The harbour was huge and as soon as I took my first step towards the ship, I knew there was no going back. People of all different shapes and sizes bustled around me, shunting me out of the way as they lugged their cargo around with them.
I locked my eyes onto the ship I knew was going to be my home for the next God-knows how many years. Clutching my sack of possession closely to my chest, I pressed forward through the sea of sailors.
Once I’d reached the ship, a haggard-looking shipmate caught my eye. I didn’t head on board, but instead veered off in his direction. He looked up at my boredly. Lifting up his quill he said, “name?”
“Ashwin Allerton,” I replied cooly, sounding much more confident than I felt. But I think the way my hands shook violently at my chest where they squeezed the strap of my bag gave away my nerves. I saw his eyes skim over them, and I knew that he hadn’t missed it.
“Age?” He quizzed me again, just as gruffly.
“Sixteen, sir.” I told him.
“Up you go, then, Allerton,” he waved a dismissive hand as he scratched my name down into his accounts book. I frowned, hanging back. He looked at me in mild surprise.
“Uh, don’t you need my permission papers?” I asked, moving so I could rifle around in my bag for them. The man gave me an exasperated look and I stopped.
“Sixteen,” he repeated, “yer adult enough for this ship. Now get up on there, Allerton, before I change my mind.”
“Ah, okay, right,” I stammered, scrambling for the steps. I looked over my shoulder nervously, wondering if that was okay. The sign had said we needed permission slips, I thought worriedly.
I almost felt like collapsing in relief once I made it on deck. Now I was aboard the ship, the air was no longer rank with body odour and fish like the jetty, but it was fresh and I could almost taste the salt in the air when I breathed. I glanced around myself in awe. Airships really were something else. I had watched them growing up because I lived right on the dock and when my sisters, brothers and I were much younger, we would play games. Being the eldest child, I would always be the captain. I’d call the shots and shout out “sky pirates!” whenever I wanted a change of pace.
Now I was on the real thing, I could help but feel incredibly nervous. While I knew my job here would be pipe and valve work, I had no idea where to find my superiors or what to do. I was tall and I had been told by many people that my appearance was striking so I supposed I’d be noticed soon enough and directed to the right place.
My fears were quelled instantly when I felt a large, warm hand on my shoulder. I turned around and found myself face-to-face with yet another hulking crew member. Why was everyone here so huge? Well, air ships are hard work to run manually. They’d need to be strong, I rationalised with myself.
“You,” he looked down at me and I was almost quaking in my books again, fear returning with full force.
“What’s your name?”
“Allerton,” I replied, then added quickly, “sir.”
“Allerton… Allerton…” He seemed to be thinking hard about something. “Nope. And because I definitely do not recognise your name, I’m going to assume you’re one of our new ship boys.”
“Yes, I am, sir.”
He jerked his thumb towards the centre of the deck, where a young boy was scrubbing the planks furiously with an oversized mop. “That’s where you’re starting today,” he told me and I had no choice but to comply as he thrust a similar sized mop towards me. Although, when I held it, I’m sure it looked much like a regular sized brush unlike when the other kid scrubbed with it.
I took the mop from him, nodding curtly before making my way over to where the other ship boy was cleaning. There were no other buckets of water on the deck so I could only assume we’d be sharing.
“Hello,” I smiled, dropping my mop into the scummy depths of the water pail and then splashing it onto the deck, swapping the wood in a circular motion.
“Hi.” He said, looking up at me. The boy was a lot shorter up close, but I was chalking that down to age. He looked young, and had huge blue eyes and thick black hair which caught the light in a peculiar way, giving it a silvery shine. I would have placed him in a fancy school with his pretty-boy looks, not an air ship.
“I’m Ashwin, by the way,” I said after a while of us working in silence. “Ash is fine, though,” I added.
“Flint,” he replied, leaning against his mop, “Flint Orphos.”
“Well, Flint, it’s nice to meet you.” I grinned.