An Interrupted Life
The mood at the table in Rohan's dining room was heavy, its occupants troubled. A chef from the kitchen (one designed to serve the entire academy) presented the group food while sitting down to his own plate, overhearing the conversation. Rohan let him, stating that the man who cooked for the academy had to be the trust-worthiest person he could find, given the responsibility of feeding not just him, but all the island's students. Reading the letter he was given between bites of a fried eggplant dish (a recipe that one of the other temple masters from the north insisted he must try), Rohan's face appeared stern.
"Dr. Mao knew he was being targeted. He knew why. He didn't know by who however."
"But now we have a clue. White Lotus. But why would White Lotus want…"
"OK, back up!" Shing interrupted. "Since when are you the Avatar?" The look on Tong's face again turned sullen.
"I'm not. I just have the powers of the Avatar. Earth, fire, air, water, all that stuff."
"But Korra is a…"
"An impostor," Rohan answered. "The real Korra by my estimates has been dead for 20 years, the same age as Avatar Tong."
"Don't.. call me that. I'm not the Avatar. I'm basically a super soldier."
The next person to interject was Kushina. "So, is this why you left the city to move to the Fire Nation? And why you went to college in the Northern Water Tribe?" Both Tong and Rohan nodded.
"After Korra severed the connection to the past Avatars, there was a schism in the order on how to treat her successor. Half wanted to use the Avatar as a figurehead until the accumulated knowledge caught up with the vessel, which is what I think they're doing with the impostor. The others, like myself, wanted to educate the next Avatar as a human, not a being greater than humans. So Tong, with the help of his father, spent equal parts of his education with the four nations, posing as a native bender, so he would know not only their bending techniques, but also their culture, their way of life, and their needs and wants as a society. We couldn't replace ten thousand lifetimes of experience, but we could raise a leader to be wise and just."
"Which society did you like the best?"
"Kushina!" Tong shouted defensively. "You can't expect me to answer that!"
"And the list?" Tong asked, presenting it to the group. Rohan sighed.
"It appears your father knew some names, some connected to White Lotus, some not. However, it doesn't appear he knew the ringleaders. Such a force would probably prefer to keep their presence…hidden."
"Well why not contact the real Korra?" the chef asked.
"Were we talking to you?" Tong snapped, only to receive a rebuke from Rohan.
"It's a perfectly valid question."
"I know! And I've tried, both meditating and even going to the spirit portal by North Point. I'm not connected to anyone. Where Korra's supposed to be, there's just…static."
"It's like a blurry picture. Like something's supposed to be there, but I can't make it out. And I don't know why."
"So what's our next move?" Shing asked. Kushina however, was less enthusiastic.
"Look, it was wonderful seeing you all again, but fighting an ancient conspiracy? I have to go back to work tomorrow! You can't just expect me to drop everything and dedicate myself to this!"
"And if you…huh?"
"I was kinda hoping we could meet again without all this crap to deal with," Tong answered. "Can you at least meet up with us before we leave?"
A bit confused, Kushina soon turned to feigned anger. "Sure, but you need to take me somewhere nice for dinner." The chef looked offended at the comment.
"What's wrong with my cooking?"
"And no foiling bank robberies."
"That was you guys?"
Both Kushina and Shing immediately pointed fingers at Tong, who fumbled for an explanation.
"Well, the thing about that is, um…"
"It was all over the news!" Rohan shouted. "Be more careful! We're trying to hide from your enemies!"
"You think they'll kill me?" Tong asked. Rohan shook his head.
"They're White Lotus. They know killing you will only begin the Avatar cycle anew. And the consequences of breaking the cycle could prove to be apocalyptic, even if they knew how."
"Well that's good…"
"I said they wouldn't kill you," Rohan continued sternly. "There are many ways to make a man useless without killing him. Mutilation, psychological torture, endless sedation. Techniques of torture as old as the four nations. You are not invincible. Don't act like you are. I hope if any of my lessons stuck with you, it would be that."
Megaroad Incorporated had a bit of an odd history. What emerged as a start up company following the end of the first Unification War soon grew into a military powerhouse due to its willingness to supply the then new Earth Kingdom with weapons, including upgraded models of mecha tanks from their former provider, Varrick Industries. While Varrick Industries was happy to supply the new Earth Republic with weapons, Megaroad soon found itself as the Earth Kingdom's primary military vehicle supplier, in particular, their own model of mecha tanks, the 'Engine Armor' series. No one of course, discussed the fact that the first products of Megaroad were reverse engineered from Varrick's own designs, or that its founders, disgruntled engineers from Varrick's firm, likely took the designs with them when Megaroad was founded.
Over the past 70 years, the weapons and the company got larger. Primitive flamethrowers (which could easily backfire when up against a fire bender) were replaced with more advanced Shocker cannons and metal repeater guns. Smaller competitors in motors and weapons like Cabbage Corp were bought out. New technologies were implemented by Megaroad and its competitors, primitive windows replaced with advanced camera systems allowing a pilot sealed inside a cockpit to see every angle of a battle without the vulnerability of a glass view, with radar, sonar, infrared, UV, and countless other ways to find a target available at the pilot's fingertips. New air and ground vehicles were made to support them, with new technology helicopters and jet propelled aircraft replacing the ridiculously inefficient hummingbird designs of old. A new factory in a town outside of Republic City known as Xinxiang was built as people moved further away from the main city in the pursuit of living and working space. And of course with the need for new ideas came a need to recruit new employees to come up with them.
For Kushina, the company had been her employer for the last eight months. They had recruited right out of college following an internship, leading to a position with testing and research. Today however, was her first full day as an engineer, a position she had been gunning for, ever since beginning her studies. She had made sure to dress for the occasion even, wearing full business attire and even heels (which she normally found obnoxious). Her guide, having walked her through the office she was assigned to, soon led her to a hangar that the office overlooked. In front was a large machine, six meters tall, humanoid in shape save the large dome where a human's head would be. The grayish paint on the machine reflected the pair looking on at it, the unit unmarked save for some numbers and letters on its right shoulder.
"Lovely machine isn't it? The EA-08 Duck Bat; the backbone of this company's portfolio. The first and last word in mecha warfare; a machine far superior to the Ox units Varrick Industries is pumping out."
"It is an…impressive design."
"And that is why you are here."
"I'm sorry sir, but I thought I was working on a new design."
Kushina's guide, a black haired man in a blue collared shirt and black pants, chuckled. "In due time, newbie. Right now, we're facing a mass delivery to the Earth Kingdom due in six months, and they agree that the deadline needs to be met earlier. So rather than create a new machine from scratch and modify our production line, we plan to offer an upgrade to the unit we already have. Don't worry, you'll get your chance to make something new once this project is done."
"So what do I do first?"
"I'm…sorry?" Kushina asked with a noticeable look of confusion on her face.
"A pilot suit. We need you to test some of the new designs for performance issues. You have done test work before, correct?"
Control to Operator 1A. So how is it? A voice asked from over the radio. From the inside of the Duck Bat, machinery hummed to life, screens showing the outside of the machine while numerous buttons and other switches lit up.
"It feels like my last job. "
It pays more. Now we need to test some issues with the engine, particularly acceleration and reversal. Once that's done, you can give your impressions to the team.
From inside the machine, Kushina gripped the two control sticks, one on each side of the machine, and prepared to hit the accelerator pedal. However, as she did so, all the machinery in the cockpit went dark, leaving her in total blackness.
"Control, this is Operator 1A, please come in! Repeat, control, this is Operator 1A! My test unit's gone dark!"
Without any warning, the central monitor hummed to life, repeating a plain white message over a black background.
BRING THE AVATAR HERE TOMORROW AT MIDNIGHT OR YOU WILL DIE COME DAWN.
Before she could question the statement, the machinery all lit up again, as if nothing had happened.
Operator 1A, what button did you press? Kushina for her part, was equally confused.
"No idea what happened Control. I got ready to accelerate and the test unit went dark."
We'll have some of the boys take a look at it. Come on out.
Looking on at the computer at her new workstation, Kushina did her best to brush off the message. It had to have been a prank. No one knew who she was, she was just a new engineer! Tong flat out said he wasn't the Avatar! She was due back in the testing ground in half an hour, so rather than ponder the error, she began to set up her local account on a company laptop.
"A new email? Already?"
The sender was an email she didn't recognize, but didn't have any relation to the company, just random numbers and letters. The subject and body were both the same.
BRING THE AVATAR HERE TOMORROW AT MIDNIGHT OR YOU WILL DIE AT DAWN.
"Security checked out both the Duck Bat and your laptop. There's no sign of any sort of tampering. And we can't trace the email because of an ISP blocker. So, what happened?"
"I don't know!" Kushina shouted defensively.
"You know Avatar Korra?"
"Look, we're going to keep a close eye on you today. But those tests need to get done. We swept the Duck Bat twice for signs of malfunction or tampering and found nothing. So…"
"I'll be fine, Kushina replied dismissively, heading back towards the hangar.
The rest of the day passed without incident, although just to be safe, the live fire tests that were supposed to be done were postponed in favor of more maneuverability testing. The whole process was a bit exhausting, as the testing was more about seeing the small issues than trying to push the machine to its limit.
So it was with relief that Kushina was able to head back to the locker room and sign out for the day. However, when she did, she noticed someone had left her a present. A letter with a white lotus flower.
She knew whom she had to visit.
Oh Kagome, you know we can never be together, for you are betrothed to…
Best of Pro-Bending returns with a look at…
Avatar State, Yip-Yip!
Today on 'Before the Nations' – The renewed civil war between the Earth Republic and Earth Kingdom: Who is at fault? Joining me today via satellite are Senior Minister Wuji Shen of the Earth Kingdom and Congressman Hsiao Zi of the Earth Republic. Now boys, let me remind you that the United Republic is officially neutral, so don't take it out on me.
The Earth Kingdom will no longer suffer the insolence of the secession and propaganda from the rebel states! It is by divine right that we must be united!
It was your king that called for the split!
After he was disposed! He had no right to call for dissolution when the royal line of succession clearly named a leader in late Emperor Bahn! Your resistance was illegal and the men behind it used Kuvira's disposal to gain power!
Nonsense! The Great Emperor is just a power-hungry tyrant!
The force of the slap was hard enough to knock Tong from the couch where he was watching television in the guest dorm. Looking up, he saw a familiar face, looking absolutely furious.
"You come back into my life and the first thing you do is try to get me killed! Now someone wants me dead because they saw me watch your little Air bender duel!"
"Killed? What's going on?"
Examining the letter one last time, Shing shook his head. "Bring the Avatar here tomorrow at night or you will die at dawn. Seems open and shut."
"And the little accessory was designed to let us know who it was", Tong continued. "White Lotus knows I know about them, and they want to use people I know to bring them out."
"This was my first day", Kushina lamented. "First day and I'm about to lose my job because some jackass came back into my life and decided I was going to go save the world."
"We don't seem to have much of a choice", Tong lamented. "And here I was finally trying to relax. We'll head there tomorrow."
Kushina sighed at the idea of yet another intrusion in her life, but Shing was less optimistic.
"It's a trap."
"Obviously. But I'm pretty sure I can handle whatever they throw at me, once we scout the area out."
As both of them nodded, the pair finally noticed the small paper box he was eating from.
"Oh this? Roasted sky fowl legs."
"On Air Temple Island?!" Shing asked incredulously. "Do you know what the Grandmaster is going to do if he finds those?"
"Oh come on, what about respect for other cultures and all that?"
"What about the fact that we have a cook right here and he gets furious when people snub his cooking?"
"He's not going to…"
The sound of running was heard as a familiar figure looked in the room.
"I heard the noise! What's…"
"YOU SORRY LITTLE INGRATE!"
The following day went a bit more smoothly for Kushina, save the letter accompanied by the white flower that read "Warehouse #3." She was familiar with the area. It was used for simulated battles. When she met up with Tong and Shing outside, the pair resigned themselves to the obvious dramatics of their host.
The route to the warehouse was surprisingly unguarded. Kushina reasoned that there was no point in stopping them from going in; the trick was to keep them from leaving. Soon enough, they entered via an open door designed for vehicles and other heavy equipment, only to see it seal shut.
"She left us!" Shing shouted, seeing she was outside when the door slammed. "This whole 'career girl' thing has gone to her head!"
Before Tong could agree or disagree, spotlights began to focus on a glass-enclosed room perched above the mock battlefield. Inside, a man waited for them.
"The Amon mask?" Tong taunted. "What are you, a computer hacker?"
It's effective, the suit wearing man answered, speaking into a microphone he held with his gloved hands. Besides, my identity is no concern of yours.
"Then why threaten someone just to bring me out here?"
Because, the masked man answered, we can't have someone running around pretending to be the Avatar. It…disrupts the balance.
Gritting his teeth, Tong answered, "I'm not the Avatar. I'm just going to kill her."
Yes, yes, I'm sure you are. She murdered your what, father, mother, girlfriend? Heard all the sob stories. Everyone's a lonely soldier boy carrying a spirit vine on his back. In your case though, your little rampage is going to end before it begins.
Sitting down, the masked man pressed a button a nearby console, as machinery began to whir. On the other end of the mock battlefield, a machine began to rise to the surface. A mecha tank, colored black and red, only with a skull shaped head instead of a dome. The machine's eyes glowed red as it finally rose; rifle at the ready.
What the hell is that?!"
Yes, how rude of me! Allow me to introduce you to your executioner: The PA-01 Govarian!
"Govarian? That's not even a real word!" Shing shouted in protest.
Quiet! It's branding! And it comes complete with a 35mm Shocker cannon as its primary armament, along with two anti-personnel shrapnel launchers, four grenades, and for up close fighting, a cartridge powered bayonet punch on both arms! Not to mention this particular model is equipped with two anti-personnel rocket launchers on each shoulder! It slices, it dices, and it dominates the battlefield over the inferior creations of Varrick Industries! Now it's time you see what it can do up close!
The machine roared to life, raising its rifle as it dashed towards the pair. Wasting no time, both Tong and Shing sent wind at the machine, hoping to knock it off its feet. Unfortunately for them, the machine stood firm.
Secure firing anchors, designed for stabilization when using heavy weapons. And quite resistant to the tricks of air benders.
Immediately, the mecha's rifle pointed at the pair, firing a massive energy bolt.
Tong and Shing could do nothing but dash for cover behind an artificial patch of rocks.
"We can't fight that thing head on!" Shing shouted. Tong shook his head.
"Watch me!" Tong leapt into the air directly above the machine, his hands releasing a powerful stream of flame. However, the machine remained undeterred, raising its rifle and nearly frying Tong with the ensuing energy bolt. The patch of rock and dirt he bent as a shield was destroyed instantly, knocking him back several feet.
Did you really think we wouldn't make a machine that could stand up to fire bending? We have big plans for this mecha tank, plans that you're continued existence is not a part of!
"If I am the Avatar," Tong began even as he ran for cover, "then you know killing me will just restart the cycle!"
Fully aware of the Avatar cycle my friend. Quite frankly, it will be far easier to deal with a two year old than it would a 21 year old.
Energy bolts from the mecha's rifle peppered the battlefield, destroying the rocks and other cover the pair attempted to use for cover as they attempted to dash out of the way. Both knew that a single blast would be the end for either of them.
"Got any ideas?" Shing asked even as another blast almost singed his robes.
"The pipes on the roof," Tong answered. "If I can rip them off, I can metal bend some weapons."
"How long will that take?"
Both ducked behind metal debris, looking on at their opponent as it marched forward relentlessly.
"Three minutes. Two to form the blades, one to get a clean shot at the robot. Can you draw his fire for that long?"
"Do I have a choice?" Sighing, Shing immediately leapt from the safety of the debris into the line of sight of the mecha tank. This time however, rather than fire its rifle, a small cannon inside its shoulder released two blasts, with dozens of tiny metal pellets going for the air bender. Using a quick current, he was able to send all of the debris back save two, which struck him on the right shoulder. He yelped, falling to the ground, clutching his injured shoulder as the machine loomed above him, a large spike emerging from a metal gauntlet on its arm.
A floating pipe, in the nick of time, knocked the machine off its feet just as it was about to deliver the killing blow. As it rose to its feet, both the pilot and the masked observer noticed just what had swung the weapon, even as the two pipes shifted and contorted into twin blades resembling massive long swords.
The mech raised its rifle to strike down its foe only for one of the blades to slice through it with a clean blow, leaving the barrel on the ground. Undeterred, rockets from the two shoulder launchers began to fire at its target, Tong dodging the ones, which the blades couldn't deflect. Before another volley could be fired off, one of the blades ran right into the launcher, causing an explosion to rip the machine apart with a mighty BOOM!
Both Tong and Shing looked on at the destroyed machine as its pilot emerged from the wreck, soon falling unconscious as he escaped his destroyed mecha tank. Wasting no time, Tong took the remaining blade and flung it towards the observation deck, only to find that it stopped short of its target.
Reinforced glass, the man replied. I must admit, that was impressive, defeating a mecha tank all by yourself. Truly the steel and skill of the false Avatar is not to be underestimated.
"Then you're going to give up?" Shing asked. The man replied with a dark chuckle.
Your overconfidence is astounding. You thought I didn't have a Plan B?
Another elevator began to whir and move, this time, with three mecha rising on to the battlefield. Tong immediately recognized the large cannons on their backs, looking on with dread.
You may have bested my prototype in combat, but not even you can survive this. Rain death upon the battlefield. Leave nothing left.
With no obvious escape route, and no way to avoid the mortar fire that was about to come, the pair waited for the end. But it never came.
With a powerful CRACK, the mecha tank in the center drew a blade on its right arm and attacked both of its compatriots, disabling them before speeding to the other side of the battlefield.
"Kushina!" Shing yelled, overjoyed. "You came back!"
"Don't get sappy about it! Let's get out of here!"
Noticing a ladder on the back of the machine, both men hung on for dear life as the machine's mortar blew a hole through the warehouse door. As it sped away from the compound, the masked man calmly looked on, reaching for a small phone inside his suit.
"They escaped. Yes, the consulate. I'll be there in the morning."
"Look, I just want to say, that I'm really sorry for dragging you into this," Tong began, even as their ride sped away from the warehouse of Kushina's former employer.
"I appreciate it, but let's worry about those two choppers following us first!" Sure enough, while the roads were thankfully empty two helicopters sped after their prey, ready to blast them to pieces.
"I got this one!" Shing shouted, leaping into the air. Immediately a missile was fired at the air bender, who only grinned.
"You just sealed your own fate."
A powerful gust of wind pushed the missile back at the pursuing helicopter, its pilots barely able to eject as the machine was destroyed. Shrapnel pelted its partner, which abandoned its pursuit even as Shing calmly landed on the ground, the mecha tank waiting for him.
"So yeah," Tong began, as the trio stopped to take a break, Kushina exiting her vehicle, "I am so sorry about all this."
"It's not going to help me get my job back," Kushina lamented.
"Yeah, that bridge has been burned, along with that machine that tried to kill us."
"Sorry. But where do we go now?"
"Hate to say it," Kushina answered, "but we have to walk. Driving a hijacked armored war machine into a local town is going to cause people to ask way too many questions. Let's lay low for now, and we can deal with this later." Tong and Shing both nodded in agreement.
"We'll head back to Air Temple Island in the morning,"
As the helicopter travelled towards its destination, the passenger inside looked on at a video screen. The person on the other end was not happy.
"He has the power of the Avatar, even if he claims he isn't. The good news is that he is alone; he doesn't know everything. He didn't know who I was.
And the prototype?
"The Govarian was just that, a prototype. You know, test things out, and if they don't work, improve for the next model. We did obtain a great deal of knowledge on how to use improve our mecha tanks, after all.
The Avatar Army needs to be ready in six months. That means having machines that we can mass-produce for our soldiers.
"I know that, Inquisitor. Everything will be in place. We just need to deal with our friend."
We have a task force dedicated to dealing with Dr. Mao's boy. Your primary objective is to ensure that the Avatar Army is supplied with weapons and vehicles, and that they eclipse the quality of anything the nations or the United Republic can put against us.
"That's a remarkably simple request."
Oh, and the final product? Make sure it has an actual name. I have no idea what a Govarian is.
"I thought it sounded cool."
Random nonsense strung together without meaning would just make us look bad. Finish the tanks, and give the production model a better name.