These Broken Stars Page 37

But she’s captivating too, maybe more than she was before, with the tale of our survival written on her features.

“I’m going to get us some water.” Her whisper’s barely audible—she wants to let me sleep. “I won’t be long.”

I clear my throat a little, and she takes that as a sign that I’ve heard her. I wonder for a moment if I should let her go alone, but she’s not the girl who crashed with me. She’ll be careful.

I didn’t see any paw prints while I was gathering the kindling last night. I don’t think there’s anything big living around here. It’s an isolated clump of trees by the bank of the river, surrounded by open plains. A predator wouldn’t make the trip this far, or be able to live on what could survive here.

As I watch her through my lashes, she straightens and turns away, and I let myself drift again. Apparently I’m not going to be punished for the fact that she woke up wrapped around me. The cold shoulder would have been worth it, but it seems she’s accepted our sleeping arrangements as a necessary evil. Sleep reaches for me, and I let it take me for a little longer.

When I wake, I have no sense of how much time has passed—seconds or minutes, or longer. The thing in orbit around the planet has set, which means at least an hour or two has passed since dawn, but how long ago did Lilac leave?

The air’s so damp that my shirt still hasn’t dried. I give up trying to avoid smelling like smoke, though I know she’ll wrinkle her nose at it, and hold the shirt directly above the fire. When she gets back with the water, I’ll try hot soup for breakfast. Some of the plants that tested okay should add some flavor, and we’ve still got leftover chunks of the latest small, scampery thing. I don’t know what to make of its elongated snout, or the oversized ears. It’s like a parody of the small fauna I usually see on terraformed planets.

Then Lilac comes crashing back through the undergrowth like somebody told her there’s a shoe sale going on here at the campsite. It honestly doesn’t occur to me that something might actually be wrong until I get a look at her face.

She’s white, breath ragged and hair tangled. Her eyes are huge, and the knees of the mechanic’s suit are covered in mud—she’s fallen on her way back.

Part of me wants to drop my shirt and reach for her, but my hands know better, and first they’re setting it aside where it can’t catch fire, then reaching for the Gleidel.

Lilac flinches at the soft whine as the gun powers up. “No, you don’t need to—it’s nothing, it’s fine.”

“It’s not nothing.” I keep my voice low, lifting one arm to invite her over. As though a barrier’s suddenly come down, she trips the three steps across to lean against me like she’s falling. I pull her in close, keeping hold of the gun as she presses her face against my chest. My shirt’s still on the ground, but I’m not cold anymore. “Tell me what happened, start at the beginning. You took the canteen to the river, and…?”

She’s trembling violently, gripping the canteen with white knuckles. I can see where she’s spilled some of it down the leg of the suit. My heart sinks. I recognize this now, her scattered gaze, the way her body shakes. Last night I’d begun to think that the worst had passed, when she slept without any interruptions. But now she looks worse than ever.

“Tarver, you’re just going to think I’m crazy.” She’s staring past me, and I focus on keeping my expression calm as I wait. She’ll fill the silence eventually; she doesn’t like the quiet. “Crazier,” she amends herself, then tucks her face back in against my chest, as if the effort of speaking normally has cost her. I’m practically holding her up.

“Tell me anyway,” I say quietly, flicking the power switch on the Gleidel and tucking it back into the holster. Now I’m free to wrap both arms around Lilac, and she tucks in underneath my chin like she’s meant to be there. I close my eyes. “Never mind what I think, tell me what happened.”

It takes her a little while to answer, and though the trembling is starting to fade, she’s not calming down any. I can feel the way she’s breathing, in short, sharp jerks. “I saw them,” she mumbles eventually. “The voices. And yes, I know how it sounds. You don’t have to point it out.”

It’s like something’s turning to stone inside my stomach, heavy and painful. She’s right. Crazier. Please, no. “People? You saw people?”

She nods, though it’s such a small movement that I only feel it against my skin. A tiny part of my mind registers just how distressed she must be, not to notice that I’m half naked, holding her against me—that her cheek is resting against bare skin. “On the far bank of the river. One minute it was just me, getting the water, and then…”

“What did they look like? The people?” I still want there to be an explanation, something I can understand.

“I know who they were.” Her voice cracks. I wish I could go through this for her, spare her. “They were all looking at me, and pointing that way.” She tips her head in the direction we’ve been traveling, toward the mountain pass and the wreck beyond.

“You could see the mist right through them, and when the sunlight hit, they disappeared.” She pauses to swallow, her voice tightening and breaking again. “One of them wasn’t wearing any boots.”

It takes me a moment to understand what she means. Then it hits me, and I tighten my hold on her. “They’re not real, Lilac. I believe you saw them, but you know you hit your head when we landed. Once we’re back in civilization, it’ll be the work of a moment to fix this. For now, I need you to promise me you won’t go chasing after anything you see. You could get hurt.”

She goes still. I wonder if she was expecting me to believe her, that I’d find visions more convincing than voices in her head. “Tarver, how many people did you bury in that pod?”

“We didn’t kill them, Lilac. We treated them with respect. If you’re feeling guilty about what happened—”

“There were five of them, weren’t there?” She pulls back to look up at me, intent. Her pupils are huge, the blue of her eyes nearly drowning in the black. Her gaze is so raw it’s frightening. “You didn’t let me see them. How could I know that? Tarver, don’t you see? I’m not crazy after all. I’m being haunted.”

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