"I am supposed to show you things," says the girl in the blue coat with her thick accent, the girl who is not the Mako Mori Chuck knew, at least not at the end, but who is that Mako and another, and many more beside. He understands, with the spherical logic of a dream (but this is not), that she is an archetype, all the possible Makos who have ever died and ever will, and he is only one of all possible Chuck Hansens, and that what she will show him is part of the process of assembling himself back to wholeness.
The ease with which this knowledge flows into him makes Chuck wonder if he isn't still in the Drift, his last instant of life extended a thousandfold, and this Mako is the dying fabrication of Stacker Pentecost. But if that's how the Marshal wants to go out, conjuring up an eleven-year-old girl to act as Virgil, well, Chuck doesn't have anywhere else to be. He can play along.
He gets up from where he fell to his knees when she told him she eventually forgave him, brushes the ash off his drivesuit and the saltwater off his face, and holds out his hand to her. She just looks at him, doesn't let go of her red shoe, and after a minute he drops his hand. "Do I get to pick?" he says, trying a smile. Mako nods once. "Will you show me a..." Dimension? Life? Memory? "... time when we jockeyed together?"
She nods again, turns on one stockinged heel, and walks two paces ahead of him through the rubble of Tokyo. After a while she slips around an overturned car, and when Chuck follows he stumbles into a courthouse in Sydney, middle of June, bloody freezing outside, so early in the morning that it's still dark and the offices aren't open yet, but the Kaidanovskys bribed the JP to do this before business hours, and bribed her extra to let Max in too. Mako insisted on full dress uniform. Chuck insisted on their Striker jackets over that. The one picture Sasha took never did get leaked to the press.
Chuck watches himself kiss Mako after saying a lot of rubbish about richer and poorer and sickness and health and says, "Do we blow ourselves up in this one?"
The girl looks up at him, knowing what he's really asking. Of course she knows. "You are not this happy in every world. But everything turns out all right in every world."
Works for him. "Show me one where I'm bloody miserable," he says.
She leads him out of the office and into a Conn-Pod full of sparks and smoke and leaking seawater. Chuck is there, but it's not Striker's HUD he sees--it's Danger's, and the man in the 01 control arm is Raleigh Becket. He's passed out--his oxygen hose popped loose in the detonation, or else when they grappled with Slattern and opened the heat vent. Chuck gives Raleigh his oxygen, keys over the Crisis Command Matrix, and starts the eject sequence. "I can do this part myself, mate," he says. It's probably better that way. The world's going to need someone to be in their parades, to smile at the cameras, to look around at the world he saved and all the good things that are in it.
There's nothing good left in it for Chuck.
Once the 01 pod is away, he manually activates the reactor overload, then gets back in the harness and looks out at the Anteverse, at all the ugly bastards who took everything from him. Part of him is disappointed that he won't get to see the awful flaming wave of death he's about to dispense, but he doesn't need to see it or survive it to enjoy it. The clock runs down.
The sharp, cold smile slides off his face. Life support is down to seven percent, and radio transmissions from LOCCENT shouldn't carry all the way through the Breach, so that was probably a hallucination, not really his father's voice.
"Chuck, the mission's over. You can eject now." Herc's voice isn't trembling the way it did in the Shatterdome corridor when he told Chuck goodbye. It's hoarse, though, and weary, and full of pain and regret over what Mako Mori and Stacker Pentecost just did in Striker Eureka. "Come on back, Son, because if you don't, I'm not sure what I'll tell Max."
Chuck grimaces. "Damn it, old man." He hits the eject button, gets lifted gently into the pod and propelled back up through the throat just as Danger's reactor goes critical and everything turns blazing white.
He glares down at Mako, and she meets his gaze without expression. "How the hell does everything turn out all right in that one?" he demands.
"The Breach is closed," she tells him. "The kaiju are defeated."
"I didn't have to sacrifice anything," Chuck snaps, feeling the truth of it as the words leave his mouth. "Jesus, do I even grow up?"
"Eventually. Would you prefer something else?"
He stares at her, shakes his head. "You know what I want to see."
Ahead of them, Striker Eureka's emergency hatch appears in the white plain they're standing on. Mako walks over to it, and waits for Chuck to pull it open with a kshhh of pressurized air. They climb down inside.
A crisp voice from Sydney's LOCCENT tells them to prepare for neural handshake, and Herc says, "LOCCENT, Striker standing by." He looks to his left, and Chuck follows his gaze, and Mum is so beautiful in a drivesuit that Chuck can't breathe.
It looks so right, the two of them. It feels so right. It's good to know there's at least one universe where Herc Hansen made the right choice. Chuck wishes he could see the rest of this world, hear what the media says about this astonishing, poised, educated woman who plugs herself into a giant machine beside her husband and goes out to thrash kaiju every couple of months, but then LOCCENT initiates the Drift and bile rises in Chuck's throat when he hears what his mother is thinking at Herc.
--just turned eleven do you think they're telling you the truth about how he died do you think Stacker knows for sure you bought him that damn model and never bothered to help him build it why not get him a dog like he wanted at least then he would have had something nice for those two weeks he got to be eleven he was so proud of you and you couldn't even--
Chuck staggers past his father and back up the maintenance ladder and into the white again, bends over double, clutching the hatch and retching, but nothing comes up so he’s just blowing air out and sucking it in and making terrible, pathetic noises. Mako's hand, light as a songbird, settles on his left shoulder guard. "Here is a place we can rest," she says.
He opens his eyes and says, "No. No, no, no." He gets up and tries to back away, but the white is gone and the hatch is gone and all around him is the front yard, the street, the clear blue sky, the whiffs of salt air that make it to the other side of Sydney.
"It's only a house," Mako says, walking up the front stoop. "There's no one in it."
"No," Chuck wheezes, and follows her.
It's dark inside, and there's no furniture, no decoration. It could be anyone's house like this, or no one's, up for sale before the Hansens bought it. But it's his house, because Mako goes to the little door under the stairs and opens it, and inside are wood panels painted white and the storage bench where Mum kept the blankets, and when bad storms blew in she would huddle in there with him, and later when coastal cities had kaiju drills that was where they would wait out the sirens, but before that it was the place where he hid a time capsule behind a loose panel, and now in the world that isn't his anymore, all the things he thought would last for centuries are turned to ash.
Chuck ducks inside the closet and sits on the bench, reaches up to pull the string attached to one bare lightbulb. Mako perches next to him, cradling the shoe. "The first thing you taught me in Japanese," he says, when his breath eases. "Is that the same everywhere?"
"Yes. Do you remember?"
"私はシドニーから午前," he pronounces carefully.
"私は東京から来ました," she replies.
"You're Tokyo's Daughter," Chuck says in English, "so what am I?"
"You're home," says Mako. "Is there anything else you would like me to show you?"
"Just." Chuck shuts his eyes, lets out a sigh. He's not sure what happens at the end of this, and he needs a little more time in someplace that's safe, so--"Just show me my dad, yeah? In my world. The one I came from."
She walks out of the space under the stairs and he turns the light back off and follows, shuts the front door gently, and steps down to the Shatterdome deck.
Max is asleep on a ragged blanket at one corner of the workbench. Chuck stands on one side, his old man on the other, with Striker’s center console screen dismantled and strewn between them. The monitor started to flicker on their last drop, and Herc smacking it didn’t improve things.
They work in silence, but it is, at least, companionable.
Chuck watches for a long time, and only looks away when Mako takes his hand. The hangar door, the big one, stands open, and outside there ought to be waves breaking on the rocks outside the Sydney Shatterdome, but there’s only white. They stand at the edge of it.
“I have to get Sensei now,” Mako tells him. “Will you be all right to keep going on your own?”
No, he won’t, and if he opens his mouth he’ll ask her--beg her--to stay with him. So he presses his lips together and looks her in the eyes and nods once, and she lets go of his hand and walks away across the hangar deck. A few meters away she stops, turns back, and tells him, “It won’t hurt.”
Chuck takes a deep breath through his nose, and Mako walks on. He looks out the hangar door at all the nothing, and he squares his shoulders and moves his feet, and he tells himself It won’t hurt it won’t hurt going out in Striker didn’t hurt so this won’t hurt it won’t