These Broken Stars Page 72

They wouldn’t take Lilac back. They can’t.

Eventually we’re both calm enough to continue what we came down here to do, locate whatever the power source for the station is. If we can find that, we may be able to restore full power to the communications systems and send out a distress signal.

The corridor stretches away from us on a downward angle, lined with doors on both sides. Each door is stamped with the LaRoux insignia, the upside-down letter V of the lambda. We make our way down the corridor in silence.

I open a few of the doors as we pass, but they only contain more of what we found upstairs—dark screens, unresponsive. It’s then that Lilac stirs from her silence, stepping past me. She points out a few dim orange lights here and there that I missed—the machines are in standby mode.

“It’s like the whole station’s on backup power. When my father’s company pulled out, they must not have shut everything down, not completely.” She steps back, following a tangle of cords that run up the corner of the wall to where it joins the ceiling, and then out to the main corridor. “If we can find the real power source and get it operating fully, instead of on this backup mode, maybe we can send a signal.”

We head back out to the hallway, following the cables on down the sloping corridor. “You’re sure it can’t just be a generator?” I wonder aloud.

She shakes her head without looking up. “There’s too much equipment here for that. There has to be something else here, something powering the hot water and the lights. And how did they power everything else, back when this place was operational? There’s something more. I can feel it.” Her voice is quiet, and there’s a quaver there—weariness, or distress.

“What do you mean, feel it?”

“You mean you can’t?” She pauses, swallowing hard, and presses a finger to her temple. “It’s there. It’s like having a headache—or, no, not a headache. It’s like having something inside, something that shouldn’t be there. Something’s wrong here.”

“You mean like the shakes when they send you a vision? Or a voice?”

She shakes her head. “Close, but different.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “I think whatever’s down here is what the whispers want us to find.”

I try to shake the uneasy feeling that even though our light-flickering friends are quiet now, they’re still watching us as we try to track down the power source.

Lilac does most of the work as we follow the cables through the rooms and hallways. This place must be four or five times as big underground as it is aboveground. Slowly, though, I begin to see her logic, and together we trace a path through a series of rooms along the first hall we saw, and then down a metal staircase to a second basement level.

When we round the corner at the bottom of the stairs, we find the door.

It’s not square and chunky like everything else down here, but a perfect circle, sealed shut. I reach out to run my fingertips along the lines of its seams; it’s made to dilate like the iris of an eye. With the sections interlocked, it’s stronger by far than any normal door would be.

Lilac studies a keypad beside the door, its buttons glowing blue-white. “Can you feel it?” She’s pale, shivering. And now I know what she meant before: I’m not taken by the full-blown shakes that herald a vision, but there’s an almost unbearable shiver running down my spine, a coppery taste in my mouth. It’s affecting her more strongly—I can see her swallowing hard, forcing herself to breathe slowly.

“It’s behind this door.” My voice is a whisper. “You’re right. This is why they brought us here.”

She tries the keypad with trembling fingers, entering a few arbitrary numbers and letters. The illumination behind the buttons flashes red with an angry, low-pitched drone. “And we don’t know the password.”

I could laugh, if our lives weren’t on the line. All of this—the struggle to survive, to make it out of the forest, to dodge storms and snow and cave-ins. Staying sane in the face of the impossible. All of it—for this. Leading us to a door we can’t open, a password we don’t have.

I catch a quick, furtive movement out of the corner of my eye—Lilac, twitching a hand across her face. She’s fast, and trying for subtle, but the shakes have made her clumsy, and I can see what she’s trying to hide. Her nose is bleeding, leaving a smear of crimson across the back of her hand. She’s clenching her jaw, one hand resting against the wall; she’s trying to look casual about it, but her knees are buckling. Whatever’s down here is making her worse by the second.

I’m trying not to think about what she said—that they brought the flower back to life, the way they brought her back. And that now that flower is no more than dust.

I stand there staring, unable to lift my feet. When you have so little left to lose, even the tiniest loss feels like a body blow. It’s Lilac who eventually leads me away. Now that I know it’s her, the touch of her hand alone is enough to make the blood roar in my ears. I never thought I would get to touch her again.

“You seem distracted, Major.”

“Not at all. Just as focused as when we began this little conversation.”

“Perhaps if you were more cooperative, we would be done by now.”

“I’m being as cooperative as I know how. I certainly wouldn’t want to inconvenience LaRoux Industries. If I knew what you were getting at—”

“We are attempting to determine the extent to which you explored the structure and its surroundings.”

“Then I’ve already answered that question.”

“So it would seem.”



WE SIT ON THE FLOOR of the station’s main room, sifting through the half-burned pages, looking for answers. The nausea has passed and my head’s not throbbing so badly. Most importantly, my nose has finally stopped dripping blood. If Tarver noticed what happened to me the closer I got to the locked room below, he said nothing, for which I am grateful. The key to this planet, to the whispers, to finding a way home…it all lies behind that door, and we’re going to find a way through if it kills me again.

I fight to stay silent as a hysterical bubble of laughter tries to escape. If it kills me again. What difference does it make, anyway, if it does? For the first time I don’t feel like the violent paintings on the walls in this room are staring at me. They used to feel like a threat, or a warning, of what might lie in store. Now they just seem to match the violence of my thoughts.

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