“What drew you to the traghetto, Ayumi?” Atora took a sip from her mug, holding it with gloveless hands. “We know just how much you like the traghetto, but I don’t remember asking you when you started liking it.”
Late spring in Neo-Venezia. The air is still cool enough for coffee and company - something the three girls haven’t gotten to do recently. The sun hangs low in the horizon, coloring the white linen of their table and the canal aside them a pale orange.
Ayumi chuckled. “Yeah. I never told you guys about that, did I?” She took a moment to look fondly at her right hand, clad in a white glove with a green bar at the center. “Well, it was at this one lecture when I was a Pair at Himeya...”
“As Undines, you are trained and will work on the traditional gondola, featuring a platform at the stern for the gondolier and the space for the passengers aft,” the instructor pointed to a small model gondola. “This design was made in Man-Home in the nineteenth century and was meant to be rowed by one person, while larger older designs featured a cabin and were rowed by two or three persons.”
She then pointed to an adjacent model, a larger gondola featuring an additional space at the front of the boat for another gondolier to stand on. “These older designs were the base of the Neo-Venetian traghetto, which is used as a ferry or transport. Singles can try their hand at a traghetto, and it’s very recommended as it tests the rower’s strength and endurance at a higher level than a normal gondola. More importantly, having to work with another gondolier to handle the boat promotes teamwork and communication skills. Most, if not all Prima Undines have worked on a traghetto at least once when they were Singles.”
A hand was raised in the room. “Yes, Ms. Jasmine?” The orange-haired girl stood.
“Are there Undines that like the traghetto better than the gondola?”
The instructor nodded. “Yes, though not very many. That said, traghetto work pays consistently, even more so than as a Prima. Most of the Undines that do stay on the traghetto say they just prefer the work, however, rather than mentioning the pay. It's hard work, and definitely not in the spotlight like the work of an Undine, but traghetto workers get to see a side of Neo-Venezia that few Undines and tourists see.”
“Thank you.” Ayumi sat down, her eyes shining with excitement. For the rest of the lecture, she hardly paid attention - but she was hard at work, making notes off a textbook opened at the chapter on traghettos.
“I never really liked rowing alone, you know.” Ayumi looked at the water with a pensive look. “It felt very lonely, rowing alone. I always loved it when we practiced together, and I would make excuses if I had to practice by myself. When I see my fellow traghetto gondoliers, and the familiar faces of the passengers who take the traghetto day by day...there’s nothing that comes close.”
“The pay did help a lot though.” The girls giggled into their mugs and sipped, looking on at the canal - now a deep orange-red. The voice of an Undine singing a barcarole wafted from afar - a soft and gentle sound. There was silence around the table as the three girls listened in.
“Atora..isn’t that Alice singing the barcarole?”
Atora looked at the dark-haired girl and nodded. “You’re right, Anzu - it’s Alice. She’s still having a bit of trouble raising her voice, but she doesn’t need it tonight.”
Evening had started to settle in, and the light was fading fast. The three girls did not move, however, seemingly ignoring the cue.
Ayumi smiled. “Nobody wants to be the first to leave. But I have work to do tomorrow!” She got up, stretching her arms. “The one thing you Undines have going are some pretty nice off-days..maybe I’ll get myself a couple if Green Dream gets some more gondoliers.”
Atora giggled. “Would you mind if we show up as your customers?” The remark drew a stare and a laugh from Ayumi.
“We’re not that desperate!”
On Green Dream - it was very difficult for me to find a name for the company Ayumi's going to head for this work. I eventually chose to take some parts of Atora's and Anzu's last names and translate them to English - Verde for "green" and Yume for "dream". At least it has that awkward English feel similar to Orange Planet.
Chapter 2: That Exciting Declaration
“News! Get your news here!” The newsboy’s cries pierced through the hubbub and bustle of San Marco Square. “Extra! Controversial motorboat legislation to be discussed at council today!” People turned their heads in interest, and the boy started to hand data tablets to the crowd. “Extra! Extra! Motorboats to be banned with new legislation! Read about it here!”
A blue-haired woman and a trenchcoat-wearing man approached the newsboy and took some tablets. They made their way to a busy restaurant and read the news tablets while they waited to be served.
“Huh,” Aika mumbled, reading the headline. “‘Landmark Legislation to Ban Motorboats in Council Today’. Al, what do you think?” She looked at the man sitting with her.
The dark-haired man scrunched his eyebrows as he took the article in. “No motorboats going up the canals, limited only to inter-island and inter-city travel, Gondola Association Representative Alicia Florence taking the floor…”
Aika smiled. “Alicia’s been busy! I do see where she’s coming from...the motorboats are loud and make the canals reek of fuel. I heard a poor Orange Planet Undine got thrown from her gondola when she didn’t get out of the way of one.” This drew frowns from the girl.
“She didn’t get hurt, did she?”
Aika shook her head. “She wasn’t hurt, thankfully...the motorboat stopped its engines and rescued her. I remember when that news broke out…”
“Was quite a scandal, wasn’t it?” Al took a sip of water as he continued reading. “Well, it doesn’t seem to be much of a contest - not as many complaints as I would have expected.”
Aika smirked. “I wouldn’t miss them for sure!” The server approached their table, and the two started looking at their menus.
“The motorboat ban has passed!”
Applause filled the Gondola Association’s conference room as the declaration of the ban was televised to the room. The conference room was much more packed than usual - many undines came to watch from all companies, and an Orange Planet gondolier cried and hugged her companion in relief.
“Now, a closing speech from the Gondola Association’s representative. Mrs. Florence, you have the floor.” The noise in the room quickly lowered to isolated murmurs.
“Dear Council members, I thank you for showing your love and devotion to our wonderful city by helping make this ban a reality. With this, you have ensured the safety of thousands of gondoliers everywhere. With this, you have made Neo-Venezia more serene and beautiful. There is nothing that makes me happier than to see the city you love become more beautiful, and this is one of those moments. Thank you.”
The next words shook the room. “Since the ban was released, I have an announcement to make on behalf of the Gondola Association. In order to fill the void that was occupied by the motorboat transports and ferries that operated inside the city, we will be implementing an expansion of the traghetto’s use as a cargo transport and as a passenger ferry. This expansion will involve the creation of new companies or talks with the current gondola companies. The Gondola Association will release updates in the coming weeks. Thank you.”
The room burst into excited and animated conversations. “Undines on traghettos! What an exciting prospect.” “This opens up more opportunities for male gondoliers!” “What great news! I wonder if Himeya or Orange Planet will be training traghetto undines.”
Three girls burst out of the room and ran down the hallway, talking to each other excitedly. “Atora! Anzu! I can’t believe it! It’s coming true!”
“What is?” Anzu looked at Ayumi.
“You know, after that accident happened, Alicia e-mailed me and asked to see me. She asked me about the traghetto work, and I told her about my day-to-day routine and what I thought about traghettos working as transports. I never knew it would turn into this!”
Atora looked at Ayumi with a curious gaze, slowly turning into a gasp. “Oh! Are you saying she offered you a chance to participate at this expansion?”
Ayumi giggled. “I wish! But I’m just glad that my line of work is going to be so important. I can’t wait to welcome many more customers and talk to them!”
Anzu stared at Ayumi. “Your wish might come true, Ayumi...be careful!”
“Me? Head a company?”
Alicia nodded. “Yes, you - Ayumi Jasmine. The Gondola Association wants you to guide undines that want to work with the traghetto, just like you do. You love your work, Ayumi...For some, the traghetto is where undines work if they cannot pass their promotion exams - but you’re not like that, and that’s what makes you the best person for this.”
Ayumi swallowed in nervous excitement. “But I’ve never led a company before. I’ve never been a mentor.”
“So were your mentors - they were juniors once. Ayumi, you have this wonderful gift of love and passion for your work. I know that you will be able to bring that passion for the future of the traghetto. Trust me - you will make a wonderful company and fill the canals of Neo-Venezia with your traghettos.”
Ayumi started to sob. “I never thought I would meet you like this...and talk to you about this...and just see my dream come true. It just feels so wonderful.”
Alicia smiled and hugged the girl. “It is wonderful, just as you will be. I will be with you every step of the way, and I’ll teach you how to run your company, and I will see you be successful. I promise, Ayumi.”
Chapter 3: These Wonderful Additions
Spring has given way to summer in Neo-Venezia, and the heat has started to permeate the city. A small office building near the traghetto dock had a new sign put up above its door - a white sign with the words “Green Dream” divided at the center with a green horizontal bar. The door itself had a sign- “closed for preparations”. The office building itself is undergoing renovation, and the smell of building materials surrounded Alicia and Ayumi as they sat on a table in the kitchen - the only furnished room in the building.
“I’m sorry, Alicia,” the orange-haired girl sighed, mulling over her laptop display. “I was never good at filling out forms like these.”
A soft giggle came out from the blond woman. “You’ll get better as you go. Now, for this part, you have to say how many people got onto which ferry, and you will have to do a ferry for each line.”
“Ah, got it. I’ll just have to copy the data we got from the tablet.” The sound of a keyboard clacking filled the otherwise quiet room.
The clacking paused as Ayumi reached for another tablet. “So that’s last Sunday’s data done...only six more days to go.” An exasperated sigh escaped the girl’s lips.
Alicia smiled gently. “It will be easier once you’ve caught up. Akari’s gotten the habit of filling it out every night after her last booking, and she only takes a few minutes. Don’t forget to do these forms every day - the work piles up if you don’t.”
Alicia stood up as Ayumi resumed her typing. “Would you like some tea? It helps me get through busy days like this.”
A tired smile met her offer. “I would love that.”
The small square in front of the traghetto docks was packed with women clad in various uniforms. At the center is a dark-haired Undine dressed in the Himeya summer outfit, holding a tablet. Alongside her is an orange-haired Undine wearing a white dress with a green bar at the front, nervously looking at the crowd.
“Attention, please.” The crowd of undines quieted down as the Undine in the center spoke. “As part of the traghetto expansion program, Single and senior Pair Undines of Orange Planet and Himeya were given offers to transfer to the new traghetto company Green Dream. Although many of you accepted the offers, the Gondola Association can only assign a select few. If your name is called, please make your way to the center.”
The excitement in the crowd was almost palpable - some of the girls started whispering to each other, while others looked on and listened expectantly.
The dark-haired woman scanned the crowd and looked at the tablet. “Eliza Flores of Himeya.” A tall, bespectacled girl emerged from the crowd, walking with tentative steps. Feeling the gazes of the crowd at her back, she quickly reddened and cast her face downward.
“Hey, Eliza, are you okay?” A low voice, full of concern. The girl looked back and saw the orange-haired Undine look at her.
A nervous smile cracked the brown-skinned girl’s face. “I’m a little embarrassed and nervous, but I’m also very excited to work with you, Ms. Jasmine.”
The nervous smile was met with a shy one, and Ayumi quickly turned to the dark-haired woman. “Think we’re good to go, Akira.”
A soft whisper to Eliza quickly followed. “And call me Ayumi, it’s embarrassing!”
The soft giggle shared by the two girls was quickly drowned by Akira’s clear voice. “Kaela Maskros of Orange Planet.”
A shorter, stockier girl quickly walked to the center with a huge smile and waved to Eliza and Ayumi. “Pleased to make your acquaintance!”
“Arya Magyal of Orange Planet.” A pale raven-haired girl gracefully walked to the center and bowed to the three girls. “I look forward to working with you,” she greeted with a collected tone.
“These three have been selected by the Gondola Association as the first additions to Green Dream. We wish you luck - Eliza, Kaela, Arya - in your new careers as traghetto Undines.” Applause filled the plaza, and the three girls bowed in reply.
Akira continued as the applause died down. “Lastly, a special announcement. Just after the announcement of the creation of Green Dream, Himeya received a unique letter from one of its Prima Undines.” Isolated conversations started, especially among the Himeya Undines.
“This Undine, a respected and highly experienced gondolier, has made a surprising request to resign from Himeya and transfer to Green Dream. This was the first ever request of its kind made in the history of the company, and so much deliberation was made between the senior employees in Himeya.”
Akira took a pause as the hubbub increased for a moment, and continued as the crowd quieted down. “Eventually, we considered that this Undine’s request was something she has thought of for a long time, and we have decided to approve her transfer. It is sad that she has left us, but we wish her all the best in her future with Green Dream. Please give a round of applause to Tomoe Suiren as she gives a speech.”
A collective gasp was heard from the crowd, followed quickly by applause. A green-haired woman stepped out of the crowd and meekly walked to the center, making a deep bow before facing the crowd.
“My dear Undines, I feel both excited and sad. Excited, because I am entering a new chapter of my life. Sad, because I have to leave my friends and coworkers behind. I have enjoyed every second of my life with Himeya - from the moment I started my training to my very last booking as a Prima.
“It was a wonderful experience, being an Undine. To show people this beautiful city and its beautiful people had brought nothing but happiness to my heart. Just recently, however, I caught myself questioning while I was reading and reviewing the various sites of the city. Did I really know the city? Did I know its inhabitants? I realized that, due to the focus of my working with tourists, I barely knew anything about Neo-Venezia. I know how old San Marco Square is, and what the statues in it meant, but I don’t know about the people who live and work on this city every day.”
A tender smile emerged from the woman’s lips. “And that’s what I would love to do in Green Dream. I want to know this beautiful city, much more than what I have learned in my tours. I want to be closer to Neo-Venezia - and if I can do that with the traghetto, I would be happy.”
Tomoe faced Akira and bowed, and did the same to the crowd. “Thank you for the many years and experiences we have shared, and I wish all the best to all of you.” Applause roared as the two women approached and embraced each other.
“Thank you for your hard work, Tomoe. I- no, all of us will miss you.” Akira’s voice was very soft, and her eyes were shut tightly.
“Thank you, Akira. Take care of yourself.”
The dark-haired woman nodded and turned her face away from the crowd. “You too.”
Chapter 4: That Beautiful First Day
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.”
Chapter 5: Ayumi's Day Off
"What is it like, running a company?" A dark-haired girl tilted her head at her friend as she asked.
An orange-haired girl, sitting on the other side of the table, chuckled. "Well...it's a lot more work."
Summer has arrived in full force in Neo-Venezia. The sun, high in the clear sky, shone brightly and heated up the town. The three friends have found time to meet once again over lunch - Anzu and Atora have scheduled the day off, while Ayumi's colleagues almost had to shove her off the office. They'll be fine and will not work until she's gone, they insisted, as they guided her out of the office and locked the door behind her.
"...I can't stop worrying about the girls," Ayumi admitted. "There's only four of them, so there's only one boat running since someone has to mind the shop while the others are rowing."
The red-headed girl smiled reassuringly at Ayumi. "It's a very slow day today...it's so hot, even the residents don't feel like going out today. Don't worry, they'll have it easy today. Besides, Tomoe and Eliza are there to guide the newbies.
"But I know all that won't stop you from worrying." To that, Ayumi only nodded and ate a spoon of parfait.
"The other companies have been doing well with their traghetto programs," Anzu said. "I heard Himeya's route from Garibaldi Square is expanding since Akira started emphasizing the traghetto for Single training. She thinks the social skills traghetto work develops are critical for Undines, so she's pushing for every Single to row in a traghetto a lot."
"It does make sense, when you think about it - you have to work together with someone you barely know for a whole day. That's what you call social skills training!"
Atora nodded. "Our program -based in Santa Maria- is much smaller and less intensive, but it's there, and some of the trainees liked and learned from it. I heard Akari and Ai went there for training the other day. The trainees were a bit surprised!"
"Surprised by what - that Aria Company's well-loved 'Aquamarine' came to visit, or that Akari was not like they expected her to be?" A giggle was shared by the three at Ayumi's remark.
"Enough about the traghetto - I talk and think about it every day for work! How are your Prima careers doing?"
The two Undines shared looks with each other.
A nervous giggle from the two. "It's not that. We both have enough customers to get by, and every day is busy and pleasant.."
Anzu spoke up, almost cutting Atora off. "It's just that we're hearing some rumors...I heard that some of the Primas in Orange Planet were in some kind of investigation."
"Some customers complained, and the Gondola Association got involved..."
Silence from the three as they looked down into their parfait.
The silence was eventually broken by a nervous chuckle by Ayumi. "It's probably just a misunderstanding."
Her two friends quickly agreed, giving some dismissive half-hearted laughs.
"That aside, it was really good to see you two again." The orange-haired girl beamed at the two girls. "I'm just glad we were able to meet."
Atora retorted. "Ayumi, you had to be pushed out of the office by your employees. You should thank them, not us.
"Oh, and don't forget to get some groceries!"
"Dear customers, have you noticed that there aren't any motorboats in the canals?" A pink-haired gondolier slowed her gondola.
Her customers, a couple bringing a young child with them, nodded. "When we came here for our honeymoon, we did see some motorboats..."
"Recently, due to environmental and beautification concerns, the city council forbade all motorboats from entering the canals. The motorboats that acted as ferries were replaced with larger gondolas named traghettos. The people that live here use the ferries every day. Look," the gondolier pointed, "there's one coming up to dock."
A traghetto came up the canal, filled with passengers. In front is a green-haired woman, leading the other raven-haired gondolier at the back. Their uniforms, pristine white, were emblazoned with a green vertical line.
"Tomoe, Arya - hello!" The pink-haired gondolier beamed and waved at the ferry gondoliers, who exchanged hasty greetings as they positioned the boat to dock.
"Hehe, they're a bit busy. They're the Undines of this whole town - it's no wonder they don't have time to chat. Shall we move on?" The white gondola glided forward as the Undine continued on with her tour.
The traghetto had been emptied of passengers and tied to the dock, and Tomoe and Arya came over to the waiting area where Kaela and Eliza sat.
"Thanks for the hard work," the two girls greeted Tomoe and Arya as they sat.
"Thank you," Tomoe said. "Akari just passed by and showed her customers the dock."
"You're kidding!" Kaela almost jumped out of her seat. "Akari? Like, Akari Mizunashi of Aria Company? The 'Aquamarine'?"
Eliza nodded. "Yes, it was her. She was so pretty! There was a baby on board and I waved at her."
"Aww, man," Kaela leaned back on the bench. "I really wanted to see her."
The three immediately looked at her and replied simultaneously. "But you were staring at her all this time..."
"Wait, was I? Huh." Teasing giggles came out of the other three. "Pay more attention next time!"
Summer evening in Neo-Venezia - warm and humid, it was a sultry night filled with tourist couples wandering around and taking in the romantic views. Ayumi had just come out of the city market with a basket of groceries and made her way to a nearby dock, taking her place in a small queue.
"Hey, that uniform...you work for this ferry," a woman alongside Ayumi remarked.
The woman was met with a smile from the gondolier. "Yes, ma'am. I'm Ayumi Jasmine, founder of Green Dream, at your service. I'm letting my employees pick me up after groceries tonight."
The two tittered, drawing attention from the rest of the queue.Some other passengers started to congregate near Ayumi, having noticed her uniform.
"Wow! An Undine!" A gaggle of children circled the orange-haired girl, marveling at her white uniform.
"Miss Undine, miss Undine," a small girl pulled at Ayumi's dress. The gondolier squatted and patted the girl. "Yes?"
The girl beamed at her. "You're so cool! I wanna row a boat when I grow up."
Ayumi grinned at her. "I bet you'll make a beautiful and cool gondolier. Talk to your parents about it first, okay?"
"Okay, miss Undine." The girl ran off to her parents, who were watching them converse. "Mama, Papa, I wanna be like her when I grow up!"
The remaining children, having found a newer or more captivating distraction, gradually moved away from the gondolier.
One of the children pointed. "Mama, look, a boat!"
A large gondola emerged from the larger main canal to the dock's canal, bearing a good number of passengers. The two gondoliers piloting the boat, a blonde and a brunette girl, eased the boat as it approached the dock.
The mother nodded at her son. "That's our boat, honey. We take it every Saturday after market, remember?"
"Yes! And the fare is three coppers for you and three coppers for me," the boy proclaimed with triumph.
Having heard that, Ayumi scrunched her brow in thought as the exiting passengers passed by.
"We're ready for you now," Kaela called out. "Please move to the ferry in an orderly manner and prepare your fare."
The queue moved forward, and Kaela stood face-to-face with Ayumi.
"Ayumi! It is you! Let me get those groceries out of your hands." Kaela grabbed the basket of groceries from the orange-haired girl.
"Thanks, Kaela. We'll have a great dinner when we get back."
Ayumi walked to the boat and saw Eliza, who was holding the boat steady with one foot on the dock as she helped a passenger with her belongings.
"There you go. Thanks for joining us tonight, ma'am. Good eveni-ah!" the brunette smiled and gasped as she locked eyes with Ayumi.
"Hehe. Good evening, Eliza," Ayumi stepped onto the boat and handed the brunette girl three copper coins. "Take good care of me, please."
Eliza reddened and nodded in response. She stuttered as she greeted the next customer, drawing some giggles from the passengers.
The last of the passengers alighted. "We're fully accounted for - sixteen passengers and five large baggage items," Eliza called out to Kaela, who looked to confirm.
"Alright - I closed up shop here. Let's go home." The blonde took the forward position, holding her oar. A swift, coordinated push from the two girls started the traghetto towards the main canal.
"Gondola casting off!"
Chapter 6: Goulash and Fares
The kitchen was filled with hustle and bustle as five girls set to prepare dinner. A tall pale girl stood alongside a green-haired woman in front of the stovetop, while the rest cleaned the table and fetched cutlery and porcelain.
Arya nodded. "It's a Man-Home beef soup, from my home in Hungary. It's not too hard to make, but you need to be careful with the spices and cook the beef before adding the water and tomatoes."
The two looked at the bubbling red stew, now giving off a spicy, meaty scent. “Oh, man, that’s gonna be delicious,” Kaela remarked as she grabbed some glasses from a nearby cabinet.
Tomoe pointed at a covered pot, giving off steam. “What’s in this?”
“Ah - those are bread dumplings. You roll some dough into small shapes and you put them on a steamer like this one. It’s nice if you dip it into the stew. They’re already done, but we’ll keep them warm for the stew.”
Behind them, the three girls prepared the table and laid out the cutlery and plates. Animated conversation flew between the five girls as they waited for the food to finish cooking.
“That other day,” Ayumi said, “when I was having lunch with Atora and Anzu, they told me that some Orange Planet Undines were being investigated by the Association.”
The rest of the girls perked up, intrigued and concerned. “They don’t know why they’re being investigated, though,” Ayumi continued.
Tomoe spoke up from the stovetop. “It’s rare that Undines get investigated…most of the time, it’s the customers that the Board investigates. A long time ago, I can barely remember when, I do remember one of the Himeya Undines got sent off.”
“I’ve never heard of this,” Ayumi responded. “I guess this really was a long time ago?”
“Yes. From what I remember, in a fit of envy at her coworker, an Undine secretly drilled holes in her coworker’s gondola the day she was to perform her Prima test. Before this, she spread a lot of rumors about the poor girl...it was horrible. I’m not sure where she went after, but I remember it was a very tumultuous day in the Himeya building when she was told to pack up her things and leave.”
Gasps came from the younger girls. “That’s cruel!” “I’ve never heard of someone drill holes into someone else’s gondola…” “My family sent me from Man-Home to get away from things like that..” That last comment from Arya drew some curious glances, but Tomoe spoke up before they could ask about it.
“Which makes me think that what the girls did must have been very serious,” Tomoe continued. “Usually, though, there would be rumors about it everywhere if it was like that.”
“Hopefully it was just a big misunderstanding.”
Arya stood and brought the two steaming pots to the table “Dinner’s ready, I hope you will enjoy the meal.”
“Thank you for the meal, Arya!” The four other girls gave their cook thanks and started eating.
The conversation continued as the girls enjoyed their meal - this time, it was about their day at work.
“Arya, how was your first time rowing from the front?”
“It was a good experience.” The pale girl gave a short nod. “I am not experienced at all in leading, but I knew the route well. Eliza was really good rowing from the back and I relied on her consistency to row well.”
The brunette looked down and mumbled, “Thank you...I try my best.”
Ayumi beamed at the two. “Well, Arya, you now have some pointers on how to row from the back, and it’s always good to have experience leading from the front. I want you to lead for me the next time we row together, alright?”
“I look forward to it.”
A brief silence as the girls saw to their meal, broken by Ayumi.
“Oh, I almost forgot to mention to you guys. I’m going to be out the entire day two days from now...The Gondola Association wants me to talk about the company, like how it’s going - stuff like that.”
“When you think about it,” Eliza mused, “We are still a pretty small company, although we are responsible for the busiest ferry route.”
The other girls gave their assent, and Ayumi agreed. “We’ll see what the Gondola Association thinks about what we do. I’ll let you guys know as soon as I get back.”
The meal had finished, and the five girls started cleaning up. Arya and Tomoe were preoccupied washing the dishes, while the other three cleaned the rest of the room.
“Arya,” Tomoe said with a questioning tone, “You mentioned you were sent here by your parents from Man-Home…”
No apparent response from Arya as she continued to wash dishes in silence. Taking the cue, the green-haired woman did not press the question and went back to her chores. The rest, having paused when Tomoe asked the question, also resumed their activities.
The last of the dishes were washed and the kitchen was cleaned, and the girls lounged and drank tea in the main room. Arya brought her warm cup closer to her, looking down at it pensively.
“We weren’t rich in Man-Home,” Arya said in a brooding tone. “Nor were we poor or starving. My family made enough for me to get three meals a day and a semblance of education.”
At this point, the chatter and conversation among the girls ground to a halt, all ears on the pale girl.
"It wasn't that Bulgaria was a bad place to live in. It was certainly better than some places. My mother just wanted me to be in a better place, and she convinced my father to send me off..."
Arya stopped abruptly and stood. "I'm sorry, I've said more than what is proper. I’m going to bed - goodnight." The girl excused herself, almost running up the stairs and closing her room, stunning her coworkers.
"I think it's best to let her tell us about it when she wants to," Eliza piped up. The others agreed, and the four girls silently finished their drinks and went up to their rooms.
Dawn in Neo-Venezia, the canals just starting to become visible with the approaching light. The Green Dream dock had some people lining up already - mostly people with deliveries and luggage to carry to town at first light. Four girls stood around the traghetto loading dock, each of them holding a warm mug.
"Arya left a note?"
Tomoe nodded. "She had something to do, so she borrowed the gondola. She said she'll be back before we open."
"Huh. Wonder where she went...hope she's not upset about last night."
The green-haired woman shook her head. "No...Arya isn't the type to be upset. She's been given the opportunity of a lifetime - to live in a beautiful utopia. Last night wouldn't faze her."
After a while, a light started to emanate from the canal entrance. Arya, rowing a small gondola by herself, smoothly docked and stepped off the boat, tying it before meeting her coworkers and greeting them with a wave.
“Good morning. I hope I’m not late.”
Ayumi smiled and shook her head. “You’re just in time. Kaela, Eliza, let’s start.” The orange-haired girl faced the line and called out, “Good morning, our first ferry to the city center is ready. Please walk forward in an orderly fashion and prepare your fare.”
Ayumi turned to Tomoe as the first two gondoliers led the crowd onto their boat. “Speaking of fares...Tomoe, do we have different fares for children and elderly? When I was in line to go home on our ferry the other day, I heard a kid say he has to pay three coppers, same as everyone else.”
The woman pondered for a short moment. “I believe we let babies and small children on free of charge, but I don’t think we have different fares for children or elderly. We don’t do that on tours.”
“What we run isn’t a tour...I’ll ask for advice from the Gondola Association when I get to their meeting day after next. I was thinking to lower fares for children and elderly, and maybe charge for extra luggage - we’ll see how it goes.”
Tomoe nodded. “It’s a good idea - I doubt the Association would have a problem with it. Hopefully the residents will like it as well...why not ask them while they’re waiting for the next boat?”
Kaela’s voice wafted through the dock, announcing that their gondola is casting off. After a short wait, Tomoe waved at Arya, who followed her and guided more people onto the other ferry. “Have a safe trip,” Ayumi waved at the two as they boarded the ferry and cast off into the larger canal ahead.
At this time of day, the loading dock is rarely empty. Even with the two ferries casting off, a few people were left, lounging around the waiting area. In a corner, a mother looked over her baby as it crooned and fussed, and a child tugged at her shirt’s hem. A man walked across the plaza, carrying a large basket of produce.
“Hey, let me help you with that,” Ayumi stood and ran to the man, who gratefully accepted her offer and handed the basket to her. The two people, straining with effort, lugged the basket to the loading area, where it dropped with a soft thump.
“That was heavy! What is it?”
The man opened the basket, which was filled to the brim with potatoes. “I just dug those up this morning,” the farmer grinned.
The child ran over to the basket and looked over, tipping his toes just to see. “Whoa, so many potatoes! And they’re a bit wet.”
The farmer dropped down to the child. “Well, you dig them up, you see. I wash them clean so you can cook it when you get home.”
“But that’s a lot of potatoes! How’d you wash them so fast?”
The man chuckled. “Well, I put the potatoes in a large machine that washes them for me. And they come out clean and shiny, ready for market.”
“That’s cool! How far is the farm?”
“It’s quite a ways from here. I take my gondola from over the hills to here every morning, and I let the lovely ladies that run this ferry take me to market since it’s easier than docking right at the stands.” This elicited a giggle from Ayumi.
“Can I go there and see your farm?” The boy beamed, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Of course! Just ask your mother and make sure you can row to my farm. It is pretty far.”
“Aww, okay.” The boy walked to his mother and talked to her - probably to ask permission to see the farm over the Neo-Venezian hills.
“Mister,” Ayumi faced the farmer. “I was wondering about something. Mind if I ask a question?”
“Oh, sure, no problem.”
“Well,” Ayumi asked, “Will it be alright with you if we started charging for large pieces of baggage, like that basket of yours?”
The farmer hummed as he considered a question. “Well, of course I would like it better if it was free, but I see where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t mind paying a passenger’s fee for this huge basket, really.”
The orange-haired girl nodded. “We haven’t really decided on it yet, but it was good to know that. We’ll tell you about it if it goes through.”
The farmer grinned. “Thanks, a heads-up would be nice.”
A large gondola just turned into their canal - Kaela and Eliza were back with an empty ferry. The two swiftly docked the boat and tied it up. Eliza went up to Ayumi, who greeted her and left the loading area towards the boat.
“Alright, we’re ready,” Eliza called out to the crowd. “Please form a single file and walk forward in an orderly fashion.”
The crowd formed a line and moved forward until Eliza cut the line when there were enough people in the dock to fill the ferry. Eliza caught herself and paused.
“Oh, and don’t forget your fare!”
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!”
I honestly don't want to pour ten to twelve pages into one chapter, so I'll be breaking it up into two parts.
Hope you've been liking the work so far!
The anteroom for the conference hall was much smaller, but the carpeted floor and lessened light from the small windows made for a much more comfy setting. Alicia had taken leave of Ayumi to converse with the other guests, and the rust-haired girl chatted with the Himeya representative, a stately-looking woman with brown-black hair.
“Hello,” Ayumi greeted the woman, “I don’t think I’ve caught your name.”
“I’m Miya Okemi - it’s good to meet you, Ayumi. I don’t think I have seen you when you were in Himeya, but I’ve heard of you as that girl who refuses to row on anything other than the traghetto. It’s good to see your passion for it fulfilled.”
“Hehe, thanks,” the girl responded sheepishly. “I have a long way to go, but I’m trying my best with the help of my employees.”
“I’m sure they’ve been working hard. I heard you requested for a new batch of trainees.”
Ayumi nodded. “I don’t have the time or the facilities to teach people from scratch, so I have to rely on trainees that have expressed their interest to transfer. I know there isn’t that much interest, since most trainees signed up for the glamor of being an Undine.”
“Well,” Miya pondered, “perhaps you need to spread the word. I’m sure Himeya, at least, does not mind. Perhaps some of our trainees would find more fulfilment or enjoyment with the traghetto, working with the townspeople. I’m not sure if Himeya will change that view, however, especially with the dedicated traghetto branch being planned.
“I also am sure there are townspeople who may consider a career. Have you been advertising?”
Ayumi shook her head.
“If you have the money to spend, try putting up posters. Green Dream is a very new company, and word of mouth may not be enough, even after all the fanfare a couple of weeks ago. You should also find time to visit us or the Orange Planet campus and talk to some trainees.”
A knock on the door before it is opened by the meeting’s secretary. “Thank you for waiting - deliberations have been made, and the meeting is about to resume.”
The Himeya representative smiled at Ayumi. “You have a great thing going, Ayumi. With how much you’ve been working for your company, it can only get better from here!”
“After some deliberation, we have decided to allow all traghetto operations the choice of offering a discount to children and students up to and including the high school level, and to mandate free transportation for the elderly. We believe that giving such accommodations to the elderly of Neo-Venezia is a right - in the same vein, we will not consider any pricing changes for gondola tours as they are a privilege.
The head of the Association representatives continued. “With regards to baggage fees, we deny the petition. It is not a necessity to charge passengers further for baggage as we do not have a shortage of space in or number of our ferries.We also will not authorize any additional charges other than the industry standard of three copper coins per person at this time.”
The secretary took the cue and took over. “Now is the time to respond with objections or concerns, before we move on.”
The room was silent for a while, and the secretary cleared her throat. “Very well. The next item in the agenda is a petition for Green Dream to receive three prospective transferees, which was made in communications before this meeting. The Association has decided to allow the transfer, and three trainees have been informed and are completing their transition from their parent companies. The details of the transferees will be sent to Ms. Jasmine later today.”
The secretary looked at her papers and set a bunch of them aside. “It seems that all requests involving Green Dream and Ms. Ayumi have been addressed.“ The woman looked at the rust-haired girl. “If you or your employees have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us through telephone or mail. Thank you for your work, and for your suggestions at improving traghetto service for our townspeople.”
“Now, the next item in the agenda is a performance review and general discussion of Orange Planet’s volunteer traghetto service…”
The meeting whirled by - grievances and issues were resolved, suggestions taken into mind or put into action. From time to time, when Alicia is not talking or discussing with her fellow Association members, she would look at Ayumi and give her a very subtle smile, which the girl replied as subtly as she can.
“All items in the agenda have been addressed in sufficient length and detail,” the secretary proclaimed. “This meeting is adjourned. From me and the entire Association, we thank you for your hard work and for the contributions each of you have made today - not only for the Association and the companies, but for the beautiful town we live in. Once again - thank you, and have a great day.”
People rose from their seats and walked either to the anteroom or to the halls outside the room. Ayumi made it out of the room and breathed a deep sigh.
“Tired?” Alicia appeared beside the girl, smiling at her. “Come with me - let’s have some tea.”
The rust-haired girl gratefully followed the older blonde through the halls of the Association building, the clacking of their heels echoing throughout. Alicia opened a door, and Ayumi was welcomed into a small sunroom, complete with a large glass window and some tables and chairs. Ayumi sat, and Alicia took a large vacuum flask from a cabinet and two cups.
“Do you like hot barley tea?” The girl nodded and was handed a steaming mug of tea. The two sipped in silence, savoring the bright and the quiet in the sunroom, isolated from the rest of the building and all of the activities and goings-on.
“Not that many people go through this part of the building. There’s a library, filled with records and accounts and volumes, just a couple of steps from this room. Of course, everything is digitized, but you can get a record that you needed and peruse it here in this sunroom if you liked.
The bespectacled woman brushed some dust off the table. “Even here, some people prefer convenience, so nobody goes in the library anymore.”
“Do you come here often, then?”
“When I’m not too busy,” Alicia giggled. “It’s a nice retreat where you could just relax and take your mind off. I don’t have too much time for that, so I savor every moment I have here.”
The two women finished their tea, and Alicia spoke as she washed and put the cups and saucers away. “You did well today, Ayumi...you really did.
“Out of all the things we discussed in the meeting today, you stood out when you asked about the fees. No one ever thought of that, because very few people here are as passionate as you are about your work.”
Alicia looked at Ayumi intensely. “Always remember and appreciate that, Ayumi, and don’t let that passion slip away. I’ve only seen two persons who had as much passion and love for her work as you do - Akari, and Ms. Ametsuchi...Grandmother. You’ll be just as wonderful as them if you keep doing your best.”
The rust-haired girl beamed at her.
“I’ll try my best, miss Alicia.”
Okay, okay - Ayumi has rust-colored hair. That's final! I'm gonna edit all the other chapters so it's more consistent.
I also took a small break from writing, and I'll transition to a more regular update schedule as the days go on.
Thanks for reading!
Arya rubbed her hands as she entered the kitchen. “Ah, it’s cold… I should make some tea before I leave.”
It’s a rainy early morning in Neo-Venezia. The kitchen was filled with the sound of rain hitting the roof and the pavement and water outside, and though the windows and doors were closed, some of the cold and humidity managed to permeate throughout the office.
Arya filled a pot with water and lit the stove to heat it with as well as a small lamp for illumination. The warmth of the stove drew a content sigh from the girl as she watched the water in the pot heat up and boil. She dropped some tea leaves in the boiling water and took in the aroma of the tea as it brewed.
“This should be ready.” The girl took the pot out of the stove and deftly poured some of the tea into a small flask. She then covered the pot with a tea cozy and made a cursory look at the kitchen before grabbing the lamp and a rain coat from the downstairs closet.
It was still dark and rainy when Arya left the office building, clad in a rain coat over her uniform. Lighting the lamp, she carefully made her way to the traghetto company’s docks and to a small personal gondola. The girl hung the lamp on the prow and untied the boat, casting off quickly and quietly. Soon, she turned out of the small canal and entered the larger canal, making her way to the post office. It was a very quiet ride - very few boats ply the canals at this time of day, if any.
The post office bustled with activity as Arya slid her gondola into a dock meant for customers. Mailmen walked in and out of the office, loading numerous parcels and sacks of mail into their boats. One of them, having finished their preparations, greeted farewell at the others and cast off towards his usual delivery route. The dark-haired girl made her way up the stairs and took a swig of tea from her flask before entering the building.
The post office was warm and sufficiently lit, but was otherwise devoid of customers. The occasional mailman would enter and make a beeline to the holding room, but most of the counters were closed save for one. Arya greeted the clerk at the only open counter, who returned her greeting politely.
“Good morning, miss. Anything I can do for you today?”
The girl produced a small sack of coins and passed it to the clerk. “I’d like to make a money transfer to Man-Home, please.”
“Alright. Here’s a form - please fill out the name and address of the person you would like to give this money to, as well as your name and a return address. I’ll count the money in the meanwhile.”
The girl took the form and filled it with the needed details while the clerk counted the coins in the sack. There was little noise in the building save for the scribbling of a pen, the sound of coins being placed on the counter, and the constant sound of the falling rain. Arya waited for the clerk to finish counting before handing him the finished form.
“Okay, miss, everything looks good. I’ll get the transfer going; this shouldn’t take more than a minute.” The clacking of a keyboard filled the room as the clerk quickly made the transfer. A chime from the computer signaled a successful transfer, and the clerk started writing a detailed receipt while looking at a small display.
“Here you go, miss.” The clerk gave Arya the receipt. “If you don’t mind me asking...is it for your family?”
The girl nodded, but didn’t speak.
“What a good girl you are, miss. I’m sure your folks back home would love to hear from you - do you write them?”
“Ah, I haven’t finished my letter for them...but I write them as often as I can outside of work.”
The clerk gave the girl a cursory look - Arya wore her company uniform under the rain coat.
“You’re one of those traghetto girls. It must be very busy, even with all the rain today. Work hard and stay dry today, miss.”
Arya exchanged farewells with the clerk and left the building. It was still raining, and the girl felt a slight shiver as she climbed aboard her gondola. She finished her flask of tea before reaching at the rope to untie the boat from the dock. The sun has come up, but it was still dark enough that Arya still placed her lamp on the boat’s prow and lit it before casting off.
“Good morning,” Eliza greeted the blonde girl sleepy walking into the kitchen. Kaela mumbled a barely audible reply while shuffling to the kitchen counter and poured a mug of tea for herself. The girl gingerly placed her mug on the table and unceremoniously sat herself on a chair.
“Morning,” Kaela managed to speak after a few sips. “Arya not here today?”
Eliza shook her head. “She’s off early again. What is she doing out so early? She had the tea ready and everything, too…”
The blonde girl looked into her mug and shrugged. “Dunno.”
A creak alerted the two girls of someone heading downstairs. Soon enough, a rust-haired girl peeked into the kitchen and greeted the two as she entered and poured herself some tea.
“It’s not gonna stop raining, is it…” The three girls looked outside - even though the day has progressed into morning, the sky has gone darker and the rain sounded slightly harder than before.
“Are we seriously opening even with the rain?” Ayumi nodded at Kaela.
“We’re not touring, you know. People still need to get where they need to go. We’ll probably use only one boat, though, as there shouldn’t be as many customers.”
“Ah, great.” Kaela stretched languidly and stood to place her empty mug in the sink. “Is Tomoe still asleep? Is she working today?”
“Ah, Tomoe? She was up early today and shut herself in her room. She’s looking over the logs and papers today just to make sure we aren’t missing anything. When you get back, don’t knock at her door!”
The conversation quickly died down as the girls finished their tea and washed their mugs. The three girls grabbed rain coats and left the building, heading to the dock.
The waiting shelter wasn’t empty when the three girls arrived. A couple of burly fishermen stood at a corner, accompanied by two large covered baskets. The men greeted the girls as they walked inside the shelter.
“Good morning,” Ayumi returned the men’s greetings. “How are you two today?”
“Ah, just a little drenched,” one of the men replied. “But Marcas over at the Ristorante di Estrella - that tourist restaurant just off Calle Liguri - ran out of fish and is paying us well for a rushed delivery, so it’ll be worth it!”
The girl nodded. “And we’ll make sure you and your fish make it there in a jiffy. Excuse us, please.” The three girls went over to one of the gondolas and carefully removed and stowed the covering thrown over it for the night. Ayumi talked to her trainees as they worked on the boat.
“So - Eliza, Kaela. This will be a little tougher than usual - the rain will make it difficult to see and you have to bail the boat once you reach the dock at the city center. Just be careful and you two will be fine. Don’t hurry it, and make sure you don’t lose your balance or your way.”
The rust-haired girl gave Eliza a lamp. “Visibility isn’t good at all, but this should help. Stay safe out there, okay?”
Kaela and Eliza beamed reassuringly at Ayumi and exchanged goodbyes before preparing the boat for departure. Ayumi walked back to the loading area, which received a few more customers.
“Good morning, everyone,” Ayumi called out to the small crowd with a smile. “Welcome aboard! Please move to the dock in an orderly fashion and prepare your fare. Please be careful on the dock - it’s a little slippery because of the rain. Stay dry and stay safe!”
I'm aiming for weekly updates. Fingers crossed!
Chapter 10: A Cold, Rainy Day -- part 2
“Twelve passengers and seven pieces of luggage on board,” Kaela called out from the rear to Eliza, who confirmed her count and placed a lit lamp on the boat’s prow.
“We’re ready. Gondola casting off!”
The two gondoliers slowly eased the boat into the small canal and rowed slowly towards the larger main waterway. The rain from the early morning persisted, making the dock and office building vanish from sight sooner than usual. Thankfully, there was enough visibility for the two girls to see the sides of the small canal.
Kaela felt a small drag on the gondola, and glanced at Eliza - she had stopped rowing and placed the oar perpendicular to the water, signaling Kaela to stop the boat. A series of subtle strokes smoothly put the boat on a complete stop just at the intersection between the small canal and the main waterway.
Eliza peered around the corner, looking at the large waterway ahead of her. The sound of the rain masked any boat activity, and the girl can barely see the outlines of buildings on the other side of the large canal. Satisfied that no boats were incoming, Eliza called out, “Gondola coming through!” and signaled Kaela to resume rowing.
Progress along the waterway was slow. A slight wind had picked up, sending a slight current that further slowed the gondola’s progress. The two gondoliers redoubled their efforts and managed to keep an even tack on the large canal. Since gondola tours are cancelled for the day due to weather, the waterway is still mostly empty. Small lights from afar signaled them of approaching boats, and buoys helped the two girls navigate in the rain.
The dark, rainy day didn’t stop the passengers’ conversations. Talk of the day’s work and the little incidents in their everyday lives went around thicker than usual - perhaps to ward off the wet and cold. Tiny puddles of water formed at the top of the large fish baskets which were covered in a cloth. One of the fishermen shared a joke, at which the passengers laughed heartily. The warm laughter carried through the canal, barely dampened by the rain.
Eliza spotted a distinctive buoy just ahead, signaling their approach to the city center. The girl signaled Kaela to slow down, and the two carefully navigated to the docks. With the limited visibility, the signs among the various docks were difficult to see, but the two managed to pick out their assigned landing. After reversing and aligning to the dock, the two slowly and smoothly brought the boat to a stop. Kaela placed her left foot on the dock and held onto a pillar as Eliza carefully tied the boat down.
“All done,” Eliza said, straightening up. The two gondoliers bowed. “Thank you for riding with us. Stay dry and have a great day!”
The twelve passengers gingerly disembarked and stretched on the docks as the girls brought over the luggage. When reaching for the large fish baskets, the fishermen stepped in and helped them bring it out of the boat. The two men gave their thanks and exchanged goodbyes.
“Alright,” Kaela stretched, “Let’s go see if we have anyone to pick up here.”
The waiting area was empty, but the two girls sat and waited for a while just in case. They shared a flask of hot tea, and the two sighed and slouched in relaxation. Their raincoats hung in coat hooks, dripping on the concrete.
“Eliza,” Kaela looked at the girl. “Where’d your glasses go? Don’t you need them?”
“Ah,” the brunette shook her head. “Not really. I can see enough...I only really need it when I read, and it’s just going to fog up or get splattered with rain if I put them on today.”
Silence as the girls waited a little longer. The rain continued, and the patter of raindrops enveloped the two. Hazy figures in the rain showed the few people that walked along the city center.
Eliza stood, giving Kaela a nod. It was time to head back.
Ayumi took a quick glance at the canal. A small light bobbed in the distance, getting brighter ever so slowly. The form of a small gondola appeared from the rain, bearing a single gondolier. The boat slowly made its way to the dock, and its rower alighted and secured it before heading over to the waiting area.
Ayumi recognized the rower and waved at her. The rower pulled her rain coat hood back, revealing a pale face crowned in dark hair. “I’m back. I’m sorry for the delay.”
“Welcome back, Arya. You’re fine - Kaela and Eliza took the first ferry, so you still have time to get something to eat before we take over. Tomoe’s really busy, so don’t bother her!”
“I will do that, thank you. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The girl walked to the office building and entered, taking off and shaking the raincoat dry outside before closing the door behind her. She hung the raincoat and went upstairs to her room, tucking the receipt from the post office in a small folder, filled with similar receipts.
Arya took a look at herself in the mirror and sighed as she straightened her uniform and brushed her hair. As she left her room and closed the door, a voice came from Tomoe’s room. “Arya, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me. Is there anything wrong?”
The door to the adjacent room opened, and a mass of messy green hair greeted the girl. Tomoe handed the girl a plate and a mug with an apologetic look. “Sorry, but I really need to get through as much of this paperwork as I can today. I’ll see you girls at lunch!”
Arya barely managed to say goodbye before the woman closed the door. The pale girl walked down the stairs and placed the kitchenware on the sink before preparing a sandwich and a mug of tea for herself. The kitchen was silent and dark as Arya ate her breakfast and cleaned. The girl put on a raincoat and left for the waiting area.
It’s mid-morning, and the sky has lightened to a light grey. The rain had weakened to a strong drizzle as well. Due to the more favorable conditions, a few more people have lined up to take the ferry. As Arya walked across the square, she saw a stream of people walking away from the dock - she quickened her pace. She entered the waiting area and saw Kaela and Eliza hanging their rain coats.
“Hey, it’s Arya! Everything turn out okay?” Kaela beamed at the pale girl.
Arya nodded. “I’m fine. Thank you for the hard work,” she gave the two girls a slight bow.
“Looks like we’re ready. Hello, everyone,” Ayumi called out. “I hope you’re having a good morning. Please follow us to the boat carefully - the rain’s made the docks a bit slippery today. If you have large luggage, please come in first so we can get things sorted. Don’t forget to prepare the fare.”
“Thank you very much for riding with us. We hope to see you again.” Arya took a small bow as she bade farewell to the last passenger. She and Eliza made sure the boat was secured before heading to the waiting area.
Kaela waved at them. “Have some lunch! We cooked a little delicious something. Rain stopped, too. It’s still cloudy, but at least we can get rid of the raincoats.”
Ayumi smiled at the two. “Thanks for the hard work. We’ll take it from here. Enjoy your lunch! Oh, and I forgot to get some for Tomoe - please bring some up there for her.”
Lunch was made up of a simple but hearty cream of broccoli and bread. Arya scooped up a bowl of soup and a piece of bread and placed them on a serving board. “I’ll bring this up for Tomoe,” she said to Eliza before moving up the stairs and softly knocking on Tomoe’s door.
The room was very tidy - a smoothly-made bed, well-organized bookshelves, and a tidy dresser. Tomoe was seated at her desk, poring over a binder. Two similar binders lay to the side.
The green-haired woman looked at Arya and smiled. “Thanks for getting me lunch. The rain stopped, didn’t it?”
Arya nodded. “Where should I put this?”
Tomoe cleared her desk, placing the binder on top of the pile to her side. Arya gave the woman the board, and Tomoe mouthed thanks. The pale girl took leave of Tomoe and went down to have her meal.
Eliza spoke as Arya finished her lunch. “Is she alright? I’ve never seen her holed up in her room all day.”
Arya nodded. “She’s busy, but she’s alright. I think her work is almost done, so we’ll see her this afternoon…”
The sky was clean and crisp that afternoon. The sun came out in full force as the rainclouds finally dispersed, and most of the city came out to enjoy the warmth. Hints of the rainy day can still be seen in the damp pavement. Many houses also put their laundry out to dry, filling the alleyways and waterways of Neo-Venezia with white.
Tomoe rowed at the back of the gondola with an ease and smoothness from years of experience. Ayumi directed the boat in front, deftly making turns and directing the boat through the waterways. The full boat glided into the city center docks and eased into the traghetto company’s dock. The two expertly anchored the gondola as they bowed to their passengers and helped them disembark.
“Ah,” Tomoe stretched her arms outward. “It’s good to be outside. What an amazing afternoon to row!”
“Reward for your hard work, of course.” Ayumi grinned and laughed. “Thanks for looking over the books today. Everything looking clear, right?”
The woman nodded. “Yes - everything looks great. Even the trainees had good entries - nothing missing, all necessary details covered.
“They’ve been working very hard, those three...Kaela, Arya, Eliza. For a Single and a couple of Pairs, they have become really good at their work.”
Ayumi hummed in agreement. “Gotta say, though, having a couple of extra hands would be great. It would let some of us to take it easy or focus on bookkeeping sometimes - I don’t think we should rely on just you for the books. I already talked to the Association, and we should be hearing from another volunteer pretty soon.”
“I certainly won’t mind someone else looking at the books. Didn’t the number of volunteers drop this time around?”
“Yeah. I guess some of them backed off when they realized how hard traghetto work is,” Ayumi said with a dry chuckle. “Touring is easier on the body.”
“I’m sure it’s not a problem. We will grow just as slow as we need it to be.”
“No, it isn’t a problem - and yes, we will.” The two walked down the dock to their waiting area, straightening their uniforms and preparing to receive the next batch of passengers.
The summer middays in Neo-Venezia are hot and sultry as ever. The bright sun shone down on the buildings, casting away all but the smallest of shadows on the streets and gondola-filled waterways. As most residents are now at work or are busy, the traghetto service only runs one boat every half-hour. Tomoe and Arya cast off a short while ago with a small contingent on board - including a couple of tourists looking to travel around the city by foot, remarking at how cheap their service was.
“Well, that was a first,” Ayumi remarked. The two other employees nodded as they ate sandwiches in the empty waiting area. As summer had rolled in, they brought out the lighter summer uniforms, featuring a looser fit and shorter sleeves. The usual ribbon with a small green glass bead that adorned the top of the dress was removed, resulting in a much plainer design. A vertical green bar ran through the white dress as usual.
The blond employee sleepily faced Ayumi. “Ayumi...when was the last time we cleaned and recoated the boats’ hulls?” The rust-haired girl perked up and furrowed her brow, deep in thought.
“Huh. We totally forgot about that…”
Eliza perked and spoke up as well. “It’s been three months since we started working... We probably should start cleaning before the drag slows us down significantly. We do have the scrapers and the cans of coating in the closet.”
“Oh, have you done this on your Pair training?” The two junior employees nodded. “Well, it should be warm enough outside that we can put on a couple of coats on the boat we have right now - and it would be ready for the afternoon rush. It would also be valuable practice for you two, especially once we get new people and extra boats in our service - they might rely on you to help them.”
“Kaela, get the scrapers and coating from the closet. Eliza, help me with the struts so we can pull the boat up the ramp.” The blonde girl walked briskly to the office building while the other two girls grabbed two large struts leaning on one corner of the waiting area and carried them to a small concrete landing to the side of the dock, putting them in a line close to the water’s edge. Ayumi signaled Eliza to wait at the landing while her senior untied and cast the boat off towards the landing. Stopping the boat, the girl tied a rope securely to the prow and threw the rest of its length to Eliza, who caught it and tied it to a metal post.
“Eliza - don’t tie it, just keep it in your hands.”
The rust-haired girl brought the boat in line with the two struts and signaled Eliza to pull. With one mighty stroke from the gondolier and a pull from the brunette on the landing, they were able to beach the boat on the struts. Ayumi quickly hopped off the boat and pushed it further up the landing until the boat was out of the water from fore to aft. The slimy hull was speckled with barnacles and mineral deposits. Kaela walked down to the landing, holding a can, a burner, and three scraping tools. The blonde girl set to work lighting the burner and placing the can above it, heating the tar to coat the boat with.
“Let’s get to work!” The three girls brightly cheered and set to work, delicately chipping away at the debris. Little by little, the barnacles and stuck debris fell to the landing as the girls puttered around and under the hull.
“I’ll grab some pails and sponges for the rinse.” Ayumi straightened and walked to the office while the other two girls finished up on the scraping. She opened the closet and grabbed two pails and enough sponges for the three of them, and went back to the landing. The waiting area was occupied by a resident, who greeted her.
“Good afternoon,” Ayumi returned the greeting. “How are you today?”
The resident smiled. “It’s been a good day for me. I hope nothing bad has happened with that ferry boat your employees are working on.”
The rust-haired girl chuckled and shook her head. “We’re just cleaning it. It should be ready by the afternoon rush.”
“I hope to ride it when I go home tonight, then.”
Ayumi exchanged goodbyes and headed down to the landing. A nearby faucet provided clean water for their buckets as the three rinsed the hull and sponged away the slimy films and salt accumulations. The three girls heard a voice calling for them and looked to see Tomoe at the prow waving at them. The green-haired woman walked to them after the few passengers left and walked away from the square.
“Oh, are we cleaning this boat?” The three nodded. “Ah...I did feel like we forgot something. It has been three months…Do you want us to cover you for the next half hour?”
“Please,” Ayumi nodded. “We still have to recoat the hull. It should be done by the time you arrive, though.”
Tomoe grinned. “Alright, we’ll cover you for just one more ride. You better finish by the time we get back!” The four exchanged goodbye, and the green-haired woman walked up and guided the waiting passengers to the boat, where Arya was waiting for them. The three girls called out goodbyes to the two gondoliers as they cast off and rowed up the canal.
“It looks clean. Let’s rinse it and dry it off.” The three girls poured and splashed water on the now clean hull, running their hands along the coated wooden surface. Pressing their sponges dry, they wiped the hull dry to prepare it for coating. Getting thick mitts from the waiting area, Kaela gingerly lifted the can of tar and put it on the ground to the side of the boat. Without words, the three girls picked up brushes and set to work coating the hull with the freshly melted tar. The excess tar dripped to the concrete floor, blemishing the previously gray with drops of black. The smell of tar also drifted to the waiting area, where a couple of customers watched on.
Mid-afternoon in Neo-Venezia brought little relief from the heat. The sun continued shining from a lower perch in the sky, casting shadows under the buildings. A crowd of passengers gathered around the dock to see a beached traghetto. Ayumi stood at its side and two girls stood in front of its prow.
“Alright - let’s push it back to the water slowly,” Ayumi called over the murmurs and small conversation at the dock. Tomoe and Arya nodded, the pale girl untying the rope and taking it in her hands and the senior helping Ayumi push it from the other side. With small pushes, the three girls slowly slid the boat to touch the water. Ayumi climbed up the prow and walked into the front perch, taking an oar and using it to push the boat further into the canal. With one final push, the boat smoothly glided onto the water amidst applause.
The girl pulled the rope into the boat and walked all along the boat’s length, checking for leaks - there were no obvious ones. She then smoothly maneuvered the boat onto the dock, quickly tying it to the posts before standing to meet the other employees waiting for her up the landing.
“It rows much, much smoother,” Ayumi gushed. “We really shouldn’t forget this stuff.”
“I was about to say that the boat was dragging a bit more than I remembered,” Arya murmured. “I’m glad we remembered about it - I forgot as well.” Nods came around the group in agreement.
“It’s no problem - all went well!” Ayumi grinned. “We probably will work on the other boat tomorrow noon.” She looked at the crowd at the waiting area - it was full of eagerly waiting passengers forming on an orderly line
The girls giggled. “Guess we should get back to work.”
Sorry for the really late delivery! I already have an idea for the next chapter, though, so it should arrive on the weekend.
It was Ayumi’s turn to cook tonight. The other four girls gaped as the rust-haired girl triumphantly slammed a large sizzling plate of stir-fried chicken and vegetables onto the table, completing a pointedly Japanese meal with miso soup, salad, and fresh rice. A quick series of motions brought chopsticks and utensils for all five of them, and the girl brightly clapped her hands to top off her finished work.
“Thank you for the meal!” The girl bowed among cheers and sat herself with her peers. The meal was especially delicious, and the conversation was especially lively this evening - considering the exciting events that occurred during the day.
“That surprise visit scared me,” Kaela mentioned. “When I saw Alicia, I could swear my heart stopped beating for a bit…”
“Yeah, they really did carry through with the surprise inspections,” Ayumi agreed between spoonfuls of food. “I heard they also inspected Himeya’s and Orange Planet’s traghetto crews today, almost at the same time that they looked at our boats.”
“I’m glad we cleaned the boats that other day…” A chorus of assenting murmurs from the table as the girls remembered the smell of hot tar and fresh paint they used to spruce up their boats a few days ago.
Tomoe looked up from her soup to chime in. “That other announcement was such a pleasant surprise, though. Two new boats! Shiny and painted with the green stripe...what an exciting way to end the day.”
“It’s odd, though,” Ayumi pondered, “We asked for one boat so we can stagger maintenance and distribute the wear and tear, but why did they give us another?”
“I mean, the other two companies have more than enough boats for their branches, so maybe they got some unused ones and spruced them up...better than retiring or dismantling them, I suppose.”
“I can’t wait to see how they fare in the water,” Ayumi remarked. “I’ll take it for a spin just before we start tomorrow. Anyone up for some early morning rowing?”
The animated conversation lasted well into the night, well after the dishes have been washed and the kitchen cleaned. The five of them lounged in the company room - some of the girls happily digging into some gelato and the others preferring to enjoy a warm apple cider. Four of the girls finished their desserts and lazily lounged around the room, sharing some muted conversation. Ayumi looked up, having been staring down at her steaming mug of cider in deep thought, and cleared her throat to gain her employees’ attention.
“I’m thinking of sending one or two of our four traghetti to a new route,” Ayumi declared. Her four peers looked at her curiously as she went to get a map from their office room. The girls’ cups and bowls were quickly moved to the side as Ayumi knelt in front of the coffee table and unfurled a map of Neo-Venezia’s waterways. A line marked in green showed their current route - stretching from the main city square, cutting through San Marco’s Rio dei Barcaroli before rejoining the Grand Canal which they traverse to the company dock in Campo Sta. Sofia. With a pen, the girl gingerly marked with red dashed lines a longer and more ambitious route - through Rio de San Giovanni Laterano, then a left turn to reach the northern edge of the city, then a right turn to hug the edge line until they reached the Celestia pier.
“Celestia hasn’t been tapped by the two large gondola companies yet,” Ayumi remarked. “It’s a pier on the northeastern edge of Neo-Venezia that brought in some goods from Murano island and beyond. Since the city council banned motorized boats in the city, the port has been getting much more business since the cargo boats can’t just dock in San Marco anymore and have to drop anchor at the outer piers.”
The rust-haired girl picked up another pen and drew yellow dashed lines into the map - this time, stretching from the Celestia pier and piercing through the Rio de la Pleta to rejoin the Grand Canal, then a right turn to reach San Marco Square. “I want us to be part of their growing business - we can row customers or cargo from there to San Marco, or back to our company dock. It's a longer set of routes, but it's bound to be a very busy one once word gets out.”
The room suddenly came alive with conversation as the employees excitedly reacted to the plans. Questions and discussion flew through rapidly - who's going to row? What kind of cargo will we be carrying? Will one or two boats for each route be enough?
“That's why I want us to row there early tomorrow morning, all of us. We’ll see what the route looks like and we might even see how busy the pier is.”
“We don’t have enough people to row four boats with,” Arya piped up. “We need at least eight people to man all four of our boats. Maybe we should look at inviting more trainees again?”
Tomoe stood and walked to the office - she returned with a small stack of files that she quietly distributed among the five of them. Ayumi opened the first file she got - it was a form detailed with information of a Himeya trainee gondolier that applied for the first batch of Green Dream trainees.
“Tomoe, don’t tell me you spent nights doing this.”
“I may have,” The green-haired woman giggled. “I figured we’d need these eventually.”
Silence filled the room as the girls perused the files. Kaela gasped when she read a former colleague’s file and application. “I never knew she wanted to come work with us too.”
Eliza adjusted her glasses as she reached for another file. “Hopefully, most of these people still want to join us. Some of them may have gotten disheartened after the first pick.”
“At which case they won’t be cut out for the job,” Arya retorted. “Traghetto work is much more tiring and much less prestigious than Undine work. If you don’t love the work, you’ll quickly hate it.”
“A harsh but fair point,” Tomoe remarked. “In any case, if they still want to join they are most certainly welcome. I think me, Ayumi, and Kaela can take a trainee under our wing - that brings us up to eight.”
Arya and Eliza started to speak, but Ayumi quickly cut in. “No, it’s not that you’re not good enough. However, Kaela does have a year’s experience on you and she can easily match with another Single - probably her friend if she’s still interested. You two will probably end up rowing together - which would be great for you two to work on your rowing and ferrying skills.”
Ayumi furled the map and stood, holding her now empty mug. “ Anyway, we’ll arrange things with the new trainees once they move in. I’ll take care of the search for trainees. For now, just keep up your good work!”
The cue was taken by the four employees, who also stood and cleaned up. As they started to filter out of the common room, the rust-haired girl sent them off with a reminder.
“Oh, and don’t forget our early morning trip tomorrow!”
It was humid and cool the next morning. The summer sun was just about to show in the horizon when the five girls stepped into the two new boats and unmoored them. With a gentle push from Eliza on one boat and Tomoe in the other, the boats pushed off from the dock and into the small canal. With smooth motions, the two boats cleared the canal and turned left into the empty Grand Canal. Lamps along the edges of the canal gave them some vision, showing the worn facade of the buildings that lined the waterway. An illuminated covered bridge came into view as the boats traversed a bend in the canal.
Ayumi piped up as she rowed from the front of the forward boat. “The Rialto bridge. Although we usually pass this when heading to San Marco, we’ll be turning left to the canal right before it. Follow my lead, Eliza, Arya.” A sweeping motion brought her boat into a much narrower canal - Eliza and Arya smoothly followed in their boat.
“We’ll take the first left and then the first right.” The waterways were tight in this part of Neo-Venezia, and gondole parked along the various buildings made for an even tighter squeeze. The buildings towered over them, letting very little light through. The lamps that hung on the boats’ prows provided enough light to safely row with, but casted large shadows over the tall facades. The boats joined the larger Rio de San Giovanni Laterano, and the girls saw the first hints of sunlight peek in between the buildings. They pressed on, announcing their presence before crossing the first large intersection. With the busier and larger canal they saw the first stirrings of life - clothes being hung from terraces, the occasional personal gondola, the scent of breakfast and sounds of cooking filtering in from some of the homes.
“I’m glad we had breakfast before we left.” The five girls chuckled as they plied the larger waterway eastward. A fork in the canal appeared; they took the left fork and continued on. Some residents looked on at them as they rowed; a stray cat mewed and followed them along the walkway until it ended. After crossing a small T-intersection, Ayumi signaled them to take the next left. The once placid water became slightly choppier as they neared the city’s edge. Small bridge after small bridge blocked their view until they gave way to open water just ahead.
“We’re almost there.”
The two boats stopped as the girls took in the view. The sun shone just over the horizon to their right; boats of varying sizes puttered through the water ahead of them. Ahead of them, some distance away, stood the large Venetian cemetery island, bristling with carefully-tended cypress trees.
The two boats turned right and stayed close to the city’s edge. As they rowed, they passed a large walled garden to their right, with ivy and trellis creeping over the top of the wall. The sound of dock activity alerted them to their destination just up ahead - the Celestia pier. Even at this time of day, motorboats and gondole of various kinds are already moored in the pier, with men and women hauling produce and goods onto the pier or into their boats. A passenger ferry was also there, with few people walking out and into the dock.
“Alright - we’ll dock here and I’ll introduce you to the harbormaster.” The two gondolas slid into the docks and stopped as the girls tied and stepped off them. The five girls walked to the center of the dock, where a lit booth produced a silhouette of the Celestia pier’s harbormaster. As they approached, the harbormaster’s head peeked out the booth - a brunette girl grinned at Ayumi, recognizing her.
“Morning,” the brunette greeted Ayumi. “Welcome to my dock. Were these the employees you mentioned the other day?”
The rust-haired girl nodded. “With luck, you’ll be seeing these faces on the regular pretty soon.”
“I hope I do, too,” the harbormaster agreed. “Word gets around here pretty quickly, and I’m sure at least a couple businesses based at Murano or Vignole wouldn’t mind moving from the busier Arsenale port and avoid competing with large ships for docking space or the high fees - as long as someone’s there to take their cargo closer to market.”
“And that’s partly why I came here today too,” Ayumi piped up, producing a small bundle of papers. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to post these notices in the waiting area - they just have our name, our proposed routes, and our usual pricing. Can we put them up?”
“Of course, of course,” the brunette waved the question off. “Whatever it takes for you to get business here, miss Jasmine - it’ll only help us both. I know you’re busy, so I’ll get you right to it. Best of luck!”
The traghetto employees exchanged goodbyes with the harbormaster and walked to the main covered waiting area. The girls posted their small flyers on the waiting area’s bulletin boards and handed them to waiting passengers as they introduced themselves. After they distributed the flyers they quickly returned to their boats and undocked, heading back to Santa Sofia before the working day begins anew.
The summer sun quickly took to the skies in the early morning. The previously dark, narrow waterways they traversed earlier became much brighter and easier to see in. It also saw more traffic - a gondola moving the opposite direction squeezed between the traghetto gondolas and the facade.
Ayumi faced Tomoe as they completed a turn. “Tomoe, do you have the time?” The green-haired girl pulled out a pocket watch from her uniform and indicated it was a quarter before seven o’clock in the morning.
“Oh, good - we can catch our breath before the first boat has to leave.”
The two boats reentered the Grand Canal, now filled with life. Some trainee Undines traversed the canal, eager to start the day’s training early. Several personal gondolas and rowboats can be seen gliding on the water as well. Ayumi turned the first boat into the small canal that led to their dock, and Arya followed behind her. The dock’s waiting area was filled with people, some of them waving to the gondoliers as they rowed into the dock and started to disembark.
Ayumi was the first to step off, heading straight into the waiting area. Among the various passengers sat two familiar faces - a bespectacled girl sporting an orange ponytail and a smaller girl with black bob-cut hair. The two girls got up and greeted the surprised Ayumi.
“Atora, Anzu...what are you doing here? It’s been so long!” The three girls convened for an embrace, and Ayumi looked over the two girls as they broke the hug.
“Hold on...where’s your cap? And isn’t that…” Atora, as strict as she was with her uniform even outside of duty, was not wearing one today. Both she and Anzu sported a different uniform - instead of the Orange Planet regalia, their gowns were adorned with a green strip.
“Your uniform,” Atora finished her friend’s thoughts and looked at her. “We’ve been thinking about it for a while now. The time we spent on the traghetto was the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had in my entire career.”
“When we talk to the people who spend their lives here,” Anzu chimed in, “I missed it when we stopped. When I was talking about the Bridge of Sighs for the hundredth time I felt so hollow.”
“And so here we are - and all we want is to work in the traghetto, just like we used to. I do hope you will have us, Ayumi.” The two girls bowed to Ayumi, who quickly reddened as more passengers and her employees took notice of the scene unfolding in front of them.
“W-well,” Ayumi stuttered, taken aback for a second. She quickly recovered, however, and sported a grin. “I really can’t say no to you two. Not with your dedication to come in so early in the morning, and especially not with your obviously prepared speech.”
The three girls tittered and smiled at each other for a moment, before Ayumi suddenly took on a fierce, stern look. “Very well, then. From this moment on, you are hereby employed by the Green Dream traghetto company for sufficient pay and room and board - as long as you still remember how to row, that is.”
The two girls grinned at their friend. “We look forward to working with you!”
This chapter has been long overdue. I honestly thought I could juggle studies and fanfiction writing, but that obviously didn't happen. Good news is, I graduated (yay me!) and I should be settling into a more regular sort of thing. With a regular schedule comes regular fanfic!
In the making of this chapter I realized that Campo Sta. Sofia is an actual traghetto dock in today's Venice. Building from there, the route to Celestia (also a real dock) described to you in this chapter was taken straight from real-life Venice thanks to Google Maps and Street View! I highly recommend taking some time going around Venice on Google Maps - it's wonderful.
This also ends the first iteration of "Traghetto Girls". The story definitely isn't over, but I'm thinking about demarcating the storyline and writing separate works for them. In any case, once the holiday dust settles, I definitely will continue writing - I have much more in store for our traghetto employees.
Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!