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Together in the Drift

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Everyone had heard the legend of the greatest power in the universe. Six people, who shared one soul, would unite and use the power to stop the greatest evil.

But that was all it had ever been, a legend. Nobody had taken it seriously. Not until the Zangyack attacked. Not until humanity had learned to drift.

Nobody knew how the technology really worked. What they did know was that when two people who were drift compatible were hooked up to the machine, they could pilot a mecha that could fight the Zangyack. Their movements, in harmony, would control it.

For Marvelous, finding out that he was drift compatible with his best friend from the refugee camps, Basco, gave him a way to fight back. And drifting with Basco, well…. It also moved them from friends, to lovers. You couldn’t hide anything in the drift, not even (not so) unrequited crushes.

*

“Marvelous! Basco! Suit up. There’s a Zangyack attack.”

AkaRed’s voice carried through their shared quarters, and Marvelous managed to disentangle himself from Basco’s naked form and roll out of bed.

“Guess we’re up,” he said, and began pulling on the suit.

“Been awhile since they called us,” Basco observed. “Too busy with those new girls.”

“Heard they finished a drift only a few hours ago,” Marv said as he finished up. “Probably too tired for another run.”

He could hear Basco grumbling, but soon the two of them were on their way to command. The scientists in charge, Dr. Don Dogoier, and his assistant, Ikari Gai, already had the machines up and running.

“You’re late,” Doc said, as he began prepping Marvelous, while Gai handled Basco. He only half paid attention as Doc and Gai turned back to their argument, about how to increase the number of people in the drift. He’d heard it all before, but finding two people who could drift was nearly impossible. Finding the six that would summon the greatest power? Was just a dream.

“Countdown control,” Doc said. “Four. Three. Two. One.”

At that, Doc’s voice faded away, and suddenly there was nothing but his thoughts and Basco’s. It took a moment to adjust, as the memories began to stream. Witnessing the destruction of the Zangyack invasion. Childhood scrapes. Being selected for the program. His first kiss with Basco.

And then the drift solidified, and he and Basco moved in perfect unison. Their mecha summoned, they were drawn into it, and on their mental commands, the mecha began its march to fight the Zangyack.

But something was off. He could hear the shouts coming from the scientists, and suddenly his drift with Basco was failing. The point of the drift was that you could feel everything your partner did—but Basco was hiding something. Marv could feel himself being pushed out of the drift.

And the mecha fired.

Not into the approaching Zangyack, but into the very town they were supposed to be protecting.

“What are you doing, Basco?” he yelled as the mecha finally went silent, as it did still need both of them in the drift to operate.

Basco laughed, as he unhooked himself from the mecha. “Can’t gain something without giving something up,” he said. “And I’m gaining the winning side.”

His punch caught Marvelous before he could block, and that was the last thing he remembered.

*

When Marvelous next saw anyone from the drift program, six months had passed since Basco’s betrayal. He had left as soon as his injuries had healed. Dogoier had told him that there would probably be an ache from the broken drift, and when Marvelous could make himself think about it, it was true. There was always a piece that felt missing.

But he had done what he could, which was throw himself into the cleanup and relief efforts to the town that had been destroyed by Basco. Which was why he was surprised when Luka and Ahim showed up.

The two girls had been the new rising stars of the drift program right before everything had happened. They moved in tandem, and were everything that a drift should be. He’d heard their stories, of course. It was a drift that nobody had thought would work. Ahim was the princess of a country that the Zangyack had destroyed, and Luka had been a thief and spy, working to outwit the Zangyack. But when they had first met, everyone had seen how compatible they were.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Doc thinks he might know how to unlock the ultimate power,” Luka said without preamble. “And we need you to help us.”

“Not interested,” Marvelous said. “There’s nobody I’m drift compatible with anyway.”

“There are new recruits you can try to drift with,” Ahim said. “Your scores in compatibility have always been high. Unless, of course…” she trailed off.

“Unless what?” Marvelous asked, eyes narrowing.

“Well, there are rumors that you left the program because Basco slipped something into your mind during the drift,” Luka said. “Of course, I don’t believe those rumors, but your refusal to rejoin the program does lend them some legitimacy.”

Through clenched teeth, Marvelous said “I would never—”.

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Ahim took over. “Which is why you’ll be going with us back to the program.” She smiled.

“You’re good,” Marvelous observed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m glad that you’ve agreed to join us.”

*

Considering that his last partner had destroyed an entire town, Marvelous was surprised to see how many people were queueing up to see if they were drift compatible with him. He went through fight after fight, but none of the people he sparred against seemed right. He could beat all of them too easily. There was none of the easy back and forth that could lead to a drift.

“I need a break,” he told Gai, and went off to wander the base without even waiting for a response. Without paying attention, he wandered into another training room, expecting it to be unoccupied since all the candidates had been sparring with him.

Except there was a man in there, with long flowing hair, who was running through kata after kata with swords. Marvelous couldn’t keep his eyes off him.

“So when am I fighting you?” he asked as soon as the guy ended a kata facing him.

“You must be Marvelous,” the other man said. “And I’m not a candidate.” He held up his arm, and Marvelous saw a cuff around his wrist. “I’m a defector from the Zangyack—useful to keep around for information, but not trusted enough to try to drift.”

Marvelous ignored that, and picked up a weapon. “Fight me,” he said.

They both fell into fighting stance, and quickly fell into a pattern. This is what Marvelous remembered about the drift; the feeling of being at one with someone, to be able to predict your partner and to fall into a complicated dance.

He hadn’t felt this way since Basco.

He wasn’t sure how long they had been moving as one, until applause broke out, stopping their dance. Somehow, they had drawn a crowd of everyone who had been testing their compatibility with him. Both Dogoier and Gai looked ecstatic, and there was a smirk on Luka’s face and a small smile on Ahim’s.

AkaRed did not look pleased when he made his way to the front, and the applause immediately stopped.

“Gibken!” he yelled. “What did you think you were doing? You were specifically banned from the testing.”

“Too bad,” Marvelous said, slinging an arm around Gibken’s shoulder. “We’re drift compatible. He’s the one that I want.”

“Joe Gibken is a defector.”

“All the more reason to trust him,” Marvelous said. “You said you wanted me back, well, he’s the one that I want.” He reached over and grabbed the cuff around Joe’s wrist and pulled it off.

AkaRed sighed. “You’re determined to do this?”

Marv just smirked at him.

“They are compatible,” Ahim said quietly. “And Joe has done nothing but prove his loyalty since he joined us.”

“You all agree?” AkaRed asked, turning to Ahim, Luka, and the scientists. Each of them nodded.

“Fine!” AkaRed said. “This is your experiment, but if we have another disaster like Basco, then this is on your heads.”

“Why did you choose me?” Joe asked as soon as they were alone.

“I liked your look,” Marvelous said honestly. “And you saw it, you felt it, we’re compatible.”

“Even knowing where I’m from?”

“Just means you have as much of a reason to fight.”

*

Their first attempt at a real drift came two days later. They had quite an audience; Luka had even brought popcorn while Ahim looked mildly disapproving.

Dogoier strapped him in, just as he had before, when it was Basco on his left, and Gai was talking a mile a minute as he explained everything to Joe.

And then they were ready.

The drift hit without warning in a burst of intensity. Suddenly, Marvelous knew everything there was about Joe. He saw him being drafted by the Zangyack, saw Joe falling in love with his partner, Cid. He saw their attempts at escape, and Cid’s death at the hand of the Zangyack. He could feel every bit of Joe’s pain.

At the same time he knew that Joe was seeing all of him.

There was love shining through the drift.

And for the first time since the broken drift with Basco, Marvelous felt whole.

*

“That’s not possible,” Don said as the post-drift debriefing said. “You shouldn’t have been able to achieve that level of a drift that quickly.”

“It lends credence to your theory though,” Gai said excitedly. “That with the right team assembled, we could manage a six person drift.”

Don waved his hands. “Yes, yes, but just because we’ve established that Marvelous and Joe have a deep connection and that previous records have shown that Marvelous would have the potential to drift with Luka and Ahim, and with his high drift compatibility with Joe, that only brings us to four. Unfortunately, we’re still two people short.”

“You think we can drift with them?” Marvelous said.

“Of course, your brain waves are on record,” AkaRed said as he walked in. “Good work, all of you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Don said proudly.

“We told you that we were going to try to unlock the ultimate power,” Ahim reminded Marvelous.

“I didn’t think you meant that! It was hard enough letting one person in my head again, and…”

Joe took Marvelous’s hand. “We’ll do this, because it’s the right thing, and that’s what we do.”

Marvelous sighed. “That’s what it means to be a pilot.”