Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(8)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(8)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

“No longer than that,” I reply, pressing my hand down over the wound once more, buzzing with a heady mix of relief at our escape, and the gut-twisting knowledge that whatever I saw today in that holosuite, it was a bad, bad thing. Merciful mother of fried circuits, my arm hurts. “Got somewhere I can seal it?”

The girl goes silent a long moment, then nods. “I’ve got a place.”

She leads me along another alleyway and between a couple of showrooms, then past the gated entrance to Regency Towers, the place she named for the driver, and through the garden next door to it. I can tell she’s mapped out her routes around this neighborhood, and I respect that. From there, we cut through a maintenance gate, so that when we approach the entrance of Camelot Heights—please, our actual destination, damn this hurts—nobody from the street has seen us go in. She pauses to pull a thin, close-fitting felt hat from her purse and uses it to conceal her blue hair as she keys in the security code and we slip inside. My stomach’s growing uneasier by the second; a girl who lives in a place like this isn’t a criminal, at least not the same kind I am. Was she sneaking into the holosuite today just for kicks? An image of the metal rift flashes before me once again, and the fear in her eyes. If she thought she was in this for fun, she sure knows now that it’s more than that.

“Kristina!” It takes me a moment to realize the smiling doorman is talking to us—or rather, to Dimples. “Who’s your friend?”

“That’s for me to know, Alfie.” She laughs, leading me into the elevator. Her game is flawless, like her laugh. The fear I saw back at LaRoux Industries is gone, and she’s not missing a beat. She hits the top button—penthouse, of course—and with a barely audible hum, we’re moving. It’s not until we’ve passed the penultimate floor without anybody else joining us that she starts digging through her purse. She produces a pair of dainty lace gloves and slips on the right one. When we reach the top floor, she presses the gloved hand against a square panel that glows with an ivory-colored light. It crackles briefly, as though the whole thing’s bristling with static.

I only have a moment to size up the security system, and then the doors are rushing open, confronting me with the sort of luxury I haven’t seen in years. Dimples tosses her purse down on the couch and vanishes behind a wall of frosted glass, calling instructions as she goes. “Sit down before you fall and crack your head open.”

With the slightly guilty feeling I’m making the whole place dirty—ridiculous, under the circumstances—I peel off my shirt and sink down onto the edge of the couch. Her apartment is insane. I haven’t been anywhere like it in years, and if this kind of place felt like home once upon a time, it sure doesn’t now. The floors look like real marble, and I can’t be sure, but I think that could be actual wood by the fireplace. The far wall is top-of-the-line smartglass, with that faint, iridescent sheen that tells me it’s compensating for the smog outside to render the view of the Corinth sunset clean and sparkling. Ha.

“Nice place you got here,” I call out, using my wadded-up shirt—it’s beyond ruined anyway—to stanch the bleeding from my arm. I need a moment to catch my breath, to work out how to play this. “Is this the moment you admit you’re secretly a LaRoux, and loaded with cash?”

“Hey, I’d look good as a redhead.” The way her voice is echoing, she must be in a bathroom. One redheaded LaRoux in the galaxy is more than I’d like. She’s keeping her tone casual, just like I am, though I’m sure we both know we have to talk about what happened. I hear a cabinet open and close, and then she’s walking out with a sleek little black box.

Judging by the contents of her med kit, this girl comes from an altogether different background than the celebrated Lilac LaRoux. There’s all kinds of stuff in there you don’t see in a standard first-aid kit, from hospital-grade burn treatment to stomach purges. She pulls out a handheld cauterizer and eases the shirt away, getting to work. And despite the flawless manicure she’s sporting, this clearly isn’t the first time she’s come across a gunshot wound.

“Well,” I say, reaching for distraction from the pain I know is coming. “I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t the day I was hoping for.”

Her gaze flicks up to me, and she shows me that lopsided, one-dimpled smile again, just for a moment. And like that, I know. That’s the real smile. One dimple, real deal. Two, she’s faking it. And damn, do I like that lopsided one.

Yeah, smarter definitely ain’t showing up anytime soon.

“Could have been worse,” she says, only the top of her blue-streaked head visible now as she finishes cleaning the wound. “A few inches over and I’d have had to do something far more drastic to convince the cab driver to carry me and a dead guy home.”

“Hey, if I’m ever actually dead, you have my blessing to leave me wherever I am. You can even chop off any bits of me sporting incriminating evidence. I won’t need them anymore.” I’m talking too fast, partly because I know the cauterizer’s going to sting far worse than a tattoo needle.

What I should do right now is see what she knows, then go to ground and keep my head down until I’m sure it’s safe. I can reach out to my contacts—I’ll start with Mae—and work out how to fort up, then go after more information. After what we saw, they’re going to be looking everywhere for us, and it won’t be to congratulate us on excellent teamwork in a tight spot.

She’s quick about it, at least, and with the blood gone I can see the scar shouldn’t mess up my ink too much—that’s the one I got after the Avon job. I concentrate on that, rather than the nerve-jangling pain where she’s working, or her hand braced against my chest, holding me still. Once she’s done, she slathers on burn ointment, and the pain fades into blessed numbness.

“There,” she says, inspecting her handiwork while I inspect her. “Good as new by tomorrow.” She leans down to pack up the med kit and snaps it closed. “I’ve got to go wash this stuff out of my hair or it’ll stain.”

“I could use a shower, if you’ve got room in there for two,” I shoot back immediately, and she simply gazes at me, one brow lifted, all Really? Is that the best you can do? “Hey, I just had minor surgery over here,” I point out. “You’d be disappointed if I didn’t try, but I’m not in my best shape.”

“The elevator will go down without my glove,” she says, catching me off guard. I can’t go, not yet. But before I can answer, she adds, “Or if you’d like to stay, the SmartWaiter makes a pretty mean screwdriver.”

She doesn’t wait to see what I decide—she simply turns away to disappear into the bathroom, and a moment later I hear the water start up.

So I do the only thing I possibly can: start snooping through her stuff. I mean, never pass up a chance to learn more about someone who interests you, right? And I can’t go anywhere until we’ve talked about what happened, so this is something to do while I wait.

There are framed pictures along the table of her and an older couple who could be her parents—one shows them on a ski trip on a super-expensive holovacation—I think I recognize the Alps on Paradisa—the other in front of the Theta Sector skyline right here on Corinth, the sea in the background. They’re almost perfect—whoever made these for her did a very good job indeed—but there are tiny signs they’re faked, if you know where to look. I’m positive now that this place isn’t hers. It certainly belongs to a Kristina McDowell—I can see parcels with her name on them by the door, and when I coax the console in the little office to life there’s a hypernet history, mostly mail and online shopping. But “Kristina” isn’t this girl’s name any more than “Alexis” was.

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