These Broken Stars Page 55

I had been expecting field reports, notes on wildlife, but every page was filled with poems.

He’s silent, and I swallow, fiddling with the tear in my jeans, widening it as I pull at each thread. Unlike our usual silences, this one begs to be filled.

I crack first. “My drawing lessons were always more focused on flowers and lakeside vistas, but my maps served their purpose.”

Tarver grunts and turns to a fresh page. The tip of the pencil hovers over the empty white space. His eyes are far away, staring through the page. The wreck beneath us gives a particularly wrenching shriek, and he blinks, and the moment’s gone. He turns his attention to the horizon and begins sketching out the visible landmarks, expert and quick. I wonder where we’ll go—if he’ll suggest the forest, the hills, the river. I wonder if we’ll ever go to the sea.

His eyes flick up and down from scenery to page—mine stay on him. If he notices my gaze he says nothing, concentrating on his task, letting me watch his profile uninterrupted.

He’s still too pale, but he looks less likely to keel over. He’s so thin it makes me ache, but I liberated some dried pasta and flour and shortening from the kitchens, all the things we can’t find from the land. We’ll eat better. He’ll get stronger.

He sucks at the edge of his lip as he concentrates. The dimple there is hypnotic, fascinating me. I’m so focused on that tiny detail of him that I don’t notice when he stops drawing, staring intently at something.


I start guiltily, swimming up out of my trance. “I wasn’t!”

“There’s something—come look.” His voice shakes—his gaze is fixed straight ahead.

I turn toward the hills, expecting an animal, other survivors, even a rescue craft. What I see instead is electrifying.

Before our eyes springs up a wave of flowers, the purple blooms from that first night on the plains, when Tarver tried to distract me from the fact that I was going mad. Just like the tiny purple blossom hidden in his journal. The narrow corridor of blooms extends as we watch, winding this way and that through the hills, toward the hazy green of the forest in the distance.

Beside me, Tarver is shaking. I can feel the dizziness myself, my skin tingling, itching, hot and cold all at once. “It’s not real.” I gasp, blinking my eyes hard and opening them again. The flowers are still there. “It’s just a vision.”

“The canteen—they made that, didn’t they?”

I swallow. The flower was something they made for me, and just for me—to tell him would be to explain what it meant to me, in that moment of utter darkness. That it reminded me why I was returning to that shipwreck of the dead. That there’s only one person in the galaxy I could’ve done it for. But I can’t say those things to him, not yet.

The row of blossoms continues, the flowers growing thicker and brighter by the moment, until the entire corridor of the valley is shining with purple in the sunlight, leading toward the forest. It’s a narrow, concentrated band, looking for all the world like a winding river of purple—or a road.

I gasp. “Tarver! They’re—leading us. That’s what they’ve been trying to—” But my voice sticks in my throat, my heart pounding.

He tears his eyes away from the flowers in order to look up at me. “Trying to what? What’re you talking about?”

“The people I saw—they were pointing. The voice I heard was leading us away from the forest, toward the plain. Even your parents’ house, the garden path led away—toward this spot. And now these flowers…I don’t know, maybe I’m trying too hard to find sense in all of this.”

“You think they’re showing us the way.” He turns back to face the hills. “Toward what?”

We stand, staring at the path before us, so clear and bright. All I want is to go find out if they’re real, if they’re as solid as the flower in his journal. If all of this is some dream in which the laws of physics don’t exist.

“Lilac!” Tarver’s voice is urgent, snapping me out of my daze. “Look!”

I blink, trying to catch my breath as he leans close to me. His cheek brushes mine, rough with faint stubble, as he brings his line of sight alongside my own. So close, I can smell him, feel the electric tingle where we touch.

This is no dream.

“Look along my arm, where I’m pointing.” He stretches one arm out, toward the trees. “There’s something there. See that glint?”

It’s all I can do not to turn my face toward his, the way a plant grows toward the light. I draw in a deep breath and force myself to focus. I don’t see it immediately, and my eyes strain along the strip of forest bordering the hills at its western edge.

And then, as sudden as a lightning strike, I do see it. A tiny glint of reflected sunlight, winking at me from the tree line.

“Wreckage,” I whisper, staring at it, trying not to believe it’s what I think it is. “It’s a piece of the ship that landed there. Another crashed escape pod.”

Tarver slowly lets his arm fall, but doesn’t shift away again. He’s staring at the thing too. “I don’t think so.” His voice is quiet too, barely audible over the wind. “It’s tough to tell, but I think the trees around it are cleared, uniform.”

I realize I’m holding my breath.

“I think it’s a building.”

There’s no fuel for a fire out among the rolling hills, and it’s bitterly cold, but I don’t care. Tarver estimated a two-day journey to reach the edge of the forest, and as the sun set in front of us on the first day I could see the trees along the horizon, in the distance. The sea of flowers vanished into mist as we climbed back down the wreckage, but we know now where we’re being led. To what end, or what purpose, we can’t hope to guess, but if it’s a building—and it’s real—it might be the key to our rescue.

“Hot water!” I say cheerfully, eating cold, plain pasta with my fingers. I’ve never had anything so delicious.

“A roof,” Tarver replies, munching at his own handful of the pasta I cooked before we left. The kitchen storerooms on the wreck were my best find—after the sick bay, anyway.

I glance over at him, the last of the light lending his still-pale face some false color. We’re camped in the lee of a hill, as much out of the wind as we can be. Still, it’ll be a cold night, even together.

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