Illustration by Haley Mooney
"Your report says the prisoner is not the one from the incident on Path 46," menaced a shadow against the gold-veined window overlooking the Sunrise Column. The Beacon was getting dim- in a year, the new Seeress and her Prime Guardian would rise through that thousand-foot Column, and the Secretary of Terra Layer Defense would watch from this office. "Tell me how you know this, Raines." Every one of his trimmed silver hairs stiffened, but Raines cleared his throat to start.
"One of the suspects from the Roseyard incident wore a shark-face bandanna, sir. The same one the suspect from Path 46 did. The boy, Aaron, isn't him."
"This bandanna?" Secretary Bregun spun and pinned a photograph to his desk. It was that masked bastard, alright, from a street camera in Roseyard afterwards. "Who we call terrorist, unrulier citizens might call vigilante, or worse. We must remind them what we're doing is for their safety." The vacuum of silence made Raines say,
"Couldn't agree more, sir."
"That's why I've enlisted your service as a chaperone at the Sunrise Ball." In the midst of Bregun's words, his office door opened to two of his private security Ranks.
"If you ever want the title Captain attached to your name again, consider joining the Aviation Club at the Greenknoll Academy," Bregun said. Before Raines could raise so much as a grunt, Bregun's Ranks had sliced his authority away along with the patch on his uniform.
At the Famino Residence, Quincy was freshening up for his first Ball. This consisted mostly of Percy snorting in the bathroom door while his nephew squared off with a tie for the first time. He'd started strong, draping it around his neck, but the tie countered with a stranglehold knot.
"You're really nailing this paternal mentor thing," Quincy pulled at the velvet fiend on his throat.
"Well, since you're doing such a good job as an ambitious young upstart..." Percy finally joined him in front of the mirror. His hands undid Quincy's neck-tangle with dexterous familiarity. "So, tell me again what's wrong with this girl?"
"Well, she's hideous on top of stupid."
"Given. Going to the Sunrise Ball with you," Percy quipped, casual enough to make Quincy proud. Percy pulled the knot snug and tamed the flipped edges of the jacket collar.
"It's... Elly Carello," Quincy said. His uncle's wide-eyed grin was stifled by a knock downstairs. The two met apprehensive eyes in the mirror before racing one another for the door. Neither was above shoving.
After clipping his foot, Quincy had only reached the top of the stairs when Percy swung the door. Her yellow locks were fixed loosely to the side in a braid that followed the curve of her bare shoulder. From her low neckline down, her dress was a cascade of yellow wisps. Elly glided in with the grace of a golden waterfall, fabric swaying by her shins. Her violet eyes glinted at the top of the stairs. Quincy had the sudden feeling he was dressed as a clown, despite the fact that Percy had perfectly coordinated his tie and her dress.
"Ms. Carello, a pleasure to see you," started Percy in his best parental droll. It was enough to snap Quincy into a shuffle downstairs. "But this young man comes with rules. Have him home by curfew," Quincy's shoes hit the floor, "No inappropriate photos," Quincy took Elly's arm.
"Nice to see you!" she laughed over her shoulder.
"Hands above the waist!" Percy squeezed in before the door slam.
Every Academy had a Sunrise Ball, but none of them saw a couple so oddly matched as Quincy and Elly. Heads turned, looked away, double, and triple took, each time with less belief. Quincy's face heated in spite of himself. He'd said yes on the sheer impulse of Elly's glowering eyes and one chance in his life to dance with a pretty girl. He hadn't imagined what it would look like, rather, how it'd look at him. A shiver jarred his arm when Elly wrapped hers around it.
"Why Quincy, are you embarrassed of me?" she smiled, just as easily as when they sat with their legs over the cliff.
"Embarrassed of me, if you could believe it," Quincy laughed. He couldn't.
"Well you did miss the Academy dance seminars," Elly noted, leading them out to the floor. Pairs and groups spread across the auditorium, wobbling and rocking without a care. Elly spun Quincy to face her. "I'll have to give you a crash course," she seized his hands. She guided Quincy through arm movements and foot placements, but his mind was overwhelmed with the feeling of Elly's fingers between his own. "A bit robotic, but that's it- Strand approved dancing!" she chuckled.
"I don't know if you knew this about me, but I've never been one for others' approval." Quincy decided to follow the feeling.
He slid his hands around Elly's hips, let go of pointless reservations, and discovered that he actually liked dancing. Whether he was good at it, or just good at pretending to be comfortable while terrified, the crowd on the floor grew around them. Chaperones watched with unease. Some debated whether or not to intervene when the mop-headed Academy dropout wound the violet-eyed stunner in a whimsical, non-regulation twirl. All but the uncaring Bolt Ranger Raines.
Quincy and Elly were armed to dance and laugh the night away, when a voice boomed through the commotion. People retreated from the fringes, then the core of the crowd. Quincy was suspicious, but hardly concerned until a soft light lit his face. Even Raines' jaw dropped when the room dimmed, but for imitation stars twinkling in the ceiling. That, and the Ring. The Sunrise Ball was ceremony alone in Greenknoll- what Seeress could come from a laborers' district? But there Elly was, under the fluorescent Ring of Appointment. There Quincy was, with his hands on her hips. In shock, he loosened. Elly grasped his arms.
"Don't you leave me on this dance floor," she whispered. With trembling hands, Quincy held the new Seeress in the starry darkness.
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...