These Broken Stars Page 79

Being this close to the whispers is killing her—the symptoms are a thousand times worse. I have to get her out of here. I wrap an arm around her and drag her to her feet, more of her dress turning to dust with every movement. The fabric flutters and flakes away, drifting through the air like ash. I haul off my jacket and wrap it around her, then swing her up into my arms.

They’re the power source, I hear her voice echo.

And they’re running out.

My mind shuts down, and I turn to carry her back out through the doorway. All I know is that I have to get her out of here.

She recovers enough to grab at the ladder a little as we climb back up to the surface, and I help her into one of the chairs in the common room. I’m as gentle as I can be, but she still winces. It’s clear she has a link with the creatures in the rift that I don’t. The energy flowing through the station is the same as the energy flowing through her, the life force keeping her here with me.

She fixes her gaze on the far wall as she tries to steady herself, and for a moment my heart stops as I see her go still. Then I realize she’s staring at the savage paintings we try so hard to ignore.

I follow her gaze to a figure painted in red.

“Tarver, I know what the paintings are.” Her voice is a cracked whisper now, quivering with intensity. “Do you see?” She lifts one hand, the effort obvious, to point at the next in the sequence, also in red, and then the next. “He’s there again. See the handprint beside it? It’s the same. In this first one, he breaks his neck. Here, it’s the spear. Here, he’s burning. It’s the same man, over and over. Tarver, the researchers stationed here did this to themselves.” Her voice is raw, and she’s forcing the words out of her throat. “And then they were brought back, like me.”

“Holy—you’re right.” My mind’s whirling, freewheeling, trying to find something to latch on to. “They came back again and again.”

The figures painted on the wall are clearly distinguishable, and suddenly I can see each individual going through death after death, the pictures surrounded by the handprints, and the LaRoux lambda, painted large and bold beside them. Suddenly the recurring blue spirals scattered throughout the paintings have a new meaning. The rift, and its prisoners.

Her gaze sweeps across the paintings, which become wilder, more frenetic, and slowly degenerate into primitive daubs I can barely make out. At the end of the stream of pictures is a single handprint, smeared.

Then nothing.

I know we’re both seeing the same thing. This is what they found here.

They died, and lived again, and found madness somewhere in between. They came here to study the creatures that gave me Lilac again, or to kill them, perhaps, and discovered a kind of twisted immortality.

Until—what? Until the whispers were too weak to bring them back anymore and power the station at the same time, and the researchers died for good? Until LaRoux Industries pulled them out, and buried this place?

I’m still staring when Lilac brings one hand down against the floor with a dull smack. “Why would anyone choose this? Living in limbo, in constant fear that you’ll crumble away?” Her voice is ragged, broken.

I wish I could reach out, wrap my arms around her. Instead the distance between us feels like a canyon. “Maybe it was different for them, when this place was at full power. We only have the remains, what the company left behind.”

“And when I do fade away, they won’t have the energy to bring me back.”

She sounds as though that’s what she wants. My breath fails me, and I’m left staring at her, aching.

“I just want to sleep,” she whispers, eyes dark in her white face, transformed by her longing. “I wish it—because you’d be heartbroken, and you’d mourn, but you’d—you’d heal. They’d find the signal and you could go home. And you’d have your parents, and the garden, and… Then the station could die, and the whispers could rest. I could rest. That’s all we want. Real rest, not that coldness, that—”

“Lilac, I don’t need to heal. I don’t want to.” My voice is as broken as hers. “I want you. We’ll find a way to stop this, get the power to keep you whole. I won’t lose you a second time.”

“You’re not losing anything, Tarver. I was already gone.” Her struggle’s written all over her face, eyes closing tight, mouth pressed to a thin line that doesn’t keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks.

For the first time I can see this other longing—the desire to stay. For the first time I realize that maybe she insists on us staying apart because she doesn’t want to lose this all over again.

I slide my hand forward a fraction of an inch at a time, until I can slip my hand into hers. She closes her eyes, breath catching. If my touch hurts her, she doesn’t pull away.

“Whatever they’ve done to me, Tarver, whatever I am—I love you. Don’t forget that.”

I gather her against me, her hair spilling over my chest, her face in the crook of my neck. I hold her until she falls asleep, her breath warm against my skin. It should feel like a victory: she’s here, with me, finally coming into herself again. Instead, all it feels like is a good-bye.

The rungs of the metal ladder are cold against my palms as I climb beneath the station once more. Though it’s night aboveground, down here the light is the same harsh, steady fluorescence. My footsteps echo as I walk along the hallway to the humming room.

The rift waits for me, blue light curling about inside the circular steel frame of the containment device.

Whispers rise up, and the metal frame crackles with the electricity of the beings trapped there. There must be a way these creatures can help me save Lilac. The images they showed us come flooding back—a valley full of flowers, my parents’ cottage as large and colorful as life, a single blossom in Lilac’s darkest hour to keep her going. I refuse to believe a species capable of such compassion could be so cruel.

I stare up at the snapping, electric-blue glow of the rift, desperate to somehow decode these beings, to understand why they reached out to lead us here from so far away. Frustration surges up inside me as I stare at the ever-changing blue light. I’m running out of time, and I’m no closer to saving her.

The whispers rush into my ears once more, shapes flickering at the edges of my vision. My heart pounds.

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