Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(6)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(6)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

In the next instant I hear the high-pitched wail of a top-of-the-line laser pistol, and as I slam the door shut behind me, a wave of pain sets up shop in my upper arm, then sweeps up into my chest to set my nerves on fire.

There are letters, and images, and songs, and every part of them captured and fed into the stillness. But each flash is so disparate, so solitary, that it is impossible to assemble them into a single whole.

Individuals.

The concept is new, the way the cold hard things flitting through the universe were new. Some of the bits and pieces that flood the stillness are beautiful and some are ugly and some are beyond understanding.

How can we ever begin to understand them all?

By understanding one.

We watch, and wait, and learn.

THE SHRIEK OF THE GUARD’S laser pistol splits the air, and for a brief, dizzying moment I’m home again, listening to the distant exchange of gunfire between the military and the Fianna. Then a second shot comes, glancing harmlessly off the doorframe, and my unlikely partner is shoving me through the door.

We emerge at street level, glossy chrome-and-glass skyscrapers towering over us. The city spans nearly the entire planet on Corinth, divided into continents, and sectors, and quarters. There’s no artistic skyline here, for the city stretches on forever, new towers built on top of the old. You’d have to find an elevator down below the current street level to vanish into the slums beneath Corinth proper. We don’t have that kind of time, though, and I scan the streets looking for a quicker exit. Nearby a billboard blares its advertisement directly at me, triggered by my movement. “Don’t miss the stunning, moving tribute to one of the century’s greatest tragedies! Come to the Daedalus orbital museum, where all first-week proceeds go to benefit the families of those lost in the Icarus incident.”

I grit my teeth, trying to block out the macabre message and focus on what our next move should be. The boy’s bending over the security pad by the door, doing something with the chip he keeps pulling out of his jacket pocket. When he’s done, the pad makes an irritated screeching sound and goes black. “Malfunctioning lock won’t hold them for long,” he grunts. “We gotta move.”

“Taxi,” I gasp, as a hovercraft goes whizzing by with a pair of joyriding teens hanging out the back window.

“They’ll track your palm pad charge,” he replies, voice clipped and short, like he can’t believe the idiocy that led me to suggest it.

“Please.” I roll my eyes and take off for the edge of the platform, where traffic is speeding by. If he wants to follow me, fine. If not, he’s welcome to find his own way out. I rake my now-blue hair out of my eyes, sucking in a few quick breaths as I step out on one of the curbs. The first taxicraft I spot without passengers, I let by—female driver, and I’ve got to play the odds if I want this to work. The next looks promising, and I raise my arm and force a few more quick breaths, working myself up. By the time the driver slides in beside my curb, I’m gasping.

“Please, sir,” I say breathlessly, leaning in toward the window as the driver hits a button and the window membrane vanishes. “Can you tell me how to get to East Central Heights from here? My brother and I are new to Corinth, and we’re supposed to be heading to our aunt’s apartment and I don’t know where we are, and my palm pad got stolen so we’ve been walking and—” I gulp, letting the run-on ramble of woes end in a choked gasp for air.

The cabbie blinks at me, then glances askance toward the rear side window, where the hacker’s leaning against the side of the cab, looking bored. I could strangle him—the least he could do would be to try to play along with my distress. At least he has the good sense not to react at my exchanging “fiancé” for “brother.” This cab driver’s in his twenties or thirties, and his eyes flicker down when I lean over. Not my most elegant work, but it won’t take long for those security guards to start combing the sidewalks. No time for elegance, just the oldest play in the book. It worked on the soldiers back home, and it works on the city folk here.

“You want the next level up,” the cabbie says slowly. He hesitates, and I try not to seize on that; I have to let him get there himself. “There’s a pedestrian bridge about a kilometer back that way,” he says, jerking his head back the way he’d come.

I sniff hard, letting the driver see me trying my level best to pull myself together. “Maybe you could draw me a map? I’m so lost without my palm pad. Everywhere we go they keep telling us we’re on the wrong level, and I just—I can’t walk anymore. I just want to go home, but I can’t even see the Regency Towers from here.” It’s one of the most expensive buildings in this sector of Corinth—if the damsel-in-distress act won’t sway him, maybe greed will.

The driver’s eyes narrow a bit as he glances at his meter. His thumb drums against the control stick, and when his gaze comes back to me I’m waiting for him with big eyes and wet lashes. I just wish it hadn’t been so easy to find those tears; the blank-eyed people in the holosuite and our escape have left me more wobbly than I want to think about. I ought to be used to running by now, but my hands are starting to shake. I brace them against the door of the cab to hide it.

The driver sighs. “Your aunt lives at the Regency Towers?” When I nod, he glances back toward the hacker, who’s still leaning on the cab—now, he’s not even watching what’s happening, his gaze fixed somewhere in the middle distance, jaw clenched and arms folded tightly across his chest. The most obvious belligerent body language there is. Thanks, asshole, for making this so easy. Finally, the cab driver tilts his head toward the back. “Get in. Your aunt’ll pay when we get there, yeah?”

“Oh, really?” I gasp, as though the idea of him driving us hadn’t occurred to me. “Oh my God, you’re my absolute hero, thank you!” I dash for the door before he can change his mind, making the hacker stagger back as I haul open the door he was leaning on. “Come on, brother dear,” I add in a mutter, for his ears alone.

He ducks inside without a word, sliding along the bank of seats to make room for me. The door slams closed after me as I settle myself on the faux leather. “Thank you so much, I’ll have my aunt give you an extra tip for being so kind.”

The cabbie glances over his shoulder at me and grins as he eases the stick forward to start nudging the taxicraft back out into the flow of air traffic through the midlevel of the sector. He’s handsome, in his own way—he reminds me of the guy who does my fake IDs, except I’m pretty sure the cabbie doesn’t break your knuckles if you don’t pay. I sure hope not, anyway. “So where you from, originally?”

His question catches me off guard; I’d been trying to catch my oh-so-useless partner’s eye, without success. I blink at the driver. “What?”

“You said you were new to Corinth. Was wondering where you were from?” He’s facing forward again, but his eyes flick up to watch me in the rearview screen.

“Oh. Babel,” I reply, giving the first planet that comes to mind that I’ve never been to.

“Get out,” the cabbie exclaims, with a laugh. “I was born on Babel. What sector? You ever been to the gravball bar a couple of levels below Regency Towers? The Babel T-Wings’ home away from home. Huge turnout every home game, you should come sometime.”

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