Prometheus (Peregrine x Nydanna)

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  1. GriffinThey found him puking up his guts near the latrine, wrist deep in mud, only partially hidden from the nearby pathway by a damaged tank and half a crate full of uniforms that were now only fit to be called rags. It wasn’t quite as bad as the proverbial getting caught with his pants down, but it is still very hard to run when you are on hands and knees, and you are so busy dry heaving that you nearly forget to breathe. It is equally hard to pay attention to your surroundings when all you can hear is the sound of retching, so maybe Griffin could forgive himself for letting the medics get so close before he spotted them.

    He wasn’t the first person to get afflicted with an unexpected plague of vomiting over the past couple weeks. At first everyone had just thought it was food poisoning or some potent stomach bug, but when bodies began to appear over the next several days, eyes sunken and tongue bloated from extreme dehydration, people began to take it a bit more seriously. By the time Atharia got around to sending a group of disease experts, the illness was spreading through the gathered soldiers with all the delicacy of a forest fire in a dry grassland. Even now they didn’t have a cure, and were only quarantining infected individuals and keeping them on a fluid drip until the virus vanished naturally. That was what made this illness so scary for Griffin. Not the risk of death, that was a common thing, but the many-day quarantine that would follow discovery of infection. While Griffin had no problems hiding his illness while it was nothing more than a headache and faint queasiness, it was much more difficult to hide when it bent him over double and barely allowed him to move more than a few feet at a time before he had to halt to try and force his stomach out his mouth once more.

    He had been trying to get out of camp, to vanish into the forest that surrounded the outpost and wait there to “recover” from his illness. He would return the next day, looking no worse for the wear except perhaps for a lingering smell of vomit, and would be able to avoid the quarantine. As soon as he had felt the nausea building he began looking for opportunities to get away, but it had seemed as though one task after another pursued him through the remainder of the day. It wouldn’t have surprised him if he’d thought about it. With so many men tied up in quarantine, and many days still to come before they’d be released, everyone who was still healthy, or relatively so, had to do twice the normal amount of work to keep the camp operational. In the end, though, he ended up waiting too long for the right moment to leave camp without getting seen. He had thought he would have plenty of time, and he didn’t want to risk getting shot in the back by some over-enthusiastic patrol officer who thought he was a deserter. But, of course, it turned out to be just his luck that this disease was progressing through him with a much greater rapidity than he had anticipated. Long before he made it out of camp after being released the nausea he had been fighting all day rose to an unavoidable height.

    So, instead of escaping into the woods to quietly endure vomiting and a headache that felt like it was going to rend his brain apart, and coming back to camp tomorrow when the illness was gone, he was found huddled near the latrines, desperately trying to puke quietly so that no one would notice him. When had that ever been his luck?

    Griffin tried to bolt as soon as the medics came into view, forcing himself to his feet and lunging wide to avoid stepping in, and probably slipping on, his own puddle of sick. He hurled himself over the latrine, desperately hoping he had managed to gain enough momentum in the few steps he had given himself, and barely managed to make it across the gap. On the other side, he raced forward for a good ten paces before his gut seized, his head let out a vicious throb, and he found himself kneeling once more, griped in a bout of spasmodic retching. The few precious moments where he could have still escaped were wasted in pathetic dribbling, and the medics caught up to him quickly. Both of the white-swathed men latched a large hand onto his upper arm to drag him away towards quarantine, mostly ignoring his weak struggling to break free. Through the layers of fabric and latex they looked more like clinical monsters in that moment than human doctors, and their fingers seemed to transform from flesh to claws when he tried to lunge wildly away from them and break free in order to continue his desperate streak towards the woods.

    “It’s okay,” one of them said, trying to sound reassuring. “We’re here to help you. If you don’t come with us, you’ll die.”

    Griffin shook his head weakly, unable to speak as nausea swelled within him again and he tried to clamp his lips shut. The medics paused when his efforts failed, perhaps seeking to avoid getting stomach acid on their clothes, and the friendlier one patted him sympathetically on the back. “We will help,” he promised. Of course, he had no way of knowing that Griffin was shaking his head to the “you’ll die if you don’t come with us” part, and not the “we’re here to help” part. Although both were equally applicable in the end, he supposed. If they were going to mitigate the effects of this illness, preventing it from killing him, it would likely end up being one of these medics that ended up killing him instead. Poor blokes.

    He gave one last ditch effort to escape once he finished puking, struggling weakly in their stronger, and much healthier, grasp, before finally collapsing back against them as his head gave another wild throb. He mumbled something incoherent, trying to persuade them through words rather than action to release him, but they just ignored him. If they even heard him at all. So, he relegated himself to muttering uselessly as they half-led half-dragged him through camp, trying to think clearly enough to find a way to escape. He’d endured much worse than a headache before this point; it shouldn’t be muddling with his brain as much as it was. Then again, maybe it was the dehydration. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever died from lack of water before, but he didn’t think so.

    The two medics laid Griffin down on a cot that smelled as though he wasn’t the first, or the fifth, occupant, hooking him into an IV drip with quick efficient movements. The second time, after they found him trying to leave the quarantine a few minutes after they had walked away, they added a couple of straps to the bed and hooked him into those as well as back into the drip, and threw in a dose of some drug Griffin couldn’t identify for good measure. Only moments after that was completed both men raced away, reacting to shouts coming from the other side of the field hospital.

    Griffin only managed to get his hand halfway unstrapped before whatever drug they had given him kicked in. His headache went away, mostly, but it also had the unwelcome side effect of turning the air into molasses. Griffin struggled futilely with the remainder of the strap, only partially unhooked, fingers feeling as though they had gone completely numb due to exposure to the cold. Combine that with the fact that the air seemed to resist his movement and he still had to stop every few minutes to heave what little bile his stomach had built up into a conveniently placed pail, and what normally might have qualified as a “simple task” became so difficult as to fall into the realm of “impossible”. All the same he continued to struggle, able to hold no thought in his head except how inconvenient it would be if he were to die here.
    • Bucket of Rainbows Bucket of Rainbows x 1
  2. Kathleen “Haven’t you ever heard of sleeping?” The question came from behind the young woman who at that exact moment was making a mental note to herself while pressing her eyes against the ocular lense of a microscope. The question may as well have directed to the wall in front of her for all the response she gave to it. To Kathleen there was nothing of importance inside the room besides the slide she was currently observing. She probably would have spent the entire day completely absorbed in her study were it not for the hand that clamped down on her shoulder, startling her into a brief moment of paralyzing fear. The woman blinked away the imprint of swimming viruses that distorted her vision to look up at the man grinning foolishly down at her. “See. You should pay more attention to what’s going on. Bet you thought I was an enemy soldier, didn’t you?”

    The mask she was wearing was pulled down from over her nose and mouth, putting the frown of annoyance on clear display for the man who now leaned against the table beside her. For a doctor he was young, even younger than Kathleen was herself, and she began to wonder if they Atharian universities were just handing out medical degrees. But, he had made a very appropriate point. She did need to pay more attention to what was going on around her. Whether she truly realized it or not, the continent was at war, and she was as close to the front lines as any, non-military personal could get. Reluctant as she was to concede, Kathleen let out a small sigh of defeat. “I know you’re right, doctor. I was just noticing something about the virus….and now it’s gone.” It had not been a major discovery. Kathleen was certain she would have recalled that even if the man had scared her to death. During her brief bout of terror though, she had lost what she had made a point of making a note to herself about.

    ‘Damn it.’ She fumed silently, regarding the man with a cool stare of displeasure. “Exactly why are you interrupting me, Doctor Hale? I thought you’d be too preoccupied with the nurses to actually do something productive.” Hale was new to the agency, a narcissistic know it all who swore he was God’s gift to women and medicine. Kathleen had taken an instant disliking to him at first meeting, but that probably could have been the rather obnoxious smirk on the man’s face and the attempt to slap her on the backside when she excused herself from his presence.

    “Come on, Kat.” The doctor grinned, leaning a bit too close to Kathleen’s personal space for her liking. She leaned away, waving her gloved hands in his face in warning, but did not move from her stool. They would most likely have to pry her corpse from that stool, unless she managed to find some sort of cure before she died.

    He took the warning though, straightening up and finally schooling his features into an expression of seriousness. “They brought a few more subjects in. I thought you might want to make your rounds, see if any of these boys have something you can use.” The stern expression disappeared, replaced by another goofy grin. “And when are you going to call me Larry? Doctor is so stuffy.”

    Rolling her eyes, Kathleen ignored the man to mull over her new dilemma. On one hand, she was certain if she watched the virus through the microscope just a bit longer she would remember exactly what it was that had been lost in her moment of fear. On the other hand, Hale did have a point. There was always a chance with each new patient that was brought into quarantine that one of them might develop an antibody that could prevent the damn virus that was quickly becoming the bane of her existence. She was no closer to finding a vaccine or a cure than she had been when first introduced to the virus, and that was troubling her with each day that passed.

    “I’ll call you by your name when you’re old enough to shave, doctor. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I will go do a round or two. I still need to check on patient Murphy, and I believe that patient Lawry is close to being discharged.” Lawry had been one of the first patients that they had managed to save before the virus could do its damage. He had been nearly hydrated when they found him, too ill to do more than turn his head to vomit all over himself. Fortunately, IV fluids had perked him up and started him on the slow road to recovery. He had been in quarantine for the past three weeks, and while he wasn’t quite where he had been prior to the infection, he was at least strong enough to walk, and managing to hold down food. Rather than being discharged back to the front lines, Kathleen had ordered he be sent back to Atharia, where he could continue to recover, and the agency could keep an eye on him for a relapse. After all, it was the job of the Agency of Infectious Disease Prevention and Control to monitor the survivors of the virus for the next year, partially to see them back to full health, but mainly to keep an eye out for possible antibodies that may develop.

    Tearing away the gloves protecting her hands and wrists, Kathleen ignored the doctor as he began to grump about her less than friendly attitude toward him. She washed her hands thoroughly and left the room before he could even realize she wasn’t listening and she was forced to endure even more of his prattling. Her rounds took over an hour, starting with Lawry, who was in rather high spirits about his trip to Atharia, and ending with the latest patient to be brought into the quarantine unit.

    Looking over his chart outside of the room he was to be housed in, the woman frowned at the obvious lack of information. There was no name, no date of birth, only the location he was found in and the name of the medics who brought him in. Nothing more had been filled out, not even the time the patient’s IV had been started. Hoping for more information inside, Kathleen moved to open the door, crashing face first into it when it did not budge. Only then did she finally notice that the door was locked, and from what she could see through the small observation window, the patient was fully restrained. “Excuse me. Does anyone mind telling me why this door’s locked, and that man is tied to the bed?” She called out, looking expectantly at the few medics and nurses seated at the nurse’s station only a few feet away. One medic, a squirrelly man with wiry brown hair and a nose that reminded Kathleen of a vulture’s beak rushed with over with a keyring, sifting through the dozens of keys to find the one that would open the door for her.

    “Sorry, ma’am. He’s been giving us a bit of a problem. Every time we turn our back on him, he’s trying to get escape. We locked him up here so we could keep a closer eye on him.” The man unlocked the door, but did not move away after opening it for her. “If you don’t mind, ma’am, I’d like to stand here while you’re in there with him. I think he might give you some trouble.”

    Kathleen scoffed, but did not deny his request directly. “Of course he’s not going to give me trouble. He’s sick! If he had the strength to give me trouble without exhausting himself in the process, I’d question why he was here.” She left the medic at the door, closing it behind her without another word. Her first task, was to try and set up some sort of rapport with man to get whatever information she could gather from him. After that she could work on drawing his blood and seeing if she could get him settled enough to remove the restraints.

    Plastering a smile on her face, one not quite genuine, but not entirely false, she approached, reaching down slowly to give the man’s shoulder a gentle shake. “Good afternoon, sir.” She greeted, hoping that the man was coherent enough to be able to respond. If not, her work was going to be a lot harder. “My name is Kathleen. I’m with the AIDPC. I was hoping you could tell me your name, and a give me a little information about yourself. Are you feeling up to it?” She doubted it. Most people who came in didn’t feel up to doing much of anything but lying around like they were dying, at least until they got some fluids in them. The first days were always the hardest, and she suspected that it would be the same for the man pinned to the bed. “I know you’re not feeling the greatest right now, but any information you can give me will help.” She would give him a few minutes, analyze his responses and his behavior before determining her next course of action. If he worked with her, she could get what she needed, hopefully learn why he was trying to escape and have him settled into the room without all the straps holding him down. If not, she’d give him some pain meds to help him rest, then return when he was awake to see if she could get what she needed then. She had nothing but time, which was a lot more than could be said for him if he truly was infected.
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Griffin
    Griffin managed to get out of his bindings once more despite being dosed, after several hours of meticulous struggle with a body that no longer wanted to respond to his signals. He pushed himself to his feet, tottered across the room, and carefully exited through the then-still-unlocked door. He glanced up and down the hallway, trying not to puke again as vertigo seized his stomach, and forced himself around the corner. He barely even made it five paces before he wobbled to the side, sending himself crashing into a cart that had been left in the hallway. It promptly tipped over, sending a neatly lined up row of glass beakers, decanters, and flasks crashing to the floor with the kind of noise that would have woken the dead.

    Griffin jerked back in surprise from the noise, letting out a whimper as a sharp stab of pain arced through his head even through the haze of the pain medication. Eyes half closed against the pain, he put a hand out, trying to find the wall and stabilize himself. He had to get moving. Someone would have heard that crash. But, eyes still partially closed and unwilling to open fully again, his first step forward caused one of his feet to get tangled with a leg of the cart, which was sticking halfway out through the hallway. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, but he still flailed wildly as he pitched forward, arms moving far too slowly to catch himself, and his neck aiming directly for the sharp edge of a half-shattered beaker. Griffin gave up the fight halfway down the frustratingly slow fall, allowing his eyes to drop the rest of the way closed. It seemed he wouldn’t be able to escape this hospital without dying, no matter how much he longed to have it happen otherwise.

    But, instead of feeling the shard of glass puncture his jugular, Griffin felt small arms close around his chest, dragging him backwards and away from the glass. He flopped on the floor with a nurse falling down on top of him, obviously drawn by the sound of something breaking. The glass that had been on the floor glinted several inches away from his nose. Griffin stared at the way it reflected the light bulb in the ceiling, honestly mistified by what it was doing all the way over there and not in the side of his neck. When had chance ever saved him from death? Usually it was the other way around.

    The nurse was panting, some mixture of adrenalin and fear shortening her breath as she pulled her way back to her feet. “What are you doing out here?” she had asked, confused and more than a little bit irritated. Griffin had stared at the broken glass for a moment longer before his hand reached out, closing over a fragment. He lunged for the woman, and despite how slow his arms and body seemed to be she still only just managed to hop out of the way before the piece would have cut her arm.

    “What...?” was all she managed to get out before Griffin lunged again.

    Of course, that was the moment when two other staff, in a half run after the sound of the nurse’s cry of distress, rounded another corner and, after faltering at the sight of a patient attacking someone, vaulted across the broken glass and tackled him from behind, sending him crashing to the ground. The fragment of glass cut his hand, and his fingers flew open involuntarily. The “weapon” flew across the width of the hallway, before shattering against the wall.

    “No. No!” Griffin screamed, struggling under the weight of one of the guards as he tried to reach for another piece of glass. It wasn’t that he really wanted to hurt anyone, he just wanted to get out of here before someone accidentally shot him, or put a piece of glass through his heart, or drove a needle through his brain, or whatever it was that was going to kill him.

    In the end, it was his own weakness that did the most to subdue him. The closest he came to actually managing to attack one of the guards was when he suddenly realized he was going to puke. He stopped moving for an instant, before his back arched in protest of his latest attempt to empty a stomach that didn’t have anything in it. The heaves didn’t stop until both doctors dragged him back into the room, strapped him back to the bed, and were halfway through bandaging the cut on his hand. At the vigorous promptings of the nurse he had tried to wound, the doctors added a second set of bindings to his hands, and gave him another dose of some drug. Just before he dropped into a stupor, Griffin heard that sound of a lock on the door snapping shut. No getting back out that way.

    No getting back out any way.

    He hung there on the edge between consciousness and oblivion, tugging futilely at his bonds until the skin under each binding was rubbed raw. A small pool of sick began to build on the side of his bed because he could no longer bother himself to do more than turn his head to the side when his nausea rose again. The bandages on his hand from the glass, and on his arm from where he’d ripped out the last IV drip, were starting to get damp with blood. He didn’t even feel any throbbing.

    The sound of another click coming from the door drew his attention, and he stared at it as it swung open, desperately trying to claw his way out of the pit of mud that his mind seemed to have been swallowed by. A woman entered the room, different from the one he had attacked earlier, but with the same long, brown hair pulled professionally away from her face. Same outfit, too. Another nurse? It made sense, he supposed.

    She approached him quickly, surveying him with a critical eye, and he simply stared at her blankly. Was she here to let him go? No, she wanted to talk. At least that was what he assumed. He could see her mouth moving, although the noises that finally reached his ears didn’t sound anything like language to him. Had he been moved to some other country while he wasn’t paying attention? He tugged at the bindings. Nope, still there.

    She spoke again, and his eyes flicked back to her face, lids barely at half-mast. He didn’t know what she wanted. Right then, he didn’t really care. “P...” his voice broke, and he licked at chapped lips with a tongue that felt dry and swollen. “Please,” he finally managed, voice nothing more than a hoarse whisper. Maybe she would be as kind as she was pretty. “Let me go.”

    Her mouth moved again. Was she asking him why? Had he spoken too quietly for her to understand? It didn’t matter. “You are going to kill me.” His voice had gained a little bit of strength. She’d be able to hear that. “I don’t want to die here. Let me go.”

    It seemed even that little bit of effort was too much for him. Darkness was clouding his vision, until it seemed like her face was glowing in the void. And then even that was gone.
    • Love Love x 1
  4. Kathleen The smile held through the man’s delirious grumbling, although by the end of his words it most likely looked like a grimace. ‘Oh wonderful. One of those.’ She thought, already writing the man of as overly dramatic, and possibly a hypercondriac. That did not make her any less determined to help him, but it did make his opinions about his condition questionable. Kathleen heaved a mental sigh, straightened herself up before the man could read into her expression, and managed to regard him with a sympathetic smile. “You’re not going to die, sir. I can assure you of that. The medics brought you here in time.” With a minor assessment in place, the woman understood what actions needed to be taken, and the first was to settle the man down.

    Mind and body on automatic, she moved over to the small sink, grabbing up one of the washcloths to wet with cold water. After dampening it, she returned to his bedside to begin dabbing the cloth over the man’s head gently, making sure to add a bit of moisture to his lips. “You’re ill, but we’ve caught you before you could take a turn for the worse. You have what the soldiers are calling the emptying bug.’ Her lips thinned with disapproval over the lack of technical terms, but she quickly moved on to recite the same speech she gave each and every single patient she dealt with. “The name we’re calling it is the T one C virus. We’re still trying to figure out where it came from, but we do know that it is not airborne which is fortunate, but other than that we cannot figure out how it’s passing from one person to the next. Have you been in contact with anyone who is sick?” The question was asked lightly, and no answer was expected, but Kathleen held onto hope that the man might push through his current state of mind and regain some coherency.

    “Can you tell me your name, sir?” She asked, this time leaning over him to force his gaze on her directly. “Were you on the front lines? Who is your commanding officer? I’ll need to notify him that you’re here before they believe you went AWOL.” How she hated dealing with officers! She understood that they were in the middle of a war, and every man available was needed. However, she would not risk the lives of those who were sick, and those who were not because a few impatient officers wanted every available set of hands on the field. It was the same time she made contact. ‘When will you have them back? I need them back now!’ Kathleen would simply bite her tongue and tell them as soon as she could, when what she really wanted to do was tell them to go to hell, and let the poor men recover without the fear of being killed in battle looming over their heads like a dark cloud.

    Confident that the cool cloth would clear a path for some sensibility, Kathleen rested the cloth on the man’s head, but did not move away from his bed. “I know you probably don’t want to answer me right now, and that’s fine. I can give you some medicine to help you rest, and perhaps when you wake up you’ll feel a bit more like talking.” The smile meant to keep the man at ease faded as she looked over him, eyes honing in on the bandages on his hand. ‘No wonder he thinks I’m going to kill him? What in the world is going on here?’ Since the quarantine started, there had been no combative patience; they were all too ill to fight. There had been a few who had attempted to sneak out to get back out to the field, but they would always collapse from complete exhaustion before they could get very far, and they never struggled once they were returned to their cots.

    Making a brief stop at the door, she poked her head out to call to one of the nurses. “I need some morphine and a syringe. I think he’ll be a bit more compliant if he’s not feeling any pain.” Kathleen decided that the unknown man was going to have to be monitored closely. The more he fought, the faster it would be for dehydration to become even more of an issue. He was going to have more problems if he didn’t take it easy, but that meant keeping him under heavy sedation until he was rational enough to understand that they were not going to hurt him. For now the morphine would have to do the trick. Once she was certain he was out of pain, and had gotten a few hours of rest she would try to question him again.

    Using the time she waited for the nurse to bring her what she asked for, Kathleen began to try and comfort the distraught man by loosening his restraints. “I won’t take them off, but I’ll give you a bit of room to move. If you’re feeling better when I return, I will remove them completely.” Kathleen’s true passion was research, but that did not mean she gave those under her temporary care less than they deserved. These men were facing death on two fronts, and needed a friendly face and a moment’s reprieve from the stress that came along with war. The man was barely hanging onto consciousness as it was though, and once she finished she was certain all strength he had left to fight would be snuffed out by sleep. Sleep also meant she could remove his restraints. She would simply have to send down a medic to keep an eye on him while she ran some tests on his blood. By the time she got finished with the bloodwork, the medicine would have run its course, and she hoped he’d be a bit more chatty and a lot less lethargic.
  5. GriffinHe didn't hear any of the doctor's words, and was too numb to even feel the needle slipping into his arm to inject another dose of pain medication into him. Instead it felt like he was floating, drifting, through some black void. If he could have thought clearer, he might have appreciated it. His deaths were rarely quick, and he would certainly never qualify them as painless. That proved especially true out here on the battlefield, where a stray bullet to the gut could leave him bleeding for hours before his heart finally gave out, or an explosion could leave him blind and deaf until he managed to accidentally impale himself on some remnant of ruined machinery.

    The war hid his deaths, concealed them. He wasn't even an official citizen of Deflaland, he was simply some random passer-by they had picked up and recruited, assuming he belonged to one of the rural territories. He dind't have any official identification, wasn't assigned to any particular unit, and no one cared so long as he was there to fight Thyus Plya's invasion with the rest of the troops whenever the horn sounded. He had considered leaving, but that would only draw more attention to him, in the end. No one kept track of dead bodies on a battlefield, no one thought to track who was alive and who was dead, and who was coming back from the dead with alarming frequency. If he couldn't avoid his death, he would try and conceal it.

    Out here, it didn't matter that every day, without fail, at some point between sunrise and sunset, life would leave him as another corpse to add to the piles. He could lay out in the battlefield, just another failed soldier, until he woke back up. And should anyone see it, well, no matter. No one except the officers cared if some other soldier was playing dead. It wasn't a big deal.

    It wasn't a big deal, that was, as long as he was dying in an out-of-the-way place, where no one gave a crap about him, and no one was paying attention to him. If no one cared about him, no one would bother to pay attention to him. But now he was under the eyes of the medics, those people who were so certain they were trying to "help". They would undoubtedly notice when he died. He could only pray that they would decide to get rid of his body, and not try and keep it for some reason. He would wake back up, whole and hale as he had been this morning, no matter what they did to him in the meantime, and then he would be safe, protected from death until the next dawn. If he woke up at the wrong moment...

    Why hadn't he just slit his throat as soon as he had begun to exhibit the symptoms of this damn plague? What had he thought he would gain by trying to save himself from some torment. His life was torment. The universe made sure of it.

    He couldn't feel his body anymore. It was as though he had been peeled away from it, like his consciousness had been carefully stripped from his body like someone peeling the skin off an apple. Maybe that was what was going on. Maybe he had finally been set free, and he was now going to drift eternally through the world, able to see, hear, feel, experience nothing, without a body to inform him of what was going on. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad fate. It would certainly be more peaceful than this never ending struggle. It couldn't be any more lonely an existence than he already led.

    He imagined he could hear his voice, out here in the void with him. Maybe it had followed him. Maybe, even now, it wasn't willing to give up, wasn't willing to quit what it had done so well for so long. Maybe it would follow him forever through the void, a reminder of the life he had once led. That strange pulse might be all that remained of him. It reverberated through the darkness. Thum-thump. Thum-thump. Thum. Thump. Thum. Thump. Thum... Thump... Thum... Thump... Thum...

  6. Kathleen Kathleen noticed his breathing beginning to slow, thinking only that the medication was doing its work and nothing more. Those thoughts quickly changed when his chest failed to rise and fall in a steady motion, when the fall lasted far longer than it should have. Panic set in, an emotion that the trained woman shut off in favor of focusing on what needed to be done. It wasn’t uncommon to have someone stop breathing while under the influence of pain meds. Sometimes all they needed was a quick start, a jolt to the senses that would start the engines running again. Kathleen was prepared to give the man just what he needed with a sharp shake, and a light slap against his cheek. “Sir…..breathe! Come on, you can do it.” She waited for the eventual startled reaction and sharp gasp for air, but there was nothing. No response at all, not even a twitch.

    “Shit!” The expletive slipped out, but Kathleen had lost enough of her calm to care. “I need some help in here!” She shouted over her shoulder, her hands moving down from the man’s shoulders to begin pumping on his chest, hoping to get his lungs functioning again. The explosion of activity from behind her was little more than background noise, the only thing that truly existed was the man who lay motionless on the bed. She hadn’t even been able to draw his blood yet! Was the main thought going through her mind. She’d only given him the normal dose of morphine, how could he possibly die from that? Kathleen continued her efforts, now joined by other nurses and medics who were scurrying around the room trying to find something to spark some life back into the still form. For five minutes straight they worked, doing everything in their limited power to bring the man back to the land of the living, but it wasn’t enough.

    “He’s gone.” One of the medics called from beside Kathleen, grabbing her wrists to pull them away from the man’s chest. “You’re wasting your time. Bag him up and move on. There’s others that need our attention.”

    The room cleared out quickly, the nurses returning to their post and the medics preparing to carry the body down to the makeshift morgue where it would be burned along with all the others who passed on during their stay. Kathleen knew she should have been off writing up her report of the incident and returning to the others who needed her, but she could not, not yet. She simply stared, dark eyes clouded over with confusion and anger that was directed at those around her. Something had gone wrong. There was something that she had missed that caused the man to die in such an unexpected way and she needed to find out what it was before someone else suffered the same fate.

    Marching from the room, Kathleen grabbed the man’s clipboard, plucking it off the foot of the bed without turning her eyes away from her next stop. The nurses all watched her, a few staring at her with eyes full of the same confusion that she herself felt while there were those who turned their head with guilt the moment they caught a glimpse of the object in her hand. Kathleen held it up in the air in front of her, casting a scrutinizing glance to each nurse in turn. “Does anyone care to tell me when the last dose of medication was given? What medication was given? Because for the life of me I can’t seem to find a damn thing written down!” That had to be the cause. Kathleen was far from perfect, but in her time at the quarantine center she had not lost a patient, not because of an oversight. The empty page and the nurses’ silence was all she needed, but the quick jerk of one woman’s chin was a clear verification of guilt. Sharp eyes locked onto the woman, lids narrowing into a heated glare. There was quite a lot that she could tolerate; flirting with the soldiers that came in, the occasional unauthorized cigarette breaks. A clear cut case of neglect of duties was not among that list.

    Taking a step closer to the metal table that served as the nurse’s station, Kathleen slammed the paper down onto the cool surface in front of the nurse who was actively avoiding her gaze. “You gave that man medication, and failed to write it down, didn’t you?”

    The woman, a few inches shorter than Kathleen, and at least a good five years younger finally looked up, but could not maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds before glancing away. “I….I forgot! He kept trying to get out of his room. We….”

    Kathleen’s hand slammed down on the table, surprised that she actually had the control over her anger not to reach over and give the woman a slap across the face. She wanted to. More than anything else she wanted to slap some sense into the woman’s head, but that would mean being reprimanded herself. The last thing she wanted on what was already becoming a horrible day was a blemish on her record. “It would have taken you all of five seconds to write down when you administered medication. That’s why we have these!” She slapped her hand back on the table again, but the nurse did not look down. The tension of the situation must have been getting to everyone around the pair, because a medic finally moved to pull the angered woman away.

    “She made a mistake. We’ve all done it a time or two. It was complete chaos. We’ve never had to deal with someone trying to escape before. It slipped all of our minds.” The words were meant to cool Kathleen’s temper. However, they had the complete opposite effect. Rather than simmer down and see things logically, the woman jerked her shoulders from the medic’s grasp and shoved past him. The last thing she wanted to hear was that a death, a completely avoidable one, was a mistake, and she certainly wasn’t going to stand around listening to excuses.

    She needed to get back to work. The makeshift lab she had spent the night and most of the morning was a far better place for her to be. In the lab she only had to worry about her samples, and the side effect of momentary blindness when she finally pulled her eyes away from the microscope. There weren’t any nurses who could be too distracted to do their work, or patients who could suddenly drop dead on her. She would simply keep herself locked away in there, and focus on the real reason she was there; to find a cure and return to Atharia.
  7. Griffin
    Griffin had always thought there should have been something to mark his return to the living. A jolt, a shock, a gasp, something that began to even hint at the monumental thing that had just transpired. It might be commonplace to him at this point, but that didn’t change the fact that he had died, often violently, and he was now coming back to life. There should have been more to it.

    But there wasn’t. One moment he was gone, dead. Not floating, not drifting, not waiting, just dead. The next, he was there. Wherever “there” happened to be. He would feel his body again, suddenly once more become aware of his own existence as he returned to the world of the living. It was like waking up, except for the absence of the memory of dreams. One second he was dying. The next, he was aware again. If he wanted to, he could open his eyes, stretch luxuriously, almost as though he was just waking up from a nap. Or he could lay there quietly, trying to assess where he was and who was watching him before he simply jumped to his feet, with no one any the wiser to the fact that some monumental change had just occurred. Such a strategy had kept him safe at many points before now, and it was the strategy he adopted now.

    The first thing he noticed was that it was cold, the kind of cold that only came in the middle of the night. That wasn’t particularly surprising. The length of time he stayed dead was utterly inconsistent, but it followed a general pattern: the more painful his death, the more quickly he would recover. His death had been unusually peaceful. One eye cracked open, and was greeted by nothing but darkness. He guessed at least six hours had passed, probably more.

    The second thing he noticed was that he was completely naked. That meant that they had done something with his body after his death. However, the feel of wind across his bare back told him that he was most likely outside. He breathed a mental sigh of relief. Good. If he had been locked in the morgue, he would have had a much harder time getting out without detection.

    The third thing he noticed was the feel of something jabbing into his belly, his thigh, and his shoulder. He didn’t dare shift, not when he was not yet sure where he was or who might be watching, but he did open his eyes a little bit further. Vague shapes, rendered indistinct by darkness, were all that greeted him. However, it only took him another moment to figure out where he was, after all, Griffin only needed one sense to identify a trash heap. His eyes closed, and he tried to avoid thinking about how exactly he would have gotten out here. He didn’t know exactly what the hospital did with bodies. Somehow he doubted it normally involved throwing recently deceased bodies on trash heaps. Soldiers who died on the battlefield were either left to be picked apart by scavengers, or else placed in a mass-grave. That would not be an option with bodies that had died by infectious disease, especially one that the medics were trying to contain. In an attempt to keep his thoughts from following that trail to its inevitable conclusion, he reminded himself that he had to get out of there. Eyes already closed, Griffin devoted himself to listening.

    In the distance, he could hear the sound of gunfire. War never stopped, not even when the sun went down. Out there, someone was losing their life. At least he was safe from stray bullets until the next dawn. Closer to his position he could hear footsteps, the murmur of weary voices. He was still near the camp. But right around him there was nothing but the sound of wind. Nothing stirred, no footsteps crunched through dirt, no raspy breath or coughs broke through the silence. He should be alone.

    It was only that point that Griffn began to stir. He extracted himself carefully from the trash-heap, doing his best to avoid the jagged corners of rusted metal. He might be safe from death this evening, but he had no particular desire to die from infection tomorrow. He winced when his hand slipped, and ended up landing in a slimy pile of something he tried not to identify, but figured might be the uneaten remains of dinner from about a week ago. That’s about what it smelled like.

    Eventually, carefully, he did manage to make it to the bottom of the pile without wounding himself, or bringing the whole pile crashing down on his head. He let out a relieved sigh when his feet touched bare earth, before shivering as the cold seemed to wrap its way up his legs. This wasn’t the kind of night to be standing around outside naked. He’d have to see if he could sneak around the edge of camp and find some clothing someone left out. He certainly wasn’t getting his old uniform back.
  8. Kathleen Kathleen was there to witness the cremation of the unnamed man, more for the sake of her own sanity than to show respect for an anonymous stranger who’d crossed her path. She was convinced that it was some elaborate prank played on her by nurses who disliked her for constantly pushing them, or perhaps medics who had met with her disapproving glare whenever they acted unprofessionally. Either way she knew that she could not have possibly overdosed a relatively healthy man, not with the amount of attention she paid to her job. She wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but Kathleen had always made it a point to be thorough in her job. She had to be, or else her own life would be on the line. She worked with some of the most infectious diseases known to man after all. One wrong move, and she’d be suffering a fate worse than death.

    She had watched as the man’s body was stuffed into the small incineration, being folded up like a starched shirt. “Don’t be so rough!” She’d cried out as she watched the appointed mortician wrestle the man’s body into the small confines of its last stop. The man had glared in retort, but made a painful and exaggerated effort to treat the body with some semblance of decency afterwards. It was an act for her benefit, and Kathleen was certain if she hadn’t been present to witness the cremation, the mortician would have probably hacked the man’s body into pieces and tossed them into the incinerator without a second thought. There certainly would have been hell to pay afterwards if he had gone through it, as he most certainly would have become infected with the same virus, but that would have been his own fault.

    When the fires burned down and there was nothing left of the unknown soldier by some bone fragments and ashes, Kathleen returned to the lab, determined to accomplish something constructive with the remainder of her day. Her guilt over the accidental death was buried beneath layers of anger and accusation, anything at all that would take away blame from herself; she simply couldn’t cope with it. In her career as a nurse she had never lost a patient when she could actually do something to help them. Trying to comfort herself with words was pointless. Kathleen relied too heavily on science and medicine to truly believe that death was unavoidable, not in the man’s case. The virus could kill, that was true, but he hadn’t died because of it. He’d died because some flighty nurse couldn’t handle the responsibility of looking after a wayward patient.

    The next few hours were spent mindlessly staring into a microscope, trying to focus on what she was watching but still battling with the weight of the man’s death. Hours passed before Kathleen finally decided that it was fruitless to remain as she was, and it was finally time for her to get some rest in hopes that the world would be a bit brighter the next day. Finally dragging herself out of the lab, she wandered the eerily silent halls of the hospital, her mind torturously recalling the events of the day as she thought of ways she could have possibly changed the outcome. If she had waited a few more minutes to do her rounds, or requested more information about the man and his blank file, perhaps he might still be resting in his cot rather than littering the ground somewhere. The woman was too lost in her own thoughts to pay much attention to where she was going, realizing too late that she’d wandered off in the wrong direction and far too frustrated with herself to backtrack. She merely followed the hallways until she reached the closest exit, one that would take her around the rear of the building where few ventured to go.

    The first thing that struck her once she stepped outside the hospital was the breeze that carried the faintest traces of medicine, body fluids, and death, a repugnant combination that made her nose scrunch up in disgust and her empty stomach curl into itself. The next thing she took notice of was the darkness of the sky, and the stillness of the world being interrupted by the rapid sounds of gunfire in the distance. She sighed and shook her head, deciding to ignore the explosions of warfare that carried over the miles and focus on her rush to get back to her tent.

    Kathleen probably would have missed the man if a blast of gunfire hadn’t gone off at the exact moment he reached the bottom of the trash heap. She would have continued to walk with her eyes cast to the ground, lost in her own little world if the sounds hadn’t been closer than the previous ones. She glanced up, almost expecting to find a group of soldiers running straight at her, guns out peppering the air behind them as they ran. Instead she caught a flicker of movement from the corner of her eye, too large to be a rat or any other creature sifting through the rubbish for food. She thought it could possibly be one of the soldiers, looking for discarded needles that might have a drop or two of morphine that they could inject. It wasn’t rare, but it certainly wasn’t a common event either.

    She circled around the mound of trash, ready to lecture whoever it was on their choice of addiction, but stopped dead in her tracks when she finally came close to discovering the source of the movement. The shadows had covered most of his features, but they certainly could not cover his modesty. Kathleen’s lips that had been parted to begin scolding snapped together quickly, and her body spun around to turn her back to the naked man. “Excuse me, sir. It’s rather unwise to be walking around here naked. If you’re looking for drugs, there are certainly better options than what you’re doing, and I believe you’ve probably already had your fil of them if your current predicament is anything to go by.” She chastised the man, but did not turn to face him. “I’d suggest finding your clothes and getting back to the frontlines. The MPs will most likely be making their way around here to look for stragglers, and it’s not pretty what they do to them when they find them.” It wasn’t the first time she’d encountered soldiers trying to get a quick fix, or the few who’d seen the aftermath of war and wanted nothing more to do with it. Of course those men were usually dressed in their uniforms. This was a scenario that Kathleen never would have dreamed of occurring. She just hoped she could convince the man to get dressed and return to his squad before the MPs decided to make an example out of him in front of her.
  9. GriffinThe footsteps seemed to come out of nowhere. One moment Griffin was in a silent junk yard, working his way down the pile of trash, the next he was on the ground and he could hear quick, rapid steps approaching his location. Not just approaching, though. No, they were right on top of him. A part of him wanted to swear, to shake his fists at the heavens. Today had already gone so awry, did it really have to go further? The rest of him knew it was futile. For whatever reason, the universe had it out for him. It was a miracle that he had yet to be discovered, after so long roaming the world. Perhaps, for a time, it had been enough to simply torment him with his inevitable deaths and reawakenings. Now that he was getting used to it, learning how to deal with it and how to mitigate it to an extent, death was no longer enough. Now someone had to find him.

    He ducked behind the trash heap, quickly making his way a few paces deeper into the field of rubbish. Maybe the approaching individual would miss him. Maybe, in the safety of the back of the camp, they didn't have the kind of intense observation that soldiers on the front line would have. Maybe they hadn't spotted him at all, and would simply keep walking to wherever they were going. But, no, Griffin could hear the footsteps pausing, shuffling slightly, before starting up again. Before he could throw himself deeper into the junkyard, the person, the woman, rounded the corner. Her eyes flew wide at the sight of him there, naked, knees slightly bent so that his blonde head stayed below the level of the top of the mound. He stood frozen, a deer caught in a beam of light, wishing that she would just vanish, turn out to be some figure of his disturbed imagination.

    That was too much to hope for. Instead of vanishing she whirled about, apparently unwilling to stare at a naked man, and began to speak to him. Well, speak might be a bit of a polite term for it. "Order" would have probably been a bit more accurate, despite the forced politeness in her tone. This woman didn't like this scene she had happened across one bit, even if she was too well-trained in social manners to chew him out for wandering naked through camp. She had no way of knowing that it wasn't his fault, and that there was nothing he could have done about it. She didn't know that he hadn't really gotten himself into this situation. Of course, had Griffin not been so intent on trying to find a way to get out of this situation, he might have snorted. She thought he was looking for drugs? No, more drugs was the last thing he wanted right now.

    He stepped around the side of the trash heap, the lower part of his torso dipping behind the mound, wondering if he would be able to just slip away. Her back was to him right now, whether out of embarrassment or some form of courtesy for him he didn't know. He could just slip away before the medic turned around. He'd managed to identify her profession, even in the darkness of the middle of the night. Her white coat stood out like a glaring beacon among all the browns and greys and greens of the piles around them.

    Of course the person who happened across him would be a medic. Who else would it be? With the way today was going, she was, naturally, also going to be one of the few people who had actually interacted with him before the overdose. He studied the back of her head as he skulked a little bit further around the corner, trying to see if he could place her. Everything from his time within the hospital all seemed to be one giant blur, like someone had taken his memories, wet them down, and swirled them around with their bare fingers until it was nothing more than a jumbled mess of colors and shapes. Things didn't fit together perfectly. He thought he caught a brief glimpse of brown hair in his mind's eye, a point of brightness in a field of darkness, but before he could track down the memory it flitted away, unidentifiable.

    This time he really did sigh. What was he doing? There had to be at least a hundred people working in the hospital, between the nurses, the field surgeons, the doctors, and now the people from the AIDPC. What was making him so certain that this would be one of the... he struggled for a moment to remember. Two. Two women he'd interacted with while in the hospital. Griffin had always thought himself a level-headed person, especially after everything he had gone through. When had that transitioned into bouts of wild fancy?

    Maybe the paranoia came from some lingering aftereffect of being dead for so many hours, and having who-knew-what done to his body. Maybe he was just overreacting. Maybe she would let him go. He wanted to do exactly what she was asking, after all. Find some clothes, get towards the front lines. He'd be able to blend into all the bodies then, both living and dead. He'd stay there for a day, maybe two, before disappearing, finding some other place to be just another soldier. He'd probably already stayed here for longer than he should have.

    All he had to do was get away from her.

    "Of course," was all he said, even as he stepped further behind the pile of trash. One more second and he'd be able to wind his way deeper into the trash, and hopefully find a ruined uniform somewhere in the heaps. That would offer him enough cover to make it through the camp, even if people might stare at the blood soaked rags. "My thought's exactly. If you'll excuse me, I'll go do that right now."
    • Love Love x 1
  10. Kathleen Where was it? Kathleen felt as if a lifetime had ticked away since she’d addressed the man, and he had yet to come up with some rambling excuse for his presence among the trash. She had heard them all before, the countless excuses as to why they simply couldn’t go back to the fighting. She understood them, she really did, but she abhorred the fact that people could not live up to their commitments. But Kathleen wasn’t completely heartless. She understood that there were those who had not signed on to fight, but had the misfortune to be deemed old enough to die for their continent. She found that most of the men she dealt with in the situation were young, barely out of school with the future stretching out before them. Some were simply puppies in love, and pining away for their sweethearts back home. She could sympathize, but she always sent them back on their way before they could ruin their lives and reputations.

    This man did not offer her any heartbreaking tale of a love waiting back home for him, or his disgust for the gore covered battlefields. He simply dismissed himself with words of returning back to where he belonged; that did not mean Kathleen trusted that he would make it there, not when he was naked. She finally turned, surprised to find that he had stalked deeper into the mess, and her professional mind kicked in. “What in the world are you doing? Surely you don’t mean to climb through the trash to get back to the lines. Get out of there before you end up becoming a pin cushion. And trust me, you don’t want to be punctured by those needles.” Shrugging out of her lab coat, she held it out to the man, keeping her eyes averted. “I can at least let you get washed up and dressed before you go back. If you return the way you are now, you’ll be in confinement faster than you can blink.”

    Kathleen cautiously moved in closer, carefully minding her step while trying to get a sense of the man she was dealing with. She was fortunate that he was naked and she didn’t have to worry about a weapon being shoved in her face by a petrified soldier who did not wish to return to his post. It was after a few steps that she began to gain a sense of familiarity, as if she’d been where she was before, which was complete nonsense. She was positive she would remember dealing with a naked man in the middle of a trash heap. Yet the feeling grew as she got closer, but it wasn’t until she was close enough to hand the man her jacket that it clicked into place.

    The garment that was dangling from her fingers nearly slipped free as she snatched her hand back, the color in her face draining as her blood sank down into her feet, keeping them plastered to the ground. For a moment all Kathleen could do was gape at the man, her mind questioning what it was her eyes were seeing. No, it was the darkness, and the complete absurdity of the situation that was playing tricks on her. There was simply no possible way she could be looking at who she thought it was.

    Without much thought Kathleen remained completely motionless, staring at the man in disbelief, still struggling with what she was seeing. She had to be imagining things. There was no possible way that this could be the same man she’d just watched being burned to ashes. She was tired. That’s what it was! She had spent far too much time staring at slides and now her mind was toying with her. She had been up for over twenty four hours, and now her exhausted mind was going to drive her insane until she finally got the rest that she needed. Kathleen began to calm, finding discrepancies that could be used to tell the man standing before her apart from the one she’d encountered that morning. For starters, there was no traces of injuries to his arm and his hands, at least not that she could see in the shadows covering. For another thing, he wasn’t vomiting. The man she’d been about to treat was infected with the virus, and he would not have sustained strength enough to stand without fluids by this point. No, this wasn’t the man, but he looked strikingly similar.

    Shaking her head, Kathleen thrust her jacket in his direction, deciding that it was better to head off to her tent and go to sleep without putting much thought into the encounter. This was just another sign that she needed to rest up, and in the morning she would realize that this man was not the same as the man she’d unintentionally killed. “Move along, soldier. The MPs will be here soon enough. Stay clear of the roads and you should miss them.” Kathleen scurried back to her original route, avoiding looking back at the man who had left her with an unsettled state of mind. A quick wash up, and bed was the only thing that she would allow herself to think on, in hopes that when she woke up the next morning the world would be set to right and she would no longer picture walking dead men with every random stranger she crossed.
    #10 Scripturient, Mar 2, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2016
    • Nice execution! Nice execution! x 1
  11. Griffin
    Griffin’s heart rate seemed to increase with every step the woman took after him. He longed to speed up, to race away fast enough that she couldn’t follow him, but she was right. He couldn’t just go racing through the junkyard and expect no injury to come from it, and the last thing he wanted was someone reporting that he had an infection, and his ending up back in the hospital. So he picked his way forward, carefully but still as quickly as he could manage, all the while hearing her get closer. He glanced backwards, having to pause to complete the motion so he wouldn’t run into anything, and saw her walking forward, coat in hand. For a moment he paused, wondering if he should simply take it and hope that would get rid of her.

    The few moments of hesitation was all she needed to catch up to him, to see him more properly in the minimal light of moon and distant campfires. For a moment they stared at each other, eye to eye, as he was overtaken by a sense of familiarity, and a fear of impending doom.

    The moment was shattered when she jerked away from him, and Griffin felt his heart leap up into his throat. He’d been right. As improbable, nearly impossible, as it had been, this woman knew him, recognized him. He could barely even hear the sound of distant gunfire anymore over the pounding of his own heart. He felt himself tense, prepared to flee, even if it meant a slow, painful death tomorrow by some nasty infection. Prepared to fight, should she try and lunge at him, grab him, attack him. In that moment, in that desperate fear of being found out and having to face some unknowable, unbearable future, all rational thought left him. He was prepared to do anything to get away. He stood there, stiff, breath short and shallow as he waited for her to do something. To move. To yell for help. The stillness and the silence kept him frozen, but anything could break it and then there was no telling what he would do.

    Indeed, when she suddenly abruptly thrust the jacket on him, he nearly leaped out of the way, as though it was a sword and not a jacket she was shoving in his direction. Instead he kept it to merely a flinch, and he stared at her for a moment before her quick, abrupt gestures finally forced him to take the coat. He held it away from his chest like it was some sort of dead animal carcass, while she turned away and rushed back out of the junkyard.

    It was then that the relief hit him, so powerfully that his knees began to shake, and he had to stick out a hand against a nearby piece of metal to keep himself from collapsing to the ground. He could feel his heart palpating in his chest, and for a moment he found himself wondering if it was possible to die from sudden onset relief. He was certain he’d experienced more unexpected things.

    But, no, he still had at least five hours before dawn. He wasn’t dying. No, quite to the contrary, he was coming alive again, having just been plucked from the jowls of an uncertain future that was, to him, far worse than any fear of death. He could feel the cold breeze of the night rushing over his flushed face, and he tipped his head back, allowing his eyes to drift closed as he relished in the feel of it. For the first time, perhaps in his entire life, something that had the potential to go catastrophically wrong had actually gone right. Not just okay, not just tolerable, but actually right. Every nerve, every instinct within his body, told him that medic had recognized him. And yet he was not being chased, not being treated like some demon-possessed monster. She’d walked away. Let him go. He’d never dared to dream such a thing might happen.

    Gradually his breathing and heart rate returned to normal, as he stood there and shook from the relief of it. Finally, he straightened himself back up, pushing himself away from a pile of trash and a little bit deeper into the junkyard. Now that his heart had slowed he felt himself begin to shiver in the cold air, and he quickly swung the lab coat over his shoulders. It was not much, but it might offer him some protection from the wind, and should spare him some of the minor scrapes he would otherwise get traversing through the junkyard to find himself some clothes.

    Once that job was complete, the only thing that would be left was getting himself the hell out of this battlefield, and away from the woman who might change her mind about letting him go. He’d need some supplies, just enough to convince casual passers-by that he wasn’t the runaway soldier he soon intended to be. A couple bottles of water and a few travel rations would be more than enough to last him while he found someplace safe to hide for a few days.

    He’d have to do it before dawn. He’d been given an opportunity, some strange blessing of the luck that had always been so absent from his life, and he wasn’t going to waste it on stupid mistakes. He could do it. He’d get away.
  12. Kathleen Kathleen was still in a state of shock as she made her way back to her tent with rushed steps, not even daring to look back behind her as she circled back around the building. By the time she reached her temporary domicile, the woman had convinced herself that her overworked mind was simply conjuring up images, that her guilt was eating away at her far more than she’d anticipated. Sure, she had expected to have some nightmares that night, or trouble falling asleep, but to actually see a dead man? She was well beyond the normal bit of conscience. She was far too rational to be prone to illusions, even with the exhaustion addling her mind. It was a combination of factors, and the huge amount of pressure the agency was putting on her and her co-workers to find the cure for the virus that was putting her into a delusional state and creating images of men who were nothing more than ashes into her brain.

    A shower was usually mandatory before retiring for the night, but Kathleen did not dare step foot outside her tent once she made it inside. Sure, she was positive that her mind was playing tricks on her, but there was no way in the world she was going to repeat what just happened. She settled for saturating a wash cloth in alcohol and scrubbing her hands and what little skin had been exposed during the day clean with it. She could shower in the morning, when she was certain she would have recovered from whatever it was she was going through.

    Changing out of her work clothes quickly, she threw on her nightgown and climbed into the cot that served as her bed, missing the comforts of Atharia and her small apartment more and more as she stretched out. She closed her eyes, longing for the comforts of the grandfather clock she kept in her living room ticking away the minutes, and the sounds of the upstairs neighbor’s dog padding over the hardwood floors. Hell, at this point she even missed the drunken bickering of the couple next door to her. They were sounds she was used to. She could have gladly done without the gunfire in the distance, and the agonized cries of the dying and injured. They followed her into her light slumber, stirring her in the dead of the night when she finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

    Eventually she did sleep, although it was hardly what she would have called restful. She woke up feeling absolutely dreadful, and wanted nothing more than to curl back under her blanket and pretend she wasn’t stuck on the outskirts of a battlefield with a virus that was proving resistant to everything she threw at it. But she could not. There was work to do, and she was only one of three people that had been assigned to do it.

    Kathleen went through her morning routine, drawing each step out for as long as she could. The previous night wasn’t forgotten, but now that there was some distance between herself and what she’d imagined, Kathleen found herself reflecting on what she could have done differently to change the outcome of the entire day. She was determined to make this day better, even if it meant confining herself inside the lab for the whole time. Of course that idea went straight down the toilet the moment she made it to the building the hospital. The number of injured was shocking, and Kathleen quickly realized that the battle the night before hadn’t been part of her subconscious trying to keep her awake.

    There were soldiers on stretchers lined at the door, some of the men upon them groaning in misery, while others had already passed out either from shock or blood loss. There were nurses screaming out orders, and medics scurrying about like chickens with their heads cut off. Kathleen was grabbed by a pair of bloody hands, and quickly spun around to face an exhausted looking Hale, all traces of humor drained from his face. “I know this isn’t your job, Kathleen, but we need all the hands we can get. Could you help us out here? We’ve got nearly every operating room already filled, I need you to do whatever it is you can to keep people alive while they’re waiting.”

    So much for locking herself away in the lab. The woman conceded to the fact that she was stuck assisting, at least until things settled down and she could make an escape without feeling as if she was abandoning the injured. She nodded her head, offering the stressed doctor a tiny smile and a light squeeze to his arm. “I’ll do what I can. Go take care of as many as you can.” He didn’t bother to acknowledge her words, already shouting over her head for someone to fetch him some morphine. Without any other directions, Kathleen began to make her own rounds, starting with those in the back of the line.
  13. Griffin
    The only things Griffin managed to get before the world went to hell was a ruined uniform, the water, and an old rucksack that had one of the straps torn off and a hole in the bottom nearly large enough to stick his hand through. He had yet to even find material to patch, or at least cover, the hole.

    An army camp was never quiet, not when the front was less than a mile away and fighting could start at any minute, any time during the day. Even still, there were gradients to the noise. There were the relatively quiet moments, when it was almost possible to pretend he was somewhere other than the middle of a battlefield. There was the normal noise, where the sounds of gunfire and screams were haunting but distant. There was the panicked noise, when something had gone wrong, or right, on the battlefield, and the commanders suddenly needed an extra ten or twenty or hundred lives to throw into the meat grinder. Then there was the everything's gone to shit noise, the kind of noise that those who slept near the front lines couldn't ignore, even after months of becoming acclimated to the sound. Oftentimes, that kind of noise meant they were about to die.

    The kind of noise that erupted through the camp now was on the bad end of the "everything's gone to shit" noise. It didn't build slowly, either. It happened suddenly, one moment quiet, the next the night was filled with screams, shouts, and bellows. Griffin had no way of knowing what had happened. He had no way of knowing that orders had gotten tangled, and a part of the front had been left nearly abandoned. What he did know was that Thyus Plya had better weaponry, and at time it was only literal walls of bodies that kept them from breaking through. That miscommunication was fatal for Deflaland's resistance, and soldiers swarmed over the line that Griffin and the rest had held for the past month. The other thing he knew was that the rucksack was suddenly being torn from his hands to be replaced with a gun, and he was being force-marched through camp with hundreds of other men, before being pushed out into the battlefield. The battlefield that had suddenly gone from a mile away to a thousand feet away.

    Griffin did his best to blend in, to get lost among the crowd. It wasn't dawn yet, he reminded his panicked heart. He had never died twice in one day before, and there was still at least four hours before dawn. For right now, he was the luckiest person in the world, and the battlefield was a safe place for him to be. All he had to do was not draw attention to himself, and find a way to get away before the sun crested the horizon. Supplies didn't matter anymore, nor did appearances. His only goal was to get away.

    Bullets tore through walls of soldiers, the sound of screams nearly drowning out the echoing reports of gunfire. The air was stagnant with the smell of blood and pain, and everything was slick. One misplaced foot in a pool of blood and mucus sent Griffin falling backwards to the ground. The soldier behind him didn't have a chance to scream as a bullet caved in his skull, splattering the man running behind him. Griffin got back to his feet, casting an apologetic glance at the vacant eyed young man who lay there. If the guns couldn't take his life, they'd take someone else's.

    Of course, Griffin wasn't completely spared from the gunfire. One clipped him on the edge of the leg, another went through his shoulder. It was fine. He wouldn't die, not yet, and he'd endured far worse pain than this before. All he had to do was get away. But Griffin wasn't the only soldier trying to escape this hell, and every time he drew close to the edge of the encampment some figure would spring upon him, pushing a gun to his head and saying if he didn't turn around and start fighting again he'd lose his life right there. Every time, for one moment, Griffin was tempted to take that chance, and see if fate really would save him from a bullet if it was aimed point-blank at his head. Every time Griffin managed to convince himself that it was fine. He'd find a better opportunity.

    The night passed in a haze of blood and screams and gunfire. He lost track of time, lost track of the small wounds that began to stack, and slow him down. Lost track of the number of stupid accidents that saved his life, and killed anyone who was standing close to him. Forgot to keep track of the slowly brightening horizon, as the carnage around him slowly became visible. The bodies became walls, and Thyus Plya's advance was slowed, halted, and then pushed back. The sun crested the horizon.

    He'd been getting away. He'd thought he'd finally found his opportunity, and that he was going to make it. For one, glorious moment he thought he was home free. Safe. And then a ray of light struck his forehead. He'd gasped in surprise, threw himself around a corner as a gun went off behind him, and impaled himself on the bayonet of a young man who had been cowering around that exactly corner. Griffin tried to say something, but blood coughed out of his mouth instead. The young man's eyes went wide with fear, and Griffin waited for him to bolt. He'd take the bayonet, rip through his organs, and kill himself quicker. He could bear the pain. He'd get lost among all the bodies, and then he'd be able to get away.

    It didn't happen that way. The young man dropped the gun, but he didn't run. Instead, tears streaming down his face, he'd looped his hands through Griffin's shoulders and dragged him deeper into camp. His quick fingers found the wound, ripped up Griffin's shirt, and began to apply efficient bandages that, while they didn't completely halt the bleeding, certainly slowed it down. Despite the panic on his face and his rapid breathing his hands were suprisingly steady. If Griffin hadn't been dying, he would have told someone that this man's talents were wasted on the battlefield, and he'd do far better work in the back lines as a medic. But Griffin was dying, and with every second he was getting dragged further and further away from a place were his body would just be another one among hundreds.

    A couple times he tried to speak, tried to get the boy to drop him, leave him. But blood would always dribble out of the corner of his mouth, and "hush" the boy would say. "Don't talk" or "we're almost there" or "you'll be fine", or any other of a number of inane platitudes that the living told the dying. The boy managed to drag him all the way to the back of the camp, and then Griffin was being hauled onto a stretcher, and rushed away to the hospital.

    No, Griffin wanted to say. Not there. Anywhere but there. But the blade seemed to have finally stolen the air from his lungs, and he couldn't manage anything more than a rattling wheeze. His vision was starting to go dark due to lack of air, until the stretcher paused and another couple lungfuls of air were forced into his body by a tube and hand pump.

    He'd almost gotten away.
  14. Kathleen The chaos outside the hospital building was insane, much worse than Kathleen had witnessed since her arrival near the front lines only a few weeks ago. The grass had grown slippery and red, the ground tacky with a mixture of mud, gore, and blood that poured freely from hundreds of open wounds. Every nurse, doctor, and medic was scrambling to reach those who had not been seen, and even then there still wasn’t enough to go around. Soldiers were waving her down, screaming at her to come tend to their comrade before it was too late, leaving her with very little time to examine the severity of each injury. Before long she was amongst the throng of the bloody, doing what little she could for those who were waiting to be treated by someone who could do more than offer medication and stitch up a few bullet holes.

    There were a few that she sent away. Only one or two with little more than grazes that bleed more than they should have. She scowled at the soldiers with irritation, snapping her fingers and pointing them back toward the battlefield where the gunfire was still the symphony of the day. “Get back to the fight! There’s nothing wrong with you but a scratch! The doctors don’t have time to deal with your small injuries, there are men actually dying out here!” It might have sounded heartless, but Kathleen was more concerned with getting those who needed serious medical attention into the hospital before the fight spilled over onto the grounds. She could tell that things were getting closer and closer to them, the shouts of soldiers now near enough that she could clearly make out what they were saying. In those moments she wished more than anything that she was back home where she belonged, but the moans of the wounded gave her little idle time to dwell on it.

    She managed to tend to a few more men, doing a rushed job of yanking out bullets from wounds and administering what little morphine she could get her hands, all while ordering the medics to apply tourniquets and to limit what water they had available. In the middle of attempting to staunch the blood flow of a man who’d been brought over with a gunshot to the neck, she was waved over by another set of medics carting a stretcher. She dismissed them with a shake of her head, trying futilely to save the man who was quickly bleeding out. The moment he had been brought over, Kathleen knew he would be dead within minutes, had told herself to move on to someone she could actually help, but the woman stubbornly tried anyway. She’d done what little she could to try to stop the river of blood that saturated through the material of the soldier’s shirt she’d ripped off, cajoling the dying man to hang on just a minute longer. The line getting shorter, though not because the doctors were working their way through those waiting to be seen. Off to the side the bodies were beginning to pile up, the number of dying dropping as they lost the fight for survival.

    A medic grabbed her hand and yanked it away from the soldier’s neck, forcing her to look up in bewilderment. This wasn’t something that she was trained for, not on this scale, and the magnitude of events had left her in a state of shock that not even the rough jerk of her arm could snap her from. Kathleen wasn’t trained for war. She hadn’t come to the hospital expecting to be drawn into the aftermath of battles. She had come there to actually help, but not in this sense. The number of people she could not save, the rapid increase of people dropping off to all sides of her was staggering, and her mind simply could not wrap around what was going on any longer. Why did they ask her to help if all she was doing was postponing the inevitable? Why did it matter if these men got infected with a virus if they were going to end up bleeding out in front of the one place that was there to tend to them? And what in the hell was this damn medic shouting in her face?

    Kathleen had lost herself for a moment, feeling the adrenaline that had been fueling her slowly filtering out of her system, leaving her tired and dazed. She blinked at the man screaming at her, only fully coming back to reality when he reached up with a meaty hand and slapped her across the face. “Pull it together, civilian!” The sting of his palm striking her cheek didn’t hurt nearly as much as the blow to her pride did, the woman jerking her chin up to glare back at the ruddy faced man snapping at her.

    “That’s right, I am a civilian. Keep your damn hands to yourself. I know what I’m doing…I just….” She just what? Kathleen was at a total loss. She knew what she needed to do, but she just couldn’t find her way to do it. It seemed absolutely pointless, and she knew her face probably displayed the hopelessness of the situation. She wanted to tell him that it wasn’t her job, that she wasn’t there to patch up bullet wounds and send them back to the battlefield. It would have been pointless though. The woman simply gave up, deciding that she was going to have to pull herself together to get through the mess without losing her wits. “I’ll go take care of that one.” She motioned to the medics with the stretcher, casting one final glance at the glazed eyes and white face of the man she’d been trying to help. “Move him over with the rest of the bodies. We need to start organizing everyone….make it easier for the doctors.” She finally looked up to see that there were still a good number of people waiting, but the number of those who could actually be saved as the seconds ticked away was diminishing quickly. “We should get those that can be saved into the hospital as quickly as possible. The others….we should make comfortable until…..”

    The medic’s expression softened, but he didn’t lose the redness of his earlier anger. “You’re right. There’s too many out here, and not enough doctors to treat them all. I’ll go talk to the others and see what they think. You just go help that guy over there, then start assessing when you can.”

    Kathleen was quick to move, although the stress of the situation was still getting to her; at least that’s what she would say to herself to explain exactly why it was she was once again staring into the face of a dead man. The moment she saw him on the stretcher, she was fully under the assumption that she’d lost her mind under the strain of the moment. “That man’s already dead.” She blurted out, the second that she saw him. It didn’t matter that there was still blood oozing from his wound, or that his chest was rising and falling with his breath. The face was the same as the man she’d watched being incinerated, the same as the one she’d watched stop breathing after she’d administered morphine. She knew that this man was dead. Yet there he was, alive, and injured severely. Not enough that he wouldn’t live through it. Then again, she couldn’t be certain of that either.

    The medics looking on gawked at her, but Kathleen was suffering from a major case of tunnel vision. The only person she could see clearly was the man on the stretcher, a man she knew could not possibly be where he was. “This man was dead…..I saw him die yesterday. He…..” She stopped herself, realizing how insane she probably sounded. There she was in front of a man who was clearly not dead, claiming to have witnessed his death. They would certainly cart her off to the nearest asylum if she continued on.

    Shaking her head, she began to work, doing what she could to keep the man alive. “Never mind….it was someone else.” She stated before either of the medics could question her. “I need some towels….anything clean actually, and….” Kathleen was about to request morphine, but decided she wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. “Just get me some towels, and move him up to the front of the line. I’ll stay with him. You can go take care of the others.” Kathleen was not about to let the man out of her sight again, not until she had a few answers. There was the possibility that he could have been the twin of the man she’d killed, but for some reason she didn’t buy into that logic. There was something seriously strange about this man, and she wanted to find out what it was.
  15. Griffin "...No..." The word was mumbled and half coherent, if even that. Maybe it was only in Griffin's imagination that the word even passed his lips. Maybe this was his own personal psychosis. His head lolled to the side, his breathing raspy, almost better described as nonexistent, as he stared at the dark-haired woman, and her words echoed in his ears. This man was dead, she had said. I saw him die.

    Once more, she seemed like nothing more than a vision, a figment, floating at the edges of his vision. How could she be more than a fantasy? After all, now he knew her. Yes, she was the dark haired woman from the junk yard, but she was also so much more than that. Now he knew, even if it was just a half remembered dream brought on by a haze of morphine and dehydration, that she had been there in those quiet blurry moments before his death yesterday, as a glowing vision of beauty within a field of darkness. She had seen him die. She had, herself, delivered the killing blow. He knew he would have tried to warn her, even if he couldn't remember the exact words ever leaving his mouth. And now... now here he was. Dying again. In front of her. He tried to warn her, tried to beg her to leave him alone, but his lungs wouldn't cooperate.

    He couldn't move his hands anymore. Couldn't even feel his hands. Or maybe his mind had simply forgotten they were there, disregarding the subtle sensation of the weave of the stretcher so completely next to the pain of his abdomen that it had rendered it completely nonexistent. Maybe someone had cut them off while he wasn't looking. It certainly felt that way, although he imagined that should have hurt a lot more. Then again, maybe he wouldn't have noticed a difference, so consuming were the fragments of lightning racing up his spine, cutting off his breathing. That, though, was more likely the fault of the punctured lung that put the bitter taste of copper in his mouth.

    He was ready to die now. He had suffered enough. Likely only a couple hours would pass at this point, when his body finally gave out. Then he would find a way to leave. He'd become too obvious here. Someone had seen.

    No. Hadn't just seen. Was seeing. She was still right there, pressing towels soaked red with blood into his abdomen. He briefly wondered if she was going to try and help him again, and if his death would once more come at her hands. Or maybe she would fix him, and he would suffer all day, before finally expiring late in the evening. Or maybe... The thought broke of suddenly in another wave of agony, which sent a wild spasm up his back. The shock raced through his chest, finally forcing his damaged lungs to take in a small gasp of air. He clung to that breath, trying to remember the important thing he had wanted to use that precious oxygen for.

    "Let me go..." His brain might not have remembered the words, but his tongue, his mouth, they remembered the oft repeated phrase. "Go away. Leave me alo..."

    And then the air was gone, and the darkness was starting to cloud his vision. With so much of his blood spilling across the stretcher and soaking into the ground, he never would have guessed that suffocation would be the way he would go. But, then again, in this battlefield, he had died as many times by stupid accidents, heart attack, slipping on the mud, getting overdosed with morphine, as he had by knife or gun wound. Maybe the universe just loved irony.
    • Love Love x 1
  16. Kathleen Kathleen felt as if she was stuck in some strange paradox. Again she was hovering over the dying man who couldn’t possibly be dying; he was already dead. She had witnessed his cremation, watched as nothing but a pile of ashes was pulled out of the incinerator. Logic dictated that there was no way in the world the man she’d accidentally killed with a dose of morphine could be lying there now, bleeding out all over her hands. ‘I’m putting in for a transfer back to Atharia.’ She thought to herself as she listened to the man struggle to dismiss her. ‘I am not cut out for war…..’ She wasn’t, and after the past few days she was more than convinced that the entire medical field might not be the best area of employment for her.

    All musings were cut to the quick as the man began to struggle for air, Kathleen frozen in her own horror, watching for a second time as the impossible happened. ‘You must be joking. That’s twice now…..’ The thought would have been amusing if not for the situation and the severity of it. A man dying twice wasn’t too terribly uncommon. There were always times when someone would stop breathing for a few moments, their heart giving out completely, but they could be brought back within a short span of time. A man dying and being cremated was permanent and returning to life was impossible. For that very same man to not only return to life but die the next day to severe injuries and blood loss, well, that was beyond impossible. Add her presence to the scenario and the plausibility of it was astronomical. Yet that was where Kathleen found herself, standing beside the dead man for the second day in a row. If it happened a third day shew as certain she was going to be put in an asylum.

    Kathleen stopped the medic who came over to add the man’s body to the ever growing pile of corpses, her hand shooting out to grab his wrist. “No. I need to examine him.” The idea sounded ridiculous even to her, the cause of death was certainly obvious. However, there was something that did work in her favor, that would make her look a bit less crazy than she sounded. “He had the virus. He was in quarantine yesterday.” The medic snatched his hand back in an instant, shooting her an incredulous look that she might have chuckled at in her sour mood. ‘Good, let someone else feel as if their entire world’s just exploded. At least I’ll have some company.’

    “He’s not ill any more, soldier. Do you really think I would have let you stick your hand near him if he was? Just go put him off in an empty exam room and let me know where he is.” Before the medic could move the body, Kathleen grabbed his arm again, looking him sternly in the face. “And don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. I don’t want there to be any excitement over a possibility that I’m not sure of yet.” Her fingers tightened like a vise on the man’s arm, squeezing harshly to make her point. “I mean it, soldier. I hear anything at all about it and I’ll have you itching for months in places you won’t be able to reach.” Threats normally weren’t her style, but Kathleen was hardly willing to take a chance. She needed this to be kept quiet, at least until she was positive that the man was truly dead and not going to come back. Plus, there really was a chance that he might have some sort of antibody in his blood. He had the virus the previous day. Of course the cremation could have killed all traces of it, but she’d consider that later on when she had a moment to actually think clearly.

    The man’s body was taken out of her sight, and Kathleen went back to work on assisting as many injured as she could. The numbers dwindled down, some dying, others being taken care of by doctors and nurses outside the sterile environment of the operating rooms. By the time the chaos was over, she was completely exhausted and ready to return to her tent without even bothering to step foot in the hospital at all, and she would have if not for the body she’d told herself she was going to examine. She didn’t really want to go through with it, already aware that when she went up to the room she would find a corpse that was well into rigor. ‘But what if I don’t?’ She thought, shuddering over the idea of discovering the man still alive, with a whole in his gut and blood still pouring out of him. Would he remember that she was there when he died? Not once, but twice. Would he recall that at all? That certainly seemed like something a person would be able to recall.

    Making a mental note to tread carefully, Kathleen entered the hospital, weaving her way around doctors and nurses alike as not to be followed to her destination. The last thing she wanted was for anyone else to discover that she was off to perform a novice autopsy on a twice dead man; they’d cart her off to a cell the moment they heard her explanation.

    When she finally reached the room, Kathleen didn’t jump into her work as she planned to. Instead she locked the door up tight behind her and took a seat beside it, her eyes on the corpse while her heart was beating a million miles a minute in her chest. She wasn’t certain what to expect when she got inside the room, her imagination conjuring up images of a room filled with blood, to intestines pouring splattered all over the place. She needed a minute to calm her nerves and convince herself that she was dealing with a normal corpse; nothing more. Once she was positive that there was nothing out of the ordinary, she would begin, and hopefully put an end to the insanity that had befallen her life.
  17. There was nothing out of the ordinary waiting for Kathleen in that little room, just the body of a dead man illuminated by incandescent light, laid out flat on a metal table. The medics who had brought his body in had been just generous enough to bring in the cart of autopsy tools with them. They laid out in gleaming rows, as silver as the table, every one neatly cleaned. Soon enough the clean shine would be marred. It had only been a couple of hours since that moment at the edge of the battlefield; his blood hadn't even really started to dry yet. Only patches where Kathleen or someone else's fingers had smeared it around on his arms, chest, or neck had dried sufficiently to darken from crimson to muddy brown.

    Other than those few spots, he looked exactly the same. The rip in his shirt was glaringly obvious from Kathleen's position by the door, revealing the gory, crimson hole that had ripped its way into his chest, tearing his diaphragm and collapsing one lung. All the other scrapes and scratches, wounds and abrasions that he had sustained over the course of the battle were still there as well. It made him look tortured, and the fact that the medics that had carried him inside hadn't even bothered to close his eyes only made it worse. For a moment his vacant eyes seemed to stare at her accusingly, almost as though he was still awake. Aware.

    It was as though the room had been frozen in time. Right here, it seemed as though the battle would still be raging outside, and this man had only crossed the boundary between life and deaths moments ago, if he even had at all. Even now that Kathleen was there, a living person to mark the passage of time, it still seemed as though the room was frozen as she lingered by the door, breathing faintly. The only thing to prove that she had not simply entered the room moments ago was her heart, which gradually slowed from the wild racing that had been borne from the fear of what she was going to find in here. But, gradually, it did slow. All that waited in here for her was a body. It was a dead body, just another dead body, no different from the hundreds of others that had littered this bloody patch of ground.

    And yet, it was different. There was no denying it now. There was no haze of tiredness, no fog originating from fear and adrenaline. There was simply still air, and the certainty that this was the same man who she had watched get cremated yesterday. Even the possibility that this might be an identical twin brother no longer seemed so feasible. Even twins couldn't be this identical, could they?

    Eventually, though, being frozen next to the door was no longer sufficient. There was nothing for Kathleen to do but approach the body or leave the room altogether, and leaving certainly wasn't an option. Not until Kathleen had something to do with him, or she could cremate his body and be done with this whole affair.

    Cremate it again.
  18. Kathleen Kathleen wasn’t sure how much time she’d wasted staring at the man’s corpse, but it was more than enough for her to assume that the body wasn’t going to miraculously rise up from the table and begin talking to her. He was dead, she could tell that much from the paleness of his face and the rigidness of his position. But then again, she’d thought he was dead before. ‘Well, you’re not going to find out for sure by staring at him all day. He’s dead. He’s not getting up. Now stop acting like a ninny and get moving!’ The mental pep talk didn’t provide her much motivation. What finally got her up and moving was the idea of someone walking in to find her staring at a lifeless body as if it was going to start performing parlor tricks at any moment. Given what she’d seen of the man thus far, she would not have been entirely surprised if that was exactly what happened.

    Eventually she pulled herself away from the door and began to prep herself for the task at hand. With a dingy white apron covering her uniform, a mask, and a pair of gloves on, Kathleen approached the body, pulling along the tray with her tools, a basin of water, and a washcloth. She considered taking a blood sample first, but decided that an external observation of the body would be best, hoping that she’d get some clues about the man’s identity in the process; or rule him out as someone entirely different. The latter would have been welcomed, yet at the same time Kathleen hoped that wasn’t the case. If this really was the same man she’d treated the day before he was lacking one very vital piece, the one sole purpose for her presence so close to the battlefield; the virus. He had been sick with it the day before, but after her run in with him that night, and earlier in the day he seemed to have recovered. Of course there were plenty of reasons for that. He may not have been infected with the virus at all to begin with. A case of food poisoning would have come with similar symptoms after all. For her sake, and many others, Kathleen wanted it to be the virus. That meant this autopsy may put her one step closer to finding a cure.

    Grabbing a pair of scissors, she began to cut away the remains of his uniform, tossing them into a bag to be burned along with his body once she was finished. As each inch of skin was uncovered, she examined him, looking for any marks that might suggest she was being played for a fool; makeup lines, anything that could expose a potential imposter. While doing so, she began to wash away the blood caked on his skin, grimacing at the water as it turned from clear to a nasty shade of maroon within minutes. The amount of blood alone was enough for her to determine that if he hadn’t died because of the tear through his intestines and the seepage of waste pouring into his system, he would have perished from blood loss. But how did he still have so much blood? He had ben cremated! Surely that would have…..

    ‘Stop it! It has to be a case of mistaken identity. There is no way in the world this could have been the man who was cremated. There’s no possible way, barring some sort of miracle, and you know those don’t occur.’ Kathleen lectured herself, hastily finishing up the task of washing the man off in order to begin performing the autopsy. It took a great deal of mental preparation for her to even coax herself to pick up the scalpel, and even then she couldn’t quite bring herself to press it down against his skin with the force needed to slice through the layers. ‘Stop being such a scaredy cat! You’ve done this a hundred times before on people who were freshly dead, surely it can’t be any different for someone who has died multiple times.’ Kathleen knew that she should have been able to perform the autopsy easily. In any other situation, she could have done it blindfolded. It was simply a corpse, nothing more than that, but no matter how many times she tried to tell herself that, she simply could not believe the words herself.

    “Left shoulder. Then right. Y incision, Kathleen. It’s not that difficult.” She muttered aloud, heaving in a steadying breath as she once again prepared herself for her grisly task. She managed to drag the scalpel along his skin once again, this time pressing down hard enough to slice the skin, but nowhere near close enough to cut through muscle the way she needed to. She kept waiting for his hand to jerk up and grab her arm, for him to bolt upright and start howling in pain. Regardless of the fact that he was ice cold, and had yet to even twitch, she could not completely believe he was dead. She’d made that mistake before. Or was it a mistake?

    The constant back and forth was making her head spin, the job becoming implicitly more complicated as her mind flip-flopped with indecision. He was dead, and this was the first time he’d actually died. He was someone else, a twin or a relative that bore a striking resemblance to the man she’d accidently killed with an overdose. She was exhausted, and stressed, and this entire situation was her mind’s warning that she was in the middle of a breakdown, and if she was wise she would request a transfer the moment she walked out of the room. They were all viable options of belief, but in her heart Kathleen could not hold onto any of them. She wasn’t going mad. There was no twin, and this was not a joke. The man was dead, twice now that she had witnessed, and the only real fact that she knew was that he had the virus and was no longer infected with it.

    ‘I’ll cut him open, examine his stomach and send him back downstairs for cremation.’ She finally told herself, getting a firmer grip on the scalpel to finally begin cutting away at him in earnest. ‘I’ll see if there’s any signs of the infection, and if not, I’ll take some tissue and blood samples, then send him to be burned and be done with it!’ Yes, that was a plan she could work with. Once he was downstairs and in the incinerator, she could put her mind at ease that she’d seen the last of him, and go back to studying virus as she was meant to. All she had to do was finishing cutting him open and get what she needed, and her life could go back to normal, all the craziness of the past few days behind her.
  19. There was no sound in the room aside from the faint, wet sounds of a ruined body being opened up. As Kathleen finally managed to gather the courage to properly open up his chest and slice all the way down his abdomen, every other sound seemed to fade. Outside this hospital, the battle had finally come to a proper end. Deflaland had managed to repel the invasion, albeit at a truly staggering cost. No one would dare count the number of bodies that now littered the battlefield. The corpses would simply decay, left out to rot or to be torn apart by scavengers. Only those close to the camp, where the risk of a spreading disease became greater, would be thrown into mass graves and quickly covered in dirt.

    The Thyus Plya soldiers would launch another attack before the sun set, driven out of their own camp by generals who wanted to capitalize upon the disarray and weakened manpower this battle had created. Those soldiers would have to wade through as many corpses of allies as enemies.

    But, for now, things were silent. Even the cries of the wounded had faded, those who were still left alive quieted through the aid of medical stupor. The few, the lucky, who had not needed to participate in the attack lay quietly shaking in their cots, trying not to think about the fact that it would be them out on the field this evening. In a couple hours the silence would be broken once more with the sound of engines; the large trucks would be bringing in wet-eared recruits by the hundreds. These last couple hours were all the living would have to linger in death-like silence.

    The sticky sounds of death filled Kathleen's operation room, dripping down the walls to puddle on the floor and pool under the triage table. It seemed to smother the sound of her breathing, but amplified the squish and slosh of her fingers delicately working their way through the ruined remains of his intestines. Normally the smell would have been sufficient to make all but the most hardened of battle nurses ill, but, to add further mystery to a case that was already bizarre beyond consideration, there was no trace of food waste in his gut, implying he hadn't eaten anything in at least 30 hours, but probably much longer. Kathleen ended up spending longer than intended carefully searching for any trace of refuse within his body but, other than the dirt and mud that had been packed into his abdomen when he had been dragged across the battlefield, his intestines were perfectly clean. Eventually, Kathleen turned her attention back to his stomach, but it wasn't much of a surprise to find his stomach in a similar state. There was no trace of anything, let alone the virus she was looking for. The lining of his stomach was smooth, and clean of the trace remains of illness she had been hoping to find.

    Unable to find anything to validate her decision to start this autopsy, and still finding nothing to either confirm or deny her belief that this was the same person she had overdosed yesterday, Kathleen moved her way further up his chest, determined to examine his heart and lungs in addition to his stomach, hoping to find anything that was out of place in these organs. Had she searched them, there would have been nothing to find. Both heart and lungs were, other than the blood that flooded his lungs, clean and healthy. But she did find something out of place. When she moved her hands upwards to push flesh and muscle out of the way to once more gain access to his ribs, she was met with unexpected resistance. Instead of reaching all the way up to his shoulders, the y-cuts she had made stopped well short, about even with the bottom of his collar bone. This was well over an inch closer to the center of his chest than Kathleen would have sworn she had started her cuts. She moved away only for a moment, turning her head to the side and reaching towards the scalpel she had left on the operating table, but when she turned back, something caused her to freeze in place, eyes going wide with alarm.

    The change was miniscule, so small that it would have been easy for untrained eyes to miss it. But her eyes were not untrained, even if she did pause to rub them, unable to fully believe what she was seeing. The cut had sealed up several millimeters further.
  20. Kathleen Kathleen didn’t find anything that looked suspicious as she began to assess the man’s internal organs a bit more closely. There was no damage to his stomach, one factor that was common amongst those who had died from the virus. Their stomachs had shrunk, the acid thinning the lining to the point that one could poke a finger right through without any effort. His intestine’s looked good, save for the physical injury that he had sustained prior to his death. Everything checked out for a man who had not been killed or even infected with the virus, but someone who had suffered a fatal injury to his organs that resulted in his death. The woman was completely perplexed, and began to wonder if there was something more that she should be looking at.

    So she did. She began a proper autopsy, examining, but not removing any of the other organs that she was trained to look at. She didn’t remove them simply because this was not supposed to be a regular autopsy. He had no trace of the virus, at least not from what his organs showed. Her job was only to look over those who had died because of their infection, not soldiers off the battleground. Still, Kathleen couldn’t help but look, her curiosity over the man overtaking her rational thoughts. There had to be something that would explain how she saw him walking after he had clearly been put into the incinerator, some scars or burnt lung tissue to prove he’d managed to escape before the fires could engulf his body. There was nothing, nothing at all, and after what felt like an eternity of probing, Kathleen began to suspect that it really was al in her imagination.

    But then something began to happen, something so subtle that she questioned her own eyes. The Y incision started at the clavicle, exactly at the bone. As Kathleen looked, the cut that she had made what felt like hours ago was no longer precisely where she had started, as if the skin had not been touched at all by the blade of her scalpel. She shook her head, yanking her gloves off to rub at her already dry and tired eyes. Her mind was messing with her again, wanting to believe that there was something special about the man simply because he’d recovered from the virus without any medical assistance. Yes, that was it! She was wrapped up in the idea for a cure, that she was becoming delusional. It was a sign that she needed to take a step away from her work and get some much needed rest. Either that, or she truly was going insane.

    Kathleen tossed her gloves off to the side and moved away from the body, hoping that a quick walk and some cold water on her face would bring her back down to reality. Cutting on the water in the sink, she flushed her eyes beneath the cold spray, relieved to feel the dryness ebbing away with a slight sting. She didn’t even bother to dry off her face, simply remaining hunched over the sink and giving herself time to process what was going on with her. She was working too hard, and had too much pressure on her back to find a cure. She hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, and she hadn’t slept a solid eight hours since before she even turned up at the frontlines. A day or two off with three square meals and as much sleep as she could get and she’d be back to herself again. No mystery men rising from ashes, no inexplicable cures that didn’t exist, just more of what she had been dealing with.

    Happy that she’d found a solution to her brush with insanity, Kathleen returned to the body, ready to begin sewing him closed to hand over to the mortician. With sutures and needle in hand, she was all set to start on her work when it sank in that she was not imagining things. The incision was closing, the skin unmarred by even the thinnest scar to show that it had been sliced. For a good ten minutes she stood there staring, watching to see if she could figure out just how the man’s body was healing itself. There was still no traces of life, no heartbeat, not blood flowing through his veins, nothing at all. Yet his skin began to meld back together, not quick enough for her to notice it happening, but enough that she could tell that it was.

    She thought to call in another doctor, someone who could witness the event and back her up when she went to the agency about it. With only her word, they would all think that she was crazy; hell, even she thought she was crazy. But she didn’t call in anyone at all, a selfish part of her wanted the glory all to herself. She was now completely convinced that what she was staring at was the cure for the virus. Not the man himself but something inside of him that could easily fix what had been causing the soldiers hell. All she needed to do now was sit and wait, to see if he healed fully and returned to life, or if he just healed up and remained dead. Either way, she was going to need plenty of samples from him, and there was no way in hell she was letting his body anywhere near the incinerator again.
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