These Broken Stars Page 17

He’s still talking, taking so little notice of me that he might as well be talking to himself. “I think for tonight we’ll concentrate on taking stock, having something to eat, getting some rest. I promise you the pod is only a short distance away. Can you stand?”

I push myself onto my knees. Now that we’ve stopped, my ankles have stiffened, and I’m forced to bite down on my lip to keep from letting out a sob. I’ve sprained an ankle or two on the dance floor while smiling as though everything was fine, but it was never like this. Then, all I had to do was summon a medic and the discomfort melted away.

I swat his hand away when he extends it.

“Of course I can stand.” Pain makes my words come out clipped, angry. His expression locks down tight, and he turns to lead the way back.

He’s true to his word, and in only a few minutes the pod comes into view through the trees. From this direction I can’t see the impact of our crash: the flattened trees and the deep groove in the earth carved by the pod as it rolled and skidded to where it rests. I see only trees, hear only incomprehensible rustling and shuffling. Even the stench of scorched plastene and corroded metal is fading, swallowed by the smell of green and wet and earth.

I drag forth enough energy to look up. Not a single rescue ship in sight—not even a shuttle or a plane from a colony. The sky is empty but for a pale sliver of moon overhead, and a second moon just clearing the trees. Shading my eyes with my hand, I look for the beacon light that should indicate that we’re broadcasting our signal to the rescue ships. There’s only the broad expanse of pitted, twisted metal. So much of the pod is wrecked—how did we survive?

How could anyone else? But I push that thought down, lock it away. This will all be over in a matter of hours—a ship as famous and as respected as the Icarus can’t go down without setting off a thousand alarms all across the galaxy.

The major has continued on into the pod without a word, but he is only a few steps away, and I cannot let myself grieve yet.

I cannot think of Anna, and her face as she was swept on down the corridor by the panicked crowd, stripped suddenly of its coy confidence. Maybe she got into a pod. Maybe there was a mechanic who got hers free in time.

I cannot think about the fact that we have no signal light, no beacon, nothing to tell our rescuers where to look for us. My father will come for me, no matter what. He’ll move heaven and earth and space itself to find me. Then I’ll never have to see this soldier again, never have to feel so incapable.

When I step over the lip of the doorway into the pod, the major is going through his pack again, doing one of his supply checks. Like he thinks he can somehow make rescue come more quickly by taking inventory.

How can he just stand there, hunting through that stupid bag? I want to shake him, scream at him that our rescue ship isn’t in that bag, that nothing’s going to have magically appeared inside it to put the Icarus back into the sky where she belongs.

“Well?” I manage to sound civil. “You always know what the next step is—what now?”

He doesn’t lift his head until he’s finished his check, infuriating in and of itself—but when he does glance over at me, he only gives a slow blink. “Right now we sleep. Then tomorrow, if we’re not broadcasting, we’ll head out and find a better place to be seen. Maybe the wreck itself, if we don’t come across a colony between here and there.”

The wreck? The man’s insane. It’s days away at least. “Head out? Speak for yourself. I’m not going anywhere. They’ll see our crash site. If we leave, my father won’t know where to look for us.” And he will come for me.

His look is dubious, almost insolent. “You may be content to wait for your white knight, my lady, but I’m not going to sit around while our supplies run out.”

My lady? Does he know how crazy his faux courtesy makes me? Surely no one could be so aggravating by accident or coincidence. I cling to that anger, trying not to let it fade as I look at him. It’s safe, this fury. I can’t afford to feel anything else.

The anger is a shield, and if I relinquish it, I’ll shatter.

A tiny piece of me wonders if he knows that. On the ship he was out of his element, awkward and almost tentative. Here, he’s certain. Everything he does has a purpose. Maybe some part of him is deliberately goading me, keeping me strong.

Or maybe he’s just an ass.

I stew in silence as he goes through that pack of his again, and then the lockers. He piles a coarse reflective space blanket with a softer one he finds in a locker near the roof, then looks across at me expectantly.

When I just gaze back at him, confused, his jaw tightens.

“Abhorrent though it may seem to you, we are going to have to spend the night together. Brace yourself.”

With a jolt, I realize it’s not supposed to be a random pile of fabric, but a bed. Just the one bed. The words fly from my lips before I can stop them. “Absolutely not.” My voice has the same cold steel my father’s does—at least I can put what I’ve learned from him to good use. “If you will leave me some water, you can take the rest of the supplies and sleep out there, in the forest you enjoy so much.”

I’m watching him carefully, so I see his hands curling slowly into fists. An odd flare of pleasure runs through me. If he’s infuriating me on purpose, then at least I can give as good as I get. “Maybe while you’re at it you can stand on top of the pod and flag down the rescue teams when they come in the night.”

He throws his pack down, making me jump. When he speaks, though, his voice is calm, controlled. “Miss LaRoux,” he says softly. “All due respect, but I’m not sleeping outside when there’s a perfectly good shelter here.”

My satisfaction at having stung him falters. If the rescue teams do find us in the night, Merendsen’s war hero status won’t last long in the face of my father’s wrath.

I take a deep breath, trying to backtrack. Maybe anger wasn’t the way to go. “Major, the circumstances might be unconventional, but that’s no reason to abandon—”

“Screw the circumstances.” Despite everything, the flash of annoyance across his features prompts an answering surge of satisfaction in me. At least there’s one thing I can do well in this godforsaken wilderness. “It’s going to be cold out there, and it’ll be warmer in here with two. I’m as tired as you are and I’m not going to stay up all night on watch. I also don’t think much of being eaten.”

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