These Broken Stars Page 41

The last of the stars are sparkling overhead, as they always do after snow, and the artificial moon hangs low in the sky. The world is crisp and beautiful. Every step is careful and testing—you never know what lies beneath the overnight crust of snow. I sink in over my ankles, and Lilac’s breathing behind me quickly becomes labored. Our progress is slow.

I don’t want to think about what happened, but my mind insists on revisiting it over and over.

She saw the folks I buried.

She dreamed, and knew to run from the cave.

I let myself skid in a controlled slide down a rock as big as a tank, then turn to lift my arms up so she can slither down to join me. I catch her, hands braced against her sides, and when I move to release her, she grabs the fabric of my sleeve, holding me still.

I look down at her, and though her skin’s pale with exhaustion, and her eyes are two dark, sleepless circles, her gaze is locked on mine.

She wants what happened to be her proof. Proof her voices are real, proof of her sanity. She’s waiting for me to admit she’s not crazy, for my conversion.

But what happened last night was impossible. Nobody can know something before it happens. I can’t explain it, can’t let myself dwell on it. I have to stick to the task at hand, and get us out of here.

I’ve been trained to close my mind in order to keep functioning. I’ve been trained to keep moving.

I let my gaze slide away from hers, and I hear her breath catch as she stiffens. I can imagine her face closing over, but I can’t let myself look at her. She releases my arm, and I turn back toward the path.

I thought yesterday was awkward and too quiet; it pales against today. The hopelessness in the set of her shoulders as she trudges through the snow is heartbreaking.

We struggle through the snow without speaking, legs made of lead and arms protesting every moment they’re put to use. The things we don’t say grow thicker between us, and by the time we’ve been walking a few hours, the silence has set like concrete.

When we stop I reach for the canteen, only to find it gone. I look up to find Lilac watching me, and we realize at the same time. The canteen is with our blankets, buried in the rubble. I close my eyes against the blow of it. Without a way to carry water, we’re tethered to creeks and streams, left hoping our guts can take the local bacteria. Without water—

She starts moving again first, continuing on down the slope. Maybe she doesn’t realize what the loss of the canteen means. Maybe she does know, and is just moving anyway.

When we finally make camp, we work side by side to clear a spot of snow and hunt for meager piles of grasses for our bed, picking out twigs and stones and scooping out a hole for our hip bones. Without the blankets, we’ll have to bury ourselves in whatever we can find.

We melt snow in a strip of fabric torn from the too-long sleeves of the mechanic’s suit, sucking at the water as it drips. It’s precious little, but eating snow will only increase the effects of exposure. I reach inside the pack for the flashlight to lay it by the bed, and catch sight of the small case that holds my photograph inside it. I can’t help wondering why she grabbed the pack before she ran. Why, in such a panic, would she think to get supplies?

Then it hits me. She wasn’t sure I’d come after her, unless she had my prized belongings with her.

Half-formed words gather in my throat, but she won’t even look at me, and I don’t know what to say.

When I curl up behind her to sleep, the curve of her spine says everything she doesn’t. Tense and unhappy, she only barely tolerates our proximity. If it were warmer, if we had our blankets, if she had a choice, she’d be on the other side of the fire. For a moment it seems like she’s about to say something, her breath hitching with intention, but she remains silent.

Neither of us has spoken a word all day. It’s a long time before we sleep.

We wake a little later than usual in the morning, paying the price for the night before. One of the many prices. It doesn’t take long to clear up the camp—stretch, pack up our supplies, split one of the last few ration bars.

I stretch again as she tightens the laces on her boots, and when we set out it’s clear she’s determined to keep to the pace I set. But by the time we reach the crest of the pass she’s breathing fast, lagging behind despite her best efforts, her gaze fixed on the ground in front of her.

The view of the rolling hills before us is spectacular. They stretch out for klicks before they level off and reach a forest that’s only a dark line from this distance. Between the base of the mountain and the start of the forest lies the Icarus.

She’s strewn out over a huge distance, ripped apart by her descent. Though sections of it have collapsed in the unfamiliar gravity, a large part of her hull is intact, with her trail showing where she came skidding in over the ground. My heart thumps in my chest as I run my gaze along the trail of debris—ruined escape pods that didn’t detach until the ship broke apart, chunks of metal, burned streaks along the hillsides, half-melted things I can’t begin to identify.

The Icarus held fifty thousand souls. I wish I could believe that any of them have survived this charred disaster. Not a single pod that I can see is intact, and the ship herself is beyond all redemption.

But it’s what’s not there that nearly drives me to my knees.

There should be rescue craft buzzing around the ship’s carcass. There should be crews climbing all over her like so many ants. There should be people, life, salvation. But what lies before us looks like nothing more than a graveyard. I’ve been holding on to the hope that we could have somehow missed their approach, that if we could get as far as the crash site, rescue would be waiting for us there. But there’s not even a hint of other survivors.

After everything we’ve been through, I finally admit to myself what I’ve been avoiding since we landed.

I don’t think anyone’s coming for us.

And I don’t know what to do, except try to stay alive. The wreck and the broken pods below us must hold the soldiers I sparred with, the folks I met on the lower decks. The man who conned his way into the first-class salon to petition Lilac. Her gaggle of friends, her bodyguard, her cousin.

I take a breath, and turn to begin making my way down the mountain.

“Just—just stop.” Lilac’s voice cracks behind me, hoarse from dehydration and ragged with emotion.

She’s staring down at the wreckage, stuck in place. She’s flushed, or burned from the glare of the snow, more likely, her hair curling across her forehead, damp with sweat. When she turns her burning gaze on me, I flinch. “I need you to look. Look at me; look at that, Tarver.”

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