Síonna had been sure as sure could be to leave at least two metres between herself and Aithne.Bosslady was in the sourest of moods since she’d come back. Síonna had in fact done the lucky thingand went back to bed in her huff. She slept out the hours she had missed out this morning and while still lethargic she at least was functional again. Aithne was positively radiating hatred at this point, everyone was doing their best to avoid her in the corridors. Aithne was normally so passive with her co-workers that this would be hilarious if she didn’t appear so angry. She stormed past the dorms just as Síonna was getting back into her overalls and grabbing her gear. Seeing the situation she was in, Síonna took the initiative and fetched their itinerary and mission list for the day from Lecinta.
“Ey, up, Sheila? Not used to seeing you in before Big Girl?” the Commander was cheery after her
Afternoon tea, imported straight from the continent on a shipwrecked continental vessel. Salvage was generally accepted as a perk of the job, and since Lecinta and Cromwell could rarely get off base, it wasn’t odd to see them receive gifts for the odd favourable rota slot. Both commanders weren’t above doling out gifts on occasion, if only to keep the team’s spirits up. The commander threw a small bar of chocolate to Síonna for her lunch.
“Thanks Les, naw Bosslady isn’t too happy today. What’s going on?”
“Ehhhh, best not get involved Girlie, don’t bring it up. It was some Ministerial types giving her a hard time. Just play along today, don’t get on her nerves and she’ll be right. In fact, lemme see here” Lecinta rifled through her files for the day: “Here, you two go out today on a hunting trip, it’ll help Aithne blow off some steam, right?”
“Gotcha, Les. What are we…ohhh… yeah think I’ll let Aithne take these herself.” Síonna’s face fell as she read through the mission brief. “Ah ah ah!” Lecinta waved her hand in Síonna’s face. “No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ from you Sheila because you’re doing as yer told today y’hear?”
“Yes Les…if I get eaten though I’m haunting you for the rest of your life!”
“Sorry love, can’t hear you over the sound of these hundreds of poor souls I’ve sent to their deaths over the years, what was that? Speak up!” She tilted and rattled her busted watches to make them sound like rattling chains. Sionna smirked to hide her shame a little. Lecinta had long made peace with the role of her work, but many of the others weren’t so quick to mention the death toll to their families. It was grim but necessary work, gallows humour was a staple of the veterans, but the younger recruits always had to adjust to it. Lecinta herself had been on the chopping block, the name veterans gave to high risk missions, enough times herself. She had served her time, and in a period where her predecessor had much worse fatality counts than she could ever muster. Back when the Coast Guard thought to win back the land from the machines.
Lecinta shooed Síonna off to work and went back to her desk. Now that the morning hubbub had died down she could get her actual work done. She always enjoyed seeing off her charges but her real passion was in getting them all back again. That meant logistics and as boring as everyone else found it, Lecinta adored it. Her greatest challenge was keeping her team afloat. Putting “who” and “what” in “where” was her favourite form of pasttime . Síonna would sometimes watch her on break as she marked out charts and timetables and plans of action. She imagined Cromwell had his own station down below, though he hardly ever got a chance to use it, always on the move like a mother hen tending his eggs. Clunky, noisy and greasy; Rita was nevertheless the home away from home of everyone on site.
Síonna found Aithne blazing through her box of cigarettes outside. Torn butts littered the ground where she had chewed right through them. She was working through another when Síonna came up to the Helipad below the command centre’s “eye.”
“Damned fool selling me out like some gossip piece,” Aithne muttered, further disintegrating her Lucifer. She probably wasn’t even attempting to light one, preferring to munch them in disgust. Aithne always had a habit of making very audible threats almost under her breath. Anyone who met her often didn’t know if she was talking to herself or anyone in particular. Síonna had come to the point where she would ignore Aithne until she physically engaged with her enough to warrant a response. Her partner had a great habit of daydreaming at a moment’s notice, so it was more often than not Síonna’s job to snap her out of it.
“We’ve got a job Bossl-“ Aithne swiped the itinerary before Síonna could say another word. She scanned down the page, the more she read the more she seemed to stop being fidgety. By the end she had something approaching a smile on her face.
“Well isn’t that something eh Síonna? We finally have some decent work to do around here. Ohhhh been waiting for something like this to fall on our lap for years, kiddo, years. Goddamn pack of Oarfish shooting up the channel and we get to spike them. Grab our lances Síonna I’m going to prep the bikes.” She ran off pumping her fist into the air and waving the papers around before stuffing them into her pocket. Síonna was glad she was happier and all but this only meant she was going to be a bit too into work today. Hunting jobs were rare enough in the grand scheme of things. The Coast Guard usually only had to deal with pirates, but wildlife was a particular problem further south in the tropics. When the animals living near the surface of the oceans were wiped out during the Revolution of Light, all manner of beasties began to come up from below. Those were fine until Caladbolg began to have… strange effects on them. What people hadn’t realised was that the nanotechnological properties of the alloy sometimes did strange things to cellular biology if not regulated with chemical energy outputs like how the Fethem did it. For the most part it didn’t do much bar kill off a couple hundred species. Those that took to it though were often revamped into something far more notable. Oarfish, for example, really enjoyed the bounce-back they got in population. Once facing extinction, they now plagued smaller seas, often harassing small trawlers our outright devouring small boats. The fact a pack of them was headed towards Bethú was cause for concern.
Síonna dashed into the armoury and showed the quartermaster the docket that had come with the itinerary. The QM, Brien, was a relatively young man who had lost his legs in a bomb blast. Cromwell figured that since he knew what the weapons he had were capable of, then he would at least know to respect them too. Brien certainly did, and when a green patrolman comes up looking for anti-monster weaponry, he would have raised an eyebrow had they not been burned off already. When Síonna explained that it was Aithne in charge Brien relented eventually, but only after he made sure she knew what the hell she was doing with Caladbolg encrusted spears and an honest-to- god air to surface missile launcher. Síonna hoped she wouldn’t have to think of using these things. Knowing her way around weapons was one thing, having to use close range ordnance against enemies known for being able to leap without warning from underwater up to 10 metres high was quite another. Síonna wasn’t even that bad at coordinating and following training. A mission as unpredictable as this was madness for just two patrollers. Which meant an X-factor would have to be introduced which made things even more unpredictable and… she didn’t like to think about what Lecinta had in store for them both.
Aithe was practically bouncing down to the launch-lines. Rita’s countless passages and catwalks were often slick with sea grime but she bounded down without a care in the world. Sionna was soon left behind so Aithne took the time to find a keypad and punch in the codes for both of their hoverbikes. In case of emergency pads were located throughout Rita in order for patrolmen to notify the hangar to prep the correct bike. While before the bikes had been one size fits all, budgetary constraints meant patrols had to work-to- own and maintain their proper vehicles. The planes remained few and for special occasion but the bikes were easier to keep going. Before balance issues in the air had suggested the vehicles were pipe dreams for humans, but scavenged hoverdrones provided the blueprints for ballast and buoyancy systems that were just what prospective flyers needed. At first they were difficult to figure out and build but over time entrepreneurs began to simplify and perfect each new model. It was a long time since those good old days, and right now it was the simpler models that survived. They were by no means the best, and accidents were frequent. They were often buoyant enough to keep afloat during crash landings, but the shock on impact usually caused the most problems for riders. Cuirmac had pulverised his pelvis on his last great outing before he became a full time engineer. He couldn’t get a proper replacement since the operation was more complex and costly than most since he would need vertebrae replaced along with the rest. He made do with a brace and the occasional walking stick, as well as his usual bedside manner.
Aithne had placed the order for her bike and buzzed in the hangar.
“Hullo?..cccRrrzzzt… Bander here?!”
“Bander me good lad! Aithne and Sionna are going on patrol today and would you like to know what we are bringing with us?”
“C’mon Ait…crrrzzzt.. I’m in a rush here, put in the c…crrrzzzt..order!”
“Aww, you’re no fun Bander. Why can’t we ever have a nice chat somewhere eh? It’s always just business on this intercom isn’t it?” She was delighted that Bander picked up. He was forever in a hurry and Aithne took great pleasure in dragging along her orders to mess up his schedule. It was always the little pleasures on base that kept her going and this was one of her favorite ones.
“AITHNE YOU CCRRRZZT -SACK O-CRRRZZZT- HAVE THIS 10G PLASMA HEATER BURNING MY CRRRZZZT JACKET AND HERE YOU ARE CRRRZZZT –ING MY TIME!”
“Aw don’t be like that dear, sure I’m only playing with ya, no need to get worked up at all t’all.”
“MY ARM CRRRZZZT –AITHNE!”
“Alright, alright, you big baby, we got a hunting order today. Brien is sending down Pikes to you. We need holsters and launchers on both the bikes and if you can fit a new accelerator and ailerons to Síonna’s we’d owe ya.”
“Yeah, yeah crrrzzzt ‘bout time! C’mon down I’ll be done in fifteen…Crrrzzzt –ing crrrzzzt.”
“Aw, isn’t he precious, eh Síonna?”
Síonna had finally caught up. In a straight race she would normally beat Aithne, but she was always nervous on the rickety metal steps so always took them one at a time. She was rifling through documents and files while patting down her jacket and trousers. She grabbed a pen from her pocket and began furiously scribbling. She looked up at Aithne?
“Eh Aithne? You were saying? I Was just looking through the instructions for the day. Can’t see any numbers what’s that about?”
“It’s probably only a rout; get rid of a few and make the rest go away. Just send a message. Since they’re animals there’s no fixed amount to kill before the others turn tail. Play it by ear. What are you even doing the filing? Save that for when you’re in a hospital bed! We’re almost ready to go now!”
“I know, and usually I agree, leave it all ‘til later, but this stuff is new boss! Look at this one: Marine Biotechnology Awareness form. And this: Hunting habits of Oarfish correspondence course. Don’t get me started on this required reading one: Oarfish Behavioural study; Mating habits of Prey Species Pt1 abridged! I mean what do we do with this?!”
Aithne grabbed the nearest page along with Síonna’s pen, hastily wrote her signature and shoved them back into her partner’s hands. “Congratulations Síonna, on receiving your Masters degree in Mating Habits, now let’s go! We have fish to kill!”
Aithne grabbed the girl’s hand and towed her down to the launch bay. They continued to bicker over paperwork as they waited for their bikes to come out. Síonna’s greenness in the face of paperwork began to dampen Aithne’s good mood. One thing people learned when they joined the Coast guard was that despite the world having ended a few times, bureaucracy always came back from the ashes of the old world. People would always be infatuated with continuation; dredging up the past when it was way past the point of relevance. The Ministers may have been the mouthpieces of the new World Order, but they were all still the same old civil servants with their checks, balances and their cheque balances. And as much as there was a gap between them and people on the ground suckling the salty sweet earth, they would always come round with their clipboards to make sure everything was up to their standards. Lecinta’s job often involved sending someone to the Big Smoke to report to them on Coast Guard activities. She often wished aloud to report the potential activities of minister tongues on robot cavities but felt the tone of such a report would upset their dear sycophantic hearts. There was little love between Minsters and laypeople. Not only were they symbols of the autocracy of the machines over the flesh and blood, they were even specifically chosen for the job. Soon after the revolution, Crescens, the apparent upper class of the Fethem, came among the people and began choosing individuals to promote to the rank of Minister. Of course each was specifically chosen for their malleability and susceptibility to suggestions fromhigher up. They became the symbol of a humanity that accepted mechanical rule. And of course when some paved the way people could only walk the path laid down for them. Agree to follow the machine’s mouthpiece, or get ostracised from the new, stronger, better society. Not everyone was fine by that. Aithne’s own brothers and sister had been in the camp with her. She couldn’t remember the troupe’s name; it was probably only a footnote in the greater anti-machine resistance. They had holed up in the secluded valleys dotting Bethú, amassing any arms that they could; especially any EMP weaponry that would combat electrical systems. Their short-sightedness was staggering, as the machines they took on were far from the old clunkers that took part in the initial insurrection. Of course Aithne’s brothers had tried to explain to them the strengths of Fethem infused with Caladbolg that far outweighed the older models. They were still too young however, and many thought they had been brainwashed by the trappings of the high life. There was also a general distrust surrounding their aunt’s toxic legacy. They knew the current Caladbolg in use was susceptible to drying out, so fighting was best done in desolate wastelands. The troupe they fought in were the only one to make anything approaching gains in the fighting, and even then they lost too many people in a short space of time, disbanding soon after. They couldn’t account for the Fethem’s air fleet: a multitude of drones flying in formation with several great Queen Fethem. They appeared much like their teardrop-shaped underlings, except furnished with great wings of a yellow tinted translucent material. The queens dropped drones from above, and any resistance soon found itself surrounded and neutralised. To the credit of the machines, they rarely carried out executions or took prisoners. The fact that they beat the humans so easily was all the proof they needed for themselves. Pockets of futile violent action would continue to this day, to the point that it was more a nuisance than a real threat to daily life. The incident with Buggyman was the rare exception in its swift brutality.
Síonna eventually stuffed the papers in her pack, giving up trying to make sense of it all, and both stood ready for their bikes as they came down. Hoverbikes came from the hanger attached to railings that surrounded Rita in the event of a full scale attack. Riders would latch on and swing around, ready to drop and deploy. It wasn’t ideal since the bikes sometimes didn’t start on time. Aithne and Síonna instead used the South Eastern Launch platform to take off. Aithne leapt on to her mount and her partner followed suit. She flared up the throttle and the bike reared back like an unruly stallion. She held tight and settled it down. The hover kicked in evenly now and she began to float half a metre above the ground. Síonna could handle hers quite well too. The both of them turned towards the launch ramp, rusted and decayed from years of use and abuse. They hurtled towards it and shot over onto the waves. They slipped the first few waves before taking to the air. Full throttle on they flew straight and true towards the den of predators ahead.