Illustration by Jade Moon
"Hello, Mr. Corel," Quincy greeted in mock formality.
"Hello, Mr. Famino," Counselor Jack Corel answered, hardly able to smirk. The first time they'd shared such an exchange, Corel been beaming, ready to tackle yet another case of what they called a difficult Fit. Most cases had been long sorted out by this stage, though, and Corel's age was starting to show on his forehead in Quincy's presence. He turned weakly to the other chair across from him. "And Mr. Famino," he said to Percy. His uncle's presence was indication that Quincy's situation was approaching critical even faster than he thought.
"Let's get this started so we can hammer something out," Percy said, firm, but not unkind. The way he said things like that always made Quincy stare at the floor. He knew there was a gentle, paternal man beneath all those layers of reservation, the Uncle Percy he used to know, just waiting for the day his nephew got his act together.
"Well... everyone here knows this isn't a process that can be resolved in a day. It's already been five-six actually... six years that we've been working together." Corel sighed, abandoning the facade of professional boundaries, "I thought you liked Cartography."
"Liking something doesn't mean you can pass a test on it," Quincy snipped, fingernails dug into his knees. At this, the Counselor regained some of his old poise.
"You've communicated to me before that your strongest skill is translating small detail into a larger image," Corel began, eyes flitting over countless, precisely aligned files on his desk, "This is an extremely applicable ability. It should empower you in a class about making maps." Quincy chewed his bottom lip to tame his mounting hostility. This room contained the only two people in the Tower he cared not to aggravate.
"What my hands know is not the same as what my brain can figure out on its own," Quincy did his best to explain to someone with a little circuit board Augmenting his brain, quadrupling the amount of information he could store and recall about different student cases. Corel's face betrayed a true attempt at understanding. "I like Instructor Frigg. But he wants me to remember coordinates and topography from simulation and translate it to a map... if I was being graded on the shading and depth of my mountain ranges, we'd be having a different conversation." A confounded silence fell on the triad.
"Isn't there a class that's a little closer to what Quincy can do with a paintbrush?" Percy tried.
"You said that to me at the end of last term, when Quincy was struggling with Grid Design. I moved him to Cartography," Corel grimaced. Then he caught sight of Quincy.
Here was this young man Jack Corel had known since he was a bright eyed Early Academy Graduate. He'd made it through the basics- history, math, reading. He'd even done well. Quincy wasn't without any skill, just the ones Strand needed. He had a great memory for dates, but why would Strand need a historian when everything since the formation of the President's Board in SY 650 was public record? There was a time when Quincy's biggest problem was studying for rote memory tests on those events.
When was the Tower constructed?
No dates are documented, but biological data from the Nether Layer suggests a time near two-thousand years ago, little Quincy jotted proudly.
Explain, in your own words, why humans needed Strand's Tower, the test would challenge. Quincy still enjoyed those rare, open-ended chances to defend a stance. They became even rarer with age.
The world became too dangerous after we uncovered the Crayspark, Quincy tried, though he couldn't remember his grade on that one, Strand built the Tower to keep the creatures and disease out. They give us clean air and water, and Augments, and... if only he'd known, back then, that the residents of the Nether Layer enjoyed none of those benefits. They were lucky to get the backwash.Quincy's wonder might still be there, somewhere, under the crushing boot of expectation. He didn't have time to waste in checking.
It was time for him to find something a more specialized, his Fit in Strand's Tower. Sure, Quincy had screened blank across the board in his first evaluation, but that happened to plenty of young ones their first year in the High Academy. Quincy had been screened five times now- still nothing. His class roster was a mess. Putting him in entry-level specialist classes based on his interests was all Corel could think to do- maybe awaken some latent propensity that'd been overlooked in the blanket test. Quincy had a stack of failing A-cards in the corner of his room to show for it. No wonder he doesn't study anymore, Corel realized, I wouldn't. Quincy stared out the window, at the other High Academy students who knew what they were "meant" to do. It was an early dismissal too, due to the inexplicable tardiness of countless Instructors who'd missed a turn for a construction detour on Path 46.
"Maybe if we supplement you with Guided Estimation next term and resign you for Cartography..." Corel deliberated out loud.
"Will that help?" Percy asked.
"Sure," grunted Quincy. The three of them didn't speak again until Corel bid them a somber farewell with next term's schedule. One way or the other, it was the last he'd receive. Quincy and his Uncle arrived at the door of his car in silence. Junior Chief Percival Famino of the Greenknoll Engineer's Commission was one of its only residents authorized to use one.
"Think I'll walk home," Quincy said when the passenger door opened for him, "I need to think." He expected resistance, but the door closed right up.
"That might be best," said Percy through the window, "Can I give you something to think about?" Quincy's hands clenched in his pockets.
"You already have," he said as he turned to leave.
"You know I don't care," Percy managed to get out before Quincy vanished into the tide of passing students. He froze solid. It was a voice Quincy hadn't heard in years. The voice of the Uncle Percy he'd drawn on parent's appreciation day instead of his own father. "I don't care what you do. If you're a banker or a garbage collector. I just don't want to lose you. I hate to think you don't know that," Quincy waited at the edge of the flowing crowd. It was so rare they spoke this way-without a snip, or bait, or snide retort. For the first time
in months, Quincy was without words. "I... can take off of work if it would help."
"Save your days off for visits to the Nether Layer," Quincy cringed, but it was his only opening to escape this dreaded conversation. Besides, no one visited the Nether Layer. He vanished into the crowd.
When he got to the A-Train platform, Quincy intended to pass it right by. Then he caught Elly's eye through the open door. She shot up from her seat at the sight of him. Elly moved for the door, maybe to hold it for him. Shocked, Quincy managed to get a dismissive hand up just before it slid shut.
"Since when does she care?" Quincy mumbled. Any further wondering was cut short by an arm wrenching his shoulder.
"The Artist lives!" Jess shouted in his ear.
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...