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All the Colors of the Rainbow

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The first thing that Newt noticed about Doctor Hermann Gottlieb was that he was a neat freak. (Newt had met him before budget cuts shut down half the support section of the base and all the research staff but the two of them, but the Guts Guys and the Physics Phreaks didn't really mix much. And Newt had much more interesting things to fill his brain with than humans he didn't see often.) And here they were, carting their equipment and specimens in to what used to be a maintenance bay, and they were going to have to share it.

Newt had made sure to get there first, and get things set up the way he liked them. If Hermann needed some changes, they could talk about changing it but there shouldn't be anything major and Newt wouldn't have to learn a new work flow and spend the next several weeks paying more attention to where his equipment was than what he what he was doing on it. He was almost through getting things set up (well, he had gotten distracted by a new specimen and started analyzing tissue samples, but the crew who had stayed on a few extra days to help him get settled were still getting set up) when Hermann arrived.

"What in the hell is the meaning of all this!"

Newt looked up from his microscope to see Hermann storming through the crowd of scientists and maintenance workers, straight at him. "A lab," he said. "You're Hermann, right? Didn't Pentecost tell you we were going to have to share?"

Hermann ground his teeth. Newt wondered what had set him off. He ran what he'd just said through his head. It was all true, so it couldn't be that. Maybe he was just really uptight.

"Yes," Hermann said. "A lab. Which we will have to share. So why is it that I arrive to find kaiju entrails filling the whole damn place?"

"Because I need kaiju guts in my work," Newt explained patiently. "I'm a guts kinda guy, that's what I do. I've got a whole locker room full of guts—and brains and stomachs and organs we have no clue what the purpose is, it's so cool—and I get brought more all the time, and it's my job to analyze them and figure out what the heck they are and what's going on." This was kind of obvious, but whatever. Some people needed the obvious pointed out a lot. Newt didn't mind telling them, at least the first couple of times. It was a public service, just like his work here.

"Yes, but I, too, need space to work."

Newt shrugged. "You're a physics guy. You need, what, access to the computers and a desk and maybe some chalkboards or whiteboards, right? Pick a spot, and we'll rearrange to work around you." He turned back to his microscope.

"Work around me? Work around me? This is my lab, too! I'm not about to get relegated to a corner, tripping over slime and kaiju blue and getting God knows what on my clothes and my notes! This is half mine, so I get half of it."

At that, Newt turned around and gave Hermann his full attention for the first time. "Hey, whoah, whoah, wait a minute. Yeah, we're sharing the lab, but my equipment takes up a lot more space, and you don't have to worry about samples—"

"But I do have to worry about your samples!"

"—so I just don't think it would be fair, efficient, or productive to give you half, Hermann."

Hermann's jaw clenched. "That's Doctor Gottlieb to you. And this is a big space and you're the only xenobiologist left. You will have ample room with only half the space, and that will leave me a safe space to do my own work. And we will obviously get on much better if we don't have to deal directly with one another."

"But I need—"

"Many things, no doubt, which the closing of the shatterdomes and the reappropriation of our funding are denying you," Hermann said. Gottlieb, whatever. "We are all having to deal with inconveniences. You do not get to force me to take on your inconveniences for you. I have enough of my own!"

"That wasn't what I was doing," Newt protested. "My research needs more space than yours does!"

"And I cannot work when covered in kaiju entrails!" Gottlieb returned. "Look. I'll make you a deal, and give you more than half, even!" He turned around, sweeping an eye over the space, and marched over to a line in the floor grating. "You can have two thirds of the place—everything from here over—as long as you keep all the gore on your side of this line. Deal?"

"But that's not enough room!" Newt looked at the space, trying to figure out how to compact the equipment. There was no way he could fit in the mass spectrometer on that side anymore, and then it wouldn't be next to the DNA sequencer, and that would be a major pain in the ass.

"Too bad. I can call in Tendo Choi to mediate, if you prefer asking him for a solution." Gottlieb was smiling, and no wonder, because he had to know Choi would side with him. Choi was an engineer, a technician, and preferred the "hard" sciences, as if xenobiology wasn't a harder science—in every sense—then astrophysics. Plus, he'd already turned down Newt's request to replace the industrial fluorescent lighting with, well, anything else, and he'd gotten mad when Newt persisted, so he probably wouldn't feel too much like listening to Newt's side.

Newt gave in with bad grace. "Fine. Whatever. You win. That line it is." It did at least give him good access to the hatch closest to the cold storage room. Newt glanced around at his team, who had been watching them with some amusement. "All right, let's figure out how to make it work." It took them hours longer to figure out an arrangement with a decent workflow and get it set up. Hours that Newt could have been working rather than acting as a stevedore. And it was going to take days—weeks!—before the new configuration felt natural. He went off to bed that night still disgruntled.

He was even less pleased, the next morning, to find that someone had painted a yellow stripe down Gottlieb's line. What were they, in a summer camp in a bad teen movie? The physics side was all set up, with a place for everything and everything in its place, and Newt eyed it resentfully. Neat freak.

Sharing a lab was going to be pure hell.

As he turned, one of his specimen tanks caught the light from the overhead fluorescents, and Newt grimaced at the glare.

This space—it wasn't a lab—would be hell enough to work in with the best of labmates. Newt missed his old lab. And the rest of the Guts Guys.

Over the next few days, Hermann raised all holy hell whenever one of Newt's equipment carts strayed over the line, or when kaiju fluids dripped—or squirted, a couple of times—into his precious space. And since the janitorial staff had been cut back, too, Newt was having to do a lot of his own cleanup. It took so much time and broke his train of thought when Hermann yelled and sometimes he was just in the groove and couldn't stop no matter how much Hermann yelled, and eventually Hermann just started kicking the stuff back over the line.

Newt thought about protesting the first time it happened, realized that Hermann's shoe couldn't contaminate the specimen any more than the floor had, and couldn't bruise it any more than falling had, and shrugged to himself. Neat freak.

Not that you'd know it, looking at Hermann's side of the lab. Lots of papers and books everywhere among the equipment. It all had an order and Hermann could find anything he needed, but there were a lot of piles of stuff.

Possibly only normally neat, and just grossed out by kaiju parts all over the place.

Still annoying.

"Newton! Newton, I am warning you—"

At last, Hermann's shouting was persistent enough to force Newt's attention away from the molecular analyzer's latest data. "Yes?" he said, twisting his neck and stretching out his arms to work through the kinks in his back that had been annoying him for a while. He glanced at the chronometer on the wall. No wonder he was stiff, he'd been sitting the same way for hours. That's what happened when you let yourself say 'one more set of figures' for fifteen sets straight. "I know, Hermann, I'm sorry, I got sucked in, you know how it goes," Newt said. He rubbed his eyes. He still hadn't gotten Choi to approve alternate lighting in here, and so far he hadn't been able to figure out anything better he could get on the black market that he could afford that would give him enough light for the whole lab. The ceiling was just too high for anything designed for a residential space.

"You promised you would clean and disinfect the floor today," Hermann said. "It is beginning to reek."

"I know," Newt said. And he did know it, it's just, he was so used to it that he rarely noticed it unless Hermann pointed it out. "And I'm going to!" It was a waste of time, but Hermann had a point. He picked up his mug and sniffed at it before draining the dregs. Coffee. Wonderful stuff. Caffeine and a beautiful smell that was strong enough to cover up other odors. Sighing, he went over to the cabinet with the cleaning supplies and got out the mop and bucket, putting on gloves, a lab coat, and a mask before pouring the kaiju-strength detergent into the bucket. After diluting it with water, he began to mop. His mom would freak out that he hadn't swept first, but dried kaiju gore would stick to the floor, and he was going to have to go over the whole floor twice at least, so there wasn't much point in sweeping.

"Why do you wear more protective gear to clean than you do to dissect a kaiju?" Hermann asked as he watched.

"Because this stuff is more noxious," Newt replied, holding his breath as he wrung out the mop.

"Kaiju are the most toxic thing known to mankind," Hermann said. "How can cleaning fluid be worse?"

"Hey, only some parts of the kaiju are toxic," Newt said. "Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a black market for them. And I know what parts are toxic and what aren't, and you've seen me in full gear when I'm working on the bad parts, you know I do. Most of the stuff I dissect here in the open lab, it's not dangerous at all, or only dangerous if you ingest it, or it's already been brined to remove the toxins. So all I really need are gloves. This stuff, though? If it splashes on to me, it would give me a chemical burn and damage my clothing. And it reeks man, it smells like you would not believe."

"I know it smells," Hermann said, "but it doesn't stink worse than the kaiju."

"To me it does," Newt said. "The mask helps with that."

Hermann squinted at him. "You think that. You honestly think that the detergent in that bucket smells worse than a kaiju?"

"That's what I said," Newt said. "And you may think I'm weird because of it, but Hermann, you don't like the taste of strawberries, so I know your taste is weird." He moved the bucket so he could mop under where it had been. The water was already turning a sickly gray color. Even with the mask, the smell and the color made Newt's gag reflex go if he didn't distract himself. But he couldn't get the coffee beans in his desk to break the smell, because he was probably starting to smell of cleaner himself, so it wouldn't help. No, the only thing to do was try and get it done as quickly as possible, and then go shower and change.

"Will you shut up?"

"What?" Newt said, looking up blankly from the specimen he was dissecting.

"You're … cooing over it," Hermann said, face twisted in disgust. "Again."

"I was?" Newt said blankly, trying to recall. He might have been. Hermann complained that Newt talking to himself or humming was distracting, but most of the time Newt didn't even realize he was doing that. He'd told Hermann that, but he wasn't sure Hermann believed him. "Sorry," he said with a shrug. "Didn't know I was. I was just having so much fun taking this pretty baby apart. The colors are interesting—I haven't seen innards this green since Yamaroshi, it's got a much higher concentration of barium than you usually get in kaiju, and you'd think that would make it white—barium only turns green when you burn it—but no, it's green. Maybe there's something else about it—we don't actually know that much about barium except for a few specific compounds which these aren't, I'm going to have to ask around, but isn't it such a beautiful color?"

Even in this awful, glaring lighting it was such a pretty color. Almost pretty enough for Newt to think of finding fabric in that color and replacing the curtains on his bedroom walls. Not seriously—he liked the deep blue he'd had since he came to the shatterdome, and he was used to it—but almost.

"It's green."

"Yeah! Very green. Vibrantly green."

"Kaiju are often green."

"Not on the inside," Newt pointed out. "And not that green." He stripped off his gloves and protective gown and rolled up his shirtsleeves. "Look, see, here you've got Yamaroshi," he said, pointing to the tattoo on his forearm. "Aside from the pearlescent sheen which you just can't do with a tattoo, the artist got the coloring almost perfect. See how it's closer to an olive drab than this baby here? And Yamaroshi's insides were almost the same color. Which was weird, because Kaiju innards are usually yellow or purple or teal or brown, not a true green. Never did figure out why Yamaroshi was different, but it was. And now here we have this guy—nobody's named him yet, I wish they'd hurry up, hate having to use the number classification system, we've never gotten any kind of a rational taxonomy of these babies—but here we have this guy, and his outside was a typical dull brown but his insides are bright green. About the same color as green fireworks, and that makes no sense because fireworks are green when they have barium, but barium is only green when you burn it—it's white or silver, otherwise—and this has lots of barium in it, but none of it's burning, so how is it creating this gorgeous green color? I don't know, and I can't wait to find out! I wish I could have seen it live—death makes terrestrial biological organisms change color, it probably affects kaiju color too, and then of course a lot of kaiju have chemical compositions that react with air and water so it can be tough to reconstruct what their biochemistry was before they got cut open and exposed to the elements."

Hermann was staring at him, Newt realized. He didn't seem to find the color as fascinating as Newt did. Okay, yeah, it was kind of gory and gooey and that was kind of gross (kaiju texture was Newt's least-favorite part of his job), but that was what the gloves were for, and it wasn't like Hermann had to stick his hand into it—that was Newt's job.

"Hermann? You okay there, buddy?"

"You want to see a live kaiju."

"I just said that, yeah," Newt said.

"You have tattooed kaiju on your body."

"Where else would you get a tattoo?"

Hermann ground his teeth. "You are a groupie."

"What?" Newt said. He didn't want to be a science groupie, he wanted to be a science rock star, and that didn't make any sense anyway. Hermann was acting really weird. "No, I'm not a groupie, I'm doing original work! Nobody else is even close to what I'm doing!"

"Not a science groupie, a kaiju groupie! Like those idiots who think kaiju are punishment from the gods, or the ones who think the kaiju are gods! You're obsessed!"

"That's my job," Newt pointed out. "Which I am awesome at, let me point out."

"Yes, but you like them!" Herman poked Newt with his cane.

"Hey!" Newt rubbed his chest. The rubber tip was surprisingly hard.

Hermann ignored his protest, leaning against a desk and waving his cane at Newt. "They're destroying our world, they've already killed millions and caused ecological damage that'll kill millions more, and maybe billions, even if we sealed the breach tomorrow. And you think they're pretty and you want to see them alive and up close!"

"Things can be deadly and beautiful, at the same time," Newt said. "Haven't you ever seen a picture of a poison dart frog? Or ever seen a jellyfish?"

"I've never seen a jellyfish," Hermann said. "Do you know why? Because they're extinct in these parts! The kaiju blue killed them all!"

"Well, along with radiation from jaegers," Newt pointed out. "And they're only extinct in the wild—aquariums still have them, which is the only place you'd ever have seen them even if the kaiju had never come."

"Yes, the kaiju, whom you find so enthralling, you've put them permanently on your body." Hermann's voice lowered. "Think how terrible that would have been for you if they'd never come."

"If they'd never come, I wouldn't know the difference," Newt pointed out, not sure what Hermann was getting at.


"Hey, if I wasn't excited by studying the kaiju, I'd do a damn sight worse job," Newt said, defensively. "And my work has directly impacted the way we fight kaiju and improved our kill time. My enthusiasm gets results. And I've heard you over there going into little odes to joy every time you figure something out, you're just as engrossed in your subject as I am in mine."

"My subject doesn't kill people," Hermann said, drawing himself up as tall as he could, which wasn't very.

"Your subject is the breach that brought the killing machines here," Newt pointed out. "It wouldn't matter how big and destructive they were if they couldn't get here in the first place."

"The breach is a secondary system, a tool used by the kaiju—it bends to their will. They are the ones destroying everything. And in any case, I may enjoy the puzzle but I don't tattoo it all over my body!"

"That's because you're not cool enough for tattoos, Hermann," Newt said.

Hermann clenched his teeth. "That's Doctor Gottlieb to you!" He spun on his heel and stalked off back to his chalkboard, cane thumping on the metal decking.

Newt watched him go. He still didn't know what had gotten Doctor Gottlieb so worked up. The guy was just weird, if you asked him.

Most people were weird, if you asked him. But nobody ever did. Shaking his head, he got back to work.

Newt and Hermann had, by and large, settled in to a workable relationship. It wasn’t pleasant, exactly, but Newt figured out what would result in rolled eyes or mild squawking (calling him "Hermann" instead of "Doctor Gottlieb"), what would result in slightly louder squawking (pieces of kaiju falling slightly into Hermann’s territory), and what would result in huge outbursts that would derail the whole day (a piece of kaiju squirting out of his hands and flying across the room to land on Hermann’s desk).

The first two Newt did on purpose (sometimes), and he did it knowing the reaction he’d get, so it was fair. The last, though, it was not his fault. It wasn’t like he’d done it on purpose! He’d tried his best to stop it (which was actually part of the problem—he’d tried to grab the alien organ out of the air and only succeeded in batting it across the room). And Hermann went on like he’d done it on purpose! Newt couldn’t have done it on purpose if he’d tried, okay, he was really bad at sports and anything that required that kind of hand-eye coordination. Baseball, volleyball, soccer, he’d tried them all as a kid, and catching things in midair—or hitting them in midair!—was not something he would ever in a million years be able to do. Which was how a kaiju piece slipping from his grasp had turned into a kaiju piece flying across the lab.

Yes, it was an inconvenience to Hermann to have to disinfect everything he was working on, but Newt had offered to help! And said he was sorry! Many times! Sincerely!

Hermann had not accepted the help at all and the apology only grudgingly.

Newt stayed on his side of the line and tried not to scoff too loudly at Hermann’s more ridiculous flights of poetics for a week or so, and that mostly smoothed things over.

It wasn't what Newt would have asked for in a lab-mate, but Hermann grew on him. And actually, he appreciated Hermann's predictability. It made things much easier. And his constant mutterings covered up the weird echoes of the cavernous space better than the music Newt tried, so that was good. Really, it could have been worse.

"You do realize your theory is inevitably going to break down, right?" Newt asked one morning as Hermann was working to distill his theories into a report that the higher-ups could understand. It was a constant struggle. The higher-ups were highly technically trained, but mostly in things like engineering that helped them understand and direct the Jaeger corps. Not in theoretical physics or xenobiology.


"Your theory, about the frequency of the attacks," Newt said. "It’s not going to hold up long-term."

"I assure you, the math is perfectly correct," Hermann said, pinching his lips.

"I don’t doubt that," Newt said. "If you weren’t the best you wouldn’t be here. But whatever the math may say, it’s not the deciding factor."

"Of course it is!" Hermann said. "The breach is growing. We know this, even though we cannot always get precise measurements because of kaiju activity, radiation, and chemical contamination from the presence of so many kaiju in one place. It only allows so much material through at a time and requires a recovery period before the next transit, though as it grows the mass increases and the recovery period decreases—that is why the attacks are spaced as they are, and why the kaiju have gotten both bigger and more frequent during the war."

"Yeah, I know," Newt said. "And like I said, your math is probably right. But it’s not the only factor, you know?"

"Numbers don’t lie," Hermann said. "They’re as close as you can get to the handwriting of God. Certainly they are when we are dealing with phenomena that is teaching us more about the underlying structure of the universe in a decade than we have learned in the previous five thousand years."

"Yeah, but it’s not just about numbers," Newt said. "The breach is a physics wonder you can solve, I get that, but the creatures using it aren’t."

Hermann waved that away. "Kaiju are stupid, we know that—you’ve said it yourself, they can fight and destroy but are capable of very little else, and most of their brain power is taken up with controlling their bodily functions. If they were smart, they’d have hidden the first wave for a few years, sending kaiju through as they could and waiting to attack en masse once they could strike a devastating blow."

"What would they live on?" Newt asked. "I mean, something that size would take a lot of fuel. You think, what, they could feed their army of kaiju on passing whale pods? Would they even be able to eat whales? No terrestrial creature can digest anything on a kaiju, that’s for sure—most of the crap the black market sells just passes right through, doesn’t do anything. That or it has a chemical effect that wouldn’t provide any nourishment."

"Then why not wait until the breach was large enough to send through a crippling blow at once?" Hermann shook his head. "No one would have noticed anything, and we wouldn’t have had time to prepare."

"War of attrition," Newt said. "They destroy a city, we rebuild it. They destroy it again, we rebuild it again. How long can the cycle go on? Not indefinitely, we don’t have enough resources for that. Eventually, we’ll be exhausted. That’s why they’re building the wall. It’s damn expensive … but a lot cheaper than Jaegers. And we’re geared up to fight, sure, but to fight kaiju one-on-one, jaeger à kaiju. If they came through in larger numbers, we’d be dead. Having expended all our resources to fight as individuals, not able to fight any kind of massed attack."

"All the more reason to close the breach sooner rather than later, before they can send through large numbers," Hermann said.

"Obviously," Newt said, waving a hand. "But also, all the more reason you can’t count on your projections about how many and when holding steady. Sure, the physics is right … but their behavior may not fit your assumptions."

"It has so far, why would it change?"

Newt rolled his eyes. "Because by your own calculations, things have changed with the breach! The rate of growth has increased so they’ll be able to send two and then three through at a time! And probably more after that, if the current projections hold true. Maybe they’ll change tactics to match it."

"They’re not that smart," Hermann said. "Much as you dream of drifting with one, we have seen no evidence whatsoever that they are capable of strategy or tactics beyond the most basic battle techniques."

"They haven’t needed them so far," Newt pointed out. "They’ve done more than enough destruction without it. And anyway, just because the ones we’ve seen aren’t that smart doesn’t mean the ones back home sending them are stupid, too. They can’t be."

"If you assume that anything is sending them," Hermann said. "Which—"

"Of course something is sending them," Newt said. "Look, these guys are apex predators bigger than anything ever seen on Earth. If they’re just dumb animals with no higher brain function guiding them, you’d expect them to be few and far between—you would need a huge territory to support them. We’re talking … I don’t even know how big. You’d probably only be able to support one pack of them on a planet the size of Earth, call it half-a-dozen whether they’re lone predators or have a pack structure. No single continent could support more than one or two, not for long anyway, without extensive farming practices to provide enough food for them. And farming requires at least a little bit of intelligence. We’ve had hundreds come through. And the breach is stable, it’s between two fixed points, right?"

"It hasn’t moved on our end, at least," Hermann said, "though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been moving on the other end."

"Right," Newt said. "But consider what would have to be the case for them to be dumb monsters falling through the breach by accident. First, the breach itself would have to be an accident … not likely. Second, remember that pattern you’re so hot on? How they come through in a regular pattern at consistent (if accelerating) intervals? If the breach is natural, what are the odds that kaiju just happen to fall through it at the right times for your pattern? And not any of the species they eat? Okay, you say, maybe the breach moves around. Hell, maybe one of these organs the kaiju have that we can’t figure out what they are is some sort of breach generator and this is part of their migratory patterns! This is why I want to examine a live one, because that’s the only way we’d ever be able to figure that out, is to see it in action." He flapped his hands, imagining that.

"But anyway," Newt continued, "it’s still so incredibly improbable that random migratory patterns of a dumb animal would create the kind of pattern you notice, in the space of just a few years. Patterns like that can take millennia to develop, in terrestrial animals. Which is more likely: that it’s a whole bunch of random monsters falling randomly through a dimensional breach, in a predictable pattern, or that there’s something out there sending a bunch of cloned canon-fodder through the beach to wear us down while they wait for the breach to be big enough to send their main army through? In which case, there’s an intelligence behind this that could change tactics at any time, and is more likely to do so the larger the breach gets."

"If you’ll let me get a word in edgewise?" Hermann said. "You have an interesting theory, I grant you—"

Newt smiled. "Thank you!" That was the closest thing to a compliment Hermann had ever given him.

"—but even if you are right, it is all the more reason to close the breach sooner. As I said earlier."

"All the more reason to test my theory and try to drift with them," Newt said. "It’s the only hope we have of figuring out what their plans are, or even anything significant enough about their physiology to give us a better advantage in fighting them. We get too focused on your theory about how the math works, we’ll be leaving our asses hanging out there with no cover if they decide to change their tactics."

He turned back to his latest specimen, humming a little under his breath, as Hermann squawked in the background about the impossibility of drifting with a kaiju.

"Two decades ago any drifting was the stuff of science fiction," he pointed out unable to completely tune Hermann out. "Now we do it regularly. Well, in the Shatterdome we do. Some of us. But it was unknown! Now it’s not! Building a neural bridge with a kaiju is still unknown, but I bet you that all it takes is the right equipment." And Pentecost and Choi wouldn’t let him have the equipment because it was too expensive and they thought he’d fry his brain, but there were enough broken pieces from half-destroyed Jaegers sitting around that he could probably rig something up himself. Might even be better, that way—he could customize it both for his own brain and for the kaiju’s brain. They didn’t have a brain to work with yet, but they’d get one eventually, he was pretty sure. He stopped to put that on his to-do list.

Almost everyone was at the Shatterdome because they wanted to be here more than anything else in the world, and were committed to the project with their whole lives. They’d all taken paycuts; they were all working with budgets slashed to the bone and facilities in dire need of maintenance and cleaning; most of them had very valuable skills that could get them cushy jobs far from the front lines. They were there because they loved it, or because they couldn’t stand to leave, or because they thought nobody else in the world could save the world. And, being here, they knew that the only way to survive this close to the sea in a prime target like a shatterdome was if everyone worked together and did their best. Everyone knew this.

Almost everyone.

Newt stared at the guy who’d just delivered part of Herman’s reconditioned holographic modeling system and didn’t want to go get the rest of it (which he’d forgotten).

"Look, man, my shift is just ending," the delivery guy said. "And I’m hungry, and at this time of day it would take me what, three hours to get out to the computer store and back."

"So, eat now and then go get Doctor Gottlieb’s stuff," Newt said. "Problem solved."

"Yeah, except then I don’t get my evening off," the guy said.

"If you’d read the instructions, you would have known to get the entire thing and not just the projector!" Hermann said. "It’s nobody’s fault but your own. We aren’t getting the evening off—you will note that neither Doctor Geizler nor I are in the process of shutting down our research. We will be taking a break for dinner, and then coming back to continue our work. We do this every night. As does most of the facility. Even the Jaeger pilots pitch in down in the maintenance bay helping to take care of their Jaegers. What makes you so special?"

The guy shrugged. "They don’t pay me enough for that much overtime. I do my share, but I’ve got a life, too."

"Not for long if this place falls apart and the kaiju eat us all," Newt pointed out. This was the problem with the lowest-level support staff, the ones who did basic janitorial work and errand-running. They were paid almost nothing, but there was never a shortage of volunteers for the work because bed and board were included. The shatterdome got first priority when there was a food shortage, and it was a hell of a lot safer than the public kaiju refuges, and residential lodging in coastal areas was insanely high because of a shortage caused by kaiju leveling whole housing developments. For someone poor and with no skills, trapped in the coast because they couldn’t afford to move inland where it was safer, it was a good deal. But it didn’t necessarily make them the most dedicated of workers. He rolled his eyes. Obviously, keeping the shatterdome clean wasn't something that would make or break the war effort, so he couldn't blame them for not working themselves to the bone to make things perfect. But an equipment delivery was a horse of a different color.

Hermann was rubbing his forehead and leaning heavily on his cane, a sure sign that he was more tired than he wanted to let on. "If you don’t get it tonight, how long will it take until it gets here?"

Well, Hermann would get it straightened out and he wouldn't need Newt's help to do it. Newt had work of his own to do. He turned back to the DNA analysis that had just finished, and began looking it over.

"I dunno, maybe two, three weeks until I make my next run to that part of the city? We don’t go out there that often because it’s so far. And I have duties at the shatterdome, too. It depends on what other stuff we need from out that far."

Newt sighed, flipping through documents on his tablet. Hermann and the delivery guy were just too distracting for him to concentrate. Even a year ago, they would have had an in-house team to repair and build systems like Hermann’s. Two years ago, they would have just bought him a new one when it broke instead of trying to fix it. Now, they outsourced a lot of things because they didn’t have the manpower to do it themselves.

"Two or three weeks?" Hermann said, incredulous. "Two or three weeks? That is completely unacceptable. I will not be able to work!"

"Isn't the projector the most important part?" the guy asked. "That works."

"No, it is not." Hermann whacked his desk with his cane for emphasis. "I can get a simple holographic projector anywhere for a hell of a lot cheaper than this thing is. It is a modeling projector. It interfaces with my other computers to both provide extra computing power and provide real-time three-D modeling of the simulations I am running. This allows me to manipulate the simulation as it is running, which is both quicker and more effective than the two-dimensional graphs my computers can produce on their own. Being able to see and touch the results of my work are crucial to my process. I need this machine, and I need it working. Over the two weeks it's been in the shop, I have done everything that I can do without it at this point, and I have no more left. You will go back and fix your mistake so that I can get on with my work!"

"Geez, don't get your panties in a twist! I'll check to see if they're open this evening and go back after dinner. If that won't work, I'll see what I can do tomorrow."

"Thank you."

The delivery guy turned to leave, muttering something. Newt didn't catch what it was—he was farther away, and anyway he was trying to work instead of focusing on the conversation. But Hermann did.

"What did you say?" Hermann said.

Newt winced. From the volume of the squawk, the guy must have said something really offensive.

"Look, calm down, all right, I didn't mean anything by it. Obviously, you are a very smart guy."

"Yes, I am," Hermann said. "And I think you did mean something by it. For your information, I have not the honor of being autistic, but I have worked with several in my career and they tend to be committed, thoughtful, hardworking, unprejudiced people—which makes them far better than you."

Newt popped his head up at that, watching as the delivery guy left. "Thank you for that defense, Hermann," he said.

"What?" Hermann looked up at him blankly. After a second or two his eyebrows raised. "You're autistic?"

"Yup." Newt smiled and waved.

"But you can't be!" Hermann said. "How can you stand to stick your hands in kaiju entrails all day long? Doesn't it disgust you?"

"Obviously not," Newt said. "It doesn't trigger any of my sensory issues."

"But the cleaning fluids do," Hermann said, frowning. "So does the glare of the lights. But you like the kaiju colors. And your vocal affect is consistently louder and faster than is socially acceptable. And you are obsessed with kaiju and can't tell when you're getting creepy about it." He tilted his head. "I suppose I can see it, at that. I knew you weren't normal."

Newt nodded. He didn't mind allistic people being the default "normal" because normal was boring and who wanted to be boring? "But tell me, if you aren't autistic, what are you?"

"What?" Hermann asked. "What do you mean?"

"I always thought you were somewhere on the spectrum," Newt said. "Odd body language, obsession with numbers … I could go on."

"My 'odd body language' is caused by my physical disability," Hermann said. "Plenty of smart, dedicated people are not autistic."

"No, I know that," Newt said. "You just always felt like you were, to me."

"I assure you, I am completely normal," Hermann said.

"I doubt that," Newt said. "I may not be normal, but I know it when I see it, and you aren't it."

"A normal geek."

"Possible, but unlikely," Newt said. "I know a lot of geeks, and even the neurotypical ones weren’t normal. Ever been evaluated?"

"No," Hermann said, as if that proved anything.

"So you could be, you just don't know it," Newt said, satisfied. Denial wasn't just a river in Egypt. He didn't say that, because he did have some tact.

"You are reaching," Hermann said. "Are you that desperate for me to be like you?"

"No, just pointing out the obvious." Newt smiled. "Oh, and like I said: I'm not a kaiju groupie. I just like 'em. They're my special interest."

Hermann sighed. "The fact that you are obsessed with them because of your autism does not make you any less a groupie. Just as the fact that you do not always pick up on social cues makes you any less of an arse when you know something bothers me and you still do it. Don't think you'll be able to use your neurotype as an excuse for being an arse."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Newt said. "We've gotten along this well so far, and we've gotten kind of a rhythm going. I don't think anything really needs to change, do you?"

Hermann rolled his eyes. "There are many things that I would like to change, starting with you taking more care not to get entrails on my side of the room. And your appalling habit of not cleaning up entrails that fall on your side until they start to reek. And the fact that you do not grant me the respect of my title when referring to me in conversation with others. And …"

Newt mouthed along with the familiar litany, turning back to his DNA analyses. Hermann's complaints were sort of a soothing background rhythm to his work, they were so familiar. Just right to help him get back in the groove. And it wasn't like Hermann was totally wrong, after all, Newt did need prodding and help to get him to clean and take the occasional break, and Hermann's squawking was perfect. All in all, Hermann was a pretty good lab partner.