Degorsk pulled his shoulders back and made himself stop seeing the past. He stepped up to the miners standing there, waiting for rescue. “I’m the chief medic.”
A thick-bodied man in the middle of a group of about half a dozen nodded towards a ledge further back in the shaft. The dim emergency lights showed prone bodies lying there.
Bloody, writhing bodies ... layers of men and body parts...
“The worst of the injured are on that raised area, Doctor,” the miner said, drawing him back to the here and now. “We got them off of the wet floor as best we could.”
Degorsk turned to look over his staff. They’d all arrived and waited for his instructions. “We’re going straight to the men he’s pointed out.” He pointed at two of his men. “You two do a survey of all the injured, figure out who needs the most immediate care and assign accordingly.”
“Yes, Dr. Degorsk.” They rushed off.
He looked to Tranis next. “The moment that wall comes down, get my stretchers in here. We need immediate evac of the injured.”
The Dramok nodded. “It will be done.”
Degorsk joined his team, now swarming over the thick ledge. Perhaps two dozen of the surviving miners lay here, caught and battered by the cave-in. Bones were crushed. Blood was everywhere. There was an instant of slipstream, where Degorsk saw many more men, some with familiar faces that had branded themselves into his nightmares. It was as if the past and present had come together to exist in this dark, echoing space.
Damn it, I’m a doctor. I’ve got a job to do, so do it!
He narrowed his focus to the first body in front of him. From there, he knew nothing beyond his duty. He comforted the conscious, executed emergency efforts to stem bleeding and immobilize broken bodies, performed an emergency tracheotomy when one man experienced an allergic reaction to medication, and answered his team’s questions.
He was dimly aware of time passing. Bits and pieces of conversation drifted to him, words to be filed away and thought about later.
“...some kind of battle drone, a configuration we’ve never seen before … hit us during the night when we were topside and asleep … only a few of us got down here … cave-in from the hits ... people still running in when it collapsed ... a lot died in the first few hours … mine shaft was played out … had just removed the earth moving machines … couldn’t remove the cave-in to get out…”
The work he did was mostly lit by the strong but thin streams of the handlights and weak emergency illumination. Degorsk felt he’d been in the dim confines forever when a hand closed on his shoulder. He looked up from the unconscious man he’d just placed in a temporary stasis field to see Tranis leaning over him.
The Dramok said, “The blockage has been cleared. Your stretchers are coming in. Are you okay?”
The concern with which Tranis looked at him brought Degorsk’s surroundings flooding back. Hover stretchers were indeed floating in, and his team was loading them up with the injured at a frenzied pace.
“I’m fine. Is there a problem, Commander?”
Tranis gave him a strange look.
Degorsk climbed to his feet. “With my performance, I mean.”
“Not at all. You’ve worked like a demon, Imdiko. I have every intention of suggesting Captain Piras give you a commendation.” Tranis still looked worried, but there was also admiration in his tone.
Degorsk swallowed. A commendation? He thought at least two men had died since they’d arrived. He still had so much to do, but for some of the men it was damned little. Whether they survived or not would be up to their own strength more than any paltry skills he offered.
He managed some gratitude for Tranis’ approval. “Thank you, Commander.”
On the heels of that, he noticed a man who had only suffered a broken leg being stretchered ahead of some of the more badly hurt. Including the critical case he’d just placed in stasis. Anger heated his mood.
“Standard loading procedure for the stretchers, damn it! You know the routine. And make sure the worst injured are placed in the shuttle last so we can take them off first. I want those who need to be in surgery in the operating rooms immediately when we reach the ship. Any delay is not acceptable! Prep as much as you can en route, and no fucking up.”
Degorsk was running all over the place now, putting things in order, berating poor practice where he saw it. Lives were at stake. He had no patience for sloppiness, and he harangued his staff without mercy.
As he jogged along with the worst cases now finally leaving the mine, he found Lidon inside the cleared cave-in. The Nobek watched closely as everyone crossed the rubble-strewn minefield of tumbled rock.
“Careful, medics. You’re walking on a lot of loose debris.” He eyed Degorsk sharply as the Imdiko approached. “Are you all right, Dr. Degorsk?”
Degorsk’s temper was foul. He felt like he was in charge of first-year medical students instead of certified doctors. Now Lidon was questioning him on top of everything else. “Why the hell does everyone keep asking me that?” he stormed as he drew abreast of the Nobek.
Lidon raised an eyebrow. “Though your work here has been exemplary, I’ve noted you curse a lot when you’re stressed. You have quite a vocabulary when it comes to profanity.”
Degorsk’s lip curled in a snarl. “I’m fine.”
Lidon gave him a slight nod, but that piercing stare never wavered. “Good.” He said nothing else.
Degorsk kept moving, glad to get away from the oppressive mine and its horrors, imagined and real. He continued to mutter foul words under his breath, mostly to do with a certain nosey Nobek.