Page 25 of Specials (Uglies 3)

Time slowed down, until she saw an opening in his predictable attack. She lashed out with a well-aimed kick that knocked one of the injectors from his hands.

By now the sneak suit had detected Tally's rush of adrenalin; its scales rippled across her, hardening to armored mode. She rolled to her feet, throwing herself straight at Fausto. His next swing made contact with her elbow, the suit's armor crushing the injector, and Tally landed a blow on his cheek with an open palm. He stumbled backward, his tattoos spinning wildly.

A flicker of sound from the darkness caught Tally's ear - something headed her way through the air. Her infrared overlay fell into place, senses expanding as she dropped again to the ground. A dozen glowing figures appeared in the trees, half of them in archers' stances.

The flutter of feathers passed overhead - arrows with needle tips glittering - but Tally was already scrambling back toward the mass of the party. She scrambled through the crowd, knocking down runaways around her, creating a barrier of fallen bystanders. Beer spilled across her, and startled cries filled the air over the music.

Tally sprang to her feet and weaved her way deeper into the crowd. There were Smokies in all directions, figures that moved confidently among the baffled runaways, enough to overwhelm her with sheer numbers. Of course, dozens of the Smokies must be here at the Overlook; they had made Diego their home base. All they needed was one hit with an injector, and the chase would be over.

She'd been a fool to let her guard down, to walk around gawking at this city like a tourist. And now she was caught...trapped between her enemies and the cliff that gave the Overlook its name.

Tally ran toward the darkness at its edge.

She passed through an open space and more arrows flew at her, but she ducked and blocked and rolled, all of her senses and reflexes engaged. With every seamless movement Tally became more certain she didn't want to become like Fausto - only half a Special, flat and empty, cured.

She was almost there.

"Tally, wait!" Fausto's voice came over the network. He sounded breathless. "You haven't got a bungee jacket!"

She smiled. "Don't need one."


A last volley of arrows flew, but Tally dropped beneath them, another roll taking her almost to the edge. She leaped up and threw herself between two runaways staring down onto their new home, into the empty air...

"Are you crazy?" Fausto shouted.

She fell, staring out at the lights of Diego. The pale cliff-face rushed past, gridded with metal to keep climbers' harnesses aloft. Directly below Tally was the darkness of more parkland, lit only with a few lampposts, probably studded with trees and other things to be impaled on.

Angling her hands in the wind, Tally spun herself around in midair to peer back up at her pursuers, a row of silhouettes arriving one by one on the cliff's edge. None of them had jumped after her - too confident in their ambush to have brought bungee jackets. They'd have hoverboards somewhere close by, of course. But by the time they could get to them, it would be too late.

Tally turned herself around again, facing the ground for the last few seconds of the fall, waiting...

At the last moment she hissed, "Hey, Fausto, how's this for crazy? Crash bracelets."

It hurt like hell.

Over a city grid, bracelets could stop a fall, but they were designed for tumbles from cruising height, not cliff-jumping. They didn't distribute the force across your entire body like a well-strapped bungee jacket, just grabbed you by both wrists, swinging you in tight circles until your momentum was expended.

Tally had taken some bad spills back in ugly days -  shoulder-wrenching, wrist-spraining doozies that made her wish she'd never set foot on a hoverboard, crashes that felt like an unfriendly giant were ripping her arms out of her sockets.

But nothing had ever hurt like this.

The crash bracelets kicked in five meters before she struck the ground. No warning, no smooth buildup from the magnetics. It felt like Tally had tied two cables to her wrists, just long enough to snap her to a halt at the last possible moment.

Her wrists and shoulders screamed with pain, the sensation so sudden and extreme that blackness washed over her mind for a moment. But then her special brain chemistry shoved her back to consciousness, forcing Tally to face the clamoring of her injured body.

She was twirling by her wrists, the landscape whirling around and around, her wild momentum sending the whole city spinning. With every rotation her agony grew, until finally Tally slowed to a halt, the force of her fall expended, the bracelets lowering her slowly and painfully to the ground.

Her feet were unsteady underneath her, the grass mockingly soft. A few trees stood close by, and she heard the sounds of a stream. Her arms dropped to her sides, hanging useless and burning with pain.

"Tally?" Fausto's voice came, close in her ears. "Are you okay?"

"What do you think?" she hissed at him, then turned her skintenna off. That's how the Smokies had known where she was, of course. With Fausto on their side, they could have been tracking her since the first moment she'd arrived in town...

Which meant they also would have spotted Shay. Had they gotten her already? Tally hadn't seen her among the pursuers...

She took a few more steps, every movement sending waves of agony through her injured shoulders. Tally wondered if her ceramic bones had been shattered, the monofilament muscles damaged beyond repair.

She gritted her teeth, straining to lift one hand. The simple motion hurt so much that Tally gasped aloud, and when she closed her fingers the grip felt pathetically weak. But at least her body was still responding to her will.

This was no time to congratulate herself for making a fist, though. The Smokies would be here soon, and if any of them had the guts to jump off the cliff on a hoverboard, she didn't have much time.

Tally ran toward the nearby trees, every step sending a jolt of pain through her. In the dark foliage, she set her sneak suit to camouflage mode. Even the rippling of its scales across her wrists and shoulders felt like fire.

The buzz of repair nanos had started up, a tingling all down her arms, but as bad as her injuries were, they would take hours to heal. She reached up, both arms screaming in pain, to pull the sneak-suit hood over her head. She almost blacked out, but again Tally's special brain kept her conscious.

Panting, she stumbled toward a tree whose lowest branches were close to the ground. She jumped up, landing unsteadily on one foot, and leaned against the trunk, gasping for breath. After a long moment she started the arduous process of climbing higher without using her hands, stepping from one branch to the next, grippy-soled shoes scrabbling to stay on.

It was slow and painful going, her teeth gritted and heart racing. But Tally somehow managed to push herself upward slowly. One meter higher, then another...

Her eyes caught a flicker of infrared through the leaves, and she froze.

A hoverboard was moving silently past, exactly at her eye level. She could see the glowing rider's head swivel from side to side, listening for any sound among the treetops.

Tally's breath slowed, and she allowed herself a grim smile. The Smokies had expected Fausto, their tamed Special, to bag her for them - they hadn't even bothered with sneak suits. This time around, she was the invisible one.

Of course, the fact that the invisible one couldn't lift her arms kind of evened things out.

Finally the pain had been replaced by the buzz of nanos gathering in her shoulders, starting on their repairs and squirting anesthetic around. As long as she didn't move too much, the little machines would keep the agony down to a dull ache.

In the distance, Tally heard other searchers bashing at the leaves, thinking they could flush her out like a flock of birds. But the closest Smokey was hunting quietly, listening and watching. The rider stood in profile, head still moving slowly from side to side, scanning the trees. Its silhouette revealed infrared glasses.

Tally smiled to herself. Night vision wasn't going to work any better than banging at the trees. But then the figure froze, staring right at her. The hoverboard slid to a halt.

Barely moving her head, Tally glanced down at herself. What was showing?

Then she saw it. After all the days she'd lived in the sneak suit, all the thrills and spills she'd put it through...finally, that one last leap from the Overlook had done it in.

On her right shoulder, the seam had split. It glowed almost white in infrared, heat from her metabolism gushing out like sunlight.

The figure slid closer through the air, slow and cautious.

"Hey," she called nervously. "I think I've got something here."

"What is it?" came the answer.

Tally recognized the answering voice. David, she thought, a little shiver going through her. So close to him, and Tally could hardly make a fist.

The Smokey girl paused, still staring right at Tally. "There's a hot spot in this tree. Baseball-size."

Laughter came from David's way, and someone else shouted, "Probably just a squirrel."

"Way too hot for a squirrel. Unless it's on fire."

Tally waited, squeezing her eyes closed and willing her body to slow down, to stop generating so much energy. But the Smokey girl had got it right: Between the racing engine of her heart and the nanos busily repairing her shoulders, Tally felt like she was on fire.

She tried to move her left hand up to cover the rip, but her muscles would no longer respond. All she could do was stand there and try not to move.

More glowing figures glided her way.

"David!" someone else called from the distance. "They're coming!"

He swore, spinning his hoverboard in midair. "They won't be happy with us. Come on, let's get out of here!"

The girl who'd spotted her let out a frustrated snort, then banked her board and shot away after him. The other Smokies trailed behind the two, flitting through the leafy treetops and into the distance.

Who's coming? Tally wondered. Why had they just left her here? Who were the Smokies afraid of in Diego?

Then the sound of running feet came through the forest, and Tally saw flashes of bright yellow on the ground. She'd seen that exact color in the uniforms of safety workers and wardens earlier today - yellow with bold black stripes, like littlies costumed as bumblebees.

She remembered what Fausto had said, about how the Diego authorities were still in charge, and smiled. They might tolerate the Smokies' presence here, but the wardens probably didn't appreciate kidnapping attempts at parties.

Tally pressed herself harder against the tree trunk, feeling the tear in her sneak suit like a bleeding wound. If they had night vision, they'd spot her just as the Smokies had. Once more, Tally tried to lift her left hand to cover the open seam...

A startling moment of agony sent a wave of dizziness through her, and Tally heard herself utter a racking gasp of pain. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to cry out again.

Suddenly, the world was listing to one side. Tally opened her eyes, realizing too late that one foot had slipped from its branch. Instinctively her hands scrambled for a hold, but the attempt only sent fresh agony through her. And then she was tipping over, out of control and crashing through the tree, injuries wailing as she seemed to hit every branch on the way down.

She landed with a grunt, arms and legs splayed like a dummy thrown to the ground.

A circle of yellow-suited wardens quickly formed around her.

"Don't move!" one said gruffly.

Tally looked up and groaned with frustration. The wardens were unarmed, average middle pretties, nervous as a gaggle of cats surrounding a rabid Doberman. Uninjured, she could have laughed in their faces, danced among them, flicking them over like dominoes.

But as things were, the wardens construed her immobility as surrender.


She woke up in a padded cell.

The place smelled exactly like the big hospital at home: the chemical tang of disinfectant, the unpleasant scent of too many humans who'd been washed by robots instead of taking showers. And somewhere out of sight, Tally detected bedpans quietly stewing.