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“BUT SEAS BETWEEN US BRAID HAE ROAR’D”

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It had been going to be such a quiet morning, by Shatterdome standards.

The Beckets were out splashing around in puddles -- well, technically they were testing to see if the repairs to ankle joint damage done in the latest Event had been satisfactorily completed, and if there were any residual delays in responsiveness or other problems that could only be detected in operational mode.

So they were jumping up and down in the shallows in front of the 'Dome, running back and forth in front of the launch area, with an enthusiasm that was just a little more than was strictly necessary, even without the sound effects.

They were not allowed to do Monty Python in the Conn-Pod while the Marshal was in or over Alaskan territory -- their attempts at British accents counted as cruel and unusual punishment, he'd told them, so that had to be kept for the times he was away from home. But that still left them a vast repertoire to draw on from their Nickelodeon and internet-addled memories, at least until something else got added to the list.

Right now, as was not unusual, they'd gotten back around to an old favorite.

"I thought you said this thing was fast!"

"Watch your mouth, kid, or you're gonna find yourself floatin' home!" By this point LOCCENT wasn't even listening, just watching the telemetry readings, so when Yancy went off-script it took everyone a few moments to notice. "We'll be safe enough once we make the jump to hyperspace. Besides, I know -- oh my God, did you see that?"

"Moose? Zoom in, zoom in--"

"Moose. Not squirrel."

"Ooh, that looks bad."

"Yeah, we better-- We'll be right back!" At which point they, and their Jaeger, went dashing off down the southern side of the bay, without any further explanation, and without bothering to either answer their coms or turn them off.

The current duty shift of LOCCENT SD-AK stared at each other in bewilderment and wondered whose misfortune it would be to track down Mr. Choi and the Marshal and let them know that their pilots had apparently run mad.

"Do we scramble a 'Hawk?"

"What -- what is happening?"

"Come in! Please, come in--"

"What. The. Everloving. Fuck --"

"They've stopped alongside Route 9, just beyond--"

"WOULD YOU PLEASE BE QUIET? THIS IS COMPLICATED! WE SAID, WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK!" The Beckets' voices chorused at squeal-inducing volume through the speakers and then cut off as they switched their coms off, or at least turned the sound down so low it might as well be off.

By the time their senior officers were dragged out of their weekly division heads planning meeting -- since it wasn't like they needed to be in the fishbowl for routine repair checks -- LOCCENT had managed to work out part of what had happened, what their pilots had seen that had caught their attention from on high, and where they were.

"Sir, police scanners -- there's an overturned tractor-trailer on the road, just about where we lost audio. Somebody hit a moose and the truck swerved to avoid them and flipped, blocking the highway. Oh, I guess another truck full of...culverts? something anyway, slid into the ditch and that's all over the lanes too."

"They ran off to rubberneck at an accident?"

"Um...not exactly." Everyone was typing frantically, trawling through various public interfaces and social networks, trying to find a fix in one of the least populated areas of the world, before the helicopters finished scrambling.

"Why the hell don't you people have dashboard cams in this country?" Kolya Volkov complained, loudly and bitterly, and this time nobody disagreed.

"GOT THEM!" someone shouted, and brought up a livestream to the main monitor, and the there was utter silence, as everyone marveled at the sight.

The video was badly out of focus and jittering as if mounted to a mosquito of the proverbial local size, but there was no mistaking the content. They were kneeling by the roadside, spattered with flashing patrol car lights and road flares as the police warned approaching commuters heading towards Anchorage to stop well back of the accident, busily sweeping a mass of telephone poles and other debris off the road as if it were nothing but bread crumbs.

"What do they think they're doing?" Pentecost asked, rhetorically.

"LOCCENT," Peregrine Group Leader paged up from the helidrome, "we're ready for takeoff, is it a go?"

"No.” Pentecost's hands clenched in that way he had, when he was trying not to show agitation, and everyone's hearts sank further, even though there was no earthly way that anyone could have anticipated, much less prevented this. “Stand down. I don't see any way you can help at this point, since we can't drag them away by force."

"Sir -- do you want to talk to the cops?" Before the Marshal could bring himself to answer it as he should rather than truthfully, his operations chief stepped in saying, "I'll take it -- patch 'em through, Jean." He stepped to the side, entering into a quiet conversation with what sounded like several state troopers, though his expression was a lot more troubled than his whimsical tone would suggest.

Meanwhile, more and more monitors began to display live or near-instantaneous footage of their Jaeger crouched over the highway like a child giant playing in a sandbox, carefully tidying up the toppled vehicles while onlookers applauded and waved from beyond the police perimeter.

"It sounds like nobody was seriously injured in the crash," a few people offered hopefully, as if that might somehow defuse the impending explosion. Tight-lipped, the Marshal nodded acknowledgment, but said nothing beyond the occasional pained sigh.

This was the most exciting thing to happen locally since the Shatterdome had opened for business, and people had long gotten used to overflights and exercises and the occasional real alarm that never got anywhere near the city. It was a circus -- no, it was better than a circus, because you knew what to expect with a circus, and nobody had any idea what was going on, right now. It wasn't just commuters from the outlying towns, it was people who wouldn't ordinarily even be up at this hour.

The live feeds of social media were rapidly filling up with hashtags and images both still and video that Pentecost would have given a great deal to be able to suppress, but far more never to have had the need to. (Without even being told, LOCCENT had turned the switchboard over the AI.) He tried to recall if anything like this had happened in the relatively brief history of the PPDC, and was nigh certain nothing even remotely like it had.

After about half an hour it was clear that the Beckets weren't coming back any time soon, and also that short of storming down there with a flight of helicopters and shouting at them in front of all the world, there would be no budging them; whereupon he shrugged and restarted the weekly logistics meeting, with instructions to be notified the minute they returned to base.

(That it didn't occur to anyone that the Beckets would do anything else but return to base by lunchtime, said a great more deal about all of them than they realized.)

The meeting had almost wrapped up -- they were mostly rehashing settled points because it felt too weird to go on to something else while everything was in a state of severe anomaly -- when LOCCENT paged him, announcing with odd hesitance,

"They're back, Sir."

"Callooh, callay," he sighed. "Send them to my office immediately. --No, never mind. I'll catch them up." No sense in giving them more time to synchronize their stories!

He never intruded on the Drivesuit Room, because there was no need to, because it wasn't appropriate, and so there was some consternation when he came through the door just as they were starting to unbolt them from their armour. --Not nearly enough consternation on the part of his pilots, however!

"Oh hi, Sir, the repairs were fine--"

"--all the relays checked out, smooth as--"

"Rangers." Something about the way he said it broke through, caught their attention and turned off their chirping like a tap handle. "You CANNOT run off picking daisies in a Jaeger costing trillions upon trillions, upon which the lives of everyone in this sector depend! What if you'd killed someone?"

The younger Becket -- waving his helmet around in absent minded gesticulations until DS Tech Mercier took it away from him -- protested, of course.

"We honked the horn first, then we waited till the cops got everybody out of the way. We were just helping!"

"Becket. What if you'd stepped on the Pipeline?"

"Sir, it's on the HUD," Yancy replied with that baffled expression denoting Why are adults so clueless?

"Not the point! That beach was NOT cleared, you climbed up to a roadway, there were bystanders all around -- are you NOT CAPABLE of grasping what makes your violation of regulations a bad idea, or are you playing me for a fool? We don't need bad press! What if you'd squashed one of those trailers? What if--"

"We were really careful, Sir! It was just like playing with Matchbox cars."

"We always took real good care of ours," his brother added, proudly. "We never scratched them up at all." (This may have been a slight exaggeration, halcyon days of yore and all that.)

"Matchbox cars." The Marshal nodded slightly, his eyebrows lifting.

"Uh, do you have those in England? They're these--"

"Don't be ridiculous. They used to make them right down the way from where I was born."

"Really?!"

"Oh that is so cool--"

"No -- stop, you're NOT changing the subject. You are in trouble and you are not skipping out of it this time!" They shut up, thankfully. "You went out of contact. You didn't answer your hails, and then you were out of the Conn-Pod, and out of contact. That's not acceptable."

"It was only like fifteen minutes, Sir--"

"It was seventy-eight minutes by the clock, Becket. We had to find out where you were and what you were doing from police scanners, WHICH IS UNACCEPTABLE! We had visual on you from social media before you responded to LOCCENT." He brandished his tablet for emphasis.

"There's pics?" Raleigh Becket, halfway out of his suit, eagerly craned over to see the screen. He snatched it back, refraining from smacking him over the head with it, because that wouldn't do the wiring any good, probably.

"Then you stopped for -- You can't do this. You cannot go wandering about like -- like bloody tourists! and you certainly may not leave the Conn-Pod to have a meet-and-greet by the side of the road! Do you have any idea what the fallout from this is going to be? Do you have any idea how irresponsible it was of you--"

They didn't.

"But Marshal, you're always saying we need to work on evacuation drill, how we gotta be able to unhook ourselves and get out on our own in case of a hull breach, so you could say we were just getting some practice--"

Pentecost's expression went completely flat, his eyes narrowing.

"Simulator time, right," Yancy sighed, with that wry grimace of a smile that too clever kids used to convey their indulgence towards their elders, thinking it wasn't understood!

"No. Since it clearly makes no impression on you two, there's no point. Shower, get dressed, and start outlining. I want you both to write me a twenty-page thesis--"

"Aw man -- you're giving us HOMEWORK!?"

"--on the Dardanelles Campaign, with special emphasis on the actions at Suvla and Sedd el Bahr, and no, watching the movie does not count as research."

"There's a movie? Which one?" But Yancy had begun to look dismayed -- something had set off the old neurons there!

"Dardanelles Campaign, check your email when you get back to your cabin. You DO know how to use the internet for something besides posting autographs to pinboards, yes?" And with that he left, before he said anything else he might regret.

Behind him, the Beckets' voices echoed down the corridor, asking the DS team to make sure and send them all the links to the footage of their little exploit...

image

"Cockpit drill. They actually tried to wiggle out of it by claimin' it was cockpit drill? P/O Prune really is an Immortal, I guess."

"How am I going to explain this? It can't even be passed off as an unscheduled exercise! 'Oh, don't worry, I'm sure they won't take it in their heads to go dashing off the next time something shiny gets their attention!' "

"Eh. Boys will be boys?"

"No."

"They were just tryin' to help -- bein' neighborly and all that?"

"Hm. Thanks."

"You just can't help bein' sarcastic, can you?"

"That was not sarcasm. I can work with that. 'No, it wasn't authorized but it all happened so fast, we train our pilots to be proactive, they pitched in where they saw a need, a helping hand, seeing how it happened right at our doorstep' --that should deflect the news vultures, and the Pentagon -- well, I'll just nod and smile and make reassuring noises at them till they go away." He chuckled grimly. "What are they going to do, anyway -- ground them? You know half their aides are getting their Becket Brothers pinboards autographed as we speak!"

"The pictures were very cute."

Pentecost only shook his head. That was a part of the problem -- but it was also, at least, a mitigating factor. The cuteness of the pictures was presently distracting the media from worrying about skyscraper-sized killer robots roaming about loose under the uncertain control of a couple of overconfident lads who never finished school, and he could work with that, too, if only he could think how.

It was a little disturbing, just how cute their Jaeger looked, lying down in the shallows by the embankment, chin propped on one hand, the other open palm up on the ground by the highway -- and how had they even done that? What kind of Conn-Pod contortions had been required to achieve it, the mind truly boggled-- It was ingenious, it meant they hadn't had to use the rappelling lines, but--

He supposed that, objectively considered -- if you weren't responsible for them, even when you were asleep or on the phone or in Brussels or Beijing -- the pictures of the Beckets scrambling down and shaking hands with the truckers, police, and rescue workers were also somewhat charming, and that them posing arm in arm with people in front of her or raising toasts with thermos cups of long-haul coffee was a PR boon, if he let it be. Who knows, maybe they'd won over a few more voters? (The Cultists and Conspiracists were probably beyond hope, even with a traffic jam unsnarling.)

Jaeger tea parties -- what WILL they come up with next?

"Giving them homework ought to keep 'em out from underfoot for a few days, at least. And then -- I don't know, Herc, I just don't know."

Unfortunately, he had left them a loophole: while the obvious interpretation of his order was that he wanted both of them to write a twenty-page paper apiece, it was certainly possible to interpret as meaning that both of them were to collaborate on a single twenty-page paper, and since that was the far more congenial version, that was what he got.

(Of course they pulled an all-nighter. That's what they'd always done, so he got it the very next day.)

They had carefully written alternating paragraphs, in alternating spellings and prose styles, and even used different fonts to show who had done which part. They were particularly proud of that touch: that way, he knew they had been scrupulously honest! Now the question remained -- did this get adopted as a standard collaborative convention for cadets' homework, or did he need to create an Approved Shatterdome Fonts list with a corresponding Prohibited Fonts List?

Arguably the "blood dripping down from the letters" typeface was thematically appropriate -- assuming it wasn't ironic, which was a pretty safe assumption with the Beckets -- but also rather hard to read, even confined to section headings! He thought of entire paragraphs, entire term papers even! rendered in the 3D multicolored characters of video game titles, and shuddered; then he thought of Being The Font Police and shuddered again.

We're not going to replicate the old nonsense of past armies -- we'll come up with entirely NEW nonsense of our own!

With that he bounced back their emails with a note that they needed to convert all copy to a single serif or sans serif Roman alphabet and NOT a titling font, or he would have them blocked from every free font website out there, on any device they might think to try -- but they were to highlight each alternating paragraph in a light background hue.

What hue, Sir?

That was Yancy's response; his brother's IM was much more dramatic:

how???

????????????

???????????????????????

???????????????????????????????

Fortunately he was able to arrest it before it filled up his entire message window, and before it spread to other random Corps members who happened to be on-system at the time, replying in short order:

PICK ANY TWO FROM THE LIGHTEST REGISTER.
TWO »DIFFERENT« ONES. --SP

and

SELECT PARA.
RIGHT CLICK.
SELECT 'HIGHLIGHT' FROM MENU.
IT WILL BE THE THIRD ONE DOWN.
PICK COLOR FROM SWATCH MENU.
ONLY USE THE TOP ROW!
BE SURE IT IS »»NOT«« THE SAME AS YANCY'S!
CHECK AGAIN!
CLICK OFF THE MENU.
CLICK OFF PARA.
SELECT NEXT PARA OF YOUR COPY.
CONTINUE TO END OF DOCUMENT.
DO NOT, REPEAT NOT,
»»»NOT«««
CONFUSE YOUR SECTIONS
WITH YOUR BROTHER'S! --SP

And then he closed his eyes, thinking wearily that this was what it all came to, all the glory and power and dominion of being Marshal of the Pan Pacific Defence Corps, painstakingly explaining document formatting to a boy who could fire a plasma cannon in his sleep because he had no other way to discipline the Heroes of Earth -- it wasn't as if you could ground Jaeger pilots and send someone else up in their bird, like the old days! -- and be damned if he'd have them waste their time on brutal stupidities like push-ups -- or heh, writing lines.

No, they were going to learn something from these so-called learning experiences, no matter how many brain cells he had to sacrifice for that cause--

o wow thast so easy TY TY TY thot u need a special app 4 that!!!

Not for the first time, Stacker Pentecost cursed the American education system with its scattershot irregularity and unpredictable inequities -- no matter how bad the one at home was, this one never failed to surprise and appall him.

How could a teenager who'd had enough of a smattering of Spanish and other languages to carry on meaningful, if basic, verbal convos with the techs and crews at other Shatterdomes even before he enlisted in the Academy, NOT be able to spell in his own native tongue? How could someone who could reskin the world's most advanced VR simulator not know basic keyboarding and word processing, let alone nearly flunk his computer classes at school?

Well, the first one was easy -- he'd learned such foreign language skills as he possessed from children's television programs (which were significantly better at cultural transmission than other mainstream institutions tended to be) and honed them with online gaming chat later on -- and customizing game interfaces was something both fun and rewarded by the applause of one's peers, so there were real incentives there, not only "your score on a meaningless scale will be reduced by people you don't respect for entirely arbitrary reasons," which only worked if there were significant exterior pressure to value said scale and score as a ticket to higher goals.

Which rather required some evidence that such performances would affect the future, and however oblivious children might appear, they were pretty good at picking up signals from between the overt lines. He sighed, and braced himself to read their efforts...

An hour later he sat with his knuckles pressed to his lips, wondering what had possessed him to do this to himself.

It was painfully obvious which of them had written which paragraph, and that they had been scrupulously honest in not "doing over" each other's work -- or rather, that Yancy hadn't corrected his junior sibling's spelling (or grammar, or punctuation) in the least, something he'd had to have a talk with them about in the Academy, and then given up on, after the elder Becket had pointed out that every professional writer had proofreaders and editors and weren't they supposed to be preparing for the real world in college? The Jaeger Academy was sort of like college, right?

The upshot had been that students were now allowed to openly "look over" each other's work, so long as they did so openly, which meant adding their names to the papers as Official Beta Readers and losing OBR points off their own grades for mis-corrected work.

Unofficial beta reading got both participants docked the entire score, for dishonesty, when caught.

Surprisingly few cadets did either, after the new academic rule was put in place -- the Jaeger Academy tended to attract both the inordinately self confident and the extremely unconfident (yielding, one hoped, a finished turnout of people with a proper sense and valuation of their abilities, neither too high nor too low) so the former mostly didn't see the need for correction and the latter didn't dare!

And the Beckets went on submitting middle-of-the-road (or, more usually, bumping-along-the-shoulder-of-the-road) papers with sometimes-startling ideas at the core of them, in prose that had been superficially smoothed out by Yancy's more competent hand, just like they'd always done at school.

But since the purpose of the academic program at the Academy wasn't either to torture the students or the faculty, or to provide a bullshit rationale for demerits, but solely to combine general overview and survey knowledge of important but not necessarily previously imparted areas of information -- along with the sorts of basic research and communication skills that would be crucial in making reports as well as useful in general civilian life, if they chose to leave the PPDC -- this had been acceptable.

Now he realized just how much better than acceptable it had been, and what a horror those assignments would have been, if he'd not allowed them to go on as they had.

At first he'd been tempted to split the sections apart into two documents, just to try to make it flow better -- but then he realized that it turned into a dialogue almost at once, so you really had to read it as one continuous text, like a debate transcript--

It wasn't an argument, exactly, more a chorus of OMG RLY? THAT MAKES NO SENSE and I know, right? Why didn't they teach us this in Social Studies? I thought it was all about some Australian duke getting shot and which got progressively more profane and full of capslock as it went on.

It wasn't very sophisticated tactical or strategic analysis, but they did seem to grasp the basic principles of This Is Why You Endeavor To Be Inside The Fortified Structure Not Outside It (But Then You Are Vulnerable To Being Bombed Because You Cannot Take Evasive Action) and also Frontal Assaults Are A Bad Idea & Here Is Why, so that counted for...well, quite a lot, really. He'd seen worse, at Cranwell, even if they'd had fewer typos and grammatical errors.

It did get rather strange when they started wondering whether a cypress and a pine tree were the same thing and started calling up random botanists -- fortunately they'd confined their inquiries to the other side of the ocean and so all the responses were along the lines of "Is this some kind of drunken student prank?" and not "Don't you people know what TIME it is?" (and --once convinced that it wasn't the former --"But I'm not a historian, I'm a botanist," until it was explained why they needed someone who could tell them about the botany of the Aegean coast, right away!)

They'd picked up his folksongs clue and run with it, ending up at a Turkish ballad of the battle, and gotten diverted wondering whether or not the "single cypress" in it was the "Lone Pine" of the Allies, before finally giving up with a split verdict of poetic license, or maybe a different dead tree? Because they hadn't been able to find anyone online awake at that point in Canakkale who could tell them from family tradition--which was the first thing they'd tried, as the obvious solution.

Well, it was -- but it was astonishing how many professional authors for major publications never bothered to pick up the phone or type an IM to someone with first-hand knowledge or connections, even now! Sometimes his cadets did him proud, and he raised his coffee cup to them, while still wincing at their prose.

He hadn't told them to make a multimedia presentation, but he hadn't told them not to, either, and the (authorized, if informally with an "Is it okay if we quote you, Professor?" ) audio recordings of confused botanists up and down the western seaboard of the Pacific were the only levity in all their grim chronicling, both of the siege itself and their reactions to discovering it, which had long lost any pretence of academic dispassion (or standard prose format) and collapsed into ranting horror at the realization that war in "the old days" was nothing like their movies:

HOLY SHIT THAT IS LIKE OUR ENTIRE CLASS @ THE ACAD

You know what's worse? That's just one day! One day's fighting, Raleigh!

o god no ur wrong ITS 1 DAY 1 UNITT

This is way worse than Saving Private Ryan.

INORITE how did they KEEP IT GOIGN IT FOR MONTHS????????? i mean that, isnt even a fight, that was gettig STOMPED over and over and over and over again!!!!!!!!!

The Jaeger Academy taught strategy and tactics in relation to fighting Kaiju, and logistics solely in relation to Shatterdome support, and military history not at all -- partly because there was no point in it, and no time to waste on things that had no point, and partly because that was the Grand Bargain at the heart of the Jaeger Program itself: that Jaegers would never, ever be used as weapons of war against any human being.

Only that pledge, and the deceptively sturdy structure of precautions enforcing it, allowed their shield to even exist -- and in the end, it all rested on a foundation composed of facts such as this, that his pilots were a couple of lads who had spent a whole night weeping and raging at the senseless slaughter of other lads who had died before their grandparents were born...

The rest of it, that point where the two issues converged, the way that it was nigh impossible to even discuss ancient and not so ancient history without everyone starting to refight old wars and fracture along ever finer plates of difference, was a risk he had taken -- partly because he'd lost his temper with them, true, but also because, at the bedrock under the foundation, he trusted them -- trusted them not to go that route, not to get distracted by surface details.

That was he'd chosen those two sites out of all the possible Great Military Fiascoes -- well, that and the way they showed up in more than one ballad refrain -- and they'd researched both, as scrupulously as they had divvied up their task, both the horror of being the besiegers forcing their way up across bare beaches without any cover but scrub that turned to literal fields of fire, and the horror of being the besieged, stuck under the pounding of the long guns with nowhere to go, nothing to do but hold out and hope the other fellows gave up first --

They'd even drawn some glimmerings of connection between the disaster -- and it had been as much of a disaster for winners as for losers in terms of sheer carnage, unless you were going by the Lord Rust method of scoring battles! -- and subsequent political upheavals in the 20th century, although they quickly got lost in the thickets of serious commentary (for which he couldn't blame them much!) and gave up (but at least they hadn't just copied paragraphs from the encyclopedia with small changes, they'd argued about what the experts might be saying instead.)

I GUESS IF, U FU A WAR THEN, NOBDOY WILL TRUST U W A GOVM AGAN LOL

Well I wouldn't, would you?

It was an utter train wreck, as academic papers went, but it was a much more interesting train wreck than most history assignments were, and he felt confident that they had at least gotten something out of the task--even if he wasn't entirely sure that the message of AMPHIBIOUS LANDINGS--AVOID! had sunk in sufficiently.

But they'd tracked down all the names they could online, of all the casualties from every country, and attached them as a separate PDF file, with all of them mixed together in alphabetical order, not divided by "sides", and when he was sure of his voice he paged them both and thanked them for being so prompt and told them their work was satisfactory and they didn't need to redo any of it.

"So you liked it, huh?" Young Raleigh was ever hopeful and, well, needy -- if a little less bouncy than usual for him!

"It was -- adequate," Pentecost said, being honest. "Your diligence and thoroughness does you both a great deal of credit."

"Thank you, Marshal," said Yancy with relief. "Because, honestly, Sir, that was really grim and I don't know how much more of it I could take. "

"Well, don't make reckless charges onto land without consultation, and you won't have to."

"Yessir. Doing push-ups like in the movies would have been a lot more fun."

"I know."

Raleigh, however, wasn't quite done, and paged him back after a minute.

"Umm...can I talk to you about it, Sir?"

"Very well," Pentecost agreed, dubiously. "Go ahead."

"I mean, can I come to your office and ask you?"

"All right," and then wondered and fretted over what it could be.

Probably going to point out that the moral of the story is, DON'T listen to the old men, they'll get you KILLED!

But it turned out that he only wanted to vent a little more on how different history was from his video games, or historical movies, or even documentaries that he'd watched, and couldn't think of anyone else, or better, to turn to than the one who'd inflicted the trauma on him.

(Given that the Beckets would sooner have chewed tinfoil than gone to see a guidance counselor -- with good reason, given their experiences -- in high school, this was a greater honour than the Marshal realized and would have found rather touching, if he had, though still preferring to forgo it.)

After almost an hour of non-linear exclamations interspersed with confused questions about a confused strategy and its correspondingly confused, not to say irrational, meatgrinder tactics, the young man finally exclaimed in frustration, "I, I just -- I can't really believe anybody would keep, you know...doing that. Like, why didn't they just say, no, we're not gonna go get killed for nothing any more?"

"Sometimes men did. They were shot for desertion."

Blink.

"But....what if like, EVERYBODY refused?"

"Then they were all shot, for mutiny."

"But --" He bit his lip. "The guys who did it, they were other army guys too? So, like, they were shooting their own guys because they didn't want to get shot by the other guys -- or, like burned up--" Becket made an extremely expressive gesture of horror, 'Suvla' now plainly meant something more to him than a rallying-cry whose origins were mostly lost in the mists of time and sentiment -- "and then they'd go and get shot, or burned up, themselves?"

Pentecost nodded.

"That's -- sick."

"Yes."

"We can't let that happen again, Sir."

"Lots of people have said that," he replied with a grim edge of humour that he couldn't quite keep out. "They called it 'The War to End All Wars,' you know."

"Yeah, we saw that -- so why did they do it all over again a couple years later?"

Oh. So THIS is what making snap judgments in the heat of temper gets you -- wide-eyed innocents asking you to explain thousands of years of world history, just like that!

"A lot of scholars have spent their whole careers trying to answer that one, Ranger," he said drily, making a mental note to look for some decent online multimedia courses in 20th century politics to forward him. "Now, since you're here -- do you understand why it was wrong of you to depart from your scheduled program, much less make an unauthorized landing in an undesignated zone in what was not -- despite the presence of emergency services -- an emergency scenario?"

The younger pilot started to nod -- then stopped & shook his head, round-eyed as a kitten.

"Well. Sorry to hear that...but points for honesty, Mr. Becket. What you should have done was report back to base what you'd seen. Then we could have dispatched a helicopter to help remove the overturned trailers. But only after asking the local authorities if they even WANTED us to do that."

"Oh."

"Yes, 'oh,' indeed. It's good you didn't make things worse. It's good nobody got hurt. It's good that you didn't break anything except some bits of rock by the wayside there, and yes, your Army Corp of Engineers IS checking as we speak to be certain your weight didn't destabilize the underlying structure enough that the roadbed's likely to wash out in the future."

"--Oh." A much smaller, more thoughtful monosyllable, this time. "But..." And then, astonishingly, he stopped.

"But what?" What am I doing, encouraging him? "What don't you understand?"

"Well -- we march in parades, right in the cities! So why isn't that a problem?"

"It is a problem," Pentecost retorted bluntly, "but it's been judged to be less of a problem than the morale boost is a benefit. And so we drill on balance and absolutely perfect muscle control, so you can walk a yellow line in your sleep -- and I hold my breath until the damn things are over, hoping none of you trip and take out an office building. They're worse than airshows, but that's the price everyone's decided is worth risking."

Watching Raleigh Becket's brow furrow in response to a new and strange concept was fascinating, in a morbid way. But at least it meant he wasn't interrupting.

"In a Jaeger, you are as big, and as dangerous, as a Kaiju. I know it doesn't feel that way, when you're piloting -- you still feel like yourselves --but you need to understand how helpless and fragile humanity is, against weapons like you. That's why I gave you that assignment."

Slowly, like ice melting off a rock-face, incomprehension began to yield to understanding of the bigger picture. It was rather painful to witness. Still, he pressed on (and at least he'd only have to do this once! since he was, effectively, speaking to them both.)

"You train in the sims in virtual cities, because you can't always keep them out. Sometimes they're too fast, or too sneaky, and we can't be everywhere at once. But that is the last thing you want to ever have to do, in a real fight. You never want to risk risk human casualties."

The words "collateral damage" were something people only said under his roof once.

He let his cadence sink into the grimmest lecturing mode he could manage, keeping his eyes locked on the lad's.

"Sometimes you can't help causing them. We have to trust local authorities to handle evacuations, though we help coordinate as we can, and then we have to put it out of our minds to fight. But would you be careless around the Jumphawks?" And at that a spark of enlightenment clicked, because if there was one thing that was hammered home to prospective pilot candidates from day one at the Academy, it was how fragile, for all their magnificence, their awesome power and bladed lethality, were the helicopters on which they all depended.

"We weren't careless, Sir," Becket said in a hoarse whisper.

"No. You weren't. But you weren't responsible, either." And this time there was no resistance in look, or word, or gesture. "Now. Go ask Mr. Choi to set you up with a typing tutorial, because your keyboard skills are a disgrace to the Corps. I can't let this slide any longer -- you're going to learn how to type properly before the year is over."

For once Raleigh Becket opened his mouth to speak, and nothing came out.

"At least 50 words per minute, with no more than average errors, because I know you can spell better than this -- your handwriting is better than your texts!" The pilot looked aghast.

"I'm still being punished? Sir -- WHY?"

The Marshal smiled, and he flinched.

"This isn't punishment, Becket -- it's your reward for all your hard work. I'm going to make it easier for you in the future. No more having to have your brother write your after-action reports for you!"

"But I can type fine!"

"On the contrary, you can barely type at all. It's cryptography, not standard English, and it's coming to an end." He knew how wretchedly the younger brother had done in his high school Keyboarding class -- and how he compensated with abbreviation and a high error tolerance for it to keep his speed up -- and so added, "Think of it as another kind of video game -- accuracy gets you high scores. It's just target practice."

Becket nodded, looking woebegone, but squared his shoulders and dutifully strolled off to his fate.

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"Gallipoli -- It Really Sucked." Hansen shook his head. "They've got a way with words, those two."

"Tell me about it."

"Think they'll do it again?"

"Not this, but I'm sure they'll think of something worse soon enough. --Is this a boy thing? Mako doesn't go in for stunts like this!" The taste of one's own words is never pleasant, as he would discover in a very short time, when her secondary school contacted him about his ward climbing on the roof...

"Look, I've nothing else to compare to," the other man shrugged with his free hand. "All I can say is, they'll grow out of it? Maybe?"

"Can't be soon enough! They're going to put me in a straightjacket, one of these days -- Herc, what IS that on your computer?" He couldn't quite see the Ranger's entire monitor, but what he could see of it was dreadfully familiar--

"Huh? What?" His friend gave him a dazzlingly innocent grin.

"That -- you've got them as your bloody wallpaper! You--! What TREACHERY is this?! Oh, it is ON now, Mr. Hansen!"

"Hah, do your worst -- I'm not scared of anything y'can throw at me!"

"Oh? You think so? Right, I'll have you know, Tendo has the entire Wayback Machine tagged and catalogued here -- and much, much more. I have every video from every Eurovision contest, at my fingertips. In HD. And you'll never know what's a real report, until you click on it."

"You wouldn't!"

"Set and match, I think."

"You fiend!" Hansen slouched in his chair, displaying the whole desktop with his Rangers waving enthusiastically in front of the golden visor, semi-trailers and logs and cement rings stacked about like it was all some bizarre toy set. "When're you coming down this way?"

"I'm in Santiago the 9th and Jakarta the 14th, so I was going to stop over on my way through, if that's okay by you? Oh, how do you feel about moose steaks?"

"Moose?"

"Got a bunch of it in the mess hall freezer. Sheriff dropped off 'our share' once it was properly butchered, even though we had nothing to do with it. It's not half bad -- I can send you a cryo canister with the current backups."

"The police give you road kill there? Stacker, you live in a very strange place."

"Says the man who swears otter-ducks are real."

"Oh, gawd, this again? They're not a hoax. Everybody knows that."

"You keep saying that, and I keep never seeing any there."

"What about the zoo?"

"Animatronics. That's easy. All that talk about poison, that's just an excuse to keep people from looking too close at them."

"You've put far too much thought into this."

"How many people do you know who've ever seen one in the wild?"

"Lots!"

"Now, were you there when they saw them? Be honest, Herc."

The Australian pilot rolled his eyes, grinning.

"Fine -- there's no such thing as a platypus, it's a fabulous monster -- just like your moose. 'Cos I've never seen them either, except in photomanips and obviously faked taxidermies. Nothing could be that big and stupid-looking. "

"They're in Europe, too."

"Well, pff, you say there's a Europe, but I haven't seen that, either."

As his friend stared at him in unfeigned disbelief, he went on blithely, "You can be skeptical about the existence of platypuses, I can be skeptical about everything."

They managed to keep straight faces for about seven more seconds, and then both lost it completely.

"What would anyone think, if they heard us talkin' like this?"

"Top secret code, I'm sure. It's almost a shame to keep redirecting Langley's hacks to MI6 and vice versa -- a few hours listening to the Beckets and they'd never try to tap our phones again." Pentecost yawned, suddenly very aware how exhausted he was, and that he needed to pace himself better -- if the rest of the world would allow him to. "Sorry. It's been a long two days."

"Just get yourself down here so we can grill up your road kill an' have a beer together in the same time zone, alright?" Hansen nodded towards the monitor on his desk, with that lopsided smile of his. "Besides, you gotta remember, it could be so much worse, and I don't mean outcomes alone. It's not like they were hotdoggin' and took out a ski-lift or anything. Didn't even break any windows showin' off! They're good kids, you know they are -- you picked them."

And that was the trouble, the Marshal thought, afterwards. They hadn't done it out of any thoughts of popularity or congratulations or the like, let alone thrill-seeking -- they'd just seen some trouble and run straight for it, without any thoughts at all.

There were words for people like that, and one of them was 'heroes', and the rest -- didn't bear thinking about.

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