Junior awoke from his doze as his little boat changed the pattern of its motion on the water. He opened his eyes to see a jumpy-looking jaeger stood staring down at him.
â€œYou’re Charon, right?â€ asked the stranger.
â€œCloud-kids call me that. Dunno why. Name’s Junior. Who’s asking?â€
â€œWho I am doesn’t matter. I need to get to the Island; are you for hire?â€
Junior sat up slowly, scrabbling one-handed in his tin for a smoke. â€œI seem to have a gap in my schedule,â€ he said. â€œNot keen on anonymous deals, though. No name, no public key, eh?â€
â€œI have a public key -â€
â€œYeah, but you’re going to the Island,â€ Junior laughed, and lit his smoke with the old lighter his father had given him. â€œSo it may not be valid in twelve hours time. Shit, it may not even be valid now.â€
The stranger’s brows furrowed in annoyance as he looked away across the harbour crowded with pontoons, skiffs and smacks. Junior followed the jaeger’s gaze, absently noting that the morning fog was finally starting to burn off. The bulky hulls of the Spithead Nation were visible, resting at their moorings between the forts, and the rise of the Island could be made out as a neutrally dark haze beyond them. He’d need to get more baccy later, he reminded himself …
The jaeger’s voice snapped Junior out of his wandering thoughts.
â€œLook, public key doesn’t matter if we barter materiel for service. Tell me your normal rate for a ferry to the Island, and I’ll double it.â€
â€œWell, I’m no marketeer, friend.â€ Junior was hard pressed not to let the smile reach his face. He loved the smell of desperation in the morning. â€œHow do I know you’re not just going to offload depreciated stock on me, eh? Bearing in mind where you’re heading, and all.â€
The jaeger made an exasperated noise, and threw one of his carry-alls at Junior’s feet. â€œI understand your nickname, now. Take what you think the trip’s worth out of the bag and let’s get moving, or I’ll find another ferry-man.â€
â€œIn a hurry as well as anonymous, is it?â€ Junior rummaged in the bag, his hands passing over cheap imported plastic handguns from the Continent, shrink-wrapped paper books and a bunch of what felt and looked like late-iteration cloud-routers. He hefted one into the sunlight for a closer look.
â€œDon’t wave it around like a bloody flag,â€ hissed the jaeger. â€œIf you’re taking me, cast off – now.â€
â€œRight you are, Mister Anonymous,â€ said Junior. â€œGet your stuff aboard, then.â€
As the jaeger shifted his bags from the pontoon into the prow of the skiff, Junior pretended to busy himself with the kit-locker at the stern, taking the opportunity to slip his own antique pistol â€” so old it was all metal, except the rounds â€” into his pocket. You could never be too careful, neither with someone so liquid in hardware or someone heading for the Island.
It’d be a risky run, but the contents of that bag would make it well worth Junior’s while â€” probably clear a lot of his debts once he shifted it in the markets at Spithead. Junior smiled to himself as he slotted the rudder into place and hauled the patchwork sail up the mast, before casting off from the pontoon and aiming the prow with its agitated passenger toward the rusting mass of the Nation.
It was a fine morning to be out on the water.
[We’re back in New Southsea again, albeit at the south edge as opposed to the north. I hope people are liking these, because every one I commit to the screen is generating ideas for at least three more…]