This Shattered World Page 79

Someday. It’s the same day his people will be free and mine won’t be fighting anymore. The same day he’ll grow old—the way he never will because he’ll die young, the way I’ll die young, and we’ll both be gone before this never-ending war finally ends—and get to see the clouds clear, get to see the sunrise on Avon. It’s always the same someday.

I listen to my heartbeat, pounding in anguish as the warmth of his arm around me begins to fade.

“Someday,” I echo.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and the girl is on duty. On Verona, whose year is nearly the same length as Earth’s, the holiday fell in the middle of spring throughout the girl’s childhood; and to her, that felt right. Resolutions budding with the leaves, warmth banishing the chill of doubt. Here on Patron, the New Year comes at random; the holiday is timed to Earth’s year, but the seasons here are tied to a calendar half again as long.

This year it falls at the end of autumn. She tries to imagine shedding the past the way the trees shed the shriveled leaves clinging to their branches, but the leaves are never truly gone. They fall to the ground and lay there in a shroud around the tree, to rot.

Someday, she thinks, I will spend New Year’s Eve in the sky.

A wind picks up, robbing the trees of their last few leaves and making them dance sluggishly around her in a parody of the November ghost, like dead stars that have lost their shine, and as her breath steams the air, the girl thinks, Close enough.

I’M ALMOST TREMBLING WITH THE effort of keeping myself from reaching out for her again, my head aching as I clench my jaw, force my hands down to my sides where they curl into fists. I know what she wants from me, though, and what I have to do, so I reach for an expression that feels nothing like a real smile. In a slow movement, so I don’t unbalance myself, I brace against a locker. “The things you don’t know about me are terrible, Jubilee.” A part of me marvels at how light my voice sounds. I hate this. I hate this. “I’m actually incredibly messy. Terrible with laundry.” Sean’s voice is in my head, another wound, with his stories of Oisín and Niamh. Their worlds couldn’t combine either, no matter how hard they tried.

There’s something in her eyes for an instant that’s an acknowledgment of sorts—agreeing that together, we’ll find a way to push off from where we are and strike out for safer ground. I turn my gaze out to the stars, letting myself become absorbed in the swirls of light, trying to comprehend the distances between them. I never imagined anything so vast as the stars suspended in space.

“We need our next move.” Jubilee’s voice breaks the quiet. “We’re not running away, and we can’t stay here forever. So that means…”

“We go back.” My heart aches at the words. The idea of going home shouldn’t be so terrifying. “We do what Lilac LaRoux said, and we try to find proof of what LaRoux is doing.”

I shift around in my seat until I can scan Jubilee’s expression for signs of the dread coursing through my own system. A week ago I wouldn’t have been able to find it. But I can see now the sharp angle of her brows, the way she blinks a little too often, the way she moistens her lips. She’s afraid too.

“What you did back there at the spaceport,” I begin, hesitant. “For me—”

She shakes her head, cutting me short. “Don’t.” Her quick smile softens what would’ve been a sharp reprimand. “We’re beyond thank-yous, Romeo. There’s no point in keeping score anymore.”

“Still.”

This time her smile lingers, her gaze meeting mine. We watch each other, illuminated by the stars and the glow of Avon’s atmosphere. I want to cling to this moment, a tiny shard of peace in the middle of the oncoming storm.

The communications console crackles to life, splitting the quiet. “Eight-one-nine, this is base. Come in, over.”

I jump, staring at the dashboard. “I thought you turned off the comms.”

Jubilee swallows, her eyes fixed on the headset still floating above the controls. “I did. This isn’t background chatter—they’re hailing us directly.”

“What does that mean?”

The voice, female and sharp, repeats its hail while Jubilee abruptly starts flipping switches, turning on scanners monitoring readouts. “It means they found us.”

I lean forward, looking down at the scanner as she jabs a finger at five blips on the screen, approaching the center. Though I’ve never seen this technology before, it doesn’t take training to know what it means. There are ships coming at us on an intercept course.

Jubilee reaches for her headset and pulls it back on with shaking hands. “Base, this is eight-one-nine. We are unarmed—tell your fighters to stand down.”

“Captain,” says the voice on the radio, “is that you?”

“Commander,” Jubilee replies. Her face has gone ashy in the planet’s glow, and I recall what she told me about her last encounter with the base commander. That Jubilee watched something take over her mind, right there in her office. “Yes, this is Lee Chase.”

“Captain, we don’t want any further bloodshed.” The commander’s voice crackles and blurs with static, the interference from Avon’s atmosphere wreaking havoc with the signal from the base. “I don’t believe you have criminal intentions. Surrender now and be escorted back to base, and we can talk.”

Jubilee’s eyes are on mine, her face unreadable except for the depth of mixed emotions there.

I know what she’s asking. If she goes back, I’ll be arrested. I trust you, I mouth silently. I know what this second chance means to her. I know what it would mean to me, if my people offered me a way back.

“Surrender now,” the commander says again, “and give up the rebel you’ve been harboring. He will be taken into custody, but he will not be executed without a fair trial. We can still discuss this, Captain.”

Jubilee doesn’t hesitate any longer. She reaches up and pulls the headset off like it’s burned her. She shakes her head, slamming her palm down on the communications kill switch. “That’s not Commander Towers,” she says, closing her eyes. “It’s not real, what they’re offering.”

I look out, finding the stars again, knowing I might not get to see them again in this lifetime.

Jubilee’s eyes are on the scanner, watching the five ships flying in formation, approaching us from behind. “Flynn?” she says, dragging my attention back away from the endless panorama outside the viewport.

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