Author's note: Warning! This story is designed to reveal the horrors and pain of war. If you are squeamish, turn away now. This tale is not for the timid. You have been warned.
Date: September 3, 2552
Location: Blood Gulch, Halo
Unit: 7072 M*A*S*H Unit
Dr. Raymond Pierce sweated as he labored over a wounded soldier. Plasma scoring, bits of shrapnel, and second degree burns. This kid was in bad shape. He didn't have much time left. He had to find every last bit of infected shrapnel, or the man would die from internal bleeding and infection. Sweat rolled down the surgeon's brow. This was the true war, here behind the lines. The fight for life or death on the operating table. He probed around his patient's beating heart with his scalpel, trying to find the infected bits of metal. Found one. Hidden right behind the aorta. Another, lodged next to the upper venae cavae. Yet another, embedded in the right lung. He slowly poked through the spongy hole, grabbing the shrapnel with his tweezers. He had to patch the lung quickly, or asphyxiation would be imminent.
"Sponge," he ordered the nurse. She soaked up the sweat off his forehead, keeping his eyes clear.
"Suction. I need to see what the **** it is I'm trying to pull out."
"Yes, doctor," Nurse Kelly replied.
"Seutcher," he ordered, "Let's close up that lung." The patient's heart throbbed, and his un-punctured left lung rose and fell. Slowly, and carefully, the Ray patched up the spongy sack of air. Nearly there. If only the patient could hold out.
An hour later, the soldier still lay on the operating table, Dr. Pierce stitching up his chest. Three, two, one more stroke until the chest cavity would be closed. There. It was done. Another life saved. That made the last one in the Operating room. Now he had to do his rounds. He pulled off his blood-stained gloves, stripped off his scrubs, and got in his jeans, t-shirt, and lab coat. He went out of the operation theatre.
Outside was a dirty, dusty place with some grass, a few shrubs, and some cliffs. Thirty yards to his left sat his bunk-house, which he shared with Drs. Mulcahy and Klinger. He quickly day-dreamed of his bed. It had been at least twenty-three hours since he had any sleep. He trudged ten yards away from the operating room into the Post-Op ward to check up on the patients. He reached the first bed, and a soldier slept quietly in it. He glanced at the clip-board. Broken leg. Nothing to do for that but let it heal. They were running dangerously low on supplies. He moved onto the next bed. A soldier sat up in it, bandages wrapped around his eyes. He had been blinded by a Plasma mortar round that killed his buddy. Poor guy. It didn't look like he'd ever see again. He finished up checking his rounds, giving orders to the nurses, and chatting a little with the troops who were awake. Finally, after hours of grueling work, he got to go to bed.
It was short lived. He had not slept forty-five minutes before Corporal O'Riley yelled, "DROPSHIPS! WE'VE GOT MORE WOUNDED!" Crap. Why couldn't anyone let him sleep. He got out of bed. Klinger was getting his pants on, preparing to go to work.
"You up to this one, Ray?" Mike asked.
"I have to be," Pierce replied. "With Mulcahy up at the front lines, I have to help you out, man. Who else is going to take care of the sick and dying?"
"Good point," Downs yawned. "Let's get cracking, shall we?"
One-hundred yards away from the camp, Pelicans hovered down close to the ground to let out the wounded. Three drop-ships, thirty hurt men. They had to work quickly to analyze who could wait and who was in dire condition. Blood was everywhere, oozing out of the drop-ships in droves. The stench of death enveloped the entire helipad. Ray checked on a soldier, femur sticking out at odd angles.
"You ok, man?" he asked.
"If I were, I wouldn't be here," the soldier replied.
"Good point. Can you deal with the pain for a while? There are men hurt worse."
The marine grimaced. "Yeah, I'll wait if I have to."
"Good man," Dr. Pierce said as he got up. "CORPORAL! Get this man to Pre-Op. 150 cc's of anesthetics. NOW!"
"Yes, sir!" the Corporal replied.
On to the next patient. This one didn't even look alive. His chest wasn't moving, and he had no detectible pulse. What was worse was that he had third degree burns all over his body. His flesh had been reduced to hamburger meat, and was literally dripping off the bone. Blood and other bodily fluids gushed out of his open wounds, staining the dirt red. He didn't even look remotely human, all his skin had been burned away. His eye sockets were hollow, staring up at him in an evil way. There was no hope. He was dead on arrival. As Ray got up to leave, he felt a bony, fleshy claw clutch his ankle.
"P...pleeeeaassseee...mommeeee...don't leeaavve...me..." the charred man begged, "I...dddon't...wantt...to..dieee...alone..." Ray was horrified. He saw tears leak out of the hollow, blood stained sockets. His heart sank into his stomach. This was just too inhuman. It was just too cruel. No one deserved this. No one. Then the man, in mortal pain, gave a cough of blood, turned over, and died in the dirt, still clutching the surgeon's ankle. As the morgue workers picked up the stretcher, muscle and sinew dripped of the marrow of the man's skeleton. Ray turned away in horror. How could he concentrate with that image stuck in his mind? He tried to forget it, but he couldn't. His pulse quickened, his pupils dilated, and his throat became parched. That could have been him. That could be him at any moment, dying, begging for his mother to help him. That could be him. He shuddered, and fainted.
A few minutes later, he felt cold water rushing over him.
"Ray, wake up! We need you!"
Ray opened his eyes and looked around. Dr. Mulcahy was standing over him with a bucket of ice water. "Get up! We've got a lot of patients to take care of! The operating room is full to over-flowing! Come on!"
Ray got up, and ran with Mulcahy to the operation room. He scrubbed up, put on his gloves, and got to work. All memories of the burned man went from his mind. He had to save the living, not dwell on the dead. He worked quickly, cutting away rotten and burned flesh with precise ease. Hour after hour they treated the wounded, until finally, it was over. Everyone set their affairs in order, then went to bed. All slept quietly and peacefully, except for Ray. He continued to have nightmares of that man. How he could become that man, and of meeting that man one day, identical in every way. His bile rose quickly. He wanted to vomit. He turned over, in his mind, the lullaby that his mother sang for him so long ago. He returned to the days of his youth, when the Covenant and their machines of death were un-known, and he had lived in quiet comfort. Still, the song haunted his memory, and how appropriate it was now. He softly hummed it.
"Bi-low, baby. Bi-low, baby. Bi-low, baby. Bi-low, baby, bi. Daddy loves you, daddy loves you, daddy loves you, though he's gone to die." His father had been killed when he was six, so he didn't really know him that well. Now, he had grown up, and his daughter Tessa was at home, on Earth. Oh, how well it would be if his infant daughter never, ever, heard the words of that lullaby. He cried softly into his pillow. He was tired of death. Tired of the look, tired of the smell, tired of the sound, tired of the feel of blood. He had to calm down. Maybe he should take a walk. Yeah, that was it. He'd take a walk around the compound a few times to soothe his jangled nerves.
He strolled along, past the latrine, past all the bunks, the showers, the wards. When he came to the operating theater, he saw a sight that sickened him. Two of the janitors were cleaning out the blood from the operation room. They threw water on the slightly inclined plane, and all the blood flowed out of the building. It looked like a river. The stench was awful.
"We're not running a hospital here," he said as he watched. "We're running a **** slaughterhouse." He walked away, tired and depressed. It was all he could take. He hated seeing death. He hated seeing people die, seeing people in pain. Most especially, he hated his pain. Why did he keep torturing himself like this? It was pointless. They would never get off this ring. They would all die here. What did it matter if a simple surgeon died? He crept onto his cot, and scribbled a quick message. Pistol in hand, Pierce walked out, into the morgue. He found the charred man lying on a table, attracting flies. Ray pulled a table up next to that man's and lay down on it. Then, he cocked the weapon, and pointed it at the center of his head. It was time to end it all.
"Honey, don't do it!"
What was going on? There was no one living in the room besides he. He sat up, and looked around. Again, the voice came.
"Honey, don't do it. You'll make it. I know you'll come back to us." Suddenly, a cloudy apparition came into being in front of his face. It was Clarissa, his wife, holding Tessa. He looked up at them both with joy and sadness. They were there, but yet they weren't. Just as suddenly as they had appeared, they vanished.
He shuddered and shook for five minutes before recovering his composure. No. He wouldn't commit suicide. He had too many dependents. His wife, his daughter, and all his patients. No. He must survive. No matter what, he must survive.
Upon returning to his bunk-house, he found his friends sleeping soundly. He put the pistol away, and shredded the note. He curled up, and went to sleep. His last thought before going into the subconscious was, "Must survive. Must take care of the people I love. Must...survive."
That one phrase kept Ray Pierce sane throughout the rest of the campaign on Halo. He treated 123 wounded men during his brief time on Halo. Not all recovered, but he threw all his effort into trying to help them live. He perished in the destruction of Halo, working on a soldier with bad plasma scoring. His last thought as he saw the destruction begin was of the charred man, and what he should say to him when he met him again.