Gifted - H. A. Swain

CHORUS

A dragonfly, perhaps one of the last, darts downriver, searching for another of its kind. Where have the others gone? Has anyone but this dragonfly noticed the species decline or have mechanical drones, the same size and shape with cameras for eyes, obscured their slow disappearance? Bigger drones, the size of birds, lift up from the roofs of warehouses built along the meandering river and fly a predetermined path from the Corp X Complex to the City where they deposit their packages in delivery chutes like babies from storybook storks.

Down on the ground, on the path by the river, people slip by, gravel crunching under feet, voices low. None of them will notice the dragonfly, though. The sound vibrations from its iridescent green wings are lost among the willow branches and low hum of delivery drones in the sky. Only a frozard hears it. Readies itself for the hunt. Head moving side to side, zeroing in on its prey. The dragonfly drafts higher on a breeze that sends ripples like fish scales across the water down below.

All around the dragonfly, electromagnetic waves oscillate at the speed of light. With a transmitter and antenna anyone could ride these waves, although nowadays everything legit streams in zeros and ones across the digital divide. Analog broadcasts are all but dead as true radio began to fizzle a long time ago when FM and AM stations blinked out like dying stars. But there are holdouts. Old-school rabble-rousers. Like DJ HiJax, who snatches nighttime waves to play old songs, long forgotten, and reminisces in altered voices about the days when music belonged to the people.

Tonight, though, no such luck. HiJax is on the run, setting up another pirate radio station in yet another undisclosed location. And so, only the breeze disrupts the dragonfly’s sound. Sound waves bend. The frozard misjudges, shooting out its tongue into nothingness. The dragonfly continues along the bend in the river, skirting around and over the people who search for a partially hidden path in the dim light of the moon.

Corp X workers come in twos and threes from the PODPlexes and warehouses built along the river a half decade ago. They are quiet. No conversation yet through black masks on these class-war criminals. What goes on out here, a mere half mile from the Complex, is risky and must stay hidden. Quietly, they slip over a crest of matted grass and down a steep embankment, like squimonks scurrying into hidey-holes, hoping to be safe and undetected for the night. They find the door (built into the side of the earth with a “Welcome to Nowhere” sign) that leads into a dank room carved out from this riverbank.

Inside, anticipation crackles like heat lightning on a humid night. There’s a wooden box at the end of the bar (two boards across old sawhorses). In the back, there’s a makeshift stage (wooden pallets dragged from the dump) behind a large swath of discarded canvas with a faded, defunct logo—a swish turned upside down so it looks like a cresting wave. Everyone here knows what to do: drop cash into the box (no COYN accepted), pick up a cup of local Juse (distilled from wild potatoes and dandelion greens gathered by the river), and wait. When the curtain flicks, the crowd inhales and shifts, vying to get a better look, but it’s not time yet so the canvas stays closed.

“How’s it look out there?” Zimri asks.

“Full, I think,” says Dorian.

Zimri’s stomach tightens. She pats her pocket for the digital audio recorder and straightens the cord running to a tiny mic on her lapel. She’ll capture the whole show and release it later on the waves. Then she palms a little sphere with a non-blinking eye that she uncovered in the mess of old and outdated gear her mother left behind when she took off five years ago.

“What’s that?” Dorian asks.

“Might be a video camera,” she says. “It connects to this.” She points to an ancient laptop where she has preloaded all the backing tracks for tonight’s show. She plays every instrument—the crappy old electric guitar and bass her mother left, a synthesizer with missing keys, and a ZimriDoo she made herself from scavenged PVC pipes and oil pans, funnels and air tubes, strings and stoppers—part drum, part fiddle, part accordion—a one-person band strapped over her shoulders. “Thought it might be fun to see what we look like up there.”

“Just as long as you don’t broadcast live,” Dorian says with a nervous chuckle.

“Nah,” says Zim. “Wouldn’t