The Moving Finger


"You're looking well enough, considering," Father Ott commented.
     I glanced at the tubes and sensors attached to the various
portions of my body, examined the display panels that ciphered the
State of My Union.  "So the medtechs tell me," I said.  "I'm not sure
even they can read this hash."
     Father Ott chuckled.  "How do you feel, Mike?"
     I grunted.  "I'm assured that I'm lucky to be alive.  At the
moment, I'm not feeling very lucky."
     "Understandable.  Thirty years ago you'd have been paralyzed for
the rest of your life, at best.  Now...," he looked about at the
various instruments, shrugged.  "Another week of regeneration therapy,
and you'll be as good as new."
     "Another week in hell - the therapists here could have given
Torquemada pointers."
     "My, aren't we in a sour mood!"  Father Ott commented mildly,
which is as great an indication of irritation as I have ever seen him
     I sighed.  "Guess I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself, lately,
father.  I'm sure I should be properly grateful for the miracles of
modern medicine."
     "I'm sure you should, and doubly so.  You left the army in far
worse shape."
     "I'd forgotten," I said dryly.  Father Ott nodded abstractedly.
     "These days, nearly any insult to the body can be wiped away," he
said, his lean face turning reflective and distant.  "That wasn't true
when I was a growing up.  Soldiers would come home from war lacking 
limbs, paralyzed, their nerves shriveled and lungs seared by toxic
gases, their bodies wasted by strange diseases.  All of that can be
cured now, for better or worse."
     "As a beneficiary of the 'better'," I said, puzzled, "I'm not
quite sure how such a situation can be regarded as 'worse'."
     He shrugged.  "The walking wounded were reminders to us of war's
horror.  They made us uncomfortable.  They stained our victories, and
made us examine their cost, both to us and to our adversaries."
     I stared.  "You can't believe we'd be better off not being able to
heal the wounded!"
     "As a doctor, I'm glad we can alleviate suffering, of course.  As 
a priest, I can't help but feel that our abilities to do so have made
the cost of war more acceptable to us."
     "We lost over 7,000 men and women in the Borneo War," I argued.
"Isn't that cost enough?"
     He heaved a sigh.  "It is a sad fact of human nature, Mike, that
the dead do not trouble us as much as they ought.  The bodies are
slipped quickly below the earth, mourned, and forgotten.  Not so the
living wreckage - we had to deal with that every day of our lives."  He
looked at me with his steady grey gaze.  "Now, we have only the damage
to the mind to trouble us; and even that, in extremity, can be mended."
     "Yes," I said, closing my eyes.  "I know."