These Broken Stars Page 27

Still, on my list of worst nights, this comes close.

It’s almost impossible to move through the undergrowth without making a sound, with great thorny arms reaching up to tangle in the fabric of my pants, and dry twigs concealed under the leaf litter waiting to crack and snap like bones breaking in the dark. On any other planet I’d be confident, but here I know anything could hurt me, anything could be just a little different from the way it’s supposed to be. I’m forced to move forward a fraction at a time, with frustrating slowness. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, and I’m alive because I’m not in the habit of ignoring that.

I pass by Lilac three times in the first hour of searching. She’s obediently huddled at the base of the tree, wrapped in my jacket, her legs tucked up inside it. She insists she can still hear the voice. I stand in the shadow of a tree and look out across the moonlit plain, in the direction she swears the voice is moving. Except that there’s nothing there, and even the smallest critter would cast a shadow by the light of the two moons.

When I return to her a fourth time she shakes her head at me—the noise is gone. She seems so small inside my jacket, but I can tell she’s trying to look like she’s bearing up well. She doesn’t want me to stop searching.

I hold up a hand to warn her to remain in place, and she nods as I back away from her. Time to try a different approach. I walk fifty painstaking paces, then settle with my back against a tree, the Gleidel in my hand on full charge. “Is anybody out there? We’re friends.” My voice splits the silence. Nobody within a klick could have missed it. Lilac and I both stay frozen in place, listening as our heartbeats count away the seconds. Nothing.

So I resume my search. It’s another hour of wading through the undergrowth and past the smooth-trunked trees before I have to concede that if there’s somebody out here, I’m not finding her until daylight.

I make my way back to where Lilac, miraculously, is actually dozing against the tree. She was trembling for hours—the strain must have finally worn her down. She starts when I crouch down beside her, and blinks at me apologetically—or it could be apology, anyway, and I choose to believe it is. I don’t need to tell her we’re staying away from the campfire, which shines in the darkness like a beacon to anything with sinister intentions that might be out there.

I ease in to sit beside her, Gleidel in hand. She’s still half asleep, and she shifts her weight to settle her head against my shoulder. Looks like I’ve been promoted from the other side of the fire, for one night only. I wrap an arm around her, and with her leaning against me—small and warm and alive—I tip my head back to rest it against the tree trunk.

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself awake, fighting the urge to lean my head on hers, and settle in to wait for dawn.

“So then you made your way across the plains toward the mountains?”

“That’s correct.”

“What were your thoughts at that stage?”

“It was clear we were unlikely to find other survivors, but I remained alert. I didn’t expect them to be kindly disposed toward a LaRoux, if they were around.”

“Why was that?”

“Her father built the ship we’d been on. Terraforming companies are rarely popular with the colonists, and you know as well as I do that Central sends in the troops to back up the corporations’ rights. Colonists hate us, too.”

“Did you have any other thoughts?”

“I was beginning to wonder why we weren’t seeing rescue flyovers.”

“Did you mention that to Miss LaRoux?”




“TELL ME AGAIN WHAT YOU HEARD,” he asks for the eighteenth time after we complete another of his ever-expanding search perimeters around our campsite. In the light of morning, it’s hard to keep insisting that what happened was real.

“It was a woman crying. She sounded desperate, afraid, maybe hurt, I’m not sure. She sounded—” But I cut myself off, pressing my lips together.

“She sounded?” he prompts, leaning back against a tree.

“She sounded like me,” I finish, realizing how the words sound—even worse than I’d expected.

He’s silent for a while, scanning the forest. “Right,” he says after a few moments, pushing off from the tree and leaning down to retrieve his pack. “If there was someone here last night—”

He pauses a moment, as if expecting me to say something. I want to interrupt, insist I heard what I heard, but something keeps me quiet. I’ve lost the right, if I ever had it, to protest his declarations. I’d die out here if it weren’t for him.

When I remain silent, he continues. “At any rate, she’s gone now. We need to keep moving. How are your feet?”

Maybe I did invent her. The admission, even to myself, causes an uneasy tension to settle throughout my shoulders. But I have no choice. If he’s decided it’s time to move on, then I have to move on with him. The worst part is that I have to admit that he’s right. There’s no sign of anyone here, no trampled earth, not even a snapped twig to show that someone passed by.

“They’re fine,” I mumble, despite the throb from the matching blisters on my heels at the reminder.

“Once we’re out onto the plains, we can find a place to rest, stop a little earlier today. Neither of us is going to have much stamina after such an interrupted night.”

I know he means that I won’t have much stamina. My jaw tightens in protest, and for an instant I want to retort. But then my ears fill with the memory of a cat’s hunting snarl, and I smell the burning fur and the blood and I close my eyes.

The voice was moving toward the plains, which is the direction Tarver proposes to hike in order to reach the wreck. Perhaps if we just start moving, we’ll be able to track down whomever I heard.


Silence from Tarver, which stretches long enough that I’m forced to open my eyes again. He’s watching me with an odd expression on his face, one I can’t read—his eyes aren’t quite on mine. With a start, I realize I’m still wearing the jacket he wrapped around my shoulders last night.

When I start to scramble out of it, struggling with the way the material swallows up my hands, he’s roused from whatever trance he’d been in. “No,” he says abruptly. “Keep it for now.”

Prev Next