pulled from the fire hot enough to burn her tongue, which
city food never did. Of course, she missed shampoo that
didn’t sting her eyes, and flush toilets (she’d learned to her
horror what “latrines” were), and mostly medspray. But
however blistered her hands became, Tally felt stronger
than ever before. She could work all day at the railroad site,
then race David and Shay home on hoverboards, her back-
pack full of more scrap metal than she could have lifted a
month before. She learned from David how to repair her
clothes with a needle and thread, how to tell raptors from
their prey, and even how to clean fish, which turned out to
be not nearly as bad as cutting them up in bio class.
The physical beauty of the Smoke also cleared her mind
of worries. Every day seemed to change the mountain, the
sky, and the surrounding valleys, making them spectacular
in a completely new way. Nature, at least, didn’t need an
operation to be beautiful. It just was.
One morning on the way to the railroad track, David pulled
his board up alongside Tally’s. He rode silently for a while,
taking the familiar turns with his usual grace. Over the last
two weeks, she’d learned that his jacket was actually made
of leather, real dead animals, but she’d gradually gotten
used to the idea. The Smokies hunted, but they were like
the rangers, killing only species that didn’t belong in this
part of the world or that had gotten out of control thanks
to the Rusties’ meddling. With its random patches, the
jacket would probably look silly on anyone else. But it
suited David, somehow, as if growing up here in the wild
allowed him to fuse with the animals that had donated their
skins to his clothes. And it probably didn’t hurt that he had
actually made the jacket himself.
He spoke up suddenly. “I’ve got a present for you.”
“A present? Really?”
By now, Tally understood that nothing in the Smoke
ever lost its value. Nothing was discarded or given away
just because it was old or broken. Everything was repaired,
refitted, and recycled, and if one Smokey couldn’t put it to
use, it was traded to another. Few things were given away
“Yeah, really.” David angled closer and handed her a
She unwrapped it, following the familiar route down
the stream almost without looking. It was a pair of gloves,
handmade in light brown leather.
She shoved the bright, city-made wrapping paper into
her pocket, then pulled the gloves onto her blistered hands.
“Thanks! They fit perfectly.”
He nodded. “I made them when I was about your age.
They’re a little small for me these days.”
Tally smiled, wishing she could hug him. When they
spread their arms to take a hard turn, she held his hand for
Flexing her fingers, Tally found that the gloves were
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soft and pliant, the palms worn pale from years of use.
White lines across the finger joints revealed how they had
fitted David’s hands. “They’re wonderful.”
“Come on,” David said. “It’s not like they’re magic or
“No, but they’ve got . . . something.” History, Tally real-
ized. In the city, she’d owned lots of things—practically
anything she wanted came out of the wall. But city things
were disposable and replaceable, as interchangeable as the
T-shirt, jacket, and skirt combinations of dorm uniforms.
Here, in the Smoke, objects grew old, carrying their histo-
ries with them in dings and scratches and tatters.
David chuckled at her and sped up, joining Shay at the
front of the pack.
When they got to the railroad site, David announced that
they had to clear more track, using vibrasaws to cut through
the vegetation that had grown up around the metal rails.
“What about the trees?” Croy asked.
“What about them?”
“Do we have to chop them down?” Tally asked.
David shrugged. “Scrub trees like this aren’t good for
much. But we won’t waste them. We’ll take them back to
the Smoke for burning.”
“Burning?” Tally said. The Smokies usually only cut
down trees from the valley, not the rest of the mountain.
These trees had been growing there for decades, and David
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wanted to use them just to cook a meal? She looked at Shay
for support, but her friend’s expression was carefully neu-
tral. She probably agreed, but didn’t want to argue with
David in front of everyone about how to run his project.
“Yes, burning,” he said. “And after we’ve salvaged the
track, we’ll replant. Put a row of useful trees where the rail-
road used to be.”
The five others looked at him silently. He spun a saw in
his hand, anxious to get started, but aware he didn’t have
their full support yet.
“You know, David,” Croy said. “These trees aren’t use-
less. They protect the underbrush from sunlight, which
keeps the soil from eroding.”
“Okay, you win. Instead of planting some other kind of
tree, we’ll let the forest take back the land. All the crappy
scrub and underbrush you want.”
“But do we have to clear-cut them?” Astrix asked.
David took a slow breath. “Clear-cutting” was the word
for what the Rusties had done to the old forests: felling
every tree, killing every living thing, turning entire coun-
tries into grazing land. Whole rain forests had been con-
sumed, reduced from millions of interlocking species to a
bunch of cows eating grass, a vast web of life traded for
“Look, we’re not clear-cutting. All we’re doing is pulling
out the garbage that the Rusties left behind,” David said. “It
just takes a little surgery to do it.”
“We could chop around the trees,” Tally said. “Only cut
into them where we need to. Like you said: surgery.”
“Okay, fine.” He chuckled. “Let’s see what you think
of these trees after you’ve had to hack a few out of the
He was right.
The vibrasaw purred through heavy vines, parted tangled
underbrush like a comb through wet hair, and sliced cleanly
through metal when the odd misstroke brought the cutting
edge down onto the track. But when its teeth met the gnarled
roots and twisted branches of the scrub trees, it was a differ-
Tally grimaced as her saw bounced across the hard
wood again, spitting bits of bark at her face, its low hum
transformed into a protesting howl. She struggled to force
the edge down into the tough old branch. One more cut
and this section of track would be clear.
“Going good. You almost got it, Tally.”
She noticed that Croy stood well back, poised to jump
if the saw somehow slipped from her hands. She could see
now why David had wanted to chop the scrub trees into
pieces. It would have been a lot easier than reaching
through the tangle of roots and branches, trying to bring
the vibrasaw to bear against a precise spot.
“Stupid trees,” Tally muttered, gritting her teeth as she
plunged the blade down again.
Finally, the saw found purchase in the wood, letting out
a high-pitched scream as it bit into the branch. Then it
slipped through, free for a second before it thrust, spitting
and screeching, into the dirt below.
“Yeah!” Tally stepped back, lifting her goggles, the saw
powering down in her hands.
Croy stepped forward and kicked the section of branch
away from the track. “Perfect surgical slice, Doctor,” he said.
“I think I’m getting the hang of this,” Tally said, wiping
It was almost noon, and the sun was beating down into
the clearing mercilessly. She pulled off her sweater, realiz-
ing that the morning chill was long gone. “You were right
about the trees giving shade.”
“You said it,” Croy said. “Nice sweater, by the way.”
She smiled. Along with her new gloves, it was her
prized possession. “Thanks.”
“What did it cost you?”
“A little pricey. Pretty, though.” Croy caught her eye.
“Tally, remember that first day you got here? When I kind
of grabbed your knapsack? I really wouldn’t have taken
your stuff. Not without giving you something for it. You
just surprised me when you said I could have everything.”
“Sure, no problem,” she said. Now that she’d worked
with Croy, he seemed like a nice enough guy. She’d rather
have been teamed up with David or Shay, but those two
were cutting together today. And it was probably time she
got to know some of the other Smokies better.
“And you got a new sleeping bag, too, I hope.”
“Yeah. Twelve SpagBols.”
“Must be almost out of trade.”
She nodded. “Only eight left.”
“Not bad. Still, I bet you didn’t realize on your way here
that you were eating your future wealth.”
Tally laughed. They crouched under the partly cut tree,
pulling handfuls of cut vines from around the track.
“If I’d known how valuable food packets were, I prob-
ably wouldn’t have eaten so many, starving or not. I don’t
even like it anymore. The worst was SpagBol for breakfast.”
“Sounds good to me.” Croy chuckled. “This section
look clear to you?”
“Sure. Let’s start on the next one.” She handed him
Croy did the easy part first, attacking the underbrush
with the humming saw. “So, Tally, there’s one thing that’s
kind of confusing.”
The saw glanced off metal, sending up a smattering of
“The first day you were here, you said you left the city
with two weeks of food.”
“If it took you nine days to get here, you should only
have had five days of food left. Maybe fifteen packets alto-
gether. But I remember on that first day, when I looked into
your bag, I was, like, ‘She’s got tons!’”
Tally swallowed, trying not to show any expression.
“And it turns out I was right. Twelve plus six plus eight
is . . . twenty-six?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
He nodded, working the saw carefully beneath a low
branch. “I thought so. But you left the city
Tally thought fast. “Sure. But I guess I didn’t really eat
three meals every day, Croy. Like I said, I was pretty sick of
SpagBol after a while.”
“Seems like you didn’t eat much at all, for such a
Tally struggled to do the math in her head, to figure out
what sort of numbers would add up. She remembered what
Shay had said that first night: Some Smokies were suspi-
cious of her, worried that she might be a spy. Tally had
thought they all accepted her by now. Apparently not.
She took a deep breath, trying to keep the fear out of
her voice. “Look, Croy, let me tell you something. A secret.”
“I probably left the city with more than just two weeks’
worth of food. I never really counted.”
“But you kept saying—”
“Yeah, I might have exaggerated a little, just to make
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