Author's Note--read this first!: This is what happens when a sci-fi/military fan writes a fanfic for a fantasy TV show. While I was thinking about another future fic I'm doing, "Mistbenders", I suddenly thought "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if the Fire Nation invented jet fighters?" And it just kind of snowballed--this was going to be a one-shot originally, but after four straight hours of writing I realized there's enough potential here to put out quite a bit of material. This is arguably a spinoff of "Mistbenders", depending on what direction I go with that. It certainly is based on the same backstory as that fic, such as the incorporation of Air Nomad genes and traditions into the Southern Water Tribe courtesy of Aang's inevitable marriage to Katara, a new war between the Southern Tribe (renamed the Mist Tribe) and the Fire Nation one hundred years after the series, and a new Northern Water Tribe-born Avatar named after everyone's favorite princess-turned-moon-spirit. And yes, for those of you who have been awaiting the second chapter of "Mistbenders", that IS the story—hope you don't mind the spoilers. But "Mistbenders" will probably end up dialing back the technological advances quite a bit from this. This is just pure rule-of-cool action. Also: apologies to Timothy Zahn for ripping off his standard intro paragraphs for his Star Wars novels. And one final note: 100 points and a solid gold Momo statue to whoever figures out the common link between most of the Fire Nation characters' names. I'll give you a hint: It's related to airplanes.

Like some ancient leviathan come to life, the colossal Fire Nation warship Zuko slid through the open sea. Though the first rays of sunlight were only just peeking over the horizon, the crew of the Zuko was already hard at work, preparing for what would most likely be the turning point of the entire war.

Admiral Jiang-Shi stood on the bridge, contemplating the open ocean and the dangers it hid. Forward scouts had spotted a small armada of Mist Tribe ships and wargliders approaching. At least, they had guessed it was a small armada; due to the penchant for stealth the Mist warriors had, nobody knew their real numbers. The approaching group of ships might have been the entire Mist fleet, or only a tiny fraction of it. Whatever the case, their constant manipulation of the weather combined with unmatched aerial combat capabilities made even the smallest group a force to be reckoned with, and Fire victories had been few and far between. With any luck, though, that would change today.

For the Zuko was no ordinary warship. It was the first of a new class, made for a purpose that hadn't even existed until six years ago. It had little armament of its own; its abnormally large and flat deck was occupied by something entirely new; something that had never been seen before: steeldragons.

Jiang-Shi turned his attention to the deck below him. The mechanics were doing some last-minute maintenance on the 'dragons, making sure the conduction lines were flawless and the fuel tanks were filled. The early prototypes of the Iroh-class steeldragon had been notoriously unreliable, and many good soldiers had been killed in the tests. But the final versions had yet to suffer a single equipment failure, due both to improvements in the design and the diligence of the mechanics.

The admiral had a sinking feeling that that perfect record would end today. The Iroh was an incredible piece of machinery, to be sure, and far more advanced than anything the Misties had, but it was unproven in real combat conditions.

"Admiral! We've spotted the enemy armada!" A young lieutenant interrupted his musing. "Orders, sir?" He and the rest of the bridge crew looked up hopefully at Jiang-Shi, eager for the order that would alter the nature of warfare forever.

Jiang-Shi smiled. Perhaps the victory would not be perfect, but a glorious victory it would be nonetheless. "Prepare to launch all steeldragons."

This was it. Finally, after three years of training and practice, with the constant threat of equipment failure always looming over him, Kiro was going to see some action. He stared at his 'dragon, examining the angles and curves that rather pathetically attempted to make the bulky craft aesthetically pleasing. There was no covering it up; the Iroh was flat-out ugly. But he loved it nonetheless.

"Hey, Kiro. Stop staring and get your butt in the director's seat. They've spotted the Misties on the horizon; the admiral's ordered us to prepare and stand by for launch. This is the moment we've been waiting for." The Iroh required a crew of three: the director, who controlled the steeldragon's maneuvering system; the engineer, who ignited the engine and controlled the speed; and the killer, whose job needed no explanation. The latter two had to be firebenders, but the director—Kiro, in this case—needed nothing more than good eyes and better instincts. It was his 'dragon's engineer that approached him now, a woman named Mikoyana. "Well? Are you waiting for Sozin's Comet to come back or something?"

"Okay, okay." Kiro climbed up the ladder into the director's seat. "Where's Shen?"

"Right here." Shenyang, the killer for Kiro's crew, seemed to appear out of nowhere as always. It would've been outright scary if it weren't for his perpetual absentmindedness. "Why? What's going on? Another test run or something?" The entire crew had known about the incoming fleet for at least a day; Kiro sometimes found it incredible that Shen had managed to stay in the navy at all, let alone master firebending to the level required for his role.

"Nope. They've spotted a Mist Tribe fleet; it's finally the real deal."

"WOO-HOO!" Shen let out an overly enthusiastic cheer and fired off a plume of flame into the air, getting a few stares from the other crews around them. "IT'S SHOWTIME, BABY! LET'S BURN THOSE MISTIES!" He hopped up the ladder and into the killer's seat next to Kiro. Mikoyana just sighed and got into the raised engineer's seat behind them.

"All steeldragon crews, prepare to launch. Repeat, all steeldragon crews, prepare to launch." As soon as the order came, Kiro closed the cockpit. They were only third in line to launch, so he had to make final preps quickly, or else he'd delay the whole sequence. He buckled his harness and unlocked the maneuvering stick. Shen cranked his seat forward, putting himself in a prone position with his face pressed into built-in binoculars and his feet braced against footrests. He opened the airtight leather firing seals, hooking his gloves into them so his arms could actually extend out in front of the steeldragon while still being protected from the cold air and rushing winds. (Kiro, as always, reflected on how incredibly stupid the already ugly machine must have looked with a pair of leather-clad arms sticking out of least until those arms started launching fireballs at you.) Mikoyana buckled in as well, gripping the fueler lever with one hand while kindling a small, white-hot flame with the other. They all watched as the first steeldragon was launched, and then the second.

The mechanic standing to the side gave the "all clear" hand signal. Mikoyana looked at Kiro and Shen; both of them gave her a "good to go" thumbs up. With a smile, she slapped the hovering flame down into a circular metal pad in front of her, while pulling the fueler lever to the position marked "FULL". As the fuel tank opened into the engines, the intense heat was conducted from the pad, through a metal conduction line, and into the engine. The fuel ignited with a roar and a burst of flame that made the steeldragon worthy of its name.

Shen let out a loud whoop as the 'dragon leaped forward, hurtling along the Zuko's deck at speeds unmatched by any other vehicle in the world. It reached the end of the deck—

And flew, as some mystery force caught hold of the wings and lifted them up, up, and away...into the unseasonable and very quickly gathering storm.