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Chapter 75[]

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Future Plans and a new addition to the Coyotes[]

Federated Suns
March, 3030

Hap walked back to the McFinnigan portion of the Life Support Area. The LSA was setup in a neat gridwork of military six-man bubble tents. There were enough tents for all the mercenaries, including the support staff. The accommodations were spartan, but it was better than a Drop Ship's berthing area.

The different Mercenary companies generally kept to themselves as they settled into the LSA. Hap and his lance shared a shelter, and they were close to the other single mechwarriors and some of the support staff like the twins John and Mark.

As Hap found his shelter he noticed that the common area now had a fire pit. Rolph and Grizzly had a roaring fire going and were drinking beers as they sat in camping chairs and discussed the armor company's troubles with fixing their LRM Carrier. Rolph and Crow greeted him.

"You guys build a fire pit?" Hap asked.

"Nope. It was here when we got here." Grizzly replied. "Probably John and Mark's work. Where's your lance?"

"I was going to ask you guys if you've seen Joker or Mags." Hap said.

"We just got out here." Rolph looked at the liquid in his bottle, "about half a beer ago. Where's Anastasia?"

"Fletch had us do some paperwork, and she went to put the finishing touches on it." Hap held up the two to-go trays he was holding, "I went to the DEFAC to grab dinner before it closed. She was going to meet me here."

"Maybe she's in your tent." Grizzly said before finishing his beer.

Hap walked into the Coyote's tent to find Mag's sitting on her cot using her personal holo-viewer to look at pictures. Hap sat down across from her on his cot. He realized he had not really had a chance to speak with Mags in over a month. When they left Monhegan he hadn't seen her for weeks, and during the flight to Daniels he just didn't find a quiet moment to take her aside.

Hap sat the trays on the edge of the double thick inflatable mattress that Anastasia had managed to "acquire". Hap cleared his throat, "What are you looking at?"

"Family pictures."

"Yeah? How's your dad doing?"

Mags looked up, "He's dead."

Hap frowned, "Damn! I'm sorry I didn't know."

"I didn't think you did, Jefe." There was an awkward pause, "I'm not good at sugar coating things."

"Yeah I've noticed that." Hap nodded, "If you don't mind me asking, How'd you find out?"

"My cousin sent me a message, but I wasn't surprised." Mag said as she closed the picture she was looking at, and started to go through the video selections. "We share a bank account, I put money in it every pay day. He hadn't touched for weeks."

"Maybe he moved in with family and was saving money."

"Not the way he drinks." Mags said she got off her cot and sat down next to Hap, "Then there was this message." She loaded a holo of a very old looking man that mumbled and looked exhausted. It took Hap a moment to realize this was Mag's father. He looked thinner and somehow shorter than in the other pictures Mags had shown him of her father. Mag's dad spoke quietly in fluent Spanish.

"What's he saying?" Hap asked

"He's lonely and complaining about everything." Mags said, "It's not like how he usually complains though. My uncle, his brother was dead when got back home and my nephews didn't show him the respect he thought they should have. They knew he paid a lot of bills for the farm and was family, so they tolerated him, but he knew they didn't like him. My aunts are too busy with their own lives and children. He's just very lonely."

"Wow. It's too bad he couldn't come back here. Everyone seems to like your dad." Hap watched the old man talk and thought about some of the stories he had heard of Mag's dad, "Maybe it's more accurate to say everyone respected him here."

Mags nodded and whispered, "Everyone respected him here, true." She stopped the video and changed to a still holo of her and her dad. The picture was taken in a bar with Mags and her dad posing with beers in front of a Cerillos flag. Mags didn't look different, but her father seemed years younger, and they both looked happy.

Hap pretended not to see the tears in Mag's eyes, "That's a good picture, when was it taken?"

"When I was sixteen. Can you believe it was only a few years ago?"

"It looks like a very good memory. Does Kelly know your dad is dead? Do you want do something for him?" Hap asked.

"He knows." She said, "Kelly said some nice things for him while you were on St. Ives. Hung his picture in the galley too."

Anastasia opened the tent flap and pushed her way in, "Oh good Harold, and Mags. What are you two talking about?"

"Mags dad." Hap said.

"Oh? Did you tell Harold about your father?" Anastasia asked.

"Yeah." Mags said.

Hap looked up at Anastasia, "You know Mags dad had died? Why didn't you tell me?"

Anastasia gave a little shrug as she sat down and cozies up to Hap, "Mags is a private person. I figure it was best to let her tell you when she was ready."

"There was a funeral, so apparently I was the only one that didn't know." Hap said, then quickly added, "I'm sorry we missed it, Mags."

Mags shrugged, "You didn't know him."

"Yes but often what we do for the dead is for the living." Anastasia said.

Mags gave Anastasia an odd look. "What Anastasia is saying is, we wanted to be there to support you. I'm sorry we weren't there to support you, and I'm sorry I didn't know about this until now." Hap paused, "I'm also kinda surprised Joker didn't say anything when we got back to Monhegan."

"Are you really that surprised?" Mags asked as she shutdown the holo viewer.

"He came and talked to me. He said you were acting weird and…yeah actually I don't know why I'm surprised." Hap said.

Mags gave Hap a knowing look, "When my dad died, and I thought about how lonely and angry he was I realized I didn't want to be like that. When I die I want to be surrounded by my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren."

"Knowing Joker I'm going to guess that spooked him." Hap said.

"He thought I was kidding, I guess. He made some jokes that pissed me off."

"I find that unsurprising." Anastasia said.

"Where is Joker?" Hap asked

"John and Mark came by and wanted him to help with something." Mags said.

"So what's going to happen with you and Joker?" Hap asked.

"I've decided I'm probably going to forgive him eventually." Mags said.

"That's generous of you." Hap deadpanned "When do you think that will be?"

"Maybe when I'm ready to have children." Mags said.

"With Joker?" Anastasia asked

"Might as well be him." Mags gave a wry smile "At least once he starts acting right. When I told Bill," Hearing Mags use Joker's actual name made Hap and Anastasia exchanged glances, "I wanted to have children he asked me if I was high. I told Bill to watch his mouth or I'd cut him, and he'd told me that sounds exactly like how the galaxy's best mother would talk. I knew he was right, and that pissed me off even more."

"Joker, tends to talk before he thinks." Hap said. "He knows he messed up, I think if you give him a chance he'll apologize. I also think You'll be a fine mom, Mags, if you give yourself a chance."

"As long as you don't threaten your children with corporal violence." Anastasia said

"Yeah I have a some growing to do." Mags stood up and put her holovid carefully on her cot. "I guess right now I'm too wild, like everyone says. I think I'll go out to the fire pit."

"You want to take our dinner to the fire pit?" Hap asked Anastasia.

"I think it's wise to eat outside the tent. I'd prefer to not attract vermin." Anastasia said.

The sun was starting to set and Rolph and Grizzly had been joined by Dillon, Crow, and Fiona. Mags found a chair and dragged it over to the fire. Hap and Anastasia took a bench made of wooden missile crates, and settled in to eat their meal.

Patrick walked out his tent with a case of the McFinnigan home brew, "Hap, Professor, were ye able to fix the plan?"

"Wait. What changes do you make in the plan?" Grizzly asked suspiciously as he grabbed a beer.

"Fletch suggested they change the part where Mags and Joker try to jump on the Karnov." Fiona said.

"That was never part of the plan" Mags grumbled, "we had to bail because someone let Penny or Sarah MacGregor fly the Phaidin."

"Oh. I don't care about any of that." Grizzly said, "That's a Coyote problem."

"Indeed." Anastasia said, "So yes, per the XO's guidance, we modified the 'back door' phase of the operation so that the Phaidin only does one insertion. Also Colonel Norton ordered me to add that I would protect the Phaidin and not leave the drop zone."

Hap frowned, "That takes the Coyotes down a 'mech, that some combat power."

Anastasia nodded, "Colonel Norton feels we're more likely to meet resistance on the ex-fil, so having a 'mech in a vanguard or overwatch position may be beneficial. Especially while loading up the Karnov."

"It also keeps you away from the main fight." Hap sighed. "Between Colonel Norton and Major Braun I'm starting to suspect you're the key to the whole NAIS weapon's program."

"Unlikely. They might be struggling with my father's research areas, but there is a cadre of other scientists and researchers that could probably continue his work." She stared at the fire for a moment, "probably. Though my father was quite brilliant. Perhaps they do need my assistance."

"Don't they have that Team Buckaroo or Bananas or something?" Grizzly asked as he passed Crow a beer.

"Team Banzai. Yes." Anastasia sighed, "They're certainly brilliant, and eccentric, but they're also generally allowed to research whatever appeals to them at the moment. They create amazing things, if it interests them. That could be the main reason AFFS High Command want me back. They're looking for additional scientists that will actually work on the projects they want done." Anastasia snuggled up to Hap. "They can wait though, I'm pretty happy right here though."

Hap laid his head on hers. "Was Fletch there when Colonel Norton changed the plan?"

"Yes, Fletch argued against it, but Colonel Norton was adamant. Colonel Norton said he had been thinking about this for a while, and so if we were going to change one thing, we may as well change two." Anastasia said. "Fletch agreed eventually. He told me to try and figure out a way to help out. He suggested I coordinate the air support."

"That's good, someone needs to do that," Fiona said, "You can start by ensuring there is a clear flight path for the Karnov. Try to make it so no one jumps on the poor thing."

"Everyone thinks they're so damn funny until their in a drop ship with open doors and a bad pilot."

"Oh Mags, lighten up. We've all had at least one bad drop." Fiona replied.

"Aye, ye should ask Fiona about the drop when she thought her jump pack wasn't working " Patrick said.

Fiona gave Patrick a murderous look, "You shut your damn drunk mouth Patrick. We were jumping a gas giant and you try being dependent on the those limited single use jump packs when your falling from low atmosphere."

"Is that why they used to call you 'Screamin' McFinnigan'?" Crow asked.

"You really want to be part of this conversation?" Fiona said.

"Oh, lighten up Fiona." Patrick said, but before she could answer, John, Mark, and Joker walked up to the crowd sitting around the fire. Joker was carrying a small dog.

"Where have you guys been?" Hap asked.

"Well, Kelly noticed that there were wild dogs getting into the dumpsters behind the DEFAC, and he was worried that these dogs might hurt or attack someone." John said.

Mark added, "So he told us to get rid of the dogs. At first we thought he meant to shoot them."

"But the pack was damn near thirty." John said. "So we decided to try somethin' else."

"We happened to know where to find a couple o' cases of expired rations that were no longer fit for human consumption so we figured…" Mark explained.

"You lads didn't poison these poor dogs?" Patrick asked.

"Nay. We baited 'em into the back of the utility truck. Then we drove about a hundred kilometers west of here, where there's a landfill for some local settlements." John said.

"We fed them some expired rations and then tossed the rest out into the landfill." Mark said. "We figure they'd jest pick around the landfill or try their luck in the settlements.

"Yeah, also I think they're Coyotes, so I kept one." Joker said holding out the small dog which Hap could now see it clearly. It was a tawny lanky puppy. It had small but erect ears and a long tail. The pup's brown eyes were alert and curious.

"Joker we can't keep this dog or Coyote." Hap said "There's no way we can take it on the DropShip. Yorik or Fletch will have my ass."

"Oh, now before ye dismiss this poor girl, ye should hear how Joker had to bargain for her." John said as he took the puppy and passed her to Anastasia.

"Who did you bargain with?" Hap asked.

"Alright I know this sounds weird, but, no shit, here's how it happened. We got the coyotes into the back of the five ton, drove them out to the trash hole and then we started mading a pile of the rotten rations."

"How'd you know they were rotten? Most rats smell like they've gone bad." Grizzly asked.

"Because the tag on the boxes said 'best before Second Succession War' and had been signed by Kerensky himself." Joker said, "Shut your ration hole, Grizzly."

"Yeah shut the hell up, Grizzly." Mags added.

Grizzly grumbled as Joker continued, "So the coyotes got out and started sniffing around, and we start throwing around the rations and the coyotes start tearing into the boxes and eating."

"Then I saw this little bitch." Joker said motioning to the coyote Anastasia was holding and Mags was petting, "and I decided to keep her. When I went to grab her this biggest Coyote stepped between me and her and just stared at me. I could tell she was smart so I thought maybe I'd offer her a ration."

"How'd you know it was a 'her'?" Fiona asked, then quickly added, "Nope. Don't answer. So the great Matriarch of the coyotes is staring at you. Please, continue."

"Right I could tell she was super intelligent so I told her, 'I'll give you this ration for that puppy.' And I swear she stared at me for a moment, blinked her eyes, shook her head and then walked over to the palette of MREs and tried to pull a case off the palette." Joker waited for someone to comment then continued, "So I grabbed the case took it away from everyone and opened it up for her. Then I picked up the puppy, and hand to god, she looked at me nodded."

There was a pause and no one said anything for a few moments. Then Grizzly laughed, "Bullshit!"

"Oh ye had to be there." John said.

"Aye, Joker made a real connection with 'the great coyote matriarch' I thought he was going to try ask fer her paw in marriage or somethin'." Mark added.

"Joker, none of this really matters because there is no way we can keep a dog." Hap said.

"Coyote." Fiona corrected. "And uh, your in more trouble than you know." Fiona moved her hand out from under the blanket she was sharing with Crow and pointed at Anastasia.

Hap looked over as Anastasia lovingly cuddled the small canine in her arms and whispered, "Oh bebe" as the coyote yawned. Anastasia passed the pup to Mags, "I think we should name her Athena, after the Greek goddess of war and wisdom."

Mags scrutinized the coyote as she held it, "What about Ixchel? She's the Mayan Goddess of the moon, fertility and medicine."

Anastasia gave Mags a questioning look, "Why the moon?" As if on cue there was a distant howl from several miles away followed by another that sounded like it was just a hundred meters away. The coyote puppy looked around for a moment looked like she was going to howl, but just yawned again.

"Perhaps Selene, after the Greek moon goddess." Anastasia said.

Mags nodded as the coyote settled in her lap, "She looks like a Selene."

"Anastasia, you told me you didn't want vermin in the tent." Hap said.

"Selene isn't vermin" Anastasia answered. "At least no more than Joker."

Hap sighed and put his arm around Anastasia's shoulder. "I'm still not sure how we're going to sneak Selene onto the Phaidin."

"Oh it's pretty simple mate, First you have Doc Leslie Morgan look her over." Patrick said. "Les loves animals and will make sure she's healthy, and give her whatever shots she needs. Once that's done Fletch and Yorik can't say that's she some mangey disease bearing mongrel. At least no more than Joker."

"Hey! I do a nice thing, get us all a cool pet, and everyone is giving me shit." Joker said.

"Yer right mate, have a beer." Patrick held out a bottle that Joker eagerly accepted, "So once that's done, you'll just need a crate to keep her in, and that's something any of the tech's can weld together for you, if ye askin' em nice enough.

"Yeah there's enough scrap to throw something together." Rolph said as he finished his beer, belched, and grabbed another bottle from Patrick's case.

The conversation continued to a complete plan to sneak Selene on the drop ship and then more discussion on the operations and the other mercenary companies.

Everyone generally liked the tank company even if their commander was a little too bombastic for their tastes. The tankers seemed like a good fit with McFinnigan Company, and Rolph and Crow even suggested inviting them next time they found themselves around the fire pit.

No one had much of an opinion on the White Tails. The pilots generally kept to themselves and given how highly regimented their duty and sleep schedules were it was unusual for the MechWarriors to mingle with their own flight crews, much less pilots from another company.

The special forces detachment, Det 3, was different altogether. They kept to themselves, and they were usually in full kit with their faces covered. They generally ignored anyone's attempt to be friendly or sociable. Everyone felt they were actively trying to not to be social. It felt like they were too good to talk to the companies.

Patrick wished they had been able to trade them out for his cousin Brandon's outfit, Robert's Rangers. Patrick told several stories of his cousins daring exploits, some of them were youthful criminal mischief that Patrick participated when they were teens. Other stories were outright suicidal military operations that were only successful because they were so unexpected and conducted with aggressive speed and violence. The failed plan to steal a drop ship by driving up into it and rushing from the loading deck to the bridge sounded like it would have been an average "day at the office" for the Rangers.

The fire died down and slowly everyone peeled off to their own tent. Eventually only the recon lance remained. Hap gently tried to rouse his napping wife so she didn't wake the small coyote curled up in her arms. Wordlessly he reached out to Mags who was staring at something just beyond the fire light. Hap followed her eye line to see a large dog watching them.

The dog moved, and for a moment Hap thought it was a wolf, but when the animal walked silently into the fire's dying fire light Hap could see it had markings and coloring like Selene. The large Coyote approached Anastasia and Selene and gently touched noses with the sleeping pup.

"Oh shit." Joker whispered, "That's her. She came back for her girl. Maybe she thought I just wanted to borrow her."

"Or-" Anastasia stopped herself as she locked eyes with the coyote. Hap knew Anastasia was going to tell Joker there was no way a feral beast could understand the idea of bartering, but now that he was looking at the coyote he understood Joker's point. It did seem to have a strange intelligence.

"No." Mags whispered, "I think she wanted to make sure we were taking good care of her daughter."

The Coyote broke eye contact with Anastasia and glanced down. She noticed Anastasia's to-go tray still had a large piece of chicken breast in it. The coyote helped herself to the meat before silently leaving. After she disappeared there were a few more howls of various distances, followed up by one that sounded like it was just behind the tents.

"Alright, I know a wild animal can't actually know what it means to trade a ration for a puppy, but how do you explain that?" Joker asked.

Anastasia stood up, "Whatever she understands doesn't exactly matter. Every time we terraform a planet or introduce species to a new world, they adapt and sometimes they don't act in ways we are used to." Anastasia looked over at Mags, "What's important is, even though she's wild, she's clearly smart, and a good mother."

"Uh, okay." Joker looked over at Mags, "you know what the Professor is talking about?"

Mags nodded. "Let's take a walk."

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