OPERATION FOUR: PANTS ON THE GROUND

Mileena Hall, Sentinels Base Sancrist

Sancrist, Virentofta, Draconis Combine

Louisa Arla-Vlata turned off the shower and dried herself off. A nice shower was just the ticket after a long day on the job. The life of a lance commander was not all fighting and shooting and the other things that authors liked to write stories about. No, she sighed to herself, if only it could be something that simple. There was also paperwork—lots of it. Lance commanders had to fill out forms for everything: requisitions for everything from ammunition to toilet paper, pay forms, environmental impact statements, leave requests…that paperwork did not take terribly long, but it was boring. Louisa knew that there were people in the Snowbirds who planned on promoting her to company command when Alice Atikokan retired. If she became a major, there would be even more paperwork.

The mere thought of that erased what good feelings the shower left behind. Louisa was having a bad day.

It started when she got up, when the alarm intruded on a particularly nice dream. When she rolled cursing out of her bed—or rack, as it was called—she promptly tripped over a pair of pants and fell into the rack that lay only five feet away. That rack was occupied by Yurika Misumaru, who slept so soundly that she did not even notice when Louisa's face landed on her stomach. The younger woman mumbled something about that she didn't want to have sex right now, rolled over, and nearly took Louisa with her. Extricating herself, Louisa had then managed to rip a hole in one pair of fatigue pants, found another and once more tripped over another article of clothing, Yurika's shirt. The trip to the tiny closet laughingly referred to as her office was through bright sunshine, which only served to depress her more, since her office was underground and she would not be seeing the sun very much. By the time she emerged from the basement, the sun was no longer her friend and a blazing, sticky hot enemy. Moreover, because she belatedly remembered that she had forgotten a briefing, she had grabbed some shortbread cookies for lunch. Shortbread gave her heartburn, which made the normally mind-numbing boring brief into the ninth circle of hell.

Well, Louisa thought to herself as she wrapped the towel around her body, at least we got out of there early today. Still plenty of time to enjoy the day. Given that it was high summer on Virentofta, it meant that there would be sunlight as late as ten in the evening. The heat would cool off, and there would be frisball in the park. Or something good on the tridee. Another thought soured her. Oh, dammit. It's Tuesday. That means two hours of that pony show that Yurika likes. Gad. As a rule, Louisa hated cutesy stuff. She didn't like fluffy comedies and she wasn't much for animated features. Cutesy, fluffy, animated shows made her cringe.

How in the hell do those ponies pilot 'Mechs with no damn fingers anyhow? Louisa thought darkly as she made her way from the shower to the room she shared with Yurika. Usually she would put on a bathrobe and slippers between the shower and her room, but it was only about ten steps between the two, so she figured she could make do with a towel. Besides, she couldn't find her bathrobe in any case.

The room she and Yurika shared was tiny but efficient. There was only about fifty square feet of space, if that; between the beds was only a four foot space. Above each single bed there were shelves and a light inset into the wall, and behind each bed a small desk. Two closets flanked the door. Though it was tough for two people to live in, Louisa actually liked it, down to the musty smell it gave off. It smelled like…home. It was here when she came back from a tough campaign. It had seen much, from a young, nervous lance commander meeting a bouncy, extroverted young lancemate for the first time, to holding that same lancemate when the latter's boyfriend broke up with her, to the lancemate holding her lance commander after they had lost another lancemate in combat. Much laughter and tears had filled this cozy space, and Louisa knew that—if she was promoted to major and got her own room—she would miss it.

Until she looked down. Piled in the middle, between the two beds, waiting in ambush for bare feet, was a pile of clothes. On top were two pair of panties—dirty ones. In fact, given the smell from the pile of clothes, they were all dirty.

As a rule, Louisa was something of a neat freak. She was not obsessive over it; it was impossible to be a MechWarrior and not get dirty. However, she liked to have a clean, straight room. Things could be out of place—hell, Yurika never made her bed, and that didn't bother Louisa overmuch—but messy was not something she liked. She did not fear surprise inspections, given that she would be the one doing the inspecting, but dammit, it was not too much to ask to pick up after oneself. She had warned Yurika about this, and while the other woman had nodded emphatically, apologized profusely, and cleaned up quickly, the lesson never took and the floor was still covered in dirty, smelly clothes. And leaving one's underwear out where the proverbial world could see it was just not done. Louisa Arla-Vlata had more than a bit of a puritan streak in her, and underwear fell into that category of Things Not To Be Seen Or Talked About. Like sex, it was a reverent subject. Not that Yurika knew about reverence, since she took great pleasure in describing her occasional sexual escapades in excruciating detail that made Hitomi Dunn howl with laughter, Richard Habersohn grin and snicker, and Louisa feel like committing suicide with a spoon so it would hurt more.

Louisa dressed angrily. The more Louisa thought about her roommate, the angrier she got. Oh, she liked Yurika a great deal; they were, after all, best friends. But enough was enough.

"Oh, son of a bitch!" Louisa shouted, because she had flung open one of her drawers to find that, well, she had no drawers left. A quick glance at the hamper that was wedged into one corner confirmed her fears: it was laundry day, past laundry day, and it was Yurika's turn to do the laundry. Yurika would procrastinate, of course, and when she did do the laundry, she would invariably use detergent with too much starch. Once, Louisa was forced to ram a fist down both pants legs to loosen them up; the pants were so starched they could stand on their own. The Misumarus evidently never taught their daughter to do laundry.

Enough was enough.

Louisa put on a pair of fatigue shorts, eschewing underwear: it was not like anyone would know she was going commando. She did find one clean bra, which was good, in that she would not be bouncing around, as it were. (That was something else, too. Louisa considered herself to be well-proportioned, and she was. Yet it seemed that it would take a spiked club to get guys to notice her, while a breathless sigh from Yurika brought all the boys to the 'Mech bay. Not that Louisa wanted boys to notice her, since that would interfere with the important business of being a MechWarrior. That was the excuse, anyway.) A T-shirt was fine, along with knee socks and shoes. She rammed a ballcap on her head with extreme prejudice, then gathered up the pile of clothes between the beds, wrinkled her nose at the smell, and went out into the hall, letting the door slam shut behind her. "Make way passage!" she shouted, and men and women flattened themselves on either side, rather than incur the wrath of the Commander's Daughter, who was evidently so pissed off she had even forgotten to braid her hair in their customary twin tails. She kicked the buttons for the elevator, tried not to sneeze at the sinister smell in there—a smell that had defied companies of MechWarriors armed with gallons of Freebreeze to conquer it—and made her way to the basement.

Mileena Hall had an easy way to get rid of garbage: an incinerator. Through a complex series of geothermal layers and equipment, the garbage burned was converted to heat without stink, and would heat the eight-story building in the winter. In the summer, the heat was converted to power. Louisa, balancing her maladorous load with one hand while opening the incinerator door with the other, got the panel slid aside and tossed the entire load in. She slammed the door shut triumphantly, waited for the safety locks to engage, and hit the ACTIVATE button with a gleeful smile. She could not resist brushing her hands together in a job well done.

In a better if vengeful mood, Louisa took the elevator back to her room. Through the door Louisa heard that damned cheery song that announced the beginning of Yurika Misumaru's favorite show. She opened the door and walked in.

Yurika was as she was born, though she had grown up considerably since then. A towel lay rolled up in the corner. "Louisa Louisa Louisa!" she said happily, her customary greeting to her best friend, which nine times out of ten elicted a smile from said best friend. The tenth time, like now, it just made Louisa want to render the other woman unconscious. "You're just in time!"

"For what?"

"Oh, it's a marathon tonight! You know you haven't seen season four yet."

Louisa had not seen seasons two or three yet either, nor was she about to. "And you're standing here naked why?"

"Ah, I've already seen the first two episodes. I was gonna go grab a quick shower. It's hot today."

"So I noticed."

"Well, I noticed that the pile of clothes I left on the floor here are gone. Including my last pair of panties. I just changed really quick and went out to play some frisball. Which is why I need that shower. Do you know where my clothes went?"

Louisa could not, and did not, resist a savage grin. "I threw them in the damn incinerator."

"You what?" Yurika's eyes rounded.

"You heard me. I got tired of tripping over your clothes, Yurika, and even more tired of them smelling up the place. You never put your stuff away, so guess what? I chucked them into the incinerator. Maybe next time you won't just throw them on the gee-dee floor!"

Yurika, for a moment, was at a loss. Then she smiled, grinned, and began to laugh. Uproariously. She collapsed onto her bed and was holding her sides in mirth. "What's your problem?" Louisa demanded. She always knew Yurika would snap someday, but figured it would be under different circumstances. When she continued to laugh and didn't answer, Louisa shouted, "Dammit, Yurika! Either tell me what's going on or I rip off your head and write graffiti with the stump!"

"Because…snerk…" Yurika caught her breath, "those weren't my panties…those were yours! I dumped out the hamper trying to find my other pair!"

Later, Louisa would claim the other reason that she hadn't beaten Yurika into a coma was because the regiment was shorthanded and no one else was crazy enough to pilot a Valkyrie anyway.