Illustration by Adil Yousifi
"Donnely, on the hill," Bragg rumbled when the morning Beacon revealed a limber shade on the steep dune overhead. Donnely moaned through his pack in search of his radar. When he shook the sand out, it showed one dotted outlier beyond their camp.
"Weird..." yawned Donnely.
"There's no Port, just an Augment... says Henry Famino."
Quincy holstered his blades. He readied his inheritance. He waited until sand whipped his coattails in front of him, until he had no choice. His immediate thought when he stepped off the dune was: mistake.
In the ten feet it took for him to get his chest forward, he considered that Adrian could be clinically delusional. But, when air filled the lining of the Rouge Bolt, its fibers did exactly what they were designed for. Quincy fought off the urge to curl up and spread his arms. The Bolt stiffened to a pliable sail. With no set course but a distorted estimation, Quincy hurtled turbulent yards on a sandy gust, at his target.
"What?" he heard Bragg, whose eyes snapped up just before Quincy's shoulder bashed his jaw.
Bragg's unit watched him get blasted off his feet by what appeared to be a dark bolt of lightning. Quincy broke away into a wild roll across the sand. Bragg scraped to a flat-backed stop behind him. His camp scrambled to arms while Quincy fumbled with his dad's Augment. Twenty barrels converged on him as he jammed in a button, just like Adrian had showed him. Every Fitted person below administrative rank, within a two-hundred foot radius, was instantly as good as a statue. Donnely's finger found his trigger, but couldn't pull it back. His electrically numbed arms lowered with all the others. Bragg stumbled to his tired feet in laughter.
"What's wrong?" he called to his frozen unit, "Petrified at the sight of him? Redwing... Blackstar... he's real!" he mocked.
"They might be able to hear you, but they can't answer. They can't do anything until the commanding Guardian lifts the lockdown," said Quincy. Bragg's eyes narrowed on the Augment before he pocketed it.
"It's one surprise after another with you, Quincy," Bragg laughed, hollow of any true humor.
"You know who I am."
"Likewise. Rather, who I was," rumbled Bragg. Both upright, the two stood a foot apart in height.
"Does it change what we have to do?" Quincy posed.
"Change? I did change, and we only get but one. I'm the Crayspark's Chosen! The embodiment of law for all the Nether!" Bragg's lips curled in a wry smile, while his eyes sunk with the gravity of the decision he'd made long ago. Bones crept from his wrists. Quincy snapped his blades open.
"I really wish I could help you," Quincy said, closing the gap between them. Bragg's ivory blades outgrew the length of his arm, straight down, waiting.
"I invite you to try." Bragg's somber smile, along with any regret, melted away.
Quincy rushed him.
He drove his hooked blade at Bragg's chest. The inches Bragg shifted to evade it were effortless. He fired a lazy counter-thrust. Quincy curved it away. When Bragg sliced his other bony sword from the sand, Quincy hooked it skyward and struck in turn. His edge sunk an inch into Bragg's chest- the shockwave rattled his arm.
"Picked up some tricks!" He shoved Quincy back, ripping the blade free. The crimson spurts through the tear in his jacket were brief, before a silver light lit his veins. By the time Quincy could wonder if it'd been real, it was gone. Bragg's wound went with it. "Again, with feeling!" Quincy threw away Bragg's lumbering swing with one hook and plunged the other into his shoulder. It came straight down to the iron bone.
"Why don't..." Quincy wrenched the blade free. He drew a gash through Bragg's gut. "You fight back?" The General watched his wounds sew themselves shut with another light display. This time Quincy was sure he saw it branch from Bragg's neck. He closed a scissor of bony blades on his foe. Quincy slid out before Bragg shed one of his blades for a belligerent uppercut. Quincy dodged and raised an arm pad to the slash that followed. Bone trembled against sparking pad. Quincy went back to Detaunt, then the glassy street, before he jerked away.
"I wonder how Levi's version of my story went. Did he paint me the monster? Freak?" Bragg roared. Quincy shook his arms, and the powerless jitters, loose. Come to terms. Come to terms.
"Father," said Quincy, "Friend. Betrayed. He told me the truth." Bragg wrapped his free hand around his bladed wrist. The edged bone twisted around his knuckles.
"Then you're here to drive the blade through?" he grimaced. A stark white claymore slid from his wrist, into his double-handed grasp. "I've had one in my back for years! Will you be the one to finish it?" Bragg flung into a sand-swirling strike. Quincy barely hooked it away.He threw one back on his way out of reach.
"There are other ways to protect your son!" Quincy backpedaled up the dune. Bragg's unit looked on in silent horror as Quincy swayed between a flurry of blows with the dexterity of practice.
"The way Henry protected you?" Quincy watched Bragg's neck while he slipped a shin-strike and hooked his arm. There. The edge of a shape below the skin of Bragg's neck glowed just before the mend. Quincy phased between bony afterimages until the claymore raged down like divine judgement. He diverted it deep into the sand.Quincy slung his other hook through the side of Bragg's neck, to his impassable spine. "No one is protected! All of us toys can be broken!" Quincy grasped the hook in Bragg's neck with both hands. He wrenched it out hard, and lunged bare-handed.
Quincy got his fingers deep in his flesh before Bragg could hurl him off. He stumbled upright one shaky leg at a time. In Quincy's bloody fist, a tiny chip pulsed a silver whisper.
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...