Page 31 of Specials (Uglies 3)

But anger and panic seemed to cancel each other out, paralyzing her muscles and twisting her stomach into a knot of despair.

"This is because of the attack, isn't it?" Tally said. "That's why it's going wrong."


"We don't know that."

"It's our fault."

Shay shook her head, her voice soothing, as if Tally were some littlie who'd woken from a nightmare. "We don't know what's happening, Tally-wa."

"But you found him in there all alone? Why didn't they evacuate him?"

"Maybe he couldn't be moved. Maybe he was safer here, hooked up to those machines."

Tally's hands tightened into fists. Since becoming special, she'd never felt so helpless and average, so powerless. Everything was suddenly going random. "But..."

"Shush, Tally-wa," Shay said in her maddeningly calm voice. "We just have to wait. That's all we can do for now."

An hour later, the door opened.

There were five doctors now, leftover from a steady stream of hospital staff that had moved in and out of Zane's room. A few had given Tally nervous looks, realizing who she was: the dangerous weapon who had escaped earlier that night.

Tally had passed the time fretfully, half-expecting someone to jump her, put her to sleep, and schedule her for despecialization again. But Shay and Tachs had stayed close by, staring down the wardens who'd arrived to keep an eye on them. One thing about Maddy's cure, it had made the other Cutters a lot better at waiting than Tally. They remained eerily calm, but she hadn't been able to stop moving for the whole hour, and half-moons of blood covered her palms where fingernails had driven into flesh.

The doctor cleared his throat. "I'm afraid I have bad news."

Tally's mind didn't process the words at first, but she felt Shay's grip upon her arm, iron hard, as if she thought Tally was about to leap at the man and tear him apart.

"At some point during the evacuation, Zane's body rejected his new brain tissue. His life support tried to alert the staff, but of course there was no one nearby. It tried to ping us, but the city interface was too overloaded by the evacuation to get a message through."

"Overloaded?" Tachs said. "You mean the hospital doesn't have its own network?"

"There is an emergency channel," the doctor said. He looked in the direction of Town Hall, shaking his head like he still didn't believe it was gone. "But it goes through the city interface. Of which nothing remains. Diego's never had a disaster like this before."

It was the attack...the war, Tally thought. It is my fault.

"His immune system thought the new brain tissue was an infection, and responded accordingly.

We did all we could, but by the time you found him, the damage had already been done."

"How much...damage?" Tally said. Shay's hands squeezed tighter.

The doctor looked at the wardens, and in Tally's peripheral vision, she saw them readying nervously for a fight. They were all terrified of her.

He cleared his throat. "You realize that he arrived here with brain damage, don't you?"

"We know," Shay said, her voice still soothing.

"Zane said he wanted to be fixed: no more shakes or lapses in cognition. And he requested a physical control upgrade - as far as we could push it. It was risky, but he gave informed consent."

Tally's gaze fell to the floor. Zane had wanted his old reflexes back, and better, so that she wouldn't see him as weak and average.

"That's where the rejection hit him hardest," the doctor continued. "The functions we were trying to repair. They're all gone now."

"Gone?" Tally's mind reeled. "His motor skills?"

"And higher functions, more importantly: speech and cognition." The doctor's wariness faded, his expression now set to classic middle-pretty concern, calm, and understanding. "He can't even breathe on his own. We don't think he'll regain consciousness. Not ever."

The wardens had glowing shock-sticks in their hands now. Tally could breathe in the electricity.

The doctor took a slow breath. "And the thing is ... we need the bed."

Tally sagged toward the floor, but Shay's grip didn't let her fall.

"We have dozens of casualties," the doctor continued. "A few night workers who escaped Town Hall have terrible burns. We need those machines, the sooner the better."

"What about Zane?" Shay said.

The doctor shook his head. "He'll stop breathing once we take him off. Normally, we wouldn't move this quickly, but tonight ..."

"Is a special circumstance," Tally said softly.

Shay pulled her close, whispered in her ear. "Tally, we have to go now. We have to leave this place. You're too dangerous."

"I want to see him."

"Tally-wa, it's not a good idea. What if you lose it? You could kill someone."

"Shay-la," Tally hissed. "Let me see him."

"No."

"Let me see him or I'll kill them all. You won't be able to stop me."

Shay's arms were wrapped around her now, but Tally knew she could break the grip. Enough of her sneak suit still worked that she could turn it slippery, slide out, and start swinging, go straight for their throats...

Shay's grip shifted, and something pressed lightly against Tally's neck. "Tally, I can inject you with the cure right now."

"No, you can't. We have a war to stop. You need my brain the messed-up way it is."

"But they need those machines. All you're doing is - "

"Let me be the center of the universe for five more minutes, Shay. Then I'll go away and let him die. I promise."

Shay let out a long sigh between her teeth. "Everyone, get out of our way."

His head and arms were still connected, the wild chorus of beeping replaced by a steady beat.

But Tally could see that he was dead.

She'd seen a dead body once before. When Special Circumstances had come to destroy the Old Smoke, the ancient keeper of the rebels' library had been killed trying to escape. (That death had been her fault too, Tally remembered now; how had that little fact slipped her mind?) The old man's body had looked misshapen in death, so twisted that the entire world had distorted around it. Even the sunlight had looked wrong that day.

But this time, staring at Zane, everything was much worse - her eyes were special now. Every detail was a hundred times clearer: the wrong color of his face, the too-steady pulse in his throat, the way his fingernails were slowly fading from pink to white.

"Tally..." Tachs's voice choked off.

"I'm so sorry," Shay said.

Tally glanced back at her fellow Cutters, and realized that they couldn't understand. They might still be strong and fast, but Maddy's cure had made their minds average again. They couldn't see how maddening death really was, how colossally pointless in every way.

The fires still burned outside, mockingly beautiful against the dark and perfect sky. That was what no one else could see, that the world was too bubbly and gorgeous for Zane to be missing from it.

Tally reached out and touched his hand. Her exquisitely sensitive fingertips told her that his flesh was cooler than it should be.

This was all her fault. She'd coaxed him here to become what she wanted; she had wandered around the city instead of watching over him; she had started the war that had torn him apart.

This was the final price of her massive ego.

"I'm sorry, Zane." Tally turned away. Five minutes was suddenly too long to stand here, eyes burning, unable to cry

"Okay, let's go," she whispered.

"Tally, are you sure? It's only been - "

"Let's go! On our boards. This war has to stop."

Shay put a hand on her shoulder. "Okay. First light. We can fly without stopping - no bubbleheads to slow us down, no Smokey position-finder taking us on the scenic route. We'll be home in three days."

Tally opened her mouth, about to demand that they head for home right now, but the exhaustion on Shay's face silenced her. Tally had been unconscious most of the last twenty-four hours, but Shay had traveled to meet the Cutters and cure them, had rescued Tally from being despecialized, had led them through this long and terrible night. Her eyes were barely open.

Besides, this wasn't Shay's battle anymore. She hadn't paid the price that Tally had.

"You're right," Tally said, realizing what she had to do. "Go get some sleep."

"What about you? Are you okay?"

"No, Shay-la. I'm not okay."

"Sorry, I mean ... are you going to hurt anyone?"

Tally shook her head and held out her hand, which didn't tremble at all. "See? I'm under control, maybe for the first time since I became a Special. But I can't sleep. I'll wait for you."

Shay paused, unsure, perhaps sensing what Tally had in mind. But then fatigue fell across her worried expression, and she hugged Tally one more time. "I only need a couple of hours. I'm still special enough."

"Of course." Tally smiled. "First light."

She walked with the other Cutters out of the room, past the doctors and nervous wardens, away from Zane forever, from all their imagined futures. And with every step, Tally knew she had to leave not just Zane, but everyone, behind.

Shay would only slow her down.

GOING HOME

Tally left the moment Shay was asleep.

It was pointless, both of them giving themselves up. Shay had to stay here in Diego; at this point the Cutters were the closest thing this city had to a military. Dr. Cable wouldn't believe Shay, anyway.

Her brain would show the marks of Maddy's cure - she was no longer special.

But Tally was. She ducked and weaved among branches in the forest, knees bent and arms stretched out like wings, flying faster than she ever had before. Everything was icy clear: the warm wind across her bare face, the shifting gravities of flight beneath her feet. She'd taken two boards, riding one while the other followed, jumping back and forth every ten minutes. With her weight shared between them, top speed wouldn't burn out the lifting fans for days.

She reached the edge of Diego long before the sun began to rise, when the orange sky was just becoming radiant overhead, like an immense vessel emptying its light down upon the wild. The world's beauty hurt like razors, and Tally knew she'd never have to cut herself again.

She carried a knife inside herself now, one that was always cutting her. She could feel it every time she swallowed, every time her thoughts strayed from the splendor of the wild.

The forest thinned as Tally reached the great deserts left by the white weed. As the wind against her face became rough with airborne sand, she angled toward the sea, where her magnetics could grip the railroad line, lending her more speed.

She only had seven days to end this war.

According to Tachs, Special Circumstances planned to wait a week for the situation in Diego to grow worse. The destruction of Town Hall would impair the city's workings for months, and Dr. Cable seemed to think that non-bubbleheads would rise up against any government if their needs weren't met.

And if the rebellion didn't happen on schedule, Special Circumstances could simply attack again, destroying more of the city to make conditions still worse.

Tally's software pinged - another ten minutes gone by. She called the empty board closer and leaped across the void, for a moment nothing but sand and scrub below, then landing in a perfect riding stance.

She found herself smiling grimly. If she fell, there was no grid below to catch her, only hardpacked sand racing by at a hundred kilometers per hour. But the doubts and uncertainties she had always suffered, the ones Shay had complained about even after Tally had become a Cutter, had finally been burned away.

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