These Broken Stars Page 18

That makes me pause. “Eaten?”

“Tracks,” he says shortly. “In the woods, a ways back. Big ones.”

He’s trying to scare me, I know. I saw no tracks, and he certainly never pointed them out to me. Besides, terraforming companies would never introduce large enough predators to their ecosystems to endanger human inhabitants. I grit my teeth.

Even if he was telling the truth, the risk of predators would be less than the risks he’d face if found with me. “Major Merendsen, believe me, if my father finds us together—”

“—then you’ll have to find a way to explain it to him. I’m not going out there in the face of all good sense. You can have the bed, I’m fine in one of these chairs. Sleep or don’t sleep as you like, but if we have to move out tomorrow, I expect you to keep up a decent pace. Good night.”

It’s an order: Good night, Private, or else. Without another word, he jerks the string tight on his bag, slouches in his chair, and stretches his long legs out in front of him. His chin to his chest, he closes his eyes and clicks the flashlight off, leaving me in darkness. The only sound is his breathing as it immediately begins to slow.

Without his face distracting me, it’s easier to be furious. How can he have been so abrupt with me? Doesn’t he realize that I’m only trying to keep him from losing his commission—or worse? I struggle with the urge to wake him up and insist. I wish I were brave enough to sleep outside, but lie or no, his talk of big animal tracks is enough to keep me from moving.

I take a deep breath and try to think. My father isn’t completely unreasonable—surely he’ll understand. Especially since it’s quite clear the major doesn’t want anything to do with me. Perhaps it isn’t the end of the world if he stays here, just for tonight.

And a tiny, tiny part of me points out that I’d rather have him here, beside me, in case anything does come in the night.

I slide between the two blankets, trying not to wince at the coarseness of the space blanket against my skin. It’s barely better than sleeping on the floor, the metal grid cutting into my hip, and I begin to think maybe the major has the smarter idea. I’ll be damned before I imitate him, though, so I curl up beneath the blanket, pillowing my head on my arm.

Maybe there’s something I can do with the remnants of the communications array. Get some sort of signal transmitting, to tell people we’re here. If I can prove we’re signaling, maybe the major won’t drag me across this nightmare of a planet.

I’m inching toward sleep when my cousin’s face flashes in front of my eyes. My throat seizes so suddenly it’s as though invisible hands are strangling me. She was only doing what my father forced her to do; she was still my best, my only friend. I should have gone back for her, tried to find her in the crowd, brought her with us. And instead, I left her there.

My lips shape the words in the darkness. I left her there to die.

I think of Elana, her mindless devotion to chasing the trends I set. I think of Swann, the ragged edge to her voice as she tried to fight her way back through the crowd to get to me as the Icarus began to break apart. Did they find escape pods that worked? Or did Swann spend too long trying to find me in the midst of the crowds, and go down in flames with my father’s ship?

It isn’t the first time someone’s death has been my fault, but that doesn’t make it any less impossible to bear.

My father is light-years away, perhaps being told at this moment what happened to the Icarus. And he has no one there to lean on, without me. Since my mother’s death when I was little, we’ve never been apart for more than a few weeks at a time—and never without the ability to speak to each other at the touch of a button on a console.

And now I’m stranded on an alien planet with a soldier who hates me and everything I aspire to.

For the first time in my life, I’m alone.

I cover the sounds my tears make, tossing and turning in my makeshift bed, so the space blanket crinkles noisily. I expect him to chastise me for being such a princess, but he says nothing and his breathing doesn’t change. He doesn’t even hear me. I give up and just let myself cry.

“At that stage your expectation was that you would be rescued promptly?”

“I was with Miss LaRoux. I imagined she’d be their top priority.”

“What did you make of your companion?”

“It was a change of pace from a platoon.”

“That’s not a substantive response, Major Merendsen.”

“I hadn’t had long to form an opinion. The situation wasn’t ideal.”

“For you or her?”

“For either of us. Do you know anyone who’d have been pleased in our places?”

“We’ll ask the questions, Major.”



I’M ABOUT TEN SECONDS AWAY from turning on the flashlight and searching the first-aid kit for a way to sedate her when she finally stops crying. Eventually, I sleep.

It’s late when I wake, sometime after midnight. For a long moment I sit perfectly still, letting my senses inform me. I feel cold metal and hard lines pressed against my skin, I smell the lingering odor of melted plastene. I hear some creature give a croak outside, and closer, inside the pod, a small sound as someone moves.

Memory bubbles to the surface and spreads out through my body, racing down my arms so my fingers tighten around the armrests. I haven’t opened my eyes yet, and as I let my mind drift and deliver information, I hear the soft scrape of movement again. Light flashes across my eyelids. She’s got the flashlight.

Dammit, doesn’t she need to sleep? I sneak open one eyelid. She’s at the electrical panel again, fussing with the wires. She’s backlit by the flashlight, nibbling her lower lip. She looks different in this light. I can’t make out the fancy hair or the remains of her makeup, and the black eye is concealed by the shadow. She looks clearer, cleaner, younger. More like somebody I could talk to.

I wonder what my parents would make of her. Their faces swim up, and my throat tightens. If the Icarus lost contact with LaRoux Industries when she fell out of hyperspace, then maybe my parents haven’t heard anything about a crash yet. Maybe they think the ship is just missing. I’m okay, I think, wishing I could beam that thought straight to them. I don’t even know which way to aim it—this planet could be anywhere in the galaxy.

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