Illustration by Jebediah Bokker
The Avalon Forest wasn't quite as thick as the jungle, and winter was showing her teeth, yet Quincy steamed and sweat. He was bound at the wrists, surrounded by the literal monsters of his childhood. These Tribesmen shared little in common with the eight-foot beasts he and Leon had imagined, yet were no less intimidating. There wasn't one of them whose skin wasn't ridged with twisted scars. They wore raw hide, leather and bone, bound with jute and sinews. Hair length and muscle structure was hardly a distinction between man and woman.
An amber glow led them through the trees of night. The paths, if there were any, were visible only to the Tribesmen. The only consistency was the flickering aura they approached in a semicircle. What Quincy didn't realize was that they were sidestepping traps.
"The raven comes by night," said the foreman of their pack.
"With snakes in talon," heralded the woman at the gate-posts. The homes and communal buildings within a torch-lot perimeter ranged from one-room shacks to wide expanses with stony accents. The scarred guards of darkness and the twinkle of eyes in passing windows were the only audience for Corman, Quincy, and Mabel's procession.
Quincy had figured the tribesmen for executioners over jurors. Here he was, between a pirate and a biologist in what he assumed was a waiting room for trial. Wrists bound, backs to cold stone, they sat in a shoulder sandwich beneath a leafy gazebo. Their chaperones waited wordlessly by the door. The fire crackle, the night-bugs, and Corman's throaty breaths were the maddening sounds of time's passage.
"Corman," Quincy said to the stubbly, wisp-haired captain to kill the silence, "Were you born down here?" The laugh that slipped from Corman made him seem ages younger.
"Nay, Quinn. It'd probably surprise you to know that I come from similar stock to yer own," he said, less haughty than usual. "After I lost me sister an they Shipped me Down, I tried throwin my life away. Found the most dangerous crew in the Legs an aimed a gun at em."
"One o the bastards took a shine to me. Put me on my ass, then on the sail. Foun I had a knack for it, somethin they got no need fer upstairs." It was remarkably loyal to what he'd said in Juno's, even without 'a bite of the fang'.
"Your sister... were her eyes really violet?". Corman gave the roof a forlorn gaze.
"Like polished amethysts. Never met another woman worth lovin, until me Lady." That made two people Quincy had ever personally known of with the mutation. He was even less thrilled to be between Corman and Mabel when he heard her laugh. The pirate gave her a killer glare.
"Sorry... I never pictured you having a sister, let alone being so attached," she said.
"Pirates ain't born, Mabel." In silent agreement, the three tried impossibly to settle in their stony recliner.
"The Chief and her Tribunal are ready," said an arriving Tribesmen.
"Sweet Maselyn. Gorgeous as my last Tribunal," Corman grinned. He, Quincy, and Mabel filed across the boards of a stage before a row of tall chairs. Most of the presiding crowd were marked with the lines of age-earned wisdom. Only one stood out in her youth. Her scars were few, but for the gnarled skin in the corner of her left eye. Corman's description of the Chief struck a cord of truth.
"Sour Regis. You know not to speak until addressed," Maselyn snapped, though not without a certain charm, "What Bragg's told me inclines me to make this visit final."
"And what's that?" Mabel couldn't keep in.
"Quiet! All of you!" Maselyn barked, "We are friends, Mabel, but I must insist we follow Tribunal rules on these grounds. You will answer my questions individually, when asked."
"Chief Maselyn Owlfeather, leading the Tribunal for Regis Corman, Mabel Kalari, and..." the announcer trailed off at the last defendant.
"Quincy Famino," he piped. Maselyn's eyes narrowed on her first target.
"Mabel. Why would you and your Summit consort with the Reachers, with all the knowledge my forests have to give you?" Maselyn began.
"Bragg's given you false information," Mabel shot back, "I haven't had contact with him in a week. He must know I'm with the Summit. I haven't been to Silvereach since it was taken. Towards what ends am I accused of consorting?" The older members behind Maselyn chattered, but the accused had been careful in her wording.
"Defendants have the right to know their charge," Maselyn supposed, "The Reachers haven't been filtering our water. I've got the sick to prove it. I understand you biologists have a cure, but you've kept it to yourselves."
"Maselyn, you know me. The biologists are only interested in the well-being of the planet and her animals. We're the only ones in this Tower who are. I need the Avalons, and Bragg's men are the ones poisoning you." Maselyn's brow curved with an understanding she'd been verged on already. "The Silvereach Dam filters are remote-controlled. The Reachers have secondary controls, but Bragg has the final say from Almagreighn." The elders muttered, while Maselyn lightened.
"I suspected Bragg of treachery, but I had to play along. So weakened, he could crush us, and the medicine we need is in Almagreighn anyway, isn't it?"
"You know the Summit will help, if you return," Mabel dared, "We can get you that medicine."
"If you could prove that to me... Levi and the others haven't been able to contend with Bragg directly, and he hardly represents what Strand has at its disposal."
"Prove it, eh?"
"Corman!" Mabel bit. Maselyn's firelit hazel eyes flitted to him.
"You're lucky I find you an intrigue, Regis. Speak," she said.
"I admit to like yer ways in these Avalons, second only to the water. Not least, that yer only as strong as yer weakest babe."
"Protect them until they can protect you," Maselyn filled in the rest of their time-honored adage.
"Jus so happens, we got the Summit's freshest pup," said Corman.
"This is why I'm here," Quincy quieted Mabel's objections. Maselyn didn't have to know the Summit had rejected him. Not yet. It took all the gall he had to look Chief Maselyn in the eye and say, "What can I do to convince you?"
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...