Hollowed Memories, chapter 8, part 5

April 5, 2015

After that, it took less than an hour to reach the shores of Muscle Bay.  In the port town of Beechmont, Yarec rented a storage unit large enough to hold the car.  He paid for two years, which he thought ought to be more than sufficient.  If two years passed and he had not come back to pick up the vehicle, he could make an extension payment electronically.  More likely, after that amount of time no one—neither Yarec, nor the director of the motor pool at the Kruppeen Engineering Center—would still care what had happened to the little car, and it would be auctioned off for a fraction of already limited value.

With all his belongings in hand, Yarec strolled down to the quayside.  There was a shack by the docks, selling various flash-fried scraps of sea life.  The dock workers lined up to receive their lunches, wrapped in orange sheets of wax paper.  Yarec thought about eating again, but the thinly battered strips of whitefish and seaweed did not look particularly appetizing.  He walked on past, mingling with the sailors coming to and from the boats.

He needed to find a vessel that would take him south.  That ruled out the fishing boats that dominated the fleet.  The fishing vessels served a crucial purpose, providing valuable protein for the local population.  They sailed out for three or four weeks at a time, to where the water was deep and fish still relatively plentiful.  Some of them brought their entire catches back here to the harbor, to where the local robber baron owned a huge processing plant situated on sharp promontory just north of the bay.  The whole town of Beechmont was part of the owner’s fief, and the entire economy revolved around cleaning, preserving, packaging, and shipping seafood.

He asked around, and got directions to the quay where the Three Penny Queen was berthed.  On board, he met Captain Farnabazus Andersen.  The captain was a tall man, although he walked with a pronounced stoop—the product of many years ducking through short portals below decks.  Yarec found him in the hold, leaning back in a chair and studying the latest weather forecasts.  He was wearing a thick black coat, which was a size too small and certainly too thick for the prevailing weather.  He looked quite old, with wispy white locks stuck against his forehead, but as he moved, Yarec could see that he retained much of the spryness of youth.  It looked like there was a hint of arthritis in his left shoulder; as he reached for the half-unwrapped pastry sitting on the arm of the chair, the movement of his upper arm was a bit jerky and tentative; but otherwise, he was fast and fluid, especially as he stood up to meet the stranger he saw approaching.

“What do you want?” Andersen demanded.  His voice was thin and reedy.

“My name’s Linc Dan Fuller.  I want to hitch a ride on your boat,” Yarec said.  “I can work.  I’ve done forty-four—no, forty-six—months at sea.”

“I don’t hire people right off the pier,” the captain said.  “The last time I did that, the damn idiot just couldn’t take it.  A couple months out, he just flipped.  He tried to jump over the side, and we had to keep him locked up for the rest of the trip.  I don’t need any more ass aches like that.”

“Did he have experience?” Yarec persisted.  “I told you, I’ve got four years working on freighters and sea barges.”

“Wouldn’t know that from the way you’re dressed,” the captain muttered.  It was a fair observation, Yarec realized, but he thought he could turn it to his advantage.

“I may not be dressed like a seaman, but I certainly look like somebody who knows how to work,” Yarec said.  His waterproof pants and shirt were still streaked with silt from the Little Snail River, and his boots were worn, with the light scuffs and evenly smoothed treads of an experienced hiker.  “I’ve been busy with other work on dry land, but I haven’t forgotten how to handle a loading crane.”

Yarec was not sure what else to put forward, to induce the captain to take him on.  “No pay,” he ventured, “just food and dry quarters.  I’ll be an extra pair of arms until I get to my destination, then you won’t see any more of me.”

“No pay?”  The captain finally sounded interested.  He probably thought he was getting a good deal, now that he understood Yarec was desperate.

Yarec nodded.  “No pay.”

“Can you weld?”

“Simple stuff,” Yarec said with another nod.

“You’re not picky about rations?  We eat whatever is cheap and local on this ship.  It saves money.”

Given the food Yarec had lived on during his previous stints at sea, Andersen’s parsimony was probably not even going to be noticeable.  “I will eat pretty much anything, so long as the human stomach can digest it,” Yarec said.

The captain cocked his head to one side, as if sizing Yarec up from a slightly different angle might make all the difference.  There was silence, except for the rustle of water alongside the boat and the echoing hum of the forklift somewhere near the other end of the hold.  Then Captain Andersen sat back down again and waved Yarec away.  “Fine,” he said.  “Go find Coonie, and tell him to give you a bunk.”

Yarec complied.  “Welcome aboard,” the captain called after Yarec,  “But pay or no pay, I’m going to work you hard.”

After one more day at the dock, the Three Penny Queen shipped out.  The next port of call was supposed to be another two days south, but a squall delayed the ship half a day.  They sailed in late, sold and bought a few goods, and were on their way before any local authorities could look too closely at what else the ship was carrying.  That was typical of Captain Andersen’s trading strategy, although not all the planned deliveries went so smoothly.

Since the capture of Station Westerly, there had been intensifying violence up and down the coast.  The instability would probably subside within a few months, but at that point it was still getting worse.  A water war had broken out between two neighboring city-states, and ravagers were combing the countryside for whatever loot they could carry away.  For a tramp freighter, hard times meant plenty of business, but one of the semi-autonomous port towns where Captain Andersen had planned to stop had been completely destroyed by the time the ship got there.  The crew heard the news over the radio two days before they were supposed to deliver their bags of guns and bullets, and when the ship reached the cape where the town had been located, they could only cruise on past.  Black smoke was billowing from the remains of the communal fuel depot.  Much of the fuel had been looted, siphoned away in armored tanker wagons; but whatever extra would not fit, the sacking army had set ablaze.  There would be more buyers farther south, the captain said, although no one paid as well for guns as people on the verge of being wiped out.


2 Responses to “Hollowed Memories, chapter 8, part 5”

  1. Ray Davis Says:

    Very nice. Is your book published yet?

    • Buzz Says:

      This novel isn’t even finished yet. I still have another three or four chapters to write. I do have a finished fantasy novel, which I think is in some ways better than Hollowed Memories, but that hasn’t been published either. So far, I just have not put in the time commitment to getting these manuscripts published

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