I hate being trapped in dropships. I really do. I have NO IDEA how the regular ship crew can stand it! All the time in zero gee is bad enough, and then the jump effect wrenches your guts inside out. The air is stale and stinks of old socks. And here we are, a whole lance crammed into a tiny bunkroom that would be barely comfortable for one, trying to sleep through Hilnder's snoring! And that's not even counting the OTHER roomful! Larkin is moping around depressed, Rasputin has gone through about half the crew by now, and Wiener's babbling is really getting on my nerves!


We've been travelling for over a month so far, but it shouldn't be too much longer now. Next we'll make the jump into the Butte Hold system, using some kind of pirate jump point info we bought on Lackhove. See, normally a jumpship pilot goes for one of the two jump points along a star's axis of rotation, as these are clear of gravity effects from planets and easiest to figure out. Unfortunately, BECAUSE they are so easy, they are the points that are watched most. We'll come in near the plane of the planets, I think. Hope they don't spot us!

Upon entering the Butte Hold system, Fall Safe will drop free of the jumpship and accelerate under her own power. Gravity will return, but with a vengeance! I hear from one of our floaters that we'll be pushing three gees!


Maybe I'll spend the trip in the tub.

We're on final approach now, with the drive backed down to just a little over a gee so we can get around and prepare ourselves. I hate being squashed. Even more, I hate being squashed for days on end.

I couldn't sleep so I went to the mech bays to see Tailbiter. He's nervous about the coming battle. Like usual, he's thinking back to how badly he got hurt on Proserpina. But I know he'll do well on Butte Hold. Quinn's run the company through dozens of possible scenarios on the simulators, and we came out with flying colors. Except that once, where Tailbiter's missile magazine blew. I've assured him that's a one-in-a-thousand shot, but it doesn't help his disposition.

Quinn's paired us with Lieutenant Ken in Perfect Ending to provide fire support. That's good, because we probably won't have to go mecho-mecho with anything likely to hurt us. Tailbiter doesn't like fist fights. He doesn't like other mechs touching him.

Oops, there's Alex Larkin looking for me. Quinn's calling another official meeting, I'll bet, and has sent out his puppy to round us up. God, how I hate the way Larkin sucks up to Quinn! "Yes SIR, Lieutenant Quinn, Sir! What ELSE can I do for you, Sir? Shall I lick your boots, Sir?"


The man has no self respect. Well, I guess that's better than his brother's attitude toward officers. Dickhead would have been as likely to shoot them as to obey them. Well, more likely. I heard he did it, once.

We just grounded, and the dropship crew is swarming over Fall Safe, spreading nets with local vegetation to camoflage the ship. We're about forty klicks southwest of the secondary base, we think. The windriders have fired up their vehicles. The mechs are loaded with ammo and ready to go, and the mechwarriors have dressed for action (or undressed, rather; it gets hellishly hot in combat, and much more than a cooling vest is rare).

The first job is to make sure that this canyon we landed in is secure. Quinn has some elaborate plan that mostly seems to involve us marching up and down the valley in our mechs. I'm too sleepy right now to do much more than stagger around behind Lieutenant Ken. I didn't get much sleep last night, spending most of it trying to calm Tailbiter.

It's the morning after we dropped on Butte Hold, and Quinn wants to do a little scouting to get a good look at the enemy base. He's going himself in one of our speedy Ferret hovercraft with a squad of windriders under Lieutenant Zren... ahhh, Rorenz... well, you know the guy: the grunt windrider officer. Piotr's his first name. Nice enough guy, for a grunt officer. Can't understand a word he says, though.

Quinn's also taking along Tailbiter, Passed Tense, and Codpiece, our three fastest mechs. We're to hang back and act as a support lance if the Ferret runs into trouble. Quinn puts the support lance under the command of (big surprise here...) his puppy Larkin. Alex smiles like a kid a Christmas, puffing up his chest. When Quinn turns his back, Wiener gives me a sidewards glance. I shrug. Could be worse.

Could be Rasputin. Could be Steiner.

I sure hope Quinn knows what he's doing. I'd feel a lot better if he were coming in Gifted, but I guess a 90 ton assault mech stomping about isn't exactly subtle.

Anyway, I think we're being too slow and deliberate about it. If we're going to raid, we should raid! Then get OUT!

Well, he's the boss.

Remembering tales I heard from Blacksmith, I grab the dice that I use for good luck at tenner and toss them. Clatter! Clunk! I read them and announce, "The Tailbiter S.O.L. frequency for this mission is 555.43." Quinn, Wiener, and Larkin look at me funny. "Well," I explain, "if we get all our command freqs jammed, that's where I'M going to be, at least."

Wiener nods. Larkin shrugs. Quinn, of course, remains impassive.

We're ready to leave now. A flood of green lights surround me as I snuggle into my cockpit. I strap in, plug in the hoses to my cooling vest, and switch on my neurohelmet. I send Tailbiter the commands for a slight bow, then an exaggerated left handed salute, this being his favorite activation code. All around me my friend comes to life, and as one we walk out of the Fall Safe's drop bay to join Passed Tense and Codpiece on the dirt.

Once clear of the ship I punch a control and hear satisfying clunks as the long range missile launcher on Tailbiter's right shoulder is loaded from the magazine in his chest. Eight. Nine. Ten. Green light. I hit another to enable the PPC in Tailbiter's right hand. I can see it come alive in a dazzle of infra-red, building up to a stand-by state. Green light. I tense my legs and pull them back slightly to flush the jump jet exhaust ports. Green light. Now Tailbiter and I are ready for anything!

LET Larkin think he has command for now. When the time comes, I'll do whatever I have to.

And so will Tailbiter.

Written by and © Copyright 2002 Ed Barach.
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