Chapter 1: Prologue
I am of the opinion that any story involving my fathers deserves to be told not for any intrinsic or extrinsic reasoning—but for the simple fact that they are in it. From the safety of the future, I can look back on what they told me, and what I have seen myself, and stand in awe of these two remarkable men. They were giants in their fields and in spirit, which allowed them to overcome tragedies that no other human had faced.
But they were still men, mortal and flawed in their deepest sense.
I knew little of my father before the Second Kaiju War. He and my mother had been married for several years when they had me in a crowded London hospital just a few months after the end of the First Kaiju War. About a year after that, they divorced, and I did not see my father again for ten years.
My memories of him were clouded in soft, white light and endless noise. He and my mother fought often and intensely. They crowded our flat with icy silence or bitter words, and even as an infant I could feel the palpable sense of relief when he left.
My father, Hermann Gottlieb was born on June 9, 1989 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He had two brothers and a sister (whom he knew with varying degrees of intimacy), a father (whom he despised), and a mother (whom he loved dearly until her death). He had a best friend in Vanessa Valentine, whom he married a few years into the First War. They felt that this was expected of them not only as their duty to their families, but also because of their nearly constant companionship throughout each other’s lives.
Hermann worked as a theoretical physicist in London before the first Kaiju attack, after which he was hired by the PPDC to head Breach studies and create a predictive model for future use. It was there that he worked with his long-time penpal, Newton Geiszler, who was both the bane of my father’s existence and the light of his life.
This story, like so many stories, is a love story.
However, the course did not run smooth. Newton left the PPDC after the war to work in the private sector with a burgeoning tech company, Shao Industries. His reasons would not become clear for another decade . During that time, Hermann mourned and worked and blamed himself until fate brought them together once more.
Newton had changed. Newton was possessed by the Precursors.
These two conditions were not mutually exclusive.
This is where our love story begins: with two men, a dungeon, and a legion of angry Kaiju. With a plan to save Newton, which very few people believe in. With a plot to invade the Anteverse, which even fewer believe in. And with a man, frightened and alone, who does not even believe in himself.
There is also me, but I don’t come in until a bit later.
For now, let’s begin where much of this takes place: the mind.
You see, Hermann Gottlieb was very close to losing his.
Chapter 2: Nightmare Awakening
A nightmare, a visit, and another day.
as always, thanks to my lovely beta, irisbluefic for editing! content warnings for blood, mild suicidal idealization, and everything that obviously comes with the precursors
Surprisingly, the world did not end with the Kaiju.
Hot, blue light beat down on Hermann’s head as he stumbled through the throng of people crowding LOCCENT. There were bodies everywhere; dancing, hugging, drinking, celebrating their victory not only over death, but in coming together to create a last stand for humanity.
Someone stumbled into him, causing Hermann to scramble for balance and shoot a withering glare in their direction.
Tendo Choi waved enthusiastically from the main console, lounging across his desk with his wife Alison’s arms wrapped around his neck.
“Hey, Hermann!” he shouted above the din. “You’re a hero, man! How’s it feel?”
Hermann didn’t bother trying to make himself heard. He imply flashed a tired smile and made his way over to the console.
Tendo leaned in, cupping his hand around his ear.
“Do you know where Newton is?” Hermann asked, words disappearing into the noise.
Tendo gave him a perplexed look. “What?”
“Newton!” Hermann repeated. “Where! Is! Newton!”
“Oh!” Tendo rocked backwards on his elbows and grinned conspiratorially. “Yeah! I saw him head back down to the lab.”
Hermann nodded and turned to leave, but Tendo grabbed him by the arm and raised his eyebrows.
“Hey,” he shouted, “use protection, ya hear? My boy Newt’s an all-or-nothing guy!”
Hermann jerked his arm away, face rapidly warming. He tried to think of something scathing in return, but his tongue was suddenly glued to the roof of his mouth. Huffy and defeated, he stormed off, ears burning at Tendo’s raucous laughter behind him.
“Go get ’em, doc!” yelled someone from the crowd as Hermann considered adding one more person to the body-count list.
“We’re rooting for you two!”
The Shatterdome hallways were startlingly quiet, with the majority of festivities being contained in LOCCENT and the cafeteria. Hermann’s footsteps echoed off the iron walls as he made his way towards the lab, playing out every possibility of the impending conversation in his mind.
Logically, Newton must have become aware of Hermann’s feelings for him. They had drifted, sharing their minds and memories. Hermann knew Newt held some kind of strong emotion towards him, but, in the cacophony of the Hivemind, discerning anything had been impossible. One could only hope it was the same strange mix of competitiveness, pride, and longing Hermann felt whenever Newt crossed his mind.
Of course, the worst-case scenario was always the most likely these days. But after saving the bloody world, Hermann felt the universe owed him some luck.
Some of the memories they had shared were troubling enough that Hermann felt a burning need to discuss them. Newton’s mental health had always been dubious at best, but the flashes of pain and hopelessness he had felt were truly frightful. It appeared that Newt’s boisterous confidence was was a mixture of mania and bravado built to protect himself from a world that couldn’t understand- or be bothered to care.
Hermann hoped to discover what (or who) was the cause of that fear, and possibly beat them with his cane.
He cringed, realizing that his dry indifference towards Newt’s feelings over the years certainly hadn’t helped anything. Hermann had been brought up with the idea that logic was the better half of the mind, and any show of emotion was one of weakness. Newt believed quite the opposite, and Hermann wished he had somehow been able to see how his coarseness had affected the other man.
Well, he was determined to make things right. Nearing the lab doors, Hermann noticed a figure outside. Newt’s leather jacket was impossible not to recognize, and Hermann hurried his pace.
“Newton!” he called out, raising a hand in greeting.
Newt spun around, a strange, startled look on his face. When he saw Hermann, he grinned.
“Hermy! Hey! What are you doing down here? Y’know there’s a party going on, right?”
Hermann nodded. “I would ask the same of you.”
“Oh,” Newt shrugged blithely. “Just needed some space. Saving the world takes a lot out of you, yeah?”
“Ah, yes. I wanted to speak about that, actually.” Hermann took a step forward, glancing at the floor, then back at Newt. “How—how are you feeling?”
“Fine-ish?” Newt said. “The Drift is pretty wild, but I’ll bounce. You?”
“I would imagine your definition of ‘fine’ is quite different than mine, seeing as you appear to be barely standing,” Hermann said dryly, avoiding the question. “You drifted with two Kaiju brains, Newton. I’m quite surprised someone hasn’t dragged you down to medical for scans. I’d be happy to accompany you-—”
“No!” Newt exclaimed, panic crossing his face for just a moment. Then, he relaxed. “No. I’m fine, Hermann, really. Just need a million hour nap or two, and I’ll be good as new in no time.”
Hermann frowned. “I really don’t think—”
“Hermann,” Newt said emphatically, “chill. Seriously.”
Hermann began constructing a plan that involved knocking Newt out with his cane and taking him to the med bay himself, but nodded in mock-concession. “Alright. There, ah—there is something I wished to discuss with you, however.”
Newt cocked his head the slightest inch to the right. “What about?”
Hermann took a deep breath. “Right. Well. You and I drifted. I was privy to some… things that I feel we should talk about, and I imagine you have a few questions you would like to ask me as well.”
“Uh…I guess?” Newt said, fiddling with the sleeve of his jacket. “I mean, yeah I saw a couple things that were kinda weird, but I always sort of knew about your math kink, dude.”
Hermann blushed furiously. “Not that, you inconsiderate—!” He sucked in a deep breath and forced himself to relax. “Not. That.”
“Then what, dude?”
Hermann looked at Newt closely. “You—you didn’t…see it?”
“I—” Hermann’s stomach twisted. Newt truly didn’t know. Clenching his jaw, he stood up a little straighter. “Newton, I feel that, in the name of fairness, there is something I must tell you.”
Newt gave him a strange look. “Okay,” he said, dragging out the vowels. “What? You’re being really weird about this, Hermann.”
Hermann swallowed hard. “Well, I—er. That is, I—”
Before Hermann could continue (or not, things could really go either way at this point), an echoing crash rumbled throughout the Shatterdome. The walls shook, and Hermann nearly lost his balance with the force of it. Startled, he looked around wildly.
“What on earth was that?”
From somewhere outside, a massive roar shook the building. The sound reverberated through the halls, causing the very marrow of Hermann’s bones to feel like it was shaking. He had heard this sound many times, but until a few seconds ago, assumed he never would again.
Fear shot through him like a lick of flame, and he turned to Newt. “Newton,” he said shakily, “please tell me I’m hearing things.”
Newt stared blankly at him, not moving as another roar shook the building. His eyes were cold and glassy, and seemed to look right through Hermann.
“Newton,” Hermann said again, more forcefully this time. “Newton, did you hear that?”
Newt’s gaze finally focused on him, and a slow, poisonous smile spread across his face.
“Oh Hermann,” he said softly, voice tinged with a strange fervor. “Poor, naive, stupid Hermann. Did you really think we were gone forever?”
Hermann felt his heart slam to a stop. “You,” he whispered, gripping his cane tighter as Newt began to laugh.
Newt’s eyes pulsed a soft turquoise, before flashing and glowing with bright, sickly blue light. The crooked smile on his face stretched wider, showing rapidly growing rows of long, sharp teeth. His cheeks split, flesh tearing apart as Newt’s mouth widened all the way back to his ear. Blood poured from the openings, vivid and sticky.
The Shatterdome shook again, and with a monstrous crack, the hallway split side to side. Standing above them, a massive Kaiju blocked the light of the sun as it gazed down at Hermann.
It roared in tandem with Newt, eyes glowing the same electric blue.
Hermann turned frantically to Newt. “Newton!” he shouted. “Newton, you must fight them! You musn’t let them control you! Please!”
But Newt only laughed as the Kaiju’s massive claw reached down towards Hermann, smashing through the metal and concrete to crush them in its—
Hermann bolted awake, screaming, cold sweat pouring down his back and pooling at the base of his spine. His heart was drumming against his ribs like a jackhammer, beating out a tattoo against his chest. The blankets were tangled around him, trapping his bad leg in a position that made it pulse with pain.
Hermann let out a shaky sigh, reaching with a trembling hand to unwrap the blankets from his body. He stretched his leg, rubbing at the ache and trying to take slow, deep breaths.
They had begun the night after the Battle of Tokyo and continued steadily for the past few weeks. Every night, Hermann awoke in terror, shouting Newt’s name as they were crushed to death by a Kaiju claw, or torn apart by the Precursors, or sometimes killed by the sheer strain of the Drift. Sometimes, Newt choked Hermann out in the Shao control room.
Sometimes, Hermann put a bullet through Newt’s head.
They never both made it out alive.
Hermann sighed, glancing at the clock beside his bed. Four thirty am. He had failed to sleep through yet another night, and faced a day full of exhaustion and dead ends. Sometimes, he wondered if there was a point to it all.
There was, of course, but he was currently being held in a cell several stories below the ground, possessed by a race of genocidal aliens.
Running a hand through his mussed hair, Hermann swung his legs over the side of the bed, reaching for his cane before stumbling to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth in a daze, almost forgetting to down his medications before throwing on the cleanest suit he could find and rushing out the door. Whether his messiness was another habit picked up from Newt, or a sign of his rapidly deteriorating mental state, Hermann could neither say, nor care.
He stopped by the mess hall to grab a bowl of bland-tasting oatmeal that he barely remembered eating, ignoring the stares of everyone around him. Newt’s and his friendship was well-known, and everyone had their opinion on Hermann’s loyalty these days. Hermann stared down at the table and felt the lump in his chest grow bigger and bigger.
Lab work wasn’t on the agenda for today, so Hermann stumbled through a few pointless meetings about the new partnership with Shao Industries, Breach invasion, and whatever else the PPDC had decided to do with the influx of funding they received after Tokyo. Barely anyone met Hermann’s gaze the whole time, much less asked his opinion on things. It felt like the old days of the First War, when no one thought to ask the hermit mathematician anything important.
God, Hermann missed that.
Finally, he had a moment to spare, which brought him right where it did every time: the door of Newt’s cell. Without a thought, Hermann swiped his key card over the lock, the light beeping green at his signature. It had taken a good deal of shouting, and several threats of resignation, but he had finally been allowed access to Newt’s cell.
Hermann took a deep breath before turning the handle. Maybe things would be different today.
The cell was dark and quiet, smelling strongly of dried blood and antiseptic. Newt’s care was minimal, and even then Hermann had been forced to fight for basic things like food and grooming. Of course, Newt rubbed his wrists raw on the chair straps and screamed his throat bloody practically every day, so there was little point to the cleaning.
Newt’s head was resting on his chest, eyes closed. He seemed not to notice Hermann’s arrival, but Hermann knew better than to assume Newt was asleep. The Precursors kept him constantly awake and watching, so much that he often needed to be sedated to get any rest at all.
“Hello, Newton,” Hermann said calmly, his cane tapping harshly on the metal floor.
Newt raised his head slowly, eyes blank and unfamiliar. He laughed coldly. “Newton’s not here right now, I’m afraid. Feel free to leave a message after the beep. Can’t guarantee he’ll get it, though.”
“Mmm, right,” Hermann replied blithely. “Well, on the off chance Newton is there, would you kindly tell him that the cafeteria was serving peach cobbler today? It’s a favorite of his.”
The thing behind Newt’s eyes gave him a searching look, his gaze twitching distrustfully.
“Why are you here?” he asked, not for the first time.
Hermann sighed. “I believe I’ve already told you that quite a few times.”
“Tell me again,” Newt said, smiling. “It makes him despair.”
Hermann raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said Newton was no longer there?”
Newt laughed. “Oh, he’s there all right. Screaming, writhing , making the silliest little noises when we don’t let him out. But he’s almost gone, Hermann. There’s not much left to save. Not that you could, anyway.”
“We’ll agree to disagree.” Hermann tightened his grip on his cane, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. “Now then, are you going to let me speak to Newton or not?”
Newt let out a ragged scream, straining against his bonds and snapping at Hermann with his already bleeding mouth.
“HE IS NOT TALKING TO YOU!” came Newt’s voice, laced with the multi-layered hissing of the Precursors. “HE WILL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU, HE WILL NEVER BE FREE! WE WILL DESTROY HIM, AND WE WILL DESTROY YOU!”
Hermann marched forward, leaning in just far enough away from Newton’s snapping jaws.
“I will save him,” he growled fiercely, “and there is nothing you bastards can do to stop me. Newton is fighting, everyone is fighting, and we will not stop until every trace of you has been wiped from this earth.”
For the briefest second, something human seemed to flicker in Newt’s eyes. The fog cleared, and fear shot through them.
Hermann leaned in the tiniest bit closer, hope sparking in his chest.
Then the light was gone, and Newt was screaming again.
Hermann stepped away and sighed, his nose burning with the arrival of tears. He slumped his shoulders, trying to hide the look of defeat that spread across his face.
Hermann closed the cell door behind him and leaned against the wall, swallowing the sob that threatened to escape from him. His chest felt full to bursting with sadness, his heart a brackish, oversaturated sponge that threatened to break through his ribcage .Despite his efforts, a tear escaped and made its way haphazardly down his cheek.
Hermann wiped it away roughly and wondered if death by Newton’s hands all those weeks ago would have been better than this.
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t sleep again that night.
Chapter 3: Where He Stood Before
Jake takes a side. Hermann commits light treason. Newt demands some privacy.
hello hello! for maximum enjoyment, listen to Call Me Newt during the second section and cry. warnings for emotional manipulation.
It was terrible plan, and a reckless one at that, which made it all the more worrying that it had come from him in the first place. He thought Newt would be proud of the way he had genuinely considered it, before deeming it ridiculous. Of course, Hermann had long suspected that there had been more than a little crossover between his and Newt’s minds because of the Drift, but the idea that was rapidly forming in his head was stupid, impulsive, and downright dangerous.
So: definitely Newt.
The proposal itself was deceptively simple: Hermann would acquire a PONS machine, hook it up to a heavily restrained Newt, and Drift with him. Using the combined power of their minds, they would overcome the Precursors and free Newt of their control. Newt would share with them everything he could about the Anteverse and how the Hivemind worked, and then be dragged (kicking and screaming if need be) to bed by Hermann for a nice, forty-eight hour nap. Of course, there was the chance that Hermann could be corrupted too, but he sincerely doubted that an advanced race of super-beings would want anything to do with a developmentally disabled cripple.
That, and for some odd reason, they seemed to be actively afraid of him.
He explained this as enthusiastically as he could to Rangers Pentecost and Lambert without sounding too eager, in the hopes that the younger men would possess the empathy that most PPDC soldiers lacked. Unfortunately, his pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Jake scratched the back of his neck nervously. “I dunno, Gottlieb. I want to help you, I really do, but Drifting? And with a member of the Kaiju Hivemind? Seems like a big risk.”
Hermann resisted stamping his cane in frustration. “Newton is not a member of the Hivemind. He is still a person, and he is in there; I am sure of it! All I ask is for you to give me a chance.”
“You’ve been given unlimited access to his cell, as well as information that’s way above your security clearance,” said Nate curtly. “I don’t know what else we can realistically give you.”
“Newton is not just a prisoner in the physical sense of the word. He is trapped in his own mind, held captive by the Precursors and unable to control his actions. What we need is a way to get through to him, and Drifting is the best possible solution.”
Nate crossed his arms. “And how do we know Geiszler is even in there? I’ve visited him more than a few times, and the only thing I got were some surprisingly creative threats against my life.”
“I saw him,” Hermann insisted. “When we were in the Shao control room during the drone attack. He was there-- just for a minute! But he was there. He looked…” Hermann trailed off, the memory stirring painfully in his gut. “He looked more frightened than I’ve ever seen him. He said they were in his head. That he was… sorry.”
“‘Sorry’ doesn’t excuse what he did, mate,” said Jake. Hermann shot him a withering glare.
“I have told you, Newton is not in control of his actions! His body is being used like a puppet, while his real self remains paralyzed. He can be saved, but we must do it before it’s too late.”
Jake looked carefully at Nate, raising his eyebrows. Hermann could tell he was on his side, and hoped against hope that Jake would make his partner see reason. He understood what it meant to lose someone you cared about, and be given a chance to get them back.
Nate shook his head, and Jake sighed. “I’m sorry, Doctor,” said Nate solemnly, “but we can’t authorize one of our best minds to Drift with a volatile mind like that. You’re too important to the PPDC to lose.”
“So is Newton!” Hermann nearly shouted, hand gripping his cane like a lifeline. “He is the most valuable source of information we have on the Kaiju. If nothing else, at least save him for that!”
Jake looked away, refusing to meet Hermann’s eyes. “We’ll find another way,” he said. “But until we see some sort of concrete sign that Newt is in there, we just can’t try something like that.”
Hermann felt a hot, seething fire burn low in his stomach. He shifted his white-knuckled hands on the grip of his cane and dug his nails into the palm of his free hand. He should have known. Yet another person telling him he couldn’t, he shouldn’t do something, just because they didn’t believe in him enough.
With a sick feeling, Hermann began to see how Newt had fallen prey to the Precursors so easily. When no one thought anything of you, it was hard to even believe in yourself.
He spat out a caustic, “Fine,” and spun around on his heel, storming away as fast as he could with his limp. In his mind, memories from Newt’s first Drift with the Kaiju, mixed with his own desperation, were rapidly forming into a plan.
Hermann would get them their proof. But it would be on his terms.
Pale, silty moonlight streamed through the Shatterdome windows as Hermann crept softly through the halls. It was bright outside, lit by a full moon reflecting crisply onto the roiling Pacific Ocean as the loud waves muffled his steps. He kept to the dark edges of the corridors, appearing only in the pools of moonlight that littered the floor. The guards would pay someone of his rank no mind, he was sure, but Hermann didn’t want to take any chances.
The storage area was halfway across the landing pad, in a large metal warehouse with chains around the doors. Hermann stumbled across the concrete as fast as he could, swearing under his breath at the sound of his cane against the rock. A few guards and pilots were out on patrol, but they barely gave Hermann a passing glance. Siding with Newt had turned him into a bit of a pariah, but Hermann was glad for the distance now.
He swiped his keycard at the gate, slipping through the chain-link fence and walking purposefully towards the warehouse door. Another swipe of his card and the door opened, stale air rushing at him from inside.
The place was massive, with machines and metal parts of every kind cluttered together on shelves reaching all the way up to the roof. Everything from a rusty-looking toaster to a discarded drone shoulder was there, piled together in the very definition of organized chaos. There was a small, clear path down the middle, but Hermann held his breath, afraid that even the slightest noise would send everything crashing down around him.
Tentatively, he began to walk down the center aisle, scanning the room for what he needed. Hermann passed a rack of glowing fusion cores, several bins of extension cords, and a large shelf of swollen reference manuals, but not a single squid cap or telltale red light of a PONS machine. He sighed. Of course they wouldn’t keep such an important tool in a storage warehouse. He would have to try again somewhere else.
Turning around to head for the door, something familiar caught Hermann’s eye. It was a metal ball, covered with spikes and attached to a cart of some sort. Several wires were piled on top, as well as a bright yellow box with a big red button.
Hermann’s heart leapt into his throat. He would have recognized that machine anywhere.
It was the old PONS that Newt had built.
Rushing over, Hermann set his cane aside and pulled the cart out from behind a row of spare tires. A few cases rattled to the ground, and he flinched.
The PONS was in surprisingly good shape for being over a decade old. It was covered in a thin layer of dust, which Hermann blew off as best he could. Their squid caps were still there, one of them speckled with dried blood and Kaiju Blue from Newt’s hair. The body was a little scratched and chipped from multiple transportations, but in all it was still intact. Hermann pressed a few keys on the keyboard, and the clock and terminal sputtered to life, flashing bright red and green respectively.
Without hesitating, Hermann grabbed his cane and patted around until he found the handle of the cart. With a few more tugs loose, it was free, and he quickly pulled it out of the warehouse and into the night.
The door to Newt’s cell slid open with a hiss, the sound harsh and grating in the grave-like silence of the sub-basement. Newt was awake, staring blankly at the ceiling, but looked down when Herman entered, pulling the cart behind him.
“Someone’s up late,” said Newt languidly. “You here for a sleepover, Hermann? I’m afraid it’s not too comfortable down here, but I’d be happy to make do for you.”
Hermann ignored him, propping his cane against the cart and pulling the keyboard from underneath the terminal. He typed a few commands and the Drift program flickered onto the screen. Two low-poly brains spun around on the main screen, strands of white code crossing between them. Hermann hit enter and pulled up the parameter log.
“What are you doing?” said Newt interestedly, craning his neck to see what Hermann was doing. “And what’s that computer you have with you?”
In lieu of an answer, Hermann typed the final few lines of code into the PONS unit and reached behind the computer to pull out a pair of squid caps.
Immediately, Newt’s expression became enraged. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he screamed, straining at the cuffs that held him. “YOU CANNOT SAVE HIM! WE WILL INFECT YOU, WE WILL POISON YOU, GET AWAY FROM US!”
Hermann jammed the squid cap down on his head, the Precursors’ anger only fueling his resolve. If they were so resistant to the idea of a Drift, then he must be doing something right. He slowly approached Newt’s chair as he were a wild animal, holding the squid cap out in front of him. Newt thrashed in his restraints, but Hermann managed to grab Newt’s head and keep it steady enough to secure the device. He stepped back and grabbed the activation button from the cart.
“YOU WILL NEVER FIND HIM!” screamed the Precursors.
“Newton,” murmured Hermann, “I’m coming.”
He pushed the button.
All at once it was like he was being sucked into a vortex, his mind pulled in all directions as a swarm of blue and memories enveloped Hermann in a cacophonous roar of sound. Hermann felt his mind leave his body, tossed about in the tumultuous sea of the Drift. He could feel the presence of the Precursors pressing up against him, but pushed it back. No, he thought, I won’t be going with you today.
Instead he reached out for Newt, searching the hurricane around them for any sign of him. Hermann felt a tug forward, and before he could blink, everything was quiet.
He was in a small, soundless space, surrounded by darkness. The only illumination, Hermann realized, came from himself. He was glowing with a soft, golden light that pulsed gently in the frightening black.
A few feet away, Hermann could make out a small shape huddled in the shadows. He felt his heart shake. “Newton?”
The shape didn’t move. “Newton?” Hermann asked again, moving closer. “Newton, is that you?”
Hermann took another step forward, but found his path stopped by a seemingly invisible barrier. “Newton,” he said, “I’m here. I’m going to help you, but I need you to get up.”
Newt curled in further on himself. “Please, just stop it. Haven’t you guys tortured me enough?”
“Newton, what are you-”
“I said, go away!” Newt shouted, scrambling to his feet and spinning around. His face was wet with tears, covered in cuts and bruises and contorted in a look of pure desperation. “I’m not going to fall for your stupid mind games again, so leave me alone!” He took a deep, wet breath. “Why do you keep doing this to me?”
Hermann pressed himself up against the barrier. “Newton, I do not know what those… things have done to you, but I am not an illusion. I’m real, and I’m here to save you- you must believe me!”
Newt’s shoulders slumped as his face crumpled into a sob. “Please,” he cried, “please just go away; I can’t do this anymore!” He shook pathetically, wrapping his arms around his chest and letting out a long, broken cry. The sounds coming from Newt were almost animalistic, wounded and soaked with pain. His face was messy with tears, tucked into his chest as he clawed at his crossed arms.
“Newton!” Hermann shouted, pounding at the barrier, “Newton, it’s me! Newton!”
Newt sucked in a shaky breath and turned away, his back to Hermann. His next words sent a stab of horror through the man on the other side of the glass.
“Why won’t you just let me die?”
Hermann felt himself being pulled out of the Drift and scrambled for a hold, but it was no use. He screamed for Newt, reaching out towards the barrier and feeling his fingers scrabble against the wall. The Drift dragged him away, forcibly shoving Hermann back into his own mind with a start.
Hermann opened his eyes, staring up at the cell’s ceiling from where he lay on the floor. Newt was twitching in the chair beside him, blood running down his lips. He let out a cracked yell, his head thrashing back and forth with the force of the Newt inside’s pain and the Precursors’ fury.
Hermann hurried to his feet and tore the squid caps from his and Newton’s heads, throwing them haphazardly onto the cart and fumbling for his cane. Leaning on it heavily, he stumbled towards the door, throwing one last look back before he left. What he saw made the last of his breath leave his body.
There were tears running down Newt’s face.
Chapter 4: Sins of the Father
Hermann has a theory. Vanessa takes a stand. Rook meets her hero.
Hermann was given the dressing down of a lifetime after Drifting with Newt, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Newt was in there, alive and lucid enough to communicate. He was trapped in a liminal space with no way of escaping, and tortured enough by the Precursors to be completely averse to any hope of rescue or comfort. Hermann wanted to jump back into the Drift and go to him, to shatter the barrier between them and give Newt some semblance of happiness.
But he had been forbidden from touching any Drift equipment without permission again, and there was no chance of Pentecost of Lambert allowing that. Hermann could rage against the machine all he wanted, but it wouldn’t bring Newt back.
So instead, he accepted his punishment and silently plotted a way to get his hands on another PONS.
Hermann threw himself back into his studies, trying to map the Precursors’ progress across Newt’s brain. From Liwen Shao’s testimony, and what little he could glean from Newt, Hermann believed that they had begun at the front of Newt’s brain in the prefrontal cortex, altering various aspects of his personality. This had been what pushed Hermann, Tendo, and the rest of his friends away, and had turned Newt from a brash, excitable biologist, to the sleazy businessman he had become.
They had most likely moved to the sensory and visual association cortices next, spying on Newt through his eyes and ears. After that, the Precursors would have moved throughout the brain before circling back to the Broca’s Area, finally taking over speech.
Hermann explained this fervently to the lab’s resident neurologist, Dr. Gloria Sekibo. She was a tall, willowy woman with wine-dark skin and a smoothly shaved head, who had become one of the few sources of laughter in the Shatterdome since the attacks. She tapped a jet black fingernail on her chin as Hermann paced back and forth in front of the blackboard, his cane thumping loudly on the steel floor.
“I can see the possession beginning in the prefrontal cortex, but what makes you think they moved to sensory processing next?” she asked, her accent bright and lilting. Hermann frowned.
“The Precursors were playing the long con,” he said insistently. “They wouldn’t assume control of his speech and movement so soon; they needed to have everything else under control so that Newton would have no means of warning anyone when he became suspicious. It’s a basic battle strategy: surround the enemy on all sides while they’re still unaware, so there’s no means of escape when they are.”
Sekibo raised an eyebrow. “You think the Kaiju were able to create a military strategy identical to one of humans?”
Hermann laughed bitterly. “War is not a soley human thing, Dr. Sekibo. Newton proved that the first time he drifted with that despicable brain.”
“Yes, but just because the Kaiju were acting under orders does not mean they have the same military capabilities as we do.”
“You’re right,” said Hermann darkly. “They have more.”
Hermann looked up from his desk, his glasses slipping down his nose. He removed them and scowled at the guard in the doorway. “Yes?” he barked, “What it it?”
The guard looked surprised at Hermann’s open show of hostility, but schooled his features into a passive frown.
“You have a visitor on the landing deck, sir.”
Hermann shook his head and turned back to his work. “There must be a mistake. I’m not expecting an visitors today.”
“She is requesting you personally, Doctor. She claims was sent by her mother to see you.”
With a heavy sigh, Hermann put down his stylus. “Fine,” he said, “lead the way, I suppose.”
The landing pad was windy and cool as Hermann and the soldier stepped out into the bright sunshine. J-tech and maintenance crews ran across the open space, carrying an assortment of clipboards, spare parts, and tanks of oil. Over by Lady Avenger, Liwen could be spotted in deep conversation with Jules Reyes, her hair pulled back in a severe updo. Jules was splattered with grease and gesturing at Lady’s foot with a wave of her hand.
Hermann’s eyes fell on a small figure standing in the middle of the chaos. It was a young girl, looking around nervously as she clutched a blue backpack to her chest. Her hair was a wild mess of tight curls pulled back into a loose ponytail, with several strands bursting out to frame her face in a fuzzy halo. She wore an oversized sweater over a collared shirt that swamped her slight frame, and nearly every inch of her dusty brown skin was covered in freckles. Large, wire-rimmed glasses made her eyes look almost too large for her face.
She was almost birdlike in the way she balanced on her tiptoes, as if ready to take flight at any moment. Her eyes darted back and forth before landing on Hermann, and she frowned.
Hermann strode forward, meeting her halfway. The girl stared up at him quizzically.
“I thought you’d be taller,” she said. Her voice was high and sharp, with a soft British accent that made everything she said sound crisp and deliberate.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Hermann, becoming more confused by the second. “I was told a woman was asking to see me? I would very much like to know how a child such as yourself was able to get onto a military base.”
The girl shrugged. “I told ‘em my last name.”
“And what would that be?”
Hermann felt his mouth fall open. He stared down at her, eyes wide as frying pans. “I- excuse me?”
She rolled her eyes, glaring at him. “Hullo, Dad. Nice to see you too.”
Hermann looked closer at her face. Her skin was much darker, but their noses were the same, and her eyes held the same deep brown as his. She held herself the same way that he did, like she was waiting for the world to try and push her to her knees.
He felt his breath catch in his throat.
She snorted. “It’s Rook, actually. Not that you would have known.”
“Is that a nickname?”
Rook nodded. “Yeah. Long story. You wouldn’t care, I guess.”
Hermann pressed his lips together tightly. “How on Earth did you arrive here?”
“Mum sent me. I think you’re supposed to call her or something, if you still have her number.”
She shrugged again, shifting from one foot to the other. She hadn’t met Hermann’s eyes the entire conversation. “Can we go inside now? It didn’t expect it to be so cold here.”
“I-” Hermann sighed. “I suppose I’d prefer a shouting match in the privacy of my own lab, than out here. Come along.”
With that, he turned and walked towards the Shatterdome, hearing the soft footsteps of Rook following close behind. She let out a long, low whistle.
“Wow. This place is enthralling, huh?”
Hermann gave her an odd look. “I… suppose? Where did you learn that word?”
Rook shoved her hands in her pockets. “The dictionary. If you don’t know it, I can use a different one.”
“No,” said Hermann, shaking his head. “I’m only surprised that you do. How old are you? Ten?”
“I’m eleven,” said Rook coldly, looking away. “Almost twelve.”
Hermann could feel the uncomfortable tension in the air, and cleared his throat. “I see. Well. You’re quite verbose for someone your age.”
Rook pushed past him through the doors and into the the cool blue light of the Shatterdome. She looked around, obviously impressed with the interiors of the large hangar bays that could be seen all around. Large, steel beams criss crossed each other on the ceiling, holding up a massive silver dome. Cranes and forklifts puttered around the area, carrying metal parts and crew. Members of J-tech rappelled down from the higher levels, landing on various sections of their respective jaegers and sending up sparks from their welders. The jaegers themselves towered above them, and while Hermann was an ant compared to their size, Rook looked downright minute. Vibrant light played across her shark cheekbones; another feature she had inherited from him.
From the right, a group of cadets bounded across the floor of the hangers towards them. Amara skidded to a halt when she noticed them, and waved.
“Hey Dr. G! Who’s your friend?”
Rook saw Amara and froze. He eyes grew wide, and she seemed to puff herself up to look bigger (with mixed success). She opened her mouth, but the only thing that came out was a crackled warble.
Hermann took pity on her and gave Amara a smile. “This is my… daughter, Eleanor. She’s visiting for today.”
Amara raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t know you had a kid.”
Jinhai nodded behind her. “Yeah, who’s the mom? Or dad,” he amended. Vik elbowed him sharply.
“Don’t be invasive, ‘Dim-hai’. Dr. Gottlieb doesn’t need to tell us anything.” She smiled at Rook. “It’s nice to meet you, Eleanor.”
Rook continued to stare adoringly at Amara, before realizing she was being spoken to. Taking on a casual air that was painfully familiar, she shifted her weight and cocked her head.
“Call me Rook. No one calls me Eleanor these days.”
She glanced pointedly at Hermann, who colored slightly. “Yes, well. The cadets here know my opinion on nicknames.”
Ignoring Hermann’s words completely, Rook turned to Amara, looking at her like the sun shone out of her eyes. “You’re Amara Namani, right? You’re amazing- it was so cool how you flew that jaeger down to crash into the Kaiju, and then jumped out at the last second! And you built your own jaeger that outmaneuvered Guardian Bravo! When I grow up,” she gushed, “I wanna be just like you.”
Amara blushed. “I, uh… thanks! Y’know, your dad built jaegers too, right?”
Rook rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but he had help. You built Scrapper all on your own!”
“Don’t give her a bigger head than she’s already got,” said Jinhai good-naturedly. Amara shoved him lightly.
“Vik’s got that covered,” she said, sharing a look with the other girl. It went on for several seconds longer than necessary, and Hermann cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Well, Eleanor and I had best be getting to the lab. Lots of- er science. To do.”
The cadets looked at him blankly. Rook rolled her eyes again.
“Geezy-pete,” she muttered under her breath. “See you guys later?”
Amara gave her a bright grin that seemed to draw all of Rook’s blood directly to her face. “Sure thing, kiddo. Have fun with your dad!”
Hermann gave the group a wane smile and continued his path to the lab, Rook trailing after him with a dopey look on her face. “Wow,” she said admiringly, “Amara is so cool. Can I bunk with her while I’m here? Could you do that? There’s probably an extra bunk, right?”
Hermann scoffed. “You will not be staying here at all. I am going to call your mother and get everything sorted out; a military base is no place for a child.”
“Yeah, sure,” Rook snorted, lab coming into view through the glass windows. “Good luck with that.”
Hermann pushed open the doors, his pace having quickened to a storm at that point. His cane slammed down on the floor as he pivoted around his desk and furiously swiped up at the hologram, pressing the call button at the bottom of his spartan contacts list. The screen went blue, and a small phone icon buzzed on the screen. After about a minute, a woman’s face appeared.
In public, Vanessa Valentine was the picture of elegance. Her Filipino and African features blended together in a mix of creamy brown skin and soft, wavy curls; she had a wide nose and large, hooded eyes that sparkled a bright hazel. Her face was always open and friendly, with a warm smile framed by deep dimples. She looked like the kind of person you would feel happy to come home to.
Within the walls of her apartment, however, her face told a different story. On the hologram, Vanessa’s hair was pulled back into a messy bun, the layers falling ungracefully into her eyes, which were lined and baggy. She looked tired in every sense of the word. Brushing a wisp of hair away, she sighed.
“Hello Hermann. I thought you might call.”
“Vanessa,” he said, “I don’t want this to be a fight-”
“I get the distinct feeling it will be anyway,” she said wearily. “You’ve got something to say, dear. Say it.”
Hermann paused, then drew himself up to his full height. “I don’t know what on Earth you were thinking, sending Eleanor here! I have neither the time, nor the resources to take care of a child, especially not after the attack on Tokyo! Why in God’s name would you send her to me?”
“The world isn’t safe anymore, Hermann,” Vanessa said. “You know that better than I. Rook will be better with you- much better than if I were to care for her.” She massaged her forehead with her fingertips. “I mean, we live on a bloody island, Hermann! At least with you she has a way inland and a whole base of soldiers to protect her.”
“I have work to do, work that does not leave room for the care of a young girl. You are a far better parent than I, Vanessa, that I will concede.”
Vanessa gave him a pleading look. “A girl should know her father if she has the chance. You left too early to know, but Rook is an extremely gifted child. She was solving quadratic equations at nine, Hermann. Nine! She needs someone who will understand what she’s going through, and keep her safe. I can’t be either right now.”
Hermann furrowed his brow. “When we signed the divorce papers, I gave full custody of Eleanor over to you. She is your responsibility- if you feel she is unsafe, you must solve that problem on your own.”
“Do you know how utterly callous you sound right now?” Vanessa laughed. “Dear God, Hermann, have these last ten years been so unkind to you that you don’t even want to know your own daughter?”
“She is your charge,” he hissed, “not mine. I want the best for her as well, and I cannot give her the proper attention and care that she needs. You are making a tremendous mistake, Vanessa!”
“We made a mistake ten years ago! You and I know exactly what happened, and who chose to try and stay in denial. For a year or two, you were a good father. You loved her! Why can’t you be that now?”
“Because I was never that, Vanessa! I have made terrible mistakes, mistakes that almost cost people their lives! How can you ask me to take up the care of a child?”
“I’m not debating this. I’m doing what’s best for Rook, not me or you. She needs protection, Hermann, and it is your duty as a goddamn father to give it to her. I’ll send for her when things are safer. That should be an excellent motivator for you.” Vanessa’s eyes were blazing as she spat at him, “Goodbye.”
The call abruptly ended, and Hermann let out a long sigh as he put his head in his hands. What had he gotten himself into? How was he going to protect a child when he couldn’t even protect himself? And why had Vanessa thought he could ever be some semblance of a good father to Rook?
From behind him, Hermann heard a soft beeping sound, and a series of vintage “bloops”. He lifted his head and turned to see Rook seated at a terminal, playing a crude form of an old American phone game on his holoscreen. Rook looked up at him guiltily.
“In my defense,” she said, “I was bored.”
Hermann’s head slumped back down onto the table. Again, he pondered: what had he gotten himself into?
Chapter 5: Speaking Underwater
Rook builds a contraption. Hermann reaches out. Newt makes a friend.
thanks for the patience, guys! this next chapter might take a little longer to come out due to the thickening of the plot, but you won't have to wait that long.
“Hey Hermann, where do we keep the tape?”
Hermann fought the urge to slam his head down on his desk. This was the fifth time today that Rook had shouted across the room to get his attention, and it was starting to wear on his nerves. Not only did she refuse to respect his rule of quiet in the lab space, but she insisted on referring to him by his first name. He didn’t expect her to call him “Dad” again, but even “Dr. Gottlieb” would do at this point.
The girl was almost twelve. Pre-teen rebellion was to be expected, especially due to the tempestuous nature of their relationship. Rook was extremely open about her dislike of her father, to the point where she often refused to even acknowledge his position. She walked a good five feet behind Hermann at all times, ignored practically everything he said, and continued to try his luck, sanity, and patience.
The lowest blow had been when he gave her a photograph her first night in the Shatterdome. It was of him and Vanessa in the hospital, holding her tiny body in their arms. The next morning, Hermann had found it in pieces on his desk. It wasn’t his only copy, but the rejection stung more than the hassle of printing another one ever would.
“Hermann!” Rook shouted again, her voice echoing in the too-large space. “Where do we keep the bloody tape?”
Hermann composed himself and pointed at the shelf of books above him. “There’s a roll somewhere on top, I believe. I haven’t had a chance to organize things in a while.”
In reality, he suspected that some of Newt’s erratic tendencies had rubbed off on him, but he wasn’t ready to admit that quite yet. Hermann ducked his head as Rook bounded over and stretched up on her tiptoes to fumble around for the tape. She took a few precarious steps forward before letting out a victorious, “Ha!”, snatched it from atop a stack of books, and flew back over to the other side of the room.
In a feeble attempt at conversation, Hermann asked, “What are you working on there?”
Rook turned her back to him. “Nothing,” she mumbled, all energy focused on the elaborate device (at least that’s what Hermann assumed it was) in front of her. It looked like a strange amalgamation of wooden dowels, string, wires, and a few bits of metal attached.
She pulled the laptop Hermann had given her closer, typing furiously and stopping only to blow a piece of hair out of her eyes. Then, with a few more keystrokes, the strange little device on her desk began to move.
It jerked wildly, but Rook moved her finger along the laptop screen, and the movements became move fluid and human. It was a kind of puppet, controlled by the computer and dancing gracefully on it’s wooden block. Rook clapped her hands and grinned.
“It worked! I did it!” she shouted, flapping her hands up and down happily. Hermann smiled at her, proudly. They truly did have much more in common than he thought.
“Excellent job,” he said, giving her a nod. Rook’s laughter came to an abrupt halt as she froze, then frowned.
“Whatever,” she grumbled, turning the puppet off. “It’s nothing special, anyway.”
“Eleanor-” Hermann began, but Rook cut him off.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Hermann,” she said curtly.
Hermann sighed defeatedly, turning back to his work. Trying to connect with Rook in her anger was almost impossible. He didn’t know why he still bothered.
Well. He did. If one impossible thing could be done, then perhaps another…
But that was thinking in places Hermann didn’t want to go. Newt was becoming more and more unreachable by the day, and Hermann feared what would happen once he outlived his usefulness. He needed a way to break the Precursors’ connection, but everything he tried seemed to only create more pain for Newt. Hurting his friend was unthinkable. He would have to find another way, but Hermann was rapidly running out of options.
He heard Rook push her chair away and stand, walking towards the door. “I’m going out,” she said, not bothering to look back.
“Where?” Hermann asked, frowning.
“A place. Geez, get off my back.”
“Rook, I understand that you don’t wish to associate with me, but you are my charge, and as such I need to know-”
“I’m just gonna walk around the Shatterdome! Why do you need to know literally every place I go! It’s not like I’m gonna bother anyone or something!”
Hermann massaged his temples with his fingertips. The child truly was impossible. “Fine. But under no circumstances are you to interrupt work, or go anywhere near the West E corridor.”
Rook tilted her head curiously. “What’s in there?”
“Nothing of importance to you. Understand?”
With a roll of her eyes, Rook replied, “Yeah, whatever,” and slipped out the door, slamming it behind her. Hermann put his head in his hands. Children were a mystery he had yet to fit an equation to, and possessed no hope of ever doing so.
Rook had no intention of going anywhere in particular, but the moment Hermann forbade her from going to the West E corridor, her feet took her there almost subconsciously. It was a long, dark hallway, lined by large metal doors with thick handles. The dim lights flickered, giving the place a menacing air. It was clear that no wanted things were sent down here. Rook took a few tentative steps, more than a little nervous of what she might find.
Everything was quiet as she crept down the hall, eyes peeled for any guards or pilots that might come down that way. Then, there was a sudden burst of noise.
Rook froze, pressing herself up against the wall. Her heart beat wildly in her throat, pulsing a drumline ratatat that shook her chest like a falling leaf.
Then, she paused. It didn’t sound like the noise was coming from outside.
Listening hard, Rook took a few more steps as the sound got louder. She pressed her ear to the closest door, and strained to hear what was happening within.
It sounded like something was thumping against the floor.. There were a series of pounding noises, then the clank of metal, and what sounded like two large objects being banged together.
Interesting, thought Rook, and looked down at the tiny glowing rectangle beside the door.
The keypad was a small screen with a touchpad and scanner for cards. The screen looked like a telephone, with a series of numbers on the keys, and a few letters below each one. Rook frowned.
“Heck,” she muttered, fingers hovering over the screen. She didn’t have a card, and had no idea what the password could be.
Rook hummed, thinking hard. She didn’t know people in the easy way her mother did, but if there was one thing the years had trained her in, it was the powers of observation. Jake Pentecost would be the most likely creator of this particular code. He would have picked something easy to remember, sentimental, and at least four digits. Most everyone else would have keycard access, so it would be something few people could clearly guess.
Rook grinned and typed in “6256”. Bingo.
The door slid open heavily, and Rook slipped in. It was dark, with only a single grimy bulb shining down in the middle of the room, creating a puddle of watery light. There was a chair there, and a figure was slumped in it. He was short and bloody, dressed in a set of scrubs that were torn in various places. His arms, legs, and neck were bound by thick metal restraints, and he looked as if he hadn’t seen the sun for a while.
Rook was suddenly afraid, and took a step back towards the door, when the figure raised his head.
“Wait,” he said, his voice hoarse and ragged.
Rook peered closer. “Who… who are you?”
The man laughed. “Oh man. If I had a nickel for every time I got asked that these days, I’d be rich.” He looked at her strangely. “You can call me Geiszler.”
“Okay,” said Rook, still cautious about this strange man. “What are you doing all locked up? Did you do something wrong?”
Geiszler leaned forward as much as he could. “You could say that. What’s a little kid like yourself doing in the Shatterdome?”
“Ugh, I have to hang around my dad all the time,” Rook groaned, forgetting her fears for a moment.
“Hermann. You probably don’t know him, since you’re a bad guy.”
Geiszler’s eyes widened, and a strange clarity seemed to flicker in them. “Holy shit,” he said, “Hermann has a kid?” He flinched. “Whoops. Uh, don’t repeat what I just said there.”
Then, his eyes went glassy again, and that sickening smile was back. “So you’re good ‘ole Hermy’s baby girl. How sweet. You a genius like your pops?”
Rook cringed at the patronizing language. Now she was eager to prove herself, even if it was to a man like Geiszler.“Yeah, I guess. I mean, my mom says I’m smart, but I dunno.” She snorted. “And Hermann’s not a genius. He’s dumb. He had help.”
The sharp look was back. “Hey, kiddo, I get you’re probably mad at him, but Hermann’s the best, okay? He’s crazy smart- so smart, in fact, that he programed the first jaegers! Yeah, those guys! Asking for help didn’t make him any less of a genius. He just combined his smarts with other people. So don’t diss the guy, alright, he tries his best and he’s probably the smartest person in this whole building.”
Rook shrugged. “If he’s so smart, then why did he forget he had a kid?”
Geiszler raised his eyebrows. “Okay. That seems a little out of character. What’s the story there?”
“I dunno,” said Rook bitterly, scuffing her toe on the ground, “it just is. He left when I was little- I barely even remembered him before Mom dumped me off here. No one’s ever even told me why he and Mom got divorced. I guess it just… happened.”
“That doesn’t sound like Hermann at all. I mean, I didn’t even know he had a wife until we drifted.”
Rook paused. “Wait. You Drifted with Hermann? So that means-” She gasped. “Oh my gosh. You’re Newt Geiszler! You Drifted with those Kaiju brains! You’re a hero! What are you doing here?”
Newt shook his head like he was annoyed. When he looked up, he was smiling. “Oh, you know. Tried to destroy the world. Didn’t exactly work, but ‘if at first you don’t succeed’, I guess.”
“You tried to what? But you’re- you saved the world!”
“Yeah, I guess I did. And what did it ever do for me, huh? Left me with nothing but a name and a couple of useless medals? No wonder he hated you all.” Geiszler blinked, as if confused. “I hate you all. I do.”
Rook narrowed her eyes. “What the heck is wrong with you? You’re crazy!”
Geiszler laughed. “Nah, kiddo. I’m just fun.”
Without warning, the door flew open with a whoosh, revealing Hermann in a burst of low light. He marched in furiously, grabbing Rook by the arm and dragging her after him without a word as he ignored her shouts of protest. “Bye, kiddo!” Newt called languidly, “Say hi to Hermy for me!”
Hermann swiped his keycard and the door slid shut. He turned to Rook, eyes blazing.
“What on Earth have you done?” he shouted. “I told you specifically not to go into the West E corridor, and what did you do? Completely disobeyed me! You have no idea how dangerous Newton can be right now!”
“And you do?” she shot back. “He’s just your old lab partner- its not like you know him that well! Why do you care so much about one dumb guy…” She froze, stomach dropping into her feet. “Oh my gosh. This is why you left Mom, isn’t it?”
Hermann looked like all the blood had been drained from his face. “Eleanor, listen-”
“You left Mom for him? A criminal? He tried to destroy the world, Hermann! I bet he was the guy that planned that Kaiju attack, wasn’t he? He’s got the darn things all over his bloody arms!”
Hermann was silent, staring at the floor. Now it was as if he was being chided. “Eleanor,” he said quietly, “you didn’t know Newton before the Precursors invaded him.”
“The Precursors. They’re the Kaiju overlords who took over Newton’s mind when he first drifted with the brain. They’re controlling his body- he’s trapped there with no way to fight. The man you spoke to just now… that was not Newton.”
Rook thought on this for a moment, and looked away. She wondered if she should tell Hermann of the times when Newt had seemed different, almost human. But then a bitterness rose up inside her. She would see how Hermann liked being lied to.
“Yeah,” Rook said, “he did seem kinda crazy and homicidal.”
Hermann seemed to deflate. “That has been his way for the past few weeks. I think I had hoped, perhaps, another person would spark a change in him, but… I suppose not.”
He began to walk away, then stopped. “Eleanor,” he said crossly, “if you ever go near this hallway again, I will force you to accompany my everywhere. And I think we can both agree that neither of us would prefer that.”
Rook began to protest, but was interrupted by the beeping of Hermann’s comms. He held out a finger, then fished it out of his coat pocket.
“Hello? Yes, what is it?” he asked sharply. The voice that replied was an unfamiliar one.
“Dr. Gottlieb? Please come down to your lab right away. We’ve brought a new specimen for you.”
Hermann frowned. “I thought we were unable to get the rights to the Mega-Kaiju’s corpse?”
“We couldn’t, sir. But we have brought something else.”
“Well? Let’s not play the pronoun game.”
“Its… its a bit hard to describe, sir.”
Hermann huffed annoyedly. After everything, a visceral dissection was just what he needed to take his mind off of things.
“Well? Do we have a code name, then?”
“That’s the thing, sir. We didn’t need one.” He stopped, leaving the air crackling with messy radio static. Then, the soldier spoke three solitary words.
“We found Alice.”
Chapter 6: The Sword in the Monster
Hermann has a theory. Sekibo shares her knowledge. Newt listens to some tunes.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The lab technicians rolled the massive tank into Hermann’s main workspace. Rook stood beside him and gawked.
“Holy cow,” she said, voice tinged with a mix of awe and disgust, “that thing is huge!”
Indeed it was. “Alice” was a massive, swollen brain floating lazily in its tank, its cortices undulating and sucking up against the glass. The tank itself was a crude yet competent amalgamation of mechanical parts and filters, obviously cobbled together by someone well out of their mind. Scrawled across the tank in what looked to be red lipstick was the word “Alice”, and (Hermann cringed at this) little hearts drawn in filthy wax.
Rook summed his feelings up quite nicely when she gagged and said, “That is bloody horrific.”
Hermann had to agree. The idea that Newt had Drifted with this repulsive thing, had shared his very mind with such an abomination of nature… it truly was horrific. There was not a single human thing about Alice other than its name, a cruel joke in the finest sense. Down the RABIT hole. Alice in Wonderland. Newton in hell.
What he couldn’t comprehend was how Newt had drifted with it and still kept the brain in working condition. Hermann understood the idea of unexpected survival down to its very core- he was never expected to survive past infancy, what with his leg. Nor had anyone believed in the power of his disaffected brain, even when he was solving equations that stumped most mathematicians. Hermann Gottlieb was a miracle of human machinery. He was an apparatus that ran on expectations and desire, and a deep thirst for any kind of knowledge the world could give him.
Hermann nodded grimly. “Even so,” he said, “this might be the key to rescuing Newton. In fact, I’m quite sure of it.”
Rook looked up at him, incredulous. “But- but this thing’s evil! It’s a monster in the absolute purest sense of the word!”
“Perhaps,” said Hermann, “but monsters are tricky creatures, Eleanor. They are our darkest nightmares, and thus, we can learn from them. Newton created it while under the control of the Precursors. If we study this… creature, we can try to understand their plan.”
“An excellent point, Dr. Gottlieb,” Sekibo said with a smile. Her nails were a bright coral today, and tapped quickly on the glowing screen of the tablet in her hand. She nodded at Hermann. “I’ll be able to conduct some scams of Alice as soon as we get this tank powered on.”
“Which is where I come in,” came a voice from atop the stairs.
Dr. Kai Ngata was short and stocky, with long, honey-blonde hair and large dark eyes. They wore a checkered shirt and crisp, sensible pants with a pair of neatly groomed Chuck Taylors. They, too, carried a tablet, which was where the voice had come from.
“Good afternoon,” said the tablet. “Shall we get to it? I would like to finish this business as quickly as possible.”
“Of course, Dr. Ngata, said Sekibo, and took the tablet from their hands. Ngata walked down to the tank and connected a wired power chord to a plug on the side of the tank. They took their tablet back and tapped a few keys, after which a blue glow began to emit from within the tank.
Ngata placed their tablet down on Hermann’s desk. Power should be on now, they signed.
“Excellent,” said Sekibo, and reached over one of the desks to pull up a holoscreen. On it was a slowly forming scan of Alice’s brain, with several areas lit up in red and orange. There were monitor lines moving up and down, showing Alice’s activity. One scan in particular stood out.
“Wait a moment,” said Hermann slowly, “I’ve seen that one before.” He pointed to the scan in the upper left corner. Then, to Sekibo, he said, “Do you still have that scan of the brain that Newton kept in his old lab?”
“The one he first Drifted with? Yeah, I can pull it up,” she said. Sekibo tapped a few times on her tablet, and the scan appeared. Hermann gasped.
They were a perfect match.
“That’s the same neural pattern,” he said. “Newton didn’t find a new brain. He used the old one.”
Wasn’t it destroyed? asked Ngata. Hermann shook his head.
“It was. Newton must have continued those experiments into the regenerative properties of Kaiju tissue.”
“That’s where the bugs came from, right?” asked Sekibo.
“The binding mites,” clarified Hermann. “He used them in the battle of Tokyo to create the Mega-Kaiju. A smaller version could have been used to repair the brain.”
Rook raised her eyebrows. “So you guys are telling me that this guy could have, I dunno, cured cancer? And instead he decided to make Borg central and a giant lizard?”
The three adults looked at her, confused. Rook sighed. “I like Star Trek. It’s a good show!”
“What I don’t understand,” continued Sekibo, “is how Alice was connected to the Kaiju after the Breach was closed.”
“I believe I have an answer to that,” said Hermann. “The Kaiju are a Hivemind. They share everything: thoughts and feelings and ideas, all in a large neural cluster. When Newton drifted with Alice the first time, he became connected- he became a part of the Hivemind. When the Breach was sealed, his connection was still there. Thus, he was able to pass it on to the regenerated parts of Alice, and create a feedback look for the Precursors to latch on to.”
But shouldn’t that mean that you are part of the Hivemind, too? signed Ngata.
The room went very quiet, and Hermann felt all eyes on him. Then, Rook piped up.
“Wait! Wait! I know how this works! It’s just like in Star Trek!”
Hermann blinked. “What?”
“Okay,” said Rook excitedly, “so in Voyager, there’s this episode where Seven of Nine’s cortical node starts malfunctioning and connecting her to the Borg collective again. Her personality is taken over by all these other people who were assimilated, and she starts to lose her sense of self. But then, Tuvok does a Vulcan mind meld with her, and by sharing the force of it, he’s able to unlock Seven’s true self again!”
The three scientists stared.
“I… uh…” said Sekibo, more than a little confused. “I didn’t understand any of that.”
“No,” said Hermann, “no, I believe Eleanor might be correct. When Newton and I Drifted with Kodachi’s brain, I felt the Hivemind pulling at me. But we shared the neural load- that’s what allowed us to complete the Drift safely. By dividing the force of the Hivemind in half, my brain escaped the Drift unscathed.”
“Fascinating,” said Sekibo, tapping at her tablet. “If we extrapolate off of that idea, then there’s the possibility of a severe difference between Kaiju and human brain chemistry- or at least one that allows for increased resistance to the Hivemind when paired together.”
She began to walk around Alice’s tank, talking animatedly. “The Kaiju brain is genetically predisposed to Hivemind influence- they’re large in mass but not very intelligent. The ones doing the real directing are the Precursors, which I imagine have larger consciousness. Their brains would also have a larger frontal lobe, which most Kaiju brains lack. Instead, space is taken up by a different lobe that I believe could serve as a sort of Hivemind ‘cell tower’, honing in on the connection and focusing it throughout the Kaiju’s body.”
She paused for breath. “Basically,” she said, “we might be on the verge of a massive breakthrough concerning how the human brain was built.”
Neat, signed Ngata, but I didn’t understand any of that.
Sekibo laughed. “That’s alright, Doctor. I imagine the only one who could is-” she paused. “Well. Nevermind. What’s important is that we’re several steps closer to saving Dr. Geiszler.”
“Yes,” said Hermann with conviction. On the outside, he kept his expression neutral, but internally he felt his heart begin to bud.
We might, he thought, we might.
“You’ll never believe what we discovered today, Newton,” Hermann said lightly. The creature in the chair across from him wearing Newt’s face grinned.
“Oh really? What did you learn, Hermy? Was it basic dimensional travel? Something tells me you guys are gonna need that soon.”
“No, in fact.” Hermann rested his hands in his lap calmly, staring back across the ocean between them. “We found Alice.”
Newt froze, his face going slack. For a moment, Hermann leaned in closer, looking for a sign of the real man underneath.
Then, Newt began to laugh.
He cackled long and hard, tears streaming down his reddening face. Throughout the entire period of manic laughter, Hermann remained placid, his face not moving from a benign smile. After at least a minute, Newt wheezed out a thin breath.
“You honestly think,” he said condescendingly, “that you poking and prodding around in that useless brain is going to change anything? You think it’ll free him?” He laughed again. “No. No, you are weak and you are fools and your crusade is a hopeless effort. You will never take him from us.”
Inside, Hermann’s anger was a roiling sea, with wave after wave of fury at this horrible creature crashing on a rocky shore. On the outside, he remained calm.
He smiled, and crossed his legs. “Perhaps,” he said, no small amount of satisfaction in his voice, “but a very wise man once told me, fortune favors the brave.”
Newt’s eyes grew wide. For a moment, the tiniest of genuine smiles flitted across his face.
“It…” he said softly, the words obviously taking effort. “It does.”
Hermann’s face lit up. “Newton!” he cried, shifting forward, “Newton, is that you?”
Newt managed another smile before his eyes turned glassy again, and the Precursors were back. They lunged forward and snapped at Hermann, who grabbed at his cane and stumbled back. Newt laughed.
Hermann’s smile didn’t fade. “You’re fighting a losing battle,” he said triumphantly. “Newton will never let you win. Not when he knows there’s hope to be had.”
Newt snarled and shook his head. “Fools. Fools, all of you.”
Hermann didn’t reply. Instead he fished around in his coat pocket, and set a small device on the seat of his chair. “I brought you something,” he said, “your old music player. I thought you’d like to listen to some music that wasn’t… what was on the one we found?” He laughed. “Ah, yes. Classical. You always hated that.”
“CLASSICAL MUSIC IS THE ONLY CULTURED THING ABOUT YOUR PATHETIC RACE,” Newt screamed. “HOW DARE YOU DISMISS IT!”
Hermann only smiled. “I listened to everything on here, and I must say, some of your tastes have grown on me. But I remember there was one song you played when you were feeling upset.”
He pressed the play button, and the bright sounds of furious guitar and drums came bounding out of the speaker. A worn-sounding man began to sing:
Dalia never showed me nothing but kindness
She would say: “I know how sad you get."
And some days, I still get that way
But it gets better
It gets better
It gets better
Sweetie, it gets better, I promise you
Newt’s harsh gaze seemed to soften. He sat back in his chair, eyes fluttering closed as he listened to the music. It seemed to flow through him, the words wrapping themselves around his mind and sinking in like raindrops.
The man in the song sang about his friends’ illnesses, and how they coped. He sang about life and death, and why the second one was never the answer. Newt had always blasted the song in the lab or his room whenever he was having a bad day. Sometimes, during those few days of depression every couple of months, he would crawl into bed and stay there, no noise in his room except the song on repeat. He had once told Hermann that those words had saved his life. Hermann hoped they could save it again.
They sat there for the entirety of the song, the music like a buffer against the world outside Newt’s cell. When it ended, Newt just sat there, and didn’t open his eyes for a long time.
song mentioned: your heart is a muscle the size of your fist by ramshackle glory
Chapter 7: All of Your Flaws
Rook gets caught. Sekibo has a plan. Hermann dreams.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Close your eyes.
Wait, no. Don’t close them. Keep them open. You’ll want to see this.
Imagine your body, with all its ligaments and blood and bones, spread out in its entirety, and standing on your own two feet. Take a step forward.
Simple, yes? You find it easy. You are in control.
Now, picture your brain at the top, nestled snugly inside your head. Imagine it controlling everything you do, from your breath to your blinking. Imagine how easy it is to choose to do something, then act upon that desire. Imagine all the synapses and chemicals it takes to turn desire into action.
Imagine all of that taken away.
It starts slowly, with little things, like it taking more effort than normal to raise your hand. You have to focus and really tell your body what to do. Your responses are sluggish, and imprecise. Something feels wrong.
Then, things move faster. You begin to feel strange, like simple commands don’t work anymore. You tell your mouth to open, but it does not. You tell your eyes to move, but they do not. Your mind feels like it’s floating outside your body, yelling out thoughts and commands to an uncaring nothingness. Your vision starts to blur.
A feeling of terror jolts through you, indescribable fear and panic at the alien feeling of having your most basic choice stripped away from you. Your chest goes tight and firm, and a thick, black sludge pools in your stomach. You feel like you’ll vomit, but nothing comes out. Inside, you scream.
You are always screaming, crying to be heard, but your mouth will not open. Some strange, unknown force has taken over every individual movement you used to make. Even your heartbeat is not your own anymore. You are trapped in this rebellious body, controlled by something you cannot even begin to understand. Your eyes see everything, but that is the extent of your power. You are no longer a person. You are just a voice in your head. And you are not alone.
This is what Newt Geiszler went through every day for ten years.
Hermann had never disciplined a child before, nor did he have any idea how to do so. He knew there was something called “grounding” involved, but could you really take away television from a girl who preferred the latest scientific journals? That, and how much control could he fairly exert over a child he hadn’t seen in ten years?
Hermann clutched his cane loosely, listening as the soldier in front of him droned on about the various rules and regulations that Rook had broken. She had snuck into the temporary lab setup for Shao Industries and hid behind a terminal. Beside him, Rook had the decency to look ashamed.
Hermann sighed. “If you don’t mind my cutting in,” he said, “I believe there truly was no harm done here. Eleanor is a child; I doubt she had any malicious intentions of subterfuge. Why should we punish curiosity?”
The soldier scowled. “Shao company assets are strictly off limits to the public. Your ‘child’ could be sued for this.”
“You can’t honestly be serious,” he said with a raise of his eyebrows. “What was she even doing?”
“Well. Nothing really.” The soldier almost looked embarrassed. “When we discovered her, she began asking a series of questions, mostly about Shao tech. She came quietly.”
“I just wanted to see what was going on,” Rook interjected. “I didn’t mean to make anybody mad.”
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes (at what? At all of this, really), Hermann said, “Honestly, if you all are so worried about company security, let her help. Eleanor is a bright young girl, and considering your head of research and development is currently in prison, I assume you need all the assistance you can get.”
Rook’s face lit up. “I can help! I can get coffee for you guys, and check coding, and I’m really good at explaining stuff to the rubber ducks!” She paused. “Um. I can’t speak Mandarin. But I’m a real fast learner!”
“I’ll speak with Ms. Shao later today,” he said. “Thank you for your diligence, but I believe things are well under control.”
The soldier gave Hermann something close to a glare, which Hermann refused to return on principle. He had gotten used to the Shatterdome staff’s wary glances and whispers. They had come before the end of the First War, and they would come well after this one was done.
Rook looked up at him, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly. Hermann wondered if this was the final straw that warranted a thank you.
She looked away. “I didn’t need your help, Hermann. I was gonna figure things out on my own.”
Hermann sighed as she scampered away, presumably to go explain a new line of code to a rubber duck. He had really thought…
He shook his head. It was unimportant now. The chances of Rook ever accepting him were slim to none-- Hermann didn’t need to be a mathematician to know that. Besides. He had work to do.
Seikbo was a woman on a mission when Hermann entered the lab, the glow of several holoscreens reflecting around her.
“Hermann!” she said brightly when he entered, “Come look at this.”
Hermann made his way over to Sekibo’s desk, peering over her shoulder at the screens. She pointed to a pair and nodded.
“This is one of the neural maps of Geiszler’s brain taken after his Drift with you on K-Day. And this,” she said, pointing to the scan below it, “is a map taken recently. As you can see, the line indicating the Precursors is much more prevalent in the second one. They have control. But look at this section here.”
Sekibo pointed to a blip on the second map, where the Precursors’ line seemed to dip slightly, and Newt’s peaked. Hermann looked closer.
“What does that mean?”
Sekibo grinned excitedly. “Wait, there’s more.” She tapped a few times on the screen, and another scan appeared. “This one was taken after his first Drift. See the pattern?”
With surprise, Hermann realized he did. All three maps had some level of Precursor activity, but each one also contained the strange looking peak and dive. There was almost no second signal in the area.
“This data comes from the hippocampus, which not only controls memory, but also mood and impulses. It’s also the part of the brain most affected by mental illness-- especially mood disorders. And doesn’t Geiszler have Bipolar Type Two?”
Hermann nodded, understanding. “You think that has something to do with Newton’s resistance?”
Sekibo’s eyes gleamed. “Precisely! Bipolar disorder manifests itself within the hippocampus, and is characterized by periods of mania and depression, or in Geiszler’s case, hypomania. It makes you impulsive and moody, and, unfortunately, can affect things like decision making and productivity. But it also directly affects the structure of your brain.”
She began to pace. “Now, if I were an invading alien race, I would want my subject to be the most perfectly complacent specimen I could find. But that’s not Geiszler. He naturally has a brain structure that’s different from other humans. So, we can hypothesize that it was, in fact, his Bipolar Two that was allowing him those small moments of resistance!”
“But wouldn’t that simply allow him to regain control after a while? How could the Precursors keep him trapped for so long?” Hermann asked, heart racing.
“I’ve got the answer to that, too.” Sekibo reached into her desk drawer and held up a small bottle of pills. “This is called Abilify. It’s an antipsychotic often used to treat Bipolar Disorder. They found several stashes of it while searching Geiszler’s apartment. Apparently, he never seemed to miss a dose.”
Hermann pondered this. “That doesn’t sound like Newton at all. I remember he always needed to be reminded to take his medication.”
“Exactly. Now, the PPDC medical staff has been giving Newt a dose through his IV in the hopes that it’ll improve his mental health enough to fight back, but I think that’s only worsening the problem.”
“So what are you saying?”
Sekibo ceased pacing. “I’m saying, we take Geiszler off his medication. Just to see what happens!”
Hermann frowned. “It could work. Or, it could cause Newton to stop producing the levels of serotonin and dopamine he needs, sending him into a downward spiral that hinders his ability to fight.”
“Maybe,” she said. “We just don’t know. But it could save him. Isn’t that worth a shot?”
Hermann felt something warm and shimmering flicker in his chest. Was this hope? He had forgotten what it was like, dangerous and wonderful.
“I’ll propose it to the medical team,” he said, “see what they think of it.”
Sekibo nodded. “I swear, Gottlieb, this really might work. I’ve looked at the data behind it, and it checks out.”
Hermann smiled, perhaps his first genuine one in weeks. “I do hope so, Dr. Sekibo.”
The mysteries of the human brain, Hermann mused that night, had never been solved by the Drift.
The brain was a complex individual of moving synapses and parts, built to be housed in an imperfect form that was weathered by its own foolishness. And yet, with every dangerous possibility for things to go wrong, there were still a majority of individuals who could walk and talk and think as what society called, “normal”.
It was humbling, when you thought about it. Every problem and possibility in the world, and still most humans lived and breathed. And it was all controlled by a singular entity. What must it be like, to have that control taken away? To lose something you rarely even realized you had.
Hermann dreamed he was standing in the middle of a raging storm. The ground beneath his feet was soaked with rain, and wind howled around him like a broken scream. Up above, the sky was slate-grey and thick with clouds. Every so often, a lick of lightning lit up the sky, flashing tendrils of white hot light across the full-bellied clouds. Thunder roared through the wet air.
Hermann felt the winds around him swirl and twist. He was in a field, soaked from head to toe in hot summer rain. The air seemed to turn around his body, making him a kind of eye of the storm.
From far across the field, a figure stood in the pouring rain. Without having to move closer, Hermann could see who it was.
“Newton!” he called, desperate to be heard above the din. “Newton, can you hear me?”
The figure didn’t move. Hermann tried to step forward, but he was without his cane. Slowly, painfully, he made his way through the tall, slick grass and drooping flowers.
As he drew closer, the thunder seemed to grow louder. The whole Earth trembled, and Hermann felt the ground beneath his feet almost rumble itself. When he reached Newt, the sky was almost black.
Newt was standing motionless, water pouring out of his open mouth. His eyes were closed and wet, tears flooding his already pale face. The darkness around them was so absolute, Hermann could barely see him.
“Newton!” he cried again, reaching out. Hermann grasped Newt’s shoulder, water sliding off his leather jacket like oil. Newt was ice cold, not even moving as the winds tried to batter him back and forth. Hermann shook him, pleading Newt to open his eyes. They stayed closed.
The storm howled on, growing louder. Suddenly, a bolt of lighting streaked down from the sky directly towards them. It touched down inches away, electrifying the ground. Hermann felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, his teeth chattering in the cool air. Chunks of dirt spewed from the ground where the lighting struck, leaving the earth charred and black.
Hermann looked up into the sky. “Leave him!” he screamed, reaching down to grasp Newt’s hand. “He has suffered by you enough-- leave him!”
Newt’s eyes opened. They were raining. Everything around him was raining.
The thunder rolled on.
This fic is not anti-medication. I take several myself, and simply wanted to explore the concept of mental illness, and how it would affect the brain in a world where the Drift exists.
Anyway, bipolar Newt is canon and Travis Bitchin can eat a corkboard.
Chapter 8: The Temple Curtain Splits
The Precursors try a new strategy. Hermann makes a speech. Newt says hello.
Medical agreed to the plan, to Hermann’s solid relief. However, after the slow passing of a few weeks, there was no sign of change with Newt. Hermann visited him daily, hoping for some glimpse of the real man, but the Precursors proved to be difficult.
He sighed as he sat back in his chair, putting a hand over his face. In front of him, Newt leaned forward.
“Whatever you’re trying,” he hissed, “it will never work. He is not strong enough.”
“Do shut up,” said Hermann, wishing desperately for an advil. His leg was flaring up again today, and the pain was just above manageable. That, and he was tired. The past few weeks of sleepless nights and near-constant work were wearing down on his mind. “I’m very much not in the mood for being warned of the destruction of our race.”
Newt cocked his head. “You are not telling him to fight back. Could it be you have given up?”
“I asked you to shut up, please.”
“We will never ‘shut up’, we are far stronger than--”
“SHOVE IT!” Hermann roared, not moving from his seat. He rubbed at his leg fiercely, wincing at the sharp ache spreading through the muscles. “I am not listening to you! No one is listening to you! We do not care about the Precursors, I just want Newton! I have neither the time and the patience for anyone else! If you are not him, then good day and goodbye!”
Newt actually flinched, moving away. He stared at Hermann for a good, long minute. Hermann cursed silently and tried to separate the pain from his body. He was not in the mood for any mind games or speeches of Anteversal dominance. He just wanted to take his meds and sleep the pain off.
Newt blinked several times and seemed to relax. Then, he frowned. “Hermann?”
Hermann’s eyes flew open. Newt was looking at him with a worried expression, brows knit. “Hermann, I’m sorry. I hate this as much as you do. But I miss you. I miss you a lot.”
Hope spurred in Hermann’s chest as his breath caught in his throat. “You… you do?”
Newt nodded. “Yeah. Hey,” he looked up, “do you think you could maybe get me a break? From the chair, I mean. Just for a little bit. I can feel my muscles melting.”
Hermann looked deep into Newt’s eyes, searching for for some contradiction to what he already knew. When none appeared, he looked away.
“I suppose you thought that would work,” he said flatly.
Newt threw his head back languidly and let out a guffaw. “I dunno, dude . Guess it was worth a try.”
Something cold and animalistic burrowed into Hermann’s chest. He scowled at the beast across from him, the pain bleeding into everything else around him.
“So,” said Newt cheerfully, “however did you know?”
Hermann picked up his cane and stood to leave. There was nothing to be done here. He would have to try a different approach.
“So basically,” said Amara, leaning across Rook’s desk, “I couldn’t find any condenser coils with the right length on them, so I had to use Shao brand. Lucky I did, huh?”
“Super,” Rook nearly crooned, staring at Amara like a love struck puppy. “Did you…” she looked around furtively, then whispered, “did you steal them?”
Amara laughed. “Well how else was I supposed to get them?”
“Wow. That’s like, super punk.”
“You consider yourself punk, Rook?”
Rook nodded fiercely. “Yes.”
From his desk, Hermann quietly rolled his eyes. Children. So obsessed with fitting in, but wanting the opposite as well. His heart throbbed painfully. It reminded him of Newt.
Rook crossed her legs in her chair. “So what kind of stuff are you learning in training?”
“Well,” Amara said, “mostly different fighting techniques based on what we might need when we fight the Anteverse. We were supposed to be going over any information learned from the Emissary, but they haven’t been able to get anything out of it yet-”
“Newton,” Hermann cut in tersely. “He is not an emissary, his name is Newton Geiszler.”
Amara’s face darkened, and she shrugged. “Whatever, sir. He still killed over a hundred people. Even if there is some other person in there, it’s not like he’s making himself heard.”
Hermann resisted the urge to scream. “Newton,” he said coldly, “is trapped within his own mind without any means of fighting back. He is a prisoner within a mental construct the Precursors have created for him, and has been tortured to the point where he has lost touch with reality. I highly doubt anyone can judge him, considering what he’s going through.”
Amara’s expression changed to something unreadable. “Wait,” she said slowly, “you mean there’s an actual person in there? Like, exorcist style?”
“Yes. Newton has no control over his body’s actions. He is, essentially, a ghost.”
Amara paled. Her eyes grew wide, and Hermann could see her knuckles flash white on the desk’s edge. “Dr. Gottlieb,” she said, her voice shaking a little, “you do know what they’re doing to him, right?”
Hermann felt his stomach drop into his shoes. His heart raced. “What are they doing?”
With a heavy swallow, Amara pushed herself off the desk and stared down at her shoes. “Well, I-- I don’t know exactly, but I heard Nate mention that, since they’re having trouble getting any information out of him, they’ve switched their methods to something more… direct.”
Hermann clenched his jaw. “They’re… they’re torturing him?”
Amara didn’t answer. She looked at the ground, her face a ghostly sheet in the snow.
Hermann almost leapt up from his desk, grabbing his cane and rushing towards the door. “Stay here,” he called behind him, before slamming it shut.
He half hobbled, half ran down the Shatterdome halls, heart pounding in his chest. Horrible visions flashed in his mind: Newt bleeding and broken, Newt screaming, Newt dead. Hermann’s chest felt like a dead, tight lump of anxiety. His jaw hurt from the strain.
He punched the elevator buttons and down he went, willing the car to go faster as it shuttled him down to the sub-level. The moment the doors opened, Hermann burst out and, ignoring the screaming agony in his leg, ran almost full-pelt down the hall towards Newt’s room. He fumbled with his card for a moment, hands shaking like trembling leaves, before swiping it viciously and bursting into the room.
There was a guard in the center, holding what looked to be a combination metal pipe and flail. He was standing over Newt’s body, which lay crumpled on the floor, splattered with sweat and blood. One of his arms stuck out at an odd angle, the fingers purple and bruised. He wasn’t moving.
Hermann felt something dark and wounded claw in his chest. He wanted to rip apart the man in front of him. Instead, he screamed at the top of his lungs, “GET. OUT.”
The soldier opened his mouth to argue, but took one look at the murderous expression on Hermann’s face and made a swift exit. Hermann dropped his cane and fell to his knees, his body screaming at him. He cradled Newt’s head in his lap, stroking the bruises gently.
“Newton,” he said desperately, “Newton please, can you hear me?”
Newt’s eyes fluttered open, and he stared up unblinkingly. When he saw Hermann’s face, he gave him a watery smile.
“Hermann,” he managed, his voice hoarse and whispery. “Knew you’d come find me.”
“Newton,” Hermann said insistently, “are you alright? Are you here?”
Newt have him a weak approximation of a nod. “Can’t… can’t talk for long. Hurts.”
Hermann brushed his fingers over Newt’s temple. “You must fight them, Newton. You must-- you are strong enough!”
Closing his eyes, Newt groaned. “‘m not,” he murmured, “--can’t, it-- Hermann, it hurts.”
Hermann leaned in closer. “Newton Mendelssohn Geiszler, listen to me. I know you. I have been inside your mind, and I have seen your strength, and you can do this. There is no one here that is stronger, no one here who’s been through more than you have. You are here and fighting, and that is more than enough. And you are strong, Newton. I’ve seen what you’ve endured, and you are so mighty that the world trembles with the force of your heart. You are brilliant and brave, and every wonderful thing about humanity. You are human, Newton. You are here.
“I do not believe in many things, Newton. You know this-- I have waxed poetic on my dislike of promises and words. But if there is one thing I do believe in, one thing that remains sempiternal and constant within my life, it is you. I believe in you.”
Hermann paused, swallowing hard, before taking a deep breath. “And I… I love you. Quite dearly and terribly, to the end of our time.”
Newt stilled for a moment, and Hermann was almost afraid the pain had become too much for him. Then, he opened his eyes.
A brilliant blue light streamed out from within them, electric and stunning. Electricity seemed to crackle within them, filling the room with their glow. It flowed out of his eyes, pouring into every crack and crevice and casting bright shadows on Newt’s face. It was like the light of a rapture, confined only within the bounds of heaven itself.
Then, Newt closed his eyes and slumped into Hermann’s arms, and all was quiet.
Hermann felt panic rise up in his chest. “No,” he whispered, “no, no, no! Newton!” He gathered Newt into his arms and pulled his small body to his chest, holding him tightly. All the warmth from him was gone.
Despair clawed at his lungs like a savage creature. In desperation, Hermann pulled Newt away and, not stopping to consider it, pressed their lips together. It as a facsimile of a kiss, cold and aching with lost hope. He didn’t want it like this.
Hermann pressed their foreheads together and felt hot, angry tears roll down his cheeks. “Come back, you vile individual,” he whispered, stroking Newt’s hair. “Come back.”
He let out a low, wounded cry, sobbing fiercely as he held Newt’s cold little body. The damn inside Hermann’s chest that had remained strong until now broke, and with it rushed pain and hopelessness and loss. In that moment, Hermann didn’t care about the rest of the world. He just wanted his Newt back.
“... I thought you didn’t like poetry.”
Hermann’s eyes flew open. He didn’t dare look. “What?”
Newt smiled weakly beneath him. “Kissing someone to wake ‘em up? Sounds pretty poetic to me.”
Hermann’s heart exploded. His face broke into a smile, tears still falling. “Newton,” he whispered like a prayer, like a reverent thing on his lips. Warmth and light spilled into his heart, pushing away the dark shell that had bound it for so long. He felt the urge to kiss Newt again, and never let go.
“Hermann, I did it,” Newt said softly, almost disbelieving. “I fought them, and I-- I won.”
Hermann couldn’t stop smiling. “Oh, of course you did, you idiot. I’ve missed you.”
Newt laughed, a clear, beautiful sound. “God, Herms. I missed you too.”
Without warning, the door flew open. Nate and Jake stormed in, guns held out, and a pack of soldiers behind him. When they saw Newt and Hermann on the ground before them, they stopped.
“Holy shit,” said Newt breathlessly, “Hermann, Hermann! Pentecost had another kid!”
Hermann looked up at the soldiers, then back at Newt. “Yes, darling,” he said carefully, “He did…”
“No, no you don’t understand! Big Pentecost had another tiny Pentecost! Someone did it! They climbed the mountain! They dreamed the impossible dream!”
Hermann couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing.
At this point, Jake and Nate looked thoroughly confused. “Gottlieb,” Jake said, “exactly what the hell is going on here?”
Newt gave Hermann a quick, yet full-mouthed kiss, and then motioned for him to help him sit up. He braced himself with both hands on the floor, but looked up at the people around them and nodded.
“Nice to meet you, Pentecost’s other kid,” he said, sounding more like himself than in years. “You probably have no idea who I am.”
Jake shook his head. “I’ve got a feeling I don’t.”
The real Newton Geiszler, streaming through every part of himself, smiled for the first time in ten years.
“Call me Newt.”
Chapter 9: The Pandora Experiment
Newt shares a secret. Hermann meets a friend. Liwen does what she can.
Much to Hermann’s deep chagrin, Newt was still kept under watch after the incident.
“We just want to be sure,” Jake had said, swiping his card across the keypad. “The Precursors could still be in there, just laying low for a while. Let us run some scans, Gottlieb. In the meantime, you can visit him as much as you like.”
That, Hermann certainly did. He combed through the boxes brought from Newt’s apartment, searching for anything that could help bring him back to his old self. From the storage, he pulled an old sweatshirt from MIT, worn thin in the cuffs, Newt’s bracelet collection, and his prescription pair of lenses.
Newt was delighted when Hermann brought these, snuggling in the warmth of his hoodie as he fiddled with his bracelets.
“Seriously, thank you so much for the glasses,” he said happily. “I hated those stupid contacts-- they made my eyes burn.”
Sitting there on his new cell’s bed with those old black frames swamping his face, Newt looked more like the man Hermann knew. He was still older, and worryingly thin, but unmistakably Newt. Hermann felt a warmth in his heart that had been missing for years.
Sekibo ran every test she could think of, asking questions that ranged from, “Do you still want to destroy the human race?” to “Did Freud totally make that shit up for views?” All of them came back positive, except for one.
“You can see here,” she explained, waving her hand across the holoscreen, “there is still a faint second signal. It is nowhere near as prominent as Geiszler’s, but still there. Now,” she said, sweeping through the various scans, “this could lead to a couple of things. The Precursors could choose to stay latent, and essentially remain what are very powerful intrusive thoughts. I’d recommend keeping Geiszler off his meds to be safe, but if he has got control now, there’s really no sense in postponing recovery any longer. He needs rest, a better diet, and much therapy. That’s the best advice I can give.”
Hermann nodded. “So you recommend that Newton be released?”
“Give it a few more days, then get him into a proper bed and coddle the shit out of him.” Sekibo winked. “We all know how you want to.”
“I’m just saying, dude. Kaiju Blue is highly toxic-- there’s no way there won’t be some kind of mutation.”
Hermann huffed, crossing his legs as he sat on Newt’s bed. The new cell he had been given was small, but a great margin better than the one before. It’s walls were clean and grey, with a window that looked out over the roiling ocean. There was a bed with starchy white sheets and a single pillow, a bookcase filled with books Hermann had brought him, and a small cardboard box that contained some old clothes. Privately, Hermann thought they could have simply housed Newt in his room, and that would have been enough, but he demurred. The PPDC was being as understanding as it could, given the circumstances. He wouldn’t push them any farther.
Newt, on the other hand, was noticeably different. He held himself in a strange way-- all hunched in and shivering, like a spooked animal. His gestures, formerly grandiose and involved, were now small and careful. Almost every other word was some form of an apology, soft and stuttered. He spoke quieter, and would glance up at Hermann every so often, as if making sure his existence was allowed.
Hermann did not like this one bit.
“Even so,” he insisted, “what kind of changes could possibly be made? The coastline is uninhabited and nearly decimated from the attacks. Nothing grows there, Newton. It’s simply not possible.”
In a rare moment of his old self, Newt shook his head vehemently. “No, but like, life finds a way! Stuff grows and lives in some of the craziest places on Earth; there’s no reason that it couldn’t mutate and adapt to function in a hostile environment!”
Hermann raised an eyebrow, secretly overjoyed at this display of passion. “And do you have any proof of that?”
Newt’s eyes lit up. “Uh, yeah I do! Okay, so in World War One, the trenches were totally awful war zones of death, blah blah blah. But there were butterflies! These huge, gorgeous butterflies that ate human corpses, ‘cause there was nothing else to eat! And it was like a metaphor, y’know? That nature doesn’t care what humans or aliens or anything does-- it’ll just keep on thriving. And that’s exactly what’s more than likely to happen in Blue zones! C’mon Herms, it’s basic science! You have to have picked some of that up from me!”
Hermann made a little noise of distaste. “I just don’t see that being possible, Newton. Kaiju Blue has toxicity levels unseen by Earth’s inhabitants. There’s no pretense for it-- that’s why it took you five years to finally be able to neutralize it--”
“Hey, cut me some slack, dude--”
“What I mean, is that nature would have no possible benchmark for the poison. It wouldn’t be able to come up with resistance, like any other war.”
“But there’s still stuff growing in Chernobyl--!”
“After many, many years. It has been only twenty since the first Kaiju attack. There hasn’t been enough time for things to regroup yet.”
Newt scowled like an angry chipmunk. “No dude, you just don’t understand--”
“I think it is you who do not understand--”
“Oh my God! You’re wrong, I’m right, so just shut up and admit it!” Newt yelled, his voice cracking. He leapt up from the bed, beginning to pace.
“You always do this, dude! I propose some amazing, incredible scientific theory that would totally rock everybody’s worlds--”
“Newton,” said Hermann, growing a bit nervous.
“-- and then you shoot it down! Like, ‘Oh Newton, you’ll never be able to build something that could cut through Kaiju bone! The metal alone would need to be near-diamond sharp!’”
Newt’s footsteps grew faster, his eyes almost seeming to glow in the dim light. “Newton.”
“But guess what, Mr. Genius Mc Geniusface! I did it anyway!”
No, Hermann was right, they were glowing…
“And you know what?” Newt shrieked, rounding on him, his eyes two pulsing blue slits. “I. Was. Right!”
Newt froze, realizing too late the volume of his voice. He took in Hermann’s frightened expression, then brought a hand up to his eyes. “Hermann?” he said, deathly quiet. “Why does everything suddenly look… weird?”
Hermann swallowed. “Newton. It’s fine.”
Newt began to breathe faster, his voice catching in his throat. “Oh my God,” he said, panicking, “oh my God, Hermann, I-- I’m so sorry--”
“Really Newton, it’s alright--”
“I-- I shouldn’t have yelled, I was too loud, I’m sorry I’m too loud, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s my fault--”
“Newton,” Hermann said, a little frantically, rising to clutch at his shoulders, “you’re fine, but you need to calm down--”
Newt’s eyes were wide and fearful and scalding blue. “Oh God, it’s my fault, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t hate me, I’m sorry--”
Hermann held Newt tightly by the shoulders and pulled him back down to sit on the bed. He wrapped his arms around him, keeping him close and letting him feel Hermann’s warmth and solidity. Newt shivered like a wet kitten, shaking so hard Hermann could feel it down to his bones. He kept muttering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” like it was some sort of twisted mantra. His eyes were a sickly blue, but Hermann didn’t feel threatened anymore. Now he only wanted the terror in them gone.
“Newton,” he said soothingly, “Newton, it’s alright. You don’t need to be sorry-- you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not mad at you, do you understand? I am not angry or upset because of you, or with you. You are here with me, and safe. You are safe. I love you dearly, and I’m sorry I made you feel as if I were afraid of you. You don’t need to be frightened, Newton. You need to breathe.”
He grasped Newt’s hand and held it to his chest, letting him feel Hermann’s steady heartbeat. “Breath with my heart. In for five beats, and out for five. Can you do that?”
Newt swallowed hard and nodded slightly. He gulped and worked to steady his breathing, his chest rising and falling shakily, but slowly. Hermann held him close, the seconds stretching on into minutes as Newt breathed in and out. He petted Newt’s hair softly, letting the touch ground him as he mumbled softly into his ear.
“It’s alright, Newton. You’re alright. I won’t leave you like this; I’ll stay as long as you need me. Just work on your breathing, and I’ll do the rest.
After how long, Hermann didn’t know, Newt let out a long, broken breath. His eyes fluttered closed, and he leaned against Hermann’s chest. “‘M okay,” he slurred, breath coming in long, low gasps.
“Are you sure?” Hermann asked, protectively curling an arm around Newt’s waist. “You can take as long as you need, Newton. You aren’t annoying me by being here.”
Newt let out another breath, and a tear slipped down his cheek. He choked, “Thanks, Herms. I really, really needed to hear that.”
He shifted, laying against Hermann’s chest and idly rubbing his thumb across his hand. Newt let out a long sigh.
“The thing is… well, the thing is, I can still hear them.”
Hermann stiffened.“The Precursors, you mean,” he said. Newt nodded.
“Yeah. They’re still in there, talking to me. And they say…” Another tear slid down his cheek. “God, they just say the most awful things. That I’m not good enough for you. That I’m worthless. That I deserve to be the most vile, hated thing in the world, because that’s all I ever have been. That every person who called me a freak or a-- a-- a retard, was right. That I’ll never be happy again, because I’m just so fucked up and broken, and how could anyone ever heal from that?”
Hermann felt his eyes prickle. He ran a hand through Newt’s hair. “Newton,” he said, “do you believe them?”
Newt shrugged. “Sometimes. I know you love me-- you say it every other minute. But sometimes those words aren’t enough. Sometimes I get so lost in my own head that I forget what’s real. I’m gonna be fucked up for a long time, Hermann. Maybe forever.”
Hermann reached around and threaded his fingers through Newt’s. “And I will be there for as long as it takes for you to heal. And then as long as you want me.”
Newt was openly crying now. Tears streamed down his face, which he tucked into Hermann’s shoulder. “Sorry,” he said.
Hermann squeezed his hand. “I never want to hear that word from you again. You have nothing to be sorry for. You are a victim, Newton, not the one doing the harm. I hope one day you learn that.”
“Maybe,” said Newt, sniffling. “One day.”
Hermann gave him a small smile. “You know, Newton. That I love you, more than anything else in the world.
Newt squeezed his hand tightly, wiping at his eyes with the other. He worried at his chapped lips with his teeth.
“I know,” he said. “That’s how you saved me.”
Liwen Shao took her coffee black, with two sugars. She ate only at her three predisposed meal times. She wore linen shirts with smooth black pants and black kitten heels. Her lipstick was red. It was always red.
Hermann knew these things because he was currently getting coffee with her, in a pop-up stand just on the outskirts of Tokyo.
“So,” said Liwen Shao. “How are you? How is Dr. Geiszler?”
Hermann took a small sip from his cup of tea. It tasted strong and hot. He looked anywhere but in front of him.
“Fine,” he said. “I am, I mean. Newton is…” he gave a deep sigh. “Newton is as well as he can be. It will be a long road for him to heal. But I believe he is up to the task.”
Liwen Shao turned her coffee cup exactly three-quarters of an inch to the left. “That’s good.”
There was an excruciating silence for a moment. Then, she leaned forward.
“Dr. Gottlieb,” she said, “in the little time I have known you, I have learned you to be an honest person. I have also learned that you understand the value of give and take. So. I am prepared to offer you a small deal.” Liwen Shao leaned back, and took a measured sip. “You will tell me exactly how Dr. Geiszler is doing, what he needs, and if there is any way I can help him. In return, I will tell you how your daughter is doing, what she needs, and if there is any way that you can help her.” She tilted her head at him. “Does that sound like a fair trade?”
Hermann blinked. He nodded. “I suppose so.”
Liwen Shao gestured at him with a perfectly manicured hand. “Well?”
Hermann took another long drink from his cup. His tea was a little on the milky side.
“Here is what I know. Newton has been through intense psychological trauma, not unlike very extreme cases of emotional abuse. He has been trapped within his own mind for over a decade, forced to watch as the Precursors committed horrible atrocities in his name. His friends were pushed away. His world was threatened. Everything he holds dear was almost put to an end, and there was nothing he could do about it. If there is one thing that Newton hates, I know, it is inaction.
“I do not know how long it will take Newton to recover from this. It will likely be months, maybe years before his mind is what one may consider, ‘well’. However, I have an undeniable faith in his ability to persevere through even the darkest of times, and I believe that with the right care and support, he will make a full recovery. Which means, Ms. Shao, that he will indeed need your help.”
Liwen nodded. “What can I do?”
“Speak to him,” he said. “Get to know the real Newton. Try and improve his Mandarin if you run out of things to say, but show him that you understand he was not himself under your employment, and make an effort towards friendship. Newton is terrified of you, and what you could do to him with your influence. He fears that you hate him, and wish to whisk him away to some secret prison, never to return.”
A tiny laugh escaped from her mouth. “I can see that the real Dr. Geiszler is more than a bit dramatic.”
Hermann smiled. “Perhaps. But he would dearly benefit from your friendship, Ms. Shao.” He paused. “He would also benefit from your protection, should you choose to give it.”
Liwen nodded. “I will call in a few favors. See what I can do.” She eyed him. “I hope you are right in saying that he is cured, Dr. Gottlieb. I am a woman used to taking risks, but few of this caliber.”
Hermann inclined his head towards her, and took a large gulp of tea. “I trust in your decisions, Ms. Shao.” He smiled. “You may also like to know that Newton’s fashion sense has drastically improved since being freed of the Precursors. You may not recognize him with the glasses.”
She frowned. “Dr. Geiszler wears glasses?”
“Er-- that’s beside the point. How is Eleanor?”
“Ah, yes,” said Liwen. “Rook is quite helpful. Within a few days, she learned everyone’s coffee orders and could replicate them near-perfectly. You have a very smart young woman on your hands. Eager to please.”
Hermann leaned forward. “And she’s doing well? Is she happy?”
She nodded. “She speaks about you in great length. It is clear she is quite proud of her father.”
“Really?” said Hermann sarcastically. “I truly had no idea.”
Liwen Shao sighed and took a delicate sip of her coffee. “Give her time, Doctor. Girls usually have… complicated relationships with their fathers. Hers even more so.”
Hermann cleared his throat, and looking to change the subject, said, “Yes. Well. I’ve been meaning to ask you: did Newton ever act strangely when working for you?”
“Aside from being an egoistic, showboating bastard?”
He blushed. “Ah. Yes.”
Liwen shrugged. It did not seem like a gesture she made often. “I cannot really say. The Dr. Geiszler I knew was pompous and loud, with little respect for his peers and with no clear work ethic. He was neither empathetic nor reliable, drank to excess, and constantly ran on my nerves. But,” she said, spreading her hands, “that was not the real Dr. Geiszler.”
Hermann made a noise of agreement, and then let out a huff. “I just keep telling myself I could have done more. Seen through it, somehow.” He paused. “He sent me letters, you know. Asking how I was, practically begging me to visit him, to visit Alice. Back then I was so blinded by hurt, I didn’t see them for what they really were. Perhaps if I weren’t such a fool, I could have saved him sooner.”
Liwen Shao looked at him for a long, heavy time. Then, she did something strange.
She reached across the table, and put a hand on his arm.
“You should not blame yourself,” she said. “It is a foolish endeavor that will lead to nothing but pain. The Precursors hid Dr. Geiszler well. They hid him from everyone. The best you can do now is move forward.”
Hermann looked up at Liwen, really looked at her, and smiled.
“Perhaps I shall,” he said. “Perhaps I shall.”
Chapter 10: Gold Country
Hermann packs a bag. Newt shares some history. Rook reads a book.
uhhhh big credit to the encyclopedia britannica for teaching me about shells n shit
“You drank sunscreen?”
Rook’s eyes widened as she gawked up at Newt in disbelief. The large, floppy sun hat perched precariously on her head began to slump backwards, and she slapped a hand on top of it to hold it down. Her dark curls mushroomed from underneath, tangling wildly about her face like a thunderstorm. From behind her sunglasses, she blinked. “How does that even happen?”
Newt laughed. “A lot of weird stuff tends to happen in college, kiddo. Best not to question it sometimes.”
Dropping his book into the plastic bag on his bed, Hermann smiled. A laugh from Newt was a rare, beautiful thing these days; not often given in such a free manner. It was like honeycomb and soft sunlight, warm and open and transparent in it’s joy. Hermann had missed the sound dearly over the past ten years, and had feared it would never return. Now that Newt had come back to him, he drank in every sound and look and gesture, for quiet fear that it might be the last one he experienced. Newt was a precious thing, and Hermann wanted to keep him to himself, bright and safe forever in his arms.
But Newt was an adventurer at heart, however dampened that might be now. He enjoyed new experiences and asking questions, and was always happiest when out and about. Being cooped up in the Shatterdome had made him stir crazy, although he hid it well. Now that he was finally released from twenty-four hour observation, Hermann knew the first thing to do was to get Newt outside. The fresh air and sunlight would certainly do him a world of good.
He had located a small section of beach outside the city, far away from any tourists or prying eyes. Hermann had books and sunscreen and a bucket for any creatures Newt might find, and a big umbrella to protect his (remarkably English) fair skin.
There was also Rook.
“I want to meet her,” Newt had said hesitantly, and Hermann ached for his fear of wanting anything. “She’s your daughter, Hermann, and she seems like a good kid. From what I saw of her when she visited me, she reminds me a lot of you. And that’s gotta be a good sign, right?”
Hermann had sighed. He could never deny Newt anything these days. Not after so much had been taken from him.
“Do we have everything?” he asked, slinging the beach bag over his shoulder. Newt and Rook were nearly vibrating with excitement.
“We don’t need to bring an entire supply train, Hermann,” she said, adjusting her hat for the fourth time. “Let’s go already!”
“I think we’re fine,” said Newt, smiling at first, then looking nervous. “If that’s okay with you?”
Hermann put an hand on his arm. “Of course, Newton. Let’s get you outside.”
The moment that Newt stepped out of the car and onto the sand, he froze.
The sun was bright and warm on his face, an ocean breeze whipping through his hair. The world smelled of salt and wind and wet sand, the rawest and brightest that nature can be. Newt’s eyes were wide and unblinking as they stared out into the endless horizon, hypnotized by the crashing waves and seagulls above. Sun poured down like cool water on a burn.
Hermann was startled to see tears welling up in Newt’s eyes. He reached over with his free hand and intertwined their fingers. “Are you alright?” he asked.
Newt closed his eyes and nodded. A tear rolled down his face. “I thought I’d never see it again. The sun. The ocean. Everything.” He held Hermann’s hand tighter, squeezing to remind himself that this was real. “You.”
Rook raced past, shouting with joy. “C’mon!” she yelled happily, kicking off her shoes and running full pelt across the sand. Newt opened his eyes and smiled.
“I’m good. I’m okay,” he said, nodding to himself. “I’m okay.”
Hermann gave his hand a squeeze back and held it as they walked towards the ocean together.
Near Rook’s shoes, Hermann put the bag down and pulled off his own. He rolled up his pants, cuffing them exactly two inches tall, and spread a towel down on the sand. Beside him, Newt toed his shoes off and pushed his glasses up onto his head. He held out his hand for Hermann, who took it and made his way through the soft sand and down to the water.
Rook was already splashing around when they reached her, and she smiled as they approached. She kicked a wave of water towards Hermann, who let out a high-pitched shriek and ducked. He was caught by the spray, and Rook burst out laughing.
“What the heck kind of noise is that?” she giggled. Hermann rolled his eyes.
“I cannot believe we are related,” he said without thinking, then froze. Rook stared at him blankly for a few long seconds.
Then, she reached down and pushed another wave towards him.
Newt howled with laughter as Hermann’s pants were drenched, and Rook smiled proudly. “The feeling,” she said smugly, “is quite mutual.”
“Christ above, Herms,” Newt wheezed, trying to catch his breath. “And you say I’m tactless.”
Hermann made a noise like a disgruntled cat. “The both of you are childish buffoons,” he said. He then raised his cane and brought it down in a massive splash, hitting both Rook and Newt. They shrieked and leapt away, before making waves towards him again.
Newt took a running start, before jumping forward and landing next to Rook, splashing her from head to toe. She pushed him into the water, then ran at Hermann and kicked up a wave in front of him.
Newt laughed from where he sat in the water. “Dude,” he said, “your kid is ruthless!”
Rook looked prouder than a guilty cat. “I,” she said, “am a wanton weapon of mass aquatic destruction.”
Hermann seethed wetly.
Newt was sitting next to Hermann, reading, when Rook made her way up to him and held out a bucket.
“Help me find shells,” she said.
Newt looked up interestedly, then looked at Hermann. “Uh. Can I?”
Hermann bumped Newt’s shoulder with his own. “You know you’re allowed to do whatever you like, Newton. If you want to go walking with Eleanor, be my guest.”
A strange look passed over Newt’s face. “Oh yeah. I guess I can.”
Rook put a hand on her hip and shook the bucket. “So? Are you coming?”
Newt got to his feet. “Sure, kiddo. Let’s go find something cool.”
They set off at a slow pace across the beach, keeping their eyes peeled for anything interesting. Newt spotted some tide pools a ways away, and with only a nervous glance back at Hermann, followed Rook to where she was running across the beach, eager to begin searching.
The sun was high in the sky as they reached the pools, reflecting off the still water and lighting up the creatures below. Bright spots of light and color stung in Newt’s eyes as he peered down into the shallow depths.
Green plants carpeted the bottom on top of craggy brown rock, as spiked and coiled things poked up among the waving plants. Newt spotted something soft and red flapping near a crack in the rock, and reached down.
“Oh,” he said softly, “Rook. Come look at this.”
Rook picked her way over the sharp rocks and squatted next to Newt, her gaze following his arm to where he was pointing. “What’s that?” she asked.
“Pisaster Ochraceous,” he said. “An ochre sea star. They’re commonly found in tide pools all over, and can be all sorts of colors, from orange and brown, to purple. They live in the lower inter-tidal zone and are almost always found near mussel and barnacle beds. This little guy is in a nook to preserve moisture and stay cool. When high tide comes, he’ll start moving around and look for food, and eat about eighty mussels per year. Usually they’re about eight to twelve inches, but this guy looks a little bigger than a foot.”
Rook blinked in amazement. “Wow,” she said quietly. “I didn’t know they got that big.” She looked up at Newt. “How do you know so much?”
Newt poked the starfish with his finger. “Marine biology was my original major. I wanted to work out on the ocean, or maybe in an aquarium. Of course, all that changed when…” he paused, eyes growing distant for just a moment. “When, uh. When the Kaiju attacked. But I still love these guys.” He gave the starfish a stroke across the top of it’s back. “No big, dumb lizards can change that.”
He stood, taking a few steps forward and sitting down on a large rock a few feet away from the water. Rook glanced back down at the starfish for a moment, before joining him.
They stared out at the water, watching it sparkle and dance as the sun beamed down. Newt said nothing, which Rook could tell was uncharacteristic of him. He didn’t seem like a man to enjoy long silences.
She picked at the rock with her foot.
“What was… what was Hermann like? During the first war?”
Newt didn’t move. His eyes remained glued to the ocean, as if searching for something out on the horizon. They looked lost, and small. He looked lost and small. They were one in the same.
Finally, he spoke.
“The thing you have to understand about Hermann, is that he doesn’t know how to love you.”
Rook looked taken aback. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Newt licked his lips thoughtfully. “He never learned how. He and Vanessa… well… when we Drifted. I saw some things. Things that… you might not understand until you’re older. And I only vaguely know what happened after I left. Emotionally, at least. But I know how Hermann was when they were married.
“He wasn’t happy in the way he thought he should have been. We sent each other letters before I knew, and I guess now I know what he meant by them. I don’t know if he ever did love your mom in the way he wanted to. Maybe that’s just impossible. But I know he loved me.” He smiled. “Loves me, that is. I think that’s what saved me in the first place. It’s cheesy, I know, but I really do think that love saved the world. How crazy would that be?
“But Hermann. During the war, he was… desperate. Everything we did was on the clock, y’see, cause we were trying to fight these giant, horrible things that nobody knew about. Well, I did. But just me. Hermann was passionate and amazing; he did math like the world would be saved by each equation. Which-- no duh. He was always working nonstop, and-- and at one point I had to take him to the med bay because he wasn’t eating or sleeping enough. Then again, neither was I, I guess.
“Hermann thought of himself as a machine, I think. He didn’t understand that he was human, and humans need thing like food and sleep and love. He wouldn’t let himself have them. Sure, we got into some funny situations and fought like crazy, but it was just a lot of work. And no one else would be there for us, so we were kind of each other’s lifeboats.” Newt shrugged. “At least, I know he was mine.”
Rook looked at him, her dark eyes deep and searching. “Why?” she asked. “Why do you love him?”
Newt laughed. “Because I don’t know how not to. I tried for ten years, and that got me nowhere. Tried for another ten years, and that just made me try to end the world. But I can’t. I can’t not love him. He’s too… He’s too Hermann.” Newt looked down, then back out at the ocean. “I guess I love him like Pluto.”
“Pluto,” he said. “If you don’t understand it, you don’t care. You think it’s just some broken old rock that doesn’t matter, that couldn’t do anything really, it’s just there. But then you look. And you see. And it’s beautiful.” Newt looked over at her. “You ever see one of those full color, high-quality pictures of Pluto?”
Rook shook her head.
“It’s amazing. Blues and reds and purples, all crashing together in front of silver. There’s nothing in space quite like it. That’s me and Hermann.
“People don’t understand us-- they think it’s all fighting or working, or bleeding or something. But he’s just… He’s just so beautiful. I’ve seen different dimensions, aliens, planets-- anything you could want to see. And there’s nothing in this world or the next that’s as beautiful as him.”
Rook stared down at her bare feet, wet and sandy and hot. She wiggled her toes. “I guess.”
Newt moved as if to reach out his arm, then stopped. “I’m not saying that you have to forgive him. God knows I haven’t forgiven myself. But maybe give the guy a chance. He tries, okay? If nothing else, Hermann always tries.”
They walked back to the umbrella in silence, Rook watching their feet and the breezy sand. Newt never looked away from the ocean until Hermann was once again within sight.
When it was time to go, they packed up their things and pushed the bag and bucket into the beat up automobile that Hermann rarely used. Newt watched the sinking sun as they drove back, pouring a river of orange and gold down into the glittering water just behind the horizon. He sat in the front seat and held Hermann’s hand.
Rook sat in the back, holding a large shell in her hands and staring down at it. She was trying to make a decision.
By the time they arrived back at the Shatterdome, Rook had decided. While Newt grabbed the bag from the backseat. Rook tapped Hermann on the shoulder and held out her hands.
Cupped in them was a large, orange shell, with thick stripes of brown curving around the middle. It ballooned like an icing rose towards a rounded tip, and had a light, pearly inside.
“Cipangopaludina japonica,” she said. “It’s a trapdoor snail.”
Hermann looked genuinely surprised. “Is- is this for me?”
Rook nodded. “The genus Cipangopaludina can be identified by its relatively large globose shells and concentrically marked opercula. Cipangopaludina japonica exhibits a shell with seven to eight whorls, a very narrow umbilicus, and a spire that is produced at an angle of fifty to fifty-five degrees. Adult shells display fine carinae, while those of juveniles are covered in hairs on the periostracum where the carinae are located as well as around eight millimeters between the carinae in the middle of each whorl. Individuals are light colored as juveniles and dark brown as adults.” She paused. “I read it in one of the books you brought.”
Hermann took it carefully. “Thank you,” he said softly, tracing over the fine lines of the shell. “This is a very interesting discovery, Eleanor. I’ll keep it on my desk, if that’s alright with you?”
Rook nodded again. “Okay.”
“Good,” said Hermann, and he held the shell close to his chest as they all walked inside.
Chapter 11: Little Acts of Death
Hermann makes a discovery. Newt controls his feelings.
He was standing on a red ocean.
The sky was orange and teal, swirling together like melted ice cream. Clouds mixed into the colorful soup, scattering like cotton stretched thinly across it. There was a sort of center to the storm, sucking itself up into the sky. Beneath it roiled the sea, blood red and thick with foam. It was opaque and terrifying, passing no judgement to the unknown depths below.
Hermann stood on the surface, dry as the lighting that poured down from the sky in white ropes of energy. A hot wind swirled around him, and he felt the icy spray of the waves beneath his feet. It was dark, but not so much that he could not see the endless horizon stretching out around him.
He did not think he was dreaming, but the world was so strange around him, he couldn’t be sure. However, he knew with a certainty deep within his bones that this was the Anteverse. The Kaiju’s home.
“Hello?” Hermann called out, his voice echoing hollowly across the waves. There was only the crash of water in response.
Hermann turned in a full circle, but all he could see was waves and sky. He felt alone, and very, very small. A pit in his stomach opened up, and yawned widely.
Suddenly, a sound galloped it’s way across the red expanse. Hermann turned quickly, reaching out for balance on a cane that wasn’t there. A few yards away, the water began bubble and churn. It roiled like a pot about to boil over as a large, grey mass rose up from the depths. The water sloughed off it’s massive scaley form, turning purple in the blue light pulsing from within.
The next thing Hermann saw was Newt.
He was horrifically impaled on one of the creature’s spikes, his stomach torn through and soaked with seawater and blood. The rough, brown spike poked out from between the layers of viscera and gore, covered in bits of Newt and blood. Newt’s face was a ghostly white, his eyes open and terrified, his mouth agape in a silent scream. He clutched at the spike impaling him, hands scrabbling at the tip.
“Newton!” Hermann screamed, rushing forward. He stopped a few inches away, able to go no further. A kind of invisible tether was pulling him back.
“Hermann,” Newt whimpered, curling in on himself, “oh God, Hermann it hurts.”
“Newton!” he screamed again, pulling hard at the tether until it was almost painful, and reaching his hands out to grasp for Newt’s. The creature screeched beneath them, twisting around in the water as waves piled up around it. Newt’s fingers stayed out of reach, blood coating them from knuckle to fingertip. He gave a long, animalistic groan.
Above them, the rain began to pour.
Hermann awoke with a start, his blood ice cold. He grasped at the sheets around him and put a hand to his chest, feeling his heart pound wildly. He could feel it beat in his ears, the world hazy and blurred in the darkness of his room.
Quickly, he flung himself out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown, shoving his feet into the slippers by his bed. Hermann grabbed his cane and hurried out the door, almost running down the hallway as his hands shook. It was a few more steps to the elevator, then a harrowing minute in the small, cramped box, and a series of hurried limps to Newt’s cell door.
Hermann swiped his keycard furiously at the lock and burst into the room. Newt was sitting bolt upright in bed, his nails scrabbling at his bare arms.
“Newton!” Hermann shouted, rushing forward and grabbing Newt’s hands. He held them down onto the bed as Newt writhed in front of him, gasping for air and sobbing, his face soaked with tears.
“I— I can’t,” he managed, fingers twitching wildly. “I can’t, Hermann, I need to— Hermann I can’t— please.”
Hermann held Newt’s hands tighter as he leaned in close, pressing their foreheads together. “Newton, you are stronger than this. You left that pain behind a long time ago, and you can keep it there now. But you must stay with me.”
Newton let out a broken sob. “I— it hurts so much, Hermann.”
“I know, darling,” he said softly, his heart hurting desperately in tandem. “I know,”
Newt screwed his eyes shut, tears slipping out of the corners. He let out a long, cracked sigh.
“Am I alright to let go?” Hermann asked. He nodded, but shuffled closer until he was pressed up against Hermann’s side. Hermann put an arm around Newt’s shoulder and pulled him in close, stroking his hair gently.
“I’m afraid we might have shared a nightmare,” he said, running his fingers through Newt’s hair. Newt laughed humorlessly.
“Yeah, no kidding, Herms.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Newt shook his head vehemently. “No. I just want it to— to not happen again.”
“I’m afraid I cannot promise that, Newton. But I suppose I can promise to be here.”
Newt looked up at him, eyes wide and wet. “How did you know?” he asked. “About… y’know. The stuff.”
Hermann felt what Newt ment through the ragged echoes of the Drift. He sighed.
“I saw… a lot, when we Drifted. Your history was one of those things. It was actually one of the things I tried to talk to you about afterword, but I suppose… I just never found the words.” Hermann looked away. “I couldn’t find the words for a lot of things, I suppose.”
Newt leaned into him. “I’m sorry.”
Hermann glanced down, frowning. “For what?”
“For this. Everything.” He spread his hands loosely. “Me.”
Hermann felt his heart twist. “Newton…”
“No,” he said, “I mean— look, you’ve gotta let me say it, okay? You have to let me be sorry. That’s what everyone expects, hell— that’s what everyone wants, and I mean… if I’m not sorry… what am I?”
Hermann let his free hand linger on Newt’s arms, feeling the thin, raised lines hidden deep beneath the tattoos. He traced them reverently, seeing the story underneath the scar tissue. Newt tensed, but didn’t pull away.
Hermann brought up Newt’s hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “You are Newton Geiszler,” he said, “and you are brave and brilliant and beautiful. And you are mine. Always remember that.”
Newt swallowed hard, tearing up again. “You really think that?”
“Newton. I don’t need to be sold on reasons to want you; I don’t need reasons to feel how I feel. You are the smartest person I know, and a wonderful scientist, and a good man. No one, and nothing can change that. Not ever.”
He intertwined their fingers and held them close. “Newton,” he said slowly, “your… tattoos. Do you want to… get rid of them?”
Newt thought for a long moment. Then, he shook his head. “No.”
He shifted a little in Hermann’s arms, tucking his legs underneath the blanket. Their fingers curled together like drying pages of a book.
“Y’know… before I got my tattoos, my dad got me Mederma. It’s this ointment you can put on scars to make them fade. I guess… I guess he thought I might not want to have those memories. And maybe he was right. Maybe that was the healthy thing to do.
“But I didn’t want to erase them. And I don’t want to erase my tattoos. They’re… reminders. Of what happened. That I fought the Precursors. I can look at them and remember that I’m stronger than what hurt me, and I can get through anything if I try. Because really, what could possibly be worse than the last ten years?”
Hermann pressed his lips together. “They’re battle scars.”
He nodded. “Yeah. And I won.”
Hermann pulled back a little, fingering the collar of his sleep shirt. “Newton,” he said slowly, “I. Er. Would like to show you something. If you would like.”
Newt looked at him curiously, but nodded. Hermann unlaced their fingers and carefully unbuttoned the top few buttons of his shirt. He slid the fabric down over his shoulder, revealing what was beneath.
An intricate infinity sign stretched across his collarbone, comprised of tiny lines of code. Newt brushed his fingertips across the delicate skin, tracing the winding symbol with his hand. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered. “What— what’s the code?”
Hermann smiled. “Our Drift signature, translated into binary. I retrieved it from the PONS a little while after Operation Pitfall. I wanted… I wanted the memory to stay.”
“Even if I couldn’t,” Newt finished softly. He placed his hand over the tattoo, feeling Hermann’s heart beat beneath it. “Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes I think I’m going to break from the… weight of it all. Of how much I’ve been through. I’m scared I’ll never get rid of how it… she… they made me feel. I mean, what if I always stay broken?”
He shifted in his seat. “After Pitfall,” he said, “I tried to talk to you, but something… something always held me back. At first I was just scared of what you saw in the Drift, but then weird stuff started happening. I always felt like someone was watching me, and then I didn’t trust my eyes. I started hallucinating things; Kaiju and nightmares, and then these things that might have been the Precursors. I started waking up and not being able to move, and I would hear voices. Not just in my dreams, like, in actual real life. They would say that everyone secretly hated me, that I was going to die without them, that I was— was better off alone. I thought I was going crazy, but I was too scared to say anything.
“And then there was a day when… when I woke up and I couldn’t move. And I tried, but then my body got out of bed without my brain. And walked into my apartment. And made breakfast. And I couldn’t control it at all. I was so… scared. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move, or speak, or do anything. I was trapped.
“You don’t— you don’t know what it’s like to be trapped in your own mind, Hermann. You can’t— do anything except watch, and sometimes I couldn’t even do that. I was screaming and— and trying so hard but after years and years I was just so… tired.”
Newt’s shoulders sagged, and tears began to spill from his eyes. He made a sound like a wounded animal, his chest crumpling in on itself. “God, I just— ten years, Hermann. Those things took ten years of my life!”
Hermann held Newt close to his chest, stroking his hair gently as he cried. He brushed a strand away from his eyes, which glowed softly in the darkness.
Hermann froze. Glowing?
Indeed, Newt’s eyes pulsed a light blue, as well as his freckles. Both shone with a gentle, yet otherworldly light, and his pupils had turned to almost animalistic slits. Hermann could see Newt’s mouth, open and crying, was suddenly filled with thick, sharp teeth.
Trying not to panic, Hermann slowly lifted a hand to Newt’s face. “Newton,” he said carefully, “does anything look… different? To you?”
Newt opened his eyes, then stilled. “Hermann?” he said quietly. “Hermann, you’re in red and orange.”
“Tell me what you see,” Newt said tensely, beginning to shake. “Hermann, tell me what you see.”
Hermann swallowed hard. “Your eyes,” he said. “They’re blue and glowing. Your— ah, your freckles as well.”
“My teeth feel different,” Newt mumbled, running is tongue over the sharp points. “Ohhhh God, Hermann my teeth feel very different. I’m really wanting to freak out now!”
“Hermann! Why are my teeth sharp!?” Newt yelled, leaping up and away. “Oh God, what if I’m dangerous—“
“You’re not dangerous—“
“What did those fucking things do to me?!”
“I’m a freak!” Newton shouted, unable to stop touching his eyes and face. Hermann grabbed his cane and strode forward, placing a hand on Newt’s shoulder.
“Newton!” he said, squeezing tightly. Newt froze and stared up at him, eyes large and glowing brightly. They were alien to him, yet looked frighteningly human. “Newton, you must calm down or you’ll give yourself a conniption.”
“I can’t calm down, Hermann!” Newt said frantically, breathing fast and hard. “I’m— I’m a fucking freak! Look at me! I— I’ve got teeth and eyes and a— a thing! On my nose! Look at me!”
Newt shoved himself against Hermann’s chest and screamed, a raw, guttural sound. It echoed throughout the room, bouncing off the metal walls and burrowing it’s way into Hermann’s ears. He burrowed into the fabric of Hermann’s shirt and let out another scream.
Hermann sighed and wrapped his arms around Newt, keeping him close.
Eventually, Newt tired himself out enough to slump against Hermann. He backed up slowly, guiding Newt to sit down on the bed next to him, and keeping their hands together.
“Feel better?” he asked. Newt nodded sullenly, his body like a puppet that had been cut from it’s strings.
Hermann sighed. “Newton,” he said, “I understand it may not help, but would you like to hear my hypothesis?”
“Yeah,” Newt said, “yeah I could really do with some science right now.”
Hermann gave his hand a squeeze. “Right. Well. You understand that the Drift goes two ways, and that within that there can be some crossover.”
Newt laughed a little. “Yeah, dude. I’ve seen your office.”
“So it can be naturally inferred that while the Kaiju gained your knowledge and control, you also gained some of their neural signatures. That might have led to your brain sending specific and foreign signatures to the rest of your body, telling it to adapt to this change.”
Newt blinked. “So what you’re telling me,” he said, “is that whenever I feel things a lot, I get a little more Kaiju?”
“Ironic, I know, but I suppose that would be a correct summation.”
Newt sighed, long and tired. “Fucking great,” he said, “that’s just amazing. I’m not a danger to society at all.”
“No, Hermann, it’s fine— it’s fine! I just can’t get emotional! Ever! Totally realistic life goal!”
Hermann put a hand on Newt’s chest. “Newton. You are not a danger, or a freak. You’re not going to hurt anyone. And we can figure this out together.”
Newt made a sort of neutral noise and scooted closer, his eyes slowly dimming and returning to normal. His freckles still glowed faintly as the moon shone in through the window.
Chapter 12: Pink in the Night
Newt and Hermann make an early breakfast.
They were speaking late into the night when Newt suddenly looked up, blinked, and said, “I want pancakes.”
Hermann was startled by this, not only because of the nature of the request, but that Newt had asked for anything at all. He often phrased his requests, rare as they were, with a series of ellipses and pauses, as if wanting anything were a crime itself. Hermann smiled, proud of him.
Newt seemed to realize his boldness, and winced. “I mean, not that I’m asking you for any— forget I said anything, I’m sorry.”
Hermann put a gentle hand in his. “It’s quite alright, Newton. You have nothing to be sorry for.” An idea came to him, and he grinned mischievously. “Would you like to make some?”
Newt frowned. “You mean right now?”
Hermann nodded, then stood up and held out his hand. “Why not? We’re bloody war heroes after all. They can let us into the kitchen at this hour.”
Newt smiled, eyes sparkling like twin jewels. “Hell yeah, man! Let’s go make pancakes!”
They snuck down the hall out of Newt’s room, nodding at the security guard as they passed. The Shatterdome was soft and quiet in the nighttime, the only light streaming through the windows the stars above. Newt and Hermann giggled like a pair of teenagers, holding hands and hurrying through the corridors.
“Dude,” Newt whispered, “we are so getting in trouble for this.”
Hermann shushed him and fiddled with the lock on the kitchen door. It was barely a strain to crack, and they slipped through with ease.
The kitchen was dark when the arrived, and Hermann flicked on the lights. Empty counters gleamed silver, and bags of flour, sugar, and salt sat unopened on the floors.
Newt bustled over to a cupboard and opened it, combing through the supplies. “Okay,” he said, “see if they have any Bisquick, but if not, we need flour, vegetable oil, milk, sugar, and eggs.”
Hermann made straight for the pantry and retrieved one of the many boxes of general bread mix. He held it aloft. “Will ‘Hungry Jack’ do?”
Newt wrinkled his nose. “Not as good as Bisquick, but sure. We also need plain oats, cinnamon, and blueberries. Also: get whatever fixings you want for yours.”
Hermann passed Newt the pancake mix and a container of oats, then rifled through the spice cabinet for cinnamon. Behind him, Newt opened one of the produce fridges and grabbed a quart of blueberries. He popped a few in his mouth and sighed happily.
Hermann raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure those are in season.”
“Who cares,” said Newt, “I forgot how good food tastes!”
He set the blueberries down on the counter and moved along to the dairy fridge. From there, he pulled out a jug of milk, three eggs, and a gallon of vegetable oil, and set them down as well.
Newt spread all the ingredients out on the counter and took the large mixing bowl Hermann gave him. “Get a pan,” he said, “and put the griddle on a medium heat after you add butter. None of that nonstick shit.”
He poured a cup of the mix into the bowl and added the milk and eggs. “The trick is,” said Newt, “you add the basics first and get it at a nice consistency. Then add the fancy stuff so it gets coated.” The oil went next, and the oats.
Hermann greased the surface of the pan with a stick of butter, then placed it gingerly down on the griddle. He began to turn up the heat, but jumped as a cloud of powdery white leapt into his vision.
From beside him, Newt snickered. “Dude,” he said, “you should see your face right now.”
Hermann blinked, wiping the flour off his face. “Newton,” he said, “I’m ending our relationship.”
Newt’s eyes widened. “Wait, what?”
Hermann used this moment to grab a handful of flour from the bag and pitch it straight at Newt. He yelped as it hit him in the face, his mouth open to catch half of it.
Hermann doubled over with laughter as Newt sputtered, trying to spit out the flour out. “What the hell, dude! This is a black shirt!”
“I’m so sorry,” Hermann managed, “but you were right: your face is absolutely perfect.”
Newt scrunched his face up in response. “This totally means war.”
He took another handful and threw it at Hermann, who ducked and got a puff of flour in his hair. Hermann plucked a blueberry and tossed it at Newt, but the man turned and caught it in his mouth. He smiled smugly. “Nice try, babe.”
Hermann pressed his lips together, then grabbed the collar of Newt’s t-shirt and drew him in for a kiss. Newt made a little noise of surprise, but happily melted into Hermann’s arms. He swung his arms around Hermann’s waist and pulled him close, running his tongue along the seam of his mouth. Hermann dragged a hand down his back, then slowly reached over—
—and threw a handful of flour into his face.
Newt squawked and pulled away. “Dude! What the actual hell— I was trying to be sexy! You don’t respond to sexy with goddamn flour!”
Hermann huffed. “Newton, that was sweet, not…” he cringed at the word, “sexy.”
Newt put a hand on his hip and scowled. “It absolutely was. I can be extremely sexy.”
“Of course you can.”
“You don’t think I can be, do you?!” Newt said, pointing an accusing finger.
“Newton, you know that’s not true.”
“Oh really? Name three times I’ve been sexy.”
Hermann blinked. “Ah.”
“I knew it!”
“Oh come on now, Newton. If you want three times, I’ll bloody give you three times.” He began to tick off on his fingers. “There was the time you got Blue all over your shirt and had to use the decontamination shower, and decided to come out without any of your bloody clothes on.”
Newt nodded smugly. “Okay, you’re right, I was going for very sexy that time.”
“Then, you wore those ridiculous cutoffs during the summer of twenty-twenty, and honestly, aside from the flagrant violations of lab safety and conduct, your… backside, looked quite nice. In them.” He was blushing fiercely now. “And— er. Then. When we went to the gala after the Wall was announced, you cleaned up well in your suit.”
Newt grinned. “I knew you thought I looked hot in that. You kept fixing my tie when it was straight the whole time.”
“Your tie was always crooked, Newton.”
“It was too, now don’t be so smug. It’s a terrible look on you.”
Newt flicked his eyebrows up and down. “Smug looks amazing on me, and you know it.”
“Hmm.” Hermann took a step forward and slipped his fingers around Newt’s hips. “I suppose.”
“You— you suppose? Wow, real romantic, Herms.”
“You know how I hate the nicknames, Newton.”
Newt fluttered his eyelashes. “You love it.”
Hermann leaned forward, closing the gap between them. “I might.”
This kiss was much different than the first one, in that Hermann had no plans to throw flour in Newton’s face. They kissed slowly, feeling each other’s lips slide against each other and pressing their chests together. Hermann gripped Newt’s hips a little tighter, humming pleasantly into his mouth.
Newt grabbed Hermann by the shoulders and spun him around, pushing him up against the counter. He slid his hands down Hermann’s arms to hold his wrists gently, then kissed the side of his mouth before moving his lips over to Hermann’s jaw.
Hermann let out a soft sigh, tilting his head back to give Newt better access. Newt smiled against his skin, sucking at the pale expanse. “Y’know,” he murmured, “you’re pretty fun to kiss.”
Hermann laughed. “Mmm,” he said, “I’m glad to hear it.”
Newt moved to Hermann’s neck, leaving another light purple mark there. Hermann let out a soft whine. “Newton, someone will see—“
“Good,” Newt said fiercely, kissing the hickey. “I want everyone to.”
Newt chuckled and kissed some more. “I thought you liked my kisses.”
Hermann dug his fingernails into Newt’s sides. “Well— well yes of course, but— Newton,” he said, hitching a leg up, “Newton, you’re being rather distracting.”
“As per my earlier statement: good.”
“Gottlieb?” came a voice from behind them. Newt and Hermann froze.
Jake stood in the middle of the kitchen, clad in a garishly printed bathrobe and holding a large tub of ice cream. Beside him was Nate, who had both a gallon of sprinkles, and a bright purple hickey on his jaw.
“Uh,” said Newt, not moving from his position. “Would you believe the Precursors have come back, and Hermann is valiantly bringing me back with true love’s kiss?”
“I literally couldn’t care either way,” said Jake flatly. Nate sighed.
“Jesus Christ— what are you two even doing in here?”
“I could ask you the same thing!” Newt shot back. “And what’s with stealing ice cream? Those are valuable PPDC requisitions!”
“That you just so happen to want,” said Jake.
“Whatever, dude, you have a problem. At least I need more sugar in my diet.”
“Newton,” Hermann sighed, “you really don’t. Your supposed to be gaining weight through healthy choices, remember?”
“Fuck off, Hermann, I’ll die before I eat a salad.”
“I’m not asking you to go vegan, Newton, you just need to consider re-introducing your body to food slowly.”
“Yeah, but I’m hungry all the time. And ice cream tastes better.”
“It has no nutritional value!”
“Your tongue has no nutritional value, but I sure seem to swallow it a lot, huh?”
“Newton, that’s vulgar.”
“Hey!” shouted Jake, rolling his eyes. “As cute as this is, can we all just agree to keep kitchen shit under wraps and get on with our lives? I’ve got a hot girl in my quarters and I do not wanna fuck this up.”
“If Jules heard you talking about her like that,” said Nate, “she’d kick your ass.”
“Yeah sure, says the guy who once waxed poetic about her hair.”
“You wrote me a poem that called my eyes, ‘two shining stars in a beacon of light.’”
Jake reddened. “Cool. Okay. We’re leaving now.” With that, he grabbed Nate by the arm and dragged him out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.”
Newt and Hermann stared at the door, then looked at each other. “So,” said Newt, “that was weird.”
Hermann sighed and pushed him away. “Indubinantly. Shall we finish our meal, then?”
Newt nodded, and proceeded to mix the ingredients together, before ladling out a few scoops of batter onto the pan. The batter bubbled and popped, smelling fragrantly of oats and cinnamon. Newt sprinkled a layer of blueberries onto the pancake, before shaking the pan a little to spread it.
“What you do,” he said, “is put the blueberries on after the batter, so you form a nice layer. That way they’re spread evenly.”
After a few minutes, he flipped the pancakes, displaying a perfectly browned bottom. Hermann raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know you could cook.”
Newt nodded proudly. “I learned pretty quick during college, and eventually started selling pastries and shit to make extra money. I fucking love cooking.”
Hermann wrapped his arms around Newt’s waist, stroking the front of his stomach. Already, a little of Newt’s former softness was returning; an excellent sign. Hermann smiled.
“When we get a place together,” he said, “you can cook whatever you’d like for us. We can go to those infernal grocery stores with fancy ingredients, and get granola that costs five dollars a pound. Does that sound nice?”
Newt turned around, revealing eyes shining with tears. “You want that?” he said, voice wavering. “To— to move in with me and go grocery shopping together, and do… couple stuff?”
Hermann cupped his jaw with his hand and stroked his cheek. “Of course, darling. I want to do everything with you.”
Newt blinked away his tears, beaming. His freckles were glowing brightly, and his eyes shone a wet blue. “Thank you,” he said, “for this. For everything. For making it all worth it. I never could have done this without you.”
Hermann kissed his nose softly. There was something in his chest that ached with these words, something he couldn’t explain. He thought, perhaps, it might be love.
“You are stronger than they knew, Newton. Never forget that.”
They ate their pancakes in silence, Newton making a series of lewd noises at the flavor. When Hermann gave him a good-natured scowl, he laughed. “God,” he said, “I missed cooking. And food, too. Really glad to have that back.
Hermann felt his heart twist. He wanted this so badly, to live in a world where there was nothing but him and Newton and the things they loved. A world where none of those awful things had happened, and they were whole men without fear. A world were they could be at piece.
But this was not the way, and he knew that soon they would have to face what they left behind.
For now, Hermann was happy to eat pancakes under the dingy lights of the kitchen, off paper plates that hadn’t been used since 2016, with the man he loved more than the world could take. For now, he thought (he hoped), that was enough.
It would always be enough.
Chapter 13: Interlude One
Hermann makes a call. Vanessa checks in. Newt makes some friends.
warning for description of a panic attack
Hermann sits on the roof of the Shatterdome, the sky opening up above him. Stars, sprinkled on black velvet like salt, beam wetly above him. The night air is cool and soft, smelling of ocean breezes and city smoke. Hermann’s cane rests beside him on the concrete. His heart is both heavy and light at the same time. He is alone.
From within his coat pocket, his phone rings. Hermann startles at the sound, but reaches down and fishes it out, pressing answer.
“Hello?” he says. His own voice sounds strange to his ears.
“Hermann,” says Vanessa. “Hi. How are you?”
Hermann swallows. This is not a good night to talk to his ex-wife. The world feels glassy and breakable, and he can feel Newt brush against the beginnings of a nightmare down below. Still, he sighs.
“I am fine, thank you. Eleanor is fine as well, although I assume you’ve heard all manner of terrible things about me.”
Vanessa’s end crackles. “No, actually. I haven’t heard from her much at all.”
Hermann blinks, surprised. “Really?”
Vanessa makes a noise of agreement. “It’s very odd. How’s she doing? I know there are other children at the Shatterdome there, is she getting along with them? Making friends?”
With a sigh, Hermann brushes his fingers across the back of his phone. He doesn’t have the energy to speak right now. Any words he could say would sound watery and broken, shattering in the cold night air.
Pressing the phone between his ear and shoulder, Hermann reaches into his pocket and pulls out a carton of cigarettes and a lighter. It’s a nasty habit, one he’s tried to quit many times, but tonight he just doesn’t have the energy for resistance. He clicks the lighter on and lights a cigarette, bringing it to his lips and taking a long drag.
The hot smoke fills his lungs and he coughs a little. Then, Hermann exhales into the sweet night air, a little cloud of smoke dancing around his head.
“Hermann?” Vanessa says, “Are you still there?” Hermann sighs again.
“Yes,” he says, “my apologies. You were saying?”
“I want to know if you and Rook are okay.” There’s silence for a moment, then she says, “I know it sounds a bit presumptuous of me, but I do care about you, Hermann, and I want to make sure you’re alright. You work yourself too hard, and I don’t know exactly what’s going on between you and Newt Geiszler, but from the little my daughter’s told me, you’re going through hell and a hailstorm.”
Hermann barks out a bitter laugh. “Yes, well. One could say that.”
Vanessa is hesitant, but speaks. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Don’t pretend to be my confidant, Vanessa. We both know that’s just not realistic.”
Vanessa makes a noise of frustration. “I’m not trying to fix what’s broken, Hermann. I’m just trying to help. You don’t need to turn everything into a battle.”
“I am not turning this into a fight-- it was you who always started them in the first place.”
“Are you really blaming me right now?”
“Maybe I am!” Hermann shouts, and his voice echoes into the dark space in front of him. He flinches. “I’m-- I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
There is cold, angry silence in the air. The atmosphere is cracking and prickly, and Hermann feels as if his lungs are being crushed. He shouldn’t have tried to speak today. It wasn’t the time.
“Hermann,” Vanessa says, “please. Talk to me.”
Hermann takes another drag from his cigarette and blows it out. He feels jagged and cool.
“Would you really like to know how I feel, Vanessa?”
Hermann taps the ash off into the wind. His feet dangle over the edge of the roof.
“I feel tired. For ten years, I believed that the man I loved more than anything had abandoned me for prospects and people that were worth more to him than my company. I believed that I was worth so little to him, he could toss me away without thinking. I believed that it was not worth it to him, that I was not worth it to him. I missed him. And I thought he did not miss me.
“I waited, Vanessa. For ten long years, I waited and I prayed and I hoped for anything; for a call or a letter or even a damned invitation to one of his blasted parties I always heard about. I hid my loneliness and my bitterness and my pain, because there was no one left who could possibly understand what it felt like to lose the person you love, even when I didn’t lose him at all. Do you know how that destroyed me, Vanessa? Do you know what it feels like to tear out your own heart and burn it, still inside your chest?
“I love Newton, I love him more than anything in the world, but he is not the only damaged one. I hurt too. And I only wish now were the right time to tell him that.”
“So tell him,” Vanessa says. Hermann laughs again.
“I cannot right now. He would blame himself even more, or he would turn away for fear of hurting me more. Perhaps one day, perhaps when he is recovered, it could be my time to grieve for those ten years, but not now. Not when he is still so fragile.”
He brings the cigarette to his lips and breathes in, feeling warmer. The sky above him seethes.
“He would want to know that you’re hurting, Hermann.”
He breathes out. “I know. And I do hate lying to him. But… I don’t know. Maybe I’m selfish for wanting things to turn out right again.”
Vanessa sighs, her breathe turned to crackling static in Hermann’s ear. “You’re not selfish, Hermann. You’re in love. But you need to be open, or you’ll bottle yourself up enough that it’ll all come rushing out at the worst time.”
Hermann wets his lips, then takes another drag. “Is that why we failed each other?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, Hermann. We failed in a lot of ways.”
He closes his eyes, burned out, smoking, cold. “Are you in need of anything else?”
Vanessa is quiet for a few seconds. “No.”
Then the line goes dead, and Hermann puts down his phone and leans back on his hands and is left with only the silence of the night around him, and the unforgiving glare of the stars above.
Newt is walking down the Shatterdome hallway, trying not to be seen by any guards who would stop his quest for a snack, when he feels something delicate in his chest twist.
He stops, freezing in place, and puts a hand on the wall. There’s something very, very wrong-- he can feel it in the sudden racing of his heart. His chest begins to tighten, and a stony lump simmers in his stomach.
Shit, he thinks, oh shit, not here, please, anywhere but here.
He tries to stand, but his legs buckle beneath him, and suddenly Newt is on the floor trying to remember how to breathe. Something is squeezing his lungs, and he’s gasping for air but he can’t get any, and people are starting to look at him oddly. Their stares burn into his skin (oh look, it’s the crazy Precursor emissary having a breakdown for the whole world to see) and everything feels too hot and tight, and he can’t fucking breathe--
“Hey!” comes a voice, cutting through the roaring static in his brain, “What are you all looking at?”
Another, slightly deeper, says, “Leave Dr. Geiszler alone! This is none of your business!”
Two shadows fall on top of him, and Newt flinches away. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles, cowering behind his shoulder, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m--”
A young girl comes into view: it’s Amara Namani. Newt recognizes her as that whiz kid who built her own jaeger and totally kicked ass in the Battle of Tokyo. Beside her is another girl her age, with short blonde hair and a prudish, yet lovely face. Vik Mali-something, he thinks.
Amara puts a hand on his shoulder, her eyes filled with concern. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”
“I--” says Newt, struggling to find the breath needed for words, “I-- I--”
“Namani,” says Vik, “take his other arm. We need to get him out of here.”
Amara nods, they each slip under Newt’s arms and lift him up. He manages to put enough weight down to take a few stumbling steps, and Amara and Vik help him down the hall, away from the others’ prying stares, out a door and onto a deck that overlooks the jaeger bay.
They set him down against the railing and slump beside him, each with a hand on his shoulder. Amara looks at him, her dark eyes wide. “Are you having a panic attack? Do I need to get Dr. Gottlieb?”
“No,” Newt says, struggling to fix his clunky breathing, “no I’m-- I’m okay. Just let me-- shit-- just let me catch my breath.”
He breathes in, and out, then in again, placing a hand on his chest and feeling the rise and fall. His heartbeat begins to limp back to a normal rate after a few minutes of this, though his hands still shake like falling leaves.
Amara, bless her heart, peers closer. “Are your freckles glowing?”
“Yeah,” Newt says, “they do that sometimes.”
Vik looks at her, then at him, then nods. “Okay. Do you need us to get someone?”
Newt shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says, “thanks.”
He looks up at the two girls, confused. “Why-- why are you helping me?”
Vik looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Because it is the right thing to do?”
“Yeah,” says Amara, “we weren’t gonna just leave you there.”
“But-- but you think I’m crazy! I hurt your friends-- I hurt your home! How do you not hate me?”
Amara looks away, then at Vik, who glances down. “We don't…” she lets out a breath, “we don’t hate you, Dr. Geiszler. You weren’t yourself. We can’t blame you for that.” Vik nods.
“Please,” he says, “call me Newt. Way too many people have called my Dr. Geiszler these past few years.”
She blinks like she’s been shocked. “Seriously? I thought you loved when people called you that.”
Newt shakes his head. “Nah. That’s Hermann’s thing. Besides, you should be a doctor too, what with how you built your own jaeger-- awesome, by the way, holy shit.”
Her eyes sparkle. “Really?”
“Yeah, dude! Fuck what Shao said, you’re, like, a million times cooler than her. You have such a huge future with your skills, and I’m so excited to see where this takes you.”
Vik grins. “You have changed, Newt.”
“God I hope so,” he replies, leaning back against the railing. “Possessed me was awful. Had the worst sense of style, too. Like, seriously, could you imagine wanting to wear flowery suits and neck chains every goddamn day of your life?”
“Is that why you’re wearing a shirt that says ‘Vore to my Core’?” Vik asks dryly. Newt smiles.
“Those bastards made me dress like a freaking supermodel for ten years. From now on, it’s all comfort, all the time. I’m never wearing a fancy waistcoat again.”
Amara laughs and reaches up for a high five, which Newt gladly accepts. “You kids are so cool,” he says, “you really are gonna change the world, y’know? I’m so excited to see that happen.” He pauses. “Sorry, I get really sappy after a panic attack.”
“Nah, dude,” says Amara, “I get how you feel. After the first Kaiju attack, I used to get really scared all the time for no reason. Jake says it’s PTSD, but I feel like I’m a little young to have that.”
Newt shakes his head. “It sucks. It really fucking sucks.”
Vik reaches over Newt and grabs Amara’s hand. “We are your friends now,” she says firmly. “If anyone has a problem with you, they can go through us.”
“She’ll judo flip them,” adds Amara. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Newt stares at these two precocious girls, far too young to be where they are, and can’t help but crack a smile.
Chapter 14: Where My Dusty Heart is Beating
Hermann takes a stand. Newt makes a request. Jake sets the stage.
“So,” said Jake, folding his hands on the table, “let’s get down to business.”
Hermann frowned. “Ranger,” he said carefully, “you don’t see anything wrong with all this?”
“What’s that, Gottlieb?”
“Newton,” he sighed, expecting this, “where is he? I’m quite honestly shocked that we’re discussing his future while he isn’t present.”
The other people around the table shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Ranger Feun licked his lips and looked away.
“Gottlieb,” he said, “some people here aren’t exactly… comfortable with being in the presence of the Precursors emissary.”
“His name,” Hermann growled, “is Newton. He is not an emissary, he is a celebrated doctor, and I ask that you treat him with respect. I should also think that you would not be so cruel as to discuss a man’s life without him being present.” He crossed his arms firmly. “I shall not continue with this until Newton is brought in. That is my final word.”
Jake looked at Nate, then Fuen, then a few others, and sighed. “Really, man? You’re gonna do this now?”
Hermann only glared in response.
Jake threw up his hands. “Alright, fine. We’ll bring him in, but he’s getting cuffed and guarded.”
Newt arrived with a pair of thick handcuffs around his wrists, being muscled in by two nasty-looking guards. He appeared nervous and skittish, clearly frightened of so many new people at once. The room stared at him as he walked in, and he waved slightly with one hand.
“Uh, hi,” he said timidly, “Dr. Geiszler. Call me Newt. Nice to meet you all.”
“Come on in, there’s a chair next to Gottlieb for you,” said Jake. Newt sat, waves of anxiety radiating off him. Hermann could feel his fear through the Drift, and reached down to grasp his hand gently. He squeezed it once. Newt squeezed back, looking slightly more at ease.
“So,” Jake began, looking around the table, “I think our first priority should be figuring out what’s best for you. You’ll have a say in it, of course, but our main priority is Anteverse prep, and how you fit into that.”
“How-- how I fit in?” Newt asked. “What do you mean?”
“He means,” said a pinched-looking man on Fuen’s left, “we need to decide what use you are to us. Or if you have any left at all.” He looks down at Newt over his glasses, not a single red hair falling into his face. “Daniel Thomas. Head of LOCCENT.”
Hermann felt a spark of anger soar down the Drift pipeline. Newt puffed himself up and gave Thomas a droll look. “Newt Geiszler. Co-head of K-Science, Hong Kong Division, and former meatbag of the Kaiju. Pleasure’s all mine, dude.”
Thomas grimaced. Internally, Hermann smiled.
“Right…” said Jake, sensing more than a little tension. “Basically, yes, we need to figure out where to put you. Now, there are a couple options on the table, including a rehabilitation program, asylum with the PPDC--”
“And there’s also the idea I posed, Ranger,” Thomas interjected. Jake looked uncomfortable.
“Thomas, we’ve mentioned before that it’s not exactly ideal.”
“Let’s hear it first,” said Newt sharply. “I wanna know exactly what you people wanna do with me.”
Thomas smiled thinly, like turpentine. “Well, I proposed simply reestablishing the former connection with the Anteverse for the use of psychological warfare and espionage. It would be a great asset to war preparations, as well as--”
Thomas turned and looked at Hermann like he was something on the bottom of his shoe. “Excuse me, Dr. Gottlieb?”
Hermann glanced at Newt, pale and breathing quickly. Slow down, he thought gently, I won’t let anything happen to you.
“Not only,” Hermann said, “would that be nearly impossible, due to the fact that the Precursors would immediately sense our efforts and rebuke them, but a massive violation of the Geneva Conventions, due to the fact that it would be the equivalent of intense psychological torture for Dr. Geiszler. The man has been through ten years of unadulterated abuse at the hands of an advanced alien race, and now, I believe, you wish to subject him to more?”
“Gottlieb--” said Jake carefully, but Hermann barreled on.
“I find it incredible that one human could have so much disregard for another’s life and well being, and I find it simply astonishing that you could be so ignorant of the basic laws of warfare by which we, as the human race, operate. We are trying to minimize civilian casualties, yes?”
Thomas was near-purple with rage. “Geiszler is not a civilian! He is a prisoner of the PPDC--!”
“Dr. Geiszler, thank you so very much, is a victim of the very creatures we are working against; he is a damn human being and you will treat him with the dignity and respect he is owed! This man, this hero, gave up ten years of his life to end the First War, something I remember you opposing a great deal, Mr. Thomas, and is owed more than a life debt by the PPDC!”
Jake rose and put a hand on Thomas’ shoulder. “I think now might be a good time for you to leave, mate.”
Thomas looked like he was about to burst. He shoved Jake’s hand away, slammed his chair back into the table, and stormed out of the room, the door banging shut behind him. The entire room was silent.
“Jesus Christ,” said Jules, leaning back in her chair. “What a goddamn mess.”
Jake began to laugh, and some of the tension eased away. Beside him, Nate cracked a small smile.
“Newton,” Hermann said under his breath, “are you alright?”
Newt nodded and squeezed his hand again. “Yeah,” he said quietly, “thank you.”
Jake clapped his hands together and sat back down. “Okay, guys, seriously. Anyone have any ideas that won’t send Gottlieb here into a tirade of righteous fury?”
Newt snorted and covered his mouth with his hands. Underneath the table, Hermann stepped on his foot.
Jules raised her hand and stood. “I think our best option is to get the Precursors out of Dr. Geiszler’s head for good. He’s a much more valuable person to us alive than dead, and our number one priority needs to be getting him back on his feet.”
“Good thinking,” Jake said. “Geiszler, if you’re alright with it, I’d like to put you back on the K-Sci team once you’re feeling better. We need your Kaiju expertise.”
“I think we should move him to a bunk with Gottlieb; they seem to work pretty well together,” said Nate. “That, and regular therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. If you’re staying off those meds, we need to watch you even more carefully.”
Newt nodded. “I can understand that. Although, if you’re bunking me with Hermann, you’re gonna have to requisition him a bigger bed, ‘cause I sleep like a starfish.”
Hermann smiled brightly, while Jake laughed again. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Fuen knocked on the table once to gather their attention. “If that’s settled,” he said, “I believe we should move on to Anteverse preparations?”
“Right,” said Jake. “Geiszler, are you okay with working on Kaiju specimens? We’ll need a disguise to get past the breach, and as great as Gottlieb is, you’re our foremost expert.”
Newt looked uncertain, but nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. It might take an hour or so for me to get as comfy as I was back in the day, but I can put together pretty much anything you might need.”
Jake turned to Hermann. “Gottlieb, we’ll need you to create a new breach and figure out how to stabilize it. Make it big, make it controlled, and make it easy to get in and out of. Got it?”
Hermann almost had to hold his other hand down to prevent saluting. “Yes sir.”
“Great, now: Newt, you’re gonna need your own lab, so just put in the requests for any materials or instruments, and we’ll try and get that to you.”
Hermann glanced at Newt, concerned. Newt looked frightened, almost like he was trying to say something, but couldn’t bring himself to. He nudged him gently. “Newton, is there something you’d like to say?”
Newt swallowed hard, the lines of his throat expanding and contracting with the moment. Hermann let his vision swim out of focus and dove deep into the connection of the Drift between him. Newt’s mind met him in the middle.
I’m scared, he said, I’m scared-- what if they say no? What if they get mad at me, or hurt me, or tell me I can’t ask for things again, or--
You will be okay, Hermann thought gently. Everyone in here is on your side. We want nothing but the best for you. You can ask for whatever you’d like.
And Hermann knew, of course, that he wouldn’t let them say “no” no matter what Newt wanted. After being denied so much for so long, he couldn’t resist fulfilling every little desire, even if Newt didn’t voice them aloud. He ached for Newt, profoundly and terribly, and wanted with all his heart to give him everything in the world. The fact that Newt was so afraid, that he felt he couldn’t ask for such simple things without fearing retribution, made him hurt inside. All Hermann wanted was to wipe away the damage of the past ten years, leaving Newt happy and safe.
But he could not. The damage had been done, and, Hermann knew, would never heal completely. Newt’s mind had been profoundly changed by the experience of his possession, and while that did not mean he could never be happy again, it was likely that things would always be a little bit harder from now on.
Hermann hated that. He hated that the heart of the man he loved was so broken, and that his mind was in need of so much repair. He wanted to go back into the Drift, take a needle and thread from his thoughts, and sew every crack and tear back up again. He wished there was some way he could do all the healing for Newt, that he could let the love of his life have one moment of peace, unmarred by the scars of the past.
Newt was working hard, Hermann could see that. He saw it in the way his breaths slowed deliberately after every nightmare. He saw it when Newt didn’t shy away from the strange looks he received, but stared them down with a quiet strength that no other could match. He saw it in the light slowly returning to his eyes, gentle and wavering, but there.
There was a great strength in Newton Geiszler, one that Hermann had seen in their letters, so full of passion that they were, and he saw it now. When the Precursors had told Hermann that Newt was not strong enough, he had never believed them. Newt was the strongest person he knew. He had survived so much, and lived so little, that, Hermann knew, the light inside of him could move mountains.
Hermann saw that strength now, as Newt took a deep breath, then said, “I don’t want my own lab.”
Jake raised his eyebrows, and the rest of the room looked more than a little surprised. “You don’t?” Jake said.
Newt shook his head. “I want… I want to work with Hermann. After twelve years of it, I kinda got used to always having him around. I don’t think my brain could work properly without him. So…” he breathed again, “I don’t want to work in a different lab.”
Hermann saw him flinch slightly, bracing for the impact of a no. Jake smiled.
“Alright, mate, if that’s what you want.”
Newt’s eyes lit up, and he beamed at Hermann. “Okay. Okay! Great! We’re sharing then!”
Hermann rolled his eyes good-naturedly and harrumphed. “I suppose I’ll allow it, on the condition that we draw another line down the middle. Ten years of working with those vile specimens of yours is ten years too much. I’ll have no entrails whilst I’m working.”
Newt groaned and leaned back in his chair. “Seriously? You’re on about that again?”
“Of course, Newton, it’s not like it’s too difficult of a request--”
“It kinda is; stuff gets thrown around!”
“Well it wouldn’t if you would simply take care of your materials and respect my personal space!”
Newt barked out a laugh. “Oh, so now you want personal space! That’s real fucking rich coming from the guy who was practically eating my face last night--”
“Newton!” Hermann yelped, flushing a bright red. Jake and Jules muffled a laugh behind their hands. Nate just looked confused.
“You have absolutely no regard for personal privacy, nor space,” he continued, “and I will not have you blathering our private lives for the entire world to hear!”
“Oh yeah?” Newt cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey everybody! Hermann Gottlieb sucks face!”
Newt tilted his head to the side and gave Hermann the look of a disinterested cat. “Literally, shut up, Hermann. No one gives a shit. No one.”
Hermann opened his mouth to speak again, but froze. He replayed Newt’s words in his mind, his heart swelling and tears pricking in his eyes. Newt took notice and sat up.
“Hermann?” he said quickly, “what’s wrong-- what did I do?”
Hermann couldn’t help but smile like a fool. “You told me to ‘shut up’,” he said softly. “It’s been… ten years since I last heard that.”
Newt’s brow furrowed. “And that’s… good?”
“Newton. That’s wonderful.”
Chapter 15: Violent Delights
Rook expands her vocabulary. Newt checks off a first. Hermann makes a discovery.
Their new lab was set up much like their old one, in that there was a clear divide between two sides of the space, a great deal of chalk dust and viscera flying about in the air, and a smattering of various knick-knacks strewn across the two desks.
The largest difference was mainly due to the specifics of the clutter, the line, the distribution of personality across the laboratory space. It was a blend of Drift and matter, a meeting of two minds connected in the most profound way and strewn about the room. The effects of their two Drifts were stark and visible, connected by quirks inside of them that were shown in their shared space.
Newt’s side was mainly comprised of several lab benches, each with an oozing specimen and trays of tools and instruments. There were scalpels and recorders, scissors and saws, and a large medical drill situated next to a partially dissected portion of Obsidian Fury’s brain His desk was piled with various files on the Kaiju of the First War, as well as a plate of bacon stolen from the cafeteria, two amiibos (Link and Pikachu), a tray of paperclips, a bucket of pencils, a box of disposable gloves, several expo markers, and a stack of journals Hermann had published on Kaiju biology during the past ten years. There was a corkboard on the adjoining wall that was covered in various pictures: him and Hermann posing on the deck of the Hong Kong Shatterdome, his first tattoo from 2013, the old K-Science team before the budget cuts drove them out.
He had sent word to Tendo asking for pictures and had received a box full in reply. Apparently, Tendo had reached out to everyone who knew Newt, who had missed him after he left, and collected mementos in the hopes of helping him back to his old self.
Hermann had watched him pin the photos to the corkboard with interest. After a few moments, he had walked over, something in his hand.
“I want you to have this,” he said, pressing a folded piece of paper into Newt’s hand. Newt unfolded it and stared.
It was a photo of them, taken after the war clock had stopped. Newt’s arm was thrown around Hermann, and he was smiling like a bird in flight for the first time. Hermann was staring at him, eyes soft and warm. His smile was like a cool autumn morning, gentle and quiet. He looked lost in his own little world, where Newt was the only thing that existed. Newt hadn’t understood what it meant before. He did now.
“You kept this?” he asked softly, unable to look away from the picture. Hermann nodded.
“Of course,” he said, “I-- I missed you. And it was the only memory of you I had left.”
Newt looked up and smiled. He leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to Hermann’s lips. “I hate that you had to feel that way. And I’m never gonna forgive myself for that. But I’m here now. I’ll always be here. And you don’t need a picture to tell you that.”
Hermann cupped Newt’s cheek, brushing his thumb across his cheekbone. “Newton,” he said, “my darling. You don’t need to forgive yourself.”
“I-- I know. But I want to. I want to be able to-- to look at myself and be proud.”
Hermann kissed his forehead. “Then I will do everything in my power to see that through.”
Hermann’s desk was far neater, but a little of Newt’s clutter had bled through in the Drift, and he was not as organized as he once had been. There were papers, cups of tea and oranges, pieces of chalk, boxes of pens, and several calculators and rulers. A collection of new chalkboards stood next to it, already covered in equations and a few doodles from Newt.
The first day of lab work, Ngata and Sekibo popped next door to say hello. Sekibo shook Newt’s hand excitedly, a bright smile on her face.
“It’s a joy and pleasure to meet you at last, Dr. Geiszler! Gloria Sekibo, resident neurologist; I did most of the work and research on your brain and possession. Glad to see you back in the saddle again!”
Newt looked slightly overwhelmed, but smiled back. “Uh, glad to be back. And call me Newt, only my boyfriend calls me ‘doctor’.”
Beside him, Hermann blushed.
“So,” Sekibo said, letting go of Newt’s hand to put a hand on his shoulder, “tell me: how do you feel your type two has affected your will and ability to resist mental attacks? Is there a difference between when you are manic and depressed? Does the depression make it harder to fight, thus changing your perception of the disorder?”
Newt blinked. “Uh. Sorry-- what?”
Sekibo, Ngata signed, pushing past her gently, let the man breathe. You are crowding him..
“Right!” she said, “right. Correct. I am sorry.”
“It’s fine,” said Newt, “those are good questions! I’d love to help you answer them sometime.” He turned to Ngata. “And you’re Dr. Ngata, right?”
They nodded. Nice to meet you.
“Hermann told me you’re mute, but you use ASL? I took a few classes during college, so I’m not terrible.”
Ngata smiled. I can help you learn.
Hermann put another hand on Newt’s shoulder. “Newton here is our foremost expert on Kaiju biology. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask him.”
Newt blushed and looked away. “Aw c’mon Hermann, I’m way out of practice.”
Sekibo cocked her head. “But… didn’t you bioengineer the Kaiju tissue for Obsidian Fury and the drones?”
Newt laughed nervously. “Ha! Yeah. About that. I-- uh-- I don’t remember exactly how I did that.”
She stared at him blankly. “You don’t… remember?”
“Nope. That was all Precursors, baby. Hermann’s got me doing some catch up reading, so that’s good, but I’m kinda an idiot at the moment. But hey!” he exclaimed brightly, “What could go wrong?”
“Newton…” Hermann warned. Newt’s eyes widened.
“Oh yeah, I’m not allowed to say that, am I?”
Why not? Ngata signed.
“We--ell, the last time I did, we ended up having to get a decontamination shower. And some new pants. By the way: you have one, right?”
“No, a decontamination shower.”
“We’ll have to requisition one,” said Hermann primly. “I never made that much of a mess.”
“Hermann, you almost blew yourself up.”
“And yet, I managed to keep it confined to my workspace. Incredible.”
Sekibo glanced between the two of them. “Huh,” she said, “I guess the rumors were true.”
Ngata shook their head. Was there ever any doubt?
Newt stared at the lump of tissue in front of him nervously. He swallowed, clutching the scalpel tightly. It seemed like a futile weapon against the creature in front of him.
He swallowed again, gathering his courage. Then, Newt grit his teeth, raised the scalpel, and plunged it into the section of Obsidian’s brain.
He cut gently, separating the brain stem from the main section. It was thick and long, with tough matter that was difficult to cut through.
Hermann leaned over his shoulder. “Everything alright?”
Newt nodded briskly. “Yeah, just kinda hard to-- hard to break.”
“Oh,” said Hermann nonchalantly, “I just used a chainsaw.”
Newt froze, the scalpel falling from his hand. In a high, squeaky voice, he said, “A what?”
“A chainsaw. There wasn’t really anything else that would work, so--”
“You used,” Newt said slowly, still not turning around, “a chainsaw. On a Kaiju brain.”
“Yes?” Hermann looked at him closely. “Newton, are you alright?”
Newt spun around, grabbed Hermann by the hips, and pulled him close. “That,” he said, “is the hottest fucking thing I have ever heard.”
Hermann blushed to the tips of his ears. “Newton! What on Earth--?”
“Hermann, please, you gotta tell me, did your clothes get all messy? Did you-- did you have to wear an apron?”
He looked away bashfully. “Really Newton, this isn’t the time--”
Newt rolled his hips against Hermann’s and leaned in close. “God, I bet you looked fucking debauched.”
Hermann’s eyes fluttered. “I-- Newton...”
Newt dug his fingers into Hermann’s hips and pressed their chests together. “What d’you say you tell me a little more about this tonight? Break in the new bed?”
Hermann looked at him carefully. “Are you sure you’re alright with that?”
Newt raised an eyebrow. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I just think,” he said gently, “that it might be a little soon for something so… strenuous.”
A pang of hurt shot through Newt’s chest. “Do you… do you not want to have sex with me?”
“No!” Hermann said quickly, tracing a hand up Newt’s back. “No, darling, I-- I really do want to. But you’re still healing from being imprisoned, and we haven’t gotten the all clear from medical yet, and I don’t want to push you into something you’re not comfortable with.”
Newt slid his hands up to grip Hermann’s shoulders. “Hermann,” he said into the space between them, “it has been ten years since I saw you, twenty since I first jacked off to you, and about a billion since I actually got to suck your dick. I want you so badly I could scream-- which I know is gonna happen tonight because I saw you in the Drift and your dick is fucking huge. So: if you’re cool with it, I really, really wanna ride you tonight. Like, pretty pretty please.”
Hermann’s face was red as a beet. “I-- well-- I suppose if you’re emotionally well enough, and we’re well prepared, and you don’t feel like you’ll strain anything…” He leaned in and whispered into Newt’s ear. “Then I would be happy to-- ah-- fuck you. Vigorously.”
Newt’s returning grin was blinding.
Newt left early, with the pretense of “setting the mood” back at their quarters. Hermann assumed there would be something along the lines of a playlist (possibly eighties pop, definitely indie rock), candles, and hopefully some extra pillows for his knee.
Newt was caring, he knew that, and so Hermann was excited for what was to come, but a small voice in the back of his mind was wary. Was Newt truly ready for this?
He resolved to keep the Drift link wide open, and pay extra attention to Newt’s mind. That would assuage his fears, he thought, although he hoped his nerves wouldn’t ruin the fun.
Anticipation thrumming in his veins, Hermann set down his chalk and climbed down the ladder. He nodded at Rook, who had arrived a few hours earlier, and was currently tapping away at her computer in silence.
“Time for bed, I think,” he said firmly. Rook didn’t look up. “Eleanor,” Hermann said again, “put your things away. It’s bedtime.”
Rook finally glanced at him, raising an eyebrow. “Sorry,” she said cooly, “are you trying to parent now? ‘Cause it’s not working.”
Hermann snatched his cane up, walked over to her desk, and slammed the laptop shut. “Your bunk,” he said sharply, “now. Or I’m removing this from your possession.”
She glared at him poisonous. “Fuck you.”
“Oh whatever, like you don’t know what curse words are.”
Hermann tapped his cane on the floor. “Eleanor, this is your last warning.”
Rook rolled her eyes, but rose from her chair and made for the door. Before she left, she turned back to Hermann and sneered.
“Just so you know,” she said poisonously, “you should probably get your parenting tips from something other than What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Her gaze flicked over to the copy on Hermann’s bookshelf. “Helpful hint.”
Hermann’s face grew warm, but before he could respond, Rook had slipped out the door.
He sighed. Parenting was a difficult practice of which he had zero experience, save for babysitting Mako when she was younger (and even then he had had Newt’s help). For the millionth time since the man’s death, Hermann wished for the guiding hand of Stacker Pentecost. He had raised Mako so well-- surely he would know what to do.
Hermann shook these thoughts from his mind. Tonight was supposed to be special. It wouldn’t do to flood the Drift with worry and questions.
He made his way back to their quarters quickly, slowly letting the Drift open up between him. A few doors away, Hermann felt something strange pass through the link.
There was a cold, chilling numbness, tempered by lighting bolts of panic. It wound through the Drift like a noose, pulling tighter until Hermann suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He sped up his pace, noticing a figure in front of their door. Closer inspection showed that it was Newt, standing stock-still and staring at the object in front of him. His eyes were blank and void of emotion, and his body trembled slightly, although it did not move. When Hermann saw what he was staring at, his heart stopped.
It was Alice.
The brain’s tank had been pushed in front of their door, green and seething. Tentacles pushed at the glass, waving menacingly at Newt as if to taunt him. The name scrawled on in red wax was faded, but the lipstick marks were not (and oh God, wasn’t that a thought). The brain itself bounced up and down in it’s cocktail, undulating sickeningly. Written across the door behind it were the words “Kaiju-fucker” in black permanent marker, punctuated with little hearts.
Hermann felt sick to his stomach. He struggled to breathe with anger.
“Newton,” he said quietly, but Newt remained silent. Instead, he gingerly put his hands on the tank, pushed it aside, and opened the door. Hermann followed him in.
He said again, “Newton,” and Newt finally looked at him, face expressionless. “Are you alright?”
Newt blinked and shook his head. “Sorry,” he said flatly, “they’re pretty loud right now.”
“The Precursors?” Hermann asked gently. Newt nodded.
“They-- uh. They liked seeing Alice again.”
Hermann carefully sat down on the bed, patting the space next to him. A flash of worry crossed Newt’s face. “Aren’t you-- aren’t you scared?”
Newt looked sick. “Of me. Of them.”
Hermann set his cane down and stared firmly into Newt’s eyes. “I have never been afraid of them. And I will never, ever be afraid of you. Now come here.”
Newt took a few steps forward, then flung himself onto the bed and burrowed into Hermann’s arms. Hermann squeezed tightly, holding Newt close as tremors overtook his body. He petted his hair gently, feeling the soft impressions of scales underneath. Newt buried his head in Hermann’s chest, not making a sound, but pressing up against him. The room was quiet save for Hermann’s soft murmuring, letting Newt shift and change and shake.
After a minute or three, Newt poked his head up, hair mussed and eyes softly glowing. In a voice that sounded much steadier than he looked, he said, “Let’s do it.”
Hermann furrowed his brow. “I’m sorry?”
Newt stared into his eyes, passion flickering like a lightbulb. “Fuck what they say. Fuck what all of them think about you, or me, or what we do. I want to love you in every single way that I can, and I don’t want to care about some idiots in the ‘dome, or the voices in my head. I just want you, Hermann. Nobody gets to take that away from me.”
Hermann put a hand on his shoulder and stroked it softly. “Are you sure, Newton?”
Newt nodded fiercely. “Those things took ten years of my life, years I could have-- should have, spent with you. I can’t get them back. But I’d sure like to make up for lost time.”
The Drift hummed with warmth, a soft pink like a sunset. Hermann could feel the pulse of love thrumming within Newt, like a steady heartbeat.
“Alright,” he said, “I suppose I could never deny you anything, my dear. But we’ll go slow, and we’ll be careful.”
Newt held out his hand, pinky unfolded. “Promise.”
Hermann linked their pinkies with an indulgent smile.
It goes like this:
They remove their clothes, leaving them on the floor to fold later. Newt stares appreciatively at Hermann’s cock, already beginning to rise. He sits back down on the bed, swinging a leg over and settling down onto Hermann’s lap.
“Do we need a condom?” Hermann asks, running a hand down Newt’s back. Newt shakes his head.
“As long as you’re clean, I’m fine. Not much action happens when you’re possessed by aliens.”
Despite himself, Hermann snickers. “Were you saving yourself for me, darling?”
Newt blushes, looking away. “Well-- I mean, when I could, yeah. You were kinda my first crush, Hermann.”
Hermann feels a happy rush inside of him. “Newton… is this your first time?”
He blushes harder. “Maybe.” The tips of his ears are now bright pink. “I know the theory-- don’t worry, I can pick up what you like pretty quick. Just… be patient, yeah?”
“Oh love,” Hermann says tenderly, brushing a strand of hair from Newt’s eyes. “Newton, my sweet boy. I’ll make this so wonderful you, I promise.”
He kisses Newt sweetly, their lips sliding over each other like rippling water. Newt kisses like he wants to please, eager and pliant in Hermann’s arms. He’s obviously not inexperienced in this aspect, swiping his tongue along the seam of Hermann’s lips and slipping his tongue through.
Hermann bucks his hips up slightly, and Newt drags a hand down his chest to rest on his cock. He gives it a few experimental tugs, and Hermann yelps into his mouth.
“Is that good?” he asks, pulling away slightly. His lips are red and swollen, delightfully kissable to Hermann’s eyes.
“Yes,” Hermann says, leaning in to the touch, “yes-- oh do that again please-- yes it’s perfect.”
Newt swipes his thumb over the head, and Hermann moans. He grins happily and moves his hand up and down Hermann’s cock, agonizingly slow. Hermann moves in to kiss him again, his hands moving down Newt’s back to squeeze his ass, pulling him closer.
Newt whimpers and rocks his hips forward, mumbling into Hermann’s mouth, “Please, Herms, you gotta touch me, I’m dying here, please--”
Hermann brings one hand around to stoke Newt’s inner thigh, moving up the inside, until finally his fingers brush against his clit. Newt moans loudly, his hips jerking forward as Hermann rubs his fingers against it, letting one move down to rest against Newt’s hole. He slides it in gently, and Newt lets out a shaky sigh of pleasure, his hips rocking back and forth as Hermann begins to slide it in and out.
“Fuck, that feels so good,” Newt says, working Hermann’s cock with his other hand, “God, Hermann, you’re so good at this, oh God--”
Hermann adds a second finger, both slick with Newt’s come. He crooks them upward, twitching them back and forth, and Newt screams.
“Hermann,” he says, “Hermann I need you inside me, please-- need you so bad.”
Hermann’s eyes flutter open, and he squeezes Newt’s ass again. “Are you sure, darling?”
Newt gives his cock a few fast strokes, and Hermann makes a little surprised noise. “Yes,” he says “yeah, please.”
This kind of begging is so sweet when it comes from Newt’s mouth, so Hermann slides his fingers out and positions them on Newt’s hips. Newt lets go and pushes himself up to hover over Hermann’s cock. He bites his lip as he sinks down, and it takes Hermann everything he has not to buck up into the tight heat.
“Oh Newton,” he says, “that feels wonderful.
“Shit,” Newt replies, “oh shit, Hermann I didn’t think-- that feels so good holy fuck.”
He begins to rock back and forth, fucking himself fast and hard on Hermann’s cock. Hermann moves his hips in tandem, the warmth of Newt enveloping him as he tenses around him. “Fuck,” Newt curses, “fuck, you’re so big, Hermann, you’re so good--”
“Newton,” he breathes, “Newton,” and he’s digging his nails into Newt’s soft hips, leaving little bruises on the skin. Newt moans loudly, riding him like his life depends on it, so tight and so perfect, and it feels so good that Hermann is almost surprised when he comes. The orgasm washes over him quickly, and he comes in bright pulses inside of him. He feels Newt’s thighs tense around him, and Newt whines as he comes, his face pink and flushed, his mouth open in a little “o”.
Hermann pulls out as Newt slumps against him, pulling the covers back and tucking them in around themselves. They lie together, curled up against each other, Hermann’s arm around Newt’s waist, gently stroking his hip. The Drift hums between them, happy and warm as it buzzes in their minds.
“Was I good?” Newt asks, voice muffled as he snuggles into Hermann’s chest. Hermann strokes his hair and holds him close.
“You were wonderful, darling,” he says, “simply wonderful.”
Chapter 16: Now Cracks a Noble Heart
Newt makes a promise. Hermann tries to connect. Rook wishes for a change.
content warning for a description of a panic attack
Hermann was beginning to become more perceptive of others, especially (and more specifically) Rook.
He saw her, of course, when she dropped into the lab to poke around, or when he visited Shao’s control room to speak with Liwen. She seemed at home among the machines and computers, peering reverently over the workers’ shoulder and asking question after question after question. This was occasionally to the annoyance of everyone in the room.
Still, Hermann knew how it felt to be fascinated by something and want to know everything there was to know. He empathized with Rook’s insatiable curiosity, and found himself wishing to discuss his work with her.
Hermann, as a rule, was not good with children. That was far more Newt’s style. However, he wanted to improve for Rook. She had proven herself to be a remarkable girl, and Hermann never quite knew what to say to her. That, he felt, was his biggest weakness.
Rook was a strange girl. She was angry, he could tell, at a lot of things in life. Her age, her father, her peers, and… something else. Something that Hermann suspected she couldn’t control.
He was well-versed in that art.
There truly was a hot fury in that girl; Hermann sometimes wondered if she had anything left beneath it. Everything in her was fueled by anger. She felt there was something to prove, obviously. The world was not kind to girls like her (or girls in general), with their pride and their rage. It sought to strike them down and make them gentle. But Rook Gottlieb was not gentle girl.
She got that from him, he thought.
Hermann could be soft. He was kind with Newt, reminded near-daily that, as wild and boisterous of a man he was, he was still so… fragile. Now more than ever.
Could he be gentle with Rook? Perhaps that was the key after all.
“Hermann,” came a voice from across the room, “I need your-- your-- help.”
Hermann looked up from his desk, surprised. From a few feet away, Newt raised his eyebrows.
Holy shit, he said through the Drift, did the kid just ask you for help?
Hermann shot him a look that clearly say, “I have no idea”. “Eleanor,” he said, “you-- er. You want my assistance?”
Rook groaned. “God, don’t make me say it again. Just come over here, will you?”
Hermann shrugged, mostly to himself, and grabbed his cane. He slid a piece of chalk behind his ear and made his way over. Leaning over Rook’s shoulder, he asked, “What seems to be the issue?”
Rook scrolled down on her laptop and pointed at a section of HTML code. “Miss Shao is doing an AMA on Tumblr, and I got stuck with designing the blog. I’m trying to add more links to the homepage, but nothing is working. Do you have any ideas?”
“Holy shit,” Newt exclaimed, “Tumblr’s still a thing? I thought that website went to its well-deserved grave in 2026!”
Hermann snorted. “Rather bold of you to assume one can raze hell.”
“Didn’t you queue literally all of your posts?”
“Didn’t you refuse to do the same to a single one?”
“Harsh words coming from a guy who once posted about putting Lego sets together to feel joy.”
“And this from the man who covered an Alan Turing cut out with lipstick marks and blamed me.”
“My apologies! As if you could ever pull off a classic red.”
“Damn you, Newton, watch me!”
“God, you’re so easy to rile up, you know that? Could I just say you couldn’t do something, just to get you to do it?”
“As if you don’t work the exact same way!”
“I am a miracle of moving parts you lizard-lipped troglodyte!”
“Stupid science bitch!”
Hermann stilled. “What did you just call me?” he asked, incredibly confused. Newt turned scarlet and threw his hands in the air.
“I’m off my game— it’s been a while! Cut me some slack and deal with your kid!”
Hermann made a face. “Oh, she’s ‘my kid’ now?”
“Well I sure didn’t birth her! And you’re the one with an eleven year old in the literal war zone!”
“This wasn’t my idea, Newton!”
“Really? Bad, terrible, overly logical and stupid as hell? Sounds like you, dude!”
“Might I remind you,” Hermann hissed through gritted teeth, “that it was my idea to save your bloody life?”
Newt opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it, then opened it again, then rolled his eyes. “Fine, whatever, you win. Happy?”
Hermann sniffed. “Extremely.” He turned to Rook, and realized that was she was staring at him oddly. “Yes, what is it?”
Rook looked away. “Er-- nothing. You guys are just weird. Can you show me how to fix it now?”
Hermann cleared his throat and leaned back down. “Right. Of course; my apologies Eleanor.” He scrolled down the line of code and found where the original section for the links where. “Now, you would like how many?”
“Three,” Rook said, watching him intently. “What are you doing?”
He deleted the other link codes and scrolled back up to the section specifically for links. “You remove that,” he explained, “and then delete the section for the links you don’t want. After that, refresh the page, and they should be gone.”
Rook did as he said. The code was perfect.
“Hey, yes!” she shouted, pumping a fist in the air. “Hermann, it worked!”
Hermann smiled at her bashfully. “Ah, yes, it did. Well done, Eleanor.”
They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment, until Rook looked away. “Uh. So…”
Hermann had no idea what to say. Desperate for anything to add to the conversation, he blurted out, “I-- er-- heard you’ve been interested in Jaeger schematics?”
Rook brightened. “Yeah! I love them; they’re amazing pieces of machinery and I--” she stopped, looked away again, and flushed. “I want to be a pilot one day.”
Hermann felt his heart twist. “Oh,” he said softly, memories of the academy flooding back. Of wanting, wishing, dreaming to be something more than his body, and pilot the creations he had birthed. Of being rejected, time and time again. From behind him, Newt made a small, confused sound.
“Hermann?” he asked, looking over at them. “Are you okay?”
Hermann shook his head. “Yes, of course. Rook,” he said, turning to her, “I believe you would be an excellent pilot. Pursue it vigorously.”
She ducked her head and frowned. “I probably wouldn’t be able to, though…”
“And why on Earth is that?”
Rook looked like she wanted the floor to swallow her. “Right. You don’t know.” She sighed heavily. “I… I have autism.”
The silence in the lab was thick and heavy, permeating everything like a dropped stone. Hermann blinked. “Ah.”
“Yeah. It’s… we found out when I was four. Mum got the tests done. And, I mean, obviously they won’t let anyone like me join the program ‘cause I’m not Drift compatible, so…”
Hermann scowled and tapped his cane on the floor. “Balderdash. I have Asperger’s myself and Newton and I are perfectly compatible. Barring any physical limitations, I see no reason why you couldn’t participate.”
Rook’s eyes widened. “You’re autistic?”
He nodded. “I thought you knew.”
“No, Mum never… she never told me.”
“Well,” Hermann said, stiffly reaching out and putting a hand on her shoulder. “You must never let it prevent you from doing something you care about. It may be a hindrance at times, but on the occasion, it bloody well makes up for its weight. You have a special tool, Eleanor. Use it wisely.” He gave her a wry smile. “And besides. You’re already quite friendly with the cadets; I think that if you showed enough capability, you could certainly earn a place among them.
Rook’s eyes lit up like fireflies. “You-- you really think so?”
Hermann nodded. “I know so.”
“Y’know,” said Newt a little while after Rook left, “you’re actually turning into a really good parent.”
Hermann went scarlet. “You flatter me, Newton. I am simply trying my best with what I have.”
With a smile, Newt replied, “That’s more than a lot of people can say.” He tilted his head towards him. “You should believe in yourself more. Parenting is hard. The fact that you don’t exactly have great role models for it makes things harder. But you’re trying, dude! That’s the best parenting move of all.”
Hermann closed down the hologram in front of him and looked over at Newt. “Thank you, Newton.” He paused. “Coming from you, that… means a great deal.”
Newt gave him a dazzling grin. “Aw, babe, you charmer! Of-freaking-course!” He fluttered like a young bird over the flank of Raijin, then swept over to Hermann’s work space. “Hey Hermann,” he said, “Hermann.”
Hermann looked up, gaze flitting through his eyelashes. You could make a wish on that, he thought. “Yes?”
Newt’s tongue peeked through his teeth. “I think you’re pretty awesome. And not just for Rook.”
Hermann blinked, then glanced down. “Really, Newton--”
“Really! You tell me how good of a person I am, and all these wonderful things about me, but no one ever tells you. And that’s not fair. It’s not.”
“You don’t need to feel obligated--”
“I don’t!” exclaimed Newt, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I want to compliment you, and be nice to you, and do the things that boyfriends are supposed to do. I love you, Hermann. I wanna make you feel that.”
Hermann rose, seizing his cane and putting a hand on Newt’s cheek. He gazed into his eyes, dark green and blue and silvery gold. Newt’s eyes were a galaxy he could traverse forever, deep and endless and wild with color. Hermann loved many things about him: his mind, his laugh, his energy, his gentle softness; but Newt’s eyes were near the top of the list. They were delightfully expressive, betraying every emotion and thought Newt had in a sparkle or tear. When the Precursors had taken control, Hermann had been unable to see anything but hatred and cold displeasure. He was glad that was not the case now.
“Newton,” he said, leaning in, “darling.” Newt leaned in as well, and their lips were inches apart--
--when an alarm sounded throughout the room.
They jerked back from each other, staring at the door. “What the fuck,” said Newt slowly, “was that?”
He was quickly answered as the lab door swung open, Jake stumbling in. “Gottlieb!” he barked, “Jaeger bay, now!”
Hermann froze. “What’s wrong?” he asked thinly. Jake’s eyes were falling water.
“It’s your daughter.”
There was a crowd gathered, humming and seething, and in the middle of it all was Rook.
She looked distraught, curled up on the ground and rocking back and forth with her hands over her ears. Her eyes were screwed shut tightly, blocking out the world around her, and she was humming to herself and discordant tune. Amara crouched next to her, hands hovering nearby and unsure what to do.
Hermann looked around, trying to discern what had happened. Behind the chaos was a tangled mess of metal and wires, orange and brown and sparking. It seemed to crumple in on itself, folding and twisting like an eldritch creature. With a start, Hermann realized its former identity.
It was Scrapper.
“Oh kiddo,” whispered Newt, “you didn’t.”
Hermann stormed through the crowd, pushing his way to the front and slamming the butt of his cane on the ground.
“Eleanor Alana Gottlieb, what in high hell have you done?!” he roared. Rook cracked open her eyes and peered up at him warily.
“I was trying to--” she stuttered, “I wanted to-- you told m--me that I-- I had to show that was good enough!”
“I did not mean that you should climb into a Jaeger and blunder about as if you were a real Ranger! You could have gotten yourself killed! The neural strain is far too much for someone your age! How could you possibly think this was a good idea?!”
Rook clambered to her feet, keeping her hands over her ears. “You-- you said-- ugh, stop!” she screeched, “Just-- stop!”
“I will not; you have broken multiple rules not only of mine, but of the Shatterdome! You could be ejected from the premises for destruction of property and treason!” Hermann stamped his foot on the ground. “This is exactly why you shouldn’t be here in the first place!”
She kicked her foot back and forth, moving her body with it as she shook her head. “Please stop, just stop, you’re too loud! I need to go!”
“Yes,” Hermann growled, “you certainly do! I will be calling Vanessa this instant and sending you straight back home-- which I honestly should have done in the first place!”
Rook let out a loud scream, bending over and jamming her fingers into her ears. “Shut up!” she cried, “No, no, no, no, no!”
“Eleanor! Get ahold of yourself!”
She screamed again, “Stop! I never wanted any of this to-- to happen!”
“I never wanted you to happen!”
Rook froze like a startled animal. She removed her hands from her ears and unfolded, staring up at Hermann with tears pooling in her eyes. Instantly, he wanted to take back everything he had said, but it was too late. Her voice was ice when she spoke, fire and acid.
“I can’t believe Mum could even pretend to love someone as fucked up as you!”
Then, like a thunderstorm in October, she rumbled through the crowd and was gone.
Chapter 17: A Cold Day in February
Rook goes home. Vanessa tells a secret. Hermann makes amends.
The flight back home was long and cold, light rain splattering across the windows of the plane. Rook stared out them drearily, the credit card Vanessa had given her for emergencies burning hot in her pocket. She rubbed her fingers across the ridged numbers as the pads grew red and smooth. A sick, slimy feeling wormed its way through her stomach, and she shuddered in the uncomfortable cabin seat. Even though it was simply cool outside, the fall air growing chilly with rain, the plane’s insides were freezing.
The plane went from Tokyo to Germany, then stopped for a few hours to refuel. Rook bought bland chips from the kiosk and huddled down in a supremely uncomfortable chair while she waited to take off again. The rest of the flight passed in a strange, hazy blur of numbness; perhaps her body was curling in on itself like a porcupine. Sleep refused to come.
When they finally arrived in London, she took the bus to her building in the center hub of the city. The bellman looked surprised to see her, alone and without her mother’s usual presence, but she took the elevator to the fifth floor and knocked on her apartment door.
Vanessa opened the door, her face tired and expecting. “Rook,” she said, “sweetheart. Come in.”
Rook flew into her mother’s arms, burying her face in Vanessa’s chest. “Mum,” she choked out, “I’m sorry, I--”
“I know, love. I saw the charges on the card. Let’s get you inside and make some tea.”
She put an arm around Rook’s shoulder and guided her in, sitting her down in the living room while she went into the kitchen to make tea. Rook sat quietly on the couch as the sounds of clinking mugs and pouring water trickled in from the kitchen, passing in one ear and out the other. The kettle shrieked after a few minutes, and Rook clapped her hands over her ears to block out the noise. “Sorry,” came Vanessa from the kitchen, quickly taking the kettle off. She brought out two steaming mugs, one milky and pale, one dark and strong.
Rook took her tea and sipped it gingerly, the warm liquid trickling down her throat and into her stomach. Vanessa looked at her expectantly, taking a sip of her own, before setting it down on the coffee table and settling her head on her fingers.
“So,” she said quietly, “what happened?”
Rook licked her lips and cradled the mug in her hands. She sighed. “Hermann and I got in a fight. A really, really bad one.”
“What do you mean by that?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “I… I told him I couldn’t believe you could pretend to love someone as messed up as him.”
Vanessa pressed her lips together in a thin frown. “And did he say anything back?”
“Yeah. He said he never wanted me to happen.”
“Mmmm.” She swirled her tea around in the mug. “Do you think he meant it?”
“Did you mean what you said?”
Rook looked down at her knees. “No. But I don’t understand why you two had to pretend in the first place. Didn’t you love each other? Before me?”
Vanessa cocked her head. “Why do you ask?”
She knocked her knees together a few times. “Why did Hermann leave? Was it… was it because of me?”
Vanessa sighed heavily, picking up her mug and taking a long drink from it. She set it down again and leaned back into the couch.
“What you need to understand, darling, is that Hermann and I did love each other. We still do. Just not in the way that was expected.” She paused. “We were best friends growing up. When he moved to London, that is. We did everything together, so, of course, our families saw that as romantic. They wanted us to marry.”
“But… didn’t you want to?” Rook asked.
“Not necessarily. Your father and I… are both-- we’re both…” She wrung her hands. “We’re gay, darling.”
Rook looked startled. “You’re-- what?”
“Your father and I were never romantically in love, because neither of us have ever been interested in the opposite sex. We only married because we were both scared, closeted people who were pressured into it by our families. We were friends, Rook. Nothing more.” She ran a hand through her hair. “And then, of course, your father met Newt.
“He would write me these long, exuberant letters about him; how Dr. Geiszler was brilliant and a nuisance and utterly impossible and one of the most incredible people he had ever met. I could tell from just a few of those that Hermann was in love. Far more than he ever would be with me.
“I tried to talk to him about this, many times, but he always denied it. Said he loved me and no one else, and that he was straight, and all sorts of emotionally repressed rubbish. Then Newt left, and he became even more depressed, and I finally forced him to admit it. There was… a fight. A large one. He refused to leave us for Newt, even though he was miserable, and I just wanted to stop all the lies. So I told him to be himself. Even if that meant we couldn’t live together anymore.
“Our relationship was damaged, Rook. Far too much to continue like that. So I took custody of you so that Hermann could work on after-war cleanup, and we separated.
“Your father loved you with all his heart, darling. But we just couldn’t be together anymore. He didn’t trust himself to give you the childhood you needed, much less deserved.”
“So…” Rook asked slowly, “why did you send me to him if he barely knows who I am?”
“I wanted you to get to know him; how great of a man he’s become. I never wanted you to think I was pushing you away.” Vanessa rubbed a hand on her jeans. “I love you far too much for that.”
Rook tucked her legs underneath her and twiddled her thumbs. “Are you mad at me?”
“For running away and not telling me? Yes, love, I’m afraid I’m quite furious. But that’s only because I was scared for you. And because I know you’re smart enough to not make impulsive decisions like that.”
“Sorry,” she said, staring down at her knees. “I won’t do it again.”
Vanessa gave a small shrug. “I think you will, although not of this magnitude. But you’re young and you’re foolish, and you’ll make mistakes. Just remember to tell me when you do so we can fix them, alright?”
Rook nodded. “I’m hungry,” she said quietly, “can we have dinner?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
They were just setting the table for dinner when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” said Vanessa, and pushed her chair away to stand. She moved for the door and opened it, revealing a breathless Hermann standing in the doorway.
“Vanessa,” he managed between gasps, “it’s Eleanor-- she’s gone, and I don’t know where she ran off to but we can’t find her in the Shatterdome or in Tokyo, and it’s all my fault, I’m sure of it, and I’m so sorry, I know you--”
“Hermann,” she interrupted, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine. She’s with me. Rook is here.”
She stepped aside to show Rook sitting at the dinner table, staring at them with wide eyes. When Hermann saw her, she waved guiltily. Hermann blinked. “Oh.”
Vanessa stepped aside and beckoned Hermann inside. “For God’s sakes, Hermann, come in. It’s bloody freezing out there, and there’s dinner. We can talk after the two of you have eaten.”
Hermann slowly entered the apartment and leaned his cane against the table’s edge as he sat down. He winced a little, the strain on his leg obvious from all the travel. Rook looked anywhere but his face.
They ate in silence, the only noise the clinking of forks against plates. Occasionally, Rook or Hermann glanced nervously up each other, but quickly looked away if they were caught staring. Vanessa simply watched this for a few minutes before pushing her plate away and standing.
“I’ll do the dishes,” she said calmly, “if you two want to talk in Rook’s room?”
Both parties looked startled, but Rook shrugged and stood. “I guess.” Hermann followed her down the hallway to her room, catching the door before it closed in front of him.
Rook’s room was small, with a bed tucked into the corner and a pristine desk across from it. Her wall was covered with posters of various Jaeger pilots and scientists (Hermann couldn’t help but smile at the one of Alan Turing), as well as practically every newspaper article ever run about Drs Geiszler and Gottlieb. Her bedspread was a plain black and white checkerboard, with an old metal frame and pillows in various shades of yellow and green. The desk was white as well, each roll of tape and pencil in its proper and labeled place. There was a chest of drawers next to a closet filled with a variety of sweaters and button downs, as well as a neat shoe rack with each pair placed heel-to-toe next to each other.
She sat down on the bed, staring out her window at the city below. Hermann took a seat next to her and followed her gaze.
“Mum told me about why you split up,” she said softly. Hermann stiffened.
“Ah. She did?”
“Yeah.” Rook turned to look at him. “Why didn’t you tell me? You just let me hate you.”
Hermann gripped the head of his cane and frowned. “I… I was in denial for a very long time, Eleanor. It isn’t something you can let go of so easily.”
“So you just let me think you were a deadbeat?”
“It was safer,” he said. “I’m afraid I was a bit of a coward about that.” He paused. “I’m not angry with you about driving Scrapper. I understand.”
Rook scoffed. “How could you possibly know how I feel?”
“Because I was supposed to be a pilot as well.”
She looked startled. “What?”
Hermann sighed. “I entered the Jaeger program intending to be a pilot, Eleanor. I wanted to pilot the things I helped to create, desperately, in fact. But my arthritis and Osgood Schlatter’s prevented that from happening. Jaegers were simply not made for those with physical disabilities.”
‘But-- that’s stupid!” Rook exclaimed. “You’re the smartest person in the world! You made the Jaegers, shouldn’t you get to pilot them?”
“It wasn’t meant to be, I’m afraid. Sometimes we must accept the things we cannot change, even though it hurts.”
Rook crossed her arms and scowled. “When I grow up, I’m gonna invent a Jaeger that you can pilot. You deserve to be a Ranger.”
Hermann smiled sadly. “I’m touched that you think that. But like I said: I’m not angry. If I were your age, I might have done the same thing.” He looked away, biting his lip. “Eleanor--”
“Why do you keep calling me that!” she burst out. “My nickname is Rook, everyone calls me Rook, why can’t you?!”
Hermann looked back at her, searching. “Where did it come from?” he asked. “The name, I mean.”
Rook appeared to think for a moment, considering, before replying, “Chess.”
“Chess. I was in middle school, about eight, I think. Yeah, eight.” She kicked her legs back and forth on the bed. “They had this chess competition, and I really wanted to enter it. So my mum talked to the principal, and they made a special exception for me, and I actually won. I beat the champion. But I lost one piece.”
Hermann nodded. “I see.”
“They called me Rook after that. So I wouldn’t forget that I won, yeah, but not perfectly. That no special kid, no matter how smart or ‘gifted’ or whatever, could be better than them. I just liked it better than fucking Eleanor.”
“And that,” said Hermann, “is exactly why.”
Rook frowned. “What do you mean?”
“When I was younger, no one ever called me by my name. It was always some degrading nickname, or ‘Mr. Gottlieb’, but never Hermann. Then, even when I got my degree, people simply couldn’t believe that someone like me could be so… capable. It was infuriating.
“So you see, Eleanor, the reason why I never use nicknames, or anything other than a person’s professional title, is because you simply never know. I like to be careful. In my life, you don’t degrade people. Not when the world has done the same to you.”
Rook fiddled with her fingers. “What about Newt?”
He laughed. “Yes, well. Newton has always been the exception, hasn’t he?” Then, Hermann looked at her deeply. “I truly am sorry,” he said. “Will you please come back? The cadets are worried sick about you, as were Newton and I. We would welcome your presence in the lab again.”
She fidgeted in her seat, before blinking upwards. “Okay.”
Hermann smiled. “You’ll return with me?”
Rook nodded. “As long as I can help rebuild Scrapper. I do feel bad about that.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The door opened, and Vanessa poked her head in. “I don’t hear any yelling,” she said tentatively. “Is that a good sign?”
Rook bounced up and threw her arms around her. “I’m going back,” she told Vanessa. “Hermann and I both said we were sorry.”
Vanessa gave Hermann a small grin. “I told you, your father has his moments.”
Something strange passed between them, and Hermann strained for it like a song playing in another room. It sounded strange and new and full of trepidation. Almost, he thought.
Almost like forgiveness.
Chapter 18: The Bitter Season
Jake proposes a plan. Newt makes a choice. Hermann tries to help.
uhh warning for mention of suicide kinda? anyway newt and hermann have some important stuff to talk about and this chapter is pretty angsty :/
“So that’s that,” said Newt, tapping the Expo marker on the whiteboard behind him. “And mostly everything is coming along pretty smoothly. We’ve just got one problem.”
“There isn’t a way to get through the Breach without letting a Kaiju through first,” continued Hermann. “Unless we can somehow find a way to disguise our genetic code without one of them, we’ll need to kill one and take it with us through the Breach-- and that’s a very high risk. One that, I assume, none of you wish to take.”
Jake tapped his fingers on the table. “Okay,” he said, “okay. There has to be some way around this.”
“Yeah, see, that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Newt said, twirling the marker around in his hand. “We could set up some kind of device near the Breach that traps a Kaiju so we could kill it, but that’s only if we find something that can keep it down in the first place. I was thinking an electromagnetic field?” He tapped the marker on his chin. “But that’s getting a little too science-fiction double feature for me.”
“Getting a bit ahead of yourself, dear?” Hermann said, poking Newt’s legs with his cane. Newt kicked at it in return and shot him a scowl.
“We don’t want to get too crazy with the ideas here, Hermann. This needs to be plausible.”
“It’s perfectly plausible, and might I remind you, this is coming from the man who proposed Drifting with a Kaiju brain.”
“Yeah, and it totally worked!”
Hermann raised an eyebrow. “A little too well if you ask me.”
“Did anyone?” Newt said testily, looking around the room, “Did literally anyone ask, Hermann? Because I didn’t. Jake, did you ask Hermann?”
Jake looked halfway to uncomfortable. “Geiszler, maybe we should refocus--”
“Newton,” Hermann said, “if you had just listened--”
“I saved the world, Hermann! I mean-- well, we did, but I did the first bit!”
“And that nearly got you killed!”
“Uh, but it didn’t!”
“No, of course not, it got you possessed instead!”
“I got better!”
“After ten years, Newton!”
“Big deal, we fixed it all in the end!”
Hermann dragged a hand down his face. “Are we honestly having this conversation right now? In front of the board?”
Newt shrugged. “This tends to be how most of our conversations happen, dude! We’re just a little out of practice.”
“What a horrible thing to fall out of our fashion.”
He grinned. “Feels like old times, huh? C’mon, Hermann,” Newt goaded, “you know you love it.”
It was at this point that Hermann tapped his cane on the floor and averted his eyes. “Ranger Pentecost,” he said huffily, “I believe you had a point to make?”
Jake sighed. “Yeah, if you two don’t mind? Keep the foreplay to your quarters.”
“Now hold on just a minute--” Newt began, but Hermann poked him harder and shot him a glare. He leaned back against the blackboard and crossed his arms. “Whatever, dude. Shoot.”
“Gottlieb,” said Jake, “about what percentage Kaiju would something need to be to get through the Breach?”
Hermann spun around and quickly spread a few equations across the board. After a minute, he turned and said, “At least fifty per-cent.”
Jake nodded. “Okay,” he said, “what if we do something crazy?”
“I love crazy,” said Newt, “lay it on me.”
“What if we used the same tech you built Obsidian Fury with to build a combination Kaiju-Jaeger piloted by you and Gottlieb?”
Newt and Hermann were dead silent for a moment, their faces both losing color, before Hermann gripped his cane tightly and narrowed his eyes. “I beg your pardon?”
“Look,” Jake continued, “you two are the only people to Drift with a Kaiju and survive, and while the neural components would be mostly Jaeger, we could use Kaiju limbs to disguise the Jaeger, bypass the Breach, and turn the Precursors’ own weapons against them!”
Newt swallowed hard, now fully upright. “I-- I’m sorry,” he said tightly, “but… there’s no fucking way I’m letting those things near my head again.”
“Geiszler,” Nate said, “it wouldn’t be like Drifting with another brain; there’d only be bits and pieces as opposed to a whole Kaiju.”
“Are you bloody joking?” Hermann nearly shouted, “Newton made his answer abundantly clear, and the very fact that you’re asking him to consider this is horrific! Those creatures took ten years of his life from him, and now you’re asking him to Drift with them again? They’re still in his mind, Ranger! Small and weak, but still there. There’s no telling what could happen if they were given even the slightest bit of connection!”
“I really don’t think you should be making decisions for him--” Nate tried, but Newt interrupted him.
“My answer is fucking no, guys. And that’s final.” He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and strode to the door. “Hermann, finish the briefing. I’m out.”
Newt closed the door, but Hermann was too angry to follow right behind. Instead, he turned to the board and leveled a look at them so fierce it could melt glass. “How dare you,” he seethed. “How dare you try to force his hand. This man, this brave man, has been through more than you can ever imagine, and you continue to restrict and dilute his right to choose. This is not what the PPDC is about-- we were made to protect humanity, yet you continue to deny his! Marshall Pentecost would roll in his grave if he knew how you treated one of your own.”
Hermann didn’t wait for an answer; he slammed the door behind him.
The Drift was a mess of fireworks and cold sparks as Hermann followed it to the loading dock. Newt was sitting on the edge, his legs dangling off and his eyes staring out at the ocean. Hermann approached him as loud as he could, not wanting to startle him. Newt didn’t move-- just continued to gaze out at the water below.
He set his cane down and carefully lowered himself to sit beside him. Newt glanced at Hermann, then returned to looking at the sea.
“I can’t do it again, Hermann. I can’t.”
“I know,” Hermann said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been through so much, Newton. I’ll be on your side-- we’ll find another way. You don’t have to do this.”
Newt shook his head. “No. No, I do. But I can’t.”
“Newton,” he said, “you don’t have to. Honestly, you really shouldn’t. It could be too much; the Precursors could come back. We cannot risk it.”
Kicking his legs, Newt shrugged off Hermann’s hand. “We have to,” he insisted. “It’s the best way, Hermann. And it’s gonna work. I can feel it.”
“You felt the same about Drifting with the brain, and barely anything good came of that.”
“We saved the world!”
“And I nearly lost you!” Hermann shouted. “Newton, you almost died! I cannot face that choice again.”
“But I didn’t! I didn’t die, everything worked out fine, and this will too!”
Hermann shook his head. “This is the guilt talking, Newton. Your self-preservation is gone because of what you believe you did, and you’re making risky and terrible choices as a way to make up for the loss. You’re not in the right mind.”
“Not in the ‘right mind’?” Newt said, drawing back. “Are you kidding me? Hermann, this is the first time I’ve been clear-headed in ten years! I’m doing fine; I’m getting better, and you’re saying I’m still crazy?”
“I’m not saying that, what I’m saying is that you are off your medication, under a great deal of stress, and while you may be making your way towards recovery, you aren’t there yet. You still have a lot of healing to do.”
“So I don’t even get a choice?”
Hermann sighed frustratedly. “Of course you get a choice-- this is about you, after all. But you cannot make this decision alone, especially with the state your mind is in.”
Newt began to drum his fingers on the dock, scowling down at his legs as they swung back and forth. “I’m fine, Hermann. Seriously.”
“You are absolutely not; Newton, it’s only been a few months since you were set free! Perhaps if more time had gone by, I would reconsider, but this isn’t healthy.”
“Who the fuck are you to decide what’s healthy or not?!” Newt exclaimed. “You’re not exactly in the best place either, dude! I’ve seen you when you don’t think I’m looking-- you get this look on your face like the whole world is crashing down around you, and you’re having nightmares too!” He took in the pale look on Hermann’s face. “You know I’m right. You’ve got problems too, and you don’t even want to talk about them.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Hermann insisted, “you’re just so fragile--”
“Fragile?!” Newt jerked away further, eyes flashing. “Do you even hear yourself right now? You’re treating me like a fucking invalid! I’m pretty broken, yeah, we both know that, but it doesn’t mean I can’t function as a normal person! You act like I’m this breakable piece of glass that’ll shatter if anyone says the wrong thing, and that’s not true!” He kicked his feet harder. “I spent ten years under the Precursors’ control! I know a thing or two about being strong!”
“But you shouldn’t have to be!” Hermann said desperately. “You should be allowed to be upset and scared, and whatever else you need to heal! Newton, I swear, I’m just trying to protect you!”
“I don’t need you to protect me! You have to let me fall, Hermann! You have to let me fail, and you’re just holding me up by a thread!”
“So what?” Hermann asked, throwing his hands in the air. “You want me to let you self-destruct again?”
“No, I want you to let me feel some solid fucking ground!”
“I refuse to just stand by and watch you hurt yourself!”
“I’m not gonna! I’m gonna heal, I’m going to get better, but I can’t have you coddling me and not letting me make my own mistakes!”
“I believe you’ve made enough of those for a lifetime,” Hermann nearly snarled, his heart leaping out of his chest. Newt didn’t even have the good graces to look insulted.
“Look,” he said, “look. I don’t care, okay! I don’t! We’ll do the Jaeger, and if the Precursors come back, you can just kill me. All we need to do is get through the Breach and keep it open.”
A look of absolute horror flooded Hermann’s eyes. “Newton,” he said breathlessly, “no. I forbid you from doing this!”
Newt slammed his leg down on the dock. “Stop telling me what to do!” he yelled. “You’re just as bad as-- as them! You think you know what’s best for me, but it’s just what you want! Whatever happened to ‘saving the world at all costs’?! All anyone ever does anymore is try and manipulate me! I thought you were the one person I could fucking trust!”
He leapt to his feet and stormed down the dock faster than Hermann could grab his cane, boots thumping on the worn wood. Hermann fumbled for his cane, struggling to stand and follow. “Newton!” he called, searching for his shadow in the dimming light. “Newton, please!”
There was a hint of motion a few yards away, like a twisting mass of runny oil, and two bright blue pinpricks in the dark. They flickered for a moment, seeming to shiver in the twilight, before disappearing. Hermann searched and searched, but Newt was gone; he returned to their quarters, but they were empty.
Should he send someone to find him? Was Newt a danger to himself? Or would that just be overstepping his bounds even more?
Hermann fought with himself for several minutes before deciding to give Newt some space. He showered and crawled into bed, trying not to think about the empty space beside him, and the cold that returned after nights of warmth. He dreamed.
They were all nightmares.
Chapter 19: Light
Hermann tried a strategy. Rook spreads the word. Newt finds a way.
Newt was avoiding him.
Hermann could tell, and he was partially guilty in this error as well, but it could not be denied that Newt was unquestionably avoiding him. He couldn’t blame him, really. Hermann was just as hurt and upset, and over the past week had taken to choosing shifts that kept him away from Newt. They slipped past each other like ships in the night, the tension rising day by day until, Hermann feared, something must give.
Rook could sense it, he saw, and avoided them in turn. She spent more and more time with Shao, and feared to come in the lab for the icy silence that permeated it. He felt the loss of her presence deeply.
It was not that Hermann was angry with Newt, not in the way he suspected others thought. He was furious with the world, with the Precursors who had broken and twisted his mind so that he thought there was truly a world that would be better without him. He felt no ill will towards Newt, only disgust that their situation had come to this. A man so convinced of his own lack of worth that he would be willing to sacrifice himself on a foolish plan. It was maddening.
And then, there was the strangeness that seemed to follow Newt these days. He looked… tired. Twitchy. Not all there. In the little that Hermann saw of him, he seemed to almost mutter to himself like a crazed madman, blinking oddly and darting about. He didn’t push the Jaeger again. Hermann almost wished he would.
Hermann was desperately worried for Newt’s wellbeing and safety, but he refused to play into the other man’s fears. He would not be a mother hen. He would not be overbearing. He would let Newt act as the adult he was, and allow the situation to sort itself out properly. Everything would be fine.
It had to be.
There was a knock on Hermann’s door late at night, waking him from a restless sleep. He took his cane, drew his dressing gown around him, and made to the door, opening it a crack to peer outside. It was Rook.
“What are you doing up this late?” he said sternly. Rook looked too anxious to even be guilty.
“Hermann,” she said quietly, “I think something’s wrong with the lab.”
Hermann frowned and bit his lip, anxiety beginning to coil in his gut.. “What do you mean?”
Rook shuffled her feet nervously. “I-- I was walking by the lab, and I heard… noises. Crashing and growling, and-- and screaming. There was screaming.”
His stomach dropped. “Newton,” he whispered.
Hermann pushed Rook aside and stumbled down the hall, mind racing with a number of horrible scenarios. Newt would never shift into his other form in such a public space, he would never let anyone see him like that. The only other explanation was…
Oh God, he thought, the elevator screeching as it made the trip down several floors, please no. Please, please no.
The door to the lab was open, but it was black and dark. There was a cold silence permeating the room, aside from the occasional rustle Hermann crept in, switching on the lights.
The lab was in disarray, glass and water all over the floor. There were machines tipped over, claw marks on the wall, and blood smeared on the glass. Hermann’s throat was tight and cloying as he scanned the room, then closed up when he saw what was before him.
Newt was in the corner, eyes a bright glowing blue and made in horrific slits of madness. There were scales covering his face and an upturned nose, with horns growing out of his head in twin spirals. There was blood dripping from his nose in a steady stream, pooling on the floor beneath him. His nails had grown to long claws, dirty with grease and blood; his arms were covered in claw marks, the tattoos marred by long lines of blue. The blue, he saw, oh God in heaven, the blue. It was everywhere. It was everything.
“Newton!” Hermann gasped, rushing forward. “Newton, please--”
“Hermann,” he croaked, falling to the floor and clutching his head. “Hermann, they’re back-- I can’t--”
Newt suddenly shot to his feet and barreled into Hermann, knocking him to the ground. His hip cried out in pain, but suddenly there were hands around his throat, choking the life from him. Hermann opened his eyes, horror in his bones, and saw the face of Newt above him, tears running down his cheeks. His eyes shifted from dangerous to devastated, flickering with pools of bright blue.
“Newton,” Hermann said, struggling for air, “You must fight them! I know-- I know what they say, that you aren’t strong enough, but--” he gasped, “you are.”
Newt was outright sobbing now, and flung himself backward as Hermann breathed again. “I can’t!” he screamed, and dragged his nails down his arms. “I-- can’t, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it hurts so much I don’t want this I don’t want to hurt anymore please I’m sorry--”
He drew back and slammed his head against Hermann’s desk, blood trickling from his forehead. Hermann made to his feet and hurried forward, grabbing Newt by the waist and pulling him back.
“Stop!” he cried, trying to keep Newt from hurting himself more, “Newton, stop!”
“Let me go!” Newt howled as he pushed against Hermann’s grip. “They’re in my head, I need to get them out, they’re-- it’s--” He let out a long cry like a wounded animal and collapsed, clutching his head. Hermann fell to the ground with him, holding Newt as he thrashed and clawed at himself.
“Fight them!” he shouted, “Newton, fight them!”
“Make it stop, make it stop, I want them to be gone--”
“You have beaten them before, you can do it again!”
“Hermann, I’m so sorry, it’s my fault; I can’t do this!”
Hermann looked around wildly for anything that he could use, and his eyes fell on a machine in the corner. His old PONS.
He fumbled for his cane and shot to his feet, running for the headsets. Newt writhed on the floor behind him, but Hermann grabbed the handle of the cart and dragged it over, sweeping the headsets off. He punched the start button of the screen and typed faster than he ever had before, programming a basic Drift sequence in before kneeling down as best he could and clutching the squid caps in hand. Newt had stilled enough for Hermann to wrestle the cap onto his head, and then jammed the other on his own. With trembling fingers, he smashed the button down.
The world flashed blue, then red, then endless darkness.
There was a hurricane in Newt’s mind, wind howling and screeching around them in spirals. Hermann twisted back and forth, searching for a sign of light, but there was only the cold wind around him, and the soft golden glow emanating from his skin. He took a step forward, eyes wide, and suddenly came up against a wall.
The darkness seemed to clear for a moment, and he saw Newton on the other side of the barrier. He was turned away, crumpled to the floor in a heap and shaking.
Hermann pounded a fist on the glass and cried, “Newton! Newton, I’m here!”
Newt shot to his feet and spun around, eyes panicked. “Hermann, oh my God, you have to go! They’re back; it’s not safe here!”
“I’ll get you out of here, just give me a moment to think--”
“There’s no time! You gotta end the Drift and leave!”
“I am not leaving you!” Hermann shouted, and slammed his hand up against the wall. Newt stayed a good distance away from it, but was crying again.
“YOU,” hissed the Precursors, emanating from the shadows. “FOOLISH HUMAN. HE WAS NOT STRONG ENOUGH. YOU ARE NOT STRONG ENOUGH. LEAVE HIM NOW.”
Hermann turned, pausing, and let out a long, bitter laugh. “Not strong enough? Do you creatures even know what you’re saying? ‘Not strong enough’-- dear God. And you call yourselves ascended.””
He began to pace in front of the darkness, staring directly into it. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that I’m not strong enough? Because of who I am-- because I’m autistic, or gay, or a cripple? Innumerable times! From everyone; from my peers, from my colleagues, from my own father! And every time-- every single bloody time-- I’ve proved them wrong! Because I am strong enough, actually. I am remarkably, incredibly strong. I am everything I have endured. I am the sum total of all of my pain. And I see you, Precursors, you vile, repulsive things, and I am not cowed. I do not go gentle into your good night. I stand here!” Hermann slammed the butt of his cane on the ground. “I stand and say ‘no’ to your little game! Because your reign of terror ends right here, right now. With him. And with me.”
He clutched the head of his cane tightly and smiled. “You think you’re something worth being scared of? Fuck. You.”
The Precursors roared, but Hermann took a step back and gripped his cane, pulling it back behind his head. He swung at the glass, the head of his cane connecting with the barrier. It didn’t budge. He swung again and again and again, arms growing tired, but the wall refused to break. Finally, he relented, leaning on his cane heavily.
“Newton,” he said wearily, “it has to be you.”
Newt blinked the tears from his eyes. “Me-- what?”
“You must be the one to break the barrier. This is your mind they’re trying to take-- it has to be you who stops them.”
He swallowed hard. “Hermann, I… I don’t know if I can.”
Hermann worked his jaw and forced himself upright, staring into Newt’s eyes. “I do. You are brave, Newton, and you have been through so much, but I am asking you to be strong one last time. You can make them leave, you were always strong enough to make them leave. You just didn’t know it until now. Now chin up, darling. Tell them ‘no’. And let’s go home.”
Newt’s eyes were huge and shimmering, working furiously behind the barrier. He lifted his head, taking a few steps forward before coming face to face with the wall. His hand moved slowly upward, pressing against it and tapping a few times. Newt took a deep breath, gathering himself, and closed his eyes.
There was the tiniest sound, almost a blink, and a small crack appeared on the barrier just beneath Newt’s hand. It spread, growing further and further outward, splintering and moving until the entire wall was covered with a spiderweb of fissures. Newt moved his hand up and slowly clenched his hand into a fist. He let out the breath he had been holding.
The glass shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, exploding and falling to the ground. Newt rushed forward, throwing his arms around Hermann and falling into the embrace. They held each other for a few long moments, the air around them hard and silent, before a roar sent them both reeling backwards.
“The Precursors,” said Newt, “they’re still here.”
Out of the darkness came a slithering of blue tentacles, rushing towards them and wrapping around themselves to scrape upward. They coiled around and around, piling on top of each other and moving up, up, up to form a massive, Precursor sized Kaiju. It gazed down at them inhumanly, eyes a glowing blue, before letting out a massive, shaking roar.
“Hermann, what do we do?” Newt shouted, grabbing his arm. Hermann shook his head.
“We’re in your mind, Newton. We have to harness the Drift; use it to our advantage somehow! Think!”
Newt screwed his eyes shut, desperately trying to come up with a plan. He tapped his foot, thinking. Then, his eyes flew open.
“We have to fight it!” he exclaimed. “It’s a monster, Hermann! If we want to beat them, we have to make one of our own!”
Hermann’s eyes widened as he realized what Newt was saying. A manic smile spread across his face, and he grasped Newt’s hand. “God knows we know those things well enough, I suppose.” he squeezed their clasped hands. “But I can’t do this alone.”
Newt grinned back. “I’ll go with you.”
They closed their eyes, tendrils spreading throughout the Drift in winding patterns of blue and red. The sparks wound around them, swirling and climbing until they solidified in panels of glowing metal. Newt and Hermann rose from the ground, platforms growing under their feet and shooting them up into the air as suits and braces formed around them. First came the legs, then the torso, and finally, the shining head closing down on top. The helmets shimmered over their heads as the visors clinked shut, echoing throughout the black space. At last they looked up together, completely in sync, to see the fully formed Jaeger around them.
Newt looked over at Hermann, eyes bright. “Oh fuck yeah! Nice touch with the arm cannon!”
Hermann couldn’t help but look pleased. “Thank you, darling. Now let’s show these bastards exactly how strong we are.”
They raised their right arms together and took a step forward, the massive Jaeger clanking as it moved. The cannon began to charge, bright purple light beaming from the hand. Energy rushed into the Jaeger, flooding the system and teeming with a bright glow. The arm grew brighter and brighter, until they could barely stand to look at it anymore. Then, as the Kaiju roared in front of them, they aimed.
“Hey assholes!” Newt screamed, “Get the fuck out of my head!”
The cannon fired.
Light exploded from the hand, engulfing the Kaiju in a wave of purple. It screamed as it was hit, disintegrating into millions of pieces of darkness that flew around them in a burst of wind. The beam glowed brighter and brighter, flooding the space of Newt’s mind until everything had been washed in a wave of light. The darkness fled, until nothing was left but Newt and Hermann and their Jaeger, phantasmal and resplendent.
They fell back to earth softly, drifting down until their feet landed on solid ground. Newt was shaking harder than a leaf, and the moment he had a leg to stand on he was turning and throwing his arms around Hermann, crushing him in a kiss.
“They’re gone,” he said, pulling away after a long minute. “Hermann, I’m free. They’re gone.”
“I know, Newton,” Hermann replied, feeling the edges of the Drift pull at him. “I’m so proud of you.” The world began to dissolve, fading into nothingness, but Hermann managed one last thing before the Drift ended.
“You’re going to be amazing.”
Chapter 20: Interlude Two
Newt and Hermann have a talk.
Newt ripped the infirmary hospital bracelet off and kicked his feet out over the edge of the Shatterdome roof. “Jesus Christ,” he breathed out into the cool air, “that was a fucking debacle and a half.”
“You got repossessed, Newton,” Hermann replied, fiddling with his lighter. The pad of his thumb refused to catch on the wheel, and he huffed out a frustrated sigh. “They had to be sure nothing else was going horribly wrong.”
“Yeah, well, I’m fine now. Probably.” He laughed. “Add that on to the trauma train.”
Hermann’s thumb finally caught, and the lighter lit with a puff of flame. He held it to his cigarette and breathed in deeply, letting the hot smoke fill his lungs. Newt glanced at him sideways.
“I thought you quit.”
“I did. Then, the love of my life became possessed by aliens who tried to destroy the world. If you haven’t noticed, Newton, I’m under a bit of stress at the moment.”
Newt swallowed, thinking for a moment, before holding out his hand. “Mind if I see?”
Hermann passed him the cigarette wordlessly, and Newt took a drag. “Fuck,” he said, “one vice for another, I guess.”
They stayed there, looking out at the ocean for several long moments, the the sky a black reflection on the water. Stars dusted the waves like glitter on paint, and the crashing sound was quiet in the night air. Hermann looked over at Newt, who’s eyes appeared to be millions of miles away. Finally, he spoke.
“Sorry if I woke you.”
Hermann turned his gaze back to the sea. “It’s alright. I would have heard you in my dreams, anyway.”
Another pause, and then, “Don’t confuse my missing it for… missing them.”
“No,” Hermann said, “I know what you mean. I miss the vastness of it all. The expanse of ocean. The small bit of freedom they had before they were sent to their… untimely and grisly deaths. But you have to understand, the moment they stepped into our world they became part of something different. They weren’t just machines for the Precursors anymore, they were inhabitants of Earth. They were always a part of us; they were based off our animals, made to survive in our temperatures and climates. One of them was even born here.”
“I think I feel her most of all.”
Hermann nodded. He knew exactly how Newt felt. “You know, sometimes I get dreams of their memories. Not all the bad ones, but… there was one I had where I was flying. It was completely different than I had imagined it. You don’t belong to anything. Not like on the ground. The only thing that’s touching you is the air.” He let out a long breath. “It made me almost feel bad when they cut her down.”
Newt glanced over at him with a wry smile. “She killed people, Hermann.”
He laughed. “Yes, I know. And imagine you telling me that. You were the one who was obsessed with her.”
“Shut up.” Then, he conceded: “I was a little obsessed.”
“Oh come on, Mr. ‘numbers are the closest we get to the handwriting of God’. You practically jerked off to the stuff.”
Hermann sniffed. “Don’t be so gauche.”
Newt went quiet at this, thinking. He blinked slowly like an animal watching its prey. “I dunno, Hermann, which of us got kicked in the ass for being interested in the things?”
“It wasn’t your love of them that let them in.”
“It was my love of them that made me Drift with the thing.”
Hermann shook his head. “But it wasn’t the key to your mind. This wasn’t… comeuppance for you hubris, Newton. Perhaps seeing one up close was, but you didn’t do anything to deserve it.”
He was silent at this. “I dunno, Hermann, maybe I did. Maybe I really did have it coming.” He laughed again, lifelessly and weak. “I got them tattooed on my skin. And they just went right underneath anyway. Look at it sideways and it’s just one big poorly done metaphor for how fucking stupid I am.”
“You’re not stupid,” said Hermann sharply.
“I’m kinda stupid.”
“Well, it’s not a very good metaphor. Your tragedy is not some grand analogy. It was a terrible thing that happened, and there’s nothing poetic about it. You don’t need to romanticize pain, Newton. There doesn’t have to be anything beautiful about it.”
“I romanticized theirs.” Newt put his head in his hands and rubbed his face. “God, Hermann, they were just-- they were kids! They were babies, they were barely days old and they just sent them out there to die!”
“And-- and every time they got to Earth, and they had that moment: ‘why are we doing this?’ The Precursors may have hated us, but the kaiju… they thought we were beautiful. They called the ocean home more than the Anteverse ever would be. I just wish there was something we could have done.”
Hermann took the cigarette back and breathed in and out. “We saved one of them.”
Newt smiled wanly. “I guess I am a little Kaiju, huh? Sure this isn’t poetic?”
“It’s not poetic.”
“Then you don’t have to feel bad for liking that dream. I mean, not the part where we killed her, but I know you’ve always wanted to fly. You can feel good about that.”
Hermann didn’t look back, just shivered a little. “It’s so strange to think of them as aliens in the raw sense of the word. They didn’t even come from space. Aliens! From the bottom of the ocean! How strange.”
“They were far out enough. We couldn’t reach them, even if we wanted to.”
A wind blew across the roof, and Newt moved closer to press up against Hermann’s side. They shook together in the cold.
“I suppose they were just stars, weren’t they?” Hermann said. “I suppose we all were. Falling stars come to Earth. And this is the ocean in which we drown.”
“Guess they did get what they wanted in the end. We made them a part of us. We put their bones into our architecture, and blood into rockets. They just wanted to be a part of something.”
Newt shifted his weight against Hermann and took the cigarette again, sucking in and breathing out smoke. It drifted off the roof and into the night like a tiny ghost, following the wind out across the sea. They were both silent for a long time, the Drift humming like a washing machine between them. It was violet and soft, bouncing gently around their heads in a halo of thoughts and colors. Newt could sense Hermann wanted to say something, but waited for now.
Hermann had been wondering something for a while, but with the Precursors’ latest attack, he felt he had to say it. He took the cigarette back and laced a hand through Newt’s, squeezing it twice. Then, he asked, “What did they even say to you to-- to make you trust them?”
Newt stilled, and his expression turned melancholy and searching. “They told me they were the only ones who could love me like I was. With… everything that I am.”
Hurt flashed across Hermann’s face. “And you didn’t think I could?”
Newt shook his head. “I didn’t think anybody could. But they weren’t anybody. They were aliens. They knew strange and weird and not quite human. They thought it was… okay. And I’m not equating mental illness to not being human-- that’s dumb, and stupid, and awful. But I Drifted with a Kaiju twice. Even before the Precursors did what they did, I wasn’t one hundred per-cent a person. There was a little bit of something else inside of me, and I didn’t really know what to do with it. I mean, you didn’t Drift with them twice, and you shared the neural load with me-- you got a tiny fraction of the hivemind. I saw everything.”
Hermann gave him a concerned look. “What did you see?”
“Chaos.” Newt was a million miles away. “And order, and this nothingness that goes on for miles. They were dying. They were dying, and they just wanted to not die. That doesn’t mean they could wipe us out, but… isn’t that the most human desire of all? To want to live?”
Something lonesome stirred in Hermann’s gut, and he held Newt’s hand tighter. Tentatively, he said, “You could have come to me.”
Newt frowned. “You know that’s not true.”
“Why not?” he asked sharply.
“Because I didn’t think I had a choice, Hermann. I mean-- you have to get that-- I didn’t think I deserved you, I still don’t! My whole life, everybody told me, ‘Okay, you’re gonna have this one big, great, rockstar moment where you do something incredible like save the world, or cure cancer, or whatever-- and then you’re just not gonna be anything after that’. I didn’t know that people like me could get a happy ending, Hermann. I’m still not quite sure that’s true. ‘Cause when you’re fifteen? And in a psych ward for trying to jump off the roof? Even though you weren’t even high up enough to do it. You don’t really think about who’s out there loving you.
“Because I never really left that person behind. There were some days in the Drift… where I’d look down and I was just that scared little kid again. Hospital gown and everything. Nowhere to go but down.”
Hermann let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. “Then,” he said, “forgive me.”
Newt looked at him confusedly. “For what?”
“I wasn’t a person you thought you could reach out to. It was my fault--”
“No! Hermann, it wasn’t--”
“You must-- listen!” he said. “I was closed off and cold to you when you needed me most. I was afraid of what you would see, what you knew about me. I didn’t want you to know more. So I pushed you away. And doing that is my greatest regret. I… even if we weren’t something more, I was your friend, Newton! I should have been there for you! You were hurting, and I wasn’t! All I would’ve had to do was reach out, and I could have saved you!”
Newt shook his head. “Hermann, it took a lot more than you to save me.”
He sighed. “It could have been a start.”
With a snort, Newt replied, “I needed a little bit more than power of love, dude. Like, actual therapy. And adjusting my meds a little bit.”
“If you don’t think I would have forced you into that doctor’s office, you’re very mistaken.”
Newt laughed. “Yeah. I know now you would’ve. All this probably could have been avoided if I’d just gone to the doctor! Story of my life.” He looked at Hermann. “And… I still don’t believe it’s at all your fault, but I know you need to hear this. So: I forgive you.”
“Then I forgive you too,” said Hermann, and squeezed his hand again.
Beneath them, the ocean sprawled endless, and quiet. There was little wind that night, the waves lapping against the loading dock almost silently. The moon was a thin stroke in the sky, shining down onto the waves below. Hermann felt homesick for a place he had never been, a life he had never known.
The strings of Drift between them dangled lazily, like loose threads between knitting needles. Hermann plucked at one of them, and felt Newt shift beside him as a flood of strange peace fluttered across the line.
“My head feels empty without them,” said Newt.
“Don’t worry, love,” Hermann replied, “I’ll stay there with you until it feels like home again.”
An ocean breeze ruffled Newt’s hair, which had grown longer since his rescue. It now fell down in a kind of choppy bob just below his jaw, and Hermann felt the tender urge to run his hand through it. He did, as that was something he could freely do now. Newt leaned into the touch and made a happy sort of noise.
“I guess empty isn’t so bad,” he said. “Not when it’s with you.”
Chapter 21: Every Scar Forgotten
Amara makes a friend. Hermann makes a discovery. Newt makes a mess.
so this chapter was originally going to be one big thing, but i split it into two parts because the pacing ran better. next one should be up as soon as tech week for the show i'm in is over, but for now enjoy some good old fashioned science!!!!!
Outside the door to the K-Science lab, Jake and Amara considered the circumstances.
“So,” said Jake, “Dr. Geiszler is in a pretty rough place right now. He’s still recovering from two possessions, and might be a little more fragile than he used to. Don’t be overly compensating, but just… give the guy a break, okay?”
Amara nodded. “Don’t freak him out. Got it.”
Jake pushed the door to the lab open, and was about to speak, when a screech from Newt interrupted him. “Out of the way!”
Newt barreled across their paths holding a hazard bucket of Kaiju Blue, his boots squeaking on the grated floor. Some of the blood sloshed out of the bucket and onto the floor, and Amara quickly dodged the flying liquid. Hermann turned from his holograms to glare at Newt.
“For God’s sake, Newton,” he chided, “that material is extremely hazardous!”
“I neutralized it!” Newt replied, and proceeded to plunk the bucket on Hermann’s desk. “Here! Make some rockets or whatever; it’s all yours now.”
Hermann made a face. “Get that bucket off my desk or so help me--”
“Dude, you literally worked with the stuff up until a few months ago--”
“And I had a bloody terrible time doing it!”
“It’s not my fault the Drift bled through enough to make you tolerate the stuff!”
“Tolerate?! Newton, every moment I spent with my hands in that viscera--”
“Did you seriously just call my samples ‘viscera’?”
“--was an absolute nightmare, and the number one reason I want to destroy the Precursors is because they made you unavailable to deal with it!”
Newt blinked. “Okay, well, thank you for not blaming me on that.”
“I-- Of course,” Hermann sputtered. “I would do no such thing. But that still does not excuse you from disposing of your samples the proper way instead--”
“I thought you would like it!”
“Why on Earth would I voluntarily touch that garbage?”
Newt leaned over the bucket and glared. “Okay, and now you just called it ‘garbage’. Thanks.”
Amara’s eyes flitted back and forth as she watched their verbal sparring match. She turned to Jake. “You sure this guy is traumatized?”
Jake sighed. “I forgot how annoying he is when he’s off his meds.”
“Wait-- you knew Newt before he got possesed?”
With a shrug, he said, “Mako and I used to hang out in their lab when we were little. I don’t remember… everything, but I do know he got really excited really easily.”
“Seriously,” came Newt’s voice, “as long as I’m wearing safety gloves, I don’t see the point in worrying about it!”
“Also,” said Jake, “he didn’t wear a hazmat suit that much.”
Finally, Newt seemed to notice Jake and Amara’s presence and turned to them. “Oh shit,” he said, “there’s people.”
“Yes,” Hermann sneered, “I was wondering when you’d notice.”
Newt flipped him the bird as he walked over to greet them. “Hail and well met, my dudes. What brings you to the nerd zone?”
“You talk like a desperate middle school teacher,” Amara said bluntly. Newt looked genuinely hurt.
Jake elbowed her. “Gently,” he hissed. Then, to Newt, he said, “You talk fine, Geiszler. But we need your help one something.”
Newt brightened. “Oh, cool! What can I do for you guys?”
“We need you to tell us everything you know about the drones, and how you built the Kaiju parts into them.”
Newt opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it. A blush rose in his face, and he looked sheepish. “Uh. Yeah. About that. I don’t know dick.”
Jake blinked. “You… you don’t know what?”
“Dick,” said Newt. “When the Precursors were doing all the building and hacking stuff, I was watching all the movies I had memorized, or sleeping, or, uh, moping or whatever. I don’t remember how to actually build or code a Kaiju drone.” He laughed weakly. “Guess you didn’t get the memo from Sekibo?”
Jake looked like he wanted to sink through the floor. Thinking out loud, he said, “Fuck.”
Amara’s face lit up like a firecracker. “Did you just curse?” she asked gleefully. Jake flinched.
“No. No I didn’t. And don’t you dare tell Nate.”
“I’m gonna tell him.”
“If you tell him, I’m kicking you out of the program.”
“Did I even really get accepted back in the first place?”
Jake shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t care. You’re gone now.”
“This is bullying!”
“That it is. Welcome to the military.”
Newt laughed. “Dude,” he said to Jake, “you really are trying to get out of your dad’s shadow, huh?”
Amara took Jake’s momentary distraction to stomp on his foot. “Yeah,” she snapped, “he’s a real rebel. And a jerk, too.”
“Okay,” said Jake, “so you really don’t know anything about how the Precursors built the drones, right?”
“I could dissect what they used,” Newt replied, “but I’m pretty sure they all got destroyed.”
Jake turned to Amara. “Guess our next stop is Shao,” he said. “Thanks, Geiszler.”
Newt waved to them as they left. “No problem! And call me Newt!”
He drifted back over to Hermann’s desk and leaned against it, minding the bucket. “If you think about it,” Newt said, “it would be pretty cool.”
“You said the same about Drifting with the Kaiju brain, and look where that got us,” Hermann replied coolly. Newt shrugged.
“Yeah, but this time I’d have you by my side. I trust you.”
Hermann went pink at this. “Ah. Well. We still don’t know what the ramifications could be, being so connected to parts of the Hivemind. Besides, I couldn’t pilot a Jaeger. Not with my leg.”
“So what?” said Newt. “We’d build a brace! There’s technology today that we didn’t have twenty years ago. Anything could be possible!”
Looking away, Hermann sighed. “Newton. You really don’t think they’d accept someone like me as a pilot, do you? In what fanciful story would that even be a reality?”
Newt ran his tongue over his bottom lip. “Look, Herms. We’d find a way. I promise you. And hey, the Precursors are out of my head now! There isn’t a chance for possession any more; not if we’re smart about it.”
With a conceding nod, Hermann paused. “I did want to speak to you about that,” he said. “I understand that you felt I was coddling you when I refused to go along with your plan. I promise, that was not the case. I’m not trying to…” he bit his lip. “I don’t think you’re an invalid, Newton. You’re your own person, and you can make your own choices. However, I don’t know what I would do with myself if I lost you again. I understand you’re still dealing with the guilt over what the Precursors made you do, but you self-destructing wouldn’t just affect you. I care far too much for that to be the case.”
“Oh,” said Newt, “are-- are we doing that thing where we talk like adults? Uh. Okay.” He tapped his foot on the floor nervously. “I hear you, and I’m sorry I scared you like that. But now that the Precursors are out of my head, it would be less of a suicide mission, and more of a ‘let’s save the world again’. I’m always gonna feel guilty for those ten years, even if it wasn’t ‘technically’ me. But, the best way to deal with that guilt, I guess, is to actually do something.”
“The antithesis of despair is action.”
Newt snapped his fingers. “Exactly! We’re scientists, Hermann. Helping people is what we do. And I can’t just stand by and let people get hurt when there’s a way to end this once and for all!”
Hermann considered this for a long moment, furrowing his brow. Then, he sighed. “Alright. I will agree to giving it a go, on one condition: you talk to me. Tell me if you’re upset, or angry, or even just not feeling well. I want to know. You’re not a burden, Newton, you’re my partner and I love you. You want to give so much of yourself to others, but you have to think of you as well.”
Scuffing the toe of his boot on the floor, Newt nodded. “Okay. But you have to be open, too. I know how you tend to bottle things up and hope nobody notices. It’s your British coming out.” He closed his hand into a fist and held out his pinky. “Deal?”
Hermann smiled and linked their fingers. “Deal.”
“Besides,” said Newt, “we’ve Drifted with the Hivemind together and only gotten mildly sick as a result. Sharing the neural load, remember?”
Hermann looked up curiously. “I was able to Drift with you while the Precursors had taken over you, and not be hurt. I still wonder how that worked.” He thought for a moment, then reached over and activated the holoscreens on his desk. After tapping a few keys, several brain scans appeared. “These,” he said to Newt’s confused look, “are a few of the scans we took during your possession. As you can see, there’s a clean part around your limbic system.”
“Emotions,” Newt said. Hermann nodded.
“I wonder,” he continued, pulling up another two scans, “how they would compare to the ones taken of us after we Drifted with Kodachi…”
The two maps couldn’t have been more different. While Newt’s showed small signs of the Precursors at first, then quickly progressed to a full infection, in Hermann’s scan, they fizzled out almost immediately.
“That’s where the irregularities in my limbic system were less pronounced,” Newt supplied. “I started getting really anal about taking my meds for some reason; I thought it was just your responsibility rubbing off on me, but I guess we know why now. Still, I wonder why the presence of neuroatypicality affects the Hivemind so much?” He let out a dry laugh. “Guess it’s good for something after all, huh?”
A lightbulb flickered on in Hermann’s brain. He snapped his fingers. “Of course! Newton, you’re a genius!”
Newt blinked. “I am? Hermann, just because I have six doctorates doesn’t mean they were actually a good idea--”
“Nevermind that,” Hermann said quickly, and got up from his chair to pace. “Listen! The Kaiju genetically engineer their offspring to ensure optimal genetics; they refuse to let nature take its course. They’re practically allergic to any kind of imperfection! Think about it: they participate in eugenics, they attempted to get rid of humans not to eat them, but to ‘purify’ the planet, they forced you to take your medication in order to push your brain towards a state of being normal-- they focus an extraordinary amount of time and energy on obsessively constructing everything in their lives to be without fault! That’s exactly why the Drift with the Hivemind doesn’t affect me: there’s no cure for autism!”
“Holy shit,” Newt said, beginning to get excited. “That’s why I had more control when they came back last week-- I was off my meds, so my brain chemistry was more abnormal, and they couldn’t get a leg to stand on!”
Hermann strode forward and, without thinking, clasped Newt’s hand in his own. “They have no defenses against imperfection because it’s never something they’ve stopped to consider in the first place!” he near-shouted. Newt squeezed his hand tightly.
“Hermann, fuck me and my brain, you’re the genius here!”
Hermann reddened and looked away, his grip loosening slightly. “Don’t be ridiculous, dear.”
Newt, almost bouncing up and down with excitement, pulled Hermann forward and kissed him soundly on the lips. It was an almost identical reenactment of their greatest discoveries in the lab, except this time with a great deal more broken romantic tension. Hermann’s heart couldn’t help but do a foolish little dance. Good heavens, kissing Newton was wonderful, but combining that with science? He was about ready to fall to the ground and propose right there.
Newt drew away and pressed one last kiss to Hermann’s nose, before hurrying over to his desk and wrenching open his laptop. “Holy Jesus, Moses, and Mercury,” he said, “we’re doing a paper on this, right? Hermann, we have to do a paper on this.”
That was when the afternoon went from good to great for Hermann. Writing scientific reports with Newt was always a tumultuous experience, but never boring or regrettable. “If you’re comfortable divulging all that information,” he said, “I can think of no better idea.”
Newt’s answering smile was blinding.