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“Clear!” The word sounded hollow to Reaper’s seemingly disembodied consciousness, though the meaning was completely solid in his mind. He had seen the actions that followed the word but had never been on the receiving end of what was about to come. He mentally braced for the two hundred joules of energy that were about to flow across his chest and through his heart; he didn’t feel a thing as he watched his body arch upward on the operating table. Apparently there were some benefits to being clinically dead, a lack of pain chief among them.

“Results?” The doctor was looking towards the nurse attending the monitor.

She smiled, “Sinus rhythm, we’ve got him back.”

A Corpsman spoke up from Reaper’s side, “Don’t throw a party yet, he still doesn’t have a pulse and his pressure is still gone.”

Reaper wanted to scream, “PEA – Pulseless Electrical Activity! Remember your Hs and Ts people!” But being clinically dead also had its drawbacks, not being able to speak chief among them.

The Doctor was a practiced trauma surgeon and didn’t skip a beat, absent though they were in Reaper’s chest. “Hs and Ts people. We can rule out Hypothermia, Hydrogen ion, Hypo or Hyper Kalemia, or Toxins.”

“Oh crap.” Reaper thought. “I’m in a teaching hospital. This should be interesting.”

The doctor continued. “That leaves Hypovolemia, Hypoxia, Trauma, Tamponade, Tension pneumothorax, and Thrombosis. Most of these apply considering he was shot in the chest multiple times. We’re going to open him up and figure out the cause of the PEA. Keep strong and steady on the compressions while I get the chest tray.”

Reaper could see the doctor moving the surgical kit from the shelf to the bedside table, it was labeled “Chest, Exploratory”. As the doctor sprayed sterilizing iodine all over Reaper’s bare chest, Reaper decided it was time to check out. There was only so much his body and mind could take and right now he knew he couldn’t handle the mental trauma of watching his own chest being cracked open. It was easier than he had expected, to remove himself from the here and now and drift back into the deeper recesses of his memories to a different time, a distant place…


“Bryce! Get in here, now!” The voice that was usually so deep and soothing to Bryce was a cannon of anger today.

Bryce walked through the kitchen door. “Yeah Dad.” Trying to be light in his mood didn’t help the situation, his father just glared angrily at him. “Um, I mean, yes sir?”

Trying to suppress a portion of his anger before he spoke again, his father finally asked, “Can you explain to me why your little sister is purple?”

Bryce could see his mother in the other room, purposely sequestering herself from the conversation, probably due to the fact that she couldn’t keep a straight face and was barely containing her hysterical laughter. Bryce caught himself as the right side of his mouth threatened to betray him with a smile as it began to curl upwards. Luckily his father missed the almost-smile and Bryce got his face back under his own control.

Bryce’s little sister Maya was in fact a fairly pretty shade of purple from head to toe. Maya wasn’t exactly sure what all the fuss was about, she was excited to show all of her kindergarten friends her new skin color, they would all be very jealous. Like a lot of Coalition schools, there were usually species other than humans in the classrooms. There were only a few humans in Maya’s class and they were all very jealous of the Trizites that could change color with their emotions. They would now be jealous of her new hue, very exciting indeed.

Bryce was twelve years old and a fairly smart kid, he tested in the top ten percent of his class in every area of testing. He wasn’t the smartest kid in his class but his parents knew they wouldn’t have to worry about him ever falling behind in his studies. He did however excel in his interest in medicine, following in the footsteps of his father.

Bryce’s father was a trauma surgeon at a local hospital and often took Bryce to work with him. Bryce was always helping other kids on the playground, patching their scrapes and tending to their roughhousing traumas. Even though Bryce was pretty good with his basic trauma skills, he really excelled with internal medicine. He was always searching the Net for home remedies and folk medicine treatments from all over the Coalition. Bryce would often combine herbs and elements from different species’ remedies to create a new one that usually worked how he wanted it to. Rashes, hives, sore throats, colds and various flu strains along with many other basic ailments were cured with his concoctions.

There had been a few errors, to say the least, but nothing life threatening so far. A few cases of projectile vomiting, runny noses that seemed to come from a never-ending sinus waterfall, unconsciousness and one minor case of very ill timed uncontrollable and unrelenting flatulence. Bryce’s mother always came to his defense though and pointed out that even with some odd side effects, everything he had set out to cure was in fact, cured.

As Bryce stood in front of his father he straightened up and walked in a slow circle around his sister and tried to act like an intern presenting a patient to their attending physician. “Sir, the patient is a five year-old human female. Chief complaint consisting of chronic allergies of unknown origin. The patient’s history seems to indicate that having recently moved to a knew colony that is heavily populated with Trizites, there might be a connection to her allergies and a Trizite-centric material; possibly in the food or other commonplace item in the community.

“Using this assumption along with the patient’s past history of allergies, I formulated a homeopathic mixture including some local flora and herbs along with a traditional set of human-based allergy remedies. The patient has responded well and most of her symptoms have subsided with a few left that are significantly diminished.”

Bryce’s father looked at him and he could tell that his father was trying hard to stay mad or at least look like he was. “You still haven’t explained why she’s purple. Another one of your unexpected side effects?”

Bryce tried to look wounded by the question, “Side effects? I don’t think I know what you mean doctor.” The look he received from his father made him quickly add, “Not a side effect sir. The patient has been upset for the last week or so because her Trizite classmates can change some of their facial coloring almost at will. Some of the compounds in the Trizite diet are directly linked to their pigment abilities. I simply added a few local elements that I thought would give the patient a slight tinge of color to her face.” Bryce looked at his purple sister and waved his hand up and down her body. “I might have miscalculated the end results. Just a little. Sir.”

Maya jumped up and down as she realized that her big brother had purposely turned her purple, as a gift to her. She jumped on to his chest and wrapped her arms and legs around him. “Thank you, thank you thank you! How long will I be purple? Can you make me different colors? Can you make my friends different colors?”

“No, he certainly may not turn your friends different colors.” Their father now looking at the two embracing siblings; he smiled, it was pretty great to have two kids that actually got a long so well. “Bryce, get your baseball uniform on, we need to get going if we’re going to get you to practice before it starts.”

Bryce lowered his sister to the ground and just smiled before he ran out of the room. He knew that he had just barely dodged a lot of grounding from his father, possibly worse. As he left the room, Maya jumped into her father’s arms and started to talk about school and what she was going to wear tomorrow to show off her new color. Bryce came back just a few moments later and his sister was still babbling away. She was set down and then father and son left together, all trespasses forgot for the time being.

As they left the driveway his father mentioned that they would have to stop by the hospital on the way to the baseball field. His father had left his wallet in his locker and wanted to pick it up since he was going to be off for the next four days. Bryce was fine with the detour, he loved the hospital and they still had plenty of time to get to practice. They arrived a short time later and Bryce went in to the building with his father, saying hi to all of his father’s coworkers as they passed.

When they were just about to the locker room, Doctor Wilson walked up to Bryce’s father. “Hey Trevor!”

Bryce’s dad turned to look at his colleague and friend, “I can’t Tim. I’ve got Bryce with me and I need to get him to his baseball practice.”

Tim looked at Bryce and then back to his father. “Look Trevor, I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t an absolute emergency.” Trevor looked at him sideways. “Okay, I would ask, but this is different.”

“Tim, this is an Emergency Room, news flash – everything is an emergency. My son is more important to me than strangers I don’t know.”

Tim looked a little shocked to hear the statement that almost everyone thought but there had always been an unwritten rule that it was never to be spoken aloud; the patients weren’t the most important things in the world. Tim looked at Bryce before addressing Trevor again. “You’re right, absolutely. Here’s the deal though, we have a family of five that will be here in about…” He looked at his watch, “thirty seconds now. They all have major multiple stab wounds. We have the surgery department alerted and they are busy getting teams together for each patient along with getting the operating rooms ready. We just need you to help stabilize one of the patients until surgery comes down to grab him.

“We’ve only got two trauma surgeons on right now, I’m sure we can handle it without you but it will be smoother with you. I’ll give you the worst of the five to make sure yours gets taken to the O.R. first and then you can get out of here. Twenty minutes tops, but you know in this situation we’re really hoping for less than ten minutes before they get hauled to surgery.”

Trevor looked at Bryce who just shrugged his shoulders. “A whole family was stabbed, we should help them. It’s alright Dad, you already said I was more important so you don’t have to feel guilty. Besides, I may be more important to you than the patients, but the patients are more important to me than baseball.”

“You’re just saying that to get out of trouble for turning your sister purple.”

Tim, “What?!”

Bryce, smiling from ear to ear, “Maybe. But seriously Dad, not really, let’s help.”

“Okay Tim, let’s go.” Looking down to Bryce who was keeping in step with the adults, “Do you want to watch or wait at the nurse’s station?”

Perplexing question for Bryce. He was at the point that girls were starting to get very interesting and grown women were even more interesting. On top of that, the nurses seemed to adore him and he was guaranteed a lot of hugs and kisses from them. On the other hand, with five simultaneous traumas most of the nurses would probably be busy so he’d be stuck playing a game on a terminal or something, by himself most likely. “I’ll go with you Dad.”

“Sounds good to me. And remember, if one of the new interns messes up an IV, you need to jump in there and get it yourself to make them feel bad.” It was a fun game that Bryce and his dad played on the interns. It was something along the lines of, ‘See what you just screwed up? Now watch the twelve year-old kid do it just right. Hey, no crying in the ER.’

As they approached the trauma bay, Bryce saw that along with the ambulances that were arriving there were also several police vehicles. Cops usually showed up when there was an assault of some sort but he hadn’t seen this many before. As the first gurney made it’s way in, there were four cops surrounding it.

Tim looked at Trevor, “I think that one is yours. The telemetry from the paramedics said the father was in the worst condition. That looks like him.”

“Copy that.” Looking down at his son, “There’s a lot of blood Bryce, you know the drill. Gown up and put on all the protection possible; gloves, mask, goggles, everything.”

“Yes sir.” Bryce ran ahead and started pulling all of the protective gear from the dispensers on the side of the wall next to the trauma room. One intern passed by him and started to enter the trauma room without stopping, Bryce yelled at him. “Hey you!. Yeah, new kid. You want Shirka Herpes or Mulvarian Hepatitis?! Put on your gown and stuff before you go in to that blood bath.”

The intern stopped and looked around him to see if the kid was seriously addressing him. One of the nurses stopped at the dispensers and gave Bryce a quick hug and kiss before addressing the intern, “He’s right. Our safety comes before their treatment.”

The intern slowly joined the two putting on their safety gear and then the three walked in the room followed shortly after by Bryce’s father. He looked at the people already at work and then the officers who stood near by. “I understand you gentlemen have a job to do, but so do we. We need a little more room to work please, back up just a hair to the red line we have outlining the gurney. Also, blood can shoot quite a distance, there are disposable goggles on the wall outside of this room, you’re more than welcome to grab some along with gloves, just in case.”

The sergeant in the group looked down to the red line on the floor. “Move back boys, give the Doc some room. Jenkins, go get four safety glasses and some gloves for all of us.”

“Thank you sergeant.” Trevor saw his team doing what they were trained to do, they needed very little direction from him in these sorts of cases. “I don’t think he’ll be able to talk to you sir, his throat is fairly well damaged, someone did quite a number on him.”

The sergeant got a disgusted look on his face. “I’m not waiting here for a statement or suspect description, not this time. He is the suspect. Those are self-inflicted wounds.”

“All of them? Are you sure?” Bryce’s dad was working on the man’s throat and trying to make a better surgical airway for him. There were stab wounds all over his body, it seemed impossible to believe that he done it all to himself.

“Yeah, we’re sure. Bystanders witnessed most of it and we have video feed from the bank security camera. They streamed the video to me while we were on our way here.” The sergeant took a deep breath. “He walked out from the bank after having an argument with the teller about a problem with his account. He pulled out a hunting knife and started to go back in. His wife tried to stop him so he began stabbing her. The kids got out of the car and were yelling and screaming at him and he turned on them next. After he stabbed every one multiple times, he began stabbing himself. When the first patrol unit arrived on scene, he tried to slit his own throat. It doesn’t look like he did too good of a job of it though.”

“He did better than you think.” Trevor was now probing deep into the anatomy of the man’s neck and throat. “He cut one carotid and there are three separate lacerations to his trachea. I can fix it though.”

“Don’t try too hard Doc, no one would blame you if you happened to ‘slip’ or maybe just didn’t do a great job this one time.” The sergeant received nods of affirmation from his fellow officers.

Without taking his eyes off the patient Trevor replied without emotion. “I can’t imagine ever doing anything to harm my family like he did, but it’s not my job to judge or punish, my job is to fix.”

Bryce was pulling down a suture kit and advanced airway tray for his father. “My Dad isn’t the Grim Reaper sir, he doesn’t take lives, he saves them.”

“Oh, uh, hey there kid. I didn’t see you standing there. Sorry about that.” The sergeant was stammering a little as he tasted the leather from the sole of his shoe that was now firmly planted in his own mouth.

“Don’t worry about it, I hear all sorts of things when I help my dad.” Bryce looked at one of the officers in the middle. “And sergeant…”

“Yeah kid?”

“You might want to catch Jenkins, he’s about to pass out.” Thump. “Sorry, too late.”

Eight minutes after the patient came through the ambulance bay doors, a surgical team came and grabbed the gurney and whisked him away to the operating room. Trevor took his son over to the basin sink and helped him remove all of his protective gear and then they both washed up. Holding Bryce’s hand, they walked out of the ER after Trevor made sure to tell the charge nurse that he’d dictate the chart from home later tonight after the kids were in bed.

“See Dad,” Bryce looked at his watch, “we’ll only be a few minutes late and we helped someone.”

Speaking thoughts that should have been kept private, Trevor sighed, “Yeah, sometimes the people I help don’t make me feel good about what I do.”

Bryce stopped dead in his tracks and pulled his father to a stop. “Dad. You are not the Reaper. That’s someone else’s job. No matter how bad that man is, I bet his kids still love him. Someone, somewhere must still love him. You helped them, not him. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me?”

“I love you son.” He gave Bryce a quick hug, “I knew I kept you around for some reason.”

Five weeks later Bryce was laying on the living room floor trying to stay awake for the end of the movie. When the credits started to roll, his father stood up and told him to go get ready for bed then come back so they could review one patient chart together before bed. Bryce completed his tasks and hurried back; patient charts had taken the place of bedtime stories for the past few years and he always enjoyed them.

When Bryce returned he found his father leaning forward in his chair, face buried in his hands, obviously crying. Bryce had only seen his father cry after the birth of his sister and he knew that these sobs were a completely different kind. He gently touched his father’s shoulder and was about to ask what was wrong when the picture on the TV caught his eye. It was the man they had worked on together, the man who had stabbed his family.

Bryce didn’t recognize him when the news initially reported on the event weeks ago. His driver’s license photos and family photos they showed looked so different from the bloodied man they had saved in the trauma room. But after seeing his face all over the news for weeks, Bryce immediately recognized the man being reported on.

The man had been released after an emotional plea from his lawyer, psychiatric physician and his wife and kids. Everyone assured the judge that he was better now, the medication was helping tremendously and it was a one-time mental break. He and his lawyer promised that he would stay in an apartment and only visit his family with their permission and with law enforcement supervision at the local precinct. The judge agreed and added several other stipulations of his own and set a trial date. The man thanked the judge and said that he was ready and eager to take responsibility for his actions so he and his family could start rebuilding their relationships.

The news channel was playing a slide show of pictures while they discussed the latest event that took place just moments ago at the family’s house, not too far from Bryce’s home. The picture on the TV now was the whole family in the court room, hugging each other and crying at the man’s release from custody. Bryce heard the news anchor say that the upcoming images were gruesome and not suitable for all audiences.

Bryce watched as the photo dissolved and was replaced with a crime scene photo of a sheet-covered body on the lawn of a house. The sheet was soaked with blood and the size indicated that it was covering a small child, probably two or three years old. Bryce guessed it was the man’s youngest son from the previous picture. The scene changed again and there were more covered bodies in the living room. Bryce could easily make out two kids, one draped over a couch, probably trying to get away, and another one face down crawling away from the doorway. The mother, he guessed, was at the doorway, half in and half out, probably trying to protect her children as the man came into the house. He knew it was the mother because the one body that wasn’t covered was the man from the trauma room. His body bullet ridden and torn to shreds, unrecognizable as the man from the previous photos, his identity known only because the news said it was so.

Bryce knew why his father was crying, he felt responsible or at least somewhat connected to this tragedy even if in only some small remote way. He didn’t know what to do, how does a child console the adult at a time like this? Bryce decided that words were too cumbersome and useless right now so he just rubbed his hand back and forth across his father’s shoulders and back to let him know that Bryce was there for him.

The news camera moved to a police officer that was about to be interviewed. Bryce recognized him as the sergeant from the Emergency Room. The reporter stood next to the sergeant and held a microphone between them. “Sergeant Ramsey, I understand that you were involved in the shooting. I know there are obviously things you can’t say at this point, but is there anything you can tell us?”

The sergeant looked off camera to someone in the background, apparently receiving some sort of permission from some unseen person, the sergeant gave a slight nod in return before he began speaking. “I can’t go into details right now, but we arrived on scene to find a suspect actively trying to kill another person. Several commands were given to him to stop as we were running to the front door from our patrol vehicles. Once we were close enough to open fire, he still had not complied with our orders so we fired on him to end the threat.”

“Were you aware of who the suspect was when you arrived?”

“I did. I can’t speak for the other officers involved, but I did. I responded to the incident with this family where the suspect had stabbed them all in the bank parking lot, just down the road. I knew their address from my previous report, I had a pretty good idea that it was them.”

“Did that make you feel any different while you were responding? Knowing the history and seeing what the family looked like during the first stabbing incident?”

The sergeant looked off camera again and gave a slight nod in return to whoever was playing the part of the shadow puppeteer. “It didn’t make me ‘feel’ different. We have a job to do and we try to keep feelings out of it. All we knew was that a stabbing was taking place. What if someone else was attacking the family? Some fanatic or something coming after the father for what he had done before? We didn’t know anything else when we arrived. I honestly didn’t know it was him until I pulled the trigger. His back was to me until after my first rounds hit him and he turned to face me. That’s when I knew it was him, that’s when I had feelings, not before.”

“Can you explain that sergeant? What feelings did you have then?”

“Sadness. Sadness that the family was going through the same thing again. Anger. Anger that our judicial system is horrible and let this man out just to kill his family.”

The sergeant paused and the reporter took advantage of that moment to interject her own adjective, “Triumph? Triumph at ending this man’s killing?”

The sergeant’s previously placid face morphed into one of anger. “Triumph? We weren’t triumphant in anything here tonight. We didn’t stop anything. We tried, but we didn’t. Can’t you see the bodies lying around us? Where is the triumph in that?

“Even if we had saved the family, I don’t know that ‘triumph’ would be the word to use. Maybe…” The sergeant looked at the ground as he tried to find the right word, “success? Success at saving the family and ending the threat.

“My job isn’t to be the judge, jury or executioner. But sometimes, we have to be the Reaper. We have to collect the souls of those who are broken, who can’t be a part of society no matter how much we want them to be. Sometimes we have to practice a bit of preventative medicine to make sure others won’t be hurt in the future.”

Bryce knew that last part was directed at his father, and maybe him as well. Bryce suddenly realized that his father wasn’t sitting there anymore, he had gone to bed. Bryce watched the news for another twenty minutes or so, taking over his father’s chair, before he also went to bed. In the morning, it was as though nothing had changed, his father was doing a good job of compartmentalizing his emotions and making everything as normal as he could for his family. It took a few months before Bryce felt like his father was truly back to being himself, and a couple more months after that before Bryce was allowed to again visit his dad at work.

It wasn’t too long before Bryce started high school and joined the ROTC program. He planned on being a doctor and following in most of his father’s footsteps. He was still more interested in internal medicine and diagnostic medicine but he couldn’t wait to make his father proud of his trauma rotations once he got to medical school.

Part of his ROTC training allowed him to go to the Navy’s Hospital Corpsman School when he was fifteen years old. The program was the exact same training as the adults got but the class was full of high school students in the delayed entry program. The idea was to get them excited about service so they would enlist in right out of high school. With their technical school already done, it put them in the field that much quicker after boot camp.

When he was sixteen, he went to the Corpsman Field Medical Services School. It’s where Corpsman go to learn how to be field medics with the Marines. Bryce was involved in a lot of extracurricular sports activities with school so he was fit and enjoyed the hard work they put in during training. He loved being outdoors and working as a team. He was no stranger to team work with his involvement in sports and working alongside his father in the Emergency Room, but this kind of teamwork was different, better somehow on an emotional level.

He also enjoyed learning about firearms. He was pretty good with the weapons and was a little sad to find out that Corpsman usually only carried a defensive sidearm in combat, or at least that’s all they were supposed to carry. One of the Gunnery Sergeants told Bryce that he should think about Special Forces if he was so interested in the firearms portion of training. The SpecOps Corpsman carried a full loadout of weapons in addition to their medical gear.

Bryce told the Gunny that he was planning on becoming an officer and going to medical school on the Navy’s dime. The Gunny just rolled his eyes and made a comment about Bryce wasting his talents in order to go get an officer lobotomy. Bryce reminded the Gunny that a lobotomy didn’t actually decrease a person’s intelligence; it actually affected the emotional center in the patient’s brain. This earned Bryce and his company a five-mile run.

The next day Bryce found himself riding in an armored personnel carrier, shoulder to shoulder with actual Marines. Bryce always felt like an adult when he was in school, his size and maturity level made him feel like he was standing with a bunch of kids. But now, sitting next to combat veterans, he realized just how small he really was and that he was several years away from being a real adult.

The unit was being transported to the forward area of the training exercise, the last test for Bryce’s class and a group of Marines trying to graduate from bootcamp. The battle exercises included veteran Marines who were intermixed into the units of Marine recruits and the Corpsman from Bryce’s FMF school were also put in to companies as they would be if this were a real situation.

Bryce had been had assigned to a eight man firesquad that was made up of all real Marines, no recruits in the bunch. Their team call sign was “Echo Blue” and they were on the side of the good guys in this scenario. They were being deployed to an area that required some cleanup of enemy forces that had been bypassed or missed when the company made its push through the area. The bad guys couldn’t be left to the rear of the advancing force, that was just poor tactics.

When the team first loaded up they were all joking around and giving each other shit; they seemed to be a tight unit and probably worked together at their real duty stations. When the driver announced over the PA that they were two minutes from their drop off, all of the chatter stopped and each Marine took up deployment positions at the two doors in the vehicles. Bryce was caught off guard at their sudden intensity, this was only training, he wondered how they were on real missions.

As the vehicle came to a stop, the first Marine at each door was already on the ground and moving to a firing position that gave the rest of the men cover as they disembarked the vehicle. Bryce was close to being the last man out and as he was moving forward he saw that there were still three rifles in the vehicle’s weapons closet. Bryce instinctively grabbed one along with a shoulder-slung bandolier of ammunition that held six magazines.

Bryce took up a firing position near one of the Marines who looked down and saw the weapon Bryce held. “Hey kid, you’re a Corpsman, you’re not supposed to be carrying a rifle.”

Bryce didn’t take his eyes off his field of fire as he spoke, “Do you think that when the shooting starts the other guys won’t aim at me? Or their bullets will magically miss the medic?” No response. “I didn’t think so.”

The team leader walked up to Bryce, “I like you kid, but if you’re going to carry a rifle, at least load it. Okay?”

The rest of the team snickered as Bryce realized that his weapon was indeed empty. He knew from training that no loaded weapon was ever stored in a vehicle. He reached into his bandolier and pulled out a magazine of training ammunition and put it into the weapon. Bryce cycled the bolt and checked to make sure the safety was engaged. The team was already moving out so Bryce took up a position towards the rear of the element.

After about an hour of working through the area of dense buildings, they had their first contact. Echo Blue was victorious and no one in the unit was taken out. When a training round hit a person, the training uniform sensed the hit and delivered a momentarily paralyzing shock to the soldier. If you were hit, regardless of where, you were out of the scenario. Bryce emptied a whole magazine during their first engagement but hadn’t hit any targets, much to his dismay. Maybe there was a reason Corpsman shouldn’t carry guns?

Echo Blue had several more engagements over the next few miles. Bryce actually scored a couple of hits though it took him another four magazines to do so. The rest of the fireteam was razing him in a good natured sort of way, a way that made him feel as though they were actually starting to like him.

As the team entered a small courtyard, Bryce heard a round being fired and then felt the light breeze of a training bullet passing by his head. The round struck the Marine in front of Bryce, dead center of his back and the Marine went down. In that moment of the adrenaline dumb that Bryce was experiencing he saw the time-dilation effect of the flight-fight-or-freeze mechanism kicking in. Everyone was moving in slow motion as the next two rounds passed by his head and two more Marines were instantly locked up on the invisible electric leash that now held them in place and dropped them to the ground.

Bryce slid to his right, unsure of where the attack was coming from he could be moving towards it but his training and instinct together told him that moving in any direction was better than not moving at all. As he slid, he turned his body around and brought his weapon to bear towards where he thought the attack was coming from.

Bryce saw the Marine on rear security was facing the rest of the team with his weapon pointed at them firing. His brain couldn’t figure out what was going on. He looked in the direction the Marine was firing, thinking that the enemy must be ahead of them as well and that’s what he was shooting at. But as the Marine fired again, Bryce followed the shot and saw that it was heading directly towards another one of the Marines on his team.

Bryce didn’t hesitate any longer, he brought his weapon up and put three rounds into the rogue Marine’s chest. At this close distance, the training rounds still had a lot of kinetic energy so the Marine not only got three uniform shocks, he had three distinct thuds in his chest as well. The shooter went down and Bryce followed the target with his weapon to make sure that the threat was truly gone. Bryce had to clear his head as he kept repeating to himself that this was only training, he hadn’t really killed a Marine from his own team.

The team leader came over to Bryce and put a hand on his rifle, helping Bryce to lower it to the ready position. “Why did you shoot Marcus?”

Bryce looked at the man whose name tag read O’Connor. “I, uh, he was shooting our own guys.”

O’Connor looked at him, “And? Do you know why he was doing that? Did you stop to think about what was going on before you just lit him up?”

Bryce felt like his feet were starting to get back under his body again so he spoke with a little more confidence this time. “Once I realized it was him shooting at us, I thought to myself ‘WHY?!’ But then as I looked back towards him I realized that it didn’t matter why, he just was, and he had to be stopped. The why was irrelevant at that point.” An old memory came back to Bryce and he added, “Sometimes, we have to be the Reaper. We have to collect the souls of those who are broken, who can’t be a part of society no matter how much we want them to be. I’m a Corpsman, and this was preventative medicine, I kept him from hurting any more of my men.”

O’Connor smiled at Bryce. “Reaper huh? That’s your new name kid.” The Marine that Bryce had shot was starting to get up and Bryce brought his rifle back up but O’Connor stopped him, “Easy Reaper, all part of the game today.”

The Marine got up fully, “Nice shooting killer.” He dusted himself off a bit. “Sorry Gunny, you know how it goes, orders and all that.”

Bryce looked around with confusion so the Marine filled him in. “Sometimes in theses scenarios they give a soldier secret orders to attack their own unit. It simulates the real possibility that one of your own guys goes nuts in a firefight or maybe you have a double-crosser in your unit. There’s plenty of reasons for that shit to happen in real life and it HAS happened. That’s why they throw it in every now and then.” He looked back at O’Connor with a huge smile, “Honestly though, I was pretty excited they picked me. I couldn’t wait to nail some of you turds.”

O’Connor patted his buddy on the shoulder, “Yeah yeah, laugh it up. Everyone who’s still alive, rally up and get ready to move out. We still have a mission to complete. Those of you who are dead, make your way back to staging and get something to eat, clean your weapons and get some rest; in that order.”

As the rest of the team moved out, O’Connor could see that Bryce was still conflicted with what just happened. “Look son, you did the right thing. I know that even in a training scenario doing something like can rattle your cage, but let it go. I have a fourteen year-old son at home, Mike Junior, and I always want to make it home to him and his mother. So I don’t care who’s shooting at us, bad guys, good guys, it doesn’t matter, shoot everyone who is shooting in your direction. You got that Reaper? Everyone.”

“Copy that Gunny.” Reaper moved out with the rest of his unit and eventually caught up with the larger force that had been through the area first.

Two days later Reaper finally got to shower and sleep in a real rack and not on the ground. After the graduation ceremony O’Connor found Reaper and introduced him to his wife and son. Then O’Connor took him to a Major who was talking with a bunch of new Marine graduates.

“This is the Major.” O’Connor introduced Reaper to the officer.

Reaper came to attention and saluted, “Good to meet you sir.”

The Major returned the salute. “Reaper huh? I like it. The irony of a Corpsman being called that makes me smile.” The Major put a friendly hand on Reaper’s shoulder as they spoke.

“This is the kid that saw through your mind-fuck sir. Shot Jinx without a second thought. Well, maybe without a third thought.” O’Connor was obviously proud of him.

“Good going kid, I love that old gag. I got to do it when I was a young Lieutenant, it made my day. Not to mention that after you get shot you get to go back to staging for some rest.” The Major waved at some unseen person in the crowd. “I’ve got to go talk to an old friend, I’ll see you two later. And Reaper, I know you want to be a doctor but if you change your mind, let me know and I’ll be sure to get you a great assignment right out of the gate if you’re interested. And even if you do become a doctor, make sure you look me up, I’ve got some pretty good assignments for officers too. A lot of fun I tell ya.” The last words he said with an eerily excited tone in his voice.

Reaper looked at O’Connor, “How do I look him up? I don’t even know his name.” Reaper realized that the Major was the only uniformed person he had ever seen without a nametag on his chest.

“You don’t really look him up, he looks you up.” O’Connor was leading them towards the food tent where his wife and kid were waiting for them. “Trust me, you’ll hear from the Major again someday, regardless of what path you choose.”


Gradually the food tent faded from Reaper’s mind and he could hear a beeping near his left ear. He was acutely aware of a dripping sound coming from somewhere in the, room? Was he in a room? A bed? He had no idea of where he was or what was happening. Reaper’s mind was foggy even though every sound he heard was crystal clear and almost too loud for him to think it was a comfortable level.

He started to talk, to yell, to something, anything to find out if there were other people around him. He felt his mouth was unnaturally closed, something holding it shut. As he worked his mouth he felt a plastic tube in between his teeth. His senses were coming back to him now and he could also feel something pushing air into his lungs, lungs that hurt with each breath, lungs that were being used by both him and some unseen force trying to make them move at a rhythm different than his own.

In his cloudy mind he started to put the pieces together. He was on a ventilator, a tube was in his trachea and the machine was breathing for him, or at least trying to. He couldn’t see and everything was blurry because he still had the surgical tape over his eyelids to keep them closed so his eyeballs wouldn’t dry out. He tried to move his hand to his face to remove the tape so he could see. Damn, his arms were restrained, standard practice for a sedated and tubed patient in the ICU.

He could feel his breathing changing even more, still fighting the machine that was trying its best to keep up with the parameters someone had given it to fulfill. Then the machine to his left started beeping more and realized it was his ventilator, telling the nurse the patient was starting to buck the machine, starting to wake up.

He heard footsteps near his bed and soft feminine voice, “Hey kiddo, just relax, you’re safe now. You’re okay.”

He reached again for the tape covering his eyes, already forgetting that he was tied to the railing.

“No no dear, don’t pull, that’s bad. We can’t have you taking your tube out yet, you’ll hurt yourself. Just hold on for a few more minutes and we’ll have it out of your throat.” He felt her hands covering his and holding them down.

I know! He screamed in his head. I’m not trying to pull my own tube, I’m not an idiot. I just want this damn tape off my eyes. Please!

Reaper heard another set of footsteps and then felt gentle fingers pulling the tape off his eyes and another hand shielding the harsh light above from entering his likely over-dilated pupils. He blinked a few times, his eyelids now free from their unjust imprisonment. When he was able to focus he saw his dad standing over him. A tear escaped Reaper’s eyes and even more came from his father.

Reaper’s dad leaned down and kissed his son on the forehead and then hugged him as best he could given the circumstances. Reaper tried to nuzzle him back with his face but the equipment holding his breathing tube in place didn’t allow his head to travel far enough.

His dad looked him in the eyes, “Hey son. I’m going to untie your hands but you can’t reach for your tube, alright?” Reaper nodded his agreement. “Since I’m not your doctor I can’t take it our for you but I’ll unhook the ventilator so you can breath on your own. My buddy Hal is on his way up, should be here any second to get this out of you. He did a great job on your surgery. You’re going to be just fine.”

Reaper saw his medical chart sitting on his legs, his dad must have set it down there. He pointed at it and made a ‘give me’ motion with his hand. His dad just chuckled at his son wanting to read his own medical chart while he was still intubated.

Reaper took the chart that was handed to him and found the writing stylus at the top of the tablet and then flipped through his chart until he got to a blank screen that was for doctors to free-hand patient notes that didn’t fit any of the pre-made forms in the electronic chart. He scribbled, ‘Did the man live?’

His father looked at the chart. “Yes, he did, thanks to you. They brought you two in with your hand still in his chest. I have no idea how that worked for the entire transport but it did. They separated you two in the ER, Trevor took over for you and Hal took you straight to the OR. Not a single trauma surgeon here could’ve done better. I’m very proud of you son.”

Reaper scribbled a few more words. ‘Good. I’m glad. Dad. I think I want to do something different, not be a doctor.’

Trevor cringed at the thought that the trauma his son had gone through had just turned him away from medicine forever. “Okay son, whatever you want you know that your mother and I will support you. We can talk about it later, when you can actually talk again that is.”

More writing. ‘I still want to be in medicine, but I want to be in the field, with the Marines. I want to do more of what I did today.’ A short pause in his writing, ‘Except the getting shot part. That sucked. Horribly.’

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