Illustration by Kyra Pescador
Corman thought those tribal warships were a little close, but by the time he wrangled his hardly-used transmitter, the helmsmen could hear his shouts without it.
"Aye! Why in hell are ye comin onto me Lady?" The reply was rasped from Avalon forest war-cries.
"Maselyn says you're as bad as the Reachers. Shame the Lady's caught up with you." The warship's razor-plated prow skewered the Lake Lady just below top deck. Quincy felt her ribs quiver below.
"Back up and turn tail," Corman warned as two more warships shot around his backside, "Or ye can kiss the devil's arse for me when I send ye down."
"You'll talk a big game all the way there, won't you?" chuckled the tribal helmsman. A second prow-spear jabbed through the Lady's opposite side. Her agonized jerks were enough to pop Quincy from his crate hiding spot. He was further below deck than the cannons and jet-controls, accessible from false floor planks. In the dim lights, the walls seemed to be made from glass terrariums. A hundred eight-legged shadows crawled across the floor as their live counterparts scrambled for cover.
"Sorry sacks of... Quinn?" Corman blubbered when he stumbled up to the top deck, "Ye've stowed away at a convenient time!"
"Tell me...what to do to get them off us," Quincy wheezed.
"The cannons ain't stocked from our last scrap... there's some pokers behind me. Pick one an aim fer the helmsman!" Quincy raced to a mound of wooden poles, tipped with silver, hooked blades. He almost picked one up automatically. His hand froze mid-grasp. He was back on the Roseyard hills, watching flames twist around Strand electricians. More pawns. Considering he had to hit his target, did he really want to? If hesitation had a smell, Corman was a bloodhound. "They ain't thinkin twice on sinkin us, Quinn. When is us or them, ye pick us."
The pokers were damn heavy. Quincy hoisted one to his shoulder for a better grip. In his farthest-flung nightmares, he'd squared off against the wild-men, but never like this. Quincy put one trembling leg forward, highballed his aim, and heaved the javelin overboard.
The sound that crawled up the helmsman's throat was hardly human. He tried to teeter away, but his leg had been pierced through, to the ship. He struggled with it while Corman steered the Lady clear, only to be pierced by a warship on the other side.
"We can't fend them off like this!" Quincy screamed. He shrunk away from what he'd done to the helmsman. His mind raced back to when he'd slipped aboard, raced back through every item at their disposal. "What about the scotch?"
"One last drink afore the tides?" Corman snorted, "Yer a true romantic, Quinn!"
"No- it'll burn won't it?" He never thought he'd be so thankful for the science classes he'd half-slept through.
"Ye stow in me Lady and burn me livelihood!" Corman mused.
"You were going to drink it!"
"Yer a fair judge, Quinn. An a righ pirate!" Corman laughed, "Grab as many bottles as ye can carry!" That turned out to be seven, balancing two bottles on top of what he could hug, with two in each hand. When Quincy brought them, Corman was keeping Tribesmen from boarding by cutting the wheel, and short lengths of rope at once. At careful direction, Quincy broke the seal on each bottle and fed a rope into it. "Light em and toss em," the order came with a matchbox.
Quincy leaned over the Lady's edge. He hurled bottles of flaming, bootlegged alcohol. There was something beautiful about the way the fire unfolded blue to the furthest dregs of splattered drink, before flaring up red on the ships themselves. For fear of wasting Corman's stash, Quincy nailed every shot. Seven fireballs ripped through three ships. Corman turned to give the order about the jets, only to find Quincy gone below deck already. The ship jerked forward, away from the smoldering warships. The water had become an inferno when the Lady sped away.
The following calm was stark enough for Quincy to question if the scuffle had been a dream. The wind against them, Corman kept the sails rolled and used weaker auxiliary jets to troll along. There was no land in sight. Only two rejects, adrift in a lazy current.
"While I appreciate yer timely appearance, I worry for yer taste in frens," Corman said in the fading mauve Beacon-glow, "Ye do remember I'm a pirate."
"I figure I have a better chance convincing you to listen than the Summit. Besides, you owe me for helping back there," said Quincy, Draper over the railing.
"I'm lettin ye stow yer way to the Legs, ain't I? Yer better off uninvolved with those Summits anyhow."
"That how you'd feel if you had a permanent pass to dock in Islaire?" Quincy ventured.
"Neither of us will know that sweet nectar."
"We both will, if we bring back Maselyn." That was enough to get the pirate upright, despite the bottle of Mud he'd downed.
"What are ye on about?" said Corman.
"You get me to Maselyn. We help Mabel convince her back to the Summit. Then, when I'm a part of it, I'll owe you."
"I know ye failed the Academy, Quinn, but Maselyn's vote only gets ye a tie."
"I'll deal with that," Quincy scrounged up as much Blackstar confidence as he could.
"Damn ye, Quincy. If it's how we met or how yer fancy Summit dismissed us both the same, I like ye. But I swear I'll leave ye with the tribes if this backfires."
When Corman and Quincy moored on the forested shores around the Avalon Mountains, the only ones more surprised than Mabel were the contingent of tribesmen sent to take her in.
"Corman?" said Mabel, while the tribesmen pulled her wrists together in rope, "Thought they'd have sunk you by now."
"They would ave," Corman admitted, "If not fer our mutual pyromaniac. Mabel glanced the scraggly youth, bound in line with her and Corman.
"You're in it now, Quincy, whether you're supposed to be or not."
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...