These Broken Stars Page 68

I stop at the edge of the clearing, resting one hand against the tree beside me. The bark is rough under my fingers, a contrast to the smooth grip of the Gleidel in my other hand. I don’t remember drawing it. “What are you? Where did you come from?”

Her breath catches again, her long shadow quivering as she trembles. It’s only then that I realize my hands are steady, my eyes clear. This is no vision.

She lifts her head to look across at me. Her face is flushed with exertion, streaked with tears. The eyes that gazed up lifelessly at the sky are wide and fearful now. Her mouth moves slowly, haltingly, as though it’s an effort to speak at all.


“And you didn’t notice anything unusual?”


“About the structure, Major.”

“Oh. No. Nothing unusual.”

“Then why did you and Miss LaRoux remain at the station?”

“She believed that rescue teams might be aware of the building’s location, and look for us there.”

“And you?”

“I was tired of coming up with new plans.”



TOO BRIGHT, TOO LOUD. Harsh on my skin, in my eyes. The world tastes like ash and acid, and I am drowning in the air.

He sits opposite, against the stone. He led me here, this cave, made me sit where he could watch. The sun outside has gone while he stared at me, leaving us in darkness. The thing is still in his hand. Gun, my mind supplies. His gaze is burning me.

I press my shoulder blades against the wall at my back and clench my jaw at the pain. Every inch of me is raw. The fabric on my body scalds me, like I have no skin, like I’m only blood and bone and pain.

And he stares, always staring, watching me, waiting for something.

Tarver, I know. I know him. I know—

He shifts, the whisper of his shoe on the stone screaming across the distance between us. I gasp, try to retreat through the stone. But I am blood and bone, and I cannot pass that way.

He jumps as I flinch, the barrel of the gun retraining on me, a cold metal eye in the darkness.

“What are you?”

His voice—I can’t hear it. It’s all wrong. Not supposed to—

“Answer me.”

He’s so angry. So afraid. I remember—I want to take that fear away. But I don’t know how. I can’t move, pinned to the wall by his stare. I can feel him dissecting me, peeling me away layer by layer, trying to understand.

I swallow, trying to remember how to answer. “Lilac,” I whisper, the name sounding strange. I try again, better this time. “Lilac.”

His face ripples, muscles standing out as he clenches his jaw. He leans forward, gesturing with the gun.

“We both know that’s not true. She’s dead.”



“Tarver.” I try his name again, and it sounds better on my lips than my own. “I don’t—”

“Don’t say it!” He’s on his feet, electrified, blazing in the glare of the dark cave. “You say it like—like her.”

Then I remember. “Your Lilac.”

He’s across the space between us before my eyes can follow him, pushing me back against the wall; his hand grasps my shoulder, sending ribbons of pain down my arm.

“Don’t say that.”

The grief and horror on his face cut deep. I don’t recognize my own hand as it reaches for his face.

“Tarver, it’s me.”

His hand clenching my shoulder shifts, slides up to touch my cheek. Fire. It’s all I can do not to jerk away. Grief and anger battle on his features, banishing the flicker of hope that surges there.

“What are you?” he repeats, whispering this time. I realize the gun was pressed against me only when he lowers it, letting it clatter to the ground.

I wish he had pulled the trigger. It would have been easier.

I make myself look in his eyes, fighting every instinct to flee, to find some way back to the dark and the cold and the quiet.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you and Miss LaRoux wonder why the structure was abandoned?”

“We wondered, but there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

“Why is that?”

“We had no information.”

“And no theories?”

“We had better things to do than speculate.”



I HAVE TO KEEP HER CALM. She could be anything. she could do anything.

I’ve brought her back to the cave, and she’s been huddling in the corner for nearly three hours. When I come close, she flinches; when I move, she squeezes her eyes shut. Whatever she is, she doesn’t feel like much of a threat.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that she looks like Lilac, and she sounds like Lilac, and I can’t stand this.

I reach for the canteen and take a long swig. When I set it down on the rock floor of the cave, her breath catches. The sound hurts her ears. I try to remind myself that she’s something created, not the original. Not her. But is there really a difference? My mind whispers the question.

“Are you in pain?” I can’t use her name.

“Everything hurts.” She speaks in a tight whisper, trying to keep her voice steady, failing. “The sun, the air. It’s like when we came out of the snow in the mountains, so frozen you can’t feel anything, until everything starts to burn in the thaw.”

“Do you know what’s happening?” My voice is rough, agonized. How does she know about the mountains?

“No.” The word’s nearly lost as she swallows. “What did you do?”

I didn’t do anything. This is just another one of the ways this planet screws with your mind. “What do you remember?”

“I don’t know.” She’s still whispering. “Nothing.” And then a moment later: “I remember you. Your face. A picture of you…of your family. I remember poetry.”

This is impossible. How can she know? God, if only she didn’t sound like Lilac. My heart twists inside me. She’s still huddled against the rock wall like she’s trying to melt through it, and as I watch, one hand creeps down to her side, fingers pressing to the spot where her wound was. There’s only the ruined satin of her green dress.

“It’s okay,” I whisper, because she looks just like my girl, and I can’t help myself. I don’t want her to be scared. “I don’t understand either, but you’re here, you’re safe.”

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