Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

With a smile, I lay the Ace of Spades across the Queen of Cups.
Garv howls.
“Oh, come on. You’re going to death card my royal flush?”
I point to the stack of food tabs and leisure coins.
“There’s two weeks good eating and nineteen hours R&R in there. Playing nice doesn’t get me fed and watered.”
He tosses in a hand of hearts and cups.
“You should warn people when you go from entertainer to card shark.”
“I did when I bid and captured Charlie’s hand.”
Charlie looks up from her tablet and nods.
“When the bidding starts, the playing is over. Oldest rule in the book.”
I lean forward and flick my way through the discarded hand.
“You said royal flush. I see no Knight.”
Garv shrugs.
“He was sure to come off the top. I could feel it.”
Bonny reaches out and flips over the top three cards of the deck.
“Ace of Wands, Seven of Diamonds, Jack of Spades… Your sixth sense is pants at cards as well as on the line.”
Garv throws his hands up in horror.
“You jinxed it! Just like you did with that strider yesterday.”
He looks hurt when everybody in hearing range bursts out laughing.
Sergeant Cleaves quotes the opening sentence in a good imitation of Garv’s voice.
“Hey Sarge, it’s only a crawler!”
Charlie sputters out the next line, complete with whining emphasis.
“It’s growing! Can they do that?”
Then we chorus the line that’ll likely be carved on Garv’s headstone.
“Bonny, it’s too big!”
Garv stands up, hands on hips.
“I meant it was too big to be a crawler! Didn’t know striders could creep along low to the ground.”
Bonny blows him a kiss.
“We know what you meant, sweetie.”
Garv waves his arms about in frustration.
“If I didn’t have to fight in this war with you, you could all go fuck yourselves!”
Charlie kicks his legs out from under him, grabs his head in a choke hold, then rubs her cheek through his hair.
“You know I’d rather fuck you, darling.”
Garv blushes so red it’s impossible to hide. Charlie releases her hold and he runs for it, catcalls and laughter in his wake.
Bonny wipes tears from her eyes.
“Charlie, you’ve got a fan there.”
She chuckles.
“Story of my life: they realise they fancy me, then they run.”
Sergeant Cleaves catches her semi-mournful comment as he joins us.
“You mean all those Dadderoi were in love with you?”
He grins. We laugh. Charlie dumping a fuel hopper over her armoured suit and doing a flaming charge had caught them flat-pseudopodded. They’d retreated in disarray from one lunatic trooper. It had been a moment. Wish we’d got it on video.
She grins up at the sarge.
“Pretty sure they’d love to do something to me.”
Bonny nods.
“Yup. The same thing they’d like to do to all of us.”
Cleaves points to the spread of cards on the table.
“So far, we’re the Ace of Spades to all their plays. Let’s keep it that way.”
Glasses are raised.
“Amen to that.”