Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

He nailed that card to the hull of my bird and said: “Don’t you be takin’ it off. Shows people what y’are.”

I looked at that Ace of Spades and I’m not ashamed to admit it, I cried. Timmy and his posse stalked off all righteous-like, while I stood on a deck speckled with my fallen tears.

“You got a choice, Jensen Bard.”

I turned to see Rosalie, smiling like she always did and offering me a cup of something brewed in the spare cooling system off her bird. I took it an’ choked down a half-cup, crying more but feeling better.

“What choice, Rosalie Crane?”

She pointed to the ragged card: “You gonna let that be the memorial for your flight? The mark of a reaper and the repute of someone who may not be a coward, but fled anyway? T’ain’t no crime to survive. It’s just that some of our flyboys got too much Kamikaze and not enough Art of War in their heads.”

I grinned at that. She grinned right back.

“I can tell you gots an idea, Rosalie. Let me in on it.”

“I got an idea, but we’re not gonna be sleepin’ and you better get Flag-Chief Denners in here to approve it.”

Next morning Timmy led his flight down to the bay and I saw him up his swagger as he entered. Then his pace went awry and he stopped. His posse just stared, hollered and pointed.

My bird had a glorious Ace of Spades blazoned right up both sides of the tail fin, all done with filigree paintwork – it had taken ages to programme the painterbots. Down one side of the Ace there were the names and numbers of all eleven of my lost flight. Across the bottom was the banner ‘Fighting to Honour the Fallen’.

Timmy got his act together and barked a laugh as he pointed. None of his posse did. When I walked out, they came to attention and snapped salutes. Timmy hunched his shoulders and stomped off. I’d have trouble with him, but it was trouble we could settle in the dojo. Out here, I’d be a Flight Captain again. I had no doubts, and saw no doubts on the faces before me.

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