staring. There was something magic in their large and per-
fect eyes, something that made you want to pay attention to
whatever they said, to protect them from any danger, to
make them happy. They were so . . . pretty.
The two disappeared around the next bend, and Tally
shook her head to clear the mushy thoughts away. She wasn’t
here to gawk. She was an infiltrator, a sneak, an ugly. And she
had a mission.
The garden stretched up into town, winding like a black
river through the bright party towers and houses. After a few
more minutes of creeping, she startled a couple hidden
among the trees (it was a
garden, after all), but in the
darkness they couldn’t see her face, and only teased her as she
mumbled an apology and slipped away. She hadn’t seen too
much of them, either, just a tangle of perfect legs and arms.
Finally, the garden ended, a few blocks from where
Tally peered out from behind a curtain of hanging vines.
This was farther than she and Peris had ever been together,
and as far as her planning had taken her. There was no way
to hide herself in the busy, well-lit streets. She put her fin-
gers up to her face, felt the wide nose and thin lips, the too-
high forehead and tangled mass of frizzy hair. One step out
of the underbrush and she’d be spotted. Her face seemed
to burn as the light touched it. What was she doing here?
She should be back in the darkness of Uglyville, awaiting
8 Scott Westerfeld
But she had to see Peris, had to talk to him. She wasn’t
quite sure why, exactly, except that she was sick of imagining a
thousand conversations with him every night before she fell
asleep. They’d spent every day together since they were littlies,
and now . . . nothing. Maybe if they could just talk for a few
minutes, her brain would stop talking to imaginary Peris.
Three minutes might be enough to hold her for three months.
Tally looked up and down the street, checking for side
yards to slink through, dark doorways to hide in. She felt
like a rock climber facing a sheer cliff, searching for cracks
The traffic began to clear a little, and she waited, rub-
bing the scar on her right palm. Finally, Tally sighed and
whispered, “Best friends forever,” and took a step forward
into the light.
An explosion of sound came from her right, and she
leaped back into the darkness, stumbling among the vines,
coming down hard on her knees in the soft earth, certain
for a few seconds that she’d been caught.
But the cacophony organized itself into a throbbing
rhythm. It was a drum machine making its lumbering way
down the street. Wide as a house, it shimmered with the
movement of its dozens of mechanical arms, bashing away
at every size of drum. Behind it trailed a growing bunch of
revelers, dancing along with the beat, drinking and throw-
ing their empty bottles to shatter against the huge, imper-
Tally smiled. The revelers were wearing masks.
The machine was lobbing the masks out the back, try-
ing to coax more followers into the impromptu parade:
devil faces and horrible clowns, green monsters and gray
aliens with big oval eyes, cats and dogs and cows, faces with
crooked smiles or huge noses.
The procession passed slowly, and Tally pulled herself
back into the vegetation. A few of the revelers passed close
enough that the sickly sweetness from their bottles filled
her nose. A minute later, when the machine had trundled
half a block farther, Tally jumped out and snatched up a
discarded mask from the street. The plastic was soft in her
hand, still warm from having been stamped into shape
inside the machine a few seconds before.
Before she pressed it against her face, Tally realized that
it was the same color as the cat-vomit pink of the sunset,
with a long snout and two pink little ears. Smart adhesive
flexed against her skin as the mask settled onto her face.
Tally pushed her way through the drunken dancers,
out the other side of the procession, and ran down a side
street toward Garbo Mansion, wearing the face of a pig.
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BEST FRIENDS FOREVER
Garbo Mansion was fat, bright, and loud.
It filled the space between a pair of party towers, a
squat teapot between two slender glasses of champagne.
Each of the towers rested on a single column no wider than
an elevator. Higher up they swelled to five stories of circu-
lar balconies, crowded with new pretties. Tally climbed the
hill toward the trio of buildings, trying to take in the view
through the eyeholes of her mask.
Someone jumped, or was thrown, from one of the
towers, screaming and flailing his arms. Tally gulped, forc-
ing herself to watch all the way down, until the guy was
caught by his bungee jacket a few seconds before splatting.
He hover-bounced in the harness a few times, laughing,
before being deposited softly on the ground, close enough
to Tally that she could hear nervous hiccups breaking up
his giggles. He’d been as scared as Tally.
She shivered, though jumping was hardly any more
dangerous than standing here beneath the looming towers.
The bungee jacket used the same lifters as the hoverstruts
that held the spindly structures up. If all the pretty toys
somehow stopped working, just about everything in New
Pretty Town would come tumbling down.
The mansion was full of brand-new pretties—the worst
kind, Peris always used to say. They lived like uglies, a hun-
dred or so together in a big dorm. But this dorm didn’t have
any rules. Unless the rules were Act Stupid, Have Fun, and
A bunch of girls in ball gowns were on the roof,
screaming at the top of their lungs, balancing on the edge
and shooting safety fireworks at people on the ground. A
ball of orange flame bounced next to Tally, cool as an
autumn wind, driving away the darkness around her.
“Hey, there’s a pig down there!” someone screamed
from above. They all laughed, and Tally quickened her
stride toward the wide-open door of the mansion. She
pushed inside, ignoring the surprised looks of two pretties
on their way out.
It was all one big party, just like they always promised
it would be. People were dressed up tonight, in gowns
and in black suits with long coattails. Everyone seemed to
find her pig mask pretty funny. They pointed and
laughed, and Tally kept moving, not giving them time to
do anything else. Of course, everyone was always laugh-
ing here. Unlike an ugly party, there’d never be any fights,
or even arguments.
She pushed from room to room, trying to distinguish
faces without being distracted by those big pretty eyes, or
overwhelmed by the feeling that she didn’t belong. Tally felt
uglier every second she spent there. Being laughed at by
everyone she met wasn’t helping much. But it was better
than what they’d do if they saw her real face.
Tally wondered if she would even recognize Peris.
She’d only seen him once since the operation, and that was
coming out of the hospital, before the swelling had sub-
sided. But she knew his face so well. Despite what Peris
always used to say, pretties didn’t really all look
same. On their expeditions, she and Peris had sometimes
spotted pretties who looked familiar, like uglies they’d
known. Sort of like a brother or sister—an older, more con-
prettier brother or sister. One you’d be jealous
of your whole life, if you’d been born a hundred years ago.
Peris couldn’t have changed that much.
“Have you seen the piggy?”
“There’s a piggy on the loose!”
The giggling voices were from the floor below. Tally
paused and listened. She was all alone here on the stairs.
Apparently, pretties preferred the elevators.
“How dare she come to our party dressed like a piggy!
This is white tie!”
“She’s got the wrong party.”
“She’s got no manners, looking that way!”
Tally swallowed. The mask wasn’t much better than her
own face. The joke was wearing thin.
She bounded up the stairs, leaving the voices behind.
Maybe they’d forget about her if she just kept moving.
There were only two more floors of Garbo Mansion to go,
and then the roof. Peris had to be here somewhere.
Unless he was out on the back lawn, or up in a balloon,
or a party tower. Or in a pleasure garden somewhere, with
someone. Tally shook away that last image and ran down
the hall, ignoring the same jokes about her mask, risking
glances into the rooms one by one.
Nothing but surprised looks and pointed fingers, and
pretty faces. But none of them rang a bell. Peris wasn’t any-
“Here, piggy, piggy! Hey, there she is!”
Tally bolted up to the top floor, taking two stairs at a
time. Her hard breathing had heated up the inside of the
mask, her forehead sweating, the adhesive crawling as it tried
to stay attached. They were following her now, a group of
them, laughing and stumbling over one another up the stairs.
There wasn’t any time to search this floor. Tally glanced
up and down the hall. No one up here, anyway. The doors
were all closed. Maybe a few pretties were actually getting
their beauty sleep.
If she went up to the roof to check for Peris, she’d be
“Here, piggy, piggy!”
Time to run. Tally dashed toward the elevator, skidding
to a halt inside. “Ground floor!” she ordered.
She waited, peering down the hall anxiously, panting
into the hot plastic of her mask. “Ground floor!” she
repeated. “Close door!”
She sighed, closing her eyes. Without an interface ring,
she was nobody. The elevator wouldn’t listen.
Tally knew how to trick an elevator, but it took time
and a penknife. She had neither. The first of her pursuers
emerged from the stairway, stumbling into the hall.
She threw herself backward against the elevator’s side
wall, standing on tiptoe and trying to flatten herself so they
couldn’t see her. More came up, huffing and puffing like
typical out-of-shape pretties. Tally could watch them in the
mirror at the back of the elevator.
Which meant they could also see
if they thought to
look this way.
“Where’d the piggy go?”
“The roof, maybe?”
Someone stepped quietly into the elevator, looking
back at the search party in bemusement. When he saw her,
he jumped. “Goodness, you scared me!” He blinked his
long lashes, regarding her masked face, then looked down
at his own tailcoat. “Oh, dear. Wasn’t this party white tie?”
Tally’s breath caught, her mouth went dry. “Peris?” she
He looked at her closely. “Do I . . .”
She started to reach out, but remembered to press back
flat against the wall. Her muscles were screaming from
standing on tiptoe. “It’s me, Peris.”
“Here, piggy, piggy!”
He turned toward the voice down the hall, raised his
eyebrows, then looked back at her. “Close door. Hold,” he
The door slid shut, and Tally stumbled forward. She
pulled off her mask to see him better. It was Peris: his voice,
his brown eyes, the way his forehead crinkled when he was
But he was so
At school, they explained how it affected you. It didn’t
matter if you knew about evolution or not—it worked any-
way. On everyone.
There was a certain kind of beauty, a prettiness that
everyone could see. Big eyes and full lips like a kid’s;
smooth, clear skin; symmetrical features; and a thousand
other little clues. Somewhere in the backs of their minds,
people were always looking for these markers. No one
could help seeing them, no matter how they were brought
up. A million years of evolution had made it part of the
The big eyes and lips said: I’m young and vulnerable, I
can’t hurt you, and you want to protect me. And the rest said:
I’m healthy, I won’t make you sick. And no matter how you
felt about a pretty, there was a part of you that thought:
had kids, they’d be healthy too. I
this pretty person. . . .
It was biology, they said at school. Like your heart beat-
ing, you couldn’t help believing all these things, not when
you saw a face like this. A pretty face.
A face like Peris’s.
“It’s me,” Tally said.
Peris took a step back, his eyebrows rising. He looked
down at her clothes.
Tally realized she was wearing her baggy black expedi-
tion outfit, muddy from crawling up ropes and through gar-
dens, from falling among the vines. Peris’s suit was deep
black velvet, his shirt, vest, and tie all glowing white.
She pulled away. “Oh, sorry. I won’t get you muddy.”
“What are you
“I just—,” she sputtered. Now that she was facing him,
she didn’t know what to say. All the imagined conversations
had melted away into his big, sweet eyes. “I had to know if
we were still . . .”
Tally held out her right hand, the scarred palm facing
up, sweaty dirt tracing the lines on it.
Peris sighed. He wasn’t looking at her hand, or into her
eyes. Not into her squinty, narrow-set, indifferently brown
eyes. Nobody eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “But, I mean—couldn’t
you have waited, Squint?”
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