These Broken Stars Page 48



EXPLORING THE SHIP IS A MIND-NUMBING TASK. Even though huge portions of it broke apart during its descent or were crushed on impact, it was originally large enough to hold fifty thousand people, with room to spare. Getting through just a fraction of it will take days. For every room we find with useful supplies there are dozens where everything is smashed, or where a fire swept through and left only shriveled plastene and unidentifiable char behind.

Tarver’s been hiding his hand from me. At first, I assumed he was protecting me from the fact he’s not invincible, for fear I’d fall apart.

But the morning of the second day, I know something’s wrong. His face is white, with spots of red on either cheek, and his eyes take longer to focus than they should. He’s too quiet. He’s moving slowly. He doesn’t even comment now when I turn his own foul language back at him. Just grunts and keeps moving.

We break for lunch deep inside the ship, sitting on an overturned cabinet in what was once an administrative office of some kind. There’s no daylight, and we can see only with the help of the flashlight. He gives me two thirds of the ration bar. I give back the extra and he shakes his head, resting his elbows on his knees and letting his head drop between them.

“Tarver,” I start cautiously. “We should take a rest day, maybe. We’re low on rations, but not so low that we can’t put off finding food here for a little while longer.”

He shakes his head again, not bothering to lift it.

“Like we did on the plains, when I needed a break. We took a half day.”

This time he does lift his head, and his eyes wander before coming to rest on me. “No. We need to keep moving.”

“Tarver.” This time my voice is firmer. I don’t think I can bully him, but I have to try. “You clearly need rest. We should take a break, and I’ll go find some of the grasses you showed me on the plains, and we’ll eat those to stretch our food supplies.”

He doesn’t answer this time, but I can tell by the set of his jaw that he’s determined to keep going. Then the fingers of his right hand tug at the grubby bandage covering his left, and suddenly realization hits me.

It’s not the food stores he’s desperate for. He needs to find the sick bay. He needs medicine.

I look at his hand again. It hangs uselessly off his wrist, fingers puffy and stiff. The color on his cheeks is visible in the half-light, and despite the chill in the air, he’s sweating.

“Go back.” I’m speaking fast, white-hot fear driving me. “Tarver, go back to camp right now. Go to bed.”

This summons the first smile in hours. “Sound like my mother.”

For once, I’m not in the mood for his jokes. “I mean it. Move, soldier.” Though I can’t quite inject the barking tone he employs when trying to jolt me into action, I hope the words will be enough.

He looks at me, hollow-eyed, then tightens his jaw as his gaze drifts off again. “Not going to let you wander around here by yourself. You get hurt, there’s no one to help. It would take me ages to find you, if I did at all.”

I get up and kneel on the floor in front of him, reaching up to turn his face toward mine and forcing him to meet my eyes.

“And I’m not going to let you get sick from an infection because you’re too stupid to take care of yourself. I’ll be careful.”

His mouth twists, for all the world like a child refusing to take his medicine. He knows my chances of making any headway by myself are slim. If he weren’t here I’d have died any one of a thousand deaths already on this godforsaken planet.

And then I know how to convince him.

“If you die,” I whisper, my eyes on his, “then I will too.”

By the time I return from the ship to camp again, night has fallen, and Tarver is only half-conscious. It didn’t take long for me to find one of the food stores—but even the sight of dried pasta and spices and sugar couldn’t relieve the knot of tension twisting in my chest. I ought to be relieved—we were on our last few ration bars. But hunger is no longer our biggest problem.

The packets are all stamped with the stylized upside down V of my father’s logo—the Greek lambda, for LaRoux. My father and his stupid fixation on mythology. He told me all the old stories when I was little, of warring gods and goddesses, and I almost imagined he was one of them. All-powerful, all-knowing. Someone to be worshipped unconditionally. But who names a starship the Icarus? What kind of man possesses that much hubris, that he dares it to fall?

I’ve stopped waiting for him to come for me. There are no ships flying over the crash site. No one’s looking for us here. With a jolt, I realize that by now my father must think I’m dead. There are no rescue ships, so they must not know where the Icarus went down—she could have fallen out of hyperspace anywhere in the galaxy. He already lost my mother. I’ve been all he’s had since I was eight years old. I try to imagine him now, knowing I’m gone—and my mind just goes blank.

I wonder if the engineers who designed the Icarus are still alive, or if his vengeance has already destroyed them.

I shiver, tracing the shape of the logo with my fingertips, as I did countless times throughout my childhood. It would be easier not to connect this twisted heap of wreckage, this mass grave, with the flagship of my father’s company.

I make three trips back inside the ship, my last lugging a pot full of spices and boxes of powdered broth. I make a fire, heat some soup, try to get Tarver to drink. He wakes up only reluctantly, and only after shoving me away in his sleep. I get a few spoonfuls of broth down him before he collapses again. I get the camp ready for the night, checking to be sure the fire isn’t visible beyond our little hollow, that our belongings are all close, that Tarver’s gun is at his side, where it belongs.

I lug some water from the stream nearby and use strips of the sheets to wipe his face and throat, which are burning hot to the touch. I’m afraid to unwrap his hand because I have nothing sterile with which to wrap it back up again, but the skin around the bandage is flushed red and painful-looking.

Eventually I run out of tasks and crawl into the bed beside him. He’s so warm that despite the chill, it’s uncomfortably hot under the blankets. Nevertheless, I slip close to him so I can feel his heartbeat and smell his scent, grass and sweat and something else I can’t name. Familiar, comforting. In his sleep, his good arm curls around me, just a little.

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