Cress

Summary

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker – unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

 

Trailer

Chapter Teaser

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

real oxygen.

 

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

come.

 

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

empress.

 

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

allies.

 

And besides, Queen Levana only wanted to rule the Eastern

Commonwealth. Surely she would leave the rest of the Earthen

Union alone.

 

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—

 

“Mute feed.”

 

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

recycling tank.

 

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,

Big Sister.”

 

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

alliance.

 

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.

 

“Big Sister?”

 

Pulse hiccupping, Cress grasped the arms of her chair. “Yes,

 

Little Cress?”

 

“Mistress’s ship detected. Expected arrival in twenty- two

seconds.”

 

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

sail.

 

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,

all dismissed.

 

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

podship.

 

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,

Mistress.”

 

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

the cyborg?”

 

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

behind it.

 

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

else, Crescent?”

 

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

propel—”

 

“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

date.

 

“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.”