Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(7)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(7)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

So sex appeal did work. I glance at my “brother” to see if he’ll maybe do something stereotypical and overprotective to forestall the driver’s questions—and freeze. The hacker’s looking down at his arm, where his hand’s been clamped this whole time. What I’d misread as insolent body language was something else altogether; when he lifts his hand away, it’s stained red.

He catches me looking at him and slaps his hand back in place. The cab driver’s still talking, flashing me glances every now and then in the rearview screen, but his words have faded out to a distant buzz.

I can’t tell how bad it is, but the blood’s seeping down despite his attempts to stanch its flow. I’ve patched up more than my fair share of wounds back on Avon, but I can’t stop to inspect it, and I can’t ask him if he’s okay. The second our driver realizes he’s got a gunshot victim in his backseat, he’ll pull over and dump us on the side of the road. No way to get that kind of injury where we were except from the authorities, and no amount of sex appeal is going to make a cabbie risk charges of aiding and abetting.

This time, I really do have to fight to keep my voice from shaking. “How mad do you think Aunt will be at us for being so late?” I ask my “brother,” the cab driver’s voice trailing off as I interrupt him.

The boy’s eyes flick up to mine and he grimaces. “Medium, I’d say.” He shifts his weight, wedging himself in so the inside of the door takes his weight. “She’ll probably get over it if we apologize fast.”

I glance at the GPS screen on the taxicraft’s dash. If I were living somewhere else, we could still be hours from my place by mag-train without even leaving the sector, but I chose my digs because of their proximity to LaRoux Industries Headquarters. Well, proximity, and style. We’re only a few minutes from the Towers, and I can sneak him through the side street to my building and in the side door. Assuming he doesn’t lose too much blood by then to make it to the elevators, I can leave the driver here waiting for the aunt that doesn’t exist and we’ll be out.

“You staying here on Corinth long?” the driver asks, resuming his line of questioning as though I’d never interrupted him to talk to the sandy-haired boy bleeding in his backseat. “Moving here, or just visiting?”

“Visiting,” I reply, trying to hunt for the charm again, reaching past my concern. “Family, you know.”

“Yeah, I hear you. Got any free time while you’re here?”

“I…uh, I don’t think my brother would want me to hang out with strangers.” I glance at the boy next to me, whose brows lift with amused irony. After all, I don’t even know his name.

The taxicraft slides smoothly to a stop at the curb platform outside the south building of the Regency Towers apartments. He twists, glancing from the boy to me. “C’mon, I’m not that shady, am I?”

His smile is nice enough, and though he wasn’t exactly subtle about checking me out while I was begging for assistance, he did help us. Still, I can’t really spare much sympathy for him. You ask to get conned, and a con’s going to find you. I flash him a smile in return and shrug. “Maybe I can sneak out,” I whisper, as though for his ears only, and then turn for the door.

“Hey, hey, wait.” The driver reaches for the auto-locks, and my door gives a telltale click. “You can wait here, send your brother up to grab your aunt’s palm pad to pay the fare.”

Shit. I glance again at the boy beside me, whose lazy—if strained—grin has vanished. His door’s unlocked, but the second the driver sees me going for the door he’ll lock it down again. So much for hoping he was an idiot, as well as a sucker. I half expect the hacker to bolt—I probably would, in his position. He needs a medic, and quickly, and he’s seen by now that I can talk my way out of most things. He could leave me here without much guilt at all.

But he doesn’t move, those hazel-green eyes grave for the first time since we met.

“Brother?” I quip to the driver, flashing my brightest coquettish smile, learned from poring through holovid footage of the sparkling teens and twenty-somethings that occupy Corinth’s upper-level nightclubs. “You really are a sucker,” I say with a laugh. Better he thinks he just got stiffed a cab fare by a flirt than discover that he unwittingly helped two criminals escape from the most tightly secured compound in this hemisphere.

Please, I find myself thinking hard at the guy with the gunshot wound, whoever you are…just play along one more time.

I lean over, sprawling against his good shoulder and turning his face so I can kiss him. I can hear the driver’s quick breath out of surprise and confusion; though my lips are on the sandy-haired boy’s, my attention’s on the driver. He’s spluttering, indignant, exactly as I’d hoped he’d be. He’s not thinking about his fare, he’s not thinking about holding me hostage until he gets paid—and he’s not thinking, yet, about locking us in.

I slide my other hand past the hacker’s lap, toward the door controls, the movement quick but smooth. The driver’s going to get over his confusion and outrage at some point, and I need to get the door open so we can bolt. I’m about to palm the scanner when the boy’s lips curve under mine—he’s smiling, grinning—and it’s the only warning I get before he’s parting his lips and taking full advantage of my ploy by trying to stick his tongue down my throat.

Asshole.

The fabric grows thin, translucent. Just on the other side of it is a young man with dark hair and blue eyes, gazing at the fabric as though he can see through it. This is what we have waited for.

“I wish I knew what the hell this is,” the young man mutters, in the language of the words and images and sounds that pierce the stillness.

The thin spot pulses, and the young man takes a startled step back. He’s staring even harder at the translucent place in the fabric, but after some time he gives a nervous laugh. “I’m imagining things,” he tells himself. “It’s not like it can hear me.”

The thin spot pulses again, more brightly this time.

The young man’s face goes white. “Rose,” he calls, voice suddenly urgent. “Rose, come quick. I think…I think it’s sentient.”

ALEXIS’S FINGERS FIND THE SCANNER on the door behind me, and I’m ready when it suddenly gives, breaking away from her to tumble out of the car with my make-out partner a beat behind me. Somehow I get my feet on the ground, and we dodge a gaggle of shoppers and a pair of electrobikes, the cab driver roaring behind us. For a moment we’re in perfect sync, and then she ruins it by swinging her arm sideways to whack me in the chest as we turn up an alleyway, sending a line of pain snaking down my injured arm.

“Hey, what was that for?” I hiss.

“You know,” she snaps, breath coming quickly.

I’d love to think her breathlessness is from our moment of passion in the cab, but we’re running pretty fast. “You kissed me, Dimples. How was I supposed to know you didn’t want me joining in?”

“My name’s Alexis!”

“I’m really sure it’s not.”

We spin around a corner, coming to a halt beside the back entrance to a designer boutique, chests heaving. She grabs my good arm, spinning me around to take a look at my bloodied sleeve. “How bad is it? Can you make it another few minutes?”

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