Midnight Stroll

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By beth_hellman https://www

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By beth_hellman

    "Drop, or force the use of physical restraint!" an electronic voice blasted in the darkness. The ten feet from the base of the road sign to the sidewalk felt like ten miles. What's better, being shot in the back or turning to take it? Quincy wondered. Then again, he hadn't been violent, so a bash from one of their bolt wings was more likely. He was sure every clumsy bound would be his last before a blindside from hell put him on the ground. The Rangers swarmed over him like banshees. A voice curved by his ear, distorted from sheer speed as it shot past him.

    "CEASE FLIGHT And remain where you..." It dissolved into the blackness outside the Rangers' spotlights. Quincy choked on the emptiness in his lungs. He forgot  to breathe while finding something with his feet was more important. His saving grace, if there was one, would be familiarity. This wasn't, after all, the first time he'd been on Path 46 when he shouldn't have.

    "PREPARE to..." another voice built up behind him, right as his sneakers struck a rocky lip. Quincy collapsed like a dropped pile of noodles. The Ranger set for a collision course with his back got fingertips on his collar, but lost grip as Quincy dropped fifteen feet over a cliff-edge.

    In the dark descent, Quincy remembered the first time he'd done this, years ago, if only to poke fun at Leon's doubts. He'd have an earful for me if he knew. That time he'd sprained an ankle and hidden it for weeks while it healed. This time he came down intentionally on his shoulder. Quincy spiraled into a wild roll down a gravelly hill. It took just long enough for the Bolt Ranger spotlights to find him. They flashed on Quincy tnear a solid line of oak trees. He dashed into the thicket. 

    "Cease flight!" the voice on the airborne amplifier boomed. It was too far away to matter. Every thought other than trees, trees, trees tumbled out of Quincy's mind. His knees scraped and ankles twisted under fumbling legs. Perhaps as fast as he ever had, he sprinted for Strand's illusion of wilderness. He flew, through a maze of light-splotched oaken towers.

     "Hey!" the voice was close enough to stand Quincy's arm hair at attention. Even more unsettling was the sound immediately following. Metal against metal, his pursuer's Bolt Wings folded up to his elbow. His boots hit the ground, trotting at Quincy's back. "You've already made this worse for yourself. Now you've become a threat to Ranger personnel," his pursuer announced, calm "Anyone could write off what's about to happen as a fatal accident."

     Bad as he wanted to make another run for it, Quincy put his back to the closest tree and froze. A couple more grass-crunching footsteps came towards him. It was from a single set of feet. He and the Ranger, only six years his senior, had more in common than either of them would have guessed outside these  circumstances. He was the only bastard crazy enough to go where his wings couldn't help him: in the dark with a fugitive, like Quincy.

     "You could walk out of here with me," the Ranger went on, creeping from sliver of spotlight to tree-shadow, "Face charges of vandalism, instead of fleeing law enforcement."

     He was ten feet from Quincy, just on the other side of his tree. Quincy shut his eyes. He slid his back down the stubbly bark. In the tense black,  he was suddenly aware of how hot his shallow breath was against his bandana. When his backside was almost on the ground, Quincy found a loose piece of stone on one side; on the other, the firm spike of a tree branch. The stretched shadow of a man slid into the light beside him.

     "Remember..." the Ranger cut his voice to follow a wave of sound rolling through the grass. No fugitive, but it was too acute to have been wind. He never knew it was a rock. A sharp crack called his eyes back. Under the pressure of knowing failure could end him, Quincy split the branch from the tree with unique precision. He stepped out and swung hard.

     The blow never connected. The Ranger held up an arm to shield himself, slicing his steel wing through the branch. He lunged at the boy who appeared to have monstrous incisors in the strangely lit forest. Quincy's hand moved to the only other weapon at his disposal. The paint can was up before his shoulders touched the ground. Quincy didn't have time to aim, just held it up and fired. A metallic silver mist splattered in the Ranger's eyes, nose and open mouth. In an irreconcilable lapse between training and pain, he came down on one hand to clutch at his now ghastly, robotic face. Quincy took the moment to scuttle backwards to his feet.

     "Stop! Augh!" the Ranger nearly heaved his dinner when paint swished around his screaming throat. Quincy cleared thirty feet, then forty, then fifty in an adrenaline-fueled dash. Captain Raines of Bolt Ranger Squad 16 was still knee-bound, screaming into the night with his silver face when his mark vanished down a service hatch half a mile away.

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