Here is the fourth vignette from the soon to be published novel, featuring another character that may or may not appear later.
“Lieutenant Maloney, would you please remove your shirt for me.”
“Not Lieutenant any more, sir, beg pardon. Now I am discharged I am plain Mr. Maloney,” he replied.
A little over six feet tall and heavily built, Maloney radiated military bearing, standing rod-straight, booted feet together.
“Excuse me,” the doctor said, fiddling with the magnifying lenses he wore on a heavy frame. They made his eyes seem huge and pink-tinted, thought Maloney, who had never seen the like before. Some officers wore monocular lenses but he had never seen this contraption fixed on a man’s nose. There was some sort of clockwork, brass and silver at the outside of each lens and it clicked as he fiddled.
Maloney unpinned his left sleeve and let it fall. Taking off his high collar he unbuttoned his shirt with dexterity, before shrugging it off of his shoulders. Clad in a white singlet his proportions were revealed. Massive shoulders and a right arm that was well muscled contrasted with a shrunken left arm, the elbow was present but about an inch below the limb ended in a stump.
The doctor, white coated and greying, was thorough in his examination. He poked and prodded at the stump of the man’s arm with a small metal spike. Occasionally he stopped his prodding and altered something on his lenses. A wire led from this spike to a brass gauge, with numbers behind a thin needle. Each time he jabbed, Maloney winced and the needle jumped. The doctor scribbled some notes and removed the headgear.
“Well!” he said, “The nerves are in good order.”
“I agree,” said Maloney. “I felt each stab of that thing.”
“I’m afraid that was the idea,” the doctor smiled thinly. “It tells me, along with the special filtering in my lenses, that you are an ideal candidate for our latest mechanism.”
Maloney had seen false arms before, ugly things of wood with interchangeable hands for gripping or other tasks. They had leather braces and took hours to fit. He had always thought that he would never wish to be encumbered with one of them. But the man had said ‘latest mechanism,’ maybe it would not be so bad. After all, he had been away for two years, who knew what had been devised.
“Tell me your tale then,” said the doctor. “How did you come to lose the limb?”
Maloney paused, remembering that day; how could he describe it, the heat and the smell of fetid jungle mixed with sweat. And the fear, both his and his men’s, amplified by their togetherness.
“It was in the wars; we were in the Western Isles and were ambushed by wily tribesman. One cut at my pistol arm,” he waved his stump, “my left as it happened.”
The doctor showed interest; in his limited knowledge pistols were a right hand weapon. “Why so?”
The words betrayed his lack of military training, in a world with nearly universal conscription he must have been deferred because of his medical skills. Or perhaps he had family connections.
“Well, I was on the left end of the skirmish line so my right side was blocked by my mate Sapper.”
“Ah, I’m not a military man but I understand.”
“Anyways,” Maloney continued, “the man ran at us with a scream, as they all did. It was meant to unnerve us but after a year of hearing it, we barely noticed. He lopped off my arm and I fell. Sapper raised his pistol and put darts between his eyes which ended his interest in events.” Maloney paused for breath.
The doctor shuddered at the casual description of death and maiming. “Go on,” he prompted.
“Sapper grabbed my arm, what was left of it, and applied pressure. I was fainting but remember his strong grip, ‘We’ll get you out of this,’ he said and whilst he held the vessels closed my mates put a tourniquet on. I fell asleep at that point and when I woke, I was on a hospital ship.”
“So Sapper saved your life then.” The doctor’s voice was admiring. Maloney shrugged his shoulders.
“I had done the same for him more than once and we were comrades; that’s what we all did for each other,” Maloney’s face turned sombre. “It was a grim war, in the shadows and stinking jungles. And all for a few coffee beans.”
The doctor nodded, the news-sheets had been full of the horrors of jungle war and he had seen enough of its wreckage come through his door. But it had given him much valuable experience.
“It sounds trite,” he said, “but the war has been a blessing in a way.”
Maloney turned on him and rose, sarcasm heavy in his voice, “I could have put that in all the letters I used to write, ‘Madam, your son was hacked to pieces today, I’m sorry but it was a blessing.’
“No,” said the doctor, quailing under Maloney’s rage, “you misunderstand me, I abhor the waste of humanity but in the futility of the carnage our knowledge of the human body has advanced. We are able to treat the afflicted so much better because of it. My words are clumsy.”
Maloney had calmed, the man was a civilian so could never understand, but he meant well and was helping in his way. He sat back down.
“I should not lecture you,” he admitted. “I apologise.”
“No need, it was a testing time that civilians cannot understand, all we can do is be grateful and help those who did it for us. And the sharpness of the cut has done you a great service.”
Despite himself and his contempt for the doctor’s attitude Maloney was interested by that comment. “How might that be?” he asked.
“The wound was not left ragged, the nerve ends are clean.” He said no more but turned to his desk, rummaging around in the piles of paper and oddly shaped things.
“Aha, here it is.” He held up a leather hemisphere, polished and studded with brass contacts on the outside. It looked like the bowl of a drinking cup that had been studded with copper nails. Maloney had to ask, “And what would that be?”
“Your future,” said the doctor.