These Broken Stars Page 58

There’ll be a generator inside this building, somewhere, and if we can get that working, I can get everything else working. Tarver insists there will be a communications system inside—though I’ve never been to a planet in any phase earlier than advanced settlement, he tells me that stations like this are common, and all alike.

Communications equipment would mean a way to send a signal. A way to get Tarver back to his family, where he belongs, even if I’m not so sure I want to rejoin the world anymore. And if there’s any justice or decency in the galaxy, he’ll get home in one piece.

I want so badly to tell him why I said the things I said when we first met. Why alienating people is one of my greatest talents. But to tell him would be to betray my father. To show Tarver just how monstrous I am. And so I bite my tongue, and try to ignore the way the truth is building inside me like water under pressure.

Let him hate me, and think I hate him back. It’s safer for both of us.

We don’t talk, but the silence is still easier than it has been. Neither of us asks why this place was abandoned, or what it was originally for. It’s large enough that it can’t just be to house monitoring equipment. It had to hold people at some point.

We haul on the doors, pry at the shutters over the windows, go so far as to attempt to bash our way in with a rock. The building is solid, despite its neglect, and sealed up tightly. We discover a shed not far away with a broken-down hovercraft inside. A quick look tells me it was probably broken even at the time this place was occupied. We poke around under the hood for a little, checking out the hopelessly gummed-up plugs and leads, then Tarver moves on to inventory the rest of the shed, leaving me to examine the circuitry.

He gives me a running commentary on what he finds: rusted tools, lengths of rope, cans of oil and glue, tanks of fuel in the back. Paint cans and a shovel in the corner. Drills and saws with plugs. This place once had electricity, then, which confirms my guess that there’s a generator somewhere.

I wonder if some part of my brain will always look at things, now, and try to think of how they might be useful. If they’re worth their weight, being carried from a wreck. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll always think of ways rope or oil or rusty hammers could save someone’s life.

When I finally pry the circuit board’s cover off to find half the circuits missing, it takes me only a few moments to realize the entire thing is useless. I slam the hood of the hovercraft down, and when Tarver looks at me, he sees the frustration in my face and doesn’t ask. We head back out into the clearing, circling the building again, this time armed with tools. We set to work attacking the shutters, prying, trying to find a weak spot.

“At least you’re human after all,” Tarver says lightly. I’m still nursing the wounds from his rejection as I glance at him, expecting it to be a jab. He glances back, trying half a smile, and I realize it’s an olive branch instead. “We’ve finally found circuits you can’t fix.”

He looks so tired, so weary, despite his weak attempt to bridge the gulf between us. I suppose I would be too, if I were him.

I sigh, rubbing a hand across my eyes. “I wish I knew more. If I did, maybe I could fix it.”

“I still don’t understand how you know any of this. Your father’s the engineering genius, not you. I mean—you’re not the sort of person who would’ve studied circuitry and physics in school. I mean—oh, screw it.”

So much for the olive branch. Despite the temptation to leave him tripping over his words, I can’t take credit for what I know. “When I was a little girl, after my mother died, I wanted nothing more than to be just like my father. Even then I knew I was everything he had, so I wanted to be…worthy of that, I guess. I asked someone to teach me.” I swallow, feeling Tarver’s eyes on me, knowing he can sense the tension in my voice.


“A boy named Simon.”

Tarver’s eyes go back to the shutter he’s working on, focused, not looking at me. “You’ve mentioned him before. Who is he?”

My throat tightens. How can I tell Tarver, of all people, about the monstrous parts of my past? Why give him another reason to push me away? And yet, maybe he deserves to know why I said the things I said aboard the Icarus.

And maybe I deserve to relive it.

“If I tell you, will you just listen to me? Don’t interrupt, don’t say anything, just—let me get through this. Can you do that?”

His demeanor changes subtly, but he stays where he is, crowbar dangling at his side. “Okay.”

I take a few deep breaths, like a diver about to jump.

“Simon was a boy who grew up near our summerhouse on Nirvana.” I can’t look at him while I’m speaking. I don’t want to see the moment when realization hits.

“His family wasn’t as well connected as mine, but whose is? He was absolutely brilliant, and not just in the subjects we were expected to learn. He’s the one who taught me everything I know about electricity and physics. My father turned a blind eye to the time we spent together because he thought it was harmless, that I was too young to form any real attachment. I was fourteen then, but I loved him.” I run my fingers along the edge of the screwdriver, fingertips learning its planes, the sculpted plastic handle. “The night before he turned sixteen he asked if we could stop hiding, and be a real couple. He said he was going to go to my father in the morning now that he was an adult, and ask for a position within the company. To earn the right to be with me.”

Simon’s sandy-blond hair and green eyes flash in front of me, my heart constricting even now. Just keep talking. Get through it.

“I said yes. When I woke I practically flew downstairs in anticipation, but when I got there it was like nothing had changed. My father said he hadn’t seen him—he didn’t even look away from the news screen. I went to his house, and found his parents devastated. All gentlemen’s sons are in the reserves—you know that. As a matter of honor, I suppose, though it’s never tested. It’s all for show.”

My eyes sting and the red and yellow handle of the screwdriver blurs. Not yet. Hold it together. I turn the tool over and over in my hands.

“Simon had been called to active duty. I went to the recruiting station, but due to some clerical oversight, he was shipped out to the front lines with a bunch of soldiers who’d been training for a year. By the time I got through all the red tape and found out where he was, he was already dead.” And I should have known better.

Prev Next