These Broken Stars Page 73

The records left behind were scattered around the room, some charred in fires that guttered for lack of fuel in the concrete building, others dropped, stacked, scattered, like this place was evacuated in a hurry. We’ve gathered as many as we could, and we’re searching them line by line for anything that might help us.

Or, at least, for the password to the door below us. Tarver’s shoulders are hunched, his eyes fixed on the singed page in his hand. Determined, focused. Driven. A fragment of me wants to go to his side, run my fingers through his hair, kiss his temple, distract him until that tension disappears.

But instead I just sit here, unmoving. No matter how hotly that part of me burns, the rest of me is frozen, unable to so much as reach for him. This half-life is torture—I’m little more than a prisoner in this numb, lifeless shell. All I have left, now, is to try to get Tarver home. I force my attention back to the records scattered all around us.

My father’s lambda is watermarked on every page. I can’t help but stare at it, thoughts dwelling on the man I thought I’d known so well. I want to believe he doesn’t know about this place, that the mysteries and horrors of this planet are buried somewhere deep inside LaRoux Industries. But I know my father, and I know he has his finger on the beating pulse of the company he built. He’s the one who hid this place. He has to be.

“They keep referring to a ‘dimensional rift’ here.” Tarver’s voice jars me out of my thoughts.

“Dimensional? Like hyperspace?” I look down at the page in my hand, trying to focus. But my paper is only a list of supplies and requisitions, nothing helpful.

“Maybe.” Tarver’s brown eyes scan the document. “The Icarus did get yanked out of hyperspace by something. Maybe there’s a connection.”

The overhead lights shine through the page he’s holding up, silhouetting my father’s insignia stamped at the top. “Then it’s not coincidence that we just happened to crash on a terraformed planet, my father’s planet.”

“Doesn’t look like it, does it?” He falls silent, then leans forward, suddenly alert. “It says here, ‘Further attempts to re-create the dimensional rift using the super-orbital reflectors have failed, both here and on Avon.’ What the hell does any of that mean? I know Avon, I was posted there for a few months.”

I abandon my stack of pages and cross to Tarver’s side of the room, where I start sifting through some half-burned documents.

“Are they talking about the mirror-moon? That must be what they mean by ‘super-orbital reflectors.’ Mirrors in the sky, to speed up terraforming. Even lifting the temperature a degree or two can change the terraforming timelines by decades.”

“Okay, but then how does the mirror-moon cause a rift? Does it say anywhere what the rift is?”

He fishes out another page, blowing away a layer of ash and inspecting the text. “Dimensional rift collapse will release unpredictable quantities of energy, potentially fatal in nature. Do not attempt direct physical contact with any objects or persons.”

“Then it is like hyperspace.” I can feel the connections clicking together, and I trip over my tongue trying to explain. “The power surge when the Icarus was ripped out of hyperspace—remember I told you then that there’s always a huge energy surge when a ship enters or exits hyperspace? There’s usually preparation, better protection. The rift they’re talking about must be like a hyperspace rift. A way of accessing another dimension, but without the need for a ship.”

“They’ve found a way to reach into another dimension?” His voice is hushed.

“And it’s unstable. What makes hyperspace travel so dangerous is that these rifts always want to close; it’s their natural tendency. They’ve found a way to hold open this dimensional rift, but if you touch it, it’ll collapse. There’ll be an energy blast like the one that fused the circuits on the ship. Or worse.”

He shakes his head, looking down at the sheet once more. “‘Continued extraction of test subjects is dependent on rift stability.’ The rest of it’s burned, I can’t read it.”

“Test subject extraction,” I echo. “They’re pulling something out of the other dimension to experiment on? But what? And where is this rift?”

“Behind that door, I’ll bet. I’m more interested in the test subjects themselves.”

“What do you mean?”

“This.” He reaches behind him, pulls a fragment of paper from a pile. It’s barely more than a quarter of a page, the rest burned away, but there is some writing legible in the corner. He passes it to me.

“‘Subjects display remarkable telepathic abi—’” I read, forced to stop where the page is gone, and skip down the remaining lines of text. “‘…phased life-forms…energy-based…noncorporeal…temporary energy-matter conversion…’”

The rest of the text is lost in the crumbling ash, leaving black streaks across my palm.

“The whispers.”

“The whispers,” he agrees.

My head spins. There are answers in here somewhere, in the scorched remains of my father’s secret research facility. These beings, experimental test subjects to my father’s teams, have led us across the wilderness to this spot. If we’re right, then Tarver and I are not so different from them—all of us castaways on a forgotten world.

“I wish we knew what they want. Perhaps they could get us past the door.”

“We’ll figure it out.” He lifts his head, eyes meeting mine. His mouth twitches like he’s about to speak, and I know what he’s going to say. Together. We’ll figure it out together.

I turn away before he can form the words. Just his glance is enough to set my very blood on fire. He’s become so sure of me in such a short time. He thinks I don’t notice when he watches me move, thinks I don’t see the way he reaches after me, stopping just short of taking my hand. He’s impatient, but not urgent—he wants me back, but he’s waiting. He thinks we have time.

But I know what the whispers were telling me in the corridor below. They brought the flower back and didn’t—like me. I am here, and not here. Perhaps the effort required to flicker the lights took their attention away from sustaining the flower. The words are there on the charred sheet of paper. Temporary energy-matter conversion. How long will I last?

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