Page 21 of Pretties (Uglies 2)

"They've usually got smelting furnaces going," Zane said. "And some of these machines put out a ton of heat." He pointed at the two sides of the shed that were open to the night. "But the ventilation means no smart walls, see?"

"I see." Tally pulled her coat tighter around her, reaching into one pocket to turn up its heater.

Fausto pointed out a machine that looked like a huge press. "Hey, I remember playing with one of those back in ugly school, for industrial design class," Fausto said. "We made these lunch trays with runners on the bottom, for sliding on the snow."

"That's why I brought you along," Zane said, leading Tally and Fausto across the concrete floor.

The bottom part of the machine was a metal table, which seemed to be etched with a million tiny dots. Parallel with the table was suspended an identical expanse of metal.

"What? You want to use a crusher?" Fausto raised his eyebrows. Zane still hadn't told them what he was up to, but Tally didn't like the look of the massive machine.

Or its name, for that matter.

Zane put down the champagne bucket he'd brought, sloshing ice water onto the floor. He pulled a memory card from one pocket and shoved it into the crusher's reader slot. The machine booted up, lights winking around the edge and the floor rumbling powerfully under Tally's feet.

A ripple seemed to pass through the table, a wave traveling across the surface as if the metal had suddenly become liquid and alive.

When the movement subsided, Tally took a closer look at the crusher's surface. The tiny etched-looking dots were in fact the tips of thin rods, which could be raised up and down to make shapes. She ran her fingers across the table, but the rods were so thin and perfectly aligned, it felt like smooth metal. "What's it for?"

"Stamping out stuff," Zane said. He pushed a button, and the table sprang to life again, a tiny, symmetrical collection of mountains rising up in its center. Tally noticed that identically shaped cavities had appeared in the upper surface of the crusher.

"Hey, that's my lunch tray," Fausto said.

"Of course. You thought I forgot? Those things were awesome for sledding," Zane said happily.

He pulled a sheet of metal from under the machine and carefully aligned its edges to the table's.

"Yeah. I always wondered why they never mass-produced them," Fausto said.

"Too bubbly-making," Zane said. "But I bet some ugly reinvents them every few years. Heads up. I'm going to shoot it."

The other two each took a healthy step back.

Zane grasped two handles at the edge of the table, squeezing both at the same moment. The machine made a rumbling noise for a fraction of a second, then leaped suddenly into motion, the top half slamming down onto the lower with an earsplitting clang. The sound echoed through the shed, and Tally's ears were still ringing as the crusher's jaws slowly parted to reveal the sheet of metal.

"Sweet, isn't it?" Zane said. He picked up the sheet, whose contours had been reshaped by the impact. It looked like a lunch tray now, with little sections to divide a meal into salad, main, and dessert.

Turning it over in his hands, Zane ran a finger down the grooves that marked the back side of the tray.

"On good, powdery snow you could go a thousand klicks an hour on these babies."

Fausto's face had turned pale. "It won't work, Zane."

"Why not?"

"Too many safeties. Even if you could get one of us to - "

"Are you kidding, Zane?" Tally cried. "You are not sticking your hand in there. That thing'll take it off!"

Zane just smiled. "No, it won't. Like Fausto said: too many safeties." He pulled the memory card out of the crushers reader slot and stuck another in. The table rippled again, leaving a set of sharp ridges at its edge, like a row of teeth. He placed his left wrist alongside the metal jaws. "It's hard to tell with the glove on, but see where it'll snip the cuff?"

"But what if it misses, Zane?" Tally said. She had to fight to keep her voice down. Their cuffs were bound as usual, but she didn't want the middle pretty at the other end of the shed to hear them.

"It doesn't miss. You can stamp out parts for a stopwatch with these things."

"It won't work at all," Fausto proclaimed. He stuck his own hand under the crusher. "Shoot it."

"I know, I know," Zane said, grasping the handles and squeezing.

"What?" Tally cried in horror, but the machine didn't move. A row of yellow lights flashed around its edge, and a tinny industrial voice said, "Clear, please."

"It detects humans," Fausto said. "Body heat."

Tally swallowed, her heart pounding in her chest as Fausto took his hand out from under the crusher. "Don't do that!"

"And even if you trick it, what's the point?" Fausto continued. "It'll only crush the cuff, which will squish your hand."

"Not at fifty meters per second. Look here." Zane leaned over the table, running one finger along the formation of teeth he had programmed. "That edge will cut it, or at least smack it hard enough to kill whatever's inside. Our cuffs will just be hunks of dead metal after this thing hits them."

Fausto leaned in to look closer, and Tally turned away from the sight of them with their heads between the metal jaws. Dead metal. She stared at the glassblower at the other end of the shed.

Unaware of their insane conversation, the woman was calmly holding a chunk of glass inside a small, radiant furnace, turning it slowly over the flame.

Tally walked toward the woman until she was out of earshot of Zane and Fausto, then unwrapped her cuff. "Ping Shay."

"Not available. Message?"

Tally scowled, but said, "Yes. Listen, Shay, I know this is my eighteenth message today, but you've got to answer. I'm sorry we were spying on you, but..." Tally didn't know what to add, assuming that the wardens - maybe even Specials - might be listening. She could hardly explain that they were escaping tonight. "But we're worried about you. Get back to me as soon as you can. We need to talk...face-to-face."

Tally signed off and rewrapped the scarf around her wrist. Shay, Ho, and Tachs - the Cutters - had pulled a big disappearing act, refusing to answer any pings. Probably Shay was sulking about having her secret ceremony spied on. But hopefully one of the Crims would find them and tell them about tonight's escape.

Tally and Zane had spent the afternoon getting everyone ready. The Crims were packed up and positioned around the island, ready to start moving once the signal came from the shop shed that Tally and Zane were free.

The woman blowing glass had finished heating it up. She pulled the glowing mass from the furnace and began to blow into it through a long tube, making the molten material bubble up into sinuous shapes. Tally reluctantly turned away from the sight and returned to the crusher.

"But what about the safeties?" Fausto was arguing.

"I can get rid of my body heat."


Zane kicked the champagne bucket. "Thirty seconds in ice water and my hand will be as cold as a chunk of metal."

"Yeah, but your hand is not a chunk of metal," Tally cried. "And neither is mine. That's the problem."

"Look, Tally, I'm not asking you to go first."

She shook her head. "I'm not going at all, Zane. Neither are you."

"She's right." Fausto was staring at the metal teeth rising up from the table, comparing them with their twins jutting down from the top half. "High marks for good design, but sticking your hand in there is crazy. If you've miscalculated by one centimeter, the crusher will hit bone. They told us about that in shop class. The shock wave will travel all the way up your arm, shattering everything along the way."

"Hey, if it misses, they'll put me back together. And it won't miss. I even made a different cast for your hand, Tally," Zane said, waving another memory card. "Since your cuff's smaller."

"If this goes wrong, they'll never fix you," she said quietly. "Not even the city hospital can rebuild a flattened hand."

"Not flattened," Fausto said. "Your bones will be liquifacted, Zane. That means the shock will melt them."

"Listen, Tally," Zane said, reaching down to fish the bottle out of the champagne bucket. "I didn't want to do this either. But I had an attack this morning, remember?" He popped the cork.

"You had a what?" Fausto said.

Tally shook her head. "We have to find some other way."

"There's no time," Zane said, taking a swig from the bottle. "So, Fausto, will you help?"

"Help?" Tally asked.

Fausto nodded slowly. "It takes two hands to shoot the crusher - another safety feature, so you can't leave one in there by accident. He needs one of us to pull the triggers." Fausto crossed his arms.

"Forget it."

"And I'm not helping you either!" Tally said.

"Tally." Zane sighed. "If we don't leave the city tonight, I might as well stick my head in there.

These headaches have been coming every three days or so, and now they're getting worse. We have to leave."

Fausto frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Zane turned to him. "Something's wrong with me, Fausto. That's why we have to go tonight. We think the New Smokies can help me."

"Why would you need them? What's wrong with you?"

"What's wrong with me is, I'm cured."

"Come again?"

Zane took a deep breath. "You see, we took these pills..."

Tally groaned and turned away, realizing that another line was being crossed. First Shay, and now Fausto. Tally wondered how long it would be before all the Crims knew about the cure. Which would only make it more urgent for her and Zane to escape the city, no matter what they had to risk.

Tally watched the glassblower with growing unhappiness. She could sense Fausto's disbelief fading as Zane explained what had happened to the two of them over the last month: the pills, the growing bubbliness of the cure, and Zane's crippling headaches.

"So Shay was right about you guys!" he said. "That's why you're so different now. ..."

Shay had been the only one to call Tally on it, but all the Crims must have seen the changes and wondered what had happened. They all wanted the strange new bubbliness that Tally and Zane had.

Now that Fausto knew the cure existed, that it was as simple as swallowing a pill, maybe risking a couple of hands in the crusher wouldn't seem so crazy to him.

Tally sighed. Maybe it wasn't crazy. That very morning she had delayed taking Zane to the hospital, waiting outside in the rain for what might have been precious minutes -  risking his life, not just a hand.

She swallowed. What was the word Fausto had used? Liquifacted?

The glass object was growing in the woman's grasp, bubbling into overlapping spheres that looked supremely delicate, impossible to repair if shattered. The woman held the glowing shape carefully; some things couldn't be put back together if you broke them.

TaLly thought about David's father, Az. When Dr. Cable had tried to erase Az's memories, the process had killed him. The mind was even more fragile than the human hand - and none of them had a clue what was going on inside Zane's head.

She looked down at her own left glove, flexing the fingers slowly. Was she brave enough to put it in the crusher's metal jaws? Maybe.

"Are you sure we can find the New Smokies out there?" Fausto was saying to Zane. "I thought no one had seen them for a while."

"The uglies we met this morning said there were signs they'd come back."

"And they can cure you?"