It starts off badly and gets worse from there.
“Um. Hi? My name’s Vivian Lee. I’m supposed to, um…” Vi looks down at the phone in her hands, at the email showing on the screen. “I’m newly assigned to the K-Science Lab? I was supposed to ask for Doctor Gottlieb?”
The guy behind the reception desk looks up with an expression hovering somewhere between fear, pity, and disgust. “Oh, man,” he says. “Who’d you get killed to wind up posted to K-Lab?”
Vi blinks. “What?” She’d been so excited when she’d gotten the call, four weeks ago now. Fresh out of university, straight into her dream job, and this is not the reception she was expecting.
“Want my advice?” says the receptionist. “Run. Going AWOL and getting court marshaled will be the easy out, compared to where you’re going.” He sounds so serious, leaning across the desk as if confiding a secret. Vi tries to hold her smile, but there’s a feeling in her stomach like the earthquake from a kaiju’s footsteps, and this time it’s not purely from excitement.
It’s been nearly an hour since Vi met Doctor Gottlieb and nearly fifty minutes since the shouting started. Not at her; Gottlieb hasn’t said a single thing to her, beyond the initial, “No. Absolutely not!” Since then, he’s been on the phone with someone Vi suspects is well and truly above her pay grade. She doesn’t know who and hasn’t had the opportunity to ask, in between the shouting. Instead, she’s been standing quietly in the corner of the lab, bag clutched against her chest, trying not to cry.
This was not what she expected from her first day.
At least she’s in K-Lab. It’s exactly as incredible as she always imagined it would be, a mad science theme park of humming machines and preserved kaiju parts in jars and huge whiteboards filled with scribble. There’s also a keyboard—the musical kind, not the computer kind, although there are those, too—and a huge pool of inky black water.
The water feeds into the ocean, that she does know. Via a tunnel that runs under the newly upgraded Shatterdome. There’s a rack of scuba equipment next to the pool, though it looks decidedly unused, and Vi is inspecting this—leaning over the pool, trying to fathom its purpose—when the kaiju appears.
It’s not a big kaiju, so much so that Vi wonders if it could be classed as one at all. At least, she will wonder this, later. When the thing isn’t emerging from the black water beneath her face, all glowing eyes and enormous teeth. It comes up so fast it nearly headbutts her, and Vi screams, tumbling backwards with a crash that sends her falling into a cart of samples. They go down and she goes down with them, right onto hard Lino. Hard and wet, and getting wetter from the maybe-kaiju that’s emerged from the pool now, is looming over Vi, claws extended.
It has six limbs, is her first, slightly hysterical, thought. Two it’s walking on, two huge ones with claws and fins emerging from its shoulders. And two more, smaller, more hand-like, tucked against its chest. Six limbs and six eyes, glowing bright blue against dark grey skin. Its tongue also glows, and its gums, and the cracks between the plates of its armoured skin and—
“Yes, I know it’s a girl!”
—and Doctor Gottlieb is coming back over, limping heavily, phone still held up against his ear.
“See!” he says into the phone. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. All this… this shrieking and— and crashing and carrying on!”
The tiny kaiju is carrying a satchel. In its small hands. She can see silver sample canisters emerging from the top.
It’s also, she realises, offering her a hand up. One of the big claws.
Its skin feels… strange against Vi’s own. Wet and rubbery, rough on the back but the palms are soft. It helps her up off the floor while Doctor Gottlieb is still shouting into his phone, and for a moment Vi finds herself eye-to-eye with a monster. It must be only about twelve feet long, from its snout to its tail, but it walks hunched so it doesn’t stand much higher than six. It is absolutely fascinating. Vi’s heard the rumours, because everyone has—tame kaiju, kept secret by the Corps—but she never thought she’d actually get to see one, let alone on her first day.
The kaiju tilts its head, mouth opening slightly, tongue lolling. Vi’s pretty sure it’s smiling. Then it huffs, and lumbers off. Over to the far side of the lab, where it starts unpacking its sample containers, and Vi is left wondering what the hell she’s just signed up for.
Doctor Gottlieb eventually stops shouting, but that doesn’t mean he gets any friendlier. He’s there every morning when Vi shows up to the lab, hunched over a tablet or examining some projected schematic. She smiles and says hello and he huffs and scowls and that’s about as far as their relationship goes. It would be miserable, but thankfully Vi isn’t Doctor Gottlieb’s lab assistant. She’s here to do biology, which means she works for Doctor G1.
Doctor G1—who calls Doctor Gottlieb “Dr. G2”, an Vi giggles although doesn’t mention this out loud—has no other name that Vi can ascertain, and seems to be posted in some other lab. He’s a very active emailer, however, and seems like a nice guy—Vi is almost certain he’s a guy—and that makes work… better.
dont worry about g2, he tells her, the afternoon of her first day. he just doesnt like change
I don’t want to be in his way, Vi writes back. Working in K-Lab is a dream come true for me. I don’t want to mess it up. She wonders if this is over-sharing. Doctor Gottlieb is a living legend, a scientific hero. Vi had heard he was… eccentric. But she doesn’t want the guy to hate her.
your doin fine dont worry bout it, comes the reply from Dr. G1. ill talk to hermherm later if you want. get him to lay off a bit
Vi pauses, looks guiltily over her laptop to where Doctor Gottlieb is glued to his own screen, steadfastly pretending she doesn’t exist.
No, she types back. It’s okay. I’ll just have to win him over with my shining personality. :) It takes five times of adding then deleting the smilie before she decides to keep it.
good luck, comes the reply. offers open any time you need it :P
Vi decides to take it as a challenge.
The thing is, no one mentions the kaiju. It’s obviously there, in the lab, every day. Doctor Gottlieb talks to it almost constantly. He just… never mentions it to Vi, and honestly Vi’s too afraid of him to ask. Vi is not afraid of Dr. G1, but he never mentions the kaiju, either, which makes Vi think maybe he doesn’t know about it? Or maybe he does, but it’s some sort of classified secret they’re not supposed to talk about over the email? Either way, she doesn’t want to be the one spilling top secret info (or whatever), and so the beast goes unremarked.
It takes her nearly a month at the Shatterdome to figure out the thing is called The Newt, and the only reason she works this out is because she overhears some pilots referring to K-Lab as being the domain of “Frankenstein and the Newt”. Vi’s heart sinks a little at the term. Sttrained relationship with Doctor Gottlieb aside, she loves working in K-Lab. It’s everything she used to dream of at university, and more; learning the kaiju from the inside out, their biology, their composition. Being close enough to almost touch…
Vi does not touch the Newt, beyond that first day. She almost did, when she came in early to find it curled up asleep underneath (or partly underneath) the keyboard. She’d been crouching down, trembling fingers inches from its carapace, when a walking cane had slapped her hand aside.
“Do you often grope people when they’re sleeping?” Doctor Gottlieb had hissed, expression contorted and vicious. Vi had been so humiliated she hadn’t been able to look at him for a week.
At least the work is interesting. And useful. Dr. G1 has her studying the regenerative properties of kaiju cells, seeing if they can be applied to human medicine.
think about it, he’d told her. the kaiju don’t age, don’t get sick, can heal from all but the most extreme injuries. They’re artificially created beings which means someone made them like that. if we can reverse engineer that technology ourselves, think of what it would do for humanity!!!!
It’s definitely, Vi thinks, at least four exclamation marks worth of exciting. But first they have to figure out how to neutralise the side-effects, a.k.a. the kaiju virus.
we know how to turn people into monsters, but even as a last resort its not considered an ~acceptable ~outcome
Vi looks up as she reads this. The Newt is over the other side of the lab, stretched out with its front half underneath Doctor Gottlieb’s desk. The Doctor has his bad leg stretched out and propped up on the kaiju’s back, between the spines, like it’s something he’s done a thousand times before. Vi has seen the file photos of tests with the kaiju virus; a second generation Kaiju Blue, one that mutates as well as poisons. There’s a vaccine, if people would take it, but Vi’s seen the effects and it is not pretty. It occurs to her to wonder if that’s what happened to the Newt; whether it was Doctor Gottlieb’s pet dog or some kind of lab animal. Maybe that’s why he keeps it around. Some of the pilots keep pets on base; she supposes this isn’t different.
The theory is supported when she walks in on Doctor Gottlieb taking a biological sample from the Newt. It’s hooked up to some sort of machine, iridescent blue blood draining through a tube and into a container. Doctor Gottlieb is petting the Newt as he watches the procedure, hands running down the creature’s neck as it makes a contented whining halfway between a purr and a dolphin’s bark. Vi is pretty sure neither of them have seen her.
“—not have to be ‘nicer’,” Doctor Gottlieb is saying. “I don’t care if she’s a brilliant researcher, we’ve been doing this alone for years. No one was interested before they knew who we were, so you’ll have to forgive me for not trusting their motivations now that they do. I won’t have this lab filling up with— with glory hunters and kaiju groupies. Or worse!”
Vi feels her heart clench. He’s talking about her, she realizes. To Dr. G1, by the sound of it, and Vi can’t see a phone, but most of Doctor Gottlieb is obscured by the hulking, placid body of the Newt. Its glow ripples, and Vi knows she should leave. Leave, or announce herself; something to let Doctor Gottlieb know she’s there. She shouldn’t eavesdrop, she—
“I am not jealous! Don’t be ridiculous, you overbearing lump of genetic waste. What would I possibly be—” He’s cut off.
He’s cut off because the Newt has moved, has tilted its head and opened its mouth, and its long, glowing tongue is pushing its way down Doctor Gottlieb’s throat.
Vi has one moment of pure, heart-stopping panic. Fight or flight. Because the Newt has never been aggressive, has never so much as growled at her or at Doctor Gottlieb and yet here it is, attacking the Doctor except…
Except Doctor Gottlieb doesn’t look very attacked. Not with the way he arches his head back, body going slack as the Newt’s inner arms come up to hold him, to run down his sides and… and it looks like a kiss. A passionate kiss, a kiss between lovers. Except it can’t be, can it? It must be something else, some kaiju thing Vi doesn’t understand. Either way, she needs to leave. Whatever’s going on, it isn’t for her to see.
When she finally gets the courage to return to the lab, both Doctor Gottlieb and the Newt are missing. So Vi puts her head down, and gets to work.
Vi blushes, and can’t meet his eyes.