She couldn’t remember how many times she’d been lowered down the rope. There was still a small amount of fear when she looked over the side, like the very first performance.
The small anticipation before the curtains would roll back, the crowd waits. She was a veteran at this now, all the others had resigned or were taken off the active duty. The stress drove people to nervous breakdowns or worse.
But not Dita.
Test after test, she knew how to handle the crowd, or at least the sight of them. For this performance, she didn’t give them what they wanted.
Automatically her hands checked the bindings and the connections in her suit. She stepped into the cage, fitted her feet into the straps attached to the floor, crouched down, and waited for the inevitable.
The deckmaster produced the recorder, cleared his throat and squatted on his haunches with a grunt. He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his cheeks and tried to make eye contact with her.
“This is dive number seventy three, from the Science Airship Pasteur. We are flying over what remains of Ogden, approximately one hundred and fifty feet above ground level. Captain Lacrismo reporting. Testing cryomines, batch number…” He checked the small slip of paper, “Twelve. Reported better secondary effects in the lab. Practical tests on four different sites to commence. Our canary is Perdita Singlesmith-“
“I don’t go by that name anymore.” She grumbled at him, “You gonna pull that lever or am I going to rot waiting here?”
The captain raised a bushy eyebrow at her tone.
“Captain.” She finished and then took a deeper breath.
“Right. I’m going to put you on mandatory R&R, and get the Doc to push for it.”
“You know they aren’t gonna do that. Not until they get these tests finished. Could take a week, could take a month. Finish the log, pull the lever.”
He narrowed his eyes, and clicked the button, “Canary is Dita, veteran diver. She will be in the cage and lowered to approximately 20 feet off the ground. As always, her presence is enough to lure them out. We’re estimating to get 100 spotted. If luck is on our side, perhaps capture of 3 specimens, but not until area is secure and hazmat approves. End log.”
He stood up and walked over to the lever. “Last chance kid.”
“Not going to get any dead heads like this Captain.”
He pulled the lever, the bottom dropped out of her stomach as the cage fell. Dark thick strands of rope looped back towards the belly of the airship. She embraced the freefall, eyes closed, stomach lightened, she breathed easy then. Then the inevitable snap, the cord pulled tight and her world flipped upside down, gravity and the sudden stop cruel to her joints. She screamed at that point. She did every time. After a few minutes the cage stopped swinging, and she looked around. Her initial scream did attract some.
Pale bodies, snapping jaws, ruined skin, the smell of rot, these were all things that they told you to look for, to be aware of. The first thing Dita noticed was the moaning. Gaping mouths funneling the haunting tones, never stopping. In a way, it reminded her of the drones from a bagpipe. She put in her earplugs, tapping onto her wrist console, she closed her eyes, still feeling the stagelights on her face from memory.
“What’s your selection today gal?” The crackling voice of the Captain in her ears.
“Was thinking Hammerstein, but think I’ll work on an unfinished piece.” She worked her jaw a little, and took several deep breaths.
“Recording still going, you need out at any time…”
“I know the rule Cappy.”
She took a deep breath, and found the sweet tone. Her stomach hard and diaphragm flexed to concentrate the tone. Her eyes widened as she spotted the figure of one of the dead launching itself off a nearby rooftop. Missing by thirty feet, it was still too close. Her voice lured the crowd of zombies, and not once did she break her tone. She glanced overhead and saw the cryomines being brought into position.
It was going to be a long day. But it was the only way she knew how to sing as supper.
Singing as Supper by Pearce Kilgour is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.
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