The truck below us shuddered to a stop, thick smoke coughing out the tail pipe. Our driver didn’t seem at all pleased as he swore under his breath, forcing himself from the cab of the vehicle and to the hood. Steam came from between the cracks, making it very hard to open. Climbing down from the back, Jade, I and Max approached the front to give him a hand. My sister strayed some distance behind us, looking around at the sand. The landscape was very barren and flat, with the occasional dune rising above the rest.
“I can’t get it fixed out here. The filter is too clogged to work now. We’ll have to clean it out manually or get a replacement,” he said, setting the screen down. Taking a large swig from his canteen, the driver sat back on the step of the truck.
“So we’re just going to sit here?” Jade raised an eyebrow at him. He reached into his inner pocket and pulled out a flask—drinking a rather large mouthful before returning it to its pouch.
“Nope, I’m just going to sit here. One of ya is going to fix my truck,” he said, leaning back.
“…Great,” I said, pacing a few steps.
“If we walk we’ll get there faster. Besides, it can’t be that far,” Jade said, gesturing towards the city.
“It’s too hot. We’ll run out of water before we get there,” Max said, moving to where the screen was. Digging in the truck after picking up the item, she started to search the tool box for anything that could work. Pulling out a few tools, Max started to scrape as much of the sand off as possible.
“Call for a back up truck, sir. We need to get to that city as quick as we can. Once we reach there, you can get a ride with the leaving group,” I said, looking down at the rather robust man. He sat for a few more moments before finally getting up and talking into the radio within the cab. An unclear voice replied something the three of us could understand. Hanging up he returned to his seat.
“They’re sending one. Can’t guarantee when it’ll reach the town, so we best get there,” he said gruffly as Max switched off with Jade in cleaning off the filter. After cleaning off most of the gunk, the two managed to secure it back in the truck and once the driver had started up the truck successfully, we climbed back in and drove towards the city. Luckily just as we arrived the truck jolted to a stop barely behind the building we normally parked behind.
Unloading our supplies to the other truck and watched our driver and the other transport drive off. The three of us waved, seeing their plume of sand off. Turning we went about our normal rounds, a typical day, but it was no surprise that we stayed longer than need be. Max took Jade and I around to the places she had discovered when she slipped away from a different team. Catacombs were carved out all over underneath the city. She showed us all the rebels she had helped when finished with her duties for the military while in town.
They all greeted her happily, checking in with what was going on. Max spoke quickly to them in their language, easily adapting and fitting in like she had spoken it since birth. I could tell she was introducing us as she talked to them and gestured to us. Some children came up and wanted to play, bringing with them some toys. Glancing at Jade, we both joined the kids and started to participate in their little game. Taking a ball, we both passed it between us and then among the kids too.
Work never seemed to leave Max alone, as she was checking a little baby and some of the younger children. With stethoscope about her neck she went among the infants and carefully instructed the mothers what they could do in the tunnels. Replacing the items back in her bag, Max shouldered it after accepting a few simple gifts from them and bidding farewell.
“They really appreciate what you do for them,” I said, helping her out of the small hole in the basement of a building.
“It’s a shame that the military just doesn’t believe that they aren’t out here to harm us. All of them are just protecting their home,” Max said, dusting off her uniform a bit. Jade laughed, looking at me before patting my sister’s back. Together we moved a book
“Keep up with the work, Max. We can both see they really appreciate your help,” Jade said, fixing her bag on her back. All three of us left the building, pretending we had been hiding out in there until the shooting had slowed down. Just as we turned the corner, a huge explosion erupted before us, the force sending us all back. I landed hard on my back, the air knocked from my lungs. Max and Jade were both coughing as they were some distance from where I had hit. The high pitched whistle of another mortar falling somewhere else made me frantically try to regain my breath and figure out where it might land.
Somehow I managed to roll over and at least push myself up to see where my partners were. Jade was also sitting up, holding her side in pain. Max was getting up also, her hand pulled tightly against her body. We all scrambled to our feet and towards the wall of the nearest building. Farther down the road the mortar landed, exploding and causing a huge fire to start. Her eyes widened as a wall of the far-off structure fell inwards from the flames starting to rise as more of the rubble started to catch.
“Max! Let’s go!” Jade said, pulling on my sister’s shoulder.
“No! We have to warn them! They can’t get out without help!” Max said pulling away and running for the building we left behind.
“Max no!” I shouted, running after her. Jade followed suit, slightly slower than before. Sprinting after my sister, I went to grab her for but she easily brushed me off. Her smaller form darted into the building and towards the trap door. I managed to catch up and follow as she dropped into the tunnel and began shouting. This was a major leap in the wrong direction. I didn’t’ hear footsteps behind me, so I knew Jade didn’t follow. People were starting to gather their things and flee in the direction we were running. “Max! They have another exit! Let’s get out of here!” She kept running, helping many of them get their things and go. Skidding to a stop, I turned and went back to the opening. “Jade, get down here now!” Doing as I said, we both ran down the tunnel and headed towards where the rest of the refugees were retreating to.
A group of the refugees had gathered before an opening, all carefully ascending the rocks with their things piled at the bottom. I looked up, seeing that the tunnel went up forever. High above voices drifted down to us as a large wooden dumb waiter was lowered down. Max was helping load it with belongings and those that couldn’t make it up the cliff as easily as others. She shouted and soon it started to life in the direction everyone was headed. We aided the rest of the refugees before at last it was just us and a woman that had talked profusely to Max earlier.
The woman carefully took Max’s arm and checked her wrist. Seeing my sister wince she dug in Max’s bag and found some medical tape. Using two thin pieces of wood the woman carefully made a splint for Max’s wrist. They both then turned to myself and Jade to aid us. Her prodding eventually found a gash on my head running from my forehead to the top of my ear in a thin line. I flinched, reaching up to feel what she had found. Glancing over at Jade I watched as Max was examining her side and found what was causing her pain.
“Broken ribs…” Max looked up at Jade and then to me. “You’ll have to be careful until we get to camp.” The woman spoke to my sister, who came over to see what they were talking about.
“It bad?” Her accent was heavy, meaning she spoke very little English.
“It’s small, but he’ll need stitches,” Max said, checking the laceration on my head. “I have the things to fix it, but I can’t do it down here. There’s not enough light.” She was talking slow and explaining to the woman. After finishing, Max then switched languages and explained it once more.
The lift came back down to us, where Jade and I were both helped on. My sister shouted up to whoever was pulling up the refugees and we started to ascend the crevasse. Peering down, I saw Max and the woman start their climb up. It must have been hard for her to climb up, but it seemed the woman was helping Max as they scaled the cliff.
I squinted as the two of us came into much brighter light. All of this light illuminated just how many were in these catacombs. We were helped off the lift by some of the soldiers Max had aided previously. People spread out across the grounds before us. There must have been hundreds of refugees that we did not see before. And now they were all hunkering down in this huge alcove. Turning, I saw that all around us cliffs were in a sort of circle, shielding these people from the wind during sand storms. It was the perfect hiding place.
A woman came and led me to where she sat Jade and I down. We were brought water and a little bit of food. It felt like hours until Max and the woman she had climbed up with finally approached us.
“There you are, I thought you fell or something,” I said, moving to get up only to be pushed back by Jade.
“Hold still, I have to fix your head,” Max said, setting down her bag and carefully rummaging through it. She pulled out a needle and thread; having the woman help her sanitize them before they started to sew my head. I clenched my teeth together at the pain as the two worked away. This was not very easy to suffer through without some kind of pain reliever. Mentally I prayed that they would bring me some kind of alcohol to at least dull the pain. Alas, none was never brought around, at least not until after they had cut the thread free and covered it with some gauze and tape. The woman spoke to Max and then wandered off, probably to go find her family.
“How’s your wrist?” Jade asked looking at my sister’s swollen limb.
“I just need to get it set and in a cast. We’ll have to figure out where we are from here,” Max said as she lay down on the mat. Her eyes closed as she placed one arm over her eyes. I followed my sister’s lead, liking the idea of just resting for even a little.
Eventually we were given a few supplies and left towards where Max had been instructed to go to. We thanked them for taking care of us and then walked off in the general direction of the tent base. The sun was already going down, making it easier for us to see where the base was. Light from the fire pits danced among the tents, sending shadows all over the area. Voices eventually reached us as we neared the camp. Some soldiers looked up, seeing us enter.
“Whoa, what happened to you guys?”
“We got caught in the mortars. Give us some time to heal first,” I said, brushing past them and towards the medical tent. A few nurses relaxing outside looked at us and quickly rushed the three of us in. I leaned back on the stretcher and let them examine my head. Another was busily checking Jade while a third was carefully checking the bone position on Max’s wrist. It was quite some time that we stayed there. Jade had dozed off on her gurney while my sister chatted with the nurses about treatment for herself and then for myself and Jade. They continued to insist that she rest and not worry, as all treatments would be followed exactly as agreed upon.
“Max, please rest,” I said, after the nurses had left us to relax. Her arm was in a cast and resting in a sling about her neck. Pulling it out of the sling, she let it sit on the side of the bed.
“I feel horrible. Both you and Jade are injured because of me. And of course it’s all because I had to go and warn them. I was so stupid,” Max said, shaking her head.
“What are you talking about? That’s the first few times I’ve seen you work like that. You were injured and you put others before yourself and made sure they were safe. That right there is pretty noble,” I said, reaching over and punching her shoulder lightly. Our eyes met briefly before Max finally looked away.
“I’ll make sure you guys don’t have to do this again. I could get you both hurt again, or even killed,” Max objected, turning away from me.
“Oh stop being emo. Just deal with it and accept the fact that you are one of the best medics on the field. Without you, there’d be no one else to help both rebels and militia. And without that help, this war would see more deaths than just those caused from wounds. I’m sure the suicide rate would have skyrocketed had not all these soldiers and refugees met you.” Max had turned back to me, a small smile forming on her face. I knew that could make her laugh.
“Okay, okay. Fine. But please just be more careful,” she said, pulling the blanket tighter to her. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep as well with a light on this tent, but it was used to help others. Closing my eyes I listened to the noises of the camp—the typical trucks arriving and leaving with supplies and people. Mentally I hoped and prayed that we wouldn’t be sent back out there again. At least not so soon. Hopefully we would be sent back to our inactive positions in our home town and then get a chance to recuperate before having to return to active duty once more.