OPERATION THREE: BATTLETECH BITES

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Also based on a true story. And yes, I get the feeling that PFC Natsuki Aoyama is turning into the fall girl for this series.


Sentinels Headquarters Virentofta

Virentofta, Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine

Maysa Bari walked down the brightly-lit hallways of the Sentinels RCAT's headquarters. People smiled at her and she smiled back, a bright grin that never failed to liven up even the most depressingly cloudy day. No matter who they were, Maysa always had that smile for them. Flanks might be collapsing, artillery falling, the Sentinels in full retreat—Maysa Bari never lost her sunny disposition. "We're going to be all right," she would say, and everyone believed her. She became a MechWarrior when she was just short of her sixteenth birthday. She was older now, but that just meant that she lost the teenage gawkiness and crippling shyness that characterized her during the Clan War. It was an older, wiser Maysa that walked these halls, but one that had filled out into a beautiful woman. She still kept her red hair short, cut away from her temples in what was known as a "MechWarrior haircut," but that just seemed to enhance her beauty. Her voice no longer cracked when she gave commands; it was clear and cultured, with a voice so charming that she once reduced an enemy Clan MechWarrior to tears with just a song.

She went up a flight of stairs, her ponytail hopping, and walked up to the not-all-that-imposing door of Sheila Arla-Vlata, the commander of the Sentinels. She knocked once, humming a little song to herself. Maysa enjoyed seeing Sheila; the Sentinels were bigger now, and Maysa, as Sheila's second-in-command, was stationed a good 300 kilometers away from her friend. It was a sacrifice that had to be made.

"Enter."

Uh oh, Maysa thought as she opened the door. She was a pretty good judge of character and mood, and Sheila was not in a good mood. That meant someone was in trouble. Maysa couldn't imagine it would be her.

Sheila Arla-Vlata sat behind a desk, cluttered as usual; Sheila never had a head for paperwork, and referred to her desk as her horizontal filing cabinet. Her expression was not a happy one, her face hidden behind intertwined fingers, half of which were steel. Green eyes smoldered above them. Nor was she alone. Standing at attention next to the desk was a young woman, wearing the uniform of the Sentinels Light Infantry, rank tabs of a private first class and the nametape of AOYAMA.

Maysa understood that she had not been summoned as a social call. She came to attention. "Commander Maysa Bari reporting as ordered, ma'am."

"At ease, both of you." Sheila's eyes went from Aoyama to Maysa and back. "Commander Bari, this is PFC Natsuki Aoyama." Aoyama's face twitched. I don't think I know her, Maysa thought, why would she not like me? Deep down, Maysa wondered if anyone disliked her. Certainly no one ever said anything.

Sheila picked up a piece of paper, peered at it, cursed softly, and put on a pair of glasses. Neither she nor Maysa wanted to admit it, but they were getting older. "Commander Bari, you remember Exercise Fresh Bath Alpha, do you not?"

"Yes, ma'am." That was a codename that was hard to forget. Maysa knew that a computer came up with random names when they were required, but sometimes it could be just a tad bizarre.

"What was it?"

Maysa's expression turned quizzical. Sheila knew what Fresh Bath Alpha was; she ordered it. She suspected this was not for Aoyama's benefit. That meant Sheila was more upset than Maysa thought. "Um…well, it was a simulated headhunter attack on my headquarters. It was a test to see if we could survive a surprise ground assault."

"Mm hm. Continue."

"Well, we did."

"Details, please."

"Oh. Well, let's see." Maysa took a moment to gather her thoughts. The exercise was only a week ago, but it was something of a blur. "The SLI came in the morning, about nine AM, I think. They were in two Nightshade helicopters and they rappeled into my headquarters area in the Rhialla Proving Grounds." Inwardly, Maysa thought she could've ended the exercise in a few moments, if the rules of the exercise allowed her to be in her Rifleman; helicopters were depressingly easy targets while hovering. The point, though, was to be able to hold the headquarters when there wasn't time to get to the 'Mechs. "We followed our plan for such an attack: secure the headquarters area until a reaction force could arrive. And we did…for the most part."

Sheila's left eyebrow rose. "Oh?"

Maysa turned a little red. This part was not in her formal report, but now that she had opened her mouth, she had to continue. "Um, yes, well…Major Nakajima was caught outside the defensive perimeter. He was in the bathroom when the exercise began and was, ah, captured." The story was somewhat funny: Homare Nakajima was on the toilet when a SLI trooper kicked in the stall door and ordered him to put his hands up. Nakajima, nonplussed, had replied that the trooper would get "one now and one in a minute."

"I didn't know that. But think back, Commander Bari," Sheila said, voice edged with sarcasm. "What else happened during the exercise?"

"We did hold the headquarters area…"

"Yes, you did. But think back."

Maysa turned redder. "Oh, yes. Louisa-Lance Commander, um, Arla-Vlata, I mean, wanted to launch an immediate counterattack and overrun the LZ before the SLI were completely down. I turned that suggestion down, though in retrospect it may have been a good one."

Sheila looked at Maysa over the tops of her glasses. "But she went out anyway."

"She charged out, yes."

"Yelling for people to follow her."

"Yes."

"And you slammed the door behind her and locked it."

Maysa found something interesting on the floor to look at. "Er…yes, ma'am."

Sheila shook her head. "You're close, Maysa, but that's not why you're here. Keep thinking back. When the SLI tried to force the door."

Maysa tried to remember. "We were trying to brace the door. Philip—Lance Commander Scott—was pushing against it along with MechWarrior Hawk."

"And you were helping."

"Yes."

Sheila motioned at Aoyama, who had been silent the whole time. "PFC Aoyama here did manage to get partially in. At least an arm."

Maysa's face fell. "Oh, Lord…" She turned to Aoyama. "I am so sorry, Private. That heavy door was pushed against your arm! It must have been painful. Did you get bruised?"

Aoyama's eyes flicked to her to see if Maysa was being sarcastic. She wasn't. The young trooper's eyes then went to Sheila. She hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, ma'am. A little."

"But that's not all that happened, was it?" Sheila leaned back in her chair. "Show Commander Bari your arm, Private."

Aoyama obediently rolled up her sleeve. There were faint bruises there, but also several parallel, semicircular marks. Maysa peered at her, then she understood. "Why, that's terrible! Someone bit you? Who bit you?"

"That 'who' be you," Sheila remarked. She held up the paper. "'When PFC Aoyama opened the door and attempted to wedge herself in the opening to drop a simulated satchel charge into Commander Bari's CP, Commander Bari grabbed her wrist, rolled up her sleeve, and not only bit PFC Aoyama in the arm, but was reportedly chewing on her and growling.' This was Lance Commander Scott's report, Maysa," Sheila said. "Philip also said you looked like you had mistaken Private Aoyama's arm for corn on the cob, as I recall."

Maysa was now pale. "I…I bit you?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied Aoyama sadly. She had never wanted it to go this far, but she was required to report any injuries. Maysa did not break the skin, but regulations were regulations. And it had hurt. Being chomped upon by a superior officer was yet one more thing Aoyama had never anticipated when she joined the Sentinels, along with interrupting wild, passionate sex between two superior officers. One simply was not told these things in training.

"I…I don't know what to say," Maysa said, feeling terrible. "I'm so very sorry, Private Aoyama! I…don't know what came over me!"

Sheila bit her lip. It wasn't really funny, but it kind of was. "Do you wish to press charges, Private Aoyama?"

"No!" Aoyama insisted, wishing she was somewhere else. "It…I…I had to report it…"

"Of course you did," Sheila reassured her. "Maysa, I will allow you to think of an appropriate punishment for yourself." Sheila knew that anything she thought of would pale in comparison to anything Maysa could come up with.

Maysa quickly did, coming up with truly dire consequences for herself, which stopped short of bodily harm or suicide, but included things like confinement to quarters, bread and water rations for a month, and an entire paycheck—which for the second-in-command of a two-regiment RCT, was substantial—donated to Aoyama or her charity of choice. Aoyama, for her part, was nearly in tears. Sheila had heard of a group of people who nominated themselves Maysa's Mafia, who were dedicated to keeping safe the Saint of the Sentinels. Aoyama had apparently joined this somewhat bizarre group in basic training. Finally, they settled on Maysa treating Aoyama to dinner in a five-star restaurant.

"I think that should take care of it," Sheila said. "There is one last thing, Commander Bari, that I have to ask…"

"Anything, Sheila. Anything."

Sheila could not help but grin. "Are you caught up on your rabies shots?"