The night was starless.
Hermann could see it clearly through the mesh covering the sun-porch openings. The tropical sky, which was usually so clean and brightly lit by swathes of starlight, was miserably dark and oppressive. The humidity was reaching ridiculous levels now that summer was blooming in earnest. The air was a thick gelatinous thing that stuck to skin and kept hair continually damp. It was uncomfortable to just breathe.
In a vain attempt to stay cooler, he and Newton had dragged a foam mattress outside onto the open-faced porch attached to their small cabin. It wasn’t much different from the stuffy confines of the house, but the breeze was an improvement. It was a shame that same breeze would soon become something more sinister; the weather service had broadcast a tropical storm warning and Hermann could see it coming.
The world was tense with oncoming thunder and a general sense of foreboding sat like a weight in Hermann’s stomach. Both the Hive and ocean were restless. The only thing asleep was Newt. Gottlieb gave him a sidelong glance and felt a smile curl the corners of his mouth. Newton had been struggling with insomnia for months; when they first came to New Pentecost he had barely been able to sleep an hour or so a night. Recently one of the doctors in residence had prescribed a sleeping aid. Ambi...Lunar…whatever it was. Hermann couldn’t recall the name but it worked well, and didn’t seem to be at odds with his partner’s other medications.
Newt snorted, drooling into his pillow and thrashing in the mound of sweaty white sheets until he found a more comfortable position. He shifted until his shoulder was pressed to Hermann’s bare back and was immediately still. His skin was a scalding in the heat but Hermann made no effort to move away. He touched long fingers to Newt’s hand briefly before staring out towards the beach and the dark flat expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
He could not shake the feeling that even in this pre-hurricane peace something was wrong, something out of place that needed his attention. The wind chimes lining the edges of the porch rattled softly, and the thick branches of palm trees shivered around him. Hermann reached towards the patio chair where he had carefully laid out his flex-limb and lifted his bad leg from the improvised bed. A walk suddenly sounded like a very good idea.
The electronic mesh prosthesis fit snugly against his thigh, its supports buckling tight around his knee and hip. The flex-limb was covered in smooth metal studs and for each of them there was a corresponding magnet embedded in Hermann’s skin or drilled into his bones. The contact points clicked, giving off reassuring beeps as each fell into position. With a mechanical purr the jumble of wire and webbing connected to a small computer in the base of Hermann’s spine and his vision flashed into a brief, blind white void as it linked to his brain. By initiating a miniature drift with his nervous system the flex-limb apparatus could manipulate his numb leg and help him walk.
He had become accustomed to the process after going through it everyday, but he did not enjoy it; the connection process was sometimes painful and more often than not made him temporarily queasy. Most of the nerve endings in his left leg had been killed off in his and Newt’s legendary fight with a UIS Jaeger, but there still remained the stubborn neuron or three that misfired and tensed the atrophied muscles to the point of cramping.
Hermann bent his knee several times and stretched, wiggling each toe experimentally before he felt confident enough to grab his cane and rise cautiously to his feet. It was too hot to wear anything to bed but boxer shorts, and while the heat was abhorrent he wasn’t about to go outside without at least a pair of jeans. He changed quickly into clothes he figured were marginally clean before heading back outside.
Hermann hovered over Newt and stroked his cheek fondly, his fingertips scratching the rough stubble always present on his partner’s jaw. He whispered to Newt, sure that whatever he said wouldn’t be heard through his sleeping pill haze.
“I am going for a quick walk…I won’t be long.”
Newt mumbled incoherently his eyelids twitching before he went still again, dead to the world. Hermann felt a warmth bubble in his chest and ran a hand through Newt’s sweat-slicked hair. He pressed two fingers to his lips and brushed them against Newt’s, then left reluctantly through the sun-porch screen door.
Hermann wasn’t really sure where his restless walk was taking him until his feet found the familiar path. There was a pull deep in his guts; a sudden aching desire to see Mother. The islands that made up the tiny nation of New Pentecost all converged around a beautiful lagoon. This was the very heart of the Hive- the place where Mother, the parent of all earthborn Kaiju, slept. It wasn’t that far a walk. Just a quick peek to see that she was still safely tucked away and Hermann knew he could put his unfounded paranoia to rest.
The uneasy feeling in the pit of Gottliebs’s stomach grew into nausea as he wove through the thick mesh of tropical plants, careful where he put his cane. He and Newton lived on the same island as the New Pentecost Township, a ramshackle assortment of large refurbished hotel buildings and slapdash houses named after the island itself. Their house had been one of the only surviving “honeymoon cottages” built by the islands previous owners. The skeletons of other such structures still littered the coastline but most had suffered so much hurricane damage they were beyond repair.
The privacy of living so close to the coast and the Kaiju was wonderful, but Hermann knew they couldn’t stay there now that the weather was turning; it would be dangerous so close to the water. They would have to shutter the place and spend some uncomfortable nights on the filthy fold-out sofa in Newton’s lab. Hermann sincerely did not look forward to that.
He glanced up at the sky again searching for any trace of stars and found only thick clouds. He couldn’t even judge what time it was by position of the moon. It must have been three…maybe four o’clock in the morning, deep in the long hours just before dawn. A rustle in the bushes made Hermann jump. He lifted his cane reflexively then looked down at his own hand in embarrassment. There was absolutely nothing on the island that would hurt him. The most the place had in way of wildlife was the odd gecko. There were rumors of wild parrots and even a constrictor snake or two but Hermann had yet to see anything larger than a land crab. Even so, his voice came out shaking slightly when he called into the gloom.
“Who…who is it? Who goes there?”
There was a silence then a voice answered back, amused.
“Who goes there? Seriously? Did I accidentally stumble into a renaissance fair?”
Hermann let out a deep sigh of relief; he knew that affable voice a mile away. The trees parted and a familiar freckled face could just be seen in the murky darkness. Howard Whateley clicked on a tiny flashlight attached to a jingly keychain and shone it Gottlieb’s direction.
“Well look who goes over here! What the heck are YOU doing out here, Doc?”
Hermann raised a hand to his eyes blinking against the yellowish glow.
“I…I could not sleep. I had a strange…well, I suppose Newton would call it a hunch. I just wanted to take a walk about. See if everything is alright.”
Howard scratched his neck, his nose crinkled in concern. He picked bits of leaves and sticks from his hair and clipped his key ring flashlight to the collar of his t-shirt.
“I was just coming back from the Conga Line. Tendo woke me up an hour ago to tell me we needed to shut it off before the water got too choppy. Still need to turn off the Electric Slide but I got time…I’ll walk with you until the hunch clears up.”
The Conga Line and Electric Slide were a series of buoys running from a concrete platform just offshore. A modern engineering marvel, they converted wave energy from the ocean itself into electricity. They were also the main power source for most of New Pentecost. Solar panels helped supplement, but the island needed something more significant to power their Jaeger hanger. Hermann smiled and put a warm hand on Howard’s shoulder.
“I would appreciate the company. How has your time been with electric? You seemed so sure that line duty would be an easy job.”
Howard laughed and shrugged, falling into step next to Hermann as they both navigated the uneven ground.
“I guess it’s better than my last two rotations. I’ll take checking floats over sanitation or the Gloophouse any day. “
“Why not find a more permanent position? You have enough seniority that you could request a stable job, Howard.”
Howard waited next to a jutting tree root, shining his mini-flashlight onto it so Hermann could walk around. Having him there made some of the apprehensive weight ease off Gottlieb’s shoulders, but the Hive muttered loudly in his head as the first rumble of thunder echoed in the distance; it sent a shiver down his back. Howard shrugged, oblivious to the noise.
“Ugh. The word permanent sounds so… permanent. I’m too stupid to do anything but grunt work. It’s not like I could work in the K-sci departments or even as a mechanic.”
Hermann was taken aback. Howard Whateley had his off days but to hear him so pessimistic was surprising. This had clearly been eating at him for some time.
“Don’t be ridiculous! You are not stupid. Far, FAR from it! You could do absolutely anything you put your mind to.”
Howard snorted disdainfully but said nothing. They halted at the end of the path where it branched in three directions. To the right was town; Hermann could see the outlines of buildings just beyond the trees, quiet and dark in the early morning hours. Those on nightshift in the hangar or elsewhere wouldn’t be home for a few hours yet. Hermann ignored the right and left pathways, walking straight down the middle. He looked back to make sure Howard was still following him.
“You’ve proven intelligent and resourceful time and time again. Why would you ever think of yourself as stupid?”
Howard shrugged, his hands flapping about as he searched for the right thing to say.
“Eh, I can take orders alright but I feel like-like out of place? You know…the time here’s been great but I’m not a scientist or a retired civvie. I’m a Ranger! Or least I was. Now I’m just a…I’m kinda...useless.”
He clicked off his flashlight as the ground evened out, the rocks and roots giving way to smooth, well-walked trails.
“I guess I just miss piloting.”
The wind started to pick up, rattling the palms and breaking the muggy stillness. Hermann felt a pang of guilt and nodded.
“You could-I know the Shrike isn’t a possibility, but perhaps you and Sonia could take out Occam-“
“Nah. Thanks for the offer Doc, but it’s not the same, y’know? Occam’s a great little Jaeger but it’s not the Siren. She was our baby. ”
New Pentecost was three months shy of its second birthday. Every month they seemed to gain some new citizen of distinction; a retired Shatterdome employee, a scientist wanting to work with the Hive, or even a PPDC officer seeking political asylum. They had many resident engineers and biologists but Rangers rarely stayed for long. They were all waiting for another chance to drift, another stab at the Conn-pod. The Whateley twins were confined here. The PPDC had charged them with military desertion, among other crimes. Being off the island was dangerous for them and watching the others come and go must have been a torture. Other Rangers who claimed sanctuary on New Pen might eventually use Jaegers to rebuild cities, clean oceans or pull down walls...but not the Whateleys.
“There’s no shame in being bored, Howard.”
Howard stood ramrod straight and wrung his hands uncomfortably.
“No! No. This place is amazing. Getting to live here…me and Son are super lucky. And she gets to be part of the Hive stuff with Mudpuppy and I get to tan it up and…”
“And you’re bored.”
Hermann allowed himself a dry chuckle.
“It’s my fault you’re stuck here. You and Sonia are wonderful, capable pilots. Helping me - helping us- got you exiled. I’m sorry you had to make that sacrifice in the first place.”
A hot wind ruffled Hermann’s sweat-soaked hair and he blinked dust from his eyes. How had two years passed since the summit? Two years since the flight from Hurricane, the escape from Alaska…the bullet in Magnolia.
“No! Hermann, if Sonia were offered a do-over on the whole thing, neither of us would have done anything differently. Nothing is your fault. I’m seriously not unhappy here, I just…I want be helpful. I see all the shit going down outside and I wish I could do something…to you know…help…”
Howard trailed off as something grabbed his full attention. The path had ended, opening into a wide wooden dock. A small fishing boat bobbed close and just beyond it was the normally placid surface of Mother’s lagoon. Surrounded on all sides by the islands, she usually lay dormant…but not tonight.
Howard gave a sharp gasp and took a step back. Mother’s gargantuan head was sticking out of the water, her jagged face tilted up towards the roiling storm clouds. She towered above them, the shimmering lights on her skin dancing with random patterns. Spots of pink, gold, and cyan blinked bright in Mother’s transparent, almost jellyfish-like skin. Through the gelatin haze of her translucent flesh, the Kaiju queen’s bones pulsed with an intense red radiance that was most visible in the tips of her teeth. With a gentleness that seemed impossible for her unimaginable size Mother turned her eyes on them and gave a low rumbling growl of distress.
“Something…something is not right, Small voice”.
Her voice was so huge, so powerful it threatened to blow Hermann’s brain like burnt-out lightbulb. His chest ached and the mumble of unhappy Hive voices in his head turned from a whisper to a roar. He staggered and felt Howard catch him before he fell. Mother groaned deep in her throat and the vibrations made the lagoon ripple, the ground rumble. Hermann struggled with his reply, wondering distractedly if his pain would shake Newton from his pill-induced blackout.
“The Hive is safe, Mother; the brothers are safe. What’s wrong?”
She groaned again and this time even Howard cowered back, pulling Hermann to a sitting position on the dry boat dock. The Kaiju always left one of their Hive to watch over Mother and tonight Hermann could see it was an older cat-2 the islanders affectionately called Babe. Hermann recognized his ice-blue coloration and ox-like horns. Babe swam in slow circles rubbing against Mother in an attempt to calm her, making soft comforting trills as it did so, but it was doing little to help. Hermann had not felt Mother this upset since the deaths of Kotick and Vesuvius. Howard trembled, pushing his head into his knees as he dry-heaved.
“God, it’s awful! What is she doing? It sounds like- glah -like nails on a chalkboard!”
Hermann ignored him closing his eyes and reaching consolingly into the Hive link. He tried to block out Mother’s intimidating physical presence to focus on her mental one. The two combined were just too much to take in at once.
“So loud. Mother, please…how can I help?”
“Wrong Small voice…not of us. Not of us. Have they come again? The Locusts…is it Locusts, Small voice? Please…”
Hermann felt his heart seize in panic. Locusts were what Mother called the precursors, the Kaiju creators beyond the breach. She had seen images of Earth locusts in he and Newton’s memories, and they had terrified her. The insects that devoured whole fields before moving on; she knew of locusts far too well.
“Do you feel the Locusts, Mother?”
She paused and the fear ebbed, the crushing weight of it slacking off somewhat. Hermann realized that it was this fear of Mother’s that had kept him awake and pulled him down here in the first place. She had called to him, hopefully just for reassurance.
“…strange inside. Not of us. Locusts? Not sure. So quiet. Faint and gone. Small voice and Fast thinker? No. What is it? Gone forever?”
“So it wasn’tLocusts? Did you sense Locusts here? Another breach?”
“Unsure…unsure. All strange. Not of us. But not of Locusts?...Strange-strange…”
Howard’s arms looped tight around his shoulders and Hermann heard the Whateley twin speak…he was unable to comprehend the words.
“Doc. She stopped making the noise…"
Howard’s voice was swept away by a fresh cascade of images tumbling through Hermann’s brain. They pushed past so swiftly he was only able to grasp hints of movement and color. Water, white ships, a few notes of music: memories. The Kaiju was trying to express something she had no words for. Mother’s body shifted spraying cold water over the edge of the dock. Saltwater soaked through Hermann’s clothes but he barely registered it everything outside becoming distant as he tuned his entire being towards the Hive.
“Mother…what happened. What did you see?”
Her presence floated blue and gold in his mind’s eye, her body lithe, feminine and just out of reach. She let out a great heaving sigh and the anxiety, which felt so reminiscent of Newton’s, started to trickle away. When she spoke again her tone had changed from frightened to apologetic.
“Mother…is sorry Small voice. Gone now. Strange voice is gone.”
“A voice? You heard a voice? What did it sound like?”
“No.Do not worry. Was nothing…was nightmare. Sorry Small voice. All is safe, good.”
She was lying. Hermann didn’t know that was even possible. Mother was always so honest, so straightforward. The fact she could lie had dangerous repercussions in of itself, but the fact something had scared her so badly she felt she needed to lie…well. Newton stirred at the back of Hermann’s mind, drowsy and confused. Hermann sent a brief flash of pinkish-gold his way to show everything was alright. Mother pulled farther back, her thoughts distracted and private.
“Mother…what voice? Please tell me.”
Hermann opened his eyes when she didn’t reply. The Mother Kaiju was still staring up at the overcast sky pulling her lips away from her car-sized teeth in a soundless snarl. Her eyes turned to him and Howard and the harsh expression softened.
“So small. So good. Small voice and others. All good…all children.”
She moaned low, the noise gentle and sing-song but still so loud it rattled Hermann’s eardrums.
Licking her nose with a colossal pronged tongue, Mother started to sink back down into the Lagoon. It took a full minute for her to curl her enormous body into itself and the waves she kicked up almost capsized the nearby fishing boat. Hermann shuddered, confused by her refusal to answer his question.
“Mother, just…please tell me what worried you. Small voice and Fast thinker -other brothers want to help…”
There was a painful pause before she spoke again, her emotions quieting into the familiar below the surface buzz. She was already slipping back to sleep.
“What it is…what it was. Gone now…worry not. Love…sleep.”
Hermann waited with his breath held tight in his lungs, but Mother had nothing else to say. Letting out a long breath, he shook his head and looked at Howard, who was sitting stubbornly close. The Ranger reached over with the edge of his t-shirt and wiped away a trickle of blood from under Hermann’s nose.
“What the hell was that about, Doc? Is she okay? Are WE okay?”
Babe bugled unhappily and swam around the edge of the lagoon in a slow circle. He didn’t even spare them a glance before he dived out of sight; the other brothers would probably join him soon. Hermann stared vacantly at the glassy smooth water as the first tepid drops of rain struck the back of his head and neck.
“I-I’m not sure.”
Hermann watched Mako consider her chess pieces. She scrutinized them from multiple angles before finally letting her fingers slip over the worn white knight shaped like Romeo Blue. The chess set was a golden age antique, the pieces comprised of white jaegers and black Kaiju. Mako made her move and settled back into her chair with a small satisfied nod.
The emergency broadcast claimed that New Pen’s side of the Pacific was experiencing a run of the mill “tropical depression.” The storm was heavy and loud, but would pass as quick as it came. The voice on the long wave radio declared it mostly just flash and bang without the danger of a full-on typhoon.
It was good to be inside the enforced steel walls of a Jaeger hangar either way. They couldn’t hear the wind or rain outside, but as the weather raged the building itself seemed to groan and creak as if under great pressure. New Pentecost didn’t have a proper Shatterdome. What it did have was an enormous storage building the size of an island by itself. It had been built on an old air base that existed before the Hive had come here, and like everything else in New Pen it was an amalgamation of different bits and pieces. The final result was a single cement floored room nearly a mile wide and tall enough for an upright Jaeger to walk around in. Because of its shape, some of the residents had taken to calling it “the Longhouse” and the name quickly caught on.
Every human resident and two Kaiju citizens sat waiting for the weather to clear inside the cool refrigerated air of the Longhouse. The huge hangar was separated into different areas that contained everything from mechanical fabrication studios to a strange hodgepodge of research spaces. Small groups of people gathered in the different areas, some working while others talked, ate, or played games- anything to pass the time.
The grayish-blue bulk of Mudpuppy was obvious at the far end of the Hangar and his frills stood out sharp electric blue against the dull brown walls. The Kaiju watched excitedly as the Whateleys and several others participated in an enthusiastic indoor basketball game.
Balor Flood contemplated Mako’s move and inspected his own chess pieces. The two hadn’t been playing long. They had laid the game out on a piece of plywood clamped down onto an oversized Jaeger bolt. The improvised table was surrounded by miscellaneous bits of furniture, stained pillows, and recycled Conn-pod parts. Tendo sat close by a small battery-powered radio at his elbow; every once in awhile it would squawk with random operators speaking to each other through the static. Newt was uncharacteristically quiet. He pressed against Hermann and his restless hands teased the frayed edges of his bomber jacket.
“She really said Locusts? Like, specifically?”
Hermann glanced at Newt tentatively then replied in German, a language known by few besides themselves. Even if this Precursor scare came to nothing he didn’t feel like Tendo, Balor, or Mako should know about it just yet. Howard had been scared just witnessing Mother’s outburst and he had promised to keep the incident to himself.
“<Yes, she did but…then she recanted somewhat. She seemed unsure what she had felt. Or she lied about what she did feel.>”
Newt switched to German as well, catching Hermann’s hint that the conversation should stay confidential.
“<Why would she lie and…what if it is Precursors? What if she felt them tapping around looking for the best place to pop open a new breach?>”
“<We can’t jump to that conclusion. For all we know she had some nightmare…some repressed memory surfacing from the other side. We seem to forget she was there. She witnessed the fighting pits and the birth pods. I can’t imagine she doesn’t have the odd traumatic dream.>”
Hermann said this in an attempt to be reassuring, but he didn’t believe a word it. Mother had seen or heard something, and then she had tried to cover it up either to protect the Hive…or perhaps herself. Newt fidgeted and worried a hangnail with his teeth.
“<She’s never just woken up like that before…and why would she call you out there then not tell you what was up? That’s not like her at ALL. We should double the scans or tell the Hive to start looking for an actual opening or…>”
Newt’s leg started to bounce rapidly up and down and Hermann put a patient hand down to still it.
“<We have to trust her. She would never purposefully harm the Hive or the islanders. She must have her reasons. As far as scans and searches…we’re doing all we can for the moment. The grid is scanning twenty-four hours a day.>
"<But it doesn’t cover everything!>"
"<True, but…we have to be careful about the Kaiju wandering into the wrong place. We don’t want to put them into harms way for no good reason.>”
The New Pentecost Hangar was not an active Jaeger facility. The engineers and mechanics in residence could fix or build parts for Shatterdomes, but built no new units of their own. The Longhouse was strictly a monitoring station. For the past five months Hermann, Newt and an international team given special clearance by the UN began using the Kaiju’s deep-sea diving abilities to set up a network of sensors that would detect the unique electromagnetic signature of a new breach. Despite the importance of the Breach NET system, not everyone was on board with how it was being executed.
Newt shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose angrily.
“<This is stupid we have to get the sensors everywhere! Shouldn’t be any goddamn black out spots.>”
“<Alright. What if we do attempt to extend our range? That means planting more sensors. It means leaving international waters. We’ll have to speak to countries we’re still not on the best terms with. China, Russia, even the UIS. The Hive isn’t welcome anywhere near their coasts despite our begging. No matter how well or how often we explain the universal importance of our project we run into the same blocks. They refuse to let the Kaiju in to plant them and we refuse to let them install the H-discs themselves. Another impasse.>’
Newt pushed his face into Hermann’s shoulder and let out a long muffled scream of frustration. Gottlieb let him, unable to keep a smile from curling his lips.
“<We could always let them try to install the system themselves…>”
Newt shook his head, face still buried in Hermann’s sweater. His answer was muted by the thick wool, but Hermann could still make out the words.
“<Don’t trust ‘em not to steal our shit; worked too fucking hard to get the tech ripped off by somebody. Who knows what super villain fuckery they could use the NET system for.>
He pulled his face back and rubbed idly at his droopy eye under his glasses. The bad side of his face seemed to scowl as hard as the side with working muscles as he puzzled it out.
“<You know, technically the UN-sci could jack anything we’ve worked on. Like, I doubt they would, but they could. Maybe we try sending them in as ambassadors? The UN needs to step up on this anyway- >
“<The UN doesn’t have the ability to force a nation to do anything. We could try sending our scientists but unfortunately they wouldn’t have the Hive’s installation help. Without that we’re back to our original problem. >”
Newt swallowed thickly and slumped back, defeated.
“<Yeah-Yeah I guess so.>”
“<It will be alright, Newton. We’ll figure out something. Mother would have told us if there was imminent danger I’m sure of that.>”
“<It just feels weird, Herms. Like…like something is about to go insanely wrong. Murphy’s Law is always in effect, right?>”
Hermann nodded in agreement. He felt the same disquiet, an echo in the Hive that had not been there before.
Mudpuppy warbled musically and bounced up and down as someone scored a point. His excitement made the floor jitter, shaking Balor and Mako’s chess game and threatening to knock the pieces over. Balor threw up his hands and screeched a long string of curses the Kaiju’s direction; Sonia Whateley could just be seen at the edge of the court, laughing and flipping him the bird. Tendo snorted and shook his head. He was wrangling a paperback book with one hand and turning the old yellow pages with his thumb.
“<You know as far as the NET goes…some countries don’t mind the Kaiju. The PPDC partnership program is a good way to start talks…>”
Hermann stopped. The other Kaiju that had taken shelter inside the Longhouse lowered its massive head down behind Tendo and blinked all eight of its fiery orange eyes. Somehow a creature the size of a four bedroom house had snuck up without anyone noticing. Hermann could only shake his head, baffled. He was loath to admit it, but there were only a few individuals in the Hive he knew immediately by sight. This wasn’t one of them. Hell, he didn’t know if this was one of the Kaiju that even responded to a name. Despite the hours he and Newton had spent teaching the Hive about human niceties, some Kaiju still had trouble with basic concepts. While a fair number of them accepted or at least responded to the names humans gave them, others disliked the idea. Having a singular word representing Hive was a new and unnatural and individuality itself a baffling mystery.
The Kaiju facing Hermann was young, even younger than Mudpuppy. It struck him that he had met it before. It was one of the biology department’s favorites and if he recalled correctly, it was the youngest brother in the Hive, born to replace Vesuvius after his sad death in California. Newton had been keeping close tabs on its development. He wasn’t even sure how fast it would grow or how big. Hermann was surprised to see it here in the hangar. When he had seen it the first time it had been in Mother’s lagoon and it had barely peeked above the waterline, staring shyly at Hermann with those same blood-orange eyes. He nodded warmly and Newton beamed, calling to it by the name Gottlieb couldn’t remember.
The little one clicked its teeth, bowing his head submissively to his older brothers. Semi-transparent eyelids slid up and down in a slow blink, its thoughts and body language oozing nervousness.
“Greetings Small Voice…F-Fast Thinker.”
Gilligan’s voice buzzed through Hermann’s head. The “words” were a combination of feelings, pictures, and color that came together to form a language he could understand. The Kaiju looked away from them, embarrassed after it spoke, its eyes darting back and forth in an unsettlingly human gesture. Newt perked up and made a small noise at the Kaiju that was somewhere between a whistle and a click when he answered out loud.
“What’s up, pup? Glad to see you. Super glad you came in out of the rain with us.”
Hermann nodded in agreement offering the pup a smile he hoped was encouraging.
“Hello, Gilligan. It’s good to see you again.”
Gilligan’s tight posture eased slightly at the friendly greeting. He copied the noise that Newton had made and took a tiny half step closer. Tendo was right below his chin now but so deep in his book he didn’t even notice the several tons of Kaiju hovering above his head.
In appearance, the pup was gangly and completely made of limbs, tail, and head. Its back feet were massive and its underdeveloped haunches tucked into its sides rabbit like. The front limbs, of which there were two pairs, were folded tight to the chest, the extremely long dexterous fingers held together in a triangle shaped wedge. Gilligan’s head was long and square shaped, with jewel-like eyes sweeping over the top of his rounded jaw and down into the flared squarish muzzle. There were long stripes of glow down his back and, like the rest of the younger Kaiju, he lacked the intimidating spines and claws of his predecessors.
“Um…Small Voice and Fast Thinker…there is a-a noise.”
A small wave of green-blue concern traveled through the Hive from the little Kaiju and Hermann nodded, curious. He spoke to Gilligan with the mind-to-mind “Hivespeak”, questioning him gently.
“Noise? Is it a bad noise? Is it bothering you?”
There was an odd electric tingle in the back of Gottlieb’s skull and he resisted the urge to scratch the back of his head. The tickle was Newton speaking into the Hive, to Gilligan. Hermann couldn’t tell exactly what was being said but he could feel the emotion being traded back and forth. Gold curiosity and blue concern, Newt was asking his own questions. The Kaiju clicked and picked up its skinny tail fretfully; slipping the diamond shaped tip into his mouth he sucked like a baby would suck its thumb. Newt spoke aloud again so Hermann could hear.
“Just show us where it is, Gilly. We won’t be upset with you.”
Tail still in his mouth, Gilligan hesitated then pushed himself to his massive back feet. Hermann was surprised to see he was bipedal; very few of the Kaiju in Mother’s Hive walked upright. The pup was still so young it was barely the same height as Occam’s Razor. It wasn’t farfetched to think Gilligan had the Hive equivalent of a growth spurt in his future.
Tendo finally pulled himself away from his tattered old copy of Jurassic Park and glanced over his shoulder as the Kaiju walked cautiously over him and towards the Hangar’s elevated LOCCENT control center.
“Hey, what’s going on? What’s he up to?”
Newt stood and offered Hermann a hand. He gripped it, levering himself from the ratty makeshift sofa; it took a moment to find his balance as the flex-limb readjusted from a sitting position to a standing one.
“We are on the track of a mysterious noise, apparently.”
Tendo slapped his book onto the arm of his chair, stretching his legs and back with an exaggerated yawn.
“Yeah? I hope it’s a coffee maker. I could really, really go for a cup of coffee.”
Hermann was aware of others watching as he and Newton followed Gilligan across the Hangar floor. Balor piped up without looking away from the chess game, his hand hovering between a Trespasser pawn and a Kaiceph knight.
“Noise, eh? Mah guess eh hears a water pipe…the’ been known ta groan funny in bad weather…”
At his full height Gilligan’s head was just level with LOCCENT’s observation windows. He burbled at them, his large, deer-like ears flicking forward as if trying to pinpoint the exact source of what he hearing. Hermann felt a surge of dread and his stomach dropped. Newt seemed to have the same thought immediately and turned to Tendo, words tumbling out his mouth in a gush.
“Is anyone up on the bridge!?”
Tendo blinked uncomprehendingly at him.
Hermann took over finishing his partner’s thought as Newt ran pell-mell for the LOCCENT stairs. He looked over his shoulder, shouting to anyone close enough to hear him.
“Is no one watching the proximity detectors? Is there a Spotter on duty!?”
There was rush of air as Tendo also started for the stairs leading to the New Pentecost control bridge. While rarely used to send out jaegers, the Longhouse LOCCENT was the most important place in the Hangar. It was vital to island security and home to the worldwide Breach-NET tracker hub. Mako was on her feet, the chess game forgotten. She and Balor worked in the Hangar full time, their duties ranging from engineer to LOCCENT tech. She kept collected and calm when she answered.
“No. I think we were all distracted by the storm. “
Balor pursed his lips and cast about for someone to be angry with, growing frustrated when he came up empty. The nearest group of people was sitting on the floor of a vacant Jaeger bay out of earshot.
“S’nae an excuse! Should have had someone up there!”
Gilligan chirped, feeling Hermann and Newton’s distress in Hive. He doubled his tail sucking efforts and ducked his head.
“Did wrong, Brothers upset. Sorry! Sorry told about noise.”
Hermann reached out mentally to comfort the Kaiju as he mounted the stairs behind Tendo. His cane clacked hollowly on the metal grating of each step. It was a long way up and he steeled himself for the climb.
“Do not be upset, Gilligan. You did good, very well. Thank you.”
Somewhere high above, Gottlieb could feel Newt’s panic spike as he reached the top of the stairs and LOCCENT. Faintly he could hear the alarm now. Below, Balor and Mako were arguing animatedly about who should have been on watch. Raleigh would probably show up any second now, the sixth sense one developed after drifting prodding him to check on his upset partner.
Puffing for breath but pleased at how well the flex limb was helping him along, Hermann emerged on the LOCCENT Bridge to find it disconcertingly bare. Empty rows of indicators, HUD screen’s and tracking equipment trailed off into the dark. The overhead fluorescents blinked weakly and most of the long room’s light came from the observation windows overlooking the Jaeger hangar. Gilligan was still gazing in, watching them with what Hermann could only call concern. At the moment only one of the many computer stations was active. Tendo sat at it typing frantic commands into the dusty keyboard one-handed. Hermann called out to him as he panted for breath.
“Tendo! Is it a NET alarm? Is it a Breach?!”
Tendo shook his head never taking his eyes from the indicators at his fingertips.
“No, thank god. It’s the Island border alarm. The fifty mile marker…”
From the moment he had arrived on New Pentecost, Tendo Choi had made it crystal clear he had no desire to work in another Shatterdome. He worked as the island’s radio jockey and he liked it, but he was still called upon frequently for his experience with LOCCENT computer systems and performed routine maintenance without complaint. Tendo paused to wipe sweat from his forehead and leaned forward to click on a microphone mounted to the console directly in front of him.
“Unknown vessel, this is New Pentecost. Acknowledge…”
New Pentecost belonged to the Kaiju, the island isolated by a hundred nautical miles of surrounding ocean. While they had permission to swim anywhere in international waters, the Hive tended to be protective of their home. All instincts in them were programmed to defend Mother and if some strange boat approached that Hermann or Newton did not know well…it was bad.
It was not a surprise that people were interested in the Kaiju’s island. Hermann had expected that since the beginning but what he hadn’t expected was the number who tried to get close. Rich tourists, journalists and photographers were frequent and generally harmless, but then there had been…others. Strange boats bearing flags from Russia, China, or the infamous Sudan Republic had all tried to pass the three border markers without detection. The more dangerous flagless ships came even later. Sharking boats, smooth silent yachts and on one memorable occasion, a big-game hunting expedition. All of them had tried to dock in New Pentecost. What they wanted, Hermann could only imagine; but luckily they had not had to use the Shrike Rapture.
“I repeat: unknown vessel, acknowledge.”
Tendo had turned off the alarm. There was a surge of loud jarring static and Hermann raised a hand up touch the back of Newton’s neck distractedly, the contact calming for him as much as his partner.
“New Pentecost, MSV Hawkhead here. Confirm?”
The voice that answered Tendo’s hail was barely there, a whisper on the other end nearly drowned out by white-noise and wind. Hermann held his breath, his grip on Newton tightening as Tendo responded.
“Hawkhead, you are in restricted waters. I repeat: you are in restricted waters. Are you in distress?”
There was a long silence and Tendo swallowed leaning forward to repeat his message.
“New Pentecost to MSV Hawkhead. How do you read?”
Hermann met Mako’s eyes and squared his shoulders. They had often discussed what would happen if a potentially dangerous ship passed the fifty mile marker. When Hermann and Newt had first made the Shrike part of their negotiations they had done so primarily to keep it from the PPDC. They would build another one eventually, but as Tendo attested, the first had taken years to build and many of the people on the original project had turned away from the organization. The worlds most dangerous fighting Jaeger was Hive property, and they agreed to use it for only the direst emergencies.
Tendo shook and reached into his pocket for the cigarettes he was supposed to have quit months before, ignoring the dirty look Hermann shot at him. Balor took a lighter from his pocket and grabbed the pack lightly from Tendo’s shaky fingers, taking a step back to sit at a vacant LOCCENT console. He spoke aloud what everyone was thinking.
“Should we prep tha Rapture?”
Newt shook his head wildly.
“NO. N-not. They could just be in trouble…blown off course by the storm or something.”
The radio crackled again and Tendo fiddled nervously with some dials, trying to get the clearest signal possible.
“Hawkhead? Do you read? Please confirm. You are in restricted waters. Turn back or report, over.”
The voice came back on, harried and agitated. Behind it were more voices and a hushed boom of thunder.
“New Pentecost requesting permission to dock, over.”
“Hawkhead, that is a negative. Repeat, negative. Unless your vessel is in distress or this is a Mayday situation you are instructed to turn and leave restricted waters, over.”
A small whine worked its way out of Newt’s throat and Gilligan echoed it unthinkingly outside the bridge. The Hive was starting to pick up on their anxiety. Dozens of heads turning up at once, suddenly alert. It had been drilled into the Hive over and over again that under no circumstances would they confront a boat. They could easily destroy a cruise ship without a second thought. Their relationship with the rest of the world was strained enough, the goodwill from their few allies razor thin. Even if it was in self-defense, they could not let that happen. Hermann reached out to sooth them absently, trying to stay enough in the moment to hear the radio sizzle to life.
“New Pentecost there is a fucking storm out here and-Wait. Break.”
The voice cut out replaced by garbled static. Balor turned to Mako, blowing blue-grey cigarette smoke from his nostrils.
“Ya need ta be prepped afore they reach the third marker.”
Tendo bared his teeth angrily, his rosary clicking hard against the metal control board as he brought his fist down with a bang.
“Not YET. We don’t know what the situation is Balor. They could still declare a Mayday!”
“An what if they do! Nae a single good reason fer a ship to even be this far out near us! Where they even blow in from? Eh? They didn’ ave no fucking reason to be out here in tha first place!”
Hermann was about to intervene before a real fight broke out when the radio hummed and a new voice spoke over the tenuous connection. It was a hollow, spectral thing and he heard Mako give an audible gasp.
“New Pentecost, acknowledge. Is that you Mister Choi? Over.”
Tendo swallowed and leaned forward.
“Er, roger. Tendo Choi speaking. Over.”
When the voice spoke again it was soft but so heavy it seemed to drown out all other sound. The hiss of the storm and the ambient noises of the empty LOCCENT bridge quieted before it.
“New Pentecost, this is former Ranger Hercules Hansen. I am officially requesting asylum as well as permission for the vessel Hawkhead to dock in Kaiju territory.”
Hermann waited and looked at Mako who had a hand to her mouth, her eyes glassy with shock. Newt stared at the floor, then slowly nodded. If this was a trick it was a damn good one. No one had heard from Hansen since the close of the Breach. No one knew anything aside from the fact he had retired. He was another war ghost… and yet Hermann recognized that voice. He would have known it anywhere. He leaned forward and pressed the side of the microphone.
“Affirmative Ranger Hansen. You have our permission to dock. Over and out.”