He nodded. "Of course, Young Blood. Just speak the magic word."
Tally blinked. "A magic word? Andrew, it's me. I may not know any magic words, but I've been trying to get to the Smoke since you met me."
"True. But I've made a promise." He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "What happened to you, Young Blood, after you left? When I reached the ruins, I told the Smokies how you had appeared to us. They said the city had taken you away again. Had done things to you." He gestured at her face. "Is that another fashion statement?"
Tally sighed, looking into his eyes. He was just a random, and a particularly random random at that, with his uneven teeth and spotty, never-washed skin. But for some reason, she didn't want to lie to Andrew Simpson Smith. For one thing, it seemed way too easy, tricking someone who couldn't even read, who'd spent all but the last few weeks of his life trapped in an experiment.
"Your heart is beating fast, Young Blood."
Tally's hand went to her face, which was no doubt spinning. Andrew hadn't forgotten how flash tattoos revealed excitement and distress. Maybe it was pointless to lie to him. Instincts that could detect someone in a sneak suit were not to be underestimated.
She decided to tell the truth. The part that was important to her, anyway.
"Let me show you something, Andrew," she said, peeling off her right glove. She held out her palm, the short-circuited flash tattoos sputtering in time with her heartbeat in the moonlight. "See those two scars? They're marks of my love ... for Zane."
He stared at her hand wide-eyed, nodding slowly "I've never seen scars on your people before.
Your skin is always...perfect."
"Yeah. We only have scars if we want to, so they always mean something. These mean that I love Zane. He's the one who looked unwell, kind of shaky? I need to follow him, to make sure he's okay out here."
Andrew nodded slowly. "And he's too proud to accept the help of a woman?"
Tally shrugged. The villagers were pretty much Stone Age about the whole gender thing, too.
"Well, let's just say he doesn't exactly want my help right now."
"I was not too proud when you taught me about the world." He smiled. "Maybe I'm smarter than Zane."
"Maybe you are." She made a fist with her bare hand. The ridges of scarring across her palm still felt stiff. "I'm asking you to break your promise, Andrew, and tell me where they're headed. I think I can cure Zane of his shakes. And I'm worried about him being out here with a bunch of city kids. They don't understand the wild like you and I do."
He still stared at her hand, thinking hard. Then his eyes raised to meet hers. "Without you, I'd still be trapped inside a false world. I want to trust you, Young Blood."
Tally forced herself to smile. "So you'll tell me where the New Smoke is?"
"I don't know. It's too big a secret for me. But I can give you a way." He reached into a pouch at his belt and withdrew a handful of tiny chips.
"Position-finders," Tally said softly. "With a route programmed in?"
"Yes. This one brought me here to meet these young runaways. And this one will lead you to the New Smoke. Do you know how it works?" Andrew's calloused, grubby forefinger hovered over the boot button of one of the finders, and there was an eager look on his face.
"Yeah, no problem. I've used them before." Tally smiled back at him, reaching for the device.
He pulled it away. She looked up, hoping she wouldn't have to take it by force.
His fist stayed closed. "Do you still challenge the gods, Young Blood?"
Tally frowned. Andrew knew that she had changed, but how much?
"Answer me," he said, his eyes bright in the moonlight.
She took a moment before answering. Andrew Simpson Smith wasn't like the non-Specials in the city, the blank-eyed mass of uglies and pretties. Living in the wild had made him more like her: a hunter, a warrior, a survivor. With the scars of a dozen fights and accidents, he almost looked like a Cutter.
Somehow, Tally didn't see Andrew as wallpaper. Whether or not she could deceive him, she realized now that she didn't want to.
"Do I still challenge the gods?" Tally thought of what she and Shay had done the night before, breaking into the city's most guarded facility and practically destroying it in the process. They had set off on their own without telling Dr. Cable their true plans. And this whole journey was, for Tally at least, more about fixing Zane than winning the city's war against the Smoke.
The Cutters might be Specials, but over the last few days Tally Youngblood had reverted to her own nature: thoroughly Crim.
"Yes. I still challenge them," she said softly, realizing that it was true.
"Good." He grinned, relieved, and handed her the position-finder. "Go then, follow your boyfriend. And tell the New Smoke that Andrew Simpson Smith was very helpful."
As Tally made her way back down the river, she held the position-finder tightly in her scarred hand, thinking hard.
Once she told Shay about her encounter with Andrew Simpson Smith, the plan would change.
With the finder the two of them could fly ahead of the slow-moving runaways, reaching the New Smoke long before Zane and his crew. By the time the Crims arrived, their destination would be a Special Circumstances encampment, full of imprisoned Smokies and recaptured runaways. Showing up after the rebellion had already been crushed wouldn't make Zane look very bubbly.
Worse, he'd be out here on his own for the rest of the trip, with only his Crim friends to help if something went seriously wrong. One bad fall from his hoverboard and Zane might not survive to see the New Smoke at all.
But how much would Shay care about all that? What she really wanted was to find the New Smoke, save Fausto, and get her revenge on David and the rest of them. Babysitting Zane wasn't her idea of an important mission goal.
Tally slowed to a stop, suddenly wishing she hadn't run into Andrew Simpson Smith at all.
Of course, Shay didn't know about the position-finder yet. Maybe she didn't need to know. If they stuck with the original plan, tracking the Crims the old-fashioned way, Tally could save the finder as a backup in case they lost the trail...
She opened her hand, looking down at the finder and at her scars, wishing for some of the clarity she'd felt the night before. She thought of drawing her knife, but remembered the expression on Zane's face as he stared at her scars.
It wasn't that she needed to cut herself, after all.
Tally closed her eyes, willing herself to think clearly.
Back in ugly days, Tally had always wimped out on decisions like this one. She'd always avoided any confrontation. That's how she'd wound up betraying the Old Smoke by accident, too afraid to tell anyone about the tracker she carried. And how she'd lost David, by never telling him she'd been a spy.
Lying to Shay now was what the old Tally would have done.
She took a deep breath. She was special now; she had clarity and strength. This time, she would tell Shay the truth.
Closing her fist, Tally urged her board forward again.
Ten kilometers upriver, her skintenna pinged as it picked up Shay's.
"I was getting worried about you, Tally-wa."
"Sorry, Boss. I ran into an old friend."
"Really? Anyone I know?"
"You never met him. Remember my campfire stories about the Restricted Experimental Area?
The Smokies have started freeing the villagers and training them to help with runaways."
"That's crazy!" Shay paused. "But wait a second. You knew him? He was from the same village you stumbled into?"
"Yeah, and I'm afraid it's no coincidence, Shay-la. It's the holy man who helped me, remember? I told him where the Rusty Ruins were. He was the first to escape, and he's an honorary Smokey now."
Shay whistled in amazement. "Very random, Tally. So how was he supposed to help the Crims?
Teach them to skin rabbits?"
"He's sort of a guide. Runaways give him a code word, and he gives them position-finders that lead you to the Smoke." She took a deep breath. "And for old times' sake, he gave me one too."
By the time Tally caught up with Shay, the Crims had made camp.
Tally watched from the darkness as one by one they made their way to the river's edge, dipping their purifiers into the silty water. She and Shay had hidden themselves downwind, and smells of self-heating food packs drifted from the runaways' camp. Tally vividly remembered all the tastes and textures from her own days in the wild, catching the scents of CurryNoods, PadThai, and the hated SpagBol on the breeze. Her ears picked up snatches of the Crims' still-excited chatter as they prepared to sleep the 'day' away.
"They did a good job on this thing - it won't tell me the final destination." Shay was playing with the position-finder. "It only gives you one waypoint at a time; it waits till you get there to give you the next one. We'll have to follow the whole path to find out where it ends." She snorted. "It'll probably take us the scenic route." Tally cleared her throat. "It won't be us, Shay-la." Shay looked up. "What's that, Tally?"
"I'm staying with the Crims. With Zane."
"Tally...that's a waste of time. We can travel twice as fast as they can."
"I know." She turned to face Shay. "But I'm not going to leave Zane out here with a bunch of city kids. Not in his condition."
Shay groaned. "Tally-wa, you're so pathetic. Don't you have any faith in him? Don't you keep telling me how special he is?"
"It's not about being special. This is the wild, Shay-la. Anything can happen: accidents, dangerous animals, his condition getting worse. You go ahead alone. Or call the rest of the Cutters - you won't have to worry about getting spotted, after all. But I'm staying close to Zane."
Shay's eyes narrowed. "Tally...this is not your choice. I'm giving you an order."
"After what we did last night?" Tally let out a choked laugh. "It's a little late to lecture me about the chain of command, Shay-la."
"This isn't about the chain of command, Tally!" Shay cried. "This is about the Cutters. About Fausto. You're choosing those bubbleheads over us?"
Tally shook her head. "I'm choosing Zane."
"But you have, to come with me. You promised you'd stop making trouble!"
"Shay, I promised that if they made Zane special, I'd stop trying to change things. And I'll keep that promise, once he's a Cutter. But until then ..." Tally tried to smile. "What are you going to do?
Report me to Dr. Cable?"
Shay let out a long hiss. Her hands were curled into fighting position, her teeth bared to show their points. She jerked her chin at the runaways. "What I'm going to do, Tally-wa, is go over there and tell Zane that he's a joke, a dupe, and that you've been tricking him - laughing at him. Let him run home scared while we end the Smoke forever, and see if he ever becomes a Special then!"
Tally clenched her own fists, holding Shay's gaze. Zane had already paid enough for her lack of courage; she had to stand her ground this time. Her mind spun for an answer to Shay's threat.
A moment later she saw it, and shook her head. "You can't do that, Shay-la. You don't know where that finder leads. It could take you to another test of some kind - not some barbarian, but a Smokey who'll know what you are, and who won't give you the next set of directions." Tally gestured at the runaways. "One of us has to stay with them. Just in case."
Shay spat on the ground. "You don't give a damn about Fausto, do you? He's probably being experimented on right now, and you want to waste time tracking these bubbleheads!"