These Broken Stars Page 47

“Tarver, Tarver. There are—can you see them all?” She’s running the flashlight over the offerings, revealing swaths of fabric of every color.

I’ve got my mouth half open to reply when she starts unzipping the mechanic’s suit, and then my mouth falls the rest of the way open by itself. It’s dark inside the room, but I catch a quick glimpse of pale skin beneath the remnants of her dress before I remember myself, and decide to take a good, hard look at my boots. To judge by the sounds over on the other side of the room, she’s forgotten I exist. The mechanic’s suit must have been really uncomfortable, even wearing it over her dress, if she’s that eager to get it off while I’m standing right here.

“There’s dresses,” she whispers, and I catch a movement in my peripheral vision. Oh, God, come on. It’s the mechanic’s suit and the ruined green dress being kicked across the floor away from her. So what does that mean she’s wearing right now? She didn’t actually say I couldn’t look.

“Don’t look,” she cautions me, as though she just read my mind. Dammit.

I turn away and hold my palm out to examine it in a small stripe of light that falls near the doorway. The bandages are red, and it’s throbbing to the regular beat of my pulse. I wish it would stop. The scratch itself is nothing, and I’ve had far worse in the field, but never without any hope at all of a medic or stitches. It’ll just have to be all right.

“There are sheets, we can make a bed. A proper bed, imagine. We won’t know what to do with it.” She’s laughing as she speaks.

Oh, trust me, Miss LaRoux. I’d know what to do with it. I can think up a whole list of things, if you like.

“You can turn around now.”

I turn slowly, sure I’m going to see her clad in something frilly and impractical, but I can’t make out a thing because she’s got the flashlight pointed at me. Then she changes the angle of the light so I can see her, and I find myself staring.

She’s picked out a pair of jeans and a pale blue shirt, and standing there barefoot with her hair hauled back out of her face, freckles dusting her nose and cheeks, she looks perfect. She looks nothing like a princess, but she looks exactly like a girl from home. She smiles, and her dimples show, and my words get stuck in my throat.

She seems to take my slack-jawed silence as approval, and hands over the flashlight, politely turning to face the doorway so I can pick out some clothes for myself. I spare a thought for the man whose fatigues I find, but I’m most comfortable in khaki, and he was about my size. I find a new pair of pants and a T-shirt and ease into both using one hand, then call out to her so we can gather up some spares and extra layers.

I show her how to tear up a sheet to make bandages—I can’t use my hand for much at all now—and we make up a better dressing for my gash. She works carefully, using a pillowcase to wipe the blood away, then emptying what’s left of the tiny bottle of antiseptic over my palm. We’ve used most of it on scratches and scrapes, and now I’m regretting that. Once she’s finished, she sets another pad gently against the gash, then swathes my hand in bandages, so my fingers poke out the top.

We fill the canteen from one of the water tanks in the laundry, then find big white bags and fill them to bursting with spare clothes and a pile of sheets to make up our bed, carrying one each as we make our way back out to the hallway.

“Do we have enough for dinner tonight?” she asks. “I guess we’ll eat the rations you got out of the pod, then we can make camp. It’s getting dark.”

I follow her gaze and realize she’s right—the daylight coming in through the cracks in the ship’s hull is fading out. I should have been the one to notice that.

She starts toward the doorway dragging her bag of laundry, but I swing the flashlight over to where she changed her clothes. “Want me to grab your dress?”

Her eyes follow the beam of the flashlight toward the pile of dirty green satin. The corner of her mouth lifts in a rueful smile, and then she shakes her head briskly. “Leave it,” she decides, turning her back on what’s left of her old life.

We push and pull our laundry bags through the service chute once more and find a place to camp in the lee of a huge, twisted sheet of metal outside. There’s a stream nearby, and if the wreckage has contaminated the water, the canteen’s filter should take care of it.

We haven’t seen any sign of a living soul, but I dig our fire pit deep anyway, trying in vain to keep my hand clean. It’s still throbbing. Lilac busies herself making an elaborate bed, sorting the clothes into piles, then covering her efforts up with a sheet. After a moment’s consideration, she stuffs a few items into the white laundry bags and makes us pillows.

We don’t have a lot of fuel—a little we carried in, and a little we find nearby—but it’s enough to heat a canteen of water and make ourselves some weak soup, and it helps make the ration bars a little more of a meal.

We talk about the things we want to try to salvage from the ship—medical supplies, food, warmer clothes, even a cooking pot—and study the silhouette of the wreck against the stars. I wonder whether we can climb her to get a better look at the terrain around us.

Lilac falls asleep with her head on my shoulder, and I carefully tug the sheets up over us, trying not to use more than two fingers.

No sign of the whispers. I can’t help but wonder what it means. In coming to the wreck, have we done whatever they were trying to communicate? Or are they still watching, waiting? I don’t understand—or trust—their intentions.

I suppose something could be preventing them from reaching us. Maybe now we’re on our own.

“Significant parts of the ship were intact?”

“You’ve got the recon pictures.”

“I’m asking a question, Major.”

“You’re asking a lot of questions you know the answers to. Is there a purpose to that?”

“Is there a purpose behind your refusal to cooperate?”

“I’m cooperating. Is that water coming anytime soon?”

“The ship. Significant parts of it were intact?”

“Parts weren’t incinerated, but I wouldn’t say they were intact.”

“You conducted salvage without incident?”

“I cut my hand. That was about as exciting as it got.”

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