"Here's to us! Who's like us?" she used to say, until the answer to that question began to reflect reality too closely for comfort.
Sleep came to Elsa with difficulty in recent days. It came with difficulty to many Rangers once it became apparent that the disastrous sortie at Anchorage in early 2020 had not been a fluke, but a portent of things to come. But for Elsa, it came especially hard, for she knew how easily the Americans' fate could have been her own, and because she had a particular set of unique duties not shared by any other Ranger in the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps. The Stortinget was in session, which meant she had to be back in Oslo to sign or veto the various bills that were to become law. For the most part they were relatively mundane things, taxes and allocations and public projects and so forth, but today it was different. So although Elsa was back home, the exquisite rooms and master-crafted furnishings of the Royal Palace did not help reduce her stress levels any.
Quietly, Elsa dressed herself and set out to do what she normally did these days.
The Ranger Memorial Project began as a worldwide grass-roots campaign. Too many Rangers were dying, and it was an effort to show those who remained that the people they protected still stood with them. The premise was simple: to raise a memorial to every fallen Ranger in each of their home cities at the least. The support was immense; its Facebook page got over seven hundred thousand "likes" on the first day. The actual funding, however, was a different matter entirely, for it was difficult to pay for such endeavors with leftover ration cards. Still, a small number were created; Beijing, for one, had a memorial dedicated to Horizon Brave's pilots that stood by the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square, and Romeo Blue's pilots had actual graves at Arlington as well as symbolic ones in their hometown and in the National Mall.
The memorial in Oslo, however, differed from all the rest in that it was much larger in scale. Where the others were dedicated to a single pilot, or two of them if they were from the same hometown, the Oslo Ranger Memorial was dedicated to every single Ranger to ever fall in battle. It stood proudly at the center of the Eidsvolls Plass, a marble statue of a Ranger standing bestride a miniature cityscape like a colossus, one hand extended reassuringly to the people it protected below, the other held high to ward off the monsters that had risen from the deep. The scene was supported by a cubic onyx base, and rendered in golden runes at the statue's feet was Elsa's favorite stanza of the Poetic Edda.
"Cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself die;
I know one thing which never dies: the judgment of a dead mans life."
The other sides contained the same phrase, translated in Norwegian, English, and Russian. Engraved beneath was a growing list of every Jaeger sortie since Brawler Yukon against Karloff in Manila. A thin moat surrounded the whole thing, symbolizing the oceans from which the kaiju had come, and spiraling outwards were modifications on the traditional boots-rifle-helmet battlefield cross. For each fallen Jaeger, there was a sword, oriented vertically with the blades pointed down and planted upon a support base crafted out of debris from the last city they fell defending. Carved into each support were the names of the respective Jaeger and its fallen pilots, with a representation of the Jaeger's empty Conn-Pod resting atop each sword hilt. Elsa had originally wanted gas-powered eternal flames below each monument as well, but the elected officials were already reluctant to assign funding for what was, all things considered, a public decoration, and although Elsa had inherited the private royal coffers, the potential continued expense would strain even her considerable fortune.
Thus, in place of the eternal flames, there were simply firepits, which served its own symbolic purposes in a way. Though sometimes the snows or the wind or the rain would snuff out individual flames, as soon as it all stopped, some passerby would soon arrive to reignite the fires. Upon her arrival, Elsa immediately weaved through what was now being called the Field of the Fallen, checking on each headstone to make sure her former brothers and sisters in arms were warm through the night, starting with the one whose demise heralded the end of an era as her mind flashed back to happier times.
"Wait, so let me get this straight," Yancy Becket said, pausing to wipe his mouth from his near-spit-take just a second ago. "You girls are princesses? Like, full on princesses straight out of a Disney movie?"
"Well, technically I'm the only Princess," Anna replied. It was their first weekend leave after the Drift-compatibility tests that determined which pairs would go on to pilot the Mark-3 Jaegers, and the Becket brothers had suggested a night on the town in their native state. The Mexican delegation weren't quite feeling up for it, and the Aussies had been evicted two bars ago, which meant that in addition to themselves and the Beckets, the Canadians and Chinese were also with them. "My older sister here who I simply adore came of age a couple years ago, so you're actually in the presence of Her Majesty Elsa of House Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, Queen Regnant of the Kingdom of Norway-"
"The First of Her Name, Ruler of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm?" Raleigh interjected, the biggest cheese-eating grin on his face as he took a gulp of what he called "beer" but Anna knew was nothing deserving of the name.
"No," Anna drawled, looking at the younger American as if he was a crazy person. "Like I said, Kingdom of Norway. One kingdom. Singular. Pay attention."
"Well, excuse me, princess," Raleigh replied, laughing. "We were unaware that places in the world still had kings and queens and stuff. Thought everyone traded that up for Presidents."
"There are twelve monarchies in Europe alone," Elsa said, sipping her blue martini, "out of forty-four nations in the world with monarchs who serve as their head of state. But as a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, we do have a Prime Minister." She cocked her head to the side, raised an eyebrow, and smiled a smile full of queenly magnanimity. "And all this time I thought that American ignorance about other countries of the world was but an insensitive stereotype."
"Ouch. That hurts, your highness," Raleigh replied, holding out his glass for a conciliatory toast, which Elsa returned.
"Yes?" Elsa and Raleigh said, simultaneously, turning their heads to Ilisapie Flint, a Canadian Inuit woman who had traded her Jumphawk up for the Mark-3 Jaeger Chrome Brutus. The Norwegian and the American looked back to each other, Raleigh with that same cheese-eating grin, Elsa with a look of mock annoyance at the usurpation of her title.
"Ha, ha, real funny, Raleigh," Ilisapie said, sipping her Crown-and-Coke. "Ruling monarchs are referred to as 'Majesty'. 'Highness' is for princely rank and below. So Anna there," she said, as Anna paused from chugging her Cosmopolitan to give a little wave, "would be called 'Your Highness', but Elsa is 'Your Majesty'."
"Ah, right, I forgot you Canucks are part of the Commonwealth," Yancy said. "Okay, Elsa gets to be majestic, and Anna gets to be...high." He looked between the two girls, pausing in thought. "Hmm. Can't decide which I'd rather be."
The voice of one of her formerly silent bodyguards brought Elsa back to reality, and she turned and saw that the man held a small matchbox in his hands. Looking down, Elsa saw that she had been kneeling down in front of Solar Prophet's headstone, pointlessly clicking an empty lighter. She accepted the matches with thanks, and soon her job there was done. Elsa paused there for a moment, basking in the warmth, before moving on to Echo Saber. If only some of her other jobs were so easy.
Hans had warned her this day would come.
She had been angry with him upon learning that he, in fact, proposed it. For the first time in forever, the storm inside her broke out, but she had enough control to keep it on a leash for long enough to hear his explanation.
"I did what I had to do, Your Majesty. Our nations are hurting, and you just haven't been back often enough to see it," he had retorted in that meeting, remaining calm as ever and ignoring the shaking of the webcam from when she had slammed her palm upon the conference desk. "Inflation led to shortages, shortages led to rationing, rationing led to hoarding, hoarding led to black marketeering, black marketeering will lead to a loss of confidence in the social order and the unraveling of our societies at large. It's the guns versus butter dilemma. Jaegers can only be weapons of war, and highly specialized and technology-intensive ones at that. You and your sister are heroes, Queen Elsa, no one can deny that. But our people don't just need heroes, they need something that isn't just a weapon, something that can employ large segments of the population and stimulate infrastructure and domestic consumption besides. Perhaps the Jaegers' true legacy was always meant to be the first line of defense that helped us buy time for more permanent solutions."
Which brought everything full circle. Her people no longer had the stomach for supporting a war that seemed so far away, and their elected officials had passed a bill that would decommission Frozen Heart and instead reassign existing funds to the Wall of Life initiative. The Jaeger itself would be placed in the sunset task force, handed to a pair of backup pilots to hold the line until the Wall could be completed. Something about the plan still didn't seem right to Elsa, though, despite Hans's arguments. Marshal Pentecost out of Anchorage had been promoted to Grand Marshal, commanding officer of all three remaining Shatterdomes, and he seemed confident in the Jaegers' ability to continue the fight, so Elsa had taken the near-unprecedented step of being the first ruling monarch of Norway to veto a law in over a hundred years. As Elsa walked through the spiral, she felt her guards' presence behind her and was thankful. There were those who begrudged her for this, their displeasure for years of war with no progress in sight overriding what appreciation they might have had for her service.
And now they had sent the bill back, unaltered, which meant that she could pass it or veto it again. Except that even if she was to veto it again, the fact that they had submitted the same bill twice meant that they would probably do so a third time, and by then it would override her veto and directly become law.
Elsa didn't know what to do. Was this how her great-great-grandfather felt, when the demands came to appoint Vidkun Quisling Prime Minister? Surely the comparison was unfair, for the elected officials only had their people's best interests in mind, as opposed to ambitions of world conquest? Granted it could be worse; originally there had been calls to withdraw from the PPDC entirely. Hans's words from that meeting returned to her again.
"Far be it for me to presume to advise you on what to do, Your Majesty, but you are a queen, and, well, Hadrian did far more for the Empire with a signed order from his throne than he ever could with gladius and scutum at the front maniple."
She had to admit, they made some amount of sense, but there was still something off about the whole thing that made her reluctant to completely follow through.
The mention of ancient rulers drew Elsa's mind back to that night.
"Majesty, Highness, Lordship, Grace - see, this is why we overthrew the Emperor," interjected Li Yunlong, formerly a Shangxiao of the People's Liberation Army, now the right half of Shaolin Rogue. "It's much simpler when everyone is simply addressed as comrade-this or comrade-that."
"Really, Li?" said Zhao Gang, the commissar assigned to Li's old unit before the same transfer that affected Li brought him to Kodiak Island as well. "You're sitting next to foreign royals and talking about overthrow? That's extra-unlucky. Penalty drink."
"Implying that a drink to me is actually a penalty of some kind," Li replied. "Hey, wait a second - Comrade-Commissar, are you sympathizing with the feudal institutions that repress the peace-loving workers and peasants of the world? I think you're the one who needs a penalty drink."
"Hey, speaking of drinks - so, not being racist or anything," Yancy cut in, a slight slur coming into his voice, "but you know that movie, Shanghai Noon, with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson?"
"Is that the one where they're cowboys?" Anna interjected, her ears perking up, and Raleigh nodded. Elsa raised an eyebrow, wondering where they were going with this.
"Long Juan Feng," Zhao Gang said to Li Yunlong, who nodded in understanding. "Yes, what of it?"
"There's this drinking game they play in that, and I just always wanted to know - is that a real thing?"
"Yes, of course," Zhao Gang said, nodding. "I played it all the time back at military academy, and at Communist Party study school. It's popular among the Hakka - they're a cultural-linguistic group that live mostly in Fujian, Canton, and Taiwan. Deng Xiaoping is one. So is Chow Yun-fat." At that moment, he noticed a twinkle in the American's eye. "Oh no, you do not want to play that with me," he added. "Like I said, that game was my entire school life...and now you know why communism failed."
"Hey, bro? I think he's calling you out," Raleigh said, grinning.
"Challenge accepted," Yancy said. "Because 'murica." He then turned to the other future pilots. "Any of you want in on this?"
"Count us out," said Zeke Amarok, Chrome Brutus's other half and Ilisapie's cousin. "Bad things happen when palefaces give First Nation men fire-water."
"Whoa, dude." Raleigh's face was a rictus of bemusement. "Did you seriously just go there?"
"I can just see it now - it'll be graduation day, and instead of a certification they're just going to hand me a bunch of beads, and then I'm going to walk out to the Jaeger Bay and find my beautiful Chrome Brutus with the Stars and Stripes painted over its chest," Zeke replied solemnly, and there was a brief cloud of awkward tension in the room before the Inuit man burst into a round of guffaws. "I'm just kidding, guys. Besides, someone has to stay sober enough to call a cab for you."
"And to hold their hair," Ilisapie added, glancing at Elsa and Anna. "Because this is, what, the fifth bar we've been to already?"
"Fourth, actually," Raleigh said. "Because there's only four bars on Kodiak Island."
"Really?" Elsa raised an eyebrow. She hadn't been out much since entering the Academy's gates, preferring to spend her off-time in the pine forests and icy bays and snowy hills that reminded her so much of home. "Only four?"
"Hey, not all of us were raised in a castle in the big city, alright?" Raleigh added. "How's this, Your Majesty - as soon as we all graduate, we take a roadtrip to Anchorage, and me and my brother, we'll show you around. Then you'll see, not all of Alaska is as out in the boonies as this place. No offense," he added, waving to the barkeep. "Another Alaskan Amber, please."
"Yeah, you actually need both hands to count the bars there," Yancy added. "Might still want to bring some bear spray, though. They like the taste of tourist." He looked around again, to the Chinese, the Norwegians, and the Canadians. "Alright, so are we getting this started or what?"
"Yep, there's definitely going to be hair-holding," Ilisapie muttered. "Hey, Yancy, word to the wise - I've seen how Chinese people drink. Don't let that glow fool you, it's just to lull you into a false sense of security right before they get you passed out."
"Are you sure you're just not being racist now?" Raleigh said.
"You know I'm part Chinese, right?" Ilisapie replied.
"She's right, you know," Li Yunlong said. "Here, your alcohol only goes up to forty percent. In China, we drink baijiu, which at minimum is over fifty. We would have brought some for you, but we went to the duty-free store, and apparently, liquids that are over forty-percent alcohol count as 'flammable substances' and aren't allowed to be brought aboard the airplane."
"Yeah, the TSA kind of sucks like that," Yancy said. "Still, we wouldn't have minded a little taste of Asia, even if it's a bit watered down."
"Nonsense. Nothing but the authentic stuff for our American friends," Zhao added. "And Canadian, and Norwegian, and so on…" He turned back to Yancy. "One last chance to back out. Not kidding when I say that Communist Party study school is not unlike your Spring Break internet videos, except less bikini girls going wild and more old men in suits lecturing on the evolution of Marxist-Leninist ideology into Mao Zedong Thought, and its role in the foundation of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, viewed through the lense of the Important Thought of the Three Represents in contrast to the Scientific Outlook on Development to provide a critique on the successes and future milestones of the march towards the Harmonious Socialist Society."
"Yeah, well I can see Russia from my house," Yancy said, "so if you're done saying words that have meaning by themselves and absolutely none when you string them together, bring it."
"And in Norway, we drink brandy for medicine," Anna cut in. "Alt for Norge!"
"Right, so Yancy, Anna, and of course Li and myself," Zhao said, calling for a bottle of house whiskey. "Anyone else?"
"I'm out, too," Raleigh said. "Normally I'd join you, but I think my brother's going to want a nice cell-phone vid of himself in his moment of glory. It'll be worth a lot of cash someday, when they've erected museums and monuments to us, all the secret, never-before-seen footage of the secret lives of Jaeger aces."
"Normally I'm slug you, but right now I'm too drunk to care," Yancy replied, staring intently at his glass. "Elsa - sorry, Your Majesty?"
"Oh, I don't really drink-"
"Aww, come on, sis," Anna begged, and Elsa tried to remember just how many Cosmopolitans she'd had. Only three, if memory served, but then there was that Tequila Sunrise, and that Mai Tai, and that two-for-one Fosters chug with the Aussies, and that double shot of Absolut, and…Anna's voice took on a more singsong quality to it now, as she continued to try to rope Elsa in. "Elsa, won't you please come join us...just for a round or two..."
"Ilisapie, you got us?" Elsa asked, and the Inuit woman nodded. "Then all right, I'm in. But only for a few rounds!" She smiled at the men, future comrades all, as well as her sister, with whom she had gone through so much. "Oh, one last thing - by royal decree, I hereby officially grant you all first name privileges for the Royal House of Norway," Elsa added. "Just remember: with great power comes great responsibility. Try not to abuse it."
"Most excellent!" Li Yunlong clapped and rubbed his hands with glee. "Alright, now, repeat after me...pang xie yi, zhua ba ge, liang tou jian jian zhe me da ge-"
As much as it had been promised as a night they wouldn't forget, Elsa didn't remember much else that happened after that point, other than the fact that yes, hair was indeed held. But she had her phone, and the memories there would be enough. Anna, trying and failing to meanmug the camera with a fingerstache on one hand and some kind of tropical fruit cocktail in the other. Raleigh, ever the stereotypical American, riding atop a passed out Yancy and waving his hat like a rodeo cowboy. The Chinese, belting out ancient tunes from the Long March, alternating between ridiculously upbeat melodies that sang of beheading kaiju with broadswords or depressingly somber ones that asked of when those displaced could ever return to their bountiful homelands. Zeke facepalming while Ilisapie rocked the duckface. Going back further, a group picture with Matador Fury's pilots upon receiving their certifications, and the Aussies right before one too many boisterous renditions of "AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OI OI OI" got them kicked out of the second bar. They were were good people, all of them, and Elsa looked forward to the day when she and her sister would be standing with them against the kaiju menace.
She did remember, though, the last thing she did before letting go of her grip on lucidity.
"Here's to us," Elsa shouted, raising her glass in a toast to the long and illustrious careers they were all sure to have, and Ilisapie caught the reference. Good old Canadian public schooling, still teaching the classics, Elsa thought, Shakespeare and Austen and Robbie Burns. At least, she hoped that's where Ilisapie knew the line from; Elsa herself always held some pride in the fact that she knew that toast before Mass Effect 3 made it mainstream. "Who's like us?"
She knew the answer to that now.
Yancy Becket, Gipsy Danger. Duc and Kaori Jessop, Tacit Ronin. Nena and Audrey Ramirez, Diablo Intercept. Ilisapie Flint and Zeke Amarok, Chrome Brutus. Trevin and Bruce Gage, Romeo Blue. Tamsin Sevier, Vic and Gunnar Tunari, Coyote Tango. Antonio Rogerio and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Solar Prophet. Tanegashima Hajime and Kimura Kenshin, Echo Saber. Gordito Delgado and Sean McDaniel, Matador Fury. Lo Hin Shen and Xichi Po, Horizon Brave. Harry "Dingo" Monmouth, Vulcan Specter. Chor Kar-Wai, Yim Chun-tung, Tangaroa Ngata, Victoria Magsaysay and Nicole de los Reyes, Lucky Seven.
"Damn few," Elsa murmured, procuring a bottle of akevitt that she had brought from the royal cellars. She weaved her way back out of the Field of the Fallen, stopping to pour a little at each gravestone. She knew what to do now. Her comrades had given everything they had to stem the tide. Could she do any less?
She was at the end of the line now, though she knew it would not be the end of the line later, for the spiral would only grow bigger over time. It was an empty space, reserved for when a shattered concrete base could be shipped from Vladivostok to finish the monument for Dzhoshua and Yakov Volk of Eden Assassin. Sighing, Elsa poured a little out for the two Russians before taking a sip herself.
She doesn't say out loud the last part of the toast.
Here's tae us
Wha's like us
And they're a' deid
A/N: Well, that's it folks, thanks for reading, everyone! At least, for my end anyway. But wait, did Anna wake up? Did Elsa and Anna survive up to the events of Pacific Rim the movie proper? Well, see...originally when I set out to write this I did consider doing it as "Pacific Rim the movie but either with Frozen Heart replacing Gipsy Danger or Frozen Heart as part of the last Jaeger strike group or maybe just Elsa replacing Mako or Raleigh or something", but I knew I wouldn't have the energy to go through with that. So I set it near the tail-end of the Golden Age of Jaeger Combat and left it open-ended, and it really just depends on whether you believe this crossover ought to lean more towards Disney ("true love thaws a frozen heart") or Pacific Rim ("there are no heroes in a world where heroes can't die").
Although in my mind, the True End of this story involves the following lines:
"The world is ending, Your Majesty, so where would you rather die? Here, propped up and paraded in front of your people, filling them with false hope even as their world crumbles around them? OR IN A JAEGER?"