Cinder, p.17
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       Cinder, p.17

         Part #1 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer  
Page 17


  “You mean you have to go back?” said Iko as they stepped out into the basement.

  “Yes, but it’s fine. The doctor said I’m not in any danger now. Plus, they’re going to pay me, and Adri won’t know about it. ”

  “How much?”

  “I’m not sure, but a lot, I think. ”

  Iko grabbed Cinder’s wrist just as Cinder opened the chicken wire door to her workroom. “You realize what this means?”

  Cinder held the door open with her foot. “Which part?”

  “It means you can afford a pretty dress—prettier than Pearl’s! You can go to the ball, and Adri won’t be able to say anything to stop you!”

  Cinder pressed her lips together like she’d just bitten a lemon and pulled her wrist from Iko’s grip. “Really, Iko?” she said, examining her mess of tools and spare parts. “You really think Adri’s going to let me go now just because I can buy my own dress? She would probably tear it off me and try to resell the buttons. ”

  “Well—fine, we won’t tell her about the dress or about going to the ball. You don’t have to go with them. You’re better than them. You’re valuable. ” Iko’s fan was whirring like mad as if her processor could barely keep up with all these revelations. “Immune to letumosis. My stars, you could be a celebrity because of this!”

  Cinder ignored her, stooping to prop the netscreen against the shelving unit. Her gaze had landed on a pile of silver fabric crumpled in the far corner, barely shimmering in the dusty light. “What’s that?”

  Iko’s fan calmed to a slow hum. “Peony’s ball gown. I…I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I didn’t think anyone would ever come down here again, what with you…so I just thought I’d keep it. For myself. ”

  “That was bad, Iko. It could have been infected. ” Cinder hesitated only for a moment before walking to the dress and picking it up by the pearl-dotted sleeves. It was smudged with dirt and covered in wrinkles, and there was a chance it had been exposed to letumosis, but the doctor had said the disease wouldn’t survive long on clothing.

  Besides, nobody was ever going to wear it now.

  She draped the gown over the welder and turned away. “We’re not using this money on a dress,” she said. “We’re still not going to the ball. ”

  “Why not?” Iko said, a distinct whine in her robotic voice.

  Approaching her desk, Cinder swung her leg up and started unloading the stashed tools from her calf. “You remember that car we saw at the junkyard? The old gasoline one?”

  Iko’s speakers made a coarse grumbling noise, the closest she could get to a groan. “What about it?”

  “It’s going to take all our time and money to fix it up. ”

  “No. Cinder! Tell me you’re joking. ”

  Cinder was recording a mental list as she shut the storage compartment and rolled down her pant leg. The words scrolled across her vision. GET CAR. ASSESS CONDITION. FIND PARTS. DOWNLOAD WIRING BLUEPRINT. ORDER GASOLINE.

  She spotted Kai’s android on her worktable. fix android. “I am serious. ”

  She pulled her hair back into its tight ponytail, strangely excited. Marching to the standing toolbox in the corner, she started fishing for things that might come in handy—bungee cords and chains, rags and generators, anything to help get that car cleaned up and ready for fixing. “We’re going to go back tonight. Get it to the parking garage if we can, otherwise we might have to fix it at the yard. Now, I need to go back to the palace tomorrow morning and take a look at the prince’s android tomorrow afternoon, but if we’re diligent, I think I could have it fixed in a couple weeks, maybe less. Depending on what it needs, of course. ”

  “But why? Why are we fixing it?”

  Cinder shoved the tools into her messenger bag. “Because that car is going to get us out of here. ”

  Chapter Sixteen

  NIGHTSHIFT NURSES AND ANDROIDS PLASTERED THEMSELVES to the walls as Prince Kai barreled through the corridor. He had run all the way from his bedroom on the sixteenth floor of the palace’s private wing, pausing to catch his breath only when he was forced to wait for the elevator. He burst through the door to the visiting room and came to a halt all at once, still gripping the door’s handle.

  His mad eyes found Torin, arms crossed as he leaned against the far wall. The adviser tore his gaze from the glass window and met Kai’s panicked expression with one of resignation.

  “I heard—” Kai started, pulling back his shoulders. Wetting his dry mouth, he came into the room. The door clicked behind him. The small sitting room was lit only by a table lamp and the bright fluorescents in the quarantine.

  Kai peered into the sickroom just as a med-droid pulled a white cloth over his father’s closed eyes. His hammering heart plummeted. “I’m too late. ”

  Torin stirred. “It happened only minutes ago,” he said, forcing himself away from the wall. Kai took in the adviser’s lined face and sleepless eyes, and a cup of untouched tea that sat beside his portscreen. He’d stayed late to work, rather than return to his own home, his own bed.

  The exhaustion caught up to Kai all at once and he pressed his burning forehead against the cool glass. He should have been there too.

  “I will set up a press conference. ” Torin’s voice was hollow.

  “A press conference?”

  “The country needs to know. We will mourn together. ” Torin seemed shaken for a rare moment—he covered it with a measured breath.

  Kai squeezed his eyes shut and chafed them with his fingers. Even knowing that it was coming, that his father was sick with this incurable disease, it still made no sense. All that had just been lost, taken so quickly. Not just his father. Not just the emperor.

  His youth. His freedom.

  “You will be a good emperor,” said Torin. “As he was. ”

  Kai flinched away from him. He did not want to think about it, all of his own inadequacies. He was too young, too stupid, too optimistic, too naive. He couldn’t do this.

  The screen behind them pinged, followed by a sweetly feminine voice: “Incoming communication for Crown Prince Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth from Queen Levana of Luna. ”

  Kai spun toward the netscreen, blank but for a spinning globe in the corner, signaling an available comm. Any threat of tears vanished into an oncoming headache. The air thickened, but neither of them moved.

  “How could she know? So soon?” said Kai. “She must have spies. ”

  From the corner of his eye, he saw Torin level a glare at him. A warning not to start in on the conspiracy theories just yet. “Perhaps the thaumaturge or her guard saw you,” he said. “Running through the castle in the middle of the night. What else could it mean?”

  Locking his jaw, Kai drew himself to his full height, hailing the screen like an enemy. “I guess our mourning period is over,” he murmured. “Screen, accept comm. ”

  The screen brightened. Kai bristled at the sight of the Lunar Queen, her head and shoulders draped in an ornate cream-colored veil, like a perpetual bride. All that could be seen beneath the shroud was a hint of long dark hair and the ghost of her features. The explanation told by the Lunars was that their queen’s beauty was a gift not to be seen by undeserving Earthens, but Kai had heard that in reality the queen’s glamour—her ability to make people see her as divinely beautiful by manipulating their brain waves—could not translate over the netscreens, therefore she never allowed herself to be seen over them.

  Whatever the reason, looking at the white-swathed figure for too long always made Kai’s eyes sting.

  “My dear Prince Regent,” Levana said in a saccharine voice, “may I be the first to offer my condolences on the loss of your father, the good Emperor Rikan. May he forever rest in peace. ”

  Kai cast a cool glare at Torin. Spies?

  Torin did not return the look.

  “Though the occasion is tragic, I do look forward to continuing the tal
k of an alliance with you, as the new leader of Earth’s Eastern Commonwealth. As I see no reason to defer these conversations until your coronation, whensoever that shall be, I do think it appropriate to plan a meeting as soon as is convenient in your time of mourning. My shuttle is prepared. I can depart as soon as your next sunrise and come to offer both my sympathies and my congratulations in the flesh. I will alert my thaumaturge to expect my arrival. She can ensure that accommodations are adequately prepared. I ask that you do not concern yourself with my comfort. I am sure you will have many other concerns during this tragic time. My sympathies are with you and the Commonwealth. ” She finished her message with a tilt of her head and the screen blackened.

  Jaw hanging, Kai faced Torin. He squeezed his fists against his sides before they could start to shake. “She wants to come here? Now? It hasn’t even been fifteen minutes!”

  Torin cleared his throat. “We should discuss this in the morning. Before the press conference, I suppose. ”

  Kai turned away, thunking his head against the window. Beyond the glass, the peaks of his father’s body were obscured beneath the white sheet, not unlike the queen and her veil. The emperor had lost so much weight in the past weeks that his form seemed more like a mannequin’s than a man’s.

  His father was no longer there. Unable to protect Kai. Unable to offer advice. Unable to lead his country ever again.

  “She thinks I’m weak,” Kai said. “She’s going to try and persuade me to accept the marriage alliance now, while everything is in chaos. ” He kicked the wall, biting back a cry of pain when he remembered he wasn’t wearing shoes. “Can’t we tell her no? Tell her she’s not welcome here?”

  “I’m not sure that would be the indication of peace your father had been striving for. ”

  “She’s the one who’s been threatening war for the last twelve years!”

  Torin pursed his lips, and the haunting worry in his gaze quelled Kai’s anger. “Discussions must go two ways, Your Highness. We will listen to her requests, but she must listen to ours as well. ”

  Kai’s shoulders drooped. He turned around, craning his head back and staring at the shadowed ceiling. “What did she mean, her thaumaturge will prepare her accommodations?”

  “Removing the mirrors, I suspect. ”

  Kai squeezed his eyes shut. “Mirrors. Right. I forgot. ” He massaged his forehead. What was it about the Lunars? And not just any Lunar. Queen Levana. On Earth. In his country, his home. He shivered. “The people aren’t going to like this. ”

  “No. ” Torin sighed. “Tomorrow will be a dark day for the Commonwealth. ”

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