Lynn Arkhangelsky let out a sigh of relief once the screeching wails of the heart rate monitor transitioned into a steady, peaceful beat.
Beep, beep, beep - the machine sang a familiar melody. Maybe too familiar, but it was a beautiful piece nonetheless. From the nine months she had been working in the operating room, Lynn had found solace in its sonata. The adjective “stable” had become her favorite word, her chest swelling with warmth and unspoken pride whenever she saved a life. Maybe she had grown to love it so much because her ears refused to hear the flat line of death.
The soldier that had been moments away from death on the operating table had been saved by her amateur experience with a scalpel. Her grip on the trusted tool had become shaky from fatigue, although she had no one to blame but herself for volunteering to work the overtime shift.
Why rest when there were people’s lives on the line?
However, it seemed that her co-workers disagreed with the notion, as they forcefully escorted the 22-year old surgeon out the moment the procedure finished. Lynn had attempted to object, but the staff simply won by saying that she needed to “rest” and “recuperate”.
“You won’t be saving anyone half-asleep, Dr. Arkhangelsky,” one of the other doctors lightly scolded her. “And get something to eat while you’re at it.”
And so here she was, washing her hands during her bathroom break - a clear reflection of the week’s work evident on the mirror across her. The braid that kept her pale blonde hair in place had stray strands flying everywhere. Dark blue eyebags marked the fair skin under her cerulean irises, and the folded doctor’s coat by the sink was stained with murky red splotches. The dark teal long-sleeved turtleneck she wore had been rolled up to her elbows, and the pleated brown skirt brushed her ankles. Her figure was thinned from her unintentional diet of one sandwich and a canteen of black tea every day.
How many people did she save today? How many people did she fail today? The faces and conditions all blended together in her head. She could not even begin to fathom the number…
Her fingers unconsciously clutched the pendant around her neck. The pendant was simple in nature, the smooth grooves forming what would be the curved wing known as the Arkhangelsky Family symbol. Additionally, a dog tag had been attached to the pendant’s chain - the name Artur Arkhangelsky embossed on the metal.
A silent prayer to the heavens above. It was a pointless routine that she had often found herself doing. Her precision with a scalpel would save more lives than wishful thinking.
As she exited the water closet, she saw a fellow nurse frantically pacing back and forth across the Russian military hospital hallway - the once stark white walls now dirtied ecru from years of chemicals and blood.
“Dr. Arkhangelsky,” the nurse called out to her. “We need your help immediately.”
And so that was how Lynn Arkhangelsky’s supposedly well-deserved break ended after 12 minutes. Not that she minded. She was delighted that her break ended sooner rather than later. The more people she could help, the better. That was her job as a surgeon after all.
And more importantly, that was her role as an Arkhangelsky.
The patient had been shot in an admittedly non-fatal area. However, it did hit the shin, a place with relatively low amounts of fat and muscle, or “padding” to cover it. It also didn’t help that the bullet shattered the bone. Combine this fact with the large amount of pain receptors in the general area…
“Sorry, Dr. Arkhangelsky,” the assistant at her side apologized, eyebrows pinched together in what appeared to be an expression of pity. “But we’ve run out of anesthesia…”
At that, Lynn bit her tongue, suppressing a profanity as she turned towards the crying patient. The soldier’s face was drenched in ugly tears, prompting Lynn to softly squeeze his hand.
“Hey, can you hear me?” Lynn gently spoke, and the veteran soldier weakly nodded. “Can you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten?”
“What the fuck do you think?!” the patient managed to growl before a wave of pain racked his body. He hissing loudly as his leg spasmed, blood steadily streaming out of the wound. “Does this look like a fucking one to you?”
“Calm down, sir, um,” Lynn took a quick glance at the name sewn on his pocket. “Sir Neumann. It will be alright.”
Lynn checked whether or not the bullet had hit a major artery once more. Even if the medics on site already claimed that it had not, it always never hurt to check…
It hadn’t. Good.
With that out of the way, she moved onto the next step: securing the patient. She quickly located the gurney belt and strapped it across the man’s chest. As horrifying as it may seem, it was a necessary precaution to take. There were no painkillers to dull the soldier’s pain, and without those painkillers, then he would no doubt start thrashing during the procedure. It was difficult for her to see a man-or any man for that matter-in such a state. It was like watching those soldiers who had lost everything. Their comrades, friends, or even entire divisions. It breaks their mind and sends them down the path of madness, a ravenous animal that would thrash against safety straps because they could no longer think.
No. Now is not the time. Focus on the man on the table, focus on the man that can be helped. Lynn ripped off a piece of the bed sheet, rolling it up and forcing it in the patient’s mouth.
“I’ll be honest. We’re going to have to do this procedure without painkillers, and will not, in your words, be a ‘one’ on the pain scale. So I’m asking you to kindly bite down on the sheet to prevent yourself from biting your tongue off. Nod your head once if you understand me.”
Painfully. Very painfully.
Lynn took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She could do this. She would do this. It hasn’t been the first time they ran out of painkillers, and it would most certainly not be the last. As painful as it is. . . It has to be done. She honed in on the wound, blocking out the surrounding noise. The far-off screams, the rushed footsteps, the wails of those who lost someone. . .
She opened her eyes.
“Okay, let’s begin.”
She quickly disinfected her hands with alcohol and proceeded to cut into the entry point, eliciting a grunt of pain from the soldier. She took a pair of tweezers and slowly inserted it into the wound. The man’s screams of agony were muffled through the cloth. He started thrashing, nearly bruising her cheek in the process, but not once did her focus waver. Lynn knew that from this moment onwards, it would only be an uphill battle.
She felt the tweezers finally hit something solid. She inwardly rejoiced, but that joy soon turned into cold realization. She cursed. The bullet had broken into several fragments. This would mean that it would be harder for her to completely locate and extract the metal shards. Difficult, but not impossible. She can do this. Steady hands now, steady. . .
Ignore his screams.
Ignore his screams even more.
. . .
Nothing but air was coming out of his abused throat.
Somehow, the lack of a loud response to the pain was worse. It felt like she was only failing him more.
And yet . . .
A success. It took her a good twenty minutes to fully extract all of the shards, but it was successful nevertheless.
Lynn took a length of thread and a needle from the nurse. She was quite relieved at this point. It was, after all, the final stretch of the operation. After stitching the man, she could maybe relax just a bit. Or not, more work was fine too.
The first thing on the agenda, removing any remaining dead tissue. This will help the soldier heal faster. She then proceeded to take the two edges cut together, and in a few strokes, proceeded to loop the thread into a knot, sealing the wound shut.
And as if on cue, the man took this opportunity to pass out. Whether it was in relief or in pain, no one knew.
With the surgery finished, Lynn exited the operating the room, thirsty and tired. Maybe it was time to finally take the doctor’s advice - satiate her growling stomach and find a blanket to sleep with. In fact, that idea didn’t sound too bad right now…
A loud voice called from behind and Lynn turned around to see a metal flask being thrown towards her. On instinct, she caught it - the flask cold to the touch and coated in droplets of condensation. Lynn looked upwards, breaking out a small smile at the sight of her benefactor.
The woman in front of her had the same shade of platinum blonde hair as as. However, unlike Lynn’s tresses that brushed the tips of her elbows, she had her hair shorn up to her chin. Military training had shaped her body into the muscular, yet slim figure that carried the cavalry uniform with such confidence and pride. As a soldier must always be ready for combat, and the uniform represented exactly that. It was a mix of khaki and black leather, and it had no sleeves to speak of, but she was mostly covered in some form of lightweight steel armor. It also featured a waist cape that was a shade of crimson, and had the High Speed Motorized Cavalry insignia embroidered onto it.
“Eva!” Lynn happily exclaimed, running towards her elder sister.
She eyed the rounded lunch box her sibling carried, appetite growing as the scent of homemade beef stroganoff overwhelmed her senses.
“As usual,” Eva smirked, resting a hand on her hip. “My little sister can’t even take care of herself.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Eva dismissed her retort, rolling her eyes. “You’re helping people in the name of our family and that father would have wanted it, and yada yada, so on and so forth. Can’t we just enjoy a meal before you die from starvation?”
“I’ve been eating,” Lynn quietly muttered under her breath, but the strong smell of the beef stroganoff’s creamy sauce was nearly enough to make her mouth water.
“Not enough apparently,” Eva observed, face contorting into a frown. “And it’s not everyday that I get to make beef stroganoff. Besides, there’s something I have to give you. I already opened mine, but...”
Her sentence was left unfinished, but it wasn’t like she needed to complete it. The older Arkhangelsky fished out something from the inside of her vest, presenting it to Lynn. It seemed to be a response from the unknown gods she had been praying to.
An unmarked letter.