And yet, she can't help but think she may have gone too far; this time. Because...because, despite it all, Gottlieb cares; for whatever it is they have by way of relationship; for Geiszler, herself.
And she wants to tear that out of herself; but every attempt she's made, so far, has merely thrown into sharp relief how impossible such a task is.
At the end of the day, she can scream her voice hoarse at the naturalist; can rage against her with the most passionate of arguments; and still, when all is said and done, when she lays to sleep at night, the darkness pressing in around her, she cares for Geiszler no matter how much she wishes otherwise.
"I can't believe it's been almost four years," Choi says, staring off into the distance.
They're taking a tea-break; there's a pilot team out, now; Gottlieb's predictive model has been proven decently accurate, now; enough that they have a rough idea of where and when the next attacks will be; Geiszler is out in the city, procuring items necessary for her experiments—she leaves the Shatterdome for the surface far more often than Gottlieb does; the mathematician can't stand the boat-ride necessitated.
Gottlieb starts; surprised. "Has it?" she asks, and thinks for a moment. "Why—you're right. It nearly has." There's only a few days until she's officially been here for four years.
The revelation follows her throughout the day; during her work, she pauses when she catches sight of Geiszler out of the corner of her eye; they've worked in close quarters for nearly half a decade, and still, she hardly knows anything about the other that was not divulged in their correspondence.
As they're reaching the end of the day, Geiszler comes to ask her about something. "Gottlieb," she nods, "can I have the estimate on the next attack?"
Gottlieb checks her work. "Two weeks, give or take," she replies, "why?"
The other shrugs. "Nothing, I was just wondering, since I was going to go out to dinner sometime," she says, offhandedly, "you know, just a change of scenery...it gets so dull down here sometimes, you know?"
"Yes," Gottlieb sighs; the sentiment is one she shares. "I quite agree. I, myself, would like to go out more often, but..." she gives a wan smile. "I cannot endure the boat-ride, you understand. I get horribly seasick."
Geiszler hums. "That sucks," she says, sympathetically.
"Are you taking anyone with you?" Gottlieb enquires politely, only half paying attention to what she's doing. "A friend, perhaps? Or just going by yourself?" The marks on her fingers suddenly seem very intriguing, and she drops her gaze to that.
The naturalist is silent for a moment, before she says, "Actually, I was..." she hesitates, trailing off; one hand absent-mindedly going to trace the tattoos encircling her wrist—a nervous tic of hers.
Gottlieb shuffles her papers.
"I was wondering—well," she pauses, "I found this place a while back that makes a good strudel, and you mentioned liking it a while ago, so I figured I'd extend the invitation to you, if you wanted to. But, uh, now that I think about it, it's probably not worth the trouble of getting up there, so nevermind—"
"No!" Gottlieb exclaims, and then, more calmly, "I mean, no. No, it's no trouble. I would...rather enjoy that, actually. Thank you for asking, Geiszler. I...appreciate it."
"Yeah," Geiszler says, an odd pitch in her speech. "Yeah. Uh. So...tomorrow, maybe?"
"Er, yes, I—that sounds good," Gottlieb says, bites the inside of her cheek. She can't seem to meet Geiszler's gaze; instead, she fixes it on her hands, fiddling with the papers, and then says, "Well, I—"
"Work, yeah," Geiszler says, with a nod, and returns to her own side of the laboratory, leaving Gottlieb with her papers, feeling a bit like she's standing in a minor earthquake.
The boat-ride is easier this time around; she's expecting the rocking and the eerie black of the waters; still, though, she has to close her eyes and breath deeply a few times when the urge to retch rises.
Geiszler is in her element; she rows enthusiastically, chattering at Gottlieb; she must have some sort of experience with boats, because she seems to know exactly what to do, using the oars as extensions of herself, almost, directing them exactly where she wants to go.
"I didn't know you knew how to boat," Gottlieb mutters, eyes closed to slits, leaning against the side of the boat and watching the other row.
Geiszler gives an embarrassed laugh. "Yeah, uh," she says, "I went fishing a lot with my uncle Illia as a kid. We used to take this little rowboat out onto the lake, you know, take it out to his fishing spot. I didn't really care for the fishing part of it—it's too boring for me—but the rowing always helped me think."
"Oh," Gottlieb says; not having expected the other to answer so earnestly. She feels like she's just been entrusted with something far too large for her to comprehend.
"I kind of miss it, you know," the naturalist continues. "The...calm, I guess. You could go for miles and miles and never meet another soul. Here, there's a thousand people rushing about—places to go, things to do..." she trails off.
Gottlieb says nothing for a moment, pondering that. "Why did you come here?" she asks, finally. "It sounds like you were far happier there, so...why come here?"
Geiszler shrugs. "I was bored," she said, "bored, and...tired of the prejudice of those around me. Britain has its flaws, yes, but in many ways, it's far more fair than the States. And..." she hesitates. Gottlieb waits for her to continue, but she doesn't speak, and the rest of the journey is made in silence, punctuated only by the lap of the water against the side of the boat and the occasional drip from the ceiling of the tunnel.
When they emerge from the building and into the streets, Gottlieb has to squint as her eyes adjust to the brightness; while the Shatterdome does let light in from above, it's in limited amounts, and it's been a while since she's been out and about; her eyes are accustomed to the softer, yellow lighting in the Shatterdome than they are to the sharp, bright light of the sun on a clear day.
"Come on," Geiszler urges, impatient. "The hour's not getting any earlier, Gottlieb, let's go."
"Alright, alright," she grumbles, eyes finally growing accustomed enough to the brightness that she can actually see where she's going; still, she nearly trips when she misjudges and places her cane in a crack rather than on cobblestone.
Geiszler dives to catch her, letting her lean against her. "You alright?" she asks, as Gottlieb catches her breath.
"Fine," she manages after a moment. "No harm done, just a little—winded, is all."
Geiszler nods. "Alright," she says, but when they start walking again, she sets the pace slower, careful to steer clear of any areas that might cause trouble for Gottlieb.
When they get to the place, Geiszler herds her to the back. "I'll be right back," she promises, "you just hang tight right there and I'll go grab our strudel."
"Geiszler, what—no, I can pay for myself—" she protests, but it's too late; Geiszler's already disappeared back into the sea of people, leaving Gottlieb by herself at the table for two.
She returns a few minutes later; there's a plate in her hand, and two large slices of apple strudel along with a scoop of ice cream. "That's for me," she clarifies, at Gottlieb's disdainful look. "Here—this one's for you." She turns the plate so that the slice without ice cream on it is on Gottlieb's side.
Gottlieb looks at it dubiously. "Come on, try it," Geiszler urges. "It's really good, I promise."
After a moment of hesitation, Gottlieb picks it up and takes a bite.
"Good?" Geiszler asks.
It takes a moment for her to chew and swallow, but when she has, she says, grudgingly, "It's...not horrific, I suppose."
Geiszler grins at her. "I knew you'd like it."
"I'll pay you back," Gottlieb promises, and the other shakes her head.
"Nah, dude, my treat," she says, "it's been four years and you haven't tried to kill me in a fit of rage yet."
Gottlieb blinks at her.
The sensation from earlier is back; a strange weight beneath her sternum; a warmth spreading beneath her skin. She feels vaguely sick.
"I swear, Geiszler, if you've poisoned me..." she warns, and takes another bite of the strudel.
Seven months later, Pentecost finds a surviving pilot from one of the abandoned Shatterdomes working in construction on a tiny, far-flung island.
"Raleigh Beckett," Choi tells her, excitedly. "He survived the death of his drift partner—his brother, Yancey, was killed by the kaiju they were after. He took the bastard down single-handedly."
Gottlieb doesn't look up from her papers. "So?" she asks, tiredly.
"Well, wouldn't it be useful to have a pilot who's actually interacted with the kaiju themselves rather than just fighting them off but not killing them?" Choi asks. "Anyway, Pentecost wants you to run your data again—he thinks we might be getting close to something."
"Alright," Gottlieb sighs, "it'll take me a while, though."
"Yeah, yeah," Choi nods, and leaves her be.
Geiszler enters a moment later, and makes her way to her side. "Beckett, did he say?" she asks, "Raleigh Becket?"
"Yes," Gottlieb responds, "and Yancey—"
"Gottlieb!" she cries, "do you understand what this means? This means that I'll finally be able to speak with someone who's actually killed a kaiju—not just fought one, but killed one. Seen them up close!"
Gottlieb frowns. "Do not pester Mister Beckett about that incident," she says, sternly, and then, pointing to her arms, "and for the love of all things holy, please cover up those tattoos." The last thing she wants is for Geiszler to inadvertently send the man spiralling into traumatic memories.
Geiszler scowls at her. "Quit nagging," she snaps, crossly, "I do possess a sense of tact, contrary to your beliefs, Gottlieb."
The mathematician gives her a flat look and returns to her equations.
When she finishes, her face is pale and drawn; her hand shakes as she readjusts her spectacles, and she swallows.
The last death—no, not one death, three deaths, all at the same time—will be in January of the coming year.
She rises to retrieve the Marshal.
Gottlieb lays it all out on her chalkboard; the Marshal has brought Beckett along, and Geiszler had, predictably, not remembered to be tactful.
She taps the board with the tip of her cane. "At first," she says, "the kills were at the frequency of only once every two years; dispersed enough to be assumed a coincidence. But then, the time between them decreased. Now, there are kills every month; in only two months, the frequency will drop to a week, and then one every two days. Then..." she pauses, grimly.
Pentecost finishes for her. "Then any hope we have of capturing and interrogating a member of the kaiju to attempt to learn how to stop it is nearly impossible."
"Exactly," Gottlieb nods. "My predictive model is now refined enough that I can give you nearly exactly the time, date, and location of the next attack. Then it's up to your pilots, Marshal, to do the rest and capture the would-be killer."
"Right," the Marshal dips his head. "Doctors; good day."
"You didn't even let me talk," Geiszler says, sullenly, as soon as the doors close behind them.
Gottlieb rounds on her. "You displayed your tattoos to a man who has traumatic memories related to them!" she snaps, "so forgive me if I didn't let you speak your mind after that."
Geiszler scowls at her. "Something's going to go wrong," she says, "mark my words, Gottlieb; your numbers -may be the handwriting of God, but you're reading them wrong; it's not going to work."
"Oh, and what do you propose as an alternative?" Gottlieb snaps. "Forgive me if I don't put much faith in your suggestions since you tried to embark on an experiment that could have cost your life!"
"It would have worked!" Geiszler fires back, "I modified the ritual, Gottlieb—it's not like I didn't research it extensively; I knew what I was doing."
"You could have killed yourself!" Gottlieb hisses; how does she not understand?
"Or I would have learned valuable information that lead to us stopping the kaiju!" Geiszler shouts.
Gottlieb grits her teeth; this conversation is going nowhere. She sets her chalk down and makes for the door, leaving Geiszler behind.
It's a mistake; she should have known it was, should have guessed Geiszler would try again, but—
She doesn't; doesn't expect that leaving Geiszler alone in the lab would lead to this; to Geiszler's form, prone on the ground, markings on her arms and face matching those on the brain, its jar fallen to the ground, shattered.
For a moment, Gottlieb stands, frozen, in the doorway.
And then, like a tidal wave, rage and fear, fear, fear crash over her, all-consuming; she races to the other's side, drops to the ground, clutching her shoulders. "Geiszler?" she shouts, panicked, shaking the naturalist, "Geiszler!? Geiszler!"
The other gives no sign of life.
"GEISZLER!" Gottlieb roars, and shakes her again, near hysterics, "breathe, damn it, breathe!" Then, in desperation, she slaps the naturalist's cheek.
Finally, her eyes flicker open, and she gasps, shaking, and clings to Gottlieb like a lifeline; fingers, covered in grime, gripping her arms tightly; nails digging into her skin through the layers of clothing. "G—Gottlieb," she chokes out.
"Breathe," Gottlieb sobs, "oh, God, you're—you're alive!" Without thinking, she pulls the other into a tight embrace.
"...le'go," Geiszler murmurs, after a moment. "Can't...breathe."
"Oh," Gottlieb says, and releases her, a faint blush of embarrassment creeping onto her cheeks. Then, "I can't believe you did something so feckless and stupid! You could have been killed!"
"But I wasn't," Geiszler points out. "And now—oh, shit," she breathes, eyes widening. "Gottlieb—your plan—it's not going to work—"
Gottlieb freezes. "What?" she demands, "what do you mean, 'not going to work'?"
"The—the—" Geiszler stops, eyes darting around the room, and licks her lips. "The kaiju," she says, sotto voce, "they're—the last kill, it's not—Gottlieb, it's not going to follow your prediction—" she stops, unable to continue.
Gottlieb gets up and rinses one of the cups on her desk out at Geiszler's sink and fills it with water. "Here," she says, stiffly, "drink."
"Thanks," Geiszler murmurs, once she's taken a few, tentative sips, hands shaking. "Gottlieb, you—you have to get the Marshal—"
"Not yet," Gottlieb cuts in. "First—" she drags in a juddering breath. "First, I need to get you off of the ground."
They manage it—barely.
Geiszler's hands are still shaking, her leg jumping up and down, when Gottlieb returns with the Marshal.
"Geiszler," the Marshal says, without blinking at her dishevelled appearance.
"They're going to break the pattern," Geiszler says, without prelude, "the last—the last three kills won't be on-site, they'll—the victims will be a—abducted, and then killed in a—" she pauses, eyes flickering, as if trying to pin the words down. "A ritual," she continues, finally.
"That's ridiculous," Gottlieb scoffs, "my model—"
"Ridiculous? Ridiculous?" Geiszler shouts, "well how about you drift with the brain of a dead kaiju—!"
"Shut up!" the Marshal roars, suddenly; they both fall quiet, shocked. "Gottlieb—be quiet," he snaps, "Geiszler—go on."
"W—well," Geiszler says, finally, "they're going to be killed in a ritual at the kaiju's base of operations."
"Do you know where that is?" Pentecost questions.
Geiszler swallows. "No, I didn't—it was more like getting snapshots, like when—when you blink too fast, and it all looks like photos? It's...it's like that," she says, "and I—I didn't get much, because the brain's too old—it was already deteriorated too far for me to know...and the only way to learn would be is if you had another kaiju brain, which you don't..."
Pentecost's expression turns grim.
Geiszler catches his expression. "...do you?"
"His name is Hannibal Chau," Pentecost says, a blurry photograph in hand. "He's an...old acquaintance of mine; runs with the black market trade—he's a crook and a thief, but he guarantees quality; if he says that the brain he's selling you is from a member of the Cult of the Kaiju, then it is."
"Wait," Gottlieb says, "sir, you're going to send Geiszler to retrieve the brain—alone? She can barely put one foot in front of the other—!"
"I'll do it," Geiszler cuts in, determination written plainly on her face.
Pentecost nods. "Good," he says, "in the meantime, I will organise the pilots—as soon as you've drifted, Geiszler, I need to know where the base of operations is—we haven't much time."
"Of course," Geiszler says, rising; sways, for a moment, before she grits her teeth and stands ram-rod straight.
"Word of the wise," Pentecost adds, as he's leaving, "do not trust him."
As soon as the door closes behind him, Gottlieb rounds on her. "You can't be serious?!" she hisses, "Geiszler, you almost died last time—the strain the second time will kill you—!"
Geiszler waves her concerns away. "I survived the first time, and I will the second, as well," she says, resolutely, and walks, slowly, to the door. Gottlieb watches her leave, biting her lip—what if it doesn't work? What if Geiszler does die this time?
The thought wraps around her heart, clenching it in a vice-like grip; the weight of it near-unbearable.
The door closes behind Geiszler, leaving Gottlieb alone in the laboratory with nought but her boards, the shattered pieces of the glass jar still on the floor, and the sinking sense of dread in her gut.