Ageless, A Serial Novel Ch. 9

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Ageless
By James R. Colbert, Jr. and David R. Smith

Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 9

The wagon let her off at the edge of town, near a small ramshackle port in what used to be one of Rochester’s finest hamlets. As Lucy slid free of the cart and shimmied past the remaining passengers a few disinterested porters moved about, stacking cargo, or resting from the heat of the noonday sun.

Casually, she crossed the dock and headed toward an area heaped with large boxes and crates of wilting produce, studying the people around her as she went. They were ordinary people, workmen, traders, women with dirty children running about. Once a proud metropolis, the city now existed as little more than a haven for the hopeless and poor. Lucy felt almost sickened by it.

She moved with ease through the bustling crowd and went straight out to the water’s edge. So this was the place where Darin West was headed, Lucy thought. Perhaps, if she had used her instinct correctly it was. Losing West in the market was bad business, but as luck would have it a local farmer informed her that he usually ended up here since few other shipyards existed nowadays. Still, Lucy was certain West would be there, or she wouldn’t have chanced Dr. Stewart’s trail going cold days prior to coming and find out.

A faint plan was beginning to form in the back of her mind, vague and nebulous. As she thought she began to walk, placing her hands in her pockets, looking around and taking in the scenery. The port was mostly a disarray decrepit shops, wooden carts, and tattered tents, with crowds of people attempted to sell their wares or package goods for shipment.

The crowds thinned out the further she walked, leaving behind much of the noise and commotion that accompanied it. In the sky above thick rain clouds began to lumber in, carrying with them a cool wet breeze. This was a seemingly insignificant shipyard; one of many Lucy had visited throughout her career – just right for those wishing to come and go without notice. Here, the good doctor’s legacy would be lost, considered wholly unimportant to most whose primary concerns centered on procuring tomorrow’s sustenance and much-needed supplies. And, it was a place far removed from the regime’s prying eyes.

Lucy walked back and entered a tent at the far end of the docks that doubled as a lunchroom. As she sat down an elderly woman with glasses came over and quietly washed the battered card table, before wiping her hands on her white apron.

“Coffee, please,” Lucy said.

The woman brought back the cup and smiled as she handed it to her. There were only a few people in the makeshift cafe. Outside farmers and traders moved leisurely about.

“Say,” Lucy said, stirring her coffee with the tip of one finger. “Where could a girl get some work around these parts? Do you know?”

“What kind of work, misses?” The old woman replied, again wiping her hands on her apron.

“Electrical. I’m an electrician. The gov’s trying to restore the grid.” Lucy sipped her coffee.
“That sort of stuff.”

“Why don’t you try the industrial areas? Buffalo. Albany. Saratoga Springs.”

Lucy shook her head. “They got enough people out those ways. I’m looking more towards the southern tier region.”

Lucy paused for a moment.

“Of course, I would need transport. I figure I could work for my fare, maybe repair some electronics for the right person in need.” She shifted a little in her seat. “Oh, but that person would have to be trustworthy. The road’s a dangerous place for a girl all on her own.”

The old woman laughed. “That is true. A lot of people here would be glad to have extra help.” She wrinkled her brow. “So, you’re an electrician?”

“Do you know of any people in need of electrical service? Engine repair or the like?”

“None that I can think of. But I’ll keep an open ear.” The old woman went off to wait on some men that had come in. Had she made a mistake? Maybe West already came and left on one of the many freighters at the docks. Maybe she had been wrong about where he’d be headed. Nevertheless, Lucy’s instincts still felt right.

The old woman came back. “DW,” she said.

Lucy replied with a puzzled face.

The old woman smiled. “Darin West. He’s a good sort and known to fiddle around with those electronics of your’s. He might be interested in a trade.”

Lucy heart nearly stopped. She could hardly suppress her excitement. “Is he here?”

The old woman scratched the top of her head. “Well, that I don’t rightly know. He comes and goes so often.” She looked about the tent. “If he were I’d wager you find him loadin’ up at the docks.”

Lucy reached out and patted the top of the old woman’s hand in appreciation. She then paid for her coffee. “Thank you.”

“Once in a while the men go up the road and trade. There’s some sort of Government station out that way.”

Lucy nodded and waved goodbye. She pushed through the canvas flap opening and stepped out onto the hot pavement. For a time she walked aimlessly, deep in thought, turning her nebulous plan over and over again inside her mind. It was a good plan; it would solve everything, and with it the government would finally secure Dr. Stewart. But right now that all hinged on one thing: finding Darin West. He was the key and she only had the faintest of clues to his whereabouts, if it was really a clue. She dipped inside her jacket pocket and touched her ID card, folded and neatly creased. With that and a little faith she hoped she knew what she was doing.

A Government station. Lucy paused, looking around. Across the lot, there was a horse and buggy used as a taxi service, and a couple of cabbies sitting on the bed, smoking and gabbing amongst themselves. It was worth a try. Besides, there wasn’t much else she could do. West would be worth finding out, even if he was only Dr. Stewart’s contact on the surface. And, if the Government was trading illegally with the townsfolk no one would ask her any unwanted questions. They would be all too accustomed to remembering the punishment for ‘failure to comply’ with the rules.

She went over to the cabbie. “Hey, mister,” she said, “can you tell me something?”

The cabbie exhaled a great puff of smoke and looked up. “What do you want to know?”

“They tell me there might be a man by the name of Darin West out at the Government station. Is that right?”

The cabbie studied Lucy intently for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, DW’s out there. Why you askin’?”

“I’m hoping he might need some hired help.”

“That I don’t know. Old West kind of keeps to hisself.”

“Can you take me there?” Lucy brushed her hair behind one ear in a vain attempt to project an image of insecurity.

“Sure, if you’re willing to pay.” The cabbie lifted his cigarette to his lips and took a deep inhale.

“I can pay.”

Lucy rummaged in her pockets and retrieved a small amount of currency. The cabbie took it from her.

“Can’t say he’ll do any hiring, though. West don’t take many folks on.” The cabbie squeezed in one last drag and then threw what was left of the cigarette in a smoldering lump to the ground.

“All right.”

The second cabbie hopped out of the bed. “If West ain’t interested the guys at the station might be, but they’re real choosy. They don’t hardly let anybody in. Some kind of war work, I think.”

Lucy’s ears pricked. “I’ve never heard about a war?”

“They come into town and pick up a load of workers every couple of days. Maybe a truck full. Like I said, they’re real careful who they pick.”

“Is that right?”

“Work going on day and night. But nobody knows why. After the last war, you’d think there’d be no one left to fight.”

The other cabbie poked the man’s shoulder and gave him a solemn glare instructing him to shut up. “Enough talk. We best be going now.”

Lucy stared at the men bewildered. Considering the level of her rank she had no idea why she has not heard of such talks of war.

“Hop in, little lady,” the cabbie said. “It’ll take some time, but we’ll get you out there.” He then stepped around Lucy and climbed in the front of the cart.

Lucy gently dropped her bags on the bed and slid in the back. She had plenty to do, now that the first step of her mission was over. Darin West was in Rochester after all, and apparently she was going to speak with him very soon. But could the next step be done alone? For some unknown reason, the Agency disavowed all involvement in her mission, at least for the time being. Perhaps this had to do with all the talk of war. Still, that didn’t explain why? During the trip out to the government station, Lucy pondered all these things deeply. There was only one person who might have the answer, even if it was a long shot. Now more than ever she needed to find Dr. Stewart. If Darin West was here then Stewart might not be so hard to find. . .

 

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