The hangar bay echoed with the metallic
sounds of tinkering, interspersed with whistling from one direction, and a
stream of invective from another. The whistling came from the Concrete Dragons'
lead tech, as he was polishing up the final touches on the new engine in
Angel's UrbanMech. The griping came from one of the junior techs, who was
having trouble getting the members matched up in the damaged Valkyrie's hip.
With a final curse and a clatter, he hurled the recalcitrant bar of skeletal
steel across the hangar floor. He stood with hands on hips, exasperated, until
he noticed the lead tech staring a hole in him. The young man took a deep
breath, exhaled, then picked up the hip strut for another try.
"Gimme two," Henry Cromwell tapped the ash off his cigar as he picked up his hand, contemplating his cards with pursed lips. "I don't know," he said finally. "Seems like to me we'd have hard from them pirates by now. I thought they'd come right on in to rush us."
"I know," Angel Fairchild was standing pat on her hand. She pushed a stack of chips towards the pot, then tossed her long, straight, Capellan-black hair back. "What do you think they're up to?"
"Probably less than you," Red Drake said in an irritated voice. "Dealer takes one card...and matches." The pile of chips in the middle of the table grew again. He looked at his hand in irritation, his red-bearded chin on his huge fist. "Do ya think we scared them off?"
"Doubt it," Henry said with a puff of smoke. "Surprised them, yes. But they're not gonna be scared off by a few Urbies and a bunch of rednecks. They'll be back." He thought a moment, looked at the pot and back at his hand, then shrugged and added his bet. "I'm all in."
Angel and Red looked at each other, then back at their XO, who sat calmly behind his cloud of cigar smoke. Angel grinned slightly. "So when will they be back? Weeks?" She laid down her hand, showing two pairs.
Red muttered a curse; her hand had beaten his. "Probably more like months. We gave'em a good shock, did some tellable damage."
Angel grinned, and gave a wink and a whisper. "So you know, Red...you blush when you're bluffing." And she blew the big man a kiss as he changed color to match his name.
Henry shrugged. "I don't know, but I'll tell you this." He laid his hand on the table: three pretty maids, all in a row. "It'll be sooner than we think." And he raked in the pot as Angel glared at the cards. But before she could curse his luck, a BEEP sounded from their comlinks.
Henry answered it. "Yeah boss."
Brian Hasek's voice crackled through the static. "Meet me in the hangar bay, I'm coming in with a guest."
The three Dragons looked at each other. Then Henry replied, "Sure thing, boss." He raked his winnings into his money bag, and tossed it into his locker. "Let's go, people."
"So this is home, eh? Ian Sandoval, the Davion soldier turned pirate turned mercenary, looked up at the hangar, and across the hardpack of the simple spaceport. "It's quite a way from the Bohemian Quarter on New Avalon, isn't it?" He hefted the bag on his shoulder, the few belongings that he had with him.
"In both distance and time," Brian replied. He had frequented the counter-culture of the Bohemian Quarter during his college days; that was where he had met Ian, unfortunately. He shaded his eyes to look out across the field to the Dragons' dropship, as it loaded up for another merchant run. Every little bit helps, Brian thought, and then he turned to open the hangar door. "Come on in."
They walked in just in time to hear a fusion engine come to life, as the running lights of Angel's Urbie lit up the hangar. The lead tech could be heard laughing madly in the cockpit. "It's alive...ALIVE!!!!!" Ian stopped and stared, wondering what he was getting into. Brian just grinned as the lead tech waved and gave a thumbs up. The meaning was clear: all four of the Dragons' Urbies were now 100%.
"That's the Mech that took you down. You'll meet its pilot shortly. Your Mech is over there." Brian nodded across the hangar, where now two of the junior techs were trying to bend the troublesome hip strut to the proper angle. "We've had some trouble getting it back together, but we're almost there. We had to make the parts by hand. I think some of your stuff is still in the cockpit."
The two men walked towards the Valkyrie, and saw the other three Dragons come out of the living area. As they passed near the Valkyrie, one of the techs called to Red. "Hey, can you give us a hand here? This is being stubborn."
Red grinned. "Sure, what's the problem?" He walked over, and looked at the exposed hip joint. Like the rest of the Concrete Dragons' Mechwarriors, Red was astech qualified. It had been a matter of necessity in the Capellan March Militia, just to keep their unit running on low logistics.
"Well, we're trying to get this in place, and..."
"Gimme that." Red snatched the two-meter piece of Mech-grade spring steel like it was a twig. "Where does it go?" The tech pointed, and Red set the leg end in place. He then wedged himself in place between the bar and Mech, reached up and back, and wrapped his big hands around the strut.
"Oh, you've got to be..." And then the tech stopped in disbelief as Red's lips tightened, his face turned slightly red, and the metal rod, designed to withstand the stress of a 30-ton jump landing, slowly bent into place over his shoulder. He fitted the end to the Valkyrie's hip joint, then slowly relaxed his grip. The strut stayed taut in its proper position, where two grown men had been struggling to get it all day.
Everyone just stared as Red hopped down off the work stand. "Tighten her up," he said with a grin.
Ian stared the most. He blinked at the big man, then looked at Brian. "Well, I guess I don't have to ask how you keep people in line..."
Brian grinned. "No, you don't. Lady and gentlemen, meet Mechwarrior Ian Sandoval. NAIS graduate, one class ahead of me, served in the Avalon Hussars during the last war. Until he turned pirate, that is," Brian coughed to cover a chuckle as Ian looked awkward and irritated, then continued. "Then he met up with us, we got his Mech, and now we have him on probation."
"Take that back." Angel was looking up at Brian with arms folded in mock menace, her cat eyes twinkling.
"You called me a lady."
Before Brian could answer, Henry stepped up. "Probation, huh?" He clamped down on his cigar, and looked Ian over at close range, as if he was a boot camp recruit. Ian actually cringed under the Sergeant's glaring inspection. "Workin' fer us in lieu of gettin' SHOT, I guess?" He took the cigar out, and grinned through the smoke. "Well, we'll SEE about that. You think you got what it takes to be a Dragon, boy?" Ian turned to look at Brian, but started back as Henry barked, "Don't look AWAY when I'm talkin' to you! Answer me!"
Brian wasn't smiling. "This is Sergeant Henry Cromwell, my XO. Veteran of the March Militia. Anything he says, you can take as coming from me. I'd advise you to answer him, because I don't think he's had his rabies shots yet..."
"BAH," Henry said, not taking his eyes off Ian. "I drink too much to get rabies. That's a tip, boy. A fifth of whatever's handy a day, keeps your blood clean. Now are you gonna answer me or not?"
Ian looked uncertain, licked his lips, then finally said in a firm voice. "NO." He looked angry, as if he was above this kind of treatment. That was Ian, all right, Brian thought...when all else fails, get mad. It had gotten him in trouble more than once. But at the same time, Ian's tendency to stand up for himself, even when wrong, had also gotten him places that Brian only wished he could have gone. He watched the two men stare each other down for several seconds, wondering at the contest of wills. Then finally, Henry, without breaking the stare, smiled very slightly.
"You got a spine, boy. I like it." He looked over at Brian, and nodded. "I think we can work with him."
Brian grinned as Ian relaxed slightly. "Good to hear. Ian, this is Red Drake..." Red offered a hand, and Ian tried not to wince; it was like shaking hands with a vise. Red grinned as Ian tried to return the pressure. "And this is Angel Fairchild. She's the reason you're here now." Ian turned to examine her, and she met his gaze with head held high, her Capellan Chinese features contrasting with the Davion-style uniform.
Angel saw the puzzled look in Ian's eyes. "St. Ives," she said. "My father was Davion, my mother Capellan. Went to the St. Ives Academy, graduated into the March Militia." Ian nodded slowly, assessing the warrior who had taken him down from ambush. She returned his gaze for a few seconds, assessing him in return. Then she simply turned away, and headed for her newly-rebuilt Mech. Ian stared at the swish of her hips as she went, and was startled by Red's hand on his shoulder.
"Don't even think it," Red said, looking down at Ian. "She's everybody's and nobody's, if you know what I mean. Trust me, I've known her for years." He grinned. "C'mon, let's get you set up in berthing."
As the two men walked away, Brian and Henry stepped together for a conference. Henry was the first to speak. "Well?"
"I trust him about as much as a Canopian carny. But he knows what we're up against, and what he's told me so far seems reliable. His strengths were more social than strategic, at least in the Academy, but to give proper credit, he is a fair Mechwarrior, and could be quite good once he settles in. If he settles in."
Henry nodded. "Kid reminds me of some others I've seen. Looking for a place, never really felt like he belonged, and it led him into trouble."
Brian chuckled. "Henry, he's a year older than me."
Henry grinned. "I know. Compared to me, you're all kids. But I don't hold it against ya."
Brian smiled, then turned serious again. "Actually, your assessment jives well with what I know of his family life. Felt like he had to prove himself socially, never quite seemed to be happy. Led him to be a domineering jackass in school, then to turn pirate later on."
"And now he's here."
"Yes," Brian said. "And under the threat of instant death by whichever one of us is most immediately in range to take the shot, if he crosses us. Hopefully that won't be necessary. I'd like to see him settle in, maybe finally have a place to belong. We certainly could use him, that's for sure."
Henry looked at Brian hard. "You said that like ya know what we're up against."
Brian nodded. "I do. And I also have a vague idea of when. Come on, we've got plans to make."