These Broken Stars Page 34

“I’m not trying to be unhelpful. I noticed it was a terraformed planet with no sign of a local population. I’ve been involved in six campaigns in two years, I never saw a planet without people before.”

“What did you think of your prospects?”

“I was realistic about them. I’m realistic about them right now too.”



I WAKE UP BECAUSE IT’S RAINING. A fat raindrop lands right behind my ear, running down to somehow find a way inside my collar, freezing cold. I shiver and roll onto my back, and another smacks me right between the eyes.

Lilac’s moving, stirring as I shift away from her, and she rolls over with a little protesting noise, reaching sleepily after me. Then she begins to register the raindrops as they connect with her skin, and she sits up straight with a gasp. I’m busy sitting up too, because when you go to sleep wrapped around a pretty girl, there are some things going on first thing in the morning that you don’t exactly want making headline news.

So I’m shuffling into a slightly more diplomatic position and trying to look casual, and she’s staring across at me, all confusion and dawning alarm. I realize in my surprise I’ve grabbed for the Gleidel, and she thinks there’s some threat around.

“Tarver?” She looks up, eyes huge. One of them is still a little puffy, the skin bruised and dark where her face hit the side of the escape pod. Then a raindrop splats against her upturned face, and she jerks back. As I watch her flinch, lifting her fingers to her face and staring astonished at her wet fingertips, it hits me: she’s never seen it before. In her world even the climate is controlled.

“It’s raining,” I say, voice hoarse from sleep. I clear my throat and try again. “It’s fine. Straight from the clouds to you.”

She frowns, still huddling over and trying to shelter from it. “Straight from the clouds? Is that hygienic?”

I can’t help it. It starts out as a snicker, but I’m grinning, and there’s a tension inside me that snaps and releases, and a moment later I’m laughing so hard I can’t stop.

She stares across at me, wondering if I’ve finally cracked. I reach for her hand and wind my fingers through hers, turning them so the rain patters down onto her palm. I trace a circle there with my thumb, smoothing the water into her skin. I want to show her there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Then her lips are curving slowly, and she’s flopping back to lie down and let the rain hit her upturned face. I look across, drinking in her smile, some part of me noticing I’m still holding her hand, fingers tangled through hers. I notice she’s shaking, and for an instant I think she’s crying.

Then I realize she’s laughing too.

I get exactly ten heartbeats to live in this perfect moment, before she blinks and lifts her head sharply, looking off across the plains, a heavier shudder running through her body. She catches herself a moment later and turns back toward me, trying to recover her smile, but I know what that was. I can see how large her pupils are, the trembling of her lips.

She heard another voice.

“I thought you said the rain was on the third day.”

“No, that was the first time it rained.”

“You’re contradicting yourself, Major.”

“No, you’re trying to trip me up. I know how this works. The military invented these techniques. What’s your next question?”

“What did you make of your relationship with Miss LaRoux at that stage?”

“What does that mean?”

“How did you see it unfolding?”

“I didn’t. I’m a soldier. I’m from the wrong sort of family. I think it’s more comfortable for everyone when guys like me are out of the way.”

“Do you believe that? That you’re from the wrong sort of family?”

“My family wasn’t on the planet with me. I don’t see a need to discuss them.”

“There’s no need to raise your voice, Major.”



IT’S AMAZING HOW MUCH CAN CHANGE with just a few short hours, and a few million gallons of water.

I hate the rain and I hate this planet and I hate the cold and I hate my stupid, stupid dress. And I hate Tarver, for the way he strides ahead without a care, as if there isn’t water falling from the sky, as if he doesn’t even notice. I hate the way he offers me his jacket exactly when I’ve gotten so cold that I can’t refuse. Just once I’d like to look like I’ve got myself together.

The morning stretches into a frigid, never-ending drizzle as we head for the river he spotted from higher ground. The mountains we’re aiming for are concealed behind a soggy gray curtain. Darker clouds line the horizon, and Tarver glances over his shoulder to track their movement. I’m looking over my shoulder too, but there’s nothing for me to read in the weather patterns. I simply can’t keep myself from searching for the sources of the sounds I keep hearing. I keep turning to scan the plains behind us before I remember we’re alone out here.

It’s the rain, I tell myself. The wind, flattening the grass. One of the grassland creatures like that thing we ate last night.

But can an animal cry?

The sobs that surge over the rain shatter my heart, sounding for all the world like Anna, like me, like any one of the girls in my circle. With rain rolling down my cheeks and brokenhearted weeping so close at hand, I almost believe that I am the one sobbing so hopelessly. Head spinning and muscles shaking, I can barely put one foot in front of the other. It’s no longer one voice—now I’m surrounded by a desperate, heartrending chorus. My eyes blur and I stumble again and again, muddying my ruined dress beyond recognition. More than once Tarver has to come back and haul me to my feet.

I despise him for how easy it is for him, the way surviving this ordeal is second nature. When he catches me staring across the plains, he grins as if to say, Yeah, it’s no big deal, I’ve been there. His eyes, though, tell a different story. He’s worried. Worried in a way he hasn’t been since we crashed, not when the pod started to fall to the planet, not when I told him the beacon wasn’t working, not even when we saw the Icarus fall.

And that scares me more than anything else.

Though the strange moon has set again, it’s not far from my thoughts. It has to be a structure made by the corporations that terraformed this place—but what is it? Some kind of surveillance system, perhaps. Something to keep track of the colonists, should they rebel.

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