Chapter no 25

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)


time they reached Dr. Erland’s office—Cinder knew because she could hear the chime from his belt—but he didn’t answer them. He insisted on helping her down the hallway, despite her protests that she could walk just fine, despite the curious stares of passersby. Curious stares did not seem to bother the prince half so much as they bothered her.

He didn’t knock when they reached the office, and Dr. Erland, upon seeing who had burst in without announcement, did not seem surprised when he saw the prince.

“It happened again,” said Kai. “Her fainting, whatever it is.” Dr. Erland’s blue eyes switched to Cinder.

“It’s gone now,” she said. “I’m fine.

“You’re not fine,” said Kai. “What causes it? What can we do to make it stop?”

“I’ll take a look at her,” said Dr. Erland. “We will see what can be done to keep it from happening again.”

Kai seemed to think this was an acceptable answer, but only barely. “If you need funds to do the research…or special equipment, or anything.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said the doctor. “She probably just needs another adjustment.”

Cinder clenched her teeth as her lie detector flashed at her. He was lying to the prince again. He was lying to her. But Kai didn’t object, didn’t question. He sucked in a deep breath and faced Cinder. The expression made her uncomfortable—the look that suggested she was a china doll, easily shattered.

And perhaps a hint of disappointment hung behind it all. “Really, I’m fine.”

She could tell he was unconvinced but had no way of arguing with her. His communicator dinged again. He finally glanced at it, then scowled and shut it off. “I need to go.”


“The prime minister of Africa called a world leaders’ meeting. Very dull and political. My adviser’s about to have a breakdown.”

She raised her eyebrows in a look that she hoped conveyed how much she was all right with him leaving her. After all, he was a prince. The most powerful men and women on Earth had summoned him. She understood.

And yet he was still here, with her. “I’m fine,” she said. “Go away.”

The worry in his eyes softened. He spun toward Dr. Erland and pulled something from his pocket, forcing it into the doctor’s hand. “I also came to bring you this.”

Dr. Erland slipped his spectacles on and held the glass vial up into the light. It was filled with clear liquid. “And this is?”

“A gift from Queen Levana. She claims it’s an antidote to letumosis.” Cinder’s heart lurched. Her gaze focused on the vial.

An antidote?


Dr. Erland’s complexion had drained, his eyes widening behind the glasses. “Is that so?”

“It could be a trick. I don’t know. Supposedly, it’s one dosage—enough for an adult male.”

“I see.”

“So, do you think you can duplicate it? If it is a cure?”

Dr. Erland drew his lips into a thin line and lowered the vial. “That depends on many things, Your Highness,” he said after a long pause. “But I will try my best.”

“Thank you. Let me know as soon as you find anything.” “Of course.”

Relief loosened Kai’s brow. He turned to Cinder. “And you’ll let me know if anything—”


“—changes your mind about going to the ball?” Cinder pressed her lips together.

Kai’s smile barely reached his eyes. With a curt bow to the doctor, he was gone. Cinder retrained her gaze on the vial, enclosed in the doctor’s fist. Desire coursed through her. But then she noticed the whitening of his knuckles and looked up, finding herself pinned under a stormy glare.

“What do you think you are doing here?” he said, planting his free hand on the desk. She started, surprised by his vehemence. “Don’t you realize that Queen Levana is here, now, in this palace? Did you not understand when I

told you to stay away?”

“I had to bring the prince’s android back. It’s part of my job.” “You’re talking livelihood. I’m talking life. You are not safe here!”

“For your information that android could be a matter of life.” She clenched her teeth, refraining from saying more. With a heavy sigh, she peeled the stifling gloves from her hands and slipped them into her pocket. “All right, I’m sorry, but I’m here now.”

“You have to go. Now. What if she asked to see the lab facilities?”

“Why would the queen care about your lab facilities?” She claimed the seat opposite Dr. Erland. He stayed standing. “Besides, it’s too late. The queen already saw me.”

She expected the doctor to explode with this announcement, but instead his frown was quickly replaced with horror. His thick eyebrows drew up beneath his cap. Slowly, he sank down into his seat. “She saw you? Are you sure?”

Cinder nodded. “I was in the courtyard when the protests were going on. Queen Levana appeared on one of the upper balconies and she…did something. To the crowd. Brainwashed or glamoured them or whatever it’s called. They all calmed down and stopped protesting. It was so eerie. Like they all just forgot why they were there, that they hated her. And then they just left.”

“Yes.” Dr. Erland set the vial on the desk. “It suddenly becomes clear how she is able to keep her own people from rebelling against her, isn’t it?”

Cinder leaned forward, tapping her metal fingers against the desk. “Here’s the thing, though. You said before that shells aren’t affected by the Lunar glamour, right? That’s why she ordered them—us—to be killed?”

“That’s right.”

“But it did affect me. I trusted her, as much as anyone else. At least, until my programming kicked in and took control.” She watched as Dr. Erland took off his hat, adjusted the brim, and pulled it back over his fluffy gray hair. “That shouldn’t have happened, right? Because I’m a shell.”

“No,” he said, without conviction. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

He lifted himself from his chair and faced the floor-to-ceiling windows.

A compulsion to reach out and snatch the vial off the desk surged to the tips of her fingers, but Cinder withheld it. The antidote—if it was an antidote

—was meant for everyone.

Gulping, she leaned back. “Doctor? You don’t seem too surprised.”

He raised a hand and tapped his mouth with two fingers before slowly turning toward her.

“I may have misread your diagnostics.” Lie.

She squeezed her hands in her lap. “Or you just didn’t tell me the truth.” His eyebrows knit, but he didn’t deny it.

Cinder curled her fingers. “So I’m not Lunar?” “No, no. You are most definitely Lunar.” Truth. She sulked in the chair, disappointed.

“I’ve been doing some research on your family, Miss Linh.” He must have seen her eyes brighten because he quickly held up both hands. “I mean your adoptive family. Are you aware that your deceased guardian, Linh Garan, designed android systems?”

“Um.” Cinder thought about the plaques and awards sitting on the mantel in Adri’s living room. “That sounds kind of familiar.”

“Well. The year before your surgery, he unveiled an invention at the New Beijing science fair. A prototype. He called it a bioelectrical security system.”

Cinder stared. “A what?”

Standing, Dr. Erland tinkered with the netscreen until a familiar holograph flickered before them. He zoomed in on the representation of Cinder’s neck, showing the small dark spot on her upper spine. “This.”

Cinder reached for the back of her neck, massaging.

“It is a device that ties in with a person’s nervous system. It has two purposes—on an Earthen, it prevents outside manipulation of their personal bioelectricity. Essentially, it makes it so that they are immune to Lunar control. Oppositely, when installed on a Lunar, it keeps them from being able to manipulate the bioelectricity of others. It is as if you were to put a lock on the Lunar gift.”

Cinder shook her head, still rubbing. “A lock? On magic? Is that even possible?”

Dr. Erland lifted a finger to her. “It is not magic. Claiming it to be magic only empowers them.”

“Fine. Bioelectrical whatever. Is it possible?”

“Evidently so. The Lunar gift is the ability to use your brain to output and control electromagnetic energy. To block this ability would require alteration of the nervous system as it enters the brain stem, and to do that while still allowing full movement and sensation would be…it’s quite impressive. Ingenious, really.”

Jaw dropping, Cinder followed the doctor with her gaze as he slipped back into his chair. “He would have been rich.”

“If he had survived, perhaps he would have been.” The doctor turned off the screen. “When he unveiled the invention at the fair, the prototype was as yet untested, and his contemporaries were skeptical—and rightfully so. He first needed to test it.”

“And for that, he needed a Lunar.”

“Ideally, he needed both a Lunar and an Earthen subject—in order to test the two purposes separately. If he found an Earthen subject, I have no idea, but clearly he did find you, and he did install his invention as a means of keeping you from using your gift. This explains why you have not had the use of your gift since your operation.”

She bounced her foot, restless. “You didn’t misread my diagnostics. You knew this from the start. From the moment you walked into that lab room, you knew I was Lunar and I had this crazy lock and—you knew.

Dr. Erland wrung his hands. For the first time, Cinder noticed a gold band on his finger.

“What did you do to me?” she said, planting her feet and standing. “When you touched me and it hurt so bad and I passed out and—and then again today. What’s causing it? What’s happening to me?”

“Calm down, Miss Linh.”

“Why? So you can lie to me some more, just like you lie to the prince?” “If I have lied, it has only been to protect you.”

“Protect me from what?”

Dr. Erland steepled his fingers. “I understand you’re confused—”

“No, you don’t understand anything! A week ago, I knew exactly who I was, what I was, and maybe that was a worthless cyborg, but at least I knew that. And now…now I’m Lunar, I’m a Lunar who supposedly might have magic but can’t use it, and now there’s this insane queen who for some reason wants to kill me.”


“Please, calm down, Miss Linh. It is, in fact, a good thing that you were selected to receive this lock.”

“I’m sure you’re right. I just love being treated like a guinea pig, don’t you know?”

“Like it or not, the lock has been beneficial to you.” “How?”

“If you would stop yelling, I would tell you.”

She bit her lip and felt her breath stabilizing almost against her will. “Fine, but tell me the truth this time.” Crossing her arms, she sat back down.

“Sometimes you are quite unnerving, Miss Linh.” Dr. Erland sighed, scratching at his temple. “You see, manipulating bioelectricity comes so natural to Lunars that it’s virtually impossible to refrain from using it, especially at such a young age. Left to your own devices, you would have

drawn too much attention to yourself. It would have been like tattooing ‘Lunar’ across your forehead. And even if you could have learned to control it, the gift is such a fundamental part of our internal makeup that tempering it can create devastating psychological side effects—hallucinations, depression…even madness.” He pressed his fingertips together. Waited. “So you see, putting a lock on your gift protected you, in many ways, from yourself.”

Cinder stared, eyes boring.

“Do you understand how this was mutually beneficial?” continued the doctor. “Linh Garan had his subject, and you were able to fit in with Earthens without losing your mind.”

Cinder slowly leaned forward. “Our?”


Our. You said, the gift is ‘a fundamental part of our internal makeup.’” The doctor drew himself up, adjusting the lapels of his coat. “Ah. Did I?” “You’re Lunar.”

He took off his hat and tossed it onto the desk. He looked smaller without it. Older.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I wasn’t going to, Miss Linh. Only trying to think how to explain in a way that will make you look less accusatory at me.”

Setting her jaw, Cinder hopped out of the chair again and backed away from the desk. She stared at him, hard, as if there really might appear a “Lunar” tattoo on his brow. “How can I believe anything you’ve said? How do I know you’re not brainwashing me right now?”

He shrugged. “If I were to go around glamouring people all day, I would at least make myself seem taller, don’t you think?”

She frowned, ignoring him. She was thinking of the queen on the balcony, how her optobionics had warned her of a lie even when nothing had been said. Somehow, her brain was able to tell the difference between reality and illusion, even when her eyes couldn’t.

Squinting, she jutted a finger at the doctor. “You did use your mind control on me. When we met. You…you brainwashed me. Just like the queen. You made me trust you.”

“Be fair. You were attacking me with a wrench.” Her anger wavered.

Dr. Erland opened his palms to her. “I assure you, Miss Linh, in the twelve years that I have been on Earth, I have not abused the gift once, and I am paying the price for that decision every day. My mental stability, my psychological health, my very senses are failing me because I refuse to

manipulate the thoughts and feelings of those around me. Not all Lunars can be trusted—I know that as well as anyone—but you can trust me.”

Cinder gulped and braced herself on the back of the chair. “Does Kai know?”

“Of course not. No one can know.”

“But you work in the palace. You see Kai all the time. And Emperor Rikan!”

A flash of irritation sparked through Dr. Erland’s blue eyes. “Yes, and why should this upset you?”

“Because you’re Lunar!”

“As are you. Should I consider the prince’s safety threatened because he asked you to the ball?”

“That’s different!”

“Don’t be dense, Miss Linh. I understand the prejudices. In many ways, they’re understandable, even justified, given Earth’s history with Luna. But it does not mean we are all greedy, self-serving devils. Believe me—there is not a person on this planet who would like to see Levana off the throne more than I would. I would kill her myself if I had the power.” The doctor’s face had gone cherry pink, his eyes blazing.

“All right.” Cinder pinched the chair’s cushion until she felt the material puncture beneath her steel fingers. “I can accept that. Not all Lunars are devils, and not all Lunars are as easily brainwashed into following Levana. But even of those who wish to defy her, how many of them risk their lives to run away?” She paused, eyeing the doctor. “So why did you?”

Dr. Erland moved as if he were going to stand, but after a hesitation, his shoulders sank, deflated. “She killed my daughter.”


Cinder pulled back.

“The worst part,” continued the doctor, “is that had it been any other child, I would have felt it was right.”

“What? Why?”

“Because she was a shell.” He picked his hat off the desk and analyzed it while he spoke, his fingers tracing the herringbone pattern. “I’d agreed with the laws in the past, thought the shells were dangerous. That our society would fall apart if they were allowed to live. But not my little girl.” An ironic smile twisted up his lips. “After she was born, I wanted to run away, to bring her to Earth, but my wife was even more devoted to Her Majesty than I had been. She wanted nothing to do with the child. And so my little Crescent Moon was taken away, like all the others.” He stuffed the hat back onto his head and squinted up at Cinder. “She would be about your age now.”

Cinder came around the chair and perched on the edge of the seat. “I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago. But I need you to understand, Miss Linh, what it was that someone went through to bring you here. To go so far as to hide your Lunar gift—to protect you.”

Cinder folded her arms, cowering into herself. “But why me? I’m not a shell. I wasn’t in any danger. It doesn’t make sense.”

“It will, I promise. Listen carefully, as this may be something of a shock to you.”

“A shock? You mean all that was just the precursor?”

His eyes softened. “Your gift is returning, Miss Linh. I was able to manipulate your bioelectricity to temporarily overwhelm Linh Garan’s prototype. That’s what I did the first day you were here, when you lost consciousness, and the lock on your gift has been irreparably damaged because of it. With practice, you will be able to override the fail-safes on your own, until you are in complete control of your gift again. I understand it is painful when it comes on quickly like it did today, but those instances should be rare, only during times of extreme emotional disturbance. Can you think of anything that may have set it off earlier?”

Cinder’s stomach flipped, recalling Kai’s closeness in the elevator. She cleared her throat. “What you’re saying is that I’m becoming Lunar for real. Magic and all.”

Dr. Erland screwed up his lips, but didn’t correct her again. “Yes. It will take some time, but you will eventually have all the use of your natural gift that you were born with.” He spun his fingers in the air. “Would you like to try and use it now? You may be able to. I’m not sure.”

Cinder imagined a spark in her wires, something crackling at the base of her spine. She knew it was probably in her head, self-induced panic, but she couldn’t be sure. What did it feel like to be Lunar? To have that kind of power?

She shook her head. “No, that’s all right. I’m not ready for that.”

A thin smile stretched across the doctor’s lips, as if he were faintly disappointed. “Of course. When you’re ready.”

Hugging her arms around her waist, she inhaled a shaky breath. “Doctor?”


“Are you immune to letumosis, like me?”

Dr. Erland’s held her focus, unflinching. “Yes. I am.”

“Then why haven’t you just used your own blood samples to find a cure?

So many people have died…. And the cyborg draft…”

The wrinkles on his face softened. “I have been, Miss Linh. Where do you think the twenty-seven antidotes we’ve already been through came from?”

“And none of them worked.” She tucked her feet beneath her chair, feeling small. Insignificant—again. “So my immunity isn’t the miracle you made it out to be.” Her eyes fell on the vial. The queen’s antidote.

“Miss Linh.”

Meeting the doctor’s gaze, Cinder found a glint there. Barely contained giddiness, like the first time she’d met him.

“You are the miracle I was looking for,” he said. “But you are right. It was not because of your immunity.”

Cinder stared at him, waiting for him to explain. What else could be special about her? Had he actually been searching for the ingenious lock on her magic—Linh Garan’s prototype?

Her internal comm pinged before he could continue. She jolted, turning away from the doctor as green text skittered across her eyesight.


“Miss Linh?”

Her fingers trembled. “My sister’s entered the fourth stage.” Her gaze settled on the vial atop Dr. Erland’s desk.

He followed the look. “I see,” he said. “The fourth stage works quickly. There isn’t much time to lose.” Reaching forward, he grasped the vial between his forefingers. “A promise is a promise.”

Cinder’s heart thumped against her ribs. “But don’t you need it? To duplicate?”

Standing, the doctor paced to the bookshelf and pulled a beaker stand toward him. “How old is she?”


“Then I think this will be sufficient.” He poured a quarter of the antidote into the beaker. Corking the vial, he turned back to Cinder. “You do realize it came from Queen Levana. I do not know what her plan could be, but I know it will not be for the greater good of Earth. This could very well be a trick.”

“My sister is already dying.”

He nodded and held it out to her. “That is what I thought.”

Cinder’s stood up and took the vial, cradling it in her palm. “You’re sure?”

“On one condition, Miss Linh.”

Gulping, she clutched the vial against her chest.

“You must promise me not to come near this palace again so long as Queen Levana is here.”

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