These Broken Stars Page 35

Only there aren’t any colonists here. There’s nothing to track.

There’s just us, waterlogged and freezing, trekking endlessly across this planet, lives depending on finding the search parties when we reach the wreck.

Neither of us suggests stopping for lunch, despite our exhaustion. There’s no way to make a fire in the steadily increasing downpour, no way to warm up if we stop moving. I wish I’d listened to his repeated suggestions that I put on the spare mechanic’s suit he brought with us from the escape pod—my dress is so ragged by now and so soaked that it’s as though I’m wearing nothing at all. Worst of all, I’m so cold and so tired that I don’t even care about the way it clings to my body and winds around my legs, outlining my every feature.

The river swims into sight as a black smear in the distance. Tarver stops and raises a hand to shield his eyes from the rain, the picture of a soldier saluting some commanding officer. I drop into a crouch, wrapping my arms around my knees and trying not to shiver so visibly. He’ll be making some mental calculation about how long it’ll take to get there. This isn’t a real break, I know. But it’s all I have.

I don’t open my eyes until I feel his hands on my arms, trying to warm skin so chilled it makes him grimace at me. “Not much farther,” he promises, water cascading from jaw and nose and brow. His features have become so familiar in only five short days. I’m staring bemusedly at the rivulets meeting under his chin when he gives me a little shake.

“Lilac? You in there?”

I blink, trying to remember how to speak. My lips are sluggish, refusing to obey me. “Yes. At least I think so.”

Tarver grins, that lightning-quick shift of expression, and pushes my soggy hair back from my forehead. He’s about to speak when I hear something behind us, a low, rising susurration like a thousand different voices.

I’m turning before I remember that he’ll see more evidence of my descending madness. It’s a half a second before I realize that he’s staring in the same direction too.

I open my mouth, heart constricting with sudden hope, but he beats me to it.

“More rain,” he murmurs, so soft I almost can’t hear him.

Not my voices, then. I cast my gaze back toward the horizon, and this time I see the thick gray curtain advancing across the plains toward us. More rain. If there’s any more rain than this, I think, we’ll need gills. We could swim up to the sky and leave this place with no need to wait for a rescue ship.

I want nothing more than to lie down in the mud, but as my knees buckle, his grip on my upper arms tightens, holding me up. When he stands, he pulls me with him.

“Can you run?” His face is close to mine.

“What?” I can’t do anything other than stare.

“Come on, Lilac, focus. Can you run for it? That rain is too heavy. We need shelter.”

Heavy? How can rain be heavy?

I know there are blisters on my feet because I saw them there this morning, but right now I can’t feel them. I can’t feel my feet at all. I keep staring at him, at the water running down his face, never the same path twice. It ought to follow the same pattern over and over, but instead it splits and cascades and dances off his cheekbones. Like it wants to touch all of him.

“Goddammit,” mutters Tarver, glancing at the advancing monsoon over my shoulder. “I’ll pay for this when you warm up enough to hate me again.”

What? I don’t have time to consider the words any further before he’s wrapping his hand around my wrist and jerking me forward, forcing me to break into a run before I’m yanked along after him like streamers on a parade car. I get my heavy legs moving somehow, reaching inside myself for one more effort.

My feet slide and skid in the mud behind him, and the bones in my wrist click under the tightness of his grip, but he doesn’t let go. He’s making for the dark smudge of the river on the horizon, and as we grow nearer, the darkness resolves into trees, and I don’t even care that we’re returning to forest again, because trees means wood and wood means fire and fire means warmth and I think I’ve forgotten what that feels like.

I open my mouth to say something, but before I find any words, the roar of oncoming rain overtakes us and the sky comes crashing down on our heads.

Tarver is cursing, swearing like I’ve never heard him do. The sudden torrent of water pries my wrist from his grip, my skin slipping free like wet rubber, and I go crashing to the ground. I’m more surprised than hurt, because I can’t really feel my legs, and I didn’t realize they weren’t working.

He scoops me up and carries me the last few meters to the shelter of the trees bordering the river, then dumps me unceremoniously on the ground.

“Stay there,” he shouts, putting his face close to mine until I push him away, because he’s dripping on me. The sound of the water hurling itself at the canopy is almost as deafening as the roar of the rainstorm outside, but the branches are thick, and they keep most of the water off us.

He throws his pack to the ground and rummages until he pulls out the mechanic’s suit, and shoves it at me. “Put that on,” he orders, retrieving the jacket he gave me earlier. Then he’s leaving again, pulling his gun out of its holster as he goes.

The mechanic’s suit stays where he put it, resting half in my lap, half draped over my folded arms. I’m too cold to take off my dress, wet as it is. I press myself against the tree trunk and wait for him to come back. Whispers rise at the edge of my hearing, somehow distinct from the sound of the rain on the trees overhead. The voices are no longer crying, but I still can’t make out the words. I stretch out my shaking hand in front of me, pale, clammy, smeared with dirt. I never knew madness came with such a physical toll.

I don’t know how much time has passed before I wake up to find Tarver gently tapping at my cheeks. “I’m going to try to get a fire going,” he says, and I realize he’s not shouting anymore. The rain must have lessened a little. “Get your dress off.”

“Why, Major,” I find myself whispering. “I never.”

“Lord help me,” he says, but this time he’s rolling his eyes, and I know he’d be laughing if he were a bit less cold. That is a triumph far more satisfying than annoying him ever was. “Just do it, okay? No arguing with me this time. I promise not to look. Dry off with the blanket, then put on the mechanic’s suit.”

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