A Story of Uncertain Depths
Her first thought was how sweet and clear the air smelled compared to southern Ernos. No black smoke. No sewage lanes. The air was not weighed down by dust, and in fact, it was hard to see any dust settled in unmovable layers upon the buildings, bridges, homes, or food stands in the market. Everything seemed to have been made new. It was common news in southern Ernos to have buildings collapse, whole families never being seen again. She was filled with disbelief riding in a truck-cart through the port city of Lon, in the southeast country of Fruis. She, along with the other surviving members of the Ist-Balthon ship, were being escorted quickly to the hospital wing of the local Tri-National consulate. Altogether they shared four truck-carts, while the general and other uniformed men from Lon rode separately in a small carriage in the front leading the caravan. After the attack, they had been at sea for nearly two days before being rescued by a Lon fishing merchant ship. Along with basic medical care and food, the ship brought with it a room all to her own and the days of isolation she had wanted since being pulled into a lifeboat with the general and his men.
There were women fishing merchants onboard that attended to her. She’d hardly spoken to them, and when she did, it was to quietly thank them for this or agree yes to that. She had been provided real clothes, warm clothes. There were so many layers to the strange new uniform she wore. The material was rough, but she felt covered; in that coverage, she felt safe. She blamed her pressing need to be alone on the attack, using it to escape from unwanted conversation or any company that seemed to feel too drawn out. She could hardly bring herself to eat. She’d been told they would be at sea only 3 days more before arriving at West Polmay, to wait for passage to Istantine-Bouth.
She figured she would find a way to disappear in the rush of people that would flood from the merchant ship. Who would notice a little nothing scampering into the town? The thought alone was enough to let her sleep.
“Fersch Auf Manich, welcome to Lon. I am Auf Keel. The consulate has sent me to escort you and your remaining crew to the hospital for immediate care and restoration. Your men will ride in the carts we have waiting. We weren’t sure exactly how many to anticipate. If these four aren’t enough, we can send for more. You will ride with myself and Lord Drehul,” Auf Keel gestured a hand towards a carriage. “Lord Drehul works alongside the ministers here in Lon.”
Fab stretched out a hand for Auf Keel to shake, “Under better circumstances.”
“Under better circumstances” Auf Keel responded. What else could be said but the common phrase of lament for the dead.
In the carriage, sat Lord Drehul, a large and pale man with a long face. “Greetings Fab Manich, I’ve heard much about your record serving the Tri-National Guard. I’m very sorry to hear of this atrocity.”
“Thank you Lord Drehul.”
“Unfortunately, my presence here is to act as an eye for the ministers of Fruis so they can report back to the overseers you know.” Lord Drehul ended on a long sigh, as though taxed by having to explain anything at all. He referred to the central government senate as the overseers, as though to play down the crucial role he played.
“I understand sir.” Fab understood what Lord Drehul was actually saying. The attack was clearly planned but it was impossible to point to any one faction. There had been talk of targeted acts of terrorism by rebel groups from poorer countries whose governments refused to join the Tri-National pact. The pact kept the bulk of West Polmay and Istantine-Bouth fed and thriving, despite droughts and unstable food crops plaguing other parts of the world. Fab had never been one to indulge in the conspiracies whispered in back rooms, yet he wasn’t fool enough to ignore the signs. There had been rumors of anti-nationalist groups bubbling up from Istantine-Bouth, devising plans to shake the world order. It was Lord Drehul’s job to ensure Fab and each of his men were in fact, innocent. The investigation into the attack had started the moment home station received news of it happening.
“Tell me General, in all your years of service, what do you make of these terrorist acts?”
Fab’s own interrogation had begun.
The daughter of one of the fish merchants had been assigned to accompany her to the hospital. From the moment they arrived in this beautiful new land, Amuriel diligently stayed a small finger’s width away from her side. Although younger, Amuriel was larger in every proportion – her arms were thicker, her legs strong, and her hands appeared to have spent many years working with tools. Polla admired and envied this girl that kept watch over her. As they rode along, Amuriel softly spoke to her explaining the strange things she had never seen before. She explained that everything looked new because the government provided wages and food ration tickets to the street cleaners and waste runners. Without wages, anyone not a merchant or farmer starved and died in the streets. The cleaners and runners were assigned shifts and small sections of the city to maintain. Inspectors oversaw their work and every good shift meant a validation stamp on the food ration ticket. Back in Ernos, trash and waste were discarded anywhere and the corrupt made sure that the powerless were cheated out of fair wages and taxed in such a way as to maintain the gap between those who had a lot and those who had none.
Once they arrived at the hospital, she followed Amuriel away from the injured guardsmen and into the women only ward. She was relieved to get away from the smell of blood and sweat.
“I am to deliver you straight to a doctor who can make sure you’re really in good health. You say you are fine but I have seen healthy people fall dead before. Once the doctor has you, I have to go back to the ship.” Amuriel waited for any response from the girl. “You know, after what you’ve seen just keep your mind right.”
Polla wasn’t sure what she was being told but nodded as though she understood.
Amuriel stopped suddenly and grabbed Polla’s hand tightly between her two powerful warm hands. “Polla, keep your mind about you. When you see death, he wants to take you with him. But you must refuse him.”
“I don’t …”
“You are stronger than you think. You survived the attack, you survived the sea. I may never see you again, but I hope only for good and life to follow you.”
Polla stood, unsure of what to say. Amuriel suddenly embraced her as tightly as she’d held her hand.
They continued walking in silence down a hall, turning into a large room with books along the walls and glass bottles on tables and shelves. When one of the doctors greeted them, Amuriel explained how Polla had arrived in Lon and after a farewell embrace, was gone.
Fab had spent only a brief moment being examined by the doctor. Besides minor scratches from flying debris, he was uninjured. Soon after being released from the doctor, he was escorted to the room where he had now spent hours answering the inquisitions of Lord Drehul and Auf Keel. A silent notetaker sat at the end of the table. Food and water had been brought in and refreshed throughout the conversation.
“The report mentioned a girl. What do we know about her?”
“Auf Hal spotted a small ship floating about 30 kilometers northwest. Auf Dregade led the interrogation. There were no weapons and hardly any rations on the boat. The girl is an Ernosian runaway.”
“How certain are you about that?”
“She was assigned a guard and a room, locked from the outside. She hardly spoke at all but we were able to get the truth out of her without much effort. She’s just a girl sir.”
“Do you find it strange that your men came across a boat with a runaway, and the following evening your ship is attacked?”
“Her boat was spotted northwest. The attack came from the southeast. Protocol requires that any suspicious persons taken onboard are detained and questioned, and the details of which are reported immediately to homestation.”
“We followed protocol.”