Chapter no 3

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

“YOU’RE GOING TO THE BALL!” IKO TAPPED HER GRIPPERS together in an imitation of clapping. “We have to find you a dress, and shoes. I will not allow you to wear those awful boots. We’ll get some new gloves and—”

“Could you bring that light over here?” Cinder said, yanking out the top drawer of her standing toolbox. She riffled through it, spare bolts and sockets jangling as Iko scooted closer. A wash of bluish light dispersed the dimness of the storage room.

“Think of the food they’ll have,” said Iko. “And the dresses. And music!”

Cinder ignored her, selecting an assortment of varying tools and arranging them on Iko’s magnetic torso.

“Oh, my stars! Think about Prince Kai! You could dance with Prince Kai!”

This made Cinder pause and squint into Iko’s blinding light. “Why would the prince dance with me?”

Iko’s fan hummed as she sought an answer. “Because you won’t have grease on your face this time.”

Cinder fought down a chuckle. Android reasoning could be so simplistic. “I hate to break this to you, Iko,” she said, slamming in the drawer and moving on to the next, “but I’m not going to the ball.”

Iko’s fan stopped momentarily, started up again. “I don’t compute.”

“For starters, I just spent my life savings on a new foot. But even if I did have money, why would I spend it on a dress or shoes or gloves? What a waste.”

“What else could you have to spend it on?”

“A complete set of wrenches? A toolbox with drawers that don’t stick?” She slammed in the second drawer with her shoulder to emphasize her point. “A down payment on my own apartment where I won’t have to be Adri’s servant anymore?”

“Adri wouldn’t sign the release documents.”

Cinder opened the third drawer. “I know. It would cost a lot more than a

silly dress anyway.” She grabbed a ratchet and a handful of wrenches and set them on top of the toolbox. “Maybe I’d get skin grafting.”

“Your skin is fine.”

Cinder glanced at Iko from the corner of her eye. “Oh. You mean your cyborg parts.”

Shutting the third drawer, Cinder grabbed her messenger bag from the work desk and shoveled the tools into it. “What else do you think we’ll—oh, the floor jack. Where’d I put that?”

“You’re being unreasonable,” said Iko. “Maybe you can trade for a dress or get one on consignment. I’ve been dying to go into that vintage dress store on Sakura. You know the one I mean?”

Cinder shuffled around the random tools that had collected beneath the worktable. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going.”

“But it does matter. It’s the ball. And the prince!”

“Iko, I’m fixing an android for him. It’s not like we’re friends now.” Mentioning the prince’s android sparked a memory, and a moment later Cinder pulled the floor jack out from behind its tread. “And it doesn’t matter because Adri will never let me go.”

“She said if you fixed the hover—”

“Right. And after I fix the hover? What about Peony’s portscreen that’s always acting up? What about—” She scanned the room and spotted a rusty android tucked away in the corner. “What about that old Gard7.3?”

“What would Adri want with that old thing? She doesn’t have a garden anymore. She doesn’t even have a balcony.”

“I’m just saying that she has no real intention of letting me go. As long as she can come up with things for me to fix, my ‘chores’ will never be done.” Cinder shoved a couple jack stands into her bag, telling herself that she didn’t care. Not really.

She wouldn’t fit in at a formal ball anyway. Even if she did find dress gloves and slippers that could hide her metal monstrosities, her mousy hair would never hold a curl, and she didn’t know the first thing about makeup. She would just end up sitting off the dance floor and making fun of the girls who swooned to get Prince Kai’s attention, pretending she wasn’t jealous. Pretending it didn’t bother her.

Although she was curious about the food.

And the prince did know her now, sort of. He had been kind to her at the market. Perhaps he would ask her to dance. Out of politeness. Out of chivalry when he saw her standing alone.

The precarious fantasy crashed down around her as quickly as it had begun. It was impossible. Not worth thinking about.

She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.

“I think that’s everything,” she said, masking her disappointment by adjusting the messenger bag over her shoulders. “You ready?”

“I don’t compute,” said Iko. “If fixing the hover won’t convince Adri to let you go to the ball, then why are we going to the junkyard? If she wants a magbelt so bad, why doesn’t she go dig through the trash to find one?”

“Because ball or no, I do believe she would sell you off for pocket change if given a reason. Besides, with them off to the ball, we’ll have the apartment to ourselves. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

“It sounds great to me!”

Cinder turned to see Peony heaving herself through the doorway. She still wore her silver ball gown, but now the hems along the neck and sleeves were finished. A hint of lace had been added at her cleavage, accentuating the fact that, at fourteen, Peony had already developed curves that Cinder couldn’t begin to hope for. If Cinder’s body had ever been predisposed to femininity, it had been ruined by whatever the surgeons had done to her, leaving her with a stick-straight figure. Too angular. Too boyish. Too awkward with her heavy artificial leg.

“I’m going to strangle Mom,” said Peony. “She’s making me loony. ‘Pearl needs to find a husband,’ ‘My daughters are such a drain,’ ‘No one appreciates what I do for them,’ yap yap yap.” She wobbled her fingers in the air in mockery of her mother.

“What are you doing down here?”

Hiding. Oh, and to ask if you could look at my portscreen.” She pulled a handheld screen from behind her back, offering it to Cinder.

Cinder took it, but her eyes were on the bottom of Peony’s skirt, watching as the shimmering hem gathered dust bunnies around it. “You’re going to ruin that dress. Then Adri will really be a tyrant.”

Peony stuck out her tongue but then gathered up her skirt in both fists, hiking the hem up to her knees. “So what do you think?” she said, bouncing on the balls of her bare feet.

“You look amazing.”

Peony preened, wrinkling the fabric more in her fingers. But then her cheeriness faltered. “She should have had one made for you too. It’s not fair.”

“I don’t really want to go.” Cinder shrugged. Peony’s tone had such sympathy that she didn’t bother to argue. She was usually able to ignore the jealousy she had toward her stepsisters—how Adri doted on them, how soft their hands were—especially when Peony was the only human friend she had. But she could not swallow the twitch of envy at seeing Peony in that dress.

She brushed the topic away. “What’s wrong with the port?”

“It’s doing that gibberish thing again.” Peony pushed some tools off a stack of empty paint bins, choosing the cleanest spot before sitting down, her full skirts flouncing around her. She swung her feet so that her heels beat steadily against the plastic.

“Have you been downloading those stupid celeb apps again?” “No.”

Cinder raised an eyebrow.

“One language app. That’s it. And I needed it for class. Oh—before I forget, Iko, I brought you something.”

Iko rolled to Peony’s side as she pulled a velvet ribbon from her bodice, leftover trim from the seamstress. The light in the room brightened when Iko saw it.

“Thank you,” said the android as Peony tied the ribbon around her skinny wrist joint. “It’s lovely.”

Cinder set the portscreen on the work desk, next to Prince Kai’s android. “I’ll look at it tomorrow. We’re off to find a magbelt for Her Majesty.”

“Oh? Where are you going?” “The junkyard.”

“It’s going to be a bundle of fun,” said Iko, scanning the makeshift bracelet with her sensor again and again.

“Really?” said Peony. “Can I come?”

Cinder laughed. “She’s kidding. Iko’s been practicing her sarcasm.”

“I don’t care. Anything’s better than going back into that stuffy apartment.” Peony fanned herself and absently leaned back against a stack of metal shelving.

Reaching out, Cinder pulled her back. “Careful, your dress.”

Peony surveyed her skirt, then the grime-covered shelves, then waved Cinder’s concern away. “Really, can I? Sounds exciting.”

“It sounds dirty and stinky,” said Iko.

“How would you know?” said Cinder. “You don’t have scent receptors.” “I have a fantastic imagination.”

Smirking, Cinder half shoved her stepsister toward the door. “Fine, go get changed. But be quick. I have a story to tell you.”

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