Illustration by Litato
"This is a Strand outpost?" Quincy echoed through the Legs' outer wall. More than once, he stumbled to avoid coming down on a lounging spider-beast.
"Only on the surface. There's enough bad business here to write a book," said Crichton, "Bragg knows better than to try and please everyone, least of all the suits upstairs, so he leaves certain venues open to less-than-savory ventures."
"Don't let him hear you say that. Juno's an old friend," said Crichton, while offering one of his venomous vials. It was a deep shade of lavender. "Take this. Someone's liable to think you're a fence," he hardly paused at Quincy's obvious offense, "Don't take less than six for that."
"Six of what?"
"Don't give that venom to anyone unless they drop six of something in your hand." Crichton took a hard left, through a hatch in the wall. On the other side, Quincy's eyes fought against chaos to find his guide in a bustling crowd.
He hadn't heard a thing inside the wall, but the tapestry of people was deafening. In his scramble after Crichton, Quincy pegged Strand personnel, people akin to the Reachers, smoother, trimmer ones clothed lightly for winter, and others in sturdy leather layers.
"This..." Quincy murmured.
"Unabridged commerce," Crichton somehow heard him through the cacophony, "Mostly illegal, but it keeps the credits flowing that everyone needs to survive. Ferries, weapons, food, venom-
"F-from the spiders?" Quincy interjected.
"Yes, but the fuzzy ones in the walls are tarantulas- vast difference in potency," said Crichton. He bolted down a chute of haggling street stands.
"Why do people need it anyway?" said Quincy.
"Most of the Avalon Tribes hunt with venom-tipped arrows," a smile cracked the corner of Crichton's mouth as he set his eyes on a wide-windowed building signed Juno's, "And some crazy bastards spike their drinks with it."
The sign above the dark wooden bar inside read: A Refuge for Refuse. Quincy shared a counter with others in fur long-coats, Strand blackshirts beyond the usual Ranks and Rangers, and the thinly clothed ones he guessed were Tribesmen. They clutched mugs and bottles brimming with poisons of their choice. Quincy dissected the other patrons to pass the time, until the proprietor himself glided over. Juno was at least half as charming as Crichton made out, a slender, scarred, dark man with short, graying hair.
"Drink," Juno ordered. He plopped down a tiny glass of beige mystery.
"What is it?"
"The usual," Juno laughed for cover, then gave Quincy a scowl. He nearly reached over the counter when Quincy took a ginger sip and let out a deep, hellfire cough.
"A bite of the fang!" a voice boomed behind him. Quincy twitched upright when the entire bar resounded the toast,
"A bite of the fang!" before everyone downed their own drinks.
"You swallow it, not sip it," whispered Juno. He glided away again.
Quincy occupied himself by exploring his immediate surroundings. He drew a line through a grease smudge on the counter. He found the tip of an overshot nail beneath it. He pinned down a rogue toothpick as it rolled his way. It was several minutes and glares from Juno before Quincy touched his drink again. He was sure to dump the liquid fireball straight down his throat.
Minutes turned to hours, and glasses plopped in front of Quincy. All the while, a man behind him regaled an empty table with stories of a perfect maiden. Quincy's vision trembled, and the hinges of his mind swung loose when he asked Juno for an ashtray. Eavesdropping brought a certain maiden of his own to mind. With a knife, he scraped grease and soot from the bar to the tray, his easel. With a drop from his glass and a stir of a toothpick, Quincy had some thick, black paint.
A stolen napkin was his canvas. The toothpick was his brush. Starting with the oval of her head, he brought his woman to life. It had started as Elly, but the man's animation behind him clouded her defining attributes. Quincy strayed from the shadows of her jaw to the curve of her nose to the curled tendrils of her hair. No, this wasn't Elly any longer, he realized when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Aye, boy," a voice burped near his ear, "You goin to gut me righ here, in fron o me mates?"
"Sorry?" Quincy slurred.
"Thas me sister, ther, you drawn," said a man wrapped in layer after layer of oversized clothes. How big a man they were meant for, Quincy couldn't guess, as his accuser was twice his size. "Took er straight from me stories." Quincy gazed down on his napkin. The shape of her head, the sad kindness, the frame of her cheeks, the curled tips of her hair. What had begun as Elly had warped as the man's tales bled through the seams of Quincy's mind. "Ow bout I gut you instead?" Juno shot over, but Quincy beat him to an intervention.
"How about... you let me finish?" he blurted, "If it's not the best picture of her you've ever seen, my guts are yours. If it is, you take the picture instead?"
"A wagerin man! Takin advantage of me gamblin problem too? Have at ye then," the man laughed. Somehow foggy and sharp at once, Quincy pulled the details together in seconds.
A prick of his finger on the nail under the bar made the red for the flowers blooming around her. From the sponge of his memory, he squeezed her thin smile. The final touch was the eyes. A swirl in the venom Crichton had given him lit her irises the perfect hue of violet. A crystal drop plunked onto the napkin.
Crichton froze in the doorway of Juno's, paralyzed by the image of the dread pirate, Callous Regis Corman, wiping tears and buying Quincy a drink.
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...