Chapter no 19

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

DR. ERLAND HELD BOTH HANDS TOWARD A CHAIR ON THE other side of his desk. “Please sit down. I only need to finish up a few notes, and then I will tell you some things I’ve learned since yesterday afternoon.”

Cinder sat down, glad to get off her weak legs. “The prince just…”

“Yes. I was standing right here.” Dr. Erland reclaimed his own seat and tapped at the screen in his desk.

Cinder leaned back against the chair, gripping its arms to quell her shaking. Her mind was replaying the conversation while her retina scanner informed her that her body was producing mass amounts of endorphins and she should try to calm down.

“What do you think he meant by his motives being based on self-preservation?”

“He probably doesn’t want to be mauled by all the young ladies at the ball this year. You know there was nearly a stampede a couple years back.”

She bit her lip. Of all the girls in the whole city, she was…

The most convenient.

She forced these words to resonate, to stick. She was here and she seemed to be sane and she was a safe bet for him to ask to the ball. That was all it could be.

Besides, he was in mourning. He wasn’t thinking straight.

“Emperor Rikan is dead,” she said, snatching for anything else to think about.

“Indeed. Prince Kai was close to his father, you know.”

She lowered her gaze to the screen Dr. Erland was hunched over. She could see only a small diagram of a human torso, surrounded by boxes of dense text. It did not appear to be hers.

“I would be lying,” Dr. Erland continued, “if I said that I had not harbored secret hopes of finding an antidote in time to save His Majesty, though I knew from the moment the diagnosis was made that it was unlikely. Nevertheless, we must proceed with our work.”

She nodded in agreement, thinking of Peony’s little hand gripping hers. “Doctor, why haven’t you told the prince about me? Don’t you want him to know that you’ve found someone who’s immune? Isn’t that important?”

He pressed his lips, but he didn’t look up at her. “Perhaps I should. But it would be his responsibility to share the news with the country, and I don’t think we’re ready to draw attention to this. When we have solid evidence that you are…as valuable as I hope, then we will share our news with the prince. And the world.”

She picked up a portscreen stylus that was lying abandoned on the desk and examined it like a scientific mystery. Twirling it like a pinwheel over her fingers, she murmured, “You also didn’t tell him I’m cyborg.”

The doctor made eye contact now, his crow’s-feet crinkling. “Ah. And that is what you’re most concerned about?”

Before she could confirm or deny, Dr. Erland waved his hand as if to dismiss her defensiveness. “Do you think I should tell him you’re a cyborg? I will if you want me to. But I frankly didn’t see that it was any of his business.”

Cinder dropped the stylus into her lap. “No, that isn’t—I just—” Dr. Erland snorted. He was laughing at her.

Cinder huffed in irritation and glared out the window. The city was almost blindingly bright in the morning sun. “Not like it matters. He’ll find out eventually.”

“Yes, I suppose he will. Especially if he continues to show, erm, interest in you.” Dr. Erland pushed his chair back from the desk. “There. Your DNA sequencing has been completed. Shall we make our way to the lab room?”

She followed him into the sterile hallway. It was a short walk to the labs, and they entered lab room 11D this time, which looked exactly like lab room 4D: netscreen, built-in cabinets, a single exam table. No mirror.

Cinder sat down on the exam table without being told. “I went to the quarantines today…to visit my sister.”

The doctor paused, his hand on the netscreen’s power button. “That was something of a risk. You understand that people aren’t supposed to leave once they arrive, don’t you?”

“I know. But I had to see her.” She swung her legs, beating her feet against the table’s legs. “One of the med-droids ran a blood test on me before I left, and I was clear.”

The doctor fiddled with the netscreen’s controls. “Indeed.”

“I just thought you should know, in case that might affect something.”

“It doesn’t.” He stuck his tongue out the corner of his mouth. A second later, the screen blazed to life. His hands skimmed across the screen, pulling

up Cinder’s file. It was more complex today, filled with information even she didn’t know about herself.

“And I saw something,” she said.

The doctor grunted, more focused on the screen than her.

“One of the med-droids took an ID chip from a victim. After she died.

The med-droid said it was programmed to take it. It had dozens of them.”

Dr. Erland turned back to her with a mildly interested expression. He seemed to ponder this a moment, then his face slowly relaxed. “Well.”

“Well what? Why would it do that?”

The doctor scratched his cheek, where a fine beard had started to grow across his leathery face. “It’s a common practice in rural parts of the world— where letumosis has been claiming lives for much longer than it has in the cities. The chips are extracted from the deceased and sold off. Illegally, of course, but I understand they can fetch a high price.”

“Why would anyone want to buy someone else’s ID chip?”

“Because it is difficult making a living without one—money accounts, benefits, licenses, they all require an identity.” He stitched his eyebrows. “Although, that brings up an interesting point. With all the letumosis fatalities the past few years, one would think the market is saturated with unneeded ID chips. It’s curious that they would still be in demand.”

“I know, but when you already have one…” She paused as his words sank in. Would it really be that easy to steal a person’s identity?

“Unless you want to become someone else,” he said, reading her thoughts. “Thieves. Fugitives of the law.” The doctor rubbed his head through the hat. “The rare Lunar. They, of course, do not have ID chips to begin with.” “There aren’t any Lunars on Earth. Well, other than ambassadors, I


Dr. Erland’s gaze filled with pity, as if she were a naive child. “Oh, yes. To Queen Levana’s endless dismay, not all Lunars are so easily brainwashed into mindless contentment, and many have risked their lives to escape Luna and relocate here. It’s difficult to leave the moon, and I’m sure many more die attempting it than succeed, especially as more restrictions are put on Lunar ports, but I’m sure it still happens.”

“But…that’s illegal. They’re not supposed to be here at all. Why haven’t we stopped them?”

For a moment, it looked as if Dr. Erland might laugh. “Escaping from Luna is difficult—getting to Earth is the easy part. Lunars have ways of cloaking their spacecrafts and making their way into Earth’s atmosphere without detection.”

Magic. Cinder fidgeted. “You make it sound like they’re escaping from a


Dr. Erland raised both eyebrows at her. “Yes. That seems exactly right.” Cinder kicked her boots against the lab table. The thought of Queen

Levana coming to New Beijing had twisted her stomach—the thought of dozens, maybe even hundreds of Lunars living on Earth and impersonating Earthens nearly had her running for the sink. Those savages—with a programmed ID chip and their ability to brainwash people, they could be anyone, become anyone.

And Earthens would never know they were being manipulated.

“Don’t look so frightened, Miss Linh. They mostly stick to the countrysides, where their presence is more likely to go unnoticed. The chances that you have ever crossed paths with one is extremely unlikely.” He smiled, a teasing, close-lipped smile.

Cinder sat up straighter. “You sure seem to know a lot about them.” “I am an old man, Miss Linh. I know a lot about a lot of things.”

“All right, here’s a question. What’s with Lunars and mirrors? I always thought it was just a myth that they’re afraid of them, but…is it true?”

The doctor’s eyebrows knit together. “It has some element of truth. You understand how Lunars make use of their glamours?”

“Not really.”

“Ah. I see,” he said, rocking back on his heels. “Well…the Lunar gift is nothing more than the ability to manipulate bioelectric energy—the energy that is naturally created by all living things. For example, it is the same energy that sharks use to detect their prey.”

“Sounds like something Lunars would do.”

The lines around the doctor’s mouth crinkled. “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”

“Like making people think you’re more beautiful than you really are?” “Precisely. Or…” He gestured at Cinder’s hands. “Making a person see

skin where there is really metal.”

Cinder self-consciously rubbed her cyborg hand through the glove.

“It is why Queen Levana is so striking to look at. Some talented Lunars, such as the queen, keep their glamour up all the time. But just as she cannot trick the netscreens, neither can she trick a mirror.”

“So they don’t like mirrors because they don’t want to see themselves?” “Vanity is a factor, but it is more a question of control. It is easier to trick

others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are

beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.” Dr. Erland peered at her, as if amused. “And now a question for you, Miss Linh. Why the sudden interest in Lunars?”

Cinder lowered her gaze to her hands and realized she was still carrying the stylus stolen off his desk. “Something Kai said.”

“His Highness?”

She nodded. “He told me Queen Levana is coming to New Beijing.”

The doctor drew back. He gaped at her, bushy eyebrows nearly touching the brim of his hat, then stepped back against the cabinets. For the first time that day, his focus was entirely on her. “When?”

“She’s supposed to arrive today.” “Today?”

She jumped. She could not have imagined Dr. Erland raising his voice before. He spun away from her, scratching his hat, pondering.

“Are you all right?”

He waved away the question. “I suppose she would have been waiting for this.” He pulled off his hat, revealing a bald spot surrounded by thin, messy hair. He shuffled his hand through it a few times, glaring at the floor. “She is hoping to prey on Kai. His youth, his inexperience.” He blew out a furious breath and replaced the hat.

Cinder splayed her fingers out on her knees. “What do you mean, prey on him?”

He turned back to her. His face was pulled taut, his eyes turbulent. The stare he pinned on Cinder made her shrink away.

“You should not be worried about the prince, Miss Linh.” “I shouldn’t?”

“She is coming today? That is what he told you?” She nodded.

“Then you must leave. Quickly. You can’t be here when she arrives.”

He shooed her off the table. Cinder hopped down, but made no move toward the door. “What does this have to do with me?”

“We have your blood samples, your DNA. We can do without you for now. Just stay away from the palace until she’s gone, do you understand?”

Cinder planted her feet. “No, I don’t.”

The doctor looked from her to the netscreen still showing her stats. He appeared confused. Old. Frazzled. “Screen, display current newsfeed.”

Cinder’s stats vanished, replaced by a news anchor. The headline above him announced the emperor’s death. “…Highness is preparing to make a speech in just a few minutes on the death of His Imperial Majesty and the upcoming coronation. We will be broadcasting live—”


Cinder folded her arms. “Doctor?”

He turned pleading eyes to Cinder. “Miss Linh, you must listen very carefully.”

“I’ll turn my audio interface volume to max.” She leaned back against the cabinets, disappointed when Dr. Erland didn’t so much as blink at her sarcasm.

Instead he blew out a disgruntled sigh. “I am not sure how to say this. I thought I would have more time.” He rubbed his hands together. Paced back toward the door. Squared his shoulder and faced Cinder again. “You were eleven when you had your operation, correct?”

The question was not what she’d been expecting. “Yes…” “And before that, you don’t remember anything?” “Nothing. What does this have to do with—”

“But your adoptive parents? Surely they must have told you something about your childhood? Your background?”

Her right palm began to sweat. “My stepfather died not long after the accident, and Adri doesn’t like to talk about it, if she even knows anything. Adopting me wasn’t exactly her idea.”

“Do you know anything about your biological parents?”

Cinder shook her head. “Just their names, birth dates…whatever was in my files.”

“The files on your ID chip.”

“Well…” Irritation burst inside her. “What’s your point?”

Dr. Erland’s eyes softened, trying to comfort, but the look only unnerved


“Miss Linh, from your blood samples I have deduced that you are, in fact,


The word washed over Cinder as if he were speaking a different language. The machine in her brain kept ticking, ticking, like it was working through an impossible equation.

“Lunar?” The word evaporated off her tongue, almost nonexistent. “Yes.”



She pulled back. Looked at the walls, the exam table, the silent news anchor. “I don’t have magic,” she said, folding her arms in defiance.

“Yes, well. Not all Lunars are born with the gift. They’re called shells, which is a slightly derogatory connotation on Luna, so…well, bioelectrically challenged doesn’t sound much better, does it?” He chuckled awkwardly.

Cinder’s metal hand clenched. She briefly wished she did have some sort of magic so she could shoot a bolt of lightning through his head. “I’m not Lunar.” She wrenched her glove off and waved her hand at him. “I’m cyborg. You don’t think that’s bad enough?”

“Lunars can be cyborgs as easily as humans. It’s rare, of course, given their intense opposition of cybernetics and brain-machine interfaces—”

Cinder faked a gasp. “No. Who would be opposed to that?”

“But being Lunar and being cyborg are not mutually exclusive. And it isn’t altogether surprising that you were brought here. Since the instatement of the non-gifted infanticide under Queen Channary, many Lunar parents have attempted to rescue their shell children by bringing them to Earth. Of course, most of them die and are executed for the attempt, but still…I believe this was the case with you. The rescuing part. Not the execution part.”

An orange light flickered in the corner of her vision. Cinder squinted at the man. “You’re lying.”

“I am not lying, Miss Linh.”

She opened her mouth to argue—which part? What exactly had he said that triggered the lie detector?

The light went away as he continued speaking.

“This also explains your immunity. In fact, when you defeated the pathogens yesterday, your being Lunar was the first possibility to cross my mind, but I didn’t want to say anything until I’d confirmed it.”

Cinder pressed her palms against her eyes, blocking out the blaring fluorescents. “What does this have to do with immunity?”

“Lunars are immune to the disease, of course.”

“No! Not of course. This is not common knowledge.” She strung her hands back against her ponytail.

“Oh. Well, but it is common sense when you know the history.” He wrung his hands. “Which, I suppose, most people don’t.”

Cinder hid her face, gasping for air. Perhaps she could rely on the man being insane and not have to believe anything he said after all.

“You see,” said Dr. Erland, “Lunars are the original carrier hosts for letumosis. Their migration to the rural areas of Earth, mostly during the reign of Queen Channary, brought the disease into contact with humans for the first time. Historically, it’s a common situation. The rats that brought the bubonic plague to Europe, the conquistadors who brought smallpox to the Native Americans. It sounds so second era that Earthens take their immunities for granted now, but with the migration of the Lunars, well…Earthen immune systems just weren’t prepared. Once even a handful of Lunars arrived, bringing the disease with them, it began spreading like wildfire.”

“I thought I wasn’t contagious.”

“You aren’t now, because your body has developed means of ridding itself of the disease, but you may have been at one point. Besides, I suspect that Lunars have different levels of immunity—while some can rid their bodies of the disease entirely, others carry it around without ever developing outward symptoms, spreading it everywhere they go and being none the wiser of the trouble they’re causing.”

Cinder waved her hands before him. “No. You’re wrong. There’s some other explanation. I can’t be—”

“I understand this is a lot to take in. But I need you to understand why you cannot be present when the Her Majesty arrives. It’s far too dangerous.”

“No, you don’t understand. I am not one of them!”

To be cyborg and Lunar. One was enough to make her a mutant, an outcast, but to be both? She shuddered. Lunars were a cruel, savage people. They murdered their shell children. They lied and scammed and brainwashed each other because they could. They didn’t care who they hurt, so long as it benefitted themselves. She was not one of them.

“Miss Linh, you must listen to me. You were brought here for a reason.” “What, to help you find a cure? You think this is some sort of twisted gift

of fate?”

“I am not talking fate or destiny. I am talking survival. You cannot let the queen see you.”

Cinder shrank against the cabinet, more baffled by the second. “Why?

Why would she care about me?”

“She would care very much about you.” He hesitated, his sea-blue eyes wild with panic. “She…she hates Lunar shells, you see. Shells are immune to the Lunar glamour.” He twirled his hands through the air, searching. “Their brainwashing, as it were. Queen Levana can’t control shells, which is why she continues to have them exterminated.” His lips hardened. “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. Do you understand me, Miss Linh? If she were to see you, she would kill you.”

Gulping, Cinder pressed her thumb against her left wrist. She couldn’t feel her ID chip, but she knew it was there.

Extracted from the deceased.

If Dr. Erland were right, then everything she knew about herself, her childhood, her parents, was wrong. A made-up history. A made-up girl.

The idea that Lunars were fugitives no longer sounded so odd.

She turned toward the netscreen. Kai was there now, in the pressroom, talking at a podium.

“Miss Linh, somebody went through a great deal of trouble to bring you here, and now you are in extreme danger. You cannot jeopardize yourself.”

She barely heard, watching as text began to scroll along the bottom of the screen.


“Miss Linh? Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Extreme danger. I heard you.”

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