Chapter no 10

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

CINDER STARTED WHEN THE MYSTERY VOICE FILLED THE room again, demanding another blood sample from the sacrificial lamb. She glared at the mirror, ignoring the med-droid as it prepared a new needle with robotic efficiency.

She fought down a gulp, moistening her throat. “How long before I get the pretend antidote?”

She waited, but there was no answer. The android clipped its metal claws around her arm. She flinched at the cold, then again as the needle poked into her sore elbow.

The bruise would last for days.

Then she remembered that tomorrow she would be dead. Or dying. Like Peony.

Her stomach twisted. Maybe Adri was right. Maybe it was for the best.

A shudder wracked her body. Her metal leg clanked hard against her restraints.

Maybe not, though. Maybe the antidote would work.

She filled her lungs with the cool, sterile air of the lab and watched as the holograph on the wall mimicked her. Two green dots lingered by her right foot.

The med-droid pulled out the needle and used a cotton ball to stopper the wound. The vial filled with her blood was set into a metal box attached to the wall.

Cinder thumped her head against the lab table. “I asked you a question. Antidote? Any day now? You are going to at least try to save my life, right?”

“Med,” said a new voice, a female. Cinder snapped her head around to look at herself in the mirror again. “Disconnect the patient from the monitoring machines and escort her into lab room 4D.”

Cinder dug her fingernails into the tissue paper beneath her. Lab room 4D. Is that where they sent you so they could watch you die?

The android snapped shut her head panel and removed the nodes from her chest. The heart rate machine flatlined.

“Hello?” said Cinder. “Could you tell me what’s going on?”

No answer. A green light flickered beside the android’s sensor, and the door opened into a room’s white tiled hallway. The med-droid wheeled Cinder’s exam table out of the lab, past the mirror. The corridor was empty and smelled of bleach, and one of the table’s wheels squeaked in time with the android’s treads.

Cinder craned her head but was unable to meet the med-droid’s sensor. “I think I have some oil in my calf if you’d like me to fix that wheel.”

The android remained silent.

Cinder pressed her lips. Numbered white doors slid past them. “What’s in lab room 4D?”


Cinder drummed her fingers, listening to the crinkle of tissue paper and the wheel that was sure to give her a twitch. She caught the sound of voices somewhere far away, down another corridor, and half expected to hear screams coming from behind the closed doors. Then one of the doors opened, and the android pushed her past a black 4D. The room was almost an exact duplicate of the other but without the observation mirror.

Cinder was wheeled alongside another exam table, upon which sat a familiar pair of boots and gloves. Then, to Cinder’s surprise, her shackles released with a simultaneous whistle of air.

She jerked her hands and feet out of the opened metal rings before the android could realize it had made a mistake and bind her again, but the android showed no reaction as it retreated to the hall without comment. The door clanked shut behind it.

Shivering, Cinder sat up and searched the room for hidden cameras, but nothing struck her as obvious. A counter along one wall held the same heart-rate machines and ratio detectors as the other had. One netscreen to her right sat blank. The door. Two exam tables. And her.

She swung her legs over the side and snatched up her gloves and boots. While lacing up her left boot, she remembered the tools she’d stashed in her leg before leaving the junkyard, what seemed like eons ago. She unlatched the compartment and was relieved to find it hadn’t been raided. With a steadying breath, she grabbed the largest, heaviest tool she had—a wrench—before closing the compartment and tying off her boot.

With her synthetic limbs covered and a weapon in hand, she felt better.

Still tense, but not as vulnerable as before.

More confused than ever.

Why give her stuff back if they were going to kill her? Why take her to a new lab?

She rubbed the cool wrench against the bruise on the eye of her elbow. It almost looked like a spot from the plague. She pressed on it with her thumb, glad to feel the dull pain that proved it wasn’t.

Again she scanned the room for a camera, half expecting a small army of med-droids to stampede the room before she could destroy all the lab equipment, but no one came. The hallway outside betrayed no footsteps.

Sliding off the exam table, Cinder went to the door and tested the handle. Locked. An ID scanner was inserted into the frame, but it stayed red when she flashed her wrist before it, so it must have been coded to select personnel.

She went to the cabinets and fiddled with the row of drawers, but none opened.

Tapping the wrench against her thigh, she turned on the netscreen. It blazed to life, a holographic image jumping out at her. It was her again, her medical diagram spliced in half.

She swiped the wrench through the holograph’s abdomen. It flickered, then returned to normal.

Behind her, the door whooshed open.

Cinder spun, tucking the wrench against her side.

An old man in a gray newsboy cap stood before her, holding a portscreen in his left hand and two blood-filled vials in the other. He was shorter than Cinder. A white lab coat hung from his shoulders as it would a model skeleton. Lines drawn into his face suggested he had spent many years thinking very hard over very difficult problems. But his eyes were bluer than the sky and, at that moment, they were smiling.

He reminded her of a child salivating over a sticky bun. The door shut behind him.

“Hello, Miss Linh.”

Her fingers tightened on the wrench. The strange accent. The disembodied voice.

“I am Dr. Erland, the leading scientist of the royal letumosis research team.”

She forced her shoulders to relax. “Shouldn’t you be wearing a face mask?”

His gray eyebrows lifted. “Whatever for? Are you sick?” Cinder clenched her teeth and pressed the wrench into her thigh.

“Why don’t you sit down? I have some important things to discuss with you.”

“Oh, now you want to talk,” she said, inching toward him. “I was under the impression you didn’t care too much about the opinions of your guinea pigs.”

“You are a bit different than our usual volunteers.”

Cinder eyed him, the metal tool warming in her palm. “Maybe that’s because I didn’t volunteer.

In a fluid motion, she raised her arm. Targeted his temple. Envisioned him crumpling to the floor.

But she froze, her vision blurring. Her heart rate slowed, the spike of adrenaline gone before her retina display could warn her about it.

Thoughts came to her, sharp and clear amid the syrupy confusion of her brain. He was a simple old man. A frail, helpless old man. With the sweetest, most innocent blue eyes she’d ever seen. She did not want to hurt him.

Her arm trembled.

The little orange light clicked on and she dropped the wrench in surprise.

It clattered to the tile floor, but she was too dazed to worry about it.

He hadn’t said anything. How could he be lying?

The doctor didn’t even flinch. His eyes beamed, pleased with Cinder’s reaction. “Please,” he said, fanning his fingers toward the exam table. “Won’t you sit?”

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