Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Uglies, Page 2

Scott Westerfeld

Part I Chapter 2


  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 circular 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, forcing 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 hundred or so together in a big dorm. But this dorm didn't have any rules. Unless the rules were Act Stupid, Have Fun, and Make Noise.

  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 laughing 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 subsided. But she knew his face so well.

  Despite what Peris always used to say, pretties didn't really all lookexactly the 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 confident,much 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?"

  "The what?"

  "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 anywhere.

  "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 trapped.

  "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!"

  Nothing happened.

  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 seeher if they thought to look this way.

  "Where'd the piggy go?"

  "Here, piggy!"

  "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 whispered.

  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 said quickly.

  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 confused.

  But he was sopretty now.

  At school, they explained how it affected you. It didn't matter if you knew about evolution or not - it worked anyway. 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 human brain.

  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:If we had kids, they'd be healthy too. I wantthis pretty person. . . .

  It was biology, they said at school. Like your heart beating, you couldn't help believing all these things, not when you saw a face l
ike 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 expedition outfit, muddy from crawling up ropes and through gardens, 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 youdoing here, Tally?"

  "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?"

  Her ugly nickname sounded strange coming from a pretty. Of course, it would be even weirder to call him Nose, as she used to about a hundred times a day. She swallowed. "Why didn't you write me?"

  "I tried. But it just felt bogus. I'm so different now. "

  "But we're. . . " She pointed at her scar.

  "Take a look, Tally. " He held out his own hand.

  The skin of his palm was smooth and unblemished. It was a hand that said:I don't have to work very hard, and I'm too clever to have accidents.

  The scar that they had made together was gone.

  "They took it away. "

  "Of course they did, Squint. All my skin's new. "

  Tally blinked. She hadn't thought of that.

  He shook his head. "You're such a kid still. "

  "Elevator requested," said the elevator. "Up or down?"

  Tally jumped at the machine voice.

  "Hold, please," Peris said calmly.

  Tally swallowed and closed her hand into a fist. "But they didn't change your blood. We shared that, no matter what. "

  Peris finally looked directly at her face, not flinching as she had feared he would. He smiled beautifully.

  "No, they didn't. New skin, big deal. And in three months we can laugh about this. Unless. . . "

  "Unless what?" She looked up into his big brown eyes, so full of concern.

  "Just promise me that you won't do any more stupid tricks," Peris said. "Like coming here. Something that'll get you into trouble. I want to see you pretty. "

  "Of course. "

  "So promise me. "

  Peris was only three months older than Tally, but, dropping her eyes to the floor, she felt like a littlie again. "All right, I promise. Nothing stupid. And they won't catch me tonight, either. "

  "Okay, get your mask and. . . " His voice trailed off.

  She turned her gaze to where it had fallen. Discarded, the plastic mask had recycled itself, turning into pink dust, which the carpet in the elevator was already filtering away.

  The two stared at each other in silence.

  "Elevator requested," the machine insisted. "Up or down?"

  "Peris, I promise they won't catch me. No pretty can run as fast as me. Just take me down to the - "

  Peris shook his head. "Up, please. Roof. "

  The elevator moved.

  "Up? Peris, how am I going to - "

  "Straight out the door, in a big rack - bungee jackets. There's a whole bunch in case of a fire. "

  "You mean jump?" Tally swallowed. Her stomach did a backflip as the elevator came to a halt.

  Peris shrugged. "I do it all the time, Squint. " He winked. "You'll love it. "

  His expression made his pretty face glow even more, and Tally leaped forward to wrap her arms around him. He still felt the same, at least, maybe a bit taller and thinner. But he was warm and solid, and still Peris.


  She stumbled back as the doors opened. She'd left mud all over his white vest. "Oh, no! I'm - "

  "Just go!"

  His distress just made Tally want to hug him again. She wanted to stay and clean Peris up, make sure he looked perfect for the party. She reached out a hand. "I - "


  "But we're best friends, right?"

  He sighed, dabbing at a brown stain. "Sure, forever. In three months. "

  She turned and ran, the doors closing behind her.

  At first no one noticed her on the roof. They were all looking down. It was dark except for the occasional flare of a safety sparkler.

  Tally found the rack of bungee jackets and pulled at one. It was clipped to the rack. Her fingers fumbled, looking for a clasp. She wished she had her interface ring to give her instructions.

  Then she saw the button:PRESS IN CASE OF FIRE .

  "Oh, crap," she said.

  Her shadow jumped and jittered. Two pretties were coming toward her, carrying sparklers.

  "Who's that? What's she wearing?"

  "Hey, you! This party is white tie!"

  "Look at her face. . . . "

  "Oh, crap," Tally repeated.

  And pressed the button.

  An ear-shattering siren split the air, and the bungee jacket seemed to jump from the rack into her hand.

  She slid into the harness, turning to face the two pretties. They leaped back as if she'd transformed into a werewolf. One dropped the sparkler, and it extinguished itself instantly.

  "Fire drill," Tally said, and ran toward the edge of the roof.

  Once she had the jacket around her shoulders, the strap and zippers seemed to wind around her like snakes until the plastic was snug around her waist and thighs. A green light flashed on the collar, right where she couldn't help but see it.

  "Good jacket," she said.

  It wasn't smart enough to answer, apparently.

  The pretties playing on the roof had all gone silent and were milling around, wondering if there really was a fire. They pointed at her, and Tally heard the word "ugly" on their lips.

  What was worse in New Pretty Town, she wondered? Your mansion burning down, or an ugly crashing your party?

  Tally reached the edge of the roof, vaulted up onto the rail, and teetered for a moment. Below her, pretties were starting to spill out of Garbo Mansion onto the lawn and down the hill. They were looking back up, searching for smoke or flames. All they saw was her.

  It was a long way down, and Tally's stomach already seemed to be in free fall. But she was thrilled, too.

  The shrieking siren, the crowd gazing up at her, the lights of New Pretty Town all spread out below like a million candles.

  Tally took a deep breath and bent her knees, readying herself to jump.

  For a split second, she wondered if the jacket would work since she wasn't wearing an interface ring.

  Would it hover-bounce for a nobody? Or would she just splat?

  But she had promised Peris she wouldn't get caught. And the jacket was for emergencies, and therewas a green light on. . . .

  "Heads up!" Tally shouted.

  And jumped.