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Their Fractured Light
By Amie Kaufman
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- Trade Paperback $19.99 $25.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The New York Times bestselling author duo Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s sweeping science fiction Starbound Trilogy comes to a close with this dazzling final installment about the power of courage and hope in humanity’s darkest hour.Gideon Marchant is an underworld hacker known as the Knave of Hearts, ready to climb and abseil his way past the best security measures on the planet to expose LRI’s atrocities. Sofia Quinn, charming con artist, can work her way into any stronghold without missing a beat. When a foiled attempt to infiltrate LRI Headquarters forces them into a fragile alliance, it’s impossible to know who’s playing whom–and whether they can ever learn to trust each other.
With their lives, loves, and loyalties at stake, only by joining forces with the Icarus survivors and Avon’s protectors do they stand a chance of taking down the most powerful corporation in the galaxy—before LRI’s secrets destroy them all.
Copyright © 2015 by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Cover design by Whitney Manger
Cover photograph © 2015 Tom Corbett
CGI art © 2015 Bose Collins
Designed by Whitney Manger and Marci Senders
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
The stillness quakes and splits and where once there was nothing, only us, there is something new. Bright and hard and cold and skimming the surface of the stillness, the new thing is there only an instant before it is gone again.
But we gather. And we watch. And we wait, because there has never been anything new before, and we want to see it again.
THE DAPPLED SUNLIGHT THROUGH THE grass is beautiful, though I know it’s not real. The light casts no warmth on my skin; I’ll suffer no burns, no freckles. The grass doesn’t bend under my feet, though they sink through it to the marble floor beneath the holographic images. A year ago I would have gasped aloud at the sight of sun and blue skies, even holographic ones, but today I find they just make me miss home. What I’d give, now, to lift my head and see bruise-colored clouds sweeping down to meet the marsh, a vastness to the horizon that no holographic lobby in an office building could hope to replicate.
The holosuite is full of people, and while many of them seem to be employees here at LaRoux Industries Headquarters, others are harder to pinpoint. Some carry old-timey briefcases in a nod to ancient vintage fashion from 1920s Earth, the current fad among the upper crust. Others sport only their palm pads; the affectation of carrying purses and cases is absurd, when everything that would’ve gone inside—money, documents, telephones, identification cards—was digitalized hundreds of years ago.
But the trend does make it easy to carry around everything I need without anyone asking questions. Only a couple years ago I would’ve been stuck in pseudo-Victorian garb if I wanted to be fashionable, hiding the tools of my trade under an unwieldy skirt. As it is, my tea dress is light, easy to run in if necessary, and—most importantly—an airy, innocent ivory lace that makes me look even younger than seventeen. I tuck my handbag close to my body, taking a deep breath and scanning the throngs of people.
There’s a tension in the air that makes my pulse quicken. It’s subtle—those hiding here in plain sight are doing so flawlessly. Almost. But I grew up on Avon, and I know how to read a crowd. I know how quickly a protest turns into a riot—I know how quickly a peaceful town becomes a battlefield.
I don’t know if the vast security network at LaRoux Industries is aware of the underground protests scheduled to occur today. I only know about them because I was told by one of my contacts in Corinth Against Tyranny—a ridiculous name, but it’s a romantic notion to fight the good fight against the oppressors. Looking around the holosuite outfitted with lemonade dispensers and sodas whizzing here and there on hover trays, the air littered with conversation and laughter, I can’t help but think that these people don’t know what oppression is. I tear my eyes away from a couple indulgently watching a child of five or six chasing a pair of holographic birds through the air. There’s a reason LaRoux Industries tops the “best places to work in the galaxy” list every year, and if I’d been the one organizing today’s protest, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the new twentieth-floor holosuite as the setting.
Free for employees, and available to the public for only a small charge, the holosuite is part of LaRoux’s new outreach program. “See how generous I am?” he’s saying. “I’m dedicating whole floors of my headquarters to providing safe, fun places for you and your children.” His campaign to make the galaxy love him, to make people forget the accusations leveled at him in the Avon Broadcast, is enough to turn my stomach—not least because it’s working.
The people here do seem happy. No one here cares that people were dying on Avon before Flynn Cormac’s now-infamous speech a year ago. Nobody cares that Roderick LaRoux is a monster—mostly because only small pockets of people here and there actually believed a word of Flynn’s broadcast. These people are here because it looks good on their media pages to say they were at a protest. Some of them are probably hoping to get arrested so they can later post their mug shots on the hypernet.
But it does make a great distraction for what I’m here to do.
I have only a name for the contact I’m meeting—Sanjana Rao—and though it speaks of family roots in old India, it’s just as likely she could be blond-haired and blue-eyed, given the way all the races and bloodlines from Earth have been jumbled up over the centuries. She’ll ping my palm pad when she’s here, but I can’t help but look for her anyway.
I find my gaze creeping toward the elevator doors, cleverly concealed in this park simulation as the entrance to a carousel. This is the closest I’ve been to LaRoux himself after a year of chasing him, and all I want to do is break into their secure elevators and climb to the penthouse floor. A year of burned identities and isolation; of painful tattoo removal surgeries that still haven’t completely erased my genetag; of keeping all traces of myself, all remnants of my old life, with me at all times in case today, this moment, is the one where I’m going to have to pack up and run again.
But LaRoux himself is nearly impossible to reach. If he wasn’t, someone would’ve already killed him years ago—for all that the galaxy at large loves him, enough of the people he’s trampled on his way to power see him for what he is. No, a head-on approach will never reach him. Taking out LaRoux requires subtlety.
I glance at my inner arm, a habit I still haven’t broken. Someone clever could guess at what the look means—no one born on Corinth or any of the older planets is given a genetag at birth—and yet I do it anyway. The faint remnant of my genetag tattoo is safely hidden, though I have to take care not to rub against my dress and risk transferring a telltale smear of concealer to the fabric. I want to grab for my palm pad, to check it to see if I could have missed Dr. Rao’s ping, but standing here repeatedly checking my messages would be a clear sign of nervousness, if anyone was watching me.
It’s only when I lift my head that I realize I do have an audience. And that it isn’t my contact.
A young man’s seated on the floor, his back against a tree—a tree that isn’t really there, of course. His back is against a marble pillar, but the holographic skin of the room makes it look like he’s relaxing in a park. Except, of course, that he’s got a lapscreen and it’s plugged into the side of the tree. There’s a wireless power field here, so I know he’s not charging his screen. It’s a data port, which is odd enough, given that any info accessible in a public place like this would be on the hypernet. But that’s not what makes me stop, makes my heart seize. It’s that he’s wearing the green and gray of LaRoux Industries, and that there’s a lambda embroidered over his breast pocket. He works here—and he’s watching me.
My mouth goes dry, and I force myself not to jerk my gaze away. Instead I tip my head as if puzzled, trying my absolute best to seem intrigued, even coy.
A grin flashes across his features when I catch him watching me. He makes no attempt to pretend he wasn’t, just flicks his fingers to his brow and then away as though tipping an imaginary hat. He doesn’t look like a typical office worker, with longer hair of a shade hovering somewhere between sandy blond and brown and a lazy, almost insolent cast to his body as he leans against the pillar.
I take a breath to settle, hiding any trace of fear that he knows I don’t belong here. Instead I smile back, settling easily into the façade of shy and sweet; to my relief, his grin widens. Just flirting, then.
He winks, then presses a single button on his lapscreen. A holographic bird with brilliant red plumage swoops across my path and then freezes in midair. Abruptly, all the background sounds halt: birdsong and rustling leaves and even some of the laughter and conversation—all gone. Then, without warning, the entire holopark vanishes, leaving us in a vast white room.
The only thing in the room, besides the people, the projectors, and the pillars like the one the boy’s leaning on, is a vast metal ring twice my height at its center. It stands upright, made of some strange alloy that shines dully in the bright white light, and is connected to the floor at its base by a pedestal covered with dials and instruments. LaRoux’s particular holographic technologies are proprietary, but this looks like no projector I’ve ever seen—and while the other projectors are flickering and whirring and trying to overcome whatever glitch made them stop working, the metal ring is still and silent.
A murmur of confusion sweeps through the throngs of people, as groups abandon their conversations in favor of looking around, as though the room might hold some explanation. Its other features stand out now that there’s no masking hologram in place—the drink dispensers are bare and stark, the various projectors and speakers littering the low ceiling like misshapen stars.
Whatever’s going on, it wasn’t planned by the protesters. Everyone, employees and public alike, is milling around in confusion. If it were planned, the protesters would be using the glitch to launch their protest, but instead even the security guards at the edges of the room look unnerved. I let my eyes widen, using a group of interns as cover to move as quietly and purposelessly as I can toward the emergency stairwell. If I’m caught, the worst they’ll assume of me is that I was here to protest. But I’d rather not get in their books at all.
Before I can make it to the fire exit, a flicker of color grabs my eye and I turn in time to see the boy with the lapscreen pull a chip the size of his fingernail out of his screen and stow it in his pocket. Glancing up at the ceiling, he gets up and takes two slow, easy steps to the side, neatly placing himself in the security camera’s blind spot.
Then he’s shrugging out of his LaRoux Industries uniform until he’s just wearing an undershirt, tattooed arms bare for half an instant. He turns the garment inside out, revealing a garishly striped shirt matching the high-fashion trend of the moment—and just like that, he melts into the crowd. No longer an employee of LaRoux Industries.
And far, far too clever to be one of the protesters now milling around, confused and annoyed that they never got their chance to get on the news.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.” A voice, smooth as cream and amplified over the noise of the crowd, emerges from the speakers. “We’ve detected a security breach and traced its source to this room. Please remain calm, and cooperate with all security officers to the fullest extent, and we will have this resolved as soon as possible.”
The security guards, operating on some order given via the implants in their ears, have started funneling people off one by one, presumably to interrogate them individually. One of the guards is still standing by the door, blocking the exit to the stairwell—blocking my escape route. The concealer on my arm might fool a quick glance from someone at the front desk, but now I have no chance of passing myself off as a protester—a security breach will have them on high alert. The first thing those guards will do when they grab me is check for a genetag tattoo, certain that border planet insurgents are the most likely culprits. I close my eyes, calling up the floor plans I’ve been studying for a week and a half. They’ll have shut down access to the elevators on this floor, but there’s another fire exit and another set of stairs through one of the hallways leading off from here. I scan the crowds until I find that exit, and the guard ushering people in that direction.
What I need is a diversion.
My eyes fall on a loud, red-and-gold striped shirt. Whoever the boy is, he’s not from LaRoux Industries, and he’s not supposed to be here either. And while I can’t be sure that keystroke of his is what took down the holo-projectors, I do know that if we get grabbed together, he’s the one who’s going to look far more suspicious than I am once they realize he’s got an LRI uniform sewn into his clothes. I mutter a curse under my breath and rush forward to the guard’s side.
Sorry, Handsome. I’m pretty sure you want to be center of attention just about as much as I do. But if there’s one person here in more trouble than me, it’s the guy with the fake LaRoux Industries uniform on under his shirt.
“That boy there,” I say, keeping my voice low, forcing my eyes wide. “I think he needs help.” With any luck, they’ll go check on him and I can slip out once they discover he’s not supposed to be here.
The guard’s gaze swings around immediately to rest on the boy in the striped shirt, who’s watching us with a slight edge to his nonchalant air. His smile dies away entirely as the guard takes two steps toward him, and I ease my weight back, the first step toward the door the man was guarding. Slowly, slowly, don’t draw attention.
As if my thought was spoken aloud, the guard reaches out to wrap a hand around my arm. “Show me,” he orders. I freeze, and, to make matters worse, he lifts his hand to signal to one of the other heavies over in our direction. Now I’ve got two guards watching me, and the door’s about to be blocked again. Damn it. If they make me go with them, they may well assume I’m with him when they discover his fake LRI shirt. Now I have to get us both out of here.
Good work, Sofia.
My mind throws up a flurry of possibilities, and in a split second I sort through them, discarding the impossible, left with only one way to divert both of them to the boy.
“Please hurry,” I gasp, focusing the muscles in my face until my eyes start to water with tears. “He’s my fiancé—he has a condition, stress makes it worse.” In the confusion, with so many people to process, I can only hope the guard doesn’t want to ask too many questions.
The guard blinks at me and, when I turn to indicate the boy in the striped shirt, follows my gesture. The boy stares back, openly wary now, eyes flicking from the guard to my face. Please, I think. Just don’t say anything until I can get past them.
“You were both fine a minute ago.” He exchanges glances with his colleague, who’s standing by me now. “I’m sure it can wait.” His voice is even, giving not an inch, but his hand strays, shifting from the weapon at his waist to tug at his sleeve.
I double my efforts, forcing my voice to crack. “Please,” I echo. “I’ll stay, I’ll answer any questions you want. Just go check him and you’ll see, he needs a doctor or else he’s going to have an episode.” I just need both the guards to turn toward the boy long enough for me to slip through the exit, uncounted and unescorted.
The nearer guard’s weight shifts, making my breath catch, but he doesn’t move as they exchange glances again. “I’ll call for the medtech on duty,” he says finally. “But he looks fine.”
My mind races, scanning the guard for anything I can use. He’s in his forties—too savvy, probably, for me to flirt my way out, especially when I already used the fiancé cover. No signs on his clothes of pets or children, nothing I can use to establish any connection with him, any appeal to his humanity. I’m about to go for my last resort—the little-girl wail of hysterics—when, without warning, the boy with the lapscreen sways and drops to the ground with a moan.
Both guards gape, and for half a second, I’m as stunned as they are. The boy on the ground twitches, limbs quivering, looking like he’s having exactly the kind of fit I’d been warning them about. For a quick, searing moment I wonder if somehow my lie stumbled upon something like the truth—but I can’t afford to find out. I’m just about to bolt for the exit when the nearest guard sticks his hand between my shoulder blades and pushes me forward. “Do something!” His own eyes are looking a little wild.
Damn. Damn. DAMN. Still, if I end up in an ambulance with this guy, it’ll be better than ending up in an interrogation room at LRI Headquarters. The EMTs will scan the ident chip in my palm pad, but the name they’ll get from that is Alexis. And they won’t be looking for genetags. I drop to my knees at the stranger’s side, reaching for his twitching hand and curling my fingers through his as though I’m used to touching him. One guard’s talking hurriedly into a patch on his vest, summoning backup, doctors, some kind of support.
The guy’s fingers tighten around mine, making my eyes jerk toward his face—and abruptly, all my simulated tears and panic come to a screeching halt. He’s actually starting to foam at the mouth, eyes rolled back into his head. He can’t be that much older than I am, and there’s something definitely, dangerously wrong with him.
One of the security guards is trying to ask me questions—has he eaten anything recently, when did he last take his medication, what’s his condition called—in order to brief the EMTs on their way. But his voice trails off as another sound rises from the center of the room, quickly growing in volume and causing the other nervous conversations in the room to peter out. The metal ring, the one the holo-projectors had been concealing, is turning itself on.
A number of lights along the base come to life, indicating that there’s data to be read now from the displays there, and the panels overhead lighting the room flicker as though the ring is drawing too much power. But neither of those things is what’s made the entire roomful of people go silent.
Little flickers of blue light start to race around the edge of the ring, appearing and vanishing as though weaving directly through the metal. They move faster as the sound of the machine coming to life intensifies and smooths out, until the entire edge of the ring is crawling with blue fire.
A hand on my arm jerks my attention away, my heart pounding as I look down.
The boy is beside me, raising one eyebrow. “Care to tell me when the wedding is, darling?” His voice is barely audible, words spoken without moving his lips.
I blink. “What?” I’m so thrown I can’t find my balance.
The boy glances at the security guard nearest us, whose attention is completely absorbed by the machinery in the center of the room, and then back at me. He wipes the remnants of foam from his mouth and then props himself up on his elbows. “Think maybe we should start the honeymoon a little early.” This time his whisper carries an edge, and he jerks his chin meaningfully toward the emergency exit.
Whoever he is, whatever he was doing here, right now we want exactly the same thing: to get out of here. And that’s enough for me. I can always lose him later.
I give him a hand up—the guard doesn’t even look in our direction—and slip back toward the exit. We reach the door just as a flash of blue light illuminates the white walls before us. While the boy in the striped shirt fumbles with the door, I glance over my shoulder.
The flickers of light around the edges of the ring are now reaching toward the center, tongues of blue sparks snapping out and vanishing, like lightning-fast stellar flares. Every now and then they meet with a tremendous flash of light—until finally the entire center of the ring is filled with light, crackling like a curtain of energy.
While I watch, a man standing near the ring collapses, sinking to the floor without a sound. I’m waiting for the people nearest him to react, to rush to his side and break the spell of fascination, but they’re all motionless, slack, like machines whose power’s been cut. More and more people are going still and silent with every passing second, security guards and protesters alike, in an expanding circle around the device at the room’s center. Every now and then another person drops to the floor, but most are standing still, upright, casting long shadows that flicker and reach toward us as the machine fires.
In between flashes of light, I can make out the faces of those on the other side—I can see their eyes.
And in that instant I’m standing on a military base on Avon, watching my father change in front of me. I’m seeing his eyes, multiplied a dozen times over in the faces around me, pupils so wide the eyes look like pools of ink, like the starless expanse of night over the swamps. I’m reliving the moment my father walked into a military barracks with an explosive strapped to his body. I’m remembering him as he was the last time I ever saw him, a shadow of himself, nothing more than a husk where his soul used to be.
There are hundreds of people still dotting the white expanse of the holosuite—and every single one of them has eyes like darkness.
At first, there is nothing more. And then come symbols that look like this:
Then come more words, followed by images and sounds and colors. Bit by bit the stillness floods with this new kind of life, and we begin to understand the strings of symbols and sounds that pierce the stillness. The hard, bright, cold things come more and more often, leaving ripples in the stillness, gathering up the fabric of existence in waves as they skip through the surface of the world.
YOU’D THINK I’D KNOW TO stay away from trouble by now. But here I am, my mouth tasting like a SysCleanz tablet, bolting down a hallway, sucked into this fiasco by a pair of dimples. One of these years, I really have to get smarter.
The girl just in front of me is slender, at least a head shorter than me, in one of those dresses all the rich girls are wearing right now. She’s got a mean turn of speed on her despite the heels. To add to the dimples, she’s got pale blond hair to just below her chin, tousled into an artful mess, and big, gray eyes.
Yeah, smarter ain’t showing up anytime soon.
“I’m really hoping there’s a part two of your plan, mastermind,” I gasp, as we pound down the hallway together.
“What did you do back there?” Her eyes are even huger than they were before, true fear making her voice shake and chasing away my amusement in an instant. She had a better view of what was going on, and whatever she saw has left this girl—this girl who barely batted an eye when I started foaming at the mouth right in front of her—completely shaken.
“That wasn’t me.” I glance over my shoulder, half expecting some of the security guards to round the corner on our tail. “Though I’m flattered you think it was.”
I’m about to continue when she grabs a handful of my shirt, using my momentum to shove me into an alcove housing emergency fire supplies without breaking stride. I slam into the wall and she slams into my back, and since I figure she had some reason for steering me this way beyond a desire to see me hurt, I hold still. A moment later, voices are audible around the corner, and they sound pissed. Good spotting, Dimples.
“We need a diversion,” she whispers, one hand around my neck to yank my head down so she can whisper in my ear, which isn’t at all distracting. “Can you send them somewhere else?”
“What makes you think I can do that?” I’m already pulling out my lapscreen from my satchel, but I’m interested to hear how she made me.
“Please,” she mutters. “Maybe you didn’t turn on that machine, but I know you’re the one who shut off the projectors.”
Huh. Well, at least she was watching me, that’s a start. I should try asking her out for a drink later. If we’re not dead or arrested.
I wriggle around until I’m facing her, and judging by the way her lips thin, she’s all ready to pour cold water on the idea of getting this up close and personal, until she realizes I’m doing it—mostly—because I need room to get my screen in front of me. “Let’s give them something to go look at,” I mutter, pulling the activation chip from my pocket and sliding it into the port on the side of the screen.
“What are you going to do?” she asks.
“Would you understand if I answered that?” I bring the screen to life, and as always, a faint but heady buzz kicks in as I write my own invitation into the LaRoux Industries core and start the hunt for my dance partner. Not a bad system, but not good enough.
Praise for This Shattered World:
"Kaufman and Spooner prove that their first brilliant installment was no fluke with this strong second outing. . . . There is action, a spark of romance, and a mystery, all set on a fully-realized planet. "—School Library Journal
"Neither side is right, neither is wrong, but this sci-fi Romeo and Juliet are destined to fall in love in spite of the hatred and danger that surround them. Kaufman and Spooner have transitioned smoothly from These Broken Stars."—Booklist
"Fans of the first book, as well as those who like impossible romance between two people on opposing sides, will enjoy this sequel."—VOYA
Praise for These Broken Stars:
"Absolutely brilliant. This is the sci fi I've been waiting for! Action, romance, twists and turns--this book has it all!" —Beth Revis, New York Times bestselling author of Across the Universe
"With rich, complex characters and a dynamic--and dangerous--new world, These Broken Stars completely transported me."—Jodi Meadows, author of the Incarnate series
"One of the most intense, thrilling, and achingly beautiful stories I've ever read. Kaufman and Spooner will break your heart with skilled aplomb, and you'll thank them for it. Absolutely incredible! If I have to, I will come to your house and shove this book into your hands!"
—Marie Lu, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Legend Trilogy
*"Lilac and Tarver are characters of depth, complexity, and strength, young people who alternately elicit the reader's admiration, frustration, and sympathy ... a testament to love, loyalty, courage, and the power of good over dystopian greed and perversity."—Booklist, starred review
"The authors begin with star-crossed lovers and a crash-landing survival story but add excitingly original material to these tropes to create a wonderful tale that should appeal to both teen and adult readers."—School Library Journal
"Kaufman and Spooner's debut collaboration is a stunning, gorgeously imagined romance with epic sweep, brimming with lush detail of setting and intricate character study. It's the kind of read to savor, but the survivalist plotting still rushes the reader to keep turning pages."
—Ingram Library Group
"With well-developed characters and an excellent narration style, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner have crafted an insightful, shrewd and genuinely moving exploration of life, humanity and the moral obligations neglected in the name of progress. These Broken Stars is a romantic and heartbreaking tale that is complete in its own right while still leaving readers excited for future installments. Intense, emotional and compelling, it will appeal to readers (aged 12 and up) who like their sci-fi thoughtful and challenging--and just a little bit sexy."—Books+Publishing
- On Sale
- Dec 6, 2016
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers