Illustration by Shane Jones-Rust
By the time Quincy and Jess' feet touched pavement again, they were a mile from the Roseyard Plant, in the residential blocks of the district. The only light over them was electricity sparking up the distant Basal Column. In the middle of the street, Quincy and Jess bent to heave out noxious adrenaline. Jess' breaths turned slowly to sobs.
Quincy heard the click as if from somewhere else, disconnected as soon as her knuckles struck. Jess was on top of him before his back even hit the pavement. She grasped his collar and rained a barrage of cracks from her balled fist. If Aaron's words had reached her, they were silenced now by the noiseless scream in her eyes. The heart of this was no more to her now than the screw-up whose misplaced guilt had cost her her best friend. She watched his face swell and darken to a tender purple in her clenched grasp. She felt the pounds on her bloodied knuckles only as aftershocks. Killing him would be automatic.
Jess only stopped because she thought she had ended him. Quincy was limp, without so much as a twitch while he took the hits. He breathed silently. His eyes were as open as they could be, with his bulging face, while he cried. Jess flopped him flat on the street. She stood heaving over him until she could speak.
"Piece of shit."
Quincy's world became a lumpy soup of dream and reality. He wasn't sure when Jess left. The night was full of stars he knew didn't exist when he dragged himself to a lamppost. Something formless, yet more concrete than any word or thought, inside him got him upright and carried him to Cranberry Drive. It bled out a path to the only place in the Tower he felt he'd be safe. His head plunked into the door.
Elly's hands unfolded instinctively when his legs buckled. Quincy couldn't fully recall where he'd gone, but he trusted the arms around him.
"Elly, who is that!?" he heard another woman scream. The two debated too rapidly and fiercely for Quincy to track, but the arms holding him were gentle.
"Mom?" Quincy mumbled to fight the shadow infecting his eyes. The debate continued, quieter, as the arms hoisted him inside. A world of soft light and wooden paneling spiraled around until Quincy laid on a soft cushion. He felt a warm cloth on his head and cold fingers on his arm.
"What happened to you..." a voice quivered. A girl had asked him that once before.
"What... happened?" Quincy muttered, incoherent. The story fell out of him, without consent.
It was a perfect end to a vacation. Quincy usually sat behind his father in the car, but there was a big view coming up on the right- his mother's side. After two years applying for every amenity of the vacation, and all the same for Leon and his family, they finally made it to the Sunrise Column. Quincy pictured the new Seeress and her Prime Guardian rising inside, to the Venter Layer at the end of their Firelight Tour. He was heading for dreams of cheering crowds when his father turned to say something. Maybe about the far-off Column coming into view again. Quincy unbuckled his seatbelt for a better look.
It was his perpetual nightmare. Quincy's reality splintered with the glass in his ear. Glittering shards jumped past his eyes. His head and shoulders jerked sideways when the side of the car pounded against the street. His parents seemed to float away from him, rather than him being flung from the shattered window.
Quincy was on his feet the second he skidded into the curb. He didn't feel the crystal razors in his hands or knees. He felt only the irrepressible impulse to undo what was done. He never saw the car that'd hit them- nor did he see Leon's dad pull over behind them. Quincy hobbled to the limp arm hung from the overturned driver's side window.
"Quincy..." his father rasped. The bloodied eight-year-old already had his hands on the frame of the car. He strained his back to give his dad clearance while his mom hung unconscious a seat over. He'd been Fitted so many times for the enhancement traditional to men in his family, Quincy forgot he didn't have an Augment in.
"Dad, you have to give me yours," Quincy shrieked at the pinned, fading man. "Dad! Please!" He hazily reached through a hole in his ripped shirt to pop two inches of metal from his chest that'd changed his life, to change his son's. He passed his Augment to Quincy.
When he forced the chip into the circuited slot in his own chest, Quincy felt a spark. It worked. But when he pushed off the ground with all his might, adrenaline, and the otherworldly essence of a chance to save the people that'd raised him, that spark turned to a bite.
"No, no," Quincy sputtered when electric agony brought him to his knees.
"Quincy," his father coughed, and someone else screamed simultaneously.
"No...no..." Quincy heaved again, but his body rejected the Augment, the same way it did every one after. Hands gripped his shoulders, but Quincy held just hard enough to get one last look at his father.
"It's okay," he whimpered, "It's alright, Quincy." Leon tore his friend away just as flames climbed the leaking fuel. He turned and threw Quincy away, before a single pulse of fire took everything.
Quincy might've dove into the burning wreckage in denial, if not for something in his way.
"LEON!" Quincy screamed. His sliced hands clambered over the hot shrapnel in his facedown friend's back.
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