“Her fears started to melt away. She didn’t know if her video had persuaded every civilian to join her cause, and maybe not even most of them.
But the sight before her was proof that her revolution had begun.”
Then she dropped to one knee and bowed her head.
Cinder tensed. “Oh, you don’t have to . . .” She trailed off as, all around her, the crowd started to follow suit. The change was gradual at first but spread like ripples in a pond. Her friends, alone, stayed standing, and Cinder was grateful for their lack of reverence.
Her fears started to melt away. She didn’t know if her video had persuaded every civilian to join her cause, and maybe not even most of them.
But the sight before her was proof that her revolution had begun.
“Oh, I fully intend to form an alliance with Luna…. I just intend to put a different queen on the throne first.”
Kai grimaced. He didn’t want to say it, but he is despised the thought of reducing Luna’s cities to rubble. Already he had begun to think of Luna as belonging to Cinder, and he didn’t want to destroy the kingdom that could someday be hers. But if it could end the war, and protect Earth . . .
“Keep me informed of any developments,” he said, “and have the space fleet ready at a moment’s notice. This is a last resort. First, we will try to reach a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, that begins with appeasing Levana.”
“Your Majesty, I beg you to reconsider. We are not losing this war. Not yet.”
“But we aren’t winning it, either.” Kai’s lips twitched upward. “And one thing has changed. Until now, Levana has been calling all the shots, but for the first time, I might be a step ahead of her.”
Eyes narrowing, Torin took a step closer. “This isn’t about an alliance at all, is it?”
“Oh, I fully intend to form an alliance with Luna.” Kai glanced at the cyborg foot again. “I just intend to put a different queen on the throne first.”
“‘And why would it matter if I can fly a Lunar ship?’
His gaze cut through her, saying more than his words. He stood. ‘Just be ready.'”
“They say you’re a decent pilot.”
She scowled. “What is this, a job interview?”
“Have you ever flown a Lunar ship before?”
For the first time, he had her full attention, but her curiosity was crowded with suspicion.
“They’re not much different from Earthen ships. Little different layout of the flight controls, smoother liftoff generally. I think you could figure it out.”
“And why would it matter if I can fly a Lunar ship?”
His gaze cut through her, saying more than his words. He stood. “Just be ready.”
“Then Wolf was gone—hurling himself past the group and tearing open the front door.”
Wolf’s head suddenly snapped up, his eyes locking on the fabric-covered window.
Cinder went rigid, ready to load a bullet into her finger or use her Lunar gift to defend herself and her friends— whatever this unseen threat called for. She felt the tension rise around her. Everyone falling silent, watching Wolf.
His nose twitched. His brow drew closer, doubtful. Suspicious.
“Wolf?” Cinder prodded.
He sniffed again and his eyes brightened.
Then he was gone— hurling himself past the group and tearing open the front door.
Cinder jumped to her feet. “Wolf! What are you—”
Too late. The door slammed shut behind him. She cursed. This was not the time for her mutant wolf ally to start running around and drawing attention to himself.
She yanked on her boots to chase after him.
“‘I hope this message reaches you safely. I… I miss you.’
She opened her mouth to say more, but hesitated and shut it again. A second later, the message ended.”
A fleeting smile crossed her lips, like proof of her courage, though her eyes stayed anxious. After a deep breath, she continued, “My absence has probably changed some things for you, and I know you were relying on me for help with some of your plans. I’ve built a program into this file. Insert this cylinder into the universal port in the dome’s broadcast receiver and follow the prompts I’ve set up for you. On the chance this could fall into the wrong hands, I have locked the program with the same passcode we used on the ship.” Her lashes dipped, and there was that weak smile again. “I hope this message reaches you safely. I . . . I miss you.” She opened her mouth to say more, but hesitated and shut it again. A second later, the message ended.
“‘When Cress thought she was in love with me, she was actually in love with this other guy she’d made up in her head, who was all brave and selfless and stuff… I kind of wish I was that guy.’ he shrugged.
‘Are you so sure you’re not?’”
“It sort of matters. I like Cress.” Kai shifted in the harness. “I like you too, despite my better judgment.”
“You’d be surprised how often I hear that.”
“Something tells me Cress might still like you too— against her better judgment.”
Thorne sighed. “Yeah, that pretty much sums that up.”
Kai cocked his head. “How so?”
“Oh, it’s complicated. Because I have no idea what that’s like.”
Thorne glared at him. “Whatever, Doctor. It’s just, when Cress thought she was in love with me, she was actually in love with this other guy she’d made up in her head, who was all brave and selfless and stuff. I mean, he was a real catch, so who could blame her? Even I liked that guy. I kind of wish I was that guy.” He shrugged.
“Are you so sure you’re not?”
“‘Jacin,’ she said, with a shaky smile. ‘You must know. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love you. I don’t think such a time ever existed.’”
“Winter . . .”
It had been so long since he’d called her by her name. Always Princess. Always Highness.
Her lip quivered, but she refused to cry. She wouldn’t do that to him.
Jacin’s fingers curled around his knife.
It was torture. Jacin looked more afraid than when he’d stood on trial. More pained now than when his torso had been stripped raw from the lashings.
This was the last time she would ever see him.
This was her last moment. Her last breath.
Suddenly, all of the politics and all of the games stopped mattering. Suddenly, she felt daring.
“Jacin,” she said, with a shaky smile. “You must know. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love you. I don’t think such a time ever existed.”
“‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I won’t. Please… please spare her. Take away her title. Turn her into a servant. Or banish her to the outer sectors and you’ll never hear from her again, I promise you…’”
“Dearest Sir Clay,” she mused, and he wondered if she’d detected his desperation. “Do not think I am unaware of what I am asking you to do and how difficult it will be for you. But I am being merciful. I know you will be quick. She will not suffer at your hands. In this way, I also fulfill my promise to her father, don’t you see?”
She was insane. Absolutely insane.
The worst of it was that he thought she might actually believe what she was saying.
His fingers twitched. A drop of sweat slipped down his neck.
“I can’t,” he said. “I won’t. Please . . . please spare her. Take away her title. Turn her into a servant. Or banish her to the outer sectors, and you’ll never hear from her again, I promise you . . .”
With a withering glare, Levana turned away and sighed. “How many lives would you sacrifice for hers?” She strolled toward the screen. The video was paused now, showing the three children in the doorway. “Would you rather I had these children killed instead?”
His heart kicked, trying to free itself from his rib cage.
“Or what about…”
“‘We all have our weaknesses.’
‘I know,’ said Iko. ‘Mine is shoes.’”
In the delivery ship, traveling from the warehouse to the caterer, Iko had found it all too easy to command another android to switch clothes so that she could fit in with the rest of them in their staff uniforms—as long as no one was too put off by her blue hair braides, which had now been pulled into a neat bun.
She had departed the ship with the first group of rental androids at the catering office, so that when her body double was later discovered wearing the wrong clothes at the florist, Iko would be long gone.
And who would ever suspect her? She was just another brainless, obedient android.
But that was the hard part.
Standing in perfect unison with the others. Blinking precisely ten times a minutes. Keeping quiet while the human catering staff chatted excitedly about maybe seeing the emperor himself and ruminated over how terrifying it would be if Queen Levana wasn’t pleased with the food. Iko was forced to bite her tongue, allowing her programmed instincts, the instincts she’d spent her life trying to keep buried while she learned about humor and sarcasm and affection, to keep her expressionless.
“Selene. She was meant to die thirteen years ago, yet here she was, disastrously alive. And just as Levana had feared back then, she would take everything from her. Everything that Levana had worked so hard for.
It made her sick. Why couldn’t Selene have died, easily, mercifully, the way she’d planned?”
As her blood boiled, she found herself back in New Beijing, watching the girl rush past her in that tawdry silver ball gown. She saw her trip on the ballroom steps and tumble down toward the gardens. Her hideous metal foot snapped off at the ankle and the full force of her glamour surged over her, crackling like electricity, rolling off her body like heat waves in the desert.In her unpracticed state, the girl had done nothing more than call up an exaggeratedly beautiful version of herself, and in so doing, she had turned herself into Channary. Her mother. Levana’s
Levana could still see her like a photograph imprinted forever in her memory. Hatred she had not felt in years surged through her veins. Fury sparked in her vision, white and blinding.
Selene. She was meant to die thirteen years ago, yet here she was, disastrously alive. And just as Levana had feared back then, she would take everything from her. Everything that Levana had
worked so hard for.
It made her sick. Why couldn’t Selene have died, easily, mercifully, the way she’d planned?