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Primeval/Pacific Rim fusion: Ten Steps to the End of the World (1/2)

June 3rd, 2014 (09:39 pm)
artistic

feeling: artistic

Title: Ten Steps to the End of the World

Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval. Or Pacific Rim. Or basically much of anything that’s valuable.

A/N: For kristen_mara, on her birthday. Another fix-it for Stephen and Nick, of course :) With thanks to lena7142 for the beta’ing help.

Summary: K-Day changed everything. For Stephen Hart, more than most.



A/N 2: This fic is a fusion between Primeval and the movie Pacific Rim. Seeing Pacific Rim is probably pretty helpful, but the basic gist of the movie is that the world is attacked by giant monsters called kaiju that come out of a breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. In order to stop the kaiju, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) is formed to create giant robots called Jaegers. These Jaegers are massive and are designed to respond to the pilots’ mind and motions. Because of the intensity of this neural load, there have to be two pilots who share the same mental space. This is called drifting. In order to do this successfully, the two pilots must be drift compatible.

A/N 3: The Primeval world has been shifted to fit into the Pacific Rim universe, with the notion that the relationships are very much the same but the context is different. Instead of dinosaurs, Nick and Stephen (and Helen) work with deep water robotics, which dovetails into the Pacific Rim universe. This story has rough spoilers for S1 of Primeval, although all with an AU twist. Although this is set in the Pacific Rim universe, it is entirely about Primeval characters.

Other key terms
K-Day: The day the kaiju made landfall.
Shatterdome: Large facilities where Jaegers are kept. These are created at key points along the Pacific and all Jaeger attacks are launched from Shatterdomes.
The Breach: The opening in the Pacific where the Kaiju come through (presumably from another world and/or dimension)
Con pod: the cockpit of the Jaeger, where the human pilots work together to operate the rest of the machine.
Chasing the RABIT (random access brain impulse triggers): In the drift, memories are more accessible and fluid, and it can be easy to start following them and essentially lose control of the drift (and consequently the Jaeger).

Ten Steps to the End of the World

1. K-Day.

Stephen was supposed to be working on his thesis. He was just a term shy of finishing it, and there was still so much to do. Helen had him on a strict regimen, and he spent every waking hour in the lab -- gladly, most of the time -- but, today, he couldn’t take his eyes off the telly.

He wasn’t prone to enjoying programs. He didn’t like comedies and didn’t have much time for dramas. Reality TV seemed like an unfortunate phenomenon, and really, he didn’t have the time. When he wasn’t researching, he was studying. When he wasn’t studying, he was minding Helen’s grades. When he wasn’t minding Helen’s grades...

Well, he had to sleep sometime.

But it wasn’t a comedy or a drama. The footage was on every channel. Live feeds, replayed footage -- all from San Francisco.

“Can you imagine,” he breathed, shaking his head as it replayed again. There were better images after news choppers got in the air, but that first picture, grainy and moving from on the Golden Gate Bridge before it fell. “Giant monsters. From under the water, they say?”

Helen hummed, barely looking up. She’d watched the first feed and then got back to work, hardly more than a curious shrug. “You do know that we still have plenty of work to do,” she said, jotting a few notes down on her paper.

Work. Stephen had spent the last four years working. He’d missed out on everything else in the world, but this-- “But did you see them?” he asked, pointing as the footage showed the thing ripping apart a skyscraper. “I’m no evolutionary biologist, but the closest Earth relative I can think of is a dinosaur.”

Helen rolled her eyes. “We have better things to do than speculate about extinct species.”

“Do you really not care?” he asked, glancing back at her.

She looked at him over a power cell she was tweaking. “Oh, I’m interested,” she said. “But not for the reasons you are.”

“The human toll,” he said, looking at the TV again. “And they haven’t stopped it--”

“You’re too soft, Stephen,” she admonished. “Think about the possibilities.”

“Possibilities?”

She moved around to him, wiping off the grease on her lab coat. “Of course,” she said. “You said it yourself: ocean floor. If these things did come through a crack in the ocean floor, then your thesis may actually have practical applications. Deep water robotics--”

Stephen glared at her. They were in the lab, and Stephen had a full load of work to do, but given what was happening, he hadn’t found himself capable of actually doing much. “How can you say that?” he asked. “People are dying--

“Yes,” Helen said, perfectly serious. For Stephen’s reticence, she had been the picture of productivity. “And we could have an ability to help them. To stop it from happening again.”

Stephen’s eyes widened. “Who said anything about it happening again?”

She gave him that look of hers, pitying and amused. He’d come to know it well over the last few years. It was the first look she’d ever given him, when he’d come up to ask for extra help after one of her lectures. She’d almost turned him away after that, but then she’d looked him over again and reconsidered.

Years had passed since then, but somehow he was still here. Not that he’d be anywhere else, but he’d thought she’d get exasperated with him eventually. He’d never been gifted in robotics, and though he studied hard, she always told him his work was elementary. Still, she was a good teacher, when she put her mind to it.

She was hardly a sympathetic one, though. “You think it was an accident?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. “That somehow a giant beast just happened to wander through a hole in the ocean and meander through a city? I mean, we’ve charted the ocean floor; we’ve never found any kind of opening before. Someone -- or some thing -- ripped a hole into our world and sent that thing through.”

It was utterly logical, but still almost impossible to understand. Stephen looked helplessly back at the scene where footage of the destruction was cycling on an endless repeat. He kept expecting it to hurt him less, but he couldn’t bring himself to be numb to the reality of it. “But...why?”

Helen smirked. “Oh, Stephen,” she said, sitting in the chair next to him and running a hand gently through his hair. “You always were far too earnest to be one of my students. I thought I could break you of that by now.”

He frowned but didn’t pull away. He’d spent the better part of four years with Helen; they were close -- very close. He’d worked with her every day; he’d been her assistant and helped her with everything from her classes to her research. He’d learned everything about her.

For him, it had been about being a good student. He’d needed to get a good grade, to earn his undergraduate degree, to get into his graduate program. He had a thesis to complete, and she was his only means of doing so. It was her research he was riding on the coattails of. It was her that made him anything worthwhile at all.

For her…

Sometimes Stephen wasn’t sure anymore. At first, he’d just counted himself as lucky, but he’d come to acknowledge that Helen liked having him around. Maybe she liked how hard he worked; maybe she liked how malleable he was to her needs. When she needed someone to grade her papers, he never objected. He followed her lead impeccably.

But it was more than that. She liked him. He knew she was restless -- with her husband away so often, he reckoned she was lonely, too. She was strong willed and passionate. She liked to take what she wanted, and she didn’t like to settle. Not in her professional life, and he was beginning to suspect not in her personal life either.

Not that Stephen had ever seriously let her entertain the notion of more. Sure, she’d hinted at such things, insisting that her marriage was over. Since her so-called husband hadn’t been home enough for Stephen to even meet him, it seemed valid enough.

But still. Stephen had come to learn. Helen was the best teacher, nothing more. He respected her too much to give in.

He respected her.

That was all.

He wet his lips, shaking his head again. “But there’d have to be a reason,” he posited. “You don’t just rip a hole through the universe and send in a giant beast to see what happens.”

“No,” Helen agreed. “Whoever did this wanted to cause destruction. And they’ll do it again and again...until there’s nothing left.”

Stephen paled. “We don’t know that--”

“I think we do,” she said. “Sure, no one wants to admit it, but come on. Isn’t that what you’d do?”

Stephen glowered. “I wouldn’t be trying to destroy another planet.”

“We have no idea where they come from or why they need to destroy another planet,” she said. “Just imagine a world out of resources. Maybe they lived here before us, millennia ago. Some cultures are bred for war, or maybe our intellectual advances are so far below theirs that it doesn’t even constitute murder. Maybe this is like crushing ants. Insignificant collateral damage.”

Stephen’s stomach churned. Helen had a way of explaining things that always made absolute sense. Most of the time it mesmerized him.

Now, it terrified him.

She clucked her tongue, brushing her fingers along his cheek. “That bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“You’re talking about the fate of mankind and likening it to crushing an ant hill,” Stephen told her bitterly.

“It’s a universe where only the strong survive,” she said, matter of fact.

“And that makes it okay?” he asked, incredulous.

“Of course not,” she said. “But that makes it what it is. I’ve told you before, Stephen. You’re too cautious. You’re too limited in what you see as possible. Advancements aren’t made by those padding gently. You have to break rules and take chances. You can’t be an idle tourist in your own life.”

Stephen’s chest was tight. “But there are rules for a reason--”

“Did rules help those people?” she asked, nodding to the screen. “Did rules help anyone?”

Stephen swallowed, feeling guilty.

“No,” she supplied for him, inching closer. “Rules are limitations. Limitations are risks. If ever there was a time to grab the future, to hold on tight and make it ours, it’s now. We have the research. It is our duty to use it.”

“I suppose there’s something behind that,” Stephen admitted quietly.

Helen grinned, eyes brightening. “That’s my boy,” she said. “If ever there’s a time to live, it’s now. At the end of the world as we know it, what more is there to lose?”

She was running a hand down his chest, rubbing it between his thighs.

He bit down, grinding his teeth, shaking his head. “Helen--”

“Come on,” she said, coming closer and pressing a hot kiss to his cheek. “What did we just say?”

“That’s work,” he said, putting his hands on top of hers, trying to stop her advances.

She used her other hand, flattening it across his chest. “You want this.”

He couldn’t deny it -- he knew it and she knew it. “But you’re married,” he said, closing his eyes as she bypassed his hands and inched her fingers deeper.

“Rules and fine print,” she muttered. “When the world is ending--”

Her lips met his, almost crushing him. She shifted to his lap, slipping her fingers under his shirt and forcing his lips open until her tongue ran against his teeth.

He stiffened, but there was nowhere to go. He shook his head, but she wouldn’t listen to his objections. When she came up for air, he looked at her, nothing short of desperate. “Helen, please--”

Because she’d always backed down before. She’d always listened and been rational. A few sane words, and she’d reeled herself back. Helen liked to play, was all. There was a fine line between flirting and friendship.

It occurred to him now that he never really had been her friend. He’d been her student. He’d liked her extra attention and coy glances. He’d flourished under her touch and relished all her smiles. But that wasn’t how a teacher treated a student.

He should have run at the first advance.

But it was a bit late for that now.

He’d been so stupid. He’d been so blind. He’d been short sighted and naive and so in love with it that he’d let things go on and now here they were. Hidden monsters at the bottom of the sea -- they couldn’t stay hidden forever.

And to think he’d thought himself safe. That he’d reasoned himself to be stronger than this.

Her eyes gleamed, her confidence gaining exponentially. “We can save the world, Stephen,” she said. “But we can’t be afraid. We can’t hold back. Not anymore. Never again.”

He closed his eyes as her fingers undid his belt buckle.

“I know you want this,” she breathed into him. “You want this as much as I do.”

And she was right. Of course she was right. This was Helen Cutter. She was always right. He’d wanted this from the moment he met her, from the moment he heard her speak. He’d wanted this because he loved her, he’d always loved her and always would. She captivated him; she enthralled him. Her energy and her life -- it was all he’d ever wanted. He’d never cared about deep sea robotics, but he’d follow her anywhere.

Saying no to her was the hardest thing he’d ever done.

Saying yes…

Her mouth enveloped his, and he didn’t have to say anything at all. He resisted but only slightly as she dragged him to his feet and pushed him back on the work table. He hit hard, but there was no time to adjust himself as she climbed up after him, pressing his hands over his head as she removed his shirt. She mounted the table, straddling his hips.

Stephen moaned, his head lolling to the side as he caught a glimpse of the images of death and destruction on the screen.

The end of the world, he thought. Nothing left to lose.

K-Day changed everything.

For Stephen Hart, more than most.


2. A Crazy Idea.

Nick didn’t have time for this.

To be fair, he didn’t have time for a lot of things. He’d never understood why the University thought it so important for him to teach when there was so much to learn in the world of robotics. And not just any robotics -- deep sea pursuits. Given that there were giant monsters coming up from the bottom of the ocean, he would have thought people would see the practical applications. For discovery and observation. For clean up and possibly even defense.

Not to mention that he had some of the leading research in the area. People fawned all over Caitlin Lightcap, but her Jaegers were so damn limited. The things he’d been working on -- the ideas he’d been honing with Stephen -- those were the ideas that could actually win the war.

It didn’t just stop with the war, either. There were long term realities to face, and the ocean floor was the new frontier. The things they could learn and discover. New sciences; gateways to other worlds. The possibilities were endless.

And they wanted him to teach.

He glared at the student, standing anxious in the lab.

“I’m sorry,” Nick said. “Are you really one of my students?”

The lad -- short with wild dark hair and eccentric fashion accessories -- blinked earnestly. “Um, yeah,” he said. “You don’t show up to lecture often--”

Nick turned his gaze to Stephen, who merely shrugged a bit. Stephen was remarkably easy-going, which was why he got on so well with Cutter. But there were moments when Nick wished he could elicit more of a hardened opinion out of the man.

All the same, this wasn’t Stephen’s fault. Stephen was the only one who had stuck with him over the last four years. When everyone else was fed up with his hard lined antics; when all the rest thought he was crazy for pursuing Helen’s research; when no one else believed that there were other things to find on the ocean floor and other ways to reach it -- Stephen had stayed.

Annoyed, Nick glanced back toward the lad with a scowl. “You do realize that it might be the end of the world.”

The boy laughed, a little stupid, a little giddy. “Not likely,” he said. “I mean, sure, in theory, but with the way the Jaeger program is going--”

“And you think that’s sustainable?” Nick asked harshly. He looked at Stephen again. “Are you sure about him?”

Stephen regarded the young student coolly. “You wrote your last paper on deep water agility,” he said. “You talked about the force of the water and the need to produce weapons and accessories that can be effective at that depth. Something about nuclear blasts under the water.”

The student brightened. “That’s right!” he said. “Connor. Connor Temple.”

Cutter made a face. “Oh, so that was you?”

“You read it?” Connor asked hopefully.

“I laughed at it,” Nick said. “Total rubbish. You’re just like the public. Everyone is so impressed with the Jaegers that they haven’t fully realized their limitations--”

“But that’s why they’re getting better!” Connor insisted. “I mean, the latest models, the Mark 3’s, have a better nuclear core than any of the rest. They’ll be safer, more capable--”

Nick rolled his eyes. “I suppose it’s some consolation that you’re not a kaiju groupie,” he said. Most people who bothered to look him up just wanted a way to see the Breach, the chance to see the kaiju. Some idiots asked if he could take them through to the other side. “But a Jaeger groupie is not much better.”

Stephen smirked a bit, exchanging a glance with Cutter. This was a tried and true argument for them. Kaiju groupies were easy to dismiss as a fringe element. Jaeger groupies were more difficult to deal with since they were trying to fanboy the “right” side of things. But all they saw were giant machines, they rarely grasped the science involved. Jaegers were spectacular for the drift capabilities of the pilots -- that was where Lightcap had succeeded -- but Nick knew her Jaegers were short-lived dreams. They were designed to fight above the waves, and by the time a kaiju got there, Nick reckoned the battle was already half-lost.

No, they had to go to the source. But no one wanted a Jaeger battle under the water. You couldn’t take your damn pictures and earn your free publicity.

So, Nick was impressed with Jaegers.

And he was damn disappointed that no one was seriously pursuing what they could really do. With Lightcap’s drift technology and Cutter’s research about deep sea robotics, they could actually learn something that helped them win.

Connor’s mouth dropped open. “But this is what you do!” he said. “Surely you’re impressed--”

“I’m impressed with how much left there is to do,” Nick said. “I’m impressed by the way we can spend so much money and still haven’t developed a game plan that actually addresses the most pressing issues from the kaiju incursions. Nuclear is going to kill us all, and the entire project is defensive. We need an offensive strategy that doesn’t involve weapons and lasers.”

“I know!” Connor said, pulling a newspaper out of his pack. “And that’s why I’m here! Why I thought you’d want to see this!”

Nick looked skeptically from the lad to Stephen, who merely shrugged. After spending the last four years together, Stephen Hart had become his right hand man. Though his technical title was lab assistant, he filled whatever role Cutter needed. He did work with him; he prepped his classes and did his grades. He maintained his schedule and organized his research. Stephen was essential to his work.

His best mate, really. Nick didn’t have a lot of friends -- not anymore -- and in the four years since Helen had gone missing, Stephen had been the only one to stick with him through all the ups and downs. In a world that was falling apart, Stephen was a constant that Nick had come to count on.

Stephen could offer no reasonable objections, so Nick took the newspaper from the lad. It was turned over to an inside page and folded down to display one headline more clearly than the rest.

Unusual Sonar Scans Suggest Debris in the Trench of Dean

Nick’s heart skipped a beat. His head went light.

He held the paper out to Stephen. When he looked at it, the humor drained from his face.

They both looked at Connor.

“See,” Connor said eagerly, clearly pleased with their reaction. “I’m betting that debris is kaiju related, because if they can open one portal, they can probably open more. And we’ve got so many of our resources pinned down in the Pacific, the Atlantic is wide open. In a way, the attacks could be a deflection from the real warfare, which is happening right under our noses.”

Stephen sighed.

Cutter glared again. “Those attacks are killing thousands of people,” he reminded Connor. “The war the world is fighting there is legitimate.”

Connor fumbled, reeling back his excitement. “I know, but--” he started, flustered. He nodded to the paper. “The theory--”

“Is nothing but a conspiracy,” Nick concluded for him, giving him another stern once over. “Giant monsters don’t mean we should abandon all sense of ourselves.”

Connor looked vexed, his brows knitting together. “Does that mean we’re not going to send a robot down to the Trench of Dean?”

The Trench of Dean.

There were countless square miles beneath the waves, some far more impressive than the Trench of Dean. It was relatively small, located in international waters off the coast of England. There was nothing special about it, and never had been, except for one salient point.

Helen Cutter had disappeared on a journey to map the Trench of Dean. She’d taken her robotics equipment and a boat out in stormy waters and just never come back. She’d been deemed lost at sea, but no one had detected any trace of her or her equipment. Cutter had gone back to the site, searched it himself countless times, looking for some sort of clue as to what happened with his wife.

Stephen had been with him every single time.

They never found anything.

But new sonar data.

A new lead.

A new hope.

Cutter looked at Stephen.

Stephen sighed. “I’ll get our things ready.”

Connor’s eyes brightened. “Does that mean--”

“Yes,” Nick said with a huff. “We’re going to go to the Trench of Dean.”


3. Unexpected Complications.

They didn’t find Helen at the bottom of the Trench of Dean.

It also wasn’t a second breach, much to Connor’s disappointment.

What they did find, though, was just as noteworthy. Kaiju parts -- and lots of them. In varying stages of decay. Some were still vibrant with kaiju blue; others showed years of deterioration, lying infected in the seafloor around them. It wasn’t quite a graveyard -- the bits were too random and disconnected -- it looked more like a garbage heap.

A kaiju landfill.

And that wasn’t the only thing. They found the area at the surface to be increasingly crossed with traffic from a nearby archipelago. A tourist destination, no doubt, and some of the local fishermen reported strange sightings under the surface. When an oversized shark attacked a fishing boat, Stephen barely managed to harpoon it to save all their lives. The corpse had sunk back down to the trench, and now it was a question of what to do next.

Cutter wanted to go back to his lab. Stephen wanted to send down a manned craft. Connor wanted to go public.

And the young zoologist who had helped them navigate the area wanted to talk about lizards.

“It’s not that we’re not grateful,” Nick said, nodding at her strange winged lizard. “But we don’t have time for this--”

“You do,” Abby Maitland insisted.

“We could be looking at a major geological and environmental discovery,” Nick argued.

“And this little guy is part of it,” Abby Maitland explained on the dock where Cutter’s boat was moored. The small lizard danced nervously on her forearm. “I know he’s not as dangerous as an overgrown shark with glowing teeth, but look at him. One of the local boys found him, thinking he’d make a good pet, but there’s nothing in our natural environment that would do this. He and the shark, they’re probably suffering from the same thing.”

“Because he’s an alien!” Connor exclaimed, clapping his hands together.

Abby rolled her eyes. “No, he has the distinct DNA of all the lizards around here,” she said. “But the patterns have been...enhanced.”

“The Kaiju Blue,” Nick said. He frowned, glancing at Stephen, trying to remember everything he could about the Kaiju Blue. Since it was residue from an alien species, there was no question that it would have some effect on the environment, but the remains had been nothing short of toxic in other parts of the world. “Did we recover any other organisms?”

“Minimal,” Stephen reported. “We’d be better off if we could use the manned craft--”

“Those prototypes aren’t tested yet,” Nick said.

“But that’s the only way we’re going to get the samples we need to find out what’s really going on,” Stephen argued.

“But what is going on?” Abby asked.

“Maybe the kaiju are mating?” Connor asked.

Stephen made a face.

Nick just shook his head. “We’ve already looked at how Kaiju Blue impacts the environment, and it’s toxic but we’ve never had evidence of organic mutation.”

“But all areas with Kaiju Blue have been isolated,” Abby pointed out. “We don’t have any long term looks at the impact of low amounts of radiation.”

“And that doesn’t explain how these parts got down there in the first place,” Stephen said.

“A government dumping ground?” Connor said.

Stephen groaned.

“Well, you ruled out a second breach!” Connor objected.

Nick frowned, considering the options. “It can’t be the natural drift of currents,” he muttered, partly to himself.

“At least, not with particles as new as we found them,” Stephen said. “Is there something in the inherent properties of this area? Something that attracts them?”

“Maybe,” Nick said, thoughtfully. “But it’s almost like they didn’t travel through the water.”

“But it’s not a breach,” Stephen said.

“But what if it’s a sieve?” Nick asked, eyes lighting up.

“A partial gateway,” Stephen mused.

“It might be on a point contiguous with the breach,” Connor realized.

Nick’s eyes widened. “If they’re piercing the Earth’s crust on one side, it could be like tapping on a sphere in one spot.”

“The top doesn’t splinter,” Stephen continued.

“It breaks all the way through,” Nick said. “I mean, we’d have to look at the fault lines from the center of the Earth to even try to prove--”

“But it could be a residual seepage,” Stephen said.

Connor grinned. “So it is a breach!”

“But is that even possible?” Abby asked.

There was the sound of someone clearing a throat. Nick looked up, around Stephen and Connor at a woman. She was dressed in a warm coat, her windswept hair tied back in a ponytail. “Um, excuse me,” she said. “I can’t help but overhear--”

Nick shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he said quickly. “We should be off--”

She took a few steps forward, eyes on Nick. “With respect, Professor Cutter.”

Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Do I know you?”

“Not yet,” she said, smiling. “But you should.”

Stephen shifted defensively against her. Nick stood his ground. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said. She held out her hand. “My name is Claudia Brown and I work for the Home Office.”

Nick took it, shaking it uncertainly.

Then, she shrugged. “At least, that’s what it says on my business card,” Claudia said, eyes twinkling. “Really my place is with James Lester, head of the London Branch of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps.”

“We have a PPDC branch?” Nick asked, incredulously. He hadn’t wanted to follow the war too closely -- and he’d never admit to it -- but given his line of work, given the progress of the Jaeger program, he’d really had no choice. Robotics was his thing; with giant robots saving the world, avoidance of the topic would be utterly impractical.

Besides, how else could he know what Lightcap and her team were doing wrong unless he had the information to prove himself right? Though Jaeger programs were expanding rapidly, spreading through all stretches of the Pacific, there had never been any talk of expending resources in non-threatened locations. England, of course, had joined the PPDC in an advisory capacity, gaining a vote on most matters thanks to their generous donations to Jaeger development and kaiju research.

He didn’t doubt that there were a few offices for PPDC personnel based in the UK.

But a branch?

Either Claudia Brown was using exaggerated language to prove a point or…

Or she was telling the truth.

One look at Claudia Brown, and Nick was pretty sure he knew which answer was right.

“With an active amorphous breach leaking into our waters?” Claudia asked, eyes sparkling keenly as she didn’t miss a beat. “We do now.”

Connor was gaping. Abby looked confused. Stephen looked like he wanted to run.

Nick took a cautious step forward. He didn’t know why, but he believed her. More than that, he trusted her. He didn’t trust many people -- outside of Stephen, he wasn’t sure he could actually name one -- but Claudia… “And you know me because?” he asked.

“Because,” Claudia said, barely able to contain her knowing smile. “I’m here to offer you a job.”


4. New Challenges.

It wasn’t a Shatterdome.

No, not even close. Not with its winding corridors and the makeshift laboratories. Half the place was still under construction, with unfinished sweeping staircases and a killer view. The building was in the heart of London, and though the ample grounds suggested that it had once been a vibrant office park, it was clearly transforming into something different, its property stretching all the way to the deepest part of the river.

It wasn’t a Shatterdome, but by all accounts it could be. It had the size; it had the proximity; it had the feeling.

Which was ludicrous, of course. A Shatterdome in London. It didn’t make any sense.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Claudia said with a smirk as she led them inside. “And it’s not as crazy as you think.”

“The fight is in the Pacific,” Cutter said, following her brisk pace.

“For now,” she acknowledged.

“But how can you justify the funds?” he asked. “On the off chance that something happens?”

“We already have breach-related activity in the Atlantic,” Claudia reminded him. “It may not be what the kaiju are using to come into our territory, but it is a real side effect of the battle they are waging.”

Stephen huffed, just a step behind them. “So why does no one know about this place?”

She glanced back, smiling smoothly. “The PPDC believes that fighting a war on one front is more than enough for the public to handle. The thought of other repercussions is unnecessary until we understand what we’re dealing with and why.”

“So, wait,” Connor chimed in. “Is this place top secret?”

“Yes, it is,” Claudia said, turning them down another corridor.

“You shouldn’t be hiding this,” Abby interjected. “What’s happening to the environment -- the animals and the people -- it’s just going to get worse.”

“Well, that’s what we’re hoping you can help us work out,” Claudia said.

Nick shook his head, stopping as Claudia opened a door. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not an environmentalist. My expertise is in robotics.”

Claudia beamed at him, holding the door open. “We know exactly what your expertise is,” she said, waiting for him to go inside. Nick took a tentative step in, staying near the back while Stephen and the others filed in cautiously behind him.

It was a large office, simply adorned with expensive touches. The man behind the desk looked up from his paperwork, looking positively put out. “I don’t remember asking for company.”

Claudia shut the door, moving around in front of them. “No, but you did ask for Nick Cutter.”

The man looked up again, face wrinkled with disgust. “So you brought me four smelly tourists?”

“No, I brought you Nick Cutter and his team,” Claudia said. She gestured to the man. “This is Sir James Lester, our Marshal, for lack of a better word.”

“Wait,” Nick interrupted. “We’re not a team. Stephen is my lab assistant--”

“I’m his student,” Connor added helpfully. “They wouldn’t be here if not for me.”

“And I live on the island near the activity,” Abby said. “I’ve been studying its effect on local populations, but no one has listened to me.”

“We happened to fall together on this,” Nick continued. “That’s all.”

“That’s all,” Lester muttered, finally putting his pen down and sitting back in his chair. “You sent an unmanned robot to the bottom of the Trench of Dean, killed what has been described as a shark on steroids and saved a tourist boat while rescuing some mutated lizard creature. Is that right?”

Nick blinked. Next to him, Stephen shifted from foot to foot. “Well,” Cutter admitted begrudgingly. “More or less.”

“More,” the man continued. “You collected a wealth of data and some artifacts, none of which belong to you, and you were going to do what exactly with them?”

“Study them,” Nick answered. “Devise new attempts to go down and see what we’re dealing with.”

“Let me ask you,” Lester said, tapping his fingers on his desk restlessly. “If we haven’t told anyone that we have opened a branch of the PPDC here, in the UK, do you really think it’s an accident that this phenomenon at the bottom of the trench hasn’t been made known yet?”

“I knew it!” Connor said. “It is a cover up!”

“But you can’t keep this a secret!” Abby objected.

Stephen inched closer to Cutter without a word. And Cutter understood. Abby and Connor were young and easily excited. Stephen had been with Nick longer; Stephen had a sense when the other shoe was about to fall. Stephen knew when someone was missing the point.

“Did you bring us here to threaten us?” Nick asked.

Lester offered him a cool smile and a calculated look. “Well, you are the best in deep water robotics, are you not?”

“I have done a lot of research in the field,” Nick said slowly.

“Which is what we need,” Lester said. “Considering the gravity of the situation, I only want the best working to assess and contain the problem at the bottom of the trench.”

Nick shook his head; Stephen was tense next to him. “I don’t understand,” Nick said. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

Lester shrugged, as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. “I want you to explore the trench, document your findings and come up with a viable means of defense and offense should the need ever arise.”

“But with what?” Nick asked. “Our equipment is cutting edge, but it’s all in its preliminary stages. And the size of equipment you’d need to effectively explore the trench -- you’d need something huge.”

“Like a Jaeger, perhaps?” Claudia suggested.

Nick looked at her.

Then he looked at Lester, shaking his head. “You can’t--”

“Oh, I can’t,” Lester agreed. “But you can.”

Stephen’s mouth fell open. Connor and Abby had gone strangely silent. Nick scoffed. “You mean--”

“Yes,” Lester said. “I would like to hire you -- and your so-called team -- to build Queen and Country a Jaeger.”

5. Drift Compatibility.

In most ways, nothing had changed. Stephen had spent the last four years at Cutter’s side, and one lab was not so different from another. Cutter’s habits were still the same, and Stephen’s maintenance of those quirks was as refined as ever. He had to organize Cutter’s papers and file his reports. He made phone calls and wrote memos, filling out requisitions and always keeping the coffee pot on.

They did tests; they worked on construction; they drew models; they oversaw production. With newfound liberties, Cutter’s brilliance hit its stride. It was all Stephen could do to keep up. It reminded him of Helen, in some ways -- that insatiable exuberance, that scientific glow. It made him think of what they must have been like together, back when they were happy.

Back before Stephen slept with his wife.

That was before, though. Stephen couldn’t change what he’d done, but he could keep working hard to atone for it. Besides, if this had started out as penance, it had grown into a life Stephen cherished. One he didn’t know how to live without.

Because he didn’t mind doing the grunt work. He didn’t mind pulling long hours or doing tedious jobs. He didn’t mind never getting published, or never getting any credit.

For Cutter.

Stephen would do anything for Cutter.

Even work at a top secret government facility, working on a trillion dollar project they couldn’t tell anyone about.

It wasn’t without its advantages, though. There was a certain latitude in their position. Being lauded as experts was one thing; being given the freedom and respect to conduct their work as they saw fit was entirely another. And their work space, though still not complete, was vastly larger than anything they’d had back at the university.

Despite his generally annoying disposition, Connor was an asset to the team. He was loose-lipped and flippant, but his technical genius was worth keeping around for its flashes of brilliance. Besides, of all of them, he was the one who knew the most about the kaiju and the Jaeger program. He practically had the history of the PPDC memorized.

Abby had her own skill set to offer. Though her passions were different, her insights were always helpful. She grounded the mechanics with a living sense of things that Stephen found quite useful. With Cutter, it was all circuits and programs. With Abby, Stephen finally believed they were bringing something to life. There was some chemistry between them, but there was hardly time for that. Not with this timeframe.

Not that he’d been great boyfriend material lately. His university sweetheart had dumped him no more than five months ago for some Shatterdome technician in Alaska. All that had been before they joined the PPDC. Now that they were trying to build a Jaeger…

Well, there was no time for fraternizing.

They had blueprints to make, prototypes to complete. Stephen was still trying to master the science between the drifting capabilities while Cutter refined the process to work with their models. To think, Lester wanted pilots in the cockpit by the end of the year.

Stephen sat back, running a hand through his hair as he double checked his calculations. They didn’t even have a cockpit yet. Cutter had the best insights into how to make robots more functional even at the deepest parts of the ocean, but integrating that advanced technology with the drifting capabilities needed for a Jaeger--

Stephen was fairly certain they’d all gone mad thinking this was even possible. But Connor was so excited about the prospect. Abby had high hopes for the outcome. Claudia was handling the necessary cover ups and public relations issues. Lester was convinced this was the best and only choice.

And Cutter believed they could do it.

Stephen could -- and he would -- say no to the rest of them. But he’d never say no to Cutter.

Even so, the man was killing him with the deadlines. To think, they wanted to start bringing in potential pilots in a few weeks when they hadn’t even finished an appropriate interface for the merged components.

There was a shuffle at the door, and Stephen recognized Nick’s walk before he even looked up to see the other man. Cutter was grinning -- positively beaming from ear to ear -- holding up a paper and waving it at him.

Stephen raised his eyebrows. “Please, tell me those are the updated specifications for the drift technology,” he said. “I’m going to need refined numbers if we’re going to come up with a patch to bridge the data in Helen’s research with the demands of Lightcap’s design.”

“No, better,” Nick said, putting the paper down in front of Stephen proudly.

“Funding for more parts?” Stephen asked hopefully. “Because if we could just get access to--”

He trailed off, brow wrinkling as he looked at the paper. “This is a drift compatibility test.”

Cutter nodded eagerly. “I know.”

Stephen made a face. “But we haven’t even brought in any pilots yet,” he said, looking up. “Who did we test?”

“The did some random selections from the internal staff,” Cutter said. “Looking for natural pairings in terms of personality and work habits.”

“But what about pilots?” Stephen asked. “This seems like a waste of time.”

“A lot of the most successful pilot teams have been brought up through the ranks,” Cutter said. “I mean, even Lightcap ended up inside a Jaeger, and she was the pioneering mind in the drift technology. Anyone can learn to pilot, but not everyone can drift.”

“Still, seems a bit premature,” Stephen said. “Who is it, anyway?”

Cutter pushed the paper back at him. “Us.”

“What?” Stephen asked, wrinkling his nose.

“Us,” Cutter said again, the excitement building in his voice. “You and I, we’re a match. I ran the analysis myself, and we’re entirely drift compatible.”

Cutter’s enthusiasm was more stupefying than the news itself.

Stephen huffed a small laugh of disbelief. “Well, we have been working together for nearly five years straight now,” he said. “With that kind of proximity, it’s not surprising--”

Cutter wasn’t listening, though. He shook his head. “It’s not just a match,” he said. “It’s a high match. Look at the marks. The best damn match of all the test subjects we looked at. Better than some of the successful drift teams currently in the field.”

“But we’re not pilots,” Stephen objected.

Cutter didn’t share Stephen’s hesitations. “Other members from J-science have had success in the cockpit,” he said. “And we’d be able to keep on with some of the lead research while handing off the simpler tasks to Connor and the rest of the team. We’re still over a year away from having a completed Jaeger, anyway, so we’d have time--”

“Cutter,” Stephen interrupted him. “This is madness.”

Cutter blinked at him. “No,” he said. “It’s not. They’ve been having trouble finding candidates without breaching the top secret nature of this posting. A lot of the special forces blokes have the training but none of them share a good enough connection to be viable candidates. Lester wants to tap us for further training.”

“Wait,” Stephen said. “How can we already be talking about training?”

“Because we need pilots, Stephen,” Cutter said. “And with compatibility like this, they’d be crazy not to train us.”

“But we’re scientists,” Stephen reminded him emphatically. “Recruitment could be hard but that’s why we have Claudia and the entire PR division.”

“You’re still missing the point!” Cutter said. “There’s no reason we can’t be scientists and pilots. Piloting a Jaeger is physically demanding, but it doesn’t require the same technical skills of other vocations. And we’ve designed the interfaces and the circuitry. We’d be perfect in the cockpit. And with a connection like this -- the stability of our link would make us better than most other trained pilots.”

Cutter was right.

Of course he was. Cutter was always right. Jaegers pilots didn’t have to be the smartest. They didn’t have to be the fastest or the strongest. They didn’t have to be the best at anything. They just had to be compatible.

The rest could be built from there.

The Rangers were nothing when you looked at any given one of them. But put their minds together in a cockpit, and they were a force capable of defending humanity.

More than that, he and Cutter would know this Jaeger better than anyone else.

They knew each other more than anyone else. Most of the time, they already lived in tandem, able to predict every nuanced decision before the other had time to realize it themselves. They rarely needed to talk; they simply were. It made them good coworkers and better mates.

They’d be perfect in a cockpit, there was no doubt about it. Perfectly synched.

Except for one thing.

Stephen swallowed and looked away.

Cutter leaned closer. “We joined the project to make a difference,” he said. “We wanted to save lives. This -- right here--” He pointed at the paper. “--this is how we can do that.”

Stephen drew a deep breath. “This isn’t what we signed up for, Cutter,” he said. “We’re not talking about science and research. We’re talking about sitting on top of a nuclear reactor.”

Cutter made a face. “The shielding is so much better now--”

“We haven’t even studied the long term impact of the drift,” Stephen countered. “But there are signs of neural degradation over repeated drifting--”

“It’s a minimal indication,” Cutter argued.

“For now,” Stephen said. “There are no longitudinal studies--”

“Because there are giant monsters coming out of the ocean, Stephen!” Cutter exploded. “Even if there are health consequences, someone has to make that sacrifice or the rest of the world is going to be overrun.”

“You always said that the Jaeger program was so limited.”

“And it is,” Cutter said. “But we have a chance to change that. Our Jaeger -- it doesn’t just have to be for fighting. With Lester’s support, we can lead expeditions to the bottom of the Trench. And who knows after that? What we find might help us better understand the breach and then we’d be able to come up with a way to stop this once and for all.”

“It’s a good plan,” Stephen said. “But if something happens to us, who is going to continue it? There’s not exactly a lot of advocates for what you’re talking about.”

Cutter exhaled hotly. “I thought you’d be excited about this,” he said tersely. “You, of all people. You always complain about being stuck inside. A lack of field work, you say. And now I’m giving you a chance to do that, and you’re complaining about that, too.”

“What you’re talking about isn’t practical--”

“We’re building giant robots!” Cutter said. “There’s nothing practical about any of that! So what is the problem?”

What was the problem? It was a fair question, and Stephen knew it. Stephen had never been a particularly gifted scientist. If not for Cutter, he would have given up and turned to something else years ago. This wasn’t about scientific integrity.

At least, not Stephen’s.

He took a slow, even breath. “The problem is that the PPDC doesn’t care about the things we care about,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity to make actual changes, but if we get in the cockpit -- if we become another set of pilots -- then we’re expendable, just like all the rest. Jaeger pilots don’t always come back, Cutter. And even if the PPDC can recruit new pilots, they’ll never be able to find another person like you.”

Cutter stared at him for a long moment before his shoulders slumped. For a moment, he looked truly crestfallen. He looked down at the paper, forlorn. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Stephen said. “You’d be an amazing Ranger, I don’t doubt it. But the program can’t afford to lose your research.”

Stephen didn’t say it, but he thought it. I can’t afford to lose you.

Cutter sighed. “We’d still have to pass the rest of the tests anyway,” he said. “And with the pace we’re trying to set, we probably wouldn’t have time.”

“Well, on that front, I do have good news,” Stephen said. “I think I’ve got the revised specifications.”

Cutter brightened somewhat. “Really?”

“Yeah, just finishing up the fine print now,” he said. “But with this, we should be able to get approval to start building the preliminary circuits in the con pod.”

“Ahead of schedule,” Cutter said. “Lester will be pleased. Though, that reminds me. I do have another meeting with Claudia. She wants an updated blueprint to start getting more funding.”

Stephen smirked, feeling the tension ebb between them. “Somehow I don’t think that’ll be a chore for you.”

Cutter didn’t like most people -- he could barely tolerate Connor and he generally found Abby to be an acceptable presence -- he hadn’t even learned the names of most of the other staff members.

But he liked Claudia. In the five years Stephen had known him, he’d never seen Cutter so willing to attend meetings.

Cutter glared at him. “Just keep working,” he muttered, but his voice didn’t carry any conviction. Most pointedly, he didn’t deny it. “I’ll expect the finalized version by the time I get back.”

Stephen smiled, watching as he left. Still leaned over his workstation, Stephen looked at the drift analysis again.

The thought of being a pilot had occurred to him -- more than once. After K-Day, Helen had disappeared. Stephen’s studies had been in shambles. With his entire thesis in limbo, he’d entertained other options. Without a degree and no other viable skills, the Jaeger program had seemed like a good fit. Stephen wasn’t the brightest student, but he was dedicated, accurate and precise. His skills as a sharpshooter would only bode in his favor, and he’d always thought he didn’t have much to lose.

Cutter had changed that, though. Stephen had been set to leave the program when Nick finally called him in to talk about his thesis. Stephen had gone with the intention of walking away.

He’d never left.

There was something about Nick Cutter. Maybe it was his tie to Helen -- maybe it was because after all of Helen’s stories about a neglectful husband, finding someone so lost in her wake had been disconcerting. Maybe he felt guilty. Maybe he’d just been looking for a purpose, and Cutter gave it to him.

Not to finish his thesis, though. But to right the worst mistake of his life. He couldn’t undo his time with Helen, but he could serve his penance with her husband.

Five years later, Stephen wasn’t sure if that was what this still was. Guilt had turned into loyalty. Depression had become dependency. Home-wrecker turned best friend.

There was no one he cared more about in the world. The idea of drifting with Nick -- was on the one hand, perfection.

On the other…

It wasn’t just the risk, though that did matter to Stephen. He had always thought himself expendable, but a mind like Cutter’s was rare indeed. The world needed Nick Cutter, but not as a Ranger.

Even that, though, Cutter could probably talk him out of. Stephen was nothing if not impressionable.

Unfortunately, he was also guilty. Drifting meant no secrets; drifting was the bonding of two minds on the most intimate level. While not every event was shared in the drift, it was virtually impossible to hide things in the subconscious mind. Most of the time, the secrets pilots wanted to cling to the most were the first ones they shared.

Stephen didn’t just have a secret.

He had a secret that would ruin everything. The second they connected, Cutter would know the truth. Cutter would know why Stephen was still here. Cutter would know what Stephen had done. Cutter would know that Stephen was no friend at all.

Their connection would be ruined, and not just in the drift. In all parts of life.

No, he could never drift with Cutter. This was the best thing for Cutter.

Getting back to work, Stephen knew this was the best thing for both of them.

PART TWO

Comments

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: June 4th, 2014 05:52 am (UTC)


Thanks so much!! My internet connection keeps dropping out, grrr, so I will be back a bit later to squee about part 2!

Poor Stephen - I like how you've set up this other world and the places in it of the characters, and how Helen is just as manipulative in any universe.

Yes, doing a drift with Nick would be a bit tricky...

I grinned at 'The Trench of Dean'. And I'm not surprised that N & S are TOTALLY drift compatible


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I'm still amused you picked this for your birthday, but I am pleased with the result :)

Thanks!

Posted by: reggietate (reggietate)
Posted at: June 4th, 2014 03:20 pm (UTC)
bestmates

I'm enjoying this very much, despite knowing not much at all about the film except what I've seen on Tumblr occasionally. It's working very well so far ;-)

*runs off to part two*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
stephen cutter

I worried a lot about whether or not this would be readable without seeing the movie, so I'm glad it worked.

(Although it's a great movie. Everyone should watch it. Because giant robots!)

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: June 4th, 2014 04:03 pm (UTC)

Not seem the film, but I'm very much enjoying this story. Poor Stephen, this has certainly left him in a tricky position, but he light to know by now that Cutter doesn't usually take no for an answer! I forsee problems ahead!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
stephen's eyes

Problems? For these two? Nah... ;)

Thanks :)

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: June 4th, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC)

Not seen the film, but I'm not sure you have to - this is a great fic. Poor Stephen, drifting would cause problems in his relationship with Nick.

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: June 8th, 2014 11:59 am (UTC)
Primeval - Stephen stare heart

Eek! If they drift together... WAH! What to do. Brilliant set up, really clever and exciting. I'm really enjoying it :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 12th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
stephen broken

The idea of them drifting was the whole point of the fic. It was too impossibly angsty not to develop.

Thank you!

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: June 12th, 2014 06:45 am (UTC)
Primeval - Stephen/Nick Dirty Boys

I loved it!! Brilliant catch *g*

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