Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Across the table, gowned and goggled the ranking surgeon held a hand out expectantly.
“Vibrablade,” she raised her voice, “either assist or get the hell out of my O.R.”
The corporal had grown accustomed to being yelled at, but not by a woman, and under the circumstances he…
“Corporal. Is my operating room not Feng Shui enough for you? Or is this ‘pretend we don’t understand English’ day? Or are you just stupid?” The major’s voice imposed absolute silence on the room. “I’ll ask you one more time, and then I’m going to see to it that you don’t operate on anything warmer than a toilet for the duration of your tour. Pass me a fucking vibrablade.”
Despite all intentions to the contrary, he found himself picking up the cutting instrument and, trembling slightly, placed it in her hand.
“You will hand me what I ask for, when I ask. And with confidence,” she added, “I have no patience for tentative. Clear?”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” he stammered, eyes flitting back and forth between her fierce glare and the jet black and fractured carapace that lay partially draped in sterile fabric on the table between them, “it’s just that, this is one of them, and I thought…”
“That’s Major ma’am to you, and you thought what? Maybe I didn’t notice that this is the enemy?” She let the question hang in the air as she drew the cutter down the hard backplate of the broken soldier before her, deftly cutting away the chitin armor plating and passing pieces to her left where another assistant reassembled them on a table. The slick grey inner membrane exposed, she held up the stilled cutter and spoke again. “What is your name, Corporal? Never mind, you’re Useless. Pass me a ten blade, Useless, and answer my question. Do you think that I didn’t notice that my patient wasn’t a six foot tall, fair haired and tanned biped? Do you think I missed all this black armor shell and these sharp as fuck protrusions?”
“But they’re trying to kill us, why would you…?”
“They blow us up, we’ve got surgeons to put our boys and girls back together. We blow them up, and for the lucky bastards that don’t blow up completely enough, you and I get to put them back together and send them back home.”
“But…”, he tried again.
“Ten blade, Useless.” She barked. He started and traded instruments with her. “We patch them up because we can, because we’re trained to, we try to save lives. We’re human, it’s what we do.” Feeling along the semi translucent flesh of the soldier’s back, she located the twin spinal columns and deftly sliced a line between them, exposing a shredded mess of blood vessels torn apart by shrapnel still lodged in the bones.
“I’ve been a soldier since I was seventeen, and I’ve been here almost ever since, fighting a war for a people I don’t know, over a rock that’s not even my home. I can’t tell which of these shiny black crab cakes are the oppressed, and which are the insurgents trying to punch my clock.” As she spoke, she accepted a set of forceps and began tugging metal fragments out of the cavity and tossing them into a waiting catch-basin. “This fucker tried to blow himself up in street full of friendlies, and here we are saving his life. What a shock it’s going to be when he wakes back up at home knowing that the people he tried to kill saved his life. Maybe he won’t get it, but some of them will, and some of the families that get their sons and daughters back alive will start to second guess the lunatics that are driving their bus, and maybe that shuts this thing down early, and then maybe I get to go home.”
The corporal stared, silent for a long time before mustering the courage to speak. “How do you sleep?”
The Major stopped, resting both hands on the gaping wound, and stared him straight in the eye.
“How do I sleep? Like everyone else, with one eye open hoping to god I don’t wake up with a bang.” Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. “Listen, Useless, I’ve been at war more than half my life, this is the only way I get to fight.” She reached back into the wound, and added, “I sleep just fine.”
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