Illustration by Llamas_r_Life
Quincy hadn't walked home quicker in his life, nor left a conversation so abruptly. Not without at least a sharp quip. How could she ask me that? It wasn't unkind, the way she said it. It was both strikingly straightforward and genuinely concerned. Just the thing to chase Quincy away.
"What happened to you?"
It still stung his ears when he slammed the door to the house behind his sweaty back. Quincy slid down until he was a heap of joints and bones, still sore from his drop from the detour sign. He was about to vomit his knotted, splintered heart all over the floor, when he heard a cabinet close in the next room. Percy. Quincy pounded a quieting fist to his chest. He pulled himself up. The only thing to be done was try, at least, to process what Elly had meant.
Everyone in their quiet corner of Greenknoll knew what'd "happened" to Quincy. Not having been there, she wouldn't understand, not like Leon. But she knew. He could hit the side of her window with a rock from his own if he wanted- she had to know. Quincy dissected her words infinitely in the twilit trance of half-sleep. He just couldn't fit them back together in a way that made sense. It took him three days of struggling to focus through Basic Estimation to realize that she'd left pieces out on purpose. It was Elly's baited hook, and Quincy had bitten down the second he turned his back and run from her.
Why the sudden interest in me anyway? Quincy wondered, while his pencil slashed out notes he wasn't truly processing. Like Elly had said herself, they'd been neighbors since their Strand-approved births. They'd hardly shared a hello. Sure, it was Appointment season, but Quincy didn't think anyone took their Instructor's urges to show gratitude to the new Seeress with goodwill seriously. But then, getting up on the train wasn't the first time Elly had almost been kind to him. She seemed always to be there, once he had a few days to think about it, in the corner of some of his worst moments, mouth open like she wanted to say something. Quincy gave an unsettled glance to the Beacon above. It's light bled down from above, through the translucent, sky-cloaked floor of the Venter Layer, for the crops of the Terra farming districts. He thought about the previous Seeress, the woman it had been once. The Appointment of a new source of life and light. Quincy supposed it might be enough to send some people over a kinder edge.
It was two weeks, and an Estimation test with a surprisingly average score later when Quincy reached his limit. He wouldn't avoid the A-Train and Path 50 another day, only to be free from Elly's sullen smile. This was a dangerous game to play both sides of, and if he was really going to take a sixth, final, shot at proving himself worthy for Fitting, he was going to need help. Only the unexpected kindness of Elly Carello, and what she said about Leon, could bring him to the foot of his next-door neighbor's driveway. She was right. It was strange that he stopped going to see his best friend. But then... everyone knew what happened. Quincy's lingered long enough to elicit awkward eye contact through the window. Obligation carried him down the cobblestone walkway to the door. It took something far more painful and mature for Quincy to lift his fist to Leon's doorway.
The young men on both sides of the door hesitated, one with knuckles on wood, one with his fingers around a metal knob. Both of them grasped for anything to say. Both settled for silence when the wood between them swung in. They took in what the years had done to one another. Quincy was slenderer, with overgrown hair. He looked quite on the verge of madness with the marriage of cynical laughter and true sadness in the stress lines on his face. Leon had filled out everything that wasn't bone with muscle. His hair was cropped short and his clothes fit tight, yet he appeared to occupy double the space of his old friend by posture alone. It was hard to read his face: disapproving, nervous, maybe a hint of pity in those amber eyes.
"I need help," Quincy forced the hardest thing out first, his own voice sounding foreign and weak.
"I would have started with hi," Leon answered plainly, as if they'd just spoken yesterday. As if it hadn't been five years. Quincy had to smirk a little.
"I didn't want to mislead you to think I just came to say hi," Quincy explained, "I could've done that years ago... should have." Both of their eyes lightened a shade. A veil fell away between them.
"You're damn right you should have," Leon bit. His hand tightened on the doorknob. For a second Quincy thought he might shut him out. "What do you need?"
"I need to be something I'm not. Strong. Fast. Really good at sorting files. I need a plate in my head or a jet in my ass or something that makes me worth keeping around, or..." Quincy couldn't bring himself to say it. Just then, a figure passing by from the hall to the kitchen inside froze in the opening. Her eyes opened wide.
"Quincy?" she said. He raised a weak hand.
"Ms. Martulia." A staccato of high-heel taps brought her to the door. Leon, as if startled from a daze, rifled through his pockets. He found what he was looking for just as his mother reached the door- a folded paper square.
"Stay away from my son." Leon's mother pulled him back and shut Quincy out in the winter dusk. He turned to leave, but not without scooping up the paper Leon had just managed to get through. Quincy didn't open it until he got home, locked safely in his room.
It was Leon's workout schedule, devised by Strand trainers, including a location and time.
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...