"I still don't see why we have to go to this stupid party," Tally said. "Couldn't I do some kind of feed announcement?"
Aya frowned. "That won't be any fun. And it won't help the Extras nearly as much."
"Plus," David said, "we sort of owe them for a couple of dozen spaceships."
"I guess." Tally gave her ball gown one last glum stare.
Shay chuckled. "They're just lucky we didn't use nanos."
When they stepped outside, swarms of hovercams were waiting.
"Okay," Tally said. "I officially hate this city."
Aya took a deep breath, but couldn't find it in herself to argue. It was getting annoying, being followed everywhere, constantly pinged and cam-swarmed, her hairstyle imitated by littlies, her nose mocked on slammer feeds. Sometimes Aya wondered if she'd ever get any privacy again.
Even her own hovercam made her a little nervous these days. Ren had taken it apart and removed the Extras' mods, but Aya still had nightmares full of betrayal and swarms of talking Moggles.
But it was useless pretending not to enjoy her single-digit face rank. After all, here she was with her famous friends, all headed toward Nana Love's party, a smile on her face and Moggle in tow to capture every second.
"So how do we get through those things?" Tally asked.
"Glitter bombs?" Fausto suggested.
"Nanos!" Shay cried.
"None of the above!" Aya said. "You don't always have to blow stuff up, Tally-wa. In this city you've got a reputation bubble."
"Just start walking, and they'll give you room."
Tally took a few steps forward, and the wall of hovercams curved away from Shuffle Mansions fifty-meter boundary. David took her arm and pulled Tally farther along, and soon they were headed into the night, an almost perfect sphere of hovercams surrounding them.
"This is very strange," Andrew Simpson Smith said. "Are all cities like this?"
"Not really," Tally answered. "After the mind-rain, this one went particularly brain-missing."
"The reputation economy isn't brain-missing!" Hiro said. He'd been practicing English with Andrew Simpson Smith over the last few days, and enjoyed spouting long sentences. "Wanting to be famous motivates people, which makes the world more interesting!"
Tally snorted. "I've seen that motivation at work, Hiro. It leads to some truth-slanting, too."
Aya sighed, wondering when Tally was going to let it go. Most of the feeds had already gotten over the mistakes in her City Killer story. They had better things to kick, now that Aya Fuse had given them a new future to speculate about, a whole new kind of Extra.
And, unlike certain people, she hadn't blown anything up.
Nana Love's mansion was filled with astonishing sights.
The NeoFoodies were there in force, showing off their new aerogel, both edible and smart. It floated overhead, changing forms and flavors as the night went on, contesting with the hovercams for valuable airspace.
The surge-monkeys were all playing Extra, with wide eyes and pale skin, though most stopped short of prehensile toes. Hoverball rigs set to zero-g were fashion-making too, though Hiro kept muttering about how everyone could use some training.
Glittercams, newly invented for this party, were everywhere. Hovering at eye level like nosey fireflies, each recorded only a few pixels, from which city interface assembled a continuous image - everyone in the city could navigate through the party as if they'd sent their own invisible hovercam.
Of course, it wasn't long before the glittercams had annoyed Tally. She swatted a handful to the ground, and the rest retreated into a respectful reputation bubble. Before long Tally had vanished into the recesses of Nana Love's mansion, the other Cutters in tow.
"Good evening, Aya," a familiar voice said in English.
Aya looked up to find Udzir floating next to Moggle, dressed in a formal sari and holding a champagne glass in one set of curved toes.
She bowed, hiding her expression. The Extras still gave her the creeps, even after Udzir had explained their surge in detail. The Extras' pale skin was to help produce vitamin D from the barest sliver of sunlight. Even the wide-set eyes made sense - the first orbital habitats would be so cramped that normal depth perception wasn't necessary.
Still, the overall effect was unsettling.
"I hope you're enjoying the party," she said.
"Indeed. It was kind of you to arrange an invitation."
"It wasn't me," Aya said. As the new face of extraterrestrial humanity, Udzir's fame was top one hundred. Everyone joked that he was the only Extra who wasn't, strictly speaking, an extra at all.
"One way or another, Aya, my presence here is thanks to your story." He performed a little midair bow. "You have helped our cause immensely."
"I'm just glad things got cleared up before Tally-sama toasted your whole fleet."
"As are we," he said. "Though as it turns out, the drama of our rescue has proved more valuable than the ships we lost. A strange thing, fame."
"That's for sure. Getting many recruits?"
"Indeed." He glanced over Aya's shoulder. "Even a few tonight."
Aya turned, and her mouth fell open. "Lai? How did you...?"
"Get in here?" Lai asked, then smiled. "Same as you: with an invitation."
Aya blinked. She hadn't thought to check the Sly Girls' face ranks lately, but of course with a whole new version of the story kicking...
"Nine hundred and fifty-seven," Lai supplied. "Since you were about to ask."
"Oh. You must be hating that."
Lai shrugged. "It won't matter much in orbit." She glanced up at Udzir, who had turned to talk to someone else. "I just hope Mr. Big Face Alien realizes that there's no time for fame on the new frontier."
Aya laughed, then pictured Lai with four hands and fish eyes. She shuddered, banishing the image from her mind. "I'm still sorry about sneaking all those shots of you."
"And I'm sorry for shooting you out of a mass driver." Lai paused. "Wait a minute - no, I'm not.
That was fun."
Aya laughed again. "I guess it was. So how are the Sly Girls?"
"Probably all watching this party on their wallscreens."
Aya frowned. "Really? But the Thousand Faces doesn't exactly seem like a Sly Girl kind of thing."
Lai shrugged, then glanced up at Moggle and leaned in closer. "So, you want a lead on a story?"
"A story?" Aya asked. She hadn't thought much about what to kick next. After the end of the world and the birth of a new frontier, everything seemed anticlimactic. She still wondered sometimes about becoming a Ranger. "I guess."
"Okay, but you have to promise you won't tell anyone before they cut the cake."
Aya raised an eyebrow. One of the traditions of the Thousand Faces Party was Nana Love serving a huge pink cake at the stroke of midnight. All the big faces gathered around it when she did, sharing their slices of fame.
Lai waved away a few glittercams, then pressed her lips almost against Aya's ear, her voice dropping to the barest whisper. "I injected the cake with this smart matter that Eden cooked up. It's spreading as we speak, making the sugar kind of ... unstable."
"Shh!" Lai giggled. "When Nana cuts it, it'll sort of explode. Not in a lethal way...just in a cake-spreading way."
Aya's jaw dropped as she tried to imagine the city's illustrious faces covered with pink frosting.
"Pure genius? I agree," Lai said, turning away with a smile. "Just remember that you promised, Nosey. You owe me one kept secret."
Aya pinged for Frizz's location, then went to find him on the upstairs balcony. He was alone, looking out over the darkened privacy gardens.
"I have an ethical question for you, Frizz."
He turned to her, his manga eyes glittering with the safety fireworks overhead. "An ethical dilemma? At this party?"
She looked around: no glittercams sparkled in the air, and Moggle was the only hovercam in sight. Nana Love's garden was off-limits to cams tonight, which was probably why the balcony was empty.
"What if you were a kicker, Frizz, and you knew something was going to happen at, say, a party? And it might be host-shaming - definitely shaming - but you'd promised not to tell anyone?"
"Hmm," he said. "It's only embarrassment we're talking about, right?"
"Yeah, but quite a lot."
He shrugged. "Probably I'd keep my promise."
She sighed, staring across the city at the windows flickering with feed light - everyone watching the Thousand Faces on their wallscreens. "Sometimes I wish I could tell you secrets."
"Maybe you can soon."
Aya frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I've been thinking about what Tally said, how I'm a wimp for not telling the truth on my own."
He pointed as his temple. "Maybe Radical Honesty is getting a little old."
"But the cliques bigger than ever now!" she said.
"Exactly. They don't need me anymore."
Aya blinked, trying to imagine Frizz without his mortifying outbursts. "I don't know, Frizz-chan. I kind of need you around to keep me honest."
His arm wrapped around her shoulders, drawing her closer. "Don't worry. I'll still be here. And I'm not giving up on honesty, just Radical Honesty."
She leaned her weight against him. "But if you're not compelled to tell the truth, how will I know you still like my big nose? I'm not fixing it, you know. Tally-wa made me promise."
"Yeah, she told me about that. But don't worry, a little brain surge won't change my mind. Not about you."
They stayed there on the balcony for a long time, listening to the ebb and flow of laughter and music inside.
It was strange, hovering at the edges of the party. As long as she could remember, Aya had watched the Thousand Faces unfolding on the feeds, imagining herself as one of the anointed few. But now that she was really here, all she wanted was to be alone with Frizz, staring at the city over the empty expanse of Nana Love's cam-missing gardens, immensely happy that no one else wanted privacy tonight.
The tumult behind her was just a party, after all. Generations of bubbleheads had occupied this very mansion, weaning pretty much the same clothes, mostly saying the same things. Glittercams and face ranks didn't change that...
A soft thump came from below, and Aya looked down.
It was David, rolling to his feet. He must have jumped out of one of the windows.
Tally Youngblood was right behind him, descending as gracefully as a cherry blossom, her hands and feet darting out and catching windowsills and sashes to slow her fall. She landed softly, slipped her arm through David's, and they made their way into the garden.
Frizz leaned closer. "I was wondering about those two."
"You heard what she said, though," Aya whispered. "No one since ..."
But Tally was leaning against David, pulling him deeper into the darkness, their shoulders pressed together in the cool night air.
"Moggle, are you getting this?" Aya began, then shook her head. "Never mind."
She turned to Frizz, leading him from the balcony with a smile.
"Come on, it's almost midnight. Let's go watch them cut the cake."