I waded through the crowd of sailors and onlookers, trying to reach the ship I'd set out to find. "'Scuse, me," I muttered politely as I pushed through the mass of people - mostly men, many a few years older than myself and a few about my age. "Pardon," I said as I nearly ran into a passing sailor. "Might wanna keep an eye out ahead of you," I added under my breath after he'd passed out of earshot. I approached one sailor, who seemed weary and a little irritated, and also seemed to be in charge of admissions.
As I drew near to him, he lifted a quill at the ready to write, and said, "Name?"
"Pat," I replied simply. "Pat Dixon." I shifted my feet, slightly uncomfortable with all these people, as he scratched out my name on his parchment.
"Age?" He asked, glaring up at me. He reminded me of my uncle - not outwardly unkind, but gruff in a way that could seem unfriendly.
"I'm fifteen years old," I answered quickly, my thoughts still on uncle and my astonishment at the fact he'd actually allowed me to come here. He'd always told me I'd be needed at the field repair shop with him until I came of age; but he'd signed my permissions without question.
Speaking of those papers... "Permission?" the sailor asked me, holding out a hand expectantly. I hastily retrieved the piece of paper from my pack and held it out for him to take. He snatched it from me and unrolled it, his eyes scanning speedily down the page before nodding and jerking his head at the ramp to the right of where I stood. "Up you go, Dixon," he said, looking at me with what seemed to be the aging man's best attempt at an encouraging smile. It looked almost predatory to me, and I hesitantly walked onto the ship, breathing deeply of the sweaty, hot air.
I was used to the smell, of course - fuel mixed with sweat and sometimes smoke - from my years at the airship field. So, I inhaled deeply, letting the familiar scents greet my nose and take me back to the comfort and familiarity of my uncle's home, even if only for an instant before I opened my eyes at a disturbance. There was a sound ahead of me, the sound of footsteps heavily moving towards me. A man appeared from around a corner, carrying a mop and a bucket of water. He was walking straight toward me - oh, this would be brilliant.
"You," the sailor said, looking at me as though I were some disgusting filth, "take this an' go find the other two ship boys. You'll be workin' with them for now." Then he stomped off, leaving me with mop and bucket in hand and a growing sense of frustration boiling over in my head.
After a brief search, I located the other two boys the sailor had mentioned and silently set to work scrubbing the floor alongside them. I was happy to be silent, until one of them extended a hand in greeting.
"I'm Ashwin," the boy said. "Ashwin Allerton. Good to meet you."
I shook his hand. "Good to meet you, too," I replied quietly. "I'm Pat Dixon."
The other boy then introduced himself as Flint Orphos, and we went back to our work.
After a long silence, Ashwin spoke again, much to my annoyance. "So," he said, "where are you from, Pat?"
I betrayed no hint of my inward irritation, for I would have been just as happy to clean the floors in silence and be alone with my thoughts. I replied simply, "I'm from the south end of town. I worked in an airship field, so I know more about them than a lot of people - how they work, anyway." After a momentary silence, being unsure what else to say and with no verbal response from either Flint or Ashwin, I added, "I used to overhear sailors swapping stories while I was working on their ship. Once, I even had to repair the entire left portion of a ship's hull - thing looked like they'd speared her on a giant flagpole or somethin', can you believe that?"
Ashwin laughed at the description. "What'd it turn out they actually did?"
"Pirates," I said. Flint and Ashwin both nodded in understanding.
Having shared enough of the story, I fell silent again and once more we worked quietly at our task.