These Broken Stars Page 80

All this way, all this pain, and now they can’t find a way to just give me their damn message?

“What the hell do you want from me?” My voice is hoarse.

The whispers surge, as if in reply. But of course, as ever, there’s no sense to be found there. No answers. No way out for Lilac.

“Go on, then.” I fight the urge to strike at the damned thing with my bare fists, to attack the problem the only way I know how. “You’ve got me here. I trekked all the way across your damn planet. What do you want me to do?”

Silence, broken only by the crackle and snap of electricity, and the humming of the machinery. If I can’t figure out a way to stop this, Lilac’s not going to last much longer. And this time it’s going to happen slowly, and I’m going to have to watch her die all over again.

Like hell I am. Something in me snaps. I wheel around, slamming my hands down on the control box attached to the metal frame around the rift. I hit one of the dimly lit screens, the plasma rippling at my touch. I strike it again, and again, until the plastic cracks and the monitor frame warps and my arm throbs with the impact, and it’s still not enough.

Every step of this journey, every ounce of pain, everything I’ve found in her. It can’t end here. There’s a chair in my hands now, and sparks fly as I slam it into the metal framework. My mouth tastes like copper, and the room reels around me. Someone far away is bellowing grief and frustration, the blood roaring dimly in my ears. I bring down the chair again, and again, caving in the control box and the monitors attached to the rift, sending up sparks and smoke, intent only on destruction.

Then there’s another voice, shouting to be heard over my grief.

“Tarver. Tarver.”

I whirl around, shaking with fury and helplessness. Alec stands on the other side of the room, leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets. The air goes out of my lungs.

“Alec, you can’t be—”

In the next instant I realize he’s blurred at the edges, not solid.

My hands are still trembling, and I drop the chair with a clatter, swallowing hard against the sharp taste of metal in my mouth.

Alec steps forward. His walk, the slight cant of his head, the thoughtful look on his face: it’s all so familiar, so hauntingly real. My heart shudders, constricting painfully in my rib cage. He doesn’t answer me, but looks instead at the rift, at the swirling energy inside. With a jolt, I realize that his eyes aren’t the brown that I remember. They’re blue—bluer than Lilac’s, bluer than the sky. They match the color of the rift perfectly.

“You’re not my brother.” My hands grip the edge of the console, holding me up.

“No.” He hesitates. “We came here through the…” He looks past me at the blue light.

“The rift? How?”

He nods at the smashed console. “You broke the dampening field. We can reach more easily inside your thoughts now. We can find words, and this face. It’s always somewhere in your mind.”

I suck in a slow, steadying breath. “What are you?”

Alec—or the thing wearing Alec’s face—pauses in a way so human I have to keep reminding myself he’s not who he looks like. “We are thought. We are power. In our world, we are all that is.”

“Why did you come?”

Alec’s mouth tightens, as if he’s in pain. “Curiosity. But we found we were not the only ones here.”

“LaRoux Industries.”

Alec nods. “They found a way to sever us, to cut us off from each other.”

“But why don’t you leave?” I ask. “Return home?”

“This is the cage they built around us. We cannot fully enter your world or return to ours.” His face—my brother’s face—is taut with grief. His image flickers, and fear snakes through my gut. Their strength—Lilac’s strength—is running out.

“Please! How can I help you? I can’t lose Lilac again.”

Alec’s face is awash with sympathy. “This cage keeps us here, but we are stretched too thin. There isn’t much time left. Less, now. If we could trade our—our lives for hers, we would. To find an end, to sleep.”

“Why less?”

“Her signal.

“The distress signal? That’s draining you?”

“Soon there won’t be enough left.” Alec flickers again, fading as his image sputters out. The next moment there’s only me in the room, and I’ve never felt more alone.

I jog over to the bank of monitors where Lilac rigged her distress beacon, watching the signal jump brightly across the screens as I search for any way I can find to shut it down. In the end I simply yank out a handful of leads. The screens go dead, and for an instant the rift swirls a little brighter.

Alec’s voice—the whisper’s voice—is still ringing in my ears. We are stretched too thin. Lilac’s only hope is tied to these creatures, and they’re fading.

I walk back toward the ladder. I need air—I need space to move. Deep within me, I feel the weight the whispers carry.

They’ve poured what energy they have into reaching out to us, drawing us here with visions and whispers, giving us what we need—giving me my Lilac—so we could find them. Now they can barely keep her here.

I understand now why they brought her back. They needed me moving, exploring, trying to understand the mystery of the station. They couldn’t risk me blasting my brains out in the cave, when I was their only hope at release. But they’re still trapped, and I don’t know how to give them the end they want. My head’s spinning.

The fresh air outside the station is a relief as I step over the rubble in the doorway and out into the clearing. I tip my head back to stare up at the now familiar stars, tracing out the shapes I’ve come to know. I blink as my vision blurs for a moment, the stars shifting. Another blink, and I know what I’m seeing is real.

One of the stars is moving. No, not one—there’s another. And another.

I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen it on every planet I’ve been posted to. Those are ships in orbit. They must have picked up on Lilac’s distress signal and come to investigate.

Panic hits me like a body blow. If they find us—if they find Lilac—they’ll take us on board, and if they take her away from the whispers sustaining her—

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