Chapter Two: The First Kill
A/N: Hello everyone! So here's the second chapter, please don't forget to review, whether it be positive feedback or constructive criticism!
September 2nd, 2014
"Ladies and gentleman." The cool female voice resounded through the Boeing-737, and eight-year-old Lilah looked up from the book she'd been reading. "We're embarking on our final descent into Sydney. Our expected time of arrival is in twenty minutes."
Lilah glanced at Dylan and rolled her eyes. She could hear the music blaring from his earphones from where she was sitting. Frowning, she leaned across and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Turn it down."
"What?" Dylan yanked one of his earphones out, before grinning wickedly and shoving it right back in. "Sorry, Lilah, I can't hear you."
"Stop it!" Lilah nudged him sharply with her elbow and Dylan yelped. Their mother Rose leaned forward from where she was sitting on Dylan's other side, frowning tersely at her two children. They were flying back from a family holiday in Brisbane, where they'd been visiting Rose's parents and siblings. It seemed that all her two children knew how to do was fight. They'd been doing so all holiday and they continued to do so now.
"Cut it out, both of you," Rose said sharply, before gripping the arms of her chair hard when the plane gave a sudden jolt. The seatbelt sign flicked on and Lilah marked the page in her book, doing up her seatbelt and looking out the window. She didn't like turbulence. It made her feel sick.
"Attention all passengers." The female voice was back, not quite as calm this time, instead hurried and impatient. "We have been forced to make an emergency turnaround and requested permission to land at Newcastle airport. We are deeply sorry for any inconvenience…"
"It's bloody ten minutes until landing!" One man yelled angrily, drowning out the crewmember's voice.
Lilah peered out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the airport – but instead she saw something that made her shrink back in her seat. They were not landing at Sydney airport, because there was no Sydney airport. She recognised the creature wreaking havoc throughout the city, for she'd seen others like it on television. It was a kaiju. A kaiju in her home city of Sydney.
"Lilah?" Dylan was wide-eyed, earphones yanked out as he saw his little sister draw her knees to her chest and suck in deep breaths. He peered past her and noticed the behemoth tearing their city apart, circled constantly by groups of fighter jets. Their fire did little to damage it, and while Lilah turned her face away from the horror, Dylan couldn't seem to take his eyes off it. From the scream down the back of the plane, they weren't the only ones who had noticed.
"Lilah." Dylan unstrapped himself and kneeled in front of his younger sister, taking her hands in his and making her look at him. "Look at me. We're going to be okay. We're headed away from it. We're going back up north. It won't hurt you."
"It's not me I'm worried about," Lilah replied shrilly, blue eyes watery. "What about all those people down there? Are they going to be alright, too?"
Dylan couldn't say. He didn't know himself. He just squeezed into the seat beside his sister, hugging her close. Yet over the top of her blonde curls, he watched the battle rage in Sydney Harbour, and yearned to become a part of it.
December 16, 2019
It seemed that wherever a Jaeger went, an army of reporters and photographers would follow. They were almost as fearless as the pilots themselves, venturing right into the thick of the action for a front-page story. The Sydney Morning Herald journalists were among the worst of the culprits.
Needless to say, when a Category III kaiju attacked Manila on the morning of December 16th, most of the city was in a flurry of chaos and excitement as they were glued to the television, avidly watching their Rangers. It was the Striker Eureka's first mission, although Lilah had no doubts that Dylan would have been thoroughly displeased with being ordered to stand down. The Australian Jaeger was accompanied by two others – Gipsy Danger and Horizon Brave. Horizon Brave had been destroyed by the kaiju, and the other two Jaegers had been deployed to pick up where the Mark I had left off.
Upon the Jaeger's return to Sydney, Chuck Hansen emerged with a lazy smile and an easy manner, all too happy to take the press's questions. Herc was more guarded, offering a tired smile while his eyes remained weary. Lilah was there outside the Shatterdome because she was trying to glean as much information as she could first-hand from the pilots. It had been the same with Dylan – it was always an invigorating experience to see the Rangers fresh from battle.
"The only Mark V in existence," Chuck was bragging to a swarm of reporters who seemed to be hanging off his every word. Not that he minded – the boy seemed to thoroughly enjoy the attention. Lilah wondered, with some contempt, how long it was going to be before some schoolgirls were hounding him to sign their books with mascara wands. "Striker weighs 1.85 tons and is 200 feet tall…"
"250," Lilah murmured under her breath, but quickly realised with mortification that she hadn't spoken as quietly as she'd intended to. Chuck lapsed into silence and turned to frown across at her. Of course, where Chuck's gaze landed, that of the reporters followed.
"What did you say?" Chuck demanded. He didn't sound angry at her, not yet at least. He just seemed to be curious as to why someone else had spoken during Chuck Time. There was a lot he had to learn about the world…although at fifteen, Lilah knew she couldn't really talk.
"I said that Striker Eureka is 250 feet, not 200." Lilah tossed back her hair. She wasn't going to be intimidated by some boy pilot just a year older than her. Chuck's eyes narrowed, before he glanced over his shoulder at Herc. His father's lips were curved upwards in amusement, and he inclined his head. Chuck looked completely thrown off balance, corrected by some fifteen-year-old girl. Some of the reporters seemed to be thinking the same thing.
"What would you know about Jaegers?" One of them demanded, lowering his microphone and throwing Lilah a filthy look. It was almost as if she committed a colossal sin, just because she wasn't important enough for the reporters to recognise her at first sight.
"That's Lilah Powell, idiot," snapped a photographer Lilah vaguely recognised – Isabel Dormer from the Sydney Morning Herald, that was right. "Her brother is Dylan Powell, pilot of the Vulcan Specter. Or haven't you heard of him, either?"
The reporter who had spoken so disdainfully turned a bright red and muttered something inaudible under his breath. Isabel snapped a quick photo of Lilah, causing the blonde to blink rapidly, unprepared for the bright flash. Chuck was looking exceedingly annoyed, and she didn't stop to wonder why. She was stealing his thunder, and he didn't like it one bit. By the entertained look about Herc's face, he wasn't complaining at his son being shown up.
"So how long did it take us to kill the kaiju?" Chuck asked, effectively turning the media's attention back on him. Lilah couldn't help but roll her eyes. What was with this boy and wanting to be centre of attention? She turned her attention from Chuck, looking towards a nearby television, where the kaiju's remains were being inspected from a bird's eye view.
"Does it scare you?" Chuck's voice drew Lilah from her reverie. She hadn't even realised that the reporters were done with interviewing the Hansens, or that Chuck had made his way over to her. She folded her arms over her chest when she turned to face him.
"When it was alive, maybe."
"Well, it's not anymore." A self-satisfied smirk crossed Chuck's lips. "Thanks to the old man and I."
Lilah knew that he was expecting some sort of congratulations from her, perhaps a thank-you. Although Lilah was grateful for the intervention of Striker Eureka, she thought Chuck's ego had been stroked enough for one day. She raised her eyebrows coolly. Even two months later, she was unable to look at him straight without thinking about what she'd seen and heard in the toilets the night she'd first met him.
"You also managed to stuff up your Jaeger's figures. Honestly, you should at least get your facts right if you're going to rattle them off."
"Aren't you all high and mighty?" Chuck said mockingly, eyes glittering with amusement as he inspected her critically. "You seemed real shy when I met you at the Hilton."
Lilah was actually surprised that he remembered her. He'd have met hundreds of girls by now, names and faces that flitted by, maybe one girl every now and again who was worth having beneath the sheets, if his attitude with Becky was anything to judge by. Becky had been constantly complaining that Chuck never replied to texts, never answered any calls. Although, she supposed the fact that Chuck remembered her could have to do with her striking resemblance to her older brother.
"You seemed real eager to get in someone's pants when I met you at the Hilton. Your point?"
Lilah could have bitten down on her tongue. She never generally spoke like this, to anyone. Normally she was polite but firm if she thought someone was being rude, or if she disliked them. Maybe it was just because Chuck Hansen went against all of her morals, against everything she believed a Jaeger pilot should be. That must be the reason to explain why she was outspoken towards him when she wasn't with many others – and indeed, when most others weren't with Chuck.
"You usually get an accurate impression of someone when you first meet them." Chuck shrugged, his lip curling into a somewhat mocking smile. "Your friend for example…what's her name? Anyway, it was obvious that she wanted something, I wanted something. I don't see why that's such a big deal to you. Unless the reason it gets you so hot under the collar is because you're a virgin."
"That has nothing to do with it," Lilah gasped out, mortified that Chuck would so openly play that card. Of course, he was right about that, but it wasn't exactly something you spoke about with someone you'd met a grand total of once. "My friend's name is Becky, by the way. Do you remember mine?"
Her blue eyes narrowed. "That's just because one of the reporters said. Otherwise I bet you'd have no clue. After all, I'm a mere mortal."
Chuck examined her with something like frustration. Maybe he wasn't used to people who weren't stroking his ego. Lilah knew she was being contemptuous towards him, perhaps a little unfairly so. She didn't know him well, but from what she did know, she didn't like him one bit.
"I think you'd be surprised what I do and don't remember. Don't treat me like I'm an idiot."
"Then maybe you should quit acting like one," Lilah retorted, swinging around on her heel and walking away from him. She could practically feel his angry eyes boring into her back as she made her departure.
"Wasn't it amazing?" Becky sighed wistfully, painting her toenails and electric blue as she and Lilah sat on her bed. Some bubblegum pop duo Lilah hated was blaring from Becky's speakers. She remained silent, because she knew that Becky was talking about the battle in Manila. Lilah thought she'd had enough of Jaegers for one day.
"I guess so," Lilah replied quietly. She hadn't heard the end of it from Dylan. In all honesty, she thought that he was jealous that it had been Striker Eureka deployed instead of Vulcan Specter, but he would never admit it.
"Come on, Lilah, where's your head at?" Becky rolled her eyes, putting down the bottle of nail polish and frowning across at her friend. "Didn't you see what happened in Manila?"
"Of course I did," Lilah stated, glaring at the speakers as if that could shut up whatever stupid girl band was playing. "I was at the Shatterdome when the Hansens got back. I saw them too."
"What?" Becky was instantly alert, as of course happened every time she heard even a whisper about Chuck. She'd been complaining incessantly about him not bothering to contact her, but if she thought there was still a chance, she'd take it. "You saw Chuck? Did he say anything about me?"
Lilah dearly wanted to slap some sense into Becky. Oh yes, Chuck Hansen was going to come back from his intense first battle with a kaiju and casually ask how Becky was. Sometimes she really did think her friend lived in a fantasy world. Chuck Hansen was not a one-woman man. What would it take for Becky to understand that?
"No, he didn't, Becky," Lilah said wearily, raking a hand through her blonde hair. "He was too focused on harping on about Striker Eureka's stats. Although, I had to correct him when he got the height wrong."
"You corrected Chuck Hansen?" Becky sounded horrified, as though Lilah had committed some sort of terrible crime.
"Well, yeah," Lilah retorted, "He's not a god, Becky. He can be wrong."
That was the problem with society today, though. Jaeger pilots were seen as god, and their word was law. For Lilah to have corrected something Chuck said…well, it made her seem very pretentious for a start. Refraining from sighing at Becky's attitude towards Chuck Hansen, who was in fact just a sixteen-year-old boy and not some kind of deity, Lilah extended her hands and reluctantly allowed Becky to paint her nails crimson.
September 2nd, 2014
Joanna had watched the first mushroom cloud rise toward the sky, her heart catching in her throat. Never in all her life had she imagined something so destructive being so close to the city she called home. And yet, it was that destructive force that was supposed to be their salvation, if they were lucky.
Turns out luck had abandoned them long ago.
She was on the helipad, helping evacuate patients from the Balmoral Naval Hospital where she was employed as a civilian doctor for the Royal Australian Navy, when Scissure finally made landfall.
All activity seemed to stop as civilians and sailors alike witnessed the massive Kaiju crawl from the depths of the port. They had seen the attacks on television, read the survival stories in the papers, but none of it could have prepared them for an actual event.
Scissure waded through the shallower waters, surrounded by attack choppers and occasionally pestered by a sortie of fighter jets, none of which seemed to faze it in the least bit. Eventually, it crawled out, crushing the exterior of the opera house before moving further into downtown Sydney.
Buildings crumbled like they were made of sand. People screamed, cars were tossed into the air, and all Joanna could do was watch as thousands of people died right across from her.
Many individuals insisted that she leave, but Joanna was not stepping foot off the base until all her patients had been evacuated. And another part of her did not want to go until she heard from others in the city.
She had been born and raised in Sydney, many of her friends were in those buildings so close to Scissure. Had they escaped? Were they injured? Her cell couldn't get through. Her mother and father owned a restaurant. Her closest friend, Beth, was a banker. And Herc…
Oh God, his family.
He was gone, safe on an air base, but his wife and his son…
She just couldn't leave.
Joanna turned to see a helicopter pilot dashing toward her, voice barely audible over the sound of the Sikorsky Seahawk in the background. He grabbed her arm tightly and attempted to pull her toward the vehicle, but she resisted.
"No, I can't!" she shouted. "There are people I know out there! I can't just leave them!"
"Doctor, we have ten minutes before they're going to level the place. We need to go!"
"They're what…" It hit her like a ton of bricks. Another nuke, dropped right on top of Sydney. But the people. There were so many left. "No, no, they can't do that! They'll kill everyone!"
"I'm not in charge!" he shouted back, finally dragging her to the helicopter standing by. "I'm just the guy who wants to live!"
Joanna climbed inside and strapped in. She was surrounded by what remained of the medical staff, all very terrified and pale; she suspected she did not fare much better.
She had never flown in a helicopter before and the sudden lurch from its launch made her stomach churn. They gained altitude quickly, but the Kaiju did not seem to get any smaller. Even as they turned away from it and made a beeline for anywhere outside the city, it did not shrink. Never had she imagined a creature so enormous to be possible, and now it was on her front doorstep.
Her eyes were still glued to the city when the second nuke hit.
The initial brightness made Joanna shield her eyes, but then all she saw was the mushroom cloud standing where her home was, where everyone and everything she had ever known was, and now they were all gone.
The realization of it all came in the blink of an eye, for in the next, the force of the explosion caught up to the helicopter, thrashing it in open air. All Joanna could hear was the sound of emergency alarms and of the other passengers screaming. Was she? It was hard to tell one person from the other. They were falling, hard and fast, destined to crash.
And all she could think of before they hit was him…
December 16th, 2019
Joanna practically jumped from her desk as the dream ended with the crash. She looked around her office and the adjacent medical facility, noticing the lack of…everyone, really, and put her head back down. Ever since that day, sleep had never come easy to her. To see her napping while on duty was the norm for most of her staff, although when inspections came, they were kind enough to inform her. She figured she must have been doing something right if they hadn't reported her yet.
Scissure had taken everything from her that day. Beth had died when the building she worked in collapsed on her, and they never had actually recovered her parents' bodies. Angela was gone too, but Joanna preferred not to linger on her. There was a guilt still rooted deep in her chest that had nothing to do with surviving.
The thought, however, triggers a memory.
Her head shot up. Quickly, Joanna began to shuffle through the assorted files on her desk, not stopping until she found her tablet underneath. After shouting at it for a couple of seconds, technology was never her strong suit, the tablet coughed up a message about the recent return of the wayward Hansens from their successful mission in Manila, nearly an hour earlier.
Joanna jumped out of her seat, nearly tripping over it as she ran out of the office. Of all the days for her to be late for something, which was actually a very rare thing for her, it had to be this day. All that time she had spent worrying about them, sick to her stomach. It was why she had not slept well, and why she could have been found unconscious on her desk. Oh, why hadn't anyone woken her up?
She jogged through the crowded passageways of the Shatterdome, narrowly avoiding personnel as she made her way to Scramble Alley. If she was lucky, they would still be there, no doubt examining whatever damage may have been caused to the Jaeger. For her sake, she hoped it was blessedly intact. She could still remember Herc's early days in the program. Chuck, still far too young to do anything other than cheer for the Rangers, would be at her house, glued to the television screen as he waited for any sign of his father. Joanna often wished Herc could see it all from her perspective. Chuck may have acted as though his father was the worst thing to happen to him, but one never would have guessed it by the way he used to worry.
Scramble Alley was filled to the brim with workers, all working in some way or another to get Striker Eureka back in shape. At first glance, the Mark V looked as good as it did when it first rolled out of the factory, aside from the occasional pieces of Kaiju stuck to its frame. It was only upon closer inspection that Joanna noticed a few unsavory marks along its torso. Clearly the damage had done nothing to the pilots, otherwise her facility would not have been as empty as it was, but it still sent a chill down her spine.
"He's not here, Jo."
Joanna turned to Chuck. Still clad in his drivesuit, he hardly looked like the boy she had seen grow up. There was still that arrogant air about him, that would never go away, but she could see he was tired, and wary. He hadn't forgiven her. She could hardly blame him for that.
"Well, it wasn't just him I was looking for, Chuck."
"You sure about that?" he asked, getting uncomfortably close. Joanna could see the anger burning in his eyes. She had never Drifted, but was well aware of its capabilities. Knowing everything, seeing everything. It must have felt like his whole life was a lie, and the only people he had come to rely upon had just stabbed him in the back. "Cause, the way I see it, he's the only one you ever gave a damn about."
Her eyes narrowed. "Damn it, Chuck, you know that's not true." She lowered her voice, not wanting to cause a scene. Still, eyes around the Shatterdome flitted to them now and again. "I took care of you when Herc was gone. It nearly killed me when I thought you had died in Sydney."
"And what about my mum, Jo? Did it make you sad when she died, or did you jump for joy?"
Joanna would have slapped him right there and then, but she held back. It was the last thing they needed. Frankly, she was surprised Chuck even worked with his father still, but maybe his ambition to be a Jaeger pilot superseded anything else. She didn't doubt that. He had wanted to be one for so long, to avenge his mother, to be like his father. Now who did he look up to?
"Despite what the Drift might tell you, what you think you know is only half the story. I would give anything to have Angela alive right now."
"I doubt that," Chuck said with a sneer, taking off. "My old man is in his room. Try not to enjoy it too much."
Even with Chuck's words still burning in her mind, Joanna made her way to the officers' quarters. She couldn't remember how many times she told herself to stay away from him, but Herc Hansen was like a drug to her, and she always came back. Before Angela, there had only been her, and she supposed they had just never gotten over it.
His door was closed, but unlocked, like he was anticipating her arrival. He probably was.
Herc was nowhere to be found in his room, but she could hear the sound of running water from the bathroom. Slowly, she made her way over, observing the walls as she did so, not that she hadn't already had the opportunity to memorize them.
He was leaning on the counter, watching the water spill into the sink below him. His shirt was tossed on the floor beside him, revealing a battered and scarred body. It looked like he had seen a lot of action in his life, and while he had, Joanna knew that most of the marks had come from his days in football.
Joanna snaked her arms around his waist, pressing her lips against his spine. He sighed, relaxing in her grip, but said nothing for a while. She waited.
"We lost Horizon Brave today."
She was vaguely familiar with the Jaeger. An old Mark I out of China.
"That old thing never did stand a chance against a Category Four. Managed to save the crew for what it was worth." He sighed again. "Striker Eureka performed well, but the suits won't like this. They're already talking about other options, about a goddamn wall."
Herc slammed his fist on the counter. Joanna stood straight, watching him in the mirror.
"The hell is a wall going to do for them? These things smash through buildings like they're made of cardboard!"
She remained silent, waiting until the anger burned out of him. Herc may have been quick to it, but never stayed that way for long.
After a minute or two, she put a hand on his shoulder. He took a hold of it, coarse fingers with a gentle grip. One look at him and no one would have thought it. "They're just scared."
Herc stood up, turning to face her. Her hand wound up on his chest. "That doesn't make it right. They need to listen."
She chuckled. "If there is anything I have learned from being in the program, it's that you and Stacker don't back down easily."
"Stacker's gonna have to pull off a miracle for this one."
"Well, he is the perfect man for it."
Herc nodded, no doubt remembering Tokyo. Then his tone changed. "You saw Chuck?"
Joanna looked down. "Of course I did."
She felt his grip tighten. "I swear, if he said anything-"
"It was nothing I don't deserve." Joanna paused. "Please, Herc, can we not discuss it today? I'm just glad you're back."
He looked like he wanted to say something, continue their argument over Chuck, but there must have been something written on her face that convinced him otherwise.
Joanna removed her hand from his and wrapped her arms around his neck. She felt him embrace her, still as strong and protective as ever; she hated being away from that. Was it really so wrong of her to have wanted this, even if he had belonged to another? They said people could not help who they fell for, and Herc Hansen was a difficult man to forget.
She felt him bury his face in her neck. His fingers started to play with loose strands of hair that fell from her bun. The small actions made her smile. "Every time you go out there, I think you're never coming back."
"I'm glad you have such confidence in me."
Joanna leaned back, resting her forehead on his. "I'm serious, Herc."
Before he said anything, Herc reached down and picked her up by the thighs, carrying her to the counter where she sat, arms still around him. He placed both hands on either side of her, looking into her eyes with a deep intensity Joanna thought she might lose herself in.
"It's going to take a hell of a lot more than a pissed off Kaiju to keep me from coming back here," he paused, kissing her forehead. "I made the mistake of leaving you once. That's not happening again."