“He’s trapped in what, now?” Ben Solo’s voice comes a bit tinny but clear, as always, through Rey’s earpiece. He’s at the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, 1,700 miles away and an hour behind the research station that floats within 100 miles of the breach itself, but their shared work as scientists for the Pan Pacific Defense Corps dictates near constant contact. Across the room, Rey can see her assistant, Jessika, reach into the tank and remove the satellite box, GPS tracker, and heart monitor from Dopheld. He chatters at her, and she coos and throws a fish behind him. He jumps back and swims down into the water to find it. Rey smiles before turning her attention back to the man on the other end of the satellite feed.
“Trash, Ben. Finn’s trapped in a pile of floating trash. A discarded fishing line or something, most likely, but he's definitely caught up in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s four times the size of Texas and it’s been moving steadily south over the past few decades and…” She stops talking, because she knows that he doesn’t give a shit. “Anyway, he’s stuck and I need to go get him.”
There’s a beat of silence on the other end, and then Ben says, “Okay, I’m just confirming that we’ve received all of the data from Dolph, and we’re still receiving data from Finn, so whatever else is happening to him at least his equipment isn’t damaged. And we’ll get on processing that here ASAP.” He pronounces it like it’s a word, “ayesap”, and Rey groans internally. “Rey, his vitals are looking good, too, so he's alive for now. Can you confirm?”
She sees those numbers too, on the tablet clenched tightly in her hands, and she says so.
There’s a moment of silence, and they both know what's coming next although neither of them are keen to go there. “Rey,” Ben finally says, “the timeline is tight, and depending on how seriously he’s caught in that garbage we might need to leave Finn behind.”
Jessika, who also has an earpiece although her microphone is off, turns around and makes eye contact with Rey in sympathetic horror. It’s the only thing that keeps her from screaming right now.
Rey does her best to maintain control, she really does. “Ben, Finn is the best reconnaissance dolphin the PPDC has right now, bar none.” They only have two, Finn and Dopheld, but Ben has the good sense not to mention that. “We rely on him to patrol the breach and he brings us so much valuable information, information that is better than anything you’re able to bring up with your little robots.”
There’s a sigh, that familiar sigh. “They’re called drones, Rey.”
“Drones, then. Anyway, my point is that he’s a valuable commodity for the PPDC, for the surviving world, and we should do everything in our power to bring him back safe. It took me years to train him, and frankly we don’t have time to do that again.”
Rey holds her breath as she gives him time to respond. He’s not the boss, they are equals in this work, the two scientists leading the research into the nature of the breach and the Kaiju that come through it, but she’ll need his support if the shit hits the fan. And his support is not always easy for her to get, not anymore.
Finally he says, “Okay, fine. As you know, our current estimates are that the breach will open again in 48 hours. You three and the dolphins will need to be in the air at least two hours before that happens.” He pauses, and it feels as though he might say something else, but he doesn’t. Rey and Jessika trade a look and Rey rolls her eyes, making the other woman giggle.
“Fine, then. That’s what we’ll do. Shall I keep you updated?”
“Yes, please,” he replies, his voice tight. “Every hour, more frequently if you need to. And I can keep you updated about what’s going down here. The pilots are already starting to get ready. The Inferno has had a couple of upgrades and Hux and Poe are really excited to try them out.” There’s a muffled shouting in the background that makes both of the women smile. “Poe says hi, by the way.”
“Tell him hi from us too, and hopefully we’ll see him soon.”
Ben says yeah, yeah, addressed to someone in the control room with him, then brings his attention back to Rey. “Look, Rey, I know Finn’s important to you, but,” she holds her breath; here comes Ben, he’s going to try to say something nice but he’ll end up sticking his foot in it, she’s sure. “He’s just a dolphin. So pl...”
Rey cuts off the connection so he can’t hear her bellow. “OH MY FUCKING GOD JESSIKA WHAT IS HIS PROBLEM.” She takes a couple of deep breaths to calm herself, and her assistant comes closer, but knows better than to try to give her a hug right now. Rey sighs and grumbles, “I really hate that asshole.” Jessika smirks at her. “Yeah, well you never should have married him then.” Rey can only nod in agreement.
It’s 10am and they have 46 hours. Their plane is already packed and ready to go, up on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier that houses the PPDC’s floating research station. It's always minimally packed, just in case, but they got it flight-ready as soon as they had a solid estimate.
It’s because of the dolphins. Dolphins can only swim 80 miles a day, on the best day, so to effectively monitor the breach they need to be close, and the aircraft carrier keeps them close. Most of the carrier is military, but Rey has her team: herself, Dolph and Finn, Jessika, and Tallie. Tallie, the team’s marine biologist, checks out Dolph and gives him a clean bill of health, although she's slightly concerned about the amount of microplastic she finds layering his skin and in his blowhole and eyes. Rey tries not to think about Finn, still out in the water.
Tallie is the dolphins’ primary caretaker, responsible for their physical health and well-being. Rey, however, thinks of Tallie as their nanny; Rey herself is their mother. She started training Finn and Dolph as babies, eight years ago, when she was fresh out of college and in her first assignment with the PPDC. It’s why they’d hired her, and Ben Solo had been her biggest advocate.
Ben had basically been raised in the PPDC; his mother, General Leia Organa, was a former Jaeger pilot and for years has been the head of operations at the Hong Kong Shatterdome. Nine years Rey’s senior, Ben was struck by her intelligence and fresh ideas; she, having grown up in foster care and used to taking care of herself, was attracted to his stability and his desire to take care of her. They were married within a year of her taking the post, and separated only three years later. They’d never gone through the process of getting a formal divorce, although if you’d asked either of them they couldn’t tell you why. Not enough time, too much paperwork, no other serious romantic prospects on the horizon. These were all true, but even so, Rey tried not to think about it too hard. She was busy with work, anyway.
And work was still Ben Solo. They worked well together, they both knew that. Their skills were complementary. He was the logical one with a poetic imagination; she was the risk-taker, had the big ideas and the willingness to follow them through. Their break-up hadn’t changed that.
Rey and Jessika leave Dolph in the capable hands of Tallie, load up a helicopter with scuba equipment, just in case, and are off within two hours. They check in with Ben on each hour; no major updates from the 'dome, but the tension there is palpable even through the satellite feed.
Noon. 44 hours to go.
Although Rey is licensed, Jessika flies today so she can prep equipment for the rescue. Finn has a tracker so they can see exactly where he is: about 50 miles from their current location, unmoving, aside from an almost imperceptible slide eastward. He's caught in the very edge of the GPGP. If they can't get him eventually his body will be pulled into the center, along with tens of thousands of tons of trash, mostly microplastic, and finally cast out, into the Northern rotation. His bones, or whatever is left after so many months or years, will end up somewhere between Hawaii and California.
Rey won't let that happen, though. He's her baby and she promised to take care of him when she took him from his mother soon after he was weaned. She intends to keep this promise.
The Blackhawk helicopter is old and slowed down somewhat by the small water tank they have for Finn, but even so it doesn't even take them an hour to reach the spot where Finn’s tracker is leading them.
1pm. 43 hours to go.
There’s another check-in with Ben. He sounds worried; the data from the dolphins is inconsistent with the current estimate for breach opening and they may need to move it forward, but he can't say how far quite yet. Ben urges her to turn back now; Rey ignores him.
The weather is clear, there's not a cloud in the sky and the Philippine Sea is a beautiful crystal turquoise. Well, mostly. They approach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from the southeast. The ocean is beautiful up to the point where the clean water runs up against the oceanic gyre hosting the GPGP. It looks like a giant rent in the ocean, extending left to right, as far as the eye can see.
The GPGP doesn't look like trash; larger items tend to float just under the surface, and aren’t visible from the helicopter. But most of it is microplastic anyway, from bottles and other things that don't degrade, instead breaking down into smaller and smaller particles that make the ocean look like a kind of thick cream soup. It's poison, a much less exciting danger than the Kaiju that lurk behind the breach, seven miles below the surface, but still deadly to any living thing that is unlucky enough to be grasped in its clutches.
The thought makes Rey’s gut twist and she focuses her attention on the binoculars she's using to look for Finn in the ocean below. His vitals are still strong, which is heartening, and according to the ping from the GPS he should be just below them. But there's a problem.
“Jessika, I can't see him. He should be right here, but all I see is soup.”
Jessika flies lower, they circle around the spot, seeking for an hour, but there's no use. He just isn't here.
2pm. 42 hours to go
Rey is near tears. “His tracker must have come off. We should have embedded them, but I didn't want to hurt them and now look at what's happened. All my fault.”
“I bet there are other ways to track him. It's time to check in with the 'dome anyway. You can ask Ben what he would do.”
Rey scoffs at this. “He’ll just tell me to leave him.”
“Yes, he will. And then thirty seconds later he’ll tell you how to find him.”
“And then he’ll say something stupid and I'll get angry at him.”
The women laugh together as Rey dries her eyes and prepares to connect to the 'dome. She sighs. “He's such a dork.”
Jessika looks over at her fondly. “I guess.”
The conversation goes pretty much as Rey foretold. First Ben encouraged her to leave immediately, then he told her there was a GPS system as part of his satellite box that he could probably hack.
“It's so we can keep track of where the data’s gathered. It's less precise than the GPS box, it's not designed for tracking, but it should help you find his location at least.”
The satellite data goes directly to the 'dome, Rey doesn't have direct access to that, so Ben agrees to stay on the line and feed her coordinates as he has them.
As they're waiting for the latest coordinates to come through on his end, Ben tells her that he’s becoming more concerned about the estimate. “I'm afraid we’re as much as 12 hours off. That gives you 30 hours to rescue Finn, not 42.”
2 pm. 30 hours to go
“It's enough time, Ben. We’ll find him in a few hours and be back with plenty to spare.” She pauses. “Why are you so worried about me, anyway? And why are you helping me?”
She can imagine him blinking on the other end of the connection. He replies slowly, carefully, as though he's afraid of fucking up. “Well, I worry about you because I care about you, Rey. And I'm helping you because I know how much Finn means to you. You, uh, love him. You love him. And he's an important part of our work, of course. He's on the team.”
Rey feels weird, and she's not sure how to respond but in the end she doesn't have to. Ben continues, “Okay, I have potential coordinates for Finn. These would be from 15 or 20 minutes ago, but if he's moving as slowly as his tracker this should get you real close.”
The coordinates he gives them are another 20 miles east. They sign off; Ben needs to get back to work on the updated estimate. It only takes the helicopter a few minutes to reach the coordinates and another five minutes until there he is. Rey can see him through the binoculars. He's large for a bottlenose, 11 feet long, 1200 pounds, and he’s an unusually dark grey that contrasts with the light color of the patch. His vitals are still strong but he's not moving, which means he's not struggling, which Rey thinks is good. He's conserving his energy. Is he waiting for her? He must be terrified. The thought makes Rey want to cry, but she holds herself together and prepares to lower the boat that she’ll use as her rescue headquarters below, and which will carry her and, hopefully, Finn back up to the helicopter when he’s finally cut free.
She pulls on a wetsuit, buckles on her tool belt, and lowers herself and the boat to where Finn is floating in a viscous, very loose sludge. It smells like the inside of a new refrigerator; the scent makes Rey want to vomit.
Finn sees her coming down and he gets excited, he starts to chatter and wiggle. She calls to him to stay still, but that just excites him more. He doesn't relax until she's in the slimy water with him, pulling him close, pushing the microplastic sludge off his skin.
His satellite box is intact, but, as they knew, his GPS tracker is missing. She murmurs to him as she cleans him off and assesses the bindings that tie him to the trash. “How did you lose that, baby? So naughty, getting lost in the ocean like that. Had me worried sick, you did. I had to ask Ben for help, and you know how I hate doing that.”
Rey can hear Jessika laugh on the other end of the comm. “How's our star looking, boss?”
“Oh Jess, he’s well tangled in what looks like two… no, three separate nets.” She follows the tangle with her hands and swears. “And those nets are tangled up with a bunch of shit below the surface here. This is big stuff; I see a laundry basket and a lawn chair and a… big wheel, I think. I haven’t seen one of those in years. Fucking plastic. Fucking trash. I'm going to need to cut him out before we can bring him up.” She eyes the way the threads of the nets wrap around his fins. “This may take a while.”
She's been working for about forty minutes when she has a call from Ben, and he is distraught.
“Rey, our estimate was wrong, it was so far off and I don't know why. Every bit of data we've been getting from Finn right now pushes the estimate further and further up.”
Rey cuts another thread of a net and wipes sweat out of her eyes. “Okay, so what's the current estimate now?”
“The breach is imminent.”
“WHAT!!” Rey can hear Jessika shout as well, through the earbud, from her seat in the helicopter above her head.
“I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I swear my earlier work was good. I processed it all correctly, and it gave the answer it should have. The data itself has been inconsistent. It's like they were … lying to us with data. I have no idea how they did it, but it looks like that's what they did.”
Rey’s crying, and she’s desperately pushing the tears out of her eyes so she can see what she’s doing. Finn, sensing that she’s upset, pushes up against her and trills sympathetically. “Don’t say it, Ben.”
“I won’t say it but you know, Rey, you know… Oh, hell.”
And then there’s a different voice on the line. Both rougher and slightly higher-pitched than Ben’s, and where his is pleading this voice oozes authority. This is a voice that is used to people doing what it tells them to do.
“General Organa, ma’am.”
The General’s voice softens, just a bit. “Rey, I know you love Finn, but we need you to survive this. I need you to say goodbye to Finn and pull out now, that’s an order.”
The General doesn’t stop to listen for an answer; in moments Ben is back on the line.
Rey’s still cutting at the nets. She’s concentrating as much as she can on the bits that tangle with the larger pieces of trash below; if she can get him separated, she can do the rest on the helicopter. But Finn is heavy, and it’s hot, and these damn tears are making it very hard to see.
Of the three on the line, Jessika is the one to break the silence. “Rey, I’ll do whatever you want. I’m with you on this.”
Rey laughs, a bitter laugh. “That’s good, because it would really suck for you to fly away now. I’m not leaving without Finn, I’m just not. I guess I’m a traitor.”
Finally, Ben. “I’ll stay with you too, whatever happens today. I’m on the line. I’m not going anywhere.”
Ben’s words fill Rey’s chest with an unfamiliar emotion, something sweet and hot that also hurts, just a little bit. She does her best to push it down so she can concentrate on the work at hand.
There’s movement on Ben’s end of the line; he’s leaving the control room, going somewhere private, she bets. Ben starts talking. “Three of the Jaegers left about 20 minutes ago. Hux and Poe are in Inferno Skies, of course. They got some new missiles or something they’re excited to try out. Rose and Phasma in Silver Thorn; Rose says you guys still owe her a drink for some favor she did you, by the way. She wouldn’t tell me what it was but it made her laugh so I hope it’s good.”
His running patter has Rey smiling, and her tears are drying. It’s easier to concentrate on the netting with his voice in her ear, too, for some reason. It’s… comforting.
“Phasma still does that thing with Hux and Poe, by the way. It’s almost a ritual for all of us, now. This time they even lit a candle, can you believe it? She makes them promise to take care of each other in there, because she can’t live without either one of them. It’s actually really sweet, but don’t ever tell them I told you that. Anyway, the third Jaeger is Pulsar Bones, that’s with Snap and Kaydel, they’re new but I think you know them, Jess? This is their first run together but they have a really tight compatibility, I’ve seen them training. They’ll be good, maybe even as good as Leia and Luke were, back in the day, given enough time.”
There’s a moment of silence on Ben’s end and then he’s back; his voice is tight. “The breach is opening; it’s opening right now.”
And as he says it, Rey can feel it, she can feel the water reacting to the strangeness of the breach, almost seven miles below them, the dimensional conflict manifesting as a kind of vibration in the water. Not like an earthquake, exactly; something else. Finn can feel it too, his eyes go wide and he squeals at her in agitation. She takes a moment to stroke him and coo at him in a way she hopes is soothing. He needs to stay still for her to be able to cut away the rest of the trash.
Ben sighs, softly, on the other end of the line, and then he’s talking again, his voice low and rough. “You remember that time, you were pretty drunk, you probably don't remember... the power went out during that attack, the second year we were married, and the backup system took a while to come online. It was pitch black in our room, except for a candle you insisted on using, instead of a flashlight... and we were sitting there, staring at that one little candle, and I said something really dumb like that candle is me, like every one of us is out there alone in the dark in this life. And you lit another candle and put it beside mine and said "that's me"... and we stared at the two candles, and then we... well, if you remember any of it, I'm sure you remember the next part. Rey, there are two candles in the dark. I'm with you. I'll always be with you.”
The vibration is getting stronger.
Rey saws at a particularly thick cord wrapped around Finn’s fluke, and tears are running down her face again. She doesn’t want to take the time to wipe them away.
“Ben, I remember. I remember that. I wasn’t that drunk, really, it’s just fun to act more drunk than I am, because it annoys you.” He laughs out loud, and she continues. “But why are you telling me this?”
She can hear him swallow. “Because I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, about what happened with us. I was stupid and jealous, and you did nothing wrong. I want to tell you that you did absolutely nothing wrong, it was all me, I was so dumb about the dolphins when it came down to it. I could have worked with you and I didn’t, and I regret that every day. And this might be the last chance I’ll get to say this to you, something I should have said years ago, because the breach is open and there are two Kaiju coming out and I don’t know. I just don’t know, Rey.”
And with that, Rey cuts through the last cord and Finn, although still wrapped in fishing line, is free from the trash under the water. Rey lets out a loud whoop, then apologizes. “Sorry, Ben, that wasn’t in response to you. I just cut Finn free of the big trash. We’ll be up in the helicopter in a few minutes.” He doesn’t say anything, but she can hear him let out a deep breath, and she can imagine him slumping down in his chair, long legs pushed out in front of him, arm laying over his face. His relief is palpable, even 1700 miles away.
With Finn’s help, through some miracle Rey’s able to roll him into the rowboat without overturning or crushing herself and a moment later Jessika is flying straight up in the air and Rey is pressing the button that will cause the boat to be pulled back up into the helicopter.
It’s not a moment too soon; one of the Kaiju pops up out of the water not even a mile away, right in the midst of the soupy garbage.
“Ben, there’s one here. It’s a swimmer, I can see its fins.”
Rey’s never seen a Kaiju alive, up close. She’s seen them dead, and of course she’s seen plenty of footage, but that absolutely does not do it justice. It’s enormous, of course, but the color is what really impresses her. And the sound.
“Holy shit, it’s beautiful.”
There are tears in Ben’s voice, now, there’s no doubt. “Jessika, you fly as far as you can the other way. I don’t care where you go, if you go to the carrier for the plane or if you go somewhere else, just get the fuck out of there.”
Jessika opts for the carrier, which is in the direction opposite the one the Kaiju appears to be moving in. “It’s heading north, Ben,” says Jessika, “Towards Japan, I guess. You got it on your radar?” Rey can hear that Ben’s running - back to the control room, most likely.
“Yeah, I see it. Is Rey in the copter yet?”
At that moment Rey, Finn and the boat come up through the hole in the floor, and Jessika answers, “Affirmative, here we go,” and takes off, fast, straight west, towards the aircraft carrier and, hopefully, safety beyond.
Rey watches in awe as the ocean-bound Kaiju continues its swift movement north, dragging soup and trash along behind it. But even the garbage can’t hide its wonderful, horrible bulk.
In an hour they’re back on the aircraft carrier, and Tallie’s conscripted a few of the young, attractive soldiers to help move the dolphins into the tank on the airplane. Once that’s done she climbs into the cockpit with the other women for takeoff, tucking her phone into her pocket with a smile.
Jessika rolls her eyes. “How many numbers you get this time, Casanova?”
Tallie smirks at her. “Three. And they were all so cute, did you see the one with the dreadlocks? He has nice eyes.”
“Eyes, sure.” Jessika takes a moment to communicate with the tower before she readies for takeoff; one catapult and a few minutes later they’re in the air and heading for Hong Kong. Then she continues the conversation. “Why you gotta have so many dates, anyway?”
Tallie looks out the window and looks wistful. “It’s the end of the world, babe. I’m going to take everything the world is willing to give me. And if the world gives me ass, I’m going to take ass.”
Rey opens the connection with the ‘dome. “Ben, are you there?”
“Where are you, Rey? Are you on the plane?”
“Yes, we just took off. We’re all fine. Tallie has more prospects.” Ben chuckles at that, his voice thick with relief.
“I’m really glad, Rey. I’m glad you got Finn. I’m sorry we put you in danger.” Rey’s shaking her head as he’s talking.
“It wasn’t you, it was them. They’re getting more clever. We just have to keep working, keep trying to figure it out.” She clears her throat. “I was actually thinking, assuming we all survive this one, maybe we’ll stick around the ‘dome for a while. You can get to know Dolph and Finn, they can get to know you? And you and I can, maybe, spend some time together? Working, I mean. Like, studying this latest data?” Rey studiously ignores Jessika grinning at her from the pilot seat.
“Working, sure.” The smirk in Ben’s voice is unmistakable, but Rey doesn’t mind. “That would be nice. I would like that very much.”
“Okay. We’re in for a long flight, but we’ll be there as soon as we can. See you then, Mr Solo.”
“See you then, Mrs Solo.”