Chapter 14

The journey to Earth was the same as any other: a long period of nothing but cosmic dust, followed by a short and relatively sudden end. Such was the scale of space; years to cross from one star to another, but only several hours at most to cover the distance that the outermost planetoid of the system orbited at to the world he was heading towards.

Well, it would have been a few hours if he had maintained the speed he had been travelling at. That, however, would have been a spectacularly bad idea; an impact while travelling at 96.04% the speed of light could only be described as cataclysmic, and any situation that could possibly lead to such an event should be avoided at all costs. So, just as he passed a planetoid apparently called Pluto, six powerful retro thrusters engaged, assisting his deceleration to a more manageable velocity while he also burnt energon in order to bleed kinetic energy into Transwarp Space. His energon reserves were considerably depleted by doing so, but given that he was so close to his destination, he could afford the loss.

It would now take him approximately five axial rotations of his target planet to reach his destination, but its inhabitants would be well aware of his impending arrival thanks to the luminosity of his retro thrusters. He would appear to be, briefly, a star hanging brightly in the sky, before vanishing.

He felt his Sparks grow restless in anticipation of seeing Optimus and some of his other fellow Autobots again. It had been so long since the Ark and the hunt for the Allspark. It was just a shame that he would be seeing them again on a planet called 'Earth' – still probably the worst name an indigenous population could give to their homeworld. Maybe he would be able to show them the error of their ways when he got there!

~8~

3 Days Later - April 21, 2015

The bay housing the prototype Jaeger was truly enormous; at a hundred metres in height, and several times that in both length and breadth, it was large enough to comfortably contain a city block - buildings included - within its walls. The Jaeger was positioned close to the south entrance, surrounded by scaffolding and gantries as it underwent its scheduled structural assessment. Sitting on one such gantry, fifty metres above the ground, Caitlin stared glumly at the Jaeger barely five metres in front of her as she played absently with her sandwich, taking a small bite out of it every couple of minutes.

She'd come up here for every meal since she'd broken up with Jasper, finding solitude preferable to the crowded noisiness of the mess hall that, only a couple of days ago, she had eagerly immersed herself in. And to be honest, she preferred to be there, but after the break up she needed time to think and reflect. It had been an emotionally tumultuous couple of days.

She took another bite out of her sandwich; a small piece of egg dropped out of her mouth and fell, quickly disappearing out of sight and probably landing somewhere near the Jaeger's right foot.

The damn Jaeger. If Jasper hadn't wanted to build it, he never would have come for her, meaning she would never have invented the PONS or the Drift, and never would have drifted with Sergio. And if she hadn't drifted with Sergio, she never would have fallen for him, and she and Jasper would have never broken up, meaning that she wouldn't be sitting on this gantry feeling guilty.

Jasper hadn't taken their break up well, that was for certain. Why else would he have disappeared from Kodiak Island without so much as a goodbye? Surely he could have at least told her he was going, instead of leaving that job up to Jolt, who had looked about as awkward as she had ever imagined an Autobot looking.

Another bite from the sandwich, this one a lot more forceful than the others.

So Jasper had bailed, and had gone somewhere else for as long as he wanted. Despite Jolt's assurances to the contrary, she half expected him never to return at all.

She sighed. That wasn't fair. Jasper wasn't someone to just give up. He'd come back, and when he did, he'd get right back to working on the Mark One Jaegers. He just needed some time to process what had happened. And to be honest, so did she, but she couldn't afford to take some time off. Unlike Jasper, she didn't have Jolt to cover for her, and without her, the Drift tests couldn't happen at all. No, she needed hang around for a little longer.

The rattle of footsteps on the metal gantry let her know that someone was approaching her.

"So this is where you've been hiding," Sergio said, sitting down next to her, swinging his legs in the empty space under them.

"Yep," Caitlin replied somewhat resentfully. She just wanted to be alone and think! "How'd you find me?"

"Our Drift this morning. I got a glimpse of the Jaeger and figured you were up here somewhere. I'm surprised, actually - you managed to stop me from seeing it for two days. Should I be impressed?"

Caitlin let out a wry grin. "I suppose. Wasn't easy."

"I bet it wasn't," Sergio chuckled. He put his arm around her shoulders. "I'm worried though, Cait. You haven't been yourself since -"

"Since we started Drifting."

"Well, yes…" Sergio admitted. "But more recently. Since Jasper."

Caitlin glanced pointedly at her watch. "Shoot, it's almost one," she said, unwinding Sergio's arm from around her. "We need to go get changed." She pushed herself to her feet, taking the last, hasty bites of her sandwich. "See you in the lab," she managed to mumble, despite the half-chewed bread, egg and lettuce in her mouth.

"Caitlin!" Sergio called after her as she fled down the gantry. "I get that you don't want to talk about it, but I'm gonna find out anyway! You may as well tell me!" She turned the corner, disappearing out of sight. "It'll be easier," he finished lamely, before sighing and heading off to get changed himself.

"You're late," Lars Gottlieb said pointedly when Caitlin entered the PONS testing lab at four minutes past one.

"Spare me the grumps, Lars," Caitlin said, walking past him and lying down in her recliner. "Really not in the mood."

"I can tell," Lars muttered, walking over to her and fitting her PONS headpiece on her head. "You've been in a foul mood ever since Doctor Schoenfeld left."

Caitlin sighed. She'd noticed that she was being a bit more irritable these past couple of days. "I know," she said sadly. "It's been...difficult. I'm sorry."

Lars just grunted, though Caitlin wasn't sure if it was in response to her apology, or the fact that Sergio had just walked in the door. Of course, he didn't get a snide remark about tardiness…

Lars turned his attention to Sergio, and a few minutes later, they were ready to commence another Drift test. Lars now stood behind a console, eyes darting over computer displays as Caitlin and Sergio lay opposite each other in front of him.

"Okay," he said. "Non-Jaeger PONS test one-six-seven. Initiating neural handshake in five, four, three, two, one…"

Caitlin closed her eyes as the now familiar sensation of her mind connecting to Sergio's overwhelmed her. Thoughts and desires flooded her mind as she was treated to a crash-course of Sergio's life, from his growing up on a farm in Kentucky, to the day when he first met her. Some memories she'd seen many times before, but others were new, giving her a greater understanding of the person lying opposite her.

"Hey…" Sergio said to her, communicating via the Drift. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry about earlier."

"I know...I can feel it…"

"No hard feelings?"

"No. Pretty sure this wouldn't work if there were…"

Across from her, Sergio smirked. "Knew you couldn't stay angry at me."

"Shut up…" She blushed, watching through Sergio's eyes as her face reddened slightly.

"PONS link strong and holding," Lars announced. "You two lovebirds holding up okay?"

"Yep," Sergio nodded.

"Yes," Caitlin echoed, eyes briefly darting to Lars before landing back on -

Jasper?

"If it works, you should let it happen," he said softly.

Caitlin blinked and looked around. She was sitting up in their – her – bed, staring up at Jasper, trying to contain the tears that threatened to fall down her cheeks. "I wasn't talking about the Jaeger," she found herself saying.

"Caitlin?" Sergio's voice echoed faintly in the background.

"Neither was I," Jasper replied.

She couldn't contain it any longer, and the tears were released. "I never wanted to hurt you," she said softly, yearning for him to believe her. It had been so gradual, so unexpected – she hadn't even realised it until a few days ago –

"Caitlin, what's going on? What's - what is this?"

"I know," Jasper said, sounding as if he was barely holding back tears himself. "But I would have if I were you."

She watched him as he left, then stared down at the bedsheets as she heard him open the door and leave their apartment - his apartment. She couldn't come back here now. They were finished.

"This is when you and Jasper broke up...But how?"

She'd have to find somewhere else to go...move in with Sergio, perhaps? No, not immediately. That would be too awkward, and a slap in the face to Jasper. Give it some time, a couple of weeks maybe. Then they could finally make official the bond that weeks of being inside each other's minds had forged.

"Cait, it wouldn't be awkward at all…"

She let out a shaky breath. Breaking up with Jasper had left her able to admit, without feeling guilty, that she loved Sergio. And it felt wonderful.

"Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on?"

But Jasper…

A new wave of guilt and anguish washed over her, as the sight of his pained face etched itself into her brain. Memories of her university days, of their affair, of them coming together again, resurfaced, reminding her of what she'd just thrown away. Was she a terrible person for doing this to him? Had she cheated on him?

"No! None of us had any idea what the experiments would do!"

"I'm sorry, Jasper," she murmured, before the world around her collapsed in on itself. She screamed; her brain was on fire, pounding relentlessly against her skull, trying to force its way through -

And then she was opening her eyes, staring up at the relieved face of Sergio. Her ears picked up the beeping of equipment, and with a sinking stomach, she realised she was back in the medical wing.

"Ugh…" she groaned. "How long?"

"Few hours," Sergio replied. "Lars managed to shut the PONS down, but you were screaming your head off, so we took you here right away. Ratchet's checked everything: no lasting damage, thank god, but no more testing today." He paused, biting his lip in that cute way he always -

Caitlin suppressed another groan. How typical of her. If she was able to recognise that Sergio was being cute, then she wasn't that hurt at all. Her head was still throbbing away, but she'd had migraines that had been far worse.

"...happened?" Sergio was saying. "It was like I was in the room with you and Doctor Schoenfeld when you...when you…" He trailed off awkwardly.

"Broke up," Caitlin said flatly.

"Yeah…" Sergio said slowly, before sighing. "Look Cait, I know it hurt you to break up with him, but it was the right thing to do. And I don't mean to intrude - really, I don't - but it's a bit hard not to when we're sharing our minds. But please, I'm not going to hurt you, and I'm not going to tell anyone else what I see in your head. I just need you to trust me. You think you can do that?"

Caitlin stared up at him, at his rugged, handsome face, with just the slightest trace of stubble lining his chin. It was the face of the man she'd fallen in love with, the man she knew far more intimately than anyone else on earth, and the man who knew her likewise. If there was anyone she could trust, it was him.

"Yes," she said. "I can do that."

Sergio visibly relaxed. "Good, good," he said, smiling happily. "Just wanted to clear that up. Now...what the hell was that last drift?"

Caitlin frowned, thinking back. She'd relived her breakup with Jasper, but it had been so vivid, so real, like she had been there again. "It was a memory…" she said slowly. "But a full one, not the usual fragments. Some sort of total recall, maybe? I don't really know."

"Why did it happen though? And why now?"

Caitlin shrugged. "Dunno. Stress? Guilt? Chance? It's been a bit rough for me recently, so maybe…" She trailed off, shrugging again. "I'll need to look into it in any case. See if I can isolate the cause."

"Hopefully it's just a kink that we can quickly iron out," Sergio said, patting her hand. "Wouldn't want our performance in the Jaeger to be impacted, especially with another kaiju due soon."

Caitlin swallowed. A kaiju? A few weeks ago, the thought of fighting one in the Jaeger had terrified her. Now though? She couldn't deny that the idea was somewhat attractive.

"No," she said quietly. "We definitely wouldn't."

~8~

April 23

Kaori Koyamada could think of several times in her life where she found herself in a situation and wondered just how she'd managed to get there. This was one of those occasions.

It had all started some weeks ago, when the fledgling Pan-Pacific Defense Corps had suffered a data leak that revealed the existence of an alien portal at the bottom of Challenger Deep. Naturally, there had been considerable public uproar about this revelation, with several riots breaking out in cities bordering the Pacific Ocean. But as the world demanded answers, her boss, Shao Liwei, saw the whole situation as an opportunity.

Kaori didn't know much about Liwei, even after working for him for the better part of a decade, but she did know that he was a ruthless businessman, and that the success of his company and her employer, Shao Industries, could be attributed to some sketchy business practices on his part. Rumours trickling down the corporate grapevine suggested that he and the Human-Autobot Liaison Team did not get along well, for reasons that were often left to the imagination. Kaori tried not to think about these things; as far as she was concerned, her job as a signals analyst gave her a substantial paycheck and other nice, comfortable perks as well. If Liwei wanted her to do something, she'd do it.

And that was how she ended up in a small submarine, sneaking past a PPDC blockade around the Marianas Trench, descending to the depths of Challenger Deep to take the first corporate look at the kaiju-spewing portal at the bottom. The sub itself was about the size of a car, but the insides were much smaller, with barely enough room to accommodate a two-man crew. A reinforced concave glass viewing bubble made up the front, behind which the pilot, Mihoko, sat controlling the sub as it made its slow descent. Kaori was curled up half a metre behind her, uncomfortably contorting her leg so as to gaze out the small circular viewport that made up part of the floor beneath her. To her right was a row of complicated-looking instruments that she would be using to record any data she could about the portal - once they got there.

The journey had been slow going, and more than once Kaori had wished that she'd brought something to read. She'd tried talking to Mihoko, but the young girl claimed to be too busy controlling the sub to engage in conversation.

Kaori snorted. How hard was it to control a sub, especially when all they were doing was sinking really, really, really slowly? Had Mijoko ever heard of something called multitasking?

"You been driving submarine's for long?" she asked in her native Japanese. The one thing she had managed to learn about Mihoko - from a random technician back on the transport boat - was that they shared a home country.

"A few years," was the curt reply.

Kaori sighed, and checked the depth meter. They had finally reached the ten thousand metre mark, which meant they had less than a kilometre to go until they reached the portal. She spent the next half hour staring glumly out the bottom viewport until, gradually, she began to notice tiny, strange creatures swim below her. She glanced up, and to her delight was able to make out rock formations through the viewing bubble. The portal was close.

Five minutes later, they had reached it. The sub passed over a rocky outcrop, and bright orange light instantly flooded it. Squinting, Kaori stared through the viewport on the floor, and found herself looking at the portal.

"Wow…" She couldn't help it; the sight of the portal, in its swirling orange majesty, was incredibly beautiful, entrancing even. She stared at it, enthralled with the frothing energy and lancing electricity for several minutes before she forced herself to look away. She had a job to do, but first they needed to get a little closer.

"Take us down a bit more," she told Mihoko.

"I can't," grunted Mihoko, who was gripping the control stick so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. "Water's too turbulent."

Kaori growled in frustration. They were, by her estimation, still a few hundred metres above the portal. Surely they could get a little bit closer? "Are you sure?"

Mihoko gave her a brief, withering glance. "You want to drive?"

Kaori didn't argue the point. It might not be the ideal situation, but given the circumstances, data from this far away would have to suffice. She switched her instruments on.

Nothing.

Kaori frowned.

There - a brief spurt of data, followed several seconds later by another! Success! Kaori stared greedily at the data coming in, imagining all the information that could be gleaned from it once they had returned to Shao Industries. Information from another dimension - the applications could be endless! It could usurp energon as the talking point of the scientific community - and it would all be down to her, journeying at great risk to the very place the PPDC and Autobots had declared off limits. Perhaps the data she was collecting could be used to find a way to stop the kaiju! She would be famous. Kaori Koyamada, winner of a Nobel Prize…

Lost though she was in her daydreaming, something caught Kaoria's eye. The data - she was getting so much of it! It was flooding in many times faster than it had been only a few seconds previously! What was going on?

Kaori immediately glanced down through the floor's porthole, and gasped.

This drew Mihoko's attention. "What? What is it?" she asked, still furiously grappling with the sub's yoke.

But Kaori didn't reply; she was too busy staring, slack-jawed, at the orange energy swirling below. A crack had appeared in the fiery maelstrom, and as she watched, that crack grew bigger and bigger. The lancing electricity increased in frequency, punctuating the orange with bolts of white so often that it was hard to see anything clearly. Then, abruptly, the electrical storm ceased, revealing a gaping wide hole, around which the orange energy now formed a border.

The portal had opened, Kaori realised. She was seeing whatever lay on the Other Side, not that she could actually see much. Just a dark, murky blue and a mottled brown object that appeared to be getting closer, rising up from whatever dimension formed the Other Side.

Then the object looked up, and she saw its four glowing eyes.

"Argh!" she cried, jumping back and breathing heavily. It was a kaiju. Of course it was a kaiju. Shit.

"What did you see?" Mihoko demanded.

"Never mind that," Kaori said quickly. "We need to get out of here. Now!"

"Why? Wha –"

"Now!"

This time Mihoko obeyed, and the submarine immediately began to ascend – slowly.

Kaori cursed. "We need to go faster!"

"I'm going as fast as I can," Mihoko snapped. "What's the matter? We only just got here!"

"Kaiju!" Kaori shouted, eyes wide and panicked. "There's a kaiju coming up through the portal right now!"

Mihoko turned to look at her, her face a ghostly white. Kaori returned her gaze, and nodded fearfully. Mihoko audibly gulped, and turned back to the controls. A moment later, their ascent speed notably increased, although it was still painfully slow.

"Come on," Kaori muttered anxiously to herself. They were going too slow; the kaiju would be on them in seconds.

She had no time to lose.

Her hands flew across a keyboard to her right, eyes darting to and fro across the screen displaying the data that her many instruments had detected only a few minutes ago. She hastily collated them together, hoping fervently that she hadn't missed anything, compressed the file, and began the upload to the Shao Industries server.

It was a last ditch attempt to get the data to Liwei, and there was no guarantee it would work this far underwater even with the signal boosters attached to the sub. But she had no other option. She would likely be dead within minutes - seconds, even - and the submarine destroyed.

Tearing her eyes away from the upload window, which was still attempting to connect, Kaori instead turned her gaze downward to the porthole below her.

A huge, wiry claw was reaching straight for her, stretching out from the leviathan below her. It was 30 metres away...20...10…

Kaori closed her eyes, waiting for the end.

Whump.

The sub shook violently and accelerated rapidly upwards, but the sound of wrenching metal and the explosion of decompression never came.

Tentatively, Kaori reopened her eyes to see the sub completely intact, the file still attempting to connect to a server, and Mihoko continuing to grapple with the controls.

"The kaiju's got us in its claw," she grunted. "I'm trying to get us out, but it's too big!"

All that was visible outside of the viewing bubble in front of Mihoko was the mottled brown skin of the kaiju. The sight sent shivers down Kaori's spine; any second now, the kaiju could exert the tiniest amount of pressure and pop their sub like a child's balloon.

But it never did. It kept pulling them up with it as it rose, making the journey that had taken them hours in only a few minutes. Automatic machinery kicked in, working overtime to compensate for changes in external water pressure that were much more rapid than usual. And, to Kaori's immense belief, the sub's instruments finally connected to the Shao Industries server, and the data began to transfer.

But, trapped inside a submarine that was caught in the clutches of a kaiju, there was no guarantee that they would last long enough for the transfer to be completed.

~8~

"Visual confirmed: kaiju is at our twelve o'clock. What d'you think, Duc? Is he bloody huge or what?"

"Definitely bloody huge," Duc Jessop replied, staring out at the kaiju rising from the depths of the ocean, its monstrous form somehow graceful as it moved its limbs in massive strokes. 'Bloody huge' was an understatement; the pictures and videos of all the previous kaiju had nothing on seeing one in the flesh. Four limbed, with both arms ending in three very long, spindly claws, this kaiju had a tall, wide, cylindrical head that reminded Duc strongly of a tree trunk. Quite fittingly, its skin was bark-brown, with light-green accents on its claws and spiked shoulders. Four eyes glowed blue in the murky seawater, the larger ones positioned above the smaller pair, all staring upwards as the kaiju continued its ascent.

Duc and his co-pilot, Graeme Hartley, had been deployed in a small, two-man submersible designed specifically by the PPDC to track kaiju and, courtesy of the dozen torpedos it housed, serve as a 'distraction' if necessary. They had been alerted to activity in the portal only a couple of hours ago, and had been immediately deployed from one of the PPDC aircraft carriers making up the blockade around the Marianas Trench. They'd been sitting at a hundred metres below sea level for most of that time, doing nothing but watching the fish swim by, courtesy of their sub's headlights and what little moonlight penetrated this far beneath the waves. It had all seemed rather pointless, but the PPDC was so anxious not to lose track of this kaiju and see a repeat of the Suva disaster that deploying two lowly captains much earlier than needed was an easy decision to make.

But now the kaiju had finally emerged, and made the ascent to near the surface startlingly quickly. They watched as it speeded up from the deep before stopping, treading water at roughly the same depth as them. Its head turned back and forth, as if considering its surroundings, before its powerful legs kicked into motion, propelling it smoothly towards the north east.

"All right," Duc said, "it's an ugly son of a bitch. Let's keep half a klick behind him and see where he goes."

They did so for half an hour, before Graeme suddenly let out a cry of alarm.

"Duc – is that – no way – is that a sub?!"

"What? Where?"

"In it's right claw. Holy shit."

Frowning, Duc looked closely at the kaiju again, and to his utmost terror, spotted what was unmistakably a small submersible wedged between the three claws on the kaiju's right hand. Next to the behemoth carrying it, it was so small and insignificant that he doubted that he would have ever noticed it had Graeme not pointed it out – and it was a miracle that Graeme had even seen it in the first place.

After letting out a suitable stream of profanities, he opened a radio channel in an attempt to contact the trapped submarine. "This is PPDC submersible, call sign Alpha Dog, hailing the distressed submarine!" he said urgently. "What is your status?"

A short burst of static was followed by an unintelligible reply.

"Sounds Japanese," Graeme noted.

"Shit," Duc said, switching frequencies. "Kennel House, this is Alpha Dog. The kaiju's got a goddamn submarine caught in its hand! What are our orders? Over."

The was a brief moment of silence as mission control considered the situation.

"Alpha Dog, you are to maintain a safe distance and observe only," came the answer. "Do not engage. Over."

"But we can't just stay back!" Duc protested. "They're as good as dead if we don't do anything!"

"I repeat, Alpha Dog, do not engage. The Autobots have been notified and are enroute to your location. They will be there within the hour. Over."

Duc sighed. "Roger that, Kennel House. Over and out."

"That's cold," Graeme said quietly.

"Yeah," said Duc, as he stared straight at what little he could see of the sub. Its lights were on, but they were flickering ominously. It definitely didn't look as though they would last the hour.

But orders had to be obeyed, so they followed behind the kaiju for what felt like an eternity, no one daring to talk as the minutes ticked away with no sign of the Autobots.

Then the sub's lights went out, and immediately, Duc made up his mind.

"Screw this!" he said. "They need our help! You with me?'

"Sure am," Graeme said determinedly. "Where d'you want me to hit?"

"Anywhere but the claws. Just want the thing to let go of the sub so we can follow it up with a few more torps to get some distance between them."

"Easy," Graeme said, and launched a torpedo.

The projectile was ejected from its tube with a flurry of bubbles, and glided through the water to its target.

"Got him," Graeme announced with no small amount of gleeful satisfaction as the torpedo impacted the kaiju's back, exploding spectacularly.

But the kaiju didn't relinquish the sub. Instead, it manoeuvred itself around so that it was facing Duc and Graeme's submersible. It had noticed them.

Graeme's glee was instantly replaced by fear. "Uh, Duc…"

"Let's back away," Duc said slowly, and quickly put the engines into reverse, hoping that a slow retreat wouldn't prompt any aggressive action from the kaiju.

The kaiju was treading water as it considered them, as if wondering precisely what to do with the small, insignificant machine that had caused it a fleeting moment of pain. It was an unnerving sight.

"Alpha Dog, this is Kennel House." Duc's radio sprang to life. "What's going on down there? We picked up a temperature spike. Remember, you are not to engage. Over."

Duc grimaced and spoke into his mike. "We engaged the kaiju, Kennel House. We are currently moving slowly back -"

"Look out!" Graeme shouted, cutting Duc off.

Duc looked up to see the Japanese sub hurtling towards them - the kaiju had actually thrown it at them so fast that in the milliseconds since Graeme had called out, it had almost crossed the distance between them. "Brace for impact!" he shouted, and moved into the brace position. A split second later, the submersibles collided, and everything went black.

~8~

Spurred on by his conversation with Jolt, Jasper had returned to his room, packed his suitcase, told the Gottliebs that he was leaving for a few days, and took the next flight to Anchorage. He considered continuing on to Pittsburgh, but painful memories of his times with Caitlin there quickly dispelled that idea, so he ended up going to Vancouver instead. It was sufficiently far away from Caitlin, yet close enough that he'd be able to return to Kodiak Island on short notice if he was needed.

He got into Vancouver in the middle of the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day in his hotel room, lying on bed watching cable tv, feeling rather depressed. Waves of heartbreak and loss crashed over him quite frequently, and he worked his way through a considerable portion of the tissue box provided in his room as a result. Dinner was a messy affair, consisting of room-service pizza with a texture so bland that he actually wished he was eating the PPDC meals back on the Island. He certainly wouldn't be complaining about the egg and lettuce sandwiches again!

Getting to sleep was hard, and it was only after what felt like hours of intermittent crying that unconscious bliss finally claimed him. But after waking the next morning and seeing the huge pile of tissues in the bin, Jasper decided that he'd had enough pining. It was no use feeling sorry for himself; what had happened had happened, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was in Vancouver on a holiday, so he may as well go and at least try to enjoy himself.

So for the next four days he visited all of Vancouver's tourist hotspots and found himself thinking about Caitlin less and less as the days went by. There was something about the hustle and bustle of the metropolis that helped him take his mind off recent events, and he allowed himself to be wholly absorbed into the frantic movements of Vancouver's tourists, barely giving himself time to slow down and think as he hurtled between tourist attractions. It was certainly a big difference from being cooped up inside various facilities working on the Jaeger Program, and as he sat outside a cafe, a coffee in one hand and a half-chewed cigar in the other, admiring the beautiful Vancouver skyline, he realised he was feeling something he hadn't felt in months: relaxed.

"Take however long you need off," Jolt had told him. Jasper hadn't really thought about how much time he'd need away, but given Jolt's generous concession, he didn't think he'd be heading back anytime soon. The Autobot would manage just fine without him, and the Gottleibs would continue the tests with Caitlin and Sergio. There was nothing for him to worry about.

That sentiment only lasted a few hours, as that night he was roused from a fitful sleep by the sound of his phone ringing. Cursing, he rolled over in his bed and fumbled about for the phone, finding it on the floor underneath his clothes from the previous day.

"Hello?" he yawned, too tired to be angry with his early-morning caller.

"Jasper! Thank Primus!" It was Jolt, sounding quite alarmed. "You need to get out of Vancouver immediately! There's a kaiju coming!"

It took Jasper's sleepy mind several moments to process what he'd just heard. "A k-kaiju!" he stammered. Adrenalin immediately flooded his system, dispelling any symptoms of tiredness. He was wide awake now, and absolutely terrified. "A kaiju!?"

"A kaiju," Jolt confirmed. "Teletraan picked it up as it came through the portal about an hour ago. It's heading to the north-east; we don't know if it'll hit Vancouver directly, but either way, you need to get out of there!"

"Shit!" Jasper swore, jumping out of bed and almost tripping over his feet in an attempt to locate the pile of yesterday's clothes once again. "How do you know where I am?"'

"I tracked your phone. Listen, I'm going to have to go, but whatever you do, don't stop until you're well clear of the city, or I ring and say it's safe to go back."

Jasper hurriedly put his phone on speaker and chucked it on the bed as he wrestled his shirt on. "What's happening in Kodiak?" he asked loudly.

"We're trying to narrow down its landfall point so we can co-ordinate our response. Some of the other Autobots are in Australia and Chile, so it will be a while before they can get to the west coast, so…" He trailed off.

"So? So what?" Jasper demanded.

"So we're thinking of deploying the Jaeger."

"What?" Jasper exploded. "You can't do that! The Jaeger's just a prototype – it's not built for combat! Jolt, I don't want that Jaeger going anywhere!"

"It's just something we're considering," Jolt quickly reassured him. "There's no guarantee it'll even happen. Look, I really need to go now, but I'll keep you informed. Now get out of there, and good luck."

He ended the call.

"Dammit!" Jasper hissed. How the hell could they be thinking of deploying the Jaeger? It was utter madness – the thing barely walked, and had a huge power cable trailing behind it! If the cable was damaged, then the Jaeger – and Caitlin – were as good as dead.

But there was no time to fume about the decisions being made on Kodiak Island. If a kaiju was heading towards Vancouver, then a hotel in the middle of the city was the last place he wanted to be.

It took him two minutes to burst out of his room and take the elevator to the ground floor. A quick check of his phone showed him which way east was, so after leaving the hotel he turned right and ran.

He had barely made it further than a block before his phone rang again; he answered it, expecting to have an update from Jolt, but instead heard an automated voice message.

"Attention, attention, this is an emergency! A kaiju has been detected heading towards your location, and is expected to make landfall within the next few hours. The Pan Pacific Defence Corps advises you to follow your Kaiju Attack Plan by immediately commencing a safe, orderly evacuation to your location's dedicated evacuation zone. Leave all pets and non-essential belongings behind. Standby for further information and updates."

Mass panic began soon after. Cars zoomed past, with the anxious faces of their occupants pressed against the windows, their eyes staring wildly out into the night, watching as people flooded out into the street. Most wore their pyjamas, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others, despite the PPDC's alert, were carrying small bags, and a couple were even pulling large suitcases behind them. Jasper soon found himself in the middle of a large crowd, being pushed onwards. It was the most uncomfortable experience of his life, and the rising levels of anxiety he was feeling didn't help.

He soon lost all track of time; he had no idea how long it had been since Jolt had called him. The sky was still dark, with no hint of sunrise. The crowd, however, had come to a halt. Evidently a bottleneck had formed up ahead. Brilliant.

He stood, impatiently, for a good while before his phone rang again. This time it was Jolt, and he hastily answered the call. "Jolt, what's happening? How far away is the kaiju?"

"Caitlin and Sergio are deploying in the Jaeger."

A dreadful feeling of numbing cold washed over Jasper from head to toe. "What?"

"They're suiting up right now. They're going to fight the kaiju."

"I told you, Jolt: I don't want that Jaeger going anywhere!" Jasper snarled.

"And I passed on your wishes to Caitlin and Sergio, but they insisted. Jasper, this is exactly what we've been working for all these months! Why not put it to good use?"

"Because it was not designed to fight! It's a proof of concept!" Jasper couldn't believe they were actually going to do it. He just couldn't. "The power core - the Jaeger needs a fat cable to a fixed power core to even operate! How are you even going to get it - and the Jaeger - here?"

"I've rigged up a system," Jolt said. "We're using two of our dropships to transport the Jaeger, and another for the power core."

Jasper cursed. Trust the engineer to come up with creative solutions. "Fine," he said. "But can I at least talk to Caitlin?"

There was a brief but poignant pause. "Jasper," Jolt said gently. "I don't think that's a good idea -"

"Don't you tell me what's a good idea or not, Jolt," Jasper snapped. "Put me on to her!"

The line went silent for a few moments, before:

"Hello, Jasper."

The sound of Caitlin's voice brought a fresh wave of anguish, and Jasper had to fight hard to quell the tears pooling in his eyes as he continued. "Caitlin, you can't do this! The Jaeger's just a prototype! It wasn't built for this!"

"This is exactly what it was built for." She sighed, her breath sounding like a rush of static across the connection. "I know the past few days have been...difficult...for you, Jasper, and they've been hard for me too. But please don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

"But this is real! This is no test run! If you don't kill the kaiju it will kill you! And I - I can't lose you. Not anymore than I already have."

"I'm sorry, Jasper. But I need to do this. I'll see you in Vancouver."

"Wait, Caitlin!"

But he received no response from her.

"I want to watch," he said, once Jolt was back on the line.

"I thought you might." Jolt sounded almost amused. "I've already asked Crosshairs to take you up in a dropship once he and a few others have finished helping with the evacuation. Head to the top of the nearest building and he'll pick you up from there."

Jasper sighed in relief. "Thanks Jolt. And…," he added, swallowing a lump in his throat, "good luck. With everything."

"Thanks. Now trust her. Please."

The call ended.

Jasper pocketed his phone and immediately began pushing his way through the crowd so he could reach an apartment block on his right. It wasn't easy, and people protested, but eventually he made it. Thanks to the evacuation, the building was unlocked, and he was able to run inside and take the lift up to the roof.

On any other night, the sight of the glimmering lights of Vancouver would have been beautiful. But Jasper wasn't interested in entertaining such mundane thoughts, instead gazing out at the immense crowd of fleeing citizens. If he squinted, he could just make out a hazy spot where he was pretty sure the bottleneck was. He couldn't quite tell what had formed it, but it looked like some vehicles had been left parked across the road and paths, funnelling the crowd through a small gap.

The wind was biting this high up, and Jasper rubbed his arms, wishing he'd thought to bring a jumper. All he could do now was wait until the Autobots arrived.

So he waited for a good few hours, cold and thirsty, watching the sun as it finally peaked up above the horizon. As it did, he heard the roar of engines behind him; a second later, two dropships flew overhead. The Autobots had arrived.

One landed in front of the bottleneck, barely fitting lengthways across the street, while the other hovered above. The doors to the one on the ground opened, and three Autobots stepped out and urged the crowd forwards, shepherding them into the dropship's hold until it was full to capacity. The dropship then took off, only to be replaced by the second one. It too was filled, before it flew off in the direction of the rising sun, quickly disappearing from sight.

Jasper now turned his attention to the Autobots, who were transforming, filling up their vehicle modes - which were a bit different than usual, he noted - with yet more desperate people, and driving off (and flying off, in the case of the helicopter Autobot, Drift) after the dropships. One Autobot - Crosshairs, if the green glinting in the early-morning sunlight was any indication - had stayed behind to control the crowd and ease the bottleneck.

For a good two hours Jasper watched as the dropships and Autobots repeatedly returned and left, each time reducing the size of the crowd significantly until by about 8 a.m., it was almost nonexistent, with only a few late stragglers hurrying through the former bottleneck, anxious to get away. Finally, a dropship came flying over in his direction, and hovered just past the edge of the building he'd spent the last few uncomfortable hours on. The roar of the engines assaulted his ears as he inched closer, a door in the side sliding open to reveal Crosshairs, who beckoned him inside. He made a small hop from the building and landed safely in the hold; the door closed behind him, and was promptly knocked off his feet as the dropship accelerated.

Red-faced, Jasper pushed himself back up and quickly found something to hang on to. But he couldn't escape the amused smirk of Crosshairs, who leered down at him.

"So you're the crazy bugger who came up with this giant robot idea?" he cackled. "Well, looks like we'll be seeing whether your idea works or not. We'll have front row seats up here. What's that food you humans are always eating at the cinema? Popcorn? Shoulda brought some of that!"

Jasper was pretty certain that Crosshairs wouldn't like what he thought of that sentiment, so he remained silent and vowed to tell Jolt what his fellow Autobot had said. Crosshairs' sporadic chuckling at his own apparent joke didn't make the trip in the dropship any easier, but thankfully the journey was short, and they stopped after less than a minute.

Just as Jasper was wondering how he was actually going to witness the Jaeger fight the kaiju, the door shimmered briefly before becoming transparent, affording him an excellent view of Vancouver bathing in the early-morning sunlight. Unfortunately, the sight of the kaiju emerging from Burrard Inlet was a terrible reminder of the reality of the situation. The only saving grace was that he couldn't hear its roar.

"Oof, he's an ugly one," Crosshairs noted gleefully, crouching down next to Jasper "Can't wait to see the Jaeger mess up his face! Eh?" He nudged Jasper with a large, metal finger. "C'mon, you're the brains behind it all! Show a little emotion! Pump your fists and all that?"
Jasper stared determinedly ahead, not daring to even glance at Crosshairs. Why couldn't he have had one of the more mild mannered Autobots with him? Why did it have to be this jerk?

Crosshairs continued to pester Jasper for the next 45 minutes as the kaiju quickly carved a path of destruction through the Vancouver CBD. It was absolute torture for Jasper, seeing the creature Caitlin was about to fight, having the anticipation of knowing that she was getting ever closer to actually fighting it, and the continual ribbing from a self-professed Autobot.

"And there it is!" Crosshairs suddenly announced, tapping the transparent fuselage. "A human-made Great Guardian Robot. Who woulda guessed?"

Jasper followed where he was pointing. There - on the horizon, glimmering in the sunlight, was the Jaeger, suspended between two more of the Autobots' dropships, courtesy of long, thick cables that were bolted onto its shoulder plates. He cringed; he was pretty sure the shoulders hadn't been designed to take that sort of load. The fact that they had - and for the entirety of the trip from Kodiak Island, no less - spoke volumes about either his engineering, the construction abilities of the workers who had assembled it, or both.

The Jaeger was a hundred metres behind the kaiju now, which had stopped its rampage and turned around to assess this new arrival. Then, all of a sudden, the cables detached from the shoulders, and the Jaeger dropped twenty metres to the ground, rocking slightly as it impacted, but managing to keep its balance. Its long, thick power cord stuck up behind it, where a third dropship was hovering, no doubt carrying the power unit.

"Argh, this is too good to see from up here," Crosshairs grumbled. "Teletraan, open this door will ya?"

Jasper barely had time to grab hold of the closest thing he could get his hands on before the door slid open, exposing the interior of the dropship to the howling, biting cold wind. "What are you doing?" he shouted.

"Getting up close and personal," Crosshairs shouted back. "The view up here sucks. I want to be at ground zero." And with that, he leapt from the dropship and fell, the door closing behind him.

Jasper immediately pressed his face against the see-through door, looking down, and saw that Crosshairs had landed safely on a building below, and was preparing to watch the impending fight from his new vantage point. "Idiot," he muttered. He much preferred to be well out of the reach of the kaiju.

But Caitlin wasn't.

And in that instant, Jasper realised that he was utterly powerless to do anything to help Caitlin and Sergio while they fought the kaiju. Their fate rested entirely in the hands of whatever god existed - Human, Cybertronian, he didn't care. All he could do was watch. So he did.

He watched as they slowly moved the Jaeger forward, hesitant, not quite sure what the kaiju would do. But the kaiju didn't do anything either. It simply stopped and stared at them with what almost seemed to be curiosity. This standoff lasted for several long, tense moments until, with a roar, the kaiju charged forward, its right arm swinging back in preparation for a strike. It closed the distance between them in a matter of seconds, already pulling its arm down for the attack - only for a swift uppercut from the Jaeger to interrupt its charge, snapping its head backwards and almost knocking it off balance.

Caitlin and Sergio quickly pressed their advantage, managing to land several more blows to the kaiju's head before it was finally able to push them away. But its reprieve was only brief, as Caitlin and Sergio pushed right back, and this time the kaiju did indeed fall, tripping over its huge, taloned feet and smashing right into the building behind it.
For the brief seconds before the building collapsed on top of the kaiju, Jasper was able to get a glimpse of its face. To his utter surprise, it looked bewildered, as if it had no idea how it had found itself on the ground. That bewilderment turned to alarm as the first debris landed on its head, and a moment later, it was completely obscured from view by the thick cloud of dust rising up into the air.

Jasper blinked. Had they done it? Had they managed to kill the kaiju that quickly, that easily? Surely not!

Caitlin and Sergio appeared to share his scepticism, as the Jaeger made no attempt to approach the destroyed building - for good reason, as it turned out, because the kaiju emerged from the dust cloud moments later with a terrifying roar, its arms once more poised to strike. This time, it was successful.

The left arm struck first, gouging three claw marks in the Jaeger's right shoulder plate. The right arm followed shortly after, burying itself in the hull just below the control pod.

Jasper cursed, the mental image of Caitlin screaming inside her pilot's harness, unable to do anything about the pain coursing through her body until the PONS had been disengaged.

"Come on, Caitlin," he whispered to himself. "Come on!"

The kaiju roared in anger as it unsuccessfully tried to pull itself free of the Jaeger, while at the same time still clawing away at the Jaeger's shoulder plate. Caitlin and Sergio weren't standing idly by, though - in a surprising move, the Jaeger grabbed the kaiju's stuck arm and pushed, stepping forwards while using its weight to force the kaiju back, its heavy footfalls leaving equally massive holes in the ground.

They were moving it out of the city, Jasper realized, pushing it back to the river through the pathway it had already carved through the city's buildings. The kajju screeched as it stepped back rapidly, almost tripping over itself again, as its other arm came up to slash at the Jaeger's chest - only for the Jaeger to grab it and twist. The kaiju's screeching immediately turned into a shriek of pain as the Jaeger lifted its arms, raising the kaiju high into the air as it began to pick up speed.

Jasper gawped. He'd never imagined that the Jaeger - the prototype Jaeger - would be able to lift a kaiju so easily, and maintain balance, all while starting to move faster than it ever had before - faster than it was meant to be able to move. It was unbelievable. It covered hundreds of meters only a few steps; it was an unstoppable juggernaut, a wall of angered metal, the embodiment of pure fury aimed at the kaiju.

Then it tipped forwards, arms coming down as it slammed the Kaiju into the ground so hard that the earth quaked. Even from his vantage point up in the dropship, Jasper felt the sheer power of it reverberate down below. It was a blow delivered by an angry god. The mere thought of what it would have been like to be the kaiju sent shivers down his spine.

The kaiju had no such luxury; it was stunned, its right arm twisted and broken. The left was barely any better, but as the Jaeger loomed over it, the kaiju mustered some sort of pitiful defiance and swung. By some miracle the claws pierced the Jaeger's armour, and the Jaeger recoiled slightly, but quickly grabbed the arm and pulled.

With the squishy, sickening sound of tearing flesh, the arm came free, blue blood spilling from the torn flesh and pooling on the ground. The Jaeger casually tossed the arm to the side, and prepared to strike.

The final blow came only a moment later, as the Jaeger punched down straight at the kaiju's face. The sound of cracking cartilage was matched with the booming of metal colliding with organic plate. It was as if the very concept of contempt had been made into a sound; contempt at the idea that this twisted creature and the others like it had dared to trespass and cause so much death, destruction, panic, heartbreak, and terror.

It was now being told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.

The creature twitched, but it was obviously only the final impulses of its nervous system. It took only a few moments for it to still, well and truly dead.

The Jaeger, after a few seconds, straightened up, and Jasper released the biggest, most satisfying breath in his entire life. The Jaeger, the simple prototype, not truly ready for combat, stood tall above its kill, a proud defender. The Jaeger, piloted by a mouse of a girl from Pennsylvania and a farmer's boy from Kentucky, had won.

~8~

News helicopters were in the air within minutes of the kaiju's defeat, all competing to get the best footage they could of the vanquished monster and its metal slayer. The Jaeger program, although public knowledge for some time, had largely remained a secret, so that the public was unaware as to what the precise nature of it was. Now, with the Jaeger on full display for the world to see, the secret was out. Jasper suspected that most people would be utterly amazed at the creation the PPDC had come up with, and the more prideful part of him wanted desperately to be back on Kodiak Island, where the news crews would likely go to try and find the people responsible for the metal giant.

But he was in Vancouver, not Alaska, and considering the amount of damage inflicted on the city, he may as well help with the clean up while he was here.

The AI controlling the dropship, Teletraan, took him down to the waterfront soon after the fight had finished, and as he emerged from the dropship, he realised that he was at the spot where he had enjoyed his coffee only the previous day. What a difference a few hours made.

He looked over in the direction of the Jaeger; the other dropships were already hovering above it, their tow cables dangling like pendulums from their fuselage, as Drift and Crosshairs stood on the shoulderplates, ready to reattach the cables. No doubt the PPDC wanted the Jaeger, and Caitlin and Sergio, back on Kodiak Island as soon as possible, where they would no doubt receive a heroes' welcome.

The prideful side of Jasper twitched once again, but he quashed the feeling and looked around for something to do. The other Autobots who had helped with the evacuation were already climbing over the debris, sorting it into different piles ready for transportation to the appropriate waste disposal facilities. They were a well-oiled machine, having clearly established an effective method that they had honed over their years of disaster recovery. Given the amounts of metal being thrown around, Jasper decided that he was better off staying put and waiting until HALT arrived, rather than get involved (and likely injured) in the Autobots' efforts.

"Doctor Schoenfeld."

Jasper just about jumped out of his skin as a deep voice spoke up from right behind him. He spun around, and came face-to-shin with Optimus Prime himself. It was honestly quite incredible that despite the Autobot leader's sheer size, he still managed to move so quietly.

"Optimus - Sir -" Jasper paused, putting a hand over his heart and taking a few deep breaths. "I... didn't hear you come up."

Optimus nodded, looking down at him with a moderately curious stare. "Just 'Optimus' is fine, Doctor."

"Jasper," Jasper replied, looking away and sighing. "I...haven't done much doctoring in the past few days." He looked over the city, again. Not too long ago, in perfect condition. Now, a skyline with a line of destroyed buildings going through it.

And yet, despite that...it seemed somehow hopeful. The Autobots were already working hard, and HALT and other human volunteers would be on site in a matter of hours The clean up would be quick.

Optimus' foot was quiet as it took a step next to him, the rocks making a slight noise as he moved. Optimus himself was quiet.

"Your work saved much of this city today," Optimus stated, his voice a soft rumbling calm. "And you still came out here to help. You may not think you have done much, Jasper, but the truth is otherwise."

Jasper sighed. "I've been sitting here trying to get over a bad breakup. I'm only helping out here because I am here."

"Does that make it not noble?"

Jasper opened his mouth to answer, and found he didn't have anything to say. He slowly closed his mouth, considering his words, while Optimus waited, patient. "Less noble," were the words he decided to say.

"If that is what you think." Optimus looked at him. "How has your vacation been, Jasper?"

"Relaxing," Jasper said. Something about Optimus made it easy to open up to him. Was it the calm that he radiated, the hope he inspired? Perhaps something more? "I haven't relaxed in months. But, looking at this city..."

Jasper trailed off, turning towards the damage done. The buildings ruined, the cracked stone and dust, even the small spillage of kaiju blue - so much less than what happened before.

"Some part of me thinks that I shouldn't have stopped working." Jasper said.

Optimus nodded again.

"Pointless thoughts," Jasper continued after a moment. "A few more days would have changed nothing on the Jaeger. Nothing I could have done would have changed what happened today for the better. I might have made it worse, honestly, if I had still been in the position to stop Caitlin and Sergio from heading out. Who knows how much more damage the kaiju could have done without them..."

Optimus said nothing.

Jasper shook his head, and, after a moment, spoke again. "Jolt said...before I left, that I might want to go find you and have a talk. He said you were always a font of wisdom." Jasper smiled.

"I have noticed a tendency on my part to provide counselling to those who need it," Optimus said quietly.

"Did I do the right thing, Optimus?" Jasper asked, deciding to just get it out of the way. "Just up and leaving like I did? Kaiju are battering at the gates, and I just went ahead and took a vacation. Not that it's lasted long, but I was working on things to stop them, and..." He gestured out to the city. "Here we are."

"I find that many beings underestimate the importance of mental health," Optimus said looking down at him. "Humans and Cybertronians are not so different in this regard. The health of the mind is just as important as the health of the body, or perhaps even more so. To do nothing but work will inevitably break any being; a lack of relaxation, of time to recover, produces its own injuries and builds contempt and anger. To force oneself to work might accomplish that work, but it will hurt."

Optimus paused for a moment, before continuing. "From a purely utilitarian point of view, you took a vacation at a time when your mental health was compromised and your abilities potentially the same, as well as when the Jaeger Program no longer required your immediate presence. Removing yourself from the environment was the right decision, in that light. From the more realistic point of view, you did much the same. I do not believe, Jasper, that you did the wrong thing. Whether or not you did the right thing is up to your own view on the matter, though, personally, I believe you did."

Jasper nodded, slowly. "Thanks, Optimus. Now all I need is to get over the breakup."

"Heartbreak is much more difficult topic," Optimus agreed, "and a more personal matter. There is not much of an option other to examine your own feelings and decide, honestly, your opinions and acceptance of the matter."

Jasper was struck with a sudden question, and before he knew it, his curiosity had got the better of him, and he asked it. "Have you ever been in love, Optimus?"

"Yes."

Jasper was utterly flabbergasted. He hadn't expected such a frank answer.

"Cybertronians, as a product of our lifespans, are not as quick to fall in love as Humans are," Optimus elaborated. "We do, however, have that particular concept in common."

"Cybertronian romance isn't something I've thought about," Jasper said. "Though I'd guess it's complicated."

"The average courtship period could span millennia," Optimus noted. "'Complicated' is, perhaps, an understatement."

Jasper smiled, then frowned as another thought came to him. "Oh, by the way, why are you here? I know you like to show up at disaster zones to help out, but I would have thought you'd be busy with the PPDC higher ups after the attack today."

"For the moment, I am taking a short leave," Optimus said. "A new arrival will be here soon."

"Another Autobot?" Jasper asked, interested. "I haven't heard anything about that."

Optimus looked at him, surprised. "The news broke a few days ago. There was quite the stir among the aerospace community."

Jasper paused. "I... haven't been keeping up with the news. The things you miss..."

Optimus nodded again. "It has been pleasant talking to you, but unfortunately, I do need to go now, Jasper."

Jasper smiled. "Don't let me keep you. And... thank you, Optimus. Again."

"You are welcome."

As Optimus began to walk away, Jasper couldn't help but feel reinvigorated. Jolt had been right. He had needed time off. Talking to Optimus really had helped. Now, he was ready to head back to the island. Now, he was ready to celebrate with Caitlin, rejoicing with her as she celebrated her defeat of the kaiju.

~8~

He was almost there, and as he passed his destination's moon he finally allowed himself to feel excited. It had been so long since he'd seen Optimus, not to mention the others that were bound to be with him. How had they fared on this strange, alien world? What were the large creatures attacking the native population? They were questions that he would soon have answers for.

The remaining distance to Earth passed quickly; compared to interstellar space, it was but a brief blip. The cold of the vacuum of space was replaced by the glorious warmth that atmospheric friction brought as the horizon around him changed from the pitiless black of the void to the familiar light blue that was present on most worlds that supported organic life. He deployed his shields, spinning a configuration of cybermatter sheets out in order to slow down. Fire quickly erupted, the air compressing in front of him.

It was tolerable. He'd done it a thousand, a million, times before. Doubtless, he would do it again.

Kilometers vanished quickly, eaten up, but he was slowing down, He shifted his form around a bit more, folding his plates back into himself, settling for a more aerodynamic configuration. Thrusters engaged, and he corrected his course, starting a spin in order to bleed off a bit more kinetic energy.

And, perhaps, to give a show. The vapor lines that trailed behind him marked a spiral down.

At the last second, he spun, shifting out of his aerodynamic shape in order to assume his full form. A variety of thrusters around his body activated, and he hit the ground with far more care and delicacy than most would expect from something of his size.

Slowly, he stood up, rising to his full height, and he gazed forwards, taking in his surroundings.

The Autobots were the first people he saw, and as expected, they looked a bit different from when he'd last seen them. The sleek, streamlined bodies that he remembered had been replaced by jagged plating that barely covered the protoform beneath – sure signs of strict energon rationing. But they were nonetheless recognisable as the friends he'd fought with through ages past.

His optics scanned over the crowd – the good medic, Ratchet; the Decepticon-turned-Autobot, Deadlock; and Sideswipe, looking very lonely without Sunstreaker by his side. Arcee, Elita-One and Chromia were there as well, still as deformed as the day they had been rescued from Shockwave's laboratory. To his surprise, even the self-pronounced loner, Crosshairs, was present.

Finally, he turned to Optimus Prime. The tallest of them all, he stood at the head of the group, the sunlight glinting off his blue and red body. Looking up at him, the Autobot leader stepped forward, smiling. Lips. An odd choice, from him. He was so used to the faceplate.

"Greetings, Superion," he said. "It is my pleasure and my privilege to welcome you to Earth."

"Optimus Prime," Superion said, returning the smile. "It is good to be with you once more."

~8~

The hospital was quiet, with nothing but the perpetual beeping of equipment disturbing the sterilised silence. It was mind-numbingly boring, laying back on the bed, tubes plugged into her body, casts surrounding her limbs.

Kaori supposed that she should be thankful that she was even alive at all – and she was, make no mistake about it. But she wished her encounter with the kaiju had been one she could have walked away from. She knew she'd never forget the sensation of impact as her sub hit the PPDC one that had hailed them, or the fuzzy relief as she, Mihoko, and the two PPDC officers had been pulled from the wreckage by the Autobots. They'd been immediately airlifted to a Guamanian hospital, but Mihoko had died on the journey.

Despite barely knowing the girl, Kaori found herself crying herself to sleep most nights, wishing that the submarine pilot was still here, so that she could have the comfort of going through the pain of recovery with someone who had experienced the same ordeal as her. But that was not the case, and she would have to endure the recovery on her own.

Voices echoed down the corridor, interrupting her reverie, and she looked interestedly at the doorway, hoping that someone would be coming to see her.

Her hope was well-founded, as in walked her boss, Shao Liwei, accompanied by two of his security personnel. Liwei observed her for a few moments, his dark eyes running over the casts covering her right arm and leg. Then he nodded at his two lackeys, and they left the room, though Kaori guessed that they had taken up positions outside the doorway.

"I got your transmission of the data," Liwei said quietly in fluent Japanese.

"You did?" Kaori could hardly believe it. The mission had been a success!

"I did," Liwei confirmed. "You have done very well, Miss Koyamada, very well indeed."

"Thank you sir." Rays of happiness penetrated Kaori's mind for the first time in days. Could this mean she was getting rewarded – perhaps with a promotion, or a pay rise? She listened with bated breath as Liwei continued.

"Your efforts have provided a great service for Shao Industries," he said. "With the information you gathered, we will be able to make several new industry advances over our competitors. You will, of course, receive a generous promotion package. It is the least we can do to compensate you for the terrible ordeal you experienced."

Yes!

Liwei sat down on the side of her bed. "You have proven yourself to be a very valuable employee of Shao Industries, Miss Koyamada. Can I count on your continued loyalty?"

"Most certainly, sir."

"Excellent!" Liwei beamed. "The doctors say you should be discharged within the week. Once you have your casts removed, I am pleased to say that I have another assignment for you."

He reached into his breast pocket, took out a piece of folded paper, and handed it to Kaori.

Brow furrowed in confusion, Kaori unfolded the paper and stared down at the writing on it. The PPDC logo was emblazoned at the top, and underneath, in bold Japanese characters, was written:

JAEGER PILOTS WANTED

She looked up at Liwei in shock.

"I'm sure you'll make an excellent Jaeger pilot, Miss Koyamada," Liwei said smoothly, before standing up, patting her arm, and walking out of the room, leaving Kaori to wonder once again just what she had got herself into.


Author Note: Well, quite a lot of things happened this chapter! The first kaiju vs. Jaeger fight, the introduction of new characters, and of course, the arrival of the first new Autobot - well, Autobots! What Superion and the Aerialbots get up to will be covered next chapter!

Replies to reviews:

kira444: There was a time where we quite a break between updates, yeah. Hopefully that won't happen again!

Obsidian Prime: The PONS only really facilitates the linking of minds between pilots and Jaeger, but to do that, it maps the entire body, yeah.

Crys: Yep, the teething problems are starting to emerge, and they'll only become more common the more people start to drift, and the longer they do it for.

UseFistNotMouth: Drama is what makes people interesting though! But I understand your sentiment.

Eolian1: No worries! We wrote several versions of the breakup, but decided that it would be best for both the characters and the story if it was at least amicable. Caitlin and Jasper's stories aren't finished; they've still got a bit to contribute together! An Autobot as an emergency pilot is something we have discussed, yes, but you'll have to wait to see if it happens!

TheVampireStrahd: Wow, thanks!

Warner: Since Jasper's now ready to head back, I don't think Superion - or any of the Aerialbots - will be taking over from him! But they'll definitely contribute to the Jaeger Program. And of course, there's still another new arrival to come...

dino2000: Thanks!

bozob11: Thanks!