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[Fiction] Neil Preston: Triage


kestrel404

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Fear and anger were well known friends to Neil. Generally, it was fear for another, and righteous anger, but not always. On this trip, though, they'd brought along a friend, and hatred was growing on him. Not that he hated anyone in particular. It wasn't really in his nature to hate a person. But he was really, truly starting to hate this war.

Since arriving, he's been low on quantum. Everywhere he went, there are injured and suffering. He can only help a fraction of them with his powers, and the rest he had been treating with his skills. It is truly shocking, the number of casualties such a conflict can produce, but he cared for each one as best he could.

He had joined a team of UN field medics to help them, and to be closer to the constant stream of wounded. The fighting was mere miles away, and there was a rumor that the battle was getting closer. The order to evacuate the base was expected at any moment, but until then, he wouldn't stop treating the flow of patients.

Another pair of old American schoolbusses, converted into troop carriers, and converted again into giant ambulances, arrived with a fresh round of wounded. Most were civilians, caught in the crossfire and unable or unwilling to evacuate, with the occasional soldier who survived long enough for medical care. Most of this batch suffered from various burns, perhaps from napalm, perhaps from quantum fueled fires. He'd seen this before, but never this many.

Neil joined the UN medics in their triage. He liberally distributed red and yellow tags. Most who would receive green and white tags hadn't been evacuated. One had stopped breathing and received a black tag, to Neil's dismay.

Neil moved to the next truck, where UN workers had already started their own work. Five people on this bus were already marked with black tags, and three of them were still breathing, if only barely. Neil looked at them and gauged his reserves. Enough for all three. Maybe.

The pain from absorbing the first man's burns was enough to cause Neil to gasp in pain, but he has dealt with burn wounds - the most painful kind of wound - before. His mind reels as his nerve endings re-grow, and his flesh turns from blackened char to healthy pink. Neil changes the now sleeping man's tag to green.

He moved on to the next man, who looks nearly as bad as the last. He would likely die in hours if not for Neil's efforts. Still, it's not as painful as the first, the burns only cover the front of the man's body, and Neil changes the man's tag to white. The U.N. field team, too busy to watch him work, nonetheless cheer him on as they leave the bus for the operating room, carrying red-tagged villagers on stretchers.

Neil approached the last villager, probably female though it is difficult to tell. She is by far the worst off of the three, nearly dead already from both burns and a gut wound. Neil isn't sure his reserves are up to the task, but she is still breathing, and that gives him the hope to continue.

With a deep breath and an effort of will, Neil begins to heal her, giving up his own vitality and taking on her wounds. The cooked flesh goes deeper in her than the others, and he finally screams in pain, his cries matching those of the injured around him. His eyesight goes dim and then cuts off, as his eyes are burnt from his skull by the memory of flames. His frame is wracked by pain from damaged nerves and destroyed flesh. Finally, he blacks out and falls limp on his patient's chest, the damage to his body receding like a tide. But not quite all the way. His legs and feet remain blackened and much of his body is an unhealthy red color.

Neil awakes to find his head being stroked gently. A young girl, no older than him, is watching him and gently stroking his hair. Her face is unfamiliar, but the smell of burnt flesh and clothing, and the black tag resting on her chest bring the memories of where he is rushing back to him. He realizes that her skin is lightly patterned with nearly-healed burn scars, while her hair is still completely burnt away, signs of an incomplete rejuvenation. In her native language, she asks him, "Who are you?"

Neil struggles to rise, but after a few moments of pain, settles back to his position on her lap. "My name is Neil. I'm a doctor."

The girl nods, knowing that this isn't the whole story, but unwilling to contradict this gentle man. He hides his pain well, but she is intimately familiar with hidden pain and brave fronts. She continues to try to soothe him as he rests on her lap. After a moment, Neil asks, "How are you feeling?"

Such kindness from a stranger, one who is certainly not feeling well himself, is touching. "I am well enough. I remember great pain. A god of fire visited our village, sheathed in flame and covered in black and orange armor. The soldiers fired on him, but they were killed quickly. My mother hid me away, but then the village started to burn. I burned with my village. Why am I not burned?"

Neil smiles weakly at her and simply told her, "I healed you. Do you know what happened to the fire god?"

The young girl shakes her head, but one of the yellow-tagged soldiers answers from across the way, his voice raspy from smoke. "A clawed Nova attacked him while he was burning our village. He flew away, and the clawed nova chased after. That's when we were evacuated."

Neil thanks the soldier for the information and, after a moment's struggle, manages to stand up next to the girl. He quickly replaces her black tag with a green one, and looks around the bus to find that only yellow and green tagged people remained.

Then, he hears the screams and shouts coming from outside the bus and adrenaline gets him moving again, despite his screaming feet. The pain is intense, but surging adrenaline allows him to ignore it.

Outside, a new wounded figure stumbles into camp. The man's sudden appearance has frightened several of the natives who wait for treatment, even though he doesn't look like much of a threat now. Blood and flame spill in equal proportions out of his wounds, and his black and orange plate mail would need to be cut off before surgery could be performed. Neil recognized him as "Flame Jackal". He limps towards the base camp, only to fall on the road in front of Neil. "Help me..." he croaks from a dehydrated throat.

Neil, being the closest doctor present in an emergency situation, is responsible for the triage. Seeing the flame coming from the man's bleeding wounds, and the platemail that very likely isn't made out of anything as flimsy as steel, Neil makes a clinical assessment of the man's chances. The fact that black tag he tosses at the dying nova's feet is the same one he took from that young girl had nothing at all to do with his decision. Nothing.

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