It’s torture, waiting for the car to arrive. Newt can feel its approach, feel every tedious second as it gets stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam. Ten minutes, twenty… Fuck. The plane landed like an hour ago, and Newt was trying to be good, trying to get some shit done in the lab, but it’s been impossible to think, first through Hermann’s jittery anxiousness, and now his teenage glee. He’s happy, and that’s cool, Newt loves it when Herms is happy, for real, but… Fuck. Hurry the fuck up, man!
Newt’s tail thrashes against the concrete, nearly trips up a guy who comes round a corner too fast carrying a stack of boxes. There’s a startled scream and the guy scurries away, and Newt can’t even give a shit because, yes! The big black SUV is pulling down the ramp. Is parking in front of Newt, who stands, because a second later the car doors burst open and a whirlwind of pink explodes outwards.
“Papa Ne-ee-ee-ee-ee-et!” shrieks the whirlwind, slamming into Newt’s stomach.
Lena Gottlieb, four and a half, and the most terrifying thing under three feet. Newt loved her from the moment her first saw her, tiny and brown and wrapped in a blanket, being held up to the vidcon screen by her deliriously happy father.
Newt hauls Lena up, or rather doesn’t stop her as she hauls herself up. Climbing his arms, smooth and easy like a girl born to scale kaiju. “Papa Newt!” she keeps saying. “Papa Newt, look!” A big grey blur appears in front of his left eyes.
“Oh, baby, I’m not sure Papa can see that close to his face.” Vanessa Gottlieb, striding forward with her supermodel’s walk, looking ridiculously beautiful for someone who just spent thirteen hours on a plane. She smiles as she approaches, arms out. “Newt, sweetheart. It’s so good to see you.”
“You too, Vans,” he manages to sign. The benefits of bringing four arms to his childcare game. Vanessa feels good in his arms, warm and soft and sleek, smelling like champagne and French perfume. She kisses him between the nares, then giggles, rubbing at the leftover spot of lipstick.
“Papa! Look!” Lena, who’s settled into the crook of Newt’s big arm, waving some kind of plush grey toy.
“What’s this, Monster Girl?” he signs, catching the flailing toy. He gives a startled bark of laughter when he sees what it is. “Where’d you get this?”
“Uncle Giotto made it for me! For Christmas.”
Ah, yes, of course. Uncle Giotto, no one special. Just Giotto Singh, only like, the world’s most influential fashion designer. NBD, dude.
“Do you know who this is?” Newt asks.
Lena sticks her tongue out and slaps him on the arm (the “Lena! We don’t hit people!” from Vanessa goes ignored), as if Newt’s just insulted her by asking her the colour of the sky. “Ye-ee-ee-es,” she drawls, eyes rolling in a way not at all unlike her father. “Of co-oo-oo-ourse. It’s Slattern!”
It is, too. Stitched out of felt in cartoon proportions, soft droopy arms and little eyelashes on her eyes. Some of the anatomy is wrong, but Newt doesn’t mention it. The doll is pretty cool.
“Why… why her?” He stutters a bit over the word “Slattern”, because he has no idea how to sign it—in Cantonese, no less—without resorting to an equivalent he really shouldn’t be saying in front of a five-year-old.
“She doesn’t know what it means,” Vanessa whispers, from Newt’s other side. Newt winces. Thank you, Tendo Choi, for the awkward and unnecessary family conversations.
Lena, meanwhile, has launched into a lengthy and enthusiastic lecture on Slattern’s positive qualities: she’s the biggest, and the strongest, and has “the prettiest teeth”, and “heaps of tails which is awesome”, and—
“I’ve failed.” And Hermann is there, ruffling his daughter’s dark curls. “She sounds like you. My own daughter!”
Newt just sticks his tongue out, long and glowing blue, and Lena squeals her delight.
The Gottliebs head to the mess hall to grab some dinner, Newt lugs their bags back to the dorm. He doesn’t mind. Honestly, tonight he doesn’t mind anything, too caught up in Hermann’s deliriously happy haze.
“Dude, who’s the hottie hanging out with Frankenstein? She is… phwoar. I’d fucking hit that.”
“Dude, that’s his wife. She’s, like. A model or some shit.”
“What? No fucking way. I thought he was boning the kaiju?”
“Dude! That’s fucking gross. No, I swear—”
Just two random techs, gossiping in the hall. Two random techs who shriek and press themselves against the wall when Newt passes. He makes sure to give a disapproving snort as he does. Fucking jerkasses. Whatever.
He gets a lot of awkward stares and gossipy whispers when he walks into the mess. He doesn’t spend much time up here, so whatever. Let them get their tickets to the show while it lasts.
Hermann is alone when Newt finds him, eating something that looks and smells like dim sum with actual pork.
“Where’re the girls?” Newt kicks aside a shitty metal chair and plonks himself down next to Hermann.
“Sweet.” Which earns him an eye roll, so Newt gives a tongue-lolling grin. “Hey, dude,” he adds. “When Vans gets back, you gotta kiss her. Like, proper-like. With tongue and shit.”
Hermann, who’s Hermann, narrows his eyes and sends a jolt of suspicion Newt’s way. “Why?”
Newt throws up all four arms in exasperation. “What do you mean, ‘why’? She’s your fuckin’ wife, dude. Just do it.”
Hermann’s suspicion doesn’t abate but, to his credit—or, more rightly, to Vanessa’s credit—he does kiss his wife the way she deserves when she returns to the table. Lena, who’s five, makes gagging noises at the sight, so Newt runs interference by sticking his own tongue out, and they end up in the sort of competition Newt easily wins. All around them, people try and pretend they’re not staring at the scene; the scientist, the supermodel, the kaiju, the girl. This is Newt’s family. Let people stare, it’s none of their fucking business anyway.
“What was that for?” Vanessa asks, smiling full and happy, when Hermann pulls away.
Newt can feel the dumb-ass reply at the edge of Hermann’s mind. “Dude. If you say ‘Newt told me to’ I will fucking eat you.”
“Just because,” is the answer Hermann ends up with. Vanessa smiles, happy, while the entire mess pretends they’re not giving incredulous stares.
The pair put Lena to bed. She’d practically been falling asleep on Newt’s back on the way down from the mess, but she still protests when they try and get her into her pyjamas. “Just ten more minutes, Daddy,” and “Papa I’m not tired I promise.” Three brains and six arms later, they finally manage to get her snoring on the pillow, Slattern tucked in under her cheek.
They slip out, close the door softly behind them. Hermann is limping heavily, but his cane is tucked under his arm and he’s using Newt instead. Newt doesn’t mind. He’s wanted to be the guy Hermann leans on when the pain’s too much since they first met, over a decade ago now. The reverse being true took longer, but they got there in the end.
“You’re so good with Lena,” Hermann says, as they make their way back into their bedroom. “I don’t thank you enough for it.”
“Always wanted to be a dad, dude,” Newt reminds him, which is true.
It’s not true for Hermann, Newt knows. He still remembers walking in to the lab one morning to find Hermann staring, shell-shocked, at a wall. Newt had though someone had died, had been busy mentally preparing himself for a low-aggravation-to-Hermann day when the man had blurted out, “Vanessa is pregnant!” Newt’s resulting, exuberant, “Congratulations, dude!” had perhaps, in retrospect, not been what Hermann had wanted to hear.
“This is not a world to bring a child into,” Newt had heard Hermann lament, later, to himself. That’d been back when Newt had still only had one pair of hands and a lower light of sight. Things have changed a lot since then. Not enough, maybe, but…
If worst comes to worst, Newt knows how to stabilise the k-virus. And he knows Hermann and Vanessa will love a tiny raging kaiju daughter as deeply as they do their current monster. If worst comes to worst.
When they get to the bedroom, Newt helps Hermann with his clothes; one set of arms to lean on, one set of arms for buttons. Hermann radiates tired contentment, happiness cutting through the usual dull agony. He’s so handsome, all sharp cheekbones and bright brown eyes, skin a whirling storm of borrowed tattoos, a map in bas relief against too-prominent bones.
Newt noses closer for a kiss, and gets one, sweet and soft. Hermann sighs, hands coming up to stroke the underside of Newt’s throat, even as Newt’s own hands get busy mapping ribs and rubbing over one dusky, pebbled nipple. There’s a part of Hermann that will always be fifteen, lonely and touch-starved, aching for a contact he’d been convinced he would never have. It’s the part most people never see, the part most people would be surprised to see; the usually prickly, awkward Doctor Gottlieb reborn as something sensual and wanting.
Behind them, the door to the bathroom slides open. “I see you boys started without me.”
They both turn, and the sharp spike of pure lust that hits Hermann at the sight of his wife—that has him leaping from half-hard to near-bursting in an instant—would be funny if it didn’t hit Newt, too. There’s a dull thud as seven tentacles unfurl and drop to the floor, all at once, and Vanessa laughs at the sight, big and brassy and confident. She stalks towards them, wearing nothing but assorted scraps of lingerie so deadly they need their own Serizawa Scale.
“Fuck, dude,” Newt manages. “Your wife is so fucking hot.”
“You know,” says said hot wife. “I was told Hong Kong would be the perfect place to find some brave, brilliant war heroes to show a girl a good time. You boys wouldn’t happen to know where I could find anyone like that, would you?” She runs a hand down each of their jaws as she says it.
Herman swallows, hard. “I think that could be arranged,” he manages.
After, they lay in a sated tangle of limbs on the bed. Hermann’s on his stomach, Vanessa’s fingers running across softly glowing tattoos, rubbing ten years’ worth of tension out of his shoulders. They talk, about nothing in particular. Lena’s adventures in day care, the asshole designer at Vanessa’s last photoshoot, small talk about siblings and cousins and uncles. Newt dozes through most of it, enjoying the closeness, the dull domesticity of it all. The humanity.
Kaiju don’t have nesting instincts. At least, Newt’s pretty sure they don’t. No nesting, no mating, no paternal or maternal care. Too many generations removed from whatever life-form they were cloned from, as domesticated as sheep, albeit in a different way. Newt’s had glimpses from the hive mind, of kaiju being factory bred and reared and conditioned. The sort of shit that would have Greenpeace chaining themselves to Jaegers, if anyone could be bothered to think of kaiju as animals rather than monsters.
Newt’s spent years, trying to reconstruct the kaiju common ancestor, to find what lurks behind generations of alien engineering. And maybe it’s futile but Newt has to try, has to know. What was it like? How did it live, breed, what did it eat? Did it live alone or in families or in herds? Predator or prey? Do any of those designations even make sense, for something so alien? Newt doesn’t know, but he wants to.
Wants to, but not tonight. Tonight is the feel of Hermann, curling up against his side, Vanessa spooned against his chest. Tonight is the heavy-happy feeling of post-sex satiation, the dozy knowledge Lena is warm and safe next door. Tonight is family, and happiness, and it’s his.
Lena presses one finger against her chin, twisting as her legs kick back and forth beneath the mess hall table. “Mm-mm-mm,” she pretends to think. Then: “Swimming!”
“Swimming, huh?” Newt signs. “We can do swimming.” It’s breakfast. Hermann and Vanenna are out in the city for the day, doing the romantic tourist thing. So it’s just Newt and Lena back at the ‘Dome. Newt doesn’t mind. It’d been his suggestion, in fact. Hermann needs to get out more.
Newt’s acceptance of Lena’s plan prompts a long and excited ramble about her new bathers, apparently fashioned a la a mermaid’s tail, which one part of Newt finds awesomely cool and the other, paternal, part finds terrifyingly dangerous. He has gills, but sometimes he thinks Lena forgets she doesn’t.
The bathers turn out not to be as scary as Newt was imagining; sort of like a cleverly disguised fishtail skirt. The Lycra is a charcoal-and-kaiju-blue, subtly painted to look like natural markings (albeit given an artist’s interpretation of “natural”). Another creation of Uncle Giotto, according to Lena, and somehow, Newt isn’t surprised. He can’t wait for the S/S ’31 Kaiju Collection. That’ll go down like a besieged city, he’s sure.
Lena rides sidesaddle on his shoulders as he walks them to the pool, his small arms full of towels and goggles and sunscreen and pool noodles. Lena keeps wanting him to run faster, and although he worries about her falling off, eventually she persuades him by wrapping both arms tight around the raised fin of his dorsal plates.
“I won’t fall off, Papa. Ple-ee-ee-ease?”
Of course, a running kaiju and a shrieking girl draw absolutely no attention whatsoever in the Shatterdome. But whatever.
The ‘Dome’s pool is less that and more a sequestered area of private beach, cordoned off from the bay and mostly devoid of swell (and sea life). It’s technically here for the pilots to train in, but it’s sandy enough that there are as many people lounging around working on their melanomas as there are people doing laps. Newt dumps their stuff, then has to chase after Lena who goes tearing off towards the water, sans sunscreen.
“If I let you get sunburned,” he tells her, “your mama is going to turn me into sushi.” She sticks out her tongue in protest, but stays mostly still until Newt deems her SPF-appropriate.
“How come you don’t have to wear sunscreen?” she asks, pouting.
“’Cause I don’t get sunburned, Monster Girl,” is the answer.
“How do you know? Maybe you’re still getting cancer, but you just don’t know what kaiju sunburn looks like!”
This… is not entirely the worst point Newt has heard anyone ever make. He’s fairly certain it’s not true, but. Hell. It can’t hurt. Which is how he ends up trying not to wince as a five-year-old diligently slathers sunscreen across his caudal ocelli. He’s pretty sure at least two people take photos while he suffers.
On the plus side, Newt’s reward for this dedication to responsible parenting is an entire morning spent in the water with Lena. She wants to show him her “mermaid swim”—legs undulating up and down, rather than Newt’s own side-to-side motion—and the impressively long time she can hold her breath. They hit each other with pool noodles for a while, then Lena wants to “make whirlpools” in the lap pool, which involves ditching the big pool for the smaller, beach-free area mostly used for serious training.
It’s amazing how little serious training people feel compelled to do when a twelve foot kaiju is swimming circles around the perimeter of the pool. Lena holds onto Newt’s raised dorsal plates, shrieking in glee. She loves “k-surfing”, and she loves Newt using his speed and weight to turn the lap pool into a giant vortex. He, meanwhile, spends a lot of time using all of his arms to try and stop the current slamming Lena against the pool’s concrete walls when she lets go of his fin.
At least she has fun.
Lena eats a picnic lunch on the beach, sitting between Newt’s shoulder and his head as he lies sprawled out in the warm sand. He dozes as she spends a good hour trying to bury him, then opens some supervisory eyes as a few brave and curious souls come up to try and make conversation.
There aren’t usually children in the Shatterdome, and plenty of people have families they miss for one reason or another. Lena cowers behind Newt’s head, little fingers curling under the armoured plates, big eyes staring up at a j-tech trying to get her attention.
SHES SHY, Newt writes in the sand. The tech startles a bit to see it. Honestly. Newt has no idea what they tell people about him in induction, but maybe it’s about time he started reviewing the material. The whole “holy crap the kaiju talks!” routine is getting old.
“What’s your name, honey?” asks the j-tech. Newt says nothing. Lena’s her father’s daughter; a hellion with people she knows and a frosty plate of cactus spines with anyone she doesn’t. If she wants to say something, she will.
“Lena,” Lena eventually decides on. “Lena Gottlieb.”
“You’re Hermann’s little girl?” the tech exclaims, surprised. “Aren’t you just the prettiest little thing?” Then, when this earns no reaction: “Where’s your father?”
Lena doesn’t even hesitate. “Here,” she says, arms tightening around Newt’s head. Newt grins, teeth and tongue reflecting blue against the sand. Kids. Gotta love ‘em.
The tech blinks, obviously unsure how to process this answer. “I, uh. You must be very proud of her,” is the eventual result. Newt gives all four thumbs up in response.
They head back to the ‘Dome some time before two. One of the few natural instincts Newt did inherit from the kaiju was a tendency towards the crepuscular, so he has trouble staying awake around noon. Especially with warm sun and warm sand, and one little girl, building castles from the latter on his back (“It’s Kaiju Island!” had been the explanation).
It’s said little girl who wakes Newt with a shake and a, “Papa. Papa it’s raining!”
It is, too; the sky gone from kaiju blue to kaiju grey within the space of an hour. The sea is dark and churning, big fat drops falling into the sand. By the time Newt has extracted himself from Lena’s construction and packed away their stuff, the wind has picked up and the storm is unfurling in earnest. He makes the dash back to the ‘Dome with Lena gripped in his small arms, tucked under his body and out of the rain.
“Papa,” she admonishes him when he puts her down. “I’m a mermaid! Mermaids love the wet!”
Newt just ruffles her hair and scowls out at the ocean, an oddly uneasy feeling building in his gut.
They spend the afternoon indoors. It’s been a while since Lena came to the ‘Dome, so Newt takes her on a tour. She loves the labs with their specimen jars and the command rooms with their maps and screens and charts. She’s less enthusiastic about the Jaeger bays, clinging close to Newt’s legs while a fresh-faced young tech shows her things most kids would wet themselves to see. When Newt asks her about her reluctance, she just shrugs and changes the subject with all the skilful emotional subterfuge of a child. He drops it, but makes a note to mention it to Hermann later.
Speaking of Hermann, Newt gets a feeling like a slap upside the head while he’s in the mess making sure Lena eats at least one vegetable with her dessert.
Newt’s had the mental link muted all day, to give Herman some time alone with Vanessa, but he opens it now. The feeling he gets in response is mainly embarrassed contrition; Hermann didn’t mean to hurt him, his control over the bond just isn’t good, a fact he finds endlessly frustrating. It’s mainly that, but there’s an undercurrent beneath it; irritation, anxiety, fear.
“Dude? What’s wrong?”
“STORM. PHONE LINES DOWN. ROADS CLOSING.” Listening to Hermann try and talk over their bond is like standing next to a telegram operator with a megaphone, but Newt gets the gist.
“You guys stuck in town, huh?”
“YES.” Accompanied by a flash of memory. The concierge at the hotel they’d been having dinner at, making effusive garble to Vanessa over how honored they’d be to provide a room for the esteemed Doctor Gottlieb and his beautiful wife, free of charge. The memory is Hermann’s, so of course the main emotion to it is irritation. Newt sends back amusement in response.
“Dude. That’s, like, a two-grand a night room, easy. Stop griping and enjoy it.”
“She’s fine, dude. I’ve got it.”
“BEDTIME. EIGHT P.M.”
“Yeah yeah, I told you I got it.” He can feel the headache Hermann is giving himself from the attempts at communication. Or the attempt to communicate with Newt, same same. “We’ll be fine here. You guys stay safe and have fun, okay?” He sends through a mental image of exactly the kind of “fun” he imagines them having, trapped inside a storm, then withdraws before Hermann can give him the mental equivalent of flustered stuttering.
He comes back to the outside world to find Lena staring at him across the mess table. He gives her a gape-mawed grin. “Just talking to your daddy, Monster Girl,” he signs. “He and mama are stuck in town because of the storm, so we’re on our own tonight. They say they love you very much, and to eat your vegetables.” Which, okay. Is technically a lie, but one Newt feels is true in spirit.
Lena, judging from her expression, does not agree. “You don’t have to eat your vegetables!”
“That’s ‘cause I can’t eat them, Monster Girl.” This is also, technically, a lie. He can’t eat vegetables in the same way Lena can’t eat sand, which is to say they’ll pass right through him doing neither foul nor favor on the way. The beauty of being silicone-based. He figures he can give Lena the full biology lesson later.
Lena, grudgingly, eats a piece of broccoli.
After dinner, Lena wants a concert, which mostly involves Newt on his keyboards, improving metal versions of musical numbers from Disney cartoons. Lena loves Disney, loves metal, and has one hell of a death growl for such a little thing (Newt makes her do it properly, with all the warm-ups, because he is a Responsible Parent). Newt’s death growl is both inarticulate and ferocious. He doesn’t vocalize much nowadays, because for some reason most people find it startling to be roared at by a twelve foot, glowing, acid-spitting monster. But as an accompaniment to music? Shit. He’s German. It’d practically be treason not to.
That takes an hour, then Newt makes them stop, for the sake of Lena’s voice (ref. Responsible Parenting). After that, they sit down in front of the television, and watch cartoons.
Newt’s dozing when it happens. Lena is curled up against his side, cartoon animals exploring family drama in a relatable way on the TV screen. Outside, the storm has turned into a real-deal typhoon, but the ‘Dome is designed to withstand kaiju, and the dorms are practically a bunker. The entire outside world could explode and they’d only notice when there’d been enough consecutive cloudy days that the solar batteries wore down.
So Newt is dozing, content and complacent, when he gets the feeling like a rail spike’s been driven into both brains at once.
The sensation isn’t words, of course. It’s just… sensation. A primal drive, to crush and kill and break and—
“Papa! Papa Newt!”
There’s a moment, one terrible, awful moment. Because for the first time in years the the hive mind is awake and screaming bloody murder, is driving violence, destruction, into Newt’s very core. To retake the planet, to eradicate the vermin that fester at the edges, pustules of rot, waiting for the—
Hermann’s mental cry is so sharp and so loud that, for a moment, Newt thinks he must be in the room. That he’s braved the storm and is back, is here, ready to save Newt from himself, from the hive mind that’s resurfaced, why now? Why tonight? A ball of rage and pain, a storm-drenched hide and the stink of filth and… and Lena. Because Newt’s on his back on the shitty dorm carpet, howling, and there’s Lena, tears in her eyes, sitting on Newt’s chest, trying to rouse him.
“I’m okay,” he manages to sign. “I’m okay.” It’s definitely a lie. He can still feel it, out in the sea but coming closer and, fuck. Oh fuck. He has to tell someone.
Hermann is frantic. Newt can feel him, like someone howling desperately behind glass. Newt tears open the bond, and suddenly he’s naked in a hotel room, champagne and strawberries on the bedside table, Vanessa’s hands on his shoulders, worried voice in his ear. He holds that image, holds onto “hotel room” and “naked” and “champagne” and “strawberries”. Holds onto “Vanessa” and holds onto “Lena” and holds onto “Hermann” because he is Doctor Newton Geiszler. He was born in Berlin as a child of the 90s. He taught at MIT and he has eight doctorates, twenty-something counting the honorary ones, which he never does. He likes punk and metal and tattoos and monster films, likes the way Hermann smiles when he thinks no one’s looking. Most importantly, he’s the world’s only human-kaiju hybrid and he’s a citizen of Earth and this is his planet and no conformist asshole bugs from some bad Led Zeppelin album cover excuse for a universe are going to take it! Not today, not any day!
Very carefully, Newt sits up. He sits up, and he hugs Lena. She hugs him back, sniffing, rubbing snot and tears all over his chest. When he leans back, he keeps hold of her with his big arms, squeezes back gently when she grabs onto his thumbs like she never intends to let go.
“Lena,” he signs. “This is very important. I want you to listen to Papa very carefully, okay?” A tearful nod, so: “Something has happened. Papa can feel it, in his head. He needs to go to work now, and tell other people, so they can make sure nothing bad happens. But that means Papa needs to leave you here. I’m sorry, Lena. But can you stay here, for me? Whatever happens, I promise you’ll be safe, so long as you’re here. Okay?”
Lena sniffs. She’s a smart girl, because of course she is. “Papa, is it—?”
“Please Lena. Just promise you’ll stay here. Papa will be back as soon as he can, okay?”
This earns him a fierce, brown eyed stare. Then a nod. “I promise, Papa.”
“Good girl. You’re such a good girl. I love you so much. I’ll be back. As soon as I can. Just stay here. I love you.” He’s babbling, now. Small arms rattling off platitudes, big ones getting Lena settled on the couch, blanket around her shoulders and Slattern tucked beneath her chin. Newt presses his snout against her cheek, gets one last hug and one last kiss, and then he has to go.
He’s proud that he doesn’t start running until he gets to the elevator. He knows, if he runs in the corridor, Lena will be able to hear him. He doesn’t want Lena to hear him panic. The thought keeps circling, over and over, and he grabs onto it. It’s better than the other thoughts that threaten to overwhelm him, the alien drumbeat of DESTROY DEVOUR CRUSH OBLITERATE he can feel, throbbing like a boil in his secondary brain.
In his primary brain, he can feel Hermann. Dressed in a plush white hotel robe, sitting on the edge of the bed. Watching everything, mind a whirl of panic and irritation and where did it come from there’s no Breach it can’t have come through every Event was accounted for where did I go wrong I.
“It’s not your fault,” Newt tells him. All he gets in reply is a derisive snort.
“Here. I’m sure Newt’s doing everything he can.” Newt hears Vanessa’s voice as if she’s there in the elevator. Feels the touch of her lips like its his cheek she kisses.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he hears his Hermann-self say. “He’s going to do something stupid, and I’m not going to be there to yell at him for it.” Vanessa slips a glass into his hand, and he startles a little at the feel. “I can’t. Not with Newton—”
“I know, love. It’s club soda. Drink up.”
He does. His throat feels like he’s been screaming for an eternity, but he knows that’s Newt, not him. “The phone. Did you get—?”
“Not yet,” Vanessa says. “But I’ll keep trying.” She has the phone in her hand, Hermann can dimly hear the voice of the operator announcing technical difficulties, please try again later. The bed dips as Vanessa sits on it, her free hand winding with his. “Hermann,” she says. “Please, tell me. How— How bad is it?” She is so, so frightened and so, so trying hard to be brave and Hermann is so, so proud of her.
“I think,” he says, “that depends on how fast they can—”
The elevator bings.
The elevator bings and the doors rattle open, and the sound brings Newt back into himself. He’s squeezing out the doorway as soon as he can fit—maybe a little before, judging by the groan of metal—and barreling down the hallway to LOCCENT. When he gets there, all he can see is the storm on the monitors and a skeleton staff of three who all jump to their feet the second an agitated kaiju bursts into the room. Newt thinks they better start getting used to the sight. Fast.
“Please tell me one of you assholes can understand HKSL!” He signs it with his big arms, just in case anyone’s unsure about the urgency.
“Is that… Is that Doctor Geiszler?” Newt hears one of the officers whisper.
“Who else would it be, you idiot!” comes the hissed response.
“Fuck,” Newt signs, apparently at no one. “Fuck! How hard is it for people to learn some fucking sign language in this place!”
“Doctor Geiszler?” Newt looks down, to find the third officer holding out a marker in one hand, a wheeled whiteboard in the other.
Newt gives her a thumbs up, takes the marker, and writes on the board. When he’s done, he points, out in the direction of the ocean, and at least two of the officers begin to cry.
Later, they’ll work out she was one of the first through the Breach, back before Hermann’s formula, back even before the Jaeger, but she never made it to shore. Instead, she curled up on the seabed and fell into a kind of hibernation. Within a year she’d be so covered in sea life she may as well be just another reef, ignored by human and kaiju alike. She could’ve slept for an eternity, if not for the storm.
Later, when everything is over, there’ll be endless discussion about why she stayed so dormant for so long. The explanation from Doctor Newton Geiszler—reclusive scientist, Nobel prize winner, and world’s foremost kaiju expert—that she was suffering from a kind of kaiju depression, goes largely ignored.
COMING THIS WAY
I AM ABSOLUTELY 1000000% SERIOUS
Fifteen minutes later, LOCCENT is a whirl of panic.
“Yes, I’m sure. It’s in my head, dude!” Tendo Choi, at least, can understand sign language.
They’ve scrambled the UAVs but there’s still no luck on getting visual confirmation. The ‘Dome is on alert but Tendo’s being cautious. He doesn’t want to start doing things like calling evac until they’re sure.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” he says. “It’s just… You realize what this would mean?”
“There’s no new Breach,” Newt tells him. “I’d feel it if there were.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” God, Newt is sick of that question.
He gets to answer it a lot more, five minutes later when Marshal Hansen bursts in with a, “What the bloody hell is all this I’m hearing about a goddamn kaiju? No offense, Newt.”
Newt just shrugs, then explanation season is back on again.
“Are you sure?” Marshal Hansen is rubbing at his temples, looking very much like someone not being sufficiently paid for the current level of shit. “It’s not something else? Some… some Ghost-Drift or bad dream or—”
“Marshal? Marshal, sir. I think you want to look at this.”
They turn, to where a trembling kid is pointing up at a screen. It’s footage from one of the ROVs, underwater and blurry, but it’s showing a dark shape moving through the ocean with starting speed, ripples of unmistakable blue flashing across its surface.
There’s a loud thump as Marshal Hansen stumbles against a console. “Fuck,” he says. Then, louder. “Fuck. Who do we have?”
Tendo does not look happy. “No one, sir.”
“Not yet, sir. We’re working on recall, but the storm—”
“There’s a fucking kaiju headed straight for Hong Kong and you’re telling me we have not one single Jaeger fit to send?”
Tendo has a bunch of excuses, and stutters through them; it’s a black swan, people are on leave, people were in the city and got caught in the storm but, sir, the Larson siblings… blah blah blah. Newt tunes it out. Instead, he’s focused on the shape on the screen. He can feel her, a hot ball of rage and purpose, but pain, too. There’s screaming in her head like there’s screaming in Newt’s and she knows what she was made for, knows what she has to do to earn her rest. She’s tired; so, so tired. She just wants to sleep.
She’s so huge, so vast. Newt is nothing in comparison but he has to try. He might not get another chance.
He reaches out, tentative. His connection to the hive mind is limited by choice and by surgery but his brains want to compensate for the damage. The kaiju is so close and he touches her, gently, tries to send her glimpses of calm and safety.
“I’m here,” he tries. “You aren’t alone. Please. Stay where you are. We can help—”
He sends out calm, what he gets back is a typhoon. The force is enough to make him stagger, sends him crashing into a console. He cries out, in pain and alarm, dimly hears other shouts around him and feels Hermann’s panic within.
“I’m fine,” he tells Hermann, or tries to. It’s like shouting through a storm. He focuses into that whirl once more, tries to find the eye of it. “Please. Stay where you are. If you stay, I can help you. If you come to the city, they’ll kill you.”
This, in retrospect, is the wrong thing to say. Newt feels the response, bright and keen: “KILL DESTROY CLEANSE TOGETHER—”
“No!” Newt slams a claw down on the console as he says it. One of the big claws, and he feels plastic snap and metal crumple from the force. “No!” He pushes back; images of comfort, of peace, of safety. “Please. Stay where you are.” Images of floating, quiet in the sea, warm and blue and peaceful.
It’s a battle of wills, the kaiju oozing death and rage and pain, Newt countering with everything he can think of. A crash course in peace, shoved straight into the mind of something made for endless war.
Still, she gets closer. Dimly, Newt’s aware of the sounds around him. Two Jaeger, pilots found and getting ready. All untested, all raw. Hungry for the glory of a kill and Newt won’t give them the satisfaction, he won’t, mind screaming hard enough and loud enough that Marshal Hansen says, “My god. He’s trying to communicate with it. I can feel it. It… It’s like a Ghost-Drift? I’ve never…”
“Whatever he’s doing, it isn’t working. ETA to landfall is eighty minutes—”
“Christ. How do these things move so fucking fast?”
“—Jaegers ready to deploy in sixty.”
“Cutting it fine, mate.”
“Yes sir. We’re doing everything we can, but we weren’t prepared for this.”
“I’m getting bloody sick of hearing that. Our job is to be prepared.”
“When this is over you owe Doctor Geiszler a beer. Or whatever the hell it is he likes. At the moment, he’s the one making you mongrels look good.”
At the moment, Doctor Geiszler is crushing a console under his big claws. At the moment, Doctor Geiszler is scratching massive grooves into the floor, every muscle corded and straining, a physical manifestation of a mental—
“Papa! Papa Newt!”
Newt spins. The snapping of his concentration is a physical thing, sends him staggering. He recovers, stumbling upright to see Lena, running into the command centre, being intercepted by an officer. She screams when she’s picked up, the officer doing his best to calm her. Newt heads her way, and she reaches for him.
“Doctor Geiszler!” says the startled officer, holding Lena out like she’s about to explode. “I’m sorry! I didn’t want—”
Newt doesn’t bother finding out what the officer didn’t want, just takes Lena in his big arms. “Lena. I told you to stay in the room,” he signs.
Lena has no excuse, because her eyes have seen the screen. Seen where the ROVs and UAVs are tracking the fast-approaching kaiju. They still don’t have good visuals—too fast, too dark, too stormy—but Lena has recognized the shape. “Papa…” she breathes. She’s still clutching Slattern, and she pulls the doll up to chew on one hand-stitched cephalofoil.
Newt sighs. “Lena, you shouldn’t be here,” he signs. “Papa is working.”
Big brown eyes look into his. “Papa,” she says. “Papa. Is she real? Is she here?”
“What’s her name?”
“She doesn’t have one yet.” Honestly, most of the time the kaiju only formally get names once they’re dead. Lena doesn’t need to know that.
“You have to help her!” Lena is pure earnestness, hope and innocence. “You have to help her, like Daddy helped you!”
“Oh, Lena.” Newt brings her closer, into as much of a hug as he can while she can still see his hands. “I’m trying, Lena. Papa is trying. But she’s very angry. I don’t know if I can reach her.”
“I’ll help you,” Lena says. “We can do it together. We can, Papa, we can do it.”
Newt’s glad his tertiary vision isn’t good enough to make out the expressions of the people watching them. It is good enough to know they all are. Ever single person in the command centre. He can also feel Hermann, stuck so close yet so frustratingly far, feel the heartbreak and the impotence.
“Okay, Monster Girl,” Newt says after a moment. “Let’s do our best.”
Newt does do his best. He does. Lena cradled gently in his small hands, metal and plastic popping and crumbling beneath his big ones. Lena has no Ghost-Drift, no neural parasite, no connection to the hive mind. Newt knows he shouldn’t be able to feel her tiny thoughts, a glitter-light dusting of hope against his own candle-in-the-storm that is the kaiju. Shouldn’t, but does. He feels Hermann, too, and Vanessa. Their own crazy little prayer circle, and Newt has never believed in God—never in angels or magic or miracles—but he believes in family and he believes in this. They can fight the kaiju with bombs and Jaeger and they’ll keep coming, forever. War is war and war never changes, but people can and do and if there’s one thing Newt believes—has to believe—it’s that he can change the hive mind. Piece-by-sliced-off piece if he has to.
At fifteen minutes out, he hears, “Papa, you’re bleeding.” They have to take Lena away after that. She goes with Marshal Hansen, who holds her like the granddaughter he’ll never have, and lies and tells her everything will be alright.
Newt isn’t sure it will be.
The kaiju isn’t headed for Hong Kong. She’s headed for the Shatterdome. For Newt. She’s curious, she knows he’s another kaiju but she can’t understand why he won’t attack the humans.
“SMALL BUT POWERFUL,” she tells him. “TAKE THEIR LEADERS FROM WITHIN. THEN DESTROY THEIR WEAPONS FROM WITHOUT.”
“No, please. Just stop. Stay where you are, it doesn’t have to be this way.” Newt can feel blood, running down his snout and down his flanks. From popped eyes and from his own teeth, biting his own mouth.
“THIS IS YOUR FUNCTION. FIGHT!”
Newt is fighting, every inch of him. Just not in the way she means.
There’s a problem with the Jaeger. Too much time spent rusting in their bays, not enough time (or any time) fighting in the field. They’re all post-war builds, new tech and untested. Stupid asshole decisions made by stupid assholes with too much money to burn. Nothing new there.
“THEY ARE WEAK! DESTROY THEM! TOGETHER, WE WILL BE VICTORIOUS!”
The terrible part? The terrible part is that Newt thinks she might be right. He’s inside LOCCENT, in a five foot radius of every senior officer at the ‘Dome, plus all the pilots whose partners couldn’t make it. He’s big and fast and strong and he knows the ‘Dome’s systems off by heart. Because of Hermann, he knows the Jaeger. Knows their weaknesses in a way the hive mind never could. He’s immune to almost every weapon on the base. If he went rogue, he’s certain he could do enough damage that an outside attack would succeed. It’d take hours before the PPDC could scramble resources from another base to compensate. By then, Newt could’ve slipped into the sea and be so deep they’d never find him. At least, not until the next attack.
Newt knows all this. Not in his primary brain. He knows it instinctively, deep in the part of him that was coded by an alien mind for a violent purpose. The part he can chain up and pare down but can never remove, not truly. Not any more.
“Marshal? Marshal, we have visual. She’s in the bay.”
“Fuck me. Where are those goddamn Jaeger?”
“Syncing now, sir. They should be out in five.”
“We don’t have five! We have bloody zero! Get them out there now.”
There’s a lot of shouting. Even so, Newt can still hear Lena’s tiny, shuddering sobs.
“Please. Don’t do this. My family is here. Please don’t hurt my family.” Twelve feet long and Newt has never felt smaller. He can grab Lena, he thinks. Grab Lena and run and swim and find Hermann and Vanessa. Get the girls to safety and—
There’s a sharp flash. A memory that isn’t his. Pain and fear and a cell, alien and awful and the only thing she’s ever known. She was born in this cell and it used to be big enough for her to run, to stretch and play, but it hasn’t been like that for a while. Now, she fits it so tightly she can barely move.
The Masters come to see her, to check her growth, her arsenal. They’re pleased, and she’s pleased they’re pleased. She will be an effective weapon, will route the vermin from the Masters’ world. Soon. When she has proven herself. Then she will fight, and she will be free.
She is alone in her cell, but she isn’t alone. There are others, other weapons, waiting for the Proving. There’s a male next to her and sometimes she catches glimpses of him through the wall. He has interesting patterns on his hide. She likes his patterns. She watches them sometimes when her limbs hurt and her mind wanders. It never wanders far. The leash the Masters give is short.
The day of the Proving is a freedom she’s never known. What she does know, is what this is; she will fight the other weapons and from their battles the Masters will send the strongest through the Breach. If she wins, she will have an entire world! To run and to swim, to fight and destroy. To crush the tiny vermin for her Masters and earn her rest. Freedom and rest, and there’s nothing more she thinks she wants. Just one more battle, one more imperfect weapon to fall beneath her claws and her acid and the Masters are pleased, she knows they are, and she’s pleased they’re pleased.
Alone, victorious, standing on the gore of her fallen foes, she roars.
And the Masters release one final weapon for her Proving.
(”Oh, dude, no,” says Newt. He knows where this is going.)
She doesn’t recognize him, not at first. Not until she sees the patterns on his hide. They’re just as interesting here as they were in the cell. More so, now she can see more of them, can see the proud crests over his eyes. He is strong and ferocious and for the first time in her life she doesn’t want to fight. She wants to…
… wants to…
There’s a hole, there. Something missing, torn out and filed down. The male is interesting and she wants to roll over and show him her belly and she wants him to…
(”I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”)
He attacks her, because there is no other way. She destroys him, because that was the only way that it could go. Tears open his belly and watches blue gush out over her claws, and this time the keen that rises in her throat is something she doesn’t understand.
The Masters are displeased, but she passed the Proving, and she is Sent.
She is sent with another, another male, but his patterns aren’t interesting and the crests on his head don’t make her want to show her belly. They’re released into the ocean on the Masters’ world and they know where to go, what to do. Freedom and destruction, and the new male’s glee tastes wrong as it settles in her mind. He noses at her, excited, and she snaps in return. He isn’t interesting, none of this is interesting. There’s something wrong with her, the Masters are displeased but she can’t bring herself to care. She passed her Proving, she has been Sent. She knows what she should do but she finds her body doesn’t want to. The new male swims ahead and she watches him go, feeling her own motion still in the water. Still, and sink and—
“Sir! Sir, it’s stopped.”
“Thank you, I can see that.”
They all can, Newt included, when he opens his eyes. The kaiju has stopped, snout hovering just above the heavy walls of the ‘Dome. Every single screen in LOCCENT is showing her face, six bright blue eyes blinking above a glow-toothed maw. She’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Newt’s mind is reeling and, of all people, it’s Hermann who responds to the kaiju’s memory. He does so by showing her every argument, every fight, every disagreement with Newt he’s ever had. Does it by pushing through his connection to Newt, then Newt’s connection to the kaiju. A Herculean effort for someone not built for the task.
“Dude, what are you—?”
Every fight, every argument, the handful of times they’ve come to physical blows.
He shows her Newt’s tattoos—the tattoos Newt used to have—and the way Hermann used to sneak glances at them when he thought Newt wouldn’t notice. He shows her the dumb hair Newt used to have and the few times Hermann allowed himself to run his hands through it. He shows her the patterns on Newt’s hide and the way they light up when he’s angry. When he’s angry because someone is hurting Hermann. He shows her the elation when an argument leads to a new breakthrough, some kind of solution they find together that they couldn’t on their own. He even shows her the thing she’s missing, the instinct that was taken from her, to find an interesting male and show her belly and have him do something in return.
He shows her all of it and, for a moment, Newt feels her hesitate.
It’s only for a moment. One moment of confusion, of dawning wonder that lances into horror, into rage. Into a feeling of deep injustice so powerful Newt has only a moment to scream, “No! Please! We can help you!”
Then she launches herself at the ‘Dome.
The Jaeger’s fist catches her mid-air, and she goes down hard into the bay. After that, it’s barely even a fight.
Too close, too connected, and Newt feels every blow, every slash, as if they’re happening to him. He hears Lena scream and Hansen, yelling: “For fuck’s sake make it quick and make it clean! We got consequences up here!”
At least one of the pilots is listening, and an instant later Newt feels a giant blade slam into the kaiju’s hind-brain. It severs the k-lobe, and there’s one moment of pure, disconnected bliss.
And then she’s gone.
Afterwards, Newt has to go through decon. So does half the LOCCENT. A bunch of asshole incompetent would-be k-scientists from EBERL run the op, incompetently, and maybe this is a hell of Newt’s own making. His own fault for poaching anyone and everyone with half a glimmer of potential into K2. Fuck.
He puts up with the decon for as long as he can, but Lena’s in hysterics outside the cordon and he knows when his own wounds are healed. He has to shoulder aside half a dozen EBERL jackasses who keep saying jackass things like, “Doctor, we have to complete the Protocol!” As if it’s not Newt’s own fucking protocol, as if he didn’t fucking design it and know it better than these box-ticking grad school dropouts.
He finds Lena in the hallway, surrounded by people he only vaguely recognizes; officers and techs and pilots. One is saying, “It’s okay, honey. It’s over. We got it.”
When Lena sees Newt, she runs into his arms. “Papa!” she says. “Papa, they killed her! Papa!” Over and over and over, a siren wail of failure.
Newt just holds her against his hearts, and tries not to feel them break.
“Aurora,” Lena says, voice wavering. “Her name is Aurora.”
It’s awful, miles of contaminated beach, right outside (and over the top of) the Shatterdome. Hannibal’s people are at the scene even before the first parts wash ashore, crawling over everything with professional efficiency. They bag and tag and bottle and can; everything will be hauled to K2, they’ll study what’s useful and sell the rest for scrap. Vultures’ work, but what else are they supposed to do?
The EBERL assholes appear at some point, hours too late to retrieve anything useful (ref. incompetent), and try and pick a fight over salvage rights. Hermann gets into a shouting match with their supervisor, and Newt is just so done with everything he lets it go on for exactly ten minutes before charging at the EBERL crew, roaring, plates up, throat glowing. They clear out pretty quickly, afterwards.
“That,” Hermann says, “was a very stupid thing to do.”
“Bite me, dude,” is Newt’s answer. He’ll deal with Hansen tomorrow. Whatever. He aches everywhere and half his eyes have burst like overripe fruit from psychic strain. He’s not in the mood to deal with EBERL.
He ends up sitting on a retaining wall with Hermann, watching the cleanup. The sky overhead is still angry, still spitting out rain and flashing lightning, and they need to get the beach as scrubbed as possible before the storm decides to return. If the K-Blue washes out further than the bay, they’ll be back to the sort of environmental horrorshow they haven’t had to deal with for half a decade.
“Well,” Hermann says. “That was a thoroughly awful experience. And, as a bonus, my daughter is now scarred for life.” He’s speaking German, which he rarely does. He’s also using Newt as a lee against the wind, so he can roll the neatest fucking blunt Newt has ever seen anyone roll.
Hermann’s propensity for variably illicit drugs (no in Germany, yes in Hong Kong) surprises a lot of people. Or would, if they knew, which almost no one does because almost no one bothers to find out. Newt did bother, once upon a time, which is why he knows Hermann’s smoked weed since he was a teenager, mostly as pain management when the stuff the doctors gave him wasn’t enough. He doesn’t do it much nowadays, because Newt hates the secondhand high, but today is the sort of day they have on roster as an exception. The sort with bleeding eyes and broken blood vessels, and a headache as piercing as Knifehead’s skull.
Newt popped eyes. Hermann still has his, but only just. They both look like wrecks. Lena and Vanessa spent all morning in tears, which is part of the reason they sent the girls back into the city. Go shopping or get ice cream. Something. Anything. Anywhere other than right here, right now.
“We almost had her,” Newt says. He scowls at the decomposing gore all around them. “Just… I don’t know. I should’ve… done something. Been better. She showed us, dude. She showed us the in. We just… if we’d had more time to get through to her…”
“You can’t wage a one-man war against the hive mind.”
“Fucking watch me, dude. Fucking. Watch me.”
“Hm.” Hermann takes a long drag on his blunt, eyes closed and head back. He blows the smoke into the wind, away from Newt. The edge of it still feels like acid up Newt’s nares, but he doesn’t say anything. He knows Hermann knows.
“It’s the fucking k-lobe,” Newt says instead. “It’s just… fucking ‘kill kill kill kill kill’, twenty-four-fucking-seven. It’s inhuman. Fucking inhuman, what they do to them.”
“That’s stating the obvious.” Hermann is subdued, fuzzy from the unfolding high, but Newt can feel his mind whirring. “At the end,” he finally says, “the Jaeger severed the hindbrain. You felt it.”
“I can feel you thinking, dude.” He can, but it’s abstract. Real fucking abstract. Jaeger schematics, Newt thinks. Some engineering shit. Sometimes, Hermann’s thoughts are inscrutable, even to Newt.
“Mm,” says Hermann. Apparently, that’s all Newt’s going to get.
Newt huffs, stares out at the carnage. There’s someone coming towards them, one of Hannibal’s people.
“Doctors,” the guy says when he gets close. He bows, his face flushed beneath his hazmat gear. “We thought you should know. Most of the primary brain? It’s intact.”
Newt’s brow-ridges hike. That’s… unusual. Early-gen tech, maybe. Some of the first kaiju used to leave more remains, the self-destruct not as refined.
“Thank you,” Hermann tells the guy. “Transport it carefully. I’m sure Doctor Geiszler will appreciate the opportunity to examine it further, once he’s recovered.” Newt gives a thumbs up in agreement.
“Yes sirs, thank you, sirs.” The guy bows again, grinning, apparently pleased his news was well-received. At least Hannibal knows how to fucking hire, even if the Corps doesn’t.
They watch him scurry back to the clean-up. When he’s gone, Hermann says: “Once upon a dream.”
“Yeah,” Newt agrees.
Hermann takes another toke, and blows the smoke into the wind.