These Broken Stars Page 78

“I know what the word means.”



IT’S LATE WHEN I MAKE MY WAY back across the clearing, head clearer, step surer. There’s something about going outside and stretching my legs that helps me line up my thoughts. When I make my way through into the comms room, it’s empty—but different.

The monitors, usually black, are lit up like a city skyline, blinking incomprehensible lines of code at me in vivid red, lights dancing across the controls. We’ve got power. Proper power, not whatever we’ve been squeezing out of the backup power mode.

Hope surges through me. Maybe she found a way to get through the door, into the locked room. I’ve spent every waking moment trying to find a way in, hoping for something behind that door I can use to help her.

But if she got the door open, why didn’t she come find me? My mind keeps replaying one image: the canteen dissolving to dust.

Stay calm. She’s fine. But my heart’s thumping wildly as I swing down onto the top rung of the ladder. I can hear my old drill sergeant screaming in my ear to keep me from trying some stupid, impossible jump to reach her faster. Keep yourself safe, he bellows at me from beyond his grave on another planet far away. You can’t help anybody else if you’re in pieces. Don’t rush in.

But I can’t help it. I scramble down, ignoring the stab of pain as I twist my ankle in my haste. The lights are on, and I hurl myself down the corridors and then the metal stairs, swinging around the corner.

The round door is open.

Lilac must have heard me coming—she stands framed by it, looking out, waiting for me. Her skin is nearly a dull gray, too pale, her eyes lost in the shadows. I can see her shaking as she grips the edge of the round doorway. I slow to a walk as I approach her.

“I guessed the password.” Her whisper rasps.

I want nothing more than to go to her side, but I know she doesn’t want me to, and I hold back with a monumental effort. “How?”

“My father. This is his station—his emblem is everywhere. He always said my name was all I’d ever need to get anywhere. So I did. I used my name.”


She nods, her mouth twisting. I understand the grief in her expression. If the password was her name, it means her father did this, and not some faceless person at LaRoux Industries without his knowledge or consent. He’s responsible for whatever happened here, and for covering it up afterward. And he used her name as his key.

“I got a distress signal working, though it’s weak.” She says it quietly, tightly. “It’ll only show up as static, unless enough relays catch it and boost the signal.”

This news that once would’ve been some of the best I’d ever heard is instead twisted, dark. I don’t know anymore whether I want them to come for us. Not if I can’t find a way to save Lilac.

“Come through,” she says. “There’s more.”

She steps back, and I climb through the doorway, unable to stop myself from reaching for her hand. When I grip her fingers, the squeeze she returns is just a weak flutter. I can feel my own strength draining away as the shakes start to take me. It’s like the side effects from the visions, only ten, twenty times worse.

The room hums with power, lined on every side with banks of monitors, control panels, and machines. Thick cables stretch from the consoles into the middle of the room. Towering over us is a circular steel frame twice my height. Flickers of blue light snake back and forth inside it like lazy lightning strikes, creating a shimmering layer of air. The frame dominates the room, overwhelming.

I can no longer hear my heartbeat, my harsh breathing—all sound is lost in the crackle and hiss of electricity. The room beyond the metal frame is hazy. The air is thick and heavy and tastes of something metallic at the back of my throat. The humming in the room makes my very teeth ache.

Two large, yellow-and-black-striped warning signs are mounted on the steel frame, one at the top, one down the side. Contact with subjects forbidden. Risk of rift instability, they read, in blocky letters.

Subjects. The test subjects from the papers above us.

Whispers rise suddenly, swelling in my ears, insistent. They hover just on the edge of comprehension—as though if I could close the gap between us just a little more, I could understand them.

Without thinking, I step toward the frame, unable to resist its pull.

For a moment the room around me is gone, and blackness overlays it, pinpoint stars twinkling.

And then something jerks me back. I blink again, and it’s gone—and Lilac is there, grabbing at my hand and pulling me away.

“Are you insane?” she gasps. “Don’t you remember what those papers said? If you touch it, you could bring the whole thing to a fatal collapse.”

“What?” I’m still shaking the vision of stars, the sense that I was a hairsbreadth away from understanding.

She gestures at the hypnotizing blue light inside the metal frame. “Don’t you see? This is the rift. It has to be.”

I open my mouth to respond, but before I can, the lights overhead flicker, leaving only the roiling blue electricity to light the room. The lights dim once. Yes.

“Oh, God,” Lilac whispers, her eyes on the portal. She’s sweating, her hand clammy in mine. She feels cold, too cold. I can’t tell for sure in the flickering blue light from the metal frame, but it looks like her eyes have become more sunken, the dark circles under them more pronounced.


“It’s them.”

“What—” But I can see her staring at the frame. And I realize what she means.

“The creatures, the subjects. The whispers. They are the power source for the station. This light, this energy—this is my father’s rift. A gateway between dimensions. And they’re here, trapped somehow by this metal ring they’ve built around it.”

The lights flicker madly, and overhead a number of the fluorescent lights burst, showering the metal floor with shards of glass. Within the steel frame containing the rift, the blue forks of lightning fluctuate wildly.

“Energy-based life-forms.” My voice is a whisper.

Suddenly Lilac’s weight sags, her clammy hand slipping from mine as she drops to her knees with a moan.

My heart stops, and I drop to the ground beside her.

Her pale skin is nearly translucent now—I can see the dark veins snaking up her arms. She lifts her head with an effort, gasping for breath. When I lay a hand on her shoulder, a part of her dress crumbles at my touch, drifting away. Like the flower; like the canteen.

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