Chapter no 11

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)


light in the corner of her vision disappeared—she still had no idea what had caused it.

Maybe the earlier shock to her system had messed with her programming. The doctor brushed past her and gestured at the holographic image that jutted from the netscreen. “You no doubt recognize this,” he said, sliding his finger along the screen so that the body spun in a lazy circle. “Let me tell you

what is peculiar about it.”

Cinder tugged her glove up, pulling the hem over her scar tissue. She scooted toward him. Her foot bumped the wrench, sending it beneath the exam table. “I’d say about 36.28 percent of it is pretty peculiar.”

When Dr. Erland did not face her, she bent and picked the wrench up. It seemed heavier than before. In fact, everything felt heavy. Her hand, her leg, her head.

The doctor pointed to the holograph’s right elbow. “This is where we injected the letumosis-carrying microbes. They were tagged so that we could monitor their progress through your body.” He withdrew the finger, tapping his lip. “Now you see what is peculiar?”

“The fact that I’m not dead, and you don’t seem concerned about being in the same room with me?”

“Yes, in a way.” He faced her, rubbing his head through his wool hat. “As you can see, the microbes are gone.”

Cinder scratched an itch on her shoulder with the wrench. “What do you mean?”

“I mean they are gone. Disappeared. Poof.” He exploded his hands like fireworks.

“So…I don’t have the plague?”

“That’s correct, Miss Linh. You do not have the plague.” “And I’m not going to die.”


“And I’m not contagious?”

“Yes, yes, yes. Lovely feeling, isn’t it?”

She leaned against the wall. Relief filled her, but it was followed by suspicion. They had given her the plague, but now she was healed? Without any antidote?

It felt like a trap, but the orange light was nowhere to be seen. He was telling her the truth, no matter how unbelievable it seemed. “Has this happened before?”

An impish grin spread across the doctor’s weathered face. “You are the first. I have some theories about how it could be possible, but I’ll need to run tests, of course.”

He abandoned the holograph and went to the counter, lying out the two vials. “These are your blood samples, one taken before the injection, one after. I am very excited to see what secrets they contain.”

She slid her eyes to the door, then back to the doctor. “Are you saying you think I’m immune?”

“Yes! That is precisely what it seems. Very interesting. Very special.” He gripped his hands together. “It is possible that you were born with it. Something in your DNA that predisposed your immune system to fight off this particular disease. Or perhaps you were introduced to letumosis in a very small amount some time in your past, perhaps in your childhood, and your body was able to fight it off, therefore building an immunity to it which you utilized today.”

Cinder shrank back, uncomfortable under his eager stare.

“Do you recall anything from your childhood that could be connected to this?” he continued. “Any horrible sicknesses? Near brushes with death?”

“No. Well…” She hesitated, stuffing the wrench into a side cargo pocket. “I guess, maybe. My stepfather died of letumosis. Five years ago.”

“Your stepfather. Do you know where he could have contracted it?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. My step—my guardian, Adri, always suspected he got it in Europe. When he adopted me.”

The doctor’s hands trembled, as if his clutched fingers alone were keeping him from combusting. “You’re from Europe then.”

She nodded, uncertainly. It felt odd to think she was from a place she had no memory of.

“Were there many sick people in Europe that you recall? Any notable outbreaks in your province?”

“I don’t know. I don’t actually remember anything from before the surgery.”

His eyebrows rose, his blue eyes sucking in all the light of the room. “The

cybernetic operation?” “No, the sex change.”

The doctor’s smile faltered. “I’m joking.”

Dr. Erland reassembled his composure. “What do you mean when you say you don’t remember anything?”

Cinder blew a wisp of hair from her face. “Just that. Something about when they installed the brain interface, it did some damage to my…you know, whatever. The part of the brain that remembers things.”

“The hippocampus.” “I guess.”

“And how old were you?” “Eleven.”

“Eleven.” He released his breath in a rush. His gaze darted haphazardly around the floor as if the reason for her immunity was written upon it. “Eleven. Because of a hover accident, was it?”


“Hover accidents are nearly impossible these days.”

“Until some idiot removes the collision sensor, trying to make it go faster.”

“Even so, it wouldn’t seem that a few bumps and bruises would justify the amount of repairs you had.”

Cinder tapped her fingers against her hip. Repairs—what a very cyborg term.

“Yeah, well, it killed my parents and threw me through the windshield. The force pushed the hover off the maglev track. It rolled a couple times and pinned me underneath. Afterward some of the bones in my leg were the consistency of sawdust.” She paused, fiddling with her gloves. “At least, that’s what they told me. Like I said, I don’t remember any of it.”

She only barely remembered the drug-induced fog, her mushy thoughts. And then there was the pain. Every muscle burning. Every joint screaming. Her body in rebellion as it discovered what had been done to it.

“Do you have any trouble retaining memories since then, or forming new ones?”

“Not that I know of.” She glared. “Is this relevant?”

“It’s fascinating,” Dr. Erland said, dodging the question. He pulled out his portscreen, making some notation. “Eleven years old,” he muttered again, then, “You must have gone through a lot of prosthetic limbs growing into those.”

Cinder twisted her lips. She should have gone through lots of limbs, but

Adri had refused to pay for new parts for her freak stepdaughter. Instead of responding, she cast her eyes to the door, then at the blood-filled vials. “So… am I free to go?”

Dr. Erland’s eyes flashed as if injured by her question. “Go? Miss Linh, you must realize how valuable you’ve become with this discovery.”

Her muscles tensed, her fingers trailing along the hard outline of the wrench in her pocket. “So I’m still a prisoner. Just a valuable one now.”

His face softened, and he tucked the port out of sight. “This is much bigger than you realize. You have no idea how important…no idea of your worth.”

“So what now? Are you going to inject me with even more lethal diseases, to see how my body fares against those?”

“Stars, no. You are much too precious to kill.” “You weren’t exactly saying that an hour ago.”

Dr. Erland’s gaze flickered to the holograph, brow furrowed as if considering her words. “Things are quite different than they were an hour ago, Miss Linh. With your help, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives. If you are what I think you are, we could—well, we could stop the cyborg draft, to start with.” He settled his fist against his mouth. “Plus, we would pay you, of course.”

Hooking her thumbs into the belt loops of her pants, Cinder leaned against the counter that held all the machines that had seemed so threatening before.

She was immune. She was important.

The money was tempting, of course. If she could prove her self-sufficiency, she might be able to annul Adri’s legal guardianship over her. She could buy back her freedom.

But even that insight dulled when she thought of Peony. “You really think I can help?”

“I do. In fact, I think every person on Earth could soon find themselves immensely grateful to you.”

She gulped and lifted herself onto an exam table, folding both legs beneath her. “All right, just so long as we’re clear—I am here on a volunteer basis now, which means I can leave at any point I want to. No questions, no arguments.”

The doctor’s face brightened, eyes shining like lanterns between the wrinkles. “Yes. Absolutely.”

“And I do expect payment, like you said, but I need a separate account. Something my legal guardian can’t access. I don’t want her to have any idea

I’ve agreed to do this, or any access to the money.” To her surprise, he didn’t hesitate. “Of course.”

She sucked in a steadying breath. “And one other thing. My sister. She was taken to the quarantines yesterday. If you do find an antidote, or anything that even holds promise as an antidote, I want her to be the first one to get it.” This time, the doctor’s gaze faltered. He turned away and paced to the holograph, rubbing his hands down the front of his lab coat. “That, I’m afraid

I cannot promise.”

She squeezed her fists together. “Why not?”

“Because the emperor must be the first to receive the antidote.” His eyelids crinkled with sympathy. “But I can promise your sister will be second.”

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