Swamped Chapter 10 Page 21

“So how long have you worked on boat squad?”

“Well, I’ve been a Bogknight for fifteen years,” Lou says. “Got assigned to boat squad formally ten years ago, after two years of training, and I was given command three years ago when my predecessor retired. As for the rest of us, Mel’s been on the squad seven years, and everyone else has been on less than five.”

You’re not sure just how long that is. It all feels like a lot of time to be in the swamp, now that you think about it.

It strikes you that you don’t even know when the barge went into service.

“So when did we get the barge?” you ask.

“It’s been in service fifty years. ‘Course, in that time it’s had so many parts replaced that it might well be a whole new barge by now. But that’s why we’re here – to keep the thing working, whatever it takes. And it’s served us well! I’d say it’s a good step up from whatever we used before, but I don’t know what that was like.” He laughs. “Who does, though? Recordkeeper’s the only knight I can think of who might have been around back then.”

You consider asking John Recordkeeper about that at some point. But for now, you have some other questions on your mind.

“So, how’s the boat work? I mean, I know you put it on the water, and it floats, of course. But why’s this barge so good in the swamp, compared to other boats?”

Lou beams.

“Now that’s a question I always like to hear asked. You know how many of the knights here don’t even think about how the barge works, they just know it does? Warms my heart, it does. So let me tell you about it.”

He leans back against the wall.

“So, you’ve probably noticed that the swamp water has some nasty stuff in it. It’s a mess. Your average boat’s hull can’t take that for more than a few days, even less if some of the water beasts decide to attack it. And that’s not even accounting for stuff like the muckweed that just outright gets tangled in the rudder.”

You recall coming across the muckweed earlier, when you helped Walter out.

“But, making a stronger hull makes it harder for the boat to stay on the water. See, tougher materials are usually denser – that’s why it takes more work to break them, right?”

“Makes sense.”

“And if you’re too dense, you just sink.”

“So how does this boat get around that?”

“Well, the usual trick is filling the boat with enough air that it makes up for the density of the hull. But, usually you need a really big boat for that. Bigger than this one, which would be real impractical in the swamp. It’d keep getting caught on walkways and trees.”

“What’s this one do, then?”

Lou points to the wall behind him.

“Good question, ain’t it? You’ll notice that all the walls here are made of wood. But if you were looking at the outside, it’s not so wooden. That’s the outer shell. It’s a half-inch thick and made of a metal discovered about sixty years ago that’s both durable and water-resistant. Of course, it’s also really expensive, so that half-inch cost us a fortune. But, turns out you don’t need that much to reliably hold off everyday damage, long as you’ve got something reasonably sturdy behind it. Damage to the outer hull is pretty rare. Interior gets dents once in a while, but they’re not too hard to repair.” He laughs a little nervously. “The hard part’s checking the barge several times a day to make sure you didn’t miss any of them.”

“So how many people can fit on the barge?”

“Deck’s big enough for twenty to roam, fifty if you stuff someone everywhere you can. Hold’s got standing room for, oh, two hundred. In a pinch, we could probably fit the whole force on the barge, but it wouldn’t be comfortable for anyone. Our regular boats, the lifeboats and such, those can fit three, four if you’re willing to push your luck. If we ever had to evacuate, we’d put people in those first to relieve some pressure on the barge.”

“What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had to fix?”

Lou looks serious.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he says. “I’ll just say this – never leave the barge out in the rain.”

You’re suddenly aware that you’re glancing at your missing arm. You’re curious, but you also know exactly how sensitive a subject the rain is with people here. It’s probably best to move the conversation to another question, so you ask the first one that pops into your head.

“So, do you have a good map?” You take another moment to reflect and clarify. “Of the waterways, I mean. Got to know where it’s too narrow for the barge, right?”

“Yeah, we have a map hanging up in a corner of the cargo hold, in case someone goes rushing out on the ship and winds up in unfamiliar territory. Also got a few spares in our office, so we can replace it quickly if it gets chewed up by greatrats or something.”

He smirks a little.

“Yeah, it did. Seems they’d left the hold by the time we got here, though. Or, who knows, maybe the stowaways scared them off.”

You thank Lou for his time. You’ve learned a lot, and it’s about time for dinner.

You head to the mess hall, and on the way you run into Mary Baker carrying a box. She looks exhausted, even more so than Eve the night medic did.

“Is everything all right?” you ask.

“The storage room is a mess,” she grumbles. “Took me forever to find the box with Flame’s stuff. I’m tired and hungry and I’m going to see if I can get someone else to take it to the archives so I can just get some food.”

For a moment, you can’t help but consider volunteering despite the fact that you know that box is probably too heavy for your one arm. And, well, the whole reason she was looking for it was to help you out.

But it turns out you don’t have to think about that, because Walter happens to stop by.

“You need that to go to archives, Baker?” he says. “No problem. Get yourself some dinner. Oh, and nice work helping out boat squad, Marshall. And me, of course.” He smiles at you, and you can’t help but think of how cute that smile is as he walks off with the box.

The next thing you notice is the knowing smirk on Mary’s face.

“Well. Sounds like somebody’s had an interesting day,” she says. “Why don’t you tell me about it while we eat.”

That works for you. You walk with her to the mess hall, get your meals, and sit down.

What do you want to talk to Mary about?

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Suggestions:

Tell her about the new prisoners.

Ask if she knows of any bogknights that are under marshguard “care” right now. Will we transfer anyone back?