True Blue Lou
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
Lou paused for a moment in the jostling crowd and confusion to enjoy the last few bars of an up tempo tune. He sighed. He really didn't want to do this. Lou was a masterful musician; years of practice had given him flawless technique and a speed envied by his peers. What his fellow musicians didn't realize was his dedication to his instrument was due in large part to his horrific singing voice. The next few minutes would kill any chance of his gaining a bit of spotlight for his musical abilities.
The song ended and Lou joined the group of musicians on the platform. They nodded a greeting to him as one; it wasn't unusual for a citizen to join them for some favored sing along. Lou nodded back to them glumly, and requested a song. As he turned to face the crowd, he saw Gloria at the arrivals desk, stuffing something into her ears.
Groups of citizens were turning to face the platform now, expecting Lou to try to make another announcement. Instead, a quick refrain of a well-known tune leapt out from the musician's instruments behind him, and before anyone knew what was happening Lou opened his mouth and began to sing.
Lou realized if his only problem had been tone deafness his performance might have been tolerated. He'd fallen ill years ago and although he'd recovered with time, several nodes had formed on his vocal cords. This gave his voice a grating raspiness that was similar to fingernails being scraped over a chalkboard. The built in amplification system in the platform picked up every frequency, every nuance of his voice and screeched it across the room. He wasn't even done with the first line of lyrics before he saw citizens dropping their drinks to cover their ears. As he reached the chorus people were already pushing their way towards the exit. When he got to the last line of the chorus - a high and difficult one - an answering screech of agony came from the crowd.
Lou closed his eyes as he continued to sing. Tears streamed down his face; no one would ever want to listen to anything he did musically again. Still he sang; he needed to. Phoebe was an important element in the mission of the entire complex. Her safe return took precedence over his need for musical fame.
He sang until he felt a soft touch and opened his eyes. Gloria stood there, her eyes streaming with tears as well, although Lou suspected her tears were due to the fact that she had used an old pair of socks to stuff in her ears and some of the sound had leaked through.
"They're all gone, Lou," she said in a strangled voice.
Lou looked around. She was right; everyone but themselves had vacated the room. Even the musicians had abandoned their instruments at some point.
"Well, that's that," Lou said quietly.
Gloria removed the old socks from her ears. "That was a very brave thing you did, Lou. I feel bad that you had to do it."
Lou nodded, not trusting his voice.
"How about if I wait over by the first station?" Gloria asked quietly. "I'd be out of everyone's way and when this is over ... well, maybe you'll need to talk to someone."
Lou looked up. He was surprised by her offer, and flattered that she'd noticed his mood. "That..." he cleared his throat, "I might like that."
Gloria gave him a tiny smile and hurried over to conceal herself behind the first station's heavy drapery. Lou took a deep breath and began to make his way over to his own station where his manager, the Tech, a now conscious trainee, and the Special Ops team still waited.
He poked his head through the thick drapes. "The room's clear, sir," he said, addressing his manager.
"Okay. You can go now," Lou's manager nodded to the trainee. The station's machinery had dampened the sound of Lou's performance, and none of the occupants were aware of what he'd done. Not that it matters to any of them, he thought to himself as his manager and the Special Ops team pushed past him out into the common room.
The Tech remained at his terminal, tapping away at the controls. "You'll want to get out there. She'll be manifesting in less than two minutes."
Returning to the large cavern that was the common room, Lou spotted members of the Special Ops team scattered strategically around the main floor. His manager stood by the platform, fiddling with one of the abandoned instruments.
"The Tech says we have less than two minutes!" Lou called out.
His manager acknowledged him with a wave of his hand and pulled out his own small PAD to tap something out. Lou glanced around the room nervously; this was the toughest part of the job.
The familiar hum of the RSM unit was enough to alert everyone. "Here she comes," his manager said needlessly.
Lou's eyes caught the faint glow that signaled complete transfer but couldn't tell where it came from. He scanned the floor, craning his neck around to try to look everywhere at once. A low chuckle echoed around the room.
"Phoebe?" Lou's manager called out. "Phoebe, where are you? We don't want to hurt you."
True Blue Lou by K. Kylyra Ameringer