Spun Yarn

Ray Daley

July 15, 2023

My leg was feeling a lot better today. I was able to walk to sick parade. Only needed one crutch too. We had a new medical officer this morning. Barely old enough to be shaving, from the number of cuts on his face. Physician, heal thyself! Poor bugger. It took all my self control to not laugh while he was asking me how I felt.


I did my best to stand to attention, tough with the gimpy leg and a crutch. “Sir!”

He looked me up and down. His eyes immediately caught the shorts. “Aren’t you out of uniform, man?”

I shook my head, flashing him my sick chit, “Excused trousers, sir, on account of the leg wound. The trouser legs rather do press on the bandages. Previous MO said it might lead to blood clots, so he wrote me a chit. The shorts are uniform, sir. PT kit. Standard issue.”

He looked down at my records. “The sheet says…”

That was my cue to fill in the blanks. “Shrapnel, right leg, between the knee and ankle, sir. I know. The field medic was a tad rushed, on account of how we were taking heavy enemy fire at the time. I’m sorry you can’t read his writing.”

The baby medic raised an eyebrow. “Is there blood on this form, Jimisin?”

I nodded. “That’d be mine, sir. Your finest line in Terran O Positive, sir.”

I could see the bile rising in his throat. Ah, one of those, eh? Fresh out of med school, as yet unsullied by the horrors of war. Lucky bastard. “I was told by the previous incumbent the new forms were on backorder, sir. I’ll help you fill it out when they arrive. And I’ll try not to get any of my blood on it this time. Should be a lot easier, back here, away from the front.”

He swallowed, failing to make it obvious he’d just sicked up into his mouth. “Okay then, Jimisin, if you can keep still, I’ll take a shufti.” He unrolled the bandages. Considering how deep the wound had been, he did well not to puke his guts out when he saw it. He had to take a good deep breath to stop himself though. “Phew. This is a nasty one, and no mistake. Keep applying the antibacterial cream, let the wound air for an hour each day. Are you seeing the nurse?”

I nodded. “Yes, sir. We’re scheduled for daily visits.”

“Let her know to double your medication dosage. No bloody point writing it here. Was there anything else?”

Bloody hell. He was green. Didn’t even know the sick parade drill yet! I tried not to eyeball him. “You’re supposed to make a decision if I’m fit to return to full active duty or not, sir. You know, I’ve got to get back to killing those heartless alien bastards.” I decided against telling him he was supposed to replace the dressing himself. I’d do it once he dismissed me.

Speaking of which…

I could see him running down a mental checklist as he looked at me. His eyes were literally flicking from left to right, as he was ticking off items, reaching a diagnosis.”As the wound is still deep and open, it wouldn’t be a good idea to return you to the field yet. We’ll keep you here for another month, I think. No need to attend daily sick parades either, take this chit. Excused sick parade for the next month, by order of the Chief Medical Officer. Are we done here, then?”

I smiled. “Not allowed to leave until officially dismissed by an officer, sir.”

“Very well, Jimisin. You’re dismissed. Go on then, bugger off.”

I hobbled far enough away on my crutch as to be out of his immediate field of view. I reached the bench at the base of the Observation Tower and quickly rewrapped the dressing around my leg once again. While it had been nice to feel the breeze on my skin, I knew I had to keep it covered if I wanted to carry on using that leg. Or have any hope of not losing it.

I didn’t really need to rest, but I had nothing better to do, so I took in the air. In hindsight, I should have gone back to the ward. Or to the library. Or anywhere which wasn’t that particular bench.

I might have avoided a conversation with the Discip Sergeant then. “That man on the bench! Stand to attention!”

As I sat up, I pulled out one of my sick chits. “All due respect, Sergeant, I can’t. Leg wound. I’ve got a chit.”

He marched himself up to the bench, slamming his boots into the ground as he halted in front of me. He snatched the piece of paper from my hand. “Give me that. Bloody malingerers!”

I waited while he read the thing, then allowed his face to reset. “Ah, sorry, son. Wounded by heavy fire whilst rescuing another man. Didn’t realise. Have they recommended you for the combat honour medal yet? If not, I’d be happy to nominate you myself?”

I let him squirm for a few minutes while I remained silent. “Sergeant! Didn’t see you there! Just give me a minute to stand to attention!”

He waved me away. “You stay sat down, lad, after all, you’ve got this.” He handed my chit back to me.

My acting was better than his. “Excused standing to attention for a leg wound? When did that happen, Sarge? I don't recall things all too well any more…”

I could see he was starting to get uncomfortable now. Perfect. That was exactly how he usually made us feel. “Listen, son, if you like, I’ll call for an orderly to help you back to your ward?”

I waved him off. “No, Sarge, it’s fine. I can walk. Just need to catch my breath, gather my thoughts. You know how it is, man with your level of experience.”

I’d kicked him right in the ego there. He hadn’t seen any combat yet, and nor was he likely to, either. Not unless he was the last man left in our army. “You relax there, lad. I’ll see to it that no-one bothers you. Take a nap, if you need one. You won’t be disturbed.”

He marched off swiftly, before I could damage his ego any further.

I was almost surprised. Most of the others who hadn’t seen combat always asked me what it had been like. I normally gave them the same answer. We never saw hide nor hair of the enemy, but the brass always told us how terrible they were. How they invaded local villages, killing their women and children. It was always the same stories, the enemy were inhuman, they had no feelings, how utterly alien to us they were.

* * *

As pleasant as it was to not have to attend the daily sick parade, I got an odd level of enjoyment out of the morning hobble there and back. I got bored of not going, over that month off.

When the time came, I was okay with being told to report for sick parade again. 

One of the orderlies woke me from a nap to pass on the message. “Gunner Jimisin? You’ll be required to attend sick parade tomorrow. Just so you know, it’s held on the main parade square now. Report at oh nine hundred hours. Understood?”

I spent the day making sure my green shirt and battledress were well ironed, and in a good presentable order.

That morning, most of us were there at least ten minutes early, idly shooting the shit, swapping horror stories of how we’d been injured. We were the lucky ones though, the walking wounded. I’d heard about those far worse off than us, the basket-cases up on the top floor. Then the Discip Sergeant marched onto the parade square, slamming to a halt in front of us.

“Okay then, my boys. If we can make a nice straight line, that would make me a very happy Sergeant. Can you do that for me, lads?”

It took us the rest of the eight minutes we had left to get ourselves into any semblance of a formation for him, but we managed it, barely. 

I could have sworn he almost had a tear in his eye as he marched down our rank. “Wonderful, wonderful. Done me proud, you have. Okay. The new CMO is on his way. Stand to attention, if you can. If you can’t, just stand as smartly as you’re able to.”

As we stood there, a new officer started marching down the line. “Okay, listen in, gentlemen. If I call your name, take one step forward. I understand that might be difficult for some of you, just do your best, take as long as you need.” Then he started calling names off the clipboard he was carrying. Until he got to me. “Jimisin!”

Little did I know that by stepping forward, I had just volunteered myself for an as yet unknown duty.

* * *

The last thing I remember clearly was being asked to go to the orderly room for a vitamin injection. Then I guess I fell asleep? I hadn’t felt that tired, but when you’re wounded, the body tends to take care of itself. If you need rest, you sleep. Quite often, the brain has no say in the matter.

Opening my eyes, I examined my surroundings. I wasn’t back in the ward.

It looked like one of our aid centres. Had they decided I wasn’t serious enough to stay in hospital any longer then? They’d moved me to an aid station so I could be closer to the front when I had recovered enough to return to active duty? I wasn’t about to assume anything, yet.

“Gunner Jimisin, is it?”

I nodded. He was wearing the familiar orderly uniform. No rank insignia of any kind though. I filed that under unusual.

“Yes. Sorry, I can’t see any rank. What do I call you?”

He smiled. It felt relaxing. “Well, my name’s Hampton. You can call me that, if you like?”

I still felt slightly uneasy. “The thing is, I’m a soldier. I’m used to addressing people by their rank. It’s my leg that was injured, not my personality. Are you not a soldier then?”

Hampton shook his head. “I can understand your concern. I’m a civilian volunteer. We don’t have ranks. Though if you need a title, you can always call me ‘Orderly.’ That’s what I am, not who I am. I’d prefer Hampton, personally, but it’s entirely up to you. I’m afraid we didn’t receive any paperwork on you. Could I ask your first name?”

“Sure. Millis. M. I. Double L. I. S. Yes, it is an unusual name. From my paternal grandfather, I was given to understand.”

Hampton was a nice enough guy. He read to me, brought me meals, and reassured me when we received incoming fire.

My days were comfortable. Unless we were being bombed, that was. My time was my own, my leg was getting better much sooner than the hospital had anticipated.

And that view. What an amazing view. Of the Observation Tower.

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It took me a few days to process that. I could see the Observation Tower.

It was four days before I decided to ask Hampton about that.

“I’m afraid it’s Olusioun soup again today, sorry about that Millis. I’ve added extra chives; I know you like those.”

I looked up from the cot. “Hampton, if I asked you a question, would you promise to answer truthfully?”

He smiled, placing the bowl of soup on the floor beside me. “Sure, ask anything.”

“I noticed the view outside yesterday. It’s a breath-taking vantage. Of the allied Observation Tower.”

He nodded. “Yes, we’re extremely lucky here. It’s quite the outlook, isn’t it?”

I rubbed my hand across my face. I’d have to spell it out for him, it seemed. “Hampton, old friend. There’s realistically only one location I could have such a great view of that tower. And that’d be from anywhere within Hermian territory. I’m behind bloody enemy lines, aren’t I?”

Hampton brushed down his white tunic. “Millis. You were quite seriously injured in the bombing, you know that?”

I’d taken a bad shrapnel hit. Deep, but not what I’d have called life threatening. I rolled the blanket off my body. While I’d been sleeping, someone had dressed me. In a Hermian uniform. I looked up at him. “What happened to my green battledress, Hampton? I’ll be shot as a spy, if I’m found wearing this.”

To his credit, Hampton’s smile never dropped a millimetre. “Come on now, Millis. You know as well as I do, they don’t shoot civilians.”

I gave him a hard stare. “It’s Gunner Jimisin. Serial number—”

He stopped me before I had a chance to rattle it off. “I know, Millis. That’s the cover story. It looks like our deep programming works too. You know as well as I do that the enemy treats prisoners, but only military prisoners. They don’t understand how we live. We don’t want a war. We didn’t even have a fighting force, until the darn Terrans invaded. Hermia is a peaceful world. We asked the Terrans to leave us alone. We seceded from their governorship over a thousand years ago. Most people on Hermia don’t even know what a Terran even looks like any more. Speaking of which… How did the intelligence gathering mission go? You must feel a lot better now, out of that awful Terran uniform?”

I just lay there, looking at him, utterly dumbfounded. “But… but… the Hermians are the enemy. They kill women and children. They raze entire settlements. They’re a heartless, cold, alien race. Hampton.”

He started to shake his head. “Oh, my word. That deep programming might have been a little too much, especially after the shell shock. Don’t worry, Millis. We placed you in the crater with the dying Terran officer. I still remember what he said to me as we put you there. ’You bloody noncoms, you all look alike to me. Thanks for saving my life though, I’ll see you get a medal for this.’ Of course we had to dress you in a uniform, so they’d take you back and treat you. Did they not mention the prisoner exchange before you came back then? I think you’d better come with me.”

He helped me out of the cot, and we made our way out of the tent to a small prefab building a few steps away. Inside, it was all so far removed from the battlefield. Clean, clinical, the latest equipment. Even the paint was still wet.

“In here, Millis.”

Here was a large medical scanner. So new, Hampton had to tear film covers off the control panels. “If you sit there, I’ll check what those bloody Terrans got up to in that head of yours.”

* * *

I want to say it felt like a dream, being with the Terrans. More like a nightmare, now I’ve had the barriers lifted from my mind. We have seen the enemy, and they are us. Not like us, they are us. Or at least they used to be.

“They lie to their men, Hampton. Such mistruths. They call us monsters, accuse us of foul deeds. All lies. They have no idea they’re fighting other human beings, Hampton. How do you defeat an enemy like that?”

He rolled the bandages back. The flesh was almost entirely healed. “Another week here, I think. Then we’ll find that green battledress for you again. Do you think you can remember your medical training? You did say the hospital had a heavy turnover of medical officers, after all. All those wounded men, I’d wager they’ll listen to a Doctor, won’t they? They can tell stories? We’ve got stories they won’t believe. I’ll get you started in the deep programming room in the morning. Key phrase?”

“Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, on a planet called Hermia…”

Ray Daley was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served six years in the Royal Air Force as a clerk and spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet and has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter.

“Spun Yarn“ is original to Bullet Points.