Even Pilots need Heroes…

In the aviation industry, there's a half-true joke about mechanics:

"Why did God create the mechanic? So that even pilots could have heroes."

Nowhere was that more true than in the PPDC with the mighty Jaegers. Millions of people counted on the two (sometimes three) people in the Conn Pod to protect them…

But the Rangers counted on the mechanics to protect them.

And the mechanics counted on the Crew Chief to be their leader.

This is the story of the Crew Chief of Gipsy Danger.

-.-.-

Port of Oakland

Oakland, CA

August 10, 2013

10 minutes before Trespasser arrives

Colin "Crunch" O'Malley swore as he busted his knuckles against the deck as he fought a recalcitrant bolt on the container freighter. "Useless piece of crap won't break loose!" He kicked the wrench with his steel-toed boot, and with a tortured screech, the bolt loosened. "About damn time it came loose."

The young greenhorn of the repair crew came over. "Crunch, you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Got that bolt loose for ya."

"Thanks!" The young man settled back to work on the access panel, easily pulling the rest of the bolts loose. "I'll make sure to put lube on the new bolt so it doesn't do that to the next guy."

"Smart move, greenhorn."

Crunch went back to the edge of the ship and expertly descended the ladders to the dock below, where he grabbed a cup of coffee from his Thermos…

Just in time to watch… well, Crunch had seen a lot of creatures as he travelled the world, and this was unlike anything he'd seen. Whatever it was, it was MASSIVE.

Then, it roared, and Crunch watched containers dance around on the docks. God DAMN that's loud.

Answering the creature's roar was the scream of jets, and Crunch watched a trio of F-22 Raptors flash in close, M-61 Vulcan cannons letting out their characteristic "BRRRRRRRRAAAAP" as they ate through their ammo at over 4000 rounds per minute. Closer… closer… Then one of the incredibly advanced and expensive planes was swatted from the sky like a bug.

He couldn't see the impact, but he sure saw the fireball that followed as the tons of jet fuel burst into flames.

Flames that didn't seem to faze the creature as it headed into San Francisco and proceeded to lay waste to the iconic city.

"Crunch! Come on, we need to get out of here!"

He looked around, seeing the greenhorn waving at him. "Come on, boss! Let's boogie!"

Crunch looked back at the harbor, now swarming with small craft as people began to try to help evacuate the city. "Screw running away, guys. They need help, and I'm going to pitch in."

"Then good luck! We're outta here!"

Crunch grabbed his tool box and ran to the docks, waving at a passing boat headed back to pick up more survivors. "WAIT UP!"

"You want to go into the city?"

"Yep."

The boat driver just waved him aboard, and Crunch skillfully climbed aboard.

Crunch looked at the city, now becoming shrouded in a pall of smoke and dust, and pulled his respirator out of his toolbox, and pulled goggles over his eyes. Just like in that dust storm in Baghdad...

The boat pulled up to the pier on the San Francisco side, and Crunch hopped out and helped the next batch of evacuees into the boat.

The driver looked at Crunch. "I didn't catch your name."

"Crunch O'Malley."

"Good luck, Crunch!"

"You too, sir!"

The boat pulled away, and Crunch jogged along, looking for something to do to help.

-.-.-

5 hours after Trespasser makes landfall

Crunch slammed the engine compartment shut on the boat and gave the owner a thumbs-up as he jumped back onto the dock, then helped an older couple into the boat before heading over to the temporary HQ the police had set up.

A lieutenant clapped Crunch on the shoulder. "Thanks for fixing that boat."

"Eh. Big or small, I've fixed them all. What's next?"

Before the police officer could respond, the monster let loose another earth-shaking screech, shattering the few unbroken windows in the area. A series of explosions followed, and the HQ hit the deck as shrapnel pings all around them. "RUN!"

The Sergeant on scene took off running, and everyone grabbed what they could and followed.

Crunch looked over his shoulder as he ran, watching the creature closing in on them until another strike from the Air Force redirected its attention back into the wrecked area.

The lieutenant looked at Crunch. "What's next? Get the fuck off the peninsula and set up camp on the other side of the bay."

"No arguments there, sir."

The rag tag group of evacuees at the docks was dwindling as the last of those who could still get out did so. Crunch made sure he was on the last boat out. He watched San Francisco's ruins retreat behind the boat at they raced away from the city. Just in time, too, as a series of fireballs erupted in a line marching up to and across the creature. What the… where's that come from?

Crunch looked skyward to see a formation of B-1B heavy bombers flying out over the Pacific… with one in the lead of the others. Shit. "COVER YOUR EARS!"

Then a deafening roar of explosions rolled across the bay as the ruins of the city disappeared beneath a veritable sea of fireballs and smoke, hiding the monster from sight.

Crunch watched the devastation in awe. He'd seen a similar strike from a few bombers before on the internet… but this was something else. Nothing should have withstood that.

The monster roared, shattering the glass covers over the instruments on the boat, and Crunch watched the leviathan stand tall and let loose another roar of defiance at the bombers.

"COME ON! OFF THE BOAT!"

Crunch numbly walked off the boat not far from where he had gotten onto another hours earlier, headed into the city to help. Now, the city was flattened, and the beast stood proud and knocked over the sole structure still standing… The iconic Trans America building. Then, his view was cut off as he was pulled into a truck and the flaps dropped. With a lurch, the truck grumbled off towards an evacuation point in Livermore, where Crunch would learn that the beast had been dubbed a "Kaiju", and that the military would be trying again to kill it come daybreak.

Crunch wished them luck. They would need it.

-.-.-

Vancouver, Canada

April 23, 2015

Crunch heard the sirens go off, and swore in seven languages. Not again… "Right, guys. RUN!"

The crew that he worked with heard the conviction in Crunch's voice and decided he knew what he was talking about. So, they followed him as he ran down the docks, telling everyone that they needed to leave, now.

Then, Karloff levered itself out of the water not far in front of O'Malley, and everyone skidded to a halt, barely daring to breath. Now that the Kaiju was there, they knew what happened next. A few hours, tops, and then the nukes would come.

Crunch had missed the first one, thankfully. He'd been in a refugee camp in Sacramento at the time, watching the strike on the TV in the mess tent. Crunch had never wanted to watch another nuke strike again. Now it looked like he was going to be on the receiving end of one.

The Kaiju began the usual routine of smashing everything in sight, giving the dock workers a chance to scramble for safety. Crunch ran as fast as he could away from the Kaiju, intent on getting to safety before everyone else this time. But then he heard an odd sound and stopped, letting the rest of his coworkers rush past him as he sought the sound's source… There!

The eight giant helicopters flew in close formation, carrying a giant robot beneath them. They slowed their flight and dropped the robot in front of the Kaiju, which roared out a challenge to the robot. Crunch grinned like an idiot as the robot responded with an equally loud foghorn.

"VWWWWWWAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

Crunch stood and watched as the giant robot proceeded to beat the Kaiju to death, cheering it on the whole time.

And when the dust settled and Crunch finally fled from the Kaiju Blue he knew was coming, he made a snap decision to quit his job and find some way to work on that magnificent robot.

-.-.-

Seattle PPDC Recruiting station

April 25, 2015

0800

The soldier opened the door to find Crunch standing right there. "Can I help you, sir?"

"I'd like to apply for a spot in the Jaeger corps."

"I'm sorry, we're not taking any more Ranger candidates." The young man tried to shut the door.

Crunch's smile changed from friendly to forceful. "I'm not seeking to be a Ranger. I'm seeking to be a mechanic working on the Jaegers."

The solider paused. This is new. "Why do you want to be a mechanic?"

"I was there when Brawler Yukon beat Karloff to death. I saw how badly beaten up she was."

"Let me get my superior."

"You do that."

The door closed, and Crunch stood at attention, just like he had when he'd served in another Corps, many years ago. Once a Marine…

The door opened, and a much older man stepped out to greet Crunch. "Come on in, son."

The two men walked into an office, where Crunch took a seat across the desk from the apparent station manager. "What makes you think we're going to be recruiting folks to be mechanics?"

Crunch silently gauged the man, guessing he had been Army at one point, probably senior enlisted. "Sir, I was on the docks when Karloff came out of the water. I watched the whole fight at a much closer range than I would have liked… but I saw how badly the Jaeger was damaged after the fight. You're going to need a lot of people to keep one of those things running."

The NCO nodded silently. "Well, Mr. …?"

"Cr… Colin O'Malley, sir."

"You hesitated, son. You have a nickname?"

"Crunch, sir."

A smile. "Well, Mr. O'Malley, you're in luck. We need people to become crew chiefs for the Jaegers. Mechanics are plentiful. Leaders are another matter. I can tell you were military at one point. Marines?"

"Yes, sir."

"Officer, I assume, based off the Academy ring."

"Yes, sir. Made it to Captain before getting out."

"And when was that?"

"About seven years ago, sir. Been working on freighters since then."

"Where were you on K-Day?"

"Docks of the Port of Oakland at first, before heading into the city to help. Evac'd at the end of Day 1."

The station manager whistled in respect. "That takes balls, son. I'm sure that the PPDC has a spot for you, if you want it."

Crunch thought for a moment. Crew chief? That might be fun. It'll certainly be a full time job, though. "What do I need to do to be in the running for a Crew Chief slot, sir?"

The NCO smiled. "You just took the first step. We'll send you to Kodiak first thing for initial training. If you've got a job, quit it now."

"Sir, I did that yesterday. They wished me the best of luck."

"Then get your stuff. You fly out tomorrow for Kodiak."

-.-.-

Jaeger Assembly Facility

Kodiak Island, Alaska

April 27, 2015

0600

Crunch was on his feet and jogging in the brisk morning air before the sun rose above the horizon, a habit he'd picked up in his time in the Corps and never been able to let go of. To his surprise, he soon found himself joined by a man and woman in PPDC sweaters and sweatpants. "Pardon me for asking, but who are you?"

The man answered, his British accent a surprise to Crunch. "Stacker Pentecost. Tamsin Sevier here is my copilot."

Tamsin nodded sleepily, clearly not enthused about being up at this hour.

"What Jaeger did you get assigned to?"

Stacker smiled. "Coyote Tango. Just about ready to roll off the line and enter acceptance testing. What Jaeger are you here for?"

"None. I came to become a crew chief."

Tamsin woke up completely at that. "A crew chief? Stacks, let's grab him now and hide him from the other crews."

Stacker's laugh was genuine. "No, Tams. We've got one already."

Crunch laughed as the three came to a stop at the door into the assembly hall. "I'm Crunch, by the way." He stuck out his hand.

Tamsin shook his hand, her grip surprisingly firm. "What an odd name… And I have Stacker here as a baseline, too."

"It's a nickname from my time in the Marines. If you needed something fixed yesterday, I was the man you went to. Hence, Crunch. As in, crunch time."

Stacker nodded as he took Crunch's hand. "Where'd you serve?"

"Led a maintenance company in the Sandbox for two tours."

Stacker paused for a bit, then began to laugh. "Oh, that's rich."

Tamsin looked confused for a moment, then she got the joke too. "Oh, that's bad. 'Captain Crunch'?"

"Yes, ma'am." Crunch grinned. "There's probably still a few walls in that base with that character spray painted on them. My company was a high-spirited bunch, but we did our work well and fast, so my CO overlooked such things."

Stacker gestured inside, and the three headed inside. "Well, Crunch, I wish you the best of luck with becoming a Crew Chief. Although," Stacker leaned over closer, "I'd suggest picking a Mark II or III once they start to be built and latch onto it. Follow it all the way through assembly."

"Good advice, sir."

Tamsin smiled at him. "See you around, Crunch."

Crunch watched them head off into the Ranger areas, not knowing that was the last time he would see them around Kodiak before they were sent to Japan to stand guard.

-.-.-

December 28, 2015

Crunch had been hoping to be immediately put into training on the Jaeger's systems and getting his hands dirty. He wanted to get right back into action, fixing giant machines that were broken and battle-damaged.

Instead, the PPDC shunted him into helping teach basic training for the mechanics. And they were just as happy about it as he was.

On the plus side, he was watching the Mark IIs being assembled, and was getting some good ideas to recommend for the Mark IIIs. Especially the fourth Mark III, which he had been promised would be his. In the meantime he chipped in with other Jaegers, learning the unique quirks and aspects of the giant war machines… and their crews. For example, Cherno Alpha had come back in to have the Spark Fists modified after the first deployment because they were too powerful, he'd run afoul of Sasha and had to flee the hangar at top speed as the Russian flung snowballs at him with sniper-like accuracy. Even more disconcerting was when Aleksis had come to him later to apologize for his copilot's behavior, knowing intimate details of the engagement… despite having been on the far side of the compound at the time.

Now, however, Crunch was about to enter into the meeting that would determine his fate as a potential Crew Chief. And if he was honest with himself, he hadn't been this nervous since the time they found the IED stuck to the wrecked Humvee in Iraq.

The doors opened, and Crunch walked into the conference room. "Crewman O'Malley, reporting as orders, sirs."

"Have a seat, O'Malley."

Crunch took the indicated seat.

"Mr. O'Malley, we've been watching you with interest since you arrived here at Kodiak. We've thrown you every curveball we can think of, and not only do you handle them like a pro, you knock them out of the park."

"Thank you, sir."

"So, we see no reason not to give you the slot of Crew Chief for Jaeger 34."

Crunch had been expecting this… but his heart still exploded with joy. "Thank you, sirs! I won't let ya down!"

"Duly noted. Dismissed."

"Sirs." Crunch left the room, floating on air. The fourth Mark III is mine to take care of.

-.-.-

May 18, 2016

Crunch had stayed in touch with the crew of Coyote Tango, and had said a quick prayer for Stacker and Tamsin as they deployed to fight Onibaba.

It hadn't helped. Tamsin had, as she put it, "sparked out", leaving Stacker to finish the fight solo, something that no one had thought possible before the Brit had pulled it off. And, to top it off, word was getting around about the reactor issues, which had the crews nervous.

So it was a very distracted Crew Chief that wandered into Scramble Alley, lost in thought…

Until Brawler Yukon twitched.

Crunch swore as he stared at the giant mech, waiting for it to move again.

It did. Twice.

Crunch grabbed his phone and called LOCCENT. "Guys! Brawler's moving around! Is there someone in the Conn Pod?"

A very confused voice replied. "Negative. The D'Onofrios are asleep, Crunch."

Now it was Crunch's turn to be confused. "Then why the hell is it moving?"

"I've got nothing, Crunch. You sure you weren't seeing things?"

"Negative, LOCCENT. I just watched Brawler twitch twice while I was looking straight at her."

"Alright, we'll dispatch a crew to check on the Rangers and the Conn Pod."

"Thanks, guys." Crunch hung up, stunned at what he had seen. I'll need to talk to Caitlin tomorrow. She's the expert on this stuff…

-.-.-

PPDC Academy

June 21, 2016

Crunch waited by the door into the building to greet Stacker as he arrived back in Alaska. He covered his ears against the howl of the engines as the jet taxied up and shut down, then walked over to greet the Ranger. Stacker came down the steps with Mako close behind him.

Crunch had done a brief stint in Japan, and knew some of the customs. As such, he bowed with great respect towards Mako. The little girl hid behind Stacker, unsure about the new face.

Stacker sighed as he saw Crunch. "Captain O'Malley, this is Mako Mori. Mako, this is Captain O'Malley."

Mako peeked out from behind Stacker. "Hi."

Crunch crouched down to look Mako in the eyes. "Hi, Mako. I know He called me Captain, but you can call me Crunch, okay?"

Mako nodded. "What do you do here?"

"I help fix and build Jaegers."

"Can you teach me about them? I want to be the best Ranger ever."

Crunch looked up at Stacker, and saw the Ranger rolling his eyes. He turned back to Mako. "No promises. But if you ever get bored with practicing fighting, I can teach you how to fix stuff that's broken."

Mako's eyes lit up. "I love fixing things."

Stacker coughed gently. "Mako, would you like to go with Crunch for a while? I need to go take care of some things first, then we'll get you settled in your room."

"Okay." Mako walked over to Crunch, who took her hand and walked to a waiting utility cart.

Crunch smiled sweetly at the young Japanese girl. "Come on, let's go see my baby: Jaeger 34."

Mako scowled. "That's not a real Jaeger name!"

"It's because she hasn't been named yet. She's just a skeleton right now. But she's my baby. I watch over her as she grows, and I'll fix her up when she gets hurt."

Mako looked at Crunch. "If you had to give her a name right now, what would it be?"

Crunch was silent, thinking for a while. "I don't know," he finally responded. "I'm just the Crew Chief. I don't name the Jaeger."

They drove into the assembly hall, and Mako gasped as she saw the Mark IIIs starting assembly. Crunch pointed to the most completed one. "That's Matador Fury. She's being funded by Mexico. She'll roll out in February. Then, there's Shaolin Rogue, from China. He'll roll off the lines in April. Then, we've got Jaegers 33, 34, and 35, funded by Canada, the U.S., and Australia, respectively. They're still unnamed right now, but the guys on the line have taken to calling Jaeger 33 Chrome Brutus."

Mako's gaze fixed on 34. "It's a girl, isn't it?"

"Yep. Pretty, isn't she?" He stopped the cart so that they could walk up to the massive machine and take a look.

"Still a skeleton." Mako pouted.

"True. But let me show you what she'll look like when she's done." He powered up a large holodisplay nearby and pulled up the graphics of the finished design.

Mako gaped at it. "She's pretty. I want to pilot her!"

Crunch laughed. "I'm sure that once you're old enough, we'll have an even better Jaeger for you to jockey in."

Mako crossed her arms and stared at Crunch. "No, I want to drive her."

Crunch smiled. "Then give me her name, and I'll do my best to help you do just that."

Mako's face worked as she thought of a name for the Jaeger. "What does she carry for weapons?"

"Twin plasma cannons, rocket fists, and her Nuclear Vortex Turbine." Crunch waved his hand around the turbine in the display. "Her heart, as it were."

Mako looked at the scowling Conn Pod visor, the cannons… everything about the American Jaeger. "Danger."

"Well, that's half her name, then. Something Danger."

Mako looked at Crunch, her face pleading. "I can't think of anything for a first name that goes well with Danger, though."

"Hrm…" Crunch sat down in a chair, and Mako pulled one over. "Let's see what a random word generator turns up, shall we?" He logged into the terminal and went online, quickly finding a random word generator. He hit the button to begin, and the two spent several minutes tossing words back and forth until…

Mako gasped. "That's it!"

Crunch snorted. "Gipsy?"

Mako nodded emphatically. "Gipsy Danger."

"Huh. Has a nice ring to it. I'll post it to the pool."

Mako gave him an odd look. "Pool?"

"Oh, we toss a bunch of names out there, and vote on which one we like the most."

Mako looked at Crunch, a fiery determination in her eyes. "Will you help me become a Ranger?"

"Mako, I'll do my best to help you."

Mako jumped from her chair and ran over to hug Crunch. "THANK YOU!"

Just then, Crunch's phone rang. "Yello? … Yes, sir. We're in the assembly hall, looking at the Jaegers. … She's kinda taken a liking to 34, actually. She also came up with a name for it. … Gipsy Danger. … Yes, sir, it's in the pool already. … Okay, we're on the way now."

Mako looked at Crunch. "Yellow?"

"Oh, that. It's a joke. Instead of 'Hello', I say 'yello'."

Mako's confusion was still evident.

"Never mind. Pentecost is ready to take you to your room now."

Mako raced to the cart. "I'll bet it's decorated with all sorts of Jaegers…"

-.-.-

August 17, 2017

Gipsy Danger Commissioning Day

1137

Crunch walked into the ready room where Raleigh and Yancy waited in their dress uniforms. "Becket Boys, ready to wow the world with your new Jaeger?"

Yancy nodded, but Raleigh was more energetic. "Can't wait to take her out for a fight."

Crunch sighed. "You two are going to drive me crazy, aren't you."

The brothers looked at each other, then at Crunch. "Maybe."

"Come on, you two. Time to face the music." Crunch led the two Rangers out to the platform where they would observe the commissioning ceremony, then went back to his behind the scenes spot, already deep into the logistics of moving the massive war machine down the coast to Los Angeles, along with the more than 600 people it took to keep Gipsy up and running.

He sat down, coffee in hand, and looked over the timetable of the last series of attacks. Might get a few weeks to shake her out before the next attack… If Dr. Gottleib's right.

Mako poked her head into Crunch's office. "You're leaving already?"

Crunch put his coffee down. "Yeah. Gipsy's being sent down to L.A. Shatterdome."

Mako frowned.

"Hey, don't worry. I'll be staying in touch with you. Besides, you have the best trainers here to help you."

"But they're not you, Crunch."

"I know, kiddo. Don't worry, I'll be in touch."

"Promise?"

"On my everlasting honor as a Marine."

Mako smiled. "Good enough."

A faint rumble of applause came from outside, and Mako's face lit up. "They're about to commission Gipsy! I'll be back!" She tore off to go watch the ceremony celebrating the launch of the Jaeger that she still insisted would be hers someday.

-.-.-

Los Angeles Shatterdome

October 17, 2017

1900

Crunch looked at the Kaiju Blue splattered Jaeger and groaned. He tapped the radio headset that some of the crew joked was glued to his head, activating the transmitter unit on his belt. "Becket Boys, my office, now." He stormed over to his office, which overlooked Gipsy's repair bay off Scramble Alley.

The two Rangers entered the small office, still euphoric over their first kill. "What's wrong, Crunch?"

"Walk with me, boys." Crunch waved them along behind him. "As much as I appreciate your success, I want to talk to you about the way you won." He pointed to Gipsy. "You guys made a fucking mess. And not just of the Port of Los Angeles. Look at your Jaeger. It's totally coated in Kaiju Blue, the Plasma Cannon focal arrays are damaged courtesy of your improvised garrote, and half the arm torque drivers are shot."

Raleigh, ever the optimist, bounced on his feet. "So? We won. Isn't that what matters?"

"No, gentlemen, it is not. It's also how you win." He walked them out onto a service gantry, then maneuvered it closer to the Conn Pod. "You two have given me endless headaches, especially with your lack of interest in taking part in the repairs. I intend to rectify that." He turned to face the Rangers. "Change into some coveralls. You're cleaning the Conn Pod to my standards. And don't expect to get any help from anyone else on the crew. They all agree with me on this."

Raleigh and Yancy looked like their crew chief had just sprouted a second head. "Sir?"

"DID I MUMBLE, RANGERS?"

Crunch's command tone had the desired effect. "SIR, NO SIR!"

"Then what are you still doing standing there like the seagulls that shat on my car last week?"

The two Rangers tore off down the gantry, seeking coveralls to wear and tools to use to clean off the gunk that coated the Conn Pod.

-.-.-

Five hours later…

Yancy wiped the sweat from his forehead as he scrubbed the Conn Pod visor. He turned to his copilot. "'Use the cable as a garrote.' Brilliant idea, Rals."

"You didn't have anything better, so stuff it, Yance." Raleigh poked his head over the edge of the Conn Pod. "God, I never knew that there were so many cracks and crevices for stuff to build up in."

"I didn't either. But we can't leave until this is done. An angry Captain Crunch scares me more than even the biggest Kaiju."

Raleigh shuddered at the thought of a truly angry Crunch O'Malley. "God have mercy on whoever gets to be on the wrong end of that."

-.-.-

Nearby, Crunch smiled as he watched the Rangers scrub the Conn Pod. Lesson learned, boys?

-.-.-

Anchorage Shatterdome

November 12, 2018

0800

Crunch sat in the conference room with the rest of the free Crew Chiefs, having their semi-annual get-together. A few had sent their assistant Chief because of commitments to their Jaegers, but most were present in the flesh. They had been mingling for a bit, catching up, but now it was time to start.

Crunch knocked a gavel on the table. "Right, first order of business… We need to pick the last Crew Chief: Striker Eureka. He's about to start construction next week. Anybody have any promising candidates?"

Crimson Typhoon's Chief, Zhang Li, raised her hand. "Yes. Ako Otani's been expressing interest."

Cherno Alpha's Chief, Kama Koi, looked over at Li. "Experience?"

"Powertrain Chief on Crimson for the shakeout phase."

Koi gave a respectful nod.

Crunch looked around at the others. "Any other candidates?"

Tacit Ronin's Chief, Zelinda Christani, spoke up. "Erik Svensson. Dynamics Chief for Tacit for the last year."

Nods all around.

Crunch looked around. "Any others?" He paused, waiting for any others to speak up. None did.

"Okay, folks, you know the drill." He nodded at Mako, who had begged to be a part of the meeting, if only as an aide. Mako quickly dialed both candidates on Skype, and transferred the feed to the main projector.

Ako responded first. "Hello? Oh. Sirs. Ma'ams."

Crunch nodded once in respect. "Otani-san, your colleague Erik Svensson has been nominated for a promotion to Crew Chief of Striker Eureka. Please, explain why he should be given the position."

Ako froze up for a moment, not sure how to respond to the unusual angle being taken. "Well, a lot of the dynamics systems on Striker have a lineage linked to Tacit Ronin, and he's been superb working with those for the last year. He's done some fantastic upgrades that we've referenced while shaking out Crimson Typhoon. Honestly, there's no one who better understands the demands of managing the complex systems of such a fast and fluid Jaeger."

Kama Koi took over the questioning next. "However, Striker isn't just fast and fluid. He's massively powerful, something that, no disrespect to Zelinda, Tacit just isn't."

"That may be true, but it's all about how the power is applied. For example, Cherno and Tacit both use the same torque drivers, but Cherno has more mass behind his blows, giving more power. Tacit's lighter, so she's much faster. Striker's almost a perfect balance between the two, giving blinding speed and gut-wrenching power in one devastating package."

Crunch looked around at the Chiefs, looking for any further questions. He saw none. "Thank you, Otani-san."

He nodded at Mako, who switched over to Svensson. "Svensson."

Brawler Yukon's Chief, Astrid Drews, took over the questioning. "Mr. Svensson, I'm sure you're aware that Striker Eureka is in need of a Crew Chief. We're soliciting opinions of Aki Otani from Crimson Typhoon as a part of her application packet for the slot."

"What kind of opinion do you need?"

"Why do you think she would be a good fit for the position?"

"Hrm… She's very talented at handling the crew under her authority, and was absolutely critical to the successful shakeout of Crimson Typhoon's systems. She really made sure she understood the other subsystems and how they interacted with hers to help narrow down the potential issues."

"Why do you mention her rapport with her personnel, and her dedication to cross-training?"

Erik paused, thinking. "Really, the people under your command are the key to success as a maintenance team on a Jaeger. I mean, you can't fix everything yourself. It's a team effort. And being able to understand how your systems interact with others is critical while repairing battle damage, as you have a better understanding of what's going on when stuff gets scrambled up."

Crunch again looked around, and saw no further questions. "Thank you, Erik."

"No problem."

Once again, Crunch looked at Mako and nodded, and she shut down both feeds. "Right, folks. What do y'all think?"

The Chiefs talked amongst themselves for a few minutes, discussing both the candidates' records and their responses to the clever curveball Crunch had thrown them. Finally, a consensus began to emerge.

"We choose Aki Otani as the Crew Chief of Striker Eureka."

Mako redialed the Skype call. "Hello?"

Zhang stood up. "Aki Otani, you have been chosen to be the Crew Chief of Striker Eureka. Congratulations!"

Aki stood there in front of her computer, stunned, as the information soaked in. Then she sat down in her chair as reality set in. "Oh. My. GOSH! THANK YOU!"

Crunch was about to talk when the Kaiju siren sounded in the Alaska Shatterdome… and everyone froze. Everyone except Drews, who flew into a platinum blond whirlwind and raced out the door to the hangars. "MOVE IT, PEOPLE! WE'VE GOT FIFTEEN MINUTES TO DROP!"

-.-.-

Twelve hours later…

Crunch had been in LOCCENT for the whole mission, nervously watching Brawler Yukon and Romeo Blue take on a fast-moving Category II Kaiju. Now, after nearly two hours of hunting the beast near the mouth of the Columbia River in the Graveyard of the Pacific, they had it cornered…

Until it lashed out with its barbed tail, breaching Brawler's Conn Pod and smashing Caitlin D'Onofrio's right leg just below the knee. Her bone-chilling scream rang out across the radios, raising the hairs on the back of Crunch's neck. He'd heard that kind of scream only once before, back in Iraq.

Brawler went down, hard, as the Drift collapsed, and Sergio took just long enough to make sure Brawler would remain upright before cutting his connection to the Jaeger, leaving Romeo Blue to finish the fight solo.

Crunch shoved a J-Tech aside and toggled the earpiece of his radio as he watched the feed from the Conn Pod. The barbed tail had stayed behind, which was a good thing to Crunch right now. "Sergio, I need you to take a look at Caitlin's leg, now. How bad is it?"

There was a pause, then Sergio's shaken voice came back. "Real bad, Crunch. I'm afraid that I'll make it worse if I touch it."

"Too bad, because if you don't do something fast, we'll lose her."

The steel in Sergio's voice returned. "Copy that, sir. What do I need to do?"

Crunch gritted his teeth and fought back the memories of that last convoy he'd been on. "You need to take off the thigh armor and apply a tourniquet. I've got the medical displays in front of me. Her lower leg is toast. Totally smashed."

There was a sound of rummaging around the Conn Pod, followed by a loud POP. "Got it. Caitlin? You there?"

A muffled groan. "Yeah…"

"Hey, sweetheart… This is going to hurt really bad…"

There was a clatter on the radio, probably the Ranger's helmet hitting the floor. "Then get it over with."

"I'm so sorry about this…"

Crunch muted the audio as Sergio tightened the tourniquet around his wife's lower thigh. I've heard the screams once before… I don't want to hear it again.

A sudden roar of success rose from the L.A. Shatterdome radios as Romeo Blue finished off the Kaiju.

Crunch didn't join their enthusiasm. This was a pyrrhic victory. We didn't lose a Jaeger, and the crew didn't die… but the D'Onofrios will never jockey together again. And Brawler is tuned to them, and them alone. No one else will be able to drive her.

Tendo Choi came over and slapped Crunch on the shoulder. "Good call on Brawler, Crunch. Thank you."

Crunch just nodded and walked out of LOCCENT, depressed.

-.-.-

Alaska Shatterdome

February 29, 2020

0159

ERT. ERT. ERT.

Crunch snapped awake at the sound of the scramble alarm. He instantly took in the displayed data from LOCCENT, and swore. 2700 tons, Cat III. The Boys are in for a fight this morning. Jumping into the white jumpsuit that all the techs for Gipsy wore, he raced down the hall, banging quickly on the door. "Come on, Beckets. Time for the Drop!"

The Rangers met him in the Suit Room. "Mornin', sirs!"

Raleigh, ever the morning person, smiled. "Let's suit up and kick some ass!"

Crunch nodded, remembering when he felt the same way… back before the war had turned his formerly black hair into a salt-and-pepper gray. "Right, we got the last of the repairs done last week, thanks to your help. Raleigh, your welding has been superb lately."

"Thanks, Crunch."

Yancy just yawned. "Let's kill this bastard and go back to bed, deal?"

Raleigh grinned, then accepted his helmet from the techs. Nodding at his brother, they slipped their helmets on in unison.

Gipsy's AI chimed in over the PA. "Data on helmet. Data Relay gel dispersing into Circuitry Suit."

Then, with helmets seated and armor in place, Crunch sketched a quick salute to the Rangers and ran to oversee the launch. The Beckets simply jogged to the Conn Pod and strapped in.

Crunch always loved watching the Conn Pod racing down the shaft onto the body of the Jaeger. This morning, however, it sent chills through him, as if he knew something was going to be different about this mission. As the head locked into place, he radioed Tendo. "Locked in, Tendo. Cut her loose and stand well back!"

The massive war machine powered up, and Crunch watched the Jaeger Launch Platform grind forward towards the elevator that would lower the Jaeger down to the local seabed level. Then the doors ground closed, and Crunch raced up to LOCCENT to monitor the Jaeger. As much as I trust Tendo to watch over my girl… something doesn't feel right today. This isn't going to go well.

-.-.-

Gipsy's Crew Chief's office

Seven hours later…

Crunch paced nervously, waiting for word on the Jaeger. How the hell do you lose track of a Jaeger?

The hardline desk phone rang, and Crunch picked it up on autopilot. "O'Malley."

Pentecost's voice filtered through. "We just got word from the authorities. Gipsy just came ashore thirty miles down the coast."

Crunch didn't even hang up the phone. He dropped it and ran out the door, headed for the helipad. God, if you're listening, please let Raleigh be alright. If he dies, I'll never be able to live that down.

-.-.-

Shatterdome medical wing

March 3, 2020

Raleigh lay in the hospital bed, barely moving. If Crunch hadn't looked closely, he'd have thought Raleigh was in a coma. Instead, Raleigh was simply staring at the ceiling… No, through the ceiling.

Crunch shooed off the nurse and sat in a chair near Raleigh's bed. "Hey, Raleigh."

Raleigh nodded, eyes fixed on the same patch of ceiling.

"I can't ever imagine I'll understand what you're going through. I've never Drifted with someone, let alone lost someone while in the Drift." He paused, gauging the younger man's reactions. "But I have had my best friend be taken from me by an enemy. I've had a hole torn in my life… my reality. And I wanted to tell you that, although it will never totally go away, it will grow smaller with time… and new friends." He smiled at Raleigh, hoping for a response.

Instead Raleigh looked away from Crunch.

Crunch sat there for a while, hoping that Raleigh would respond eventually. Sadly, Raleigh just ignored the older man. So Crunch left, looking for something to do other than face Gipsy's battered form.

Walking through the somber Shatterdome, he heard a clatter and a familiar female voice let out an impressive string of foul language. Crunch, against his better judgment, decided to investigate. He walked around the corner to find Caitlin D'Onofrio holding her artificial leg in one hand while massaging the stump of her right leg with the other. She looked up, ashamed. "Crunch… Can you give me a hand, please?"

"Gladly, ma'am." He offered his calloused hand, and Caitlin grabbed hold of it with surprising strength as she hauled herself upright. "Anything I can help you with?"

The small woman sighed and handed him her leg. "Toss this piece of crap in the garbage, please."

"Ma'am?"

Caitlin leaned on Crunch and took the leg back, and reseated it on her stump. "I know the PPDC has been trying to help, but the legs they have right now are crap. I'm going to have to make my own." She hung her head. "I just don't have the time to do it right now. I need to talk to Raleigh."

"Hrm… I might turn Mako loose on that leg and see what she can do. She's been driving Stacker nuts, tearing apart systems left and right if she gets bored and doesn't have a project."

Caitlin chuckled. "If you wouldn't mind, that'd be wonderful."

"Ma'am, it would be my genuine pleasure. Perhaps you should talk with her, as well."

"Why-ah. Heh. I see."

"Do you?"

"Yeah. Have her meet me after I'm done with Raleigh."

"Will do." Crunch opened the door for the former Ranger. "Fair warning, though. I've been in the situation of losing a "battle buddy" before. Don't offer sympathy, or say you understand. Just offer support quietly. Raleigh's not very talkative right now."

Caitlin nodded. "Thanks for the tips." She went into Raleigh's room and sat down to talk with him.

Crunch decided it was time to go figure out how much of Gipsy could be saved. I've put it off long enough.

-.-.-

Crunch walked out onto the maintenance gantry and looked at his Jaeger and fought back tears. He'd fixed her up time and again… but this was like seeing your kid in the hospital after a devastating car crash.

"Crunch… you okay?"

He turned around to see Mako staring at him, concerned. "No… I can barely look at her, Mako. It's terrible."

Mako looked at the damage, and Crunch could see her face fall. "I knew it was bad… but this is something else."

The Crew Chief pulled up a crate, and Mako sat on it. "Remember when you came up with the name for her, Mako? You said that one day you would pilot her."

"I do. It's too bad to see her like this. She'll probably be sent to Oblivion Bay."

A pained expression clouded Crunch's face. "Yeah… she deserves better, but we just can't afford to fix her right now, can we?"

Mako slowly shook her head, saddened to see her favorite Jaeger so badly damaged.

"Hey, I have a job for you, if you are interested."

Mako looked at Crunch. "Of course I'm interested. What do I need to do?"

"Dr. D'Onofrio needs someone to work on her prosthetic leg. It's not up to her standards…"

Mako's face lit up. "I'm on it, Captain." She raced off to get her tools, eager to get to work. Then, just before she left the gantry, she stopped and turned to Crunch. "Can I use your workspace?"

"Sure. Just put everything back when you're done."

Mako squealed with glee and raced to her quarters to retrieve her tools.

-.-.-

Marshal's office, Alaska Shatterdome

April 6, 2020

1030

Crunch stood at attention as Pentecost looked at the document in front of him. "Mr. O'Malley, I understand your sentiments here… but I cannot afford to lose your skills or leadership."

"Permission to speak freely, Marshal?"

"Granted."

"Sir, Gipsy's repairs are going to be cheaper than building a single mile of Wall. Why are we being forced to send her to Oblivion Bay? Give me two months, and she'll be good as new."

Stacker sighed and looked out the window. "Crunch, it wasn't my call to ground her. I'm with you 100% of the way. But the Pan Pacific Working Group has ordered me to commit Gipsy to the Bay. I have no choice." He turned to face the Crew Chief. "Just as I have no choice but to reject your resignation letter. Instead, I want you to teach at the mechanic's school."

Crunch bristled at that.

"Relax, it's just temporary. I'm going to be gunning hard to retrieve as many Jaegers as I can from Oblivion Bay for repair and overhaul. And Gipsy's the first one on the list. So keep in touch with your crew. We'll need them soon."

"Thank you, sir."

"Anything else, Crunch?"

The Crew Chief wanted to yell at the Marshall for accepting Raleigh's resignation and rejecting his, but he knew it wouldn't make it any better. "No, sir."

"Dismissed."

-.-.-

Anchorage recruiting office for the Pacific Perimeter Project, AKA the Wall

April 7, 2020

0936

Crunch saw Raleigh walking towards the recruiting office and ran over to talk. "Raleigh! Where are you going?"

The former Ranger just shoved past his former Crew Chief, intent on signing up for the Wall. "Leave me alone, Colin."

Crunch ground his teeth, hating himself for what he was about to do… "RALEIGH BECKET! I'M NOT DONE WITH YOU!"

Raleigh froze, recognizing the tone of voice as that tone of command that had been the source of many a long night spent helping repair Gipsy.

"Raleigh. Why the Wall?"

"Because there's work to be done there… and as much of a longshot as it is, I might be able to do some good there."

"We can always find you another copilot…"

The look of fury on Raleigh face was one that Crunch would never forget. "I DON'T WANT ANOTHER PERSON IN MY HEAD!" Raleigh dropped his bag of clothes. "I CAN STILL HEAR HIM, DYING. HELPLESS. AFRAID." He stormed over to Crunch and got in the older man's face. "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT'S LIKE, COLIN. TO LOSE SOMEONE LIKE THAT. AND YOU NEVER WILL, BECAUSE YOU CAN'T STAND THE THOUGHT OF COMBAT. YOU'RE A COWARD, COLIN."

Crunch worked his jaw for a moment, debating whether or not to respond to Raleigh's spot-on accusation.

Raleigh nodded. "See?"

Three seconds later, Raleigh lay on the ground, his nose bleeding, a look of utter shock on his face. Crunch stalked over to Raleigh, then proceeded to kneel on the Ranger's chest. "One: Never. Ever. Insult. A. Marine. Even the little lady who handed out paychecks could shoot a rifle with better accuracy than the average terrorist could ever dream of. Just because I was a mechanic didn't mean I had no combat training.

"Two: You're right. I can't stomach combat anymore. I lost a number of friends on my second tour in Iraq to ambushes and attacks. It tears at me every day to know that they were taken fighting a war that was unwinnable, dying so far from their loved ones, far from home.

"Three: I do understand what it means to lose a brother, Raleigh. To hear their final screams of fear and pain and helplessness. Just because you were in the Drift when it happened doesn't mean that you are special."

Crunch watched as the message sank in, then let the younger man go. "If you want to go work yourself to death on the Wall, so be it. But if you ever change your mind… you'll always have a spot in the PPDC, Raleigh."

Raleigh stood up, picked up his bag, and marched into the recruiting station without looking back.

-.-.-

Alaska Shatterdome

April 21, 2023

0800

Crunch had arrived at the JLP elevators as the mysterious email had requested. There was only one other person there, a small woman with jaw-length black hair wearing an old Gipsy Danger mechanic jumpsuit. "You wanted to see me?"

Mako turned around to face Crunch. "Yes, Crunch. I did."

Crunch stood there, stunned. "Mako…" He scooped the younger woman up in a hug. "Congrats on graduating the Academy!"

"Thank you… but there's no slot for me as a Ranger right now. So I've been assigned to J-Tech for now."

"Well, that can't be the only reason you asked me to meet you here. What's up?"

Mako smiled. "Gipsy's coming home."

Crunch froze. Pentecost kept his promise. He's bringing her back from the Bay. "Who's the officer in charge of restoration?"

"I am. Which is why I came to you for help. You know Gipsy better than anyone else, so you know where she can be improved. And how to implement some upgrades I have in mind."

"Then what are we waiting for?"

Mako paused for a moment… and the entire Gipsy Danger crew rushed out of their hiding spots and onto the elevator. "THAT."

Crunch roared with delighted laughter. "Then let's get to work folks! We've got a Jaeger to fix again!"

-.-.-

Hong Kong Shatterdome

November 2, 2024

0225

Crunch watched as Mako scrambled along the forward hull of the massive war machine, a tray of paints in one hand and several paint brushes in the other. Careful, Mako… If Pentecost sees you doing this, you're grounded forever.

Finally, Mako reached the faded nose art and set to work, restoring it to its former glory. She had insisted that it would be vital to the morale of the crew, and Crunch had quietly agreed with her.

Pentecost, however, had disagreed, saying it was a waste of time and not necessary. But that had only made Mako more determined to do it.

As a result, Crunch was up at an ungodly hour of the morning, watching the sprightly 21 year old woman scramble along the front of the Jaeger with only a safety harness and strap preventing her from falling more than 150 feet to the unyielding concrete below.

"Mr. O'Malley… what are you doing up at this hour?"

Crunch snapped to attention as Pentecost made an unannounced visit to Gipsy's bay. "Couldn't sleep, sir."

"That's bullshit, and you know it." He spotted Mako deeply engrossed in her project and scowled. "She's using a harness, I hope."

Shit, he saw her. "Yes, sir. She knows better than to go out there without safety gear."

"Hmmm… I have to admit, Miss Mori was correct; it does look better with the markings restored." He turned to leave, then looked back at Crunch. "Don't tell her I was here."

"No worries, sir."

Pentecost nodded once, then disappeared back into the warren of hallways and rooms that made up the Shatterdome.

Mako's voice crackled in the radio earpiece that Crunch wore. "Okay, I got the majority of it. Ran out of red, though. I'll need to come back later and fix it."

"It's okay, Mako. I don't think anyone will care that it's not perfect."

Mako stepped back onto the gantry, and Crunch sighed in relief. "Now, let's go to bed, please? I'm not as young as I was back when we first met all those years ago, and I don't have the same bottomless energy you seem to have."

Mako's laugh drifted through the hangar. "I'll deal with cleanup, Crunch. You can go now."

-.-.-

January 4, 2025

2100

Crunch walked into the hangar and instantly spotted Raleigh. Crap… He turned to leave…

"CRUNCH!"

"Raleigh! How are you?"

"Good. Thanks in large part to your welding lessons, I might add. Helped me land jobs on the Wall."

Crunch nodded. "About last time we talked…"

"Water under the bridge, Crunch. You did a fantastic job of repairing her." Raleigh gestured at Gipsy.

"Nah, I was just the muscle. Mako Mori's the brains behind the project. You've met her, I assume?"

"Yeah. Met me and the Marshall at the Helipads, then brought me here to see Gipsy. Quite the spitfire."

"Yep. Graduated top of her class at the Academy, despite not having a Drift partner. But given her history… She might be a good match for you."

"Playing matchmaker in your old age, Crunch?"

"No, not romantic matchmaker…"

Raleigh gave his Crew Chief a skeptical look. "Copilot? We barely know each other! How can we possibly Drift?"

"You have much more in common than you think, Raleigh. Trust me."

"Stacker won't let her. He has his 'reasons' for it, right?"

Crunch squirmed. "There's… a lot of backstory there, and I'm not the best person to talk to about it."

"Uh-huh. No, I'm not gonna go talk to her."

"Even though she's across the hall from your room?"

The sly look on Crunch's face told Raleigh volumes. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?"

"A few more gray hairs, a few more sore spots, but otherwise…" Crunch trailed off.

"Hmmm… Well, she'll probably be present at the trials in the Kwoon. I'll see if I can get her to take part."

Crunch patted Raleigh on the shoulder. "Atta boy."

Aki Otani waved at Crunch, and he nodded to Raleigh. "Gotta go. See you around, okay?"

Raleigh smiled and headed up to his room to sleep.

Crunch walked over to Aki. "Lemme guess, you need some help cleaning up the Kaiju gunk on Striker."

Aki's laugh filled the bays of the Shatterdome's massive hangar. "Some days, I swear you're psychic."

-.-.-

January 7, 2025

0700

Crunch knocked on the door of Stacker's office. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Come in and close the door, please."

Odd. He usually keeps it open. The Crew Chief closed the door and stood at attention.

"Crunch… You saw the trials."

"I did, sir."

"Who do you think did best?"

Crunch paused, unsure how to answer Pentecost's question.

"Well? There's no wrong answer, Crunch."

Well, then. "Mako. Without a doubt."

Pentecost turned to the window and looked out over the harbor.

"Stacks… You know that she's the best fit. They're more alike than either of them realize. Unless you want to shove a pair of rookies into Gipsy."

"No. We don't have time for that. We need Raleigh's experience, especially with Gipsy."

"And who knows what Gipsy's capable of more than Mako?"

"You."

Crunch was stunned. "Sir… I am not a Ranger. I'm the Crew Chief."

"And as much a Ranger as Mako. You just refuse to see it."

"I'm not Drift trained…"

"And neither is Mako." Pentecost walked over to his closet and removed a small box.

Crunch knew that was his signal to leave, and turned to go.

"Colin…"

"Sir?"

"Prepare Mako's suit."

Crunch stalled, trying to hide his joy. "Sir?"

"I know you had the Suit Room crews make my daughter a suit as soon as Gipsy was ready for trials."

"Guilty as charged, sir."

"Go on. And let me break the news."

Crunch nodded and raced to the suit room, already on the radio. "Guys, calibrate the Conn Pod harnesses to Preset 13-R. Suit Room: Hide the package. Paint: Raleigh on the right, Candidate 5 on the left. Let's move, people!"

-.-.-

Suit Room

0800

Raleigh walked out of the Suit Room, clearly uncomfortable without a copilot alongside him on the walk to the Conn Pod.

The techs remained respectfully somber as he walked out, then instantly bustled into action as Mako walked in.

"I missed him, didn't I?"

Crunch walked in behind her. "Yep. Couldn't have planned it better. I can't wait to see the look on his face as you walk into the Conn Pod."

Mako accepted Crunch's help in finalizing the fit of her Circuitry Suit layer, then stood at the ready as the techs attached her armor panels. "This feels so odd to be doing it for real now."

Crunch grinned. "Feels good, doesn't it?"

Mako nodded, a grin on her face.

Crunch handed her the helmet. "Knock 'em dead, kiddo."

Mako quickly hugged her Crew Chief, then jogged to the Conn Pod.

Raleigh's name was already visible above the right side of the door, and as she approached, the techs peeled the cover off of her name. A few silently saluted her as she walked aboard.

The AI chimed out, ruining Mako's element of surprise. "Two pilots onboard."

Raleigh never even looked towards the door. "I'm gonna take this side, if you don't mind. My left arm's kinda shot."

Mako knew the logic was flawed, but accepted her place as the junior Ranger in harness 2. "Sure."

Raleigh finally realized who he would be Drifting with and smiled.

Mako smiled back. Crunch was right: that was worth it. TOTALLY worth it. That was priceless. "Are you going to say anything?"

"No point. Five minutes, you're gonna be inside my head." He paused. "You look good."

Mako blushed, not sure what to make of the comment. So she just focused on strapping in, something she'd done off the clock a few times over the course of the last few nights… just in case.

Crunch walked into the Conn Pod. "Right, you two ready to rock an' roll?"

Raleigh smiled. "Hell yeah. Let's do this."

Mako simply smiled and let Crunch hook her up.

-.-.-

0820

Crunch stared in awe at the telemetry coming from the Mark III. That shouldn't be possible… Even the Kaidanovskies aren't that strong of a Drift! That's stunning for a first time.

At least Gipsy's performing flawlessly. Mako'll be proud.

Then, Mako chased the RABIT and it all went to hell.

"NononoNONONOOO! MAKO!"

Then, a little red light went on in the corner of the display… But Gipsy remained online.

Crunch fell back in his chair. "How… What… Huh?"

Then, LOCCENT and Gipsy went dark, and he rushed to help the Rangers. Oh, Mako… She's going to be so traumatized by this failure. She worked so hard… only to fail at the most important step.

Crunch popped the door to the Conn Pod to find Raleigh cradling Mako in his lap, rocking her gently. "Shhhh… it's okay. It's just a memory. It's not real, Mako."

Crunch froze, letting them have some space, even though Mako's lack of response had Crunch worried sick.

Finally Mako snapped out of her trance-like state, and began to cry. "Oh, Raleigh…. I messed it all up. They'll never let us pilot now."

"Hey… it's okay. Let's just get checked out and go talk with the Marshall, okay? One step at a time."

Mako tearfully nodded, then got up and staggered towards the door, eyes on the floor.

Crunch coughed softly.

Mako gasped. "How much…?"

"Mako… You okay? Physically, anyways."

Suddenly, Ranger Mori was replaced with the scared little girl he had met so long ago. "Crunch… I failed. Now I'll never be a Ranger."

"Nonsense. Come on, let's get you into something more comfortable, hey?"

Raleigh came over. "No, I'll help her, Crunch. Thanks, though."

Mako's pleading look said it all.

Crunch nodded and leaned over to Raleigh. "Just remember our last argument before you try anything funny, kid."

Raleigh paled slightly, but nodded his understanding and helped Mako into the locker room.

Crunch, however, had other priorities. Tapping his earpiece to start a broadcast to all of the crew, he looked at Gipsy. "Right, we need to make some fixes, folks. First things first, I want that neural blocker replaced. I don't care if it's at factory specs, it ain't enough for those two. I don't care if you have to double 'em up, we need more oomph on that. Weapons, I need a sitrep on the right cannon. I'm not sure it took well to that hard shutdown. Powerplant, same thing. Let's go, people!"

-.-.-

January 8, 2025

0750

Mako was still giddy and walking on air as she walked into Crunch's office.

"Mako! Congrats!" He hugged her tightly.

"Ooof! Not so tight, Crunch!"

"Sorry." The Crew Chief let go. "I'm too happy for you to be mad at all the work you've left me with."

Mako blushed. "Sorry, Crunch."

"Don't be. You saved all of us here at the 'Dome. Besides… I've got backup from Cherno's crew. They said they can mourn later. For now, there's work to be done an' Jaegers to fix. So go change out of that Drive Suit and ride shotgun on some wrench monkeys, will ya? Oh, and drag Becket Boy down here. He's always tried to skip out on fixing his messes from day one."

Mako laughed. "Will do."

-.-.-

January 12, 2025

Early morning

Crunch watched Mako and Raleigh suit up, sorrow in their eyes alongside the determination. "Hey… Cheer up. Not everyone gets the chance to go down fighting like this. For all o' humanity?"

Raleigh frowned. "Not helping, Crunch."

Mako just glared at the Chief. "Crunch… Can we have a moment alone? Please?"

Crunch nodded. "Right, you heard 'er. Out, all y'all."

The techs shuffled out, followed by Crunch.

Mako turned to Raleigh. "Raleigh… thank you for all this. I don't think I'd be compatible with anyone else."

"The honor has been mine, Mako. And thank you for the chance to ride in Gipsy again."

Mako grinned. "You saw me and Crunch at the factory, didn't you?"

"Yeah." He hugged Mako. "Gipsy's been such a focus of yours for so long. And now, she's going to carry us to war for the last time." He brushed her hair out of her face. "Together at the beginning, and at the end. I wish I could have as poetic of an exit."

Mako nodded, fighting back tears. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's suit up and kick some ass."

Raleigh smiled sadly. "Couldn't have put it better myself."

-.-.-

Crunch watched the whole operation from LOCCENT, and was both heartbroken and elated when Gipsy managed to close the Breach.

Aki, however, was devastated at the loss of Striker. He hugged her tightly as she wept. "Shhh… It's going to be fine, Aki. We won."

"I know… It's just hard to let him go."

"I know it. I've had to do it twice. Trust me, it's hard. It's like losing a family member."

"It's not just the loss of Striker, Crunch… It's Chuck, too."

"Ah… so you were the one with the hots for him."

Aki blushed. "Yeah."

"Hate to break it to ya, but he's been dating someone for a while now."

"Doesn't help, Crunch. You're a terrible source of help for relationships, you know…"

"Yep. Still gotta try."

Aki punched him lightly, and Crunch just sat there and took it.

"So, now what? You lost Gipsy, too…"

"Probably go back to working on ocean freighters. There's going to be a lot of demand for them now that the Pacific is safe again."

"Hmm… Care for some company on that?"

Crunch paused before responding. "I'd love to have you along, Aki."

"Then let's enjoy the party and get our crews squared away."

Crunch smiled. "I've got a bottle of whiskey in my office I'd been saving for years, just for this day. Want to get a gathering of Crew Chiefs together to share it with?"

"I'll take care of that. You make sure that the crews update their contact info… just in case."

"Smart woman."

"I try." Aki slipped out of LOCCENT, headed to her office to make some calls.

Crunch stayed put for a bit, trying to talk to Raleigh and Mako, but giving up after half an hour of fighting for bandwidth.

Instead he went to his office overlooking the empty bay where he'd fixed Gipsy for the last time, pulled out a glass and a second bottle of whiskey. "Hey, girl. I know you can't hear me. Hell, you weren't even alive… But I loved you like a daughter. I'll miss you."

-.-.-

Vancouver, Canada

April 23, 2025

0800

Crunch tapped his glass against the table. "Alright, folks. Listen up."

The Chiefs stopped and listened to Crunch.

"Long ago, I heard a joke from a buddy who worked on helicopters. Said it was half true even then. I think it's even truer for us, the Crews of the Jaegers.

"Joke went something like this: 'Why did God make Mechanics?'"

A murmur went through the assembled people.

"No one? Bummer. Anyways, punchline is: 'Because even pilots need heroes.'"

Aki raised her glass at that. "Hell yes. To the real heroes of the Kaiju War!"

Clink.

-.-.-

Author's notes:

Whew! That was a hell of a haul. Took me a couple of weeks of on-again, off-again writing to finish.

Colin isn't entirely my own character. The nickname of "Crunch" and the last name are lifted from the "Wingman" series by Mack Maloney. But it was too fun of a name to pass up. Expect to see more of him in "Forged In Fire" in upcoming chapters. Oh, and Aki Otani will be coming with him. ;)