Illustration by laitfortea
"This seems a whole lot like a death sentence," Quincy rasped into the radio, "Am I going to be an example?" He crawled to the loose vent panel.
"More of a mascot," said Charlotte, "An associate of mine has been deep cover in the Academy. He won't break character but for a certain level of excitement." Quincy wiggled the panel free. How did she even set this up?
"How do I excite your friend?"
"Just... be yourself," said Charlotte. Quincy thought on it, with a hand rifling in his pocket. He pulled his bandanna out, stretched it to its worn position over his mouth, and tied on his cover of razor-teeth.
"Rather not," said Quincy. He flipped the panel up to tuck his feet over the ledge. He scooted from the ventilation shaft.
It occurred to Quincy, in the full three seconds of descent, that he might have looked before he leaped. It was hard to tell who was more disoriented when he crashed down, Quincy, or the poor woman he used as a landing pad. The woman between him and an auditorium seat was compressed into a muffled, struggling pancake. So in shock, Quincy hardly thought to make a commotion. Only the guests within a three row range noticed, who were stricken speechless.
"Allow me to invite to the stage," the announcer said into his script, entirely unaware of the boy that dropped from the ceiling, "Our Prime Guardian, Leon Martulia."
A frigid wave iced Quincy's skin. From the back rows of the auditorium, he looked more like a mouse than a person, but there was no mistaking his oldest friend when he took the stage. Leon embarked on a short walk to the Elly's side. She, having seen Quincy's plummet, was a rigid knot of tension. As little as he wanted to, Quincy knew he had to harness that shock. It was his only chance. It was Elly's only chance. Sorry, Leon.
"What in the..." the man beside Quincy mumbled.
"Preposterous!" his seat-cushion belted when he shot to his feet. That got the attention of the row ahead of him. It wasn't nearly enough. Quincy cleared his throat.
"G-Guardian..." he fumbled, in search of the passion to pass for convincing. "Guardian of what?" Quincy built to a scream. Two hundred heads converged on the auditorium's back rows, where a scraggly, shark-mouthed boy stood out of turn. Hardly anyone noticed the missing ventilation panel; to them he had simply appeared. "A system engineered by people who think we're faulty, in need of Augmentation? Blind acceptance as our only option?" Even the hapless woman he'd squashed went silent. The entire stadium was frozen in the unbelievable moment, until a student several rows away shouted,
"It's Blackstar!" Whispers swept the crowd of graduates like a mutinous breeze. Quincy, not having attended the Academy in over a month, had gone on unaware of his new title, until now. Instructors fluttered through the rows to suppress the anxiety and awe. Come on Charlotte...
"Students and parents, calmly approach your nearest exit," the senior Ranks announced over the commotion. They shepherded the panicked masses away from Quincy. Everyone within his arm's reach scrambled to their shoe-squeaking feet but the woman he blocked in her seat. How could she shove past the infamous Blackstar?
"Order!" boomed an amplified voice, stern enough to plaster Quincy's feet when he turned to run himself. The Ranks were seconds from a clear path to him. Leon's voice was different now, entirely Fit to be the Prime Guardian to the Seeress, who clutched her knees behind him. "I guard order. Sustainability, life." The evacuating crowd calmed with his every word. However it hurt Leon for Quincy to throw a wrench in his moment, it hurt Quincy twice so to hear his friend regurgitate the Strand credo, and so well.
"If you really believe that," Leon heard, but couldn't turn in time, "We're in more trouble than I thought." It was Instructor Gordy, from aeronautics, and so Leon hardly expected the fist that rocketed into his jaw. By the time his body hit the ground, Gordy had made his leap. He cleared two rows at a time. He sprung to heights and graces that humans couldn't hope for, without Augmentation. With less effort than a sweat, the slim, slicked-back, black-haired Gordy closed the gap between the stage and Quincy. "Henry? I expected you to be older."
"I-I'm his son," Quincy sputtered.
"This isn't a family field trip," Gordy said, "Where's your dad?"
"Dead." Gordy grunted the way someone might after a kick in the shin.
"That was in poor taste. Sorry."
"Quincy," said the rebel of circumstance.
"Crichton," the false Instructor shed his decoy identity. He dug in his pocket and dropped a rectangular peg in Quincy's hand. Quincy flinched when his fingers found a button and a foot of telescoping edged steel shot out of it. "Your face says shellshock. Stick anyone who gets a hand on you," said the man revealed to be Crichton, associate of Charlotte, the voice in his dad's old radio. Quincy caught his own dark, frantic eyes in the blade. "Hey, Blackstar. Stay with me," Crichton pulled him to the end of the row, "My ass is on the line now , too."
The first of the Ranks met them at the aisle, a baton stiff for the strike. Before he had the chance, Crichton drove his foot into his chest like a pressure-loaded piston. The Rank catapulted well into the next row. Crichton tugged Quincy's tense shoulder along. He was surprised how easily his hand shot out when someone seized his arm. Quincy never saw the Rank's face, but he froze when he pulled his blade back, coated with a ruby sheen.
"You move after you stick them," Crichton said, yanking Quincy away again. On their way to the teeming outer halls of the Academy, Quincy had to be reminded twice more.
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...