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Of Ages Past

By Aster All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Scifi

Future Fiction thingy

The digital clock on the hospital screen embedded into the wall screeched midnight. An uncanny, absolutely peaceful sound made by the computer machine, heralding the end of a day and the beginning of another. A compelling sound that forced you to wonder: Who made it through this night? Who didn't? Did those who passed away die on the battlefield or upon their deathbed? What had happened out there in battle?

Or rather, a far more realistic question: Have the war ended?

Indeed, that was the word we nurses ponder every single split second of our lives nowadays. We weren't as busy as we were before as the main battlefield moved from here to there. Patients came and died, lost a limb, went away recovered. Now we don't have any new arriving patients at all - the battles have went on, sweeping to another continent. Leaving us here to rot.

Now all we have was what was left of the patients. None of these people had a single chance to recover - they were going to die, slowly and elegantly. They knew that and we do as well. It was just that they were plain lucky to end up in this area of the world, so they could die peacefully away from blood and corpses. We were glad to offer that to them as well.

I looked to the patient beside me. He was sleeping soundly, his eyebrows pointing upwards as his restful expressions dissolved into his face - an old, wrinkled face like a crumpled sheet of paper. I like to watch patients sleep, and I like to look at their faces. Pretty faces, ugly faces, they matter the same to me. How long will they hold on? I often wonder while doing my little, silly practice of looking at their faces when they sleep. Do they dream? Do they dream of a better world where war was nothing but stories to scare children? I was never caught doing the act - the patients were weary, so they often slept well. Other times if they couldn't, I chat with them. I often think these thoughts that were deeply mingled with sadness, and I discussed it with the patients all the said that I was overly sentimental, the other nurses - well, maybe they're right.

I never got to know the back story of this old one, however, not before the new year. He was one of the patients that had been with us since our relief clinic was founded - one of the first to be crushed by battle. However he was also one of the strongest ones to hold onto his life - he was never too good off: the war took half of his organs away from him - but nevertheless he grabbed onto that single strand of life and struggled with all his might to hold on to it, living every single day of his life with his substitute organs and faith.

He was never too conscious either. When he was, however, he often boasted of his experience in war. We asked him about other things, and he refused to talk about any of them. But when he spoke of his past life, an aura of life always appeared on his face, and when looking at his smile, I felt that I was reliving his life as a child, a youth, an adult, and slowly pacing with him into old age.

"I was a veteran soldier, I tell you, young Hydra," He said it so often that I could recite his words and I wouldn't forget it over a million years, "I fought battles with spears, guns, canons, and now biochemical weapons - and survived. I saw my wife and children again and again after wars. But this one - this one killed them, and now it's killing me too. And I tell you, young Hydra, it's not going to end. No, no, not now, not a long time before -"

He always stopped there. I asked him innumerable times the question "Before what?", but he never gave an answer. He just shook his head and laughed.

I was shocked when I found out that he had not planted the Chip in his brain so he could create virtual screens and communicate with the rest of the world. Everybody had that except us nurses - we weren't allowed to, for some weird abstruse reasons. I asked him if he wanted us to do the operation so he could keep himself entertained at times - one more manmade electric steel in his body won't hurt at all. He refused.

"Don't give me that goddamned shit," He said coarsely yet still sharply, "have you ever held a paperback book in your hand? Have you ever written with a pencil in your hand? Have you ever tasted the texture of beef or pork accompanied by barbecue sauce in your mouth? No? Then don't speak with me of entertainment, young Hydra."

I had the least idea of what those things were. And I hadn't any time to find out. He wasn't my only patient, I still had a job.

Most of the time he could be a really relaxing and self-entertaining patient that we nurses never need to worry about, but there were those days where he got overly hyped up, and we often need to hear his criticism on almost everything.

"Your names are ridiculous." This was often his main derision, "What are those? Cikka, Urro, Orion, Hydra... 'Tis abnormal. We used to have good names, we do. I myself's a good old Martin."

"Your systems are ridiculous." He used to say this on his most aggressive days, "They didn't allow me to say that in my troop days, but now I'm dying and I get to say whatever I want. Not evacuating civilians before war? Forcing elders to enlist? In my days these things would never happen, and you young folks say that this was the modern, the beautiful new world."

"It is." The head of nurses, Cikka argued with him, "In your days there's no substitute organs for you to live on, there's no Chips to help us do things more collaboratively, and those are the dark days where people commit crimes and kill each other, where people only have a primitive knowledge of the universe..."

"Aren't wars the same? Aren't these ridiculous wars we're fighting the same as committing crimes and killing people, but only for a supposedly nobler cause?"

He used to drive us speechless.

I was curious too. What were they fighting for out there? I didn't exactly figure it out, for there was no Chip in my brain to help me obtain information, but I could make a good guess. For resources? For water? For land? For dominion? For freedom? Whatever those were, those are the only reasons a war could be fought over. But however a noble cause, the fights still killed people, and we nurses' knowledge of the causes were kept obscure. We take in injured soldiers and do what we could and that's it.

And still battles raged on.

I couldn't tell how hard it was for the other older people, who had parents, siblings and children out there. Unlike me - an orphan from the beginning of time. They must have an anxiety in their hearts, lurking around there like an undying phantom, pressing them constantly for one last question -

Have they returned yet?

I stood up. Massaging my numb calves from long periods of sitting down while walking could be awkward, but at least there was no one watching me. The curfew have begun, and the other nurses were with the patients they were assigned to. I went to the clock screen and tapped it with my hands.

The usual panel popped up. "Good evening, MS HYDRA" was on the screen as usual, and I began to fill in my log while mouthing the words so that I would not disturb Martin sleep -

slowly, gently, the words "15th May 2105, 12:07, all at peace, patient status is stable."

It was my evening duty. I could've done it earlier then go to sleep at my quarters, but I didn't. I wanted to contemplate about things.

And this time I made a bolder move than I planned to do so.

"Display the live broadcast of the battlefield." I mouthed and commanded the machine.

The specifically designed machine replied me with a carefully designed volume and channel so only I could hear it - "Please provide your name and authorization number."

"41516-Hydra." I replied calmly.

"Authorization denied." It was the answer I expected.

I went back to my seat, all frustrated. There were some of us who were raised to provide certain skills, who shouldn't take part in knowing about battles and wars at all - like us. Nurses, doctors, workers, all that bunch. We receive our education and then get assigned to our jobs for the rest of our lives. We give ourselves whole out to the society and we got high wages and steady lives in appreciation for that. And that was how it worked since people remembered.

Students, entrepreneurs, politicians and all that bunch received a far lower wage than us, but they got to know things. They participate in the world and had a notion of what the world truly was like. We nurses weren't like that. Caring for people medically was the only thing we ever do, and I was now twenty-seven, but I didn't even know what our world looked like.

But one thing I do know: This damned war have gone on for far too long. It had begun since I was eighteen years of age. When I was little, I watched an archive footage of soldiers and people bleeding and dying - one of those informations that the politicians chose to show us - and I had aspired to become a nurse ever since. But now I was here, I felt strangely, eerily empty inside.

And I have been asking a question to myself since my first day of my career: Did any of my work really pay off? Do I really make a difference?

The answer, was of course, no.

I've seen countless people came and went, I've seen babies born and elders die. I've seen the cycle of life for innumerable times that any other nurse or doctor would be numb from it. Yet still I cried, I cried whenever somebody died - sometimes it was a patient whom I knew well, sometimes it would be a patient with a history so moving that I had to pay tears in his or her tribute. Sometimes it would be some young fellow who should have lived a long colorful life, and sometimes it would be deformed children who didn't made it to open their eyes. I shed tears every single time.

And sometimes there simply wasn't time to cry. Sadness and emotions became an impediment of my normal working route, so I began a practice - ceasing myself from letting the tears fall. It must sound ridiculous to you, a nurse who cried. But I do accumulate tears so I could let them all out at night during my free times. Sometimes I do it for days and then have an hour-long crying session. My fellow ladies view me as weird, but I do believe they understand me.

"You have to be strong, is all." Cikka once told me, "Being a nurse, seeing people die, isn't easy at all."

I remembered talking with her at night, where her dark skin reflected the moonlight that shone in her hair and eyes. "I know what you're thinking, Hydra," She said, "that life is cruel and battles are cruel, and you're right. There's no way we can change that. But being a medical professional gives you an extra burden to bear -" She had paused there, I remembered distinctively, "the horrible realization that when it really comes down, we humans are nothing more than flesh build on blood and bones. And for that, you have to be extra strong."

I was young, I had time to mature up.

They raised me, the officials, they raised me from an orphan. They let me live in fear all of my childhood, afraid of the worst: thrown into the streets if I don't behave, a war that was about to start, being killed if I don't say the right thing - and I do. I had a childhood friend who got himself shot in the head just because he called the government person 'stupid'. He died a painful death, while no one cared. You don't want to say the wrong thing.

But we nurses knew what this war was about. While the other civilians thought that we were fighting for a noble cause - no more water shortages, no more energy inefficiencies, no more colonizations after this glorious war - we are the only ones who knew what this war was being fought over.

But should we tell them that their fathers, brothers and sons were out there bleeding for a cause long forgotten in the games of the politicians? I think not.

I would do my duty and wait for the ultimate salvation.

I had heard from others that in the old days, people used to live off imaginary divine figures. Those characters were omnipresent and strong and all and people worshipped them. They believed that if they were good, these figures would grant them happy lives and all, and it could be summed up to a weird-pronouncing word: religion. I chuckled when I heard that and commented that it was ridiculous.

"You're the one who's ridiculous." The old woman had glared at me.

I often wonder what the old days were like. I could hardly imagine how could people live without Chips or the screens. Do they have wars too then? The answer would be yes. I was not sure if the casualties were as great as now, but I've heard that entire races of people were being wiped out, and that was terrible enough for me.

I have also heard that in the old days people used to feast themselves upon carcases of animals, which was inhumane and gross. They ate pigs, cows, chicken, sheep and fishes, all of which were now endangered animals. As a child on a school trip I was able to get a glimpse of the last chicken alive on the world, and it certainly didn't look happy. Martin claimed this blasphemous act to be blissful, and that the animals were abundant when humans ate them and raised them in farms. I myself was never able to envision what it would be like.

Could it be a better world than the one we're currently living in? I am not sure. I have never lived in any other places and I believe a lot of people never well, and though I'm not wholly satisfied with my life and the current world status - warring, I'm still content with myself: at least I'm not fighting out there. But all the elders I've cared for like Martin told me that the world before was way better. It was a world where technology was still progressing and men had more freedom to appreciate nature, they told me, every single one of them. But how could I trust their descriptions? Mankind were animals who lived on memories of the past, and those memories might be overly beautified.

They must have had wars, too. A lovely old lady once told me that there had been a devastating war happening when she was thirty, but then the world have gone through seventy peaceful, carefree years. The third major world war, they had called it. But I felt no pity nor sadness on that anecdote, for I was a well-read person during the range of my accessibility as a nurse. No one cared about the old histories tracing back to a hundred years or more, so I read them freely. There were always peace and war, and people unite then break apart. History repeats itself on a never-ending cycle.

I hoped the next round of peace come soon on this war.

But why did it matter? Battles were lost and won, but the war never ended. No. They just lurk there, going through periods and periods of false peace, waiting for a chance to erupt and play havoc again.

It was just me to be born unluckily enough in an age of darkness.

Suddenly, abruptly without previous notice, the measurer beside Martin's bed screeched. That sound, painful yet mechanic, like a siren's ugliest shriek, heralding the department of another soul. I turned around in shock to see the red, uppercase letter that shone on the detector: HEART FAILURE.

I didn't remember what came after. I paced towards the bed as quickly as I can and placed my finger under his nose - he was not breathing. I couldn't believe it. But the machines were never wrong, and I believe all the other nurses must be waken up by this. I quickly tried to do something - placing the breathing mask on his face, giving electric shocks to his heart - and none of it worked.

I suddenly remembered something he've said before: "When I do die some day, do not try to save me. Bury me upon a hill far far away from war."

If it wasn't because of the war, if it wasn't because all those substitute organs, Martin would live to the life expectancy now, he would've had sixty more years of good, peaceful life. But all of this meant nothing now.

Thus, strangely calmly, I walked towards the screen in the wall. I didn't mouth anything anymore, I said it out loud:

"Cikka, Cikka, do you hear me? I report the death of patient 30724, Martin. He died in 15th May 2105, 12:13 due to a heart failure. He was ninety-five years of age."

A droplet of tear fell from my eyelid.

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