They tramp down five flights in faulty glowglobe dimness, skirting sleeping derelicts and the occasional Verso dealer. They are given wide berth by the occupants; Granny Chun’s pumpgun speaks volumes without ever needing to bark. Eventually they reach a level just above the thrashing surf—dockside. Parts of the floor are gone (collapsed or removed, who can tell), and destitute and cobbled-together boats and skiffs bob and float on the water just below. There are shanties of rudely constructed metal and plastic around the floor, some with signs advertising fishing and ferry services.
“This doesn’t seem like the sort of place to find reliable people who can keep secrets,” says the Anvil, drily. “And these vessels don’t look particularly seaworthy.” She remembers the boat she viewed from the city above, tossing and upending in the sea below, its passengers dancing in quicksand waters.
Granny Chun smiles. “Of course, I know a surreptitious guy.” She leads the way through the ghetto, avoiding campfires and offal buckets, nets and fishing rods, dirty-faced fishermen and wandering down-and-outs. At the far end of the floor, she comes to a tin shed with a large, hand-scrawled sign in front: Big Jimmy’s Ferry. Cheap rates. No refunds. A small, patched and pockmarked boat with an enclosed cabin rises and falls in the hole beside the shed. Chun raps on the door. “Jimmy! Open up, it’s Granny Chun.” The Anvil checks the surrounding area, but her scans reveal nothing out of the ordinary.
The door opens and the Anvil looks down at a short, bearded man; less than four-feet tall, with fiery eyes highlighted by his coffee-ground skin. The antique revolver he brandishes is almost as big as his forearm. When he sees Chun his mood lightens considerably. “Hey, Granny Chun; long time.” He glances suspiciously upwards at the Anvil. “Who’s this?”
Chun smiles. She’s short, but still a foot taller than Big Jimmy. “We need a ride Jimmy. A long one.” Jimmy checks out the surrounds, sneers at some nosey neighbours. “Come on in,” he says.
Inside the shed (which is larger inside than it first appeared, with accoutrements similar to Chun’s place but slightly more upmarket), he invites them to sit at a round table. The chairs surrounding it are normal sized; Jimmy uses a stool for a leg up into his. “So, tell me what you need.” He places his revolver on the table next to him.
Chun and the Anvil sit. Jimmy eyes the pod extending from the Anvil’s back, the sleeping girl within. “I’m not a babysitter,” he says.
Chun smiles. “Of course. We need passage to the far side. Discreet. No questions. There’s a tower there with a launch platform.”
“Yeah, I know it. About forty klicks–A long way over. My boat’s not made for that type of trip, you know.”
“It’ll be the best pay you’ve ever seen.” Chun nods to her partner. The Anvil raises her palm and a hologram appears, indicating a significant bank balance. There are no personal details, but a certification seal indicates its real. Jimmy’s eyes widen. “Enough for you to afford to transition up top,” says Chun.
Jimmy grins. “And why would a guy like me need to move up top? I have so much, already.” He gestures ironically to the room’s contents. “Besides, people above may not appreciate my particular ‘talents’.”
The Anvil smiles, her perfect teeth gleaming in her male jaw. “I can throw in a body graft or full rebirth. Your choice.”
Jimmy sits back, considering. His eyes narrow. “You must really be in the shit.” Jimmy leans forward, running his fingers through his ample beard. “How do I know you won’t shaft me?”
Chun glances at the Anvil, then back. “Of course, we don’t know the first thing about piloting a boat. And we’ll pay fifty percent now and the rest on arrival at the tower. Of course, anything happens on the way, you still have more than enough to retire on.” She eyes the piece sitting next to him on the table. “And I know you can look after yourself.”
Jimmy laughs, a deep throaty bellow that belies his diminutive size. “You have a deal, Ms.Chun. When do you want to leave?”
“Now,” says Chun, grinning. Jimmy guffaws. “Well, I can’t argue with that,” he says. “For that much money I’d personally carry you across the water on Jesus-sanctified miracle legs, if I could.” He leads them both outside, leaps down onto the deck of a twenty-foot skiff with the name Clarissa painted vibrantly on its side. The small front cabin can fit four people; a grimy double outboard engine extends from the aft; an unusually high, four-foot gunwale surrounds the deck.
Chun jumps down and the Anvil follows. Violet stirs briefly in her pod and then drifts back to sleep. The vessel bounces around in the choppy surf, and Chun and the Anvil stumble awkwardly. Jimmy chuckles, steady on his sea legs. He enters the low-ceilinged cabin, places his palm against the console reader and the dual outboard hums to life. Stabiliser pods extend from the hull on both sides and the boat rises gently above the water level, hovering a foot above the surface. The outboard drops lower, its spinning props churning froth and spray. The Clarissa backs out of the sheltered port into the raging sea beyond the walls of the building. Rain cascades in torrents, thumping belligerently on the cabin roof and walls.
Jimmy hefts the wheel, working hard to avoid hitting the tower’s side as the boat is knocked left and right by the waves. Water gushes over the gunwale, then streams out the side channels, leaving the deck awash. The Anvil and Chun strap themselves into two of the four cabin chairs. “Hang on to your hats,” says Jimmy. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
* * *
Alnu has lived dockside all his life, scrounging a living fishing and doing odd jobs. The one good thing about his life is the benefits he picks up as an informant. Alnu activates his palmchip (a newer model, with biochemical enhancers and improved holography, provided by his fine employers) and reports.
“I seen ‘em,” he says, glancing furtively at the Clarissa reversing. “A big guy and an old woman. The big guy looks like he has some sort of capsule on his back—a little kid in it. They’re with Big Jimmy, leaving the block now.”
“Little kid, eh?” replies an electronically scrambled voice. “Good work. We’ll look into it.”
To be continued…
Missed earlier instalments? Click here.
What is ANVIL?
ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’ve created to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.
Only you can tell me if it’s successful, or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.
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