Illustration by kingharlequin
The cloak fit Quincy loose. When they returned to his front office, Adrian pulled up the lining in a corner of the tails. Inside was concealed a tiny metal jack, which he connected to the computer he'd used to read Quincy's 'cards'.
"Rouge Bolt?" Quincy read on the screen.
"It's what I call her," grinned Adrian into a cascade of technicolor numbers, "What size shirt do you wear?"
"Small." Adrian hammered out a line that somehow equated. Quincy trembled when he the coat gripped his chest like a cloth vice.
"Too small!" Quincy shouted.
"Fortunately, we can be a bit more precise with the Bolt." He reworked his code a bit, and the jacket loosened to a soft hug. "Pant size?"
"Maybe twenty-eight, now. Hey Adrian, what the hell is this thing?"
"The closest I've come to recreating the biology of a Bolt Ranger. I haven't had a test-pilot until now, so I don't know if it actually flies, but it's other benefits suit your needs almost exactly," Adrian spun in his office chair to dig in his desk drawers. "Definitely your style."
"Biology? Crichton mentioned being built to be a Ranger. You told me I wasn't designed for anything. Care to explain?" Adrian splayed an array of pads that appeared to be leather on the top, with flexible circuit-board undersides. He fiddled with them with a miniature screwdriver.
"Crichton's case is fundamental to the basis of my theory. He was educated and trained as a Bolt Ranger. Why then, when the time came to fly, couldn't he?" Adrian held up the padding to the light, then set it aside for the next.
"And the theory is?"
"When Mabel was still undercover at Almagreighn, I had her bring bring back a Bolt Ranger skin sample- easy enough to write off for a Chief Biologist. People have a code just like a computer, Quincy. I read that Ranger's and Crichton's and found some differences that lead me to believe we don't find our fates at all. In fact I think we're built for them."
"Differences?" Quincy spread his arms at Adrian's wordless behest. He folded the circuit-pads around Quincy's shoulders and the outsides of his arms. They seemed somehow to bond to the Rouge Bolt, fixed tight when Adrian released them.
"The Ranger's skin cells were capable of altering their own density. They can thin or thicken as a tissue with shifts in pressure. It made sense. The great Strand secret that lets a human body, which should be incapable of flight even with bolt wings, fly. With skin like that, the change in pressure of a free-fall would turn the body into a weighted sail. Crichton's cells had no such ability. Your cloak, however, does. I wove it myself with pressure-sensitive fibers that mimic Bolt Ranger cells."
"You're saying Strand engineers Rangers cell by cell?" Quincy could hardly believe his own words.
"In the womb," Adrian fixed pads to Quincy's thighs, "Strand's intensive birth application. Their prenatal care involvement. I think that's when they steer things one way or another," he explained, "When I looked into Crichton's genealogy- his code- I found an increased capacity to carry oxygen and ATP in a heightened blood-cell count. He seemed more built for manual labor. Sure enough, when I Fitted him with a new Port and a laborer's Augment, it was like he knew exactly how to use it." Quincy tested his newly padded arms. They didn't feel an ounce heavier than before.
"So when you said I was unspecified, you meant I'm genetically Unfit for an Augment, even if you gave me a Port."
"How many people have called you that? Yet here you are." Adrian smiled, though it faded when Quincy asked,
"Were you a Venter researcher like Charlotte?" Adrian sat back, a hand on his chin.
"That's what Levi thinks."
"Thinks?" Quincy echoed.
"I can't remember anything about my life past waking up in a tube. Levi says he saw me walking around the Labs one day, then floating in soup behind the scenes another. He figured I must have been too important to take out, and that I knew something too important to let out."
"You have no idea?" Quincy marveled.
"Can't remember a damn thing besides how to walk, talk, dissect genealogy, and the name Adrian," he said.
"What made you stick with Levi?"
"He got me away from the Venter Labs. He gave me a way to channel the only thing I know how to do." Quincy spared a moment for the imaginary, generous Levi so many had described to him, and the jade-eyed shade he knew. "Anyone comes at you swinging, you put those pads up. They're shock activated." He urged Quincy with a forward hand. Adrian snatched a wooden baton from his desk and flung it a second before Quincy got his arm up. The outer coating of his pad flashed silver and swelled against the strike, kicking it straight back.
"Damn..." Quincy chuckled when it flickered back to beige and shrunk.
"Wear the Bolt and carry those everywhere," Adrian prodded the folded blades in Quincy's belt, "They'll need to be as comfortable as your own skin and hands for you to stand a chance with Bragg."
"Will do," said Quincy. He pulled the Bolt tight to his chest.
"I'll add a pocket inside for May tomorrow. Bring a sketch if you want a sigil on the back."
Quincy returned for May's pocket, but took a few days for the sketch. Past scratched pages of his dad's radio, Mabel resting in a flaming cradle, and May flexing her wings, he began a draft for the back of the Rouge Bolt. He started with a dark, gaseous star. Amethyst beams fired from a white center, like a glare. Around it, he folded wings of crimson feathers. A fusion of the reputation given him and one he'd claimed- it was a persona he could only hope to live up to.
YOU ARE READING
Strand: the Silver RadioScience Fiction
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