As with any other dangerous profession, the largest and most potent risk to anyone’s health while patrolling was boredom. The mind wanders, focus is lost, a potentially life-saving manoeuvre is not made in time. Once patrolmen got into the groove of flying oversea routinely the magic of the act was often lost. The younger recruits were liable to start goofing around while on the bikes, pulling loops, freefalls and the like. The sea was vast, flat and serene most of the time. Ironically enough it was the stormy patrols that often ended up being the most incident free as far as most missions went. Sure you could die easily from a gale force wind knocking you free of your harness, or your bike going dead and even the odd freak wave or lightning strike taking you out. In storms though, only the very brave and very stupid smuggler and pirate travelled by sea. Aithne once saw a blimp even try the crossing before winds knocked it into the sea, its crew and cargo never found again. Meanwhile she could only watch it unfold. Patrols learned often the hardest thing was not putting your neck out. Criminals may have been humans too, but the official line was to never try a rescue unless strictly part of the mission statement. Willing recruits were hard to come by even with the Friary sending volunteers now and again, and losing them in fruitless rescue attempts was the catalyst for banning heroics in any form. The CGs were just too sparsely populated to justify any loses even as they were. Rita was one of the luckier ones and even she was often near empty during the day. Aithne had a sick day in at one point, and on her way to med bay she travelled what must have been a quarter mile of walkways without seeing a single soul. The engineers would be crawling throughout the base, fixing things here and there, and of course the patrols were all out at once, covering as much ground as they could. It really was like living on civilisations last line of defense.
As for days like this; lightly overcast, the odd sunbeam, slightest drizzle of rain now and again, dead calm, these were the days were the worst trouble started. Visibility was too good-the bikes were made more for infiltration and these days they stood out against the monochrome landscape with their distinctive frills and pointed snouts. Not to mention the glowing undersides lined with Caladbolg. Ships and smaller planes would have the advantage and could use long range weaponry to take out the patrol and try and slip by before more were called in to investigate. Of course even if they got by patrols through firepower or speed, then they would have Rita to contend with. The bikers would radio in coordinates and Rita would ready her Spear: One massive cannon with several smaller ones for support and corralling enemies. Noone made it right past Rita or any of the other CG bases for that matter. They would always have to go the long route if they wanted any chance, which is why patrols often tried to force them in a certain direction if they couldn’t beat them outright. Rita was the big sister of the sea, always ready to step in when her siblings were in trouble. Patrols rarely saw her in action directly, but they always heard. The sound was more like branches snapping in the distance rather than the thunderous boom you would expect. Whenever a shot was planned, all Coastguards were ordered to retreat to a safe distance before the show commenced. It was always quick and it was always brutal. The shell appeared over the horizon, the ship tried to evade, but then everything was turned to dust in one massive detonation. The smugglers were always offered a chance to surrender peacefully. And the older ones always did. In future there would never be any confident smugglers left, as all of them would have been taken down by Rita.
“Urgh…Boss…yeuch…why can’t we just have Radar find the shoal and shoot them with the Spear? Why do we have to do it ourselves?” Síonna was already in the throes of boredom as they flew over each designated spot and threw down a little chum at a time. They had found a school of salmon and dropped a grenade in on them to collect some bait for their real quarry. The rancid fish guts were giving Síonna a headache, and her complaining was giving Aithne one too.
“God’s sake Síonna give me a break, we don’t waste shells on animals you know that. I know the job is crap at first but trust me, this is good practice.”
“Practice for what?! The smugglers are way easier than this. This is nuts!”
Aithne shoved on her helmet to shut out the noise. It had been three hours and Síonna was already in her mode-du- ennui. If she had been anyone else Aithne wouldn’t have even brought her out this far. But the young one was at least a hard worker, loud and whiney maybe, but also diligent enough to warrant proper training. Aithne’s abdominal scar was beginning to itch again. All the adrenaline from the day had made her forget, but she could imagine the acrid chum finding some way through her layers and infecting the scar with its stench. She left the bucket hanging on her foot pedal and rummaged for some antibiotics. She lifted her balaclava and knocked a few back her throat. She turned to Síonna and signalled for water. Her partner had long given up giving medical advice and flung a small bottle over to her. Aithne caught it first but fumbled it, and it dropped down into the chum bucket, which knocked it off balance and all of it hurtled into the sea. Aithne went to curse just as she say eyes peering at her from below the surface…
The Oarfish had been below this whole time and leapt from the depths. It took bucket, bottle and chum all in one gulp into its massive maw. Rows of thorns lined its lips and it pulverised its snack with a great big crunch. Aithne reeled back in shock.
“Holy Fuuurrrrrrrrggggglllll,” She gasped as she began to choke on a tablet and swayed to and fro on her seat trying to dislodge it from her chest. The fish sank and began to wind up for another breech. Síonna and Aithne surged forward away from the danger zone, with Síonna coming up hard from behind with a sharp elbow to Aithne’s back. She dislodged the obstruction and Aithne vomited out the pills into the below, only for more Oarfish to rise and breach. They had ended up right in the middle of the shoal and they never saw them.
“*Hack* *Cough* *Arrrgh* Bollocks, Síonna! Javelins 2, 3 and 4” She signalled her orders just to be sure she was understood and Síonna began arming shots for Aithne to fire. They rose as high as they could without losing the Shoal’s interest. The leviathans snapped at their heels without fail; three, then five, then ten gigantic monsters with more certainly on the way. Glistening azure skin and frilled spines and crests, they were the picture of underwater horror. Where their ancestors were usually less trouble, these ones had developed the strongest of desires for human flesh. They had rendered sharks and whales extinct already before humans could finish the job. The two riders upped the throttle and led the monsters along, trying to space them out so they could start attacking, but the speed and ferociousness was too much. Aithne had been unknowingly dumping blood right on top of them and they were in a fever for food. The bait tasted a little too good for the fisher’s liking. The lot of them began to writhe on top of one another, trying to reach higher for their lunch. And then things got worse…
Síonna spotted them first, and whizzed by Aithne to draw her gaze. Two container ships on the horizon with four escorts. The crew on both were on deck and cheering, watching the two struggle to stay aloft. Pirates no doubt, they had just been given a show for the day and were hanging back and relaxing while their enemies were about to be torn to shreds. Aithne was less than impressed at this, and decided to snag two fish for the day. She grabbed Síonna’s unused bucket of bait and signalled her to hold position and keep the Oarfish busy. She did her best while Aithne veered to the side and began to fly towards the pirates at full speed. A few of them laughed at her pitiful attempt at fighting. An escort pulled up and began to ready its gun.
“Good,” she thought. “These are the thick kind of pirate. C’mon lads, look at me, that’s right.keep those guns trained on me.”
A well placed drop would do the job; anywhere in front of the nearest escort would probably suffice. She continued to hurtle towards it as anti-air shells began to explode in front of her. None were a direct hit yet but the odds were shifting the more she stayed high. A nerve shredding few seconds later and she was within range. She hunched down as low as she could and flicked the switch. A bubble of energy enveloped her in an air pocket. The Caladbolg was doings its job swimmingly so to speak. She dove down right under the escort. Looking around, her heart skipped when she saw dozens more Oarfish slumbering just below. They evidently had left their kin fight over the chum and had not noticed the buffet just above their heads. Aithne shoved the bucket out of the air pocket, bursting it and diffusing the bloody remains with the water. Below, bioluminescent eyes shone like lanterns and trained on the shadows on the surface. Aithne skipped out of the water again, now behind the first container ship. Bonne Chance was emblazoned on its side along with graffiti in Bethú script; The men aboard were hollering and pointing at her to the escort below them. A flak gun trained on AIthne, maybe slightly off target, and fired.
A beast rose form below and took the full hit in Aithne’s place. Blood spurted from where the shell hit and caked Aithne and the Bonne Chance’s hull. The headless corpse flopped back into the water, and of course the whole Oarfish Shoal was aware of the ruckus now. Aithne spat the blood from her lips and rose higher still as the pirates had reeled in surprise from the serpent rising out of nowhere. Another one breached and dove straight through the flimsy little escort ship, sinking it near instantly. Blood attracted more blood as all the gang got in on the action. Now they were ignoring Aithne and everyone was fighting for their lives.
Aithne rejoined Síonna and their mission began in earnest. Five Javelins were ready to go, Síonna pulled through under pressure and kept loading even when being chased. Aithne grabbed two and dove down. She flew alongside Oarfish that were still on the surface and pricked their skin with the Javelin. In the frenzy none of them felt the initial spear, but after a few seconds each exploded in a viscous shower of disgusting fluids. Switching to using the launchers properly, Aithne took aim and fired rockets into any open mouths she could see. The dim-witted creatures ate up the projectiles with glee before, yet again, explosions. Fifteen Oarfish were down and many more were to go. The pirate fleet had fared poorly in their first altercation but were now gaining some ground. They laid depths charges, jettisoned unwanted containers and fired indiscriminately below the surface. Attrition brought tehir numbers down until just two escorts and a container ship remained. The other was good until several fish jumped aboard and thrashed about causing chaos and crashing into every person and instrument in sight. One managed to burrow its way into the lower holds, its great weight breaking any weak floors it ended upon. The confused creature went on to help topple the boat as weight distribution was out of control: All hands were lost.
It was now Aithne and Síonna’s turn to hang back and watch. They took no real pleasure from watching the slaughter, but they needed to find out what was in those containers. They would let each side whittle each other down until they could finish off the remnants by themselves. That was the plan until one unlucky Oarfish managed to get inside a container. It could be heard thrashing and biting at something inside before bursting out the other end with a sort of tank in its jaws. It clamped down hard on the tank and a sparkling mist seeped from it. The fish dropped its prey, it not tasting as good as it had hoped, and for a moment remained still. It remained motionless for a moment before madly thrashing about in the water. It rolled around and round, mucus flinging from its agape mouth. Finally its skin blackened around its head and lines began to glow following the creatures veins and nervous system. It looked as if it had grown bigger before the head shrivelled up and fell off. Whatever these pirates had would be a problem for everyone. More Oarfish began to cannibalise their fallen friend and soon met the same fate. The canister that had cause this was still in the water, spewing the same mist. It formed a layer on the surface that floated towards the nearest escort boat. The metal of the hull that came in contact with the solution began to warp and bend. Sheets of steel folded like cloth and fell into the sea. The men were unaware of the danger until it was well too late. The boat keeled over and sank immediately. Seeing this, the men on the remaining boats fled to their life rafts, hoping that being in smaller vessels would allow them to slip by unnoticed. As soon as they all hit the water, Oarfish rose up and gobbled up the sailors in one go before retreating with their spoils. Aithne and Síonna killed a few stragglers before the rest absconded, the pitiful food not worth the risk. In all only the unmanned Bonne Chance and a now sinking escort remained.
The patrollers touched down on the deck. The ship had been pockmarked with friendly fire. Bodies lay everywhere of human and beast. It said a lot about the job that neither CG wasted time in running a search through all the carnage. Síonna started in the lower decks and Aithne went straight for the bridge. The crew inside had been hit by machine gun fire and all lay crumpled in a heap on the floor, rolling slightly with the motion of the ship. Aithne grabbed any documents she could find and stuffed them in her pack. She downloaded digital logs onto a waterproof data drive and rifled through pockets for identification, fake or otherwise. When she was done, she headed down to find Síonna. She called down and her partner answered.
“Aithne! They’ve enough to start a war down here! Look!”
Aithne slid down the banisters making her way to the hold. Sure enough, a weapon cache of biblical proportions lay in wait below all untagged and ready for distribution. Now Bethú was a small country in size, its population was just about topping off at eight million. The amount of force here was disproportionate to the population. Sure you had the Fethem to contend with, but if you wanted to mount a rebellion against them, it would be best to remain low and decentralised so as not to attract too much attention. This cache-and it wasn’t even half of what they had initially- would certainly have attracted some attention.
“Who in the hell would want all this boss?”
“I don’t know Síonna, I just don’t know. Let’s call this in, the fun times are over and I am sporting a massive headache, must be this damn cut… We need to head back. You’ll have your wish, we’ll be doing paperwork for weeks now after this.”
They radioed in an exclusion zone for ten miles around the battlefield, the dispatcher confused at what inspired such an extreme measure from two random patrollers. Lecinta was busy with some investigations of her own so the dispatcher told them to come back and get their story together for her to save time. On their way back they passed the retrieval squad, when they told them what they would be finding the CGs looked at each other nervously. Nevertheless they went on their way to see what they could scrounge up from the wreckages, hoping that there wouldn’t be any leftover Oarfish hoping to scavenge the bodies left behind. Aithne and Síonna came into Rita and the whole base seemed to mirror their sullen mood. Apparently some patrols had been lost without contact while they were away. Whether it was connected to the weapons shipment they intercepted, Aithne could not say for sure now; the timing was too close to discount it. They hooked up their bikes and went to return any special weapons they had, spent or otherwise. They met Cuirmac on the way.
“Reporting, Sir, is Commander Crafter on base?”
“Oh, Aithne. Yes she is, but she won’t be ready for debrief for another half hour or so. Hope you have some better news for us now.”
“Hoped I did, sir, hoped I did.”
“Hrrrm, go wash up and get some food in to you before you go in.”
For Aithne and Cuirmac to be so courteous to one another everyone could guess that things were not good. Both of them agreed to meet back outside the command centre after running their errands. Síonna went to get some shuteye while Aithne went to the clinic to restock the tablets she lost. Again the doc was putting up a fuss and giving out about wasted supplies, but even he didn’t have the energy to be a pain today. He gave her an overdue tetanus shot and some tablets to keep the infection down. She went to her dorm to redo the dressing over the now reopened wound. It must have happened in the fracas though there didn’t seem to be much blood at all. The day had put her in a solemn mood and she began to think more about her health now. She joined the others in the canteen and got some warm food into her to lighten her mood. Síonna was waiting for her when she reached the command centre. She couldn’t sleep yet so they would be doing the debrief together. They knocked and entered.