Page 16 of Pretties (Uglies 2)

"You are like that, Tally. You have always been like that! No cure is going to make you any different - you were busy betraying people a long time ago. You didn't need any operation to make you selfish and shallow and full of yourself. You already were."

Tally tried to answer, but something horrible rose up in her throat, choking off her words. Then she noticed the quiet around them, and realized that Shay had been yelling. The other Crims looked on in puzzlement, only the hiss of the fire filling the silence. Pretties didn't fight. They hardly ever argued, and they certainly never shouted at one another in the middle of a party. That sort of obnoxious behavior was strictly for uglies.


She looked down at her wrist, wondering if Shay's raised voice had gotten through the layers of cloth and plastic. If so, it would all end tonight.

Shay pulled away and whispered fiercely, "I may be my pretty self again tomorrow, Tally. But I'll remember this, I swear. No matter what sweet things I say to you, trust me, I am not your friend." She turned and walked into the trees, thrashing through frozen branches.

Tally looked around at the other Crims, the champagne glasses in their hands glittering sharply in the moonlight, reflecting the wasteful fire. She felt alone and exposed with all of them staring at her. But after a few more horrible moments of silence, they turned away and started telling breakthrough stories again.

Tally's head spun. The change in Shay had been so shocking, so complete, and she hadn't even taken a pill. A few minutes of real anger had transformed her from a placid pretty to a wild beast. ... It didn't make sense.

Suddenly, Tally remembered Dr. Cable's last words, about Zane helping Special Circumstances.

After his friends had run away, he must have been taken to see her, confessing everything he knew about the Smoke and the mysterious David who took uglies there. Maybe that was what had kept him bubbly all these months - his shame about not running away, his guilt over having betrayed his friends to Dr.

Cable.

Of course, Tally had her own guilty secrets. So she'd stayed bubbly too, never quite fitting in, never quite sure of what she wanted, no matter how much champagne she drank. Old and ugly emotions were always waiting, hidden inside, ready to change her.

And Shay had been transformed as well - not by guilt, but by buried anger. Concealed behind her pretty smiles were suppressed memories of the betrayals that had cost her David, the Smoke, and finally her freedom. All it had taken was climbing up the tower and falling through the ice -  enough stimulation to break the logjam in her memories -  to bring that anger to the surface. And now she hated Tally. Maybe Shay wouldn't need the pills at all - maybe old memories from ugly days were enough.

Perhaps, thanks to every terrible thing that Tally Youngblood had ever done to her, Shay would find her own way to a cure.

RAIN

Tally woke up with an ugly mind.

It was what she used to call bubbly - the gray morning light somehow bright and glittery sharp enough to cut flesh. The rain beat against Zane's window in malicious, half-frozen drops, tapping like impatient fingernails.

But Tally didn't mind the rain. It blurred the city's spires and gardens, reducing the view to gray and green blotches, the lights of other mansions casting halos on the wet glass.

The downpour had started late the night of the party, finally extinguishing the Crims' bonfire, as if Dr. Cable had called the heavens down to drown their celebration. For the two days since, Tally and Zane had been trapped inside, unable to speak freely within the smart walls of Pulcher Mansion. She hadn't even had a chance to tell him about Shay's outburst of old memories, or about meeting Dr. Cable in the woods. Not that she was looking forward to revealing what she'd confessed to Shay, or bringing up what Cable had told her about Zane's past.

This morning had brought another mountain of pings, but Tally couldn't face any more requests to join the Crims. The stadium collapse and the last two days of feed coverage had made them the hottest clique in New Pretty Town, but a bunch of new members was exactly what the Crims didn't need. "What they needed was to stay bubbly. Tally worried, though, that a third day stuck inside by the rain would bore everyone back into being pretty-heads.

Zane was already awake, sipping coffee and staring out the window, absently spinning his cuff with one finger. He glanced at her as she stirred, but didn't make a sound. The silence between them since they'd been cuffed had felt conspiratorial, their secret whispers intimate, but Tally wondered if talking so little was gradually shutting them off from each other. Shay had been right about one thing: Tally had hardly known Zane before that day they'd climbed the tower. What Dr. Cable had told her made Tally realize that she still didn't know him very well.

But once the cuffs were off and they were outside the city, their memories freed from the blur of pretty-headedness, there would be nothing to stop them from telling each other everything.

"Bogus weather, huh?" she said.

"Just a few degrees colder and it'd be snowing."

Tally brightened. "Yeah, snow would be totally pretty-making." She fished a dirty T-shirt from the floor, wadded it up, and threw it at his head. "Snowball fight!"

He let it bounce off him, smiling softly. Zane's headache from the night of the party had passed, but it had left him in a serious mood. Without having said a word, they both knew they would have to escape the city soon.

It all came down to the cuffs.

Tally gave hers an experimental pull. It slipped from her wrist onto her hand, catching only centimeters from coming off. She'd hardly eaten anything the day before, determined to fade away to nothing if that's what it took to get the thing off, but Tally wondered if she would ever be skinny enough.

The cuff's circumference looked just smaller than the width of the bones in her hand, a measurement that no amount of starvation was going to alter.

She stared at the red marks left by the metal. The big bone that was the joint of her left thumb was most of the problem. Tally envisioned pulling the thumb back hard enough to snap the bone, leaving room for the cuff to slip off, and couldn't imagine anything more painful.

A ping came from the door, and Tally sighed. Someone had gotten sick of being ignored and had come around in person.

"We're not here, are we?" Zane said.

Tally shrugged. Not if it was Shay outside, or some wannabe trying to get into the Crims. Come to think of it, there was no one she was in the mood to see.

The ping came again.

"Who is it, anyway?" Tally asked the room, but the room didn't know. Which meant whoever it was wasn't wearing their interface ring.

"That's...interesting," Zane said. They looked at each other for a moment, and Tally felt the moment when curiosity got the better of them.

"Okay, open up," she told the room.

The door slid away to reveal Fausto, looking like a kitten pulled out of a river. His hair was plastered to his head, his clothing soaked, but his eyes were bright. Under his arms he carried two hoverboards, their knobbly surfaces dripping water on the floor.

He walked into the room without a word and dropped the boards. They came to a hovery stop at knee height, while Fausto unloaded four crash bracelets and two belly sensors from his pockets. He took one of the boards and turned it over, gesturing at the access panel on its bottom. Tally rolled out of bed to take a closer look. The nuts securing the panel were stripped, and two red wires snaked out, their ends twisted together and sealed with black tape.

Fausto mimed pulling the wires apart, then opened his hands in a gesture that meant, Where is it?

He grinned.

Tally nodded slowly. Fausto was still bubbly from the breakthrough, his flash tattoo spinning. He, at least, hadn't wasted the last rainy days and nights. These boards were tricked up, ugly-style. When the wires were disconnected, their governors and trackers would crash, freeing the boards from the city interface.

Once they'd gotten rid of the cuffs, Zane and Tally could fly anywhere they wanted.

"Awesome," she said aloud, not caring if the walls heard it.

They didn't wait for sunshine.

Flying through the rain was like standing under a freezing shower. The hole in the wall had coughed up goggles and grippy shoes, so it was possible to stay on board, but just barely. The high winds plastered Tally's soaking winter coat against her skin, pulling her hood back from her head and threatening to spill her on every turn.

Her reflexes from ugly days hadn't disappeared, though. If anything, the operation had improved her balance, and the almost freezing rain kept Tally from slipping into a pretty haze, even with her coat's heating turned to maximum. With a pounding heart and chattering teeth, her mind stayed crystal clear.

She and Zane shot down to the river at treetop level, following the winding path of Denzel Park.

The branches danced in the wind under them, like flailing hands trying to reach up and drag them down.

As Tally leaned into turns, cutting the wind with her hands, the last traces of her morning pretty-mindedness disappeared. The weight of the sensor clipped to her belly ring - which told the board where her center of gravity was - brought back memories of expeditions to the Rusty Ruins with Shay, reminding her how easy it had been to sneak out of the city back in ugly days.

Only the inescapable presence of the interface cuff spoiled her mood. The crash bracelets were big enough to fit over the metal ring, their soft, smart plastics conforming to its shape. Still, Tally imagined the manacle cutting into her flesh.

They reached the river and turned onto it, skimming under bridges, her board slapping the churning whitecaps stirred up by the wind. Laughing maniacally, Zane pulled in front of Tally and dipped his board's tail into the water, sending up a wall of spray.

She crouched low on the board, ducking the worst of the water, and tipped it forward to shoot into the lead. Banking across Zane's path, she slapped the river with her board, raising up a wall of water in front of him. She heard him whoop as he zoomed straight through it.

Soaking and panting hard, Tally wondered if this is what it would be like to be a Special - her senses sharp, every moment intense, her body a perfectly tuned machine. She remembered Maddy and Az saying that Specials didn't have the lesions - they were cured.

Of course, there was a price for being Special - the small matter of a new face: wolflike teeth and cold, dull eyes that terrified everyone you met. And the horror-movie look was nothing compared with having to work for Special Circumstances - tracking down runaway uglies and crushing anyone the city felt threatened by.

And what if the Special operation changed your mind in some other way: making you obedient instead of empty-headed? With all that speed and strength, running away from the city would be easy, but what if the Special operation put something like the cuff inside you, something that would always tell them where you were?

A faceful of water reminded Tally to keep her mind on the game, and she shot high into the air, soaring over a footbridge. Below, Zane was looking back uncertainly, trying to figure out where she'd disappeared to.

Tally dropped down just ahead of him, hitting the river with a sound like a face being slapped, throwing up an explosion of water. But she knew instantly she'd hit too fast. At this speed, the water was as hard as concrete, and her feet slipped at the impact - Tally felt herself sliding off...

She was falling for a moment, then the crash bracelets kicked in, gripping her wrists cruelly and spinning her to a safe halt.

She wound up waist-deep in the freezing water, hanging from the bracelets, crying out as she discovered a whole new level of being soaked. She was glad to see that her attack had also dumped Zane.

"Really bubbly move, Skinny," he shouted, pulling himself back onto his hoverboard. Too out of breath to answer, she crawled onto hers and lay on her stomach, laughing. The two of them wordlessly coasted over to the ground to recover their breath.

On the muddy riverbank, they huddled close for warmth. Her heart still pounded, the expanse of rain-struck water stretched before them like a field of glittering flowers.

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