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Chapter 73[]

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Mission Briefing - Classified[]

Federated Suns
March, 3030

Hap followed Fiona as she went directly to Kelly. Kelly was standing with Fletch and Rowyena near a field desk holding a chaotic pile of papers, folders, and a tea service. Next to the desk was a large field comms suite next to it. Fiona sat at her desk on a camp chair looking at her noteputer. Kelly and Fletch were standing at the desk looking through a folder.

The men seemed to be having a disagreement. Fletch shook his head as he flicked his cigarette, "Boss, nothing shouts, 'we're hiring you to fight a desperate battle against impossible odds in some politically and likely morally reprehensible situation' like a Non-disclosure agreement just to get the preliminary intel and basic mission parameters."

"Aye, it's likely nothin' quite so desperate as all that." Kelly said. "Now the payout may imply some risk."

"Yeah, the payout is almost enough to buy another lance, that implies a lot of risk, and the fact the Federation is sending a rep to brief us directly, means it's going to be some shady shit. I can almost guaran-damn-tee no fool in this company is going to want to do this job."

As he spoke Grizzly walked by with a plate full of greasy fried fish and potatoes, "Did you just say we're going to get in a desperate battle against incredible odds? Rolph and I were just talking how we hadn't been nearly killed in a while and were missing the high you get from a near death experience."

Fletch stared at him coldly and then said, "Go eat your damn fish and then get your shit on the bird."

Grizzly took a bite of fish and then shouted to Rolph as he chewed and walked, "Hey the boss has got a new job lined up, sounds like a good one, near death and everything."

Crockett Assault Mech (Firing weapons in the Desert - painted by mdk4yyv)

Crockett Assault 'Mech firing it's weapons

Crow followed Grizzly, "You want to talk about near death, brother, we just got in a fight with a Kintaro, a Stalker, a King Crab, and a Crockett. Plus a bunch of tanks and what the Compact's call 'Loudung' mechs."

Rolph continued eating but nodded as he made space on the bench and motioned for Crow to sit.

King Crab (Lower view - MWO Version)

King Crab Assault 'Mech

Kelly looked a little confused, "Ye saw a Crockett? Yer going to have to tell me more about that."

Fiona nodded, "We ran into Ebrahimi leading a lance with a Crockett, a King Crab, his own Stalker, and a Kintaro. He wouldn't stop talking about how his dad had some new rich patron or investor that had gotten them some heavy hardware."

Kelly calmly cleaned his pipe, filled the bowl with tobacco and lit it as she talked. Fiona frowned, "You don't seem particularly surprised by this."

"The Immortals showed up here too. Same deal. They had reconstituted with almost two lances of assaults and a new recon lance. Some exotic shit too, not only did they have a Crockett, they even had a Mercury." Fletch said.

Kelly lit his pipe and nodded, "And that old sinner might have even given us trouble, but the Lexington Combat Group was jest back from leave and their commander wanted to get his boys some experience and maybe even earn a little of that money Prince Davion throws at them."

"Oh? Did we finally defeat the Immortals," Fiona said, "because our engagement was pretty decisive."

Kelly gave Fiona look like an appraiser, "How decisive?"

"We engaged with and destroyed the Immortals' assault lance, supported by a mixed vehicle and light 'mech lance. All mechs and tanks were destroyed, three out of four of the Immortal MechWarriors died during combat. We were supported by the Compact's forces so they got the pick of the salvage. We were given the remains of Crockett, and whatever we needed to effect repairs. For all intents and purposes that lance no longer exists." Fiona reported, then after a pause added, "and I killed Ebrahimi."

Fletch gave Kelly a worried look as Kelly's eyebrows shot up.

"Did anyone see you? Did ye properly dispose of the body?" Roweyna asked as she lazily tapped on her noteputer, "Because, legally speaking, it's really only murder if someone has proof. Otherwise it's jest idle speculation and hearsay. Any first-year law student can tell ye that."

Fletch looked surprised then pointed the two fingers holding his cigarette at Roweyna, "This is what I was talking about. When Elinor leaves your moral compasses starts to drift."

Fiona rolled her eyes, "Roweyna, I didn't poison his tea. I killed him during the combat operations."

Kelly exhaled pipe smoke, "If ye accidentally killed him in fair an' open combat-"

"It wasn't an accident. He was prone and I shot the cockpit of the mech. Then I made sure the cockpit was destroyed. Just for good measure I destroyed concrete behind his cockpit."

Kelly smoked his pipe and looked at her like a disappointed father, "Ye let him goad you into all that?"

"He was talking about how he was going to kill us and our families."

"How is that different from any other time we've taken the field against them?" Kelly asked

"He told me about how happy he was that I had miscarried and that his men were responsible for it."

Roweyna's eyebrows shot up and she looked at Fiona, "I'd have done more than poison his tea for that."

"Child" Kelly said softly, "I've been trying for over a decade to deescalate this feud that Ahmed thinks we have with each other. Now ye've added another complaint and another sad chapter. We're all mercenaries here, we need to keep it business and not let it be professional."

"I respect your professional ethic," Fiona said, "but this has gone too far for too long. We should just give him the feud he wants and end his whole damn company and that's what I thought you intended to do when we fought the Immortals last year and we tried and steal his DropShip."

"I wanted to keep it professional though." Kelly said, "Force him to stay and fight, finish him off in a pitched battle, behave like warriors, not grieving parents. This sort of thing never ends well, Fiona."

"Well now he's found some benefactor to take his side and it's going to get harder for us. I think we need to stop 'being professional' and just annihilate them." Fiona said

Fletch nodded, "Yeah, someone at the port authority let them land their DropShip in a nice secluded industrial area and unload and deploy their 'mechs before we understood what was happening. We thought it was the LCG, the LCG thought it was us. It wasn't until their recon lance came barreling across the air field that we realized the Immortals had shown up. Thankfully that kept the battle in the industrial district and away from the civilian center, but it was still destructive. It was good the LCG was here to help us push them back, but Fiona's right boss, Ahmed is either getting more lucky, or he's getting the help he's always needed."

Kelly quietly smoked his pipe and stared at them. After an uncomfortable moment Hap cleared his throat, "Sir, you were talking about our next mission when we walked up. If I may, can I ask what it is?"

"We were talking about a potential next contract." Fletch corrected, "One, I'm hoping we turn down."

Kelly ignored him, "It's good ye asked lad since we'll," he paused and Fletch, "Likely be doing a job for the Federated Suns. The nature o' the job is a bit sensitive, so they're sendin' a rep to talk to us in person. I suspect they'll want to speak with you and miss- er- the misses."

"Do we know when he'll be here?" Anastasia asked as she patted down the various pockets of her coveralls.

Roweyna continued to absent mindedly scroll through items on her noteputer, "Colonel Norton will be here shortly. Ye may jest have time to get some fish an' chips."

Hap looked past his wife at the line of mercenaries waiting to get fried food. "That seems unlikely."

Fletch looked around and called out, "Noah, Conner, come here." The boys looked startled when he called out, and one of them gestured to himself. Fletch nodded, "Yeah, both of you, Kommen sie hier bitte".

The two young MechWarriors, each holding a tray of food sheepishly came to the XO. Fletch asked them, "Is this your second or third serving?"

"Uh…fourth, maybe." Conner said quietly.

Fletch took the trays and handed it to Hap and Anastasia, "Go get in the loader mechs and get those ammo crates secured on the Tir na nOg."

Hap looked down at the tray of fried fish and potatoes and squishy peas. "Thanks, we'd better eat this quick."

"I would." Fletch said.

Hap led Anastasia to a nearby empty table. As they walked she sniffed the food. "It looks so oily and I think Connor put vinegar on the fries."

Hap shrugged as he sat down on a bench. "I prefer ketchup, but vinegar is what some people consider the proper condiment for fries."

Anastasia sat next to him and shook her head, "non, mayonnaise pour pommes de terre."

"You want some mayonnaise?" Hap asked looking at other tables for condiments.

"Hey! You guys are back." Joker said as he sat down across from.

"Hello, Joker." Hap said, "You know where I can get some mayonnaise?"

"Uh, no. But can I ask you a question? Do you think I'd make a good father?"

"Absolutely not." Anastasia said then turned to Hap, "Actually what I really want is my sunglasses. Have you seen them? One of the Barons from Bastrop had twin daughters that Mother called 'Freckles and Squints' because they spent a lot of time outside and never wore hats, sun screen, or sunglasses. You've seen how my hair-" Anastasia pulled out her braid and then looked over at Joker. He looked surprised and hurt.

"Why-" Anastasia started to say, "Where's Mags? I suddenly sense her and I should get reacquainted."

"We were eating at the table with Grizzly and Rolph." Joker said pointing to one of the other tables.

Anastasia stood up and took a few steps away then turned around and leaned over Hap, and reached into the inner pocket of his jacket. As she leaned on him Hap felt her weight on the back of his neck, and her hand caress his chest as she pulled out her sunglasses. She rested her head on top of his, "I remember I left my sunglasses in your jacket."

"Why were your sunglasses in my jacket pocket?"

Anastasia put on the large oversized designer sun glasses. She gave hap a coy look, "They're sort of big and didn't fit neatly into any of my pockets, so, your jacket seemed a better place to keep them. That is until I forgot they were there. Honestly I'm surprised you didn't notice they were there."

Hap gave her a playful shove as she turned around and called out to Mags. Hap shook his head as he got comfortable and took a piece of fish off his tray. "What's going on with you and Mags?"

Joker grabbed a fried potato from Anastasia's tray, "I don't know she's been acting weird lately."

Hap ate his fish and looked at Joker waiting for more information.

"Man I think Anastasia put too much vinegar on her fries." Joker said as he reached for another potato.

"Why do you think Mags is 'acting weird'?" Haps asked.

"We've been having a lot of sex, like a lot of sex, and we weren't always wearing protection."

Hap held a piece of fish just millimeters from his mouth, "Is Mag's pregnant?"

"Well see she thought she was, and when she told me about it, I, uh, I might have said something stupid, but I've been trying to make it up to her since."

"But she's not pregnant."

"No. At least she told me she wasn't." Joker said, "At first Mags seemed mad at me, but then she decided she wanted to have kids."


"Yeah like I don't know if you know this, but Mags has like twenty cousins, and I guess she always wanted brothers and sisters or something because she wants to have lots of kids."

"Alright." Hap ate his fish for a few minutes. "Are you and Mags going to start having kids?"

"I dunno. She, um, as you would say 'wasn't impressed' with my response when she thought she was pregnant so she told me to figure out what I wanted out of our relationship and then come talk to her."

"Mags said that?"

"Sorta. She told me to 'stop being an ass hat' and threw this at me." Joker reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rolled up magazine with a female holo star on the cover and advertisements for a quiz to know how compatible you were with your lover, a diet guaranteed to give you the perfect thighs, and articles on improving lovemaking. "I read this whole damn thing and I'm still not sure what she wants."

"What do you think she wants?"

Joker followed Hap as he left the barracks "I dunno, I guess she's ready to settle down and have kids and wants me to make sure that's what I want too. At least I think that's what she wants. You ever read one of these magazines? I don't know if I know this but girls got a lot of weird plumbing down there." As he spoke Joker thumbed through the magazine and tried to show Hap one of the illustrations.

Hap pushed the magazine back toward Joker, "I think you're trying to change the subject. So what are you going to tell, Mags?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. I like Mags, and I like what we do together, but sometimes… I wish Mags wasn't such a… It's hard to explain. I see the way Anastasia looks at you, and it reminds me of how my mom looked when she talked about my dad. Another thing, when someone starts talking shit about you, Anastasia gets real angry and she'll bite their head off. Mags doesn't look at me that way and if someone wants to trash talk me, she'll probably join in."

Hap stopped eating and looked at Joker. It was clear to Hap that he was serious. "Look, Anastasia isn't perfect, she tends to annoy a lot of people, and…"

"No. I hear you boss, I know Mags is kind of psychotic, and she'll probably kill me if she thinks I'm even looking at another woman. I know she's the best woman I've ever been with, and I probably can't do better, but I just wish she…help me out here boss."

Hap was quite for a moment as he took another bite, "I can tell you Mags may never give you looks from across the room. But when the locals tried to slip something into your drink-"

"They were actually trying to slip something into Anastasia's drink."

"I heard Mags cleared the table and dropped one of the townies before anyone knew what had happened." Hap said.

"She likes to fight." Joker said

"Alright she likes to fight. She's prone to violence, but you know you can depend on her. She's loyal to her family, this company and you. I've seen you in a lot of dumb relationships, like you said, she's the best you've been with. Don't compare her to other girls."

Joker scratched the back of his head, "Hap, how do you get a girl to give you that look?"

Before Hap could answer a shadow passed over the table Hap glanced to his side to see a man in in AFFS dress uniform standing beside him. Hap did a double take as he saw the two thick stripes on his epaulette marking the man a Colonel. Without thinking both Hap and Joker stood and saluted.

The Colonel gave a crisp salute, "At ease men."

As he relaxed Hap could see he wasn't a MechWarrior. His rank epaulet was infantry green, and he didn't wear spurs on his boots. At the same time he had some of the highest awards of the AFFS military. He was also a tall thin man with sharp blue eyes. He exuded professionalism.

"Gentlemen, I'm colonel Norton, I'm here to meet with Commander McFinnigan and his senior staff." As he spoke he studied Hap's and Joker's coverall. His eye fell on the AFFS patch and rank on Hap's uniform, "Captain Calahad? I need to speak with you and Subaltern Vallois as well. Would you mind taking me to the company commander and summoning her?"

Hap nodded, "Yes Sir. The commander is expecting you, and Anastasia and I were told we would be part of that brief."

Joker was quick to volunteer, "I'll take care of these trays and go grab the Subaltern." He moved quickly to get away from the AFFS officer.

Hap nodded to Joker, then turned to the Colonel, "Right this way, sir". He led him back to the mercenary leadership. Mark and John were packing up Fiona's desk, and she was standing with Fiona, Fletch and her father. As they approached Hap and the Colonel could overhear Fiona talking.

"So this little shit Capellan-" Fiona started to say.

"St. Ives" Fletch said as he lit a new cigarette.

"Right." Fiona nodded "So in true Capellan style, I got this St. Ives Commander calling us 'whores' because we took a whole week to travel between systems. About the time I'm about to lose it, The professor comes across the couch and starts lecturing the Commander on basic physics and shit talking the Capellan education system."

"Oh no." Roweyna laughed.

"Oh yes." Fiona said. "It gets better. First though you have to picture it. We're in the Leopard's warrior lounge, we just rolled out of bed, Hap and I are in our coveralls, but Anastasia is in this silk robe, and she has hair up in a ponytail or a braid. It looks like we had brought our little sister from her slumber party just to talk the client in science and proper military doctrine."

Kelly knocked his pipebowl on the desk before John and Mike carried it away. "Military doctrine?"

"The change of mission was to help the St. Ives forces reestablish their logistics lines. So the Sang-Wei is demanding we alter the mission while he's calling us whores and bitching about time and space. So after Anastasia insults the Confederacy's education she tells him he can't get mad at us because he doesn't understand the importance of logistics."

"Glad she's using that NAIS education." Fletch said as he took a long drag.

"That's not the best part. The professor starts quoting Clausewitz, and the client looks like his head is about to explode, and he screams, 'what!' and," Fiona had to try and stop laughing, "So, hand to god truth, Anastasia replies, 'I'm sorry I forgot you were educated by Capellan's all you know is Sun Tzu', and then she starts quoting Sun Tzu."

Fletch half laughed, half coughed and beat his chest as he tried not to choke. When he finally caught his breath he said, "Yer shittin' me, the professor is lecturing Capellans-"

"St Ives" Fiona interjected

"Same damn thing," Fletch said, "So the professor was lecturing them on Sun Tzu. How'd the Sang Wei take an impromptu class on the Capellan's favorite philosopher of war and business?"

"It really pissed him off." Fiona laughed. "Normally I'm all for treating the client with respect, but even his own people thought the Sang Wei was out of line."
"Oh damn I would have loved to seen that." Fletch shook his head and looked over at Kelly, "I'm going to miss the professor when we have to give her back to the Federation."

"If only I could weaponize her lecturin'" Kelly said as he wiped a tear away from his eye.

"Is the 'professor' Subaltern Valois?" Colonel Norton quietly asked Hap.

"Yes, Sir." Hap replied.

Colonel Norton cleared his throat, "I believe 'weaponizing her lectures' is the reason High Command would prefer she was doing research and development at NAIS where she can take her notorious intelligence, and apply her knowledge and understanding of science to make the Federation some cutting edge weapons."

"Oh! I apologize, Colonel, I didn't see ye standing there." Kelly said, "I didn't mean to keep ye waiting. Hap, ye should have said something."

"Quite alright, Commander. I'm glad to hear our liaison officers are integrating with your company, and I'd like to hear more about your operations with the St. Ives later. However there is another matter I'd like to discuss with you in private."

"Aye, we have our conference room in our DropShip, the Tir na nOg. Fiona make sure they boys are properly loading those missiles. Colonel Norton, If ye'll follow us," Kelly motioned toward the Excalibur class DropShip. As they walked Anastasia fell in step with them. Hap got close enough to her to ask, "How are things with Mags?"

"We will have much to talk about later." Anastasia said.

"I was afraid you'd say something like that." Hap said as they started climbing the stairs to the upper decks of the dropship.

In a few minutes they were on the executive deck and Kelly led them into a room with a long conference table and a video screen on the wall. Hap hadn't noticed it before, but Colonel Norton had a briefcase. Colonel Norton stood at the head of the table and opened his briefcase, "Before we begin I'm Colonel Norton. I'm not a MechWarrior, rather I am an expert in unconventional warfare."

Kelly motioned around the room, "I'm Kelly McFinnigan, the commander of this company. This is Roweyna, our legal adviser and Mr. James Fletcher our executive officer, and ye know yer AFFS laisons."

Colonel Norton nodded as he opened his briefcase. Hap was surprised to see that the brief case's handle was actually the carrying handle for a compact submachine gun. The lower portion of the brief case contained the submachine gun. It looked like it was designed so that it could detach from the case without having to open the case, giving the briefcase holder instant access to a weapon. The briefcase also had additional magazines for the submachine gun, a few grenades, as well as a nasty looking knife. "Now that introductions are out of the way, before we begin, I'll need everyone to sign non-disclosure agreements."

"You expecting some trouble, Colonel?" Fletch asked nodding at the case of weapons.

The colonel pulled out a folder from the case's top pouch, and began to shuffle papers, "I've done special operations for the Federated Suns across the Inner Sphere for over 30 years. I've made a lot of enemies, and there are a few bounties on my head. I've also had to improvise my way through enough situations to know it's better to come as prepared as you can."

Hap again felt naïve as he realized that some stranger in an AFFS uniform approached him and he happily took him straight to the commander oblivious to the fact he was heavily armed. It was another lesson in being more careful and less trusting. If he was a ComStar assassin he could have easily ordered him to bring his wife to him and execute her.

Colonel Norton pulled out several sheets of paper, "I'll need each of you to sign these forms. If you choose not to take this contract you'll still not be allowed to speak of it for twenty-five years or until you're contacted by an authorized foreign disclosure officer of the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns."

There was a general murmur of acknowledgement but everyone in the room watched Rowyena as she scanned the form then nodded to her father before signing. Once everyone had signed and passed the forms back to the Colonel he started taking out pictures, maps, and diagrams.

"Commander, we'd like to hire you to support a raid on the planet Necromo." Colonel Norton said.

"This is a lot of money for a raid, also what is of strategic value on Necromo? We hit their long range listening post, I've never heard of anything else being there."

Colonel Norton nodded like he had expected this, "Indulge me while I explain a few things, Mr. Fletcher. McFinnigan and Sons is one of several companies being hired to perform this raid. In addition to your enforced company, there will also be an armored company, two additional aerospace flights, and a special operations team. Your Excalibur and Leopard DropShips will be used to move the additional personnel and equipment for the raid. This, plus what is likely to be the extreme risk of the operation is why you are being offered so much."

As Colonel Norton spoke he slipped several TO&Es to Kelly and Fletch. Kelly picked up one of the sheets, "Aye, this unit, Willard's Armored Calvary, this is all light armor, and those LRM carriers won't survive contact with even the lightest of 'mech lance. I cannot guarantee their safety."

"All assets considered disposable for this operation." Colonel Norton replied.

"That's reassuring" said Fletch as he looked over the TO&Es. "Also looks like all assets are mercenary."

Colonel Norton nodded, "Regarding strategic value of Necromo, the system has the Capellan's dropship repair facility as well as ship yards and AeroSpace research facilities. It is of extreme value to the Confederation, so much so they placed the system under strict restrictions to prevent the secret from getting out. You didn't hit a long range listening post, you hit their early warning station."

Kelly glanced over at Fletch, "Have ye ever heard of any of this?"

Fletch shook his head, "No, but I'm married to a former Maskirova agent, so I can assure you, if anyone can keep a secret it's the Maskirova."

"So what are we taking in this raid?" Kelly asked as he glanced through the papers

"The actual raid will be conducted by the special operations team, Detachment 3." Colonel Norton motioned to the company's TO&E. "We may need one or two 'mechs to move the objective onto their transport vehicle, but the primary responsibility of the raid falls to this team of operators."

"So ye just need a few 'mechs to pick up a, a thing?" Kelly asked

"The primary role of your company, and the armor company, will be to conduct a frontal assault on this research facility." The Colonel pointed to a photo of a high walled fortress built into a mountain pass. "Once the defenders are drawn out, a team of your 'mechs will escort the special ops team to the rear of the facility. From there you'll assist in seizing the objective, securing it, and getting off planet."

"Sounds simple enough." Fletch said. "Any idea what the OPFOR looks like?"

The colonel produced another TO&E, "Aside from these turret mounted point defenses, the facility has a mixed company of 'mechs and armor, but the longer the fight goes on they will pull more resources from the planet. Necromo has roughly a Battalion size garrison of ground forces, and a Wing of Aerospace Fighters, plus additional anti-air assets around the shipyard repair facilities."

"I see why all assets are considered disposable." Fletch said leaning back and crossing his arms. Hap could tell from his body language that he didn't want to do this mission.

"We've done riskier things against worst odds. And I'd add, fer less money." Kelly said as he studied the fortress. "Tell me again what the objective is?"

"The objective is simply something the Capellans have that we want." Colonel Norton said. "I hate to be secretive like this, but I can't reveal much more due to security. I will tell you it's nothing biological, nuclear or chemical, and it doesn't present any inherent risk to your company. I'll add it's high-end military tech that few know the existence of. None of you are cleared to know anything more."

"If it's high-end tech, I'm certain I'm cleared to know." Anastasia said.

The Colonel fixed her with a cold stare, "No."

Anastasia frowned and pulled out her ID chit, "Sir, scan my chit. I'm cleared to work in the NAIS high security areas. I have-"

The colonel shook his head, "I said, no. I'm aware of your credentials, but if the Capellans learned that we know of this facility and what it contains we would jeopardize a very sensitive and exquisite information source. For that reason, you aren't cleared. Which is more if you, Subaltern, are captured you should strongly consider using this." Colonel Norton reached into his briefcase, opened a compartment next to the gernades and pulled out a blue vial. He rolled it across the table to Anastasia.

"Is this poison?" Anastasia asked

"Yes. Bite down on the vial and you'll be dead in seconds. The things you know and your abilities cannot fall into the hands of the Federation's enemies. If you're going to insist on conducting operations on the front lines, you had better be prepared to protect what you know by any means necessary."

"I don't think this will be necessary." Kelly said as he pushed the vial back towards the Colonel.

The Colonel didn't take back the poison, He instead continue to give Anastasia a cold stare "I know there are a lot of people impressed that you would volunteer to serve, being a noble and having the option of staying on New Avalon. I, for one, would prefer you were using your talents to recover lostech. However, you and your mother have made your choice, so I can only make my recommendations."

"Colonel, perhaps we should further discuss the operation. Say I'm inclined to take this job." Kelly said.

Colonel Norton turned to look at Kelly, "Your company would immediately travel to the planet Daniels for a ten day preparation and training period with the other companies hired for this operation. We've established an isolated training area and mock-up of the Necromo facilities."

"Well this all sounds in order, now about our fee." Kelly said.

"I'm not here to negotiate contracts, Commander." Colon Norton said.

Kelly looked over at Roweyna, "Perhaps we can get Lady Cunningham on the line. Seems it's been donkey's years since we talked the AFFS Mercenary liaison."

"We don't have a lot of time commander. The Capellan confederation is in disarray and the St. Ives compact is trying to consolidate power. The sooner we strike the better our chances of success. I'd prefer to avoid spending a few days going back and forth with the AFFS bureaucracy. I've been authorized to increase your pay out by 5%."

"Well that sounds good, but now that I know I have to carry everyone about it means I'll be feeding them too, so I was thinking more like 15%."

As Kelly and Colonel Norton began to haggle Hap turned his attention to Anastasia. She was staring at the vile of poison. She looked tired. Hap glanced at his watch. It was still on the shuttle's time. Hap realized they had been awake for almost twenty hours. Hap started to feel tired himself. He reached over and kneaded the base of her neck. She glanced over at him and gave him a tired smile. Hap knew no matter how tired they both felt she'd want to have a long talk after the meeting was over.

The Colonel handed the contract back to Kelly, "Alright I can get you 8%, and pull another 3% from one of my black budget funds. We'll reimburse you for food and class six supplies you give to the other companies during transit. That is the best I can do."

Kelly reached out his hand, "11% increase, and ye reimburse food and personal consumables. Very good we have a deal."

The Colonel shook Kelly's hand, "I'll have new contract drawn up and you can sign on it on Daniels. Do you have any other questions."

"I think we'll hold our questions till we get to Daniels and start working through the operation with the other companies." Fletch said.

Colonel Norton turned to Hap and Anastasia, "My flight off-world leaves soon, but before I go, do either of you have any questions for me."

Hap glanced at Fletch and Kelly, there response had implied tactical and operational questions would wait. Anastasia was giving the Colonel her own cold stare. If she had been Mags or Joker they probably would have been asking about where he'd like them to shove his poison. Hap decided to break the tension, "Where do I get a case like that?"

Colonel Norton looked from Anastasia to Hap and raised a surprised eyebrow.

"You said Anastasia should protect herself 'by any means necessary', having a case like that might allow us to turn a bad situation, into in a minor inconvenience."

Colonel Norton nodded, "That's not precisely what I said, but I get what you mean, and I do like to encourage sudden and decisive overmatch." He looked around the case for a moment, then carefully pulled out the tray with the grenades and had to disconnect the section with the knife that made it also accessible from outside the case. He found a small fabric tag and ripped it of the lining.

Colonel Norton handed Hap the tag, "Here this has the NSN and stock numbers, have your supply officer request it through your AFFS equipment supplier. You'll need to get a bull pup rifle, or a submachine gun that can mount a federated standard rifle carrying handle, whichever you prefer."

Fletch glanced over at Hap, "Order two. Tatyana's birthday is coming up, and she loves that sort of thing."

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