It's starting to seem a little like a very-leisurely-paced advent calendar around here. This one could be considered a teaser for an upcoming Order of the Rose story, though one that is so upcoming it doesn't actually have a title or a specific slot in the release order yet... --G.
Forodren Mountains, Alfheim
The Alfheim Royal Flying Corps test field, situated as it was amid the mountains north of Andlangr, reminded Korra powerfully of the airfield where Future Industries had developed Dìqiú's first heavier-than-air aircraft, 120 years before. It had that same sense of isolation, even though (like the Future Industries field) it wasn't terribly far from a major city, and the views were very similar. It even had the same basic layout, set down with its crossed runways in the bottom of a roughly-X-shaped valley with peaks rising up all around.
This was, she knew from experience, a somewhat stressful arrangement for an airfield, particularly one intended for the testing of experimental aircraft, but it did have some advantages. It was secure, for one thing; and for another, there was nobody around to inconvenience with falling airplane parts if things went wrong. Retrieving them for study could be a bit of a challenge, though, and it would be a difficult field to operate out of from a pilot's point of view.
Still, the field fit its surroundings, and it wasn't as if there were any big flat spots anywhere else in northern Alfheim. You basically had your choice of building the airfield among these mountains or those mountains up here. Not for nothing was the province called Bergheim. Besides, Korra reflected as Corwin lined up the Lightning to land on one of the runways, if she was here to see the person she thought he was bringing her to see, nowhere could seem more fitting.
A jumpsuited ground crewman in a visored helmet showed them to a parking area off the runway with a pair of glowing batons, guiding them with deft motions that culminated in the universal crossed-batons "stop" signal, then an equally universal thumb-across-the-throat gesture. Corwin shut the fighter down and opened the canopy, by which time more uniformed people had positioned movable stairs for the aircraft's crew to disembark and started tying the ship down.
"Welcome back to Víðbláin, Lord Corwin," said the one who had guided them in, bowing with his—her, Korra realized, now that she heard the voice behind the helmet visor and the shapeless jumpsuit—glowrods crossed before her chest.
"Thank you, Thura," said Corwin.
Thura straightened up, thrust her glowrods into long, narrow pockets on the outer thighs of her jumpsuit, and pulled off her helmet, releasing a moderate fall of silvery-gold hair and a pair of ears that looked to Korra like they must've been pretty uncomfortable crammed in there. Tucking the helmet under her arm, she looked past him at Korra, then smiled and asked him, "Is this her?"
"This is indeed," Corwin replied. "Korra, this is Þurídr Silverthorn. Thura, meet Korra."
"Nice to meet you," said Korra, bowing slightly with fist in hand.
"Well met, Veilwalker," Thura replied, inclining her head. "Welcome to Alfheim at last."
"Is Herself about?" Corwin asked.
Thura she grinned and gestured with her free hand at the largest and most central of the base's main hangars. "The Chief Designer is in Vehicle Assembly today, milord," she said, winking one sea-blue eye, "and if you choose to enter, may your grandfather have mercy on your soul, because the X-72 is being its usual lovable self."
Corwin glanced at Korra, then smiled at Thura and said, "I think we'll risk it."
"Don't say I didn't warn you," Thura replied, and, with another nod, moved off to supervise the continued servicing of his aircraft.
Korra kept herself firmly under control as she followed Corwin to the hangar, though the pitch of nervous excitement was building up within her to the point where, perversely, she almost didn't want to go in. What if she was wrong about being ready for this?
I cannot believe you are even semi-seriously thinking about pigchickening out right now, she chided herself as Corwin put his hand on the doorknob, and then it was too late to do so anyway, and they were inside the hangar.
Inside, it was... well, a hangar, like any other, with a single large, silver aircraft parked in the middle of it and a scattering of workbenches, machine tools, and whatnot around the perimeter. The aircraft was a twin-engined, high-wing jet monoplane of a type Korra had never seen before, which didn't surprise her at all, but its sleek, clean lines were so familiar that she nearly jumped at the sight of it. She didn't recognize it, yet would have known it anywhere—the product of a hand whose works she knew better than her own.
And kneeling atop the starboard wing, peering down into the flush-mounted engine nacelle, was a woman in a dark red coverall, her heavy fall of black hair pulled back in an untidy ponytail and pinioned with a hose clamp to keep it out of the machinery. Some of it had come free, falling down the side of her face and partly obscuring her profile—her eye and ear were hidden—but Korra had the line of her jaw and nose, and from those and the outline of her body, imperfectly obscured by the coverall, she recognized her easily. She knew those lines as well as she knew the aircraft's.
"OK," she said, and the incipient thrill Korra had felt forming when she entered the room burst free and raced up her spine at the sound of that voice. For decades now, she'd only heard it in recordings, and there it was touching her ears live for the first time in nearly 50 years.
"Try it now," Asami Sato went on. Down below, next to the aircraft's right main landing gear, stood a large piece of equipment connected to the engine by heavy cables. Standing by it, a similarly jumpsuited technician in a goggled helmet threw a switch. The machine, evidently a generator of some description, thrummed to life, and a moment later, so did the engine Asami was leaning over. It began to turn, slowly at first, then faster, its hum becoming a whistle, then an escalating whine...
... with a sharp bang from somewhere within it, the engine emitted three cones of orange flame, one from the exhaust, one from the intake, and one from the open access panel Asami was looking into. With a curse, she jerked aside, the gout of fire missing her face by inches. Horrible grinding and shearing noises started coming from the flaming engine.
"Turn it off! Turn it off!" she bellowed over the sound of the engine destroying itself; scrambling to obey, the technician returned the switch he'd thrown to its off position, then pressed several large red emergency-looking buttons. While other, similarly-dressed personnel ran over from other stations to douse the engine with flame-retardant foam, Asami quenched the flame up top by slamming the access panel shut, then jumped down from atop the wing to help the crew put out the main fire.
In moments, before either Corwin or Korra could have intervened, they had it out, and quiet descended again on the hangar, save for the soft sizzling of superheated foam and the metallic pinging of scorched wing panels cooling. Asami conferred briefly with the crew, issuing instructions for the cleanup and repair operations to begin, then took a few steps back, pulled the clamp out of her hair to let it fall free, and stood regarding the mess with folded arms.
"Well," she said to no one in particular, sounding somewhere between disgusted and gamely resigned.
Shooting Corwin a grin, Korra sidled up next to her and remarked, "That didn't look like it worked."
Asami shook her head, still gazing at the burned-out engine. "No, no it did not," she replied, her tone matter-of-fact.
"Would you classify that as a build problem or a design problem?" Korra asked playfully.
Asami sighed. "Probably a little of both," she admitted, "but I won't know for sure until..." She trailed off, blinking bemusedly. Slowly, with one arm still crossed over her chest and the first knuckle of her other fist to her chin, she turned first her eyes, then her head, to inspect the person she was speaking to.
Korra tilted her head inquisitively. "Until?" she wondered.
Asami said nothing, regarding her with an expression that was at first almost skeptical. Then, in quick succession, looks of puzzlement, shock, faint dismay, and comprehension flitted across her face: plain confusion for the completely unexpected sight she was seeing, surprise upon finally registering it, a millisecond pulse of alarm at the most likely explanation for it, and then understanding as she saw the Jera amulet Korra was wearing and realized she wasn't dead, but a guest.
Korra could read all that as if it had been captioned for her, her own face taken up by a progressively less repressible smile; and then she spread her hands and tilted her head to the opposite side, saying simply, "So?"
They stood that way for a second or so longer, separated by a space of no more than two feet, their eyes filling with tears; and then they weren't separated any more, and the tears weren't staying in their eyes.
Corwin, who had crossed to stand by the aircraft's wing so he could see Asami's face, smiled and said to Master Technician Trobac, "I think you guys can expect not to see the Chief Designer again until tomorrow."
"Works for me," said Trobac pragmatically. "It'll take us at least that long to clean up this mess anyway."
"The Chief Designer" - An Order of the Rose Mini-Story/Teaser by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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