Challenge #00696 - A331: Hence the Canary

Image prompt: FWOOM

[AN: Image shows a younger person lighting gas at ceiling level using a match on a stick while an older person watches]

Of all the weird scavengers Lynn the Hitcher ever met, Barstow had to take the cake. It wasn’t just that Barstow kept canaries in their own aviary on her patchwork ship. It was also that she had an entire hold dedicated to pressurised air.

“I’m claustrophobic,” Barstow confessed. “Lifesuits freak me the heck out. I’d rather not get into one unless I know it’s the last resort. So… once I know a hulk is airtight, I fill it with my own air and go in.”

“And if it isn’t airtight?”

“That’s what the Hungry Caterpillar is for.”

She was certainly the most… innovative… scavenger Lynn had ever met. And Barstow made no bones about using Lynn as a scout. Even on the ships they could fill with air.

That was when she found out what the canaries were for.

Scavenger vessels often liberated atmosphere from abandoned ships. And not all of those atmospheres were carbon-lifeform-friendly. Some, in fact, were incredibly volatile or toxic or both. And a canary was far more reliable a detector of these gasses than any electronic sniffer on the market.

And what they were reliable at was dying at the slightest hint of nasty air.

Barstow had them registered as experimental animals, and kept their environment as a bird’s paradise. They could fly, eat and breed as they pleased. And a team of small, non-cogniscent robots gathered and processed their faeces for re-marketing.

If the canary died, her first course of action was to set off her electric match. If the air didn’t light, then it was merely toxic and Barstow could run the filters until the air ran safe.

It was a little more labour intensive than the way most Scavengers did things, but it worked for Barstow. Every time the canary lived, Lynn breathed out. She didn’t like watching the little yellow birds to see if they died.

“Yeah, I know. It breaks my heart, too. I go through more business partners because of the canaries… They save my life. I make sure theirs is heavenly until… they’re needed. They save my sanity, too. It doesn’t seem fair.”

“So why do it? Why go out here to break your heart again and again?”

“I’m also petrified of crowds.”

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