Page 20 of Specials (Uglies 3)

He chuckled. "Sorry to take advantage of your better nature."

"My what?"

In the corner of her eye, Tally saw him smile. "You were protecting us that first day, weren't you?

Moving the hoverboards out of sight?"

"Yeah. A warden was about to spot you. Bubbleheads."

"Thought so. That's why I figured you'd help out again. Our own personal protector."

Tally swallowed. "Yeah, great. It's nice to be appreciated."

"So is it just you?"

"Yeah, I'm all alone." It was true now, after all.

"You're not supposed to be out here, are you?"

"You mean am I disobeying orders? Afraid so."

Zane nodded. "I knew you and Shay had some trick up your sleeves, letting me go. I mean, you didn't really expect me to use that tracker." He reached out and took her arm, his fingers pale against the dull gray of the sneak suit. "But how are you following us, Tally? It's not something inside me, is it?"

"No, Zane. You're clean. I'm just staying close, watching you every minute. Eight city kids in the wild aren't very hard to spot, after all." She shrugged, still staring out into the crashing waves. "I can smell you too."

"Oh." He laughed. "Not too bad yet, I hope."

She shook her head. "I've been in the wild before, Zane. I've smelled worse. But why didn't you

... ?" She turned toward him but lowered her gaze, focusing on the zipper of his jacket. "You set a trap for me, but didn't mention it to the other Crims?"

"I didn't want to panic everybody." Zane shrugged. "If a whole bunch of Specials were following us, there wasn't much they could do about it. And if it was just you, I didn't want the others to know.

They wouldn't understand."

"Understand what?" Tally said softly.

"That this whole trip wasn't a trap," he continued. "That it was just you. Protecting us."

She swallowed - of course, it had been a trap. But what was it now? Just a joke? A pointless waste of time? Shay, Dr. Cable, and the rest of Special Circumstances were probably already waiting for them at the Smoke.

He squeezed her arm. "It's changing you again, isn't it?"

"What is?"

"The wild. That's what you always said - traveling to the Smoke that first time, it's what made you what you are."

Tally turned away to stare out at the ocean, tasting its salt in her mouth. Zane was right - the wild was changing her again. Every time she crossed the wilderness alone, the beliefs the city had instilled in her were shaken up. But this time around, Tally's realizations weren't making her particularly happy. "I'm not sure what I am anymore, Zane. Sometimes I think I'm nothing but what other people have done to me - a big collection of brainwashing, surgeries, and cures." She looked down at her scarred hand, the tattoos flickering brokenly across her palm. "That, and all the mistakes I've made. All the people I've disappointed."

He traced the scar with a quivering fingertip; she closed her hand and looked away. "If that were true, Tally, you wouldn't be out here now. Disobeying orders."

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty good at the disobeying part."

"Look at me, Tally."

"Zane, I'm not sure if that's a good idea." She swallowed. "You see ..."

"I know. I saw your face that night. I've noticed how you haven't looked at me. It makes perfect sense that Dr. Cable would pull something like that - Specials think everyone else is worthless, right?"

Tally shrugged, not wanting to explain that it was worse with Zane than anyone else. Partly because of the way she'd felt about him before, the contrast between now and then. And partly ... the other thing.

"Try, Tally," he said.

She turned away, almost wishing for a moment that she wasn't special, that her eyes weren't so perfectly tuned to capture every detail of his infirmity That her mind hadn't been turned against everything random and average and...crippled.

"I can't, Zane."

"Yes you can."

"What? So you're an expert on Specials now?"

"No. But remember David?"

"David?" She glared at the sea. "What about him?"

"Didn't he once tell you that you were beautiful?"

A chill went through her. "Yeah, back in ugly days. But how did you ... ?" Then Tally remembered their last escape, how Zane had gotten to the Rusty Ruins a week before her. He and David had had plenty of time to get to know each other before she'd finally shown up. "He told you about that?"

Zane shrugged. "He'd seen how pretty I was. And I guess he was hoping that you could still see him, the way you had back in the Old Smoke."

Tally shuddered, a rush of old memories sweeping through her: that night two operations ago when David had looked at her ugly face - thin lips and frizzy hair and squashed-down nose - and said that she was beautiful. She'd tried to explain how it couldn't be true, how biology wouldn't let it be true...

But still he'd called her beautiful, even when she was ugly.

That was the moment that Tally's whole world had started to unravel. That was the first time she'd switched sides.

She felt an unexpected ping of pity for poor, random-faced David. Raised a Smokey, he'd never had the operation, hadn't even seen any city pretties back then. So of course he might think that ugly Tally Youngblood would be okay to look at.

But after she'd been turned pretty, Tally had given herself up to Dr. Cable just to stay with Zane, and had pushed David away.

"That's not why I chose you, Zane. Not because of your face. It's because of what you and I did together - how we freed ourselves. You know that, right?"

"Of course. So what's wrong with you now?"

"What do you mean?"

"Listen, Tally. When David saw how beautiful you were, he took on five million years of evolution. He saw past your imperfect skin and asymmetry and everything else our genes select against."

Zane held out his hand. "And now you can't even look at me just because I'm shaking a little?"

She stared at his sickening, quivering fingers. "It's worse than being a bubblehead, Zane.

Bubbleheads are just clueless, but Specials are ... single-minded about some things. But at least I'm trying to fix the situation. Why do you think I'm out here following you?"

"You want to take me back to the city, don't you?"

She groaned. "What's the alternative? Having Maddy try one of her half-baked cures?"

"The alternative is inside you, Tally. This isn't about my brain damage; it's about yours." He slid closer, and she closed her eyes. "You freed yourself once before. You beat the pretty lesions. In the beginning, all it took was a kiss."

She felt the heat of his body next to her, smelled the campfire smoke on his skin. She turned away, eyes still shut tight. "But it's different being special - it isn't just some little piece of my brain. It's my whole body. It's the way I see the world."

"Right. You're so special no one can touch you."

"Zane ..."

"You're so special you have to cut yourself just to feel anything."

She shook her head. "I don't do that anymore."

"So you can change!"

"But that doesn't mean ..." She opened her eyes.

Zane's face was centimeters from hers, his gaze intense. And somehow the wild had changed him, too - his eyes no longer looked watery and average to her. His stare was almost icy.

Almost special.

She leaned closer...and their lips met, warm in the chill of the outcrop's shadow. The roar of the waves filled her ears, drowning out her nervous heartbeat.

She slid closer, hands pushing inside his clothes. She wanted to be out of the sneak suit, no longer alone, no longer invisible. Arms around him, she squeezed tight, hearing his breath catch as her lethal hands gripped harder. Her senses brought her everything about him: his heart pulsing softly in his throat, the taste of his mouth, the unwashed scent of him cut by the salt spray.

But then his fingers brushed her cheek, and Tally felt their trembling.

No, she said silently.

The tremors were soft, almost nothing, as faint as the echoes of rain falling a kilometer away. But they were everywhere, on the skin of his face, in the muscles of his arms around her, in his lips against hers - his whole body shivering like a littlie's in the cold. And suddenly Tally could see inside him: his damaged nervous system, the corrupted connections between body and brain.

She tried to blot the image from her mind, but it only grew clearer. She was designed to spot weaknesses, after all, to take advantage of the frailties and flaws of randoms. Not ignore them.

Tally tried to pull away a little, but Zane's grip on her arm tightened, as if he thought he could hold her there. She broke the kiss and opened her eyes, glaring down at the pale fingers grasping her, a sudden, unstoppable flash of anger rising.

"Tally, wait," he said. "We can - "

But he hadn't let go. Rage and disgust filled her, and Tally sent a flutter of razor spines rolling across her sneak suit. Zane cried out and pulled back, his fingers and palms bleeding.

She rolled away, springing to her feet and running. She'd kissed him, let herself be touched by him - someone unspecial and barely average. Someone crippled...

Bile rose in her throat, as if the memory of kissing him was trying to tear itself free of her body.

She stumbled and fell to one knee, her stomach heaving, the world spinning.

"Tally!" He was coming after her.

"Don't!" She raised one hand, not daring to look up at him. Breathing in the cold, pure sea air, the nausea was beginning to pass. But not if he got any closer.

"Are you okay?"

"Does it look like I'm okay?" A wave of shame whipped through Tally. What had she done? "I just can't, Zane."

She pulled herself up and ran toward the ocean, away from him. The outcrop ended on a chalky cliff, but Tally didn't slow down...

She jumped, barely clearing the rocks below, hitting the waves with a slap, diving down into the icy embrace of the water. The churning ocean spun her around, almost dumping her back on the jagged shore, but Tally pulled herself deeper with a few powerful strokes, until her hands brushed the dark and sandy bottom. The roiling water began to fall back, shifting into a riptide around her. It pulled Tally outward, rumbling in her ears, erasing her thoughts.

She held her breath, letting the ocean claim her.

A minute later Tally let herself break the surface, gasping for air. She was half a kilometer from where she'd started, well offshore and being carried south by the current.

Zane was at the cliff's edge, scanning the water for her, his bleeding hands wrapped in his jacket.

After what she'd done, Tally couldn't face him, didn't even want to be seen by him. She wanted to disappear.

She drew down her hood and let the suit take on the rippling silver of the water, let herself be pulled farther away.

Finally, when he'd gone back to camp, Tally swam toward shore.


After that, the journey seemed to take forever.

Some days, she became convinced the position-finder was nothing but a Smokey trick leading them around the wild forever: crippled Zane struggling to make it through the long nights of travel; psycho Tally alone inside her sneak suit, detached and invisible. Both of them in separate hells.

She wondered how Zane felt about her now. After what had happened, he must have realized how weak she really was: Dr. Cable's feared fighting machine undone by a kiss, sickened by something as simple as a quivering hand.

The memory of it made her want to cut herself, to tear at her own flesh until she had become something different inside. Something less special, more human. But she didn't want to go back to cutting after telling Zane she'd stopped. It would be like breaking a promise to him.