Junior Doctor

Frank turned the plastic figure in his mud-caked hands. Timmy'll like this, he thought to himself. He picked up a tiny black gun, and clipped it into the soldier's moulded grip. The toy frowned up at him, menacing him with its new weapon. Yes, thought Frank, Timmy will like this.

A spattering of sparks bounced onto Frank's arms, breaking his concentration. Bullets ricocheted off the field gun by his side, and he ducked instinctively. Gradually the sparks died away. Cautiously, Frank reached for his pack and pushed the plastic figure into it. As his hand drew back, a raw voice nearby scraped out a terse command.


Frank grabbed for his machine-gun. It was empty. He pulled down hard on the magazine and clipped a new one in place. His fingers shook slightly, uneasy with the delay. Come on Frank, he thought. Can't let everyone down. Gotta get the bastards.

He swung his machine-gun up over the grey wall of sandbags. The voice was clearer now, and it was yelling; yelling at Frank. "Don't just sit there!" it screamed. "Go!"

Smoke and air gulped down Frank's dry throat as he lifted his head level with the sight. The guns across the road started sputtering again. Bullets flew past Frank's helmet as he trained his vision down the barrel.

"Jesus, Heyward, what are you doing? GO!"

Frank's gun lurched as he pulled its trigger. He strained to keep it steady as it fired at the enemy sandbags. Pale dust puffed out of the bullet-holes ripping into their fabric.

A scream tore the smoke looming over the street; Frank watched a helmet and gun fall back from the opposite sandbank. Relieved, he collapsed behind the shelter of his own wall.


In the comfortable lounge room of an apartment painted a sterile blue-grey, Timmy Heyward stroked his puppy's brown belly. "Good dog," he chuckled. He rubbed it again. "Good Rex."

The small Doberman flopped a flat pink tongue out over its razor teeth and black lips. Its tail wagged happily.

"Timmy's going to make you all better."

The dog panted, its mouth fixed in a wet smile.


A moustached sergeant, crouching low, trotted over the mud and concrete and squatted next to Frank.

"And just what do you think you're doing, soldier?" came his hoarse reprimand.

"But Sarge, I got one," gasped Frank.

"You did?" The sergeant smiled momentarily. "Well done." His face shifted back to a scowl. "But don't you ever take that long to get up again!"

Frank gulped. "But Sarge, I was just..."

"Did you hear me, Heyward?"

Frank nodded. "Yessir."

"We've been ordered to keep them out of the commercial sector and I'm damned if I'll let one slack bastard be our downfall!"

"Yes SIR..."

Frank started to salute, but was stopped by the deep wail of a siren hanging from a nearby street light.

The sergeant glanced at his watch. "Five o'clock." He looked up at the weary, mud-covered soldier before him. "That your shift?"

Frank nodded silently.

"All right then," growled the sergeant, "piss off out of it."

Relieved, Frank grasped the strap of his pack and slid it over his shoulder.

"And Heyward..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Look, just get it together, eh? You've got a good record. Don't blow it."

"Yes, SIR."

Frank saluted, then turned and ran to a nearby building, bending nearly double to dodge stray bullets. He stopped behind a pockmarked wall, reaching over his shoulder to make sure he'd brought his pack.

"Don't you worry, Sarge," he muttered, patting the rough cloth bag. "We Heywards are good soldiers. Damned good."

He reached into the pack and drew out the toy soldier, staring at it for a moment.

"All of us."


Timmy picked up a small red plastic stethoscope from the rug. Carefully, his short fingers worked the ends of the stethoscope into his ears. He guided the flat plastic disk over his dog's stomach.

"Hmm. You sound very sick, Rex."

Rex panted, oblivious.

"I better give you a pill."

Timmy searched in a cardboard box full of toys and pulled out a white bottle marked with a red cross. He turned it upside down and shook it over his hand. Nothing came out.

"Open up."

He dropped an imaginary pill into the puppy's mouth. "Good Rex," he said, rubbing its stomach again.

Rex yowped and rolled over, slurping his tongue over Timmy's bare arms. The boy giggled. "Rex, you're all better!"

The dog barked, and bounced at Timmy, knocking the bottle out of his hands and under the television set. Timmy laughed and wrestled with the pup.

In the kitchen area, a buzzer sounded.

"Quiet, Timmy," his mother called. Timmy fell silent and sat patting his dog.

His mother put down her magazine and flipped the phone switch. A familiar face filled the screen. She raised a smile to greet it.

"Hello Frank."

"Hi, honey. I'm on my way home."

"Okay. Dinner's in the oven."

"Great. I'll see you later, then."

"Bye." Rowena flipped the screen off.

"Mummy, was that Daddy?" asked Timmy.

"Yes, dear." Rowena smiled at him. She moved over to his box of toys. "So we have to put these away." She gathered up Timmy's plastic implements, tossing them into the box. "Midas," she called out, "will you please put on chicken with vegetables for the three of us?"

A small robot trundled out of a cupboard and around the kitchen floor, carrying out her instructions.

"Timmy, run this into your cupboard, please."

"Yes Mummy." Timmy grabbed the box and carried it out of the room, his dog following him.


Frank stepped carefully over the pools of rainwater and blood, then marched through the shattered glass doors of the 5:15. They hissed shut behind him, and the train lurched into motion.

Frank glanced casually at the others in the compartment. Soldiers like him, mostly. A few working men and women dressed in grey. An unconscious drunk slumped in a corner. He turned his attention to the large crisp poster attached to the compartment wall. Bold red letters shouted its message.

"Australians!" it read. "Do you love your country?"

Yes, I love my country, thought Frank.

"Then love your war!"

I do, thought Frank. I really do. I'm a good soldier—damned good. And I got one of them bastards today, sir.

The Commander's face glared down at him from the wall, and Frank smiled at it.

Across the aisle, a young woman watched him smile. Carefully, her nervous fingers slid a photocopied pamphlet into the pocket of her grey overcoat.


The door swished open just as Rowena was finishing tidying up. Frank clattered through it, his boots clomping on the hard floor, his guns rattling against the doorway. "Hi, honey," he panted.

"Frank!" Rowena smiled mechanically. "You're home so soon..."

"Just couldn't wait to see my girl," Frank grinned. "How about a kiss."

Rowena stepped forward, and Frank wrapped her in his jacketed arms. His lips met hers, briefly, then Rowena jerked back.

"Ow! Your gun..."

"Sorry. I forgot." Frank slid off the harness holding his weaponry and dropped it with his pack onto the kitchen bench. He grinned lasciviously. "Hey," he growled, "What say you and me leave Timmy with Nanny Midas and..."


Timmy ran out into the room towards his father. Frank turned and held his arms out to the boy, gathering him up to his chest.

"Well now," said Frank, ruffling Timmy's cropped hair, "how's my little soldier?"

"I'm all right," Timmy replied, his face serious and intense.

"Only all right?" said Frank. "Well, we'll see about that..." He reached his free hand into his pack, rummaging it about melodramatically. "What have we got here..."

"Tadahhhh!" He thrust the toy soldier into Timmy's hands. The boy looked at it and gave a slight smile. "Thank you, Daddy," he mumbled.

"You like it?"



"Yeah, it's good."

"That's all right then." Frank pointed to the plastic figure. "You see, he's wearing a uniform just like mine. If you play soldiers with him you can get one too when you grow up..."

Timmy stared silently at the toy. Then he looked up, and smiled widely. "Me and Rex played a game today, we played..."

"I'll just go and check the dinner," his mother interrupted. She flickered a smile at Frank and withdrew into the kitchen area, her eyes fixed on the boy.

Frank carried his child over to the couch. "We'll talk later, son. Right now I want to watch TV." He sat down solidly, lifting Timmy down onto a space beside him. He relaxed, breathing deeply.

"Now, let's see." The television sprang to life as Frank jabbed at the remote control.

He watched the screen for a moment. Gunfire rattled out of the TV's speakers. Bullets flew across the forty inch picture, as soldiers battled for their lives in episode four of "New York Casebook".

"Don't want a bloody documentary," mumbled Frank. He flipped to another channel. Daffy Hyaena stared aghast at an unwanted gift from Kenneth Cobra, then shrieked as the screen filled with cartoon smoke from the exploding gift, an Acme hydrogen bomb.

Timmy giggled. "Daddy, it's funny!"

"Sure, son," said Frank, "But Daddy doesn't feel like it."

Another channel. More noise. A chainsaw rumbled in the hands of a gasping, red-eyed psychopath and chewed into the neck of a screaming young girl, spraying blood out into the darkness.

Timmy watched round-eyed.

"Jesus," spat Frank, "ain't there nothing on except kid's shows?"

He changed channels again, and caught the tail end of an advertisement. The speakers jingled out at him, "Midas: they're good—as—gold!"

Cerebral orchestral music started playing. Computer graphics formed into images of bald, bespectacled professors and the words "Talking Point". The picture panned back to three academics seated around a suited host.

"Good evening," said the woman. "Tonight on 'Talking Point' we discuss the movement whose name is on everybody's lips—Pacifists International..."

"Christ almighty!" Frank groaned. He reached again for the remote control. Then, as his thumb sat poised over the channel buttons, he paused. He focussed on something resting under the TV screen. Something small and white, with strange markings.

"Timmy." Frank shook his son's arm. "Timmy, bring that over here, will you son?" He pointed at the unusual object.

Timmy slid off the couch and trotted over to the screen. He knelt down and grabbed the object, then held it aloft as he walked back to his father. "Here you are Daddy," he smiled.

"Thanks son," said Frank, carefully examining the find. It was a small plastic bottle. The marking was a cross, a red cross; it stirred vague memories in Frank's mind. "What the hell is it?" he muttered to himself.

"It's my pills, Daddy," chirped Timmy.

Startled, Frank stared at his son. "What did you say?" he asked.

"It's my pills. They made Rex better."

Frank remembered now where he'd seen a red-on-white cross. He grabbed the boy's arms. "Where did you get this, Timmy?" he demanded, shaking the child furiously. "Tell me!"

"Daddy, you're hurting me," Timmy whined.

"Tell me!"

"Mummy gave them to me! Daddy, stop!"

Frank froze, staring into his son's frightened eyes. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

"Go to your room."

"Daddy, what's wrong?"

"Don't mess with me, Timmy, do what I say! Go to your room!" Timmy ran from his father through the hall door.

Frank sat still. Voices from the television buzzed around him. Gradually, he rose, and turned to face his wife.

Rowena stood staring at him, her mouth gaping, her eyes pleading. She fumbled some words through her thin lips. "Please Frank, I didn't..." Her voice trailed off as she dropped her head to avoid Frank's gaze.

Anger growled out of him. "What have you done to my boy."

"Frank, I didn't mean any harm..."

"What have you DONE?"

Tears rolled down Rowena's face. She choked out meaningless, disjointed words; then, staring downwards, she clumsily shuffled a pile of booklets and magazines before her.

Frank plunged forward, grabbing a photocopied pamphlet from Rowena's trembling hands. His wife shrieked.

"No, Frank! It's not how it looks!"

Frank traced the words on the pamphlet's cover with a calloused finger, reading them slowly aloud.

"Pacifists International. Peace Toys Catalogue."

Rowena gasped back her fear. Frank whispered fiercely, "My God, you bitch, what have you done." He flipped deliberately through the pamphlet.

"What is this—construction set?... paint box? Action Gandhi?" He glared at her. "What's wrong with toy GUNS and KNIVES?" His fingers reached a photograph which had been circled in pencil. He gulped. "Red Cross junior doctor's kit."

The pamphlet slipped from Frank's fingers and fell to the floor. His voice choked as he spoke.

"You bitch."

"Frank, you have to understand..."

"What were you trying to do? Turn my little boy into some bloody pacifist? A conscientious objector?"

"I just," Rowena sobbed, "I just wanted him to be a doctor. Like my grandfather."

"You want him to do slave work?" Frank bellowed. "ROBOT WORK?"

"Please Frank..."

His fist hit the side of her head. Rowena crashed to the floor, wailing. Frank screamed at her. "You want to turn him into some kind of SICKO? He's going to be a soldier, you hear me! He's going to do proper MAN'S work!"

Frank turned abruptly toward the door behind him. "Timmy," he yelled, "get out here!"

The door slid open. The boy sidled cautiously into the room, his eyes fixed on his father's. Frank stared at him in horror. Timmy was wearing a white coat marked with a cross, and a red stethoscope hung around his neck.

He turned back to his wife, sprawled on the floor. Muscles bulged his neck; his face glowed red. He screamed.


Rowena's chest heaved with pained sobs. She gasped out a strangled protest. "No, Frank..."

"You bloody traitor!"

Frank's arm slid almost automatically down his leg. His fist clasped around a black handle protruding from the holster on his leather boot. He drew the gun out and pointed it at Rowena's tear-streaked face.

"No, Frank..."

He pulled the trigger. Once. Twice.

Three times.

Smoke drifted up from the weapon in Frank's hand. The echo of gunfire drifted away. Frank stared blankly at the shattered form.

Behind him, academics argued on the television screen. "You don't seriously believe, doctor, that decent, upright citizens will allow this filth—these so-called 'Peace Toys'—into their homes?"

Timmy ran over to his father's side, crying, "Mummy! Mummy!"

Frank put an arm around the boy's shoulders. "It's all right, son," he said. "Mummy was a bad lady."

Timmy wriggled out of Frank's grip and knelt down by his mother. He touched his fingers to the blood on her face. He sat still, tears streaming from his eyes.

Then, carefully, he worked the ends of his stethoscope into his ears. Slowly, he guided the flat plastic disk over his mother's heart.

"Don't worry Mummy," he whispered.

"Timmy's going to make you all better."


Winner of the 1990 Science Fiction Association of Australia Short Story Prize.
This page: 26 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1990, 2000 Rory Ewins