By Abby Brown
"What did he say to you?" Charlotte said.
"Who?" Quincy hardly glanced up from his sketch. It was his longest project yet. His rendition of Elly wasn't going to come out as anything but perfect, if it took a year.
"What do you mean?" Quincy swirled a tuft of Elly's hair out, the way she'd worn it to the Sunrise Ball.
"Quincy. There's only one man in Islaire who could clam you up like this. What did Levi say to you?" Quincy rounded Elly's violet eye, like an almond.
"He..." It proved the very words that'd poisoned him true, if he couldn't even repeat them. "He said I'm wounded. That night... There's no way to bury it, or overcome it." Charlotte went quiet for a long while.
"He speaks from experience... Its not right how he said it, but he's worried that you'll freeze under stress." Levi's concerns weren't entirely ungrounded. When Quincy locked arms with Levi, he'd felt the frame of his dad's car fresh under his helpless fingers. The tear lines hadn't yet dried- he felt even weaker inside.
"What experience does the Head of Venter Security have with..." Quincy corked it when he realized how petty it sounded.
"More than you'd think. Don't you ever, ever let this slip, but Levi was born into a prestigious Venter family. Someone who doesn't just leave. Not unless something horrible... He might as well have said to you that he never healed. Cruel as it was for him to prod you, there's some truth in what he said."
"Some things..." Quincy wiped his nose, closed his eyes. He was there again. Its alright, Quincy, its alright, Henry had said. Quincy wondered for the first time if his dad had known about the plug when he handed his son his Augment. "We just have to come to terms with."
It was days before Quincy looked Levi in the eye again. He traded training for lunches with Crichton, drinks with Corman, and teaching May to stay on his shoulder pads. She tended to flap sonic wing-waves through his skull instead. Quincy's body felt heavy, his head in a vice. His eyes were stuck half-closed, no matter how he tried to sleep. He saw nightmares everywhere, asleep or awake. Every street was the street where it happened. Every store sign was the flicking headlights. The crunch of glass from discarded bottles became the shards of spectral windshields. Quincy wasn't ready to come to terms with anything, though, until he got the Summit notice in the mail slot of his door. Their next meeting was in a week. Who knew if Bragg would hold off that long?
"Have you been here every day?" Quincy asked, when he finally dragged himself through the meat locker doors. Levi leaned against the wall, examining the mirror of his jeweled blade.
"I pushed you away. I owed you a chance to come back." Quincy's head tilted like dog picking up a siren four blocks away. "Ready?" Quincy unhooked his hilts. When he threw the switches, their blades popped out, then snapped open.
Levi said nothing more about Quincy's wound and how it widened. He only whipped his jeweled telescope-blade like an edged tornado. Quincy hooked, slid, and bashed his way to safety for stretches nearing half a minute. No, he hadn't been afraid of taking a hit for some time. Now, he started to understand the words that had seemed self-explanatory to his mind, with his body. Stay nimble... avoid the cracks... He and the Bolt wove around Levi's swings. He didn't make as many counters. Quincy began to see when they were futile, which was most times. Even when Quincy caught a gap in Levi's step large enough for a swing, it had already gone. He tried to be predictive. Throw him off-balance, he remembered. Every day came with a review.
"Those pads'll take three hits from Bragg at most- conserve them." Quincy focused more on hooking Levi away.
"Use your left arm more. Bragg will read that weak spot like a book." Quincy spent two full days with his blade in his left hand, familiarizing his muscles with the weight and strain.
"You need to be so fast that its disorienting. Adrian trusts you with the Bolt, use it." Quincy tried stepping around Levi more, trading blade-clashes for trims of his raised hairs.
Despite strides in dodging and deflecting, Quincy felt no better. Dark circles set around his eyes again. He could hardly bring himself to sketch at night. He often slid his seitan to Crichton, devoid of appetite. Quincy tried to channel it into his training, but it pained him to learn Levi's truth. There was no channeling it. Without the immediate adrenaline of the fight or flight he'd been stuck in the past months, he was becoming less and less. He drained through his wound. It'd never fully healed, just been buried under other things to worry about.
The day before the Summit, Quincy made it unscathed to the end of a two-minute skirmish. He sidestepped a quartet of Levi's flourishes. He knocked the fifth away with his pads. He'd learned the curve of a blade-strike, and how to hook it away. Quincy's sessions ended with medstop goo on careless nicks now, rather than grievous mistakes. Still, he couldn't pin down an opening fast enough to return fire, so he tried making one. Quincy caught Levi's thrust between crossed blades. They trembled at a standstill. Quincy's eyes swelled when he pushed with all his strength and hopelessness. Once Levi was sure he'd frozen again, Quincy flexed his shoulders. The fibers of the Bolt magnified his momentum when he turned, enough to jerk the jeweled blade sideways. Quincy shoved the silver backwards, across the cheek of its wielder. They broke away, and Quincy turned to leave before Levi could see his tears. Before he could see the drop of blood plunk to the concrete.
The last thing he expected that night, sprawled out with May on his bed, was to hear Levi's voice. This time, though, it was through his door.
"Quincy. I have a deal with you to uphold."
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...