These Broken Stars Page 44

He’s looking less skeptical and more thoughtful now, watching me—the way he’s looking at me, I’m not even sure he’s listening to what I’m saying. The shock of seeing his parents’ house must have been worse than I realized. He clears his throat. “Don’t you think, if a corporation discovered intelligent life here, it would’ve been all over the newscasts?”

“Unless they’re keeping it hidden for some reason.” I try not to think of my father, of the rooms upon rooms of isolated, secret servers and data cores. I asked about them often as a child, but he had always managed to distract me with a gift or a story, until eventually I wasn’t even curious anymore—his secrets were just a part of who he was.

Surely he wasn’t the only corporate executive to keep certain things hidden from public view.

“You think the military are the only ones keeping secrets?” Tarver asks.

I take a deep breath. “I dreamed, right before the cave-in. That someone I couldn’t see was whispering at me, warning me. When I woke up, that someone was still there, still whispering, but I couldn’t understand the words. It’s like they—whatever they are—are trying to talk to us, but they don’t know how. They’re pulling things out of our minds, the things that hurt us the most. I thought I was being haunted, but if they’re seeing my thoughts, then they know how torn up I am about the people who died on that pod. Maybe it was the only way they knew to start a conversation, to pick up on the thing that was playing so much on my mind. And maybe this, your parents’ house, is meant for you.”

Silence follows my speech, my heart pounding as I try to catch my breath. I know he’ll go back to thinking I’m mad. Any moment and he’ll open his mouth to dismiss me as always.

But instead he just says softly, “If these whispers were trying to make me hurt, they managed it pretty well.”

We sit for a time in silence. I can feel Tarver’s warmth next to me, a finger’s width away. Despite the comfort of his presence, my skin prickles with the unmistakable feeling that we’re being watched. I don’t ask him if he feels it too—the tension in his body says it clearly enough. The whispers are out there, and even though they’re quiet now, we both know we’re not alone.

After a time he gets to his feet and offers me a hand, and we make our way back to the campfire. I add a few of the meager bits of deadwood I was able to collect, and we settle in. He puts his arm around my shoulders, encouraging me to lean in against him. The distance that had grown between us has vanished, and I’m more than willing to comply. We sink into the quiet together.

My eyelids are drooping when his voice, barely more than a rumble against my cheek, rouses me.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty about the people on the pod. There were plenty of pods for everyone. You had no way of knowing what was about to happen.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I say, my chest constricting, but perhaps not quite as tightly as before. “But ours is the one that survived.”

“Well, whether it’s the only one or not, I’m glad I ended up in it with you.”

I snort, a sound I never used to make. “Major, please. I know an outright fabrication when I hear one. I’m the last person you’d want to have with you here.”

“Think again, Miss LaRoux.” His voice is calm, earnest. I know him well enough to recognize when he’s lying, and he isn’t. “If you hadn’t been on that escape pod when it jammed, I wouldn’t be here at all.”

He shifts, causing me to lift my head, and I find him looking at me, his face only an inch from mine.

I feel my face starting to burn, and I look away first. I can only hope that he dismisses the redness as heat from the fire.

“If only Swann was here,” I say briskly. “She’d have killed that cat thing with her bare hands. Or Simon, he’s the one that taught me about electronics, he was—” My voice cuts out. I don’t think I’ve said his name out loud in nearly two years. “He was a boy I knew,” I finish lamely.

I can still feel his eyes on me. “I think I’ll take the girl I know, thanks.”

By now the sun has vanished and the stars have come out, a scattering of light across the sky. I fix my eyes on them, grateful for something to look at that isn’t the soldier with his arm around me. I never realized how unfamiliar the stars could seem until now.

“If it’s true, then we know we’re not mad,” I say, keeping my eyes on the sky.

“And if it’s true, we know we’re not alone.” He, however, sounds more troubled than relieved.

“The whispers haven’t hurt us so far. I just think they don’t know how to reach us except by showing us what’s in our thoughts.”

“If they’re trying to communicate,” Tarver murmurs, curling his hand around my arm, possessive enough to keep my face burning, “then the question is, what are they trying so hard to say?”

“This water bottle you gave me is empty.”

“Indeed. I’ll send for another. In the meantime, what were your goals when you reached the crash site?”

“Supplies. Safety.”


“We hadn’t seen a single flyover. I wasn’t confident of rescue.”

“Did you discuss that with Miss LaRoux?”

“No. We were tired. We just concentrated on the basics.”

“What were the basics?”

“We were almost out of food, and she was quite pleased to find a change of clothes.”



IN THE MORNING, THE SILENCE BETWEEN US is gentle, broken by our puffing and panting as we scramble down the snowy mountainside, our breath clouding the air. My throat’s rough and my mouth’s dry—it takes too much energy to melt snow in our mouths, and the cold leaves our stomachs cramping. The canteen’s at the forefront of my mind. Losing the Gleidel would have been less of a blow.

I squeeze through a gap between two rocks, and before I turn back to help Lilac through, I glance down to make sure my feet are planted firmly—and there it is. A military canteen. It’s in flawless condition, khaki sides smooth and unmarked. As though it just came off the production line.

I reach down, half expecting my hand to go straight through it, but my fingers connect with solid metal—it’s real. When I flip it over, my stomach lurches. My initials are there, engraved by my own hand, impossible to re-create—and yet the dents and scuffs have been erased. The canteen is as flawless as the day I got it. I pull out the stopper, and there’s the filtration system sitting in place, clear water just below. A shiver starts between my shoulder blades and runs down my spine.

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