« The Mindbenders | Main | The Diplomat Teaches Leaving »


by Rudi Dornemann

For a hangar tech-- grade III, life on the aerodrome was hard work, long hours and thin air. His first few weeks, Karl Havens had nosebleeds at least twice a day. He hauled zeppelin tethers, ran up and down the stairs all day fetching parts for the ornithopter mechanics. He got used to the air. As new guy he had to go up top every four months with a shovel and magnet-soled boots, and scrape the roof clear before the layers of guano became too much of a health hazard.

He tried not to think the altitude as he played out his safety tether; the view was stunning, but best appreciated from lower floors. He tried to stay very still when the ramphorynchus would slap at him with their wings. Everyone always called them "leathery," but no one ever mentioned that it was leather nearly as soft as what Karl imagined fine ladies' gloves were made of. It wasn't so much painful as disconcerting, and it certainly wasn't as bad as the hazing he'd gotten from the grade I and grade II techs.

So he scraped, shuffled his magnetic feet, scraped, and kept his eyes away from the distracting distance. What distracted him one day, though, was something closer and more unexpected -- a human skull, inlaid with gold, among the rocks and fishbones in a rampho nest.

Must have come from one of the funeral platforms of the coastal nations they'd passed over a few weeks before. Karl imagined one of the beasts had brought it up for their hatchlings because it flashed and glittered like a fish. And a trio of those young squealed in that particular nest, all teeth and elbows like they are at that age. As he made his way around and around he tried to think of a way to grab the skull without disrupting the little demons. He had just resolved that he'd beat the flat of the shovel against the metal of the roof, in hopes that they'd fly off, or scuttle clear, if they weren't flying age yet -- he'd just made up his mind, when the decision was made moot: a zeppelin, way off any of the approved approaches, was coming in, low over the roof, the gondola with the panicked pilot headed right for him...

(to be continued)

Post a comment