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Phosphor

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Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.

-Aristotle

 

The dream- he was certain that’s what it was- started slowly, with the appearance of a single star floating in an inky black void. Newt reached for it, sure that if he just tried hard enough he would be able to touch the vivid ethereal thing. He could already feel the warmth coming from it and something inside him opened for the first time, blossoming like a flower in the sun. He wanted that star, wanted it more than anything he had ever wanted in all his nine long years on planet earth. Wanted it more than the microscope he had received for Christmas when he was six (the year he realized his dad was Santa) and more than the ability to be able to focus in class when his mind began to wander (It was only getting worse.)

   The star drifted from him, rising up into a sky that exploded with stars of all sizes and colors. Newt stood on a ground that really didn’t exist and watched breathlessly as the universe burst bright and fully formed above his head, all swirling nebulae and never-ending ribbons of stars. They were white, gold, red and even blue like a deep ocean. They danced around him and away into infinity. There were so many stars but Newt only wanted the first one he had seen; the little one that was a bit crooked and the color of honey. Longing and pain filled him when he couldn’t find his star anymore. It was so tiny and the sky so enormous; he didn’t even know where to start looking.

Scanning the innumerable points of light in the ever-expanding cosmos above him, Newt was startled by a voice in the silence.

     “Hey! Come back! Where did you go!?”

The little voice spoke to him and the moment he couldn’t hear it he immediately forgot what it sounded like. Puzzled, Newt strained to capture the sound of it, determined to force his brain to remember. It was like he wasn’t really hearing the voice as much as he was feeling it.

     “I didn’t go anywhere! I’m right here. Who are you? Are you my star?”

The voice hesitated, then answering in a tone much huffier then it needed to be. Newt decided he liked that. He liked it very much.

     “I’m not a star. A star is a ball of burning gas and even if I was one I certainly wouldn’t belong to you. Um...whoever you are.”

The prim little voice paused then spoke again in a much less condescending tone.

     “Are you my fish? Why did you swim away?”

Newt giggled and was about to answer that, no, he was sure he wasn’t anyone’s fish, but he stopped. He could feel himself waking up. Fighting against consciousness hard as he could, Newt held his hands out to the star-strewn sky. He wanted to stay here with the snobby little voice. Just being here with it and hearing it speak made him unbelievably happy. He held out a few more seconds before the stars faded away, burning out one speck at a time.

 *

   Newt cracked open one bleary eye and found himself staring at the familiar faded white ceiling of his room. The summer air smelled humid as it blew through his bedroom window. June had just begun and school seemed a comfortingly distant notion. Newt tried to cling to the dream. He dug mental fingernails into it and was pleased when it didn’t die away completely like most of his dreams did. There was a little star and…a voice? Yeah, he was sure there was a voice. He couldn’t remember exactly what it had sounded like but it had been very important.

Pulling off his covers and sitting on the side of his bed, Newt paused and tugged at the ratty t-shirt he wore to bed, confused. The shirt had a picture of Godzilla on it. He was caught mid-roar and right now it looked like he was about to unleash a mouthful of his signature “Atomic Breath” all over Newt’s room. The printed monster’s tongue and teeth shone from the inside out, radiant with soft pink light. Newt pulled his collar away from his skin and looked worriedly down at himself. It took him three whole minutes to register what he was seeing. The light wasn’t coming from the shirt…-It was coming from his chest.

Fully awake now, Newt scrambled to his feet. He threw his door open with a bang, taking the stairs to the first story of his old split level house two at a time. Running pell-mell through the living room, Newt burst into the small kitchen, his bare feet skidding to a stop on the worn tile.

     “Dad!”

His dad reached over to lower the volume on the music blaring from his laptop but didn’t turn around. He was standing at the stove making the traditional Geiszler family Sunday pancake breakfast. He spoke in a booming sing-song voice and just the sound of it was reassuring.

     “Morning, Newtant the Mutant. You want yours with carob chips inside or on top?

Newt looked down his shirt collar again, frowning at the illumination seeping out of his chest.

     “Umm, inside…Dad, I’m doing the thing!”

Newt danced back and forth impatiently, watching his dad flip a perfect pancake. He threw his spatula into the air and caught it with a flourish.

     “Which thing, buddy? Thing covers a lot of different variables…”

     “The adult thing! The…the Glow thing.”

Dropping the spatula with a reverberating metal smack, his dad finally turned his head to look down at him. Newt stared back, eyes wide, face pale and upset. Trembling he pointed at the pinkish glow throbbing behind Godzilla’s growling face.

Shaking his head, his dad chuckled, an amused smile on his face.

     “Well, Newt, it looks like you bloomed last night. Nine is pretty young. Your uncle Gunter and I didn’t bloom until we were a bit older…fourteen, fifteen maybe? You are just doggedly committed to be ahead of the curve on everything.”

Turning off the stove and piling a few pancakes on a waiting plate Newt’s dad set them on the kitchen table and sat down, pointing to the chair next to his.

     “Have a seat bud. Let’s talk about this. Did you have any, um…interesting dreams last night?”

Newt climbed up into the chair and stared listlessly at his plate. He shrugged, making no move to pick up a fork.

     “Yeah, think so. I’m pretty sure it was about stars.”

     “Did….somebody talk to you?”

Newt looked up in surprise, losing all interest he might have had in pancakes. He rubbed distractedly at his chest. There was still warmth inside him and the voice had put it there- he was sure of it.

     “Well, umm. It was kinda like talking but they didn’t have a voice.”

His dad let out a long breath and massaged his temple.

     “Man. I wish I had like…a pamphlet or an educational video for this, Newt, my man, because I don’t think I’m prepared to give you this talk.”

Newt snorted and folded his arms, looking at his dad impatiently.

     “I know about sex Dad. Animals do it and…”

He stopped mid-sentence when his dad started to laugh, putting an affectionate hand in his wild hair. Newt disliked the way his hair stood up. Strangers often commented that it made him look like he had been electrocuted.

     “I know you do, mini-man. I know. Studying Biology at your age I figured that, but you’ve never had the GLOW talk.”

Newt didn’t like it when people spoke down to him. He didn’t like it when they treated him like he was stupid. It hurt; especially when his dad did it. He puffed himself up and pulled his head away from his dad’s placating touch.

     “I know about Glow! I mean, a little. I know adults glow all the time. Like when they get mad or sad or whatever. It’s just something grown-ups do.”

The summer smell of tilled earth came sweet from an open window. The dozens of wind chimes on the back porch all clanged in a friendly morning breeze and Newt could hear the sound of a far off lawnmower buzzing to life. A dog barked, adding to the symphony of suburban sounds. All of them he had heard a dozen times before, but this morning it all felt very significant. It was different now that he had the Glow. He was an adult-officially. The back door slammed and his Uncle Gunter called out a hurried hello before his footsteps disappeared into the garage, going to putter with his old car. His dad didn’t call to him and Newt was a bit relieved. He didn’t think he could handle both of them in the room at once.

     “Do you know what Glow is, Newt?”

Newt considered and looked down under his shirt again. He could see the dark silhouette of his ribcage and, inside that, the vague hummingbird flutter of his heart moving in the rose light. It was like he had swallowed a nightlight and it was burning inside his body. He answered with a noncommittal shrug.

     “Not really. I know it shows up when adults feel things? Somebody gets mad or they kiss and they light up. I’ve seen teachers, and you, and Uncle Gunter do it all the time.”

His dad nodded and took Newt’s fork from him, stabbing a bit of his pancake and slipping it into his mouth. He spoke around a mouthful of dough and carob.

     “Anything else?”

     “It caused by umm…No-no it means that….”

He squinted, searching his brain for everything he knew about Glow, most of it gleaned from playground gossip and television.

     “Umm...It means I have a girlfriend?”

Newt’s dad snorted, nearly choking on his pancake.

     “Well, it’s a bit more, um, complicated than that, Newtant.”

Newt watched as his dad went to the cupboard and pulled out two glasses. One was Newt’s favorite, the one with the brightly colored lizards wrapped around clear glass. The other was a boring one that said “Lake Michigan” on it, something his uncle had brought home from a fishing trip. His dad poured orange juice into the lizard cup and set both glasses down in front of him.

     “Let’s pretend the lizards are you and ole Michigan here is the voice you heard in your dream last night.”

Newt narrowed his eyes at them and nodded. His dad always made things easier to understand. He knew that Newt liked things explained visually, unlike his teachers. He calmed somewhat, tiny shoulders relaxing.

     “Now, this juice here is the light in your chest. It’s the essential inside bits of you that make you feel happy or bummed out. Most people like to call it Soul Glow, but I always thought that was kinda hokey. Your grandmother called it Phosphor and I like that better.”

He picked up the lizard cup and carefully poured half of the orange juice it held into the Michigan cup until they were both filled equally.

     “So, somewhere…”

His dad gestured to the bright shine of the kitchen window, out into the blue summer sky.

     “Somewhere out there, Newt, mi amigo, there is another person and you two are tied together by the light. You both share the same Phosphor and you have this invisible connection that bonds you tighter than crazy glue. Sometimes you’ll feel what they feel and sometimes you’ll hear them when you go to sleep.”

Newt stared wide-eyed at the orange juice.

     “What? Like, for real?”

He watched his dad’s face carefully. Sometimes he liked to play tricks and this seemed like a prime example of one. If he was psyching Newt out his acting was spot on; the man seemed completely serious.

     “Cross my heart, Newt. It’s true. They’re your, well, Soulmate is the common vernacular, but like I said that’s just so damn cheesy. Most textbooks call it your Anima. They’re just…they’re your best friend, a chunk of you and vice versa. You share something with them you don’t share with anyone else.”

He tapped on the juice glass. Newt chewed on his bottom lip, opening and closing his hands as he considered.

     "Okay…can I ask some questions?”

     “Fire away. I will answer them as best I know how.”

Newt bounced his leg considering where to start.

     “Does everybody have one?”

     “Yep! Everybody. Me, your Uncle, the cranky old lady up the street…even the mailman. Everybody has one.”

     “When can I see them! When will I meet them? Soon?”

His dad winced his reply slow and cautious.

     “Welp, that’s more of a loaded question, Newtant. I mean, we never really know where our Anima is…There’s no map to guide you to them. I still haven’t found mine and neither has Gunter. Sometimes you never find them. Most people go their whole lives without meeting theirs. In fact, finding yours is more the exception then the rule. Sometimes they can be really far away…sometimes you don’t even speak the same language outside of dreams. Heck, they could live right down the street but you won’t even know it! But you always have them around. It’s somebody to share your life with, and that’s a good thing.”

Blinking angrily, Newt pushed away from the table. His chest was glowing red hot as he struggled to breathe. His dad held up gentle consoling hands.

     “Where are you, Newt? Give me a number…”

Newt paced the kitchen, biting at his nails. He and his dad had a system and if he got up past six on the stress numbers scale it was an instant timeout. The doctors and specialists he went to see spoke about anxiety and only recently they had started calling his ups and downs bipolar disorder. He was glad to have a name for it, but he didn’t like being treated differently by adults. He took the stupid pills; they didn’t have to act weird around him.

     “N-nine! I’m u-upset! It’s not fair dad! I want to find them!”

His dad stood and put gentle hands around Newt’s middle hefting him up and carrying him into the living room. Newt went floppy, his arms and legs ragdoll limp as he was carried like a garbage bag.

     “Oof…oh man you are getting way too big for this, bud…”

He set Newt down on the sofa and pulled a blanket around his shoulders.

     “I know it doesn’t seem fair but…I never said you wouldn’t find them. You remember our talk about patience? Sometimes you have to wait a bit…”

Newt hunkered down unhappily into the fleece blanket until only his face was visible.

  

“Well how do I know it’s them when I find them?”

 

The words came out more desperate than Hermann intended. He watched his sister Karla over one shoulder. She frowned as she tightened another loop on the blinder, cinching up the strange garment.

     “Well for one thing you probably won’t find them. I mean, nobody in the family has ever found theirs so I wouldn’t get my hopes up. And two, I’m not sure? I’ve read that once you touch your Soulmate your chest lights up really bright…”

Hermann gasped as she pulled the last of the blinder hooks tight and sat back examining her handiwork.

     “But chests are always glowing! How can you tell the difference between that glow and an everyday one?”

Hermann winced, glowering at the bulky black material pulled taut over his chest. The blinder was padded and created specifically to block out Glow. In appearance it reminded Hermann of a stretchy bulletproof vest. He let out a soft unhappy breath and gazed up at his sister with pleading eyes.

     “I don’t understand why I have to wear this…”

She turned him around adjusting the elastic edges of the blinder so they covered him from naval to collarbone. He jerked uneasily when she touched his skin. It made him feel vulnerable, weak. He avoided touch more and more as time went on. No one in his family was physical anyway so it wasn’t that hard to steer clear of.

     “It’s obscene to have your emotions just hanging out there for everybody to see, according to Dad. Plus, boarding schools require blinders so you might as well get used to this over the summer holidays.”

She did a very good imitation of Lars, pursing her lips and standing ramrod straight.

     “Hermann, Glow is distracting to lessons and everyday life. We mustn’t let such things divert us from our studies, must we?”

Hermann pulled on his button-up and tugged his sweater over his head.

     “None of the other children in my year wear them…”

Karla gazed at him fondly and beckoned for him to sit next to her on his immaculately made bed.

     “Well, ten is very young to actually have Soul Glow in the first place. I didn’t have a Bloom dream until I was fourteen...”

Hermann shrugged and the odd warmth in his chest bubbled pleasantly, like carbonated soda fizzing in a cold glass. It was friendly and different. He could still feel heat behind his sternum even when there wasn’t any light peeking out between his ribs.

     “Why can’t we remember what our Anima says in the Glow dreams? It’s not fair.”

Karla snorted bitterly.

     “Fair? Who said life was fair? I barely remember anything at all from my Anima dreams. Most of the time it’s just the lingering impression of it when I wake up.”

Hermann scowled his little boy scowl and shook his head.

     “I remember fish. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish but there’s only one I really want to see: it’s small and bright green and with gold spots on its scales…”

Karla ruffled his hair and grabbed one of the over-starched pillows on Hermann’s bed, smacking him gently with it.

     “So you’re bonded with a fish?”

     “What? N-no!”

She hit him again, puffing out her lips. She made several smacking noises and gave him a big wet kiss on the cheek.

     “Hermann, my Sternchen! Kiss me; I’m the fish blub blub! I looove you!”

The deadly serious look on Hermann’s tiny face broke in half and he gave into a fit of giggling, grabbing another pillow to hit her back.

     “Shut up, Karla! I’ll find them, you’ll see! I’ll never give up until I find them!”

   She rolled off the bed onto the floor, staring up at the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars dotting the ceiling of her brother’s room; each lovingly positioned into accurate constellations.

     “Well, I guess you’ll have to figure out some math formula to find them…or just start looking into every fish tank you run across.”

Hermann threw his pillow at her smug face and got to his feet, trying to find his balance. The restrictive edges of the blinder were digging into his ribs and rubbing his skin. A blister was a sure thing in his future; Hermann could sense that much.

 

“I hate these things! I still don’t understand why I have to wear one.”

 

Newt yanked at the thick, rough material of the blinder in his hands, frowning at the event coordinator.

     “I’m just giving a simple lecture about SKIN GRAFTING. I’m not doing a strip tease down to my dainties, dude.”

The dour man sniffed at him and checked his clipboard again.

     “Your lecture is international, yes? That means it’s televised in several different countries and recorded for student use? Well, not all countries appreciate your rather…flashy performances. Some countries require citizens to wear blinders at all times and it would be in poor taste to ignore their customs.”

Newt rolled his eyes so hard it was painful, giving a groan so loud and exasperated it echoed through down the convention hall and startled two passing research scientists.

     “Fine! FINE! I thought this was a science conference not a PRUDE get-together.”

Newt stomped into the back of the stage where he would be giving his talk, grumbling as he went. He yanked off his dress shirt and pulled on the uncomfortable garment, wrenching the restraints tight. He wasn’t even giving off any light right now. So what if he got a little excited during his talks? So what if discussing DNA made him light up like a fucking Christmas tree? This was science and it was awesome to be emotional about it. It was in your face and didn’t need any of this society niceties crap. Newt looked at his watch. He had fifteen minutes. That was more than enough time for a bathroom/coffee run.

Throwing his notes down on the prep table, he ran out the side exit and trotted down the hall. Looking back over his shoulder, Newt slammed into the warm body before he even realized it was in his way.

     “Watch where you’re going, you, you numbskull!”

The shoulder that struck Newt was so bony it speared into his chest through his jacket. An odd heat flushed up under his collar and he snapped around to confront whoever had plowed into him.

The petulant face that glared back was painfully, horribly, familiar. Newt stopped mid-breath and for a panic stricken moment realized he didn’t know what to say. Adjusting his charcoal grey sweater vest, the gangly stranger leaned over to retrieve some papers and books he had apparently dropped in the collision. Newt threw himself to the ground and fumbled to pick them up first, attempting to put the scattered note cards back into their original order and failing miserably.

     “S-sorry, dude! I was just distracted by the…”

The man’s bony cheeks colored and he gave a curt nod, voice less stodgy when he spoke again. There was a German lilt in his voice just discernible under the blanket of a heavy English accent.

     “No, please don’t apologize. The name-calling was unnecessary on my part. You just caught me off guard.”

He looked into Newt’s eyes, brows furrowed.

     “Have we met before? You seem so… familiar to me.”

Newt held out the small stack of things he had pulled off the ground and noted how the guy avoided touching his hands when he took it back.

     “Well maybe you’ve seen my picture. I was on the cover of New Scientist last month. Not to toot my own horn but I am kind of a big deal.”

Newt’s heart was lit up like a light bulb and inside his own head he was screaming. “What the hell are you saying? Newt dude you gotta stop-not with this guy.” But no, the words just kept spewing out like nervous word diarrhea.

     “I mean maybe you’ve heard of the youngest kid to ever teach at MIT? The guy who single handedly figured out what part of the brain stimulates Phosphor? Yeah. That’s me.”

Newt watched the man tilt his head to the side and that brief flicker of warmth in his eyes was gone. Fuck.

     “Ah yes…Newton Geiszler. We’ve corresponded through e-mails…you obviously don’t recall, but then you never did see my picture.”

He seemed suddenly dejected and Newt felt his chest turn cold but no less brilliant. For the first time he was glad to be wearing a goddamn blinder.

     “I’m Hermann Gottlieb, The mathematician? I was the one who…”

Newt gaped at him.

     “You! You’re the guy who asked me all the questions about my research into The Glow! T-the Phosphor…”

That was putting it lightly. The guy was goddamn insane. He had sent e-mail after e-mail to pick Newt’s brain for everything he knew about Soul Glow. He had sometimes sent full single spaced pages of questions. He asked things that nobody, not even Newt, could possibly know, sprinkling his letters with theories of his own. Some of it completely bat-shit and some so beautiful and baffling Newt had no idea what to think of the dude writing him. Newt was considered a forefront in the field when it came to understanding Glow but Hermann Gottlieb wanted to figure out how to predict it. Wanted to make it so EVERYONE could find their Anima; he was one of the only people Newt knew more obsessed than himself.

     “You’re the guy trying to figure out the probability engine…so everybody can find their partner. The Anima statistical probability engine, right?”

Hermann took a deep breath through his nose pulling at a thread on his sleeve uncomfortably.

     “Yes. Your input has been most helpful…I feel as if I’m very close to making some sort of breakthrough. I…”

Newt examined his pale nervous face, his perfectly manicured fingernails, almost losing track of his words the more he stared. His heart was getting so loud in his head. Heat blazed through his veins; “the magma reaction” he had named it in a paper on Phosphor response. Why was he feeling it now…this was weird. He thrust out his hand towards Hermann and the man looked at it taking a step back, his lips curled back like a dog’s.

     “I…Doctor Geiszler…”

Newt wiggled his fingers slightly palm open, sweaty but welcoming. He felt something tighten in his stomach; it felt suspiciously like anticipation.

     “Shake? Come on, I don’t have cooties. I can’t believe we’re meeting face to face. I had no idea that you would be here, man! you should have told me!”

Hermann licked his lips uneasily and after considering Newt’s hand he reached out to take it. The programming director screamed down the hallway, jogging towards Newt with his clipboard in the air.

     “Dr. Geiszler, you have to be on stage in five minutes and you don’t even have your microphone on!”

Hermann drew his hand back hurriedly and mumbled apologies as Newt was half-shoved back towards the lecture hall. Newt looked back to see the mathematician examining him with something like disappointment. Then he was lost in a crowd coming out of a nearby panel on more efficient solar power. He glared at the convention organizer with open contempt.

 

“I can’t believe this.”

 

Hermann’s fingers hovered over his laptop keyboard and he shook his head. He had been working on the first line of the email to Newton Geiszler for the last twenty minutes. So far all he had was. “It was nice to have met you at the conference…” Which he had erased and rewritten five separate times. Nice? Was nice even the correct word? He was unsure how he felt about the experience, but nice did not even come close to what he was feeling. “It was strange to have met you at the conference?” or perhaps “It was confusing to have met you at the conference?” - That was closer. He had heard about the man’s work through some academic magazine and had been reading all his articles about Glow since. He actually preferred Geiszler’s name for the phenomenon. Phosphor wasn’t as sentimental in nature but was still a beautiful word. Phosphor or Glow…it was the same thing in the end.

He should have been pleased to meet Newton in person. Oslo was the last place he expected the American and to randomly bump into him was nothing short of miraculous. Yet, when he looked at him it caused a curious sort of anger. The first thing he had wanted to say to him was a shouted “How dare you!” followed by a slap. What had the man done to make him so angry? He had gone back through all their previous correspondence and reread every e-mail but he couldn’t for the life of him find any reason for the anger. Newton -Doctor Geiszler - had been nothing but civil. Borderline crass at times but polite all the same.

With a pained groan he deleted his one line of e-mail and decided that he would just stop writing to Newton completely. He had made a spectacle of himself at the conference and they were hardly even acquaintances. He didn’t owe the man anything. Hermann perched his chin on one hand, eyes roving over the gathered students of his summer quantum mechanics prep course. He was only teaching it as a favor to the school; TU had always been a friend to him and his research. A few days in a stuffy classroom in August was the least he could do.

The assembled students were an hour deep into a practice final but none of them seemed to be working. More and more were whispering frantically to each other, pulling out smart phones and tablets that Hermann had outright banned in his classroom. This was unlike them. Something was wrong. The hot sunny room was bubbling over, the stale air building up with panic. Hermann reached into his computer bag to retrieve his own tablet, more curious at the mood of the room than angered by the sudden inexplicable rule breaking.

     “Professor Gottlieb, sir? I, I think I need to go to the i-infirmary…”

Hermann started, snapped out of his thoughts by the pale girl in front of him. She was shaking visibly, almost violently. The skin around her mouth was turning blue and the corners of her eyes were tinted a raw bloody red. Hermann didn’t know her name, in truth he hadn’t bothered to learn any of their names. The prep courses came and went too fast for that. He stood, walking around his desk to hover an anxious hand near her shoulder.

     “Of course…of course. Remind me of your name?”

     “Dorothea Weiss, sir…”

He nodded and was just making up his mind to go with her to see a nurse when the girl leaned forward and began to vomit. Hermann took a reflexive step back as the classroom muttered in alarm. A few of them, Dorothea’s friends Hermann guessed, vaulted down from the raised seats to try and help. The girl had already collapsed to the ground, the shaking in her body becoming more spasm-like. Hermann kneeled next to her, adjusting her head so nothing was blocking her air passages, his taboo about touching forgotten in his distress. He looked up to the students again, doing his best to keep his voice calm.

     “Someone call an ambulance! You, near the door! Run to the infirmary and get whoever is on duty to come in the mean time. Quickly, please!”

The few he had called upon went off, shouting something to the affirmative, and the rest were either frozen or on the phone. The subdued feeling of dread in the room had evolved into outright fear. When he was sure he had regained some semblance of control, Hermann turned his attention back to Dorothea. He gasped, a surge of fear rising through his chest and plunging his heart down several stories.

Miss Weiss was wearing a ratty old tank top covered in faded images of tropical fish and the logo for some aquarium in France. What he had first thought part of the black shirt was actually the exposed skin of her upper chest and neck. The black bruise-like coloration was under her skin…, not on her clothing. Dorothea gasped for air, blood dribbling from her nose. Her eyes were wide and unseeing. She muttered in broken French; not one of Hermann’s best languages. She pleaded hysterically, her glazed eyes looking past him over his shoulder and into the distance.

     “No…don’t go…please.”

The air around his head filled with curious faces. Hermann waved the students away placing a careful hand under the girl’s head.

     “I’m not going anywhere, Miss Weiss…it will be alright…”

He knew hopelessly that she wasn’t talking to him. She was talking to someone inside her head, someone possibly thousands of miles away. The copper-black light pulsing rapidly under the girl’s sternum slowed. It flickered desperately and she trembled, tears flowing from her bloodshot eyes.

     “S'il vous plaîtne pas aller...”

The Glow went out completely and, mercifully, the girl fainted. Hermann made a stifled noise, unable to hold it in, gazing at her in disbelief. He had just witnessed an Anima death. Hermann had read about them from firsthand accounts, even seen footage of one captured in a controlled environment. But the subject in that recording had been an elderly man, not long from death himself. To see someone go through this so young was horrific. There was nothing clinical or distant about what he had just seen. She would live; you didn’t die from Anima death, at least not with that as the cause. The most common cause of death for people who went through the death of their Anima was suicide. Once your bond was severed there were no more shared dreams. The Phosphor never shone as bright…, not when it was powered by a half-dead battery.

The paramedics arrived minutes later. There was nothing they or Hermann could have done, but as they wheeled the unconscious girl away he felt a stab of guilt. Had they met? Would she remember them at all now? A paramedic stopped to speak to him his face flushed, a slight breathlessness to his voice.

     “Professor…?”

     “Gottlieb. Hermann Gottlieb. It was an Anima death, I…”

Hermann was reeling, he was spiraling into shock. The paramedic didn’t seem the least bit surprised by his diagnosis.

     “Yeah, she’s the sixth in Berlin today. They’re going out all over…It’s because of California, San Francisco…I-I can hardly believe it and I’ve been watching video footage all day…”

Hermann jerked his head up, eyebrows raised, pushing sweaty disheveled hair from his face. Anima deaths happened; this was true. Natural causes, old age, and accidental deaths. But they were rarer than one would think, especially in the very young - and to have so many at once? This had all the indications of some disaster on a massive scale.

     “San Francisco? What’s going on? An earthquake?”

The paramedic shook his head.

     “You wouldn’t believe me. You’ll have to go look yourself. It’s like something from a horror movie. If you haven’t found them just pray that you don’t have an Anima in the states…they’re calling it Trespasser. It’s a good name…”

Hermann took a tentative step after the retreating Paramedic, then stopped, watching him walk away. He was alone in the empty classroom. The lazy summer afternoon went on outside, completely ambivalent towards Miss Dorothea Weiss and her loss. Pools of light shone through large leafy trees outside the lecture halls tall windows, sending dappled light across Hermann’s face and it felt for a moment like he was underwater.

The guilt and helplessness intensified. It could have been his. For all he knew his Anima was in California right now and he could do nothing to help them. The word rolled off his lips, angry and foreign.

 

“Trespasser.”

 

The small group Ranger trainees looked nervously at each other and back to Newt. He grinned and continued on like he was telling a group of kids a ghost story around a campfire. Most people were thrown off by his enthusiasm the first time they took one of his academy classes. He liked it that way.

     “Hundun…and?”

One of the Rangers, a Spanish woman who was significantly older than the rest of the group, raised her hand.

     “Reckoner, Doctor Geiszler?”

Newt bobbed his head, writing the name on his tablet in his hands. It appeared in his terrible scribbly handwriting on a holo-screen at the front of the classroom, and he pulled up a spinning three-dimensional render of Reckoner to go with it.

     “Yes! So, these three are examples of technically uncategorized Kaiju. Because they emerged before the Serizawa scale was in place and were destroyed before accurate measurements could be taken, we can only guess at what category they are.”

A voice in the back spoke up guttural and unimpressed.

     “Why does knowing this garbage matter? Who cares what category a Kaiju is as long as we kill it?”

Newt turned sharply to see which Ranger had spoken. He only knew a few of them; his time was mostly devoted to a research team but now and then they asked him to teach a class. Instruct the newbies on the basics. Newt liked teaching. He missed his classes at MIT on occasion, even if his work with the PPDC was more exciting.

     “Know thy enemy as you know thyself…ever heard of that, smartass? How the hell are you supposed to destroy a perfect killing machine if you don’t know it inside out?”

The class was silent.

     “Hell, l if I ever got one alive I bet I could find out things that…”

Before he could really get into full fuming sermon mode, the timer on his tablet buzzed loud and shrill, signaling the end of class.

     “Oh, well, I guess we’re done. You guys are free to go hit each other with sticks or whatever.”

The Rangers piled out fast and Newton packed up his things. He spoke to a couple of Rangers that lingered to talk to him then walked down the hall, debating if he had time to swing by the mess before he got back to work on the Kaiju gland extractor. The “milking machine” as the rest of the research team called it, was due for a trial run as soon as they had an appropriate sample. It was terrible to actually want a Kaiju attack, but: the sooner one of them popped up and got throttled to kingdom come, the sooner he could suck the juices out of it and get some real down and dirty analysis done.

Newt ambled past the administrative offices and stopped cold when he heard a voice he would have recognized anywhere. It was elevated, British, and always had a holier- than-thou edge to it, even in casual conversation. He stopped near one of the higher-up’s offices and pushed the cracked door open a bit wider to peek in. There was Hermann Gottlieb looking worn and hunched in an uncomfortable office chair.

The office was sparse; the only decoration aside from a few degree certificates was a huge framed image of the Helix Nebula taken by the Hubble. Newt recognized the poster instantly. When he had first asked about it Caitlin Lightcap had told him that the Helix Nebula was nicknamed “The Eye of God” and she liked to keep the picture of it around in case she felt the need to spit in it again.

Sure enough, Lightcap appeared from just beyond his line of sight, crossing from the other side of the small room with two steaming mugs. She handed one to Hermann and then sat behind her desk to sip her own. The mathematician smiled at her and heat exploded through Newt’s whole being. He pressed to the door to eavesdrop. Hermann’s voice was firm and he gestured as he spoke, almost mechanically.

     “I know you think that any two compatible pilots will be sufficient for the Jaeger program, but I believe I could code completely different programs for Anima bonded pilots. I don’t want to seem biased but I know that there are strengths they share that cannot be attained by familial links. The Kaidonovskys have already shattered most of the previously held records.”

Lightcap looked down at a folder Hermann placed in her hands, flipping it open and scanning the pages. Newt couldn’t stop looking at Hermann. The mathematician had come to the academy first and left before Newt had officially joined. He was Dome-hopping now, programming the new Mach 2 Jaegers and trying to fix the glitches in the old Mach 1’s. Newt hadn’t seen him since the awful Oslo conference. They had only just started e-mailing again. The e-mails were curt and to the point, but it was progress. Newt didn’t know why but when they weren’t communicating his anxiety spiked. That was better now and he wasn’t going to question why.

Setting down the folder thoughtfully, Lightcap tapped her lips with a pen. Newt adjusted his position, trying to get a better look at Hermann. Was the guy eating? He looked trashed, like his skin was two sizes too big.

     “I don’t know if this program is worth the money we’d have to pour into it, Hermann; finding qualified Anima pilots is difficult enough even with an open call for recruits. If we spend time programming Jaegers just for their specific brain function then end up losing them for some reason…”

Hermann pushed forward and his hand was trembling when he pointed at her, voice thick with emotion.

     “Were you and Sergio not able to survive because of what you were? Bonds through Phosphor can survive extraordinary circumstances, endure brutal strain. Anima pilots could change the course of the program. If I was able to do what I wrote of in my proposal, Doctor…”

Newt leaned in too far and the door gave with a shrill creak. He sprawled in a heap on the floor and both Lightcap and Herman stood in surprise. Caitlin started to laugh but Hermann’s mouth pursed into a thin line.

     “Hello, Doctor Geiszler. How good to see you. Here to discuss something important, are we?”

Newt felt his face and chest flush bright pink. He lay on the floor mortified for a moment or two before nonchalantly putting his hands behind his head and staring up at Hermann’s face, wiggling his eyebrows.

     “Nah, man. Just enjoying the view.”

Hermann opened his mouth to give a spluttering reply, face livid, but Lightcap stopped him shaking her head.

    “Newt. Doctor Gottlieb will be back at the academy for awhile. He’ll be in the development wing with the J-tech departments working on experimental programming, among other things. I take it you’ve met?”

Hermann’s voice was drier than Death Valley when he answered her, still not looking away from Newt’s face.

    “Yes, Doctor Lightcap. We have unfortunately been acquaintances for some time now.”

Newt thought he might have imagined it but there seemed to be a little bit of light shining between the guys fourth and fifth layers of clothing.

Lifting up a hand towards Hermann, Newt smiled, hopeful that the guy would take the hint and help him to his feet. Hermann just glared at his open palm in disgust and walked around him.

    “I should go and talk to my new team, Doctor Lightcap. Thank you for your time. If possible, could you read through my full proposal and speak to me about it later?”

Lightcap pushed her glasses up her nose and folded her arms. Following him to the door, she leaned against the frame.

    “Of course, Dr. Gottlieb. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve gone over it.”

Newt propped himself on one elbow and groaned as he put his weight on Lightcap’s desk, levering himself to his feet.

    “So. Was there a reason you were listening in?”

Newt laughed nervously.

 

“…I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?”

 

The doctor looked at Hermann sympathetically and that only made things worse. It took a moment that would forever be an open wound on Hermann’s memory, and dashed a bit of salt in it just to be on the safe side.

     “Multiple Sclerosis, Doctor Gottlieb.”

Hermann swallowed and felt a clicking in his throat. It was dry as a bone. His chest burned with sickly heat and he could only nod so subtly he was sure the woman in the white coat missed it.

     “I…understand, yes. But I’m afraid I’m not very familiar with the disease.”

The academy had sent him to see a specialist off base. That should have been the first warning sign.

     “MS is not an immediate disease and you will notice only small incremental changes at first, Doctor. The tremors in your hands and the vision problems you’ve been experiencing …”

He had stopped listening. Karla would have said he was being melodramatic but Hermann felt as if his life was over. Not his life in so far as he was dead, but the life he had carefully constructed for himself. The life he had built a piece at a time through hard work and patience.

The doctor continued in her kind, clinical voice. She wasn’t even speaking to him as a colleague; just as one of many files in a metal drawer. Herman felt his insides constrict painfully tight but he was determined not to cry in front of the doctor.

The consultation office was well appointed, the walls painted a bland salmon color that was meant to be comforting. The furniture was made of a dark wood and an impressive tank of tropical fish sat behind the doctor’s desk. Hermann watched it and the pain inside him eased.

Words sneaked past the solid barrier he was already erecting in his mind; words like physical therapy, progressive…and terminal. The fish filled up his world and the fire inside him was soothed with the familiar glow that lingered after dreams; the telltale signs of his other half comforting him silently from an incalculable distance.

He nodded to show the doctor he was listening, his mind full of fins and the soft swirl of water. In the tank, for just a moment, something small and green and speckled with gold gazed at him from behind the plastic skull and bubbling treasure chest.

     “Doctor Gottlieb…? Doctor Gottlieb.”

Hermann snapped back from miles distant and looked at her, trying to disguise the dazed look he could feel in his own eyes. There were only the usual tropical fish in the tank, nothing but the odd clownfish poking about the fake coral and multicolored plastic rocks.

     “Yes. Apologies, Doctor Sharpe. I…I’m afraid I was only half here with you.”

She smiled at him with what seemed like genuine empathy.

     “I know this is a difficult diagnosis to take in all at once. You need to start taking better care of yourself. I’m also going to suggest a walking aid.”

Hermann interrupted her, the question burning his throat. It was pointless but he asked anyway.

     “My Anima…will they feel any pain?”

The doctor blinked, staring at him as if he had asked about something so outlandish she had no idea how to respond, like he had asked about the mating habits of penguins or alternate realities.

     “I...can’t say. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that question. I’m afraid that’s not my field…”

Hermann grasped the arm of his chair and used a quaking hand to push himself up, face flushed with embarrassment.

   “I’m sorry, Doctor Sharpe...it was just an idle thought…”

Artfully avoiding the doctor’s hand when she reached out for a handshake, Hermann took his leave with forced politeness. He made it out into the parking lot before the tears came. Leaning against a stranger’s car he sobbed bitterly, all resolve to hold the emotion back cracking wide open. He muttered to himself, his own voice painful in his ears.

 

“God, what a mess.”

 

Newt pushed his glasses up his nose, speaking his thoughts aloud. Of all the pristine beaches ruined by Kaiju Blue, Newt was always the saddest to see the ones in Australia get totaled. The continent was, in his opinion anyway, just a giant shit Oreo. It had beautiful cookie edges of white sand beaches and at its creamy shitty center lay a collection of arid waste and poisonous animals. The Great Barrier Reef was one of the first geological casualties of what he liked to call WWK - World War Kaiju. It’s beautiful coral structures were bleached by Blue so completely there was nothing left but dead anemones, flaking shells, and homeless fish.

Newt ran both hands through his hair, checking his own stress levels. He was resting at about a six, getting a tad high. His dad would probably have appropriated a time out if he was around, but he wasn’t. He and Gunter were safe back in upstate New York.

     “You gonna go poke around the thing or what?”

Newt startled and glared around to see Herc Hansen’s brat giving him a look fit to boil skin off bones.

     “Oh. Sorry, kid, didn’t know they were hiring commanders right out of Junior High these days. I’ll just jump on up and do some science, sir. Sorry, sir!”

He gave an absurdly exaggerated mock salute and reached down to slip off his shoes and socks, wiggling toes into the sand. Chuck (was that his name? Chuck? Newt was pretty sure that’s what it was.) blushed angrily. Pink light flared inside his throat and down into his chest, lighting up the PPDC logo on his t-shirt like a neon sign. Newt didn’t like it when he was pushed around by people bigger than him, let alone some prick right out of the academy.

     “Can you hurry the fuck up? We’d like ta get back to the damn Shatterdome sometime this century…”

Newt elbowed him aside, shoes hung over his shoulder as he navigated the rocky path towards the bloated corpse rotting on the tide line. The dead Kaiju was the reason he was here. Chuck, the baby Ranger, had been part of the small contingent of brute force sent as his escort. The Lucky Seven -the Jaeger responsible for the kill - had already been taken back to the Sydney Dome for repairs. Newt could see Chuck following him out the corner of his eye and snorted.

     “Hey, dude, the only reason you’re even part of this thing is because of Daddy, right?”

A series of tents and strips of yellow tape formed a barrier around the dead Kaiju. Cleanup crews were vainly attempting to create a floating blockade in the water where the monster’s blood was leaking. It was like some kind of organic Valdez disaster. There were dead fish everywhere. Where there weren’t dead fish there were dead crabs and dying seagulls. Newt didn’t even realize how the scene was hurting him until he felt the telltale light under his collarbone. It didn’t make much sense; he had seen this same scenario at least four or five times before and it hadn’t caused a reaction this extreme. He tried to will it away. He was a biologist, dammit.

Chuck was saying something to him but Newt was doing a top-notch job of ignoring him, putting his shoes down at the entrance of a white supply tent. He shuffled through a pile of biohazard suits until he found one that didn’t look like it would be extremely comically large- probably just mostly comically large.

The dead Kaiju was a little cat-2 about the size of Onibaba, but prettier in the looks department. Its face was seahorse-like, funneled, and covered in even plates of hard rectangular skin. Newt was already trying to puzzle out the bone structure when he caught a few words from the diatribe the Ranger brat was still spewing his direction.

     “AN’ make matta’s worse the math man decides he wants to come? What the holy hell is that!”

Newt adjusted the Velcro straps on a pair of rubber boots and tried his damndest not to sound the least bit interested. He feigned boredom as he stepped into his puffy white hazmat suit and pulled on the arms, checking to make sure the sleeves met up with the gloves correctly. The last thing he needed was Blue poisoning. He had been down THAT road before, thank you very much.

     “Math…man? What-what math man?”

The cold light resting right on top of his heart sank low. It was like a chunk of ice pressing down on his aorta. Chuck held out a hand and Newt followed to where he was pointing. There was a sad little figure down the beach looking up at the Kaiju from a safe distance. Hermann was easy to spot. He was the only one of the faceless bio-hazard suits to be holding a cane wrapped in plastic. Newt’s blood froze and he felt his cheeks flush.

     “Why the hell is Gottlieb here?”

Chuck made an exasperated noise and shrugged aggressively.

   “Hell if I know! He’s one a your fucking people! He rode down with the first cleanup crew, I guess.”

Newt only saw the mathematician in the halls once in awhile. They seemed to have made some unconscious agreement to avoid each other since the awkward first meeting in Lightcap’s office. It wasn't hard; the engineering and physics departments had a smaller lab in the science wing. Most of their interactions (outside of overly polite e-mails) were limited to stilted conversations about their research in the elevator. Gottlieb made it clear on every occasion that he had nothing but distaste for biology and all out disdain for Newt. Why would the head of the J-Sci department be out here? From what he knew about Hermann, the man could barely tolerate five minutes without hand sanitizer and now he was just casually hanging out with the putrefying remains of a cat-2?

Newt finished putting on the hood of his bio suit and adjusted the mask so he could see through it.

   “Why don’t you go get me some coffee like a good junior Ranger?”

He grinned at the red light that was shadowing every vein and tendon in Chuck’s neck he could practically feel the heat coming off him. He turned, still beaming like an idiot.

     “Thanks a million! With extra sugar and cream if you would, slugger.”

Picking his way past puddles of neon blood, Newt made a beeline for the skinny white suit holding the cane. Hermann had wandered out of sight and Newt let out an irritated breath, fogging up his plastic face mask. One of his assistants ran towards him, shouting excitedly, and he turned distracted, forgetting all about the scrawny computer lab escapee.

The sadness in his chest didn’t ease at all over the next two hours but Newt was too preoccupied to pay it much attention. The samples from Cetus- that was the Kaiju’s official name- were fantastic and he could hardly wait to get them back to the lab for a proper biopsy. Sweat ran down his neck in hot rivers. The inside of the suit was unbearable and it felt like he was being sautéed in his own juices by the Australian sun. The morning had been cool, but the afternoon was scalding. An unforgiving, punishing sort of heat; not to mention the smell that was wafting off Cetus probably gave the pits in hell a run for their money in terms of unpleasantness.

Signaling for his team to take five, Newt strolled past the end of Cetus’s thorny tail, a spiked thing with an ending that was very mace-like. Using a hose connected to a tank full of clean water on the back of a truck, Newton washed blue blood from his suit and delicately removed his gloves. Once he was gunk free and sans suit he grabbed one of the brownbag lunches provided for the cleaning crew and headed towards the most poison-free part of the beach…and there was Hermann again.

He had forgotten Gottlieb was even here, yet there he was. Meandering around the beach still in full hazmat gear, his helmet held under one arm. He was looking at something on the ground and Newt found himself edging closer, drawn inexorably towards the plaintive, noodley scientist.

Hermann was scanning the inside of a deep divot in the beach. His eyes tracking something Newt couldn’t see. The mathematician went down painfully on one knee, cane sticking out of the sand near his hand. He would reach down and grab at something then draw back making frustrated noises. Newt was out of his damn mind with curiosity now and cleared his throat loudly as he drew up next to Gottlieb.

     “Yo, dude. What, uhh…what you up too?”

Hermann grunted but didn’t answer, apparently too engrossed in what he was doing to respond. The man tensed, leaning down to grasp at something in the deep water-filled sand trench. It wasn’t just a big hole in the beach Newt realized. It was a giant –ass footprint. A Kaiju footprint, something Cetus had left right before he collapsed into spastic death throes. Hermann was reaching into it, attempting to grab a little fish Newton hadn’t even noticed. Newt felt the golden laugh bubble up from his stomach and attempt to melt that ice sitting hard in his chest.

     “Shit, Hermann! What the hell are you trying to do?”

Hermann made another grab but the fish easily dodged his fingers. The dirty brackish water was shallow and the little thing kept twisting and kicking up more discoloration, making it hard for Hermann to keep sight of it. The stodgy guy with a reputation of being more automaton than man was attempting to rescue a fish.

     “Hold still, blast you…”

Newt went down on his knees next to Hermann and tried not to laugh again. It was seriously a beautiful scenario and the last thing he wanted was to get the guy mad at him.

     “Here…Herm, let me help…we’ll get it together okay?”

Hermann finally glanced up at Newt and he was taken aback a bit. The guy looked genuinely upset. Hermann didn’t say anything but, after a moment of tightlipped consideration, finally nodded. Newt put aside his lunch and reached out to take Hermann’s biosuit helmet, examining it thoroughly to make sure there were no holes.

     “Ok…I’ll put a bit of water in this…then lay it down and you chase the little bastard in there, okay?”

Hermann looked like he was about to argue but only shrugged. He waited quietly while Newt pushed some of the dirty water into the helmet then eased it down into the sand. When Newt saw Hermann working or walking everything he did was in big jerky movements, like an enraged bird. He had never imagined that the man was capable of the kind of gentleness he showed now, guiding the tiny yellow fish into the safe confines of the stained helmet.

Newt gave a triumphant whoop as he scooped the fish up. Once the sediment and sand settled to the bottom of the makeshift tank they had a better view of their catch. Sitting down on the side of the footprint, Hermann and Newt both stared at the tiny fish swimming in frenzied searching circles. It was neon yellow in color with big almost cartoony polka-dot blotches on its smooth skin; it was a near perfect square in shape, the eyes huge in proportion to the rest of its body. Hermann let out a sigh of relief.

     “He…doesn’t appear damaged. I think he escaped exposure to the Blue.”

Newt felt like his face was going to break in half from how hard he was smiling.

     “Nah, man, he’s golden. Looks like an Ostracion cubicus, juvenile boxfish. Pretty far from home. Maybe he got caught up in the big waves Cetus stirred up.”

Hermann repeated the name to himself, testing it.

   “Boxfish.”

He gave a curt dip of his head as if pleased with it before meeting Newton’s eyes.

   “Will it be safe to release him here? There’s a lot of blood in the water…”

Newt considered holding the helmet close to his chest.

     “We could drive up the coast a couple miles and release ‘em up there…or give him to a clean-up crew…”

Hermann wiped his gloved hands on the front of his suit distractedly.

     “I would rather see him out myself. Not that I do not respect and believe in the competency of the cleaning crews but I know they are …distracted with other responsibilities.”

Newt felt his chest burn. He couldn’t even place the feeling inside it. If it wasn’t love it was something incredibly close. The great man on high, the untouchable Hermann Gott-damn-lieb, was worried about a fucking fish. He looked down distractedly at his chest and was super glad he had opted for a black t-shirt today.

     “Come on, dude. I’ll get Chuck the Wonder Ranger to drive us and we can let Boxy go.”

Hermann knit his eyebrows together and reached for his cane, struggling slightly to find his footing in the loose sand. Newt wanted so badly to help him but held back, knowing it wouldn’t be welcome. The cane had just appeared out of the blue several months back and nobody seemed to know why (or had the guts to ask).

   “His name is not Boxy, Newton…”

     “You got something better?”

     “I suppose if you insist on giving it a name….perhaps something involving the word cube? Like his scientific name.”

Newt considered a few short seconds before blurting the first thing to jump into his brain.

   “Cubert.”

Now Hermann was actually laughing and the glow in Newton’s chest was borderline painful in how intense it was becoming. Was that normal? Was any of it normal?

     “Alright… Cubert it is.”

Newt looked away and they walked slowly back towards the hulking body of Cetus and the city of white tents surrounding it. He still had to get samples of gum tissue and mucus membrane but this felt more important. The Kaiju corpse could wait.

     “Didn’t know you liked fish so much, Herms. Is that why you strolled down to the dead Kaiju today? Check out the local wildlife?”

Hermann looked mortified but his voice didn’t reflect it. He did a great job of maintaining that same snotty tone that Newton had never really minded.

   “I came because I wanted to see what we’re fighting face to face. And for your information, Newton, I’m very fond of fish. Is there something wrong with that?”

Newt looked at him and felt the burn under his heart and between his lungs. The same ache he had felt briefly at the conference years back.

 

“No, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

 

Karla heaved a huge sigh on the other side of the phone.

     “Hermann, you are using the voice that tells me there is something wrong with that.”

Hermann put his arms over his eyes and lay back on his warm bed. There was a heating pad on his hip and his leg was elevated. The pain and shakes had not put him in a good place and, as loath as he was to admit it, there would be no lab time today.

     “No, I’m…”

     “I thought you would be happy about me getting married. You met Everett. You liked him for God’s sake! His work with the…”

Hermann interrupted voice level.

     “Karla, it isn’t that it’s just…”

     “Oh my God. Hermann, are you still…really? You think this is giving up, don’t you.”

Karla started to laugh and Hermann could tell by the way she immediately stifled it the words had come out harsher then she meant them to.

     “Oh Hermann honey. I know you have been obsessed with this Glow thing for a long time but…”

Hermann sat up nearly bonking his head on an overhanging pipe. The Vladivostok bunks were much smaller than the ones he had just left in Tokyo and he still wasn’t used to them. He felt his cheeks blister red and his chest ignite, tightening as it did.

     “It’s not…that’s not why-“

Karla sighed again long and deep.

     “You are the funniest kid.”

     “I’m thirty-two Karla. Hardly a ‘kid’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

She laughed again and shook her head so hard Hermann heard it on the other end of the line.

   “Then why do you still act like a lovesick teenager? You are one of the most brilliant scientific minds in an age of pretty impressive big brains. Yet you still dote on the soul mate idea like a little kid enamored with fairytales. The rare intellectual romantic, that’s you.”

The painful fact was that Hermann knew she was right. He opened his mouth to argue but stopped himself. There was no point. Instead he glanced around the unpacked boxes pressed tight to the cement walls of his tiny square room. Karla dove right to the painful spot as she always had a tendency to do when she had him on the ropes.

     “How’s that Anima Statistical Probability Engine going?”

He cringed and flopped back onto his pillows, pulling his electric blanket up around his shoulders. Vladivostok was miserable; the air was chill all day long and the refrigerated rooms were nigh unbearable.

     “You know I …haven’t had time to work on it since…since before the academy.”

     “Yeah, and even if you did get it working to some degree, Hermann…I don’t think you’re going to find your so called soul mate.”

She made a weary noise in the back of her throat.

     “It was hard enough before the war and now…there are just more important things going on. You know…priorities. I-I I’ve seen reports about the Glow Deaths. People wandering around with th-...”

     “Well mine is not DEAD, Karla!”

Hermann recoiled at the panic in his own voice. He said nothing for a moment, looking for shapes in the rusted out pipes over his bunk. He could almost make out the fins and tails of a school of fish in the oxidized metal. Karla waited patiently then spoke again, voice regretful.

     “Hermann, Sternchen…? I’m sorry. I know how much this has meant to you, even when you were small. Don’t stop wanting it if it makes you happy. It’s good to have something warm to think about when giant nightmares are destroying whole cities. Who knows how long before we all lose our…”

He interrupted her sharply.

     “When is the wedding?”

Karla stopped talking and paused so long Hermann was almost sure the connection had been broken. Cellphones didn’t work in the Shatterdome; the walls were too thick to get reception and he had to use the landline in his room. The connections were about as trustworthy as the electricity; both had a tendency to do whatever the hell they felt like.

     “November. On the sixteenth…I know it’s very short notice but I would really like you to be there. Hah, you could be my maid of honor...”

     “Will father be there?”

Another long pause; Hermann could hear ambient noise in the background of wherever his sister was. Something like static, the sound of a television or radio.

     “Everett thinks…well, Lars is important to his department and if I didn’t invite him it would cause problems for him in his job. Hermann… please. It’s just a few days. You can ignore him.”

The bunk lit up a soft red and Hermann put a hand on his chest trying to block out the light, casting the world into dimness again. He was glad his sister couldn’t see how upset he was. This was why he had to wear the damn blinder constantly. He was as bad at controlling the Phosphor now as he had been when he was ten.

    “I’ll try. I can’t promise anything with my workload, Karla… but I can try.”

She wasn’t convinced but didn’t argue, content to let things lie for the moment.

     “I’ll send you an invitation…I love you, Sternchen.”

Hermann inhaled sharply, eyes crinkling tight. He chewed at his lower lip, biting back everything left unsaid.

     “I love you too. Take care.”

     “I’m serious, Hermann. You need to take care of yourself. You aren’t a machine.”

 

“Don’t worry; I can take care of myself.”

 

The mammoth Russian raised an eyebrow and shook his head, looking Newt over from frizzy head to stubby foot.

     “Yeah? This is Vladivostok. You FREEZE.”

Newt looked down at his old leather jacket, considering. It was a remnant of early college…around degree number two. A gift from a girlfriend he had been with mostly because her brother was the drummer in his band. He broke up with the girl three weeks after he got the jacket. The band barely lasted another month after that.

     “Yeah…I…”

Aleksis Kaidanovsky opened the door of the transport truck and a blast of frigid air gusted into the heated interior. It was like Jack Frost had reached in and punched Newt right in the guts. His teeth chattered so violently he was sure the enamel was chipping off. The short distance to the Shatterdome hangar door seemed a long way off.

Shouting to be heard over the howling wind, Aleksis manhandled Newt and his bags out of the Snowcat, carrying him by the scruff of the neck.

By the time he was inside Newt felt like his entire being had been dipped in liquid nitrogen; one wrong move and he would shatter to a million little shards.

Something warm and huge was thrown over Newts shoulders and he shrugged into it turtle like, quaking under Ranger Kaidonovsky’s tent-like coat.

     “You not keep. Already give extra coat to Gottlieb.”

Newt sneezed trying to dislodge chunks of icy snot from deep inside his nose. The Ranger’s coat was so huge on his stumpy frame it was nearly down past his knees despite the collar being pulled over his head.

    “H-hermann’s a-a-alrready huh-here?”

He sniffled and wiped at the moisture dripping from his glasses. The sound of the man’s name warmed him up from the inside out and Aleksis seemed to catch the note of hope in his voice. The corners of his mouth turned up under his beard.

     “Da. Has been for month. Is quiet…you here, maybe he will be louder, Mmm?”

There had been a thirteen month long gap between the last time he and Hermann had worked in the same Shatterdome. After Sydney they had both been transferred to Anchorage until a year before its closure. The lab had been tiny and it was the first time either of them had been forced to share. The experience had been loud, confrontational and absolutely magnificent. After funding was cut he had gone to Lima while Hermann had gone briefly to Tokyo, but now, slowly, those places were running out of money and losing their science departments. The time without Hermann had been painfully quiet and unbearably lonely.

     “P-probably. I d-do bring out the buh-best in him.”

They Russian colossus put a hand on Newt’s shoulder and guided him through a few metal doorways and out into the Vladivostok hangar bay floor. Cherno Alpha was the only Jaeger with its shit together at the moment. Its massive roommate, the Nova Hyperion, was in horrible shape. The South Korean Jaeger had won its last battle with the Kaiju Khan by the skin of its metal teeth. Techs and fabricators swarmed the giant mech like flies, trying to get it back into fighting form before the war clock struck and the Breach spit out another monster.

Newt sneezed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of the coat again, stopping when he remembered it wasn’t really his. He sucked the snot up into his sinuses and scampered closer to Kaidonovsky. He had to take three steps for every one the bear-man took. Newt was bone weary and jetlagged; he should have wanted nothing more than to collapse into a thin bunk mattress and sleep off the travel fumes, but he found himself thinking of Hermann again and the light inside him hummed excitedly. It was similar to the feeling he got during school breaks when he went to his dad and uncle’s for Christmas. It felt like coming home. Hell, just knowing the man was in the same Dome put his stress level somewhere below a four. Better than it had been in months.

     “You come to mess first. Eat. When you last eat?”

Newt looked up at Aleksis holding a hefty duffle bag to his chest. His voice was stuffy in his ears and he hoped fervently he wasn’t inching his way towards another head cold.

   “…I’m not really hungry dude, just kinda sore and sick of being scrunched into planes, trains, and automobiles.”

He shouted to be heard over the din of the hangar and Aleksis grunted at his answer, pressing him into a quiet drippy hallway that meandered downward. If the Lima Shatterdome had been built like a minotaur’s maze the Vladivostok dome was like an anthill.

     “Rangers are having dinner. You eat with us.”

Newt didn’t bother to argue, examining the little red stars embroidered into the chest of the oversized coat distractedly. He had met the Kaidonovskys at the academy but hadn’t really become as friendly with them as Hermann. They intimidated him (and could probably easily snap him in half) but they were good people.

The mess was nearly empty. Off-duty LOCCENT techs and grime-covered mechanics were scattered at the galley tables but the echoing room was pretty much bare. It was past the dinner rush.

Sasha’s platinum blonde hair and booming laugh were easy to pinpoint from the far end of the commissary. She was speaking to the two other Rangers in residence, Pang So-Yi and An Yuna. The Nova Hyperion’s South Korean pilots were not as physically imposing as the Cherno Alpha’s, but what they lacked in brawn they made up for in literally everything else. They had been Olympic level fencing champions before becoming rangers and were rumored to be the deadliest pilots to ever enter a conn-pod. Newt wasn’t sure if that was true, but then, he had only met them once before at a PPDC press conference and they had been pretty intense then.

Aleksis sat next to Sasha, planting a kiss on his wife’s forehead. She beckoned warmly to Newt and poured something from a suspiciously marked glass bottle.

     “Come over, Newton. Have stew and something stronger to warm you.”

Newt let his duffle bag drop and sat next to Aleksis, facing Pang So-Yi. Out of the two Nova pilots she seemed the more approachable, at least from his limited experience. An ladled thick steaming stew into a bowl the size of Newts head and pushed it towards him. It smelled heavenly. He shoveled in several huge bites without a second thought.

     “Oh god , s-o good…I haven’t had beef this good…in…oh Lord, forever. This is better than ration-grade barrel slop…tastes fresh!”

Sasha laughed again, snorting a gasping breath through her nose. Even An smiled slightly. Aleksis shook his head speaking around a mouthful of bread he was dipping into his own bowl.

     “Is not beef, Newt. Is reindeer.”

Newt swallowed hard and felt the bite slosh heavily into his stomach. He looked mournfully into the bowl and the laughter around him intensified.

     “Prancer shouldn’t be this delicious…”

Once the ice was broken Newt found all four of the Rangers easier to talk to; that, and the fact they were all getting a bit tipsy on highly illegal Shatterdome moonshine. At some point, Sasha had drawn a pack of tattered old playing cards from the pocket of her coat and they began to play something that was part poker, part old maid. Newt wasn’t quite sure which - he was terrible at cards. His Phosphor shone like a lighthouse whenever he had anything close to a good hand. He declined being dealt in to the next game, content just to watch and pick bits of Santa’s flight crew out of his teeth.

       “So..umm. You guys…all you guys are Anima Rangers right? ”

Newt blurted it before he even realized he had wanted to bring the subject up at all. He checked his stress level…’bout a five. Okay…he could probably pursue this. He could get away with asking these people some questions without having a panic attack.

     “So…what’s that like? How did you…”

Sasha leaned her cheek on her hand watching him with sly eyes. She put her cards down and chuckled, accent thickened by the alcohol.

     “What is like to find? You not know? Did you not study pre-war?”

Newt made a few noncommittal noises. He had met many Anima bonded pairs in the past during his research, but his field of study was strictly physical cause and effect. He knew everything about the biology of Phosphor; not the emotional part. He had trouble contemplating it outside of a sterile lab kind of situation.

     “I mean. Was it like…instant? When you saw ‘em? Did you know right away?”

Aleksis leaned down attempting to give Sasha a sloppy kiss and laughed when she shoved him roughly away.

     “I knew the minute we fought in Kwoon at Ranger Academy.”

Sasha clucked her tongue and toyed with the hem of her husband’s sweater sleeve.

     “It was very fast. As soon as we touched and sparred we knew. Sometimes it is brutal and instant.”

An Yuna shuffled the cards In her hand distractedly. She let Pang refill her glass with the clear strong alcohol, gathering her thoughts together.

     “When I first saw So-Yi I felt nothing but anger. She filled me with a rage that no one else had ever inspired. It was as if she was mocking me by not giving me something I desperately needed.”

Pang grinned and put an arm around An, pressing her head to her partner’s shoulder, unabashedly unembarrassed about it. The Ranger gave a huff of disapproval but did nothing to push her back as she continued.

     “I thought it was because we were rivals, because she was my competition and so in turn the strange feelings made me obsessed with her. I would dwell on our matches and spend hours trying to decode her stance and body language. I barely seemed to connect that these thoughts and feelings were accompanied by Glow…Perhaps because of the distractions of my sport, and also because South Korea requires blinders much of the time. Traditional attitudes about Glow tend to be…formal.”

Newt was intrigued; he wiped at his nose without taking his eyes off her.

     “Well, when did you know?”

An ran a finger over the lip of her glass, lost in thought.

     “I knew when the Kaiju Koschei attacked Seoul. We were in a targeted part of the city… I am sure you have already heard the story. We were at a competition and I was almost to the safety of a bunker when I felt-I felt fear. So-Yi was not close and I knew. It was terrifying to even think that she was in serious danger. That is when I knew and I went back for her.”

Pang beamed, interjecting for the first time, eyes bright and warm when she turned to look at Newt.

     “It was also the first time we touched without fencing gloves on.”

She laughed and wiggled her fingers.

     “In fencing you are covered all over and we had never actually touched skin to skin. The minute we did...”

She splayed her fingers out and thrust her arms up imitating a firework going off.

     “Boom! Colors I did not know Glow could make.”

Newt gnawed on a hard crust of bread mind racing.

     “Yeah, yeah… the SLR. Spectrum Light Response...I’ve seen that before. Pang, did you feel that way too? Like, angry?”

Pang leaned back on the hard wooden plank that served as a bench for the commissary table stretching her back. She prodded An Yuna playfully and winked at Newt.

   “Honestly? I just liked making her mad. I wanted her to pay attention to me. Sometimes I would stop and think, ‘I have to work hard and keep going in competition because she’ll be there and I need to see her again.’ I loved fencing and I loved the look on her face when I beat her, because when we fenced was as if…as if there was no one in the world but us.”

The table went silent all its residents staring at her quietly. Pang’s eyes wandered up to the cement ceiling, pondering it.

   “It was how it was supposed to be…and the way it had always been…”

Newt swallowed mouth going suddenly dry. He started to rock slightly, feeling his stress level tick slowly up. He needed a distraction. This was too familiar and he didn’t want to think about it right now. Newt threw back his drink and shivered as it burned all the way down. He rubbed at his face and stood slowly.

     “I’m gonna head to bed. Thanks for- well, thanks.”

The Hyperion’s pilots both smiled at him as he grabbed his duffle bag. Aleksis wrapped a giant hand all the way around Newt’s arm gently to stop him from leaving.

     “You need help to find dorm room? Barracks are floor down.”

Newt shook his head and made to take off the Ranger’s coat. Aleksis stopped him with a chuckle.

     “Nah, nah. You keep till tomorrow- is covered in your snot anyway.”

Newt looked down at the crusty sleeves with a wince.

 

“Oh! Sorry about that…”

    

   The technician Hermann had nearly run into eyed him and continued down the hall without even accepting his tired apology. Hermann leaned against a metal beam and waited for his fuzzy vision to clear and for his head to stop spinning. His grip on the worn handle of his cane tightened. Just an hour…just an hour to lie down and rest his eyes and he would get back to work.

Hermann’s wristwatch had broken the week he and Newton moved to Hong Kong. That had been three years back and he still wore it out of habit. Even without the watch to tell him so Hermann was sure had been awake for possibly thirty hours or more. It was very difficult to tell the hours apart in the confines of a windowless Shatterdome. Even if he did somehow have the luxury of a window Hong Kong’s weather had been caught between two modes: Grey and Black.

When Hermann was tired he was loud and his temper worked on a fuse so short it wouldn’t be wrong to call it explosive. He jumped on Newton for the smallest thing and yelled to be heard more then he really intended. After a twelve-hour shift at the computer and the chalkboard he had gone topside to help Newton with a batch of samples scraped off Mutavore. Pentecost had somehow located Ranger Becket, the prodigal son of the PPDC. Their encounter in the elevator was a blurry layer on top of a pile of exhaustion-heavy memories. All of his coherent thought reserved for the Kaiju and their Breach.

He did recall that Newton had made a downright ass of himself, but then first impressions were never his strong suit. The fights with Newton were getting more and more intense. Hermann’s aimless anger and frustration with the man was a constant hot ball of fire that lived in his chest. Some days it was so bad he couldn’t even look at him. He had no grip on how to handle it aside from cinching up his blinder and moving on with his work.

He wanted to touch him, or punch him, or…no. He didn’t know what he wanted. He did know that Newton had not let go of his idiotic drifting idea and that was worrisome. Once he latched onto something it was difficult to work his intellectual jaws lose. He would worry it with sharp mental teeth until the thing died or stung him.

Hermann made it to his room and sat down on the bed in his quarters. He gazed absently at the clothes he had been wearing for two days straight. His undershirt was crumpled and his sweater was ratty in places but still smelled clean enough.

They could survive another day but the blinder was digging into his ribs and shoulder blades. He could just take the thing off and leave his clothes on. A small nap, and then he would perhaps really sit Newton down and talk him out of this Kaiju drifting theory. The biologist was as worn as he was but…there might be some rational part of his brain that hadn’t yet been suffocated by ammonia.

The furious ball of heat inside him pulsed as he thought of Newton’s scruffy face and cocky grin. The light illuminated his bunk through his sweater once he had unhooked the binder and chucked it balefully across his immaculate room.

Hermann snorted drowsily to himself.

     “Arrogant little twit.”

He didn’t bother taking off his shoes as he lay down; it was an agonizing hassle he would deal with later. He pulled a quilt over himself. The pain in his neglected body throbbed in time with the pink light inside him, and Hermann fell asleep almost instantly.

 *

The jeweled ocean materialized from the dark. He was floating weightless in it and around him the fish swarmed like insects, rippling with every possible color the human eye could see. Hermann swam forward, letting the current take him past fish the size of cars, past fish so small they were barely perceptible to the naked eye, transparent fish and heavy textured creatures with skin that looked like rocks or sand. All beautiful in their own way… but there was only one of them he wanted to see. His fish-his Anima. Drifting past coral structures the size of houses, he filled up with a tranquility and peace he couldn’t find in the waking world. The reassurance that his other half was still alive was the thing that kept him going.

The shockwave hit with enough force to knock him spinning. The fish all swam for cover and the water around him was suddenly barren and empty. Not even the shadow of another creature could be seen far into the blue murky distance. Hermann regained himself and hung suspended, bobbing slowly in the void left behind. This was wrong. This had never happened before.

   “Hello? Are you there? What’s... ”

The world exploded into noise and jagged inhuman shrieking. A jumble of feverish images filled the dreamscape, rushing past too quickly for him to decipher. Then he spotted the familiar flash of green and gold. His fish was swimming far into open water and as he watched helplessly something grotesque and too huge to comprehend emerged wraith-like from the blue gloom. The Kaiju opened its jaws and its roar shook the foundation of the bond. The thing reached for his Anima, bio-luminescent tongue curling out to touch it. Its bulk seemed to move in slow motion, each powerful push of tail and limbs bringing it closer.

With one final lunge the Kaiju reached out its jaws and snapped up Hermann’s fish like a whale gunning for a single piece of krill. The images and sounds came faster, the grinding of metal and a glow that did not come from his chest but from some bloated dying sun filled up his head…

 *

   Hermann woke, straining fiercely for breath. His heart banged against his ribs and the Phosphor blazed so hot it felt like he was going to regurgitate fire at any moment. Sweat ran down his neck and soaked his collar, afterimages of the dream floating ghostlike just below the surface of his mind’s eye. He could almost grasp them. Then a lucid thought did appear, urgent and sharp as a migraine.

Newton.

He had to get up, get back to the lab. Something was wrong with Newton. He scrabbled for his cane and lurched towards the door still half-asleep. Grabbing his blazer from his desk chair as an afterthought he skidded into the hall, slipping it on backwards on the first attempt. Why the hell was he so concerned about Newton? He couldn’t have been napping very long. Why Newton…why? It didn’t matter, he knew something was wrong, understood that Newton was the cause of the frantic fear that slammed through his brain.

He mumbled to himself nearly falling over as he plowed through the lab doors.

Newton lay slumped against an odd assortment of electronics and metal brick-a-brac.

He was spasming slightly in a way that reminded Hermann horrifically of that summer day in Berlin when he watched a part of Dorothea Weiss die. He had a Pons cap on his head, blood streaking in thick black drops from his nose. For the first time in their long history together, Hermann felt no anger at him, only fear.

Covering the distance to Newt’s side of the lab faster then he thought possible, Hermann went down to his knees and slapped the squid cap off, ripping the contraption off Newt’s head.      

     “Newton…what have you done!?”

He cradled him close and the moment his skin touched Newt’s both of their chests started to glow at once. Not with the usual pink, but a jittering blue that wavered and sputtered into grass green and honey gold. It was easy to see through Newt’s sweat soaked white dress shirt. Shining like the northern lights under his skinny tie. And just like that Hermann knew. It all seemed so suddenly, stupidly clear.

Hermann gripped the pulse in Newt’s jugular vein and felt another thrill of dismay at the erratic way it bounded against his fingertips.

     “Oh, Lord…Newton, don’t die please…”

Hermann laughed hysterically and pulled his unconscious lab partner closer, eyes pricking with tears. How had it taken him this long to see it? To let it touch him? He was supposed to be one of the most intelligent men in the world. He had spent a large portion of his life searching for something right at his fingertips. Did Newton know? If he had figured it out why hadn’t he said anything? Hermann pushed all this aside and with labored pained steps somehow managed to get Newt into a chair. It wasn’t easy; the man was small but still outweighed him by about ten pounds. Somewhere in the madness Hermann realized he was only wearing one shoe. He put a jittery hand to Newt’s cheek and shook his head, stroking his face gently.

 

It’s going to be alright…

 

Newt barely registered his own voice when he spoke, his brain was bursting with Kaiju. He was completely hopped up on alien overlords and radioactive landscapes and…Hermann. They drifted in the rain, on a muggy street with the spawn of monsters. He could barely remember the bunker and the crime den - they felt like things that happened to someone else, or memories of a movie he had seen years ago. The first solo drift had rubbed his soul raw and the second one would probably have killed him. No-probably wasn’t accurate-It would have killed him.

The helicopter shook around them and Newt panted hard just sitting still. Hermann clutched at his lab partner’s torn leather jacket, his quivering fingers buried deep in the material of Newt's shirt. He blinked rapidly and shook his head as if attempting to jar something loose.

   “Where are you, Newton? Give me a number…”

Newt looked at him in surprise and started to laugh. Blood gushed hot from his nose and a harsh coppery taste filled his mouth. He screamed just to be heard over the whirring of the helicopter blades.

     “E-eleven, dude.”

Hermann met his gaze and Newt could see his left eye was a painful red blur. The different pupil sizes made the gaunt man look just the tiniest bit insane. Shakes that Newt had never noticed before caused Hermann’ head to bob up and down slightly. It was written in every line of his face; Disease and doctor’s visits, pain meds and sacrifice. The memories lanced through Newt’s frontal lobe. A man’s life laid bare next to the diabolical plans of inter-dimensional colonists.

Their chests were still creating colors that would make the aurora borealis blush and it was the only positive thing about the whole experience.

A++, Hermann, Newt thought humorlessly as another twitch of raw memory buzzed through his skull. Would drift again.

They didn’t have time to talk about themselves. That was a little bit of a relief. Newt didn’t know what to say, where to start. Sorry I didn’t say anything? Maybe I should have been a bit more upfront about our destinies being irrevocably intermingled? It’s wasn't all his fault...how do you find the time to discuss true love when the apocalypse is so fucking nigh. The helicopter touched down disrupted Newt’s innermost thoughts with a dull thud. Hermann nudged him urgently towards the door.

     “Go! Run ahead and tell LOCCENT before the Jaegers make it to the Breach! It might already be too late…”

Newt looked at Hermann in wide-eyed fear and swallowed a stomach full of nausea, his arm wrapping tight around his Anima’s chest and shoulders

     “N-NO. Together! You’re the only thing keeping me from falling apart, man…we have to do this together. Two halves in one g-glass.”

Hermann cast a look down at his leg, then back to Newt’s determined face and gritted his teeth resolutely.

     “A-alright.”

Newt took his first step, felt Hermann move with him and looked forward towards the rising sun. He muttered to himself, voice lost in the wind.

 

“Here we go.”

 

Hermann gestured to the escape pod that carried Raleigh Becket to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. It sat abandoned on the smooth rain slicked surface of the Shatterdome landing pad.

     “We can sit here a moment…catch our breath.”

Hermann dropped his cane and sat on it stiffly, eyes trailing up to the clear sky above. He felt Newt plop down next to him following his gaze upwards. The Shatterdome was a riot of noise; feelings of relief and mourning were being shouted and wept down every concrete corridor. They had removed themselves from it quietly, too tired and overwhelmed to appreciate it just yet. Newt had lead the way and Hermann had followed him topside, not even a half step behind.

Neither spoke for several grueling minutes. Hermann was trying and failing to figure out a good way to start what was probably the most important conversation of his life. Newt elbowed him lightly and pointed up.

     “That cloud looks like a rabbit…”

Hermann took the bait, squinting at the cottony mass of condensed water vapor. He answered with mock seriousness.

   “Mmm…I would say more like a duck. See? The ears could just as easily be a bill…”

     “Come on Dude, Is there anything you wouldn’t argue about?”

Hermann bowed his head grinning madly. He felt instantly lighter, the awkwardness lifted from the space between them. The first question, the one he burned the most to ask, spilled out.

     “How long did you know Newton?”

Newt flopped back on the escape pod eyes still on the sky. He was a mess. A fresh trickle of blood dripped from his nose and he wiped at it absently. The sun was just starting to set, turning the smoky Hong Kong skyline into a riot of color.

     “I think I figured it out when we were in Sydney together but didn’t really let myself believe it until Vladivostok…and even then I wasn’t really sure.”

     “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Hermann watched Newt pull off his glasses to examine a crack in the lens. They were still high on adrenaline, coming down from it in a slow spiral.

     “I was scared, Herms. I didn’t know if I was imagining it or…or if you would believe me if I did put the theory out on the table. You gotta admit, you do shoot down my theories most of the time.”

Hermann smiled and felt Newt scoot closer to him, leaning against his side.

     “We were together everyday so I thought that would be enough…and don’t get me wrong, it was pretty good. We had some top-notch arguments. But like…it just wasn’t enough.”

Clouds glided across the darkening sky, still fresh with the smell of rain.

     “Guess you don’t have to finish the ole Anima probability engine anymore, huh?”

Hermann listened to the Pacific Ocean lapping at the edges of the airstrip. The entire Harbor would be tainted with Blue…it should not have been beautiful, but it was.

     “I don’t think that I would have ever made it work. Humans and Glow have too many variables, too many variations and unaccountable probabilities…”

Newt rubbed at his hurt eye despondently and shivered.

     “I guess you could say the odds are stacked against us.”

Hermann squeezed his eyes shut, a small hurt noise pushing up his throat. He thought of Pentecost, Chuck, the triplets…five lights had gone out in the world. Five people had lost their other half. He hoped they would somehow know how brilliant those lights had been, how brightly they had flashed before being extinguished. At least the Kaidanovskys had time together..however fleeting it had been. Newt reached out his hand and Hermann took it without hesitation, his fingers wrapping around his drift partners. The aftermath of the drift pulsed in time with the blood in Newton’s hand. Their Phosphor smoldered in the gathering dusk.

     “Maybe so, but I never gave up hope. I had to find you…because you were the only friend I ever had. The only thing in my life that did not judge me or find me lacking…the only thing that did not want to change me. You were a constant that loved me as I was.”

Hermann rubbed a calloused thumb over Newts knuckles and the biologist sighed.

   “I started to study Phosphor to find some loophole that would get me to you faster, man. But…I always knew we’d find each other eventually, never doubted it for a millisecond. Even with the war and the Kaiju it was as inevitable as the tides or Halley’s comet. You were super patient Herm…I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long.“

Hermann drew Newt upright, pulling him close. The stars were just starting to come out over their heads. He felt warm lips on his and in his minds eye saw a hint of green scales freckled with gold. The battle was over...they had won the war.

And he was finally whole.