Nothing's perfect, but that doesn't mean things can't get better.
Part 4 - Faith and Pragmatism
Section 3: "Models"
Asami did not like prisons. She would never like prisons. No matter how aesthetically pleasing the exterior may be, she would always have an aversion to them. However, the Republic City Correctional Facility possessed a certain naturalistic quality that she did find intriguing. Long, winding cracks in the concrete traveled up the tall building, a remnant of the destruction Unavaatu had wrought on the city all those years ago. Dozens of spirit vines embraced the prison, winding their way to its peak in some twisted form of cruel ironic structural support.
Baatar Jr's release was not what Asami had expected. She had imagined a haggard, exhausted and scruffy man shuffling out of those doors. Instead, he emerged immaculate. His glasses spotless, his hair just as prim and proper as she remembered it. He carried himself with confidence, and she supposed it made a certain kind of sense once she'd witnessed it.
She had forgiven him. Bolin had forgiven him. Korra and Mako, too. The only ones who hadn't were his family. But if there was one thing that Asami knew about the Beifongs it was that, to them, there was nothing more sacred than shared blood.
Which made Opal sprinting past her and slapping her older brother straight across the face all the more fitting. She hugged him, her tears staining his fresh green shirt. He fixed his glasses and looked baffled, but that only lasted a moment. He hugged her back and Asami couldn't help but take some pride in that.
Bolin nudged her and leaned in to whisper. "Thanks a lot for this. It meant a lot to us."
Asami gave him a quick glance. "Us?"
Bolin blushed, looked at the sky, his shoes, and then at the fence. He shushed her. Not yet. Not yet, but soon. And hopefully sooner rather than later. If Asami were Opal, she'd be getting rather impatient at that point. Three years and counting.
"You're an idiot," grumbled Opal. "I missed you so much."
"I know." Baatar closed his eyes and embraced her tighter. "I missed you, too. How are you?"
"Good. Better. Great now, actually," she said, sniffling. She wiped her eyes with her wingsuit. "I'm sorry I didn't come to visit you. Mom was being weird and I didn't want to risk hurting her more. She said you two had talked, but wouldn't say anything else."
"Sounds like mom. She told me that the rest of the family needs space and time before we both know if---when I can come back."
"Well, at least you have something to keep you busy in the meantime."
"I suppose I...do..." he said, staring at her hands. He turned to glare straight at Bolin, and Asami could feel him fidget next to her. "Hello, Bolin."
Bolin cleared his throat and waved. "Heyyyyyy, Baatar!" He looked around at nothing in particular. "Wow! Look at the time, I've got to go and get back to...doing that thing that I do..." he said, poking his index fingers together. "Okayseeyouguyslaterbyeloveyouopal!" Bolin sprinted off down the street faster than she'd ever seen him run.
Baatar frowned intensely. "Oh, no you don't! Get back here!" Asami caught his arm before he could actually run after him. "Let go of me! This is private, family business!"
Asami raised a brow and looked him straight in the eye. "Is that really the way you want to start our working relationship? Raising your voice at your boss and chasing down one her closest friends?"
Baatar looked down the street, and upon coming to the inevitable conclusion that he couldn't catch up Bolin, let alone subdue him, relented. "You're right. I can always talk with him later. I know where he lives."
"That's not what I meant."
Opal walked up to them, baffled. "What was that about?"
"Nothing you need to worry about," Baatar and Asami said in unison.
Opal studied them closely and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, I know the both of you are lying, so I'm just going to go after the crazy man that I'm in love with." She gave Baatar a quick hug. "Please stay out of trouble and be nice to Asami, all right?"
"Good." She launched herself into the air, expanding her wingsuit and soaring several stories in a manner of seconds. "Bolin, what are you doing?!" she yelled as she vanished behind a building.
Baatar frowned. "How has he not proposed to her yet?"
Asami shrugged and walked over to her blue roadster. "It could be a lot of reasons." She motioned him to follow. "Personally, I feel like he doesn't think he's good enough for her."
Baatar got into her satomobile just a little too eagerly. She stared at him for a moment, since she hadn't even sat down yet. He cleared his throat. "Because he's not from a prolific family? That's ridiculous."
Asami spurred the engine to life, enjoying its perfectly optimized purr with a small smile, and slid her hands over the leather bound steering wheel. Always soothing. "I would be very surprised if it had anything to do with that. He's never been ashamed, embarrassed or even proud of his childhood. I think that's just life to him." She drove away from the prison and back into the city proper, pushing her memories of that bitter, somber place out of her mind. "Korra told me that he's been talking about lavabending a lot, recently. Out of fear, not pride. I think we can both sympathize with that."
Baatar was silent for a long moment. "We are what we create. It's easy to forget how small the difference between us and benders truly is. Sixth chakra," he said, tapping his forehead.
She gave him an odd look.
He shrugged. "I had a lot of time to read."
"Ah. Which one was that again?"
"Light. Encompasses insight, and is blocked by the illusion of separation."
"That's right, I remember now. I experimented with those, actually. I was trying to make this...bending booster suit. The idea was to use tiny acupuncture nodes on the interior of a modified wingsuit, same kind of compression fabric, that ran along the chi pathways of a bender's body, forcing them open."
"I'd have never thought of that. Did it work?"
Asami frowned, remembering all too vividly just how well it had worked. "It was far too effective. Extended use lead to a near total loss of control. Your aunt destroyed an entire city block before she could tear off the suit. My estate was actually raided by the Triple Threats in an attempt to get their hands on one of the two surviving prototypes, so I've even seen it in actual combat."
Baatar's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "That sounds terrifying. If Aunt Lin couldn't control it then I can't imagine what happened to a triad thug."
"It gave a decent waterbender enough raw power to destroy my ceiling, strip the wallpaper from my walls, manipulate a month's worth of rainwater, shatter all my windows, and blow open half of my floor. And that was from maybe an hour of use. I don't even want to consider what could happen if a master got their hands on it, and tried to see how far they could go."
"Just so we're clear, that isn't the kind of thing you want me to be working on, correct?"
Asami laughed once. "Absolutely not. No, that's been shelved indefinitely. The only surviving model was made with Jinora's proportions in mind, and that was a year a go. When I said military R&D I meant vehicles, crew operated weaponry, better explosives, that kind of thing. But no giant mecha-suits. Or rebuilding the old one."
"It was a nightmare to build once. I have no intention of doing so again."
Asami gave him a sidelong glance. "Really? Artana spoke very fondly of the project."
"Oh, you got her?"
"Yes, I did. I'm sorry, I thought you knew. She's very good."
"A little too big picture at times, but yes, quite capable."
Asami raised a brow. "I fail to see how that's a negative. It's an important perspective---" Her thoughts snapped back to that night in her outdoor workshop; long since forgiven, but not the most pleasant of memories. "---most of the time."
"Yes, well it doesn't help very much when your subordinates are far too curious. She wasn't the one who had to ensure that both the mecha-giant and the spirit cannon were developed in near-perfect parallel." Baatar frowned and adopted a slightly mocking tone. "Why is this part of the arm hollow? Why don't these wires go anywhere? How did you get the generator to work? How are we supposed to transport a weapon this large on a magnet train? Why don't we just build a big airship and mount it to that?"
Asami gave him a sidelong glance. "That last one would have been very effective."
"I know," he said, exhausted. "Kuvira still insisted on the mecha-giant. For psychological warfare purposes, of course."
"...I think she just wanted it so she could pilot it."
"I'm sure that was part of it yes, but it was terrifying."
"That it was."
There was a long, extended silence. It was a little uncomfortable. Much less than she had anticipated, though, which was good.
"You know Kuvira's not dead, right?"
Baatar looked at her like she'd grown a second head. "What kind of question is that? She was pardoned months ago. I get the news in prison."
"Okay." Asami bit her lip. Fantastic. Everything is always her job. "It sounds like Raiko neglected to divulge all of the circumstances surrounding your release."
"He told me you negotiated a deal with him, and that I'm your new Chief Technology Officer."
"That's the heart of it, but not the whole of it. I'm really not sure that I should be the one telling you this."
"Tell me what?"
"Fine." Asami sighed and pulled into the parking garage of Future Industries Tower. "Let me park first so I can gather my thoughts." She flashed her badge at the security guard, which she thought was the single most ludicrous part of her daily routine, and drove up to her reserved spot.
She pinched her brow and cut the engine, clearing the air of the satomobile's rumble. "Until a few days ago, Kuvira was under the impression that she had killed you during the battle."
Baatar's eyes widened, but he said nothing.
"I think Raiko was trying to keep her under control. Break her spirit, or something like that. I hate her, I'm not going to try and hide that from you, but..." She gripped her steering wheel and grit her teeth. "Not even Kuvira deserves to be tortured like that. No one deserves torture."
Baatar stared at the concrete wall in front of them. "I'm going to kill him."
"No, you're not," said Asami, matter-of-factly.
"No. And legally, you can't plan that."
"I can't let you do that either."
"Yell at him."
"He just pardoned you."
Baatar glared at her. "So? This is the United Republic. I have the right to---"
"Actually, you don't. You're not a citizen, so you don't have the right to speak freely against the government."
"...then I'll write him a very strongly worded letter."
"Okay, how about this..." Asami sighed and gave him an apologetic look. "You write the most vulgar, crass and angry letter you possibly can, and I'll sign it. I'll even put it on my stationery. I sincerely doubt I'll have an issue with anything you might write about Raiko."
"Good. Now get out of the car and get to work. You have a war to win."
"Don't you mean we have a war to win?"
"No. No I do not."
"I gotta admit, when you suggested looking at this in a different way…" said Korra, poking her head out over Oog's saddle and down at Jingdao. "This is not what I thought we'd be doing."
Calling it a shantytown no longer made sense. The refugees were nearing the one hundred thousand mark, if the RCPD's estimations were anything to go by, and they'd just kept building upward and outward. At first, second, and third glance it looked like another district of Republic City; an addition to the east side. In fact, if not for the border wall, Korra wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.
It sort of looked like Raiko was trying to keep his own citizens out, which was more than a little odd.
"Sometimes the most literal of interpretations can also be the most effective," said Tenzin, keeping Oogi in a slow, meandering turn. "Hopefully, this change in perspective will encourage new ideas and solutions."
"Is this really a problem, though?" she said, looking at the back of Tenzin's head. "These people just want a safe place to live, and it sort of looks like they made their own when they couldn't find one."
"I agree with you, Korra, but unfortunately that isn't the reality of the situation. At least, not for the United Republic. It's still their territory, and it's up to us to think of a peaceful solution."
"Yeah, I know." Korra frowned and looked down through her binoculars. "Oh, wow. Tenzin, they've got farms down there. Big ones. Northeast, between the mountains."
"Amazing. I had no idea that the people here were so resourceful."
"People adapt, no matter hard it gets. You don't have to be Water Tribe to do it, but it helps. Speaking of water, I think I see docks. With ships." She inspected the large freighters anchored outside Jingdao. "Varrick Industries International."
"That's either very good, or very bad."
"Not much of a middle ground with that guy, but I don't think he'd try and exploit refugees. I'm pretty sure Asami would have broken more ribs, otherwise."
Tenzin frowned and turned to face her. "Is she doing all right?"
Korra put down her binoculars and leaned back in the saddle. "That's a complicated question."
"Most things in life are."
"Heh. Yeah. She's doing better, that much I can tell. Something changed last week, and I don't know what it was, but she's really starting to seem like her old self again." Korra shrugged.
"That's good to hear."
"Sorta. She's starting to, not almost there or halfway. I kind of wish I knew what it was like to lose somebody that close to me, so I could help more. But I can only do so much. Most of it is really just up to her."
"We all have our methods of grieving for those we've lost. After Avatar Aang passed, I focused on retaining Republic City. And...not dying."
"Makes sense. Why do you call him that, though? He was your dad. I mean, I sort of get that you're trying to respect his legacy, but his legacy is---isn't that your kids? The New Air Nation? And me, in a way?"
Tenzin sighed. "It's an old habit. Calling my father Avatar Aang was a way in which I chose to grieve. I thought, foolishly, if I could distance myself from the loss of my father, and rationalize it as the shared sense of loss the world felt after losing its Avatar, that it would be easier to deal with."
"No, but Pema was there to pick up the pieces. Just as you are for Asami."
Korra's eyes glazed over as she stared at her boots. "I don't think it's the same."
"Well, no two relationships are identical, yes, but I'm sure the intentions are."
"...did you snap at Pema and say something that you regretted? Something that couldn't be unsaid or forgotten? The kind of thing that only you could know to say. The one thing, the only string of words that could just break her entirely."
Tenzin tightened his grip on the reins. "No. I did not."
"Asami did. I know she didn't mean it. I know it wasn't her. I know what it's like to lose control like that." She bit her lip and rubbed her burning eyes. "But it still hurt more than anything else ever could," she choked.
"You don't have to tell me what it was," he said softly.
"I know, and I'm not going to. This is between me and her, and I'm only telling you this much because I can't keep going around every day with this over my head like it's some secret stain. Or bruise, or something." She sniffled and looked up at him. "I really don't know how to move forward from this. I forgave her a while ago, but that's just not enough and I don't know why."
"You need to talk to her about this, Korra. Tell her how you feel."
Korra rolled her eyes. "Thanks. I never would have thought of that. I know I have to talk to her, but I can't do that until she's okay to talk in the first place! I'll just end up hurting her if I bring it up before she's ready." She sighed and sat up, picking up her binoculars. "Let's just focus on this right now, okay?"
Tenzin stared at her for a long moment. "You've come such a long way since you first arrived. It's astounding."
Korra groaned. "I know! I was there, I lived the whole thing, and I am sick and tired of everybody saying things like that. Every other day somebody comes up to me and says I used to be this, or that, and how amazing it is that I've 'matured so much'. I remember what I was like! You don't need to keep reminding me, because I'm just trying to do my job here so I'd appreciate it if you'd stop bringing that up, okay?"
Tenzin cleared his throat and went back to flying Oogi.
"Anyway," said Korra. "I don't see why the United Forces can't just take refugee volunteers and grant them citizenship. They need troops and lots of these people used to be soldiers for the Earth Empire. Or just have Raiko expand the city limits, like he said he wanted to do in the first place. That guy flip flops a lot."
"That he does." Tenzin scratched his beard. "I'm sure he's heard both proposals, but when you combine them like that I'm struggling to see a reason as to why he wouldn't jump at the opportunity. It would certainly help the citizens of the former Earth Kingdom solve their own problems..."
Korra furrowed her brow. "Hey, yeah. Maybe that's the key. They don't get citizenship, but they do get to fight alongside the United Forces and help save their homes. That way, when everything is said and done, they have somewhere to go back to."
"You could be right. I'll fly us over to City Hall so we can present this Raiko. It's certainly worth a try."
Korra winced. "Uh, actually I think we should call ahead and make an appointment first. It would be very rude if we didn't."
Tenzin raised a brow. "What brought this on?"
"Me being impulsive and then mature enough to recognize how silly it is that I keep thinking that kicking down a door is an effective way to make people listen to me."
"You broke his door, didn't you?"
"No, of course not!"
"I tried to break his door. Kuvira was the one who actually got to do it."
Mako flipped through the new training manual and wrinkled his nose. It was gibberish to him. He'd never considered himself technically minded, but it wasn't like being a detective demanded a degree in engineering. Or really any kind, if he was thinking about it. But, in the wake of Chief's discovery of an attempted spirit bombing, every single capable and trustworthy officer in the department had been called in to central's large briefing room for 'special training'. It even came with its own special book, complete with an interesting illustration of a spirit vine winding around a big explosion.
Rudimentary Spirit Bomb Defusal, written by Zhu Li Varrick and Sir Iknik Blackstone Varrick. Published by Varrick Industries International in association with Future Industries. As for why Zhu Li had to be the one to deliver the lecture, Mako had no idea.
Mako exchanged an odd look with Harumi, his training partner and...in other ways as well. Brown hair, light blue eyes, mostly Fire Nation ancestry, looked younger than she was. Long and short of her. Not that she was short, or shallow, or anything like that, but it wasn't as if he could sum her up in a few thoughts. He couldn't do that with anyone.
"All right, then. Step 1, remove access panel." Harumi quickly opened the bomb casing and inspected its innards. "Huh. Looks like the inside of a radio. What's the next step, Mako?"
Mako quickly read through the first few instructions. "Step 2, confirm glow color." He raised a brow and looked at the bomb. "...glow? Oh. Is there anything purple in there?"
"Purple? Let me see..." she said, carefully sifting through the mass of cables and electronics. "There are lots of wires, a purple car battery, and a stick. That's probably supposed to be the vine."
Mako checked off 'Step 2' with his pen. "Step 3...okay, this is way more wordy than it needs to be. Basically, if the spirit vine is active and glowing bright purple, see if there's anything between the battery and the vine. An intermediary."
Harumi squinted and followed the wiring from the vine to the battery. "Nope. It's a direct connection." They both snickered. "What's the next step?"
"If there's no intermediary, skip to step 57..." He quickly scanned the page. "Step 57, run away, because there's no way to stop the detonation of a 'dirty bomb' other than using a Future Industries Unity Defense Device or licensed equivalent. For information on possible consequences of detonation, see page 217."
"What? Let me see that." Harumi snatched the manual out of his hands and flipped to the aforementioned page. "...in the event of premature detonation under atypical circumstances, as outlined in appendix 178 on page 302, there is a .000042% chance that the energy discharge will result in the creation of an unstable spirit portal if the weapon in question possesses a sufficient payload. Specifics yet to be determined. Addendum: Hopefully never, because that would be really bad. Really bad. As in, end of the world bad---" She huffed and narrowed her eyes. "Why are all the footnotes rambling warnings? It's a waste of space, ink and paper."
Mako looked over her shoulder and read it along with her. "That's Varrick for you."
"Remind me never to meet him in person. Just reading this is giving me a headache." She handed him the manual. "So, it's a dirty bomb if there's nothing between the power source and the vine. What about the regular kind?"
Mako furrowed his brow and flipped back to the first page. "Uhhh, remove the battery and burn the vine once it stops being purple."
"Well, that'll be hard to screw up. I guess I should start bringing a lighter everywhere, huh?"
Mako gave her a sly grin. "Don't you already?"
Harumi playfully rolled her eyes.
"Any luck?" asked Chief Beifong, her brow ached as she was suddenly right behind them.
"Some, Chief," said Harumi. "It seems like all one needs to deal with these spirit bombs is a source of fire and a decent understanding of modern appliances."
"Then why is it the training manual over four hundred pages long?" She turned to glare at Zhu Li. "What was the point of this?"
Zhu Li, who was hunched over and assisting another pair of officers, gave her a blank stare. "You can never be too prepared."
"Whatever. It's propaganda. Everybody dies unless you buy our crap. Mako, you know that Sato girl better than I do. Think she'd pull something like this?"
Mako laughed once. "Asami? No, never. This has to be Varrick---"
Zhu Li cleared her throat and glared at him.
"---by which I mean it was his great idea to...urge us to buy things from a rival company? That's just confusing."
Harumi shook her head and flipped back to page 213. "No, not quite. 'Licensed equivalent'. He must be planning on making his own version of those pillar things they've been drilling into the ground everywhere."
Chief Beifong looked between the two of them. "We're not doing that. The last time the city didn't buy from Future Industries..." She trailed off into a smirk. "You know what? I think I'll let the detective tell that story. Makes him out to be a 'hero'."
Harumi looked up at him curiously. "Hero, eh?"
Mako shrugged. "Don't get your hopes up, I wasn't really---" Chief Beifong shot him a glare so powerful that he almost fell over. Right, he forgot about how that night ended. He had to be held accountable for Asami's body count, or she'd have been sent to prison. "---as amazing as Chief makes me out to be. But I was still pretty amazing, if I do say so myself."
"You never do, so now I have to know this story."
"It's a good one," said Chief Beifong. "And after that..." She slammed a fat stack of paperwork onto his desk. "You can both fill out these government workplace relationship forms, in triplicate, for...Saikhan to look over and file."
Saikhan looked up from his test bomb and frowned. "I serve as your deputy chief for nearly twenty years, and one laugh makes me your butthogmonkey."
"Spirit vines aren't funny, Saikhan! Now shape up or I'll have you on latrine duty!"
"We don't even have those!"
"Well then I'll buy some and get the rookies to dirty them up just so you can have something to clean!"
Mako blushed. "How did you---"
"I can feel your heart beats with my feet. I knew what I was looking for. Now get back to work on these bombs! If there's even one unsanctioned detonation, it'll be Saikhan's ass!"
Baatar tapped his pen against his desk, which looked eerily similar to the kind of decorum one would find in Zaofu. In fact, everything about his new office reminded him of home. The chairs, the paintings, the tables and even the clock. Baatar wasn't sure to be impressed or disturbed by the absurd attention to detail.
He stared at the blank piece of Asami's stationery. Perhaps he should practice a few times before writing his letter on it. Really formulate exactly what he wanted to say, and exactly how horrifically he wanted to say it. If he were a better writer, he'd attempt to translate the feeling of strangulation to the page. But he wasn't.
Someone knocked on his door and he stared at it for a few moments, considering how to---oh, right he was the CTO of a multinational conglomerate. How could he have forgotten that?
"Come in," he said, fishing a notebook out of his drawers and writing out bullet points of the things he wanted to scream at Raiko about. Number one, torture. Number two, punching him repeatedly in the face…
His door swung open to reveal Artana with a very friendly smile. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Baatar gestured for her to close the door. "I just got out of prison a few hours ago, Artana," he said chuckling. "I'm not doing anything that can't wait. It's good to see you."
Artana closed the door and sat down in front of his desk. "Likewise, Baatar. How are you doing?"
"You mean besides enjoying all of this fresh air and employment?"
"We can talk about those things too, if you'd rather. I'm on break."
Baatar waved her off. "No, that's all right. There's not much to say about that." He grimaced and cleaned his glasses. "Well, I suppose that's not entirely true…"
Artana raised a brow. "Temporary release?"
"If only. No, as it turns out, until a few days ago, Kuvira thought she'd killed me because Raiko told her I was dead."
Artana flattened her lips into a thin line and gave him a hard look. "That's hardly surprising. He already used her as live bait to lure out loyalists, which nearly destroyed Asami's home in the process."
Baatar sighed and rubbed his temples. "I know---wait, he used her as bait? When did this happen?"
"A little while a go. It was a wonderful party, up until the attempted kidnapping. Even then it was interesting to see that much improvisational combat in such a small area. Especially with so many civilians around."
"That bastard!" he growled. "Who does he think he is?! He can't just use my---" He cut himself off and stared blankly at his desk. "Is there even a word for this?"
Artana frowned sympathetically and sighed. "I'm sorry, but I don't think there is."
He leaned back in his chair and pinched his brow. His chest tightened as his thoughts circled around Kuvira, tired and alone and drowning in guilt that shouldn't have existed. No, no, some of that she should feel! Right? Yes! Maybe! "Even after she tried to kill me, I still can't---after all this time, I thought I'd moved past her but she's...she's still there."
Artana absently rubbed her arm and looked away.
"You can never really fall out of love, can you?" he whispered.
"No. You really can't."
Baatar stared at the ceiling and sat in silence for several minutes, gathering his thoughts. Consolidating them. Reorganizing them and filing them away to be reviewed at a later date. For the moment, he had a job to do. He had a war to win.
"I suppose now would be a good time to bring me up to speed on weapons development."
Artana turned back to him and perked up. "Of course. Has Asami filled you in on the Satohawk and the armaments we're loading it with for the United Forces?"
"She did, yes. I assume there's still some work to be done on those."
"No, not at all. Those are already in full production, and many of the civilian pilots we've been training volunteered for active combat duty, so that was an easy gain. For all intents and purposes, that project is done."
Baatar wrinkled his nose. "All right. What are you working on right now, then?"
She smiled. "More effective forms of body armor and modernizing siege engines."
He stood and extended his hand. "Just like old times?"
Artana shook it firmly, meeting his eyes. "Just like old times."
"Then let's get started."
Korra didn't really know how to react to what she was seeing. It was one thing to walk in on Asami covered in grease, sweat and working on something incomprehensible. It was another thing to find her trying to use her fans to move a boulder, admittedly to some success. It was yet another thing to find her passed out on the couch, table, chair and even sometimes the bed.
And yet, it was a fourth thing altogether to enter the library, and find that Asami was in the middle of remodeling it to contain a series of electric model train tracks. Wiring was exposed, the walls were all but torn open entirely, and a full complement of tools and materials were scattered across the few open spots in the bookcases.
There was also, for some reason, a subtly leaking fish tank devoid of fish in the center of the room. Korra sealed the tiny cracks with ice and took a closer look at Asami's newest, and quite honestly random, project.
"Do you love model trains now, or is this a work thing?"
Asami turned around with a big smile. "Hey! A bit of both, actually. I went down to this---okay, it was a children's toy store on the upper west side. I completely forgot that I had a subsidiary that made model kits of our more popular products."
Korra smiled and looked at the gathering of little models. "Well, we have a biplane, a battleship, your old satomobile, the dirgible..."
Asami picked up the oversized airship and pointed at the glass canopy. "This is the deluxe model. If you look closely, you can see the little conference room we used to use. And over here are the state rooms, and the kitchen. The little front door opens. Watch." She flicked a switch Korra couldn't see and the miniaturized door slid open and close. "How cute is that?"
"Very cute. Are there any little toy Nagas or Oogis?"
"No, I had to carve those. They're over at Air Temple Island. The scale model, not the real one. It's over by the globe."
Korra stole a glance at said model. It was extremely detailed, and it wouldn't surprise her if it had the right number of trees. To scale, of course. "Wow. I can't believe Tenzin signed off on that. It's even up to date with the new Air Nation stuff."
"That one is not actually from a kit. I made it from memory."
"Oh. That's pretty amazing."
"Thanks. But, look, they've even got toy mecha-tanks." She said, carefully setting the dirgible down and tossing Korra a very detailed model of one of her father's old designs. Thankfully, they were not platinum.
Korra poked it in the 'head'. "This is a weird thing to have a toy of."
Asami tilted her head and shrugged. "That's what I said at first, but you have to remember that most people didn't have to fight these things. They've only seen them in the movers."
"I guess I'd want one too if that was the only place I'd seen them." She carefully placed the mecha-tank next to the satomobile and flicked it onto its back with her index finger. She made explosion noises and wiggled her fingers.
Asami snickered. "These are more fun than you'd think, huh?"
"Oh, absolutely. How's this all related to work, though? Are you testing toys for kids?"
"No, I think I outsourced that to some company in the Fire Nation. Their child literacy rating is almost one hundred percent, so they can typically get a better sample for focus testing."
Korra bit her lip and smiled. It was extremely refreshing to see that side of Asami. The one who wasn't drowning in grief or shouldering a burden she could just barely manage. Things were getting better, but she was still concerned. Just overall. Just to be safe.
"The toys are just for fun. The train tracks and the fish tank are for testing the underwater magnet train. Well, the principles of them." She looked over at the fish tank and wrinkled her nose. "We were doing some indoor testing last week---what's with the ice?"
"It was leaking, so I fixed it."
"It was? Thank you. I have no idea how I missed that..." Asami walked over the tank and meticulously inspected each every inch of it. "It's certainly not a good sign if I can't be held accountable for the structural integrity of a fish tank, let alone a hermetically sealed underwater tunnel system..."
Korra blinked. "A what?"
"Watertight structure. Anyway, what's up?"
"Uhhhh..." Korra scratched the back of her head. She had completely forgotten why she'd---oh right! "Everything going okay with Baatar?"
Asami nodded. "So far so good. I've already offloaded all weapons development projects to him, so I am officially, as of..." She checked the clock. "...ten hours ago, no longer involved. Clear conscience!"
Korra smiled. "That's great!"
"Absolutely nothing on my mind."
"Didn't have to get my hands dirty."
"In fact, I just shipped off two dozen Satohawks to the front lines with a full compliment of troops and armaments!" She laughed bitterly and glared at her model trains. "At least I can protect your family better than I could my own, right?" Asami huffed and flipped a switch, sending the train cars chugging around the room. She covered her face with her hand and frowned. "I'm sorry. I just---going to the prison was hard, today."
Korra sighed and embraced her from behind, burying her head in Asami's shoulder. "It's all right. It's done, and you don't ever have to go there again."
"Hopefully." Asami squeezed her hands tightly. "There was a moment, and I know this is crazy, but I honestly thought that my dad was going to walk outside through those doors, and it would have been this cruel, horrible trick somebody played on me. Surprise! Your father's not dead! We just told you that so you'd do what we wanted! But at least he'd..." She choked back a sob. "He'd still be alive."
"Did you feel like this when, uhm..." Korra cleared her throat and resigned to hug her tighter. "Y'know..."
"When I went to visit Baatar the first time, you mean?"
"No, I didn't feel like this at all. Excluding our...rather infuriating misunderstanding, that was nothing. I guess in the back of my mind, I always thought that I'd be standing there when he was inevitably released. And then...I don't know. We never got that far," she whispered.
Korra frowned and gently turned Asami around. Asami needed to get out of her head, and she was pretty sure she knew the perfect way and place to do it. She looked up at her with a small smile. "Hey. Let's go visit my parents."
Asami raised her brows. "What? Why? Sorry, that came out wrong. I meant why now? I've got ten thousand things to do and I don't think your parents would like having a mopey guest around the house."
Korra kissed her lightly on the lips. "You won't be mopey, you're hardly a guest, and if we go you can make sure that your defense system is installed right. That'd give me, you, and my parents peace of mind."
Asami slowly smiled. "...okay. I think I can manage that. But then we have to go the Fire Nation right after that to oversee installation there, as well. And then probably the Northern Water Tribe. Every major population center."
"I've never been to the Fire Nation. That'll be really cool!"
"It's beautiful, and I haven't been in a year or so. I think you'll really enjoy it."
"Already looking forward to---"
They turned toward the fish tank as the train cars loudly shorted out in the water in a bright flash of light.
Asami clenched her eyes shut. "I can fix that."
General Iroh grimaced as the latest loyalist raiding party charged toward their position. The United Forces had been trying to retake Omashu for the past month, and every attempt at entering the city had ended in failure. They were at a standstill. A bloody war of attrition. It had gotten so bad that he had actually inserted himself into the fight directly, which he hadn't done since the First Battle of Republic City.
He planted his feet and took a direct hit from a VarriMech's electrical cannon. The energy surged through his body, shaking him from head to toe as it flowed from his arm, to his stomach, and out his offhand. He shot a massive bolt of lightning at the mecha-suit, destroying it utterly and damaging the two closest to it. But there were several dozen more still advancing.
General Iroh took several deep breaths and ducked behind a metal barrier for cover. And then he heard something...odd. It sounded almost like a fleet of biplanes, but much louder, and closer. He looked to the western sky and gaped.
A squadron of Satohawks emerged from the cover of the mid morning fog and flew over the raiding party for a bombing run, eradicating everything below them in a brutal display of explosive, military might. The sheer number of detonations shook the ground and rattled his teeth, kicking up dirt and dust around him and his forces. A second squadron arrived soon after and mopped up the stragglers with some sort of massive lightning cannon that scorched the earth and melted tanks. Cheers and applause erupted from every position and General Iroh issued his silent thanks to Miss Sato.
One of the Satohawks landed in the clearing behind him. The ramp lowered and two squads of soldiers filed out of the back. An officer slid the side door open and hopped out. The man sprinted up to him, ducking his head away from the wind buffeting rotors.
"Sir! It looks like we got here just in time," he said, saluting.
"Indeed you did." General Iroh returned the gesture. "At ease, soldier. I was under the impression that troops were in short supply. Who are these people you've brought with you?"
"Metalbenders, sir. New arrangement Raiko made with the refugees outside Republic City. Enlist in the United Forces temporarily and help take back their homes."
General Iroh raised his brows and looked back at the imposing sight of the city built by the very first earthbenders. "Then let's hope they're from Omashu."