“Well Christ in a sausage roll, you too look happy don’t you. Guessing word got to you about the boys we lost up North? Happens, try not to let it get you down!”
Lecinta’s callousness was the byproduct of years of losing friends to the job, they could excuse her chipper attitude for now. Síonna shuffled uncomfortably and Aithne was trying to find the right words. Lecinta looked like she was at a loss herself.
“What’s up with you two? Spit it out! How’d the mission go? We’ve lost patrols today and that fact made me less nervous than I am being now! Patrolmen Aicil and McGarif, speak!”
Síonna got it out first. “We have a problem boss, a big one.”
Lecinta motioned for her to continue, Aithne picked it up.
“That excursion you sent us on…eh… how to put it. We ran into a few unexpected hurdles. One: That shoal you sent us out to was a LOT bigger than a couple, but that’s neither here nor there. Two, that smuggler band that I assume now you knew were going to cross paths with the shoal, were also a lot bigger than just a boat or two. Third: Those same smugglers were carrying enough munitions to blow up the world ten times over, as well as a chemical weapon that dissolved an Oarfishes’ head on contact.”
Lecinta was staring long and hard at the two of them. The hard interior began to show through as her eyes narrowed and her mouth went taught. She breathed heavily through her nose and sat thinking for some time. Finally she said.
“This sounds like this could be a problem for us, alright, go into detail, leave nothing out. Síonna, grab a notepad from the drawers over yonder. Follow my lead girlie, I’m going to need your help on this one.
Aithne gave her full report, warts and all; A hunting trip that bit off more than it could chew, a surprise fleet, a massacre, chemical weapons and a cache fit for an army. Lecinta began her usual furious writing. Every now and again she would point at Síonna’s page whenever she wanted something noted in duplicate, tapping to her side without taking her eyes away from her own work.
Aithne detailed as much as she could the types and amounts of weapons involved. She handed in the documents found in the bridge. Lecinta rifled through them and shut them in her drawer. She told Síonna to take down a number and not to let anyone else but Lecinta and Aithne to see it.
“Keep it with you girlie, I’ll need you to be on guard from now on.”
“Ma’am, may I ask, were you aware that we would run into pirates near those Oarfish?”
“Aye, let’s make this quick Aithne. Yes I was very aware that a pirate flotilla was on its way to the co-ordinates I sent you both. I figured they would run into the oarfish first but, of course, they were slowed down by those container ships so you guys got hit before they did. I thought it would have gone more smoothly than what it did. It was my mistake, Aithne, I put you two in danger and I apologise. I take responsibility as commander but I also ask that this conversation does not leave this room…”
Síonna looked up for a moment, thoughtful, and then returned to her work. Aithne was still a bit sore over the ordeal, but they had bigger issues at hand so her gripes would have to wait. Lecinta always placed importance in having confidence in her troops. It was all fine and good minimizing all risks, but the sea was unpredictable, and patrols had to be flexible and able to work under surprise conditions. This backfired from time to time such as in this case now but it stuck with her ethos of bringing up the best: making a Coastguard capable of facing off against any future challenges. People like Aithne and her peers were the result of this, capable of making good and quick decisions to offset the overall weaknesses of the CG corp, namely its small size and limited resources. Lecinta placed her trust in the senior members, she held them with an iron grip but never babied them or spoke with anything less than the respect they deserved. Likewise her ethos spread to Cuirmac aswell; for all his temper tantrums and brutishness he always put himself on the line alongside his charges. Rita was the closest thing many of them had for a home, and it may be cliché but when you fight and die side by side, you learn what it is to be a comrade, maybe even to be part of a family. The listlessness found among those living back on the mainland was not found here, where it was arguably a much harsher environment.
Whenever Aithne was back home, she felt frustrated with the inertia the city brought: All high walls and grey streets. The clouds rarely seemed to part, it rarely felt warm to live in. The seasons had long since vanished to be replaced with bitter longevity. She often thought back to the young ones back on the streets: they found the slightest glimmer of beauty in a gloomy existence through being together. Only the adults who stuck with their friends lasted long. Even platonic or more distant relationships were all most needed. Marriages were rare though the birth rate had thankfully remained steady throughout the years. There had been scare after scare that Caladbolg would sterilise the population with its lesser known properties, but it seemed its physiological impact was minimal on the larger populace. Communal living was growing in popularity with the onset of scarce resources as no one person could amass enough to live alone. One person may have been a plumber while another was a carpenter while yet another could cook and bake. It wasn’t the kindest environments as such, but people survived and maybe even found their little bit of happiness. For Aithne though she couldn’t settle with city life, and the country was a big no-no after bandits began to plague the roadways. She slept in her small and cosy bedsit at night and was back at Rita every morning for her duties. Lecinta was the one who gave her direction, and Cuirmac ensured that she had the tools to get there in one piece. Heroics weren’t really the Coastgaurd’s style but it was always a nice bonus to think they were doing some good for some people.
By the time Aithne left Síonna and Lecinta in the office it had grown dark, so she would be spending the night on Rita before setting off in the morning. She had things to do. Before she went to bed she paid Earken a visit again. He was busy at his station, meticulously cleaning and arranging his medical tools for reuse. Sterilisation was a relatively straightforward procedure thanks to the same shielding technology Caladbolg made possible for other everyday uses, though rust and wear could still be a problem at times. Earken liked to make sure these were done manually, such was his nature. He once told Aithne of how his ancestors were famous for their metalsmithing, and that he liked to keep the spirit of their work alive though the culture was long since disappeared from public view. He had just started another when Aithne walked in.
“Ah, Aithne, well! How was your day, heard you were off fishing.”
“I was Earken, got to be fisher, rod, line, bait, the whole shebang! Still kicking I see?”
“Ah yeah, still busy,” he turned in his chair to face her. “What can I do for ya today?”
“It’s the damn cut, it got worse and worse since I got back today.”
She lifted her vest and sure enough, the infection had spread and blackened all across her side from back to belly. Earken gritted his teeth and hissed at the sight.
“Alright, we’ll have to see what’s going on here.” He took up a newly cleaned scraper and took flaky skin samples from the surface of the infection. Blisters had already begun to form around the centre of the wound and Aithne could swear she smelled the decay getting stronger by the minute. Earken took the samples to his spare microscope and tested a few before sitting back and rubbing his eyes in exasperation. He faced Aithne and touched the tips of his fingers together.
“You are really not going to like what I’m going to say.”
“Ah balls, really?”
“Aithne, you need to get the graft. That was a bad wound already, and I assume it’s like that even though you were taking your antibiotics am I right?” Aithne twisted her mouth and nodded slowly.”This is the fifth time this month Aithne. You know we are only equipped in the medbay to fight colds and flu symptoms, the ongoing stuff we cant fix. Christ like, Síonna is one of the lucky ones we had a good stock of her meds before she started to enter remission. Your sickness though, Aithne, is your stubbornness, and it’s gonna kill you eventually.” Seeing her disappointment, Earken went back a bit.
“I’m sorry, you know I deal with this every day, it gets hard. You need to get the skin graft. You must have got it in contact with the venom from the oarfish today. The thing is, even if I fix it with surgery today, you’ll be back in here tomorrow because you’ll be on assignment and you might get shot and it’ll make you septic and there’ll be little I can do about it and I’ll be saying the exact damn same thing.”
Aithne sat down on the stool opposite and breathed heavily. She would kill for a cigarette now but she’d wasted her supply. The graft was something she always dreaded. Any time she thought about it her mind would shut out the idea. She would go and try to distract herself with work and such, but the fear always came back whenever she had time to herself.
“I… I don’t want to become like them Earken. I don’t want to become a robot. I like me. I don’t want to turn into a doohickey to suit someone else.”
“I know girl, I know. None of us want it. It’s a bit late to be like that Aithne.” He pulled up his sleeve to remind her of the extent of his arm replacement. “ We’re living in their world now Aithne, not our own. It was a long time when things were made to accommodate flesh and blood… Please get it done. I can’t force you but Jesus I still have to convince you somehow. You won’t last long with a wound like that.”
Aithne looked in the mirror at her festering skin, bit her lip and nodded. Earken picked up the phone and called for the mechanics to come up for the consultation.
“Do you want to know something Aithne? Les and Cromwell got it done at the same time, the exact same place too! Both of them blubbered like babies. I don’t mind telling you because I’m sure they’ll tell you themselves at some point. But here were our two best and brightest, and here was a kid from the refuge outside of town getting a full quadro-replacement laughing his head off with his new arms. We adults can’t really deal with change can we.”
“Heh, I suppose we can’t very much can we.” She felt a little better, glad that she had went to Earken and not the base medic again. “Well, now that you’ve given me my bad news. I have some for you. Les might have a job for you during the week.”
Earken’s bedside smile drooped and his eyes darkened. “I am most certainly not going to enjoy this am I?”
“Thinking about it now Earken, probably not,” she replied.