Illustration by Eli Artts
Illustration edited by Abby Brown
"What deal?" Quincy said when his door opened to Levi.
"You want to know about Bragg, rightfully, now that the idea you might face him is somewhat feasible."
"Thanks for the confidence," Quincy sighed. Levi swept the room with his computerized lenses. They stuck on his sketchbook, beside the wide-eyed May.
"Crichton told me about your drawings," Levi said, wandering towards them, "We owe Corman's allegiance to them. May I?" Quincy shrugged.
"Suit yourself." Levi thumbed each crisp page. His pinpoint eyes dissected each sketch. His finger pinned the one of Elly.
"Is this her?" Levi said. The painstaking hours Quincy had put into her hair, the wave of her eyelashes, was overwhelming to Levi's enhanced sight. "The girl that landed you in this mess?"
"This mess is mine. She's my reason... to clean up," Quincy roamed over to scratch May's curious chin. Levi considered it all with near-visible curiosity.
"May I sit?"
"Make yourself at home," Quincy groaned. He plopped down on the other end of the bed himself.
"I knew someone like you, back upstairs. Talented, creative, without an ounce of what counts to them. He liked to sing." Levi stared into the wall as if it were a window to times gone by, "If you saw the place I grew up... it would terrify you. Venters call you hearthers, after where you belong." Levi's eyes seemed bizarrely human when he faced Quincy, "They pay off Strand for your release from Downshipping. In exchange, you get to live in their houses, tend their needs... entertain them with your idiosyncrasies."
"Like... servants?" said Quincy.
"In some houses. In others... my father used to call you trinkets." The temperature of Quincy's blood took a steep plummet.
"And you? What do you call me?"
"Steadily improving, but in need of training and knowledge," Levi diverted, "What separated Bragg from your father was his son. When Charlotte came to us to pitch an alliance against Strand, we had a choice: revolution, or family. Bragg was already married, a son on the way."
"Bragg," Quincy couldn't help himself, "General Bragg the family man?"
"Not quite. His wife didn't survive delivery. After that, a position on Veighman's security detail suited him more. He took the position your dad turned down to give his boy a Venter Layer life, but it came with conditions." Quincy flipped his sketchbook to a fresh page.
"Backed into a corner," Quincy mumbled. He couldn't picture the haggard old Boneblade so victimized, so he began to draw Phinneas Bragg, his dad's best friend, to life on paper.
"Many are, who do unconscionable things. We're not so different. Bragg joined a unit outfitted with new, experimental Augments infused directly with the Crayspark." The Crayspark, a relic from the world outside the Tower. The only reason it stands the test of time, Quincy recalled from the Early Academy. Lessons he hardly remembered told him all Port and Augment technology was derived from studies of the Crayspark, safely stored in the Venter Layer capitol. Then Quincy realized,
"Overseen by Carmine Moreno himself?"
"Been doing some detective work, have you?" Levi humphed, "Bragg was the only one who survived what they did to those men and women. When they saw what had become of him, the Board deemed him unfit for the position, from fear alone. They 'offered' him the alternative of Nether Layer General... but this is no place to bring a child."
"He's... still up there?"
"I tried to convince Bragg to join the Summit when we came here, but his son lives in the shadow of the Board," Levi scowled at that invisible window in the wall, "I betrayed him too. I came with him under the guise of helping rein in unruly Nether blackshirts. I told him Adrian was sent to study his condition. The insurrection we instigated in Islaire, the Summit- just another tally on the list of times Bragg's been screwed." Quincy rounded the somber, unknowing smile on penciled young Phinneas.
"Wait until he realizes who you're training to take him down," Quincy sighed.
When the Third Netherworld Summit began, Levi's first order of business after Quincy's mysterious chest plug was,
"Maselyn, have your hawks pinned Bragg yet?"
"Only his tracks," Chief Owlfeather replied, "I sent the Reachers a bird to clear up the misunderstanding over the water. They sent back word that Bragg had come looking for their support. Said they wouldn't turn on Crichton and his scrub, after how they stood up to him in the streets." Quincy and Crichton shared a quiet smirk.
"If I were a General in is sorry boots," Corman unleashed a pungent cone of bourbon-breath, "I'd hit the Legs. All he's got lef to call on are raiders an pirates. Those cutthroats'd gladly elp im take the Lake Lady off the bord."
"Maselyn, send a hawk for Juno. Have him keep us informed," said Levi, "Next discussion: counteraction against Bragg's forces. A charge on Almagreighn is moot, since he's come to us."
"Will we fight here?" Quincy posed.
"Excellent question. Bragg's been jostled too many times. He'll tear these walls down if he has to. We need to move the fight away."
"My mountains will give us a guerrilla advantage," Maselyn proposed. The motion received unanimous agreement.
"We need to know our roles," Levi put forward next.
"I'll be best used on the waters," Corman started.
"Can I trust you with my fleet?" Maselyn asked him. Corman answered with a gruff laugh, and,
"Only if ye call me Admiral." When the official motion failed, he grudgingly conceded.
"That opens you up to command the reserves," Levi realized of Maselyn, which was her design exactly. "Crichton will lead the vanguard."
"Of course," Crichton affirmed.
"An Cap'n Quinn takes the Boneman!" Corman pounded the table. Quincy stole a glance of the others, none so confident.
"Is he ready?" Maselyn put to a question.
"For single combat... almost, maybe. We know that's not how it'll play out," Quincy's eyes widened at Levi's assessment, "I suggest we postpone the vote until the battle is closer," The motion passed. "Maselyn, Crichton. If we want Quincy to stand any sort of chance, I'll need your help."
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...