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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (5c/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:34 pm)
lethargic

feeling: lethargic

Other parts in the MASTER POST



Michael is a planner. He makes overviews, and he irons out details. He could spend weeks planning something most people would fly through in a day. Fay always thought their elopement in Paris was a spur of the moment decision, but the fact is that he planned that thing for months, so perfect and so flawless that she never even saw it coming.


He’s been worse than normal with Orion Disruptor. He’s had a narrow focus since joining the PPDC, and ever since he started working overtly under Higgins’ nose, that’s been amplified by 100. Simply put, he doesn’t have the luxury to overlook the details. If something goes wrong, then it’s all on him.


The stakes are just too high. With Higgins, with his career at the PPDC. With Orion Disruptor. With Rick and Billy’s lives.


For the whole planet.


Michael’s planned for this. He’s risked everything, spent all his energy, sacrificed any hope for friendships or a love life.


So when the blip shows up on radar, he has just a second of concern. Just a moment of loss. Because plans are one thing.


Actions are another.


It’s time to find out if all this is worth it.


He presses his comm button. “Marshal Higgins,” he says. “You better get down here. We just picked up a Kaiju coming up from the breach.”


-o-


It’s no surprise that Casey is the first to arrive. He has an uncanny sense about these things, and he manages to appear the minute Michael ends his call.


“You think this is it?” he asks, rounding on the counsel to get a better look.


“Kaiju turned this way,” Michael says. “Projections indicate landfall somewhere in the western seaboard. It could veer off toward Mexico, I guess.”


Casey is watching the trajectory lines. “Son of a bitch is fast.”


“Not the biggest we’ve seen at least,” Michael says.


“That just means it has other tricks up its sleeve,” Casey notes grimly.


Michael lets out a breath and refuses to dwell on it. “We’re calling it Mizuchi.”


Casey grunts. “As if giving it a name somehow makes it less like a monster of mass destruction,” he says.


“It’s easier than calling it Kaiju 43,” Michael says dryly.


“How about we just call it dead once we drop it,” Casey mutters.


“Yeah, well, I’m working on that,” Michael says as more staff starts to trickle in.


Casey stands, moving closer. “You’re going to send Disruptor?”


Michael nods, trying not to be nervous. “That’s the plan.”


“Does Higgins know the plan?” Casey asks.


Michael gives him a baleful look.


Casey snorts. “That’s what I thought.”


-o-


Higgins is the last of the main staff to arrive, and Michael already has his people in place. Scientists are manning their stations, techs are on the phone with PPDC centralized staff in Hong Kong to confirm tracking and projections. Michael’s even taken the liberty of alerting the pilots and J-tech teams to the Jaeger bays.


“What have we got?” Higgins asks as he makes his broad approach to the center of the room.


Michael takes a breath. All he has to do is deliver the facts, but he still knows that each word counts with Higgins. He’s not scared of the man, but he has a healthy respect for the fact that Higgins can still make or break every one of his plans. “Category Three came through the breach,” he reports. “The ETA puts him on the west coast in a few hours.”


Higgins keeps himself composed. For all that Michael dislikes about his boss, he can’t deny that the man keeps it together when it counts. Being the Marshal in a Shatterdome when people are dying is sort of a thankless job. Michael doesn’t think Higgins makes all the right choices, but he certainly doesn’t envy the man.


“Okay,” Higgins says carefully. “I assume you have our response team in place.”


“Teams are ready and waiting word,” Michael confirms, but lets it linger.


Higgins doesn’t miss it. “Teams?” he asks pointedly.


Michael takes a breath. “Both Mammoth Apostle and Orion Disruptor are ready to go,” he says without flinching.


The room goes strangely silent, and the staff is watching, some anxious, some in anticipation.


Higgins is more aware of this than Michael. “We have one PPDC approved Jaeger in Los Angeles, Mr. Dorset,” he says benignly. “I expect him in the air within ten minutes.”


That should be that, but Michael’s worked too hard. He’s come too far. “With respect, sir,” he says. “Mammoth Apostle has never been fully functional since the Kaiju last year. If we put him out there, we are leaving our pilots at an extreme disadvantage.”


“Are you telling me that after a year we can’t get our best Jaeger fully operational?” Higgins asks.


“I’m telling you that we should be putting our freshest Jaeger out there,” Michael says without missing a beat. “Orion Disruptor--”


“Is a piecemealed hunk of scrap you’ve wasted time and resources on,” Higgins returns with a hard look. “This is an Kaiju attack, Mr. Dorset. Not time for your science experiment in insubordination. If you would like to still have your job in the morning, you will have Mammoth Apostle in the air in ten minutes. Is that understood?”


This is not an unexpected answer. The room is fraught with tension, and Michael can feel all eyes on him. They all know what he’s been doing. They all know how hard he’s worked. They all know what he wants to say.


So no one seems to know what to do when Michael nods his head. “Yes, sir.”


Higgins keeps his expression impressively impassive, but Michael can still see the flicker of surprise in his eyes, promptly followed by a keen sense of distrust. “Very good,” he says guardedly. He hesitates. “I’ll be in my office.”


Michael inclines his head and says nothing while Higgins leaves. Around him, the room is still taut and quiet. When Higgins finally closes his door and sits behind his desk, looking out over the command room, Michael says, “What are we all staring at? We have an incoming Kaiju. You heard the man. I want Mammoth Apostle in the air now.”


There’s just a beat more of silence, before the room titters back to life. In the burgeoning chaos, Casey comes up alongside him. “Tell me that wasn’t it,” he says.


Michael doesn’t look at him, but picks up his clipboard. He sighs. “Malick--”


“Michael,” Casey says, emphatically now as he edges closer. “Tell me that wasn’t it.”


Michael lifts his eyes, signing a piece of paper before tearing it off and handing it to one of the assistants. “We have our orders,” he says curtly, making his way to the door. “And I intend to follow them.”


-o-


He’s two steps in the hall when Casey falls in step behind him. He refuses to look back; Casey refuses to slow down. They make it down the hall and turn the corner when Michael almost runs into Rick and Billy.


“Hey!” Rick says, sounding downright giddy as he falls into step beside them. “Are we a go?”


“I hope so,” Billy says, his long legs easily keeping pace. “You did drag me out of bed…”


“They’re sending Mammoth,” Casey interjects when Michael says nothing, still navigating toward the Jaeger bays.


Rick looks positively stricken. “But we’re ready!”


“I’m not sure how much more training we can fit in,” Billy agrees.


“Higgins wants Mammoth,” Casey tells them. “It was an order.”


Billy raises his eyebrows. “And are we heeding that order?”


They’re all following him, not without question, but without hesitation. They’re looking to him, counting on him. He can’t do this without any of them, but they need him, too.


They need him.


Michael stops short, right outside of Mammoth’s bay. “Higgins wants Mammoth Apostle in the air,” he says. “So we’ll send Mammoth Apostle in the air.”


Casey looks dubious. Billy is skeptical. Rick just looks forlorn.


Michael does his best not to smile. “But I never expected Higgins to send Disruptor,” he says. “He was always going to pick Mammoth, and he always will.”


“I’m not seeing how this helps us,” Billy ventures.


“Well, by sending Mammoth we are obeying orders,” Michael says. “And sending Orion Disruptor, too, is really just an additional order. It’s not subversive. It’s just an extrpolation of an existing order to stop the Kaiju.”


“You think Higgins is going to buy that?” Casey asks.


“He could have us fired,” Rick adds nervously


“You think after all this, that really matters?” Billy asks with a chuckle. “I, for one, like your creative interpretation of orders.”


“No one has to go if they don’t want to,” Michael says. “If we need to pull the plug…”


Billy is resolute, and Rick squares his shoulders.


Casey, however, purses his lips. “It’s good in theory, and I’m not opposed to ignoring stupidity in the chain of command,” he says. “But we’ll still need clearance to get a plane to take Disruptor out.”


Michael can’t help it: he smirks. “I know,” he says. “Leave that to me. The rest of you, get suited up and connected. Mammoth leaves in ten. You’re leaving in fifteen. Understood?”


They all nod, each and every last one. Because they’re a team. Last of the old school Jaeger pilots. They’ll do this their way -- and they’ll get the job done.


-o-


First things first, though.


He finds Fay in her office, pouring over the latest J-science reports on the Jaeger. She signs something and hands it off to one of the lower level techs as Michael enters. He waits for the tech to leave before he closes the door.


Fay doesn’t look up. “Don’t you have things to do in LOCCENT?” she asks. “You are the Chief, last I checked.”


Michael settles in the chair across from her. “I thought I could steal something from your stash of snacks.”


Fay looks ups, quirking an eyebrow. “What makes you think I have snacks?”


“You always have snacks,” he says. “Bottom drawer, left.”


She is unimpressed. “You’re not getting any snacks, Michael,” she says. “And neither of us have time to play this game.”


“Who says I’m playing?” Michael asks innocently.


She looks up this time. “This isn’t about snacks,” she deduces simply. “And since we have a Kaiju incoming, why don’t we cut the small talk and get to the point. What do you want?”


“I need a favor,” Michael says finally.


Her smile is prim. “Of course you do,” she says. “Which is why you’re here, in my office, and not in the LOCCENT command center.”


“Higgins is sending Mammoth,” Michael tells her.


“As is to be expected,” Fay says. “I already have his flight prepared.”


“I want to send Orion Disruptor as backup,” Michael continues unflinchingly.


She eyes him carefully. “Sounds reasonable,” she says. “I do need your authorization number, though.”


Michael takes a breath and steels himself. “I don’t have an authorization number.”


Fay scoffs. “Of course you don’t,” she says. “You want me to arrange a flight for a Jaeger without authorization.”


Michael shrugs.

Fay is almost incredulous. “Higgins will know,” she says. “Even if you don’t get him to clear it, you can’t hide this sort of thing from him. It’s a giant robot flying through the air. If he doesn’t see it himself, it’ll be all over the media within minutes of departure from the Shatterdome.”


“Sure,” Michael says. “But once it’s in the air, he can’t take it back. If he does, everyone will know he lost control of his own operation. Higgins will never lose his credibility like that.”


“But it won’t stop him from firing you,” she points out. “Or me and everyone else involved, for that matter.”


“Only if it goes wrong,” Michael says, leaning forward. “Come on, Fay. You’ve seen the specs on this one. The Category 3s are nothing to snuff at. They’re taking down Jaegers. We can’t risk that. If we have two Jaegers, shouldn’t we put both out there? I’m willing to risk my job to keep people safe.”


Fay chews her lip. He knows she doesn’t want to, but he also knows she’ll see where he’s coming from. Fay is one of those rare breeds -- she really wants to help people. She believes in a greater good; she believes in being a patriot -- not to a nation or a program, but to the world. Mankind.


That’s what makes her such an amazing woman.


That’s what makes her the perfect mark.


She sighs. “Yeah,” she says. “Okay. But if this goes wrong--”


“I’ll take the blame,” Michael promises her. “I’ll tell Higgins I tricked you.”


Fay shakes her head. “Just don’t let it go wrong, Michael.”


On his feet, he grins. “I didn’t intend to.”


-o-


Back in the command center, Michael makes sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do. Tracking is fully operational. Mammoth is in the air. They have continual contact with adjacent Shatterdomes and ongoing support from the centralized fleet in Hong Kong. Support vehicles are in the air and on the ground, already in route.


He turns, glancing up to Higgins, who is standing at the windows of his office, watching. He meets Michael’s eye.


Michael smiles.


Higgins narrows his eyes.


He doesn’t know yet. He doesn’t know that Fay gave them a clearance code. He doesn’t know that Casey has overseen Disruptor’s preparations. He doesn’t know that Billy and Rick are suited up and ready to go.


“Okay,” Michael says, still holding Higgins’ gaze. “Prepare for secondary Jaeger launch--”


The room buzzes, but no one questions.

Michael turns back toward the display. This is it. If this goes wrong…


It can’t go wrong.


It won’t.


He inclines his head, and doesn’t doubt. Not after all this. Not ever. “--now.”


“Orion Disruptor is airborne,” someone announces over the intercom.


There’s a tittering, and Michael looks back in time to see Higgins’ eyes go wide. Michael lifts his hand in salute, daring the man to question him now.


Turning back, he takes pleasure in knowing he won this round.


-o-


Michael’s won this round, but he’s not so cocky as to think that’s what actually matters. Getting Orion Disruptor in the field is a coup, to be sure, but the whole point is to keep the Jaeger program relevant. Jaegers aren’t invincible, and Michael likes to be right, but he’s not so self-righteous to do all this for his own benefit.

No, he needs to win -- with Mammoth and Disruptor. They need to down the Kaiju, save the coast, and prove to Higgins that this works. That Jaegers work. That they need an offense, not a defense.


And if Higgins doesn’t see it, Michael hopes the rest of the world will.


Mostly, now Michael can only hope.


-o-


For all of Michael’s planning and posturing, for all of his insubordination and risks, ultimately the outcome wasn’t up to him.


“We have confirmation that Mammoth Apostle is on the ground,” someone announces.


Michael moves around to the screen, looking at the blips. “Can we get comms running?”


“Already done,” someone says before the line comes to life.


“Hey, Mammoth, are you all set?” Michael asks.


“Affirmative,” is the reply. “What’s this we hear about backup?”


Michael doesn’t miss a beat. “Orion Disruptor will be right behind you,” he says. “He’ll take up defensive position.”


“You think we need backup?” is the indignant answer.


“I think we all need backup,” Michael says honestly. “Right now the plan is for Disruptor to stay back unless you call him up.”


“I suppose we can live with that.”


Michael smiles. “Good,” he says. He covers the mouthpiece and looks to one of his assistants. “What’s our ETA on Disruptor?”


“Ten minutes.”


“And Mizuchi?”


“We should have another hour.”


Michael nods, blowing out a breath. The pieces are in play. This is the highest stakes game of chest he’s ever played.


And he’s never wanted a checkmate more.


-o-


It’s only eight minutes -- and Michael knows because he watches -- when the second comm link comes to life. “LOCCENT, can you hear us?” comes Rick’s voice.


Michael grins. “Good to hear from you, Disruptor. How’s it feel out there?”


“It’s a lot like riding a bike,” Billy says. “It all comes back.”


“I think we’re a go,” Rick confirms.


“Well, I want you to hang back,” Michael says. “You’re backup.”


“You know how I feel about backup,” Billy says crisply.


Michael walks toward the wide view map. “You’re going to stay close,” he says. “Keep Mammoth in your line of sight, but you are to wait to engage.”


“For orders?” Rick asks.


“By the time you issue the orders, it’s likely to be too late,” Billy warns knowingly.


“Just remember, you’re backup,” Michael stresses. He glances back toward Higgins, who is glaring at him hard. He looks back at the screen. “Follow Mammoth’s lead. And that is an order.”


There’s a hesitation over the line. Finally, Rick replies, “Understood.”


He can hear Billy’s doubts in Rick’s voice. Michael understands that much; he doesn’t even blame him. But there is a bigger picture. One that Michael has to manage. Orion Disruptor is just one part of that -- and important part. He has to remember it’s not just about being right.

It’s about stopping the Kaiju.


“Okay,” he says, changing gears and focusing on his command center. “We have both Jaegers in place. Where are we at with evacuations?”


“Reports on the ground are positive. Emergency shelters are fully operational.”


Michael chews his lip. “And air support?”


“We have a dozen in the air, and more on standby with ground support manning the city.”


Michael looks to the other screen of the ocean. “And Mizuchi?”


“Still on track.”


“No,” Casey interjects. “He’s not on track.”


Michael turns. Malick has taken up residence behind one of the J-tech members, who seems less than pleased by it. “What do you mean?”


The tech sighs. “It’s nothing--”


“It’s something,” Casey says sharply. “The trajectory is right, but I think our ETA is all off. I mean, look at him. He’s capable of extreme bursts of speed. Look at how fast he surfaced after coming out of the breach.”


“It could be an errant reading,” the tech says. “We don’t have perfect tracking on Kaiju.”


“We have damn good tracking on Kaiju,” Casey says.


“But they can’t move that fast,” the tech objects.


“Correction, none of them have moved that fast,” he says. “Just because they haven’t yet, doesn’t mean they can’t.”


Michael doesn’t really have time to listen to a debate. “What’s your point, Malick?”


“My point,” Casey says pointedly. “Is that I think this is nothing but cruise control. If he puts on a burst of speed, he could be there much faster.”


Michael eyes the screen critically. “How much faster?”


Casey doesn’t get a chance to answer, because suddenly, the blip disappears. The tech pauses. Then he swears as the room starts buzz.


“Get it back,” Michael orders. “Who has a visual on our Kaiju?”


No one answers, but everyone is typing and clicking frantically.


Michael’s stomach twists. “Damn it,” he says. “Who has a visual?”


The comm crackles with a curse. “We have contact!” Mammoth’s pilot screams. “Damn it, we have contact!”


-o-


It happens fast.


Michael hates to wait, but he could have done with a little more lead time on this one. They have all their assets in place, but damn it, it’s bad starting this way. Everyone is rattled -- including Mammoth’s pilots.


The string of cursing is to be expected, although it’s not very informative.


“Talk to us,” Michael says. “Tell us what you see.”


“This son of the bitch is all over the place!”


“He’s in and out of the water--” The voice cuts off with another curse. “He can practically fly.”


They sound rattled, which is bad. Jaeger pilots need to be fearless idiots, because if they think too much about how they might die…


Michael switches channels. “What can air support tell us?”


“Simply an affirmative of what we’ve been told,” is the report. “The Kaiju is in and out of the water at incredible speeds.”


“It’s not going after the coast?” Michael asks.


“Negative.”


“Of course he isn’t,” Casey says. “These are intelligent creatures and skilled fighters. They learn. This thing knows what a Jaeger is.”


“Hive mind can’t be proven,” someone objects.


“And can’t be disproven,” Casey replies. “And it doesn’t matter. Think about what it’s doing. It recognizes the Jaegers as its opponents and is deriving new tactics to keep them at a disadvantage. It’s a brilliant strategy. Equip every soldier with a different strength and the enemy has to work harder to keep up.”


“Yeah, but they’re the enemy,” Michael mutters. “Someone give me something to help these guys!”


Alarms start to blare. Michael redirects his attention with dread.


“We’re starting to see damage readouts!”


Michael moves forward, wincing. “Anything critical?”


“Not yet.”


“Come on!” Michael yells. “I need something!


“This thing is built for speed,” Casey says, above the din.


Michael shrugs. “So?”


“So,” Casey says, as if it should be obvious. “Something has to give. If we build a plane built for speed, we can’t make it highly armored or we’re defeating the purpose.”


Michael blinks. “You’re saying--”


“It’s a lightweight,” Casey intones. “Relatively speaking.”


“So that’s why Mammoth’s not sustaining serious damage yet,” Michael concludes.


“And, if you get one good shot--”


Michael feels something clinch in his chest.


He taps his headset for the direct feed back to Mammoth’s conn pod. “How are you guys hanging?”


“Been better,” is the honest reply.


“Look,” Michael continues. “The thought down here is that this thing moves fast, but it’s not built to sustain a long defensive.”


“You want to cut to the punch?” one of the pilots asks as another damage report comes in.


“One good shot,” Michael says. “Your cannon should do the trick.”


“Okay, okay,” the voice crackles over the line. “Let’s line him up…”


There’s a curse.


“No, left--”


“Right--”


Michael holds his breath, balling his fingers into a fist.


“Damn it--”


“I got him, I got him!”


“Charging--”


Michael grinds his teeth together, hoping, praying…

There’s a scream and a yell -- and alarms start blaring.


“He’s on top of us! He’s on top of us!”


“We’ve lost primary life support--”


“Conn pod integrity is being damaged--”


“We’re losing them--”


Michael closes his eyes. This isn’t what he wants. This isn’t what he wanted to be right about. This isn’t.


It’s not.


He opens his eyes, resolved, and meets Casey’s eyes. He nods, touching another channel on his communicator. “Orion Disruptor,” he says. “You are a go. I repeat, you are a go.”


“About time,” Billy comments.


“We’re already on our way,” Rick adds.


Michael bows his head and lets out a breath. Ready or not…


-o-


Billy and Rick are the talkative members of the team. Billy’s always telling stories, and Martinez likes to make small talk. They’re both annoying as hell, sometimes, and Michael told them to shut their mouths more than once.


But in a Jaeger--


They fight in silence. Their movements are registered on the screen, and Michael can see them moving in tandem. Hell, they’re even breathing in tandem. Their completely unified, down to every last nuance. It’s almost beautiful--


And Michael thinks it has to work.


He prays that it works, and Michael’s not a religious man. There’s just nothing else to do.


“Mammoth can’t take much more,” someone reports.


“Disruptor is in range.”


Over the comm, one of Mammoth’s pilots shouts, “Take the shot! Take the shot!”


Michael watches are Rick and Billy raise their arm and take aim--


“Mizuchi is on the move.”


Michael braces. “Take the shot,” he mutters, breathing quickening as Casey edges closer to him. “Take the damn shot!”


The Kaiju jumps.


Disruptor takes the shot.


There’s a crash and the sound of breathing.


Rick swears.


Billy laughs. “The Kaiju is down,” he says. “I repeat, the Kaiju is down.”


The whole room erupts into cheers.


-o-


That’s not it, of course. He has Billy and Rick check the corpse, just to be sure. After Knifehead, everyone recommends such precautions. He turns to Casey, shaking his hand. “One shot, huh?”


Casey smirks. “When am I ever wrong?”


He touches his comm. “Okay, everyone. Good work on this one. I want choppers in the air to bring our guys home. And let’s get Mammoth to emergency care, okay? Oh, and Disruptor? Good work out there.”


“Just doing our job,” Martinez replies, but Michael can hear the pride in his voice.


“Like I said,” Billy mues. “Just like riding a bicycle.”


Michael chuckles, but lets it stand, because they can use this victory. They earned this victory.


He looks up at Higgins, and meets the steely gaze. Higgins isn’t happy, but Michael doesn’t care. He can’t care. Because Michael was right. Michael won. Michael proved his point.


More than any of that, however, this time everyone is coming home.


That’s all Michael wants in the end.