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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 6[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Talk over Meal[]

Klathandu System
Federated Suns
August 3029

The next morning Hap, Joker, and Anastasia were woken by a ship wide call announcing 0800 ship board time. They went to the galley to find several other crew members getting their breakfast, or dinner depending on their shift. They had their breakfast and then went to the bays to perform some calisthenics in the area marked off as a basketball half-court.

After lunch they went back to the 'Mech bay and helped the techs strip armor and performed basic level maintenance on their 'Mech. On the Leopard there were only four 'Mech techs. The master 'Mech tech for the whole company was Erik Heilezberg. He was a tall man with broad shoulders, shoulder length gray hair and neatly trimmed silver beard and mustache. He had two twin daughters, Maja and Taja, that were in there late teens or early twenties. They were tall women like their father, identical with long straight black hair and pleasant faces.

Hap had already met the fourth tech, Mike Elison. He was quiet and all business, and Hap suspected he would have preferred not to have the 'MechWarriors around, but Erik seemed happy for the help.

As the afternoon wore on Anastasia asked Maja and Taja if they could help her with making dinner. They told her if it wasn't pre-packaged they couldn't prepare it. Anastasia tried to explain she just needed someone to help cut a few things, and stir pots while she did most of the work. The girls politely refused.

"I'll help." Hap offered, "I know how to cut things, and I can manage to stir a pot." Hap looked over to Joker but he was suspiciously trying not to look at either Hap or Anastasia.

"Thank you, Harold." Anastasia said and flashed Hap another smile.

"Joker you-" Hap turned to look at Joker.

"I think you and I can make do." Anastasia said before Joker could respond.

Hap followed Anastasia as he figured it was probably for the best that it was just him and her. He needed to talk to her about how to be less "rich-girl-Princess-ey" before they met the rest of the mercenary company. He'd also need to talk to her about how to handle Joker.

Hap turned to glance at Anastasia. She was still smiling, which made him smile. "So, what's for dinner?"

"We're making tuna noodle casserole, and if we can find enough stuff we might make another casserole without the tuna."

"Joker will appreciate that." Hap told her.

The smile disappeared "When I mentioned my plan to Roweyna, she told me she didn't think her father would eat it and she was concerned about some of the other crew members. Even though, she thought it was the best thing to do with all that tuna."

Hap noted that she had responded without even mentioning Joker. Talking about him might have to wait. He also was curious about her culinary knowledge, "Anastasia, where'd you learn to cook?"

"My parents hired a woman from the planet Sierra. She migrated into the Federated Suns to cook for the rich and nobility. My parents weren't around a lot and she liked me. She even had me call her "Abuela". I liked being in the kitchen and she would generally put me to work, so I learned to cook."

Hap couldn't help himself, he chuckled, and shook his head. "I'm sorry, but tuna noodle casserole is something I'd eat, and I was the son of a 'Mech tech and a supermarket cashier. How often did a Countess and her successful business owner husband have tuna noodle casserole?"

"Mother and Father? Never." Anastasia declared, then laughed, "You have to understand we had a huge estate with maids, a butler, grounds keepers, drivers, even Abuela had another cook that helped her, well besides me. Most of the staff lived on the estate, so there were usually two menus. One menu was the gourmet food that my mother and father requested, and the others was the food the rest of the staff wanted or Abuela decided to make. When my parents traveled I told Abuela I'd eat whatever she was making for everyone else."

They were at the kitchen now, but before entering, Anastasia looked around like she was about to tell Hap a secret, "I have to be honest with you, if I had a choice between beef tar-tar or a thick juicy hamburger, I'm taking the hamburger."

Hap laughed and squeezed her shoulder as the smile came back. They walked through the door and she pointed Hap toward the vegetables and told him to chop a couple onions. She got to work on gathering ingredients as Hap found a knife and started to work on the first onion.

"You know if we're going to keep you from getting another Princess like call sign I need you to channel more of that girl that eats hamburgers and less of the girl whose parents bought her a new 'Mech. Also I think it might help if you went be Anna or Ana instead of Anastasia.

"No." she said from across the kitchen.

"You do know, Anastasia is the name of a Princess from an old Terran story." Hap replied.

Anastasia set her mixing bowl down and walked toward Hap, "Yes, but it's my name and I like it."

"Look, I'm trying to help you lose your call sign, 'Princess' but when you insist on being called-"

"My name" She interjected

Hap continued, "The name of a Princess doesn't help. Anna is a fine contraction of your name."

"Do you want to be called, Harry?" Anastasia asked

"No, do you want be called Annie?" He shot back.

"No Harold, I do not." She told him with a very formal tone. "I understand what you're trying to do, but it's not that simple."

"Fine Anastasia." Hap was frustrated. He was trying to help her, but she was being difficult. He turned back to the onion, but after making another slice Anastasia stopped him.

She slid under his arm and put herself between him and the counter. Hap was surprised by her forwardness. He didn't expect her to just enter his personal space. She laid her hands on his hands. "When you cut an onion you should do it like this" she said as she started guiding him in the proper way to cut an onion. To her it seemed like this was nothing, but Hap's heart started racing.

"And as far as the part about acting more middle class and less wealthy nobility it doesn't work." As she spoke she let him cut, but kept her hands on top of his. Hap was trying to figure out if this was some form of flirting, or if Anastasia was clueless as to how this looked and felt.

Anastasia continued to explain, "I tried exactly what you said when I got to New Avalon Institute of Science (NAIS). I lived in a normal dormitory with a girl that was not nobility and there on scholarship. We got along fine the first semester. I had private tutors growing up and didn't have a lot friends, I knew I was socially awkward, but we got along quite well." As she spoke Hap started to cut again, apparently wrongly, she gently adjusted his hands again.

"I was majoring in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis in communication technology and working on a dual minors in Political Administration and Military Science. My roommate and I did a few things together, went to some games, and campus activities. She was trying to get me to double date with her and her boyfriend, but I wasn't interested. All the guys I met just seemed to be interested in sex." Her voice had a bitter or annoyed tone. To Hap's surprise her hands just rested on top of his.

"Then something happened with the Military Science department and word got around that my mother was nobility, and my roommate hated me. She yelled at me about how I was some noble pretending to be normal as a joke, and accused of me knowing about all her money problems and other issues that I could have used my parents influence or money to fix. I really didn't realize how bad things were for her. I offered to help, but then she got mad because I was 'throwing my wealth and privilege in her face'."

Anastasia paused for a moment, "To make things worse people that I was happy not to know suddenly either wanted to be my friend, or ruin my life me because I was somehow competing with them. I got a single room, avoided anyone I didn't have to speak to and just worked on my studies, personal projects, or spent time in a 'Mech Simulator."

She seemed to be holding back tears, and she took in a raspy breath. "So one way or another that wealth and influence comes out, and then everyone treats you different. It's better to just be myself and let people make their choices about me when they meet me."

Hap wasn't sure what to say, his instincts told him to hold her and reassure her, but he knew that was a dangerous and slippery slope, at least for him. "Listen, if someone walks in, I'm just going to tell them you were trying to teach me to cut onions."

She nodded and he felt her weight on his chest. He put the knife down and gently spun her around so he could look her in the eyes, "You're free of this now though. Given what McFinnigan told us about the other cadets, it sounds like we're nothing to the Federated Suns now."

She shook her head, "You don't understand, my father died a few months ago, and mom fell apart. She's a strong woman who nearly ran a planet on her own, but she is almost mad with grief. Our family lawyer contacted me and told me my mother was so bad that he had already arranged for me to receive a doctorate in Electorate Engineering because some of the research I had done for my dad, and the white papers we had co-written. I don't even have a bachelor's degree, so I'm pretty sure my family probably gave a huge grant to NAIS. Also, our lawyer is really good."

"I would have lost my commission, but received a doctorate, and be home to help my mother. Selfishly, I refused, I wanted to really earn my degree. I wanted to prove something, maybe to myself. A month later, all the fourth year cadets were told we were deploying. That's how I ended up here."

"When we get to a planet with a Hyper Pulse Generator I have to contact my mother. I can't let her think she lost her daughter, too. Once our lawyer hears what happened to me, he'll have me back in good standing with whatever lord or general is going to try and charge me with desertion."

Hap nodded, "I'd do the same thing. If my parents were still alive I'd feel awful until I talked to them."

"I love my Mother, but the funny thing is, my Mother and I were never that close. In addition to be being a spoiled little rich girl, I'm a daddy's girl." She tried to laugh but it came through as a half sob, half chuckle. "I know you're trying to help me, and I'm being difficult, but I don't feel like I have a choice."

Hap nodded, "My Dad used to say sometimes the truest freedom is having nothing to lose."

Anastasia nodded and looked at Hap and smiled, she daubed her eyes with her sleeve. "Thanks Harold, I appreciate you listening to me, you're a good friend." Before he could stop her Anastasia hugged him. He pulled her close and enjoyed the moment, until she saw the clock. "Oh, it's almost dinner time. We have to hurry!"

The next half hour was a blur for Hap. Anastasia ran back to the other side of the kitchen and yelled out instructions to Hap as she worked. He wasn't sure exactly what he was doing for half of it, but soon Anastasia was directing him to open all the tuna packages while he was sautéing the onions and toasting bread crumbs.

He turned around and she had two giant bowls of cheese and noodles. She put the tuna in one bowl and then split the onions and bread crumbs between the two bowls and put them in the oven. They opened up a few cans of vegetables and had them heated just as members of the crew started filing in for dinner.

The Tuna noodle went over very well and both bowls were completely emptied. Joker joined Hap and Anastasia, and all three sat with the McFinnigans. They explained the origin of the tuna and the McFinnigan actually seemed interested in Tuna. He told them about a MechWarrior he knew that a similar obsession with a certain canned ham product. McFinnigan was a masterful storyteller and everyone was entertained as he told about his old companion.

After the meal, Anastasia, Hap and Joker returned to their berth area. As they were walking Joker turned to Anastasia and said, "Thanks for making the noodles without tuna. Tuna was probably my best friend, but I just never much cared for fish. My mom used to make tuna casserole till we were sick of it."

"You should have tried the tuna casserole, it wasn't anything like what my mom made. It was much better." Hap told him, but also mouthed 'thank you' to him.

Anastasia was nearly beaming as the men complimented her cooking. "You're very welcome, Joker."

"So you were happy to prepare food just for me?" Joker asked.

"The bowl without tuna wasn't just for you. It was something Roweyna suggested." Anastasia said

"Sure, sure, I know deep down you really like me. It's fine you don't have to be shy." Joker said

Hap glanced sideways, Anastasia was no longer beaming. "Joker, why do you have to be like this?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Joker said innocently.

"Joker is clearly trying to bait me to say that I like you and not him." Anastasia said, "and I'm not going to give him the pleasure."

"You're no fun." Joker mumbled as they arrived at their living area.

Hap opened up his bed compartment and sat down to take off his boots. Anastasia sat down next to him and almost slipped off the bed. Hap had a camouflaged blanket as the top blanket of his bed. She caught herself and ran her hand on top of the blanket noting its smooth, almost silk-like, feel. "What is this?"

Hap rubbed his hand on the blanket "That, my dear, is a poncho liner. And if you can get a hold of one, you will have the lightest warmest coziest piece of kit any military developed ever."

"I wasn't issued one of these." Anastasia said as she ran her hand back and forth across the blanket.

"Me neither, I won this is a high stakes poker game. This had belonged to a jump infantry trooper. He had been a 'MechWarrior that had lost his 'Mech and was trying to build a new one. I was in the game because I had a refurbished gyro for my Griffin that just wasn't quite right and somehow I learned that one of the guys in the game had a spare gyro."

Hap pulled off his boot, "I had a good hand, and the gyro was up, and I was pretty sure I was going to win. The dispossessed warrior was out of money and then he pulled out this blanket. I wasn't going to accept it, but the infantrymen swore it was worth as much as some of the 'Mech parts. Also these sort of games are illegal because AFFS regs don't allow for hoarding or stockpiling 'Mech parts. So I accepted it because I didn't want any trouble. When it was all over, I got the gyro and this."

"So is it worth as much as a good gyro?"

"If you're an infantryman and this is all that's between you and a cold night, yeah, I could see why'd you say that. It's warmer than it looks and super light-weight. It's made of two pieces of parachute silk and then has some ultra-light insulator in the middle. It seems to always keep me the right temperature, and it fits neatly in my go-bag."

Anastasia got her boots off and she and Hap exchanged good nights as she slipped into her bed and closed the door for privacy as she changed her clothes. Hap bid Joker good night, and Hap got into his bed chamber and shut the door. He drifted to sleep thinking of Anastasia, and how stupid it was to let her get that close to him, and wondering when they would do it again.

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