Gideon swept into the tent like a whirling dervish. “Where is Nurse Murphy!” he called out over the moans and screams of patients. The nurses who were a blur of white, rushing from one bed to another like bees in a hive barely stopped to look at the man in the silver waistcoat and crisp white shirt. They glanced at his long black coat with buttons that ran from his neck to the tops of his boots. He wasn’t wearing the dark purple of the head officers in charge of the hospital. They turned back to their work, and one woman with a mass of brown curls under her nurse’s cap with was askew at a jaunty angle said while cutting open the shirt of a man who was covered in blood, “She’s not here. She went outside a moment ago with a soldier. Family members must wait outside in the other tent.”
“I’m not-” Gideon shouted, his hands balling into fists, nails cutting into his palms. He grunted in annoyance. He didn’t need to waste time with these people. They had no idea. She wasn’t there anyway. He stomped out of the tent and into one a few yards away. Before he even opened the flap the sound of buzzing flies reached his ears. It certainly wasn’t the waiting area. Without hesitation he pushed aside the canvas and strode in, as if he had every right in the world to be there. He stumbled as his toe caught something - a large black rock. He kicked it angrily. The tent was empty, of life, that much was clear, but still he called out. “Nurse Murphy!” Only a silence filled with the drone of flies met him. He threw up his hands as he screamed and stalked out of the tent empty handed.
“Damn you, Trevan! How can you always get it so wrong!” He stood, letting the slow warmth of the sun swallow him. He opened his eyes. They shone brilliant gold. He saw the shape of a man moving away from him, blending almost seamlessly with the dark blue-grey of the mountains ahead of him in the distance. The soldier.
Gideon sprinted, his long legs closing the distance between them quickly. “Sir!”
The man started, he had been deep in thought.
Gideon put on his most charming smile. The one he often thought looked like the cat when he was about to catch the mouse.
“Yes?” the soldier looked at him, annoyed slightly that he’d been brought out of his reverie.
“A nurse just treated you, did she not?”
The man looked at him. “Yes,” he said, more guardedly.
“Do you happen to know where she went?”
“No, but I saw her with another woman and a man.”
“Was the woman wearing trousers, by any chance?”
The man looked at him again, as if trying to figure out his reasoning.
“Yes, in fact. She was. I thought it odd but, then again, I’ve experienced a large dose of strange things today.”
Gideon’s eyes lit up with a strange gleam. “Oh?” he asked, trying to sound casually curious, just making conversation. “In what way?”
“Well one minute I was about to die and the next-” the man paused.
“Yes?” Gideon urged, turning his smile from charming to disarming.
The man swung his arms, indicating himself. “Well the next minute here I am, alive and well, pulled back from the brink of death.”
Gideon’s face fell but he composed himself. “That’s all? That’s the job of a nurse, isn’t it? To save people’s lives? How is that strange?”
“Oh that’s not the strange part. The strange part is… well, let me demonstrate.” The solider removed his rifle that was slung diagonally across his back. The tip of it had a long sharp spike. It was a bayonet. The man took it and looked like he was going to stab himself in the foot with it.
Despite everything that Gideon had seen and done over the years, even he flinched. The man made a move to plunge the spike into his foot, and then stopped. “I can’t do it….I can’t do it myself. I don’t have the courage. Even though I know nothing will happen, it will still be painful. It’s still a shock to the system. It hurt like a son of a gun when she shot me.”
“She shot you?”
The man nodded. “To show me that I was really immortal.”
Gideon felt his jaw drop and didn’t bother to close it. “She holds the Secret of Immortality?” His voice took on a strange, far away quality. “That’s astounding.”
“Indeed.” The soldier agreed. “But not a good thing.”
Gideon raised a thin eyebrow. “No? I believe it’s marvellous! Imagine all the things you could do with a never-ending life!”
“Imagine all the people you will lose,” the man added glumly.
Gideon waved a hand at him. “That’s inconsequential.”
The man stared at him with disbelief, moss-coloured eyes growing wide. “It is?”
“Of course!” Gideon slapped the man heartily on the shoulder. “People come and people go, that’s the way of life.”
“Death is a way of life too, but not for me any longer.”
Gideon grabbed the man’s face and chucked up his chin. “Don’t be so glum, man! It’s cause for celebration, not depression.”
The soldier shrugged. “To each his own I guess.”
Gideon huffed. This man was getting on his nerves. And he wasn’t any help with finding Nurse Murphy anyway. He doffed an imaginary hat and gave a small, barely visible bow. “Carry on, my good sir,” he said jovially. “Enjoy your life!” He laughed heartily and turned away.
The laugh died on his lips a moment later. The Secret to Immortality had just slipped through his fingers.