Page 31 of Pretties (Uglies 2)

Andrew turned away without another word and crawled from the cave, knife in hand.

Tally sat in the darkness, stunned, replaying their fight in her mind. What could she have said to him? What whispered arguments could overcome decades of blood feud? It was hopeless.


Maybe it went deeper than that. Tally remembered again her conversation with Dr. Cable, who had claimed that human beings always rediscovered war, always became Rusties in the end - the species was a planetary plague, whether they knew what a planet was or not. So what was the cure for that, except the operation?

Maybe the Specials had the right idea.

Tally crouched in the cave, miserable, hungry, and thirsty. Andrew's waterskin was empty and there was nothing to do except wait for him to come back. Unless he wasn't coming back.

How could he just leave her here?

Of course, he'd had to leave his own father lying in a cold stream, injured and certain to be killed.

Maybe anybody would want revenge after going through a thing like that. But Andrew wasn't looking for the men who'd killed his father, he was just out to murder a random stranger -  anyone would do. It didn't make any sense.

The smells of cooking eventually faded. Creeping up to the mouth of the cave, Tally no longer heard any sounds from the outsider camp, only wind in the leaves.

Then she saw someone coming through the trees...

It was Andrew. He was covered in mud, as if he'd been crawling around on his belly, but the knife clutched in his hand looked clean. Tally didn't see any blood on his hands. As he grew closer, she saw with relief that he wore an expression of disappointment. "So, no luck?" she said.

He shook his head. "My father is not yet avenged."

"Tough. Let's get going."

He frowned. "No breakfast?"

Tally scowled. A moment ago he'd wanted nothing more than to ambush and murder some random stranger, and now his face looked like a littlie's whose promised ice cream had been snatched away.

"Too late for breakfast," she said, and pulled her backpack up onto her shoulder. "Which way to the edge of the world?"

They walked in silence until well past noon, when Tally's grumbling stomach finally forced a stop.

She prepared VegiRice for them both, not in the mood for the taste of pseudomeat.

Andrew was like an anxious-to-please puppy, gamely trying to use chopsticks and making jokes about his clumsiness. But Tally couldn't bring herself to smile. The chill that had seeped into her bones while he was out looking for revenge hadn't gone away.

Of course, it wasn't completely fair being upset with Andrew. Probably he couldn't understand Tally's aversion to casual murder. He'd grown up with the cycle of revenge. It was just a part of his pre-Rusty life, like sleeping in piles or cutting down trees. He didn't see it as wrong any more than he could understand how utterly the latrine ditch revolted her.

Tally was different from the villagers - at least that much had changed in the course of human history. Maybe there was hope after all.

But she didn't feel much like talking it over with Andrew, or even giving him a smile.

"So what's beyond the edge of the world?" she finally said.

He shrugged. "Nothing."

"There must be something."

"The world just ends."

"Have you been there?"

"Of course. Every boy goes, one year before you become a man."

Tally scowled - another boys-only club. "So what does it look like? A wide river? Some kind of cliff?"

Andrew shook his head. "No. It looks like the forest, like any other place. But it is the end.

There are little men there, who make sure you go no farther."

"Little men, huh?" Tally remembered an old map on the library wall at her ugly school, the words

"Here Be Dragons" written in flowery letters in all the blank spots. Maybe this world's edge was nothing more than the borderline of the villager's mental map of the world - like their need for revenge, they simply couldn't see beyond it. "Well, it won't be the end for me."

He shrugged again. "You are a god."

"Yeah, that's me. How far are we now?"

He glanced up at the sun. "We'll be there before nightfall."

"Good." Tally didn't want to spend another cold night huddled with Andrew Simpson Smith if she could help it.

They saw no more signs of outsiders over the next few hours, but the habit of silence had settled onto the journey. Even after Tally had decided she was no longer angry at Andrew, she found herself covering the kilometers without uttering a word. He looked dejected by her silent treatment, or maybe he was still moping about not getting his kill that morning.

A bad day all around.

Late afternoon shadows had begun to stretch behind them when he said, "We are close now."

Tally came to a halt for a drink of water, scanning the horizon. It looked like every other bit of forest she'd seen since falling from the sky. Perhaps the trees were thinning a little here, the clearings growing larger and almost bare of grass in the growing cold of winter. But it hardly looked like someone's idea of the end of the world.

Andrew walked more slowly as they continued, as if looking for signs among the trees. He sometimes glanced at the faraway hills to point out landmarks. Finally, he halted, staring with wide eyes into the forest.

Tally took a moment to focus, then saw something hanging from a tree. It looked like a doll, a human-shaped bundle of twigs and dried flowers, no bigger than a fist. It swayed in the breeze, like a little person dancing. She could see more of them stretching into the distance.

Tally had to smile. "So those are the little men?"

"Yes."

"And this is your edge of the world?" It looked like more of the same to her: dense undergrowth and trees filled with squawking birds.

"The edge, not mine. No one has ever passed beyond it."

"Yeah, right." Tally shook her head. The dolls probably just marked the territory of the next tribe over. She noticed a bird perched close to one, regarding the doll curiously, possibly wondering if it was edible.

She sighed and adjusted her backpack on her shoulder, striding toward the nearest doll. Andrew didn't follow, but he would catch up with her once his superstitions were disproved. Centuries before, Tally remembered, sailors had been afraid to sail into the deep ocean, thinking that sooner or later they would fall off the edge. Until someone tried it, and it turned out there were more continents out there.

On the other hand, maybe it would be better if Andrew didn't follow her. The last thing she needed was a traveling companion who was bent on revenge at any cost. The people beyond of the edge of world certainly hadn't had anything to do with the death of his father, but one outsider would be as good as another to Andrew.

As she grew nearer, Tally saw more of the dolls. They hung every few meters, marking some kind of border, like misshapen ornaments for an outdoor party. Their heads were at funny angles, she saw - the dolls all hung from their necks, nooses of rough twine around every one. She could understand how the villagers might find the little men creepy, and a slow chill ran down her spine...

Then the tingling sensation moved to her fingers.

At first, Tally thought her arm had fallen asleep, pins and needles spreading from her shoulders down. She adjusted the backpack, trying to restore her circulation, but the tingling continued.

A few steps later, Tally heard the sound. A rumble seemed to come up from the earth itself, a note so low that she could feel it in her bones. It played across her skin, the world trembling around her.

Tally's vision blurred, as if her eyes were vibrating in sympathy with the sound. She took another step forward, and it grew louder, now like a swarm of insects inside her head.

Something was very wrong here.

Tally tried to turn around, but found that her muscles had melted into water. Her backpack felt suddenly filled with stone, and the ground had become mush under her feet. She managed a staggering step backward, the sound fading a little as she moved away.

Holding up a hand in front of her face, she saw it trembling; maybe her fever had returned.

Or was it this place?

Tally stretched her arm out farther, and the vibrations in her fingertips increased, itching like an untended sunburn. The air itself was buzzing, growing worse with every centimeter her hand moved toward the dolls. It felt as if her flesh itself were repelled by them.

She gritted her teeth and took a defiant step forward, but the buzzing swarmed into her head, blurring her vision again. Her throat gagged on her next breath, as if the air were too electrified to breathe.

Tally staggered back from the dolls, sinking to her knees once the sound had faded. Tingles still ran across her skin, like a horde of ants swarming under her clothes. She tried to move farther, but her body refused.

Then she smelled Andrew again. His strong hands lifted her from the ground, and as he half-carried and half-dragged her away from the line of dolls, the riot of sensations slowly faded.

Tally shook her head, trying to clear the vibrating echoes. Her whole body was quivering inside.

"That buzzing, Andrew ... I feel like I swallowed a beehive."

"Yes. Buzzing, like bees." Andrew nodded, staring at his own hands.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she cried.

"But I did. I told you of the little men. I said you could not pass."

Tally scowled. "You could have been more specific."

He frowned, then shrugged. "It's the edge of the world. It has always been this way. How could you not know?"

She groaned in frustration, then sighed. Looking up at the closest doll, Tally finally noticed what she'd missed before. It seemed to be made of twigs and dried flowers -  natural materials - but it showed no signs of weathering. All of the dolls Tally could see looked brand new, not like handmade things that had hung for days in a torrential downpour. Unless someone had replaced every single one of them since the rains, the dolls were made of something hardier than twigs.

Something like plastic, maybe.

And inside them was something far more sophisticated, a security system powerful enough to cripple human beings, but clever enough not to harm the trees or the birds. Something that attacked the human nervous system, drawing an impassable border around the villagers' world.

Tally saw it then, why the Specials could allow the village to exist. This wasn't just a few stray people living in the wilderness; it was someone's pet anthropology project, a preserve of some kind. Or

... what had the Rusties called them?

This was a reservation.

And Tally was trapped inside.

OLY DAY

"You don't have a way across?" Andrew finally asked.

Tally sighed, shaking her head. Her outstretched fingers felt the tingling here, as they had every other spot she'd tried over the last hour. The line of dolls stretched unbroken as far as she could see, and all of them seemed to be in perfect working order.

She stepped back from the edge of the world, and the prickling in her hands subsided. After her first experience, Tally hadn't tested the barrier further than the tingling stage -  once was enough for that - but she was fairly certain that all the other dolls had just as much punch as the one that had brought her to her knees. City machines could last a long time, and there was plenty of solar power up there in the trees.

"No. There's no way."

"I did not think so," Andrew said.

"You sound disappointed."

"I'd hoped you might show me...what is beyond."

She frowned. "I thought you didn't believe me, about there being more."

Andrew shook his head vigorously. "I believe you, Tally. Well, not about the airless void and gravity, but there must be something beyond. The city where you live must be real."

"Lived," she corrected him, sticking her fingers out again. The tingling traveled through them, feeling uncannily as if she'd sat on her hand for an hour or so. Tally stepped back and rubbed her arm.

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