Illustration by Atrazion
"They're blocked," Raines winced into the radio while medics worked on his infected gunshot wound.
"Heading for the Dunes?" Bragg answered.
"So say the lookouts" Raines watched the flush-rod force out the bacterial globs that'd been draining his strength.
"Spread west!" Bragg bellowed over the waters, "Wall them in, force them to dock!"
"Bragg," Raines grimaced, "Will they send Quincy to fight?" He could still hear him begging, We want the same thing! right before his first kill. Raines hadn't slept since. Rangers don't fly to kill. We fly to protect. Commander Drogen himself had said at his graduation.
"Not if I know Levi. Even if the kid even managed to weasel his way into the Summit, Levi would never put him on the front," said Bragg. Good, Raines thought. He wanted to be the one to confront Quincy, with words or wings, he wasn't sure.
"Someone get DeMarcus a bag!" Corman guffawed. As it happened, Maselyn had a satchel, which she got to Crichton just in time. The Lake Lady's prow sliced into the beaches. The shock rattled every board and nail that held her together. Quincy and Levi held the rails while Corman braced his arms against the jerking helm. The ship cut a hundred feet of sand before it skidded still.
"Damn... alcoholic..." Crichton groaned when Maselyn and Adrian hoisted him up the stairs.
"Shake it off, Crichton," Levi issued, "We have to alter our strategy a bit."
"Get clear a couple hundred feet first," Corman warned. He dropped a rope ladder from the rails to the sand.
"Come on, big guy," Quincy held his hands up to Crichton. He shook down the ladder like a toddler.
"Laugh it up... while it lasts..." Crichton moaned. He dropped into Quincy's steadying grasp. They left Corman alone on the prow of his Lady. Only Maselyn hesitated, turning to say,
"Don't waste my ships, eh?" Corman flashed her a wiry, debonair smile.
"An deprave the worl of yer noble bloodline? Never." When Quincy, Crichton, Maselyn, Adrian, and Levi were on the other side of a fifty-foot dune, Corman blasted sand with the Lady's front-jets until the water took her back. Levi tapped his earpiece to reach his fleet. The Lady floated to the fringe of sight.
"Retreat outside the walls of Bragg's fleet. Give them an opening to chase us that they can't resist, then hit them from the back. Beyond that, your orders come from Regis Corman." He switched the earpiece off. "Someone pinch me."
"I call to order-
"Here?" Quincy cut in, shaking the fine sand from his shoes.
"The place makes our decisions even more crucial." Levi answered.
"Alright, fourth Summit and all that," Maselyn expedited, "What in the hell do we do now?" Silence was the hapless answer while they topped yet another dune.
"Do we have transmission to the fleets?" Crichton tried.
"Lost it an hour ago. Depending on Corman's success, there could be a battalion or an army behind us," Levi analyzed, "Regardless, its too much for five of us."
"So what, we keep moving south?" said Quincy, "What's south?"
"More dunes," said Crichton.
"So what's our ultimate goal?" Quincy tried, to no response. "Say we outrun them, what then?"
"It'd be one hell of a trek, but we could head northeast to the Avalons. We have a few warships left," said Maselyn.
"If we didn't die of heat exhaustion first, Bragg would catch us. I'm sure he's brought provisions for days of pursuit," Levi countered.
"We could skirt the shores until we pick up transmission," Crichton supposed, "Regroup with Corman and bombard Bragg from the water?" It seemed counterproductive at best, running circles at worst. Before anyone could divine another solution, Levi declared,
"We'll talk it over in the morning. We should stop now to dry out and bundle up." Quincy had more objections than he knew what to do with. The foremost was,
"You're not worried Bragg's going to close the gap between us?" Levi gave a devious grin as they crested another dune.
"I hope he tries, but he knows better. He'd lose half of his men to pneumonia. You've never been in a desert, have you Quincy?"
When the Beacon went out, Quincy got a crash course on survival in the sands. The chill that gripped him had him packed in between his companions, shoulder-to-shoulder. They hunkered down below the sandy whiplash in a valley between dunes. Only the dim electric glow of the service walks gave Quincy the vestige of sight, as far as Maselyn and Adrian beside him. He didn't envy Levi or Crichton, on the fringes of their shivering cluster. Sleep was always elusive to Quincy, but these conditions made him wonder if his companions had bludgeoned one another while he wasn't looking. It was loud, and as cold in darkness as it was scalding in light. Had they worked up any more sweat from travel, he was sure he'd be staring at the glowing metal sky through icy goggles.
The wail of sandy wind kept him from hearing much of anything. Quincy thought he might be losing it when a crackle filled the space of a temporary calm. After the fourth time he heard it, he called out,
"Guys?" No one stirred. Quincy bundled tight in the Bolt and, against better judgement, he climbed the dune. Down in the next valley over was an orb of orange light around a small fire. In that orb were five tents. In one of those tents was Bragg. Quincy looked back into the shadow he'd come from. The two camps were hundreds of feet apart.
Quincy thought long and hard about jostling the others awake. He thought longer and harder about what he had to do instead. He swiped something from Adrian's bag. When Levi stirred at the first light of the Beacon to find Quincy gone, he lunged to his feet.
"Where's Quincy?" His only answer was Adrian, rummaging frantically through his bag. "Adrian. Where the hell is Quincy?"
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...