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A Concept of Mind

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At some point in the night, a wind picked up, and Teagan found zirself curled up in a ball on cold sand. A full moon was out, giving the broken landscape an eerie silver cast, but visibility wasn’t necessary for zir to notice that a heavy blanket had been thrown over zir, accompanied by a note weighed down by a small chunk of metal:

It’s your own damn fault if you get sick out here. --Dr. Esparza

Whatever. Teagan crumpled the note up into a ball and let it go, listening to the wind take it away.

Teagan rolled over in the sand, trying to get comfortable. Ze was determined to stay out here now, next to the hulking machine, lost among its vast bulk. The casual fatigues of the PPDC, coupled with the blanket, were almost enough to keep zir warm, but the cool ground beneath zir kept sucking away whatever heat ze managed to generate. Even if ze didn’t get sick, it’d be a miserable night either way.

Ze tossed and turned a few more times before giving up. Even though the wind was dying down, the sand was too cold.

“Probably not the best for me anyway,” Teagan muttered under zir breath as ze shook the sand off zir black and grays. “Pilots pair and decouple all the time. Should get used to the idea.” For some reason, ze wasn’t reassured. Something was still achingly lacking.

Whatever.

Teagan turned from the fallen Jaeger, and, head down, began the slow plod back to where ze should have been this whole time.

For some reason, ze figured that sleeping next to the machine might keep the inevitable nightmares at bay? Ah well… was probably just a ranger’s superstition, that the Jaegers would somehow keep tiny pieces of every pilot they’d had and that it helped make the loss of a fellow drifter the tiniest bit less painful.

But as ze walked, ze couldn’t help but notice a faint sound between the gentle roar of the waves. Teagan stopped and listened for at least a minute or so, hairs on the back of zir neck standing on end, and ze turned slowly to the water, suddenly fearing the worst. Ze stood stock still for what seemed like forever, staring, scanning the black ocean for some misplaced shape or sound, but there was nothing.

If the Breach opened again, command would be all over that. You’d know.

Could they be for certain, though?

No, nothing was for certain.

Ze stood and looked on for a while longer, shivering. Still, there was nothing.

“Go to sleep, already,” ze grunted. Suddenly the med cot sounded appealing after that small scare.

But ze stopped dead in zir tracks again. There it was! The sound!

What IS that??

Teagan’s breath came in quick bursts and was, truthfully, hesitant to turn around and look again. But duty bound zir. Besides, it sounded vaguely…

Ze gasped loudly when ze saw the conn-pod lights flicker, like a candle flame struggling to stay lit amid a breeze.

...mechanical.

The pilot’s eyes narrowed, betraying the fact that ze’d broken into a cold sweat. How in the..?

Ze’s eyes darted around, looking for any sign of life on the beach. The Pacific Island nations had all been evacuated, their populations relocated to continental areas since the first kaiju attack. Kiribati was a deserted island, in other words, and PPDC security personnel weren’t needed here. Everyone was asleep, getting some well-deserved shut-eye before the rendezvous with the pickup crew at 0500. No one, to zir knowledge, was out here.

Teagan swallowed and, wrapping the blanket around zir narrow shoulders, began to close the distance between zir and the Jaeger’s head.

“H-hello?” ze called out as ze came around near to the shoulder. The conn-pod lights had since managed to steady themselves. The Jaeger was on. “Is anybody there?”

Nothing.

Rumors circulated around the shatterdomes of Jaegers who moved while their pilots dreamt, terrifying maintenance crews. But the pilots, ze heard, were always dreaming together in those stories. They only had control of the machine when together.

Am I dreaming?

Jax, is that you?

Nothing.

Teagan was approaching the conn-pod, now, and with very uncertain steps drew near to the edge of the viewport closest to the ground, trying to see if someone was inside who couldn’t hear zir.

Ze knocked on the slightly transparent, honeycombed window, preparing to call out again, when the unthinkable happened.

The gentle, distant hum thundered to life as the cores became fully engaged. Gears began to rumble, hydraulics hissed, and muscle-strands made a distinct groaning sound that rangers learn to love before they even take their first step into a conn-pod. Teagan did not love that sound right now; not one bit.

In fact, ze had taken off, running as fast as ze could away from the thing, having absolutely no clue as to what it was doing or who was controlling it. What if it was some unknown kaiju technology that Slugfist had deployed during their skirmish? Jaegers fighting Jaegers… ze couldn’t handle that. Not right now, at least.

Every line of biological programming was telling zir to go get help, but once ze’d gotten some yards away, Teagan found zirself unable to move.

Not even when the head lifted from the ground.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”

And the upper body followed it.

“Oh fuck me…”

Until the thing was propping itself up on its elbows.

“What is it doing??” ze hissed, wringing zir hands. “Who the fuck is in there??”

The head, at first looking straight ahead robotically, now ventured to look about a little, then down on itself: the first sign that something was gone terribly, terribly wrong here. No experienced pilots would act like that in the hot seat... especially if they had enough formal training to get the thing to move to begin with!

Teagan’s heart skipped when the enormous head faced zir direction, though, and zir own training kicked in: Run. Draw it away from habitation if possible. Of course that line of reasoning was only ever expected to be used in a situation involving kaiju. But it should come as no surprise as to why Teagan found the order relevant here.

So ze ran. Ze dropped the blanket like it was covered in spiders and ran into the ruined stand of palms behind the Jaeger. Ze saw for a split second that it’s “face” turned to follow zir, but ze wasn’t about to stop and see if ze was being pursued. But 100 yards later, and Teagan realized that there was no tell-tale ground-rending steps following zir. Panting, ze stopped and turned to look.

The Jaeger hadn’t followed zir. In fact, it hadn’t even stood up. It had sat up, though. Teagan noticed that the nodes that were still intact were flaring in and out at what seemed like random intervals, like a bird puffing up its feathers experimentally.

Teagan looked on in fearful confusion, glancing around to see if this had woken anyone else, but it didn’t appear so. Sierra was probably two football fields away from the PPDC camp, quite a distance for sound to carry through the ambient ocean white noise. And still, the Jaeger sat there with its back to zir.

The ranger smacked zirself in the head with both hands, massaging the skin around zir temples and forehead before running a few fingers through zir short, dark hair full of sand.

“What do I do… what do I do… what do I do…”

In reality, Teagan Rosenthal knew what to do. Or at least, knew what zir training demanded that ze do. But ze found zirself being tugged in the direction of investigating on zir own for a few minutes. That’s my goddamn machine, after all.

Ze hesitated in the sand for a moment, pacing in a tight circle before giving up and jumping up and down twice and whining like a child. “Dammit Jax, I wish you were here.” With that ze took off towards the machine again, ever so carefully. One wrong move and ze could be snuffed out like an ant.

Teagan made sure to keep between it and the camp as ze circled around. Even sitting down, the thing was a mountainous shadow against the moon; the conn-pod alone was over 2 stories tall.

The ranger surveyed Sierra as carefully as ze could, but wasn’t sure what good it was going to do in the dark. Besides, there was no way for zir to tell if someone--or something--had entered via the pod’s hatches, and especially not from this angle. Ze was coming around to the side, though, taking the last few steps that would bring the luminous orange “face” into view from behind the hulking elliptical shoulder armor.

Teagan got down into a low crouch behind a short bank of sand, noticing that the opposite arm, the right arm was operative (barely) and doing something. The front spotlights weren’t on, so it was difficult to make out for sure, but it… it looked as if it was doing something to the air in front of the hip complex. It was almost like…

Zir jaw dropped and eyes widened.

"The everloving fuck," ze hissed, face scrunching up.

It… it looked like it was masturbating.

With an invisible dick.

Teagan collapsed flat against the ground to gather zirself. “No way. This a sick joke of a dream. No way is this fucking happening.” Ze slapped zirself in the cheek. And it stung. “Fuck!”

Ze turned around and peered out from behind the sand again when another sort of mechanical whine was added to the symphony of servos and growling muscle strands, only to see the Jaeger’s hips begin to thrust ever so slightly in time with its ministrations. Tectonic was the only way to describe the movement.

It blew a powerful gust of hot air out from the immense vents along the upper back, sending sand flying.

“This in not in the manual,” Teagan whimpered.

In fact, this was just downright embarrassing now, whatever was going on with the Jaeger’s AI. Teagan couldn’t just go get help now. If Jackson flatlined tomorrow, this is not how ze wanted their machine to look when he went. If only I had a sidearm, ze thought. I could at least get its attention without it knowing where the bullet came from. But the only PPDC personnel to carry them were the marines. And Teagan wasn’t about to wake one of those guys up.

The young ranger looked around for something to throw instead; that would have to do. Ze picked up a rock just the right size for hucking a good distance. Ze waited for a moment, figuring the right place to aim for, when the Jaeger became so enthralled by its… whatever it was doing, that it leaned back on its elbow again and brought one leg up, looking almost like an oversized Calvin Klein underwear model as it continued to tug away at its nonexistent meat. The ground shook faintly when the weight of its torso came back down, and Teagan’s head whirled around to see if anyone had woken up from it. So far, still nothing, somehow.

But now zir had to make it fast. If the thing climaxed, god forbid, then that would surely be loud enough for every shatterdome from Sydney to Anchorage to hear.

“Fuckin… here goes nothing,” ze whispered, jumping up and lobbing the rock at the Jaeger’s forearm where it rested on the ground some 40 feet away. Teagan quickly ducked back down to hide.

It seemed to have worked, at any rate. The noise, except for the distant hum of the supercells, ceased for a moment. Ze didn’t dare to look up now.

Then, to zir dismay, it began to sound like the Jaeger was now looking around for the source of the attack. Teagan stayed as still as possible, but it was only a moment later when ze heard machinery high above zir, and that was it. Ze took one glance up, and saw the conn-pod some 90 feet above zir, looking straight down. Instinct kicked in. Teagan jumped up and tore into a sprint.

Unfortunately, sand was not prime groundcover for running, and ze knew there was no hope of outrunning a Jaeger anyhow. One of the machine’s great hands came down in front of zir, palm up, and Teagan just stood and stared at it, blood draining from zir face. Ze assumed that the thing had lost patience because the other arm shifted around behind zir and, with a gentle poke from a 10 foot-long finger, sent zir stumbling into the hand.

Teagan was no stranger to high-G situations, but that didn’t make this any less unnerving. Ze was brought over from where zie’d been plucked from the earth and up to the face of Sierra’s conn-pod, bathing zir in orange light.

“Who are you and why the hell are you in my Jaeger!” Teagan shouted, trying to sound menacing, but ze knew zir body language said otherwise. “I swear to god I’m going to fucking kill whoever’s in there!”

But whoever was in there didn’t seem to be listening. The Jaeger’s right hand, damaged much more than the one ze was currently sitting in, pushed zir down on zir back and proceeded to poke at bit at zir out of what could have been interpreted as curiosity.

“Ow!”

But things managed to turn even weirder, then.

The Jaeger, despite having digits probably 2 feet across at the ends at least, managed to grab the hem of zir PPDC-issue gray pants and hike them down, revealing a pair of equally gray unisex briefs.

Hey!” Blood rose to zir face and ze tried to yank them back up, but zir hands were pushed away.

Teagan heard another whoosh come from the vents as it tried to peel off zir unmentionables also, but the garment was too form-fitting for its massive fingers to get hold of it. The Jaeger then firmly pointed at Teagan’s lithe waist, and ze was surprised at the sudden pulse between zir thighs.

The ranger threw up two middle fingers at the conn-pod.

The machine flipped the bird right back and pointed again at Teagan’s underwear.

“Fuck me, fuck me fuck me,” ze murmured as ze very hesitantly slid zir undies past zir hips. When ze was done, ze folded zir arms and squeezed zir thighs together.

Sierra gave zir a thumbs-up and came back in. One of the fingers worked its way under Teagan’s olive-toned legs, bringing zir knees up to zir chin.

“Oh my god,” zie whimpered. “No. No, I’m not fucking doing this.” Teagan’s legs flattened out again, muscles drawn tight, and zie covered zir face with zir hands. I’m not doing this. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!"

Teagan was expecting to be greeted by the sound of zir own thoughts echoing about like a voice in an empty room, but that was not the case.

You… you’re not?

The ranger shot up in the Jaeger’s hand, and the Jaeger jerked back in what appeared to be shock.

Tears welled up in Teagan’s eyes as zir eyes settled on the conn-pod window. ...Jackson?

Teagan?! What are you doing here?

What am I doing here? What the fuck are you doing here?

The Jaeger suddenly looked ashamed, averting its “gaze” and rubbing the back of its head with the free right hand. Oh jeez, oh god. Shit, shit… Tee, I’m so, so sorry. Fuck! I… I thought I was just having a dream! And… and that you were just a figment of...

A… dream. Jax thought he was dreaming! That explained everything! Well, almost everything. Teagan pulled up zir pants.

Jax! Oh my god, you’re okay! Tell me you’re okay.

“Okay”? “Think” I’m dreaming? What are you talking about? We’re asleep and we’ve accidentally drifted. That’s all this is. Pretty weird though, huh? I’ve never dreamt that I was a goddamn Jaeger before!

Teagan looked up at “him”, eyes heavy. Jackson, you have no idea, do you?

He shook “his” head. No idea what? What’re you talking about, Tee?

But the thought bubbled up before Teagan had the opportunity to drown it out. Carrying on a measured communication in the drift was difficult at best.

Jackson touched his conn-pod face. I’m what?

Teagan swallowed. You’re not just asleep, Jax. You’re in a coma.

The Jaeger’s head shook slowly.

No, no. I’m asleep, and we’re both in this dream together. We just need to wake up.

Jackson, we’re in the drift, but I’m 3,000 miles away from you. Teagan stopped. We’re in the drift...

“We’re drifting!” The ranger jumped up in Jackson’s hand and gesticulated with a wild sort of joy. “Don’t you know what that means?! Oh my god.”

The head shook again and shoulders, 70 feet across, shrugged lightly. No, what does that mean?

Means the outside world can communicate with you! We might be able to wake you up!

Teagan felt a wave of confusion over the neural bond.

?

Colors are weird and things are fuzzy. I… I can see you, I can feel you, but everything seems flat and unreal. Are you sure this isn't just a really vivid dream? I've had dreams this vivid before. Or... at least I think I have...

Teagan shook zir head. “Put me down. The medical team has to know about this.”

I don’t know.

What do you mean, you “don’t know”? C’mon Jax, I know you feel weird, but this is important! Teagan put on zir best puppy-dog eyes for him.

I’m still horny. I think this was supposed to be a wet dream. And you… you’re cute.

Zie narrowed zir eyes instead. I know you think I’m cute, Jackson Finch, I learned that during our first time in the drift together. But you need to put me the fuck down.

Jackson hesitated but did as he was told. The confusion in his mind was palpable. Teagan could feel that a small part of him wasn't entirely sure if ze was even real.

Who the fuck cares about that at this point, though. This is some intense shit, and PPDC has to know.

Teagan took off running toward the camp as soon as ze hit the sand, grinning from ear to ear.