Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

In a room devoid of décor, two chairs face each other across a table barely wide enough to be called a bench. Everything shows the khaki swirls of extruded Replast. In the left hand seat, a young man in filthy rags sits in a pose of tired resignation. Opposite, in many ways, sits a young woman in the uniform of a Major in the Ministry of Defence.

“Please speak clearly. This interview is being recorded and witnessed.” She smiles after she speaks; an encouragement.

“I must have given my statement a dozen times over the last week.” The tramp seems unimpressed, but his shoulders straighten.

“This will be the last time. Full and formal record.”

“Okay. How would you like it presented?”

“Tell the version you gave to the Draft Evasion Board.”

He leans back and stares at the ceiling. His voice betrays an education at odds with his appearance.

“It was ten years ago, just after the first conscription draft intake. We were in the same barracks. As you know, that draft was split into units after the first three months. I ended up in the scutwork battalion. He got into the new army cadre. I never figured it out, just got on with it. UNE profiling gave us the jobs we could do best, so I did my bit.”

She leaned forward: “Then came the Advent City Incident.”

“We all watched the news. The firestorm, the ship coming down, the recruits getting massacred trying to protect the townsfolk. Then the camera picked up a lone figure at extreme range, hanging off the old mine workings on a firing sling with a Trapenor Missile Launcher. Firing that monster was suicide; he’d bring the hillside down on himself for sure. But at that range, the missile would penetrate the Khomin’s shields and hull. We cheered like everyone else when he gave his life to save so many. We were so damn proud. A conscript had become the first hero of the Human-Khomin War. Everyone was fired up.”

“Until the hero was named.” She sat back and crossed her legs.

He grimaced: “It took them a week to recover his body. I was just out of the showers when someone slapped me on the back and told me I was a hero. When I heard the news, I went to our battalion office and made some enquiries. They told me my name was Gustav and that I should stop messing about. I got really angry. So they sedated me. I woke up in an ‘Unsuitable for Service’ workhouse.”

“Which you escaped from and disappeared. Until eight days ago.”

His grin was infectious: “Wouldn’t you? All of a sudden, I was a lunatic and my mum had a dead hero for a son.”

“So why did you come back?”

“Mum died two weeks ago. She’d had the support of a grateful Earth in her waning years, something far better than I could have given her. But now she’s gone, and the war is two years past. It’s time for the truth to be revealed. There is no way that a five-month recruit could have rigged an ad-hoc sniper harness on those mine ruins, let alone overcome the safety limiters and proximity locks on a Trapenor.”

“Say it clearly, please.”

There is a silence as he gathers himself. It reminds her of an animal shaking off the concealment it has risen from.

“My name is Leon Sprake. The man you have named streets, warships and memorials after was an identity thief, and I think we all need to know who he really was.”

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