These Broken Stars Page 54

Her hair’s escaping the piece of string tying it back, framing her face in a halo of wispy curls that remind me of how it floated around her in zero gravity during the pod’s descent.

There are dirty smudges mingling with the freckles all over her face, and that bruise on her cheek. Even in sleep, her mouth is pulled into a straight, determined line.

There are purple half circles underneath her eyes, and she’s sweaty, beat up, and utterly exhausted.

She’s never looked so beautiful.

“You didn’t stay at the wreck.”

“You already know that. We saw no option but to leave.”

“Your reasoning?”

“There were no rescue craft in sight. There was a disease risk with so many bodies around. We needed another option.”



BY THE AFTERNOON OF THE SECOND DAY, I have to threaten to sit on Tarver’s chest to keep him from getting out of bed. More than anything, the speculative look—and thoughtful silence—that follow that threat convince me he’s feeling better. I don’t mind. After hearing him call out for his ex-girlfriend in his delirium, there’s not much that’ll make me blush. I let him sit up and shave, as a compromise—it’s nice to see him looking a little more like himself.

On the morning of the third day we agree that our best move is to get to a higher vantage point and scout the area. For the first time since we crashed we’re talking about the long term. If they knew where we were, someone would be here, at the wreck, to rescue us. The Icarus must not have transmitted her location before she was destroyed. Not even the all-powerful Monsieur LaRoux could find us now—though I have no doubt he’ll take the galaxy apart trying, even if it’s only to mark my grave.

We need a place near the Icarus, in case anyone does show up and land to inspect the wreck in the future, but we can’t stay this close. Not to all those bodies, not with the air full of burned chemicals and the ground littered with shrapnel.

We scale the outside of the wreck, aiming for the highest point. The wind has picked up, making the ship sigh and moan in protest. Tarver says that the Icarus will have done most of her settling already, and that it’s safe enough. The way the hull has splintered, the path is relatively easy, with plenty of handholds and places to rest. Still, Tarver is pale and sweating by the time we near the top.

It isn’t until I’m standing on the sloping surface of the top of the ship, steadying myself with one hand on the mangled communications array, that it hits me.

We’re looking for a place to live.

And the thought doesn’t hurt.

I could never admit it to him, but here in the sun, warm from the climb, waiting for Tarver to catch up, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. After all, what waits for me on the other side of rescue? My friends would scarcely recognize me now, and the thought of filling my days with gossip and parties leaves me cold. The best six-course meal never tasted half so good as a shared ration bar after a long hike, washed down with mountain-fresh water. And while I wouldn’t say no to a hot bath, I’m warm enough at night, with Tarver there at my side.

It’s only the thought of my father, grief-stricken, that causes me any pain at all.

I set down the pack and rummage around for the canteen. When Tarver joins me, I offer it to him. It lets him hide the way he’s breathing heavily, gives him something to hold so that I can’t see the shaking of his hands.

To the east are the mountains we crossed, whitecapped and foreboding, and I wonder how Tarver ever convinced me to go into them. Maybe it was just that I was too naive to realize how hard the passage would be.

The camp below looks like a doll’s play set. I can’t see the dirty bandages, the ration bar wrappers. The river and its ribbon of trees lead away from the mountains and into the distance. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I can almost make out what seems to be an ocean, or some kind of salt flat, just visible at the horizon. In the other direction, the hills roll on like waves, growing smaller and gentler until they level out at the edge of a vast forest. It’s like a painting, something out of a dusty museum. I’ve never seen so much open space in my life—for a moment I’m dizzy, lost in the tableau, struggling for breath in air that’s suddenly too rich. A hand at the small of my back grounds me again and I grip the metal of the useless communications array more tightly. I turn and see Tarver, pale but smiling.

“The breeze is stiffer up here; are you cold?”

“What would you do if I said yes?” I grin back at him. “Offer me some of your fever?”

“Sharing is caring.” He steps in close, and my chest tightens convulsively. But he’s just reaching to grab on to the metal as well, steadying himself in the wind.

He doesn’t look good. Despite his smile, his nonchalance, he’s gripping the beam too tightly, leaning into it.

I kneel by the pack, pulling out his notebook. “Do you know how to draw maps?”

“Of course I do,” Tarver replies. He’s watching me, and then after a moment he moves to join me. I try not to show my relief when he sits down, some of the lines of pain around his eyes easing. I wish he’d let me climb by myself. But since he woke up, he’s been reluctant for me to stray too far from him. Perhaps he’s afraid I’ll go back into the tomb of a ship despite my promise not to.

Maybe he just likes my company. I give myself a shake, trying to dismiss the thought before I can start blushing again.

He takes the notebook from me, flipping through. Belatedly I remember that I pressed the replicated flower between two of its pages to preserve it and keep it safe; I still haven’t told him about it. But he flips right past it, unseeing, until he pauses on the pages I used while he was sick.

“Did you draw these?” His voice is unreadable as he looks over the maps I made of the twisted and broken decks.

“After the first day I started forgetting where I’d already been.” I keep my eyes on the horizon, easing down onto my heels. “In the dark it all blurs together.”

I realize he’s turned back to the last page he wrote on before my maps begin—a page containing only fragments of a poem in progress. Scattered words and phrases describing one of the purple flowers we found together, something beautiful in a sea of loneliness.

When he was ill I tried to imagine he was writing about me. Now, by the light of day, it seems ludicrous. But he’s staring at it. He knows I saw it. Reading everything would’ve felt too much like accepting he was about to die, going through his things, but I can feel him wanting to ask me if I did. If I violated that privacy while he couldn’t stop me.

Prev Next