It's February 2021, a relatively mild summer by Sydney standards. The Kaiju war rages on around the Pacific; the Jaegers, once thought invincible, are starting to show cracks in their armor.
It's a tense time. Around every hole-in-the-wall bar in Sydney, there is talk about the future of the war, the effectiveness of the Jaegers, and the madness that is the Anti Kaiju Wall project, just now in its preliminary construction on both sides of the Pacific.
In this milieu, there is an event that would once have been unthinkable, but has become prosaic: A Kaiju attack.
Ironsides, a stocky Category II Kaiju, trundled out of the breach on a lazy Sunday morning and made its way towards Sydney, making landfall about a hundred miles north-northeast of the city proper. It crashed along the New South Wales coastline, quickly encountering the Australian Jaeger Echo Saber.
One of the most brutal Kaiju fights to date ensued. Ironsides, true to name, was a tough beastie; Echo Saber was able to put it down, but at a heavy mechanical toll. The Mark-4 won't be fighting any Kaiju for a while yet; in its place, standing sentinel over Australia, are Vulcan Specter and the newly commissioned Striker Eureka.
A week has passed since the attack, and the city is still abuzz. Newsfeeds on storeroom TVs are showing helicopter footage of the fight, still, and the country collectively winces at the sight of Ironsides tearing ragged metal chunks out of Echo Saber's side.
But in the Sydney underworld, a different kind of buzz is happening. According to rumor, something very important fell off of either the Kaiju or the Jaeger in their melee royale. The PPDC, it is said, are looking for it far and wide.
But Katie Horner wants to find it first.
The four people she’s contacted individually find their way to the designated meeting place: a fairly ritzy nightclub in Sydney. Neither too far on the black-tie end of the spectrum or the throbbing bass music side. Just average enough to be inconspicuous. It's still early, just after opening, and things haven't really started to ramp up yet.
As each of the four arrive, they each find places to sit. Sylvie Madsen, Miranda Cross, and Eleanor Cartier all find a booth together in the back, but Seiko Watanabe decides to keep an eye on them from a distance until Katie arrives. However, their would-be employer is nowhere to be seen...
Sylvie sits quietly, only occasionally glancing up from her phone at the others. Katie's messsage about a new job wasn't exactly what she'd wanted to get, especially since she has a feeling it had to do with that awful Kaiju that had just been put down and she isn’t looking forward to that. Messing around on the internet on her phone to distract herself seems like the best idea for now.
Across the table, Eleanor is sipping her overpriced chocolate martini and trying not to be noticeable in her several-years-outdated dress.
The final occupant of the table is Miranda, who has been mostly ignoring the people at the table. She's been looking around for any signs of Katie, but has yet to see any sign of her.
Seiko keeps his distance, but watches the group at the table carefully. He doesn’t order anything other than a water – thinking that it makes him look mysterious. He also reminds himself that he can’t really afford anything on the menu. Hopefully whatever Katie has called them all together for can change that. The girl’s always paid well in the past.
The three women in the booth fall into a sort of awkward silence, none really knowing how to start up a conversation. Eleanor guesses that they’re all wondering the same thing: What could have been in Katie's invitation to him that would make everyone want to come out like this so soon after an attack?
Eleanor remembers seeing someone that looked like Seiko sitting near the dance floor, but...No, it couldn't be him. She figures even the tastiest scoop (with the possibility of real money attached) probably wouldn't be enough to drag him out from hiding. Probably.
A text message interrupts Sylvie's surfing, from Syl-V back in the lab.
Syl-V: Are you being social at the meetup? You should talk to people.
Sylvie sighs and texts back, trying not to feel guilty that her AI is calling her out when she’s not even there.
Sylvie: No. We're just sitting here. I don't wanna say anything first.
Syl-V: I would say something if I were there.
Sylvie: No you wouldn't. Stop lying.
However, despite telling Vee that she was not going to be social, she glances up, looking at the others. "Has... um, has anyone heard from Katie yet?"
"Um. No, not yet," Eleanor says.
Miranda looks down at her phone briefly, then looks at the others at the table. "I haven't seen her."
Seiko watches the women at the table carefully. The club is quite loud so he's half tempted to join them while they wait, but as he is he’s there for business, not socializing. He stays put, pouring himself another glass of water as he longingly eyes the menu.
A waitress comes by, raises an eyebrow at the extremely awkward table of three and the loner in the corner – not that she's not used to *his* type around here. She heads to the table with the man first, asking him if he’d like anything from the bar.
Seiko waves her away. "No, thank you. I'm waiting to meet somebody."
With a sigh, the waitress lowers her pad and moves on to the next table, the one with the three women. She repeats her question to them as well.
"No, thank you," Sylvie says first, though she thinks she might wish she had one later. At the moment though, she'd rather have all her wits about her.
"I'm alright," Eleanor murmurs. She's been nursing the same damn martini for a half an hour, she's not about to let the waitress ruin her mystique now.
Miranda ignores the woman at first, trying to get a good look at the man at the table next to them. He’s doing a fairly good job of hiding his face, though, and she can’t quite make him out in the nightclub’s gloom. He looks a bit like Seiko, but she hasn’t seen him in months, so she can’t be sure. Finally, she turns her attention to the waitress. "Nothing for me, but send a virgin appletini to the man at that table there, with my regards."
Another text causes Sylvie’s phone to vibrate in her hand.
Syl-V: If we sync up and I find out that you didn't try to be social, I will run high-end algorithms while I’m in the drift with you. Do you really want to go through that?
Wincing, Sylvie puts her phone down again. Looking for a way to start up a conversation, she glances over her shoulder at the man in Miranda has just ordered a drink for. She doesn’t recognize him. She turns back to Miranda, raising an eyebrow. "Are you flirting with strangers before Katie gets here?"
"Possibly." Miranda takes a drink from her water in a way she hopes seems mysterious.
A few moments later, the waitress brings the Seiko the drink. “Compliments of the lady over there, sir.” Seiko pushes the drink away, but after a minute, he takes a surreptitious sip. Grimacing, he scoots it back and tries his best to look disdainful. Who would drink an appletini? Disgusting.
As Seiko frowns at his drink, a tall, fairly well chiseled man wanders up to the table with Miranda, Sylvie, and Eleanor. He’s accompanied by two other men, who are staying back a bit and obviously showing him some deference. He's quite evidently been pre-gaming, as the club hasn't been open for long enough for him to have gotten quite as drunk as he so obviously is. "Well, hey there."
Sylvie blinks, shooting a look at her two companions. "Can we... um, help you, sir?"
Eleanor glares at the newcomer, willing him with her mind to walk away. “Did you want a drink? You can have mine," she drawls, voice dripping with disinterest. "I really don't want it."
"Naw, naw. 'Sh good. I was gonna ask you all if you wanted some... company, yanno?" He slurs the words, a sloppy grin on his face. Behind him, his friends start nodding as though he's just let the three women in on the big secret of existence.
"Our party's rather...full, at the moment. And not in a double-entendre way, either," Eleanor adds hastily. Should've ordered a less inviting drink, she thinks. Martinis are too flirty.
"Yeah, I... um, think we're good," Sylvie says, feeling terribly awkward. This is exactly why she usually stays out of places like this.
Miranda types at her phone, trying to project boredom towards the men, hoping they go away.
"Aw, c'mon. 'Snot like you were doin' nothin' anyway." His flat American vowels clash with the usual tenor of the bar. He grabs a chair from Seiko's booth without asking and noisily drags it across the floor.
Eleanor sniffs. "Well, it's not like you are anything, either."
"Um, I think it might be best if you leave." Sylvie says. "We're here to meet someone, okay?” Oh, Vee's gonna have a field day with this...
He sits down heavily in his stolen chair – he's the kind of person who is used to moving around drunk, but retains alcohol's usual clunkiness. If he understood the insults pointed at him, he's focused enough to ignore them. "I'm Rick. Jaeger pilot, y'know? Savin' the Earth and shit."
Eleanor’s frown gets even darker. Oh goddammit, another wannabe Jaeger pilot…. "Look... sir... you really shouldn't be committing fraud in public like this," she says, an idea coming to her suddenly. "You realize that you're falsely impersonating a celebrity in front of a table of lawyers, don't you?"
Rick, if that really is his name, scrunches his forehead in a way that makes his eyebrows look wider. It's rather disconcerting. "Wait, I, uh, what?"
As the topic shifts to something Sylvie knows something about, she smiles. Meeting the drunken man’s eyes, she tips her head in a mock-questioning manner, rattling off questions. "Oh, so you're a pilot? Which Jaeger do you run, exactly? Or did you mean to say that you're in the piloting program? What are your simulator stats? Drop-to-kill rate?"
He whips around to glare at Sylvie. "What the hell do you know, huh? I pilot, uh..." He looks down at the beer can his hand. "Pabst Crusher. In America. And I'm the best one there is at the Shattle Setterdome."
One table over, Seiko snorts quietly into his appletini.
Sylvie’s tone is all-out mocking now. “Oh wow, it's so amazing that I've never heard of you before then. Or the 'Shattle Setterdome'. You wouldn't happen to have the specs and kill counts written down on that beer can that so conveniently shares your Jaeger’s name, would you? I’m guessing not."
Eleanor addresses him even before he can react to Sylvie’s attack. "Now really, Dick? That was your name, wasn't it? You really need to pick your audience better. Why don't you go home and think about that for a while. Think about the people here who don't want impersonators running rampant in our city, and what we might do to a squishy little guy like you."
Rick stands up, red in the face, looking like he's about to make an angry retort. Or possibly punch someone. Or maybe vomit, it's not really clear.
Miranda continues to type on her phone, finally looking up after him. Eleanor smiles triumphantly and finally, finally, takes a real sip of her drink. Sylvie gives him a small shrug, smiling confidently.
Rick eventually makes up his mind and, instead of doing any of those other things, just bursts into tears and runs out of the club. As he passes, Seiko slips from his booth and quietly follows him out. The man’s two wingmen look at the women at the table in astonishment before hurrying after their friend.
Outside in the somewhat cramped alley, Seiko corners the still-sobbing man. The would-be Jaeger pilot is, it seems, a weepy drunk. "Excuse me sir,” Seiko says smoothly. "Those ladies were kind enough not to press charges, but I'm a rather concerned citizen. In these dangerous times we can't allow blatant impersonation of our heroes to go unpunished, can we?"
After the verbal attack he’s just received, Rick is hardly in a state to respond at the moment. He blubbers something incomprehensible, but seems inclined to acquiesce to whatever demands Seiko might make.
Seiko puts a stiff attempt at a comforting hand on his back. At that moment however, his two friends find them outside and quickly sidle up alongside the two of them. Seiko curses mentally; he’d forgotten about them.
"Hey! What are you doing?" One of them shouts.
Seiko puts on what he hopes is a disarming smile, turning towards them. He steps back from their emotionally compromised companion. “Ah. Your friend was about to get himself into a tight spot. I was just warning him away. He could end up in quite a bit of trouble in this state, you know. You should get him home."
They look suspicious, but eventually just grab either arm of their rather emotional compatriot and haul him out of the club, eyeing Seiko warily as they do so. After they’ve gone, Seiko scowls, bitter that he’s returning to the club without even a little bit of the drunks’ money. He’d been so close, too. He sulks back into the nightclub, dropping into his booth once more and knocking back the entire appletini. As dramatically has he can.
Back at the women’s booth, Sylvie eyes her two companions for a moment, then starts laughing. "Okay, that was almost fun. Maybe I should come to places like this more often if telling off morons is involved."
Eleanor nods, laughing in a way that could be considered a giggle. If she weren't a “lawyer,” of course. That thought inspires a truly lawyerlike snort.
Miranda allows herself to relax a bit as well. "I'll admit, your handling of him was quite impressive."
Sylvie shrugs, blushing a bit at the compliment. "I may not know much when it comes to seedy bars and such, but don't mess with me when it comes to the piloting program. I helped make half those simulators and I've fought through the other half. I'll take down drunk piloting posers any day."
Eleanor smiles a little in Sylvie's direction. "Nice off the cuff socializing, though," she says.
Even as the three begin to break the ice over their mutual enjoyment of shutting down lying drunks, Katie Horner walks into the club in a fedora and sunglasses. She spots the group at the booth, and sits down in one of the chairs Rick just vacated.
She gives the group a winning smile. "I see y'all were able to make it."
Miranda looks pointedly at Katie. "It's the middle of the night. Why are you wearing sunglasses?"
Seiko sighs as he sees Katie arrive, finally getting up and joining the others at the booth. Katie has even more money than the drunk guy and he’s not planning on this night being a total loss. He takes a seat beside her, ignoring the looks he gets from Miranda and Eleanor. "Good evening Ms. Horner. It's a pleasure to see you."
Sylvie frowns at the newcomer, quizzically. "I don’t think I know you. Have we met before?"
"No, I don’t believe we have,” Seiko says. With a slightly cruel twist, he adds: “though I feel like I've seen your face around? Somewhere in the news, perhaps? Perhaps you won a spelling bee as a child?"
Sylvie's eyes widen in alarm just a bit and she looks down quickly. "Oh, no… I think you're, uh, mistaking me for someone else. I don't think I've ever met you, so you couldn't know me."
Miranda kicks Seiko under the table.
Seiko doesn’t outwardly react to the attack on his shins, but decides to let Sylvie off the hook. "Ah yes. I remember now. The programmer. I admire your work. I’ve worked with Ms. Horner in the past."
"As have I, as of late,” Sylvie says, still feeling slightly embarrassed. “Nice to meet you, I guess, Mr. uh..."
Katie pulls of her sunglasses, glares at Miranda, and nods at Seiko. She answers Sylvie’s question before he has a chance to. "Seiko Watanabe. He's a bit of a low-life but he knows his way around."
Sylvie gives Katie a quick can-I-trust-this-guy look, hoping she'll give a nod or something. Katie shrugs.
Eleanor notices the small exchange, and smiles slightly. "He's trustworthy, if that's what you're wondering," Eleanor says wryly. “By the way: Hi, Katie.”
Seiko scoffs. "I'm really not."
Eleanor shrugs. “Well, close enough for the moment."
At Eleanor’s comment, Sylvie starts, trying to back out of the comment. "Oh, I wasn't trying to..." The looks around the table quickly tell her no one is buying it. She sighs. "Well, I suppose it can't hurt much. I'm Sylvie. Sylvie Mansen."
"I know,” Seiko says, inwardly enjoying Sylvie’s reactions a bit more than he should. “Though I thank you for the introduction. Your work really is quite impressive. I'm always happy to be working around talent."
The programmer sighs heavily, feeling rather embarrassed at the whole ordeal. "Someday I'm going to get used to being slightly infamous, I swear. I'm surprised you've followed my work though. Thanks, I guess."
"Speaking of work,” Katie says, deftly bringing the conversation back around, “let me get a drink and then we can talk business. Can I get any of y’all anything?"
“The usual,” Seiko says smoothly. He mentally reviews his accent to make sure he doesn't start sounding Southern now that Katie's around as he claims to be an Australia native most of the time.
"I'll take a water, if you don't mind,” Sylvie says, thinking having a drink to hide behind might be a good idea.
"I think I'll stick with my..." Eleanor looks at her neglected martini and sighs. "You know what, I'll take a water too. Maybe a salad for me, too," It would give her something else to mess with for a while, instead of having more real human interactions.
Miranda scans the menu for the most expensive item, knowing that Katie’s picking up the tab. "One of these, if it's not too much trouble," she says, putting on a saccharine grin and pointing.
Katie calls a waitress over and orders the lot, plus an expensive beer for herself.
"So, Katie," Sylvie says once the waitress leaves. "What exactly is this job you've got for us? And why do I have the sinking suspicion that it involves that rotting Kaiju corpse that Echo took out?"
"I was hoping someone would ask that," Eleanor says with a conspiratorial smile. "Do you have some leads that I haven't heard about, Katie?"
Seiko looks vaguely annoyed, the first real expression he's shown since sitting down. He just can’t understand Katie’s obsession with the creatures. He’d been hoping that this job would just involve schmoozing. People are easy; Kaiju are repulsive.
"I don't know if y'all have heard the rumors," says Katie, taking a swig of her fancy beer, “but the PPDC lost something during the fight with Ironsides. And whatever it was, they want it back."
Sylvie leans forward. "Define 'lost.' And clarify 'something'?"
Eleanor waves a hand. "Oh, you know the PPDC, they lose things all the time." She decides not to mention that those "things" sometimes include people.
Miranda looks at Katie intently. "People are saying lots of things. What makes you sure this information is legitimate?"
"Well,” Katie says, “it turns out a fishing boat managed to slip into the resticted area around the kill site. By accident, I'm sure. But someone on board had a video camera."
Eleanor narrowed her eyes. "Would this 'somebody' happen to be...open to persuasion? Perhaps of the monetary variety?"
"Or the loved ones variety?" Seiko suggests quietly.
Katie smirks at Eleanor, pretending she didn’t hear Seiko’s addition. "They were. It looks like the PPDC are trawling the area. They've got several ships out there."
Eleanor considers this, fighting the urge to steeple her fingers. She just barely succeeds in quashing it.
"Katie, what exactly is the thing?" Sylvie says, cursing Katie’s sense of drama.
Seiko glances at the tables around them carefully. "Perhaps that's a conversation for elsewhere?"
“Ain't sure,” she says, her excitement making her American South drawl more noticeable. “Did you see the news coverage of the big fight? Something fell in the fray. The publicly available video is too low-res to get a good idea what it was, though. I was actually hoping Miranda could help me with that."
Miranda shrugs slightly. "I may be able to find something out, but I'm curious as to why you care."
"You don’t? Eleanor is genuinely surprised. "You do realize that a find like this could mean millions in the...alternative sector, right?" She doesn't say ‘black market,’ but it's pretty heavily implied.
"Of course I do," Miranda folded her arms on the table. "And I also realize that Ms. Horner isn't the usual sort of trader.”
"I'm in," Seiko says bluntly. He keeps his reasons to himself.
"I could use hardware upgrades, and I'm curious about this 'something' that everyone's so worked up about. I'll help if you need me." Sylvie says.
"Lemme know if you need a shrink," Eleanor puts in, half-jokingly.
Miranda speaks up again, hesitant. “I'm simply curious as to what Katie’s stake is here." Glancing at the others around the table, she sighs lightly. "But… this item needs to be found, so please, don't let me stop you."
Eleanor shrugs. "We can decide what to do with it if and when we find it. Sounds fair."
"Whatever 'it' is..." Sylvie points out.
"Yep." Eleanor jabs her fork into her salad. "I'm hoping it's a hunk of Kaiju. That would be great for my offshore bank account. Oh… did I say that out loud?" she adds to no one in particular.
Katie looks entirely pleased that her team is coming together. "So, the terms I'm proposing are: I'll finance the project, in exchange for an additional 10% of our total profits. We split the rest 5 ways."
"We ‘lawyers’ should be able to sort this out, right?" Eleanor asks, smiling around a mouthful of greens.
"And,” Katie says, laying her full offer out, “I can front you each 10 grand, American money."
Sylvie takes a quick drink of her water to try to hide her eyebrows rising at the figure. It doesn't work very well. She sets the glass down again. "Well, I knew there was a reason I keep coming back to help with your jobs, Katie."
Eleanor swallows, noisily. "Sounds fair to me."
Seiko doesn’t outwardly react to the offer. “It might be easier to pay us in Australian,” he says. “Arouse less suspicion. It's not much of a difference. 12K in Australian.”
"I can help make the switch,” Eleanor says. “Give me 3 days."
"I'll see what I can do, as well," Miranda replies, sliding her hands under the table.
A thought occurs to Seiko. "Do we have a boat?"
Miranda pauses mid-bite, turning slowly to stare at him. "That... is an excellent question."
Eleanor and Sylvie both look to Katie. Eleanor slowly raises her eyebrows.
Katie grins. "We do."
Seiko nods and takes a sip of wine, outwardly calm, but on the inside, he’s rather worried about the quality of said ship. He’s not fond of water travel in the first place, and with a Kaiju involved, it’s even worse. The things I do for money…
Eleanor had suspected that the kaijuologist would've had something up her sleeve. Or, she muses, on it. But that was not a conversation for the dinner table. "Good," she says.
"I really hope you've got wi-fi," Sylvie says. "I don't like being cut off for long periods of time. And Vee gets antsy and bored without the internet."
"If you've got the hardware, I could probably whip something up..." Sylvie immediately starts thinking up ways that they might be able to get a good enough signal to work. She’d figure something out.
"And when will our...” Seiko grimaces, “…cruise be taking place?"
"We will have wi-fi once someone gets it set up,” Katie says.
"If you don't mind,” Miranda cuts in. “I'd like to give the ship an inspection before this voyage takes place. I'd like to avoid sailing into a slick of kaiju blue without the proper preparations."
"That's a good plan,” Eleanor says. “A very good plan."
"Well, I have some preparations to make,” Seiko says, standing to leave. Business was settled and he didn’t have any plans to stay and socialize. “Katie knows my contact information when things are ready."
"She's apparently got all of ours as well,” Sylvie pointed out.
Seiko’s move to exit prompts the others to do the same. Sylvie takes one last drink of her water, mind already working over the ways she might get wi-fi out on the water. Vee might have some ideas… Miranda stays quiet as she grabs her things to head out. Eleanor throws a wave over her shoulder as she departs. There may or may not be salad dressing on her coat. She isn't telling.