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Daria
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Daria was more excited than she had ever been in her nine years of life. She kept looking at her Dad and squeezing his hand. The line was moving at a fairly constant rate but it wasn’t fast enough for Daria.

In the hand not occupied by her Father’s, Daria held a raffle ticket, a winning raffle ticket, THE winning raffle ticket. Daria had used her allowance and some saved lunch money to buy five raffle tickets at her school’s carnival fundraiser.

The first place prize was a brand new digital-optical hybrid telescope that was the top of line in consumer electronics. Daria loved astronomy more than anything in all the worlds. And now, she stood in the customer service line of the store that had donated the prize to her school, waiting to redeem her winning ticket.

Daria and her family lived in a colony on the outermost planet of a Coalition co-op solar system. Their place in the system would make the views from the telescope the most wonderful sights Daria had ever seen. She already had every night for the next month planned out as to what she would be viewing. Tonight she would be mapping a system belonging to the Wordols with a name that loosely translated to “To Look Upon the Gods”.

At the edge of Daria’s periphery she heard a commotion that grew to a point she could no longer ignore it. As she turned she immediately saw two men, with handguns, pushing store patrons to the ground. At only nine years old even Daria recognized the crazed look of someone high on Track Star.

The drug became popular when a galactic sports super star died during the last Olympics. The human sports hero was taking a new drug to help him compete against some of the Coalition species that had definite genetic advantages over humans. Daria didn’t remember the Olympian’s name but she did know her father would joke that he wasn’t even in track events so the drug’s name was kind of stupid.

The drug was a bad one, not the worst to be found but bad enough. It caused paranoia, aggression, a lack of grounding in reality and a whole host of other issues that were common in a lot of drugs. What set this drug apart was that it had a synergistic effect with the neurotransmitters associated with the fight-or-flight response.

The synergistic effect astronomically enhanced the high experienced by the user. As a result, the user tended to perform acts to stimulate the response. Casual users, if there was such a thing, would typically take the drug before activities like planetary free falling. Hard core users didn’t have the money for the extreme sports so they tended to commit criminal acts to enhance their high.

The two junkies were herding the customers and slapping them around hoping someone would fight back. If a victim fought back it would help stimulate the users’ adrenal response and make their high better. Most people knew that being docile with the bastards would cause their high to wane and usually they would move on.

For the first time Daria noticed there were two Marines in uniform who had been shopping in the store. They were giving each other slight hand signals and head nods. Daria knew that they were making a plan of some sort.

Before the two Marines could act, one of the junkies started to have a seizure, an inevitable side effect of prolonged use of Track Star. As the gunman fell, his convulsions caused him to pull the trigger on his automatic machine pistol. Bullets sprayed, people screamed, blood spilled and one maniacal drug user laughed and danced among the chaos as his adrenal glands kicked in and added to his high.

Daria stood in place and felt a bullet pass so close to her face that it actually caused her long hair to billow out behind her and a small clump of it fell away from the rest. When the hair drifted to her wrist, she glanced down at the odd sensation, her eyes were drawn to the figure of her father lying on the ground with a pool of blood building around his body.

Daria dropped her coveted raffle ticket and knelt down next to her father. She was still holding her father’s hand and used her other hand to try to stop the blood poring from his chest. She had learned basic first aid in school and she remembered enough to know that her efforts were in vain.

Daria felt a gentle touch on her shoulder and heard a soft voice in her ear, “Hey sweetie, let me help you with that.” Daria looked and saw one of the Marines kneeling beside her and slowly moving her aside so he could get to her father. Once she moved, he quickly went to work removing her father’s shirt and examining the wound.

“Please help him.”

“I’ll do my best sweetie.”

“Daria.”

“Huh?”

“Daria. My name is Daria. I don’t like to be called sweetie. My mom used to call me that and she’s dead now. So no one gets to call me sweetie anymore.” Daria knew it was such a trivial thing to think of and complain about in this moment but she didn’t know what else to say. “My mom is dead, so you have to help my father.”

The Marine looked at her, “I’ll do my best Daria, I promise.” He turned back to her father and pulled out a pocket knife. “And my name is Bryce, but my friends call me Reaper.”

Reaper was probing the wound with his finger and even though her father was mostly unconscious, he still went rigid and moaned as the finger went into the wound. “Shit.” Was all Reaper said as he pulled his finger out.

“What?”

“The bullet went into your father’s heart, put a hole in the left ventricle.” A quizzical look from Daria. “I need to open his chest and plug that hole. I can’t get to it well enough through the bullet hole. What I’m about to do to your father is going to look very horrible and it’s going to hurt him a lot, but you have to trust me.”

While Reaper was talking he was moving Daria’s father into a different position up on his right side with his left arm over his head. He was pushing on her father’s ribs and counting to himself. When he reached the number five he held one finger in the depression between the ribs and brought the knife to her father’s skin. Reaper looked at Daria and she nodded, she knew he was about to open her father’s chest.

With one fluid motion, Reaper made what seemed to be a huge incision along the rib cage and almost immediately the white of the rib bones were exposed along with muscle and fatty tissue. Without rib spreaders available, Reaper just reached in with both hands and started pulling the ribs away from each other. The muscle stretched and tore and gave way to the chest cavity they protected. With lung tissue exposed, Reaper reached in and started moving the organ out of his way to get to the heart.

Daria’s father was fully unconscious now but he reflexively gripped her hand to the point that she thought it was going to break. That’s when she heard the cold cruel voice of the other junkie she had already forgotten about, “Get the fuck away from him. Let him die.”

Reaper turned to look at the assailant, “No.”

“Look man, you’re obviously a doctor or some shit.” The junkie nodded towards his still seizing friend. “Let this little bitch’s dad die and help my buddy.”

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a Corpsman. And even if I wanted to save your friend, I couldn’t.” Reaper was still trying to slowly work on Daria’s father as he spoke. “Your friend has been seizing for over a minute now. That means he’s in the last stages of Track Star Delirium. He can’t be saved by anyone, even if we were in the best hospital in the entire Coalition. He’s going to die, end of story.”

Without hesitating the junkie calmly said, “Then so will you.”

Daria heard the gun bark at least five times and she saw the front of Reaper’s chest tear apart in more than one place. Reaper slumped over next to Daria’s father. At that moment, one of the citizen shoppers swung a trash can at the junkie’s head and the sound of a solid connection rang out. The junkie went down and immediately the citizen was kicking and stomping on the already subdued man.

“You killed my wife!” The man repeated as he turned the junkie’s body to pulp.

Daria turned her attention back to her father. She knew, or at least thought she knew what Reaper was going to do after he exposed the heart; plug the hole. Daria was trying to get herself over the mental hurdle of sticking her hand inside her father’s chest when she saw Reaper’s arm move.

Reaper didn’t have enough strength to move his body but he could still make his arm function. He walked his fingers along the floor and up his patient’s side until he found the surgical opening he had created. He then slid his fingers inside and found the hole and put two fingers in it.

Daria instantly saw the blood cease to pump from her father’s body and saw just a tinge of color race up his carotid arteries and into his face. He had still lost a lot of blood so his color didn’t change very much but she was sure that even a little change was a good sign.

Reaper’s body went slack but his fingers never moved. Daria was sure he was dead but before she could check, a police officer scooped her up to take her out of the store and to a safe place. Daria struggled briefly until she realized the man holding her was one of the good guys.

Pointing to Reaper she said, “Don’t move him, his hand is saving my daddy’s life.” And with that, all of the adrenaline that had kept her upright for the last several minutes, left her body all at once. She went limp in the officer’s arms, her winning ticket all but forgotten. A song played, distantly heard in the background…

 

Daria sat on the edge of the boardwalk looking into the water. The rolling of the sea always made her feel better. The rhythmic crashing of the waves against the pillars of the pier, the creaking of the wood as it stands against one of the strongest forces in all of nature.

It had been twelve years since her father had been shot in the store, waiting in line to get Daria’s telescope. Twelve years since Daria’s life changed so drastically in just five short minutes. She still looked at the night ski but not in the same way and not with the telescope that she never claimed. Now she looked at the sky wondering where the Marine Corps would send her.

After that day in the store she became obsessed with medicine and studied it relentlessly. All of her teachers thought for sure she would be going to medical school after college, but not Daria. Daria knew she wasn’t going to college, at least not a standard six year college. She was sought after by many of the top schools in the Coalition but she only applied to one school her senior year. Daria applied to a vocational school to become a paramedic. Her teachers were all aghast at such a flagrant waste of intelligence and talent but Daria couldn’t care less.

To become a paramedic on an all human world, the class was only nine months long. But Daria wanted more than that. Daria was taking the mutli-species course that usually took three years. With all of the studying Daria had done on her own, she was able to test out of most of the course work and focus on clinical rotations. Daria finished the school in just two years. Many of the doctors Daria worked with had written her letters of recommendation for medical schools but she had her sights set on a different goal.

Daria felt a light touch on her shoulder and smelled the familiar scent that always made her smile. She looked up into the eyes of the man standing behind her, “Hi dad.”

“Hi sweetie.” Daria’s father sat down next to her on the dock. “Are you ready?”

“More than you know.” No matter how old Daria got she knew that holding her father’s hand would always be the best feeling in the galaxy.

“Okay, we should probably get you to the transport then.” As they both stood he added, “You know you don’t have to go. Your contract isn’t in effect until you scan in on the shuttle.”

“I know dad, but I want to. I know you think I have some deep seeded need to go but that’s not it.” As they stood she looked up into his eyes and put one hand over the area on his chest where Reaper had opened him up so many years ago. “I’m not doing this because he sacrificed himself for you, I’m doing this because he sacrificed himself for another person. In that moment I knew that I could do more than look at the galaxy, I could be an important part of it.”

“I know sweetie, I’m just going to miss you.” As an unabashed tear rolled down his face he lead her towards their transport. “Just do me one huge favor please.”

“What’s that dad?”

“Please, for the love of all that is holy, get stationed somewhere with beaches and sand so I can visit and find myself a little honey to spend all of my retirement money on.”

“You got it dad.”

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