I expected the Smokies to be further out into the woods, not in an observatory several miles outside of the Ruins.
Okay, it's a little further than several miles, but it only took a couple hours to get there by hoverboard. According to the mysterious David, the old Smoke was much further out, four days worth of boarding to be exact. I don't know how the city took several decades of searching to find it, but if it were this close now, surely they could find it again.
My thoughts flashed back to Shay and the Cutters. I remember Shay mentioning some doctor lady offering her a job as a special. Was that her final fate? She and the rest of the Cutters had been taken back to the city to become Specials?
Jaslene's been aching for a bath since we arrived. It hasn't even been that long since we left the city, only a couple of days. She dragged her with me, of course. I kinda hate the whole 'secret lovers' thing, but she's not keen on revealing our relationship to strangers. I don't know why. It's not like back in the Rusty days where people who liked the same gender were persecuted or murdered.
The water is absolute hell at first, but once the feeling of bubbles rushes through me, the world became clear. Looking into the face of my lovely girlfriend, her perfection magnified by at least five-thousand, her blonde hair framing her face perfectly, even when it was wet, her brown eyes shining with excitement, every one of her perfect teeth gleaming brightly in a tricky grin, I felt absolutely clear.
At the same time, we come to a realization.
"We forgot about Tiara!" we shout simultaneously. We crack up and swim to back to where we left our clothes, getting dressed and shivering with cold and excitement. Unlike when the ice broke, I didn't get a rush of memories from ugly times, cutting had solved that issue. Besides, I didn't want to relive the night Tiara ran away. It hurt too much.
"So, it's true. You really did run away." a raspy voice says behind me.
I turn towards the voice, and gasp. There stands Tiara, being supported by David. Her legs are in big, bulky braces, and she's leaning on a pair of crutches. Her hair has been braided into a bun, her blue eyes sunken in and her cheeks more prominent than ever. She's even more frail than when she left the city.
"I'm going back with you tonight." Tiara tells me as she snuggles into my shoulder, wrapping her blanket tighter around her.
"How do you know if we're going back tonight?" I ask.
"Or at all?" Jaslene calls from the other side of the room.
"Zane said that you and Jas came to see if I'd survived the trip. I spent all this time thinking you didn't care anymore, only to find out that you never stopped caring."
I hug her closer. "Of course we still care. You're our friend, Tiara. I know I said some horrible things to you, but I was being stupid and angry. I just wanted you to be safe, and clearly you're still sick. For the longest time, we were scared that you'd died on the way here."
Tiara nods, scooting closer to me as Jaslene climbs in the bed with us, her added warmth quelling Tiara's shivering. "Maddy doesn't know exactly what's wrong with me, and she says the only thing that can cure me is that I go back to the city to get the surge. I tried to go back earlier when she first said she couldn't cure me, but they kept me here all these months. I hate it here."
I pat her head. "Don't worry about that now. You made the trip here, and that's what counts. That makes you special."
Tiara smiles, then closes her eyes as she slips into sleep. Jaslene and I share a look, then creep to the window of the observatory. The afternoon had just begun its transition into evening, but Tiara would have no trouble sleeping. She was constantly exhausted.
"Who's going, me or you?" she asks.
She kisses me, sighing softly. "Be careful, okay? I love you."
"I love you too."
Right then and there, someone lets out a loud shriek. Jaslene runs off to see what's happening.
The Specials all surround me. I have my hands in the air, letting them know I won't fight.
"Hiya, Shay." I said. Just as I thought, they'd all been turned. Shay's eyes were dull and predatory, a deep violet color. Her face was sharp and covered with spinning webs of tattoos. Her bare arms were covered in scars, as the rest of the Cutters. "You'll find what you're looking for at a mountain past the Ruins. They're in an observatory, and they've got city tech with them. Jaslene told me they found a tracker, and when I left, they were still trying to find who it's coming from."
"Pity. I thought I had that hidden better." A tall woman steps into the circle, the epitome of a commander, her very stride screams obey me, I should be scared out of my damn mind. Instead I feel nothing but unadultured admiration.
"You're beautiful." the words leave my mouth before I've realized it, and I step closer, feeling intoxicated by her.
"Cutters, get to that observatory and capture a many of them as possible. I want Maddy and David alive and captured!" She examines me as Shay and the other rush into the cold evening air, running her unnaturally warm fingers up and down my cutting scars. "How did you escape us?"
I look down in embarrassment. "Last minute cowardice that I almost regret."
"Almost?" the woman looks at me, amusement dancing in her dull, steel grey eyes.
"The reason I left the city was to find my friend Tiara. She was very weak when she left the city, still is to this day. It blows my mind that she was even able to survive this long, especially since the amazing Maddy couldn't figure out how to cure her illness, but could very well tear apart our city with her pills."
"Before you decide to get all rough and tough with her, she's agreed to come back to the city willingly with me and my gir- our friend Jaslene." I glance at the far away figures. Even on their pimped-out boards, would they get there in time?
"Well, we should go collect her, don't you think?"
I nod, following her to the waiting hovercar.
"Hey, what's your name? I think Shay mentioned you a couple of times before we left, but I don't remember what she called you."
The woman smiles at me, revealing a row of sharp white teeth. "Dr. Cable will do."