The imaginary conversations were back, but much worse
than they had been after Peris had left. A thousand times
she’d fought with Shay in her head—long, rambling discus-
sions about beauty, biology, growing up. All those times out
in the ruins, Shay had made her points about uglies and pret-
ties, the city and the outside, what was fake and what was
real. But Tally had never once realized her friend might actu-
ally run away, giving up a life of beauty, glamour, elegance. If
only she’d said the right thing.
Sitting here, she felt as if she’d hardly tried.
Tally looked the new ugly in the eye. “Because it all
comes down to this: Two weeks of killer sunburn is worth
a lifetime of being gorgeous.”
The kid scratched his head. “Huh?”
“Something I should have said, and didn’t. That’s all.”
The hospital hovercar finally came, settling onto the school
grounds so lightly that it hardly disturbed the fresh-mown
The driver was a middle pretty, radiating confidence
and authority. He looked so much like Sol that Tally almost
called her father’s name.
“Tally Youngblood?” he said.
Tally had already seen the flash of light that had read
her eye-print, but she said, “Yes, that’s me,” anyway. Some-
thing about the middle pretty made it hard to be flippant.
He was wisdom personified, his manner so serious and
formal that Tally found herself wishing she had dressed up.
“Are you ready? Not taking much.”
Her duffel bag was only half-full. Everyone knew that
new pretties wound up recycling most of the stuff they
brought over the river, anyway. She’d have all new clothes,
of course, and all the new pretty toys she wanted. All she’d
really kept was Shay’s handwritten note, hidden among a
bunch of random crap. “Got enough.”
“Good for you, Tally. That’s very mature.”
“That’s me, sir.”
The door closed, and the car took off.
The big hospital was on the bottom end of New Pretty
Town. It was where everyone went for serious operations:
littlies, uglies, even late pretties from way out in
Crumblyville coming in for life-extension treatments.
The river was sparkling under a cloudless sky, and Tally
allowed herself to be swept away by the beauty of New
Pretty Town. Even without the nighttime lights and fire-
works, the city’s surfaces shone with glass and metal, the
unlikely spindles of party towers casting thin shadows
across the island. It was so much more vibrant than the
Rusty Ruins, Tally suddenly saw. Not as dark and mysteri-
ous, perhaps, but more alive.
It was time to stop sulking about Shay. Life was going
to be one big party from now on, full of beautiful people.
Like Tally Youngblood.
The hovercar descended onto one of the red
s on the
hospital roof, and Tally’s driver escorted her inside, taking
her to a waiting room. An orderly looked up Tally’s name,
flashed her eye again, and told her to wait.
“You’ll be okay?” the driver asked.
She looked up into his clear, soft eyes, wanting him to
stay. But asking him to wait with her didn’t seem very
mature. “No, I’m fine. Thanks.” He smiled and went away.
No one else was in the waiting room. Tally settled back
and counted the tiles on the ceiling. As she waited, the con-
versations with Shay in her head came back again, but they
weren’t so troubling here. It was too late for second
Tally wished there was a window to look out onto New
Pretty Town. She was so close now. She imagined tomorrow
night, her first night pretty, dressed in new and wonderful
clothes (her dorm uniforms all shoved down the recycler),
looking out from the top of the highest party tower she
could find. She would watch as lights-out fell across the
river, bedtime for Uglyville, and know that she still had all
night with Peris and her new friends, all the beautiful
people she would meet.
Sixteen years. Finally.
Nothing happened for a long hour. Tally drummed her
fingers, wondering if they always kept uglies waiting this long.
Then the man came.
He looked strange, unlike any pretty Tally had ever
seen. He was definitely of middle age, but whoever had
done his operation had botched it. He was beautiful, with-
out a doubt, but it was a terrible beauty.
Instead of wise and confident, the man looked cold,
commanding, intimidating, like some regal animal of prey.
When he walked up, Tally started to ask what was going
on, but a glance from him silenced her.
She had never met an adult who affected her this way.
She always felt respect when face-to-face with a middle or
late pretty. But in the presence of this cruelly beautiful man,
respect was saturated with fear.
The man said, “There’s a problem with your operation.
Come with me.”
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This hovercar was larger, but not as comfortable.
The trip was much less pleasant than Tally’s first ride
that day. The strange-looking man flew with an aggressive
impatience, dropping like a rock to cut between flight
lanes, banking as steeply as a hoverboard with every turn.
Tally had never been airsick before, but now she clutched
the seat restraints, her knuckles white and eyes fixed on the
solid ground below. She caught one last glimpse of New
Pretty Town receding behind them.
They headed downriver, across Uglyville, over the
greenbelt and farther out to the transport ring, where the
factories stuck their heads aboveground. Beside a huge,
misshapen hill, the car descended into a complex of rec-
tangular buildings, as squat as ugly dorms and painted the
color of dried grass.
They landed with a painful bump, and the man led her
into one of the buildings, and down into a murk of yellow-
brown hallways. Tally had never seen so much space
painted in such putrid colors, as if the building were
designed to make its occupants vaguely nauseated.
There were more people like the man.
They were all dressed in formals, raw silks in black and
gray, and their faces had the same cold, hawkish look. Both
the men and women were taller than pretty standard, and
more powerfully built, their eyes as pale as an ugly’s. There
were a few normal people as well, but they faded into
insignificance next to the predatory forms moving grace-
fully through the halls.
Tally wondered if this was someplace where people
were taken when their operations went wrong, when
beauty turned cruel. Then why was she here? She hadn’t
even had the operation yet. Tally swallowed. What if these
terrible pretties had been made this way intentionally?
When they had measured her yesterday, had they deter-
mined that she would never fit the vulnerable, doe-eyed
pretty mold? Maybe she’d already been chosen to be
remade for this strange, other world.
The man stopped outside a metal door, and Tally
halted behind him. She felt like a littlie again, jerked along
by a minder on an invisible string. All her ugly senior’s
confidence had evaporated the moment she’d seen him
back at the hospital. Four years of tricks and indepen-
The door flashed his eye and opened, and he pointed
for her to go in. Tally realized he hadn’t said a word since
collecting her at the hospital. She took a deep breath, which
made the paralyzed muscles in her chest flinch with pain,
and managed to croak, “Say please.”
“Inside,” was his answer.
Tally smiled, silently declaring a small victory that she
had made him speak again, but she did as she was told.
“I’m Dr. Cable.”
Dr. Cable smiled. “Oh, I know who you are.”
The woman was a cruel pretty. Her nose was aquiline,
her teeth sharp, her eyes a nonreflective gray. Her voice had
the same slow, neutral cadence as a bedtime book. But it
hardly made Tally sleepy. An edge was hidden in the voice,
like a piece of metal slowly marking glass.
“You have a problem, Tally.”
“I had kind of guessed that, uh . . .” It was strange, not
knowing the woman’s first name.
“Dr. Cable will do.”
Tally blinked. She’d never called anyone by their last
name in her life.
“Okay, Dr. Cable.” She cleared her throat and managed
to say more, in a dry voice. “My problem right now is that I
don’t know what’s going on. So . . . why don’t you tell me?”
“What do you think’s going on, Tally?”
Tally closed her eyes, taking a rest from the sharp angles
of the woman’s face. “Well, that bungee jacket
you know, and we did put it back on the recharge pile.”
“This isn’t about some ugly-trick.”
She sighed and opened her eyes. “No, I didn’t think so.”
“This is about a friend of yours. Someone missing.”
Of course. Shay’s disappearing trick had gone too far,
leaving Tally to explain. “I don’t know where she is.”
Dr. Cable smiled. Only her top teeth showed when she
did. “But you do know something.”
“Who are you, anyway?” Tally blurted. “Where am I?”
“I’m Dr. Cable,” the woman said. “And this is Special
First Dr. Cable asked her a lot of questions. “You didn’t
know Shay long, did you?”
“No. Just this summer. We were in different dorms.”
“And you didn’t know any of her friends?”
“No. They were all older than her. They’d already
“Like your friend Peris?”
Tally swallowed. How much did this woman know
about her? “Yeah. Like Peris and me.”
“But Shay’s friends didn’t wind up pretty, did they?”
Tally took a slow breath, remembering her promise to
Shay. She didn’t want to lie, though. Dr. Cable would know
if she did, Tally was sure. She was in enough trouble
already. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“Did she tell you about her friends?”
“We didn’t talk about stuff like that. We just hung out.
Because . . . it hurt being alone. We were just into playing
“Did you know she’d been in a gang?”
Tally looked up into Dr. Cable’s eyes. They were almost
as big as a normal pretty’s, but they angled upward like
“A gang? How do you mean?”
“Tally, did you and Shay ever go to the Rusty Ruins?”
“But did you ever
to the ruins?”
“Yeah. A lot of people do.”
“Did you ever meet anyone there?”
Tally bit her lip. “What’s Special Circumstances?”
“Tally.” The edge in her voice was suddenly sharp as
a razor blade.
“If you tell me what Special Circumstances is, I’ll
Dr. Cable sat back. She folded her hands and nodded.
“This city is a paradise, Tally. It feeds you, educates you,
keeps you safe. It makes you pretty.”
Tally couldn’t help looking up hopefully at this.
“And our city can stand a great deal of freedom, Tally.
It gives youngsters room to play tricks, to develop their cre-
ativity and independence. But occasionally bad things come
Dr. Cable narrowed her eyes, her face becoming even
more like a predator’s. “We exist in equilibrium with our
environment, Tally, purifying the water that we put back in
the river, recycling the biomass, and using only power
drawn from our own solar footprint. But sometimes we
can’t purify what we take in from the outside. Sometimes
there are threats from the environment that must be faced.”
She smiled. “Sometimes there are Special Circum-
“So, you guys are like minders, but for the whole city.”
Dr. Cable nodded. “Other cities sometimes pose a chal-
lenge. And sometimes those few people who live outside
the cities can make trouble.”
Tally’s eyes widened.
the cities? Shay had been
telling the truth—places like the Smoke really existed.
“It’s your turn to answer my question, Tally. Did you
ever meet anyone in the ruins? Someone not from this city?
Not from any city?”
Tally grinned. “No. I never did.”
Dr. Cable frowned, her eyes darting downward for a
second, checking something. When they returned to Tally,
they had grown even colder. Tally smiled again, certain
now that Dr. Cable knew when she was telling the truth.
The room must be reading her heartbeat, her sweat, her
pupil dilation. But Tally couldn’t tell what she didn’t
The razor blade slid back into the woman’s voice.
“Don’t play games with me, Tally. Your friend Shay will
never thank you for it, because you’ll never see her again.”
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