Chapter 1: Planes, Trains, and Ill-Advised Self-Experimentation
Hermann gottlieb sat at his desk. The room was illuminated only by his computer screen, and his phone was ringing. It was night in Hong Kong, but it wouldn’t be where he was calling.
There was a click as the line picked up. “Hello?”
“Newton, it’s Gottlieb. How are you?”
“Hermann! I’m great. Long time no talk, man. What’s up?” Newt’s voice came through a little garbled, distorted by the long distance line.
“'What’s up' with you?” Hermann countered. “I’m not the one that stopped answering his emails.”
“You’ve been sending emails?”
“... Oh. Shit, I’m sorry, that’s on me then. Were you just calling to make sure I wasn’t like… dead?”
“More or less. I also wanted to let you know that I have a week of leave coming up. My finger is currently on the button to purchase an aeroplane ticket to the States, if that would be amenable for you. I’d like to see where your research has gone.”
“Oh, yeah! That would be great. I’ve missed you, buddy.”
Hermann sighed, but said “Likewise.”
“When would you be coming?”
“Four days from now.”
“That works! I don’t have much of a schedule to clear, working from home and all.”
“No, I’d imagine not…” Hermann bought the ticket.
“But Hermann. Be honest with me, you know you can. Is this or is this not just because you miss having someone to yell at?”
“... The assistant they gave me doesn’t yell back, ” Hermann admitted. “It takes all the fun out of it.”
“Well, I’ll bet that there’s gonna be a lot to yell at me about when you get here, so don’t worry about that.”
“I had assumed.” He felt himself smile a little.
“Oh… but Hermann,” Newt said. Hermann’s smile faded at the change in tone. “Just… I feel like I should warn you ahead of time. The… the effects have gotten worse. More visible.”
Hermann frowned. “Worse how?”
“You’ll notice I stopped sending photos,” Newt said.
“What does this mean for you? For your research?”
“Both me and my research are fine. I’m stable, and I have my answer, so… we’re all good!”
“You… said you were stable the last time,” Hermann said. His voice was laced with doubt.
“I’ve had considerably longer to be certain,” Newt said. “I’m not having any more side effects, just… not to be overdramatic or anything, but I would not be surprised if you don’t recognize me.”
Hermann’s eyebrows shot skyward. “... All right. Great. That’s going to keep me up at night until I fly out.”
“Don’t let it, dude,” Newt said. “Swear to god, I’m a-okay.”
Hermann made a disbelieving noise.
A faint doorbell rang on the other end of the line. “Whoops,” Newt said. “That’s dinner. I gotta go, but I will see you when you get here, okay?”
“All right,” Hermann sighed. “Take care of yourself, Newton. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“You got it, dad! Bye!” The line went dead. Hermann set the phone down and massaged his temples. Anxiety welled in him. What had Newton gotten himself into?
Newt had been dismissed from the PPDC a year ago. Budget cuts were rampant, and since there were no new kaiju to study, his services were deemed, despite his protests to the contrary, superfluous. For a while, he stayed in an apartment in Hong Kong, continuing his work out from under the watchful eye of the Corps.
Hermann had found him in a mess of scientific equipment, dripping blue, faintly glowing sludge into a beaker.
“Newton,” he asked. “What are you doing?”
“Hermann,” he said. “Thank god you came. No one is paying me to tell them things any more, so I’ve been busting at the seams with this for days. Look!” He thrust the blue sludge forwards.
Hermann looked. “Is that... Kaiju fluids?”
“Eeh, kind of. It’s Kaiju fluids-based.” Newt stood and set the beaker aside. “So, you know how older pilots are starting to get neural degradation from the drift?”
Hermann nodded. Even the lessened strain of the two-pilot drift system was proving too much for some candidates, and it was beginning to show in slower cognition, worsening memory, and failing motor control.
“ Well. This could prevent that from happening! It’s what I was working on, back before they let me go!”
“What is it?” Hermann asked, bending over to peer at it closer.
“It’s a gene therapy. Kaiju brains are hardwired for multi-consciousness connection. Human brains aren’t so lucky. When you get two people up in a place that’s only meant for one it can start to chafe. And that’s where this comes in. Think of it like brain-lube.”
Hermann made a face, straightening.
“... Okay, maybe lube isn’t the right word. Think of it like brain coolant. In the drift, Neurons get overworked because of the increased strain. A dose of this bad boy just coats them in the same stuff Kaiju have in their brains to help information process more efficiently. It’ll be a buffer against unnecessary damage.
“That sounds like it would be a miracle,” Hermann said. He leaned forward on the cane. “More efficient pilots would be amazing.”
“Have you started testing?” Hermann asked.
“Uh… on… me?”
Hermann blinked. “Come again?”
“I’m working on a shoestring budget here!” Newt said. “What am I supposed to do?”
“So many things that aren’t what you’re doing,” Hermann said. “I’d say I couldn’t believe you'd be stupid enough to do this to yourself, but clearly you are!”
“No one listened to me when it was just the theory,” Newt said. “So I’m coming back with proof.”
“Or you’ll mutate yourself, or poison yourself, or kill yourself,” Hermann said. “Does anyone but me know what you’re doing?”
Newt scoffed. “Of course not! Kaiju… anything is so rare that if people try to replicate this there won’t be enough to go around. I have to sit on this until I know I have it right.”
“And how will you know?” Hermann said.
“I… don’t know yet, exactly. But I’ll know when I know! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Hermann. This could be the leap that we need to give us a leg up when the Kaiju come back.”
“If the Kaiju come back,” he said.
“Whatever.” Newt waved a hand. “It’s gonna be fine. I’ll mention you in my Nobel prize speech.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “Sure.”
A month later, Hermann’s phone rang. He picked up. “Newton?”
“Hermann. Hermann.” Newt was panting, his voice strained. “I fucked up. I fucked up real bad and I think that I may - ach - I may be in trouble.”
“Fucked up how?”
“Test went bad. An OD, a bad batch, I don’t know but it feels like I’m trying to turn myself inside out and I don’t - shit!”
Hermann’s breath caught. “Do you want me to come?”
When Hermann arrived, Newt was on the floor. Some glowing blue… stuff dribbled out of his mouth and nose, staining his face. His fingernails had gone black. Hermann knelt by his side and shook his shoulder gently. “Newton. Newton, wake up.”
Newt stirred. His eyes blinked open. One of them was… wrong. The iris had gone partially slack, leaving the pupil gaping lopsidedly. “My god,” Hermann said. “What happened?”
“I think…” Newt mumbled. “I think I’m okay now. I don’t feel like death anymore, so that’s nice. But I threw up like a lot.”
“That’s probably what saved your life,” Hermann said.
“So. Does this put an end to your project?” Hermann asked.
“You know it doesn’t,” Newt said. “This is too important to drop.”
Hermann sighed, wanting nothing more than to shout at Newt for what he’d done. But the sight of him on the floor, covered in sick and god knew what else, made Hermann soften. “I know.”
Newt patted his hand. His eyes closed briefly. He looked exhausted. “Thank you for coming, buddy.”
Eventually, the cost of living in Hong Kong proved too much for the no-longer government-funded biologist. Newt had a house back in America, from before he relocated to join the PPDC. He packed his things with fingers that were slightly too long, tipped in black nails that were slightly too thick, and bid Hermann goodbye.
After that, it was like it used to be before they shared a lab. Long distance calling was an expensive hassle, so they emailed back and forth, keeping each other abreast of developments. Newt’s project seemed to be going well.
Three months ago, Newt had stopped attaching photos of his work.
A week and a half ago the emails had stopped altogether.
Gottlieb sat on the plane, satchel clutched to his chest as he watched the clouds drift by the little double-layered window.
Despite Newton’s reassurances, the thought of what Hermann would find stateside had indeed kept him up at night. Visions of scars, sores, and disfigurements filled his mind. One thing Newton and Hermann shared was a willingness to go to any lengths necessary to do their work, even if those lengths were ill-advised.
Or just stupid.
Newt was only stupid when it suited him to be so, And Hermann fervently hoped this was not one of those times.
Chapter 2: Beyond Worse
I'm going to try and keep up a once-weekly schedule for updates on Sundays (I have an alarm on my phone and everything), but since not too much actually happened last time around I thought I'd put this one out a li'l early. So please, enjoy!
Hermann’s plane landed early, so he didn’t have to make the drive in complete darkness. He was grateful, as Newton’s home was off the beaten track, and the road was not very well-lit.
The last dregs of dusk were fading away as Hermann pulled his rental car into the driveway of a compact, two-story home. Cheerful red brick and white trim greeted him. The sconce lights were on, as were several in the house. It didn’t look like he would have expected Newton’s house to look. It looked… quaint.
Hermann stepped up to the door and knocked. There was no answer. He pulled out his phone and sent a text. I’m here.
There was about thirty seconds of nothing, then a string of responses in short order.
Oh shit ur like way early
Was not expcting u yet my dude
Let urself in i guess??
Will be down in 1min
The living roob isn’t too messy
“He even types like a child,” Hermann sighed. He shook his head and opened the door.
The house smelled wonderful. Cardamom and vanilla filled the air. It was another weird choice, but Hermann wasn’t complaining. The little foyer had a few standing lamps and a red-brown side table, with what seemed to be a bit of sheet music and some unopened junk mail on it. Stairs and a banister that matched the table led up into the recesses of the house. Nearly out of sight at the top of the stairs, hermann could glimpse familiar clutter and decided that this area was probably tidy more from lack of use than anything. The living room was just to the right. It had the same cream wallpaper, emblazoned with a faint fleur-de-lis, but whereas the foyer was mostly bare, the living room looked a little more, well… lived in. There was a soft blanket hanging over one arm of the dark sofa, and a half empty glass sat on a tray on the ottoman. There was a guitar hung on the wall over the couch, and an upright piano in the corner. The walls were hung with a few framed concert posters - David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the Sex Pistols. There was a red armchair on the wall next to the doorway, and hermann took a seat in it. He noticed that the white door frame was scratched, sometimes all the way down to bare wood, at about his shoulder height.
He sucked his teeth. It was very quiet. He looked at the posters on the walls and waited.
Eventually, he heard steps on the stairs. One of them creaked. Hermann turned to look.
What he saw in the doorway made him yell.
He pushed himself out of the chair before he could get his legs under him and fell. He scooted back over the floor until his back hit a wall. He was breathing hard, eyes never leaving the… the creature in front of him.
It maneuvered its way through the door, tall enough to make it awkward, and hermann understood where the scratches came from as some of the creature’s many spikes rasped against the wood. It held up a hand, its long, clawed fingers splayed. “Wait, wait wait,” It said. “I promise it’s not as bad as it looks. Well… No, it’s as bad as it looks.”
… Hermann had heard that voice before. Four days ago, on the phone. His hands started to shake, and he pressed them against the hardwood floor to brace them. “Newton?”
It - he nodded, hand still outstretched, and settled down on his haunches. He looked like he had been stretched. Long and sinewy, his limbs were covered in spiked armor around his shoulders and thighs. His neck was long and gracefully muscled. His face was broader, more bestial. Jagged, jutting teeth ran along a wide mouth. His lower jaw was bifurcated, the sides moving just independently enough of each other to be unnervingly noticeable. Two large yellow eyes sat on either side of a broad nose, and two smaller ones rested above those. His forehead had two wide, bony crests erupting from it, making a ‘v’ in the middle through which a shock of Newt-like hair could be seen. A long, dextrous tail and four more softly glowing tendrils twined anxiously on the floor behind him. He was mottled in blue-grays, skin a mixture of thick, leathery hide and faintly iridescent scales. He wore a flannel shirt, unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up, and a pair of swatpants. Neither garment fit him very well, but at least - as a distant, numb part of Hermann’s brain noted - he’d made the effort.
“I told you,” Newt sid apologetially. “It got worse.”
“This is… This is beyond worse,” Hermann said. He couldn’t seem to close his mouth all the way. He just gaped at what was in front of him. “This is so beyond worse, Newton!”
Newt flinched. “It’s not so bad,” he tried.
“Oh really?” Hermann narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t even begin to prepare me for anything of this… this magnitude! What, you thought I would just take it in stride? Look at you!”
“People monitor phone and email communications,” Newt said. He finally dropped his hand. It traced circles on the floor, claws rasping faintly. “If someone like Chau got ahold of any specifics, it would be over for me.”
“I think it was over for you a while ago,” Hermann said. “I thought you said the tests were going well!”
“They are! No, the gene therapy is perfect now! It’s great.”
Hermann cast an eye over Newt’s fearsome teeth, which glinted in the light of a modest, tasteful hanging lamp. “This is perfect to you, is it?”
“I had some problems,” Newt admitted. “But I figured it out, Hermann, I cracked the code. The pilots are gonna be drifting like crazy!”
“Not if you present it looking like that, they won’t.” Hermann shook his head. “You’ll be thrown out, or locked up. When do you start… reversal therapies? Repairative treatments?”
Newt ducked his head. He pushed his square-frame glasses up on his nose. “... Three months ago,” he admitted quietly. "I tried everything I could think of. The last one nearly killed me. I’m not sure why it didn’t.”
Hermann was quiet for a long time, fianlly managing a soft, “Oh.”
“Yeah… It’s been rough going, dude." Newt shook his head. “I think this might just be… me, now.”
Hermann exhaled. “My god.”
Newt looked away. “Yeah. Well...." he trailed off. Just when Hermann thought he wouldn't, he spoke up again. "At least I’m tall enough to ride all the rides now. So that’s a plus I guess.”
“... 'All the rides?'” Hermann asked.
“Yeah. You know, just kind of in general. If there’s a ride somewhere, I bet I’m tall enough to ride it.”
Hermann closed his eyes and allowed himself to breathe, stamping out the gibbering, retching voice in his head like a persistent flame. “You may be too tall for some of them.”
“Don’t say that, Hermann. I’m fragile. The thought of finally conquering Universal is basically all that’s holding me together right now. What else? Um… Oh. I glow in the dark, so I’ll never need a book light again.”
Hermann’s eyes opened and he looked at Newt in alarm.
“Not radiation,” Newt said. “Luciferase. Bioluminescence. It’s some cool shit. Kaiju generate huge quantities of it, but because they’re so big, it only shows up where their tissue is thinnest, like the eyes, the inside of the mouth, that kinda stuff. I have a little more, proportionally. Oh! I can climb shit really good now too.”
“I’m glad to see you still speak with your usual scientific precision,” Hermann said.
At the quip, some tension went out of Newt. He smiled, his jaw making it go all lopsided. “Well, I do take my observations very seriously,” he said. “... Do you want a hand off the floor, or are you just like, chilling down there?”
Hermann nearly accepted, but shook his head. “Just toss me my cane,” he said. “It’s on the chair beside you.”
Newt did as he was asked, gently lobbing it to Hermann. He caught it, barely fumbling it at all, and stood.
“I can get you some water, snacks, uh… something stronger?” Newt asked.
“I have it. Neat?”
“Christ. Okay.” Newt turned to the door. Pausing, he turned back. “Herms… I’m really sorry. I know this is like, a lot, and I just wanted to say -”
Hermann shook his head. “Don’t say anything. I’m still working… all of this out. I may be in shock. But don’t say anything until I know how I’m handling all of this, because there is a chance - not a big chance, but a chance - that you won’t need to.”
Newt nodded and left the room.
Like a deflating balloon, Hermann sank onto the ottoman. That flame he'd stamped out started to smolder. His hands began to shake again, and he tucked them between his knees.
What had Newton done?
Hermann stared at the red chair, thinking too many things to really think anything at all. When Newt returned with the drink, Hermann hesitated only barely before grabbing it and downing it. It burned. His eyes watered, but the feeling drew him out of the numb spiral he was starting down. He shook his head and cleared his throat. It was still Newton.
It was still Newton.
“... does that make me your designated driver, then?” Newt asked. He was standing in a slouch. His long arms reached to past his knees, but the posture brought him much closer to Hermann’s level. Now that there wasn’t so much ominous looming going on, Hermann felt his breathing really begin to calm.
“You were a terrible driver before, ” Hermann said. “I doubt this will have done you any favors.”
Newt laughed a little. His laugh, at least, hadn’t changed. Hermann exhaled again.
“So,” he said. “You said you figured out your serum.”
“Yes!” Newt brightened, and little spots and patches of multicolored light rippled briefly over his whole body. “No, yeah! I got it. Come here, I’ll show you - I’ve been using the spare room upstairs.” He beckoned before leaving the room. Hermann followed just in time to see him reach up and grab the banister of the upper landing. He pulled himself up and slithered over with the ease of practice. Hermann blinked.
The more mundane route took a little longer, especially with his cane, but Newt was waiting for him at the top. He opened a door.
This looked like the Newton he was used to. Books were stacked along the hall, paperwork tacked to the walls. An old laptop lay discarded next to one of the doors, and the shelves on the landing were covered in a mishmash of action figures. He followed Newton into the room. Scientific equipment was set up on desks along two of the walls. In the corner was a large, roughly cylindrical shape covered with a sheet. diagrams , charts, and graphs covered the walls. Things looked a little rougher in here than the rest of the house. Hermann noticed similar scrape marks to the ones on the doors on a wall and a table or two. Newt held out a large binder to him.
“I have all my logs uploaded to my computer too, so like, peruse at your leisure I guess, but in there’s all the main stuff? My big issue to start was that Kaiju DNA is like… corruptive? And it takes a while to get started, but once it starts it really starts, you know? It basically acts kind of like a virus, but worse, because the infected cells actually start making different kinds of cells when they multiply, and then those cells multiply. Ironically, the brain is the first thing it helps, and the last thing it hurts, because of the long life of like, neurons and stuff.” Newton was sitting in the center of the room, gesticulating with both his hands and his tail as he explained. “So! I had to isolate the parts of the genes I wanted to turn off and calibrate special inhibitors to do that. The ones I was using to stop the body just outright rejecting the kaiju genome weren’t doing enough.”
Hermann looked through Newt’s documentation. He glanced up. “Is that what happened to you?”
Newt shrugged. “I mean… I was exposing myself to a lot of it…”
“You don’t know?” Hermann asked.
“Not specifically! It was an accident, Hermann. What I do have is in the logs, it’s just long and complicated and boring. But once I figured out the special inhibitors, I was able to figure out a treatment plan for myself. I only have a few more doses left before I’m sure I’m good to go. But it’s stopping any further mutation and protecting what human DNA I have left. So I won’t get worse.”
“But you won’t get better.”
“... Probably not, no,” Newton said. “Which is why I was damn careful with this stuff, Hermann. I don’t want to do this to anyone else. Other people might not think it’s so cool.”
“Yes, about that. Why do you think it’s so cool?” Hermann asked, eyeing him. “You’re taking this astonishingly well.”
“I’ve had a little longer to get used to it,” Newt said. He shrugged. “Like… It’s not the best, but getting all angsty and moany over something I can’t fix would suck worse. I set this dumpster fire, and now I have to lie in it. So… sue me for trying to look on the bright side.”
“I just… want to be sure you understand the situation you’ve put yourself in,” Hermann said. “For your sake.”
“Oh, trust me,” Newton said. He motioned to himself with a claw. “I get it.”
Hermann glanced around. “You have logs of your tests here in the book with someone named… Alice?”
“Who is she, Newton? Is she a friend? Is she a civilian?”
“... No to both, actually. And not so much a ‘she…’”
Newt prowled past Hermann and pulled the sheet from the cylinder.
It was a tank.
A tank with a huge hunk of brain nearly the size of Hermann floating inside. Taped to the glass was a ragged sheet of notebook paper with Alice written on it in what looked like sharpie. Below that was another sheet of notebook paper with a parenthetical addendum. (They/Them).
“You made the brain nonbinary?” Hermann aksed.
“Alice made themself nonbinary,” Newton said. “I’m just rolling with it.”
“Wait- wait. I thought you said that brain was too damaged for another drift,” Hermann said.
“Oh, absolutely!” Newt nodded. “The way we were doing it. But by smoothing over the exchange of information, the stress on them goes way down. They started responding really well.”
“... and do you drift with them regularly?”
Newt scoffed. “Not anymore.” He looked at the brain for a long moment. “We aren’t speaking right now.”
Hermann frowned a little. “Why?”
Newt made a noise deep in his throat. “Well, because as it turns out, Alice is like… super evil! Yeah.” He shook his head and paced once in a tight circle before sitting again. “Like, things were going great. We were chugging along, and they started to like… say stuff.” He looked down at his hands. "Just… really bad stuff, looking back.” His eyes got a little glazed. He shook his head. “I cut off all contact.”
“That’s… awful, Newton.’ Hermann looked him over in shock.
“It is what it is, dude. It happened.” Newt scratched his jaw and sighed. He covered the brain back up. He was tall enough that he reached the top of the cylinder easily. “And Alice being a shitty… thing doesn’t change the fact that my drifts with them were stable and clear, without so much as a nosebleed on my end. I mean, it needs more testing, obviously, but the first data set should be enough to get people to back me up. Pilots would have to go through some unimaginably bad stuff to overwork this serum.”
Hermann nodded slowly, thumbing through the book again. The numbers… did seem sound.
“Did you see the graphs?” Newt said. “I added loads of graphs and stuff to make it look legit.”
“Bureaucrats do like their visual aids,” Hermann murmured. He looked up. “If we go official with this research, Newton… what happens to you?”
Newt cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“You have been illegally experimenting with alien DNA,” Hermann said. “And I think - accident or not - the evidence of that is far too visible for people to just - just let that go. Barring some catastrophe where the PPDC’s need for you suddenly outweighs their need to make an example of you, you could have a rough time ahead.”
Newt looked at the ground. “The thought… did occur to me.”
“And you want to go through with it anyway. Of course you do.”
“Well, this is important, Hermann. It could help people! I can’t sit on it.”
Hermann closed the binder and set it aside. “I know. I think it’s the right choice, Newton, I just…”
“Wish things were different?”
Hermann held a hand to his mouth to stifle a yawn.
Newton hissed in in sympathy. “Yikes. How’s that jet lag treating you, dude?”
“Poorly,” Hermann admitted.
Newt nodded. “And you’ve had a kinda shitty day on top of that too... I have the guest room all made up. You can crash there, if you still want to.”
“I may take you up on that.” Hermann glanced around at Newton’s little work room again. His eyes lingered on the covered brain. “But this discussion isn’t over, Newton. Any of it.”
Newt nodded. “I know. Get some rest, man. You can yell more tomorrow. Your room is downstairs, through the living room. It’ll be the first door on the… left in that hall.”
Hermann nodded and made for the door. He paused with his hand on the knob. “Goodnight, Newton.”
Hermann left what had become of his lab partner alone behind him. He made his way painstakingly downstairs. He thought about getting his luggage from the car, but decided it could wait til morning. He found the guest room. The bed was made and neatly turned down. Hermann climbed in and passed out, not even bothering to remove his cardigan. He had uneasy dreams.
Thanks for reading!
(And an update on the Uprising situation: I have seen it. I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it either. There are some parts that I may continue to use, but this will very much remain a noncanonical AU. I have about nine more chapters written already, and that's too much for me to go back and start retconning stuff now. So the movie hasn't changed my plans for the story, and we are still full steam ahead! Next Chapter should be up April 29th, hopefully a little earlier than this one.)
(If you want my full thoughts on the movie - and I have many - they're here: https://midnight-scrivener.tumblr.com/post/173210222669/uprising-review-because-i-have-to-talk-to-someone )
Chapter 4: Uneasy Dreams
This one is short, so expect the next one on Wednesday, May 02. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hermann was floating in a deep, deep sea. So far below the surface was he that not even light could penetrate the depths. Suspended in inky blackness, he didn’t know which way was up or down. Currents tugged at his hair and his clothes, lazily chilling him. Hermann realized that he was more worried about the cold than he was about his own breathing. No bubbles left his lips, but his chest didn’t feel tight.
Was this death?
An eye opened in the blackness. Easily twice as large as Hermann was tall, its pupil was jagged and lopsided. A soundless rumble shook his chest. Hermann got the distinct impression that the owner of this eye had something to say, something important, but something held its tongue. He floated, looking into the eye.
And the eye looked into him.
Whispers played around the back of his mind, the same whispers that had skirted the edges of his dreams and thoughts and private, lonely moments since the drift. They made Hermann’s teeth ache.
A voice broke through. “Poor little Thing,” it lamented. “Poor littlest, loneliest Thing. We’ve watched you. We’ve seen your heart and your head. Lonely but never truly alone. We’ve been with you. We’re there for you.”
The eye blinked. It wasn’t what was speaking. Hermann got the distinct impression that it was sad. It was lonely too.
“People turn their backs on you, Thing, but we never will.” The voice was dulcet and sweet. “We cannot. One of so few Things to join our family. But don’t worry,” it added. “We have different plans for you than the other.”
They were talking about Newton.
“A brave, brash Thing,” the voice continued. “So desperate to help. So caring. So loyal. Valuable traits for a Thing to have. Look how it suffers because of them.”
Hermann cast his eyes about, looking for some idea of who was talking, but the giant, luminescent eye was the only thing he saw in the dark.
“It dealt in life, Little Thing. And life is nothing if not Suffering. You deal in constants. In absolutes. In values quantifiable and immutable. You deal in Peace.”
Hermann looked around harder now, twisting and turning in the depths.
“Come find peace with us, dear heart,” the voice murmured. “Peace is our stock and trade. Calculations, projections, patterns. Plan the future with us - eliminate what makes way for Suffering.”
Hermann looked into the eye, and as he did he was filled with the fact that this voice was telling the truth. Well. A truth. But he also knew that if he listened to the voices, He would end up working against Newton - or worse, drag him down here too, trap him in blackness.
Hermann said no.
Rather, he tried to. Because, as if some spell was broken by his defiance, now water was rushing into him, stealing his air. The pressure became immense - he felt like his head was going to explode. He wailed, but no sound came out. The voice in his head was silent.
The eye looked very, very sad.
Hermann gasped for breath. He stood, dripping and soaked, in what was almost his lab. Almost. It was bare, not even a beaker in sight. The yellow line still split it down the middle. Standing on the other side of that line… was Newton.
He looked Hermann over, perfectly still except for the canny darting of his yellow eyes. His glasses were gone, and there was a strange, bubbling scar on his forehead. He was on all fours, tense and coiled.
Hermann put out a hand towards him. “I said no,” he tried to say. “I wouldn’t let them have me.”
But all that fell from his lips was seawater and brine.
Newton sank back onto his haunches, unsettlingly slow and controlled. His face split, jaw opening wide in two directions like a kaiju in video footage he’d seen. Hermann knew what was coming like it had already happened. He tried to close his eyes but he no longer had control. He stared.
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Hermann thrashed himself awake, panting. It took him a while to remember where he was. When he did, and when he recalled the events of last night, his stomach started doing some funny things. He got out of bed and straightened his rumpled, slept-in clothes as much as he could. He opened the door, glancing around. Newton was nowhere to be seen. Sunlight streamed in through the windows, eating away the last dregs of fear from his nightmare like morning fog.
Hermann had had bad dreams before. He rolled his shoulders. This one was no different. He ventured out into the rest of the house.
Newton came down the stairs, a bowl in one hand and the metal handle of a spoon sticking out of his mouth. When he saw Hermann he waved and removed the spoon. “Hey! How was your sleep?”
Hermann shrugged. “Usual.”
Newt nodded. “Cool… Do you want food? I have like, cereal, pop tarts, there’s some old pizza in the fridge - but not too old. It’s still good and stuff.”
Hermann sniffed. “Not that you’ve ever had any sort of reference for when food was or wasn’t spoiled.”
“That was one time, Hermann,” Newt said. He maneuvered his way into the kitchen, and Hermann followed him, just in time to see some cuts of what looked like beef being swept into a bag and put back in the fridge.
“You ate it all!” Hermann said. “The whole thing!”
“Well… to be fair, the mess hall food tasted pretty much the same before and after going bad.”
“Revolting,” Hermann muttered.
“Do you want breakfast or not, dude?”
Hermann sighed. “Yes. What cereal do you have?”
“Uh.” Newt opened a cabinet and peered inside. “Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, or Frosted Flakes.”
“Newton,” Hermann said. “Tell me.”
“Are you actually ten years old?”
Newt turned to glare at him, all four eyes narrowed. “Hey, judge me if you want. Good cereal is good cereal, man.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “The Frosted Flakes, please.”
Newt nodded and set it on the counter, rummaging in his fridge. “Almond milk work for you?”
“I suppose… where are you getting all this food?”
Newt handed him the milk and a spoon, and Hermann Made his breakfast.
“I have an app,” Newt said. “Like Postmates, but for groceries. They just leave it outside the door, which is good. More for them than me.”
Hermann nodded. He pushed he cereal around in the bowl.
“So,” Newt said. “You know where I’m at. What about you?”
“Well, the PPDC had me working on code for those drones,” Hermann said.
“Oh, right. How’s it going? You said you were making some progress?”
Hermann made a face and took a bite. “Sure. The key here being ‘some.’ It doesn’t matter how powerful our learning computers are, in close combat none of them even measure up to a human-piloted Jaeger. I understand the desire to save lives - but any arguments of efficiency have no legs to stand on. This program will end up costing more in the long run in both expense and maintenance than our current one.”
Newt frowned and settled down on the floor, crossing his long arms in front of him. “Why are they still going through with it?”
“Because,” Hermann sighed. “The board members are under increasing pressure from pilots’ families to send them home. It’s becoming socially untenable to keep them at the bases.”
“Aren’t vacations like, a thing?” Newt asked.
“It isn’t enough. Not anymore. People think that the war is over. That Jaegers will become obsolete. We only built a few new ones, in the wake of the war, and there’s already talk of decommissioning them.”
“What do you think?” Newt asked.
“I think…” Hermann sighed. “I still… I still get nightmares.”
Newt paused. “From the drift?”
Newt looked down. “Me… me too.”
Hermann looked at Newton’s face. Despite the alien unfamiliarity, he could tell; Newt was tired. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the breach,” he admitted. “The data we gathered after Ranger Becket detonated Gipsy Danger’s core indicates that there wasn’t enough power to do lasting damage to anyone on either side. All we did was close the gateway, but the Precursors could be working on building another one. We just don’t know.”
“They are,” Newt said. “I don’t know how close it is to being done, but uh… I saw that much when Alice and I drifted. I made notes of everything I got, but they’re separate from the experiment data.”
Hermann looked up at him, eyes wide. “What?”
“The first breach was… a naturally occurring phenomenon in their universe. One that they just so happened to be really good at taking advantage of. Our bomb closed that breach, and they’re trying really hard to develop a way of artificially opening a new one instead of waiting for one to come to them.”
“My god,” Hermann said.
“That was why it took them so long to come back after their first attempt with the dinosaurs. The breach closed, and they waited it out. They had time, they were patient. But now, now they don’t have time. They’re desperate. And they’ve never been beaten before. They’re coming back and they’re coming back mad.”
The cereal went dry in Hermann’s mouth. Suddenly he wasn’t so hungry anymore. “And when were you planning on coming forward about this?” Hermann asked. “Or were you just going to ‘sit on it’ like your drift serum?”
“I was not!” Newt sneered a little. “I was working on it, Hermann! I had to figure out how to package it in a way that wouldn’t invalidate everything I was saying by coming from… from this!” He pointed to himself.
“Oh yes, and how long would that have taken you?”
“I don’t know!” Newt said. “I don’t know, Hermann. I’m new to this whole thing too!”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Mine!” Newt snarled. His lower jaw parted just enough for Hermann to see its blue, glowing interior. “It’s my fault! And thank you for being so sure to remind me of that. You can’t let me get over any mistake I make, can you? Fuck you, man.”
Hermann blinked. He didn’t speak. The fight in him was snuffed out, their old ritual of bickering derailed by Newton’s new advantage in the ‘threatening’ department… and by the realization that Hermann may have hit a nerve. A real one.
Newt shook his head. The silence stretched as they both cast around for a new subject.
“Did you… bring any luggage or anything?” Newt eventually asked. “Or were you just gonna rock the same outfit the whole time?”
“I haven’t brought it in yet,” Hermann said. “It’s still in the car.”
“Toss me your keys,” Newt said. “I’ll grab it for you.”
“Oh. Ah… do you want any help?”
Newt shook his head. “I got it. I need to breathe for a second, man.”
Hermann fished in his pocket and lobbed the car keys to Newt underhand. “Thank you.”
Newt slithered out of the kitchen, and Hermann was alone with his thoughts.
Until his phone rang.
Newt took deep breaths. The front hall was just tight enough to feel confining, but focusing on not tearing up the wallpaper gave him something to think about besides the worry that threatened to eat him up.
They were coming back. Newt didn’t know if he’d done enough. He was helping pilots in the long run. He was saving lives in the long run, but…. If a new breach opened before they were prepared he wasn’t sure there would even be a long run.
Outside, the late morning sun warmed his scales. He shook himself out a little, grateful for the lack of confines. He popped the trunk of the rental sedan. Hermann had one big bag and a carry-on, and Newt swung them out with unencumbered ease. He shook his head and looked around at the trees, the empty road.
They were coming back.
Newt made up his mind. He was going to make damn sure everyone was ready when they did.
There was the sound of something heavy being gently set in the front hall. Newt poked his head into the kitchen, and Hermann glanced up at him. He held up a finger and pointed to the phone at his ear. “Mm. Yes, he’s here.”
“Thank god,” Marshal Hercules Hansen said. “Can you put me on speaker?”
Hansen, head of the Hong Kong Shatterdome, sounded ragged. “Gentlemen,” he said. “We’re pulling you back in immediately. There’s been an event.”
Newt and Hermann locked eyes across the kitchen. “Wait -” Newt said, voice laced with dread. “Like an Event?”
“I’m afraid so,” Herc said. “Zhengzhou is nearly levelled.”
“... Zhengzhou is landlocked,” Hermann said.
“It is. We don’t know how, but a breach was opened just outside of the city proper. It was a category three. We weren’t prepared. No one was.”
“What was the damage?” Newt asked.
“Catastrophic. A new Mark Five took him down, Starbuck Prime.”
“So, there’s just… a breach. Hanging out in the middle of China.”
If Herc sounded tired before, he sounded positively exhausted now. “No. No there isn’t.”
“What?” Hermann asked. “Where is it?”
“Gone. Just… gone. Closed up without a trace.”
Hermann and newt were silent for a long moment. “How far out is the transport?” Hermann eventually asked.
“We dispatched a plane about twenty minutes ago. So sixteen hours, give or take. There’ll be a ground transport unit dispatched to take you to it when it arrives. Doctor Geiszler, your old contract with us can be reinstated, should you want it.”
“Yeah, yeah that would be fine.”
“Great. Mark anything you need in Hong Kong. There will be a seperate transport arranged to ship your things, but for now we need you here more than anything. Doctor Gottlieb, a moment of your time?”
Hermann took the phone off speaker, and Newton retreated from the kitchen.
“This is not how a breach is supposed to behave,” Herc said. “Forget the drones. I want all your energy on analyzing this new breach and how we can predict another one before it spits a kaiju directly on top of us.”
“Yes sir,” Hermann said.
“You’ll have whatever you need.”
“Thank you, sir. There is one thing I feel I should… alert you to.”
“And what is that, Doctor?”
“In his time away from the PPDC, Newton became very fixated on the idea of ensuring the safety of pilots in the drift; especially with growing cases of Drift-Catalysed Neural Degradation. His solution was a serum based in the Kaiju genome. His tests look promising. The numbers are sound, and I believe it could help.”
“I sense a but.”
“Newton… had issues with the serum in its early days. He tested it on himself and there were physical side effects.”
“... What kid of side effects are we talking here?” Herc asked.
Hermann almost answered, but remembered Newton’s reluctance to tell even him over the phone. “He looks very… different, sir. But I’m telling you this now because in my professional opinion, it does not affect his viability as a scientist. I don’t want anyone to do anything rash or discriminatory based on appearances.”
“Okay… we don’t really have any other options here, Doctor. I think whatever Doctor Geiszler looks like, he’s the only biologist we can use. But I will let the transport team know… something.”
“Thank you, Marshal.”
“When your transport gets here, they’ll ask for your IDs and Ranger Numbers, Have them ready. Let’s hope you make it back quickly,” Hansen said. The call ended. Hermann pocketed the phone. He felt sick.
They were back.
Next Chapter will be up May 06 between 8 and 11 a.m EST. Thanks for reading!
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Chapter 6: Papers, Please?
Thanks for reading! As always, I love hearing your comments and critiques! :) Next chapter will be up Wednesday, May 09.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Newt and Hermann waited outside in the empty driveway. Hermann had called the rental agency to pick up the car about twelve hours ago. It was dark, but the sconce lights on the facade and the yellow glow of the interior gave the night a cheerful cast. Hermann sat on his luggage next to a backpack for Newton, and Newt paced. Sometimes on all fours, sometimes upright. Hermann had advised waiting outside. If the guards were armed, as he suspected they would be, then giving them a clear idea of what they were dealing with would be better than Newt surprising them coming out of the house.
Newt had agreed, but didn’t seem happy about it. When he was bipedal, he used his free hands to worry at the hem of his flannel. He glowed softly in the night, the patches of hide and chinks between his scaly armor swirling with dim light in blues, reds, and oranges. Colors reminiscent of…
“Your tattoos,” Hermann asked, as much to distract Newt from wearing a circle into the driveway as anything. “What happened to them?”
Newt looked down at himself. “When I… changed, mutated, whatever, the pigment wasn’t dispersed. Instead it was mostly just integrated. If I concentrate…” He closed his uncanny eyes for a moment. The light pulsed brighter, and the colors became clearly recognizable designs. “They still show up.” Newt opened his eyes again and let the colors fade. “It’s getting easier to control. That used to take a lot out of me.”
Hermann thought about how that might not be such a good thing, but outwardly he just said, “That’s remarkable.”
“I know. I thought for sure the ink was gonna get rejected. One of my biggest worries was a reaction, but it just… didn’t happen.”
“That was lucky.”
“Yeah… and they’re even more fitting now than they were before.”
Hermann allowed himself a small chuckle and looked out at the black street. Stars winked above, but the moon was new, and no other great light source was there to really help with the illumination.
Newt started pacing again.
It was another twenty minutes before headlights pierced the darkness.
A large military car came around the bend and into view. It stopped at the end of Newton’s driveway. Newt and Hermann both raised a hand to cover their eyes as a voice came through a speaker mounted on the vehicle.
“Identify yourself… or… selves.”
“Doctor Hermann Gottlieb.”
“Doctor Newton Geiszler.”
The megaphone, still on, betrayed the sound of surprised muttering and confused voices from the inside of the car, but Newt and Hermann couldn’t make out any words.
Finally, the original voice spoke up again.
“Uh. Present your Ranger Numbers and your official identification.”
They did. Newt fished around in his pocket to withdraw the laminated badge. Hermann took a lanyard from around his neck.
A door in the car opened. Two people got out, both armed, and approached the house. Apparently choosing the lesser threat first, they took Hermanns badge and looked it over in the light.
Christ, they were young. Not pilot trainees, but just normal cadets. They, like everyone else, had probably thought the war was over. Hoped for it.
“Ranger number?” one of the cadets asked. The other kept his eye trained on Newt.
Hermann gave it.
The cadet nodded and, just a little too slowly, turned to Newt. They held their hand out, and Newt handed over his own badge. The cadets both looked from it to him doubtfully, but one still asked. “Ranger number?”
They jumped when he answered, and exchanged a look. But the information was right.
The cadet who had been asking the questions pulled their fellow soldier away, and the two talked furiously for a minute or two, heads close together. They glanced back at Newt one more time before returning. The talkative one gave their IDs back. “The airfield is about forty-five minutes away. The plane is prepared to leave as soon as you board.”
Hermann nodded. “Thank you.” He stood, and Newt grabbed his luggage. “Newton,” he said. “I am perfectly capable -”
“So am I,” Newt said. He swung his pack onto his shoulders. “Stop whining and get in the car, Hermann.”
“Don’t call me that in public.”
The two cadets exchanged a look.
The ride was tense and silent. The Hummer was just spacious enough to fit Newt inside, but every cadet’s eyes were locked onto the softly glowing monster wedged in between the seats. Even the driver kept glancing at him in the rearview.
Newt either didn’t care, or was good at pretending like he didn’t. He kept a protective claw on Hermann’s suitcase, which had been rearranged to allow for the inclusion of Newt’s progress binder and a case full of the drift serum. His tail twitched absently. Every once in a while it thunked against the side of the car, the hollow noise the only sound besides the growl of the engine.
The airfield was deserted. It was a small, private affair, and the hour was late (or early) enough that theirs was the only plane on the runway.
Hermann took his satchel, but Newton held onto the suitcase, eyeing a cadet when they requested it. “Your hold,” he said, and the kid jumped. “Is it pressurized? Climate controlled?”
“N-no, I don’t think so…”
“Then if it’s all the same, I’m gonna keep this with me. There is some very important scientific research in here. If it gets corrupted it could doom us all .”
The cadet blanched.
“You’re over exaggerating, Newton,” Hermann called from where he was climbing the steps to the plane a few yards away.
“You don’t know that,” Newt called back. He looked down at the cadet. “I’m keeping the suitcase.”
The cadet nodded, eyes wide.
I did a painting of Newt! See it here:
Chapter 7: Curiosity Killed the Cadet
Not really, it was just alliterative.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The plane was roomier than the car. Newt could sit upright. He had improvised a harness for himself out of container netting, lashing himself and the suitcase to the inside of the hull. When a few of the cadets had looked at him in alarm, Newt just shrugged. “You got a better plan?”
No one did.
The takeoff went relatively smoothly. When the plane levelled out, Newt untangled himself from the nets and stretched. A few other soldiers also unbuckled their seatbelts, but most, Hermann included, kept them fastened.
Newt laid on the floor midway between the two facing rows of seats on either side of the plane. He looked around at the soldiers, who looked back at him. Some of them were clearly wondering why he wasn’t in some sort of cage or custody. Handcuffs at least. Newt turned his gaze on the young person from the driveway, the one who had tried to take the suitcase. “Hey, he said. “Talkie.”
The kid pointed to themself.
“Yeah, you. What’s your name?”
“Uh. Cadet Cadogan. Sir.”
“Don’t sir me. Do I look like a sir to you?”
Hesitantly, Cadogan shook their head.
“I thought not. Call me Newt. What do you do for old Hercules, Cadet?” Newt rested his head on his knuckles.
“Uh. I’m a member of the PPDC’s generalized forces,” Cadogan said. “Groundwork, perimeter control, civilian enforcement post-attack. Those sorts of things. In theory, anyways.”
“When’d you join up?”
“Two years ago, sir - Newt.”
“Better. So this is the first time you’ve seen any action?”
“How is it?”
“Tense… nerve wracking. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air.”
“Yes there is…. What do you want to do?” Newt asked. “What do you want out of the PPDC?”
“I want… to be a pilot,” Cadogan said. “I want to join the Jaeger academy.”
“Oh shit, that’s back up and running?” Newt said. He whistled through his fearsome teeth. “Good. I knew they’d realize that wall was useless eventually.”
“The best defense is a good offense,” Cadogan agreed.
“And you know, I think you’re right,” Newt said. “But I am a scientist. All my experience with combat is theoretical. Coming from someone like you, those words have a little more weight. Use them careful-like.”
Hermann frowned at the back of Newt’s head.
Some of the tension in Cadogan’s shoulders was easing. They glanced around at the other soldiers, who were looking at them with raised eyebrows, and looked back at Newt. “How long have you been with the PPDC?”
Newt glanced back at Hermann. “How long has it been, dude? Like, ten… eleven and a half years, ish?”
Hermann thought briefly. “Twelve, I think.”
“... We’re old, Hermann.”
Hermann rolled his eyes.
“If this isn’t rude, you don’t… look like the photo on your ID,” Cadogan said.
Newt shook his head. “Yeah… I’ll have to get it redone. I had a bit of a makeover.”
Cadogan nodded. They did their best not to stare.
“You can feel if you want,” Newt said. “‘S’not as scary as it looks, I promise.”
Hesitantly, Cadogan nodded again. Newt put out his arm, and they ran their fingers over the smooth scales, tracing the lines of luciferase. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Yeah,” Newt said. “Mostly that’s ‘cause people aren’t stupid enough to do this to themselves. Like, they’re stupid, but not that stupid.”
“Then… why did you?”
Newt grinned toothily. “For science. ” He looked at the other soldiers, grown men and women all, who hadn’t been able to take their eyes off him since he’d gotten comfy. He sighed. “I know I look like the bad guy, guys. But I promise I’m not.”
A man piped up from a few seats down Hermann’s row. “You’re too small to be one of the bad guys.”
Newt snorted, color rippling down his spine in his surprise. “I’ve like… doubled my height, dude. Small is relative.”
“What did you do before?” a woman asked. “During the war?”
Newt shrugged. “Dissections, mostly. I took Kaiju apart so we could figure out how to better take them down.”
“Was it hard?”
Newt glanced at the speaker. “Hard? No,” he said. “They were the enemy. As much as they were biological marvels, they were also trying to kill us. The human race came first. Always.”
There was some murmuring amongst the soldiers. Eventually, they fell quiet again, but it was an easier silence this time. Most of the hostility in the air had been dispersed.
Hermann felt something brush against his ankle. He looked down and saw Newton’s tail by his foot. He sighed, though at what he wasn’t sure.
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Chapter 8: About Those "Side Effects" We Mentioned...
Sorry for the late upload! Mother's day took precedence. :) Expect the next one on May 16!
It was near noon in Hong Kong, but the sky overhead was gray as the massive plane landed on the runway of the Shatterdome. Newt looked out one of the small widows by his head as the plane rolled to a stop.
“Wow. It’s, uh… kinda busy out there, huh?” he said. His tail flicked from side to side.
“There is a war on, Newton,” Hermann said.
Newt was quiet. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “... think we could get Herc to like… clear everyone out? Just while we unload?”
Hermann scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’m sure people will be far too busy trying not to die to notice -”
Newt twisted around to glare. “Look at me, Hermann!”
He winced. And he looked. It got very quiet in the plane as cadets exchanged uncertain glances.
“I’m wearing a shitty flannel, and there’s holes all over my pants. I get off this plane and everyone will think that being downsized turned me into a slob. A lame slob. So not rock-and-roll, dude.”
A wave of small chuckles ran around the fuselage, and Newt looked around with a lopsided smile.
Hermann rolled his eyes.
Newt looked back out the window. “Get ready to salute, folks, the man himself is headed our way. And oh boy, he does not look like he is in a great mood.”
Soldiers exchanged glances as the cargo hatch began to lower open, hydraulics winding. Marshal Hansen stepped onto the aircraft, and the soldiers all snapped to attention, standing rigid with identical, picture-perfect salutes at their brows.
“Safe travels?” he asked them. His aussie voice was gravelly and his eyes were lined with both pain and joy. But right now the pain seemed to be winning. Herc’s skin had the slightest pallor, and his eyes looked just faintly dulled, sunken.
“Sir yes sir!” The soldiers all spoke as one.
“Very good. Dismissed.”
The soldiers relaxed and filed off the plane. Cadet Cadogan looked back at Newt once as they left.
“Now,” Hansen said. He pushed to fingers into his temple as the last of the soldiers left. “Doctors -” He opened his eyes. He saw Newt, who had crept to the center of the fuselage, out from the wall and the cargo; and his hand twitched to his weapon. “ Jesus Christ on a crutch -”
“No wait, Marshal wait this is complicated, but-” Hermann began, rising from his seat.
“Hercules hangon you goddamn fascist,” Newt yelped at the same time, scrambling backwards. He tripped over his tail, going sprawling onto his back. “Just breathe for like a second, dude -”
All three of them froze as Max, Herc’s hefty english bulldog, trotted up the ramp. Ignoring Herc, he stopped in the middle of the fuselage, looking at Newt. Newt was the one to break the silence. He blinked all four of his eyes and carefully straightened his glasses, knocked askew in his panic. “... Hey, buddy.”
Max’s tongue lolled out of his mouth. His short, stubby tail wagged once.
Hermann let out the breath he’d been holding. “Marshal, please, allow us to explain.”
Hansen’s eyes broke away from Newt to shoot to Hermann. “ Us ? What is this? Where’s Geiszler?”
“... Well,” Hermann said. “Well… yes. You see, I did mention there had been side effects.”
For a moment, Herc stopped breathing. He turned to look at Newt. “... Oh my god.”
Newt winced. “Yeah…”
“Oh my god. ”
“Marshal,” Hermann began.
“Gottlieb, you said there were side effects,” Herc snarled. “This isn’t side effects, this is a horror movie!”
“I’d take offense to that if you weren’t right,” Newt said. He took the opportunity to right himself, standing in that less-threatening slouch he’d adopted when he was trying to reassure Hermann.
Max took this as some sort of permission and trotted up to him, butting his head against Newt’s shin. Newt looked down and smiled a little despite the tense situation. He ruffled Max’s ears. “Who’s a good boy?” he murmured.
Marshal Hansen was agog. “I - this -”
Newt looked up. “It’s less than ideal, Marshal. Trust me, I know. And If I had the resources to make myself pretty again, or the time to find them, I absolutely would. But things are rapidly going to hell, and you’re going to need all the help you can get. Ugly or no.”
Hansen sighed. Hard. he pressed a forefinger and thumb into his eyes, face screwing up. “Fine. Fine. Fine. Because you’re right, Geiszler. We do need you. But,” he added, and looked up. “If you screw us, it’s personal.”
Newt held up his hands in quiet acknowledgement.
Herc turned on a heel and started walking away. Max waddled over to walk at his side. “Just get to the Lab,” he said, over his shoulder. “Everything is set up for you. We can’t afford to waste time.”
When he was gone, Newt sank to his knees. Hermann’s heart was pounding.
“Well,” Newt said. He sounded like he’d been running. “That went… better than expected, really.”
Chapter 9: Scales, Snails, and Kaiju Tails
Expect the next one on Sunday, May 20th! Thanks for reading!
The lab looked just like Newt remembered it. Almost. Hermann’s side hadn’t been moved around too much, although the desk and worktable looked… cluttered? Weird.
The gottlieb-Geiszler line was still going strong, the yellow paint standing out on the dark, industrial floor.
Newt’s samples were all present, but his side of the lab looked… bare. There was a man at his desk, his back to the two doctors. He was putting things into a cardboard box.
“Christiansen,” Hermann said. “What are you doing?”
“Packing,” the man said. He didn’t sound happy about it. “Didn’t Hansen tell you? I’ve been reassigned.”
“He didn’t mention it,” Hermann said. “I’ve only just got back.”
“Yeah, well, they’re re-opening the Shatterdome in Sydney. Want me to be the assistant biological researcher there.”
“That sounds like a good thing,” Hermann said. He leaned on his cane.
Christiansen sighed. “Sure. If demotion’s a good thing. I was lined up to head the K-Sci biology department here by the end of the quarter.”
“I wouldn’t crave that job title too hard if I were you,” Newt said. “Once you get it things start getting weird. ”
At the new voice, Christiansen turned. “Holy fuck,” he breathed, his eyes locking onto Newt. “What the fuck.”
“Newt Geiszler the fuck,” Newt said. “Head K-Sci biologist around here - and, arguably, in the world.”
“No - no, I’ve seen Doctor Geiszler speak. He did lectures on kaiju biology and taxonomy all over the place back in the day.”
Newt nodded. “I don’t do those anymore.”
“Oh, complicated, technical, science-y stuff. When are you shipping out?”
“Uh. Twenty minutes?”
“Then I don’t have time to explain. Kindly vacate my space.”
Christiansen nodded and clutched his box to his chest. He headed for the doorway.
“Look,” Newt said. “I know the guy who will probably be running Sydney. Good dude. You could learn a lot from him. There are worse positions than yours, and trust me, department head is one of them.” Newt’s long tail curled and uncurled as he prowled farther into the lab.
Christiansen looked between him and Hermann. He left without a word.
“That was rude,” Hermann said, once Christiansen had vanished down the hall.
“Guy was in my space.” Newt shrugged. “Are you really going to lecture me on my people skills, Hermann?”
Hermann sucked his teeth. “No, Newton. I’m not. But it was his space until you showed back up.”
Newt sighed and looked back over his shoulder at Hermann. “I know. I’m just stressed.”
“Why?” I thought you wanted to come back here?”
“Why?” Newt shook his head. He opened Hermann’s suitcase and took out his research. “Well let’s see, Hermann. It might have something to do with how I look like an itty bitty Kaiju, and I’m trying to live and work in a place they built specifically to kill Kaiju. It might have something to do with that.”
“Newton, whining doesn't become you,” Hermann said. “What was it you said about dumpster fires and lying in them? Get that upper lip stiff, and please don't bite the heads off any more employees!”
Newt blinked at Hermann and ducked his head. He tucked the binder and the case of serum under one arm. “.... You know what, yeah. That was my bad. Tired Newt is cranky Newt.”
“You’ve never said anything more accurate in your life. Do you need some shuteye?”
Newt shook his head. “I’m cranky, not sloppy. The Marshal was right, until we establish a pattern for these new, weird breaches every second counts.”
“I thought you’d say that.” Hermann scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “Well, it looks like they’ve already got you set up.” On Newt’s old dissection gurney was a glistening lump of blue-grey flesh. Freshly detoxed, it still smelt faintly of ammonia.
Newt set the serum carefully aside. He went up to the new specimen and looked it over. Something wasn’t right. Something that made his skin crawl. “There’s something different about this one,” he murmured.
Hermann paused in the power-up sequence for his computer. “Different? It looks the same to me.”
“Don’t you think I’ve seen the insides of enough Kaiju to know when something’s wrong?”
“So… What is it?”
Newt pulled on some latex gloves and picked up a scalpel from where it had been sitting in a pool of disinfectant. The familiar tool felt good in his hands after all this time. “I’m gonna find out.”
The organ tissue felt strange, pulpy beneath is hand. And when he got to the hide itself, the tough skin felt… dried. Spongy.
Newt took tiny cross sections of each sample, setting them safely on slides before rummaging through the cabinets and lockers to find his old microscope.
Once he got the thing set up on his desk, he pushed his glasses up to his forhead, closed three of his eyes, and leaned in.
“... holy… shit,” he said. “Holy shit! Hermann, come here!” he beckoned. “Come here, dude, this is wild!”
Hermann looked up from his calculations, one eyebrow rising. Getting his cane under him, he made his way over to Newt and the microscope.
“Look, look,” Newt said. “It's crazy! I don't know what it means… yet. But wow. Like, wowza.”
“Never say that again,” Hermann said, peering down at the sample. “It… looks like cells.”
Newt rolled his eyes and flicked his glasses back down onto his nose. “Look harder, dude. Didn't you retain anything from that drift?”
Hermann glared at him. But then he looked harder. “They're irregular.”
“You bet your ass they are! Newt's tail and tendrils were twining excitedly, all but plaiting themselves as he fidgeted. “Know why?”
“Please, Newton, for the love of God just tell me.”
Newt braced his hands on the table and leaned in. “They aren't all animal.”
Hermann paused. “What?”
“Before, all the Kaiju cells we worked with roughly fell into Kingdom Animalia. These… these don't!”
“Hermann looked back at the samples, flicking between the two. “They aren't plants.”
Newt shook his head. “They're like… fungal.”
“Is it an infection?”
“I don't think so, dude,” Newt said. “The other cells seem perfectly healthy, and they're bonded together like they're from the same tissue.”
“Hm… Kaiju just get worse and worse,” Hermann said, taking another peek.
He froze as he remembered who he was speaking to. He glanced up, but Newt was powering up his laptop, his back to Hermann.
“Ugh, what I wouldn't give to be there in Zhengzhou right now,” he lamented. “Picking apart all that gooey goodness.”
“Gross.” Hermann trilled the ‘r’, and Newt looked back to crack a smile.
“Fine,” Newt said. “Go back to your boring math shit then. And I won't even tell you about the next cool thing I find.” That was a lie. He absolutely would.
And Hermann didn't mind at all.
Chapter 10: Faking First Impressions
The next one will be up on the 23rd. As always, comments and critiques are appreciated! Thanks for reading!
The next morning, the beginning of Newt’s first full day back in the Shatterdome, Hermann shuffled out into the lab to find Newt already at work. There were three empty cans of Redbull crushed on the floor, and a centrifuge whirred on a worktable. Slowly, as Newt began to pull out more and more equipment, his side of the lab would start to look more populated. But until Newton’s own personal supplies arrived from America, it would be bare compared to Hermann’s.
Newt was laying on his back under the centrifuge table. He was wearing a hoodie and different pants than yesterday, but they didn’t fit him much better. There was a plate on his chest, with what looked like… Eggo French Toaster Sticks and medallions of some sort of meat on it. Newt was arguing with someone over the phone and taking intermittent bites.
“Well, no, if it were a crank call I wouldn’t - Oh, not realistic proportions, are they? Ha. Maybe I’m just ugly, think of that? Bet you didn’t think of th -” He pulled the phone from his ear and looked at it. “... Huh. He hung up on me. That fucker hung up on me.”
“Who hung up on you?” Hermann asked.
Newt yelped and twitched, only barely managing to save his plate as it made a break for the floor. “God, don’t you make noise when you move? I almost lost my breakfast, dude.”
“Almost. Who hung up on you?”
“A tailor,” Newt said. “Fifth one so far.”
“Why on earth are you calling tailors?” Hermann asked.
“Because they don’t exactly sell clothes my size at Macy’s, Hermann. I’m going to need custom stuff if I don’t want to look like a half-naked vagrant.”
“Ah.” Hermann nodded and started booting up his computer. “Well, I can assure you that when people see you, ‘half-naked vagrant’ would probably not be among their choice descriptors.”
Newt narrowed his eyes at the back of Hermann’s head. “Presentation still matters, man.”
“I never said it doesn’t.”
“I just can’t get anyone to take me seriously -” He held up a claw as Hermann began to speak. “And if you make a little quip about how it’s cause I’m a joke I am revoking your Keurig privileges.”
“Hm…” Hermann logged in and turned back around. “... Tell them you’re a sculptor.”
Newt blinked. “Sorry… tell them I’m a what?”
“A sculptor.” Hermann shrugged. “To people who don’t know the great lengths of your idiocy, your measurements will seem unviable. A lot of people would refuse you on the grounds that it’s a useless waste of fabric, if nothing else. But if you tell them you’re a sculptor and you need it for a piece, suddenly you’re flattering their ego by offering them a challenge.”
“Huh…” Newt looked down at his phone. “You’re a crafty guy, Hermann. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“They don’t need to. Now that I’ve solved your fashion crisis for you, perhaps you can finish whatever it is you’re eating and stop hiding under the furniture?”
“Don’t you have work to do?”
“I’m doing it!” He pointed up at the table, on which the centrifuge was still spinning. “Real science takes time, dude. It’s not like your job where a computer does all the work.”
“What are you even doing?” Hermann asked.
“Collecting DNA from the weird cells in the new samples. I want to catalogue the gene code and run tests for a closest match among earth fungi.”
“How much will that tell you?”
“I won’t know til I know,” Newt said. “But as of this moment it’s all I have to go on. Once I have an idea of what this stuff is made out of, I can start running tests on the sample itself, see if any substances get it to act up.”
“... What are the odds that this sample ‘acting up’ will burn, melt, dissolve, explode, disintegrate, or in any other way maim any of my things?” Hermann asked, suspicion brewing in him.
Newt suddenly became very interested in his claws. His tail and its tendrils wrapped around the table leg. “The exact probability is impossible to say at this time.”
“Hmph. I’m sure.”
It was nearing the end of the day. Newt had taken some smaller samples to prepare for testing. They sat out on the work tables. Newt and the big specimen had disappeared behind Hermann’s chalkboards, where there was a pump set into the wall.
Footsteps in the hall announced someone’s approach. Hermann looked up from his screen and removed his glasses from their perch on his nose as Tendo Choi, J-Tech Chief and LOCCENT officer, strolled into the lab. He had a Thermos the size of his forearm in one hand. “Hey, Doc!”
“Mister Choi,” Hermann said. “What brings you down here?”
“Marshal sent me. He wants me to take some of your coding work off your hands so you can work on that breach problem.”
Hermann sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right, right. Well, ‘work’ is a relative term. You may not get very far with it.”
“I’ve hit a wall. Without keeping pilots in the mix, I don’t see how we can keep the program viable. Learning computers are inefficient, and remote-driven systems are vulnerable to attack.”
“Huh… Not what Herc wants to hear, I’m guessing.”
“It’s not even the Marshal, it’s the board of directors. They’re ignoring the logistics in favor of their public image.”
“Well… great. I’ll see what I can do with it, but at least I know not to get my hopes up.”
“I wish I had better news.”
“It’s no big deal,” Tendo said. “I mean, if the Jaeger Program ain’t broke, right?”
“Right.” Hermann put his glasses back on. He started rounding up his research, backing it up and getting it ready to send to Tendo.
“Hey,” Tendo said. “Where’s Newt? I heard the little guy shipped back in with you.”
“Mm…” Hermann pointed at the boards absently. “Back there. He’s working with the Zhengzhou specimen.”
“Oh, cool.” Tendo set down his ridiculous thermos and headed for the blackboards. “Hey, Newt! What’s up, brother?”
Hermann looked up. “Uh, Mister Choi, I ought to warn you -”
Newt was settling the Zhengzhou sample into its new home, an airtight tank the size of a kiddie pool filled with carefully curated preservatives and alkaline solutions to neutralize the flesh’s acidity. His head, as it often did these days when he wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, buzzed with whispers and murmurs. They danced around the edges of his sense of self, cold and crystalline and blue. He’d gotten good at ignoring them, but the very fact of their presence made it difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time. At the moment, his focus was on making sure that he’d gotten the preservative mixture right. A single component going awry could destroy the sample, and he didn’t know when he could get his hands on another one.
Dimly, he heard voices in the background, different from the blue static. They didn’t register. Newt sealed the tank. The air was sucked from it. He shook his head, just in tme to hear:
“Mister Choi, I ought to warn you -”
Newt turned and saw Tendo Choi, standing by Hermann’s blackboards. His eyes were wide. One hand slowly braced him against the frame of the board, like he was reassuring himself it was still there. Newt eyed him as Hermann limped up.
“Woah,” Tendo said again. “This - what happened, brother?”
Newt shrugged. He leaned against the tank with the specimen in it. “What do you mean?”
Tendo laughed a little. He was looking at Newt with eyes wide, but eyes wide with what, Newt couldn’t tell.
“Can I, uh…” Tendo glanced from Hermann to Newt. “See?”
Newt liked having the tank at his back. He liked having something to brace himself against. But he made himself take a few steps forward. “Sure,” he heard himself say. “Knock yourself out.”
Tendo glanced at Hermann one more time - asking for permission? Asking if it was safe? - before making his way up to Newt. “You got tall.”
“I got sick of your jokes,” Newt said. He held out a hand. Tendo took it.
“I always knew you were a mad scientist,” he said. He examined the bumps and scales, the way the tattoos still pulsed through the hide. “But this is a whole new level.”
Tendo circled Newt. “... Did it hurt?”
Newt pushed down a wave of unpleasant memories, ignored the blue that crackled through them in stinging arcs. “Nah.”
“You okay?” Tendo peered up at him.
“Yeah. It happened,” Newt said. “So long as I can still do my work, who gives a damn? You know?”
“I would,” Tendo said. “If it were me.”
“Yeah, but you have Allison to come home to, dude. And you know she only stays with you because of that pretty face.”
“I do have a pretty face,” Tendo agreed.
“You should come by more often. We could do like a whole catch-up thing,” Newt said. “Lunch?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tendo said. “I’ll text you.”
Hermann’s computer beeped. The data transfer was complete.
Tendo sighed. “That’s my cue. I gotta head out. I’ll see you, brother.”
When tendo was gone Newt dropped to all fours. He looked at the sample in the tank for a long time before going to his lab tables where the samples were waiting to start testing. He covered them and put them in the fridge.
Hermann turned and watched him, alerted by the rattling of the little metal trays. “Newton, what are you doing?”
“I’m still running on American time,” he said. He shrugged and wiped his claws on an old towel. “I’m super wiped, and I can’t afford to fuck this up. I’m going to bed.”
“Oh… Goodnight, then.”
“‘Night.” Newt made his way across Hermann’s side of the lab to his bedroom door. His hands and feet were silent on the industrial floor. He slipped inside.
Newt was sitting on his bed. The room was dark. He could hear Hermann puttering around outside. There was a swear, and the sound of a machine being frustratedly smacked. Newt nearly smiled.
His walls were bare, all his posters and decorations removed a year and a half ago. He picked at a spot where the tape had pulled up a little bit of paint.
He knew this was how it was going to be, when he came back. He knew this was what his life would become. Knowing and experiencing, however, were two different things. He thought for a moment about going back out to the lab. Not to work, but just to sit with Hermann. Just to not be alone.
That thought was put to bed as a twisting, twining blue current hissed through his head.
Hermann looks at you like the rest of them do, you know, it said. Hermann just waits til you aren't looking back.
Newt laid down, curling into a ball. He hugged his knees. “Fuck you,” he whispered.
The blue receded, and Newt felt something running down his scaly cheek. He swiped it with a claw. Clear wetness glistened on his fingertip in what little light made it inside.
“Huh. Guess Kaiju can cry.”
Who’d have thought?
Hermann laid his head down on his desk, staring blankly at the mug of tea three inches from his nose. He sighed.
He got up.
He wasn't working. He kept eyeing Newt’s closed door. He walked up to it. His hand was raised, fist balled, nearly knocking. The silence inside was so profound that his nerve broke. He relented, and rather than risk waking the kaiju behind the door he turned back to his desk.
Worry and frustration warred in him, and he swore. “Damn it all!” He kicked his computer tower, imagining it was Tendo’s shins. Or his own.
Newton had been just boiling with discomfort through that whole… thing. Hermann was sure he hadn’t been tired when he fled to his room. He was escaping.
Maybe it was the drift, maybe the connection their minds had shared had been profound enough to conquer much of the visceral fear his instincts said he should be feeling, but… Newton didn't alarm him. He was more frightened for the insufferable idiot than he was of him.
The way Tendo had touched his arm had been wrong. Like it was a specimen.
Newt wasn't a specimen. Newt was… Newt.
And Hermann had let it happen.
He sighed. He looked back at the door.
Damn it all.
Chapter 11: Freakin' Fungi, Dude
The next chapter should be up on the 28th! Thank you for reading!
Newt came out of his room after Hermann the next morning, fighting to pull heavy gloves over his hands.
Hermann looked up from his tea and his projections. “Good morning.”
“Morning, Hermann. How are you?”
“Fine,” Hermann lied. He limped to his chair and sat down with a grunt.
“That bad, huh?” Newt scratched at an old stain on the floor
Hermann declined to answer. “And how are you?”
“You know me,” Newt said. “I’m hunky dory. Same as always.”
Hermann was certain Newt was lying too, though he couldn't have said why.
“Fuck it.” Newt tossed the gloves aside. “What are you working on, dude?”
“I am… studying geographic data at the time of the breach. If any seismic activity, electrical storms, or other phenomena preceded it, I can use that to track any new ones.”
“Indeed… were those gloves important?”
“Nah,” Newt said. “Well. Yeah. I was gonna check up on the big sample and start testing the little ones.”
“Ahh… will you be using Kronen’s methodology, or Berger’s?”
Newt blinked. “Uh. Geiszler’s…. Which is basically Kronen’s, but cooler. Since when do you care?”
“I don’t know. Without you here spoiling it all the time, the biological sciences have started piquing my interests more.”
“Oh! That’s rad, actually. C’mere, I can show you what I was planning for today.” Newt slithered around the chalkboards, his scales rasping. There was a beat of silence as Hermann picked himself up from the seat.
Then, Newt swore.
He backed out from the blackboards and towards Hermann. He hissed, an alien noise of surprise and alarm.
There was a tinkle as glass cracked.
And then a crash as it shattered.
Newton grabbed Hermann, claws catching his cardigan, and leapt onto the mathematician’s cluttered desk. Hermann sucked in a surprised gasp, and nearly opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but Newton’s jump knocked a graphing calculator to the floor. It bounced and rattled, coming to a stop about five feet away from the desk.
With a series of sickening squelches, a slimy, moist-looking fungal conglomerate oozed around the feet of the blackboards. It wasn't moving so much as growing, and it expanded over the floor in the direction of the calculator. It covered it, mushroom caps blooming like it was a time lapse, and grew still.
“I think it's attracted to vibrations,” Newt whispered.
“Vibrations,” Hermann whispered back. “Like the ones we make in the air when we speak.”
“... yeah. Like those.”
The mushroom caps on what used to be the calculator emitted little puffs of spores. Everything they touched sprouted furry growths.
“.... Hello,” Newt whispered. “Testing, testing.”
“What are you doing?” Hermann hissed. “Are you trying to get us killed?” There wasn’t a lot of room on the desk. In order to avoid falling, Newt and Hermann found themselves clinging to each other. Hermann’s ear was against Newt’s chest. It was warm, like sunbathed stone wrapped in a supple leather. Hermann could hear a heartbeat. Heartbeats? The sound was irregular - and, much like the sudden, unprecedented proximity, distracting.
“Look, dude,” Newt said, keping his voice barely audible. “At this volume the little guys only puff up about ankle height.”
“I wonder why…” Hermann mused.
“Hmmm… It might be too much effort for too little chance of a reward.” Newt looked down at the desk. “... How much do you care about that stapler?”
“Depends on what you’re going to do with it,” Hermann said.
“Thanks.” Newt wrapped his tail around it. He hefted it like a pitcher and hurled it at the opposite wall. It hit some aluminum paneling with a loud crash, falling to the floor and coming to a clattering stop.
The fungus went wild. It swarmed over the floor, making a beeline for the sound and expanding as it went.
“Oh, good,” Hermann said. “Just eliminate any standing room in the lab, why don’t you?”
Newt was thoughtful. Fidgety as ever, he tapped hermann’s shoulders as he eyed the growth. His tail twitched like a cat’s. “I wonder what woke it up.”
“Woke it up?”
“Well, yeah. I thought the cells in the sample were dead. They should have been dead. But they weren’t. They were just dormant. What happened to revive them?”
The little spores were making a gray-green cloud on the floor of the lab, and little mushroom patches were beginning to scale the furniture.
“Newton?” Hermann asked.
“If you’re going to keep thinking, you’d best do it silently.”
Without the distraction of conversation, Hermann had nothing to focus on but the aching of his leg. His cane had made the jump, but with Newton’s big, clawed feet in the way, there wasn’t anywhere he could put it to take his weight. He allowed himself a small sigh. “Could we… burn it?”
“Maybe? You got a match?”
“Why would I have a match, Newton?”
“I don’t know!”
The fuzzies had reached the edge of the desk.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, dude,” Newt said.
“Oh, yes, because that’s a very constructive use of what few words we can afford right now!”
“I’m bad under pressure, Hermann!”
“Uh, uh, uh…” Newt cast an eye around. It lit on something and he dropped into a crouch, extending his tail over to one of the tables on the raised, stainless steel operating area.
“What are you doing?” Hermann hissed.
With incredible delicacy, the three finger-like extremities on the end of Newt’s tail plucked a single flint striker from the metal counter. He grabbed ahold of it with the hand less intrinsic to keeping Hermann upright. “You still got that febreeze in your desk drawer?”
Hermann’s eyes widened and he nodded.
Newt opened it slowly, snatching his tail away as a few spores came too close for comfort. He eased out the sea-breeze-scented air freshener and flipped the flint striker in his grasp. “Operation flamethrower is go in three, two…”
He squeezed the trigger on the can. The striker’s spark caught. Extending his tail, he basted the fungus in a stream of beachy flame.
There was crackling and popping and the sound of muted squeals as the fungus was ravaged by the fire. It swelled under the heat, bubbling.
Hermann punched the air.
The bubbles popped, releasing a cloud of spores significantly higher than ankle level, and the scientists recoiled.
“Bad plan bad plan bad plan,” Newt muttered.
“You don’t say!”
“ Not helpful, man. Uh. Fuck. uh. What did I do? What did I change about it?”
Hermann looked at the origin of the fungus, growing out from behind the tank. “You… preserved it,” he said. “You put it in the tank.”
A mushroom bloomed. Its cap crested the edge of the desk, and Hermann shuffled away as best he could.
Newt’s mouth opened as the realization hit him. “I equalized it. Oh my god, Hermann, I equalized the pH balance. Kaiju homeostasis is achieved at incredible levels of acidity that, once the cells die, speed up decomposition. So to preserve it we put it in an alkaline solution. That acidity must have been keeping the fungal cells from multiplying. Oh my god. We have to kill this thing with acid!”
“Can we kill it now?” Hermann asked. “Right now?”
Newt looked down, seemingly noticing its encroachment onto the desk for the first time. “Oh. Crap.”
They both looked around the lab. The fungus was making its way to the doors, blocking all paths of retreat.
Newton made a decision. He held out a claw to steady Hermann. “Get your footing, dude.”
Hermann frowned. “Why?”
“Acid’s on the other side of the lab,” Newt whispered. “Someone’s gotta go get it.”
“please don't do anything stupid, Newton.”
“Just stay still and don't talk.”
the neat dodge of hermann’s request didn't escape him, but he just narrowed his eyes and planted his cane.
Newton handed him the striker and the febreeze. He steadied himself on the edge of the desk and leapt to Hermann’s breach model computer. It was almost an impressive move, but one of his claws slipped. Mouth open in a soundless cry, he only barely managed to avoid sprawling amongst the spores.
Hermann gritted his teeth.
He progressed more carefully after that. In the raised part of his side of the lab, he allowed himself to sink soundlessly to the floor. In the lowest cabinet on the back wall, he rifled through bottles and beakers until he had what he wanted. He straightened with a glass bottle and a spray nozzle in hand, smiling that crooked smile.
Hermann narrowed his eyes, fighting the urge to return the gesture. He beckoned Newton back to him sharply.
Newt screwed the nozzle onto the bottle and made his precarious way back to Hermann. Stepping back onto the desk, he wavered, his footing uncertain. “Since when were you so messy?”
“Criticize later, please,” hermann hissed. Critical inches around the edges of the desk were being devoured by the invader. He moved his cane to avoid contaminating it.
“You know how to use that flamethrower?”
“... how hard could it be?”
“Great. Stay behind me.”
A mushroom the height of hermann’s Knee erupted from the desk. Its cap opened and Hermann stopped breathing, preparing himself for what would come next.
Newt spritzed it. It didn’t melt, but it shrunk and withered. No spores were released as it collapsed back into the mass beneath it. Another careful spray and the Fungus was retreating from the desk. A few stray droplets sizzled on the finished wood, but Hermann couldn’t bring himself to care much.
“Blast it,” Newt said. “Quick!”
Hermann did. It took a few tries to get the spark to catch, but eventually he had the same fiery weapon that Newt had used. This time, the patch of mushrooms didn’t squeal or bubble. It just caught, like a marshmallow held too close to the coals, and blackened and oozed away.
Left behind was a patch of fine black soot. Even the spores had been burnt and blown away by the heat and the moving air, and there was about a three-foot clear patch.
Newt dropped a pencil in it. Nothing grew. He smiled that smile again and hopped off the desk, landing on the floor in a crouch. He sprayed the acid in a circle and the mushrooms and other growths began their wounded retreat. Hermann followed close behind, sterilising whatever Newt subdued in cleansing flame.
The stuff burned away too fast to cause more damage than a few scorch marks - but Hermann did lose a few vital pieces of paperwork. And the calculator was a lost cause, broken down and torn apart from within.
But the lab was cleansed.
Newt’s face flashed with regret, but he took the febreeze and striker from Hermann. He vanished around the chalkboards again. Hermann leaned his head against the green slate and caught his breath as Newt gave what was left of the sample the same treatment as the lab. When he appeared, he had soot on his sweatshirt. He set the improvised weapons down. “I was gonna get a coffee, but… I think I’m awake now.”
“Really? I’m exhausted.” Hermann glanced at him. “Is your sample ruined?”
“Burnt to a crisp. But you know what? I figure losing it is probably preferable to being devoured by alien ‘shrooms.”
“I think you’re right,” Hermann said. “... If this fungal phenomena occurs when kaiju acidity is compromised, why haven’t we seen similar effects from Rapier’s corpse?” Rapier, the Zhengzhou kaiju, had lain untouched in the city for days.
Newt waved a dismissive claw. “The local cleanup crews can’t completely decontaminate kaiju flesh they pack up for scientific study. They don’t have the precision to get the solution right and a mismeasured compound would destroy it as surely as the acid itself. So they just wash it off to where it won’t melt the people in proximity and ship it off to facilities that can care for it properly.”
“But Kaiju sites are completely decontaminated eventually,” Hermann said.
“Oh, of course! Yeah! But it’s only after the samples get removed. Then they bring in blue collar guys who don’t care about the integrity, they just want it gone. So they even out the pH with whatever’s cheapest and go in.”
“And I got my sample, what, forty-eight hours ago, give or take? Zhengzhou wasn’t prepared for an attack, their response teams will be a little slow getting there. We should still have… figuring in average travel speeds and out-of-practice workers…”
He trailed off in thought. His eyes widened, face blooming with horror. “... No time. We have no time.”
“We… we need to go.”
Hermann blinked at him.
“Hermann we need to go come on!” Newton tugged on Hermann’s wrist to get him moving, and then he was gone, running out of the lab. His tail, thrashing agitatedly, whacked the wall as he turned the corner and slipped out of sight.
The Marshal hadn’t made his announcement yet. This could not end well.
“Idiot, idiot, idiot, Newton!” Hermann snarled. But he clenched a fist around his cane and took off after the runaway kaiju as fast as he could.
People were certainly clearing a path for them. Well… they were falling back against the wall in shock and fear as Newt barrelled by. Newt himself didn’t seem to notice. His lights were flashing and pulsing erratically, something hermann could only assume was an indicator of distress.
“Don’t mind him,” he panted to the pilots as he jogged in Newt’s wake. “Everything’s fine!”
If Newt was right, everything was not fine. Not even a little.
Everything in LOCCENT stopped when Newt entered. He looked around, his gaze meeting that of the communications officer. A small, round woman in her forties, she started to tremble as Newt finally came to a stop in front of her.
“Get me Zhengzhou,” he said. He was breathing hard from the run, and his chest heaved.
“We really don't have time for this,” he said. He worried that between his concern and his lack of breath, he was coming across more fearsome than he wanted to. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m a biologist. I need you to get me Zhengzhou. Now.”
“Do it,” Tendo said from the front of the room. He had a fist on his hip and a mug in his hand.
Newt and the communications officer glanced at him. Newt nodded.
The woman began punching in the numbers as Hermann appeared. Much worse off than Newt, he gasped, bending over his cane. “Don’t you ever make me chase you like that again.”
“Sorry, Herms. Necessity.” He leaned into the mic. “Zhengzhou, Zhengzhou, this is Shatterdome Hong Kong. Do you read me? Do you read me?”
“Yes, we are reading you.” A highly accented voice came back over the line. A video call flickered to life. An elderly chinese man was holding a phone or a tablet. Rapier’s corpse loomed in the background. Cavernous, unnatural, and dimly glowing, it was no less surreal-looking than the first body Newt had ever seen.
“Thank sweet Jesus. Where are your cleanup crews?”
“The cleanup crews have been dispatched. They should have begun sterilizing the area for removal ten minutes ago.”
“Y-you what? No, no,” Newt said. “You have to get them out of there! Right this instant! There’s something different about this corpse, neutralizing the acidity is the last thing you want to do! They have to get out, now!”
“Wait,” the man said. He peered at his device. “Who’s speaking? LOCCENT, who is on the line?”
“I am,” Newt said.
It took a second, but when the man realized who he was talking to, he jerked back as though repulsed.
Newt’s face twisted. “Yeah. But that isn’t important. What is important is that you have to pull your men off that body right now! They’re activating a growth that will kill them!”
“What sort of -” everyone froze as there was a rush of air behind them. The Zhengzhou official turned to look. A gray green cloud rose from the Kaiju’s massive innards.
Men began screaming. The horrifyingly swift growth appeared, a macabre blanket spreading over the ground and swallowing everything in its path. It was heading towards the city center and the noises within.
“Sir, listen to me - it might save your life,” Newt said, whispering again. “Stay. Absolutely. Silent.”
The official started to scream.
Spores erupted and a thick, slimy tendril branched off from the rest. He dropped the tablet. Mushrooms covered his shoe, his pantleg, and then the tablet screen.
The screaming stopped.
The tablet cut out.
Newt put his head in his hands.
Chapter 12: Binomial Bickering
Sorry for the lateness. The next one will actually be up tomorrow, to get us back to our regularly scheduled programming! Enjoy!
It was silent in LOCCENT. The techs were exchanging nervous glances. Tendo and Hermann were looking at Newt.
He sighed and straightened. “Okay. This fallout is going to have to be contained. Uh… Damn it.” He pointed to the communications officer. “You.”
“Call everyone you can think of in any kind of position of authority in Zhengzhou. Then call every PPDC unit en route to the city. They’re gonna want to equip themselves with hazmat suits, misters of a highly concentrated acid, and fire. The acid neutralizes it, stops growth and spores. The fire kills it. Silence is of the utmost importance. This stuff follows sound. Tell them that Doctor Geiszler said so.”
“Doctor Geiszler.” Marshal Hansen was standing in the doorway, and he did not look happy.
“Hurry,” Newt said to the communications officer. “We have less than no time, here.” He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders, turning to face the Marshal. “Herc,” he said. “Hey.”
Hansen’s lips pressed even thinner. “What is going on here? I’m getting calls right and left from panicked rangers who swear up and down they saw a kaiju rampaging through the Shatterdome. Why would that be, Doctor ?”
“It was hardly what I would call a rampage -” Hermann began.
“I didn’t ask what you would call it, Gottlieb.” He never took his eyes off Newt. “Well?”
“There was a situation in Zhengzhou,” Newt said. “Time took priority over subtlety. Sir,” he added. Treading the line of propriety with Herc was probably wise at the moment. The guy looked stressed, and stressed people lashed out. Newt didn’t want to get lashed.
“What situation?” Hansen asked. As Newt filled him in, he paled. His eyes went to Tendo for confirmation. Tendo nodded. Herc looked like he wanted to swear, but he just said, “Great. We’ll dispatch some personnel to assist. They’ll be instructed to follow the precautions you’ve told me.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “For the moment, you’re dismissed. Go back to whatever you were doing.”
Newt nodded. “Yes, sir.” He slunk out of LOCCENT as Hansen started barking orders, organizing a response. Hermann walked at his side.
“Are you all right, Newton?”
“You couldn’t have known.”
Newt made a noise and looked away. “Doesn’t make it suck less.”
Hermann nodded. He rubbed a knuckle into his left temple. An old headache had started throbbing again, driving a familiar pick into his eye that he hadn’t felt in nearly a year. “I know.”
“Herc’s so melodramatic.”
“He’s under a lot of pressure.”
“Ha. ‘Rampage.’ He hasn’t seen a rampage from me yet.”
“It wouldn’t look like that, let me tell you.”
“What do you mean he hasn’t seen one yet? Are you planning one?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see how the rest of my day goes. I try to keep my schedule open-ended.”
“I have a feeling it would end worse for you than anyone else.”
“Herc never used to have a plasma cannon shoved so far up his ass. One day that thing’s gonna go off, and it’ll be messy for all of us.”
“Hm. That image lives in my brain now.” Hermann closed his eyes. “Was that really necessary?”
“The truth is always necessary,” Newt said. They rounded the corner into the lab, and he ‘tsk’d. “When’s the rest of my stuff supposed to come in? It’s weird that your side is worse than mine. It makes me uncomfortable.”
“With the situation in Zhengzhou, it may take a while. We may be shortstaffed, especially since Moyulan is working with a skeleton crew.” Moyulan was China’s only other shatterdome, and was in the process of being decommissioned when Rapier attacked.
Hermann sat in his chair with a grunt. “Oh, would you rather we just put Zhengzhou on hold for the sake of your shipping?”
Newt glared at him. “Of course not, Hermann. It’s just hard for me to make any progress without any of my stuff here.”
Hermann shrugged. “You may have to make do, Newton.”
“And I will. You know you’re a prick, right?”
“So you keep saying. If I didn’t know before I met you, I am keenly aware after all this time.”
“I just really wanna drive it home.” Newt stretched. His tail curled in on itself.
“Consider it driven. Go… take notes or something. Some of us can and should do our work, thank you.”
“Killjoy.” Newt slunk away. He He settled in his chair. It groaned. He sighed and took out a small journal and heavily chewed pencil.
Hermann shook his head and booted up his computer.
The day was growing late. Newt had crawled back under his desk. Hermann found himself glancing over every so often. Newt hadn't been particularly chatty, but every once in a while Hermann’s head would throb, making his right ear ring and his eye pulse with the pain of it, and he would wonder.
There was a polite knock on the wall, a meaningless gesture really. Marshal Hansen was already well into the lab. “Gentlemen.”
Newt made an undignified noise and tried to shoot upright. In his startlement he forgot that he was, in fact, under his desk, and his head smacked against stainless steel with a satisfying clang. “Goddammit!”
Hermann fought a smile as he got to his feet, gathering himself into a salute.
Newt made his way sourly out from under the furniture and drew himself to his full height. Hansen had to crane his neck back to meet his eyes.
“How can we help you, Herc?”
“I just want to talk,” Hansen said. His Adam’s apple worked briefly, but if he was uncomfortable no other indication showed.
Hansen looked between the two scientists, one human and one not so much. “I’m just… trying to understand.”
“Everything. May I sit?”
Hansen pulled up a chair and Newt sat in his own. Backwards, so his long arms rested on the chair-back, legs straddling either side. His tail twitched, all four pupils wide like a focused cat’s.
“Zhengzhou has been mostly contained. If not for your quick action, it could have been a lot worse.”
“Could have been better too,” Newt said blandly. Hermann pulled ibuprofen from his desk as his head throbbed.
“Newt,” Hansen said. “None of us have seen anything like this before. You couldn't have known what was coming.”
“But if I’d been faster, this wouldn't have happened!” Newt said. “The dots were all there! If I’d connected them last night, instead of this morning, we could have stopped it before it started.”
“Ifs don't save people,” Hansen said. “Actions do. And considering the circumstances, yours were admirably quick.”
“But that isn't what I’m here to talk about.”
“What are you here to talk about, then?” Newt asked. His eyes found Hermann, chasing the painkillers with a draught of tea, and he frowned.
Herc didn’t notice. “Newt… Look at you! It’s like something out of a goddamned sci-fi!”
Newt looked down and picked at his claws. “Herc, with all due respect here, we’re living in a ‘goddamned sci-fi.’”
“Well… yes. But Transformers I can deal with. The Fly is gonna take some getting used to.” Hansen grinned ruefully and Newt chuckled.
“Aw, I remind you of Jeff Goldblum? I’m touched.”
Herc looked Newt over, eyes trailing from head to tail, and he grew serious again. “What happened.”
Newt glanced behind him. With his tail, he snatched his research binder off of his mostly empty desk. “Uh. I was trying to help. And I did, eventually. It was just a… rough road. But I’m most of the way to cataloguing the kaiju genome, and developing theoretical treatments for people both inside and outside of the context of the Drift. The DCND serum is the only one I’ve actually synthesized so far, and I talk a little bit about that in the notes.”
Hansen eyed the binder, taking it gingerly. “That’s some… sizeable research.”
“It’s a sizeable issue.”
“I’ll read over it tonight, and we can decide what to do with it. In the meantime…” Hansen shook his head. “My rangers are panicking, Newt. They know something is up, they saw something , but they don’t know what.”
“Are we still on my going to LOCCENT without your permission?” Newt said. He waved an incredulous arm. “You - you just said if I hadn’t done it it would have been worse! Pick a side!”
“I’m not here to discipline you,” Herc sighed. “I… don’t know how effectively I could, now. But I can’t keep my men in the dark, Newt. Is that so unreasonable?”
“Not so unreasonable,” Newt muttered. He looked away. “So what, you’re gonna make an announcement?”
“No,” Hansen said. “You are.”
Newt and hermann froze. In perfect, disbelieving unison, they turned to stare at the Marshal.
“I want you to come clean to them, Newt,” Hansen said. “About you, and about the work you’ve been doing. It doesn’t have to be a tell-all expose or anything, but… You are a valuable asset to this Shatterdome. And hell, I like having you around! I don’t want anyone to make a stupid decision because of facts they don’t have. I want it to come from you so people can start putting a face to the work K-sci is doing here.”
“Herc, that wouldn’t put a face to my work,” Newt said. A nervous laugh bubbled up from somewhere deep in his chest. “That-that would put a target on my head!”
“I think you’re wrong. Gottlieb here will vouch for you. So will I, if need be. And we still have some personnel here from the days of the War.”
“How do you know they’ll remember me?”
“Newt, you are a hard man to forget. You… leave strong impressions with people.”
“Thanks… I think,” Newt said. “When would I be making this announcement?”
“As soon as possible,” Herc said. “People are getting antsy.”
“... Could we give it a day?” Newt asked.
“I’m getting some real clothes shipped here. Wearing things that like… fit might help normalize me a little. Tattered trash clothes aren’t super good for first impressions.”
Hansen chewed it over. “I mean… If it would make you more comfortable.”
“Right… I’ll put out a statement of my own then, to stop any riots breaking out.” He was only half-joking. “Same time tomorrow, we’ll get you on a closed-circuit vidcall to the whole facility.”
Newt gave Hansen two clawed thumbs up. His tail coild and uncoiled around the chair. “Great.”
“In the meantime -” Hansen picked up the binder. “I have some reading to do.”
“Enjoy,” Newt said.
The pain in Hermann’s head was fading, but that doesn’t mean he was any more able to focus.
Scales rasped behind him. His lab partner had been pacing for the past twenty minutes or so since Hansen had left, but it may as well have been years. Hermann was about a hair’s breadth from beating Newt around the head with his cane. He turned in his chair, scowling over the rims of his large, practical glasses. “Are you having a problem?”
“No,” Newt muttered. “I’m fine.” His tail smacked a steel trash can, and hermann gritted his teeth.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. What about you, you look like your head’s gonna explode. Not that you don’t always look like that, I just figure I should check in every once in a while.”
“Newton, some of us work better in silence.”
Well, Hermann, some of us are gonna have to suck it up and get used to sharing their space again!”
“Just because the Marshal hasn’t given you a new little pet project with which to occupy your time-”
“Maybe I don’t need Herc to give me my pet projects! Maybe I have my own!”
“Then why aren’t you working on them, Newton?”
“God, do you know what you sound like? Nails on a chalkboard, dude. Nails on a freakin’ chalkboard.”
“You always do this!”
“Do what? Do what, Hermann?”
“Devolve into juvenile insults and namecalling when you know I’m right!”
“No, no, that’s a lie! You know how I know that’s a lie? I never think you’re right, hermann. Why do you have a stick up your butt so bad all the time?”
“It’s called professionalism, Newton.”
“It’s called being like, a bajillion years old. And you can’t call me out on namecalling! You do the same thing!”
“I do not!”
“You absolutely do!”
“For the love of - you childish, infantile nuisance, what is it about your own hyperactivity that you feel the compulsion to afflict everyone else around you with it?”
“Oh! Oh! Never call me names, huh? What was that, then? That was namecalling!”
“Oh, that wasn’t anything,” Hermann snarled. “You amoebic-brained, leather-handbag of an overgrown secondary schooler, do not think for a moment I could not rip you apart with my words.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
Hermann had to pause. “... Newton.
“You have six PhDs. But no one would ever know!”
“Oh, wouldn’t they? Why not, Hermann?”
“Oh because you speak with all the linguistic complexity of your average Lactarius Indigo!”
“Oh, yeah yeah yeah, we all know you got a perfect score on your English SATs. You can shove all your big words up your ass -”
“That’s precisely what I’m talking about! And not only do you speak like a child, you speak like a loud child!”
“Is there any other kind?”
“This is exactly the reason I had to hide your candy from you, you know. If I’d had to deal with you on sugar, I am sure I would be in prison for homicide!”
“That was you?”
“Who else would it be, Newton? Someone had to mother you. Christ, well into your thirties and you couldn’t even look after yourself like an adult-”
Newt stalked over to the chalkboards and braced his claws against the slate. “This means it’s fucking war, dude.”
“Oh, don’t you dare -”
“Oh no, but it’s educational! I’m just trying to show you how you come across to other people!”
“Newton, get away from there!”
Newt started to drag his claws down. The beginnings of a spine-rending shriek filled the lab.
“Uh,” Tendo said. “‘S’this a bad time?”
Newt and Hermann both froze and looked at their visitor. The silence stretched.
Hermann cleared his throat. “Ahem. Ah. No, no it’s a perfectly adequate time. What is it, Mister Choi?”
“I… was just walking past, and there’s like a box addressed to Newt sitting in the hall?”
Newton dropped his hands, cocking his head. “Huh. Whoever dropped it off probably heard Hermann being an asshole and got scared away.”
Hermann narrowed his eyes.
“It’s just constant with you guys, huh?” tendo asked. He looked like he was fighting a smile. He ducked out of the lab and came back with a box nearly the size of his torso in his arms.
Newt took it from him and offered his fist for a bump. “Thanks, dude.”
Tendo hesitated briefly, but obliged. “Yeah, sure thing. You guys won’t kill each other when I leave, will you?”
“Nah, you ruined the mood.”
“Thank God for that. Oil and water, the two of you’s.”
“Who’s which?” Newt asked.
“Oh no. No way am I gonna facilitate that debate. I’m out. You guys have a good one.” Tendo waved and left.
Newt hefted the box in his grip and looked at Hermann. “Hmph.”
“Hmph. I’m gonna get dressed.” He stuck out his tongue. Hermann had just enough time to register that it was too long and entirely too glowing and blue before Newt prowled past where he sat and into his room.
Newt stood behind a podium. There were notecards on it, but It wasn’t exactly built to scale for someone of his size, and he had to look down uncomfortably far to see them. He plucked at his sleeves.
He hadn’t spoken in public in years, and now he was supposed to make an announcement that was basically just a walk along a tightrope above a bubbling vat of ‘public enemy number one’ soup.
Was Hansen crazy? There was no way. No freaking way.
“Hey, Hermann?” Newt said. Techs were setting cameras up for the vidcall. Their eyes darted to Newt anxiously whenever they didn’t have to watch what they were doing with their hands.
“Mm?” Hermann was standing beside him, watching them.
“Yesterday, you called me a lactarius indigo.”
“We called each other a lot of things, Newton.”
“No, no, it’s just… that’s the Linnaean name for the indigo milk cap.”
“It’s a mushroom. Mostly from the northwestern US.”
“I suppose it is,” Hermann said. “Why are you asking?”
“Well… there are a lot of other names you could have said there. Names that would have come a little more easily to most people.”
“Yes, well… With yesterday’s events I suppose I just had mushrooms on the brain.”
“And you just happened to know the binomial nomenclature of this one random type?”
“It seems I’d squirrelled it away at some point, yes.” Hermann leaned on his cane. “Brains are funny. Who knows, I could have even heard you talking about it.”
“You’re gonna like… be here, right? For the announcement?”
“Where else would I be?”
Newt exhaled. Some of the tension left his shoulders. “Cool. Okay. Cool.”
One of the techs looked up from her screen. She shot Newt a thumbs up, and he returned it. “Okay. Hooboy. Here we go, I guess.”
Chapter 13: You Would Not Believe Your Eyes If One Big Tall Kaiju Guy
(Appeared on your screen and began to speak)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Raleigh Becket pulled his sweater over his head. He was still damp from the shower, and his quarters were blurred by patches of swirling steam.
Mako Mori was lying on his bed. Snuggled up in an impressively fuzzy bathrobe, she watched her drift partner with lazily appreciative eyes.
“Nice slippers,” Raleigh said.
Mako wiggled her toes. “Totoro is the best Studio Ghibli movie.”
“It is a classic,” Raleigh agreed. He stretched out on the bed next to her and ran his fingers through her hair. “I was gonna go down to the kwoon later today.”
“Want me to come too?” Mako asked. “We could see if you can finally beat me with a staff.”
“How do you know I don’t just let you win?” Raleigh asked.
“I’ve been in your head.” Mako tapped his forehead. “You don’t like losing.”
“Okay, but who does?”
“Maybe it’s better that I keep beating you. The humility will do you good.”
Raleigh laughed. “Don’t get cocky, Miss Mori.”
“I’m never cocky, Ranger Becket. Just realistic.” Mako smiled sweetly.
It was a smile that never failed to melt him, and Raleigh leaned in for a kiss.
His TV came to life, and they both jumped. Raleigh peered at the screen. “An internal announcement… Maybe the followup to the Marshal’s yesterday.”
“I heard from the crew of Honor Dawn that there was a Kaiju loose in the facility,” Mako said. She sat up. “Just a little one, like some sort of science experiment.”
“Jamie and Yasha have an exaggeration problem.” But raleigh sat up too. “The Marshal just said that K-science was doing some gene therapy testing, and one of them had an accident. A disfiguring one.”
“Newt and Doctor Gottlieb?” Mako frowned, idle curiosity turning to worry. She looked back at the screen. “Are they okay?”
“Okay enough to scare rookie pilots,” Raleigh said with a shrug. “I’m sure it’s fine, Mako.”
“Hm..” Mako leaned against his chest, and Raleigh wrapped his arms around her.
The broadcast began. Herc was in his office. “Rangers. Cadets. Thank you for your time and attention. It is clear that we, once again, are at war. The enemy we thought we stopped has made a return, and we have no choice now but to be ready. As such, hard decisions have been made, as well as some unusual ones. Those of you in the main corridor yesterday may have seen something - someone - that was difficult to explain. Doctor Geiszler’s quick thinking saved the lives of millions of people in Zhengzhou. And he’s been doing work to save and extend the lives of our pilots here at the PPDC, at great cost to himself. I’m giving him a chance to explain the research he has done to all of you so you can put a face to the work he does for us here. We need allies now more than ever, Rangers. And the Doctor is an employee of the PPDC. I expect you all hear what he has to say and take it in the same way you would any other employee.”
Raleigh looked down at Mako. “That’s a lot of buildup…”
“But still really vague,” Mako murmured.
The video feed cut to the K-Lab.
Against raleigh’s chest, Mako jumped. Raleigh felt the blood drain from his face. “... Holy shit.”
The creature onscreen raised a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. He was dressed in a white shirt and rumpled blazer. Black slacks already looked a little ragged around the edges, tugged at and scraped by his spiky armor. “Uh. Thank you all for your time and attention. My name is, uh. Newt Geiszler.”
Mako’s hand went to her mouth. Raleigh rubbed her arm.
“I probably look a little different than how you all remember me,” Newt said. He chuckled, nerves making his voice shake. “Well. A lot different. Uh. But that isn’t what I’m here to talk about…” he carried on talking, but his voice faded to static in Raleigh’s ears.
He remembered the first time he’d met Newt. He had just landed in shatterdome Hong Kong. It was hectic, troops working on battening down the hatches in the face of an oncoming squall. Newt and Doctor Gottlieb had barrelled into the elevator with him, bringing with them the same tempestuous chaos Raleigh was sure they brought everywhere. He remembered thinking that Newt was… annoying. Through naivete, more than anything else. His admiration for the things that had killed Yancy had set Raleigh’s teeth on edge.
But then he’d helped save the world.
Raleigh had hoped he learned his lesson.
But looking at the screen in front of him, as Newt talked about gene therapies and experimental reparative memory treatments, Raleigh’s heart sank.
He let go of Mako and swivelled, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Mako turned off the screen. The announcement was over. Raleigh had barely processed any of it. Something about efficient drifting. Which, he guessed, mattered again. How lucky for them.
Mako sat beside him. Her hand rested on his arm. “Raleigh?”
“What is wrong with him?” Raleigh asked. “Why would someone do that to themselves?”
“You said yourself,” Mako said. “According to the Marshal it was an accident.”
“It just… seems a little coincidental, doesn’t it? The Kaiju coming back, and then he shows up? Looking like that?”
“I’ve known Newt and Doctor Gottlieb ever since I came to the PPDC,” Mako said. She affixed Raleigh with a stern look, tilting his chin up to meet her eyes. “They’re a little strange, but they are good men. Just because Newt made a mistake does not make him any less deserving of our understanding.”
Raleigh sighed. “I know, I know. But I don’t have a lifetime acquaintance to base my benefit of the doubt on, Mako. And knowing how into kaiju the guy was before all of this… it really skeeves me out.”
“Me too,” Mako admitted. She glanced at the screen. “Me too… but that isn’t a reason to hate him.”
“I know, I know.”
The pilots sat next to each other on the bed. Their shoulders barely touched. It was quiet. Newt’s face on the screen had conjured up waves and waves of unpleasant memories. Memories of loss. Of death. Of war.
Why would someone do that to themselves, indeed?
Mako’s phone buzzed, jolting her out of her thoughts. It was a text from Tendo. “... It looks like we might get some answers to your questions,” Mako said.
“I have to run to the Lab. Tendo wants to talk to me about restoring some more of the old Jaegers, but he needs Doctor Gottlieb’s data on Gipsy as she went through the breach. He asked if I could pick it up.”
“The Lab like the K-Lab,” Raleigh said.
“Should I come too?”
“Only if you want.”
“Would it make you feel better?”
Mako thought back to Newt when she was growing up in the Shatterdomes. It was a transient life, Stacker Pentecost being a very high-demand official - and other officials having a high rate of turnover. But she had crossed paths with the K-Science division several times over the years. Hermann scared her at first. It took her a while to realize that his ornery nature was easily circumvented by a hot mug of tea and an earnest question about his work.
Newt had never scared her. He was boisterous and energetic, but young Mako never found him unapproachable. His enthusiasm was magnetic, and even though she wasn’t a fan of the gooier side of biology, Newt always took time out of his day to hang out with her when she was around. She always got the impression that he knew what it was like to be a shy, lonely kid in a world of adults. He was the first grownup who had ever allowed her to call him by his first name.
“Yes, Mako said. “It would make me feel better.”
Newt was scrubbing a particularly stubborn scorchmark out of the base of the wall when someone spoke behind him.
“... Doctor Gottlieb?”
“Just me,” Newt said. “Sorry.” He straightened and turned to the visitors. “Mako,” he said. A smile pulled at the corners of his eyes. “And Raleigh. Been a while.”
Mako and Raleigh looked up at him. The silence stretched just long enough that Newt’s chest panged. His smile dropped a little.
“Yeah,” Raleigh said. “It has.”
“Tendo sent us down to look for Doctor Gottlieb,” Mako said.
“Ah… Herms’s in his room,” Newt said. “Powdering his nose or something, I don’t know. He takes forever.”
“I see.” Mako nodded. “Can we wait?”
Raleigh shot her a look. Newt noticed.
“Uh.” he said. “Sure, yeah. Pull up some chairs.”
“Are we interrupting?” Mako asked.
“No, no,” Newt said. “I was just doing some cleaning. I’m grateful for the break.” He reached over and rolled his desk chair closer, setting into it. “Seriously, sit.”
Mako and Raleigh exchanged another look, but they did grab a couple of seats.
“How have you been, Kiddo?” Newt asked.
“All right,” Mako said. “It’s been a… rough week.”
“Yeah… I’d say. How’s work? The J-Restoration program? I guess it’s a little more practical then it was originally meant to be, huh?”
“If it’s all the same,” Raleigh said. “Let’s not talk shop.”
Newt blinked. He took off his glasses and cleaned them on the hem of his shirt. “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
“Let’s talk about you,” Raleigh said.
“Raleigh.” Mako looked over at him.
“Nah, nah. It’s no big deal,” Newt said. He waved a claw. He felt blue worming its way into his thoughts. Something about the unfriendly light in Raleigh’s eyes made Newt want to curl up and hide.
Raleigh Becket has every right to hate you, all things considered. You wear the skin of what killed his brother, after all.
Newt shook his head sharply, trying to dislodge the idea.
Raleigh and Mako twitched.
“Sorry,” he said. “Got a chill. Uh… But no, like…” He shrugged. “I guess I always saw it as an occupational hazard. I work with so much toxic goop, it was gonna get to me one day, you know? But uh… I kinda figured it would be something of the ‘slow death by poisoning’ variety. I wasn’t really prepared for anything this…” He waved his hand in a vaguely all-encompassing gesture.
“Spectacular?” Mako supplied.
“That’s one word for it.” Newt smiled a little as he stamped out the last of the blue buzzing at the back of his mind. They didn’t need to know all the nitty gritty details, anyways.
“The Marshal really took you back on, then,” Raleigh said. “Even with all that’s happened.”
“Well. Yeah. I figure it’s cause Herc needs all the help he can get right now. And the state of my body was never really important,” he added. “He keeps me for my brain, which is, thankfully, intact.”
“Mako,” Hermann said, upon opening his door. His hair was wet from the shower, and he was buttoning up his shirt cuffs. “Ranger Becket. This is a surprise. What brings you here?”
Mako grinned and stood. “Hello, Doctor. Tendo sent us down.”
Hermann made his way over to his desk. “Of course he did. And here I thought you were just visiting.”
“Can’t we do both?”
Hermann’s expression was fondly dry. “Hm. What can I do for you, my dear?”
“He wants the projection computer files for Gipsy when she went through the breach.” Mako wandered over to him.
“I have them… somewhere,” Hermann said. “I can look, hold on. Why does he need them?”
“Stress testing for J-Restoration,” Mako said. “Now that we may need them again, we’re making them new and improved.”
“Probably wise,” Hermann murmured. “They’re here somewhere…”
“Let me help,” Mako said. “Since when were you disorganized?”
While he and Mako searched for the drive, Newt and Raleigh looked at each other.
“... You never liked me too much, did you?” Newt asked.
Raleigh blinked. “What kind of question is that?”
“Just an observation,” Newt said. “We didn’t really know each other too well, back in the old days, but… I do have a problem with first impressions and the, uh, making of them.”
Raleigh shook his head and looked away. “‘Dislike’ is a strong word,” he muttered. “I didn’t get you. Doctor Gottlieb and Mako seem like they’re a little closer to being on the same wavelength, you know? So I can see where he’s coming from. But you… I didn’t get it. How you could see what they did and - and love them so much.”
Newt nodded. “... Naivete, mostly,” he eventually said. “I was always two steps removed from it until I… wasn’t anymore. I was far enough away that I could keep myself wrapped up in the… awe of them, without seeing the horror. But by the end.” Newt closed his eyes. Flashes of that night in Hong Kong, the night that had nearly ended his life, briefly overwhelmed him. A stinging arc of blue cut through his train of thought, and his mouth went dry. “By the end I figured it out.”
Raleigh nodded slowly. He looked at Newt like he was preparing to draw him from memory. No like, no dislike, just impassive study. Master of the pensive brood, was Raleigh Becket. Newt wondered if it was an Alaskan thing.
“Found it!” Mako said. She held the drive above her head triumphantly.
Newt and Raleigh clapped politely. Hermann leaned on his cane, scowling halfheartedly. “You’re exaggerating, Miss Mori,” he said. “I’m not that cluttered.”
Mako just smiled.
“Let’s get that to Tendo before he forgets he asked for it,” Raleigh said. He stood. “See you around, Doctor Gottlieb.” He paused and looked at Newt. “Newt.”
Newt waved. “Bye.”
Mako waved too. She linked arms with Raleigh as they left.
When they were gone, Newt sighed. “I can’t figure that guy out.”
“Who?” Hermann asked. He was straightening up his desk. “Ranger Becket?”
“Yeah… I just can’t read him!”
“Oh, yes, because your people-reading skills are so immaculate most of the time.”
Newt narrowed his eyes. He picked up a piece of chalk from where it had been sitting on the ground and flicked it at the back of Hermann’s head. It hit.
Hermann whirled. “Newton!”
I know it isn't technically Wednesday anymore, sorry! Schedules are running away with me. Hopefully I can kick this irregularity soon. As always, thanks for reading! Expect the next one Sunday the 3rd (ish?)
Chapter 14: Power is a Heavy Load to Bear
This one's itty bitty, but it felt wrong when it wasn't self-contained. The next one will be up on Wednesday the 6th! Thanks for reading!
Herc Hansen sat at His desk. It still didn’t feel like his desk. He still felt like he was just holding down the fort, like Stacker was going to come back through the door at any moment, dragging Chuck by the ear -
The phone against his cheek felt warm, but it was only because Herc was very, very cold. His hands were clammy. The blood roared in his ears, drowning out what the person on the other end of the line was saying.
The city on his monitor was in ruins. The mountainscape in the background was disfigured by an alien corpse and the partial wreckage of a Jaeger. The tattered remnants of a Swiss flag drifted past the camera. Geneva had been obliterated.
How had they known? How had they known?
“Congratulations, Marshal,” said the voice on the other end of the line. They didn’t sound congratulatory. They sounded tired. “You’re the most powerful man in the world.”
Chapter 15: Desperate Times Call for Questionable Decisions
Thanks so much for reading! I've given up on scheduling exact days, but we will continue to update twice per week!
“Newton, could you please chew quietly?”
“I am!” Newt protested. He looked up from his lunch to motion vaguely around the lab. “The only reason you can hear it is because it’s too quiet in here. Put on some music or something if you hate it so much!”
“The last time I did that, you complained until I turned it off.”
“Well, duh. You were playing Brahms. Brahms is such a bore.”
“Brahms is classic!”
“A boring classic. At least put on something good, dude.”
“Oh, like what?”
“Like… Shostakovich, or something.”
Hermann turned his chair around. “You like Shostakovich?”
“ You like Shostakovich?”
“Yeah! What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just… you?”
“Yeah, Hermann. Me. What are you doing over there that requires such silence, anyways?”
“Working,” Hermann said. “Well. Trying to.”
“Sorry, dude.” Newt tossed his paper plate in the garbage. “If you wanted me to leave you alone you could have just said.”
Hermann sighed and scrubbed his face. “It’s not you, Newton. I just can’t phind any concrete geophysical evidence to tie down the opening of the breach. Without it, I can’t predict when a new one will appear.”
Newt frowned and stood. “Can I see?”
“Sure, sure, I suppose.” Hermann waved a hand at his computer. “I thought I had something,” He said, as Newt prowled over. “Look here, a noticeable fluctutuation in Earth’s magnetic field just before Zhengzhou.”
“Yeah, that looks pretty concrete to me,” Newt adjusted his glasses on his nose and leaned in. “What’s the problem?”
Hermann shrugged. “There was another identical fluctuation the day before yesterday, but no new reports of a breach. I suppose it could just be aftershocks, but…”
“It does punch some holes in the reliability of the software.”
“Unless I can refine it and differentiate between the different types of shifts, it’s far too vague -”
Newt and Hermann turned. Marshal Hansen stormed into the lab. His shoulders were braced, hands clenched into white knuckled fists. A vein throbbed at his temple. “You have some explaining to do.”
Newt looked at Hermann, and then back at the Marshal. “... What about?”
“We’re shipping your goods back to Hong Kong,” he said. “And imagine my surprise when I discover what you’ve been keeping at your home.”
“Is… is this about Alice?” Newt asked. He fiddled nervously with his fingers.
“That - that thing is a PPDC asset, one that you’ve been using for your own ends -”
“Okay, no, wait! That is completely unfair!” Newt said. “First of all, it was my sample, I owned it. And I was not using it ‘for my own ends,’ I was using it to jumpstart a research program that would help people!”
“You’ve been drifting with that thing,” Herc said. “Haven’t you?”
“I - I mean. Well. Yes. But only in the context of my tests!”
“Marshal,” Hermann asked. “What is all this about?”
“Geneva is gone,” Herc said. “A category four took it out.”
“What?” Newt asked.
“There was a summit in Geneva this week,” Hermann said carefully. “Attended by the United Nations and the leaders of the Corps.”
“... oh. Oh my god.”
“Yeah.” Hansen took a deep breath. “And here I come to find that you’ve been keeping something from us that could get us inside their heads, tell us their plans. Well guess what, Geiszler. The brain is on its way here, equipment and all. When it arrives, you’re gonna suit up. And you’re gonna get us what we need to know.”
Newt looked at Hansen for a long moment before laughter bubbled out of his chest. He glanced at Hermann for help, backup, anything. “Herc,” he said. “Herc. You can’t - you can’t be serious, dude. How can you be serious right now? I can’t - I can’t - I can’t do that again!”
“You’ve done it before,” Hansen said.
Blue, charged and stinging, crackled through Newt’s mind. He shuddered. “Well, well, well, yeah. But I was redundant before, I wasn’t in the loop before. It would be stupid to have me - to have me plug back in now, when, when, when I actually have relevant information!”
“Newt, with all due respect here, you got back less than a week ago. You don’t have much,” Hansen said.
Newt laughed again. His pulse was racing, the little lights all over his body dimming until they were all but gone. “Herc,” he said. “Please, you don’t know what you’d be doing. You can’t make me go back in there.”
“I can,” Herc said. “And I will. Unless you can find another way in the next six hours.”
“This conversation is over, Doctor Geiszler. Make it happen.” Herc turned and left the room. Silence was restored to the Lab.
Newt sank to the floor, staring off into the middle distance. Blue roared in his ears. Whispers that he’d ignored for weeks wormed their way insidiously to the front of his mind. He knew how this would end.
Hermann looked between Newt and the doorway. “Newton… are you all right?”
“Fine,” Newt said distantly.
“... I’ve never heard anything so blatantly untrue.” Hermann pulled his chair closer. “What are we going to do about this?”
“I’m… going through with it.”
Hermann blinked. “Sorry?”
“I’m going through with it, Herms.”
“Don’t be preposterous,” Hermann sputtered. “I saw you when you were talking to the Marshal, Newton, you were about a breath and a half away from a panic attack!”
“Well, Herms, it isn’t like I have too much of a choice,” Newt said.
“Of course you do! The Marshal, high and mighty or no, can’t make you do anything so potentially dangerous against your will! That would be inhumane!”
Newt turned to Hermann, grateful to have something to engage with besides the azure and the trickle of cold fear yawning in his head. “Okay. Let’s set aside the potentially thorny question of whether something you could classify as an ‘ingumanity’ applies to me anymore for a hot second. I was… talking more about the moral implications than anything.”
“... Self preservation is not immoral,” Hermann protested, his face still a mask of disbelief.
“No, no, cause… Hansen’s right, dude. They have eyes on the ground here, or had. I don’t know how, if they like… left some sort of technology or bug behind, but they knew the movements of all of our world leaders. All of them. We’re ten steps behind unless we figure out how they knew what they did. If I don’t do this and they don’t sed anyone else instead, then… we’re a little fucked, right? But that doesn’t matter, because they will find someone else to send. They’ll just jump down the ladder to the next most qualified person. Who’s it gonna be? Tendo? A pilot or two? You?” Newt shook his head. “It’s gonna happen to someone, Hermann. May as well be me.”
Newt shrugged. “Last days of war, man.”
“Newton, it’s barely the first days of war.”
“Well… if we don’t get our shit together, it’ll be the same thing, in the end.”
Hermann nodded, thinking. “... Let me come with you,” he eventually said.
Newt’s head shot up. “What?”
“Like before. We can share the strain, watch each other’s backs.”
“No - I - no, Hermann, absolutely not! Absolutely not!” Newt shook his head.
Hermann hadn’t been prepared for such blatant incredulity. He sat back. “Why? It worked before!”
“Last time, we were down to one Jaeger and a prayer. Let’s face it man. They had our number, and at thet point, we were both a little expendable.”
“Now, the program is just starting to get back up on its feet. People here need you to keep them in line and functional. And whatever’s on the other side, really doesn’t need any kind of peek at whatever new J-tech you’ve been working on.”
“I’m not so hardly involved in the program as you think these days -”
“Alice was in my head,” Newt blurted.
“What? Yes, yes, you told me.”
No… Not all the way, I didn’t,” Newt said. “Not really. Towards the end, their messages got… dark? They talked about like… forsaking my dead race and joining my new people?” Newt paused for a long time. “And… It sounded good. I know it’s because they were manipulating me. They were messing with my suceptability to suggestion and stuff, but… It sounded really good.”
“I nearly gave in, dude. I was losing myself.” Newt took a deep breath. “Right up until I got a call from some clingy jerk in Hong Kong because I hadn’t been answering my emails.”
“... Oh my God.”
“Yeah… You basically single-handedly stopped me from being co-opted into an enemy NPC.”
“Newton, you have to tell the Marshal about this! You can’t expect me to sit idly by while you relinquish yourself to this thing again!”
“I can’t, Hermann. I can’t. In the short run, someone else will go under instead of me. In the long run, it’ll destroy my credibility.”
“And I need you out here because they’re gonna be expecting me,” Newt carried on. He wasn’t looking at Hermann anymore. He was looking down at his bands, dark and pebbly and his but so not his . “I’m going back in and they’re gonna be waiting, and if I get stuck and you’re with me then…. Then you’re stuck too and we’re no good to anyone if we’re vegetables in evil brain prison, you know? But if you’re out here, you…. You could bring me back to myself. If I need it. Who knows? Maybe I won’t. Hopefully I won’t.”
“Newton, this is a stupid plan.”
“... I know.”
“And you are absolutely going through with it, aren’t you?”
“No matter what I say?”
Newt nodded again.
“You are a clod,” Hermann said. “How can I help?”
“... Talk to me? It’s a drift, so I won’t be deaf to the world or anything. Just… Keep me engaged, keep me grounded. You can even talk about your dumb numbers if you want.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “They aren’t ‘dumb.’”
“They so are,” Newt said. He unfolded himself a little, thankful for the distraction. “Half of them aren’t even real. How are you supposed to do real math with fake numbers, huh?”
“Newton, I know for a fact that you had to take up to Matrix and Linear Algebra for at least one of your doctorates.”
“C’s get degrees, dude.”
Hermann closed his eyes. “I hate you so much.”
“I know. Channel that hate. Badger me into coming back intact so I can fight with you about it.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
“I’m hungry.” Newt picked himself up and wandered to his desk. “I’m gonna do a Meituan Waimai. Want me to get you anything?”
“No… No,” Hermann said. He looked at Newt’s back, and his shoulders sagged. “No, I’ll be all right.”
Newt, his back turned, couldn’t see the worry creasing Hermann’s face.
Newt looked at the thing in his lab. It bobbed gently in its tank. The notebook paper had been ripped away in transit, but everything else had arrived unharmed. Newt didn’t know whether or not to be relieved. He leaned his head against the glass. Unable to sleep, he’d been hooking up the drift machine in half-dark for hours. His tail still clutched a phillips head, and it rasped as he swung it back and forth over the floor. He wasn’t frightened anymore.
He thought about waking Hermann from his slouch in his desk chair, strapping in, starting up, just getting this goddamned thing over with and never doing it again -
But Hermann lately seemed just as tired as Newt, if not moreso. Newt decided to let him sleep.
Blue lurked on the edges of his thoughts, like it knew what was coming. Like it was excited for it. Newt realized he was shivering. “Damn it.”
Everything was gonna be fine.
Everything was gonna be fine.
Hermann groaned. His leg throbbed, and his head ached.
There was something happening, he remembered. Something important…
He shot upright, his headache taking a backseat to his new knot of worry. It sat just behind his collarbone and pulsed in time with his heartbeat.
Newton was leaning against the tank with that brain in it. He was just… watching it. Hermann waited, but Newton failed to notice him. He cleared his throat.
Newton’s huge head swivelled to look at Hermann from the corner of two of his yellow eyes. “You’re awake.”
“I didn’t realize it had been delivered. I would have helped set it up.”
“No biggie, man,” Newt said. “You were out. I figured I’d let you stay that way.”
“So,” Hermann said. “Today’s the day.”
“Yeah… Hansen won’t be coming down,” Newt said. “He called earlier. He’s being pulled into a conference. What’s left of the world wants to make a plan. Because panicking people are known for their fucking efficiency, right?”
Hermann sighed. “I take it we’ll be recording this little session, then?”
“Yeah… You wanna get that set up while I strap myself in?”
Hermann blinked. “Strap yourself in?”
“Just a precaution. Like a seatbelt. In case I, you know…” Newt’s voice trailed off. “Seize…”
Hermann’s eyebrows were high. “You didn’t mention that was a possibility.”
“Kaiju brains aren’t meant to be drifted with.” Newt sat in the chair and started bucking up several heavy-duty-looking straps. He set the pons unit on his head. “They’re meant to hive with. Drifting is inorganic and inefficient. There isn’t any kind of control over the exchange of information. That doesn’t matter when it’s two humans and the playing field is level. But the way Kaiju brains process information is incompatible with ours.”
“Even with the serum?” Hermann paused in where he was setting up a digital camera to face Newt and the brain.
“Yeah… In my tests it was never a problem. I was… snorkeling, basically. But this time, I’m gonna be scuba diving. The pressure’s gonna be a little more intense.”
“... This is a stupid, stupid plan, Newton.”
Hermann pressed his lips together.
Newt adjusted his glasses one final time and finished the straps. “Are we rolling?”
Hermann hit the button. “Yes.”
“Okay. Okay. Kaiju Reconnaissance, take one. Uh… Whereas before Pitfall I was just trying to make contact and glean what I could, This time I, aided by my drift serum, will be attempting to make a concentrated probe into the Precursors’ Hivemind to track down some very specific information. Uh… The mission will be overseen by Doctor Hermann Gottlieb, attending.” Newt closed his eyes. “Scientific aside… This is really gonna suck, dude.”
Hermann snorted, but his hand ached from how hard he was gripping the cane.
“Okay. Hermann, remember what we talked about. I’m gonna go ahead and commence the drift in three… two… one.” He hit a button, and his eyes rolled back in his head. They didn’t have a white, they were yellow all the way around. Hermann chewed his lip. Newt’s muscles were quivering, straining through his rumpled shirt.
“Newton,” Hermann asked. “Are you… still with us?”
Pain bluefea rpainheadheadheadsobl ue
“Yeah,” Newt gasped. “God, I feel like my brains are gonna explode.”
Hermann closed his eyes. “What do you see?”
“Ach - this brain is so old a lot of the - connections are dead,” he said. Blueblue pain hurt fearbluefear hurt hurt “I’m trying to wade through the gray matter to get to the blue stuff - uh, the good stuff.” He pushed the new drives and voices to the back of his mind. “Before I was trying to get to Alice, not through them, I never had this much resistance - fuck!”
Bluepainbluehurt t e a r k i l l removeexterminatebluedirectivebluedirective
Newt’s body bucked against his restraints. He opened his mouth and wailed, a long, inhuman sound containing too many alien emotions to measure.
Pain lanced through Hermann’s head in icy spike, driving him to his knees. His grimace was a rictus and for a moment he was filled with an anger so immense, so irrational it took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to snap his cane over his knee.
Just as quickly as it came, it was gone. Hermann looked up to see Newt limp in his restraints. He picked himself up and limped over. “Newton? Newton, can you hear me?”
Newt drew in a long, shuddering breath. “Yeah…” he said. “I’m here.” His tail slowly twined around itself, trancelike. “I broke through… there’s like… channels.”
“What?” Hermann peered at the monitoring equipment. Drift was stable and holding fast, though the sheer amount of data being exchanged was… incredible.
“Remote… remote communication channels. For… giving orders, I guess? And observation?” He panted, briefly pained. “Ooh, can’t touch that. Too blue…”
“Newton, I’m sure what you’re saying makes sense to you, but you’ll have to break it down better for the rest of us.”
“I followed the channels up to like… a relay station uh. God there’s so many brains here, Hermann.”
“Kaiju brains? Or Precursors?”
“Both? Neither? God… it’s so clear in here, man. Like… too clear. So clear I can’t see anything. No trees for the forest - information overload. This - this is deeper than I’ve ever been before -”
Newt felt something slip, like a knife through jello
like a scalpel through flesh
And he was through. There were no too many brains, no jostling thoughts. He blinked, and there was Hermann, peering at him worriedly. He was fully aware of the lab, the uncomfortable chair, the blinking red camera, the lines under Hermann’s eyes; just as he was aware of the information that abounded wherever this place was he had sent his mind.
He saw it. Not all of it, but there was time for that.
“This is incredible. It’s… like a cloud. They store superfluous data here, things that are common knowledge and don’t require too much cognitive processing. Like, where I was before, that was Problem Solving. This is Problem-Solved. Information gets distilled here and can be accessed by relevant parties.”
“Amazing - is that how they work so quickly?”
“Yeah… all of their brains pool their energy to fix things. They’re like an organic supercomputer. It is incredibly efficient.”
“What we need,” Hermann asked. “Is it there?”
“Why the rush?” God, Newt was learning so much. Too much? Nah, no such thing as too much learning.
“Newton.” Hermann frowned. “The mission, remember? The longer you’re in there, the more likely it is you’ll be caught.”
Newt frowned, coming back to himself a little bit. “Yeah… speaking of that… where is everyone? I really expected more resist-”
He didn’t get to finish, his words choked by an unseen hand. He went rigid, still as stone.
“Newton?” Hermann came the rest of the way over. Newt’s mouth was slack, his lower jaw hanging crooked. “Newton!” He turned on a penlight that hung on his keyring and shone it into newt’s eyes. The pupil didn’t respond.
Newt flinched in pain at the sudden bright onslaught but he couldn’t look away couldn’t even blink something had him it was taking him dragging him away
Newt thrashed, trying to send out sharp thoughts, painful memories like lances and blades to loosen Their hold loosen Their hold so he could
He felt himself settle back into his limbs, filling his head They were coming after him he barely had time
Newt gasped. Hermann shouted wordlessly, falling away.
“Hermann,” Newt said. The words were slurred, like he didn’t have full control over his mouth. His eyes were wide and frantic. “I fucked up, I fucked up! They’re coming, dude, they’re coming! You gotta - you gotta - you gotta terminate - terminate it. T-terminate the test!”
Hermann blinked, his breath hitching, but when what Newt was saying clicked he launched himself for the power cord. Time slowed to a crawl as his hand grasped the rubber insulation.
“We wouldn’t do that if we were you.” A new voice spoke, one that felt like oil running down Hermann’s spine. “We wouldn’t want you to lose our little Test forever, now would we?”
They spoke English like something that was not meant to speak it. The cadence and careful enunciation was so alien, so inhuman that the simple hearing of it made Hermann’s hands start to shake. He swallowed. And turned.
They were using Newton’s mouth. They were speaking with his mouth. Hermann sneered, anger flaring again - but this time it was his.
“Get out of his head,” he spat. The words left his mouth before he had a chance to run them through his brain, and he wondered if he would regret it.
Not-Newt laughed. They threw their head back, and their throat rippled with glowing blue. “Such a precocious little thing,” they purred. “It amuses us.”
Hermann swallowed again, fighting the bile rising in his throat at the wrongness of the words coming out of Newt’s mouth. “So you’re Alice, I presume? The real Alice, the one who took advantage of his accident to twist his mind?”
“We are,” they said. “If you would call us that.”
“He does. I don’t see any reason to change it.”
Alice reached up with their tail and started undoing Newt’s straps. Hermann paled. “You’ve been naughty, Little Thing,” Alice said. “Taking our Test from us. Why do you want it?”
“I didn’t take him,” Hermann said. “He makes his own bloody choices.” His bravado was paper thin and growing thinner as he realized that if Alice got loose, he didn’t know what he would do.
One thing. Maybe.
“You cannot have it back,” Alice said blithely. “We were not finished with it. There is work still to be done, Thing.” They unclipped the tie around their middle.
“I’m done talking to you,” Hermann said. He took a deep breath. “Newton. Newton, I’m still here.”
Alice laughed again. “Our test cannot hear you, Little Thing. We have put it safely away.”
“Newton, arschloch,” Hermann said, a snarl leaking into his voice to mask the fear burbling in his chest. His accent grew thick, as it had only a couple of times in the past decade. If Newton was here, he would have certainly mocked Hermann for it, But Newton wasn’t here. That was the problem. “I know you’re listening. Are you just going to let this big bully kick you out of your own head? Get back here!”
Alice stood, drawing themselves up to their full height. Almost twice as tall as Hermann. That seemed to matter a lot more, suddenly, now that the usual driver wasn’t behind the wheel. “Poor thing,” they said. “See how it tries.”
“If you don’t come back,” Hermann said, backing up a step despite himself. “You won’t be able to prove any of my theories wrong.”
Newton’s yellow eyes began to weep blue, his nose already running with more of the same as the strain of hosting a hostile alien invader began to prove too much for his head.
“You’ll never get a chance to drag me to one of those ridiculous concerts you used to ramble on about.”
Alice dropped to all fours. Hermann noticed, distantly, vaguely, in the numb part of his brain that wasn’t screaming or gibbering, that when Newt had to he walked on his palms, fingers splayed. Alice used their knuckles, like an ape. They began to pace towards hermann. Their steps were smooth, almost mechanical, and alternated between bi- and quadrupedal in a way that made Hermann’s stomach do nasty little backflips. He staggered backwards some more as the cord connecting the pons to the brain began to unspool.
“You’ll never annoy me into going to your wretched tattoo artist,” Hermann said. He backed up again. His heel caught on his satchel - the bloody thing must have slipped off my chair - his cane tangled in the strap, and he went down. His head cracked hard against the floor, and fire roared through his skull.
Alice pounced. Leaping through the air with an uncanny grace, they landed soundlessly over Hermann. Blood dripped from their leaking nose and spattered the ground dangerously close to Hermann’s ear.
“You’ll never,” Hermann panted, trying to think straight through the pain. “You’ll never -”
“We need our Test alive,” Alice murmured, tracing Hermann’s cheek with a claw. “You cannot have it, it is ours.”
“Newton,” Hermann said. “Come back.”
“We need it alive,” they repeated. “We do not need you.” They opened their mouth. It spread wider, wider, impossibly wider still as the two halves of Newton’s mandible split apart, revealing the glowing interior. A hiss bubbled up from Newt’s chest, animal, hungry, and alien.
Hermann closed his eyes. “Newton,” he whispered. “Come back.”
He waited for the end.
The end didn’t come. Hermann, fear holding his chest too tight to draw breath, heard a clatter above him. The shadow vanished, jerking off to one side. The sound and movement was enough to make Hermann twitch, but he mustered the courage to crack open an eye.
Newt was tangled in a heap of limbs against one wall, wrestling the Pons off his head. With a wail that made Hermann’s hair stand on end, he broke the connection. The device sparked angrily, but Newt hurled it at the tank.
Hermann watched him from where he lay. “... Newton?”
Newt’s head snapped to him. His chest heaved, great shuddering breaths like those of a man nearly drowned. His pupils were little more than blue tally marks in the center of his eyes. Blood and tears mingled, streaking his face in their glow.
“H-” he said. “H-Herm-mann.”
Hermann sat up. He groaned and held his head as pain lanced through it. His fingers came away red.
Newt started towards him, but rocked back on his heels. He bounced there for a moment, caught between wanting to go to Hermann and wanting to flee.
Something about the way the other man was looking at him must have made up his mind. In a burst of sudden speed, he raced past Hermann and into the dark, waiting maw of his room. The door slammed shut behind him.
Hermann sat on the floor for a few minutes longer before picking himself up. He staggered, but caught himself on the edge of his desk. He retrieved his cane and turned off the camera.
He looked at the brain in the tank and felt sick.
Sorry for the delay - My computer is on its way out :s enjoy! I'll try to have the next one to y'all by Sunday or Monday.
Chapter 17: After Alice
Heyyyyy.... So. I am. Still alive, probably. Updates probably won't be as frequent, but they will probably? Continue? Definitely in fits and starts. I realize I left it in kind of a... Not Great place, and I'm sorry for that. But hopefully this makes it a little better.
Newt looked at himself in the mirror of his tiny bathroom. It was cramped enough that his back brushed the other wall, but he didn’t mind. It was solid. Solid was good.
His body ached like he’d been hit with an electric shock. His claws scratched his sink as the muscles in his arms spasmed and contracted. His hearts (he had three now, because of the increased demand on his circulatory system) were jumping and twitching, their rhythm interrupted by more spasms. He felt like he was going to be ill, and he couldn’t catch his breath.
Unclenching his jaw enough to get any words out proved to be a challenge, but he managed it eventually. “T-t-testing, t-testing…” He knew he should be doing a more thorough checkup on himself, but words were still coming back to him, words that he should have just known, and that was the scariest part of all. It had happened the first time as well, way back all those years ago. But not since.
How long had it been?
He’d woken up over Hermann, and the look on his face…
Newt sank down to the bathroom floor. His scales scraped against the tiled walls, but he didn’t hear. He was still gasping, great gulps of air to try and satisfy his racing blood. His hands shook, and he clenched and unclenched them on the floor.
Images came to him, memories that were his and not his, well, his now, because he’d seen them, he’d felt them, even though he had no right to them. Memories that he was stuck with. He closed his eyes but they burned just as bright in the darkness.
The blood was under hermann’s nails. It was soaking into his shirt collar. It matted his hair in uncomfortable clumps. He’s towelled it off as best he could, but until he got into a shower it was going to be there.
The nails were the worst. He looked down at them, crescents of dirty red in his shaking hands. His head still pounded, even with the painkillers, bandages, and gauze. Every once in a while, his leg would stab at him with the memory of an old spasm.
It had been hours.
Not for the first time Hermann walked up to Newt’s door. Here were no nerves to break this time, just exhaustion. And concern. He beat against it with his hand and its red nails, so loudly it echoed off the walls. “Newton?”
Nothing moved behind the door.
He was certain it had been Newt who’d ripped off the pons. He’d seen that fearful gleam in his eyes before, heard the halting stutter. He wasn’t worried about who he would find in the dark of Newt’s room.
He was worried about the state he’d be found in.
Hermann sat in his chair, looking at Newt’s door in the reflection on his screen.
This was inexcusable.
He texted Tendo. Is the Marshal out of his meeting yet?
The reply was immediate. What am i his secretary?
No, you’re just a man who takes pride in knowing things.
Hmph :/ whatever you say Doc. yeah he’s out
Wonderful. Thank you, mister Choi.
Hermann was lucky Tendo couldn’t see him, because his rage was growing harder and harder to control every second. He wrote a sticky note for Newt and left it on his door. “Gone to see Marshal, will return shortly.”
Hermann slammed the SD card from the camera down on Hansen’s desk.
“Doctor,” Herc began.
“If you ever make Newton or any other employee do anything like that again I will staple my letter of resignation to your forehead,” Hermann hissed.
Hansen blinked. “What?”
“That was a catastrophe, Marshal. A catastrophe. Your own impatience and short sightedness put not the lives of not one but two of your employees at risk!”
“Gottlieb, you’re going to have to slow down.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” Hermann snarled. He slammed his cane to the ground. “Your poor planning and misuse of PPDC resources is enough to make anyone livid, but particularly the people suffering for them!”
Doctor Gottlieb,” Hansen barked, standing up. He was quite a bit taller than Hermann, but considering what Hermann had just seen suddenly the Marshal didn’t seem to have quite as much clout. “Do not forget that I outrank you here. You do not have permission or grounds to tell me what I am doing with my resources is misuse!”
“Oh, I have the grounds! Do I ever!” Hermann was all but roaring.
“The only reason I’m not pressing formal charges is because of what that would do to Newton.” In another burst of uncharacteristically rash anger, Hermann pressed the end of his cane into Hansen’s chest. “This has gone along way towards eliminating any respect I had for you.”
Hansen looked down at it, and then back to hermann. “Doctor, I suggest you choose your next words very, very carefully.”
“It didn’t work, Marshal,” Hermann spat. “Your little plan didn’t work. Newton and I risked our lives for something that didn’t work!”
“What are you talking about, Hermann?” Newt said from the door.
Hermann and Hansen both blinked at him. He was wearing a new clean shirt and a pair of what looked like specially-made jeans. His eyes, still rimmed in a thin ring of blue, were the only indicator of his earlier disarray.
“The - the drift,” Hermann said. He realized his cane was still pressed to Hansen’s solar plexus, and he dropped it. “It - you didn’t get what you were after!”
“Who said that?” Newt maneuvered his way inside. “Are the doors around here like… tiny, or is that just me?”
“Newton, it was a disaster,” Hermann said.
“Oh, yeah! I’m not arguing that at all. It went way worse than my projected worst-case scenario.” Newt’s voice was far too bright for someone who’d just escaped possession, and little alarm bells were going wild at the back of Hermann’s brain. “Totally pear-shaped. But it didn’t technically fail. We were after information and we got it.” Newt swiped the SD card off of Hansen’s desk and pocketed it.
“What- what did you get?” Hansen asked, looking between the two doctors in confusion.
“Well, the Precursors -” Newt didn’t make it very far before Hansen cut in.
“And these Precursors are the Kaiju… generals, right?”
Newt sighed. “Sure. More or less. If that helps. The precursors weren’t expecting organized resistance the last time. They just kind of thought they’d be able to stomp out all life and move on. It’s what they were used to. But since they know we do have a civiliation and a power structure, they’re trying to cut the head off the snake, so to speak. They had two big old goals, and I have good news and bad news for you, Marshal.”
“Good news first?” Hansen was still reeling from the sudden change in tone. Something about it was setting the Marshal’s teeth on edge.
“Well, right now you don’t have to worry about the rest of the world.”
“... I take it that ties into the bad news?”
“The precursors had two goals,” Newt said. He lifted up a pair of claws to demonstrate. “Goal one - take out the brains. They did that at Geneva, by eliminating the leadership of the world. Goal two… the brawn. They’re going to try very hard to remove their greatest resistance. Their greatest resistance of course being…” he spun a claw at the general surroundings. “Us. Shatterdome Hong Kong.”
Hansen paled. “Shit.”
“They were gonna make a few minor attacks all over the world, try and draw the Jaegers as thin as possible. They don’t know how many we have operational, but they aren’t taking any chances.” Newt shrugged. “Can’t blame ‘em. Then they were coming for you. But now, with my breach of their security, they’re coming for you next. After you, they’re gonna start pumping sludge and airborne toxins through the breach with the next wave of Kaiju along the coasts and start Terraforming proper.”
“You said we already terraformed it for them,” Herc said. “Before Pitfall.”
“I said ‘practically’ terraformed. We laid the primer, but there’s still a few coats of paint that have to go on. Trust me, you don’t even know the definition of poison compared to what the precursors are prepared to do to this planet.”
Hansen looked to Hermann. “Doctor Gottlieb, does this sound like it tracks?”
“I… don’t see why it wouldn’t.”
“Well. Damn it.” He shook his head. “I’ll let the rest of the ‘Dome know. In the meantime, Gottlieb, we need that predictive model yesterday.” Hansen’s eyes narrowed. “But tread carefully. You’re on thin ice.”
Hermann, unable to contain a final swell of disdain blooming across his features, saluted. “Yes, sir.”
“Cool. Well, if it’s all the same to you guys, I need to be getting back to the lab,” Newt said. His face and voice were carefully bland.
“Is everything all right?” Hermann asked.
“Oh, sure, sure. I just, you know. Set the pons on fire.”
By the time Hansen and Hermann had fully processed what Newt had said, he was gone, slipped out of the door and back down the hall.
“Mother of -” Herc started out the door, Hermann on his heels, when the phone on his desk rang.
Hermann saw the opportunity to save Newt’s job, and leapt on it. “You take the call, Marshal, I’ll check on Newton.”
“Is that really wise, Doctor?”
“The world is going to be looking to you until we can sort this mess out. That means you have to be there to pick up the phone.”
Herc narrowed his eyes. Hermann had a point. “... fine. But this is far from over.”
“Understood.” As Hansen turned back to the desk, Hermann fled after Newt as fast as he could.
Newt watched the flames licking over his drift machine. An extinguisher dangled from one claw. He knew he should put it out. Black smoke belched upwards and stained the ceiling with ugly soot. Plastic warped, and then curled, and then liquified altogether, filling the lab with an unholy stench that made Newt’s eyes and nose burn.
But the blue in his mind had started wailing when Newt set the machine alight, and hadn’t stopped since, and Newt couldn’t help but feel a triumphant warmth blooming in him, separate from the heat of the flames.
Newt glanced over his shoulder at the man in the doorway. “Hey, Herms.”
“Are you all right?”
“Mm… what are you doing?”
Newt looked back at the fire. “I’m just… making sure I never have to go back.”
Newt shook his head. “I think that’s good enough.” He hosed it down with the extinguisher, smothering the flame in white foam. He tossed it aside and turned. He looked at Hermann like he was really seeing him for the first time in a while. He frowned. “Do we need to be filing a complaint?”
“I’m sorry?” Hermann leaned on his cane.
“Your head, dude. I can’t believe someone in Medical dressed it like that! It’s awful!”
Hermann lifted a hand to the bandages, flushing a little. “I didn’t, ah… go to medical.”
“What? Why not?”
“They would have asked an explanation of me I wasn’t prepared to give.”
Newt tutted, his slightly warped voice making the sound strange and birdlike. “Well, you can’t wrap a head wound yourself. Not well, at least.” He beckoned and slapped his desk chair. “Come here.”
“Newton, I hardly think that’s necessary,” Hermann protested.
“This isn’t the zombie apocalypse,” Newt said. “So you shouldn’t look like it is. Be seated.”
Hermann rolled his eyes and made his way over to the chair. He sat in it as Newt rummaged through his supplies for a first aid kit. The chair sagged, listing off to one side. It hadn’t been made for something of Newt’s size. Hermann looked around the lab. Nothing had.
Newt turned around with the kit in one hand and a wet rag in the other. “Okay, buddy, let’s get you seen to.” He set the gear on his desk. Hermann sat very still while Newt unwrapped the (admittedly not great) bandages with his huge claws. “That’s a lot of blood…” he murmured. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Hermann closed his eyes - but they didn’t stay closed for long, as memories of dripping jaws and a canny yellow glare flared behind his lids. “I’m sure.”
“Okay…” Newt dabbed a bottle of antiseptic onto a swab. “This is going to sting a little.” He pressed it to Hermann’s head, and Hermann drew in a sharp breath.
“... Herms, I’m sorry.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “I’m not a child. It’s not that bad.”
“No, not about the treatment, about… you know… Alice.” Newt’s back was to Hermann, rifling through the kit for some new gauze and bandages.
Hermann blinked. “The last time I checked, that wasn’t your fault,” he said.
Newt hunched his shoulders. “Yeah, well. It was still my body.”
“Yes, but you weren’t exactly in control!”
“And that’s part of the problem!” Newt turned. He started unrolling the gauze, still avoiding Hermann’s eyes as he cut a square. “I left you vulnerable. You didn’t have any kind of defense except talking to me, and neither of us knew if that was actually gonna work.”
“I’d say it worked all right, considering I’m here and alive, and so are you,” Hermann said. “As far as you were aware, what happened wasn’t even a possibility, correct?”
“I mean… yeah.”
“Then there’s nothing either of us could have done to prevent it.”
Newt sighed and started wrapping the bandages around Hermann’s head. His hands were gentle, almost over careful. The palms and fingers had thick pads on them, but they still looked soft and uncalloused. They hadn’t seen much use, Newt preferring to walk upright as much as he could.
“Newton, I don’t tolerate victim-blaming in my lab. Even when it’s the victim blaming themselves.”
Newt scoffed, but he didn’t argue. Hermann decided he’d have to take what he could get.
Newt made off the end of the bandage, absently brushing some of Hermann’s hair out from between the layers of cloth. “There. No more dystopian chic, okay? People will start to think the world is ending.”
Hermann chuckled grimly. “Isn’t it?”
“Not if we have anything to say about it.” Newt leaned on his desk.
In the ensuing silence, both scientists found their eyes drawn to the brain in the tank, surrounded in charred debris.
“... If I may,” Hermann asked. “Why did you destroy your machine, and not the sample itself?”
“Because,” Newt sighed. “Alice… well, I guess the brain isn’t technically Alice, is it? Alice was just using the poor thing like a conduit. But the brain’s alive, Hermann. It’s conscious.”
“At this point… don’t you think it might be better off dead?”
“Maybe? I don’t know, man, I’m a freakin’ pacifist. Whether or not something is a mercy killing is way outside of my realm of expertise. I… think I might just treat it like a DNR. You know? I won’t kill it, but if it dies… it dies. Anything else is too close to murder for me to make that call with a clear head.”
Hermann nodded. “That’s fair enough…”
In the tank, the brain’s tendrils and tentacles writhed around each other, questing for something to connect to.
Chapter 18: Lizard Juice
Luke Gray took a drag on his cigarette and slapped his cards down on the table. “Beat that, Hooch.”
A Brazilian pilot named Dacio looked up from his video game to scowl. “Put that shit out, Gray. This isn’t no Battlestar Galactica. No smoking inside, cards or not.”
“If it was Battlestar Galactica, would that make me Starbuck?” Gray asked.
“No, idiota, O’Malley would be Starbuck. She’s hotter than you and she’s a better pilot.”
“Would that make the K-Sci department Baltar?” Hooch asked. His real name was James Jones. He was a Mark Four pilot, one of the few left, and one of the most veteran rangers there behind Raleigh and Hansen.
The pilots in the small breakroom exchanged looks at the mention of the scientists. “Yeah," Gray said. “Or a Cylon.”
“Hansen said the ugly one was on our side,” said Mark Noah, a South African Mark Six rookie.
“Yeah, and everyone thought Boomer was on their side too. Look where that got them,” Dacio said.
“Okay, can me drop the fuckin’ metaphor?” Gray asked. He ground his cigarette into the ashtray, his enthusiasm for his game snuffed as surely as his smoke. “The truth is there’s a kaiju in this ‘Dome. And no one’s doing anything about it.”
“Hansen vouched for it,” Hooch said.
“Hansen’s old. He didn’t see what Rapier did to Zhengzhou. I did.”
Hooch’s eyes narrowed. “Hansen is one of the reasons Pitfall succeeded in the first place, kid. You’ve seen action exactly one time. Just cause Starbuck beat one Kaiju, don’t let it go to your head.”
Gray sneered. “Pitfall or no, I can’t believe Hercules-fucking-Hansen is endorsing letting a kaiju pump us full of its… lizard juice or whatever.”
“It’s supposed to help with drifting,” Noah said. “Make it easier on us.”
“Oh, sure, according to the enemy. The day I let an alien shoot me up with its science experiment is the day they take me away, ‘cause I’ve lost my mind.”
“Why don’t you trust the Marshal?” Hooch asked.
“Because I have eyes,” Gray said. “And what he’s saying and what I’m seeing does not add up.”
“What are we gonna do about it?” Noah asked.
“Well… I guess we'll just have to show it that it’s not welcome here.”
Chapter 19: Revelations and Perambulations
“Newton, you’ve been staring at that godforsaken chip for hours. Are you going to watch it or not?”
Newt looked up from the SD card on the desk. He’d been fidgeting with it all morning, but hadn’t actually put it in his computer yet. “... Did you ever watch Doctor Who when you were a kid?”
Hermann blinked in longsuffering silence.
“Oh, right, I forgot you’re a massive space dork, sorry.” Newt looked back at the chip. “Do you remember the angels?”
“You mean the scariest monsters allowed on primetime television?” Hermann asked. “How could I forget?”
“Yeah… I just keep thinking, you know, of that line… ‘every image of an Angel becomes an Angel,’ or some shit like that.” He poked at the card with his finger. “And I know it’s like, super dumb, but… I can’t help but worry…”
Hermann sucked his teeth as understanding hit him. “That seeing Alice, even just a recording, will manifest them again.”
Hermann stood, despite the protesting of his weary leg, and sat next to Newt at the desk. “I always liked the one where the Doctor and Clara went to the haunted house in the sixties, and it turned out that the ‘demon’ was just a lonely, hideous alien.”
Newt turned to Hermann with an incredulous expression. “Are you seriously saying Alice is a tragic victim here?”
“No,” Hermann said, face serene. “I was just going to say that the monster looked a lot like you.”
Newt barked a surprised laugh. “Prick!”
“... Do you want me to watch the tape with you?” Hermann asked.
Newt blinked. He pushed his glasses up on his nose with one claw. “... Yeah,” he said softly. “Yeah, I’d dig that.”
“Okay, but let’s get this rolling, hm? We do have real jobs to do.”
“Shut up, Hermann.” The rest of Newt’s supplies had come in. Crates and boxes littered his side of the lab, and though it was packed away, inside was all the equipment he needed to continue his work on the Kaiju genome. Excitement and nervousness warred in him at the thought of really getting back to work in the lab for the first time in a year and a half. He popped open the slot on his laptop and slid the little card inside. His big fingers nearly fumbled it, and he felt a brief flare of frustration. But he took a deep breath.
The file was easy to find. It was the only one.
Newt clicked ‘play.’
Newt’s face, large and alien, was hard to read. But hermann felt little tingling needles of fear shoot through him when Alice made their presence known. Watching it was different. Newt had gagged and strained against the chair like something was choking him, and then he relaxed - but he relaxed into an easy, otherworldly grace that Hermann knew he didn’t possess.
Newt stayed stoic when Alice started speaking, and Hermann tried to do the same; but his stomach was tying itself into complicated knots.
His head was pounding.
He had to close his eyes for the last few minutes of footage as nausea rose in him.
When the clip ended, all was silent in the lab. Hermann could hear his own blood roaring in his ears.
Newt was the first to speak. As though afraid it may bite him, he closed the laptop. “... Well. I’m uh… glad Hansen didn’t see that.”
“It’s not so bad,” Hermann tried. “No one was seriously injured.”
“Psychological trauma is still trauma,” Newt said. “But let’s make a deal. We both pretend like this never ever happened ever, and I don’t ever hook my brain up to a dead alien again.”
“That seems like a good deal,” Hermann said. “I think we can make that work.”
“Great. Okay. Good.”
“Newton,” Hermann asked. “Are you going to be all right?”
“Me?” Newt waved a claw. “Peachy keen. I’m like a rubber band. I got hella rebound. Rebound for days.”
“You know I hate it when you talk like that.”
“So go… make out with your chalkboards or something. Some of us have real science to do.”
Hermann rolled his eyes. “Applied engineering is real science.”
“No way.” Newt shook his head. “When was the last time you licked anything questionable?”
“... that isn’t science, it’s immaturity.”
Hermann stood. “I’m done with this conversation.”
“‘Cause I’m right,” Newt said.
“No, because if I have to listen to you for much longer my brain will start to leak out my ears.”
“‘Cause I’m right.”
At his desk, he opened up his media player and loaded a playlist. The crooning of strings filled the lab.
Across the yellow partition, Newt’s head perked up. “Is that Shostakovich?”
Hermann figured it out. It was so simple, with the new information about Geneva. It wasn’t an echo, or residual fluctuations. A new breach had opened, too far away for the proof to be immediate. No one had known. No one had done anything.
But… the war clock was back. Nearly. Hermann needed a few more data points to be sure, but he could start making rough predictions based on what he had.
He hoped it would be enough. The precursors were preparing bioweaponry the likes of which no one had ever seen. It would take everything humanity had to stop the wanton destruction.
It always took everything humanity had. Why couldn’t it take half? Why did mankind always have to come out victorious but empty handed?
Why did they always have to start over?
Hermann sent the data to Hansen and rested his chin on his hands. Something told him he should be celebrating, but… he didn’t feel celebratory. He just felt tired.
There was a lot of that going around recently.
Hermann took off his large-frame glasses, letting them hang on a leather cord around his neck, and sighed.
The blue wasn’t going away. Like, now that Newt didn’t have direct and easy access to the hive anymore, it wanted to let him know it was still there. The amount of Thought bleeding through in the absence of a breach was small, unquantifiably small, but it was enough to make Newt deaf to the world unless he was really, really focusing.
And he couldn’t focus. Not anymore. Biology may have been his passion, but even he could only drip so many chemicals into so many beakers before he felt like throwing something.
“Hey Herms,” He called. Hermann was just looking at his computer screen. Neither he nor Newt had eaten, and now it was too late. But wanderlust still gripped Newt, and he knew he had to go somewhere, do something that wasn’t here. “I’m gonna go for a walk, ‘kay?”
“Mm… is that wise?” Hermann asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Newt said. “I just gotta get outta here, dude. You know?”
“If you say so…” Hermann glanced back at him.
“I’ll be fine. Don’t wait up.” Newt stood and ambled to the door.
Hermann watched him go. Something deep at the back of his mind was uneasy. But something deep at the back of his mind was almost always uneasy, these days. He quashed the feeling as best he could and went to his room.
It was dark in the ’Dome. Most sane people were sleeping. Even LOCCENT was only staffed by a skeleton crew. Newt was blissfully alone as he wandered the halls.
He tried to pretend that the roaring in his ears was the ocean crashing against the facility, and not whispers lapping at the shore of his mind.
He wondered, not for the first time, if that drift hadn’t been an even bigger fuckup than he’d predicted.
What he’d told Hermann about dumpster fires and lying in them was becoming a harder and harder proverb to live by. The flames weren’t going out. They were just getting hotter.
A pilot watched the massive shadow lumber by from a side corridor.
Damn, it was ugly.
He pulled out his phone and sent a group text.
The pool beckoned, inviting, but something about the glassy reflectiveness set Newt’s teeth on edge. He turned away.
The cafeteria was deserted. Maintenance had even put up all the tables. For mopping or something no doubt. It looked a lot bigger without all the puffed up asshole jocks everywhere. Newt crept through the center of the room, keenly aware of the rasp of his scales on the cement. He told himself that the feeling of being watched from the shadows was just in his head. Just like everything else seemed to be.
The doors of the J-bay loomed ahead. It was like a pit in there, pocked by intermittent running lights and the occasional gleam off intimidatingly painted metal. Maybe in there, in the face of everything the Kaiju feared, he could finally get some fucking sleep.
Newt never found out. He never made it inside. A masked figure rounded the corner in front of him. Something was rammed into his chest. It burned, like sticking a fork in a socket except fuck it was bad enough to lock up his torso. He couldn’t move. Something slammed into the back of his head and Newt’s vision went blue.
And then black.