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A Concept of Mind

Chapter Text

Right hook.

Uppercut.

Strafe.

Block--

BOOM.

The conn-pod shook wildly as the kaiju dubbed “Slugfist” lived up to its name, landing a hard one with two of its four hittin’ arms simultaneously.

“Son of a..!” Jackson shouted, righting himself from the awkward position he was thrown in the primary control unit.

Teagan grit zir teeth and did the same. “We’re gonna get our ass kicked if we don’t pull out the cannon soon!”

We need to corner it first, Jackson thought.

Let’s bring it in for a nice, big hug, then, his co-pilot thought in return, reaching forward for the console to prep the generator.

Sierra Dynamo, Sacramento's mark 4 Jaeger was, when cleaned up, a beauty, and the pride of California. A smaller, lighter Jaeger, it was speedy, but not nearly as fast as the mark 5’s were projected to be. Sierra came in at just under 70 meters tall, just over 1600 tons, and had exactly two supercell cores. 

Slugfist let out a hideous, roaring trill, sounding something like 100 car accidents happening all at once. It beat its chest with two of its oversized arms, stubby tail swishing around in anticipation of a kill.

Not today, both pilots thought in unison.

Speech wasn’t necessary between two drifting pilots, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped. “Come on… come on…” Jackson hissed as they crouched down low, arms wide, like a goalie poised to spring an oncoming puck or ball.

Slugfist was sizing them up, waiting for them to strike, but after a moment of pacing, took the initiative. It leapt forward, all four arms out, and Sierra was knocked to the ground.

“Now! Now!” Teagan yelled, struggling against gravity and the impact of the kaiju’s continuous blows. “Initiate live nodes! Let’s light this fucker up!”

Sierra seized the kaiju atop it in a fierce hold, and Slugfist began to struggle. They were outnumbered by two sets of arms and had precious few seconds.

“Initiated. Nodes hot in 3… 2…”

 A chunk of armor was torn off Sierra’s arm and Slugfist began to thrash wildly.

Sierra was the only Jaeger to have been produced with two cores, and for one reason only. 

“...1." 

A hum, loud enough to be heard over the cries of the kaiju rose quickly up from nothing, and then a near-deafening crack accompanied by a noise low enough to be felt rather than heard. It ripped through the both of them and the giant screamed, jerking uncontrollably. Dozens of tungsten-alloy needles had struck out from Sierra’s arms and chest, each hot with 500 megavolts worth of electricity. 

Slugfist was just struck by lightning.

“Plasma cannon!” Jackson ordered the computer. Now was their chance.

But the kaiju wasn’t going to give up so easily. It flew into a rage, tearing into Sierra, throwing it down into the sand of the Kiribatan beach that had become their battleground over the past half hour.

Plasma cannons took about 15 seconds to charge once deployed, and it wasn’t looking like Slugfist was going to give them that long.

“Shit, shit…” 

Sparks flew from somewhere in the conn-pod, showering over Teagan as they were hit again. The kaiju tore a few nodes from the Jaeger’s chest, sending them flying. But then it noticed the charging cannon, and suddenly all of its attention was focused on it.

Teagan tried all that ze could to get out from under the kaiju, but it was no use. Jackson tried keeping their most important weapon away from the monster’s grip, and Teagan used the Jaeger’s free left arm to deliver concussive blows that could finish what the electric shock started.

Slugfist found that by keeping one foot on Sierra’s chest and another on the cannon arm, it had free reign to do whatever it wanted to the Jaeger with all four of its arms. 

The two pilots inside paused, thoughts hitching for a moment as they realized the predicament they were suddenly in. Slugfist would have been their first solo kill.

It’s a spooky experience, being in the drift and having nary a thought cross either mind; only the mingling of astonishment and fear. Teagan would remember that moment for the rest of zir life. 

But it ended quickly. The kaiju started pumelling the conn-pod, throwing both of the pilots around, still attached to their controls. They suddenly felt like they were being whipped around like flags in a storm or victims on stretching racks. Teagan couldn’t have imagined that it was Jackson who would get injured first out of the two of them; ze called out when he was thrown from his anchoring, feet still attached to their step-drives. Ze reeled in shared agony as Jackson's ankles snapped, but his cry of pain was cut short as his head collided with a broad strut in conn-pod's floor. The back of his helmet cracked.

Warning lights flashed as ze was ripped from the drift and the neural handshake broken. Light, noise, and pain suddenly filled zir head as ze was suddenly faced with carrying the full weight of the Jaeger alone. Teagan’s helmet echoed the voices of those at LOCCENT in the Los Angeles shatterdome so far away; it was a struggle just to hear them.

“Teagan! Backup is on the way! Your handshake’s been cut!”

Zir entire body was on fire, tears welling up in zir eyes as ze mustered up one last burst of energy before unconsciousness would be due to take over, just as it had for Jackson.

“Shiv!” ze cried out hoarsely.

A blade, something between a knife and a sword, shot out from the outside of Sierra’s free left wrist. Teagan had lost control of most of the Jaeger’s body, but the fight wasn’t over so long as ze could still use Sierra’s arm. 

“RRAGH!”

The co-pilot tore into the kaiju’s side with the knife, hacking off two of the beast’s arms and sending it stumbling backwards and into the squat bluff beside them. Kaiju blue spattered the beach.

Things started to fade for Teagan, and ze fell limp as a crippling headache seared through zir skull.

“Sierra, Sierra,” crackled the radio in zir helmet. “Hang in there Sierra. Mammoth Apostle is inbound…”

Jackson…

Blackness.

 

Chapter Text

Teagan woke up in a mobile medical unit set up on the island, attended to by no fewer than 3 PPDC doctors. Ze was shaking from a cold that emanated from the inside out.

“They’re awake,” sighed one of them with relief.

Ze mustered a scowl. “‘Ze’ pronouns, please,” Teagan muttered hoarsely, sitting up despite the pain in zir head. “Where’s Jackson?”

The doctor nearest to zir swallowed. “He’s been taken back to the shatterdome,” she said solemnly. The shatterdome? But Kiribati was almost 8 hours away from the nearest of them. If they could treat zir in a mobile unit, surely they could have for him too??

“And you didn’t take me with him? Dammit,” Teagan hissed. “It’s been, what, 6 years since the start of the Jaeger program and you still don’t understand how important it is for us to stick together?”

Ze shuddered and eyes burned as ze remembered the moments before Jackson, zir friend of 10 years, had gone out like a light. Ze’d felt his anklebones snap, felt terror set fire to his mind. Ze saw his life flash before his eyes. Half of Teagan’s brain felt like aching static.

“Mr. Rosenthal, we get it. Trust us, we get it almost as much as you do. But you have to believe us when we say that this is a unique situation and we think--”

Teagan bristled. “Unique situation?”

“Jackson Finch is in a coma, Teagan.” Zir heart sank, and ze swallowed. “We don’t know how the drift will impact his ability to wake up, so we’re keeping you apart for now. You and Sierra Dynamo will be temporarily relocated to Anchorage while we get a grip on what’s going on in his brain.”

Teagan struggled to think. “You have to let me see him,” ze plead. “Maybe I could reach him through the drift, and--”

“No,” the doctor said firmly. “We’re maintaining distance between you two until we can understand more about what this condition means for him… and what it could possibly mean for you too.”

“This isn’t fair!” ze shouted, tears spilling down zir cheeks. “This isn’t fucking fair.”

“War’s not fair, Mr. Rosenthal.” Teagan turned toward the opening of the tent, and met the gaze of one Marshal Pentecost. Ze sat up straight in zir cot and saluted despite feeling like shit. The man, after all, was a legend.

He nodded at the medical personnel and they excused themselves, leaving the two Jaeger pilots alone.

“You know this is going to be a rare opportunity for us to further study the impact that drifting has on the human mind, “ he said, taking a seat. Something in his voice was soothing and ze found zirself calmed even though his words weren’t exactly reassuring.

“I know, sir,” ze whispered.

“Mr. Finch is the first ranger to fall into a coma. We’re going to do everything we can for him, but is doing a lot for us as well right now.”

“I hate feeling helpless, sir.”

“Give us two weeks with him and we’ll ship you back to Los Angeles. Just two weeks. You have my word, alright?”

Ze nodded, staring at his immaculately polished dress shoes. He didn’t just look the part of marshal, he felt like it too; ze found his presence filling the room. Ze could only imagine what he was like back when he was a pilot, too.

“Sierra will be shipping with you, so hang tight until then.” Pentecost rose again, heading silently for the tent flap, but paused. “Oh, and do as the doctors say and take a rest. They do know what they’re talking about.” He gave zir a wink and left. There were shouts outside, but ze didn’t really hear them.

Teagan looked around. The makeshift medical facility, airlifted in, was impressively stocked. Crates on the floor were filled with the basics: bandages, gauze, antiseptic. But there were other, more dubious equipment to be found in some of the others. Geiger counters, syringes. A series of “jaws of life” hydraulic rescue tools sat on the floor in the corner. They were stained a deep blue. Dings and scratches told zir that they’d seen a lot of action as well, prying bodies out of deactivated Jaegers.

Ze shuddered, thinking about how Jackson was halfway towards being a corpse himself.

Jackson Finch was Sierra’s primary pilot, and in his 3rd year with PPDC. He was a young man of 27, a good hand taller than Teagan and could bench-press almost twice as much as zir, but was lean. They met in high school, when the both of them were on the track team. They found themselves at many of the same parties, with many of the same interests, and soon became inseparable friends. There was a drunk kiss once, but that was about it. Drifting with someone had a tendency to tie up your loose ends real quick. In fact, that was how Jackson found out ze was trans and had been taking blockers since puberty. And Teagan found out he was a little bi and had an interest in “cute” boys. But they’d made the decision early on not to get involved like that again (Teagan didn’t care for romance much anyways), and to keep themselves away from any related thoughts while drifting.

In short, Jackson was the one to encourage Teagan to come out while at PPDC, and somehow that brought them even closer than a neural handshake could. Now, all of zir documents could be found marked with an X instead of an M. But that’s besides the point.

Teagan suddenly found zirself getting claustrophobic inside the tent. Ze threw off the blankets and stepped outside, shielding zir sensitive eyes from the bright, flaming sunset.

The beach was a complete wreck, Teagan noted. High tide had come in to wash most of their mess away, but ze could still follow where the fight had taken them out of the water and onto the shore. Entire groves of coconut trees had been flattened, and about 100 yards away, ze could clearly make out the dark bowl in the dirt where Slugfist had caught Sierra on its back, determined to pound it into tinfoil. It looked like a tornado had touched down on just that spot.

The ranger turned away from the gruesome landscape and faced back toward the sun, toward the Jaeger. Teagan began the plod over to the gargantuan machine almost as a reflex.

Ze didn’t know when, exactly, Mammoth Apostle had come to their rescue, or what condition their Jaeger was in when Slugfist was torn off them. Mammoth was on standby on a neighboring island, though, so the response was, thankfully, quick.

Teagan walked past a clean-up crew as they mopped up the remnants of the blue mess behind bright yellow tape marked with biohazard symbols. Ze stopped short of a group standing with the marshal, surveying zir machine.

Sierra was covered in enormous dents, and had a number of pieces of plating ripped off. Miraculously, the conn-pod didn’t look any worse for wear than the rest of the body, and was definitely salvageable, though ze imagined that the right forearm would need to be completely rebuilt.

The Jaeger was top-heavy, like all Jaegers tend to be, with a wide, bulky chest to contain the dual-cell core system. The conn-pod, zie’d heard through the grapevine, would be the model for Australia’s mark 5 Jaeger that was currently in development. It had a lupine look to it, ze’d always thought, though Jackson maintained such was a hilarious association to make. “It looks like a robot,” he would always retort with a charming dismissiveness.

“I thought we’d told you to stay put, Mr. Rosenthal?”

Teagan started at Pentecost’s voice.

“I… I needed some fresh air, sir.”

He stepped over to zir and they looked at the Jaeger together. “You know,” he began. “You technically piloted solo today.”

Teagan’s dark brows flew up. “What?” ze blurted out. “No way. I just had the left arm for a few seconds is all.”

“Still.”

That was all he said about it.

Off in the distance came the flickering growl of a helicopter approaching, and Marshal Pentecost, accompanied by a few others, headed for it. He gave zir shoulder a firm pat as he walked past.

“Two weeks,” he shouted as the aircraft came in closer, whipping around hair, clothes, and sand alike. “See you in Alaska!”

Ze watched them take off from a safe distance, letting zir shoulders droop when they were up and away. “See you,” Teagan murmured,  turning back toward Sierra. Ze wasn’t sure what else to do.

The young pilot climbed the hill of sand piled up against the Jaeger’s arm, formed by being dragged from where it’d been taken down by Slugfist. It was laying on its back, adjacent to the beach, with its legs extending down into the water. It looked very much like a beached whale in the dying light.  Ze watched the crews finish up their shifts under the gaudy brightness of floodlights, putting up one of what would be many signs in the sand declaring the beach too toxic for boats to come ashore, as though the rotting carcass a mile inland wouldn’t be enough of a deterrent for years to come. At the top of the sign was the all-too-familiar logo of the mutant crab claw, the universal symbol for “kaiju”.

I miss you, Jax, ze thought, letting zir head fall back and rest against the cold metal.

There was no reply.

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

Chapter Text

Jackson/the Jaeger remained sitting where Teagan had left him-- he didn’t want to stand up just in case this wasn’t a dream, as he’d said.

The smaller, lighter co-pilot crossed zir arms and looked on at zir friend and confidant. “Is there any way for us to prove it to him?”

Dr. Linda Esparza shook her head. “Not here. Both Dr. Lightcap and Marshal Pentecost are definitely going to want to get you in a drivesuit and hooked up to that conn-pod as soon as they get through diagnostics on Sierra, though. Tell him that he’ll undergo fMRI scans during the AI-assisted handshake when that happens.”

“I don’t need to tell him, he can hear you through me.”

“Diagnostics need to come out cleaner than the Virgin Mary, though, otherwise we’re not risking either of you to do this. Nobody’s ever drifted through a proxy like this before. Let alone undergone a second-stage drift.”

“Second-stage?”

“It was always a theoretical possibility, but Lightcap, the head of the Pons development team at the beginning of the war, wrote it off early on as being the stuff of science-fiction; something our current level of technology would never realistically allow.” She paused. “It’s when a pilot drifts from within the drift, creating an extra layer for their consciousness to have to penetrate in order to interface with reality. Jackson’s not meeting you in the middle right now, like he should. That’s why he still thinks he’s dreaming.”

“So… wait.”

Esparza inhaled and tried again. “You remember the diagram they showed you on your first day in the program, right? The one explaining the Pons system?”

“Right, yeah. It was sort of a T-shape.”

“So you have ‘pilot 1’, ‘pons’, and ‘pilot 2’ along the top of the T.”

“And the jaeger at the bottom.”

“Correct. The line doesn’t get drawn from ‘Jaeger’ to the pilots; you connect to the Jaeger via the Pons.”

Teagan nodded, trying zir best to keep up.

“Second-stage drift takes that configuration and instead turns it into something like a… backwards N, I guess, or a sideways S… Anyways, ‘pilot 1’, Jackson, is directly connected to the Jaeger, and connecting to the Pons through the machine’s neural interface. He--”

I thought things looked small while piloting Sierra, but shit… everything’s REALLY small now. I might go for a swim. That should be interesting.

Jackson went to stand up. Teagan and Dr. Esparza exchanged looks before the ranger started running toward zir partner, waving zir arms.

“Hey, hey! Don’t do that! It’ll be, really, really bad if you do!”

Why not? I’m big. I can do anything.

Exactly. You can fuck a lot of shit up royally right now. Just wait a few more hours until they take us back to the shatterdome.

“Sorry,” Teagan said, exasperated at this point.

“So under normal drift conditions, the handshake ensures that reality is preserved for both pilots. But this… he’s drifting with Sierra, and interfacing with the Pons on top of that in order to be able to drift with you.” Esparza looked up at the hulking machine. “Which is why he completely derealized before you accidentally forced the handshake. If you disengage, he will go into that state again.”

Ze swallowed and rubbed zir head. This was all just too much for zir little brain to handle. “And what happens when the handshake keeps getting dropped? I can’t can’t stay in the drift forever.”

The doctor shrugged. “We have no idea. Lightcap never pursued the theory.”

Teagan sighed and put zir hand on Jackson/Jaeger’s pinky digit and looked up to meet his “eyes”. He looked down at zir and cocked his enormous head.

Teagan put zir hand on his pinky digit and looked up to meet his “eyes”. He looked down at zir and cocked his enormous head.

Have I ever told you how fuckin’ cute you are, Tee? You’re like, a baby sugar glider right now.

“And you’re like, the equivalent of shitfaced right now,” Teagan muttered, sitting down on the end of his finger to wait out the rest of the early morning hours while the camp was packed up.

The two pilots sat in silence for a little while; or at least, the closest thing to silence as you could get while in the drift. Zir’s were normal: faint blips appearing and disappearing like a strobe light. His, though… his were different. They were strange and not quite readable.

Hey Teagan, I’m sorry about earlier.

Don’t uh… don’t worry about it. Besides, I guess it was a little exciting.

I did feel you getting into it a bit there.

Teagan blushed. Not that I have any idea what I was getting into or what I was thinking you’d even be able to do. Your finger’s bigger than I am.

Ze heard him bend over a little above zir. We’re Jaeger pilots, Tee; we’re a clever bunch. I could think of something.

You’ve always been a horny drunk, ze snorted. Besides: you’re not even a pilot right now. Just a Jaeger.

--

The chopper ride back to the States was long and boring. Teagan was so emotionally exhausted from the previous day’s events that ze managed to get a sleeping pill from Dr. Esparza otherwise there was no way ze was going to get away from Jackson’s stream of consciousness for the proceeding 8 hours. It wasn’t that ze didn’t feel bad that his Jaeger-body was currently strung up between a dozen Mi-26 helicopters without his own way to take a rest, it was just… you know.

Go to… sleep.

Teagan felt him bristle. Fuck you.

Nighty-night, handsome. And don’t give the choppers any trouble, please.

Seriously?? You’re gonna leave me here?

GOODNIGHT.

--

Jackson had, at some point, managed to fall into a deeper sleep, dislodging himself from the drift upon waking. Which wasn’t to his advantage, being stuck in a mute body and being incredibly grumpy upon arrival. But, like Teagan had begged, he did his best not to move a single muscle-strand the entire way home, and especially not as he was being lowered down into one of the shatterdome’s 4 Jaeger-ready bays. Personnel gathered ‘round at a safe distance to see the animate Jaeger with their own eyes, but the Marshal Pentecost and Commander Avers stepped out to quickly disperse the crowd and send them on their way.

“My god,” Marshal murmured, studying what was once just Sierra Dynamo. Jackson saluted the officers with a sweep of his gargantuan arm.

Avers, director of operations at the LA shatterdome turned to Teagan, but didn’t take his eyes off the Jaeger in front of them. “And you’re sure it’s him in there?” he asked quietly.

“Without a doubt, sir.”

“We can’t hear him right now, sirs,” Dr. Esparza chimed in. “The neural bridge between them dissolved when Rosenthal’s brain activity fell into what was probably theta. We have no idea how the handshake was triggered between them originally, so we can’t replicate it. For now he has to communicate with hand signals until we can get it back up again.”

“What if we just put zir in there with a drivesuit?” Avers suggested.

“Can’t do that.” Everyone turned to see a middle-aged, blonde-haired woman walk over to them, wearing a white labcoat. Deep creases in her face and circles under her eyes made her look prematurely aged. “We have no idea what that kind of load distribution will do to them at this point.”

“Dr. Lightcap,” the commander replied. “Now, at the end of the day I’m just a ranger like these two, but it seems to me that Mr. Finch is managing to carry the entirety of the neural load himself just fine.”

Dr. Esparza shook her head. “Not true, commander. Finch is suspended in a dream-like state and is having tremendous trouble reconciling his subconscious with reality, nor does he have complete and willful control of the Jaeger body.”

Teagan glanced over at zir 240-foot friend as he occupied himself by looking at all the infrastructure built around his bay, touching everything, and generally making life miserable for the engineers who were trying to gear up to repair him and run diagnostics.

“We think that he has even more trouble when not drifting with me, actually,” ze offered. “Was more cogent when he had me to provide sensory input and brainpower.”

Dr. Lightcap rubbed her chin and studied him as well. “And you have no idea what could have triggered the handshake last night? It would be of tremendous help if you had any ideas.”

Teagan swallowed, remembering last night vividly.

Any ideas at all.”

Jackson was currently being hooked up with hardlines so the engineers could peer into his head; or rather, the AI he was currently drifting with. Sierra Dynamo was a sleek machine any day of the week, with a more humanoid appearance than many of the other mark 4’s due to its fighting style. It was a little top-heavy, but from the waist-down, Teagan could almost see the similarities to Jackson’s own build.

“I might have a hunch,” ze said at length, clearing zir throat. “But I’m going to need... complete and utter privacy for it. No crew, no cameras, no connection to upstairs.”

The scientists and officers looked at each other. “That’s a lot to ask. Are you sure?”

Teagan shook zir head. “It’s the only way I’m going to be able to recreate what happened.”

Avers turned to Pentecost. “Marshal?”

He sighed. “Give ‘em 30 minutes at 1500 hours. I want the bays completely cleared of all personnel, cut cameras and have Siera unplugged from the mainframe.” Then, turning to Dr. Lightcap: “Can you have him ready for monitoring by then?”

“Of course, Marshal.” She turned on her heel and headed off briskly.

“Mr. Rosenthal,” he continued. “I’m going to give you a two-way radio so that you have a way of contacting us if something goes wrong. Bringing Mr. Finch out of that coma isn’t worth putting you into one too.”

“In the meantime, can I… can I see him, sir?”

Pentecost and Avers looked at each other before the commander gestured at Dr. Esparza.

“C’mon,” she said, leading Teagan across the floor and to the lift that would take them to the medical ward.

--

“Oh my god…” Teagan whispered upon seeing zir friend. The gurney was large and well-padded, and he was hooked up to a plethora of machines: a feeding tube snaked out of his nose and an oxygen mask loosely hugged his face. Circuitry burns creeped out from the side of his hairline and out from underneath clean, white bandages.

Jackson had dark hair like his co-pilot, but it was cropped shorter than zir’s. Standing at 5’11”, Teagan only came just past his shoulders, though the smaller of the two had many fond memories of kicking zir elder’s ass on the training mat. He looked like an old man now.

“Gotta remind myself that this is only his body,” Teagan said quietly, putting zir hand over his. “That he’s awake in just the other room.”

“He might be able to hear you,” Dr. Esparza offered. “Though his body won’t respond.”

Teagan leaned in, dogtags jingling from around zir neck. “Hey, Jax. If you can hear me, I’m just letting you know that they’re going to give us some time to try getting a handshake again in a few hours. Until then, just… stay put, ok? You gotta stay focused. Remember that you’re almost 30 stories tall now, handsome.”

“Until then,” the doctor mused, rubbing her chin. “Mr. Finch might as well practice his sign language.”

“Sign language?”

She walked over to some cabinets lining the opposing wall, weaving around a few empty cots. A fluorescent light flickered overhead. She rummaged through a few of them for a minute before producing a dusty, yellowed pamphlet titled ASL Basics for PPDC Special Case Training.

“Oh.”

--

T-H-I-S-S-U-C-K-S, Jackson signed.

He’d been permitted the use of his left arm only, and was instructed to stay as still as possible while the engineering crews continued to look over Sierra’s operating system.

S-O-R-R-Y, Teagan replied.

The ranger was seated cross-legged on the service platform closest to the conn-pod so that he could see zir hand signals. 

I-K-N-O-W-H-O-W-W-E-[DRIFT]-E-D

H-O-W

S-E-X

O-U-T-O-F-T-H-E-G-U-T-T-E-R

N-O

Y-O-U-N-O-T-T-H-I-S-B-A-D-B-E-F-O-R-E-H-U-R-T

J-U-S-T-G-O-O-D-A-T-H-I-D-I-N-G-I-T-Q-T

Y-O-U-N-E-V-E-R-S-M-O-O-T-H-O-P-E-R-A-T-O-R-T-O-O

D-R-E-A-M-S-F-A-V-O-R-T-H-E-B-O-L-D

Teagan snorted. M-A-K-E-S-N-O-S-E-N-S-E

There was a long, relaxed pause, and it was almost as if the two of them were just enjoying being in each others’ company.

H-O-W-Y-O-U-F-E-E-L

O-K. Jackson thought for a moment. I-F-E-E-L-T-H-E-M

D-I-A-G-N-O-S-T-I-C-S-?

Y-A

P-A-I-N-?

N-O

Teagan nodded. “That’s good,” ze whispered.

U-?

L-I-T-T-L-E-S-O-R-E. [kaiju]-H-I-T-H-A-R-D

The shatterdome’s LOCCENT deployment director came out over the intercom system. “Shatterdome bays must be clear of all personnel within 30 minutes,” he announced. “I repeat, all shatterdome bays must be clear of personnel within 30 minutes.”

A-L-M-O-S-T-T-I-M-E, Jackson signed.

B-E-N-I-C-E

S-A-F-E-W-O-R-D-M-A-Y-B-E

Teagan wanted to laugh, but remembered that it was actually a good idea. Ze thought for a moment.

[kaiju]

The Jackson-Jaeger bobbed up and down in a silent chuckle for a moment.

“Hey! Quit moving or you’ll pull out the cables!” an angry voice yelled out from someplace behind his conn-pod.

O-O-P-S

 

Chapter Text

“You’ve got half an hour of blackout starting now, Rosenthal,” the Marshal’s voice crackled through the radio. If there was trepidation there, ze couldn’t hear it. Stoicism was the man’s middle name. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Same here.” Ze sucked in a breath, looking up at Jackson’s conn-pod face bathing zir in a soft, orange glow from where ze stood in his enormous metal hand. “Teagan out.” Ze set the radio down and glanced about the shatterdome once more, seeing nothing in the blackness. Every single light in the place had been cut to ensure LOCCENT couldn’t see them. Teagan returned zir gaze to the Jaeger in front of zir. “You better woo the hell out of me, Jack.”

Jackson lowered zir to waist height and brought his other hand down to make a pumping motion in front of his hips.

“That’s not wooing!”

W-H-A-T-E-V-S-Q-T

“And cut it with the ASL, we don’t have time.”

He rolled his head sarcastically. He first pointed at Teagan, then himself, then at the ground between them. Or maybe his crotch. Ze couldn’t tell. Either way, ze didn’t have much time to ponder it as Jackson’s fingers pinched at the hem of zir’s shirt and yanked it up. The air, Teagan discovered, was cold.

Teagan was, for all intents and purposes, small for a ranger. Ze wasn’t weak by any means, but petite, especially for being someone born with a Y chromosome. Years of mild hormones had given zir a cute butt and fat, brown nipples sitting atop pecs that were just plain soft compared to Jackson’s hard build. Jackson, who hadn’t actually seen zir naked chest until now, looked at them like they were made of candy.

Ze finished the shirt for him, and he took the garment, which looked like little more than a mote of dust against the enormity of his hand, and set it aside on the platform nearest before turning his attention to Teagen’s sensitive flesh.

“Now remember,” ze said as Jackson pushed zir back into the palm of his hand once again. It was almost like he was determined to finish what he started the previous night. “We’re here to drift. Stay with me, Jax. Don’t get lost in the rabbit hole. Stay with me…”

But zir words were interrupted by the sensation of cold, hard metal sweeping down zir body. Teagan sucked in a gasp and arched zir back into the touch, which was lighter than ze could have ever imagined such a finger was capable of. Jackson quickly realized that he had just enough dexterity to pay attention to the flesh around each nipple, trying his level best to rub circles around them. Teagan found zir blood rushing between zir legs again, and suddenly the cold wasn’t so bad anymore.

Much to their surprise, though, a new sensation emanated from Jackson’s fingertip: a sharp, warm jab that seemed to vibrate zir very blood. Teagan gasped in surprise and Jackson recoiled his finger.

“That… that felt good, actually. Can you do it again?”

Jackson motioned for Teagan to put zir hands above zir head, and ze did as told, managing to span little more than halfway down the Jaeger’s palm. Teagan wasn’t quite sure, but it looked as though Jackson had rested his hand on his hip before thrusting the Jaeger’s massive chest forward and looking down at his co-pilot with that sleek, fiery face, marveling at the tiny body in his hand.

I’m in your hand, Teagan thought, biting a lip and not quite able to suppress a grin. I am literally laying in the palm of your goddamn fucking hand right now.

“I can’t believe this,” ze giggled. “This is weird and…”

H-O-T

The younger pilot laughed even louder. “Stop with that! C’mere.”

The Jaeger hand came back in for another attack, swooping down with the murmur of some 50, 3,000 horsepower muscle-strands behind it. Ze thought ze was addicted to that sound before.

Jackson once again made for Teagan’s pants, pulling them down roughly.

“Hold on, hold on, let me get my shoes,” ze said, reaching down to undo the PPDC-issue cordura boots. Jackson took them and set them carefully beside the shirt.

Here goes nothing, ze thought, sliding down pants and briefs at the same time, revealing a cleanly-shaven mons and…

He watched carefully. Teagan noticed the change in his body language almost immediately, reality just that much closer for Jackson now as he looked on with reverence and what might have then been bottomless patience in lieu of being smashed from his tenuous grasp on the physical world. Even though he had a distant understanding of what his co-pilot looked like naked from Teagan's perspective, this was completely different. And apparently he was able to grasp that this was some important shit.

Teagan looked down past zir slim waist and hips. “That’s um…” ze began. “I guess I call it my ‘jam’.” Ze had other words ze liked it to be called, but that was saved for dirty talk. Technically, Jackson already knew all of this. How good his memory of things he learned while drifting, though, was anybody's guess.

Jackson’s conn-pod head nodded slowly, then he brought a finger to his face, miming a “shh” gesture, before pushing him once again onto his back. Ze suddenly realized that ze’d never felt safer with a partner before, not even taking their neural connection into consideration. He brought up his other hand and cupped Teagan, almost, between the two of them, like a tiny, precious thing. And with extreme care, he started to explore Teagan’s nearly naked body, pants still bunched up at zir heels, gently caressing zir from arched chest to aching flesh between zir thighs.

“Ahhh~” ze moaned, arching into Jackson’s fingertip even further, grabbing the end of it with both hands, trying to guide it back down to the nub there, hot and begging for attention.

Jackson’s head dipped down in what looked like a show of intense concentration. He rubbed and stroked with the most miniscule of movements, and Teagan found zirself spreading zir thighs to give him better access, which he took advantage of. He freed his one hand from the cradling so he could have more control, and the light electric shocks continued, causing zir to writhe with pleasure. Ze could only imagine what was going on in Jackson’s head right now.

Finally, he pushed up Teagan’s legs, knees to chest, like he did the night before. You’re an adamant sunnova bitch, aren’t you? A quick pang of hesitation coursed through zir at remembering just how terrified ze was the last time, but ze skillfully pushed the memory aside and was greeted with a zap more powerful than all the others.

Ze jerked and cried out, voice disappearing into the vast depths of the shatterdome. Jackson paused for just a second before pressing the tip of his finger up against zir tiny puckered hole, keeping the current strong and steady.

To Teagan, it felt like liquid, vibrating heat penetrating zir to the bone. Tension started to build in zir belly as the stimulation began lapping at zir prostate. Zir hips gyrated against Jackson’s unrelenting finger, and Teagan could feel the end coming.

Coming… coming… oh god.

“Fuck,” zie breathed, sweat dripping down zir neck, eyes closing tight. “Fuck, Jackson--

--look at you. Yeah, fucking take it. Take--

There was the sensation of heat in zir head as their consciousnesses suddenly collided. 

Teagan jerked awake and scrambled away from the Jaeger’s finger, putting every ounce of strength ze had into pushing it off zir with shaking limbs. “Jackson!” ze yelled, panting. “Jackson!”

Jackson!

The Jaeger stiffened in surprise himself. Teagan! There you are!

We did it, we fucking did it again.

Jackson brought his hand up to lightly cup zir against his tilted head; it was as close to a hug as they were going to get right now. Teagan pressed zirself against the side of the conn-pod, planting a kiss.

He brought zir in front of his face again. Yeah we did, he affirmed with unbridled happiness.

Teagan swallowed, looking away and smiling sheepishly. Ze brushed away a lock of wet hair. “Should we, um… finish what we started?”

Hell yeah we should. I’ve got a monster boner right now… no pun intended. I’d hate for it to go to waste.

How do you…?

Jackson focused a thought for Teagan to access. It hit zir like a truck. Oh, was all ze managed.

Sierra might not have a cock, but I still do. Now hold tight while I get comfortable.

The Jaeger sank into a crouch and then maneuvered his legs out in front of him so that he was sitting firmly on the floor, with his back against the bay wall.

Now up on here, on your belly, he thought, curling his middle finger down next to where Teagan sat, flattening it somewhat. Let me get a good view of your tight little ass.

Teagan kicked off zir pants and Jackson dutifully deposited them with the rest as well.

Ze noticed that his other hand had disappeared. “Like this?” ze asked, looking coyly over zir shoulder at the gigantic head bearing down on zir. Ze could feel the desire welled up in him like a dam about to break. He was also getting impatient.

Like this, he instructed, spreading out zir legs with his thumb from the same hand, forcing zir to straddle the digit. Good, good. Jackson stroked the exposed skin, white-hot from zir’s near-climax just moments before.

I’m not going to last long, Teagan admitted through zir foggy brain, groaning loudly when he cranked up the current. Zir pelvic muscles started to lightly contract at the contact and ze let out a mewl.

Ze couldn’t help the whimpering and squealing, nor could ze help reaching back to grasp at his finger as it rubbed and stroked away at zir bits. Off in the distance, Teagan could hear the whirr of the Jaeger’s hand pumping away at Jackson’s mental cock. It took the barest reach through the drift, though, for Teagan to see and feel for zirself how real--and sensitive!--it was to him. Jackson reached too.

You like that? You wish you could take my whole damn finger, don’t you?

Teagan’s breathing came in hard gasps and ze pushed against the strength of the entire goddamn machine, body screaming for more contact, more electricity, more more more more..!

More, huh? Jackson growled through the neural bridge. I’ve got more for you. I’ve got a thousand tons more.

He swooped down and deposited Teagan on the top of his thigh plating, about halfway down, and quickly continued his ministrations with much greater control. The co-pilot was splayed on the flat surface, prone and facing where Jackson’s 30-foot Jaeger cock should have been. The entirety of his hand came down above him, stroking and shocking zir entire body with three fingers this time, rubbing, kneading, pressing down until Teagan was sure ze couldn’t take any more.

Jackson… Jack… I’m gonna…

You’re gonna what, Tee? he ground out.

Jack, stop, I’m gonna…

Teagan, let me see you come.

The hips and thighs underneath zir shifted in time to the fist pounding away at the metal crotch, and Teagan could feel him getting close too. But hot, stiff, and gasping for air, the younger, smaller partner came first.

Scream for me, cutie.

Ze cried out, loud and broken, body wracked with violent shudders. Ze clung pathetically to the sleek surface beneath zir, jerking and mewling as Jackson milked the last few drops of energy from his partner. Teagan couldn’t help but hug zirself as tightly as possible, curling into a ball on Jackson’s monstrous thigh, catching zir breath. Jackson, however, was ready to finish himself off.

Ze got one last stroke along zir back with his thumb before that hand lifted into the air and grabbed at the lower edge of the hip complex while the other fisted the end of his cock furiously.

Teagan felt his body’s heart rate skyrocket, watching in fuzzy, blissful awe as his head tilted backward for the last few seconds.

Ohhhyeahhh… fuck yeah…

Suddenly the hip thrusting became stronger and more chaotic, and Teagan felt his mental climax begin to rip through him.

Fuck..! Unh!

The whole Jaeger jerked and shuddered; far below zir, far above zir, and everywhere around zir. Hydraulics hissed, muscle-strands roared, even the lights inside the conn-pod flickered.

There was a pause as the noise subsided and the white heat in Jackson’s mind faded away to reveal the beginnings of coherent thought. In his imagination, he was panting.

Have fun with THAT, Lightcap.

“Can of fuckin’ worms we are,” Teagan mumbled.

What else should they expect from two drifting queers from the Castro?

Ze covered zir head. “This is as queer as queer gets.”

There was a pause; Jackson was keeping his thoughts shielded. Teagan gave him a little nudge over their link after a few moments.

Jackson gently lowered his hand down next to zir, nudging zir onto it. Ze was raised 9 stories up into the air, at about chest height, and he tilted his head down to look at zir.

Damn you’re cute from this angle, he chuckled.

“I’d say the same, but… that compliment would belong more to Sierra than to you.”

Ze felt him frown. What does all this mean, Tee?

I don’t know.

What if I never wake up?

Don’t say shit like that. You’re going to wake up and we’ll be the hottest fuckbuddy pilots in the whole goddamn program, and I’ll be your cute, twink bottom. It’ll be great.

Tee, I’m honored that you… you like me enough to let me touch you.  But if this is the only way I’ll get to do that, then… well, fuck.

“Hey,” Teagan barked, snapping zir fingers. “Listen to me. I’m going to go back in there, we’re going to look at the results of your brain scans, and Dr. Lightcap will figure out a way to wake you up. And I swear to god, I’m not going to let this handshake fail until she does.”

You’re not gonna-- Teagan, if you go more than 36 hours without sleep over this, I’m going to tear open this shatterdome and forcibly place you into your bunk myself.

Ze snorted. “We’ll see.”

He raised zir up to conn-pod level. Or I could just not put you down and keep you in my hand until you fall asleep from boredom.

“You wouldn’t.”

Try me.

“Damn you.”

S-U-C-K-E-R

 

Chapter Text

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.

“Well?”

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.”

“What’s this?”

“Movement and coordination, mostly.”

Weird.

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.

Yeah, well…

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…

...except not.

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.

Teagan sighed.

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.”

Seriously?

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.”

Yeah.

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.”

“Gladly, sir.”

“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.”

Chapter Text

 

How are we doing? they asked each other simultaneously.

Good.

Teegs, what if I’m stuck in here forever?

You’re not going to be stuck in here forever.

How do you know?

Lightcap’s not going to let that happen.

The machine shifted around zir’s body uncomfortably. For all his bravado, for all his bravery, Teagan knew this was scaring him.

Of course this is scary! Jackson’s thought intruded. What am I going to do for fun, huh? No more mess hall, no more rec room. Who’m I gonna spar with, Tee? I’m not hitting another Jaeger, I can tell you that much.

His anxiety was starting to bleed over into zir’s side of things. “Okay, just… just calm down for a little bit. You’re fogging up the drift.”

Jackson quieted down, but was still detectably antsy.

Teagan looked around inside the conn-pod, looking over the details of the hulking machinery with new eyes.

That wasn’t just a stepdrive, it was Jackson’s stepdrive. It was Jackson’s halide-web holovisor. They were Jackson’s equilibrant matrices. His cables. His struts. His bolts and welded seams.

I can’t just stand in a bay in the fuckin’ shatterdome 24/7 until the Breach opens again , he continued. I have cousins that are still alive! I’d like to, I dunno, spend Christmas with them!

He had a point.

You’re damn right I’ve got a point!

Teagan saw his hand glide up and off to the side through the visor. Jackson tapped the side of his Jaeger-head, filling the conn-pod with a deep, metallic, thumping noise.

The co-pilot reached for the comm switch. “Uh, LOCCENT… can I get an ETA for this patch? We’re getting a little antsy in here.”

“Give us… ten? Ten more minutes, Sierra,” said Avers.

Might as well have been an eternity.

Let’s get out of here, Jackson grumbled.

Without even asking, Teagan felt his mind push zir away from reality and further into the drift. Where were they…?

C’mon!

The mindscape of professional drifting, kept gray and sterile to prevent the spread of miasma, gave way to vague psychedelics as they went about building a hasty and temporary paracosm together.

The swirls and bursts of shapeless color were distantly warm and erotic, Teagan noted, as ze started to feel the tingling of fingers materialising around zir hazy wrist. The path formed first; it always did. Then their feet, and the rest of their bodies came slowly and blearily.

I feel like cotton balls this time, ze thought.

Cotton tail more like!

Teagan looked down and saw, then, that ze was in a Playboy Bunny costume.

Look, I gave you ears to match.

Ze used his eyes to look at zir from another angle. Yep, Jackson had imagined bunny ears on him too.

Yeah, well…

Teagan focused zir thought and like an eruption of soda fizz, Jackson’s crotch roared to life as a tiny Tresspasser.

That’s not funny, he thought, his drift-self folding his arms and knitting brows together. The kaiju-junk morphed into a huge, but not quite unrealistic, bulge covered in already-wet swim trunks. Now that’s better.

Teagan snorted. Pink? I can’t imagine you wearing pink trunks, guy.

The dreamspace around them slowly settled into a form: their high school’s quad. A place whose every detail they could both recall with relative ease. A setting neither of them needed to work to maintain.

Can you imagine this, then? Jackson stood, as solidly as was possible in this place, in front of zir, stark naked now. I know you have.

Teagan “looked” away… but it was pretty futile. No matter where ze looked, Jackson was still there.

Jackson Finch, what are you doing…

Teagan’s blush gave the scene around them a pinkish cast.

Jackson’s drift-self walked over to him, still in the bunny costume, and gently grabbed his hips. I figure that since, well… we fucked earlier, you should at least see the real me naked.

We’re drift partners! Of course I’ve “seen” you naked before.

Not like this you haven’t. He pulled Teagan’s drift-self closer, pushing his cock against zir belly. The quad around them shuddered, and somewhere off in the distance, they were both vaguely aware that Sierra Dynamo shuddered lightly as well.

Teagan looked up and met his gaze. I don’t remember you being this tall, ze thought, twisting zir mouth up. I thought your chin touched my head? He appeared to be well over six feet tall compared to Teagan’s 5’6”.

Jackson laughed. I guess Sierra’s wearing off on me. He pressed himself into the pilot more, and Teagan could feel a jolt of arousal shoot through his root chakra.

I… I’m not sure if we should be doing this now…

Why not? We’ve got a few minutes.

Quickies aren’t my bag.

Have you ever had one?

No, but…

Ok, we’ll try it just this once. Jackson bent his head down--way down--and lightly nibbled on Teagan’s shoulder. And if you don’t like it, I won’t bug you. Promise.

Jackson’s member was hard against zir stomach now, and Teagan found zirself getting excited at the idea as well. Without a single cohesive thought, ze relented. I’m going to change, ze thought faintly. A moment later, ze was naked too, but this time, ze was zir… real self, as ze conceptualized it.

Your real self?

Teagan grabbed Jackson’s hand and led it down to zir crotch, where there was now a clean-shaven pussy. Or… it was an approximation of a pussy. The drift filled with warm and gooey understanding, and Jackson leaned in for a kiss.

Their lips locked, and the larger pilot’s hand brushed against the closely-shaven sides of Teagan’s head before heading further up and into longer hair. Ze reached up to touch his face and then hook zir hands around his neck as he lowered the both of them down onto pillowy-soft concrete.

Quick, remember? Let’s save the mushy shit for when you’re out of that bed.

Jackson laughed against zir neck. Deal.

He sat up on his haunches, Teagan still on the ground beneath him, and he looked down with what felt like pure admiration. Also, desire too. The smaller pilot couldn’t help but continue to notice the size of Jackson’s drift-self. Aside from the new junk, ze wondered if ze was appearing differently to him too?

Turn over.

Teagan did so as the thought came though; it was hard to tell who thought it first.

Ass up.

Jackson’s hips pressed hard against zir rear, swollen cock forcing zir ass cheeks apart. It felt as thick as a coke can.

Of course it’ll fit, he preemptively thought. Anything’s possible in dreamland!

With strangely large hands, he grabbed Teagan’s slight hips and pulled him back onto his huge shaft. Teagan let out a long, low cry at the feeling of being utterly filled to the brim with zir co-pilot. Jackson made a similar sound, and they were both distantly aware of the sensations the other was feeling. Fullness. Tightness. Girth. Slick.

How is this--

Shhh.

Jackson started thrusting into zir juicy ass. Slowly for the first couple of strokes, and then he quickly built up to a fast, pounding rhythm as soon as ze loosened up.

So tight…

So huge…

Soft…

Hard…

He reached around to rub at the zir’s hard nub. Electricity flowed out… literally. Jackson’s huge fingers were humming with electric current. Ze cried out, gasping for breath as the jolts began to jerk at zir pelvic muscles like sugary puppet strings.

Fuck, they thought in unison.

Climax came fast for zir. Ze jerked, stiff as a board, and then was wracked by a series of blissful shudders that pushed zir partner over the edge too, zir pleasure bleeding over into his.

Not that it hurt--nothing hurt here unless they wanted it to--but ze could feel his cock grow, somehow even larger, and when he came with a series of breathy moans, ze overflowed with waves of his hot come.

Fuck!

Panting, Teagan turned around and threw zirself at zir partner. Huge arms encircled zir, holding zir close and tight, pressing their naked chests together. Ze looked up, and their eyes met. Ze was about to think something cheesy, but stopped.

You’re like… 8 feet tall now. The fuck gives?

I am? Jackson probed his co-pilot’s own drift-vision to confirm this.

You’re not doing this on purpose, are you?

No…

For fuck’s sake.

Just then, Jackson's face... changed. Flickered. Teagan blinked, narrowed zir eyes. His eyes, nose and mouth, ze could have sworn, had just now been replaced with the glowing orange of a halide-web holovisor for the briefest of moments. Or had it?

There! It did it again!

What the hell is happening?

Jackson jumped up, and as he did so, a strange thing happened to his drift-body: Teagan was suddenly overwhelmed with the felt sensation that Jackson was beginning to be, in his mind, two things at once: man and... machine.

Like being zapped by a jolt of electricity, Teagan "saw" Jackson flicker between his larger-than-life human self and Sierra Dynamo like a faint tic.

I gotta get out of here…

Teagan! No, don’t leave me here, please… I don’t know what’s going on and--

I need to surface! Lightcap needs to know about this!

Teegs, wait!

Teagan yanked zirself from the depths of their deep, collective mindscape, returning to reality. Cold and shaken, ze reached for the console. Jackson’s Jaeger-body shivered. His end of the drift was quiet.

“Command, we’ve got a problem.”

“No shit, your heart-rate is through the roof and--”

“It’s not me,” ze pants, having been given no time to enjoy zir post-driftfuck buzz. “It’s Finch.”

 

Chapter Text

 "He's what?" Lightcap gasped over the wireless.

"He's... something's happening to his... dammit, I don't know what to call it!" Teagan growled and smacked the side of zir helmet with a gloved hand.

"Slow down, Rosenthal," came Pentecost's measured voice. "Think, remember, describe."

Homonculus, came Jackson's faint thought.

Huh?

I-I remember from the body-mapping lecture back in basic. Tell Lightcap that it's my homonculus.

Teagan looked over at the empty right-hand position beside zir, as though Jackson was there. Ze nodded.

"Jackson says... that there's something happening to his homonculus, ma'am. I... fell asleep during that class, I'm afraid," ze chuckled into the comm weakly. "Don't remember what that means."

Her voice changed. There was recognition there. "The cortical homonculus is your brain's internal map of the body," she explained. "His is..."

Changing, Jackson murmured.

"His is changing, ma'am."

The line went quiet for a long moment before she clicked back on. "They're installing the patch now, rangers. Just a few more minutes and we should be able to ask Jackson ourselves."

Teagan frowned, reaching forward to hit the switch one more time. "...copy that, LOCCENT. Standing by."

--

"It's going to be strange at first, Mr. Finch. Think carefully about the words you're trying to say, and focus on them before you start talking."

Jackson bowed Sierra Dynamo's head and raised its hand to rub at the side of the conn-pod. Teagan felt him steady his thoughts in preparation to send them through an algorithmic middle-man.

"H...i..." came the computerized voice, sputtering and glitching.

"Mr. Finch, is that you?"

"Y...es... ma'am."

Teagan's face lit up behind zir mask and ze clapped. "Jax, you did it!" Around zir, Jackson's Jaeger body shifted.

"I think the... engineers... did more tha-an I did."

The suited ranger chuckled when ze heard laughter from LOCCENT. It was good laughter. "Mr. Finch, if you could tell us what you're seeing and how you're feeling for us tonight."

"Well, m-ma'am... I'll try my best..."

--

An hour later and Teagan was summoned into one of the strategy rooms upstairs, with Lightcap, Pentecost, Avers, the shatterdome's senior engineering staff, a telepsychologist from DARPA, and half their medical department in attendance.

"So, wait. What you're trying to say is that Finch is somehow wirelessly communicating with Sierra's AI and Pons system?" The DARPA man scoffed, looking a little worse for wear. It appeared he'd dropped everything to hop on the next plane to Alaska. "That's not... No, that goes against the laws of physics, Dr. Lightcap. C'mon, you should know better."

"As I see it, this could be one of two things, Mr. Yoshida," she said, standing at the head of the room. "Either Sierra's AI has somehow managed to latch onto Finch's brain signature and maintain that connection via remotely gathered feedback, or... we're talking quantum entanglement."

The room was full of shuffling feet and clearing throats and murmuring.

"I had Corporal Graves dig out the medical records of the Jaeger program's early stress tests, and there is a promising lead." Lightcap flicked at something on the screen of her tablet, transferring the information to the projector screen in the middle of the room. Behind her on the wall was some graphs now that Teagan couldn't make heads or tails of. "What you're looking at here is the brain activity of Air Force Commander Sean Sterling, one of our first test pilots. His handshake was severed prematurely during a training exercise; the head injury he suffered here--" she used a laser pointer to circle a point on the timeline of one of the graphs "--knocked him unconscious. Now if you look at the Pons readout, you'll see that the system was still recording brain signals from Commander Sterling for another 8 whole seconds after he fell out of drift, and acting on them." She turned back to the room. "The Marshal and I believe that Mr. Finch is experiencing a similar phenomenon... except that his state, so far, seems to be indefinite."

Dr. Esparza raised her hand. "What did Commander Sterling remember of the experience once he woke up again?"

"According to him, he experienced not only consciousness for those 8 extra seconds, but he felt distinctly "stuck" in the drift, and moreover, he felt alone. We can conclude that he wasn't drifting with his co-pilot by that point, then; that the nature of his drift was with the Jaeger itself."

More silence as the repercussions of this sank in. Teagan fidgeted uncomfortably.

The DARPA man cleared his throat. "I think the question on everyone's mind, Dr. Lightcap, is, is what Mr. Finch doing right now solo piloting?"

Pentecost folded his hands in front of himself and swallowed. "Technically? Yes."

"The cost, however, is steep," Lighcap quickly explained. "The only reason Mr. Finch is not buckling under the pressure of the neural load is because he doesn't have two bodies to worry about right now. He still only has one; it's just the wrong one."

Teagan felt zir hand raise suddenly, but it was too late to pull it down. "Ma'am," ze said with a little uncertainty, "I think we're under a deadline with this. Jackson said his homonculus was beginning to recalibrate itself."

"In the absence of neural input from his real body," Pentecost wondered aloud at the front of the room, "His brain could be adjusting to conform to that of the Jaeger..."

Lightcap frowned. "It could be a defense mechanism," she suggested. "To keep from being injured by the load."

"Either way," Teagan boldly continued, "The longer it takes us to get him back in the right body, the more traumatic it's going to be when we do."

"Agreed," Lighcap said firmly. An uneasy pause, then: "Suggestions?"

"We could try a hard reboot of Sierra's systems. It might force him out."

"Too risky."

"What if we re-created the conditions of his entanglement, but engineered a fork of the pons to only run one way?"

"Also risky, but I'll take that under consideration. Anything else?"

Pentecost, who'd been sitting with his arms folded and a deep crease between his brows, suddenly flicked his eyes in the doctor's direction. "What if we used the drift to take him back to his body?"

Teagan considered this from where ze was seated at the far end of the conference table. "Like a guided meditation," ze said.

"Exactly."

Lightcap straightened up and chewed on the end of a tablet pen as she thought it over. "It's definitely the lowest-impact strategy we've got so far," she ceded. "Potential risks?"

Teagan bobbed zir head from side to side and shrugged. "Just some wasted time, ma'am. Can't lose him in the drift if we've got a good handshake going."

"Alright. Avers, make it happen. I want a mobile pons hookup down in medical, ready for Rosenthal to hook up at 0700 hours tomorrow morning," Dr. Lightcap said to the commander. He nodded, and everyone began to rise from their seats. "In the meantime, I want preliminary write-ups from you, Mr. Yoshida, and you, Mr. Puri, on your alternatives. I want them on my server by then also."

"Yes ma'am."

Pentecost checked his watch as he stood up. "Looks like we've got quite the day ahead of us tomorrow, doctor. I'll see you at 6:30am sharp." He turned to the others, nodding. "Commander, doctor... Mr. Rosenthal, goodnight."

Teagan opened zir mouth to excuse zirself too, but another thought percolated up. "Ah... Avers, sir?"

The big man, dressed in his neat gray fatigues, stopped and turned from where he was headed for the door. "What's up, ranger?"

"I know this is a weird request, but... can I sleep in the conn pod tonight, sir?"

His brows pressed together for a moment and he nodded. "It's not the worst idea I've heard all day," he said with a chuckle, slapping Teagan on the shoulder as he walked them both out. "Sure, Rosenthal. I'm sure Finch would appreciate it."

Ze smiled, then was caught off-guard by a yawn. "I think he would."