Between the Reeds

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Illustration by Jebediah Bokker
https://www.instagram.com/jebidiah_bokker/

     Quincy and Crichton shot through a wall of trees into an open field of reeds.

     "Alright, alright, slow it down," Crichton said. They hadn't stopped since Bragg vanished through the jaws of the Silvereach, since they left Raines clinging for life on the riverbank. You ruined everything, Quincy replayed in his mind while Crichton pulled the hooks of the zip-gun from his seizing muscle. He winced when the swollen fibers fought Crichton's prying fingers. You ruined everything, he recited. A soft canteen slapping his chest broke him from his trance. "Drink." The second to last thing Quincy wanted was more water down his throat, outranked only by irritating Crichton further. He took a long pull.

     "Next is...the Legs... right? How long until we get there?"

     "We'll get as far out as we can tonight and finish the journey tomorrow," Crichton said. Quincy followed in his wake through the reeds.

     As they walked, he watched the metal spiderwebs of the Terra service walks overhead. Some hugged artificial creek beds and electrical lines. Quincy had always figured that, down here, he'd see the roots of synthetically grown trees poking through, but they were lost in vast glass cases of enriched soil. It was indistinguishable, from so far away. It wasn't long before his mind veered for the ones he'd left behind.

     How was Percy taking his disappearance- with a search party, or a sigh of relief? Had Strand extracted from Aaron the identity of his dastardly accomplice, Blackstar? Was Jess, now that graduation had passed, nestled in the role she'd raged so hard to escape? He hoped the words he'd spat at Leon didn't haunt him, like the ones Leon had spat back. And Elly... she would be prepping for her tour soon.

     "Are...kidding me?" Rumbled through the static in Quincy's pocket. He rummaged for the radio, which he thought was off. "Blackstar sends Reachers into a frenzy? Rogue Ranger Crichton Demarcus takes Blackstar under his wing? They're turning down these headline pitches in the Venter Layer. Do you realize what that means?" Charlotte crackled through the speaker.

     "You've created a phenomenon," said Quincy, rifling through the reeds.

     "I expected you'd make a splash in Greenknoll, but I thought I made it clear that you were supposed to keep a low profile otherwise-

     Crichton snatched the radio in a flash. "That's enough," He flipped the switch which should have silenced their irate correspondent, "She can take it up with Levi-

     "I will take it up with you, Crichton DeMarcus," Charlotte continued. Quincy reeled with surprise, then choked back laughter at his companion's mortified face, "If Quincy is on my radar, he's too visible. Keep him off it."

     "With respect, Ms. Moreno, I'm doing the best I can with what I have," Crichton bit, once the shock wore off.

     "I don't want your respect, Mr. DeMarcus. I want Quincy in Islaire," said Charlotte, "We'll be in contact then. And Quincy. Try not to stick any more Strand Generals?" A crackle brought static, which terminated on its own. Crichton turned back to their original direction, letting out a long groan.

     "Why does it even have that button?" he wondered.

-

     Charlotte's call had revived more than one of Quincy's curiosities, but he knew better than to question Crichton while he was fuming and hungry. He waited until they'd flattened out a nice clearing for their camp. He watched Crichton throw two flanks of tough flesh he'd picked up in Silvereach on the grill. He was out of seitan. Even Crichton's indifference would be a welcome distraction.

     "Bragg seemed to know you," Quincy said, poking his dinner with a long reed, "Said you were Raines' future."

     "Raines seemed to know you," Crichton grunted.

     "I sprayed paint down his throat and got him shot," Quincy told him, if only to prod a reaction, "Probably cost him his career."

     "I didn't cost Bragg anything, yet. Maybe a bit of hair color, raising hell with the Summit," said Crichton, just as straightforward. Quincy saw him as if for the first time, with fire flitting in his dark eyes, "Wingless bat... sounds about right." With a swipe, he mounted their dinner on the edge of his blade and laid it out to cool on a rock slab.

     "Crichton... were you really a Ranger?"

     "I traded in my wings," Crichton peered into the past through the flame.

     "For what?"

     "Horns." Crichton doled the meat out as casually as if they were discussing the regulated weather.

     "How?" was all Quincy could think to ask.

     "That's a question better suited for my friend Adrian, in Islaire. Those sorts of trades are his specialty," before Quincy could delve further, Crichton slid him his meat slab. "Now eat." The smell of smoldering beast twisted up Quincy's wrinkled nose.

     "I-I don't think..."

     "It's not a matter of what you think," Crichton cut in. Quincy, like most of the Terra Layer, had hardly seen an animal, let alone eaten one. With the space management paradox that comes with growing food for livestock, Stand had decreed plant based diets standard generations ago.

     "It's just, it's..." Quincy couldn't quite get it out without vomit. Flesh, tissues that'd been living, pumping with blood, running for its life. Crichton chewed off a corner.

     "Do you know why the lion eats the deer?" he watched the gears creak back in Quincy's mind, "Because the lion needs to eat."

     "But..." Quincy stared down at the smoking meat like the enemy, "Lions don't have seitan."

     "And neither does the Nether Layer. Soil's not right for soy farms. We're animals, Quincy. Animals that usually have more choice than others. Down here, you don't," Quincy hardly opened his mouth to retort when Crichton said, "I need you alive. You heard the lady." Charlotte's voice in his head was about the only thing that got him through those first few nauseating bites. "That is lion by the way."

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