"What do you mean they won't build any more jaegers?" Hanji might not have the extra stars on her lapel to prove her worth as a military strategist, but she knew damn well that you didn't win a war by ceasing production on artillery.
"We lost four jaegers in 2020, and the PPDC isn't taking that well." Bertholdt spoke mostly into his cup, his shoulders slumped, a familiar expression of anxiety on his face.
"They're talking instead about building a giant wall to keep out the Kaiju. They're calling it the Wall of Life." Reiner rolled his eyes, holding up his fingers in mock quotation signs at the word 'life.'
"Have they at least increased research funding?"
"I wouldn't know about something like that."
It's 2021, and the remaining four jaeger pilots of the Los Angeles Shatterdome sit in a seedy, half-empty pub. Since the fall of Romeo Blue, they had stopped going to the bar with the good drinks and the booth in the corner with the table with the one shaky leg. But it wasn't as if sorrow could restrain a person's need to drink, since it tended to be the main offender for that sort of thing. So they had found another place to frequent. And it didn't even matter that half the times the vomit on the floor was just left there or that the walls were drafty in some places where more than just the puke-yellow wallpaper had torn.
"They're getting smarter, aren't they?" Bertholdt posed nervously, a cold sweat forming on his brow that the whiskey in his hand had no hand in causing.
"Let's not talk about this now." Levi interjected, before the conversation drifted too far in the wrong direction. He worried enough about the kaiju while on duty, and while off duty because they seemed to plague Hanji's mind non-stop. Even without ghost drifting, her anxiousness was palpable in his own head.
"But if we don't talk about it, we might end up like Br—"
The slam of a jug on the table brought silence to the bar. All eyes were fixed on Hanji, who had lowered her head so that it was nearly touching the table, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the mug tight. Slowly she lifted her head, a sheepish grin on her face as she suddenly jerked, raising her hand up and turning her body sideways, calling,
"Barkeep! Another round, if you'd please!"
And for the rest of the night, they were silent.
In 2022, an unprecedented amount of kaiju come through the breach, and ever more jaegers fall.
In 2023, you could toss a coin to see whether or not a jaeger would make it.
In the summer of that year, Recon was called out along with Azul Conquistador to stop a Category III Kaiju (codenamed: Pishtaco). Whenever possible, it was a good idea now to send two jaegers instead of one to fend off a kaiju attack. It had increased their odds significantly of jaegers returning alive from their missions, and the remaining jaegers needed to last, for they wouldn't be replaced.
"Where is it?!"
"Carajo! I've lost it!"
"Our sensors are faulty, Recon!"
Azul's pilots were screaming through the coms.
"Your 7 o' clock, turn now!" Hanji called as Recon came up on their flank. Coming from the other side, they threw out an arm to catch Pishtaco in the jaw just as it breached the water beside Azul.
"Thank us later, what do you have to work with?"
"Navigations down, sensors faulty, cooling low."
"Six missiles left for us. Not enough to take down, I think."
The Kaiju roared as it tore itself out of the water. If they had to guess, they would think it was fairly pissed off.
"Good enough for a distraction!"
Recon circled around, trying to cover the Kaiju from both sides, its stance wary and cautious. It turned its head rapidly, trying to keep track of both opponents. Its body was relatively slow, but its head moved quite quickly by comparison, and it had been good at defending itself thus far. Hanji could see its glowing eyes stare at both jaegers' respective conn-pods.
Moving near simultaneously, Hanji and Levi put out their right arms, extending their plasma cannon and activating its charging sequence. The Kaiju recognized the immediate threat and turned its attention fully on them, half-ignoring the battered Azul.
As it turned its back from them almost completely, Azul launched three missiles at it, barely denting the tough hide of the creature, but certainly getting its attention. The momentary distraction was all they needed. Hanji called through the coms,
"That's good, Azul, pull back!"
Their plasma cannon was raised to strike. The kaiju sprung at Azul, Recon shot at its back. But the back was the most armored part of its body and it barely made a dent.
Recon reloaded and let off another shot just as Pishtaco latched onto the head of Azul, digging its claws into it, and turning it around to use it as a shield. Their blast tore through the jaeger as the Kaiju roared in defiance.
But there was no answer on the other side of the com, only static.
"LOCCENT, we've lost communication with Azul, do you copy?" Levi called into the com, his heart rate matching Hanji's panic-stricken one.
"No readings from Azul, Recon. You're on your own."
The Kaiju reared and roared, and the pilots of the Recon Leviathan screamed back; their drift was full with a maddening fury. They charged, taking a headbutt to the chest to grab the kaiju by its jaws, wrenching them open.
Crush it! Shred it to pieces! Tear its body limb from limb!
With a cry, they charged the pistons in the left arm to maximum power as they ripped the jaw straight off of its hinges, the creature thrashing in their grip and sending off tidal waves as ripples. It didn't matter how loud it roared, Hanji was roaring even louder in the drift. They fired two, three, twelve shots down its throat, blasting its insides and shooting well after it had stopped twitching in their grip.
Afterward, they stood there panting, their eyes wide as they stared at the mangled corpse in the ocean, oozing its iridescent blue blood out into the water.
They turned to examine the fallen jaeger behind them, pulling its great metal body out of the water. It was heavy, heavier because of the ocean that had leaked into its gaping holes. Water poured out of its every crevice, Hanji tried hard not to think of its resemblance to blood when recovering a dead body. But as soon as they had lifted the chest piece out, their breaths hitched in their throats.
Their misguided blast from earlier had gone straight through Azul's conn-pod, the broken pieces of metal and steel gaping around it like torn and burned flesh.
"Kaiju signature eradicated. Good work, Recon." Came the message from LOCCENT.
"Recon, do you copy?"
The drift grew painful. It was filled with the agony of two hearts breaking, two minds racing with guilt and self-loathing. It was one thing to watch their comrades fall to a kaiju. But to think that their last moments came from a badly aimed jaeger attack? The last moments of their lives had been ripped away by their comrades, not by their enemy.
By the time they had returned to Los Angeles, they had logged a little over nine hours of drift syncing. They had personally retrieved and returned the remains of Azul Conquistador back to the Shatterdome in Lima. When the command thanked them for returning the jaeger, they hid their shame that they could not return the bodies also.
Brother and sister.
We can't ever forget.
We won't ever forget.
In 2024, an abysmal eight jaegers are lost when an unexpected fourteen kaiju emerge from the breach.
The twelfth kaiju attack of that year was left to Recon and Mammoth.
Its plotted trajectory was logged as Santa Barbara, a high Category III codenamed Eloah.
It moved unpredictably quickly and was less than a mile off shore before Recon and Mammoth could intercept it in the water. Within the first few seconds of combat, Hanji could see that in deep water, the jaegers would be at a disadvantage.
"It's built for water more than land!"
Its overall shape was quadripedal, resembling a crocodile with its length and leanness. It dove underwater like a serpent, hooking one of Mammoth's legs, and pulling it out from under it with surprising force.
"Watch out for the tail!"
Mammoth was a hulking jaeger, built for strength not for agility. Recon was at Mammoth's side in moments, reaching beneath the waves to grab at Eloah, attempting to pull it out of its watery comfort zone. But once they had managed to pull it out, it thrashed wildly like a fish out of water, its long tail whipping about it and knocking into Recon's headpiece.
"For fuck's—" They drop him, and it splashes back into the ocean, out of sight. But it's given Mammoth enough time to recover and regain its footing.
"It's slippery." Levi grumbled as if he had been forced to hold the disgusting specimen with his bare hands.
"The back end of that thing is trouble." Bertoldt's voice crackled through the mic. "No, Reiner, don't make an ass joke."
"It's like you can read my mind!"
"Boys, focus!" Humor was one way to keep sane in the chaos of the apocalypse, but even Hanji had lost patience for it in the past year.
The sensors were tracking Eloah as it circled around them in the water, waiting for a chance to strike. It was fast, faster than Recon, and it would be hard to pin down without a plan.
"We need a diversion." Levi called into the coms.
"We'll do it. It comes at us because it knows we're slow." Reiner answered.
Levi sensed Hanji's immediate hesitation to this idea in the drift, but he pushed it down.
They are not the Vasquez siblings.
What if we miss again?
We should be the bait.
Mammoth is too slow to follow-through once we're down.
"Recon, do you copy?"
Hanji gritted her teeth, pushing back tears as she replied, her voice quavering.
"Roger, Mammoth, commence!"
Taking the call, Mammoth engages Eloah, diving for it under the water and trying to grab its slippery body. Recon begins to charge up the cannon as Reiner and Bert wrestle with the beast, its long tail wrapped around one arm, squeezing tight and immobilizing them. Recon raises the cannon, but it's impossible to get a clear shot. The kaiju has practically wrapped itself around Mammoth's entire upper torso, and it wasn't gearing to let go.
"Recon, take the shot!" Reiner's voice squawked in their ears.
"It's crushing the pistons in our right arm! Recon!" Bert's panicked voice.
But Recon won't fire. She can't fire. In the Drift, Levi is holding her hand, trying to help steel her resolve, but she won't do it. Not without a clear shot.
It needs both of us to shoot, Hanji. We need to take the shot.
It's not clean, we'll miss!
Aim high, then we'll miss their conn pod.
If it's not a killing blow, then we'll have irreparably damaged Mammoth for nothing!
"Recon, be advised, you're getting out of sync!" LOCCENT called into their ears.
"Take the shot!"
"I can't!" Hanji screams and Levi relinquishes the fight.
He follows her train of thought instead, not risking any loss of drift syncing and resolving to follow her course of action. She wasn't chasing the RABIT, but flashes of Azul were strong in her mind. They drop the cannon and charge forward, grasping at Eloah, punching it in the jaw to distract it. Its grip loosens on Mammoth and Recon does their best to pry it off of the other jaeger.
After a few more strong punches to its gut, the kaiju relinquishes its grip on Mammoth, diving into the ocean with a roar and slipping away again.
"Half of the pistons are gone, right arm is essentially at 50% capacity."
"Why didn't you take the shot?"
"Not the time for that, I'm afraid."
Eloah had slithered away, Recon couldn't pick it up on their sensors. They were about to call it in to mission control, when their intercoms buzzed.
"Recon, Mammoth! What's the hold up?! It's headed straight for the shore!"
They broke into a run, as fast as the weight of their jaegers would allow. It didn't take long for Recon to overtake Mammoth, as it was a much lighter, faster jaeger, and half a mile from the coastline, it grabs hold of the blasted creature's tail, pulling as hard as Hanji and Levi can muster.
It roared and thrashed in their grip. Mammoth could hear its cries from even their distance, and they called in for evacuation of the citizens in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas while they fought to catch up.
Together, Hanji and Levi dug their heels into the ground, pulling with all their strength and eventually hurling Eloah out of the water into the air. They threw it behind them, away from the shoreline, and it surfaced almost immediately to whip its tail at them. It caught Recon in the gut, knocking them down into the water on their back. Before they could get up, it was on them, clawing and biting at their systems under the water.
Mammoth came charging through the water, true to its namesake, tackling into the beast and knocking it away.
"Recon! Get up!"
Panting and gasping, Levi and Hanji struggled to pull their jaeger to a standing position once again. The hull of the jaeger had been breached in several places, and water had leaked in to some of their systems. Red lights were flashing all about the conn pod, along with several Alert messages. Because in case it wasn't obvious from the hissing steam and sparks flying everywhere about them, the robotic female voice just had to make sure they were perfectly aware of their situation.
"Alive!" Hanji practically snarled, her lip was bleeding from having accidentally bitten it in the earlier fall. Levi was panting heavily as well, audibly growling, which was a rare occurrence for him.
A short distance away, Eloah emerged from the water, mimicking Hanji's snarl.
Without hesitation this time, Recon lunged, grabbing at its jaw. It hissed and screeched, clawing at Recon's head, arms, anything it could get its claws on.
Mammoth watched on, its resolve wavering between its two pilots.
We'll take the shot, they've got it distracted.
But we haven't told them!
They're soldiers, Bertholdt! They know what to expect out here! Now ready the rockets with me!
Eloah wrapped its strong tail around Recon's midsection, squeezing like a python as it bit and tore its shoulder asunder. As the spinal hull was bent and breached, Hanji and Levi both screamed in agony. They could feel the jaeger's systems breaking, increased surges of electricity coursing through their Pons sets. They could feel a sharp nagging pain in the bases of their own spines, their bodies spazzing uncontrollably in their restraints. Dimly, they could hear Reiner and Bertholdt in their heads that they were going to take the shot, they would take it down, to brace themselves.
The impact knocked them back, the kaiju ripping at the metal it held between its claws in response to the damage. Sparks flew as the conn pod was breached. Gusting winds and water flooded in. But even combined with the sparks and hisses of steam from within the conn pod, there was enough visibility for them to see Eloah truly face to face. Amber eyes stared into glowing blue orbs the size of a small home.
The connection, whatever it could be called, lasted only a moment before the shockwaves of a few more explosions shook them. Eloah shrieked, its head whipping upwards to the sky, and with its dying breath, it struck at them a final time, its claws making a last attempt at them inside the jaeger.
He couldn't dodge even if he had been able to focus his reflexes, which were more than mildly disabled from the electrocution their brains had just suffered. But one long claw just barely managed to nick at his restraints above, ripping him out of the controls and knocking him across the cockpit.
It all happened in quick succession in Hanji's mind. The panic he had felt right as he saw the sparks fly above him, the pain of being knocked out of the controls… and just as she could manage to process worry in her mind, she was hit with a horrible electrical surge from her Pons.
Her hands flew to her head, and with the motion, Recon tried to follow suit, but that only worsened the throbbing sensations in her skull. The jaeger was hers alone to control, and it was damaged.
"Recon? Recon, report!"
"Hanji, are you all right?!"
With a tremendous effort, she unlocked her helmet and removed it, disabling the Pons and her connection to Recon. Without its pilots, Recon fell limp and began to topple down with the dead kaiju still wrapped around its midsection.
"Recon's lost power!"
"Are they alive?!"
Ignoring all proper safety protocol, she disengaged, stumbling across the cockpit of the conn pod to where Levi is lying, all too still. She unhooked his helmet, trying to blink away tears of worry.
Oh god, please no. Please, please be all right.
She gripped his chest piece tight and pulled him up to a sitting position, lurching his expression back to consciousness.
"Ahh!" He hissed and brought his arms up to clutch at her shoulders. "Hanji, Hanji!"
"Levi! Oh, thank god!"
Were it not for their cumbersome pilot suits, she might have crushed him with the force of her embrace, but she couldn't enjoy it for long as he was still hissing and struggling with her, his expression twisted and contorted.
Metal is groaning all around them, the winds rushing in, and they can feel the floor moving away from its intended horizontal position.
"She's falling!" She cries in a panicked voice.
The conn pod was breached to the outside forces. As soon as the conn pod hit the water, they'd be flooded. She didn't know the extent of Levi's injuries, and she wouldn't be able to pull him back over to their pilot restraints to get him into an escape pod in time. Frantically, her mind ran through her available options. If she kept tight hold of him, she could swim them both out.
They began to slide across the floor as Leviathan fell slowly, and she braced herself for the impact. They would hit the opposite wall of the conn pod first, and she had to make sure Levi was cushioned.
But there was a heavy jerking motion that shook the entire jaeger, and they didn't slide into the opposite wall so much as fly straight into it. She couldn't brace or position themselves properly, so they went flying, backs crashing against the wall, knocking the wind out of them and sending stars wheeling overhead. Mammoth had caught them as they were falling, which had caused the lurching motion. Had they been in their pilot restraints, they might have been fine. As it were… Hanji was pretty sure she had sprained an arm, if it wasn't broken.
She could feel Recon being hauled along, every one of Mammoth's steps sending reverberations through them. Beside her, Levi was giving small gasps and groans.
"Levi? Levi, it's all right. We're alive."
His only response was a stifled groan.
She crawled over closer to him, clutching her injured arm close to her body. Levi was lying, mostly immobile. There was a small trail of blood down his face from where he had bitten his lip—from where he was still gnawing—
With a small whimper, his voice crackled,
"What is it? Where are you hurt?"
She laid her good hand on his chest, looking hard into his tear-stained eyes. Immediately, he clutched at her fingers, gripping her so tight it hurt, but she said nothing.
"I can't—Hanji… I can't—I can't feel my legs. My legs."
A/N: Okay, so I didn't kill them. But I may have irreparably damaged one instead.