The atmosphere seemed very different as Max packed her messenger bag. She was replacing any medic supplies and adding some new ones. A helmet lay on the table, carefully chosen and fitted. Her jacket lay strewn across a chair, freshly cleaned and crisp. Zipping up the bag, I watched her precise procedure as she straightened the coat before finally putting it on. Securing it on, Max then took the helmet and bag, heading in the direction of the main doors. Stopping at one office, she peeked in, knocking on the door.
“Jade?” Just stopping near Max my ears seemed to pop—returning my hearing. The turning of an office chair made me perk up and peer in to see her look to my sister. Jade’s eyes glanced at the bag and helmet in my sister’s hands.
“Leaving so soon?”
“Yeah, I should return to my duties… It’s about time anyway. But I will be back. According to Tate I’m not allowed to go back to my own base,” Max said, sighing. Her eyes were looking low in the direction of the hallway. Jade laughed, shaking her head.
“Tate is like that. He will watch you the whole time you’re in the field, Max. However you are a medic that needs that cover. Both oppositions need to see that someone is there to save them,” Jade said, getting up from her seat. Stepping to my sister, they hugged for a few moments before Max pulled away and headed down the hall. Glancing at Jade, we both approached the window and observed her get into a truck with Tate. The team sped off in the direction of the town—the first time Max had left the hidden base in almost five days.
“Marcus… she needs you watching her now. Heading into a warzone is not the place a young woman like Max should be,” she said, arms crossed as she watched the plume of dust form upon their departure. Sighing, Jade turned on her heel and made her way back to her cluttered desk.
“I’ll make sure Max stays alive, Jaiden. I can’t guarantee she won’t return with injury, but as long as she’s back with you, I’m happy,” I said, closing my eyes. Forcing myself away from her, I imagined myself in the direction of the truck leaving this alcove. Opening them, I found myself watching the sand cloud shoot up behind us. The swerving of the truck told me they were speeding along the cliff corridor. Knowing Max, she was determined to get back to her duties in the field. Turning in my seat in the bed of the truck with the other soldiers, I looked at both the cab passengers to see they had donned their battle helmets.
Painted to my sister’s was a large red cross and looking at the group, I could see it was on all of theirs. Her helmet was strapped on and sat rather loosely on her head, despite the fact it was synched on as tight as it could be comfortable for her. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, I noticed her eyes were busily scanning the horizon. They were probably searching for current areas of unrest where they could possibly save the wounded.
The truck slowed and came to a grinding halt—the tires sliding on the sand—behind a building. Tate stepped out of the vehicle, moving to stand before the group. By now he had taken out his gun and was securing it, checking his ammunition before finally facing everyone.
“You may not be a medic, but you are today. We are out here to help Max save as many lives as possible. Everyone here was chosen because they don’t have a bias towards either side. Protect the medic at all costs. There are ten of us here. All of you have weapons, but you’re going to only use them if we’re being shot at. Got it? Stay alert and get the injured to the truck ASAP,” he explained, pacing in front of us. I watched as he knocked on Max’s helmet before finally gesturing over his shoulder. “Move out.”
The team started at a slow pace, mostly because of the precise movements to keep their medic as safe as possible. Each member of the squad had a red cross glinting on their helmets in the desert sun. Overall, they kept quiet, even the communication radios they all had looked like they were barely used. This eerie silence within the city made them tense and uneasy about the whole mission.
Max seemed to stay as alert as every other man on the squad. Normally the captain would take the lead and direct them, but it seemed that my sister took that incentive. It was interesting to see her use the same skills taught to me. She peeked around a corner, looking at the street. Bullets riddled the street as they weaved through the debris and towards the opposite ally. All of the soldiers suddenly dropped to the ground as a huge fireball exploded in their direction. Shrapnel shot in all angles, digging into walls and those that were not protected. Whipping her head in the direction of the men Max crawled ahead towards the alley. None of the soldiers were injured as of yet, but that didn’t stop more bullets to fly—sending sparks from the metal the slugs connected with.
Some of the officers managed to reach Max, while others were trapped in the firefight. Speaking into the headset within her helmet, I recognized the one word—or rather name.
“Tate,” I said, observing as those that could, left with my sister while those stuck remained keeping the area clear upon their return. The group of four sprinted off down the alley, very aware that the fighting had once again started. Just as they neared the end, a huge explosion threw them all backwards into the sand covered ground. Thick smoke poured in to the small space, almost as if it were rain from the heavens. Max managed to creep to the wall and stand. Her eyes widened as if something caught her off guard. Her feet suddenly propelled her forwards into the haze. Glancing around I saw some of the soldiers yell to her and stumble to their feet and follow.
Just as their first man was running past an opening, Max reached out and pulled him in. At first he put up a fight, until at last he realized exactly who he was fighting. Patting his shoulder, she stood as the others entered—gazing around very confused. Her lips moving quickly, it seemed she was explaining to them exactly how they were going to make it around the city and back to the truck by the end of the day. I examined each man, seeing that I could no longer tell them apart. Dirt, blood, and sweat had all mingled and made it almost impossible to tell who was who. They all meandered through the building with the utmost caution. After a great deal of searching the group managed to find some stairs and make the trek towards the second floor.
Upon ascending the last of the steps, the whole building shook, sending large tiles and sections falling to the floor. Max froze against the wall, trying to make herself as flat as possible to not get hit. She gestured over her shoulder for the men behind to move ahead, while she and another man took up the rear of the group. Doing as they were told, they made it to the far end of the unstable building. This structure was much closer to the adjoining one, enabling them to climb across the small space from balcony to balcony. Two of the soldiers placed their hands on their weapons as they moved about. They were anxious for the next shoot out to begin at any moment.
As if on cue, one of the men stumbled backwards, clutching his shoulder. Turning to him, Max helped him slide to the floor where she started first aid as her fellows returned fire. Her features were stoic as she worked diligently. Just as the gunfire stopped, she moved from her fellows towards where the shooting had come from. Raising her hands up in a show of submission, I followed her across the loft. One of the shooters aimed at her, shouting something. Max’s lips moved barely, but she was indeed speaking to the rebels. She did not glance at her comrades once as she knelt by the man’s friend and examined his wounds. He kept the gun in her direction the whole time, obviously terrified and thinking that she would turn on him any moment.
Keeping her actions smooth, Max continued speaking to him—probably informing him of what she was going to do. Using some freshly cleaned rags, she carefully put pressure on his injury and started her field treatment. Placing a tourniquet on his forearm and leg, Max carefully tore a portion of the somewhat remaining curtains and used it to soak up the blood. Looking to both her fellows, Max nodded for them to come over and help. One of them set down his gun and approached with caution, arms raised in compliance. Between Max and the other soldier they helped the rebel up and towards the stairs. His companion followed, watching them ease him down the steps. I saw some kind of unsaid meaning pass between the two armed men before they too followed the three down.
I kept pace with them, curious as to how the others were doing. This time they could not use the balconies and had to race from alley to alley for protection. It must have surprised both sides to see a medic task team with wounded, two rebels and armed soldiers running about together. After several minutes they had finally returned to the largest road that they needed to cross. The trapped soldiers were still hurling gunfire at those that had shot at them before. Seeing them return with wounded, they nodded to signal their clearance. Sprinting as quickly as they could with a man between them, my sister and the soldier quickly made it to the other side and around the building. All three of the remaining of their party followed behind, stopping at the truck.
Max talked to the armed rebel briefly before he climbed into the truck next to his friend, dropping his gun rapidly. Helping the other soldier in, the medic force slowly retreated and returned to their vehicle. Checking the other patients, I watched as Max continued to work. So far I had yet to see any fault in her composure, even if some of the men’s conditions looked bleak. One of them was bound to make a turn for the worse as they drove. The ride back to the base was quite far in this heat and if one was bleeding it would feel like an eternity. Below us the truck shuddered to life, a bit of black smoke spewing from the tailpipe as the engine was gunned and we sped off towards the cliffs. Several of the soldiers looked back on the city, before they started to talk—sharing today’s events to recap and debrief—their own way of coping. Wiping her brow, Max looked out the back of the transport, seeing sand blow in their midst.
Already the wind was picking up, blowing sand in through the holes of the canvas sun shield. A few of the patients seemed to flinch in pain as the particles landed on their gashes. Max’s fist pounded on the back of the cab, signaling for them to go faster. Just watching her eyes I could tell she was trying to keep these men calm, especially the rebel and his friend. Turning back to the city I saw it was now just bumps on the horizon left behind in our wake. As the truck turned into the rocky entrance, we all got a glimpse at the sunset and what it cast on the landscape. The color of the rocks appeared as a much darker red, not just the normal clay it used to be, but a seam of blood running through it. Slowly the land disappeared and turned to the cliff face we had grown so accustomed to.
Tate must have turned sharply to get the truck turned around properly as all the passengers slid a great deal until at last the vehicle had stopped. Already doctors and nurses came to the bed bearing stretchers and prepared for the worst. All the uninjured soldiers helped the wounded off and headed inside to debrief. Max dropped off the truck, dragging her bag with her. Slipping it on her shoulder, she held out her hand to the rebel. He looked a bit scared and confused as to what he should do. They spoke briefly in a foreign tongue before he finally disembarked and went with Max.
“…You better not be hurt,” a voice said, clearer than ever. Finally I could hear again. I watched as my sister turned, looking to the speaker.
“I’m fine, Jade. It’s just the normal minor injuries, cuts and bruises. Nothing I can’t handle myself,” Max said, walking with the rebel. Jaiden nodded, heading with them towards the infirmary. Just watching how she moved, I could tell Max had plans in her head. Leading the man with her she headed for the recovery ward to chat with her other patients. Speaking with a nurse briefly, Max grabbed a chair for herself and another for her new responsibility. The two sat by the father and his daughter—who welcomed her return happily—and instantly sparked up conversation with her guest. Jade stood by the door, watching the young woman chat with the three earnestly.
“She did some exceptional work out there, Jade. If she weren’t a medic I’d say she needs to be promoted,” Tate said, arms crossed as he leaned against the door jam.
“That’s how Marcus raised her. Her work means everything to her, even if the decision was life threatening,” she answered, shaking her head.
“If I were her brother, I would force her to retire. Or at least take a short leave of absence for a vacation,” he suggested, giving Jaiden a sidelong glance. “I mean after all, she has worked non-stop despite the current conditions.” Jade looked at him quizzically. “The fighting is getting worse. There’s no way it’ll get better at the rate they’re fighting. Before we know it, these people will have lost everything. All of those buildings still have their things in them and they’ll never get them back if their city is turned into a warzone and suddenly everyone is a refugee,” Tate said, watching her for a few moments before turning his eyes to the ground.
“What more do you want me to do, Tate? Like all of us here, we are bound by our oath to continue the work we agreed upon. All of the rebels that pass through here will be changed by what we’ve done, because we have physicians that will treat both the rebels and the militia.”