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Star Trek: Into the Inferno
June 9, 2010
A/N: This chapter is incredibly short, but I decided that was for the best. The way the other chapter is planned it will be much bigger.
Zuko and Suki padded silently through the verdant woodland covering the mountaintop. Or even worse, his sister and Ty Lee. I have to be especially be on guard for Ty Lee, he thought, thinking about the woman his sister used as one of her most dangerous weapons. All those acrobatic reflexes make it easy for her to stay silent, and damn hard for someone to detect until she's almost right on top of you. At the thought of Ty Lee, memories of Mai burst into his consciousness. He paused, his mind flashing back to that brutal day only last week when Mai engaged the guards on the loading dock, covering the escape of him and his friends.
I shouldn't have left you there, he thought to himself, his heart feeling as though it were caught in a vise as he relived what had happened that day. You should be with us.
He abruptly felt a warm pressure on his shoulder and Zuko's instincts took over and he whipped back around, prepared to blast whoever came near him. He forced himself to relax when he saw that it was only Suki giving him a curious look.
"You still thinking about Mai?" she asked, concern evident on her voice. Zuko, simply nodded.
His friend released a half-sympathetic, half-frustrated sigh. "You know we couldn't take her with us, right? If we turned around we would've been captured again and we'd all be in that shithole together or worse." She gave a derisive shake of her head. "Besides, even if she had managed to escape with us, it's not like we would be able to trust her as far as we could throw her."
Zuko flinched at her tone. Hearing Suki talk of Mai like that, especially after what she did, never failed to send a surge of anger through him. Drawing himself up to his fight, he glared directly into her eyes. "She saved our collective asses back there, all right? I think that should've at least earned her a modicum trust."
Suki glared right back. "Some trust. She'd have to work damn hard to earn that from me, especially after what happened in the forest in Ba Sing Se." She shook her head in frustration. "That's irrelevant, however," she said a heartbeat later, suddenly sorrowful. "Men and women make their choices, right or wrong, and they have to live with those choices every single day. In the end, we become those choices."
Zuko shook his head slightly, his anger giving way to sympathy. He could tell from the way she was talking that she was thinking about her own burden; her soldiers, trapped in one of the many prisons in Agni's Crater, the Fire Nation capital, far beyond their meager resources to rescue.
"It wasn't your fault," he said, putting his hand on her shoulder, "that your soldiers got captured. It was just... the fortunes of war."
"Do you think that makes it better for me," she blurted angrily, reverting before his eyes to Major Suki, commanding officer of the Kyoshi Warriors. "They were my men, my men. I'm a soldier, like you, and we both know that we do not leave our people behind."
Zuko gave a frustrated sigh, putting his hand on his chin. He admired his friend's commitment but there was nothing that could be done and they both knew it. They didn't even know where her people were being held, and no good officer worth her salt would go off on a rescue mission when she didn't know where to attack. Suki however, was so desperate to wipe away the stain of allowing her entire force to be captured that sometimes he swore she was on the verge of just upping and leaving in the middle of the night.
Can you blame her, he thought to himself. I mean can you really? You've thought of doing the same thing for Mai. Every time he considered it though, his own sense of duty slapped him in the face. His duty was here, now, helping Aang learn to firebend to defeat his father. Not rescuing Mai.
"Suki," he began, launching into yet another pep talk designed to keep her from doing something stupid. "What is an officer's duty while imprisoned by the enemy?" Suki growled, folding her arms under her breasts and looking away from him. "Suki," he said patiently a moment later. "We both know this. What is an officer's duty while imprisoned by the enemy?"
"'It is the sworn duty of every officer to try to escape," she said, reciting the nigh-universal mantra taught in every military science course on the planet. "'If they cannot escape, it is every officer's sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate amount of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy whenever possible.'"
"You did that, Suki," Zuko said, "remember? We destroyed the gondola system connecting the Rock to the mainland? We stole my sister's personal airship? You did your duty, Suki." He put both hands on her shoulders. "We both did our duty."
"Another duty of an officer is not to leave her soldiers behind if she can possibly avoid it," Suki said, sighing. "I've spent the last week lounging around here with Sokka, when I should be out there right now, hunting for my people."
"You know how you can help your people? Helping Aang, helping us to depose my father, bring down my sister, and end this war. That is how you will get your men out of whatever shithole camp my sister has them, and I will one day be able to rescue Mai. All you seem to want to do is go out and commit suicide trying to rescue them by yourself."
Suki turned to look at him, a curious and appraising look in her eyes. "We could both go, just the two of us. You and me, we leave and we don't come back until we've achieved both our aims. We liberate my people and we liberate Mai."
Zuko paused, stunned at Suki's off the cuff suggestion. We could do it, the part of him that was the desperate young man who wanted his love back thought manically, together. It's no more insane than when you left with Sokka. As soon as he thought that, common sense once again slapped him. Hard. We don't know where we'd be going this time, he thought. Not even I have a location and rundown of every POW camp and prison in the Fire Nation. There would be no coming back from that mission.
"I can't do that," Zuko said, shaking his head as the hope in Suki's eyes transmuted to anger. "Aang is going to need a Firebending teacher when he gets back from that supply mission along the Earth Kingdom coast in two days, someone who's learned from the dragons like he did. I'm sorry Suki, we cannot go."
Suki's glare held for another half a second before she sighed and, eyes downcast said, "You're right, as usual, and I'm sorry for ragging on Mai. You're right, I should be more grateful."
"It's okay," Zuko responded, clapping his hand on her shoulder. "It's understandable." The two of them turned to continue their patrol when bright golden orange light suddenly flared into existence above their heads. Caught unprepared, he slammed his eyes shut against the painful glow, turning his head to avoid the light that burned even through his eyelids. After a long moment the light began to fade and he opened his eyes, blinking back yellow-orange spots as he stared up at the sky.
He was stunned to see what appeared to be a rapidly fading fireball, as though a new sun, disappearing into the night. Something had exploded in midair, that much was obvious, but what? Also, why was there no accompanying explosion?
At a loss for words, he looked at Suki, who was staring right back at him in shock. "What," they both said in perfect unison, "was that?" A softer light appeared overhead and he looked up again to see dozens of meteors streaking along the night sky as they tore through the sky off towards the east. As they watched entranced by the odd beauty of the scene, Zuko thought, there's no way this and the explosion aren't connected. He was still watching when behind him, he heard a soft rumbling sound. Zuko cocked his head and listened to the sound as it grew progressively louder, until it sounded like the roar of a tigerlion. Suddenly realizing what was about to happen, he launched himself at Suki and tackled the two them to the ground. An instant later he felt the ground heave as something large collided into the earth at, to Zuko's ears, had to be an obscenely fast rate. He could hear it digging into the ground, forcibly uprooting trees and sending them crashing back down. After what seemed like an eternity of shaking and destruction, the sound stopped and Zuko got up and looked around at the scene surrounding them.
It looked like the gods themselves had decided to rend the forest asunder. Thick hundred –year-old trees were toppled everywhere like child's playthings and the blackened shrubbery lent the smell of burnt foliage to the carnage.
"Zuko," Suki whispered, shoving on his arm. "Look." She pointed towards what appeared to be a large gash driven through the soil. He followed the line with his gaze, until it finally ended with a sight of... something.
Zuko approached the object carefully, studying it. It was yellowish and had a roughly boxed shape, was over twice his length and as tall as he was. "What is it?" he asked.
"I don't know," Suki responded
They were interrupted by a loud banging sound that seemed to come from the back end of the vehicle. Running around to the side, they realized that the sound was coming from a metal plate in the center of a large cylinder sticking out of the box. That's no plate, he realized. That's a door.
Abruptly the banging stopped, and the plate slid open with a dragon's hiss.
To Be Continued.
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