"You know I honestly thought I might get laid tonight." Hap said quietly to Anastasia

"I thought so too," Anastasia said. "But I'd prefer if you didn't refer to our intimacy so flippantly." Anastasia was trying hard not to show how concerned she felt for Hap. She doubted he knew how close his 'mech had come to falling down on their way to the star port, nor that he was acting drunk.

"That's fair, but it's a shame I ruined it by nearly getting killed." Harold joked, trying to make her smile.

Anastasia smiled, trying to hide her fear, "You're not dead yet. You still have a chance."

"I have a chance? I like how you're doing your part to give me something to live for." Hap teased her.

They stopped at the gurney and Dr. Leslie and her teenage assistant caught up to them. Leslie pushed the wheel lock with her foot, "Get on there, and in spite of what you may have heard, a nap is the best cure for a concussion. If you feel like passing out, that's fine. I don't need you awake for the tests."

Hap took off his cooling vest and handed it Anastasia. As she took it, Hap stepped close to her, and gently raised her chin and kissed her on the lips. She hummed in surprise as she opened her mouth and responded to his kiss. Her heart was racing as he pulled her closer and their tongues probed each other's mouths. Anastasia basked in the feelings until she felt someone pushing them apart.

"I should have made it clear." Dr. Leslie said, "you need to not over exert yourself, so none of that."

Anastasia took half a step back. She couldn't believe the intense feelings she was experiencing. She knew from basic biology that her body was releasing a barrage of endorphins and hormones that were having a strong physical and even psychological effect on her. Anastasia hadn't expected a kiss could be this powerful. Her heart was racing and she felt dizzy and weak, but excited and uninhibited. It was worse than the whiskey from poker night. Hap was right to think he was going to get laid. Once Dr. Leslie is done with her tests, he still might.

The doctor pushed Hap down onto the stretcher, "Stay there, and lay still." She told him, "I won't think twice about giving you a sedative." She turned around to address Anastasia, "You need to go to ops, usually McFinnigan wants to revel in the glory of war and discuss, in great detail, every little violent action conducted. He refers to it as an after action report or some such nonsense."

"I'd prefer to stay with Harold and file reports later." Anastasia took a step toward the gurney.

"I'm politely telling you, that's not your choice." Leslie said firmly, "Go to ops now, visit him later."

Anastasia's heart raced as she watched Hap being wheeled away. She saw Hap raise his head and give her a thumbs-up. She wondered if that meant he was okay, or thinking the same thing she was.

"She's not codding ya." Patrick and as he and Fiona walked up beside Anastasia.

"What?" Anastasia asked as she watched Harold wondering when visiting hours were.

"She'll sedate a mechwarrior in a heartbeat." Patrick said, "She has a real low tolerance for what she calls, 'hot headed mechwarrior nonsense'. Hap was smart just to get on the trolley and not fight her."

"Take it from Patrick, he's been sedated a couple times." Fiona said as she kept walking

"Come on Professor, Doc Les told you it's time for the AAR, move your ass." Tomax said as he walked by.

"Yes, of course." Anastasia said as she fell in step with everyone else, but she still worried about Harold.

"Is it 'don't focus day' in Coyote lance?" Fletch asked, "I'm going to have to talk to Hap."

"Some AAR comments write themselves. 'Coyote lance needs more situational awareness'." Fiona said.

"Sure is real easy to talk shit when you're watching the fight from a couple kilometers away." Tomax said.

"You took down how many mech's today? A Hunchback you got double the tonnage on, and you had help? Who was 'sitting back'? I was preparing to shoot down some heavy aircraft." Fiona said

"Oh that reminds me, I'm thinkin' of gettin' drunk, takin' out the dragon, and stompin' on Apex's aero fighter jest on principal." Patrick said. "anyone care to join me?"

"You know we'll all have to pay for that if you do that, right?" Fiona said, "Let cousin Row-Row drag that terrible woman to court and stomp her face with laws and fines, it's simpler and more profitable."

As they walked between buildings they could see a pair of techs working on the Stuka. They were stripping the broken armor panels and preparing replacement pieces. "I thought most of our techs were picking through the salvage. Why the hell is that thing getting priority treatment?" Tomax asked

Fletch stopped to smoke and watch the techs, "I'm going to guess Kelly is playing 'the company store' game with the Golden Buzzard's CO. We fix the Stuka, and when she asks for it back she gets an outrageous bill for repairs, and an offer to buy it for significantly less than it's worth. This assumes her wingman joins us."

"Damn, I hate 'the company store' treatment, but after the shit she pulled, she deserves it. Tomax said.

The group of mercenaries climbed the stairs and walked into Ops. The After Action Review had already begun and Joker was explaining spotting 'mechs and vehicles as they were unloaded from the drop ship. Giggles was standing in the back trying not to be noticed. On the monitors were videos from the drone, and some of the 'mechs. Currently the drone video was showing the Immortal's off-loading. A large white board had been wheeled into the room and Kitty was taking notes on it.

"Aye, so ye were dismounted and laying on an antenna tower with yer 'mech hiding behind a hill. That sounds like a pretty good tactic, but ye mis-identified a hover tank." Kelly said.

Joker scratched behind his head nervously, "Yeah, I should probably work on my vehicle recognition."

"Aye. Sounds like it was a problem for the lot of us. Make a note Kitty, we need to ensure we're keeping up with vehicle, mech and aero fighter recognition guides. Keep 'em up-to-date, and review them." Kitty wrote the last thing he said on a dry-erase board, as Kelly asked, "Then what happened?"

Anastasia's mind drifted back to Harold. That kiss was amazing. As close and as intimate as they had been it surprised her that they had never kissed before, at least not like that. Kelly cleared his throat and everyone looked at Anastasia. "Ms. Vallois, I asked, why don't you tell us what happened next."

Anastasia forgot that without Harold she was the Coyote's lance leader. She looked at the monitor and guessed what happened next. "We detected the Immortal's recon lance screening. Joker jumped from his hiding place, which alerted them to our presence. They broke formation to engage us."

"That led to you fighting that lance, and then shortly after ye made a comment", Kelly pulled a small notebook out of his vest, "'We are meeting with catastrophic success'. What did ye mean by that?"

"We were able to quickly destroy the recon lance, which was our first objective." Anastasia glanced at the white board, Kitty had written the objectives on the whiteboard, with the responsible lance in parentheses next to the objective.

1 - Destroy jump capable 'mechs (Coyotes)
2 - Establish Murder bowl (Anvils supported by: Hammers, Dullahans, and Militia Artillery)
3 - Lure 'mechs into "murder bowl" (Coyotes)
4 - Recon- rendezvous with Robert's Rangers, escort to Drop Ship (Coyotes-, Robert's Rangers)
5 - Spot/Call fire for Golden Eagles to enable Rangers boarding drop ship (Coyotes-, Golden Eagles)
6 - Capture Drop Ship (Robert's Rangers)
7 - Close with and destroy all remaining Ahmed's Immortals (All forces)

"We were attempting the third objective." Anastasia continued, "to lure the remaining enemy 'mechs to the objective, we were successfully doing that, but we found ourselves…"

"In a damn hailstorm or LRMs." Joker said for her, "they just kept coming. That was catastrophic."

"Yes." Kelly said, "So what should ye have done?"

"Harold and I thought we should have attempted to draw the recon lance further away from the main force to prevent the constant indirect fire." Anastasia said, "Once the recon lance was defeated, we could have lured the other lances to the objective, or created hasty ambushes to defeat them in detail."

Kelly nodded, "Right. Defeat in detail, ye mean separating a unit's elements and engaging them piecemeal? That might have been better for us, Kitty make a note. However, to yer first point, if he had lured the recon lance too far away they may have detected the rest of the unit and spoiled the ambush."

"Noted, Sir. Thank you." Anastasia said respectfully.

"Yer not a cadet anymore, regurgitating doctrine, and being taught, 'the right way' to fight. Yer a mercenary, it's all about surviving and makin' money. Most o' the folks here will tell you there is no right way to fulfill a contract, jest some ways are better than others."

"And some ways will get you killed." Patrick added.

Kelly shrugged, "At the same time I value the reminders of what good military doctrine looks like." He looked at Patrick, "And professional decorum." Fletch looked like he was about to say something, but just shook his head as he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his first aid kit.

As Kitty wrote, Kelly continued, "We completed the first two objectives. The recon lance was destroyed, the murder bowl was established, Fletch you want to explain what happened next."

Fletch shook out a cigarette, "We saw the Coyotes approaching, followed by the Immortal's Hunchback. You released the Coyotes, and once the Hunchback entered the engagement range of our long range weapons we destroyed it" As he spoke the drone's video showed the Coyotes splitting up, and the Hunchback being destroyed by a volley of LRMs and PPC bolts.

"We might have initiated the ambush early." Tomax said apologetically.

"No 'we' to it, that whole thing was initiated by your three PPCs. I just followed it up with LRMs so you didn't look like a jackass." Fletch said.

"Mother-" Tomax started to say, "You told me, to 'light him up'."

"I said, 'I bet you can't hit him from there.'" Fletch corrected him, "But you did, so here's the C-bills I owe you." Fletch passed him a folded c-bill note.

Kelly shook his head, "Make a note, 'Initiate ambushes when all enemies are in the kill zone, and keep gambling too a minimum during combat operations."

As Kitty wrote Anastasia's mind wondered back to Harold, wondering if he was okay. Minor concussions happened to even the best of mechwarriors, but it was little consolation when it was someone you cared about.

Anastasia tried to focus again as Grizzly recounted his lance's actions, "We tried to outflank the Immortal's and push them in the Murder bowl. I could see the Orion and the Thunderbolt were just entering it, but the Trebuchet, Archer, BattleMaster and Banshee were hanging back. I figured the Archer was most dangerous, so I told David to find it, and call artillery on it."

"Kitty, were we able to get anyone from the militia to join us here?" Kelly asked as he looked around.

"Ah, no. They were doing their own post action review, and they were wantin' on our reports on their accuracy." Kitty said. "I did let them know it left a little somethin' to be desired."

"Aye, and did you tell them next time we're going to need them to have more than ten rounds of artillery on hand?" Kelly asked, barely hiding his frustration, "Actually tell them we'll replace what we used, and buy them extra. I know militias don't always get all the funding they need."

Kelly knocked the bowl of his pipe into his hand, "Crow, perhaps you can tell us what the Hammers were doing while the Dullahan's were attempting to flank the Immortals and call artillery."

"Yeah, so we saw Hap and Anastasia- Hey how's Hap doing?"

"Doctor Morgan suspects he has a minor concussion, and is running tests on him." Anastasia said.

Crow gave a dismissive wave, "We all get those minor concussions, they don't cause any permanent damage. At least I've never noticed any difference from one to the next." A few mechwarriors laughed.

Anastasia tried not to let her emotions show, but nothing Crow said was funny or reassuring to her. Kelly seemed to sense her mood, "Crow, lad, back to the AAR. What were Hammers doing?" Kelly asked

"Coyote 1 and 2 moved to resupply, and we moved up as you called for fire on the Orion." Crow said.

As he spoke Anastasia watched the drone video. The Orion and the Thunderbolt were moving into "the murder bowl" together. There were forests on either side of the road and the two 'mechs used the cover to bound and suppress as they advanced. It looked like a textbook maneuver. The Orion shot at Kelly and the drone slewed it's camera to focus on the Hammer lance as they launched a barrage of missiles.

In the upper corner of the frame Anastasia could see her and Harold's 'mechs reloading missiles. She remembered thinking that his Griffin's armor had taken a significant amount of damage, and didn't look like he could take much more abuse. She also knew Harold wasn't the sort of man that would leave the field just because his 'mech was on the verge of destruction. Even with a concussion and a crippled 'mech he still chose to fight. She admired that just as much as it terrified her.

Anastasia remembered her mother telling her, "Sometimes, my darling, you'll find the galaxy is filled with two types of people. Victims who are always asking 'how have I been wronged, and who did it?', and volunteers that are always thinking, 'if someone is going to get hurt, let it be me.'." Harold was a volunteer. She saw it when he stepped between the APCs and the tanks. Honestly she saw it regularly, with him putting up with her nonsense, to his patience with Joker and Mags. The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to go find him.

Anastasia tried to focus again and watch the video as a second volley of missiles slammed into the Orion. The first salvo had savaged the 'mech's left side, and breached the center torso. The second barrage compromised the fusion reactor's shielding. The drone shifted views as the Orion's reactor went critical. By now the BattleMaster had arrived at the pass and was exchanging PPC shots with Tomax as the Thunderbolt chose to back out of the pass. The Trebuchet and the Archer were providing fire support but it was just a meager nuisance compared to the McFinnigan's fire support.

Grizzly explained how the combined Dullahan and Coyote lance were harassing the Banshee, Trebuchet and Archer. After trading a few salvos with Grizzly's Wolverine, and destroying its primary weapon system, the Banshee turned its attention to the lighter 'mechs. David was standing on the side of a mountain calling artillery when the Banshee pilot used his PPCs and lasers to melt the Valkyrie's legs off. This was when the Immortals decided to retreat.

Grizzly found himself between the Banshee and BattleMaster which forced him to use his jump jets to leap over a mountain, and coordinate his team to maintain contact with the Immortals so they could call indirect fire and keep up the pressure. The ambush devolved into a running gun fight.

The Militia reported they were down to their last two rounds of artillery. This forced the mixed lance to save the rounds until they could pin down the Immortals and make them count, while calling Hammer lance forward. Every time one of the McFinnigan 'mechs came into view the BattleMaster or Banshee nearly crippled it. Mags was the first to have to disengage after she lost an arm and her center torso was nearly cored. Joker lost an arm but he was able to keep in the fight. Grizzly's armor was holding, but he ran out of SRMs. He disengaged when Crow came to assist.

Kelly looked at Giggles, "Ms. Berlin, perhaps ye can tell us about yer part of the operation."

"First of all I have to say I'm really sorry. I could try to explain that I was following orders, and had to make a split second decision, but when I was pulling up I knew I had done the wrong thing."

Kelly waved his pipe dismissively, "I think after a few pints we'll all agree it's water under the bridge."

Giggles looked at Kelly questioning, "Before I continue, I have to know, are you really offering me a job? I feel I have to tell you I don't own that Stuka. So I'm just a fighter pilot with no fighter."

Rowyena cheerily said, "Oh I have a contract right here for a fighter/drop ship pilot," then her eyes narrowed and her voice darkened, "and Ms. Edwards is about to be drug before the MRB and the local magistrate, to discuss breach of contract, negotiating with the enemy during hostilities, conspiring to attack the local militia. If she's lucky, we may settle out of court and we'll keep the Stuka."

"And if she's unlucky the Golden Buzzards will be absorbed into Rowyena's Rust Puppies." Fletch added.

"Iron Wolfhounds, Mr. Fletcher." Rowyena reminded him, "And that would be very unlucky for me. I'd have to fire that nasty woman, pay her a severance, and transfer the personnel and equipment to dad's company. I need to maintain the Wolfhounds as a shell company, and watch my tax liability. I don't need equipment and manpower for that."

McFinnigan eyes twinkled as he looked at his daughter, "Would ye say, you'd be meeting with catastrophic success?"

"Anything to do with Robyn Edwards ends in catastrophe." Giggles noted before explaining how Farrah had seen the pair of the aero fighters and assumed they were going to attack him. Edwards was unhappy with the compensation she had bargained for, the idea of possibly doubling or tripling her pay out appealed to her. Giggles wasn't happy with betraying their client, so disengaging appealed to her.

As Giggles spoke Anastasia's mind drifted back to Harold and the kiss, and wondering if he was okay. She focused long enough to explain the last part of the battle where she called for artillery and Hap and Tatyana destroyed the tanks. The AAR's conclusion was a blur, and afterwards she talked to Kitty to learn that the doctors were using the drop ship's medical bay. Most of the McFinnigan's were going to a bar to celebrate, but Anastasia chose to visit Harold.