6 February 3027
Fort Maxim, Somerset
Trellshire, Lyran Commonwealth
Why would they be field-stripping Tailbiter?
AND WHERE WAS MY TECH JOSHUA?!
I approached at a stiff walk, observing the operation.
Tailbiter was trapped in a mech gantry, unable to protest the things that were being done to him. The fusion core was in cold shut-down. The weapon sub-systems were dismounted. Access panels all over him were gaping open, exposing large bundles of actuator muscles. Techs and astechs were swarming over him like ants, poking around inside, pulling out or sticking in cables that led who knows where....
They almost had Tailbiter down to his component parts!
I mean, this sort of thing is necessary every so often, but....
"BEAN!" I called. Dana Bean had been with us since before Proserpina, and he usually works on the Minister's mech. He was the only tech I recognized in the area. I headed his way.
"Hang on. Just a second," he answered. He was in the midst of dismounting a heat sink from Tailbiter's lower right leg. Before long he had the guts of the system disconnected and his squad of astechs could handle its actual removal.
His grease-smeared face turned toward me, sporting a dumb grin. "Hi, Missy! What's up?"
I waved my arms about me. "What's all THIS for? Tailbiter isn't due for a full system maintainence for another..."
"Orders," he shrugged.
"WHOSE orders?" I demanded.
He jerked a thumb up to Tailbiter's top section. Perched on one shoulder was a slight figure in grungy coveralls, bending over the main sensor grid.
The Baron Dent.
Bean smiled. "He wants to field-strip ALL the mechs, just to see what he's got to work with. I dunno. I just do what he says."
"You remember the general orders about this guy?" Bean asked in a more cautious tone.
Hmmmph! As if I'd forget!
"Do whatever he wants," I quoted coldly. "No matter what. He's worth it."
"You got it!" Bean seemed pleased that I remembered.
He was less pleased when I headed for the gantry ladder.
On the way up I got better views of exactly what they were doing. I shivered. I mean, I'm no tech, but there were parts opened up and things hanging out that shouldn't be!
Guess I took the ladder too fast. I was gasping by the time I had climbed to Tailbiter's head level. Hmmmm. Need to calm down. Take it slow.
I gingerly walked onto Tailbiter's left shoulder, careful to avoid a possible ten meter fall. The large shoulder baffle was no problem to get around. They had removed it! The Baron had his head and shoulders buried somewhere in Tailbiter's sensor package. I stared at his ass for a while. Didn't want to startle him! Might break something!
I got tired of waiting.
"Sir?" I ventured softly.
"Sir?" Louder, this time, but still respectful. The Major had made him a first lieutenant, after all.
I think that was three or four ranks lower than when he was working for Houses Davion and Steiner.
With a heavy sigh, the Baron extracted himself from Tailbiter's guts and sat there, looking up at me with a weary, glum expression. The lines of his thin face fell into an automatic frown.
"Who are you?" he asked in a dull monotone voice that told me he didn't particularly care. "What are you doing here?"
I stood at attention. "Mechwarrior Blake, sir."
"And your concern with this machine?"
"I'm the pilot of this mech, sir, and I would like to ask..."
"Pilot? Ah, yes. Blake. I've seen your file. And they still let you pilot this... 'mech', you say?" He sighed. "Yes, I suppose YOU would call it a mech...."
His face looked like he had just tasted something unpleasant, and he examined some component that he had pulled out of Tailbiter.
"I, on the other hand, would call it a frighting display of bailing wire technology."
I jumped when he jabbed in my direction with the thing, some delicate looking module from the sensor array. "You're not very careful with it, you know."
"Sir?" I asked, still focused on whatever he was waving around.
He sighed again, as if weary of explaining simple concepts to an idiot. "You're not very careful with it. You take it out to battle. You expose it to tremendous amounts of damage from explosives and high-energy beam weapons."
"But sir, isn't that the idea? Of Battlemechs, I mean."
He glanced toward heaven with a resigned look on his face, then shook his head. "A typical attitude for a mechwarrior," he muttered. Then he nodded toward Tailbiter's head. "This head, for instance. It's not the original."
"No, sir. That was destroyed almost five years ago. We did manage to acquire a replacement from the same manufacturer."
Nodding as if I'd proven his point, he turned his attention back toward the sensor array.
"Sir," I pushed on, "may I ask what it is that you are doing?"
He again extracted himself from Tailbiter. He stood and approached me. "Do you have any idea what this is?" he asked, gesturing with that sensor module.
"A module from the sensor array, sir."
He studied me carefully. "You wouldn't happen to know WHICH module, would you?"
I remained at attention.
"I thought not," he sighed. "In that case I can't explain to you what I am doing. You are not be capable of understanding."
I looked more closely. "Sir, isn't that one of the self-sufficient, 'never-remove' modules?"
"This?" he asked. He tossed it into the air and deftly caught it with his other hand. He tossed it back.
Each time he did, every muscle in my body twitched.
"THIS is a Norescon XCV-1050 targetting rangefinder." He tossed it again. He caught it again. "They don't make these anymore. They don't know how." He tossed it again. "But there are those of us who understand it well enough to make certain adjustments that increase its accuracy by 5.2% and decrease its cycle time by 75 kips. I am attempting to do this, despite the inadequate tools and incompetent assistants that are presently available to me." He glared pointedly at me. "And despite annoying distractions that don't know what an XCV-1050 is or does." He turned away, muttering something I couldn't quite make out.
I was about to reply when I jumped at a hand on my shoulder. It was Dana Bean. "Hi-Missy-let's-go. Got-stuff-to-do. Good-to-see-you-Baron-Dent-sir." Bean nearly dragged me off to the gantry and urged me down the ladder.
Hmmmph! As if I was ready to punch Dent.
Well, I almost was.
Alister would put things to rights!
I bumped into Akton on the way. "What's wrong, Missy? Where are you going?"
I stopped, turned on my heels, looked down into his eyes, and waved my arms about. "That... that new tech! The important one!"
"What about him?"
"HE'S FIXING Tailbiter!" I spun around again and continued on my way.
"Oh, right," Akton said to my back. "That explains EVERYTHING!"
I went up to his desk. "Jeeter, I need to see the Major!"
"Can it wait?" he asked in a lazy voice while he cross-checked the screen against data on a flimsy.
"Hmmmph! It's IMPORTANT, Jeeter!"
"Uh huh." He made some notes on the flimsy and tapped at the keyboard some more.
I leaned on his desk. "JEETER!"
He stared at my hands until I removed them and took a step backward. He sighed, and for the first time looked up at me. "Major Haldane is a very busy man. What is this problem?"
Jeeter can be real annoying! Hmmmph! Paper-pusher! I quickly described how the Baron had taken Tailbiter apart and juggled irreplacable modules about, and how he might not be able to put them back correctly.
"You are aware of the standing orders not to interfere with his actions, of course?"
"YES! Hmmmph! I didn't interfere! I just tried to ask him a couple questions!"
"The man has come highly recommended. He has an excellent reputation. I think that you are over-reacting. Are you certain that this matter is necessary to bring to the attention of the battalion commander?"
"I am bringing it to my COMPANY commander. The Major wears two hats, Jeeter, if you hadn't noticed."
He shrugged. "I believe that it would be more appropriate for you to see Captain Davis in the Technical Section about these complaints." He went back to his work.
I circled the desk and spun his chair around to face me.
"All right, Jeeter, I'm going straight to Tinker like you want. But just think about this! The Major owns most of those mechs. Every minute we wait gives that Baron Dent another minute to rip out things on all our mechs that WE can't fix. If HE can't fix it, we're sunk! Be a good place to plant a saboteur, don't you think?"
I stormed out of the Major's office.
Damn! And bumped into Akton again. The little guy's worse than Ferret One on Butte Hold! Always following me about.
Now to see Tinker....
"Oh, I don't know, sir. It was just Missy Blake in here with a complaint about Lieutenant Dent."
"PUTZ!" Alister exclaims.
Alister opens the door to his inner office, to display a golf club. "Why does she have to come around here when I'm practicing my PUTTS?"
"Guess I better give Tinker a call to warn him that she's on her way," Alister mutters as he shuts his door.
"Don't be concerned," Tinker had said. "The man has been involved in special projects in the Federated Suns involving the design of new mechs and the recovery of Star League battle computers and heat sink technology. If there is ANYONE that it's safe to leave a mech with, it's Baron Marvin Dent."
Hmmmph! Tinker was an old-time Harrier. I'm surprised that he put so much trust in these newcomers.
When I left Tinker's office, I marched straight toward the mech bays, Akton still at my heels. "Are you REALLY sure you want to head back there?" he would whine over and over. "How about going to the rec lounge and..."
Hmmmph! Akton just didn't understand. But then he WAS an ex-Vegan, after all. He didn't understand. He couldn't.
Lieutenant Ken was at the entrance to the mech bay, leaning up against a wall. And I saw Dana Bean, Milo Redwolf, Mortwald Hennesy, and a couple others inside, lurking in the shadows. What was going on? Were they going to jump me? Drag me away from MY mech? Hmmmph!
"Hi, Missy," Ken said with a smile. "What's up?"
It took a while before I convinced him that I just wanted to watch them work on Tailbiter. I ALWAYS watched techs when they worked on Tailbiter. For some reason they thought I was going to hurt Dent or something.
Hmmmph! I never would do THAT! Orders are orders, after all.
Even if they're stupid orders.
Dent's chief aide, this shapely blonde bimbo, came over to where I was standing.
"Want to try her out?" she asked.
HIM, I thought. Try HIM out.
"Yes!" I replied eagerly.
"Fine," she said, making an note on a flimsy. "Come back in an hour."