Cover art by ArwenLune, using a photo graciously supplied by tumblr user Rainbell.
Reporter 1: This is Karen Chen for Hong Kong City news. There is reason for celebration today! These are images from half an hour ago. We see here Cherno Alpha – piloted by international heroes Mako Mori and Raleigh Beckett - removing the last piece of the kaiju remains from the streets of Hong Kong city. After twelve long days of contaminating the city with kaiju blue and a progressively worsening smell, the remains are now on a pontoon in the bay. They will be towed out to sea, where they will be burned. Reporting live from the scene, here is Nancy Li. Nancy, it has been an enormous task, hasn't it?
Reporter 2 (Nancy Li): Hello Karen, you are exactly right. At over a hundred metres long, Otachi has been estimated at 2700 tons. The removal of the remains has not been without problems. Only last week this incident took place...
"Ha! Любимый! Look!" Sasha Kaidanovky exclaimed.
Her husband Aleksis made a sleepy 'I'm listening' sound. Sasha was sitting propped up against pillows in her hospital bed, a half-knitted sock in her lap. Some people were good at being still, but Sasha Kaidanovsky wasn't one of them; she had been confined to a bed in the Burns unit for two weeks now, and she was finally well enough to begin to feel frustrated with the restrictions.
They were healing, but healing slowly. Far too slowly for the taste of two active, physical people who didn't take well to being dependent on others.
They'd pulled their hospital beds close together so Aleksis, who had burns on his head and face and wouldn't be able to see until the swelling went down and the bandages came off, could bury his face against her hip. His heavy arm was slung across her thighs. Sasha ran her fingertips over his forearm affectionately.
"Remember I told you that Becket boy is driving Cherno with Mako?"
"He messed up his grip, squished kaiju tail. It went splat." She made a wet explosion sound
"Sausage fingers," Aleksis chuckled against her hip.
[Nancy Li:] In the interview I had with the pilots afterward, Mr Becket explained,
[Raleigh] "Well, Jaegers are highly customised to their pilots, and I had never piloted any other Jaeger than Gipsy Danger before. It's not like driving somebody else's car."
[Nancy Li:] "So what went wrong today, Mr Becket?"
[Raleigh] Cherno Alpha is a Mark I. Her pressure sensors are from a time when good sensory feedback wasn't exactly considered a priority. So instead of what I was used to, which is the drive suit giving me pressure feedback on how hard I'm squeezing, there's just a little dial I need to look at.
[Sasha] "Pah! Don't blame Cherno for your sausage hands!"
[Raleigh] Obviously I misjudged the state of the kaiju body and the pressure I was using.
"That's better, Becket boy," Sasha said grudgingly.
She and Aleksis had first met Gipsy Danger and her pilots seven years ago, and Sasha hadn't been impressed by the young, brash Raleigh. The boys had been proud of their brand new Jaeger and not subtle in their disregard of Cherno Alpha. Not of the Kaidanovskys, Raleigh had assured them, but he'd said with typical American disregard for anything that wasn't brand new: 'think of what the two of you could do in a proper machine'.
Maybe she'd been a little slow to acknowledge that he was a different person now.
[Nancy Li:] Miss Mori, since today's attempt to clear the kaiju body failed, what is the Pan Pacific Defence Corps going to do now?
[Mako] The plan is to bring in a second Jaeger. We are currently working around the clock to bring Crimson Typhoon back into working order, and to find a pilot team who can fill the drive suit boots of the Wei Tang brothers.
[Karen Chen:] That interview was a week ago, and it looks like the PPDC succeeded in one respect; Crimson Typhoon is operational. This footage was shot earlier today, and here we see the Chinese Jaeger using its trademark rotating blades to cut the kaiju remains into pieces, to be carried off by Cherno Alpha. It took just four hours to finally remove Otachi's massive body from our city.
A representative from the Disaster Response department says that starting this afternoon, human cleanup crews will be moving in to the newly cleared area to decontaminate and remove the last of the kaiju blue. It is at this point hard to say how long this will take, but we are assured that a lifting of the standing evacuation orders is in sight.
Sources at the Hong Kong Shatterdome have shared that Crimson Typhoon is being piloted by the only other known Drift-compatible 3-pilot team in the world; they have been seconded to the PPDC by the United States Air Force. The team consists of two Americans and a British national, and our sources report that they had never piloted a Jaeger before! How do you think they are adjusting, Nancy?
[Nancy Li:] Well, Karen, we've already seen some very precise work from this new team. As was pointed out by Mr Becket, a Mark 1 Jaeger is very different in capabilities from a Mark 4 like Crimson Typhoon, and there were several tasks that were put aside by Cherno Alpha for the moment the Chinese Jaeger was back in action. Reportedly work started at first light this morning, with Crimson Typhoon clearing unstable debris from several damaged high-rise buildings. As you can see in this clip, the Jaeger's three arms make it particularly suitable for these sort of precise tasks, using two hands to hold stable the debris while the third arm cuts it loose.
"Mako says new team failed combat simulation," Sasha said, picking her knitting back up. "But very good at fine motor skills."
"No more monsters," Aleksis mumbled. "No need to fight. Wonder if Chief Lau acts nice to them."
They both huffed a laugh. Not likely. The head of engineering of Crimson Typhoon's team was fiercely protective of both the Jaeger and the Wei Tang brothers. Neither Sasha nor Aleksis could imagine that being forced to work with a new, American team – that wasn't even combat qualified - was going over well.
[Karen Chen] It is a sad occasion when a Jaeger requires a new pilot team, but I suppose at least this way Crimson Typhoon does not have to stand idle while there is so much good it can be doing to make our city habitable again.
[Nancy Li] And it certainly is making a difference from where I'm standing - well, flying. Right now both Jaegers are in the bay. They went into the water to wash down, and it looks like the crews decided to take a break right here in the bay, and what a way to park the jaegers...
"Park," Sasha scoffed. "Cherno is not car."
"What have they done?" Aleksis rumbled, frustrated with not being able to see.
"They went to deep water to rinse off the gore. Then placed close together, and put Cherno's hand on Crimson's shoulder like bridge. Lunch break, I think. Both crews are on top of Cherno's head."
The news broadcast went into a repeat of interviews from just hours after Operation Pitfall. Tendo Choi, giving updates to the reporter while in the background Herc Hansen, looking like he'd aged ten years in a day, coordinated rescue helicopters.
Neither Sasha nor Aleksis had been awake at that point, both still kept under sedation while undergoing spray skin-cell treatment for their extensive acid burns.
"Mr Becket, how do you think the events of the past few days would have gone if your brother Yancy had still been alive?" a reporter asked Raleigh Becket in an interview from the day after Pitfall.
"черт возьми," Sasha growled indignantly. "You do not ask that!"
On the screen, Raleigh's open, expressive face shut down. Mako, who was giving an interview behind him somewhere, excused herself to her own reporter and stepped up next to Raleigh.
"It is sorrowing that we can never know," she said coolly. "Now we must be going."
She steered the both of them away from the camera and toward the entrance of the Shatterdome.
"Aww, when Becket boy looks at Mako... hearts in his eyes," Sasha smiled.
"Maybe I should have... shovel talk," Aleksis said.
"Did you get shovel talk when we first met?"
"Why is that?"
"Saschka, you didn't need--"
"Mako is not sixteen like in Vladivostok," Sasha said.
The Kaidanovskys had first met Mako when she and Marshall Pentecost had visited the Vladivostok shatterdome not long after Cherno Alpha's pilots had really started to make a name for themselves. Mako was 16 and struggling with how much she wanted to make the Marshall proud and at the same time didn't want to want that. Sasha, confident and comfortable in her position at 28, had taken the girl under her wing a little.
One night when Sasha and Aleksis had been on their way out of the Shatterdome, Mako had looked at them longingly – Pentecost had deemed it too dangerous for her to go out into the city. They had taken her along, wide eyed at the rebellion and lips adorned with Sasha's lipstick.
(Aleksis had surreptiously texted the Marshall to let him know Mako was with them. The reply had been a resigned 'Thank you for informing me. If she is going to rebel, there are worse people to do it with.')
They'd gone to a club where they played ear-shattering house music, and the three of them had danced for hours, one of them always within arm's length of Mako.
"She can handle Becket boy," Sasha said. "And if she needs us, she knows we are her friends."
[Nancy Li:] We interrupt this repeat footage for more live news! Where half an hour ago the Jaegers were standing close together, the pilots congregating on Cherno Alpha, they are now moving to Victoria Harbour, and they are... well, we're not sure what they are doing!
Sasha's hands stilled as she watched, eyebrows rising slowly.
"They are..." she said slowly, "dancing. I think."
Cherno wasn't a fast mover, and without hearing music it took a moment for the motions to click.
Aleksis huffed a laugh against her hip.
"I think this is... Macarena?"
"I am really not, любимый. I would not joke about dancing Jaegers," Sasha said, fond stroking his hair. She could not look away from the screen, where apparently the two Jaegers had reached their destination in the bay. They positioned themselves side by side. "Now they are doing... dance from.. staying alive? Point high, point low?"
Aleksis snorted a laugh.
[Karen Chen:] The Jaegers appear to be.. dancing? We are attempting to reach the Hong Kong Shatterdome to ask for an explanation.
Ah, here we have, live on air, Acting Marshall Herc Hansen. Mr Hansen, can you explain what the Jaegers are doing in the bay right now?"
[Herc Hansen] "Well, it's a little hard to tell in the knee deep water, but it appears that Crimson Typhoon is doing the moonwalk."
Sasha and Aleksis missed the next question because they were laughing too hard. Sasha doubled over, then gasped and froze as the motion pulled on the healing burns on her back. Aleksis felt around blindly with the arm he had across her legs. When he found the button on her IV drip he clicked it twice.
Sasha made a protesting noise as she carefully sat back against her pillows, and Aleksis smiled.
“Take your medicine, любимый.”
“Makes me feel fuzzy,” she grumbled. “I do not like it.”
[Herc Hansen ]"--do have something to celebrate. I've just received news that Cheung Wei Tang has woken up, which means all of our pilot teams are now out of the Intensive Care unit.”
Sasha's head jerked up. That was news to her too.
[Karen Chen] “All the pilots survived? That is wonderful news!”
[Herc Hansen] “It was a very close shave, but they did, and things are looking hopeful now. I'd say that's worth a little dance of joy."
The Kaidanovskys were in the Burn unit, and the updates they'd had about the condition of the others had come from Shatterdome visitors who made the rounds in the hospital. It wasn't surprising they wouldn't have been told yet; they were in a different wing of the building. But looking at the positioning of the Jaegers in the bay, Sasha thought they would be visible from the high floor she knew the others had rooms on.
"I am going for walk, любимый. Do you want to come? There is wheelchair..."
"I will stay," Aleksis murmured, sleepy from painkillers. "Tell them – you know. I am glad."
Chief Andrejev – Cherno Alpha's lead technical engineer – had brought their grey Cherno sweats in anticipation of the day they'd be able to get out of bed. Once she'd managed to pull them on, Sasha carefully leaned down to press a kiss to Aleksis' lips. He blindly turned to her, making a low sound of content.
A few minutes later Sasha was walking down the hallway of the Burn unit, attempting to look cool and in control and not like she was shaking a little from the exertion and leaning on her IV stand for balance.
She garnered a few looks, but apparently nobody wanted to try to stop her.
A few minutes and a brief search later, she walked into a hospital room on another floor, not bothering to knock. As expected, the occupants were either asleep, or, in case of her target, reading. She plucked the book from his hands and laid it aside, carefully preserving the page.
"Ranger..." Marshall Pentecost said, stern and a little dangerous. She hit the button to raise the head end of his bed. "This is inappropriate."
"Scold later, look out of window now," Sasha answered, pulling up the blinds. She'd been right – the positioning of the jaegers had been too precise to be coincidental. They had picked the spot where sight lines for this room were perfect.
Pentecost went entirely silent as he watched, his normally inscrutable face going through a range of expressions Sasha hoped she would remember for the rest of her life. He blinked a few times, then shook his head as if to clear it. Looked out the window again.
"Is Cherno Alpha... walking like an Egyptian?"