The waves buckled and trussed beneath Aithne’s feet as she soared over the sea toward the Riga Ola. She would dip a bit lower every now and again to kick the spray backwards, always sure not to end up dismounting herself in the middle of the sea. Manmade island fuel depots like this one were all that was left of the Old Country. Riga Ola, or Rita as her denizens called her, was a sea base that looked after the Southeastern Coast. It was made from rehashed parts from oil rigs further North that the remnants of Bethú’s governing body had repurposed for coastal defense installations. It was an ugly site to be sure but she had stuck out the worst that the Sea could throw at her so far. The work was hard, long and dangerous but it was one of the few things anyone could do around here.
Aithne had enough scars to prove the dangerous part alright.
Speaking of which, she had picked up a nasty scratch the week before when her side was pierced by a piece of exposed broken piping and it was itching again. She would have gone to the medic about it but knew full well that he would tut his usual tut and say she should upgrade to Caladbolg plate skin. Officially it was because tetanus shots were becoming harder to come by now that deliveries from overseas had nearly dried up, Truthfully, however, she felt the doc wasn’t that fond of her to begin with and wanted to fob her off to the Mechanics. Machine parts could be replaced with relative ease. Fixing a human without lopping parts off was still an artform not many practised. Aithne found the field medics easier to deal with than the onsite doc. Her friend Earken would often keep an eye on her when things got hectic on site. His treatments weren’t ideal but they were at least treatments and she was still alive for the time being. The itch was pestering her, so she would probably have to trade some cigarettes for salve from him. If it came to it, Aithne would probably just wait until her lungs gave out before she checked in with the Mechanics, what little pleasures she had in life would have to last, even if they ended up ruining her by the end. He didn’t even smoke himself, but tobacco, especially older stuff was a treasure these days. The plant could only be grown in a tiny amount of greenhouses what with pesky food demands and such, so Earken often traded with his assigned patients for other goods. Tobbaco was the go-to since other drugs had become priceless due to their scarcity. They had no day to day bartering value unless you planned on buying a house. For now, the little things kept the spirits up.
She drew closer to Rita and began to bring the throttle down on her bike. The waters around here were clean enough but you never knew when you’d run into radioactive sludge that messed with the Caladbolg powered engines. Bikes doubled as flotation aids but it was always an unwanted surprise to be gliding along only to nosedive into a sludge deposit. Under the surface lay the remains of the Old Country. In the past Bethú liked to bully its relatively bigger neighbour; military shows of force in the connecting waters between them, giant Caladbolg infused walls blocking off shipping lanes to the continent, unannounced missile tests that just barely grazed the Old Country’s fly- zone.. The wanton cruelty was believed to be payback for Bethú’s raging inferiority complex in the face of their once more powerful neighbour. But of course, in the case of any incidence of bullying, the bullied one either bites back or folds like a deck of cards, in this case the Old Country eventually decided to do both in one short year. The Aicils and Bethú itself had long been out of sorts with one another, so the family became a handy scapegoat for all the world’s current problems.
She dipped lower and lower and came into a sailing approach. Síonna, her Guard-partner was waiting on the jetty, visibly yawning even from 50 metres away. Aithne kicked up propeller and came alongside the jetty. Síonna saluted her and hooked the bike to its pulley-ring. Aithne alighted and signalled for the control tower to tow her bike up to the launch bay. The bikes often needed a ramping start at sea as the main hangar was only used by sea planes. Planes were allocated on a basis of need. If your bike was under scheduled repair or you were on a specific mission, on the plane you went. One would imagine planes would be in demand until they actually got to see the planes themselves. They were in no way true-air worthy; sporting many holes that rendered pressured cabins useless. They were more used for their ground-effect capabilities, useful for flat sea days and also for low visibility/low fuel runs. Aithne and Síonna had been on theirs some weeks previously and coupled with the fact the two were having another of their usual spats the journey was both uncomfortably long and at times almost life threateningly short as numerous engine failures put them in unexpected glides from time to time. With frayed nerves they both agreed to duck out of plane duty for as long as they could, roofing be damned. Aithne slipped off her mask and balaclava and banged the encrusted grime and salt from them.
“Morning Síonna, you’re here early, is that why you’re yawning?”
Sionna blinked again and rubbed her face. She was less than half Aithne’s age and yet twice as slow. She really was well meaning, but her joining the CGs was somewhat of a poor life choice in a world of poor life choices. The guards were overburdened and underpaid if even that at all. Money came through benefactors running ships from Aifric, circumventing the northerly Continent’s stringent trade rules in order to make a few trades providing food for raw Caladbolg. The stuff was ghastly to work with but now the former monopolisers had done a runner there was a great demand for the alloy’s components overseas. The raw stuff was relatively easy to find, but not many knew what process refined that into the real stuff. Caladbolg research is now a modestly successful endeavour, with plenty of interested parties demanding it. The fact that the Coast Guard had become a de facto police force in lawless Bethú was a side effect of this patronage. All the mercheants wanted was pirates off their backs. All the people wanted was some work and for their families back home to not be fed garbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and so a partnership was struck. Síonna’s role in all this was mostly down to her problematic diet. She could hardly eat most everyday foods since she was a toddler, never mind the stuff the pirates brought in. She needed specialist drugs and nutrient supplements that were mercifully provided to all CGs on sign up owing to the everyday environmental risks of the job. However they only kept her condition at bay and it showed. She could never keep up with her comrades shifts, was forever fatigued and probably took the most illness days of anyone there. Aithne tolerated her partners situation, but only just since they had had several close calls owing to her not being able to pay attention. Her remark though, annoyed Síonna on this occasion.
“I’ve been awake for ten hours already, bike is broken and I had to get the trawler out this
morning to bring it in to the mechanics. Threw up on the way in thanks for asking. Here’s your itinerary.”
She threw the clipboard down low so Aithne had to dive for it.
“Cut the lip Síonna noone gives you a medal for being on time.”
Síonna was already walking away and giving the fingers
“Don’t slip and break your hip on your way up Boss.”
Aithne ignored her insubordinate talk. Aithne never cared much for correction in speech and Síonna’s poor mood would soon pass. Otherwise the two got on enough not to try and kill each other day by day. She followed up the steel stairs and walked into the complex. Rita may have been ugly, but she was at least expansive and practical. Cranes kept the upper decks supplied while a sail-in checkpoint opened up her lower half. Ships of all sizes passed through to be inspected before going to or coming from Aifric. Each one would send up a care package to the troops in lieu of a passage fee. It was somewhat like a racketeer job but it at least kept both endeavours floating in more ways than one. In many ways Rita was fitting for the base even looked like a person; gobbling up ships in one end, spitting them out on another, all the while the Right and Left Eyes kept watch over everything. The Eyes were the control rooms, manned by RaDAR technicians, map readers, engineers and the Left and Right Eyes themselves: the Commanders of the Coast Guards. Lecinta, the Right Eye, governed patrols, missions and special assignments and Cuirmac, The Left eye, who ran the complex itself, the engineers and assigned overseers to report on ship inspections. Cuirmac was nicknamed rather early on by Old Country recruits as “Cromwell” out of his habit of steamrolling everyone like the tank, and punishing the unfaithful, like the Tank’s namesake. Despite his brutish manner he was liked by the teams for his endless comically long rants. He would often shout down new recruits until he actually turned blue and passed out. He would then ask the recruit to keep position while he recuperated outside, only then returning to begin berating the now bored youngling all over again. Lecinta, meanwhile, was quite different. She was often at times unassuming and quiet, but in such a manner that noone would ever cross her. She liked to slick back her long black hair and wore all grey jackets, which gave her an air of a mafiosa. She rarely raised her voice, but had an innate ability to dress any member down for insubordination with some biting words of wisdom. While Cuirmac was technically her senior officer due to being base commander, he never voiced an opinion contrary to hers in all of Aithne’s years as a CG. Both were permanent residents-on- base, and both fiercely guarded their home from any who would threaten it.
Lecinta was by the window, sipping her scalding hot tea from her favourite steel mug, she was listening to a report coming in and waved a silent hello to Aithne when she entered. Aithne walked down to the barracks and got her gear ready. Her Rifle Refurb, a service knife, rebreather, oxygen tank and mask all went into her pack. The work of a CG was often quite quick. If you didn’t have the upper hand you were as good as dead so it served to travel light and agile. Armour was useless these days against Caladbolg munitions so it was best to be good at dodging. That being said, actual fighting was somewhat rare. Pirates that were good enough would just evade the patrols, which would make it a problem for the base. Those that made it that far were often dissuaded by the heavy artillery on Rita or the many wrecks littering her environs. If they were stupid enough to come that far then they would be made short work of. Otherwise patrolling was more a supervisory job, though not a boring one with the violent seas and dilapidated equipment. A boring day meant a day you got back home with a full belly and no holes in you.
Coming back up to the command room passing the dawn shift as they all wandered towards the dorms, she noticed they seemed in good spirits, so the night must have been a quiet one. She had high hopes that the same would apply to the day shift. She slung her pack over her shoulder and went to see Lecinta to get the sitrep on pirate activity while she was away. The Boss Woman was still at the window drinking tea and looking into the courtyard, she turned when she saw Aithne’s reflection and called her over.
“Aicillllll,” she rolled the L sound, “you may be in trouble I’m afraid m’dearie. Take a look below” Aithne peered out onto the helipad, took one look and slumped below the windowsill letting out a long groan. Lecinta sipped from her cup.
“Yeah they were here for about an hour already, patient buggers I’ll give them that, and
good intel t’ boot. I’m guessing by your reaction you know exactly why interior ministry blokes are here to talk to you.”
“I can guess, Boss. A few of us took down a drone last night. It was tearing up the flats after some lunatic gun runner. Breandan from Airfort up the ways, y’know him, took it out with a Gaebulg. One shot.”
“Really! Well I’m guessing you had as much a hand in it because they were looking for you.”
“Why though, we didn’t even touch the thing, can’t blame us for defending ourselves when one of their toys runs amok. It was their dog in our yard! C’mon boss tell them I’m out sick or something, couldn’t be arsed dealing with those Pale weirdos.”
Lecinta shrugged and rolled her eyes towards the hallway. “Interrogation room 6 Aicil, Cuirmac will prep you.”
“Ah now you are trying to make my day worse, surely Cuirmac has better things to… actually forget I said that, on my way, bury me at sea please!”
Lecinta left Aithne find her own way into the bowels of Rita. It was more aggravation rather than trepidation that filled her heart as she walked down the noisy corridors. Interior ministers were the mouthpieces of the Fethem, under the employ of whoever or whatever was running the factories in the Pale Quarter, the former seat of power before the Revolution days. Ministers were often dressed in outlandish garb much to the derision of those in the slums and the Friary. Long flowing cloaks with Caladbolg infused fibres giving them a pulsating sheen. The clothes were ridiculously uncomfortable to wear, ministers often needing attendants to give them water and carry them when they became too hot. The two here today were slightly different, but anyone could have spotted them a mile away in their crisp tailored outfits and sunglasses. Aithne could just about remember a time when she lived among people like that; she wouldn’t mind a nice new jacket and maybe some not-so- baggy trousers again. What annoyed her most is that they would treat her, a Coast Guard, like dirt, even though she had come from a dynasty that had trumped all ones before it. Try as she could to not be bitter, it was hard to forget all she had before. Even if she was a former elite, being a peacemaker did not get her any respect among the Pale denizens. These impromptu visits only served to make her job that much more difficult. She took her seat in the interrogation room, which really needed a new lick of paint besides the usually caked blood sunrise. The place stank of body fluids and the air was no sweeter once Cuirmac arrived. He had a smell of burning grease clinging to him as he had just come up from the rig’s generator room. Oddly enough he was in good spirits.
“Right you sack of miserable offal, why are you bringing ministers down to us eh?! Make this easy for me I’m on a schedule!”
“No clue Sir, we ran a defuse last night and they must be itchy over it.”
“Nah this seems more, if they ask, it was your idea to put the drone in storage am I clear?!”
“Well, yeah, because it WAS my idea sir, let them in I’ve nothing to hide!”
Cuirmac stormed outside, his sunny disposition lighting up the dank cell, as two shady gents came in after him. They were the usual secret agent sycophants that the slums were used to seeing. Aithne slouched in her chair when she saw that they had a file three inches thick with them. She hoped Síonna had gone to sulk in the dorms because she would be getting some shut eye time after all.
“Good morning Miss. I am Minister Marto, this is my colleague Minister Eanair. We have a few questions for you, and then we would like to discuss some… erh… events of note that happened at some point recently and blah blah blah blah blah”
The discussion turned into a haze of nonsense for Aithne. Every time this happened, and it happened frequently enough to all CGs that it was an issue, work didn’t get done and quotas weren’t filled. Ministers adored their checking and double checking. Despite the fact that Cuirmac and Lecinta kept succinct and clear files stored on all personnel who worked on site, the Ministers always needed their own supply. The file was so big not because Aithne was especially prolific, it was so they could update any little ridiculous detail on a completely new file set. Duplicate after duplicate, detail after detail, the questions went on and on so subjects were often long broken before any actual interrogation took place. Lecinta called it the ”slow boil” and that is what it felt like. Each question was irrelevant, invasive, vague and often all of the above. It used to be that Aithne kept a piece of paper with her biological details on it but she had been asked so many times that she had it memorised. The men continued droning on as she slumped further and further into her chair so much that her knees nearly touched the ground. Still the questions came. At one point she finally snapped:.
“GENTS, THANK YOU. Can we please maybe do these sorts of questions after the interrogation. I’m nice and broken so I shouldn’t imagine myself capable of lying right now! Please just…ask me what you want to actually ask me.”
The two looked at each other, with Eanair shrugging slightly before Marto put away the file in his briefcase.
“Thank you,” breathed out Aithne, now sitting on the floor with her head obscured by the table.”
Marto noted something down on a piece of paper and underlined it before returning to Aithne, who had now returned herself to her seat. She propped her head on her hands and stared unfocussed at the wall while the men gathered themselves. Eanair spoke first.
“As you may be aware, there was an incident last night in Revolution’s lane. An altercation between the Fethem and a-“
“The drone was killing bystanders, we chased it, gutted and dumped it on the side of the street. The salvagers did the rest. We did our jobs, we don’t care if you want reimbursement. Now I have a job to do, if you’ll both excuse me.” She went to the door, muttering distasteful comments as she went along, but Cuirmac had sealed it from above, evidently waiting for a signal to let them out. This day had not gotten any better as of yet.
Marto returned to his briefcase and took out some photographs.
“I’m afraid you don’t quite understand the situation Miss O’Aicil. You see, we are not here on garbage duty as our compatriots in the Fethem can look after that themselves. No we are interested in this man…”
Aithne didn’t have to look down to guess the situation but obliged them. The Buggyman pissed off someone above his paygrade. Marto acknowledged her avoiding looking at the pictures. He understood that Aithne knew the calibre of situation was at hand. He continued:
“This man has knowledge that is of some importance that does not belong to him. It would be in the best interest of everyone; You, I and the Fethem, that he be apprehended as soon as possible. We understand that you alone came in contact with him. Is there anything you would like to-?”
“Salvagers, woman and man; Woman had auburn hair, green eyes, pale complexion, man was ginger, balding, dark eyes, also pale. They roughed him up, don’t know what they wanted or where they were going. We had drinks, can’t remember a lot. They asked him questions, don’t know what. They helped us bring them both down. Far as I know they had him last. Am I clear enough?”
Aithne had played this game long and hard. She always preferred to die quick rather than let someone else mull over her fate. She was implicated in whatever they were interested in knowing. She fudged Ruadha and Eoin’s profiles which might give them a chance if they knew what was good for them. This brought her back to her more clandestine years. The Aicil’s had either absconded or been hung out to dry, often literally. Aithne had gone over the story with Sáille again and again… Farming family, war orphans, Friars could vouch for them, No Relation, No Relation, No Relation.
Sáille hated pretending, she always hated being told to be someone else, but Aithne’s hushed tones and sleepless nights planning told her now was not the time to be herself. Now was the time to leave the Pale before they were kidnapped or sold out or killed. Formerly rich trash would sell well to the right buyer and pirates had already invaded Bethú, looking for their spoils before the Fethem drove them out again. She saw that these two here now were under far more pressure than the interrogators at the border post back then. She could almost see Eanair shake his head ever so slightly before checking himself. If they wanted to pull something, they wouldn’t make it past the front door before Cuirmac had them strung out. Why two ministers for one small Coast Guard.
“You are quite clear, and… I believe that we can become clearer too. We have already been to your friend Breandan Mhac Níosa.” Aithne dropped her shoulders and lowered her eyes. “He is alive and well, we would not mention it if he wasn’t. He believed the theft of Fethem parts more worrisome so he admitted to the other parts of the story you left out. How Ríorchan, oh sorry, that is this man’s name, how Ríorchan had mentioned his connections with the Gaurs and his habit of, eh, doing errands with them. He also mentioned how your family’s name was brought up into the conversation- “that bastard!” thought Aithne- and that the Gaurs were working with this individual who shared your bloodline; now that is as much as he told us. These three individuals, along with a lost Aicil heir… What else can you add to this picture? Would you like to revise your previous story?”
“Well, you have me by the kidney stones I suppose I’ll have to. Scavengers went by the name of Ruadha and Eoin; The both of them from out West. They said they were on a trade excursion. They had your boy alright but that is as much as I know about what they were asking him. I’d assumed they were on to him about the weapons he’d robbed. He’d taken a bunch of tagged shotguns and rifles in a buggy and pulled the drone with him. That’s where we all came in. Like I said we gutted the drone and left it. Your boy’s prosthetics were messed up, so we brought him to a guesthouse to clean him up. That’s where he told us about the Gaurs and that before Ruadha broke his jaw in two. Like his jaw just, *phhhhwee*, flung off his face. The rest was white noise. As for my relative, haven’t spoken to anyone resembling one of those in a long, long time and I’d like to keep it that way.
She stood up and shoved back Eanair when he went to stop her. Marto made no such resistance, remaining seated in his chair. Before walking down the corridor she turned back and spa out:
“Be sure and tell that bastard Breandan if I see him again after finding out he’s in the pocket of Fethem concubines like yerselves… you tell him he’s a dead man.” She slammed the door and startled Cuirmac as he was walking down against her. She could feel the crimson on her face, and wanted more than anything for Breandan to know right now what she would do to get back at traitors.