Page 26 of Specials (Uglies 3)

But most hospital rooms didn't have padded walls, and they weren't missing a door. Probably that was hidden under the padding somewhere, seamlessly fitted. Soft light in mixed pastel colors, probably meant to be soothing, filtered down from filaments sprinkled across the high ceiling.

Tally sat up and flexed her arms, rubbing her shoulders. The muscles were stiff and achy, but their usual strength had returned. Whatever the wardens had used to knock her out had kept her unconscious for some time. Shay had broken Tally's hand in training once to demonstrate how her self-repair worked, and it had taken hours to feel right again.

Tally kicked the bedcovers off with her feet, then looked down at herself and muttered, "You've got to be kidding."

They'd replaced her sneak suit with a thin, disposable nightgown covered with pink flowers.

Tally got up and tore it off, crumpling the garment into a ball. Dropping it to the floor, she kicked it under the bed. Better to be naked than look ridiculous.

Actually, it felt heavenly to be out of the sneak suit at last. The scales might transport sweat and dead skin cells to its surface, but nothing beat taking a real shower now and then. Tally rubbed at her skin, wondering if she could get one in this place.

"Hello?" she said to the room.

When no answer came, she peered more closely at the wall. The fabric of the padding glittered with a hexagonal pattern of micro-lenses, thousands of tiny cameras woven into it. The doctors could watch anything she did from any angle.

"Come on, guys, I know you can hear me," Tally said aloud, then made a fist and punched the wall as hard as she could.

"Ouch." She swore a few times, waving her hand in the air. The padding had helped a little, but the wall behind it was made of something harder than wood or stone - solid construction ceramic, probably. Tally wasn't going to break out of here bare-handed.

She returned to the bed and sat down, rubbing her fingers and letting out a sigh.

"Please be careful, young lady," a voice said. "You'll hurt yourself."

Tally glanced at her hand. The knuckles weren't even red. "Just wanted to get your attention."

"Attention? Hmm. Is that what this is all about?"

Tally groaned. If anything was more annoying than being sealed up in a wacko chamber, it was being talked to like a littlie who'd been caught chucking a stink bomb. The voice sounded deep and calming and generic, like some therapy drone. She imagined a committee of doctors behind the wall, typing in answers for the soothing computer voice to speak.

"Actually, this is about my room not having a door," she said. "Did I break a law or something?"

"You are being held under controlled observation, as a possible danger to yourself and others."

Tally rolled her eyes. When she got out of here, she was going to be a lot more than a possible danger. But she only said, "Who, me?"

"You jumped off the Overlook Cliff with inadequate equipment, for starters."

Tally's mouth dropped open. "You're saying that was my fault? I was just talking to an old friend of mine, and suddenly all these random nutcases with bows and arrows started shooting at me. What was I supposed to do? Stand around and get kidnapped?"

The voice paused. "We are reviewing video of the incident. We admit, however, that there are certain immigrant elements here in Diego who can be difficult. We apologize. They've never behaved this badly before. Rest assured that mediation is taking place."

"Mediation? Like, you're talking to them about it? Why don't you lock a few of them up, instead of me? After all, I'm the victim here."

There was another pause. "That remains to be determined. May I ask your name, city of origin, and exactly how you know this 'old friend' of yours?"

Tally felt the bedcovers between her fingers. Like the wall padding, they were woven through with microsensors, greedy little machines to measure her heart rate, sweat, and galvanic skin response.

She took a few slow breaths, getting her anger under control. If she stayed focused, they could polygraph her all day without detecting a flicker of a lie.

"My name's Tally," she said carefully. "I ran away from up north. I heard you guys were nice to runaways."

"We welcome immigrants. Under the New System, we allow anyone to apply for Diego citizenship."

"'The New System'? Is that what you call this?" Tally rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well the New System sucks if you lock people up just for running away from psychos. Did I mention the bows and arrows?"

"Rest assured, you are not under observation because of any of your actions, Tally. We're more concerned with certain morphological violations."

Despite her focus, a nervous flicker ran down Tally's spine. "My what?"

"Tally, your body has been constructed around a reinforced ceramic skeleton. Your fingernails and teeth have been weaponized, your muscles and reflex centers significantly augmented."

With a sickening feeling, Tally realized what the wardens had done. Thinking she was seriously hurt, they'd brought her to the hospital for deep scanning, and what the doctors had found had made the authorities very nervous.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about," she said, trying to sound innocent.

"There are also certain structures in your higher cortex, apparently artificial, which seemed designed to change your behavior. Tally, do you ever suffer from sudden flashes of anger or euphoria, countersocial impulses, or feelings of superiority?"

Tally took another deep breath, fighting to remain calm. "What I'm suffering from is being locked up," she said in a slow, deliberate voice.

"Why do you have scars on your arms, Tally? Did someone do that to you?"

"What, these?" She laughed, running her fingers down the row of cutting scars. "Where I come from, they're just a fashion statement!"

"Tally, you may not be aware of what has been done to your mind. It may seem natural for you to cut yourself."

"But they're just..." Tally groaned and shook her head. "After all the crazy surgery I've seen around here, you're worried about a few scars?"

"We're only worried about what they indicate regarding your mental balance."

"Don't talk to me about mental balance," Tally growled, deciding to give up on acting calm. "I'm not the one who locks people up!"

"Do you understand the political disputes between your city and ours, Tally?"

"Political disputes?" she asked. "What does that have to do with me?"

"Your city has a long history of dangerous surgical practices, Tally. That history, and Diego's policy on runaways, have often been a source of diplomatic conflict. The advent of the New System has only made things worse."

Tally snorted. "So you're locking me up because of where I come from! Have you guys gone totally Rusty?"

There was a long pause after that. Tally imagined the doctors arguing over what to type into their voice software. "Why are you torturing me?" she shouted, trying to sound like a harmless, whining pretty.

"Let me see your faces! "

She curled up on the bed and made sobbing noises, but readied herself to leap in any direction.

These dimwits probably didn't realized that her arms had completely fixed themselves while she was asleep. All she needed was one door open half a centimeter and she would be out of this hospital in a heartbeat, naked or not. After another moment's silence, the voice returned. "I'm afraid, Tally, that you cannot be allowed to go free. Because of your body modifications, you meet our criteria for a dangerous weapon. And dangerous weapons are illegal in Diego."

Tally stopped her crying act, her jaw dropping open. "You mean, I'm illegal!" she cried. "How can a person be illegal?"

"You are not accused of any crime, Tally. We believe the authorities of your city are responsible.

But before you leave this hospital, your morphological violations must be corrected."

"Forget it! You're not touching me!" The voice didn't react to her anger, just droned on soothingly. "Tally, your city has often meddled in the affairs of other cities, especially on the issue of runaways. We believe that you were unknowingly altered and sent here to create instability among our immigrant population."

They thought she was a dupe, not even a conscious agent of Special Circumstances. Of course, they had no idea how complicated the truth really was.

"Then let me go home," she said softly, trying to turn her frustration into tears. "I'll leave, I promise. Just let me go." She squeezed her teeth down harder on her lower lip. Her eyes burned, but as always, no tears came.

"We cannot allow you to go free in your current morphological configuration. You're simply too dangerous, Tally."

You have no idea, she thought.

"You're free to leave Diego if you want," the voice continued, "but not until we make some physical adjustments."

"No." A chill washed over her. They couldn't.

"We cannot legally release you without disarming you."

"But you can't operate on me if I don't want you to." She imagined herself weak again, pathetic and puny and average. "What about...informed consent?"

"If you prefer, we will make no experimental attempts to change your altered brain chemistry.

With counseling, you may learn to control your behavior. But your dangerous body modifications will be corrected using proven surgical techniques. Informed consent is not required."

Tally opened her mouth again, but nothing came out. They wanted to make her average again without even fixing her brain? What sort of nightmare logic was that?

The four impregnable walls around her seemed suddenly suffocating, their glittering eyes hungry and mocking. Tally imagined cold metal instruments reaching into her and tearing out everything special from inside.

For those few moments kissing Zane, she'd imagined that she wanted to be normal. But now that someone was threatening to grind her down to averageness, she couldn't stand the thought.

She wanted to be able to look at Zane without disgust, to touch him, kiss him. But not if it meant being changed against her will again...

"Just let me go," she whispered.

"I'm afraid we can't, Tally. But when we're done, you'll be as beautiful and healthy as everyone else. Think of it, here in Diego you can look any way you want."

"This isn't about how I look!" Tally sprang to her feet and ran to the nearest wall. She pulled her fist back and gave it the hardest blow she could. Pain shot through her again.

"Tally, please stop."

"Forget it!" She set her teeth and grimly punched the wall again. If she started hurting herself, someone would have to open the door.

And then they'd see how dangerous she really was.

"Tally, please."

Again, she drew back her hand and struck the wall, felt her knuckles threatening to shatter against the iron hardness behind the padding. A gasp of pain slipped through her lips, and spatters of blood marked the padding, but Tally couldn't hold back. They knew how strong she was, and this had to look real.

"You leave us no choice."

Good, she thought. Just come on in and try to stop me.

She struck the wall again, another cry escaping...more blood.

Then Tally felt something through the pain: a dizziness washing over her.

"No," she said. "Not fair."

From under all the hospital smells of disinfectant and bedpans, so slight that no average human would have detected it, it filtered into her nostrils. Specials were usually immune to knockout gas, but Diego knew her secrets now. They could have designed this just for her...

Tally sank to her knees. She slowed her breathing to a minimum, trying desperately to calm herself, to suck in as little air as possible. They might not have guessed how thoroughly she was designed to deal with every form of attack, how quickly she could metabolize toxins.