Eighteen thousand words and I gotta admit I’ve just petered out on this one. Mostly just self-indulgent infodump, but it does end sort of okay-ish, if a bit in the middle of the action? Whatever. Here it is!
The morning everything changes, Hermann spends a good twenty minutes in front of the mirror, trying to decide what to wear. Ridiculous, of course; fussing like a schoolboy, changing shirts three times and pants twice. Trying to find something that looks . . . nice? Is nice the right word? Not cool. Hermann gave up on cool four decades ago and isn’t about to try and pick it back up now. He’s spent the last decade trying to put down “old fashioned,” for the wrong reasons, maybe, but . . .
Sod it. This is getting him nowhere. Black button-down and slacks it is. Because it’s easy, and it’s there, and it all gets covered over with his coat, anyway. The one Karla had bought him, years ago now, in disgust over seeing him in his old parka on the news. It’s solid and also black and Hermann thinks it makes him look somewhat Igor-esque but it’s good quality, and fashionable—or at least it was when Karla had bought it—and, importantly, it keeps the wind out, of which there is far too much, standing out on the tarmac waiting for the delegation to arrive.
Hermann’s hands twist anxiously on the head of his cane. The wind is doing nothing for his hair but maybe that’s for the best (what would be better? Looking like he’d made an effort or not?) and Hermann forces himself not to try and fix it as the helicopter lands and the group from Shao Industries steps out.
Hermann hears Newt before he sees him. Nearly a decade since they last spoke in person and that voice still has him hurtling back to the middle of a reeking, rusting lab in the dark days of a desperate war. Is it pathetic, to still feel that way, after all this time? This strange, sad withering away he’s endured; not a bang, but a whimper? And he’s tried, Lord he’s tried. To give Newt space. To not . . . cling. The War had been the War and after they’d (hah!) drifted apart. Different lives and different worlds. Only natural, really, for two such different men. No reason to expect anything else. Foolish, to think otherwise.
Nearly ten years since they saw each other in person, four since they’ve exchanged so much as an email. Hermann isn’t sure what he expected. (And what he’d hoped? Well. No-one needs to know.) What he gets, however, is Newt in the middle of what appears to be a full-blow row with none other than Liwen Shao herself. Whatever is going on—Hermann’s Mandarin is still somewhat lacking and Newt is talking tremendously fast, as always—Ms. Shao was apparently not expecting it, and looks somewhat shell-shocked. As do the rest of the delegation, glancing nervously around and all trying to edge behind their boss.
For his part, and despite his animation, Newt seems barely involved in the argument at all; more interested instead in scanning the tarmac. He’s almost unrecognizable as the man Hermann once knew, dressed in an impeccably tailored three-piece suit in pinstripe grey, a pair of sunglasses hooked into the v of his waistcoat but no frames on his face. (He stopped wearing them years ago, something Hermann had noticed from news footage and photographs on technology websites. Hermann misses them, and scolds himself for the feeling.) About the only thing familiar, in fact, is Newt’s hair; still a wild rats’ nest, albeit an artfully tousled one. And maybe it’s that that catches Hermann’s heart in his throat—that one little piece of familiarity, after all this time—because in so many ways Newt looks so unlike himself, but because of that hair he is stunning.
He’s also looking straight at Hermann. Their eyes lock, of course, at the moment Hermann almost certainly has the most unbecoming, besotted expression on his face and Newt sees it, he must do, and after all this time his regard is exhilarating, electrifying. Like falling into Drift all over again. (In more ways that one, Hermann will admit to himself. Later, when all this is done.) Like that one exquisite moment when Hermann is finally seen, and what Newt does in response is break out in an absolutely rakish grin (not an expression of the man Hermann once knew which, again; a thought for later) and say, “Hermann!” and immediately begin to head Hermann’s way.
Shao barks at him to come back but Newt just waves her off, as if she barely registers. When he replies, it’s some baffling combination of what Hermann would swear is a “fuck off,” a “we quit,” and, of all things, an “enjoy jail.” This seems to stun Shao into silence, and before she can reply the PPDC’s delegation has closed in, and Newt ignores them all in favor of throwing open his arms and saying, “Dude!” as he bears down on Hermann with all the inevitability of an approaching kaiju.
Hermann is still trying to figure out how to respond—it’s been so long, should it be “Newt” or perhaps something more formal—when he’s engulfed in an absolutely crushing hug and all he can manage is a startled, “ . . . oh.”
This is not the greeting he was expecting. (Is exactly the one he was hoping for, in the dark and the quiet where no one would ever know.) But, sod it. It’s here, and Hermann allows himself to indulge it, just a little. Newt is warm and solid and good in his arms, if significantly thinner and oddly firmer than Hermann remembers. He smells like expensive hair gel and designer cologne, and the wool of his suit and the silk brocade at the back of his waistcoat feel almost decadent beneath Hermann’s hands. Hermann never, ever wants to let go, and Newt doesn’t seem inclined to force him. Meaning they embrace for perhaps a touch too closely, for perhaps a touch too long, for estranged ex . . . colleagues? Friends? (Almost lovers?)
It’s Hermann who pulls back, tries to get some semblance of himself composed enough to say: “Newt, I, uh. Is . . . is everything all right?” His eyes flick to where Shao is being corralled away by the Secretary General.
“Pfft,” says Newt, flicking fingers dismissively. (He has charcoal black nails. How very odd. And very him.) “Don’t worry about that. That can sort itself out later. It’s been way too long, dude. Way too long.” He still hasn’t quite let go, hand warm against Hermann’s shoulder. Closer, now, Hermann can see how he’s aged; hairline perhaps a little further back, grey starting to accrue around the temples. Fine lines around his eyes; far bluer than Hermann remembers, almost startlingly so. (Hadn’t they been greener, before? Perhaps just a side-effect of always seeing them through glass.)
“I, ah.” What does Hermann say? He had everything planned out (may I have a moment of your time?), but he’d been expecting an almost-stranger. Not . . . this. “You look well,” is what he eventually blurts.
Newt’s expression softens, and it’s only in doing so Hermann realizes how sharp it had been before. “You too, dude,” he says. “Finally grown into your old professor shtick.” Teasing, but there’s a fondness to his expression and the way he still hasn’t removed his hand. Shakes Hermann’s shoulder just slightly as he says, “C’mon. Got us a leave pass from Makes for a few hours and a table at Caprice. Gonna take you out to lunch and you’re gonna tell us all about what cool shit you’ve been up to this last decade.”
“You— I . . .” Hermann is definitely not prepared for this. He’d thought he’d be able to lure Newt into his lab for a chat. He wasn’t expecting a— a date. “Caprice?” he finally manages to stutter. “That’s, ah. Rather posh, isn’t it?” It is, indeed, rather posh. Hermann has never been, but—
“You’ve always wanted to go, yeah?” Newt starts pushing him, gently, towards the gates. “Our treat. Got a car waiting and everything.”
“What about the, ah. The pres— Did you really just quit your job?”
“Yup!” Newt says, brightly, unclipping his sunglasses and slipping them on. They make him look less himself, more like the man Hermann’s become used to seeing in promotional stills and photoshoots. “Walking away from like half a billion in options shit but, hey. Fuck those golden handcuffs, amirite?”
(He means RMB, Hermann thinks. He must mean RMB. And even so . . . dear Lord. Lunch at Caprice it is, then.)
“Not really gonna be a thing after today, anyway,” Newt adds, somewhat cryptically. “If SI lasts the week then we didn’t do our job right.” That sharpness is back, an edge in his voice and in his grin. Nothing he’d ever had, before, and something about it rubs uneasy and restless in the back of Hermann’s mind. Like a pebble he can’t quite kick free from his shoe.
“Is this . . . about the drone programme?” Hermann guesses.
“Man, we can just hear you putting in those extra letters. Missed you, you pretentious fake-British asshole.” Fond, if very obviously not an answer. Hermann decides to let it go, lest it turn into something less . . . cordial. Because everything is going so swimmingly and Hermann does not want to fight. Hermann wants to go enjoy an exorbitant lunch and reconnect with his estranged friend. Anything else—any little pebbles, digging at his sole—can wait.
Lunch is exquisite.
They have a beautiful table with a stunning view of the city, and Newt orders them a bottle of champagne Hermann does not even want to guess the cost of, then says: “So. Little birdie tells me you’ve been doing work on a new fuel source.”
He has an absolutely wicked gleam in his eye as he says it, sprawled far-too-casually in his chair. He’s taken off his sunglasses and jacket and rolled his sleeves to the elbows (Hermann is almost startled to see the tattoos again, which . . . how ridiculous, where did he think they’d go?) and he almost, almost looks like his old self. Bar the perfectly knotted tie and the perfectly tailored clothes.
It’s disorientating, the way he oscillates so freely between an older version of the man Hermann once knew and . . . someone else. It’s when Hermann’s been talking for ten straight minutes with barely any prompting that he realizes Newt is doing it deliberately. In fact, Hermann has been doing almost all of the talking since they left the Shatterdome. Newt had always been a babbler and an over-sharer but he wields silence now like a scalpel; neat and precise cuts effortlessly sliding through Hermann’s natural awkward standoffishness.
He doesn’t think it’s malicious, not exactly. Hermann would be the first to admit he is not the best at reading people, but he knows blank stares and glazed-over boredom and Newt shows him neither. He answers when Hermann asks questions but rarely interrupts unprompted, the way his younger self would’ve done, and has revealed next-to-nothing about his own last decade. It’s this realization that finally has Hermann spluttering to a stop, fingers digging sharply into his ruined knee, eyes casting about desperately for something he can ask from Newt in turn.
It’s then that he notices the wedding ring.
Newt is wearing several rings, mostly bulky and ostentatious and jeweled, and at least two MIT class rings (different faculties, different years). Next to them, the band on his left hand is remarkably plain; white gold or perhaps platinum, wide and unadorned. It is absolutely a wedding ring. Hermann could imagine Newt wearing a ring on that finger for no particular reason but couldn’t imagine him wearing that ring at all, unless it had been given to him by someone dear. And suddenly, Hermann’s chest feels very tight, and the air in the restaurant very thin. Of course, he thinks. He’s brilliant and handsome and successful. Why had he expected anything else?
He must stare at the ring a little too long, and Newt notices, shifting his hand off the table and flexing the fingers. He looks . . . not guilty, exactly, but . . .
“You, ah. You got married,” Hermann says. Trying for something, anything. (A wedding invitation. Surely he’d merited that, at least?)
“Ah,” says Newt, and it’s the first time Hermann’s seen him off-balance. “It’s, uh. Kinda complicated.”
Hermann absolutely does not feel heartened to hear that—that would be dreadfully crass—nor at the way Newt seems to come to a decision, and twists the band off his finger, slipping it into his waistcoat pocket.
And Hermann says:
“Is it Alice?” There’d been an Alice; Newt had mentioned her several times, in fact, over the years. Always in half-sincere invitations Hermann had never accepted, had never felt he was really supposed to accept. He’d had no idea she and Newt had wed.
Except here, today, Newt just blinks at him. Then he bursts out laughing.
“Oh,” he says. “Oh, fuck. Of course you’d think— Oh, shit, dude. That’s just . . . this who thing is so messed up.”
“What—?” To many little stones, and Hermann can feel it, feel the metaphorical hackles rising on the back of his neck, feel a decade of desperately pushed down feelings—hurt and anger and love—come bubbling to the surface and just before they break Newt says:
“Sorry. Sorry, not laughing at you, it’s us. It’s all on us.” He’s holding both hands out, placating, and does look sincerely contrite enough that Hermann swallows his pride and decides to hear him out. “It’s just,” Newt is saying, “Alice. She, uh. She’s not a human person, dude. Pretty sure we couldn’t marry if we tried.”
And Hermann says:
And everything he’s been feeling, everything that’s been building, drops out of him so fast he’s almost shocked it doesn’t splash out all over the floor.
“I, uh,” he says. “You always spoke about her as if—”
“As if there was this super-cool secret girlfriend you’d never met? Yeah.” He laughs, but Hermann thinks it’s at himself. Dark and self-deprecating. “Almost like we were trying to make it sound like the last decade hadn’t been a lonely miserable shithole.”
And this . . . Hermann has no idea what to say to this. What can he say? “I never realized . . .” Newt had everything he’d ever wanted; money and fame and attention, perhaps not a literal rockstar but definitely a figurative one.
Newt waves a hand, dismissive. “Worked pretty hard trying to make sure you didn’t,” he says. “Seemed really imperative to do at the time but, actually, not so much. Probably just about the stupidest decision made by any human ever in the history of time, actually.”
“Why—?” There’s the hurt, bubbling up again. Why spend so much effort, pushing Hermann away, only to regret it so badly? They haven’t always been on the best of terms but, at least after the War, Hermann had thought . . .
“It’s a long story,” Newt is saying. “And super shitty. We promise we’ll tell you the whole thing when we get back to the ‘Dome, okay? But for now . . . can we just, like. Have lunch?”
Another pebble, then. And Hermann’s heart aches and his head feels strange from the champagne, and he looks down at his (frankly, delicious) quenelles and caviar and he comes to a decision.
“Yes,” he says. “All right.”
Newt exhales, honestly relieved and perhaps the most truly open expression he’s yet shown. “Thank you,” he says. “It’s just—” He stops himself, gestures vaguely. “Thanks, dude. We never did deserve you.”
(“We” again. Of course Hermann has noticed. It’s a strange affectation to be sure, but Hermann’s always been somewhat awkward around the etiquette of asking for pronouns and he doesn’t know exactly how to raise it. Is Newt a “they” now, rather than a “he”? And if so, why the change? Is it rude to ask? Is it ruder to guess?)
“And, hey,” Newt is saying, brighter and apparently oblivious to Hermann’s internal panic. “When we get back, you can finally meet Alice.”
Alice. Alice the non-human-person Alice. Alice the who-the-fuck-is and . . . oh. Oh, Hermann supposes that’s exactly the joke, yes.
“She . . . she came with you?” he asks.
“More like we came with her.” Which clears things up exactly negatively, thank you, Newton. “But, yeah. She’s back at the ‘Dome with the Doc. You can meet him, too.”
Okay, so . . . someone else. Newt and Alice and “Doc.” Is that who Newt means, when he says “we”? What on Earth happened during the last decade? What on Earth is happening now?
Something of his rising concern must show in his face, because Newt gets an achingly familiar, rueful expression and says: “We’re kinda fucking this up, aren’t we?” (Definitely a singular “we,” there.) “You’re getting that look you get, y’know. Like.” He makes what Hermann has to assume is an imitation of Hermann’s own expression; pinched eyes and wide-flat mouth. It is . . . not entirely flattering, but then again Hermann supposes his face never really was.
“Look,” Newt says. “Real talk time: The second we get back to the ‘Dome it’s just gonna be, like. The two-fifteen to Crazytown time. We just kinda wanted to give you a nice couple of hours before things went totally to shit. But, uh . . .” He sighs, shrugging half-heartedly. “If you’re not really feeling it, we can bail. We’re not gonna, like. Trap you here.”
And, pronouns aside, it’s just . . . it’s him. It’s the Newt Hermann remembers. Which is why he blurts: “No. No, this is . . . It’s lovely. It’s been lovely.” I’ve missed you, he doesn’t say. I love you. I don’t know what’s happening and I’m afraid I don’t want to and I never want this to end. Please, just let it be like this a little longer.
And maybe the ghost Drift is real, and Newt hears it. Because he smiles—nothing strange or sharp or off-putting about it—and says: “Yeah. Yeah, dude. Of course.”
Things change, after that. Newt is a little more open about himself, talks a little more. About picking up music again after many years of not playing. About an island he apparently owns (good Lord) in the Pacific, and constructing (he actually uses the term “growing”) a series of cabins; test sites for emerging, low-to-no impact technologies for power generation, waste management, water purification, and home automation.
“Was this . . . work you were doing with Shao?” Hermann asks, and earns a bitter sort of laugh in return.
“Hells no, dude. As if Shao is interested in anything that doesn’t—” He makes a series of pew pew and bwrrrrrrr and pwfth and similar sounds indicating, Hermann assumes, weapons systems. “We wouldn’t give them this tech if they paid us.”
Newt, Hermann has realized, loathes Shao; both the company and the person, whom he thinks of as some kind of incompetent, rapacious, hypocritical warlord. Hermann isn’t sure what he feels about this revelation; Newt’s public persona has always been of the devoted employee and loyal advocate. But in some of his own tellings he almost sounds like he’s been attempting to undermine the company for the entire tenure of his employment.
Hermann has no idea what to make of it, and decides to shuffle it aside with everything else. A whole shoe full of pebbles, now, like walking on his own private beach. But at least Newt has acknowledged their existence. Hermann isn’t going crazy, isn’t paranoid or delusional with longing and lovesickness. Something strange—and possibly sinister—truly is going on, and Newt is involved in it, and by the sounds of it Hermann soon will be as well. But, for now, lunch truly is lovely and Hermann is enjoying himself immensely. It’s good to talk to Newt again, and talk properly; not the awful, stilted conversations of their last few encounters, and not the panicked arguments of the months after the War, when Hermann had first felt Newt slipping away, and hadn’t known how to keep him.
And because Hermann is no fool, he realizes it’s all a lie. Not just because of the wedding ring, tucked away in Newt’s pocket. Something is . . . not right about Newt. Not just the new aesthetic or the odd pronouns or the switching between the Newt Hermann knows and someone he’s never met. There’s something else, some discomfort he can ignore—laughing and drinking champagne—but that always comes back, in quieter moments. Some strange tinnitus of the soul.
It rears up in the car ride home, when Hermann is full and slightly drunk, when conversation lags and Newt has switched to staring out the window, watching the Hong Kong streets go by with a pensive fascination. Hermann checks his phone, and is somehow unsurprised to see headlines like BREAKING: PPDC RAIDS SHAO INDUSTRIES FACILITIES WORLDWIDE, shaky cellphone footage of stern Corps security personnel in black tactical gear storming into laboratories and factories, corralling confused scientists and workers. HDEBM OUTRAGE: SI EXECUTIVES DETAINED.
Enjoy jail, Newt had said. Two-fifteen to Crazytown, indeed.
It’s not enough, a part of Hermann keeps insisting. It’s part of it but there’s more here. Keep looking. The voice sounds like Newt, which is ironic, Hermann thinks.
The Shatterdome is a flurry of activity when they make it back, trucks and JumpHawks rolling in and out, people scurrying every which way. Pretense apparently dropped, Newt doesn’t even pretend he needs Hermann to escort him through the front door; instead flashes the guard what looks to be an actual, authentic PPDC ID, before swiping himself through the race-gates.
“Hey Doc,” the guard says to Hermann, then amends it to, “Docs. Guess it’s showtime, huh?”
“Er, yes. Quite,” says Hermann, who has absolutely no idea what is going on and no desire to admit as much to anyone he doesn’t have to. He’s the Director of K-Science for crying out loud. If something is going on—something this big, something to do with the HDEBM—why wasn’t he told?
“I . . . I think I rather need to go and see the Marshal,” he says, once they’re both properly in the building. There’s a level of energy to the place Hermann hasn’t felt since, well. Since the War. Since the kaiju.
A group of cadets jogs pasts, much too carelessly, and Hermann catches: “—you see it? In the Jaeger bays? There’s apparently another one, too.”
“Nah,” says Newt, eyes following the cadets with an oddly fond sort of expression. “You’re with us. C’mon.” He actually starts to physically manhandle Hermann, in the direction the cadets had gone.
“I— Excuse me!” Hermann does not want to be manhandled. “Newton, I’ve been very patient but— but this is— What is going on? What—”
Hermann stops. In the middle of a hallway, people rushing past them, shouting calls of, “You gotta see this, man, it’s crazy!” as they go. Newton is a pace or so ahead, watching Hermann with his too-blue eyes and his too-sharp stare, and suddenly it’s like time stretches, like the world stretches, vertiginous and terrible and:
“What is going on?” Hermann repeats. “Tell me, Newton, I—”
And Newt says, in a voice so alien and strange:
“Are you sure you’re asking the right question?”
And the bottom drops out of Hermann’s world.
“Who are you?” He can barely hear himself, over the ruckus in the hall, the pounding of his heart, the tinnitus in his soul.
This is not Newton Geiszler. Hermann doesn’t know how he knows but—
“Hah!” And suddenly time is rushing back, and the world is rushing in, and the thing-that-is-not-Newton is grinning a self-satisfied grin and says: “It’s weird, right? You can totally tell. We look almost exactly identical to a dude you’ve barely seen in the last ten years and you can still tell. You don’t know how you can tell, but you can tell.”
“See, first guess was that it’s a Drift side-effect but it works on non-Drift partners, too. Like, we could tell Makes wasn’t our Makes the second she walked in. Herms half thinks it might be due to, like, quantum resonance or some shit but the other half of the time he’s trying to convince himself that’s ‘unscientific poppycock’”—a reasonable impression of Hermann’s own voice, which . . . no, no he’ll think of that later—“so who knows. But yeah, you’re not going crazy, it’s totally a thing. And before you have an aneurism, because we can see you’re about to: you’re only half right. We’re still Newt Geiszler. We’re just not your Newt Geiszler.”
“I—” is as far as Hermann gets. Then the Newt-who-is-not-Newt, the— the Doctor Geiszler, is coming towards him, reaching an arm behind Hermann’s back and gently pushing him down the hallway.
“C’mon, walk and we’ll explain,” Geiszler says, and so help him, Hermann does.
“So, like. Tl;dr version: parallel universes exist, and exist in the most totally stupid Saturday morning TV way possible.”
“Oh.” That . . . makes sense. Hermann supposes. As much as anything else, at least.
“Another version of you,” Geiszler is saying, “not our version but another another version, figured out a way to, like. Basically punch a Breach sideways, so instead of hitting the Anteverse, it hits another one of our Earths. And ‘cause of dumb quantum shit you can explain to yourself later, the connections don’t have to be ‘temporally synched.’” Said like it’s a fight over a name he’s lost before.
“Time travel,” Hermann guesses. “You’re talking about time travel.” Which, yes. Yes he can see how he would object to that particular way of phrasing it, just as he can see why it’s how Newt would immediately want to describe it.
“Bingo. So, us? We’re from about five years into the future of a universe that’s otherwise pretty similar to yours. And, dude? We will not lie; they’ve been some rough years. We, uh. We did something pretty dumb, while we were at Shao, and we’re kind of here to, uh. Like. Stop ourself.”
“Oh, Lord.” The raids. “Please. Newt, our Newt, is he—?”
“He’s fine.” Geiszler winces the second he says it, almost immediately corrects himself with: “He’s safe. Mako’s people, hah, shanghaied him in Shanghai about a week ago, and we kinda, pfft”—he makes a swooping motion with his hand—“just slotted ourself right back in. Had to shave our beard to do it, too. Tsch. Feels weird being face-naked again.” He strokes at his chin as if in emphasis.
“I want to see him,” Hermann says. “I . . . please.”
“We know,” says Geiszler, not unsympathetically. “And you will. Just gotta do a bit more expodump on you, first. And take you to meet Alice.”
“Newton, for God’s sake I do not care one whit about meeting your— your— whatever this ‘Alice’ is.”
“Yeah, we know you think so—”
“Do not presume to tell me what I do and don’t think!”
Of all things, this makes Geiszler laugh, honestly fond, and say: “Aa-aa-and he’s back.” He’s reaching into his pocket as he says it, pulling out his wedding ring and slipping it back on and—
He’s not Hermann’s Newton. He’s not Hermann’s Newton and Alice is not a “human person” (what an odd way of phrasing it), and—
No. No, dear Lord. Now is not the time.
“Some things are just easier to explain if we show you,” Geiszler is saying. “Like . . . this isn’t exactly easy for us to talk about at the best of times, y’know?”
“No,” says Hermann, because Geiszler may not be Hermann’s Newton but he is very painfully obviously still a Newton. “I’ve absolutely no idea, you insufferable little man.” He’d mentioned an our Hermann, hadn’t he? Even used on of his awful nicknames. From five years into the future of Hermann’s own timeline, and he and his Hermann are . . . friends? Whatever strange force pulled them apart, they’ve been brought back together once more?
“It’s cool, y’know? How much yourself you manage to stay between versions.” Hermann opens his mouth to make a similar retort, then closes it with the painful relation that, well. He doesn’t know what his Newton is like, now, does he? They still haven’t met, and perhaps he should hate Geiszler, just a little, for taking that reunion from him, but . . .
It had been a rather nice lunch. Exactly how Hermann had secretly dreamed their reunion would go and, Lord. Did . . . did his alternate self tell Geiszler as much? Is that a thing he now has to worry about? Being emotionally tattled on by his alternate universe doppelgängers?
(Is he truly just . . . going to take Geiszler’s word about this? Yes. Yes, pending further evidence, apparently he is. So many mad things have already happened in Hermann’s life, why not one more?)
“Here,” Geiszler says, stopping them behind a throng that’s currently massed outside the doors to one of the Jaeger bays. “Gotta get through the masses first.” Then, louder. “All right, dipasses! Move aside, K-Science coming through!”
It takes a little bit more shoving—and some judicious cane application—but eventually the crowd parts enough that they can get through it. The door opens onto a hangar floor, inactive forms of the Jaeger looming huge above them, and despite the fact the space is enormous and largely unoccupied, the crowd has barely made it past the entrance. Is almost cowering, in fact, even as obviously fascinated individuals strain to see.
Geiszler strides past all of them, right out into the hangar, where a large . . . thing is currently looming.
Hermann follows him, squinting in confusion, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing; some kind of mishmash of Jaeger parts and what looks like . . . like kaiju chitin? And what Newt does as he strides towards it is throw open his arms and say:
“Hermann? Meet Alice.”
And the shape moves.
It’s a kaiju—that much is obvious, now it’s not tucked into a ball, feigning sleep—but orders of magnitude smaller than even the smallest Cat-I, and of a body plan Hermann has never before seen. It’s also plated with armor not unlike a Jaeger’s chassis, and in some cases Hermann thinks its biological systems may be replaced entirely. A cyborg, then; some bizarre fusion.
It immediately focuses on Geiszler when it hears his voice, lowering its massive head to greet him, and he embraces its jaw—right next to the teeth almost as big as he is—without any kind of hesitation. Bizarrely, as he does, holographic heart emoji appear around him, apparently projected from the kaiju itself.
“By Jove,” says Hermann, because what else is there to say? (Further evidence, indeed.)
“Come closer,” Geiszler says, gesturing enthusiastically. “She knows who you are. She’s not gonna, like. Bite.”
Almost in spite of himself, Hermann does this, and then nearly drops dead right then and there when a sharp, synthetic voice says:
“NEW HERMANN YES FRIEND HELLO.”
“It talks!” he says, almost in spite of himself.
“Yeah, she gets that reaction a lot.” As he says this, Geiszler strips out of his jacket and holds it and his sunglasses up into the air. Hermann is just about to ask what he’s doing when he hears the buzzing of wings and several . . . things dart out towards them. One takes Geiszler’s jacket, another the glasses, and apparently fly them off and . . . into? The larger kaiju? Somehow? Two more of the things settle onto Geiszler’s shoulders, hunkering down and blinking at Hermann with their too-bright kaiju-blue eyes.
“All right,” says Geiszler, rolling up his sleeves once more. “So. Gimmies first: These little dudes are hiveswarm. Originally Flesh— Precursor tech, kinda little all-purpose robot drone things. Super useful, never leave home without ‘em. Bigger issue: Alice. This one’s ours; your Newt’s version should be waiting down in the labs by now. She doesn’t have the body; is just a brain in a jar, basically. Originally baby Otachi’s brain, in fact.”
He says it casually, too casually, and Hermann gets a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, no. I thought . . . He said he’d destroyed it.”
“Yup,” says Geiszler, “and nup. We forged the paperwork, had her shipped out in secret. Assume it happened the same here.”
“No . . .”
“We couldn’t kill her, dude. We just . . . nothing that happened was ever her fault, and there was still so much in there, you know? So much left to learn.”
“Newton . . .” Lord, no. Don’t let him be saying—
“Ironic, ‘cause, like. Things we know now? Human-kaiju Drifting isn’t actually all that dangerous. They’re alien, obviously, and kind weird—”
“NEWT WEIRD,” says Alice, and Geiszler bumps her jaw playfully with his shoulder (the . . . hiveswarm on that side squeaks in protest and re-settles in his hair).
“—but they’re super social and adaptable, and pretty chill when you get down to it. Kaijute thinks it’s got something to do with the hive mind. Like, they kind of instinctually glom onto the emotions and experiences of whatever else is in the hive with them. And their first humans?” He gestures between himself and Hermann. “Or, y’know. Per-universe equivalents.”
“I— That is not . . . necessarily the best induction into humanity!” Hermann is under no illusions re. his own negative personality traits. Nor Newton’s, for that matter.
“Curious and intelligent, no particular predilection to violence, intense loyalty and devotion to the protection of Earth and its people. Could’ve done a lot worse. And it’s not like you’re straight-up copying your personality over onto them. It’s more like they’re . . . picking up on how you see the world? And you love it; you think it’s amazing and you devoted your whole life to protecting it. Don’t undersell yourself, dude.”
“I . . .” What does one say, to something like that? To being told you influenced an entire species’s perception of your own, without even knowing it? Hermann takes another step closer to . . . to Alice. She has no eyes that he can see, but he can feel her watching him, regardless. She’s hunkered down on the concrete, close and still—so as not to startle them, or hurt them accidentally—and when Hermann puts his hand on her jaw, the scutes are very warm and very obviously alive.
He’s never touched a living kaiju before. Never touched a living alien at all, in fact. Just sneered over hunks of dead flesh and, for the first time, it hits him that those were . . . were people. The’d had thoughts, once, and emotions. Intelligence. A perception of themselves and of the world. Not a human person, Geiszler had said. But a person all the same.
“Ten years, he Drifted,” he’s saying. “Pretty much constantly. And the thing is . . . it’s not like he overwrote her personality with his own. But the Precursors? That’s kinda exactly how they work. How they get the kaiju to do what they want; reprogram them from the thoughts on up. They don’t really understand anything else. And, thing is? It’s kinda contagious.”
“Oh, Newton . . .”
“So-oo-oo we’re okay. Now. Ish. But there’s still a big part of us that will always be them. Or . . . the version of them he was able to make us into, in the end. For your Newt . . . we’ve got some more options. That’s part of what we’re here to test.”
“All— all that time . . .” The enormity of it, of what Geiszler is implying, is too much. Hermann gasps as it feels like the world suddenly drops away, then again as he’s caught and held upright against the side of an enormous head.
“Easy,” Geiszler says. “Told you this would be the shitty bit. But it’s gonna be okay, we promise. Just . . . sit you down for a bit, yeah?”
The world moves again—Alice moves again, so huge and so close that she feels like the world—and somehow Hermann ends up sitting on something that . . . A tail? One frond of some kind of long, multi-stranded tail?
“It smells like sauerkraut,” he mutters, without really meaning too, and Geiszler laughs.
“Yeah, you always say that. It’s the salt and the acid.”
“I love sauerkraut.”
“We know. Karla’s is pretty good, we’ll give her that.”
“You’ve met.” His Newt never did.
“Yup. Scares the crap outta us. But she sheltered us—us and Dad and our version of you—while we were being fugitives from the PPDC. Long story, not really relevant to your shit.”
That . . . that’s good, Hermann thinks. Or not good good, but . . .
“You, ah. Your . . . version of me. You’re . . . on good terms, then?” Oh, that’s definitely giving too much away. But Hermann’s head is still swimming and . . . and he just wants it to be true, so badly.
Geiszler laughs. He’s sitting next to Hermann on Alice’s tail and he bumps their shoulders together, playful, in the way he’d done with her. “Dude,” he says. “Herms is our husband. So yeah, we’re on pretty ‘good terms,’ yeah.”
“Oh.” Oh. “I . . . That’s good. I’m happy for you. Both.” And he is, he really is. That somewhere, out there, a version of him managed it. Managed to get the one thing Hermann has always secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) desired. Or at least some version of it.
Geiszler is laughing again, earnestly happy. “Thanks, dude. We’re pretty happy for us, too. After all the shit . . .” He gestures at nothing in particular. “We are one lucky sonovabitch.”
All right. A good enough opening, and Hermann takes a deep breath, steels his mind and his heart and: “What . . . what did you do? What has he done?” Then, because it’s suddenly so obvious: “The drone programme. Oh, no . . . Newton . . .”
“Yu-uu-up, sorry dude. But, like. Don’t worry; Mako raided everything while we were out lunching. Even all the secret bases we never told anyone else about.”
(Bases, good Lord . . .)
“So everything’s in custody, and it’s all offline, and we can keep it that way; no problems there. But you’ve seen Alice, now; basically a brain in a big tin can—”
“MEAN.” And a holographic projection of a little cartoon of Alice’s own face, crying.
Geiszler laughs, and pats her tail consolingly. “You know we love you, baby,” he says, earnestly sincere. “And Herms has made you the best damn tin can in the multiverse.”
“YES LOVE THANKYOU.” And more hearts. Honestly, Hermann had never really imagined a kaiju talking before, but if he had he certainly would’ve underestimated the number of heart emoji involved. If Alice had handwriting (does she have handwriting?) he assumes she’d be the sort to put them as her tittles.
“So that’s what the drone program is,” Geiszler is saying, his own kaiju apparently placated. “The cores they run on . . . it’s not some quantum computer magic shit. They’re clones of Alice.”
“The drone pilots—”
“It’s not a Drift, don’t worry. The interface is cybernetic; normal operating mode the brains run unconscious. Sleepwalking, basically. They take directions from the human pilot but it’s one way.”
Hermann does feel he is somewhat wearing out this phrase, but: Good Lord. And Newton made this?
“And, uh. When they’re ‘woken up’?” He almost doesn’t want to know, but . . . Lord, he has to.
Geiszler sighs, and says: “Hey, Alice baby. Can you show us Ariel?”
Holos flash up in front of them; a combination of photographs and videos and schematics. “SISTER,” Alice says.
“That’s right, baby.” Then, to Hermann: “So, uh. Herms managed to kill off most of the drones in our universe, once we activated them. Ariel was kind of . . . put together from the scraps.”
She’s very obvious one of the Shao Industries Jaeger drones, at least originally; like Alice, she’s now a combination of ceramics and metal and flesh and chitin, spines protruding from her hunched-over back, slavering mandibles from the remains of her Conn-Pod. In some of the images she’s bisected in the middle (Ariel-with-no-legs . . . Newton, really), in others she’s rebuilt. This time, they even gave her a tail, long and lean and sleek. An enormous predator.
“The . . . the drone programme,” Hermann says. “They built—”
“‘Bout ten minutes,” Geiszler says. “Took us to take out almost the whole of the PPDC’s standard Jaeger fleet. Aa-aa-and it gets worse.”
Geiszler brings up Ariel’s schematic, expanding something in the chest area. Some sort of energy weapon, but the design of it is strange, and there are a series of equations next to it that—
Hermann’s heart skips. “No—”
“So the plan,” Geiszler is saying, “was basically to take out the Corps, then re-open a bunch of Breaches from this side. Multiple. The infrastructure behind it is kinda automated and— whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Short version: throw a bunch of k-blue into the mantle, start a chain reaction . . . Boom. Bye-bye Earth.” He exhales, exaggerated and awkward. “Obviously, didn’t quite pan out; our Herms stopped us, plus a bunch of plucky cadets. Then Lambert punched us in the face, and we kinda spent half a year locked up in a cell, and had some real talk with ourself, and now here we are. Trying to stop a more different Newt from making the same fuckup.”
It’s just . . . it’s too much. It’s too much, and Hermann’s brain has refused to process it. Is treating it like some kind of— of film. Nothing he has to react to in any way that matters.
“This is . . . a lot to parse.” Understatement of the century. Except: “You rebuilt it. The . . . Ariel.” And Alice, for that matter.
“We’re building an army. Not us-we, the PPDC-we; they’re calling it the Pan Universal Defense Corps. We know how to free the kaiju, now; turns out, they hate the Precursors as much as we do, and are more than happy to join our side when they can. Kaijute’s the boss of that one.”
“Yeah; he’s here with your Newt. We’ll go down say hi when you’re ready. But the PUDC”—he says it as a word, pud-see—“we’re getting all the kaiju we can, all the Jaeger we can, all the PPDCs we can. And then we’re gonna invade the Anteverse, and kick the goddamn shit outta the fucking Precursors for good.”
“That’s why you want the drones,” Hermann guesses. “For the Breach technology.”
“Why build when you can buy, right? We can clean ‘em out, same as we did Alice and Ariel and Otouto and all the rest. And Kaijute says the hive is self-reinforcing; the more freed minds there are in there, the easier it is for other kaiju to resist the Flesh’s programming. He thinks that maybe if we can get enough, it might even trigger some kind of, like. Cascade.”
“To have their weapons rebel against them.”
“Not just weapons,” Geiszler says. He reaches up to collect one of the creatures from his shoulder, holds it out for Hermann to inspect. “This is our entire technology stack, dude.”
He says “our” and means the Precursors and . . . and, oh. Perhaps Hermann can excuse himself back to his room. To scream. Just for a little while.
Out loud, he says:
“You . . . you’re trying to foment the Anteverse equivalent of a robot uprising?” The . . . hiveswarm is the sort of creature Hermann would once have found disgusting and now can’t help but see as somewhat cute. Sort of a bizarre cross between a moth, a horseshoe crab, and an aesthetic that’s somehow so quintessentially Newt.
“You can pat her,” Geiszler says. “We grew her back at our ‘Dome so she’s used to humans. And, hah. Guess we never thought of it like that but . . . yeah. Kaijute’s not a hundred percent sure it’ll work—the Flesh’s programming is pretty brutal—but it’s worth a shot, right?”
“We thought it was over,” Hermann murmurs. The hiveswarm is warm and fluffy under his fingers, but with an alien hardness beneath the fur. It chirps and arches into his hand, obviously pleased with the attention. “The War.”
“Ah,” says Geiszler. “Yeah, sorry. Like we said: this is the shit bit.”
Ten years, Hermann has been here, passive and useless. While his best friend went mad and the Anteverse lurked, regrouping, patient and rapacious. Ready for revenge.
Well. No time for self-recriminations now, he supposes. Now it’s time to work. His compartmentalization skills may be a tad rusty but he didn’t get through the War without them.
“I want to see him,” he says. “My— The Newt from . . . here.”
“One last thing,” says Geiszler, and Hermann doesn’t know how much more he can take. “It’s about Kaijute. Just so you’re, uh. Prepared.”
“Oh, Lord.” Kaijute. Kaiju Newt. Please, no. Please let it not be—
“So-oo-oo Kaijute’s universe . . . the Anteverse kind of used it as an, uh. A proof of concept. To test a new weapon. A virus; it didn’t work out so we’re pretty sure it was never deployed anywhere else, but it was designed to, uh. Mutate Earth biomatter.”
“Into kaiju,” Hermann guesses. Lord, the world is spinning, again. Oh, Newt . . .
“Right. So: good news, Kaijute developed a vaccine. Bad news—”
“He was too late. To use it on himself.”
Hermann’s eyes are closed but he feels Geiszler makes a gesture, hands falling back to his thoughts with a slap. “Alice,” he says, “you got some pics of Uncle K for us?”
The light flickers as Alice, presumably, changes the holos. Hermann takes a deep breath. Then another.
Then he opens his eyes.
It is, he thinks, always the way of these things; his imagination turns out worse than the reality. The reality is a series of candid holos and photographs of a kaiju roughly the size of a very small car, posing with a variety of people Hermann recognizes; from himself (and how very strange, seeing a himself that is so obviously not himself) to Geiszler to Mako to Tendo to Hansen to Alice. The kaiju is . . . a kaiju. Six limbs, middle arms much smaller and more human-like than the others. Six primary eyes and a horned frill-crest on a reptilian snout, bifurcated lower jaw and an enormously long, glowing tongue the . . . kaiju Geiszler is very fond of showing off to the camera, generally while throwing horns on several hands (definitely a Newton, then). He’s also wearing rings and bracelets (where on Earth did he find jewelry to fit?) and in one photo is hugging a Hermann who looks both very exasperated and very fond.
“That’s Tattoo Hermann,” Geiszler says, pointing to the photo. “He got our tattoos after Kaijute, like. Turned. He was the one who figured out the Breach tech.”
Not trivial achievements, either of them. “Is he . . .?”
“He has a wife,” Geiszler says, apparently knowing exactly what Hermann was not quite brave enough to ask. “But they’re poly; Kaijute’s been his boyfriend since like forever and, yeah. Everyone makes the ‘kaiju groupie’ joke.”
Another version of Newt and another version of Hermann, stood together against the apocalypse. It is . . . comforting, for Hermann. To think a part of him could be so brave and so kind to support someone through such a bizarre, life-altering change.
And to think, he gave up on his Newt after a few terse emails.
Hermann sighs, closes his eyes and collects himself. “All right,” he says, when he thinks he can. “I— I want to see him now, please.”
And then, because of course the day isn’t going to get any easier, one of the hiveswarm says:
“Come on down. The AVIM’s just about ready to go and I’m kinda getting sick of all the screaming. At least if you guys are here it might shock him into shutting the fuck up for a bit.”
It’s Newt’s voice. Coming from the hiveswarm like . . . like some kind of bizarre portable speaker and—
“The hive mind,” Hermann gasps.
“Yeah, sorry not sorry been watching the whole time,” says the— says Kaijute. “Kinda can’t not, really.”
“Originally bred this strain to play music,” Geiszler adds, pointing at the hiveswarm proudly. “Turns out they’re baller assistive tech, too.”
“Weird to have my voice back after so long,” Kaijute adds. “But hey. Can’t complain. You know how many people don’t know sign language? Cause, spoiler alert, it’s most of them.”
“Oh Lord there’s two of them,” says Hermann, who’s only just processing this information.
“Three,” says Geiszler. “Counting your one.”
“Three Newt Limit!” says Kaijute, as Hermann is thinking: He’s not mine. Not anymore . . .
Kaijute hadn’t been exaggerating the screaming; Hermann hears it well before they get to the lab. It makes his blood run cold and the hair stand up on the back of his neck but Geiszler just scoffs at his discomfort, stating: “He’s just being an enormous drama queen. The Newt’s not hurting him and he’s not, like. Human enough right now for psychological trauma. Trust us; we know.”
Hermann decides he does not want to interrogate that statement any further.
Geiszler is correct about he first part, at least; Newt is strapped to some kind of dentist-style reclining chair, thrashing and carrying on, but is otherwise untouched. He’s dressed in PPDC-issue sweats and a t-shirt, the latter soaked through, and he looks disheveled and panicked and like he has not slept in several days. Hermann remembers that look from the War, and it makes his heart ache something awful. So much so he’s said, “Newt . . .” before he’s thought better of it.
The man in question falls silent immediately, gaze landing on Hermann with that too-sharp focus he might have dismissed, had he not already seen it from Geiszler. This is Newt—this is the thing inside Newt—sizing him up. Trying to select the best strategy, to get Hermann on its side, to give him the Newt he will help. Even knowing that, Hermann isn’t sure he’s strong enough to resist it (what if he’s wrong?), so it’s a relief when Newt sees Geiszler a half-second later and the facade shatters in favor of open-mouthed gaping and a blurted, “What the fuck?”
“I didn’t tell him what was going on,” says yet another hiveswarm, this one perched on Kaijute’s enormous, armored shoulder. Because, yes, he’s here too. And far . . . larger. In person. Than he’d seemed in photographs.
“Wait you talk?” Apparently this is news to Newt. “How? With my voice what the fuck? What the fuck is—” He seems to remember Hermann and turns back to him with a: “Hermann what the fuck? What the fuck, dude?”
“Ah, hello. Newt,” Hermann says, somewhat inadequately. What does one say? “Apologies for all the bother.”
“What the fuck? Get me out of here! What the fuck is that?” Jerking his head to where Kaijute is fiddling with something that looks rather like a modified Pons. “What the fuck is that.” Another head jerk, this time at Geiszler. “What the fuck? What the—” He seems to realize something, whole body jerking. “Did it tell you it was me?” He all-but shrieks. “Hermann, Hermann c’mon. Please. You know me, right? Your ol’ lab partner? Bestest buddy? Please, Hermann. It don’t know what that thing is, but you gotta believe me!”
It’s not right, Hermann realizes. Something about the speech patterns; not nearly enough dudes and mans and likes. Hermann could believe it a simple product of time and circumstance, had he not spent the morning with Geiszler. Even Kaijute still feels like Newt, in a way the man strapped to the chair does not.
“Oh, Lord,” Hermann murmurs, horror too big to contain inside. “Newt. No . . .”
“You can tell, can’t you?” says Geiszler. “It’s not him in the driver’s seat right now. Herms could always tell, even before he knew what he was telling.”
“Please, I . . . you said you could—”
“We can help him, yeah.” From Kaijute. “Don’t worry about that, dude. If he’s still in there, we’ll get him back.”
“He is,” from Geiszler, before Hermann can panic about that if. He’s moved to Newt’s side, face held in one hand beneath the jaw. He’s moving it back and forth like he’s looking for something, expression cold and sharp and alien.
“Please.” Newt’s voice is barely a hoarse whisper, still trying to catch Hermann’s eye. “Hermann, please.” When he blinks, tears fall free and its him, actually him.
“The-ee-ere he is,” Geiszler says, patting Newt on the cheek as he removes his hand.
Hermann is at Newt’s side as quickly as he’s able. He wants to touch, to reach out in reassurance, but Geiszler catches his hand with a: “Careful. He bites.”
Hermann nods and settles his hand on Newt’s forearm instead, right over Yamarashi’s snarling maw.
“I’m so sorry, Newt,” he says. “I know this must be dreadfully frightening for you. But . . .” He shares a glance with Geiszler, who nods, so: “We know. About Alice. And the— the drones.”
Newt sobs; a horrible, broken, keening sound. “I’m sorry,” he gasps, barely intelligible. “I’m sorry I couldn’t— they’re so strong. I couldn’t stop them I—”
“You don’t have to, buddy,” says Geiszler, far too cold and far too calm. “That’s what we’re here for. PPDC raided everything this morning. Shao is pissed as hell but we’ve already quit your shit-ass job for you and Makes has agreed you can stay here while you sort your brain out. Hey, read this for us for a second.” He’s been writing something on a tablet as he speaks, as he holds it up now. It is . . . nothing Hermann recognizes; just strange scribbles arranged around a central line.
Whatever it is, Newt reacts violently; body seizing in its restraints before his expression twists into an absolutely abhorrent snarl. He makes an inarticulate shrieking sort of sound and it’s all so sudden and so violent Hermann physically startles.
Geiszler does not, instead just shrugging and tossing the tablet back down onto a workbench. “Guess that’s a no.” Then, to Kaijute: “Diplomatic options exhausted. You’re up, big guy. Nuke that shit from orbit.”
“Ah, excuse me,” says Hermann. “There will be no—”
“Chill, dude.” Hermann is, actually, starting to see why Geiszler could, in fact, get on someone’s nerves. “PPDC lawyers drafted up the medical PoA last week. Jacob signed it as next of kin.”
“God you’re an asshole,” adds Kaijute, rolling all six eyes. Then, to Hermann: “We went over everything with Dad Prime. He’s here in the city for, like. After.”
“I— Oh.” That’s rather thoughtful. Still: “Nonetheless. This is technically my lab. I would prefer to be at least informed of what it’s being used for. Is that . . . is that a Pons?”
Kaijute raps enormous knuckles on the machine he’s been playing with (thankfully significantly more reliable looking that the last Pons Hermann remembers him— a version of him assembling). “AVIM,” he says, pronounced as a word. “Isolates Anteverse-influenced brain activity from standard-issue. Works on humans, kaiju, and hybrids.” He taps at a console, and two projections appear. They look somewhat like Drift sync graphs, in red and green and blue. The left graph is predominantly green, with some blue and a flicker of red. The right is mainly blue, with some green and a slightly more pronounced red. The red and blue waveforms, Hermann notes, are largely synchronized. The red is not.
“My brains,” Kaijute explains. “Primary and secondary. Green is human, blue kaiju, red Anteverse.”
“Fascinating,” says Hermann because, well. It is. Even Newt has gone quiet, scientific curiosity apparently outweighing everything else, even now.
Geiszler, meanwhile, has picked up something that looks remarkably like a Pons headset, and is placing it on his head. When he activates it, a third projection appears; this one in green and red, waveforms matching in intensity and almost perfectly in sync.
“And us,” he says, and Hermann quite suddenly and clearly understands the pronoun. “Plus, check out our party trick.” He makes a very odd, almost comical expression, squinting one eye. On the graph, the green waveform drops off almost entirely, and Hermann can’t help his gasp. “And the other side,” Geiszler says, voice almost unrecognizably alien, and his expression mirrors. This time, it’s the red that drops away, green surging up to replace it.
Whatever he’s doing, it obviously exerts him, and he drops it with a gasp, panting and laughing as the waveforms return to their equilibrium. “Lotta practice required,” he admits. “Aa-aa-aa-and a few thousand dead, the destruction of like ninety nine percent of the PPDC’s Jaeger fleet, and an enormous trail of Blue across Japan. So probably not worth it.”
“‘Probably,’” quotes Kaijute, sarcasm very evident.
“Now your turn, buddy.” Geiszler is talking to Newt, un-clipping the headset as he does. Newt, in turn, starts thrashing and protesting again, and Hermann opens his mouth to support him when Kaijute says:
“It’s basically an overproduced EEG. Read only; it literally can’t hurt him.” He is speaking quietly, beneath the volume of Newt and Geiszler’s arguing, and is very close and very, very big. But there’s . . . something about him. A kind of gentleness Geiszler is missing; like he is both less human and more Newt-esque, all at once. “You can test it on yourself, if you want.”
“Will I like what I see?”
Kaijute shrugs, the gesture like moving mountains across the raised plates of his back. He taps at the AVIM again and a new graph appears, this one almost entirely green, just a flicker of red in the centre.
“This is Doc Evil’s Hermann,” he says. “The red is residual from the War Drift. I’d assume you’d be similar.”
It’s in him. Lord . . .
“It’s super-subconscious,” Kaijute says, apparently as able to predict his reactions as Geiszler is. “Like, you probably get dreams, right? Of the Anteverse? And maybe find the kaiju more ‘scientifically interesting’ than you used to.”
Hermann inhales sharply. “I— I thought that’d been Newt . . .”
“I mean . . . probably both? It’s brain surgery, dude, not rocket science.” His maw parts as he says it, in what Hermann realizes is a grin.
“This . . . this has all been rather a lot to take in.” Understatement indeed.
“Yeah I’ll bet. First time I met Mirror-Me over there I had to go scream in the bay for like twenty minutes before I could think straight. Here’s the paperwork, by the way. We don’t actually expect you to take our word for everything.” And he’s handing Hermann a PPDC folder. Inside is, indeed, a stack of official—and officially signed—documents, including the completed medical power of attorney from Jacob Geiszler, and various project approvals from both the Marshal and the Secretary General herself.
“Geiszler’s an asshole,” Kaijute is saying, “but he is, like. Our asshole. I can feel him, kinda. In the hive. He’s a walking migraine but he’s totally nuts over his Hermann and he is trying to, like. Make up for what he did. It’s some weird penance thing, for him. Getting your Newt, uh. Back.”
“Ah,” says Hermann who, yes. Can see how it would be. “I rather think the boat on him being ‘my’ Newt sailed quite some time ago.” He doesn’t really mean to say it aloud, but it has been quite a day and perhaps he’s still somewhat tipsy from the champagne.
Kaijute just snorts—the most kaiju-esque sound Hermann’s heard him make—and says: “Bet you a fifty it hasn’t.”
Before Hermann can think of what to say to this, Geiszler announces: “All right. Hit us, big guy.” He’s apparently managed to wrestle the AVIM headset onto Newt, who looks significantly less than enthused with the situation.
“Please,” he says to Hermann, voice hoarse and breath heaving, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Don’t let them do this.”
“I—” is as far as Hermann gets.
Geiszler beats him to it, flicking a finger against Newt’s forehead. “Hey, dipass.” Newt startles at the contact, attention immediately flicking upwards in some strange combination of revulsion and terror. “No,” Geiszler says, “not you. The other asshole. Last chance, buddy. Offer’s still on the table.”
“Cancer.” Newt snarls it, body jerking violently, voice harsh and inhuman in a way that sends a chill down Hermann’s spine and has the plates on Kaijute’s back rising.
Geiszler is unmoved. “Your loss,” he says, and nods to Kaijute.
After all the fuss, activating the AVIM is uneventful. Newt flinches, expecting pain or worse, then hesitantly cracks open one eye when it obviously doesn’t come. He seeks out Hermann, and Hermann holds his gaze as long as he can, trying his best to project a confidence and reassurance he doesn’t necessarily feel. Especially when Geiszler whistles and says, “Yeah, so like. That’ll be where all those headaches are coming from, for sure.”
Newt looks, almost inspire of himself, and so does Hermann. Geiszler is examining the data from the AVIM, pulling up additional readings, but Hermann’s attention is transfixed by the graph. It’s similar in composition to Geiszler’s, but instead of calm synchronization its green and red readings are jagged and violent and oppositional. As Hermann watches, the green spikes up—Newt’s panic, perhaps—and the red surges after it. An internal battle of will, played out for them in artfully rendered light.
“Never actually got to get a proper look at ourself before we synced up,” Geiszler is saying. “AVIM tech comes from the Newt’s ‘verse, so didn’t get access to it until recently. What a freaking mess. No wonder we spent ten years feeling like shit.”
Newt is making strange, sobbing, gasping sounds, eyes wide and terrified, and Hermann can’t help but go back to him, put a hand on his sweaty, trembling forearm. Try to offer what small comfort he can.
“The booze flattens out the AVI,” Geiszler is saying, “tested that out on ourself. The Drifts force your human brain back into sync, but the effect fades over time. Both are shitty coping strategies. We’ve got you a better one.” He grabs a glass canister from a nearby workable and holds it out for Newt to inspect. It’s half-filled with a thick, murky yellow liquid and something writhes inside.
Newt does not look enthusiastic and, honestly, Hermann does not blame him. “What—?” is as far as he gets, before Kaijute says:
“It’s a modified neural symbiote. Designed to attach to a human brainstem and disrupt AVI activity.”
“Dear Lord. Is that—?”
“Safe?” finishes Kaijute, and Hermann can hear the ironic smirk in his voice. “Compared to what? This is Precursor tech and we mostly use it on daikaiju. There’s only one human we know of with a long-term NP and his does something different, but it doesn’t, like. Hurt him. The implant process is kind of a horrorshow but once it’s in it’s in.”
“It’ll probably make you dopey a.f.,” Geiszler tells Newt, far too casually. “You’ll basically be running on half your conscious brain capacity, at least until the damage to the neural pathways starts re-wiring itself.”
“And will it?” Hermann feels someone here needs to ask the questions. Jacob may have consented to this . . . procedure, but Hermann is still the Director of K-Science and this is still his lab. He will put a stop to things if he has to.
Geiszler shrugs. “Probably? Figured we’d let it sit for a while, give the body a chance to do its thang. If we check back in three, six, twelve months and Newtant here is still drooling into his Wheaties then we can talk about pulling out the big guns.” Then, because he can obviously see Hermann is about to ask: “Genetic engineering. We can build a kaiju from scratch, dude. We can fix a dumb human meat-brain just as easy.”
“He sadly can,” Kaijute adds. “Probably.”
“This . . . this is a lot to take on ‘probably,’” Hermann says. “You’re talking about a man’s mind here.” Brilliant and shattered and, oh. Hermann adores it so.
And then, hoarse and gasped from the chair:
Everyone turns to Newt.
He’s in obvious agony, body held taught and straining, hands fisted and ligaments pulled agonizingly tight beneath Hermann’s hand. The AVIM reveals his struggle; green desperately trying to stay above a violent ocean of red.
“I don’t— don’t care,” he gasps. “If it fucks up. It’s better than this. Anything’s better.”
“Newt . . .”
And, oh. How can Hermann says no to that?
“Newt, I . . .” What does he say? To those desperate, terrified eyes; sunken and exhausted and beautiful.
And then Geiszler kicks over a chair, and throws himself down into it backwards. “Hey,” he says, and his voice is . . . soft. Kind. Enough to get Newt’s attention, and when he’s got it he says: “Look. You fucked up, but it’s not the end of the world. Literally, in fact. I know you’ve been fighting so long now you don’t remember what it’s like not to, that you’re terrified and exhausted and wondering why you’re even bothering, whether you should even bother. Whether you deserve to be saved, after everything. So real talk time, Newt to Newt: you should, and you do. That’s why we’re all here, dude. To help you. Because all the shit you thought you were in, that hole you thought you’d never get out of? It’s over. It’s safe, and you’re safe, and not gonna lie this next bit is probably gonna suck big balls. But you’ll get through it. Because you’re not alone any more, okay?”
And it’s awful, Hermann thinks. Watching the war in Newt’s face, between the budding hope and something rotten, something callous and alien and cruel. Geiszler sees it, and forces Newt’s jaw closed with a finger beneath his chin when he tries to speak.
“Not you, asshole,” he says, and the edge is back. “You had your chance. For you, though; it’s okay, dude. Let go. Just one last time. Go right down deep; you can’t hurt us and you probably don’t want to be in the driver’s seat for this next bit. When you come back up, things’ll be different, okay? We’ve got you, man. Just let go.”
One heartbeat, then two. Then a barely perceptible nod, still held back by Geiszler’s finger.
Then Newt’s eyes roll back, and he’s just . . . gone.
The AVIM starts beeping, read-out alarmingly red, as Newt’s . . . body begins to thrash. It shrieks, inarticulate and terrible, like some kind of panicked animal, and Hermann steps back from it in a moment of true, atavistic fear.
“Attaboy,” says Geiszler, standing up and stepping back. To Hermann: “The Flesh doesn’t use spoken language, and your boy just cut off the translator.”
“He’s— it’s hurting him.” The movements are too violent. The cuffs holding Newt to the chair are padded and wide, but . . .
And then a huge hand, bigger than Newt’s whole torso, descends over him to hold him still.
Kaijute is holding the . . . the symbiote jar in one of his small hands, and he says: “Better get back. It’s programmed to go for a human brain but it’s not that picky about whose.”
“Ah,” says Hermann, and takes several large steps backward.
Newt—the thing inside Newt—is shrieking in earnest but between Kaijute’s hand and Geiszler’s, holding its head still, there’s nothing it can really do. Just watch in horror as Kaijute unscrews the symbiote jar and holds it close.
Hermann barely gets to see the creature inside; just a flash of something worm-like and glowing, that almost immediately lunges from its jar an burrows its way up Newt’s nostril.
“My word!” Hermann exclaims, with what he feels is tremendous restraint. “I’d that really the best—”
“Delivery mechanism?” Kaijute finishes for him. “Believe it or not, yeah. Pretty direct path and nothing too important in the way. And it does secrete an analgesic. Like, it’s unpleasant, but we’re not monsters.”
Newt appears to disagree, screaming heartily. Hermann returns to his side, now the apparent danger of the symbiote is gone; lays a hand over Yamarashi’s howling maw. What follows is quite possibly the worst thirty seconds of his life—which is honestly quite the achievement—though eventually Newt’s screams drop off into terrified gasps, and his thrashing starts to still.
“AVI flatlining,” Geiszler announces, angles of his face cast in vibrant chiaroscuro. In front of him, the graph of Newt’s brain activity is, indeed, getting significantly less red.
“What we’re expecting?” Geiszler interjects (with three of them in the room, Hermann think he may never finish a full sentence again). “Yup. Your boy should be back on planet Earth. Might need help tying his shoelaces, but at least he’s not gonna try and open a Breach with ‘em.”
Then, from somewhere beneath Kaijute’s massive paw:
The paw lifts of its own accord; Newt is still beneath it, pale and red-eyed, bruises starting to form from where he’s been restrained. He’s breathing very shallowly, either unwell or in pain, and without thinking on it Hermann is reaching down to caress his sweat-slick brow.
“I don’t— I don’t feel good. I don’t—” He gags, retching, and after that it’s a scramble of limbs to get him un-fastened and upright, barely in time for him to throw up in a biowaste container Kaijute produces for the purpose.
“Stress, probably,” comes the explanation. “We’ll get him down to Medical in a bit. In the meantime, see if you can get him to drink this and take these.” And Kaijute is handing Hermann a bottle of water and a little paper cup with a single pale blue pill. “Sedative. He needs to sleep. And, yes, before you ask; I am, in fact, a medical doctor.”
“Xenovirologist,” Geiszler scoffs, though it’s obvious he’s teasing.
Newt, meanwhile, is huddled into Hermann’s side, container between his knees, shivering violently. He keeps half-muttering things like “I have to” and “I can’t” but he’s barely coherent and Hermann does his best to calm him. Not one of his core skills, but Newt seems more focused on his physical presence than his words, and is extremely biddable to boot.
“Out of practice making his own decisions,” Geiszler says, far too flippantly for such ominous implications.
Newt just blinks up at him, scowling, and says: “You— you’re real?” He looks at Hermann for confirmation, wide-eyed and fragile.
“Sure am, buddy,” says Geiszler, not missing a beat. “Always was.”
Newt seems to process this, nodding and blinking slowly. “Please,” he says, and Hermann hates the tremulousness in his voice. The quiet fear. “Please, we have to . . . The— the project. We can’t—”
“Already done, champ,” says Geiszler, before Hermann’s heart can break anew from the implication. That Newt is still trying, even now, to stop whatever awful ride he’s been on this past ten years. “You were right,” Geiszler adds. “About everything. About Earth and the humans and Herms and the kaiju and even Shao and the PPDC. You were right and we were wrong. So we’re gonna clean up all our shit, and you’re gonna not worry about any of it. Just rest up and get well again; lay off the coke and the booze for a while, yeah?” Good Lord.
“I-I’ll try.” A pause, then: “Hermann? Hermann I— I’m sorry I—”
“Hush.” Hermann can’t. He can’t listen to whatever awful, broken apology that was going to be. “Everything will be all right. We can talk more when you’ve rested.”
“I don’t— How did I get here?”
“Short-term memory loss,” says Geiszler, not really to Newt. “Expected. Probably a shitload he’ll never get back, but if it’s an ongoing problem with new experiences, hit us up.”
Hermann hates him, just a little, even for all he’s trying to help them. How could anyone not, watching his dynamic with Newt? If that was what it had been like for Newt, all these years, trapped inside his own head . . .
“You’re safe, now,” Hermann says out loud. Hesitantly, he puts a hand on Newt’s thigh, and is rewarded with a heartbreakingly besotted expression in response. “We should get you to Medical, just for a little while. You can sleep there.”
“I’m really tired.”
“Yes, I expect you are.”
“Will . . . will you be there? Afterwards?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.” And, oh. But how could there ever be any other answer?
“Okay.” Newt nods, more to himself than anything. “Okay, let’s . . . I don’t know where it is.”
An edge of panic, creeping into his voice, and that just won’t do, so: “I’ll take you.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks, Hermann. You’re . . . you’re really great, you know that? I’ve missed you a lot.” Said mostly to his fidgeting hands, voice small and shy in a way Hermann’s never heard it.
“Well,” he says as he stands, tries to help Newt up as well. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of me, I assume.” I hope. “So you’ll grow sick of me again in short order.” It suddenly feels too raw, too painful, standing next to this strange, cowed version of the man he once knew. Hermann glances up—at Kaijute, at Geiszler—afraid of what he might see. Contempt or revulsion or, worse, pity. But all he gets is a kind of understanding gentleness, and in that moment he knows they are both indescribably grateful to him, that he would see a version of them at their weakest, and offer only shelter and kindness in return.
“Hey. Uh. Hermann?”
“Is the, um. Is the kaiju real, too?”
“Ah,” says Hermann, at the same time Kaijute makes a snorting bark Hermann assumes is suppressed laughter. “Ah, yes. Yes, he is.”
“Oh,” says Newt. “Cool.” He turns to look at Kaijute, and it’s only by the action Hermann realizes he’d been avoiding it before. “Hi,” he says, giving an awkward wave.
Kaijute snorts again and returns the gesture. “Hi yourself, dude.”
Newt blinks then, leaning closer to Hermann: “Did it just—?”
“He talks, yes.”
“Oh. Wow. That’s . . . I really have no idea what’s going on. I think . . . am I supposed to remember?” This last, plaintive, to Geiszler.
“You’ve just had drugs and brain surgery, buddy,” comes the reply. Which . . . close enough. “That’s why you’re gonna give the kaiju a big hug like you’re dying to, then Herms is gonna take you to Medical and you’re gonna sleep it off.”
“Oh,” says Newt. “Okay.” He turns back to Kaijute, almost childishly shy.
“C’mon, bud.” Kaijute sits back on his haunches, all four arms extended. It makes him very large—and he isn’t even standing up, good Lord—but Newt doesn’t hesitate, practically jumping into his alternate self’s arms. When Kaijute curls around him, he’s almost totally engulfed.
“He gives great hugs,” Geiszler says, almost wistfully, at the same time as Newt gives a muffled, “Oh, wow. You’re really warm,” from somewhere beneath those enormous, finned limbs.
Hermann looks away. It feels . . . too intimate, somehow, and he absolutely refuses to examine the feeling any further than that.
“We sent over some of his stuff,” Geiszler says, gaze far-too knowing as he takes in Hermann’s discomfort. “Some clothes, grooming shit, laptop, phone. His guitar; that one helped us a lot, maybe he’ll be the same, not really sure but it’s worth a shot. Left it all in your rooms.”
“All right. Thank you.”
“Corps has already gone through his apartment and boxed up all the, uh. Y’know. We’ve arranged for everything else to get shipped here; bought a place at The Peak to hold it all, Alter-Rents are currently staying there. Got them all set up with his bank and broker and lawyers and all that shit; they’ll look after everything for him until he’s ready to decide what to do with it.”
“Ah,” says Hermann. It’s suddenly occurred to him Newt is a very wealthy man. None of that simply stops, just because he’s not currently in a position to deal with it. Hermann also supposes technically Geiszler has just confessed to some kind of fraud though, as far as the man’s crimes go, it hardly seems worth noting. And arguably he is Newt’s next-of-kin; biologically equivalent to an identical twin.
“There’ll be some bullshit with Shao but call us if it gets painful,” he’s saying. “We can handle her if we need to. And the rest . . . He should be set, y’know? Coming out of this, whatever happens. He won’t ever have to worry about cash ever again.”
“Thank you,” says Hermann. “That’s . . . that’s tremendously thoughtful of you.”
Geiszler just shrugs, not quite so casual as he’d perhaps like. “Least we could do.” Then: “Hey, uh. Could we ask a favor?”
“You can always ask.”
A snorted half-laugh, then: “It’s just . . . the Corps will wanna keep him here for a while. Can he, like. Stay with you, maybe? You’ve got the two rooms here, yeah?”
Which, oh. Was not what Hermann had been expecting, not at all. Nor the entirely earnest way Geiszler asks it. Hermann thinks of the AVIM graph and reminds himself the man really is still Newt, underneath it all.
“Yes,” says Hermann, because as if he could ever give any other answer. “Yes, of course. He’s more than welcome, for as long as he wishes it.”
“Oh. Cool. Thanks, dude. You’re the best.” A pause, then: “He probably shouldn’t be, like. Alone. Right now. We know it sounds weird, but . . .” But we and but Alice and but the Drift and . . .
“He’s also probably gonna be a real pain for a while.”
“Nothing new there, then,” Hermann quips, and Geiszler huffs, amused and relieved, as across the room Kaijute says:
“C’mon, short stack. Better pour you into bed before you pass out.” He’s been murmuring with Newt, close and kind, but takes a half-shuffle back as he speaks.
Newt nods, blinking too fast, eyes unfocused and glassy before they land on Hermann and stay there.
“Yes, follow me,” Hermann says, blustery in the face of that raw trust. “We’ll get you some rest. Everything will seem clearer in the morning.”
It is, he thinks, something of a lie. But perhaps a forgivable one, all the same.
Newt’s asleep almost as soon as his head hits the thin pillow of the bed in Medical; he looks small and frail and exhausted, skin sallow and eyes sunken and a crust of dried blood around his nostril. But he’s here, and Hermann allows himself a moment to revel in the feeling of sheer relief that brings. It has been a long decade and an absolutely mind-bending day, but if nothing else it has answered many questions and whatever problems come tomorrow—and Hermann assumes they’ll be quite substantial, judging from the general commotion in the ‘Dome—they’ll be something new. And neither he nor Newt will have to face them alone. (Newt will never have to face anything alone ever again. He shouldn’t have the first time and Hermann swears he will not make the mistake of letting Newt slip away twice.)
No one seems to expect anything of Hermann bar his presence by Newt’s bedside. Geiszler handles debriefing the Marshal and Secretary General, Kaijute vanishes back into the labs. Or at least so Hermann assumes; apparently not entirely correctly when he returns sometime later carrying a sofa under his enormous arm like it weighs nothing.
“Asked your baby rangers where to find the best napping sofa,” he explains quietly, as he puts the object in question down near Newt’s bed. “Teenagers know that sort of shit. Then I ‘requisitioned’ it for K-Science. People tend not to ask too many questions when you’re fifteen feet long and can eat through concrete.”
Kaijute’s also brought a duffle containing a quilt, Hermann’s own pillow (“apparently your door’s keyed the same as in Geiszler’s ‘verse, so his pass works”), a change of clothes for both Newt and Hermann, some toiletries, Hermann’s laptop, and a USB drive allegedly containing “all the secrets of the Anteverse” to “keep you busy, dude.”
“Thank you,” Hermann says, overwhelmed with the gentle kindness of it all. “For everything. I don’t . . . how can I ever repay you?”
Kaijute scoffs; quite an alarming sound, coming from his glowing maw. “Dude, don’t even. You’re family; like a brother-in-law or whatever. You don’t owe any of us shit.”
Hermann supposes this is true enough, in the Geiszler household. So he settles down on what he is almost certain is the sofa from the foyer to the Marshal’s office, opens his laptop, and prepares to wait.
He has an email from Jacob and Illia waiting for him. He said you should know, by now, about our boy, it reads. Is he okay? Is the PPDC treating him well? We’re in the city. When will he be okay to visit, do you think? Please tell him we love him, and you too. Take care of yourselves.
Hermann writes them back as best he can: Newt is resting. The other Doctors Geiszler believe their procedure was successful, but would like to monitor him over the next few days. Newt is welcome to stay with me until he is cleared; I have a spare room in my flat here. Not as posh as he’s used to, but I will try and make sure he’s comfortable and cared for. It all feels so . . . inadequate.
I’m sorry, Hermann wants to write. I should’ve known. I should never have let this happen. But I was scared. He got so different, after the Drift. Cold and cruel. I thought it was me. I thought I’d made him like that. If only I’d spent less time hating myself I might have
Hermann cries, for a little while. After that. Allows himself three minutes of self-indulgent misery and no more. There is, after all, still work to do. And so once his three minutes are up, Hermann dries his tears, and plugs in Kaijute’s USB drive, and gets to doing it.
He dozes. At some point he’s shaken awake by a tattooed arm and murmurs, “Newt?” only to get a chuckle and a, “Sorry, just us,” in return.
Geiszler, with wonton noodle soup from the DFAC. Hermann protests he isn’t hungry, more out of reflex than anything, and Geiszler scoffs and says, “don’t even try, dude” like he’s had this argument with his own Hermann a thousand times before.
They don’t really talk, though Geiszler sits with him while he eats, gaze focused on Newt and seemingly lost in his own head. Hermann doesn’t see him blink once the whole time. But when Hermann is done he takes the dishes and the tray and says, “Try and get some sleep,” with the sort of ironic smile that indicates he knows that, while sleep may very well come, rest may not.
Kaijute has provided Hermann with an absolute trove of scientific discoveries—up to and including schematics for using the Breach as a perpetual motion machine good Lord—and Hermann can’t focus on a single line. Eventually he gives up and logs into Underlords, instead; his secret video game vice, but it’s banal and manages to both take up very little of his attention and distract his mind from wandering anywhere it shouldn’t.
The Shatterdome never really sleeps and tonight is no exception, though Medical reverts to a skeleton staff and they’re secluded enough that very little of the general commotion filters through to them. Hermann gives in to curiosity around midnight and tabs out to a browser to read the day’s headlines: a great deal of speculation about the raids on Shao Industries and bland statements from the PPDC of “more details to come” and assurances the Earth is “under no immediate threat,” that things were “a precautionary measure based on new intelligence.” Hermann’s lunch date with Doctor Geiszler has been noted, and there’s far more speculation on the issue than Hermann is comfortable with, including emails from both Karla and (worse) Father. He ignores the latter and responds to the former: An incredibly strange day, and I suspect things will get stranger still. But perhaps, on balance, in good ways more than bad. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I am safe and well. He doesn’t know what to say about Newt—any of them—and so says nothing. Let Karla read into that what she will.
The second time Hermann wakes it’s to the sound of barely muffled whimpering. He recognizes the source immediately and bolts upright with a, “Newt?”
The room is dark but enough light seeps in beneath the door and from the glowing LEDs of computers and machines that Hermann is able to see the curled-over lump on the bed freeze. There’s a sniff, barely audible, and the sound of another stifled whimper and it’s too much, Hermann’s heart aching as he painfully pulls himself upright (the sofa is reasonably comfortable, as far as these things go, but it is still a sofa) and hobbles to the chair at Newt’s bedside. Newt is facing away from him and Hermann places a hand on his shoulder without thinking—for his comfort or Newt’s, he couldn’t say—then removes it just as quickly as the body beneath flinches violently.
“Newt, I—” Lord, what does he say? “It’s just me. Hermann. You’re in Medical at Moyulan, Hong Kong, recovering from— from a procedure on your brain. You’re in the custody of the PPDC. Your father and uncle and here in the city and you can see them whenever you’re ready. I . . . If you have any other questions I’ll answer what I can but, please. The best thing for you now is to rest. You are safe, I swear it.” There. Factual and to the point, and what Newt asks is:
“Is . . . is this real? Is this really happening?”
Hermann opens his mouth to answer this, then closes it, and thinks, and says: “I don’t know what I can say to that that will convince you I’m not some . . . hallucination, if that’s truly what you fear.”
Newt all-but bolts upright, wild-eyed and staring in the gloom.
“You . . .” he gasps. Then: “Oh, god.” Then he crumples in on himself, and starts to sob.
And, quite suddenly, a decade seems like no time at all, Hermann’s body moving without conscious thought, sitting on the edge of the utilitarian hospital bed and gathering Newt into his arms, pulling him close against his heart.
Newt does not resist, fingers fisting into Hermann’s shirt as he sobs. He’s babbling, a litany of barely comprehensible “I fucked up, I fucked up so bad,” over and over, and Hermann rubs his back and rocks them both and says, “It’s over. It’s over now. Everything’s been taken care of.”
Eventually, the sobs trail off into a broken keening and the occasional sniffle, because Hermann supposes no man can maintain so much grief for so long. Newt makes no move to let go, and so Hermann settles them both back against the pillows, as comfortable as he can make them. Newt is far thinner than Hermann recalls, leaner even than Geiszler, and despite that he feels right in a way his alternate self had not. No niggling little pebbles; this is Hermann’s Newt, unmistakably. Broken and hurt and home.
Despite everything, Hermann gets what is probably the best sleep he’s had in a decade. Calm and close and together, he sleeps the sleep of the truly content, only waking when he feels the warm shape in his arms tense, feels soft breaths turn to panic.
He wakes spooned around Newt in the utilitarian hospital bed, smelling coffee and croissants, and the source of Newt’s concern becomes apparent when the grey-blue blur in Hermann’s vision resolves itself into the hunched-over form of Kaijute.
“Mmf. It’s all right,” Hermann murmurs, squeezing Newt around the waist and propping himself up on an elbow. “What time is it?”
“Nearly ten,” says Kaijute, voice coming from the hiveswarm perched on the crest of his head. “Wanted to let you have at least a bit of a sleep in.”
“You brought breakfast,” Hermann says, nodding towards where quite an extensive Continental-style repast is laid out on the little articulated bed-table.
“Amazing what you can get from Uber Eats,” Kaijute says, grinning. “Come down to the lab when you’re ready. Wanna get another AVIM scan in just to make sure things are a-okay.” He says this to Newt, which Hermann—not at all a stranger to being talked over by medical professionals—deeply appreciates.
Newt manages a nod in reply, barely, and Kaijute stands. “See you crazy kids in a bit,” he says, waving, as he makes his way from the room.
Once he’s gone, Hermann sighs—deep and none-weary—and allows himself to drop back down. The bedding in Medical leaves a great deal to be desired but, on the other hand, Newt is here, alive and warm as a space heater, and he makes no move and, thus, neither does Hermann.
He isn’t relaxed, though, and in the end it’s that that sees Hermann rouse himself with a, “I suppose we should get up.” He hauls himself to standing, giving Newt’s shoulder a gentle shake as he does.
Breakfast is a largely silent affair; Newt sitting on the bed, Hermann on the sofa. The food is remarkably good—Hermann would bet his cane Geiszler sourced it from some overpriced frou-frou bakery—and the coffee irritatingly exactly as he likes it (as his alternate universe selves also like it, he assumes). Newt sips tentatively at his own coffee and seems to startle at the taste, but shakes his head vehemently when Hermann asks if anything’s wrong. He also devours pastries like a man terrified they’ll be taken from him at any moment and, judging from his too-thin frame, perhaps that’s not entirely inaccurate.
After, they wash up as best they can in the room’s small ensuite, Hermann changing into the clothing Kaijute brought him last night; the outfit is one of his favorites, and the idea of being known so well continues to be jarring. Newt, meanwhile, ends up in a crimson MIT hoodie and a pair of loose black yoga pants. He looks tremendously soft and very huggable, and Hermann stamps down the impulse, reminding himself Newt is recovering from an almost unimaginable trauma. He does not need Hermann . . . ogling him on top of everything else.
Newt’s silence continues all the way back to the labs; he hasn’t spoken at all, in fact, since last night, which Hermann supposes is not an unexpected reaction to trauma. Not being particularly adroit at small-talk himself means their trip is largely silent, though Hermann hopes his presence can at least give some small reassurance.
Both Geiszlers are already in the lab, which becomes obvious by the way their elevated—and very distinctive—voices carry down the corridor. Newt freezes when he hears them, eyes going suddenly wide, breath coming in gasps, and Hermann puts a hand on his back in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.
“You can wait until you’re ready,” he says, because he knows what it is to fear medical personnel. “And I can stay with you if you’d prefer.”
Newt’s throat works like he’s trying to say something, but no sound comes out. It occurs to Hermann Geiszler had mentioned the potential for memory issues, so he says: “I don’t know how much of yesterday you recall. But yes, they are other versions of you and they’ve very real; they came here via a modified Breach. Quite extraordinary. I know it’s rather a lot to take in, but they’re good men, and they want to help you.”
Newt seems to digest this information, throat still working as if he’s trying to either chew back his words or bring them forth. In the end, he just nods, and starts walking forward.
The Geiszlers appear to be in the middle of a good-natured argument over the engineering of the hiveswarm. Geiszler is holding one on its back in his hand, pointing out various features, which it tolerates with the resigned stoicism of a dedicated family dog being pawed at by an overzealous toddler. Everyone, however, looks up as Hermann and Newt enter, conversation immediately forgotten and drone released to scuttle back to its perch on Geiszler’s shoulder.
“Hey, dude,” says Kaijute. “How’re you feeling?”
Newt shrugs, drawing in on himself. He’s obviously tremendously frightened by this whole situation, yet determined to endure it, and Hermann’s heart swells for his quiet bravery.
“That good, huh? Well. We’ll try and get this shit over with for you quick, yeah? You want me to kick out Doctor Gevil?”
Newt does not answer this; his eyes flick to Geiszler, barely. Then he, somehow, seems to shrink down on himself even further.
“Can’t kick us out if we leave first,” Geiszler announces, far too cheerfully. “Promised Makes we’d take her out for a spin in baby, anyway.”
“Try not to crash this one, yeah?” says Kaijute, and is flipped off for his trouble. He’s gone before Hermann can think to ask what “baby” is (he’d referred to Alice as such but . . . how did one “take a spin” in a kaiju? Or crash it, for that matter?), giving them both a cheerful wave as he leaves.
“Right,” says Kaijute once he’s gone, “now it’s just the cool kids, get yourself comfy in the big chair when you’re ready.” He gestures to a perfectly ordinary looking armchair; suspiciously similar to the sofa Kaijute had “requisitioned” for Hermann, in fact. All traces of the manacled chair Newt had been restrained in yesterday are gone, for which Hermann feels incredibly grateful.
Kaijute does not pressure Newt beyond this instruction; just makes himself busy at a nearby workstation with a, “Hey, Herms. You got a sec for an opinion?”
“Er,” says Hermann. “Yes. Yes, of course.” He gives Newt what he hopes is a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, then wanders over to be roped into a conversation about a wiring array for what Kaijute describes as a cybernetic neural interface. The discussion is very obviously designed to give Newt as much time as he needs, but is also legitimately fascinating in its own right. So much so that it comes as a surprise when Kaijute looks up, nearly twenty minutes later, with an, “All right let’s get this show on the road.”
Newt is seated, barely; leaning forward, hands wringing between his knees, ready to bolt at any moment.
“How much of this do you remember from yesterday?” Kaijute asks, walking over to where the AVIM is set up next to the chair. There’s an office chair on the other side and Hermann takes it for himself, quashing the impulse to thread his own fingers through Newt’s.
Newt shrugs in response to the question, so Kaijute says: “Right, well. I know the AVIM looks like a Pons but it’s not; it’s basically an EEG. Read only, you won’t even feel it. You can open it up and have a poke around inside of you want, or Herminator can try it out first?” Then, when Newt shakes his head. “Okay. You ready, then?” A nod. “Okay for me to put it on you?” A pause, then another nod.
“You know,” says Kaijute, as he moves to do so, “we’ve only had the hiveswarm for a little while. And this body can’t make human sounds, so basically I couldn’t talk for like a decade. Not out loud, anyway.” He steps back, and when he continues, his small hands move along with his words. “It’s was Herms’s idea—my Hermann—to learn sign language. Headset on okay?” This last with no signs until the last word; a sort of a closed-fist gesture, followed by an extended middle and index finger.
Newt huffs, not quite a laugh, and awkwardly tries to copy the sign, nodding as he does so.
“Cool. Good for me to hit the go button?” Another nod, plus an even worse attempt at making what Hermann assumes is the sign for “okay.” Newt even laughs a little at his own clumsiness, and Kaijute makes the gesture at him again—slower and with a big hand—so he can copy it. “Only four fingers on the big hands,” Kaijute says as he does so. “So I’m always shouting with a lisp. AVIM read is good”—he flicks the graph up onto the holo—“pretty much exactly what we were hoping for. AVI is holding at about three; for our Sisters we try and keep it below one but considering where you were yesterday this is a huge win. You might still be getting kind of . . . intrusive thoughts? That’s what they always kinda felt like to me. But as long as you can identify what they are and don’t feel like they’re controlling you or whatever, we’re golden.” He pauses, then: “And I know he’s A Lot and I get why you might not want to, but if you’re up to it, Newton can help you manage this stuff even better than I can. Like, he really . . . He loves you, man. Us Newts gotta have each others’ backs, you know? Think about it, anyway. No rush; even after we go we’re only ever an ansible push away.” A pause. “Well. Once Herms sets your end up.”
The ansible: a instantaneous communications network exploiting quantum entanglement, both within a single universe and between them. Entirely brilliant, and developed by yet another version of Hermann; not Geiszler’s and not Kaijute’s. The latter two apparently brought a small transmitter with them and the papers Hermann didn’t-quite-read last night had instructions and schematics for both setting it up and extending it further. Part of an entire suite of technologies, plural, that will be utterly world-changing, and Hermann has no time for any of them. At least not until Newt is . . . more settled.
Perhaps that’s selfish of him. Perhaps he’s earned a little selfishness, after all this time.
Kaijute does a few more things with Newt after that, mostly testing his memory and cognition. He seems happy with the results, and allows them to leave with a referral to an “expert in PTSD” he and Geiszler personally vetted, and an initial consult in two days’ time. Newt seems too exhausted to react much, and so Hermann promises they’ll go to see her before taking Newt back to his flat.
Someone has been through it—Geiszler, almost certainly—tidying up and prepping the second room for Newt to stay in. Newt sits on the newly installed bed when guided there, blinking far too frequently, eyes unfocused.
“You can rest here,” Hermann tells him. “If you’re tired. Would you like to see Jacob and Illia this afternoon? I’m sure they’d be overjoyed to see you.”
Newt jolts a little at this, mouth opening as if he wants to speak. He closes it again, biting his lip, hands fisting on his thighs.
“They don’t— they love you,” Hermann says, trying to defray some of the… whatever it is Newt is feeling. “And they miss you. I believe Doctor Geiszler has, uh. Informed them of the situation. He’s arranged a place for them to stay in the city, and I’m sure their only concern is for your well-being.”
This, apparently, was not the correct thing to say, as evidenced when Newt sniffs and scrubs at his face, tears falling in dark little circles onto his sweatpants.
“Only— only if you’re ready,” Hermann adds, hasty and awkward, and Newt shakes his head almost violently. “I’m sure they—”
“I-I want to see them.” Barely a whisper, broken and hoarse like Newt has forced it out with every last ounce of strength.
“Of course. Of course, yes. I’ll arrange for a visit this afternoon.” Unspoken is the assumption Newt will not be permitted to visit them; not exactly a prisoner, but neither a free man.
Hermann exits the room, after that; leaves Newt to rest with an awkward “if there’s anything you need, anything at all . . .” He doesn’t close the door behind him.
He has an absolute maelstrom of emails waiting for him when he boots up his laptop, from everyone from Jacob to the Secretary General. He writes to the Geiszlers, first, and gets a reply almost immediately; they’re overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Newt and swear to be at the Shatterdome’s gate at 1400 sharp.
There’s also an email from Geiszler and Kaijute, largely advice on handling their alternate self. Geiszler, the blunter of the two, outright states he does not believe Newt will be actively suicidal so much as passively neglectful of his physical and emotional needs. Take him to eat etc, is the advice. And just sit with him, talk to him even if he doesnt respond. Hes probably convinced hes a stupid dumb pathetic waste of carbon everyone hates, and you always did like proving him wrong so 😉
Kaijute, meanwhile, offers: hugs, lots of hugs
The email from the Marshal is approving carer’s leave, starting immediately. He’s also suggested appointing Doctor Ng to act in Hermann’s stead, and Hermann believes this an exceptional idea and says as much. He doubts he will truly be “on leave”—almost impossible, given the circumstances—but the tacit approval to divert his attentions for a while is appreciated nonetheless.
The Secretary General’s email is an explanation of the current situation, endorsement of Kaijute and Geiszler as on formal secondment to (this universe’s) PPDC, and an apology for not informing Hermann of things sooner. Some of the Council felt it may introduce unnecessary risk, given your history with Newt, is Mako’s explanation. For what it’s worth, there were also those of us who disagreed, including both Dr. Geiszlers. Hermann supposes that addresses that little mystery, and he also supposes he may even feel something about it, some day in the future when he once again has emotions to spare.
It takes him nearly two hours to catch up on (most of) his inbox, after which he feels he’s definitely earned a cup of tea and, if he’s feeling especially bold, even a biscuit or two. He wanders past the door to Newt’s room on his way, even though it really isn’t, on the excuse it’s only polite. Except Newt is asleep when Hermann looks; curled on his side, arms hanging off the bed, snoring gently. It’s the most beautiful thing Hermann has seen in a decade, and he allows himself the indulgence of taking his fill, heart clenched tightly in his chest.
Jacob and Illia are slightly early. But the time Hermann arrives, he finds them in the lobby, talking animatedly with Geiszler.
“I had a heart attack,” Illia says, a little while later, once Hermann has signed them in as guests and they’ve given their alternate-universe son a heartfelt hug goodbye. “A few years back. I got lucky; the other version of me, it seems, did not.”
“Ah,” says Hermann.
“Newt was busy being crazy at the time,” Jacob adds, wryly. “In both places. He missed the funeral. I think he regrets it more than the trying-to-blow-up-the-planet thing.”
“It would not surprise me,” Hermann says, because it doesn’t. Mostly, however, he’s suddenly stuck with the notion that there might be a universe out there in which his own mother is still alive. Another thing he will think about later, perhaps, when he has the energy to process such things.
“How is he?” Jacob asks. “My boy?”
Hermann considers this. “Quiet,” he finally says. “Withdrawn, which is hardly surprising. But physically he’s well. The . . . procedure on his brain appears to have taken, and Doctor Geiszler is pleased with the outcome.”
“The other other one,” Jacob guesses. “Is it . . . is he really . . .?”
“A kaiju? Ah. Yes.”
“Incredible,” says Illia. “That boy… Can we meet him, do you think?”
“After,” Jacob scolds, before Hermann can answer. “Our Newt first.”
“Of course of course. But you can’t say you’re not curious . . .”
They bicker all the way back to Hermann’s flat, good-natured but obviously nervous. This is the first time they’ve seen their son in years and the first time they’ve truly seen him in perhaps a decade. They have no idea what to expect and, honestly, Hermann can sympathize.
What they get is Newt, sitting on Hermann’s awful PPDC-issued couch. He looks small and frightened and miserable, wringing his hands between his knees, and he jumps immediately to his feet when they enter. His eyes are extremely wide—and painfully vulnerable, without glasses—and when he opens his mouth, no sound comes out.
“Oh,” says Jacob. “My boy!” And he and Illia rush forward to press Newt into a crushing, heartfelt hug.
Hermann quietly slips from the room, and leaves them to it.
He goes to the lab, because where else, and is somehow unsurprised to find both other Newtons there. What is more surprising is the room’s new, third occupant.
“Is that—?” says Hermann, as he enters, then doesn’t know how to proceed.
“Alice,” Geiszler finishes for him, patting the side of the cylindrical tank. “Yeah. Shipped straight in from Shanghai.”
Lord, it’s even still written on the side of the glass; Newt’s awkward handwriting and surrounded by red hearts.
“She’s clean,” Kaijute says, seeing Hermann’s hesitation. “We amputated the k-lobe and installed her version of the NP last night. Her AVI’s tracking near zero, and she’s basically been sleeping it all off. Only just woken her up.”
“It’s . . . conscious?” Hermann has no idea how he can feel something with no eyes watching him but, so help him, he can.
And then words start projecting in front of the tank.
💙💙💙 HERMANN HI HELLO HERMANN HERMANN HI HERMANN HI HI HERMANN HERMANN 💙💙💙
It shouldn’t startle him, he knows. He’s seen it, from Geiszler’s Alice, but . . .
“Just hooking her up to the cybernetic interfaces now,” the man in question is saying. He points to a ring, bolted to the top of the tank. “Cameras, mic, plus a projector. Just the basics to get her started. Until Newt figures out what he wants to do with her.”
“Ah,” says Hermann. “That may, uh . . .”
(NEWT SAD HELP HERMANN HELP SAD NEWT, is Alice’s input.)
“You . . . you’re leaving her here, then?” he finally settles on.
“Dude,” says Kaijute. “She’s, like. The best early-warning system you’re ever going to get. Any kind of AV activity at all—the Pres trying a sneaky Breach, another dumbass making clones, legit anything—and she’s gonna be tattling faster than you can wake up K-Watch.”
HELP HERMANN NEWT PPDC, Alice says. FREE HIVE HUMANS FRIENDS.
“How does one, ah. Care for her?” She twitches in her tank, in that unsettling way kaiju viscera can do. As Hermann approaches he thinks he can hear cameras, tracking and refocusing.
“We’ll send you instructions,” says Geiszler, “but she’s pretty low maintenance. Mostly just about keeping her stimulated. She loves you and Newt big time, other people she might have memories of from the hive and she’ll talk to pretty much anyone if they’re nice to her. She likes learning and experiencing new things, but she already knows a lot more than you probably think she does.” A pause. “She’s also super into Sailor Moon.”
“The hive is a kind of distributed social intelligence,” Kaijute adds, before Hermann can question why a kaiju of all things would have an opinion on anime. “Sort of like having the internet in your brain except that, like. The internet is your brain. It works better in-universe than across, but we can do that, too. It’s just… fuzzier.” We, because of course Kaijute means himself, too. Which . . . good lord. If the kaiju truly can access each other’s knowledge . . . And if separate universes are no barrier . . .
“You’d know,” Hermann surmises, “if something happened to us. Alice would tell you.”
Kaijute nods his huge head. “Yeah. We could have a JK team deployed across the Breach pretty much straight away, cause of the dilation thing. That’s what it’s for, dude. The PUDC. Us Earths gotta have each other’s backs, too.”
“We’ve fought this war alone for so long,” Hermann says, transfixed by the bubbling yellow-green light from Alice’s tank. “It… it never even occurred to me we may have been so close to allies all this time.” He isn’t sure if he means the other Earths or the kaiju or both, and maybe it doesn’t matter either way.
Things fall into a rhythm, after that. Newt still speaks rarely and with difficulty, and is nervous and withdrawn. But he eats and sleeps and bathes with minimal prompting, spends most days with his father and uncle, and goes to see his new therapist, and his alternate selves remains positive about his general outlook.
For their parts, Kaijute and Geiszler stay for around a week. Hermann goes with them to inspect some of the raided drone facilities and one of Geiszler’s surrendered laborites, and has nightmares about the contents of both. Geiszler largely tries to give Newt space—for all his cocksure bluster, Hermann has come to accept that Geiszler is a great deal more kindhearted than he pretends—and they have only one incident, in which an accidental encounter in the DFAC results in Newt physically assaulting his counterpart with a vicious ferocity Hermann had never before imagined him capable of. Geiszler neither fights back against the assault nor allows any outside intervention. Instead, he weathers Newt’s blows until the man screams himself into exhaustion, then cradles him as he sobs. When Hermann finds him, some hours later, he isn’t even bruised.
“Dude,” he says when Hermann asks. “Do you know many times we’ve been roughed up? Got so sick of it we spliced ourself with Yamarashi to stop it messing us up so much.” And he pulls up his shirt, revealing scales beneath.
“Good Lord,” says Hermann who, despite this, finds he is not particularly surprised. “Is that how you bypass the Throat?”
Geiszler squints in confusion. “Huh? No— Well, yeah, probably that’d work. But no, dude. We didn’t like, jump straight into a Breach to get here; we’re crazy, not suicidal. We came in Alice.” Which is, of course, how Hermann finds out Geiszler’s Alice isn’t just a cyborg; she’s both his home-away-from-home and a space ship.
(Of course they take her flying. Just a little spin. She’s a living creature; it would be cruel not to. And if Hermann spends that evening doodling ideas for a chassis for their own equivalent? Then it’s simply because she, too, deserves a life more mobile than the one she’s had.)
The Doctors Geiszler have been gone for three days when Hermann bolts awake in the middle of the night to find a shadow, looming over his bed. He has one moment of panic before recognition kicks in and he murmurs, “Newt? Is everything all right?”
There’s one little hitch of breath, then: “Sorry. Didn’t . . . didn’t mean to wake you. I’ll go.”
“Mmpf,” says Hermann, tremendously articulate. “It’s fine, darling. Come back to bed.” Initial fear subsiding, he’s finding it rather difficult to hold onto consciousness. Perhaps he never truly had it in the first place.
He gets no response for so long he thinks he’s not going to get one at all, thinks perhaps this maybe is a dream. Then, very tentatively, Newt crawls onto the far side of the bed.
“Try and get some rest,” Hermann murmurs, awkwardly pushing the duvet over so Newt doesn’t freeze.
Sleep reclaims him not long after. As it does, he almost thinks he feels a hand, gently curling into his.
When Hermann wakes, it’s a scant inch from Newt’s snoring, drooling face.
He is more soundly asleep than Hermann has seen in days, and if Hermann spends an unseemly amount of time gazing at his slumbering face, utterly besotted, then no one ever need know.
Eventually, Hermann succumbs to the need to rise and so does so, carefully and quietly so as not to disturb Newt. He knows the man has not been sleeping well—sometimes not sleeping at all, perhaps—and is not so callous to disturb him now he apparently is. And if a part of him is inappropriately pleased Newt has found such solace in his bed? Well. No one ever need know.
… aa-aa-and that’s all she wrote. Other things that were going to happen in this fic included:
- Newt freaking out over not being able to understand Science Stuff he should find trivial.
- Hermann waking up in the middle of the night to frantic “NEWT SAD HELP COME HELP” texts from Alice, to find Newt has snuck out to be close to her tank and hating himself for it… at least until Hermann remembers to explain her plot.
- Otachi showing up probably?
- Newt going back to composing music.
- Kissing probably?
True story: technically this counts as a version of my Very First Precursor Newt Daydream, although it turned out very differently than I’d originally imagined…