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The fifteenth chapter of Book Two of
|Learning to Fly, Part 1: The Apprentice|
June 4, 2011
Leah struggles with both mastering airbending and her feelings about being the Avatar.
Knowledge and understanding...
Aang's words now made perfect sense, especially since her natural skill had decided not to emerge during her gliding training so far... Besides, she had followed science's lead out of places sheer bending power or prowess had failed both her and others before her. Therefore, it was a natural choice for Leah to ask her good friend Sierra, already a proven pilot, to explain the basics of the science behind flight. However, it seemed a little more than what she had bargained for. Roll, pitch, yaw, stall, lift, drag... All the terms and their meanings danced around inside her head in a confused two-step, bumping into each other like clumsy couples in a too-small ballroom...
"Leah you're not concentrating and you're barely taking any notes..."
"Sierra, it's almost midnight! I'm tired! Beside, you seem to forget I was forced into becoming a junior high school dropout!"
"Right! A dropout who invented glassbending after one chemistry class! Come on! You're not giving me 100%!"
"Boy, you're starting to sound like some CEO or something..." Leah said with a mean smirk...
Sierra did not take it well "Fine! Help yourself!" and with that, she stormed off the desk and lied down on her bed, her back against Leah. Leah stood up and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Sierra... Come on! I'm sorry, I was just kidding!"
Her friend just fumed silently, pretending not to see her out of the corner of her eye.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? – I know I shouldn't have gone there..." Leah implored.
"Totally uncalled for, mate..." Sierra said in a low, quiet voice.
"I know – please come back to the desk..."
"I think I'll stay here and call it a night - just rest..."
Leah shrugged and shook her head. "You know, I think that's the best idea you've had so far today if you ask me."
"Well – I didn't ask you!" Sierra snapped as she threw a pillow at Leah. Leah simply bent a breeze and blew the pillow right back at her face... Leah formed her lips into the typical "O" shape that signals surprise, but was unable to hold in the laughter..."Ho, ho, ho! I'm sorry Sierra!"
"Not fair! You know the rules! NO BENDING!"
It wasn't long before a full blown pillow fight had broken out and management had to call to ask for the ruckus to conclude. However, the concierge's intervention had come only a split second too late for Leah who was cradling a sore jaw in her left hand.
"Leah – I'm sorry!" Sierra pleaded. "I just wanted to teach you some respect, not maim you..."
Leah continued towards the bathroom without turning around, trying to ignore her friend's guilty giggles. She opened the faucet and let the water run over her right hand. She then used waterbending to heal her jaw muscles. As the water worked them back into place, she addressed Sierra:
"You know, that sleeping plan you mentioned earlier is starting to sound real good now..."
"I guess so..." Sierra really was sorry about hurting Leah, so she conceded to go to bed without feeling sleepy out of plain guilt. In a few moments, she had changed into her jammies and was tucked beneath the covers. Leah immediately followed, and then she turned out the lights. Then, one of those pensive, deep silences ensued – the kind that only emerges when the lights go out and you are left alone with your thoughts in the dark... Sierra broke it soon enough:
"I'm so sorry I hurt you Leah..." no response came.
"I don't think I've ever actually said this, but I never could have gotten this far without you. You didn't have to stay, but you did. Thank You."
That was unexpected – especially after their quarrel the day before. Sierra's mind raced for an answer, as the details of this past year since leaving Alice Springs flooded her head like if they were being projected on a screen. What could she say? What would she say if Leah knew of the times she had wanted to leave – tried to leave, even...? It was then that Sierra realized that she hadn't left Leah's side, and she hadn't asked herself why...
Then, the ugly notion she had been pushing back into the furthest possible corner of her psyche finally sprang forward: she really had nothing better to do or nowhere better to go. Her life after her Father had left had become a still, blank page, just waiting to be written on. Not a single scribble in nine years. She had been patient, stoic, and steadfast – until, finally, it seemed like she had been forgotten. She felt expended, abandoned...betrayed even. A stranger with superpowers needs me to go around the World with her? Sure! It's not like anyone will miss me...
The length of the silence that followed her comment made Leah suspicious. The quiet sobs that followed made her worried. She sat up in her bed, not really knowing what to say or what to do.
"Sierra, what's wrong?"
"How can I not be with you?" she answered between sobs "You're the only person I've ever known who seems to need me or want me around!"
Leah closed her eyes and with a deep sigh, removed the covers and walked over to her friend Sierra's bed. She crawled in and hugged her from behind. She allowed her to cry and vent for a while before whispering her advice:
"Sierra, he's trying as hard as he can, honey. You really need to open up and give him a chance..."
"He doesn't need me! How could he need me and not talk to me in almost seven years!"
Sierra's lamentations pierced the air in the room like a dagger. The searing pain that she had contained for so long had been finally let loose, and like Pandora's ominous gift, it refused to crawl back into a corner or fade away. No – it would not let go of its victim. It would ravage, maim and destroy her. It would tear her little semi-orphan heart to shreds and spit in her eyes and laugh at her face. It would – but someone stood in the way. And that someone was the Avatar.
"Sierra, baby, there's no way that this man I've met just wants to hurt you and take you for a ride. I've met really bad men, evil men, mean people who would do nothing to you but oppress you and hurt you... Believe me; your Dad is nothing like them."
"Everything is such a mess! Why did they have to kill my Mom? Why would he have to leave me like that? Why do we have to run and hide all the time like criminals?"
"The people who have power are wrong. But I'll make things right, I swear - for me, for your Father – for your Mom... Come on; let's go to sleep already, okay?"
Sierra just nodded.
"I love you. You're the best friend I've ever had."
Sierra refused to continue lecturing Leah on avionics. Instead, she suggested studying hang gliding, since it most certainly would be simpler and much more relevant to what she was trying to accomplish. Since information was not readily available in the hotel, they decided that the following day they would head out on a learning quest and try to learn the science behind the subject matter at the Public Library.
The morning light was rich and vibrant and the bright summer sun made the view from the hotel room a dazzling display of the grand spectacle that is New York City's Upper Bay. To the right, was The Waterfront area and to the left, Governor's Island. And straight ahead laid a prime, unencumbered view of Liberty State Park, Ellis Island, and of course, The Statue of Liberty. The girls could not help smiling as they took in the morning view. It was indeed a fine day for an expedition.
As they made her way into the main lobby, Leah's eyes as always drifted up towards the stained glass dome over the staircase. She could not help comparing its bright, warm center to a firebender's flame. In fact, the entire appointment of the lobby area set in deep reds and dark woods seemed to evoke a strange impression from deep within her spirit: "firebending royalty"... Where had she gotten that idea, she wasn't really sure – maybe it was just some strange déjà vu... She would make sure to ask Aang about it if they ever crossed paths again.
She gave off a bright smile as soon as she saw her main man, Hubert, the Marriott's head Concierge.
"Good morning Miss Sánchez! Miss Levin! How can I help you today?"
"Hi Hubert! We're looking to get to the Public Library. Can we walk there?"
"Well, ladies, that depends. Which library will you be visiting?"
Leah was a bit thrown off, "The Public Library..."
"Well, Ms. Sánchez, there's about fifty branches of The New York Public Library all over downtown, some are closer and some further off. You may want to narrow down the options."
"Wow! Well, I have to do this paper on hang-gliding and other man-powered flying machines..." Leah explained.
"Hmm... May I consult for a moment?" asked Hubert.
Hubert took out a guide from under his desk and began perusing the index. He traversed the large volume for a few moments until he exclaimed, victorious:
"Ah! Of course! That's the SIBL for you! It's a bit of a ways off. Would you like me to call you a taxi?"
"S-I-V-L...?" Sierra was quite confused.
"It's the new Science, Industry, and Business Library, built five years ago, on the Centennial of the New York Public Library. It's right where the old Altman Department Store used to be, very close to the Empire State Building, in Midtown."
The girls tried to make sense of the words for a moment, but before they could speak another work, Hubert had already laid a big map on his desk.
"We are here" his finger just grazing the lower tip of Manhattan "You want to go here - Midtown." He then took out a red marker pen and circled their destination.
"That doesn't look so close..." Sierra observed.
"I'm willing to guess a bit over three miles, from the look of it – a good hour's walk. I would strongly suggest a cab."
Leah's "I-really-don't-want-to-take-a-taxi" face was completely hilarious to Hubert, who gave off a good laugh.
"Tell you what, ladies: It says here the library opens at 10am. That gives you plenty of time for a good breakfast."
"That does sound like a good idea..." Leah's stomach quivered as it agreed. Sierra interjected:
"Oh! I've heard of this place in Union Square called the City Bakery. They say they have the best hot chocolate in town!"
"No, Miss Levin: The World." Hubert boasted confidently, wearing a big smile.
"Oohhhh!!!" Both girls exclaimed
"Unfortunately, being that we are in the warm season, the chocolate is off the menu. But I can offer you a very decent alternative..."
Iced Sinful Delight... Had a name ever been more appropriate? Infused with flavors of dark chocolate and a hint of hazelnut, the coffee was sooooo good....not bitter at all. Every sip was full on bliss. They both had bagels: Leah a simple Poppy seed with Cream Cheese and Sierra a Lox Deluxe. They would have gone for seconds, had it not been such an expensive treat (almost $10 for the simple, two-course meal). Besides, they had more pressing matters to attend to. True to Huberts' word, taxis were scarce around Grammercy at that time of day, so they decided to follow his directions for a bus ride up to Midtown.
From the establishment they walked on to Park Avenue South and took the M03 bus up to 34th Street. Hubert had once more nailed it: they were at walking distance from the Empire State Building. They decided to do a brief stop there before heading to the Library. No sense in wasting the opportunity to experience one of the City's most celebrated landmarks...
From atop the old giant skyscraper, they had almost unlimited visibility to every part to the island and beyond. To many others, the sheer grandeur of the spectacle was a humbling experience. However, the young Avatar was emboldened and driven by it, like a young Alexander beholding Persia or Genghis Khan gazing over the Imperial City of Yanjing. She quietly uttered to herself: "This is it Leah – this is your motivation right here. You're going to learn how to conquer these skies..." And with these happy thoughts, she went on her merry until she arrived at the Science-Industry & Business Library.
The Science, Industry and Business Library in Midtown was a very state of the art affair. A long, curved desk in an open, well-lit area lay in front of an automated delivery mechanism (much like those used in drive-through banks) for tomes locked away in stacks located in the upper floors. Leah could barely contain the excitement just thinking about all of the great new advances in gliding that were just waiting to be discovered by them...
"1977? 1981? 1975? What is this?" Leah wore her disappointment right on her sleeve.
"Come on Leah, the only real advancements in avionics after the 60s have been fighter and stealth jets, maybe the space shuttle, but when you boil it down to the mechanics, that's about it."
"You can't be serious..."
"Of course I am! Most commercial airliners were designed in the 60s, with only the Airbus coming out in the 70s. The most recent one I think is the Boeing 767, which came out in 1982 I think..."
"Okay, okay...I get it, Ms. Expert Pilot!"
"Okay – now, let's stop complaining and work with what we have..."
Almost immediately after sitting down, Leah began noticing things about the basics of gliding:
"Look – these wings are huge! The gliders we use are tiny!"
"The wings are big because they're working on their own to generate lift – you're the one who provides that now."
"Oh – right... But, what about the hanging thingy?"
"Frame... Since the wings are stiff and have no rudders the pilots have to roll their weight around to direct the glider. Now – if you could control the currents at the right angles you wouldn't have to resort to that, would you?"
The girls spent a good while analyzing, discussing, taking notes and theorizing about possible scenarios. Before they had noticed, it was 1:30...
"Was that your stomach?"
"Yeah...not even my Avatar powers can make a bagel last that long..."
"I have no powers at all...so..."
"Time for lunch?"
Unfamiliar as they were with the territory, they chose to stick with a general variety fast food franchise for the sake of practicality. Regrets would soon take place...
"Ugh – hate these burgers!" Leah blurted out, almost loud enough for the rest of the patrons to hear.
"I thought you had agreed to this place!"
"I did, but I can't help comparing with the lox bagel, which was otherworldly delicious! This is like cardboard in a bun!"
"Well, too bad we didn't consult with Hubert for lunch around these parts. Let's just eat and get back to it."
"I wish I knew if Keanu finished my glider like he promised."
"We can do that..." Sierra pulled out a brand new Nokia, at which Leah's jaw just dropped. Sierra just replied nonchalantly "It's pre-paid... Hey Keanu! It's Sierra...yeah...the library, the new one in Midtown, close to the Empire State Building...Leah and I are studying hand gliding, speaking of which, she happened to mention that you had promised to finish her glider...yeah...right now? Two hours? Awesome! That should do...yeah...Bye!"
"Can you let me into it?"
"Central Park in two hours – he knows of a nice, secluded place behind the Museum."
The girls finished their fast food banquet and boarded the M03 bus up along Madison Avenue all the way up to 83rd Street, then walked back to the Museum. Keanu had asked them to meet him at the southern end of the grand staircase. The Museum façade was an inspiring sight, which beckoned Leah with the promise of awesome discoveries. However this time her visit was strictly a matter of business, so perusing the wonders of the world of art would have to wait.
Keanu was waiting for the girls with a long, thin leather bag – which was how airbenders usually carried their staffs around the city if they had to go out with them in public.
"Hello girls – this way please."
About 20 more minutes of walking placed them at the edge of what Keanu told them was called "The Great Lawn". As the girls would later find out, it had been the intended original location of the City's Water Reservoir. Luckily for them, the place had been preserved well groomed and unobstructed by trees, so it could be used with a fair degree of safety for gliding practice.
When Keanu had satisfied himself that they could carry on without any significant interruptions from curious onlookers, he unsheathed Leah's new glider. The craft itself was beautiful to behold: the staff was made of dark cherry wood, which played along nicely with the green polyester wings. All of the materials were cut to precise length and were bound together with nylon twine.
"Wow! It's beautiful!" Leah complimented Keanu's handiwork, but immediately voiced her reservations "Are you sure the twine is strong enough, though?"
"The gliders are not meant for long, extended flight. We can cover the boroughs and such, but I wouldn't really go interstate on these babies. So, as long as you don't try to push it too hard, it will be fine. I wish we could get some Koa for these, those would be a lot stronger."
"Koa?" asked Sierra.
"It's a Hawaiian hardwood, almost like mahogany. Too expensive right now, though. The first surfboards were made out of it. Think of Jarrah."
"Ah!" Sierra exclaimed.
"Ja..what?" Leah blurted.
"It's an Australian hardwood. The door in Alice Springs is made out of it."
"Oh, I see: we like our exotic woods..." Leah said, almost jokingly "Whatever... cherry is good enough for me." She then addressed Keanu "Okay, what you suggest for getting started?"
"Well, I would probably start by doing some long jumps with the glider. That way you can also practice your landings. What you want to do is bend a good, strong current to give you some vertical lift."
After a series of sprints and moderately successful jumps, Leah felt quite confident that she could use her newfound knowledge for some aerial acrobatics. Down below, Sierra was worried; her apprehension regarding Leah's newly found swagger was strong enough, but it received a very healthy push when she stole a glance of Keanu rubbing his chin.
"Too much spin?" Sierra asked.
"Way too much spin..." Keanu responded immediately "Leah, bring it down a notch, okay? Easy does it!"
But Leah was not listening. She was intoxicated by the freedom, the power and the thrill of free, unrestricted flight. She zipped by the trees, did some loops and suddenly...
"She's going to break the glider...Leah stop doing that! You're gonna...!" It was too late...
Chaos... hurt... pain... wieners... buns... sauerkraut... ketchup...
The cart owner insisted on filing for aggravated assault, but there were really no laws in the NY City Public Code to penalize a glider for crashing into a hot dog cart. Neither was Leah intent on actually hurting the man or his customers. It was just that a particularly strong gale had managed to detach the right wing from the tip of the glider, snapping the nylon twine. The craft became unstable and she landed on top of the man and his cart – that had been all!
Any other officer would have gone crazy trying to assess the various versions of the story, but Sargent Franzolini was a seasoned member of NY's Finest and, having noticed Keanu's involvement in the incident, he knew exactly who to call...
"No Mr. Levin, I assure you the man is fine...Well, the cart is gone; I'm sure the guy is going to ask for some kind of compensation...The girl's shaken up but apart from a bruised ego and the hot dog water stink I think she'll survive..."
Crossing half of Manhattan in the afternoon traffic was no easy feat, but Neil made it to the Precinct Office in Central Park in just less than two hours. He paid off the hot dog man handsomely enough that he decided to drop all charges against Leah. Neil also saw to it that Leah's slate remained clean. It would do no one any good that the Avatar had a criminal record.
All the while, he was a gentleman: kind, noble and caring. For whatever reason, this only managed to make Leah more embarrassed about the whole thing. It would take her two full days to emerge from the hotel room...
Sierra had begun to worry over Leah. For the past two days she had been literally encroached in the hotel room, going as far as eating only once a day, ordering room service. This was not the Leah she knew – Leah the Warrior, Leah the Amazon, Leah the Aztec Princess, the serpent crusher... This was just a moping, self-pitying teenager much like she had been most of their journey together. This reversal of roles made Sierra quite uneasy, not just because she felt out of place, but because her instincts told her that there was an intrinsic danger in the Avatar being stuck in a mental and emotional rut. If this continued, the World's fate would suffer for it, and she was not about to let that happen.
On the third day, Sierra woke up almost right after dawn. She got dressed and prepped and was about to wake Leah up (and slap some sense into the girl) when she was startled by a light being turned on just beyond her peripheral field of vision. It was the lamp by the recliner, at the corner of the room. Leah was fully dressed; her backpack was on the floor, and she was cradling the broken glider in her left arm while she operated the lamp switch with her left hand.
Sierra was startled, relieved, intrigued and scared, all at the same time. However, it only took her just a couple of seconds to realize that Leah was back into the fight, and being that she had already made up her mind to play lead this time around, she already had an answer:
"Ready when you are."
"Good! Keith is waiting outside. Let's go."
The three teenagers broke into the hotel lobby with all the swagger and poise of an elite military unit. Their look and attitude was one of determination and eagerness, even when they really did not know where they were headed, not even Leah....
They arrived at the Concierge's Desk, and even where they were surprised to see Hubert wear such a solemn, sober expression, they did not flinch. It was as if everyone was on a mission and playing their appointed part to the letter:
"Ms. Levin, Mr. McCain, and Ms. Sánchez" at the mention of Leah's name, he produced a sealed envelope which he handed over in a discreet manner. Leah immediately stored the missive inside her backpack and nodded. "May you have an excellent day and to all, Godspeed."
Once outside, the private car was already waiting for them, as arranged by Hubert. Once Hubert saw the car take off, he took to his desk phone immediately:
"¿Hola? ¿Rubén? Es Humberto." Hello? Rubén? It's Humberto.
"Los chicos van de camino. Trátalos bien, ¿eh?" The kids are on their way. Be nice to them, okay?
"Sí, son muy buena onda." Yeah, they're good kids...
"Si pasase cualquier cosa, me marcas a mi o al Sr. Levin de inmediato, ¿sale?" If anything happens call me or Mr. Levin right away, deal?
"¡Muy bien, hermano! Hasta luego." OK, Brother! Later.
As planned by Hubert, the car did a stop at 2nd Street Café, where the kids sat down for breakfast. As they waited, Sierra decided she would get the data she was missing:
"Okay Leah: spill."
Keith said nothing but also stared intently, waiting for an answer.
"I'm going to rebuild my glider."
"Why not simply hand it over to Keanu for repair?" Keith asked.
"I need something different. I need it to be stronger. I'm going to use metal for the braces and put in a different fabric."
"Why would you want to second guess Keanu's design? I mean, they've been building them for years."
"It's not 'second-guessing', it's called 're-design'. You'd never say that Boeing second-guessed the Wright brothers, would you?"
"Touché..." said Keith. Sierra glared at him. "I'm just saying, sometimes things can be improved upon, that's all."
"I guess – so where are we going?"
"Hubert told me..."
"Wait," Keith interrupted "let's rewind a little. When did you talk with Hubert? For all we know, you've been moping in bed for two days straight."
"I was. I finally got up this morning at around 2am. I was tired of being in the room so I just put on whatever and started wandering about the hotel. Hubert caught up with me and noticed I had been down and he stuck to asking me questions until he made me tell him about my glider accident..."
"Leah, you didn't...!" Sierra half-shouted, half-whispered her reprieve.
"Relax! He never saw the glider. For all he knows it's one of those with huge ugly wings from the 70s. Anyhow," Leah continued "I mentioned that I wished the glider had been stronger. Then I went off about how I would have used this and that material, blah, blah, blah... And then he tells me he knows someone who can help me rebuild the staff. This person has a metal fabricating shop here in Brooklyn. They have fabricators, welders and access to parts and stuff."
"And you have money for all the parts..." Keith chided.
"Well, I do." Leah's grin and Keith's sheepish expression clearly indicated that Sierra put an end to the money argument.
The Second Street Café had paper mantels where patrons doodled on with crayons. Leah used them to show her design ideas to the guys. The amount of thought put into the mechanics was proof enough that the time they had interpreted had been wasted in brooding and sulking had really been invested in re-thinking the entire mechanical proposition of the glider. In fact, being that Leah had no other drawings made; the waitress had to wait for the troop to remove the mantle before actually setting their food down.
In just a bit under two hours, they had arrived to their destination: the Sánchez Machine Shop in Borough Park. All along their journey from the city into the heart of Brooklyn, they had noticed the glitz and the glamour of the City give way to the grit and grime of the blue collar neighborhoods. It was their immense trust in Hubert – and their newly imbued sense of purpose – which made them press on. Therefore, the CLOSED signed on the door was a major disappointment.
"Hubert – what's going on?" Leah muttered to herself just under her breath. Suddenly, she remembered the envelope. Her eyes skimmed furiously along the written page. She looked up to the wall, as it seemed to be she had found the information she needed. The establishment had small storefront. Two glass panes about 10 feet each were covered by a roll down grille. She found a nook between the left glass pane and the store door and there, just as Hubert had written, was a hidden button which, as per the written instructions, she pressed three times.
In about 30 seconds, the door lock turned and a young man with Hispanic features beckoned them in silently. They followed the young man from the poorly lit, empty storefront to a surprisingly roomy workshop in the back. Around seven people were working with fire and steel, welding, bending and shaping the raw metal into all shapes and lengths imaginable. The heat was so intense, Keith nearly passed out when going in. Their young escort motioned for them to stop. He went into a drawer and passed out some spare safety goggles so they could protect their eyes.
"I'll be right back with you" he then darted out to an office in the back, where they could see thru a plexiglass that he called out to a middle-aged man who was reviewing some papers in a desk. He looked over his glasses to see the three teenagers standing. He slowly collected himself from the chair and walked over to them, stretching out a calloused, work-worn right hand.
"You must be Sierra. It is an honor – Rubén Sánchez, at your service."
Mr. Sánchez was, as evidenced by his attire and surroundings, a working man. However, there was certain elegance about him. His Spanish accent was identifiable, but not thick or obtrusive. His skin was leathery and rough, but despite his age lines and his overall rugged appearance, one could see nobility to his features and a discernable measure of pride. He was not tall - he was actually a bit on the short side – but he carried himself with as much dignity as his two herniated disks would allow.
"I guess you know my father." Sierra deduced.
"A hero to many in this City." Sierra begged to differ based on her personal experience, but still managed to smile a bland smile in an effort to please their host.
"You must be Keith and you are... almost fainting...Rodrigo!"
"Get the windows!" Their young escort took to opening a series of hatch-like windows installed high up on the walls using long post specially designed for the task. Immediately, a large portion of the steam and the heat escaped to the outside and a slight but refreshing breeze coursed through the establishment.
"Yes – Thank You" Keith managed to say, revived by the influx of fresh air.
"Not a problem. You must excuse us. Our tolerance to heat has become quite high over time. Visitors often face the same predicament, that's why we installed the hatches. And you must be Leah" said Don Rubén, finally addressing the Avatar. "Encantado, señorita Sánchez. ¿Qué es lo que se le ofrece?"
"Uhh...I'm sorry I really don't know any Spanish" Leah became immediately aware of her Latina features and felt a no-small amount of shame over her disconnectedness with her heritage.
"Well neither do my sons!" he joked, easing the tension "Speaking of which, I trust you met Rodrigo."
"Call me Roddy. Hi."
Don Rubén sent a disapproving look to his son as he calmly restated "Your name is Rodrigo."
"Dad, please..." Roddy sent his father a pleading look, while Don Rubén let up on the argument by simply rolling his eyes and letting out a sigh.
"Well, Ms. Sánchez, maybe we should step into my office. This way, please."
Walking into the office Leah noticed a picture of a handsome young man in uniform. He was – at least in her opinion – absolutely stunning, except of course for the large burn scar surrounding his right eye, which extended all the way to his upper cheekbone and almost all the way into his temple. He had a regal look about him – his look that exuded confidence, strength and aplomb.
"My eldest son, Rubén Jr. He is a decorated firefighter. He works in the City – Ladder 10." Don Rubén's eyes were ablaze with delight, as he spoke about his pride and joy.
As soon as they sat down, Leah pulled out her crayon scribbles from breakfast. Leah's new design proposed replacing the wooden braces used on the wings with aluminum beams. Said beams would deploy hinging upon two axes that were to be installed in the fore end of the staff. The wood would have to be routed and fitted with a special brace that would support the axes – otherwise, the stress might splinter the wood, allowing for the wings to be ripped clean off the glider.
Don Rubén was clearly impressed with the teenager's skill and design abilities. Nevertheless he still found room for improvement. He looked at every detail closely, making observations about function and form in a way that both confirmed his skill and betrayed his humble appearance. He gave her insight on the stresses that would operate on the proposed structure, suggesting improvements and adjustments. In under an hour, Don Rubén and Leah agreed upon a working design. He called on Rodrigo and his right hand mechanic, Matías to his office for a final group review before committing the drawings for construction. Matías offered some feedback on the proper sizing of the bolts and various reinforcements that would be needed and then they began work on the new glider.
Hours were long and the tasks were challenging. But the crew was gifted with enough skill and determination to see the small issues through. Don Rubén substituted the nylon twine with Kevlar and used serrated lock washers and flat head hex screws to affix the wings to the end of each brace. The spaces where Leah would hold on to the brace were fitted with foam grips to reduce hand fatigue. Don Rubén also recommended using either mechanic or driving gloves to improve the grip. In the end just one problem needed to be solved. The locking mechanism that maintained the wings deployed was to be set tight into the fore end of the staff, this would prevent them from using any kind of screw or latch.
"The best way is to solder it in." Matías explained to Leah in a thick, heavy Mexican accent.
"But from where? Using a blowtorch would burn the wood, right?" Sierra observed.
Roddy suggested "Dad, why not use a pencil iron?"
Don Rubén stared silently at the piece. After thinking for a few seconds he instructed his son:
"Get me the rosin and the thick gauge tin."
Roddy rocketed off in his usual fashion, retuning shortly after with the requested items along with a pencil iron.
"Leave the iron."
"You sure?" Roddy asked.
"It won't fit in there." Was Rubén's sole response, as he applied rosin paste to both parts. He then wound the tin around the plug and set the staff carefully inside a vice grip. He then held the locks in his right hand, and gripping the top of the pole with his left, began to press down on the lock, forcing it into the counterpart, already installed within the wooden core. Leah observed closely and saw that, as the man breathed a series of deep breaths, smoke began to emerge from the melted rosin and tin. Shortly after, the piece snapped into place, the surplus tin creating a small ring around the joint. He then put the top of the staff to Leah's mouth.
"Would you be so kind, Miss Sánchez? The wood could still suffer."
Leah blew on it, cooling the hot metal with her airbending. Then, it all came together for her:
"You're a firebender – You're all firebenders!" she cried excitedly.
"And we survive by laying low and keeping quiet." Don Rubén's hard stare delivered his message clearly enough. No more words were necessary.
"Of course, I understand." Leah responded, almost embarrassed.
As the working day drew to a close, the kids thanked their host once again, offering to pay for dinner for him, his son and Don Matías. They all met in a pizzeria owned by a friend of Don Rubén's as he insisted it would be "a safe place to talk"...
"Are you all of the firebenders in the City?" Leah asked.
"You saw most of them in the shop" answered Don Rubén "Most of us share a technical background and since working with fire is second nature, it makes sense for us to stay together and apply all of that in the shop. Rubén and some of the other young ones joined the Fire Department. I hope you don't mind me having asked him over."
Leah blurted dumbly "No! Of course not!" Keith almost blushed out of jealousy, but kept his cool.
Don Rubén smiled again "Wonderful! He will be glad to meet you. Ah! There he is!"
Just then a broad shouldered, young man of about 20 walked into the pizza shop. He was a good 6 inches taller than his father and his body shaped and chiseled from the constant training. Don Rubén's eyes lit up as he got up and hugged his son. Leah thought her heart would melt when he saw him smile.
"Su bendición, Papá."
"Que Dios y la Santísima Virgen me lo favorezcan y lo guarden siempre, hijo."
After the proper introductions were made, the conversation resumed. Sierra continued:
"I think it's great that you guys found a place. In Uluru I'd heard most of you had been either massacred in San Juan or taken into custody."
"Those who chose to fight, yes." Don Rubén stated coldly. "Me, I just wanted to get away from there before it was too late."
Leah and Keith were both shocked that this noble man would choose not to fight the BDA. Nonetheless, Sierra managed to throw a calming glance across the table to calm her bender friends and tried her hand at being diplomatic...
"I heard it was a surprise attack. How did you manage to get a head start?"
"All the signs were there, if you cared to pay any attention. It was the Avatar's arrival that sealed it for me. It was already a very strong rumor that the BDA had our coordinates. We were not a target simply because we were so far away and had lain so low for so long that it made no sense for them to get their hands dirty. Then the Avatar came looking for a firebending teacher and they followed his tracks right to our doorstep!"
"And you did not think you could fight, even with the Avatar there with you? I mean, did it not give you hope you could stand a chance against the BDA?"
"Should it have?" Don Rubén gave Sierra a cold, hard stare which immediately made her feel like dropping the subject "No Avatar has ever beaten the BDA! In fact, all the Avatar ever did was attracting those dogs to us. We led normal, peaceful, productive lives! I used to be a happy man! I did not ask to be a part of his personal revolution!"
"Papá, please..." Roddy tried to calm his old man down, but it would prove to be a very difficult thing...
"They killed your Aunt Rebeca! Your Uncle Hiraldo!"
"Por favor, Papá..." Rubén tried his luck as well, but it would again be useless.
"They killed your mother!" His tone of voice was only slightly loud, but behind his eyes laid a quiet rage, with only the slightest hint of tears forming within them. A strong, awkward silence followed. "Anyhow, that's in the past now. We are here, we are together... We are blessed." He said as he gripped his sons' hands.
"And how did you get here?" Leah asked.
"It was 1984 – my savings had just about run out, I was left homeless, a widower, with two sons to raise, on the run... Rodrigo was only two – he would cry himself to sleep every night asking for Ana. As we fled, a wild flame burned my Rubén..." Don Ruben's strong, chiseled jaw trembled, as the words flowed with a bitterness that felt as fresh and new as if the BDA had attacked them only yesterday. Both boys just stared at the floor, the pain of the memories clearly showing on their faces. "Mr. Levin sent an envoy to scout for survivors. He found us brought us here and worked to hide us in the City. It was him who helped me open this shop and got Humberto that job at the Marriott."
"You mean Hubert, the Concierge? Are you related?" asked Sierra innocently.
"No, not Hubert the Concierge: el Ingeniero Humberto Sánchez. He's my brother and a damn fine mechanical engineer – one of the best in his field. Only a handful of people were ever any better than he was in off-shore drilling. We both used to work for PEMEX before the explosion."
"So why not work as engineers here?" asked Keith.
"Not so easy to provide references when your identity has to be erased from the records. We ceased to exist in Mexico – not possible for a couple of dead engineers to apply for a job here. But I have no regrets, Ms. Sánchez. I was able to save my children, I have provided for them with the sweat of my brow, raised them to be hard workers, men of honor..." he smiled as he looked at his boys "...proud to be benders, orgullosos de ser mexicanos..." he smiled at Leah again "We are survivors."
"Mr. Sánchez," Leah said getting up "It's getting late and it's going to be a long trip back. I just want to thank you all for helping me so much with my glider. I just hope I can repay you somehow, in some way for all your help."
"Serve others, señorita. El que no sirve, no sirve. You owe me nothing."
"Bless you, Mr. Sanchez! Roddy. Benny. Good Night!" Sierra thanked their helpers once again.
As they got into their ride back to the hotel, Sierra attempted some conversation with a visibly disturbed Leah:
"Was it me or was that firefighter just plain hot?"
"Inappropriate!" protested Keith.
"A speaking only to B – C not included! Thank You!" Sierra snapped back at him.
Leah just stared absently out the window.
"Yes – he really was..."
Sierra sighed, leaning on Leah's shoulder, as a lone tear rode down the Avatar's cheek. Keith took Leah's hand and squeezed it. Leah looked back at her friends and smiled. It was a long, silent ride back to Manhattan.
- I have both visited NYC and have (as most Puertoricans do) friends and relatives living there. I use all sources I could, internal and external, to help me shape a vivid, credible surroundings for this story. It was one of my main ambitions since day one in this undertaking and it took A LOT of work to get it to the level that I wanted. I appreciate MM's understanding and patience regarding this issue.
- My company does work for PEMEX, so I kind of know the lingo and stuff. That helped.
- I have been to Mexico on three different occasions. The people are remarkable in their kindness, workmanship and their love for their heritage.
- I appreciate MM letting me do this my way and toy around with the story a bit.
- Evatar114 challenged the Dragon to do some comic relief, so the hot dog cart goes out with a shout out...
- As a musician, I have a particular fondness of exotic hardwoods. Koa, Cherry, Mahogany and Jarra are all great for musical instruments.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Book One: Glass|
|The Message - Leah - The Glow - BDA - Gone - Uluru - Revealed - The Colonies - Brethren - The Survivors - Joel's Old Friend - Alice Springs - School - Sierra - Discovery - Bracken - Visiting the Past - Goodbyes - Escape Part 1: Shards of Glass - Escape Part 2: Confrontation|
|Book Two: Smoke|
|The Outside - Questions - Flight - The Rogues - Forewarned - Keith - The Exiles - Forfeit - Choice - Consequence - Legacy Part 1: Avatar Joel - Legacy Part 2: Avatar Aang - Open Arms - Father - Learning to Fly, Part 1: The Apprentice - Learning to Fly, Part 2: The Master - A Leap of Faith - Negotiations - Twin Towers, Part 1: Successor - Twin Towers, Part 2: The Black Plume of Smoke - Twin Towers, Part 3: The Burden of Atlas|
|Book Three: Storm|
|His Dark Materials - Wounds - Rest in Peace - Somewhere Only We Know - The Mistress - Smoke and Mirrors|