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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (4b/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:25 pm)
working

feeling: working

Other parts in the MASTER POST



In Michael’s head, there’s just one thing he can hear.


The Kaiju rages. Michael’s lost one Jaeger and is about to lose another. There’s a defenseless coast, and Michael’s decisions have gotten people killed. Maybe a lot of people. People he doesn’t know; people he cares about.


His heart pounds; his palm sweats. In his ringing ears, he can only hear one thing.


Higgins, smirking behind his desk, saying, “I told you so.”


-o-


Michael allows himself exactly one second of despair.


Then he takes a breath, fingers still gripping the chair in front of him as he looks at the monitor. “Okay,” he says. “If we can’t get comms back with Avalon, I want a secondary relay of visual confirmation. Tap anyone we have in the sky right now, so we can know what’s happening.”


Casey leans next to him, nodding at the screen. “Fight’s slowing down,” he notes. “I mean, we still have data coming in from Avalon, so we know she’s not done yet.”


Fay scoots closer. “Yeah, but neither is Vandal. His pace has slowed but he’s still going.”


Michael chews his lip. “The proximity of the signals suggests close combat.” He glances to one of the other monitor banks. “Do we still have vital signs from Avalon?”


“No, they went out with the comms,” someone reports.


“What was our last known signal?” Michael asks.


“Serious spikes in heart rates,” Fay says, bringing up the data. “And then Collins goes off the charts.”


“Coincides with the damage Avalon took,” Casey says.


“So we might have to assume that Collins was injured when Avalon took damage,” Michael says.


“But if that’s the case, how is Avalon still fighting?” Fay asks. “Almost every time one pilot goes down, they both go down.”


“Not every time,” Casey says.


“Drummond might just be able to pull it off,” Michael says, his brow furrowing. “Have we got a visual yet?”


“Yeah, yeah!” someone calls. “Visual confirms that Hellion is down. Avalon’s ripped up pretty bad but she’s still fighting. Wait…”


Michael sees the shift on the screen. The Kaiju’s signal goes still -- and then it falls.


Michael frowns. “Is it diving?” he asks.


Fay looks equally vexed. “Or is it…?”


“Dead,” comes the confirmation. “The Kaiju is dead.”


Around the room, people whoop, clapping and cheering. But Michael’s stomach is uneasy, and he watches the spot that represents Avalon, which wavers…


And then drops, too.


“Avalon’s down,” Casey says, low and beneath his breath. His posture is tense, and the cheers die down uncertainly.


Michael feels twitchy, watching as the signal sinks down after the Kaiju. “Escape pods?” he asks.


Casey looks up at him, meeting his gaze somberly. He shakes his head.


Michael closes his eyes. He makes the calls, often without even bothering to tell Higgins. He promised Olivia a Jaeger; he recruited Billy. He insisted on putting them together, and he developed the plan. He sent out Hellion and his pilots. He didn’t give them enough information.


This is victory.


But at great cost.


Michael has lost all but one of his Jaegers. He’s lost friends. Higgins has always told him that this operation hangs by a string, and Michael never believed him.


Until it all comes crashing down.


“Wait,” Fay says.


Michael looks up.


Fay points to the screen. “We have unidentified movement on the surface,” she says. “Too small to be much of anything…”


Michael focuses. “But just the right size to be an escape pod.”


“Two escape pods,” Fay confirms.


“If the electrical systems went down, we may have lost escape pod contact,” Casey says.


“There’s no way to be sure,” Fay cautions.


It’s enough, though. “I want choppers in the air -- now,” he says. “I want those pods collected. Contact me immediately when we have a status.”


“Where are you going?” Casey asks.


Michael looks grimly to the glass-sided office stationed over the back of the command center. “To update the Marshal.”


-o-


As far as Marshals go, Higgins is more hands-off than most. He prefers to delegate, and when there’s a call, he likes to sit back in his office and observe. He calls it “looking at the big picture.” Michael doesn’t tend to question it, because it gets the other man out of his hair, but as he enters today, he’s pretty sure Higgins already knows what he’s going to say.


The other man is somber, his face drawn and serious. “I’ve been talking with my superiors at the PPDC,” he says. “Tell me there’s a silver lining I can pitch.”


Michael draws a breath, nodding. “We think we picked up two escape pods from Avalon. Which is a pretty good indication that Drummond and Collins are still alive. And all reports indicate that the Kaiju is down in the water. He never made landfall.”


Higgins’ face remains composed, his eyes zeroing in on Michael critically. “And the Jaegers?”


Michael’s mouth twitches; he swallows. “Hellion is totaled,” he says. “We don’t have any official word on Avalon. She may still be salvageable.”


“But she’s at the bottom of the seabed?” Higgins prompts.


Michael hesitates but doesn’t look away. “For now,” he says. “I’m getting a team together to pull her out.”


Higgins is silent for a moment. There’s no hint of smugness, which Michael thinks is to the man’s credit. He’s a pain in Michael’s ass, but he knows the man really does have the best interests of the Shatterdome at the forefront of his mind. Even if Michael thinks he’s wrong about most of it…


Then again, it’s not like Michael’s been right about everything.


“I want a full report on my desk by the start of the day tomorrow,” he says finally, voice even and measured. “I want every action accounted for that led to this failure.”


Michael can’t help it; he squares his shoulders. “With respect, it’s not a total failure. Drummond and Collins may still be alive. And we stopped the Kaiju, sir. No damage to any civilian target.”


“And I appreciate that, Dorset,” Higgins says. “But we lost two Jaegers today. That’s billions of dollars. If there were another Kaiju attack today, we would be unprepared to defend ourselves for the first time in the history of this Shatterdome.”


“Mammoth Apostle is almost operational,” Michael says.


“And how long until he isn’t?” Higgins asks. “How long until we have Kaiju we simply can’t stop? The Jaeger program is a good idea, but the funding and the research can’t keep up with the demand.”


“Well what other plan is there?” Michael says. “We can scrap this together. I know we can. We salvage and we scrimp and we work harder--”


Higgins holds up his hand. “I’ve given you a wide berth, Dorset. I’ve let you see how this turns out, because I’ve wanted to know if this is a viable model.”


“It’s still a work in progress--”


“That has cost billions upon billions of dollars and is being shown as increasingly less effective,” Michael argues. “What do you want me to do?”


Higgins smiles thinly. “Right now, I just want your report,” he says. “And then I will take everything into consideration. Is that understood?”


Michael wants to fight. He wants to protest. But the words are stuck in his throat. He has no grounds anymore.


Because Higgins is right about this much: this isn’t a success.


Now Michael has to see just how much of a failure it is.


He nods. “Yes, sir,” he says, and he sees himself out.


-o-


It takes him several paces outside the door before he remembers to breathe again, and even then, he can still feel the tension building in his shoulders. Higgins is only the start of his problems for once. It occurs to him that he probably would have been open to suggestion and help this time around -- only given his lack of disregard of the Marshal until this point, he has no right to ask for it now.


No, this is his failure. His mess.


It’s his to clean up.


He’s getting his wits about him when Fay approaches.


“Michael,” she says. “They’ve got the escape pods.”


Michael feels his heart skip a beat, and hope rises in his chest. Two escape pods are good news. It means there’s still something to salvage; it means that Michael may see his pilots again; it means…


But then he sees Fay’s face. She presses her lips together and hesitates.


And Michael’s hope plummets to his feet.


-o-


It’s not all bad.


Olivia is okay. Minimal injuries, and no indication that she will suffer any long term impairments.


Billy…


Billy’s been airlifted to the closest trauma center in Seattle. That’s not quite PPDC policy -- they prefer to treat injuries in-house when possible, but--


“He wouldn’t have survived the flight,” Fay tells him quietly. “He may not survive anyway. My contact on the ground wasn’t optimistic.”

Michael swallows, trying not to visibly shake. He reminds himself that Olivia is alive. He tells himself that he still has two Jaegers and a Kaiju to pull from the bottom of the ocean. He has to remember that losses are just a part of war.


Michael’s never been a soldier, but this is a war. The Jaegers are his pet project; the Kaiju are his obsession; Billy and Olivia are his friends, his team, more than the rest--


But there’s more to it than that.


“Okay,” Michael says, keeping his voice steady. “I want you to arrange a team to get up there as fast as you can to deal with the Kaiju. The sooner that thing is out of the water, the more we can control any environmental fallout.”


Fay nods, but her eyes are wide and soft. “Michael…”


It’s the wrong time for compassion, though. It’s the wrong time for everything.


He shakes his head. “Please, Fay,” he says, his voice dropping. “Just do this for me.”


She wets her lips, nodding. “Okay,” she says. “We’ll have a team on site within an hour.”


Michael lets out a breath.


“And here,” she says, holding out a paper. “This is the information from the scene. It has the coordinates and the hospital access number.”


Michael takes it gratefully. “Thanks.”


She brushes close to him, squeezing his arm. “Anytime.”


-o-


It’s a numb march back to the control room, and most people have the sense not to bother him. Michael’s procedures have provided for contingencies like this; they know what to do.


It figures that Casey ignores them.


“You can’t trust the idiots at J-tech with recovery,” he says, coming alongside Michael without an invitation.


Michael doesn’t look at him. “They’re not idiots,” he says. “And that’s sort of what they’re there for.”


“J-tech has grown increasingly under Higgins’ control,” Casey reminds him. “You can’t risk it.”


Michael stops short, and presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “You mean, you think we actually have something left to lose?” he asks, louder than he intends.


The room grows uncomfortably silent, and Michael sighs, looking around wearily until the subdued group self-consciously gets back to work.


Casey, of course, is unfazed. “We have a lot left to lose,” he says. “Jaegers are still valuable, even in pieces. You have to make sure they’re handled with care and end up in the right hands.”


Michael sighs again. “And who am I going to send? You?”


Casey cocks an eyebrow. “I can think of worse people.”


Michael furrows his brow, glancing around again, feeling suddenly conspicuous. “You’re a teacher.”


“Who spends all his free time in J-tech,” he says. “I helped design Avalon and Hellion. The only reason I didn’t help with Mammoth was that was Higgins’ baby.”


“Which figures that that one is a pain in the ass to keep field-worthy,” Michael mutters.


“I can do this, Michael,” Casey says, solemnly. “Trust me.”


Casey is rarely earnest, but he’s never anything but frank. There’s an implicit request in his eyes, a sense that they’re in this together. They have been for a while -- Michael has taken it for granted, to some degree -- but not that he’s running out of options, he needs all the friends he can get.


“Okay,” Michael says. “I’ll talk to J-tech and tell them you’re overseeing it. I want you on the chopper in Seattle. You can coordinate with Fay, who’s handling Kaiju recovery. But careful -- she’s still more on Higgins’ side than mine in all this.”


Casey looks pleased. “What about you?”


Michael takes a breath. “I have another job to do.”


-o-


He assigns. He delegates. And when he touches down in Seattle a few hours later, he’s not sure he’s ready.


But he doesn’t have any choice.


He sees the recovery crews out in the water, but he trusts Casey and Fay in that much. He’s curious -- and it’s damn hard not to check in -- but his priorities are different.


Very different as he enters the hospital and goes to the front desk. He holds up his badge. “Michael Dorset, PPDC,” he says. “I believe you have my Rangers here.”


-o-


The PPDC has been getting skewered in the media lately, but they’re still popular in the polls, especially in coastal cities where Kaiju have been stopped. Funny thing -- people tend to be grateful when their lives are saved. Governments and investors are less so when they see the price tag. That’s the tension that Michael can’t stand, when politics gets in the way of the things that matter.


But not here.


Here, all the priorities are in order, which is why he’s shown promptly to a private, dim room. Michael lets himself in, and hesitates when he sees the form curled up on the bed. This isn’t necessarily Michael’s area of expertise -- but maybe that’s why it matters. He sends Rangers out. Sometimes they don’t come home.


Sometimes they do.


Sometimes…


Throat tight, he edges in, closing the door behind him. “Olivia?” he asks gently.


The figure stirs, rolling toward him. In the dimness, Michael can see Olivia’s eyes wide and imploring. “Michael,” she says, sitting up. She’s in a hospital gown and her hair is a mess with an abrasion across her face. She has an IV on the back of her hand.


“Hey,” he says, coming closer to the bed. There are a thousand questions he wants to ask -- each more pressing than the last -- but there’s only one to start with. “How are you doing?”


The look on her face is hard to describe -- and unsettling. In the time he’s known Olivia, she’s been nothing but self-possessed and self-assured. He’s never worked with a more professional or competent Ranger. She keeps her emotions out of it, and she’s been excessively low maintenance.


Not this time, though. She’s a mess -- and not just because she’s been dragged out of the ocean.


Her face crumples. She takes a breath, her chest heaving. “Billy…,” she says. “Billy’s gone.”


Michael’s chest constrict, his stomach churning painfully. “Olivia…”


“We were still connected,” she continues, tears beginning to fall. “And he was there, and then...he wasn’t. He let go. He let go. All of his promises...” A sob escapes and she shakes her head. “He’s gone.”


She’s almost hysterical now, her breathing rapid and the tears fast as she looks at Michael desperately. She pulls at her IV, as if trying to get out of bed, and Michael finds himself moving forward, a hand on her arm before she collapses into him.


“He’s gone,” she sobs. “He’s gone…”


Michael doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do.


All he knows now, though, is not to let go.


-o-


After several minutes, Olivia’s cries abates and her body relaxes. He lays her back down, sitting close to her bedside until her eyes drift shut and her heart rate evens out in sleep.


Back in the hallway, he grimly approaches the nurse and asks to see Billy.


-o-


As hard as it is to see Olivia, she’s the good news.


Hellion’s pilots are dead -- Michael can’t even be sure they’ll be able to retrieve the bodies, assuming there’s enough left of them to identify. And Billy…


Well, Olivia wasn’t completely right. He’s not gone. He’s still alive, and just recently transferred to the ICU after surgery. He’s suffered from massive blood loss and a litany of other internal injuries. He’s already showing signs of an infection, and given the amount of time he spent without a heartbeat, the doctors aren’t sure how much of him survived at all. No one can tell him exactly what happened at this point except that Billy was impaled on something and basically bled out in the escape pod.


All things considered, Olivia’s assessment seems more apt the more Michael learns. And when he stands awkwardly next to Billy’s ICU bed, watching the machines keep Billy alive--


It feels like he’s gone. He’s so still, so pale. He hardly looks like himself. If Michael didn’t know it was Billy, he might not have recognized the poor bastard in the bed as the man Michael had started to consider a friend.


Michael sighs. He’d given Olivia comfort because he hadn’t had a choice. It feels awkward with Billy, so he stands there for a moment before saying, “It’s my job to give you whatever you need to come home. So that’s why I’m here. I’m going to see you home, okay?”


Billy doesn’t reply, of course, his face impassive and blank.


Michael grinds his teeth together for a moment. “And for what it’s worth, you might want to think about Drummond. I know I’m not much incentive, but she needs you. Hell, the program needs you.”


Michael looks away and doesn’t finish.


I need you.


And he goes back into the hall.


-o-


It’s evening when Michael finally finishes talking to Billy’s doctor. He takes a few minutes to check in with Fay, who assures him that they’ve got an extraction team on site, ready to start work once they get daylight again. He asks her to set up a perimeter in the water, and to guard it carefully -- the last thing he needs is a black market hack getting his hands on the corpse first.


Casey’s report is equally reassuring, although he’s already got an active perimeter set up around both Jaegers. From what sonar shows, Avalon is damaged but somewhat intact. Hellion’s in pieces, but Casey thinks he’ll be able to identify the remnants of the conn-pod in the dawn.


He hangs up his phone, wishing like hell it was that simple. Because he’s done everything he can do, and he knows that.


Unfortunately, he still has to account for that -- and everything else.


Usually Michael’s not too worried about paperwork.


Usually he hasn’t lost two Jaegers and two pilots.


Higgins wants Michael’s report.


And this time, Michael will give it, unabridged and in full.


-o-


It takes him the better part of the night, and he props himself up in Olivia’s room, using his laptop on his lap to peck away at the keys. He’s suddenly thankful that he adopted an electronic filing system before this started.


He’s less grateful that he never pared back the tedious forms to document a Kaiju incursion.


He falls asleep at some point, startling as his laptop starts to slide off his knees. In the early morning, his eyes are bleary and burning, and he’s just hitting send when Olivia rouses.


She blinks a few times before her eyes track around the room and settle on Michael.


He smiles weakly. “Hey.”


She swallows, opening her mouth and wetting her lips. “I was hoping it was a dream.”


“Which part?” Michael asks.


Olivia’s expression is grim. “All of it,” she says. Her face pales. “Billy…”


“Is alive,” Michael supplies quickly.


She looks afraid to believe him. “I felt him die.”


“It’s hard to say what you felt,” Michael coaches her gently. “People usually describe a pilot passing out the same way.”


She shakes her head, adamant. “He made a choice,” she says. “I felt it, very clearly. He let go.”


Michael sighs. “Well, they got him back,” he says. “Thanks to you, I take it. I assume you’re the one who got him in an escape pod?”


He’s had time to parse through the likely chain of events over the night, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know but he’s figured out enough.


She nods. “He was already gone when I finally disconnected and dragged him in,” she says. “We were already underwater by then.”


“Yeah, we’re going to see if we can get Avalon off the seabed later today,” Michael says.


She doesn’t seem to hear him. “There was so much blood,” she says instead. “And Billy...I couldn’t feel him at all.”


“Olivia,” Michael says slowly. “You were in shock. What you’d been through…”


Her expression is agonized. “I lost him,” she says. “It was...like losing part of myself. He was just gone.”


“I’m sure that must have been terrifying,” he says. “Which makes what you did so damn impressive. Did Collins help at all finishing off the Kaiju?”


Olivia frowns for a moment. “I….I don’t really remember,” she says. “All I could think about was making sure he got out of there. I had to get to him. The Kaiju was just in the way.”


Michael finds himself chuckling. “Do you know how impressive that is?” he says. “We only have...three of four documented cases of a pilot successfully working after losing their copilot. What you did--”


“Doesn’t matter,” she says. She looks down.


“Hey, you stopped the son of a bitch,” Michael tells her, sitting forward now. “You saved countless lives. And you saved Billy.”


She looks up, almost afraid. “He’s really alive?”


Michael does his best to not flinch. It’s not a lie, he assures himself. Even if it’s not entirely the truth. “Yep, up in the ICU right now.”


“He was gone,” she says again, looking vacantly at the wall.


“Hey,” Michael says, sharper now. “You saved him. Okay? You saved him.”


She nods, but doesn’t meet his eyes.


It seems she’s just another person who doesn’t believe him anymore.


-o-


Michael visits Billy before grabbing breakfast in the cafeteria. He checks his messages, and there’s plenty to go through but none of them can’t be dealt with by the people he’s got in place to take care of things. None of them are from Higgins, and Michael is too tired to think about if that’s a good thing or not.


He’s eating cold scrambled eggs, reading a newspaper he salvaged from an adjacent table. The main headline is predictable.


Kaiju Stopped Outside of Seattle


The story gets some of the details right, and delineates in overly descriptive terms how big the Kaiju was and how impressive the fight was. Michael normally dislikes the sensationalism, but it makes it sounds like his Jaegers put up a hell of a fight before they were taken down.


There’s a pair of sidebars, one about Hellion and his pilots. Michael’s heart goes cold that everything is in the past tense.


There’s another for Avalon Challenger and her pilots. Billy and Olivia look so happy together in the picture, and Billy is quoted as saying, “I’m more afraid of Ms. Drummond than any Kaiju.”


On the inside, he reads an op-ed.


Is the Jaeger Program Viable?


There’s the usual drivel from the usual sources, none of which Michael cares about. There’s talk about money and losses, and at the end is a quote from LA Shatterdome Marshal H.J. Higgins.


“We are always looking for newer, more effective ways to protect the coast. Obviously, in light of recent events, we are keeping all options on the table in order to deal with the shifting success in the Jaeger program.”


Suddenly, Michael’s just not hungry. He throws out the paper and dumps his half-eaten tray before leaving the cafeteria.


-o-


He’s on his way back to Billy’s room, when he sees Fay. He’s immediately concerned. “Problems?” he asks. “Because Kaiju extraction is important with the toxicity of the--”


She shakes her head. “No, it’s moving right on schedule,” she says. “I just...I don’t know. Got worried about you.”


Michael smiles wryly. “Two Rangers died and two more are in the hospital,” he says. “I should be the least of your concerns.”


“I know you better than that,” she says.


He narrows his gaze critically. “Whatever happened to us being divorced?”


She sighs. “I thought we could still be friends.”


“Are we?” he asks. “Really?”


She purses her lips, shaking her head. “I know you don’t do failure well.”


“It wasn’t failure--”


“Michael,” she interrupts. “I know you.”


“Yeah,” Michael replies. “And I know you.”


She furrows her brow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Higgins asked you to check up on me?”


Her mouth opens. But she can’t deny it. “That’s not the only reason I’m here.”


“It’s enough of one,” he says, moving past her.


She turns, grabbing his arm. “You can’t do this on your own,” she says. “I don’t agree with Higgins on everything, but you and I can both see that something has to change.”


“Oh, really?” Michael asks, his annoyance flaring. “Like what? Building the wall Higgins is always talking about?”


“There are worse ideas…”


“The wall is defensive,” Michael objects. “That’s basically a form of surrender. We do that, we’re done. Because they’ll keep coming and if they can break a Jaeger, they sure as hell won’t stop at a wall.”


Fay collects a breath. “But that’s the point,” she says. “They can destroy the Jaegers. They are getting stronger. We need to change tactics.”


“I know that,” he says. “Unlike Higgins, I just know that we can’t build a wall and hope for the best.”


“Michael,” she says. “What are you going to do?”


Michael shrugs. “Don’t know. But right now I’m going to check on my Rangers.”


With that, he turns and walks away from her, not even looking back as she calls his name.


-o-


Billy’s unchanged, only this time the doctor can report that there’s no signs of brain activity as of yet. It may be too early to tell, of course, but it’s not the best sign in the world.


Michael chooses to ignore that information, and heads back to Olivia instead. She’s traumatized and broken, but she’s still the best news in this whole mess.


That is, until, he finds her packing. “Discharged so soon?” he asks.


She doesn’t smile. She barely even glances at him. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”


“Well, that’s good,” Michael says. “Higgins is probably going to want you to turn in a mission report, though, so if you want to stick around and get out of it…”


“I don’t care about the report,” Olivia says brusquely.


He can’t blame her. Considering that she single-handedly took down a Kaiju after feeling Billy slip away, Michael’s inclined to cut her some slack. Which is why he’s a little concerned she’s so eager to leave. “I can stall Higgins,” Michael offers. “Oh, and apparently they’ve been getting calls from your parents back in England.”


“I don’t want to bloody talk to my parents,” she mutters, zipping up the bag hastily. It’s the one Michael brought for her from her quarters back at the Shatterdome. She’s wearing one of the outfits from it, and it looks like she’s at least washed and cleaned up.


“I don’t want to talk to mine either,” Michael says. “I’ll have Blanke give them a party line until you’re up to it.”


“Whatever,” Olivia says.


Michael shifts awkwardly, feeling like he’s missing something. “You know, one bright spot of being discharged is that you’ll get to see Billy now,” he ventures carefully. “I mean, he’s still not looking the best, but he’s hanging on--”


Olivia snorts bitterly.


“Collins made it this far,” he says. “If I know anything about him, he’s fighting for you.”


This time she looks up, and her eyes are bright. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “No, he’s bloody not. I asked him and I begged him, and he still let go.”


Michael is a little stunned. “He was pretty seriously injured back there,” he continues. “The blood loss…”


She stiffens. “I know that,” she says, and her voice hitches. She takes a tremulous breath and looks like she might cry. “I know that. I just...I held on, Michael. As tight as I could and he still let go. I held onto him the entire time, and he was just gone. I’ve never felt anything like that. I lost him.”


“You didn’t, though,” he tells her. “You saved him.”


Her mouth turns up in a sad, wan smile. “It wasn’t even rational. I...I can’t face him again.”


“Well, okay,” Michael says. “If you need some time--”


She shakes her head, adamant. “No, you don’t understand,” she says. “I can’t face him again -- ever.”


Michael finds himself out of rebuttals.


She shrugs, helplessly. “I can’t go back there,” she says. “Losing him made me mad, Michael. They had to sedate me. I’ve never lost control like that in my life. And I can never do it again. I won’t.”


“But you and Billy are so good together,” Michael says. “We don’t even know if Avalon is salvageable.”


She laughs, harsh and bitter. “If I can’t even face Billy, what makes you think I’m getting back in a Jaeger again?” She shakes her head. “I’m done, Michael. I’m done with Jaegers. I’m done with the Kaiju. I’m done with Billy.”


“Olivia,” he says, her name hinging on his lips. “You can take all the time you need, but this is where you belong. You’re a part of our Shatterdome. You’re a part of Billy.


“I was,” she clarifies for him. “I held on until there was nothing left to hold on to. And now I have to walk away. For me, Michael. Because I swear to God, if I don’t…” She trails off, eyes glistening.


Michael doesn’t know what to say. He wants to comfort her; he wants to talk her out of it. Neither is right. Neither makes any sense.


Olivia sighs, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “I’ve put in a transfer request to Higgins,” she says. “He’s approved it. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be in Tokyo.”


Michael’s stomach feels tight; he thinks he might be sick.


“Tell Billy…,” she trails off, her face looking agonized for a moment. “Just make sure he gets better, okay?” She hesitates. “I’m sorry.”


“You don’t owe me an apology,” Michael replies.


She looks down, nodding. Her gaze lifts. “Yeah,” she says. “I’m afraid I do.”


It’s all she has to give. She’s lost more than Michael can imagine, and while he can’t say he’d make the same choices, he’s also not the one on the front lines. His job isn’t easy, but it’s cleaner than hers. And he can’t help but think that this is his fault. If he’d done his job better, she might not have lost what she did. Maybe Avalon wouldn’t be at the bottom of the ocean. Maybe Billy wouldn’t be in a coma.


Maybe.


She holds his gaze a moment longer, then ducks away, moving past him to the door.


Michael wants to stop her -- he would give anything to stop her -- but the words never come as she disappears into the hall.


-o-


With Olivia gone, he hasn’t got much to hold on to. He does his work in the cafeteria, and checks up on Billy as often as the doctors will let him. Higgins asks no further questions, and the silence is unnerving. Still, Michael had plenty of other tasks to tend to, and he knows sooner or later he’ll have to head back to the Shatterdome to face them.


He doesn’t want to come home like this, though. With nothing to show for any of it. He wants to remember that their losses were worth something; that they still saved something.


When he goes back up to check on Billy, he’s surprised to see Casey there.


“Don’t tell me Higgins sent you, too,” he says.


“Higgins has talked to me exactly three times since I came to LA,” Casey replies. “Once, to welcome me to the base. Twice, to order me to have my yearly physical.”


Michael cocks his head. “And the third time?”


“Well, let’s just say that was me explaining why my yearly physical is not the necessity he thinks it is.”


Michael smiles vaguely. “Did you find our Jaegers?”


“Teams have already cleared away most of Hellion,” he says. “I had the conn-pod transferred intact. They’ll be doing a careful extraction for hardware and any remains.”


Michael nods grimly.


“Avalon, though,” he says. “She’s badly damaged, but there are parts to her that I think can be salvaged. It won’t be easy, but I’m opting for a more careful extraction. There’s life in her yet. She deserves another chance.”


Michael sighs. “Do what you need,” he says. “I can promise you funds once we get her out of here, though.”


Casey looks suspicious. “Higgins must be on your ass.”


“I wish,” Michael says. “He has grounds to do whatever he wants with me, but he hasn’t done a thing yet. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall.”


“Higgins doesn’t have the balls to fire you.”


“But he can make my life hell,” Michael says.

“Not his style,” he says. “He wants you to toe the line. He likes your fear.”


There’s logic to this. “What if he’s right, though?”


Casey makes a face. “About the Jaeger program? The man’s an idiot if he thinks the wall is anything but a PR stunt to appease the masses while we inch closer to destruction.”


“That’s not exactly an optimistic look at things.”


“That’s because the future isn’t looking bright,” Casey says. “Look, we know the Kaiju are getting better. There’s every indication they will continue to do so.”


“Yeah,” Michael says.


“So, stop acting like we’re beat,” Casey says. “It’s that fatalistic thinking that makes men like Higgins so insufferable. If the Kaiju get better, we get better.”


“But how? I’ve tried everything.”


“Clearly, not everything,” Casey says, a little snide. “The Kaiju are learning, so why the hell aren’t we?”


Malick has a point. He has a very good point. “It’s not going to be easy,” Michael says.


“I didn’t join the PPDC for easy.”


“So you’re going to help me?” Michael asks.


“Since you’re the only sane person I can find,” Casey grumbles.


“Well, maybe not the only one,” Michael says. He nods toward the ICU room. “We still have Collins.”


“Yeah, and he’s in a coma, teetering toward brain death,” Casey says. “Not to mention, he’s a Ranger without a Jaeger or a copilot. What good is he?”


Michael’s lips twitch upward. “He may surprise you yet,” he says. “I happen to know another Ranger without a Jaeger and no copilot who turned out pretty good.”


Casey looks annoyed. “Point taken,” he mutters. He glances toward Billy’s room. “I suppose he’d probably like the company.”


“Yeah,” Michael says. He starts off. “Let’s go.”


He starts walking, and with only a beat of hesitation, Casey follows him into Billy’s room.