On the other hand, she couldn't bring herself to doubt what Tachs had said, that Dr. Cable's purpose in destroying Town Hall was to bring the New System to its knees. Of all the cities, only Tally's had bothered to hunt down the Old Smoke. Only Tally's would think that a few runaways were worth obsessing over.
She was beginning to wonder if all cities had Special Circumstances, or whether most were like Diego, willing to let people come and go. Maybe the special operation - the one that had made Tally the way she was - was something Dr. Cable had invented herself. Which would mean that Tally really was an aberration, a dangerous weapon, someone who needed to be cured.
She and Shay had started this bogus war, after all. Normal, healthy people wouldn't do something like that, would they?
The next room was also empty, strewn with the remains of a late meal interrupted by the evacuation. The windows were decorated with curtains stirring in the wind from the distant helicopter.
They had been shredded by flying glass, and now they were like tattered white flags waving in surrender.
A pile of life-support equipment sat in the corner, still thrumming but disconnected. Tally hoped that whoever was supposed to be attached to all those tubes and wires was still okay.
It was strange, worrying about some nameless, fading crumbly. But the aftermath of the attack had been head-spinning: People didn't look like crumblies or randoms anymore. For the first time since Tally had become a Cutter, being average didn't seem pathetic to her. Seeing what her own city had done had somehow made her feel less special, at least for now.
She remembered back in ugly days, how living in the Smoke for a few weeks had transformed the way she saw the world. Perhaps coming to Diego, with all its messy discords and differences (and its absence of bubbleheads), had already started to make her a different person. If Zane was right, she was rewiring herself once again.
Maybe the next time she saw him, things would be different.
Tally flicked her skintenna to a private channel. "Shay-la? I need to ask you a question."
"How is it different? Being cured."
Shay paused, and through the skintenna Tally heard her slow breathing and the crunch of glass underfoot. "Well, when Fausto first stuck me, I didn't even notice. It took a couple of days to realize what was happening, that I was starting to see things differently. The funny thing was, when he explained what he'd done to me, it was mostly a relief. Everything's less intense now, less extreme. I don't have to cut myself just to make sense of it all; none of us do. But even though things aren't as icy at least I don't get furious over nothing anymore."
Tally nodded. "When they had me in my padded cell, that's how they described it: anger and euphoria. But right now, I just feel numb."
"Me too, Tally-wa."
"And there was one other thing the doctors said," Tally added. "Something about 'feelings of superiority'"
"Yeah, that's the whole point of Special Circumstances, Tally-wa. It's like they always taught us in school, how in Rusty days some people were 'rich'? They got all the best stuff, lived longer, and didn't have to follow the usual rules - and everyone thought that was perfectly okay, even if these people hadn't done anything to deserve it except have the right crumblies. Thinking like a Special is partly just human nature. It doesn't take much convincing to make someone believe they're better than everyone else."
Tally started to agree, then remembered what Shay had yelled at her when they'd split up back on the river. "But you said I was already that way, didn't you? Even back in ugly days."
Shay laughed. "No, Tally-wa. You don't think you're better than everyone else, just that you're the center of the universe. It's totally different."
Tally forced a laugh. "So why didn't you cure me? You had the chance, when I was out cold."
There was another pause, the faraway whirr of the helicopter filtering through Shay's skintenna link. "Because I'm sorry about what I did."
"Making you special." Shay's voice was shaking. "It's all my fault what you are, and I didn't want to force you to change again. I think you can cure yourself this time."
"Oh." Tally swallowed. "Thanks, Shay."
"And there's one other thing: It'll help if you're still a Special when we go back home to stop this war."
Tally frowned. Shay hadn't explained that plan in detail yet. "How exactly will me being a psycho help?"
"Dr. Cable will scan us, to see if we're telling the truth," Shay said. "It would be better if one of us was still a real Special."
Tally came to a halt at the next doorway. "Telling the truth? I didn't know we were going to talk about this with her. I was imagining something involving hungry nanos. Or grenades, at least."
Shay sighed. "You're being a Special-head, Tally-wa. Violence isn't going to help. If we attack, they'll just think it's Diego fighting back, and this war will only get worse. We have to confess."
"Confess?" Tally found herself facing another empty room, lit only by the flickering fires of Town Hall. Flowers were everywhere, their vases shattered on the floor, colorful shards and dead flowers mixing with the broken window-glass.
"That's right, Tally-wa. We have to tell everyone that it was you and me who attacked the Armory," Shay said. "That Diego didn't have anything to do with it."
"Oh. Great." Tally stared out the window.
The fires inside Town Hall still glowed, no matter how much foam the helicopters sprayed. Shay had said the wreckage would burn for days, the pressure of the collapsed building creating its own heat, as if the attack had given birth to a tiny sun.
The awful sight was their fault - the realization kept hitting Tally, as if she would never get used to it. She and Shay had made this happen, and only they could undo it.
But at the thought of confessing to Dr. Cable, Tally had to fight the urge to flee, to run toward the open windows and jump, letting her crash bracelets catch her. She could disappear into the wild and never be caught. Not by Shay. Not by Dr. Cable. Invisible again.
But that would mean leaving Zane behind in this battered, threatened city.
"And if they're going to believe you," Shay continued, "it can't look like anyone's been messing with your brain. We need to keep you special."
Suddenly, Tally needed fresh air. But as she walked toward the window, the sweet scent of dead and dying flowers assaulted her nose like a crumbly's perfume. Her eyes watered, and Tally closed them, crossing the room using the echoes of her own footsteps.
"But what will they do to us, Shay-la?" she asked softly.
"I don't know, Tally. No one's ever admitted starting a bogus war before, not as far as I know.
But what else can we do?"
Tally opened her eyes and leaned out the blown-out window. She sucked up fresh air, though it was tainted with the smell of burning. "It's not like we meant for it to go that far," she whispered.
"I know, Tally-wa. And it was all my idea, my fault that you were special in the first place. If I could go alone, I would. But they won't believe me. Once they scan my brain, they'll see I'm different, cured. Dr. Cable would probably rather think Diego messed with my head than admit she started a war over nothing."
Tally couldn't argue with that; she could hardly believe herself that their little break-in had caused all this destruction. Dr. Cable wouldn't take anyone's say-so without a full brain-scan.
She looked out at the burning Town Hall again, and sighed. It was too late to run, too late for anything but the truth.
"Okay, Shay, I'll go with you. But not until I find Zane. I need to explain something to him."
And maybe try again, she thought. I'm different already. Tally stared out the frame of shattered glass, imagining Zane's face.
"After all, what's the worst they can do, Shay-la? Make us both bubbleheads again?" she said.
"Maybe that wasn't so bad..."
There was still no response, but Tally heard a small, insistent beeping from Shay's end of the skintenna link.
"Shay? What's that sound?"
The answer came in a tense voice. "Tally, you better come down here. Room 340."
Tally turned away from the window, stepping quickly across the broken vases and dead flowers, heading for the door. The beeping sound grew louder as Shay moved closer to something, and a sense of dread began to fill Tally. "What's going on, Shay?"
Shay popped the channel open to the other Cutters, panic in her voice. "Someone get a doctor up here." She repeated the room number.
"What is it, Shay?" Tally cried.
"Tally, I'm so sorry ..."
Tally ran, heart racing in her chest, the beeping sound filling her head.
She jumped the handrail of the fire stairs, descending in a controlled fall down the center of the stairwell. When she burst out into the third-floor hallway, she saw Shay and Tachs and Ho outside a room marked recovery, staring through the door like a crowd gawking at an accident.
Tally pushed between them, skidding to a halt on shards of shattered window glass.
Zane lay in a hospital bed, his face pale, his arms and head hooked up to a collection of machines. Each was making its own beeping noise, bright red lights keeping time with the sounds. A middle pretty in white doctor's scrubs stood over Zane, pulling back his lids to peer into his eyes.
"What happened?" she cried. The doctor didn't look up.
Shay stepped up behind her, taking her shoulders in a firm grip. "Stay icy Tally."
"Icy?" Tally pulled herself from Shay's grasp. Adrenaline and anger surged through her blood, chasing away the numbness that had come over her after the attack. "What's wrong with him? What's he doing in here?"
"Could you bubbleheads be quiet!" the doctor snapped.
Tally spun back to face him, teeth bared. "Bubbleheads?"
Shay wrapped her arms around Tally and pulled her off her feet. In one swift movement, she carried her backward out of the room, set her down, and shoved her hard away from the door.
Tally regained her footing, crouching low with fingers curled. The Cutters stared her down, while Tachs gently closed the door.
"I thought you were rewiring yourself, Tally," Shay said in a hard, even voice.
"I'll rewire you, Shay!" Tally said. "What's going on?"
"We don't know, Tally. The doctor just got here." Shay placed her palms together. "Control yourself."
Tally's mind spun, seeing only angles of attack, strategies for fighting her way through the three of them and back into the recovery room. But she was outnumbered, and as the standoff continued, her flash of anger was transforming into panic.
"They operated on him," she whispered, her breath quickening. The hall began to spin as she remembered the Crims all headed into the hospital, straight from the helicopter.
"That's what it looks like, Tally," Shay said, her voice even.
"But he arrived in Diego two days ago," Tally said. "The other Crims were at a party the night they got here - I saw them."
"The other Crims didn't have brain damage, Tally. Just the bubblehead lesions. You know Zane was different."
"But this is a city hospital. What could go wrong?'
"Shhh, Tally-wa." Shay took a step forward and put her hand gingerly on Tally's shoulder. "Be patient, and they'll tell us."
In a flash of anger, Tally's focus narrowed to the door of the recovery room. Shay was close enough to punch in the face; Ho and Tachs were momentarily distracted by the arrival of a second doctor - Tally could get past them all if she struck now...