Stars above, p.3
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       Stars Above, p.3
 

         Part #4.50 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

  Until he met her gaze and she was forced to reconsider.

  Maybe he had changed, after all. There was something in his eyes. A panic of sorts that was even more anxious than it had been ages ago. A wide-eyed haunting, a barely discernible twitch at the end of one brow.

  He opened his mouth to speak, but Michelle beat him to it, yelling, “Whatever you’re selling, we’re not interested!”

  Logan hesitated, his mouth still open. It took him a long, long, long time to recover from her unexpected rejection. This, too, was a change. He had always been so quick before, so sharp-witted, so clever.

  “I … I am sorry to bother you…,” he stammered. His eyes darted past Michelle to the windows of the farmhouse, and she saw them stall for a moment. Just as she’d expected, Scarlet was watching. “I need your help,” he started again. “I … I think I’m lost?”

  Michelle lowered the tines of the pitchfork to the soil. “Is something wrong with your vehicle? It was making a strange noise when you pulled up.”

  Logan’s attention turned back to her, and his expression cleared somewhat. “Yes, I fear so. Unfortunately, I’m a regular dunce when it comes to fixing … things.” He gestured hopelessly at the hover.

  Feigning annoyance, Michelle turned toward the hangar. “Sounded like some old cooling gel. I have some in here, and I can draw you a map to wherever it is you’re trying to get to.”

  She didn’t look back, but she could hear Logan’s shoes crunching on the hard, cold soil as they crossed to the hangar. She didn’t look at Scarlet in the window, either, though she could feel her granddaughter’s suspicious gaze following them.

  Suspicious, because that’s just how Michelle had raised her to be. She would have felt guilty about it, but Logan’s arrival reminded her how dangerous their situation was, no matter how much time had passed. Until the princess was no longer in her care, she and Scarlet would never be completely safe.

  The second she heard the hangar door shut, she spun around to face Logan. “What’s happened?”

  Logan’s face had that sense of nervousness again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were … I didn’t think you would have…” He was struggling to think of what to call Scarlet, but Michelle didn’t inform him. To tell him she had a granddaughter would teeter too close to telling him that he had a granddaughter, and she had years ago made the decision that it was better—safer—for everyone if he never found out.

  “Why are you here?” she said instead, leaning the pitchfork against a row of wooden cabinets that were peeling with old paint. “You told me you wouldn’t be back until the child was at least fifteen years old. I wasn’t expecting you for years still.”

  “I know. But we can’t wait … I can’t wait any longer. We must complete her operations. We must wake her up, soon, before it’s too late.”

  Michelle frowned. When he had first brought the princess to her, he’d explained at length what would need to happen when she was older. When her body was almost full grown, they would outfit her with what physical features would be necessary for her to walk and breathe and speak and be the queen that Luna needed. It had taken Michelle a long while to comprehend that he meant to turn the princess into a cyborg, which on some levels seemed a travesty, but she’d long ago come to the understanding that it was the only way. She was not one to pass judgment on cyborgs, anyway. Just one more misunderstood group, like so many others.

  Still, Logan had always insisted that the cyborg operation be conducted once the child was older. To outfit an immature body with cyborg limbs as extensive as she would require would be clunky and inefficient, and perhaps even incompatible with her growing organic tissue in the long term.

  “Why?” she finally said. “She’s still so young. Why wake her now?”

  Logan’s face fell and he leaned against the podship that she used for local deliveries. “I have Lunar sickness.” His voice cracked. It sounded like a confession of some shameful crime. Michelle’s expression must have conveyed her confusion, though, because his eyes softened at her. “I am going mad, Michelle. When I first came to Earth, I was able to use my gift in small ways, simple ways, to avoid detection. But over the years, even small manipulations have begun to feel dangerous. I’ve been afraid some other Lunar might be near, might recognize my use of the gift. Or that an Earthen might pick up on the manipulation. Even if it was something harmless, they might know…” He swallowed. A deep crease had formed between his brows. “So I stopped. I haven’t used my gift for years, and now … now I am paying the price. It is driving me insane, and I don’t think I could stop it now, even if I tried. It’s happened fast. So much faster than I thought it would…” He dragged his palms down his face and groaned into them.

  Michelle stared. She wasn’t sure if she understood half of what he said, but she was only a pilot and a farmer. Logan was the Lunar, the doctor, the one who had left his home and risked everything to keep the child safe. If he believed she needed to be woken up sooner, then Michelle didn’t think she could argue with him.

  “Will she be ready?” she asked.

  Logan’s arms dropped to his sides. “She must be.” He opened his mouth to say something else but stopped. Then, after a long moment, he said, “She will not be staying with you once she is stable and awake. I have endangered you for long enough.”

  This was the topic they had always skipped around before. The after. It had been difficult enough trying to keep her alive, hidden, secure. It had seemed too distant and complicated to imagine what would become of her once the operation was complete. But now they had no choice but to think of it.

  Soon, she would not be a body in a tank. She would be a child. An eleven-year-old girl, who would no doubt be frightened and confused.

  “Where will you take her?”

  “I’ve found a man who lives in the Eastern Commonwealth, just outside of New Beijing. His name is Garan Linh, and he’s an intelligent man with a vast knowledge of android systems and artificial intelligence, which will be useful given her cyborg … additions. But he’s also an inventor, and he’s created this marvelous device that attaches to a person’s nervous system. In an Earthen, it can keep them from ever being manipulated by the Lunar gift. But in a Lunar, it can ensure that they are unable to use their gift at all, whilst also protecting them from developing the hallucinations associated with Lunar sickness.”

  Michelle was frowning again as she tried to take in everything he was telling her. “Well … good, then. That will help you, won’t it? Prevent you from … er, going mad?”

  “No, no. I will not take one. He has only two in the prototype stage. One must be for the princess, of course. She will eventually have to be taught how to control her gift, and until then, we can’t risk her revealing her identity. The other prototype is for you.”

  “Me?”

  “Just in case.” Logan fixed an intense look on her. “Just in case anything should ever happen to you. Just in case any Lunar should find you and … try to manipulate you into giving up the princess’s location.”

  Her jaw tensed. There were other ways to get information out of a person. More old-fashioned ways. But Logan wished to protect her mind, at least, and she had heard tales of Queen Levana and her thaumaturges’ creative methods before. She was grateful that Logan wanted to protect her in this small way. She recognized his sacrifice, even if she knew he would never admit that it was such.

  “All right,” she said, wiping her sweating palms down the sides of her jeans. “You’ve found this inventor, and the child will receive this device of his. Then what?”

  “Then she will go to live with him. He’s already agreed to care for her as his legal ward, and he has two children of his own. It will be a good fit.”

  She cocked her head. “Does he know who she is?”

  “Not yet.” Logan inhaled a sharp breath. “But I will have to tell him. He must know the full extent of the danger he’s putting himself and his family in if he’s to agree to this. And … and
he must know how valuable she is. I’ll try to keep an eye on her for as long as I can, but I’m not sure I will still be lucid enough to tell her the truth once she’s ready. It’s possible that responsibility will fall to him.”

  It sounded so certain. So final. It dawned on Michelle how terrified Logan was of whatever was happening inside his own head.

  Logan had always prided himself on his thinking mind. How horrible it must be to know he was losing it now.

  His mouth quirked unexpectedly. “I will not take your pity now, Michelle. All my decisions have been my own, and I am still convinced that they were the right ones.”

  “Of course they were,” she said. “You have changed the course of history.”

  “Not yet. But someday, perhaps.” He rubbed his temple and glanced at the secret door that led down to Selene’s room. “How is she?”

  “Much the same. Getting taller. She’s grown like a tadpole this year.”

  He nodded. “I will need at least a week to complete the operations. We’ll have to conduct them in stages. Can you be ready in a month?”

  A month. After so many years of nothing, nothing, nothing, it was so sudden, like a maglev train screeching toward her.

  “I will have to send Scarlet away,” she whispered, mostly to herself. “Perhaps she can stay with her father for a while.”

  Logan peered at her. She peered back and waited for him to ask. Scarlet. Who is Scarlet? Who is her father? Who is…?

  He lowered his gaze first, and she couldn’t read him. She couldn’t tell if he guessed the truth or not. They were together for such a short time, and so long ago. There was no reason for him to suspect …

  But he’d always been good at interpreting her silences.

  He didn’t ask. Just nodded and said, “I will tell Garan to make his travel arrangements.”

  * * *

  It all seemed painfully familiar.

  Scarlet’s anger had cooled somewhat during the maglev ride from Paris back to Toulouse, but she still had a furious knot in her stomach. She never wanted to see her lousy father again. She’d told herself as much when she’d run away the first time, back when she was seven, but this time she meant it. That drunken, arrogant, condescending jerk was nonexistent to her.

  She couldn’t believe she’d agreed to stay with him for a whole month. Looking back, all of Grand-mère’s encouraging words about how it would be a good bonding opportunity and give her father a chance to see what a strong young woman she was becoming and blah blah blah—gag. Instead, all he’d done from the moment she’d arrived was pawn her off on his fawning “lady friends” while he left her for hours, only to come back stinking of cognac. And when he was around, he was criticizing her clothing choices, or blaming Grand-mère for filling her head with too many opinions, or accusing Scarlet of idolizing “the crazy old bat.”

  That comment had been the last straw. The last straw ever.

  After a ten-minute screaming fit, Scarlet had repacked her bag and stormed out of his apartment, slamming the door satisfyingly behind her. She’d headed straight to the train station. Her father hadn’t even tried to stop her, and she really didn’t care.

  She’d lasted nine days.

  She thought that was an impressive feat on its own.

  She was going to the farm. To her grandmother. To her home.

  The moment she stepped off the train and back onto the platform in Toulouse, the angry knot began to dissolve. She inhaled a long breath, looking forward to the familiar scent of hay and manure that had once been disgusting to her, but had developed into something comforting and almost pleasant. Soon she would be drinking a cup of thick, decadent hot chocolate while she vented all her frustrations to Grand-mère. Soon she would be snuggled under her favorite winter quilts, listening to the serene hoots of the barn owl that had taken up residence on the farm earlier that year.

  This time, the ride in the taxi hover wasn’t full of anxiety. Every moment that passed, taking her farther away from Paris and her un-father, filled her with the tranquil, pleasant sensation of coming home. When the hover turned onto their narrow road and she spotted their house settled amid the snow drifts, the relief she felt nearly overwhelmed her.

  Home.

  She was out of the hover before it had come to a complete stop, launching herself over the gravel drive and yanking open the front door. But she had taken only a few steps into the entryway when she felt the silent stillness of the house.

  She paused.

  No clanging of pots in the kitchen. No creaking floorboards overhead. No familiar humming.

  Her grandmother wasn’t here.

  “Grand-mère?” she attempted anyway.

  “Scarlet!”

  She spun around, a grin bursting across her face. Her grandmother was rushing toward her across the drive, her face contorted in worry.

  “I heard the hover pull up,” she said, panting for breath. “What are you doing here?”

  “I came home early,” Scarlet said. “I couldn’t stand it there. Oh, Grand-mère, it was horrible, absolutely horrible!” She moved to meet her grandmother on the front steps but hesitated.

  Her grandmother’s hair was wild and uncombed and the circles under her eyes were extra dark, as if she hadn’t slept since Scarlet had left.

  And she was not smiling.

  “You can’t be here!” her grandmother cried, then flinched at the shrill tone of her own voice.

  Scarlet frowned. “What?”

  “That isn’t—” Her grandmother let out a groan. She didn’t stop when she reached the front step—not to give Scarlet a hug or a kiss on the cheek, nothing. After more than a week of separation, all her grandmother did was shove her inside the house.

  Scarlet dropped her backpack on the floor with a heavy thud. “What’s going on?”

  Her grandma took a moment to compose herself, but her face was still twisted into a scowl. “You weren’t supposed to be home for weeks. Didn’t you think to send me a comm and let me know you were coming back early?”

  “I wanted to surprise you,” Scarlet snapped. It was easy to switch back into her angry mode—after all, she’d been angry for the past week. “Why are you yelling?”

  “I’m not—!” Her grandmother growled and crossed her arms over her chest.

  Scarlet mimicked the pose, glaring up at her. It wouldn’t be long now before they were the same height.

  After a moment, her grandmother released a frustrated breath and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Fine,” she said. “Fine. Nothing can be done about it now. But, since you’re home…” Her voice changed, taking on a short, businesslike tone. She still sounded angry, but now Scarlet could see that she was frazzled, too. “I haven’t been able to get into town yet this week.” She pivoted on her heels and marched into the kitchen. “We’ll call back that taxi and you can go run some errands for me. I need you to go to the bakery and the hardware store, and you can take the drapes in to the cleaners and—”

  “Excuse me?” said Scarlet from the doorway. She gaped at her grandmother bustling around the kitchen, pulling together a list of groceries. “That’s it? I have had a horrible, horrible week, and now you’re going to send me out to run some stupid errands without…” Her voice warbled. “Without even saying ‘welcome home’?”

  Her grandmother paused and turned to face her. A flash of guilt crossed over her face, but she whisked it away and squared her shoulders. “If you wanted a party, you should have commed to tell me you were on your way back. I have things I need to get done, Scarlet. You have to … I need you to run into town for these things, today. After all, if you’re old enough to take the train all the way from Paris by yourself, you’re clearly old enough to run a few errands.”

  “Fine, I’ll stop the hover,” said Scarlet, gritting her teeth and blinking back her tears before they could fall. “Just comm me the list when you have it, as I wouldn’t want to take up any more of your valuable time.” She stormed back to the entryway. “By the wa
y,” she yelled over her shoulder, “I missed you, too!”

  She slammed the door so hard it made the house’s gables shake overhead, but this time there was nothing satisfying about it.

  * * *

  Michelle was choking on guilt. Scarlet had hardly spoken to her since she returned home yesterday afternoon. Or maybe Michelle was avoiding talking to her, unable to explain why she’d been so upset, unable to apologize in any meaningful way. It seemed easier to be silent. To move around the small house and ignore the other’s existence until this was all over.

  She knew it wasn’t right. She wanted to tell Scarlet the truth. But how did you tell your granddaughter that she’d been sent to Paris for a month so you could help a Lunar doctor conduct the delicate operations to turn a missing princess into a cyborg? How did you explain to her that some inventor was coming from the Eastern Commonwealth today to install a device into your nervous system and adopt the girl who’s been secretly kept underneath your hangar for the past eight years? How do you make her understand that if she tells anyone about this, if she lets this humongous secret slip, it could lead to both of you being hunted and tortured and killed?

  No, she couldn’t tell Scarlet anything. So she had to go on pretending that she was annoyed that Scarlet had come home early, when normally she would have welcomed her with adoring arms.

  She was sick to her stomach over it all.

  But it was almost over, she told herself again. Soon, the princess would be gone, and she and Scarlet would be safe, and they could go on with their lives as if this had never happened.

  She checked the time on her portscreen. Linh Garan was scheduled to arrive soon. If she’d had more time to think yesterday, she would have waited and sent Scarlet into town with a long list of errands today, but it was too late for that now.

  Climbing the creaky stairs, she knocked at Scarlet’s bedroom door. She heard rustling inside before Scarlet opened the door a crack and glared out at her.

 
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