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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 41[]

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A Warrior's Family[]


Nice Quiet Private Picnic[]

Monhegan
October 3029


Anastasia showed Hap the barracks rooftop. Even though she had described it as a garden, he was surprised to find a comfortable area nestled between the barrack's HVAC infrastructure. Someone had installed an awning, setup planter boxes, and a large ceramic and iron "fire pit" bowl. They also left weather-beaten furniture under the awning and a pile of seasoned firewood.

Hap and Anastasia walked up to one of the planters that had a clear glass-like case on it. "When you said there were flowers up here, I wondered how it was possible in November." Hap examined the planter's case. The material was hard and clear like glass but Hap assumed it was a plastic. The roof was designed to drain water into the case, and there were vent holes for insects to move in and out of the cases.

"We were surprised to find the plants and the 'green house' boxes. Whoever had built this had invested some time and energy in the plants." Anastasia said as Hap looked around. He could see roses in one of the boxes, other boxes had thick bushes, or exotic the flowers. Some of the boxes had missing or damaged toppers. Those boxes had some plants that were still clinging to life, but it was evident the cold fall weather had ended the growing season for most of the exposed plants.

One of the boxes seemed to contain weeds. When Hap opened the box he got the strong scent of mint. He recognized the leaf from the packing of "mint flavored" food products. There were a few other plants among the mints, but the mint was the most prevalent.

"This is an amazing find." Hap said as he looked over the area. He picked a worn, and sun-bleached lounge chair and moved it to a good vantage point for the starport's lights when the sun went down.

"Some of what you're seeing is actually just the potential of this garden. Kate assured us, next spring all this should bloom beautifully." Anastasia dragged a lounger right next to Hap's chair. "Do you mind starting a fire? I'd like to go change into something more comfortable." Anastasia said.

Hap nodded. He wasn't going to argue with that. As Anastasia left he found a small stack of dry wood and a half used book of matches from a ration pack. He stacked up a few small pieces of wood in the fire bowl and dug in the picnic basket for paper wrappers and the receipt to use for kindling. He managed to start a fire with little effort.

Hap reposition the loungers closer to the fire pit. It hadn't felt cold, but now that he had a fire he wanted to be near it. He laid out the contents of the picnic basket as he waited for Anastasia to return. Hap wasn't sure about everything that she had purchased, but it did look like a complete meal for two. In the bottom of the basket he found a knife, a corkscrew, a small cutting board, and wine glasses.

Hap had finished cutting the apple and pepper when Anastasia returned. She was wearing a simple loose-fitting off-white shirt and skirt. Hap noted most of Anastasia's clothes were fitted to her, but this particular outfit was not. She smiled as she sat down next to Hap and selected a bottle of wine.

"Sorry I took so long, I was reading my mother's letter." She said as she expertly removed the wine cork.

Hap watched her pour, and accepted a glass of wine, "What didn't the countess have to say?"

"She's struggling. The loss of daddy effects in her ways she wouldn't have guessed. She knows how to run a whole planet, but she still misses his advice and having her chief confidant. She made a comment about how his love and friendship added little to her day to day business, but it made everything she did valuable and worthwhile. I think that sums up half of her letter." Anastasia selected a piece of cheese

Hap sliced the cured sausage, "That's a pretty astute observation." Hap reflected on how his relationships probably kept him going and made life worthwhile. He glanced up at Anastasia.

Anastasia tasted her wine, "The rest of the letter was about us. She was immensely pleased that I was doing well, by which I think she meant that I had friends, and particularly you."

Hap sampled his wine. He didn't normally drink dry reds, but the combination of the food and wine did something to temper and enhance the flavors of both. "Before seeing your mother I would have assumed she was a stern noble woman that was strong and independent. I don't know why, but I figured your mother was someone who wouldn't have cared if her daughter was in a relationship."

"You can be strong, and still have someone in your life. I think that is my Mother's point. Her world is paler without my father. I think she is also concerned she might lose me as well." Anastasia said.

"Does she want you to come back to Hazelhurst?" Hap asked.

"She would prefer that, but you have to understand, our family hasn't produced a Mechwarrior in over a century. A noble family without a few AFFS services members every couple generations starts to lose prestige. Granted the Capetian family is known for producing some real beauties."

"I had noticed that." Hap said as he pulled Anastasia closer to him.

Anastasia leaned on Hap, "Mother had noticed her political capital on New Avalon seemed to increase once I went to war. She sees the utility in having me improve the status of our family name, but she made it clear that I am not a careerist. I will do my tour, perform my duty to the Federation as a Mechwarrior, and then return to the people of Hazelhurst and prepare to do my duty as countess."

"She's not worried that we'll be charged with desertion and she'll be stripped of her title and land?"

"That would be unprecedented," Anastasia said flatly, "but she indicated a living daughter, charged with cowardice, desertion, or any other 'dishonorable' title is worth more to her than her title, and significantly more to her than a dead war hero, even if that made her a duchess. She stated plainly that I made the right choice in leaving Klathandu. I believe she told you that it was your chief responsibility to ensure I return to her safely."

"I didn't know it was my chief responsibility, but I wasn't planning not to ensure your safety."

"Good." Anastasia said as she refilled her wine glass, and topped off his. "Don't use double negatives when you're getting me drunk."

Hap started to spread chocolate on the strawberries and considered pointing out that she was pouring the wine instead he asked, "How's your Dad's business doing without him?"

"There was an offer to purchase it, and Mother asked my opinion. She doesn't feel comfortable selling it without my input, but Daddy's partners thought the offer was almost too good to be true. The purchaser wanted complete and exclusive rights to all patents, research, and proprietary technology. They also intended to move the company off of Hazelhurst, but promised that it wouldn't leave the Federation. Because we were doing research for NAIS their legal department had to go over the agreement."

"How do you feel about that? Do you think your Mom is selling part of your Dad's legacy?" Hap asked as Anastasia scooped more chocolate spread onto a strawberry.

"No. Not exactly. I understand she doesn't want to run his business. While we don't need the money, Dad has two business partners, and they probably do. One was a consummate businessman, so he likely has a few bills to pay, and then he'll reinvest the rest. The other was like dad, a naturally curious gentleman that was always trying to figure out or improve the world around him. He wasn't very good with money though. I told mother to go ahead and sell our shares. Daddy's legacy and work is something I'll carry on, and he wouldn't want it tied to a business."

Anastasia got quiet and Hap could sense that she was probably being a little more cavalier about this decision than she really felt. They quietly drank their wine as the sun set and the street lights came on. Hap put another log on the fire and Anastasia put the remaining food in the picnic basket.

Hap opened the second bottle of wine and poured a generous glass full for each of them. He sat back down next to her and she pulled out his blanket and covered both of them. Anastasia sighed contentedly as she sipped her wine. The sun had fully set and now the city lights stretched before them like a glittering jewel.

Hap could feel the wine take effect. He was warm and a little dizzy. Anastasia was neatly nestled next to him. The fire cracked and hissed and Hap let his mind drift to other campfires in other places. The smell of pine as it burned reminded Hap of the hunting trips and camp outs from his youth.

"Let's finish this bottle of wine, and then we can take advantage of the privacy." Anastasia said.

Hap took a long drink, "You know that's what I thought your plans were when you said you were going to 'slip into something more comfortable' but then you when you came back I was confused."

"I slipped into something more comfortable." Anastasia said.

"Yeah, usually when a girl says that she comes back in lingerie. Are you wearing lingerie underneath these clothes?"

Anastasia shook her head. "I'm not wearing anything underneath my clothes."

Before Hap could respond the door to the stairs opened and they heard the voices of Hawkins and Kate.

"So the loadmaster or the techs will push out the drop pods?" Kate asked.

"Damn it" Anastasia hissed as Hap mumbled a few choice expletives under his breath.

"For most drop shuttles, including ours, we can control that from the command deck. Generally, if we're dropping mechs from orbit I like to keep the techs out of the bays. Not a lot of oxygen once you open the bays up in orbit." Hawkins said.

"Right, of course." Kate said. "So the 'Mechs and Mechwarriors are ready to drop, the pods are set, what do I do to ensure they actually hit the drop zone, and maintain some level of lance cohesion?"

"Well ideally, you would get into a geostationary orbit, but that requires you calculate the appropriate speed based on your height from the planet's surface and the planet's rotation. It works best when the lance is dropping on a planet's equator and it's completely uncontested space." Hawkins said.

"That seems rare." Kate replied thoughtfully. They hadn't noticed the fire so Hap assumed they were standing by the door talking.

"It's incredibly rare, so you try to do it like a bombing run, you have the navigator figure out the complicated maths of how far you're likely to throw the poor bastards, based on your speed, their mass, and the planet's atmosphere and gravity. It seems chaotic, but don't worry the drop pods are designed to get them on target, or at least alive and within a couple kilometers. The Navigator tells you when to drop the pods, but honestly I figure if the navigator was so smart, he'd be a pilot, so I usually do my calculations and do whatever my gut tells me. It all usually works out." Hawkins sounded nonchalant.

"Oh lord." Kate said, "You treat the Mechwarriors like dumb bombs?"

"I've never hated the idea of drop pods so much in my life." Hap whispered.

"Kinda." Hawkins sounded a little apologetic, "Drops are chaotic, and don't get me wrong, I love those violent bastards and their death machines. You have to understand, the drop pods have a bunch of guidance and thrusters to generally keep them on target. Plus enough armor to get them to the ground in one piece. Also we only use drop pods on the Tir a nOg. For the Phaidin we drop off the lance, pull for atmosphere, and then come back for the ex-fill." Hawkins said. "It's not that I don't care about the mechwarriors I've just launched enough drop pods to know it works."

"Think I'd still rather be pulling escort." Kate replied.

"I'll let you be my escort." Hawkins shot back.

"I was talking about fighter escort." Kate said, "but play your cards right and we'll see."

They got quiet for a moment, then Hawkins said loudly, "Is there anyone up here?"

"Hap and Anastasia." Hap called out.

Hawkins and Kate walked over to the fire. "Mind if we join you?"

Anastasia sighed as Hap nodded and Kate pulled a chair close to the fire. She had a grocery bag and started taking out boxes of crackers, a bag of marshmallows and a few chocolate bars. "You know when McFinnigan referred to this company as a family I thought he was exaggerating the closeness, but I had three sisters and two brothers, and there was never privacy and no way to get away. If that is what he meant, then that's exactly how this company feels."

"I was an only child, but I certainly agree with that sentiment." Anastasia said.

"You have no idea." Hap added.

"Oh you get used to it." Hawkins said dismissively as he put a chair next to Kate. He reached into his field jacket's large pockets and pulled out a thermos and a coffee cup. "What are you guys doing?"

"A moonlit picnic." Anastasia said.

"We've been in the simulator trying to get Kate to the point where she can pass a check flight with Mitchellin and get certified on the Leopard. We missed dinner, and the shoppette didn't really have much. We were going to roast frankfurters up here, but there were no buns, so we decided on s'mores."

Hap looked over at Anastasia, "We got some leftover 'picnic' and no good way to save it, maybe we could trade for some s'mores." Hap pushed the basket across the floor to Hawkins.

Hawkins nodded as he picked up the basket and tilted it to the light of the fire, He whistled low, "Smoked cheese, dry salami, and, sturgeon roe, is that caviar?"

Anastasia nodded, "It's not the best caviar, but it's still good."

"Honey, I'm a simple man, who was planning to roast frankfurters or bratwurst for dinner, and I can barely tell you the difference between those. I can't tell good from bad caviar." Hawkins said as he pulled out the caviar tin and used a cracker to scoop it out.

"We had wine, but we drank most of that." Hap said apologetically

"We have coffee, fortified with Kelly's own Irish cream, so we're good for drink." Hawkins said as he passed the basket to Kate. He started pouring coffee as Kate started pulling food from the basket.

Anastasia was annoyed, she had been planning a romantic and private evening with Hap for nearly a week, but she decided to be polite, "How does piloting a Leopard compare to a Stuka, Kate?"

"Well it's a lot less maneuverable, and there is a crew to do things like gunnery and navigation. I prefer my Stuka, but I'd rather be working for Kelly than Gibson, so it all works out." Kate said.

"She's doing great, already I'd trust her as a co-pilot for most tasks that don't concern, take-off, landing, docking, or dropping the mechs."

"So all the parts that can be done by the auto-pilot?" Kate asked

"No…yeah, I guess those parts." Hawkins tried not to laugh as took a piece of salami.

Kate gave him a disapproving look, "Keep talking like that and you can escort yourself."

The four continued to banter as Kate and Hawkins ate. When they were done Kate found a few long sticks in the wood pile and passed out sticks and marshmallows. Anastasia started to feel the effects of the wine go from making her feel uninhibited, to making her sleepy.

Anastasia watched as Hap, Kate and Hawkins started to carefully roast their marshmallows, "What are s'mores?" Anastasia asked trying to figure out exactly what they were doing .

"You never had these as a kid?" Hawkins asked, "Someone mentioned you were nobility and grew up sheltered, but I never thought that would mean you wouldn't know about s'mores."

"Jacaob!" Kate said

"What? Am I wrong?" Hawkins answered.

"No. I was sheltered." Anastasia said quietly. "I didn't go camping or roast marshmallows."

"S'mores are the whole reason kids like me loved camping, at least until we were old enough to appreciate the aspects of hunting and fishing, and just getting away from everything." Hap said as he pulled his marshmallow off the fire, and blew its flame out. Hawkins passed him a couple thick brown crackers and a chocolate bar. Hap handed one of the crackers to Anastasia.

"So you break the cracker in half, put half the chocolate here." Hap explained as he built the s'more in Anastasia's hand. "Then the marshmallow goes on top of the chocolate, and you press the top cracker so that it squeezes hot marshmallow onto the chocolate and melts it a little. Try that."

Anastasia took a bite and hummed happily, "Oh this is good. Much better than I would have guessed."

They continued to talk and eat until they ran out of chocolate bars. The way Hap, Kate, and Hawkins talked it sounded to Anastasia like they had come from the same rural small town that just happened to be on three different planets. They exchanged similar stories of miserable failed hunting trips, cold days spent outside when the weather was "too bad" for schools to open but perfect for sledding or ice skating, and they had worked similar entry level jobs until they found a way to get to a military academy.

Anastasia understood the similarities in their childhoods gave them a small bond. She was struck by how unlikely it was that she would meet someone with a similar childhood. Even worse she tended to be annoyed or detest most of the nobles she met at the academy. She snuggled up to Hap and thought. Even though she didn't quite feel like part of the group, she didn't feel like an outcast either. Hap could do the talking, and she was content to not be noticed and retreat to her own thoughts. In some ways it was enough she had her own bound with Hap. Like Cody said, maybe all she needed was here now.

As they spoke Anastasia's mind drifted to the odd lancemates she found herself with on Klathandu. They simply referred to each other by last name. There was Shafer, she was the lance leader, and piloted a Phoenix Hawk. Schmit piloted a Commando and Fisher piloted a Vulcan. They claimed to be new lieutenants straight from Nagelring. Anastasia noted they seemed to actively avoid the other cadets from Nagelring, and they also seemed a little old for cadets or lieutenants. They also didn't seem to like Anastasia at all, and she was never part of their group. That was a time in her life, where no one seemed to like her so that wasn't noteworthy for Anastasia.

It wasn't a surprise to Anastasia when they found themselves confronted by the recon Hunter-Killer team that they left her for dead. She had seen that they had a Dropship waiting for them. She wondered where they were now, if they had been repatriated back into the LCAF, or if they had gone mercenary. Perhaps they had found some other option.

The evening wore on, and the fire died down. The friendly conversation died away and the late hour and alcohol made everyone drowsy. The Pilots and Mechwarriors put out the fire, and cleaned up the area, and wished each other a good night.


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