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
     "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!"