“This way,” Pentecost ordered. Raleigh fell into step a breath behind him. He had been at the Hong Kong Shatterdome for less than an hour, and already he felt simultaneously disoriented and completely at home. The uniforms, the sounds of heavy machinery, the smells of metal, oil, and brine – every one of his senses insisted that he was back in Anchorage, back at the Shatterdome that had become more his home than anywhere he grew up. The grim, battered expressions on men’s faces as he passed said otherwise. When he had left Anchorage, it had been at the height of the Jaeger program, each person convinced that he was part of the system that would save humanity. Five years later, those same men knew they had been abandoned.
“Our last stop is the research division,” Pentecost said. Raleigh focused on him gratefully. “I want you to meet the men who have been responsible for restoring your Jaeger, among other things.” Raleigh followed him down a hall and into a lift, getting out at the lowest level.
As they approached a large metal door, propped open with an unidentifiable piece of machinery, Raleigh began to hear voices. Pentecost held up his hand and Raleigh stopped moving. After a moment of silence, Pentecost sighed, nearly imperceptibly. “It would be a German day,” he said.
“Sir?” Raleigh asked when the pause had stretched out too long.
Pentecost turned to him just outside the door. Now Raleigh could hear the two voices clearly: sharp German consonants at an ever-increasing volume. “What you need to understand is that Geiszler and Gottlieb are each more brilliant than any other three men put together,” he said sternly. “They’ve also been at each other’s throats since day one. When I ordered them to stop fighting where I could hear them, they simply switched languages. But they’ve worked together for ten years, and if they didn’t kill each other when we lost our funding, then they aren’t going to.”
Raleigh nodded. Pentecost lifted his chin in acknowledgment and pushed the door open further. “Gentlemen,” he said clearly as they entered. “It's the end of the world. Your feud will have to wait.”
Over Pentecost’s shoulder, Raleigh could see two men, facing off over a lab table. One wore a skinny tie and hipster glasses, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up. The other dressed like an Oxford don from the last century and leaned heavily on a cane in his left hand.
As Raleigh and Pentecost came forward, the shorter of the two scientists broke off from their argument and hurried towards them, switching seamlessly into perfect, American-accented English.
“Stay back! Kaiju specimens are extremely rare, so look but don’t touch please.” He pushed between Raleigh and the glowing tanks, as if he could protect them from Raleigh’s influence with his body.
“Mr. Becket, this is our research team. Dr. Gottlieb, Dr. Geiszler.”
“Call me Newt. Only my mother calls me doctor.” Dr. Geiszler grinned, more than a touch of mania in his face, and turned to look behind him without waiting for Raleigh’s reaction. “Hermann! These are human beings, why don’t you say hello.”
The second man stalked out from behind a kaiju specimen tank. “I have asked you not to refer to me by my first name in front of others,” he said in equally perfect English, but with distinctly British intonation. To Raleigh’s amazement, the two instantly descended into bickering as if their commanding officer were nowhere in sight.
After a few more minutes of awkward conversation – Raleigh did his best not to react to Dr. Geiszler’s enthusiasm for seeing a kaiju up close, but Yancy had been clamoring in his head all day, and oh, it was difficult – Pentecost finally led Raleigh away. The two scientists wasted no time in returning to their argument.
“Ich hasse dich,” he heard Dr. Geiszler say as he and Pentecost walked away. "Ich hasse dich und deine Daten und dein dummes herrliches Gesicht.”
Raleigh missed a step and looked back over his shoulder in surprise. The two scientists didn’t notice, and he hurriedly turned around to catch up with Pentecost, mind whirling.
Raleigh didn’t have much in the way of formal schooling, but he had always been good with languages. Piloting Gipsy Danger had taken him all over the world, and he'd always tried to pick up at least a few words of the local language wherever he went. German wasn't as commonly heard in the Shatterdomes as Japanese or Mandarin, as citizens from countries along the Pacific coastline tended to respond most heavily to PPDC recruitment drives, but as the name suggested, the Jaeger project had been created by a German research team. Raleigh had met many German-speakers in his years as a pilot. Still, it had been five years since he had heard it at all regularly, and he must have been rustier than he thought.
Pentecost had made it very clear that these two men hated each other. There was no way Dr. Geiszler had really told Dr. Gottlieb that he had a gorgeous face.
The next time Raleigh ended up in the lab was an accident.
After his glorious, faultless sparring match with Mako – and Pentecost’s incomprehensible refusal to see it – he needed a distraction badly. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Mako’s face, focused and strong and perfect. She was his co-pilot. He knew it, she knew it; if Pentecost refused to allow her to fight then they might as well all give themselves up to the kaiju now, because Raleigh knew there was no one else who could match him like she did. His skin buzzed, his shoulder tingled, and if he didn’t find something else to do soon he was going to do something very inadvisable.
Somehow that combination of thoughts landed him in front of the research division’s lab. At least here, he reasoned, if he wanted to do something inadvisable, he would be in good company.
“Raleigh!” He was hailed at high volume from across the lab, where Dr. Geiszler stood up to his elbows in kaiju guts. Dr. Gottlieb ignored him entirely. “What brings you down to the crypt?”
He shrugged. “Just looking for something to do,” he said. He nodded at the specimen on the table. “What are you working on?”
“Oh man, you are going to love this,” Geiszler proclaimed. As Raleigh had hoped, he launched into an explanation of his current experiment immediately, an explanation that ended up requiring Raleigh to hold his breath and three test tubes as Geiszler carefully poured a toxic-looking chemical into each one.
Just as he finished pouring, they heard an exclamation from the other side of the lab. Gottlieb stood in front of wall of chalkboards, covered in dust and looking stunned.
“What is it, Hermann?” Geiszler asked. “Drop a negative sign?”
“I know when the next kaiju attack will be,” Gottlieb replied, ignoring Geiszler’s dig completely. Raleigh nearly dropped the test tubes. Geiszler’s fingers dug into Raleigh’s wrists and steadied them.
“How?” Geiszler demanded. He plucked the test tubes from Raleigh’s grip and set them on his desk, then hurried over to the blackboards. Gottlieb tugged at his arm and pointed at the bottom right of the board.
“See, that equation there?” he said. “It will tell us when and where the next portal will open. I have tested it against all available data and it fits, Newton, it will work!”
“You’re sure?” Geiszler asked, but he was already bouncing on his toes.
“Yes, I’m sure; look!” Gottlieb started talking Geiszler through it, gesturing wildly with his cane with one arm while bracing himself against Geiszler’s body with the other. As rapidly as he spoke, Geiszler followed, grin getting wider and wider as the other man kept talking.
“Oh man, Hermann. You did it. You did it.” Geiszler clapped him on the shoulder and danced in place. “Mein Gott, Hermann, ich liebe dein Gehirn. Wann wirst du mich heiraten?”
Raleigh had not followed any of the mathematical talk, but this last sentence drew him up short. He gaped at Geiszler incredulously. He knew he wasn’t mistaken this time.
”Nicht heute, Dr. Geiszler,” Gottlieb answered, his voice perfectly disinterested. But as Raleigh stared at him, his lips quirked up in a split-second smile.
How does the entire base believe they hate each other? he thought blankly as the world rearranged.
The two men seemed to remember at once that they had company. Gottlieb turned, stepping away from Geiszler, who dropped his arm from Gottlieb’s shoulders as he did so. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Geiszler demanded. “You’re faster than either of us – go tell the Marshall what’s going on! Earn that soldier status!”
“I’m on my way,” Raleigh laughed, and headed up to central command at a run.
Raleigh might have felt guilty about not revealing his knowledge of German to the two scientists, but he would be forever grateful that he discovered their secret before his fourth day in the Hong Kong Shatterdome. It meant that when Tendo sent him on an errand to retrieve Gottlieb’s latest data, he didn’t barge into the lab (whose door was still cracked open) without thinking. Instead, he stopped right at the threshold, waiting a moment to hear which language the two were using before he walked in.
“Ah! Mach das nochmal!” he heard.
Raleigh froze. Then he heard a moan. Carefully, quietly, he removed the piece of discarded machinery that blocked the door from closing, and then just as quietly eased the door shut. Tiptoeing, he retreated down the hallway.
Tendo could afford to wait half an hour for Gottlieb’s report. And next time, he would knock first.
At half past three in the morning after he and Mako had successfully drifted for the first time, Raleigh sat up in his bed and pressed his palms against his eyes. He couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t stand one more minute of sitting in his empty room, so close to Mako’s. Quietly he got out of bed and put on his shoes.
Once in the hallway, he had to force himself away from Mako’s door, walking away as quickly as he could manage with his hands clenched into fists. His shoulder throbbed, and he breathed in slowly and deeply against the void in his chest. He had five years of experience in handling this sensation, and it would not break him tonight.
His feet carried him towards the commissary. A glass of water might not help, but it couldn’t hurt. Raleigh entered the room and came to a belated halt as he heard voices.
Only two chairs were occupied. Peering through the darkened room, Raleigh recognized Drs. Gottlieb and Geiszler, curled around twin cups of coffee at the end of one long table.
He hesitated, and then walked forward. They might not be the company he wanted, but like the water, it couldn’t hurt.
The two men stopped talking as he approached, and Dr. Geiszler waved. “Hi, Raleigh!”
“Hello, Dr. Geiszler. Dr. Gottlieb.” Raleigh nodded at them both, shoving his hand in his pockets to give them something to do.
“I told you, call me Newt. And he won’t say it, but call him Hermann.” Newt poked his companion in the shoulder, who aimed a rather half-hearted glare over the top of his mug.
“Please excuse him,” Dr. Gottlieb said dryly. “He spent too much time in America and lost all hope of manners.” He did not correct Newt on his name, and seeing him here, tired and drawn with both hands wrapped around a coffee cup rather than chalk and a pointer, Raleigh cautiously substituted Hermann for Doctor Gottlieb.
“Can’t sleep?” Raleigh asked in lieu of continuing the line of conversation. Hermann shook his head stiffly and Newt laughed.
“Like there’s any point in sleeping when there’s science to be done,” Newt said, grinning. Hermann scoffed quietly, but as he turned to Raleigh, he settled his body minutely closer to Newt’s.
“Would you care to join us?” Hermann offered, surprising Raleigh. “The coffee is dreadful, but at least not so much as the tea.”
“We can’t all be connoisseurs, Hermann,” Newt said, rolling his eyes. His tone, uncharacteristically hushed in deference to the hour, sounded gentle.
“Thanks, but I’m just here to grab some water,” Raleigh said. He smiled, and it felt less unnatural than he had thought it would. “I’d like to at least try to sleep again tonight.”
“Hey, whatever floats your boat,” said Newt. “Come by the lab later if it doesn’t work. We’ll be up.”
Raleigh nodded. “Will do.” As he left, Newt and Hermann continued to talk. He could hear the difference in tone the instant they slipped back into German.
On his way back through with his water, Raleigh could just hear the murmured, “mein Schatz.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermann reach for Newt’s hand.
A real smile had taken up residence on his face by the time he returned to his room.
After the breach was closed – and God, Raleigh could hardly believe it, could hardly believe that after all these years they were safe – what remained of the PPDC still had work to do. Press conferences, cleanup, returning all the remaining pilots-in-training and support staff to their homes: all made more complicated by the fact that their final stand had been, technically, a rogue operation under the jurisdiction of no government. So far, saving the world had shielded them from the most negative of potential consequences, but no one seemed to know what to do with them. In the meantime, Herc Hansen as the new acting Marshal had ordered everyone still alive to clean up the Hong Kong Shatterdome. No matter what happened, the city would want their space back eventually.
Most of the PPDC worked quickly, desperate to return home and see their families. The base was clearing out so fast that Raleigh half expected to see it start falling apart around his ears. Everywhere he looked, piles of boxes and crates grew higher before being whisked away to some unknown destination.
Everywhere, that is, except for the research division. Just a few minutes ago, Raleigh had been moving boxes in central command with Mako when the report reached Herc that neither scientist had made any progress towards dismantling their lab.
Upon hearing the report, Herc groaned with frustration. “The last thing I need right now is to deal with those two squabbling.” He ran a hand through his hair, and Raleigh exchanged a look with Mako at the exhaustion in his face. Herc had been keeping himself too busy for grief, and it had long since started to show.
“I’ll go,” Raleigh offered. “I could use a walk.”
Herc looked tempted but shook his head. “If they haven’t moved yet, they won’t do it for you, either,” he said grimly. “I’ll go talk to them.”
“Raleigh will go with you,” Mako said firmly. “I will continue here.”
Technically, neither Raleigh nor Mako had the authority to sort through the classified material in central command without Herc’s presence. The fact that Herc didn’t object to Mako’s plan proved he was far too exhausted to keep working. Raleigh returned Mako’s nod and smiled at her in a way that he knew looked ridiculous, but he couldn't help it. Their contract was sealed. He would not allow Herc to re-enter command without resting first.
Raleigh followed Herc down to the labs, the corridors echoing with their footsteps. Without the tick of the war clock or the hum of Jaeger repair crews, the Shatterdome was eerily silent. As they approached the lab, Raleigh could hear raised German voices long before they reached the door. He slowed. “Maybe we should come back later.”
Herc’s eyes narrowed. “They can fight on their own time.” He pushed past Raleigh and into the lab before Raleigh could find a way to say that it wasn’t fighting he was worried about. He entered cautiously, ready to retreat at a moment’s notice.
He relaxed as he saw that while Hermann and Newt were standing close to each other, high color in both of their faces, they were engaged in nothing – untoward. Their voices cut off as Herc entered, and Raleigh revised his opinion when he saw the expressions on their faces. What had he and Herc interrupted?
“Gentlemen,” Herc said, and for a moment Raleigh was reminded so strongly of Pentecost that he had to steady himself on the nearby table. “Care to tell me why yours is the only room on this entire base not prepping for evac?”
“Hey, we’re scientists, not military, and anyway this hasn’t been the military since Pentecost went rogue. We don’t answer to you!”
“Du bist lächerlich,” Hermann cut Newt off. “Du-“
“English!” Herc barked. “I don’t have time for this. Hong Kong wants us out of here, and you two are part of that. I don’t care how you feel about it, you need to pack up and get out.”
“I have some very delicate experiments in progress that can’t be moved! You can’t just destroy scientific progress like-“
“Oh, ignore him, Marshal,” said Hermann. “He just refuses to leave without his precious kaiju samples, and he can’t get any decent shipping company to take them. It’s as if he’s incapable of understanding that people might have other priorities after the world fails to end than picking up pieces of dead kaiju!”
The venom in Hermann’s tone as he struck at some unknown target made Raleigh really wish he and Herc hadn’t interrupted conversation. The hurt underlying Newt’s glare told Raleigh that the blow had fallen squarely. “Oh thanks, Hermann, why don’t you tell me how you really feel?”
“Du bist der nervigste, klügste, schönste Mann, den ich kenne,” Hermann answered, his voice waspish.
Herc growled as Newt’s mouth fell open and he stared at Hermann wide-eyed. “I told you, stick to English and keep the insults-“
“Heirate mich,” Newt interrupted.
Herc threw up his hands as Raleigh tried to keep his jaw from dropping. “Let me know when you’ve stopped acting like children,” he ordered and stalked towards the door. Raleigh half-turned to follow him, and then stopped. He had to know.
Newt didn’t seem aware that Herc had left, let alone that Raleigh had stayed. His gaze stayed fixed on Herman, who darted his eyes towards Raleigh. “Halt den Mund.”
Newton glanced once at Raleigh and dismissed him. “Er? Er versteht uns nicht.”
Raleigh couldn't allow this to go on. “Ah, eigentlich–“
The twin looks of utter shock on their faces might have been comical under other circumstances. Hermann recovered first. “Sprichst du Deutsch?” he demanded, as Newt’s face turned a shockingly uncharacteristic deep red.
“Not exactly,” Raleigh said, wincing. “I understand it, more or less, but I don’t speak it very well.”
“And why have you not seen fit to mention this before?” Hermann tapped his cane dangerously, fury written in every line in his body. Newt, face still red, was worryingly silent.
“The first time I heard you, it seemed like you were trying to keep this private.” Raleigh gestured vaguely between them and tilted his head in apology. “I tried not to intrude.”
“You know what? I've just remembered something. A delivery. I have to go. Now.” Newt turned and nearly stumbled as he retreated, banging the door behind him with a haste that made Raleigh wince.
“Sometimes I wonder what’s gone wrong in that man’s brain,” Hermann muttered. He seemed completely unaware of how his gaze tracked Newt from the room. “Probably he’s thought of some other foolish thing to do with kaiju corpses that just can’t wait.”
“Or maybe he just proposed to someone who turned him down in front of an audience he didn't know he had,” said Raleigh in his most reasonable tone.
Hermann started. “He – yes, well – he didn't mean it.” He drummed his fingers on the top of his cane. “And I didn't turn him down,” he said under his breath, as if he couldn't help it.
“Does he know that?”
Hermann snapped his gaze to Raleigh, who shrugged. “You didn't exactly say yes.”
“I – if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Becket.” Hermann turned and marched for the door, cane striking with militant precision.
Raleigh waited for the door to close before allowing his grin to spread across his face. He shook his head and laughed.
He couldn't wait to tell Mako about the wedding.