Read These broken stars Online

Authors: Amie Kaufman

These broken stars

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Series: Starbound

Title:These Broken Stars

Authors: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Imprint: Hyperion

In-store date: 11/05/2013

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7102-7

Price: $17.99 US / $18.99 CAN

eBook ISBN: 978-1-4231-8778-3

Trim size: 6” x 9” Page count: 384

Ages: 12–18

Grades: 7–12

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This is an uncorrected galley proof. It is not a finished book and is not expected to look like one. Errors in spelling, page length, format, etc., will be corrected when the book

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Copyright © 2013 by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data [TK] ISBN 978-1-4231-7102-7

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For Clint Spooner, Philip Kaufman, and Brendan Cousins,three men who have always been fixed constellationsin this ever-changing universe.

“When did you first meet Miss LaRoux?”

“Three days before the accident.”

“And how did that come about?”

“The accident?”

“Meeting Miss LaRoux.”

“How could it possibly matter?”

“Major, everything matters.”

ONETARVER

Nothing about this room is real. If this were a party at home, the music would draw your eye to human musicians in the corner. Candles and soft lamps would light the room, and the wooden tables would be made of actual trees. People would be listening to each other, instead of checking to see who’s watching them.

Even the air here smells filtered and fake. The candles in the sconces do flicker, but they’re powered by a steady source. Hover trays weave among the guests, like invisible waiters are carrying drinks. The string quartet is only a hologram—perfect and infallible, and exactly the same at every performance.

I’d give anything for a laid-back evening joking around with my platoon, instead of being stuck here in this imitation scene from a historical novel.

For all their trendy Victorian tricks, there’s no hiding where we are. Outside the viewports, the stars are like faded white lines, half invisible, surreal. TheIcarus, passing through dimensional hyperspace, would look just as faded, half transparent, if someone stationary in the universe could somehow see her moving faster than light.

I’m leaning against the bookshelves when it occurs to me that one thing hereisreal—the books. I reach behind me and let my fingers trail over the rough leather of their antique spines, then pull one free. Nobody here reads them; the books are for decoration. Chosen for the richness of their leather bindings, not for the contents of their pages. Nobody will miss one, and I need a dose of reality.

I’m almost done for the night, smiling for the cameras as ordered. The brass keep thinking that mixing field officers with the upper crust will create some sort of common ground where none exists, let the paparazzi infesting theIcarussee me, the lowborn boy made good, hobnobbing with the elite. I keep thinking that the photographers will get their fill of shots of me with drink in hand, lounging in the first-class salon, but in the two weeks I’ve been on board, they haven’t.

These folks love a good rags-to-riches story, even if my riches are no more than the medals pinned to my chest. It still makes for a nice story in the papers. The military look good, the rich people look good, and it gives the poor people something to aspire to.See?say all the headlines,You too can rocket your way up to riches and fame. If hick boy can make good, why can’t you?

If it wasn’t for what happened on Patron, I wouldn’t even be here. What they call heroics, I call a tragic debacle. But nobody’s asking my opinion.

I scan the room, taking in the clusters of women in brightly colored dresses, officers in dress uniforms like mine, men in evening coats and top hats. The ebb and flow of the crowd is unsettling—patterns I’ll never get used to no matter how many times I’m forced to rub elbows with these people.

My eyes fall on a man who’s just entered, and it takes me a moment to realize why. There’s nothing about him that fits here, although he’s trying to blend in. His black tailcoat is too threadbare, and his top hat is missing the shiny satin ribbon that’s in fashion. I’m trained to notice the thing that doesn’t fit, and in this sea of surgically perfected faces, his is a beacon. There are lines at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth, his skin weather-beaten and marked by the sun. He’s nervous, shoulders rounded, fingers gripping the lapels of his jacket and letting go again.

My heart kicks up a beat. I’ve spent too long in the colonies, where anything out of place might kill you. I ease away from the bookshelves and start to weave my way toward him, past a pair of women sporting monocles they can’t possibly need. I want to know why he’s here, but I’m forced to move slowly, navigate the push and pull of the crowd with agonizing patience. If I shove, I’ll draw attention. And if he is dangerous, any sudden shift in the energy of the room could trigger him.

A brilliant flash lights up the world as a camera goes off in my face.

“Oh, Major Merendsen!” It’s the leader of a gaggle of women in their mid-twenties, descending on me from the direction of the viewport. “Oh, you simplymusttake a picture with us.”

Their insincerity is poisonous. I’m barely more than a dog walking on its hind legs, here—they know it, and I know it, but they can’t pass up an opportunity to be seen with a real, live war hero.

“Sure, I’ll just come back in a minute, if—” Before I can finish, all three women are posed around me, lips pursed and lashes lowered.Smile for the cameras.A series of flashes erupt all around me, blinding me.

I can feel that low, stabbing pain at the base of my skull that promises to explode into a fully fledged headache. The women are still chattering and pressing in close, and I can’t see the man with the weathered face.

One of the photographers is buzzing around me, his voice a low drone. I step sideways to look past him, but my eyes are swimming with red and gold afterimages. Blinking hard, my gaze swings from the bar, to the door, the hover trays, the booths. I try to remember what he looked like, the line of his clothes. Was there room to hide anything under his dinner jacket? Could he be armed?

“Major, did you hear me?” The photographer’s still talking.

“Yes?”No, I wasn’t listening.I disentangle myself from the women still draped over me on the pretense of stepping closer to speak with him. I wish I could shove past this little man, or better yet, tell him there’s a threat and watch how fast he vanishes from the room.

“I said I’m surprised your buddies on the lower decks aren’t trying to sneak up here too.”

Seriously?The other soldiers watch me head to first-class every evening like a man walking down death row. “Oh, you know.” I try not to sound as annoyed as I am. “I doubt they even know what champagne is.” I try for a smile too, but they’re the ones good at insincerity, not me.

He laughs too loudly as the flash explodes in my face again. Blinking away the stars, I stumble clear and crane my neck, trying to locate the only guy in the room more out of place than I am. But the stooped man in the shabby hat is nowhere to be found.

Maybe he left? But someone doesn’t go to the trouble of crashing a party like this and then slip out without a fuss. Maybe he’s seated now, hiding among the other guests. My eyes sweep across the booths again, this time examining the patrons more closely.

They’re all crowded, packed full of people. All except one. My gaze falls on a girl sitting alone in a booth, watching the crowd with detached interest. Her fair, flawless skin says she’s one of them, but her gaze says she’s better, above, untouchable.

Her dress is the same hue as a navy dress uniform, bare shoulders holding my gaze for a moment—she sure as hell wears the color better than any sailor I know. Hair: red, falling down past her shoulders. Nose: a little snub, but that makes her more pretty, not less. It makes her real.

Pretty’s not the right word. She’s a knockout.

Something about the girl’s face tickles at the back of my mind, like I should recognize it, but before I can dig up the connection, she catches me looking at her. I know better than to mix with girls like her, so I don’t know why I keep watching her, or why I smile.

Then, abruptly, a movement jerks my gaze away. It’s the nervous man, and he’s no longer meandering in and out of the crowd. His stooped posture is gone, and with his eyes fixed on something across the room he’s moving quickly through the press of bodies. He’s got a goal—and it’s the girl in the blue dress.

This time I waste no time weaving in and out of the crowd politely. I shove between a pair of startled elderly gentlemen and make for the booth, but the outsider’s gotten there first. He’s leaning close, speaking low and fast. He’s moving too quickly, trying to spit out what he came to say before he’s picked out as an intruder. The girl jerks back, leaning away. Then the crowd closes up between us, and they’re out of sight.

I reach down to lay a hand on my gun, and hiss between my teeth as I realize it’s not there. The empty spot at my hip feels like a missing limb. I weave left, upsetting a hover tray and sending its contents crashing to the floor. The crowd recoils, finally giving me an avenue toward the table.

The intruder has grabbed her elbow, urgent. She’s trying to pull away, eyes flashing up, looking around for someone as though she expects help. Her gaze falls on me.

I get one step closer before a man in the right sort of top hat claps a hand on the stranger’s shoulder. He has an equally self-important friend with him, and two officers, a man and a woman. They know the man with the fervent light in his eyes doesn’t belong here, and I can see they mean to remedy his presence.

The redhead’s self-appointed guardian jerks the man backward to stumble against the officers, who take him firmly by the arms. I can tell he’s got no training, either formally or the rough-and-tumble sort they learn in the colonies. If he did, he’d be able to handle these desk jockeys and their sloppy form.

They start to turn him for the door, one of them grabbing at the nape of his neck. More force than I would use, for someone whose only crime so far seems to be trying to talk to the girl in the blue dress, but they’re handling it. I stop by the adjacent booth, still trying to catch my breath.

The man twists, breaking free of the soldiers, and turns back toward the girl. As the room starts to fall silent, the ragged edge to his voice is audible. “You have to speak to your father about this, please. We’re dying for lack of tech, he needs to give the colonists more—”

His voice gives out as one of the officers delivers a blow to his stomach that doubles him over. I jerk forward, shoving away from the booth and past the widening ring of onlookers.

The redhead beats me to it. She’s on her feet in a swift movement that draws the attention of everyone in the room in a way the scuffle didn’t. Whoever she is, she’s a showstopper.

“Enough!” She has a voice well suited to delivering ultimatums. “Captain, Lieutenant, what do you think you’re doing?”

I knew I liked her for a reason.

When I step forward, she’s holding them frozen in place with a glare that could fell a platoon. For a moment, none of them notice me. Then I see the soldiers register my presence, and scan my shoulders for my stars and bars. Rank aside, we’re different in every way. My medals are for combat, theirs for long service, bureaucratic efficiencies. My promotions were made in the field. Theirs, behind a desk. They’ve never had blood on their hands. But for once, I’m glad of my newfound status. The two soldiers come reluctantly to attention—both of them are older, and I can tell it rankles to have to salute an eighteen-year-old. Funny how I was old enough by sixteen to drink, fight, and vote, but even two years later, I’m too young to respect.

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