Monsters of Our Own

by Aquaman

Part 1

To be honest, high school for me ended exactly the way I always daydreamed it would: with a giant monster attack that smashed the whole building flat. In retrospect, that’s probably kind of messed up.

Everyone remembers the first kaiju attack differently, but we all definitely remember it. It surfaced in Puget Sound on a sunny Thursday morning and smacked into downtown Seattle like a ballistic missile—two hundred feet tall, covered in armored plating, and filled with lethally acidic blood and the baddest attitude anyone in our universe had ever seen. By the time the military scrambled jets and tanks, the beast was six miles inland. By the time they finally killed it four days later, eighty thousand people were dead and four cities were uninhabitable. I lived—past tense—in the third. I haven’t seen the place since.

The media or the army brass—never did find out who—named the beast “Armis,” the Latin word for whatever the hell kept it upright and angry in the face of everything we threw at it. We couldn’t bury it—Armis was what we thought at the time was a big boy, and a very radioactive one by the time we launched enough nukes to finally take him down—so eventually we all just moved on. We mourned, we healed, and little by little we started to rebuild.

Then, of course, Hammerhead leveled Tokyo five months later. After another two months, Pesadilla wiped out Lima. Welterweight, Anchorage. Chupacabra, the whole Baja peninsula. We noticed a pattern. We realized we were at war. And pretty soon, it dawned on us that the world we lived in was no longer one in which we were the apex predators.

I never did get all the gory details, but the gist is that our universe exists more or less next to a bunch of other universes out in theoretical nonsense space, close enough that there were sometimes portals between them that almost no one knew about. That’s actually how we met Twilight Sparkle for the first time: about nine months before Armis introduced himself to Earth, Sparkle—as we call her now—introduced herself to me, as well as four other girls and one runaway-unicorn-turned-human-teenager—bit of a long story there—who soon became my collective best friends.

We eventually met our world’s version of Twilight later in the year once Sparkle went back to her home universe of Equestria, but what we didn’t know then was what we’d already set in motion hundreds of miles away. See, the portal that Sparkle used wasn’t actually as stable as she thought, nor was our universe the only alternate one out there. When the next portal opened, it was at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean—and instead of pony princesses, it spit out beasts the size of skyscrapers that took great pleasure in knocking said skyscrapers over all across the globe.

They didn’t even want us in the same building when the Jaeger program first started, let alone within paint-scratching distance of humanity’s last-ditch Hail Mary to avoid ending up as a planet-coating layer of kaiju paste. Even though we were the ones who basically came up with the entire idea—and by we, I mostly mean our Twilight—they just wouldn’t budge. Turns out the government’s best and brightest get their Fruits tied up in a big ol’ Loom when a twenty-year girl with a magic crystal necklace—another long story—makes them all look like kindergarteners in front of each other.

I mean, at that point the “magical powers” part really shouldn’t have been a dealbreaker anyway, given the thousands of little pony refugees—led by our old friend, Princess Sparkle—who popped up in the Washington Exclusion Zone while we were busy with Welterweight. They assimilated quickly, to their credit, but that I guess that’s easier than usual when your historically xenophobic hosts are knee-deep in an extinction event.

In any event, thank God for us that they did, because in some wild twist of fate or irony or I don’t know what, the cute little ponies who sort of caused all this are also the ones this whole operation hinges on. We were the ones who came up with the Jaegers, built them hundreds of feet tall, and loaded them up with every weapon and war machine we had to spare, but the ponies were the ones who figured out how to make them work.

They were the ones who discovered—through magic and mayhem and a touch of dumb luck—how we could make monsters of our own.

• • •

You know what the weirdest thing about sharing a bunkroom with a sentient pegasus who’s technically you from another universe is? Dash nickers in her sleep. Sure, it’s probably just a thing ponies do, but I can’t help wondering about the implications. Is it gross that I think it sounds kind of cute if I’m sort of the one doing it? Does that mean she’s dreaming, or is it just like snoring? Does that mean I snore and no one’s ever had the guts to tell me?

Yeah, it’s a weird train of thought to focus on, but sometimes idle idiocy like that is the only way I can keep from losing my mind. Ever since our last sortie three weeks ago, Dash and I both have just been vegging in the Corona Military Base barracks a dozen miles north of Los Angeles, reading what passes for trashy magazines in mid-worldwide apocalypse and needling the commandant for an extra power ration so we can at least get a JoyBox or something in here. Lately, I can’t even get anyone to kick around a soccer ball with me—apparently the jarheads are too afraid they’ll accidentally hurt a chick with eight kaiju kills under her belt.

For the record, they all suck at soccer anyway. Seriously, it’s like dribbling around traffic cones with two left feet and massive inferiority complexes.

“Rainbow,” comes a voice from the top bunk—which Dash always gets wherever we deploy to because, well, duh. “I’m bored.”

“Join the club,” I mumble through the glossy pages of Kaiju Beat covering my face. “Take This Quiz to Find Out Which Kaiju You Are!” shouts the translucent headline resting over my eyes. Unbelievable, I know. There’s no way I’m actually Tattletail.

“Is it a fun club?” Dash responds, sounding like she’s got her face buried in her pillow. “Are there video games in the club?”

“You can’t even play video games, you don’t have hands.”

“Can too! I can swing the little… ninja things.”

“Nunchuks,” I can’t help but mutter. “They’re called nunchuks, you dumb horse.”

“Takes one to know one, you stupid monkey,” Dash replies, just before a yawn punctuates our daily tradition of helpless griping. “Well, I’m gonna go get a snack. You want anything?”

“Granola bar,” I start to say. “Soda if the machine’s not still bro–”

An ear-splitting klaxon cuts me off and sends Dash and I flying out of bed—literally, in her case. In seconds we’re upright and scrambling to get dressed, tugging boots onto hooves and feet with our respective wings and fingers twitching in anticipation. Everyone in the world knows exactly what that klaxon sounds like and means—and call us crazy for it, but we’re probably some of the only ones in any version of that world who get totally psyched to hear it.


Neither of us listen as the droning voice from the loudspeaker rattles off a set of numbers and letters that probably mean something to someone in this place. We don’t care where we’re going. All we need to know is whether we’re on deck to kill whatever pops up there.


Dash and I get the obligatory fist/hoof bump out of the way the second we hear our name called, but the third team announced gives us both reason to pause. I look down at Dash, who looks down at the zipper of her mission suit still clenched in her teeth. She mutters something to herself, then finishes the job without looking up.

We enter the hallway, scores of mechanics and mission techs flattening themselves against the walls as we jog and fly past, and say nothing more about it. I know what Dash is thinking because I’m thinking it too, but I can tell she refocuses the same moment I do. Whatever the circumstances, the mission’s the same: get loaded, get set, and ride the freaking lightning.

Halfway to the bay, we meet our companions for this sortie: Jack falls into step next to me as Apple slips under Dash’s dangling hooves. Just like Dash, the top of Apple’s head only comes up to the bottom of my ribs, but she keeps pace alongside Jack and I like it’s nothing, like the path she cuts through the world is as straight and narrow as she is. They fight like that too—deliberate, efficient, unforgiving. We’ll never tell them this, but both Dash and I love to watch Titan Sequoia rumble. Especially when Chroma Vortex gets to one-up them at the same time.

“So… training mission, huh?” Apple says, her breath as steady as if she’s leaned lazily up on a fence post. Pretty much all the crews are nicknamed like Dash and I are: human gets one half of our collective name, and pony gets the other. We all agreed early on it’s the simplest way to handle this situation. Better than constantly calling ourselves “the Rainbow Dashes” or “the Applejacks,” anyway.

“Guess so,” I reply. “Explains why you guys are tagging along. Don’t you have some latrines to scrub?”

“Go ahead, Rainbow, keep talkin’,” Jack says as we round a corner, beelining towards the launch bay lift at the far end of the corridor. “Get it outta the way now, so you’re quiet later when school’s in session.”

“Ooh, you’ve been working on that one, haven’t you?” Dash cuts in. I don’t mind at all—it’s exactly what I would’ve said. “How long’s that line been in the shop? Couple months? Think that’s the last time you guys had a lead over us.”

“And that’s why we had that lead, Dash,” Apple says after a chuckle. “Patience kills kaiju.”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure Jaegers kill kaiju,” I reply as we reach the lift and step in, the gates closing behind our heels in perfect synchronicity. “And I can name eight tall-dark-and-uglies who’d agree with me.”

The lift jolts upward, and Apple and Jack smirk—a perfect match, like two sides of a trick mirror. “Reckon you can keep ‘em,” the latter says. “We’ll take care’a the ninth.”

Damn the timing, but she definitely got the last word in. Once the klaxon’s on and the lift goes up, the time for friendly banter has officially passed. Even Dash lands for once—one of the few times you’ll ever see her do that—and starts to limber up, and the lift falls silent but for the soft sounds of shuffling limbs and cracking necks and knuckles.

“Dash?” I hear Jack murmur. I’m not surprised she’s talking to me—though she and Apple are identical in soul, they aren’t symmetrical in body, or in which one knows me just a little bit better. “What’s this feel like to you?”

“The mission?” I mutter without looking over. “Standard-issue, why?”

“Standard-issue ain’t three Jaegers for one kaiju, even if one team’s rookies,” she goes on. “Somethin’… doesn’t feel right.”

No kidding, but I’m not about to give her gut feeling—or mine—the satisfaction. “We’re past it, all right?” I tell her. “And if it does go sideways, Chroma’s got your back.”

She nods once, raises her fist. “And Titan’s got yours,” she says as I touch my knuckles to hers. And with that, there’s nothing left to say.

The lift’s doors open directly into the base’s operation center, a cross between a conference room and a computer lab that contains approximately every single nerd in a ten-mile radius—mostly people, but a few unicorns here and there as well. At the center of the room, a massive table displays a holographic map of the surrounding area, which we’d use for a mission briefing under more complicated circumstances, and which everyone here will use to watch the upcoming fight.

Weirdly enough, it’s actually one of the few pony contributions to our tech in here. Apparently there used to be one just like it in Equestria, but that one was used for “friendship quests” instead of Magic-Per-View kaiju battles. For the record, no, I don’t know what a “friendship quest” entails. And yes, for the record, I have asked more than once.

As the other pilots and I circle around the battle map and head for the double doors at the ops center’s far end, not even so much as a stray whisper makes note of our intrusion. In a weird way, I kind of admire the ops nerds for that: while everyone else on the planet is hoping they don’t get eaten alive today, all that these pencil-pushers are worried about is how much we’re gonna ding up the repairs they just finished after the last attack. Guess I have a soft spot for people with priorities.

Whether they even noticed us or not, I don’t get a chance to find out for sure. The cacophony cuts out the second the ops center doors slide shut behind us, and of the four pilots left alone in the catwalk high above the launch bay floor, none of us break the silence with more than gently clattering footsteps and hoofbeats. We don’t call this “The Long Walk” for nothing—aside from being an even four hundred yards long, this walkway is also the last time we’ll see each other before deployment. And though not one of us will say it aloud, we all know it could be the last time ever.

There’s no time for fear when you’re in a Jaeger. You can’t think about not landing your next hit or what will happen if you don’t. You just act, and react, and win or die trying. But here, for four hundred yards and with no one and nothing else to distract us, we let the fear in—let it reverberate through us in cold sweats and goosebumps and a vague, trembling, implacable sense of mortality.

It sounds crazy, but so do half the things Shy’s ever asked me to do—and like just about all of those things, damn me if it doesn’t work. Every time I make this walk, I end it with a clear mind and a focus sharper than I can get anywhere else in the world—my fears recognized, allowed to breathe, and then softly but firmly smothered.

In the meantime, though, it’s still rolling through me, tensing my shoulders and jacking my heart rate up to the moon and back—and this time it’s worse than usual, because it’s not me, Dash, or even Jack or Apple I’m scared for. It’s something else, something different and new. The past, the present—and Frostbite Archangel.

Of all the Mark IV Jaegers to be first out of the blocks, why’d it have to be Sweetie Belle piloting it?

Seriously, if we didn’t have a kaiju to go urgently send to hell, I’d still be back in the ops center screaming my head off at somebody—anybody—who signed off on this. Sure, being the little sisters of the most successful Mark III team in the Western Hemisphere makes them somewhat special cases, but Belle’s hardly a month past eighteen—or whatever the equivalent is in pony years—and Sweetie’s barely taller than her pony version with about as much muscle mass.

Or at least, that’s all I can remember her looking like—stealing extra rations out of the mass hall, staying up past curfew to sneak into the launch bay and watch the Jaeger techs at work, struggling to do another pushup when even her instructor was telling her to quit–

–doing her homework on Rarity’s couch, feet kicked up behind her with a platform shoe half-dangling from her heel.

Whether she’s got the guts or not, I can’t say, but she’s not ready for this. No one is. I’m not.

But I have to be. And I will be. In three, two, one…

“Pilots on deck!”

As soon as he’s announced our arrival, the sergeant-at-arms at the end of the Walk turns away from the maintenance crews and focuses on us. “Chroma Vortex to the left, Titan Sequoia to the right,” he informs us, nodding in both directions as he speaks. “Go for deployment in T-minus five. You’ll be briefed on parameters in-flight.”

Jack and I meet eyes—Dash and Apple do the same between us—and then we’re gone. Dash takes off again as I ascend the ladder up to Chroma’s entrance hatch, stretching her wings one last time before diving inside after me. The interior of Chroma’s head used to feel claustrophobic, but now it just feels nostalgic. I’m so used to being Chroma that it still feels strange to be just near her instead.

Techs converge on us as we take our respective seats for the ride to come. Clasps automatically lock into my boots as I step into the harness, and the techs follow suit with straps, wires, and plugs for my legs, torso, arms, and neck. The last part of the process—the Drift helmet—hovers above me for a moment, waiting until Dash is fully secured before descending in tandem with Dash’s.

I hear the techs file out, then the hatch slam closed. For an ephemeral moment, silence reigns. For an even shorter one, I’m back in the Walk again.

“PILOTS ABOARD,” says a computerized voice, echoing all around the suddenly cramped space. “DRIFT SEQUENCE INITIATED.”

“Hey, Rainbow?” says someone else—softly, so only I can hear.


I turn to Dash, who grins at me and winks. “Let’s kill this thing.”

“… ONE.”