Illustration by Nida Chu
Quincy flopped on his bed with his gift from Crichton. Its cover was bound in something like leather, though it felt more like cloth to his fingers. He unbound the binding string around the crisp, canvas pages. He fanned the aroma of unformed creation up his nostrils. He had to grab a pencil.
"Charlotte... did you really think I'd make it here?" Quincy said to the radio by the wall.
"Never doubted it," He fired up at the sound of her voice, "Quincy, I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"I've been quiet. I didn't know you, where your loyalties were, if Strand bugged your Port... and around the Labs, I can never be sure who's listening," the voice through the speaker was softer now than ever before, "Any lost, lovesick soul would take a ticket out of Downshipping, but it takes something more to stand up to Bragg. To win over the tribes. To face a Ranger Captain three times. I'm sorry you had to go through all that just to get the Summit to see your worth. I'm sorry I never told you I saw it." Quincy traced some numb lines down the side of his page.
"Is... all that on the news?" Charlotte laughed.
"I... forgive you," said Quincy. He branched from sketched lines, which had taken the shape of his dad's old radio antenna. "How did you know my dad, Charlotte? Levi gave me the spiteful teaser version- I want yours." Static hissed for a few seconds.
"I was born in the Venter Layer... outside of prenatal approval. My mother didn't make it, and my father... couldn't keep me. It left me in a unique position, which Carmine Moreno took an interest in. He adopted me for formality, but I'm more his protégé as Chief Researcher than a daughter. Your dad used to hang around the Labs with my brother, James."
"The old Prime Guardian James?" Quincy recalled from Levi's snippet.
"That's him. Your dad helped him when Rose got sick during their Firelight Tour across the Terra- that's how he got roped into being a Guardian."
"So you're betraying them?" Quincy said.
"Everyone up here has stabbed me in the back, front, and both sides," said Charlotte, "The only loyal people I ever knew are dead or in Islaire."
"I can't believe he never mentioned it," Quincy sighed. He scratched the radio into his paper harder.
"Quincy... you need to know this before he uses it against you," Charlotte's voice shivered, "James didn't just bring your dad on as a Guardian. He brought your dad's best friend, Phinneas Bragg. There are always three, a Prime and two others... For Rose, it was James, your dad, and Bragg." Quincy's pencil dropped. He waited, hand shaking over his picture, but it's real-world counterpart had gone silent.
"Charlotte? No, you can't be serious. Answer me damnit!"
"Sorry Q. Cant talk now, but I'll be in touch soon."
"Charlotte," Quincy tried, though he heard the definitive click. He deflated into the bed. He reached behind his head to May's blanket-nest, to scratch her chin, wide awake. Her cooing put him out at last, two hours later.
"Don't take my vote to heart, Quincy," said Adrian. He focused a tiny flashlight on his subject's bare chest, "The truth is, I've been looking forward to getting to know you."
"Me, or this thing in my chest?" Quincy said, while Adrian armed himself with fine tweezers.
"Are the two separable?"
"What exactly are you doing? Ah!" Quincy couldn't keep down when a spark jolted his chest. Adrian answered by prodding a narrow rod into his circuited cavern. "Agh!" Quincy recoiled from the lightning inside him.
"Is that the feeling you get when your body rejects an Augment?"
"Wh-What?" Quincy shook himself free of a waking nightmare, his parents pinned inside their car. "How did you..."
"I had suspicions when you disappeared," Adrian sat back and laid down his tools. "We couldn't track you."Quincy slumped over.
"Well there's no Augment in there, chief," he said.
"Spoonfed Strand bullshit," Adrian quipped, oddly grave. "They track you by your Port, not your Augment, and that thing in your chest is not a Port. It doesn't have any of the necessary receptors. It's untraceable, though, so you're a safe vault for our secrets." Quincy's hands felt the cold edge of the hole that'd ruined his life. He tried to wrap his mind around the thought: it's not a Port.
"You're telling me my life is a lie?"
"Was. Now you know the truth."
"What... is it?" Quincy murmured.
"Best I can tell, it's a very complicated plug. For what, I have no idea," Adrian rolled back in his cushioned office chair. His eye twitched, in the thrall of the puzzle. "Do you remember being Fitted for it?"
"No, I was too young..." Quincy trailed off into dark realization.
"The family business, huh?" Adrian paused for his comrade to nod, "I'd say that design could only be Carmine Moreno's," said Adrian. Had Quincy been drinking, he'd have spewed it.
"Th-the Chief Researcher?" he sputtered.
"I've only seen something so wildly experimental once before, also Moreno's design. Goes by Bragg Boneblade." Quincy flattened his hand over the steel plug in his chest. Not only did he know my dad... "Not the function, more the craftsmanship. It's so far outside Strand's usual range."
"Did you ever... inspect Bragg?"
"Once," Adrian mulled, "When we first came here."
"We?" Quincy prodded when he saw the forlorn spark in his eye, "Remember, Adrian, you have a vault now."
"Levi, Bragg, and I came from the Venter Layer together. We weren't always enemies. After Rose's Igniting, Bragg somehow ended up with Nether Layer detail. Levi left the Venter Defense Department to help him get things started, or so he said. I had a chance to inspect... what they did to him, before Levi and I left for Islaire."
"So you're from the Venter Layer too?" said Quincy. A couple glassy blinks and a shrug prefaced Adrian's,
"Actually, I don't know where I'm from." Quincy snapped upright when Adrian did, as if from a dream. "To conclude my inspection: you're skin and bones, and I think I know why. Head to Mullery Line. Find Kari's. They cook a mean seitan steak."
"Hungrier for knowledge," Quincy grinned weakly.
"Come by tomorrow," Adrian smiled, "Things will be clearer on a full stomach."
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...