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Illustration by Llamas_r_Lifehttps://www

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Illustration by Llamas_r_Life

     Each blink of orange light brought the shape to life in an otherwise empty night- a young man dangling by a string. It was late enough that no one was there to see him on Path 46, though its daytime traffic was the thickest in the Greenknoll area. The only ones who knew where he was were at the other end of Quincy's rope. One of them had his very life in her hands, and tied about her waist. The other had just assured him, statistically speaking, that he had seven minutes left. Quincy could hardly hear them over the steady hiss of his spray paint can. When an image took him over, he had a hard time listening to anything else anyway.

    "Come on!" Jess finally belted out. She had been exceptionally subdued-Quincy figured it was about time for a meltdown. "You could've just sprayed over the whole thing, you melodramatic asshat!" Quincy felt the cord tense in his harness. He glared up at her, the shark-tooth smile on his bandanna a reciprocal of the face beneath.

    "Then why'd you bring me?" Quincy bit, and returned to his work. He curved the can around what would be a tendril of fire, viewed from afar. His mind was too busy translating fine detail to large-scale image to give time of day to Jess of all people.

    "Let the man do his thing, or we miss the point," Aaron chided her, then, "But you do have about four minutes left," to Quincy. The illustrator sighed without much awareness. He did have a brief wonder about the precision of Aaron's math, with that chip stuck in his skull.

    Time didn't have the same meaning when he was at the canvas. A breath could last four minutes to Quincy just then. He slipped the can in his belt and swept up another in a single motion. He applied the faintest pressure to the nozzle. It bled a fine glaze of red around the orange body of his mural.

    "You have no idea how..." Jess began sharply, only to trail off into a mumble. The loosening of his lifeline caught Quincy's attention. For the first time in thirty minutes, he took a full, focused look upwards. When his eyes adjusted to the now muffled flashes of road-sign light, he saw Jess as if for the first time. Her face frozen in thought, green eyes peeking through strands of dirty brown hair, something about her was almost beautiful. "Hey Gearhead, what exactly does your fancy toy say about Bolt Ranger patrols tonight?" Aaron's face was stuck in the same stunned expression.

    "That they're not due here until traffic is authorized in three minutes," he muttered numbly, like one who'd gone from checking their opponent to facing checkmate in a single move. Quincy knew the look- his brain and that plate tucked in it were ping-ponging signals faster than lightning cooks an onion. Of all the Augments he'd seen , since his class began their Fitting, cranial ones astounded him most. "Quincy, skip the meeting spot. They're too close- do not approach us until the Academy." Some rope let out from around his waist. A drum roll stirred up in Quincy's chest. Sweat popped from his skin. In a second, he was reduced from artist to child.

    "Don't- just pull me up," Quincy pleaded with the girl he suddenly remembered had his life in her hands. She was already unraveling the rig. "Use those pistons to pull me up- hell, what are you good for?" Quincy watched his work of the evening float up, away from him even as he shouted.

    "Sorry, Quinn.  Boss man says let you down. See you in the A!" Jess bid, pleasant enough to make his forehead twinge.

    "Screw you! Pull me up!" Quincy begged, but neither of his companions heard him over the scream. It was petrifying; the screech of lawful death flying sixty miles an hour straight for him. They don't tell you about the sound at the Academy, was Quincy's only, oddly clear, thought. A blur of bloody color passed through his rope like it was made of water. The world jerked up around him until his back found the pavement. Quincy's neck kicked back. His head bounced against Path 46 hard enough to swallow his world in light for a few seconds.

    Someone was yelling something, Quincy could tell when he rolled over on his knees, coughing. He got a foot up before his eyes adjusted. It was still far brighter than it had been seconds ago. Four floating metal shadows, Bolt Ranger crafts, converged spotlight beams down on him. Bodies fluttered out of them on wings of steel, like a swarm of bats above. Their perimeter was set in seconds. Quincy felt his head float up first, the rest of him just happened to be attached to. A silhouette stepped through the shining curtain. Its shape was straight from an Academy textbook: with an Augment, a thin sheet of a wing, jutting out below each elbow.

    "You are in violation of something or other," Quincy half-heard in his state of bewilderment. He stumbled backwards. A hundred new beams of light burned down on the artist and his masterpiece. An X in a diamond, surrounded by tongues of fire real enough to burn. The Strand logo in flames. As planned, no one could hope to make out the flashing warning about the upcoming detour for the Greenknoll Academy down the road.

    Quincy stood there, frozen, bizarrely lucid in a way that can only come from sudden head trauma. Light bled through his overgrown mop of bronze hair and his dark eyes most would mistake for black. It pierced his razor-smile bandana. It showed blood roll down his sharp cheekbones. What the hell am I doing? was the briefest thought in his mind.

    "Eat shit!" Quincy belted, more at the ones that had abandoned him than the Rangers. He made a delirious break for it.

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