Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(11)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(11)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

He goes over my photos—I think he guesses that they aren’t real—flicks through my browser history, inspects the packages waiting by the door for Kristina when she gets back from the health spa she’s been at for the last month. He stops to look at the Miske multimedia works on the wall, probably the most expensive things in the apartment, but he leaves them alone. I don’t see him plant anything, and I don’t see him do anything shiftier than a bit of snooping.

I check my messages four, five times a day—but there’s nothing from Sanjana Rao, the woman I was supposed to meet at LaRoux Industries Headquarters before the entire holosuite went mad. I can’t afford to lose her after all I’ve been through to find someone with a high enough security clearance to have the information I need, and a reason—whatever it may be—to give it to me. LaRoux proved on Avon that he has powers and defenses far beyond what a normal man possesses, and unless I find a way to neutralize his whispers, I’ll never get close enough to him to repay him for what he did to my father.

I dictate and delete half a dozen messages to Dr. Rao before I decide I can’t improve upon the language, and try to screw up the courage to send it. She’s spooked, no doubt, after the security scare. For all I know, she’s vanished into the woodwork completely, and I’ll have no chance of getting her to trust me again.

That mess last week was just a case of poor timing, my message reads, and had nothing to do with me or you. Please say you’ll meet me again. You can name the time and place, you can take whatever precautions you need to feel safe. Please. Alexis.

I blink at the “send” button and the screen chimes to inform me that it’s done. The address she gave me is gibberish, but it’s how I contacted her before—it’s not her official address, but she’d have been mad to give me anything that could be traced back to her. Not if she wanted to keep her job. Or her sanity.

It’s taken me nearly four months to get this close to LaRoux. Four months, spending every night researching LRI employees who might have the connections I need, following them to learn their interests, inserting myself into their lives, making them trust me, like me, just long enough for them to introduce me to my next mark. Four months before I caught even a whiff of information about the mind-control experiments and abuse LaRoux was perpetrating on Avon.

And I lost it all in a single day.

It’s three days after I sent the message to Dr. Rao—eight days after I met Gideon—when my inbox finally dings to tell me something’s arrived beyond the usual newsletters and spam Kristina gets. I’m fresh out of the shower, finishing up with the pack of disposable skin-patches and the concealer I use to hide my genetag. Over the past year I’ve made hundreds of thousands of galactics, pulling jobs here and there to support myself, putting every single credit I can spare into tattoo-removal treatments. But it’ll take two or three more before it’s faded enough to be illegible, and half a dozen before it’s impossible to tell there was ever anything there branding me a native of Avon. But hopefully I’ll get my chance to get near LaRoux before then, and it’ll all be moot anyway.

When I hear my inbox chiming, I wrap a towel around my torso and bolt out into the office, shedding water as I hurry over to the screen. For a moment, my heart’s racing so quickly I can’t focus long enough to work the eye-trackers. But once the message opens, my heart sinks.

It contains only four words—no signature, no code, nothing I can use.

Burn this connection. Run.

I want to scream. I want to throw the screen out the window. I want to leave this apartment and head down into the slums where I started and be among people as pissed off as I am. I know Gideon had something to do with turning off those holo-projectors and triggering the meltdown at LRI Headquarters, and I want to click that stupid fake contact he left me and write him a message telling him exactly what he’s done to me. What he’s taken from me.

I’m not interested in the part of my brain that points out that it isn’t his fault, not really. That machine—the rift, as he called it—was there, hidden, all along. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway, and maybe without him we wouldn’t have had warning to escape.

So instead I just sit there at my desk for a long moment, my eyes sweeping across the brief message as I force myself to breathe.

The lights are dim—I keep them at setting two or three whenever I possibly can, to avoid a spike in the electric bill that might alert Kristina to the fact that she’s got a squatter. I leave them where they are, letting the glow from my screen guide me as I push back from it, coming to my feet and walking out of the office, willing my pulse to slow. Trying to think clearly.

I’m just moving into the kitchen when the hairs lift on the back of my neck in a warning I’ve learned not to ignore. Growing up it meant there were trodairí nearby, that I had to pay attention. Now…

A shadow shifts, visible at the corner of my eye where there should be nothing. I drop silently to the floor, barely able to stop myself from gasping. My heartbeat is roaring in my ears, but I can still hear two—no, three, four—sets of footsteps moving quietly across the floorboards.

I pray they’re just thieves who caught onto Kristina’s absence the same way I did. Because the alternatives mean I’m probably already dead.

Fighting the instinct to freeze, to make myself tiny and quiet and invisible, I reach up to grope for the drawer above me, pulling it out as quickly as I can without making any noise. The chef’s knives are on a magnetic strip on the other side of the kitchen, but there’s a paring knife in there. It’s not much, but if they’re expecting the place to be empty, maybe it’ll be enough to get me to the elevator.

I squeeze my eyes shut, feeling with my fingertips around teaspoons and chopsticks, moving with agonizing slowness for fear of causing a telltale jangle of silverware. I have to stop holding my breath or I’ll pass out, I have to open my eyes or I won’t see them coming for me, I have to move, I have to get ready to run, I—

“Hands out of there.” A harsh voice rips me out of my concentration, sending me lurching against the cabinet with a clatter and a cry. Looking up, I see a gun first, then the man aiming it between my eyes. Another man steps up alongside him, also armed. They’re not wearing black, or even the sleek body armor favored by some of the higher-operation thieves in Corinth’s underworld.

They’re wearing uniforms. Green and gray, and as the third man turns to inspect the other rooms to be sure I’m alone, I can see the lambda emblazoned on the back.

For a moment all I can do is clutch at the towel twisted around me, feeling every ice-cold drip of water from my hair against my shoulders, tasting metal and bile and wishing for my father so hard my heart aches. Then my mouth opens by itself, and words come out, like there’s some part of my mind that knows what to do without needing the rest of me to function.

“Take whatever you want,” I gasp, pretending that the uniforms mean nothing to me, pretending I think they’re thieves. “Please, I won’t stop you. You don’t need to hurt me, I won’t tell anyone. Just let me go.”

The first man, difficult to see clearly in the gloom but tall and in his mid-forties, snorts. “Well,” he says slowly, gesturing with his gun for me to stand up. “That’s a problem, because we’re not here for your stuff.”

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