“I don’t think they are biting today Micajah…”
Hermann glanced over the side of the rusty old fishing boat into the crystalline blue water. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon, coloring the tropical air a soft pink and chasing away the milky pre-dawn haze from the sky. Catfish had propped himself comfortably against the back of the boat, arms behind his head. His fishing pole tilted lazily against the motor casing. Flashing white teeth at Hermann, the Ranger scratched under his baseball cap and winked his good eye.
“Guess the fish sleep in today, eh? Lazy bastards.”
Hermann smiled back and turned to face the rising sun, basking in its golden light. He and Catfish were both notoriously early risers and it was their ritual to take out a small motorboat just before daybreak. Enjoying some quiet under the guise of fishing, just the two of them and the Pacific. Harpe, surprisingly, had been a fisherman once. His whole family had –that was where his nickname actually came from. The going rumor (spread by the twins naturally) was that he had been in a gang earned and his title for “gutting people like catfish.” Micajah did nothing to dispel the gossip. He liked the respect it inspired too much.
Hermann gestured towards a dark shape the size of an ocean liner lurking just below them in the translucent water.
“I doubt it’s idleness. I would bet that there just isn’t a fish within a hundred kilometers of the island considering the natives…”
Catfish laughed trailing his fingers languidly over the sparkling ocean surface. The dark shape slid effortlessly around them growing larger as it swam upward. A huge head broke the glassy surface and the tiny boat rocked precariously from side to side as the Kaiju breached. Hermann didn’t recognize this Kaiju immediately by sight. He would venture to guess it was one of the younger members of the Hive; shy and still finding their place among the older brothers. The Kaiju blew a fine mist of steam over them playfully from flared nostrils. It moaned low, a soft greeting noise gurgling from deep in its throat. Its voice was clear and friendly in Hermann’s head.
“Good morning Small-voice brother! Good morning to Ranger!”
Hermann dipped his head and smiled.
“Good morning brother.”
The Kaiju bobbed to the surface head towering above them. It made a sound reminiscent of a barking seal and opened its bisected jaw in a wide yawn.
“Morning yes! Sun is warm. I go out to hunt!”
Hermann blinked against the sun reflecting off the juvenile Kaiju’s silvery skin. It stuck its face close to Catfish and the Ranger reached out without a second thought, rubbing under the sharp refrigerator-sized teeth to reach the exposed gums. There wasn’t a Kaiju in the Hive that could refuse that; gums were sensitive and sometimes fish bones would get wedged in the tight spaces between teeth. Hermann watched Harpe enviously; even after months of acclimation neither he nor Newton could touch a member of the Hive without risk of seizure or accidental drift. Their bond with it was still too overwhelmingly strong, and it clearly always would be. Gottlieb had made his peace with it, content just to speak with the Hive.
“Alright Brother, you go hunt. But remember the rules! If you see a whale or a dolphin…”
The glowing blue eyes practically rolled and the Kaiju snorted sending up a fresh spray of steam and water vapor over the boat.
“Leave alone. Know the rules; know all the rules. See a whale? Don’t eat. See a dolphin? Don’t eat. See a strange boat? Tell you or the Fast-thinker.”
Rolling away from the tiny fishing boat and onto its back, the Kaiju gave one last bellow before he disappeared back into the depths, careful not to get Harpe and Hermann stuck in his undertow. Catfish waved to the disappearing tail flukes and turned his ball-cap backwards, wiping sweat from under his eye patch.
“Didn’ recognize that one, what eh say?”
Micajah reeled in his fishing line carefully and Hermann copied him, setting both of their poles down at the bottom of the boat.
“Just good morning…he commented on the day. Said he was off to do some hunting. I reminded him about the rules.”
Catfish snorted, shoving a heavy metal tackle box under the hard plastic plank that served as his seat.
“Yeah, sure the kids never tire a that.”
Hermann rolled his neck and shoulders, working to get feeling back into his stiff muscles.
“Repetition is important when teaching the Hive anything…and I’m fairly sure TORO wouldn’t appreciate us negating all the hard work they’ve put into the whale reintroduction program.”
TORO stood for the Transnational Oceanic Restoration Organization. Both Hermann and Newt not only supported their efforts but also actively helped them any way they could; Newton had been integral to several TORO projects. The cloning of different viable whale breeds not the least of them. So far the TORO/Geiszler team had produced three new pods of grey whales and that was something to be tremendously proud of…as long as the Hive didn’t devour them.
Harpe shrugged, a little grin on his scruffy face.
“Don’t s’pose dey would. Whales ain’t cheap.”
“No, and Newton would like to avoid making whales for the foreseeable future. As he told me many times, ‘been there, done that’.”
Newt liked shifting from project to project rapidly these days. Five months of whale embryos had been plenty and Hermann knew was relieved to move on to a new challenge. The biologist was currently encoding man-made fish and bacteria with blue tolerant DNA. Once they were complete, TORO would introduce the new species into damaged ecosystems. The ultimate goal was to let the hybrid creatures thrive in Blue saturated environments, eating the harmful leftovers and ridding the coastlines of its glowing presence forever.
Reaching into a cooler tucked under Hermann’s seat, Catfish pulled out a can of PPDC standard issue beer. He popped the cap and took a long swig giving a sigh of appreciation. The Ranger held it out to Gottlieb with raised eyebrows.
“Take a drink ‘fore we head on back, Doc. For good luck.”
Hermann opened his mouth to berate Micajah about drinking alcohol so early in the day but stopped himself. There was no harm in a sip and the frosty drink looked very inviting. The can was ice cold in his grip and the beer tasted much better than he expected - possibly just because of his mood.
“Luck, Ranger Harpe? Mmm…I don’t trust to luck anymore. Luck did not get me here. Intelligent, compassionate people did.”
“Yeah…buh you lucky we like ya.”
They sat in friendly silence passing the beer back and forth, enjoying each other’s quiet company and the smell of saltwater. The air was heating rapidly but Hermann was reluctant to tell Catfish to dock. He knew they couldn’t linger and was about to say so when he heard a familiar buzzing sound high above them. A bright yellow seaplane zipped past overhead; it spotted them and circled a few times before continuing on towards the lush green island at their backs. Catfish sighed and drained the last dregs of beer, crushing the can against his knee.
“Mail’s ‘ere. Time we head on in.”
The island the USA had given Hermann, Newton, and the Hive had a strange and lurid past. It had started life as a military base in World War II, and had been called Liberty Island at the time. It was chosen for its proximity to Japan but was so far from any actual battles during the Pacific Theater it was used mostly as an emergency refueling and repair station. Despite its label of “island” it was made of more than one islet. It was an archipelago, a collection of six tiny islands and a central bay so clear it looked like blue glass.
The beauty of the place was not lost on any who visited it, and after the military abandoned it in the seventies a wealthy contractor had bought the land from the government intent on building a tropical playground for the rich. It would include hotels; restaurants and even an ice skating rink - which completely baffled Hermann when he first read about it. Equipment and workers were flown out; ground broken and the luxury town began to take shape. And then Tip had happened.
The first hotel and a few shops had already been completed when a Super Typhoon with the deceivingly adorable name struck. Cutting a path of destruction across the coast of Japan, it hit Liberty Island - then renamed Eden Isle- and tore it to shreds. That had been 1979 and Liberty/Eden spent a good ten years empty, the vacant skeletons of half finished hotels and condos sitting on swathes of white sand. The government bought it back in 1990s after the project lost all funding and since then various meteorological and oceanic groups had used it as a base of operations for scientific research.
Until now. Now it was no longer Liberty Island, Eden island or Area 1022 (the title it had been under when the United States of America had officially relinquished ownership.) Now it was simply known as New Pentecost and it belonged to the Hive.
Hermann clambered out of the boat shakily, climbing the short wooden ladder up to the dock. He struggled to stand upright at first, fighting his feet and finding his balance. Glaring down at his bad leg, he rapped his knuckles lightly against a flexible metal bar running the length of his thigh and shin, nodding when it seemed to snap back to its proper place. The strange apparatus considered his stance before configuring properly, a metal /plastic mesh organizing itself to support his spine and bad hip.
The robotic prosthesis had been a gift from a tech company in Japan. It wasn’t even available to the public yet and Hermann was one of the first people in the world to have a personal one. It was fitting; it operated on the many of the same principles as a Jaeger. The lightweight electric thing was called a Flexlimb. They had implanted a computerized control for it into the base of Gottlieb’s skull and several small magnet-like controllers into his numb leg. When it was turned on it was like a micro-drift, his brain merging with the Flexlimb’s internal computer.
All Hermann had to do was slip on the robotic skeleton and hook it to a hip harness and suddenly… he could walk. In the beginning he had refused even a trial run but Newton had begged him to give it a chance. He was glad now that he had eventually given in to his partner’s insistence to just “Try it and see what happens.”
Stretching his good leg and adjusting the Flexlimb’s various straps Hermann glanced down the dock towards the small crowd gathered around the mail plane. He was in no hurry to join them. He wasn’t expecting anything important at the moment. Most correspondence was done through their tenuous internet connection. He liked letters as much as the next academic but he was also tired of the constant rain of fan mail. He appreciated the praise but had had enough attention to last him several lifetimes.
Catfish chucked the cooler up onto the dock and it sloshed with half melted ice. Double-checking that the little fishing boat was properly moored, he climbed up next to Hermann and handed him his cane. Hermann didn’t really need the cane anymore…but it was comforting to have in his hand. The weight made him feel more secure with his strange half-synthetic gait. At times he felt a deep down fear that the Flexlimb would stick or break down. He wouldn’t be stuck utterly helpless if that happened. No matter how many times Newt tried to convince him the fear was irrational, he wouldn’t let go of the cane; not in the foreseeable future, anyway.
A voice down the dock reached Hermann’s ears and he turned raising a hand in greeting as Sonia raced to meet him. She slipped iron-strong arms around his skinny waist fondly and gave him a gentle squeeze; her hair a blaze of orange fire in the intense sunshine. Squinting up at him and squinching up her nose, the Ranger leaned back hands on her hips.
“Morning, Doc! I was just coming to look for you! Are you gonna head to the Hangar right away or stop by the Outpost? “
Hermann ambled up the dock, letting Sonia slip her arm through his. Pressed close together, they followed Catfish towards a dirt pathway winding through tall palm trees.
“Outpost first. I’d like to watch the early news feed, Miss Whateley. There was a story about the Hive I missed… I think they will rerun it with this morning’s headlines…and a spot of breakfast would not go amiss.”
The sun-drenched island weather had turned Sonia into one giant freckle. She and Howard did not tan so much as burn, peel, and repeat but her pale skin had browned slightly. Hermann’s own skin had gained trace amounts of color and Newton had actually achieved a nice golden-brown somewhere under his tattoos.
“Pff…grapefruit and coffee isn’t breakfast.”
Catfish grunted and broke away from them, headed down a branching pathway towards a building half-hidden by vegetation. It looked like an oversized boathouse on the outside, a simple ramshackle metal building sitting half in and half out of the ocean. Despite its squalid appearance the rickety warehouse was one of the most important places on the entire island.
“Fine. You two go sit in da air conditioning. Some of us gotta geh hungry Kaiju their breakfast.”
One of the first orders of business in New Pentecost was the question of the Kaiju, namely, how to feed them. Although it was most visible in Mudpuppy, many of the other Kaiju, especially the larger ones, were not hunting enough to support their body mass. It came down to the amount of fish they could catch and consume in a day versus the amount of protein they needed. They spent too much energy just trying to eat enough and the scales were off balance.
In return for their cooperation with TORO and other similar organizations, Hermann and Newt found themselves with long lists of scientists and researchers eager to work with the newer, more sociable Hive. They had their pick of inquisitive minds and didn’t waste any time putting them to work. The very first breakthrough was simply called gloop (Newton’s name).
gloop was an extremely foul, extremely nourishing substance bioengineered from several species of fish. It could be created in vast quantities and used to supplement the Hive’s diet. With gloop they could eat less, hunt less, and still retain their body mass as long as they ingested a few tons a day. Catfish set his baseball cap the right way, fastidiously adjusting his eye patch.
“Vat duty. Bah, can’t wait for someone else ta be on vat duty.”
Hermann patted his shoulder sympathetically and Sonia just shuddered making an exaggerated gagging noise.
“I had to take my turn with the vats last month, man, I feel for ya. How many longer you got in the Gloophouse?”
Catfish pulled a pair of worn work gloves from the back pocket of his jeans. He had altered the fingers on the right hand. Cutting off the fabric and sewing the holes shut so the material would be tight over the stumps of his missing fingers.
“Ugh…’nother two weeks.”
Most of the New Pentecost residents had permanent jobs. But there were always small and often unpleasant odd jobs that were assigned on rotation. gloop farming was definitely not one of the most coveted temporary positions. Making it wasn’t pleasant and the smell was somewhat of a joke between the islanders. Large vats were filled with a nutrient rich compound of chemicals and (mostly cloned) fish guts. The mixture needed time to mature before it could be enriched and fed to the Hive. The interior of the boathouse was full of rows and rows of gigantic half-submerged vats of fermenting gloop, cooled naturally by saltwater. It was like working in a winery that smelled like whale shit.
With a despondent wave, Micajah turned to put in his shift.
“Don think ah be able to get off early nuff to see the test run, Doc, buh I’ll see you tomorrow morning, eh? Tomorrow’s our day-I feel it! We’ll definitely catch one tomorrow!”
Hermann nodded soberly and watched Catfish disappear into the Gloophouse door.
At the end of every failed fishing session Catfish said the next would be their day. Yet, in the year they had been here, neither had caught a single fish…and honestly? Neither of them really cared. Sonia took Hermann’s hand and they strolled down the well-worn trail. Making their way leisurely towards New Pentecost’s only town, also named New Pentecost or New Pen for short.
“Are you nervous Doc? About the test?”
“A little. I’m not going to lie to you, Miss Whateley…I feel a bit stupid for even attempting it. Deep-sea research aside this venture is not strictly essential to anything…”
Sonia squeezed his hand and laughed nudging his ribs gently with an elbow.
“Hah. You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t absolutely want to do it. That’s just how you roll. And so what if you and Newt just wanna do it for fun? Great! I think you’ve earned that. I dare anyone to say you haven’t earned it.”
Hermann felt a pleased smile work its way across his mouth and cleared his throat, doing his best to hide it.
“Yes-…Well. Thank you Miss Whateley. I suppose we have.”
The islands of New Pentecost were so close together that when the place was set to become a resort, bridges had been built between them. While some of the bridges had endured Typhoon Tip others had been blown away completely and the researchers to come after the construction workers had fashioned new ones to the best of their ability. The small bridge between Gage Island (where the mail plane dock resided) and Luna Island (where the Pentecost Township lay) was one of the lucky survivors. It was a solid concrete bridge with ornate steel railings, a relic of New Eden. Sonia leaned over the edge of the bridge as they crossed it, staring down at the water. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded wad of paper.
“I got your mail. You know, the electric bill is just terrible. We really have to remind everyone to turn off the lights when they leave a room.”
Hermann took the crumpled bundle of envelopes and shuffled through them leaning next to Sonia on the decretive metal bridge railing.
“Mmm. The Hive does have a tendency to rack up huge bills…It’s a good thing the UN has graciously decided to foot most of our expenses.”
Sonia stretched her arm towards an overhanging tree and snapped off a branch. Dropping it over the side of the bridge she watched it travel towards the interior bay, still hidden by dense green forest.
“Bills and Sears’s catalogues aside, we get anything good?”
Hermann examined the return address on a meticulously labeled envelope and nodded.
“A Letter from Esther.”
Esther Sendak had been one of the first PPDC employees who was not a Ranger to defect to the Hive’s country. She had asked for citizenship in a very personal and apologetic letter that Hermann still kept. They had welcomed her quickly, but since its first inception she still had yet to actually physically come to the New Pentecost Island. She was too busy being one of its goodwill ambassadors.
Hermann pulled the scented stationary from its envelope and read as he and Sonia started to walk again, his voice ringing through the quiet morning.
“Dear Hermann: I have made my way down to Mexico as you requested and am currently speaking to Dr. Brendan about his possible assistance with TORO’s “Clean Tides” program. He expressed keen interest in speaking with you and Doctor Geiszler, as well as working with the Hive. Apologies for not contacting you earlier, but most of the Gulf is currently experiencing blackouts and a stable internet connection is not easy to come by. On a lighter note, the border security that I encountered coming out of South Dakota was extremely light and I can already see signs of the coming reunification. Hope you and the others are well. I will call once I head back to California-Esther.”
Sonia pulled a bag of dried apples from the back pocket of her jeans and offered him one as she mulled over Sendak’s letter.
“How many states are even going back the USA? Three? Four? I feel like I should remember this. I mean it’s a big deal and all but…it just doesn’t seem as important out here.”
It took Hermann a moment to remember as well and he chewed the apple ring Sonia slipped in his hand meditatively.
“Three. I want to say three. That includes one of the Dakota’s…bother if I can remember which.”
Sonia laughed, nearly choking on the dried fruit in her mouth.
“I’m Canadian! I have a wartime Kaiju’s knowledge of America. If it isn’t a major city I don’t know shit about it. All the states between New York City and LA might as well be Middle-Earth!”
Hermann laughed with her, patting her back as they crested a hill and looked down towards their destination.
The “town” of New Pentecost was not very big, a cluttered assortment of mismatched buildings that served as a base of operation for everyday activities. Most of the people that lived on Kaiju land lived in New Pen. Some of the buildings were very modern and very sleek, made of recycled materials and built as soon as the town was established. Others were refurbished resort buildings that had only been scratched by Typhoon Tip and were easy to renovate with a bit of elbow grease. Among the gathering of housing and research buildings there was a ramshackle old structure that served as canteen, restaurant, post office, and town hall. It was unanimously referred to as the Outpost.
The Outpost had started out as a bar in the old Eden resort and the evidence was still there. Stretching the length of the little store and gathering space was a bar made of heavy etched glass and polished redwood. The painted wall behind it showed faded images of parrots and jungle animals. It felt like something straight out of a tacky theme-park attraction.
Most of the wooden cubbies and shelves once used for alcohol were now filled with necessities. Cans of food, batteries and used paperbacks replaced the bottles of vodka and bourbon in the store half of the Outpost. The booze was not gone completely; drinks were readily available from a well-maintained (and guarded) stash under the bar.
It was too early for customers. Most of the researchers kept later hours and the early shifts were now in full swing so the Outpost was empty. A chalkboard hanging behind the bar read, “today’s special: Chicken Kaiju Bleu sandwich with choice of mango.” Next to that was a colorful handmade banner advertising the monthly Ranger Games, A popular island event. Sonia plopped down on a stool thumping a hand against the top of the bar.
“Service! I demand service!”
Howard flipped her off from behind the supply shop desk across the room and mumbled something derogatory.
“For crying out loud just get behind the bar and make your own damn breakfast! I’m in the middle of inventory! Oh, and thanks for getting in to work on time to help me, Sonia. I super appreciate it. I’m all alone out here! Tendo’s dicking around with radio and you’re out frolicking…probably looking for seashells while I’m elbow deep in cans of unsold Spam.”
Sonia groaned loudly and leaned back on the stool until her head nearly brushed the floor.
“It was more skipping than outright frolicking. And this is just shoddy service, that’s what it is...”
“Well maybe if you showed up on time to help me with stock!”
“I was getting the mail!”
“You were slacking off, Slacker Pentecost!”
Hermann rolled his eyes and searched the bar for the remote to the massive flat-panel TV resting next to the chalkboard on the back wall. The twins were taking their turn helping run the Outpost with Tendo. First Officer Choi served as manager of the place as well as being a full time radio jockey. The Islands communications equipment was in a tin shack out back and Tendo was the only person who could convince the outdated hunk of transistors to function.
Turning on the TV, Hermann drowned out the twins bickering and focused his attention on the news. It started out with the usual headlines: More information about states from the UIS rejoining the USA, the continued strained relationship between China and Russia, a quick piece about the rebuilding process in southern California, and the continued negotiations between the estranged Rangers and the PPDC. Some progress had been made. Hermann could attest to that.
In general, there was more of a positive bent to the tone then there had been a year ago, more hopeful. The smuggling had become an openly discussed problem…the production of Jaegers a public concern on a scale it had not been right after the end of the K-war. Problems were not being completely solved… but at least they were identified, that was the first step. The nuclear concerns had faded to a lingering worry over an all out panic. Patience and persistence would win in the end. They just had to keep going.
While Newton was working almost exclusively with TORO, Gottlieb found he just couldn’t leave the PPDC completely. He worked on predictive models for a Breach that might never open. Helped craft contingency plans for generations he would never meet; dabbling in the idea of space travel and colonization in his spare time-just for fun. He felt less urgency than Newton when it came to work. He was paving new ground in his field, yes; but it was ground that existed in a purely conjectural space, not the solid type infected with poisonous blood.
Hermann watched the smiling anchorwoman discuss something with her co-anchor in a pleasant voice. The buzzword on everybody’s lips nowadays was “Loper Politics”, a strange concept defined by the internet as issues politicians used to expressly appeal to the Loper voting interests, of which there were now many.
“I don’t know, dumbass! Make something you can eat then! “
Hermann groaned and turned up the TV. This was a constant fight. Sonia had severe dietary restrictions since part of her intestine had been removed but more often than not she conveniently overlooked them. If Howard didn’t watch what she put in her mouth it was a universally agreed fact that she would have long since died of malnutrition. Newton liked to comment how she milked it for attention to which Hermann would (and rightfully so) call him a hypocrite.
The news switched focus and Hermann turned hissing through his teeth.
“Hush. They’re talking about the Sitka wall.”
Howard gave a dramatic sigh and put down a surplus can of processed meat. He shuffled from behind the store counter and walked behind the bar rooting around until he found a carton of island-fresh eggs. They had their own chickens, among other livestock.
“Yeah, Howard. God, we’re trying to watch something here.”
The Colonel’s huge whiskered head appeared above the wall and with a great rush of energy his tusks burst through years of hard labor and lost lives. Behind him a Jaeger stood just off camera as the reporter launched into an energetic tirade.
“The Kaiju tear-down program has been in full swing for over two weeks now in Alaska, and on all fronts, it’s been declared a success. While the process of recycling materials and cleanup is designated to human crews the real heavy lifting has been put on the shoulders of giants more capable of brute force.”
The Jaeger, the enormous Seawise Giant, reached out and put a hand on the Colonel’s head, stroking his neck and gingerly picking bits of debris from his skin. Behind the Seawise, a second Kaiju lounged on the icy beach. A smaller Hive member waiting to help level the Wall closer to the ground once the Colonel had taken out the main supports.
“We have Pilots Honey Parker and Nancy Archer on the line now to talk to us about their thoughts on the program…”
Howard smiled and cracked four eggs into a sizzling frying pan, reaching into a small fridge near the oven for a few strips of bacon.
“They showed this last night. The girls did great.”
Hermann smiled, eyes never leaving the television screen.
“I heard. I missed it, unfortunately…our cabin’s Wi-Fi is still being rather spotty, so my news access has been limited these past few weeks.”
The Colonel groaned and nosed under the Giants arm like an enormous dog, his tail sweeping through the scattered Wall debris. From the Conn-pod the Rangers voices were heard, the live feed fuzzy but solid enough that they came through clearly.
“Hey world! Rangers Archer and Parker coming in live! We’ve got two friends here this is the Colonel and the shy guy behind us is Kappa…as you know, my partner Honey and I are the first PPDC Jaeger demolition team to work with a Kaiju team…”
Distantly, a door slapped open and the bell hanging over it tinkled. Tendo staggered in, wiping sweat from his forehead, pulling at the collar of his shirt. His hair was back to being immaculately slicked despite the heat. He wore one of his old denim work-shirts, the empty sleeve kept carefully closed with a safety pin. Spying Hermann, Tendo walked towards the Outpost bar grinning ear to ear.
“Morning, brother! I was just out doing the radio rounds. Nothing to report in local waters…some rough weather farther out at sea but I think its gonna miss us. Oh! And that nasty worm-thing Newt won’t shut up about? It’s coming on the next supply ship.”
The custody of the tapeworm had been in dispute with the PPDC for months. Krueger’s heart, Kotick’s brain, and pieces of Gogmagog’s remains were all currently safe in Newt’s refrigerated Bio-lab. They had managed to get them all a month after moving in without much difficulty, but procuring the Kaiju parasite had ended up being more difficult to negotiate.
“Newton will be very glad to hear Spinoza is joining us.”
Tendo reached behind the bar to grab himself a bottle of cold water from a stocked cooler and sat on the stool next to Hermann.
“Yeah, everybody will sleep easier knowing Newt got his horrible mutant pet.”
Struggling a moment to open the water one-handed, Tendo finally managed to pry it open using his teeth. Pressing the icy bottle to his cheek, he wiped away streams of sweat with dirty knuckles.
“Hermann, we gotta get air conditioning for the communications shack, man. It gets intolerable during the day.”
Hermann nodded trying to give Tendo half of his attention while still casting glances back at the interview with the Seawise Rangers. The Kaiju had been assigned to two crews so far. The PPDC providing the Giant for the wall-pulling and the Frost Potemkin for the Blue clean up. This was one of the first public demonstrations, however, and he felt an immense pride that people could see how well behaved the Hive had become. How much they wanted to help, enjoyed it.
“Yes-apologies, Tendo. I’ll speak with requisitions as soon as possible. It is unacceptable that you have to deal with that while doing your job.”
Tendo finished his water, chugging it down with a relieved gasp. He threw the empty plastic bottle towards a waiting garbage can, giving a laugh when it missed, hitting the rim and rolling to rest near Howard’s feet instead.
“Hah, sorry, Howie. Throw that into the recycling bin, will ya?”
He clapped Hermann on the back, and then noticed Sonia.
“Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to show up for work.”
Howard shook his head and set down a plate of eggs and bacon in front of Hermann along with a cut grapefruit.
“Don’t get me started…Tendo, you want some coffee?
Tendo stopped glaring at Sonia long enough to nod. He rubbed his arm against the bar, playing with the edges of a frayed nicotine patch then he straightened, a flicker of realization crossing his face.
“Oh shit! Hermann, is today the test? I just realized its Friday, heard the mail flying in.”
Hermann nodded chewing a mouthful of egg, finally letting his attention be pulled from the television. He swallowed wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“Yes. I’m going to the Hangar after breakfast. Newton had a few things to do in the lab beforehand so I’ll meet him there.”
Tendo took a cup the cup of coffee Howard offered him and looked about the inside of the Outpost thoughtfully.
“Eh. I think the island could live a couple hours if we closed up shop. Inventory can wait and we don’t have any shipments coming in…we’ll come with you.”
Hermann took a long drink of his coffee, picking up a spoon to tackle his grapefruit. Onscreen, the blonde female reporter was reaching out a hand hesitantly to touch the front of the Colonel’s tusk. As her hand touched the warm bit of bone he could physically see the wariness evaporate and a childlike joy take its place. On the collar of her coat was a very familiar looking button.
“It’s probably for the best, Tendo. You weren’t going to get any work out of the twins anyway.”
Sonia snorted in mock indignation doing her very best to look offended as she swallowed a mouthful of bacon.
“I’ll have you know I resent that remark!”
“You resemble that remark.”
“You resemble me resembling that remark.”
The Colonel was mugging for the camera. He made a great show of lifting a section of wall with his nose and head, flinging it into a pile of mortar and concrete. The reporter clapped and the cameraman was laughing. From live on the scene the footage changed back to the interior of the news studio. Three people were being interviewed, but Hermann only recognized one. Tendo snorted irritably when he noticed the official at the prop table.
“Barlowe likes everyone to think this was all his idea.”
Hermann let his fork scrape along the bottom of his plate, watching Barlowe charm everyone in the room. His handsome smile seemed so genuine but Gottlieb could see past it. It was the same predatory look he had seen in Helsinki; the same threatening good looks he still saw in his nightmares.
“Yes…and may it stay that way. He’s powerless now. I can’t help but feel rather sorry for him.”
Sonia let out a squawk of disbelief and Howard took a deep breath ready to launch into a counter argument but Tendo just smiled.
“Me too. I mean he really thought he was doing the right thing. Everybody usually thinks they’re doing the right thing. Still. They shouldn’t have made him a Marshall. I can vouch from experience that he’s a total prick. At least it looks like Lars finally retired for good this time.”
Hermann looked down at his eggs making swirling patterns in the runny yolk. His father had not made any effort to contact him. He had a feeling that he wouldn’t speak to Hermann again-not after their encounter in the diner. Maybe eventually they would have deathbed reconciliation…but he doubted it. The day that happened would be the day they found out who shot him in Magnolia.
“If we only have to deal with Barlowe and my brother from a distance I say we came out the winners…”
The four of them sat quietly watching the replayed interview and the fall of the Sitka wall. Sonia broke the silence as she shoveled the last of her food in her mouth and belched loudly.
“Yeah, it’s great to win and everything…but it still would have been better if they fell into a snake pit.”
The Jaeger Hangar was the biggest structure on any of New Pentecost’s six tiny islands. It took up nearly an entire island onto itself. Built on top of the old WW2 military base, it sat at the furthest point of the archipelago on the miniscule Melero Island. The easiest way to get to it was by taking a boat across the central bay to a tiny dock under the shadow of the Hangar itself. The Barge was a large fishing boat that the residents used as a sort of water taxi. It would ferry people back and forth to different islands to save commuting time.
In truth, with the bridges in place, walking from the very tip of Gage Island to the very edge of Melero island was only a four-hour walk; Hermann had himself made the trip several times with Newt. But the Barge just made life that much easier.
After breakfast was finished, Gottlieb and the twins piled onto the shabby old boat with Tendo in tow. The driver was a retired tech officer, one of the people that had come to the island with Tendo when he left the PPDC. Hermann wasn’t well acquainted with him, but Tendo knew him from the very early days in Alaska. He liked his job and chatted amiably with the Choi as the Barge pulled smoothly out into Breach bay.
Mother was visible almost immediately. The circle of seawater in the center of the crescent of islands was not very deep; just enough that the vague shape of the mammoth Kaiju could be seen sleeping just beneath the surface. She lay curled into her own body, head resting on four of her front limbs. Hermann leaned over the boat railing and watched the fiberglass hull pass over her, skimming mere feet from where the Mother of all Kaiju lay dreaming. He could feel the profound weight of her in the back of his mind, an unhurried swirl of faint color and distant song.
Mother had loved her new home almost instantly. She was safe, lying in the same dreamy hibernation state she had kept up in the fissure. Kaiju would swim in and out of the islands like enormous bees, each taking their turn to stay and sing with her, protect her or feed her. She ate more gloop then the rest combined but thankfully only once a month. Laying in stasis burned less energy and she needed to eat less frequently.
The job the precursors had set for her of producing soldiers was obsolete. After long negotiations with the UN it was agreed that the Hive could have only fifteen members at time. Only when one died could Mother create another to replace it. This was fair; they could only produce enough food for so many. Hermann and Newt still had no idea how long a Kaiju could live. Did they have lifespans like humans? Dogs? Whales?
Howard leaned next to him on one side, Sonia on the other, both of them following his gaze down into the water.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Or a quarter? Penny is being kinda frugal.”
“I’ll see her quarter and raise you a dollar for your thoughts.”
Hermann attempted to hide his smile and didn’t turn to look at either of them.
“I was thinking about how the bay rises and falls with the movement of her gills. We have two tides here: the natural ocean tides and the tide Mother creates when she breathes. I was thinking about the UN meeting with Koosha and Neta next week-how sorry I can’t be there with them. I was thinking about Newton…and about Occam.”
He looked up at the sky.
“…and I was thinking about the future.”
Sonia made an excited squealing noise and leaned so far over the side of the Barge she nearly tumbled in the water. Howard grabbed her around the waist before she could fall but she wasn’t paying him the least bit of attention.
“Muds! Baby! You’re back!”
The Kaiju’s nose pushed up first followed by the triangular head and familiar frills. Giving an exciting chirp noise, he nuzzled Sonia and swam side by side with the slow moving boat. The Ranger cooed and made a huge fuss, stroking his rubbery skin.
“Did you have a good hunting trip? Did my big man catch lots of fish? Hell yes he showed those fish who’s boss!”
Making his huge rusty purring noise, Mudpuppy rolled over onto his back and wiggled his tail. He had never looked so healthy; his stomach and arms were all filled in and the iridescent spots on his skin stood out bright as stars. Howard rolled his eyes and moaned finally managing to yank his sister back into the boat.
“You can see him later. Like all the time. Honestly I’m not glad he’s back, all he does is follow you and get in the way. He knows the rules about sitting in front of the store and he does it anyway.”
“How dare you! How DARE you speak that way about my perfect be-speckled angel, Howard.”
“Your angel roots through garbage like a raccoon when he thinks no one is looking and you let him, Sonia.”
Mudpuppy looked at Hermann and the curl of his mouth and teeth looked like a smile. He lifted the glowing flanges of skin from his neck and unless one really knew where to look, it was almost impossible to see where the Jazz Hellion had ripped one off. The Barge was nearly across the bay now the Hangar looming over them. Its massive main door opened towards the sea, letting in the natural light.
“Go on now, Mudpuppy. Sonia will see you later. You be good.”
Mudpuppy stretched and gave a low friendly growl, waving a paw as he submerged, leaving them to dock.
“Mudpuppy is always good”
Sonia waved after him, calling sloppy endearments and arguing with Howard long after his dark silhouette was lost in the sapphire water.
Hermann looked up at Occam and felt golden warmth glow in his chest. He looked like new. Better than new, in fact. Mako’s skill and Balor’s familiarity was visible in every fresh addition, every restored panel. The warmth turned into a fire when a firm hand rested on the small of Gottlieb’s back and someone small leaned up to plant a kiss on his cheek. Hermann didn’t even realize he was crying until the first warm tear streaking down his cheek.
“The Razor looks…”
He choked but Newt didn’t need to hear the rest. He knew exactly what Hermann was trying to say, could feel the unspoken emotion in the peace of the ghost-drift.
“Yeah…you ready to take a test drive?”
Turning Hermann realized that Newton was already in his drift suit. The new Occam suits were a dark burnished blue with a familiar scale pattern down the breast, back and limbs. The gunmetal grey had been replaced by an iridescent Kaiju sheen. He shook his head letting himself be tugged down for another kiss.
“I am. But I appear to be underdressed…”
Newt always tasted of peppermint in Hermann’s dreams. Even in the waking world he could almost taste the hints of it on Newton’s tongue. It was imagined: a phantom memory that confused his senses. Gottlieb didn’t mind. It was better to be haunted by good memories. Newt wasn’t wearing his gloves but the rest of him was completely armored. He pressed cool fingers through Gottlieb’s hair and reprimanded him with his signature half-smile.
“No problem, Dude. Let’s get you into something more comfortable.”
Taking Hermann’s hand, Newton walked past a crew of mechanics who were doing their best to not pay attention to the open display of affection. They navigated around a cluster of buzzing generators, turned a corner and took a rickety old elevator up to the top of the Hangar. Protruding from the wall were floors worth of scaffolding converted to an improvised workspace. In one of these sat a several small curtained off areas that served as makeshift ready rooms.
Raleigh looked up and gave a friendly wave. He was holding Hermann’s new helmet; the Drift suits were more PPDC peace offerings. It was almost disgusting how hard they were trying to get back in Hermann and Newt’s good graces. Finding his balance on the uneven floor, Raleigh stood stiffly. He was going a bit slower these days; he and Mako both. They didn’t like to speak of it out loud but Hermann wondered just how stressful flying the Shrike had been on their bodies. Just getting a Jaeger to walk had been a strain to the best pilot. Flying was a league of difficulty all its own and no other team had even attempted it.
They rarely got into the Rapture now. Raleigh had hinted at them eventually taking their turn on Wall duty or some other public service, but for now they seemed most content with smaller jobs. Mako had gone back to Jaeger restoration and Becket training the Hive. He had a real affinity for it; his quiet and sturdy nature was a draw for the Kaiju. Gottlieb had grown to appreciate him for that. Raleigh gave him a crushing one-armed hug, patting his back.
“‘Fraid I’m about it for your pre-flight crew, Doc. “
Newt flexed one of his arms and thumped a palm on his chest plate.
“Hey man you got me dressed and I look fantastic. You can get the lank-meister here shipshape in no time.”
Hermann gestured at the Flexlimb mesh around his leg with a pained grimace.
“How are we to work around this Ranger Becket?”
Rooting through a pile of suit parts Raleigh smiled and unfolded a set of dark blue conductor scrubs gently pulling Hermann’s cane from his hand.
“I got instructions from up top. It’s gonna work out fine.”
Hermann took the helmet Raleigh still held under his arm and turned it over and over in his hands. The Kaiju face around the visor looked fierce, but the snarl on its open mouth had a smirk in it. Layers of blue teeth curled around the bottom of the face guard. Six eyes stared at him from the curved skull plate, three on each side. Hermann stepped tentatively towards the rest of his suit where it lay waiting on a battered table. He ran his hands over the shin-guards, shoulder protectors and chest plate reading the words engraved there. Dr. Hermann Gottlieb. K-Sci Ranger.
“Alright. Let’s get started.”
Occam’s new Conn-pod did not look that much different from the old. The leg brace on Hermann’s side had been altered to accommodate his new prosthesis but otherwise it looked like it had in Hurricane. He and Newt fell into their old ritual. Speaking in low voices as Gottlieb let his partner help him into his new rig. Instead of watching Newton go back to his own pedals however he stopped him grabbing onto his shoulder pulling him back.
Newt looked up into his eyes and both of them were quiet. Geiszler had changed in that way. He had been so dependent on words to get out what he was feeling and failing to say them quickly enough his entire life, the frantic cadence of his words never matching the lighting fast speed of his brain. That wasn’t a problem anymore and he had learned that you didn’t have to scream all the time to be heard…to be understood. Well. At least with Hermann. He still prattled at everyone else but it was better to enjoy the little victories.
He looked around the Conn-pod and back at Newt pressing his gloved fingers up through his wild hair.
“It’s like the border fight never happened…”
Newt nodded approvingly but he wasn’t looking at the Conn-pod. He pressed a hand to Hermann’s chest.
“Yeah...but it did. L-lots of stuff happened.”
Hermann leaned down pressing his forehead to Newts. Resting there a moment before he kissed him…he was here. He was solid and real. Newt embraced him tightly their suits scraping together and they stood wrapped in each other’s arms in the restored Conn-pod.
“I never thought-“
Hermann choked on the word and stopped pressed his face into Newton’s cheek. The Hive was singing somewhere far off. Its collective voices hummed through the ghost-drift…through Hermann’s senses. He felt like he was about to rupture, full as he was with the Kaiju and with Newton. He took in all of it…trying to hold on to the memory of this moment. Let it destroy everything they had been through. This was their triumph. Newt buried his face into Hermann’s neck, one of the only places not covered with armor.
“I love you so fucking much it should be a crime.”
Hermann squeezed him tightly felt his mouth on his own.
“It’s a good thing I would not press charges.”
Newt snorted and pulled away laughing in disbelief.
“Holy shit, Hermann. You’ve been hanging around the twins too long…”
Newt looked at him. The drooping eye and frustrated lifeless half of his mouth all of it there and open and vulnerable.
“I love you too.”
Newt’s bottom lip trembled, the colors of his mind elaborate pinks and purple. The shades of dream theater. The memories and emotions forming an afterimage of Newton that Hermann could see even if he closed his eyes. His partner opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a buzzing over the Conn-pod speakers. All the Heads-up displays burst to life at once and the pod was awash with color and noise. Mako’s sweet voice surrounded them.
“Good afternoon, doctors! Are you ready for the test?”
Hermann felt Newt pull away from him reluctantly and he smiled, nodding to him. Tonight, they would definitely finish this conversation in a more private environment.
“Good afternoon, Miss Mori. Newton was just hooking himself into his supports but I believe we are ready. Will you be serving as our tech today?”
Mako’s voice took on an air of embarrassment but there was obvious pride in it.
“I will have help from others but, yes, I will be your technical helper during the first walk.”
Another gruffer voice joined Mako’s. Balor had taken to idle island life badly at first. He was just as impatient as Newt when it came to boredom. He wanted something to do with his time and retirement didn’t suit him. When he wasn’t helping Mako with Jaegers he had taken to designing mechanical things that had previously never existed, like the gloop vats or the protective claw caps that most of the Kaiju wore to keep them from accidentally hurting people and property. He excelled at it but was not so keen on sobriety; that had been an uphill fight. Hermann was determined to get him off cigarettes next.
“I’m; ere too. If something feels off with yer rig ‘Ermann ya jus say so alrigh? Inkstain, ya buckled in?”
Newt yanked at his boots to make sure he was firmly locked into his pedals and pressed the button on the side of his helmet to activate the comm-link.
“Snug as a bug in a rug.”
Balor groaned and behind him voices chattered. The twins and Tendo...Raleigh was there too…the techs and mechanics that had worked on Occam. Hermann was almost sure he could hear the familiar lilt of Vanessa’s laughter. She had probably taken time away from her shift in the greenhouses to see this. Knowing he had an audience made the errant butterflies in Hermann’s stomach flutter. He didn’t want to disappoint them.
“I am running a diagnostic on the spinal clamps, Doctors...be prepared.”
There was a white flash across Gottlieb’s vision and he jumped at the flare of sensation rushing up his backbone. There was a strange tug as the computer inside the base of his skull connected with the smaller computer controlling his leg. They communicated for a micro-second, processed Mako’s commands and the leg brace whirred snapping into place.
“Clamps are clear. Vitals steady. Are you two ready to initiate drift?”
Hermann turned to look at Newton, his breathing heavy in his helmet. The sight of him made the doubt melt away. Newt rolled his neck and reached out a clenched fist towards his partner. Hermann didn’t even think twice before he reached out his own first and bumped them together.
“Let’s do this!”