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Authors: Marissa Meyer

Cress (4 page)

BOOK: Cress
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Cress had continued to dig, entranced by his path of self-destruction. Like watching an asteroid collision, she couldn’t look away.

But then, strange anomalies had begun to creep up in her research.

Age eight. The city of Los Angeles spent four days in panic after a rare Sumatran tiger escaped from the zoo. Video surveillance of the cage showed the young Carswell Thorne, there on a field trip with his class, opening the cage. He later told the authorities that the tiger had looked sad locked up like that, and that he didn’t regret it. Luckily, no one, including the tiger, had been hurt.

Age eleven. A police report was filed by his parents claiming they’d been robbed—overnight, a second-era diamond necklace had gone missing from his mother’s jewelry chest. The necklace was traced to a net sales listing, where it had recently sold for 40,000 univs to a buyer in Brazil. The seller was, of course, Carswell himself, who had not yet had a chance to send off the necklace, and was forced to return the payment, along with an official apology. That apology, made public record to prevent other teens from getting the same idea, claimed that he was only trying to raise money for a local charity offering android assistance to the elderly.

Age thirteen. Carswell Thorne was given a weeklong school suspension after fighting with three boys in his grade, a fight he had lost according to the school’s med-droid report. His statement proclaimed that one of the boys had stolen a portscreen from a girl named Kate Fallow. Carswell had been trying to get it back.

One situation after another was brought to Cress’s attention. Theft, violence, trespassing, school suspensions, police reprimands. Yet Carswell Thorne, when given a chance to explain, always had a reason. A
good
reason. A heart-stopping, pulse-racing, awe-inspiring reason.

Like the sun rising over Earth’s horizon, her perception began to change. Carswell Thorne wasn’t a heartless scoundrel at all. If anyone bothered to get to know him, they would see that he was compassionate and chivalrous.

He was exactly the kind of hero Cress had been dreaming about her entire life.

With that discovery, thoughts of Carswell Thorne began to infiltrate her every waking moment. She dreamed of deep soul connections and passionate kisses and daring escapades. She was certain that he simply had to meet her, just once, and he would feel the same way. It would be like those epic love affairs that exploded into existence and burned white hot for all eternity. The type of love that time and distance and even death couldn’t separate.

Because if there was one thing Cress knew about heroes, it was that they could not resist a damsel in distress.

And she was nothing if not in distress.

 

Four

Scarlet pressed a cotton pad to the corner of Wolf’s mouth, shaking her head. “She may not get in many hits, but when she does, she makes them count.”

Despite the bruise creeping around his jaw, Wolf was beaming, his eyes bright beneath the medbay’s lights. “Did you see how she tripped up my feet before she swung? I didn’t see it coming.” He rubbed his hands giddily on his thighs, his feet kicking at the side of the exam table. “I think we might finally be getting somewhere.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re proud of her, but I think it would be nice if next time she hit you with her nonmetal hand.” Scarlet pulled the cotton away. The wound was still bleeding where Wolf’s lip had broken on his upper canine, but not as bad as before. She reached for a tube of healing salve. “You might be adding a new scar to your collection, but it kind of matches the one on this side of your mouth, so at least they’ll be symmetrical.”

“I don’t mind the scars.” He shrugged, his eyes taking on a mischievous spark. “They hold better memories now than they used to.”

Scarlet paused with a dab of ointment on her fingertip. Wolf’s attention had affixed itself to his own knotted hands, a hint of color on his cheeks. Within seconds, she was feeling extra warm herself, remembering the night they’d once spent as stowaways aboard a maglev train. How she’d traced her fingers along the pale scar on his arm, brushed her lips against the faint marks on his face, been taken into his arms …

She shoved him on the shoulder. “Stop smiling so much,” she said, dabbing the salve onto the wound. “You’re making it worse.”

He quickly schooled his features, but the glint remained in his eyes when he dared to look up at her.

That night on the maglev remained the only time they’d kissed. Scarlet couldn’t count the time he’d kissed her while she was being held captive by him and the rest of his special operative “pack.” He had used the chance to give her an ID chip that ultimately helped her escape, but there had been no affection in that kiss, and at the time she’d despised him.

But those moments aboard the maglev had caused more than one sleepless night since coming aboard the Rampion. When she had lain awake and imagined slipping out of her bed. Creeping across the corridor to Wolf’s room. Not saying a word when he opened the door, just pulling herself against him. Curling her hands into his hair. Wrapping herself up in the sort of security that she’d only ever found in his arms.

She never did, though. Not for fear of rejection—Wolf hadn’t exactly tried to conceal his lingering gazes or how he leaned into every touch, no matter how trivial. And he had never taken back what he said after the attack.
You’re the only one, Scarlet. You’ll always be the only one.

Scarlet knew he was waiting for her to make the first move.

But every time she found herself tempted, she would see the tattoo on his arm, the one that marked him forever as a Lunar special operative. Her heart was still broken from the loss of her grandmother, and the knowledge that Wolf could have saved her. He could have protected her. He could have prevented it all from happening in the first place.

Which wasn’t fair to him. That was before he’d known Scarlet, before he’d cared. And if he had tried to rescue her grandmother, the other operatives would have killed him too. Then Scarlet really would be alone.

Maybe her hesitation was because, if she were honest with herself, she was still a little afraid of Wolf. When he was happy and flirtatious and, at times, adorably awkward, it was easy to forget that there was another side to him. But Scarlet had seen him fight too many times to forget. Not like the restrained brawls he and Cinder had, but fights where he could ruthlessly snap a man’s neck, or tear an opponent’s flesh from his bones using nothing but his own sharp teeth.

The memories still made her shudder.

“Scarlet?”

She jumped. Wolf was watching her, his brow creased. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She called up a smile, relieved when it didn’t feel strained.

Yes, there was something dark inside him, but the monster she’d seen before was not the same as the man seated before her now. Whatever those Lunar scientists had done to him, Wolf had shown time and again that he could make his own choices. That he could be different.

“I was just thinking about scars,” she said, screwing the cap back onto the ointment. Wolf’s lip had stopped bleeding, though the bruise would last a few days.

Cupping his chin, Scarlet tilted Wolf’s face away from her and pressed a kiss against the wound. He inhaled sharply, but otherwise became as still as rock—an unusual feat for him.

“I think you’ll survive,” she said, pulling away and tossing the bandage into the trash chute.

“Scarlet? Wolf?” Iko’s voice crackled through the wall speakers. “Can you come out to the cargo bay? There’s something on the newsfeeds you might want to see.”

“Be right there,” said Scarlet, stashing away the rest of the supplies as Wolf jumped down from the exam table. When she glanced over at him, he was grinning, one finger rubbing against the cut.

In the cargo bay, Thorne and Cinder were seated on one of the storage crates, hunkered over a deck of paper cards. Cinder’s hair was still a mess from her recent semi-victory over Wolf.

“Oh, good,” said Thorne, glancing up. “Scarlet, tell Cinder she’s cheating.”

“I’m not cheating.”

“You just played back-to-back doubles. You can’t do that.”

Cinder crossed her arms. “Thorne, I just downloaded the official rulebook into my brain. I know what I can and can’t do.”

“Aha!” He snapped his fingers. “See, you can’t just download stuff in the middle of a game of Royals. House rules. You’re cheating.”

Cinder threw up her hands, sending cards fluttering throughout the cargo bay. Scarlet snatched a three out of the air. “I was taught that you can’t play back-to-back doubles either. But maybe that was just how my grandma played.”

“Or maybe Cinder’s cheating.”

“I am not—” Clenching her jaw, Cinder growled.

“Iko called us out here for something?” said Scarlet, dropping the card back onto the deck.


Oui
, mademoiselle,” said Iko, adopting the accent that Thorne often imitated when talking to Scarlet, though Iko sounded much more authentic. “There’s breaking news coming out on the Lunar special operatives.” The netscreen on the wall flickered, as Iko hid the ticking clock and palace blueprint and replaced them with a series of vids—reporters and grainy footage of armed military personnel coaxing half a dozen muscular men into a secured hover. “It seems that since the attack, the American Republic has been conducting investigations into the operatives, and a sting operation is going down right now in the three Republic cities that were attacked: New York, Mexico City, and São Paulo. They’ve already rounded up fifty-nine operatives and four thaumaturges, to be held as prisoners of war.”

Scarlet stepped closer to the screen, which was showing footage from Manhattan Island. It appeared that this particular pack had been hiding out in an abandoned subway line. The operatives were bound at their hands and ankles and each one had at least two guns trained on him from the surrounding troops, but they all looked as carefree as if they were picking wildflowers in a meadow. One even flashed an amused grin at the camera as he was herded past. “Do you know any of them?”

Wolf grunted. “Not well. The different packs didn’t usually socialize, but I’d see them in the dining hall, and sometimes during training.”

“They don’t seem too upset,” said Thorne. “Evidently they’ve never tasted prison food.”

Cinder came to stand beside Scarlet. “They won’t be there for long. The wedding is in two weeks, and then they’ll be released and sent back to Luna.”

Thorne hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. “In that case, this seems like a pretty big waste of time and resources.”

“I disagree,” said Scarlet. “The people can’t keep living in fear. The government is trying to show that they’re doing something to keep the massacres from happening again. This way, they can feel like they have some sort of control over the situation.”

Cinder shook her head. “But what happens when Levana retaliates? The whole point of the marriage alliance was to hold her temper in check.”

“She won’t retaliate,” said Wolf. “I doubt she’ll even care.”

Scarlet glanced at the tattoo on his forearm. “After all the work she’s gone through to create you … them?”

“She wouldn’t jeopardize the alliance. Not for the operatives, who were only meant to serve one purpose to begin with—to launch that first attack and remind Earth that Lunars can be anyone, anywhere. To make them afraid of us.” He began to shuffle restlessly from foot to foot. “She’s done with us now.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Iko, “because now that they’ve discovered how to track the operatives, everyone expects the rest of the Union to follow suit.”

“How
did
they find them?” asked Cinder, adjusting her ponytail.

A sigh of air whooshed through the cooling system. “It turns out, Lunars have managed to reprogram a bunch of the med-droids stationed at plague quarantines all over the world. They’ve been harvesting ID chips from the deceased and shipping them off to these operatives to be reprogrammed and inserted into their bodies, so they could blend in with society. Once the government figured out the connection, they just had to follow the trail of the ID chips, and they were led straight to the packs’ operation bases.”

“Peony…” Cinder shifted closer to the netscreen. “That’s why the android wanted her chip. You’re telling me it would have ended up inside one of
them
?”

“Spoken with true derision for our canine friends,” said Thorne.

Cinder massaged her temple. “I’m sorry, Wolf. I don’t mean you.” She hesitated. “Except … I do, though. Anyone. She was my
little sister.
How many people have died from this disease, only to have their identities violated like this? Again, no offense.”

“It’s all right,” said Wolf. “You loved her. I would feel the same if someone wanted to erase Scarlet’s identity and give it to Levana’s army.”

Scarlet stiffened, heat rushing into her cheeks. He certainly wasn’t insinuating …


Aaaaw,
” squealed Iko. “Did Wolf just say that he
loves
Scarlet? That’s so cute!”

Scarlet cringed. “He did not—that wasn’t—” She balled her fists against her sides. “Can we get back to these soldiers that are being rounded up, please?”

“Is she blushing? She sounds like she’s blushing.”

“She’s blushing,” Thorne confirmed, shuffling the cards. “Actually, Wolf is also looking a little flustered—”


Focus,
please,” said Cinder, and Scarlet could have kissed her. “So they were taking ID chips from plague victims. Now what?”

The lights dimmed as Iko’s giddiness diminished. “Well, it won’t be happening anymore. All American androids assigned to the quarantines are being evaluated and reprogrammed as we speak, which will no doubt carry into the rest of the Union.”

On the screen, the last operative in Manhattan was being loaded into the armored hover. The door clanged and locked shut behind him.

“It does take care of one threat, at least,” said Scarlet, thinking of the pack that had kept her prisoner. That had killed her grandmother. “I hope Europe hunts them down too. I hope they kill them.”

BOOK: Cress
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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