It wasn't so much that Asami didn't see it coming, but rather she was hoping against hope that she'd be wrong.
Part 3 - This M.A.D. World of Ours
Section 1: "Seaweed"
Asami looked out over Republic City's downtown district from the relative comfort of her office at the height of Future Industries Tower. After two months of cleanup efforts, which had been an economic boon for both herself and the entire construction industry, her city was finally starting to look like its old self. Sure, spirit vines were still firmly wrapped around anything, including a rather large one that had nested in through one of her full walled windows. No plans existed to attempt to remove them, and Asami truly hoped nobody was crazy enough to try that all over again.
Life had slowly but surely returned to the heart of Republic City. It was good to see traffic again far down in the streets below her, the little dotted satomobiles zipping in and out of lanes and through the freshly repaved and bended roads. Of course, not every street was finished yet, and the reconstruction effort was far from over. If she squinted, she could see a few earthbending crews working on alleys and side roads.
However, the biggest problem had yet to be overcome. Until today, she thought.
Asami glared down at the corpse of the fallen Colossus; unmoved since the Third Battle of Republic City. A fleet of RCPD airships and squad cars surrounded the area where it had finally fallen, no doubt keeping citizens and the press out of harm's way. Due to giant mecha's size and weight, and platinum lining, it was impossible for any amount of metalbenders to lift and move the pieces out of the city. Lucky for everyone, Asami had figured out an alternative solution.
Asami smiled as she watched a squadron of her second-generation dragonfly hummingbird suits fly past her building and toward the Colossus. The new designs were twice the size, and were superior in nearly every way. Faster, more maneuverable, and stronger. She had modified their orientation so that they were flown horizontally, like a biplane, and even added set of rotors to work in tandem with the larger set of wings. In fact, it was starting to look more like an ornate airplane rather than a mechasuit.
The hummingbirds hovered in formation above the fallen giant. They descended in unison and locked their landing gear onto the edges of the 'head' piece of the mecha-suit. A few moments later, little by little, the big eye sore was lifted into the air and above the skyline of the city. It flew right past her window, just as the flight path instructed.
She needed to be sure.
Asami heard something knock on her other window, the one with the spirit vine growing through it. She wrinkled her nose and turned around to find a very wind battered, crooked grinned Korra. Glider in one hand, takeout bag in the other. Asami laughed as she checked her watch. 1:30. Right on time. She smiled and slid the window open.
"Somebody order lunch?" said Korra.
"Delivery by airbender! Okay, I hadn't thought of that." Asami smiled and pulled her inside, taking the glider and bag from her hand. She gingerly placed the glider on her desk and the bag on her table. "Sorry I couldn't get out of the office for lunch today. I need to be on call in case something goes wrong with the relocation."
"It's no big deal. I understand how big a day this is, y'know, for everybody." Korra closed the window behind her and sat down on the spirit vine, her legs hanging out over the edge. "I actually came up with a fun little side bet we could start. Maybe add more people if they're interested. It's...sorta dark, though."
Asami raised a brow. "Dark? You? Gambling?"
"Yeah, yeah, but I don't know, this seemed kind of fun. Take the edge off." She looked over at Asami's desk and jabbed her thumb at the day's newspaper. "The Earth-Thing keeps changing names, really often, so I thought, hey, I should put some yuans down and guess what they'll finally choose. What do you think?"
"You just want to get back at people for that betting pool about us, don't you?" she teased. "You know very well that you'll have a good amount of influence over that final decision."
"No. Maybe. Fifty yuans on Federation."
"Fifty on Confederacy and twenty on Union." mused Asami. "I like to hedge my bets." She opened the bag and wafted the steam that rose out of it. It smelled of fresh noodles-seriously Korra? "Narook's?"
Korra nodded, smiling. "Yup! It was a bit of a trek, but hey it's my lunch break." She shrugged. "Might as well, right?"
"Yeah." She handed Korra a warm sealed cup labeled 'tiger-seal, veggies, seaweed' in scratchy writing, and a pair of chopsticks. "I'm assuming this one is yours."
Korra took it and instantly began shoveling the food into her mouth. "Good guess!" she said with comically puffy cheeks.
Asami smiled and went to work on her own food, sitting down on top of her desk. It was nice to have a form of consistency in her life, even if it was just something as simple as lunch with Korra. Everything else could explode, but nothing could stop lunch. Apparently. "How many more of these do we get? Before you have to go?" she asked thoughtfully.
Korra sighed. "I don't know. Not many. The United Forces are already mobilizing east, mostly scouting I think." She scratched the back of her head. "Think this might be the first time I don't want to get back into the action so quickly," she said, smirking. "We should probably talk to Bolin and Opal about getting long distance to work. I mean, they're still technically doing that."
"Good idea." Asami nodded tentatively. "They've certainly managed very well." She poked at her food. "Did you see the new hummingbirds?"
"Yeah! They look awesome! I had to dodge a couple on my way here, since you also invented air traffic. Sorta. They create a lot of wind, so it's hard to get around them." She chuckled awkwardly. "I almost crashed straight into somebody's office."
Asami raised her brows. "Oh." She quickly took a notepad and pen out of her pocket and jotted down a reminder to fix that problem before an airbender gets hurt, or worse. "...I'll be sure to fix that. Sorry."
"No, it's fine, really. There's no way you could have known that would be an issue."
"I don't think that would really hold up in court if somebody got hurt."
Korra crooked her lips to the side. "...oh. Right. I guess it's a good thing I'm not the kind to sue, right?" She grinned.
"You have no idea. Can you imagine what would happen if a non-bender's creation hurt an airbender? Everybody would start pointing and screaming 'equalist' all over again," she grumbled.
Korra hopped off of the vine and joined Asami on the desk, carefully moving a few stacks of papers to make room. "They wouldn't do that. It would be pretty terrible, but I don't think that argument would really...nobody would take it that seriously. Not after everything you've done, and hey, we've got proof of that!" She pointed to the film reel hanging above her executive chair. "Do I need to find your mover projector and fail miserably at trying to use it again?"
"No, that's all right." Asami chortled and managed a tiny smile. "I think half of the city's expansion budget was funded by that mover." Her eyes widened. "The fact that the words Varrick and philanthropy can be used in the same sentence is baffling."
"And they can change back, too."
"Hey, what's with the sudden burst of pessimism? Today's a big day, and a good one. At least, I think it is."
Asami shook her head. "You're not wrong, but I don't think I feel it. I thought I'd be more uncomfortable. Moving that thing," she said, gesturing out the window. The second piece of the Colossus was just lifting off of the ground, and it looked like the hummingbirds were having an easier time of it. "I'm just...calm. Like it's just another day."
"How is calm a bad thing?"
"Because it probably means I'm suppressing something."
Korra tilted her head and slurped a long noodle past her lips. "Yeah, okay, but maybe you're not." She rubbed her forearm. "Maybe it's because you don't blame the weapon, but the one who used it."
Asami nodded slowly. "You're probably right. It's just a tool. An empty shell."
"You're not...going to put it back together, right?"
Asami shook her head. "No, of course not. Raiko will beg me to, so will others, but that's not what's going to happen." She shoved some noodles into her mouth and chewed, continuing to speak. It was a bad habit, but she knew Korra found it impossibly adorable, so once in a while...well, why not? "It's a technological marvel, even if it was created for nothing but destruction. I'm willing to bet there's a lot we can learn from it, even in pieces."
Korra was staring off into space, and clearly distracted by something. "Hope it works."
"Korra, please stop wallowing in the fact that we'll be apart."
"It's…" Korra avoided eye contact. Stubbornly. "It's nothing."
Asami narrowed her eyes. "Spit it out. You've got something on your mind, and it wants out of your mouth. I've got nothing but time while that mecha is moved, so let's hear it," she said, bluntly. Sometimes, Korra needed a swift punch to the emotional stomach to get her going. It was just how she operated.
Korra frowned and set her noodles down on the desk. "I, uh, I've been feeling really guilty about some stuff I haven't told you about. Or, I guess, showed you." She gestured to something invisible in the room. "Y'know, with the tree."
"Korra, we couldn't have shown one another everything. That would have taken over forty years. If you weren't ready to show me-"
"That's not the point. I said I'd give you the whole story, and I didn't. I lied."
Asami neatly resealed her noodles and placed them beside Korra's. She looked her over calmly. "You're not one to do that without a good reason."
Korra huffed and crossed her arms defiantly. "Okay, yeah, but I still lied. Which isn't okay."
"Korra, do you want me to be angry at you?"
"I...sort of? I don't know."
Asami gripped Korra's forearm and found her eyes. "Look at me." She did. "It's probably not as bad as you think it is."
Korra winced. "I don't know, this is pretty bad. At least, it wasn't a good thing to leave out."
"Wanna know how to fix it?"
"Talk about it."
Korra snorted. "Yeah, fine." She shifted uncomfortably and stared out the window. For around a minute, she just chewed her lip. Patience, ironically, was important to keep in mind around Korra. In some contexts, at least. "You're not the first person I've...been with intimately since I got hurt."
Asami raised her brows. "Oh. Three years is a long time, Korra. It's nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. I saw other people when you were gone, too."
"That's not really what I mean." Korra shook her head. "There were more than a few."
"A lot. I'm not…" She pursed her lips and looked away. "This isn't me bragging. I don't like that this happened. But it did. I just, it wasn't even for stress. Well, it was, but not exactly." She scowled at herself. "I'm not saying that I slept my way across the Earth Kingdom, but… I'm also not saying that I didn't."
Asami cleared her throat. "The Earth Kingdom is a big place."
"Yeah. It is. See what I mean?" She pinched her brow. "I mean, it was mostly women, since, aheh, much less risk of something going wrong," she blushed intensely and covered half of her face. "I don't like lying."
"Korra. It's okay. You were hallucinating half the time you were gone. I'd want to forget some of that, too. Or at least not think about it." Asami tried very hard not to smile, because it wasn't appropriate. "The women, though, that does actually explain quite a few things I was wondering about."
"Practice is practice, even if I don't remember most of their names. Or the nights at all."
"Did you just need a place to sleep?"
Korra shrugged. "Sometimes. Sometimes, just because." She grumbled and balled her hands into fists. "I just hate lying to you, since this...helped. First with the wheelchair, the nightmares, and then the flashbacks. And the other stuff. I could walk, but I couldn't really walk, and..." she trailed off.
Asami took Korra's fists and unfolded them, freeing her fingers. "If it helped you, then that's enough for me." She cocked a brow and looked to the side. "And to be perfectly honest, I sort of appreciate that you did leave that stuff out. That would have been really weird to watch."
Korra frowned. "I still lied-Ow!" Asami flicked her forehead. "What was that for?"
Asami smiled. "Woe is me. Cut that out, will you? Everything is fine. We're fine."
Korra blinked a few times and chortled into a smile. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, lunch?"
"Yes! Clean up earthbending has become exhausting."
Korra took a deep breath and smoothed out the pavement of a particularly shattered street. The earth hummed beneath her boots, healing the scars and cracks in the ground with just a tad of grace. Eight hours a day. Six days a week. For two and a half months.
Bolin closed up some gaping holes in the walls of the storefronts along the street with a few swift motions. "Hey, Korra?"
Korra rolled her arms and looked over at him. "Yeah?"
Bolin raised a stool with earthbending and sat down on it. "Well, you're gonna have to go back east sooner or later. Probably sooner, and I want to come with you. When you do." For just a moment, his cheery demeanor vanished, and Korra saw the regret and guilt he must have been carrying with him. "I don't think I'm really the construction kind of guy. More, uh, the opposite. Against bad guys, obviously, but, you get my point."
"Bolin, you never have to ask that kind of thing. I always want you to come along when I go off to do...Avatar things." She scrunched up her face. "Unless it's diplomatic stuff, because we both hate that but you actually have the option of not going."
"Actually, I got pretty good at those kinds of things while working under Kuvira, even though I was accidentally lying, so I might be able to help with that." He blinked twice. "Wow. Saying that out loud surprises me, too."
Korra smiled. "I don't think it's surprising. You're a mover star, and you've always had a way with people."
"Opal says it's my 'honest charm'," he said dutifully, placing his palm over his chest. "I am inclined to agree with her because it makes me sound like a good person."
"...you're already a good person. Why would you need to sound like one?"
"Well, a better person, then! Come on, Korra, don't ruin my girlfriend's compliments. I wouldn't do that to you."
Korra smirked. "That's only because she'd stop saying all of those nice things to you if you did, since she's so protective of Asami and I." She scratched her head. "For reasons I still don't quite understand. Does she have a crush on both of us, or something?" She crooked her lips to the side. "If she does that could lead to a whole...bunch of...weird stuff."
"I seriously hope it's not that." Bolin buried his head in his hands. "I have no idea what it is. I keep trying to figure it out, but all she ever says is that she's just so excited about you two. I don't get it!" He looked up and flailed his arms. "It's not like she's jealous of you two for being married or something normal like that!" Bolin slapped his hands over his mouth and turned bright red.
Marriage? Well, she'd given it a little thought, but that was...no, Korra. Slow and steady. Stop fantasizing about all that and get back to-wait Bolin Beifong?! Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes!
"Bolin!" Korra gasped into an open mouthed smile. "She wants to marry you?"
"I didn't say that."
"No, but you implied it, and I refuse to believe that you'd be with her this long without-"
He huffed and tossed her a small box, which she caught. She opened it to find a very pretty silver ring. An engagement ring? Right, yes, that's what those things were. It was a United Republic thing, apparently. Engagement ring? Engagement ring! There was an engagement ring in the box! Korra wanted to scream with excitement because one of her best friends was going to get married probably, but that would sort of ruin the whole...process of Bolin actually asking Opal. To marry him.
So she didn't do that.
"How long have you had this?" she whispered as she walked closer to him.
He shrugged. "A year. Well, that one I've had for a few months. I lost the first one after Kuvira caught me, Varrick, and Zhu Li trying to run. It's the same size and style, though."
She earthbent his stool into a bench and sat beside him. "It's beautiful. What kind of metal is it?"
Bolin smiled a little. "Mix of platinum and silver. Mostly silver. It's...supposed to symbolize greatness and integrity. I can't metalbend, but if I could, I could bend the silver, which would I guess also bend the platinum since it's blended in."
"Wow, you put a lot of thought into this. It's pretty much perfect." Korra inspected the ring more closely. "Aren't these supposed to have an engraving or something?"
Bolin nodded. "Yeah, that's sort of why I haven't asked her yet. I don't know what I want it to say, and before you start giving me suggestions like Mako did, all of which were terrible I might add, I want to figure it out on my own." He rolled the ring between two fingers. "This is just one of those things you've got to do alone, or it won't mean as much, you know?"
"Yeah." Korra nodded. "Who's doing the engraving?"
Bolin smacked his forehead.
"I forgot the whole part about actually needing a metalbender! Who isn't a Beifong, or some random soldier, or a cop, to engrave it oh so you, I guess." He laughed and hid the ring back into the box, placing it straight into his pocket. "Would you mind helping this poor lost lavabender on his path to marriage and love, Oh Great and Powerful Avatar?"
Korra rolled her eyes and shouldered him playfully. "Wow, I'm so happy to be chosen by default. Of course I will. I'd be honored. Just give the word and I'll...uh, put the words on it."
"Great! Thanks, that really helps a lot."
Before she had a chance to answer, one of Asami's...flying machines, painted in black and blue, came swooping down into the street, the pair of rotors creating a powerful buffeting of air around it. It no longer made sense to call them mechas or hummingbirds, since the decently sized cargo hold in the back of it made the comparison nonsense. It still had arms and legs for landing gear, or something, but...that was about it. Oh, and a beak-thing for a nose. It certainly still ornate, though.
Korra protected her head with her forearm, and Bolin turned away entirely, using his hands to block bits of dust and debris that were being kicked up. It hovered in place for a moment, the rotors tilted, and then it landed on the ground.
The cockpit hatch slid open, and Asami popped her head out. "Oh, good, I didn't knock you off your feet. The last few test flights of these prototype third generation models were tossing people around like ragdolls. Guess I fixed that."
Bolin waved. "Hey Asami! Cool, uh, thing!"
"Thank you, Bolin. Still deciding on a name. How are you?"
"Doin' good. You?"
Asami fiddled with the controls and the wings folded inward, just like a biplane. "Very well."
"I think you might have outdone me with your delivery style." Korra smirked and looked up at the sun. A little past noon. Right on time. "Hope you brought enough for Bolin, too!"
"Of course I did," she said as she hopped out of the mecha. "Courtesy of Pema, actually." She trotted around to the cargo ramp as it slid open. Asami vanished inside of it for a moment and then reappeared with a very large box. "I have to encourage this kind of workout routine in any way I can, you know," she said slyly. "The two of you have spoiled Opal and I with all of that muscle."
Bolin went through a series of victorious and heroic poses. Pro-bending to Nuktuk, and back again. "Hey, it's not easy looking this good. Takes lots of hard work." His stomach growled louder than a skybison. "...part of which is eating."
"Don't worry, Bolin. You're not gonna starve." Korra chortled and stomped her foot, earthbending a table and another bench across from her own. "Yeah, guess all the exercise is definitely a plus." She flexed her right arm thoughtfully. "Feels good to be back in peak form, I have to tell you. Really good."
Asami put the box on the table and opened it, revealing a feast that only Pema could deliver. Sweet buns, rice, veggie dumplings, steaming noodles with vegetables...more vegetables. So many vegetables. All of it was delicious, of course, but none of it was meat. "I'll bet. Now, let's dig in before my lunch break ends."
Korra grinned and went to town on the dumplings and soon found herself in an eating contest with Bolin. It was starting to become pretty commonplace for them to end up doing that kind of thing. At first, Asami had tried to compete with them, but after one too many instances of stomach problems, she stopped. Korra fought Bolin over the last bowl of rice, the two of them getting into an impromptu sword fight with chopsticks before Bolin finally proved the victor by using his hands to scoop the rest into his mouth.
Korra pouted and slammed her fists on the table, causing everything on it to jump. "Hey, that's cheating! You can't use your hands!"
"I don't remember us ever specifying a rule that we couldn't," he said, with a big grin.
Asami looked down the street. "Guys?"
"Hold on, Asami, this is important," said Korra. "It's bad manners, Bolin!"
Bolin shrugged and put his arms behind his back. "Oh, and eating contests aren't? Last time I checked, which was pretty recent since Opal just reminded me of that the other day, they're considered very rude."
Asami stood from her chair. "Guys!" she said firmly. "We have to clear the road."
Korra looked down the street to see a large tarp covered truck approaching. "Oh. Thanks, Asami." She smoothed their makeshift table and chairs into the earth while Bolin grabbed the box of food and walked off to the side of the street, next to Asami's flying machine. It probably wasn't smart to eat in the middle of an intersection, but then, the roads were closed off for construction.
Excluding the vehicles the workers used, of course.
Korra joined the two of them and watched the truck pass them by. The tarp flew up for a second as it turned down toward the bay. Korra's heart fell into her stomach.
It was full of spirit vines.
Bundles of them. Flashes of the Colossus and it's raw destructive power surged through her mind's eye. She couldn't let that happen again. It was wrong. Wrong on so many levels.
"Spirit Vines!" Korra airbended her glider into her hands. "Asami, get that thing in the air!"
Asami was already strapped into her...thing, with Bolin sprinting into the back, when she turned around to them. "I'll call Lin! Go after them!" she yelled, giving her a thumbs up.
Korra nodded and sprinted away from the machine. She opened her glider and threw herself forward, airbending the wind currents to lift her several stories in a few seconds. It wouldn't take her long to spot the truck.
"On your left!" boomed Asami, through external speakers.
Korra turned to her left to see Asami's bird-thing zoom past her at what was frankly a startling speed. The massive wind-wake of the flying machine sent her spiraling before she righted herself. Korra pouted and rose higher.
"...thought you fixed that…"
Korra found the truck driving along the bayside road, expertly swerving around traffic. Asami was already nearly on top of it, and any weapons she might have on that thing would probably set off the vines. Or something. It wasn't clear to her how they exploded.
Still, Korra wasn't going fast enough.
She dove downward on to the roof of a building and, in one fluid sequence, collapsed her glider, set it on the ground, and lunged forward again with a burst of firebending. She streaked through the air, flames flowing freely through her fists and feet. Life. Energy. No rage.
Well, maybe a little. Spirit weapons were an abomination. Korra growled and her flames grew, surging her forward. Faster and faster. She caught sight of the truck again, and Asami clearly trying to block its path without blowing herself up, or hitting the other motorists, driving down side street after side street. They were playing a dangerous game of pig chicken, with the flying machine rising and falling in front of the truck. Bolin was leaning out of the back and slinging slabs of earth at the tires, which appeared to be armored.
Korra dropped down and maneuvered through a narrow alleyway, redirecting herself with little blasts of airbending to avoid crashing into the buildings and vines. Fire would just cause more damage, and that wasn't good. In the distance, she could hear police sirens. Good. Quick response time.
Korra bursted out of an alleyway and onto a main street just as the truck passed by from under her, along with Asami's bird above. It didn't throw her off balance that time. She didn't have time for that.
Korra brought herself close to the ground, dodging the increasingly chaotic traffic the chase was causing, and poured more chi into her fire, searing forward with an extra boost of speed to get ahead of the truck. They were almost to Kyoshi bridge, and she couldn't allow that. She grabbed onto the side of the grille and used it swing around to the front with a loud clank. Korra pulled herself up into the windshield's field of view and glared at the two morons in the truck. "STOP THE TRUCK!" she screamed at them.
The moron who wasn't driving, a middle-aged woman with brown hair, lobbed several fireballs at her through the passenger side window, all of which were poorly aimed. Korra glared at her and tried a different tactic. Specifically, breathing fire all over the windshield. Flames licked across the glass and vanished quickly. The car didn't slow down, and the driver honestly looked more annoyed than scared.
Korra grunted in frustration and held the grille tighter, crushing the metal. "All right! You asked for it!" With a powerful roar, she slammed her boots into the ground with all of her might. A wide column of stone erupted from beneath the truck's undercarriage, sending it flying in a forward tumble above her, scattering several bundles of spirit vines across the street and a few into the bay. She rolled to a stop and caught the truck mid flight with a rather straining use of metalbending.
Before she could lower it to the ground, Asami's bird-thing latched on to the bottom of the upside down truck with it's landing gear and held it in place, hovering about twenty feet above the ground. With a heavy sigh, Korra released her hold on the truck.
"That was a close one. If you hadn't stopped the truck in another few seconds, I would have had to try a pretty crazy maneuver to catch them," said Asami, through the external speakers, as she lowered the inverted truck to the ground.
"You good?" Bolin yelled above the din of the rotors, his head poking out from the end of the ramp. He hopped down to the ground and sealed the truck in with two walls of earth.
"I'm fine, thanks." Korra took a moment to catch her breath, bending over and putting her hands on her knees. She gave them a thumbs up. "Nice job, you two!" Busting heads always made for a better day, if she were being honest with herself, which she was.
Three patrol cars came screaming down the street and skidded to a halt with blaring sirens. A squad of officers fanned out and surrounded the truck. Lin sprinted out of one of the cars and stared at the display.
"Good work, Sato!" she yelled.
"I know. Your response time is still terrible."
"Hey, I saved your butt that time, missy! You'd be in jail if I didn't respect you so damn much!"
"Why are you screaming that? You're the Chief of Police!"
"You just answered your own question."
Korra had watched that story in the Tree of Time, but really didn't feel like chewing Lin out for it. The RCPD officers dragging the two morons from the truck into a squad car reminded her she had better things to do. She glanced about at the piles of spirit vines scattered across the street. "Lin, you're going to want to secure these into a single pile. We can't lose track of any of them."
"I really miss the days when things were simpler. Didn't have to take orders from random twenty-somethings, and I could just arrest people for vigilantism without the whole world screaming at me."
Korra cocked her head toward the bay, ignoring the comments entirely. "A few bundles fell into the bay, so I'm gonna go fish those out."
"You do that, kid." She took her hand radio off of her belt and clicked it on. "'Seaweed' is secure. I repeat, 'seaweed' is secure. Corner of Yueshore Drive and Fifth, over."
Korra sprinted to the edge of the bay and dove into the water. It took her only a few moments to find the scattered vines, since they were still tied in bundles. She spun, rose, and broke the surface with a water spout that flowed back onto the shore, carrying the vines along with her current.
Lin scowled and growled into her radio. "What? Where?!" She looked out over the bridge. "SATO! SECOND TRUCK! SAME MAKE AND MODEL, HALFWAY ACROSS THE BRIDGE!"
"On it!" The bird-thing rose, blasting another whirlwind across the area as it streaked toward the bridge.
Korra's eyes widened and she waterbent herself dry. "You have got to be kidding me."
She looked toward the bridge to see the birdy-thing dive and actually latch on to the speeding truck. It rose into the air, slowly but surely, and turned back around toward them. Around thirty seconds later, the truck was dropped onto the ground where Bolin was ready to trap it between two slabs of stone. The RCPD dragged two more idiots out of it, and that was that.
It had all happened so quickly that Korra could hardly believe it.
Korra checked the back of the second truck, pulling aside a small part of the tarp. More spirit vines. Just as many as were in the first truck. She balled her free hand into a fist and punched the truck's chassis, denting it. "I thought we were done with all this vine stuff."
Bolin clapped her on the back. "Yeah, me too." he frowned.
Korra snorted. "...this probably means I'll be doing Avatar things pretty soon."
"And, if things are like this, you're probably going to need lava, instead of, y'know, it just being useful."
"Probably." Korra turned back toward the open street to see Asami landing her thingy-bird-plane. She walked over toward it and gestured for Bolin to follow her. "So, that was the crazy move you were going to try?"
Asami slid open the cockpit and laughed. "Yeah, more or less." She made a circle in the air with her index finger. "The original plan was to do a spin and use the torque of the rotors to force it to stop by flying in the opposite direction, but then I realized…" She slid out of the...thing and onto the ground with a grunt. "That it would just be showing off, and I could accomplish the same thing by picking them up. Of course, I didn't know the magnets were strong enough until I grabbed the first one."
Bolin raised his hand and pouted. "I, for the record, would have rather seen the spinning thing. It sounds cooler."
Asami tapped her chin and furrowed her brow. "...well, maybe if I had some sort of magnetic net, or a large electromagnet, I could pull it off, but really it's just inefficient."
"Okay, sure, I totally get that. But it'd be really cool."
Korra nodded along. "He's right. It'd be really, really cool."
Asami laughed once. "One track mind."
"Passionate-minded," she countered, with a lopsided grin.
Asami lowered her eyes. "Passionate-minded, huh? Oh, I'd very much like to see that. You'll have to give me a demonstration."
"Even if it's just me showing off?"
"Wow." Bolin wiped some dust off of his jacket. "Still here, by the way. I mean, I can leave if you two want privacy, or whatever, but we still have the vines to deal with, so…" He jabbed his thumb behind him, at said pile of vines. "Thinkin' that's more important at the moment. Also you're in public and Lin is...still...over there."
"Don't bother, kid! Those two lovebirds have a nasty case of tunnel vision!" beckoned Lin, laughing. "You'd better get over here before they start breaking public decency laws and I have to break out the cables!"
Korra refused to think about cables. It was not the time. No. Not the time. Vines. Have to focus on the vines that are basically just planty green cables, damnit now all she can think about are the cables. "Please don't!" she blurted.
Asami wrinkled her nose. "Korra, I think she's just kidding." She slapped her forehead. "Oh for...I was on break! I was on break and this happened!"
"...yeah, but you own the company."
"That doesn't mean I can just goof off whenever I feel like it! At least, not anymore!"
Lin stomped over to the two of them and forcibly dragged them over to the pile of Vines. "Okay, that's enough of that. Remember how these things nearly destroyed the city? Yes, you do. So we're going to focus on the that." She shoved them both forward. "Go on, start with ideas, because all I know is that these things are bad news. Well, besides locking down the borders of downtown and enforcing a mandatory security check for every person going in or out of the area. Already called that in."
Bolin frowned. "People are going to hate that."
"Know what they hate more? Their homes exploding."
"That...is a good point."
Asami grumbled and crouched down next to the vines. "There's only one reason why someone would want spirit vines at all, let alone in this quantity. Weapons. Ones that we have no defense against. Well, no logistically sound one, since Korra can't be everywhere. And we don't even know if that would work twice..." She stood back up and bowed her head. "This...there are a lot of scary implications here."
Korra blinked. "Scarier than a giant spirit cannon? That doesn't seem possible."
"Yes, well, that's...typically how things work. There is always something more." Asami glanced back over her shoulder, looking...exhausted and terrified and sick.
Korra gripped Asami by her shoulders and searched her scared eyes, biting her lip with worry. "Hey. You just went from okay to...I don't what this is, but you look like you have a fever. Explain it to me. Can you? Maybe that'll help."
"I...this is all just...ideas. Theories. There's...uhm..." Asami stammered and started breathing very quickly. "Damnit…" She closed her eyes and after a few moments, color returned to her face. "Okay. I'm okay. My imagination got the better of me for a second. I'm okay."
Korra tilted her head. "Are you sure?"
Asami furrowed her brow. "Absolutely."
Asami was not okay.
It couldn't be that simple. It just couldn't be. It...no. That's not how it worked.
She stared at Varrick with unblinking eyes. "Run that by me again."
"Asami, I don't think it's possible for me to---"
She slammed her fist on her desk. "Do it again."
Varrick flicked his hands in the air. "Fine, fine. I don't see the point, but whatever." He took a small piece of spirit vine in one hand and a battery in the other. He slapped them together with a loud clap and then wiggled his fingers in a wide circle, making explosion noises.
Asami buried her head in her hands. "That's it. Electricity. That's all it takes to make a bomb."
"A dirty bomb. An inefficient, sloppy bomb, but yeah, that's all there is to it. A vine this big would probably blow up this room, more or less. Surprised me, too," he said, without any of usual grandstanding or eccentricity. "I can't help but feel like this is partially my fault."
Asami gripped her hair, lest she tear his head off. "It is entirely your fault!"
"Hey, I wanted to make a battery, not some crazy purple death ray or anything like that! I was doing something noble for the Earth-whatever---"
"You were doing it for profit. I swear, Varrick, I do not have any patience for this right now."
"Okay, fine, for profit! But I didn't want this! How am I supposed to sell weapons if the weapons I'm selling kill everybody?! I'd be bankrupt faster than a...than…" He snapped his fingers, clearly searching for a word. "...a rocket boat? I let Zhu Li sleep in today, so I don't have my usual...thing. With me. Which I guess are words in this case…"
Asami looked up from her desk and fought the urge to leap across it and wail into the man. "You created the potential for this kind of weapon. For this level of destruction."
Varrick narrowed his eyes. "Asami, both my wife and I have tried to blow ourselves up to prevent this technology from developing, so yes, I realize that." He steepled his fingers together and leaned back in his chair. "Look, Asami, you're getting too caught up in the bad stuff that could happen." He snapped a finger at her. "Not a great way to live, saying that from experience."
"If I don't do that, then how would I figure out what I'm supposed to be stopping in the first place?!"
"Accept that things are bad!" He yelled.
"I already did," growled Asami.
"Don't interrupt, I'm going somewhere with this!" He countered, just as passionately. He stared at her, waiting.
Asami looked at him like he'd just called her desk a cheating harlot. "...which is?"
"Oh. Thought you were going to interrupt me again."
"Why would I--"
"Moving on! The stuff exists. Spirit stuff. Can't change that, nothing we can do about it, nothing anybody can do about it." He drummed his hands on his knees. "Ever heard the expression that if it looks like a hogmonkey and tastes like a hogmonkey, you probably drank cactus juice because hogmonkies don't taste like anything?"
Asami pinched her brow. "No, and I don't think anyone else has either."
"Exactly my point! Nobody would think of that because it's crazy and impossible. Know what else is crazy and impossible?"
"Talking to you for more than three seconds?"
"Close, but no. Already disproven! We've been talking for more than an hour, hah!" He smacked his palm down on her desk. "I'm talking about a way to stop this kind of weapon, even after it's been used. Maybe even when it's being used!" He leaned back in his chair and put his...bare feet on her desk. "The way I see it, we have two options. We can sit on our hands and do nothing, and watch everyone we know and love die. Or…" He grinned and steepled his hands together. "You can stop treating me like a piece of human garbage, and we can work together to figure out a way to beat this thing."
Asami swallowed, both physically and her pride. Integrity too, most likely. Her head was pounding. No choice. No way out on her own. An impossible problem. Weight of the world on her shoulders, and suddenly she realized that it's probably how Korra feels most of the time. And if she could do it, again and again, then...well, she could too. "We have to try."
"That's the spirit!" Varrick jumped out of his chair and clapped his hands together. "Okay, first thing's first!" He blinked and looked at her blankly. "Uhhhh...you. You go first. I have no idea where to start."
Asami glowered at him but decided that it wasn't worth the effort to strangle him. "Idiot. I have a few leads on spirit energy, but..." She opened her drawer and slammed the five books she'd checked out from Wan Shi Tong onto the desk. It hurt her more than she thought it would to realize that, technically, she was proving the old owl right. His knowledge was being used for war. "I want your word that we're not going to be building weapons. Just defense systems."
"Yeah, I'm with you there. Hundred percent." Varrick picked up the top book and inspected it. Upside down, flipping through pages, shaking it out, smelled it, that sort of thing. Ugh. "Where'd you find these things? They look, and smell, older than dirt."
"Well, then they're perfect! What better way to learn about spirit energy than books from that crazy place!"
"Don't you still have your research notes?"
"Nope. Blew 'em up."
"And have my work stolen? No thank you!"
"Well, then do you remember any of it?"
"Forgot it! On purpose! Before you ask, neither does Zhu Li. Her memory is scary selective."
Asami covered her face with her hands and fought the growing urge to beat that smile off his face. "I hate you so, so much, Varrick."