Cranberry Drive

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Illustration by Casey Greenhttps://www

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Illustration by Casey Green

    Even the energy to check behind Quincy could lose him his lead. He couldn't think of a single instance where a fugitive had eluded the Terra Layer Bolt Rangers. There might have been others that Strand covered up and dealt with discreetly. That sent a shiver down the back of his shirt.

    Quincy swung his arms with each bound, feeling for trees in the darkness. He stumbled into almost graceful turns and sidesteps until his foot plunked in water. Downstream, he recalled. He raced a couple hundred watery feet to a heavy metal disk in the grass. A service hatch. A crescent of light beckoned from its mossy base, where it would have been sealed if not for a younger Quincy. Back when Leon was more liable to humor his antics, the two of them had used the service walks to sneak around unseen. The view was an eerie plus. Quincy never thought they'd actually prove useful, but then he never thought he'd have an entire Bolt Ranger battalion tracking him.

    "Where's the big guy when you need him?" Quincy chuckled, if only to let a little hysteria out. He knelt by the bar he and Leon left lodged in the opening and tried to press it down. A nearby rustle startled Quincy to more drastic measures. He stomped the lever down with both feet. The hatch flipped up with an alarming clang. "Probably in bed since curfew, like he should be." Quincy realized, of his old friend.

     Then he realized a few things more.  The Rangers' lights were lost in the forest behind him.the stripe of blood down his cheek dried, connecting his hairline with the sweaty bandana over his mouth. His legs threaten to seize. Quincy pulled the cloth down from his mouth for some fresh, filtered Terra air. Not yet. He grabbed the old pry bar just in case, and climbed down the creaking ladder to the service walks. He hung his full weight from the handle to seal the hatch above for the first time in years. He turned the lock and dropped down to a wrought-iron floor.

    Quincy strolled at a pace of certain leisure now. The Rangers would scour the night for him, but their go-to method of Augment tracking wouldn't work with him. At a time when he winced  at his classmates' calls for Fitting, Quincy was grateful that the Port in his chest was still hollow. He gave the steel plate a little tap of gratitude, through his shirt. Quincy knew the service walks would be empty- they hadn't been properly patrolled or maintained since he and Leon had discovered the malfunctioning hatch on their street. The world seemed so much bigger back then. Everything seemed to be closing in on Quincy now. Strand's Great Tower, the pressure to "Find his Fate", and not least of all this suffocating glass-paned catwalk.

    The service walks used to be an escape for him, from the constricting requirements and regulations of the Academy. The view through reinforced glass filled him with wonder and inspiration when the depths below were an unfathomable fantasy. Now they were a threat, sharp as a dagger poking his spine. He hadn't come down here in three years, when he received his first failing A-Card. Every glance could be his future if something didn't give. He looked out on the sprawling landscape beyond the glass with a different kind of wonder now, the terrifying kind. A few thousand feet separated him from the savage wilderness of the Nether Layer.

    Mostly it was blackness. Aside from the Ranger and Rank outposts, the Nether Layer was dark as pitch at night. The Beacon's violet night light couldn't reach so far below. Quincy's eyes drifted from deep azure shadows that must be lakes to black forests, to the bright stains of Strand's most remote stations. Poor bastards that make it through the Academy only to get sent there anyway. Quincy felt a brief pang of sympathy. He could just barely pick some smaller twinkles out of the forest. Fires perhaps, where people forced to live without the amenities he had so enjoyed survived on the fringe. The "wild-men" he and Leon had pretended to fend off and ogled at from here, a thousand feet above... He shuddered. Now that he was a few steps from the edge himself, he couldn't help but see a certain irony. The only part of the Tower that touched their planet, the home humans left behind to survive, reserved as exile for Unfit miscreants.

    "Last stop," Quincy mumbled when he passed under the flickering sign that glowed "Cranberry Drive". When he climbed the ladder and closed the hatch, he left thoughts of the Nether Layer where they belonged, below. If he was going to stay topside, he had to focus on Terra matters. The Academy. Getting Fit. The stunt he, Jess, and Aaron had pulled tonight would buy him a little time at least. He wasn't sure if he bought into Aaron's aspirations of change just yet. Of course he could afford to believe. Aaron and his Augmented mind were bound for the top already, the Venter Layer labs. Let's just get home first, Quincy reminded himself.

    He was the only person on his street that night. With winter curfew in effect, people were out until the very last second running their errands, so to be alone in the Silver night glow was a haunting novelty. Quincy rolled his feet, heel to toe, quiet but in no rush. Strand's Ranks rarely made trips to the quiet laborers' district of Greenknoll. He twitched out of his calm when a string of lightning danced up from the ground a mile or so away. In a second, it flashed up a thin metal pillar that seemed to merge with the dark sky. It branched out and faded inside a million little channels.

    Guess the curfew does make a little sense, Quincy noted, calmer when he realized what it was. Greenknoll was a corner sector, nestled at the foot of one of the four Columns that held the Tower together. The Basal Column. It was camouflaged as endless blue sky during the day, but he supposed it would save on energy to drop the veil at night. By all rights, no one should have been out to see it.

    Quincy paced past the last three houses on the block. 135- Elly Carello. 139 was Leon- he couldn't bring himself to face it. Quincy turned at the last mailbox, 141 Cranberry Drive. The name Percival Famino was engraved on the side. Quincy crept across the pavement. He turned his stolen key in the door and slipped inside without a sound. Before he was across the living room, a voice broke his step.

    "Hello Quincy." He winced. Quincy turned to find a soft blue light murmur on the the side of a gaunt, pale face. He'd slept about as much as Quincy had.

    "Hello Percy," he said to his uncle.

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