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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 11[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Jump Point Rendezvous[]

Klathandu System, Jump Point
Federated Suns
August 3029

To her surprise, Anastasia woke up with only a mild headache. She dressed quickly and looked down at the 'Mech charm. She stayed in the private cocoon of her bed chamber and thought about the events of last night. She probably owed Harold an apology for a few things she said, particularly the "better wife" comment. She also considered that maybe she was being a little too forward. She liked being close to Harold, and thought he felt the same way, but he seemed uncomfortable. Now she knew it wasn't that he didn't like her, he just wanted to get to know her before things got too serious.

Anastasia sighed, Harold was a class act, he'd been looking out for her since they met, and last night was an amazing display of constraint and kindness. He even held her hair while she was sick. If Harold wanted her to slow down she'd try, but it was going to be hard for her because she liked to be held, and snuggled, and put her head on his big muscular shoulder. When they were watching the movie and he had pulled her into him that was exactly what she wanted, which was why she was trying to pull him over to her when it happened.

She heard something large hit the deck and knew it was Joker jumping out of the bed above her. She waited a moment. She wasn't ready to deal with him yet. He enjoyed tormenting her, and she had taken his money last night. She also wanted to ask Harold if she owed Joker an apology for anything she had said or done. There were parts of last night that were a little foggy for her.

She opened up her bed chamber and found Hap sitting on the edge of his bed putting on his boots. He looked up at her and gave her a concerned look, "Hey. How are you feeling?"

Anastasia smiled, "Good morning, Harold. I'm fine, just a mild headache." She said as she pushed herself off her bed. She wanted to sit with him and talk, really she wanted to get him into his bed compartment, close the door, and curl up under the blankets with him, and figure out their relationship. She was starting to understand how much she really didn't understand about relationships.

She rarely saw or interacted with anyone her own age growing up, and most of her relationships at NAIS were, at best, rivalries. She knew how to keep someone at arm's length. She saw how her parents interacted and they had a wonderful and healthy relationship. Anastasia had no idea of how to go from just meeting someone to what they had. She had also watched her freshman year roommate throw herself at men, get abused, and wonder why her "man of the month" didn't respect her. Anastasia knew her roommate was a fool, but now she knew she was doing similar things with Harold.

"May I sit with you?" Anastasia asked

Hap looked at her confused, "Yes. Of course, you don't have to ask."

She grabbed her boots as she stepped across the hall and sat down next to him. "I think I may need to apologize for some of the things I said or did last night."

"We were both drunk. I don't think either of us are going to remember last night too clearly. We might have said some things we probably shouldn't have, but I doubt there is anything to apologize for."

"Do you think we 'need to slow down'?"

Hap nodded, but instead of saying yes he asked, "You think you could be 'a better wife'?"

Better than the contentious shrew that hurt him and made him hesitant to take a chance on her. Oh easily, Anastasia thought to herself. She nodded, but said, "I probably shouldn't have said that."

Hap smiled, "You're not saying it, but I can tell you definitely think you could be a 'better wife'."

Before Anastasia could say anything Joker entered the hallway.

"Good morning Anastasia!" He said nearly shouting "How are you doing? Last night you weren't looking too good." She knew he was talking loud trying to aggravate her headache.

"Good morning, Joker." Anastasia said quietly.

"Take it easy on Anastasia, Joker. She had a hard time sleeping last night." Hap said, "She had that big wad of poker winnings to sleep on."

"Some of that was your money." Joker huffed.

Before they could start fighting Hap suggested they get breakfast. McFinnigan was glad to see Anastasia up and moving. He was concerned she might have had too much to drink. Hap apologized for how the poker game ended and McFinnigan laughed. He reminded Hap the purpose of the game was to get to know them, and he certainly learned a lot. McFinnigan told them that they still had a few hours before they docked with the JumpShip and he mentioned that would be enough time to repaint the Valkyrie.

Hap got the hint and took Anastasia and Joker down to the 'Mech Bays and got the Valkyrie painted with McFinnigan tartan colors before the ships docked. They cleaned up, packed their few belongings and met McFinnigan and Roweyna at the main hatch.

The DropShip docked with the JumpShip and they started to get warnings and information from the JumpShip. They had about 45 minutes to move between DropShip. It was a quick trot across several decks of the JumpShip. but they made it with several minutes to spare.

At the main hatch for the Tir A Nog they were met by a lanky man smoking a cigarette, and a woman that looked like a slightly older and slightly taller version of Roweyna. Unlike her daughter her hair was red with blonde or silver streaks. She gave everyone a warm smile as McFinnigan introduced his wife to everyone and them to Mrs. Elinor McFinnigan. She was extremely likable and gracious. The man was James "Fletch" Fletcher. He was the XO for the mercenary company. He had a no nonsense demeanor and as McFinnigan started walking Fletch went down a list of various business matters.

Elinor and Roweyna started talking like mother and daughter as Joker, Hap and Anastasia followed behind. Anastasia noticed that the mother and daughter began whispering and Elinor gave Harold a few strange looks. Anastasia wondered what Roweyna was telling her mother.

Within a few minutes they found themselves in the galley of the shuttle. It was, like the other DropShip, setup like an Irish Pub, except this one had "Fiddler's Green" over the bar. It was full of people. There were families, children, Anastasia even noticed a cat on the bar.

When McFinnigan entered the room it got mostly quiet, a baby was cooing and there were a few young children running around but everyone else was still. He smiled at everyone and shook a few hands as he moved to the dais with its own table at the front of the bar.

The ship's public address system warned the jump was imminent. Hap, Anastasia, and Joker sat at a table in the center of the pub that happened to empty. The ten second count started and parents grabbed children. Roweyna picked up the cat as she sat on the bar stool. There was a low hum and everything started to shake, then everything seemed to stretch and suddenly there was a loud clap. Everything returned to normal. Anastasia had a momentary feeling of sickness, but it passed quickly.

McFinnigan stood up. "As some of you may know we're on our way to Monhegan. We're going to protect the planet's star port for a few weeks so the planet garrison can enjoy the holidays. It'll take a couple weeks to get there, but it will also be easy duty." As he spoke there were cheers from the crowd.

"And no cadets or new lieutenants?" Someone across the pub called out, and there were more cheers.

"We need to talk about that" McFinnigan held up his hands to calm the crowd, "I'm sure most of you have noticed I brought strangers with me. I know some of you are thinking, 'oh no the old man found another stray like David Lee'." There were a few laughs, and Anastasia saw commotion at the table next to them. There was a young Asian man sitting at the table and his table mates were nudging him.

McFinnigan continued, "Well I think we can all agree, David Lee's proven to be a valuable member of this company." There was a few cheers from the table next to Anastasia, "But let me show who I found."

The lights dimmed and wall mounted view screens flicked on. The screens were black but their speakers were on and everyone heard, "Commander, were getting a distress call on the guard channel."

McFinnigna's voice came next, "Aye. Push it into my chamber."

Anastasia heard her voice, "This is Cadet Valois. I'm isolated, and being pursued by a heavy lance. Requesting immediate assistance or evac."

"Do ye have a visual?" McFinnigan asked.

A picture popped up on the screen it looked like it was from a satellite or high altitude recon vehicle. The screen showed a large sweeping forested plain. The screen zoomed in and Anastasia saw her Valkyrie being pursued by the Quickdraw and the Thunderbolt.

Erik's voice came next, "This is a rabbit hunt. We know how this will end, the hounds will rip her apart."

McFinnigan replied, "Aye, perhaps." And they didn't speak for a few moments. Anastasia watched as she tried to out run the two 'Mechs. Instinctively she reached for Hap's hand as she remembered this moment. She was trying to lose the 'Mechs in a heavily forested area by jumping as far as the 'Mech would take her and every few leaps she'd spin around and launch a salvo of missiles at the Quickdraw.

Between the spinning and firing she accidentally jumped into a clearing and the Grasshopper went full throttle and closed the distance with her. As she tried to leap way he fired every weapon he had at her and at the same time the Thunderbolt hit her with his large laser and long range missiles. Although a few of the Quickdraw's lasers missed, and several of the missiles sailed past her, the barrage caught her mid-air. The lasers and missiles melted and blasted armor from all over her 'Mech and the sudden loss of weight and impact from the blows to make her 'Mech start to tumble in mid-air.

"I think that's it commander. She's gonna fall and they'll tear that her apart."

Anastasia's mouth went dry as she remembered her panic trying to keep the 'Mech upright. The Valkyrie landed hard on her left foot and the right foot swept backwards like a ballerina. The Quickdraw kept running and Valkyrie hit him with her own missiles and then with a snap of the arm the Valkyrie's medium laser shot a beam right into the Quickdraw's head. It wasn't powerful enough to breach the cockpit but it made the Quickdraw pilot pause.

There was a cheer from the tables around her as the Valkyrie started moving again and the Thunderbolt's laser missed her. Anastasia couldn't believe they were cheering for her.

"Looks like the rabbit hunt is still on." Erik's voice said over the monitor

"That's not a rabbit, that's a fox. It has some teeth and claws, and I dare say the hounds will remember next time they try to corner her." McFinnigan said. It was clear he was excited.

Anastasia heard her own voice start to request help again but this time it was interrupted by Harold. She squeezed his hand and felt the same reassuring pressure. The room full of Mercenaries laughed at the banter between Tuna and Joker as Hap directed Anastasia and yelled at his subordinates.

"Why do you think they aren't moving to help her?" Erik asked.

"Not sure. The FedCom and RDMM were in full retreat to their marshalling point. The fact anyone is still out here is a bit of a miracle."

The screen changed to a tactical view of a topographical map. In a moment it highlighted seven blue triangles and dozens of red triangles. The screen zoomed in on three blue triangles moving west from Anastasia's position. The computer reported it was a Commando, a Phoenix Hawk and a Vulcan.

"I think this is the fox's lance. They seem to have abandoned her. Those damn cadets, why'd they leave her?" There was anger in McFinnigan's voice. The screen zoomed back out then zoomed in on the other blue triangles. It identified the Griffin but the second triangle disappeared a few times before the system marked it, "unknown 35 tons". It struggled with the third triangle before marking it "unknown 50 tons".

"So these are the ones that are trying to help the Fox. That canyon looks like a good place for an ambush. I suspect Hooligan four and his lance are real soldiers, pity those damn bastards that left their lance mate can't see how real professionals work."

The view switched back to the live view. Anastasia watched as the Quickdraw was closely following her Valkyrie until a barrage of missiles hit him just as he landed. The Quickdraw started to deviate its path and the Valkyrie started to get further away from him.

There were more cheers as the recorded McFinnigan laughed, "Aye. They're pros."

There was a third voice. "Looks like the lance moving west is headed toward another drop zone. I have another Leopard on my scanners."

"Aye Hawkins. I should have guessed we weren't the only ones paid to pull these royal ass pains out." McFinnigan said annoyed.

Harold and Anastasia started talking on the radio again, and Anastasia saw herself pause in front of the cliff. The Thunderbolt and Quickdraw shot at her and she ran into the narrow crack in the stone. Just as the Valkyrie got in position next to the Griffin the Quickdraw entered the narrow canyon. Joker's Firestarter jumped out of the smoke and fire and attacked the Quickdraw from behind as there was a low murmur from around the room. When the Quickdraw turned to address the light 'Mech the Hunchback stepped out of the smoke. There was claps and cheers and someone yelled, "That'll teach you to pick on someone your own size."

"Hawkins, I'm looking at the tactical display, these poor bastards are good, but their cut off. Do we have enough fuel to burn to go and grab them?"

As he spoke the Hunchback destroyed the Quickdraw. There were more cheers from around the pub.

"Already made the calculations Commander." Hawkins replied

The camera lost the view of the battle field as the Leopard changed direction. When the canyon came back into view the Hunchback shot its main cannon at the Thunderbolt, but it seemed unphased.

"A Thunderbolts a hell of a machine," Erik said, "With it's thirteen tons of Ryerson 150 armor it can take a couple hits from the Hunchback's AC 20 before the pilot has to worry."

"Aye. It looks like the Firestarter harassed him though so that'll keep him from using his main-" McFinnigan stopped mid-sentence as the Hunchback shot the Thunderbolt again and the Thunderbolt responded by raising its fist overhead and bringing it down on the Hunchback's cockpit. From the higher angle of the Leopard's cameras it was obvious the head was crushed and the pilot was certainly dead.

There were curses and gasps around the room. Anastasia felt Harold squeeze her hand this time. She glanced over at him but his eyes were fixed on the screen, but she could see him blinking away a tear.

The battle continued as the three remaining 'mechs destroyed the Thunderbolt. As the right side of the Mech exploded there was more cheers. The way people reacted made Anastasia felt like they had just won a Solaris VII match. The Leopard dropped altitude again and the camera lost the view of the hill. The screen switched back to the topographical map. There was only three blue triangles now, but there seemed to be more red triangles.

"Commander, they're massing light 'Mechs on their position and bringing in indirects." Hawkins said.

"Aye, Patch me into the guard channel."

The screen went blank and lights came back up.

A dark haired young woman was walking between tables passing out cold pints of dark beer. She set out three in front of Anastasia and her lance mates. As Anastasia looked around she could see several of the men and woman were looking at her and her friends with respect. She got a couple nods and lifted glasses she grabbed her glass and returned the gestures as Harold and Joker did the same.

McFinnigan was back on the dais. "So now you know the caliber of the three MechWarriors I brought into the family. Before I introduce them, let's take a minute for their lance mate. I only saw him for a few moments, but he died a warrior's death. He held his position, fought next to brother and sister, stacked skulls, and gave his enemy hell. Somedays I think it's the best any of us can hope for."

Someone in the back yelled, "Gnó Teaghlaigh" and there were more shouts of the same.

McFinnigan smiled wryly, "Aye that's the Family Business." He drank and everyone followed. "To the family." He said as everyone drank again, "And the ones who can't be with us tonight." He added. Everyone finished their pint and again the dark haired girl was rushing between tables exchanging empty glasses for full ones.

McFinnigan accepted a fresh pint and motioned to Harold to stand. "This is Harold 'Haphazard' or 'Hap' Calahad. He piloted the Griffin. He tells me his strategies tend to be a little random or improvised, but I assure you he has a good head on his shoulder." Hap gave a small wave to the room before sitting down.

McFinnigan motioned to Joker. "This is William 'Joker' Cameron. Ye talk to him for a few minutes and you'll know why they call him Joker. Ye heard him on the radio transmission too. And you can see, like any good prankster and nuisance he's a good Firestarter pilot."

"Hap assigned me to a Firestarter, so I could be just as big a pain-in-the-ass to the enemy as I was to him."

"Aye, and that should tell ye all you need to know about Joker." McFinnigan said. "Now sit down."

As Joker sat down McFinnigan motioned to Anastasia, "Now I know how ye all loved working with the Federated Suns and the Commonwealth's finest cadets and new officers."

There was a collective groan from around the room.

"Aye, and as a good patriarch, I decided we should have one to keep." McFinnigan said magnanimously.

There was laughter all around, and the loudmouth in the corner called out, "At least it's a cute one."

Anastasia blushed as McFinnigan replied, "I didn't hire her for her looks, or because she gave some sob story, Brendan. This is the Valkyrie pilot that eluded, harassed and, in the end, led two greater 'mechs and probably more experienced MechWarriors into an ambush. She might come from one of those elitist and entitled schools, but I assure you, she's a hard worker and has a place among us. This is Anastasia Valois. Now, welcome your new brothers and sister into the family."

Everyone was on their feet in an instant and Anastasia felt overwhelmed as men and woman from all over the galley came up and introduced themselves, congratulated her and Harold and Joker, and shook her hand or gave her a hug. She couldn't keep track of half the names or who the people were. There were also lots of children of all ages. It was the most bewildering thing for her.

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