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“Calm down, Miss Linh.”

“Why? So you can lie to me some more, just like you lie to the prince?”

“If I have lied, it has only been to protect you.”

“Protect me from what?”

Dr. Erland steepled his fingers. “I understand you’re confused—”

“No, you don’t understand anything! A week ago, I knew exactly who I was, what I was, and maybe that was a worthless cyborg, but at least I knew that. And now…now I’m Lunar, I’m a Lunar who supposedly might have magic but can’t use it, and now there’s this insane queen who for some reason wants to kill me.”

SPIKING LEVELS OF ADRENALINE, warned her control panel. RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION: SLOW, MEASURED BREATHS. COUNTING 1, 2, 3…

“Please, calm down, Miss Linh. It is, in fact, a good thing that you were selected to receive this lock.”

“I’m sure you’re right. I just love being treated like a guinea pig, don’t you know?”

“Like it or not, the lock has been beneficial to you.”

“How?”

“If you would stop yelling, I would tell you.”

She bit her lip and felt her breath stabilizing almost against her will. “Fine, but tell me the truth this time.” Crossing her arms, she sat back down.

“Sometimes you are quite unnerving, Miss Linh.” Dr. Erland sighed, scratching at his temple. “You see, manipulating bioelectricity comes so natural to Lunars that it’s virtually impossible to refrain from using it, especially at such a young age. Left to your own devices, you would have drawn too much attention to yourself. It would have been like tattooing ‘Lunar’ across your forehead. And even if you could have learned to control it, the gift is such a fundamental part of our internal makeup that tempering it can create devastating psychological side effects—hallucinations, depression…even madness.” He pressed his fingertips together. Waited. “So you see, putting a lock on your gift protected you, in many ways, from yourself.”

Cinder stared, eyes boring.

“Do you understand how this was mutually beneficial?” continued the doctor. “Linh Garan had his subject, and you were able to fit in with Earthens without losing your mind.”

Cinder slowly leaned forward. “Our?”

“Pardon?”

“Our. You said, the gift is ‘a fundamental part of our internal makeup.’”

The doctor drew himself up, adjusting the lapels of his coat. “Ah. Did I?”

“You’re Lunar.”

He took off his hat and tossed it onto the desk. He looked smaller without it. Older.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I wasn’t going to, Miss Linh. Only trying to think how to explain in a way that will make you look less accusatory at me.”

Setting her jaw, Cinder hopped out of the chair again and backed away from the desk. She stared at him, hard, as if there really might appear a “Lunar” tattoo on his brow. “How can I believe anything you’ve said? How do I know you’re not brainwashing me right now?”

He shrugged. “If I were to go around glamouring people all day, I would at least make myself seem taller, don’t you think?”

She frowned, ignoring him. She was thinking of the queen on the balcony, how her optobionics had warned her of a lie even when nothing had been said. Somehow, her brain was able to tell the difference between reality and illusion, even when her eyes couldn’t.

Squinting, she jutted a finger at the doctor. “You did use your mind control on me. When we met. You…you brainwashed me. Just like the queen. You made me trust you.”

“Be fair. You were attacking me with a wrench.”

Her anger wavered.

Dr. Erland opened his palms to her. “I assure you, Miss Linh, in the twelve years that I have been on Earth, I have not abused the gift once, and I am paying the price for that decision every day. My mental stability, my psychological health, my very senses are failing me because I refuse to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of those around me. Not all Lunars can be trusted—I know that as well as anyone—but you can trust me.”

Cinder gulped and braced herself on the back of the chair. “Does Kai know?”

“Of course not. No one can know.”

“But you work in the palace. You see Kai all the time. And Emperor Rikan!”

A flash of irritation sparked through Dr. Erland’s blue eyes. “Yes, and why should this upset you?”

“Because you’re Lunar!”

“As are you. Should I consider the prince’s safety threatened because he asked you to the ball?”

“That’s different!”

“Don’t be dense, Miss Linh. I understand the prejudices. In many ways, they’re understandable, even justified, given Earth’s history with Luna. But it does not mean we are all greedy, self-serving devils. Believe me—there is not a person on this planet who would like to see Levana off the throne more than I would. I would kill her myself if I had the power.” The doctor’s face had gone cherry pink, his eyes blazing.

“All right.” Cinder pinched the chair’s cushion until she felt the material puncture beneath her steel fingers. “I can accept that. Not all Lunars are devils, and not all Lunars are as easily brainwashed into following Levana. But even of those who wish to defy her, how many of them risk their lives to run away?” She paused, eyeing the doctor. “So why did you?”

Dr. Erland moved as if he were going to stand, but after a hesitation, his shoulders sank, deflated. “She killed my daughter.”

Truth.

Cinder pulled back.

“The worst part,” continued the doctor, “is that had it been any other child, I would have felt it was right.”

“What? Why?”

“Because she was a shell.” He picked his hat off the desk and analyzed it while he spoke, his fingers tracing the herringbone pattern. “I’d agreed with the laws in the past, thought the shells were dangerous. That our society would fall apart if they were allowed to live. But not my little girl.” An ironic smile twisted up his lips. “After she was born, I wanted to run away, to bring her to Earth, but my wife was even more devoted to Her Majesty than I had been. She wanted nothing to do with the child. And so my little Crescent Moon was taken away, like all the others.” He stuffed the hat back onto his head and squinted up at Cinder. “She would be about your age now.”

Cinder came around the chair and perched on the edge of the seat. “I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago. But I need you to understand, Miss Linh, what it was that someone went through to bring you here. To go so far as to hide your Lunar gift—to protect you.”

Cinder folded her arms, cowering into herself. “But why me? I’m not a shell. I wasn’t in any danger. It doesn’t make sense.”

“It will, I promise. Listen carefully, as this may be something of a shock to you.”

“A shock? You mean all that was just the precursor?”

His eyes softened. “Your gift is returning, Miss Linh. I was able to manipulate your bioelectricity to temporarily overwhelm Linh Garan’s prototype. That’s what I did the first day you were here, when you lost consciousness, and the lock on your gift has been irreparably damaged because of it. With practice, you will be able to override the fail-safes on your own, until you are in complete control of your gift again. I understand it is painful when it comes on quickly like it did today, but those instances should be rare, only during times of extreme emotional disturbance. Can you think of anything that may have set it off earlier?”

Cinder’s stomach flipped, recalling Kai’s closeness in the elevator. She cleared her throat. “What you’re saying is that I’m becoming Lunar for real. Magic and all.”

Dr. Erland screwed up his lips, but didn’t correct her again. “Yes. It will take some time, but you will eventually have all the use of your natural gift that you were born with.” He spun his fingers in the air. “Would you like to try and use it now? You may be able to. I’m not sure.”

Cinder imagined a spark in her wires, something crackling at the base of her spine. She knew it was probably in her head, self-induced panic, but she couldn’t be sure. What did it feel like to be Lunar? To have that kind of power?

She shook her head. “No, that’s all right. I’m not ready for that.”

A thin smile stretched across the doctor’s lips, as if he were faintly disappointed. “Of course. When you’re ready.”

Hugging her arms around her waist, she inhaled a shaky breath. “Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“Are you immune to letumosis, like me?”

Dr. Erland’s held her focus, unflinching. “Yes. I am.”

“Then why haven’t you just used your own blood samples to find a cure? So many people have died…. And the cyborg draft…”

The wrinkles on his face softened. “I have been, Miss Linh. Where do you think the twenty-seven antidotes we’ve already been through came from?”

“And none of them worked.” She tucked her feet beneath her chair, feeling small. Insignificant—again. “So my immunity isn’t the miracle you made it out to be.” Her eyes fell on the vial. The queen’s antidote.

“Miss Linh.”

Meeting the doctor’s gaze, Cinder found a glint there. Barely contained giddiness, like the first time she’d met him.

“You are the miracle I was looking for,” he said. “But you are right. It was not because of your immunity.”

Cinder stared at him, waiting for him to explain. What else could be special about her? Had he actually been searching for the ingenious lock on her magic—Linh Garan’s prototype?

Her internal comm pinged before he could continue. She jolted, turning away from the doctor as green text skittered across her eyesight.

COMM RECEIVED FROM NEW BEIJING DISTRICT 29, LETUMOSIS QUARANTINE. LINH PEONY ENTERED FOURTH STAGE OF LETUMOSIS AT 17:24 ON 18 AUG 126 T.E.

“Miss Linh?”

Her fingers trembled. “My sister’s entered the fourth stage.” Her gaze settled on the vial atop Dr. Erland’s desk.

He followed the look. “I see,” he said. “The fourth stage works quickly. There isn’t much time to lose.” Reaching forward, he grasped the vial between his forefingers. “A promise is a promise.”

Cinder’s heart thumped against her ribs. “But don’t you need it? To duplicate?”

Standing, the doctor paced to the bookshelf and pulled a beaker stand toward him. “How old is she?”

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