While technically taking place in Bolivia, the feel of the setting oozes Vietnam. The U.S. has a draft in place, and its GIs are fighting in oppressive jungle against guerrillas. Everyone dreams of getting the million-dollar wound: “A million-dollar wound is your ticket home. A clean shot through the thigh muscle, a little blood, a little hurt. Keep it clean and it heals right up, but first they give you a Purple Heart and send you Stateside.”
Billy, one of the troop, gets a bullet through the thigh exactly like that, and gets sent off to the hospital with a grin on his face. But medical technology has improved. He returns three weeks later, no limp, a few tiny scars, with nine months of his tour of duty left to go.
Not long after Billy gets struck by napalm, losing his hand and much of his face. Three months later he’s returned to the unit almost as good as new. Frank loses a foot. He comes back with a new foot. And they start to hear rumours that the draft back home has ended; not because the war’s coming to a close, but because the medics can now repair any injury. They have all the soldiers they need; they’ll just keep repairing the same ones over and over.
Nicely creepy. The months left of the tour of duty are effectively used; no matter how much time passes, the end always seems so insufferably far away.
The Million-Dollar Wound by Dean Whitlock
Availability: print only
Word count: 2,800
First published: Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan 1987
Where to find it: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, 1994, St Martin’s Press
Best New SF 2, edited by Gardner Dozois, 1988, Robinson