Teagan scrambled to get dressed again as the lights cranked on, one segment at a time, to illuminate the shatterdome once again. Mammoth Apostle and Romeo Blue stood tall and silent in their respective bays, headless; a stark contrast to the Sierra-body sitting casually on the floor, one leg up and reclining against the wall.
LOCCENT was live again too. Squinting, Teagan could see the officers at the windows, and Pentecost with the radio in his hand.
Ze picked up zir’s and nodded. “It worked, sir.”
“Good. Now come down, Dr. Lightcap wants you in the med ward.”
I can hear them talking around me, Jackson thought. But I can’t quite make out what they’re saying down there.
You’ll get better reception with me in there.
He chuckled and raised his hand up to the railing of the service platform. Need a lift?
Ze climbed over and onto the familiar surface, stepping off once it made contact with the floor. It was a minute just to walk around his leg to get to the main doors; the Marshal and Commander were waiting just on the other side.
“His pleasure centers were already activated by the time we hooked him up,” Dr. Lightcap noted. She circled a bright yellow blob on the computer screen with her pen. “And this over here is responsible for processing sensory input. It’s all activated.”
“Movement and coordination, mostly.”
Teagan crossed zir arms and knitted zir brows. “I don’t get it. He’s in a coma; shouldn’t his brain be showing low activity?”
“It should,” she said, swiveling around in the chair to look at the PPDC officers crowded around her. “But with everything I’m seeing here, there’s absolutely no reason why he should be non-responsive. For all intents and purposes, Mr. Finch is awake and lucid.”
I could have told them THAT.
“But we know he is,” stated the Marshal, looking up and at the sleeping body in the hospital bed across the room. “He’s just not in there.”
Dr. Lightcap chewed on the end of her pen cap, continuing to study the screen. “Back when I posited the possibility of a second-stage drift, I couldn’t have predicted that it would look like this.” She turned to Teagan. “What exactly happened when you initiated the handshake this time?”
Ze sucked zir lips in and looked at the ceiling. “I managed to get us both focused uhm… on a single thought. Almost in a meditative state… after a while we just clicked together.”
Meditative state, huh? Nice save.
Just go away for a minute!
“That’s why we needed to be alone. Full concentration and all that.”
Dr. Lightcap raised her eyebrows and shot zir a deadpan look. “Uh-huh. And he doesn’t seem to be in a dream-state now?”
“No ma’am. So long as we maintain the bridge pretty tightly, he’s learning to be cogent.”
She nodded, thinking for another minute. “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I ever really think a second-stage drift was possible, let alone initiate without LOCCENT’s intervention. The Pons system… it’s nothing compared to this.” Lightcap sighed, slow and heavy. After a moment she stood up. “Marshal, commander, I want you get Rosenthal in a drivesuit so we can test their neural bridge over a hard line.”
Heading to the drivesuit room alone was eerie. Teagan briskly walked down the dark corridors, stopping in front of a pair of sliding locks that revealed a medium-sized chamber outfitted with tools of all sorts. Technicians, outfitted like pitstop mechanics, were already laying out the armor pieces. Under deployment circumstances, this stage was required to take less than 4 minutes, but right now things weren’t quite so dire.
And here I thought it was too dangerous to do this, Teagan thought.
Pretty obvious she’s a risk-taker.
Jackson smirked over their neural connection. And pilots aren’t?
Teagan stripped down to zir skivvies in the middle of the room, handing a technician zir pile of clothes as another helped zir into the tight, black circuitry suit that formed the base of the ensemble. Ze was on autopilot for the rest of it: arms out, legs apart, as the technicians proceeded to haul out and bolt on the rest of the armor pieces, securing electrical connections and finishing it off with the spinal array. Last came the helmet, fitted and filled with a fresh layer of relay gel, which then quickly drained to the rest of the helmet once zir scalp made contact with the diodes inside.
“Thanks guys.” Teagan headed out the opposite door and down the scramble hall.
You think things were weird before, ze thought. Just wait until I’m physically inside your head.
Let’s do it.
The conn-pod, normally, was stored up here, nearby the drivesuit room and separate from the body. A lift would have to take zir to Sierra’s bay where ze could walk up and into the pod the old-fashioned way.
Crews had already plugged at least a dozen thick cables into the back of Sierra’s conn-pod and down into the recesses of the neck by the time Teagan approached. The back hatch was open; inside was a narrow tunnel that led to the control chamber. It was just like any other training exercise…
I take it you’ve got dibs on the right arm, still?
Hey, I’m in a coma, I’m not dead. S’the only way you’re going to get me to give up first chair, co-pilot.
Teagan laughed aloud.
“He says he’s still got position 01,” ze called back to the engineers behind zir. One of them gave a thumbs up from behind a digital console, and Teagan took zir cue and headed inside the narrow passageway.
Oh wow, Jackson murmured over their neural link. Yeah, that feels way fuckin’ weird. Not really into that.
“Sorry, Jack, but it’s gonna be done.” Teagan took zir place at position 02, the Jaeger’s left arm, clamping the boots of the drivesuit into the head of the robot’s step controls; rangers fondly referred to the mechanism as the stirrups. The bodily control unit lowered into place for both positions, but only one pilot was there to hook themselves up. Ze plugged the oxygen hose into the back of zir helmet and then locked in zir forearms; the circuitry suit would do the rest.
Ze reached forward to the console and initiated the pre-deployment sequence, flipping switches and pushing buttons.
“Sierra Dynamo: online,” the voice of the Jaeger AI system slowly lilted as the holographic HUD burst to life in front of zir.
It doesn’t like it, Jackson warned.
“Pilot 1, absent. Standing by for engagement,” it announced.
Teagan grumbled. “I know, I know, I know. Jack, can you override it?”
I don’t know. I don’t think I know how.
The pilot reached forward to the upper console and held a switch. “Command, what do we do?”
“Working on it,” sounded the familiar voice of the mission director in zir helmet.
Yeah, it’s not letting me in. Jackson’s shoulders slumped, taking Teagan with them.
“Whoa, whoa,” ze said, arms out to keep balanced.
We’ve had our faces almost torn off by kaiju, and you’re trying to tell me that a little herky-jerky is too much for you now?
“This is different.”
The director cut in again. “Alright, rangers. We’re going to initiate the neural handshake and… hope for the best.”
Teagan pursed zir lips. We gotta do it, Jax. “We’re ready.”
Ze closed zir eyes and relaxed, emptying zir mind of as much conscious thought as possible, careful not to trip any memories that might interfere with this crucial final step. For mostly being a bunch of rowdy kids, Jaeger pilots were forced to master zazen skills very early on in training.
The moment of synchronization was unlike anything else that a human could experience. It was heat, it was cold, it was bright; it was the biggest, deepest drum, a heart big enough for a Jaeger, making a single beat that only the gut could hear. It was that split-second of free-fall at the end of a long swing, and when it was over, the ground came rushing back up except that unlike before, there were suddenly two of you coming back down.
The tide of Teagan’s thoughts was going out, way out, and then zir body jerked slightly. The wave came crashing back in.
“Neural handshake,” the computer chimed. “Initiated.”
Ze opened zir eyes again, looking at zir hands, and zir hands were now the Jaeger’s hands. But it was still different. Jackson, are you still there?
But the computer wasn’t done. “Pilots, engaged.”
Teagan was compelled by his thoughts to look over zirself again.
And yeah, this isn’t a dream anymore. I’m definitely in there with you.
“Rosenthal, what’s your status?” came the voice from LOCCENT. This time it was Marshal Pentecost.
Ze flipped the communication switch to speak. “It worked,” ze said, smiling. “It’s different, but it worked.”
He spoke again. “Rosenthal, we’re working on a translation program to be uploaded into the AI, so I need your patience. In the meantime, Dr. Lightcap wants to speak with you.”
“Finch, Rosenthal, excellent work. It looks like you’ve got a strong connection going right now. Now I'm going to ask you a couple questions. Firstly, do things feel any different than before?"
The two of them thought in unison. "Yes, in that we're both carrying the Jaeger now. But otherwise no."
"Does it feel odd to Finch?"
Aside from you wiggling around in my skull, it's just another day at the shatterdome, I think.
Teagan snorted. "A little," ze replied. "But not too different from a normal handshake."
“Thanks you two. Now just hang tight while the coders finish with that patch.”