Herc's Holiday, Chapter 1

Sydney, Australia

Just outside the Shatterdome

July 14, 2024

1847

Chuck walked away from the Shatterdome, relaxing with each step. God, I love it when I can get away, even for a few hours. He stopped to get his bearings, then set out to go to a very particular bar he'd come to enjoy the last few times he'd been outside the 'Dome. After a short walk, he arrived. There wasn't much to indicate that it was a bar, but Chuck knew it was. He walked in smiling.

The bartender nodded at him. "Nice job last week. Took you a while to come in to celebrate, though."

"Eh, the old man had me running drills with the new cadets for the last few nights."

The barkeep nodded and slid a beer across the bar to Chuck, who mumbled a "thank you" before looking at one particular corner. Yup, there it is. A new photo had been pinned to the wall, showing a dead Category IV Kaiju that Striker Eureka had taken down in New Guinea. Yes, there were other Jaegers represented, but the only other one Chuck cared about had fallen long ago. Of all the other Jaegers, I'd have enjoyed jockeying in Tacit Ronin the most. Graceful, fluid, and fucking FAST. Too bad I'll never get to do anything other than watch the videos of her. He looked back in the direction of the Shatterdome. No offense, Striker. You're still faster and more fluid, but the systems pioneered in Tacit are what makes you what you are.

Suddenly, Chuck heard a female voice behind him. "Hey, you're in my spot."

Chuck slowly turned around, ready to dish a beating out. I don't care if you're a woman. Some of the scarier Rangers are ladies. He began to open his mouth to insult the person who dared to disturb him… then stopped.

The short, red haired… girl. She can't be much older than legal age. Hell, she doesn't even look it… stood there, head cocked to the side and her arms crossed in front of her chest. Chuck had slept around over the last few years, but she was something else. She exuded pure confidence as she smirked at him.

"Oh, don't let the fact I'm lady stop you. I'm very capable of defending myself."

"It's not that… It's the fact that you don't recognize who I am."

"Oh, I know you. Chuck Hansen, number two pilot for Striker Eureka. You're Herc Hansen's copilot."

"He's more of my copilot."

"Then why do you ride on the left, Chuck?"

Chuck paused. Ouch. She's got a point.

"Did I actually hurt you with that?"

"No, but you've got a point."

"Of course I do."

Chuck got up off his stool and slid it out for her. "Well, here's your seat. I'll pick out another."

"And they say chivalry died with women's rights."

"I gave you that as a sign of respect, not chivalry. Normally, I'd have flown off the handle by now."

"So I've heard."

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Only if you get an exact match."

"Is this a drinking match? Because I'm really good at those…"

"Not a drinking contest. A conversation."

"Please don't tell me you're press."

"Okay, I'm not press."

Chuck laughed. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did. Barkeep! Two beers on Mr. Hansen's tab please."

"I don't think we've formally introduced ourselves. I'm Chuck Hansen."

"Miranda Schaeffer."

"So, Miranda, what brings you to this bar?"

"I could ask the same of you."

Man, this is just like sparring with Dad. I can't land a hit! "I just wandered in one night, few days after Ceramander. Nobody cared who I was. I was just another mate in for a drink."

"I wandered in a few months ago, doing a pub crawl with some friends. They've moved on to other places. I didn't." She gestured at the bartender. "Jake here is why."

Chuck scratched his head as he looked at the Jake. "Why did I never catch your name?"

Jake grinned. "You never asked."

Chuck turned back to Miranda. "So, how did Jake cause you to stay?"

Miranda looked down at the floor for a bit. "I was in a bad way emotionally. He helped me find my feet again, and get on with life." She looked at Chuck and smiled. "All of the regulars here have a similar story. We were all broken in our own way. Someone else here helped us fix ourselves up, pick up the pieces, etcetera. No one finds this place unless they need help. Sometimes, it just takes them a while to find out what that is."

Chuck turned to Jake. "Okay, what the hell did you put in my beer, mate? Cause this is creeping me the fuck out."

Jake gave a booming laugh. "Easy, dude. I read Spider Robinson's old 'Callahan's Crosstime Saloon' series, and thought that I should try to emulate that atmosphere. This isn't a place to drown your problems in booze, it's a place to fix them."

"Then what's my problem?"

"That's for you to find out. I'm not a miracle worker. I'm a shoulder to cry on, a friend to confide in, a font of wisdom and advice, or whatever else you need to help YOU find YOUR problem, then solve it yourself."

Chuck nodded. "You're a shrink, aren't you?"

"No. Just an all-around nice guy who also can tend the bar. I also play a mean piano."

Chuck stared into his beer. What the hell is my problem?

Miranda leaned over to Chuck's ear. "If you're wondering what your problem is, think about how you've behaved the whole time you've been here tonight."

Chuck thought for a moment… then hung his head as he realized what his problem was. "I'm a jerk to everyone who cares about me. To anyone who I cross paths with."

Miranda sat back. "Wow, I hadn't expected that to work!"

Chuck slowly looked at Miranda. "Have I ever been rude to you?"

"No. We just met tonight."

Chuck turned to Jake. "You?"

"Plenty of times. But you always pay off your tab, so I have no worries about it."

Chuck looked back to Miranda. "You know, this is actually the longest conversation I've had with someone in years. The most civil one, too."

Miranda smirked. "Even the girls you used to take to bed with you?"

Chuck blushed. "That hurts."

"Good. It means you're human after all. There was much debate over whether or not you were even human."

Chuck laughed loudly. "I assure you, I'm not a robot."

Suddenly, Chuck's phone buzzed. "Shit. Probably Dad." He pulled it out. "Yeah, it's Dad." He accepted the call. "What's up, Old Man? I know, I KNOW! Yeah, I'm out on the town. No, I'm not drunk, and I don't plan on becoming so. No, I'm not at some girl's place. Look, why don't you just wait until we Drift again? You'll see the whole thing. You always do. Same to you. Catch you in the Drift." He hung up and pocketed his phone.

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "So, I think I've got you figured now. You're an egotistical jerk with daddy issues."

Chuck grumbled and took a long pull from his beer. "He knew I was out on the town relaxing. Why'd he have to call me and screw it all up?"

Miranda pulled out a pen and a small slip of paper, then scrawled something on it. "Tell you what, next time you want to talk, call me. You're a good man at heart, Chuck." She put her hand atop his heart. "You just need to let it show." She then headed to the door.

Chuck froze. She's right. He quickly grabbed a napkin and wrote down his contact info. "Miranda, wait!"

She paused at the door.

"Hey, if you ever need to talk, unless I'm in Striker, I'm all ears."

Miranda smiled and accepted the napkin. "Thanks, Chuck."

She left, and Chuck watched her go.

Jake walked over to him. "Chuck, I think you've been bitten by the love bug."

"She deserves someone better than me."

Jake smiled. "Then become that better someone." He returned to the bar, leaving Chuck to ponder what he'd meant.

-.-.-

Sydney Shatterdome

Chuck's quarters

July 31, 2024

2102

Chuck had just flopped down on his bed to rest when a knock came from the door. "Coming." He walked to the door and opened it.

Herc stood on the stoop. "Can I come in?"

Chuck didn't say anything; he just walked over to his bunk and sat down. Herc closed the door behind him.

Herc looked at his son. "Look, normally I don't say anything about what I see in the Drift…"

"You saw that night earlier this month."

"At the bar? Yeah, I did."

"So?"

"You normally try to work your way into the shorts or skirts of any lady who'll listen to you. You didn't."

"No, I didn't."

"Is there something you need to tell me?"

"No, I don't have any STDs, Dad. It's just that she's able to verbally spar with me better than anyone else." Chuck rubbed his temples.

"That's not it, Chuck. I know you better than you think."

"You're probably right."

Herc frowned. "Who are you, and what the bloody hell have you done with my son?"

"Dad, what are you talking about?"

"The Chuck I know would have been bellowing at me to get out by now."

"Maybe I've decided that I need to change."

"Lemme call medical, then. You're not yourself. Are you sure…"

"I'M FINE, DAD."

Herc smiled. "That's the Chuck I know."

Chuck put his head in his hands. "Look, it's complicated…"

"I saw, Chuck. I understand. She really reminds me of your mom when I met her the first time."

Chuck bristled at the reference. "Get out."

Herc nodded and left.

Chuck sighed and lay down on his bunk. His eyes settled on his phone. Might as well. He grabbed it and woke it up. There was a message waiting for him from Miranda, only a few minutes old.

Congrats on the kill!

Chuck punched in her number. The phone rang twice before she picked up.

"Hey, Ranger. What's up?"

"Thinking about you."

"Oh? Do tell. I love hearing the dirty thoughts of men."

"Not like that, Miranda."

"Ooh, I love puzzles."

Chuck grinned despite himself. "Then consider me the biggest one of your life."

"How so?"

"I'm trying to change how I treat others, but I've got… a reputation."

"So I've heard. How's it going?"

"Not good. My dad thought I was either sick or brainwashed."

Miranda's musical laugh drifted through the connection. "Yeah, I guess that's a problem! So what are you going to do about it?"

Chuck sighed. "I guess I'll have to put up a façade. Be the Chuck Hansen, Egotistical Jerk With Daddy Issues they expect on the outside, but be the new me on the inside." He paused. "God, this is going to be hard with my dad and the Drift."

"Then explain to him what you're doing."

"No need. The Drift will tell him. I still don't think he'll believe it."

"Then, why did you call me?"

"Actually… I was wondering if you'd like to go have dinner tomorrow night. I've heard of a new joint over by the harbor that I'd like to try."

"Chuck, are you asking me out on a date?"

He rubbed the base of his neck, nervous. "I guess I am."

"Is this a play to get me into bed with you?"

"No. I'm done with the one-night stands."

"Good on you."

"So… dinner date?"

"Sure. But you're paying."

"Deal."

-.-.-

Author's notes: If you haven't read the "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" series, it's a hoot. Great series of short stories. Aliens, telepaths, time travelers, and regular folks all come to Callahan's Place. The catch? You can't find it unless you need to.

Jake's place is heavily influenced by my interpretation of that series, so expect several other references to Spider Robinson's work.

Don't worry, Herc will reappear as the main focus in a few chapters. This is just setting up the back story of Miranda and her connection to Herc and Chuck.