Britney was waiting at home for her, six o'clock and all Christina wanted was a solid two hours sleep. She didn't take the proffered bribe - a bag full of mangoes - didn't say a word when Britney held the car door open. She did take the money.
Britney said, "Did you sleep with her too?"
It was six am, and instead of going home Don had insisted on the docks straight off. Christina took her bike, winding it carefully through the early morning traffic, sparse as it was. The only people really out this early were a few cars, a three-wheeler or two, and the occasional flyer. She directed them straight to pier section nineteen-alpha, with Don's car following carefully behind, Britney in the backseat.
Twice she had to stop when Don got caught in traffic while her bike slipped through. A trip that should have taken ten minutes ended up being nearly half an hour. Christina decided that cars really weren't worth it.
Steph wasn't even around yet; the whole pier was deserted. No ship in, no containers to move. They must have been in holding out in the bay. "Well," Christina said to them, "we can either sit here and wait, or take a boat to meet the ship."
Don was surprised. "You actually know someone on a ship?"
Christina looked at Britney when she said, "Yes."
Steph was a transient, living below-decks in one of the massive ocean liners. Half her life was spent in the water and the other half was spent hauling cargo around. Christina never shipped out with her across the ocean, never left sight of land, though she did spend four days with Steph when they did the slow hop up the coast and back again, dropping freight off at each major port. Most of that was hauling cargo too, but it was cash pay and at night they slept in hammocks rigged among the pipes and above the water level. In the lower decks the water was nearly up to your knees.
Christina suspected that all the shipboards were part amphibian. They never wore boots, never seemed to notice the water. She went barefoot like the rest of them but only through sheer force of will. By day two she was shivering constantly, with pnemonia. Steph had even let her have the nicest hammock, the one closest to the heater and hot water pipes, and still Christina had gotten sicker than any other time in her life.
Don's white suit had ash and stains and splotches on it from ALARM; it was yellowing and on the back someone's hand had left obvious fingerprints. Britney was a little smarter, she was dressed in shortshorts and not much else. Christina still had her fight clothes on, nothing but a bikini.
Don's face lit up. "I say we go and meet the ship."
Christina looked her up and down. "You'll have to change."
Don dismissed this suggestion with a flick of her fingers. "The suit's ruined anyway, how bad can it be?"
Christina shook her head. "You can't go onboard a ship's lower decks without following the dress code. It's an insult to those onboard." She nodded to Britney. "None of them can get much more fabric than that. They get work pants, and once a month a new shirt. Everything else is scrounged."
Don shrugged, stripped the jacket off, and after a minute kicked off her boots, since Britney had stiletto sandals and Christina the normal sandals she usually wore to bed. "You'll have to take off more than that." Don stripped her outer shirt off, too, left with just the undershirt that was painfully thin and had absolutely no style. Christina said, "now the pants."
Don stood there a minute, and Britney didn't say a word, but she pulled a switchblade from her pocket and very carefully cut the legs off Don's pants. They were looser, longer shorts than most people could afford, but they would do. Don stood there looking embarrassed while Britney took care of her. Christina suddenly felt very uncomfortable, and angry. "There," Britney murmured.
Christina was already stowing her bike, locking the ignition and clipping the helmet to the back. "Leave the car over there," and she pointed to behind a tool shed, out of the way if any containers came. "We gotta find a boat."
When Don went to move the car, Britney asked her, "how long were you and her sleeping together?"
"Not long," and Christina bent over, knees to the plastic deck plating. She was examining the work orders, trying to find a runner-sized dock vehicle that wouldn't be missed for the next few hours. "Long enough."
"how'd you meet her?" Britney asked.
Christina resisted the urge to snap at her. She didn't give a shit, anyway. "Pink took me on board a freighter one day," she told Britney. "No one on board is really allowed on land. It's never said, but there's no time to get off ship unless you leave permanently. I met her a bunch of times at work." She started pacing, trying to look busy as a flyer went overhead. She had the codes to use the deck vehicles, but Christina knew that she'd never get away with this as official business. It would be better to just not have to explain any of it. "Here, this one," and Britney held the mooring line while Christina punched in the unlock code to the slip. "It's big enough that all three of us will fit."
She helped Britney get on the back, and then showed her the safety strap, making sure Britney was secure before even turning to Don. "If you've never been on one of these, they're not easy to drive. So just sit still or you'll fuck up the balance." Don got on in front of Britney, and then Christina slipped in front, gripping the handles. She didn't even bother to check if Don was secured.
"Options are thin right now," Steph said, leading them back into her bunk - or really, the closet that her and three other guys shared, hammocks all stretched out, foot lockers warpped in plastic. "Especially for food. You'd be better off trying section twenty six, somebody there might be able to get you the exotic fruit you're looking for."
Don tilted her head. "You know who I might talk to?"
Steph sighed. "Yeah." Christina knew that once Steph passed Don off as a customer she wouldn't see any of the money, and that wasn't fair, because she'd already agreed to the shipping and storage space.
Don seemed to perceive this and asked, "What *do* you have access to?"
Steph asked, "What do you need? I can get clothes, some luxury items." Don nodded. "But mostly what this shipment has goes to the agricultural settlements three, four hundred miles inland. It's all farm stuff."
"Farm stuff, you say?" Steph nodded, and Don looked at Britney. "Like, for keeping horses?"
They left the pier with an order for a thousand feet of fencing, twenty sets of tack, saddles and bridles, and enough feed to keep twenty horses a month. "We'll be back here before then, don't worry. Feed needs to come in regular, and you can always buy it inland. Saddles, though, they're different, you have to get them imported, and we're the only ship that carries'em."
Don told her, "Don't worry. I don't intend to go anywhere else."