opened one and pointed. Its strangely glossy pages were
covered with pictures. Of people.
Tally’s eyes widened as Shay turned the pages, pointing
and giggling. She’d never seen so many wildly different
faces before. Mouths and eyes and noses of every imagin-
able shape, all combined insanely on people of every age.
. Some were grotesquely fat, or weirdly over-
muscled, or uncomfortably thin, and almost all of them had
wrong, ugly proportions. But instead of being ashamed of
their deformities, the people were laughing and kissing and
posing, as if all the pictures had been taken at some huge
party. “Who are these freaks?”
“They aren’t freaks,” Shay said. “The weird thing is,
these are famous people.”
“Famous for what? Being hideous?”
“No. They’re sports stars, actors, artists. The men with
stringy hair are musicians, I think. The really ugly ones are
politicians, and someone told me the fatties are mostly
“That’s funny, as in strange,” Tally said. “So this is what
people looked like before the first pretty? How could any-
one stand to open their eyes?”
“Yeah. It’s scary at first. But the weird thing is, if you
keep looking at them, you kind of get used to it.”
Shay turned to a full-page picture of a woman wearing
only some kind of formfitting underwear, like a lacy swimsuit.
“What the . . . ,” Tally said.
The woman looked like she was starving, her ribs
thrusting out from her sides, her legs so thin that Tally won-
dered how they didn’t snap under her weight. Her elbows
and pelvic bones looked sharp as needles. But there she
was, smiling and proudly baring her body, as if she’d just
had the operation and didn’t realize they’d sucked out way
too much fat. The funny thing was, her face was closer to
being pretty than any of the rest. She had the big eyes,
smooth skin, and small nose, but her cheekbones were too
tight, the skull practically visible beneath her flesh. “What
on earth is she?”
“Which is what?”
“Kind of like a professional pretty. I guess when every-
one else is ugly, being pretty is sort of, like, your job.”
“And she’s in her underwear because . . . ?” Tally began,
and then a memory flashed into her mind. “She’s got that
disease! The one the teachers always told us about.”
“Probably. I always thought they made that up to
Back in the days before the operation, Tally remem-
bered, a lot of people, especially young girls, became so
ashamed at being fat that they stopped eating. They’d lose
weight too quickly, and some would get stuck and would
keep losing weight until they wound up like this “model.”
Some even died, they said at school. That was one of the
reasons they’d come up with the operation. No one got the
disease anymore, since everyone knew at sixteen they’d
turn beautiful. In fact, most people pigged out just before
they turned, knowing it would all be sucked away.
Tally stared at the picture and shivered. Why go back
“Spooky, huh?” Shay turned away. “I’ll see if the Boss is
Before she disappeared around a corner, Tally noticed
how skinny Shay was. Not diseased skinny, just ugly
skinny—she’d never eaten much. Tally wondered if, here in
the Smoke, Shay’s undereating would get worse and worse,
until she wound up starving herself.
Tally fingered the pendant. This was her chance. Might
as well get it over with now.
These people had forgotten what the old world was
really like. Sure, they were having a great time camping out
and playing hide-and-seek, and living out here was a great
trick on the cities. But somehow they’d forgotten that the
Rusties had been insane, almost destroying the world in a
million different ways. This starving almost-pretty was only
one of them. Why go back to that?
They were already cutting down
Tally popped open the heart pendant, looking down
into the little glowing aperture where the laser waited to
read her eye-print. She brought it closer, her hand shaking.
It was foolish to wait. This would only get harder.
And what choice did she have?
“Tally? He’s almost—”
Tally snapped closed the pendant and shoved it into
Shay smiled slyly. “I noticed that before. What gives?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on. You never wore anything like that
before. I leave you alone for two weeks and you get all
Tally swallowed, looking down at the silver heart.
“I mean, it’s a really nice necklace. Beautiful. But who
gave it to you, Tally?”
Tally found she couldn’t bring herself to lie. “Someone.
Shay rolled her eyes. “Last-minute fling, huh? I always
thought you were saving yourself for Peris.”
“It’s not like that. It’s . . .”
Why not tell her? Tally asked herself. She’d figure it out
when the Specials came roaring in, anyway. If she knew,
Shay could at least prepare herself before this fantasy world
came tumbling down. “I have to tell you something.”
“My coming here is kind of . . . the thing is, when I
went to get my—”
“What are you
Tally jumped at the craggy voice. It was like an old,
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broken version of Dr. Cable’s, a rusty razor blade drawn
across her nerves.
“Those magazines are over three centuries old, and
you’re not wearing gloves!” The Boss shuffled over to where
Tally was sitting, producing white cotton gloves and pulling
them on. He reached around her to close the one she was
“Your fingers are covered with very nasty acids, young
lady. You’ll rot away these magazines if you’re not careful.
Before you go nosing around in the collection, you come
“Sorry, Boss,” Shay said. “My fault.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he snapped, reshelving the magazines
with elegant, careful movements at odds with his harsh
words. “Now, young lady, I suppose you’re here for a work
“Work?” Tally said.
They both looked down at her puzzled expression, and
Shay burst into laughter.
The Smokies all had lunch together, just like at an ugly
The long tables had clearly been cut from the hearts of
trees. They showed knots and whorls, and wavy tracks of
grain ran down their entire length. They were rough and
beautiful, but Tally couldn’t get over the thought that the
trees had been taken alive.
She was glad when Shay and David took her outside to
the cooking fire, where a group of younger uglies hung out.
It was a relief to get away from the felled trees, and from the
disturbing older uglies. Out here, at least, any of the
Smokies could pass as a senior. Tally didn’t have much
experience in judging an ugly’s age, but she turned out to
be more or less right. Two had just arrived from another
city, and weren’t even sixteen yet. The other three—Croy,
Ryde, and Astrix—were friends of Shay’s, from the group
that had run away together back before Tally and Shay had
Here in the Smoke only five months, Shay’s friends
already had a hint of David’s self-assurance. Somehow, they
carried the authority of middle pretties without the firm
jaw, the subtly lined eyes, or the elegant clothing. They
spent lunch talking about projects they were up to. A canal
to bring a branch of the creek closer to the Smoke; new pat-
terns for the sheep wool their sweaters were made from; a
new latrine. (Tally wondered what a “latrine” was.) They
seemed so serious, as if their lives were a really complicated
trick that had to be planned and replanned every day.
The food was serious too, and was piled on their plates
in serious quantities. It was heavier than Tally was used to,
the tastes too rich, like whenever her food history class
tried to cook their own meals. But the strawberries were
sweet without sugar, and although it seemed weird to eat it
plain, the Smokies’ bread had its own flavor without any-
thing added. Of course, Tally would have happily devoured
anything that wasn’t SpagBol.
She didn’t ask what was in the stew, though. The
thought of dead trees was enough to deal with in one day.
As they emptied their plates, Shay’s friends started
pumping Tally for news from the city. Dorm sports results,
soap opera story lines, city politics. Had she heard of any-
one else running away? Tally answered their questions as
best she could. No one tried to hide their homesickness.
Their faces looked years younger as they remembered old
friends and old tricks.
Then Astrix asked about her journey here to the Smoke.
“It was pretty easy, really. Once I got the hang of Shay’s
“Not that easy. Took you what, ten days?” David asked.
“You left the night before our birthday, right?” Shay said.
“Stroke of midnight,” Tally said. “Nine days . . . and
Croy frowned. “It took a while for the rangers to find
you, didn’t it?”
“I guess so. And they almost roasted me when they did.
They were doing a huge burn that got out of control.”
“Really? Whoa.” Shay’s friends looked impressed.
“My board almost burned. I had to save it and jump in
“Is that what happened to your face?” Ryde asked.
Tally touched the peeling skin on her nose. “Well, that’s
kind of . . .”
she almost said. But the others’ faces
were rapt. She’d been alone so long, Tally found herself
enjoying being the center of attention.
“The flames were all around me,” she said. “My shoes
melted crossing this big patch of burning flowers.”
Shay whistled. “Incredible.”
“That’s weird. The rangers usually keep an eye out for
us,” David said.
“Well, I guess they missed me.” Tally decided not to go
into the fact that she’d intentionally hidden her hover-
board. “Anyway, I was in the river, and I’d never even seen
a helicopter—except for the day before—and this thing
came thundering out of the smoke, driving the fire toward
me. And of course I had no idea the rangers were the good
guys. I thought they were Rusty pyromaniacs risen from
Everyone laughed, and Tally felt herself enjoying the
warmth of the group’s attention. It was like telling everyone
at dorm about a really successful trick, but much better,
because she really had survived a life-or-death situation.
David and Shay were hanging on to every word. Tally was
glad she hadn’t activated the pendant yet. She could hardly
sit here enjoying the Smokies’ admiration if she’d just
betrayed them all. She decided to wait until tonight, when
she was alone, to do what she had to.
“That must have been creepy,” David said, his voice
pulling her away from uncomfortable thoughts, “being
alone in the orchids for all those days, just waiting.”
She shrugged. “I thought they were kind of pretty. I
didn’t know about the whole superweed thing.”
David frowned at Shay. “Didn’t you tell her
Shay flushed. “You told me not to write anything that
would give the Smoke away, so I put it in code, sort of.”
“It sounds like your code almost got her killed,” David
said, and Shay’s face fell. He turned to Tally. “Hardly anyone
ever makes the trip alone. Not their first time out of the city.”
“I’d been out of the city before.” Tally put her arm around
Shay’s shoulder comfortingly. “I was fine. It was just a bunch
of pretty flowers to me, and I started with two weeks of food.”
“Why did you steal all SpagBol?” Croy asked. “You
must love the stuff.” The others joined in his laughter.
Tally tried to smile. “I didn’t even notice when I pinched
it. Three SpagBols a day for nine days. I could hardly stom-
ach the stuff after day two, but you get so hungry.”
They nodded. They all knew about hard traveling, and
hard work, too, apparently. Tally had already noticed how
much everyone had consumed for lunch. Maybe Shay wasn’t
so likely to get the not-eating disease. She had cleaned her
“Well, I’m glad you made it,” David said. He reached
across and touched the scratches on Tally’s face softly.
“Looks like you had more adventures than you’re telling us.”
Tally swallowed and shrugged, hoping she looked modest.
Shay smiled and hugged David. “I knew you’d think
Tally was awesome.”
A bell rang across the grounds, and they hurried to
finish their food.
“What’s that?” she asked.
David grinned. “That’s back to work.”
“You’re coming with us,” Shay said. “Don’t worry, it
won’t kill you.”
On the way to work, Shay explained more about the long,
flat roller coasters called railroads. Some stretched across
the entire continent, one small part of the Rusty legacy still
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