By Caleb Fast
“There’s nothing like it,” Matthew Campbell whispers in awe as he stares at the coastal cliffs that hem in his hometown of Crail. As usual, the sun is just beginning to set, and it is gently slipping behind the island. A fiery red sunset seemingly highlights the dark cliffs.
Crail is a small fishing village situated on one of the few islands that dot the vast oceans of Matthew’s homeworld of Sinclair. The hundred or so buildings that the village is comprised of are all built of the same monotone grey shale that the island is made of.
Sun-bleached wooden roofs lighten the scene, albeit slightly. A handful of homes are also painted with various shades of green, made from a seaweed that only the most patient people dared to make a paint from.
The harbor of Crail is bustling with other ships that make up the town’s meager fishing fleet. Matthew sighs as he realizes that once again, he is on the last ship to return home for the day. That means that the food waiting for him and the others would be cold by now—if there was even any left.
“And there’s nothing better than it,” Matthew’s dad, Heron Campbell, sounds from behind as he clasps his son’s shoulder.
Heron had been raised up to be a fisherman and sailor since the day he was born. For generations, the family business had been fishing, and Heron wasn’t about to let that change.
The problem is that Matthew has no intention to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Dad, I can’t stay here forever,” Matthew starts without turning to face his father. They had had this same conversation countless times before, and the answer always remained the same.
“And who would bring in the fish to feed the village?” Heron repeats the same exact argument he always used.
“You’ve got a whole crew. And besides that, Mark can take over for me,” Matthew volunteers his younger brother. Oddly enough, he had never tried telling his father to try recruiting his other siblings to sail in his place.
“Mark is too young to work the nets,” Heron replies. Matthew can hear him turn and march back across the deck of their small fishing ship toward the rear of the vessel.
“So was I when you first began teaching me! I can’t just stay here and fish for the rest of my life!”
“What else would you do?”
“I’ve got a bit of an idea,” Matthew replies as he turns and walks toward his father who is now at the ship’s helm. Matthew skirts around several members of his father’s crew as he makes his way across the now-crowded deck. Once he passes the ship’s sole mast, Matthew continues, “I was actually thinking I’d become a pilot or something. You taught me to navigate by the stars, so I’d never get lost. Besides, no one else would be able to do the same, they’d all depend on their computers to get around.”
“There’s already plenty of pilots out there, son,” Heron shakes his head, “You can ask any of the spacers when the next shipment comes.”
“But the next shipment isn’t due for another month!” Matthew whines as he starts tugging on a nearby rope to help draw in the sails.
Heron remains silent for several beats before he eventually says, “Tell them that,” Heron proceeds to point behind Matthew toward Crail. Sure enough, a space shuttle is slowly descending from the overcast skies above their home.
For as long as Matthew can remember, the Coalition had sent shipments of supplies and medicine to Crail once a year. Shipments usually were comprised of just a few large crates, many of which were already half-empty. But, the thrill of goods from alien planets made up for all they lacked–both in quantity and in usefulness.
In return for the measly shipments, the fishermen of Crail would fill up the freighter with most of their recent catch. Matthew was told that this was to meet a Coalition edict. Said edict dictated exactly how much fish had to be handed over and failure to do so was punishable by imprisonment.
Every year, the required amount of fish increased, which was always met with the same moaning and groaning from sailors like Matthew’s dad. Despite the countless complaints from the fishermen, the increased quotas remained, and threats of a greater increases loomed. The workload on the fishermen increased to keep the pace as each man slowly was worked to death.
Frowning, Matthew mutters, “Oh joy, more useless junk.”
“At least we get something in exchange for our work,” Heron points out optimistically as the wind slowly carries them toward Crail’s harbor.
“I wonder why they’re early,” Matthew muses as he finishes up his work with the sails, “I hope they haven’t come for this year’s collection.”
“Indeed,” Heron agrees with a slow nod.
For one reason or another, the Coalition Overseers who presided over the loading of fish insisted that all the fish be fresh. This meant that the people of Crail went hungry the weeks leading up to the Coalition’s arrival. Such measures were necessary to ensure only the freshest fish were stockpiled for the exchange. Every single fish that was caught for nearly a whole month went directly into cold storage to ensure that they were as fresh as possible.
Matthew makes his way to the bow of his family’s quaint boat as he scans the docks for his lifelong love, Dixie McNeil, who always welcomed him back ashore. Without much effort, he quickly picks her out of the crowd of people dockside, and he can’t help but smile. Even at this distance Matthew can’t help but admire her beauty.
“What’s going on?” Matthew shouts as he cups his hands over his mouth to ensure his voice carries over the choppy waters in the harbor.
Dixie cups her own hands over her mouth, and after a short moment, her faint reply is carried over the water, “Something happened!”
Matthew raises his right fist for Dixie to see to indicate that he had heard her. After a beat, he whispers to himself, “What could have happened to make them come all the way out here?”
“What’s the news?” Heron calls from the helm.
“Dix says something happened,” Matthew responds as he weaves his way back to his father.
“Why would they come all the way out here?” Heron wonders aloud.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Matthew concurs as Heron skillfully guides their fishing vessel alongside the dock where they eventually slow to a stop.
Matthew sees Dixie frantically waving him over and he quickly rushes over to the ship’s starboard railing. He pauses a beat as the crew catches some lines which are thrown to them by those on the docks. Once the lines are caught, the crew starts pulling their modest vessel closer to the dockside to unload the day’s bountiful catch.
Dixie works her way past the dozens of dockhands who are itching to finish unloading their final ship before they finally get to head home. Once she is near, she calls out, “They’ve called for us to meet in the workshop!”
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