Page 20 of Pretties (Uglies 2)

"Tally?" An orderly stood by the waiting room door, beckoning her in. Finally. Tally was ready to get out of this place.

"Take care, kids," she said to the pretties, and followed the orderly down the hall.


When the door closed behind her, Tally realized that she hadn't been taken to the outpatient center. The orderly had brought her to a small room dominated by a huge, cluttered desk. A wallscreen showed a grassy field on a sunny day -  the sort of visuals they showed in littlie school right before nap time.

"Been out in the rain?" the orderly said brightly, pulling off his powder blue paper robe. He was wearing a suit underneath - semiformal, her brain informed her - and Tally realized that he wasn't an orderly at all. He had the beaming smile favored by politicians, nursery teachers, and headshrinks.

She sat in the chair across from him, her damp clothes squelching. "You totally guessed it."

He smiled. "Well, accidents happen. You were wise to bring your friend in. And lucky me, being here when you did. The thing is, I've been trying to get in touch with you, Tally."

"You have?"

"Indeed." He smiled again. There was a species of middle pretty who smiled at everything: happy smile, disappointed smile, you're-in-trouble smile. His was welcoming and enthusiastic, trustworthy and calm, and it set Tally's teeth on edge. He was the sort of middle pretty Dr. Cable had promised Tally she would become: smug and self-assured, his handsome face marked with just the right lines of laughter, age, and wisdom.

"You haven't been opening your mail the last couple of days, have you?" he said.

She shook her head. "Too many bogus pings. From being on the feeds, you know? Totally famous-making."

The words earned Tally a proud smile. "I suppose it's all been very exciting for you and your friends."

She shrugged, going for false modesty. "It was bubbly at first, but now it's getting bogus. So, who are you again?"

"Dr. Remmy Anders. I'm a trauma counselor here on the hospital staff."

"Trauma? Is this about the stadium thing? Because I'm totally - "

"I'm sure you're fine, Tally. It's a friend of yours I've been wanting to ask you about. Frankly, we're a little worried."

"About who?"

"Shay."

Behind her pretty expression, a serious ping went through Tally. She tried to keep her voice steady. "Why Shay?"

Slowly, as if controlled by a remote, Dr. Anders's concerned smile bent into a frown. "There was a disturbance the other night at your little bonfire party. An argument between you and Shay. Quite troubling."

Tally blinked, stalling as she recalled Shay screaming at her by the fire. Even under all those layers, the cuff must have heard how upset Shay had been - way beyond the usual soft-spoken tiff between new pretties. Tally tried to recall exactly what Shay had shouted, but the combination of champagne and horrible guilt wasn't very memory-improving. She shrugged. "Yeah. She was pretty drunk. Me too."

"It didn't sound very happy-making."

"Dr. Remmy are you, like, spying on us? That's bogus."

The counselor shook his head and went back to the concerned smile. "We have had a particular interest in all of you who suffered that unfortunate accident. It can sometimes be difficult to recover from frightening and unexpected events. That's why I've been assigned as your post-stress counselor."

Tally pretended not to notice that he'd totally dodged the spying question - she already knew the answer, anyway. Special Circumstances might not care if the Crims knocked down New Pretty Town, but the wardens were always on the job. Given that the city was designed to keep people pretty-minded, it made sense that they would assign a counselor to anyone who'd had any serious bubbly-making experience. Dr. Anders was here to make sure that the breakthrough hadn't given the Crims any new and exciting ideas.

She summoned up a pretty smile. "In case we go crazy?"

Dr. Anders laughed. "Oh, we don't think you'll go crazy. I'm just here to make sure there aren't any long-term effects. Friendships can be negatively impacted by stress, you know."

She decided to throw Remmy a bone, and let her eyes widen. "So that's why she was being such a pain that night?"

He brightened. "Yes, it's all about stress, Tally. But remember, she probably didn't mean it."

"Well, I didn't go all crazy on her."

Reassuring smile. "Everyone reacts differently to trauma, Tally. Not everyone's as tough as you.

Instead of getting angry, why don't we think of this as an opportunity to show Shay your support. You're old friends, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Since we were uglies. Same birthday."

"That's wonderful. Old friends are best at times like these. What was the fight about?"

Tally shrugged. "I don't know. Nothing, really."

"Can you remember at all?"

Tally wondered if this room was rigged to polygraph her, and if so, how big a lie she could get away with. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the calories moving through her half-starved body, letting a pretty haze settle over herself.

"Tally?" he prompted.

She decided to give Dr. Anders a little bit of the truth. "It was just...old stuff."

He nodded, folding his hands in satisfaction. Tally wondered if she'd said too much. "From ugly days?" he asked.

She shook her head, not trusting her voice.

"How have you and Shay been getting along since that night?"

"Just fine."

He smiled happily, but Tally caught him glancing away into the middle distance - probably at an eyescreen that was invisible to her. Was he checking the city interface? It would know that she and Shay hadn't pinged each other since the party and three whole days without any mail between them was pretty unusual. Or was Dr. Anders looking to see if her voice was wavering?

He gave his invisible data, or whatever it was, a small nod. "Has she seemed in better spirits to you since then?"

"She's okay, I guess." Just a little self-mutilation, crazy chanting, and maybe wanting to start her own very disturbing clique. "I haven't seen her since this bogus rain started coming down, actually. But me and her are best friends forever."

The last words came out wrong, Tally's voice sounding rough. She coughed a little, which was marked by a deepening of Dr. Anders's concerned smile. "I'm glad to hear that, Tally. And you're feeling all right as well, aren't you?"

"Bubbly," she said. "A little hungry, though."

"Yes, yes. You and Zane really must eat more. You're looking a bit thin, and I'm told his blood sugar was terribly low when he came in."

"I'll make sure he has some of those chocolate-chip cookies in the waiting room. They're awesome."

"A wonderful idea. You're a good friend, Tally." He stood, offering his hand. "Well, I see that Zane's all patched up, so I won't keep you. Thanks for your time, and make sure you let me know if you or any of your friends ever need to talk."

"Oh, I will," she said, giving the doctor her prettiest smile. "This has really been great."

Outside, the cold rain embraced Tally like an old and unavoidable friend, the discomfort almost a relief after Dr. Anders's radiant smiles. She told Zane about him on the way home. Although her cuff was bound up again, she spoke softly enough for the wind to tear her words away as they climbed into the gray sky.

He sighed when she was done. "Sounds like they're as worried about her as we are."

"Yeah. They must have heard our fight the other night. She was screaming at me in a very unpretty way."

"Perfect." His teeth were bared against the cold. It didn't look like the painkillers they'd given him for his hand were helping Zane's headache much. His feet shuffled on the board, finding their balance clumsily.

"I didn't say anything much. Just that she was drunk and acting up." Tally allowed herself a thin smile of self-congratulation. This one time, at least, she hadn't betrayed Shay. She hoped.

"Of course you didn't, Tally. Shay might need help, but not from some middle-pretty headshrink.

What we have to do is get her out into the wild and give her the real cure. As soon as possible."

"Yeah. The pills are a lot better than cutting yourself." If they don't wind up giving you brain damage, she didn't add. Tally had decided not to tell Zane about her resolve to take him to the hospital the next time he had an attack; hopefully it wouldn't come to that. "So how were your doctors?"

"The usual. They spent the first hour lecturing me about eating more. When they finally got around to knitting my bones up, I was only unconscious about ten minutes. But other than being skinny, they didn't seem to notice anything weird about me."

"Good."

"Of course, that doesn't mean I'm fine. They didn't look at my head, after all, just my hand."

Tally took a deep breath. "Your headaches are getting worse, aren't they?"

"I think it was more hunger and cold than anything else."

She shook her head. "I haven't eaten anything today either, Zane, and you didn't see me - "

"Forget about my head, Tally! I'm not any worse or any better. It's Shay's arms I'm worried about." He angled his board closer and lowered his voice. "They're going to be keeping an eye on her, too, now. If your Dr. Remmy gets a good look at what she's been doing to herself, all hell will break loose."

"Yeah. I can't argue with that." Tally visualized the row of scars along Shay's arms. From a distance, she'd thought they were tattoos, but from close up, anyone would know what they were. If Dr.

Anders saw them, Tally doubted very much that he would have a smile appropriate to the occasion.

Alarms would go off all over the city, and the wardens' interest in everyone who'd been involved in the stadium disaster would go way off the scale.

Tally reached out and brought them to a stop, lowering her voice to just above a whisper. "We don't have much time, then. He could decide to talk to Shay any day now."

Zane took a deep breath. "You'll have to talk to Shay first. Tell her to lay off the cutting."

"Oh. Fun. What if she doesn't want to?"

"Tell her we're about to leave. Tell her well get her the real cure."

"Leave? How?"

"We just go - tonight, if we can. I'll pack up everything we need, you get the other Crims ready."

"What about these?" She was too exhausted to raise her swaddled wrist, but he took her meaning.

"We'll get them off. Tonight. There's a trick I've been saving."

"What trick, Zane?"

"I can't tell you yet. It'll work, though - it's just a little risky"

Tally frowned. She and Zane had tried every tool they could think of, and nothing had so much as scratched the cuffs. "What is it?"

"I'll show you tonight," he said, his jaw tight.

Tally swallowed. "Must be more than a little risky." Zane stared at her, his face pale and half-starved, his eyes dull through the goggles. "Give the girl a hand." He chuckled. "Might need one."

Tally had to turn her eyes away from his smile.

CRUSHER

The shop shed wasn't far from the hospital, on the downstream end of New Pretty Town where the two arms of the river rejoined each other. This late at night, the lathes, imaging tables, and injection molds sat unused, the place almost empty. The only light came from the other end of the shed, where a middle pretty was blowing molten glass into shape.

"It's freezing in here," Tally said. She could see the words coiling from her mouth in the soft red glow of work lights. The rain had finally stopped while they were getting the Crims ready to run, but the air was still damp and chill. Even inside the shed, Tally, Fausto, and Zane were huddled in their winter coats.

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