Illustration by Jade Moon
What Quincy got that night wasn't really sleep. It was more of a wakeless trance, in which he replayed his conversation with Uncle Percy until the Beacon lit the Terra Layer outside. He never really slept, not anymore. Quincy's cranial cinemas sometimes involved a heated exchange with a prodding Instructor. Sometimes it was a cringe when an old friend shuffle by in the Academy hallway, like they never knew one another. Some nights, of course, he saw the crash. This one, though, Quincy was haunted by the same two phrases ping-ponging back at one another off the inside of his head, as angrily as he and Percy had said them.
"You're more like your Father than you realize!"
"If that were true, he'd still be here!"
Stomp up the stairs- door crash. Face in pillow. Light split the sky in the best way a living Beacon of heat and light could imitate a "sunrise" at around eight. No one inside the Tower now could say they knew otherwise- sunrise was little more to them than part of an obscure history lesson. The world outside Quincy's window reprogrammed itself for Active Hours. The Column Quincy had seen dance with lightning last night faded into the illusion of an open sky. It was almost as hard to believe as it was certain, that all the people going about their business outside were trapped in the hundred-square mile platform of a terraformed steel Tower. Quincy's concerns were a bit more concise that morning, though. Get through the front door without talking to Uncle Percy. Quincy's escape meant the Terra Rangers has failed. It wasn't a story anyone would see on the news, which didn't make it any easier to explain to his uncle why he'd come in so far past curfew, shaken and battered.
"Morning," Percy said from the rim of his steaming black mug.
"Mmm," Quincy said into his collar, as he crept by. It was a routine they'd mastered in the last year. Each time he'd come home outside Strand-approved hours, Quincy hurried past his uncle with an increasingly pathetic pass at a reason. This time, he went straight for the door. There was no way he could bridge true understanding anymore- there was no understanding between someone in his uncle's position and someone in his.
"You were bleeding," Percy stopped him within an inch of the door.
"I told you-
"Right. So when the Counselor calls to set up our next meeting, we're sticking with 'he clipped his head on a low branch'?" said Percy. He knew better than to push Quincy now, when everyone else had a hand on his back already. Quincy honestly considered pouring it out, burning mural and all, but he couldn't. The last thing Percy needed was to be an accomplice to defacing Strand property.
"Tell him whatever you want. He'd believe anything at this point," Quincy let out while he turned the knob.
"I hope your tests come back the way you want," Percy bade him authentically. Quincy hesitated mid-exodus to mutter,
"Don't waste your hope."
The door sealed him outside in temperate winter air. Quincy spared a thought for the younger self of five years ago. He would've been excited just to connect the dots of what he learned in the Academy about plants' growing cycles to why Strand enforced an artificial winter inside humanity's last refuge. For fourth term, High Academy Quincy, it was little more than a pain in the ass on the way to the station at the end of the street. He pulled his collar over his chin with a shiver and made his daily suburban dead-man's-walk to the A-Train.
The massive craft glided in the same as every other weekday, like a gust of wind. It slid, near frictionless, to a sudden halt at the edge of the platform where Quincy was lost in a cluster of twenty adolescent bodies all clothed alike. They donned plain black collared shirts, save for the ones that'd been Fitted for an Augment. They had a single, bright patch sewn on- an admittedly stylish icon of their chosen future. Chosen, Quincy scoffed to himself. He buried his aching hands in the pockets of his dark slacks. The train doors slid open. The warm breath from inside acted as a vacuum for the attendants of Greenknoll's High Academy. Quincy packed in with a hand on the overhead rail, and found himself locked in an odd sort of showdown.
Elly? He almost said out loud. She wasn't in her usual seat, the one cleared by her Train Pass. Quincy had one similar, with a few glittering flight-risk warnings, that made his spot by the window, under the grip-rail. It usually put him nowhere near Elly, but today she was facing him. He should've known something was wrong just then. As fate would have it, Quincy was too stunned. He gazed absently into the hearths of his neighbor's haunted violet eyes. They were the only part of her that didn't glow like a ray of sunlight, despite her dark uniform. They seemed more to smolder like coals, even when she smiled. She and Quincy opened their mouths, if only as a side effect of the strangely sustained eye-contact, just before the arrival horn ushered everyone into the tunnels beneath the Academy. Quincy's one-and-a-half minutes to report to his first class didn't afford him any more absent stares for Elly Carello.
Stitching class went by even slower than usual while scenes from his encounter with the Bolt Rangers flashed behind his tired eyelids. By Basic Ceramics, Quincy was fully asleep sitting upright. He dreamed up a twisted version of his next Fit Counseling meeting where Uncle Percy, finally snapped and held him down while Counselor Corel forced a shard of jagged metal into the empty Port in his chest, in place of an Augment.
"Quincy, please," Mr. Frigg called to him through the fatigue-induced twilight. Cartography? Quincy jolted upright. He had somehow changed classrooms on full autopilot. He paced the emptying aisles of desks as if to the gallows, where Instructor Frigg held out a paper. It was either his ticket to an Augment Fitting or the topic of his next Fit Counseling meeting.
"Please sit," was all Counselor Corel could bring himself to say to open the meeting the next day.
YOU ARE READING
Strand: the Silver RadioScience Fiction
A shape against the night, in the light of a highway construction sign, is a young man in trouble. An artist in an artless place, he must fit into Strand's machine, or be thrown away like garbage. From the best laid plans to hapless coincidence, Qui...