Dr. Cable frowned. "What is that thing?"
"A satellite transmitter, one that can't be jammed." Tally pulled the cap from the injector's top, exposing the needle. "See that little antenna? Amazing, isn't it?"
"You couldn't...not from down here." Dr. Cable's eyes closed, her lids fluttering as she checked the feeds.
Tally kept talking, her own bare-toothed smile growing. "They do the craziest surgery in Diego.
They replaced my eyes with stereo cameras, and my fingernails with microphones. The whole city has been watching you explain what you've done."
Cable's eyes opened. She snorted. "There's nothing on the feeds, Tally. Your little toy doesn't work."
Tally raised her eyebrows, glancing at the bottom of the injector in puzzlement. "Oops. Forgot to press send." She shifted her fingers...
Dr. Cable leaped forward, one hand darting for the injector, and in the same split second Tally turned the needle to exactly the right angle...
The blow smacked the injector from her hand, and Tally heard it clatter in the corner, broken into pieces.
"Really, Tally," Dr. Cable said, smiling. "For someone so clever, you're such a little fool sometimes."
Tally lowered her head and closed her eyes. But she was breathing in slowly through her nose, searching the air...
Then she smelled it - the barest scent of blood.
She opened her eyes, and saw Dr. Cable glance down at her hand, mildly annoyed by the needles prick. Shay had said she'd hardly noticed the cure at first, that it took days to manifest.
In the meantime, Tally didn't want Cable wondering how she'd stabbed herself on the "antenna,"
or taking a closer look at the shattered injector. Perhaps a distraction was in order.
Tally set a look of rage on her face. "You're calling me a fool?"
She lashed out a foot, catching Dr. Cable in the stomach and knocking the breath from her.
The other Specials reacted instantly, but Tally was already in motion, darting toward where she'd heard the injector fall. She landed one foot squarely on its remains, smashing it as hard as she could, then turned the motion into a roundhouse kick that landed on the jaw of the closest pursuer. She leaped up to the first row of seats, running along their backs without touching the floor.
"Agent Youngblood," another guard called. "We don't want to hurt you!"
"I'm afraid you'll have to!" She doubled back toward where the first guard lay. The door to the operating theater exploded open then, a swarm of gray silk uniforms storming into the room.
Tally jumped down near the fallen guard, landing once more on the shards of the injector. The other guard in battle gear landed a punch on her shoulder, rolling her back into the first row of seats. She leaped up and threw herself at him, ignoring the mass of Specials descending on her.
A few seconds later, Tally found herself thrown facedown on the floor, her arms pinned under her. She squirmed, crushing the last pieces of the injector beneath her into powder. Then someone kicked her in the ribs, driving her breath out in a grunt.
More of them piled on, like an elephant sitting on her back. The room grew dim; Tally felt herself being squashed against the edge of consciousness.
"It's okay, Doctor," one of the Specials said. "We have her under control."
Cable didn't respond. Tally craned her neck to see. The doctor was doubled over, still gasping for breath.
"Doctor?" the Special asked. "Are you all right?"
Just give her time, Tally thought. And she'll be much, much better...
Tally watched it all happen from her cell.
The changes came slowly at first. For a few days, Dr. Cable seemed her usual psychotic self when she visited, arrogantly demanding information about what was happening in Diego. Tally was happy to oblige, spinning tales about how the New System was crumbling, while watching for any sign of the cure.
But decades of vanity and cruelty faded slowly, and time itself seemed to come to a halt inside the four walls of Tally's cell. Cutters weren't designed to live indoors, especially not in tiny spaces, and Tally had to focus most of her strength on not going crazy. She stared at the cell door, filled with despair, fighting the rage that came in waves inside her, always resisting the urge to cut herself with her own fingernails and teeth.
That was how she'd managed to rewire herself for Zane - not cutting anymore - and she couldn't give in to weakness now.
Hardest was when Tally thought about how far below the earth she was, twelve stories down, as though the cell were a coffin buried deep in the ground. As if she had died, but some evil machinery of Dr. Cable's was keeping her conscious even in the grave.
The cell reminded her of the way the Rusties had lived - the rooms in the lifeless ruins small and cramped, their overcrowded cities like prisons reaching toward the sky. Every time the door opened, Tally expected to be put under the knife, to wake up as a bubblehead or as some still more psychotic form of a Special. She was almost glad when it was Dr. Cable ready to interrogate her again - anything was better than being alone in this empty cell.
And finally she began to see that the cure was working...slowly. Gradually Dr. Cable seemed to become less sure of herself, less able to make decisions.
"They're telling everyone my secrets!" she started mumbling one day, running her fingers through her hair.
"Diego." Dr. Cable spat the word. "Last night they put Shay and Tachs on the world feeds.
Showing their cutting scars and calling me a monster."
"How bogus of them," Tally said.
Dr. Cable glared at her. "And they're broadcasting detailed scans of your body, calling you a
"You mean I'm famous again?"
Cable nodded. "You're infamous, Tally. Everyone's terrified of you. The New System may have made the other cities nervous, but they seem to think my little gang of psychotic sixteen-year-olds is worse."
Tally smiled. "We were pretty icy."
"Then how did you let Diego capture you!"
"Yeah, that sucked." Tally shrugged. "And it was just a bunch of wardens, too. They had these stupid uniforms that looked like bumblebees."
Dr. Cable stared at her, beginning to shiver like poor
Zane had. "But you were so strong, Tally. So fast!" Tally shrugged again. "Still am." Dr. Cable shook her head. "For now, Tally. For now."
After two weeks of solitary silence, someone took unexpected mercy on Tally's boredom and the wallscreen in her cell booted up. She was amazed to see how quickly Dr. Cable's grip on the city had slipped. The newsfeeds had stopped rerunning the military's triumphant battle - bubblehead dramas and soccer games filled the wallscreen instead of military exploits. One by one, the City Council was letting the new regulations lapse.
Apparently, Maddy's cure had taken hold of Cables mind just in time: The second attack on Diego had never materialized.
Of course, the other cities may have had something to do with that. They'd never liked the New System, but were even less thrilled about the outbreak of an actual shooting war. People had died, after all.
As Dr. Cable's surgical experiments became infamous, Diego's repeated denials that it had attacked the Armory slowly gained credence. The feeds began to question what had really happened that night, especially after a crumbly museum curator who'd witnessed the attack went public with his story He claimed that some sort of Rusty nano had been released, not by an invading army, but by two faceless attackers who'd seemed more young and harebrained than deadly serious.
Then stories sympathetic to Diego began to appear on the local feeds, including interviews with wounded survivors of the Town Hall strike. Tally always hurried to flick past those segments, which usually ended by listing the seventeen people who'd died in the attack - especially the one victim who was, ironically a runaway from this very city.
They always showed his picture, too.
Arguments about the war - and about everything else - began to erupt. The disagreements grew more intense as Tally watched, less polite and measured every day, until the whole debate about the city's future became downright ugly. There was talk of new morphological standards, of letting uglies and pretties mix, even of expansion into the wild.
The cure was taking hold here, just as it had in Diego, and Tally wondered exactly what sort of future she had helped let loose. Were the city pretties going to start acting like Rustles now? Spreading across the wild, overpopulating the earth, leveling everything in their path? Who was left to stop them?
Dr. Cable herself seemed to fade from the newsfeeds, her influence waning, her personality shrinking before Tally's eyes. She stopped coming to the cell, and not long after that, the City Council finally removed her from power, saying that the crisis and her tenure as acting chair were over.
Then the talk of despecialization started.
Specials were dangerous, they were potentially psychotic, and the whole idea of a special operation was unfair. Most cities had never created any such creatures, except for a few reflex-boosted firefighters and rangers. Perhaps in the wake of this ill-considered war, it was time to get rid of them all.
After a long debate, Tally's own city began the process - a gesture of peace to the rest of the world. One by one, the agents of Special Circumstances were remade into normal, healthy citizens, and Dr. Cable never even raised her voice in protest.
Tally felt the walls of her cell pressing closer every day, as if the thought of being changed once more was crushing her. She looked at herself in the wallscreen, imagining her wolfen eyes made watery, her features ground down to averageness. Even the cutting scars on her arm would disappear, and Tally realized she didn't want to lose them. They were a reminder of everything she'd been through, of what she'd managed to overcome.
Shay and the others were still in Diego, still free, and maybe they could slip away before this happened to them. They could live anywhere: Cutters had been designed for the wild, after all.
But Tally had nowhere to run, no way to save herself.
Finally one night, the doctors came for her.
She heard them outside, two nervous voices. Tally slipped from her bed and went to the door, placing her palm against the Special-proof ceramic wall. The chips in her hands turned the murmurs into words...
"You sure this will work on her?"
"It's worked so far."
"But isn't she, you know, some kind of superfreak?"
Tally swallowed. Of course she was. Tally Youngblood was the most famous psychotic sixteen-year-old in the world; her body's lethal details had been broadcast far and wide.
"Relax, they whipped up this batch special, just for her."
Batch of what? she wondered.
Then she heard the hissing sound ... gas leaking into the cell.
Tally jumped back from the door, sucking in a few quick gulps of air before the gas spread throughout the cell. She turned frantically in place, glaring at the four crushingly familiar walls, trying for the millionth time to find some weakness. Searching again for some way to escape...
Panic rose in Tally. They couldn't do this to her, not again. It wasn't her fault how dangerous she was. They had made her this way!
But there was no way out.
As she held her breath, the adrenaline pumping through her, Tally's vision began to swarm with red dots. She hadn't breathed in almost a minute now, and the iciness of her panic was fading. But she couldn't give up.
If only she could think straight...
She looked down at her arm, at the row of scars. It had been more than a month since her last cut, and it felt as though all the heartbreaks since were ready to burst from her veins. Maybe if she cut herself one more time, she could think of a way out of here.
At least her last moments as a Special would be icy...