Home > Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(9)

Their Fractured Light (Starbound #3)(9)
Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spoone

So whoever Dimples is, all I really know is that she’s seen some kind of situation requiring serious first aid before, she knows more about LaRoux Industries than she’s letting on, she could sell rocks to asteroid miners, and she’s definitely not rich girl Kristina McDowell. I shut down her console and head back out of the office to the SmartWaiter, ordering up a screwdriver for her and a mineral water for me. I don’t drink—I need every brain cell I’ve got in working order, often on short notice.

She emerges just as I’m thinking about checking out what else she keeps in her purse besides circuit-breaking gloves and illicit security passes. Her hair’s back to platinum blond, curly and light around her face, and she’s clad in an expensive-looking black sweater and a pair of jeans. I briefly mourn the loss of the tiny dress, but I find I like this more casual version of her, too. Not that I should be thinking about something like that at a time like this.

“I like your hair like that.” Oh God, did I just say that out loud? Smooth, buddy.

She grins, walking across to take her drink. “It’s easiest to keep it this way. Hard to go blue or pink at a moment’s notice if your hair’s black. Windows, preset five.”

The smartglass flickers subtly, and the sunset outside begins to darken, the stars coming out one by one, despite the fact that stars haven’t been visible on Corinth for generations. The light from the buildings stretching on forever into the distance doesn’t come close to eclipsing the brightness of the stars overhead. I’ve seen the illusion before, of course; the micro-projectors in the glass track your eye position and shift so that it looks like the stars are far distant in the heavens rather than a trick of the light a few feet away.

She watches them like they’re something incredible, though, and I stay quiet, watching her instead. Her brows are drawn in, and though her face is calm and still, there’s something about the set of her mouth, a firmness that doesn’t quite mesh with her air of innocence and nonchalance. Perhaps this is what she looks like when she’s simply being her.

This is getting out of hand. This is not the time to be gazing at her like I’m hypnotized. I’m smarter than this. Time to shove some distance between us, start using that brain of mine. “So,” I drawl, making myself sound casual. “Is this where we talk about what happened today? I’d ask what you were doing there, but you’ve lied to me so many times already, I wouldn’t believe the truth if I heard it now.”

She’s silent, clutching her drink. Eventually she takes a long swallow, then sets the glass down on the table beside the fake pictures, turning away to walk over to the couch. “I lie because I have to,” she says, sounding more tired than anything else. “Corinth is a cold place. You tell the truth, you end up down there.” Her nod takes in the slums, far below us—my territory, though she doesn’t know that. Perhaps she guesses.

“It’s a world of opportunities, down there.”

“But not the ones I want,” she replies. Then, after a slow breath out: “My name really is Alexis. But it’s my middle name, and no, I’m not going to tell you my first name. Especially since you’ve lied just as much as I have today. I was at LaRoux Industries because of my father. He’s dead, and it’s because of them, and I want to know why. And that’s the truth.”

And I know it is. I might not have her silver tongue, but I know this truth when I hear it. It’s not so far from my own truth—maybe that’s why I can recognize it. A cold sliver of pain runs through me in sympathy—I’m too familiar with the kind of loss that can put you on a trail you don’t know how to abandon. I find myself responding without thinking. “My name’s Gideon. And that’s my real name, and my first name, the one my mama gave me.”

Tell me I didn’t just say that. It’s one thing to look for a way to bond, it’s another to start sharing things nobody knows. I’m getting twitchy, not being able to get back to my den to unpack what’s happened today. My fingers are itching for a keyboard. My mind keeps wanting to flip across and check info feeds that aren’t there. My latest round of tracker programs is due to report in any minute now. I should check the forums, check in with Mae. This is what happens when I leave my screens too long. Everything goes to hell. Which is an accurate description of this whole day.

She’s watching me, and I try to skate past the name, hoping she won’t pick up on the zillion clues I must be giving that I wish I hadn’t shared it. “You said you knew something about what we saw today.”

“I was going to meet with someone who could tell me more, but I guess she backed out, or got scared off.” She shakes her head, arms curling around her middle as though to shield herself as she leans back into the couch. “You don’t want to get mixed up in that.”

“I already am. We both are, now. We can go our separate ways if you want, but odds are they’ve got us both on camera, and they’ll find at least one of us before long.”

“I’ve got no real reason to trust you, Gideon,” she points out, raising an eyebrow. “For all I know you could be working for them, trying to find out what I know.” She shakes her head again, the movement tight and restrained, tension singing through her. It’s going to take more than my best charming smile to get her to talk, and watching the way the life’s drained out of her at the mention of what happened today, I know I can’t afford to walk away without understanding what I witnessed.

“Fine. You want trust?” I set down my own drink and walk across to sink down onto the couch beside her. “I’ll go first. I don’t know what swept through those people, but I’ve seen a metal ring like that before. The one with the blue fire, that was meant to be hidden by the projectors in the holosuite.”

She swallows hard and I force myself to sit perfectly still as I wait her out. “And I’ve seen eyes like that before,” she whispers eventually. “Eyes like darkness. People whose minds have been stolen, turning them into those…those husks.”

Husks. The word whispers through my mind, a perfect fit. I couldn’t see their eyes, but I saw the way they turned to the rift in the middle of the room, like compass needles pointing north. They were husks, emptied of themselves. I have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out more questions, my pulse kicking up a notch, pounding in my temple.

Despite my relentless pursuit of the former Commander Towers—the woman who helped LaRoux hide everything that happened on Avon—so far my best lead has been the conspiracy theory forums, the devoted few on the hypernet trying to figure out what LaRoux’s game is, based on the Avon broadcast. That’s where I found Kumiko, the retired soldier hiding out in the south of the city, leading her network of Fury survivors in her quest for revenge, full of wild secondhand stories. After all the hours I’ve spent trying to make sense of Kumiko’s tall tales, now…this girl, she’s actually witnessed what Lilac’s and Tarver’s whispers can do. I keep my voice calm with an effort. “Where?”

She opens her mouth, but then her eyes flick toward me and she stops. “It doesn’t matter where. But LaRoux Industries was there too. In secret.”

My mind is turning over what I’ve gathered since Lilac LaRoux’s request for security assistance first pinged on my radar and put me on the path I’ve been following ever since. I know LaRoux shipped his experiments to three planets: Verona, Avon, and Corinth. Alexis would’ve only been six at the most when the uprisings on Verona happened—but this panic in her gaze, the tension in her frame, they don’t come from something that happened ten years ago. This wound is fresh. Which leaves only one option.

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