Illustration by Diiki
"Mr.Corman!" Crichton tapped the counter for Quincy's tab, "How long have you been taking care of my friend?"
"Is Cap'n," Corman amended, "The Lake Lady's still bitchin an kickin! An Mr. DeMarcus, yer fren took care o me!" he bellowed. Corman pinned Quincy's bill to the counter. "Returned me my sister... straigh from me memories. I'm returnin the favor. Drinks on me."
"Well, I'm sure he's grateful for your company," Crichton began. Then he saw the napkin. The illustration was solace itself, even with its rudimentary canvas. Even without a brush or paint. Quincy was too drunk to notice the way Crichton stared at his work, then him. "But... we need to shove off."
"Got a ship?" Quincy slurred.
"Of course," Crichton said, to Corman's immediate hilarity.
"Stay away from the cards, DeMarcus! Ye got more tellers than a bank!" he cackled, "You're up shit creek, I can see it on yer mug. Now, I ain't got a paddle, but..." Corman's eyes traced a wobbly path to the floor before he snapped up and said, "I've got a sail I can lend ye."
"The offer is appreciated, truly. But I'm sure the Lake Lady has other, more pressing destinations-
"She goes where I turn the wheel," said Corman, suddenly coherent. He sat up. "Quinn here tells me yer headed to Islaire." Crichton did his best to bounce back the crooked smile their Captain gave him. When they left, Corman discreetly swiped the napkin.
Having spent some time with metal jutting from his arms, Crichton was less comfortable on boats than most. Though he'd managed to convince Corman to forgo departure long enough to sober up, he still clenched the Lake Lady's deck rails in two white-knuckle vices. Quincy looked no more comfortable. He hung over the rail like a wet towel on a clothesline.
"Head bothering you?" Crichton prodded.
"How'd you guess?" Quincy volleyed.
"I'm honestly surprised you're half upright. You drank enough to put me out. You only had to have a couple glasses to blend. Your... skills come unexpected," said Crichton, "You can handle your liquor, and a paintbrush. Oh, and you managed to charm one of the Nether Layer's most infamous pirates." Quincy snorted.
"I used a toothpick."
"Right... I didn't know you could do that."
"Why would you?" said Quincy, "Charlotte was looking for my dad, and he was no artist. I'm just what you got." Corman lurched the Lady around a passing barge. The Legs weren't even out of sight, this fifth time Crichton nearly lost his lunch.
"Ye might want to swallow yer sock, DeMarcus!" Corman called out, "We're comin up on the evenin rush!" The slender Lake Lady shot through the outer cloud of freighters and merchant skiffs. Frigid lake water sprayed over her tilting, curvy sides.
Even with the nausea, Quincy couldn't help but admire the tossing curls of Sapphire Lake, as Crichton called it. The Beacon was weak, coming through the service walks above. Its light danced across the rippled water like it was made of gems. He cracked a grin. Then the Lake Lady swerved right, inches from the bite of a white torpedo from above.
"What the hell was that?" Crichton barked.
"You tell me, DeMarcus!" Corman shot back. Three more stark white, bony missiles came before one stuck, a foot down the rail from Quincy's hands. "What'd ye do to piss off the Boneman?"
"We doubled whatever you were going to charge us at Islaire!" Crichton yelled.
"Ye speak fluent pirate, DeMarcus!" Corman laughed. The water churned around them with the sudden traffic of a small Strand brigade. At the head of the formation was a craft twice the size of the Lake Lady, framed with ivory trim. On the very tip of the prow was General Bragg, growing his next round of javelins from his wrists.
The Lake Lady's nose sliced left and right. Her graceful frame rode the contour of each wave as if with intention of her own. Quincy looked back at Corman to confirm he had a part in it. There he found a maestro at the podium. Regis Corman had one hand on the helm spokes, one wrapped in the ropes that controlled the sails. He drew the ropes across his chest. He wrenched the wheel into wild spins and snagged pegs to jerk the ship the other way. Corman and his Lady were a sleek pair, leaving thrice the spears in the depths for every one that stuck. The Strand armada steered off ahead, while Bragg's flagship plowed straight across the Lake Lady's path.
"Below deck, boys!" Corman shrieked, "I need ye to flip a few switches!" Crichton answered by spewing lunch overboard. Quincy didn't feel much better, but composed himself enough to follow the railing to the stairs. Another jerk flung him down into the belly of the ship. "There's a range o cannons on yer left, Quinn! Soon as we're still, pull em all!"
Quincy hardly had time to adjust to the musty cabin lighting in the hardwood guts of the Lady. The ship turned into a wild spiral. Quincy crashed straight into the wall. Above him, Corman drew the sails open to a blindside wind and jerked the wheel the opposite way; the ship went full sideways. Bragg, who'd planned to skewer them with the nose of his ship, slid up beside it instead. Half-crawling, Quincy yanked back the iron rod in the closest wall-mounted cannon on a guess. He was at the next before the iron cannonball blasted out the far side of Bragg's ship. Down the line he went, shattering the walls of the flagship in seconds.
"Stomp the pedals on the floor!" Corman screamed. Quincy's immediate compliance blasted air jets from the backside of the ship. Combined with the one-sided cannon recoil, it was just enough to complete a full turnaround. The sails caught the wind of their original course. The Lake Lady raced around Bragg on the sinking remnants of his ship, behind his stunned armada. Quincy Laos flat on the floor below with his stomach in both hands.
With Crichton's face practically in the water and Quincy's world spinning, Corman laughed his way to victory alone. The silhouette of Islaire's vast cityscape consumed the horizon.
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...