Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(4)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(4)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

I wriggle around until I’m facing her, and judging by the way her lips thin, she’s all ready to pour cold water on the idea of getting this up close and personal, until she realizes I’m doing it—mostly—because I need room to get my screen in front of me. “Let’s give them something to go look at,” I mutter, pulling the activation chip from my pocket and sliding it into the port on the side of the screen.

“What are you going to do?” she asks.

“Would you understand if I answered that?” I bring the screen to life, and as always, a faint but heady buzz kicks in as I write my own invitation into the LaRoux Industries core and start the hunt for my dance partner. Not a bad system, but not good enough.

She huffs a breath. “No,” she admits. “I don’t do computers. People make more sense to me.” She sure worked those guys back in the holosuite like she knows where to find the buttons and levers in people’s brains—and though I couldn’t quite hear, I’m pretty sure she was trying to throw me under the bus until the guards made it clear she’d be joining me there. Still, I can’t really blame her—it was a tight spot, and all’s fair in love, war, and criminal trespassing.

“People, huh?” I find the trail I need, and start work.

“Think of them as computers with organic circuits.” I can tell from her tone the dimples are back. I’d like to say I don’t notice how close she’s pressed against me in the shelter of the alcove, but that would be a waste. I mean, she clearly wants me to notice, and I try to help folks out when I can. “So if people make more sense to you…tell me what kind of sense I make.”

“What, you show me yours and I’ll show you mine?” She shakes her head, bemused. “I really did just come to meet someone. When the projectors went down and the guards started hauling people away, I picked you for a diversion because I saw you change your shirt. I thought maybe you weren’t supposed to be here either, so you’d probably play along.”

Boring. Not the real story. Someone like her doesn’t come here without a very good reason. Even I don’t come here without a good reason—the fact that I’m leaving this monumental screw-up without any new info on the whereabouts of Commander Antje Towers just adds salt to the wound. But my hunt for the former LaRoux Industries pawn will have to wait. I snort to let Dimples know I’m not buying her cover story, and find the components I’m looking for. Nearly ready to get my party started.

She pauses, nibbling her lip again as I glance at her profile. “How did you play along?” she asks. “How’d you make yourself froth like that?”

I run my tongue over my teeth, wrinkling my nose at the taste lingering in my mouth. “SysCleanz tab. Drop it into decontaminated water, it makes up a solution for cleaning some circuits that need an alkaline mix. Chew on it without water, which is not recommended on the packaging, and it feels like your mouth’s exploding.”

“Huh.” She sounds grudgingly impressed, and I’d bet my boots she’s filing that one away in case she needs it.

“Got a name, my wife-to-be?” I ask, pressing my advantage.

“Alexis.”

“Nice to meet you, Alexis.” You don’t mind if I stick with Dimples, do you? I mean, that’s not your real name either.

“And you are?”

“Sam Sidoti,” I say, and this time it’s her turn to eyeball me.

“Samantha Sidoti anchors the late-night news on SDM,” she points out. “And she’s a woman.”

“Busted.” I peek up from my work, and she looks back at me over her shoulder, and it turns out making that little line show up between her brows is almost as fun as looking at the dimples. “I’m nearly done. Seems like we should have a plan for after our friends out there start heading for where the emergency will be kicking off in about a minute. Or is the plan that you go your way, and I go mine?”

She’s quiet for several beats, though I can’t tell whether she’s weighing her options or just listening for approaching footsteps. “It’s less likely we’ll be stopped if we split up,” she says slowly, her eyes on my hands as I key in the last few commands, fingers racing over the screen. Then her tone firms. “But I’ve got an access card for the fire stairs, and there aren’t any security cameras there. If you want to come with me, you can.”

Well, isn’t that interesting? I power down the lapscreen with a press of my thumb against the print scanner, then pull out the chip to stow it in my pocket. “I like a girl who commits to a relationship. So hard to find these days.” I ease my neck from side to side and roll my shoulders a couple of times—pretending to throw a fit really tenses things up—and tug my shirt straight.

“Well?” she presses. “Is it done?”

I lift one hand—can’t resist a bit of showmanship—count to five in my head, and snap my fingers.

And all hell breaks loose.

The hallway’s flooded with the wail of an emergency siren, so though I can see her mouth moving, I can’t hear a word over the klaxons. I choose to believe she’s complimenting me on a hack well executed. She gives a quick shake of her head and then puts her lips close to my ear, and for a moment I’m too busy noticing the warmth of her breath on my ear to hear her. “You idiot, we need to get out through the emergency stairwell!”

I grin and shout back, “I made the system think the fire’s in the stairwell. Everyone’s going to head for the opposite end of the building.”

She pauses, giving me a moment to revel in her grudging admiration. Then, with a jerk of her head, she bids me follow, and ducks out into the corridor to take a right, then a quick right again at the next intersection.

But at the next crossroads she skids to a halt when a scream rises briefly over the wail of the sirens. It’s coming from the direction of the holosuite we were in before, as far as I can tell. But it’s not an outraged shout or a demand for freedom from some protester who remembered why they were there. It’s a scream, and it’s cut off with the high-pitched squeal of a laser weapon.

The girl meets my eyes, her own wide with a sudden fear that mirrors the way my own pulse is quickening. Whatever’s happening in there, it’s not what either of us prepared for, even in worst-case-scenario planning. “Did you see…” She raises her voice to be heard, but I can hear the higher note in there, the edge of her nerve. “When we were leaving…”

I saw the people standing there like statues, all turned in like worshippers toward that huge metal ring in the middle of the room as it filled with blue fire. I think I know what the ring was, but…

“Those people,” I shout back. “I don’t know what the hell was happening.”

“I do.” I almost miss her reply, but there’s no mistaking the look on her face. Just for a moment, Dimples has shed her mask, and whatever it is that she knows, it’s shaking her to the core. I draw breath, lips moving to form a question, but she doesn’t give me the chance. Instead, she’s suddenly moving again, grabbing at my arm to turn me around and take off down a different corridor.

The walls are all the same, a creamy white color, all the doors identical, creating the unsettling illusion that we’re going in circles, but she doesn’t hesitate, taking the twists and turns one after another. My screaming fire alarm worked; the halls are empty, save for the occasional guard, who we dodge without much trouble. It’s at least a quarter hour before she halts, holding up a hand and closing her eyes, consulting some internal map. I keep myself nice and busy checking for any unwelcome visitors, and after half a minute she nods and leads me on again.

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