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|More from The Faceless One||Adventure/Science Fiction||PG-13||Positive||This chapter is now complete!|
|The Final Frontier|
August 22nd, 2012
Fire... Air... Water... Earth. Currently, the four nations are enjoying a timely era of peace, but this was not always the nature of things. Half a century ago, the last and final Avatar, a waterbender named Korra, vanquished a maniacal extremist who called himself Amon, and hoped to rid the world of bending forever. Sadly, shortly after this triumph, Korra was killed by an illness in her sleep, and, for reasons unknown, was not reincarnated. Though at first her immediate absence was met with worldwide panic, this reaction was short-lived. As the years passed, the wounds left by her disappearance scabbed over, and have now all but faded entirely. Now, is an era of science, and it appears... spiritual figures such as the Avatar are no longer needed to maintain balance. However, there are some that say this peace is the calm before a great storm, one that, if the Avatar fails to return, will reduce the world to ashes. But these few are surely out of their minds. Surely.
Previously... On Avatar: Advent of Earth
After missing the buss, Chen went for a fiery ride aboard Ying's dubious "Pneumatic Lift Set," only to end up in the Air Temple Island reflecting pool! After being kicked off the premises by Tara, Chen arrived home, and settled in for a nap. He was shaken awake by his father some time later, just in time to witness the liftoff of the historic URSA moon rocket, and the wormhole's appearance just above its launch trajectory.
The Girl of His Dreams
Wednesday, September 21st, 220 AG
Until the wormhole opened up and swallowed him whole, Anyu had been having a pretty great day. He'd risen early and jogged to the pool for a few refreshing laps before heading over to Narook's for an energizing breakfast of noodles and sea prunes. Shortly after that, he'd paced around his flat for a bit—to work up his courage—and then phoned Kirima in search of a friend to spend the remainder of the morning with. Well, if all went according to plan, they'd be a little more than friends by the end.
Yes, after weeks and weeks of shrinking away and bottling up his true emotions, today was the day he'd confess his feelings for her.
Waiting this long had made it a bit of a gamble. His entire astronaut group—which included Kirima—had been training and preparing for a mission that would be going down tonight. If Kirima didn't like him back, their ten days in space would be very awkward indeed. But Anyu wasn't going to put it off another day just to make things easier on himself. He'd done enough of that. By the time the boosters fired and he began his journey into the final frontier, he would know for sure whether or not the girl of his dreams thought of him the same way.
As it turned out, Anyu's hard work paid off. Kirima happened to love him every bit as much as he loved her.
They had even shared a short kiss just as the Aang Memorial Clock issued ten massive gongs that ran out across the bay. Anyu was sure the peck would've evolved into something a bit more... romantic, if only he and Kirima hadn't been summoned to the URSA headquarters at that exact moment to begin launch preparation procedures. This routine was dominated by the donning of the spacesuits, which rarely took less than three hours.
Once the astronauts had safely suited up, they journeyed out to the launch pad, rode the access elevator up to the command module, and buckled themselves in just in time to hear the announcer begin the countdown.
Thirty minutes later, Anyu and his companions were blasted into the air and gobbled up by a massive disk of light.
And now, they were... Well, it really was hard to tell. Smoke was filling the cabin, which Anyu figured might be hazardous in some form, but he'd hit his head and was having trouble thinking straight. He felt the acceleration pushing against him, which was normal in the liftoff stage, but just beyond the windshield he could see flames licking hungrily at the windows. That wasn't right. Fire like that wasn't expected until reentry, when the friction of atmospheric gasses rubbing against the rocket would heat its hull.
The sight of those tongues of energy unfurling around the cabin's exterior shook off the last of Anyu's vapors, and he came to a horrifying realization.
He had no idea how it was possible, but that disk had sucked up the rocket, and spat it back out. And now, he and his companions were falling like a rock.
That was catastrophic on a number of levels. One, as far as he knew, the boosters were still firing and weren't scheduled to shut off for another thirty minutes. This meant they'd either be driven into the ground at top speed, or continue flying until the fuselage tore itself apart and blew up. Neither scenario seemed remotely survivable. If these two possibilities weren't devastating enough, the fuel in the tank hadn't been the least bit depleted, If the rocket crashed, Anyu and his companions would not die alone. The launch pad, and everyone in the surrounding area would surely go out with them.
The explosion would be bone-shattering.
Anyu could feel fear's cold hands constricting his lungs, but even so he made an effort to gain control of the situation. He looked at his teammates, and saw that Kirima was unconscious. Hiro, on the other hand, who was the mission's overall commander, seemed to be attacking imminent peril with the same ferocity as Anyu.
Despite the situation, Anyu smiled. That was just like Hiro, a fighter to the end.
"What can we do?" Anyu yelled, trying his best not to lock eyes with the ground, which was rushing past beneath them at astounding speeds.
Hiro turned to face him, and gritted his perfect teeth. "I'm tryin' everything I know, but when you really stop to look at it, we're dropping out of the sky. It's not like I can land this thing, it doesn't have wings."
Anyu gave his friend a grim stare. "So, in short, we're dead?"
"Yep. Unless you can pull three jetpacks out of the utilities cupboard, we're finished." He sighed, and rubbed his temple. "At this point, it's best we just..." Hiro's amber eyes narrowed into twin slits of fire. "Wait," he said, "Anyu, are you seein' this?"
Hiro had paused mid-sentence to point at something beyond the windshield of the command module, something both he and Anyu found incredibly disturbing.
Right about now, the crew should've been flying over Republic City, but this metropolis below them... wasn't Republic City.
For one, the buildings were way taller, and much more intricate in their design. Several of them appeared to be coated in some shimmering gold material that refracted the rays of the sun--and then there was that gigantic green statue near the edge of town. Anyu looked a bit closer, and saw that it resembled a woman crowned in spikes, with one hand clasped tightly around a torch. The other of her hands held a book of some sort.
The only thing close to that in Republic City's skyline was the Aang memorial, and this was clearly very different.
"Hiro," Anyu said after some time, "Where are we?"
An Alien Skyline
Hiro offered only silence in reply. After a few minutes, Anyu realized his friend was too stunned to speak.
Anyu peered closer, and found tears dripping out of Hiro's eyes. His friend was crying.
Not full-out sobbing of course, for that would've been significantly more obvious, but enough to notice if you scrutinized his face. Hiro wiped a few of these thin tears away with his sleeve, and reached inside his shirt for something Anyu couldn't see. When Hiro finally procured whatever it was he'd been rooting around for, he inserted it into the capsule's control panel, and twisted it to the left.
It was then that Anyu realized that Hiro had been wearing a key around his neck. Anyu watched Hiro jerk this key around a bit more, and then let out a sigh of relief as a "ping" sounded from the keyhole. A small flap that Anyu hadn't noticed before flipped open just then, revealing a large red button.
Hiro slammed his thumb onto that button, and Anyu finally got around to asking him what the heck he was doing.
"I'm issuing a commander's manual override and aborting the launch sequence," Hiro replied.
Anyu was puzzled. "They never mentioned anything like that in training. I'm sure of it."
Hiro bit his lip, and looked away. "Of course they didn't," he said sadly, "it's an emergency procedure exclusive to the commander."
"Well, okay then, what good's that gonna do? If you shut off the boosters now, we'll fall right out of the sky! The time we've got left will be cut in half!"
Hiro nodded, and flipped a few switches above his head. A sad smile twisted across his jaw. "Exactly," he said, "I figure as it is, we're only delaying the inevitable. If we're gonna crash and burn, we might as well get it over with."
Anyu gasped. It wasn't like his friend to throw up his hands like this.
"Plus," Hiro continued, "we're coming up on a park now, and I'd say it looks pretty deserted. I think the body count will be much lower if we go down there, and not in what looks like downtown."
Anyu followed his gaze, and saw his friend's point. Far ahead of them was a huge expanse of green, one that appeared to be void of human life.
For the most part anyway.
As the rocket surged closer, Anyu scanned the field, and grimaced as his eyes fell upon several people. They were tiny, almost ant like, and it was easy for Anyu to forget just how important each of those little creatures was. Each one had a family, loved ones. Each one affected the world around them in his or her special way.
And he, Kirima, and Hiro were about to destroy every single one of them. But it was, in a horrible sort of way, better for a small handful of people to die than a large crowd.
The boosters finally stopped firing. The surge of downward motion that followed was enough to completely derail his train of thought. "Hiro!" he yelled over the roaring wind. His friend turned toward him, and he continued. "It was... really nice knowing you."
Word's could not describe the turmoil in Hiro's eyes. Sadness charged across his brow, pursued by regret, and a marching procession of fear. "Right back at you," was all he managed in reply.
Kirima's eyes picked that moment to flutter open. Her delicate features twisted into a scream as the gravity of their situation hit her over the head. Anyu almost wished she'd pass out again and be spared the intensity of her last few minutes, but... no such luck. Kirima remained fully conscious.
"Wh-what's going on?" She asked several times, each inquiry louder and more frantic than the last.
Anyu thought it right to give some context, and so he did, even though it pained him greatly. He explained the wormhole business, and the fact that they were now minutes away from slamming into the ground and exploding.
Kirima relaxed at those words, and settled into an almost ghostly calm.
"I can save us," She said flatly.
Hiro and Anyu squinted at her. "What?" they asked in unison.
That was all Hiro had to say, but Anyu felt the need to continue. "Kirima, I know it's hard to accept, but it's hopeless. I mean, look around you, we're goners." A grinding creak resonated from somewhere behind the crew module just then, punctuating his diagnosis.
"No we're not. Here, watch."
The following moments seemed to play out in slow motion. Kirima gritted her teeth, and raised her arms above her head.
Anyu let out a gasp as the grass far below the rocket began to wither and dry up. His jaw fell open even more, when blobs of water seeped out of the dead grass, and rose to meet their fuselage. From his relatively limited viewpoint, Anyu could see the blobs gather on the walls of their falling spaceship. These blobs then quit moving, but that first group wasn't the last of them. Hundreds, or maybe even thousands more, were on their way.
It was only as the third wave of these finished packing themselves onto the rocket's hide that Anyu realized Kirima was responsible for all this. Hiro had evidently come to the same realization. Both he and Anyu talked over each other for a few minutes, but then quieted down when they realized they weren't making any sense.
"May I go first?" Anyu asked.
Satisfied with Hiro's promise not to interrupt him, Anyu yelled: "You're a waterbender?"
Kirima was silent, but it was completely obvious that Anyu's claim was right on the money. Those blobs weren't moving themselves, and he and Hiro sure weren't doing anything.
Anyu almost yelled again, but then he realized something: if Kirima really was behind this, she'd be under extreme physical stress, and wouldn't be able to reply. He decided to focus on something else, like... How these blobs would save them from certain death.
It didn't take him long to figure out that Kirima was building a cushion. A gigantic cushion of water several hundred feet thick, one that would absorb the force of their impact, and maybe even bring them to a gentle stop.
Anyu desperately wanted to believe in his new girlfriend's scheme, but it was hard not to let reality crush it to bits. Seriously though, Anyu thought, there's just no way—
And that was all he got the chance to think through. Just as he was about to finish, Kirima's cushion hit the ground, and the rocket was shoved beneath its surface.
The impact's force shook the trio of astronauts, and Anyu was unable to remain conscious. The rocket sank deeper into the bubble of water as his eyes drooped shut, and the liquid ate them alive.
Monday, September 26th, 2072 AD
"Wake up..." The words drifted through Anyu's mind like a beautiful dream. "Wake the hell up, you sick freak!" Well, that last bit was less than beautiful, but it served its purpose. Anyu spluttered awake, and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light around him. He surveyed his surroundings once he could see again.
He immediately came to the realization that he was strapped to a chair. As his focus widened, he noticed a few other things. First were his surroundings. He was seated at a table of cold steel, in an equally bleak room. Nothing interesting there. The room was cramped, ugly, and as frigid as a meat locker. It was lit by a single florescent light, which would flicker slightly every few seconds.
Once they were done surveying his environment, Anyu's eyes fell upon the man seated across from him. He nearly jumped out of his skin.
Luckily, if this man had wanted that reaction, he'd forgotten Anyu was tied down. And so, skin still intact, Anyu examined his captor. The man was sitting down, but from his intimidating build, Anyu guessed him to be much taller than he was. The guy's arms were thick and muscle-bound--big as tree trunks--and his head sat atop a mountainous torso. Anyu had no doubt in his mind that this guy in front of him could pick him up and shove him through a wall without breaking a sweat.
But there was something else about the man that scared the living daylights out of Anyu. His skin was unnaturally pale, ghost-like even, and dotted with sickly red spots. As Anyu's eyes peered closer, the man offered him a ghastly smile, revealing a set of flawless teeth as white as his skin.
Another thing Anyu found odd was the man's hair. Coppery fuzz showered from his scalp, and bordered his face like two great curtains of velvet.
Anyu was still transfixed by it when the man extended his hand.
"Now that you've come to," He said coldly, "I'd shake your hand, but you're a little... tied up at the moment, so I won't." He chuckled at his own joke, and withdrew his palm. "You can call me Shaun."
Anyu had never heard that name before, but he committed it to memory all the same.
"Wh-where the heck am I?" he managed.
Shaun's smile widened. "Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to reveal that. All I can say is this. You're in the heart of an inescapable facility one hundred feet below ground. Might as well familiarize yourself with your surroundings, because they sure aren't gonna change much for the foreseeable future."
Anyu shook his head. "No. I mean, before. That city I was flying over. What is it?"
Shaun shook with laughter, though each guffawing breath lacked any trace of humor. "'What is it?' Is that some kind of sick joke? That city you flew over was New York, in case you've forgotten."
When Anyu failed to reply, Shaun continued. "You'd think a group of professional bio terrorists would at least be able to remember which society they were trashing on which day."
That made Anyu sit up straight. "What?" he almost yelled, "t-terrorism? You're accusing me of terrorism? What on Earth makes you think I'm a terrorist?"
"Are you being serious? you're gonna make me list the reasons?"
"Look, you sadistic freak, If I were authorized, I'd end you right here and now in the most painful way possible. I'd cut open your chest and stir your organs around with a spoon, I'd rip your arms off with my bare hands and laugh as you bled to death, I'd—"
"I honestly don't see what the big deal is," Anyu interrupted, "You accused me of something despicable, and I'm asking you to justify your actions."
Shaun's face grew red, but he managed to calm down enough to seethe: "Fine. You want reasons? I'll give you reasons. One, you fell out of the sky in a giant missile. Two, you dug a trench through Central Park. And three, you administered a bio weapon that killed every plant within a one-mile radius. Now you tell me why I shouldn't want to tear you apart with my teeth."
Anyu had to admit, Kirima's surprise waterbending and Hiro's crash-landing did make the trio of astronauts look pretty bad. "I really can explain everything," Anyu told his captor, "I'm still not quite sure what country I'm in, but if you dial up the URSA, they'll patch things up, trust me."
Shaun glared daggers at him. "What the hell is the URSA? Do you honestly think one call to your little terrorist cell will sort this—"
Shaun stopped talking when he heard a whoosh from behind him. Anyu watched a portion of the wall slide open to reveal a bit of some corridor, and another man.
This one was equally intimidating, but in a different way than Shaun was. Where Shaun was tear-you-in-two-with-his-toes intimidating, this new man was more kill-you-with-a-really-cold-glare intimidating.
The guy was dressed in a black business suit, and stared Anyu down through a pair of dark sunglasses. Behind these, another pale face could be found, but this one bore several differences to the Shaun's. This man's features were harder, more chiseled, and completely without emotion. His thin lips were stretched into a line and barely moved as he spoke.
"Shaun Avery, you've done enough." The suited man's icy voice sent chills down Anyu's spine. "We've received some new data from our board of scientists, and as of this moment, you are officially off this case." He jerked his thump towards the open door. "Go get some sleep."
Shaun stammered in protest for a few moments before quieting down and obeying his superior's orders. He cast one last murderous look at Anyu as he climbed out of his chair and stomped out of the room. The sliding door drifted shut behind him, and the suited man turned to Anyu.
"Please, let me apologize for the... unprofessional actions of my associate. He's new to this, you see, this whole interrogation business. And I'm sorry if he thought you a terrorist. Shaun means well, but his... anger sometimes fogs his judgement. This whole terrorist thing was merely a preliminary theory, but he ran with it all the same."
The man took a seat in the now-empty chair across from Anyu. "My name is Jefferson," he said. "I'd love to tell you my other two names, but I'm afraid that can't be arranged."
Anyu nodded slowly, but Jefferson continued before he could say anything.
"Now, let's get right down to business," he said, "for the past five days, the entire planet's been buzzing with your surprise entrance. The Internet's crawling with theories, the best of which blame the military, and the worst of which describe you guys as heralds of the apocalypse."
Jefferson straightened his tie, which, Anyu noticed, was a jarring green color. "But I can tell you with absolute certainty that we aren't responsible for this. We've talked to China, the UK, plenty of other countries, and know they aren't responsible either. So... where does that leave us? Are you a herald of the apocalypse?"
Ever since he'd regained consciousness in that strange room, questions had been building up inside Anyu's chest, rocketing around like earth disks in a championship pro bending match. And as Jefferson wrapped up his sentence, each and every one of these questions came bubbling out his mouth.
"Okay, wait..." Anyu began, "what the heck is 'the Internet?' Where is China? What's 'the UK?'"
"I'm gonna be straight with you, Anyu, all these ridiculous questions stopped being funny a while ago."
"I'm not making jokes!" Anyu yelled, "I really have no idea!"
Jefferson was silent for a long moment.
"You know," he finally said, "I think I might believe you."
Anyu didn't know what to say. "Y-you do?" Jefferson didn't really seem like a guy who would change where he stood at a moment's notice.
"I never thought I'd be coming to this conclusion. However, we have been getting numerous eye-witness accounts stating your rocket didn't just fly in the instant the wormhole appeared, but rather came out of it. I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but... Anyu, I think you and your friends may very well be from another world entirely."
"You think we're aliens? You think my friends and I are aliens?"
Jefferson mopped his brow with a handkerchief he'd procured from his jacket pocket. "Well, let's look at the evidence. Five days ago, completely out of nowhere, an immense disk of light opens above New York. Shortly after, a primitive rocket falls out of it and crashes in Central Park. However, before impact, this rocket deploys a sort of—well, the best our scientists have got right now is 'water sack'—which cushions its landing. And then, every single plant in a mile radius dies. Our environmentalists say they've all lost their moisture. Spontaneously. Now, let me assure you, if there were a country on this Earth with a weapon like that, we'd now about it."
Anyu scooted back a bit in his chair. "What do you mean?" he asked, "that's not a weapon! My companions and I... we were falling out of the sky. So, Kirima bent water out of the air and surrounding plants to create a cushion for us to land on."
Jefferson raised an eyebrow. "She bent the water?"
"Yeah, you know, waterbending. Turns out, she's a waterbender."
"What is a 'waterbender?'"
"Y-you don't know?"
Jefferson heaved a sigh, and pursed his lips. "Don't you see? This is what I'm talking about! We've been interrogating your friend Hiro, and the conversation's been going the exact same way. Neither of you have any idea what things are like on Earth, nor do we know anything about where you claim to be from. It's an unsettling theory, to be sure—but in light of recent events, it seems to be the only plausible one. Furthermore—"
"Wait a minute!" Anyu cut in, "you said you've talked with Hiro and me, but you never mentioned Kirima. What've you done with her?"
A shadow fell over Jefferson's brow for the briefest of moments, and he frowned. "You and Hiro just woke up a few hours ago, after being in a comatose state for five days. Kirima... She isn't up yet."
"Is she alright?"
"Well, she got banged up a good deal worse than you two did during your landing, but our doctors are optimistic."
"So... she'll recover?"
"As far as we know, she'll be alright when she wakes. However the Stem-Cell enclosure can be a little temperamental sometimes, so—"
The door behind Jefferson slid open for the second time, and again, a new man was standing there. This one was dressed in a white lab coat and white work pants. His hair was dark, and well cared for. The strands caressed his scalp perfectly. Anyu's eyes dipped lower, and noted a pair of brown eyes, below which lay a slim mouth, pulled tight into a grimace. This man's skin was a darker, more natural tone—similar to Anyu's.
Jefferson turned around to face the new arrival. "Doctor Stone, what do you want? As you can see, I'm in the middle of something."
"I'm afraid you're gonna have to come with me anyway, sir. You need to see this."
Jefferson nodded. "Anyu, I'd ask you to stay put, but... I suppose you aren't really going anywhere. Lead the way, Stone."
With that, Jefferson got out of his chair, and followed his colleague out the door and into the corridor beyond.
Anyu watched the door slide shut behind the men, and realized something. Jefferson referred to this place—this planet as "Earth". That meant, if the wormhole had indeed dumped him and his companions on another world, it and his world not only shared a dominant species, and a language, but also shared a name. How this was biologically possible, Anyu hadn't the slightest idea, but... Who could argue with the facts? He was in a place called "New York", a city dotted with immense golden spires. There was someplace called "China" he'd never heard of, and another mysterious object by the name of "the Internet".
Yes, it was clear to him now. He was on an Earth, but not his Earth.
Anyu leaned back, and sighed. What a mess he was in.
Well, that's my second chapter! Quite a harrowing interrogation, was it not?
One little side note: obviously, as Anyu and the other astronauts have never seen a person of Caucasian ethnicity before, they're going to find some of the group's common traits disturbing. For instance, the "sickly red spots" on Shaun's face were freckles.
Did you know...?
- Jefferson loves those sunglasses of his like the son he never had. He keeps them with him at all times.
- You're probably wondering exactly what function those glimmering golden spires serve in the NYC skyline. At the time I wrote this, I had absolutely no idea what they did; I just thought it'd be cool to throw some futuristic tech in there somewhere. Their exact purpose is revealed in a future chapter.
- Hiro is ex-military, in case you didn't already guess. He flew with the United Forces for a while.
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