The pain jerks me up from the dark, spills bright red across my memory, shakes me in time to the artillery shells exploding around us.
Voices, mumbling medical jargon, the hum, and clicking of some electronics, antiseptic smell. Bright, bright too bright, I close my eyes tight.
My arm. They amputated my left arm below the elbow. Shit. I reach across my body and touch my new left forearm and hand. A prosthetic, but it feels, feels flesh like, like dead meat.
The five doctors and technicians in my hospital room are a little hyper, preening, way too proud of themselves.
Dr, Shu, the leader of the medical mob, is impatiently patronizing me. “Sergeant, Robinson, see this strand, hold it. It’s stronger than silk. Rather than give you a bone based organic material we’re using tens of thousands of these fibers woven into flexible cables to provide the skeletal structure for your arm and fingers. Now—“
“What’s this stuff? Is it living tissue?”
Dr. Shu looks flustered for a second. “Well, Sergeant, this is a remarkable new—“
“Doc, is it organic or inorganic? Is it living or dead?”
The skinny blonde technician with horn-rimmed glasses and big boobs gives me a phony smile, “It’s perfectly safe. We have tested it in the field with—“
“Tested on who? On what? When?”
Dr. Shu is getting a little testy, “Well, this is state of the art—“
“How many other soldiers have you experimented on?”
Shu gets thin-lipped; the blonde grits her teeth; the others stop chattering.
Shu bares her teeth as she points at my arm, “This is not an experiment. This technology has been thoroughly evaluated in primates—“
“Sure, I’m sure it has. I’m tired. I need to rest.” I nod toward the door.
They leave in an angry little flock of flapping lab coats and flopping ID badges. I wonder what the fuck they have done to me.
Au-Gee looks relieved and tired as she rubs noses with me and touches her forehead to mine in my hospital bed. “They wouldn’t let us see you. Three days your son, second wife, and I have been waiting. Why? Can you come home? What’s wrong Edwin?”
I take her hand in my good hand, the living one, and squeeze out the message, “We’re being watched.”
She taps and rubs back, “I know.”
I don’t have to tell her to get me out of here; she senses that.
The boy looks like his mother and acts a little like me. He tries to be cool but ends up sobbing with his arms around my neck.
Tang, Au-Gee’s sister, and my second wife, due to bad luck and tribal law, is stone-faced as we touch nose and forehead. Her touch message is, “Escape.” It is the first time in our short marriage that we have ever agreed on anything.
They spring me the next day. Au-Gee goes to my commander who appeals to our legion commander to liberate his war hero Abo from unnecessary medical incarceration. The legion commander jumps directly to Field Marshal Kama Mboya.
Dr. Shu stomps out cursing and ripping off her name tag when she gets my release order.
I’m now back home, an outpatient a thousand miles from the M1 Hospital.
This thing hanging from my left forearm… I, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like dead weight. The skin is dry and not cold, but not body temperature. The skin color and tone is a perfect match. I’ll give them that.
It’s responsive but feels sluggish and, and alien. I don’t know. I hope I get used to it.
“Dad, what’s this right here? See that line right there below the elbow?”
The boy is fascinated with the artificial arm. Maybe he wants one.
“That’s the line of demarcation between me and the manufactured arm. Some magic allows me and the wire in that thing to communicate and exchange nutrients. And I don’t have to see it to know it’s there. It tingles a little at the line.”
“Dad, wire doesn’t need food.”
“I don’t pretend to understand what the stuff is or how it works. I think the experts aren’t sure either.”
“That, my son, is very spooky.”
“Are you going to keep it?”
That’s the question of the hour. I’m never again putting myself in the hands of those Dr. Frankenstein’s at the M1 Hospital. I can go to the Won-Amack Tribal Lands and have it removed, but I would be court martialed for damaging government property. I’ll be out in three months. The discharge date looks like my freedom date from the military and the spooky arm and hand.
Au-Gee is generous and patient as I try to adjust to being home on leave and my new arm.
“Hold me with both arms husband.”
“You have to use it to understand it.” She pulls my left arm to her. I hold her tight. I hang on for dear life.
“Spouse, you have been home seven days, and you have not visited your second wife. Go now. Spend the night. Go.”
Au-Gee and Tang have never been close. They have clashing personalities. I see Au-Gee struggle to deal with the presence of her older sister in our home.
I could divorce Tang by telling her three times I divorce her to her face and repeating the mantra to the four directions. I would do it in a minute, but Tang is excellent with the boy as a school tutor and a guide to tribal traditions. She’s firm with him, and he responds well to her. They have formed a very strong bond.
I wish Tang had such a bond with Au-Gee and me.
Tang gives me a ritual washing of my privates. On this first time in her bed since I left the hospital, she has me lie face down on the bed and gives me a massage that’s like a dip in a cool pool on a warm day. I fall into a very sweet sleep.
I wake to the sounds of Tang’s passionate breathing and moans. I wonder what’s happening. My left hand, two fingers in her vagina and the thumb working her clitoris.
Her passion arouses me. We have intercourse, the best I have ever had with her. Still, I drift off wondering was it my left hand or me… I wonder.
“I think that line of demarcation thing’s moving up your arm. See.”
I don’t see the progress the boy sees, but I mark the dividing line with an indelible pen.
This is worse than a night battle on the desert front. I’m sweating in my dress blues. I’ve lost weight, and my uniform hangs loosely on me. I sit on the Military Hall loading dock smoking a pipe of loop.
Inside the Hall, nearly a thousand people are here to watch Me, Modesto and Gone Fishing receive the Heart of Valor medal. Modesto drops down beside me and reaches for the pipe.
“Edwin, you mixed-blood bastard. We the first Abos to clip the HOV.” Modesto takes a deep drag on the pipe. “If we don’t get busted for smoking loop first. How the arm?”
The arm has been much better. Almost natural. We put out the pipe and move into the Hall to become the first Western Lands Aborigines to receive the second highest military award.
We are home at last. Au-Gee is high on the excitement of the night and meeting Field Marshall Mboya himself. She thanked him for releasing me. He signed her program and chatted with her about the Homelands.
My first wife opens her arms and legs to me as I toss my uniform jacket on a chair. Something falls out of the pocket onto the floor.
In the morning I see it’s Mboya’s distinctive gold pen.
The boy is right. The line is moving upward. I sit there in a cold sweat. My breathing is too fast, too shallow.
At the clinic for my checkup, everything’s within normal limits.
At rehab, Misha, my therapist, is recording my progress in her little office when my left hand gently touches her thigh just below the hem of her dress. She looks down at me with a blank expression. I’m embarrassed and confused. I start to draw back the offending hand, but she slowly raises her dress.
The line is moving up. It’s at the elbow.
I need help.
I need it now.
I call Dr. Shu.
We meet in a hotel in Barterville about halfway between my town and her hospital.
“What do you think Doc? Can you remove it? Can you do it here and now? You said you could. I’m ready.”
Dr. Shu wants me to have a complete medical evaluation. She wants me to check back into the M1 Hospital. Shu’s more excited than concerned by my predicament. Shit! She was my best hope of a quick separation from this invasive device.
My left hand gently strokes her small breast through her tight sweater. Her nipples turn to steel bumps. She’s watching the hand, holding her breath, licking her lips.
She’s eager and wet, a savage fuck. As she climaxes, the hand closes around her throat. I can’t stop it. I don’t know if I want to stop it.
I sit at the kitchen table. I stretch out my left arm to pluck a fig from Au-Gee’s plate as Tang strikes with the laser scalpel.
The tribal healer is at my bedside. He has inspected and bandaged the wound, provided medication and disposed of the murderously malicious arm and hand.
I hold his hand. I touch thank him.
“It was wise of you to set this up with touch talk. And wiser still to have such courageous spouses.”
A court martial is the least of my concerns. The wound throbbed for a few days and hurt like hell now and again, but now I recognize the familiar tingling sensation in my shoulder.
I leave my family a note and my HOV medal for the boy.
The tingling is moving quicker than ever.
I hold my military pistol in my good, my only hand. I pray it is still my hand.
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