Author's Note: So, out of the blue my brain decided that I needed to write a prequel to "Cold War," about how Marshal Mma recruited the pilot in the first place. Originally it was going to be just the first scene, but that wasn't enough to satisfy my brain... Anyway, please enjoy.


and bring grace to the strong

Once Marathon Lily had hauled the dead beast away from the city, Marshal Mma left her co-pilot Gaby to deal with the cleaning crews and marched back into the wreckage to look for a policeman. "The man on the last heavy gun," she said when she'd caught one. "I want to see him. You find him, you bring him to me at the Jaeger hangar."

The policeman's uniform was all grey and orange with dust, and so was his face in streaks, where the sweat hadn't run it off. He looked at her in her big yellow-and-green drivesuit and nodded, and fifteen hours later, he came back to Marathon Lily's temporary hangar with three other police and the man she wanted, who had his hands tied up in front of him.

He was taller than he'd looked from Lily's conn-pod: taller than all four police, taller than her, built big everywhere with short hair matted into clumps and scars on his arms and neck. He wasn't wearing a defense corps uniform like she expected, or any other kind of uniform, just ragged everyday clothes stained dark with red and blue blood; his hands hung limp in their loops of rope while he stared over her shoulder at Lily's dented green foot with no expression.

"Thank you. You can go," she told the police.

"Marshal Kgathi, we can't advise that," the first one said. "He's under arrest, you see?"

"Didn't ask you to advise. Or arrest. I want to talk private." She pointed towards the maintenance crews having their break. "Why don't you get some tea with them? You can still watch him from there."

After the police filed off to drink tea, she said, "What's your name?"

His eyes didn't move from Lily. "Who wants it?" His deep voice creaked like a badly-built house in a heavy wind.

"Marshal Mma Joy Kgathi, Centralized African Jaeger Defense Program," she said crisply.

"In the robot?" He dragged his stare over to her face.

"Yes. You were the man on the last gun?" She stared right back. Big rude shit. Well, she could handle that.

"Yeah," he said. "Tried, anyway. Don't think I helped much. Sorry."

Marshal Mma shook her head. "You were the only one left shooting that gun. Why?"

"Somebody had to."

That was a good answer, and she smiled. "Even with that big beast coming for you?"

"Even so."

"How you feel about getting to shoot some real big guns?"

"Beg pardon, Marshal, I don't follow." He blinked for the first time, and for the first time his face moved enough she could see he was exhausted, as worn-out as his clothes, and not trying to be rude.

"I want you in the program," she said. "As a pilot, if you test Drift-capable."

He looked down at her feet and said, "You don't want me. I'm no good."

"Handled that gun pretty good."

His scarred throat moved as he swallowed, struggling to say, "I mean. I didn't finish my school. I got in trouble, I ran with some people, some bad people - you don't want me." He held up his bound hands. "Police didn't pick me up for staying with the gun."

"You know we got a real war with these beasts coming for us," she said, crossing her arms. "I need pilots, and you look to me like you got a case of the stupid-braves. We need that. I don't care what you done, I care what you can do - and it turns out you can't pilot, you can still fix and clean machines for us. No more running with the bad sort, just helping people. That good enough for you?"

The man looked up again but higher, past Marshal Mma to Marathon Lily's sturdy metal body. "Yeah," he said, after he'd studied the Jaeger a little while, his voice softer; then he pulled his wrists apart fast so the rope snapped in two and dropped to the ground in snake-coils. "Sounds real good."


In some places they tested Drift compatibility with showy fights. Other places used dancing, or tests designed for two people to take at the same time. Marshal Mma didn't hold with that kind of playing around. At Central, potential co-pilots got hooked right into a Jaeger systems mock-up to find out if they'd work together or not.

Though she had no intention of changing partners when she had Gaby, Marshal Mma always took first shot at Drifting with new people. She stuck out the full ten-minute test with the new pilot; when they disconnected, he was shaking, and she walked with steady footsteps to the bin by the door and vomited in it.

He wouldn't look at her when she walked back. "I told you," he whispered, with his hands over his face. "I told you I'm no good. Fuck. You don't want me."

"I'll pick the next people you Drift with," she said. "You get used to it."

"Nobody want to see that."

"Doesn't matter. I'll find a partner for you. You think you the only one here with a nasty head, you have to think again."

She rinsed her mouth clean with water and checked the list of potential partners over and over until it was shorter than the length of her hand, then shoved them at him one after another. No one else threw up, but no one hit that sweet spot of real compatibility, either. Too much blood in the Drift with him, and memories that pulled too strong for the present to resist. The best match she could get was little weedy Louis Mirata; it wasn't a good match, but he had a neat and ordered mind, enough to keep him together and move Freedom Fighter smoothly. Marshal Mma didn't need much more than that, not unless all of Australia and Asia's Jaegers went down at once.

A month after assigning him, she found Mirata curled up in a corner of the mess with a tablet. He was holding it so tight his pale fingers were purple, and he didn't hear her marching up to him until she asked, "What are you reading?"

He clutched the tablet tighter, drawing it in close to his chest, then saw it was her and sat up straight. "Sorry, ma'am, I was just - what did you say?"

"What are you reading?" she repeated.

"Oh, this?" Mirata looked down at the tablet and pushed at the screen to make the text bigger. "It's not - I'm afraid it's not very interesting, I was just re-reading some of my old thesis work. It, um, it helps me to relax sometimes, especially after a Drift when I can't get my mind to quiet down otherwise. I never finished it, alas. After San Francisco my family wanted me at home, so I took a year off for writing, and then I tested capable for Drift, and - well, you know how it is." He ducked his head so his blond hair fell over his eyes, like a shy little boy. "I don't recall if I ever told you what I was studying..."

"You didn't. Tell me now?" She sat down across from him and gave him her attention.

"Ah, it wasn't exactly ground-breaking research, I suppose." He laughed a very small laugh. "It was medieval French literature, actually - not the sort of thing that's very useful for piloting a Jaeger. Or finding a normal job, but I liked it - I really enjoyed the language, even all the reading I had to do. I was planning to write about themes of endurance in long-form poetry, particularly in the Chanson de Roland with a focus on Roland's sword. Well, I say that, but I hadn't even finalized my thesis topic yet; I was just writing and writing to find out what my advisors thought would work best. It must seem awfully shallow to you, after - after everything."

"No, it's nice work," Marshal Mma said. "Maybe one day you get to finish it, then I can get to read it." She looked him over. "Your partner and you, are you getting along good? Any problems outside Drift?"

"No - no problems," said Mirata. "He's, well, not very sociable, I suppose, but I can understand why, and it's all right. I don't mind. I'll manage, Marshal Mma, please don't -" He smiled with some effort. "You don't have to worry about us, really. We'll be fine."

"All right." She touched his shoulder, then stood up. "I got to go, but you have any trouble, you tell me, you follow? We don't want anyone to burn their brains out."

"Yes, ma'am, I understand."


{

.engageRightArm == (R_ident_#287) (directUp) ;

.engageLeftArm == (L_ident_#297) (directUp) ;

{

.parseDriftInput == (Pilot_ident_Right, Pilot_ident_Left) processType == (TextSemantic) ;

Pilot_ident_Right (approximate visual age eleven) opens a wooden door and walks into a room. The room contains four visible bookshelves. Each bookshelf contains multiple books. Titles and authors and exact number of books cannot be quantified due to known fluid and erratic nature of Drift memory. Pilot_ident_Right walks to nearest bookshelf. Pilot_ident_Right removes one book from the middle shelf. Title and author possibilities collapse into title Les Aventures de Tintin: Objectif Lune, author Hergé (Georges Remi).

{

.parseVoiceRecog == (DriftInput) ;

Unidentified voice ident_1 (female or young male): "I didn't took no money! Not me! You getting it wrong!"

Unidentified voice ident_2 (adult male): "I am getting nothing wrong."

Pilot_ident_Right turns halfway to his left. Two bookshelves are no longer visible. Two brown brick walls are visible. One wall contains a square window without glass. One unidentified adult male figure is standing in front of the window. One unidentified young male figure is crouching on the floor. Pilot_ident_Left (approximate visual age nineteen) is standing in front of unidentified young male figure. Pilot_ident_Left is holding a Kalashnikov AK-104 model automatic rifle. The ambient air temperature and humidity have increased.

Unidentified voice ident_2: "Take an ear."

Pilot_ident_Right: "Oh God, don't - you have to stop it!"

Pilot_ident_Left (approximate visual age thirty) is standing next to pilot_ident_Right. Pilot_ident_Left (approximate visual age nineteen) hangs his gun over his left shoulder, takes hold of unidentified young male figure's head, and moves the hair aside.

Pilot_ident_Left: "I can't. I don't."

Pilot_ident_Right: "Please!"

Pilot_ident_Left (approximate age indeterminate) grips unidentified young male figure's left ear. Pilot_ident_Left pulls the ear halfway from its roots. Blood splatters appear on the cover of Les Aventures de Tintin: Objectif Lune.

Pilot_ident_Right: "No! No! Stop it! Stop!"

if (VoiceRecog == "Stop" ) {

.disengageDrift ;

}

}

}

{

.parseVoiceRecog == (ConnPodAudio) ;

"Sor-"

"-srry-"

"-ry."

Pilot_ident_Left: "Sorry. I'm sorry. I try to leave it but I bring it every time."

Pilot_ident_Right: "No, I'm the one can't - who couldn't concentrate. That sort of thing - that must be hard not to carry with you. Let's try again, shall we?"

Pilot_ident_Left: "Don't have to. If you don't want."

Pilot_ident_Right: "Well, we ought to. Just once more?"

Pilot_ident_Left: "All right."

{

.engageDrift ;

{

.parseDriftInput == (Pilot_ident_Right, Pilot_ident_Left) processType == (TextSemantic) ;

Pilot_ident_Right (approximate visual age twenty-five) is holding an open book. The right page displays a black-and-white line drawing of a broadsword. Written on the broadsword is the name Durandal. The sword appears larger than the page on which it is drawn, due to known fluid and erratic nature of Drift memory. The sword is in the book and it is in pilot_ident_Right's hands and it is part of the Drift.

{

.parseVoiceRecog == (DriftInput) ;

Pilot_ident_Right: "Quant veit li quens que ne la freindrat mie. The blade that endures..."

}

}

}


Gaby liked listening to the Jaeger pilot shows on the radio. Marshal Mma had done enough of that public talking to be sick of it from either end and got up to start dinner in the kitchen when Gaby turned it on. Best part of marshal rank was having her own kitchen to cook in instead of eating in the mess; getting cooked for had always bothered her somehow, even in a mess hall.

She took care getting the dishes out so the noise wouldn't disturb the program for Gaby. "- all heard how the Drift is different for everyone," the radio woman was saying. "Can you tell us a little about what it's like for the two of you to Drift?"

"Hard," the new pilot said, and Mirata jumped in to say, "We've had a few difficulties, but overall we work quite well together. When it comes down to a proper fight, I have every confidence we'll be able to handle things smoothly."

"We're very glad to hear that," the radio woman said, and Marshal Mma snorted as she started cutting up some pumpkin. Public relations. It got them money, but sweet Mother Mary, she hated talking that talk. So did the new pilot, sounded like. Lucky that Mirata was working well with him. Mirata knew how to smooth-talk radio and TV people, pull in the money to keep the Jaegers running. So far she hadn't had to send them and Freedom Fighter out against a kaiju, and good -

Static burst out of the radio so loud she jumped and almost chopped her fingers off.

"Sorry about that!" Gaby called out from the other room. "I don't know what happened - the station just cut out. I'll get it back on in a minute, I think. Your tablet's beeping, want me to bring it in there?"

"No, check it for me, if you please."

"Sure, sure," Gaby said. "You'll regret it when we find out the new man said something foolish on live - no. Oh, no. Oh, Joy, no, you got to come here right now."

"What happened?"

"A kaiju took down Hail Mary. Category Three. They say it's headed for the Kenya coast - it could already be on land."

They suited up and rode Marathon Lily to Mombasa with broken buildings and shattered people looming in the Drift between them. Shouldn't have sent the new pair. Should have watched out better. The poor Hail Mary pilots, such a tragedy, what will their families do...

But Mombasa was lit up bright when they arrived, all of it except a big slash of darkness by the water, and even there lights were moving in already for clean-up crews to dig at the headless carcass of the kaiju. They parked Lily close by, and Marshal Mma caught the new pilot as emergency medical personnel were hauling him out of Freedom Fighter's not-so-shiny-anymore conn-pod. "What happened?" she demanded of him while they shuffled their feet, not daring to interrupt a marshal. "Where's Mirata?"

"Dead. In the studio. Couldn't do nothing." He looked beat to hell and back, with blood running down his twisted right arm, but no burns. "Got myself out and found durable."

Poor Mirata, Marshal Mma thought, poor boy, couldn't even leave the world fighting; he should have stayed in his school. "Found what? What did you do?"

"Marshal," one of the medics said, "we need to get him to hospital. Can't you ask him all this later?"

"We got it, right? That kaiju, we stopped it. We did good?" He dug his elbow into the stretcher and pushed himself up to stare at her with bloodshot eyes.

"You did real good. You saved so many people," she told him, putting her hand on his head, and his bruised mouth made the shape of a smile she hadn't seen on him ever. "You go with these nice medics now and get fixed up, all right? We'll take care of Mirata and Freedom Fighter."

"No."

"Eh? No what?"

"Don't like that name," he said. "Wants something else. Boomer."

"You call it whatever you like when you're better."

"Boomer," he said, thumping back on the stretcher, and suddenly he laughed. "Crazy Boomer, yeah, that's us."

She let the medics rush him off and ignored the crowd of people who'd come to gape. Instead she went up to the renamed Freedom Fighter's conn-pod and looked around. Empty, quiet, and dark, the displays dim and humming softly at half-power, and yet the roots of her tightly braided hair tingled like she had a hundred eyes on her. The same thing happened to her sometimes in Marathon Lily, before or after a Drift. Jaeger waking was how she thought of it, the computer systems all live and hyper-aware for Drift, but Lily never had it strong as this.

Marshal Mma knew the signs of system overload and its price: headache, nosebleed, mood swings, circuit scars. No scars on Freedom Fighter's surviving pilot. No blood from his nose. He hadn't Drifted alone.

"You did good today," she said to nobody and their hundred eyes. "But I'm watching. Don't you forget."

Then she walked back out of the conn-pod to deal with the crowds and the press that would be waiting, already reciting in her head the answers she would give them.


Quant veit li quens que ne la freindrat mie: When the count sees it never will be broke.