Kaiju War, Year 6
Knock knock-knock knock knock.
Elsa Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg smiled in her personal quarters as the familiar tapping reached her ears. She looked ahead into the mirror, put the finishing touches on the military braid that held her flowing blonde hair in place, slipped a leather bomber jacket over her fatigues, and then strode over and opened the door. In front of Elsa stood a young woman, three years her junior, wide-eyed and delicate of face save for the scar that ran up the left side of her forehead. She stood there, youthful excitement shining like fire in her eyes, accentuating her bright auburn hair, normally done up in twin braided pigtails, now tied in a neat bun behind her head.
She was Elsa's sister, which was why the first thing Elsa did was hug her.
"One minute and seventeen seconds after the initial alert. That's your best time yet, Anna," Elsa said, smirking as the sisters let go of each other. She looked to the side, then reached out to tighten up Anna's bun. "Could still be better, but good try, though. Come on, we have a kaiju to stop. Category III, biggest one to come through the Breach yet. Code name: Bilgesnipe."
"You know, Elsa, one of these day you're going to tell me your secret," Anna replied, easily falling in step with her older sister as Elsa led them to the Drivesuit Room. "And don't give me that 'it's just being organized' nonsense. I don't see how anything other than some kind of black magic that lets you hack life would leave you with enough time to apply eyeshadow of all things before a drop."
"What was I supposed to do? You kept me waiting," Elsa replied innocently, laughing as Anna lightly punched her shoulder in mock indignation. The sisters had always been close, and two years of the Drift only solidified that bond. Two years ago, neither of them would have imagined that they would be here, as part of an elite few holding the line against an eldritch invasion from beneath the waves. Indeed, prior to K-Day, both of them thought their futures would emulate that of most of their peers - some prestigious boarding school which would result in an MRS degree, followed by a life of domestic celebrity. It still hadn't changed after K-Day, wherein both assumed their role would be to act as the eternal Churchill, inspiring their people to fight on in the face of destruction. It was only after that breakthrough in Anchorage, wherein the boffins had ironed out the final wrinkle holding back their ultimate weapon against the kaiju menace - the neural overload that had traumatized and at times killed single pilots, which had suddenly became manageable when split between two.
To fight monsters, humanity had created monsters of their own, and now that they could collar and leash it at will, the lives of two young girls changed forever. In a different time, perhaps they would be riding in motorcades, fetchingly gowned and waving at adoring crowds. Instead, they were striding purposefully down the halls of the Vladivostok Shatterdome, their feet in lockstep unison, their shoulders adopting the easy swagger of those who walked the path of gods, while klaxons blared and warning monitors glowed with updates all around them.
"Hey Elsa," Anna said, a mischievous grin creeping upon her face as she adopted a singsong cant to her voice. "Do you wanna bust a kaiju?"
"Break its back over your knee," Elsa replied, grinning back. It had become a ritual between the two of them, ever since second trimester at Jaeger Academy, wherein they had just received their Pons qualification and started drop simulations. "Ghost-Drifting," it was called, a side effect of the mental bond that was necessary for Jaeger pilots to handle the neural load from their war machines. There were stories among the more senior rangers, of partners habitually finishing each other's sentences, or taking on each other's verbal tics, or handing each other things before they asked…it surprised no one that so many teams were comprised of married couples. The better you Drift, the better you fight, so the mantra went, and the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps, for its part, encouraged its Rangers to participate in any and all activities that could foster that mental bond. In Elsa and Anna's case, both of them having received extensive musical training since primary school, there was only one logical outcome of that initiative.
"Or grab it by the neck-"
"And blast it all to heck-"
"Before you end it with a freeze?"
By custom, Anna always started it, though the way the meter was set up, both of them would get a chance at matching each other's rhymes. It was silly, and a little childish perhaps, but it helped them both let off some stress before stepping inside a Jaeger. Taking negative emotions – fear, anxiety, embarrassment – into the Drift was a recipe for disaster, and if a few strange looks from Shatterdome staff was the price for a little Zen in the cockpit, so be it.
"It's gonna be another one," Elsa replied, shifting meters and throwing the rhyme back to Anna, "tossed overboard…"
"Sinking beneath the fjord!"
"Huh, fjord," Elsa noted, turning her head to look at her sister. "That's actually pretty good." Soon she came to a halt as they had arrived at the Drivesuit Room. Elsa looked over at her sister again and winked. "Let's go bust another kaiju…"
"It's gonna be another notch on the belt-"
"Once with this thing we have dealt…"
"Ladies, you have great singing voices and all, but could you just please hold off for a minute - or at least, on moving around so much - until we get the spinal clamps on you?"
Anna complied with the Drivesuit technician, a short and somewhat pudgy man with a perpetual smile on his easygoing countenance and a bushy beardstache that reminded her of that American TV series about the hillbillies with the duck hunting pro shop, though she couldn't keep the giddy grin off her face, even as - especially as she felt the familiar tingle up her spine, like a clump of snow being stuffed down your jacket, as the last piece of machinery slid into place, locking into the armor plate covering her back and interfacing with the skintight circuitry suit she wore underneath. Suiting up always got her excited. The little girl inside her would always look at every single reflective surface on the way to check out how the circuitry suit accentuated all of her curves, and the big girl inside her simply couldn't wait to walk again. Somewhere inside of Anna was a medium girl too, less impulsive, less spontaneous, but somehow Anna had always managed to lose track of her before stepping inside their Jaeger.
Thankfully, she always had Elsa to keep her grounded.
Anna glanced at her older sister, who looked positively regal, her eyes closed in serene contemplation as the techs affixed the last pieces of form-fitting polycarbonate plate to her body. She didn't know how Elsa maintained such composure; she herself was absolutely elated. Or possibly gassy. Hopefully the former, Anna thought, as the atmospheric seals on her helmet snapped into place with a sharp hiss and Relay Gel began cycling through her suit. Looking around, Anna caught a glimpse of her reflection on a computer screen and grinned. The Drivesuit always made her feel like some sort of futuristic techno-Viking - or rather, a techno-shieldmaiden - standing with sword and shield in hand to ward off Ragnarok.
"Suit-up sequence complete," Pabbie announced through his radio headset. "Initiate Jaeger startup and pilot integration." He then smiled and bowed. "Lead on, ladies. You may continue singing, if you like."
A set of blast doors opened, and Anna followed her sister through the walkway and into the access hatch of their Jaeger's Conn-Pod, taking her place at the left half as Elsa did likewise to the right. All around them, displays, indicators, and ambient lighting flashed on, bathing both girls in a sea of glacial blue as they stepped into the Motion Rig, which always looked to Anna like the world's most badass elliptical. The pedals affixed themselves to her boots, control grips popped into her gauntlets, and below her, gantry doors opened to reveal layers of intricate gears, pistons, and circuitry beneath. Various frames, locks, assemblies, and cradles descended upon Anna and Elsa, holding them tight and securing them to the Jaeger. It was a little uncomfortable, but Anna was glad for the protection. Anna wasn't always the best math student at Jaeger Academy, having always been more of an instinctual learner, but she did remember vividly one night of browsing "PSA Nightmare Fuel" on TvTropes during her off time, and a kaiju's claw swipe was infinitely more deadly than merely being in an auto collision without a seatbelt.
"Pilot integration complete," Pabbie announced as he ran a final check that everything was locked in and tight. He looked first at Elsa, then at Anna, and smiled at the both of them. "Be safe out there," he added, before leaving the Conn-Pod with his team.
"Thanks, Pabbie," Anna and Elsa said in unison. Good, dependable Pabbie Stein. Some techs believed in maintaining professional distance between themselves and the Rangers who piloted the machines they inevitably brought back in various states of disrepair. Pabbie was not one of them, treating both the pilots who inhabited his beloved Frozen Heart as if they were his own family.
It was a welcome and much-missed feeling.
The doors slid shut behind Anna, and she ran her own pre-deployment check and pre-Drift link analysis. Everything looked good to go. She glanced back at Elsa, who returned the look with a thumbs-up.
"Yoo-hoo, snow queens," came another voice over the comm. "How are we doing today?"
"Oaken," Anna radioed back. "How was the anniversary dinner?"
"Yeah, did Franz like it?" Elsa added, sending the all-clear signal through her control console.
"Ooh yes, it was most magical," replied Ensign Oaken Magnusson, LOCCENT mission controller. "Mange takk, ladies. I owe you both a big one."
"Engage drop, Ensign Magnusson," interjected Marshal Anastasia Andreievna Kerensky, commanding officer of the Vladivostok Shatterdome, with a voice which, in Elsa's words, somehow managed to combine the softness of fresh snow with the harshness of a howling blizzard, and in Anna's words, was like if you crossed Demi Moore with the Wicked Witch of the West. "Rangers, acknowledge."
"Marshal Kerensky on deck," Oaken radioed in, his tone shifting from its formerly whimsical nature to one more serious. "Engaging pre-drop protocols, ma'am."
All business, Marshal Kerensky, Anna thought. But also a tough woman who spent years fighting kaiju, back when humanity could provide her no protection greater than a flimsy Su-35. Upon the door to the Marshal's office hung a picture frame, scrimshawed out of sealbone from her native Lake Baikal and inlaid with gold trim, which held the PPDC staff portrait of whoever could beat the previous record for longest time lasted before tapping out to her in the Kwoon Combat Room. Scuttlebutt was that the only reason she was the only Marshal to have never seen the inside of a Jaeger was a lack of Drift-compatible partners. Anna knew of no one they trusted more to lead them, although based on past experience, she would have to admit that Marshal Pentecost out of Anchorage would be a worthy contender.
"Release for drop," she heard Elsa call back as soon as both women hit the all-clear on their respective consoles. A few seconds later, pistons hissed, gears turned, and technicians departed the loading areas as the Conn-Pod slid down its rails. There was the initial lurch, and briefly Anna had a flashback to the chocolates she had stuffed in her face upon receiving the initial breach alert. Then the Conn-Pod slowed as it reached the end of its descent, locking on and easing into its housing above Frozen Heart's shoulders.
"Rangers, know this - standing next to me here is Royal Highness Hans Monpezat. As you know, United Nations representative from Denmark, here to oversee Jaeger drop in person."
Anna raised an eyebrow at this. Denmark, Sweden, and her own native Norway had cooperated to build Frozen Heart, along with help from Finland and Iceland. But generally politicians had stayed away from the closer operations, content that with the construction of a Jaeger, there can be no doubt as to their intentions of concern for the people. She was fairly sure they had met at some point during their youth, but could not for the life of her remember when, or what he even looked like, for that matter. In either case, that question was not really important compared to why he was even here.
"What do you think that means?" she heard Elsa ask. Her older sister had a finger on the "mute" button. Anna shrugged.
"Same as it always does, I suppose," Anna replied. "We go in, do our jobs, and get out?" She was about to say something else, but another voice cut in.
"My ladies, It is an honor to be witnessing all of this." The stranger was soft. Refined. Presumably, it was Hans. "On behalf of the people of Denmark and across the world, I thank you and sincerely wish upon you both the best of luck and a safe return."
"Well, he sounds manly," Anna said.
"Keyword, sounds," Elsa replied. "For all you know he could be hideous."
"Uh, sis? Check your mute."
"Wait, what - oh. Ha, ha, Anna. Very funny. Nearly gave me a heart attack there."
"Made you look."
"What are we, in primary school?"
By this time, the Conn-Pod had fully docked and engaged itself to the rest of Frozen Heart's body. System integration displays all flashed green, and with a deep rumble, the Arc-9 nuclear vortex turbine in the Jaeger's chest roared to life, pumping power to torque drivers and gyro-stabilizers and myomer muscle strands. 80 meters and 1600 metric tons of steel stood ready to face the next threat to humanity and pound it into next week. Ordinarily, Anna would have rubbed her palms together in anticipation, but her left hand held the control grip to the kinetic strike module and the incinerator gauntlet which were about go live in less than half a minute. Still, it was agony to wait. Sitting in a Jaeger cockpit made everything seem so small, and Anna yearned to feel that sense of power again.
"Frozen Heart, standing by to roll out," Elsa called out on the public band. "LOCCENT, whenever you're ready, open up the gates."
"Very well, relaying final checks," Oaken replied on the other side. "Final check, complete. Gates are opening. Yoo-hoo, Warrant Officer Bjorgman, prepare your Jumphawk squadron for airlift. In the meantime..."
"Initiate neural handshake," ordered Kerensky. "Good hunting, Rangers."
"Initiating neural handshake in 20," Oaken called out. "19...18...17…"
With a metallic groan, like the belching of some iron monster, the gates to Bay 06 of the Vladivostok Shatterdome slid open, and Frozen Heart, in all its glory, slid out, borne upon a heavy tracked platform as King Leonidas upon his shield. Above it, circling as a flock of ravens, swept the V-50 Jumphawks, towing harnesses hanging from their fuselages, ready to link up with the clasps on the Jaeger's shoulders. Inside the Conn-Pod, both sisters closed their eyes and hummed in unison.
As soon as Oaken counted to "one", Anna opened her eyes, looked over to Elsa, caught her sister's gaze looking back at her, and winked.
"Let's go bust another kaiju..."
They were kids. Anna was five, and Elsa was eight. It was the first snowfall of the year.
"Come on, Elsa. The sky is awake, so I'm awake, so we have to go and play."
Sledding down the hills behind their home. Skating over the frozen-over ponds. Building snowmen in the front courtyard.
Their first time on an airplane. Anna crying because her eardrums popped. Elsa holding her, petting her hair and whispering that it would be okay. Mamma dispensing chocolates from her purse.
Stuffy conferences and ceremonies, being the good little girls they always had to be, full of poise and grace.
School had let out. They were older now, with older hobbies.
"Boomer! Nice shot. Hold up, I'm grabbing some pain pills, and - ugh, Smoker's got me! Thanks Anna. Wait, I think there's a witch coming up ahead. Flashlights off, don't startle her."
But the snow still held its childhood charm.
"Hi, I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs!"
Watching the news, Mamma and Pappa covering their eyes as images flowed in from San Francisco.
Flying again, for with power came responsibility.
Oblivion Bay, formerly Sacramento, laying wreaths and offering sincere condolences.
Disneyland, getting photos with all eleven princesses.
Cabo San Lucas, the emerald sea against pearl sand beaches. Splashing in the water. Mamma and Pappa beneath an umbrella, Pappa with drink in hand, Mamma getting gorgeously tanned.
A creature, monstrous, huge, out of every nightmare they've ever had.
"Don't worry about us! Kay, Gerda, take the girls and run! Get them out of here!"
"Come on, girls, just follow me and run! your parents are adults, they know what they're doing! They'll be waiting for you in Oslo! Follow me and don't look back!"
Flags at half mast.
"Do...do you wanna build a snowman?"
They were young adults now, sticking out like sore thumbs among a crowd of high school prodigies with national rankings, military veterans who knew dozens of ways to kill with their pinkies, and world-class Olympians who may as well be physical demigods, but they had made the cut. The sigil of an eagle with wings outstretched (clearly designed by an American, Anna had said), a star above its head (yep, definitely American, Elsa had replied), greeted them. And then, with a single bugle call, ("The Stars and Stripes Forever"? Really, guys? Really?) the gates opened.
Don't conceal, but also don't feel.
Just let it go.
We are one with the wind and sky.
"Neural handshake holding steady, Marshal." Oaken's voice came through the comm loud and clear, right as Elsa and Anna rejoined the present. "Initiating calibration procedures."
"Right hemisphere calibrating," Elsa called out, raising her right arm as she did so. The control grip in her hand now glowed with hard light, running further synchronization subroutines with both her brain and Anna's.
"Left hemisphere calibrating," Anna added, a second later. She raised her left arm, and through the Headspace created by the Drift, Elsa felt her own left arm half-consciously do the same, as if it were suspended in a bathtub.
"One, two, three, together," Elsa called out, and immediately her sister responded. "Clap together, snap together," Anna added, and in unison both women closed their hands. Through the displays flashing into her own helmet, Elsa could see Frozen Heart's asymmetrical arms mimic the movements of its pilots, pounding its right fist into its left palm like a brawler about to wade into a rumble. They had seen a pair of American brothers do it back at Jaeger Academy, to both psych themselves up and as an extra check to confirm a one-hundred percent link between man and machine, and adopted the motion for themselves. You could never do too many checks, Elsa had thought back then. Anna just thought it looked really awesome, especially in inclement weather, when the impact sent shockwaves of rain reverberating off their Jaeger's chassis.
"Good evening, ladies, your chariot awaits," came a new voice into their comm. "Strap yourselves in, we're in for some chop."
"Good to see you too, Kristoff," Anna called back. "Ready for another adventure into the fog?"
"Heh, no venturing in i dimman until I land this thing," Kristoff replied. "But after, maybe...depends on who's buy-"
"Rangers, Marshal here," Kerensky buzzed in as the Jumphawk squadron attached their cables to Frozen Heart's shoulders and lifted off. "General orders same as before, but for benefit of guest I will explain again. As fastest Jaeger in strike group, your orders twofold. Should you encounter kaiju, you will call for support, then engage at will. If you can kill it, then kill it, but otherwise keep it from civilian centers until your tovarishchi come for you. And, of course, should one of them find it first, you double time it to support them." There was a brief pause before the Marshal continued. "We are not Americanski, competing for self-glory and another painted head on plasmacaster barrel. This is Vladisvostok, and we will hold line, unyielding as Marshal Zhukov against Hitlerites at Stalingrad's frozen ruins. Do you copy?"
"Loud and clear," Elsa replied, mentally adding a mama bear to the end of it in Headspace that resulted in a muted gigglesnort from Anna.
"Good. Ensign Magnusson, open hailing frequencies."
"Hailing frequencies open, ma'am," Oaken replied, and upon their displays, Elsa and Anna now saw the relative deployment. Cherno Alpha took point, based on what K-Science had projected would be Bilgesnipe's most probable attack vector. To the south was Nova Hyperion, crewed by two former Olympic-level fencers from Seoul, and to the north was Eden Assassin, another Russian Jaeger whose crew Elsa had never met. She knew Aleksis and Sasha Kaidanovsky, though, and privately wished them good hunting and a safe return. In the Drift, Anna echoed her sentiments.
Elsa then looked to her own ticker. Just like in previous drops, Frozen Heart was to be placed in the center of the formation, as the second line of defense in case the kaiju managed to sneak through the screen of heavy-hitters. She felt a tendril of disappointment from Anna at this, as her sister wanted nothing more than to be at the front lines with fists swinging instead of playing rearguard. The fact that Kristoff was blasting Ride of the Valkyries from the speakers of his Jumphawk as they were being ferried to their position didn't help. Don't conceal, but don't feel, she thought at her sister, who sent a positive response back. Suddenly, however, Elsa felt a stray thought in the back of her head, noting that not only were kaiju incursions growing more frequent, going from semiannual at the beginning of the Kaiju War to quarterly as it went on to not even monthly as of late, but the three most recent engagements had occurred dangerously close to the Miracle Mile.
Do you think we might see some action then, sis?
"I hope not," Elsa replied. "The best thing that could happen is if we gang up on the kaiju as it comes in. If it sneaks past Cherno Alpha and the others, we're the least able to slug it out before they can reach us." We only have each other, she didn't say. I can't lose you, too.
It's okay, Elsa. You don't have to protect me any more. I'll always be right here for you.
I know you will.
Soon the Jumphawks had lifted Frozen Heart to its destination, and with a sharp snapping sound, unleashed their payload. Like an avenging angel, Frozen Heart crashed into the continental shelf and, with deliberate, purposeful strides that shuddered the ground it walked on, began its patrol of the Pacific Rim. Elsa did not resist the wolfish smile that inevitably crept up her face as she felt the power flow through her body, flurrying from the air into the ground, the power of a colossus, of a titan, of a towering machine-god, cast in steel and fire to send the monsters back to the pits from which they had crawled. The Americans had compared the feeling to spending one's life at God's mercy, then suddenly being able to fight Him and win. From where Elsa stood, though, God was an ally, having granted, in His own mysterious ways, an avenue by which she and her sister could fulfill their noblesse oblige.
Yes, she had been despondent when it became clear her parents would never return from Cabo, but the past was in the past, and Elsa was nothing but thankful for the ways things turned out in the end. She had walked as a god walks. She had fought as a god fights. And now it was time to do it again. Through the Drift, she could feel similar emotions stirring from Anna.
Time to bust another kaiju.