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Chapter 56[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Hiding the Truth[]

Federated Suns
December 3029

Hap watched as Rowyena led Adept Heinrich away to finish the paperwork and Dr. Morgan went to go and prepare the bodies for transport.

"What do you think Heinrich is going to tell his superiors?" Fletch asked.

"As little of the truth as possible." Kelly said with a wink. "I suspect he was told to get evidence that Ms. Vallois had been successfully slaughtered, and to recover anything that would prove ComStar was behind it."

Kelly leaned on the banister, "I'm sure he'll swear on a stack of technical manuals that Anastasia is dead, and he saw her remains himself. He will tell a fantastic series of lies of how he had to use the wisdom of Blake to bamboozle us, and convince us that we had uncovered a false flag operation. In order to perfect the lie he had to have ComStar demonstrate their generosity and give us all the extra escrow money."

Fletch shook his head, "You could sell the story, maybe, but that man is an evil bureaucrat and probably just wants to put all this behind him. I doubt he's the type to lie with any of the finesse or creativity that you habitually use."

"Mr. Fletcher, I'm a right honest businessman that may spin the occasional yarn, but I assure ye, you can trust what I tell ye."

"Not to hear your wife tell it." Fletch said, "She says you're a bad influence on her daughter who's a lawyer."

Kelly raised his eyebrows, "Oh, she's decided to claim Roweyna as her own again."

Fletch shook a cigarette out of its box, "So are your terrorist friends going to visit Tempes? Also Demi-Precentor, headed back to Terra, who the hell were we entertaining?"

"I have no idea, but it explains why he was so arrogant. As for my 'friends', I'll talk to them." Kelly said with a shrug, "I've recently found myself with a windfall of C-Bills and I was thinking I might donate to a certain charity for rough and wayward lads and lasses. They might be willing to do a small favor for me with some of that money. Seems like a poetic reinvestment."

"I think I'd prefer to mount more weapons on the Tir a nOg, or get another Aerospace Fighter and fighter pilot." Fletch said, "After Klathandu I'm going to be distracted when we do hot drops in contested airspace."

Kelly nodded, "We'll have money remaining. Either is probably a good investment."

Both men smoked and said nothing as they watched the techs work on the mechs. "Ye reckon we were visited by ROM last night?" Kelly asked.

"Couldn't say." Fletch said. "After our talk with the professor, I got down here and the techs had already cleaned up the 'mech. The cockpit was hosed down, and David's tech had a med cooler of whatever was left and gave it to Doc Jack. I think it actually was an arm and a foot. I walked with Jack back to the Tir a nOg and he cremated the remains. If they did visit us, they didn't get anything."

Kelly looked over his shoulder. "Well Hap, ye've been listening quietly, have any questions?"

"Why don't you turn over these 'mechs to House Davion or House Steiner?" Hap asked.

"All we have is some 'mech scrap and some odd pilots. Having 'mechs painted like Liao Death Commandos and the pilots on the record as claiming to be from one house, but dressed in uniforms and equipment from another house gives ComStar a lot of deniability."

"But ComStar is concerned enough to get their pilots and equipment back." Hap said.

"They may jest want their troops back for the sake of friends and family." Kelly shrugged. "It's like how we intend to give David a good memorial service. As for the 'mechs, they're interesting in that they were in good condition, well maintained, and such, and clearly Star League Era 'mechs but not Royal variants."

"My experience with LCAF high command is this is sort of thing you either know, or don't care about." Fletch said. "Between fighting with Marik and Kurita, buying rank, and speculating how the treaty with House Davion will impact the economy, most Steiner officers couldn't care less about ComStar."

"I'm just not sure what I'm going to tell Major Braun." Hap said.

"Tell him the truth, you were in an ambush that one of the company was killed." Fletch said. "It wasn't you or the other AFFS officer, and you led well and fought competently. I'll vouch for that, and there isn't much else to say, really."

"Aye, you don't have to tell him anything about our internal company dealings, yer not here to learn how a mercenary company runs. I'm not askin' ye to lie, lad, jest keep some of the truth to yourself. Understand?"

"Yes Sir. I understand." Hap said.

"Good I don't need Major Braun feeling overly cautious and taking another MechWarrior and 'mech from me. Besides, I'd argue that Ms. Vallois is safer now with us anyway, at least until ComStar forgets about her." Kelly smoked his pipe for a moment then continued, "Which brings up another point, you'll have to keep Anastasia in the barracks, save for patrols, she can't be seen, not till we leave Monhegan."

"That shouldn't be too hard, she's been living like that since our last run in with ComStar. I think as long as I can keep her in wine and good books she'll be fine." Hap said.

"Yeah it's lucky for us the Professor is an introvert." Fletch deadpanned.

Kelly gave Fletch a surprised glance, Fletch responded, "Sorry, I actually meant that. It's been an odd morning, once I realized that Heinrich couldn't understand sarcasm. I've been saying every sarcastic thing that comes to mind. It's not like Tatyana was here to stop me. Seriously though, it is lucky, Anastasia won't mind staying out of sight."

"Alright, Haphazard, off ye go." Kelly said. "Go get yer Coyotes ready for a patrol. I'd like you to step off in two hours. Plenty of time to get the Valkyrie partially repainted. The AFFS sunburst needs to be removed, and any personal identification should also be sterilized."

"Understood sir, but I thought you'd want to move Anastasia to the Dullahans?"

Kelly shook his head, "Nay, The most tactical sense for our lances is to keep a small tonnage recon lance, and the medium size pursuit lance, and yer lance has good chemistry." Kelly said. "Besides if ComStar is still suspicious it's the last thing they'd expect. You keep her out of sight, let me worry about the rest."

Hap acknowledged and went down to the main floor of the 'mech bay. He explained to Maja and Taja, Anastasia's techs, what needed to be repainted, and made sure that his mech's armor had been repaired. He got back to the barracks in time to let his lance know to get ready for a patrol.

Hap and Anastasia left Joker and Mags to get ready. Hap explained to her the restrictions that Kelly had for her as they changed clothes. Hap noted, Anastasia was still secluded behind the door of her wall locker, and out of line of sight from the door, but they could see each other as they changed.

"Honestly, this doesn't change much for me." Anastasia said as she pulled on her black skin tight shorts.

"I told the Commander and XO that as long as I kept you in wine and good books you'd be fine." Hap said as he pulled on his own shorts.

"Harold, you have that backwards, the wine needs to be good, not the books." Anastasia said, then gave Hap a coy glance, "Although after last night, it's more about the company, and the good wine."

"Noted. You'll have to give me a list or something and I'll go back to that one grocery store."

"I think we'll have to send someone to get wine." Anastasia said as she slipped into her coveralls, "I'll put up with house arrest but only as long as you're here with me." Anastasia pulled the name tag off her coveralls, and removed the rank from her cooling vest and placed them in a drawer in her locker. "It's part of our mutual suffering death pact."

Hap pulled on his coveralls, "Didn't you say our relationship wasn't going to be a mutual pain and suffering death pact."

"No. I said marriage isn't a mutual pain and suffering death pact. Being members of the same lance generally is. You have to endure the same field environment-"

"Put up with the same ass-hats, and dangerous conditions." Hap added.

Anastasia nodded, "and dodge the threats and designs of a murderous cult and telecom provider."

"You know, bad field conditions, annoying people, and danger were pretty common for me. ComStar was never a problem until you came along."

Anastasia shrugged, "We all bring things with us into each relationship. I'd like to think the other things I bring into our relationship outweigh the minor inconvenience that accompany me." As she spoke she slid her braid under the coveralls.

"That's fair." Hap said as they left the room and met up with Joker and Mags.

Joker looked over Anastasia's sterilized uniform. "You going on a secret mission?"

"I'll explain more in 'mechs but for the moment I need to be unrecognizable just in case ComStar is still watching." Anastasia said as she put on her neurohelmet, and held her cooling vest in front of her chest.

Hap put on his neurohelmet as they stepped out of the barracks. Mags gave him a curious look, "Looks weird if only one of us is wearing our helmet." He told her.

Mags nodded and put on her helmet as they walked to Ops. Joker shook his head in response, "I'm not putting my on till I'm in my Firestarter. That thing is a pain in the neck, awkward, and smells bed."

"Sounds like someone I know." Anastasia said.

"Joker, if your neurohelmet smells bad, you need to clean it." Hap said

Before Joker could answer they arrived at Ops. The patrol briefing was generally normal. The route would take them by the lake first, and then swing north. Hap was glad to hear they'd do the lake first as he just wanted to get that part done. Fiona and Crow would be performing fire support duty.

As they left the ops center Hap asked, "Crow, didn't you pull duty yesterday?"

"I'm here for you, brother." Crow replied

Fiona glanced over her shoulder as they descended the stairs, "Actually he's here for Dillon. Dillon is taking David's death particularly bad and so Rolph is with him helping him work through it."

"Well I'm here for you brother, as much as I'm here for brother Dillon." Crow gave Hap a fist bump.

"Glad you're here, Crow, thanks." Hap answered.

"Instead of being here, may I suggest you get your asses in your 'mechs, gentlemen." Fiona said.

Hap climbed the gantry he saw Mike with his usual glower and clipboard. "Some of your armor patches are still fresh, and the sealant has had enough time to cure."

"I'll try to avoid getting shot at for the next 15 minutes." Hap said as he climbed into the cockpit.

"It's all I ask." Mike said as he checked items off the clipboard. "Also, that little death-from-above stunt you pulled yesterday should be avoided. There wasn't any damage to your actuators, but we had to pull all the armor off your left leg. The plate was too damaged to patch."

"It was a desperate maneuver." Hap said as he remembered the ambush and a chill went down his spine.

"The XO heard me bitching and made me watch the ROM playback. He said your quick action saved some lives yesterday. So you probably did the right thing, just try to avoid it if you can."

Hap nodded, "Yeah. It was a bad day yesterday and I wished I could have saved everyone."

Mike switched the computer out of diagnostic mode and the computer began reporting all systems as nominal. "That's the difference between us. I can always replace or repair or rebuild. You can't always make people do the right thing, like eject, or kill the enemy before he kills one of us."

Hap wasn't sure how to answer as Mike closed and locked the canopy.

In a minute the gantry was cleared and lifted and Hap and his patrol stepped off on their patrol. Hap set his lance into a wedge with Joker on point Anastasia behind him and Mags pulling up the rear.

As they settled into their patrol route Anastasia explained what she knew of yesterday's attack. Hap filled in what he had learned that morning. There was a long pause while Hap waited for Joker and Mags to process everything. He was worried they might blame Anastasia for David's death. He still felt he was mostly responsible for it.

"So, Anastasia, you basically committed the perfect crime and staged your own death?" Joker asked.

"I would hardly consider scientific research a crime-" Anastasia started to say.

"William, don't say stupid shit that cheapens David's death." Mags told Joker.

"Mags, you don't think it was Anastasia's fault that David died?" Hap asked.

"No." Mags was quick to say, "David chose not to punch out; that's on him, and besides, the tank gunners pulled the trigger. ComStar set the whole thing up. My old man, Macho Commacho, used to say, 'when your times up, your times up, so go fast and hit hard'."

"That's a good philosophy for a Jenner pilot." Hap said, He was relieved, and then embarrassed he didn't have more faith in Mags. Then he worried he had sounded sarcastic, "I could see why everyone respected your dad."

"Not everyone respected him, his enemies feared him." Mags added with pride. Hap smiled knowing that she wasn't kidding.

"For me, it's like my TAC officer used to say, 'It's not the bullet with your name on it that you have to worry about, it's all the ones addressed 'to occupant'.' David got hit by hundreds of missiles marked 'to occupant'." Joker said.

"Too soon Joker." Hap said, not sure if Joker was kidding.

"I wasn't trying to-." Joker said, but a hush fell over them as they approached the lake. Hap checked his scanners and didn't see any unidentified vehicles or 'mechs. Fiona's Jagermech and Crow's Catapult were within weapons range, but the rest of the area was clear of any odd military hardware.

Hap could see a lot of activity around yesterday's battlefield. There were people with metal detectors and hand carts walking around. He could see several small groups collecting scrap metal and whatever components the company techs had overlooked or ignored. Hap also saw a small boat in the lake. He watched as a diver came out of the water and emptied a mesh bag full of brass shell casings into the boat. Hap assumed the boat was near where the Vulcan had been fighting and destroyed.

"What's that guy doing?" Joker asked.

"Collecting scrap." Anastasia said, "When you were in school didn't you ever read, 'The Heat Sink, the true currency of the Inner Sphere.' It's the treatise that explains the true values of our currency are tied less to how ComStar values their C-bill, and more to the rarity of war materials and how that actually determines the true economic strength of the Inner Sphere nations."

"Professor, one day you're going to figure out if I read anything in school it was because I had to know it to get into a MechWarrior tech school."

"Or it was between pictures of naked women and it happened to look interesting to you." Mags added.

"Naw, that didn't usually work on me. I was looking at those magazines for the pictures." Joker said, "What I really meant is what is that guy doing with all that brass?"

"Seems like on every planet there is some guy that will make the coolest things from recovered brass." Crow said, "Hey Fiona, remember when I found you that bustier with the brass-"

"No. I don't remember that, and if you want to see me in it again, you'll forget it too." Fiona snapped.

"Changing subjects, for Brother Crow's sake," Joker said as Crow thanked him, "Anastasia, are you going to cut your hair?"

"No." Anastasia said flatly.

"Wait, I'm serious, your hair is super long. If you're really going to try to avoid ComStar you should cut it and dye it." Joker said. "It's what they do in those good spy movies, you know the ones with John Stallion."

Anastasia ignored the bait, "My hair is the perfect color, and I need it long." Anastasia said.

"Why?" Joker asked. "When you have it up it's in those braids or complicated wraps, you stick out. When it's down it's past your waist. Either way it's a pretty easy way to identify you."

"Believe it or not there is a minimum weight that a MechWarrior needs to be in order for the ejection system to work properly. I'm right at that weight, and every gram counts." Anastasia explained. "I'll keep my hair thank you."

"We can get you a bigger gun or a wicked big knife." Joker said excitedly.

"I would just discard it in a survival situation, so it would be a waste." Anastasia said.

"Fine, just put a brick in a pouch on your cooling vest, then just throw that away."

"Whoa! A brick can be an important survival tool." Crow said.

"Before I regret this, no one ask him about the brick as a survival tool." Fiona added.

"Let's stop talking about my hair as well." Anastasia said.

The MechWarriors quieted down and settled into their patrol. Hap found himself feeling less anxious as the patrol went on. He still didn't know what to think about the economies and business of war. Between yesterday's interaction with the other mercenary company and watching people glean the battlefield it still seemed surreal to him.

He sighed. When they were done with the patrol, he could ask Anastasia to explain the true currency of the Inner Sphere, or he could share a hot shower with her, polish off a few bottles of wine, and forget the whole messy business of war. The latter sounded like a much better use of their time and better for their mental health.

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