Wages of Sin
The EMT pushed the gurney through the doorway, the doors having slid silently sideways. A voice called out, urgent and demanding: "Lieutenant Weber! Lieutenant Weber, can you hear me?" Then after a moment the voice continued: "No response to command. Glasgow Coma scale seven. Looks like he was lying around long enough to lose a couple of liters."
Another voice, a woman's this time, said: "Two stab wounds to the left flank. First one is at L2, 4 centimeters of the midline. Second one is L5, in the midscapular line. BP's 70 over 50, pulse is 120." A third voice, another woman's, said: "Squeeze in two liters and prepare for a subclavian."
The voices were getting confusing and difficult to distinguish.
"Good breath sounds bilaterally."
"Pulse ox 93."
"Should we intubate?"
"No, 10 liters by mask for now. Send a trauma panel, type and cross for 4, and get X-ray in here for a chest. And a one shot IVP."
Weber's mind wandered. Images leaped before his mind's eye, nightmarish and ghastly. A hideous grinning skull atop a satyr's powerful body, slinging poisonous green balls of slime. A disjointed voice, coming back to him from the depths of time: "It's just a routine mission, Lieutenant. Reco the Containment Area, look for survivors, then get the goddamn platoon back to Alpha Base." Claws raking his flesh, bullets shattering his bones, fire scalding his skin.
"Second unit is in."
"I got the tubing."
"Pressure's up to 100 systolic."
"Give a gram of cotetan."
"Hook up the thoraseal."
"I've got breath sounds."
"Dr. Stinson! He's got a bad renal lac. Foley output is bright red."
"What's the pulse ox?"
"BP's down to 81"
"You got another surgeon coming?"
Staggering in pain, turning a corner and seeing a familiar profile. "Carter, how the heck did you get here? Brass told us you and your boys were MIA." The familiar figure whirls around, but there's something wrong with him -- the eyes are blank and distant, the mouth set as if sealed shut. A low, incoherent growl, and then a shotgun blast at point-blank range. Surprise, shock, searing agony. Nothing to do but shoot back, and watch as the thing that was Carter tumble to the ground in a bloody heap.
"Let's prep him for a midline incision. I want to be able to cut in two minutes. I mean it."
"You got it."
"More lap pads. The kidney won't taponade."
"You didn't have time to get a three-way or IVP?"
"His crit was falling, I didn't want to chance it."
"The colon is lacerated all right. Three-O silk and a G.-I. Needle."
"There's blood welling in the hylum."
"All right, all right, all right. Isolate the renal artery and get a clamp on it."
"Hypotensive, heart rate's up to 120."
"Ok, we've got to get this kidney out of him before we lose him. Move!"
"Hold on. Let me finish suturing his colon before we do something drastic."
"I'll dissect out the arteries and tie them off. Come on, come on mister, move!"
"I said wait, Brandon!"
"Why? He's lost too much blood, his hylum is trashed."
"Dr. Donato, he's getting shocky, his pressure is 78 palp."
Wandering through dimly-lit corridors, a madness creeps slowly through the mind, like a mist that finds its way insidiously through locked doors and shuttered windows. Leering faces appear out of nowhere, atop spiked brown bodies with arms that hurled balls of red and yellow flame. Memories of cowering behind computer consoles and being fried while running through slimy green nukage and being overwhelmed by the urge to be violently sick. Scenes of carnage everywhere, and a deathly silence that is occasionally broken by a distant snarl.
"One more 4-0 prolene."
"How's the pulse ox?"
"68 on 100 percent."
"We're not oxygenating. I don't know about this."
"Removing side clamp."
"V-Fib. Resuming compressions."
"Internal paddles. Charge to 15. Clear!"
A sudden sharp pain in the chest. Much like it was when the fiery red skulls had propelled themselves forward, grinning evilly and bringing terror and scorched flesh. Damned ethereal spirits, harbingers of malice that haunted those ravaged hallways. The fiery visage fades away, bringing with it the image of a hulking pink beast barrelling down on its victim. The feel of sharp teeth, the sounds of rending and tearing, the shock that follows a loss of blood.
"Still in V-Fib"
"Charge to 30."
"Push an amp of epi."
Another sharp pain in the chest, and a voice distant but clear, the experience etched in the brain: "Lieutenant! It's me, Frank. Please! You gotta listen to me. I ain't one of them, I'm with you, remember? Quit pointing that gun at me and help me out here -- I took some lead right in my gut!" The staccato sound of a chaingun, drowning out the maniacal laughter that accompanied it like some macabre symphony, and Frank's body jerks like a puppet being pulled by a trembling hand. The horrible scene repeats itself, only this time it's Ralph DeSicilia's body that goes down, convulsing; and Sgt. Maria Rodriguez is next, followed by another, and another, until every single member of the platoon but its leader is down. The laughter rings through the desolate corridors, echoing wickedly. Then the madness subsides, and realization dawns.
"Sats down to 62."
"Charge again, 100 of lidocane.
"We're losing him!"
A third sharp pain, but this time there are memories of home. Glasses raised in toast, the light gleaming off a row of medals hanging from the chest of the returning hero. A hero with a deep, dark secret, covered up by lies and fabrications of super-human deeds in the service of mankind. No self-recrimination. Just lies. But someone knew, didn't they? Sneaking up at night to confront the hero, bringing with them an eight-inch blade of gleaming steel that flickered by the light of the Moon as it streaked through the night air. Expertly it slid between the ribs, and then again, delivering the inevitable.
"Push an amp of atropine."
"When was the last epi?"
"4 minutes ago."
"Push another 7 milligrams. Now! Clear!"
"Okay, that's it. We've done everything we can. Hold compressions."
The sounds of the voices receded, and a light appeared. Weber couldn't tell if he was seeing the overhead halogen of the operating table or if it was some ghostly mirage. "Is this what it's like to be dead?" he wondered. "That light is probably calling me upward!" But slowly the light turned from white to crimson, and a veil of red descended over his vision. Through the haze a ghastly skyline of tortured rock and shattered mountains began to appear, shrouded in an evil-looking mist. "NO!" he screamed. "NO! This isn't Heaven! It's .... it's .... it's the Other Place!"
[I wrote this story at the request of Sam Ellis III, as a backdrop to his excellent wad of the same name.]