These Broken Stars Page 46

My eyes flick from her face back to the false moon. “Or an array of mirrors. I think I remember something about that. They never tried it, though, because it was so impractical, right? If that’s what’s up there, why now? Why this planet?”

She shakes her head, looking over at me. She has no answers, and neither do I. I turn my back on the moon as it sinks toward the plains, and head for the ship.

It turns out the part of the hull that hasn’t been torn open is sealed off almost completely by melted streams of an alloy that was never meant to go through atmo. The sealing off is a good sign, I guess—maybe whatever’s inside will be intact—but that only matters if we can find a way to access it.

I keep the Gleidel in my hand as we work our way along the edge of the broken hull, two ants trooping along the base of a huge metal wall that rises to the sky above us. We don’t see any sign of other survivors. Can we really be the only ones? Surrounded by the utter silence of the wreck, I realize all over again that Lilac’s actions are the reason we’re alive. I may have saved her life when it came to the cat monster, and I may have gotten her this far, but neither of us would be here if she hadn’t found a way to wrench us away from the Icarus. I can’t help but watch her as we walk, my attention divided between our surroundings and the girl at my side. Seeing her in all her finery on board the ship, could I have ever imagined her like this? Wrapped up in the dirt-stained mechanic’s suit, ruined dress stuffed in underneath and hair tied back with a dingy piece of string?

It’s Lilac who finds the fault line that lets us in. A sheet of metal has buckled away from the unbroken wall a fraction, rivets showing, only darkness within. We don’t speak as we get to work, lining up side by side to take hold of it and lean back, muscles straining to bend it and make the hole a little bigger. I feel like telling her to take a rest, but when I glance down at her, her jaw’s squared and her frown is determined. Maybe she’s not quite as weak as I thought—and maybe I’m not as strong or as heavy as I was when we landed.

An instant after I finish that thought, red-hot pain cuts across my palm, and I let go, stumbling back from the metal sheet and whipping my hand free. The metal springs back into place and Lilac nearly gets her own fingers trapped. I should have been concentrating, heeding my own advice. Now there’s an angry red line across my palm, and a moment later there’s blood, oozing, then flowing freely.

“Tarver, are you—oh.” She curses admirably, then turns businesslike, hauling the pack off my shoulder and dropping to the ground to dig out our pathetic first-aid kit. All I can do is lift my bleeding hand above my head, and use my free hand to squeeze the wrist, trying to limit the blood flow, but it’s deep. I can tell already.

“Where did you learn to say that, Miss LaRoux?” I try, keeping my voice light.

“You just wait until it’s my father asking that same question, Major.” She pulls out the little kit and starts to unpack it. “Then you’ll know what real trouble is. Come down here, I’ll try to bandage it up.”

“I plan on being far away by the time the subject arises.” I carefully sink to my knees. “Exiled to some far colony to fight the rebels, in punishment for making eyes at his daughter.”

“You keep your eyes to yourself.” The wound’s bleeding properly now, and she wads up one of our bandages with our only gauze pad to press it against my palm, then straps it all into place with the other bandage. I wince as the pain begins to register properly, burning its way up my arm.

“Baby,” she teases, wrapping the bandage around my palm. Despite her best efforts, though, the blood starts showing through the bandages while she’s still packing away the nearly empty first-aid kit.

It turns out we’ve bent the metal far enough that she can wriggle in, and I wait anxiously as she turns herself sideways and squirms, pulling herself inch by inch into the darkness. “Keep checking you can move backward,” I say, squatting down to try to get a better look at her progress. “You don’t want to get stuck. And check with your fingertips before you grab anything.”

Her legs disappear, and I hold my breath, waiting. My heart hammers in my chest. There’s a clang, and the metal sheet shudders as she kicks from inside, then kicks again. It bends more easily with force in that direction, and once the gap is wide enough, I stoop to crawl in after her.

The air inside the ship is cold and still, but it smells okay. It’s not as dark as I’d feared—small breaks in the hull let in speckled daylight, though it won’t be much good once we go deeper. I keep my hand tucked against my body, hoping the bleeding will slow.

“We should be in a storage area.” Her voice startles me. “Cargo, luggage maybe. Some services as well.”

“There were a lot of troops on board. I’d love to find some rations. They taste like cardboard, but they’re nutritionally complete and they’ll keep forever.” I feel like biting my tongue as soon as I’m finished. I’ve been trying hard not to mention the possibility that forever is exactly how long we’ll be stuck here.

“There’s a proper hallway up ahead.” She disappears from view again, and then I realize her body was blocking the light as she climbed out of the service duct we’re in and into a passage. It’s tilted at a forty-five-degree angle, but we can keep our footing if we’re careful. I hold open the pack so she can fish out the flashlight, and suddenly we can see.

The first two doors we try are jammed shut by the warping of the ship, but the third one swings open. The room’s full of crates that have tumbled and smashed, and piles of circuitry litter the floor. Useless.

Lilac pushes open the next door, and I try the other side of the hallway.

“No use,” she calls as I push my door open.

Inside, there are piles of fabric everywhere, sheets and clothes all down one side of the room, lying together where they fell. I’ve hit the mother lode. It’s got to be the laundry. I don’t know if the stuff in here is clean or not, but it’s got to be cleaner than we are.

“Remember that ladylike behavior of yours?” I call out, letting her hear the smile in my voice. “This is the time for it. No pushing, shoving, screaming, or—”

I don’t get any further. She’s heard the shift in my voice and crossed the hallway in a heartbeat. She wastes only a moment in gaping, then shoves past me to dash across to the pile of clothes, laughing.

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