These Broken Stars Page 84

I start to move toward the sounds of cracking underbrush and dead leaves, but she stays still and tugs on my hand to pull me back.

“Tarver,” she whispers, her eyes on my face. “There’ll be cameras all the time. More questions. Everyone will want to hear your story. Your life will be different, no matter how far from Corinth we go.”

A flashlight flickers through the trees, broken and jagged as it shines past the trunks. The light glances off her face, illuminating her eyes for a brief, brilliant moment.

I step closer. “I don’t care.”

“My father will try to—” She swallows, then lifts her chin, mouth firming to a straight, determined line. “No. I’ll figure out a way to handle him.”

I can’t help but grin down at her, this steely assurance, my Lilac through and through. “I’d pay to see that showdown.”

She smiles, lightning quick, then squeezes my hand harder, holding on like she’s afraid someone will come and pull us apart. “You’ll face it all with me?”

The world narrows, the sounds of the oncoming search party fading, the lights blurring around us until it’s just her and me, our breath condensing and mingling in the cold air. She’s stolen my voice, this girl in my arms, and for a moment I can’t answer. I have to gather my wits, try to remember how to breathe.


Her smile is like the sun coming out. “Then you ought to kiss me while you can, Major Merendsen. It may be a while before your next opportunity.”

Her cheekbones are still shadowed, her face still showing the signs of her weakness, but her eyes are bright too, her cheeks flushed with life once more. Her fingers curl around handfuls of my sleeves, as though she can’t wait to pull me in.

I thought I’d never get to touch my Lilac again. Even when she came back, I thought I’d lost her forever.

I break away from her a heartbeat before the rescue parties burst into the clearing. I’m almost tempted to tell them to come back later.

“Why did you blow up the station, Major?”

“I could see the ships in orbit. I was hoping somebody would notice it. I didn’t want to miss this little get-together.”

“The damage was significant.”

“Well, it didn’t seem like anyone really needed the place anymore.”

“That wasn’t your decision to make.”



THE SHIP THAT FIRST PICKED UP MY SIGNAL was a research vessel on its way to A243-Delta. The researchers didn’t have any luck deciphering the static, but cleaned it up the best they could and bounced it back toward the rest of the galaxy. Then it reached a larger transport, a few days later, and then on to a junk heap of fringe theorists trying to discover structure in the background static of the universe. They were the first to clean up the signal enough to know there was a woman on it, asking for help. In the end it took dozens of ships, picking up the fragments that reached them, piecing them together.

The ship that collected us was one of my father’s vessels, an advance team scrambled to get here before the image in the signal was clear enough for them to know who I was. They confirmed what we already suspected—we are the only survivors from the Icarus. Imagining fifty thousand people dead is impossible—and so instead I see Anna’s face, and Swann’s, and the face of the weary man in the shabby top hat who only wanted to pass a message to my father. I only have so much room for grief.

Four days after our rescue, still in orbit around the planet, another of my father’s ships catches up to us. Tarver and I are bundled into separate rooms, and I don’t see him again.

My meals are monitored. Someone stays at my side at all hours of the day, even when I sleep. My questions about Tarver are met with polite evasions. He’s in the best possible hands. You’ll see him shortly. He’s doing just fine.

Your father will be here soon. Why don’t you wait and ask him?

Their attempts to question me are met with floods of tears. I have my part to play as surely as Tarver does, and I do it well. Tears don’t forestall the doctors, though, and I’m stripped down and inspected. They draw some of my blood, take a lock of my hair, scrape under my fingernails. I’m connected to machines by electrodes at my temples, on my chest. They attach clamps to my fingertips and watch some readout I can’t see, staring wide-eyed, faces lit by the pale green glow of the monitors as they crowd around them.

And then I’m ushered back into the exam room, where a new round of doctors takes more blood, more hair. They check their results again and again. They’re leading me back to the room with the monitors and the electrodes when the doors suddenly burst open.

“What is the meaning of this?” A voice like steel cuts through the hum of the machines.

The doctor grasping my arm drops it like she’s been burned. Unsupported, my legs wobble and I drop to the floor. She and the others back away, leaving me blinking in the light.

“Sir,” one of them starts, “we were only following orders—”

“Shut it down,” the voice says, and the doctors scramble to obey. I know that voice well, after all, and no one hears it give an order without complying immediately. From somewhere, someone gives me a navy-blue dressing gown, a welcome change from the paper-thin hospital gown they had me in.

Someone reaches up and turns off the blinding overhead lamp, and as my eyes struggle to adjust, a face ducks down into my vision.


For a moment all I can do is stare. The blue eyes, reddened with emotion; the chiseled features that don’t betray his years; the close-cropped white hair he’s never bothered to dye. It’s a face I never thought I’d see again—a face I never wanted to see again. But here, confronted with it—I remember how safe it is. How easy, how warm. I remember how much I want him to make everything okay.

“Daddy?” I whisper.

His mouth trembles, then tightens, as if he can’t believe it’s really me. He throws his arms around me, and after a second I remember I’m supposed to cry—and once I start, it’s impossible to stop. For long moments we sit there on the floor of the medical wing, me sobbing wildly into the shoulder of his suit jacket, inhaling the familiar scent of his cologne. I’m a child again, in a perfumed forest, secure with my father’s arms around me. All I want to do is pretend to fall asleep so that he’ll carry me home.

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