Illustration by kingharlequin
Quincy read Leon's slip for the six-hundredth time by dim streetlight. Greenknoll Path 50 was typed above 6 miles and a list of words that he only partly recognized. Quincy was familiar with the operation of a sit-up. The close proximity of the word burpee to suicide, however, had him wondering if he should have brought diapers or a knife.
"Never thought I'd see the day," mused Leon, sharp features prodding through the veil of the artificial night, "But that's the exact face I'd have imagined, if someone told me Quincy Famino was going for a morning run."
"Take it in while you can," Quincy puffed, "Hell if you'll ever see me again, after this," Leon shot him a glare, "Too soon?" The two burst into oddly familiar laughter.
It started with that run. Step by step, Quincy felt a little bit of his old, mummified self creak closer to life. Getting up so early kept his mind keen in Basic Estimation, though he was nearly asleep in his chair by Cartography. Every day, he got closer to boarding the A-Train, to facing the girl that frightened him more than any childhood night terror. Quincy stopped a mile in, most days, to dry heave from trying to keep pace with Leon. He couldn't tell if he was more relieved or frustrated to see his old friend trot in place beside him, waiting.
"Look at you," Quincy coughed," Augmented to perfection," he eyed Leon with both envy and admiration. Leon volleyed back with a dastardly grin.
"It's all me, baby. Search me- you won't find a Port," he dared. Leon pulled his collar down to show a bare neck. For someone like Leon, with a natural propensity for the physical, it was the most likely place for Strand to Fit an Augment Port.
"Corel says the Supervisors are thinking something different for me now," Leon said. He put on his best smile, but Quincy caught the flicker of unease at mention of the Supervisors. Strand's administrative branch of education was as much responsible for Downshipping 18-year-old undesirables as they were grooming the Seeress to become the Beacon.
"So..." Quincy considered, "We're not so different after all." He tapped the hollow metal plate grafted into the center of his chest. It was meant for an Augment to normalize his heartbeat under stress and enhance blood-flow. Now it was just a tunnel for the breeze to blow. "Empty, as far as they're concerned, but full of ourselves?" They laughed and trotted away.
It took until the Beacon came on for Quincy to collapse under the weight of the last burpee. He would have rather the diapers. Leon left him with a slap to the shoulder and an assured see you tomorrow. When Quincy raised his hand to object, Leon informed him he had unwittingly filled the slot for his one permitted training partner outside curfew. Choice or not, Quincy woke in the dark day after day. A sliver of his old hopeful self stirred behind the thin wall that separated him and the only real friend he'd ever had.
"Not walking today?" there she was again. In that seat, facing the A-Train door, where Quincy enjoyed a luxurious two feet of standing room was Elly. Right where she shouldn't be. Quincy stared at her longer than he ever stared at anyone. His mind swam those boundless eyes for what her words really meant. What happened to you? Was she an Instructor in elaborate disguise? A Strand Surveyor, observing a case of a difficult Fit? Was she insane? Was she an angel?
"I walk enough now. Run, actually. With Leon in the morning before the Academy," said Quincy. Because of you, he elected not to add. Elly smiled, though her eyes seemed always to retain that somber ember.
"Good," Elly said with a grin that made the approaching winter beyond the train's windows seem a world away, "I don't see why you should have to be alone all the time. Unless you prefer it that way." This was the point in which Quincy would usually snap. He could see in Elly's face that she knew that. She was giving him a way out if he wanted it. For once, he didn't.
"Only sometimes," he said. Elly shrugged.
"Me too," she said, "Everyone needs time to think, but humans are social creatures. Loneliness is a reaction to an unnatural state. We're meant to be together." Quincy's eyes narrowed on the phrases.
"Augmenting the Heart?" Quincy said. At one point, when he thought he might become a Counselor like Corel, it had been his favorite class.
"I knew you paid attention!" Elly spewed triumphantly, entirely shattering her mysterious character. But even this was a ploy, Quincy realized later, another step in her genius scheme.
"Try proving it," he let out a single note of laughter, against his will. If the train were stopped, he might have been tempted to swim out of these uncharted waters. But Cranberry Drive was a few stops away. "How... do you do that?" He said. Elly tilted her chin, a silent question. "You know exactly what to say."
"You've been my classmate a long time, and my neighbor longer," said Elly, "You get to know a person by watching them, better than by talking to them, sometimes," Her smile turned something that would have been sinister from different lips to something sanguine. "Want to sit?"
"You know I cant," Quincy tapped the rail he was assigned to stand under.
"You believe that Strand myth? The seats don't scan your pass, they test your weight within a range of ten pounds," Quincy watched, wide eyed, as Elly hoisted a stack of textbooks from beneath her bench. She plopped them beside her. "My seat-mate has about twenty pounds on you, but he doesn't take the train often. Come sit." Bewildered to silence, Quincy did.
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...