By Laura Schiller
Based on: Lunar Chronicles, book 1: Cinder
Copyright: Marissa Meyer
When Emperor Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth found that someone had hacked into his personal portscreen and left a d-comm message there, he was not altogether as surprised as he ought to have been. He did, however, scold himself for yet another case of naiveté; he should have realized that a cyborg with Lunar powers would require more than the usual security measures. No wonder she'd escaped. And no wonder, he thought with a pang of guilt, that she wanted to tell her own side of the story, by illegal means if she had to. He hadn't given her a chance to do it in person.
The message was text-only. It read:
I'm sorry about the hacking. It's the only way I could make this letter untraceable. I can't tell you where I am, either. Much as I admire your sense of honor, I'd rather it didn't lead you to informing Queen Levana of my whereabouts. She must be furious by now. I do hope she realizes you had nothing to do with my escape, and doesn't use this to declare war.
By the way, you may have guessed by now that I'm Princess Selene. How ironic is that? All this time you were searching for her, and she was working in a mechanic's stall in your very own capital city. Believe me, I'm as shocked as you are. As if being a cyborg wasn't hard enough! If you want to know how I found out, ask Dr. Erland. He's an odd man and he has some secrets of his own, but you can trust him. I know I do.
Speaking of trust, I know it's a bit rich for me to mention that to you, when I kept so many secrets from the start. But you understand why I did it, don't you? If you had known what I was from the beginning, would you still have kept on asking me to the ball? Would you have held my rusty metal hand in front of all your guests? Would you have trusted that your feelings around me were real, or worried that I was manipulaing you with my Lunar powers?
I swear to you, I only did that to you once, by accident. It was when you almost kissed me in the elevator, and I collapsed, and you said you were "seeing things". The truth is, that was an invention of my foster-father Linh Garan: a device implanted in my spine that suppressed my bioelectrical manipulation. It's been wearing out gradually over the past month, and its effect is gone now. I used my glamour to escape. Guess being Lunar is good for something after all.
Please believe me. I never meant to hurt you. This is why I kept refusing you when you asked me to the ball, because I knew it could only lead to trouble for both of us. I wasn't lying when I said I believed you'd be a great emperor. I still believe that, more than ever. When Levana forced you to choose between one life and your country, you made the right choice.
I also meant it when I kissed you. You'll never know how much.
Take care of Nainsi, won't you? She's getting old and needs a lot of maintenance. And take care of yourself. Don't let my dear Auntie Levana get you down.
In his bedroom at midnight, which was his only time and place for privacy these days, Kai read the letter over and over. At first he'd thought he could never reconcile the wry, funny, down-to-earth mechanic he'd met with the deceptive stranger he'd effectively condemned to death to prevent a war. But he recognized her voice in this letter: her irony, her kindness, even that sense of quiet suffering beneath the surface that had made him long to comfort her. She was a Lunar and a cyborg – a member of the two most despised groups on the planet – but she was still the girl he loved.
He thought of that horrifying moment, in which Cinder's glove had melted to reveal her cybernetic hand. How Levana had sneered down at her, saying that death would be merciful for a disgusting creature like this. How in his shock, he had said something almost as cruel. You're even more painful to look at than she is. It was true – her Lunar glamour, when it appeared, was overwhelming in its power, and heartbreaking on the face of someone he'd trusted – but still, he shouldn't have said it. Not when she was already down on the floor, her hair wet, her secondhand ball gown stained and wrinkled, looking up at him with pleading eyes.
She'd come so close to death, and it was all his fault. Thank the gods she had escaped.
He picked up the only memento he had of her, that too-small metal foot she had lost, and closed his eyes. Strangely enough, it felt like an omen to him: a sign that someday, somehow, he would have the chance to give it back to her.