The next morning mom woke me up and did her morning routine like we had always lived here and she was getting me ready for school. I put on the leathers Ornery had gotten me. When I was ready to go, mom walked with me to my new school, following a little hand-drawn map so we didn’t get lost.
The streets were wide, with freestanding houses, mostly wood with broad porches to keep out the sun and sliding doors to let in the breezes. All the houses were bright with freshly painted walls and tiled roofs. The tiles looked like they were solar collectors, which they later turned out to be. There were plants everywhere. It was weird being in a city that was so green. But the weirdest part was the people. Not a single one of them looked at us funny. No one sneered, moved to the other side of the street, or found something in a vendor stall to distract them. No one cared who we were, though some did pause to welcome as a new residents. We were just people. It was almost creepy.
The shop turned out to be very easy to find. It was a big shop. It wasn’t very far out on the Docks. There was a motorized train zipping up and down tracks in the middle of the main road that ran down the center of the Docks for people who had a long way to walk, but we didn’t need it. It was a very big shop. We could already see the shop before we got to the bridge we were crossing from the island to the Docks. It was an enormously big shop. We could even see it from the house, but I didn’t know what I was looking for on that first day. It was an impossibly huge shop. You could’ve parked half the south docks of Farport inside it, including the upper berths. And it just kept getting bigger as we approached it.
It towered over the other shops around it, though there were some further out the Docks that may have been maybe the same size. It was made mostly of solar collectors and corrugated metal. It looked more like it was piled there than built into something. The building didn’t look like it would survive a single typhoon. There was a huge sign on top of the shop, welded into a complicated piece of art from broken ships parts and scrap metal. The sign said “Ares”. It didn’t need to say any more. Everyone knew what it was and why it was there.
The sign, I learned, was a sort of a joke. There was once and ancient god of war named Ares, “air-ees”, but the name up there was pronounced “airz”, like Rimares. They were gods of war, here on the rim of the civilized world, but they were damned if they were going to change how people pronounced their name. They always overcharged people who couldn’t pronounce it right.
The entrance for me, as a new apprentice, was a tiny little door in a tiny little metal shack off to one side. Later it would be an even tinier door next to the tiny metal shack that led down some stairs to the levels under the main road. The shack was not really a shack, it was three stories tall, long and narrow, but it looked small attached to the side of a building large enough park a fleet of ships inside.
Stepping through that door was stepping into another world, from the noisy, busy world of the Docks into a quiet waiting room large enough to hold a dinner party in, with red carpets, comfy chairs, a snack bar with expensive snacks to nibble on, and an attractive receptionist dressed in a sharp gray dress sitting behind a desk Officer Puppy could have lived in as a three room dog house.
“Can I help you?” she asked with a voice most people reserved for beggars and riff-raff.
Mom walked up to her quietly and handed her an envelope. The woman, took it, opened it, read the note inside, and blanched a little.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were arriving today.” This time she spoke in a voice reserved for use by people who wondered whether they were still going to be employed the next day.
“Thank you,” my mom said in her let’s drop it because I don’t have time to ground you right now tone of voice. It was one she normally reserved for using on me a lot. The receptionist gave her a warm smile, rang for someone, and offered us some tea.
Before we even had time to decide whether tea was a good idea, an old man waltzed through the double doors behind the reception desk. He was stooped, bald, and wrinkled, with a permanent scowl that had locked itself on to his face a long time ago and never let go. But his hands were strong and his eyes glowed with that inner fire of someone whose purpose kept them young. He was dressed in clean, black overalls with the Ares logo on the sleeve. On the left breast, above the pocket, was sewn a small name tag that said, “Rimares”.
His scowl grew a little deeper as he approached us, hand extended for a shake. “First day on the job and you’re already late,” he almost growled as he shook my hand. He harrumphed a harrumph that might have given Ornery a run for his money. Then he softened as he shook mom’s hand. “You really shouldn’t let Ornery be teaching her all his bad habits. Pretty sure that old pirate will be late for his own funeral.” He cackled at his own joke. In the end, Ornery did end up late for his own funeral, missing it by a few years, but that’s another story.
“Come on in, you’re just in time for a some ships to be moved in and out. Too busy on the floor to introduce you to my grandson today, so we got time. We can watch from my office.”
We followed him down a short carpeted hallway, the walls and doors made of exotic woods with even more exotic inlays, to a small lift that took us to up to the upper floor of the shed. The upper floor was mostly all one big room. It was decorated like the hallway, but looked more like a war room for engineers. It was mostly tables covered with diagrams and schematics, some new, some old, some scribbled all over with ideas, some stained with tea. But the best part of the room was what was behind the glass wall it shared with the repair shop. It was a vast cavern of metal filled with ships and scaffolding all lit by huge glow disks.
He led us out onto a small balcony overlooking the shop floor. The main road on the Docks was a few stories above sea level, with storage facilities and smaller shops tucked underneath it. The water was a good number of stories below us. It was like standing atop of watch tower.
Seeing the look on my face, he confided warmly, “Still takes my breath away too.”
He walked to the railing, picked up the hailer from the comm box that sat there, and waited, silently. Comm boxes used something called radio to communicate. You only ever found them on ships and their use was heavily regulated. I think mostly because they interfered with some of the abilities of wyrds and could cause charms and wards to malfunction if around them too long. If people needed to communicate at a distance, they usually used scryers to relay messages.
Below and around us people scurried around on docks, decks, floaters, and scaffolding. It was like watching ants. The activity was slowing down, and there were fewer and fewer people running around. Then a horn blared and the world turned red. It was so loud and startling and I jumped high enough that I almost launched myself over the railing and off the balcony.
We were standing right under a giant air horn and two huge red glow disks.
Once the air horn was quiet again, Rimares, Sr. laughed. “I s’pose I should’ve warned you about that,” is what I think he said through the ringing in my ears.
Rimares, Sr. threw a switch on the comm box and some lights on it lit up. The lights above us shifted from red to amber.
He threw another switch and held the hailer to his mouth. “Interro: All clear?”
Over the comm box came a string of replies. “Clear one. Clear two. Clear three.” It kept going right on up to eighteen.
He threw another switch and one of the lights turned blue while the other started flashing red. “Last call for abort.” His voice came loudly through air horns throughout the huge space, echoing back to us.
“On my mark. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Mark!”
The building exploded into motion—not the people in the building, not anything in the building, the building itself was moving, breaking apart. The entire north face was breaking rapidly into pieces and moving away. The reason why the building looked it like it was too flimsy survive a good storm was that it wasn’t a building at all. The scaffolding and girders weren’t holding up the walls, the walls were holding them up. The only real building was around the shed, everything else was floaters that made up the wall panels and the portable scaffolding.
The walls almost seemed to dance as they flew out and stacked themselves neatly in the air to either side of the shop.
Rimares, Sr. switched off the comm box. “Our new girl didn’t give you any trouble, did she? We get tourists begging to come in and see it do that every time we are moving ships in or out. I told her to keep an eye out.”
When mom hesitated, he said, “Well, never mind it then. This is the boring bit. It will be a good hour for them to get the ships moved.” He turned to me. “So let me give you the tour of all the places you’re not allowed to go as an apprentice, just so you don’t get it into your head to go find out about them yourself.” My eyes answered before I did.
A small cargo floater settled in next to a gap in the railing. I wanted to think that the Black Dragon had made me better about being in the air, but I clung tightly to the railing of the floater as it moved. “Don’t trust my driving? Careful now or I may have to prove you right.” Rimares, Sr. cackled as he deliberately made it wobble steeply.
Above the lights and the horn was a control booth jutting out from the wall. It was our first stop. It was a comfortable space, if a little cramped with machines and equipment. It was dimly lit except for the display panels used to monitor the shop floor There were twelve stations in front of the windows looking out over the floor, each with a nav. Six of them had people sitting at them. They were relaxed and chatting, and ignored us as we came in.
“Control room,” Rimares, Sr. grunted. “Twelve of the best pilots in the world. Each of them can handle moving over a dozen floaters, equipment platforms, or even entire ships at the same time, as long as they can understand the pattern between them. Only need all twelve when we are reorganizing the entire beast out there. Otherwise we make due with four shifts of three with some overlap for moving ships in and out. And don’t get your hopes up, their work day is shorter than yours because if they mess up people die, or worse, we don’t get paid. That and they need time for paperwork.”
While he was talking, one of the pilots stopped chatting to focus on her nav. Down below, some scaffolding starting unpacking itself from around one of the ships so a tug could pull it out of its berth.
After that we got a tour of the shack, which everyone just called “the shack.” It was all offices—accounting, payroll, nice meeting rooms for meeting with clients, things like that.
The shop floor was ringed machine shops used to make and repair anything from huge sheets of blackmetal plating to delicate equipment. You had to have a lot of experience to even be allowed to set foot in most of the machine shops.
There was a large dining hall with really good food on the lowest level under the Docks, locker rooms, showers, and a large infirmary because it was the sort of place where people got hurt. They even had two vitro tanks for really bad injuries. Vitro tanks were another technology nobody understood anymore. People knew how to build new ones that sort of worked, but no one really understood how or why. It seemed to channel the same energies wyrds used to heal, but it was much easier and safer to have a wyrd heal you than it was to use a mysterious technology that was as likely to kill you or disfigure you as to heal you.
There are ancient stories that say that pirates are what they are because they were bred in vitro tanks to be pirates in the first place. There are also stories about the horrible monsters that prowl the remotest regions of the wastes, and how they were once humans, but relied too much on vitro tanks to stay healthy, or tried too hard to be like pirates, or were trying to make themselves immortal, or any other reason you could think of. Using the tanks slowly turned them into horribly mutated monsters. People would say that those stories only prove that pirates are really mutated monsters and should be exterminated. People like to make up stories that give them an excuse to be afraid of things they don’t understand. The stories probably got started because pirates like vitro tanks. Pirates are notoriously hard to kill, even in a malfunctioning vitro tank.
We got to join Rimares, Sr. on the balcony again for the closing of the doors. One of the ships that had pulled in while we were exploring the rooms under the Docks was the Black Dragon. It was the largest ship on the floor, parked neatly on some scaffolding to cradle it securely.
After the doors were closed, we were handed over to the receptionist who gave mom and me all sorts of papers to read and sign, mostly about how Ares Repair Yard was not liable for me being stupid enough to get myself killed, who the small stipend I got for being an apprentice went to, who the slightly larger stipend for me getting myself killed went to, whether I was a spy for some competing repair shop, an agreement that I would take care of a small stack of company uniforms they gave me, another that I wouldn’t wear the company uniform in the commission of a crime except under the orders of a supervisor, whether I had any food allergies, and things like that. There was even more paperwork, forms, and badges for apprentices living in the dormitories.
I got finger-printed, mostly so they could identify the body if anything went horribly wrong, and was given an ID card with my name and picture on it. It was even imprinted on me so it glowed blue when I touched it and red for everyone else.
After that was done, I was shown which door the workers came in by and we were sent on our way. Tomorrow was Krotan, so the shop would be closed and there was no reason for me to work a half day before my first day off. I was to start at the beginning of the new week.
The Pirate Apprentice by Mootly Obviate is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.