"Well, when I came up with it, I wasn't planning on sneaking Tally Youngblood into someplace full of aliens, okay?" Frizz cried. "And neither were you, until you found out you could kick the story!"
"What's your point?" Hiro asked.
"There's one more thing," Aya interrupted. "I think Tally's a little...unstable."
Hiro and Ren looked at her like they thought she was kidding, but Frizz nodded. "When I first got the idea for Radical Honesty, I spent some time studying the history of brain surge. Not just the bubbleheads, but everything, including what Tally's city did to Specials." Frizz glanced at the three Cutters. "They could be deadly when people got in their way. Their motto was, 'I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.' And they did. They even killed people."
Hiro gave Aya a sidelong glance. "And you want us to be 'Honorary Cutters'?"
"But I thought they were all cured," she said.
Frizz nodded. "Most of them were completely despecialized. But the Cutters who'd protected Diego in the war were allowed to keep their reflexes and strength, because their brains were cured." He leaned in closer. "But Tally Youngblood never changed at all. She didn't want anyone 'rewiring' her, she said - that's why she disappeared into the wild."
"Crap," Ren said. "They really don't tell it that way on the history feeds."
Aya swallowed. This was much worse than she'd thought.
She turned to Frizz. "So you understand the problem? You can't let Tally know about Radical Honesty. There's no telling what she'll do if she finds out you could ruin her plans."
Frizz's eyebrows rose. "So let me get this straight, Aya-chan. You want me, a person who can't lie, to lie about the fact that I can't lie?"
"We need another plan," Hiro said.
"What about the language barrier?" Ren said. "Maybe you could just tell her everything...but in Japanese."
Frizz shook his head. "It doesn't work that way, Ren. Speaking the wrong language is just another way of hiding the truth. I can't deceive people."
"But couldn't you, sort of, forget they don't speak Japanese?" Ren asked.
"I can't lie to myself any more than I can to them." Frizz groaned with frustration. "The more we talk about this, the more I'll think about it. And the more I think about it, the more I'll need to let them know we have a secret!"
He groaned again, looking in Tally's direction.
Tally returned his gaze. "So how's that going over there? Coming to any decisions?"
In perfect English, Frizz said, "They don't want me to talk to you!" He choked to a halt, clamping both hands over his mouth.
Tally raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Nothing!" Aya said in English. "We're still discussing everything, that's all."
Shay gestured with her chin. "Well, you better hurry up. Looks like someone's coming to visit."
Aya looked up and saw that the metal door to the drivers' cabin was swinging open.
Oh, great, she thought. More people for Frizz to talk to.
Two of the inhumans floated in.
Even here inside the car, they wore their hoverball rigs. The man glided across the cargo hold over their heads. The other, a woman, waited, hands grasping the edges of the doorway, fingertips glistening with needles. Behind her Aya could see the drivers' cabin, where two more inhumans were seated at the car's controls.
This close, the freakish faces were even more unsettling. The inhumans' eyes were so far apart that they seemed to point in different directions, like the gaze of a fish. The floating man took them all in without turning his head, fixing Aya with one steely eye. He kept himself in place by stirring the hot, muggy air with his hands and strange bare feet.
"I see you are awake," he said. "And no one is injured?"
His Japanese was imperfect - Aya realized that after six hours in flight the hovercar could be anywhere in Asia. She wondered where the inhumans really came from.
"We're all in one piece," she said. "But not very happy."
"We did not expect to have to take seven of you," he answered, performing a little midair bow.
"We apologize for any discomfort."
"Discomfort!" Hiro cried. "You kidnapped us!"
The inhuman nodded, an expression of regret passing over his strange features. "It is necessary to hide ourselves for the moment. You have to be silenced."
"Silenced?" Aya said, swallowing. "You mean you're going to kill us?"
"No, indeed! And I am sorry for my Japanese," he said. "I only mean you cannot communicate with your home. But very soon there will be no more need for secrecy, and you may return."
"Why can't we go now?" Aya asked.
"We land shortly, then we can explain everything," he said. "In the meantime, my name is Udzir.
May I ask yours?"
Aya paused for a moment, then bowed and introduced herself. Ren and Hiro followed suit. The Cutters got the hint, giving false names when Udzir turned to them.
But his stare lingered on Tally.
"You do not seem like the others," he said.
Aya wondered exactly what he meant. Back in the Prettytime, the Global Concord Committee had averaged the different regions of the world, and the crazy surgery since the mind-rain had only further confused the old Rusty genetic categories. But uglies still showed their heritage, and the Cutters'
smart-plastic masks didn't look particularly Asian.
But Udzir was singling Tally out - had he glimpsed a hint of uncured Special in her eyes?
"It's true," Frizz said through gritted teeth. "She isn't like the rest of us."
Aya snapped out of her silence. "What Frizz means is that our friends are students from another city. They don't speak Japanese very well."
"They don't speak it at all!" Frizz proclaimed. Aya squeezed his hand, willing him to stay silent.
"English, then?" Udzir switched effortlessly.
Tally nodded. "Yes, English is better. Did you say where we're going?"
"You will see soon."
"We've been flying south for hours," Fausto said. "And it's pretty hot. We must be near the equator."
Udzir nodded, smiling. "And you are very good students, I see. Let me reward your cleverness: We will soon land on an island that the Rusties called Singapore."
Aya frowned, trying to remember her geography. The name wasn't ringing any bells, but there were hundreds of Rusty cities that had been lost. At least the change in subject had quieted Frizz's need for Radical Honesty.
The hovercar was descending now, the ride growing rougher as clouds darkened the windows.
The hold began to pitch from side to side, setting the cargo straps swinging. Aya felt her stomach lurch, and was suddenly glad she hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before.
Tally, Fausto, and Shay seemed unfazed by the turbulence. They shifted their weight like hoverboard riders, compensating for every movement of the car. It was as if they'd learned to read the storm's howls and anticipate the next assault of the wind.
Udzir, unperturbed in midair, looked down at the Cutters with renewed interest. "You've ridden in a tropical storm before?"
"We travel a lot," Tally said simply.
"I noticed your hoverboards were made to fly in the wild. Most unusual, especially for uglies."
"Really?" Shay said. "They're all the rage where we come from."
Frizz tensed up beside Aya, and she dug her fingernails into his hand.
"Which is where, exactly?" Udzir asked.
"We're from Diego," Shay said, and Aya felt Frizz relaxing a little at the sound of the truth.
"A city known for its forward-looking nature," Udzir said approvingly. "Perhaps you will appreciate our project."
"Which is what?" Tally asked.
"When we land," the man said. The hovercar banked suddenly, and he glanced toward the drivers' cabin. "As you will all realize very soon now. If you wish to take a look at our home, you may."
"Why not?" Tally said. She pulled herself up and peered down through one of the tiny windows.
The other Cutters followed suit.
Moggle was probably shooting from the bottom of the car, but Aya decided to take a look herself. She gulped a deep breath of the dense, muggy air to fight the nausea rising in her stomach, and pulled herself up by the cargo webbing.
"Be careful, Aya," Frizz said.
She nodded, gaining her feet unsteadily. The window was small and streaked with rain, the plastic thick and vision-warping.
The car was passing through a layer of clouds, the window revealing nothing but a dark gray mass and streaks of rain. But gradually the clouds grew thinner, boiling away into tendrils as the car descended.
The view cleared, the hovercar abruptly steadying.
A steely gray ceiling hung just above them, a solid sheet of clouds. Beneath the storm a dense rain forest spread out all the way to a shimmering glimpse of ocean. The mass of jungle was wrapped around the largest rums she'd ever seen. Clusters of huge towers reared up from the wind-whipped treetops, their metal skeletons disappearing into the clouds.
Even with the storm raging, construction lifters were attached to the ancient Rusty buildings, grasping iron beams like birds of prey, as if waiting for a break in the weather to tear them apart.
The car banked hard, tipping the view in a dizzy-making way, the Rusty towers disappearing.
Now Aya could see a broad clearing cut from the jungle. A hoverport sprawled out beneath her - hundreds of cars and heavy lifters arrayed across a landing field, mag-lev lines converging from every direction on a central station.
"This is huge," Tally breathed.
"Yes," Udzir said. "We are very proud of all we've done."
"But you're clear-cutting the jungle!" Tally said, and Aya heard razors in her voice.
"We serve a greater cause," Udzir said. "Once you see more, you will understand the sacrifices we've made."
The car banked harder, gyrating around the port like a tiny boat being sucked into a giant whirlpool, and more structures rotated into Aya's view. Long storehouses, prefab housing, automated factories all jumbled together without rhyme or reason. Figures darted among them, wearing heavy plastic coats against the rain...and flying.
None of them walked - they glided from place to place, pushing from poles driven into the ground, gripping with hands and feet to fight the wind.
Aya turned from the window and sank back to the metal floor, her nausea rising again.
"What is it?" Frizz asked.
"You were right, Ren," she said softly. "There really is a whole city of them."
"We're not a city," Udzir said. "We are a movement."
"Sounds bubbly," Tally said. "What kind of movement?"
Udzir spun himself in midair, reaching out a hand to grasp the webbing on the cabin's ceiling.
"We're saving the world from humanity. Perhaps you'll want to join us."
Tally smiled. "Maybe we will."
"I doubt that," Frizz muttered.
Aya recognized the pained look from when Frizz had been trying not to blurt out her face rank; he was about to explode! If only Udzir would shut up and go back into the drivers' cabin.
But both inhumans were looking at Frizz curiously now, as if he'd said one radically honest thing too many.
"Your cities are expanding across the wild like a brushfire, young man," Udzir said. "So don't judge us before you know our purposes."
"I'm not judging you," he said, squeezing Aya's hand so hard it hurt.