Shattered Sky (Star Shards Chronicles Series #3)by Neal Shusterman
"It began innocently enough: six children conceived at the exact moment that the Star Mentaras-H went supernova." "The explosion transformed their souls into living star fragments. It also conferred upon each of them a unique but mysterious power - a power that until they learned its secret masqueraded as a warping disfigurement. For some, it was physical. For others,… See more details below
"It began innocently enough: six children conceived at the exact moment that the Star Mentaras-H went supernova." "The explosion transformed their souls into living star fragments. It also conferred upon each of them a unique but mysterious power - a power that until they learned its secret masqueraded as a warping disfigurement. For some, it was physical. For others, it was emotional. But for all six, it meant one thing: their lives would never be the same." "In time they unlocked the secret of their power. Their gifts brought them incredible riches and attention. Once despised for their deformities, they would come to be worshiped - and feared - as gods. But with unlimited power would come the temptation to abuse it, and - in a desperate struggle for supremacy - the risk of turning against one another like hungry wolves." "But only now will the true cost of their gifts be revealed." "A new and terrifying force has been loosed in the universe. It infects an alien world like a rampaging virus. When the inhabitants of the doomed world are forced to flee, they must conquer and colonize a new world. Their choice: Earth." Only one power exists that could conceivably prevent the extermination of the human race: the Star Shards. But only if the six put aside their titanic egos and join forces.
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By Shusterman, Neal
Tor BooksCopyright © 2003 Shusterman, Neal
All right reserved.
"There were six of us," he began. His body showed none of the bruises from the ordeal he must have endured. Not a strand of his wavy red hair was out of place, his clothes were immaculate--not even the seams of his jeans showed wear. "Six when it all began. Now there are only three left. Winston, Lourdes, and me."
The man across the table took out a pad, and began to take systematic notes. He wrote down his impressions, as well as the things the redheaded kid said. That's all he was, thought the man: a kid. Couldn't be any older than seventeen. Then why am I so frightened? The man pushed the thought out of his mind, and concentrated on his subject, whose name had been seared into the world's collective consciousness in a matter of months. A young man by the name of Dillon Cole.
"What happened to the other three?"
Dillon didn't answer right away. He just sat there in the hard, heavy wooden chair. He didn't move his arms, but then he couldn't; they were both firmly bound to the arms of the chair with tempered steel handcuffs. The man noted Dillon's hesitation--that it was either the prelude to a lie...or perhaps brought on by the pain of memory. Then, something changed about the boy. He seemed to stop his introspection, and instead turned his gaze outward. The man could almost feel Dillon's eyes dragging across him as Dillon sized himup.
"You're a psychological profiler," Dillon said.
The profiler grinned. "Figured that one out, did you?"
Dillon frowned as if at an insult. There was the touch of Dillon's eyes again, like silk moving across the profiler's flesh. "You graduated from Yale," Dillon told him. "You're married, no children. You live in a townhouse, and drive a Lexus--or maybe an Infiniti. Eggshell white."
Now it was the inquisitor's turn to falter. The boy could have picked up some of it from the profiler's gold band and class ring--but the rest? Just shots in the dark. Except for the fact that they were right.
"I see you're quite a profiler yourself," he told Dillon.
Dillon shrugged. "Not professionally. It's just a hobby." Dillon grinned, and the profiler looked away, then silently cursed himself that he hadn't kept eye contact with his subject. "I thought they saved you guys for serial killers, and stuff like that," Dillon said.
"If you're responsible for drowning 400 people in the Colorado River, then you 're a mass murderer. I would say that falls within my job description."
Dillon shifted in his seat, and looked down at the heavy cuffs on his hands. There was a moistness to his eyes. Was it remorse? the profiler speculated. Then, from Dillon: "Something has to be alive before you can kill it."
"An interesting philosophy."
Dillon tugged half-heartedly on his bonds, then looked at the profiler. "Yeah...I've done some unspeakable things in the past. But believe me, the punishment has fit the crime. There's nothing you can do to me that hasn't already been done."
The profiler tapped his pen on the table, the clicks echoing in the cold interrogation room. "Let's talk about your three dead friends," he said. Now that he had regained control of the conversation, he was going to keep a tight rein on it.
"Deanna was the first to die," Dillon said. "Her body lies trapped in the place between worlds."
A place between worlds," repeated the man. Making a mental note of this delusional construct. "Is this a place you created? "
Dillon grinned. "You seem to think I'm all-powerful."
The profiler found the grin far more unsettling than he expected. "Didn't you claim to be a god?"
"I never made the claim--others called us gods. We just got tired of correcting them."
"Alright, then. What are you?"
"The six shards of the Scorpion Star."
"The Scorpion Star? You're saying this has something to do with the supernova?"
Dillon didn't move, didn't break eye contact. His eyebrows did not rise in the reflexive twitch of a lie. "Our souls are the six fragments of the soul of that star, which went nova at the moment each of us were conceived."
"How lucky for you." The profiler had to hand it to him; the kid's delusion was distinctively grandiose.
"Lucky? For years each of us was plagued by parasites that leeched onto our bright souls...but we purged them. Then we were manipulated and used by a spirit predator...but we defeated it. There's nothing 'lucky' about what we suffered."
"Soul parasites and spirit predators," said the profiler, with calculated condescension. "Sounds like some nasty business."
"It was," said Dillon, becoming annoyed. "And why are you here anyway? I haven't quite figured out the purpose it serves. It's not like your report is going to make any difference. Those notes of yours will never see the light of day--you know that, don't you ? They'll be locked up so tight there won't be anyone with high enough security clearance to read them."
"Never mind that. Let's get back to the other two who died. The other two 'shards,' as you called them."
Dillon took a deep breath, attempting to regain his composure. But it was more than that. The profiler sensed...something else. Something that had been there since he had arrived in the room, just on the threshold of perception. Now as he concentrated on it, he was certain it was there-a slow, rhythmic pulse that he could feel resonating through his bones and aching joints. Impossible, the profiler thought, but the pulse seemed to emanate from across the table.
Am I feeling Dillon's heartbeat?
Dillon twitched his nose, and looked down at his shackled hands. "I have an itch on my nose. Could you scratch it for me?"
"There's a standing order than no one is to touch you under any circumstances
"I see. Are they afraid you'll pick up whatever disease I've got?"
"Tell me about the others who died."
Dillon sighed, and tried to rub his nose unsuccessfully on his shoulder, then gave up. "Michael and Tory," Dillon said. "They were the other two. They died in the rubble of Hoover Dam...in the Backwash."
"Ah...your so-called miracle!"
"It wasn't supposed to be a miracle. I guess I just can't help myself."
Again that unsettling grin. It was even more troubling than the things Dillon said. That and the pulse of his heartbeat like an electric charge throbbing through the room. "A thousand years ago," the profiler said, "if a man prayed to the heavens, and it just happened to coincide with an eclipse, he was proclaimed a prophet. Does that make him one?"
"That depends. Was the moon anywhere near the sun at the time?"
"There's a logical explanation for what happened at Hoover Dam, and someday we'II find it. You just happened to be caught in the circumstance of coincidence."
"Then I suppose I have a talent for coincidence."
"And now you're having nightmares." The profiler sat back, his eyes steady, taking the tiniest sadistic pleasure in the discomfort his mention of it brought Dillon.
"Just one," Dillon corrected him. "It keeps coming back."
"Tell me about it."
Dillon grinned. "It's not in your files?"
"I'd like to hear it in your words."
Dillon slipped into himself for a moment, then he seemed to return, and his eyes became sharp and focused again. "Three figures, standing on the edge of some sort of platform. A man, a woman, and a child. The smell of perfume."
"There's someone else in the dream as well. A man. Balding. He's in a leather chair, but it's a strange color. Sort of pink, or purple. It's a recliner, and he's leaning back."
"Images from your past."
"No," he said, "from my future. They're bringing something horrible--something unimaginable, but of course you won't believe me. You won't believe anything until it's too late."
"I didn't say a thing."
"You don't have to. Everything you are--everything you think and feel is in the way you move, the way you breathe, the way you blink."
The balance had shifted, like a ship listing from starboard to port. Without moving an inch, without flexing a muscle, Dillon had seized control of the interrogation. It angered the profiler how easily he was able to do it.
Dillon's eyes probed him again, this time even deeper than before, as if he were reading a biography in his clothes and body language, in the care lines of the profiler's face. "You took early retirement," Dillon divined, "but you were called back for this one last interrogation. You didn't want to come--but you did it as a favor."
The profiler lifted his arms from the armrests, just to assure himself that he wasn't the one shackled to the chair. "There are a dozen ways you could have known that. You could have heard someone talking--"
Dillon wasn't listening. "What I'm wondering is why you were called in, and not someone else?"
Again, the invasive look: a radar scan that left the profiler feeling naked and vulnerable. "We're here to talk about you," he said impotently.
Then all at once Dillon drew a breath, and beamed as if suddenly infused with a powerful new awareness. "You're not well!" he said, excitedly. "Worse than that--you're dying, aren't you?!"
The profiler threw a sudden gaze at the two-way mirror on the right wall. He regretted it instantly. It was on par with an actor looking at the camera. Entirely unprofessional, but his subject had chewed through his professionalism like a chain-saw. Dillon never took his eyes off of him--gray, unreadable eyes except that they seemed charged both with youth and weariness, as of an innocent who has seen too much evil in the world for his own good.
The profiler was determined not to break eye contact. A million ways he could have known. A million ways. "So now you're telling me you read minds."
Dillon scoffed. "I don't have to. It's written in the patterns of everything you do. The way you breathe, the way you sit, the inflections of your voice. It's a blood disease, isn't it? AIDS? No...No, leukemia. How many months do they give you?"
"I can't see how it's your business."
"How many?" Dillon demanded. Then when he didn't get an answer, Dillon sniffed the air, and cocked his head slightly, as if listening for some resonant frequency beyond that intolerable pulsing of his heart. "Six months," Dillon said. "You've been in remission before. Twice...maybe three times. This time you're refusing treatment. You plan to die with dignity."
The profiler pushed back from the table, infuriated by his own lack of restraint. "What is it you want?!"
Dillon was as composed as his counterpart was agitated, and calmly said, "I want someone to scratch my nose."
The room suddenly seemed too small, and the table too meager a barrier between them. "This session is over." The profiler tried to maintain a sense of professional control as he stood from the table, but his voice betrayed how shaken he was. "You will be locked away, and believe me, your friends will be caught!"
"Only if they want to be caught."
"We caught you."
The interrogator reached for his notepad on the table--forcing temper to his trembling hands--and as he did, Dillon jiggled his hands. All he did was jiggle them, and the cuffs snapped open, and clattered off. "Your old boss didn't send you here to do a profile," Dillon said, "he sent you here for this." Then Dillon thrust an arm forward and grabbed him by the wrist, tightly. The profiler could feel his ulna pressing toward his radius--and the concussive power of that terrible heartbeat. But it wasn 't the beat of the boy's heart at all, was it? It was something else. It was more like a blast of radiation, luminescence from some unknown reach of the electromagnetic spectrum. It resonated through the profiler's body now, and he could feel the change within his bones and joints. Something inside him was coming to order! He could actually feel genetic order returning to his mutated marrow!
Then the boy let go. And scratched his nose.
"There. Don't say I never did anything for you."
A bruising crunch of guards exploded into the room, grabbing Dillon, forcing him back down into the chair, Dillon offered no resistance, but the guards still struggled as if he had. The profiler backed away. He had thought his training and experience had prepared him for any madness he 'd come in contact with. But what if the boy's touch coincided with a complete and total remission of his disease? Would that be madness? Would he still call that coincidence?
"You're going to need more than handcuffs," he told the guards, and he ran out, hurrying home where he could cry in the arms of his wife.
THE NUCLEAR REACTOR NEVER WENT ON LINE.
The entire plant was beset by such incredible bad luck and untimely mishaps, it precipitated a storm of rolling heads from Michigan Power and Light, leaving a trail of blood all the way up to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Inferior bolts from questionable vendors, leaks in the coolant system, pipes that seemed to do nothing but terminate in solid concrete. No one with an ounce of sense was bringing uranium within a mile of the place.
For years the stillborn power plant stood dormant and cold in the rural community of Hesperia.
Then, one day, the plant came to life.
The towers remained silent, but a flurry of clandestine activity gave that silence added sonority. Locals knew no power was being generated at the plant. The swarms of guards, and dark sedans that flowed in and out of the electrified gates, coupled with dismissive denial from all official sources, made the truth very clear; the Hesperia plant was now some sort of top-secret facility retrofitted by the government for a greater but undisclosed purpose.
Bobby's Eat-N-Greet Diner, which stood at the crossroads a half mile from the plant's outer gate, was the closest civilian establishment, and was where residents gathered over coffee to trade and distort unsubstantiated rumors. Though not a local, Elon Tessic was becoming something of a regular at the Eat-N-Greet, having popped in once a month since that spring. It was always his first stop whenever he visited the plant. He could have arrived at the plant directly by helicopter, but Tessic much prefered the feel of the road and had instructed that his Jaguar be waiting for him at the airport. Eccentric? Maybe. Besides, it afforded him the opportunity for unauthorized side trips.
On an overcast afternoon in late September, Tessic breezed into the diner, setting off the jingle-bells above the door, alerting the owner that he had a customer. The owner, an elderly man named Bobby, was leaning over, wiping down the counter with a damp rag. When he saw Tessic, he straightened and smiled.
"I'll be damned! Good to see you, Mr. Tessic."
Tessic opened his overcoat, revealing a white suit hopelessly out of season for fall. But then, when you were Elon Tessic, you could wear anything you pleased. "Hello, Bobby. My travels bring me your way again." Tessic looked around. It was three in the afternoon--an off hour. Only a couple of truckers sat in a corner, talking about wives and misery. Either they didn't know who he was, or they didn't care. Just as well. In these out-of-the-way places, Tessic often found himself the center of suspicious attention. It wasn't only his clothes, but the prominent way he held himself, and his Israeli accent, so rich and exotic to the ears of the American heartland. As he had no talent for being inconspicuous, he rarely tried. Still it was nice to go unnoticed from time to time.
Bobby, however, gave Tessic his full attention, fumbling with spotted hands to get together a place setting.
"My waitress took sick this morning, so it's just me and the cook today. I'll have a booth ready for ya' lickety-split."
Tessic noted yet another colloquialism he did not know; a reminder that his command of English was still less than perfect. "No need, Bobby," he said. "Do you mind if I just sit at the counter?"
Bobby looked at him as if it might be a trick question. Tessic laughed and clapped him warmly on the shoulder. "It's alright. Actually, I prefer it. I dine alone way too often."
Bobby shrugged. "Suit yourself." he said. Tessic slid onto a stool. The old man sounded apologetic. "I was sure you'd be used to more highfalutin black-tie kinds of establishments."
"Highfalutin bores me. That's why I come here."
Tessic ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, just a tad too long to be corporate. Like his clothes, it was genteelly defiant. He was a mote in the eye of the system, liked it that way, and as the twelfth richest man in the world, by the reckoning of Fortune magazine, he was one splinter that wouldn't easily be removed.
"So will it be the usual then?" Bobby asked.
Bobby went off to his pastry display case. "Lucky I even have it. If I woulda known you was comin' I coulda baked it up fresh. As it is, I only got a couple of pieces left." He took out a plate and a pie server, then gently lifted a piece of chess pie onto the plate. Even chilled, the thick filling oozed out over the plate, its chunky surface of nuts and chocolate slowly slipping on the rich nougat like a rock slide. Tessic dug in, took a mouthful, and savored the sweetness. Tessic considered himself a man who could appreciate the finer things in life--and knew they didn't always come with a hefty price tag. It was this appreciation that balanced him, and kept him at ease in most any situation.
As Tessic ate, Bobby leaned in closer and whispered. "I got myself a nice piece of Tessitech stock last month." He said it as if it were a classified secret. "Made me five hundred bucks already. Guess I oughta thank you for helpin' me get my granddaughter through college!"
"I didn't know you had a granddaughter that old."
Bobby nodded. "Got accepted to Princeton, and is hell bent on going. We're working out some financial aid. But if Tessitech stock keeps climbing the way it's been it might be the only financial aid she needs!"
"So much faith you have in my company!"
"Well, I figure the world's going to hell in a handcart. Weapons technology's got to be a growth industry."
Tessic grinned dreamily around a mouthful of pie, then said: "I have challenged a dozen chefs to make a pie this good. None have succeeded."
"No one will. Call it my little contribution to humanity."
"I would very much like the recipe."
"So would half the county."
"If half the county comes in here, business must be good!"
Bobby sighed. "Business comes and goes. Mostly goes. I thought I'd start seeing some military men come in once they took over that plant and all. But it's only been you. The others rarely come in or out. And when they do, they speed past this place like it don't exist." Bobby paused, and pretended to clean a glass, but his attention never left Tessic. "Y'ever gonna tell me what goes on in there?"
Tessic grinned. "Is that the price of your recipe?"
"I suppose we could swap national secrets, huh?"
"Secrets are secrets, eh? The government can buy my silence, but they can't buy your recipe. I, on the other hand, would like to do just that." He reached into the pocket of his overcoat, and produced a checkbook. Bobby waved it away.
"Hell, no! I was gonna give it to you anyway. You don't have to pay me."
"I insist." Tessic scribbled in the checkbook. "You can put it toward your granddaughter's tuition." He folded the check and slipped it into Bobby's apron pocket.
"Aw hell. Well, then that piece you just had is on the house." He took a napkin, writing down the recipe from memory. "It don't take a brain surgeon to make." When he finished he handed it to Tessic. "You ain't gonna sell it to Sara Lee, now, are you?"
"I give you my word."
Tessic stood, straightening his overcoat.
"I suppose you won't need to come here anymore, now that you got the recipe."
"And miss your company?" Tessic pulled open the door. "Rest assured, you'll see me again."
Tessic left and drove off in his silver Jag. At the diner, Bobby cleaned up Tessic's plate and then almost as an afterthought slipped the check from his pocket, suspecting that Tessic had given him a digit or two more than the recipe commanded. But the number that stared back at him was so laden with zeros it almost seemed to gain weight in his hand. It was enough to send all his grandchildren to Princeton. His wind stolen from him, he sucked a deep breath, and leaned on the counter to steady himself.
"Hey, Pops," called one of the truckers at the far booth, "you gonna fill up this coffee or what?"
"Yeah, yeah, be right there." He looked at Tessic's check again, blinking as if the number might disappear. The man's crazy! he thought. I can't accept this.
But as he went back to pour coffee for the griping truckers, he realized yes, I most certainly can.
* * *
Half A Mile away, Tessic's sound system blasted Vivaldi as he was waved through the guard gate of the plant. He was the only civilian granted unrestricted access. One of the perks of having friends in high places, and a vested interest in the facility. With the gate closing behind him and the winding, forested road to the plant up ahead, Tessic changed his personal audio soundtrack to the Rolling Stones, to remind him that, at 56, he wasn't quite as old as he sometimes felt. He looked at the recipe-scribbled napkin that lay on the seat next to him and smiled. No recipe was worth what he had paid, but then, a mitzvah was not measured in dollars and cents. Besides, altruism was the best kind of business investment.
He shifted into a higher gear, singing along to "You Can't Always Get What You Want," feeling quite pleased with himself as he sped down his own particular path of enlightenment.
Copyright 2002 by Neal Shusterman
Excerpted from Shattered Sky by Shusterman, Neal Copyright © 2003 by Shusterman, Neal. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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