Maddy and Az
David took the board over the ridge so fast that Tally thought she would tumble off. She sank her fingertips into David's jacket to steady herself, thankful for the new shoes' grippy soles. "Listen, David.
The Boss fought them, that's why they killed him."
"My parents would fight too."
She bit her lip and focused her whole mind on staying on board. When they reached the closest approach of the hoverpath to his parents' house, David jumped off and dashed down the slope.
Tally realized that the board still wasn't fully charged, and took a moment to unfold it before following, in no hurry to discover what the Specials had done to Maddy and Az. But when she thought of David finding his parents on his own, Tally ran after him.
It took her long minutes to find the path in the dense brush. Two nights ago they had come in the dark, and from a different direction. She listened for David, but couldn't hear anything. But then the wind shifted, and the smell of smoke came through the trees.
Burning the house hadn't been easy.
Set into the mountain, the stone walls and roof had provided no fuel for the fire. But the attackers had evidently thrown something inside that had contained its own fuel. The windows were blown outward, glass littering the grass in front of the house, nothing left of the door but a few charred scraps swinging on their hinges in the breeze.
David stood in front, unable to cross the threshold.
"Stay here," Tally said.
She stepped through the doorway, but the air overpowered her for the first moments. Morning light slanted in, picking out floating particles of ash. They swirled around Tally, little spiral galaxies set in motion by her passage.
The blackened floorboards crumbled under her feet, burned away to bare stone in some places. But some things had survived the fire. She remembered the marble statuette from her visit, and one of the rugs hanging on the wall remained mysteriously untouched. In the parlor, a few teacups stood out white against the charred furniture. Tally picked one up, realizing that if these cups had survived, a human body would leave more than traces.
She swallowed. If David's parents had been here, whatever was left of them would be easy to find.
Deeper into the house, in a small kitchen, city-made pots and pans hung from the ceiling, their warped, blackened metal still shining through in a few spots. Tally noted a bag of flour, and a few pieces of dried fruit somehow made her empty stomach growl.
The bedroom was last.
The stone ceiling was low and angled, the paint cracked and blackened from the heat of a raging fire.
Tally felt the heat still rising from the bed, the straw mattress and thick quilts fuel for the conflagration.
But Az and Maddy had not been there. There was nothing in the room that could have been human remains. Tally sighed with relief and made her way back outside, rechecking every room.
She shook her head as she stepped through the door. "Either the Specials took them, or they got away."
David nodded and pushed past her. Tally collapsed on the ground and coughed, her lungs finally protesting against the smoke and dust particles she had inhaled. Her hands and arms were black with soot, she realized.
When David came out, he held a long knife. "Hold out your hands."
"The handcuffs. I can't stand them."
She nodded and held out her hands. He carefully threaded the blade between flesh and plastic, working it back and forth to saw the cuffs.
A solid minute later, he pulled the knife away in frustration. "It's not working."
Tally looked closer. The plastic had hardly been marked. She hadn't seen how the Special had snipped her handcuffs in two behind her, but it had only taken a moment. Perhaps they'd used a chemical trigger.
"Maybe it's some kind of aircraft plastic," she said. "Some of that stuff is stronger than steel."
David frowned. "So how did you get them apart?"
Tally opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She could hardly tell him that the Specials had released her themselves.
"And why do you have two cuffs on each wrist, anyway?"
She looked down dumbly, remembering that they'd handcuffed her first when she was captured, then again in front of Dr. Cable, before taking her to look for the pendant.
"I don't know," Tally managed. "I guess they double-cuffed us. But breaking out was easy. I cut them on a sharp rock."
"That doesn't make sense." David looked at the knife. "Dad always said this was the most useful thing he'd ever brought from the city. It's all high-tech alloys and mono--filaments."
She shrugged. "Maybe the part that joined the cuffs was made out of different stuff."
He shook his head, not quite accepting her story. Finally, he shrugged. "Oh well, we'll just have to live with them. But one thing's for sure: My parents didn't get away."
"How do you know?"
He held up the knife. "If he'd had any warning, my dad never would have left without this. The Specials must have surprised them completely."
"Oh. I'm sorry, David."
"At least they're alive."
He looked into her eyes, and Tally saw that his panic had faded. "So, Tally, do you still want to go after them?"
"Yes, of course."
David smiled. "Good." He sat next to her, looking back at the house and shaking his head. "It's funny, Mom always warned me that this would happen. They tried to prepare me the whole time I was growing up. And for a long while I believed them. But after all those years, I started to wonder. Maybe my parents were just being paranoid. Maybe, like runaways always said, Special Circumstances wasn't real."
Tally nodded silently, not trusting herself to speak.
"And now that it's happened, it seems even less real."
"I'm sorry, David." But he could never know how sorry. Not until she'd helped save his parents, at least. "Don't worry, we'll find them."
"One stop to make first."
"As I said, my parents were ready for this, ever since they founded the Smoke. They made preparations."
"Like making sure you could take care of yourself," she said, touching the soft leather of his handmade jacket.
He smiled at her, rubbing soot from her cheek with one finger. "They did a lot more than that. Come with me."
In a cave near the house, the opening so small that Tally had to crawl inside on her belly, David showed her the cache of gear his parents had tended for twenty years.
There were water purifiers, direction finders, lightweight clothes, and sleeping bags - by Smokey standards, an absolute fortune in survival equipment. The four hoverboards had old-fashioned styling, but they were fitted with the same features as the one Dr. Cable had supplied Tally with for the trip to the Smoke, and there was a package of spare belly sensors, sealed against moisture. Everything was of the highest quality.
"Wow, they did plan ahead."
"Always," he said. He picked up a flashlight and tested its beam against the stone. "Every time I came here to check on all this stuff, I would imagine this moment. A million times I planned exactly what I would need. It's almost like I imagined it so much that ithad to happen."
"It's not your fault, David."
"If I'd been here - "
"You'd be in a Special Circumstances hovercar right now, handcuffed, not likely to rescue anyone."
"Yeah, and instead, I'm here." He looked at her. "But at least you are too. You're the one thing I never imagined, all those times. An unexpected ally."
She managed to smile.
He pulled out a big waterproof bag. "I'm starving."
Tally nodded, and her head swam for a moment. She hadn't eaten since dinner two nights before.
David rummaged through the bag. "Plenty of instant food. Let's see: VegiRice, CurryNoods, SwedeBalls, PadThai...any favorites?"
Tally took a deep breath. Back to the wild.
"Anything but SpagBol."