Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(5)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(5)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

I want to know more—a lot more—about this girl who has a pass to the fire escape stairs, a killer smile, and a memorized map of the employees-only hallways.

Eventually our luck runs out, and a peek around a corner reveals a security guard standing by a door with a neon EXIT sign—the way through to the fire escape. The guard’s a little pudgy, his shirt so new it still has creases ironed into it. I’m guessing a fresh hire. Eyes wide, he clearly didn’t bargain on encountering whatever’s happening here so early in his career. I don’t know what my companion sees, but whatever it is, it causes her to smile as she pulls back around the corner.

She lifts one hand to press it against my chest, and for an instant all I’m focused on is that one point of contact, the warmth of her skin coming through my shirt. Then she’s shoving me back against the wall. This is becoming a habit. She’s clearly not used to working with a partner. “Stay here,” she says, using that same hand to fish down the front of her bra, an activity I can only imagine I’m supposed to admire, so I do. She pulls out a little blue capsule and squishes it in one hand. When she runs her fingers through her platinum blond hair I see the capsule was full of dye, and in that one movement her hair’s streaked a brilliant blue. “I said I’d show you mine,” she continues, crouching to wipe her hand on the carpeting.

“Oh yeah?” I’m grinning, and she’s aiming a coy smile back—just the one dimple, this time. I think I like that even better. I like that, at least for now, her fear’s receding, though I can still see traces of it in the depths of her gaze.

“Watch and learn.” She pinches her cheeks with her clean fingers so they start to flush, and huffs a few quick breaths, then whirls around the corner. She runs straight for the guard, already crying as she throws herself at him. I’ve seen plenty of artists on the lower levels, but this girl is good.

The guard’s clearly bewildered to find his arms full of semi-hysterical, blue-haired teenager, and tries variations on are you hurt and the evacuation point’s back that way, miss. I keep an eye on them as I peel off my shirt, quickly turning it inside out and pulling it back on again, so the LaRoux Industries badge I doctored up is showing on the outside once more.

Meanwhile, Dimples sucks in a few quick breaths and tries again, this time a little clearer despite her “fear.” “Back that way,” she gasps, pointing to the hallway opposite the one I’m hiding in. “He tried to take me hostage, he’s got a gun! Please, you have to help.” She lets herself subside into whimpery distress noises after that, though I can’t hear much more of it over the alarms still screaming above us. I can tell from the guy’s body language what he’s saying as he manages to get her pried loose from his arm. Stay right here and I’ll take care of it. Though when he jogs off the way she pointed, he’s not moving too fast. Probably doesn’t want to be the one to find this armed hostage-taker, and fair enough, really.

I stay hidden until he’s turned a corner, then hurry out to find my friend fishing in her purse—who even carries one of those?—and producing a swipe card. She manages to look only a tiny bit relieved when the pad lights up green, and a moment later we’re in the stark emergency stairwell. The alarms are dimmed in here, and our footsteps echo as we start down.

“What the hell did you do back there?” she calls back over her shoulder after a while. “I saw you doing something with your lapscreen and that data port in the tree, right before the holo-projections cut out, but this is a whole other level of security.”

I’m tempted to tell her I have no idea. I was inside the LaRoux servers, and I’d just spotted some weird energy spikes I wanted to know more about, but I’d barely gotten started. Nothing I tripped should have brought out the bloodhounds like this. Some of my old hacks, when I was starting out, might have caused this kind of mayhem. But these days, unless you’re on my wrong side…Point is, nothing I did would’ve warranted the weapons fire we heard up there.

We started twenty stories up—though that’s a relative figure, since the ground floor is certainly nowhere near the actual surface of Corinth—and by now we’ve got about three to go, so I save my breath for running.

Then the door at ground level bursts open, and three security guards come hurrying in. We’ve both got too much momentum to stop right away, but I lunge in toward the wall to try and stay out of sight, and she grabs hold of my shirt to slow herself. She slams in beside me as we hold perfectly still, waiting to see if they’ve spotted us—waiting to see if they’re coming up the stairs.

Of course they are. Has a single damn thing gone right for me today? There’s no way to get anywhere near an exit without being seen, so I shove the satchel holding my lapscreen behind my back, put my faith in my fake LaRoux Industries uniform, and step out into their view. My partner in crime stays behind me, no doubt hoping as hard as I am that they won’t be able to tell she’s not wearing a uniform.

“Careful you don’t shoot me, guys,” I call, forcing myself to sound like I think that prospect’s actually funny. “I’m awful hard to replace.”

Three weapons come up, then lower again as they spot my shirt, which does the job, at least from this distance. “What are you doing in the stairway?” one calls.

Damn, good question. An LRI employee would know better than to evacuate this way.

Then Dimples—Alexis—I really have to find out her real name—speaks up behind me. “They’re saying upstairs this might be a technical problem. There’s no smoke up there, and no fire, so we’re checking the alarms manually.” She’s quick on her feet, this one.

“Maintenance,” I agree, injecting a little weariness into my tone. “Only way to check some of these is in person, which clearly somebody didn’t do, if this is a false alarm. Can we get you guys to step outside the stairwell again? Your movement could set something off.”

Two of them buy it right away, but the guy who asked the question in the first place isn’t so sure—he gives me a good long stare before he turns to follow them, gun still in his hand.

“Thanks, guys,” I call after them, cheerful as can be.

She speaks behind me, keeping her voice low. “We can get out on the second floor—it opens onto the street. We can skip the lobby completely.”

I nod, and we move together, both trying to keep me between her and the guards, who’re heading back down to the ground floor. I hope she knows I’m just hiding her lack of uniform, and not doing anything as stupid as shielding her with my body.

“Wait a minute!” It’s the guy with all the questions—he’s halfway up the flight of stairs now, and he’s got one hand pressed against his ear, where no doubt an earbud is transmitting information about us. Alexis curses softly—for an instant it’s almost like she has an accent—and as one we lunge for the door.

“Freeze!” All three of them are thundering up the stairs now, just meters away. They’re shouting threats, their voices echoing as loud as their footsteps, the alarm still wailing all around us.

Ahead of me, she shoves on the push bar to open the door, sunlight abruptly cutting in to light up the stairwell. I propel her through the doorway with a hand between her shoulder blades, my satchel banging against my hip as I stumble after her. They don’t have a good shot, and I duck to try and throw their aim off.

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