Fandom: The Social Network/Pacific Rim
Characters/Pairings: Mark, Dustin, Erica, Marilyn, Eduardo, brief appearances by everybody from both canons
Summary: Mark Zuckerberg is not in California when the Trespasser makes landfall.
Word Count: 12000
Notes: My NaNoWriMo fic for November 14! rosepetalfall asked me for a TSN jaeger pilots AU, anything with Mark, Dustin, and Marilyn. She gave me a lot to work with, it was really cool! Of course, this probably means she should write a jaeger pilots AU herself, since she is so awesome and she clearly doesn't need me. THE MORE, THE MERRIER >)
Warnings: Angst. It's dark and heavy, I'm sorry. Minor displays of ableism. Minor violence. Minor gore.
[read @ AO3]
the minute i heard my first love story
i started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was
The bar is crowded. A boy sits at a postage-stamp table made for two, alone.
A girl, at the door, stops walking. She is small, and her clothes hang off her in layers of patterns. A laddered tear marches up the backs of her tights, showing the skin beneath, and her hat flops against the back of her head like it'd been blown there by a strong wind.
She turns around and comes back. She has to angle her body like a minnow to slip between the crush of people, everybody wearing the same browns and reds of autumn, standing around to have the same kinds of conversations people have been standing in these exact spots to have since before this country was even an independent country.
He sees her coming.
The fleshy expression on his face -- strangely wounded and raw -- crystalizes instantly.
It's going to bother me if I don't explain some things to you, is what's thrown at the tabletop, there between the two glasses, and his fingers twitch back from the splattered, gory remains her sentence makes when it lands. She sits down. The postage-stamp table jumps, and her eyes are frightening, but he's already leaning in. Do not interrupt me.
The boy sets his jaw like a steel trap. He does not interrupt.
A woman walks down a street she thinks might be hers, though the only way she knows is because of the sign leveled across the road, marking the street with a cross like a gravemarker. She stands over it and looks, Pinecone Expway pointing north and Cedar St lying crooked over the stop sign she's pretty sure she's rolled past since the day she got her license.
In rubble, all the houses look the same.
She looks from one pile of timber and plaster and the chalky remains of painted brick to another, trying to identify which one housed her long-boned adolescent wail of a self.
Her name is Amelia Ritter.
She was four months away from getting her PhD. Her mother just celebrated eighteen years sober; they'd given it more pomp and circumstance than they would have for her birthday, because it seemed a more important thing to celebrate. There'd been a car accident, she thinks stupidly, when she'd been much younger, on her way home from gymnastics. She was eight. She'd touched her head and came away with blood smeared darkly across her fingertips, and then her mother said, look, Amelia-Bedelia, and held up her arm, broken cleanly in the middle. She flopped it back and forth, laughing like it was comedy gold, completely oblivious to how the bone shredded through her skin as it scraped around like a hinge. She never touched alcohol after that -- well, she did, because it's never that easy, but Amelia never stopped being proud of her.
Her mother is dead.
(She checks Google Crisis Response. She thinks about clicking on "I'm searching for someone …" but if she started listing names, she isn't sure she could stop. Instead, she hits "I have information on someone …" and there it is, for anyone who enters her name. Amelia Ritter is alive.)
Her father is dead.
(She files with the Red Cross.)
(And anybody else she can think of.)
Everyone she knows is dead. She was born in Orinda, she went to Stanford for undergraduate and graduate, she's never moved further away than fifty miles from this very spot. Why would she? Everything she needed is here. And now it's gone.
They're calling it The Trespasser.
She stops walking, because there it is. One pile of rubble jumbled in with the others, but some hindbrain part of her recognizes the wallpaper, peeled-off and dusty at her feet, and sense memory immediately builds the rest of the house up around it, the hallways, the staircases, the rooms she played hide-and-seek in and the entryway where she kissed her first boy at age fifteen, and she doesn't know how she could have gotten it confused with any other.
Her feet take her to the kitchen.
She stoops, pulling at the corner of something yellow and soft caught under a chunk of cinder. It's a dandelion-print dishtowel.
She drops to her knees.
She spreads her hands, her arms, wishes for rain in a way she can't explain but all the rain in the Bay Area will be toxic now. The trees here will glow. The wildlife will die. She should not be out. Nobody listens, of course, because what else are you going to do after nuclear strike but crawl across the anthill that used to be yours and wish for it all to go away?
She wails and wails and rocks and wails, a pulse, a pulse, a siren call.
Danger, danger, this is a barren land.
the women are
Mark Zuckerberg was not in California when Trespasser came.
Mark Zuckerberg has never been to California, although he hears it's very nice, you know, before someone someone someone made the decision to use a nuclear weapon and turn ten cities with dense populations to cinder and ashfall -- tens of thousands of people who never got a say, never got a chance, were still standing in the street and in their homes when they were blasted away, leaving only their silhouettes on the walls.
More people died from the attempts to stop the monster than anybody did from the monster itself.
That's not the bit people are going to remember later, though.
Victors are very particular about editing history.
Mark Zuckerberg was in line at the bank when it happened, and he wasn't thinking about how today was the last day of life as he knows it -- he's thinking about the easiest way to get to the DMV from here because he has approximately four hours before his payment is late and he starts driving on expired plates, when the woman in front of him gasps at whatever's on her phone like somebody'd splashed her with cold water and, right along with everybody else, Mark progresses into that moment without ever being back to go back to the one before.
He lives with a man named Dustin in a small, young neighborhood in Baltimore, a little off-center of where everything happens, where the new, economically-designed apartment blocks haven't settled into their paint yet and trendy fro-yo shops share snug retail space with boutiques called Canvas&Cabernet that offer wine-tasting and art classes to the bored middle class who drive in from the suburbs. There's a movie theater that does discounted 9am showings of the current blockbusters for the students who have classes at noon. A nondenominational church on the office block has a sign outside its door that advertises its 8:30 service and an 11:30 service, all online.
Mark's here for the same reason anybody winds up anywhere -- he followed somebody else.
Dustin had a business idea, and Mark's his best friend and also very good at coding, which Dustin's passable at because Dustin's the kind of person who becomes passable at everything he tries, although no one would ever call him particularly gifted at any one thing. So when Dustin said, "Hey, so, Baltimore?" sometime after they got their bachelor's degrees, Mark shrugged and said, "sure," and that was that.
They live in a fourth-floor apartment with a balcony that overlooks a barren construction lot and code street-savvy apps they sell on Google Play. They help each other remember the names of other people's girlfriends and they agree they need to get more reliable dishware soon and they text each other when something they want goes on discount on Steam, even when they're sitting together at the kitchen table. Mark has a girlfriend -- Mark is the type of person who always has a girlfriend, just settles into one like a cat sitting down in a patch of sunshine, and puts in the minimum amount of effort to maintain the relationship -- and Dustin has a dating profile. Each person who messages him is his new favorite person. They both have automatic payments set up on their PayPals -- $20 a month goes to the Red Cross to help with reconstruction in the Bay Area.
Then, six months after the fact -- when people like Mark and Dustin, who knew nobody in California and therefore had the luxury of forgetting about what happened there for days at a time, stopped thinking about it -- a second trespasser surfaces from beneath the Pacific Ocean and makes landfall in Manilla.
It's K-Day that everybody remembers, later, standing around and talking about what they were doing when it happened (in line at the bank, he had a Krispy Kreme doughnut for breakfast that morning,) but for Mark, this is the day that fossilizes inside of him.
It's the moment that "oh, Jesus, that's horrible," becomes "oh no, again?"
And whole chunks of the world might as well have fissured and broken off into the sea, because that's what it feels like. The geography of their lives are never the same.
His parents discuss their plans to move inland.
His mother has a cousin who skis in Montana. She's a dentist. So they're talking about buying a lodge up there, something where the whole family can relocate permanently. They're going to have to live on top of each other, sure, but they'll live on top of each other in safety, thousands of miles inland from the sea.
They didn't know anybody in the Philippines, either, or in Mexico, and tragedy doesn't feel like tragedy when it happens to somebody else, far away from where you can see it. But it's a game of "yet."
They haven't lost anybody yet.
"Think about it, Mark," his mother tells him.
"Montana, though?" he tucks the phone against his shoulder. "What's even in Montana? I've never been further west than, like, Ohio. I'm okay with that, frankly."
"The way things are going --" Urgency makes his mother's voice sharp. "Nobody's going to want to the live on the coasts except for the people who have no choice about it." Poor people, she means, but isn't gauche enough to say it. "Montana's really big. There's lot of room."
That summer, while Mark and Dustin are busy putting together a virtual aquarium app for the 3-year and under demographic who live along the Pacific Rim and aren't going to grow up to see the wildlife for themselves thanks to the effects of the trespasser's poisonous secretions, his sister secures a contracting job in Wyoming.
"Is that one not Montana?" is his comment on that one. "Which one's which? I can't even tell."
She rolls her eyes. "You think you're funny," she says. "But you're just being a dick."
He shrugs modestly.
She's going out there to build homesteads in places nobody had given much thought to before. "That kind of real estate is beyond valuable now," she says. "People are going to want to migrate away from the trespasser's hunting grounds, and they're going to want places to go. As weird as it is to think, a lot of the American West is still untouched -- at least from a developer's point of view, I don't know, there are some conservationists with stupid opinions. I'm really excited about this, Mark. This is -- this is -- like, my life investment. This is what I'm going to do."
She stands in the middle of his apartment in boots she got from the men's side of Target and WD-40 under her nails and offers to take him with her.
He folds his arms, drumming his fingers against his own ribs and looking out the window, where the Maryland rain is making mud out of the construction site below. There have been three trespassers in the past year: there's a YouTube channel that does sock puppets, and they did a Godzilla parody, perhaps a little insensitively soon, only they spent the whole episode deliberately avoiding saying "Gojira" -- spent whole scenes setting it up, and then pitfall into another word entirely. It's the kind of name that gets stuck in your head, though.
"The breach is in the Pacific," he points out. "Aren't we safe here?"
"That's a really stupid question. Who's to say the breach is going to stay where it is?"
"What's that face for?" says the man kicking off his sandals just inside the door, shivering in his basketball shorts. He is not thinking about kaiju. He is thinking about tuna, perhaps diced up with pickles and chick peas, but only if he feels like going that far. He is twenty-nine years old and can't really eat like that without consequences, but he also hates the idea of making anything that will result in a dish he has to clean later.
Dustin, in the chair, shakily extends the envelope. "We've been drafted."
november 2014, cont.
There's an old woman who lives in a house at the top of a hill. In the dark, the snow piles up fifteen feet against her windows and doors and she has to call Mackie from the town below if she wants to be dug out again. He'll do it for $20, a cigarette, and a bag of dried dates that she orders special from the World Wide Web. His Egyptian wife likes to suck on them when she's nervous or when her cancer hurts.
She knows where everything is in her house, here on her island in the middle of the sea. Nothing much has needed to be moved in twenty-so years.
Her American name is Sue and her government tells her there's not enough housing available on site for all of the people who've come to work on the Jaeger Program and she's going to have to accept a lodger or two, sorry for the inconvenience, and she thinks about complaining, something something, isn't there something about that in the Fourth Amendment, but really, it's just her in a big old house that her husband built for her in 1956 in the style that all the white magazines had favored then. She'd been married in an ivory-colored dress and her husband hadn't known how to undo the hooks in her corset.
Her house is one block uphill from the shuttle stop, one of three that's been installed in Kodiak to ferry workers to and from the site that's going to be the Jaeger facility. It has a tiny, sunny attic room with two twin beds that Sue had been imagining would be good for grandchildren. She changes the sheets and smooths down the paisley-print down comforters and checks her pantry and tells the PPDC that she can sustain two lodgers. Any more and they'll have to pay her some kind of rent.
Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskowitz come from the East Coast (Sue doesn't know anything about it. "Is New York over there somewhere?" she asks them politely the first night. Ten years from now, there will be a noticeable divide between the Atlantic-bred Americans who've never had anything to fear, and the Pacific-bred Americans whose knowledge of anything outside of the immediate danger zone is hazy at best, because how important can those places be, really? There won't be much united about the United States of America. But that hasn't happened yet. Give it time, give it fear,) and they're almost never in those beds, but when they are, she goes in the next morning and makes them up and puts fresh-cut lavender on their pillows to ward against malevolence.
She laughs at Mark the first time he shrugs at her offer of a heavier coat, saying he'll be fine. His bare legs look like a chicken's, skinny and bony.
The next day, he takes the coat from her without a word. She chuckles merrily about it all the way through until the six o'clock news.
"Alaska will make men out of all fools," she tells him when he and Dustin come home, ice crystals in their hair and frost hoaring their nostrils.
She is a little old widow who was married to a Japanese whaler for forty-five years. Her desktop background on her home computer is an aerial shot of the gory, bombed-out carcass of the Mexican kaiju, its blue-grey viscera strewn across the white-sand beach.
She thinks it's beautiful. She hopes to see many more.
Mark and Dustin have laminated badges that get them through a couple different security-locked doors on campus. Officially, they rank somewhere in the PR department, which Dustin is never not going to find funny.
The Pan-Pacific Defense Corps hired them to code for their official .gov website -- but not because they're especially brilliant coders. They aren't. At least not anymore. Maybe they were when they were younger, but now if you want true innovation, you should look to the young minds coming out of the Philippines. No, they were picked because they were fast, and if there's one thing the PPDC cares about right now, it's the speed of the human machine.
And Mark and Dustin had, after all, gotten Facemash up in a single night.
Who knew that getting put on academic probation his sophomore year at Harvard for being a sexist dickhole was actually going to matter later in life? The Ad Board warned him it would, sure, but Mark hadn't really believed them.
("Figures," Erica will say wryly, later.)
It's Mark, Dustin, and approximately five other people, working out of an office that still smells like sawdust, with one half of a board table, wire plastic chairs that remind Mark of the kind they make you wait in at the DMV, and a glass window that overlooks the other side of the hallway and one big U-Dump-It. By the end of the first week, Mark has that window entirely covered in Dry-Erase code.
They strap a young soldier into the first completed jaeger in order to test drive it.
Waiting in another room, fingers poised over his tablet to make the update to the millions and millions of waiting visitors on the website, Mark looks across at Pearl, who is there to do the same on the Chinese language site, and asks, "How do we phrase that?"
"Fuck," she answers.
A woman sits across from him in the mess, where the walls are gunmetal grey and the albatross of the PPDC spreads its knife-point wings fifty feet across the wall. Her cap sits firmly on the front of her head like a flag planted in the surface of an orbiting moon, with her hair roped into a coil beneath it. She wears the olive-green fatigues of a cadet, and on her tray, she has the same standard-issued potatoes, meat, and juice box that he does.
"Who fell asleep on their ass and thought it was a good idea to let you handle any kind of PR?" she asks, because she is a nice person. "Were they high?"
"Thank you, Erica," he replies. "And no. Once the site was coded and live, all it needed was maintenance, and we could all do that in our sleep --"
"Something tells me you probably were, knowing your sleeping habits."
"-- and what we really needed were more personnel who could translate the site into other languages to make it more globally available, but reorganizing their infrastructure isn't really a priority for the PPDC right now. And there's nobody in charge of online PR -- they've got a talking head for the news, of course, but somehow they forgot that the Internet exists -- and so they literally turned to us and said, can't you do it?"
"Wow," Erica drags it out, widening her eyes at him. "I have a lot of faith in our new allied governments."
"Shut up," he says without heat, kicking his feet in between hers beneath the table. This mess hall is the smaller of the two on campus, being the one meant for nonservice personnel -- the nonessentials, basically, people like Mark and Erica who are not involved in the actual construction, design, and programming of the Mark I jaegers. Erica's among the first civilians selected for pilot training, but they don't need those yet. "I'm actually not that bad. People do change since college. I can be professional. You've seen the Twitter account, right? That's me."
"I have," says Erica lightly. "And I suppose now would be a bad time to mention that I run the parody account."
"You --" Mark jerks upright, upending his fork with his elbow and sending it skittering across the table. "You …" he lowers his voice. "You fucker," he gets out, because he's the oldest of four and vulgarity still doesn't come naturally to him. Fraternities almost beat it out of him. Almost. But she deserves the word, because she has more followers than he does, and he runs the official kaiju-punching robot Twitter. How is that fair?
She throws her head back and laughs.
The whole building shivers whenever they practice a jaeger drop, new-building sawdust cascading from the ceiling and pens leaping a few centimeters in one direction.
They get warnings before it happens; the lights dim, the power diverted into launching the jaeger, and everyone in Mark and Dustin's office become really adept at grabbing folders or sheafs of paper and covering their heads to keep the dust from getting into their eyes. They're working on constructing several battle facilities designed purely for housing, restoring, and equipping jaegers, scattered across the Pacific Rim. They're calling them Shatterdomes, and Mark, personally, can't wait for them to go live. He's getting tired of finding sawdust in his Red Bull whenever he finally finds his way back to it.
His girlfriend at the time is a robotics engineer named Christy Lee, whose husband died in the Philippines attack. She has the kaiju's name, Hundun, tattooed on the inside of her right arm as a reminder, though he doesn't think she'll ever forget.
They're bored with each other a lot of the time, and their relationship runs largely on their mutual disdain over whatever delay some bellyaching opposition group is posing to stop the Jaeger Program (they weren't complaining very hard when the first jaeger to be piloted by two pilots stopped Karloff in Vancouver, now were they?) and how the fuck Great Britain became an important part of the Pan-Pacific Alliance, considering it isn't, you know, located in the Pacific at all. Complaining is their favorite past-time, and they're very happy with each other when they're bitching about somebody else.
They're also formidable at Cards Against Humanity -- nothing is sacred to them.
"Favorite part of working with the PPDC?" he goes, thumbing at his tablet to keep it awake.
She thinks about it, mouth skewed to one side, but not for very long.
"I love that condoms are part of our rations," she says. "They're not bad, either. Have you taken one and gone up to the launch platform -- the wind's fucking terrible up there, but if you shake one out and hold it up, it balloons out --"
"This is a family-friendly Tweet, Christy!"
Her eyes glitter, buoyed by the sight of him laughing. "You asked!"
"I need something that's … like, taking the whole experience of building a jaeger, knowing that it's the only thing that's going to come between a city of millions of people -- why do they only target big cities? Has anyone figured that out yet?"
"No, Mark, we tend to kill them before interrogating them, which I hear is counterproductive."
"-- and a kaiju, and putting it online, where people can access it. We're very remote up here. If people don't see it, they'll forget to believe in it."
She stills, then tilts her head.
"Can you do that?"
He looks up.
"Can you make that? For the site? Build that kind of interactive element? I can help you design it if authenticity is a concern." Her voice quiets. "I know a lot of people who would love for a chance to punch a kaiju, and if they can't do it in real life, they'd love to do it on a computer screen."
And so for a few days, Mark and Dustin stay awake late into the night, trading ideas back and forth between Sue's twin beds, and he gets an e-mail sent out to a friend of Genji's who works for PopCap Games, gauging interest in collaboration, but never gets any further than that.
Because this is the week he gets a summons from Caitlin Lightcap's office.
This is the third moment. The second moment was the day Hundun attacked Manilla, the moment Mark's life progressed cleanly over one line and into something else entirely. And this is the third. The third line erased, and the Mark Zuckerberg that existed before it will never exist again.
august 2015, cont.
Everything in Caitlin Lightcap's offices are exactly how she left it, even though she spends most of her time in the Jaeger Academy with the newest Rangers these days; the first graduates, the pairs from Russia, China, Japan, America, and Fiji respectively, in clumsy, bulky jaegers that are nonetheless better, bigger, and stronger than any defense they've tried to mount against the kaiju before. She became a pilot herself mostly by accident, by being the only one capable of drifting with Sergio D'onofrio before he died the same way the first test pilot did. No one after her drifted as well with him as she. But there's nobody capable of replacing her at the administrative level, either, so her offices remain fossilized, and Mark honestly has no idea who he's going in to meet.
"Enter," calls a voice.
He pushes through the door, snapping his heels to attention. The Alaskan summer sun burns at his eyes coming in through the high, wide window, before the ice-white corona of it fades away and he sees the silhouette of a woman standing there, looking out across the proving grounds.
For a second, for no fathomable reason at all, he thinks it's the Prime Minister of Peru, but then she turns and of course it isn't.
She's taller than him, the way most women are, with a rounded face, thin nose, and sweeping black hair cut sharply at her chin. She smiles in greeting, an easy, open smile that hikes up the beauty mark in her cheek. She's not dressed in uniform.
"Hello, Mark," she says.
"Ma'am," he answers. "And you are?"
"I'm Marilyn. Please have a seat."
He starts forward to do that, when he catches a glimpse of what she'd been looking at through the window, and finds himself derailed. He comes around the desk, touching his fingers to the windowframe like it's the pitching railing of a ship. Out on the proving grounds, one of the jaegers is disassembled, lying in four easy pieces on the muddy summer ground. Another jaeger -- the Fijians', if he's not mistaken -- stands over it, helping a small, ant-like crew of technicians pound out the dents.
Mark never gets to see this, since his days are always spent below in the anthill.
"What happened?" he goes, nodding to the beat-up jaeger on the ground. "Did they run into a mountain?"
"You'd think they'd see those coming," she acknowledges wryly. "And yet it happens. Usually those are the kind of repairs we'd do inside, but since none of the hydraulics were severely damaged and it's just cosmetic, we thought we'd let the Kaurs … practice their open-heart surgery, so to speak. It helps the pilots learn finer motor control."
She pulls out Lightcap's chair, settling into it, and after a moment, prompts him with a, "Mark?"
"Right, yeah," he says absently. "Can I --" he gestures, and she gestures back, and since he doesn't quite know what that gesture means, he goes ahead and takes the chair from the other side of the desk and pulls it around so that he can still watch outside the window. The winter's snow has melted off everywhere except for the mountain peaks, scattered frost-tipped across the iron-grey sea.
"Mark," Marilyn prompts again, and this time, he does turn to face her. She has a folder in her hand. "Do you remember taking these?"
She extends the folder out to him. He takes it from her, scanning the page on the top and recognizing his own handwriting.
"Yeah," he goes, lifting it and seeing a similar page beneath it, though the color of ink and the date is different. "These are the questionnaires you had all personnel on campus complete. These are for the Pons system, right? You were trying to come up with a suitable test that would determine drift capability in potential pilots."
"Yes. Did they tell you who I am?"
He looks up. He shakes his head.
"I'm the voir dire specialist."
Mark thins his eyes. "Witness examination?" His first thought is, Am I being court martialed? His second is, Can I even be court martialed? His third is, Oh, man, if I get court martialed on a military base without actually being part of the military, my mom's going to kill me. His fourth is, My mom can't kill me, I'm thirty years old, I can take her in a fight.
In the time it takes him to cycle through these, her face crinkles up a little bit in surprise. "Well, yes," she says. "That's what I took the bar exam for, but I'm not using the law terminology for it here." She folds her hands, and Mark just barely makes out the edge of ink underneath the third-quarter sleeve of her suit jacket, and wonders if, like Christy, she wears her gravestones on her skin. "What goes for judging a person's character when they go up in front of a jury is remarkably similar to what goes for judging whether or not a person is drift compatible."
To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg is not a stupid person.
"Me?" he gets out, and even though he's sitting down, a tremble goes through his knees. "But I'm not a cadet."
And Marilyn Delpy, who he will later learn hand-picked almost all of the Jaeger Academy's best pilots -- the the mother-daughter pair from the Fijian islands, the Hansen brothers from Sydney, the Winklevosses, the Vietnamese newlyweds, those damnable Beckets -- smiles at him and asks, "Would you like to be?"
Later, as they're walking down to the office where he and Dustin and Genji and Pearl and all the other programmers have been cooped up for months so that Mark can gather his things, she takes his water bottle from him because he's shaking too hard, and he blurts out, entirely without meaning to, "I'm not as young as the average cadet, I'm -- I'm not likable, I've never been likable, and isn't your drift system based entirely on a person's ability to empathize with another? I'm really, really not empathetic."
"Your history speaks otherwise," she tells him, gently. "Sometimes the most empathetic people are the most unlikable."
He swallows, his dry throat clicking.
"If I'm wrong," she offers, with a note in her voice that says she's confident she's not. "Then you'll scrub out. It's a grueling program, designed to weed away all those except the most capable. Trust it to get rid of you if you're not pilot material."
"And my co-pilot?"
"Would you like to recommend somebody for the program?" she asks easily. "Someone you think you'd be drift compatible with?"
Mark thinks about it, but really, it's a stupid question.
"Dustin Moskowitz," he says. "We've been roommates since our sophomore year at Harvard. He's my best friend. I -- I mean, I know his bank account information."
Dustin is probably the one person in the world Mark can safely say he knows better than anybody else, although he doesn't know how it's going to hold up to inspection. What if it's not enough? What if drift compatibility is contingent on things like knowing every little detail? Mark probably can't tell you what Dustin's mother and fathers' given names are, but he can tell you all eight of Dustin's favorite tricks on Rainbow Road.
"Or my sister," he offers, and Marilyn makes a note of it, still holding his water bottle. "She's in Wyoming, building safe houses."
There's Christy, too, he supposes. He doesn't know her as well, but they're so alike that if you were going to take the brain of one person and meld it with the brain of another in order to get something strong enough to pilot an enormous robot and pound kaiju into pulp, his and Christy's would be a safe bet. But whereas Mark is pretty sure he can be scratched out of the PR department and no one will miss him, the same probably can't be said for Christy in Engineering. He's expendable. She's not.
Dustin sees them coming through the glass. He stands. His shirt today is green and says, "Don't Leave Your Trash Out for Your Mother to Clean Up," and features a sick-looking Earth, piles of garbage visibly pocked into the screen-print.
"Hey, how'd it --" his mouth starts over the words, and then pauses when Marilyn follows Mark through the door.
"Hello, Dustin," she says. "Can I have a word with you?"
A kaiju comes out of the breach, noticeably bigger and stronger than any kaiju that's come out before, to the point that it prompts the PPDC to immediately create a category system to accommodate it. It's the first Category II kaiju the world has seen. Cherno Alpha and Noble Vindicator meet it off the coast of Colombia and destroy it in a near-flawless victory. A victory parade is held in Washington DC, and another in Vladivostok. The Winklevoss twins shake hands with the President, solemn and straight-backed and disgustingly perfect. Aleksis Kaidonovsky towers intimidatingly over Vladimir Putin, and his co-pilot smiles at the cameras as thin as blades.
It's not Mark's job to cover these things anymore.
And it doesn't matter, because the week before the nonessentials get holiday leave, Dustin scrubs out of the Jaeger Program without ever making the first cut.
"I'm sorry, man," he goes, rubbing at his face with the flats of his hands. The other cadets in their barracks are polite enough to give them a little space, though Mark really doesn't see the point. A lot of the cots are empty -- 75% of recruits are sent home before the first officers are chosen. This isn't surprising, but Mark screamed at the training officer who called it in a way he's never screamed at anyone before.
He stood down, though, when he was told to stand down.
"I'm sorry," says Dustin again, which is stupid, because everybody here knows that in that moment, Mark chose being a pilot, being important, over keeping Dustin, and the force of the apology he's not saying has his throat in a chokehold. "I'm not -- I was never confrontational. I don't like the idea of punching as a form of communication," he chuckles weakly. "I'd probably let the kaiju just walk right on past. I just want to build things."
"Are you staying in Alaska, though, at least?"
"Yeah, of course." Dustin grins, turning his mouth into a cage of teeth. "I'm actually getting a promotion."
"Yeah. When you make Ranger, I'm going to be there to code for your jaeger. After all," he adopts the heavy pidgin accent of their training officer, who's from New Zealand and was in Sydney the day Scissure demolished it. Everyone swears there's a ghost of kaiju blue in his eyes. "Dem tings run on computers, ya?"
If the third most important moment in Mark's life was the day Marilyn Delpy recommended him for the Jaeger Program, and the second was the day that everybody sat down in front of their TVs and computers and knew that Trespasser was not a one-time event and everything was going to have to change, then the first happened in an unassuming bar to an unassuming eighteen-year-old boy with a chip on his shoulder the size of an oceanic shelf, when a girl turned away from the door and came back to say to him, "Let me explain to you everything you said wrong just now."
He probably doesn't know it, and Erica doesn't either, because to them, it's just another moment in their lives, one that progressed from now to then without much fanfare at all. They have no way of knowing that if Erica had left him alone at that tiny table in that crowded bar, that if Erica had the courage to leave while she still had the devastating last word, then both their lives would have turned out drastically different.
Mark Zuckerberg would have been in California that day.
And Mark Zuckerberg would be dead.
So it's no surprise at all, not really, that Erica Albright bears her teeth at him on the other side of the Pons as they're stickering the nodes into place and says, "Are you ready, Ranger Zuckerberg?"
It's a stupid question, but that's not the point.
"Ready, Ranger Albright," he returns, and the door shuts behind the retreating techs. "Time to find out just how horrible BU really was."
"Oh, shut up," she laughs, and everything tumbles, kaleidoscopic, into the blue.
(Here is the thing
that Mark Zuckerberg does not know. Here is the thing
that Marilyn Delpy saw in him.
Mark Zuckerberg is not a perfect jaeger pilot because he's very big or very strong or very athletic. He is not a Winklevoss. He is the perfect jaeger pilot because he has no defenses -- he just pretends he does, and those mean absolutely nothing in the drift.
He has no concept of privacy, and has nothing to hide, and he never grew out of that age where he assumed nobody else did, either, so his mind goes knocking into other's without the slightest consideration that they might not be on the same level he is.
Whereas drifting with some people
is like getting lost in the sea
like standing in the surf just to feel the ground swamped out from underneath you with the receding wave
drifting with Mark Zuckerberg is like getting dropped into a university building you've never been in before, five minutes late for an important presentation and unable to find the right room. His head is a corridor, a labyrinth of hallways that take three right turns just to take a left and room numbers that don't progress in any logical order. Every door burns brightly blue in the drift, a RABIT begging to be chased. Every door is unlocked. Mark Zuckerberg has never wanted to keep anybody out. It's just that nobody ever bothered looking in.
Erica Albright flickers in and out of hallways.
I knew that architectural engineering degree was going to come in handy one day.
It takes three tries, them shuddering in and out of sync
("We're not getting neural handshake, pull the plug --"
"No, wait!" shouts Marilyn Delpy,)
waking up and plunging back into the blue again, before the corridors flatten, the maze vanishes,
and Mark Zuckerberg and Erica Albright, in perfect synchrony,
lift their middle fingers
to everybody watching.)
continue on to the next part -->