He shifted on the board. "No. But we warned you about the risks. Don't you remember?"
"I remember everything now, David! I can finally see." Her mind was clear, Special-clear, untangled from wild, ugly emotions and bubbleheadedness, fully realizing the truth of what the Smokies were. They weren't revolutionaries; they were nothing but egomaniacs, playing with lives, leaving broken people in their wake.
"Tally," he pleaded softly, but she just laughed. Tally's flash tattoos were spinning wildly, pushed into furious motion by the freezing water and her anger. Her mind focused to a razor point, and saw his outline clearer with every beat of her pounding heart.
"You steal children, David, city kids who don't know how dangerous it is out in the wild. And you play games with them."
He shook his head. "I never ... I never meant to play games with you, Tally. I'm sorry."
She started to answer, but saw David's signal just in time. It was nothing but a flicker of one finger, but her mind was so sharp that the tiny movement bloomed like fireworks against the dark.
Tally's awareness shot out in all directions, searching the blackness around her. The Smokies had chosen a spot where half-submerged rocks added to the water's roar, covering any subtle sounds, but somehow Tally felt the moment of attack.
An instant later, her peripheral vision caught the arrows on their way: one from each side, like two fingers crushing a bug. Her mind slowed time to a half-dead crawl. Less than a second from hitting, the missiles were too close for gravity to pull her down, no matter how fast she bent her knees. But Tally didn't need gravity...
Her hands shot up from her sides, elbows bending, fingers curling into fists around the arrow shafts. They slid a few centimeters through her palms, the friction burning like snuffing a candle, but their momentum choked in her grip.
The electric buzz in their tips sputtered for an angry moment, close enough that Tally felt the heat on both cheeks, and then the arrows fizzled in frustration.
Her eyes were still locked on David, and even through the sneak suit she saw his jaw drop open, a small, amazed sound carrying across the water.
She let out a sharp laugh.
His voice was shaking. "What have they done to you now, Tally?"
"They made me see," she said
He shook his head sadly, then pushed Shay into the river.
She fell forward limply, smacking the water face-first and hard. David whirled around on his board, kicking up a spray as he bolted away. The two archers zoomed out from the trees and followed, boards roaring to life.
"Shay!" Tally cried, but the unmoving body was already slipping under, dragged down by the weight of crash bracelets and soaked clothing. Shay's infrared colors began to change in the cold water, hands fading from bright yellow to orange. The fast current carried her under Tally, who threw the spent arrows aside, spun on one heel, and dove into the freezing river.
A few panicked strokes brought her up beside the dimly glowing form, and she reached out to grab Shay's hair, yanking her head out of the water. Flash tattoos hardly moved on the pale face, but then Shay shuddered and emptied her lungs with a sudden cough.
"Shay-la!" Tally twisted in the water, getting a better grip.
Shay waved her arms weakly, then coughed up more water. But her flash tattoos were gradually coming back to life, spinning faster as her heartbeat strengthened. Her face glowed brighter in infrared as flowing blood began to warm it back up.
Tally shifted her grip, struggling to keep both their heads above water, signaling with her crash bracelet. Her borrowed board responded with a magnetic tug, on its way.
Shay's eyes opened, blinking a few times. "That you, Tally-wa?"
"Yes, it's me."
"Quit pulling my hair." Shay coughed again.
"Oh, sorry." Tally untangled her fingers from the wet strands. When the hoverboard nudged her from behind, she slung an arm over it, wrapping the other around Shay. A long shiver traveled through them both.
"Waters cold...," Shay said. Her lips were almost blue in Tally's infrared.
"No kidding. But it woke you up, at least." She managed to lift Shay onto the board, getting her upright. She sat there, huddled miserably against the breeze while Tally stayed in the river, staring up into her glassy eyes. "Shay-la? Do you know where you are?"
"You woke me up, so I was...asleep?" Shay shook her head, closing her eyes in concentration.
"Crap. That means they got me with one of those stupid arrows."
"Not an arrow; David had a shock-stick in his hand."
Shay spat into the river. "He cheated. Throwing Tachs at me." She frowned, opening her eyes again. "Is Tachs okay?"
"Yeah. I caught him before he hit the ground. Then David tried to take you away. But I got you back."
Shay managed a thin smile. "Good job, Tally-wa."
Tally felt a thin, shivery grin on her face.
"What about Fausto?"
Tally sighed again as she pulled herself up onto the board, its fans spinning into motion under her weight. "They took him, too." She glanced up the river, seeing nothing but darkness. "And they're long gone by now, I guess."
Shay wrapped a shivering, wet arm around Tally. "Don't worry. We'll get him back." She glanced down, confused. "So how did I get in the river?"
"They flew you out here, used you as bait. They wanted to capture me, too. But I was too fast for them, so David pushed you in to distract me, I suppose. Or maybe he was trying to give the other Smokies time to get away, the ones with Fausto."
"Hmm. That's a little insulting," Shay said.
"They used me as a decoy instead of Fausto?"
Tally grinned and squeezed Shay harder. "Maybe they were more sure I'd stop for you."
Shay coughed into a fist. "Well, when I catch them, they're going to wish they'd dumped me off a cliff instead." She took a deep breath, her lungs finally drawing clear. "Funny though. It's not like the Smokies, throwing someone into freezing water while they're unconscious. Know what I mean?"
Tally nodded. "Maybe they're getting desperate."
"Maybe." Shay shivered again. "It's like living out in nature is turning them into Rusties. You can Ml people with bows and arrows, after all. I kind of liked them better the old way"
"Me too," Tally sighed. The razor-sharpness of her anger was fading, leaving her spirit as soggy as her clothing. No matter how hard she'd tried to fix everything, Fausto was still gone, and David too.
"Anyway, thanks for the rescue, Tally-wa."
"That's okay, Boss." Tally took her friend's hand. "So...are we even now?"
Shay laughed, wrapping her arm around Tally, her grin widening to reveal every one of her pointed teeth. "You and I don't have to worry about being even, Tally-wa."
Tally felt a burst of warmth, like she always did when Shay smiled. "Really?"
Shay nodded. "We're too busy being special."
They met Ho back at the ambush site. He'd managed to get Tachs awake, and had put in a call to the rest of the Cutters. They were twenty minutes away, bringing extra boards and screaming for revenge.
"Don't worry about getting even, we'll be visiting the Smokies soon enough," Shay said, without bothering to mention the problem with that plan: No one knew where the New Smoke was. In fact, no one was sure if it was anywhere at all. Since the original Smoke had been destroyed, the Smokies kept moving from one spot to another. And now that they had four brand-new Special Circumstances hoverboards, they'd be even harder to pin down.
While Shay and Tally wrung out their wet clothes, Ho and Tachs wandered around the darkness of the Trails, looking for clues. Soon they found the hoverboard that the Smokey girl had abandoned.
"Check the charge on that thing," Shay ordered Tachs. "At least we can figure out how far they had to fly to get here."
"Good idea, Boss," Tally said. "No solar recharging at night, after all."
"Yeah, I'm feeling really brilliant," Shay said. "But a distance doesn't tell us much. We need more."
"We've got more, Boss," Ho said. "Like I was trying to tell Tally right before she shoved me off my board, I had a conversation with that ugly kid at the bash. The one the Smokey girl was giving nanos?
Before I handed him over to the wardens, I managed to scare him a little."
Tally didn't doubt that. Ho's flash tattoos included a demon's face drawn over his own features, its bloodred lines shifting through a sequence of wild expressions in time with his pulse.
Shay snorted. "That little punk knew where the New Smoke was?"
"Not a chance. But he knew where he was supposed to take the nanos."
"Let me guess, Ho-la," Shay said. "New Pretty Town?"
"Yeah, of course." He held up the plastic bag. "But these weren't just for anyone, Boss. He was supposed to take them to the Crims."
Tally and Shay looked at each other. All but a few of the Cutters had been Crims back in their pretty days. The clique was all about making trouble: acting like an ugly, beating the lesions, keeping the shallowness of New Pretty Town from erasing your brain.
Shay shrugged. "The Crims are huge these days. There are hundreds of them." She smiled. "Ever since me and Tally made them famous."
Ho nodded. "Hey, I was one too, remember? But that ugly kid mentioned a name, someone he was supposed to give them to specially."
"Anyone we know?" Tally said.
"Yeah...Zane. He said the nanos were for Zane."
"Why didn't you tell me Zane was back?"
"Because I didn't know. It's only been two weeks." Tally expelled a long sigh through her teeth.
"What's the matter?" Shay said. "Don't believe me?" Tally turned away to stare into the fire, unsure how to answer. Not trusting other Cutters wasn't very icy - it led to doubts and muddled thoughts. But for the first time since becoming a Special, she felt out of place, uncomfortable in her own skin. Her fingers moved restlessly up and down the cutting scars along her arms, and sounds from the forest around them were making her jumpy.
Zane was back from the hospital, but he wasn't here with her at the Cutters' camp, out in the wild where he should be. And that felt wrong...
All around them, the other Cutters were keeping themselves icy. They'd made a bonfire of fallen trees tonight, Shay's way of building morale after last night's ambush. All sixteen of them - minus Fausto - were gathered around, daring one another to dash through the flames barefoot, boasting about what they were going to do to the Smokies when they finally caught them.
And yet Tally felt outside it all, somehow.
Usually, she loved bonfires, the way they made the shadows jump like living things, the real wickedness of burning trees. That was the whole point of being special: You existed to make sure everyone else behaved, but that didn't mean you had to.
But tonight the bonfire smell kept triggering memories of her Smokey days. A few of the Cutters had recently switched from cutting to branding, marking their arms with the red-hot ends of firebrands.
Like cutting, it kept your mind icy. But for Tally, the smell was too much like when they'd cooked dead animals back in the Smoke. So she stuck to knives.
She kicked a stick into the flames. "Of course I trust you, Shay. But for the last two months I figured that Zane would join Special Circumstances the moment he got better. The thought of him in New Pretty Town, wearing some cookie-cutter face ..." She shook her head.
"If I could get him here, Tally-wa, I would."
"So you'll talk to Dr. Cable about it?"
Shay spread her hands. "Tally, you know the rules: To join Special Circumstances, you have to prove you're special. You have to think your way out of being a bubblehead."