Ancient History

by irish Writer

Copyright© 2014 by irish Writer

Science Fiction Story: Years after you finish, something can come up to you and take you back to where you were. For Combat Soldiers, it is called PTSD. For Candy Mitchell it's called something else.

Tags: Science Fiction  

An unusual Sunday Brunch

The two young women had come as soon as the restaurant had opened up, and had dawdled around after their Mimosa and Eggs Benedict were long finished. The beignet's were long gone, and they had almost licked their plates clean. But they were both here for a reason other then just brunch and they didn't want to leave.

"Do you think that's her?" Sally asked her sister.

"I don't know" Denise replied. "She does look like the picture." Denise said, looking at her tablet.

"Well that was taken a long time ago." Sally said.

"Yes, but the name matches and so does the description. I think this is her."

"Well, what do we do now?" Sally asked.

This was the real challenge. How do you approach someone about the stories your father had told you, and try to get the truth about your mother. Especially when it happened a long time ago.

When the owner wandered by their table, as she did every Sunday morning, Denise worked up her courage and asked her "Ms. My name is Denise Wright and this is my sister Sally. Do you have a few moments to talk with us?"

Seeing the woman's face turn towards them with a slight frown, Denise continued "It isn't anything bad. We just want to ask you about our Mom. Her name was Marjorie Wright. Did you know her?"

Slowly, the middle-aged blonde focused at a spot over the women's heads for a moment. Then it came back with a sad smile and a hint of a tear. "Yes. I did. And I guess you have some questions. Why don't you have another drink, and after our crowd thins out, we can sit and talk."

"Really?" Sally asked. "We would really like that. We sent e-mail, but we didn't get any response. I know this is a real imposition, but we wanted to talk with you. Your lawyer said that you weren't talking about anything from that time, and to leave you alone. We didn't know what to do, so we figured we would just come here."

With a small smile the owner muttered quietly, almost to herself "You sure are your mother's daughters."

Gesturing toward a waitress, the owner signaled to have the Mimosa glasses and pastry plate refilled. "I'll be back shortly. Need to let my partner know I will be a bit busy. Grace, why don't you show these two to my table, and bring refills to them there?"

Smiling as she walked away, Christine Mitchell thought back to when she had met Marjorie Wright. And was very sad that she ever had.

Twenty years earlier

"Dorothy, isn't there anything else besides this?" Marjorie asked her oncologist. "Pain management, Hospice, something? Continuing treatment is not how I want to live."

"Marjorie, I am afraid you fall outside the parameters. Your cancer is listed as treatable, and you are too young to move to Hospice or Pain management. I admit the survival rates are pretty slim, and we have done three sessions of chemo, but the government statute still calls this as a treatable condition. I'm sorry."

Marjorie had been through a fifth long and exhausting series of treatments and the stubborn cancer still would not go away. She was thirty six, a successful engineer with two lovely little girls and for the last three years had been wracked with pain and suffering. She was at the end of her rope and couldn't go another round.

"Dorothy, is there anything you can think of that I can do?"

Sitting back in her chair, Dorothy looked around her office and at the open door. Carefully she stood up and walked over to the doorway and closed it, and walked around to her chair.

"Marjorie, here is the issue. Hospice is out of the picture, you are too young. Voluntary suicide is out of the question, even in Oregon today. The bills and expenses we ran up are off the chart. And life insurance won't pay as long as there is any medically accepted treatment applicable to your condition. If you have an "accident" insurance will tie things up forever. I don't have any legal recommendations."

Thinking on her children and her husband and co wife, Marjorie realized the real pickle. She didn't want to strap her family further. Financially, she was a burden that was fast draining everyone. The kids didn't want to see another round of Chemo, and the sickness that went with it. And the medical community was focused on saving every person they could (for as long as the health insurance lasted).

"Don't get too discouraged, Marjorie. We are making strides every day. There is no reason for you to get depressed. We can lick this."

"You are not going through this. I am. And my family is. And this is killing everything that I really love in life. I am just tired." Marjorie said sadly.

"Marjorie, I know what you feel. Not how, but what. And I have to tell you, I get pretty depressed myself. The damn selection act picked my best nurse last month after us working over a year to cure her uterine cancer."

"Now that would suck." Marjorie said.

"Yes. She is on a delay over at Findley's right now, and they are using her as staff. A nurse of her caliber working in a slaughter-house. Can you imagine?" Dorothy said in disgust. "We get mail from her every now and then, and she runs their intake discussion sessions. She went through almost what you did and then after all of that she ended up being selected."

"That does seem unfair." Marjorie replied.

"What is the worst thing is that everything is up in the air until she is terminated. Estate, insurance, everything is on hold. Frozen in time."

"What happens then?" Marjorie asked.

"Well, with any term, insurance has to pay up. There are no exemptions due to the PCA. And I guess they do things differently there. I talk to Cathy almost every night and she seems to be doing pretty good, mentally".

Marjorie suddenly looked at Dorothy with an understanding smile. Dorothy could not talk about any early termination options, due to the Federal Healthcare law. But she could talk about people who could.

Marjorie was scared but determined when she logged into her computer that night. A quick search and she found "Findley's Processing" based in Chicago Illinois. Drinking a glass of wine and looking at the opening page, she felt a sense of control for the first time in years. Now to see what this is about.

"We had one last night that was a bit odd." Cathy said to Candy at breakfast.

"Odd how?"

"She wanted to talk about voluntary termination. But was worried we would not find her acceptable. Cancer." Cathy said in reply.

"Well, what do you think?" Candy said in response. "You have more knowledge then any of the rest of us in that arena."

"I don't know what the policy is." Cathy replied. "After all, she isn't asking for exception. She already is."

"Well, talk with Carol about the legal angles, and we will fly it by David at dinner." Candy replied. "But that isn't what I asked you. What do you think?" Candy continued.

"I think her situation sucks. But I have to admit we treat people pretty good here. And we are a lot better then being hooked to a set of tubes hacking with the last breath. Should I set up an interview?" Cathy asked.

"Once we have David's take. We have to get the economics fixed, but I will support it if you want. " Candy followed up. "If she left you contact information, set up an interview, and we will see what we can do." Candy said. "It will have to be special handling, but I am sure we can work that out."

Tuesday afternoon

"Charles, I am just going over there to talk. Nothing today regardless." Marjorie said.

"Honey, I don't want you going over there. How do we know anything about those places?"

"Honey, we have been over all of this before. The bills and incidentals are driving us to poverty. I won't have you and the girls destitute. Besides, I am just going there to talk with their legal counsel. I won't sign anything. This is probably a dead end anyway." Marjorie said.

Looking at the shock on her husband's face, she laughed. "Honey, I am just going over there to talk. I will be home. I promise."

Arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon, Marjorie was surprised that there was almost no one in the reception area. The large open room with scattered tables and chairs could easily be mistaken for a restaurant. "I guess I seat myself?" Marjorie thought to herself.

One of the nude women at the back of the room looked up from her computer and then got up and approached Marjorie. "How can I help you?" the very young blonde asked as she approached.

"Hi. I am Marjorie Wright and I have an appointment to meet with Helen and Carol?"

"Sure. Have a seat here and I will get them. They are just wrapping up a few things and will be right back up. I'm Candy by the way. Would you like something to drink?"

"Thank you. That would be great."

Returning to the table where Marjorie was sitting, Candy passed her the water bottle and opened up the appointments guide on her tablet.

"Marjorie, I looked at the notes on you and I see you are not here for a normal intake. If you don't mind my asking, how can we help you?"

"I have a Metastatic Glioma that has not responded to treatment. I have had three runs of Chemo and I am tired. But I can't self terminate or go for hospice because I am too young and we have too much in bills to keep going this way." Marjorie said as she started to break down.

Candy nodded her head. This was obviously the case Cathy had talked about earlier and evidently this was about follow up.

"Well, it seems we have a bit to talk about. Assuming we can help you, do you have any ideas of what you would like your end to be?" Candy asked.

"Painless. I have had enough pain in my life. I just want it to end."

"Well, we have a couple of those that are pretty painless. Or at least the transition is fast enough that it isn't painful for long."

"How long?"

"Electrical transition is about sixty seconds, Guillotine is about two. We are pretty sure medically that they are both pain free due to the circumstances. Long drop hanging is supposed to be pain free due to spinal severance, but the duration of the event is longer."

"There is a fee for those, right?"

"Yes, but we make some adjustments. Carol is our Legal eagle here. She and Margaret would be doing the business arrangements and legal placement."

Sitting back in her chair, Marjorie took a sip of the water and looked at Candy and asked, "Do you think they can help me?"

Looking up from her tablet, Candy stared straight into Marjorie's eyes. "Yes we will. I think we just have to figure out how."

Candy was surprised at the look of relief and tears in Marjorie's eyes. "I don't want to deal with the pain and the drugs anymore. I don't want this to keep up."

Today

Looking across at the two young women with her in the "Chef's Corner" Candy reached for her drink.

"We sent your mom home that night. We had a lot of worries about how we are going to manage this. You see, as an active patient, she was exempted from the Lottery. But Carol thought there was a clause in the rules that would allow us to include her into a substitution list. That would draw against all Illinois selectees."

Candy stopped for a moment then before she continued. "That would mean your mother would have to pick the person who would live out of the almost six hundred a week we were processing at the time. I didn't think she was strong enough to do that."

Both of the girls quietly nodded after Candy said that.

Candy continued, "If that didn't work we could file a volunteer application for humane substitution, but we had to find a suitable donor for that. Carol needed to look for a person who would be close enough a relative under either Illinois or reciprocal states."

Looking wistful, Candy continued "That took some time. So we had a couple of weeks with your mom coming over every Sunday afternoon and going over the lottery list with us to see if there was a relative that was familiar. She got pretty depressed with each name she saw that she recognized, but that didn't fit in the legal filter for substitution. In the meantime, she did design work with us and designed the acoustic setup for the microphones in the gallery area."

"We heard about that from her. She had a funny way of talking about it. Said it was like doing stage acoustics again in college." Denise said.

Stage Sounds

Marjorie was going to see all that there was to see when she came back on Saturday afternoon. Findley's had ended operations for the day, but she had talked with Carol and Margaret about an exchange of services so she was going to get the major tour after operations hours. And the thing she knew most about was acoustical engineering.

"I guess what we want to do is use sound as a relaxation or enhancer, depending on the circumstances. For the standard, we want to use it as a sonic pacifier." David had said when he interviewed with Marjorie. "I think Muzak is kind of cheesy, but if that is something that will work, I am all for it".

"So, we are looking to increase the personal touch?" Marjorie said with a smile.

"Exactly. We want people to be treated with respect and courtesy. If they have a kinky scene in their minds, let's provide it without embarrassment." David continued.

"I have to say, your point of view is different from what I had thought you were going to do. I feel kind of embarrassed being the only person here wearing clothes" Marjorie said with a smile.

"It's optional for you. We don't have any legal problems with you being clothed here, and Helen said you may be embarrassed". David said, with a quiet glance.

Three rounds of chemo had ravaged Marjorie's body. Her remaining hair was fragile and desiccated, her skin was fragile and thin, and her weight was as if she was a concentration camp survivor. A woman who once was a stunning brunette was now a stick figure with a wig.

"Thanks. With all the great bodies you have working here, I do feel a little intimidated"

"They make me feel intimidated. Honestly." David said with a laugh. "Do you want me or someone else to show you around?"

"In consulting, you always work with the sponsor. I think that's you." Marjorie said with a smile.

"Well, then, let's be about it."

Marjorie's notebooks about David's became pretty extensive. As they went from room to room, she took careful note of the items and areas she wanted to improve on. Baffle panels on the walls of the reception room, and heavy drapes across the windows deadened the sounds that would otherwise bounce around from the uncarpeted floor. Adding acoustic sound traps to the ceiling tiles with baffles between the light fixtures would dampen things considerably more.

The hallway down to the interview rooms had industrial carpeting, and there was a substantial steel door at the end of it going into the event's center. But the interview rooms were bare-floored, and needed some acoustic treatments on the walls. The keynote was to add commercial carpet there as well. And keep plenty of Kleenex is them. She also noted that they should paint the rooms and hallways a cool relaxing blue/grey. She also noted 3 places to put sonic wave generators in the hall and one in each of the six interview rooms.

The notebook on the Gallery and Events room was pretty extensive. Marjorie had brought her portable laser ranger-finder with her and had a sonic mapper that replicated the entire room into a image for her computer. David had to both open and close the bleachers to allow a accurate rendition of the room, as well as a to get a sonic image as well.

Candy came into the Gallery while Marjorie was capturing the sonic image of the room and sat down with her and studied what Marjorie was doing. A few moments later, David's portable pinged an alert.

"Marjorie, I have to go up front. Can I have Candy stay with you and help you here?" David inquired.

"Sure."

After watching Marjorie for a few minutes, Candy asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Sure. I am taking a image of the room that will allow me to build a acoustic model. Once that is done, I can model the changes we need to make. That will tell me where to put microphones and where to put speakers. And also to make sure I don't get noise from the bleachers and gallery to disturb what is going on here on the floor."

"Wow. Really? You can do that?" Candy asked, wide eyed.

"Sure can. Let me show you." Marjorie replied.

For the next two hours, Candy stayed with Marjorie and worked with her to go over the virtual image on a laser projection of the room to identify where microphones, speakers, and acoustic dampening tiles would be located. Marjorie gave Candy a set of headphones with built in microphones and told her to wander around to the different locations where people would sit or stand to watch so that she could provide test spectrum and sounds to all of the locations from where the primary projections of sounds would be.

This was the first step. The second step was to find the desired and undesired sounds to be captured and relayed from the gallows and deck of the guillotine. Identifying and properly repeating the sounds from the microphones being placed on the different platforms, and making sure that sounds from the gallery would not be projected to them from the gallery required some sophisticated and careful planning.

That took triggering the trap-door, and also the drop of the guillotine onto the stops. And from there setting up some upper and lower limits on sound captures while maintaining voice frequency captures and repeats.

And the last step was to model how to capture and contain the sounds of the gallery and the bleachers so that they did not overpower the sounds from the operations area.

"This place is like an airplane hanger." Marjorie said to Candy as they were working on the model. "Getting acoustics tuned here will be a pain. And proper deadening and sound traps will cost a fortune. Do you think that there is budget for this?"

"I don't know about the dollars and cents." Candy said. "Production is sure a lot higher then it was at first, and I am pretty sure that the custom work has been pretty high margin. Margaret does the P&L, so I don't know what is out of bounds and what isn't. I do know that they put a lot of money back into this place."

"So the services sell pretty good these days?" Marjorie said.

"Most of our high margin is from this side." Candy replied. "Chops, drops and drains are all service operations".

"Drains?"

"Sure. Let me show you. Tub is cleaned out".

Candy lead Marjorie back to the room where the Hot tub longue was set up, and showed the hot water circulation in the extra deep tub.

"So you boil us starting early?" Marjorie asked partially in jest.

"No. We do a catheter in your wrist, sit you in here nice and comfortable, give you some wine and cheese, and when you say when, we let you bleed out. Being in hot water means you don't feel cold."

Feeling queasy in her stomach, Marjorie asked, "So someone preps you and you sit here and just die?"

"No. Not just. You haven't been here during production, but no one ever really is alone from beginning to end. Someone is with you all the way. That is what I do most of the time here".

"Really? I thought you were just pretty much guides and such." Marjorie said.

"Marjorie, that is one of the biggest secrets here. If you like, some Monday we can show you standards and interviews. And Tuesday we do specials all around as well as some standard production. Give you the flavor of what we do. " Candy said with a smile.

"You sound pretty proud of it." Marjorie said.

"I guess I am. This is really the first real job I have had, and it was an accident. So I try to do it right and treat people right."

"Well, you will have to show me what you really do. I don't like surprises." Marjorie said.

"Dad said that mom told him that the day she came over for the operations review after the changes were made was one of the most emotional days of her life." Sally said.

"I wasn't with her the whole time. She was with Cindy in the Events area for most of the morning and afternoon. But from the team members who were with her, I heard that she had all of our typical up's and downs. " Candy said. "I spent the last part of the day with her, and she seemed to be pretty well centered when she left."

"Honey, I am just going over there to validate the work we did over the weekend." Marjorie said in exasperation.

"I hear you, but I don't want you to go over there without me" Jeff said. "I worry that you are there during their operations."

"Darling, that is silly. Nothing is going to happen. And you have to go to work, and the girls are going to school. I am just going there to see if things work as I thought they would when I was there last week. ".

"Darling, I am not comfortable with this. It's too dangerous." Jeff said.

"Nonsense. I trust these people. And they have been so honest with me so far that I cannot help but feel comfortable. Today is not my day. At least not at Findley's."

"Darling. Every day, every minute, is precious to me. I don't want to loose any of it."

"Thank you, dear. I feel the same. And I don't feel threatened by anything at Findley's. We will have some time. Drop me off and we will talk tonight."

The Tuesday after the changes was the first production day that Marjorie was going to be at Findley. She was going to be in early to evaluate the installation of the sound dampeners that had been mounted over the weekend, as well as the placement of the microphones and sound buffers in the auditorium. Still, with getting the kids to school, and getting Jeff to finally drive her over there still meant that she didn't get there until almost nine thirty. By then Findley had been open for over and hour.

Walking into the reception area, Marjorie was taken aback at the number of people. The undercurrent of conversation was very muted, thanks to the panels now suspended from the ceiling and mounted on the walls. The measurements ambient were supposed to be nine Decibels down from last week, and the sense of hush was readily apparent.

"Hello, Marjorie." Helen said from the front-end desk. "I have to say that things are greatly improved."

"Good. I would hate to think that David's money was wasted. The drapes helped also. And the matte tint on the windows helped too."

"I never would have thought of the tablecloths being a part of the solution". Margaret said as she walked up.

"Softening up all the hard surfaces is the key. The more things that absorb sound, the better. Reflections almost always increase the noise and distraction. " Marjorie said.

Looking down at Margaret's feet, Marjorie noticed that they were wet. "Your feet are wet. Did we spring a leak somewhere?"

Looking down, Margaret smiled as she responded. "No. We have some wet floors in the back of the process area. I'll show you later as we go. So, where would you like to start and do measurements? Standard or specials?"

Looking at her screen, Helen said" We don't' have any specials until 10:30. You could look now if you want. Or wait and watch the group from the bleachers and get some accurate measurements."

"Or you could follow me through standard and do a improvement check" Margaret continued. "We won't have you go through the processing floor, though. We can peel you off at Stripping".

Feeling a little queasy, Marjorie thought to herself about what this meant. Getting up close and personal removed all the abstraction from the operations, that's for sure. "When would I be getting back up to here?" Marjorie asked.

"Total circuit takes about forty-five minutes. But we would be in Stripping in thirty or so. From there we could go through normal or have you wait in the special events area" Margaret said.

"I guess following the normal route would be a good start. And you can leave me in the Stripping area. I can go though the special events area and wait in the upper bleachers from there."

"Your mom told me later she hadn't put things in perspective until then." Candy said. "Up until then, it was all going through the motions. I don't think it hit her until she was in Stripping and she was called over to the window at medical results while Margaret worked with the rest of the string and took them through the door. Then it was real."

"You must have done a lot. That night, you were the one Mom talked about." Sally said.

"You had impact on Dad, too". Denise said. "He said you were her friend and champion."

"I don't know about that. Carol and Helen were the real linchpins for all of us. "Candy said. "My thing was mainly to help her get done what she wanted to accomplish in the time she had".

"She never told us what the "Standard" practice was for Termination" Denise said. "We had to read that in a book later".

"We kept that pretty close. " Candy said. "We didn't even show your mom until late in the day on that first trip".

Marjorie didn't know what to think when the nurse kept her at the window to talk with her about her results. After the others in the group had moved back to the tables, and were boxing up their clothing, the nurse kept talking with her about the status and progress as indicated by the hematology diagnostic machine. After a few moments another of the collar wearers came over and asked if there was an issue.

"No issue we didn't know about." Barbara said. "I was just keeping Marjorie here while you moved the rest of the group along. She isn't in the track today".

"Oh. I didn't know. Margaret has already gone through and she hadn't said anything. I 'm Casey. Are you here for standard or special?"

"Neither right now." Barbara, the nurse said. "She is the engineer that did the acoustic modeling in all of the rooms here."

"Oh, wow. You did a great thing then. It's so quiet now that it is a hush. It's quiet without being oppressive. And it seems calmer then last week, so far."

"We put a white noise generator in each of the work areas. This one got the last three we had available. David dropped a lot of money in acoustic conditioning here. More then the last two hospitals I did." Marjorie said. "So, from here, where do I go?"

"Well, I would say we should take you over to special events and have Margaret catch up with you there. It's quiet now." Casey said. "I'll tell her when she finishes up to come over there."

"So Mom didn't go through the normal processing area?" Sally asked.

"Not that first morning. She went with me later during the afternoon trips. Cindy was running a Gallows event at 10:30. That was her first term to watch."

After talking with Barbara for a few more minutes, Marjorie noticed that the last woman of the group she was with was walking into the turnstile. The hush of the room acoustics was almost perfect. She had tried for a quiet that was soothing, not oppressive, and that would have a tranquil influence on people. It was so quiet she almost didn't hear the group coming down the hallway from the restrooms. Turning her head she saw a youthful, pale skinned redheaded young woman coming into the area with the evident "goat" collar and carrying a tablet. She was followed by an attractive brunette and two other women, and two men.

Marjorie recognized Cindy from her visit Sunday. Looking at her watch, she saw it was almost 10:30. She had been here for almost an hour. And as she looked she saw the turnstile spin again and realized that the woman who disappeared would be dead very shortly. With a strange fascination, she wondered what was awaiting the woman who had just disappeared around the door. "I guess I will have to check it out later" Marjorie thought to herself.

"Ladies, please go over to the table and place your clothes into the baskets with your names on them, and I 'll get your medical documents so we can get them together and do the last of the paperwork." Cindy said as she directed the group behind her over to the tables where Casey had aid out three fresh boxes, and was stacking the other four on a cart.

"Hi there, Marjorie" Cindy said as she approached. "You going to audit the sounds in the event center with this group?"

"I suppose. If I am not in the way" Marjorie replied.

"You won't be for this group. They are pretty tame. Do you need to set up any of your sound apparatus?"

"No. I think everything is in place from the weekend when the installs were done. All I need is a seat in the gallery with my wireless set up to my Laptop. " Marjorie said.

"Ok. Let me get you over there and settled quick and then get these hens in place. We are doing a triple today, so there will be some setup time" Cindy said in a matter of fact voice. "Helen, do you have weights and measures for me?"

"Weights and measures?" Marjorie asked.

"Yes. For long drops we have to calculate drop based on how tall the client is and how much they weigh. We want to make sure we break the neck high up so that the pain stops immediately. We do this so that the audience isn't too squicked out" Cindy said with a calm business like expression.

Marjorie felt her stomach do a flip. This was real.

"Why don't you go on down to the center and get up to the gallery seats you had earlier this weekend. We'll be along in about fifteen minutes."

"Mom said that this was a real shocker." Denise said. "She said that she never knew that there was so much preparation that went into the Special Events Area".

"Most people don't. We were very careful to follow good procedures where they were available. Cindy was the real ropes and ladders girl. She got into hanging as a mechanic from the first. I think she scared your mom with her enthusiasm"

Carrying her portable with her, Marjorie went down the now familiar hall to the events center from stripping and walked up the stairs to the top of the bleachers. After logging into the network, her wireless connection quickly allowed her into the Sound management network processor and she selected the events center to observe.

The screen came up with the diagram of the events center, the activity listed was "Hanging, serial, three". The display showed the Gallows platform, setup for three drops (Height, weight, Proposed Name) Mechanic (Cindy) and Cleanup support (Gus and Sam). Listed were audience (six names) and type (Long Floor Drop).

"My god" Marjorie thought to herself. "This is almost like reservations at a resort."

The Gallows has been restructured at the same time that the sound installations were being calibrated. David had told Marjorie that they were doing automation of setting for drop, using calibrated ropes and four windlasses that were concealed behind the Gallows.

Under the new system, If you are doing multiples, the key thing the mechanic had to do was make sure the right person was attached to the right rope. Then to set the slack to allow for a even and unimpeded drop to a sudden jerk of the rope. The rope itself was heavily pre-stretched to make sure that the impact was sudden.

For serial singles you only used a single middle trap door, rather then drop the entire floor.

The floor drop was also to allow a backdrop for the "English 15th century" style of hanging that was recently added. For that, multiple or single ropes were set up, the slack was taken up, and then a cart was driven out from under the client. Or clients stood on stools that were then kicked out. Marjorie had just missed the first event when she came by after close of business on Saturday. The audio system installation had to wait on Saturday while the bodies of six were taken down and carted away.

This event was listed as three serials, meaning one after the other. Cindy had told Marjorie on Sunday that the actual hanging took about thirty minutes from the time the client was at the gallows to the time they had been dropped down and carted to the back. So this process was to take about an hour and a half.

This also was a recent addition, as a extension of the "Pick who is next" game that was already used with the Guillotine.

Hearing about all of this was strangely erotic and caused Marjorie to feel both sick and excited at the same time.

Dialing in the sound management system, Marjorie gradually increased the pickup sensitivity on the directional microphones in the sound array that focused on the area in front of the Gallows while keeping the overall volume down to eliminate feedback. Even with filters, it sometimes was hard to control transients. Listening carefully for quality, Marjorie's focus had her almost disconnected from the content of the conversations until she heard Cindy say to the women "Ok, Ladies. Who picks first?"

Marjorie suddenly realized that this was the moment of truth for the group she was watching. Carefully tuning input and outputs for the stands, she forced herself to pay attention to both the sounds and sights in front of her, as both bystander and technician.

The first round drew no red straws. Cindy said that she usually put twenty-five or more unmarked straws into the cup, and then only the number of "Red Tips" that she has clients for. So the round could be prolonged by the draws of successive rounds.

It wasn't until the third round that the second woman drew a red end.

The sound of the phrase "Oh Shit" was both clear and vibrant in the stands, as the woman shook as she looked at the end, and then up to Cindy and finally at the others standing there.

"Well, Natalie, do you want to come with me?" Cindy said quietly.

Marjorie was astounded at the clarity of the distant microphones. The audio field survey was dead on, and the amplifiers had been carefully adjusted to be able to focus on human speech and ignore sounds that were closer or farther away then a specific distance. Object sounds like the drop of the trap door and sounds from the gallery were effectively amplified and managed, while the sound of the group in the staging area were intimately captured and reproduced. Marjorie felt a glow of satisfaction at this, knowing that it was probably one of the most challenging jobs she had taken on in her career.

The program followed the steady tread of the feet up the steps exactly to the top platform. Both the dainty and confident step of Cindy and the more measured and hesitant tread of Natalie were clearly audible, as well as Natalie's breaths as she got the top platform. Looking up, Marjorie could see across the fifty feet of space to Natalie standing, trembling, on the trapdoor that would soon fall from beneath her.

Quickly and efficiently, Cindy picked up a large belt from the floor of the platform and began to fasten it around Natalie's waist, just above the hips.

Cindy had shown this belt (one of several) to Marjorie yesterday during the finish up of the construction and initial calibration of the systems. Made of lined leather, it adjusted from twenty-two inches to as much as fifty with padding that totally and comfortably encircled the waist. A overall set of Velcro straps fastened the belt in place at the back, leaving the entire waist firmly encircled with a three inch wide belt that was extremely strong and not liable to be pulled away by the struggles of the body while it strangled. There were two "D" rings that would be separated by about six inches at the front of the belt where the fasteners for the wrist cuffs would attach.

The wrist cuffs were also similar in that they were fully lined, ballistic nylon, and Velcro sealed around the wrists. The single "D" ring fastener on them quickly attached to the double Snap Shackles that held the wrists close to the waist, with enough freedom of movement to be comfortable, unlike the traditional waist chains and handcuffs used in Prison, or detention centers. "We want our clients to feel comfortable, but safely restrained" Margaret told her when she first looked at the hanging ensemble.

"And it's a lot easier to manage then the ropes that we had initially" Cindy said. "And if you have been drinking, it is a lot easier to set up."

"Yea, when Cindy did her first it took ten minutes to get the ropes off afterword." Candy said jokingly.

The "snap" of the shackles, first to the waist "D" rings and then to the cuff "D" rings brought Melanie back to the here and now. Cindy's voice talking calmly to Marjorie was clearly reproduced, as well as the beginning whimpers from Natalie who was saying a number of things, including how she didn't want to die today. Calmly, as Cindy reached above her head for the English style noose, She asked Natalie "Do you want to change your exit?"

Giving Natalie a moment to think, Cindy calmly waited until Natalie said "No."

Then, Cindy quickly passed the noose over Natalie's head and tightened the slack using the free fall winch controls on the tablet.

"So, Last decisions. Knot on the side or behind?"

Marjorie knew that the knot on the side increased the chance of a clean break of the neck, while on the back it increased the chance of strangulation instead.

"Back." Natalie said with a whimper. "I want to see and be seen."

"So, no hood?" Cindy asked.

"No. No Hood.'

Quickly making the final adjustments, Cindy had one last question. "Free Fall or Slow drop?" This meant the difference between a quickly broken neck or slow strangulation at the end of the rope.

"Free Fall."

Marjorie noticed that the group at the bottom was almost silent while these deliberations and choices were taking place. What speech there was had been whispers between the participants and the observers. The only real noise was the squeak of the wheelbarrow coming up from the back as Gus brought it to the bottom of the gallows.

Giving Natalie a long hug and kiss, Candy whispered in her ear, clearly to Marjorie and any one in the gallery, "Now, stand up straight for me. We don't want to have you slip."

Sobbing, Natalie nodded her head while Cindy stepped aside and past the seam on the trap door. When Cindy pressed a point on her tablet, the audible "click" was clearly heard, and the trap door dropped from beneath Natalie's feet.

The spin of the rope through the pulley at the top of the bar of the gallows was suddenly stopped as Natalie hit the end of the play, her feet a bare two feed from the floor. The sound of her neck breaking was like breaking celery, and clearly hard in the gallery. Instantly, her mouth gapped open, as the leather coated rope crushed into her throat, and compressed both the carotid arteries almost totally closing off her air supply.

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