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Of Monsters and Men

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Benji woke up barely a few minutes before his alarm went off. Even though he was fully aware of the fact that it was about to star ringing any second, he didn’t even try to reach for it. He stared at the concrete ceiling in a mix of deep annoyance and anticipation. The alarm went off then, officially initiating Monday. Well... shit.

Mondays were bad. Like really, really bad, absolute rubbish, and this wasn't some Garfield bullshit Any day of the week in the Shatterdome was cramped with work: recalibrating instruments, repairing things, maintaining the Jaegers, re-building others... Every day had a interminable to-do list that Benji as a J-Tech chief officer had to pull off somehow. It wasn’t exactly a bad thing, he loved his job, but he also liked his spare time and he hadn’t been getting any of it lately. 

But Mondays... Mondays somehow managed to be specially awful. Something always turned out wrong or broke, and Benji always had to fix it.

He sighed and slipped a hand out of bed to hit snooze. After a few seconds of mental preparation he got rid of the blankets and got out of bed, feeling the cold wet air of the shatterdome. Everything was cold and wet in the Anchorage Shatterdome.

Benji eyed the comm screen as he stretched. By the amount of notifications it seemed like his predictions of Monday were to become true. Oh god! he couldn’t do this right now, not without help. Maybe coffee could do. Yes, coffee was always a good help.

He quickly washed his face and tried to make himself as presentable as possible. Then he changed clothes as fast as he could, and left his room, comm in hand. He planned to read trough the notifications while he had breakfast. 

He dammed whoever prohibited having coffee machines in the bunkers. Luckily the canteen was a few minutes walk away from his room and they had a 24/7 working coffee machine, which he visited way too often.

Benji was a little bit lost in his own thoughts, trying to find a good reason why anyone would have to ban coffee machines when someone called out, “Watch out!” a huffing voice told him.

Benji moved out of the way of the voice and stopped at his feet as a little pack of pilot cadets passed jogging by his side, a young brunette woman leading them. She nodded in gratitude as she went on, followed by almost two dozens of sweaty teenagers.

“Good morning!” another voice came, unexpectedly close to his ear, jump-scaring him. It took less than a second for Benji to see the source of the noise. Tall, slim and in a Ranger uniform with his last name plastered onto it in big capital letters, Ethan Hunt, was now running backwards to look at Benji as he giggled. “Yeah, Yeah, very funny,” Benji thought.

“Ethan!” The lady called him out dryly. He turned on his heel and without missing a beat he followed  the rest.

Benji let out a frustrated sigh and continued his way to the canteen. 

Hunt —Ranger Ethan Hunt— Benji’s very personal pain in the ass. Oh boy! Where to start about this tool of a guy? Maybe with the absolute wreckage he made out of the Jaegers and the training gear Benji always had to fix or replace. Or maybe, with the fact that he was the one constantly breaking the Drift Training machine. Because that one was making Benji go absolutely paranoid. It had broke three times already this month! 

Technically, the person responsible for the machine constant tendency to malfunction was yet to be found. It had been four months since Benji first complained to Marshal Hunley how it was physically impossible that the machine just keep shutting down like that. He, of course, said how he’ll run an investigation in the matter, but to this day Benji had lost uncountable hours of sleep fixing over and over again the bloody thing.He had no proofs  whatsoever, but Benji had a hunch: he KNEW it was Hunt, he was absolutely convinced.

Even if it wasn’t Hunt — which, from his point of view was simply impossible— Benji had to discover who keep breaking it down. He had gone as far as secretly installing a undetectable program last time he had to repair it. The “gosht protocol” would keep a biometric record of everyone who used the machine, even if they deleted the session from the computer’s memory. Whoever it was, they were about to get caught, once and for all.

With his conspiracies freshly feed, Benji arrived at the Canteen, a big open space which managed to never be fully empty. Big screens in that showed news channels from various countries hanged just above the main event: an Industrial size coffee machine which served the whole canteen. 

Benji finally got himself a cup and then a bowl of the carton-cuts that were considered cereal in the Shatterdome. It took him less than a minute to find a big dark figure in a beanie waving at him from a nearby table.

“Morning!” Benji greeted Luther as he dropped his trail a little bit too abruptly in the table and sat across him.

“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed...” Luther told him, frankly as always. He was reading something from his tablet, barely looking up – but just enough to see the dark circles under Benji’s eyes.

“Well, no shit!” he said as he took his first sip of coffee of the morning. Coffee quality wasn’t great neither, but caffeine was needed.

The sudden display of sass snatched Luther’s attention away from his reading, “The fuck’s gotten into you now?”

“Mhm, You wanna know what happens?” He asked as he gulped down half his cup despite Its flavor.

“Something tells me I don’t,” he said and tried to go back to whatever he was reading.

“I’ll tell you what happens! I’ve just spent almost 36 consecutive hours this weekend trying to fix the wiring on the hydraulic knee of that bloody Mark VI. Just to find out most of it is absolutely wrecked.” Benji stressed “I had to tell Huntley it needed to be fully replaced and he gave me one of those looks as if I was only costing him money.”

Luther hummed in understanding, 

“With all of that, most of the time I got left I spent it sleeping.”

“Did you had any plans this weekend?” Luther asked.

“Yeah, I had!” Benji punctuated — Halo. His plan was playing Halo as much as he could, and maybe also catching up in some reading. He got to do none of those things, “And then is the other thing...”

“What other Thing?” The other man asked in confusion.

“The Drift Simulator!” He explained.

“Oh, C’mon Benji! You are just being paranoid,” Luther told him.

“Don’t you come at me with all that shit. You know I’m right! Someone is messing around with it and you know it. It’s not normal how frequently it breaks down.”

“Benji, kids use that machine a dozen times a day, five or six days a week. The weird thing is that it doesn’t break more often,” he tried to put some reason into him.

Benji signed unable to fully disagree with that, “What about the teachers, hm? You know: Carter, Faust ...Hunt.”

“Oh God, What is your problem with Ethan?” Luther exasperated. 

Benji was kind of new in the Anchorage Shatterdome, he had been there for nine months, and his circle of friends wasn’t exactly the biggest, maybe it was not even medium sized. Apart from the engineering crew, he could probably count the rest of his relationships with the fingers of his hands. He wasn’t exactly that much of an antisocial guy, but after all that many hours of work he just wanted to relax by himself. 

Luther, however, had been there for so many years he had lost count — and he was a Chief Mission Controller Officer no less, which basically meant that he knew everyone in the shatterdome. That would also include one particular annoying Ranger of whom Benji had been complaining for weeks before he found out that Luther and Hunt had been close friends for years.

Benji of course, was clueless, until he discovered this during a drift test when he was monitoring the neural compliance from the LOOCENT. The constant back and forth, jokes and overall tone of the conversation between the two men lead Benji to his discovery. Benji felt like an asshole and apologized to Luther a hundred times before he brushed it off with an “Ethan’s my friend, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get on my nerves”

Benji had gone wordless, staring intensely at Luther as he was trying to find a way to express his hypothesis without  sounding like an absolute mad man. He couldn’t.

“You going crazy man...” Luther clucked

“Oh! You go and laugh, but whoever they are I got them this time!” Benji proclaimed.

“What did you do?”

“That information, my friend, is confidential,” Benji added, “Of course Is not that I don’t trust you. But let just say that if Huntley found out I sneaked a secret program in a ten million dollars training  device, well... he wouldn’t be so happy so...”

“The less I know, the better,” finished Luther, chuckling again. Benji winked at him as he shallowed he last of his coffee. “I’ll let you with your secret plan,” Luther said as the got up and said goodbye with a firm pat in the shoulder. Benji smiled.

He got up and served himself another cup of coffee. It was time to face reality. He opened his comm and started reading over the notifications. Things looked busy as always — No message about the Drift machine though — but that second cup of coffee had given Benji an electrifying feeling that he could pull everything off in record time, which meant having more time to himself. Before that sensation disappeared Benji hopped out of the canteen and jumped head first into  his tasks.

Morning didn’t go well— it went fantastic. Benji centered in his work and got the crew of mechanics  and engineers to do the same, which translated in a idilic fast work flow. First he monitored the deployment of the freshly repaired Chimera, he was happily enough with the results so he decided to focus on other tasks. The old wiring of the Mark VI was taken out and the space remaining, accommodated for a new one which had yet to be installed. It’s teared metal skin was slowly being replaced by operators who stitched the shiny plates to one another with thousands of rivets. It was like seeing a living organism actually heal. Once the structural issues were resolved, he could finally focus on his speciality, the Drift.

By noon they were two hours ahead of schedule and Benji decided to use that extra time to treat Luther to lunch. Unfortunately, Luther could not abandon his work spot, so Benji had to bring it to the LOCCENT. It wasn’t that much of a trouble o carry two supersized turkey sandwiches from over the cafeteria and Benji enjoyed the place.

The Anchorage Local Comand Center -or LOCCENT, for short- was this enormous glass and metal snowglobe looking structure incrusted on a 17ft cinder wall, that divided the Jaeger hangars from the deployment zone where they took off. It’s position granted a panoramic view of the shatterdome that was truly breathtaking. However, those who raised their view to look at it from the outside, could never imagine the actual light show that it was going on inside, because of the reflecting glass. The bright and intense colors of the hundreds — even thousands — of monitors emitted a light that made Benji eyes water whenever he walked in. The best comparison Benji could think of were the London raves he used to hang around when he was in his teen years. The noise was pretty similar too…

The center of the control Room was occupied by an enormous holographic table where an Shatterdome model showed the main events what were taking place in real time. A bunch of operators were constantly circling it. They would click on the alerts that popped up, analyze, and pass them onto another operator who would take care of the situation. 

During Kaiju attacks, the control room would go into some kind of lockdown. Benji had seen it. Alarms would go off, red lights would start flashing and the entire room would completely switch whenever Breach activity went off the charts. The Breach activity itself, was constantly being monitored by a whole section of the control room, but when there wasn’t an attack taking place most of the work was centered in the Shatterdome and the Jaegers that it contained.

Luther was sitting in a metal desk in front of the massive panoramic window that was oriented to the outside of the Shatterdome, which was blocked with yet another big Holographic screen where the activity of the Shatterdome was translated into graphics that Benji was just starting to understand. In the bottom right corner there was a oversimplified version of the 3D map in the table, with red dots that represented the Rangers positions. Benji had tried to get Luther to help him discover the identity of the drift machine assaulter with it, but as he had explained, the localization system could only give a general area approximation of were the rangers were, also there was the possibility that it wasn’t a Ranger.

“Support Jaeger Drone #0068 recovered successfully, you have permission to drop it off in drop zone #007, I’ll be sending a pickup team. Good job, y’all. Over and out.” Luther was saying over his ear piece, as he tipped a message requesting the pickup team he was just talking about. 

Benji sat down in the empty chair next to Luther while he answered a few more calls. It was really interesting to see him work, it gave you an idea of all the stuff that was going on at the Shatterdome. 

“This is mission controller Stickell from the Anchorage Base calling in Chimera. Chimera please report. Over.”

Luther took off his head piece of and activated the speaker so Benji could hear the conversation.

“This is Ranger Hanayway reporting from Chimera. Over.”

“How’s the test drive going Trev?” Asked Luther bringing up to the screen both: a video stream and a performance feed of the Jaeger. Everything looked normal according to the screen, even the constants of both rangers looked pretty unaltered even though they were slightly jogging.

“Pretty good actually!”

“Don’t listen to him Luther,” his partner complained “It’s absolutely amazing, it feels like it’s new.”

Benji couldn’t help but smile.

“Okay, she’s right. Babygirl is going on as smooth as ever,” Hanaway corrected himself.

“Whoever repaired her needs a raise!” Carter exclaimed.

Luther laughed “Ain’t it so? Why don’t you tell them yourself, Jane?

Ranger Carter’s head turned to look at the monitor in the Jaeger cabin. Benji blinked in surprise. He didn’t know this was a two-way video call.

“Did you fix my Baby?” She asked, big dark eyes fixated on Benji.

Under such an scrutinizing look, it took him a few instants to find his words, “Y-yes, yes I did. My name's Benjamin Dunn, I’m the chief engineer in charge of the J-Tech teams for both Chimera and Mission Impossible” he explained.

Her face lit up, gorgeous smile appearing as she spoke, “Thank you so much Mr. Dunn. You are my hero. She’s better than new!”

“It’s nothing really... And please, call me Benji” He said feeling himself blush.

“Believe me Benji, if you got her to smile like that, it means you really are the best at your job” Hanaway said, “I’m gonna need a class or two in Jaeger mechanics,” he joked.

Benji let out an awkward giggle mostly because he couldn’t think of what to say. He wasn’t used to this kind of compliments. Maybe rangers weren’t that bad.

“Well that’s enough. You two better stop messing around and get your asses back here before some Kaiju decides to show up and chew them up. That’s an order,” Luther commanded.

“Yessir!” The couple answered in unison.

Luther cut off the chat and told a nearby operator he was taking his lunch break.

“That was so uncalled for!” Benji said tossing Luther his sandwich.

“Excuse me?!” 

“Why did you have to put me out like that?”

“I thought you were having a shit day – and maybe – hearing some compliments would help. Didn’t it?

“Well, Yes! but–”

“What?”

“You know that I–I’m not exactly very good with people– Specially Rangers!” Benji sighed, “ It’s—it’s just that— I, uh... Nevermind...”

“Whatever man... It’s like you have a irrational fear for Rangers! Rangerphobia. It’s fucking absurd!” Luther teased him.

 Benji rolled his eyes, “Ok, I’m sorry. Can we, please, change the subject?

Luther scoffed, “Alright. But that’s the last time I try to inflate your ego you absolute madman.”

“Thank you,” Benji mouthed and turned in his desk chair, facing the screen “Busy day?”

“Not Really!” Luther said as he started munching on his sandwich “Apart from the Support Drone recovery and the test run on Chimera, there’s nothing else going on.”

“And...?” Benji said, not really understanding how having an easy day at work was an inconvenience. 

“It’s fucking boring! There’s nothing going on,” He explained, “All I’m getting are landing request and engineering reports!” Luther complained, gesturing to the screen.

“You have no idea how terribly sorry I am that we are not being attacked by gigant alien monsters today,” Benji answered sarcastically. Luther showed him his middle finger and he smirked in response. They both chuckled like little kids.

The rest of their lunch beak was spent discussing the performance of Chimera in it’s first run since Benji had fixed it. The conversation lasted until the owner of the chair where Benji sat returned.

“Hey There!” Brandt greeted them as he arrived, “Anything interesting?”

“You’d know if you where here!” Luther reproched him.

“I had to come down to the academy to check on something!” Will excused himself.

If Luther had had to listen to Benji bickering about Ethan Hunt, Benji had had to listen to Luther complain about Brandt. 

William Brandt was the Second Chief Controller and the Jaeger Academy Supervisor. He was probably one of the few people whose schedule was even shittier that Benji’s. Surprisingly enough, Brandt used to be a Ranger, but after an incident — which  was the only thing  Luther avoided talking about —he had decided to settle down behind a controller desk. Benji didn’t know that much about the guy, but after his fuck-up with Luther and Hunt he decided to learn a little about the other man. Which wasn’t that hard, given Luther’s eagerness to complain about  him. 

Given so, Benji thought the universe must be messing with him, because Brandt’s ex-copilot was no other than Ethan Fucking Hunt —God, he really was everywhere— However, Brandt lived off coffee, and so did Benji, so they had spent way too many late nights at the cafeteria together to not have bonded. And maybe, only maybe, the fact that Benji had avoided accusing his friend of sabotaging a very expensive training device, may have helped to develop their friendship.

When it came to Luther....Well, It wasn’t that they couldn’t work together – on the contrary, they were an amazing team. But for some reason they always started arguing about the littlest of the things. Specially when there wasn’t much to do at the Control Center. Brandt would press a button too hard or hum while he worded and trigger Luther, who was best known for taking no shit.

“Un-Huh,” was the only and not less sarcastic response Luther gave him before putting his earpiece back on.

Brandt rolled his eyes and made a vague gesture of exasperation with his hands, then turned to Benji.

“How’s it going man?” 

“–uh, pretty good actually!” He felt confident enough to say, “The Mark VI’s knee is ready to be replaced, we only need to take care of a few more things before its done. I guess we could run some drift tests by Friday... Oh! and I just did another check up on Chimera and it’s doing great, so I might get to sleep a few more hours tonight”

“Sounds good.” 

“Yeah! The drift seems to work fine but I’ll revise it tomorrow during the weapons test.” 

“Well... I hate to be the bearer of bad news... but Ilsa just told me the Drift Simulator broke up again” Brandt tried to communicate delicately, but Benji was already grunting loudly as he twisted in the chair. “Sorry...” he added.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ll deal with it.” Benji said pinching the bridge of his nose “It’s my job. It was me who wanted to take the responsibility at the academy.”

Luther shot him a sneaky look. Benji caught it, Brandt did not, and Luther turned around discreetly trying no to give away his friend, “Bad luck, man!” was all he said.

Benji sighed once more and got up from the chair that Brandt did not lose time to occupy. “I better keep going,” he announced.

“I’m really sorry about the whole Simulator thing,” Brandt apologized, headpiece already on, “I’ll try and get you some time tomorrow. Okay?. I’ll pass some tasks onto Bodgam’s team.”

“Really? Thanks, Mate.”

Benji waved them goodbye and left the LOOCENT. On his way back to the engineering bay, he checked his Comm, he could see the alert about the Simulator along with a few new others.

“Okay. I can do this” he said to himself and quickly organized his new assignments. 

Given that the Support Jaeger had an undetermined malfunction of the remote Drift Control, Luther had trusted its repairing to him personally— he had a PhD in Drift Engineering and Mechanics, after all— it still had to go through decontamination though, so he could let that for tomorrow. The training machine...well, he would have to leave it for when he had accomplished the rest of his duties. He could already feel his sleep time shortening... Benji sighed once more, the energy he had that morning fading now. But he had no time to waste in self pity, so he buckled up and started his afternoon shift.

Benji worked on Chimera after it came back from the test run and then on Mission Impossible. Mission Impossible was this massive almost fresh out of the fabric Mark VI which occupied most of Benji’s thoughts. Last time it had enabled in combat three weeks ago it had suffered from both the attacks of the Kaiju itself and its reckless pilot, no other than Ethan Hunt. 

That, was most likely the source of his utter disgust towards the ranger. Benji LOVED that Jaeger and it physically hurt him to see the usage the pilots made of it.

Sure, Chimera was also a piece of pure technological art, but being a Mark V— well, it lacked the delicious complexity of the interface of the newer model. Not to mention the weaponry it had equipped. And yet, it’s as being used like it was a neolithic tool. It was frustrating, but Benji could do nothing more than repair and care for the Jaeger.

The afternoon shift stretched well into the night. There was still some meticulous work that he decided to do himself, even if it meant getting his hands dirty. It was quarter to eleven and Benji was well covered in grease and metal filings when he considered he had done enough in the Mark VI’s frame. As he took a few steps back to contemplate his work, he realized he was one of the very few people left still working. The work on the Jaegers wasn’t really ever finished and they had a quite special deadline — yeah, a enormous  sea monster that could show up at any moment really was a good motivation — but people needed sleep and there were other three operative Jaegers in the Shatterdome and a prediction pattern that told them they still had a few weeks before any event would take place. Anyway, show had to go on, so a much smaller night crew was about to make an appearance and replace for at least a few more hours Benji and the others. The only time the engineering bay was almost empty were around 4 and 5 am when the night  workers had left and the ones in the morning shift hadn’t arrive yet, unfortunately Benji had had the disgrace to be able to seen it with his own eyes.

As he was thinking about how most of his team was already getting into bed, he remembered the Simulator. He grunted loudly, ripping away his heavy duty gloves an throwing them into his tool box, only so he could bring his hands to his temples without getting anymore dirt on him. He really had forgotten about it for a moment. And it had been a sweet sweet moment 

Still dwelling in his frustration, Benji eyed the clock. It wasn’t even eleven, if he was quick he could still get a decent amount of sleep. It also helped he was pumped for finding out who was messing with the machine. So he collected his tools, comm, and what was left of his will to live and headed towards the academy as fast as he could.

Benji though that to the left inhabitants of the Shatterdome he would look like this angry sleep deprived and covered in grease tech gremlin who was almost running down the hallway. Not a sight they weren’t used to, really. But after two people dodged him with a rather intimidated expression, he tried to calm his own nerves calling the one person he was sure was and would be still awake and working for a few more hours.

“What do you need Benji?” Brandt answered, his tiredness making itself present with a yawn he didn’t even try to suppress.

“Hey! just wanted to check on you. I’m going to see the Simulator now.” He informed  him.

“At this hour...?”

 “Yeah...” Benji said trying hard not to roll his eyes to the back of his skull, “It’s Luther still there?”

“Yes, he is!” Brandt said, and Benji swear he could hear a “You bet your ass I am” in the distance through Will’s  microphone, “I think is so sweet that you’re thinking about us but I got a dozen calls to attend to so... do you need anything?”

“Ah– Yes! Shit, sorry! Do you know anything about the Simulator? What happened, who was using it ...anything?

“Yeah! Uh– Ilsa was giving a class and it broke” 

“Did she say what happened to it?” Benji asked.

“Not really! She said it just shut down mid-class and some of the kids didn’t get a chance to practice.” Benji hummed in response, a list of the reason it could have happened already materializing to his mind. For a second Benji’s blood went cold and prayed it hadn’t been his program what caused the malfunction, “I’m sorry I can’t be for much use,” Will added 

“Nah! Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing ” Benji said— more to himself than to his friend.

“Good luck then!” 

“Okay. Thanks for your help. Bye!” he said and hung up as he got in the elevator that led to the academy.

The academy had its own little wing on one corner of the Shatterdome. Quarters, kitchen, gym, simulators, even an actual library... all of that distributed in three different floors, or that was what he had been told because actually, Benji hadn’t seen much apart from the instruments that were under his care. The lower level was were the Simulator was, so there he headed.

He stormed out of the elevator once it stopped and followed the short path — which  at this point was carved into his brain — that led to the training room. He stopped at the entrance and swiped his ID card trough the scanner of the security system, then typed his access code and the machine displayed a “confirming you ID, please wait” message on the tiny screen .

Trainees had to be in bed by ten, but still, Benji could hear some of them chatting nearby, in which he presumed was some kind of common area. Benji hadn’t really investigated much of the academy. Not like he had the time neither. Hopefully the room where the Drift Simulator was, was restricted to students outside class hours — a rule Benji was sure a bunch of overstimulated teenagers respected. 

The door beeped, his code and ID being recognized by the system and granting him access. The heavy metal doors slid open slowly with an hydraulic sound. Benji stepped inside and closed the door behind him again, leaving him alone and away from mischievous and noisy cadets. Silence surrounded him finally. The perfect moment to start blasting music through his headphones. Classical was his go to when he needed to concentrate.

The room itself was spacious but somehow grim at the same time. It was divided in two very differentiated parts: one, a replica of a Jaeger control station, the other, was an empty space that surrounded the Simulator whose walls and ceiling were covered in pipes that held the wires which came in and out of the machine. Under the perforated metal floor, the real guts of the machine were hidden,— processor, collectors, power banks ...everything under Benji’s feet. Just over the border that separated Simulator from the rest of the room —next to the pilots harnesses and helmets, and the creepy brain that floated in yellow liquid— there was a terminal, which was the main controller of the Simulator.

Benji lost no time, he moved to the computer and tried to turn the machine on. Emphasis on tried. The terminal wasn’t even working which meant it was most likely a mechanical problem. It also meant he couldn’t use his Ghost Protocol yet.

He needed to confirm his theory though, so he turned in his feet, and went back to the middle of the empty space in the room. He lifted one of the perforated metal plates of the floor, revealing a little ladder that went down to the machinery.

Benji got down and plugged his tablet to the main computer, which wasn’t that easy since the light could only reach so much through the holes in the”ceiling”, and he had forgotten his flashlight somewhere in his tool bag upstairs .

For a second he hoped it was a serious problem, and that they would need to take out all of the floor and get a whole team to find the malfunction in that labyrinth of wires, only because it would meant that he could let this for tomorrow and go to sleep. I would also mean an incredible amount cost of money and most likely the loss of his job... so he abandoned the idea quickly.

The machine connected to his tablet and Benji tried to forcibly start the Simulator. It made a heavy sound as it started on, then sparks came out of somewhere, followed by a decrease of the noise. Definitely an electric problem.

Benji accommodated himself the best he could in the limited space left between the ladder, the processor he was connected to, and the power banks and wires that could potentially electrocute him, and started to run a diagnostic test to hopefully find the breakdown.

With classical music playing through his headphones and the dim lights, Benji found it quite challenging to keep his eyes from shutting and focused on the running test that could not find a thing yet.

Whoever, the unmistakable sound of the door opening snapped his eyes open. Without even realizing he had threw his headphones out of his head and completely abandoned his tablet, and was already half way out of the pit on the floor.

There was a moment of confusion, of Benji not fully believing what he was seeing. It could as well had been a dream he was having because he had actually fell asleep waiting on the diagnostic. But it was real, Ethan Hunt had just walked in. Alongside him, a cadet in full training gear, except her helmet. They were half way to the Simulator when they spotted Benji’s upper half coming out of the floor.

Their eyes went wide, their faces paled, but Benji could feel his getting hotter and hotter with rage. He was so angry, the words just spilled out of his mouth, a incriminatory finger pointing at the Ranger.

“YOU...!” 

 

Chapter Text

“YOUU...” Benji grunted to the ranger, an accusatory finger pointing at him. He would have looked so much more serious or intimidating wouldn’t he had almost tripped over the edge of the floor hatch when getting out of it. It didn’t stop him to make his way over to the ranger though, screaming.


“I KNEW IT WAS YOU! OF COURSE IT WAS YOU!”


As Benji approached, the other man held his hands in front of his body, not sure as if to excuse himself or to prevent Benji from jumping onto him.
“I’m— I was— I just…” he mumbled.
“Mhh?!” Benji grunted again, ”You were what, exactly?! 'Cause to me, It looks an awful lot like you were about to use the Simulator. During restricted hours. Without explicit authorization. And with a Cadet no less! Am I wrong?”

The ranger made a little nod in defeat, confirming all of Benji's theories.

It was only then when Benji noticed — or in fact, remembered– the cadet. She was blonde, young, with blue eyes that opened wide in a mix of panic, confusion and culpability. When Benji looked directly at her, she blinked rapidly, her eyes dropping to the tip of her metallic boots. She looked worried but fiery, it made Benji suddenly fell some kind of self awareness.

Hunt also noticed the awkward exchange of looks and slipped a protective arm between the girl and Benji, making her turn a little to him. “Lindsey, It’s okay... Let me handle this.” he said to her in a steady low voice. When she tried to objectify he straightened and said, “You are dismissed Cadet Ferris,” in a much more official manner, abandoning his previous brotherly tone.

She looked at him, then at Benji, then back again at Hunt, lips pressed together tight and eyes filled with an intense emotion Benji couldn't quite put his finger on, – somewhere between anger, impotence and worry, her eyes were close to watering even.

With a little sniff she send her tears away, then she nodded slightly, “Yes sir.” she muttered and made her way back outside the room.

“Okay, listen–” Hunt tried to say as soon as the door had closed, hands again spread in front of him.

“No, you listen to me,” Benji cut him off, blood already boiling again, his finger finding a way between Hunt's hands and poking his chest ,  “Do you have any idea of how many hours I have spent repairing this fucking machine? Do you even know how much it costs? Let me answer those two things real quick: a lot! And of course I had my suspicions, but I can't believe I actually caught you in the act. And seriously?! The simulator broke this morning, THIS MORNING! You couldn't  even give it a break, could you? No wonder why it breaks like this. And of course it had to be you, wrecking my Jaegger is not enough for you, innit? Oh God, Hunley is going to flip…!”

Benji paced away, pinching the bridge of his nose under his glasses, trying to calm himself down.

Although he had been left with a half open mouth, Hunt listened with a close to absurd intensity and politeness to Benji's accusations.

“Can I say something?” He asked, almost apologetically, like a kid in school.

Benji, whose arterial pressure levels were barely returning to a fairly normal state, shaked himself a little, “Yes.” he said, voice an octave too high, the self awareness had returned back again suddenly.

Did all of that just happened for real? Had he screamed his lungs out to Ethan Hunt? Had he put his finger on his chest and not ended up in the medical bay? Amazing really...

“I'm so sorry, I really am,” Hunt said. Benji did a pff sound with his mouth that came out more instinctively than he had intended. “It’s true! I know it's hard to believe but I mean it! I cannot say we didn't know what we were doing or what the consequences could be… I just…”

“Wait, wait, wait ...we? Who's “we”?” Benji asked, his suspicion peaking.

For the shortest of seconds, Hunt panicked, one of his brows twitching uncomfortably. He had given away something he didn't mean to tell. Benji thought that maybe he was referring to the cadets but he wouldn't have reacted like that it that was the case. No, he would have just said so, this was someone different, and Benji had an idea of who could be.

“Are there any other Rangers implied in this?” He insisted.

Hunt remained silent, caught up in the situation. Clearly angry at himself.

“I can't believe this!” and Benji couldn't. Was Hunt just going to take all the blame on himself?

“Wait–” another thought crossed his mind –“does Brandt know anything of this? Is he involved too?”

“No, he doesn't know.” Hunt answered,  poker-faced. But Benji didn't believe him.

“Who else was been involved and how,” Benji demanded to know. Hunt was hesitant to tell him, so he had to persuade him, “Look mate, you can tell me now or I can find out myself when I turn on the computer.”

Hunt stared at him for a second, trying to find out if Benji was just bluffing. He decided he was not.

“All of the teachers: Ilsa, Hanaway, Jane and me. We've been giving the kids extra sessions on the Simulator... But you won't find anything on the computer, we've been deleting the records from the database after we had finished.”

“We'll see about that,” Benji sassed.

“I'm telling you the truth! We deleted them from the hard drive,” Hunt tried to explain again.

“I knew someone was messing with the machine and deleting the data! I'm not an idiot!” Benji exploded again, “It doesn't matter if you've deleted them I've been keeping my own rec–” he cut himself, it was him now who was saying to much, he hoped Hunt hadn't noticed...

Hunt sighed deeply one hand tugging at his neck.

“Look… We were just trying to help the kids… For example, Lind– Cadet Ferris is going up for exam just in a couple of weeks. She needed the extra practice! And so do the other kids! The practice hours are not enough for them to form strong connections.”

“Help the kids?! Do you have any idea the repercussions an overuse of this shit could have on them? Why do you think the practice hours are restricted?” Benji exasperated.

Hunt's expression changed instantaneously, like a shadow had fallen over his face. His gaze was yet again intense but in a different way, “Dangerous? What do you mean? Should we take them to the med bay?”

“What?! Uh- I don't know... I don't think so… Look, I'm not a doctor, ok?! But it's a Neural drift after all. There could always be secondary effects,” Benji tried to explain but Hunt expression had only grown worrier, making Benji feel kind of bad. “But... you all have medical tests every other week am I wrong?”

“Yes, next one is in a few days…”

“Then just wait for it. God!... It'll be better to don't expose the kids to any more unnecessary  radiation.”

“Okay.. thanks,” Hunt said and a little awkward silence stretched for a few moments.

Benji got angry again, this time at himself, Hunt had thrown him of his balance with that and once again, he had forgotten for a second that he had actually not done anything wrong. This was all Hunt's fault! – well, actually all of the rangers, but that wasn't the point.

He had also forgotten about his running diagnosis when he threw away his tablet.

“Shite–!” He muttered, rushing back to the floor hatch.

He had dropped it, he had dropped the fucking tablet when the door opened. The device was fine, all thanks to a military-grade protective case that had absorbed the impact, but the cable had snapped right out of the port and spoiled the diagnosis.

“Fuck!” Benji groaned.

He jumped back inside the hatch and connected the device again. The diagnosis restarted on its own, miraculously catching up where it had left. Benji let out a breath of relief.

He heard Hunt's boots clicking in the metal floor above as he approached the hatch. Benji didn't look up when his shadow came upon him.

“Im really sorry for all of this...” Hunt said. Benji ignored him like a child, trying to encourage him to leave. But Hunt didn't take the hint, “Could I help you with something... anything?” he insisted.

Benji looked up at him, somewhat offended, “And what do you know about Drift engineering and mechanics exactly?!”

“Absolutely nothing... I just thought you might need the help,” he said way to optimistically.

Was Hunt trying to play the nice guy card to see if he could get out of this? It should've be that.

“Look is this is some kind of trick so I won't tell Hunley–” Benji snapped, but was shortly cut off by Hunt.

“It's not! It's not!” He explained, “You should definitely tell Hunley. This is a serious misconduct and I will take full responsibility for it. But... It just doesn't seem fair that you are the only one paying for it, specially when It's my fault.”

Okay, he couldn't disagree with that statement. And although Benji didn't trust completely his speech, he was too tired to get in any more discussions. Maybe after all, he could be of some help.

“Coffee,” Benji said to him, “Or Tea, or whatever. I just want something with caffeine. Mmh? Can you do that?”

“Yes coffee, got it! Be right back,” and Hunt left the room with a little jog.

Benji sighed, that would give him at least fifthteen minutes while he got to the cafeteria and came back. He'll need the time to process whatever the fuck had just happened.

A part of him was euphoric. He couldn't believe it! He was right! He had been right about Hunt all time long! Ohh... how did he regretted not having bet money on it with Luther.

The other part was mad as hell. Brandt had known this whole time, and it infuriated Benji how he hadn't noticed. It was Will who told him about the Simulator most of the times. He was going to kill him...

Both parts were, however muttered by his body, which seemed to scream with constant aches. Benji was so exhausted, he almost didn't care about his little victory.

He yawned, he wanted to go to bed, he wanted to go now, he could celebrate tomorrow. He tried to imagine Luther's face when he told him.

The tablet beeped and for Benji, that sounded like a choir of angels. The diagnosis had finished.

Benji ran his eyes over the results and chuckled to himself. It was the bloody fuses! That was why he couldn't even turn on the machine without having an indoors firework show. It may be a ten million dollars machine but the tech problems were always the same. Next time Benji would just turn it off and on and call it a day. No, but for real he had got lucky, he'll just needed to find the fusses box and change whatever that had broke.

He tapped the screen a few times and got the box location, then the door opened again, surprising Benji once more. I couldn't be Hunt, the cafeteria was a good ten minutes walk away from there! Yet there he was, holding two mugs of a smoking hot beverage when Benji pulled himself out of the hatch.

“We were out of coffee, I hope tea it's okay,” he said.

“Y-yes, it'll do just fine...H-How is it– How  did you get here so fast?!” he mumbled absolutely perplex.

“There's a coffee machine in the common room down the hallway,” Hunt explained pointing in the direction with one of his occupied hands, which led to another question: why had Hunt brought two cups?

Benji got completely out of the floor hatch and took one of the mugs muttering an awkward “Thanks” to him.

He took a long sip and saw Hunt doing the same thing from the corner of his eye. Now he knew why he had brought two cups... Did he plan to stay there all night? He'll be nothing but a distraction…

As if to actually block Hunt, he turned his back to him, returning his attention to the tablet once more. A little grunt scaping him as he read the information it provided.

“What is it?” Hunt asked, peeking from behind him.

Benji suppressed another grunt and moved slightly to discreetly recover his personal space, ”The Fuses box is up there,” Benji gestured with his head to a dark box (the most probable source of the sparks from earlier) attached to the pipes and wires on the wall, almost touching the ceiling, “I'll need a big-ass ladder to get up there…” he signed and pinched the bridge of his nose, “Where's the closest place were I could find a ladder at this time of the night…” he said to himself.

“I can get up there!” Hunt said without missing a beat.

“You, what?”

“I said… I can climb up there. I could change the fusses...if it's not too complicated. You could guide me through it, couldn't you?” Hunt explained, making it look so easy– like the box wasn't a good six meters off the ground.

Seeing Benji's doubts Hunt insisted, “Is it really that difficult to repair?”

“I-I mean... It's not the hardest thing but...Are you sure you can get up there safely?... It's, uh– Nevermind, I'll go look for a ladder...”

“C'mon! I can do it! Don't you wanna leave already?” He tempted him.

Benji knew it wasn't a good idea. The man had probably no idea of tech. Benji should just go, look for a ladder and repair the fuses himself, easy and quick. But inside of him there was this little voice, this little, tired, evil voice that kept telling him that he wouldn't find a ladder anywhere close, and that he would have to waste his time looking for one and then change the fuse with his very, very tired own arms. The little voice won.

“Okay,” he accepted, for both his surprise and Hunt’s.

“All right!” Hunt exclaimed clasping his hands together with excitement.

Benji nodded slightly and went over the equipment cabinet. He pulled out a few of the fusses replacements from a box hidden behind half a dozen ranger helmets. When he turned back, Hunt had taken off his overshirt and was analyzing the wall in search for the best path to the fuses box.

“Here,” Benji said handing Hunt his utilities belt where he had secured the replacements. “...Are you sure about this?” He asked again.

“Yeah! I'll be fun,” he said putting on the belt.

“Okay…” Fun wasn't the word Benji would use to describe it, but at least he wasn't the one climbing up there. “The machine is off so you probably shouldn't have to worry about electric currents. But please be careful and put on gloves I don't wanna be responsible for electrocuting a Jaeger Pilot.”

Hunt laughed but Benji wasn't trying to be funny, he was tired and the last thing he wanted to have to deal with was something like that. Besides, fried Rangers couldn't get disciplined by Hunley...

“The replacements are in this pocket. When you get there, I'll tell you how to change them.”

“Perfect! What are we waiting for then?” Hunt approached the wall where the box was and readied himself. It took him less than Benji had imagined. He was expecting some kind of slow start, but in the blink of an eye Hunt pulled himself off the ground. Using mostly his arms, he held himself to some big pipes. The second his feet found somewhere to support his weight, he pulled his hips up – the rest of his body following–  close to the wall. He moved his arms up again, then feet, then hips… Then he was four meters off the ground.

When he surpassed the top part of the Simulator he stopped and looked back at Benji. Then he jumped on top of the Simulator making the whole thing shake. He really wanted to break everything, didn't he?!!

Getting from there to the box was even easier than he had made his little climb look. Hunt held himself to the box by putting one of his feet in a little crevasse on the wall and his hand around another pipe, and letting his weight and gravity do the job, turning to face the box and still having a free hand to work with.

“What do I do now?” he said looking down at Benji.

Benji was still trying cope with how annoyingly easy Hunt had made that look, so he shaked himself and answered him “Uh– yeah, so the box has a card reader on the side. My ID is on the right side of the belt it has a security wire so just pass it through and it should open”

Hunt did so, the box let out a little beep and opened without a problem.

“Okay. Now what?”

“Tell me what do you see,” Benji was starting to get really anxious for being unable to see what Hunt was doing up there. He could only try to remember how the box looked like.

“There's are five glass cylinders with metal wires inside.”

“And…”

“Two of the fusses are definitely broken, the wires on them have snapped and the glasses are shattered too. I'm no electrician but I think these are the ones I should change.”

Benji swallowed down a sassy response and simply nodded, “Yes.”

“I'm gonna do one at a time,” he said coming back to the platform.

He followed Benji instructions and put on the gloves. Then took out of the belt one of the new fuses and went back to the box.

“Okay…” he muttered as he carefully pulled out the old fuse, little pieces of broken glass falling into the ground next to Benji's feet. “Shit! Are you okay?”

“Mh–uh,” Benji said moving away from the wall.

“Sorry, I'm almost done with this one,” He said and installed the new fuse. “Okay, one installed, one to go.”

Hunt came back to the platform left the old fuse away and went back to change the other one left. This one presented a little bit more of a difficulty to him, given it was further away. Hunt had to let do of the pipe were he was finding most of his support to lean closer and be able to reach the fuse. From the ground Benji felt himself shaking in anxiety. The Ranger was balancing himself in no much more than his right feet and the fuses box itself.

“Done!” Hunt said when the fuse was finally installed. He moved fast, closing the box and switching his weight to return hurriedly to the platform. His feet slipped in the last second, though, making him tremble a little in his landing. Nobody's perfect, after all...

He put the old shattered fuses in one of the pockets of Benji's belt and made his way back to the ground level sliding down a pipe.

“How was that?, I told you I could do it.”

“Yeah...Are you sure you did it correctly?”

“Yes I think I did. It was easier than I expected.”

Anyway Benji would have to find out sooner or later if Hunt had installed them correctly. Preferably the sooner the better. He nodded and went over to the Simulator's terminal. Benji held a breath as he pushed the start button. The machine started humming noisily as before, but this time no sparks or explosions came. The sound stabilized and the computer initiated, it's screen showing the main menu.

“Thank God!” Benji whispered to himself.

He lost no more time, his fingers sliding over the keyboard, opening a status analysis, everything seemed fine, at least for now, but he needed to check a few more things before he could consider his job done. Hunt moved over to the wall where the leaned, still observing Benji's very move. Hr wouldn't lie, it made Benji very self-conscious.

“Can I ask you something?” Hunt asked suddenly after a few minutes of silence.

“Are you gonna ask me if you can ask me something every time you wanna ask me something?” Benji snapped, Hunt was driving him crazy– still... that was an unnecessary response,   “...What is it?” He asked.

Hunt didn't seem too offended about Benji's sass instead he chuckled and asked, “What did you mean when you said I kept breaking your jaeger?”

This time it was Benji the one who chuckled in astonishment, “It means that I'm the one taking care of it. Yeah, you ride it. But I'm the one who fixes it! It's yours as much as it’s min–!”

“No, no, I don't mean that. I mean… I thought Kaijus were the ones who destroyed Jaegers. How comes I am the one who's breaking it?!’

Benji couldn't believe this conversation was taking place.

“Well… given the fact that I had to rewire MI's entire knee– even though it was virtually intact– just because you decided that getting on top of a 4000 tons Kaiju and trying to break his neck with your thighs was a good idea.”

“Fair enough,” Hunt accepted.

“Can I ask you a question now?” Benji surprised himself asking Hunt this time, but he was really curious about this one, “Why didn't you just use the plasma cannon? ...or the rockets?“

“Well... we were too close to the buildings. The expansive wave would had broken the windows and all that stuff. It might have hurt people who were hiding there. Also I don't want to imagine, what would happen if you missed a shot that close to the city…”

Okay, Benji hadn't thought of those possibilities, and now he felt kind of stupid for not having done so. Yet that wasn't a good excuse neither. MI had short range weapons that hadn't been used neither. And still, Benji didn't think of a karate move as the most efficient way of fighting a Kaiju. But That didn't stop Hunt from trying to explain himself

“I know most people are in the shelters but is better to be safe than sorry, I guess…” Hunt was saying.

“Yeah…” Benji said distracted, not fully listening to the last part of Hunt's speech. Last checks had been made, things looked great. The job was almost done. He just had to test out the machine.

He stepped back from the computer, “Okay, okay okay...” he mumbled to himself .

In an automatic way he moved to the Simulator itself and picked up one of the helmets. Then Benji spaced out for a second, looking at the helmet which suddenly felt way heavier in his hands.

He didn't want to do it. In his exhausted state, he might have forgotten it, but he didn't wanted to drift, that was for sure. Especially with Ethan Hunt as a spectator, to contemplate the reaction that whatever the drift would bring back to his mind could cause. No, he wasn't going to test out the drift. Luckily, Hunt could make himself useful one more time tonight...

“Can you please check out the machine?” Benji asked Hunt, suddenly snapping out from his short trance. His tone was lower, as if he was asking for a favour rather than telling Hunt what to do next.

“Sure…” Hunt answered, intentionally overlooking, Benji's sudden mood change. He sounded anxious, maybe even vulnerable.

Benji passed the helmet to Hunt and went back again to the computer, where he could follow the trial status. He typed in the commands rapidly on the computer, trying hard to suppress the trembling that wanted to take over his hands.

“Ready!” Hunt told Benji as he took position in the simulator, helmet already on.

“It's just a drift, no simulation.” Hunt nodded acknowledging,  “Alright… Initiating Neural handshake in three… two… one…”

When Benji pushed down the button he actually felt Hunt shake. His body tensed just for a few seconds, eyes closed tight in concentration. Having your memories pass right through your eyes wasn't something that would let anybody indifferent. Still, Hunt kept his shoulders  square, and just a few instants later he relaxed again, letting a deep breath go and reopening his eyes. Constants coming from him and the machine were shown in the screen. Drift was successful, and apparently so had been the reparation. The simulator was once more ready for its – at least from this moment on, Benji hoped,– correct use.

Coming out of drift was less of a ceremonious thing, or at least it was in any safe or controlled situations. The rangers weren't told much more than to brace themselves for it. Hunt wasn't any different.

“Everything seems just fine. I'm taking you out,” Benji warned him.

Hunt took a deep breath in just like before and Benji pushed the button. In less than a second the drift was over and the connection between Hunt and the floating brain ceased to exist.

There was just one last thing to do: to check the records of his ghost protocol. And at this point, Benji couldn't be bothered by Hunt's presence. He wanted to know what had been going on by his own means. And anyway, Hunt seemed still a little disoriented from the recent drift, and he didn't know that much about IT, right?

He wrote down a few commands on the computer and a tab of the secret program opened. Benji started looking at he records, they dated back to when he first installed the ghost protocol over a week and a half ago. Benji ignored the ones that corresponded to actual classes and focused on the ones what didn't. Those were the ones he was interested in.

To his surprise, there was a rather larger number than he'd expected. Some days there were as many unauthorized sessions as classes. In most of them, students were shown drifting with the training brain – just like Hunt had just done– or with another student, but sometimes you could see a Rangers name pop up on the record. Hunt, Faust, Carter, Hanaway… all of them appeared at least one time.

“What’s that?” Hunt popped behind Benji's shoulder again.

“Jesus Christ!” Benji muttered, his finger instinctively clicking to hide the tab. He had not heard him approaching.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.”

“Nevermind…” Benji said reopening the ghost protocol.

“So...What's that?”

“I knew something was wrong with the simulator…So I decided to keep my own records…” Benji said honestly, but careful not to give away any information that could get him in trouble (Like the fact that he had done so clandestinely, for example).

But apparently Hunt had told the truth. All of the teachers were involved in this little fraud. Along with a way too big number of cadets. And who knows who else was involved, surely someone had to had taught them how to delete the records… and not to forget Brandt. Because, although Hunt had denied his implication Benji knew Will had been part of this

“I see…” Hunt muttered and tried to get back to his previous spot but Benji had already finished.

With no more readjustments to do, or records to check, Benji turned off the simulator and closed the computer. He left out a long breath, taking a step back, eyeing the simulator while the sound of electricity dissipated as it powered down. When it had gone completely silent (and without any unexpected incident) he moved quickly to gather his tools.

“So... The Simulator, Is it working fine?” Hunt asked following after him.

“Yeah, it's working fine… For now. You should be able to practice tomorrow,” Benji said.

“I can not thank you enough. There would be no more misuse of it. Marshall Huntley will be informed tomorrow–”

“Alright… look I'm very tired right now so if we could discuss this in another moment…” Benji told him, not really trying to be rude or sassy, but because he really was tired and preferred to have this conversation in the morning with a fresher state of mind.

“Yes, yes no problem,” Hunt surrendered seeing Benji's genuine face of exhaustion.

“Alright... Then we are done here.”

Both men left the room and waited for the metal doors to fully close before heading for the elevator. Which Benji found infuriatingly slow,  not only because he was in a rush to get to bed and finally rest but also because a really awkward silence stretched between the two men. Or at least it was for Benji, because Hunt seemed very unaltered.

The elevator stopped at the highest floor of the Academy– the Rangers quarters–, and Hunt stepped out of the elevator.

“Once more my sincere apologies. Please have a good night,” Hunt said simply before walking away.

“Er, sure…” Benji said pushing the button to his floor.

When the door closed and Benji was finally left alone he sighed, the heavy weight of the ranger's presence finally gone. All he had to worry for now was getting as fast as possible to his bed.

Benji got to his room just a few minutes past half past midnight. After dropping his items on his desk just enough softly so nothing would break, he jumped in the shower. There he stood until the water running down the drain was no longer tinted black from the grease and no metal filings were stuck to his skin. He also brushed his teeth in the shower to save time.

Not even caring to fully dry his hair, Benji let himself fall onto bed and prayed for finding his sleep soon and easy.

Someone must have heard him because he did, indeed, fall asleep so rapidly he didn't even have time to think about tomorrow tasks, the simulator, the ghost protocol or Ethan Hunt.

 

Chapter Text

Morning came easy and amazingly unexpected. Benji had slept until the alarm went off and not a second before. Although he hadn't got much more than five hours of sleep, it had been deep and dreamless. No tossing and turning, and no not finding a good position. It had just been good old plain sleep– which, to some people, may not be much, but to Benji it was pure gold.

Anyhow it was time to face the fact that Benji wasn't a morning person, but no one really ever was a morning person. He however had a certain routine that could force him onto it: 

The classic snooze, the yawns, the not wanting to get rid of the warm blanket, the doing it anyway because you had to, the dragging the feet across the floor to the bathroom, the having to lean in to the mirror because you had forgotten where you had put your glasses the night before, and the not feeling even half awake until you had had a hot steaming shower. 

But after all that was done, one could start to feel like a morning person. And also that led to the next step in every morning person routine: coffee.

And Benji, like every single person forced to be a morning person, diligently followed his routine and left his bunker to get his. 

Today he was feeling a little better than the day before – might it had been the half decent sleep or the fact that he had caught Ethan Hunt doing the thing he had suspected he was doing– he didn't know. But what he did know was that he couldn't wait to tell Luther.

The comm buzzed in his hand as he was walking to the cafeteria. A new notification on his to do list of the day, which today was unusually short. He had to do the weapon test on Chimera, check on a few things of MI's knee rewiring and the only left activity was to repair the support Jaeger recovered yesterday. It seemed like Luther had given him that task personal and fully to himself.

As he was reading through it again to make sure no mistake had been made, he saw a flock of cadets on their morning run approaching. They seemed unaccompanied today, but Benji turned back discreetly to check for any surprise “good-mornings”. Just to make sure.

Benji made an great effort at pretending not to notice the steely stare of cadet Ferris. She had that intense kind of look that made you really uncomfortable in a way that was ridiculous, given the fact that she was barely a teenager and Benji was a grown up man.

But the group quickly passed by, releasing Benji from her stare. He would have probably thought more about it if he hadn't arrived already at the cafeteria.

After he had completed his routine by getting himself a cup of coffee, accompanied with a toast he didn't take long to find Luther and rush to sit with him.

“You won't believe this!” he said as the tray slapped the metal table.

Luther looked up from his comm, with the eyes of someone who had been a mission controller for too many years and had heard too much weird shit, “Try me.” 

“Okay, so remember when I called last night saying I was gonna check on the simulator?”

“Uhmh,” he confirmed.

"Well, long story short, I busted Hunt using the simulator."

Luther brows raised but surprise didn't reach the rest of his face, “Oh shit, you were right!” He said, maybe way to passively…

“Did you know it was him- well them, the rangers– Did you know what they were doing?”

“What?! Hell no! I had no idea. It's not like it was impossible, I just didn't think it could be for real.”

“Then, why are you like ... not surprised?... Wait! did you already knew?”

“Yes and no...This is a Shatterdome, is basically like a small town. Rumors spread easily, even faster I'd say.” 

Ok, Benji was disappointed. Apparently everyone in the Shatterdome were a bunch of gossips.

“But please, do tell me. I gave only heard bits and pieces.”

“What “bits”? I haven't told anyone! Your friend sure has a loose-lip uh?”

“Ethan didn't told me! I don't know man, these kind of things always spread like a wildfire. Specially when there's a Ranger involved. People love the drama. But I really don't imagine Ethan going around telling everyone... What the fuck even happened? Are you sure there wasn't anyone else in there?”

“Yes! This girl, A cadet!”

‘Which cadet?”

“Oh– I don't know... One of the older ones, blonde, tall... I think she was Feris or something like that,” He said unable to get the mental image of her blue eyes staring at him from his mind.

“Well, there you got it. Girl tells her friends, who tell their friends. And then before you know the whole Shatterdome knows about it.”

“Well shite... Anyway there's no much to tell…” said Benji a little defeated, suddenly losing all interested in elongating the story, “What have you heard?”

“The girls at the control room were commenting that Ethan Hunt had a “heated argument” with some engineer guy after he caught him using the Simulator without authorization,” Luther told him, “I figured out it had to be you.”

“I wouldn't call it a “heated argument”,” objected Benji.

“Then how would you call it?”

“Me screaming at him? I don't know man. It's not like we fought.”

“What happened then?”

“So I went there, and started working on the simulator, right? And only a few minutes after Ethan and the girl came in and ...I-I just kinda lost it...” Ok maybe thinking well about it he could say it was a little heated, "I gave him the whole speech “what are you doing, this is dangerous blablabla…” but then he's like ‘I'm sorry let me compensate you, I'll go and tell Huntley…’ so he stayed to "help me" and shit and He even brought me tea when I asked him!”

“Yeah sounds like Ethan,” Luther commented passively but clearly paying attention to Benji's story.

“So turns out he is like: let me help you repair the machine–”

“Wait, and you let him?! Are you sure he didn't put anything on that tea?”

“Why would he d– I don't know he's your bloody friend! And I was tired! I just wanted to get the fuck out of there as soon as possible.”

"So he helped you repair it?"

“Yeah... basically. He only had to change some fuses,” he said, obviating the part were he climbed 6 meters to do so, “and he supposedly was gonna tell Huntley about the whole situation…"

“Yeah that's also Ethan.”

"Well I haven't received any message from Hunley yet so maybe he was bluffing…"

"No, not Ethan. He might have fucked up but he'll recognize his fault and try and compensate you."

"What you mean compensate?"

"Well he helped you repair the Simulator didn't he."

"Yeah…" he admitted

"And you got earlier to bed didn't ya?” Benji made a little confirming noise, “I'm not tryna scuse him, don't get me wrong, he shouldn't have done that. But he'll tell Hunley. I'm sure of it!"

"I'm gonna give him a chance. But even if he doesn't I still got proof."

"What you mean proof? Apart of course of you having busted him…"

Benji leaned a little closer to Luther, “I installed a ghost protocol on the simulator to keep record of who was using it. So yeah, I got dirt on Ethan, and the other Rangers.”

"Wait wait wait. The rangers?!” Luther exclaimed in a low voice and looking around, “Do you mean the teachers at the academy or–”

"Yeah, all of them: Hanaway, Carter, Faust..and Will "

"Will?! What?! What the fuck is he even doing getting on a simulator?"

"Emm well… he wasn't on the records. But he's onto it for sure. And He's the academy supervisor, and–”

"But how do you know then?”

"Ethan told me– Well he didn't... Actually, he said he wasn't involved, but I know he was lying."

"How can you be so sure?"

“Ethan was all weird when I brought his name up, he froze.. it was like– ..Look I just know ok? I can't believe Brandt would do something like this to me.”

"Well you better brace yourself because he's coming our way,” Luther said pointing discreetly behind Benji.

Before Benji couldn't even turn to look, he felt a man stop next to him, mouth already open to try and offer some kind of excuse, or apology (or both). Benji got up abruptly before he could say a thing, the metal chair loudly screeching against the floor. 

“You bastard!” he muttered.

“Benji let me explain–”

“I'm going to kill you!” Benji moved towards Will, who ran to the opposite side of the table, “You knew! You fucking knew!”

“Benji, calm down–!”

“You were in it, you prick!

“Benj- Benji, please!  Luther! Luther get him for fucks sake!” He screamed dodging Benji across the table.

“Nah I'm good…" Luther said sipping the last of his tea looking rather entertained.

“Benji please calm down, you're making a scene!” Will exasperated.

“I couldn't give less of a shit!” Benji let out a scream that lost all strength as he realized how all the eyes in the cafeteria turned to them. He had shortly learned how events spreaded at the Shatterdome and he didn't wanted to be the source of any more. So he did, in fact, give a little bit of a shit.

“How could you do this to me, man?” he said leaning closer to Brandt in a more controlled tone, “I-I mean– I thought you, out of anyone, would understand. This shit has taken hours and hours of sleep from me. It has made me go nuts for months! And I didn't even mentioned it to you because Hunt is your friend, for fucks sake!

“I'm so sorry Benji…” Will struggled to find his own words, also aware of the cantine staring, “Ethan is my friend and I-I...I guess I tried to cover up for him and the others and…”

“I knoow He's your bloody friend. That's why I didn't told you anything! But so am I... or at least that's what I thought…” Benji left the table. 

He took his tray with himself. He finished what was left of the coffee and tossed the tray into a close-by rack, a distressed William following him.

“Benji please don't… Where are you going?”

“To the LOCCENT! We've got work to do!” He blurted out not even looking back at him.

Indeed they had. First thing on today's list: Chimera's weapons Test. And for Benji's torture… it has to be done from the control center.

“Benj–” Brandt tried to follow him but a heavy hand on his shoulder stopped him.

“Just give him a moment,” Luther said calmly, but his expression looked troubled as he observed Benji leaving the cantine.

By the time Benji got to the elevator he was so angry it was making him dizzy. He would have punched the wall wouldn't he had company and wouldn't it had been completely useless and painful.

The way the eyes of half the cantine were watching them argue hadn't helped at all. But that was on him, he had made a scene… again. Anyhow, he wasn't alone in the elevator so he kept his composure to avoid driving anymore attention.

As soon as the doors slided open to the Control Room Benji stepped inside, heading straight for the restroom –not even giving his eyes a chance to adapt to the blinding colourful lights– and was fast to splash his face with cold water 

Benji hated fighting over with friends, well he hated fighting over with anyone, but specially someone close. No matter what, you always ended with an awful feeling tied at your stomach. 

In “ideal conditions” he would prefer to be left alone for some time, and just let the not untie itself. Maybe he would forgive Will, maybe he wouldn't, only time could tell. But work was work and it needed to be done, and it needed to be done well. The Shatterdome wasn't going to stop because he's had an argument with Will– but it would comment it for sure.

Benji looked at himself in the mirror and breathed deeply, placing his glasses on their rightful place and readied himself for the task ahead.

He got to the main station as Luther and Will where taking their seats –already working hard at pretending nothing had happened, although their eyes took a little peek as he arrived that  betrayed them.

Benji stood behind their seats and started preparations on his tablet.

“Establishing connection with rangers Carter and Hanaway. Connection established.” the inorganic voice of the computer informed.

“Good morning everyone!” Jane cheered appearing on screen as her partner finished getting onto the Motion Rig.

“ 'morning” answered Luther, “Are you ready to do this?”

“Yeah, the sooner we get on with this the faster we'll finish,” Hanaway answered getting used to the gears and wires attached to his body.

“Alright! Then Thinking Caps on. Let's lose no more time!” Luther said tapping a few commands on his keyboard and then, leaning onto the microphone, he spoke, his words resonating all over the  hangar.

“This is Mission Controller Chief Stickell from the LOOCENT. A weapon test is scheduled to take place right now, evacuation of Zone 01 is required,” A soft alarm noise went off and a red light could be observed coming out from Chimera's hangar, “Thank you.”

At the same time the room got busy as a new big alert popped up on the 3D map. 

“Evacuation will be completed in T minus 2 minutes, sir.” an operator informed Luther.

“Running suit and drift link test” Hanaway said from the conn–pod.

“Okay everyone, we all have done this before a thousand times. We know how it works, so everything should go smoothly and without any incidents, yes? Great. So to make sure all is working perfectly we have Benji here–” Benji noticed how Brandt moved uncomfortably in his seat and the two pilots exchanged a furtive look in the short second he looked up from his Tablet “–who will be supervising everything so all goes smooth.”

“Yes, sir.” They both answered.

“Evacuation in Zone 01 is complete. We are clear to go,” Will informed.

“Okay, Drift time it is! I'm streaming all the data to you Benji, you getting it?”

“Uh-huh,” he said.

"Drift sequence activated. Prepare for neural handshake in three two…" the rangers steadied on their places eyes looking ahead and breathing synchronized "...one."

The shock was only reflected in a little twitch of their limbs and a sharp, and again, synchronized gasp. Monitors beeped as their vitals and the bridge stabilized.

“Neural handshake successful. Drift is strong and holding,” Brandt informed.

"Right hemisphere ready" Carter said.

"Left hemisphere ready" Hanaway replied.

Benji read the data as it was arriving live from the com pod. "Guys could you please do some stretches for me? I know you did a whole test run yesterday but I want to check on the limbs response, just to be safe."

"Sure!" They both answered.

Now Chimera stretched its metallic limbs, copying exactly how the pilots did theirs.

"Thank you guys everything seems perfect. And I'm impressed, this is the strongest bridge I've ever seen in my life!"

"You mean it?" Carter asked in a sweet voice.

"I had no doubt," gloated Hanaway

"Hey focus! You just wiggled your fingers and got on your tippy toes don't get all cocky. We're testing the weapon system remember?" Luther scolded at them.

"Yessir…"

Slowly but meticulously they went over every other weapon that Chimera had installed, from the rocket launchers to the enormous sting-blades on its right arm.

"Everything looks in perfect condition, which means Chimera is officially apt for deployment." Benji informed everyone as he revised the last of the performance data.

"Finally!"

"Yes! I couldn't stand the idea of depending on those dickheads of Lane!" Jane said.

"Hey!" Luther snapped interrupting a snort coming from Will, "Shut your mouth, would ya?! You never know where one of his minions is gonna pop out. And we still had White Widow! AND they are still rangers!"

Jane shrugged at Luther. 

"Anyways it's good to be back on track!" tried to ease her partner. 

"There's no attack predicted for the next two weeks, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Benji commented signing and the report.  

"Yeah he's right!" added Will, addressing Benji for the first time since their fight.

Benji couldn't help but shoot a wary look at Brandt. He was on the edge of his chair trying to act calm...and failing.

"Okay boys, we're out. Byee!" Jane said and the video call with the com pod ended.

"If this is all I'll be leaving already," Benji rushed to say, expecting what was about to happen.

"Benji, wait please," Brandt tried to follow him.

"I said I have to leave! I don't want to waste any more time..." He said dryly and left the LOOCENT leaving Will frozen still where he stood.

Benji tried to get out of his own head by focusing on his work. He went next to MI's hangar to check on the progress on its new knee which was almost done. 

But he couldn't help but notice the looks from the people surrounding him. 

Maybe he was being paranoid. Engineers, workers or basically anyone would look at Benji for more than a second and he would automatically freak out. It was even worst if he heard people talking or laughing around him.

It was ridiculous, he thought. It was like he was a self-conscious 14 year old in highschool. But as ridiculous at it could be it was really messing with his head, so he finished his work as fast as he could and retreated to a "safer" place: his workshop.

Once he got in he felt a weight lift from his chest. It was great to finally be away from all that noise and eyes.

Benji's workshop looked more like a crazy scientist’s lab than a workshop. Mostly because of the blackboards filled with dioramas of electric circuits and the blueprints scattered all over the tables or any other surface (both vertical and horizontal). And It wasn't exactly filthy – yeah there was an ever-present layer of metal fillings and a few old oil stains– but it wasn't that bad.

He usually wasn't disorganized. In his bunker everything had its place, but he wouldn't deny he usually got really messy in the workshop. It was just his work flow to leave a tool to use another, and then another, and another.... But then things would go back to their rightful spot... eventually.

Anyhow, he loved working there. It was his little bubble. Although, it really wasn't that little. Benji usually did his big scale work on the big Jaegers outside, but there was a crane that could held a medium sized one, and now it was occupied. As Luther had said they had left it there for Benji to tinker and try fixing it.

Benji left his stuff on the least crowded table and went over to look at the Jaeger. It took less than a second to recognize exactly who it belonged to.

He hadn't gotten any more information on the Jaeger but he already could feel he had quite a big challenge ahead of him. Big, but surely not impossible. At least with his stomach not empty.

On one little corner of the room the was an old sofa-bed always displayed in it's bed position where Benji had gotten his most absurdly short hours of sleep during some of the most arduous shifts. Next to it a small fridge which for Benji's disgrace was empty except for a few energy drinks.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. So Benji sat down on the edge of the bed and dialled the number  like a damsel in distress.

"Hi gorgeous!" Zhen answered the video call right up, face fresh and bright with a smile and hair up in a bun.

"Hey, what's up?"

"You know, not big deal. Just got back from training…" she said. 

"Hey man, you know anything about our Jaeger?" A voice asked, Zhen turned the camera around to show the source of it: Declan laying down on his bunker bed, wet hair dripping over the magazine he was reading.

"Yeah so... they send it to me for repairing. I'm looking at it right now, actually. And I thought ...you might wanna come over here and...give me a hand?"

"Oh!... so Mr. Perfect can't handle it on himself, uh? " She said turning the camera again to herself.

"Hey! I wasn't the one who broke it…" responded Benji.

"I'm messing with ya. You know I like tinkering around. I'll be there," she said happily,  "Can I bring Declan?" She pouted.

"You know I'm not supposed to let animals inside the workshop…"

"Wow that was low Dunn!" Declan appeared on the screen with a rather offended expression as his partner couldn't help but look quite impressed.

"I'm taking the piss… You know I adore you!" Benji mocked him, "Bring lunch though!"

"Copy that!" She said and hung up.

Benji looked over at the Jaeger. A motionless metal dummy that weighted countless tons hanging from a rig. It was medium sized, not as big as a full sized Jaeger but just enough to need two pilots.

At first sight, there wasn't anything that could tell it apart from the other hundreds of Drones that had been mass produced to work as Support Jaegers.

But anyhow it was unmistakable. The big monogram of a rabbit with a clover on its rear graffitied to the side of its leg in red paint identified it easily. They called it "Lucky Strike"

Benji contemplated for a second whether to get up and start working or just wait for the company. He gave up and just lied on the squeaky mattress covering his eyes with his forearm and trying hard not to think of anything. 

It wasn't as difficult as he thought, actually, the hard part was trying not to fall asleep. The almost normal amount of sleep he had the night before didn't appear to have compensated for all the accumulated fatigue. He reincorporated in a jolt when he realized what was happening. He didn't wanted to be found snoring by Zhen and Declan.

So he just stayed there not really doing anything until shortly after the two rangers showed up carrying plastic lunchboxes.

"We're here!" Declan announced, "And we have food!"

"God yes! My Heroes!"

"Ah ah ah. No food for you until you tell us what the fuck has happened today," Zhen demanded snatching the lunchbox form Benji's hands.

"Ugh! I'll rather starve to death."

"What you said?" She shaked the box on her hand.

"I said I'll tell you everything, dear"

"That's what I thought," she threw the box to Benji who caught it without problem. 

He inspected it: Chicken curry and rice

"No but for real, what happened man? "

"Yeah, first we heard some tech guy had a quarrel with Ethan Hunt last night and then they tell me people saw you fighting with Brandt

"It's a long story..."

"Good thing we have food to get it through it," Zhen said, determined to get Benji to tell her. 

Benji didn't know her or Declan to be the gossipy type but he guessed it was one of those everyone-is-talking-about-it kind of things.

So, Benji went ahead and told once more the events that had taken place the past night and that morning while he made his way over his plate of rice.

"Well I was there doing my work, repairing things and shit. And Ethan fucking Hunt walks in with this cadet, about to use the simulator and I got out of the floor–"

"Whaf were fou doing in fhe floor?" Declan asked through a mouthful of rice.

"That's not important! What IS important is that I was right!"

"Wow! I just can't believe it... Ethan Hunt. I would have never thought of it!"

"I told you about it... Several times!"

"Yeah but you said that "you had a hunch it was Ethan” well I thought I wasn't that serious. I thought it was kinda "Oh! wouldn't it be funny if it was the hot ranger guy?"

"I didn't say 'Hot'. "

"You got eyes on your face you gon' tell me I'm wrong?!"

"Again, not the point."

"And what exactly it's the point Benji?" She pushed.

"The point is, Ethan wasn't alone on this."

Both ranger shared a concerned look.

"The whole academy was on it! Brandt too."

"What? No way… That's what the fight was about?"

"Yep."

"What did you said to him?" Declan asked.

"I umm… I told him I couldn't believe he had done that to me. I told him I was angry and disappointed."

"I'm guessing you didn't use those words," Zhen said, and she was right.

"Yes I had a fight with Will, ok? Things may have gotten a bit out of hand but that's how it is I guess…"

Things got quiet really quickly. The question of whether Benji thought of forgiving Will or not was left unsaid but still present on the air. And even Benji didn't have a answer for that yet.

"If it makes you feel any better we had no idea of what was going on." Declan said to stop the silence for stretching any longer, "I mean- we weren't involved," He clarified

"Yeah I think only the rangers at the academy were involved. I don't think the White Widow team or the other supports had any to do with it" Benji mumbled disposing of his now clean lunchbox. "But changing the subject, please... What happened with that one?" He gestured over to Lucky Strike, " I gave shit to Hunt for breaking MI's knee and now you break a whole Jaeger."

"Hey it wasn't our fault!" Declan defended himself.

"He's right! I love Lucky but he went crazy."

"What you mean crazy?"

"It wasn't responding to us," Declan specified.

"Maybe it was the long distance Pons."

"I don't think so. We've had problems with that before. Interferences, lagging– a Kaiju once fried the connection with a electromagnetic pulse even! But this was different It was so weird… He just wasn't responding," Zhen explained.

"Umm I see. We should start then by checking on the Drift. How does that sound?"

"Peachy!" Zhen said with enthusiasm.

"You two nerds go ahead and do that!" Declan said with not so much, "Us jocks are gonna stay right here and give you all the support," he said as he pulled out a car magazine and found a good spot on the mattress.

"You are the best cheerleader," Zhen planted a kiss on his lips.

For someone who didn't quite like rangers, Benji happened to have befriended quite a lot. But  Zhen Lei wasn't just a ranger, no.

They met many years ago when both entered the Jaeger Academy in Hong Kong. Yes, Benji had been to the Academy. He had been one of those sweaty cadets.

He joined it as part of his last two years of his Engineering Doctorate and so did Zhen. After all, you need to know what you were repairing. They immediately bonded over the fact that they were the only engineers in their class. After graduating Zhen turned to become an actual ranger, while Benji stuck to mechanics. Although he could ride small one-pilot Jaegers (Which he hadn't almost done since graduating).

And so they could go hours and hours talking about the nerdiest things he couldn't discuss with anyone else. He didn't wanted to say that he choose to move to the Anchorage Shatterdome entirely because of her, but it sure had been an important factor.

And then there was Declan, Zhen's co-pilot and boyfriend. At first Benji didn't know what to think of him. They had started dating a few months after being paired together.

But turns out he also quite liked the guy. He had been a pilot since he was born, he had been driving anything with a motor before he could walk. Motorbikes, cars, planes… He had been a helicopter pilot before he went to the Jaeger program. So maybe he didn't understand all of their nerd talk but surely he enjoyed it.

"What's wrong?" Zhen asked from the top of the rig after Benji had delayed in joining her.

On the ground floor Benji was making a mess looking around for something.

"I don't know where I've left my utility belt– Aw bollocks!" He said realising where it was.

"What–?" Zhen tried to decodify Benji moanings.

"Hunt has it." He said.

"Care to explain why Ethan Hunt has your belt?" she teased wiggling her eyebrows. .

Declan also gave Benji look from behind his magazine.

"I told you. He helped me repair the simulat0r yesterday. I lent him my belt to do the job and I left so quickly I must have forgotten it," he let out a sight so big his chest sunk.

"Hey! Chill. It's just a belt I don't think he's gonna steal it – at least not after all that's happened – so just ask him to return it."

"Yeah yeah. I'll do that," He said taking the tool box, that right now, to Benji, it was heavy, bulky, stupid, and not his belt. But It worked just fine.

It took some time but they disarmed part of the Jaeger's back of the neck to reach the Drift's core.

"This is so weird..." Benji mumbled examining the core, "It's fried!"

"The pons?"

"Basically everything. You know how this works like a brain, right?" He pointed at the pons, Zhen nodded, "Well something sent a charge so huge it fried the pons and spreaded to all the control system."

"It wasn't an electric current. We weren't near cables or anything that could have caused it. And look at the rest of the wiring. It's intact!" She pointed out.

She was right while the "nerves" that left the Drift's core were burnt and covered in melted plastic while the other ones seemed mostly unaffected.

"So…" 

"So, it wasn't an external agent what caused it," she finished Benji's phrase, "Look at the rest! It's spotless! The armor was restored past month."

"Yeah, you're right. We're gonna have to check the black box," Benji said.

"Already on it!" Zhen said pulling out the thing from its place, also behind the neck of the Jaeger.

Despite its name the black box wasn't really supposed to be black but rather a bright red colour. So they freaked out a little when a great part of it was black with burned material.

"Aw Shite!" Benji groaned taking it. "What the hell happened?"

"The black box is also connected to the Drift to recollect data. It must have been affected too. Do you think you could get anything from it?"

"I'll have to try," Benji took the box to one of the desks.

He cleaned abruptly the space before setting his laptop and connecting it to what was left of the box. Zhen joined him.

"This will take some hours but should recover anything that's still left."

"What do you think happened?" 

"No idea. I have never seen something like that before," he said quite intrigued, "We'll know more clearly when the computer its over extracting the data. Anything you remember from the incident?"

"Ah uh… well we were on a little mission to help repairings on the city's port. No Kaijus on sight, nothing, but Cobalt Diamond was there just to be safe. We were almost done and had to move one of those "Anti-Kaiju" cinder blocks. Before we could ever get the block, Lucky started acting up. It was like it what glitched it started moving and shaking and then went still and just collapsed"

"Yeah, good thing it's a drone and we weren't actually inside!" Declan noted.

"Did you felt anything weird during the drift?" Benji asked.

He saw how Zhen frowned and he eyes twitched.

"Did something happen?" He insisted.

"It was weird…" she said looking at Benji, "for a moment it felt… it felt like a push."

"A push?"

"Yeah like someone else was trying to get into the drift. But that's impossible! Only Declan and I were connected to the pons here."

"Yeah that's weird… Anyway we'll know when the computer is done. Now we need to know if we can do anything about Lucky."

They got their hands off to work once more this time for several hours, checking the severity of the malfunction. It didn't take long to realise the the length of the damage, so the objective turned to see what they could save from it.

After way past dinner hour they decided it was time to stop for now.

"What's the verdict doctor?" Declan asked Benji as he tried to clean the oil from his hands and face.

Zhen answered him by pointing her thumb down.

"Really? It's that bad?"

"Absolute disaster."

"Benj, c'mon. Tell me there's something you can do."

"We may be able to repair the Drift's core but the whole wiring? It would almost cost more than getting a whole new Jaeger. I don't think Hunley would approve it."

"Aw shit. I can't believe we're going to lose all of the action."

"They'll assign you a new one!"

"It's not that! We need to keep winning points so we can finally get one of the big ones. We are so close!"

"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get the promotion." Benji encouraged them, "You've been the top team among the Supports. I'll be bullshit if you don't get it next time."

"Last time they gave White Widow to Alana and Zola like it was nothing." Zhen reminded.

"Don't compare yourselves to them… Your mum doesn't run half the PPDC." He said.

It was a well known fact that her mother was Maximilian Mitsopolis, the UN rep for the US, and they took advantage of that fact.

"Spoiled brats…" muttered Zhen.

"You really can't stand them uh?"

"No one can! At least not one of our guys," she said, "I'm pretty sure they get along just fine with Lane's thugs."

Inside the Shatterdome coexisted two clearly differentiated groups. "Us" composed by the three teams of the PPDC Jaegers: Mission Impossible, Chimera and White Widow. And then there was "Them", Syndicate Industries, a private company owned by Solomon Lane, with his two Jaegers: Cobalt Diamond and Rouge Apostle.

And although the coexistence was possible it wasn't easy to ignore the tension between the two groups. Where it came from, Benji didn't or wasn't interested in knowing all the details

Even on "our side" it was clear that the twins had a "gang" of their own. They didn't interact much with the Academy or the Support rangers. Anyhow you could always see them lurking around with people from their crew (who had been specially selected by them). They weren't part of the Training program, thought. Their dear mother's influence hadn't reached that far. Or maybe they weren't interested. He didn't know well Zola or Alana but they didn't seemed like the kids lovers kind.

Benji, Zhen and Declan ate colds sandwiches that were warm when Declan had brought them for dinner. They ate fastly and mostly in silence while Benji checked the status of the Black box. It hadn't finished yet.

"We're leaving. We've got training tomorrow," Zhen informed him getting up, "Don't over work yourself," she said and gave Benji a peck in his forehead

"Go the fuck to sleep!" said Declan also giving him a mocking kiss on the head.

"Alright, see you tomorrow!" He waved them goodbye as they left the workshop.

Benji cleaned up the rests of the dinner and stood in the middle of the room, contemplating what to do next. His options were unclear. The laptop hadn't finished decrypting the Black Box yet, there was virtually nothing he could do for Lucky Strike, there wasn't even a mess to organize in the shop (Zhen had helped him tidy up during a break a few hours ago).

So he stood there, with every passing second realizing more and more what he should do next. But what you should do isn't always what you want to do. This was the case, but at the same time Benji knew he had to do it. The empty weighless space that his belt had left may hadn't been noticeable today but it could be tomorrow.

So Benji gathered his strength, checked one last time the black box status –hopping for an excuse to stay, unsatisfactorily– took his jacket and finally left the workshop headed for the ranger's dormrs.

 









Chapter Text

Every step forward he took got him looking for a reason why this wasn't that important. None of them were good, valid or anything but product of a man who could not differentiate whether it was procrastination or just not wanting to go through another awkward moment… again.

It was hopeless. By the time Benji had came up with at least thirty different reasons –each more absurd than the other– the elevator had stopped at the Academy and Benji had stepped into the hallway.

There was no turning back now, he thought. 

Or maybe it was, because Benji had no idea where to find Ethan Hunt. He had stopped at the same floor the Simulator was on, out of pure habit. And now, he was lost.

Something that must've been giggles mixed with other noise came from the opposite direction. Hunt had said that there was a common room at the end of the hallway the night before when he brought the drinks. Well, that seemed as a good place as any other to start the search. So following the increasing sound of teenager chatter, Benji found the common room pretty soon.

It was more of a living room with an incorporated kitchenette. It had worn out sofas, a coffee table, a TV that was on and broadcasting some music channel with videoclips... All with that military severity that had been punked by teenager hands. 

And speaking of teenagers, now a group of them were staring at Benji. They were crowded in the sofas, basically sitting on top of one another and on the floor. They weren't freshmen for sure, these were older, seniors probably, but still incredible young-looking for Benji. There were about a dozen of them, but he didn't care to pay much attention to their faces, besides their shocked expressions. He had run into them talking over some sort of notes that were spreaded over the table and had interrupted the conversation.

Their eyes shifted nervously between each other as Benji's mouth struggled to find the words to use.

"Can we help you with anything… sir?" a boy asked obviously confused how to address Benji.

"Yes! Yes!" Benji blurted out, oh God he was a nervous wreck, "I- uh I need to speak to Ranger Hunt–"

It was impossible to ignore their eyes widening. Benji had supposed that given Luther's theory on how things had spreaded today, the cadets probably knew who he was. But now, declaring he was looking, specifically , for Ethan Hunt... he was just adding fuel to the fire.

Silence couldn't even make himself present for more than a second because someone already had broken it.

"I'll show you to him," In the corner of the big sofa Cadet Ferris had answered him. Benji hadn't noticed her at first.

The cadets didn't even bother in holding up their facial expressions this time. Benji was pretty sure one of the straight up snorted. 

"Shit" Benji thought, "Sure!" Benji said in his most controlled possible tone.

She got on her feet went through her open-mouthed classmates and back down the hallway Benji had arrived from 

"Please follow me." she told him barely pausing as she passed next to him.

Benji obeyed and followed. 

As he got further from the common room he heard the conversation returning back to it, now more animated than ever. Although it was evident the kids tried to control their volume because "he's still there" as one of the most cautious ones murmured.

Benji sighed discreetly as he followed the blonde ponytail of cadet Ferris back down to the elevator.

"Of course, it had to be her," Benji thought accommodating himself next to her, with the steely stare…  the day kept getting better by the moment.

She pushed the button to the highest level of the academy. Benji peeked, observing her, trying to figure out her reasons. Her face was indecipherable. And her posture entirely militar, standing like a soldier, with shoulders squared and a straight back.

When the door opened she turned to him so quickly it startled Benji, who was still looking at her through the corner of his eye.

"Ranger Hunt's bunker is number 044. It's about halfway through that corridor," she pointed.

"Thank you very much." He said politely and walked out of the elevator.

"Wait! Mister...Dunn." she called. It was obvious she had to read Benji's name in his overalls.

Benji froze on place and turned to her, unable to tell if he was or not surprised. He should have been able to tell this was some kind of trap from the moment she had volunteered. Maybe he had realised ...of course he had realised! But what were his options really?

"Yes…?" He asked, trying to sound neutral.

"I… I wanted to apologise …" she started, eyes struggling to stay fixed on him, "...in the name of all my classmates and all the others cadets. We are terribly sorry for all the inconveniences we have caused you and are willing to accept all the consequences. We've talked about it, that's what we've decided as a group… We didn't know how to reach you exactly… B-But we are so ashamed of everything. I, am so ashamed of what happened last night... with Eth– Ranger Hunt. I also wanted to apologise personally for my behavior yesterday and… and, and it was pretty much my fault the whole thing spreaded through the Shatterdome, it really wasn't my intention…I didn't mean to  spy. I –kind of– overheard you talking..."

She fell silent. Head vowed in some sort of apology. Waiting for Benji's response.

"I..uh- I accept your apologies," Benji said still neutral, even cold.

"I know this it's not the kind of thing you just forgive immediately...It's understandable. Thank you nevertheless for accepting our apologies."

"Uh- yeah" he couldn't have said any better.

But there was something else in her mind that she needed to say. Benji could see it in how she nervously played with her hands and how her eyes moved away  

"And I want to clarify," she finally said after putting her thoughts in order, "that I was only accompanying ranger Hunt for the training session. Only and exclusively for training.  I-I don't want you to think there was anything…'weird'... going on between Ranger Hunt and I," she explained, looking rather flustered and upset about it. 

It wasn't like it hadn't cross Benji's mind. It wouldn't be the first time that kind of thing had happened, surely not the last and probably not the worst.

And Benji didn't know the man, but Ethan Hunt just didn't hit him like the kind of guy who goes around "mingling" with his students. The kind of guy who damages machinery worth hundreds of million dollars? Yeah, that sounded more like him.

"He– he's just a really good teacher, amazing. I'm not trying to get him out of this, it's just-" she let out a deep sigh with exasperation, "He's really appreciated at the academy, by everyone."

She signed putting her hands on her hips. And when it was clearly she was done talking, Benji nodded in understanding.

She did too. 

"Room 044." She reminded him before closing the elevator door and muttering one last "Thank you."

Okay that felt like someone just hit Benji's head with a cricket bat. What the hell was he supposed to do with all that information now? Besides feeling bad for cancelling the "best teacher ever" of course. All he wanted was his belt...

He also felt somehow bad for having "answered" (Benji had barely said anything that counted as a proper word) so passively. But he was so tired he truly believed that was the best he had to offer to her.

He wished 'that' was the hardest part. Mostly because it had already passed, and also because he didn't know where he would get the energy from to go through the rest if it wasn't.

Benji dragged himself through the hallway until he reached the door with the big 044 numbers painted on top and buzzed the doorbell. 

He waited, and waited for what it seemed like an unusual long time, not only to Benji's criteria. Bunkers weren't big enough for you to have any problem reaching the door.

The sounds could be heard from the inside specially what sounded like a heavy sliding door and finally steps that accompanied a shadow that casted under the door.

Immediately after the steps stopped, a woman opened the door. She was wearing a dark tank top, yoga pants and a light grey sweater. Her hair was in a ponytail and her blue eyes moved lazily until they found Benji's face.

"Oh!" She said, calmly but clearly surprised to see Benji.

He could identify her easily, she was Ethan Hunt's copilot. Benji only knew a few things about her: that she was British, that her name was Ilsa Faust, that she was also a teacher, and that she was beautiful.

"I'm looking for Ethan Hunt," he stated. 

She nodded silently and turned to the inside of the room.

"Ethan there's someone looking for you!" She called him.

"I'll be there in a second!" He shouted.

She looked back at Benji and excused herself with a nod, returning back inside.

At first Benji thought they would be sharing the bunker, but then he saw her leaving by a side door to what was presumably the bunker next door. As she closed the metal door behind her, Ethan Hunt emerged from another place. He looked around for his partner, but without sign of her he turned to the door and saw Benji.

He was clearly taken aback for a second, feet frozen on place but eyes alive with surprise and disbelief. Then he broke himself from the spell and moved to the door.

"Mr. Dunn!" he said, maybe a little too enthusiastic he realized, and adjusted his own tone, "Sorry, I thought it was Jane or Hanaway ...Is there anything I could help you with?"

"Yes, about yesterday I–" he tried to say before Hunt cut him off.

"I want to apologise again for everything that happened. And I suppose you are upset for not having received any message from Marshall Hunley. He's been occupied all day and I could only reach him a few minutes ago.. but he'll convocating a meeting tomorrow." He explained extenfuly. 

"Oh! That's… uh, wonderful– But that's not why I'm here." 

"You're not?!"

"No... I'm here because… because yesterday I lend you my utility belt, but forgot to take it back and I really need it and..." Benji expressed.

"Oh, yes, yes! The belt of course! I had forgotten about it! I meant to retrieve it but I totally forgot. I wasn't my intention to steal it I uh- I don't want you to have a bad impression... Not like I haven't already given one…" he trailed off.

Benji starred in a estate of absolute confusion at the ranger, unable to think of anything to answer him. Probably some kind of intelligible sound escaped his open mouth because Hunt suddenly snapped back to reality.

"The belt, the belt! Yes! One second." Hunt rushed inside the room and came back just as fast with Benji's belt clinking in his hands. "This one right?"

"Yes,

"Oh, careful! The broken fusses are still in there."

Benji opened the pocket and found the shattered pieces of the fusses that had been replaced the day before. 

"Soo.. this meeting…?" He asked vaguely as he closed the pocket and accommodated the belt so he wouldn't hurt himself.

"First thing in the morning. I believe Hunley must've already sent a message..."

"Oh, great…" said Benji and before any silence could make presence he excused himself "Goodnight."

"Goodnight." Hunt reciprocated.

Benji turned back and headed out. When he had reached the elevator the bunker door had already closed with a heavy noise.

He was careful enough to dispose the fuses when he made a quick stop at his workshop to revise on the black box analysis. It hadn't finished yet. 

He examined the fuses superficially before throwing them away. He found nothing out of the ordinary, just broken glass and melted metal. After that, he thought the best was to call it a day and head for his own bunker.

Benji dropped himself on his bed as soon as he returned. Exhausted but content for how early it still was- God he was really getting old. Oh, but he didn't mind he got under the blankets and let sleep take him away.

 

But that night wasn't forgiving at all, oh no.

Exhaustion mixed with stress to create the perfect fluorescent-blue spilled nightmare. Dreams and memories melted with reality in his sleep, making him shake and move uncomfortably, falling in and out of sleep for what it felt like ages.

Then, at some point, Benji just opened his eyes. There was no big gasp, no screaming, no jolting, only a puddle of sweat and the awful feeling of not knowing whether he was truly awake or still dreaming. But nothing unusual happened as Benji stared blankly at the concrete ceiling in the dark. 

He was awake.

And it was 4:38 in the morning (according to the alarm-clock on his nightstand). He didn't wanted to get up already. He didn't have a reason to do so neither.  He took a towel from the bathroom and put it over the sweated sheets. Benji laid in bed, eyes closed but avoiding to try and grasp at the blurry edges of his bad dream. The least he remembered, the better.

In his head some thoughts bounced around... Mainly we was wondering about the meeting with Hunley. He hadn't read the message yet and wasn't planning to do so – for his darkness- accommodated eyes' sake. 

Marshall Hunley was an occupied man, Or at least that was the image he gave. Benji was only a few fingers short to be able to count with his own hands the times he had talked to him directly since he arrived at the Shatterdome. During critical times, he could be found at the LOOCENT as protocol stipulated, but otherwise he left his office very little. Luther had told him that he was in a constant shower of paperwork and meetings with the PPDC big bosses, and Benji could do nothing else but believe him. 

His mind then tiptoed around Will, remembering how he had complained about the meetings since he had to attend to many of them too.  

William Brandt... He had been a great friend since the first late night when he warned Benji about the coffee's flavour. Will whose eye bags were of the few ones capable of competing with Benji's. Among with Luther and Zhen, he had become one of Benji's best friends in the Shatterdome.

It felt awful because he felt like his friendship had been a strong one but at the same time, who was he kidding? A few months long relationship against years of neuronal share with Ethan Hunt? How could he even doubt it? And still… It hurted.

It was not only the lost sleep the infinite hours rewiring and rewiring and running tests… For stupid or not the reasons could look, Benji felt betrayed. 

The knot at his stomach moved and twisted, trying to release itself, but Benji found himself in a overthinking spiral. Wondering even if his reasons were enough to be angry. 

Bullshit, of course they were, but we're they enough to end a friendship?

Before he could realize his alarm-clock was going off and it was time to get on with his morning routine and the day. 

A well needed shower, a change of clothes and a quick overlook at the meeting informative email after, Benji left the bunker in a  real rush. 

When Hunt said first thing in the morning he really meant the bloody first thing. He had barely enough time to get to the meetings room, so coffee and breakfast would have to wait until he was done.

Again a engineer rushing through the hallways wasn't such an unusual thing to see. But Benji was Benji and rumors didn't die in one day (unless a juicer one appeared), so he couldn't but interpret every single look an invasion of his privacy. 

A few meters away from the meetings room Benji stopped running to try and catch his breath still working on lowering his heart rate,  Benji knocked politely at the door before entering.

Benji found himself to be running into a room full of guilty looking eyes that were fixed on him. The enormous meetings table was almost empty, occupied only by the rangers involved in question who sat on the further extreme.

Ethan and Ilsa sat in one side of the table. Hunt sunk in his chair with his hand over his mouth and nose, looking rather lost in his thoughts. Meanwhile his partner was tense but was maintaining a more collected exterior.

Across them Carter and Hanaway showed a much more distressed posture, bending anxiously towards the table, hands tangled together.

"Hi." A soft word came from Carter. Her eyes, however, twitched rapidly back to Hannaways hands resting overs her own.

I one said anything else to Benji,  while he took seat. Not even Ethan Hunt, who yesterday seemed unable to stop talking and apologizing.

Benji sat in the chair next to Ilsa Faust, a place most surely reserved for him since they had respected the both chairs next to the presiding spot.

The door opened unannounced. Marshall Hunley appearing from it followed by Will.

All the rangers got up abruptly and squared up in a militar pose but we're quickly cut off by the Marshall. Afortunately, because Benji didn't know whether he should had copied them or not.

"Sit down, rangers," Hunley instructed them with a slight movement of his hand as he made his way to his chair.

He sat there in silence for a moment, eyes fixed in the low-headed Rangers. Will positioned himself in the empty chair next to Hunley and in front of him. He wasn't able to look at him in the eye neither. 

Hunley signed loudly before speaking to them.

"Do you know how I fell right now?" He asked to no one in particular, "I feel like the father of an insolent child who's been called to speak to the principal, that's how I feel. But you," he moved his finger pointing at all of them " you are all Grown. Up. Adults. Who knew very well what you were doing!" A pause as he looked at the people in the room again.

Benji had imagined this much more satisfying. To finally get back at them ...but damn Hunley was even making Him feel bad.

"You have disrespect the trust that has been put onto you. You have disrespect me AND Mr. Dunn here."

All the rangers and Will threw discret looks at him who awkwardly pursed his lips.

"Now we'll just skip the part were you try and tell me your reasons. Save it! I already know. And we will also skip the excuses just because you can give me none. If I was someone else I'll have you all suspended, but I cannot do that…"

   "But I'm the one that should be apologising to Mr. Dunn in the first place. Because, the truth is that I'm unable to give you the punishment you deserve. I cannot suspend the entirety of the Academy teachers, and I can simply not suspend eighty percent of my rangers. But there are other things that can be done…"

Hunley paused and sighed again, sounding somehow defeated, already upset with what he was about to say.

"Until new notice White Widow will have the lead. And so will Syndicate Enterprises' Jaegers," He said, "Chimera and M.I. will only deploy IF absolutely necessary. It's it clear?

A frustrated sigh escaped the lungs of all the presents, soft, just barely audible, like a shift in the air. But Hunley caught it right away.

"Have I made myself clear?!" He grunted,authority and range sundedly in full display.

"Yes sir!" They replied at unison. 

"Well it better be…" he shot them a scrutinizing look, " 'Cause this will cost more than just this. I'll bet anything they'll send someone to investigate this whole affair. And we are already on thin ice! We cannot allow ourselves to screw up anymore. Or say goodbye to getting that new Jaeger, and good knows we need it!"

The rangers guarded silence, head bowed in embarrassment but clearly understanding the situation. Only Hunt decided to break it.

"What about the Academy sir?" He asked voice loud against the silence.

Hunley shifted in his chair hands tangled together on the table.

"We have a duty ...to prepare this kids, so they can defended our world when we can't no longer.  The seniors are about to graduate, they are only a couple months away...No, the Academy won't be affected. And since you all will have extra time you better leave your skin on it! That said, no misuse of any material will be tolerated at all. You can be sure whoever is sent here will be all over your asses, specially at the academy."

His tone was formal and typical of a superior command but it was obvious by his speech he had worked with the Rangers for a long time. It was also obvious the respect the rangers had for him. Benji hadn't heard any but he was sure there were tons of stories about the Marshall active years.

Slow nods and sounds of confirmation came from the Rangers. The loudest being a simple "Thank you" from ranger Carter.

"Rangers you're all dismissed." He commanded.

They rose up from the chairs at the same time and after a bow of their heads they left the room. No furtive looks escaped them as they exited. This left only Benji alone with Will and the Marshall.

"What a fucking shit-show," Hunley sighed to himself rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hands.

Benji was left staring at the corner of the metal table, wondering if he should have left with the rangers. All the militar protocol still went over his head a little.

"Mr. Dunn," Hunley called, startling him a little. "I'm so ashamed this situation has taken place. Please accept my apologies in name of the PPDC, the Anchorage Shatterdome and myself."

"Thank you, sir. I truly appreciate it, sir," Benji answered trying not to step over his own words.

"Well, If any other problem comes up please make sure you inform me, personally," he said getting up from his chair, motion that Benji copied, shaking his hand when Hunley offered his, "You are doing an amazing work here and It'll be a shame if we lost you. In fact we can't afford to lose you."

"You're flattering me, sir" Benji said awkwardly, not sure if this was some kind of tactic to keep him happy, quiet and working.

"I'm being honest Mr. Dunn," he said seriously, sensing the doubt in Benji, fixing his suit jacket with a tug. 

"But please, I won't delay you any longer" Hunley extended one hand to the door and started walking, Benji nodded and followed.

"Have a good day." Hunley said before parting, Brandt already planting a tablet in his hands before he could even turn away.

Will only dedicated him a little lip purse before starting to explain Hunley the report displayed on the tablet following close behind.

Benji signed heavily, glasses sliding down his nose at the motion. That didn't went exactly how he imagined. Of course he wanted the rangers to get reprimanded, and to stop messing around with his machines but suspending two whole teams from combat for God knows how long? Aw hell no! He didn't wanted that! He loved seeing the Jaegers clean of scratches and fresh painted, loved the sound of full-functioning engines and systems, but that wasn't what they were created for. They weren't built to be watched like a painting in a museum, they were a different kind of fine art. Their place was in the field, tearing alien scum apart, saving lives.

Anyway Benji could stay there dwelling in his own shit. The straightened up, placed his glasses to their rightful spot and headed for the engineering bay.

He found himself some good news, the rewiring of the knee was finished. He did one last check up, getting inside the enormous leg himself, examining the wires from up close. 

Upon further examination a bulb lighted up over his head, a great idea coming to him with a solution to avoid more reparations of twisted cables because of Kung Fu moves during combat. He was left smitten ,thought, upon the realisation that he could not have chosen a worst moment.

As he tried to clean the grease from his face he observed the open knee of M.I, people coming in and out from the big hole where it's kneecap was missing like minuscule surgeons. The wires inside where visible, thick and long, colour coded for easier understanding.

In his mind he saw his plan reflected, an inner structure that could hold the wires in packs and would keep them away from harm during certain moves. Like bubble wrap but... you know...for Jaegers .

But his lack of knowledge of these same movements posed a problem. In other circumstances he could ask the rangers to show him their moves and he would study and apply the knowledge...but he felt it wasn't the best moment.

Defeated but not fone yet, he picked up his things and headed to the cafeteria for his god-knows-which-number coffee. Realising in his way there it was quite late already. Time sure runned when you were tinkering inside a 300 feet tall Jaeger.

He was starting to munch into a late dinner sandwich when his comm buzzed, call incoming.

"Yeah?" He answered it.

"Hey! We are at the cafeteria, where are you?" Zhen chimed.

"Same." 

"Where? I can't see y– oh, nevermind there you are–" she hung up.

Benji only had to lift his head to see her and Declan walking towards him.

"Hey…" he greeted them.

"Hey!" Declan answered taking seat in front of him, Zhen sitting on the table between them.

"So did you got anything on the black box yet?"

"Mhm-mhm" he negated "I was going to check on it now. Fancy coming?"

"Sure thing!"

They made their way to Benji's workshop chatting gleefully, Benji updating them about the events occurred during their meeting.

"Come again?! They are sending someone to investigate the Rangers?" Declan asked in a high pitched tone.

"That's what Hunley said. It's not so weird, it'll be some kind of human resources crap to make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Mhm If you say so…"

"But you know the best part? Hunley said they were bringing in another Jaeger!"

"For real?" Zhen brow arched as high as her voice.

"Well… He said the investigation could put in danger it's arrival.. potentially" their expression swifted sadness and worry peeking through, "But I'm pretty sure everything will be alright!" He said –and he hoped– it seemed to calm them down a little.

"C'mon!" He said gesturing to the workshop.

Zhen and Benji sat and opened the laptop they had connected to the black box the day before, Declan seated in front of them, cars magazine already taking his attention.

"Alright, let me see what you have here…" he opened the already finished analysis.

"Here's the sequence," Zhen taped the screen and it expanded.

It was similar to a timeline in which you could see all the activity of the drift during the mission.

"I'm also getting the audio and video memos," he said and they popped on the screen, two cameras that showed the rangers back at the Shatterdome and a third one ,the Jaeger camera at the Anchorage's Port.

He made sure to sync all the data and then he replayed the event like it was a movie, just with a lot more information to look at.

They watched carefully from the beginning. The cameras started recording as soon as they got into the control pod. After strapping themselves to the gears the drift was made without any problem.

"The drift was well done," Benji noted. "It's strong and holding…"

"Mmh-" confirmed Zhen.

It didn't took much for Declan to join them. The three of them observed as the Jaeger helped the construction crew repair the anti-Kaiju concrete blocks of the bay. Everything seemed to be smooth so far. None of the data indicated any malfunction yet.

"That's when it all when to shit," Declan commented.

After leaving one big cinder block, they were about to head back for another one, but halfway there the Jaeger started failing. Benji watched it glitch shake and convulsing before totally collapsing limp on the floor. Meanwhile it's pilots struggled to keep control of it until finally terminating the connection after a big spark fried the controls and closely, them too. When the drift broke off abruptly, the recording stopped.

Where you ok after that? Benji said feeling kind of a jerk for not having spent more time with his friends when that happened.

"Ehmm.. yes? I was kind of …"

"Shitty," Declan finished her sentence. Benji had gotten used to him doing that.

"Yes. We had to take a few ibuprofens after that. They took us to Med Bay you know how they get about those things…" Zhen explained.

"I got a nosebleed, but apart from that and the headache everything was fine" Declan added.

"I should have gone to the Med Bay as soon as it happened" Benji lamented, grasping tightly Zhen's hand.

"Hey, you were up to your neck of work! We had a bad headache for half a day! You have nothing to feel sorry about!" Zhen told him.

"Yeah, man it's okay! Now use that big nerd brain of yours and figure out why we almost got ours fried!" Declan cheered him up.

"Ok, give me that last part again! This time slow it down," Benji said, sending the data feed to his tablet and expanding it.

"Alright, take two," Zhen tapped the screen and the recordings restarted but at half the speed.

As the distorted voices sounded and the Jaeger walked like it was on the moon Benji eyes moved quickly from the different data it was being deployed before his eyes.

"Play it again!" He said when it was over, and then twice more times after that.

Around the fourth time Zhen bended towards the screen in confusion.

"What the fuck…?"

"This doesn't make any sense!" He muttered.

"Did you find anything?" Declan asked.

"Yeah.. look! He showed them his tablet, "Here, drift status feed. This is you and this is Zhen's it represents your brains, right? Well there's a few times when a bloody third signal mixes in with yours!

"But that's not possible! It was only Declan and I at the drift pod. And these Jaegers are just barely big enough to need two pilots, let alone three. The system is not designed to hold three neural loads!"

"Could it have been an interference from another remote drift? We weren't the only ones deployed," Declan asked, he was no engineer but he knew enough about drifting to ask the right questions. 

"Then it would have registered the ranger ID, so ...no, I don't think so."

"Then what was it?" Zhen asked.

Benji examined the images from the pod and the data reading again.

"Well... it's intermittent, and surely not registered... So I guess it could have been a failure of the Pons. You're lucky you shared the neural load, that would have given you more than a headache if you were alone."

"Hell yeah, we were lucky!" Declan hugged his girlfriend tightly she seemed a little shaken.

She turned to Benji.

"This just doesn't seems right …"

"What you mean?"

"I don't know. It's a little bit sketchy…

"You know how machines are sometimes Zhen, you can't trust them completely. That's why we have pilots!" He calmed her. "Look, they'll assign you a new Jaeger for now. It won't be Lucky but you'll make it work!"

He managed a little smile out of her.

"But I wouldn't get too comfortable thought. Because you know with that big, great, new, Jaeger coming your way you don't wanna get too attached…" he teased.

"Dreaming it's free I guess…" she said with a smug face

"Hell yeah it is!" Declan agreed.

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the week went well, work was getting done and complications were nowhere in sight. Nor Zhen, Luther or anyone else had brought up Will in their conversations during that time. With the exception of Zhen, who had only mentioned it to Benji back when, they finished the black box analysis. She had asked what he was thinking of doing about the whole situation. Benji answered her sincerely: He didn't know.

During that time Will kept the distance, obviously trying to ease the situation whenever they were forced to work together. Benji answered politely but cold to his indications and left before he would try to talk to him again.

Apart from all of a lot of overthinking, the week was uneventful. At least until Friday when surprisingly Hunley called him in for another meeting.

Benji compelled, mostly because he had no other choice. So at 8:33 a.m on Friday morning, he stepped once more into the Meetings Room, late by three minutes, to find himself with a few unfamiliar faces.

Well... not all of them were exactly unfamiliar...

Benji had never once spoken or probably even seen the Mitsopolis twins in person, but he recognized them instantly. After all, Benji had seen their faces dozens of times on TV.

They sat in one corner of the room, in matching white outfits, the red in the logo of their Jaeger popping out. Their posture was informal and careless, even defiant to Hunley's authority, especially the brother who was sprawled over his seat. His sister sat a little more formally but with her legs crossed in a casual way, and eyes sharp, analyzing the room.

They would radiate an aura of intimidation wasn't absolutely no one in the room paying attention to them.

The other new stranger was sit next to Hunley, just across from Brandt. Even seated you could tell he was big man. He was all shoulders and a serious face... And a moustache that gave him an old fashioned look, even though he couldn't be older than Hunt.

But there were many familiar ones too, all the teachers, Will and… Bogdan? Benji spotted him seated next to the twins. Well, that was unexpected. But of course... Benji realized he was the Chief Engineer for White Widow– the twins' Jaeger. Their whole team must have been dragged into this to try and dissimulate the scandal.

Benji excused himself and took a free seat. When he did so, Hunley took it as a signal to start the meeting

"Well since we are all here, we can start already... Good morning everyone," Hunley said, "I'm here to announce to all of you that from now on we will be under exam from the PPDC to evaluate if we are, or not, apt to receive a new Jaeger. That said, I'll like to present to you all Mr. August Walker. He'll be our supervisor and the man in charge of the investigation of the ...uhm incident related to the Simulator. His face might be already familiar to you since he's been supervising Syndicate Industries for a few months now. "

"Thank you Marshall. This investigation is key to determine whether the atmosphere at the Shatterdome is adequate. This will be very important for the comite to allow another Jaeger to be accepted into the Anchorage Shatterdome."

Everybody nodded silently in understanding, but then it was broken abruptly.

"And what do We have to do with all of this?" Miss Mitsopolis asked, with quite an impertinent tone.

"Yeah! last time I checked we didn't fuck up any training machine." her brother secunded.

The woman shoot him a wary look that made him close his mouth at once. Then addressed the Marshall again.

'What my dear brother meant was...since our team is not ...associated with the academy or its equipment, why must we also be... investigated?" She explained over expressing confusion with her face.

"It's protocol, miss Mitsopolis." Was August's short, yet efficient answer.

She nodded and sat back again on her seat. It was obvious no answer would have pleased her, but at least this one would keep her quiet for a little longer. His brother didn't complain neither, and all Bogdan could do was try to not look very distressed.

"May I ask…" Benji dared to open his mouth, "Why do they need a supervisor? Syndicate Industries I-I mean!"

"Since they are a private company, we must ensure they follow PPDC guidelines." Walker answered. " But that also needs to apply to our own rangers." He threw the hint into the air and let it sunk into everyone in the room.

The meeting didn't last much longer, with barely no intervention of any ranger besides the Mitsopolis. After a short explanation of how Mr. Walker would interview them personally and then pass the information onto PPDC superiors, they were all dismissed.

Benji observed Will leaving with Walker and Hunley after the meeting was over, already discussing some kind of management matter, feeling his stomach shaking uncomfortably...

"God bless you showed up! For a moment I thought I was in trouble!" A voice broke his train of thought. It was Bogdan.

The other engineer approached Benji as soon as he got out of the room. He hugged Benji tight and unexpectedly.

"This whole thing is because of me, Bogdan," Benji muttered, "Of course they were calling me! I'm sorry I dragged you into this…"

"Aah! You don't worry, my friend. It wasn't that big of a deal. And if someone is going to come and stick his nose in my business I prefer to know…"

Benji nodded on that, suddenly questioning what kind business was Bogdan up to…

"C'mon, coffee. My treat!" He said enthusiastically.

Benji accepted and they made their way to the cafeteria. Casually, all the other rangers decided to head for the cafeteria too, so they walked next to the other group. It was kind of awkward, not gonna lie. But little did they know soon enough the situation was about to escalate from just awkward to problematic.

Rangers didn't usually enter the cafeteria all together at once, and it was the kind of event that called attention, even if for a second. It was a little bit like in the movies, just that there was no big dramatic silence of epic music, just a bunch of people casually going to get breakfast.

Either way, Benji got hot red, feeling the eyes of the Shatterdome inhabitants turn in his direction. Gossip wasn't dead yet...

"Let's get some coffee!" He suggested to the other engineer.

Bogdan accepted with a smile and kept talking about the hydraulics problems he had to fix on White Widow as they got his breakfast.

"And you complain about Hunt? You should see the state of the rig! Specially Zola's, he's a brute!" Bogdan sat down at the first empty table. 

"Why don't you tell Hunley or… now that he's here that guy... Walker." Benji sat down, realising they were pretty close to where the rangers had seated. Obviously the Twins were nowhere to be seen.

"And upset Miss Mitsopolis? Aah.. no, my man. I do not fear death, but I fear that woman. Believe me… I prefer to just do my work." Something caught his attention eyes trailing after something behind Benji's back.

Unable to resist the curiosity Benji turned.

"Uh-oh" Bogdan whispered.

Syndicate Industries employees were allowed in most of the common areas of the Shatterdome. While engineers and workers could be usually be seen at the cantine is wasn't so usual to see the pilots. It wasn't usual to even see the PPDC rangers at the cantine neither, so what was happening was an event similar to a eclipse in uniqueness. Everyone was staring.

The three of them approached their table, sauntering, with anything but good intentions. The air suddenly felt heavy.

"So... I heard you stole our chaperone!" Vinter teased placing a taunting hand on their table.

"We stole nothing. You can have him back whenever you want," Carter sassed back at him with a way too obviously fake smile.

"You had to be such bad boys if they send him to you…" It was Sabine Moreau's turn to provoke them. And, oh, it had an effect on Jane.

"Then why you had him in the first place uhm?. And speaking of bad…" Jane exploded, voice raising dangerously.

"Jane…" Hanaway tried to calm her down

"How's your aim? Cause last time you almost blow my fiance out of the pod!"

"Accidents happens…" there was a malicious touch in the way she spoke.

"Oh so that's how you got here?!" She sassed back.

"Salope !" She spat and moved towards Carter. She rose up from her seat waiting for her 

"Hey! hey! hey! Let's calm down a little bit uh?" Hunt jumped out of his seat and put himself between Jane and Moreau. 

Jane was held back down to her seat by his fiance.

"Ok? There's no need for this. We've done nothing to you." Hunt insisted.

"Well that's not entirely true is it? " Vinter turned to Ilsa, glare poisonous and full of hatred.

Ilsa held his stare but gifted him nothing but a cold expression.

"Tell me does it pay good to be a traitor?" He spitted, still no reaction from Ilsa.

"Look, we don't want no trouble…" Ethan made the mistake to place a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from getting any closer to her, and Vinter simply lost it.

He slapped Hunt's hand out of his personal space and started screaming (like he wasn't being loud enough before).

"You, don't touch me, Ever, again" he menaced.

Both Winstron and Moreau approached Hunt as well in a menacing way.

"I don't want no trouble," Ethan repeated hands raised in peace but tone making clear he would not allow any more disrespect.

Hanaway's grip on Jane was strong but he seemed as ready to fight as his girlfriend, whose eyes were fixed mostly on Sabine.

"Rangers!" A voice called and all of the heads of the rangers and the spectators of the scene turned, "Stop this nonsense ...Now!"

The three pilots squared up at the sight of their boss.

"I believe you have work to do! You are all dismissed." Solomon Lane instructed them.

They nodded and left. Only Vinter lingered a few more seconds to stare at Ethan and Ilsa. As he finally desisted he muttered something in a language Benji didn't identify.

Silence had taken over the cantine, everyone stared at Lane now. Hunt turned his back to look at him but not a word or a nod of gratitude left him. It seemed odd… at least to Benji.

Just like Vinter's, Lane eyes trailed from Ethan to Ilsa, then he turned on his heel. Unexpectedly as he was doing so, he fixed his gaze on Benji for a few seconds, and then walked away. His stared had made Benji's blood go cold.

Silence dissipated eventually as the pilots and their boss had left the room.

"That was…" he tried to express

"Uncalled for?" Benji guessed.

"Unexpected! " Bogdan said way too calmly 

"What the fuck man?! What the bloody hell was all that about?!" Benji asked overly confused, body still a little revolted by that last stare, "I understand they don't get along with the twins– you said yourself they were unbearable– but this was some other shit! "

Bogdan turned to Benji with one eyebrow raised, looking rather confused at him, "They hate each other everyone knows that!"

Benji blinked oblivious to that statement.

"Is it because they are a private? Or is it–?"

"Are you kidding me? You really don't know!" Bogdan snorted.

"Well it's clearly obvious I don't. So if you would stop taking the piss and tell me-"

"Alright, alrigh,t my friend." Benji dedicated him an unamused smile but he couldn't blame Bogdan, his uninterest in gossip usually led him to be the last in knowing things. Bodgam shoot a wary look in the Rangers direction, "I was just surprised you didn't know Ilsa Faust used to work for Lane."

"What?!"

"Yeah! Like, no much less than two years ago…"

"Are you shitting me?"

"Absolutely not! Then she left Syndicate Industries and started working with Hunt. I heard there was some bad blood left after that … " he lowered his voice even more, crouching over the table, "There are even rumors, that He didn't choose this Shatterdome deliberately."

"That sounds messed up…"

Bogdan was going to add something else but was interrupted by Benji's comm ringing.

"Oh sorry, gotta take this," he excused himself and answered Luther's call, "What is it?"

"Benji it happened again!" Luther said on the other end.

"What? What happened again?" He asked preoccupied for such an alarming, yet inconcise statement.

"Another support Jaeger just broke! Same as Declan and Zen's."

"God...! Is everyone alright?"

"The pilots weren't so lucky they are at med bay right now…"

"Shit!"

"Yeah I know. But the doctors said they'll be good. I'll get that Jaeger back at the Shatterdome and into your lab A.S.A.P . I need you to find out what's going on with those Jaegers."

"Sure! Was is the same model as Lucky Strike?" He asked.

"Yes."

There was a moment of silence as Benji thought well his next move.

"Then I recommend you take out off duty every other Jaeger of the same model until we figure out what is going on." Benji instructed, it was better that way, even if that meant lowering their recourses.

"You're right we can't risk any more lives. I'll inform Hunley," Benji hummed in agreement, "I'll let you know when the Jaeger is ready."

"Thank you Luther, I'll see you later." Benji said and hung up . Signing heavily as his hands slipped under his glasses to rub at his eyes.

"That sounded bad…" Bogdan noted.

"It was…" Benji didn't found the energy to take importance out of it. Then it occurred to him, "Bogdan have you ever encountered a fried Jaeger? I'm talking completely fried!"

"Uh… maybe I don't know," he thought  " With an external source for sure… remember Leatherback? That son of a bitch could  create electromagnetic pulses. "

"No I don't meant like that, I mean the whole wiring was burnt from the inside out… the drift core was the source." 

"I'll let you know if I find out anything …" he said after a few seconds of hard core thinking.

"Thank you so much anyway. Gotta go!" He waved Bogdan goodbye and left for the engineering bay.

During the morning shift, Benji did some maintenance work on Chimera and just before lunch he received another call from Luther.

"Talk to me Luther," he said balancing his lunch so he could answer the comm.

"The Jaeger just arrived, I doesn't need to go through cleaning. I'm sending it your way now. It should be there in twenty minutes. Does that sound good?"

Benji looked at his watch.

"Sure I'll get a quick look! Do you have images of the incident?" He said fitting all he could of his lunch in his mouth.

"Actually yes. I'm sending 'em to you too. You know what happened?" Luther asked intuiting Benji knew something.

Benji swallowed down the big ball of food before answering.

"I might have an idea... Im headed for the workshop now.  I'll have to check the black box and the circuits–"

Another call interrupted Benji's train of thought. The number was unregistered.

"I'll talk to you later, Luther," he said and hung up Luther to answer the mysterious call. "Yes, Hello?"

"Hi, is this Chief Engineer Benjamin Dunn?" Benji recognized the voice as Agust Walker the supervisor.

"Yes! Yes it's me! Is there any way I can help you Mr. Walker?" He answered, surprised. When they said they were getting on with the investigation right away they weren't joking.

"I had some questions regarding the investigation," His tone was cold and professional, but polite, "Is there anywhere we can meet to discuss the matter? "

"Uh- I'm have to look up some stuff at my workshop now, but If you don't mind I could answer your questions while I work. I'll send you the location."

"Affirmative. I'll be there soon enough."

Benji made his way back to the workshop, he was so much in his own head he almost ran into three different people and took the wrong turn another two. His main thoughts now were regarding this "interview" with Walker. Shit! He hadn't even had time to think about it or what he wanted to sat, and now that it was happening so fast, he panicked just thinking in all the ways he could screw up.

For the sake of Zhen and Declan's future he thought to go a little bit easier on the rangers. Yet he wasn't gonna make a fool of himself, thought. He'll be honest, but despite for his actual dislike for the rangers right now, he would not exaggerate the situations. He'll stick to the facts and leave the conspiracy theories for Luther and his other few friends.

Also it wouldn't be recommendable to mention how he had used a secret program to actually catch the rangers. It'd be better if he uninstalled it. Although Ethan knew about it, he didn't know it was against protocol so it could be dangerous if he brought it up during his interview...

Well now he was just as bad as them...

As he had told him, Benji found Walker waiting for him next to his workshop. What there wasn't there yet, was the Jaeger he was supposed to be repairing.

They greeted each other and Benji invited Walker to come into the room.

"What are your duties here in the Shatterdome Mr. Dunn?" He asked opening his comm to take notes and getting straight to the point.

Benji decided to organize the space as he spoke to the other man while waiting on the Jaeger, that way he wouldn't waste any time and wouldn't need to raise his voice over the sound of drills and other machinery.

"I''m Chief Engineer of the K-Tech division. I'm in charge of maintenance and reparation on both Chimera and Mission Impossible, besides I'm also in charge of the tech for the Academy. And basically anything that breaks and they tell me to fix." Benji tried to put a comedyc tone to that last part but got no response from Walker, who was already taking notes .

"Do you specialize in Drifting?"

"Mainly, yes. But you really have to be an expert on everything when working on a Jaeger, big or small. Drifting does not only happen in the helmets, it's a process that involves all of the Jaeger systems." He explained, trying not to get too excited about all that stuff.

"I see…" he noted something on his tablet, "How would you describe your relationship with your assigned pilots?"

Benji mumbled in search for the right words (Zhen and Declan ever-present on his mind).

"Neutral… I'd say… I don't usually have much contact with them."

"Um uh. I would have expected a more...complex relationship between pilots and engineers." He commented, with a certain ring of criticism.

"Relationship between rangers and engineers can be... complicated. In the end, one repairs what the other breaks... It might see like we have a lot in common but actually we don't. If that makes any sense…" he tried to explain.

Walker simply nodded.

"Could you please explain to me the incident with the simulator?" He asked continuing with the interview.

"Ah- uh Well… There isn't much to explain, the rangers were using it out of reglementary hours to give the cadets extra classes. The unsupervised overuse led the machine to frequents malfunctions."

"How did you noticed this situation"

"I caught Ranger Hunt using the machine and he confessed the whole team was involved."

"Did they cause any irreplaceable damage?"

"No."

"Did Ranger Hunt try to convince or bribe you to not say anything?" He pushed.

"No."

"I suppose he wasn't alone..."

"No a cadet was with him. But she wasn't the only one."

"Were Hunt and this cadet...involved in any way?"

"What?! No!" He raised his voice. Benji didn't like the turn this questions were taking.

"I'm sorry. I had to ask," Walker apologised but nothing in his voice sounded like actual remorse.

Benji cleared his throat and left Walker continue.

"Have there been any other incident with the  training gear previous to his one?" He resumed the interrogation.

"No, nothing serious…"

"What do you mean with that?"

"Well… material sometimes breaks. But that it's just from normal use, most of the times."

"Most of the times…" he repeated.

He noted something else on his tablet. And Benji pursed his lips feeling their possibilities of getting that new Jaeger going down the toilet.

Benji had definitely gotten a wrong idea of Agust Walker in their first meeting. Yes, he was all business and seriousness, but yet under that layer there was a certain swagger and superiority that weren't common among mere supervisors.

The hangar doors opened, interrupting them, accompanied by the chiming sound of a heavy vehicle going backwards to introduce the Jaeger into the workshop.

Benji approached the operator and thanked him after having situated the machine.

"And what are you working on now Mr. Dunn?"

"Broken support Jaeger." He answered shortly, more focused on taking a first look of the machine exterior.

"Do they break often too?" He insisted.

"This specific model has been giving some trouble this week, yes. I'm trying to understand why…" Everything looked fine from the outside, but Benji knew better than to let appearance fool you.

"Uh -uhm." he sounded uninterested at first but then took a better look at the Jaeger and asked, "Found anything yet?" most probably out of education.

"I hope I'll do," he answered, sincerely.

"Have you had any other problems with the rangers besides this incident? Personal, regarding the Jaeger, other materials …

"No, not really…" he said, remembering the destroyed rig Bogdan had mentioned - he never had to endure anything like that with neither of the teams, "And I'll like to further adapt the Jaegers to their pilots movements so collateral damage can be reduced to a minimum." 

Walker scribbled a few last words on this tablet, "That will be all for now. Thank you for your time. If anything else is needed I'll call you."

He exited the workshop immediately after, leaving Benji once more with his work. 

During the time Benji took to get the new black box and check the Jaeger interiors –which were burned just as he has expected– his mind finally centered in a new anxiety: the investigation. All he could think of is how his interview would affect on the final decision and how devastated Zhen and Declan would be if they didn't get the Jaeger. Benji couldn't possibly forgive himself if he was the reason they didn't get it.

Then there were the more familiar anxieties that still tormented him… Brandt.

Benji was already tidying up when his comm ringed, it was Bogdan.

"Hello?" He answered the phone.

"Hi! Yes Benji? I thought about what you said before. The fried up Jaeger, I might have seen something like that– well not exactly like that–"

"What is it?" He asked quite excited to get a new hint on this mysterious malfunction.

"Yes! Well, it wasn't exactly a Jaeger, it was a training machine back in academy days. A few friends just graduated and we're were celebrating, some drinks were involved… anyway we decided to go for one last run on an old training machine that was about to be disposed, but started fooling around and tried to do a triple drift. Obviously, we overloaded it and the machine almost exploded. When we tried to repair it the insides were all fried up."

For a second Benji was so glad Hunt wasn't a drunk russian engineer. But that story made his curiosity peak. How could that be possible.

"I remembered it just now and thought it may be useful." Bogdan said on the other end on the phone bringing Benji back into reality.

"It'll sure be. Thanks Bogdan,"

Benji hung up and raised the comm to his lips, thinking. He then proceeded to take out the black box and left it running another test, hoping it'll provide something useful.

The information Bogdan had provided was interesting, but surely not illuminating. Benji already knew about that drift overload, but it was impossible to do something like that. A third person joining an already existing drift? He had never seen such thing...

But his head hurted from all that mystery and all that work. He let himself drop on the couch mattress with a few bounces. He rubbed his face under his glasses, he was tired, he was so so very tired. Yet, he was also sure that if he went to bed now, he wouldn't get an ounce of sleep.

There was still this little bug at the back of his skull, it has been there all week, eating away his energy and thoughts. He couldn't stop thinking about Will and their fight. He was still so mad...

Whoever, if Benji was real with himself, he was more sad than angry. The truth was, he missed Brandt. He missed chatting with him over a cup of awfully tasting coffee, and his funny comments when something took a weird turn, and that little competition to see who had a worst day of work. He missed that confidence they shared the most… 

That weird knot had –as excepted, and with the help of a better sleep– had slowly untangled itself to a place Benji felt confident making a decision.

So after gathering the tools he needed for his quest, Benji took his comm and dialed Will's number, breath held as it ringed, waiting for him to pick up. 

Around the fifth ring, he answered.

"Hello?... Benji?" He sounded surprised to receive a call from him.

"Will?"

"Yes! Yes, I'm here ... what is it?" He answered eagerly.

Benji scratched his head struggling to make the words come out of his mouth. Oh, but he forced them..

"I'm at the rooftop. I need to talk to you… Do you have a moment?"

"Uhh… Sure!" He answered at once. Then Benji could hear him telling an operator to cover for him.

"Ok, see you in a minute." he said before hanging up.

Benji waited for Will a few minutes out in the rooftop, letting the heavy wind ruffle his jacket. It was really dark outside, it had been like that for a few hours now, but inside was hard to tell the night from the day.

It was quiet up there too, peaceful, the only sound was from the wind cutting against the walls of the building that delimited the balcony. 

Benji felt a chill, the air was getting colder and colder. In only a few months the northern lights would lighten up the night sky with hundreds of colours. Now it was only darkness, stars muted by the light pollution of the Shatterdome, that the sea reflected. It almost seemed like the world was upside down, like the reflects in the water were the stars and the sea was the sky and the sky was the sea. And suddenly it all made more sense with the conventional idea of aliens coming from the sky…

Benji stepped away from the balcony railing, leaning on the wall and sliding down to sit on the floor. He waited for a few more minutes until Brandt opened the door.

In any other circumstances he would had made some kind of comment or made a funny face when seeing him sitting on the ground, but now he just limited to approach him, silently.  Hands on the pockets of his jacket.

Benji raised his hand, offering him a beer, he had another, already halfway empty. Will accepted it without any objection and sat next to him on the floor. They had a sip from it at the same time.

Then Will sighed heavily.

"Benji I'm so sorry for everything…" Will said looking at him with frank, sincere eyes, "You are my friend and I failed you. I shouldn't have allowed that… even if Ethan also was my friend." He threw his head back, touching the wall with a soft thud. "I'm a shit friend. I'm so sorry Benji…"

This was the first time in the whole week Benji had actually let Brandt apologise to him properly.

"I… I accept your apologies." 

Brandt opened his eyes, looking cautiously at Benji. 

They guarded silence for a few more seconds. No big smiles or loud declarations, but suddenly the air felt so much lighter and the night so much brighter.

"But I'm still mad, uh?" Benji added bringing the bottle back to his lips 

"I wouldn't expect less…" Brand said, a little smirk daring to appear on his lips.

"And you own me! Like a BIG one, mate."

"I know."

They had a little toast to seal that promise, and then proceed to finish their drinks in a not so awkward silence.

"But for real man I own you big time so if you want anything need anything just let me kn–"

"Actually–" Benji said, ready to start collecting his promise. "There might be something…"

"Don't you say…"

"I want the Sundays off, at least the afternoon. It's not a question."

"Okay, you got them!" He opposed no resistance, "I'll see what I can do!"

"And there's this other thing..." The way Benji's tone went so unintentionally high called Will's attention right away.

"What?"

"Yes..but it's kinda dumb… maybe– you know, nevermind." He said, obviously teasing Will.

"Oh, no! Now you gotta tell me." Will wined pushing Benji with the shoulder, " C'mon..."

"Alright, alright. I need you to ...introduce me to someone– shite, I couldn't had chosen a better time– I need you to introduce me to the rangers… properly."

Brandt made a face that Benji interpreted as some kind of "whatever do you mean?!"

"Ok, ok listen to me uh? I want to do some improvements to the Jaegers design. I want to rearrange the wiring in a way that it doesn't interfere with their movements. But I don't know their movements so…"

"So you're telling me… that you wanna do a whole study on their fighting styles, to apply it to the Jaeger." 

"Yes..!" He said vaguely, chucking the last of his beer, "So next time Ethan Hunt decides to do a flip and get on any Kaiju's neck the wiring will hold in place."

"That sounds smart... exhausting ...but smart." He chuckled. "But you got that all wrong, man."

"Which part?" He asked.

Will laughed softly and Benji felt like there was a joke he wasn't getting.

"Ethan is a whole ass 150 lbs man, he can't do that! That's Ilsa's move."

 

Chapter Text

"I get you a free day, and that's how you decide to spend it?! Working?!" Will sounded so outraged as he walked down the corridor, the paper coffee cup on his hand shaking with his fussing. It was Sunday morning and there wasn't as much people to hear him scream, but still...

"It's not working it's ...research!" Benji tried to remind him, knowing well enough that he was right.

"Keep telling that to yourself, you absolute crazy workaholic…" He desisted.

Benji fastened his pace, trying to keep up with him, but the heavy suitcase he was carrying wasn't making the job any easier.

"Look, it's an investment, okay? If I do this now I'll spend less time repairing unnecessary damages. I'm just being thoughtful!" He explained, not sure if trying to convince Will or himself.

"If you say so..."

"Besides, It's not like I have much time left on the weekdays. Not with those Support Jaegers anyway…" That was true.

"Yeah! What's up with that? Luther told me two broke down and another two had to be taken out of duty." Will asked, finishing his coffee, making a small face of discuss and tossing the cup into a trash can.

"They are getting fried up from the inside out and I can't figure out why…"So Benji said, "So I had him retire all the rest of the unitd of that same model. Just to be safe you know… It was getting dangerous for the Rangers..."

"Oh- And… any clues on the matter?"

"I might have something...but it makes no sense!" Benji said, getting frustrated just thinking about it, "I talked to the pilots of the last one and they told me the exact same as Zhen and Declan, they all felt like a third person was trying to take over the Jaeger. And Bogdan also suggested something similar."

"But...?"

"But that's impossible!" He said, "You cannot remotely take over an already established drift."

Will thought for a second.

"What?" Benji asked him, "Any ideas? At this point I'm open to anything."

"No, not really… Well couldn't it be that they wanted to do exactly that?"

"What do you mean?" He turned to Will.

"I mean... the rangers said it felt like someone tied to join the drift, no? What if they didn't wanted to join? What if they wanted to just fry up the Jaeger or just stop it?"

"That…makes no sense. But, who knows? It may be it! And if it is, well, that's uhm.. disturbing… Why or Who would want to fry a Jaeger like that?"

There was a moment of silence coming from Will. He made a few faces and mumbled out an answer that sounded just a little bit insincere, " I don't know."

It seemed odd to Benji but he prefered not to push on the matter, besides they were already in the training room.

"After you," Will chanted letting Benji go through the door first.

The training room was a well lit estance– at least by Shatterdome standards, where actual sunlight was a rare good. There weren't any windows in the room, though, but the absence of pipes and wires and the worn out soft tones of the wall's paint gave the room a certain feeling of openness. The floor was that kind of rubbery mat that reminded Benji of highschool gyms, but everything was way cleaner and overall neater. All the training gear was thoughtfully organized, waiting for the cadets to use on their Monday lessons.

Inside the room Ilsa and Ethan waited for them stretching and warming up. They wore sports clothes in consonance with the overall vibe of the room, and gave Benji a smile as he and Will entered the room.

"Good morning!" Hunt greeted them.

"Hey 'morning." Brandt answered at the same time Benji also dedicated them a little awkward "hello".

Let's be honest. Benji and the rangers hadn't had the best of beginnings. From the impassivity they had towards each other in the firsts months of their relationship, to Benji's obsessive suspicions, to busting them for the simulator thing...It had been a bumpy ride. But Benji was optimistic in his own way...

This was a fresh start... or at least that what he intended. It fell weird to ask them to forget everything that had happened and start over, but this was the closest thing he could do. And he was going to make the effort. So at least if they ended hating each other he could say he had tried.

"Thank you so much for agreeing to do this." Benji said before any kind of uncomfortable silence had the time to settle in.

"Please Mr. Dunn, don't mention it. It's the least we could do after all the trouble we have already caused!" Ilsa said in a soft voice.

"Uh- o-okay! But please, it's just Benji." He said, overall taken aback by both her amability and hearing someone that must be around his age call him Mr. 

"Jeez Ilsa, why do you wanna make him feel like and old man?" Will said, obviously teasing him. 

Ilsa was kind enough to dismiss Brandt commentary with a smile before changing the subject, "So… How does this work?"

"Oh- yes! I actually came prepared." Benji said letting the briefcase he had brought with him on the nearest surface and displaying a whole bunch of equipment.

And by the look on their faces, he was sure the rangers didn't understand was it was for.

"Its a motion recording system," he explained, "I'll place a few cameras in different angles to record your movements. Meanwhile…" he reached for the white round patches, "you'll be wearing these, you stick them like this" he showed them a flyer that showed the positions to place the dots, "and then a program will record and reproduce those movements in a digital model."

"Wow," Ethan let out, "That looks so cool!"

"Really?" It surprised him, usually only Zhen found his tech bickering interesting 

"Yeah! Where the hell did you get all this stuff?" Will said examining the motion cameras.

"I took it from the engineering lab, they have really cool stuff and they let me borrow it sometimes," Benji felt himself ranting, "Anyway, I'll just go place these and let you to sticking on the dots. Will, a hand please?"

"Sure."

Benji and Will got to work setting the cameras in place as the rangers followed the instructions on where to put the stickers on. 

"I think I'm all set here," Will said as he finished adjusting the last camera, "How does it look?"

Benji opened his laptop and turned on the three cameras, their live feed displayed in small windows that occupied three fourths of the screen in the fourth one there was a only a black screen.

"Will, could you help me with the back ones?" Ilsa asked.

"Sure!" Will got up and took the white stickers and started placing them every few inches along her spine, neck and the back of her shoulders .

"I think I'm having some trouble with these, too," Hunt said.

"Lemme see," Benji said without thinking taking the sticker.

He pressed it to the tank top fabric in his back, but it was obvious the glue wasn't doing his job correctly, the fibers of the tee had interfered with the adhesive and it had lost its stickiness. His partner hadn't had that problem since she was wearing a sports bra that barely interfered with the stickers, allowing them full contact with her skin.

Benji tried again rubbing the circle against his back, unsuccessfully. And when doing so, Benji got to feel Ethan's back muscles, and suddenly realized that he was very close, and that from this close you could better appreciate his exceptionally good form. Let's be honest the man was fit. 

"See? It isn't sticking!" Ethan said, startling Benji just slightly. He swallowed his embarrassment, "Should I just take my shirt off?"

A tiny voice inside Benji's brain wanted to scream yes- he muttered it.

"No, no, no! This one it's just ...bad! I'll get another one and–" he was saying discarding the old sticker.

"Here," Ethan offered the few he had picked up earlier to him.

"Oh- uh, Thanks," he said placing the new ones. This time they worked properly making that little voice inside Benji's brain feel a little bit let down.

He finished and moved fast back to the computer to keep his eyes from further trailing over Ethan.

God! He wanted to hit himself on the head. This was so unprofessional of him! And… he was doing this to get a better relationship with his rangers, not to indulge himself in their looks. He was grateful Ethan had been oblivious enough to not notice his lapse. He also felt mad at himself, for getting so easily distracted. He still hated the guy!- well, not exactly hated, he was working on that...- Still annoyed by him, was more precisely.

"Okay…" he said to the computer, Will joined him after he had finished with Ilsa. "Guys could you please stand there with your arms spreaded like this? Yes, thank you. Now please turn slowly...great! Alright, we're all set up."

In the blacked out window two clouds of white dots that represented the rangers had appeared. With a few more clicks a rudimental skeletal structured formed, giving then a barely human shape. But Benji knew it was all he needed for the moment being. Later he'll superpose them to a model of M.I. that will copy their moments in a simulation, allowing Benji to see the optimal way to reposicionate the wiring and other systems.

"What do we do now?" Hunt asked.

"Uh- well, usual combat training would be great, that way the machine will register your movements and create a pattern. Or you could just do different moves…"

Ilsa chuckled softly, before speaking, "He'll probably want to see the infamous thigh chokehold."

Benji shoot Will a look who failed miserably to hide his culpability with a loud snort. Suddenly he was rethinking his decision of forgiving him.

But he couldn't blame him, at least he had managed to convince the rangers to agree to this ...and neither Ilsa or Brandt were wrong, Benji was dying to actually see the move in action. Last time he saw it was weeks ago, through a screen and being done to a Class IV Kaiju, who freed himself in less than a minute. 

"Yes, that'll be great, actually." He accepted.

Ilsa and Hunt placed themselves in opposing sides of the mat, facing each other.

"Ready?" Ilsa asked, and her partner nodded. Then Ethan moved towards her, in a try to attack her.

It felt more like a dance show than a karate move, to be honest. It happened fast, so fast the only thing Benji saw was a swirl of legs that twisted around Ethan's body until she was exactly where she wanted. Suddenly Ilsa had gotten all her way up to Ethan's neck, hands free so she could still used them to attack.

Ethan tapped her on the leg a few seconds after. Then she released pressure as he crouched down, helping her to get back into the floor.

"How was that?" She asked, like she couldn't see Benji's jaw dropped open.

"I'll need to see that again…" He said, maybe the cameras had caught her every movement but his human eyes definitely hadn't, "That was amazing! H-How did you do that?!"

"Oh, I was trained in hand-to-hand combat and other martial arts.. Women are usually smaller and lighter than men, they all teach you to turn that  into an advantage. We also have a stronger lower body so…" she tried to explain without much detail.

"Huh!" Was all Benji could say, he was amazed.

"Ethan, remember me to never piss her off, would ya?" Brandt commented.

Ethan laughed softly.

The training continued for another two hours approximately, from which Benji obtained and incredible amount of data regarding the rangers movements.

No machine was needed thought, to see the way the moved so coordinately. When they fought against each other, It was as if they could read each other minds. When Ethan attacked, Ilsa was already covering herself, and when she contracted he knew exactly how to block it. It was so mesmerizing to see. Soon Benji discovered patterns in their movements, without even the need of the computer.

They all were so into it, the only reason they really stopped was the camera beeping, crying out because it was running out of battery. It broke the flow so abruptly, Benji couldn't help but to get annoyed at the poor thing.

"Would you shut up?!" He said to it, as he disconnected it from the system and hurried to turn it off.

He found no spares refills for the camera, "Well..I guess that's all folks…" he said a little exasperated.

"What a shame! I was just starting to warm up..." Ilsa joked, breath still unstable as she drank from her water bottle.

"I'm ...okay with this. You kicked my ass enough for today! Ethan said to her.

They were both sweaty and heavy breathing, which made it harder for Benji's eyes not to fly all over Ethan. It took great part of his willpower to keep his gaze on his face as they talked.

"But it was good right? He asked cleaning the sweat from his face with a towel.

"Oh, yes! Sure! It was very impressive, and I got enough data. But it'll be good to do some more sessions so it has a bigger library of information from which to create a more precise algorithm. If you are okay with that…"

"We train all day, everyday. I'm pretty sure doing it with a few stickers attached won't be any trouble." Ilsa clarified.

"It'll be no problem!" Ethan added, "Just let us know and we'll be waiting for you."

"That's great!" Benji said. He had the feeling that his new plan to amend their relationship... may work.

"We're gonna go check on the kids now. Have a good day!" Ethan said before they both picked their things up and left.

Brandt helped Benji to retrieve the rest of the equipment before he also left for the LOCCENT, leaving Benji with the rest of the day to himself. 

The first free day he had had since... he didn't even remember. And let's be real he was feeling a little lost. He didn't know what to do with all that time. But at the same time it wasn't that much so he wanted to spend it wisely…

But Benji's afternoon wasn't spent playing videogames as he had once wanted, but it was close enough –He couldn't find himself just not doing anything productive, it was against his nature– The movement recording program turned the information extracted from the videos into patterns. Before 8 p.m Benji had figured out all the controllers and had a simulation running.

The afternoon blended into the night and after a quick escape to the cafeteria Benji had dinner warm and well tucked in his bed while watching some TV, and eventually fell asleep in the same spot.

Monday morning arrived as it was meant to do, with it's interminable list of chores to complete and the promise of a long week ahead. But this time Benji at least got to wake up a little bit better well rested and satisfied than the week before.

After his basic morning routine was done Benji left for the Cantine where Brandt was already waiting for him as he had told him in a message he had left him.

On his way there a familiar vision caught his eye. It was the cadets, on their morning run like every morning, and just like last week Ilsa and Ethan were with them.

"Good Morning!" said Ilsa first, as she lead the line of cadets.

" 'Morning!" It was Ethan turn a few seconds after as he closed the line.

Benji returned the greeting with a little wave and a smile. At least this time he didn't get jump-scared.

Benji didn't had to put much effort into finding Brandt among the crowd in the Cafeteria. He was standing by the coffee machine. Dark circles under his eyes, undone tie and messy hair. It looked like a bus had ran over him...twice.

"Jesus Christ! You look like shit!" He said , like it wasn't already obvious. 

"Well thank you, I also feel like shit, so..." He said, rubbing his eyes.

Benji made a gesture meaning something along the lines of "what happened?!"

"Ever since I left after the uh...training, I was on duty all day long. I Haven't slept since yesterday."

"What?! Then why would you came to the training?"

"You said you'd need help… plus I own you man. It was the least I could do!."

"Shite!"

"Yeah I know... If it had been nice and quiet I might have gone and had some shut eye, but the breach was a acting up all night."

"What? Why? The attack window doesn't open until Saturday!"

"I don't know. I don't care. My shift is over. That's Luther's problem now." He said retrieving his jacket and getting up from their table.

"Aliens invading our planet and trying to exterminate the human race is only Luther's problem?"

"Fuck, yes it is. I'm going to bed. See you later." He said between a yawn, waving his arm vaguely.

Benji didn't object, he knew way too well what it was like to stay awake all night. During more "critical" times, it was easier to stay energized, the constant action of the rest of Shatterdome and the overwhelming pressure of a loose Kaiju helped too. In the meantime, you'll go… soft. The lost hours of sleep during the few critical days didn't forgive and demanded to be retrieved during easier times. Leaving you feeling worse after missing night of sleep than after three full days surviving on 15 minutes naps.

And even if Will didn't tell him now about toast night's situation, Luther could always catch him up later.

He took his coffee and headed for M.I's hangar the knee had been fully reinstalled and only a few more comprobations were to be made before they could go on a test run. 

Given Hunley's restrictions he supposed neither M.I or Chimera would deploy if an attack occurred later that week… unless needed. But in these cases, it was better to be safe than sorry.

Benji was happy enough for a Monday. He was focused on his work, he had a plan, and his mind wasn't concerned with conspiracy theories or endangered friendships. Damn he was in a good mood!

He was working on his tablet as he walked towards the Hangar, checking on the progress during the night shift and adjusting his schedule. He was so focused thinking to himself that he was surprised he noticed the unfamiliar figure that was standing by the metal railing. He observed the crew as they worked with cold eyes behind designer glasses.

Benji hadn't really recognized him at first glance and was so absorbed in his own mind that he could have easily overlooked it. But his presence alerted the person, who tuned to him.

'What the actual fuck?' Was the only thought Benji's mind could provide when he saw that it was in fact Solomon Lane. He froze like a deer in the headlights, wondering why the hell was he there - or even if he was allowed to be in there. 

In his confusion, Benji realized that Lane had asked him something but he hadn't heard it.

"Sorry, What?" He managed to say, suddenly snapping back to reality.

"Are you Chief Engineer Dunn?" He asked.

"Uh- Yes! Yes, of course that's me. I'm the Chief Engineer." He said feeling his words struggling not to trip over each other.

"Hnm..." Lane turned to give M.I another quick look, "You've done an amazing work here... I'm quite impressed."

"Thank you… sir." He answered, not sure of where this was coming from or where it was going to …or whether he should address him as 'Sir' (Benji still felt at loss at the Militar Chat)

His presence was upsetting either way, even for someone who at first sight looked very normal. He wasn't wearing any distinctive uniform or logo of his very own company. Instead he wore an outfit that was stylish and gave the feeling of being really expensive. He also had pair of slightly tinted glasses, that also looked very pricey, through which his eyes scanned Benji.

Right of the back he gave Benji a weird feeling at the back of his neck. He was too observing, too calm, as if he could read Benji's mind.

"You also work on the other Ranger, Chimera, isn't that right?" He asked, but Benji felt he already knew the answer.

"Oh, yes." He answered, nevertheless.

"What do you think of it?"

"Chimera...wow…" Benji thought of a good answer, "Well, she's a beauty, and an absolute engineering masterpiece."

"It is indeed… Does it present a challenge in it's maintenance? I'm sure it does." He asked, and answered himself.

"Uh yes, I guess…"

"Are there any other challenges that keep you occupied at the moment Mr.Dunn? Besides these Jaegers. I heard there was being some trouble with the supports, how's that being managed?" 

Benji didn't froze this time, he just took his time to answer. He didn't had to read all the rulebook to know Lane was overstepping there. He felt unconformable at the whole situation shifting on this feet before answering.

"I...I cannot answer that, sir. It's confidencial." And although the words came out in a natural and respectful way, there was a hint of sass into dropping an expression like that: " Confidential" as if Benji was some type of super spy.

"Uh" he shrugged, "Are these task challenging enough for you Mr. Dunn?

"Excuse me?" He felt confused again

"Are they stimulating enough? Up to your skills?"

"I don't follow."

"Are you happy working here Mr. Dunn?" He said with a slightly bothered expression that didn't match his voice.

The question was felt somehow indignating, he frowned, unable to hide his offense.

"Yes." He was dry but emphasized his conviction 

Lane's voice matched his face this time, unsatisfaction readable on them.

"Tch- What a pity…" His eyes trailed back to the Jaeger then back to Benji doing a swipe from head to feet, "Well... if you ever get bored of all of this... Remember, we're next door." He said and left. His last words managing to sound more like a menace than an offer.

Benji was left there standing with a weird mix of mild anger and fear. Jesus, this promised to be a weird week...

During his shift, the memory of Lane's conversation creeped over him. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a good day, Benji had finished with all his work by seven and had all the evening to himself.

No much longer after, Will called, awoken from his sleep, suggesting they had dinner and  offering to explain the situation of the night before.

They meet in the canteen but only to grab some food they took to Benji's Workshop. Now Will looked decent, with clean hair and clothes, which were much more informal that the suits he usually wore to accompany the Marshall in his meetings.

"So what happened with the Breach yesterday?" He asked.

"Oh, we really didn't know, It was just... 'fluctuating'. It happens sometimes, we can't figure out what that means or how it translates in terms of, you know, Kaiju traffic... Most times it means nothing...I talked to Luther before, they said they sent an expert to examine the data. Actually, they sent Hendricks!"

"Who?"

"Dude, Kurt Hendricks?!"

"Do I look like I know a lot of K-scientists?" Once again Benji was clueless about an apparently well know character.

"Jesus Christ, Benji… Hendricks is a well known physicist and scientist," Benji looked at Brandt over his glasses, "But! Now, Benji, -now as in the present– he's better know for being Syndicate Industries head engineer."

"Oh, had no idea. Is he a big deal?" He said, half joking to see Brandt lose his patience.

"Yeah I'd say so…"

"Is he famous?"

"He's kinda infamous… I'd say he's had his controversi- "

"Mh-! Speaking of Infamous," Benji cut him, washing down with water the last of his meal, "You won't believe who was today at the Hangar."

"Who?" He asked.

"Bloody Solomon Lane. Fucking weird right?

Will's face changed in an instant, browns knitting together and expression serious like Benji had never seen.

"What? Why?!" He demanded to know.

"I don't know… He was just looking at the Jaegers…" Benji was surprised by this sudden reaction. He was expecting Will to be surprised by the news but not to act like that so suddenly.

"But what was he doing there?" He insisted.

"I don't know! He shows up there, in a turtleneck and glasses, looking like the ghost of Steve Jobs, asking weird questions and then he goes and basically offers me a job." He explained.

"Did you accept?"

Benji's mouth was left open in disbelif.

"What the hell Will? No! Of course not!" Benji felt insulted at the mere thought of it, "He's creepy and weird. And his rangers act like thugs. No!"

No one said anything for a few seconds after that, both feeling weird at what just had happened. Oh, but they didn't wanted to fight again...

"I'm sorry" Will muttered.

"It's okay…" Benji accepted his apologies, "But what is all this about?"

Will when silent for a moment, thinking, looking for the words.

"I just-" he sighed in frustration, "Look, Benji… you're my friend, I care about you. So please, just stay away from Lane. He's no good, he's a dangerous man." 

Benji was left with no words to answer with. He just nodded slightly. Will had just gave him an information that he didn't exactly know how to process.

Will nodded too, acknowledging Benji's understanding. Then he got up and picked up his jacket 

"I gotta go to the LOOCENT my shift starts in ten minutes. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" He said, still a little weird for the unexpectedly intense turn of the conversation, placing one hand in Benji's shoulder.

"Sure, man." He answered with a little smile.

After Will left, Benji only had to clean the leftovers before heading directly into bed, perfectly unready for the day that 2as coming to him.