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Just stay where you are, and I'll swing around from the side. Maybe we can pull off a little ambush of our own. But how's that going to work? I mean, they're invisible and were not even—" "Patience, Tally-wa. And a little quiet, please.

She listened for the hum of drawn bowstrings. A wavering pitch sounded not far behind her, a bow pulled taut, its arrow notched and ready to fly.

Then another pitch joined in, and a third…but were they aimed at her? She counted a slow ten, waiting for the snap of a loosed arrow. But no sound came. She must be hidden here. But she'd counted five Smokies in all. If three had their bows drawn, where were the other two? Then, even softer than Shay's calm and steady breathing, her ears caught the sound of footsteps moving through the pine needles. But they were too careful, too quiet for a city-born random. Only someone who'd grown up in the wild could move that softly.

Tally stood slowly, sliding her back up the tree trunk, eyes opening. The footsteps grew closer, coming up on her right. She eased herself sideways, keeping the trees' bulk between herself and the sound. Daring a quick glance upward, Tally wondered if the branches were thick enough to shield her body heat from infrared optics.

But there was no way she could climb without David hearing. He was close…Maybe if she darted out and stung him before the other Smokies loosed their arrows. After all, they were just uglies, cocky randoms who no longer had the advantage of surprise. Tally gave her stinger ring a twist, flipping out a freshly charged needle. The Smokies wanted to get hold of a Special Circumstances hoverboard. Tally forced her eyes closed again, listening hard.

She heard more footsteps, louder and clumsier than David's— the fifth Smokey searching for another of the Cutters' boards. It was time to make her move. She opened her eyes… A sickening sound rumbled through the forest: Tally was already in motion, streaking toward the noise, realizing with a sick feeling that the lifting fans were loud enough to drown out the snap of bowstrings. The board rose before her, a hot-yellow figure on it sagging in the arms of a black silhouette.

Two more steps and she could jump…"Tally, duck! Another shot past as Tally rolled to her feet, blindly hoping that more weren't on the way. The board was three meters up and climbing slowly, wavering under its double load. She jumped straight up, the furious wind of the fans blowing straight down on her.

At the last moment Tally imagined her fingers thrusting into the lifting fans—chopped into a spray of blood and gristle— and her nerve faltered.

Her fingertips caught the riding surface's edge, barely clinging, and her added weight began to pull the board slowly earthward.

In her peripheral vision, Tally saw an arrow flying toward her, and twisted wildly in midair to dodge it. It shot past, but her fingers had lost their grip. One hand slipped, then the other… As Tally fell, the growl of a second hoverboard ripped the air. They were stealing another one. Shay's cry shot through the noise: Tally laced her fingers together and cupped her hands waist-high, ready to throw Shay up at the board, which was straining to climb again. Another missile streaked toward Tally from the darkness.

But if she ducked, Shay would take the arrow in midleap. Her teeth clenched, waiting for the agony of a shock-stick slamming into her spine. But the board's rotor-wash eased the arrow downward like an invisible hand. It struck between Tally's feet, exploding into a brilliant spiderweb on the icy ground.

She tasted electricity in the damp air, and tiny and invisible fingers played across her skin, but her feet were insulated by the soles of her grippy shoes. Then Shay's weight landed in her cupped hands, and Tally grunted, flinging upward with all her strength. Shay screamed as she soared into the air. Tally threw herself to one side, imagining more arrows in flight, her feet skipping across the still-buzzing shockstick.

She spun around and fell backward to the ground. Another arrow shot past her in a blur, missing her face by centimeters… She glanced up: Shay had landed on the hoverboard, setting it teeter-tottering wildly. The lifting fans shrieked at its triple load.

Shay raised a stinger hand, but David's dark silhouette shoved Tachs toward her, forcing her to catch his limp form. She danced at the board's edge, trying to keep them both from tumbling off. Then David lashed out, catching Shay in the shoulder with a handheld shock-stick. Another web of sparks lit the night sky. Tally rose to her feet, running back toward the struggle. The Smokies were not fighting fair! Above her, a bright yellow form was tumbling from the board, headfirst…Tally leaped forward, stretching out her hands.

The dead weight thudded into her arms—the special bones as hard as a sack of baseball bats—and sent her sprawling to the ground. Tally glanced up. Then her ears caught the snap of a bowstring, and she threw herself to the ground again.

The arrow missed wildly—whoever had fired it was running. Sneak-suited forms were everywhere, and more boards were buzzing to life all around her, the Smokies lifting into the air. She twisted her crash bracelet, but there was no responding tug. They had taken all four of the Specials' boards—Tally was stranded on the ground, like some random hiker lost in the forest. She shook her head in disbelief.

Where had the Smokies gotten sneak suits? Since when did they shoot people? How had this easy trick gone so wrong? She connected her skintenna to the city network, about to call Dr. Then she hesitated a moment, remembering Shay's orders. No calls, no matter what—she couldn't disobey. All four hoverboards were in the air now, their lifting fans giving off orange glimmers of heat.

She could see Shay unconscious in David's arms, and the glowing form of another Special being carried off on a different board. Tally cursed. Tachs still lay on the ground, so they'd gotten Fausto, too. She had to call for reinforcements, but that would be breaking orders…A ping came through the network. Where are you? A couple of minutes away. The one your Smokey was dancing with? Just get here fast! In a minute, the Smokies would be gone for good. It was too late for regular Specials to get here, too late for anything… Rage and frustration surged through Tally, almost overwhelming her.

David was not going to beat her, not this time! She couldn't afford to lose her head. She knew what to do. Making a claw with her right hand, Tally dug her fingernails into the flesh of her left arm. The delicate nerves woven into her skin screamed, a torrent of pain piling through her, overloading her brain.

But then the special moment struck, icy clarity replacing panic and confusion. She drew in the cold air in gasps… Of course. David and the girl had ditched their own hoverboards. They had to have left them close by She turned and ran back toward the city, hunting in the darkness for the half-remembered smell of David. Be quiet. The Smokies hadn't bothered to recover their old-fashioned boards. She wasn't completely helpless. At the snap of her fingers, David's board rose from its hasty covering of pine needles and into the air.

She jumped on and it wobbled unsteadily like the end of a diving board, without the sense of power that the lifting fans gave. But Tally had ridden one just like it all those months ago, and it was enough for now. She climbed up through the trees, scanning the horizon. The Smokies flickered in the distance, the bodies of their two captives glowing like embers in a fire. Glancing up at the stars, she calculated angles and directions… The Smokies were headed out toward the river, where they could use magnetics.

Carrying two passengers per board, they needed all the lift they could get. The Smokies might be invisible, but the two captive Specials shone like infrared beacons. Ho wasn't going to like what Tally had to do, but there was no other choice. That was Shay out there, being dragged away by David. This was Tally's chance to pay her back for all those old mistakes. To prove that she was really special. Ho was there, waiting where the dark trees of the Trails began to thin.

Its lifting fans spun to life as she crossed the city's border. Don't have time to explain. What the—" "They've got Shay Fausto, too. Tachs is back in the Trails, unconscious.

Go make sure he's okay" "What? She scanned the horizon and caught distant flickers of infrared, like two glowing eyes ahead—Fausto and Shay.

ہمارے بلاگرز

The hunt was still on. Aren't you listening? We don't want any help with this. Cable's very special Specials—had been made fools of. For that matter, a squadron of screaming hovercars would only let the Smokies know that they were being followed. All alone, Tally might be able to sneak up on them.

She leaned forward, coaxing every bit of speed from her borrowed board, Ho's protests fading behind her. She was going to catch them. There were five Smokies and two captives on four boards; no way could they make top speed. Tally just had to remember that they were random, and she was special. She still had a chance to rescue Shay capture David, and make this all okay.

Where were they? The Smokies couldn't be that far in front—not with only a couple of minutes' head start. But like her, they were flying low, using the mineral deposits in the winding riverbed for extra push, keeping under cover of the trees. Even the special-hot infrared glow of Shay's and Fausto's bodies couldn't penetrate the dark cloak of the forest. And that was a problem. What if they'd already pulled off the river, sneaking into the trees to watch her fly past?

On their stolen boards, the Smokies could head off in any direction they wanted. Tally needed a few seconds up in the sky, looking down. But the Smokies also had infrared. To take a peek without giving herself away, she would have to cool her body temperature way down. She looked into the dark water rushing past her feet and shivered.

This was not going to be fun. Tally spun to a stop, freezing spray spitting up from the tail of her board, tickling her arms and face, sending another shiver through her bones. The river was running fast, filled to the brim with melted snow rolling down from the mountains, as chill as a champagne bucket back in bubblehead days.

See a Problem?

With toes pointed, she barely made a splash, but the freezing water set her heart pounding madly. In seconds her teeth began to chatter, her muscles clenching, threatening to snap her bones. She pulled Ho's board down into the water beside her, and the lifting fans spat out tendrils of steam as they cooled. Tally began an endless, torturous count of ten, wishing bad luck and destruction down on David, the Smokies, and whoever it was who'd first invented freezing water.

The cold seeped into her body, making her nerves scream and leeching deep into her bones. But then it hit her, the special moment. It was like when she cut herself, the pain building until she could hardly stand it anymore…then suddenly flipping inside out. And hidden within the agony the strange clarity came again, as if the world had ordered itself into something that made perfect sense.

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Just as Dr. Cable had promised so long ago, this was better than bubbly. All of Tally's senses were on fire, but her mind seemed to stand apart from them, observing their sensations without being overwhelmed. She was non-random, above average…almost beyond human. And she had been made to save the world.

Tally stopped counting and let out a slow, calm breath, and bit by bit, her shivering faded away. The icy water had lost its power. She pulled herself back onto Ho's board, grasping its edges with bone-pale knuckles.

It took three tries to snap her numbed fingers loud enough, but finally the hoverboard began to rise into the dark sky, climbing as high as the cool and silent magnetic lifters would take it. As she cleared the trees, the wind hit like an avalanche of cold, but Tally ignored it, her eyes sweeping across the marvelously clear world below. There they were—only a kilometer or so ahead—a flicker of boards against the black water, a glimpse of a glowing human in infrared.

The Smokies seemed to be going slowly, hardly moving at all. Maybe they were resting, unaware that they were being followed. But to Tally, it was as if her moment of icy focus had stopped them in their tracks. She let the board drop, falling out of sight before her body heat could cut through the chill of soaked clothes. The costume dorm uniform clung to her like a wet woolen blanket.

Pulling off the jacket, Tally let it fall into the river. Her board roared back to life, skimming forward with fans fully engaged, leaving a meter-high wake. Tally might be soaking and frozen to the bone, and only one against five, but the dunking had cleared her head.

She felt her special senses dissecting the forest around her, her instincts spinning, her mind calculating from the stars overhead exactly how long it would take to catch up.

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Her hands flexed numbly, but Tally knew that they were the only weapons she needed, no matter what other little tricks the Smokies had brought along.

She was ready for this fight. Sixty seconds later, she saw it: Its rider stood calmly, black silhouette holding the glowing form of a Special.

Tally swirled to a halt, whipping in a tight circle to scan the trees. The forest's deep purple background was filled with half-glimpsed shapes whipped into motion by the wind, but no human forms. She looked at the dark figure blocking the river before her.

The sneak suit hid his face, but Tally remembered the way David stood on a hoverboard: And she could feel that it was him. The glowing-hot form sagging in his arms had to be Shay, still unconscious. He shook his head.

Another ambush? It was strange to hear David's voice again. It traveled clearly over the rushing water, carrying a hint of nerves. She realized that he was scared of her. Of course he was, but it still felt strange… "Can you remember me? You always made a big impression. You'd figured out how the city had messed up your head. You forced yourself to think clearly again, not like a pretty.

And you escaped. You mean, you sent those pills to me accidentally? But we warned you about the risks. Don't you remember? I can finally see.

They weren't revolutionaries; they were nothing but egomaniacs, playing with lives, leaving broken people in their wake. 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.

And you play games with them. I'm sorry. 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: 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. 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'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 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. 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. Her lips were almost blue in Tally's infrared. But it woke you up, at least. She sat there, huddled miserably against the breeze while Tally stayed in the river, staring up into her glassy eyes. Do you know where you are? That means they got me with one of those stupid arrows. Throwing Tachs at me. I caught him before he hit the ground. Then David tried to take you away. But I got you back. We'll get him back.

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. That's a little insulting," Shay said.

It's not like the Smokies, throwing someone into freezing water while they're unconscious. Know what I mean? 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. 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. 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. We need more. The one the Smokey girl was giving nanos? Before I handed him over to the wardens, I managed to scare him a little. 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. But he knew where he was supposed to take the nanos. He was supposed to take them to the Crims. All but a few of the Cutters had been Crims back in their pretty days. The clique was all about making trouble: Shay shrugged. There are hundreds of them. But that ugly kid mentioned a name, someone he was supposed to give them to specially. He said the nanos were for Zane. It's only been two weeks. 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. 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. Cable about it? To join Special Circumstances, you have to prove you're special. You have to think your way out of being a bubblehead. Doesn't Cable understand that? Was Zane still the bubbly guy who'd started the Crims? Or had his brain damage changed all that, dooming him to stay a bubblehead for the rest of his life? The whole thing was totally unfair. Completely random. When the Smokies had brought the first nanos into New Pretty Town, they'd left two pills for Tally to find, along with a letter from herself warning about the dangers, but saying she'd given 'informed consent.

He'd offered to take the untried pills. The nanos were supposed to free the pretties, turning them from bubbleheads into…well, no one had ever bothered to figure out what exactly.

What would you do with a bunch of spoiled, superbeautiful people with no limits on their appetites? Let them loose on the fragile world, to destroy it the way the Rusties almost had three centuries before? In any case, the cure hadn't really worked like it was supposed to.

Tally and Zane had split the pills, and Zane had gotten the unlucky one. The nanos in it had eaten the lesions that made him a bubblehead, but then they'd kept right on going, eating away more and more of his mind… Tally shuddered at the thought of how lucky she'd been. The only purpose of her pill had been to switch off the nanos in the other one. Alone, it hadn't done anything— she'd only thought she'd taken the cure. And yet she'd managed to stop being a bubblehead all on her own—no nanos, no operation, not even cutting herself like Shay's crew had.

That was why she was in Special Circumstances. But that doesn't make it your fault, Tally. That's what happens when you're special. Why feel guilty? So I'm coming with you tonight, okay?

As long as I don't have to stick any plastic on my face. Two ex-boyfriends in a row could mess with it. He might be a bubblehead right now, but hell think his way out. That's not very icy. Made fists to control them. She kicked a hefty log onto the fire, scattering sparks.

Watching as the flames wrapped around it, she opened her hands to the heat. Somehow, the freezing river had given her a chill that wouldn't leave, no matter how close she sat to the blaze. She just needed to see Zane again, and this weird feeling in her bones would go away. No one can be icy all the time. Maybe you just need a cut. Tally wanted to, but she snorted and spat into the fire.

Shay wasn't going to make her feel weak this way. Apparently, Shay was still unhappy about being beaten in hand-to-hand combat by a random the night before.

Shay looked down at her fist. Didn't mean that, really. So are we even now? Can I go see Zane with you? It'll only freak you out. Why don't you go help look for Fausto instead?

Later, the others were going to head out on their hoverboards and scan the wild. The Smokies couldn't remove Fausto's skintenna without killing him, so his signal would read from a kilometer or so away.

But mere kilometers meant nothing in the wild, Tally knew. On her way to the Smoke, she'd traveled at hoverboard speeds for days without encountering any sign of humanity had seen whole cities submerged in desert sands and jungle. If the Smokies wanted to disappear, the natural world was more than big enough.

Tally snorted. You're special now. You shouldn't be mooning over some bubblehead. You're a Cutter, Zane's not—it's as simple as that. She remembered a lot of times when she'd been contented—as a bubblehead, even as a Smokey But somehow her satisfaction never lasted very long.

She always found herself changing, pushing against the limits, and ruining things for everyone around her. Seeing Zane is going to make things really complicated. Just give him time to find his own way here. Aren't you happy with us? Her special senses made the whole world icy, and every moment spent in this new body was better than a year of being pretty. But now that she knew Zane was healthy, his absence muddled everything. Suddenly, she felt unfinished and unreal.

But remember when Zane and I escaped the city last time? And we left you behind? Well, I can't do that again. Just let you drown? Look, this is for your own good. Believe me, you don't want this complication. With a prick of pain, the iron taste of blood spread across her tongue, and her mind cleared a little. I'll never make things complicated again.

I'll be a good little Cutter and do whatever you and Dr. Cable tell me. Just give me Zane. I just want Zane here with us. She could see her future now, a clear path with no more reversals or confusions.

She'd fought being ugly and she'd fought being pretty, but that was all over—she just wanted to be special from now on. New Pretty Town was lit with colorful explosions in the sky, just like every other night. Tethered hot-air balloons floated above the party spires, and gas torches lit the pleasure gardens, like bright snakes ascending the island's sloping sides. The tallest buildings cast jittering shadows in the fireworks' momentary light, reshaping the city's silhouette with every burst.

As they approached New Pretty Town, the ragged cheers of drunken bubbleheads scattered down to meet them. For a moment, the joyous sound made Tally feel like an envious ugly watching from across the river, waiting to turn sixteen. This was her first trip back to New Pretty Town since becoming a Special. They'd only spent a couple of months together in bubblehead paradise before everything had gotten complicated. She couldn't disagree—but having a brain hurt so much sometimes.

She licked her thumb, where a red spot still marked her promise. Climbing the island's slope through a pleasure garden, the two of them kept to the shadows, heading for the center of town. They glided right above a few entangled couples, but no one spotted them overhead. They looked so clueless, so completely unaware of all the dangers they had to be protected from.

Their lives might be full of pleasure, but they seemed so meaningless to her now. She couldn't let Zane live like this. Suddenly, laughter and screams came through the trees, approaching fast … at hoverboard speed. Flicking her sneak suit on, Tally angled into the thick pine needles of the nearest treetops. A line of boarders came slaloming through the garden, laughing like hysterical demons. She crouched lower, feeling her suit sprout dappled camouflage and wondering how so many uglies had snuck over to New Pretty Town all at once.

Not a bad trick… Maybe this bunch would be worth following. But then she saw their faces: They were pretties. They shot past unaware, shrieking at the top of their lungs, zooming toward the river. Their screams faded, leaving only the smell of perfume and champagne. Tally swallowed. Bubbleheads didn't hoverboard.

You needed all your reflexes to stay on; you couldn't be all fuzzy-brained and easily distracted. When new pretties wanted thrills, they jumped off buildings wearing bungee jackets or rode in hot-air balloons, things that didn't require any skill. But these pretties hadn't simply been boarding; they'd been doing it well.

Things had changed in New Pretty Town since the last time Tally had been here. She remembered Special Circumstance's latest report, that there were more runaways leaving the city every week, an epidemic of uglies disappearing into the wild.

But what would happen if pretties got it into their heads to run away? Shay emerged from her hiding place, her suit shifting from dappled green to matte black. After all, if they've got sneak suits, they can go anywhere. In a well-tuned suit, as David's ambush had proven, you could hide even from a Special's senses.

Where did the Smokies get hold of those suits? They couldn't make them, could they? And they didn't steal them either. Cable said that all the cities keep track of their military equipment. But nobody's reporting anything missing, not anywhere on the continent. But not about losing Fausto or our boards. They were only good at killing. Tally peered down, wondering if they looked more lively than normal Bashers. Was everyone in town getting more bubbly?

Maybe the nanos' effects would rub off even on pretties who hadn't taken a pill—just as being around Zane had always made her bubblier.

After the group had passed, Shay said, "Dr. C thinks the Smokies have some new friends. City friends. Why would one of us—? Cities didn't usually mess with one another's business—that sort of conflict was too dangerous.

It could wind up like the wars the Rusties used to have, with whole continents vying for control, trying to kill one another. Just the thought of fighting with another city's Special Circumstances sent a nervous trickle down her spine… They landed on top of Pulcher Mansion, coming down among solar cells and air extractors.

A few bubbleheads stood on the roof, but they were transfixed by the dance of hot-air balloons and fireworks overhead and didn't see a thing. It felt strange being on the roof of Pulcher again. Tally had practically lived here with Zane last winter, but she saw everything differently now. Smelled it differently too— scents of human habitation came from the spinning air extractors that dotted the roof.

Totally unlike the fresh air of the wild, it made her feel anxious and crowded. Tally opened it, and the building underfoot faded to transparency, revealing a grid of blue lines marked with glowing blobs.

She blinked a few times, trying to make sense of the overlay. It's a feed from the city interface.

He's still in his old room, see? She remembered the interface rings that bubbleheads and uglies wore, and how the city used them to keep track of people. Like all troublemaking pretties, though, Zane had probably been fitted with a bracelet, which was basically an interface ring that you couldn't take off. The other blobs in Zane's room were labeled with names, most of which she didn't recognize.

All her old Crim friends had been part of last winters big escape into the wild. Like Tally, they'd thought their way out of being bubbleheads, so they were Specials now—except for those who were still out in the wild, still Smokies.

Peris's name hovered right next to Zane's. Peris had been Tally's best friend since they were littlies, but during the escape he'd backed out at the last minute, deciding to stay a bubblehead. He was one pretty who would never be special, that much Tally knew. But at least Zane had a familiar face around. She frowned. Everyone can recognize him from all the tricks we pulled, but he might not even remember any of it…" She let her whisper fade, pushing the awful thoughts away.

Whatever they were up to, it didn't look very bubbly. Talking in private is going to be tricky. If they let him come back to New Pretty Town, Zane's fit to party. What would be the point otherwise? Maybe it's too early, and going out would be bogus. She pulled on her climbing gloves. Let's go find out for ourselves. Cable listening in.

I'd rather keep this between us Cutters. So, between us Cutters, what exactly is the plan tonight? Tally didn't fear heights anymore—they didn't even make her icy There was only the slightest sensation of warning as she looked over the edge of the roof.

Nothing panicky or nervous-making—more like a little reminder from her brain to be careful. She swung both legs over and lowered herself, letting her feet slide down Pulcher Mansion's smooth wall. One grippy-shoed toe wedged into a seam between two sections of ceramic, and she paused, letting the sneak suit turn itself the color of the mansion.

She felt its scales shifting to match the building's texture. When the suit finished its adjustments, Tally released her hold on the roof-ledge. She half-fell and half-slid, hands and feet scraping down the ceramic, darting out madly to catch more seams, the edges of window frames, half-repaired cracks in the wall. None of the imperfections was sturdy enough to hold her weight, but each momentary hand- or foothold slowed her just a little, the descent always under control.

It was thrillingly tenuous, as if Tally were a bug running across water too quickly to sink. By the time she reached Zane's window, Tally was falling fast, but her fingers shot out and caught the ledge easily. She swung in a wide arc, grippy gloves sticking to the ledge as if glued there, her momentum slowly expending itself as she pendulummed back and forth.

When she looked up, Tally saw Shay perched a meter above, balanced on a tiny ridge of window frame that stuck out no more than a centimeter from the wall. Her gloved hands were splayed behind her like five-legged spiders, but Tally couldn't see how there was enough total friction to hold her weight. Shay giggled. But it's a bit slippy up here. Quick, take a listen. She pulled it off and stretched out a finger to touch the corner of the window. The chips in her hand registered the vibrations there, turning the expanse of glass into one big microphone.

She closed her eyes, hearing the noises inside the room with a sudden intimacy, like pressing one ear to a drinking glass against a thin wall. She heard a ping as Shay listened in through her skintenna. Zane was talking, and the sound sent a little tremor through Tally.

It was so familiar—yet distorted, either by her eavesdropping hardware or the months they'd been apart. She could make out the words, but not what they meant. Sounds like Rusty-talk. Like some old book. A dramatic reading didn't sound very Crim, actually. Or very anything but random.

And yet Zane's voice kept going, droning on about something melting. Zane sat in a big, soft-cushioned chair, holding a tattered old paper book in one hand and waving the other around like an orchestra conductor as he declaimed.

But where the city interface had placed the other Crims, there was only empty space. What's going on? Those other Crims are just…" She squinted into the gloom outside Zane's reading light. There they were, spread around the room like an attentive audience.

They're all just interface rings, except for Zane. We want him bubbly. Now hurry up, I'm starting to slip. She took a deep breath, then rapped twice, trying to smile without showing the razor sharpness of her teeth. Zane looked up at the sound, startled for a moment, then his eyes widened.

He made a gesture, and the window slid open. A grin spread across his face. His cheekbones were sharp, his stare hungry and intense, like he was still using calorie purgers to keep himself alert. His lips were as full as any bubblehead's, and as Zane stared at Tally, he pursed them in childlike concentration.

His hair hadn't changed at all; she remembered how he'd dyed it with calligraphy ink, turning it a bluish black that was way beyond the Pretty Committee's standards of good taste. But there was something different about his face. Tally's mind spun, trying to figure out what it was. Of course. They had so much to talk about, hardly any of which she wanted to say in front of Shay. It suddenly seemed like years since she'd seen Zane. Tally felt all the differences in her body—the ultralight bones and flash tattoos, the cutting scars along her arms— as reminders of how she'd changed in the time they'd been apart.

Of how different they were now. Shay grinned at the interface rings. Shay shook her head, pulling a small black device from her belt. Tally's sharp ears caught its barely audible hum, a sizzling like wet leaves thrown onto a fire. The city can't hear us. Well, as long as it's just us three…" He dropped the book onto the empty chair beside him, where it set Peris's ring jiggling.

Plot introduction[ edit ] The Uglies series is set at least three centuries in the future, after current civilization was destroyed by a bacterium which de-established all petroleum products, causing widespread chaos.

The survivors of this disaster established cities much smaller than those currently existing, each of which is independently governed with limited traveling. At the age of sixteen, each person undergoes an operation which boosts their immune system and reflexes while giving them well-proportioned, symmetrical faces based on an international standard, so that all pretties look nearly identical. They are also given brain lesions which make them peaceful and compliant.

Before they receive the operation, children are referred to as "uglies", and are kept separate from their older friends. Later operations follow to show signs of increasing age while maintaining their beauty, and the lesions may be removed for pretties entering careers which require quick thinking. Pretties who work for Special Circumstances, a clique which ensures the city's security, are given an operation to make them look terrifying, become very strong and fast, and have incredibly fast reflexes.

Specials also receive brain surgery to make them feel superior to others and have heightened feelings of rage and euphoria. Plot summary[ edit ] The third novel in the Uglies series begins two months after events in Pretties, when Tally Youngblood has become a member of an elite group of "Specials" - surgically enhanced super-humans - called the Cutters.

The Cutters were founded by Shay, who invented the use of ritual self-harm to become "bubbly" and clear-headed in spite of brain lesions used to make her pretty-minded. All of the specials in this group were able to get rid of the brain lesions on their own, and now live in the wild.

They were adopted into Special Circumstances and given enhanced senses, strength and reflexes, and are among the youngest agents working for Dr. The Cutters disguise themselves as Uglies in order to crash a party in Uglyville and search for members of the New Smoke.

Tally successfully finds a girl giving out pills which cure the pretty lesions, which she encourages the Uglies to take to the Crims - Tally and Shay's old clique. The Cutters attempt to capture the girl, but she escapes on a hoverboard with David's help. Giving chase, the Cutters are ambushed by Smokies with unusually advanced technology, including infra-red masking sneak suits and electrical weapons.

Hearing that the pills are intended for Zane, Tally insists on going to see her boyfriend, who suffered brain damage in New Pretty Town and has been hospitalized since Tally turned Special. Tally discovers that while Zane is free of the pretty lesions, his brain has been damaged and his physical infirmity now disgusts her.

She begins to wonder if she received a brain operation when being made Special which has given her feelings of superiority. Eager to show Dr. Cable that Zane is cured so that he will be made Special, Shay and Tally break into the city Armory to steal something to cut off Zane's tracking necklace. They succeed, but in the attempt, they accidentally destroy much of the Armory, putting the city on high alert. Then, they begin to secretly track Zane and the Crims as they journey to the New Smoke, although the pair split up when Tally receives a guide to the New Smoke from her friend Andrew Simpson Smith, an escapee villager from a reservation of primitive culture.

Shay follows the guide straight to the Smoke, but Tally insists on staying with Zane. On the journey, Zane notices Tally and confronts her about her reasons for following him. The pair kiss, but Tally is still repulsed by Zane's tremors and runs away from him. Tally continues to follow the group to the New Smoke - a city called Diego, which accepts runaways freely, having widely adopted the pretty cure and rejected the rules about surgery, allowing anyone to look how they please rather than following the international standard.Tally snorted.

But what exactly was it? Its lifting fans spun to life as she crossed the city's border. Cable, the arrangement that allowed the Cutters to destroy the New Smoke any way they wanted. The fast current carried her under Tally, who threw the spent arrows aside, spun on one heel, and dove into the freezing river. How had this easy trick gone so wrong?

It was just like Shay had promised: He shrugged. Shay wasn't going to make her feel weak this way.

KASIE from Atlantic City
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