Page 38 of Pretties (Uglies 2)

David started to speak, but froze for a moment. Then his voice changed, his eyes narrowing.

"You're just staying with him because he's pretty."

Tally's eyes widened. "I'm what?"

"Don't you see it? It's like you always used to say: It's evolution. Since your Crim friends got here, Mom's been explaining to me how prettiness works." He pointed at Zane. "He's got those big, vulnerable eyes, that childlike perfect skin. He looks like a baby to you, a needy child, which makes you want to help him. You're not thinking rationally. You're giving yourself up just because he's pretty!"

Tally stared back at David in disbelief. How dare he say this to her? The mere fact that she was standing here proved that Tally could think for herself.

Then she realized what was going on: David was only repeating Maddy's words. She must have warned him not to trust his feelings when he saw the new Tally. Maddy didn't want her son turning into some awestruck ugly, worshipping the ground Tally walked on. So now David thought that all that Tally could see was Zane's pretty face.

David still thought she was just some city kid. Maybe he didn't even really believe that she was cured. Maybe he'd never really forgiven her.

"It's not the way Zane looks, David," she said, her voice trembling with anger. "It's because he makes me bubbly, and because we took a lot of risks together. It could just as easily be me lying there, and he would stay with me if it was."

"It's just programming!"

"No. It's because I love him."

David started to speak again, but the sound choked off.

She sighed. "Go on, David. Whatever your mother said a second ago, she won't really leave without you. They'll all get caught if you don't start moving now."

"Tally - "

"Go!" she cried. David had to start running, or the New Smoke would die, and it would be her fault again.

"But you can - "

"Get your ugly face out of here!" Tally screamed.

The echoes shuddered back at her from the observatory walls for a moment, and Tally tore her gaze away from David. She cradled Zane's face in one hand and kissed him. The shouted insult had the effect she'd wanted, but Tally couldn't bring herself to look up as she heard David's footsteps retreating into the darkness, first walking, then at a run.

She saw shapes pulsing in the corners of her vision. It wasn't shadows cast by the flickering fire - it was her heart, pounding so hard that she could see the rushing blood beating against her eyes, like something trying to escape.

She had called David ugly. He would never forget that, nor would she.

But she'd had to use that word, Tally told herself. Every second counted, and nothing else would have pushed him away so powerfully. She'd made her choice.

"I'll take care of you, Zane," she said.

He opened his eyes into slits and smiled weakly. "Um, I hope you don't mind if I pretended to pass out for that."

Tally let out a strangled laugh. "Good idea."

"We really can't run? I think I can stand up."

"No. They'd just find us."

He probed at his tooth with his tongue. "Oh, yeah. That sucks. And I almost got everyone else caught too."

She shrugged. "Been there. Done that."

"Are you sure you want to stay with me?"

"I can escape the city again, Zane, anytime I want. I can save you and Shay, and everyone else we left behind. I'm cured for good now." Tally looked at the entrance, saw hoverboards lifting into the air. They were leaving, all of them. She shrugged again. "Besides, I think it's pretty much a done deal.

Running after David now would kind of spoil my brilliant breakup line."

"Yeah, I suppose that's true. " Zane chuckled softly. "Do me a favor, Tally? If you ever break up with me, just leave a note."

She smiled back at him. "Okay. As long as you promise never to put your hand in a crusher again."

"Agreed." Zane looked at his fingers, then made a fist. "I'm scared. I want to stay bubbly."

"You'll be bubbly again. I'll help you."

He nodded, grasping her hand. His voice shook as he said, "Do you think David was right? My big beautiful eyes are why you chose me?"

"No. I think it was...what I said. And what you said, before you jumped off the balloon." She swallowed. "What's your opinion?"

Zane lay back and closed his eyes, and was silent so long that Tally thought he had fallen asleep again. But then he said softly, "You and David could both be right. Maybe humans beings are programmed ... to help one another, even to fall in love. But just because it's human nature doesn't make it bad, Tally. Besides, we had a whole city of pretties to choose from, and we chose each other."

She took his hand and murmured, "I'm glad we did."

Zane smiled, then closed his eyes again. A moment later, she saw his breathing slow, and realized that he had managed to pass out again. At least brain damage had some advantages.

Tally felt the last scraps of energy leave her body, and wished she could sleep too, just spend the next few hours unconscious and wake up in the city - an imprisoned princess again, as if this had all been a dream. She laid her head onto Zane's chest and closed her eyes.

Five minutes later, Special Circumstances arrived.


The scream of hovercars filled the observatory, echoing like the cries of predatory birds.

Whirlwinds from their rotors swept through the crack in the dome, sending the fire into a sudden blaze.

Dust choked the air, and gray forms charged through the entrance, taking up positions in the shadows.

"I need a doctor here," Tally announced in a tentative, pretty voice. "Something's wrong with my friend."

A Special appeared beside her out of the darkness. He held a weapon. "Don't move. We don't want to hurt you, but we will if we have to."

"Just help my friend," she said. "He's sick." The sooner city doctors looked at Zane, the better.

Maybe they could do more than Maddy had.

The Special said something into a handphone, and Tally glanced down at Zane. Fear showed through his slitted eyes.

"It's okay," she said. "They'll help you."

Zane swallowed, and Tally saw his hands trembling, the last of his brave front crumbling now that their captors had arrived.

"I'll make sure you're cured, one way or another," she said.

"A medical team is coming," the Special said, and Tally smiled prettily at him. The city doctors might mistake Zane's condition for some kind of brain disease, or maybe they would figure out that someone had attempted a cure for the lesions, but they would never recognize how Tally had transformed herself. She could pretend that she'd just come along for the ride, as Maddy had put it. Tally was safe from the operation now.

Maybe Zane could be cured again without more pills. Maybe everyone in the city could be changed. After their balloon escape and another "rescue" by the Specials, Tally and Zane would be even more famous. They could start something huge, something the Specials couldn't stop.

A razor-edged voice came through the shadows, and Tally flinched.

"I thought I might find you here, Tally." Dr. Cable came into the light, stretching her fingers toward the fire as though she'd stepped inside to get warm.

"Hi, Dr. Cable. Can you help my friend?"

The woman's wolflike smile gleamed in the dark. "Toothache?"

"Something worse." Tally shook her head. "He can't move, can hardly talk. Something's wrong with him."

More Specials streamed into the observatory, including three carrying a stretcher, wearing blue silk instead of gray. They pushed Tally out of the way and laid the litter down next to Zane. He closed his eyes.

"Don't worry," Dr. Cable said. "He'll be fine. We know all about his condition from your little trip to the hospital. It seems that someone slipped Zane some brain nanos. Very bad for his pretty head."

"You knew he was sick?" Tally stood up. "Why didn't you fix him?"

Dr. Cable patted her shoulder. "We brought the nanos to a halt. But the little implant in his tooth was programmed to give him headaches - false symptoms to keep you motivated."

"You were playing with us ... ," Tally said, watching as the Specials took Zane away.

Dr. Cable was looking around the observatory. "I wanted to see what you were up to and where you would go. I thought you might lead us to those responsible for young Zanes illness." She frowned. "I was going to wait a bit longer to activate the tracker, but after you were so rude to my good friend Dr.

Valen this morning, I thought we should come out and bring you home. You certainly know how to cause trouble."

Tally stayed silent, her mind racing. The tracker in Zane's tooth had been activated remotely, but not until the other scientists had discovered Dr. Valen. Once again, Tally had brought Specials along with her.

"We wanted a car to get away," she said, trying to sound pretty. "But we got lost."

"Yes, we found it in the ruins. But I don't think you made it all the way here on foot. Who helped you, Tally?"

She shook her head. "No one."

A Special in gray silk appeared beside Cable and gave a quick report. His razored voice made Tally's flesh crawl, but she couldn't make out any of the muttered words.

"Send the youngsters after them," Dr. Cable ordered, then turned to Tally. "No one, you say?

What about the cooking fires and hunting snares and latrines? Quite a few people were camped here, it seems, and they left not long ago." She shook her head. "Pity we didn't get here quicker."

"You won't catch them," Tally said with a pretty smile.

"Won't we?" Dr. Cable's teeth gleamed red in the firelight. "We've got a few new tricks ourselves, Tally."

The doctor turned and strode toward the entrance. When Tally tried to follow, a Special took her shoulder in a grip of iron and sat her down by the fire. Shouted orders and the sounds of more hovercars landing filtered into the dome, but Tally gave up trying to see what was going on through the entrance, and stared at the flames unhappily.

Now that Zane had been taken away, Tally only felt defeated. She'd been played perfectly by Dr. Cable again, tricked into finding the New Smoke, almost betraying everyone one more time. And after her last words, David probably hated her now.

But at least Fausto and the other Crims had escaped the city, hopefully for good. They and the New Smokies had the benefit of a few minutes' head start. They couldn't outrun the Specials' cars in a straight line, but their hoverboards were more nimble. Without Zane's tracker to give them away, they could simply disappear into the surrounding forest. Tally and Zane's rebellion had swelled the ranks of the New Smokies by a couple of dozen members. And now that the cure had been tested, they could bring it to the city, and to other cities, and eventually everyone would be free.

Maybe the city hadn't won, this time.

And being caught might be the best thing for Zane. The city doctors would be better able to treat him than a band of outlaws on the run. Tally focused her mind on how she would help him recover, making him bubbly all over again if she had to.

Maybe she would start with a kiss...

An hour or so after the Specials had first arrived, the fire had burned low, and Tally began to feel the cold again. As she turned up her jacket's heater, a shadow moved in the red shaft of sunset that slanted through the dome's opening.

Tally started. It was someone coming down on a hover-board. Was it David returning to save her? She shook her head. Maddy would never let him.

"We got a couple of them," a harsh voice called from the board. The gray silk of Special uniforms fluttered in the gloom - two more figures descending through the crack in the dome. The hoverboards were longer than normal, with lifting fans built into their front and back ends. Their rotors stirred the embers of the fire.