Life can be one strange occurrence, full of both wonders and mysteries. An accident that brightened the cold and dark reaches of space with vibrant and joyful light, while also igniting the fires of abstract searches for sense and meaning. Sparking interrogations we have passed from fathers to sons through centuries, if not millennials.
And as we keep looking upward to the starry skies, we might ask ourselves what it means to be human. Is it simply an arrangement of cells and DNA that makes us different from alien species, or is it something else? Are we more than merely a collection of blood and flesh, forged and molded by nature’s laws to fit her fantasies and desires? Scientists might think not, while poets would like to believe there is something more to it. Passions. Emotions. A drive for the unknown. But ultimately, the response to that question depends solely on who’s asking it.
If we lived forever, maybe we’d have time to understand it all and get a definite answer. But as it stands, all we can do is appreciate how strange and brief of a biological adventure this is, full of puzzles and enigmas.
Looking back on this journey through the Stanton system I undertook, each stop made and story told was surprisingly morbid, from where I stand now. From private investigators sent to recover dead bodies, to prisoners living trapped underground, private security contractors and Xenothreat terrorists, death and violence seem to be constant struggles in one of the Empire’s busiest systems. And yet, such a standpoint would be partially biased, for some people—most people, billions of them—live out their ordinary lives far from such unusual sights.
Some would argue they consider life so dear and precious to be purchased at the price of chains of docile slavery, never to leave the security of their daily routine, job, and comfort. They will most likely never experience the haunting feeling an unexpected and blaring alarm causes as your ship gets intercepted during transit, or the numbing sweat that drips along the back as the slow realization that your life support system is failing sets in. But to most of us pioneers relentlessly exploring the ‘Verse, whether for adventure or to unveil its buried secrets, such a bargain is not one we are willing to make. For once we have tasted what it feels like to risk losing everything we take for granted, we know full well we can never go back to appreciating them so little; and therein lies the road to discovery.
This series has always been about celebrating the uniqueness of this star system so many of us consider home. Today, not only do we celebrate life, but those who’d take every risk to make it go on, abiding by a commitment to protect, stabilize, and evacuate—so others may live.
Meet Medrunner Services, your new lifeline in the heavens.
A universal truth might be that any day has to start with an alarm clock, and whether it is a somewhat peaceful song or blaring siren depends solely on our career choices. To me, this day started differently—kicked off by the deafening signal that someone, somewhere, was in dire need of a helping hand.
The white neon lights that radiated a few moments ago over the slick and polished surfaces of the isolated outpost have now turned red, and flickering. The operators of the medical response team I am attached to all rush to their lockers grabbing their backpacks and weapons before I even have time to realize this is not a drill. Their craft’s engines can already be heard sputtering outside, the sound gradually becoming more of a united roar as they rapidly heat up and chaotically lift volutes of sand. In the span of about sixty seconds, we’re all aboard and on the way to some stranded soul.
The group’s Security Officer, Markins, taps twice on the side of his bulky white helmet, motioning his subordinates to hook onto the ship’s intercom.
“Multiple patients scenario,” he starts briefing them reading through the emergency report, “a crashed ship. Pirates may be involved, some were sighted in the area. Stanton 17 is dispatched alongside us.”
Radios quickly click, copying, and the craft rapidly falls silent except for the engines’ constant and serene hum. Hastily taking notes on my blurred, and until a few seconds ago shacking MobiGlass, I halt and raise my head up, probing the silence. The team’s four operators are packed on each side of the ship, their imposing white and red armors a keen contrast with the life-saving first aid they are entrusted to provide. Sturdy behemoths of tender care. Most of them are rigorously checking their gear and trauma kits. The darken visors won’t let me discern their faces, but none of their attitudes seem stressed. To them, this is just another day at the office.
The heavy weaponry might not hint it, but this is a rescue operation. While it has nearly become effortless to hire thugs that would happily trade in lives, ready to kill at a moment’s notice, securing the right partner to save yours can get increasingly difficult. Sure, health insurance companies would send someone eventually when you need help, if you’re lucky enough for your beacon to reach them. But when trouble knocks on the door, the only sane thing to do is not to sit and wait, rather to greet it with an immediate response—to greet it with a response team.
“When alternative solutions number few, it’s a sign we are the solution,” one of the operators had confessed to me describing their job, upon my arrival.
The company’s teams stand ready over 24-hour long shifts, equipped and ready to depart at any time from one of the many outposts scattered throughout the system. For most of that period, few are the operators’ duties but to perfect and sharpen their skills: medical training, marksmanship, rapid deployment procedures. Only, when a distress call comes in, their promptness to respond is part of the service Medrunner offers.
“One in thirty sorties in space ends with a safety concern or worse, medical emergency,” Medrunner’s CEO, Tristan Omnites, explained to me ahead of my investigation. “That’s one per month when you’re a regular flyer; if you’re lucky. What we offer is simple: premium, personalized medical care; so you can focus on what you do best. Except, if you come across trouble and call for help, someone will answer.”
Today, the safety concern materialized itself as the smoking carcass of a crashed ship swept by nitrogen and methane winds—a suffocating mix that urged two Medrunner teams to respond, and soon had the operators I accompanied discussing their respective roles. Who has point and tail security, who will attend to the injured. MED, the virtual intelligence assistant their armors are suited with, precisely pinpoints their clients’ position amongst the debris, and the entire plan is already split between the two responding teams by the time we’re close to the crash site. Markins approaches me and goes over safety procedures once more—when to duck and follow him. My vigilant stare and firm nod apparently satisfy him, but deep down, I’m grateful for being in such good hands in case I’m ever shot.
A sudden bump shifts my attention back to the action. Atmospheric re-entry shakes the craft as the pilot steers it into a rapid descent. Heat accumulates over the shield and reflects orange shades through the canopy, illuminating the moon’s night sky. A couple hundred meters in our wake, Stanton 17 follows. From the ground, both crafts probably look like a pair of fierce valkyries charging through the starry heavens—ready to blow a devastating yet blissful strike.
The picture becomes reality when the cabin lights turn from red to green. The reverse thrusters blare in unison, quickly decelerating the ship as the ramp opens to a maelstrom of dust, particles and soot.
“Lloyd, you got point,” Markins motions with his left hand, more of a signal to disembark than a proper order. “Watch out for enemy contact.”
We’ve touched down in the middle of the crash site, piles of debris scattered everywhere around us, and just as many hiding positions for whoever shot that ship down. It doesn’t take long before they introduce themselves.
Fire erupts as soon as the first operator steps outside, targeted by lasers that slam on the ship’s hull in a thud. A second volley crashes on Lloyd, the shots partly deflected and absorbed by his now glowing pieces of armor as they try to dissipate the ferocious heat. Swiftly taking a knee down the ramp, he brings his own weapon to bear toward their source. The rest of the team promptly follows and pushes forward, each operator covering the next in a continuous barrage, advancing from cover to cover. Thick black smoke covers the entire wreck, the air itself crackling as laser fire heats up and ionizes dust particles, illuminating the darkness.
Keeping my head down, I try to keep up with the rest of the group. A muddy mix of soil, methane and soot soon crystallizes over my visor, covers my boots. But each step taken out in the open brings closer to safety. Reaching a large metal panel, I am finally able to catch my breath. Limp sparks fly out of severed cables atop of it and vainly crash on my suit, resembling the fleeting image of droplets of rain shining under a suffocating summer sun. Surrounded by the remains of a once starfaring marvel of engineering, I glance at the quiet professionals hard at work.
Closest to me is Markins. Stable as a rock, he empties his rifle’s magazine, tosses it aside and puts a fresh one inside while racking the cocking mechanism—all in the blink of an eye. Darkened yet faintly glowing spots over his white and red armor stand a notice of deflected shots. To my other side is Lloyd, faithfully watching our six. Stanton 17 advances parallel to us toward their own patients, putting what I figure are pirates in the middle of a deadly crossfire.
The laser volley quickly dries down. Standing perfectly still, on the lookout for any remaining sign of hostile activity, the scene falls silent except for the hushed crackling of small electrical fires and the broken superstructure’s occasional lament. Quietly, we resume our progress.
I’m on the column’s back, Lloyd directly behind me covering the rest of the group with erratic bursts, discouraging any potential survivor to take their chances. We’re making our way past what I figure were thrusters and into a cramped engine room, orienting ourselves to the small triangular marker that materializes one of their patients. Markins raises a fist, motioning the group to stop, and orders the two other operators to proceed forward while he covers them. I duck next to Lloyd once more.
I don’t really know if I spot the eluding shadow that seems to follow us from afar at the same time he does, or if he had just been waiting for the perfect shot all along, but his large armored shoulders barely move when they’re hit with the recoil. The shadow stops, as if it was shocked to realize it could be targeted too, contorts, and fades into the smoke as wind pushes more ashes our way. That would be the closest to seeing our adversaries’ faces I’d come.
“We found the patient, Sir. Scene is all clear,” a voice reports over the comms.
By the time I get to her, following the reflected shades of a purple lightstick around a corner, it already looks like an operating room. The victim’s suit is venting oxygen and rapidly dropping her body temperature. A not so unusual feat, and one that wouldn’t have let me catch an evasive frown on the medics’ faces had it been her visor that shattered upon impact. Instead, air is venting from a very obvious wound to the leg. Or rather, where a leg used to be.
Confined deep inside this ship’s bowels, able to discern my hands thanks only to the light attached to my helmet, one that casts their shades over a ground littered with bloodstains and debris, I realize how crucial of a commitment Medrunner’s is—to go save lives where no one else would. For the full fifteen minutes required to stabilize and evacuate the patient, no other gunfire would resonate.
“Sentinel, patients secured. We’re Oscar Mike,” Markins eventually announces over the comms.
And just like that, each team escorting their patients back to their quick response ships, the recovery operation is complete. Lives, saved. IDs of the suspected pirates are documented before the teams set off in case any bounty is to be offered, leaving the crash site behind just as the sun peeks over the horizon.
Our final stop would take me to a place where Medrunner operators are rarely sighted for longer than just a drop-off, leaving their patients in the care of other medical professionals as they promptly venture back into responding to an emergency. A place where life, death, and everything that comes in between coexist. One of both solace and great sorrow, and whose defining sanitized smell is proper only to it—a hospital.
There, a couple days later, a former engineer aboard a vessel attacked by pirates would take her first clumsy steps down a corridor resting on a brand-new prosthetic leg. The scar of a life changed forever, but one that endured still. No thanks only to an isolated factor, but because of the long chain of care that stretches far beyond the medical ward and into the farthest hostile fields.
A reminder that those special buildings with white-coated and polished walls are not merely home of countless sufferings, both for patients and their families, but hold saved dreams and aspirations. Shine a vibrant light of celebration reminding us to live life to the fullest, always. And behind their imposing entrances marked by wide red crosses, it is not just an entire complement of nurses, surgeons and doctors that stand ready to attend to a patient.
Somewhere, out there far beyond those buildings’ walls, in a place unbeknownst to most, fearless warriors stand ready to step into the heat of danger at a moment’s notice so others won’t have to. Saying yes, when all others would say no—always vigilant.
This, is Medrunner.
Secure your new lifeline plan today at medrunner.space
Zirmarg for Imperial Geographic, Stanton system