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Switch

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Everyone’s used to it by now. In a sense. As much as you can get used to monsters rampaging out from the ocean, or the condition of the universe switching in a heartbeat.

 

The PPDC sends out predictions a few hours before, maybe a day before. Cars pull off the road. Kids are kept home from school sometimes, families hold one another’s hands. Compared to this, the kaiju seem ordinary, comprehensible.

 

Radios and TV and the Internet count down to the predicted switch.

 

And then the universe changes—sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Sometimes lives are wiped out, sometimes the previously dead are back among the living. Sometimes you look back at your old photos to find that you went to the state university instead of the community college. Sometimes you look at your hand to find that you are no longer married, or perhaps you never were married at all.

 

After a while, everyone’s memory gets a little jumbled. There’s no point trying to keep track of it all, and that’s impossible, anyway, because any notes you take about the switches might not exist in the next universe. But most people remember how it was at the beginning, before the switches began. Before the Breach. They call that the First Universe, now, and some people see it as the only real one.

 

Just like the kaiju, the switches are coming more frequently now. The PPDC is investigating the Breach, trying to explain what causes the switches; they think that closing the Breach will end the switches, but that’s hard to do because each switch can bring a change in the Jaegers or the pilots.

 

The switches keep coming. People try to adjust.

 

*** 

 

In 2025, Raleigh Becket is in Sitka, Alaska, building the Wall of Life, when a switch comes. It’s been predicted, so the second shift construction workers are on the ground, waiting. (You make sure you’re not doing something dangerous when a switch comes, because you don’t know what you’ll be doing after the switch, and it takes a minute to mentally adjust.)

 

The switch comes, and it’s almost painful but kind of instant, so the pain hardly has time to hit. It feels like being swallowed up, Raleigh thinks.

 

And then he opens his eyes again, and he’s not outside in the snow. He’s not even outside in Alaska.

 

He’s sitting at a teacher’s desk in a school. The papers on his desk are partly written in Japanese; it looks like they’re English lessons for Japanese speakers. He might actually be in Japan.

 

His left shoulder doesn’t hurt, either.

 

Raleigh takes a few minutes to stare at the classroom (empty, it looks like late afternoon, going by the windows), the papers (some graded, some not) and his left arm (which feels fine like it hasn’t in five years). Then he reaches into his pocket, finds a cell phone (he still has a cell phone!), and awkwardly flips through the contacts.

 

Names he doesn’t know, many of them Japanese.

Jazmine.

More strangers.

The bottom of the alphabet, and there it is.

Yancy.

 

There has never been a universe before where Yancy is still alive.

 

Raleigh’s finger hovers over the call button, but he can’t do it just then. What do you say to one of the dead who’s come back? (There are TV shows and movies about this question.) Even worse, what if Yancy is still gone in this universe and Raleigh just didn’t delete his name from his phone?

 

Instead, Raleigh looks through his recent calls and text messages.

 

They’re all from someone named Mako.

 

Raleigh is better at speaking Japanese than reading it, but they’re just little odd notes and he can figure most of them out. “Late tonight—finishing a project at work.” “Good idea—it will be sunny tomorrow.” “Make your hamburgers tonight?” “I’m wearing your sweater.” “Let’s get a dog.”

 

Some of the messages seem like half a conversation, but he can’t find any messages from him that she’s responding to. His own texts to her are similar: “The blue one,” is what he wrote to her most recently. The blue what?

 

After another minute of staring at the messages, Raleigh thinks, screw it, and he calls Yancy’s number. His palm is sweating; it’s been years since he even touched a cell phone.

 

What the hell is this universe?

 

Ring. Ring.

 

“Raleigh? What’s up—you okay, kid?” Yancy's voice. It's Yancy.

 

Raleigh can hardly choke the words out. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just checking on you after the switch.”

 

“You had to call me long distance,” says Yancy in that familiar way where he makes a question into a statement. “I told you, use Skype or something, don’t run up your phone bill! I’m fine, no big changes here. Dumbass. How’s Mako?”

 

Raleigh is rubbing his sleeve over his eyes. “I dunno. I didn’t call her.”

 

Raleigh knows, just knows, that Yancy is rolling his eyes. “Well, go call her. Email me later.”

 

And Yancy hangs up.

 

Raleigh has to bend over the desk, covering his face with his hands, until he gets his breath back. Okay. This is a universe where Yancy is alive, and fine. Where Yancy doesn’t even know he was once dead. Where Raleigh’s arm is fine, where Raleigh’s not wearing dog tags.

 

They were never Jaeger pilots in this universe.

 

The sunlight is a little golden through the windows. Raleigh’s drawn to go over and look through them, and when he does he sees a city, Japanese shop signs and ads.

 

Raleigh pulls out his phone again; he must have photos of Mako, whoever she is. He always has photos.

 

And there she is, once he finds them. Photos of Yancy from a while back, and photos of Raleigh with his arms around friends he doesn’t know, but there are a lot of photos of a woman with a short, blunt bob haircut who must be Mako. Smiling at the camera, laughing, giving the camera a faux-dirty look when Raleigh’s interrupting her doing something. And there are photos of her with Raleigh that Raleigh must have taken by holding the phone at arm’s length: photos of them squeezed together in front of a starry sky, a park with trees, some kind of museum.

 

So this is Mako. Not a stranger any more. She has a face, a personality. She’s real. And this is a life Raleigh really, really wants, now that he’s seen it. He’s been alone on the wall for so long, and now up pops a universe where Yancy’s alive and Raleigh has . . . well, he has Mako. A friend, or a girlfriend, Raleigh doesn’t want to jump to conclusions, but . . . she’s on his side, and he’s on her side.

 

A universe where Raleigh was never a Jaeger pilot, though.

 

Raleigh goes back to the desk and flips through stuff (it’s a mess, he’s kind of embarrassed) until he finds a pay stub shoved in a drawer that bears what he hopes is his address.

 

He lives in Tokyo. This is Tokyo. But from what he’s seen, it doesn’t look like it was ever destroyed. Maybe there was something else different in this universe, something that saved Tokyo and stopped Raleigh and Yancy from becoming Rangers.

 

Raleigh gets directions to the address on his phone and heads for the subway.

 

***

 

It’s only when Raleigh is almost home (well, to the place he hopes is his home) that he realizes maybe he was supposed to take some of those papers home for grading or something. Oops. Too late.

 

It’s his stop, he gets off, and then he’s heading to the apartment building and going up the elevator and yes, his keys fit in the lock. This is where he lives.

 

He goes in.

 

Nobody else is there; the apartment is still and quiet, feels like it’s been empty all day. But it’s also obvious to Raleigh that he doesn’t live alone.

 

Raleigh takes his shoes off and walks into the apartment tentatively, holding himself back from touching anything. He hasn’t ever really had an adult home; first he lived in Shatterdomes, and then he lived in crappy bunkhouses for guys doing construction on the wall. But this is a real home: a real kitchen with dishtowels and everything, a fridge with some real food in it. There’s stuff on the walls that Raleigh thinks is his (photos he probably took), but there’s some stuff that’s definitely not his either—like swords, real Japanese swords, not fake costume stuff. There’s a basket with a heap of folded laundry on the floor there, and on top there’s a soft woman’s cardigan. Underneath it is a big men’s sweater that has to be Raleigh’s.

 

Raleigh looks into the bedroom from the doorway: just one big bed.

 

The sound of another key in the door—Raleigh jolts, but then just turns back toward the entrance hall. He hopes he’s right in thinking he lives here too.

 

The door opens, and . . . that’s Mako coming in. She bends over to take her shoes off and then looks up at him. She looks like her pictures, except she’s not smiling. She looks tired. No, that’s not right—her eyes are dry, but she looks like she’s holding herself back from crying.

 

The switch. Raleigh got Yancy back—did Mako lose someone?

 

“Hi,” Raleigh says. His Japanese is a little rusty, but he’s trying. “I’m Raleigh Becket. I hope I’m in the right place.”

 

“Mako Mori,” Mako says. “Yes, I think we both live here. I have a lot of photos of you here.”

 

Raleigh takes a deep breath. “Look, are you okay?”

 

“I’m okay,” Mako says, switching to English. She comes in and puts her hands on a dresser, like she’s leaning on it. “I lost my family in Onibaba’s attack on Tokyo. They’re all alive again now. I have a brother.” 

 

Judging by her age now, she must have been just a child when Onibaba attacked. “Oh, my god,” Raleigh says. “That’s—my brother’s alive again too. I just called him on the phone.” 

 

Mako nods in understanding and turns toward him. “Raleigh,” she says. “You’ve seen the city. Have you looked for information about the kaiju? Or the Breach?”

 

“No,” Raleigh says. “I mean, it seems like the kaiju never hit Tokyo.”

 

Mako shakes her head. “I looked it up. There are no kaiju. There is no Breach in this universe.”

 

Raleigh can’t say anything for a moment. “Then that means this was the last switch,” he says. Yancy will be alive forever now. And Mako’s family too. Everyone . . . he and Yancy were never Jaeger pilots because there have never been Jaegers.

 

“Maybe,” Mako says. “We can’t know for sure—not yet.”

 

“They were estimating the next switch in about a week,” Raleigh says, following her train of thought. “So . . .”

 

Raleigh and Mako look at one another. One week with lost families, in a world safe from the kaiju. In a world with no Jaegers. And then—either the apocalypse begins again, or they’re stuck in this strange universe. Where Raleigh never felt what it was like to stride through the Pacific Ocean in a Jaeger, where he never knew Tendo or any of the other pilots, where he’s living a stranger’s life.

 

With Mako.

 

“If we’re going to live together for a week at least, we should know something about each other,” says Mako.

 

“You want to get dinner?” says Raleigh. “There’s a lot of food I’d like to try now there’s no rationing. Also, I can’t cook.”

 

“Neither can I,” Mako says. “Let’s go out.” And there’s the smallest hint of that happiness that the Mako in the photographs showed to the Raleigh behind the camera. Raleigh wonders if he’s smiling as goofily as the Raleigh in the photos did.

 

Already, he doesn’t want to let this go.