When she dared meet Kai’s gaze again, he was blinking rapidly, confusion filling his eyes.
“No, it was nothing.” His lips turned upward, unconvincingly. “I was seeing things.”
He shook his head. “It was nothing. Here.” He stood and coaxed her up beside him. “Maybe we should see if the doctor can squeeze you into his busy schedule.”
KAI RECEIVED TWO COMMS BETWEEN THE TIME THEY LEFT THE elevator and the time they reached Dr. Erland’s office—Cinder knew because she could hear the chime from his belt—but he didn’t answer them. He insisted on helping her down the hallway, despite her protests that she could walk just fine, despite the curious stares of passersby. Curious stares did not seem to bother the prince half so much as they bothered her.
He didn’t knock when they reached the office, and Dr. Erland, upon seeing who had burst in without announcement, did not seem surprised when he saw the prince.
“It happened again,” said Kai. “Her fainting, whatever it is.”
Dr. Erland’s blue eyes switched to Cinder.
“It’s gone now,” she said. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” said Kai. “What causes it? What can we do to make it stop?”
“I’ll take a look at her,” said Dr. Erland. “We will see what can be done to keep it from happening again.”
Kai seemed to think this was an acceptable answer, but only barely. “If you need funds to do the research…or special equipment, or anything.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said the doctor. “She probably just needs another adjustment.”
Cinder clenched her teeth as her lie detector flashed at her. He was lying to the prince again. He was lying to her. But Kai didn’t object, didn’t question. He sucked in a deep breath and faced Cinder. The expression made her uncomfortable—the look that suggested she was a china doll, easily shattered.
And perhaps a hint of disappointment hung behind it all.
“Really, I’m fine.”
She could tell he was unconvinced but had no way of arguing with her. His communicator dinged again. He finally glanced at it, then scowled and shut it off. “I need to go.”
“The prime minister of Africa called a world leaders’ meeting. Very dull and political. My adviser’s about to have a breakdown.”
She raised her eyebrows in a look that she hoped conveyed how much she was all right with him leaving her. After all, he was a prince. The most powerful men and women on Earth had summoned him. She understood.
And yet he was still here, with her.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Go away.”
The worry in his eyes softened. He spun toward Dr. Erland and pulled something from his pocket, forcing it into the doctor’s hand. “I also came to bring you this.”
Dr. Erland slipped his spectacles on and held the glass vial up into the light. It was filled with clear liquid. “And this is?”
“A gift from Queen Levana. She claims it’s an antidote to letumosis.”
Cinder’s heart lurched. Her gaze focused on the vial.
Dr. Erland’s complexion had drained, his eyes widening behind the glasses. “Is that so?”
“It could be a trick. I don’t know. Supposedly, it’s one dosage—enough for an adult male.”
“So, do you think you can duplicate it? If it is a cure?”
Dr. Erland drew his lips into a thin line and lowered the vial. “That depends on many things, Your Highness,” he said after a long pause. “But I will try my best.”
“Thank you. Let me know as soon as you find anything.”
Relief loosened Kai’s brow. He turned to Cinder. “And you’ll let me know if anything—”
“—changes your mind about going to the ball?”
Cinder pressed her lips together.
Kai’s smile barely reached his eyes. With a curt bow to the doctor, he was gone. Cinder retrained her gaze on the vial, enclosed in the doctor’s fist. Desire coursed through her. But then she noticed the whitening of his knuckles and looked up, finding herself pinned under a stormy glare.
“What do you think you are doing here?” he said, planting his free hand on the desk. She started, surprised by his vehemence. “Don’t you realize that Queen Levana is here, now, in this palace? Did you not understand when I told you to stay away?”
“I had to bring the prince’s android back. It’s part of my job.”
“You’re talking livelihood. I’m talking life. You are not safe here!”
“For your information that android could be a matter of life.” She clenched her teeth, refraining from saying more. With a heavy sigh, she peeled the stifling gloves from her hands and slipped them into her pocket. “All right, I’m sorry, but I’m here now.”
“You have to go. Now. What if she asked to see the lab facilities?”
“Why would the queen care about your lab facilities?” She claimed the seat opposite Dr. Erland. He stayed standing. “Besides, it’s too late. The queen already saw me.”
She expected the doctor to explode with this announcement, but instead his frown was quickly replaced with horror. His thick eyebrows drew up beneath his cap. Slowly, he sank down into his seat. “She saw you? Are you sure?”
Cinder nodded. “I was in the courtyard when the protests were going on. Queen Levana appeared on one of the upper balconies and she…did something. To the crowd. Brainwashed or glamoured them or whatever it’s called. They all calmed down and stopped protesting. It was so eerie. Like they all just forgot why they were there, that they hated her. And then they just left.”
“Yes.” Dr. Erland set the vial on the desk. “It suddenly becomes clear how she is able to keep her own people from rebelling against her, isn’t it?”
Cinder leaned forward, tapping her metal fingers against the desk. “Here’s the thing, though. You said before that shells aren’t affected by the Lunar glamour, right? That’s why she ordered them—us—to be killed?”
“But it did affect me. I trusted her, as much as anyone else. At least, until my programming kicked in and took control.” She watched as Dr. Erland took off his hat, adjusted the brim, and pulled it back over his fluffy gray hair. “That shouldn’t have happened, right? Because I’m a shell.”
“No,” he said, without conviction. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
He lifted himself from his chair and faced the floor-to-ceiling windows.
A compulsion to reach out and snatch the vial off the desk surged to the tips of her fingers, but Cinder withheld it. The antidote—if it was an antidote—was meant for everyone.
Gulping, she leaned back. “Doctor? You don’t seem too surprised.”
He raised a hand and tapped his mouth with two fingers before slowly turning toward her.
“I may have misread your diagnostics.” Lie.
She squeezed her hands in her lap. “Or you just didn’t tell me the truth.”
His eyebrows knit, but he didn’t deny it.
Cinder curled her fingers. “So I’m not Lunar?”
“No, no. You are most definitely Lunar.” Truth.
She sulked in the chair, disappointed.
“I’ve been doing some research on your family, Miss Linh.” He must have seen her eyes brighten because he quickly held up both hands. “I mean your adoptive family. Are you aware that your deceased guardian, Linh Garan, designed android systems?”
“Um.” Cinder thought about the plaques and awards sitting on the mantel in Adri’s living room. “That sounds kind of familiar.”
“Well. The year before your surgery, he unveiled an invention at the New Beijing science fair. A prototype. He called it a bioelectrical security system.”
Cinder stared. “A what?”
Standing, Dr. Erland tinkered with the netscreen until a familiar holograph flickered before them. He zoomed in on the representation of Cinder’s neck, showing the small dark spot on her upper spine. “This.”
Cinder reached for the back of her neck, massaging.
“It is a device that ties in with a person’s nervous system. It has two purposes—on an Earthen, it prevents outside manipulation of their personal bioelectricity. Essentially, it makes it so that they are immune to Lunar control. Oppositely, when installed on a Lunar, it keeps them from being able to manipulate the bioelectricity of others. It is as if you were to put a lock on the Lunar gift.”
Cinder shook her head, still rubbing. “A lock? On magic? Is that even possible?”
Dr. Erland lifted a finger to her. “It is not magic. Claiming it to be magic only empowers them.”
“Fine. Bioelectrical whatever. Is it possible?”
“Evidently so. The Lunar gift is the ability to use your brain to output and control electromagnetic energy. To block this ability would require alteration of the nervous system as it enters the brain stem, and to do that while still allowing full movement and sensation would be…it’s quite impressive. Ingenious, really.”
Jaw dropping, Cinder followed the doctor with her gaze as he slipped back into his chair. “He would have been rich.”
“If he had survived, perhaps he would have been.” The doctor turned off the screen. “When he unveiled the invention at the fair, the prototype was as yet untested, and his contemporaries were skeptical—and rightfully so. He first needed to test it.”
“And for that, he needed a Lunar.”
“Ideally, he needed both a Lunar and an Earthen subject—in order to test the two purposes separately. If he found an Earthen subject, I have no idea, but clearly he did find you, and he did install his invention as a means of keeping you from using your gift. This explains why you have not had the use of your gift since your operation.”
She bounced her foot, restless. “You didn’t misread my diagnostics. You knew this from the start. From the moment you walked into that lab room, you knew I was Lunar and I had this crazy lock and—you knew.”
Dr. Erland wrung his hands. For the first time, Cinder noticed a gold band on his finger.
“What did you do to me?” she said, planting her feet and standing. “When you touched me and it hurt so bad and I passed out and—and then again today. What’s causing it? What’s happening to me?”
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