HER SATELLITE MADE ONE FULL ORBIT AROUND PLANET EARTH
every sixteen hours. It was a prison that came with an endlessly
breathtaking view— vast blue oceans and swirling clouds and
sunrises that set half the world on fire.
When she was first imprisoned, she had loved nothing more
than to stack her pillows on top of the desk that was built into the
walls and drape her bed linens over the screens, making a small
alcove for herself. She would pretend that she was not on a satellite
at all, but in a podship en route to the blue planet. Soon she
would land and step out onto real dirt, feel real sunshine, smell
She would stare at the continents for hours and hours, imagining
what that must be like.
Her view of Luna, however, was always to be avoided. Some
days her satellite passed so close that the moon took up the entire
view and she could make out the enormous glinting domes
on its surface and the sparkling cities where the Lunars lived.
Where she, too, had lived. Years ago. Before she’d been banished.
As a child, Cress had hidden from the moon during those
achingly long hours. Sometimes she would escape to the small
washroom and distract herself by twisting elaborate braids into
her hair. Or she would scramble beneath her desk and sing lullabies
until she fell asleep. Or she would dream up a mother and a
father, and imagine how they would play make- believe with her
and read her adventure stories and brush her hair lovingly off
her brow, until finally— finally—the moon would sink again
behind the protective Earth, and she was safe.
Even now, Cress used those hours to crawl beneath her bed
and nap or read or write songs in her head or work out complicated
coding. She still did not like to look at the cities of Luna; she
harbored a secret paranoia that if she could see the Lunars, surely
they could look up beyond their artificial skies and see her.
For more than seven years, this had been her nightmare.
But now the silver horizon of Luna was creeping into the corner
of her window, and Cress paid no attention. This time, her
wall of invisi- screens was showing her a brand- new nightmare.
Brutal words were splattered across the newsfeeds, photos and
videos blurring in her vision as she scrolled from one feed to the
next. She couldn’t read fast enough.
1 4 C I T I E S A T T A C K E D W O R L D W I D E
2- H O U R M U R D E R S P R E E R E S U L T S I N 1 6 , 0 0 0
E A R T H E N D E A T H S
L A R G E S T M A S S A C R E I N T H I R D E R A
The net was littered with horrors. Victims dead in the streets
with shredded abdomens and blood leaking into the gutters.
Feral men- creatures with gore on their chins and beneath their
fingernails and staining the fronts of their shirts. She scrolled
through them all with one hand pressed over her mouth. Breathing
became increasingly difficult as the truth of it all sank in.
This was her fault.
For months she had been cloaking those Lunar ships from
Earthen detection, doing Mistress Sybil’s bidding without question,
like the well- trained lackey she was.
Now she knew just what kind of monsters had been aboard
those ships. Only now did she understand what Her Majesty had
been planning all along, and it was far too late.
1 6 , 0 0 0 E A R T H E N D E A T H S
Earth had been taken unaware, and all because she hadn’t
been brave enough to say no to Mistress’s demands. She had done
her job and then turned a blind eye to it all.
She averted her gaze from the pictures of death and carnage,
focusing on another news story that suggested more horrors to
Emperor Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth had put an
end to the attacks by agreeing to marry Lunar Queen Levana.
Queen Levana was to become the Commonwealth’s new
The shocked journalists of Earth were scrambling to determine
their stance on this diplomatic yet controversial arrangement.
Some were in outrage, proclaiming that the Commonwealth and
the rest of the Earthen Union should be preparing for war, not a
wedding. But others were hastily trying to justify the alliance.
With a swirl of her fingers on the thin, transparent screen, Cress
raised the audio of a man who was going on about the potential
benefits. No more attacks or speculations on when an attack
might come. Earth would come to understand the Lunar culture
better. They would share technological advances. They would be
And besides, Queen Levana only wanted to rule the Eastern
Commonwealth. Surely she would leave the rest of the Earthen
But Cress knew they would be fools to believe it. Queen
Levana was going to become empress, then she would have Emperor
Kaito murdered, claim the country for her own, and use it
as a launching pad to assemble her army before invading the rest
of the Union. She would not stop until the entire planet was under
her control. This small attack, these sixteen thousand deaths . . .
they were only the beginning.
Silencing the broadcast, Cress set her elbows on her desk and
dug both hands into her hive of blonde hair. She was suddenly
cold, despite the consistently maintained temperature inside the
satellite. One of the screens behind her was reading aloud in a
child’s voice that had been programmed during four months of
insanity- inducing boredom when she was ten years old. The voice
was too chipper for the material it quoted: a medical blog from
the American Republic announcing the results of an autopsy performed
on one of the Lunar soldiers.
The bones had been reinforced with calcium- rich biotissue,
while the cartilage in major joints was infused with a saline
solution for added fl exibility and pliability. Orthodontic
implants replaced the canine and incisor teeth with those
mimicking the teeth of a wolf, and we see the same bone
reinforcement around the jaw to allow for the strength to
crush material such as bone and other tissue. Remapping of
the central ner vous system and extensive psychological
tampering were responsible for the subject’s unyielding
aggression and wolf- like tendencies. Dr. Edelstein has
theorized that an advanced manipulation technique of the
brain’s bioelectric waves may also have played a role in—
The sweet ten- year- old’s voice was silenced, leaving the satellite
humming with the sounds that had long ago been relegated
to the back of Cress’s consciousness. The whirring of fans. The
thrumming of the life support system. The gurgling of the water
Cress gathered the thick locks of hair at the nape of her neck
and pulled the tail over her shoulder— it had a tendency to get
caught up in the wheels of her chair when she wasn’t careful. The
screens before her fl ickered and scrolled as more and more information
came in from the Earthen feeds. News was coming
out from Luna too, on their “brave soldiers” and “hard- fought
victory”—crown- sanctioned drivel, naturally. Cress had stopped
paying attention to Lunar news when she was twelve.
She mindlessly wrapped her ponytail around her left arm,
spiraling it from elbow to wrist, unaware of the tangles clumping
in her lap.
“Oh, Cress,” she murmured. “What are we going to do?”
Her ten- year- old self piped back, “Please clarify your instructions,
Cress shut her eyes against the screen’s glare. “I understand
that Emperor Kai is only trying to stop a war, but he must
know this won’t stop Her Majesty. She’s going to kill him if he goes
through with this, and then where will Earth be?” A headache
pounded at her temples. “I thought for certain Linh Cinder had told
him at the ball, but what if I’m wrong? What if he still has no idea
of the danger he’s in?”
Spinning in her chair, she swiped her fingers across a muted
newsfeed, punched in a code, and called up the hidden window
that she checked a hundred times a day. The D-COMM window
opened like a black hole, abandoned and silent, on top of her
desk. Linh Cinder still had not tried to contact her. Perhaps her
chip had been confiscated or destroyed. Perhaps Linh Cinder
didn’t even have it anymore.
Huffing, Cress dismissed the link and, with a few hasty taps
of her fingertips, cascaded a dozen different windows in its place.
They were linked to a spider alert ser vice that was constantly
patrolling the net for any information related to the Lunar cyborg
who had been taken into custody a week earlier. Linh Cinder.
The girl who had escaped from New Beijing Prison. The girl
who had been Cress’s only chance of telling Emperor Kaito the
truth about Queen Levana’s intentions should he agree to the marriage
The major feed hadn’t been updated in eleven hours. In the
hysteria of the Lunar invasion, Earth seemed to have forgotten
about their most- wanted fugitive.
Pulse hiccupping, Cress grasped the arms of her chair. “Yes,
“Mistress’s ship detected. Expected arrival in twenty- two
Cress catapulted from her chair at the word mistress, spoken
even all those years ago with a tinge of dread.
Her movements were a precisely choreographed dance, one
she had mastered after years of practice. In her mind, she
became a second- era ballerina, skimming across a shadowy
stage as Little Cress counted down the seconds.
00:21. Cress pressed her palm onto the mattress- deploy button.
00:20. She swiveled back to the screen, sending all feeds of
Linh Cinder beneath a layer of Lunar crown propaganda.
00:19. The mattress landed with a thunk on the fl oor, the
pillows and blankets wadded up just as she’d left them.
00:18. 17. 16. Her fingers danced across the screens, hiding
Earthen newsfeeds and netgroups.
00:15. A turn, a quick search for two corners of her blanket.
00:14. A fl ick of her wrists, casting the blanket up like a windcaught
00:13. 12. 11. She smoothed and tugged her way to the opposite
side of the bed, pivoting toward the screens on the other side of
her living quarters.
00:10. 9. Earthen dramas, music recordings, second- era literature,
00:08. A swivel back toward the bed. A graceful turning down
of the blanket.
00:07. Two pillows symmetrically stacked against the headboard.
A fl ourish of her arm to pull out the hair that had gotten
caught beneath the blanket.
00:06. 5. A glissade across the fl oor, dipping and spinning,
gathering up every discarded sock and hair tie and sending them
into the renewal chute.
00:04. 3. A sweep of the desks, collecting her only bowl, her
only spoon, her only glass, and a handful of stylus pens, and
depositing them into the pantry cabinet.
00:02. A final pirouette to scan her work.
00:01. A pleased exhalation, culminating in a graceful bow.
“Mistress has arrived,” said Little Cress. “She is requesting an
extension of the docking clamp.”
The stage, the shadows, the music, all fell away from Cress’s
thoughts, though a practiced smile remained on her lips. “Of
course,” she chirped, swanning toward the main boarding ramp.
There were two ramps on her satellite, but only one had ever
been used. She wasn’t even sure if the opposite entrance functioned.
Each wide metal door opened up to a docking hatch and,
beyond that, space.
Except for when there was a podship anchored there. Mistress’s
Cress tapped in the command. A diagram on the screen
showed the clamp extending, and she heard the thump as the
ship attached. The walls jolted around her.
She had the next moments memorized, could have counted
the heartbeats between each familiar sound. The whir of the
small spacecraft’s engines powering down. The clang of the
hatch attaching and sealing around the podship. The vacuum as
oxygen was pushed into the space. The beep confirming that
travel between the two modules was safe. The opening of the
spacecraft. Steps echoing on the walkway. The whoosh of the
sate llite entrance.
There had been a time when Cress had hoped for warmth
and kindness from her mistress. That perhaps Sybil would look at
her and say, “My dear, sweet Crescent, you have earned the trust
and respect of Her Majesty, the Queen. You are welcome to return
with me to Luna and be accepted as one of us.”
That time had long since passed, but Cress’s practiced smile
held firm even in the face of Mistress Sybil’s coldness. “Good day,
Sybil sniffed. The embroidered sleeves of her white jacket
fluttered around the large case she carried, filled with her usual
provisions: food and fresh water for Cress’s confinement and, of
course, the medical kit. “So you’ve found her, have you?”
Cress winced around her frozen grin. “Found her, Mistress?”
“If it is a good day, then you must have finally completed the
simple task I’ve given you. Is that it, Crescent? Have you found
Cress lowered her gaze and dug her fingernails into her
palms. “No, Mistress. I haven’t found her.”
“I see. So it isn’t a good day after all, is it?”
“I only meant . . . Your company is always . . .” She trailed off.
Forcing her hands to unclench, she dared to meet Mistress Sybil’s
glare. “I was just reading the news, Mistress. I thought perhaps we
were pleased about Her Majesty’s engagement.”
Sybil dropped the case onto the crisply made bed. “We will be
satisfied once Earth is under Lunar control. Until then, there is
work to be done, and you should not be wasting your time reading
news and gossip.”
Sybil neared the monitor that held the secret window
with the D-COMM feed and the evidence of Cress’s betrayal to
the Lunar crown, and Cress stiffened. But Sybil reached past it to
a screen displaying a vid of Emperor Kaito speaking in front of
the Eastern Commonwealth fl ag. With a touch, the screen
cleared, revealing the metal wall and a tangle of heating tubes
Cress slowly released her breath.
“I certainly hope you’ve found something.”
She stood taller. “Linh Cinder was spotted in the European
Federation, in a small town in southern France, at approximately
18:00 local ti—”
“I’m well aware of all that. And then she went to Paris and killed a
thaumaturge and some useless special operatives. Anything
Cress swallowed and began winding her hair around both
wrists in a looping figure eight. “At 17:48, in Rieux, France, the
clerk of a ship- and- vehicle parts store updated the store inventory,
removing one power cell that would be compatible with a
214 Rampion, Class 11.3, but not notating any sort of payment.
I thought perhaps Linh Cinder stole . . . or maybe glamoured . . .”
She hesitated. Sybil liked to keep up the pretense that the cyborg
was a shell, even though they both knew it wasn’t true. Unlike
Cress, who was a true shell, Linh Cinder had the Lunar gift. It may
have been buried or hidden somehow, but it had certainly made
itself known at the Commonwealth’s annual ball.
“A power cell?” Sybil said, passing over Cress’s hesitation.
“It converts compressed hydrogen into energy in order to
“I know what it is,” Sybil snapped. “You’re telling me that the
only progress you’ve made is finding evidence that she’s making
repairs to her ship? That it’s going to become even more difficult
to track her down, a task that you couldn’t even manage when
they were on Earth?”
“I’m sorry, Mistress. I’m trying. It’s just—”
“I’m not interested in your excuses. All these years I’ve persuaded
Her Majesty to let you live, under the premise that you
had something valuable to offer, something even more valuable
than blood. Was I wrong to protect you, Crescent?”
She bit her lip, withholding a reminder of all she’d done for
Her Majesty during her imprisonment. Designing countless
spy systems for keeping watch on Earth’s leaders, hacking the
communi cation links between diplomats, and jamming satellite
signals to allow the queen’s soldiers to invade Earth undetected,
so that now the blood of sixteen thousand Earthens was on her
hands. It made no difference. Sybil cared only about Cress’s failures,
and not finding Linh Cinder was Cress’s biggest failure to
“I’m sorry, Mistress. I’ll try harder.”
Sybil’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll be very displeased if you don’t find
me that girl, and soon.”
Held by Sybil’s gaze, she felt like a moth pinned to an examination
board. “Yes, Mistress.”
“Good.” Reaching forward, Sybil petted her cheek. It felt almost
like a mother’s approval, but not quite. Then she turned
away and released the locking mechanisms on the case. “Now
then,” she said, retrieving a hypodermic needle from the medical
kit. “Your arm.”