The siren faded behind her. It seemed like forever - or only seconds - that Tally fell, the gaping faces below becoming larger and larger.
The ground hurtled toward her, a space opening in the panicking crowd where she was going to hit. For a few moments it was just like a flying dream, silent and wonderful.
Then reality jerked at her shoulders and thighs, the webbing of the jacket cutting viciously into her. She was taller than pretty standard, she knew; the jacket probably wasn't expecting this much weight.
Tally somersaulted in the air, turning headfirst for a few terrifying moments, her face passing low enough to spot a discarded bottle cap in the grass. Then she found herself shooting upward again, completing the circle, so that the sky wheeled above her, then over and downward again, more crowd parting in front.
Perfect. She had pushed off hard enough that she was bouncing down the hill away from Garbo Mansion, the jacket carrying her toward the darkness and safety of the gardens.
Tally spun head over heels twice more, and then the jacket lowered her to the grass. She pulled randomly at straps until the garment made a hissing sound and dropped to the ground.
Her dizziness took a moment to clear as she tried to sort up from down.
"Isn't she...ugly?" someone asked from the edge of the crowd.
The black shapes of two firefighting hovercars zoomed past overhead, red lights flashing and sirens piercing her ears.
"Great idea, Peris," she muttered. "A false alarm." She would really be in trouble if they caught her now.
She'd never evenheard of anyone doing anything this bad.
Tally ran toward the garden.
The darkness below the willows was comforting.
Down here, halfway to the river, Tally could barely tell there was a full-scale fire alert in the middle of town. But she could see that a search was underway. More hovercars were in the air than usual, and the river seemed to be lit up extra bright. Maybe that was just a coincidence.
But probably not.
Tally made her way carefully through the trees. It was later than she and Peris had ever stayed over in New Pretty Town. The pleasure gardens were more crowded, especially the dark parts. And now that the excitement of her escape had worn off, Tally was beginning to realize how stupid the whole idea had been.
Of course Peris didn't have the scar anymore. The two of them had only used a penknife when they'd cut themselves and held hands. The doctors used much sharper and bigger knives in the operation. They rubbed you raw, and you grew all new skin, perfect and clear. The old marks of accidents and bad food and childhood illnesses all washed away. A clean start.
But Tally had ruined Peris's starting over - showing up like some pesky littlie who's not wanted, and leaving him with the bad taste of ugly in his mouth, not to mention covered with mud. She hoped he had another vest to change into.
At least Peris hadn't seemed too angry. He'd said they'd be best friends again, once she was pretty. But the way he'd looked at her face...maybe that was why they separated uglies from pretties. It must be horrible to see an ugly face when you're surrounded by such beautiful people all the time. What if she'd ruined everything tonight, and Peris would always see her like this - squinty eyes and frizzy hair - even after she had the operation?
A hovercar passed overhead, and Tally ducked. She was probably going to get caught tonight, and never be turned pretty at all.
She deserved it for being so stupid.
Tally reminded herself of her promise to Peris. She wasnot going to get caught; she had to become pretty for him.
A light flashed in the corner of her vision. Tally crouched and peered through the hanging willow leaves.
A safety warden was in the park. She was a middle pretty, not a new one. In the firelight, the handsome features of the second operation were obvious: broad shoulders and a firm jaw, a sharp nose and high cheekbones. The woman carried the same unquestionable authority as Tally's teachers back in Uglyville.
Tally swallowed. New pretties had their own wardens. There was only one reason why a middle pretty would be here in New Pretty Town: The wardens were looking for someone, and they were serious about finding him or her.
The woman flashed her light at a couple on a bench, illuminating them for the split second it took to confirm that they were pretty. The couple jumped, but the warden chuckled and apologized. Tally could hear her low, sure voice, and saw the new pretties relax. Everything had to be okay if she said it was.
Tally felt herself wanting to give up, to throw herself on the wise mercy of the warden. If she just explained, the warden would understand and fix everything. Middle pretties always knew what to do.
But she had promised Peris.
Tally pulled back into the darkness, trying to ignore the horrible feeling that she was a spy, a sneak, for not surrendering to the woman's authority. She moved through the brush as fast as she could.
Close to the river, Tally heard a noise in front of her. A dark form was outlined in river lights before her.
Not a couple, a lone figure in the dark.
It had to be a warden, waiting for her in the brush.
Tally hardly dared breathe. She had frozen in midcrawl, her weight all poised on one knee and one muddy hand. The warden hadn't seen her yet. If Tally waited long enough, maybe the warden would move on.
She waited, motionless, for endless minutes. The figure didn't budge. They must know that the gardens were the only dark way in and out of New Pretty Town.
Tally's arm started to shake, the muscles complaining about staying frozen for so long. But she didn't dare let her weight settle onto the other arm. The snap of a single twig would give her away.
She held herself still, until all her muscles were screaming. Maybe the warden was just a trick of the light.
Maybe this was all in her imagination.
Tally blinked, trying to make the figure disappear.
But it was still there, clearly outlined by the rippling lights of the river.
A twig popped under her knee - Tally's aching muscles had finally betrayed her. But the figurestill didn't move. He or she must have heard....
The warden was being kind, waiting for her to give herself up. Letting her surrender. The teachers did that at school, sometimes. Made you realize that you couldn't escape, until you confessed everything.
Tally cleared her throat. A small, pathetic sound. "I'm sorry," she said.
The figure let out a sigh. "Oh, phew. Hey, that's okay. I must have scared you, too." The girl leaned forward, grimacing as if she was also sore from remaining still so long. Her face caught the light.
She was ugly too.
Her name was Shay. She had long dark hair in pigtails, and her eyes were too wide apart. Her lips were full enough, but she was even skinnier than a new pretty. She'd come over to New Pretty Town on her own expedition, and had been hiding here by the river for an hour. "I've never seen anything like this,"
she whispered. "There's wardens and hovercars everywhere!"
Tally cleared her throat. "I think it's my fault."
Shay looked dubious. "How'd you manage that?"
"Well, I was up in the middle of town, at a party."
"You crashed a party? That's crazy!" Shay said, then lowered her voice back to a whisper. "Crazy, but awesome. How'd you get in?"
"I was wearing a mask."
"Wow. A pretty mask?"
"Uh, more like a pig mask. It's a long story."
Shay blinked. "A pig mask. Okay. So let me guess, someone blew your house down?"
"Huh? No. I was about to get caught, so I kind of...set off a fire alarm."
Tally smiled. It was actually a pretty good story, now that she had someone to tell it to. "And I was trapped up on the roof, so I grabbed a bungee jacket and jumped off. I hover-bounced halfway here."
"Well, part of the way here, anyhow."
"Pretty awesome." Shay smiled, then her face went serious. She bit at one of her fingernails, which was one of those bad habits that the operation cured. "So, Tally, were you at this party...to see someone?"
It was Tally's turn to be impressed. "How'd you figure that out?"
Shay sighed, looking down at her ragged nails. "I've got friends too, over here. I mean, theywere friends. Sometimes I spy on them." She looked up. "I was always the youngest, you know? And now - "
"You're all alone."
Shay nodded. "It's sounds like you did more than spy, though."
"Yeah. I kind of said hello."
"Wow, that's crazy. Your boyfriend or something?"
Tally shook her head. Peris had gone with other girls, and Tally had dealt with it and tried to do the same, but their friendship had always been the main thing in both their lives. Not anymore, apparently.
"If he'd been my boyfriend, I don't think I could have done it, you know? I wouldn't have wanted him to see my face. But because we're friends, I thought maybe..."
"Yeah. So how'd it go?"
Tally thought for a second, looking out at the rippling water. Peris had been so pretty, and grown-up looking, and he'd said they'd be friends again. Once Tally was pretty too..."Basically, it sucked," she said.
"Except getting away. That part was very cool."
"Sounds like it." Tally heard the smile in Shay's voice. "Very tricky."
They were silent for a moment as a hovercar went over.
"But you know, we haven't totally gotten away yet," Shay said. "Next time you're going to pull a fire alarm, let me know ahead of time."
"Sorry about getting you trapped here."
Shay looked at her and frowned. "Not that. I just meant if I'm going to have to do the running-away part, I might as well get in on the fun."
Tally laughed softly. "Okay. Next time, I'll let you know."
"Please do." Shay scanned the river. "Looks a little clearer now. Where's your board?"
Shay pulled a hoverboard from under a bush. "You've got a board, right? What'd you do, swim over?"
"No, I...hey, wait. How'd you get a hoverboard to take you across the river?" Anything that flew had minders all over it.
Shay laughed. "That's the oldest trick in the book. I figured you'd know all about it."
Tally shrugged. "I don't board much."
"Well, this one'll take both of us."
Another hovercar had come into view, cruising down the river just above the height of the bridges.
Tally waited for a count of ten after it had passed before she spoke. "I don't think it's a good idea, flying back."
"So howdid you get over?"
"Follow me." Tally rose from her crouch onto hands and knees, and crawled a bit ahead. She looked back. "Can you carry that thing?"
"Sure. It doesn't weigh much." Shay snapped her fingers, and the hoverboard drifted upward. "Actually, it doesn't weighanything, unless I tell it to."
Shay started to crawl, the board bouncing along behind her like a littlie's balloon. Tally couldn't see any string, though. "So, where're we going?" Shay asked.
"I know a bridge."
"But it'll tattle."
"Not this one. It's an old friend."