These Broken Stars Page 43

He’s drowning. And I’ll drown with him.

It’s a long time before he speaks.

“I can’t—” He breaks off, voice cracking. His eyes close against the vision of his family home in the valley. A vision both of us can see. The cottage looks just like it did in his picture.

I know from experience that he’ll be dizzy, disoriented, tasting metal and feeling cobwebs on his face. I know from experience that he’ll think he’s mad. My own ears are buzzing, my body trembling, but I push it aside, force myself to focus. He needs me.

“I’m exhausted,” he goes on. “I’ve had training on this. Your mind can—when you’re tired enough…”

He thinks he’s hallucinating. Maybe it’ll be easier if he believes that. I squeeze his hand, wrapping my other around his arm. “You should rest, have some water. I’ll sit with you.”

He nods, eyes opening to fix on the house below like a starving man would stare at a banquet. He lets me pull the pack from his shoulders, doesn’t protest as I tug him down to sit on the edge of the cliff, his face haggard and strained.

I’ve never seen him afraid.

I could be smug. I could rub his nose in the fact that he has no choice now but to believe me. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have hesitated. But now, one look at him is enough to kill that desire. He doesn’t deserve it. And I know what it feels like to think you’re going insane.

I sit beside him, quiet, waiting. This isn’t like the silence of the past two days. For once, it’s simply that there’s nothing to say, not that there’s no way to say it. I’d wanted him to see what I see—but now I wish I could take it all back.

“I don’t know what to do.” Tarver’s voice, rough with emotion and exhaustion, trickles into the quiet.

I summon my steadiest voice. “I do. We’ll stop for the day here, and you’ll get some rest. I can make camp, I’ve watched you do it enough times. We’ll have some dinner and sleep and in the morning we’ll make for the wreck. We’ll keep going, and figure out a way off this planet, so you can go home for real.”

Tarver only swallows, the muscles in his jaw standing out briefly as he clenches it. He lets go of my hand and rakes his fingers through his hair in a quick, jerky movement. I stifle the urge to touch him again, and get quietly to work.

I don’t do anything as well as he would’ve done it. I’m still shaking from the side effects of the vision, still fighting dizziness and nausea. The cottage is the most vivid, longest-lasting vision yet—and the side effects are worse. The fire burns dangerously low because I can’t find much fuel, and the bed is lumpy. I pull out the food we have that doesn’t require boiling, since we lost our canteen. Cold dinner, cold snowmelt, and it’ll be a cold night, with no blankets. But if we have one night where nothing is right, at least it will be one night he doesn’t have to be responsible for it all.

“You see it too, don’t you?”

His voice after such a long silence makes me jump. When I look, he’s still watching the valley. The house has faded, shimmering like an afterimage as the sun retreats behind the mountain ridges. It’s a beautiful sight, even more so than the picture in his pack suggests. I would have loved to see it for real.

I gather up what I’ve pulled out for dinner and move back to Tarver’s side. “Your parents’ house?”

“Then it’s not madness. I don’t know what it is, but if we’re seeing the same thing, I’m not crazy. And neither are you.”

For a moment I want badly to remind him that I’ve been saying that all along. But I just nod, and drop down beside him to sit a few inches away. “Have something to eat.” I offer him the larger half of a ration bar and a few of the grasses that taste okay raw. We only have two ration bars left.

Finally, he looks away from the vision and blinks at me. His pupils are huge—suddenly I can see what made him look at me the way he did, like I was mad.

He’s quiet while he takes a few bites of the ration bar, and we settle into silence with the ease of familiarity. When he speaks again, his voice is soft. “We have to deal with a lot of crackpots who accuse the military of playing with mind control, telepathy. As cadets we would all joke about it, that the brass was in our heads, telling us to keep our bunks tidier. But maybe it’s not a joke. Maybe this place is an experiment—something in the air, or the water, that makes us see things. Some artificial, psychological connection.”

After days of silence with only my own thoughts for company, I have more than a few ideas about what we’re seeing. And I don’t think it’s so simple. But just hearing him try to work it out, without suggesting I’m simply insane, is such a relief I almost don’t want to contradict him. “But what about the cave-in? Neither of us could have known that was going to happen.”

“More than once I’ve moved from a spot that was blasted out of existence a second later. Maybe you did know, subconsciously.”

But he doesn’t sound convinced.

“Can I share a theory?” I’ve known this wasn’t a haunting since the cave-in—and now that Tarver is seeing it too, I can’t dismiss the thoughts that keep coming to me.

“Of course.”

Now I’m cursing myself. He’s going to think I’m insane again. But when I don’t reply right away, he turns to look at me as if seeing me for the first time.

“I think—there’s something here.” I lick my lips, anxious, trying to articulate it. “Life. On this planet.”

His brow furrows. Skeptical. But he’s not calling me insane—yet. “Like the cat? There’s no way that thing belongs here.”

“No—I mean, intelligent life. Maybe even something that was here before the terraforming. If it were only the visions, maybe it could be some kind of shared hallucination. But the cave-in? Neither of us could’ve known. I think something is watching us.” The words alone cause a shiver down my spine, and I see his lips twitch as though he wants to dismiss me. I scramble to speak before he can. “There are whispers, everyone knows it. Even if nobody’s ever proven anything, there are always stories about what lies beyond the edge of explored space. Even on Corinth, we hear them. The corporations that built this place must have abandoned it for a reason. Something had to drive them away.”

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