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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 12:39 pm
Title: One Girl Revolution
Summary: The fate of the first Jaeger test pilot is a good reason why you shouldn't drift alone. Mako doesn't care.
Content notes: Warning for the Jaeger name


If anyone had seen the collection of broken Jaegers that Stacker Pentecost had kept, they might have called him sentimental. After all, broken Jaegers took up space, and did not contribute to the fight against the kaiju. With advances in technology, it was better to make new Jaeger parts rather than strip down the old Jaegers.

Mako could not agree as she observed the hangar of the Alaska base. While Stacker Pentecost did make decisions based on his heart, keeping Jaegers was a more hard-headed decision than the one that had changed her life. She knew her teacher kept the Jaegers for that final drastic scenario where the appearance of kaiju would outpace the production of Jaegers.

She felt some of the pressure herself. She was no longer the young girl she had been, and now was leading her own technical team in Jaeger production. It was an honourable job, making weapons much like her father had. But she had the feeling that her father worked with less pressure than her team did.

Mako looked out at the entire hangar, past her team and their other colleagues that were working hard on a great number of tasks. It was not just part of growing up that made the hangar seem smaller and emptier. From her vantage point on the scaffolding she could see all the closed off bays where Jaegers, now fallen in battle, once stood. The bays were empty now, holes in their defence against the kaiju that desperately needed plugging.

Every time she picked up her pen to record schedules and deadlines, the figures on her sheet and the numbers on the war clock made her lips thin with annoyance. The clock was reset to 0 with a new kaiju attack more often than she was able to check off completed tasks on her schedule, only small parts to build up the whole defense that was the Jaeger.

If she had a more complete Jaeger to start with...

It was the same thinking that led Stacker Pentecost to keep broken Jaegers. Mako knew this. Pentecost had taught her, after all.

======

People found it strange that after a hard day of working on Jaegers, Mako went and looked at... more Jaegers.

Broken Jaegers too, not the shiny pinnacles of new technology that Mako worked on. Mako was proud of the work she had done, but there was something that drew her to the old Jaegers, the ones that she had looked up to in wonderment as a child.

She settled down in the platform facing one of these Jaegers right now: Gipsy Danger.

Gipsy Danger was the most complete of the old Jaegers that the Alaska base had, for she mostly maintained her humanoid form. Her pilot, Raleigh Becket, had been amazing to bring the Jaeger all the way back to land with a gaping hole in the cockpit where his co-pilot had been. Mako already felt cold just walking around the base on some days. Being exposed to the same conditions in a Jaeger on the open sea, all alone with only one arm to defend yourself against the kaiju... Mako wrapped her arms around herself, imagining being so alone and exposed.

But this was a military base, where every single space was put to some use and Mako was never truly alone.

"Mako."

She turned back to smile at Pentecost. Her teacher always knew where to find her. As he drew closer, she scrambled to her feet to formally bow to him. Pentecost returned the bow with equal gravitas. "Am I intruding?" he asked.

"No, it is fine." Sometimes she resented when people cut into her personal time, but Pentecost was always the exception. She stood aside to allow Pentecost to view Gipsy Danger as well. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"

They observed Gipsy Danger for some moments, before Pentecost said, with regret in his voice, "The coalition is talking about shutting down the Alaska base."

Mako had seen for herself unmanned stations covered in white tarp, how the technical teams that reported to her dropped in number with each completed project, and the fewer requests that came in. Only a blind person would have missed all this. As the Marshall of this base, she was sure Pentecost saw more than Mako did. That he had waited until now to talk about it meant there must have been formal action already taken. Still... "Is there anything we can do to stop it?"

"Not unless anyone on the coalition wants to support us. Unfortunately, there is not enough money in the global economy to go around."

"But we have to fight," Mako protested.

She held back her words as Pentecost looked at her. She knew what he thought about pilots who fought for vengeance. This was why she was not yet in a Conn-pod.

"We shall," said Pentecost. "And we will. But not to keep the Alaska base."

"Why not?" There was a difference between contesting a decision and asking a question. Mako liked to think she was doing the latter.

"This fight is bigger than the kaiju that appear near Alaska. This fight involves the whole world. The whole world has spoken - they have agreed to shift all the Jaegers to Hong Kong."

"And we will fight from there." Hope was beginning to rise in Mako's chest. Perhaps in Hong Kong she would find a Jaeger to pilot. Perhaps there she could make her desire come true.

Pentecost nodded. "I have some people in mind for your new team. I want you to review them. I've arranged for their personnel files to be delivered to your room."

"Of course. I will prepare the names immediately."

"Mako."

His words stopped her short in her hurry to get back to her room. "Yes, Sensei?"

"I have one more question for you."

She nodded and turned to face him. Pentecost was still looking out over the hangar. "What is it?"

"Do you think that old Jaeger has any hope left in her?"

She turned to Gipsy Danger. As she was now, she was a beautiful old ruin. She was a momento to all the fallen warriors, bearing her scars as a symbol that no matter how brutal the kaiju attack humanity would remain standing.

Noble. Noble but empty.

Mako imagined Gyspy Danger restored, gleaming and filled with light and sound again. She did not need to be so empty.

"Yes," she answered. "Yes, she does." Mako's confidence grew with each word.

Pentecost turned to her and smiled. "Then let's rebuild that hope in Hong Kong."

======

Mako reviews the tapes of Gipsy Danger's retrieval. It's strange to see the Alaska Shatterdome in old video clips, a sight familiar and not. Machines and people have been shifted around since Gipsy came back in bits and scraps and her pilot left with a new shadow.

In the video, the head of the salvage team shakes his head. Nearest to the camera, his movement dominates the screen. The ruined Conn-Pod is barely in view behind his head, tiny due to the height.

"We'll never be able to get a pilot in that Conn-Pod again," the head says.

You're wrong, Mako thinks.

=========

Mako has craved moving a mechanical arm on her own since Sensei told her about being the first to test a neural uplink between mind and machine.

When Mako had begun to master English, Stacker started to have tea with her so that they could talk and share stories. The tea was always been the same - strong red tea for Sensei, soothing green tea for Mako. The stories however, were rich and varied. His first experience with the neural link that made it possible for Jaegers to be controlled had just been one of the stories.

"Dr Lightcap said that she had the initial version of the Pons, nothing more than some remote control, a rig and an arm," he said. "But they were already terrified that it wouldn't work. Someone had to be sure that it would."

Sensei of course. Mako can imagine no one else. She looked at Stacker's fingers, strong and yet able to rest gently on the thin curve of his teacup. In contrast, Mako's little girl fingers were stubby and barely able to wrap around the solid warm porcelain of her mug.

"Did it?"

"Same technology was fitted in the very first line of Jaegers."

"What did it feel like?" Mako wanted to bounce, but her tea was hot and she wanted to be more like Stacker. Sensei was still, was calm, was like mountains.

"Like moving in wet concrete." There was a quirk to his mouth as he said it, which Mako was beginning to get the feel of, like they way he said daughter and I'm proud, quirks of both English and different cultural approaches to emotion. "It was also like hope. If we could already move a mechanical arm in the early stages, we could do more."

Or maybe it was just Sensei. Only Sensei could look at a mechanical arm and imagine a future for a whole Jaeger. Mako clenched and unclenched her free fist, and imagined doing the same in a Jaeger.

======

With a pleased flourish, Mako marked off the item on her checklist that read "Conn-Pod". Above it, she had checked off the various items that comprised Gipsy Danger's new arm.

It had been several months since they had moved to Hong Kong and Mako's days were packed with the busy flurry of parts and hard work that went into restoring Gipsy Danger. It was a different sort of puzzle from what Mako was used to. Usually it was a matter of putting the machinery together in the right way. Not so with this Jaeger. Gipsy Danger was picky about the types of machinery she accepted: this piece would sync well with her neural system but her power systems are completely incompatible; that piece was the industry standard but the Jaeger only responded to one that moved 1.5 times faster; the detached arm had an empty slot that was just begging for an extra weapon to be installed...

It was an exhilarating puzzle and Mako still had a lot to do. Now, at least Mako could look into the face of the Jaeger and no longer see where it had been torn apart.

It didn't explain why Mako had the urge to go in and test if the Jaeger was as intact as she looked.

Mako flipped to the inventory list of the parts that have gone into the Conn-Pod. She knew at a glance that these are the best materials, which Pentecost handed to her without question. She personally oversaw the process that put them together right. There was no reason why the Jaeger should not be on track to completion.

She had all the facts in her hand, but that didn't quell the urge to test the reality for herself. Mako knew from simulations how to initiate the neural link to a Jaeger. She knew what a simulated Drift looks like. Yet there was something about this Jaeger that seemed more real and solid than all her Jaeger pilot training put together.

But the risks were just as real too. Dr Lightcap, the pioneer of the Jaeger-human neural sync system, had retired to a teaching position after her co-pilot had died. Mako remembered the lecture she had given Mako's class.

"Never pilot a Jaeger alone," she had told them. "The neural load will kill you."

"Doctor, did you really jump in to save your co-pilot when he did that?" One of Mako's more outspoken classmates had asked. Mako thought that was a silly question. Did his fighting instructor not train him to read body language? Dr Lightcap's entire body was fixed in firm, stern lines to impress upon them the importance of this statement.

As Mako expected, Dr Lightcap did not reply her classmate.

But the lecture had the desired impact on Mako - it highlighted the danger that she would be putting herself into. The engineering bay was empty now. There was no one to act as a Dr Lightcap and jump in to save her if the load proved too much.

That also meant that there was no one there to stop her from doing something incredibly, dangerously stupid.

Looking up at Gipsy Danger from the shop floor level, despite her size Mako also could not feel that this Jaeger posed any danger to her. Perhaps Mako had admired this Jaeger for too long, in those long dark days in Alaska. Mako knew Gipsy Danger. Mako knew every nut and bolt, had lovingly picked over her systems, and had shaped Gipsy Danger into what she was right now. Who could handle Gipsy Danger better than Mako could?

Mind made up, Mako ran to the nearest ladder and scrambled in the direction of the equipment room to prepare for a Drift in Gipsy Danger.

======

The neural suit room was usually buzzing with people helping the pilots with the first step of the neural link. When Mako found herself running into the empty room, a thrill ran down her spine as the reality of her sneaking around hit her. What she was doing was a secret that she could treasure.

Mako had brought her training suit with her to Hong Kong, which solved the problem of finding the right clothes. All she needed was a helmet with the proper ports to create a neural link.

She scanned the storage room, inwardly cursing at why Jaeger pilots had to be so well-built. The Wei triplets, despite being Asian as well, dwarved Mako. A quick try of their helmets proved that their heads matched their bulk. Thankfully, an extra helmet belonging to Sasha was on one of the shelves, and Mako borrowed that with an internal apology to the Russian pilot. Sasha, being a woman, was closer in size to Mako, and it wouldn't do for Mako to get all the way inside the Conn-pod only to find herself let down by her tools.

Setting up the sequence to suit up was more exciting than sitting through the whole of it. Mako wondered how long it would take as the machines fitted the spinal support along her back. Already the process made a clanking noise that she preferred not to have when carrying out a secret Drift after hours. Getting caught when she was nowhere near Gipsy Danger would be far too frustrating.

When the last bolt was secured she hopped off the contraption with a relieved sigh. A quick check of the corridor proved that no one had noticed the changing room was being used. Boots in hand, Mako set off at a quiet run down the corridor.

Others might have had a problem at the door to Gipsy Dangar's hangar, but Mako was the technical lead in restoring the Jaeger to full fighting glory. Her card was accepted without any fuss. She jammed the button for the industrial lift, leaning against it until the lift clanked down to the floor level.

The ride up again tested Mako's patience with unnecessary time wasted. Mako sat down on the lift floor to pull on her boots and save herself some time. The sound of the boots hissing to seal with her armour was drowned out by the lift machinery. Mako glared at the gears. How was it that the world had advanced so far with Jaeger technology, but had not been able to make quiet lifts?

Finally, finally, Mako found herself at the level of the head which housed the Conn-Pod.

For all that she was impatient in the lift, Mako opened the lift door more slowly, borrowed helmet in hand. She walked onto the gangway leading up to the Jaeger's head with equally measured steps. This close, Gipsy Danger's head stretched above Mako, as large as a two story building. It was a scale that did not register to Mako while on the shop floor working on parts much larger. Mako's engineering background reminded her that the size of the Jaeger's head was to accommodate two pilots and all the controls needed to sync the two of them with the mech.

But all the rationality in the world did not make it less of an awe-inspiring sight. Mako crossed the platform until she could reach out a hand to touch Gipsy Danger.

The metal was firm under Mako's touch, as pleasing and as real as putting an engine together herself. Mako ran her fingers along the fine seams, the secure bolts, the painted lines that made up Gipsy Danger's serial code, and many other the details that Mako had only observed with her eyes before. Sight was only one of five senses after all, and Mako intended to broaden her sensory knowledge of the Jaeger.

Finally her fingers brushed against the handle that controlled access to the Conn-Pod. Mako approved of the way the handle felt right in the palm of her hand as her fingers closed around it.

She pushed down. A loud hissing sound confirmed that the first set of seals were being released, and the door swung open. Lights flicked on to illuminate the way to the second set of doors. Before that was the air lock, the first part of entering the Jaeger.

The sight proved to Mako that this was real. She was really entering the control room of Gipsy Danger.

It was time to be serious now. In a way, this was like walking into the mediation room of a temple. From here on, Mako had to focus on her goal - the Drift.

She swung her left foot over the threshold to hit the solid metal of the walkway, followed by her right. Mako wasn't sure if the sound of her own breathing or the difference of material within the Jaeger was making her believe that the echo of her footsteps sounded much different here. She listened to the difference in timbre as she made her way to the Conn-Pod.

At the second set of doors, again she grasped the handle and turned it to open.

The door swung open to show the controls inside the Conn-Pod flickering into life, activated by the motion of the door. There was the whine of the systems as it ramped up the power from the nuclear systems. The dual controls for the pilots lay waiting.

Mouth dry, Mako stepped into the Conn-Pod. Unlike the corridor, she could not hear her footsteps over the whirling of machinery beneath her feet. Now that she was properly in the Jaeger, she recalled the rumours that Jaegers were alive and could move on their own.

But as Mako stood in the Conn-Pod, she did not hear any shifting outside of the Jaeger. It was time to stop stalling. This was Mako's moment.

Mako breathed in deep, and then fitted the borrowed helmet over her head.

As she had rehearsed so many times in simulations, she stepped into the Conn-Pod with confidence. Gears clicked and whirred as she stepped onto the left platform and locked in her feet to the pedals there. She raised her arms and grasped the controls that would manipulate the arms. Finally she leaned back and closed her eyes.

"Gipsy Danger, initialising," said the control system. "Left limb controls, engaged. Neural link, initialising. Sync in 3, 2, 1 - "

Then Mako's consciousness expanded beyond herself to fit into something far far larger.

She watched as her memories unfolded in front of her in a blur of colour to fill up all the extra space that she seemed to have been given. During training, they had advised the cadets to think of common memories they might both share in order to initiate the neural handshake. Mako thought of nothing in particular since she had no other pilot to sync with. And yet her mind reached out to touch something, anything -

"Second pilot not found. Assessing single user."

In the Jaeger pilot academy, there was a story, an urban legend really, that the Artificial Intelligence in the Jaeger was almost a person on its own, and what's more it was smarter than you. Treat it right, and it would take care of you. Treat it wrong, and you could find yourself without your sensors in the middle of a kaiju fight.

Mako had always thought of it as superstitious thinking, but she had never synced with a Jaeger and felt as though it was observing her with a huge and all encompassing consciousness, sizing her up for suitability. She hoped that she was found worthy of continuing.

After what seemed like eons, Mako felt the lock of the neural network, followed by the AI saying, "Recalibrating to single user control."

Whatever space Mako's mind had been occupying narrowed down, and the real world came rushing back in.

Inside the Conn-Pod, her breathing sounded heavy and harsh. She opened her eyes and waited for the glow of the controls to resolve themselves into coherent shapes. She almost touched her hand to her forehead, but when she flexed her hand she felt both her human hand and something much larger and heavier outside of the Jaeger move.

More information was coming in now. Mako saw the viewpoint and the hangar outside through her human eyes while a multitude of sensors whispered the dimensions of the hangar and the location of heat signatures directly into her brain. So this was what it was like to be inside the mind of a Jaeger.

"Notice."

Mako jumped at the voice, before registering that it was the voice of Gipsy's Artificial Intelligence.

"User unrecognised."

Of course, Mako was not Gipsy's usual pilot. Did Mark 3 Jaegers already have security measures on the Conn-Pod? It was not in Mako's maintenance list, but she strained her mind back to the days of her Jaeger pilot training, just to be sure.

"List of users: Pilot 1, Yancy Becket; Pilot 2, Raleigh Becket; Maintainence 1, empty; Maintainence 2, empty."

"Gipsy, store verbal signature under Maintenance 1," Mako answered before the Jaeger could decide to eject her.

"Storing verbal signature under Maintenance 1. Please provide your name and rank."

"Mako Mori, Technical Lead Alaska Base Personnel Code 130711."

"Record created: Maintenance 1, Mako Mori. Welcome Ms Mori. I am Gipsy Danger."

Mako resisted the urge to bow. "Nice to meet you."

"Will there be a Pilot 2 or a Maintenance 2 logging in today?"

Mako though of Raleigh Becket, who had left the PDCC 5 years ago and refused all contact, even turning down attempts to give him his pension. "No, there will not."

"I see," the AI replied, and it was probably Mako projecting her own feelings that it sounded a bit sad. "What would you like to do?"

For the first time since she had started, Mako found herself at a lost. What could she do, now that she had Gipsy Danger at her command? It seemed a pity to come all this way without doing anything with the Jaeger.

She thought of Sensei, with the mechanical arm that he willed into movement. She considered her own hand. Through the neural link, the Jaeger's arm felt as if it were a glove over her own arm.

Then she swung it to her left, prepared to fully extend it.

Even before she had completed the gesture, she heard the gears in the Jaeger's arm whirling to life, loud even within the Conn-Pod. Both her visual display and her sensors tracked the movement, assuring her that the Jaegr's movements were aligned with her own physical body's gestures.

She finished lifting her arm until her shoulder and her arm were a straight line. Then she clenched her fist. There was no lag between the movement of the glove-Jaeger arm, and her own arm. The pushback of machinery was intepreted by her senses as stiff cloth against the movement.

Mako thought about Sensei's "wet concrete" description, and had to laugh. How things had changed since those early days.

Now that she had made the first move, the possibilities were endless. She thought back to the videos that she had watched of Gipsy Danger's activation. Every time the pilots completed the neural handshake, they had the same ready position - one hand laid atop a clenched fist. Mako liked it - it reminded her of the gesture made just before stepping onto the sparring mat.

As if the Jaeger knew what she was doing, the left arm moved easily into the first half of the ready position - hand still fisted, arm bent in front of the chest. But Mako had not hooked up the controls for the right arm. It lay against the Jaeger, inert, waiting.

Dr Lightcap's lecture about piloting an entire Jaeger solo echoed in her head.

It was dispersed by the announcement by the AI. "Warning: right arm unresponsive. Unable to initiate starting move."

Mako hated to leave things unfinished.

She flicked the controls without looking at them. The controls around her right wrist flared into life, followed by the ghost sensation of another Jaeger arm over her right arm. She whipped her right arm forward, the movement sending shock waves through the air. She was also quick in bending the arm so that the right palm of the Jaeger hovered above the fisted left hand.

Then with a gentleness she didn't expect a Jaeger to be capable of she brought her fist and her open palm together. In the viewport of the Jaeger, Mako saw the Jaeger complete the opening move. She marvelled at how different the view looked like from within a Jaeger, and from what she had seen in the videos. Without a co-pilot, this gesture was all hers, the Jaeger a second skin over her body.

The possibilities for this larger body were endless. She could throw punches in the tiny hangar. She could try out the new weapons that she had installed. She could even tear open the seas and pour of its waters into the Breach.

Instead, she powered down the Jaeger.

This was something that Sensei and her parents had all taught her in their own way. Sensei had said, Your grief can be your weapon, but also your ruin. Her mother, from the Drift, You may find the smartest way with your talents, but that might not be the right way. Her father, from Mako's dim memories of watching him craft swords, The hammer can deliver a mighty blow, but that would ruin the sword.

Mako recalled all their wisdom as she began the procedures that would let her return the Jaeger to its original position. Even though she had the capability, there was no reason to use them now, and undo all the repairs that she had done on the Jaeger.

"Starting move completed." The AI noted. "Was your testing satisfactory, Ms Mori?"

"It was," Mako agreed, and understood why Chuck was always grinning so broadly in new clips featuring Striker Eureka's victory. The feeling of success was bubbling out of her now to spread a smile across her face. Even the taste of blood slipping over her upper lip couldn't dim it.

She unstrapped herself from the machine, and started planning for the next time she would pilot a Jaeger again.