Author: Josie Gowler

Since I woke up in the base hospital, there’s been a steady stream of people coming and going and being nice to me in between. The burns on my hands are being dealt with: they don’t hurt at all now. The skin just feels tight under the bandages.

When I landed last week I elbowed open the cockpit, tumbled out of the pilot’s seat and slid down the side of the ship: it was really hard to descend when I couldn’t use my hands. It did, however, look planned and a little bit elegant; I then wrecked the essential dignity of the occasion by vomiting on the deck.

I didn’t think the assembled crap-hats had expected that. The cheers rang around the bay regardless, with lots of “Well done”s and “Good show”s (what was this, the nineteenth century?)

“This’ll shorten the war,” I heard a medic saying, out of breath from rushing over to me.

Too right it will, I thought, as my cheek hit the cold floor and I passed out.

And now I’m here, and the news outlets – skipping the footage of my actual landing – think I’m some sort of hero. I thought that Jayce would have something sensible to say, but she rushes in then pauses to catch her breath. “They’ve surrendered!” she gasps. “The big green bastards have actually surrendered!” She kisses me. “You did it!”

“Well, not really,” I reply between snogs. “It was the T-cell boffins that did the hard work. Folks like you.” That’s how I met her: the one thing I can be grateful for.

She kisses me again. “Only you could have got their DNA in the first place. Only you could have piloted the ship back to drop the payload off. Only you could have made it back through all that railgun fire.”

I’m about to say something when we both spot General Stanley marching along the corridor. “Great,” I mutter.

Jayce kisses me on the forehead and whispers in my ear, “Cheer up. Maybe as our next feat we boffins can gene edit him into not being an arsehole. Or into a domesticated non-aggressive arsehole, if nothing else.” She giggles and flees.

The General launches into a boring pre-prepared speech even though I’m the only one in the room.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” I quote when he pauses for breath.

“Nietzsche? Oh, come now. If you’d really had concerns you wouldn’t have volunteered. And later on, when you’re better and you think about what you’ve done, you’ll be proud of yourself.” He resists the urge to shake my hand and pats me on the shoulder instead.

I smile as the door swings shut behind him, because that’s what’s expected of me. I don’t sigh. I don’t scream. I do roll the syllables of the word genocide around in my head.

And I never thought the word hero could taste so bitter.