"Ye have no right to say that to me!"
Aengus McAllister has made the worst choice of his day, though by far not the worst of his life, by choosing to confront his boss Seamas Finnigan when he's drunk.
"Look, ye know I'm right! Ye can hardly stand, Seamas. Yer in no condition to go to work."
"I know my job better than any man here. Aintitright?" Seamas looks around to garner support, and failing to see any, totters between anger and embarrassment.
Aengus sees his chance and jumps in. "Look, if ye were sober-" It's the wrong thing to say.
"I ca'hold my liquor better'an anyman!" the towering Finnigan roars. The crowd clearly disagrees, and the entire bar erupts in a brawl.
Half an hour later, Seamas leans on Aengus' shoulder as the smaller man helps him home. Both have black eyes that will clear in a few more minutes, broken bones that will set and heal by tomorrow, a little internal bleeding. It's nothing serious.
"I'm sorry, Aengus. Ye dinna deserve that."
"Ah, that's just the booze talking, ye great lummox."
Seamus cuffs him idly and keeps talking. "No, really. Ye were lookin' out for the Tree. There's no greater cause. Yer a good employee an' a credit to yer family"
"Well thank ye. And ye can thank me by remembering earlier next time an' not crushin' me nose halfway to the back of me head."
"I love ye an' all yer kin, McAllililister." Seamas staggered a few steps further and slumped into a heap at the base of a great creeper vine elevator. Aengus laughs.
"You great faker! Get yer arse up and move; yer fine." Aengus prodded Seamas, then gave him a swift kick in the backside. "I'm not here to drag yer great carcass home." A punch in the head that would have dented a car. "By Morrigan, get up!"
Seamas did not move. He barely breathed.
"Oh, shite. Seamas, if this is a joke..."
But it wasn't. Aengus yelled for medical aid, then hefted the giant over his shoulder, and ran for the closest doctor's house. The Tree opened the way for him.
Seamas was in a coma from which he might not recover. The Tree's lead xylem technician, the man who flavored his soups with nightshade, had been deliberately poisoned in the middle of the Daoine's most important cultural exchange since the First Days.
Word did not spread. It oozed like a toxic sludge. The lifeblood of the Tree was its people, the Daoine, and their families were woven tighter than a spacesuit's fibers. Their lives were devoted to the Triple Trinity, to the Tree, to passion, to each other. Only those who needed to know and could keep a secret were told, a grim and serious one percent of the population.
Aengus sat at home that night and cried himself to oblivion, then went to work like a soulless wight. In the evenings he grilled the agents of an tOireachtas so long as they would let him about what they had found, who they suspected, how he could help. The answer was always the same: wait and let us do our job. We know your pain.
Aengus went about his job mechanically, still reviewing the events of that night in his mind, seeking any hint or clue as to the monster's identity. He cursed his lack of a neural mesh. In his sorrow and concentration he almost failed to see when the truth poked its head out of a knot-hole a week later.
A group of visitors from the Old Civilizations had come down to the xylem monitoring station. They nodded appreciatively, pointed and asked questions, and were in all ways polite. They looked like buffoons, of course, because all foreigners looked like buffoons, but one could hardly blame them for that.
As they left one of them said, "I'm sorry about the incident."
Deirdre Callahan, a younger technician not in on the conspiracy, said "What incident?"
"With your lead technician. May Brigid watch over his family." His mesh fed him the right words for a severe illness or the like.
Deirdre laughed and waved. "Oh aye, a vacation is such a terrible incident. May such awful incidents befall us all!" Most people there laughed. Aengus didn't. The foreigner noticed. Aengus stared him down, and the man flinched.
Aengus was gifted with generations of hard-bought genetic enhancements. The stranger's comparatively meager bionics kept him ahead for just enough time to reach the facility door. Aengus yelled to the Tree while he ran, and the door slammed shut as Aengus' fist slammed into the foreign diplomat's shoulder. The result was like dropping a melon off a balcony.
"YOU! What have ye bastards done to my friend!"
The police arrived and pulled Aengus back. A few days later they released him from jail as the full extent of the conspiracy came to light. Six full Druids imprisoned, one on death row. Three assorted staff members from the visiting civilizations in jail as well, with many more under suspicion. It was a frightening day for the Tree, and it gave pause to all the Daoine about these new visitors. For Aengus, however, the day was the best in his life.
It was the day he got his friend back.
Sorry this took so long. Other things intervened. Thanks for the reminders!