Stars above, p.13
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       Stars Above, p.13

         Part #4.50 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
 
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  “Do not look at them,” said Sybil.

  Cress frowned. Her arm was stinging but she resisted the urge to rip it out of Sybil’s grip. “Why? Who are they?”

  “They are members of Artemisia’s families, and they would not appreciate being gawked at by a shell.” She dragged Cress down a ramp to the dock’s main floor, releasing her elbow once they were separated from the aristocrats by the svelte forms of the spaceships. It was disconcerting to be walking on the glowing floor. It felt like walking on a star. Cress was so distracted that she crashed into Sybil when she came to an abrupt stop.

  Sybil looked down at her, lip twitching, and didn’t respond to Cress’s hasty apology. She just turned and nodded to the guard, who opened the door to a small podship. It couldn’t have fit more than three or four passengers, but while it was small, it was also luxurious. A faint strip of lights curled around the ceiling. A holograph node was projecting the image of a burbling water fountain in one corner. The benches behind the pilot were covered in a fabric that made the blankets in the dormitories look like animal feed sacks.

  Sybil gestured for Cress to get in, and the invitation was so unexpected that Cress could only stand and stare at the podship’s interior in disbelief. “Really?” she whispered. “I’m … we’re leaving Artemisia?” She felt momentarily dizzy—with elation, but perhaps also a bit because of the blood taken before.

  “We are leaving Luna,” said Sybil. “Now get in.”

  Cress’s mouth ran dry. Leaving Luna? It was more than she had dared to hope. A ride in a spaceship. A real trip into space. The other shells would be so jealous.

  Pulse hammering, she climbed into the ship and settled into the farthest seat. Sybil sat facing her and immediately switched off the fountain holograph, as if she found the sound annoying. The guard took the pilot’s seat, and within moments Cress could feel the subtle hum of the engine vibrating through the soles of her feet.

  Her mounting excitement was met with almost equal amounts of anxiety as the ship lifted, hovering over the other stationary vehicles. It began to glide toward the massive exit. Mistress Sybil still hadn’t given her any indication as to what this new job was that she was meant to do. Though she had managed to successfully complete every task given to her before, she could sense that something was different about this one. Bigger. More important.

  This could be her chance to prove to Sybil—to everyone—that she was more than just a shell. She was valuable. She deserved to be a citizen of Luna.

  She couldn’t fail.

  With a shaky breath, she pulled her hair over one shoulder and began twisting the ends around her wrists. She’d thought of cutting it a year ago, but the other girls had talked her out of it. They told her how beautiful it was, how lucky she was that it grew so thick and strong. They said she would be crazy to cut it, so she didn’t. Now she supposed it had become a sort of security blanket for her. She often caught herself fidgeting with it when she was nervous.

  The massive doors had opened, making the entire dock rumble, and now they were sitting in a holding chamber, waiting for the doors to seal closed again before they could be released into space. The anticipation was choking her.

  She was leaving Luna. Leaving Luna. Never in all her dreams had she thought that she, a lowly, forgotten shell, would have the chance to see life beyond Luna’s protective biodomes.

  But here she was, only nine years old and setting off on her first great adventure.

  The enormous, ancient metal doors cracked open and slowly, slowly peeled back. They revealed the barren white landscape of Luna first, crater-pocked and desert-still. And beyond them … beyond the horizon … beyond Luna …

  Stars.

  Stars like she had never seen, had never imagined seeing. The sky was alive with them. And in their midst, proud and beautiful and right before her eyes, was planet Earth.

  Their ship began to coast forward again, gradually at first, but picking up speed as they abandoned Luna’s weak gravitational pull and soared away from its surface.

  Cress didn’t realize she’d put her hands on the windows until her breath fogged against the surface. She pulled back, revealing two handprints that perfectly framed the blue planet.

  Sybil’s cryptic words churned in her head. Was she taking Cress to Earth?

  It would indeed solve all the issues Cress had pointed out with regards to spying on the Earthens. She had to get closer. She needed better equipment and more time, but mostly she needed to close the physical distance between them.

  Was Sybil asking her to be a spy? Earthens wouldn’t suspect a child like her, and she was a shell—perfectly suited to fit in with the ungifted Earthens. She could infiltrate government databases. She could commandeer every media feed on the planet. She could obtain secrets from every government official and private comms from every citizen. She could be the best spy in Lunar history.

  And best of all, she would no longer be just a shell, trapped in a dormitory and forced to give blood every four weeks. She would have a blue sky. She would walk with bare feet on real grass. She would splash through ocean water and climb to the tops of skyscrapers and go to the theater and dance in the rain and—

  She noticed Sybil watching her, and only then did she realize she had an enormous grin on her face. She smothered it as quickly as she could.

  “How long will it take to get there?” she asked.

  “Hours,” said Sybil, unclipping a portscreen from her white thaumaturge coat. “Your first objective will be to access the notes from the weekly meetings between Emperor Rikan and his advisory cabinet. I suggest you begin planning how you will accomplish this.”

  Cress pressed her lips together and nodded eagerly, her thoughts already churning with ideas. No doubt the meeting had an android secretary recording the notes, possibly even taking an audio or video recording, and as long as that android had net connectivity …

  She leaned her head against the bench and turned to look at the planet again while she mulled it over—coding and security hacks buzzing through her thoughts.

  Stars, but the planet was beautiful. More breathtaking than she’d imagined it. The projected images from the holograph nodes didn’t begin to do it justice. How it sparkled and glowed and moved, always moving, the wisps of clouds always churning. It was as though the planet itself were a living organism.

  She started to hum as she thought and dreamed and planned. She hummed a lot when she was working. It helped her channel her thoughts sometimes, but today her thoughts were too disjointed to be focused. How different her life looked from just this morning. How quickly everything had changed.

  The journey passed in silence but for the quiet tap of Sybil’s fingers on the portscreen and Cress humming to herself. The pilot never spoke. It was almost as if he weren’t even there, but then, that’s how all the guards acted. Invisible. She didn’t blame them. Working for Mistress Sybil often made her wish she were invisible too.

  Her gaze reattached to Earth. It reminded her of a lullaby one of the older girls had taught her years ago, one that Cress still loved to sing to the children at lights-out.

  Sweet Crescent Moon, up in the sky,

  Won’t you sing your song to Earth as she passes by?

  Your sweetest silver melody, a rhythm and a rhyme,

  A lullaby of pleasant dreams as you make your climb.

  Send the forests off to bed, the mountains tuck in tight,

  Rock the ocean gently, and the deserts kiss good night.

  Sweet Crescent Moon, up in the sky,

  You sing your song so sweetly after sunshine passes by.

  Cress caught sight of the guard peering at her in the window’s reflection. She stiffened, realizing she’d been singing aloud. He quickly looked away, but Sybil was watching her now too.

  Not just watching. Glowering.

  Cress gulped. “Sorry.”

  Sybil set her portscreen on her lap, fixing her attention more fully on Cress. “You probably don’t realiz
e how old that song is. A lullaby that’s been sung on Luna perhaps as far back as colonization.”

  “I did know that,” Cress said before she could stop herself. It was her favorite song. She’d researched it once.

  Sybil’s eyes narrowed, almost imperceptibly. “Then you must know that the song was written at a time when Earth and Luna were allies. Some consider it to be a song symbolizing peace between the two planets. Some feel that it is unpatriotic today—that it suggests Earthen sympathizing.”

  Heat rushed to Cress’s cheeks again and she sat straighter, shaking her head. “That’s not why I like it,” she said. “I just like … I mean, it has my name in it. Crescent Moon. Sometimes I think … I wonder if maybe my parents named me for the song.”

  The thaumaturge gave an abrupt snort, startling Cress. “That is highly unlikely,” Sybil said, looking out the window. “From what I recall of your parents, they were not given to such flights of fancy.”

  Cress stared at her. “You knew my parents?”

  Sybil was quiet for a time. Expressionless but for a smug tilt of her mouth. Finally, she slid her attention back to Cress. “The only thing you need to know of your parents was that they willingly gave you up to be killed in the shell infanticide.” Her eyes glinted, pleased with her own cruelty. “Your mother herself put you into my arms. All she said was, ‘A shell. How mortifying.’”

  The words struck Cress harder than they should have. Of course she’d known that her parents had given her up to be killed. That was the law—even though shells weren’t actually killed, just hidden away, but most civilians didn’t know that. Her parents would have believed she was dead, and Sybil never tired of reminding the shells how unwanted they were. That if it wasn’t for her saving them, they would all be dead, and no one would mourn them.

  But Sybil had never told her that part before. Mortifying.

  She sniffed and turned away before Sybil could see the tears building in her eyes.

  Out the window, Cress saw that they were approaching something—another spaceship? She squinted and leaned forward. It was spherical, with three enormous winglike appendages tilted away from it.

  “What’s that?”

  Sybil barely turned her head. “It’s a satellite.”

  Cress squeezed both fists around her hair. “We’re going to crash into it.”

  A wisp of a smile flitted over Sybil’s mouth.

  The podship began to slow. Cress watched, enraptured, as the satellite grew larger in the window until it was taking up her entire view. There was a clamp on one side, pre-extended. The guard latched onto it on his first attempt, and the podship shuddered around them. A cacophony of noises followed—thumps and rattles and whirring machinery and hisses and thuds. A hatch was extending from the satellite and suctioning against the side of the podship, creating a tunnel for them to exit into.

  Cress furrowed her brow. Were they stopping to refuel? To pick up supplies? To outfit her with her new secret Earthen identity?

  The podship door opened, and Sybil stepped out into the tunnel, beckoning for Cress to follow. The guard kept his distance behind her.

  The hatch was narrow and smelled of metal and recirculating air. A second door was closed at the end of the corridor, but opened upon their approach.

  Cress found herself in a small round room. A desk circled the space, and the walls above it were covered in invisi-screens, angled to be seen from anywhere in the room. Only one wall was empty—noticeably empty.

  A sense of dread settled in Cress’s stomach, but she couldn’t tell what it meant. Sybil had stepped aside and was watching Cress, waiting, but Cress didn’t know what she was waiting for.

  There was a second door identical to the one they had just entered through—perhaps another hatch for a second ship, she thought. And a third door led to …

  She stepped forward uncertainly.

  It was a bathroom. A sink. A toilet. A tiny shower.

  She turned back. Goose bumps covered her skin.

  “There is a recirculating water system,” said Sybil, speaking as if they’d been in the middle of a conversation. She opened a tall cabinet. “And enough nonperishable food to last for six to eight weeks, though I will replenish your supplies every two to three weeks, or as needed, as I come to check on your progress. Her Majesty is hopeful that you’ll be making great forward strides in our Earthen surveillance now that you’ve been so meticulously outfitted with the exact requirements you specified. If you find you need anything more for your work, I will obtain it for you.”

  Cress’s stomach was knotting itself now, her breaths coming in shorter gasps as she took in the invisi-screens again. The holograph nodes. The processors and receivers and data boards.

  State-of-the-art. All of it.

  It was exactly what she needed to spy on Earth.

  “I’m … to live here?” she squeaked. “Alone?”

  “For a time, yes. You said you needed to be closer to Earth, Crescent. I’ve given you what you requested in order to serve Her Majesty. That is what you want, isn’t it?”

  She started nodding without realizing it. Tears were gathering in her eyes, but she brushed them away with the palm of her hand. “But where will I sleep?”

  Sybil paced to the too-empty wall and hit a switch. A bed lowered out of the wall. It was larger than the bunk Cress had in the dormitories, but that did little to cheer her.

  Alone. She was being left here, alone.

  “You have your first orders,” said Sybil. “Is there anything else you require?”

  Cress couldn’t remember what her first orders had been. She’d been so focused on going to Earth. So excited about trees and oceans and cities …

  And now she didn’t have any of that. She didn’t even have the dormitory or the other shells anymore.

  “How long?” she asked, her voice wavering. “How long do I have to stay here?”

  When Sybil was silent, Cress forced herself to look up and meet her gaze. She hoped for sympathy, kindness, anything.

  She shouldn’t have hoped. If anything, Sybil looked only irritated at Cress’s weakness.

  “You will stay here until your work is done.” Then, after a moment, her features softened. “Of course, if your work is satisfactory, then perhaps when you are finished we can discuss your return to Artemisia … as a true citizen of Luna.”

  Cress sniffed loudly and tilted her head back as much as she dared to hold in the tears.

  A true citizen of Luna. Not just a shell. Not a prisoner. Not a secret.

  She looked around the room again. She was still horrified, but also more determined than she had ever been.

  “All right, Mistress. I will do my best to please Her Majesty.”

  A glimmer of approval shone in Sybil’s eyes. She nodded and gestured at the guard, who turned without ceremony and marched back toward the podship.

  “I know you will, Crescent.” She turned to follow him out the door. There were no parting words, no reassuring smile, no comforting embrace.

  The door slammed and Mistress Sybil was gone and that was that.

  Cress was alone.

  She gasped and exhaled and moved toward one of the small windows, intending to watch them debark from the satellite and return to Luna.

  A glow in the opposite window caught her eye. She turned and drifted to the other side of the tiny room instead.

  Earth was so big it nearly filled up the entire frame.

  Her whole body was trembling as she crawled up onto the desk and curled against the cabinet, staring at the blue planet. Blue and green and gold. She would sing for a while before she began her work. It would calm her. Singing always made her feel better.

  Sweet Crescent Moon, up in the sky …

  That was all she could get through before the tears came in earnest, drowning out everything else.

  The Princess and the Guard

  “Help me, Sir Clay! Save me!” Winter cowered behind the fort of pillows. Though their fortress was
strong, she knew it would not keep out the villains forever.

  Luckily, at the most opportune of moments, Sir Jacin Clay leaped to her defense, brandishing the legendary Earthlight Saber—in reality, a wooden training sword he’d gotten from his father for his seventh birthday.

  “You’ll never have the princess!” Jacin yelled. “I’ll protect her with my life, you Earthen fiend!” He swung and jabbed at the air, while Winter abandoned the wall of pillows and scurried beneath the bed.

  “Sir Clay! Behind you!”

  Jacin pivoted to face her at the same time that Winter sprang upward.

  “Princess?” he asked, his eyes twitching with uncertainty.

  Winter grinned a wicked grin and tackled him around the middle, sending them both crashing onto the mattress. “A-ha!” she bellowed. “I have lured you into my trap! You believed I was your beloved princess, but it was only my glamour tricking you. I am none other than Vile Velamina, the infamous space pirate!”

  “Not Vile Velamina,” said Jacin, with a feigned gasp of horror. “What have you done with my princess?”

  “She is being held prisoner aboard my spaceship. You will never see her again. Bwa-ha-ha!”

  “No! I will rescue her!”

  Jacin—who was starting to leave Winter behind in the height department—tossed her easily off the bed. She screeched and landed on the floor with a thump. It wasn’t a hard throw, but her knee burned where it hit the rug.

  Jacin climbed to his feet, steadying himself on the plush mattress, and thrust the point of the sword at her. “Actually, it is I who have lured you into a trap, you stinking pirate. You are now precisely where I want you.” Reaching up, he grabbed onto one of the tassels that hung from the canopy on Winter’s bed. “With a yank on this rope, a trapdoor will open beneath you, and you will plummet straight into…” He hesitated.

  “Oh—the menagerie!” Winter suggested, eyes brightening. “Ryu’s cage. And the wolf is very, very hungry and will no doubt gobble the pirate up!”

  Jacin scowled at her. “Are you plotting your own demise?”

  “That was the princess speaking. I was implanting the thought directly into your brain. Velamina has me tied up, but not unconscious.”

 
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