Might be different if humans were more like beasts, like the kaiju, if they could contain all of themselves inside a single skull, but that's a ridiculous thought exercise. There is only one way for the neural nets to align all the way, when you get down to it.
You have to use Dust. A shit-ton of it.
"He's not a bird," Raleigh tells Dallan in a quiet, disappointed (relieved?) aside. Mako is perfect in all other regards but Kazuki is a tall, sleek housecat, smoke gray with faded, darker gray stripes, a weird kink to his tail at the end. He's not a bird at all.
"It's not like that's necessary," Dallan replies, and pecks his skull with the smooth top curve of her vicious beak, so he'll only bruise and not bleed. She was all for coming back with Marshall Pentecost; he was the one who dragged his feet and cowered and betrayed them both by trying to make himself into someone she would not fit any longer. She's been smugly vengeful ever since. He takes the pecking; he feels like he deserves it, and it does help a bit with the guilt.
He spears a bit of celery on his plate. (Celery! Who ever thought he'd come to see it as a treat. Yancy would have laughed.) "Well, no, but it's good to at least share an order, you know?" (Yancy had a bird too, even if she wasn't a bird of prey -- and seagulls are hunters too, and they fight; they matched well enough.)
Dallan swivels her gray, crested head pointedly toward the table where the Wei triplets hold court. He can only see the crane's white head, at first, but the way people give one of the sides of the table a wide berth means the leopard probably stretches there on her side, lazy, waiting.
He only recognizes Cheung by the black, scaly necklace around his neck.
Mammal, bird and snake, and they match like a dream. Raleigh shrugs his shoulder back a little, bumping it into Dallan's chest; she's perching on the back of his chair. "Yeah, okay, shut up."
If she were perched on him he'd shrug her right off, and she'd circle around his head and jeer at him until he throws bread or his napkin at her; they used to do that. (Before the scars. Before his arm got too weakened to take her weight for long. Before he stopped being able to stand claws closing on it.)
"Okay, okay, cat and bird, we'll see how it goes," he says, and makes a point of sounding doubtful. He's teasing. He and Mako matched too well in every other way.
Dallan huffs about housecats being the same size as rabbits, also known as her natural prey, (it's not true, she's a harpy eagle, those live in the jungle, her natural prey is monkeys, but the only one around is Gottlieb's and they are so not bringing that up around the guy, not even as a joke) and who's planning to eat who anyway, no one, shut up, you're dumb and your face is dumb and let me do the thinking for you okay.
Raleigh nods placidly and allows her to do the thinking for him. So far he's mostly thinking of finishing his meal anyway.
hide yourself hide yourself hide me we need to hide we need to be mist we need to
"Hello, honey. It's nice to meet you again. They told you why I was coming, didn't they?"
"Your Kazuki has settled, hasn't he."
"No, it doesn't matter at all. No matter what, I will still take you with me."
So many people's daemons settled when they learned about the first kaiju or were in a kaiju attack -- impressive, serious, tragic things like that; Raleigh's settled when he jumped off the barn and onto a neighbor for badmouthing his big brother. (He broke a wrist on landing and strained the other one with punching.)
(Yancy's settled when he first got to make out with a girl, sloppy and awkward and confused, two kids playing at being teenagers.)
There's Dust all through the Jaeger's conn pods, whenever they try to sync, in the helmet's relay gel and through the wires and gathered around the (single) suspended wire cage with the adaptable harness for the daemons to wait into. Or else nothing happens. (Or else the worst happens.)
(The worst happens and you're left with empty husks of meat and daemons screaming with the shock of having their human ripped out of them, just a single scream before they go up in sparks.)
(Drifting with someone else can be much too close to becoming someone else, if your sync ratio is high enough, and. Well.)
Raleigh isn't thinking about it (it was before they figured out how to make Dust gather where it was needed, he wasn't even in the program yet) but Mako is. They're not bridged anymore but he can tell somehow.
Neither of them saw into the wire cage before they were dragged under and the plug was pulled, and Pentecost made damn sure the video was locked away.
It was for a reason, Mako thinks, and Kazuki's strange tail lashes.
Raleigh catches himself just before he reaches out and lets the cat's tail slip through his fingers from root to awkward tip. He digs his fingers into his palm instead, looks away. Whoops. They have a single failed Drift attempt between them, they are not the Kaidonovskys with their unthinking hands on each other's daemon's back. (Took him a week before he even figured out that the wolfhound was Aleksis' and the wolf was Sasha's, and not the other way around.) Dallan grumbles at him as she lands by the cat and starts grooming his fur, because now she's touching and Raleigh's not even watching anymore.
Mako sighs into her soup. Kazuki noses Dallan off -- licks her beak with his raspy tongue -- and then he jumps on Mako's lap right in the narrow space before the plate she holds on her knees, and looks up at him.
Kazuki never speaks louder than a whisper. "You can look, if you want," he offers.
It's not a kink or a strange knot, at the cat's tail-tip, it's a fork -- one tail, two tips, not quite two inches long.
"Nekomata," Mako says, and stares right into his eyes, serious and sad like she thinks he might recoil.
Raleigh just blinks back. "Don't know that word, sorry. Wait, Neko is cat, right?"
Kazuki and Mako blink in turn, and then Kazuki laughs, a quiet, wheezy thing.
"Forked-cat," they say together, woman and daemon, and then Mako explains, kindly; "Nekomata are mythical beasts. Ah ... death magic. Illusion magic."
Magic is alas still bullshit when pulled out of legends, but... Almost no one settles as a mythical daemon, instead of one belonging to a species that exists, or at least has existed recently enough that people still tell tales of how they used to behave. (If the kaiju had been discovered sooner, everyone jokes with more or less real amusement that Newton's would have been one.) And by "no one," Raleigh thinks that means maybe ten to twenty a year, worldwide. No one's sure what it indicates, but it's -- well, something so unique is considered pretty unsettling.
"Cool," he says, and returns to his soup.
Fits Mako down to a T.
"Where'd you get Max?" he asks Herc one bored evening, making conversation.
Herc laughs, pulls out a wallet, hands him a printout on bad paper. It's a vaguely blurry screen capture of the inside of Striker Eureka's conn pod, Herc and his son side by side in their drivesuits, the daemon wire cage.
In real life you can always tell a daemon from a beast. On pictures, in videos, the knowledge doesn't come through.
There's a bulldog strapped in the elastic nets inside the wire cage, with Max's spots and splashes of white, or so close Raleigh can't see a difference.
Neither Herc's Great Dane nor Chuck's pitbull are in sight, but it still takes him a minute.
Hippo taps the back of the picture with her big nose and chuffs out a laugh; her hot breath washes against Raleigh's fingers. "Meet Striker Eureka. When we saw Max as a puppy we figured it was pretty much destiny."
Hearing his name, Max wags his stubby tail and attempts to lick Hippo's nose.
"Initiating launch operations, Gipsy Danger," the AI says. Raleigh and Mako breathe out.
They're going to save Hong Kong. They know it. They can and they have to and so they will.
They look at the wire cage together.
Gipsy Danger will never be a bald eagle again. (I'm sorry (I'm not him) but those ridiculous propaganda shots, Raleigh, you know you won't miss them.)
(Haha, you know the propaganda will be even worse now. (I will always grieve him) (I'm not sorry you're you.))
The steel-and-smoke griffin anchored in the cage smiles her bird of prey smile and lashes her lion tail, and they spread out their wings, and they fly.