Pacific Rim: The Ballad of Eun Park
[This story takes place in the ‘prelude’ section of the movie Pacific Rim, between the first appearance of the Kaiju and the events of the main part of the movie.]
Summary – Before there were the Jaegers, there were the Furies. And there were the people who drove them.
1. The Furies
Eun Park woke with a start, snapping upright in her bed and, as usual, banging her head on the underside of the bunk above. She swore. The occupant of the overhead bunk muttered something in sleepy Japanese, but Eun could not make it out. Partly because she could not speak Japanese, but mostly because she simply couldn’t be bothered.
She had been dreaming of helicopters – again. Dreaming of her last day in the pilot seat, facing something that shouldn’t exist. Shouldn’t, but there it was. Not like you could miss it. Not like it was trying to hide.
She rubbed her bruised forehead and swung her legs over the side of the bunk, wiping the nightmare sweat away as best she could. She glanced at the clock: it was only an hour to the start of her shift. Might as well get out of here, see if the bar was open.
She pulled on her greasy overalls and in the darkness picked her way to the door, stepping over sleeping bodies. There were twelve women, counting herself, assigned to this room, with six sleeping in bunks and the rest on mattresses on the floor. Once, this place had been a ritzy resort hotel. Now it had thousands of survivors from various countries crammed into it. Whoever was doing the organisation had stuck her with a Japanese group, maybe assuming she was Japanese or maybe just not knowing what else to do and having no time to think about it. Eun didn’t like it much but, hell, it was better than what a lot of other people had.
And she could not help but feel sympathy for the Japanese, both the women in the room and the hundreds of others scattered around Uluru Base. After all, there simply wasn’t a Japan anymore. Or a Taiwan or a Hawaii, for that matter. And much of South Korea was gone. Three hours after the Kaiju had come ashore near the coastal city of Pusan – once her home – the North Koreans had launched an attack. They had said that it was to ‘unify the country to better face the threat’. Yeah, sure, of course. But the South Korean army had turned and fought them, and between the conflict and the Kaiju – well, do the maths.
She had managed to get onto one of the last evac planes, an Australian one, and now she was here, in the middle of the Australian desert – damn, she hadn’t even known there was a desert in Australia – working, like everyone else, in one of the huge weapons factories. Making parts. Had been doing it for months.
The Kaiju that had destroyed much of her country was the fourth one, or maybe the fifth, to emerge from the Breach, no-one really knew. It had taken most of her country’s military forces, with help from US and Russian planes, to eventually drive it back into the sea, bloodied but not beaten. So it was still out there. Somewhere.
She left the hotel and walked through the sweaty, luminous darkness to the bar, really just a large pre-fab shed. As usual, she stopped for a few moments to stare at the massive bulk of the Rock on the horizon. At the moment, it was a blacker-than-darkness shadow. Damn thing was the size of a Kaiju.
The bar was half-full. She still had some cash from her last puny paycheck, and she ordered a beer and took a seat at the counter.
And the inevitable happened. Some guy tried to hit on her. She brushed him off. Then another did. Brushed him off too. The third one was more insistent, saying that ‘Jap girls will do anything for a couple of bucks, or even a couple of drinks’.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Eun. “I’m Korean.”
“Heh,” said the guy. “That means you’ll do it for nothing.”
Eun sighed. She glanced at another guy sitting at the counter, an older guy, looked Australian. He had a half-full beer jug in front of him.
Eun looked again at the guy bothering her. “In most cases, yeah,” she said. “But not you. I only like guys who like girls, you see. So that means, well, not you.”
The guy gave a snarl. He grabbed her by the wrist and wouldn’t let go.
The older guy picked up the jug and came over to Eun. He put the jug down. “You may as well have this,” he said.
The guy holding Eun gave another snarl. “I don’t want another drink,” he said.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the older guy.
With her free hand, Eun picked up the jug. And then smashed it over the guy’s head. He cried out in surprise and let go of Eun’s wrist. Eun punched out, once, twice, short savage hapkido punches.
But the guy was strong. He grabbed Eun by the throat and pushed her back over the counter.
She managed to turn her head to look at the older guy. “Feel free to jump in any time,” she said, through gritted teeth.
He held up his hands. “Hey, you just wasted half a jug of beer,” he said. “Done my bit, sister.”
“Oh, alright,” muttered Eun. “I’ll do it myself.” She brought her knee up, smashing the guy in the groin. He gave a shout of pain and let go of Eun. She took the opportunity to head-butt him in the face. He staggered backwards.
The older guy put out his foot and the other guy fell over it, crashing to the floor.
There was a smattering of applause from the people in the bar. A couple of the guy’s friends picked him up and hustled him out before someone called the cops.
“There, I helped,” said the older guy to Eun. “Which I think means you owe me a jug of beer.”
“As I see it, I owe you absolutely nothing,” said Eun. “You got a good show, after all. Sounds like you owe me.”
There was the sound of a siren. Shift change. Which meant that Eun had ten minutes to get to her place on the production line. She started for the door.
“Show wasn’t that good,” said the guy.
She flipped him the finger and continued on her way.
Her shift was finishing when one of the Admin people came up to her. Said that she was wanted in the office of Base Commander Albright.
As she followed the man, Eun wondered if maybe the guy she had decked in the bar was a boyfriend of Albright, or maybe a relative. Well, nothing to be done about it now.
She was shown into Albright’s office. There was someone already there, seated in a chair. Damn, it was the older guy from the bar. He looked a bit puzzled, and even more so when he saw her.
“You know why we’re here?” he said to her.
“Probably because of our charming personalities,” said Eun.
Base Commander Louise Albright entered, with her usual crutch. She eased herself into her chair as the Admin guy, whose uniform shirt named him as Bellows, handed a folder of documents to each of them.
There were several pages of odd-looking graphs, covered in squiggles and hand-written notations.
“Ms Park, Mr Trent, if you don’t know, these are copies of the brain scans that you had when you arrived at Uluru Base,” said Albright. “They mean that you have just volunteered for a special assignment.”
“Uh, how can I say this, no,” said Trent. “And fuck you.”
Albright ignored him. “Are you familiar with the Furies project?” she said. “You are now a part of it, anyway.”
“What part of ‘fuck you’ isn’t clear?” said Trent.
“You can do this,” said Bellows to him. “Or you can go back to jail. Or maybe you might not make it that far. Fatal accidents happen around here all the time, you know.”
Huh, thought Eun. “I am not familiar with the Furies project,” she said. “At the moment, I work on an assembly line.”
“But you used to be a helicopter pilot,” said Albright. “Which means you know about operating complex machines.”
“I hope you’re not talking about what I think you’re talking about,” said Trent.
Albright sighed and levered herself out of her chair. She and Bellows led them into the corridor, where they piled onto one of the electric runabout vehicles. Eventually, they came to a huge hangar. Eun had not been to this part of the base before; it was off-limits to people with her lowly security clearance.
“Your brain patterns show that you both have a capacity for what might be termed extreme multi-tasking,” said Albright, as they entered the hangar, where squads of workers were buzzing about. “That is what we need right now. For the Furies.”
They turned a corner – and then Eun gasped.
Inside the hangar were two giant robots. Towering. Massive. Unbelievable. But there.
“Meet AC7491 and DC8032,” said Bellows. “Your new best friends.”
“Fuck,” said Eun and Trent together.
“This is part of a world-wide project to develop weapons that can fight the Kaiju,” said Albright. “As you know, our conventional weapons … well, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.”
“Uh, I don’t want to piss on your parade, but neither of these could take down a Kaiju,” said Eun. “I’ve seen one up close, and they’re bigger than these things. Way.”
“We know that,” said Bellows. “Which is why there are two of them. They – you – will fight a Kaiju together. Two against one.”
“I don’t play well with others,” said Eun.
“Neither do I,” said Trent. “Authority issues. Co-operation problems. You’ve probably read the file.”
“Yeah, but you’re the best software hacker we have left,” said Bellows. “Which is what landed you in jail, as I recall.”
“And I got let out early so I could work for you,” said Trent. “That was meant to involve sitting in front of a screen and writing code. Not going up against a monster in one of your tinkertoys.”
“I am surprised,” said Eun, “that you don’t have people who are better qualified for this job.”
“We did,” said Albright. “But they were in Jakarta when the place got levelled.”
“So we’re the B team,” said Trent.
“Actually, the C team,” said Bellows. “The back-up team were in Jakarta too. So now we have two robots ready to roll but no drivers.”
The four of them stared up at the two Furies. AC7491 had its chest and head open, showing where the pilot would go, hands and feet strapped to servo mechanisms, and surrounded by computer consoles.
“Why didn’t you make them larger?” said Eun.
“This is as large as we can get and still have them mechanically controlled by a pilot,” said Albright. “There are plans to build larger ones, called Jaegers, using a neural interface and two pilots operating in unison. But that’s a fair way off. We’re waiting for the Japanese, or what’s left of them, to come up with one of their programming miracles to make it work. Until then, we go physical, and tag-team.”
“Huh,” said Trent. “So the bottom line is that you need us. That raises the question, what do we get out of this? In return for risking our lives against a mountain of claws, teeth and bad attitude, we should get some special privileges.”
“What you get,” said Albright, “is the opportunity to save the world. And get some payback. I don’t have to tell you, Mr Trent, that many cities in this country have been destroyed, even though we had enough warning to relocate most of the people inland. That should be more than enough incentive for you.”
“Meh,” said Trent.
“These things are spreading,” said Bellows. “There were reports of one near New Zealand recently. They’re not going to stop. You want special privileges? How about the privilege of you both keeping your present salubrious accommodation instead of being shoved into the General Dormitory section of the base? I understand that you can get a bunk there, sometimes, if no-one bigger wants it.”
Eun wasn’t listening. She was staring up at the Furies. It was a chance to fight again. Settle up. Make amends.
“I’m in,” she said. “So is he.”
“Hey, wait – ” started Trent.
“I said,” said Eun, “that you’re in. Live with it.”
It was one of those dreams that you know is a dream, or the dream of a memory, but that doesn’t make it any easier. She had had this dream before, and would no doubt have it again.
She was in the cockpit of the UH-60P combat chopper, one of a flight of three meant to distract the Kaiju – codenamed Wanderer – while the rest of the air force swept in from behind. The choppers’ mission was the eyes. In the briefing, it had sounded simple. It can’t be armoured all over, can it? Got to have a soft spot somewhere. So go for the eyes. A blinded Kaiju is a Kaiju down. Easy peasy Japanesy.
So the three helicopters had been hovering in position, waiting for the Kaiju to get in range. The briefing officers had said that it would probably move away when it saw them, but it didn’t. It came at them in a run, with a howl that made the whole chopper shake, ear-splitting even over the storm of the rotors. Hard to believe that anything so large, so goddamn fucking huge, could be so fast. And then it had –
Eun woke with a start again, snapping upright in her bed and, as usual, banging her head on the underside of the bunk above. Out of habit, she swore.
She looked at the clock. It was almost time for her to start her first day as a Furies pilot. So she swung herself out of bed and pulled on her overalls.
It couldn’t be that hard, could it? There were computer systems that would help the pilot guide the machine, Albright had said. Once you’re strapped in, it will follow your movements, and you can make adjustments with the computer console. Couldn’t be much more difficult than flying a chopper, could it?
“Fuck!” shouted Eun for the umpteenth time. “This is fucking impossible!”
“All you have to do,” came Bellows’ voice in her earphones, “is walk ten paces, turn around, and come back again.”
“Then you fucking do it!” she shouted. She tried to take another step, but AC7491 toppled and went over – again – crashing to the desert ground. With an effort, she struggled to her knees, a process that took about five minutes.
To make matters worse, Trent in DC8032 strode by her. “Hey, this is a lot of fun,” he said over the radio. “We should market these things as rides for kids.”
“Screw you,” said Eun, as she got back on her feet.
There was a series of clicks in the earphones. She realised that Trent had somehow turned off their radio connection to the bunker on the test site, where Albright and Bellows were. For a few moments, at least, it was just the two of them.
“Hey, you don’t want these pricks to win, do you?” he said.
“No, Commander All-Bitch and Major Asshole.”
“Oh. Well, no.”
“Then don’t try so hard. Look, you’re smarter and stronger than me, so if I can do it then you can. Don’t think of it as a vehicle you have to drive. Think of it as a videogame.”
There was a crackle in her earphones and Bellows came back. “Mr Trent, have you been screwing with the communications software?” he said.
“Who, me?” said Trent. “Why would I do that, Major Ass … I mean, Mr Bellows?”
Eun could not help but smile. She readied herself for another try at walking. Right, she told herself. Videogame. With hands and feet. She took a step. And then another. And then another.
“Not bad,” said Albright.
But it was, Eun thought, a nightmare of switches and levers, buttons and screens. In fact, there was no window in the Fury; the pilot had to depend on video cameras. One more thing to worry about.
She made it to the end of the course, turned, and came back.
Finally, the day was over, and she and Trent found themselves back in Albright’s office, with Bellows and a troop of technicians.
“Well, that performance was a piece of crap,” said Albright. “A Kaiju will eat you for dinner.”
“I can walk alright,” said Trent.
“Wonderful,” said Bellows. “You can take a nice stroll with one of them.”
“I want a design change,” said Eun.
“Says the pilot who took an hour to get to the end of the runway,” said Bellows.
“I want a window,” said Eun. “So I can see out. See what’s in front of me. Help me keep my balance, stay orientated.”
“Impossible,” said Bellows.
“Actually – ” said one of the technicians, a Chinese by the name of Sao. He was the engineering team leader.
“Shut up,” said Bellows.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Trent. “Yeah, we should have a window. You know, I wrote some of the code for the video screen controls, and I wouldn’t trust it if my life depended on it. Which it does.”
Albright sighed. “We’ll see,” she said.
Sao looked at her. “Tell them,” he said.
“Uh, tell us what?” said Trent.
“There is a … timing … issue,” said Albright. “When it comes to combat. So far, you have been in minimum-power mode. That’s really only enough for basic movement. Combat requires much more. So the batteries will last for … well, not very long.”
“How long is not very long?” said Eun.
“Four minutes and twenty-three seconds,” said Sao.
“And then?” said Trent.
“If you exceed the time limit, you freeze,” said Sao. “If you switch out of combat mode before you reach the line, you go back to minimum-power mode. The batteries start to charge up again from the reserves.”
“Oh, that’s just fucking sweet,” said Trent. “So we have four minutes to beat a Kaiju?”
“And twenty-three seconds.”
Trent and Eun stared at each other. “I wish I could say that it has been nice knowing you,” said Trent to her. “But actually, it hasn’t.”
“Likewise, moron,” said Eun.
“And tomorrow,” said Albright, “we begin combat training.”
It was five days later. Aching in every muscle, Eun staggered into the bar.
“Oh, great,” she muttered. “It’s you.”
“Well, maybe one of us should leave,” said Trent. “I vote you.”
Eun muttered a Korean profanity. Then she sat down on the stool next to Trent.
“Okay, asshole, out with it,” she said. “Tell me what you do to get this thing to work. Today, we hit the 4.23 mark and I hadn’t even got my weapon up.”
“Maybe you’re just incompetent,” suggested Trent.
“Much as I hate to agree with you, you could be right,” said Eun. “But there’s just so much to watch inside that thing. Pressure gauges, balance monitors, environmental controls. I just can’t do it all and keep track of the time.”
“Oh, I don’t bother with any of that stuff,” said Trent.
“What!?” said Eun.
“The techs can handle it. Hell, I wouldn’t know what to do anyway, if there was a pressure drop or a … something else. I never even knew how to set the timer control on my old DVD player. I guess it was in the manual, but I couldn’t be bothered.”
“Huh,” said Eun. “Son of a bitch. But that still doesn’t solve the timing problem. If I keep one eye on the clock, I can’t do all the other stuff.”
“Hmm,” said Trent. “Okay, you can share my secret. Come with me.”
They finished their drinks and Trent led Eun to a distant part of the hotel. Eventually, they came to a narrow door. Eun looked around. Room Number 12 was on one side, Number 14 was on the other, Number 13 was across the hall.
“I think of this as room number twelve-and-a-half,” Trent said. He opened the door.
It had, apparently, once been an equipment closet. It was only just big enough for a bunk, with perhaps ten inches of room on the side. You had to climb onto the bed to get through the door.
So they climbed onto the bed.
“After this, I will no longer complain about my sleeping arrangements,” said Eun.
Trent was taking something from a shelf. He handed it to her.
It was an ancient iPod. He manipulated the controls until the name of a particular song came up on the screen.
“This music is from an era well before your time,” he said. “But this song has a particular advantage. It is exactly four minutes and twenty-three seconds long. I listen to it to help me keep track of the time. And so I don’t have to listen to Albright and Bellows natter at me. Once you’ve heard it a few hundred times, you get to know the timing. You can try it, see if it works for you. I have another one.”
Eun looked at the song title.
Thunderstruck. By a band called AC/DC.
Eun and Trent entered the hangar together. There had been no training for a few days, as Sao had wanted to do some maintenance and upgrades on the Furies.
They joined Albright and Bellows, who were standing in front of the Furies, staring at them. Sao joined them, wiping his hands on an oily rag.
“All done,” he said to Albright. “As per your orders.”
Eun and Trent looked up at the Furies. There were now window panels in the front, made of high-tensile plastic. Not as strong as the meta-alloy armour, but not bad.
And there was something else. AC7491 now had the word Thunderstruck painted on the side. DC8032 was Hell’s Bells.
“My … orders?” said Albright.
“Yes, from your email of a few days ago,” said Sao.
Albright stared at Trent. “My … email,” she said. “Of a few days ago.”
Albright turned to Bellows. “Make the new designations official in the records,” she said to him. She looked at Trent and Eun. “Carry on,” she said. She limped away.
The helicopter pilots had been told that at this height they would be out of range of the Kaiju, even its tail. Hadn’t worked out that way. Even as Eun watched the Kaiju crash towards them, its barbed tail extended like a telescope, doubling in length. The Kaiju swivelled and lashed out, the tail smashing into the chopper on her left. It immediately disintegrated, showering Eun’s chopper with flying debris. A piece of metal came whirring through the side window, lancing into the head of her co-pilot. There was a shower of blood.
And the Kaiju was reaching for them now, extending its huge, claw-like arms. Eun saw her hands moving on the controls, seemingly of their own volition, pulling back on the sticks to gain more height. She glanced to her right, just in time to see the chopper there pulled from the sky.
It was her instincts and training at work now, and they were transferring the weapons controls from the co-pilot’s console to her own. There was a moment when the face of the Kaiju was directly in front of her, those massive eyes staring into her soul.
“Firing missiles!” she heard a voice say into the radio, before she realised it was her own. She watched as the missiles smashed into the face of the Kaiju, exploding into clouds of smoke.
And nothing happened. The Kaiju shook its head, a giant flicking a mosquito bite.
Then, from behind the creature, a flight of warbirds was coming in. The Kaiju turned again, swinging that massive tail, taking out a half-dozen before they could even fire. The rest scattered. Some fired, but their missiles were no more effective than Eun’s had been.
Her chopper was sputtering now, damaged and leaking fuel. If only I had got closer, she thought. If only I had aimed better. If only I had done my job better, I might have saved them. If only…
She came awake with a start. To the sound of flying engines.
“Quite a dream you were having there,” said Albright, strapped into the seat across from her.
“Are we there yet?” said Eun.
“Another half-hour,” said Bellows, next to Albright. “The crews with the Furies are already in position. We’ll be landing at Singapore airport, and then we’ll link up with them.”
Singapore. Shining corporate jewel of south-east Asia. And now there was a Kaiju heading for it. And once it had flattened Singapore, it would probably go on to the Indian Ocean. From there …
So Eun and Trent had been pulled from their beds a few hours ago and told that they had their first mission. Intercept and destroy at point of landfall. Sounded easy, when you put it like that.
She stared out the window at the clouds below. Logically, she knew that there was really nothing else she could have done. The mission had failed because they had not known enough about the enemy. ‘No blame should be attached to any of the battle participants’ would have been the official report, if there had been one. That was one part of her head. But the other part … well, all it could see was the planes going down, her co-pilot with half his head gone, the Kaiju moving towards Pusan. And it saw failure, defeat, promises not kept and home not defended.
She glanced at Trent, sitting next to her. He was writing something.
“Your will?” she said.
He laughed. “Far from it,” he said. “Making notes for the talk shows. As I see it, after we’ve killed this thing we’ll be so famous that we’ll never have to work a day in our lives again. Just sit back and watch the money roll in. And these two – ” he nodded at Albright and Bellows – ”will have to kiss my famous shiny arse.”
“Ha,” said Bellows.
“But if you are successful in this mission, I might be able to give you a few days off,” said Albright. “Maybe. Without pay, of course.”
“Let me ask you something,” said Eun to Trent. “Have you ever actually seen a Kaiju?”
“Of course not,” he said. “But plenty of pictures and things. And we’ve done the combat simulations and training. I mean, how hard can it be to kill one? They’re just animals, after all.”
“Great,” muttered Eun. “Fucking wonderful.”
The plane landed and a military helicopter took them to the northern edge of the island, where Thunderstruck and Hell’s Bells were being given their final prep.
This part of the island was a large patch of open, sandy land, part of the Singapore government’s ongoing plan to expand the island through land reclamation. The area had been filled some years before but was still to be declared stable enough for construction. The edge of the city was a few kilometres away. Some of the population – those who could afford to buy their way into another country – had been evacuated but most were in underground shelters. Like that would be much help when the whole place started to come down.
The Furies had been fitted with their weapons. Attached to the left arm was a machine gun. It had thirty ‘bullets’, each the size of a truck and packed with explosives, in a bandolier strap that ran across the Fury’s back. On the right arm was an extendable knife: if the Fury had been the size of a person, the blade would have been about twelve inches long.
“We’ll be in the helicopter, watching you the whole time,” said Albright. “So all you have do is follow orders. Got that?”
“Yeah, ‘cos that always works,” said Eun.
The plan was to have the two Furies a distance apart, so when the Kaiju went for one the other could attack it from behind. That was the plan.
Eun and Trent were taken up to the cockpits of the Furies on the elevators and were strapped in. Albright, Bellows, Sao and the others got into the helicopter and flew to a safe distance.
“We’re tracking the Kaiju by satellite, and we’re pretty sure it’s going to come ashore right between you,” said Bellows over the radio. “Don’t switch to combat mode until the last possible moment.”
“Ah, some images of the Kaiju have just come in,” said Albright. “Transferring them to you now.”
An image came up on Eun’s computer screen.
It was fucking Wanderer.
“I can tell you right now,” she said into the radio, “that this attack-from-behind idea isn’t going to work. Its major weapon is its tail.”
“Doesn’t look that dangerous,” said Albright. “So stay with the plan.”
“Anyway, how would you know?” said Bellows.
“Because we’re old friends,” said Eun.
At that moment, a wave broke onto the shore. There was a tremor through the ground. And then another. And then another.
And then Wanderer waded out of the water and onto the beach. It looked around and gave a howl.
“Weapons hot and prepare to switch to combat mode,” said Albright.
“Watch the coolant pressure and the temperature monitors,” said Sao.
“And don’t forget to – ” started Bellows.
Eun turned them off. She put the iPod plugs in her ears.
“Damn, I hate this song,” she muttered to herself. She opened the channel to Trent.
“Hey, asshole, get ready,” she said to him.
She heard him whisper: “Fuck me. It’s … it’s … ”
“Yeah, it’s big, I know,” she said. “Watch out for the tail, it gets a lot longer when it’s fighting.”
“Trent?” she said.
Goddamn, she thought.
The Kaiju had begun to move. Towards Hell’s Bells. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed.
“Trent!” shouted Eun. “Go to combat mode! Now! It’s coming right for you!”
“I … I … I can’t … ”
“Fuck!” said Eun to herself. She punched the button to switch to combat mode and hit the control on the iPod. A guitar riff began.
4.23. And counting.
She began to run. Faster. She saw the Kaiju’s tail extend.
“Trent, get your gun up!” she shouted. “Or move! Do fucking something!”
But Hell’s Bells was just standing there, immobile. Frozen.
The Kaiju was almost on him when Eun caught up. She grabbed Wanderer’s tail as it whipped around and pulled. Then, with all her strength, she swivelled and flung the creature through the air, back down the beach.
It smashed into the ground and rolled, but was up again in a moment. It charged at her.
She lifted the arm with the gun and fired. The explosive bullets whacked into the Kaiju. Boomboomboom –
And then nothing. Jammed. After nine shots.
The Kaiju ploughed into her, swinging her around. She managed to get an arm free and punched out, smashing into the creature’s jaw. It fell back a step.
And looked at her.
“Yeah, that’s right, fucker,” she said. “Me. The one who spat in your face.”
Wanderer charged again. Eun swung the arm with the now-useless gun, to use it as a club. But the Kaiju blocked the blow, grabbing hold of the arm, and smashed out, knocking Thunderstruck down. Eun managed to get to her knees but the Kaiju wrapped her in a deadly embrace.
Inside the cockpit, lights began to flash red. There was the sound of metal tearing. The video screens went dark.
“Trent,” said Eun. “I … need you … help me … please ... ”
And then, suddenly, Wanderer was away from her, being pulled back. Trent had his knife extended and was stabbing it, again and again, and punching with his other fist.
The Kaiju’s tail flashed around, cutting into Hell’s Bells’ leg. The Fury fell back a few steps, and went down onto one knee, the other leg gushing hydraulic fluid.
Eun struggled to her feet. She realised that Thunderstruck’s left arm was useless, crushed. She needed another weapon.
She had an idea. She searched for the control, and then found it: Emergency eject cartridge strap.
The strap with the bullets fell from Thunderstruck’s back. She picked it up with her good arm.
She swung it, and caught Wanderer across the face. And then again. And then again. The Kaiju fell back, howling in something that might have been pain.
She smashed into the Kaiju with the strap again, but this time it caught it in its mouth. Wanderer tore the strap from Eun’s hand.
Trent’s voice, quite soft: “Down.”
She dived aside.
Hell’s Bells was still on one knee but was firing. The bullets were smashing into the Kaiju’s chest, and it was bleeding. But it was a long way from going down.
That tail was whipping up again, preparing to strike. Eun leaped for it, grabbing it and holding it down. She extended the knife, and drove it through Kaiju flesh, pinning the tail to the ground. And then the blade broke.
She rolled away and struggled to her feet once more.
“Fuck, this thing is tough,” said Trent. “Twenty-five bullets and it’s still up.”
“I’m on the last verse,” said Eun.
The Kaiju had managed to rip itself free from the knife, although its tail was now shredded, gushing blood. It came charging at them again.
Eun launched herself at it. There was a crash as muscle met steel. With her right fist, she punched, and punched, and punched.
But Wanderer had its claws around her again, and was squeezing. This time, it meant to finish her. Eun could hear supports collapsing and cables snapping.
She could feel her blows getting weaker. And she realised that Trent could not fire for fear of hitting her.
She looked up. She saw that the ammunition belt was still in Wanderer’s mouth.
“Trent!” she shouted into the radio. “Fire! At its head! Aim for the bullets!”
“You’re too close!” he shouted back. “If they go up – ”
“Just do it!”
With a final effort, she broke out of the Kaiju’s grip and threw herself down.
There was a shattering roar as the shells in the strap exploded, all at once.
Slowly, Wanderer staggered backwards, half of its head gone. It tottered. Then, like an avalanche, it crashed to the ground, face-down.
Eun switched out of combat mode as the last chords died away. She got to her feet and staggered to Trent, running on minimum-power now. With her remaining good arm, she helped him up. Together, they hobbled back to the Kaiju. They looked down at it. There was smoke and liquid streaming from its skull.
And then it twitched. It started to move.
“Damn thing just won’t die,” said Trent. “Must have a second brain somewhere.”
“Got any bullets left?” she said.
“Nope,” he said. “But I’ve got this.” He held up the knife.
She helped him kneel, and he plunged the blade into the back of the Kaiju’s neck. Then he pulled it down, along the spine.
Finally, the twitching stopped.
Eun kicked it in the side. “Payback’s a bitch,” she said to it. “Fuck you. Fuck all of you.”
She stared at the dead Kaiju. She had a feeling that she wouldn’t have any more bad dreams about Wanderer.
They popped the hatches and climbed down the emergency ladders. They were both bruised, shaken, and exhausted.
By the time they reached the ground, Albright’s helicopter had landed.
Bellows came storming up to them, Albright limping behind.
“And just what the fuck was that all about!?” he shouted. “Why the hell didn’t you obey your orders!?” He leaned forward into Eun’s face, snarling.
And she head-butted him. There was the sound of a nose breaking. He howled in pain.
“Outstanding,” said Trent.
Albright came up to them. She glanced at the blood streaming down Bellows’ face, and then at Eun and Trent.
“Speaking for myself – and this is an entirely unofficial opinion – I thought you did alright,” she said. “Not too bad at all.”
“As if we fucking care what you think,” said Eun.
The two of them started to walk towards the city.
“Think there are any bars open in Singapore?” said Eun.
“Hope so,” said Trent. “Because you still owe me a beer.”
“Bullshit,” said Eun. “You owe me one.”
“Well, how about this then,” said Trent. “I buy the first round, you buy the second. Deal?”
“Deal,” said Eun.
2. The Southern Line
“You know, I used to own a Hyundai sedan that was more reliable than you,” said Eun, as she struggled to lever the servo into place. She finally picked up a hammer and whacked it until it was where she wanted it.
“The way you talk to it, one might think you didn’t like it,” said Sao.
“I don’t,” said Eun. “Goddamn piece of junk.”
“And yet you and Thunderstruck here, and Trent and Hell’s Bells, have taken down three Kaijus,” said the engineer. “Which is more than any other Fury drivers can say.”
“Well, the second one, the one near Shanghai, had already been wounded by the Chinese bombers,” said Eun. “At least my gun didn’t jam that time. And I didn’t lose an arm. Came pretty damn close, though. And the third one was as dumb as a brick. Practically asked me to put my gun down its throat and pull the trigger.”
Their work on Thunderstruck’s servos done, they got onto the little elevator and started on their way down. When they finally reached the floor of the hangar, Commander Albright was waiting for them.
“Ready for action?” she said.
“As we’ll ever be,” said Eun. “I hear that Back in Black is nearly complete.” She nodded towards the new Fury at the other end of the hangar.
“Another week, maybe. I wanted to tell you, Ms Park, that the Shishio and the Koryu went down this morning. Defending Vancouver, or what was left of it after the first hit.”
“The pair of Furies that the Japanese survivors built in Canada?” said Eun. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Even worse, the Kaiju then went after the construction base. Most of the people got out but the base itself was destroyed. So no more Furies from that part of the world for a while.”
“But that was in the safe zone,” said Sao. “Three hundred miles inland.”
“I guess no-one told the Kaijus that,” said Eun. “They’re getting bolder. And tougher.”
“That is the view of the UN PacRim Crisis Committee as well,” said Albright. “They’ve put more resources into the Jaeger project. Unfortunately, they took the money out of the Furies program. Might make sense, in terms of strategy, but doesn’t make our life here any easier. On the plus side, the Australian government has increased our funding, for what it’s worth. I guess Trent’s idea of taking Hell’s Bells for a little walk around Canberra was a good PR move. All the politicians wanted to have their photo taken with it, apparently.”
Eun laughed – something she didn’t do very often, these days. “Yeah, well, maybe they’d like to face off with a Kaiju next time around,” she said. “Might be some votes in it.”
“We don’t have a pilot for Back in Black yet, so maybe I’ll make them an offer,” said Albright. With a grimace that said that her job had way too much politics in it, she limped away.
Eun turned to Sao. “So no-one else has tested as suitable for the pilot job?” she said.
“Apparently not,” said Sao. “And they’ve double-tested all the military guys.”
“Then perhaps we’ll have to look further afield,” she said.
As she made her way to the bar, she thought about the things that had changed and the things that had not since she and Trent had brought down Wanderer. No-one had thought to give her a new pair of overalls, for example. She had been offered a room to herself in the hotel but when she had learned that it would mean kicking a family out of it she had said no. So she was still sharing with eleven Japanese women. They seemed to treat her with a bit more respect now, but that didn’t translate into any more time in the bathroom.
On the plus side, word had got around that she didn’t much like men hitting on her, which was something she was grateful for. She received lot of fan mail, but the novelty of that had quickly worn off, and now she threw it away without opening it. Only so many marriage proposals or requests for product endorsements that a woman needs to hear.
As she took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer, she glanced at the muted television on the wall. She was surprised – although she told herself that she shouldn’t be – to see the face of Trent. He was on one of the talk shows. The barman noticed her watching and turned up the volume.
“ – the first time, I was so scared I just froze,” he was saying. “It was my partner, Eun Park, who really deserves the credit. She’s back at Uluru Base at the moment, probably having a beer after doing maintenance work on Thunderstruck.”
“Huh,” said Eun.
“Huh,” said the barman. “Well, nice of him to mention you. And us. Good for morale.”
“I’ll leave the public stuff to him,” said Eun. “He likes it. I just drive the tinkertoy.”
A woman came up to her. It was Summers, Albright’s new assistant. After Bellows had … left. She handed Eun a large package.
“These are your clothes for tomorrow,” said Summers. “Good trousers, blouse, jacket, shoes. We’ll be wanting them back.”
“What?” said Eun.
“You know, for our trip to Adelaide,” said Summers. “You and me. Of course, you’re the one who has to shake hands with the Premier and everything. Pose for some pictures. My job is, well, the boss said that I was to make sure that you didn’t get into any fights. Any more fights.”
“I thought I’d got out of this,” said Eun. “Like all the others.”
“Apparently not,” said Summers. “Anyway, we fly down tomorrow morning, you do the PR thing, and then we get to stay in a decent hotel. With real beds, probably. Fun, eh? So I’ll swing by your room at seven.” With a smile that was so cheery it was depressing, she left.
“You know, I think I preferred Bellows,” said Eun to the barman. “I wonder if I could I get away with pushing her out of the plane.”
“Well, maybe you’ll get lucky between now and tomorrow morning, and there’ll be another Kaiju attack,” said the barman.
“I’m not that lucky,” said Eun.
So they went to Adelaide and did the photo-op thing, and Eun did her best to not feel really, really stupid. Summers announced that she was going somewhere or other, and now Eun was sitting at a café in Rundle Mall. At least there was real coffee here, not the stuff that they had at Uluru Base.
She noticed a little crowd forming nearby. There was a street performer doing something, apparently. Eun picked up her coffee and went to see.
The performer was a young woman, working for notes and tips from the audience. Most of the performers that Eun had seen usually made some sort of effort to dress the part, but this woman was wearing ordinary, somewhat ragged clothes.
The woman was juggling a set of balls, five or six of them, throwing them up in patterns. Then she let them fall to the ground, and she caught them as they bounced up. She showed the audience her hands: the balls had disappeared. Gone. Not easy, given that she was wearing a sleeveless tank-top shirt.
But someone in the audience was not impressed. “Is that all you’ve got?” said some guy. “And you want money for that?”
“You don’t like it, then fuck off,” said the woman.
I like your attitude, thought Eun.
The woman opened a wooden chest and took out a knife, a meat cleaver, and a mini-chainsaw. She put them aside and opened a small cardboard box. She took out a black-and-white kitten. It meowed. The woman stroked it, and then put it back in the box on the ground.
She started up the chainsaw, and proceeded to juggle it, the knife and the meat cleaver. She looked down at the box.
“You can’t – ” said someone in the crowd.
“Sure I can,” said the woman. She put one foot into the box and flicked the kitten into the air, and caught it. So now she was juggling a kitten and three very sharp things. The kitten was going meow, meow, meow.
“Stop!” cried someone. “You’ll hurt it!”
“You’ll kill it!” shouted someone else.
The woman nodded towards the hat on the ground where the money went. People started to throw notes into it.
When she was satisfied that the pile was big enough, the woman flicked the knife back into the chest. Then the meat cleaver. Then she caught the chainsaw in one hand and the kitten in the other. She turned the chainsaw off.
“Ta-dah!” she said. She bowed.
“Thank god!” said someone in the crowd.
“How could you be so cruel?” said someone else.
“Don’t worry folks, it’s all part of the act,” she said. She held up the kitten. Except it wasn’t a kitten. It was a doll. A kitten doll.
“But I heard it meowing!” said someone.
The woman made meowing noises, without moving her lips. She tipped the cardboard box a little, showing that the real kitten was still there.
The crowd started to break up.
“I don’t know if that was the best show I’ve ever seen, or the worst,” muttered someone as they passed Eun.
The woman was packing her equipment away. Eun walked up to her. “You make enough money with this?” she said.
“Actually, I’m secretly a wealthy heiress who does this for kicks,” said the woman.
“What’s your name?” said Eun.
“Grace. Or Grace the Magnificent, if you prefer. It’s sort of a stage name. Hasn’t really caught on, though. Can’t think why.”
“I’m Eun. You want a job?”
“Stuff. Saving the world. That sort of thing. There’s some travel involved.”
“Uh-huh. Can I bring my cat?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Surprisingly, she tests out as suitable,” said Albright. They were watching Grace, who was standing in front of Back in Black, staring up at it.
“Not so surprising, after you’ve seen her juggling act,” said Eun.
“But she has serious problems with social interaction at all levels.”
“Also not surprising, after you’ve seen her juggling act. Look, Albright, all the Furies that have gone down so far have been driven by by-the-book military types. The ones that have survived are the ones with … issues.”
“Well, Grace certainly has issues.”
“Bottom line: you got anyone else?”
Albright sighed. “I guess we can try her on the training course,” she said.
Eun nodded. She walked over to Grace.
“And there it is,” she said to her.
“I’ve seen these things on television,” she said. “But I hadn’t realised they were so … so … ”
“Believe me, there are things in the world that are bigger. And much nastier.”
“You know, when you said that this job was about saving the world, I thought … well, I didn’t think that it would be about this. Actually about saving the world. I thought you meant doing work for some sort of charity.”
“It wasn’t my first career choice, either. By the way, have you been allocated accommodation yet?”
“Yeah, a room … well, I think it was once an air-conditioning vent or something. Believe it or not, it’s better than where I used to live in Adelaide. When a city built for a million people suddenly has an extra three million jammed into it, decent places to live get pretty hard to find. I’ve spent more than a few nights sharing beds with people I didn’t much like, so Uluru Base is not that bad. And Herman seems to like it.”
Eun smiled. “Then tomorrow we’ll find out if you can do anything more than party tricks,” she said.
Eun in Thunderstruck and Trent in Hell’s Bells – recently returned from their PR tour – were standing at the edge of the training course, watching Back in Black’s first outing. Grace had fallen twice, but now she seemed to have the hang of it. She walked to the end of the runway, turned, and came back, and stood in front of the bunker.
Then she bowed.
“Applause sign flashes,” said Trent over the radio.
“Or just throw money,” said Eun. “But then, anyone can walk.”
In fact, as they watched Back in Black, still in a bowing position, began to totter forward. There was a weird flailing of giant-robot arms as Grace tried to regain her balance. And then it crashed down, its head slamming into the bunker. Fortunately, the bunker was strong enough to withstand the impact.
“Automatic fail,” said Trent, as the dust began to clear.
“But you have to admit, it was sort of funny,” said Eun.
“Actually, I got so bored that I fell asleep,” said Grace.
Albright sighed. “All Furies drivers,” she said, “are miscreants. And possibly insane.”
Over the next few weeks, as Grace ground through her training, news of more Kaiju attacks filtered into Uluru Base. The Panama Canal was destroyed, and coastal cities in Vietnam and Ecuador were levelled. A Chinese team of Furies trying to defend Macau, and an American team in Mexico, were defeated.
“Basically, we’re losing,” said Eun, as the three pilots were sitting in the bar.
“The Kaiju are knocking down Furies faster than we can build them,” said Trent.
“But we’re okay here, aren’t we?” said Grace. “There haven’t been any attacks on Australia for over a year, since Brisbane. I mean, where Brisbane used to be.”
“Yeah, we’re made in the shade,” said Trent.
“Eventually, the Kaijs are going to run out of targets on the Pacific Rim,” said Eun. “And then they’ll start looking elsewhere. It’s what they do. It’s all they do.”
“But not even a Kaiju can beat three Furies,” said Grace. “Not three. According to the simulations.”
“Right,” said Trent. “According to the simulations.”
At that moment, all of their phones beeped. Text message. From Albright.
“So how many people are in Surabaya?” said Trent over the thud of the helicopter rotors.
“Before the Breach, about 3.2 million,” said Summers. “But with the refugees from the rest of Indonesia, plus ones from the Philippines and elsewhere, it might be triple that, or more. You know, I went there for a holiday once, years ago. Nice place. Some very attractive temples.”
“Please shut up,” said Eun.
Grace was looking at a tourist guidebook. “But according to this, Surabaya isn’t on the coast,” she said.
“Nevertheless, according to the satellite tracking, that’s where he’s going,” said Albright. “Once they’ve decided to go somewhere, they move in a pretty straight line, and you can extrapolate their course.”
“She,” said Trent.
“What?” said Albright.
“She,” said Trent. “Kaijus are female.”
“Huh,” said Eun. “And how do you know that?”
“I was married to one.”
The four women exchanged glances, and then rolled their eyes.
“Been waiting long to use that joke?” said Eun to Trent.
“Couple of months,” said Trent.
“Whatever,” said Albright. She unrolled a military map. “Anyway, it will have made landfall by the time we arrive. The plan is to engage it here. That’s only about twenty miles from Surabaya but it’s the best terrain for us, pretty flat and open.”
“Pity we can’t take the Kaijus on in the water,” said Trent.
“The Furies aren’t built for that,” said Albright. “But I understand that the Jaegers will be able to do it.”
“How do they know where to go?” said Grace. “The Kaijus. I mean, it’s not as if they just wander out of the sea anywhere. It’s always near cities or something.”
“Interesting question,” said Trent. “Maybe they can smell large populations.”
“Or maybe someone is … guiding … them,” said Eun. “Maybe they’re not just dumb animals that follow their instincts. Maybe they’re … something else.”
The three pilots looked at each other.
“Oh, that’s just fucking great,” said Trent.
They were approaching the island of Java from the north, having re-fueled at a US carrier in the Banda Sea. They crossed the coast.
There was a massive furrow of flattened jungle leading southwards, heading towards Surabaya.
“You think we’ll have any trouble finding her?” said Trent.
They flew over the Kaiju. It was built almost like a bear rather than a marine creature, but it had the armour-like exoskeleton that they all had. And extra layers of sloped armour on its shoulders, angled sharply at the end.
“Codenamed Stuka,” said Albright. “Because of the shoulder-pads, I assume.”
They could see the three Furies now, standing in the middle of a complex of highways that fed into the city. The helicopter landed and they ran to where Sao was waiting. There was an Indonesian man with him.
“I’m Ade Johan, the regional governor,” said the Indonesian. “It is very good to see you.”
“Can the Indonesian military provide any assistance?” said Albright.
“Since Jakarta, there has not been an Indonesia military,” said Johan.
“Has the population been evacuated?” said Eun.
“Where would we go?” said Johan. “We have nowhere else to run. So we will fight. With sticks and stones, if we have to.”
“I admire your courage,” said Trent.
“Let’s go,” said Eun. She led the way to the Furies, where the prep teams were completing their work.
“Sao, did you finish the gun upgrades?” said Trent.
“Yes, Thunderstruck and Hell’s Bells now have forty-five shells each,” said Sao. “Back in Black’s primary weapon is like a shotgun. Ten shots. Good for close-in. We think. Never really tested it.”
“Oakey-dokey,” said Grace. “I’ll let you know how it works out.”
“And if we fail, ten million people die,” said Trent. “No pressure though, guys.”
Albright was speaking to Satellite Control on her phone. “Kaiju ETA, twelve minutes,” she said.
Eun, Trent and Grace were strapped into the Furies. Johan, Albright and the rest of the Uluru Base team retreated to Surabaya in helicopters.
Eun activated the radio link with Grace.
“Status report,” she said.
“Absolutely fucking terrified,” said Grace.
“Me too,” said Trent, “if anyone’s interested.”
The three Furies were lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, Back in Black in the middle.
“We concentrate our fire,” said Eun. “Trent and me first, Grace when it’s closer. That should wound it enough so we can take it down with hand-to-hand.”
“Sounds simple enough,” said Grace.
“Well, for a while the military types tried to draw up complex tactical plans,” said Trent. “None of those survived an encounter with a Kaiju. Straightforward and brutal is all that seems to work.”
“And we just have to hope that they don’t get any bigger,” said Eun.
“Or smarter,” said Trent.
“You’re not making me any less scared,” said Grace.
“Wait, it gets worse,” said Eun.
At that moment, Stuka came into view. It saw the three Furies and gave an ear-splitting roar.
“There, you see, I told you,” said Eun.
“Fuck,” said Grace. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” said Trent.
The Kaiju started towards them, in a lumbering run.
“In machine-gun range in five seconds,” said Eun. “Trent, you and I go combat mode in three, two, one, now.”
Thunderstruck and Hell’s Bells raised their guns and fired. And fired.
The bullets smashed into the Kaiju. It began to slow in its charge, and blood began to spurt from the wounds.
“Grace, go combat on my mark,” said Eun, over the storm of gunfire.
The Kaiju had almost stopped now.
Eun glanced at the shell counter. She had fired thirty eight bullets. Trent had probably done the same.
“End fire at forty shots,” she said.
The Kaiju was tottering in its tracks when Eun and Trent ceased shooting. Slowly, it fell backwards. Its mountainous chest heaved, and heaved again … and then stopped.
“Well, that wasn’t such a chore now, was it?” said Trent, as he and Eun switched out of combat mode.
“I didn’t get to do anything,” said Grace. “Not that I’m complaining about it.”
They approached the Kaiju, sprawled across the tangle of wrecked roads.
“I guess it just wasn’t as tough as the other ones we’ve seen,” said Eun. She prodded the Kaiju with Thunderstruck’s foot. “In any case, it’s not breathing.”
“There’s … something … wrong,” said Grace. “This feels like … like … we’re watching the wrong kitten.”
“Get back!” shouted Eun. “Go combat!”
Suddenly, the Kaiju moved. The second of warning from Grace’s intuition had let them get out of its reach but they were still in what now seemed like a very dangerous zone. Stuka lashed out with one huge arm, sweeping Thunderstruck’s feet from under it. It kicked, catching Hell’s Bells on the chest and knocking it down.
Grace had been able to switch to combat mode but before she could do anything the Kaiju punched at her. She reeled backwards but stayed on her feet. She struggled to bring her gun up but then the Kaiju was lunging at her.
But it didn’t reach her. She saw that Hell’s Bells was holding onto one of its legs, holding it back.
“Shoot the fucking thing!” shouted Trent.
Grace lifted her gun and fired but the Kaiju managed to turn, and its extra-armoured shoulder took most of the blast. It gave another roar.
It was kicking at Hell’s Bells with its free foot but Trent was holding on, knowing that if the Kaiju was able to fully get back on its feet it would be hard to stop.
Thunderstruck came in from the side, punching, aiming for the bullet wounds. Stuka howled. Eun extended her knife and started to stab, opening a massive gash in the Kaiju’s chest.
It lashed out, knocking her away. Finally, it managed to shake itself free from Hell’s Bells.
Grace fired again, and this time Stuka took the shot directly in its face. It staggered backwards.
In Thunderstruck’s cockpit, Eun glanced at the timer. Two minutes twenty gone.
“Trent, Grace, status!” she shouted into the radio.
“Still in the fight, but I’ve taken heavy damage on both sides,” said Trent. “Five bullets left. And tick tick.”
“I’m … okay,” said Grace.
“On its feet, it’s too strong for us,” said Eun.
“Then … the bar thing?” said Trent.
“Worth a try,” said Eun.
She charged at the Kaiju, punching and slashing. It grabbed hold of her, meaning to push her back. With all her strength, she smashed her head into the Kaiju’s face. It reeled backwards again.
To where Hell’s Bells had a foot out.
The Kaiju fell back, landing with an earth-shaking crash.
“Now, Grace!” said Eun. “Get in close and shoot!” Both she and Trent fired the last of their bullets … but the Kaiju was already trying to get up. It was clearly wounded, and badly, but it was not finished yet. It punched at Hell’s Bells and Thunderstruck, sending them both down.
Grace came running forward, gun up. She fired.
The Kaiju started coming towards her.
She fired again. She started to back up. She fired again. And again.
“It’s … it’s not stopping,” she said.
“Keep firing!” Eun shouted, trying to get to her feet.
Back in Black kept firing.
“How many shots is that?” said Trent.
“Nine,” said Eun. Both Thunderstruck and Hell’s Bells were heavily damaged but they struggled towards the Kaiju and Back in Black. Out of ammunition, they extended their knives.
“One left,” muttered Grace.
The Kaiju was almost close enough to grab her.
Then she saw the gash in the Kaiju’s chest, from Eun’s knife.
Last chance. She rammed the barrel of the gun into the wound. And fired.
The Kaiju screamed. Blood gushed from the wound. And then Stuka, enraged, charged at Back in Black again.
“Grace, knife!” shouted Eun.
Grace extended her knife and thrust out her arm.
If the Kaiju saw the danger, it paid no heed. The force of its charge drove it onto the knife. The blade sliced into the creature’s throat. And out the other side.
Back in Black went down with a crash, the Kaiju on top of it. There was a massive explosion of blood. The Kaiju howled, convulsed … and then was still.
Eun and Trent had both managed to switch from combat mode a few seconds before freezing, and were operating on minimum power.
“Grace, are you still alive?” said Eun.
“I … I think so,” said Grace. “All my controls are dead. Can you get this thing off me?”
“Er, not really, no,” said Trent. “You might be stuck there for a while.”
“Your hatch has a manual override,” said Eun.
The three of them climbed out of their machines and eventually met at the foot of Thunderstruck. Trent glared at the Kaiju.
“And that’s what you get for playing dead on us,” he said to it. “You wind up dead for real.”
“These things are getting way too smart,” said Eun. “Grace, you did well. Very well.”
Suddenly, Grace vomited onto the ground between them. Some of the brown-green muck splashed onto their boots.
“Well, hardly the worst thing that’s happened today,” said Trent.
“Sorry,” said Grace, wiping her mouth.
The helicopters with Albright and the others were landing.
“You think we’ll get a raise out of this?” said Trent.
“Unlikely,” said Eun.
“Wait, you mean we get paid?” said Grace.
“Yes, but not much,” said Eun.
“Before the boss and the techs get here, there’s one question I want to ask you guys,” said Trent. Both Eun and Grace looked at him.
“What was that thing about the kitten?” he said.
3. End of the Line
Eun, Trent and Grace were sitting in a booth in the bar of Uluru Base. They were staring at the table. They still had the smell of a Kaiju in their nostrils. Still had the sound of its roar echoing in their heads.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” said Eun softly.
“Fucking A,” said Trent.
“Me too,” said Grace. “And you guys have been doing it longer than I have. I’ve only been in three fights. You’ve been in … how many is it?”
“Too damn many,” said Eun. She picked up her drink – whisky, not beer – and downed it. She signalled to the barman for a re-fill.
“We’ve done our share,” said Grace. “We can quit. Let someone else drive the Furies. We can retire undefeated.”
“I see a flaw in this plan,” said Trent.
“There isn’t anyone else,” said Eun. “No-one else has tested to a useable level.”
“What!?” said Grace. “You mean that there’s nobody else on the base who can pilot a Fury?”
“No,” said Eun. “I mean there’s nobody else in the country.”
“Fuck me,” said Grace.
“On the other hand, it means that we’ve got jobs for life,” said Trent. “However long that might be. I suppose we could just … not go. Not turn up for the next mission. Say that we’re busy or something. Say we’ve come down with a cold, and we’ve got a note from the doctor.”
“Sure, we could do that,” said Eun. “Albright will understand. And so will everyone else. I’m sure the Kaijus will be cool with it too. They’ll go away until we’re ready.”
Grace put her head in her hands. “Goddamn,” she said. “Goddamn.”
Tears began to run down Eun’s face. She touched her cheeks, surprised.
“Here is where the old guy is supposed to dispense some timely and important advice,” said Trent. He thought about it. “Sorry, I’ve got nothing,” he said.
Eun couldn’t help but smile. “Good to know we can count on you,” she said.
There was a commotion in the bar. People were starting to rush out. Trent caught a guy as he passed.
“Sup, mate?” he said to him.
“Didn’t you hear?” said the guy. “The first Jaeger has arrived.”
They ran to the hangar. It was there. Still in pieces from factories all over the country, but there. The construction team had already started assembly work. Looked like it was going to be twice the size of a Fury.
“Thank god,” muttered Eun.
Workers were unpacking the crate with the name-plate. Terror Australis.
It was the next evening. Eun was sitting on the foot of Thunderstruck, watching the huge jigsaw that was Terror Australis slowly come together. She had a bottle of whisky in her hand. Half of it was gone. But not enough, she said to herself.
She patted the massive metal foot. “Looks like we’re going to be out of a job soon, big fella,” she said. “Which is not a bad thing.”
She realised that the metal was deeply scratched and worn. In fact, Thunderstruck’s exterior was a patchwork of repairs and old wounds. She saw that Sao had finished the upgrades on the knife; it now extended twice as long as before. Aside from that, the Fury looked like it was ready to quit. Or fall apart, whichever happened first. Like her. She put her hand on the metal skin.
“We’ve done our job, and then some,” she said. “So here’s to us.” She poured a generous slug of whisky over the robot foot. And then had some more herself.
“Is this a private party?” said a voice. “Or can anyone get some of that?”
Eun handed the bottle to Albright. She took a shot and handed the bottle back. With an effort, she eased herself down next to Eun.
“Mixed feelings?” said Albright.
“If the Jaeger means that we don’t have to go up against any more Kaiju, then certainly not,” said Eun. “Tell the truth, I don’t think my large friend here can take much more.”
“And neither can you, I know,” said Albright. “If there was an alternative, I would have pulled you out months ago. Trent too. And Grace soon. But ... ”
Eun sighed. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “But once Terror Australis is up and running, it won’t be an issue. Who’s going to be in the cockpit, anyway?”
“A pair of sisters from Tasmania, apparently. They’re arriving next week.”
“Good luck to them. They’re going to need it, even if the Jaeger is a much bigger platform than the Fury.”
“I was hoping that you might be able to give them some pointers. Act as a mentor. After all, the total number of people with field experience in this country is three. And you’re the team leader.”
“I am? Who says?”
“Trent and Grace. And me.”
“You might not know it, but you’re a bit of a legend. You know what they call you three in other countries? The Southern Line. I was talking to one of my American counterparts a few days ago, and he said that the reason they were seeing a lot of Kaijus there was because they were afraid to come south. Knew they’d get their arses kicked, he said. They prefer to face the new American Jaegers than the Aussies. You can take that as a compliment.”
“Huh,” said Eun again. “And I’m not even Australian.”
“It’s a state of mind, not a piece of paper,” said Albright. “Which reminds me, I brought you something.” She handed Eun a package.
Eun unwrapped it. It was a new pair of overalls. On the breast, there was a line of Kaiju icons, representing Eun’s number of victories. On the shoulder, there was a patch. It was an Australian flag.
She stared at it for a long time. Then, softly, slowly, because of everything that had been lost and everything that had been gained, tears began to roll down her cheeks.
It was a week later. The ceremony for the commissioning of Terror Australis was a big affair, with a pack of dignitaries and a media scrum visiting Uluru Base. The sisters who would be the pilots - Jaegers had pilots, Furies had drivers - were to arrive at the same time.
Eun, Trent and Grace were standing in a line in the hangar with various other people from Uluru Base, as the Prime Minister and the sisters moved along it, shaking hands.
The sisters, Dorothy and Beatrice, were youngish women. They looked pretty tough, as if they had been nailed together from chunks of Tasmanian hardwood. Good, thought Eun.
Dorothy and Beatrice came up to them.
“Wow,” said one of them, as they shook hands. “The Southern Line. You guys are – ”
“ – mean motherfuckers,” said the other.
“From Tasmanians, that’s a compliment,” whispered Trent to Eun.
The Prime Minister reached them. He shook Trent’s hand. “Hello again, Jerry,” he said.
“Hello, Keith,” said Trent. “Let me introduce two of the bravest people on the planet – ”
A siren went.
“What’s that?” said the Prime Minister.
“Bad news,” said Eun. She, Trent and Grace started for the helicopter pads. The Prime Minister and his coterie followed.
“Is it a Kaiju?” said the PM. “If it is, I want to come. I want to see one. For real.”
“No you don’t,” said Grace.
“But – ”
Trent stopped and turned to the Prime Minister. “Keith,” he said. “Do you know how to drive a Fury?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then shut the fuck up and get out of our way.”
“Hey!” said one of the PM’s advisers. “You can’t say that to the leader of the country!”
“I’ll probably be dead in a couple of hours,” said Trent. “So I can say whatever I fucking want.” Then he ran after Eun and Grace.
“Heh,” said Grace, when he caught up. “Jerry. Your first name is Jerry. Heh.”
“Who would have guessed?” said Eun, as they boarded the chopper.
Trent smiled. “You guys are assholes, you know,” he said.
“Sure we are … Jerry,” said Eun.
Summers was already on board, and was speaking on her phone to someone. She kept saying: “Are you sure? Are you sure?”
Albright climbed on board. She was carrying a folder of papers, fresh off the printer. The helicopter took off, turning west. The transport choppers were already starting to lift the three Furies out of the hangar.
“Damn, another day or two and Terror Australis would have been ready,” muttered Grace.
“Where are we going?” said Eun. “Where’s the landfall point?”
Summers pointed on a map.
“Western Australia,” she said.
The three pilots started.
“It’s not even the Pacific,” said Grace.
“Naughty Kaiju,” said Trent. “Very bad, not knowing your geography.”
“So they’re spreading,” said Eun. “We knew it would probably happen one day. Here it is. We deal.”
She looked more closely at the map. The projected landfall point was a few kilometres north of Perth. Pre-Breach, Perth had been one of Australia’s smaller cities. Now it was one of the largest, swollen by the flood of refugees from Asia and elsewhere. On the map, the situation was clear: there wasn’t anywhere the population could be evacuated to. Here was where you ran out of continent, at the end of a very long train line.
“So now, we fight for our own,” said Trent.
“We do,” said Eun.
They looked at her.
“We do,” she repeated.
“There’s something else,” said Albright. “This is a big one. Very big. The Americans are calling it a Category Two.” She passed around some satellite images of the Kaiju at sea. The creature was deep under water, a huge, dark shadow. And there was a massive wake on the surface.
“Oh,” said Grace. “Hey, is it too late to quit this job?”
“Sorry,” said Eun.
“Damn,” said Grace.
“Codename Scimitar,” said Albright.
The three pilots exchanged glances.
Eun looked down at her hands. She realised they were shaking.
They flew on.
The three Furies were standing on a wide beach, looking north. Back in Black was in the centre position.
The Kaiju was slowly coming towards them. Strolling pace.
“No hurry, ready when you are, we really have nothing better to do,” muttered Trent.
Grace yawned. “And to think we rushed to get here,” she said. “I would have had time to take a selfie with Jerry’s friend the Prime Minister.”
Eun smiled. At least her hands had stopped shaking. She wondered if the techs had noticed when they were strapping her in.
“Maybe she’s a little shy about meeting us,” said Trent. “I hear there was a memo that went around, telling them how badass we are.”
As the Kaiju came closer, they saw why it was called Scimitar. There were huge, curved blades of bone protruding from its wrists.
“Or maybe it’s just quietly, casually confident,” said Eun.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Grace.
And it looked markedly bigger – not much taller but considerably heavier – than the Kaijus they had seen so far. Bigger. Tougher. Nastier.
“Category Two, eh?” said Trent. “How many categories do you think there are?”
“Hopefully, two,” said Eun.
Scimitar was almost in range of their machine guns. It stopped. As if to consider them.
“Advance,” said Eun.
The three Furies moved forward. They spread out a little, so they might be able to dodge the bone-blades.
They were in range now. Eun and Trent went to combat mode and hefted their guns. They fired together, a long burst.
Perhaps thirty bullets hit the Kaiju. Only a quarter of them pierced the exoskeleton armour.
“Well, that’s not good,” said Trent. He and Eun switched out of combat mode, so the batteries could recharge.
The Kaiju shook itself.
“It’s almost as if it was testing us,” said Eun. “Testing our guns.”
“Which were not outstandingly effective,” said Trent.
“We’ll have to get closer,” said Eun.
They waited until the batteries of Thunderstruck and Hell’s Bells were fully recharged. Now, when they went to combat mode again, they would have 4.23.
“Advance,” said Eun again. “But be prepared for anything. It’s a bar fight, remember, not a boxing match.”
They advanced, and the Kaiju began to come forward. It began to pick up speed.
“Grace, fall back a bit,” said Eun. “Trent, you and I move out. We need to attack from several sides at once.”
Scimitar was charging at Back in Black now.
“Go combat and close in,” said Eun.
They did. But suddenly the Kaiju veered away, and swung towards Thunderstruck.
Eun fired. At this range, the bullets smashed through the creature’s armour, but there was little obvious effect.
Eun braced herself, as the Kaiju slammed into her. She managed to keep her footing but she was being pushed back, sliding across the sand.
Hell’s Bells and Back in Black ran forward, weapons up. But before they could fire Scimitar turned and swung the bone-blades. Both Furies were hit, and staggered backwards.
But now the Kaiju had its back to Thunderstruck.
And Eun saw something. Something critical. In a second, she had extended her knife and stabbed out. The Kaiju gave a howl, and there was a gush of blood.
“There’s no armour under its arms!” she shouted into the radio. “When it uses its blades, it’s vulnerable!”
Hell’s Bells and Back in Black had both taken damage from the blade hit but they were still on their feet.
Eun slashed at the Kaiju again, slicing into its neck. It turned towards her, and raised one of the blades to strike.
Grace aimed her shotgun and fired, hitting the Kaiju under its arm. It howled again, and turned towards Back in Black. Grace fell back a few steps.
And now Hell’s Bells was behind it. Trent angled for a shot, and, on one knee, fired a burst into the Kaiju’s soft spot. The Kaiju turned towards Hell’s Bells. And then Thunderstruck and Back in Black attacked from behind.
The Kaiju turned again, but it was in a defensive posture now, keeping its arms down to protect its vulnerable areas. It was bleeding from several wounds.
We’re wearing it down but we’re running out of time, thought Eun. She checked the clock. Less than two minutes of power left.
“Trent!” she shouted into the radio. “If I can get it to lift its arms, can you grab them and hold them up long enough for Grace to get a close shot?”
“I … I don’t know,” said Trent. “Maybe … for a few seconds.”
“Then get ready.”
Eun ran forward, firing at the Kaiju’s chest. She was standing directly in front of it now. A clear target. Too tempting to resist.
And the Kaiju couldn’t resist. It raised its arms –
And Trent grabbed them, pinning them in position. Eun could hear him groaning with the strain.
Grace rammed the shotgun into the exposed flesh of the Kaiju’s armpit and fired. Again and again. It howled and roared.
Then it broke free from Hell’s Bells, and slashed out at Thunderstruck. The bone-blades smashed into the Fury with full force.
Inside the cockpit, Eun felt the concussion of the strike. She heard Thunderstruck’s metal frame start to break.
Thunderstruck went down with a crash, falling onto its side as one leg gave way. In the cockpit, something came loose in a shower of sparks and whacked into the side of Eun’s head. There was a gush of hot, sticky blood.
On instinct, she switched out of combat mode. On one of the monitors, she could see the Kaiju tottering as Hell’s Bells and Back in Black stabbed it, again and again. Trent managed to get behind it, and reached around its shoulder. He stabbed his knife into the Kaiju’s neck and hacked it across the creature’s throat. The blade broke in the armour but blood began to pour from the wound.
It staggered, staggered … and then fell. It gave a final massive convulsion, and then was still.
Eun glanced at the clock. Twenty-seven seconds left.
“Switch out of combat mode,” she said into the radio.
Trent and Grace did. The recharge cycle began.
“Are you alright, Eun?” said Trent. “That was a helluva hit you took.”
“I’ll live, but I don’t know if Thunderstruck can be stuck back together. Not enough duct tape in the world.”
She took off the radio headset and managed to get out of the straps. She climbed up the hatchway, opened the hatch, and clambered out. Standing on the robot’s enormous head, she saw the helicopter with Albright and the others approaching. She turned towards Hell’s Bells and Back in Black. She waved. Hell’s Bells lifted its arm in salute.
Gently, she touched the metal skin of the fatally damaged Thunderstruck. “Well done, big fella,” she whispered. “Well done. You can rest now.”
And then another Kaiju came leaping out of the sea and onto the beach. It howled, and swung at the helicopter. It was only a glancing blow, but it was enough to send it spiralling earthwards, trailing smoke.
With huge fists, the Kaiju began to punch at Hell’s Bells and Back in Black. It was roaring, enraged. It didn’t just want to defeat the Furies. It wanted to tear them apart.
Damaged, low on ammunition, and caught by surprise, Trent and Grace fell back, trying to parry the blows. But the Kaiju was much, much stronger, and faster, and it had a barbed tail that whipped at them.
Eun scrambled through the hatch and into Thunderstruck’s cockpit. She strapped herself in and put on the headset. She hit buttons and switches. Emergency re-start.
She tried to get the Fury to move. From somewhere, there was the groan of metal on metal. Some of the monitors came back online. “Come on,” she said softly. “You can do it. They need us.”
It moved. Slowly, painfully, Thunderstruck lifted itself off the ground. It got to one knee.
“Just a little more, buddy,” she said. “A little more.” She hauled against the weight of the damaged limbs, the broken connections. She shouted with the effort.
And then Thunderstruck was on its feet. Its right leg was severely damaged, losing hydraulic fluid and coolant, the cables hanging on by threads. Large chunks of its armour had been ripped away, and dozens of servos were inoperable. But the Fury was up. And rolling.
It limped forward, towards the Kaiju. Eun could see that Hell’s Bells and Back in Black were both close to going down.
She went to combat mode. She raised the machine gun. Seven bullets left.
She was getting close now, and the Kaiju did not appear to have seen her.
Boomboomboom – . All she had. The bullets smashed into the Kaiju, and there were spurts of blood.
The Kaiju turned towards her. Then it looked back at Hell’s Bells and Back in Black, as if it was trying to decide whether to finish them or face this new threat.
Eun hit the control that ejected the spent gun. She extended the knife. She lifted her arms into the air, and activated the external loudspeaker.
“Let’s finish this, fucker!” she shouted. “Come on! COME ON!”
The Kaiju gave a howl.
It braced itself, and then came charging forward.
Thunderstruck charged as well.
The ground shook as the two crashed together.
The Kaiju was trying to wrap its huge arms around the Fury, intending to squeeze it into ruin. But Eun got her right hand free and stabbed at the Kaiju’s face.
And the blade found the Kaiju’s eye. With all her strength, Eun pushed. There was a gush of blue liquid.
The Kaiju howled in pain, and tore itself away from the Fury.
Eun glanced at the clock. Thirty-eight seconds of power left.
She charged again, punching and stabbing. It pushed her back.
And then Hell’s Bells and Back in Black came in from the side, slamming into the Kaiju. Trent and Grace were so close now they could put their guns to the Kaiju’s forehead. They fired together. Everything.
But as it fell, the Kaiju’s tail slashed out. It rammed into the front of Back in Black, smashing through the window.
In her headset, Eun heard Grace scream.
Oh no …
The Kaiju was dead. As Back in Black fell, Thunderstruck’s mighty heart gave out, and it crashed to the ground.
In the cockpit, the screens went black. “Thank you, big guy,” said Eun in a whisper. “For everything.”
She clambered out of the hatch and to the ground. She ran to Back in Black. By the time she reached it, Trent was pulling Grace from the hatch. She was bleeding heavily. Broken. They got her to the ground, and knelt beside her.
She grasped their hands. “Not enough time for a long speech, I guess,” she gasped.
“No, probably not,” said Eun.
“Two things, then,” she said. “One. Look after Herman.”
“Yeah, alright,” said Eun. “And what’s Two?”
She looked up at them. “Thanks for loving me, guys,” she said. Then her eyes closed.
“No worries,” said Trent.
“I guess since you’re the new Base Commander, I’m fired,” said Summers.
Eun sighed. “I have to say that I loathe you with a special passion, but I guess I can deal with it,” she said. She looked around at the office. “You know, I think I’ll miss that old bitch. Is Sao going to be alright?”
“Yes, so I understand,” said Summers. “Burns and broken bones from the crash, but he says he’ll be back in the hangar by the time the second Jaeger, Lucky Punch, arrives for assembly. Which is next month, I think. Commander, can I ask you something?”
“I guess so.”
“Do you … do you think we will win? Do you think we will ever win?”
Eun considered. “Not tomorrow,” she said. “Or the next day, or next year, or the year after that. But I’ve seen what people can do when they fight with their hearts. So, yeah, we will win. Eventually. One day.”
4. Terror Australis
“Now!” shouted Eun Park into the radio. “Plasma cannon!”
“On it!” said Dorothy and Beatrice together. Terror Australis raised its left arm, the weapon embedded in its hand crackling with energy.
The Kaiju, a Category Two codenamed Ren, was already staggering backwards, after the avalanche of punches that had hit it. The blade-like structure on the top of its head was cracked open, spewing blue blood.
The bolt of energy exploded out of the Jaeger and smashed into the Kaiju. It howled.
Terror Australis fired again. The Kaiju went down, crashing onto its back into the shallow water of the Indonesian beach.
“Scratch one!” said Summers, next to Eun in the observation helicopter.
“Done and dusted,” said Dorothy.
“Don’t think so,” said Eun. “Hit it again. Woomera. Head shot.”
“You’re the boss,” said Beatrice. The Woomera missile-launcher snapped up from Terror Australis’ shoulder.
Ren began to move. The fuel-air missile leaped out of the launcher and smashed into the Kaiju’s skull. It exploded with a flash and a roar.
“Now it’s down,” said Eun.
“Third kill,” said Summers. “Outstanding.”
“I would not necessarily say outstanding,” said Eun. “Adequate. Maybe better than adequate. Good. Maybe very good.”
Eun and Summers watched the Jaeger crouch down. It reached into the Kaiju’s mouth. It wrenched the Kaiju’s tongue out.
“Want a souvenir,” said Beatrice.
“Add to the collection,” said Dorothy.
Summers turned off the radio link to the Jaeger. “There’s a lot of anger under those shy country-girl exteriors,” she said.
“You read the psych reports,” said Eun. “Resentment about their family keeping them on the farm. Resentment that their parents hardly let them see any men until they were nearly twenty. Resentment that when they were selected for the Jaeger program they almost had to run away from home to join up. Resentment that their parents have hardly spoken to them since.”
“I know they’re not exactly happy little Vegemites,” said Summers. “But you always said that the best pilots were ones with … issues.”
Eun sighed. “Yeah, I did,” she said. She pushed buttons on the communications console to call the transports in, and to tell Pacific Command that one more Kaiju was down. She saw that a priority message was coming in, addressed to her in her capacity as Commander, Australian Jaeger Force. She read it and then showed it to Summers.
Summers hit the radio command to the Jaeger. “Guys,” she said. “We’re going to Hong Kong.”
The Shatterdome in Hong Kong was a hive of activity, with several Jaegers under construction and a number more undergoing maintenance and upgrade.
Eun and Summers were walking through one of the massive hangars, being guided by Wu Lao-Shi, the commander of the base. He pointed to the bay in which Terror Australis stood, a small army of technicians buzzing around it.
“A fine piece of tech,” he said. “Our people are doing some re-fueling. It was a battle to get past your pilots. They are very protective of it. I suppose that is understandable.”
Eun nodded, looking around. “That’s Cherno Alpha, the Russian Mark One, isn’t it?” she said, pointing at a steel-grey, heavily-built Jaeger. The right leg had been removed and was being reconstructed.
“Yes, it is,” said Wu. “The pilots are a husband-and-wife team, Sasha and Alexis Kaidonovsky. They already have several kills. And there is Coyote Tango, an American Mark One. The pilots, Stacker Pentecost and Tamsin Sevier, are not related, which is unusual. But they have been very successful to date. That’s Major Pentecost over there.” He pointed to a tall black man, sitting on a pile of equipment and apparently playing with a Japanese girl of about twelve.
Dorothy and Beatrice walked up to them. They did not look happy.
“We don’t like these Chinks,” said Beatrice.
“They keep doing … things,” said Dorothy. “To Terror.”
“They’re just topping up the fuel systems and performing some basic maintenance,” said Summers. “They won’t hurt it.”
“They’d better not,” said Beatrice.
“Well, maybe we should sort them out about it, anyway,” said a male voice. A young Australian man, blond and well-built, came up to the group.
“Dorothy, Beatrice, you probably haven’t met Charles Hansen,” said Eun. “He is the son of Herc Hansen and the nephew of Scott Hansen, the guys who drive Lucky Punch, who you know, of course. Charles is temporarily doing some tech liaison work here in Hong Kong.”
“Please call me Chuck,” said Hansen, shaking their hands and flashing his charming smile. “I hope to get into a cockpit myself one day.”
Dorothy and Beatrice both stared at him, their mouths open.
At that moment, Sasha and Alexis Kaidonovsky walked by, all bleached blond hair and Russian swagger. Sasha was wearing a slash of startlingly bright lipstick.
Eun saw Hansen follow them with his eyes. “Whoa,” he muttered. Then he turned again to Dorothy and Beatrice. “Well, let’s go and make sure that our Chinese friends don’t put any scratches on your tinkertoy, eh?” he said. He led them away.
“Hmm,” said Summers.
Eun, Summers, Dorothy and Beatrice, and a number of other pilots were sitting in the briefing room of the base with Wu and a number of other officials. Dorothy and Beatrice, Eun noticed, were fidgeting, as if they wanted to be somewhere else.
“We have gathered a number of Jaegers together for a special and very important mission,” Wu was saying. “As you know, we do not have much information on the Breach itself. At the moment, we can only determine when a Kaiju has come through by tracking the surface wake, which is not very reliable. We don’t even know how many Kaiju there currently are. Our best guess is that there are at least four swimming around, but we really don’t know.
“To rectify this we are planning to construct a network of sensors around the Breach, on islands. The sensor package is large and will take some time to install, so each team will be accompanied by a Jaeger for guarding. The location for the Terror Australis team is the northern tip of the Philippines island of Luzon. That’s the one that’s closest to Hong Kong.”
Eun stiffened. The Philippines. There was not much left of it. As the country closest to the Breach it had seen some of the heaviest fighting, and there was not a single city or town still standing.
“When?” said Eun.
“Tomorrow,” said Wu. “I emphasise to the pilots that this is not a hunting mission. Only engage if necessary to protect the tech team and sensor package.”
“You got that?” said Eun to Dorothy and Beatrice.
They said nothing, staring at the table and, Eun thought, pointedly not looking at each other.
“I said, you got that?” said Eun.
Dorothy glanced at her. “Yeah,” she said.
It was the next day. Eun and Summers were standing at the foot of Terror Australis. The other four operational Jaegers, which had further to go to reach their designated islands, had already left.
Summers looked at her watch. “They’re late,” she muttered. “They’ve never been late before.”
Dorothy walked up to them. She looked at them for a few moments, and then got into the elevator. It started to ascend.
“Huh,” said Summers.
“Huh, what?” said Eun.
“Huh, I’ve never seen one of them without the other,” said Summers.
“Huh,” said Eun.
Beatrice walked up to them, a sour expression on her face.
“Is there a problem?” said Eun.
“Not with me,” said Beatrice.
The elevator had returned; she got into it and it again ascended.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Summers, as she and Eun went to the control room. They passed Chuck Hansen on the way.
“Is there a problem with my pilots?” said Eun to him.
He started a little. “A problem?” he said. “No, course not. We had some beers in the bar last night, the three of us, and then we went to the two-up game in the hangar. Won some money, had some laughs. They had a pretty good time, I think. I’ve got to say that it’s good to spend some time with some Aussies, there aren’t any others here. Even if they’re Tasmanians.”
“Hmm,” said Summers.
When the two women reached the control room, one of the technicians, a young American-Chinese called Tendo Choi, was running through the prep routine for Terror Australis.
“All systems good, preparing for neural handshake,” he said. “Connecting … now.”
Eun checked the monitors. No green lights.
“Preparing for neural handshake,” repeated Tendo. “Connecting … now.”
Eun noticed that the intercom to the Jaeger cockpit had been turned off. It could only have been done by the pilots. She hit the over-ride.
“ – happened in high school, you did exactly the same thing then!” one of the women was saying.
“Me!?” said the other. “You’ve always been the one who – ”
“Dorothy, Beatrice!” snapped Eun. “Shut up and focus!”
“It’s not my fault!” said Dorothy.
“Mine neither!” said Beatrice.
“I don’t fucking care who started it!” said Eun. “Get with the program!”
The two of them fell silent. After a few moments, Tendo said: “Neural handshake initiated. Not exactly the strongest connection I’ve ever seen, though.”
The Shatterdome roof opened and the transport choppers came in; they connected to Terror Australis and began to lift it out. Another transport chopper was carrying the sensor package, about the size of a shipping container, and the installation crew. They headed for Luzon.
Wu, next to Eun, pointed to the satellite surveillance monitor. It showed a Kaiju heading for the island of Guam, where another sensor was being installed; Coyote Tango was in the guard role.
Wu lifted the radio control. “Mister Pentecost, Miss Sevier, you have company on the way,” he said. “A Category Two, Iguana-type, I would say.”
“Understood,” said Stacker. “The techs say they need another ten minutes or so.”
Wu pointed to another area of ocean, not far from the Philippines. There was a Kaiju wake visible on the surface. It was circling slowly.
Eun glanced at the radar. Terror Australis had reached the northern tip of the island, and the technical team were down, beginning the installation work.
Long minutes passed. Then, the voice of Tamsin Sevier: “Engaging.”
Eun pressed the switch to connect to Terror Australis. “How are you guys going?” she said.
“Fine,” said one of them. That was all.
“The installation team on Luzon says they will be done in fifteen minutes,” said the tech at the communications desk.
The wake of the Kaiju was gradually moving closer to Luzon. But not in a straight line.
“As if it’s just sniffing around,” muttered Summers.
“Handshake connection is weakening,” said Tendo. “Down to twenty per cent. Fifteen.”
“Dorothy, Beatrice, keep it together!” said Eun.
“They’re … trying, I think,” said Tendo. “But … ten per cent.”
The wake was definitely closer to Luzon now, in a meandering way.
“There’s a Kaiju not far away from you,” said Eun. “Go combat-ready.”
“Charging plasma cannon,” said Dorothy.
“No, we should use the Woomera,” said Beatrice.
“Cannon,” said Dorothy.
“Missile,” said Beatrice.
“I said: cannon!”
“And I said: missile!”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Handshake … gone,” said Tendo. “Connection between pilots and Jaeger lost.”
“Installation team says six minutes,” said Comms.
“Kaiju landfall estimated in four minutes,” said Satellite.
“So now Terror Australis is not much more than a really large paperweight,” said Summers.
“Beatrice, Dorothy, re-initiate the handshake!” said Eun. “There’s a Kaiju heading your way!”
“We’re … trying ... ” said Dorothy. “But … it’s not working ... ”
“Choppers going in, extraction in five minutes,” said Comms.
“Not so much a paperweight as a sitting duck,” said Summers.
They watched as the Kaiju wake swung closer to the coastline. If it went ashore now it would tear the frozen Jaeger apart and make very short work of the tech team.
But it didn’t. Instead, the wake began to move out to sea.
Eun realised she had stopped breathing. She let herself exhale.
“Looks like we dodged a bullet,” murmured Summers.
“Choppers moving in to recover Jaeger and installation team,” said Comms.
The voice of Stacker Pentecost came over the speaker. “We’ve seen it off but we’ve taken some damage,” he said. “The installation team says they’re done.”
“Extraction choppers on the way,” said Wu. “Well done, Mister Pentecost, Miss Sevier.”
All the sensors were installed now. With a surge of power, they came online. In new equipment in the control room, a detailed map of the area a thousand kilometres around the Breach appeared. And a holographic representation of the Breach itself.
There were cheers and congratulations all round. Someone opened a bottle of champagne.
But on the satellite monitor, the Kaiju wake near Luzon stopped meandering. It became a straight line – heading towards Hong Kong.
Eun and Summers were waiting for the elevator carrying Dorothy and Beatrice to reach ground level.
Sasha and Alexis Kaidonovsky came up to them. They had heard what had happened at Luzon.
Chuck Hansen joined the little group. “G’day,” he said. “How’s it goin’?”
“Thanks to you, we almost lost Terror Australis, not to mention Dorothy and Beatrice and the tech team,” said Summers.
“Me!?” said Chuck. “What did I do?”
“Too much, or not enough,” said Eun.
The elevator doors opened and Dorothy and Beatrice emerged. They stared at Chuck.
Sasha looked at them. Then she looked at Chuck. Then she looked at Dorothy and Beatrice again.
“Ha!” she said. “Old problem, easy solution.”
Then she grabbed Chuck by the front of his overalls, pulled him to her, and kissed him. It was a very hard kiss.
When she finally let him go, he staggered backwards, a smear of red lipstick across his mouth. Alexis gave a laugh.
“Ha!” said Sasha again. “I thought so!” She turned to Dorothy and Beatrice. “He is not for either of you, this one,” she said. “He is … I do not know the English word … sometimes we say, golden …” She glanced at her husband for help with the translation.
“A man who prefers other men to women,” said Alexis.
“Sure,” said Chuck. “It’s not a secret or anything. Private, maybe, but not secret.”
“You should trust my wife in this,” says Alexis. “She has a sense for these things.”
“We call that gaydar,” said Summers.
“Ha!” said Alexis, with a laugh like a roar. “A good word, that! We will take that one back to Russia with us!”
Dorothy and Beatrice both had their jaws hanging open. “But … but ... ” said Dorothy to Chuck, “you’re such a – ”
“A bloke,” finished Beatrice.
“Hey, we’re not all fashion designers and interior decorators,” said Chuck. “Sorry if you got the wrong idea. But, well, you didn’t ask. And hanging out with you two is a good time.”
“But we saw you looking at Sasha when they walked past the day we got here!” said Dorothy.
“What makes you think I was looking at Sasha?” said Chuck.
“Ha!” said Alexis.
Sasha jabbed a finger into Chuck’s chest. “Is mine!” she said. “So hands off!” Then she leaned forward and whispered: “But he has brother who is almost as good-looking.”
“Er, thanks,” said Chuck.
Dorothy and Beatrice looked at each other.
“Huh,” said Dorothy.
“Huh,” said Beatrice.
The roof doors of the Shatterdome swung open and the damaged Coyote Tango was lowered into a bay. The pilots were sitting on its shoulder; they waved. The others waved back.
An emergency siren went. “Kaiju approaching Hong Kong harbour,” said the loudspeaker. “Defence teams to stations.”
“All the other Jaegers are not back yet,” said Summers. “And Coyote Tango doesn’t look like it can go another round at the moment.”
“And we still have a leg not on,” said Sasha.
“One Kaiju?” said Beatrice. “No problem.”
“None at all,” said Dorothy.
“Last time I looked, you couldn’t even keep the lights on,” said Eun.
“That was … before,” said Dorothy. She and her sister turned and walked into the elevator, and it began to ascend.
“And when we get back,” called Beatrice to Chuck, “we’ll buy you a beer, mate!”
Eun and the others ran to the control room. They arrived as Tendo was saying: “Neural handshake initiated. Full connection. Everything showing hot and strong.”
Summers let out a sigh of relief.
“Transport choppers being organised for you now,” said Wu into the radio.
“No need,” said Beatrice. “Just open the front door and we’ll walk out. Let’s bring this fucker down.”
“Uh, alright,” said Wu. He hit a series of switches and the huge front doors of the Shatterdome swung open.
Terror Australis walked out of the bay, through the hangar, and in a few massive strides was in the water, knee-deep. It was moving fast, almost at a run. The people in the control room could see the bay on the monitors.
The Kaiju, a Category Two Bear-type, appeared at the harbour entrance. It saw the Jaeger and gave a howl. Terror Australis smashed its mighty fists together. Dorothy and Beatrice activated the external loudspeakers – and the Jaeger gave a huge roar of its own.
“Oh, so that’s why we have those,” said Summers.
The Kaiju, still at the mouth of the harbour, had stopped. It almost looked as if it might turn and go back out to sea.
Terror Australis also stopped. It extended an arm, the hand palm up. Its fingers made a gesture: come and get it.
The Kaiju hesitated.
The Jaeger moved its fingers again. So that the middle one was pointing straight up.
The Kaiju gave a huge snarl.
“Charge the plasma cannon,” said Eun over the radio. “And load the Woomera.”
“Not this time, boss,” said Beatrice.
“This time, we show this prick how we do things down Devonport way,” said Dorothy.
“Then go for it, girls,” said Eun.
The Kaiju charged. So did the Jaeger – and it landed the first punch, right into the Kaiju’s jaw. Teeth went flying into the water.
The Kaiju lashed out, whacking Terror Australis in the abdomen and driving it back several steps.
“Ha!” said Dorothy. “Is that the best you’ve got?”
“Our mum can hit harder than that!” said Beatrice. They punched the Kaiju again … and again … and again.
The Kaiju swung at the Jaeger. But Terror Australis took the hit and grabbed the Kaiju’s arm. It swung the creature around and into the water. Before it could get up, the Jaeger was on it, punching. Blue blood began to flow.
The Kaiju pushed the Jaeger back and managed to get to its feet. It looked towards the open ocean – but now the Jaeger was between it and the harbour entrance.
It charged again. But Terror Australis grabbed it by the throat, and lifted it up with its left hand.
“Elbow jet!” cried Dorothy. The jet in the right arm activated, and the fist smashed into the Kaiju’s face with incredible force. The Kaiju gave another howl – in pain, this time.
Terror Australis punched into its body, tearing layers of armour off. It thrust its hand into the exposed flesh, and tore a chunk away. There was a gush of blood.
“Finish it now,” said Eun into the radio.
But Dorothy and Beatrice were not in a mood to end the fight. They continued to smash into the Kaiju.
“Gosh, you almost feel sorry for it,” said Summers.
“Do all Australians like a fight this much?” said Alexis.
“More or less,” said Chuck. “Damn, there’s not going to be much left for Hannibal Chau and his boys.”
Finally, the Kaiju was clearly dead. Terror Australis threw the body down. Then it lifted its huge arms into the air and gave a roar of victory.
Chuck said into the radio: “Guys, I think it’s me who should be buying the beers tonight.”
“And we will buy the vodka,” said Sasha.
It was the next day. Eun was sitting in the helicopter bay, reading messages from Uluru Base on her laptop computer. The chopper that would take her and the others back to Australia was being prepped.
Summers came up to her. Despite the fact that they were inside, and the overhead doors were closed, she was wearing dark sunglasses. She sat down beside Eun, and gave a groan.
“Hangover?” said Eun to her.
Summers gave another groan.
Chuck joined them. “Quite a party last night, eh?” he said. “Chinese beer and Russian vodka, bit of a kick in it.”
“One way of putting it,” said Summers. “Er, where are Dorothy and Beatrice? They’re supposed to meet us here, I think.”
“Haven’t seen them since last night,” said Chuck. “I saw them going off with two Chinese guys. Big guys.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Summers. “I guess.”
“You know, I’m going to miss you fellas,” said Chuck.
“No, you won’t,” said Eun. “Because you’re coming with us.” She handed the laptop to Chuck. There was an email on the screen.
He read it. “Huh,” he said. “So now I get to see if my dad and I are Drift-compatible.”
“I’m sorry about your uncle,” said Eun. “It just shows that there is only one thing that’s certain in this business. Eventually.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “But I’ve still got to give it a shot.”
“Tell me something,” said Summers. “Does your father know about … your preferences?”
“If he didn’t before, he will as soon as we’re in each other’s heads,” said Chuck. “Don’t think he’ll care. Much.”
Dorothy and Beatrice came up to them. They both had big smiles on their faces.
“Ready to go?” said Eun.
“Yes, but if you want to stay an extra day, we wouldn’t mind,” said Beatrice.
“Or even two days,” said Dorothy.
“Sorry, we have duties at home,” said Eun. “Especially as Lucky Punch was badly damaged in a fight yesterday.”
Chuck handed them the laptop and they read the message.
“Then,” said Dorothy, “let’s go home.”
5. Against the Tide
“Are we having fun yet?” said Summers, next to Eun in the command chopper.
“It stopped being fun about three Kaijus ago,” said Beatrice over the radio.
“Nevertheless, a good job,” said Eun. “We can mark Whiteface as down.”
“We took a lot of damage from this one, boss,” said Dorothy. “The plasma cannon took a hit, most of the links on our right side are out, and power is shaky in three quadrants.”
Summers switched off the intercom and turned to Eun. “They sound exhausted,” she said. “Can’t we give them a break?”
“God knows they’ve earned one,” said Eun, as she called for the transport choppers. “Six fights since we came back from Hong Kong. Yeah, I know, they need a break. We all do. Terror is going to need some repairs, by the look of things, so maybe I can send them on some leave while that is happening. Maybe they’d like to go back to Tasmania for a while, visit their parents.”
“Uh, no,” said Summers. “That’s the last thing they want. You know, I can arrange for them to spend a couple of days in Adelaide, where they will happen to meet two handsome guys who just happen to have a thing for – ”
Eun held up her hand. “Spare me the details, just send me the invoice,” she said. “Of course, that plan depends on the Kaiju letting us alone for a bit. Damn things are coming through the Breach faster than we can put them down. Lucky Punch won’t be back from the Manilla op for a while yet, and the repairs on Golden Mile are taking longer than we had planned. It means we’re pretty open.”
“But there are two more Jaegers about to come online up north, aren’t there?”
“Yes, Yu Chang in China and Lotus Blade, the one built in Thailand by the Japanese there. But that will only replace the two lost in the past month.”
Summers nodded. “We’re not winning, are we?” she said.
“Not at this rate,” said Eun.
Eun was sitting in her office, a map of the Pacific Rim area spread over her desk. On it were marked the sites of Kaiju attacks, fights between Kaijus and Jaegers, and estimated locations of Kaijus. She looked at a handwritten list on a pad: the Jaegers currently operational, the ones currently out of service for repairs, and the ones under construction.
Not good, she thought. Yes, three Kaiju are going down for every Jaeger lost. But the Kaiju are appearing faster than Jaegers can be built. So they can afford a three-to-one ratio. We can’t.
There was a nagging sense of the tide turning. Not in the right direction.
She put the map aside and rubbed her eyes. God, I’m tired, she thought. She wondered if she might be able to take a day off soon. She glanced at her work schedule. Between overseeing the endless cycle of training, monitoring repairs, keeping track of the new construction projects, the huge burden of the base administration … well, maybe next month there might be some time free. Maybe.
She hoped that Dorothy and Beatrice were enjoying their time in Adelaide. She wondered if Summers had been able to arrange what she had called “the short-term boyfriend experience”. She smiled: she had developed a great deal of affection for the two Tasmanian women. They were both on the squat, plain side, unlikely to attract much in the way of male attention in ordinary times. But these were not, of course, ordinary times.
Herman jumped up onto her desk and rubbed against her. She stroked him. He gave a purr.
“Thanks, buddy,” she said to him.
The red phone on her desk buzzed. Coulson, Satellite Control in the US. Eun picked it up.
“It’s Hammerhead,” said Coulson.
Hammerhead. The largest, most dangerous Kaiju yet seen. It had destroyed five major cities and a dozen smaller ones, and had ravaged the coast of Vietnam in a protracted procession of destruction. It had wiped out an American carrier group and sunk a huge number of ships trying to make the cross-Pacific run. Worst of all, it had already destroyed two Jaegers, the Chinese Imperial Guard and the American South Central – both Mark Twos.
And now it was, according to Coulson’s satellite tracking, heading towards Darwin, the city perched on one of Australia’s northern tips. Darwin’s population had been vastly swollen by millions of refugees from Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and the city was a crucial hub for the resources projects that ultimately underpinned the defence effort. It had not been attacked before – but everyone knew that one day it would happen.
Eun studied the video that Coulson had sent and examined the extrapolation figures. She checked the data again and then made some calculations of her own. The answer came out the same. “Damn,” she muttered to herself.
She called Summers. “Get in touch with Dorothy and Beatrice,” she said. “We’re going to need them.”
“Sorry we had to recall you from leave,” said Eun. “If there had been another way, I would have let you stay there for a bit longer.”
“Couldn’t be helped,” said Dorothy. They were in a helicopter skimming over the expanse of pre-fabricated trailers that housed the millions of refugees clustered around the core of Darwin. “But we had some fun anyway. Met some guys on our first day there.”
“So you can thank Summers for that,” said Beatrice, laughing. “We got your money’s worth. Tell her we appreciated the thought but we know professionals when we see them. Where is she, anyway?”
“With the advance team, prepping Terror,” said Eun. “Sao and his people are still working on repairs. I should tell you that he was not confident about being finished in time.”
“Not surprised, Whiteface was a very tough customer,” said Beatrice.
Dorothy was staring down at the people below. Some of them waved; they knew who was in the chopper. An evacuation was under way, but there were a lot of people to move, and very little time.
“So many,” she said softly. “So many.”
They were coming up on Terror Australis, on the fringe of the populated area, where the land turned to dry grasslands. They set down, and an RAAF colonel, whose shirt said Connell, came up to them. She opened a laptop computer and showed them a map of the area.
“Commander Park, Hammerhead came ashore here, about twenty klicks away,” she said, pointing to the screen. “Stopped to take out the gas production facilities on Melville Island, apparently. That gave us another hour or so. We’ve had planes from Coonawarra Base harassing it the whole time but I can’t say they have been able to do much. Broke the armour in a few places, made some wounds on the chest and shoulders. That’s about it.”
Sao and Summers came up to them. “We’ve done everything we can,” said the engineer. “Couldn’t get the plasma cannon above seventy per cent power, and I’m really worried about the shoulder armour. But we got the Woomera missiles loaded, all four.”
The mobile elevator unit arrived. Dorothy and Beatrice started for it.
“Wait a moment,” said Sao. He stepped up to them and gave them each a hug. “Take this,” he said, removing a chain with an amulet from around his neck. “For luck.”
Dorothy took it. “Right,” she said. “For luck.” They got into the elevator and it began to ascend.
Connell led them to a large military trailer, a mobile command base. But there would be no need to follow the battle on the monitors: it was going to be within visual range. Connell led them up a ladder to the roof of the trailer. There was communications and surveillance equipment there. The technician at the console gave Eun and Summers a radio headset each.
Eun glanced at Summers. “First time I’ve seen you not smiling,” she said.
“We’re about to fight the toughest son-of-a-bitch on the planet with a Jaeger held together with duct tape, paperclips, and hope,” said Summers. “So, no, I don’t see much to smile about.”
“The girls told me that they had a good time in Adelaide,” said Eun. “They asked me to thank you.”
Summers managed a weak smile.
“Terror Australis coming online,” said the technician. “Neural handshake initiated, all systems go.”
Hammerhead emerged on the horizon, its distinctive T-shape head silhouetted against the sky. The Kaiju was surrounded by buzzing planes and choppers but it was moving fast towards Darwin, swatting at its attackers with massive fists. The Jaeger began to stride towards it. The Kaiju saw it and gave a roar. Dorothy and Beatrice, as they usually did, smashed the Jaeger’s fists together.
“It’s on, bitch,” said Dorothy to the Kaiju.
“Junior rodeo on,” added Beatrice.
The planes and choppers broke off their attack. There was no more they could do.
Eun glanced at Sao. He did not look a happy engineer. He said: “Maybe we should tell them to – ”
“There is nothing more they need to know,” said Eun to him.
“Charging plasma cannon,” said Dorothy. “As much as we can, anyway.”
Hammerhead came running forward. But then the bolt of energy from the cannon smashed into it, knocking it off its feet. Before it could get up, Terror Australis charged, punching. Hammerhead lashed out, sending the Jaeger back a few steps. Terror Australis charged again, but this time Hammerhead grabbed it by one arm, swivelled, and threw it through the air. The Jaeger landed with a crash.
“Strong fucker,” muttered Dorothy. Terror Australis struggled to its feet. The plasma cannon began to charge up again.
But Hammerhead was familiar with Jaeger weapons. It seized Terror Australis by its left arm and twisted. There was the sound of cables breaking and metal bending. The plasma cannon disintegrated into fragments.
With its free arm, Terror Australis punched Hammerhead, again and again, looking for places where the armour had been broken by the planes. The Kaiju howled in pain. It lashed out again, slamming into the Jaeger. Terror Australis broke free from the Kaiju and fell back a few steps. The two of them stared at each other.
“Missile launcher!” said Beatrice.
Nothing happened. The armour plates over the Woomera had been bent out of shape. There was no way to launch the fuel-air missiles.
Hammerhead charged again, punching. Dorothy and Beatrice tried to parry the blows, but the Jaeger’s movements were becoming slower, its counter-punches weaker.
“Energy capacity down to fifty per cent,” said the tech. “And dropping.”
Summers turned to Eun. “You have to tell them to break off,” she said. “They can’t do anything more. If they disengage now they might be able to get away.”
Eun looked at the sprawl of Darwin. Then she looked at the Jaeger, being battered by the Kaiju.
“Sorry,” said Eun. “I can’t do that.” She touched the switch to open the link to the Jaeger cockpit. “Dorothy, Beatrice,” she said. “Use the missiles.”
“We can’t launch them!” cried Dorothy, over the sound of the blows.
“No,” said Eun. “But you can detonate them. All at once.”
“But if they do that,” said Summers, “it means that – ”
“I know what it fucking means!” snapped Eun. Then, softly: “I know.”
“Detonate … the missiles,” said Beatrice. “All of them. At once.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Yeah,” said Dorothy. “We can do that.”
“But we have to keep this prick close,” said Beatrice.
With a mighty effort, the Jaeger pushed the Kaiju away. Then it opened its arms wide.
“Come on, big guy,” said Beatrice. “Give us a kiss.”
Hammerhead charged forward again, but Terror Australis, instead of punching or falling back, wrapped its arms around the Kaiju. Its fingers locked together behind the Kaiju’s back.
“Starting detonation sequence,” said Dorothy. “Goes boom in fifteen seconds.”
Hammerhead was smashing its fists into the Jaeger. Armour plates buckled and coolant gushed from the wounds in the metal. But Terror Australis was not going to let go.
“Twelve seconds,” said the tech.
“Hey, boss,” said Dorothy. “Tell our parents … something … something ... ”
“I will tell them,” said Eun, “that you fought bravely today. Very bravely. Today and every day.”
“Yeah,” said Beatrice. “Tell them that. And also tell them … fuck you.”
Dorothy gave a laugh. “Yeah, tell them that,” she said. “Tell them we said hello … and fuck you.”
“Five seconds,” said the tech.
Hammerhead had realised the danger and was now trying to pull itself away from the Jaeger. But Terror Australis’ embrace was tight.
“You ain’t goin’ anywhere, fella,” said Beatrice. “You’re ours, now.” Then: “Goodbye, Dot.”
“Two seconds,” said the tech.
Eun turned away.
She was sitting on the flat, expansive summit of Uluru, staring out over the red desert. It was dusk; the scorching heat of the day had dissipated, and there was a cool breeze.
“Hi,” said a voice behind her. “Got room for another one?”
Eun looked around. It was Herc Hansen.
“Pull up a chair,” she said. “When did you get back?”
“Half an hour ago,” he said. He sat down on the rock next to her. They looked at the desert.
After a long while, he said: “Had to be done, you know. Probably won’t be the last time you’ll have to make a call like that.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “Doesn’t make it easier.”
They were quiet again for a time. Then she said: “Command is a bitch, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but someone’s got to do it. Speaking for myself, I’m glad it’s you. You know, even the person in charge is allowed to be human, once in a while. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Good,” she said. She leaned against him. And then she began to cry.
6. Unity Dragon
Eun Park looked up at the two Jaegers, standing in bays in the hangar in Bangkok Base. Lotus Blade, the Jaeger built in Thailand by the Japanese living here, had already had two victories. Unity Dragon, built by the surviving countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, was the first Mark Three but it had not yet been tested in battle. On paper it looked formidable: two plasma cannons, a double chest missile launcher, a chain sword. Pity, she thought, that the Kaiju couldn’t read.
There was no-one else around, which she found surprising: in every other construction hangar she had seen, there were always technicians doing something or other to a Jaeger, no matter what time of day or night.
No, there was someone, a young technician emerging from one of the ankle service ports on Unity Dragon. She watched as he climbed down. He eventually reached the ground. He started when he saw her.
“Who are you?” he said.
“Eun Park,” said Eun.
He started again. “The Commander of the Australian Jaeger Force?” he said.
Eun nodded. “I’m here to represent Australia in the commissioning of Unity Dragon tomorrow,” she said. “Can’t say I like things like that much but at least it gives me the opportunity to meet with some key people in the Jaeger program. Who are you?”
“Chengying Ong,” he said. “I do maintenance support on Unity. You drove the Fury Thunderstruck. I’ve studied your battles. I saw you fight Wanderer.”
Eun nodded. “That all seems like a long time ago,” she said. “To tell the truth, I’d prefer to do the fighting rather than order other people around. But we all serve as best we can. You’re from Singapore?”
“Yes, most of the team for Unity is from Singapore, even though it was built here in Bangkok. I guess the Singaporean government thought that since they were paying for most of it they wanted their people on it. Including the pilots.”
“So you didn’t test out as Drift-compatible?”
“Only officers of the Singaporean military were tested.”
Eun raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Now that,” she said, “is a really bad idea. Tell me, Chengying, if you weren’t allowed to be tested, what are you doing here at the moment? I assume your shift is well and truly over.”
“I was doing some fine-tuning on servo 276G. It wasn’t on the official work schedule but I suspected it was a bit sticky. So I fixed it.”
“Huh,” said Eun. “Why did you think that, Chengying?”
He looked up at the Jaeger. “I’ve been with it since it was a set of schematics,” he said. “I think I must have worked on every bit of it at some point. After seeing the latest round of diagnostic results, I just had a feeling that 276G needed some attention.”
“You know that there are over a million parts, not counting screws and bolts, in a Mark Three, right?”
Eun studied the young man more closely. She noted how he stared at the Jaeger. Yes, she could believe that he knew every cog and circuit. He had the look of a man who felt that his destiny lay in a Jaeger cockpit. And that his destiny had been denied by the circumstances of his birth.
He turned to her. “Commander,” he said. “Since you’re a high-ranking officer, why don’t you have some stars or stripes or something? Those overalls are the sort of things that low-level techs like me wear.”
Eun shrugged. “Never been much of a one for the fancy stuff,” she said. “If the politicians and marshals have a problem with me wearing something I can get dirty in instead of a shiny uniform, they can go and … well, you get the idea.”
Chengying nodded. He picked up his tools and turned to go. “I think you’re right,” he said over his shoulder. “But many people in this part of the world think that hierarchy is the only thing that matters.”
“They’re wrong,” said Eun. “The only thing that matters is beating the Kaiju.”
She waited until the young man had gone. Then she climbed into the Jaeger through the maintenance port, and crawled through a service tunnel until she reached servo 276G. She activated the nearby diagnostic pad and looked at the result of Chengying’s work.
Servo efficiency increase by 0.03 per cent, it read.
“Goddamn,” she said to herself.
It was the day after the commissioning ceremony for Unity Dragon. The King of Thailand and the President of Singapore had jointly broken a bottle of champagne over it, and there had been a series of long speeches about how much it had cost and how technically advanced it was. For her part, Eun had wondered when it would all end. Summers, on the other hand, seemed to be in her element.
Major Reza Li and Lieutenant Karthik Boon-Sen, the pilots of Unity Dragon, were clean-shaven, broad-shouldered, competent-looking men. They had done all the training and simulations and had passed with good results. When they spoke to Eun it was with a cool formality. Perhaps, Eun thought, that was because she was a woman in a senior position. Maybe it was due to her refusal to play the gold-braid game. Maybe it was because she was originally Korean – not exactly the most liked people of Asia. Not that it in any way mattered to her.
She and Summers were in the briefing room of Bangkok Base; they had been invited to stay as observers for Unity Dragon’s first mission. That mission, according to Brigadier-General Jian, the senior Singaporean officer, was to protect the crucial oil production facilities of Brunei. Unity Dragon and Lotus Blade would act together. According to a US Godseye surveillance drone, there was a Kaiju, codenamed Stingray, in the area. It was a large Category Two, Marine-type, although the drone had not been able to get a detailed look at it. Just the basic outline: a cowl around the head and a barbed tail. It was circling in the South China Sea at the moment, as if it was looking around for a target – or waiting for a fight with a Jaeger.
“And remember,” Jian was saying to Li and Boon-Sen, “that your standing orders are to avoid close engagement. According to the simulations, you can defeat Stingray, or any other Kaiju, with the plasma cannons and missiles. Unity Dragon represents a very significant investment of our resources, and we do not want it damaged.”
Eun stifled a laugh. Summers, next to her, whispered: “Do these guys know what they’re in for?”
“I daresay they will find out,” whispered Eun back. “By the way, we have been given places at the command post. So we can see the victory, according to Jian.”
“Front row seats at a debacle,” whispered Summers. “What’s not to like?”
The two Jaegers were standing on one of the huge loading docks of a Brunei oil refinery, undergoing final prep. Eun saw Chengying Ong, finishing his work at a diagnostic console. She went over to him.
“How is your girl today?” she said. “Ready for her first date?”
“Yes, but she is a bit nervous, I think,” he said. He lowered his voice and said: “We are not supposed to refer to it in that way.”
Eun smiled. “But you and I know better,” she said. “You’ve seen it inside and out, seen it all come together. After that, it would be easy to think that it – any Jaeger – was just a collection of equipment. Electronics and mechanics, alloy armour outside and a reactor inside. But that’s just not true, is it?”
Chengying stared at her. “No,” he said softly. “No, it isn’t.”
Jian called Eun; she turned to go.
“Commander,” said Chengying. “How did you know it’s a girl?”
“Because I saw how you looked at her,” she said. She smiled again and went to Jian, where she was joined by Summers.
“The Americans say that Stingray has defined its course and is now heading this way,” he was saying. “They calculate that it will make landfall here in about thirty minutes. We intend to engage in the shallows, just offshore.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time that one has come out of the water looking for a dust-up,” said Eun.
As Eun and Summers were heading for the command post, they passed Major Li and Lieutenant Boon-Sen. “Good luck,” Eun said to them. “I’m not sure whether you will be able to avoid a close-in fight, though. I’ll be interested to see how the sword goes.”
Major Li stared at her. “In Singapore, we follow orders,” he said.
“Hope that turns out for you,” said Summers.
As they continued on their way, Summers said: “Those are two very good-looking guys. Big stars in Singapore, apparently. A shame they don’t know anything about fighting Kaijus.”
“Not really our place to say too much,” said Eun. “We’re just guests here, after all. Maybe it will be like their simulations.”
“Do you really believe that?” said Summers.
“Of course not,” said Eun.
At the command post they were given high-powered binoculars. They saw Stingray emerge from the water. It was a big one, with massive pincer-like arms.
Lotus Blade and Unity Dragon were standing in the shallow water not far from the refinery. Stingray saw them, and broke into a run. It gave a roar.
“So now we see what a Mark Three can do,” said Summers.
Stingray was charging at Unity Dragon now.
“Be ready for it change direction and go for Lotus,” said Eun, over the intercom.
“How do you know?” said Li.
“This is not my first rodeo,” said Eun.
“What does that mean?” said Boon-Sen.
“Trust her on this,” said Summers.
Even as she spoke, Stingray suddenly changed course and went for Lotus Blade. The Jaeger already had its plasma cannon charged but its pilots – two brothers called Akhiro and Yashuhiro Kuroda – were caught by surprise, despite Eun’s warning. Before they could fire, Stingray smashed into the Jaeger, knocking it down. The Kaiju’s tail whipped around, spearing into the Jaeger’s abdomen.
Stingray had not forgotten Unity Dragon. It turned to face the other Jaeger.
Unity Dragon had its left arm raised, the plasma cannon nearly charged. There was a crackle of energy around the projection barrel.
Stingray leaped aside as the cannon fired. The blast missed.
Eun saw Jian’s jaw drop.
“But … but ... ” he stammered. “The simulation … it can’t ... ”
“Fuck!” said Summers. “How did it know how to do that!?”
“They learn from each fight,” said Eun. “And now they have learned when a cannon is about to fire, and that there is a two-second delay between full charge and the shot.”
Stingray’s manoeuvre had brought it close to the Jaeger, and even as Unity Dragon lifted its right arm to fire its other cannon the Kaiju lashed out. A pincer whacked into Unity Dragon. There was another blow, and then another. The Jaeger staggered backwards. The Kaiju charged again, smashing a pincer into the Jaeger’s head.
The Jaeger fell to one knee. Over the radio, there was the sound of an explosion inside the cockpit of Unity Dragon. The radio connection collapsed into static.
Lotus Blade had got to its feet. Its chest opened, revealing a howitzer cannon. It fired, shot after shot.
The shells slammed into the Kaiju, which gave a howl. It turned, and its tail sliced into Unity Dragon’s left arm. There was another explosion: the plasma cannon backfiring and shattering. Stingray charged at Lotus Blade, but this time the Jaeger punched out. Stingray staggered backwards from the blow but still swung its pincers, grabbing both of Lotus Blade’s arms. It began to pull.
“Akhiro, Yashuhiro, emergency disengage from Jaeger interface!” shouted Eun into the radio.
On the console, there was a flash of lights as the pilots disengaged. A moment later, both of Lotus Blade’s arms were almost ripped from the Jaeger’s torso. They remained connected only by a few cables and some plates of armour. The Jaeger crashed down into the water.
But Stingray had been hurt as well, it was bleeding from the howitzer hit. It looked at the frozen Unity Dragon … and then turned and began to wade back into the deep water.
“It could finish it now,” said Summers. “Finish both of them.”
“It doesn’t know how badly Unity is damaged,” said Eun. “Neither do we, for that matter. But I’m guessing a console overload in the cockpit. That would mean a radiation flood as well, if the shielding is gone. General Jian, your pilots are most likely dead. And Stingray will be back soon, probably within an hour. And then it will tear your shiny Mark Three apart. And Lotus too, just for fun.”
“What … what can we do?” said Jian.
Eun considered. “With it stuck in that crouch position, there’s no way the transport choppers can lift it out,” she said. “It might be possible to perform an emergency re-start, get it standing. Maybe then it can be airlifted. Of course, then we would lose all of the oil facilities here, as well as what’s left of Lotus.”
“We have no other pilots who can interface with Unity Dragon,” said Jian.
“And even if we had someone who could do sufficient emergency repairs,” said another officer, “we could not get them in. The mobile elevator unit cannot go into the water.”
Eun looked around. Her eyes fell on a small, civilian helicopter, sitting on a pad near the refinery. “We can go in from the top,” she said. “Through the emergency hatch in the head.”
Jian nodded. “Possibly,” he said. “But I do not have any officers who could do this.”
“You have Chengying Ong,” said Eun.
“Who?” said Jian.
“He is a tech,” said another officer. “Maintenance support.”
“And the man who knows more about Unity than anyone else,” said Eun.
“Only officers are allowed to pilot Jaegers,” said Jian.
Summers laughed. “Sure,” she said. “Stay with that, and within two hours everything you can currently see will be ashes and dust.”
“But a Jaeger needs a pair of pilots,” said one of the officers.
“Usually, yes, but there are two cases where, in an emergency, a single pilot managed to do some basic things,” said Summers. “Stacker Pentecost drove Coyote Tango alone for a while, and Raleigh Becket drove Gipsy Danger right back home. Of course, it’s a killing strain.”
“He is a tech,” said Jian.
“A tech who knows exactly how many parts are in your precious Jaeger, and what each one exactly does,” said Eun.
Jian looked startled. He stared at Eun. “Very well,” he said at last. He turned to one of the other officers. “Get this man,” he said.
“Have him meet me at the heli-pad,” said Eun.
“You and me both,” said Summers. “You might … need an assistant.”
“Yeah, probably,” said Eun. They started running to the pad.
They were both in the little chopper, starting the engine, when Chengying ran up. He was carrying a pack of communications and repair equipment. He crammed in with them, sitting on Summers’ lap.
Eun made some hurried introductions. “And now, Chengying,” she said, “it is time for you to rescue your princess.”
“Then let’s go,” said Chengying.
They lifted off. As they passed over the fallen Lotus Blade, they saw the Kuroda brothers climb out through a maintenance hatch. The two Japanese waved as the chopper passed over.
They reached Unity Dragon. The chopper had no rope ladder but Eun hovered, a few feet away from the emergency hatch in the Jaeger’s head.
“You just have to get it upright,” said Eun, over the thud of the rotors. “And if the radiation shielding is down you’ll only have a few minutes before you get a fatal dose.”
Summers was looking out to sea.
“Whatever you’re going to do, Chengying, do it fast,” she said. She pointed. Stingray was beginning to re-emerge. Its wounds were no longer bleeding.
Chengying nodded, and stepped onto the Jaeger. He opened the hatch and started to climb in. Then he stopped, and looked at Eun. “Thank you,” he said.
“Just save her,” said Eun. “Thank me later.”
He went in. Eun pulled the helicopter away.
Several minutes passed. Then the radio crackled into life.
“Both pilots are dead,” said Chengying. “Lot of equipment inactive. But I think I can … run a bypass here … and here … yes, that should give us some emergency power.”
“What’s the radiation situation?” said Summers.
“Hot, very hot,” said Chengying. “I am going to try the interface now. Taking over Major Li’s position.”
“Stingray approaching, two minutes, three at the most,” said Eun.
There was a shout from Chengying as he accessed the interface with Unity Dragon. There was a long moment of silence.
“You still with us?” said Eun.
“Y … yes,” said Chengying. “We are. External sensors on line. I can see Stingray now.”
Summers turned off the intercom for a moment. “The transport choppers are standing by,” she said to Eun. “But I doubt there will be time.”
Eun nodded. “It was always going to come out like this, I think,” she said. She turned the intercom back on.
“Chengying – ” she said.
“I know,” he said. “Plasma cannons are offline. Missile launcher unresponsive. Sword … yes, the sword is operating.”
Unity Dragon’s right hand snapped the chain sword into position. It began to form into a blade.
Stingray was charging towards Unity Dragon now.
“Chengying – ” said Eun.
“I know!” he said.
Still on one knee, Unity Dragon thrust the sword upwards. It stabbed into Stingray. The Kaiju gave a howl. It fell back.
Unity Dragon got to its feet. It took the sword in both hands. It took a step forward. Then another. Another.
“Yaahhh!” screamed Chengying. He charged forward. The blade swept through the air.
And smashed into Stingray’s neck, slicing through the cowl. There was an avalanche of blue blood.
Stingray fell to its knees.
The sword slashed again. Stingray’s head parted from its body. The decapitated corpse collapsed into the water.
Unity Dragon, standing over its defeated enemy, went completely still.
“Chengying!” shouted Eun into the radio.
“Disconnect from the interface!” said Eun. “Now!”
“We can land on the shoulder, now it’s level,” said Summers. “Over there.”
“Chengying, get to the access hatch on the right shoulder,” said Eun. “We’ll meet you there.”
She set down the little chopper. They got out and ran to the hatch, just as it started to swing open. Chengying staggered through the doorway and collapsed.
He was bleeding from his nose, eyes, and ears. His skin was red and blistered from radiation burns. And if his skin was this bad, he would have been burned inside as well.
Eun knelt down, lifting his head onto her lap. Summers tore a sleeve from her blouse and began to wipe the blood away.
“Did … did I do it?” he gasped. “Did I save my girl?”
“Yes,” said Eun. “You saved her.”
He gave a smile. “At least I … I got to know her,” he said. “For a little while.” Then he closed his eyes and was gone.
“What is the meaning of this!?” shouted Eun, throwing the document onto Brigadier-General Jian’s desk. “There is no mention of Chengying in the official report! This makes it look as if it was Li and Boon-sen who took Stingray down!”
“The people need heroes,” said Jian. “And now they have them. Dead heroes are sufficient. Martyrs to the anti-Kaiju cause.”
“You have a real hero!”
“Chengying Ong is not … right,” he said. “Not the right … sort of person. Li and Boon-sen are. Handsome. And officers. And in any case, the report has already been released to the media in Singapore.”
Eun stared at him. She heard Summers come into the office behind her.
“It is the way we do things in my country,” said Jian.
Eun opened her mouth to speak but Summers interrupted.
“Which is something we understand entirely,” she said. “But I am sure you appreciate that Commander Park is … concerned. Chengying Ong died in her arms, after all.”
“We will ensure that his family is well-compensated for their loss,” said Jian.
“Which we will be very pleased to see,” said Summers. She began to hustle Eun out. “We have a plane waiting for us, boss,” she said. “We should get out of here. Before you hurt someone. Like you said, we are guests here. No authority.”
It was a few days later. Eun was in her office at Uluru Base. A UN courier came in and handed her a letter.
It was from the UN PacRim Crisis Committee. She read it.
… pleased to appoint you as Commander of the Australasian Consolidated Defence Force … you will have new responsibilities for anti-Kaiju activities across the south-east Asian area as well as Australia … forces of a number of countries will be re-formed into a single command structure … this appointment is the result of recommendations from across the region …
And so on.
“Huh,” she said to herself. “Son of a bitch.”
8. The Sound of Distant Battles
“I don’t like meetings,” said Eun Park. She did not feel comfortable in the tailored business suit. Or in a limousine.
“Really?” said Summers. “I love them, myself. It’s how things get done.”
Eun stared at her deplorably cheerful assistant. I hate this woman, she thought.
They were on their way from London to Worthing Naval Air Base, on the southern coast of Britain. They were in the country to attend a hastily-convened, and extremely secret, meeting of political and military figures.
Eun stared out the window at the prosperous towns and pretty landscape. “To look at this,” she said, “you would think that the Breach had never happened. Everything is so … normal.”
“I guess we’re used to everywhere being crowded with refugees, everything being in short supply, all resources going to the effort of building the Jaegers, always a Kaiju just over the horizon,” said Summers. “But I’m sure you read the brief about the political situation in the European Union.”
“Er, no,” said Eun. “Give me the short version.”
Summers sighed. “Basically, there are a lot of politicians in Europe who take the view that the Breach is a long way away. None of their business. And if Japan, China, Russia, the US, and south-east Asia are getting trashed by Kaijus, well, all those countries are economic competitors to Europe. None of the people making statements like that are in office yet. But it’s only a question of time.”
“I heard there was going to be a Jaeger built in Europe,” said Eun.
“Well, yes and no,” said Summers. “Specifically, an expert panel has been established to draw up draft terms of reference for a cross-disciplinary, multi-country committee that will examine possible technical, design and financial parameters for a European Jaeger.”
“Uh-huh,” said Eun. “And when will that panel report?”
“The smart money says another two years. They have been deliberating for three.”
“O – kay,” said Eun.
Summer’s phone buzzed. It would be Coulson, from Satellite Control in the US, with a video update. Summers showed the little screen, with the moving dot, to Eun.
Eun nodded. “Not long now,” she said.
Drone drone drone. Eun was finding it hard to keep her eyes open as the speakers giving the keynote addresses of the meeting ploughed through economic reports and estimates of conventional military strength.
From behind, Summers poked Eun in the ribs, hard enough to ensure she was awake. “Your turn,” whispered Summers. She showed Eun the latest update from Coulson, and then set the phone on the table where Eun could see it.
Eun rose in her place. She looked at her watch, and at the phone. She cleared her throat.
“There is a Category Two Kaiju heading for you,” she said. “Codename Swimmer. You have a couple of hours if you are lucky. Thirty minutes if you are not. Maybe less.”
She sat down again.
There was a stunned silence. Then frantic shouting broke out.
Summers started the laptop computer she carried, and a series of images came up on the big screen. The room became silent as people stared.
The satellite images showed a huge moving object under water, a few hundred kilometres east of the Breach. The wake on the surface could clearly be seen.
The next series of images superimposed the path of the Kaiju on a map of the Pacific, with dates at the bottom of the screen. Seen in time-lapse, the Kaiju began to move south-east. Not far from Vanuatu, it turned south, and continued until it passed between Australia and New Zealand. Near the 50th Parallel, it turned west, and continued, passing the southern tip of Africa. Then it turned north. Towards Europe. Every now and then, the image disappeared, as the Kaiju went down, too deep to be seen, or clouds obscured the surface. Then it would re-emerge, further along its meandering course.
“But this proves nothing!” said an EU delegate. “It could just as easily be heading towards the eastern coast of America!”
Summers tapped a few keys on her computer, and the more recent tracking images came up.
“And there you go,” said Eun, from her place.
“Why were we not told of this?” said the French Deputy Prime Minister.
“You were,” said the American military attaché. “There has been a series of messages from US Satellite Control to the EU headquarters in Brussels, as well as the European offices of NATO and other places.” He began to read out a long list of dates and times.
He was stopped by another American officer, who spoke a few words to him. The attaché closed his folder and stood up. He and the other Americans began to leave. As the group reached the door, the most senior of them turned and said: “Good luck. You’ll need it.” Then they were gone.
There was another deluge of shouting from the delegates. Amid the din, a British officer appeared at Eun’s shoulder. “Perhaps you and your assistant would like to continue discussions in another room,” he said softly. Eun looked at Summers, who nodded. So they followed the officer out, to a small room in another part of the building. Unlike the conference room, it was bare and functional. The Prime Minister of the UK, the Leader of the Opposition, and several other civilians and military officers were there.
“Commander Park,” said the PM, shaking Eun’s hand. “Good to finally meet you.” She introduced Eun to the others in the room.
“Don’t pay much attention to what is going on in the big room,” said the Opposition Leader. “Not for the first time, we don’t agree with the people in Brussels. We have always taken the view that eventually the Kaijus would spread out of the Pacific. And we wanted to be ready.”
“And as a part of that, we would like to offer you a job,” said the PM.
At that moment, a siren went. A Naval Air corporal burst into the room.
“Sirs!” he said. “It’s here!”
“Calm down, son,” said the PM. “What is here?”
“The Kaiju! It just came ashore, a couple of kilometres away! And it heading for us! For Worthing Base!”
“Why would it come here?” said one of the army officers.
“Probably just where its line of travel led,” said Eun. “That’s often the way with First Emergence. Prime Minister, I suggest that you and everyone else here evacuate at once.”
“There are cars waiting outside,” said the corporal.
As they walked quickly to the cars, the PM said to one of the military officers: “The carrier Nelson is not far away, right? Can its Rapiers get here in time?”
The officer was speaking into his phone. “Already scrambling,” he said to the PM. “But it will take at least fifteen minutes for them to reach here.”
“What do you have on this base?” said Eun to a Naval Air officer.
“This is mainly a helicopter base,” he said. “Some planes, but nothing that can carry enough to do much damage.”
They came into the open – and stared in shock.
The Kaiju was already at the outer perimeter of the base. With claw-like arms, it was smashing buildings and vehicles.
“Fuck,” said the PM.
“God, it’s fast, for something so big,” said the Opposition Leader.
“Yes, everyone is surprised by that, the first time,” said Summers. “You get used to it.”
The PM’s security detail was pushing her, and the other dignitaries, into cars. An officer directed Eun and Summers to a car.
“I’m not much of a one for running away from a fight,” said Eun. She looked around. There was a line of helicopters, UH90s, parked not far away. She started running for the closest one, Summers trailing.
“You really should get to somewhere safe,” said Eun to her.
Summers glanced at the rampaging Kaiju, now working its way through the parked planes and choppers – and coming their way.
“Somehow, I feel that the safest place is right behind you,” she said.
They were nearly at the chopper when a Naval Air guard appeared, blocking their way.
“Is that one fuelled and armed?” said Eun.
“Sure it is, but you can’t just take it,” said the guard.
“It’s alright, we have the appropriate requisition documents, signed by the duty officer and countersigned by the base commander,” said Summers. She pulled an official-looking paper from her bag and thrust it at the man, who took it, with a look of bewilderment.
Eun and Summers boarded the helicopter and Eun started the engines. Summers took the co-pilot seat.
“What did you give him?” said Eun.
“The form for our hotel bookings in London,” said Summers. “Are you sure you know how to fly one of these things? It’s been a while for you, and you flew a 60, not a 90.”
“Like riding a bike,” said Eun. She pulled the stick back, but instead of rising into the air the chopper slid backwards about five metres.
“Well, I haven’t ridden a bike for a while, either,” she said. She flipped more switches and tried again, and this time the helicopter lurched upwards. It dipped, wavered … and then stabilised. They were off.
Eun turned towards the Kaiju.
“Ready weapons,” she said.
“Uh, what?” said Summers.
“You’ll have to control the weapons,” said Eun. “I can’t do both, not with a 90.”
“I … I don’t know if I can do that,” said Summers. “I’ve never even fired a gun.”
“It’s a computer console,” said Eun. “That one there.”
“Oh, right, a computer, that I can do,” said Summers. She started tapping keys and controls. She read from the screen: “Two thousand rounds of Gatling bullets, six Archer missiles, six Speartip AP missiles – what does AP mean?”
“Armour piercing,” said Eun. “Let’s hope they come with a guarantee.”
They were sweeping towards the Kaiju now.
“Just what are we doing?” said Summers. “We can’t bring it down ourselves.”
“No, but maybe we can buy some time for the people on the base to evacuate,” said Eun. “Keep it busy until those carrier planes arrive.”
She was circling the Kaiju, looking for a place where the armour might be weak. Nothing.
“Then we have to make one,” she muttered. She came around behind the Kaiju, which was smashing the base to pieces.
“Aim for the lower part of the neck, at the top of the spine,” she said to Summers. “The Speartips. All at once. I’ll get in as close as I can.”
They swung in. If the Kaiju saw them now and turned, it could take them down with a single swipe.
“Whenever you’re ready,” said Eun, struggling to hold the chopper steady.
Summers was trying to lock the missiles on target. And then the circles on the screen matched up and turned green. She pushed the button, and the chopper bucked as the missiles swept away.
They hit together, smashing into the armour.
The Kaiju turned towards them as Eun struggled to gain altitude. The Kaiju swiped at them but Eun dodged away.
A voice came through her radio headset.
“Pilot of helicopter engaged with Kaiju, please identify,” it said.
“This is Commander Eun Park of the Australasian Consolidated Defence Force,” said Eun. “And I’m a little busy at the moment. Who are you?”
“This is Flight Leader Edward Teller of HMS Nelson, leading a group of ten Rapiers towards you,” said the voice. “Uh, where did you say you were from?”
“Long story,” said Eun. “Teller, I’ve think we’ve damaged this thing’s armour at the back of the neck. That’s been a soft spot on some of the other Kaijus I’ve fought.”
“Er … other!?”
“Also a long story. Concentrate your missiles on that spot. I’ll get around the front of it and try and keep it distracted.”
Another voice came over the radio.
“This is Air Control, Worthing Base,” it said. “Flight Leader Teller, your standing orders are for your planes to spread your missiles over the Kaiju as far as possible. That’s the strategy we think we will be most effective. Look for a weakness.”
There was a pause. Then, Teller said: “With respect, Air Control, I think we’ll go with the lady in the chopper. The one who’s already taken a piece out of this thing.”
Eun smiled. She brought the UH90 around to the front of the Kaiju, staying just out of reach. Summers fired the twin Gatling guns, the bullets raking the Kaiju in the face. It was not enough do any damage, but nevertheless the Kaiju turned towards them. It swung a pincer at them, but Eun again managed to dodge away.
“Fire the rest of the missiles,” she said to Summers. “They won’t do much to hurt it, but they should keep it looking this way.”
Summers fired. The Archers slammed into the Kaiju’s face but there was no apparent effect. It gave an ear-splitting roar.
“I hate it when they do that,” said Summers. “Hey, we have some smoke missiles, too, according to this thing.”
“Smoke, eh?” said Eun. She could see the Rapiers closing in now, moving into a firing line. “Might give the carrier boys a few more seconds, so do it.”
Summers fired. The missiles exploded on the Kaiju’s armour, creating a cloud of billowing smoke.
The first Rapier fired its missiles at the spot where the armour was damaged, and pulled away as the next one fired.
The Kaiju howled as the missiles tore away the remaining armour, and the next volley ripped into the Kaiju’s flesh. Still half-blinded by the smoke, it swung its pincers through the air, but to no avail.
The Kaiju staggered a little, but did not go down. Instead, it turned and started to head back the way it had come, towards the sea.
The Rapiers came in again, with more missiles. Eun and Summers added the last of the chopper’s machine-gun bullets.
The Kaiju trampled its way through the remains of the town of Worthing and waded into the ocean, being harassed all the way. Then it was in the deep water and was gone, leaving a stain of toxic blood behind it.
Eun brought the chopper down on a patch of clear ground in what was left of Worthing Base. As she and Summers climbed out, she saw one of the Rapiers land on the sole surviving runway. The others headed back to the Nelson.
Eun saw that Summers was shaking. “You did well for your first time in combat,” said Eun to her.
“Th – thanks,” stammered Summers. “I … I’ve never been so close to one before. Not a live one, anyway. They’re … they’re … damn, boss, how did you take it, in the Fury?”
“You do what you have to do,” said Eun.
Then they were surrounded by people from the base, slapping them on the back and shouting congratulations.
A man in a flight suit made his way through the throng.
“Flight Leader Teller, I assume,” said Eun, as he shook their hands.
“Looks like we won,” he said.
“For the moment,” said Eun. “But that’s better than nothing.”
“I could really use a drink,” muttered Summers.
“I’m buying,” said Teller.
“I understand you received a number of marriage proposals after your actions at Worthing Base were on television,” said the PM.
“Eun received 576,” said Summers. “And I received 412.”
“Although I suppose that’s nothing new,” said the PM. “I assume you’re pretty famous in your country.”
Eun shrugged again. “I leave the PR stuff to others,” she said.
They were in the back of another limousine, speeding along a winding road in Scotland. The PM was accompanied by her chief assistant, a man called Carruthers, and there was a heavy-set bodyguard in the front with the military driver. It was night.
“Has the attack on Worthing changed anything in Brussels?” said Summers.
“They seem to think they can get rid of the Kaiju by throwing paper at it,” said Carruthers. “The expert panel has said that it will bring forward the release of its report, so it will be in six months.”
“By the standards of the EU, that constitutes springing into action,” said the PM. “So you can see why we got a bit frustrated with them.”
“There have been calls for negotiations with the Kaiju,” added Carruthers.
“Uh-huh,” said Eun. “I recommend that the people making those calls try it on a face-to-face basis.”
The car passed through a military checkpoint and, a little while later, came to a stop. They got out. Eun looked around. It was a sprawling military base.
“Welcome to Scapa Flow,” said the PM. She led the way into a huge building.
Eun and Summers gasped in surprise.
It was a Jaeger. Still under construction but not far from completion.
“Meet Iron Duke,” said the PM.
“Quite an achievement,” said Eun, as they inspected the massive machine. “Especially in secret.”
“How did you get the money for it?” said Summers.
“Well, you know what government budgets are like,” said the PM. “A couple on non-existent programs on the books, a bit of shuffling figures around ... ”
“It helps to have the Opposition Leader on side,” said Carruthers. “But actually a lot of the resources came from a consortium of private sector companies, some UK ones and others from the Continent.” He pointed to a range of signs painted on the Jaeger. They were advertisements for products. Soft drinks, computers, cars. Carruthers pointed to one for whiskey. “Well, we are in Scotland, after all,” he said.
“Huh,” said Eun.
“And of course the construction template is readily available,” said the PM. “The plasma cannon is based on the one used by the American Gipsy Danger, and the missile battery in the chest was adapted from your own Lucky Punch. A few other tweaks of our own. And we engaged a lot of Japanese to work on the programming side. They were happy to do it, for an immigration card and a chance at some payback.”
“So it’s a Mark 3,” said Summers. “How close is it to completion?”
“We had planned on a month, but after Worthing we have brought it forward to ten days,” said Carruthers. “Best we can do. We will just have to hope that our large friend continues to sit at the bottom of the North Sea for a while yet.”
“It probably will,” said Eun. “We’ve seen it before with ones that have been wounded. I would estimate that, from the injuries it suffered at Worthing, it will stay where it is for another two weeks, more or less. When it emerges again, its injuries will have completely healed.”
“Ah,” said the PM. “This is exactly the sort of information we need, Commander Park. Between your own time as a Fury-driver and your command of the ACDF Jaegers, you have a wealth of experience. We want to draw on that, and we are prepared to pay you well for it. And also Ms Summers, who has more than proved her worth.”
“I already have a job,” said Eun. “I only came here to attend that conference. Which was not, as it turned out, very useful.”
“But if you wanted to engage us as ludicrously overpaid consultants on a temporary basis, I am sure that the Australian government would have no problem with it,” said Summers.
Eun stared at her assistant.
“What?” said Summers to her.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom laughed. “Alright, ludicrously overpaid consultants it is,” she said.
They went to a briefing room, where a number of military officers were gathered. There was a large map of Europe spread over a table. There was a red X in the North Sea, marking the last known location of the Kaiju.
“Do you have any advice on where it might strike next?” said one of the generals, whose uniform identified him as Pym, the Jaeger Project Leader, to Eun. “Will it hit the UK again? Or will it go for the Continent? It’s not far from the Dutch coast, as far as we know.”
“Since it got a bloody nose here, it is most likely to come back,” said Eun. “It’s easy to think that the Kaiju are just dumb animals, striking at whatever targets are close, but it’s not actually the case. Often, the first thing a Kaiju hits after it comes through the Breach is a relatively small target. We think it’s just a way of getting to know how to operate in our world, and out of the water. That’s probably why the Kaiju hit Worthing – it was basically a limbering-up exercise after a long swim. We call that First Emergence. With Second Emergence, the target will be bigger, more strategic. They go after major cities, ones which are transport hubs or have important infrastructure. Even if it means moving inland. There have been quite a few cases of them moving up rivers to reach their targets.
“We started analysing their movements after the attack on the Panama Canal. That strike suggested that there was more method to them than just hitting population centres at random.”
Pym nodded. “Classic strategy,” he said. “You disrupt your enemy’s supply lines and communications. You attack cities to create streams of fleeing civilians, which breaks up the logistics structure.”
“There is a view,” put in Summers, “that the Kaiju are actually being directed. By someone – or something – on the other end of the Breach. It’s just a theory. But it would explain why the Kaijus choose targets the way they do.”
“It gives us a small advantage,” said Eun. “It means that we can sometimes predict where they might strike next, and be ready for them. That, plus satellite surveillance. Once they make a decision, they move in a straight line, and we can track the wake. But if you’re looking for my advice, the first thing you should know is that they’re continually getting smarter and tougher. As if they learn from each fight. So you have to expect the unexpected.”
“That’s not good news,” said General Pym.
“Do you have any idea where the next attack might be?” said the PM. “Where we might be able to intercept it?”
Eun studied the map. After a while, she pointed and said: “Here.”
The others crowded around to see.
The mouth of the Thames.
“So this is the pair of Jaeger pilots, eh?” said Eun.
“James and Joyce Crompton,” said Pym. “Twins. Tested out as very high, very compatible. Very capable on the physical side, he was in the Oxford rowing team and she has won prizes for running. Since we drafted them into the military, we’ve put them through a rigorous training course.”
They were in the gym at the Scapa Flow base, watching the twins working out. There were other soldiers and sailors in the gym as well.
“Huh,” said Eun. “Rowing. Running.”
“They’re both very attractive,” said Summers. “In an English sort of way.”
“Do you think they can do the job?” said Pym. “We would value your opinion.”
“Let’s find out,” said Eun.
She rolled up the sleeves of the overalls she had been given and went to a rack of batons on the wall, picking up three.
“Hey, pretties!” said Eun, throwing a baton to each of the twins. “I’m here to see how long it will take a Kaiju to eat you. So let’s go.”
The twins looked at Pym, who nodded. The rest of the soldiers and sailors stopped what they were doing and gathered around, forming a large circle in the gym.
“But it’s two against one,” said James.
“Yes, I agree it’s not really fair,” said Eun. Then she whacked him with the baton on the shoulder.
“Oww!” he said.
“These are your best, are they?” said Summers to Pym.
“We Brits see ganging-up as a bit, well, not right,” he said.
“Yes, the Kaiju will really care about that,” she replied. “Here’s the first lesson in this business: if you find yourself in a fair fight, you have misunderstood the mission parameters. As for Eun, well, she doesn’t fight fair. She fights to win. She has already seen quite a few Jaegers beaten, including two that she sent into battle herself. I am sure she has no desire to see Iron Duke go down as well.”
As they watched, James made a half-hearted thrust at Eun. She dodged, whacked him again, and kicked out, a hapkido blow that sent him flying. Joyce made a run at her from the other side but Eun swivelled, blocked the baton, and swept the woman’s feet from under her.
“We’ll call that one a getting-to-know-you handshake,” said Eun, helping both of them up. “Now, again.”
More careful now, the twins lifted their batons.
Summers sat down on a chair. She took out her phone and began to check her messages.
“What, aren’t you worried?” said Pym.
“Oh, she won’t hurt them,” she said. “Much.”
Eun was now helping the twins up, again.
“Together,” she said to them. “This is not something where you take turns.”
“One from each side, then, and at the same time?” said Joyce.
“Whatever works for you,” said Eun.
“I think – ” said James.
“Don’t think!” snapped Eun. “Do! You won’t have time to think!”
Joyce made a feinting blow on Eun’s right while James charged in from the left. But if they expected Eun to defend against James, and leave herself open to Joyce, they were mistaken. Eun parried Joyce’s feint, grabbed her arm, and swung her round. The twins slammed into each other. But they were up again in a moment, and came running at her. Eun parried the blows, knocking James’ baton from his hand. It went spinning upwards … and when it came back down Eun caught it. But James charged again, grabbing hold of her before she could swing the clubs.
“Better,” she said to him, as he tried to pin her arms. “But it’s a bar fight, not a wrestling competition. You’ve been in a bar fight, haven’t you?”
“Er, no,” said James.
Eun sighed. Then she head-butted him in the face. He cried out and fell back. “Well, now you have been,” said Eun. She raised one of the batons she held to block Joyce’s blow, knocking it from her hand, and used the other to whack her in the stomach.
There was a round of applause from the soldiers and sailors as Eun helped James and Joyce to their feet once more.
“Had enough yet?” said Joyce, rubbing her bruises.
Eun smiled. She handed them their batons.
Eun was sitting in the office she had been assigned, examining the schematics for Iron Duke with Pym.
“So I take it you did not think much of the twins,” Pym said.
“Actually, I think they will do alright,” said Eun. “Better trained and prepared than a lot of other teams that have gone in.”
Pym raised an eyebrow. He said: “But you knocked them down … how many times?”
“Seventeen,” said Eun. “But the point is, they kept coming back, and got better each time. Do you know why I stopped it after seventeen times? Because I thought they would beat me on the eighteenth.”
“Hmm,” said Pym. “Well, your assistant did tell me that you don’t fight fair.”
Eun looked at Summers, who shrugged. “It’s not a fair business,” said Eun. “Well, tomorrow we’ll see how they do – ”
An orderly came rushing in. “Sorry to interrupt, sirs,” he gasped, “but you are needed in the Satellite Observation room right away.”
“Is it the Kaiju?” said Eun as they ran along the corridor.
“No,” said the orderly. “It’s … the French.”
“Oh god,” said Pym.
They reached the Satellite Observation room. Douglas, the head of the unit, came up to them. “It’s a French naval task force heading for the last known position of the Kaiju,” she said. “A carrier, the Richelieu, which is the flagship, two missile cruisers, and the battleship Dunkerque. And a submarine as well, the de Grasse.”
There was a large screen in the room which showed the ships from above, a satellite view.
“As you know, we also deployed sonar buoys around the area so we knew when the Kaiju moved,” said Douglas. “We’re using those buoys to track the submarine now.” She pointed to another screen.
A red telephone on the main desk rang. An officer answered it and then handed it to Pym. “Admiral Roche, French Navy, on the Richelieu,” said the officer.
Pym put the phone on speaker.
“Louis, I would like to know what you’re doing out there,” said Pym.
“My friend, we are going to do what you obviously could not,” said Roche.
“Admiral Roche, I am Commander Eun Park of the Australasian Consolidated Defence Force, currently a guest of the British government,” said Eun. “As someone who has been fighting Kaijus for many years, I advise you to turn your fleet around right now and get the hell out of there.”
“Yes, Commander Park, we know who you are,” said Roche.
“Then you probably also know,” said Eun, “that this tactic has been tried before, twice by the Americans and once by the Russians. You can’t fight a Kaiju this way. In deep water, it has all the advantages.”
“And that was against Category Ones,” put in Summers.
“But they were not us,” said Roche. “They did not use a submarine to keep a precise fix on the creature, and they did not have our homing torpedoes and missiles.”
In the background, a French voice said something to Roche.
Summers whispered: “Someone just said that they have lost signal contact with the submarine.”
“What, you speak French?” said Eun to her.
“Of course,” said Summers.
“Sirs, we have lost sonar fix on the de Grasse,” said a technician at the scanning console.
“Louis, you might want to consider Commander Park’s advice,” said Pym.
Suddenly, the sonar screen beeped. It indicated a large shape under water. Heading for the fleet.
“Too late,” muttered Eun.
On the satellite screen, there was the huge shadow of Swimmer, moving in a spiral with the French ships at the centre. The surface wake was growing. The Kaiju was moving fast.
“Louis, are you seeing this?” said Pym.
There was a babble of voices behind Roche.
“They can’t get a torpedo lock,” translated Summers. “It’s too fast and too deep.”
“Admiral, it’s likely to come up from underneath, targeting the biggest ship first,” said Eun. “If you split your ships up, some of them might be able to escape.”
Suddenly, the shadow vanished.
“What, has it moved away?” said Pym.
“No, it’s gone deep,” said Eun. “It’s right under them. And it will be coming – ”
The Richelieu was lifted up, completely out of the water. The Kaiju, ramming into the carrier with its shoulder, turned it over and smashed it back down, pushing it under. Then it lashed out at the battleship, with something held between its claws.
It was the de Grasse,or what was left of it. The impact almost broke the battleship in two. The Kaiju turned to the two cruisers. One punch, then another, and both were gone, broken into pieces.
The Kaiju dived again. In a few moments, it was gone, returning to the seabed, beyond satellite and sonar range.
The line to Admiral Roche was dead. Static.
“They didn’t even get to fire a shot,” murmured Summers.
Pym returned the phone to its cradle. He turned to another officer. “See if we can get any rescue choppers to the area,” he said softly. “And call the PM.”
“The Iron Duke was what people called Wellington, the general who beat Napoleon at Waterloo,” said James. He, his sister, and Eun were sitting in the gym, which was otherwise empty, taking a break from one of Eun’s gruelling training sessions.
“So it seemed like a good name for the British Jaeger,” said Joyce. “Commander Park, maybe you can tell me something. In the Pacific, are we winning?” said James. “Humans, I mean.”
Eun was silent for a long time. Then she said: “No. I don’t think we are. It’s becoming a question of numbers. The Kaijus are coming through the Breach faster and faster, and each one is smarter and tougher than the last. The maths guys say that we will see a Category Three soon.”
“Something to look forward to, then,” said Joyce.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Eun. “Let’s deal with Swimmer first.”
“At least we have back-up,” said James. “If it comes into the Thames estuary, the military will be able to throw a lot at it.”
“Yes, support from the Air Force, Navy and anyone else is important. But it will come down to you and it. And the biggest problem for you is going to be fear. I know you’ve done all the simulations, but nothing really prepares you for that first confrontation. The size. The speed, it’s always a surprise that something so big can move so fast. The noise it makes. And when it sees you, it will go straight for you. They do that.”
“Will you be there?” said Joyce. “For us.”
Eun looked from one of them to the other. “I will,” she said. “Now, let’s get back to it.” She stood up and walked into the middle of the gym. They each had quarter-staffs.
The twins took up their positions. Eun saw James glance at Joyce. She thought she saw him wink at her.
They attacked. There was a whirl of sticks. Parry, thrust, block, swivel, parry, push, extend, thrust, parry again –
And suddenly Eun found herself on her back. She could feel a bruise on her arm and another on her thigh.
“Huh,” she said. The twins helped her up. “That wasn’t fair,” said Eun. “Good. You’re learning.”
It was an hour later when Eun, rather battered but feeling strangely satisfied, headed back to her quarters. She stopped at Summers’ room, next to hers, and knocked on her door, meaning to go through the day’s e-messages from Uluru Base.
It was a while before Summers opened the door – and then she only opened it a little. She had a khaki towel around her. She looked rather flushed. “Uh … er … hi,” she said.
“Hi yourself,” said Eun. “I thought we should do the correspondence.”
“The … uh, what? … oh, yeah, right, the correspondence – ”
“Hey, is that Commander Park?” said a voice behind her. The door was pushed open a bit more. By Flight Leader Edward Teller. Who was also wearing only a towel. “Hello, good to see you again,” he said to Eun.
Eun looked at Summers, who went even redder. “So,” said Eun to her assistant. “I see you are doing your bit to improve international relations.”
“You could put it that way,” said Summers.
“Then get back to work on it,” said Eun. “That’s an order. The correspondence can wait.”
Summers suddenly brightened. “An … order?” she said.
“You heard your boss,” said Teller.
Summers smiled. Then she closed the door.
Eun went back to her room, shaking her head. Then she found herself laughing.
Her phone beeped. It was a text message from Pym. Iron Duke is complete. We move tomorrow.
The area around the Thames estuary had been declared a military quarantine zone, and the civilian population had been evacuated from the towns along the river. There was, of course, no way to move the city of London or its millions of people.
Neither was there a way to keep Iron Duke secret any longer. It was airlifted to Southend army base, on the northern side of the Thames, not far from the estuary. Media was excluded from the area but enterprising photographers had been able to get plenty of footage of it using long-range cameras.
“Odd political position I’m in,” said the Prime Minister to Eun, over drinks at the base bar. Summers and Pym were there. “According to the polls, forty-seven per cent of the population love me because we have a giant robot. Forty-six per cent hate me because we kept it secret and seriously fiddled the books.”
“What about the other seven per cent?” said Summers.
“Two per cent want to surrender. The other five per cent apparently think Kaijus and Jaegers are football teams.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, Prime Minister, you seem remarkably calm about all this,” said Eun. “If the Kaiju gets past us, it will level London and then keep on going. Like Japan. A month from now, you might not have anything to govern.”
The PM nodded. “You don’t get to be the leader of a country like this if you can’t pretend to be steady and in control when you know everything is on the brink of falling apart,” she said. “But I know what’s at stake. And I know that when the missiles start flying the most useful thing a politician can do is get out of the way. I will stay in London, and take whatever comes. Can’t really tell everyone else to keep their chin up if I’m not willing to remain at my post, can I?”
“Prime Minister,” said Carruthers. “We should be going. You have to address the House in two hours, and the Palace has asked you to meet with the King later.”
The PM finished her drink. “Commander Park, I have something for you,” she said. “For when our large friend arrives.”
They went outside. The PM pointed to a UH90 helicopter on a pad. It was the one that Eun had flown at Worthing.
“Cool,” said Summers.
It was moving. Eun, Pym, and a number of other officers were in the large trailer-type vehicle that served as a mobile command centre, not far from Southend base. They were watching a screen which showed the satellite tracking of the Kaiju.
“It’s coming towards the Thames estuary, like you thought it would,” said Pym. “Entering the military quarantine area. We have all our forces in position.”
Eun nodded. She wondered if it would be enough. She knew that the First Emergence had not been a true test of Swimmer. In Kaiju terms, it had been not much more than an excursion, a bit of exercise in the fresh air. She had no doubt that if the Kaiju had been determined to continue its rampage then it could not have been stopped by the small number of choppers and planes that fought that day.
At least Pym and the others seemed to understand that, Eun thought. Over the years, she had dealt with many military people who vastly over-rated their abilities, relative to the Kaiju. Against a Category Two, conventional military forces could offer assistance and distraction, but the only real weapon was the Jaeger.
She shuddered when she thought of what a Category Three might be like.
She looked at the images of the banks of the Thames. The river was lined with wharves and warehouses. There was no apparent sign of life.
“I’ll get in the air and do what I can from there,” said Eun. She and Summers left the trailer and went to the chopper they had been assigned. They lifted off, taking up a position several kilometres away but in visual range of the estuary. The two women could already see the approaching surface wake.
“Once it emerges, how long would it take to reach London?” said Summers.
“Half an hour, maybe,” said Eun. “But once it sees Iron Duke, it will probably go for it. Their general strategy is to take out offensive weapons first, then defences, and then the civilian target.”
The Kaiju began to emerge from the sea. It started to walk up the river. It stopped and looked around.
Eun checked the radar. Several dozen warbirds were approaching from the north: the Rapiers from the Nelson and the Elizabeth II. From the south, more helicopters were approaching.
“Looks like your fellow is on the way,” said Eun. “And he’s brought some friends.”
Summers nodded. She bit her lip, trying not to think of the times she had seen a Kaiju knock planes out of the air.
Swimmer saw the approaching planes. It gave a howl. It stepped out of the river onto the land, facing the aircraft.
The force of planes spilt into two, attacking from both sides. The first wave fired their missiles together, then banked aside to allow the planes behind to fire.
The missiles smashed into the Kaiju. It howled again. But when the smoke cleared, little damage appeared to have been done. The planes swept in again and fired their second volley of missiles. Some of the missiles cracked or broke the armour, and in a few places missiles broke through to the Kaiju’s flesh. But that was all.
It gave another howl, louder than the one before.
“Great, so now it’s pissed,” said Summers.
The doors of several warehouses opened, and dozens of trucks with missile launchers roared out. They took up position in lines, and fired together. The missiles slammed into the Kaiju, making it stagger backwards a few steps. But then it regained its balance and charged at the vehicles.
The trucks began to scatter, at top speed. A few were too slow, and the Kaiju trampled over the top of them. It kept going. Another set of trucks pulled out of hiding in the warehouses, their missiles traversing.
The planes swept in again, trying to drive the Kaiju back towards the river. But the Kaiju merely shook off the missiles, swatting at the planes.
Through her headphones, Eun could hear Pym barking commands.
Then she realised: the command trailer was in the Kaiju’s path.
“General, it’s coming right for you!” she shouted into the radio. “Get out of there!”
The trailer was already moving but not fast enough. The Kaiju swiped at it, rolling it over.
The radio signal went dead.
“Without C-and-C, we may as well give up right now,” muttered Summers. She pushed buttons on her headset. “Flight Leader Teller, can you take over?” she said.
There was a pause. Then Teller’s voice: “I’m just a stick jockey, honey. There’s only one person who can run the show now. And we all know who it is.”
A series of voices came through the headphones: “Commander Park, awaiting orders … ready for orders … awaiting your instructions ... ”
No choice, thought Eun.
She began to issue orders: firing positions, target acquisition, ammunition checks. More missiles slammed into the Kaiju.
“We’re hurting it but we’re running out of things to throw,” said Summers, next to her.
“Warbirds form up for final attack, then return to bases for re-arm,” Eun said into the radio. “Surface vehicles, return to Southend and re-arm. Choppers, form up on me. We need to get it back towards the river.”
The planes swept in again, firing the last of their missiles and then turning for home. The choppers, forming a phalanx around Eun’s UH90, readied themselves. They were behind the Kaiju.
“Concentrate fire and then hold position,” ordered Eun. “Break formation on my mark. We have to make it chase us. So be prepared to do some ducking and weaving.”
On Eun’s command, all the choppers fired. The missiles slammed into the Kaiju, breaking off more chunks of armour. Swimmer turned and charged at them, its huge pincers swinging.
The choppers split up. One was too slow, and was smashed to pieces in a single blow.
But now the Kaiju was heading back towards the river.
“Iron Duke, ready,” said Eun softly.
“And waiting,” said Joyce.
The Kaiju was almost at the river bank, still swatting at the helicopters.
And then the Jaeger reared up out of the water, the plasma cannon in its left arm charged and ready to fire.
The Kaiju, distracted by the buzzing choppers, was taken by surprise. The bolt from the plasma cannon smashed into its chest, and there was a spurt of blood. The Kaiju went down … but was up again in a moment.
Iron Duke was out of the water now, striding towards Swimmer. It extended the long knife on its right arm.
“Be prepared for it to charge,” said Eun.
“On it,” said James.
Swimmer came racing forward, massive arms raised. But Iron Duke, prepared for the move, braced itself for the impact. The collision drove the huge machine back a few steps, but it stayed on its feet.
Iron Duke’s blade stabbed into the Kaiju, which gave another howl. The left fist of the Jaeger punched it in the face. Then another stab, then another punch.
The Kaiju, punching, fell back. It seemed to stare at the Jaeger. Then it opened its mouth … and spat.
The huge glob of green-grey mucus whacked into Iron Duke, on its chest. The titanium-alloy armour began to smoke and sizzle.
“What the fuck was that!?” said Summers.
“That,” said Eun, “was the unexpected.”
“It’s acidic!” said James. “It’s going to burn right through the hull!”
“Get into the water!” said Eun. “The river is salty here, near the sea, so the water might neutralise it!”
Iron Duke ran for the estuary, wading in.
The Kaiju was clearly hurt but was a long way from beaten. Eun led the helicopters in once more, firing missiles and bullets, aiming to keep it away from the Jaeger.
The Kaiju began to go after the choppers again. It was on the south side of the river now.
All the choppers’ missiles had been fired.
“Return to base for re-arm,” said Eun. “I’ll stay here and continue to co-ordinate. James, Joyce, you still with us?”
“Still with you, but that crap has given us some problems,” said James.
“The electronics for the missile battery are gone, and we’ve lost a lot of armour,” said Joyce. “Movement and speed down, maybe by a third. Trying to establish alternate control pathways. Will take another minute or two.”
The Kaiju was beginning to advance on the damaged Jaeger now.
“Another ten minutes before the carrier planes get back,” said Summers to Eun. “And we’ve used all our missiles.”
The Kaiju was limping and bleeding. “Another dozen missiles would put it down long enough for Iron Duke to get up and running,” muttered Eun.
Then an unfamiliar voice came over the radio. It said: “Faites-vous ont besoin de l’aide?”
“Uh, what?” said Eun.
“We sure do!” said Summers. “Er, I mean, oui, merci.”
Fifteen French Arbalète fighters swept past. “Tell them to aim at the places where the Kaiju is already wounded,” said Eun. Summers translated.
They fired their missiles together, everything they had. The Kaiju howled when they hit. It staggered backwards, tottered, and fell.
One of the French jets, probably the leader, swept by the UH90, the pilot waving. Eun returned the salute. Then they were gone, heading back to France.
The Kaiju struggled to its feet – just in time to be confronted by Iron Duke. The Jaeger swung its huge fist, smashing into the Kaiju’s jaw. Then the knife sliced into it.
“Spit gunk at us, will you,” said Joyce, swinging again.
But this time the Kaiju blocked the blow, catching the Jaeger’s left arm and holding it in its pincer. The Kaiju swung, but its arm was caught by the Jaeger’s right hand. So now the two were face-to-face, each straining to hold the other.
And then Iron Duke lurched forward, smashing its head into the Kaiju’s face.
“Good,” muttered Eun.
The Kaiju staggered backwards. It started to roar – and then a dozen missiles smashed into it. The Rapiers, returned and re-armed.
“Outstanding, Edward,” said Summers into the radio.
“Part of the service, honey,” said Teller.
Swimmer was tottering but was still on its feet. But Iron Duke was behind it now, raising the arm with the plasma cannon. It fired, and the bolt of energy tore into the Kaiju’s flesh.
The Kaiju sank to its knees. Iron Duke put its massive arms around the Kaiju’s head and twisted. There was a mighty cracking sound as the Kaiju’s neck snapped.
Iron Duke let it go, and it collapsed to the ground, face first.
“Huh,” said Eun. “Where did you learn that move?” she said.
“Oxford rowing,” said James, “is much more brutal than most people realise.”
“We need to power down,” said Joyce. “We’re running on emergency systems, and at the moment everything is flashing red.”
“Do so,” said Eun.
“We have to get back,” said Teller. “We didn’t have time to re-fuel so most of us are flying on fumes.”
“Get to Southend base if you can’t make your carriers,” said Eun.
The Rapiers turned away, the last one in the line doing a victory roll.
Eun brought the helicopter down, not far from the fallen Kaiju. The river was a kilometre away. They got out.
“A close-run thing,” said Summers.
“Very close,” said Eun.
“God, these things stink when they’re dead,” said Summers.
“They stink when they’re alive,” said Eun.
Suddenly, there was a twitch in the Kaiju. A flicker of movement under the skin.
“What the hell … ?” said Summers.
The movement seemed to be heading for one of the wounds on the Kaiju. It paused … and then a smaller Kaiju burst out of the opening. Like a miniature version of Swimmer, the size of a semi-trailer truck, but without the exoskeleton armour. It looked at Eun and Summers and gave a howl.
“Damn, it’s a baby one,” said Summers.
“Huh, Trent was right when he said that Kaijus are female,” muttered Eun.
“Pardon?” said Summers.
“Nothing, nothing,” said Eun. “We have to get back to the chopper.” They ran.
But Junior was not coming after them. It was heading towards the Thames, a galloping run on all fours.
“If it gets to the river and then back to the sea, we’ll never be able to track it,” said Eun, as she re-started the chopper. “We have to take it down now.”
“Sure, but how?” said Summers. “We’ve got no missiles left, no bullets for the Gatlings.”
Eun nodded towards a gun rack in the cabin. There was an automatic rifle.
“If I can get close, can you shoot it?” she said.
“No,” said Summers. “Definitely, positively no.”
Eun tapped her radio headset. “James, Joyce, do you have mobility?” she said.
“No, in power-down mode we don’t even have external sensors,” said Joyce. “Why?”
“Because we have a baby Kaiju trying to get to the river,” said Eun.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Then James said: “F … uck. Can you reach it?”
“Trying to,” said Eun. She took the automatic rifle from the rack and checked the clip. She flicked off the safety catch. She handed it to Summers. “Like it or not, you have to do it,” she said. “Just point and pull the trigger. Hold it tight, there’ll be a recoil like a mule kicking. You’ll have to open the door and lean out.”
“Open the door!?” said Summers. “Of a moving chopper!? And then just … lean out!?”
“And shoot,” said Eun. They were over Junior now, only ten metres from the ground. The river was rushing towards them.
“I … can’t,” said Summers.
“I believe you can,” said Eun.
Summers stared at her. Then she took the gun, pushed the chopper door open against the slipstream, and leaned out. She pointed the gun and fired. The whole clip. She shouted as the gun bucked in her hands.
The bullets whacked into the Kaiju. It staggered and then fell. The chopper went zooming past.
Eun turned the chopper so they could see the Kaiju. It was getting up. It was hurt but it started to run again.
“Tough little critter,” said Summers. “If you can call it little. Now what?”
The Kaiju was galloping along one of the wharves on the river bank. It made a leap for the water … and then smashed into the whirring rotor of the chopper. Almost cut in two, it was thrown back onto the wharf.
“Nice move,” said Summers to Eun.
“Hold on, we’re going down!” said Eun. The chopper had been badly damaged by the impact. It started to spin out of control, and then splashed into the river, not far from the bank.
The two women managed to get out, and swam for the edge. They climbed up a ladder onto the wharf, coughing and spluttering. They turned and watched the chopper sink.
“Gosh, I hope we don’t have to pay for that,” said Summers.
They walked over to Junior. The baby Kaiju tried to give a final howl, but the noise became only a hiss as the creature died. It gave a final convulsion and then was still.
“I think we should start booking tickets for the next flight home,” said Eun.
“Yeah,” said Summers. “Home. Where it’s quiet.”
“Thanks for the medals,” said Summers. “And the money too, of course.”
“You are welcome to stay a bit longer,” said the Prime Minister. “There are about a thousand television shows that want to do interviews with the two of you.”
“I would rather fight another Kaiju,” said Eun.
They were standing on the tarmac of Worthing Base, where a military aircraft was ready to take Eun and Summers back to Australia.
Eun shook hands with the PM. “Is there anything I can do for you?” said the PM. “I feel that we owe you a favour.”
Eun handed her a sealed letter. “Open this later,” she said. She turned to James and Joyce. “You did well,” she said.
“Only because you beat us up so many times, I think,” said Joyce.
Eun smiled. “If you ever decide you want a change of scenery,” she said, “we can probably find something for you to do in the Pacific.”
James laughed. “Maybe we’ll take you up on that,” he said.
Eun glanced at her assistant, who was now locked in a passionate embrace with Flight Leader Edward Teller.
“When you’re ready, Ms Summers,” said Eun.
Summers finally tore herself away and the two women went into the plane. It started to taxi.
Summers began to sniffle. Then suddenly she burst into tears. “I miss him already!” she wailed.
“You know,” said Eun, “I understand that there is going to be a military exchange program between Australia and the UK established. So officers from one country can spend some time in the other. For training and … goodwill. I believe that the first time will entail a British officer spending some time in Australia.”
Summers stopped crying and stared at her. “You mean … Edward … ?”
Eun smiled. “As it happens,” she said, “I have some friends in high places.”
8. Interlude: Hong Kong Lights
Eun Park looked out from the hotel window across the flickering lights of Hong Kong. At one end, perched on the edge of Victoria Harbour, was the massive bulk of the Shatterdome. Not far from it was the Bone Slums, a warren of buildings embedded in the skeleton of a Kaiju. She could not help but smile at the concept. It was the sort of thing that made her wonder if humans actually deserved to survive.
A man came up behind her. He pulled down the collar of the hotel robe Eun was wearing, and kissed her on the neck.
She gave a little laugh as he put his arms around her. “Mister Choi, don’t you think we’ve broken enough rules and protocols for one evening?” she said.
“Ha!” said Tendo. “Haven’t you heard? It’s a whole new world. Everything is falling apart and is being nailed back together differently. Anyone can do anything, with anyone. So the Commander of the Australasian Consolidated Defence Force can get together with a lowly Shatterdome computer geek if she wants to.”
Eun laughed again. “You’re hardly a lowly computer geek,” she said. “You might be young but I think you’re the brains of the place. And I’m still not used to that title, even though it’s been hanging around my neck for a while now. At least it means that I can come to Hong Kong to see you. Oh, and also to attend that conference thing.”
Now it was Tendo who laughed. “That conference thing was a meeting of the twelve most important people in the fight against the Kaijus,” he said. “I doubt that Marshall Pentecost would like to think that you saw it as an excuse for a trip. How did it go, anyway? Sitting at a monitor in the Shatterdome, I don’t get to see the big picture.”
Eun was quiet for a while. Then she said: “It’s bad. Worse than most people know. There is a lot of media coverage when a Jaeger beats a Kaiju but much of that is just to keep public confidence up. The real situation is that we’re losing. You know what the main subject of debate was at the conference yesterday? How much longer we might be able to hang on.”
Tendo gasped in surprise. He knew that Eun Park was not a woman given to hyperbole.
Eun took Tendo into the other room of her suite, where a large map of the Pacific Rim area was spread over a table. It showed the location of Kaiju attacks and fights between Kaijus and Jaegers. It also indicated the approximate locations of known Kaijus, based on the tracking grid and satellite surveillance.
Tendo stared at the map. “There’s a lot more of them than I thought there was,” he said eventually.
Eun nodded. “It’s not just the number,” she said. “Each one is bigger and tougher than the last, and they seem to be able to learn from each other, as if they have a hive mind of some sort. And these Category Threes that we’ve started to see are a whole new world of hurt. Most of our Jaegers are out-classed. The only thing we can do is try and bring several Jaegers together to fight one Kaiju, but when we do that it means we have a hole in the defence net somewhere else. There are a few Jaegers that have exceptional pilots, like Cherno Alpha, but the bottom line is that we’re losing Jaegers faster than we can replace them.”
“Really?” said Tendo. “I didn’t know that.”
“In the past eight months,” said Eun, “the Americans have lost Coyote Tango and South Central. Gipsy Danger was so badly damaged they are still thinking about whether it is worth repairing. The Russians lost Archangel and Battle of Stalingrad. The Chinese lost Imperial Guard, Great Wall and Jade Princess. The Jaeger built by the Japanese in Canada, Divine Wind, went down, and the Australians lost Terror Australis.”
“But now you are regional Commander, you have control over the Jaegers built in Thailand, don’t you?”
“Theoretically. Lotus Blade is currently being upgraded into a Mark Three, since it required massive repairs after Stingray. Until that time, all we have for the whole south-east Asia area is a patched-up Unity Dragon, whatever we might be able to borrow from the Chinese, and maybe Lucky Punch or Golden Mile, depending on threats elsewhere. It’s not like the Americans or the Russians can help, they have their own problems. We simply don’t have enough pieces to move around the board.
“I am planning to ask the British to lend us Iron Duke but I don’t know if they will agree. It would mean leaving themselves without a Jaeger, and they’ve already been attacked by a Kaiju once. The EU Jaeger is never going to get out of the paper stage, I think.”
“But we have some Mark Fours coming online soon, don’t we? America’s Double Six and Russia’s Catherine the Great. And isn’t Australia working on a Mark Five?”
“Yes, and that’s important. And we’re improving our tactics and surveillance all the time. It’s just … not enough. The best we can do is hold the line, no more than that.”
Tendo Choi scratched his sideburn. He had not realised that the outlook for humanity was so dire.
“The conference considered an alternative proposal to the Jaeger program,” said Eun. “A wall that would protect virtually all of the Pacific coastline. Keep the Kaijus away from populated areas, give them the whole ocean. Most people at the conference thought that its chances of success are very low but that it was on the table at all tells you how desperate we are.”
Tendo stared at her. “How do you deal with this knowledge?” he said. “How do you keep going, every day?”
Eun shrugged. “I have a cat,” she said. “And I have an assistant. And I have you. Occasionally, at least. Until they post you to Alaska or somewhere. I guess that means we should make the most of the time we’ve got.”
Tendo smiled. “I think so too,” he said.
“You know, you might be right about the Kaijus having pushed the re-set button on the social order,” said Eun. “Maybe we should think of that as an unexpected upside.”
She kissed him. “So why don’t you take me back to bed?” she said.
He smiled. Then he lifted her into his arms.
“Whatever you say, Commander,” he said.
Commander Eun Park smiled grimly as she read the latest situation report. No Jaegers lost in the past year; that was something, at least. And thirteen Kaijus defeated. That left – how many? Too many, certainly, and their number continued to grow.
She could not help but be pleased with the performance of the Jaegers under her command. After a somewhat shaky start, Unity Dragon and Lotus Blade, both based in Bangkok, had done well. She believed that the rigourous training program she had put into place, for everyone from the pilots to the software programmers, played a large part in that, as well as the constant upgrades and improvements to the Jaegers themselves. Golden Mile and Iron Duke had defeated several Kaiju, and the new Striker Eureka was proving very effective.
She felt a certain satisfaction that the South Americans had adopted her development model for their Lima-based Jaeger Condor Shield, which had notched up several victories in the past year.
The world had needed a good year. The one before had been pretty bad, with the loss of the Russian Siberian Sword, the Chinese Gai Xia Ge, the American True Grit, and the Australian Lucky Punch. A dozen more cities had gone, millions more lives had been lost. After that, any good news was welcome.
But despite the Jaegers’ victories of the past twelve months, more and more territory was being ceded to the Kaijus, more and more coastal territory evacuated on a permanent basis. The Kaijus had responded to the withdrawal by expanding their attacks inland. The most recent attack had been on Sacramento in the US, once considered in the safe zone. The Chinese were preparing for the defence of Beijing. The Americans were beginning to think about what might happen if a Kaiju crossed the Rockies.
A great deal of faith was being placed in the Wall. Eun did not share it. It seemed to be based on the assumption that a Kaiju, when confronted with an obstacle, would simply stop and stare at it. Merely stupid, she thought. Kaijus were not dumb creatures. They would hammer away at it until it broke, or they would look for a way around.
But Eun was also aware of the projections that Category Four Kaijus would soon appear. And that one day there would be a Category Five – and no Jaeger strong enough to defeat it could be built. Humanity was simply reaching the limits of its technology. Striker Eureka was the end of the line. There could be no Mark Six.
She often thought of the times when she had played chess with her father, when she was young. She was a good player but he was better. She was always impressed that he was never in a rush to win. Slow, systematic, building up his forces, taking her pieces one by one and restricting her moving space until she had nothing left. The difference, of course, was that she could resign and start another game, no hard feelings. The Kaijus were not so generous. They would keep going. Until every human on the planet was dead. That was their endgame plan.
Extinction was now an option. But for the moment the Jaegers were holding their own. Holding the line. Just. For now.
Summers came into the office. Not for the first time, she said: “You know, boss, you could get a much better office than this. You could have a big plush one in Canberra. Or Darwin. Or even Singapore. This poky little office is, how can I put it, a pile of crap. And if we moved out of Uluru Base … hey! you could hire an assistant! For me, I mean.”
“I like Uluru Base,” said Eun. “The politicians don’t often drop by, which is fine by me. The Jaegers are here. And since you feel that way about it, you’re fired.”
“Ha!” said Summers. “You couldn’t do without me!”
Eun grunted. She knew that her assistant was right – in the past few years, especially since their return from Europe, Summers had picked up more and more of the administrative burden, so that Eun could focus on strategy and Jaeger development. As a result, Summers now had a few grey hairs amongst the blond. Eun knew that she had more than a few herself: the last time she had seen her reflection, she had hardly recognised her image. So she had stopped looking in mirrors.
Summers handed her a sheaf of papers. “The performance assessments on Iron Duke, Golden Mile, Striker Eureka, Unity Dragon, and Lotus Blade,” she said. “I took the liberty of reading them for you. The bottom line is that everything looks good: pilots, Jaegers, hardware, software. There, now you don’t have to read anything. Reasons for optimism.”
Eun smiled. “And yet,” she said, “I have a feeling that there is a big foot about to come down out of the sky and land on top of us.”
It was three months later. A bad three months. The Russians had taken a pounding, the Americans had lost Sierra Warrior, and the Chinese had lost Middle Kingdom. Condor Shield, Golden Mile, Lotus Blade and the Japanese/Canadian Mountain Katana had been so badly damaged that repair might be impossible.
Eun was engaged in a video meeting with the other regional commanders.
“They’ve gotten smarter,” she was saying. “They have realised that it takes us a long time to repair a Jaeger. In each case where we’ve lost one recently, there has been one fight with a Kaiju, which the Jaeger won but with damage, and then another Kaiju attack before the Jaeger could be fully repaired. They’re fighting on a tag-team basis. Wearing us down.”
“And I have some further bad news,” said Marshall Konev, head of the Russian Jaeger force. “AK-47 was badly damaged yesterday. It will take us at least a month to get it operational, and then it might only be fifty per cent capable. That is if we are lucky. Catherine the Great is ninety per cent operational. Cherno Alpha is as strong as ever but despite its pilots it is still only a Mark One. It cannot be upgraded further.”
“Our situation is not much better,” said Wu Lao-Shi, the Chinese commander. “Yu Chang, and especially Crimson Typhoon, have proven to be very strong. But we have a great deal of territory to defend, and they cannot be everywhere. How did the Kaijus make this change? We have long known that they can learn but this is different, I think.”
“Maybe this has something to do with it,” said Marshall Pentecost, speaking for the North American effort. “We have not really known what to make of it. Still don’t, really.”
A short video, obviously from a surveillance drone, came up on the screen. It was of a Kaiju – but a small one. Only the size of a Category One, maybe even a little smaller than that. Simian-type.
“About twelve weeks ago, it appeared on the island of Midway, which is at the north-western end of the Hawaii group,” said Pentecost. “At first, we thought it was a Category One from the first wave that had been hurt and had been sitting on the ocean bottom, healing. Now we are not so sure. Once every six days it goes into the water and spends about seven hours swimming around. Then it comes back to the island and sits there. Moves from one point to another sometimes, but that’s it. As for its occasional swim, there is a longstanding theory that Kaijus have to return to the water every now and then. That would explain why they don’t go too far inland. Yet, anyway.”
“Is there anything of significance on the island itself?” said Konev.
“Not really,” said Pentecost. “It was once an American military base, and when the Kaiju first started to appear they built it up, planning to use it as a forward base against them. But when Hawaii was leveled supply became impossible, so the place was abandoned. There are still some facilities there but the Kaiju has not shown any interest in them.”
Eun was silent. Then she said: “It’s the brains.”
“Uh, the what?” said Wu.
“The brains,” repeated Eun. “The co-ordinator. We have always suspected that the Kaijus have some sort of hive mind, and there is a good theory that they are being directed by someone, or something, on the other side of the Breach. But if there is someone giving them broad orders, they must have decided that they needed someone on the ground. Like a lieutenant, to handle the tactics.
“Look at this way. Before this one arrived, we were holding our own, mainly because we were applying more intelligence. More training, collaborative tactics, better surveillance. They have decided to do much the same thing. And they have the advantage of having … more pieces … to play with.”
“So they can sacrifice some,” said Konev.
“If this is true,” said Wu, “it must be destroyed. But China does not have any offensive capacity to deploy.”
“Neither does Russia,” said Konev.
“And the Americans are … very stretched,” said Pentecost. “Even with Gipsy Danger almost ready to return to service.”
Eun looked at the three faces on the screen.
“We will send Iron Duke to Midway Island,” she said. “And I will go myself, as well.”
“Gosh, you have a lot of water,” said Joyce, staring down at the endless waves of the Pacific.
“Er, yes, I guess we do,” said Summers.
Eun gave a little laugh.
They had been island-hopping for days, working their way towards Midway, Iron Duke being carried by a phalanx of transport helicopters. The Jaeger pilots and the rest of the crew were in a separate chopper.
“If the Kaiju ever learn how to fly, we’re well and truly gone,” said James. “It’s one of our very few advantages.”
Midway Island came into view. Their arrival had been timed to coincide with one of the Kaiju’s – now codenamed Luthor – regular swims. And, indeed, there was no sign of it on the island, although there were plenty of tracks. On one side of the island, there was a complex of massive hangars, what was left of the American base. There was a runway, still in fairly good condition.
“Pilot, set us down on the runway, and tell the transports to get Iron Duke down as quickly as possible,” said Eun into the intercom. “We don’t know how long Luthor is going to give us for prep.”
“I think we can take it,” said James. “It’s only a little one.”
“Strange to think of any Kaiju as small,” said Summers. “Funny what you get used to.”
Iron Duke was set down. The helicopter with Eun and the others hovered over the entry hatch in the head of the Jaeger, and dropped a rope ladder. James and Joyce climbed down and into the machine.
To conserve their fuel, the transport helicopters retreated to an island a few kilometres away and landed there. Eun’s helicopter landed near the hangar and she, Summers, the pilot and co-pilot disembarked.
Eun activated her hand-held radio.
“James, Joyce, are you up and running?” she said.
“Initiating handshake … now,” said Joyce.
The Jaeger moved, as the twins tested the limbs. “Hot and strong,” said James.
“Good,” said Summers. “Because here comes your dancing partner.”
Luthor was emerging from the water. They could see that it had an unusually large cranium. It walked like a gorilla, the knuckles of its hands on the ground. It saw Iron Duke and gave a savage growl. But it did not advance. It stopped in the shallow water and stared.
“Somehow,” said Summers, “I don’t think that’s good.”
“Shall we advance on it?” said James.
“Yes, and ready the missile launcher,” said Eun. “If you can take it out from range, so much the better.”
“Just so long as it doesn’t spit at us,” said Joyce. “That’s really yucky.”
Iron Duke advanced towards Luthor, its chest opening to reveal its missile launcher. It reached the edge of the water.
Luthor didn’t move. Only growled.
“Why isn’t it attacking?” said Summers. “Or retreating? Why is it just standing there?”
Eun felt the hairs on the back of her neck tingle.
“It’s a trap!” she shouted into the radio. “There’s another one somewhere! A bodyguard!”
Iron Duke immediately fell back several steps.
“Charging plasma cannon!” said Joyce.
At that moment, another Kaiju, much larger than Luthor, reared up out of the water. It gave a ferocious roar.
“Re-targeting!” said James, and the Jaeger turned towards the threat.
The new Kaiju came charging forward. Iron Duke fired its missiles. They slammed into the Kaiju, knocking it backwards into the water.
But now Luthor was racing towards Iron Duke. Before the Jaeger could turn, Luthor ploughed into it. But the Jaeger kept its feet. The plasma cannon fired, the bolt of energy ripping into the Kaiju. Iron Duke grabbed the Kaiju by its arm and swivelled, throwing Luthor across the runway.
The other Kaiju was charging again, its fists smashing into the Jaeger. James and Joyce did their best to parry their blows but were being pushed back. They extended the knife in the right arm and stabbed. And again. The Kaiju howled in pain, and grabbed hold of the Jaeger’s wrist. The knife stabbed into the Kaiju again … and then the blade broke.
“Missiles re-loading, cannon re-charging!” said James over the radio.
The Kaiju had hold of the Jaeger’s left arm now, and was twisting. The arm broke at the elbow. James and Joyce screamed in pain.
But nevertheless they started to punch at the Kaiju. A chunk of the Kaiju’s chest armour was ripped away.
“Missile battery re-loaded, firing!” shouted Joyce. The missiles leaped away and smashed into the Kaiju’s exposed flesh. But at such a close range, Iron Duke was caught in the backwash of the blast. The Kaiju went down, dead, but the Jaeger crashed down as well.
“James, Joyce, get up!” shouted Eun. “There’s still Luthor!”
Luthor was getting up. It saw the helicopter on the ground and smashed it with one blow. Then it was up and was charging again. Iron Duke struggled to one knee. It punched at the Kaiju with its right arm, driving it back.
Luthor, staring at the Jaeger, began to walk backwards into the water. In a few moments, it was gone.
“Joyce, James, report!” said Eun.
“We’re … decidedly so-so,” said James.
“We’re screwed,” said Joyce. “One arm gone, one leg operating at twenty per cent function at the most. Plasma cannon inoperative, missile battery down, knife broken. We would have trouble beating a seagull at the moment.”
“And Luthor would not have gone far,” said Eun. “He’ll be back any time, I think. If we call the transports and try to airlift you out he’ll pick them off. Yeah, we’re screwed.” She suddenly realised that Summers was not at her side. Then she saw her, walking out of one of the giant hangars, an odd expression on her face.
“Boss,” she said. “There’s something you should see.”
Summers led her into the hangar.
It was a Fury.
“What the fuck!?” said Eun.
“It’s a Fury,” said Summers.
“Yes, I know that,” said Eun. “But still … what the fuck!?”
“You know, that was my first response too,” said Summers.
“The Americans must have left it behind when they left,” Eun said. “I guess they were in a rush, after all. Pentecost wouldn’t know it is here, he probably would have still been in the RAF at the time.”
“Doesn’t look like it’s ever been in fight. Do you think it might still work?”
“Even if it does, there would be no power. No way to charge up the batteries, get it going.”
Summers was quiet, thinking. Then she said: “You know, when I was younger I had a car that had a battery that was always going flat. I didn’t mind. It was a good way to meet guys, getting them to start it by connecting it to their own car.”
“You mean, a jump start?”
“Yes, I think that was what they called it. But of course we need another car. Or something.”
Eun opened the radio channel to Iron Duke. “James, Joyce, do you still have power?” she said.
“Sure, we’ve got plenty of juice,” said Joyce.
Eun started shouting orders to the chopper pilot and co-pilot, telling them to grab cables from the pile of discarded equipment in the hangar and run a line between the Jaeger and the Fury.
“Say, you’re not planning to fight Luthor in it, are you?” said Summers. “You wouldn’t have a chance. Furies were designed to fight in pairs, at least.”
“If Luthor isn’t stopped, it will kill everyone and everything on this island,” said Eun. “Everyone. You know what they’re like when they get going.”
“What’s happening in there?” said Joyce over the radio.
“Emergency tactics,” said Eun. She began to climb the ladder running up the side of the Fury. Then she stopped, and turned to Summers. “Thanks,” she said. “For being a good friend. For being my best friend.”
Summers nodded. “And thank you, Eun,” she said.
Eun was climbing the ladder now. The cable was connected to the port in the Fury’s foot, and current was flowing.
“Hey!” shouted Summers. “What are you going to call it?”
“Choehu,” shouted Eun back.
“Luthor ahoy,” said James calmly. The Kaiju was coming out of the water.
“So now … we die,” said Joyce. “Go down fighting, at least. Pity it’s such a long way from home.”
They managed to get the Jaeger onto its feet. Its right hand clenched into a fist.
The Kaiju came charging across the island.
And then the Fury came smashing through the doors of the hangar. It slammed into the Kaiju, knocking it down.
“Fuck!” said James and Joyce together.
“Thought I would join the party,” said Eun to them over the radio. She punched the Kaiju, and then seized it by the arm, swinging it around. It fell with a crash on the shoreline.
Choehu raised its gun and fired. The bullets whacked into the Kaiju, drawing blood. But Luthor was strong. It got back on its feet and charged once more, punching at Choehu, again and again.
Eun extended the knife and stabbed, looking for a way through the exoskeleton armour. She found a gap, and rammed the blade into the creature’s chest. It went in deep.
Luthor wrapped its arms around Choehu and squeezed. The action drove the blade in even further, but Luthor was crushing the Fury.
In the cockpit, Eun heard supports and bulkheads give way. The cockpit began to buckle under the pressure, collapsing in on her. Equipment began to overload and explode. Choehu was dying.
She managed to get her left hand under the Kaiju’s chin. She pushed its head back, further and further. Luthor howled in pain.
“I’ve been fighting you things for so long I can’t remember anything else,” she said softly to the Kaiju. “But you won’t take anyone more from me. You … will … not.”
She could feel her life drifting away. With the last of her strength, she gave a final heave.
There was a huge snap as the Kaiju’s neck broke. The blade in its chest suddenly erupted through its back. But even in its death throes the Kaiju continued to squeeze the final vestiges of life from the Fury.
And then, almost suddenly, it was over. The Kaiju and the Fury, locked together, crashed to the ground.
Summers ran to Choehu and opened the emergency hatch. She climbed down into the passageway, through the smoke and the flickering lights. She reached the cockpit. She called out, hoping against hope …
But Eun Park was dead.
“I hear that the remaining Jaegers are going to be placed under the Committee’s direction,” said Herc Hansen.
Summers, sitting with Herman on her lap, nodded. “Not a whole lot left to command,” she said. “You know, in a way I think she might have preferred going out this way. She always said she was a Fury driver, first and foremost.”
Herc nodded. “Stacker Pentecost is working on a plan, he says,” he said. “It had better be a good one. Damn good.” He turned to leave the office. “By the way,” he said, “you mentioned that she called the Fury Choehu. Do you know what that means?”
“I looked it up,” said Summers. “It’s Korean for … ‘last stand’.”
“Huh,” said Herc. “Seems appropriate.”
“I thought so,” said Summers. A tear ran down her cheek.
Herc turned to go again. Then he stopped, and came back. He kissed the woman tenderly on the forehead.
Then he left the office and Summers was alone.
END AND AMEN