Illustration by Abby Brown
A whiff of Kari's was a dose of adrenaline to Quincy's guts, which were slowly learning to accept whatever he needed to survive- lion, snake, chicken. He knew at a sniff that there was a mean seitan steak waiting for him at the tiny straw-canopied bar, open to the sidewalks of Mullery Line. What he didn't expect was Crichton already halfway through one, when he got there.
"The lion becomes the deer?" Quincy laughed.
"I'm only the lion when I have to be," said Crichton. He called, "A tiger stripe for my friend!" to the man slicing and searing at the long skillet before them. Quincy's stomach convulsed when he saw the generous slab of familiar vegetable protein sizzle on steel.
"Twist my arm," Quincy drooled, and sat.
"Only if I have to. Adrian give you the all-clear?"
"Better than that. He gave me an icebreaker for my first official Summit," Quincy grinned bitterly, "He says the reason this thing in my chest kicks out Augments is because it's not a Port, it's a plug." That got a full turn from Crichton.
"For what?" he said.
"He couldn't tell, but he thinks Carmine Moreno designed it." Crichton choked on his bite as Quincy's dish came fresh from the griddle. Laced with orange and black sauces, it was striped to match its namesake.
"Well, no one can say you're dull, Quincy. I knew Adrian would love you," laughed Crichton, when he dislodged the blockage from his throat. Quincy took a big bite of gravy-smeared protein and just about died of ecstasy. In the two minutes it took him to decimate it, any words he tried came out as grunts of elation.
"Adrian said that him, Bragg, and Levi came here together. I didn't get the whole story, but he didn't mention you," Quincy said after.
"I'm not a part of that one. I'm sorry, Quincy, but I'm truly clueless about your dad's story." said Crichton.
"I want to hear yours," Quincy countered, "I never would have made it here without you, and I know about two things about you. How does an ex-Bolt-Ranger get caught up in all this? How do you even become an ex-Bolt-Ranger?" Crichton looked him up and down and, when he was sure Quincy was serious, sighed long to begin.
"The truth's a short leash, Quincy... and the truth is that I never was a Bolt Ranger. I only made it a couple steps farther than you did. I was scouted for the Ranger Program straight out of the Academy, but I never graduated." Quincy's eyes fired halfway out of his skull.
"You failed out?"
"I passed every test, though the physical exams were a struggle. Then, just before the Graduation Ceremony..." Crichton drifted. Quincy knew the event well. Fledgling Rangers often zipped over Greenknoll on their first flight from the Ranger Academy in Dottan. "When the time came...I couldn't fly. I never flew." The longing in his eyes made the typical Crichton seem like a distant echo.
"But... why?" said Quincy. Crichton stared into the neon visor over the bar, a pink spotlight through an otherwise gray afternoon.
"Find your Fate... its another crock Quincy. The longer you're in the Summit, the more you'll notice them. I wasn't built to be a Ranger. It wasn't in my cards as Adrian calls them, but it's what I chose. Strand couldn't afford to let out that mistake. I fled to farther and deeper shadows, until Levi found me. He saw potential in a defective, defected Ranger-in-training... I've had a mission from the day they condemned me... Levi and Adrian gave me a way to pursue it." It wasn't until this very moment Quincy realized both that Crichton always wore long sleeves, and why, at once. He pulled one up.
The skin above Crichton's elbow, where the base of a Bolt Ranger's wings began, was gnarled beyond recognition. The stitches from the void left swelled into a knotty horror of muscle and scar tissue. Crichton rolled his sleeve back down.
"Adrian handled the surgery, Fitted me for something new, and jailbroke it."
"Kicking men across an auditorium. Dropping hundreds of feet, unscathed. You asked me how I did it, once. Adrian knows how to circumvent the safeguards in Augments. Ask him the rest, he explains it better."
The two enjoyed the rest of their drinks in quiet, digesting one another's truths. Quincy saw How it taxed Crichton to show his arms, which got him thinking about the metal mystery in his chest. A short leash.
Quincy spent the next days hanging around Kari's with Crichton and May, and nights talking to Charlotte. After she confirmed she knew no more about Bragg than that he grew up in Greenknoll with Henry, he asked,
"Charlotte, what did you see? What was powerful enough to uproot so many lives, to overthrow Strand?" She was quiet long enough for Quincy to think she'd vanished again.
"Ask me anything but that, Q," she whispered, "Not just because it'll compromise everything to say it here.... it's too painful. Levi was there, though he probably won't speak of it." Quincy had to bite his lip to keep from prying. He remembered how he'd reacted, when Elly first asked him what happened to you?
"How much so you know about owls?" he asked instead. Charlotte snickered.
"That's one way to change gears. I happen to be quite fond of birds. Wondering something about little May?"
"I just want to make sure I'm doing everything I'm supposed to." Charlotte's laughter continued, "What?"
"That reminds me of him. Henry always said he'd be a horrible dad. I told him you can't know that until someone drops a kid in your lap," Charlotte said. However much it hurt Quincy to think of the time he and his dad had missed, it made him smile to think they'd shared at least these worries. "Do you have a notebook?"
"Yes, actually," Quincy flipped the pages, past his sketch of the radio. He labeled a fresh one May.
"Alright, let's start with diet."
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...