Water Rats Part 1: Hugh's View

Hugh Delany looked out his office window, seeing a view of a fairly nondescript section of Limerick. He was on King's Island, from which he either ruled or led Limerick, in a nice modern office, on the fifth floor of what had been a hotel. The question of whether he ruled or led never occurred to him, simply to that class of people who are unhappy with the current state of things, yet don't see any other way for things to be (We'll see what happens to some of these people shortly). Beyond the bounds of his control he was called a warlord. This realm covered all of Limerick City and was more loosely applied to a few kilometres of countryside in every direction.

But first, we need to see what Hugh saw. It wasn't actually a fantastic view, just the River Abbey flowing toward the Shannon, with a few canal boats gliding up and down, a few of them moored on the far bank. There was a market of sorts there, officially approved by him, and those moored there were his 'friends'. At any rate, they'd given him gifts, and that was good enough. At the back of his mind, he was aware that his underlings were also in receipt of gifts. There were buildings on the other side of the water, and a road with a few vehicles, and people walking, but Hugh knew those were nothing like as important to his power as what went on in the water.

When the world collapsed 5 years ago, the inflow of oil and goods to Ireland halted. This led to nearly all road transport halting, barring bicycles, horses and the few vehicles that were kept going by sheer willpower. 1 year into the new state of things, just after there started to be ships plying the seas again, water transport exploded. Canals became busy with poorly converted pleasure boats, moving things around the country. Old canals were recommissioned, and there was even talk of constructing new ones. The reason was clear: River transport was about a third of the price of land transport.

And with the boats came the boat people. Some of them had worked with boats for a living before, others had messed around at weekends, and some had thought 'It can't be that hard to work a boat'. The main routes, namely the Shannon-Erne and Grand Canals, were busy with big boats, heavily modified river cruisers equipped with a variety of motive power, drawing unpowered, gutted versions of themselves behind, loaded with whatever was saleable, with an emphasis on potatoes, turf and seaweed(for fertaliser). Families lived on those boats.

Then there were the currachs and other small boats, who jobbed up and down short stretches of river, coast and lough. These were normally locals who went home every night.

And amongst all these, were a massive number of people, variously called 'rogues' 'free spirits' and 'drifters', who didn't just live off their boat, but also lived for it, and the places it could take them. They made it their business to see every corner of the water in Ireland, dreamt of taking to sea and often lived aboard their boats. There was even a rebellious youth culture in there, known mostly as the Water Rats, who were basically equivalent to biker gangs, only in canoes.

These boat people occupied Hugh's mind right now. There had been quite a few small annoying incidents over the years, but now they were increasing in number, and his troops were in a small, energy-sapping conflict that had the potential to blow up and cause serious issues. Even worse, these people couldn't be controlled. They didn't want anything he had, he couldn't hold much threat to them, as they'd just float away to Dublin and beyond, or, more likely, attack him.

He watched the river. There was a boy in a green kayak, which looked to be carrying camping gear and a small box, wrapped up to protect against water. He was the very essence of a water rat, grubby looking and ready to camp. And he didn't have a Passage Mark on his Kayak.

The Passage Mark was a sticker for all watercraft that passed through Limerick, which had to be bought every year. Price varied by weight of vessel, either calculated reasonably by formula, or unreasonably generated by the harbour police. Hugh went to his desk and reached for his phone.

'Sarah, make a note for Mr Laure of the Harbour Police. From this day forwards, all canoes and kayaks are to have a Passage Mark. Non-payment results in destruction of vessel. Oh, and have them weigh the canoes at the harbour's office. Once you have it sent, make up a press release, really sell this to them.'

Hugh smiled as he hung up. He looked forward to the destruction of the water rats by the Harbour Police.

Author's note: Thanks for reading, I'm going to try to make a decent serial here.

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