Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(10)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(10)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

Avon.

I reach for her hand, casually letting my eyes sweep across her forearm. No sign of the genetag she would’ve had as an Avon native.

The documents from the site of the Icarus crash flash up before my eyes—the schematics for the rift at the outstation, the medical reports on the researchers gone mad. Far more than Lilac LaRoux and her major ever knew I dug into. That’s the risk when you take on a pet hacker. “I saw the ring somewhere LaRoux Industries wasn’t meant to be either,” I say quietly. “Well, I didn’t see it—but I found files on it. I know it was there.”

“Do you know what it’s for?”

Now it’s my turn to steady myself, the reports flooding back into my mind. Dr. Eddings was found to have impaled herself on a sharpened length of pipe originally intended for external plumbing.…I can’t tell her the truth. A prison for creatures from another dimension? Perhaps a few Avon Broadcast believers would buy that story, but Alexis will just think I’m dangerously insane. A liability.

Unless she really is from Avon herself. I settle for a half-truth. “From what I read, I think it’s connected to what we saw today. To those people you called husks, the ones you saw who lost their minds. The fact that there’s one of those rifts here, on Corinth—that scares me. We have to find out more about this.”

She lifts her hands to scrub at her face, raking her hair back and leaving it disheveled. “Look, I know what you’re trying to say. But I don’t work with a partner. I’m glad you’re okay, and I’m grateful for the information, but that’s it.”

“But we’re after the same thing. LaRoux Industries. The enemy of my enemy—”

“Is just another enemy, Gideon.”

This time I know I’m not hiding the current of disappointment running through me. Alexis is the best lead I’ve found in a year, and I’m losing her. I’ve chased Towers halfway across the galaxy and back, and every time she eludes me. Now, more than ever, I have to find her—it’s the only way I can make sense of what I saw today.

As for Alexis, I’d kill to access her memory the way I can access data records—if only I could figure out her personal password. “Listen, you didn’t have to bring me up here to patch me up. I owe you. I’m going to leave you with a way to collect, in case you ever need me.” Or in case you change your mind about working with me.

She’s pulling herself together now, putting the mask back on, and the corners of her mouth lift as she turns to look me over. “You’re really that good?”

I grin. “Have you ever heard of the Knave of Hearts?”

She goes perfectly still, her voice dropping. “You work for him?” Whoa. She’s definitely heard of me. I’d be flattered that my online infamy is spreading into the real world, except it’s clearly not good news to her. “Why would he have you hack into LRI?”

“I find it’s safer not to ask,” I say, which is technically true, if only for other people. “But I’d have been screwed out there, bleeding all over their solid-gold streets. If there’s something you need, anything you want looked into, I can talk to him about doing that for you.”

“No,” she says quickly, before her voice softens, clearly reaching for calm. “No, if you want to pay me back, don’t mention me to the Knave at all.”

“The stories about him aren’t true, you know.” I can’t help myself. “Most of them, anyway. He’s a hero to plenty of people. Screws the corporates pretty good, and you know they deserve it.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I’ve seen this girl walk out of a building where everyone around her was going mad and shooting at her, and step into the smoothest con I’ve ever seen—but this, she can’t fake. This scares her more than the blank-eyed stares we saw today. She’s terrified—her lips are pressed tight together, pale skin paler still. “You should go.”

“Just me, then,” I try, gentle. I’d kill to know who’s been feeding her stories to make her so afraid of my online persona, but this isn’t the time to press. “I’ll add in a second mailbox on your system. It’ll look exactly like the regular way you’d log in and send a message, but it’s a private network. If you send a mail using it, it’ll come straight to me. And only me.”

She swallows, and nods toward the comscreen I busted into while she was in the shower. “Fine,” she says simply, and I can’t shake the feeling she’s agreeing just so I’ll stop bothering her and leave. “Show me.”

I retrieve my lapscreen from my satchel and lead her over to the comscreen, hooking the stool out with one leg and sitting down. Fishing around the back, I run through the cables by touch until I find the one I want, pulling it free and plugging it into my lapscreen. I insert my chip, and it only takes a couple of minutes to install a shadow box.

“Here,” I say, tapping her screen, where a new mail icon sits just beside her regular one. “This’ll be my contact, under Jake Cheshire. Send mail here, and it’ll come straight to me, without leaving any trace in your own folders. Keeps the trail clean.”

She nods, still grave. “Thank you, Gideon,” she murmurs.

“Sure. Let me know if you work out how I can return the favor. Or if you need anything, after today.” I return the cables to where they belong, stowing my chip in my pocket and getting to my feet with a wink. I want to make her smile again before we part. “Preferably something that won’t get me shot. It really hurts.”

That last draws a wry little smile. “I’d much rather leave that part of it to you. You’ve got practice.”

“It was very nearly worth it,” I say, as I scoop up my satchel and cross over to the elevator. “Though next time you tell someone we’re engaged, I’m making you go through with it.”

Now she laughs properly. “You have no idea what you’d be getting yourself into.”

The elevator doors hum open, and I step inside, turning to face her. Somehow wanting to remember her face. Even if they find her, she won’t be able to tell them where I am—but I’m hoping with everything I’ve got that they don’t. I hope she’ll be safe.

She speaks just as the doors start to close, gray eyes locked on mine. “Gideon, can I trust you?”

I have no idea why, and I can count on one hand the people for whom my answer is true—but I do know the answer, even if I don’t know why. I grin. “Take a bullet for you twice, if I have to.”

And then the doors are closed.

Agony. Fear. Despair.

Stop. Stop. The thin spot pulses, flashes with urgency, but the young man ignores it all except to make notes upon a tablet. Only when he glances back at the end of each day is there a flicker of guilt there, the only thing that proves he knows exactly what he is doing.

This was not what we glimpsed. This was not what we wanted. They are an infection, bombarding the stillness with their data and their ships and their pain.

We must find an end.

IT TAKES ME A FEW days to get a new security code for my door, and even longer to comb my apartment for bugs carefully enough to be certain my guest didn’t leave anything of his behind. I pore over the footage from my security camera, watching where he goes while I’m in the shower. It’s better to let visitors believe they have time where they’re not being watched, because they’ll do whatever underhanded thing they plan on doing straightaway. If you don’t offer them a blatant opportunity they’ll be sneakier, hiding it, possibly well enough that I wouldn’t be able to pick it up on camera. Back on Avon, this sort of thinking just wasn’t a part of my life—I specialized in sweet-talking extra supplies and inside information out of the guards, not in living an elaborately faked life in someone else’s world. I learned to give visitors a little carefully monitored alone time on my third stop out from Avon, a freighter called the Alanna. Seeing what they did in my tiny quarters when they thought I wasn’t looking told me which crew members I could trust far quicker than anything else would.

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