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The Hero

Trina is the Senior Writer and Creative Futurist at SciFutures, a science fiction prototyping shop in Burbank, CA. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. She has also worked with NATO and the USMC on military futuring and is a member of SFWA.
Captain Max Stone stood in the spotlight in the packed battlefield theater, extolling the virtues of courage and loyalty in the war against the Graths. This broadcast was reaching billions of people over five planets. The hot-climate uniform he was wearing served no purpose here other than to show off his deeply gnarled scars and functional, but very mechanical, prosthetics; symbols of humanity's truly brave warriors. Max pounded the podium, raised his metal fist and his voice, whipping everyone into a patriotic, Grath-hating frenzy.
This was all he was good for anymore.
He finished his speech to thunderous applause. General Trask strode on stage to give him a hearty handshake. Max looked forward to giving him much more later, when they were home. In truth, Max wearied of these events. Seven years he'd been fighting, or rallying others to fight, for a war he wasn't sure he believed in anymore. But the General needed him. Wanted him. What would he be if he didn't have that?
That question had been plaguing him for a while now, and tonight was no different as he sat in the O club nursing a Kepler Sour. The acid scars on his face alone would have guaranteed him a free round, but with everything on display, he wouldn't pay for a drink all night. Newer officers would look at him in awe, slap him on the back and utter their thanks. Long-timers showed their respect, but he could see in their eyes when they were glad they weren't him. They didn't have the guts to wear the symbols of patriotism as brazenly as he did. They would have accepted the cosmetic repairs and continued forward with their normal, mundane lives. But then, they didn't have the love of the General.
Right on schedule, at this point in his reasoning, was when the General would show up. His hard, warm hand clapped on the back of his shoulder, left there just a little longer than necessary. One more shared drink and talk about how well the show went, and then they would head home.
Though he could barely feel anything, Max watched with anticipation as the General ran his tongue along the thick network of scars down his left thigh to the end of his nub. When the General turned to bites hard enough to break through the keloids it ignited the fire in the flesh below, making Max moan. As he bit and teased his way back up, Max loved the feel of the General's hard, grizzled body pressing against the undamaged skin of his left side, though the General didn't spend much time there. That wasn't what made Max a hero.
Afterwards, they lay tangled, the General's head against his scarred shoulder, warm, complete. Max finally got brave enough to ask the question.
"Would you love me if I wasn't scarred?"
The General huffed. "Don't be stupid," he said, then drifted off to sleep, leaving Max alone and wondering in the darkness.
The next morning, Max checked himself into the military hospital. Terrified, not because of the cosmetic procedures, but of what he might find on the other side. Confronting his greatest fears--futility, insignificance--loneliness. This is what a brave man would do, wasn't it? And wasn't he supposed to be the bravest of them all?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 22nd, 2017

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