These Broken Stars Page 75

She’s gone.

A thread of ice runs through me, bypassing rational thought completely—somehow I make it from the top bunk to the floor, banging my shoulder against the door as I hurl myself through it, out into the comms room. No sign she was ever there.

An image flashes through my mind of the outline of the flower in my journal—the flower she said they created, the flower she said disintegrated. Why didn’t I listen to her?

No, please.

I nearly trip on my way through the blasted entrance, stumbling out into the clearing and looking around wildly. She can’t be gone. They wouldn’t. They can’t.

I’m only a few steps out into the clearing when she emerges from the trees, smoothing down the ruined dress she refuses to replace. I pull up short, and we stare at each other across the space for a long moment. My chest is heaving as I try to push the panic back down again.


“I thought—I woke up, and you were—”

Her mouth opens a little as she understands, and though I find myself rooted to the spot, she closes the distance between us and halts within arm’s reach. When I hesitate, she reaches out to touch my hand, brushing it with the tips of her fingers. After so long without her touch, that little gesture is electrifying.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m here. I went for a walk. I’ll leave a note next time, or a sign. I’m so sorry.”

I want to turn my hand and wind my fingers through hers, to tug her in closer so I can fold my arms around her, tuck her in underneath my chin, stand in this place and on this spot, and hold her until the sun goes down and it’s dark again.

Instead I nod, and clear my throat, and nod again. I’m realizing that my bare feet are stinging with the cold of the dew, and from sprinting across the debris by the entrance. I’m shivering without my shirt.

She gazes up at me for a long moment, then turns back toward the station.

She’s gone the next morning when I wake up, and the morning after that. I lie awake for hours at night, listening for the sound of her departure, but I never hear it. After that first morning, she starts leaving the canteen hanging from the doorknob, a silent assurance that she’s coming back.

Each day we work on finding a way to get through the door and power up the station properly, to transmit the signal we need. We’re here. Someone’s alive. Come get us. Each day she grows weaker. She keeps trying to pretend that whatever’s behind the door isn’t destroying her.

We’ve tried entering the word lambda into the keypad by the impassable door, but to no avail. Lilac’s tried every word she can think of associated with her father’s business. We keep sifting through the burned documents in the main room, trying to find some mention of a password. We’ve even tried random patterns of numbers, words from the records, but the door doesn’t budge.

On the third or fourth morning after she started going for her morning walks, I climb down from my bunk and lace up my boots, reaching for the canteen where it dangles on the door. The morning sun’s peeking through the clouds as I walk out into the clearing, glancing up at the mirror-moon, dimly visible.

I wish I knew what part it played in all of this. If it caused the Icarus to crash, if it caused the rift mentioned in those documents, why keep it a secret? Whatever’s happening here is wrong. It would’ve cost a fortune to keep an entire planet hidden from the galaxy—and LaRoux Industries wouldn’t spend that money if they weren’t doing something worth hiding.

We’ve tried a few times to get the whispers to talk to us again using the lights in the underground hallway, but we’ve gotten only darkness and silence in response. Perhaps they wore themselves out that first time. Either they can’t answer, or they won’t.

We even tried last night to overload the door, assuming that if it had an electronic locking mechanism, zapping it might trick its systems into opening. But despite Lilac rerouting every system we could think of to pour into the door, it stayed shut. The entire station’s power fluctuated and dimmed, but the door didn’t budge. Lilac was unwilling to try again, pointing out that if we don’t know what’s powering the station, we don’t know how much power’s left. If we use it all up opening the door, there might not be any left to create a distress signal.

I turn the canteen over in my hands and find myself thinking of the fragments of meaning on that shard of paper Lilac read from. “Energy-matter conversion,” it said. Energy-based life-forms. So, these things can manipulate energy. They can do it to the electricity in our brains, and the electricity in the lights. They can convert energy into solid matter, create physical objects. After all, I hold the evidence of it in my hands. They re-created the canteen. Lilac says they re-created her flower.

I shake my head and stretch, tossing the canteen up into the air and letting it tumble down again to smack into my palms. I toss it up a second time, seeing it rise as if in slow motion to the pinnacle of its arc.

I witness the moment it dissolves, crumbling into fine dust while I stare, paralyzed. The dust rains down on my outstretched hands, slipping through my fingers and falling to the ground. Shock holds me in place, and slowly I tilt my hands so the rest of the dust can slide off them and disappear into the still-scorched dirt and grass at my feet.

It’s when I finally lift my gaze that I realize Lilac’s standing at the edge of the clearing, staring at the place where the remains of the canteen fell.

It might be the fifth day, or the sixth, or the seventh, when I wake up and she’s gone again. My boots have been moved over to the doorway as a signal that she didn’t vanish in the night, and I climb down to stomp into them, making my way through the common room to grab a ration bar, and out into the clearing.

I’ve been trying desperately to push aside the thought of the canteen disintegrating just like her flower did. The whispers somehow re-created those two things, and Lilac’s the only thing left that they’ve given us. Did they dissolve because it was too much effort to hold them together? Were they sending us a message?

All I know is that the things they create aren’t permanent. If these beings, whatever they are, are behind that locked door, then that’s where we need to go. The source of the energy that made her—if we can tap into it somehow, maybe we can stop her from falling apart. If there’s a way to save Lilac, that’s where I’ll find it.

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