After putting the crew to bed on their last night in space, I left the Control Room and made my way back to the Crew Center, more tired than I could remember having been in a long time. That wasn't a good sign, considering that the mission's last and in some ways trickiest phase was coming up next. I had a lot on my mind as I let myself into our apartment.
Not so much that I didn't notice the divine aroma that wafted out at me the moment I opened the door, though, nor the friendly little group that was assembled around the table in the apartment's combination kitchen-dining room.
"Hi, Mom," Hikari called from the kitchen half of the room. "You're just in time. Have a seat, dinner's almost up."
I looked at my watch. "It's nearly eleven o'clock," I said.
"You couldn't get out of the Control Room 'til eleven? Then dinner's at eleven," Hikari replied pragmatically. "Sit!"
"There's no point arguing with her when she's like this," said Tenzin from the table with a sage little smile. Ever the gentleman, he rose and pulled out one of the vacant chairs for me.
"Just like her parents," Pema added sentimentally as I sat down across from her.
Hikari leaned out of the kitchen and looked toward the door. "Isn't Mako with you?"
I shook my head. "He's still in the Control Room."
With an exasperated growl, she went to the wall phone in the kitchen, dialed the extension for his station in the Control Room, and said, "You. Dinner. Now. Bring Jinora. Ah-ah! I don't want to hear it. I'm timing you," then hung up. Tenzin and Pema blinked at each other, then at her, and she grinned. "You just have to know how to talk to these people," she said.
A slightly sheepish Mako appeared minutes later, with Pabu aboard and Jinora in tow, and the six of us sat down to a delicious Air Nomad meal. Neither Hikari nor I was a vegetarian, but we had long agreed that theirs was the finest such food in the world. She had learned to cook a wide range of their dishes, some from Korra or me (both of us had lived at one point or another on Air Temple Island), others during her own time as a student at the temple school. Tonight's offering was a potarsnip curry, rich and just a little biting, with rice, salad, and nicely charred little flatbreads.
While we ate, we avoided talking about the mission, since that was all any of us ever did the rest of the time lately. Instead, we reminisced about adventures past, the elders among us regaling Hikari with war stories of days gone by. Not until the food was gone and we were lingering over butter tea and pastries (another Air Nomad specialty) did Tenzin raise a matter related to work.
"Asami," he said, "I've been thinking about your plan to stay in the Control Room until the landing, and I think I have a better idea."
"Oh?" I asked.
"You're staying because you want to be on the radio with them as soon as they come out of the ionization blackout. Correct?"
I nodded. "That's right."
"How long is the blackout supposed to last?"
"We don't know exactly," I said. "At least fifteen minutes, possibly as many as twenty."
Tenzin nodded, and I could see him calculating something; then he smiled and said, "Oogi and I can have you on Lagos Island well before they emerge, then. If you like, you can get back onto the communications net from the blockhouse there and watch them land with your own eyes."
I blinked. I hadn't thought of that. It had occurred to me to try to get to Lagos during the blackout, and do exactly as he was suggesting, so that I would be on hand to welcome the crew home in person as soon as they lowered the ramp; but in none of the scenarios I modeled in my head could I make it there in time. A boat would be too slow; a seaplane would take too long to preflight and secure at the far end. But a sky bison like Oogi could take me straight from the roof of the Control Center to the doorstep of the Lagos Island blockhouse, shaving a good ten minutes off the journey time.
"Why didn't I think of that?" I wondered wryly.
"Too busy thinking of absolutely everything else?" Mako suggested, and we all laughed.
"Thank you, Tenzin," I said. "That's a very kind offer, and one I'll certainly take you up on. Not only will I be there for the landing, it'll give me something to do during the blackout besides sit in my chair and go mad."
We lingered over tea for a while longer, unwilling to let the occasion end; but at last, with the grace of a master Air Acolyte, Pema excused herself and her husband, and Jinora left with them. Mako stayed on long enough to lose 20 yuan and overnight custody of Pabu to Hikari at pai sho, then slunk off to lick his wounds. The rain had finally stopped as we got ready for bed; after one last long look at the moon, shining through as the clouds broke up and drifted away, we retired.