These Broken Stars Page 23

I know this moment too well, I’ve seen it in the field. Hell, I’ve been there myself. I could rub it in that I was right, and she was wrong—that I saved her life, that she needs me to survive. But there’s no point. She knows it. I’m not going to force her to come crawling back. I’m the one with field experience. I should have stopped this from happening.

“Let’s go,” I say, listening to her ragged breathing. “We can cover a little more ground before we have to make camp.”

A part of me wants to reach down and take her hands, and hold them until she feels safe. But I can’t. If I do, she’ll start crying, and she won’t stop. I need her to stay tough. It’s the best thing I can do for her. So I speak again. “Are you ready?”

She nods, climbing to her feet, not even bothering to dust off her hands. I’m aching, and I hate this, but damned if I’m not getting this girl to the crash site. She can hate me for the rest of her life once we’re rescued—at least she’ll be alive to hate me.

We leave the big cat behind and slowly backtrack to gather up her abandoned supplies. From her path, she would’ve caught up with me if she’d kept running. The beast was chasing her toward me—if it had chased her the other way, I might not have reached her in time.

I hope Lilac doesn’t realize this. That it was only a coincidence that saved her life. She’s already jumping at shadows as we walk—now and then she looks over her shoulder as though she’s hearing things, seeing things. It doesn’t seem to comfort her that there’s nothing there. I hope she’s not thinking about what other impossible creatures could be out there, just beyond the trees.

And I really hope that thing doesn’t have a mate.

When we make camp by a creek, I estimate we’ve spent the better part of the day walking and taking breaks, and we’ve made it maybe ten klicks. So if we’re lucky, we’re halfway to the edge of the trees. After we make it to the plains, we’ll have to cross them and get over the mountain range somehow before we reach the Icarus.

Lilac is lying on the blanket I spread for her, arms out to each side, staring up at the slowly darkening sky through a gap in the canopy. I wonder what she makes of the sky. I’ve never seen these stars, and I’ve memorized the charts for all the colonies. That’s my only hope—that the rescue might be taking a little longer because the Icarus wasn’t where she was supposed to be when she crashed.

I shake my head, trying to get rid of the creeping sensation of wrongness. Rescue will still come. This place is terraformed, however distorted it seems. The people must be somewhere, and they can’t have missed the destruction of a ship like the Icarus.

Lilac’s been silent since the incident with the cat beast, and against all logic I find myself missing the sound of her voice, even when it’s insulting me. At least being annoyed at her is invigorating—this new quiet hopelessness is infectious.

“Not exactly the five-star accommodations you’re used to,” I call, in the cheerful voice that infuriates her so. She doesn’t move—nothing. I retrieve the canteen, set aside earlier to filter water collected from the creek. “I’ll give you a comment card when this is all over so you can complain to someone.”

She stirs, propping herself up on her elbows. She glares wearily at me for a long moment. “I do hope you’re assembling two beds, Major.” Her voice is tired, but there’s still a hint of that edge in it.

Fighting the brief and insane impulse to smile, I duck my head and start dividing the leaf litter I’m gathering into two piles. Too quickly, she lapses back into silence and stillness. And without her there to aggravate me, my mind wanders to places it shouldn’t go.

I can’t let myself think of home for too long. I can’t let myself imagine my mother hearing about the Icarus, the way my father will try to find something to say.

I remember how the air was thick with grief after they told us about Alec, how the three of us made it from one day to the next without ever exchanging more than a handful of words. My mother didn’t write a poem for months, and my father stared uncomprehendingly at the piles of food the neighbors dropped around. I skipped school and went out every day to risk my neck climbing forbidden cliffs, forcing my way through overgrown forest until I was lost and exhausted. Though never quite exhausted enough to sleep at night.

Slowly we learned how to talk about him—sometimes—with something other than sadness. Mom picked up her pen, and even though her poetry was irrevocably changed, she was writing again. Dad went back to his classroom, and I went back to mine.

I waited impatiently for my sixteenth birthday, so I could enlist, as though somehow by getting into uniform and doing what my big brother couldn’t, surviving the trenches, I could bring him back.

I still don’t know if he believed in what he was doing—if he felt like he was making a difference, controlling rebellions in a new colony every few months. I don’t know if he thought the rebels had a point—occasionally I do—or if he just liked the rush, or wanted to see new places. I was too young to think to ask those things when he went, and once he was on assignment, we just wrote back and forth about trivial, everyday things. You don’t mention death when it’s hovering near someone you love. You don’t want to attract the reaper’s attention.

My parents and I fought when I told them what I wanted to do, and though we negotiated a kind of peace around my decision, I know they still wait for my message every week, for the words that will tell them I’m still alive.

I have to get home.

I can’t listen to the part of my mind that points out I might not make it back.

I can’t let this happen to them again.

“At that stage had you reached the plains?”

“No, we camped in the woods that night. We didn’t make much progress those first few days. Can I get something to eat?”

“In good time, Major. How was Miss LaRoux’s emotional state?”

“Still stable.”



I’M POSITIVE HE KNOWS how much I hate it when he goes ahead to “scout.” He probably does it just to provoke me. I suppose he’s wandering off to imagine how much nicer it’d be not to have me around. Perhaps he’s even wishing he’d let that beast eat me yesterday.

I’m sitting in a patch of afternoon sun on one of the blankets, spread over the nasty forest floor. Not that it matters all that much, as I’m already carrying half the forest along with me in my dress. The hem is hanging in tatters and the skirt is muddy. I can only imagine my hair and skin are as dreadful, but as the major scarcely glances in my direction at the best of times, and there’s no one else around to see, I must try to bear it as best I can.

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