“Head straight towards Discovery Park until you see a sign marked “lighthouse” and keep going past the crowds. When you see the water treatment plant there should be a barrier for uh…”
The soldier paused, looking up at Mudpuppy nervously. The Kaiju shifted his immense weight from one side of his body to the other and yawned. Hermann felt for him. They were all exhausted but Mudpuppy seemed to have the toughest time on the road. The Kaiju was still severely underweight and long stretches on land had to be hard on his massive muscles and joints. Balor waved impatiently to get the guard’s attention, thumping the side of the camper loudly.
“And? Spit it out we don gah all day!”
The soldier was not PPDC; he was wearing a US military uniform. They had seen many like him on the way and would no doubt be inundated with them now that they had reached Seattle. The young man stammered and pulled distractedly at his helmet, blinking nervous sweat away from his eyes.
“Err…I. You…they just told us that if you showed up to direct you to the water treatment plant and the lighthouse. That’s where you’re camping out I guess? They’re the only buildings for miles… you can’t miss em. Some higher up liaison is supposed to meet you right outside the camp...regular civilians can’t go farther than that.”
Balor rubbed at the bridge of his nose impatiently and sucked in a long, loud breath. He let it out in a huff that turned into a hacking cough.
“It’s a madhouse. How am I supposed tae geh ANYWHERE with all tha people about eh?”
The crowd of Lopers following the RV had been steadily picking up followers since leaving Aberdeen. Every rest stop and town they passed had yielded more. They joined by the dozens in small clusters or large groups. Unsurprisingly, there were already hundreds of people camped out in Seattle waiting for them. The city itself had been cordoned off by army reserves. Yet as they drove past the border people were still latching onto them, following the colossal shapes of Mudpuppy and the Rapture. The glut of people on foot and frequent military checkpoints on the roads (even the most backwards ones) had turned the picturesque drive into a six-hour endurance test. As the RV finally crossed the threshold into Magnolia the sky was starting to turn towards dusk.
From what Hermann remembered (and gleaned from shared knowledge with Newton) the Kaiju that had destroyed Magnolia, Banshee, had been very large for a cat-2. Its bio-signature had been picked up right away by the Anchorage Shatterdome sensors, giving the PPDC time to deploy Romeo Blue and its pilots the Gage twins. The fight between Kaiju and Jaeger had not started in Seattle, it had only finished there. Banshee had first surfaced in Canada, traveling down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to ruthlessly attack Victoria, British Columbia. Much of Victoria had been completely destroyed by the time the Romeo touched down. Despite being a great Jaeger, one of the best in Hermann’s opinion, Blue was still a Mach 1. It was beginning to show its age. No matter how great Trevin and Bruce Gage had been as pilots they were just no match for something as big as Banshee.
They had engaged it and managed to rip off one of its arms before the Kaiju had retreated to the ocean. Leaving a trail of poison blood in its wake, Banshee had navigated the Puget Sound. It emerged at the very edge of Seattle in the affluent community of Magnolia. There was no time to deploy a second Jaeger. The Romeo was transported to the second landfall site and the battle ended with the Death of Magnolia, Banshee...and the Gage brothers.
Unlike some of the other places Hermann and Newton had seen in their travels there was obviously no effort to rebuild Magnolia and only a cursory attempt to clean it. The roads were cracked in some places and completely missing in others. Buildings still lay in pieces, rubble was strewn everywhere and no green thing grew in the ruined soil where Banshee had bled. Discovery Park, the area they drove towards, had probably been very beautiful in its prime. It was a large swathe of parkland perched at the very edge of the Magnolia peninsula. Little of its grandeur was left intact. Most of the parks trees had been cut down in the years after Banshee’s attack and more had been destroyed by fire and Kaiju Blue. Looking out the camper window Hermann could see mammoth chunks of spine and rib bone that had never been removed. Romeo Blue had been taken to Oblivion Bay but Banshee still lay where he had fallen. The nature preserve had become a grave.
The Hive buzzed uneasily and Mudpuppy trilled at the bones, upset. He didn’t stray from his place behind the RV to look at the remains. There were too many small things to step on but Hermann could feel his curiosity, and under that, fear. He sent a consoling message as Balor navigated another chunk of missing road.
“We’re almost there Mudpuppy…just a few more minutes I promise.”
Giving a coughing bark above them Mudpuppy crushed the brittle husks of a several dead trees with his next step.
“Was that Hive brother...how dead?”
“No. He was not your Hive brother. He was a member of the old Hive. The Hive that hurt people. A Jaeger killed him.”
Wave after wave of grey and black feeling swirled about the Hive and cycled between its members. Hermann reflexively cast about the trailer for Newton and had to remind himself his partner was in the back taking his turn with Sonia. He disliked when Newton was out of his sight for too long, even if he could still feel him. Balor swore under his breath edging the RV along the patchy uneven road. There was a large crowd of people just visible in the distance. Beyond them the light of campfires flickered, illuminating the bulky outlines of parked vehicles and tents. Howard leaned forward in the passenger side seat and muttered his thoughts aloud.
“I don’t think we can take Mudpuppy and the Shrike through there without hurting anyone…”
Balor stopped the motor home but didn’t turn off the engine, considering their next move. The people around them hesitated. Those able to move through the traffic and around the Kaiju’s feet timidly walked towards the encampment, towards the sound of voices and the intoxicating smell of cooked food. Balor honked the camper’s horn resignedly.
“Well…what we do now? We’re stuck…don see no sign tha says “lighthouse” anywhere. Could send the Kaiju an tha Shrike on I ‘spose. Beach can nae be far. Close on through those trees…”
The Jaeger appeared in front of them without warning, its thick body and stubby limbs reflecting the last dirty light of the setting sun. It pushed over a small stand of dead pine trees and ambled towards the mass of Lopers purposefully. Hermann felt a sharp sting of fear. He recognized the Jaeger immediately, though he didn’t know its name. It was the same squat bulky monster he had seen herding protestors in Helsinki. The one that spewed tear gas and seemed equipped specifically for riot-control. The blocky mech held up a hand and a cool emotionless female voice echoed from speakers mounted on its hips and back.
“All civilians will please walk forward into the camp. There is food and electricity available. Please head to the camp now. The PPDC and UN appreciate your cooperation…”
Catfish climbed down from the roof of the camper his boots hitting the floor with a jarring bang. He sat across from Hermann at the kitchen table and nodded out the window to several people who waved their direction. The travelers began to pass them, marching resignedly towards the glow of the Loper camp. Hermann was glad their supporters weren’t being turned away. At least there was a safe place for them. Micajah folded his arms glaring daggers at the crowd control mech. It was blasting its same message over and over again, bullying the migrating crowd onward like it was driving cattle.
“Not surprised see da Kilo Juggernaut ere…awful business dose pilots. Bad news is they very loyal to tha PPDC. I know em real well from Fortress 2, husband-wife team from Brazil.”
Balor fell back against the driver’s seat with a dejected groan. He said something to Howard…or maybe to Catfish. Hermann wasn’t paying attention to them anymore. He froze and every muscle in his body went stiff. A whisper louder than a scream rang in his brain and rattled down to his bone marrow. The Hive responded in kind and the yowling mess of noise and greeting bounced around inside his skull, forcing tears to his eyes.
“M-Mother knows we’re…here. She’s at the beach but she hasn’t surfaced yet. We need to get down there….”
Mudpuppy took a huge half-step, the camper resting just under his belly. The Kaiju gave a long guttural call and the answer was immediate. Now they knew for sure which direction the ocean lay. Howard shivered and glanced back at Hermann.
“Well can you tell her we’re kinda trapped? We’ll figure out where we’re going in just a-”
A loud knock on the RV door made everyone freeze. Nobody said a word. Even with all the people following them during the migration to Seattle not one of the Lopers had actually knocked on the door or tried to enter the camper; neither had the soldiers at the military checkpoints. Now, someone was actually knocking and no one seemed to know what to do. Catfish pulled a knife from the back of his jeans. It was small and very sharp...a kitchen knife he had probably stolen from the church. Hermann had no idea it had even been on him. He reached out a shaky hand, still in a daze from Mother’s voice and the Hive’s fervent greetings.
“Catfish...No. We have immunity but you can’t go pulling a knife every time we…”
He was cut off by another firm knock. Howard stood and took a cautious step towards the door.
“Er…Coming. Sorry we’re not dressed for visitors...Just got out of the shower.”
Micajah didn’t put the knife away his lip curling up over his teeth. Hermann attempted to see who was at the door through the kitchen window but the angle and light were against him. Before he had a chance to shift position to find a better view Howard cautiously opened the door and Tendo Choi invited himself in.
Tendo looked somehow paler and more unlike himself then he had when Hermann had last seen him in the Icebox. Why were so many of the people left from the old guard of the PPDC in such poor condition Hermann wondered as he watched Choi. The tech looked around the trailer for a long time before his eyes rested on Hermann. Expression filled with something that wavered between joy and dread. Choi muttered something over his shoulder and closed the camper door, leaving his entourage of guards outside. Balor and Howard said nothing waiting for Choi to make the first move. Micajah still had not put the kitchen knife back in his pocket.
Choi swallowed heavily and Newt walked out of back bedroom. Hermann could feel him drawn out by the tug of the bond and his own inquisitiveness. The air was painfully tense, awkward silence suspended over the tiny room. Finally, Tendo took three short steps through the RV towards Newt and put his arm around the shorter man’s shoulders. Choi pulled him close his voice choked with relief.
“Newt…shit I was so afraid…I’m so sorry.”
He tightened his grip and Newt closed his eyes returning the hug as tightly as he could.
With Tendo’s help they found where they were supposed to go. The historic West Point Lighthouse and the abandoned water treatment plant were the only structures left standing in Discovery Park. The area was so bare of foliage that the plant, which stood at the top of a small hill, had a clear view of the lighthouse and the ocean. Mudpuppy had found his way to the shore and collapsed at the waters edge immediately, too tired to go another step. Mako and Raleigh powered down the Shrike near the lighthouse and Balor parked the RV next to it. West Point sat on a strip of land jutting so far out into the ocean it felt as if they were surrounded on all sides by endless water. The area around it was mercifully still. Gottlieb reveled in it, enjoying the soft hush of the wind and the ever-present sound of water breaking against the shore. Struggling to un-cramp his good leg Hermann hobbled down the RV steps. He remained quiet, content to listen to the talk around him rather then join it.
“The meeting. The Kaiju summit they’re calling it. It’ll take place tomorrow right there.”
Tendo turned as he spoke, pointing at the vacant water treatment plant up the hill. He put a cigarette to his lips, fumbling through the pockets of his trench coat for a lighter.
“They’ve been getting it ready all day, setting up monitors and figuring out seating…bureaucratic bullshit. Who the hell cares if China’s monitor is next to Russia’s…I mean they aren’t even really in the damn ROOM. It’s no wonder Hansen just said fuck it and retired.”
Balor stretched until Hermann could hear his spine pop and lit Tendo’s cigarette with the end of the one he was currently smoking, an oddly intimate gesture.
Hermann felt Newt wander off before he noticed he was gone. He turned this way and that finally spotting his partner’s hunched shoulders wandering towards the beach. Dusk was rapidly giving way to night and the sun had completely ducked below the horizon. Hermann felt a prickle of distress in his chest, a soft ember of heat that was starting to burn. He disliked the burn as much as he disliked the way Newt was carrying himself. These were easily readable warning signs. Gottlieb adjusted his crutch and pushed himself arduously down the sandy pathway his partner had taken.
He passed Mako and Becket still in full drift armor coming from the opposite direction but didn’t stop to talk. Mako put a hand on his shoulder as he stumbled past her, eyebrows furrowed. She looked worn by the long trek and Raleigh even more so.
“Where are you going Hermann?”
Gottlieb gestured towards the darkening beach.
“To the Hive…to find Newton. I won’t be long. We just need a moment.”
Mako worried her bottom lip unsure but Hermann plowed onward through the soft silvery sage grass dotting the edge of the overgrown Lighthouse lawn. He looked back over his shoulder with a smile he hoped was reassuring.
“Go and join the others…we’ll be there soon. I promise.”
Raleigh gave a thumbs up and wrapped an arm around Mako’s back, edging her gradually towards the motor home.
Hermann wandered further down the beach towards the hulking shape of Mudpuppy. Newt was standing near the resting Kaiju’s tail staring blankly out into the shifting water, hands drawn helplessly to his chest. The burn was a full on blaze now. The sensation of it so recognizable Hermann steeled himself for what he knew was going to happen next. Grabbing Newton’s shoulders Gottlieb pulled him close struggling to take a breath. He asked the question although he already knew the answer.
“Newton…are you having a panic attack?”
Newt’s legs shivered and collapsed under him. He crumpled down into the sand and Hermann went down with him his crutch dropping from under his arm.
Newt swallowed and stared out at the ocean clutching forcefully at the fabric of Hermann’s shirt. Mudpuppy sensed his suffering and inched closer on his belly. He lay as close as he could to the two of them without touching, whining low and alarmed. All around him the massive faces of the Hive poked out of the ocean. Concern stamped on their bizarre mismatched faces.
“Breathe…listen to me breathing… how bad is it, Newton?”
His partner choked and the fire in Hermann’s chest burned hotter, searing his lungs and throat. There was his answer, it was bad. Geiszler had not suffered an attack this fierce in some time. When they had piloted Occam his anxiety had become less frequent and much more manageable. Nothing as extreme as the attacks Hermann had felt in Fortress I. Newt had mostly been on an upswing mood-wise after waking from his coma. He would have a couple spotty hours here and there where the bond would become blurred…harder to read. Most of these had been caused but his pausing lapses, which had only recently stopped altogether. It was normal for Newt anyway; the low valleys of melancholy usually balanced the manic peaks. The Medication and Hermann’s close proximity kept Newt on a relatively even keel…until now. Sprawling on the damp ground Hermann shifted his weight off his bad leg and cradled Newt close. Taking deep breaths He looked up at the stars and concentrated on the pinpricks of diamond light. The day had been long.
“How about a lecture Newton? I haven’t given you one in a good while…shall we go back to p-prime numbers? Or something s-suh-simpler like the Pythagorean theorem?”
He stroked Newt’s hair his own vision doubling, mouth going bone dry. Thoughts raced through his head that were not his own. He was overcome with despairing speculation…disturbing predictions about the future. The ghost drift exploded with bright colors that had no rhyme or reason to them. White, red and even spurts of gold all fizzed into being then flitted out of existence just as quickly. It was like the brain patterns of a dying man. Hermann latched onto a random lecture and launched into it, doing it to calm his own brain as his partners. The anxiety bleeding into him from Newton was too much.
“The b-beauty of transcendental numbers…”
The Hive hummed low and Hermann put Newt’s hand on his heart trying to coax him to breath while the sensation of choking seized hold of them.
“The set of t-transcendental numbers are infinite…uncountable. T-th-…they reach out into the mathematical concept of eternity. There are so many elements that the mind cannot conceive of an end...”
Newton closed his eyes and took short halting breaths sweat dripping down his forehead. He was listening and the Kaiju glowing in the water were as well. Mudpuppy stayed still and Hermann would have forgotten he was there altogether if not for the soft glow of his luminescent skin patches.
“Transcendental numbers are…are not unusual…to the contrary most-r-real numbers and cuh-complex numbers are transcendental…but it is extremely difficult to show a …a number to be…transcendental..I…”
Newton fumbled and clung to Hermann, the trembling slowly easing. Gottlieb pressed into Newt’s neck and hugged him tightly rubbing circles on his back with gentle fingers.
“…It’s alright...I’m here. It’s going to be alright.”
The Hive took up a soft call and the water a ways off from the shore started to churn. There was a full thrumming cry that shook the earth and the other Kaiju submerged as Mother surfaced. She was bigger then Hermann dreamed possible. She was a category ten…no she was something beyond the category system. She was an island, a dream. She was a continent or a small planet onto herself… and he could only see her head. The pressure in his chest built and it felt like his heart was being pinned against his ribcage. Hermann gagged nudging Newton wordlessly, gesturing for him to look at the Kaiju goddess bobbing patiently in front of them.
Her skin was transparent. It glowed from within, lit by her own blood. Each car-sized eye glowed with its own internal light. She was shades of rose pink, soft orange and the familiar Kaiju Blue. They could see her veins pushing through the crystalline skin, pumping rivers of incandescent blood. The contours of her skull resembled no earthly animal. Her cartilage was like a cliff face and her features were as symmetrical as a Rorschach test. Mother was both dangerous and beautiful in her construction. Her skin was glass smooth, there was little need for spikes and sharp teeth with something her size. Her function was as a creator and not a destroyer. Hermann was glad she didn’t rise any further from the water. Not only would her glow and size attract the attention…he wasn’t sure his own heart could take it. She was too big; too foreign…she was Mother.
“My children…I see you. I love you…”
Newt smiled and managed to take in a snotty breath, holding up his hand in feeble welcome. Hermann had to look away rubbing at the ache in his ribs. Mother’s presence managed to calm the anxiety attack from an emergency to an ache. She watched them both from a safe distance, the glow of her body just visible below the ocean surface. Mudpuppy pushed himself laboriously to his feet and went to join her reluctantly, looking back at the scientists appraisingly before sliding into the surf. When Newton finally found his voice he spoke in a low rough growl watching Mother sing with the attending brothers.
“H-Hermann…you told me when she …visited you…you saw her as women...”
He stopped in the middle of his thought still gasping and struggling to take even breaths. Hermann pulled him close hands pressed against his heaving back.
“I did…she did and in a way she is all those women to me. She took from them things that helped her learn to be…more then what she was Newton.”
Half of Geiszler’s bottom lip wiggled as he tried and failed to hold back tears. The anxiety was doing its best to push back up and overwhelm him again.
“When she visited me...in my huh-head…she didn’t come as women.”
Hermann looked at him surprised daring to glance at Mother again. She was making a low booming noise at Mudpuppy. Even if he didn’t speak the language he understood it. The smaller Kaiju nuzzled at her head, it was easily the size of his entire body.
“N-nah Herms she…she came as Kaiju. ALL the Kaiju. She would be Otachi one second then K-karloff the next or Krueger and…she spoke in a voice that was…I don’t know how to d-describe it. It was too many voices. Even your voice… and the precursors. She took the shapes from my muh-mind…she...”
Hermann ran fingers through Newt’s scruffy hair and held him close. He felt Geiszler shudder, unable to persuade his vocal chords to cooperate.
“Shhh..you don’t have to talk. I didn’t know that…it’s very interesting...”
Newt took several more breaths to unknot the stress tangled around his words. Brain still scrambled, conflicting lines of thought running in all directions.
“I’m a…M-Uh M-MESS. She...I-I Mm…t-tomorrow!…I..F-Fuck it up.”
Hermann shook his head rough palm wiping away moisture from Newton’s eyes before it could pool into tears.
“We know what we’re going to say. Mother knows. We’ve gone over it and it’s going to be fine…Listen.”
Mother swayed back and forth in the water to her own music. Her body so titanic in size the waves lapping against the shore were affected by her movements.
Newt sniffled sullenly rubbing at his eyes under his glasses. They both listened to the song and the tide and the wind in the grass. Finally Newton spoke voice hoarse but steady.
“…Finish what you were talking about…about the transcendental numbers? I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”
The interior of the wastewater treatment station was dank and smelled thickly of rust. It felt taller then it was wide. Large cavernous lengths of pipe big enough that a man could crawl through without ducking stretched around them. Some pipes had been rooted out of the cement walls by scavengers. Metal, copper in particular, were extremely valuable if sold in the right place. Kaiju were monsters that ate cities during the war but Jaegers and the Wall were monsters that ate resources.
Hermann felt Newton silently grip his hand and he returned the touch, squeezing the man’s knuckles. It was still disconcerting to let Newt touch him so informally in public. The fear and shame he had nurtured over the years ran deep…but it was asinine now. He had come out to his father, had been hugging and touching his drift partner in front of massive crowds of people as well as close friends. There was no more reason to be hidden and certainly no more reason to care what anyone thought.
They moved through the mess of crumbling brick and dripping water and were greeted with a truly odd scene. In the center of the derelict pumping station floor all the rot had been cleared and a whole miniature UN had been set up. Carpets were spread over the filthy cement floor and bright strings of lights hung from the skeletal ceiling beams. Two generators were chugging away keeping the windowless space lit and dozens of live feed monitors running. Each screen had contained the face of an attending ambassador or dignitary. China, Russia, Australia…they were all here. Sitting in the center of the chaos and multi-colored flags was a simple bare table with a pitcher of water and two tarnished folding chairs. Newton’s grip tightened and Catfish lowered his eyes, growling under his breath.
“Don see no cameras…”
Hermann realized he was right. There were no cameras here and that was terrifying. This meeting was supposed to be televised. That was the point. Not only that, but the Hive couldn’t even attend a meeting inside…this was shaping up to be nothing more then an interrogation of himself and Newton.
“No…I don’t either...”
Balor put a hand on Newt’s shoulder when he made a small whimpering noise at the back of his throat. The only people in their original church group who had not come were Raleigh, Howard and Sonia. Sonia wasn’t well enough and Howard had stayed to protect her. Raleigh was afraid to leave the Rapture but Mako had elected to come to the summit. Hermann tried to sort out the bustle of the busy room his brain, attempting to categorize everything he was seeing and separate out the details. Newton’s hyperactive tendencies were making the task difficult and he could feel his focus drifting. The previous night’s panic attack was still fresh and raw in both of them. Hermann gave Newton’s hand another squeeze.
“<Calm down Newton…It’s alright. Mother and the Hive are close. Mako, Harpe and Balor are here. I’m here.>
Newt leaned against him, his voice cloudy and still not quite himself.
Hermann looked the direction Newton was pointing and his heart leapt joyfully into his throat. He hadn’t noticed that there were Rangers in attendance when he first entered the echoing meeting place. Standing partially obscured by human sized pieces of discarded pipe was a small congregation of Rangers. Among them were the familiar faces of Neta Melero and Koosha Deghari.
Neta caught his eye, separating from the group. She touched Koosha’s arm and he followed with a sly grin. She was wearing a uniform Hermann had never seen before, a dark black jumpsuit with highlights of deep blue and stark orange. The PPDC Logo was embroidered on the arms and chest along with the Ranger’s last name and identification number. It was deeply unsettling in how much it looked like military regalia. Rangers were soldiers, there was no denying that, but this outfit’ was meant to intimidate; another show of power by a nervous PPDC.
Before Neta could make it through the buzzing nerve center to greet Hermann and Newt Major Barlowe was upon them. He stood meaningfully in Hermann’s way a small escort of military personnel trailing in his wake. He looked over the k-sci Rangers, taking in their vain attempt to wear something presentable. Hermann wore an old suit he had found stuffed haphazardly into a kit bag. It was comically baggy on his bony frame. His nicest suit, the tailored brown one, had been soaked in Blue and probably burned in an incinerator in Helsinki. The old grey thing he was now wearing was nearly worn through at the elbows and threadbare around the edges. His shirt collar was wrinkled and Newton’s did not look much better. Gottlieb had however made a point of removing his infamous Jackelope button from his Rangers jacket; pinning it purposefully to the edge of his wrinkled lapel. Geiszler had no dress jacket, only an old white button up and skinny tie that had been moldering at the bottom of a duffel bag for months. Barlowe sniffed crinkling his nose at both of them.
“You look…you do realize that most of the leaders of the free world are going to be here?”
Hermann wanted to argue. The leaders wouldn’t technically be here…they would be images on screens. Their lackeys would be here, risking their lives in the presence of the traitorous Kaiju scientists. Balor glared and curled his lip irritably at Barlowe.
“Stow eit yah sniveling …”
Hermann interrupted Flood before he could say something they would all regret.
“Apologies Major. We did the best we could with the resources available…But I’m afraid I don’t see any cameras and our agreement was that our meeting with you would be televised…also this building is enclosed and the Hi-…the Kaiju…should be present for this.”
Barlowe looked at him with a mixture of rage and disbelief.
“The representatives think its best that before any cameras are turned on you some guidelines should be put in place.”
Newton’s small voice was shrill and he puffed out his chest.
“You mean tell us what not to say on air? You mean censor what we’re here to say? That why you put us in here? Afraid to do it where all those people who followed us can see?”
Hermann knew he should have curbed Newt then and there but he agreed with everything he said. This was exactly what they were trying to do.
“Newton is correct. You can tell the representatives that we will not be speaking with anyone until it is televised. We can forgive the indoor accommodations. I understand that there is a lot of delicate equipment here and so I think we can overlook it but anything we say needs to be heard by everyone. Including that rather large eager group of people waiting just up the road…”
He gave Barlowe a suggestive look and felt his chest constrict. It was a subtle threat but there all the same and the Major rankled visibly. He turned and spoke in quick angry Japanese to one of the well-dressed people at a nearby table. By this point the entire assembly hall had started to notice them and most of the government aides had stopped to stare. Tendo emerged from some dark corner of the room and apologized under his breath. He hustled the group to their table wordlessly before having an heated conversation with Barlowe and several other men in suits, speaking too low to hear. When he came back he assured them the cameras would be there…and they would be turned on.
The leaders of the free world scrutinized Newt and Hermann. Examined them sitting patiently at their plastic fold out card table. Newt bounced his leg and tapped his fingernails avoiding eye contact as best he could. Hermann was staring levelly at a fixed point in the distance trying to rein in the nervous fluttering emotions of the drift. He sent wave after wave of the most comforting thoughts he could manage in Newt’s direction. No more panic attacks, not now; they couldn’t afford them.
Mother was a solid comforting rock at their backs, a support. She seemed to nudge them forward. Go, her presence whispered. Do what you came here to do. Between the loud hum of the generators and the whir of the cameras the metal chamber was a riot of ambient noise. It lingered in the still air for several minutes as scientists and leaders stared at each other, neither sure how to begin. There was a hissing buzz of feedback and the President of the United States cleared her throat indecisively, her voice the first to break the spell.
“Doctor Gottlieb, Doctor Geizler. I would personally like to thank you for meeting with us today as representatives of the…Kaiju…”
Newt scooted his chair closer to Hermann, speaking into the microphones resting in front of him.
“H-Hive. Just call them the Hive…they’re a collective of individuals that share a collective mind…err…Mrs. President.”
The president gazed out of frame uncomfortably and the translators whispered into their mics.
“Yes…Well. Hive it is. We are pleased to have you and the Hive here today with us and the world to…”
The British Prime Minister spoke loudly from his screen pressing to be heard. His cheeks were already tinted a deep red, as if the effort of not screaming was just too much to handle.
“If you’ll kindly just get to the point, Madam President. I think we can all agree there’s no time for niceties while this…HIVE lurks in our oceans and poses a threat to humanity as a whole. Doctors, just tell us what your demands are. What do you want? ”
Hermann caught Neta scowling out the corner of his eye. Catfish and Mako were close to her side neither of them looking pleased with the man’s tone. Gottlieb was a bit relieved. It was better for the hate to be out in the open then festering below the surface.
“Demands? No sir. Demand is the wrong word. We have no demands but we have a list of requests. But please if you’ll allow me to first express that this is a meeting to show we mean nothing but peace. These Kaiju are not from the Precursor Hive…That is to say they are not creatures born beyond the Breach. They are a completely new and independent group, the sons of a Precursor refugee. Technically they were born here and as such are citizens of the earth by most standards…”
This caused a flicker of livid murmuring whispers through the room and the monitors. The UIS president spoke, his voice ruffled with irritation.
“So they are illegal aliens in the most literal sense of the word? Why should the earth offer them any sort of asylum? Not only would I argue that they are war criminals but there are records of them attacking several factories and businesses…not to mention missing fishing boats.”
Newt pushed his glasses up his nose showing a bit more confidence.
“Look man…err. Sir. They never meant to hurt anybody. And if they did it was because they were ignorant about it…it was an accident.”
This set off several loud conversations at once between the people on various screens. Hermann waited patiently for them to figure out who had the floor. The Japanese ambassador won, practically screaming to be heard.
“So you expect us to pardon Kaiju because of a…misunderstanding?!”
Hermann nodded slowly trying to think of the best way to explain…a common problem he was well accustomed to.
“We have been striving to teach them about the world. If we explain things they are very quick to adapt and you will note there have not been any attacks on land or on ships in months. The original incidents happened not because of malice or ill intent, but simply because the Hive members were hungry.”
Newton picked up where Hermann left off waving his hands, gesturing frantically as he always did when he started to warm to a subject.
“You guys have to understand how much they have to consume! I mean per pound they’re burning a lot of energy and they have to feed Mother on top of that! I know that if I had the means to tackle the problem I could figure out some answer to…”
The Russian diplomat held up her own hands and spoke in Russian to herself before it broke back into English.
“Wait. Who is Mother? Is Mother a Kaiju? Is refugee you speak of?”
Newt ran his hands nervously through his hair and Hermann wished for the umpteenth time he could reach out and brush his cheek…ease the nervous tics.
“Yes. Mother is the matriarch of the Hive and a technological refugee. She was created by the Precursors, the creators of the Kaiju, to come through the Breach and reproduce. She was left here to fend for herself when the Breach was closed. That is where the Hive came from. They are her children. Now…”
He waited for the fresh wave of murmuring and chattering to die away and took a deep tolerant breath through his nose.
“Newton and I have gained the ability to speak to her and her children and…”
He was interrupted immediately, overwhelmed by numerous voices screaming at once.
“Children! How many are we talking about Doctor Gottlieb!?”
“What’s to stop this Kaiju Mother breeding like an insect? Building an army!”
“This must be curbed immediately!”
The rumblings turned into an all out roar the Australian prime minister banged on her desk shouting not at the scientists but at one of the other representatives.
“….Ladies and Gentleman…Ladies and Gentleman please!”
The Chinese delegate was talking furiously to an aide. The USA and UIS were pointing fingers and the cameras didn’t seem to know where to focus. Newt went silent again his fingertips pressing tight to the tabletop, knuckles flushed a bright white. He screeched a reply to something the South Korean diplomat had blindly hollered his direction, adding to the chaos and noise.
Hermann stood as he spoke, knocking his chair backwards in the process. The sudden pain in his leg caught Newt’s attention. He startled at the ghost of it brushing him. The bond twitched, the Hive shuddered. The room hushed and the cameras turned his direction.
“I’m afraid I don’t know precisely how many members of the Hive there are right now…but the number is small, no more then fifteen if I was to make an estimate. And that includes Dr. Geiszler and myself. To my knowledge Mother has made a real effort not to reproduce. However…she has created children to replace the ones she lost. I assume it is common knowledge…both deaths were highly publicized. Two Hive members have been killed by PPDC forces. Yet we have not retaliated.”
He stood hands outspread looking from one monitor to the next, daring them to challenge his claim. They couldn’t. There had been no recent attacks from any Kaiju. Not a sighting since the death of Vesuvius. Let them try and refute it. He continued, voice slowly losing its sharp edge.
“Both sides have losses because of misunderstandings. If we could just be reasonable I believe we could move towards a mutually beneficial union.”
Newt looked up at Hermann and gently tugged at the corner of his jacket, encouraging him to sit back down. Gottlieb spoke again, finding it easier to look at Newt while addressing the room.
“We want to help. We don’t want anyone to die. It’s just… pointless.”
There was a brief pause. Calm filled with the frantic ping of received text messages and the muted click of camera phones. Everything was being transcribed live. The world would be hanging on every word. The President of the United States moved closer to her camera.
“Doctors. You must understand that we can’t just allow Kaiju to roam unchecked. They are the reason the PPDC was formed. The reason we lost so many years and lives to a war that drained us of resources…”
There were nods on all sides. The cam link to Brazil flickered but the president was easy enough to understand through the static.
“You ask us to give monsters the rights of human beings. How is this possible?”
Hermann finally let himself sink back down into his chair; he was barely able to disguise the growl in his throat.
“The war is over. We helped win it for you…that’s why we are here. Because of a sacrifice my partner made…that we both made. I won’t go into details. It’s another secret…of which you all have many…and many of which we know. ”
Newt put a hand on Hermann’s shoulder, his wordless voice pushing through the ghost drift… be careful with the threats. Gottlieb plowed on working hard to keep his voice steady.
“…Regardless. We ask for very little. We returned to active service when asked and one wonders how we could possibly prove our loyalty to humanity any further. All we and the Hive ask is that you hear our proposal…I am aware that these sorts of decisions cannot be rushed, but our hope is that by the end of this meeting we can start on the path to some sort of accord.”
The mood in the room was icy. There would be questions from the press and the gathering all knew that Hermann had said too much. The representative from Australia rumbled, voice gravelly but even.
“Well Doctors. You have our attention then, give us your proposal. I think we will do our best not to…interrupt again.”
Hermann nodded to Newt who shivered slightly worrying the inside of his cheek with his teeth. He stuttered a bit over his words… gathering steam. They had practiced this.
“First off we…we want pardons for all Kaiju umm…the living ones. The dead ones we don’t care but the living ones get clean slates. We…we want someplace, maybe a small section of a country or an island which can officially be the...the Hives. T-that means we’ll be able to do shi-stuff. Stuff like join the UN and create our own laws and yeah…”
Hermann picked up where Newton left off before the muttered angry noises around him could erupt into something ugly.
“As such we’ll be entitled to representation. If given the land the Kaiju will have a center of safety. If we have a government and lands of our own we also would like Jaegers. Two to be exact…Occam’s Razor and the Shrike Rapture. We want the ability to have citizens if we so choose and we want no criminal charges filed against those who have helped us in our journey here. I will not name names while the cameras are rolling but there are people…”
Hermann couldn’t help but cast a quick furtive glance toward where he knew Balor and the Rangers stood. Knowing they were there filled him with even more resolve.
“…People who have been good to us and friends to the Hive and to Mother.”
There was unease and under that a shared rage. Hermann could see Barlowe staring at them hands gripped tight behind his back. He was sure he spotted his brother Dietrich smirking and whispering something to another of the Major’s aides…but it was hard to see. The PPDC’s representative, a Marshall Hermann didn’t even recognize, spluttered about the loss of the Shrike being unthinkable. The President of the UIS massaged his temples and looked directly into Gottlieb’s eyes.
“And where would this land come from? Who would be willing to help create some bizarre city-state for a flock of alien invaders?”
Newt squawked indignantly.
“Look dud-SIR…It doesn’t have to be BIG like…smaller then Vatican City! We’ll take some shithole island in the middle of the damn pacific if we have to!”
Hermann did his best to look reconciliatory. There was a headache building huge and monstrous behind his eyes. Mother had been listening closely to everything going on and the Hives presence was a crushing weight.
“We would not ask these things of you if we did not have something to offer in return.”
This got everyone’s attention as he expected it would. There was no way they wouldn’t be interested in benefits to their own countries and that was predictable. Hermann waved his hand out of the confines of the sewage treatment plant towards the beach.
“The Kaiju will allow themselves to tracked and monitored. They will try to the best of their ability to stay in international waters…if they must ask permission to swim or fish near coastal regions owned by individual governments then we will do it for them to the very best of our ability. If an area if declared off limits we will respect that. We offer aid for natural disaster relief and Blue cleanup as well as help with tearing down the sea walls…all this.”
He paused for dramatic effect enjoying the captive audience for just a second. It wasn’t everyday you held the attention of the most important people on the planet.
“And if or should I say when a second Breach is opened…and the Precursors return the Hive will not hesitate to fight with you.”
He finally gave into temptation and placed a strong hand on Newt’s shoulder. His brain was buzzing. Hermann looked directly into the nearest camera and hoped Vanessa could see him, the twins…even his father. He thought about the waitress at Castro’s pancake house. She would be listening, watching.
“While the size of the Kaiju shrinks with every successive birth from necessity I don’t doubt you’ll find it helpful to have to a powerful ally. The Jaeger program and the Hive can work together…and perhaps with new more open communication we could help calm the dependence on nuclear armaments…and start to fix the world’s larger problems.”
Newt hesitated then looked around pushing his glasses up his nose and slowly sliding his hand down the stiff side of his face. His voice jittered but there was a smile behind it.
“The people outside aren’t just here for the Kaiju...I think we’re all thinking the same thing. Hey…if the Kaiju are taken care of. Maybe our governments will chill the fuck out and we can finally start over like we were supposed to…that’s why we were fighting right? For a second chance? …Good of future generations and all that?
Hermann could feel the itching desire for Newt to bring up all they knew. The smuggling the weapons projects…all of it. But they had made a promise. There was no possible way to solve every problem, no matter how much they wanted to. He squirmed and settled when Hermann squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. He kept going voice rising in pitch.
“The Jaeger shouldn’t be involved in border wars or…human shit. Maybe that’s a dead dream but we just want to live and so does the Hive…so does everybody. So how about we give it a shot?”
Newt finished rather lamely and looked back down at his fingers on the tabletop. Hermann had nothing to add, or wanted to add. Newt had really said it well in his own ineloquent way. Cameras whirred and clicked and the translators whispered the last of Newton’s speech into transmitters. The leaders all seemed to communicate between each other in some way Newt and Hermann couldn’t see. The Russian ambassador looked off camera nodding; the Chinese representative seemed to be typing something with his hands just off screen. With a sigh the president of the United States nodded slowly.
“…We have many more questions for you and the…community you represent. However…”
The president looked about and nodded slowly.
“Doctors, I think we can reach a compromise.”
The sky was clear and so bright Hermann actually blinked against it when he and Newton stepped outside the sewage plant. The negotiations were still going on inside and likely would for days more. Not just here either, but in the home countries themselves and the halls of the UN. Arguments were bouncing back and forth between them on where exactly the new “Kaiju Homeland” could be. Most likely some small piece of the United States or Canada...although an island off the coast of New Zealand had been put forward by a reluctant representative on the Australian feed.
A retinue of familiar Rangers drew up quickly behind Gottlieb. Neta and Koosha chattered excitedly with Balor while Mako drew both Newt and Hermann into a tight hug.
“You did well. I am proud of you. We all are.”
Balor patted Newton absently on the arm eyes drifting over the crowd of people pushing to be closer to the water treatment plant. Hermann was having difficulty taking it all in. There was so much going on around him. Aside from the raucous crowd of Lopers, reporters and curious civilians being held back by a mishmash of PPDC guard and military, there were three jaegers wandering about the lighthouse and the dilapidated grey public works building. The Shrike Rapture was just visible. Unmanned, it was still sheltered near the white spire of West Point. The Jaeger Juggernaut followed the throng or people, lingering behind them. It hovered, herding stragglers back towards the main group like an enormous sheepdog.
The massive Seawise Giant and gaudily painted Jazz Hellion were stationed at different points of the narrow treeless strip of land that trailed down to the lighthouse and the beach. They didn’t move, hunkered down patiently to watch the proceedings…and the Kaiju.
The closest Kaiju to the treatment plant was Mudpuppy. He waited just feet from the entrance, making affable trilling noises at the multitude of people gathered near his feet. As always Mudpuppy was a people Kaiju, eager for the attention. The Colonel sprawled uncomfortably close to the Seawise Giant but seemed completely un-phased by it. The Kaiju had always enjoyed sunbathing and now he was clearly trying to take advantage of some actual sun. His tail curled around the lighthouse building, tusks and face raised serenely towards the sky.
Beyond the Colonel were several Kaiju Hermann didn’t recognize but none of them had left the comfort of the water. Some lay half in and half out of the ocean, clogging up the tide line with their huge bodies. In total there were five Kaiju present, including Mother.
It was Mother’s presence that was by far the most shocking. She stood quietly a mile or so from shore. From the distance he almost mistook her for a mountain sized rock formation sticking out of the water. Her clear pink gold shape was blurred by the haze of distance yet her skin was so transparent he could make out the enormous shapes of bones and organs laid out stark again the cloudless sky shining through her. She was stunning.
She was also making people uncomfortable. He understood that. Her size alone was off putting but the translucent skin and alien shape of her face was enough to place her into something from a story by Lovecraft. A thing so gorgeous and yet so alien it could drive men mad. The Seawise Giant watched Mother from its post on the beach all its attention on the Hive queen.
Mako, who had been staring at Mother, swallowed and finally tore her eyes away. She spoke urgently near Gottleib’s ear her breath tickling his neck.
“You and Newton should say something to the crowd…I know you both are tired but they have been waiting and most came a long way to see you.”
Newt nodded still in a bit of a daze from the intense hours long meeting they had just endured. It had felt more like an interrogation at points but things were going in a promising direction.
“Yeah Maks…you’re right…it’s the right thing to do”
Hermann put a weary arm around Newton’s shoulders and they turned to face the crowd. There was more flashing of cameras and several loud voices shouting unintelligible questions. Mudpuppy growled warm and gravelly in his throat leaning down toward Mako with an affectionate coo. Balor eyed the Kilo which seemed poised…waiting for something. Catfish wandered in small circles. Fidgeting and on edge. He hadn’t been allowed to take any weapons into the plant during the meeting. Hermann wondered if he had gotten his knife back.
Newton took a step towards the assembled mass of people and press letting Hermann lean on him for support. The drift was heavy, grey and drained. Even the Hive seemed ready for it to be over. Hermann raised up his arm, waving a hand to try and draw attention to himself. He took a long deep breath.
The shot rang out before he even had a chance to speak. The bullet passed through his body so fast it was nothing but a gentle pressure, gone as quick as it came. Hermann pressed a hand to his torso and felt a stream of hot blood through the coarse fabric of his dress shirt. He raised his bloody fingers in front of his eyes confused and turned to look at Newt for confirmation. His partners face clouded with the same disbelief. Neither understood what had just happened. Hermann took a staggering half step towards the beach. Despite the blood that was running down his leg to pool in his shoe he barely felt any pain at all, just warmth. The world tilted and started to spin. The crowd was just beginning to react or maybe everything was just going a half-speed, slowed down and sticky at the edges.
Hermann took one more lurching step then went down on his knees. The jolt of pain it sent through his leg and hip seemed so small…so inconsequential. Newt caught him around the shoulders falling to the ground with him. Another shot was fired but the bullet buried itself harmlessly in the dirt near Newton’s feet. The crowd began to panic. Hermann frowned still puzzled as Newton pressed a hand to the blood dripping from just under his ribcage.
“You’re okay! ...Y-You’re ok-okay…”
Newton repeated this frantically over and over again and the more he said it the more Hermann thought he was not okay….not okay at all. A strange numbness curled up his spine and through his lungs. The Hive was screaming as loudly as Newton. Above their heads Mudpuppy let out a loud howl, baring his teeth and stomping his back feet. The crowd went into a frenzy as the Kaiju snarled. Mako screamed up at him trying to calm him down. Balor shouted desperately to be heard above the confusion, regain some sort of order. The Juggernaut was already pushing the crowd back while the Hellion took a booming dangerous step towards Mudpuppy. The Kaiju was half out of his mind with terror and shared pain. Hermann tried to reach into the wild tangle of shrill voices in his mind, separate them from the insanity outside…but it was getting harder to think.
“Mudpuppy stop...calm down…don’t..”
The Hellion was reaching for Mudpuppy. Taking slow deliberate steps as the Kaiju gave a screaming roar trying to protect his Hive brothers. A fight seemed inevitable despite the fact Mudpuppy was showing admirable self-restraint. By the lighthouse Hermann caught a glimpse of the Colonel pushing himself arduously to his feet, sights on the Seawise. His tusks raised in challenge. Another shot buzzed through the air, if it was aimed at Newt and himself Hermann couldn’t tell anymore. The crowd didn’t know where to run. Caught between the Kaiju, the Jaeger and whoever was firing the gun.
Newt drew Hermann against him muttering, words pouring from him senselessly.
“I’m here Hermann, I’m right here…I’m right here.”
The world narrowed and Geiszler pulled Hermann’s upper body into his lap propping his head up with one arm. His free hand still clasped tight to the bullet wound in an attempt to staunch the bleeding. Somewhere outside their huddled bodies people screamed and another gun fired. Micajah Harpe cussed, Balor Flood screeched at the PPDC military guards and Mako hovered just past his line of sight, seemingly torn between staying to maintain order and running to get help. These were all very slow impressions, vague ideas. He and Newton were back in a fog and it was closing in around them…pushing the world away, muting it under a layer of quieting cotton. Newton’s eyes welled with numbing tears. He smiled down at Hermann speaking in quivery pleading voice.
“Don’t go. Don't leave me...”
Hermann took a labored breath and felt blood trickle down his chin. He coughed…there was blood in his throat. He pressed a pale hand over Newts, felt blood surge between their fingers.
“I’m trying Newton…”
“….They’ll come with help…it’s gonna be okay.”
Hermann was suddenly very aware of his heartbeat. He could hear the labored arrhythmic thumping in his ears. He took another wet breath, sucking it in with a lung on the verge of collapsing.
“Newton…I…its very bad.”
Newt swallowed hard and nodded his Adams apple bobbing. He whispered hoarsely.
“I know…I can feel it buddy.”
Hermann stared up at the sky. It was so blue it hurt his eyes, the first true spring day he had seen in the Pacific Northwest. The Jazz Hellion was pushed back by the Seawise giant…Mudpuppy was nowhere to be seen. All of it faded back…farther away into the fog.
<“Newt…I’m so tired.”>
The words were thin and feeble…he knew he didn’t have enough breath to speak again. They were terrible last words. Newton pressed his face to Hermann’s kissing him on the cheek, the lips and forehead.
<“I know. I know just, please hang on…please-please don’t go. I-I really need you.”>
Newton wasn’t sobbing or begging now. He was in shock. He sounded…far away. Gottlieb couldn’t hear the Hive or Jaegers or Lopers. His vision was tunneling; all he could see was Newton.
And he was the last thing Hermann saw before all was darkness.
Then nothing at all.