She hoped Levana would have a lot of footage to be examining after this.
Her likeness in the sky began to speak.
“Citizens of Luna, I ask that you stop what you’re doing to listen to this message. My name is Selene Blackburn. I am the daughter of the late Queen Channary, niece to Princess Levana, and the rightful heir to Luna’s throne.” She had practiced the words a thousand times and Cinder was relieved she didn’t sound like a complete idiot saying them. “You were told that I died thirteen years ago in a nursery fire, but the truth is that my aunt, Levana, did try to kill me, but I was rescued and taken to Earth. There, I have been raised and protected in preparation for the time when I would return to Luna and reclaim my birthright.
“In my absence, Levana has enslaved you. She takes your sons and turns them into monsters. She takes your shell infants and slaughters them. She lets you go hungry, while the people in Artemisia gorge themselves on rich foods and delicacies.” Her expression turned fierce. “But Levana’s rule is coming to an end. I have returned and I am here to take back what is mine.”
Chills skittered down Cinder’s arms at hearing her own voice sound so capable, so confident, so worthy.
“Soon,” the video continued, “Levana is going to marry Emperor Kaito of Earth and be crowned the empress of the Eastern Commonwealth, an honor that could not be given to anyone less deserving. I refuse to allow Levana to extend her tyranny. I will not stand aside while my aunt enslaves and abuses my people here on Luna, and wages a war across Earth. Which is why, before an Earthen crown can be placed on Levana’s head, I will bring an army to the gates of Artemisia.”
Above, her smile turned devious and unflinching.
“I ask that you, citizens of Luna, be that army. You have the power to fight against Levana and the people that oppress you. Beginning now, tonight, I urge you to join me in rebelling against this regime. No longer will we obey her curfews or forgo our rights to meet and talk and be heard. No longer will we give up our children to become her disposable guards and soldiers. No longer will we slave away growing food and raising wildlife, only to see it shipped off to Artemisia while our children starve around us. No longer will we build weapons for Levana’s war. Instead, we will take them for ourselves, for our war.
“Become my army. Stand up and reclaim your homes from the guards who abuse and terrorize you. Send a message to Levana that you will no longer be controlled by fear and manipulation. And upon the commencement of the royal coronation, I ask that all able-bodied citizens join me in a march against Artemisia and the queen’s palace. Together we will guarantee a better future for Luna. A future without oppression. A future in which any Lunar, no matter the sector they live in or the family they were born to, can achieve their ambitions and live without fear of unjust persecution or a lifetime of slavery.
“I understand that I am asking you to risk your lives. Levana’s thaumaturges are powerful, her guards are skilled, her soldiers are brutal. But if we join together, we can be invincible. They can’t control us all. With the people united into one army, we will surround the capital city and overthrow the impostor who sits on my throne. Help me. Fight for me. And I will be the first ruler in the history of Luna who will also fight for you.”
The video focused on Cinder’s indomitable expression for a heartbeat and cut out.
“Wow,” Scarlet whispered. “Good speech.”
Cinder’s heart was thundering. “Thanks. Kai wrote most of it.”
She peered down the empty row of houses. The few people she had spotted before were still milling around, staring up at the dome. More miners and factory workers should have returned by now, but the streets stayed empty. The dome was a vacuum of silence.
It should have frightened Cinder, knowing that she had made her first move. She had been running for so long. Levana had kept her on the defensive since the moment she’d seen her at the Commonwealth ball.
No more. She felt energized. Ready. Far from looking like a fool in the video, she had sounded like a queen. She sounded like a revolutionary. She sounded like she could actually pull this off.
“Come on,” said Scarlet, marching ahead. “Let’s go see what’s happening.”
Cinder hurried after her. They heard shouting coming from the central square and the distant citizens were drifting toward the residential streets, though they frequently paused to look back. As Cinder and Scarlet got closer, the shouting turned into barking orders.
The sector guards had shoved their way into the loitering crowd, gripping long, slender clubs in their fists.
“Move along,” a guard shouted. All but his eyes were concealed beneath his helmet and face mask. “Four minutes to curfew! Loitering is strictly prohibited, and no video is changing that.”
Cinder and Scarlet ducked behind a delivery cart.
The citizens were clustered into small groups, their hair and uniforms covered in regolith dust. A few had their sleeves rolled up, revealing the RM-9 tattoos on their forearms. Most lowered their eyes when the guards approached them, recoiling at the prospect of those clubs being turned on them. But few seemed to be leaving.
One guard grabbed a man by his elbow and shoved him away from the bubbling fountain at the dome’s center. “Get along, all of you. Don’t make us file a report of misconduct.”
Gazes shifted between the tired workers. The crowd was thinning. Their tired shoulders drooping as they dispersed. Groups dissolved without even an angry word shouted back at the guards.
Cinder’s heart squeezed.
They weren’t fighting.
They weren’t defending themselves.
They were cowed by their oppressors every bit as much as before.
Disappointment swarmed over her and she stumbled, slouching against the cart. Had she not been persuasive enough? Had she failed to convey how important it was that they all stand up, unified and resolute? Had she failed?
Scarlet laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s only one sector,” she said. “Don’t be discouraged. We don’t know what else is happening out there.”
Though her words were kind, Cinder could see her frustration mirrored on Scarlet. It might be true—they didn’t know what was happening in the rest of the sectors and they had no way of knowing. What she saw here, though, did little to give her confidence.
“Don’t touch me!” a man yelled.
Cinder glanced around the cart. A guard was staring down a skinny man with sickly pale skin. Despite the gaunt bent to his body, the man stood before the guard with clenched fists.
“I will not return to my home in recognition of curfew,” he said. “Threaten to report me all you like—after a video like that, the queen and her minions are going to have their hands full rounding up people guilty of much bigger crimes than staying out a few extra minutes.”
Two other guards stopped ushering the people away and moved toward the man. Their gloved hands tightened on their clubs.
The remaining workers stopped to watch. Curious. Wary. But also, Cinder thought—angry.
The first guard loomed over the man. His voice was muffled behind the mask, but his arrogance was clear. “Our laws are for the protection of all people, and no one will be exempt from them. I suggest you go home before I’m forced to make an example of you.”
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