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Book 3: Doorways
January 2nd, 2015
The United Forces deploys Alpha in the Invasion of the Southern Port. John learns that an old friend has betrayed him as Harmonic Convergence begins.
The airship's hangar was filled with a flurry of activity. Airmen and soldiers raced about like a frenzied ant colony. A hum rose over the commotion, elevating in volume as a number of mecha tanks began to start up. Korra weaved her way through the crowds, relying on her airbending training more than she had expected in this situation.
At the end of hangar stood a mecha tank that was larger than the others. Its chest section and helmet were raised, allowing a few mechanics to work at its insides. As she approached, the drill that made up the end of the machine's right arm began to spin, letting off a high pitched whining sound.
"All motor functions check out!" Asami shouted over the noise before the drill came to a halt.
"Stash my gear in the hatch on the left leg." Moving closer, Korra could finally see the pilot of the massive machine. John was wearing a white undershirt, a pair of brown trousers, and boots. A waterbender was working on his extended left arm. For a moment she was confused. The frigid arctic conditions of the Southern Water Tribe would require far more clothing then what he was wearing.
"There she is, come closer, it's not as bad as it looks," John said when he noticed her standing there. As she stepped forward she could begin to understand why he was wearing so little clothing. Heat was pouring out of the metal hull like it contained a raging bonfire.
"What got you volunteered for this job?" she asked, glancing at the medic who was finishing his work.
"Apparently they needed someone crazy to pilot this thing," he shot a glare toward Asami, "And apparently willingly jumping from the wing of a biplane at a thousand feet without a parachute was the kind of crazy they're looking for." Korra muffled a laugh before she climbed up onto the machine. Ignoring the heat, she leaned into the machine so that she was eye to eye with her fiancé.
"Be careful down there tough guy, okay? It'd be a shame for you to die so close to our wedding," she said. John cocked his eyebrow at her.
"You're wishing ME luck? I'm not the one who's going to the heart of Creation to fight the manifestation of darkness itself. If anyone needs luck, it's you." The corner or her mouth tugged upward at that, but she still leaned in and placed her forehead to his.
"Just be careful," she whispered. For an instant, his eyes looked so old, and filled with sorrow. But then, determination began to replace the sorrow. Determination to see this last battle finished, determination to come back to her alive. With one last kiss, Korra turned, jumped from the machine, and disappeared into the throng of people.
"All hands, prepare for Mecha Drop," came a voice over a loudspeaker. An alarm began to sound as flashing yellow lights filled the hanger. The other Mecha Tanks rolled forward toward the center of the room. Mechanics for each tank secured a pair of cables to the shoulders of the massive machines.
The floor began to retract beneath the tanks, leaving them dangling over the open air. John gripped the controls of Alpha in anticipation as he watched his comrades being lowered out of sight.
"Hey Asami, what's the shock limit on the legs of this thing?" he shouted over the noise.
"They were designed to be dropped from airships for a hard landing if that's what you're asking, hey, what are you doing?!" Without replying, John pressed his feet into the pedals beneath his feet and the machine lunged forward. He plunged out of the hanger, bracing the legs and arms for the impact. Alpha slammed into the street, sending Northern Water Tribe soldiers running for cover.
The Southern Port was a war zone, ships and buildings burned, waterbenders were throwing everything they had at the mecha tanks that were already on the ground. Overhead, the sky was filled airships and biplanes. Metalbenders wearing a uniform that he didn't recognize rode their cables down from the underbelly of one of the airships to a pair of rooftops before they began firing at the Northern Troops in the streets.
John pulled the handles that controlled the arms back, causing the Alpha to rise up and stand at its full height. He watched as several soldiers turned and ran at the sight of the massive machine. The gunfighter smirked to himself, until two mecha tanks rounded the corner. Bullets pinged off of the enemy tanks as they advanced, fired by the metalbenders on the roof.
As they advanced, electrified cables shot out of the arms toward Alpha. John plunged his feet into the pedals, launching the machine forward with the drill held at the ready. The cables rebounded off of the metal monster, unable to find a place to latch on. Panic seized the Northern Pilot as Alpha's drill slammed into the visor of his machine.
The enemy tank crumpled beneath the force of the impact, forcing the machine back into its companion. John wasted no time in slamming Alpha's fist into the visor of the enemy tank, crushing what was left of the pilot. The other mecha tank slammed it's now smashed companion out of the way before it charged the Alpha.
Alpha grabbed the outstretched arm of the tank and yanked downward before slamming the drill into its midsection. The resulting action ripped the arm from the machine and launched the rest of the tank into a nearby storefront. A scream came from within the tank as John launched Alpha forward and slammed the drill into the visor, killing the pilot instantly.
"Flight O Seven One to Alpha, come in Alpha." John jumped at the sudden voice inside the cockpit, not realizing that Asami had installed a radio inside of the Mark II unit. He hesitated for a moment, before he reached up and pressed a button next to the visor.
"This is Alpha, is that you Carter?"
"Aye it is indeed, Captain. We got big time problems up here and we could use your help. The little scrap of Northern Air Force is headed straight for the Port, and our main ground force is about to hit the beaches."
"Carter the United Forces Air Corps has machine guns. Blow them out of the sky like you do in the simulations."
"That's not the problem. It's WHO'S leading the flight."
"Well then who's leading it? Alexander? Cause if it is you have my full permission to..."
"This isn't about your blood feud with the former Grandmaster! It's Leon, my own brother is leading the attack!" John froze like a block of ice. Leon, his old friend, close enough that he had considered him his brother. The idea of him fighting for the enemy just simply didn't make sense. But as he stood motionless, the idea began to sink in and make his blood run cold. Carter had no reason to lie about such a thing, and he was the only other person on the planet that could recognize Leon instantly besides himself.
John had given Leon everything he could short of his own life: his friendship, his loyalty, his position as the next Grandmaster, every last tie he had connecting him back to his world. The thought that the amount of trust and friendship he had given had been betrayed made him sick to his stomach.
"Alpha, LOOK OUT!" John had no time to react as a massive force slammed into the tank from behind. The tank was launched forward, and the firebending pilot slammed his head into the visor with enough force to knock himself out.
"Alpha. Alpha, come in! JOHN!" John's eyes snapped open, only to be squeezed shut at the sight of light pouring in the visor. He blindly punched outward and hit the transmission button as he began to look over his situation.
"What do you want Carter?" he asked, irritation clear in his voice.
"Are you alright?"
"Peachy, got a headache and I think I'm bleeding but other then that, A-okay."
"Headache? You sure that's it?"
"I'm pretty sure, Carter. When did you turn into a worrisome handmaid?" John asked.
"When I saw your tank take a full on kamikaze pilot to the back." Now the firebender blinked in confusion. It was clear that whatever had impacted Alpha had the force to knock the machine off of its feet. Now that his vision had cleared, he could see black smoke with a bright blue background. The Alpha was laying on its back.
"Can you walk Cap?" John reached up and turned a small handle to the right. Steam hissed out from around the door before the sheet of metal was explosively launched outward. Frigid Arctic air rushed into the shell of the machine, instantly cooling the firebender to an uncomfortable temperature.
"I think so," he said, fighting back a shiver before he set to undoing the straps that held him in the machine. With that done, he climbed out of the metal hull and got his first real look at what had happened. The shattered remnants of a biplane lay strewn about the area around the machine. One of the engines from the plane lay plowed through a nearby house, it's flames slowly igniting the wooden frame of the building.
Shivering against the cold, John jumped down from the mound of broken metal and tore open a hatch on the left leg of the machine. It was all there; his long leather jacket, his hat, his twin 1911s, his father's revolver, and the sword he had recovered from the Everstorm. He secured the 1911s in their shoulder holsters, just below his armpits. The old Colt Single Action Army gleamed eerily as he slid it into a holster on his right hip, and he secured the sword on his back between his shoulder blades after putting on the jacket.
As he placed his hat upon his head, two men wearing Northern Water Tribe uniforms appeared on the street. They held their hands at the ready, waiting to bend at him if he made any sudden moves. John studied them with a cold, observing gaze.
"Turn and run, or kneel and surrender. This city is in Republic hands now," he said.
"These are Water Tribe lands, and if we are to die by the hands of Republic invaders, we will take a few of them with us!" John showed no reaction other then widening his stance and pulling his jacket back to revel the Colt's handle, readying himself for what he was about to do. The Water Tribe soldier who had spoken thrust his palm outward toward John, sending a stream of water toward the firebender.
John took a half step back, moving his left food behind his right and turning his body so that the stream of water sailed past. With a simple flick of his wrist, he drew the revolver and fired twice. The first bullet struck the waterbender on the left in the center of the chest, plowing through his heart. His body folded in on itself as he fell backwards from the force of the bullet. The second bullet passed through the jugular of the second waterbender, and snapped his spine when it exploded out of his neck, killing him instantly.
"I'm really starting to hate it when people get the urge to make a foolish stand," John muttered to himself as he holstered the gun and slid the jacket back into place. The roar of a plane's engines brought his attention away from the dying enemy soldier to the sky. A single biplane with the golden emblem of the United Republic on the side was circling overhead. Thrusting his fist into the air, John fired a single bolt on fire into the sky.
Instantly the plane banked around and flew over his head. A single metal cable shot out from the wing, wrapped around his waist, and yanked him upwards. The gray sky whipped around him as he thrashed about in the air. His eyes were clenched shut against the freezing wind. Gripping the cable, John straightened himself out rather than let himself flap about like a rag doll.
"Grab a'hold, senior!" came a voice from overhead, yelling over the roar of the wind. The firebender grabbed the wing of the plane and pulled himself up into rigging. In the pilot seat sat Carter, the goggles and his blown about hair giving him the look of a mad scientist. On the opposite wing stood a young man wearing the metalbender uniform he had seen on the rooftops below.
"Roland, what in the hell are you doing here?!" John shouted, his eyes bugging out of his head as he recognized his friend. The former Refugee engineer had aged by about five years, having grown taller and filled out into the form of a man in his early twenties.
"Following the fight, boss. We'll explain when we get back to the fleet!" the sandbender replied. Carter said nothing as he banked the plane toward the open sea, leaving the burning city behind. Just as the Southern Port began to become nothing more than a haze on the horizon, the trio found themselves amongst the United Forces Air Fleet. Below them, four aircraft carriers launched and landed various amounts of biplanes while the battleships steamed ahead to lend support to the landings. Carter leveled the plane out over the large command airship, allowing the two benders riding on the wings to drop onto dark metal hull. With that, the air commander banked away, swinging his plane about so that he could land on one of the carriers.
"Now, do you mind explaining to me what in the hell you're doing here?" John asked, turning his attention to his old friend. Roland didn't answer, but rather flicked his wrist. A metal hatch flew open nearby, reacting to the bender's command.
"It's been just over five years since we left back home. It started off as we planned: rebuild and keep the peace. But then, Leon went off the reservation," Roland started as he began to climb down the ladder into the ship. John followed behind him, his ears and eyebrows perking up to listen for Roland to continue.
"You recall what happened at the Tam River." John froze on the ladder as the memories raced through his mind. The screams of dying and drowning Equalists echoed through his mind.
"Leon didn't take the death of his brother very well, it ate and ate at him until it drove him insane with grief. He became so convinced that it was your fault that he found a way to contact Alexander and pledged his loyalty to him," Roland explained as he led the way through the corridors.
"I did everything I could to save Collin's life," John said, although it seemed more to convince himself than Roland.
"I know you did. Collin died a hero, and both Sam and Carter saw it that way. But Leon didn't. And now he is commander of Alexander's Air Force." The two gunslingers came to a halt before a large metal door. Roland quickly turned the wheel that rested in the center and allowed the door to swing inward.
"Gentlemen, if you could please alter your course toward these coordinates, I would be forever in your debt," Roland said as he laid a piece of paper with hurriedly scribbled lettering on it before the man standing at the ship's wheel.
"Absolutely not! General Iroh has ordered that this ship stay on course for the Southern Port!" the Ship's Captain snapped, turning toward the two young men who had just stormed his bridge.
"Captain, General Iroh has given me the freedom to commandeer any form of transportation so long as it concerns the outcome of this operation. Now, I suggest you grant Captain Seguin's request, or I will throw you overboard and find someone who will," John replied, his voice low and steady as he crossed the room and stood face to face with the Captain.
The man's eyes burned with anger, but they also contained a hint of fear. Roomers and stories has been circulating the United Forces regarding this new officer, stories about his actions and accomplishments since he had arrived in Republic City. Most of it was little more than myth, stories made up by soldiers, sailors, and airmen to fill in the blanks. But right now, John was relying on some of that myth to get his way.
"Helmsman, adjust your course to the coordinates given to you," he said, a bead of sweat running down his temple. The firebender nodded once before he returned to Roland's side, watching as the backdrop beyond the bridge's glass changed.
"Are you sure that the Avatar is ready to face what is coming?" the metalbender asked out of the corner of his mouth.
"Korra can handle anything she's about to face, I have faith in her abilities."
"And what about you? Do you think you can fight Leon?"
"I don't have a choice in the matter, do I?"
"You two were brothers in arms since you were children, it must make you feel something."
"Roland, I loved him like a brother. I gave him everything I could short of my life. If this is how he chooses to repay me, then I will answer him in turn," John said as he watched the sky flare and turn purple beyond the glass. In an instant, the different colors of the aurora were dancing against the purple hue.
"Harmonic Convergence has begun. The Doorways are open and all of Creation is as risk," he said before he turned to face Roland, "will you stand by me, in the hour when I stand alone and unsure of myself?"
"Even as Heaven and Hell rain fire down upon the Earth," Roland answered without hesitation. John nodded once before he returned his gaze to beyond the glass. He took an uneasy breath and began the long process of calming his mind. His thoughts were a blend of rage over Leon's betrayal, and worry for Korra's coming battle with whatever waited for her beyond the Spirit Portal.
"Contact of unknown classification off the port bow, sir." Both gunslingers looked in the direction that the Ensign was pointing. Sure enough, a large, dark airship was making it's way toward them. John took a breath and gripped his weapons with both hands.
"If this shall end in fire, Leon, then we shall burn together."
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