Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(2)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(2)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

The only thing in the room, besides the people, the projectors, and the pillars like the one the boy’s leaning on, is a vast metal ring twice my height at its center. It stands upright, made of some strange alloy that shines dully in the bright white light, and is connected to the floor at its base by a pedestal covered with dials and instruments. LaRoux’s particular holographic technologies are proprietary, but this looks like no projector I’ve ever seen—and while the other projectors are flickering and whirring and trying to overcome whatever glitch made them stop working, the metal ring is still and silent.

A murmur of confusion sweeps through the throngs of people, as groups abandon their conversations in favor of looking around, as though the room might hold some explanation. Its other features stand out now that there’s no masking hologram in place—the drink dispensers are bare and stark, the various projectors and speakers littering the low ceiling like misshapen stars.

Whatever’s going on, it wasn’t planned by the protesters. Everyone, employees and public alike, is milling around in confusion. If it were planned, the protesters would be using the glitch to launch their protest, but instead even the security guards at the edges of the room look unnerved. I let my eyes widen, using a group of interns as cover to move as quietly and purposelessly as I can toward the emergency stairwell. If I’m caught, the worst they’ll assume of me is that I was here to protest. But I’d rather not get in their books at all.

Before I can make it to the fire exit, a flicker of color grabs my eye and I turn in time to see the boy with the lapscreen pull a chip the size of his fingernail out of his screen and stow it in his pocket. Glancing up at the ceiling, he gets up and takes two slow, easy steps to the side, neatly placing himself in the security camera’s blind spot.

Then he’s shrugging out of his LaRoux Industries uniform until he’s just wearing an undershirt, tattooed arms bare for half an instant. He turns the garment inside out, revealing a garishly striped shirt matching the high-fashion trend of the moment—and just like that, he melts into the crowd. No longer an employee of LaRoux Industries.

And far, far too clever to be one of the protesters now milling around, confused and annoyed that they never got their chance to get on the news.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.” A voice, smooth as cream and amplified over the noise of the crowd, emerges from the speakers. “We’ve detected a security breach and traced its source to this room. Please remain calm, and cooperate with all security officers to the fullest extent, and we will have this resolved as soon as possible.”

The security guards, operating on some order given via the implants in their ears, have started funneling people off one by one, presumably to interrogate them individually. One of the guards is still standing by the door, blocking the exit to the stairwell—blocking my escape route. The concealer on my arm might fool a quick glance from someone at the front desk, but now I have no chance of passing myself off as a protester—a security breach will have them on high alert. The first thing those guards will do when they grab me is check for a genetag tattoo, certain that border planet insurgents are the most likely culprits. I close my eyes, calling up the floor plans I’ve been studying for a week and a half. They’ll have shut down access to the elevators on this floor, but there’s another fire exit and another set of stairs through one of the hallways leading off from here. I scan the crowds until I find that exit, and the guard ushering people in that direction.

What I need is a diversion.

My eyes fall on a loud, red-and-gold striped shirt. Whoever the boy is, he’s not from LaRoux Industries, and he’s not supposed to be here either. And while I can’t be sure that keystroke of his is what took down the holo-projectors, I do know that if we get grabbed together, he’s the one who’s going to look far more suspicious than I am once they realize he’s got an LRI uniform sewn into his clothes. I mutter a curse under my breath and rush forward to the guard’s side.

Sorry, Handsome. I’m pretty sure you want to be center of attention just about as much as I do. But if there’s one person here in more trouble than me, it’s the guy with the fake LaRoux Industries uniform on under his shirt.

“That boy there,” I say, keeping my voice low, forcing my eyes wide. “I think he needs help.” With any luck, they’ll go check on him and I can slip out once they discover he’s not supposed to be here.

The guard’s gaze swings around immediately to rest on the boy in the striped shirt, who’s watching us with a slight edge to his nonchalant air. His smile dies away entirely as the guard takes two steps toward him, and I ease my weight back, the first step toward the door the man was guarding. Slowly, slowly, don’t draw attention.

As if my thought was spoken aloud, the guard reaches out to wrap a hand around my arm. “Show me,” he orders. I freeze, and, to make matters worse, he lifts his hand to signal to one of the other heavies over in our direction. Now I’ve got two guards watching me, and the door’s about to be blocked again. Damn it. If they make me go with them, they may well assume I’m with him when they discover his fake LRI shirt. Now I have to get us both out of here.

Good work, Sofia.

My mind throws up a flurry of possibilities, and in a split second I sort through them, discarding the impossible, left with only one way to divert both of them to the boy.

“Please hurry,” I gasp, focusing the muscles in my face until my eyes start to water with tears. “He’s my fiancé—he has a condition, stress makes it worse.” In the confusion, with so many people to process, I can only hope the guard doesn’t want to ask too many questions.

The guard blinks at me and, when I turn to indicate the boy in the striped shirt, follows my gesture. The boy stares back, openly wary now, eyes flicking from the guard to my face. Please, I think. Just don’t say anything until I can get past them.

“You were both fine a minute ago.” He exchanges glances with his colleague, who’s standing by me now. “I’m sure it can wait.” His voice is even, giving not an inch, but his hand strays, shifting from the weapon at his waist to tug at his sleeve.

I double my efforts, forcing my voice to crack. “Please,” I echo. “I’ll stay, I’ll answer any questions you want. Just go check him and you’ll see, he needs a doctor or else he’s going to have an episode.” I just need both the guards to turn toward the boy long enough for me to slip through the exit, uncounted and unescorted.

The nearer guard’s weight shifts, making my breath catch, but he doesn’t move as they exchange glances again. “I’ll call for the medtech on duty,” he says finally. “But he looks fine.”

My mind races, scanning the guard for anything I can use. He’s in his forties—too savvy, probably, for me to flirt my way out, especially when I already used the fiancé cover. No signs on his clothes of pets or children, nothing I can use to establish any connection with him, any appeal to his humanity. I’m about to go for my last resort—the little-girl wail of hysterics—when, without warning, the boy with the lapscreen sways and drops to the ground with a moan.

Both guards gape, and for half a second, I’m as stunned as they are. The boy on the ground twitches, limbs quivering, looking like he’s having exactly the kind of fit I’d been warning them about. For a quick, searing moment I wonder if somehow my lie stumbled upon something like the truth—but I can’t afford to find out. I’m just about to bolt for the exit when the nearest guard sticks his hand between my shoulder blades and pushes me forward. “Do something!” His own eyes are looking a little wild.

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