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MSU2 (or Hepaticide is Painless)

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It’s nearly midnight when the klaxons screech to life in the compound. A colony of scavenging bogbats startle in the muck surrounding the main exterior garbage masher and flee, twittering and flapping, into the moss-drenched marsh cypress canopy overhead.

The gravid moon that had been glowing behind the sentry tower, crowning it and its lone lookout in an ochre-tinted halo, is obliterated by the harsh floodlights sputtering on all over the grounds of the base. The gallium light particles reflect off the water droplets in the thick night air, roiling everything into a steamy whiteout.

Staff Sergeant Annik Kalonia squints and pushes a pair of black sunglasses from atop her head down onto her nose. She’s learned to be prepared for these occasions; the floodlights always give her a splitting headache. Of course it’s not the moonshine, she hears herself telling Corporal Roose—sweet, jogan-cheeked Corporal Roose, all the way from some failing little farm on Dantooine, too naive to realize all the Empire’s promises to him were lies—I told you, I just have sensitive eyes.

Her comm crackles: Incoming wounded, ETA three minutes. Garrison command reporting moderate to heavy casualties. Stuffing a silver flask back into a side pocket of her blue jumpsuit, she takes one last drag of her cigarette and flicks it into a fetid pool of scum just beyond the duracrete footpath.

She grins ironically and ruffles her hands through her dark curls, frizzed in the oppressive Felucian humidity. It’s bound to be another all-nighter.

***

“Yellow, yellow, over there. Red goes straightaway to—hang on, that one’s not red; did you see that brain matter, son? Put him over there, here’s a black tag for him. Greens over there by the comm tower. Red, straight to surg, over there by that lieutenant in the doorway—yeah, the bloody one.” From between hovercot-guiding stormmedics, the triage officer looks up from her datapad to Kalonia. “Nice of you to join us, Sergeant. We were beginning to think you didn’t get our invitation.”

“Yeah well, tell that to the acklay I ran into over by the latrines on my way here,” says Kalonia, snapping on a pair of gloves. “Hope you’ve done your business for a while, ‘cause it looked like it was getting comfortable.”

“Good thing I’m from Jakku and have a bladder like a dung camel. Can’t say the same for the rest of you guys.” Lieutenant Irra Crace is startlingly tall and thunderingly loud, wears her brown hair in a scraped-back bun, and likes to remind people of her provenance as a scavenger slave; Kalonia has never asked how she won her freedom because she secretly suspects the entire story is bantha poodoo.

“Good thing, yeah. So things look pretty under control out here—” Kalonia dodges a red arc spurting from an arterial neck bleed on its way to the surg tent— “so how about I go make sure Doc Cockblock isn’t leaving too many bacta sponges inside his victims?”

“Yeah, good. And send Emdee out here, I could use a droid to sort through the green-tags.”

“You got it, ma’am.” Kalonia steps around a puddle of something dark and likely organic, and ambles into the MST—the Modular Surgical Theater, which makes it sound light-years more impressive than the portable slaughterhouse it really is. A colony of blood-rats has taken up residence in the crawlway underneath the floor, feeding on whatever the hell seeps between the sort-of interlocking floorboards, and from what Kalonia has seen of them, they are some big fuckers.

She breezes behind Captain Sorgin, making note of her effortlessly elegant technique that makes the pelvis reconstruction she’s working on look easy. It would be fun to watch, but there’s no time for that now. “Hey, Emdee!” she shouts at the 2-1B medidroid a few gurneys over, “Irra needs you in triage!”

“Tell Lieutenant Crace that I am more than busy in here,” the droid replies frostily, “doing what the field medics could not, which is evidently properly apply tourniquets and maintain patent airways.” His vocabulator emits a rude squelch which Kalonia assumes is his approximation of a grumble. “The Empire needs more medidroids and less poorly-trained meatbags.”

“I’m pretty sure it was an order, Emdee.”

“What does she need me to do that is more important than this?”

“Sort through the greens over by the tower.”

“The whine line? I do not have time for that, Sergeant! This trooper needs a tube, as you enjoy embellishing, ‘like yesterday.’”

“I can do that,” says Kalonia, grabbing the intubation kit. “Now get out there and do what Irra says or she might take your head off and put it on backwards again.”

“My programming is far too sophisticated for this cesspool. But by all means, Sergeant, take my place and have at this copulation bundle.” The droid hands her an endotracheal tube and lumbers away.

“You mean ‘clusterfuck’,” she calls after him, but he’s already through the door. She gives the trooper on the stretcher a quick visual head-to-toe. Some handoff; Emdee didn’t tell her a thing about this patient’s malfunction. Typical.

She does her own triage (blood pressure in the can, jugular veins the size of space slugs and heart tones that sound like they’re at the bottom of a full bathtub) and figures out real quick the problem is that the guy’s heart is being squashed by fluid building up in the sac that holds it.

“I’ve got a tamponade over here!” she shouts, and opens up the laryngoscope. Standing behind his head, she slips the blade into the trooper’s mouth, sweeps aside his tongue, and slides the tube between the pearlescent vocal cords. She inflates the bladder, closes the scope, connects the ventilator, and the diagnostics monitor confirms the tube is in place. While she’s securing everything, two other medics come to the stretcher and remove the rest of the trooper’s clothing, setting out more supplies.

This guy?” says Captain Varek, slipping on a fresh pair of gloves, red hair poking wildly from underneath his surgical cap. “This guy has a tamponade? Emdee told me it was a rib fracture!”

“Rib fracture with a tamponade and total unresponsiveness,” says Kalonia, grabbing a chest tube. “Wanna do a scan to be sure?”

“I can see that diagnosis is correct from here, Sergeant. Give me that chest tube.”

“Aww, come on. Can’t I do it this time?”

“Captain Sorgin may entertain that sort of foolishness with you, but I will never. Now move.”

“Fine,” she says under her breath and stepping aside, “dick.”

Varek’s face turns red as the surface of Korriban. “What did you just say?”

“I said, ‘this guy’s real sick’. Sir.” Before Varek can reply, Kalonia does a crisp about-face. She heads to the stretcher Varek just came from to check on the poor guy he left there. Young kid, can’t be more than nineteen standard years. Probably just one more farm boy fodder for the ion cannons. “Hey, man. You doing ok over here?”

The boy grimaces, sweaty-faced and as pale as what passes for nerf patties in the mess hall. Big brown eyes like an eopie’s. Wheat-colored hair slicked back with blood. He’s got a glancing blaster burn on his left cheek and a right leg missing below the knee. “I’m g-good, ma’am. Doc saved my life.”

“Well, congratulations, that makes you double lucky today. Not many of Doc Cockblock’s patients can say the same.”

“Did—did you just call him—”

“‘Cockblock’? Yeah. That’s a great story. Tell you what, if you stay alive here till tomorrow, I’ll come by with a couple of ales from the canteen and tell you all about it.”

“You can have ale in here?”

“Hell yeah, I run this shitshow. The doctors like to think otherwise, but oh boy, the joke’s on them.”

The monitor shows a fast heart rate and a systolic blood pressure remarkably close to Kalonia’s last boyfriend’s IQ. Damn it, Cockblock, why’d you leave this kid like this? She punches a few buttons and increases the rate of fluids the kid’s getting. “So whaddya say, we on?”

“Deal,” the boy laughs.

“You gonna be okay if I check on the next guy now?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Kalonia turns to move away when out of the corner of her eye, she sees the kid reach out for her.

“Hey, Sergeant…w-what’s your name?”

Kalonia turns back around, checks his IV site and winks. “Stay alive till tomorrow night and maybe I’ll tell ya.”

A commotion tumbles through the entryway in the form of slop-covered swamptroopers and cacophonous vocodorized shouts. One unfiltered voice rises above the rest in a bestial scream and a flood of obscenities.

“Hang in there, trooper,” Kalonia says to the kid before she hustles her way to the latest pandemonium. She gets a glimpse of flailing boots and fists crashing between green-armored arms and legs. One trooper is kicked to the floor.

Varek shouts for everyone to shut the fuck up while he waves a bloody chest tube. Sorgin, appearing as serene as a granny sitting back and knitting a sweater, doesn’t even look up while she reassembles some poor kid’s pubic symphysis.

“What’s this?” Kalonia asks the trooper medic.

“Explosive charge, ma’am. Took out a quarter of Esk Platoon and a chunk of the major’s right asscheek.”

“Why isn’t this man sedated? He’s swinging you guys around like a drunk gundark!”

“He got hypnocane in the field, ma’am, but I dunno…it’s like it made him worse.”

Kalonia groans and sticks her head between two helmeted troopers trying to restrain the bucking body on the hovercot. “Oh, Major Veers, not again.” She pops back out of the fray and lifts an eyebrow at the medic. “Major Veers has a documented history of violent paradoxical reactions to hypnocane, Corporal. Didn’t you guys scan him before you hyposprayed him?”

“I—I guess not, ma’am.”

Maybe Emdee was onto something about the meatbags in this operation. “Put him in the back over in the corner, away from everyone else. Hopefully he’ll do less damage this time.”

Dodging other moving hovercots and darting medics, they get Veers to the bed and, as a team, roll him onto it with about as much ceremony as a pre-hyperspeed garbage dump. They have him in four point restraints before he can connect his fists with any faces.

Kalonia grabs a hypospray and loads it with Somatoll. “Major, we’re gonna have to stop meeting like this.”

For a second, Veers appears lucid and he begs her with his handsome, though currently manic, wide-set hazel eyes, “My—my wife will kill me! Please…you have to make it so she can’t tell!”

“Don’t worry, Major, we’ll fix you up just fine.” She presses the hypo to his neck.

“She said no more wounds or she’d never, you know…again. You know what I mean…about you know…

“It’ll be our secret, sir.” She depresses the hypo and Veers shuts off like a droid. She drops the hypo in the bio bin and smiles. “Oh, how I do love the sleepy times.”

They get the rest of his clothes off and Kalonia finally sees the wound. It’s ugly, but nothing bacta and artfully applied synthskin can’t handle. His right afterburner will be restored to its former glory and Mrs. Veers won’t be able to use it as an excuse to make her husband sleep on the couch this time.

A quick head-to-toe reveals no further serious wounds, and after hooking him up to the vitals monitor, Kalonia tosses a sheet over the major’s sedated form for the time being. She briefly considers leaving him a note advising him to get “NO HYPNOCANE” tattooed on his forehead during his next leave.

 

The next few hours pass in a typical blur, and all the lacerations and blast injuries start to look the same after the first two dozen or so. Medics come and go, steadily filling up the beds with bowel perfs, head injuries, several gnarly long bone compound fractures, and yet more blast injuries until the theatre is crowded and chaotic enough to resemble an already decency-straining Life Day party gone terribly pear-shaped.

It rains at some point during the night and for a while the patients come in soaking wet, pink rivulets of dilute blood streaming from their clothing, making bedsheets blush and leaving rosy puddles on the floor.

Kalonia has no idea when she loses any final semblance of body substance isolation, along with everyone else. Her clothing is as soaked as the patients’, and since the army still hasn’t gotten around to furnishing them with fluid-resistant gowns, she’s more than sure her unmentionables are going to look like victims of the menstrual period from hell when she finally gets around to peeling them off.

She hops from bed to bed, helping wherever she can, while still directing hovercot traffic around the tent. She assists in one bowel resection, three skull fractures, two cardiac arrests (one save, one tag-and-bag that already had one foot in the grave and the other on a kavasa fruit peel when he came in), one bizarre back wound that almost looks like it was made with teeth (the kid never saw what got him, but there are jungle rancors about), and one impaled Skullblade in a neck that, for reasons known only to whatever deity this patient must have favor with, didn’t fully complete its decapitatory trajectory. Stitching him up, the docs go through enough suture filament to sew a whole AT-AT from head to hindquarters.

Nobody has any time for pranks and jocularity but that doesn’t stop some fools from making their own unfortunate beds. The highlight of the night is when a field medic with “fucking new guy” practically written all over his goggle-eyed, muddy face backs into an IV pole that crashes to the floor, breaks the infusion pump into a hundred shimmering, tinkling pieces, and spills a liter of Spectacillin right into Emdee’s path as he’s carrying six bedpans and urinals to the bio sink.

The result is six more liters of effluvia on the floor with Emdee facedown in the puddle and cursing every sentient within a fifty meter radius in eighteen different languages.

“Roose!” shouts Varek, up to his elbows in intestines. “Roose! Where is Corporal Roo—”

“Right here, sir,” says Roose from behind Varek’s back.

Varek jumps nearly to the ceiling. “I hate when he does that!”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Never mind! We’re getting swamped here! Get on the comm with the garrison and—”

“—find out how much longer this is gonna last? Yessir, they said maybe another hour. The bad guys were just dug in real good on the other side of—”

“Proper terminology, soldier! ‘The enemy was entrenched.’ And step back, damn it, you aren’t sterile.”

“Yessir. Oh, and sir?”

“What, Corporal? I’m busy here!”

“I think you dropped something.” Roose points to something slick and red and resembling a kidney beside Varek’s surgical bootie-clad shoe and scoots away, datapad tucked under one arm. “Sorry, sir,” he calls back, waving his hands, “not sterile!”

Finally, the procession of bloody patients slows from a deluge to a trickle and Lieutenant Crace steps inside, looking comparatively pristine in her gore-free raingear. “I could use a drink,” she says to no one and everyone.

“Make an appointment with me first thing in the morning,” says Sorgin before firing up a bone saw.

Kalonia’s energy flags for a moment—just a moment, I ain’t no Loth-puss, she chides herself—but the fatigue dissipates entirely when something big and grey-blue and bipedal crashes through the entryway and collapses to the floor closest to Varek, who shrieks like a Kowakian monkey-lizard that’s nearly been sat on by a Hutt.

“What the hell is that?” Crace hisses, inhaling sharply over the sound of the amphibious creature gurgling through a mass of craniofacial tendrils.

“I don’t know, but get it the hell out of here!” shouts Varek.

“A squidface!” says a nearby recovering Swamptrooper.

“A what?”

Sorgin glances up from the leg amputation she’s just completed. “Jungle Felucian is the local terminology.”

“Sir, that’s the enemy!”

“Enemy!” Varek’s eyes nearly pop out of their sockets and into the thorax of the kid on the table in front of him. “I said get that thing out of here now!”

The creature on the floor doesn’t move except for the slow, shallow motions of its blue-striped back. It is still alive, and bleeding pools of an alarming shade of chartreuse on the floor.

Acting on pure instinct, Kalonia grabs the nearest empty stretcher and pulls it toward the dying creature on the floor. She kneels down and rolls it onto its back, then tilts its head back until the creature gasps from somewhere underneath all its tentacles.

“What do you think you’re doing, Sergeant?” snaps Varek.

“Opening the airway, sir…I think?” replies Kalonia. She makes a face at a particularly strong blast of hot air from the creature’s mouth, wherever it was in there. “Is someone gonna come help me get him into this stretcher or what?”

Crace starts forward as if she’s been hit with a bantha prod. “Sorry, Kal,” she whispers as she kneels and gets her arms around the Felucian’s upper legs, “it’s just, you know…this is weird.”

Kalonia wraps her arms around the creature’s torso from behind and after a nod they lift all two meters of the creature together off the floor and onto the cot. It remains unconscious, and Kalonia tilts the head back again to open the airway.

“You two are disobeying direct orders!” spits Varek.

“How do you know it’s a him?” Crace asks Kalonia under her breath.

Kalonia shrugs. “I don’t.”

“We are not treating the enemy!” says Varek.

“Yes, we are,” says Sorgin, removing her bloody gloves and putting on a new pair. “It’s our duty.”

“The hell it is! This goes against every Imperial regulation there is.”

“But not your oath.”

“What oath!”

“The one you took when you passed your board exams, Doctor. You did pass your boards, didn't you?”

“Of course I did, you nitwit. How else would I have ended up here?”

“If you were anyone else, Fronk, I’d assume you were drafted like the rest of us. But we all know you’re career Army.” Sorgin grabs the foot of the stretcher.

“How do we know that isn’t the chutta that left his Skullblade in Greebo’s neck?” snarls another Swamptrooper from a nearby bed. “I don’t want that demagolka anywhere near me.”

Sorgin gives him a sour look. “Come on guys, let’s bring him to the back by the tanks, where nobody’s awake to bitch about this.”

“I’m reporting this to Kway Teow!” says Varek. “In fact, I’m calling the general myself tomorrow!”

“You do that, Fronk. Meanwhile, the rest of us will actually be doing something useful.” Sorgin leads them to an empty space next to Major Veers, who is still sleeping off his sedative in peace.

“At least Major Veers is understanding,” quips Kalonia over her shoulder as they get the Felucian into the bed.

“Ooooohkay, first things first,” says Sorgin, taking her spot at the head of the bed. She begins working her fingers in between the Felucian’s facial tendrils. “Now where is your mouth?”

Kalonia attaches the monitoring equipment and frowns at the viewscreen. “Anybody know what normal vital signs are for one of these guys?”

“Usually…big amphibious fellas like this…ah, there it is! Irra, gimme a blade and an eight-point-oh ET tube.” Sorgin takes the laryngoscope and slides it into a large orifice that appears to glow red from within. “Usually fellas like this run a little cold and slow. Aaaand there we go.” She pulls out the scope, snaps it shut, attaches the ventilator hub and stands there for a moment holding the tube, her lips pursed. “Anybody got any ideas on the best way to secure this?”

“You don't think the standard tube holder will work?” asks Crace. “I mean, can’t it just go around like—” She makes a swirling motion with her hand around her head.

“I don’t know about clamping down those tendrils too much,” says Sorgin. “Can’t really say if they have an important physiological purpose or not and I don’t want to make anything worse than it already is.”

“How about good old-fashioned tape?” shrugs Kalonia.

“Maybe,” says Sorgin doubtfully.

“Just have Emdee hold it until we can figure it out,” snorts Crace.

“Good idea. Emdee, get over here!” shouts Sorgin.

“I was only kidding—”

Emdee shuffles to the bedside as quickly as his duranium legs will carry him. “Yes, Doctor! I am here. What procedural challenge may I assist you with?” After a beat, he seems to register that the patient he has come to help with is not human. “What in the Maker’s name is this thing?”

“A Jungle Felucian, obviously,” says Kalonia. “Or did you miss that part?”

The droid throws his mechanical arms in the air. “This is inconceivably against my protocols! In my entire one-point-six standard years of service, I have never—”

“Emdee, may I remind you that I installed your prototype knowledge database and I can reprogram you back to standard configuration any time I like,” growls Crace.

Emdee lowers his arms. “Please do not shut me down and rearrange my parts again, Lieutenant. I will comply with the request.” He reaches forward and takes the protruding end of the breathing tube from Sorgin. “I will hold this steady, Doctor. You are now free again to perform lifesaving duties.”

“Thank you, Emdee,” says Sorgin, cracking her knuckles. “Now let’s run a full scan and see what we find wrong with our friend here. In the meantime, start patching up anywhere you find green.”

***

Hours later, when the dawn sunlight starts filtering through the trees to the ground in weak stripes, Kalonia sits with Crace and Sorgin outside the tent in porto-chairs. The chairs, like their occupants, are creaky and wobbly and have seen better days. But the hooch Sorgin has made is sweet and strong and the warm wooziness it imparts feels to Kalonia like a worthy recompense for the night before.

“Sithspit, I wish we had more bacta tanks. It would make things so much easier,” sighs Sorgin.

“Roose keeps trying to requisition more, but Kway Teow HQ denies them every time,” says Crace, slouching back and stretching her legs out wide in front of her.

“I wish those flimsi pushers in KT would come out here sometime and see what we have to deal with,” grumbles Kalonia. She takes a gulp from the jar and passes it to Sorgin. “Not to mention Tank 1 looks a little murky and Tank 3 has another leak.”

Again?” says Crace.

“I rebel-rigged it good enough it should last a few more dunks,” says Kalonia.

“Oh, hey, how did Major Veers end up doing?” asks Sorgin. “Cockblock made such a hell of a racket when he came in that I almost threw a gallbladder at him. So it was something about Veers getting his ass getting blown off?”

“Yeah, literally. It was a pretty good-sized gluteal avulsion but he’ll be fine.” Kalonia lights a smoke and smirks. “I had Prakish do his urine cath.”

Crace bursts out laughing. “That poor kid! Her first real shitshow and you make her cath the major?”

“Well, it’s not like you have to go digging around for his dick. I figured it’d be a good one for her first time.”

“I think every virgin he’s ever been with would seriously disagree,” says Crace.

Sorgin spews out her mouthful of hooch and the three of them scream in laughter.

Corporal Roose jogs past carrying a stack of datapads and looking remarkably lively for someone who has been up all night and not currently inebriated.

“Roose! Come have a drink with us, Roose!” shouts Crace, slurring his name.

Roose slows to a trot before coming to a halt. He turns back around and pushes his specs back up on his nose. “Oh no, ma’am, I couldn’t do that. Today’s Primeday.”

“It is?” says Kalonia, jokingly turning her naked wrist over and widening her eyes.

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” says Crace. “There’s no religion that says you can’t drink on Primeday.”

“It’s not religious, ma’am. It’s technical.”

“Come again?”

“Oh gods, here comes Cockblock,” says Kalonia, stubbing out her cigarette.

The three women stand up and stretch nonchalantly as Varek approaches, a smug look on his freckled, rattish face.

“Too late, Fronk, the booze is gone and the party’s over,” yawns Sorgin.

“I didn’t come over here to socialize. I thought you’d like to know that I’ve contacted HQ and told them all about your treasonous little stunt last night.”

“And here I thought we were friends,” Sorgin says, sticking out her bottom lip. “Aren’t we friends, Fronk?”

“All three of you ladies have been reported and I expect to hear back from General Maltz very soon.”

An expression of alarm crosses Roose’s face. “Oh, sir!”

“Not now, Corporal.”

“But sir—”

“I said not now! Doesn’t anyone have any kriffing ears around here?” Varek stomps off in the direction of his quarters, one foot slipping off the path in his haste and into the mud. The expletive he shouts sends them into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.

“Well gosh,” huffs Roose, his face going pink around what passes for a frown on him, “if he hadn’t been in such a darn hurry, I could have told him that the comlink patch to HQ has been offline since about two hours ago. I think one of the rats chewed through it again.”

“Sounds like divine intervention,” says Crace.

“So you mean his dire messages to General Maltz about the treasonous actions of his terribly unprofessional colleagues didn’t go through?” asks Sorgin, one hand on her hip.

“No ma’am, not if he tried to send it within the last couple of hours. And we’re out of the supplies to fix it so now I gotta go to KT to get the right replacement patch so we can be back in communication with HQ…” His words trail off when Kalonia wraps an arm around his shoulders and pushes the jar of hooch into his one free hand. “Ma’am, uh…what are you, uh…”

“Drink up, Corporal,” says Captain Sorgin, an irreverent glimmer in her eye. “And that’s an order.”