Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Stan punches my shoulder as I use part of a Glenniser weapon to fix his rifle.

“Is there anything you can’t do?”

I grin and cuff him toward the battle.

Things I can’t do? Her father knew – I can still hear his words: “You fought for my daughter during war. Can you do the same during peace?”

Turned out, I didn’t have a bastard clue how to do that. All the being nice to assholes and ignoring insults from those who hadn’t the faintest clue what we’d been through. I couldn’t see how she did it so effortlessly. It was like she’d always been a lady of Ecra Colony: competent at everything from tasking sanitary nanites to making the assholes do useful things for everyone, not just themselves. It baffled me. Which, I admit, added to my frustration.

Something had to give: in the end, it was Larry Dalde’s right arm. When I saw his service patches, I thought I’d found a brother who would help me work off the fury, just like we always did. When he pretended not to know the ritual, I thought he was ragging me to get a better fight. Actually, he was one of the petty fools who pretended to have served. Standing over him as he screamed, blood spraying from his emptied shoulder socket, I finally acknowledged that I couldn’t ‘do’ peace.

The colony tribunal agreed. They didn’t even let me apologise to her before I was exiled to the frontier. Which saved my life. While I was in transit, the Glenniser renewed hostilities by pillaging a dozen colonies, including Ecra.

“Anders! Left flank! There’s a power suit leading them in!”

I leap from the crater and cross the blasted landscape in ten-metre strides. The power suit’s wearer doesn’t register me until my blast boots hit the side of its torso and do what they’re designed to do: crack it open. We fall in opposite directions, but only I get up. Stan’s already crouched nearby, covering my back.

“Both boots in the heart-side armpit. They’ll have to rewrite the manual for that one.”

“Only if we live to tell. Move!”

Stan’s off and I’m by his side, faster than fate and deadlier than vengeance.

As we clear the ridge and see their forces milling about in the ruins of the colony below, I realise that since she died, I’ve never even allowed myself to think of her name.

It comes out as a whisper, but it may as well be a war cry: “Madeline, I’m home.”