The river that leads into Bigg City from the North looks stunning in the summer. The flowers all come out, the trees are in full bloom and the sky is always clear. Such was the popularity of the river I decided to get in on it, and run special ferry services up and down the river during the tourist season. Obviously I had to acquire a passenger carrier from somewhere, but the one I chose didnt get off to the best of starts with the rest of my fleet. I remember it well.
I had made a special announcement after the morning briefing. One more thing, I announced, Due to the popularity of the river with tourists, I have decided to run ferry trips up and down it during the tourist season. For this, I have bought a pleasure steamer from a good friend of mine. Hercules has gone to meet her, and should be bringing her into port any minute now. Just then, the tugs heard a whistle and looked to see a tired looking Hercules towing in beautiful paddle steamer behind him. Morning mdears, he said as he drew nearer, I found this lovely lady out at sea, tells me someones bought her in Bigg City. The others chuckled, but were completely speechless when the saw the paddle steamer properly She had shining paintwork and brass that glinted brightly in the sun. Her hull was painted jet black, except for a small place near her bow where her name was painted in beautiful, writing. This, I said proudly, Is Starfire, our new paddle steamer. Do what you can to help her here and make her comfortable. The Star Tugs muttered an agreement, and some blew their hooters in welcome. Starfire seemed to be enjoying the attention, and graciously blew her whistle in gratitude. Alright thats enough of that, I said, cutting across the chorus of whistles, Hercules, they need you back up the coast. Re-fuel and then back up there. Yes sir, said Hercules as he steamed away to the coal depot. Big Mac, fetch Mighty Mo and take him to where that barge sank the other week. Aye sir, grunted Big Mac. Sunshine, your job is special. Take Starfire to the mooring station up river, thats where shell be based. Then go with Ten Cents to take fuel to Lillie Lightship. Aye, aye sir, tooted Sunshine eagerly, and he steamed over to where the steamer was waiting. He went a bit too fast, causing a powerful wake behind him. The wake hit Starfire, who drifted slightly to the right. Be careful, she snapped, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Sunshine blushed redder than a bell buoy, and slowly reversed. And I thought I had a wake problem, chuckled Warrior. The others laughed. Sunshine, still blushing, attached a line to Starfire, and steamed slowly away, determined not to annoy the beautiful paddle steamer.
Now, Sunshine was a friendly tugboat, and usually, when he is towing another vessel, he chats to them to pass the time. He did this with Starfire as he was towing her up river, but he hadnt anticipated that Starfire was not a particularly talkative vessel. And so, said Sunshine as they entered the canal leading to the river, I came to the Star Fleet. I had a slight accident with the S.S. Duchess, but I was forgiven, and made a member of the Star Fleet, and Ive never regretted it since. I usually work with Ten Cents, because were such good friends. We look out for each others, as friends should. Alright, I have a question, little switcher, said Starfire irritably. Oh yes, what is it?, asked Sunshine politely. Do you ever stop talking? I can hardly get used to my new surroundings if the noisy little tugboat supposed to be taking me there directly keeps on nattering on like a steam dredger. OK, Ill stop, said Sunshine in a small voice. He didnt say another word until they reached the dock I had arranged for Starfire. Right, here we are Starfire, said Sunshine cheerfully as he moored her at the pier, Hope you like it here. Firstly, dont simply call me Starfire. I am a lady, and should be called Miss Starfire by little switchers like you. Honestly, one should know ones place in a harbour. Alright, Miss Starfire, said Sunshine wearily, And what was the second thing?. Wheres my coal barge?, demanded Starfire, looking around the dock, Back at my old home, I always had a coal barge available for me at all times, for whenever I needed it. Where is it now?. Im sorry Miss Starfire, Captain Starr never said anything about a coal barge, said Sunshine. Well, fetch me one now, ordered Starfire rudely, The journey up here has wearied me, and I must rest now. I expect you back here within the hour. If you think your journey up here was bad, you should think about the one I had, muttered Sunshine, as he steamed off down river towards Bigg City.
Sunshine reached the coal depot, and saw a barge that had just been loaded with coal. He moved to try and take it, but Zak and Zebedee from the Z-Stacks were on coal detail for the day. They headed directly for the little switcher. Hey, snapped Zak menacingly, Whatya doing with our coal barge?. I need it, said Sunshine shortly. Ooh he needs it Zak, sneered Zebedee, Wed better not try and stop him, he may hurt us if we do. Look, I really need this barge, or any coal barge, said Sunshine exasperatedly, Its for the new Star Line paddle steamer. I didnt know Captain Starr was into the tourism trade, said Zak, Tug works probably not doing what it should. Yeah, especially with the switchers hes got, chortled Zebedee nastily. Sunshine was getting hot and bothered, he needed to get the barge to the demanding Starfire, and still be back in time to help Ten Cents. He managed to slip a line on the barge while Zak and Zebedee were guffawing at their own wit, but as he tried to pull away, he realised it was tied to Zak as well. I need this barge now!, said Sunshine, nearly shouting. Well youll just have to take it off us then, snarled Zak, revving his engine loudly. Whats going on here?, drawled a voice. Hercules had sailed up alongside and was looking distastefully down at Zak and Zebedee, who looked sheepishly back. Oh
nothing Hercules, they stammered. Well in that case, take your coal barges and go. Leave Sunshine alone. Honestly, I thought you Zeros had grown out of bullying switchers, said Hercules. Right away Hercules, sneered Zak maliciously, and he and Zebedee steamed away with their coal barges. Hercules watched them go with distaste and looked back at Sunshine. Ignore them mdear, theyre nothing to worry about, he smiled, So, why do you need a coal barge? I thought you had to take fuel out to Lillie with Ten Cents. Ach, that new paddle steamers been ordering me to fetch coal for her, said Sunshine grumpily, Honestly, shes taking liberties, and now Im gonna be late for Ten Cents. Oh dear, said Hercules, I thought something like this might happen. How do you mean?, asked Sunshine. According to the report Captain Starr got of her, shes always been like this, said Hercules, looking around in case anyone was listening, Its because her former captain was an old friend of Captain Starrs, he took her off his hands for a much cheaper price, but apparently shes always like this, seems to think she has high priority over other boats. All the same, the Captains word is law, he finished solemnly. Sunshine agreed. Well, Id better get this tub up to Starfire, he said, trying to sound cheerful, Bye Hercules. Good bye Sunshine, said Hercules, blowing Sunshine a friendly whistle as he steamed away.
By the time Sunshine had got back to the ferry dock, dropped off Starfires coal and returned to Bigg City, he was very late, and Ten Cents was very cross to see him arrive late at the fuel plant. Why are you so late Sunshine, quizzed Tem Cents as Sunshine steamed, panting, into view, We should have been there ages ago. If Lillies light has run out of fuel, then its a serious danger to shipping. I know, Im sorry, panted Sunshine as he hitched up to his fuel barge, That new paddle steamers more trouble than shes worth. She made me come all the way back down here to find a coal barge for her and take it all the way back up there. You should have told her no, said Ten Cents firmly, Shes part of a team and needs to learn about teamwork. I know, sighed Sunshine exasperatedly, But she is new here. Maybe shell be better tomorrow. Wistful thinking there Sunshine, said Ten Cents, but he said no more as they steamed towards Dender Rocks where Lillie Lightship would be waiting for them.
I put Ten Cents and Sunshine on mineral detail for the next few weeks. Ores such as iron and copper had to be ferried down to the smelting plants to be made in to metal, then transported by rail to factories in Bigg City to be made into girders, engine parts and so on. Ten Cents and Sunshines route took them past Starfires dock, but she never greeted them with a friendly whistle like the other boats did. In fact, she never said anything, and would always look away when their eyes met. Ten Cents couldnt understand. She would always talk to the other tugs. He remembered her having a conversation with Top Hat one time, but when hed sailed over, shed ignored him. Top Hat was friendly enough, but all the same, Ten Cents couldnt work it out. One day, he asked her about it. Why dont you ever say hello to me or Sunshine when we go past, he demanded, as he brought Starfire her coal barge, Were always nice to you. Youre a member of the Star Fleet. We may not always get on all the time, but were always nice to each other. Why arent you? Starfire scoffed as the yard crane began loading coal into her hold. Its quite simple, she said loftily, I am a paddle steamer, and a lady paddle steamer at that. I take tourists up and down the river so they can see the pretty sights and pay Captain Starr a lot of money. You, my dear tugboat, are a dirty little switcher who tows dirty little barges around your dirty little harbour. It is not ladylike for someone like me to associate with someone like you. Ten Cents could not believe his ears! How could this childish little steamer say things like this? Well youre not exactly the Mauretania yourself!, he snapped back, And if you think youre too good to talk to me, then maybe youre not good enough to be on the Star Fleet! Take that back!, demanded Starfire, letting off steam in anger. No, replied Ten Cents smartly, And in future, find some other tug to fetch you your precious coal barges. With that, Ten Cents cut the line on his coal barge, turned around, and steamed away, leaving Starfire shocked and enraged behind him.
Ten Cents still had to go up river to help Sunshine with the mineral barges, but they never said a word to Starfire. Starfire herself just ignored them completely, for which Ten Cents was glad. For her coal I arranged for Puffa the steam engine to take up a few wagons of coal for her whenever he went up river. Puffa did so because he liked to help those in need, but a few months later, the tourist season had ended, and began working to catch up on transporting goods from overseas and up river to where they were needed. I had an idea, one day, to use Starfire to help with this. I had Big Mac fetch her one day, and tow her to Luckys Yard. About 2 weeks later, she returned to the river, quite different. Id had her temporarily converted to accommodate more freight, with only a small part of her for carrying passengers. I knew Starfire wouldnt be pleased with this, but I made it clear to her that it was necessary. Your old captain may have been my friend, I said to her when she arrived, fuming, at the Star Dock, But youre my responsibility now, and it is important that we make every use of every vessel in my fleet to secure contracts for the winter months. Supplies will be in higher demand, so it will be important that we ferry as many supplies as we can up river for when the winter comes. Starfire glowered, but said nothing, and steamed off back up river.
The autumn came at last, and so did the weather. It rained considerably, but we had jobs to do. With the unprecedented rainfall, supplies such as bricks, mortar, sandbags and such were needed up river for flood defences. Ten Cents and Sunshine had the contract for moving these supplies up river, but, as they were needed in Bigg City as well, Starfire had to carry them the rest of the way. Starfire hated this job, so much that I suspected that it was starting to get to her. Had I acted sooner, I may have been able to prevent the events that followed
The water level rose as autumn carried on. This was dangerous as it hid rocks and sandbanks that were high in the water. The other boats knew where most of these places were and took precautions to prevents getting damage. Starfire however, did not know where most of these places where, and so carried on as normal. One day, Ten Cents and Sunshine had to take Little Ditcher and a supply of sandbags to Mittsville, a little way north of Starfires dock. As they left Bigg City, it began to rain. By the time they reached Starfires dock it was pouring down with rain. These sandbags will be reduced to mudbags at this rate Ten Cents, said Sunshine. Dont worry, replied Ten Cents cheerfully, Starfires waiting at her dock, well see if she cant help us out. Starfire was at her dock, in steam, but looking miserable. What do you want?, she snapped as they came closer. Starfire, these sandbags are needed up river and theyre getting ruined in this rain, replied Ten Cents firmly, They need to be kept dry, so can we put them in your hold for now until the rain stops?. Starfire said nothing for a moment. No, she replied smartly. What?, asked Sunshine, puzzled. Im not taking your filthy sandbags, or anything of your, not now, not ever, she replied, Ive told you before, I want nothing to do with common switchers like you! So take your stupid sandbags somewhere else, and leave me alone. If these sandbags arent dry, then theyll be useless, and towns up river could be flooded if these arent put in place!, snapped Ten Cents, And Captain Starrs orders are that all the Star Fleet have to work together to help. And youre part of the Star Fleet, so were putting these sandbags in you until they weather clears and that is final! Little Ditcher!, he called behind him, Help us load up will you?. Aye-aye, replied Little Ditcher. Sunshine made to swing him round so he was in position to transfer the sandbags from Ten Cents barge to Starfires hold. Ten Cents looked triumphantly up at Starfire, and saw that tears where appearing in her eyes. Oh whats up now?, he asked, a little more rudely than hed intended. JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!, shrieked Starfire, really sobbing now. She started her engines to full steam. The wash created by her paddles was so strong that it forced Sunshine and Ten Cents back, bumping into their loads. Starfire broke free of her moorings, and steamed off as fast as she could, paddling towards the mouth of the river that lead out to the estuary. Thats it, go away!, Ten Cents called after her, Good riddance!. Err, Ten Cents, said Sunshine slowly. Yeah?, replied Ten Cents sharply. You see where shes headed?, said Sunshine. Ten Cents looked, and saw, to his horror, that Starfire was heading to a part of the river where the rocks were only partially covered. If Starfire didnt get off there soon, she would hit one of the rocks, and at the speed she was going, she could end up with a gash along the length of her hull and probably sink. Weve gotta warn her!, shouted Ten Cents urgently, and he steamed off, whistling frantically, with Sunshine close behind, also whistling to alert the paddle steamer.
Starfire heard the whistles, but didnt stop, she was so distressed. She thought she heard something about rocks, but she ignored it completely. The next thing she knew was a searing pain across her hull. Ouch!, she yelled, as a rock tore a gash in her hull, and water began to pour in. Luckily, Starfire has sailed onto a part of the rocks that supported her and stopped her from going down, but she was still taking on water fast, and soon she would be too heavy and would surely sink. Help!, she cried, whistling to attract the attention of any vessels close by.
Ten Cents and Sunshine steamed up as fast as they could, thrashing their engines to make as much speed as possible, to get to Starfire before it was too late. They arrived, but couldnt go much further in case they holed as well. What are we gonna do now!, shouted Ten Cents angrily, We cant leave her, but theres nowt we can do without help. Sunshine frowned. The rain was coming down faster than ever, but he couldnt think of anything. Then, an idea hit him. Ive got it!, he whistled, Sandbags!. How can you think of sandbags at a time like this!, said Ten Cents exasperatedly. No, I mean, if Little Ditcher can get up close enough to put sandbags in Starfire, then we can block up her hold and stop water from getting in. Its worth a try, agreed Ten Cents, Can you do it Little Ditcher? Ill do my best skipper, replied the crane.
Carefully, Sunshine swung Little Ditcher around as close as he could get to Starfire. Then Ten Cents moved his barge around to Little Ditcher could start loading. Starfire said nothing while all this was going on. Little Ditcher began loading sandbags into Starfires hold, stacking them up where the gash was. Eventually, the water stopped coming in, and Starfire seemed secure. But there was another problem. How are we gonna get her off the rocks?, asked Ten Cents, Little Ditcher will be crushed if he tries to move her. Then, they heard the deep whistle of another tug close by. They looked around, to see the massive form of Hercules, steaming majestically towards them. Ah, Ten Cents, Sunshine. Whats going on mdears?, he asked, puzzled. Hercules, thank goodness, said Sunshine, Starfires hit a rock and is taking on water. We filled her full of sandbags to stop the water, but theres no way we can get her off without a bigger crane. Hercules sailed up and inspected the damage. Hmmm
Well, it doesnt look too bad, he said finally, The gash is only just below her waterline. If we get a salvage team to pump the water out and patch up the hole, then when high tide comes would could probably get her off then. One of you go and alert Captain Starr, and another, go to Lukcys and fetch the Salvage Team. Ill stay here with Starfire. If she does start to fall off, I can push her back on easily. Right, were on our way, replied Ten Cents, and he and Sunshine shot off in the direction of Bigg City.
It did not take long for the other two to return with Mighty Mo and the salvage team. Starfire hadnt taken on that much water with the help of the sandbags, and so the work went well. A temporary seal was placed over the hole, and, with the combined efforts of Hercules and Mighty Mo, the wounded paddle steamer was gently placed back into the water. Starfire said nothing throughout this, she simply looked down at her deck, her eyes half closed. Ten Cents didnt care that much, but Sunshine was worried. Right mdears, said Hercules, Im going to the coal depot to refuel, then Im heading off to the Star dock. Ten Cents, if I were you, Id take Little Ditcher back home, hes done well today. Right, replied Ten Cents, Come on then Little Ditcher, back up-river. Sunshine, why not take our friend to Luckys ? Shes had it rough. Yes Hercules. Im on my way, replied Sunshine. Not as rough as me and Ten Cents though, he muttered darkly as he hitched a line to Starfire and towed her away.
The rain was still coming down hard, though not as hard as earlier. Despite the foul weather, the sea was relatively calm, so Sunshine made good progress. Starfire still didnt say anything, not that it bothered Sunshine much. They were just coming into Bigg City, when Sunshine heard Starfire speak. Sunshine, she said quietly. Yes?, replied Sunshine, then feeling surprised, when he realised that Starfire was actually speaking to him, and calling him by his name, rather than little switcher as she usually did. Thank you Sunshine, for saving me, continued Starfire, I know I dont deserve it, especially seeing as how Ive been so horrible to you and Ten Cents. I truly am
sorry. Sunshine listened, and realised that Starfire was crying softly. There there now, soothed Sunshine gently, Its alright. I forgive you, and Im sure Ten Cents will too, given time. Starfire sniffed, and gave a small smile. I have one question though, said Sunshine, as Luckys Yard came into view, Why were you unpleasant to me and Ten Cents? Stafire sniffed again. Im sorry, she repeated, I guess Ive always got my own way. My old Captain always treated me like I was an ocean liner, so I got my way all the time. And then one day, a switcher was towing a barge of garbage, and he wasnt looking where he was going, and it crashed into me. I was alright, but I was covered in smelly garbage. I lost a lot of popularity as a result. Ever since then, Ive never really trusted switchers at all. Besides, she continued, I had to, in my harbour, switchers were always looked down upon. I see, said Sunshine,. Well, in Bigg City, it doesnt matter whether youre an Oncean Liner, a Switcher, or a Shrimper, every boat has equal rights and is just as important as each other. Unless youre a Z-Stack of course, he finished, chuckling. Starfire laughed, she certainly seemed to be getting better. They finally reached Luckys Yard. Sunshine brought Starfire to a stop, and tied her up by the quay. Youll be alright now, he said cheerfully, It wont be long now until youre back up river. I cant wait, said Starfire quietly, Oh, and Sunshine. Yeah?, replied Sunshine as he prepared to go. Thanks again, said Starfire politely. No worries, replied Sunshine. With a friendly whistle, he steamed away. How ladylike, he thought.
After Starfire was repaired I was in two minds as whether to sell her or not. However, Sunshine and Ten Cents (who had finally come round) put in a good word for her, so, I allowed her to stay, as long as she caused no more trouble and did as she was told. Starfire agreed to this, and now continues work up river, ferrying goods and passengers from the river to Bigg City and back. She has proved herself to be a very worthy member of the Fleet, and is popular with everyone, even the Z-Stacks!