In the early days of the Chun Tai era, Avatar Korra helped the six nations of our world find a new balance among themselves. The world of Dìqiú entered a peaceful age of discovery and creativity... but not every discovery is a new technology or unexplored territory, and not every creation is a new invention.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Magnetic Terrapin Studios
The Legacy of Korra, Book 5: Veil
Challenging the Cold Silence Prelude
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Philip Jeremy Moyer
Legacy devised by
Philip Jeremy Moyer
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
As was their custom of a Saturday, Asami Sato and Avatar Korra were having a late and leisurely breakfast in the kitchen of their lodgings on this grey and rainy first one of the month. In this case it was the townhouse near Republic City University where they'd lived for most of grad school, but it might've been any number of places, given their globetrotting lifestyle. Asami had homes in all the world's capitals, as part of her extensive business holdings, and though Korra claimed no worldly property of her own, she had standing welcomes in most of the planet's temples and throughout the Spirit World. Late in the morning on any given Saturday, in any of those places (and if no pressing matters intruded), the two of them could generally be found in the kitchen, if there was one, with toast and a newspaper.
"Huh," said Korra thoughtfully from behind the sports section of the Republic City Tribune. "Four penalties, are you kidding me?" Then, lowering the paper, she picked up another piece of toast, slathered it with jam, and asked, "Any ideas for this afternoon? I guess testing the S.17 is kind of a bust in this weather."
"Mm," Asami agreed, taking a sip from her teacup. "There's always engineering revisions to approve, I suppose."
Korra's face fell. "Bo-ring," she said, picking up the paper again. "Maybe I'll see if one of the boys wants to -"
The telephone on the wall by the refrigerator rang, interrupting her speculations. Asami raised an eyebrow thoughtfully, then got up and went to answer it. Putting down the paper again, Korra smiled slightly. People often didn't know how to react when they called and Asami answered the phone herself; many, even among those few who knew her private numbers, assumed someone as wealthy and powerful in the business world as she was would have People For That.
"Hello," she said, and then a moment later, "Speaking. Yes. Oh, good morning. Is there - ... yes?" Korra's little smile became a look of curiosity, then concern, as Asami's demeanor changed. It was subtle, and many would've missed it, but her hand tightened slightly on the receiver, and the expression on her face became fixed and ever-so-faintly wooden.
"I understand," Asami went on, her voice a little bit too even. "No. I'll take care of everything. Thank you for letting me know before... yes. Of course. Goodbye."
"Asami?" Korra wondered, rising to her feet. Asami hung up the phone, but remained standing by it, her hand still on the receiver, for a few moments. "Who was it? What's the matter?"
Asami gazed out the kitchen window at the townhouse's small back garden for a moment, then turned and regarded Korra, her clear green eyes hard to read. "That was Warden Chuzai," she said.
Korra frowned in puzzlement. "Chuzai? At Whitecliff? What's she calling for on a Saturday?" Her frown becoming a slight smirk, she added, "Did your father escape?"
"In... a manner of speaking," Asami replied matter-of-factly, which was not the answer Korra had expected to that well-worn old injoke. "He died this morning."
Korra blinked. "... What?"
"The prison doctors say it was a heart attack," Asami went on. "Very sudden. He was gone before they could do anything."
"Oh," said Korra, her voice small. She rounded the table and took Asami in her arms, holding her tight, the taller woman's head resting on one of her strong shoulders.
She'd never been entirely comfortable with the idea when, some years ago, Asami had tentatively resumed contact with her estranged father in prison (where he'd been locked up since 170 for treason, conspiracy, terrorism, and murder). Part of that was because Korra's had been one of the murders he hadn't quite accomplished, which rather colored her attitude toward the man; but mostly it was because she knew that helping to put him away had nearly broken Asami's heart, and she'd have seen cities burn before she let that happen again.
Seeing how important the rapprochement, however hesitant, was to Asami convinced her to hold her peace; but she'd always been watchful, always wary - and always ready to strike, whatever the cost, if Hiroshi Sato had ever proven unworthy of the fragile trust his grown-up daughter was willing to risk placing in him again after so many years. It had never proven necessary, but Korra had always feared that it someday might.
All of that flickered through the Avatar's mind, unvoiced and almost instantly forgotten, in the face of her lover's very real grief. Korra might be largely unable to mourn the man herself, but that didn't mean she didn't care. Her natural empathy and her deep investment in Asami's state of mind saw to that.
Asami didn't cry, but her voice was lower and a little unsteady as she returned the embrace and said, "I'll have to give him a decent funeral. I don't imagine many people will attend, but... Mother would've wanted it." Sounding almost apologetic about it, she added quietly, "And whatever you think of him, I believe he deserves at least that much."
"Hey, it's not my call," said Korra gently. "Are you all right? That's the only part that matters to me."
"I'm... well, in a way, it changes nothing," Asami mused. "I mean... I lost my Daddy a long time ago. The man who died this morning was... somebody else. But he was still my father. It's..." She trailed off, her shoulders lifting slightly in a helpless shrug.
"You don't have to explain it to me," Korra murmured. "You know I'm with you, whatever you decide to do. Anything you need. I'm right here."
Asami raised her head and leaned back a little to look her in the eye, her own still more or less unreadable. "Anything?"
"Anything," replied Korra firmly.
A faint, jagged fragment of a smile showed through Asami's stony I-am-in-control mask as she kissed her lover, then put her head back down and held on tight, finally letting some tears through.
The next week was a whirlwind, as all of Asami's nearest and dearest closed ranks to support her and fend off the baying packs of the press simultaneously. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know how the world's foremost inventor-industrialist Felt about the passing of her long-estranged, notorious father, with whom she had had only intermittent contact (none of it publicized) since his consignment to the United Republic's maximum-security prison at Whitecliff. Mostly, what they found out instead was the extent to which her closest friends were willing to go to keep them from bothering her, which was - to borrow the United Daily News correspondent's term - impressive.
By week's end, however, it had sunk in for most of them that there would be no story here. Behind the screen of her loved ones, the late Hiroshi Sato's only child and heir claimed his mortal remains from the prison hospital and privately arranged for them to be cremated. The modest memorial service, held in the mansion he had forsaken, was not open to the public nor the press.
To prevent his grave from becoming a point of pilgrimage for any lingering hangers-on of the Equalist "ideal" - or of protest to those who had been hurt in the insurrection he had fostered and financed - he didn't have one. Instead, Asami cast his ashes from one of the aircraft that were his most tangible positive legacy, and contented herself with the thought that the company he had built and she had saved would serve, at least in her own mind, as his cenotaph.
And that, as far as the outside world was aware, was that. The more ravenous members of the press corps found the whole thing quite disappointing as they returned to their regular beats and started looking around for better stories.
Korra knew better. After 15 years by Asami's side (or with Asami by hers, depending on your viewing angle) in one capacity or another, she knew well the difference between back-to-normal and that-was-only-act-one, and the vibe she was getting as Asami wrapped up the last of the business attending her father's passing was very definitely the latter. There was a preoccupation about her, an air of pensive, introspective distraction, that said whatever she had taken away from the event, she hadn't finished processing it yet.
That same decade and a half of experience had also taught Korra that this was not the time to dig. Whatever Asami was worrying at, she'd keep at it until she had it unpicked in her mind, and it would do no good to pester her about it. She'd just have to stay close, pay attention, and be ready to respond whenever that moment finally came.
It came ten days after the funeral. Korra was up on the roof of the Republic City townhouse after lunch, doing some firebending exercises and thereby trying to distract herself from fretting, when she noticed Asami standing by the door to the stairs. She wasn't dressed for action (if anything, she looked ready for bed, which was odd considering the time of day), but there was a decisive set to her features as she leaned against the wall by the door with her arms folded and waited for Korra to finish her kata.
This she did, not rushing the exercise, but wasting no time either. Then, after snagging her towel from one of the outstretched arms of the kung fu dummy in the corner and draping it around her neck, she trotted across and said,
"I need you to take me to see someone," said Asami.
Korra gave her a wry smile. "Chauffeur's day off?" she asked - another old injoke, since Asami had always driven herself.
Asami smiled slightly in return and replied, "Not someone I can get to by car."
"Hm?" said Korra curiously; then the fen dropped and she nodded. "Oh. OK, let's go."
Whenever she came to the Great Library, which wasn't as often as she would've liked, Korra always had to stop and admire the spectacle of its grand rotunda for a bit before getting on with whatever she'd come to do. It was just such an impressive space, even by the standards of the Spirit World, that she would have felt remiss if she hadn't taken a few seconds to acknowledge its splendor.
Asami, who had been her guest here on a few previous occasions, normally did so as well, but today she was far too focused on... whatever she wanted here... to give it a moment's notice. As soon as they arrived, she made straight across to the Library's proprietor, who stood in the middle of the rotunda with his wings furled and, as ever, an air of faint outrage that a mortal lifeform had seen fit to intrude upon his domain.
"You stand before Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things," the great owl spirit intoned, but if he was expecting Asami to react with awe or trepidation, he was to be disappointed. She marched up to him, her look of determination undiminished, and placed a large magnetic tape cartridge on the table before him with a definitive clack that echoed around the chamber.
"This is everything currently known about supersonic flight," she said flatly, "and a few things that aren't yet."
Wan Shi Tong would've arched an eyebrow if he'd had any. He looked down at the cartridge for a moment, then back (still down, since he was nearly ten feet tall) at Asami's face.
"And in return?" he inquired.
"I thought you were all-seeing," Asami replied with a faintly challenging half-smile.
Korra wondered vaguely if she'd have to intervene. Wan Shi Tong was notoriously prickly - indeed, he was the main reason why Korra only rarely came to the Library, as she and the knowledge spirit were about as far from friends as people who did not actively try to kill each other on sight could be - and being treated with anything less than obsequious, fawning respect by mortals was one of his most reliable triggers. Not that Korra figured Asami would be the one who needed protecting if it came to it, but either way there would be an almighty kerfuffle in the Spirit World if they came to blows.
She was surprised, however, to see something vaguely akin to an avian smirk touch the face of Wan Shi Tong, after which he inclined his head and said in a tone of unmistakable amusement, "Touché, Professor Sato." He passed one of his wings over the tape cart, making it disappear, and then said, "Come with me. I believe I can locate the information you require." Looking past her at Korra, he added, "And you, Avatar?"
Korra spread her hands. "I'm just driving today," she said.
The owl spirit nodded again. "Very well. This may take some time." Then, with an air of dry asperity, he added, "Try not to touch anything," and he conducted Asami out of the rotunda and into the depths of the Library.
"'Try not to touch anything,'" Korra mocked, scowling, and then settled herself on the floor and began to meditate.
She had no idea how long Asami was gone - time worked oddly in the Spirit World anyway, but particularly so in the Great Library - but when she came back, and the two of them returned to the material world, Korra opened her eyes to find that night had fallen. Beside her, Asami stirred, then blinked awake as well, looking up at the dark-hidden ceiling of their bedroom with a just-readable look of thoughtful wonder.
"So," she said quietly, as if to herself. "Now I know."
"Are you ready to tell me what's going on yet?" Korra inquired.
Asami glanced at her, then smiled and took her hand.
"Not quite yet," she said. "Now I have to assimilate what I've just learned. Can you give me a few more days, please?"
"Anything you need," Korra said once more, drawing her close.
In the event, a few more days became two weeks, during which time the demands of both women's busy lives would have kept them from undertaking any very deep discussion anyway. Korra wasn't even at home for most of the second week, having been unexpectedly called away to deal with a minor spirit crisis in the western hinterlands of the Fire Nation.
When she returned to Republic City on Friday evening, she arrived with a takeaway bag from The Baozi Experts in each hand, declaring loudly, "I'm back!"
Then, puzzled, she noticed that the table in the formal dining room they virtually never used was set, and for a second she thought Asami was having a dinner party. Korra's heart sank at the thought, not because she disliked dinner parties (although she generally did), but because she had been hoping that they might finally get a little time to themselves. Then she noticed that there were only two place settings.
While she was mulling that over, Asami appeared in the doorway leading off to the kitchen and smiled. "Welcome home," she said.
"Hey, so, I brought baozi..." said Korra, holding up the bags.
"Good," said Asami. "I was hoping you would. Why don't you get us set up while I go downstairs and find us some wine?"
"... Why don't I," Korra agreed, after taking a moment to parse that her detour had been part of Asami's plan all along. Chuckling to herself, she unpacked the bags and arranged their contents on the two plates. By the time she'd finished with that, Asami was back from the cellar with a dusty bottle of Northern Range Reserve.
"There," she said, placing the bottle on the table.
"What's the occasion?" Korra wondered as she sat down. "We never eat in here."
"I thought a change of scenery might do us some good," said Asami.
"Uh-huh," replied Korra mock-thoughtfully; then she went on, "Well, in that case, the ambience needs a little work," and, with a cocky little grin, she snapped her fingers. As she did so, the candles in the middle of the table sprang spontaneously to life.
"Showoff," Asami said.
"Hey, if you got it," Korra replied, leaving the rest unsaid, then added with elaborately faked nonchalance, "You come here often?"
Asami smiled. "Every chance I get."
And so they ate fast-food meat buns off the best dishes by candlelight in the fanciest room in the house, an act of such willfully casual subversion that Korra enjoyed it thoroughly. Only after the meal, when they retired to the study to linger over the last of the wine, did Asami raise anything other than light topics.
When she did, though, the topic she raised was so non-light it might've set a record, so it all balanced out in Korra's book:
"All right, so. You've been very patient with me these last few weeks, and I appreciate it more than I can say."
"Hey, I told you - anything you need," Korra said with her ready smile.
"Mm. So you did..." Asami mused, her face closing down pensively for a moment. Then, with a shake of her head, she said, "I'm not sure you'll still feel that way in a moment, but... well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I tell you what I learned in the Great Library, let me tell you why I wanted to know it."
Korra gave her a quizzical eyebrow. "OK...?"
"You see... Dad's death got me thinking about... well, any number of things, but mostly, it got me thinking about the future. About... what I leave behind, and to whom I leave it."
"You turned the company he nearly crashed into a global colossus of innovation, sound business practices, and good corporate citizenship," Korra pointed out. "That's not bad legacy-wise."
"No, I suppose it isn't," Asami said. "But... on a personal level, it's not enough. I'm proud of Future Industries, proud of what it is, what it stands for. But when he died... it got me thinking about something he said to me the last time I saw him. That he'd never made anything better than me."
"Well," said Korra wryly, "I can't argue with him there."
Asami chuckled in spite of herself, giving Korra a grateful little smile, then went on, "That's been rattling around in the back of my mind ever since he said it, and when he died, I realized that I'm proud of that, too. Of my own good name. I've made the Sato name stand for something good and right, in spite of what Dad put it through. I'm proud to be a Sato... and I don't want to be the last."
Korra blinked. "Uh... so you're... you lost me."
Asami sighed at her with fond exasperation. "I'm saying I want to leave a personal legacy as well as a technological one." She drank the last of her wine, put the glass on the table beside her chair, and folded her hands before her face, frowning pensively into her interlaced knuckles for a second. Then she raised her eyes, glinting in the light from the study fireplace, to Korra's and told her,
"I'm saying I want to have a child."
Korra looked silently back at her for a few seconds, then said slowly, "... Thank you for not waiting until I was taking a drink to say that."
"I wouldn't want to get wine on the rug," Asami replied.
Korra chuckled. "True. Well, anyway." She put her own glass carefully aside, sat back, and considered her lover for a few more long moments, then sat up straight again and asked simply, "What do you need from me?" With a self-deprecating chuckle, she added, "If it's advice on picking out a dad, you're askin' the wrong girl."
"Trust me," said Asami dryly, "I'm well aware of that. At any rate, there's no need. I already know who it has to be."
Korra blinked again. "Uh... OK. So what do you need from me? If it's my support, you've already got it. I told you anything and I meant it."
"Well, now we get to what I went to the Great Library to find," said Asami. "You're aware, of course, that since Harmonic Convergence, there have been documented cases of humans and spirits falling in love, marrying, and even having children together. I wanted to find out more about how that works - if it's just an extension of the ordinary way, or if there's something more..." She searched for a word. "... transcendent about it."
"Mm hmm," said Korra. She was still pretty much lost, but rather than say so again, she figured she would just let Asami get on with it and try to pick the thread up again at the end.
"What I discovered is that it's sometimes one and sometimes the other... but that means the other does happen. Both in the ancient past and in recent times, mortal women have borne the children of spirits who... weren't built to father children the usual way. As it were," she added, reddening slightly.
"Well... that's... interesting, but I don't see -" Korra stopped suddenly, her eyes widening, and blushed fetchingly across the bridge of her nose. "Oh man, you mean you and Wan Shi Tong...?!"
"No!" Asami blurted, her own face going crimson. "Great spirits, no, don't even joke." She shivered theatrically.
"Oh. OK. I gotta admit, that's a huge relief," said Korra, slumping back in her chair. "I mean, can you even imagine?" she asked with a reprise of her wry grin. "Little owl-headed children, flying into a rage whenever anyone touches their First Readers."
In spite of herself, Asami giggled at the thought, which was just what Korra had been hoping for. They laughed together for a few moments, then sat back and contemplated each other thoughtfully for a few more.
"Still not getting it," Korra admitted at length.
Asami rolled her eyes. "Oh, for pity's sake," she said. "Korra, you're half-spirit."
Korra gave her an utterly confounded look for a second; then it melted away into lesser puzzlement, then consideration, then dawning realization. "Wait, wait, wait. You mean you want me to... me and Raava... are you sure that's even possible?"
"You've seen for yourself that there's very little that isn't," Asami replied. She got up from her chair and approached, slowly, her expression tentative. "I know you said anything. But I also know you couldn't have imagined that anything would extend this far. So I'm asking you again, and if your answer is no, I promise you I won't hold it against you. I know it's asking a great deal more than you even thought possible... but will you do this for me?"
Korra rose to her feet and met her halfway between their seats, in the middle of the room. With a deeply pensive look on her face, she reached and took both of Asami's hands, holding them up between them, so that they were regarding each other's faces over the row of their knuckles.
Then, closing her eyes, she shook her head. "No," she said.
Asami's shoulders sagged, her hands going slack in Korra's. "I understand," she said, but before she could go on, Korra opened her eyes again and said firmly,
"I'll do it with you." As Asami's eyes went wide, tears springing into the corners, the Avatar gave her wry smile once more and added, "But you're gonna have to tell me how, 'cause I tell you what, I am not askin' the others for tips."
Asami's laugh in response collided with a sob and came out as an odd sort of bark, and she released Korra's hands to throw her arms around her instead.
The nervously expectant little crowd gathered in the Air Temple infirmary's main corridor looked up as one as the door at the end of the hall slid open. A moment later, Korra emerged, looking as disheveled, sweaty, and generally out-of-sorts as she had been at the end of any number of knock-down-drag-out fights all of those present had seen her wage - but also almost incandescently happy. That alone answered the question that sprang to all their lips, letting them leave it unasked, as the weary-looking Avatar grinned broadly around at all of them.
"All done," she said, her voice low. "If you promise to keep quiet, you can come and have a look at Hikari."
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Magnetic Terrapin Studios
The Legacy of Korra, Book 5: Veil
Challenging the Cold Silence Prelude
Benjamin D. Hutchins
with Philip Jeremy Moyer
Legacy devised by
Philip Jeremy Moyer
Korra created by
Michael Dante DiMartino
and Bryan Konietzko
E P U (colour) 2014