“Oh, I’m really . . . I didn’t know. I swear!”
“Relax, Tally,” the boy said. “It’s not your fault. Shay’s
board had one too. That’s why we meet you newbies down
here.” He held up the bug. “We’ll take it away in some ran-
dom direction and stick it on a migrating bird. See how the
Specials like South America.” The Smokies all laughed.
He stepped closer and swept the device up and down
her body. Tally flinched when it passed close to the pen-
dant. But he smiled. “It’s okay. You’re clean.”
Tally sighed with relief. Of course, she hadn’t activated
the pendant yet, so his device couldn’t detect it. The other
bug was just Dr. Cable’s way of misleading the Smokies,
getting them to drop their guard. Tally herself was the real
Shay stepped up next to the boy, taking his hand in
hers. “Tally, this is David.”
The boy smiled again. He was an ugly, but he had a nice
smile. And his face held a kind of confidence that Tally had
never seen in an ugly before. Maybe he was a few years
older than she was. Tally had never watched anyone mature
naturally past age sixteen. She wondered how much of
being ugly was just an awkward age.
Of course, David was hardly a pretty. His smile was
crooked, and his forehead too high. But, uglies or not, it
was good to see Shay, David—all of them. Except for a
couple of stunned hours with the rangers, she hadn’t seen
human faces in what seemed like years.
“So, what’ve you got?”
Croy was one of the other uglies who’d come to meet
her. He also looked older than sixteen, but it didn’t suit him
like it did David. Some people needed the operation more
than others. He reached out a hand for her knapsack.
“Oh, thanks.” Her shoulders were sore from being
strapped to the thing for the last week.
He pulled it open as they hiked, looking inside.
“Purifier. Position-finder.” Croy pulled out the waterproof
bag and opened it. “SpagBol! Yum!”
Tally groaned. “You can have it.”
His eyes widened. “I can?”
Shay pulled the knapsack away from him. “No, you can’t.”
“Listen, I’ve eaten that stuff three times a day for the
past . . . what seems like forever,” Tally said.
“Yeah, but dehydrated food’s hard to get in the Smoke,”
Shay explained. “You should save it to trade.”
“Trade?” Tally frowned. “What do you mean?” In the
city, uglies might trade chores or stuff they’d stolen, but
Shay laughed. “You’ll get used to the idea. In the
Smoke, things don’t just come out of the wall. You’ve got to
hang on to the stuff you brought with you. Don’t go giving
it away to anyone who asks.” Shay glared at Croy, who
looked down sheepishly.
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“I was going to give her something for it,” he insisted.
“Sure you were,” David said.
Tally noticed his hand on Shay’s shoulder, touching her
softly as they hiked. She remembered the way Shay had
always talked about David, kind of dreamily. Maybe it
wasn’t just the promise of freedom that had brought her
They reached the edge of the flowers, a dense growth
of trees and brush that started at the foot of a towering
“How do you keep the orchids from spreading?” Tally
David’s eyes lit up, as if this was his favorite subject.
“This old-growth forest stops them. It’s been around for
centuries, probably even before the Rusties.”
“It’s got lots and lots of species,” Shay said. “So it’s
strong enough to keep out the weed.” She looked at David
“The rest of this land used to be farms or grazing pas-
ture,” he continued, gesturing back at the expanse of white
behind them. “The Rusties had already broken its back
before the weed arrived.”
A few minutes into the forest, Tally realized why the
orchids were no match for it. The tangled brush and thick
trees were knotted together into an impassable wall on
either side. Even on the narrow path, she was constantly
shoving past branches and twigs, tripping over roots and
rocks. She’d never seen any woodlands this raw and inhos-
pitable. Vines dotted with cruel thorns ran through the
semidarkness like barbed wire. “You guys
Shay laughed. “Don’t worry. We’ve got a ways to go.
We’re just making sure you weren’t followed. The Smoke’s
much higher, where the trees aren’t so intense. But the
creek’s coming up. We’ll be on board soon.”
“Good,” Tally said. Her feet were already chafing in the
new shoes. But they were warmer than her destroyed grip-
pies, she realized, and were better for hiking. She wondered
what would have happened if the rangers hadn’t given them
to her. How did you get new shoes in the Smoke? Trade
someone all your food? Make them yourself? She looked
down at the feet ahead of her, David’s, and saw that his
shoes did look handmade, like a couple of pieces of leather
crudely sewn together. Strangely, though, he moved grace-
fully through the undergrowth, silent and sure while the
rest of them crashed along like elephants.
The very idea of making a pair of shoes by hand boggled
It didn’t matter, Tally reminded herself, taking a deep
breath. Once in the Smoke, she could activate the pendant
and be home within a day, maybe within hours. All the food
and clothes she would ever need, hers for the asking. Her
face pretty at long last, and Peris and all their old friends
Finally, this nightmare would be over.
Soon, the sound of running water filled the forest, and they
reached a small clearing. David pulled his device out again,
pointing it back toward the path. “Still nothing.” He
grinned at Tally. “Congratulations, you’re one of us now.”
Shay giggled and hugged Tally again as the others read-
ied their boards. “I still can’t believe you came. I thought I’d
messed everything up, waiting so long to tell you about
running away. And I was so stupid, getting into a fight
instead of just telling you what I was going to do.”
Tally shook her head. “You’d said everything already, I
just wasn’t listening. Once I realized you were serious, I
needed a chance to think about it. It just took me a
while . . . every minute, until the last night before my birth-
day.” She took a deep breath, wondering why she was
saying all this, lying to Shay when she didn’t really have to.
She should just shut up, get to the Smoke, and get it over
with. But Tally found herself continuing. “Then I realized
I’d never see you again if I didn’t come. And I’d always
That last part was true, at least.
As they boarded higher up into the mountain the creek
widened, cutting an archway of trees into the dense forest.
The gnarled, smaller trees became taller pines, the under-
growth thinning, the brook breaking into occasional rapids.
Shay cried out as she rode through the spray of churning
“I’ve been dying to show you this! And the
rapids are on the other side.”
Eventually, they left the creek, following a vein of iron
over a ridge. From the top, they looked down into a small
valley that was mostly clear of forest.
Shay held Tally’s hand. “There it is. Home.”
The Smoke lay below them.
The Smoke really was smoky.
Open fires dotted the valley, surrounded by small
groups of people. The scents of wood smoke and cooking
drifted up to Tally, smells that made her think of camping
and outdoor parties. In addition to the smoke there was a
morning mist in the air, a white finger creeping down into
the valley from a bank of clouds nestled against the moun-
tain higher up. A few solar panels glimmered feebly, gath-
ering what sun was reflected from the mist. Garden plots
were planted in random spots between the buildings,
twenty or so one-story structures made from long planks of
wood. There was wood everywhere: in fences; as cooking
spits; laid down in walkways over muddy patches; and in
big stacks by the fires. Tally wondered where they had
found so much wood.
Then she saw the stumps at the edges of the settlement,
and gasped. “Trees . . . ,” she whispered in horror. “You cut
Shay squeezed her hand. “Only in this valley. It seems
weird at first, but it’s the way the pre-Rusties lived too, you
know? And we’re planting more on the other side of the
mountain, pushing into the orchids.”
“Okay,” Tally said doubtfully. She saw a team of uglies
moving a felled tree, pushing it along on a pair of hover-
boards. “There’s a grid?”
Shay nodded happily. “Just in places. We pulled up a
bunch of metal from a railroad, like the track you came up
the coast on. We’ve laid out a few hoverpaths through the
Smoke, and eventually we’ll do the whole valley. I’ve been
working on that project. We bury a piece of junk every few
paces. Like everything here, it’s tougher than you’d think.
how much a knapsack full of steel
David and the others were already headed down, glid-
ing single file between two rows of rocks painted a glowing
orange. “That’s the hoverpath?” Tally asked.
“Yeah. Come on, I’ll take you down to the library.
You’ve got to meet the Boss.”
The Boss wasn’t really in charge here, Shay explained. He
just acted like it, especially to newbies. But he was in com-
mand of the library, the largest of the buildings in the settle-
ment’s central square.
The familiar smell of dusty books overwhelmed Tally at
the library door, and as she looked around, she realized that
books were pretty much all the library had. No big air-
screen, not even private workscreens. Just mismatched
desks and chairs and rows and rows of bookshelves.
Shay led her to the center of it all, where a round kiosk
was inhabited by a small figure talking on an old-fashioned
handphone. As they drew closer, Tally felt her heart starting
to pound. She’d been dreading what she was about to see.
The Boss was an
ugly. Tally had spotted a few from
a distance on the way in, but had managed to turn her eyes
away. But here was the wrinkled, veined, discolored, shuf-
fling, horrific truth, right before her eyes. His milky eyes
glared at them as he berated whoever was on the phone, in
a rattling voice and waving one claw at them to go away.
Shay giggled and pulled her toward the shelves. “He’ll
get to us eventually. There’s something I want to show
“That poor man . . .”
“The Boss? Pretty wild, huh? He’s, like,
! Wait until
you talk to him.”
Tally swallowed, trying to erase the image of his sagging
features from her mind. These people were insane to toler-
ate that, to
it. “But his face . . . ,” Tally said.
“That’s nothing. Check these out.” Shay sat her down at
a table, turned to a shelf, and pulled out a handful of
volumes in protective covers. She plonked them in front
“Books on paper? What about them?”
“Not books. They’re called ‘magazines,’” Shay said. She
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