The bright sun reflected on the clear blue waters of Aqua, throwing sparkles all around the buildings, canals, and alleys of Neo-Venezia. A small gondola, bearing only an russet-haired gondolier, turned into a smaller canal and glided into a dock. The girl disembarked, tied her gondola to the dock, and straightened, looking at the building ahead of her.
"I'll be fine. It's not a big thing." Ayumi drew a deep breath as she looked on at the Gondola Association building. She looked at the clear water to her side, and fixed a rowdy clump of hair as well as she could before straightening up and adjusting her heeled shoes.
The girl made her way up the stairs and paused in front of the building's doors, smoothing the dress uniform Tomoe sewed for her, adorned with her company’s green bar. "Let's do it."
The entrance opened into the Association's atrium, filled with model and preserved gondolas in platforms or cases. Portraits of famous gondoliers or public figures graced the hall. A blonde bespectacled woman, recognizing Ayumi, walked to the entrance. The two greeted each other with a hug.
"It's good to see you again, Ayumi," the blonde said, breaking the hug and smiling at the girl.
"Miss Alicia! Thanks for having me. I hope you've been having a great day."
"Of course, as always," Alicia responded with a smile. "The Association's looking forward to hear from you. Follow me - they're waiting for us at the other side of the building."
The two walked down the hewn stone halls of the Gondola Association building and into a large courtyard at the center. Ayumi gaped at the luxurious garden that filled the courtyard, filled with a multitude of bright and fragrant flowers. The two paused at the center as Ayumi looked around her.
"It's a beautiful spot to relax after a day of work behind a desk." Alicia softly giggled. "I don't get out and row as often as I used to, but this is nice."
The two women exited the courtyard and entered another wide hall. Not much else can be heard, and the clacking of the women's heels echoed throughout.
"How's work at the Association?"
"It's good. I have a comfy office filled with pictures of my friends - I do see them from time to time - and I still meet people often when I go to meetings or lectures. Even if I'm not rowing up and down the canals, I'm working for those that still do." Alicia smiled widely.
"That sounds lovely, miss Alicia."
"It is a wonderful job. I can't ask for better - although I feel like giving a tour or two sometimes."
The two women giggled and continued on to another hall, where they stopped at a door labeled "Conference Room", with a sign below depicting "Traghetto Expansion Meeting".
"You'll be great," Alicia smiled encouragingly as she knocked and opened the door.
The conference room was spacious, wood paneling replacing the stone in its walls. A large table in the shape of a U sat in the middle of the room, with several chairs already occupied. Men and women, most in formal suits, sat all around the table and looked as the two women entered the room.
"Ladies, gentlemen - Ayumi Jasmine of Green Dream." Greetings and short introductions were exchanged between the Association members and Ayumi. The girl then noticed two Undines in the room - one bearing the Himeya dress uniform, the other wearing an Orange Planet dress uniform.
"Ayumi, these two are representatives from the Himeya and Orange Planet traghetto training programs." Not recognizing them, Ayumi respectfully bowed to the two, who returned the formal gesture.
"Please, have a seat."
Ayumi and Alicia sat, and the meeting started. First in the agenda were the presentations of the two large companies' traghetto training programs as they updated the Association on their progress. The Orange Planet representative stood and took the floor.
"Hello, everyone," the woman looked around the crowd with a smile. "Orange Planet is proud to be a participant in the traghetto expansion by hosting a traghetto training program that encourages teamwork and communication. It is optional for our Single trainees, and they are guided and coached by a rotating staff of Primas.”
The representative then produced a display of a map of Neo-Venezia with two lines highlighted in it. "Our ferry service consists of two routes. The first route acts as a shuttle between San Marco spaceport and the Orange Planet campus and is operated by one ferry, while the other three traghetti serve a commuter route from the city center to Santa Maria Square. We have a total of ten volunteer trainees, with one senior Undine supervising each line.
“Our main route between the city center and Santa Maria Square carries 600 people a day on average, and the shuttle has become the favored means of reaching our campus. As of now, not many of our trainees are interested in volunteering, so we do not have plans on expanding unless we have a large surplus of volunteers. The ones that do volunteer, however, have had positive feedback about the service and would recommend it. As long as there is demand for the service from both our trainees and our customers, we will continue to run our traghetto routes for the hard-working men and women of Neo-Venezia. Thank you.”
Polite applause echoed around the room, and the Himeya representative stood after a brief pause.
“Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak on my company’s behalf.” The woman bowed deeply. “Himeya has produced many of Neo-Venezia’s finest and most graceful Undines, and we constantly look for ways to further improve our employees’ talents. The teamwork and social skills needed to operate a traghetto are tantamount in an Undine’s job, as she must communicate and socialize with her customers to ensure their satisfaction.
“It is therefore in the company’s interest that all Himeya trainees are required to perform traghetto rowing duty in our intensive training program,” the representative continued. “Similar to Orange Planet’s operation, we have a shuttle from San Marco Square to our building. We also host a route from Garibaldi Square, in the middle of one of the busiest residential districts, to the city center. This route is equipped with four ferries that provide timely service especially in the peak hours of the day. Although they are not required, some Primas volunteer to guide and supervise the trainees every day. The trainees rotate on a bi-weekly basis to make sure they still emphasize gondola training, although this can be changed upon request.
“We are proud to declare that an average of a thousand and four hundred residents use our ferries every day - and that we are reaching capacity on at least seventy percent of our trips. All of our trainees have expressed positive feedback on the program, stating that they have learned greatly from working with other Undines and socializing with their customers. The traghetto has done nothing but bring good to both our company and the town.”
The Himeya representative paused briefly. “As an aside, the extraordinary case of Ms. Suiren’s departure from Himeya has made the company consider the possibility of opening a division specifically for full-time ferry gondoliers. Shortly after the announcement of her departure for Green Dream, we have submitted a petition to the Association, which will be given an in-depth discussion in a later meeting between the Association and the senior employees at Himeya. We will let the public know of developments as soon as they unfold, and we look forward to serving more of Neo-Venezia’s residents in the future. Thank you.”
The woman bowed amidst applause. A suited man spoke as the applause faded. “Very impressive progress. Neo-Venezia has become much more peaceful and beautiful without the motorboats, and I’m sure that with your combined efforts, the transition will be a very smooth one.”
“Next in the agenda,” a woman to the side called out, “a progress update from and general discussion of the company Green Dream. Ms. Jasmine, you have the floor.”
The russet-haired girl stood, looking at the expectant audience. She quietly took a deep breath as she bowed and began her speech.
“Good morning, ladies, gentlemen,” Ayumi began, looking around her. “I’m Ayumi Jasmine, head of the traghetto company Green Dream. Our operation, based at Santa Sofia, has five employees - myself included - managing two ferries that make their way down the Grand Canal from Santa Sofia to San Marco Square. Our two trainees - former Pairs of their companies - always row under a senior employee, and all of us rotate with the fifth person watching over the dock at Santa Sofia.
“Our trainees’ skills have grown very quickly, and I’m confident they will be able to row as finely as their seniors soon. This will allow us to grow in size when the Association approves of more transfers from the larger companies, which we will discuss later today along with some other items of interest.”
Ayumi produced a map on the conference room’s display, quickly drawing some lines. “Green Dream aims to provide service for the whole of Neo-Venezia, near and far. Priority will be to the farther dense residential areas in San Sebastiano, San Giorgio, and San Barbara Squares, but we also want to reach the farther areas such as Castello and Cannaregio eventually.
“We’re a very small company,” Ayumi continued, “but we have a big heart for our customers, many of which we know on a first-name basis. We want to provide a comfortable, swift ride that will get people to wherever they want to be in Neo-Venezia, with friendly smiles all around. I hope that the Association will help us achieve that goal. Thank you.”
Ayumi breathed a silent sigh of relief as the people around the room applauded.
“Now,” the secretary called out, “general discussion regarding Green Dream, with items of interest as outlined in earlier communication from Ms. Jasmine. First item of interest: fares with regards to the elderly and children, and baggage fees. Ms. Jasmine, you have the floor.”
Ayumi began her first request. “A few days ago, I noticed a child saying to his mother - ‘I pay three copper coins, same as you’. I’ve then started to notice that the elderly and children pay the same fee - three copper coins - as the rest of the passengers. I believe that these people deserve to pay less, as they do not work or earn, and rely on and use their family’s salary for these rides. I suggest that a reduced fare, perhaps two copper coins instead of three, is a sensible discount for children up to high school age and the elderly.”
Discussion flew between the members of the Association. A suited women spoke up above the whispered conversation. “In Man-Home’s past, where public transportation was a paid service, special privileges were made for the elderly and children, and most public transportation provided discounts for them. I believe that it is a sensible suggestion for the reasons Ms. Jasmine provided.”
A male voice followed. “I would agree on discounts for the elderly, but I am not convinced we have to extend it to children under high school age. Toddlers and younger already ride for free, and we are not really talking a huge expense here. I believe their families can afford to pay an extra copper coin.” Some of the Association members assented to the man’s suggestion.
Mumbles and conversation continued throughout the room, until the secretary called for order. “Miss Jasmine, please continue. I believe you still have something to say.”
“Yes, I still do,” Ayumi said. “There also is the matter of baggage fees. Many of our regular customers include farmers and tradesmen who carry their goods to market every day. They row early in the morning from their farm or workshop and make it to Santa Sofia Square, where they dock their personal gondola and use ours to get close to the central market. Since they carry a large amount of goods, we have to relinquish passenger space to make room for their luggage. It crossed my mind that, since they take room where a passenger may have been, it may be a good idea to charge perhaps an extra copper coin for large luggage items like produce baskets. Of course, this will also apply to normal residents who carry large items.”
This suggestion met more resistance from the Association members, who discussed in disapproving tones. A woman spoke up, insisting that the hard-working members of the city “do not need additional expense just to bring their goods to market”, which was met with wide agreement. The secretary once again called for order, stating that a recess be held and a vote on the two requests made right after.
“Please join us in the adjoining room for refreshments,” Alicia stood and guided the guests to an adjoining room, while the rest of the Association representatives move to another room for deliberation. After guiding the rest of the guests, she walked to Ayumi, who was sipping from a glass of water.
“Hehe, I know you’d do great,” Alicia smiled at Ayumi, who nervously giggled.
“I was so nervous the entire time! I haven’t spoken that formally since I was in Himeya. I’m just glad I didn’t stutter or forget what I was about to say.”
“Well, you managed to say your piece. I hope the Association approves your requests! You’re also going to ask if they will be assigning new transferees, right?”
Ayumi nodded. “I really hope they do. When I was out for market the other day, my employees had a difficult time rotating two boats with only four people, so one of them used a personal gondola to make up for it. Having more people just really makes things easier! Besides, if I want Green Dream to row for people as far as Cannaregio, I’m gonna need a bigger company!”
“Well, let’s hope that goes through as well. Best of luck to you today!” Alicia looked at Ayumi encouragingly.
“Thanks - I’ll need it!”