“Reflexes” By Mike Finn – in a future war in the Pacific an Australian soldier struggles to hold on to what is important


© Mike Finn 2003

A drop of Aysha’s sweat falls onto his chest. Above him, she grins and tightens her grip on his hands. Her fingers are interlocked in his. She is using his arms for balance. Her feet are flat on the floor on either side of his hips, not quite touching him. She squats with him inside her, not letting her buttocks touch his thighs.

Aysha has wrapped them both in a cloak of sex, sliding over him, absorbing him, coating them in sweat so that he half expects them to be phosphorescent in the darkness of the room.

Now she is focusing on the three points where they touch: their hands, their sex and the eye contact that she will not break.

Aysha has taught him to stay still at these moments. “Sex is magic, Ross. It can stretch time. Let the tension build. Laugh at it. Ride it. Don’t let it ride you.”

Slowly she contracts her muscles, closing herself around him, milking him. He strains not to move, to let the pressure build, to let her draw him out. Aysha has drawn out him so far he no longer recognizes himself.

Biting her lip, eyes filled with serious, wicked joy, she increases the pressure and the speed. When she feels him spasm, she grins her widest grin. The orgasm flows from the base of his feet, squeezes his balls, engorges his cock, and floods into her from the burst dam of his self-control.

Pushing his arms down and back on either side of his head, Aysha lowers herself onto him. Keeping him inside her, she lays her small slim body on top of him, making him feel huge and strong. He can feel the heat of her breasts against his chest and smell her sweat-soaked, lust-filled hair as she nuzzles against his neck.

“I’m sorry, Ross.”

Her tone makes his scalp prickle with fear. He lifts her head, needing to see her face.

Blood is running down her forehead, her bottom lip is split; one eye is closed in swollen pain. She reaches to stroke his face. Her fingers feel cold and heavy when she touches him

“I’m sorry I’m dead, Ross.”

He scrambles up from under her, gets tangled in something, and wakes, still fighting with the sheets.

He puts his hand over his mouth. He will not cry out. He will not. Of course she is dead. He knew that. She’s been dead for a month. Today is all about her death.

Ross makes himself get up and stand under the shower until he is back in control. He shaves with care, using an electric razor in case his hand trembles. It’s important that he looks like he has his shit together today.

He switches on the TV in the hotel room and finds a news channel. 7.00 a.m. and already they’ve started to make him into news. He turns down the sound. He already knows what they are going to say.

Brushing his uniform, watching the TV with one eye, he sees President Toohey’s picture flash up behind the news reader. ‘Who would think’, he mutters inside his head, ‘looking at Toohey’s solid, firm-but-fair, matronly face, that she would plunge Australia into a war against her neighbours, in support of the Americans?’

“Anyone who knows their history.”

Ross turns around even though he knows the person he will see is not really there.

Aysha, (Aysha is dead. Aysha is dead.) is sitting, legs akimbo, on the small sofa that defends this room’s claim to be a junior suite.

“In the decade since 9/11, Americans have been taught to hear the cry of terrorist ghosts in every Muslim call to prayer.” She smiles at her own demagogy and quietens her tone a little. “Their response to fear has always been action, not thought. It’s a reflex. They can’t help it.”

He had this conversation with her three months before he shipped out for Malaysia, nearly two years ago now. He decides that today is a good day to have it again, so he responds.

“No one is talking about war yet. And if there is one, we won’t go except as peacekeepers.”

“Wake up, Ross.” She tosses her long hair over her shoulders and starts to count on her fingers. “The waste of lives at Gallipoli, when we followed the British into a European war. Letting the British explode a nuclear bomb at Emu Junction in South Australia in 1953, just to see it go bang. Following the Americans into their illegal war in Iraq in 2003, even when the public didn’t want to go. Our politicians come to heel whenever the big powers whistle.”

“Toohey’s given her word, Aysha”.

“Politicians lie, Ross. It’s what they’re good at. Remember the lies they told about asylum seekers throwing their babies into the water to ensure that they’d be picked up and brought on to Australian soil? They even admitted to the lie later to show what good blokes they were.”

Ross looks into the mirror as he ties his tie, waiting for her to continue. He is smiling at her passion. Before he met her, his knowledge of Australian history was restricted to being able to recite every international sporting victory of the past two decades.

Silence. There is no one on the sofa anymore.  He reminds himself that there never was anyone on the sofa.

(Aysha is dead. Aysha is dead. Aysha is dead).

She was right of course, within two months, the Americans launched Operation Tsunami “To wipe the Pacific Rim clean of terrorists”. To Ross, it had sounded like an ad for toilet cleaner, but Toohey still committed United Defence Force troops. “The safety of Australia has always been the central pillar of our foreign policy,” she said. “Terrorist groups, and the governments that support them are a threat to that safety. We will work with our allies to make that threat go away.”

It was supposed to be a short action, to clear out militant terrorists from Indonesia. When the images of burning villages started to appear on the nightly news, Malaysia objected and threatened to intervene. Other ASEAN nations offered their support. Then the CIA produced satellite photographs of terrorist training camps on the Malaysian mainland and the next phase of the war began.

Ross checks his reflection in the mirror. His dress uniform is immaculate. He adds his service ribbons, checks that they are on straight, then heads out of the hotel.

They’ve provided a Limo for him today so that media can see that Australia knows how to treat a hero. The driver salutes him as he gets into the car. He returns the salute reflexively. So many things in the Army are like that, a response that happens before you even think about it. That was why Aysha had always hated the Army.

Aysha had never asked Ross to leave the Army, but he knew she wanted him to. When she moved into married quarters with him, she still kept an apartment in Melbourne. Her family, her friends, her job, were all outside the Base. He was her only real contact point. The other wives thought she was odd. Aysha encouraged the idea.

On the day they moved into married quarters, the only furniture that Aysha brought along was her big cast-iron bed. That night, after sex that bordered on the ferocious, lying beside her, getting his breath back, he asked her why she’d brought the bed.

“Everything else can be Army issue,” she said, “But in this bed, there will be no Army issues. There will be just you and me.”

Then she’d rolled onto him and said, “Besides, it’s good for tying big strong soldiers to, so that a little thing like me can have her evil way.” She pushed his hands up against the metal bars on the headboard. They both knew they were too exhausted to have another round of sex, but he appreciated the gesture and playfully held onto the bars. As a reward, she kissed him on the mouth and worked her way down his chin to his ear with her tongue before saying. “This is the bed we will conceive our children in.”

When he was sent to Malaysia, Aysha moved off the Base altogether, preferring to stay with her family and friends. “I will not be fed and housed by the organization that is sending my husband to an unjust war.”  It worried Ross that she’d emailed that to him when he was in the field. She knew the Army would read it. It made her sound a bit crazy. It also made her sound pissed off at him. It was the last message he ever got from her.

Ross had arrived in Kuala Lumpur a week after it fell to the Alliance. The conflict was more than a year old by then. Operation Tsunami had become the Pacific War and the popular press had given the enemy a name: Pac Rimmers or Rimmers for short. ‘Rimmer’ soon became a name you shouted at anyone who wasn’t white. Suddenly Aysha and her family were Rimmers even though they had left Malaysia for Australia three generations earlier.

Ross knew KL well, but war had transformed it. On the way from the airfield to his briefing on the first day of his tour of duty, they drove past the still-smouldering stumps of the Petronas Towers. Their destruction by American bombers had echoed around the world. The French called it vandalism. The British said it was regrettable. CNN quoted one US Senator as saying that their destruction was ‘a symbolic balancing of accounts, one set of twin towers for another.’ President Toohey had stayed silent.

The briefing was given by General Frank Applebaum of the US Army. He spoke quietly and unemotionally about what needed to be done. Ross thought he was the scariest officer he had ever met.

“This, gentlemen, is the most dangerous weapon the enemy has.” On a screen behind Applebaum, schematics of a news-cam appeared. “Modern news-cams are small, automated, and highly mobile. Some are even airborne. They transmit their images directly to the Web via encrypted channels. We cannot modify these transmissions and if we jam them, the world will assume we have something to hide. We must win this war twice, once on the ground and once in the media.”

Operation ‘Safe Haven’ has been planned with this in mind. Our enemy is not in the cities, but in the villages, hidden amongst the civilian population, hoping to force us into actions that will evoke memories of Vietnam. But in this war, there will be no massacres, no burning villages, no pictures of little girls covered in napalm. Our mission is to escort the civilian personnel into safe zones under our control, where they can be closely surveilled. We will root out the terrorists from their midst while keeping the civilians safe.”

It sounded so reasonable, even civilized. It took Ross a few seconds to realize that they were going to arrest the whole country. He was wrong about that; they were only trying to arrest the Muslim half of it.

It didn’t go smoothly. The Army planners had expected little resistance. They hadn’t allowed for the rumours that spread through the villages: they were going to extermination camps, the women would be sent to brothels, the children would be adopted by Americans. The first week of ‘Safe Haven’ was a public relations disaster: well-armed troops herding screaming women and children; old men being dragged from the homes they refused to leave; the obvious absence of the young men who had been driven by the Allies into the ranks of the freedom fighters. By the fourth week of his tour, Ross’s platoon would arrive to find the villages already empty, the doors to their houses booby-trapped, and the streets mined. The Allies told the press that religious extremist terrorists where kidnapping whole villages and holding them to ransom. The freedom fighters held press conferences of their own, claiming that they had rescued the Malay people from a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

As the villages emptied, the suicide bombings started in the cities. Ross paid little attention. He became more and more withdrawn. He hated his work and he hadn’t heard from his wife. He began to wonder if she would leave him. He feared losing her much more than he feared Rimmer booby-traps.

“You should never have left me, Ross.”

Aysha’s voice summons Ross back to the present. She is sitting beside him in the limo, dressed in green scrubs, torn at the neck, her face encrusted with blood. One of her teeth is missing.

“Are you all right, Sir?” his driver asks.

Ross realizes that he is pressed up against the door of the limo, as far away from Aysha as he can manage. He forces himself to nod at the driver and settles back into his seat.

(Aysha is dead. Aysha is dead. Aysha is dead).

He closes his eyes and tries to summon an earlier, happier memory of Aysha; the one he met in a KL hospital.

Aysha was the intern assigned to stitch the cut above his eye. He’d tried to speak to her in Malay and made a mess of it. She’d smiled and bowed and not spoken a word of English as she stood above him, sewing him back together. His reaction to her was immediate and instinctive. He couldn’t take his eyes off her: he’d never been that close to a woman so small. She had perfect skin; perfect hair and her breasts were at eye level as he sat there. He didn’t notice the stitches going in; he was too preoccupied wondering how he was going to hide his erection when he stood up. Then he saw her smile and realized that she had already noticed it. He blushed deeply.

When she was done, he tried to stand up, bow, hide his erection and leave all at the same time. He fell over his chair and she caught him. She was stronger than she looked. There was a moment, a fraction of a second when being in her arms felt like everything he’d ever wanted. He stood up and tried to apologize in Malay. She looked at him, hands on her hips and said in a strong Melbourne accent, “So, what part of Oz are you from, Ross?”

At the end of her shift he was in her bed. A week later they were backpacking together on the weekend. They ended up renting a room in a small village. There was no aircon so they slept on the veranda. Except they couldn’t sleep, it was too humid for that. “If we’re gonna sweat anyway,” she’d said, “We may as well enjoy it.” At first they’d tried to be quiet but, cut-off beneath their mosquito net and concealed by the unbroken darkness of the night, they soon forgot their restraint. He was behind her; she was on all fours, making little yelping noises each time he pushed into her, when they heard another couple making love. They stopped. The other couple didn’t. Then a second couple started. Aysha giggled, pressed herself back into him and said, “Better than Viagra, huh?”

Breakfast was communal. They were the subject of many smiles and giggling glances. Then a young woman asked Aysha a question in Malay that made her laugh and clap her hands.

“She wants to know if we are newly-weds. When I asked her why, she said, that it is because we show so much enthusiasm.” Aysha said.

“Tell her, we have been married ever since we met,” Ross said.

Aysha stopped smiling.

“Do you mean that?”

Hoping he wasn’t about to lose her, he replied simply, “I do.”

The formal marriage took place months later. Her family was disapproving. His family was worse. But, in Ross’s mind, their Wedding Breakfast had taken place in that village.

“We’re arriving at Parliament House, Corporal Connor.” Ross’s driver said. “I’ve been advised that the press are waiting and asked to remind you not to give interviews or answers to questions at this time.”

The wording sounded American. Ross wondered whether the Australian government was even taking their advice on how to do PR now.

As he got out of the limo Ross was surrounded by the press. Hovering newscams were banned within the grounds of Parliament House so the reporters were using shoulder-mounted versions, beaming his image around the world.

“Corporal Connor, how does it feel to be a hero?”

“Corporal Connor, do you hold the Army responsible for your wife’s death?”

“Ross, Ross, are you proud to be here today?”

“Ross, how will you feel when you shake President Toohey’s hand?”

Ross ignores the press and thinks back to the day that he became a hero. He was in KL, ready for some leave. He and his crew were a little noisy that night. They’d pushed their way through the security, their uniforms and their accents being id enough, and passed through the blast doors that had been added to what everyone now called “Fortress Radisson”.

Ross dropped his cigarette lighter, bent to pick it up and, as he rose, bumped into a Malay woman who was just coming through the blast door. He bowed to her. She didn’t bow back. Her eyes were wide with fear. She was sweating. She was also seemed to be pregnant but something about her belly didn’t look right.

“Bomb,” he shouted grabbing both of the woman’s wrists. She shouted something. He didn’t understand the words, but he could feel the hate spitting into his face. He pushed her back through the blast doors. He could see the detonator in her hand. He was going to die. Her head exploded. Not a bomb. A bullet. One of the guards had shot her in the head from close range, scared of setting off the bomb if he hit her elsewhere. Covered in her blood and brains, his first thought was the detonator. He caught it as it fell from her hand and held it until the bomb squad arrived. By then her blood had dried on his face.

When they took the detonator from him, he puked, right there in the entrance to the hotel.

“Well done, son. Good reflexes.” At first, Ross thought he was being praised for puking. He looked up and saw that it was General Applebaum talking to him. “Get this boy cleaned up and make sure he has a good time.”

Hours later, stoned on drink and drugs, he still wasn’t having a good time. His head hurt. He kept wiping the girl’s blood off his face, even though it wasn’t there anymore. He wanted his wife. But his wife didn’t reply to his letters. They carried him into a bedroom.

“I want my wife” he shouted, shrugging them off.

“You’re drunk, mate,” one of them said.

“Gotta right to be drunk, he’s a bloody hero,” shouted another, slapping Ross on the back.

“I’m not drunk.” He shrugged them off, swaying on his feet.

There was a struggle at the door, then a woman was thrown on to her knees at Ross’s feet.

“We got you a My Lay, Ross mate.”

A whore. They’d brought him a whore. He doesn’t do whores. It’s not right. Aysha wouldn’t like it. But Aysha doesn’t like him anymore. She doesn’t reply to his letters. She’s abandoned him.

He was still thinking about how badly Aysha was treating him when the woman, head bent, face covered by her long black hair, fumbled with his fly and pulled out his cock.

He reached a hand down to stop her, except it ended up resting on her head. His eyes closed in pleasure as her soft lips closed around him. But the whore was clumsy. When her teeth grazed him Ross pulled back on her hair. He didn’t mean to hurt her. He’s told himself a hundred times since that he would never have hit her. That he only raised his hand reflexively.

She was cowering, looking up at him. It was the first time he’d seen her face since they gave her to him. But it wasn’t the first time he’d seen her. Even stoned, he remembered her. She was the pretty young woman who asked Aysha if they were newly-weds. She saw the recognition in his face and flushed with shame. That’s what sticks in his memory most, that she was the one who was ashamed.

“Get on with it, Bitch.” one of Connor’s crew shouted. “He’s a fucking hero, and he needs a fucking.”

The girl’s eyes widened with fear. Looking up at Ross, she pushed forward, sucking him into her mouth. His men cheered.

“I’ll have her when you’re done, Ross, mate. ‘Course she’ll choke on mine.”

The girl was crying now, keeping her eyes on Ross’s belly and sucking faster.

Ross looked around at the men he thought of as mates, men he’d laughed with, risked his life with, and all he saw was ugliness and hatred. If he stopped now the girl would be beaten. Yet, despite her efforts, he could feel himself going soft in her mouth. He had to play this just right.

“OK, you lot. Show’s over. This hero want fuck lovely lady long time and him no want fucking ugly male audience. Get your hairy arses out of here.”

Ross pushed the girl off his cock, pulled her to her feet, opened her robe and mauled her breasts. Then he looked up, feigning surprise to see his crew.

“You lot still here? Go on. Fuck off and find your own girls.”

There was laughter and jeering but they left.

When the door closed, Ross stepped back. The girl made no effort to cover herself, she just stood, eyes downcast, waiting for him to use her.

Ross left her in the room. He needed to walk. He didn’t care where. He was in a bar in another hotel when the news of the Sydney Opera House Bomb came through on CNN. Toohey was supposed to have been there but she’d cancelled at the last minute. Four hundred people died and the building was completely destroyed.

In a way, it was that bomb that killed Aysha, although she wasn’t in Sydney at the time, she’d been interned in a camp just outside Melbourne.

92% of Australian’s are white, only about 7% are Asian, but as the Pacific War dragged on and Australian troops started to die, it began to seem to the great Australian public that this percentage was uncomfortably high. Toohey’s government had come under pressure from the press to “Do something about Australia’s ‘Resident Rimmers’.” They were spies. They were terrorists. They should be attacked on the streets. Toohey’s response was to bring back internment. The legislation was already there. It had been used to intern Japanese Australians in 1941. This time the list of countries was a little longer.

When news of the internments reached Ross, he hadn’t been surprised; Aysha had warned him that this part of history might repeat itself. It never occurred to him that Aysha would be at risk. She was an Army wife and the Army looks after its own.

Later the Army claimed that there had been a mistake. That they hadn’t realized that Aysha Connor was married to Corporal Ross Connor. But Ross never really believed them. Aysha had broken the rules: she had moved off the Base and she had sent her husband an unpatriotic email. It would be a reflex in the Army to change her classification from “us” to “them”.

The Opera House Bomb shocked Australia.  Within hours, shock turned to anger and anger turned towards the Internment Camps. Someone came up with a slogan that condensed all that anger into a single cohesive impulse: “Ream the Rimmers”. And they did. They reamed them to death.

Like everyone else in the hotel, Ross stayed up watching the news that night. That was how he got to see his wife die.

A BBC journalist had been doing a human interest story on the Camps. Aysha was pretty, articulate and worked in the Camp hospital – perfect fodder for a two-minute segment.  They were just finishing the interview when the mob broke into the hospital. What happened next entered the consciousness of the world.

Ross has seen the segment so many times he can play it in his head. The BBC reporter introduced the piece in a sombre, very British voice: “What you are about to see is disturbing and tragic. We are showing it to you because it lies at the heart of this bitter conflict. Last night, after the tragedy of the Opera House Bomb, a mob broke into this camp. When they reached the hospital they met Doctor Aysha Connor…”

The clip rolls and we see Aysha rush towards the door that the mob are pushing open.

“Stop,” she says. “This is a hospital. We have sick people here. You have to leave.”

Her voice is so calm, so full of authority and so Australian that the mob hesitates for a second, like a wave about to fall back from a beach. For a moment it seems as if this small young woman will turn the tide.

Then someone shouts “Ream the Rimmer Bitch.”

Those at the front are pushed forward by those at the back. Unbelievably, Aysha moves towards them.

“You can’t come in h…”

A huge fist connects with her jaw. She goes down. The mob rolls over her. The cry, “Ream the Rimmer” is repeated. In her struggle to rise to her feet, Aysha’s scrubs are torn and her small breasts exposed. This triggers a frenzy in the mob. Hands rip at her clothing. Another hand is clamped across her mouth. Then they rape her. Aysha is lost from view beneath a pack of bodies. There are no shouts now. No bravado, just hate-driven violence. Then the pack grows still. The men seem to come to themselves. They are looking down at Aysha, naked, bleeding, neck bent at an impossible angle, dead.

The BBC voice comes back. “We interviewed Aysha Connor before her death. She is the wife of Corporal Ross Connor, currently serving in the UDF in Malaysia.  We had just received the news about the Opera House Bomb. This is what she had to say.

It is a shock to see Aysha suddenly alive again. No doubt this is why the BBC showed it in this order.

The BBC reporter asks, “What do you think this bomb means for Australia.”

Aysha looks pale; her eyes are red as if she has been crying. “It means hate. It is bred out of hate and it is meant to produce more hate. We don’t need more hate. We need more forgiveness. But at base, we are all still animals, living off our reflexes, acting on our instincts. We have a need for forgiveness and a need for justice. The presence of one does not obviate the need for other. We have to seek both.”

Her speech would probably never have been aired if Aysha hadn’t died. Many people, including a number of British MPs, felt it shouldn’t have been aired anyway. But the broadcast was made and there was no calling it back.

It was a public relations disaster. Then someone in the Army made the connection between Aysha Connor the martyr and Corporal Connor the hero. Overnight, Ross became “Courageous Corporal Connor, husband of Doctor Aysha Connor.” Now the crisis had an acceptable human face. Ross was called home to be honoured by President Toohey.

After going through the metal detector (even heroes have to go through security before they meet the President), Ross sees a familiar figure; General Applebaum is waiting for him.

The General puts his arm around Ross’s shoulder.

“Good to have you here Connor. Now keep it simple, son. No speeches. Just shake the President’s hand and that will be it.”

Ross absorbs the implications of the fact that the General will be at his side when he finally shakes Toohey’s hand and for the first time that day, he smiles.

The General walks on Ross’ right as they head towards the platform on which President Toohey is waiting. Aysha walks on his left.  She puts her small hand in his.

“Do you know why you’re doing this, Ross?”

Ross doesn’t answer. (Aysha is dead). But he does not let go of her hand.

Images tumble through his mind: of Aysha whispering “This is the bed we will conceive our children in.” Of the shame on the whore’s face; of the blood and brains of the suicide bomber drying on his own face, (good reflexes, son); of Aysha lying dead and bleeding; of Aysha looking into the camera and saying “At base, we are all still animals, living off our reflexes, acting on our instincts. We have a need for forgiveness and a need for justice.”

Ross knows exactly why he is doing this.

President Toohey is giving a speech to the world’s press. It is the perfect photo opportunity: the sun is golden on the circular fountain and the huge Australian flag is flying high above the low-rise Parliament House.

It reminds Ross of a poster Aysha had of President Bush, taken in the first year of the Iraq war. It showed the President in a flight-suit on an aircraft carrier under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished”. Aysha used to say that the irony of the banner always made her smile.

Ross and the General reach the platform and stand behind the President, waiting for the moment when Ross will be honoured.

Ross rubs the scars on his wrists. They are part of the story of Courageous Corporal Connor that the Army didn’t share with the Press. In his own mind, Ross’s life ended when Aysha’s neck snapped. He didn’t deserve to live. He’d done nothing to protect his wife. He hadn’t even tried to find out why she wasn’t writing to him. He’d sulked and played hurt and trusted the Army to look after her. And on the night his wife died, Courageous Corporal Connor had let his men give him a whore to suck his dick. But the worst thing, the very worst thing, was that Aysha was dead. She would always be dead. He knew he couldn’t live with that.

When Ross was told that he was going to be shipped home to be honoured by President Toohey. He said “Thank you, sir. Proud to be of service, sir.” and asked for one last night of R&R. Who would deny a hero some small pleasure? Ross was given a 24-hour pass.

Sitting in a bath of warm water, in his hotel room, Ross slit his wrists and waited for Aysha to appear. He’d chosen a blade and not a gun because he wanted the time to meet her; wanted her to be there while he died.

Aysha didn’t come to him that night. Instead. a room service waiter, delivering a courtesy bottle of champagne to Courageous Corporal Connor, found him shortly after the blood started to flow.

Ross woke up in a civilian hospital, the one he had first met Aysha in. They had been the closest ER and they had managed to save his life. Ross wished they hadn’t bothered.

The Doctor who came to examine him was Malaysian. He waited for the Doctor’s pep talk on depression and prepared himself to ignore it.

“I knew Aysha, Corporal Connor. I can understand your grief. You, perhaps, can understand my anger.”

Ross was paying attention now. The Doctor spoke with the quiet certainty of someone with nothing left to lose. Ross knew exactly how that felt.

“Answer me one question, Corporal Connor,” the Doctor asked. “Do you want to waste your life or do you want to spend it?”

Ross brought his attention back to the platform. President Toohey was heading for the big sound bite.

“These have been terrible times.” she said, “Terrible things have been done. In honouring Corporal Connor today we are honouring not only of his valour in the face of hate but also the valour of his wife in the face of equally strong hate. We have learned that hatred breeds hatred. We have to hope that forgiveness breeds forgiveness.”

As the audience applauds, Ross thinks about the dentistry the Doctor arranged for him that night; about the recordings he has made ready for broadcast after today’s ceremony; about the way the world will react. But behind all of these thoughts, there is one constant drumbeat: AyshaisdeadAyshaisdeadAyshaisdeadAyshaisdead.

Aysha had believed in a basic instinct for justice and forgiveness. Ross had found that he could not forgive himself, he could not forgive his country, but, with the Doctor’s help, he could seek justice.

“Today is not about celebrating victory.” Toohey says. “It is about sending the world a message. We must lay the ghost of terror. We must find a path from fear and hatred to forgiveness and peace. Corporal Connor and his wife are a symbol for us all.”

Ross steps up to the President. He does not believe her speech. He will not make one of his own. As instructed he will shake her by the hand like a good solider and that will be it. Except, he doesn’t release her hand. He grips it tightly, pulling her towards him, folding her to his chest. The security men move towards him but he is too fast (Good reflexes, Connor). He has been dead since the day that the mob killed his wife. This just makes it official. He bites down hard, cracking the ceramic molar implant and the detonating the plastic explosive within it that will destroy the platform and everyone on it.

2 thoughts on ““Reflexes” By Mike Finn – in a future war in the Pacific an Australian soldier struggles to hold on to what is important

  1. I just read this for the first time this morning. Not sure why I hadn’t noticed it sooner. In any case, from the opening paragraph, it demanded to be read completely. A powerful short story that simply hits the nail square on the head. How timely it was when you penned it and how it timely it is, now, a decade later. And how sad is that? How enraging?

    What a gift you have, Mike (I’ve always thought so since the first time I ever read one of your stories), and thank you for sharing that gift.


    Liked by 1 person

    • HI Rose,

      I’m glad you liked this one. It’s one of my favourites, even though there’s so much anger and hate in it.

      I wrote it back in 2003 when The War On Terror was still a new thing.

      I haven’t read it in a while but I re-read it when I saw your comment and I think it still stands up.

      Anyway, thanks for reading it and commenting on it. It’s good to know it’s being read.


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