Concrete Dragons Bring Out Your Dead

 

"Oh my God, what did you do to this thing?" The Concrete Dragons' lead tech was looking up at Angel's battered UrbanMech in disbelief as one of his assistants worked to open the engine access. One of the hinges had been fused by a laser hit, and the junior tech was hard at work with a grinder and hammer.

Angel started to act indignant. "Awww, come on, it's not THAT bad..." Then the tech finally got the access cover open, and metal fragments clattered all over the floor. Angel and the lead tech looked at the mess, then at each other. Angel looked sheepish for a moment, then brightened. "Yeah, well, you should see the OTHER Mech..."

"BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!" Red's voice boomed cheerfully from the back of the salvage vehicle as it rolled into the hangar. Red was riding atop the "other Mech" Angel had mentioned, hanging onto a tie-down strap. The pirate Hatchetman's torso was shot through from behind, its armor crushed in odd places by the final fall it had taken off a building.

The tech driving the salvage vehicle could only shake his head as he got out. "Bad time to be making jokes like that," he said as he started the unloading process.

Red laughed as he jumped down off the big truck's flatbed. "Why?"

The tech looked him right in the eyes. "Because the pilot's still in the cockpit."

Red stopped. "Oh."

"That," Lieutenant Brian Hasek said as he walked in, "and the militia has bodies to bury. Their infantry got hit hard." He looked pointedly at Red, who suddenly seemed very subdued, and went to stand with Angel. Above them, the lead tech was peering into the Urbie's engine compartment while the junior tech was taking down cockpit readings. "How's it look?"

"Well...OW!" The lead tech rubbed his head where he banged it coming out of the hole, then continued. "The engine is dinged up. Shielding and cooling jacket damage. There's also some structure damage, but nothing that can't be fixed with a welder and some sweat. Looks like that hatchet went through the left shoulder too." The lead tech rubbed his chin as he thought aloud. "All the others had only armor damage, so this Urbie gets top priority. Worst is first." He considered a moment. "We can probably get this Mech up faster by swapping out the good engine from our dead Urbie. Then we can repair this engine at our leisure."

Brian nodded. "Make it happen. We don't know how soon those pirates might try again." He looked around, and saw the one-legged Valkyrie propped against the hangar's far wall. Its blown-off leg was laying across its lap; Brian couldn't help thinking that it looked like a sad raggedy doll. "What about that one?"

The lead tech looked over at the Valk. "Well," he said, "we ain't got specific parts for her, but at first look, it's a pretty clean break at the hip. We should be able to fab what we need to fix her, but it'll take..."

Brian interrupted. "Will it take longer than fixing Angel's Urbie?"

The lead tech looked back and forth between the two damaged machines. "I don't know just yet..."

Brian's voice was firm. "I'm betting those pirates will try again soon, possibly with a bigger force. I need four Mechs ready, short order. Make it happen."

"Yes, SIR!"

Brian's sense of satisfaction was interrupted by a slight gag from Angel. He turned to see her with her hand over her mouth, a look of shock on her face. He followed her gaze to a white sheet, covering something laying next to the Hatchetman's now-open cockpit. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and felt her shiver slightly. He knew what she was thinking...that had almost been her.

Without a word, he quietly went over to the dead pirate, laying beside the dead Mech. Red and the tech both looked solemn, and the tech crossed himself as Brian knelt and lifted the sheet.

Underneath was a pretty blonde woman with blue eyes, classic Davion breeding. He glanced up into the cockpit, and saw the heavy old-school neurohelmet laying to one side. That and the odd loll of her head told Brian everything he needed to know. Like a lot of reckless Mechwarriors, she hadn't buckled her helmet into the head and neck restraints; she probably thought they restricted her head too much. Then when her Mech took that long fall, the weight of her neurohelmet had snapped her neck. It was a too-common accident in the Mechwarrior world.

Brian gently closed the pirate's eyes, thinking that no one should have to look at the dark forever. Then he dropped the sheet and stood up. "We'll turn her over to the militia for burial. If she had buckled up like she should have, she'd still be alive like her companion." The companion he was referring to was the Valk pilot, who was in the custody of the militia. Brian didn't know what fate awaited the man, but it was probably "interesting" in the Capellan sense of the term. Two wastes of perfectly good Mechwarriors, Brian thought.

The word "waste" brought something else to Brian's mind. He looked at the junior tech who was still standing there. Red had wandered off with Angel, no doubt to find some comfort food. Brian indicated the Hatchetman with his thumb. "Is it repairable?"

The tech looked at the Mech, then silently shook his head. He shuffled his hat uncomfortably in his hands as he glanced down at the dead body one last time. Then finally he straightened and spoke, very pointedly not looking at the floor and what lay on it. "Probably not, sir. Between the hits it took and the fall, it's pretty well scrambled inside." He walked over to the dead machine, opened a door, reached in and pulled out a dented metal sphere the size of a basketball. He handed it to Brian, who shook it experimentally. It tinkled like broken glass on steel. "That's part of the gyro system. Or what's left of it, anyway."

Henry walked up at just that moment. The old vet stepped over the dead pirate like she wasn't even there, glancing at the gyro sphere, then up at the dead Mech. "Scrap time, huh?" He put a cigar in his mouth and lit it. "Think we can get anything useful out of it?"

The tech considered. "Well, the guns are still intact, as is most of the cooling system. It's just the engine and gyro that are really fragged. And the armor, and the structure..." He just shook his head. "We'll get what we can out of it, I guess. Salvage the parts, and sell the rest for scrap."

Brian nodded. "Make it happen." Then he turned to Henry. "We need to talk." Together, the two of them walked to the hangar bay door, where they stood away from everyone in the breeze. Brian looked at his XO very deliberately. "What do you think?"

Henry didn't have to ask about what. He answered with a philosophical shrug. "We made some mistakes. We were too spread out, reserves were too far back. We should've anticipated them rushing the infantry; be thankful it wasn't worse." He removed his cigar from his mouth, looking out at the hills as he leaned on the wall. "Angel's really upset. She's a hotshot, but the kid just came closer to dying than she's ever been."

"I know," Brian said. "The best thing I can think of, is to remind her that she DIDN'T die. We're all still alive and kicking, in spite of my mistakes."

"OUR mistakes," Henry said. He looked at Brian, the cigar clenched in his tight lips. "You said from the start that this is everybody's unit, so don't go takin' it on yourself. I've served with bad leaders, and you ain't one of them. I should have called you on the plan earlier. Red should have moved up sooner. Angel shouldn't have exposed herself like she did. We all made mistakes." He tapped off his cigar, and poked Brian with a finger. "And we're all alive to learn from it."

Brian smiled. This was why Henry was his XO. "Good points all around." He looked back into the hangar bay. "Let's go talk to Angel and Red."

Henry nodded, and they walked back towards where they had set up their barracks. Henry stepped over the dead pirate again, stopped, and glanced down irritably.

Brian wanted to be appalled, but had to laugh as Henry's voice filled the hangar.

"WILL SOMEONE TAKE THE DAMNED TRASH OUT ALREADY?"