Part #4 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
The man studied her. “Who are you?”
“My name is Scarlet Benoit. I’m—” She struggled to think of what to call herself. The pilot? The alpha female?
“She’s an Earthen,” someone said. It annoyed her that they could tell so easily, like she was branded somehow.
“I’m a friend of Princess Selene’s,” she said. “And I’m a friend of Princess Winter’s. And not very long ago I was a prisoner of Queen Levana. She took my finger”—she held up her hand—“and she took my grandmother, and now I intend to help Selene take everything from her.” She gestured at the soldiers. “These men have chosen our side over Levana’s, just like you have, and they’re the best assets we’ve got. Maybe they can help with your combat training.” She turned to Strom. “Right?”
Strom’s expression, though, was not appeasing as he stepped up beside her. “We said we would help and we will, but we’re not going to stand out here all night listening to negotiations with a bunch of lumberjacks. If they don’t want us here, we’ll find a sector that does.”
Scarlet snorted. “Good luck.”
He growled at her. Scarlet growled back.
Lips pressed into a thin line, the bearded man glanced from the nervous civilians with their sharpened sticks, to the brawny, fur-covered soldiers. “We’ve been sending messengers to the nearest sectors when we can, but it’s difficult trying to coordinate the attack. The shuttles are all down. And we aren’t warriors.”
“Clearly,” one of the soldiers grumbled.
Someone in the crowd hissed, “Tell them about the guards.”
Scarlet raised her eyebrows as the crowd’s fear was replaced with puffing chests and straightened spines. “Guards?”
“We’ve had a regiment of armed guards stationed here for years, and we’ve talked about trying to overwhelm them, even made plans for it before, but it always seemed pointless when Levana would just send more. But as soon as Selene’s message came through…” He grinned back at his peers. “Our plan worked. We had them disarmed within minutes, and now they’re locked up in one of the storerooms in the mill.” He crossed his arms. “There were fatalities, but we knew there would be. We’re willing to do what must be done, just like the people in RM-9. I believe Selene has given us what might be our only chance.”
Scarlet blinked. “What about the people in RM-9?”
“They say Selene was there, and there was a woman housing her. She was just a miner, no one special, like us, but she proved how brave we can be.”
“Maha Kesley,” whispered Scarlet.
The man jolted in surprise. “That’s right.” He glanced back at the gathered people, his jaw set. “She was killed for offering her home to our true queen, but her death won’t be in vain, just like the deaths of all those who stood up to Levana in the past.”
Scarlet nodded, though she was still reeling. Aimery had intended for Maha’s death to act as a warning to anyone who sided with Cinder, but here, at least, it had the opposite effect.
Maha Kesley had become a martyr.
“You’re right,” she said. “Selene doesn’t need you to be warriors. Maha Kesley certainly wasn’t, but she was brave and believed in our cause. That resolve is what this revolution needs.”
“A few more warriors wouldn’t hurt,” Strom muttered, grabbing a stick away from the nearest civilian, who shrank away. “Everyone—back in formation! Let’s see if we can’t make you look a little less pathetic.”
“The residents of GM-3 have overpowered the guards sent to quell the uprising that began in the factories yesterday afternoon,” said Aimery, reciting the information from a portscreen as if this were business as usual. Levana allowed the charade, keeping her face calm as she listened to the report. Only her foot tapped against the glistening tiles of her solar, shaking with restrained fury. “We are sending a new regiment of guards, along with a thaumaturge this time. The uprising in WM-2 has been put down, with sixty-four civilian casualties and a loss of five guards. We are conducting a full census on the sector, but we estimate close to two hundred civilians escaped prior to the insurrection along with an unknown amount of stolen weaponry and ammunition. The guards in all neighboring sectors have been put on high alert.”
Levana downed a long, thin breath. She paced to the massive windows overlooking the city. Her perfect, pristine, tranquil city. It seemed impossible that so much chaos was happening on her planet, not when everything here was so calm, so normal.
And all because of that cyborg and her wretched video and her stupid speeches.
“Sixteen agriculture sectors have refused to load the supply trains that were brought in,” Aimery rambled on, “and we are told that one unguarded train carrying dairy products, many intended for this week’s celebrations, was boarded by a group of civilians outside Sector AR-5 and stripped of supplies. We have been unable to retrieve any of those goods or apprehend the thieves at this time.” He cleared his throat. “In Sector GM-19, the citizens have blockaded two of the three maglev platforms, and this morning they killed twenty-four guards sent to tear down the blockades. We are compiling a thaumaturge-controlled regiment to send there as well.”
Levana rubbed a kink from her shoulder.
“In Sector SB-2—”
The elevator chimed in the center of the room, pulling Levana’s attention away from the city. Thaumaturge Lindwurm swooped in and dipped into a hasty bow, his black sleeves scraping the floor.
“If you are here to tell me that the outer sectors are in chaos and the people are in revolt, I am afraid you are sorely late.” She snapped her fingers at the servant who stood beside the elevator doors. “Bring wine.”
The servant scurried away.
“No, My Queen,” said Lindwurm. “I have news from the barracks, Regiment 117.”
“What? Are they in revolt too?” Levana cackled, though beneath her hysteria lurked a growing dread. Could that cyborg have turned her entire country against her with such ease?
“Perhaps, My Queen,” said Lindwurm.
Levana spun toward him. “What do you mean, perhaps? They are my soldiers. They cannot revolt against me.”
Lindwurm lowered his gaze. “Our security team received notice two hours ago that Princess Winter’s identity had been tracked to the outside of those barracks.”
Levana’s smile vanished. “Winter?” She glanced at Aimery, who straightened, his own interest piqued. “So she is alive. But what would she be doing there?”
“The system picked up on her fingerprints being used to enter the barracks. After learning of the security breach, the eight remaining thaumaturges for Regiment 117 were sent to ascertain if the princess was posing a threat.”
“I suppose it is too much to hope that they found the dear girl ripped to bloody shreds.”
That’s what they should have found. The beasts should have killed Winter without hesitation—it was what they were designed to do. But she suspected that was not the case.
“From what we can ascertain,” said Lindwurm, “when the thaumaturges arrived, the soldiers turned on them and attacked. All eight are dead.”
Her blood ran hot, pounding at her temples. “And Winter?”
“The princess and the soldiers have abandoned the barracks. Security feeds showed them entering the nearest surface sector—LW-12. It is one of the sectors in upheaval, but we have not been considering them a high-priority threat.”
“You’re telling me that my soldiers have sided with the girl?”
Lindwurm dipped his head.
The servant returned carrying a silver tray with a decanter and crystal glass. Levana could hear the decanter trembling against the glass’s lip as her wine was poured. Levana barely felt the weight of the glass in her hand as she took it.
“Leave,” she ordered, and the servant couldn’t scramble away fast enough.
She glided back to the window. Her city. Her moon. The planet that she would someday rule h
When she had given Jacin Clay the opportunity to earn back her favor by killing the princess, she had expected him to try something stupid, but she’d hoped he would realize how futile it was. She’d hoped he would choose to hasten Winter’s death as painlessly as possible rather than risk a much more brutal sentencing. That was mercy, after all. Mercy.
But he’d failed. Winter was still alive and she was trying to take Levana’s army away from her, just as she’d taken the people’s adoration, just as Selene was ruining everything.
She tried to picture the scene. Docile, half-crazy Winter, batting her lashes at the brutal beasts, and them falling for it. Oh, how they would fawn over her. How they would fall to their knees and beg to do her bidding. How they would follow their beloved princess anywhere.
“My Queen,” said Aimery, placing a fist against his chest, “I feel responsible that we failed to find the princess during our raid on RM-9. Please allow me this chance to atone for the error. I will go to this sector and see that the princess is dealt with. I will not fail again.”
She turned to face him. “You intend to kill her, Aimery?”
A pause—a slight one, but there all the same. “Of course, My Queen.”
Laughing, Levana took a draft of the wine. “It was not long ago when you asked to marry her. Do you think she is beautiful?”
He chuckled. “My Queen. Everyone thinks the princess is beautiful, but she is no match for Your Majesty. You are perfection.”
“I have begun to wonder if perfection might be its own flaw.” She smirked. “Though perhaps a flaw can contribute to perfection.” She pinned Aimery beneath her glare and adjusted her glamour, drawing three sharp, bloodied scratches down her right cheek.
“I’ve known you for many years, Aimery. I know how you like them broken. You would have made a good match after all … you are as pathetic as she is.” She hurled the goblet. Aimery ducked, blocking the glass with his forearm. It crashed to the floor, the wine spilling like a mix of water and blood, splattering on Levana’s shoes. “You will have your chance to prove yourself, but not where Winter is concerned. It seems no one has the stomach to do what must be done—not you, not Jacin Clay, not even my beloved pets. I am sick to death of disappointment.”
She turned her back. Her thoughts reeled with betrayal, disgust, and jealousy—yes, even jealousy. All over that insignificant child. The weak, fragile thing.
If only she had killed her years ago, before she became so beautiful. Before she had become a threat. She should have killed her the first time she’d seen her sleeping in her cradle. She should have killed her when she’d ordered Winter’s hand to take that knife, when she’d thought for sure a slight disfigurement would erase all the whispers in the court, all the talk of her thirteen-year-old stepdaughter already vying for most beautiful girl on Luna.
If only she hadn’t made that stupid promise to Evret, all those years ago. What were promises, anyway, when made to the dying?
As her breathing evened again, she erased the scars from her own flawless complexion.
Thaumaturge Lindwurm took in a loud breath to remind her of his presence. “My Queen, we shall compose a task force to deal with the princess and the deserting soldiers. Shall I direct them to kill the princess on sight?”
She glanced over her shoulder. “I am a good queen, am I not?”
Lindwurm tensed. “Of that, there is no doubt.”
“I have held this country together. I have waged a war for them, so my people might have access to all that Earth has to offer. I have done it for them. Why are they doing this? Why do they love her, when she has done nothing to deserve it? If she wasn’t so pretty, they would see her for what she is. Manipulative, conniving … she’s made a mockery of everything we stand for.”
Neither Aimery nor Lindwurm responded.
Drawing in a shuddering breath, Levana snapped, “Find another servant to bring me more wine.”
Lindwurm bowed and retreated.
“Death is not good enough for her,” Levana murmured to herself, pacing past Aimery. “Death was the merciful choice, because I made a promise to my husband, but she has lost her right to mercy. I want them all to see her as she is. As weak and pathetic on the outside as she is within.”
Aimery’s lips tightened. He looked smug, even when he was groveling. “Tell me how best I can serve you.”
“This rebellion has gone on quite long enough. No food or supplies are to be sent to the outer sectors unless they are prepared to beg for forgiveness. It is time the citizens of Luna were reminded how lucky they are to have me.” Her heart fluttered with anticipation. “And send for Dr. Evans. I have a special task for him.”
“And the princess, My Queen?”
“Do not worry about your darling disfigured princess.” Sneering, Levana leaned forward and dragged her thumb across Aimery’s jaw, gathering a splattered drop of wine. “I will deal with her myself, as I should have done a long time ago.”
“Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman.
“Here, I will cut the apple in two. You eat the red half,
and I shall eat the white.”
Cinder was frustrated by her own helplessness. They’d moved into the mansion’s recreational room. Until then, Cinder hadn’t known mansions came with recreational rooms. She was doing her best to dictate to the others what needed to be done in order to extract the video she’d tried to take in the throne room, and how to fix her leg and brain-machine interface. But while they were running around gathering supplies, she was seated on a lavish sofa with her useless hunk-of-metal leg. She hated knowing she could have had everything working again easily enough if she was back in her workshop in New Beijing. If she had the right tools. If she wasn’t the machinery that needed fixing.
She tried to be grateful. She had survived the queen’s attempted execution and she hadn’t drowned in Artemisia Lake. She was with her friends again and Iko hadn’t been destroyed after all—had, in fact, been helped by one of Aimery’s own guards, which confirmed what Jacin had told her once before. Not everyone in the palace was as loyal to Levana as she wanted to think.
On top of all that, she might have video footage of Queen Levana that would show what lay beneath her glamour. It could be the best weapon they had against her and her mind control.
If the footage hadn’t been destroyed in the water, that is.
“Thorne, pry off the back panel of that receiver, but gently. Jacin, what did you find in the security panel?”
“A bunch of wires.” Jacin dumped a handful of wires and a databoard onto the floor.
Cinder nudged at the wires with her good foot. “A few of these should work. Help me turn this table over. It’s similar to the holographic game boards we have on Earth, so I think…” She grabbed one of the table legs with her good hand, but her injured shoulder resisted when she tried to turn it over. Jacin grabbed it from her and did it himself, and Cinder felt a twitch developing in her left eye. She tried not to be resentful. It wasn’t his fault she was still tender from where the wolf soldier had bitten her, and at least the numbing pain salve they’d found was performing miracles.
“There’s not going to be blood when we open you up, is there?” said Thorne, carrying the receiver over to Cinder so she could pick through its inner workings. “I mean, we’re talking strictly cybernetics, right?”
“Better be.” She scanned the inner workings of the receiver while Thorne and Jacin disassembled the VR gaming table. The setup was different from anything they had on Earth—different-colored wires, different-size plugs and connectors, but it all functioned with similar technology and the same basic principles. “It’s not so much surgery as … maintenance. Our biggest concern is whether or not all the hardware will be compatible. The technology is similar, but it’s changed enough since Luna and Earth stopped trading with each o
Iko and Cress strolled into the room, Cress carrying a wooden box.
“They have a workshop out back,” said Iko. She was wearing a shimmering pink shirt she’d found in the house, mostly to cover up the bullet hole in her torso and the slash in the back of her right shoulder. Cinder hoped that once she was fixed, she’d be able to at least make Iko’s arm functional again too.
“I found everything on your list except the demagnetized three-pronged parts retriever. But I did find some tweezers in the bathroom?” She twirled the tweezers between her good fingers.
Twisting her mouth, Cinder took the tweezers and flicked a stray eyebrow hair from their tip. “We’ll make them work.” She surveyed the pile of tools and spare parts they’d accumulated from technology all over the mansion. Without being able to see inside her own head and offer an accurate diagnosis, it was difficult to know what they were going to need to fix her, but if it wasn’t included in this pile, they had little hope of finding it here. “We’ll need a lamp so you can see what you’re doing. And what about a hand mirror? We can hold it up so I can see inside.”
Jacin shook his head. “Not in this city.”
Cinder scowled. “Right, fine. We’re going to extract the data off the vid-chip first, then we’ll focus on the retina display. My eyes are still communicating with my optical nerve, so my best guess is there’s been a disruption of data transfer from my control panel to the display. Could be as simple as a damaged wire. Once we have that working, I should be able to run my internal diagnostics and figure out what’s wrong with my hand and leg.” She pointed at a virtual reality viewing chair. “Drag that over here.”
Winter by Marissa Meyer / Young Adult / Fantasy / Science Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes