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

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

Damn. Damn. DAMN. Still, if I end up in an ambulance with this guy, it’ll be better than ending up in an interrogation room at LRI Headquarters. The EMTs will scan the ident chip in my palm pad, but the name they’ll get from that is Alexis. And they won’t be looking for genetags. I drop to my knees at the stranger’s side, reaching for his twitching hand and curling my fingers through his as though I’m used to touching him. One guard’s talking hurriedly into a patch on his vest, summoning backup, doctors, some kind of support.

The guy’s fingers tighten around mine, making my eyes jerk toward his face—and abruptly, all my simulated tears and panic come to a screeching halt. He’s actually starting to foam at the mouth, eyes rolled back into his head. He can’t be that much older than I am, and there’s something definitely, dangerously wrong with him.

One of the security guards is trying to ask me questions—has he eaten anything recently, when did he last take his medication, what’s his condition called—in order to brief the EMTs on their way. But his voice trails off as another sound rises from the center of the room, quickly growing in volume and causing the other nervous conversations in the room to peter out. The metal ring, the one the holo-projectors had been concealing, is turning itself on.

A number of lights along the base come to life, indicating that there’s data to be read now from the displays there, and the panels overhead lighting the room flicker as though the ring is drawing too much power. But neither of those things is what’s made the entire roomful of people go silent.

Little flickers of blue light start to race around the edge of the ring, appearing and vanishing as though weaving directly through the metal. They move faster as the sound of the machine coming to life intensifies and smooths out, until the entire edge of the ring is crawling with blue fire.

A hand on my arm jerks my attention away, my heart pounding as I look down.

The boy is beside me, raising one eyebrow. “Care to tell me when the wedding is, darling?” His voice is barely audible, words spoken without moving his lips.

I blink. “What?” I’m so thrown I can’t find my balance.

The boy glances at the security guard nearest us, whose attention is completely absorbed by the machinery in the center of the room, and then back at me. He wipes the remnants of foam from his mouth and then props himself up on his elbows. “Think maybe we should start the honeymoon a little early.” This time his whisper carries an edge, and he jerks his chin meaningfully toward the emergency exit.

Whoever he is, whatever he was doing here, right now we want exactly the same thing: to get out of here. And that’s enough for me. I can always lose him later.

I give him a hand up—the guard doesn’t even look in our direction—and slip back toward the exit. We reach the door just as a flash of blue light illuminates the white walls before us. While the boy in the striped shirt fumbles with the door, I glance over my shoulder.

The flickers of light around the edges of the ring are now reaching toward the center, tongues of blue sparks snapping out and vanishing, like lightning-fast stellar flares. Every now and then they meet with a tremendous flash of light—until finally the entire center of the ring is filled with light, crackling like a curtain of energy.

While I watch, a man standing near the ring collapses, sinking to the floor without a sound. I’m waiting for the people nearest him to react, to rush to his side and break the spell of fascination, but they’re all motionless, slack, like machines whose power’s been cut. More and more people are going still and silent with every passing second, security guards and protesters alike, in an expanding circle around the device at the room’s center. Every now and then another person drops to the floor, but most are standing still, upright, casting long shadows that flicker and reach toward us as the machine fires.

In between flashes of light, I can make out the faces of those on the other side—I can see their eyes.

And in that instant I’m standing on a military base on Avon, watching my father change in front of me. I’m seeing his eyes, multiplied a dozen times over in the faces around me, pupils so wide the eyes look like pools of ink, like the starless expanse of night over the swamps. I’m reliving the moment my father walked into a military barracks with an explosive strapped to his body. I’m remembering him as he was the last time I ever saw him, a shadow of himself, nothing more than a husk where his soul used to be.

There are hundreds of people still dotting the white expanse of the holosuite—and every single one of them has eyes like darkness.

At first, there is nothing more. And then come symbols that look like this:

TESTING.

Then come more words, followed by images and sounds and colors. Bit by bit the stillness floods with this new kind of life, and we begin to understand the strings of symbols and sounds that pierce the stillness. The hard, bright, cold things come more and more often, leaving ripples in the stillness, gathering up the fabric of existence in waves as they skip through the surface of the world.

YOU’D THINK I’D KNOW TO stay away from trouble by now. But here I am, my mouth tasting like a SysCleanz tablet, bolting down a hallway, sucked into this fiasco by a pair of dimples. One of these years, I really have to get smarter.

The girl just in front of me is slender, at least a head shorter than me, in one of those dresses all the rich girls are wearing right now. She’s got a mean turn of speed on her despite the heels. To add to the dimples, she’s got pale blond hair to just below her chin, tousled into an artful mess, and big, gray eyes.

Yeah, smarter ain’t showing up anytime soon.

“I’m really hoping there’s a part two of your plan, mastermind,” I gasp, as we pound down the hallway together.

“What did you do back there?” Her eyes are even huger than they were before, true fear making her voice shake and chasing away my amusement in an instant. She had a better view of what was going on, and whatever she saw has left this girl—this girl who barely batted an eye when I started foaming at the mouth right in front of her—completely shaken.

“That wasn’t me.” I glance over my shoulder, half expecting some of the security guards to round the corner on our tail. “Though I’m flattered you think it was.”

I’m about to continue when she grabs a handful of my shirt, using my momentum to shove me into an alcove housing emergency fire supplies without breaking stride. I slam into the wall and she slams into my back, and since I figure she had some reason for steering me this way beyond a desire to see me hurt, I hold still. A moment later, voices are audible around the corner, and they sound pissed. Good spotting, Dimples.

“We need a diversion,” she whispers, one hand around my neck to yank my head down so she can whisper in my ear, which isn’t at all distracting. “Can you send them somewhere else?”

“What makes you think I can do that?” I’m already pulling out my lapscreen from my satchel, but I’m interested to hear how she made me.

“Please,” she mutters. “Maybe you didn’t turn on that machine, but I know you’re the one who shut off the projectors.”

Huh. Well, at least she was watching me, that’s a start. I should try asking her out for a drink later. If we’re not dead or arrested.

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