These Broken Stars Page 77

I can almost feel the whispers behind it. Desperately wanting something, but unable to do anything but reach for it in our thoughts. Trapped there. Waiting.

And I’m starting to understand what it is they want from us.

After all, I’m a prisoner now too, in a body that’s falling apart. I understand better than Tarver what an agony it is to be so trapped.

I can’t keep this up. It’s harder and harder to focus. I can’t help but imagine that their pain is like my own, trapped as they are between life and death, unable to reach past their own torment. When we get through that door it will be all I can do to use whatever’s there to power the distress signal, and not succumb to the urge to give them what I know they want.

Because while that tiny part of me wants him, and only him, the rest of me wants what the whispers want. An end to it all.

During the day, at night, while we eat, he watches me, and I can’t—my mind doesn’t work. I can hear him trying to get my attention.

“Lilac, you okay?”

My spoon is in my hand. We’re eating dinner, and a bowl of rehydrated stew sits in front of me. I’d forgotten.

I stare at him, blank, confused.

“Lilac?” His voice is softer, his brows furrow. His left hand twitches where it rests against the table, as though it might reach across the gulf between us and take mine.

“Don’t call me that.”

“What?” He’s staring at me, bewildered. “It’s your name, what else should I call you?”

“I don’t care. But you can’t call me that. I’m not your Lilac. I’m a copy.”

“Are you serious?” Shock gives way to anger, hurt, confusion. His voice is ragged. “You’re you. You have your memories, your voice, your eyes, the way you speak. I don’t care how it happened, you’re you. You tell me what the difference is.”

Breathe. I force myself to watch him. Lilac would’ve looked away. Somewhere inside my mind she’s desperate to get out, to go to him, stop torturing him like this.

“The difference is that she’s dead.”

I can see him warring with himself. The urge to go to my side. The urge to shout. The urge to give up, just for a little. I will him to let the latter win, let us both rest. Just for a little.

“You’re you,” he repeats, his eyes full of grief. “You’re the same girl who crashed on this planet with me, who I dragged through forests and over mountains, who climbed through a shipwreck full of bodies to save my life. You’re the same girl I loved, and I love you now.”

Stop. Stop. No more. Please.

My throat seizes.

“I love you, Lilac.” His voice is soft, intent. “I love you, and I should’ve told you before you—”

I listen to the way his voice catches, feeling the break in it deep in my own chest. I close my eyes.

“You’re my Lilac.”

I shake my head, find my voice. “I don’t know what I am or why I’m here, but until I do, I’ll do what she would’ve wanted. Which is to get past that door, power the signal, and get you home.”

“Get us both home. I’m not leaving without you.”

“My father is a powerful man, but we’re talking about a corporation powerful enough to bury an entire planet. He may not even know what’s happening here, and if someone else is the one to discover what’s happened here—you think they can’t bury us? I was dead…you think they’re going to just let me walk back into a normal life?”

Tarver’s jaw clenches. “They’ll never find out what happened here. We’ll lie.”

I stare at him, my heart aching. “Tarver,” I breathe. “You can’t lie. They’ll know. They’ll run tests on me and find out. They’ll court-martial you. You’ll lose everything.”

“Not everything.”

He watches me calmly. Now that he’s made up his mind about what I am—that I am his Lilac—it’s as though nothing else matters. He looks so tired. If only he would sleep.

“She loved you so much,” I find myself whispering. “I wish you could have heard it from her.”

It isn’t until later, when I’ve changed for bed and he’s cleaned up the few dishes from dinner, that he speaks to me again. He stands in the doorway, watching me open the window shutters so I can look out at the night.

“Do you really imagine yourself staying here if they come for me?” he asks.

“No. But I know I’m here for you. They didn’t bring me back to be nice—they brought me back because they need us both to get past that door and do what they’ve been trying to get us to do all along. Without you here there’s no reason for them to sustain me.”

I keep my eyes on the night outside, trying not to let him see how afraid I am.

“It’s not that I imagine myself staying here when you go,” I say softly. “I imagine myself ceasing to exist. You have to let me go, Tarver. You can’t…”

“I can’t what?” His voice is lower, tightly controlled. I’ve never heard him sound like this before. I turn to find him clutching the door frame, his grip white-knuckled, every muscle tense.

I swallow. “Lose yourself in a ghost.”

For long moments he’s quiet and still, the silence drawn between us as tightly as a wire. At any moment it will pull me from my spot at the window and draw me toward him at last.

I can’t keep this up.

But he breaks first, and vanishes from the doorway. I hear his footsteps, angry and quick, crunching over the debris in the mudroom as he heads out into the night. The tension drains and I find myself falling, hitting the ground with bruising force, my skin fragile and paper-thin now. I can barely summon the energy to drag myself to the bed.

I can’t—

I have to get past that door, and for the first time, as my eyes light on the LaRoux lambda embroidered on the blankets, I think I know how. I have to do it soon. I don’t think I have much time left.

“This is insane. You’re the one who imagines I’m being less than truthful, then you want me to explain why? You tell me.”

“Perhaps we can both agree, hypothetically, that there may exist some reason for you to conceal the truth.”


“It means conditionally, conceivably.”

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