These Broken Stars Page 51

I bathe his face and chest in cold water, then lift his head and trickle some water from the canteen into his mouth. He swallows a few times, then moans and pushes me away. Angry red lines have begun to march their way from underneath the bandage up the inside of his arm. I trace them with my fingertips and swallow my dread.

He’s so quiet, so still. I smooth his hair back from his brow, run the backs of my fingers along his cheek, rough like sandpaper with the stubble of the past few days. He looks younger than usual, no older than I am. I dampen my fingertips with water and run them across his mouth, which is dry and chapped. Even his lips are hot, flushed.

“Tarver,” I whisper, cupping his burning cheek with my hand. “Please don’t—don’t leave me.”

My whole body seizes up, my insides clenching with a horror and helplessness more profound than any I’d felt when confronted with the corpses in the wreck. Unable to breathe, unable to move, I crouch over him, my hands shaking as they try to somehow smooth away his illness.

“Please don’t leave me here alone.”

My fingers fan through the damp hair at the nape of his neck. My lips find his forehead, then his temple. I’m shaking, and I force myself to stop, dragging air into my lungs.

“I’ll be back,” I whisper in his ear. I say it every time I go. It’s as much a promise to myself as to him. I try to make my feet move, make that promise real, but I’m so tired. All I want is to curl up beside him.

I stagger away, and as I wipe at my eyes, I spot something lying just inside the firelight. Something I know wasn’t there a moment ago, because a moment ago I’d been stretched out in that spot, at Tarver’s side.

It’s a flower.

I pick it up, my fingers trembling, though I already know what it is. Two of the petals are grown together, a mutation, one in a million. Unique. Except that I’ve seen it before. And that flower is gone—it was destroyed in the downpour, crushed against my skin. I left the pieces behind where we camped by the river.

How is it here now?

I cup the flower in my hands, closing my eyes for a long moment. I brush a fingertip along the joined petals, and abruptly I see Tarver’s quiet smile, the beauty in the moment he gave it to me. The memory spreads like a fire through my limbs, feeling and strength coming back to me. I can do this.

Whoever or whatever is watching us, I realize that this is a gift, just as the canteen was. I don’t know what they intended, but I know what it means to me.

I’m not alone here. Perhaps I never was, even in the depths of the dead-filled wreck. These whispers, whoever, whatever they are, can see into my thoughts. They can see into my heart.

I shut my eyes, turning away from the empty space at his side.

Behind the camp looms the black monstrosity of the wreck, darker than the night and blotting out the stars. The tomb. The meat locker. I force myself not to look back at Tarver asleep in our bed again. I know that if I do, I might not go. That this time might be the one where I fail, and fall down, and can’t get back up.

I walk back into the tomb.

“How did you divide up the labor?”

“What do you mean? The salvage?”


“She did most of it.”

“Your sarcasm is uncalled for. How did you divide up the labor?”

“According to our strengths, I suppose.”

“What were Miss LaRoux’s strengths?”

“Hairstyling, eye makeup, spotting a faux pas at fifty paces.”

“Major. Your lack of cooperation is being noted.”

“She could fetch and carry, small tasks like that.”

“And you?”

“I found that very helpful.”



I KNOW IT’S STRANGE WHEN MY BROTHER Alec shows up beside me, but I can’t remember why. It tickles at the back of my brain like an annoying little itch. I give up for now and let my eyes close again.

I was watching Lilac before, but I think she’s gone now. She keeps coming and going, coming and going, always carrying things. So many things. Where do they come from? This world doesn’t have that many things in it. No things, no other people, no idea, no hope. Just her.

I really hope that when it comes down to it, she dies first. It’ll be bad for her, if it’s me.

“That’s a pretty morbid thing to think, T.” Alec’s lying beside me on the bed, reclining on his elbows the way he always did when we lay outside on summer nights.

That doesn’t make it any less true. What else should I hope for her?

“Don’t look at me, she’s your Girl Friday.”

She’s not my girl anything.

Then it comes to me like a splash of cold water in the face, quick and shocking, robbing me of breath. You’re dead.

“Hey, no need to rub it in.” Alec grins easily. “Happens to the best of us, T.”

I concentrate for a moment, waiting for the shakes, the metallic taste in the back of my throat, the whispers across my skin. But my hands are steady. You’re not a vision.

“No, I’m all you. You’re delirious. Which means I get an afterlife for a while. I’ve got to tell you, I was anticipating worse. I can live with this. No pun intended.”

That was dreadful.

“You missed it, though.”

Yes. Every day.

“I’m sorry I left, T. I didn’t mean to. What is this place?”

No idea. Abandoned planet.

“Abandoned? After all the money to germinate the terraforming? What the hell kind of thing causes them to pack up and leave?”

No idea, but something’s up. Lilac thinks some kind of life-form is trying to communicate with us. No ill intent so far. Maybe they’re harmless.

“Doesn’t seem likely, T.”

Doesn’t, does it? Can’t point that out to her. The corporations aren’t the kind of guys to cut and run just because they accidentally set up camp in somebody else’s living room.

“Hmm. What about the girl? She has seriously great legs.”

I noticed.

“You hold her at night. That must be fun.”

I’ve been trying not to notice.

“Ha. I’d sympathize, except that I can’t touch her at all.”

Nor can I, really. She’s the kind that turns me down when they find out who I am.

“Well, T, if you ever wanted to take a run at it, I’d say now’s your time. There’s hardly any competition, unless you count me. Though I am of course very handsome, even dead.”

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