Chapter 1: One
Before the PPDC approved working with NASA they requested two things. A complete inspection of the jaegers and an interview with the pilots. One of those things went much more smoothly than the other.
They sent the new Marshal Pentecost to inspect the operations, along with Tendo Choi, a member of his shatterdome, who was familiar with the technological standards of the PPDC. After the equipment inspection was complete the pilots to be were brought into a meeting room along with Annie, Mitch and Teddy.
“I'm sure by now you are all familiar with the basic processes you will be going through,” said Pentecost. “But I would like to start by asking if anyone has any questions.”
Watney opened his mouth before he knew what he was doing.
“Do ghosts have a half life?” he asked. “And if they don't, why are there no dinosaur ghosts?”
Annie hid her face in her hands. This was it. They would have the deal rescinded before they took down a single kaiju. What she couldn't know was that this was a man who dealt with Newton Geiszler on a regular basis. It had given him the patience of a, well, of a man who could put up with Newton Geiszler. This however, was a somewhat new one. Newt usually didn't do this sort of stuff on purpose. He gave Watney a look. Watney pointedly ignored it.
“Dinosaurs were never real,” said Teddy, taking sympathy on the man. He'd had to answer similar questions from Watney far too often. “They are an extremely involved CIA hoax.”
Watney grinned and nodded, satisfied with the answer. To Annie's further surprise Vogel was next.
“If we can tell you how fast our jaeger is going,” he said. “Do we have to know where it is?”
Tendo left out a laugh at this, which he unsuccessfully tried to turn into a cough.
“Mr Choi, would you care to answer that question?” asked Pentecost.
“That's the real reason we have two pilots,” was Tendo's answer. “One of you can focus on position, the other can address the speed.”
Lewis stepped in when Martinez opened his mouth.
“Will we have a permanent base, or will we move around?” she asked. And with that they were back on track.
Things went a little better until they heard the voice for the jaeger AIs. Watney declared he was a potato, Johanssen shouted that the cake was a lie and Lewis told them to behave before she donated their organs to the Aperture Science Self-Esteem Fund for Girls.
Annie started to mentally draft a letter of resignation to calm her nerves. Mitch came over and put a hand on her shoulder.
“We'll get through this,” he told her. “We do what we must because we can.”
Chapter 2: Two
When she first met the Ares Three team Annie had made the mistake of overlooking Johanssen as a threat to her sanity. Her initial assessment went something like this:
Lewis: She is going to be hard for some people to relate to. Push the inspirational woman angle. Make sure she has never actually murdered somebody, despite the rumours you've heard.
Martinez: Never, ever, for the love of god never let him do live anything. Make sure it all gets edited and recorded.
Beck: The ladies, and a lot of the guys are going to eat this one up. Give him the magazine shoots. Just make sure to open his fan mail first, he's going to attract some stalkers.
Watney: He is either going to be a nightmare, or perfect on social media. Just try to keep him from talking about soil bacteria. And get him to cut the swearing.
Vogel: He's going to be even harder than Watney to keep on track. Maybe he can be unleashed on the scientific panels, they may have a better chance of understanding him. Also make sure to get a good translator so you can keep track of his international interviews.
Johanssen: She will be perfect for schools. She is sweet, wholesome and is pretty enough the boys will listen. Pull her into focus when the others are being little shits.
It took her two weeks to change that assessment. Johanssen tried, and she could be great, but usually she either fell asleep, accidentally swore in interviews or got dragged into what the others were doing. Like today.
For some reason, cannibalism had been mentioned during an interview. Martinez looked up and smiled the kind of smile that gave Annie nightmares about paperwork and law suits.
“Who wants to know who Johanssen would eat first in an emergency?”
He never got to tell the audience. Unfortunately for Annie, that was because Johanssen panicked and threw her glass of water, glass and all at his face, knocking him off his chair. When she realised what she had done, Johanssen's eyes went wide and she froze, hands over her mouth. As Annie cancelled the interview early and dragged them all backstage she wondered why on earth she stayed.
Chapter 3: Three
Press conferences were never easy. Despite Annie's frequent complaints, the team usually behaved themselves. But when they were tired, they found it hard to deal with stupid questions. And that was what caused the problems. Generally, Annie solved this problem by making sure they were rested, and giving away tickets to anyone with a scientific background. But they had just landed in LA, and were about to be posted to their first shatterdome. It was a big day.
The first three questions passed without incident. They were the basic sort of thing they'd heard before. How do you feel about not going to Mars, do you think NASA has a place in this fight, etc. She'd drummed the answers into them.
Then some idiot asked the question that kicked off her bad day.
“My question is for Commander Lewis. Commander, how do you balance work and family?”
There was a very uncomfortable moment of silence.
“Excuse me,” said Lewis. “I am very tired and I must have misheard you. Would you like to rephrase your question or ask it of a team member who actually has a family?”
The rest of the crew were smirking at the journalist. Johanssen was practically beaming.
“Sorry,” said the man. “I just meant, surely you have had to make some difficult decisions with your husband. It can't be easy being apart from him. And making the choice to pilot, especially with the new statistics about decreased fertility levels would be a hard one.”
“So what you meant,” said Lewis. “Is how could I possibly justify saving your sorry ass over being a stay at home mom. Well, right now I am finding I regret my choice. Mainly because if I wasn't piloting a jaeger, there is a much greater chance that you would be kaiju food about now.”
Annie blocked off her next three days for damage control. Wistfully she thought about not showing up and making it someone else's problem.
“Look,” the man said. “I'm sorry if I've hit a nerve, I was just asking a question. It's a matter of interest for my viewers.”
Lewis stood up. Annie changed that three days to a whole week.
Help came from an unlikely source. Martinez.
“I'm worried about it.”
Lewis smiled and sat back down.
“I'm sure you are Martinez,” she said. “As a busy working Dad, perhaps you should tell this fuckwit of a journalist exactly how worried you are?”
Forty five minutes later Martinez stopped talking about his sperm count and the poor journalists scurried to freedom.
Chapter 4: Four
I really want one of these shirts guys...
@mrschernoalpha: Did anyone see Watney wearing that awesome ban dihydrogen monoxide shirt? [Picture of Mark Watney in said shirt]
@pancakemeupinside: @mrschernoalpha Wait, I thought that was Beck's shirt? He was wearing it after the last fight I swear...
@eviepeace: @pancakemeupinside yeah, here's the proof! [Picture of Beck in said shirt]
@mrschernoalpha: @eviepeace Do you reckon it's the same shirt or they just all share clothes?
@eviepeace: @mrschernoalpha maybe we've found the latest cute pilot couple! #ourgetalongreallywellshirt
“Hey, Beck you and Watney are trending!” Yancy Beckett shouted at them when they entered the mess hall after sparring together.
“What?” asked Beck.
“Why?” asked Annie, who had picked either a very good or very bad time to get coffee.
Yancy showed her. She swore and glared at Beck and Watney.
“Really? Really guys? You owed me one. Why would you do this?”
They came over and looked at the phone. Beck went very red and Watney just laughed.
“What do you think is so funny?” asked Annie, a little annoyed she would have to spend her day denying relationship rumours.
“I saw what shirt Johanssen left for interview in this morning.”
@pancakemeupinside: @mrschernoalpha @eviepeace HOLY SHIT GUYS LOOK WHAT JOHANSSEN'S WEARING! [photo of Johanssen in the famous shirt, clearly too big for her]
@eviepeace: @pancakemeupinside ok, but which one do you reckon she's sleeping with?
It got to the point where they were taking bets in Shatterdomes the world over. Having said that, the only thing faster than Striker Eureka was gossip. It didn't take much to get the wheels spinning. Mitch had $20 riding on the three of them being an item in a bet with Teddy, but Teddy was fairly sure that it was Beck and Johanssen who were together.
Annie dragged the three of them in for a meeting.
“Sorry Annie...” they spoke in unison. Clearly they had been at the simulators together again.
“Drop the shit. You know you tell me if something is going to be a potential PR problem.”
“We just share things,” said Beck. Watney snorted. “I mean, all six of us practically live together.”
“And it's a funny shirt,” said Johanssen.
“Well, we need to diffuse this situation. Short of you being subjected to a press conference, I'm open to ideas.”
What Watney suggested was either very stupid or very brilliant. She was one problem off quitting, and couldn't think of any way to make this worse, so she went with it.
#ourgetalongreallywelltogethershirt was soon overtaken on twitter with Mark's help by #banDHMO…
All six of them appeared in the shirts and organised an impromptu protest. They had signs saying things like “100% of kaiju attacks occur in proximity to large amounts of dihydrogen monoxide”, “DHMO: it's in your drinking water” and “DHMO – number one cause of drowning”. The protest got quite a large turnout. 50% of people were there because they thought it was hilarious, 25% to do some star spotting and 25% because they were concerned about the issue.
The next day, Watney and Vogel starred in an interview together where they stressed the importance of chemistry education and the use of correct nomenclature. It was a close save, but it worked.
Annie sometimes she wished she had decided to be a jaeger pilot. It had to be easier than the alternative.
It was supposed to be a simple puff piece for a celebrity television show. What it ended up being was a relationship exposé.
Interviewer: Today I am here with two of the brilliant team that is Ares Three. NASA's answer to the kaiju. Welcome to Entertainment 24/7 Rangers Beth Johanssen and Mark Watney.
Watney: Thanks for giving us a break from fighting aliens. It's nice to get out once in a while.
Interviewer: So, it was your eleventh kill as a group last week when you took down Arcane. Congratulations. I believe the both of you were in Athena's Shield at the time?
Watney: Yeah, and I'll let you in on a little secret. Arcane was not the first thing Tendo said. I think his exact words were “holy shit, this one has a face like Cthulhu”. But I guess we're trying to save that for when Cthulhu himself wakes up from his nap, so the Marshal made him pick something else.
Johanssen: If we're naming a kaiju Cthulhu it has to be at least a Cat Four, not a tiny little Cat Two.
Interviewer: Well, the fact we can call a kaiju tiny certainly shows we've come a long way. And it's mainly thanks to pilots such as yourselves. It's got to be a tough job, so on behalf of all of us here, we'd like to thank you for all your dedication.
Interviewer: So, Rangers, anyone special in your lives at the moment?
Watney: (laughs) One or two.
Interviewer: Well, that's some lucky girls out there. How about you Ranger Johanssen?
Johanssen: I don't believe in luck per-say. I prefer a scientific approach.
Interviewer: And what counts as a scientific approach when it comes to love?
Johanssen: A control subject.
Watney: (laughs so hard he falls off his chair)
Johanssen: (claps her hands over her mouth) I didn't mean it! I didn't mean it! I'm sorry, please ignore that!
Watney: Ok, but who's the control? Does this mean that you're going to hand out sugar pills and pretend that it's sex? And what kind of terrible P Values are you getting with an n of 2?
Interviewer: I feel like I'm missing something here! Do either of you want to explain what you mean?
Johanssen: So, a T-Test is a statistical method used to test if data is significant...
Interviewer: Wow, thanks Ranger Johanssen for that detailed explanation. But tell me, what do you do when you're not saving the world or doing statistics ?
Watney and Johanssen: Beck.
To their credit when they actually realised what they said, they looked shocked it had come out of their mouths. Unfortunately for Annie, it had. The interviewer kindly wrapped up without addressing it while Annie gave them death glares from behind the camera.
When she spoke to Teddy about it later and threatened to resign he just laughed and proceeded to hand Mitch $20.
One more to go! Thank you all so much for your patience while I wrote this...
Chapter 6: Plus One
Annie Montrose doesn't so much write her letter of resignation as do it in person, but damn does she do it.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Despite her near constant threats to resign and a whole hard-drive of resignation letters, Annie ended up being the last member of NASA to work for the PPDC. After a little incident she personally referred to as “The time they fucking lost fucking Watney” the pilot program was cancelled. The jaegers were recycled and donated to the PPDC and the crews retired. The NASA engineers went back to their regular work looking into space craft, the science teams were recalled and the game changed.
Being fair to Watney, it hadn't just been losing him. Ever since the Becketts went down pilots had been dropping like flies and the angles were shifting. NASA had even been granted further funding to look at space travel again, this time with the aim of escaping Earth and leaving it for the monsters.
Annie was allowed to keep up her work with the PPDC on a consultant basis. And she was still good at it. Despite the overwhelming mortality rates, pilot wannabes were signing up faster than ever. She'd even gotten them several mass donations from wealthier members of society who were a little concerned over how fast their coastal property was devaluing.
It was as stressful as ever for her. Luckily Geiszler and Gottleib were kept far away from the cameras and everyone but the scientific journals, but sadly Chuck Hansen was not. Annie had taken to bribing him with Tim Tams to keep away from the press. They were hard to get anywhere outside of Australia, and even inside with rationing, but she had her ways. The Russians owed her a favour. And they could get anything.
However it wasn't Chuck Hansen, or any of the pilots that caused her to quit. It wasn't even the K-Science division escaping their media blackout. No, it was a particularly stupid decision.
The UN called Annie to a meeting. It was an ominous thing to face.
“We have called you here today because we have a very important job for you,” began the delegate for the United States. “Both in your work for NASA and your work for the PPDC you have proven yourself to be highly proficient and one of the best PR people we have ever worked with.”
Annie waited for the but. And boy did it come.
“We are closing the jaeger program in favour of the Wall of Life scheme,” the delegate for Russia told her. “We would like you to be in charge of the press. We think there may be some -” she paused. “Negative reactions.”
Annie looked at the council before her and made up her mind instantly.
“With all respect due,” said Annie, “go fuck yourselves you fucking idiots. You will get us all killed, and deserve every minute of negative publicity you get. And I will lead the fucking campaign against this with everything I have.”
Later, drunk in a bar somewhere she couldn't place Annie told Mitch, Venkat and Teddy about it. They'd been working elsewhere (or in Teddy's case retired) since the Watney fiasco, but the four of them still met up to talk. There was a value to shared traumas that was stronger than any good friendship. Or maybe that's what good friendship was, Annie was a little too drunk for philosophy.
The alcohol and the laughter helped her shake the lingering shock of having told the world to go fuck itself. Despite the kaiju, the closure of the jaeger program and the fact she had to look for a new job, Annie had a sense of hope. It was probably the vodka. She'd just have to wait and see what tomorrow brought.
Thank you so much to everyone who has commented, or given kudos to this fic. You guys are amazing, and I can't believe you like this nonsense! There is one more bit I'm working on (funnily enough the story of the time they fucking lost Watney) and then that may be it. Or it may not be. But no promises. Thank you for your patience, and I hope the end was worth the wait.