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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 65[]

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A Warrior's Family[]


Hot Drop in a Hot Landing Zone[]

High Orbit, St. Ives
St. Ives Compact
February, 3030


Anastasia followed Hap into the port-side 'mech bay. Mike was surrounded by Maja, Taja, and several of the assistant techs. He had laid out the equipment needed to make drop pods and had one of the base plates in the cramped space of the dropship's mech bay. He was explaining to the techs the procedure for putting the pod together and building the "cocoon". Anastasia glanced up to see that Hap's already had the base plate under his Griffin and the drop pod struts were place making a cage around the medium 'mech. It just needed the ablative walls put up and the cocoon spun around it.

"Good, the MechWarriors are here. Once they are 'comfy' in their command couches we can get the drop pods closed up and ready." Mike said.

"Yeah, give us a moment." Harold said as he turned to Anastasia.

Anastasia reached for Harold's hand, and they kissed. It wasn't as powerful as their first kiss months ago, but she could feel his affection for her. The less "intoxicating" effect didn't bother her, she knew that their relationship was maturing, and so the novelty of a kiss had loss some of its impact, especially as they had been doing a lot more than just kissing.

The techs gave a few cat calls as Mike grumbled, "Alright, if you were going to do that you should have stayed on your deck." Hap pulled her closer and put his hand in her back and pushed her into him. To her surprise she felt a sudden rush of excitement as Mike yelled, "Hey, no time for that, get in yer 'mechs." Hap held up one finger and continued to embrace his wife, then let her go.

Harold wore a mischievous grin and Anastasia couldn't help but smile as her face burned.

Anastasia climbed the ladder to her Valkyrie and got herself situated in the command couch. She carefully unrolled the cables for her neurohelmet, plugged them in, and began the startup sequence. The reactor came out of standby mode and several systems began flashing as they went through their initial test processes.

A female voice reported, [{"All systems nominal"}]

The mech's security system flashed, and Anastasia hit the unlock button. Her father's voice filled the cockpit, as she put her hand on heart.

<<"Why do you fight, ma petite Countessa?">> Her father's pre-recorded voice asked. There was a family joke here, both in her family name of being the "little Countess" as well as the way her father intentionally butchered the French language.

"Liberte, egalite, fraternite" Anastasia said in proper French.

<<"And what else?">>

"For the nobility and people of the Federated Suns, House Davion, and the enduring freedom of my people, the people of Hazelhurst."

<<"Come home safe, ma cherie.">> Her father's disembodied voice told her. Anastasia felt a lump in her throat. She had been tempted to change out the security system's challenge sequence, but it was one of the few things she had of her father. She had already copied the audio files onto her noteputer, but it seemed wrong to change out the security files. Especially since it was tied to the sensor and targeting system he had made. She reached out to the small picture of her with her parents that was adhered next to the sensor screen.

The security system light changed from red to green and the rest of the systems completed their initial startup processes and went into ready mode.

Anastasia dug into her coveralls and pulled out a picture of her and Harold from their wedding day. It was in a protective transparent sleeve with an adhesive backing. She peeled off the backing's protective film and carefully put it next to her family photo. As she was rubbing the picture to ensure it would stay, Taja and Maja climbed up onto the catwalk for the Valkyrie.

"Hello." Anastasia called out. She felt she could almost tell the twin sisters apart. Taja seemed to have a slightly square jaw, and Maja's voice was a little lower, but Anastasia wasn't confident enough to try and call them by name without making sure.

"Hi Anastasia." One of the twins said. They were wearing light environment suits so she didn't have a name tag.

"I'm going to start rigging it up so we can get the base plate under the mech." Said the twin with the lower voice, so Anastasia assumed it was Maja."

"I'll run the pre-combat checks." Taja said as she plugged in a diagnostic computer and looked over Anastasia's instruments. "Everything's looking good." Taja said more to herself than Anastasia.

"How many drop pods have you and Maja put together?" Anastasia asked.

"This is our first." Taja said, "How many times have you used a drop pod?"

"I did a few drops back at the academy, but this will be my first combat drop."

"So you won't know if we've done a bad job until it's too late." Taja said with a nervous laugh. Anastasia wasn't sure if she was kidding.

"I do know most of the pod is going to burn up as I enter the atmosphere or get destroyed during the controlled crash, so as long as you do an acceptable job, I'll be fine." Anastasia said.

"Get clear, Taja." Maja as she stepped over to the winch controls. Taja unplugged the diagnostic computer and stepped back and Anastasia felt her mech rise about a meter.

"Hey Anastasia, speaking of first times…how was your wedding night?" Maja asked.

Even under the neurohelmet Anastasia was pretty sure both techs could see her blush, "It was very nice. It was everything I'd hoped for, and likely everything you've heard a wedding night should be." She said.

"Everything I'd heard?" Maja said a mischievous grin, "Well I'd heard sex is usually better before you married. Which brings up another question."

"Well I've really only been with Harold." Anastasia said, "I had also heard that the quality of sex seems to decline after marriage, but I was reading up on marriage and relationships in general and several authors concluded that the reason that the quality of sexual intercourse seems to diminish in long term monogamous relationships had to do with multiple factors."

"What I read indicated the reasons were various. They included the comparative excitement and novelty of multiple unfamiliar partners, the regular psychological response of exaggerating the intensity or quality of something you rarely receive, but losing appreciation for something once you receive it regularly. There was also the fact that when two people are comfortable with each other they are less prone to try or perform at a level they might have when they were courting. Also some couples, as they seek to have children, may focus more on sex for purely procreative reasons, and that can make things very mundane."

Maja looked at Anastasia for a long moment, "That wasn't exactly what I was asking."

Taja punched her sister's shoulder, "Who cares what you were asking, we need to stop listening to those brain-dead morons that try to give us advice on love and start asking Anastasia questions."

"Brain-dead morons like Mike and Dad?" Maja said.

"Those two especially." Taja said.

"Hey!" Mike shouted and both women jumped

"You two, get that Valkyrie buttoned up and get to work. We need to get the drop pod welded together and the cocoon spun, this shouldn't take more than ten minutes, twenty tops."

Taja rolled her eyes as Maja closed the canopy and turned the armored locks. Anastasia pulled out the laminated cards she kept in a pouch of her cooling vest. The cards were designed to be checklists or review notes for significant non-routine events or combat emergencies. They included emergency shutdown, safe emptying of ammo magazines, how to handle loss of a 'mech's limb or a major system, call for fire, 9-line medevac, and other similar items.

Anastasia shuffled through the cards till she found, "Actions to take for catastrophic failure of a drop pod." She glanced down at the card. There was little she could do if the drop pod either burned up in entry or if, in the unlikely event, the pod was dropped too high and at the wrong angle and it bounced or skipped off the planet's atmosphere. The situations Anastasia could influence concerned events like the drop pod failing to open, or a problem with her 'mech's Jump Jets.

Anastasia studied how to perform a field expedient emergency clear, realign, and resync the jump jets. It seemed like a lot to do while the 'mech was falling at terminal velocity. As she read she was reminded of one of the NAIS instructors who had been disposed and spent some time in the jump infantry. When they were doing drops over New Avalon's moon he joked if you were doing a drop and your mech didn't have jump jets or the jump pack failed, the best thing to do was to do what the Jump Infantry are told, "Keep your feet and knees together, and try to do a dynamic jump pack landing fall."

Anastasia glanced at her system diagnostic display and confirmed her jump jets were green and fully operational. She opened up further details on the Norse Industries 3S and saw they were fully primed, and had seen recent maintenance. She made a few notes on her knee board and noticed the flashing light on her radio. She smiled as she saw it was on her and Hap's private channel.

"What are you doing over there?" Hap asked

"I was going through the procedures for a jump jet failure at high altitude. Have you ever seen a drop pod fail or related problems when you used drops during training or combat?"v

"Not in training, at least not personally. I remember one of the guys from another company claimed his drop pod didn't open up and he had to punch and kick his way out of it, but that guy liked to tell stories. I did see a few guys "burn-in" when we were jumping into Klathandu but we had Kuritan aerospace fighters shooting at us. It was a real shit-show."

"Reported failure rate on a drop pod is low, however I was curious if you had any anecdotal experience." Anastasia said.

"I also get nervous every time I get welded into one of these things, but so far, so good. Generally I try not to think about any of it. I usually try to think about other things before I get rocketed at a planet." Harold said

"Oh?"

"Well, for instance I was thinking about your wedding dress."

Anastasia put away her cards, talking about the wedding was much more important than emergency life saving operations. "What were you thinking about my dress?"

"I was thinking how I liked all the pearls and embroidery on the front piece."

"The pearl and silver embroidery on the bodice? I particularly like that as well. Mother's wedding dress had a very similar design. It was one of the features I was quite fond of. I was pleased she included it when she had the dress made. I'm also pleased to hear that you like it as well."

"Yeah, your wedding dress was nice, except for the fifty buttons that we had to unbutton."

"Harold, it wasn't fifty, it was exactly thirty-seven." Anastasia watched the techs seal the drop pod around her mech. The cockpit became dark and Anastasia rested back in the command couch. She closed her eyes as they start to weld the corners. "Besides, when you had finished unbuttoning all those terrible buttons you were rewarded with the perfect feminine form."

"Well," Harold said, and Anastasia could hear the smile in his voice, "I'd say I was presented with a near perfect feminine form."

"Beg pardon? Near perfect?" Anastasia responded with mock anger.

"I mean you're certainly gorgeous and everything is perfectly proportioned but you're a little short. I would think the perfect feminine form would be taller."

"You were thinking that on our wedding night?"

"No, no" Hap quickly back peddled, "I was thinking about a lot of other things that night. I assure you I liked everything under the dress, but I think we can both agree, if you're going to say perfect-"

"Harold, we've been through this, I'm the perfect height. I'll concede I barely met the minimum standard for a MechWarrior, but had my mother not threatened and cajoled the NAIS training cadre into making me a Mechwarrior, they would have gladly offered to train me to be an aerospace pilot. Further, I think we both can agree that when we hold hands, or you hold me at night we fit together perfectly."

"I can think of something else we do where we fit together perfectly."

"Exactly, so if we fit together perfectly in those instances, and you already admitted I'm perfectly proportioned, then my height must be perfect." Anastasia said.

"Wait, that's not…damn. How'd I walk into that?" Hap asked.

"I'm learning you're easily baited with sex." Anastasia said.

(("10 minutes to drop. Tech crews check the drop pods and clear the mech bays.")) Hawkins' voice came across the Leopard's 1MC.

"You know I'm not that easily baited with sex." Hap said.

"We'll see," Anastasia said as the lance channel flashed. "looks like Fiona wants to talk."

"We'll talk more about this later." Hap said.

"I'm certain we will do more than talk." Anastasia teased.

Anastasia switched the radio channels as Fiona said, "Kate, say all that again."

<<"What I said is, we're alone up here. What I mean is there isn't another dropship up here. There are a few recon and comm satellites but the Immortal's bird isn't up here circling the planet.">> Kate said.

<<"We'll do a scan once we're in orbit, we should be able to see most of the planet's major hemispheres.">> Hawkins added.

(("Pod's 1 and 2 all okay. Port side 'mech bay clear.")) A tech reported over the 1MC.

Anastasia heard the distant sound of one of the techs banging on her drop pod. She knew this was done to assure her they were actually checking their work. A few seconds later Mike came on the 1MC, "Pods 3 and 4 all okay. Starboard 'mech bay clear."

<<"Acknowledge. Standby.">> Hawkins said over the 1MC.


There were a few moments of quiet. Then the ship shuddered and Anastasia could feel the shift in the Leopard's inertia and pseudo gravity as it entered the planet's orbit. She could feel the weightlessness as she floated slightly against her command couches restraints. The ship stabilized as it entered into orbit.

<<"I got her, there's the Huma Bird. That's the Immortals DropShip.">> Hawkins said. <<"It's a couple clicks north of that town. Close to the warehouse area where that King Crab is waiting for you.">>

"I wonder why the St. Ives-ians haven't harassed the Huma, and when the 'mechs went to respond they could make a run for their supplies." Crow said. "No Leopard crew likes to sit around when a bunch of crunchies show up with SRMs, Infernos, and crew serve weapons."

<<"Don't remind me.">> Hawkins said. <<"That was a bad day.">>

"I'd reason they either lack the weapons and manpower or the discipline to successfully execute that." Anastasia said.

"I'd reason that Commander Zhang should explain this." Fiona said, "get him on the line before we drop."

<<"Wait one.">> Kate said.

Hawkins came up on the 1MC (("Clear the bays, and standby."))

Anastasia felt the pod start to move as Commander Zhang's voice came across the Radio, >>"What is it now?"<<

"We're seeing the DropShip for the OPFOR is just a few kilometers north of town, why haven't you attacked it to create a diversion for getting your supplies. If your situations as desperate as you say-"

>>"It's protected."<< Commander said like it was obvious, >>"I am busy man, Mercenary-"<<

"Protected by what?" Fiona asked.

>>"A Stalker."<< Commander Zhang answered.


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