The Moving Finger
The room was white, but not sterile; clean, but not immaculate. The painted drywall showed random smudges, and the vinyl flooring needed wax. The covers of the fluorescent light fixtures were dusty, and sparsely littered with the husks of dead insects. The counter-top that ran the width of the room was chipped. Above the counter, scratches and slight discolorations in the transparent pane that divided the room showed that it was plastic, not glass. The man who wore the starched white shirt and silver badge opened the metal door on his side of the room, admitting the man who wore the rumpled yellow coverall. "SMSF" was stitched across the front of his coverall: Sandur Maximum Security Facility. He crossed to the counter, dropped into the orange plastic chair, and examined me through the plastic pane. Platoon Sgt Benjamin Marshak, and not as I remembered him. The smooth tanned face was now lined, pale, and stubbled. His brown hair had grown long, and was receding at the temples. The coverall hung loosely on his thin, wasted frame, that had formerly been fit and strong. This was not the man with whom I had trained, day by day, for over a year before the war had started. "How you doing, Sergeant," I said, shocked into inanity. He responded with a short, panting, almost soundless laugh. "What do you want, el-tee," he said, his voice rendered thin and fuzzy by the audio pickup in the counter. "I need to talk to you, Ben. About the war. About...what happened." "Why, nothing happened, el-tee. Nothing at all. The nice doctors made it all go away for you, didn't they." He leaned forward, elbows on the counter, grinning. "Nothing left up there at all, 's what I hear, " he said, tapping his temple. I stared at him, at a loss for words. He slouched back into the chair. "'Course, those nice doctors wouldn't make it go away for me - no sir! I was too well adjusted, they said. I didn't need to forget." He spread his arms, moved his gaze about the room. "So I get to stay in here, locked away from decent, law-abiding folk who don't know what I know, and pay my debt to society." He tipped his head back, staring at the ceiling. "That's fair, isn't it?" he said softly. "Jesus, Ben...I'm sorry, I..." He brought his mad gaze down from the ceiling, choking the rest of my apology. "What happened, Ben," I pleaded. "What happened at the Penan longhouse?" "What happened, el-tee, is you went to a lot of trouble to forget what happened." His voice became strident, increasing in volume. "What happened is a jury gave you a pass. And what happened is that I got screwed. That's what happened." I pushed my chair back and rose. "Fine," I said coldly. "Then rot here, you sorry bastard!" I turned and headed toward the door. "You want to know about it, el-tee!" he screamed furiously at my back, pounding at the partition. "I read the trial transcript! You already heard it all from the yak-bitch!" I spun around at the door. The guard was trying to restrain him, and more were pouring through the door behind them. "The whole thing was your fault!" "Liar!" I shouted back at him. "You took us in there!" The guards were half dragging, half carrying him toward the door. "You lost control of the men, and then you lost control of yourself! And I hope you burn for it, you son-of-a -bitch! Just like the rest of us will!" "Liar!" I shouted as they dragged him out, and over and over again at the empty room. "Liar-Liar-Liar-LIAR-LIAR!"