

Knowing that the major is going to insist we move out, I brace myself, trying to summon courage or strength or, at the very least, some dignity. A whole day of him marching me along, telling me every five minutes that I need to keep moving, walk faster. A whole day of slowing him down.

A sudden dread prickles in my stomach. I’m sitting up almost before it registers—I already know its source. The chair the major had been sleeping in is empty, and his bag of supplies is gone.

I’m not ready for the panic that washes over me. I want to scream his name, and only fear tightening my throat prevents me. Yes, I was alone even with him there, but he knew things—the forest, how to walk, how to live—that I could never hope to learn.

My glares and jabs have driven him away. I lurch to my feet and stumble to the door of the pod, pushing it open and clinging to the frame. It’s barely dawn, and I can see only a few meters into the dark woods. There’s no pattern to the trees—each one is slightly different, undergrowth haphazardly scattered. There are no paths, no flowers. Nothing moves but for a branch waving gently in the breeze.

Every scowl of his, every irritated twist of his mouth flashes before my eyes. Tarver, screams my mind. Come back. I’m sorry.

With a rush, the pain of my twisted ankles, the weakness of having slept so little, the fear—it all sweeps over me and I fall heavily against the wall of the pod, eyes still staring at the unreadable mess of leaves and branches.

And then the clang of my body hitting the door frame isn’t the only sound. A twig snaps, electric in the silence, and somewhere in the shadow something moves. I freeze, breath catching in my throat like a sob.

Tracks, he said. Big ones.

I’m given only a moment to imagine what creature might make even a war hero pause, before the source of the sound comes looming out of the dark wood.

Major Merendsen raises his eyebrows at me, and I know he can see my panic in the moment before I school my features. His mouth quirks in faint amusement. “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s going to take more than a few dirty looks to drive me off.”

All my panic and helplessness and relief collapse into red-hot humiliation. This time there’s nothing to stop me from lashing out at him. “Don’t flatter yourself, Major.” I sound like Anna, instantly superior. The thought makes my throat constrict, my voice strangle. “Your whereabouts are the least of my problems. But what exactly do you think you’re doing, traipsing around out there? Anything could have come in! I could have—” My throat closes as I run out of words. I know I’m not angry with him. But screaming helps.

Major Merendsen watches me mildly, slipping his pack off his shoulder and settling it at his feet before arching his back in a stretch. I watch him as my anger ebbs, leaving me ashamed. It’s a few seconds before I look away. The shirt of his casual uniform stretches in a way I can’t ignore, and the last thing I want is for him to notice me staring. I glare at the furrow in the ground caused by our crashing pod instead.

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