These Broken Stars Page 38

I don’t know how to deal with this. You can’t reason with insanity, and you can’t bark orders at a girl who’s not a soldier. I keep up the calm and patient face that used to annoy her so much, allowing myself a slow breath before I speak again. “I’m sure I told you how many people I buried.” But we both know I didn’t. “Even so, five’s a reasonable number. That’s almost capacity for a pod. Let’s get moving, Lilac. I want us to have plenty of time this afternoon to find a safe, warm place for camp. Let me have the canteen, I’ll heat some water.”

As I reach for the canteen, she pulls away from me. Her stare’s unwavering as she puts distance between us. “There were two women,” she says evenly. “The one with no boots was about my height. And there was a soldier. I could see his dog tags.”

Something’s blocking my throat, and for the count of maybe three, I can’t breathe, my chest struggling to remember what it should do next. It’s a mistake. She’s making it up. She’s seeing my dog tags now, that’s how she got the idea in her head.

But she’s not done. “The other two were men in evening dress.”

I finally manage a breath, choking on it. No. It’s impossible. She can’t know. When I can breathe evenly again, I speak, keeping my gaze steady. “Of course you saw a girl the same height as you, Lilac. She had the same size feet as you. Those aren’t the people we buried, though, if that’s what you’re thinking. It was all women in the pod. There were no men; there was no soldier.” I don’t even know why I’m lying to her, except that my mind’s freewheeling, scrabbling for anything to grab on to, and all it can find is this: I can’t buy into what she’s saying. I can’t make this any worse than it already is.

We stare at each other for long seconds. Her lips are parted a little, like she’s been slapped, but she’s trying to hide it. She knows I’m lying. Then her features settle, and she’s giving me a blank stare that betters any of my efforts this morning.

“Right,” she says softly. “Then let’s go.”

We’re silent as we pack up the camp. Neither of us is thinking of breakfast anymore.

I don’t know what else I could have said. I can’t feed whatever’s going on in her head.

It makes no sense.

She laid rocks on top of their grave, but she never saw the bodies. The bodies of the men in evening dress, of the women in the mechanic’s suits, of the soldier not much older than me.

I have that man’s dog tags in the bottom of my bag.

“You had nearly reached the Icarus.”

“We still had to make it over the mountains. The crash site was on the other side of the pass. That’s where we’d seen the ship fall.”

“The reports say there was snow in the mountains.”


“We’ve been at this for some time now, and you never mentioned the snow before.”

“You think I’m lying about the weather?”

“I don’t know what you’re doing, Major. I’m trying to find out. There was snow?”

“Yes. If you have the weather reports, I’m not sure I can add anything useful.”

“Try, Major.”



TARVER DIDN’T TELL ME that it would be colder in the mountains. Maybe it’s always cold on mountains, I don’t know. Maybe he thought it was common sense.

As we leave the river for the foothills, I find myself thinking about the girl in the salon. The one who flirted as easily as she breathed, the one who dodged bodyguards and stayed up all night gossiping. I bear so little resemblance to her now it’s as though she no longer exists.

And as hateful as she was, I find I miss her. She knew where she stood. She knew what she was meant to do. She had a father who’d stop at nothing to protect her, a world that arranged itself to fit around her. She never had to care about the opinions of one lowly soldier. And it never used to matter when someone lied to her, because that’s all anyone ever did.

What had looked like clouds in the distance are, now, clearly snowcapped peaks. The mountains lie between us and the wreck of the Icarus, and Tarver says to go around would take more time than we can afford. And so through we go, regardless of the temperature and the threatening sky, to shelter in some crevice overnight and hopefully make the valley beyond in the morning.

The pass he proposes to cross is not white with snow, but as the day wears on, the temperature drops and the clouds gather low in the sky. Even Tarver glances up at them, restless, picking up the pace so that I stumble and bang my knees on the rocks. My hands are too numb to break my fall.

I ought to be surprised when the first flakes begin to fall—the closest I have ever come to snow is watching the Christmas specials on the HV—but I have no energy left for surprise. Some other Lilac, the one in the salon perhaps, would have found the snow beautiful.

With the sun retreating behind the clouds, the temperature is dropping faster the higher we climb. The snowflakes linger on my cheeks before they melt. The mechanic’s suit provides little warmth, but the tight weave of the fabric gives shelter from the wind. Thanks to these cursed boots, my feet are the warmest part of me.

At least I know I’m no longer going mad. No, I’m being haunted. Is one better than the other? I’ve been the cause of death before. Why can’t I dismiss the faces of those five lost souls?

If I hadn’t seen Tarver’s face when I described what I’d seen, perhaps I could go on believing I was hallucinating. But his expression was that of a man who’s been mortally wounded, frozen in the few shocked seconds before he falls. He knew I had no way of knowing whom he buried. Perhaps he believes he’s helping me in some way by leading me to believe I’m mad. But Tarver is not given to lying, and he doesn’t fool me.

Maybe it’s not the Lilac in the salon that I miss. Not the Lilac on the plains, or even the Lilac before she saw the Icarus fall.

I think I miss most the Lilac who trusted Tarver Merendsen.



“I stopped listening there for a moment. What did you say?”

“I suggest you make every effort to keep listening, Major. You seem tired.”

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Could I get something to drink?”

“We’ll arrange that in a moment. Are you ready to continue?”

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