OPERATION TWO: KING OF THE HILL
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This actually happened to two friends of my dad's when he was in the Air Force, though it was a truck rather than a 'Mech, of course. And I've embellished a little…but not much.
Rhialla Training Grounds, Drummond
Virentofta, Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
"I am not believing this."
Richard Habersohn looked up at his Black Hawk. From where he stood, one could hardly tell there was any damage to it, but an experienced MechWarrior could tell by how the 'Mech stood: the Black Hawk was already hunched over, to the point where its circular hips were actually almost level with the helicopter-like cockpit. His was leaning to one side, listing to its right. He had popped off the inspection panel to look, and now his lance commander was checking it for herself.
"Yep, it's broken." Louisa Arla-Vlata's voice echoed through the 'Mech's leg. She shinnied out of the inspection panel and dropped to the ground, suspecting to herself—correctly—that the position had left her with her rather shapely rear in the air, and that Habersohn undoubtedly noticed. There was nothing to be done about that, just as there was nothing to be done about the damage to Habersohn's 'Mech. "Hip actuator's cracked straight through."
"Damn." Habersohn resisted the urge to kick the Black Hawk's leg. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's captured Clantech. Nicia can only work so many miracles."
"We might could graft a Black Hawk-KU hip onto it. But in any case, we can't do it out here." She pulled on a radio headset. "Green Six to Talisman Six."
Alice Atikokan's voice came back. "Go, Green Six."
"Talisman, Green Two has a busted hip. Request a scrub."
"Roger that, Green. We're pretty close to knocking off anyway, so pull your lance off. Call Able and get a Marv."
"Understood. Green Six out." Louisa sighed. It was hot out, enough that both of them were streaming sweat—Habersohn worse than her, since he had been standing under the summer sun for a longer time. Under combat conditions, Habersohn would have been forced to limp back to base, forcing Louisa to go on with a short lance, but this was just an exercise. Preserving the 'Mech took precendence over whatever benefits could be had by battalion-level training, especially one as precious as a Clantech Black Hawk. Louisa radioed "Able"—the techs waiting a few kilometers to the rear—and requested a "Marv"—specifically an AAMRV-10 BattleMech Recovery Vehicle. She then told Yurika Misumaru and Hitomi Dunn, waiting just in sight below a shallow ridge, to go on ahead. They would meet back at their base in Sancrist, which was two hours west.
Louisa leaned against the leg of her own 'Mech, a Nightsky. She jumped away from it a half-second later: the sun had heated the armor to sizzling. She also looked up and wondered if she wanted to make the climb to the cockpit to retrieve her water bottle. As if reading her mind, Habersohn threw her a spare. The water was warm, but it was wet. "Thanks, Rich."
"Not a problem, Louisa." He sat crosslegged on the ground, and she joined him, using the Black Hawk as shade. "Well, it could be worse. At least we're not getting shot at."
"Yeah, that would suck. Like what happened to Hitomi last year on New Wessex."
"That was her fault, though." He took a drink from his water bottle. Louisa saw he came prepared: attached to his belt were two more, all empty. "Damn, Rich. Thirsty?" she chided him.
"Ah, it's this damn dry air. I come from a wet climate."
Their conversation trailed off, as it usually did nowadays. Louisa was aware that Richard Habersohn liked her a great deal, and that made her feel awkward. Louisa Arla-Vlata, the adopted daughter of the Sentinels' commanding officer, Sheila Arla-Vlata, was a natural at lance command. When it came to being a MechWarrior, that too had come naturally. What Louisa was completely clueless about was her own attractiveness. If forced to look in a mirror, Louisa would catalogue the things that she didn't like—a pimple here, a forehead she considered too broad, freckles that only came out in the summer that she referred to as fly feces. She missed the fact that a peaches-and-cream exterior, flaming red hair that she wore in two ponytails, and the typical well-toned body of a MechWarrior made her mouth-watering gorgeous to the opposite sex. Not helping matters was Louisa being married to her job: she rarely socialized.
This put Habersohn in a strange predicament. He was the only male besides her father that Louisa regularly associated with, as the only man in Alpha Light lance. He was most definitely attracted to her, but there were more than a few things that kept him from asking for a date. First of all, he was a professional MechWarrior, and Louisa was his lance commander, and one did not mess around on company time. Second, he was a good ten years older than she was. Third, Louisa showed little interest in romance of any kind, one reason she was called the "Ice Baby," though never in her earshot. And finally, most importantly, Louisa's parents tended to be a tad overprotective. True, she was in her mid-twenties and out on her own, but her father Maximilian Canis-Vlata was known to polish a shotgun in front of potential suitors when Louisa was in secondary school, and her mother Sheila…well, it was probably a bad idea to upset the regiment's commander, especially one that enjoyed sparring with Clan MechWarriors on a regular basis.
But dammit, he was still attracted to her.
The arrival of the Marv interrupted his thoughts. He finished off his third water bottle and met the techs as they stopped and got out of the vehicle. The AAMRV-10 was strictly functional: it was a box on eight large wheels, with a tough suspension designed to take a lot of abuse and carry a great deal of weight. In the back was an open bed designed to hold a 'Mech; the front was taken up by a cab designed for four people.
The techs were old veterans, led by Senior Tech Flicka Norkan. Norkan was second only to Master Tech Nicia Caii in skill and seniority; Louisa was surprised to see him out on manuevers. He barely glanced into the inspection panel before dropping down and ordering the techs to close up the Black Hawk. "Yep, it's busted," he confirmed. "I don't want you walking on that, MechWarrior. We'll load up your 'Mech in the back. You'll have to ride in 'er, though—I've got two newbies in the cab. We're training them." He nodded at Louisa. "Won't take but a minute, Lance Commander. You can head on back."
Louisa almost agreed, but then hesitated. She wanted to find out what was nagging Habersohn. "Senior Tech, is that Devon Miller with you?"
Louisa smiled, which she did know sometimes got her things she wanted. "Well, he's trying out for his MechWarrior qualification next month, right? Why not give him some experience?" She thumbed back at her Nightsky. "He can pilot my 'Mech back. I'll ride with Rich here—we can ride in the bed."
Norkan considered it, fingering his chin. "Sure, why not? If'n you don't mind, Lance Commander."
"Not at all."
"Yo, Miller! Get yer ass over here. You're taking Miss Louisa's Nightsky back to Sancrist. Get one scratch on it and her mom will have you crucified." Miller was all grins, assuring Louisa he would not even mess up the paint. Like all techs, he already had a small amount of training at piloting BattleMechs, in case a MechWarrior was wounded and could not pilot his or her machine back to base, and carried his own cooling vest and helmet in the storage trunks of the Marv. He quickly retrieved them and clambered up the side of the Nightsky, grateful for the extra training.
Louisa watched as Habersohn limped the Black Hawk over to the back of the Marv. He stepped onto a ramp, which lifted the 50-ton 'Mech into the back of the Marv sideways. Habersohn and the other techs then secured a number of myomer tiedowns from the 'Mech to the bed, securing it. Luckily the Black Hawk was narrow enough that it was not forced to sit down; most 'Mechs were placed in the Marv sitting down, giving it the appearance of a giant, armored man sitting in the back of a pickup. Once everything was tied down and secured, Louisa climbed the ladder into the bed—which sat a good six feet off the ground—and took up a position next to Habersohn. The techs helpfully provided a blanket for both to sit on, and a few fresh, cold water bottles, taking their empties.
The Marv started off with a chug of exhaust, and began driving towards the highway. It was over broken ground, but with the suspension of the AAMRV-10, neither MechWarrior noticed. They turned onto the four-lane highway and headed for Sancrist, 90 kilometers west. To Louisa's surprise, once the Marv got up to speed, the wind blowing off the mountains made the ride actually pleasant. Through cutouts in the side of the high bed, they could see other vehicles slowing down to gawk at the big Marv and its payload. Though Virentofta was no stranger to 'Mech assaults, and though the Sentinels had been there a decade, seeing the regiment move on the roads was still a fascinating sight to the planet's citizens.
"Damn nice of you to ride with me, Louisa," Habersohn began after a good fifteen minutes on the road.
"Oh, no trouble. That seat in my Nightsky was turning my butt into a square anyway."
Habersohn covered his sudden discomfiture with a drink of water: the last thing he needed to be reminded of was Louisa Arla-Vlata's derriere. Ask her, idiot, he demanded of himself. But then two things happened to interrupt his train of thought. One was the sight of Louisa leaning back against the leg of the Black Hawk, letting the wind ruffle her hair, closing her eyes and smiling beatifically. It was enough to make any man hesitate.
The other was the fact that he suddenly, really needed to go to the bathroom.
Panic set in. Luckily, he only needed to urinate, but that was cold comfort. The Marv certainly didn't have a portable toilet anywhere, and even climbing back into the Black Hawk and using the relief tube was out of the question: while the 'Mech was tied down in the bed, there was no way to access the cockpit. He had felt the urge to go back at the training grounds, but was too embarrassed to go into the bushes with Louisa standing there; had it been another guy, he would not have hesitated, but Habersohn was just old-fashioned enough to not go in front of a girl. He had figured at the time he could hold it.
Unfortunately, that did not solve his immediate problem. He certainly couldn't just take a leak in the bed, for the same reason he couldn't use the bushes, and the techs would swab out a Gauss Rifle with him in any case for just peeing on their vehicle. There were no empty water bottles. Oh God, what do I do? he thought frantically.
"Rich, are you okay?" Habersohn realized Louisa was staring at him.
"Um, sort of." There was no hiding it, even if his face burned with embarrassment. "I don't know how to say this, but I've got to pee. Really bad."
Louisa's expression took on the same tinge of panic as his. "Oh, shit."
"Yeah. Any ideas?"
She looked up at the 'Mech, discarded that, then at the cab, discarded that, and then at the bed, and discarded that. "Um…no." Then she suddenly straightened. "Wait, I do have one!"
"Pee off the trailer!"
"You mean on the road?"
"Yeah, why not? I mean, it's legal on Virentofta. I see people pull off the side of the road and do their thing all the time."
"Except we can't exactly stop the Marv, Louisa. They can't pull over without blocking traffic, even if we could communicate with them." There was no way to talk to the techs in the cab from the bed, leaving Louisa with the sinking feeling that she and Habersohn had screwed up.
"Well…just pee off the side, then."
"Oh yeah, where everyone can see me just whip it out! Kahvi will make me commit hara-kiri, Louisa, assuming there's anything left of me after Atikokan and your mother find out! You know how sensitive Kahvi is about 'we are guests here'!"
"Okay, okay." Louisa walked over to the front of the bed. There was a door there, but it only led out to the open partition between cab and bed, where the techs' storage lockers were. The rear window was too high to get the techs' attention: they could see the 'Mech but not the two MechWarriors. Louisa now realized she had really screwed up. Still, there was another possibility. "Rich, you could whiz off here."
Habersohn stuck his head through the door. "Say what?"
"Yeah. Listen, the cab and the bed block most of the view from the road. As long as no one pulls right alongside us—and what idiot would do that next to a 60-ton Marv—no one's going to see you!"
Habersohn carefully climbed out into the partition. It could work. He was about to agree when the Marv hit a bump. It wasn't much, but there was nothing to hold onto besides a stanchion on the front of the bed. There was no way he was going to be able to do his business and hold on at the same time. The suspension only did so much. "No good, Louisa."
Louisa made a hurried decision. "All right, look. I'll hold your belt so you don't fall off. It'll be okay."
"Yes! If I watch you do the pee-pee dance any more, you're going to be doing the same for me. And that will be messy. Let's do this."
"You're a lady and a scholar, Louisa." Habersohn unbuckled his MechWarrior shorts and unzipped his fly. From her position—holding onto the back loop of his belt with one hand and the stanchion with the other—there was no way Louisa could see anything, for which Habersohn was eternally grateful. In any case, urgent necessity overcame modesty. "Oh, man, that feels good."
A second later, they felt the Marv downshift and slow. "What the frak…oh, shit!" Louisa suddenly exclaimed.
"We're on Bearmouth Hill!"
"Oh shit!" Bearmouth Hill was a well-known landmark to the Sentinels. Sancrist was in a mountain valley, and to get there, the highway went over Bearmouth Hill. The approach from the east was so gradual that it could barely be felt, but at the top, the highway dropped into a six-percent, curving grade for two kilometers. Staying upright was about to become problematic. "Oh shit!" Habersohn repeated.
"Hurry up and pee!" Louisa shouted.
"I can't go any faster!"
"You'd better try! We're nearly at the top!" Louisa got a glimpse of a sign going past, announcing that they were at Bearmouth Hill, elevation 1200 meters. "Hurry!"
"Almost there…almost there…"
Norkan, driving the Marv, glanced at his watch and checked the road. There was nothing in front of them for a few kilometers, and trying to slow down through the curves of Bearmouth Hill was kind of a pain. He would let the Marv coast a bit, confident in his brakes and driving ability not to let it go out of control.
"He's not slowing down!" Louisa shrilled. "Norkan, you maniac!"
"Dammit!" Habersohn yelled in panic. He was done, but then they were at the top—and then over the top. The Marv began to pick up speed and went through the curves much faster than a vehicle of its size was supposed to do. "Don't let go, Louisa! For the love of God, don't let go!" He placed his feet wide apart and balanced with his arms, but it was Louisa's grip on his belt that was keeping him from flying off the Marv and either hitting the pavement with lethal force, or being crushed under its wheels. There was no chance of zipping up without falling.
"I won't let go!" She felt like she was being racked, her knuckles turning white around the stanchion and Habersohn's belt. "I'll never let go!" She wasn't about to let one of her MechWarriors die, not like this.
"Hey, Flicka," one of the other techs said. "You're kinda going fast, man."
Norkan checked the speedometer. "Oh, yeah. Ten klicks over the truck limit. Sorry 'bout that. Better slow down." He saw something in the rearview mirror. "There's a bus coming up alongside anyway. Probably want some pics of the 'Mech." He grinned at the other techs. "It would be bad for the regiment if we wiped them off on a guardrail, I s'pose."
"We're slowing down," Louisa said with relief. "If we could get off these damn curves, it'll be all right."
"How much further?"
Louisa spared a quick look. "About another klick."
"Man, this is the worst day ever…" Habersohn looked up and went pale. The day was about to become infintely worse. "Oh, shit."
"Now what?" Louisa turned and saw. "Oh, shit."
Matching speeds with the Marv was a school bus, in standard yellow and black, marked with the words ST. IGNATIUS LOYOLA SECONDARY SCHOOL. The good news was it was not filled with children. The bad news was that it was filled with nuns, down to wearing the traditional black-and-white robes. Louisa remembered touring the school on a goodwill trip; the nuns there were traditional Roman Catholics, eschewing the idea of nuns dressing casually while on duty, preferring the millennia-old habits and hoods. The windows were filled with habit-dressed nuns staring out the windows. The driver of the bus had indeed slowed down so the nuns could get a good look at the Black Hawk and the Marv, but now they were getting a good look at Richard Habersohn—all of him.
And worse, though neither MechWarrior could hear them, they were quite obviously laughing their heads off.
At the western end of Bearmouth Hill was a rest area. "Let's pull off here," the other tech told Norkan. "I need to pee."
"Yeah, me too." The rest area catered to over-the-road planetary truckers, so it could easily accommodate the Marv. He waved at the nuns, passing him as he took the exit. "Man, those penguins are laughing their asses off about something."
"Maybe the Ice Baby back there mooned 'em."
"Don't even say that, dude," Norkan replied as they pulled to a stop. "Her dad finds out you called her that, and he'll make you clean off his Battlemaster with your tongue." He opened the door and climbed down the ladder, then hauled himself up into the partition and opened the door leading to the cab. "Hey, guys, pit stop. You gotta…pee?" Norkan paused, because he noticed that Habersohn was struggling with the zipper. His face was flushed. So was Louisa's. "Damn thing's stuck," Norkan heard Habersohn mutter.
Louisa noticed Norkan and turned even redder. She pushed past him, yelling over her shoulder, "Yeah, I sure as hell have to do something!"
Norkan shrugged—MechWarriors were all crazy, and females the worst of the lot—and climbed into the bed. He stepped over to Habersohn, who finally got the zipper up. "Hey, MechWarrior."
Amongst the techs, informality was the rule. Caii insisted on it, saying rank didn't matter when you were trying to weld armor plates back on in forty below weather, or trying to reload ammunition under artillery fire. The techs often extended this informality to the MechWarriors, who either didn't mind or didn't feel like mentioning it to the people who kept their reasons for existing running. "Look, Habersohn, I don't mean to be an ass or anything, but…" Norkan dropped his voice. "If you're screwing the Commander's daughter, and her parents find out, well…can Miller have your 'Hawk after they draw and quarter you? Clantech's hard to come by, and that boy could use a leg up."
"What—no! That's not what happened!"
"I mean, it's none of my business, dude. More power to you. She's a good looking femme—"
"Dammit, don't even say that!" Hurriedly, Habersohn explained what happened. Then he felt his face turning even more red, as Norkan dissolved into laughter. "It's not funny, Senior Tech!"
"Yes it is!" Norkan took a breath, and still laughing, held up one of the water bottles. "Why didn't you just empty one of these and use it?"
Habersohn collapsed against the bed of the truck. "Oh…shit."