This poem came out of a discussion with viva_la_topknot and other folks, regarding the role of handicapped characters. It is presented here as a perk for votes in the fishbowl analysis poll. Thank you all for your feedback! You can read more about the Clockwork War series on the serial poetry page. (Note: this poem contains some vulgar language under stress.)
An Arm and a Leg
When the skeeter bombs hit Zeta Team,
they lost half their men in the first blast.
Those who managed to crawl to shelter
left pieces of themselves behind
in the red-churned mud of the swamp.
Gideon Dallas, their best sniper, lost his left leg.
No more dashing and dodging for him,
in search of the perfect place to take aim.
Deacon Evans, their fastest runner, lost his right arm.
No more climbing hand-over-hand for him,
nor aiming a long gun to fire.
They looked at each other and said,
"If Pilot Archer can do it, so can we."
So they waited, and healed, and plotted.
By the time the physical therapist arrived,
they were staggering around the room,
sweat-lathered and stubborn,
Dallas clinging grimly to Evans' shoulders.
The therapist pried them apart,
and deposited each man in his own bed,
and scolded them for overexerting themselves.
"What would you have done,
in our place?" Dallas said to him.
The therapist shuffled on his prosthetic legs
and frowned with his scarred face.
"Well," he admitted slowly,
"I suppose I overexerted myself a time or two."
So he helped them practice together,
as well as separately, until
Dallas could get around on his new fake leg
and Evans could manage most tasks one-handed,
and the pair of them together functioned
like two halves of one smooth whole.
"That's all I can do for you,"
the therapist said.
"You need a gunnery instructor now."
They found one, though it took some fast talking,
and a reminder of Pilot Archer, to convince him
to retrain the pair of them for sniper duty.
But the brainbots had been closing in,
scurry and skittle and screech,
taking over human-run computer centers.
Only a sniper could hit them,
and the army was running out of snipers.
The rest of the soldiers were as helpless
as blind mice running through a clockwork war.
They all knew that was why the instructor agreed,
though none of them said it aloud.
Dallas took aim at the stationary targets,
and missed altogether,
and snapped "Stand the fuck still!"
at Evans until they both wanted to kill each other.
But the bots needed killing more,
so they kept at their practice.
Evans ran through the obstacle course,
and tripped into a tumble when Dallas fell off,
and yelled "Hold the fuck on!"
until the piggy had had enough of the back
and said so. But they went on anyway.
They got better slowly,
as the weeks rolled by them
like waves under a fanboat.
Dallas hit the targets.
Evans made the jumps.
They stuck it out together, melded
into one mind and one body.
When they returned to the field,
Evans ran with the wind at his feet,
dived and dodged and never lost contact,
and the botflies couldn't draw a bead on them.
Dallas set up his rifle and took aim
at the brainbots scuttling toward Command,
stroked the trigger and pinholed the central chip.
Down went the targets in a spray of scrapmetal,
and wouldn't the scavengers be glad
to find the raw material after the battle.
They were given medals,
which they dropped in a drawer;
and interviews, which they mumbled through
and then fumed over afterwards.
The things some reporters said, honestly!
Of course they were brave:
they were soldiers.
That was their job.