It’s still dark outside in Neo-Venezia, with only some streetlamps for illumination. For the most part, the city is still asleep and won’t be up for another hour or two. In a small, quiet square, however, an office building sported a softly-lighted room in the bottom floor.
“I know they told us we’ll be up early,” a blond-haired girl grumbled, “but I didn’t think I’d wake up in the middle of the night.”
The kitchen was quiet save for the hiss of gas coming from the stove, which had a pot sitting in it. Three girls sat around the table, all of them looking at the pot which had started to give off steam.
“I’ll make us some tea.” A pale black-haired girl stood and walked to the counter, getting a tin can and pouring some tea leaves into the boiling pot. Not much can still be heard aside from the boiling water in the pot.
Quiet sounds filled the room as the black-haired girl prepared tea. “Think it’s gonna be like this everyday, Liz?”
The brown-haired girl nodded at the blonde. “We’ll be serving residents, so it would make sense that we’ll be serving them earlier than tourists..”
“Have some tea, Eliza, Kaela.” The black-haired girl handed out steaming cups to the two girls. “We’ll be starting shortly, so here’s something to eat.” She placed a small bag of bread and ham on the table.
“Thanks for the meal, Arya.” The three girls sat to eat. Breakfast, and the cleanup afterwards, was quiet.
“Let's go - they should be waiting for us at the dock.” The girls walked out to the square, closing the office door and putting a sign in front of it - “Closed”.
“I know you three aren’t used to being up this early,” an orange-haired woman looked at the three girls in front of her, “but you look ready for anything! Since handling the traghetto can take some getting used to, we have to be up and training early before the day starts. When we officially open after sunrise, we will be taking turns - but we’ll deal with that later. Tomoe?”
The green-haired woman beside her nodded and spoke. “Eliza, you will be rowing in front of Arya in the first traghetto, while Kaela will be behind Ayumi in the other traghetto. I’ll be behind you four in a gondola to see how you’re doing.”
The four girls walked to and boarded the large gondolas, taking their positions and hanging a lighted lamp on the boat's prow. Tomoe walked to a smaller gondola and cast off, rowing to where the two traghettos are docked. The green-haired woman stopped her gondola and looked at the four girls.
“Although we work with the townspeople instead of tourists, we will still exhibit a similar hospitality as you were taught to do as an Undine. The fare for our service is three copper coins - ask for this fare politely before they alight. If they carry baggage, don’t forget to help them with it. Also, the highest priority for our service is speed, but don’t make your customers uncomfortable. I will tell you if your pace is fine. Arya, Kaela, follow your seniors’ lead.”
Tomoe nodded, and the two traghettos were cast off. The boats swayed and sashayed as the novice gondoliers tried to coordinate with their partners. “Remember - the most important thing in working with a traghetto is communicating with your partner. You two should be at the same page throughout the route.”
The boats gradually straightened and soon glided along the water in a relatively smooth pace. An audible grunt of effort came from Arya as she struggled with the long oar, and her traghetto slackened in pace. Noticing this, Tomoe rowed closer. “Arya, don’t push too hard. Use a sweeping motion so you can push with less effort.”
The three gondolas approached the end of the route, marked by a small dock in a plaza near the center of the city. At this point, Neo-Venezia has become slightly lighter as the hints of dawn showed on the horizon and the streetlights were extinguished.
“Slow down,” Tomoe called out to the two traghettos. “We’ll be docking in that plaza to your right. Let the front rower turn the boat such that the rower in the back is facing the plaza, then row into the dock.” This maneuver was done by both boats without mishap, and the four girls stepped off after tying the traghettos to the dock. Tomoe followed them after tying up her gondola, and the five sat on the benches in the waiting area. The green-haired woman brought a flask of tea which the girls shared.
“You holding up okay, Arya? Here - have some tea.” Ayumi looked at the pale girl, who kept to herself at a corner while the others chatted amongst themselves. Arya nodded and mouthed thanks as she sipped from the flask. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.”
“It’s getting close to our opening time. Let’s make our way back so we can set up shop.” The five girls walked to their boats and cast off, rowing back up the large main canal.
Early morning in Neo-Venezia, and the town has awakened. A respectably-sized line can be seen in the small plaza, full of townspeople - mothers chatting with their neighbors, a farmer holding a basket of vegetables, a postal worker clad in the company’s blue uniform and beret.
“So many people!” Eliza remarked as she stood in the back of a docked traghetto. Ayumi, standing beside the boat, smiled at her.
“It’s a side of the city few gondoliers see. A lot of people use our boats to get to work or to market, or just to get nearer to where they’re going - and with the motorboat bans it’s only going to get busier. This dock, San Sofia dock, is particularly popular since it’s in the middle of a residential district.”
Kaela waved at them from the waiting area. “Tomoe wants to know if you’re ready.” An affirmative from Ayumi, and the dock is opened. People flowed into the dock - enough to fill the first ferry.
“Good morning.” Eliza made a short bow to her first customer - a mother, carrying an infant with her. “Good morning, dear.”
“Today’s fare is three coppers - same as always,” Eliza said with a soft smile. The mother gave her the fare, and the brown-haired gondolier beamed at the baby. “Thank you for choosing our ferry.”
Similar exchanges were made to the other passengers, and the ferry slowly filled up.
“Good morning,” Eliza bowed to a farmer carrying a large basket of cabbages. “I’ll help you with that.” The two hauled the basket on board, and the farmer gave her his fare. “Thank you.”
The farmer, the last passenger, stepped onto the boat. “Ayumi, we have everything accounted for - twenty passengers, three pieces of luggage.” Ayumi made a quick count to confirm, and stepped into the fore of the gondola after untying it from the dock.
“Gondola casting off!” A strong push from the two gondoliers cast the traghetto off the dock and into the canal. The boat gradually disappeared from view, making its way down the canal. At this point, Arya has finished preparing the second ferry, signaling to the two girls at the entrance.
“Looks like we’re ready.”
Tomoe nodded and turned towards the ferry, and Kaela called out to the line. “The next ferry is ready - please move forward in an orderly fashion and prepare your fare.”
The day whirled by as the five employees of the fledgling ferry company worked throughout the clock. There was not much time to chat until mid-afternoon, when the line thinned such that only one ferry was needed.
The first traghetto to arrive to the dock was piloted by Ayumi and Kaela, bearing few passengers. The two girls tied the boat to the dock after their passengers alighted, and the two met Arya at the waiting area.
“Welcome back, and good work.” The two girls mumbled thanks. “I made us some lunch in the kitchen. I’ll wait for the others, go ahead and eat.” In the kitchen, the two girls were met with a simple but delicious meal that they gratefully took down.
“There’s nothing more delicious than a great meal after a lot of work.” Kaela sighed, stretching her arms behind her head.
“Wow, that was really good food,” Ayumi remarked. “Arya has some serious skill! Reminds me of the meals I used to have at Himeya.”
Footsteps alerted them to their coworkers coming into the kitchen. Eliza and Tomoe greeted the two as they took seats around the kitchen table and ate their meals.
“It will be relaxing for a while - there aren’t that many customers at this time of day,” Ayumi said. “Arya and I will be taking the first trip in a bit, then we’ll take turns as usual. It’ll start to pick up in the afternoon, so rest and relax.
“Arya, are we good to go?”
The pale girl nodded at Ayumi, and the two of them exchanged farewells with the others as they walked towards the dock.
Deep evening in Neo-Venezia, and the streetlights illuminate the otherwise dark alleys and canals. The last traghetto, piloted by Arya and Eliza, moved sleekly into the dock.
“Thank you very much, have a good night and see you tomorrow.” The passengers alighted, and the two gondoliers sighed in relief as they tied the boat and took down the lantern in the boat’s prow. At this point, the plaza and waiting area were deserted, and the two walked into the office.
“Thank you for all the work you put in today!” Ayumi gave Arya and Eliza each a glass of bubbling, fizzy drink as the five employees gathered around the main room. “It was a great first day - we carried nine hundred and sixty passengers and thirty large baggage items.”
“Wow!” “That’s a lot.” Surprised remarks flew between the three junior employees.
Tomoe spoke up. “Yep, it’s a lot - that shows how many people will depend on our work every day. When you’re trained as an Undine, you sometimes forget that Neo-Venezia is a living, breathing city. It's a refreshing change of pace.”
Ayumi grinned at her. “Looks like you found what you were looking for.”
The green-haired woman looked around her and raised her glass in a toast, which the others responded.
“Here’s to many more beautiful days, everyone.”