Chapter no 37

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)


against the white resin floor of her white resin prison cell. Of all the thoughts that should have been taking up her mind, a single moment seemed captured in her thoughts, stuck on endless repeat.

Market day, the humid air, the smell of Chang Sacha’s sweet rolls permeating the city square. Before any of this had happened—before Peony had gotten sick, before Levana had come to Earth, before Kai had asked her to the ball. She was just a mechanic, and he was the prince with all the charms she pretended to be immune to. And he was there, before her, while she tottered on a single foot and tried to calm her rapidly beating heart. How she could barely meet his gaze. How he leaned forward, forced her to see him, smiled.


That moment. That smile. Again and again and again.

Cinder sighed and changed the tempo of her tapping fingers.

The net was rife with vids from the ball. She had watched exactly 4.2 seconds of the footage via her netlink—her in her dirty ball gown tumbling down the steps—before shutting it off. The footage made her look like a madwoman. Surely, every human on Earth would bid her good riddance when Queen Levana claimed her and took her back to Luna. For her “trial.”

She heard the guard’s footsteps, muffled, on the other side of the cell door. Everything around her was white, including the brilliantly bleached cotton jumpsuit they’d put her in when she’d been forced to discard Peony’s destroyed gown and the bits of silk glove that hadn’t already been melted or ripped away. They hadn’t yet bothered to turn out the eye-straining lights either, leaving her restless and exhausted. She was beginning to wonder if it would be a relief when the queen came for her, if maybe she would at least be allowed a moment’s sleep.

And she’d only been there for fourteen hours, thirty-three minutes, and

sixteen seconds. Seventeen seconds. Eighteen.

The door clunked, startling her. She squinted at the tiny window that had opened up in the door, seeing the shadow of a man’s head on the iron gate. The back of his head. None of the guards would look at her.

“You have a visitor.”

She propped herself up on her elbows. “The emperor?”

The guard snorted. “Yeah, right.” His shadow disappeared from the grate. “Kindly open the door if you would,” said a familiar voice in a familiar

accent. “I must speak with her in private.”

Cinder climbed to her one foot, leaning against the glass-smooth wall. “She’s under top security,” said the guard. “I can’t let you go in. You must

speak with her through the grate.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Do I look like a threat to security?”

Cinder hopped to the window and bounced on her toes. It was Dr. Erland, holding a pale linen bag. He still wore his lab coat, with the tiny silver spectacles on his nose and wool hat on his head. Though he had to crane his head back to meet the guard’s eye, his stance was undaunted.

“I am the leading scientist of the royal letumosis research team,” said Dr. Erland, “and this girl is my prime test subject. I require blood samples from her before she leaves the planet.” He whipped a syringe out of the bag. The guard staggered back in surprise before folding his arms over his chest.

“I have my orders, sir. You’ll have to obtain an official release from the emperor to be allowed entrance.”

Dr. Erland let his shoulders slump and tucked the syringe back into the bag. “All right. If that’s protocol, I understand.” But instead of turning away, he fiddled with the cuffs of his sleeves, his expression momentarily darkening, before he flashed another grin at the guard. “There, you see?” he said, his voice sending an odd ripple down Cinder’s spine. The doctor continued, the cadence of his words as soothing as a song. “I have obtained the necessary release from the emperor.” He swooped his hands toward the cell door. “You may open the door.”

Cinder blinked as if to clear cobwebs from her mind. It seemed Dr. Erland meant to get himself arrested as well, but then the guard turned toward her with a dazed expression and swiped his ID before the scanner. The door opened.

Cinder stumbled back, catching herself on the wall.

“Thank you kindly,” said the doctor, entering the cell without turning his back on the guard. “I’ll ask that you give us a bit of privacy. I won’t be but a minute.”

The guard shut the door without argument. His footsteps echoed off down

the corridor.

Dr. Erland turned around and snatched a breath when his bright blue eyes fell on Cinder. His lips parted momentarily before he turned his head away and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them again, the look of amazement had softened over his features. “If there were ever any doubt, it is gone now. It may do you good to practice controlling your glamour.”

Cinder pressed a hand against her cheek. “I’m not doing anything.”

The doctor cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it.” He cast his gaze around the cell. “Quite the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into, isn’t it?”

Cinder lifted her finger toward the door. “You have to teach me that trick.”

“It would be an honor, Miss Linh. It’s really quite simple. Focus your thoughts, twist your subject’s thoughts toward you, and clearly state your intent. Internally, of course.”

Cinder frowned. It didn’t sound simple at all.

The doctor waved away the look. “Don’t worry. You’ll find it comes quite naturally when you need it, but we haven’t time for lessons. I must be quick before anyone’s suspicions are raised.”

My suspicions are raised.”

He ignored her, his gaze sweeping down Cinder’s form—the white jumper, bulky and loose over her slender frame, the metal hand dinged and scratched from her fall, the multicolored wires that dangled from the cuffed pant leg.

“You’ve lost your foot.” “Yeah, I noticed. How’s Kai?”

“What? Aren’t you going to ask how I am?”

“You look fine,” she said. “Better than usual, actually.” It was true—the fluorescent light of the cell took ten years off his features. Or more likely, she realized, it was the lingering effects from using his Lunar gift on the guard. “But how is he?”

“Confused, I think.” The doctor shrugged. “I do believe he was a bit smitten with you. To find out you were, well…it was a lot to take in, I’m sure.”

Cinder ran a frustrated hand through her hair, tangled from fourteen hours of nervously bunching it up in her fists. “Levana forced him to choose. Either marry her or hand me over. Otherwise she said she would declare war based on some law about harboring Lunars.”

“It seems he made the right decision. He will be a fine ruler.”

“That’s not the point. Levana won’t be satisfied with his decision for


“Of course not. Nor would she have let you live for long had he chosen the marriage. She very much wants you dead, more than you realize. Which is why she must believe that Kai has done everything in his power to keep you confined and is willing to give you over to her as soon as she returns to the moon—which won’t be long now, I think. Otherwise there could be some horrible consequences for him…and the Commonwealth.”

Cinder squinted at him. “It seems to me like he is doing everything he can to keep me confined.”

“Indeed.” He twiddled his thumbs. “That complicates matters, doesn’t it?” “What do you—?”

“Why don’t we sit? You cannot be comfortable standing on one foot like that.” Dr. Erland sank down onto the cell’s single cot. Cinder slid down the wall opposite him.

“How is your hand?”

“Fine.” She flexed her metal fingers. “The joint on my pinky is busted, but it could be worse. Oh, and hey—” She gestured at her temple. “No hole in my head. I’m still happy about that.”

“Yes, I’ve heard how the queen attacked you. It was your cyborg programming that saved you, wasn’t it?”

Cinder shrugged. “I guess so. I received some message about bioelectrical manipulation, right before I…I’d never gotten that message before, not even around your glamour.”

“It was the first time a Lunar had made you do something, other than simply believe or feel something. And it seems your programming worked just as it was meant to—another impressive decision by your surgeon, or perhaps it was Linh Garan’s prototype that did it. Either way, Levana must have been caught quite off guard. Although I suspect the fireworks display you put on may not have endeared you to many Earthens.”

“I didn’t know how to control it. I didn’t know what was happening.” She pulled her knees up to her chest. “It’s probably a good thing I’m in here. There’s nowhere out there I would fit in, not after that.” She gestured to some nonexistent place beyond the white walls. “Good thing Levana’s going to put me out of my misery.”

“Is she, Miss Linh? That’s a shame. I was hoping you would have inherited more gumption from our people.”

“Sorry. I seem to have lost my gumption when my foot fell off during a live netfeed.”

The doctor wrinkled his nose at her. “You worry so much about such silly things.”


Dr. Erland smirked. “I came down here for a very important reason, you know, and we haven’t got all day.”

“Right.” Cinder grumbled as she rolled up her sleeve and extended her arm toward him. “Take as much blood as you want. I won’t be needing it.”

Dr. Erland patted her elbow. “That was a ruse. I am not here for blood samples. There will be Lunars in Africa to test if I need them.”

Cinder let her arm sink back into her lap. “Africa?” “Yes, I am going to Africa.”


“In about three minutes. There is much work to be done, and it will be difficult to complete it in a jail cell, so I’ve decided to go to where the first cases of letumosis were documented, in a small town east of the Sahara Desert.” He spun his fingers through the air, as if gesturing at an invisible map. “I hope to find some carrier hosts and convince them to become a part of my research.”

Cinder unrolled her sleeve. “So why are you here?”

“To invite you to join me there. When it’s convenient, of course.”

Cinder scowled. “Gee, thanks, Doc. I’ll check my calendar to see when I’ll be available again.”

“I hope you will, Miss Linh. Here, I have a gift for you. Two gifts, in fact.” Dr. Erland reached into the bag and pulled out a metal hand and a metal foot, both gleaming beneath the bright lights. Cinder’s eyebrows shot up.

“State of the art,” said Dr. Erland. “Fully accessorized. Plated with 100 percent titanium. And look!” Like a child with a new toy, he fidgeted with the hand’s fingers, revealing a hidden flashlight, a stiletto knife, a projectile gun, a screwdriver, and a universal connector cable. “It’s a pillar of usefulness. The tranquilizer darts are stored in here.” He opened a compartment on the palm, revealing a dozen skinny darts. “Once your wiring synchronizes, you should be able to load it with a simple thought.”

“That’s…fantastic. Now when I’m on the chopping block, I can at least take a few bystanders down with me.”

“Exactly!” He chuckled. Cinder frowned, irritated, but Dr. Erland was too busy ogling the prostheses to notice. “I had them made especially for you. I used your body scan to make sure I had the right dimensions. If I’d had more time, I could have done a skin graft, but we can’t have everything, I suppose.”

Cinder took the parts when he handed them to her, inspecting their craftsmanship with trepidation.

“Don’t let the guard see those, or I really will be in trouble,” he said. “Thanks. I sure am excited to wear them for the last two days of my life.”

With a sly grin, Dr. Erland cast his gaze around the small cell. “Funny, isn’t it? So much advancement, so much technology. But even the most complicated security systems aren’t designed with Lunar cyborgs in mind. I guess it’s a good thing there aren’t many of you around, or we might have a reputation for jailbreaks.”

“What? Are you crazy?” Cinder said, voice dropping to a harsh whisper. “Are you suggesting that I should try to escape?”

“In fact, I am a little bit crazy these days.” Dr. Erland scratched at his lined cheek. “Can’t be helped. All that bioelectricity with nowhere to go, nothing to do….” He sighed whimsically. “But no, Miss Linh, I am not suggesting you should try to escape. I am saying you must escape. And you must do it soon. Your chances for survival will drop drastically once Levana comes for you.”

Cinder leaned back against the wall, sensing the start of a headache. “Look, I appreciate that you care about me, I really do. But even if I could find a way out of here, do you realize how livid Levana would be? You yourself said there will be horrible consequences if she doesn’t get what she wants. am not worth starting a war over.”

His eyes brightened behind the spectacles. He looked young for a moment, almost giddy. “Actually, you are.”

She cocked her head, squinting at him. Maybe he really was mad.

“I tried to tell you when you were in my office last week, but you had to run off to see your sister—ah, and I am sorry about your sister, by the way.”

Cinder bit the inside of her cheek.

“Anyway, you see, I had your DNA sequenced. It informed me not only that you are Lunar, not only that you are not a shell, but also something of your heritage. Your bloodline.”

Cinder’s heartbeat quickened. “My family?” “Yes.”

“And? Do I have one? My parents, are they…” She hesitated. Dr. Erland’s eyes had saddened at her outburst. “Are they dead?”

He pulled his hat off. “I’m sorry, Cinder. I should have gone about this a better way. Yes, your mother is dead. I do not know who your father is or if he is alive. Your mother was, shall we say…known for her promiscuity.”

She felt her hopes shrivel. “Oh.” “And you have an aunt.”

“An aunt?”

Dr. Erland squeezed the hat in both hands. “Yes. It’s Queen Levana.” Cinder blinked at him.

“My dear girl. You are Princess Selene.”

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