Cinder crouches against the palace wall, confused as to why Levana’s glamour affected her the same as everyone else. She wonders if Dr. Erland lied to her about being a shell, or about being Lunar. Just then, an android approaches and asks her to follow it into the palace—Kai has requested a word with her. When he sees her, he thanks her for fixing Nainsi. He asks her to walk with him to Dr. Erland’s office and tell him what was wrong with the android.
Cinder recognizes that Dr. Erland wasn’t being entirely truthful with her, and this causes her to distrust his information on the whole. This shows how secrecy and manipulation often backfire: whereas Dr. Erland wanted to make Cinder trust him more, this new information makes her trust him even less than if he had been open with her.
Cinder explains that someone implanted a chip in Nainsi, and that the person who installed likely knows the research Kai was doing. As Kai and Cinder get into the elevator, Cinder asks how things are going with Queen Levana. Kai explains that he hates her more than anyone else, and their talks aren’t going well. She thinks that there are Lunar fugitives on Earth, though he explains that the last thing he wants is more “power-hungry Lunars” in his country. This makes Cinder nervous.
Kai exposes his own stereotypes about the Lunars, but Cinder has experienced and interesting shift. Now that she knows she is Lunar, she starts to become nervous about his assessment and perhaps even wishes to prove him wrong about “power-hungry Lunars,” knowing that she does not belong in this category even though she is Lunar. Now that she is a part of this group and experiences the discrimination firsthand, she is much more resistant to it.
Kai then pivots, saying that he thinks Cinder should go to the ball with him. When Cinder asks why her, he says he can’t go alone, and he can’t go with Levana. Cinder protests that there are thousands of single girls in the city, but Kai asks why not her. She thinks because she’s cyborg, Lunar, and a mechanic, but she simply says that he doesn’t want her. He tells her that he needs her so that he can avoid Queen Levana. Cinder tries a final protest, explaining that her little stepsister Peony has letumosis, and she can’t go without her. Cinder then tells him about Peony and asks Kai if he’ll ask her to dance at the ball if Peony survives. Kai says that it would be his pleasure.
Cinder shows how much she has internalized the discrimination that she’s faced as a cyborg and a Lunar (both marginalized groups on Earth) as well as a mechanic—a low-status profession compared to a royal. Even though Kai explicitly tells Cinder that he wants her to go with him, she’s been conditioned to believe that she’s subhuman simply because she’s a cyborg—and now she knows she’s also part of a race that Earthens hate. Because of this, her self-doubt overshadows Kai’s assessment of her. This also shows the problem with secrecy, because if Cinder were more open with Kai, he might still want to be with her—but because she has been hiding these aspects of her identity, she only grows more nervous about him finding out.
Kai returns the conversation to Levana—he’s worried that he’s going to destroy the country. Cinder assures him that he’ll be a great emperor. As she starts to protest that they should get out of the elevator, he leans forward and whispers in her ear, asking her to imagine that there’s a cure for letumosis, but it would ruin her life. She says that that’s not much of a choice. He sighs resignedly, agreeing with her. As Kai pulls away, he brushes Cinder’s elbow, and she doubles over in pain. She tries to assure him that she’s fine, but he insists on bringing her to Dr. Erland.
Both Kai and Cinder are willing to make decisions that are unpleasant or dangerous for them if their actions can potentially save the lives of many others. Cinder’s confidence that Kai will be a great emperor supports the idea that these qualities are virtuous, particularly for those in positions of power.