As the Turn of the Worlds: Aang never woke up from the iceberg, and the world went on without him, and without the Avatar. Over the next three thousand years, technology advanced astronomically - literally, the people of the overcrowded world taking to the stars, colonizing a whole new solar system with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Now, the Avatar is a barely-remembered myth, bending is regarded as a relic of a rightfully-dead past - and any children showing bending talent are scooped up by the government for "teaching" and are never seen again - and only two of the original countries still exist: the Fire Nation, part of the Union of Allied Planets and still one of the most powerful forces in it, and the Water Tribe, clinging to life on the Outer Rim, fighting desperately for the dream of independence. The most recent civil war ended seven years ago, in a landslide victory for the Alliance - but that doesn't mean that the fight for independence is over.

Book Two: Still Flying: Azula isn't the only one on the hunt for the Avatar — the Parliament, grossly underestimating the princess, has sent out their own man, an Operative who works with a small strike force of powerful, secretive men. Meanwhile, desperation forces Jet to accept a series of damning jobs from dangerous and untrustworthy people, several lives depend on Katara learning to heal as soon as possible, and an expatriot of the Water Tribe comes back with an offer they can't afford to refuse...

Author's Note: I originally posted this as a continuation from Objects in Space, simply to keep the entire trilogy in one document, but I've been doing a massive overhaul/rewriting project on this book (and will start on the next after I have this one finished to my satisfaction) and so I've decided to start a new document for each book. One of the reasons that I stopped posting this story was because I despaired at the quality, so I hope that you'll find the writing quality, plotting, and characterization is improved from the first book. After finishing these two, I plan to start working on rewriting the first book as well, so that it's more cohesive and in-character.


As the Turn of the Worlds

Book Two: Still Flying

"When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't crawl... When you can't do that..."
"You find someone to carry you."
-Tracy and Zoe; Firefly, "The Message"

prelude
At the Library of Wan Shi Tong in the city of New Dublin on Londinium

Officially, he had no name.

Officially, he and his men did not exist.

The Parliament had, likely without the Fire Lord's knowledge and certainly without the Fire Lord's approval, called him in after Admiral Zhao's surprising defeat at St. Albans, the half-forgotten rock that boasted the remnant of the ancient Water Tribes.

The Fire Lord's solution had been to send his daughter — the shining star of the Core, the Parliament's darling, the insidious and scheming Princess Azula — to find and neutralize whatever it had been that had caused it. While there wasn't much good to say about Ozai, he did at least understand his daughter; the Parliament coddled her, thinking he was cruel to send her off, but he and the Fire Lord, at least, knew that Azula was a much larger threat to the Alliance than any demon the Water Tribe could summon.

Of course, Parliament didn't, and so they had sent him to aid the — no doubt confused and overwhelmed — princess in completing her duty; an Operative who no one knew about, who was expected to let the princess take full credit for his work.

He'd done worse jobs, for worse reasons, and with worse people, but he wasn't sure he'd ever found it quite so distasteful as this one, simply because it was based on such an infuriating premise. Not that it was surprising, or even unexpected: Azula was a master of many things, but her ability to lie convincingly was probably her best skill.

Still, repulsive as the job was, it was his job, and he would do it properly.

The Parliament had been notably tight-lipped regarding the nature of Zhao's defeat, merely that it involved a state secret that was above even his pay grade. Technically, he was supposed to accept that because he was an Operative, and Operatives were meant to be concerned solely with the keeping of dangerous secrets; he wasn't supposed to care what the secret was, just that it was kept.

He, however, felt that approaching the problem like Zhao had approached it — too arrogant to entertain the notion that there were things he might not be able to handle, and might need to prepare for beyond loading his weapons — would simply end with the same result that Zhao had accomplished.

Which led him here, to the Library of Wan Shi Tong, the oldest and most comprehensive library in the entire multi-star system. It had managed the move from Earth That Was thanks to the personal intervention of the then-current Fire Lord, and survived the war intact through the personal intervention of himself, leaving the librarians so deeply into his and the Alliance's debts that he could wring them for any kind of information, no matter how rare, dangerous, or classified it was.

"This is all we have, sir," the weedy young man said, staggering under the weight of four heavy glass cases that served to preserve the library's oldest documents. "There are a lot of missing pieces, but they're... some of these are four or five thousand years old, it's a miracle they made it this long."

"All?" he asked, looking over the first case. The man nodded fearfully, like he'd done something wrong, and the Operative sighed. "Thank you very much for your help," he said sincerely, bowing slightly to the assistant to show that he wasn't offended. "If you could leave them with me, I will see that they are returned to their proper place as soon as I am through."

"Yes, sir," the young man replied, and bowed out of the room.

The scrolls were ancient, even by this library's standards: the oldest case was dated as 2000 AB and a question mark — two thousand years before the end of the Age of Bending, if the historian had been correct. From what he understood, the full series had once encompassed the origin and history of the Avatar, but now their story was spotty at best, and there was some question about the veracity of the information, due to its heavy emphasis on the mystical. He wasn't sure how much of it to believe, but he was willing to be open-minded, with the precious little resources he had at his disposal for this job.

It had not been easy to convince the Fire Nation's notoriously loyal librarians to give up the information that Prince Iroh and Princess Azula had both scavenged, but from what they said and the books the royals had focused on, he felt confident that he knew the identity of what he was facing, if nothing else about it.

Unwilling to accept that and intent on finding something that would give him an edge over Azula, he had continued to dig, leading him here, to one of only three known sets of scrolls remaining that spoke of bending as a martial art, and the only one that spoke of the Avatar as a living human. If these scrolls couldn't tell him what the Avatar was capable of, nothing would.

The language was an archaic dialect that had finally died almost a millenia ago, but he had been given a comprehensive education by the Alliance from a very young age for this specific purpose, and could safely boast that he was one of a select few who could still read the old tongues. There were pockets of knowledge, high-end tutors and dusty historians or critically specialized linguists, but it was little more than a boasting point to them; even he hadn't found practical use for it.

Until now.

"In the time of Avatar Kyoshi," he mumbled, reading through the most recent scroll, which was paradoxically the most damaged and faded. It detailed an Avatar affiliated with Earth, a powerful woman who had commanded fans, like those madwomen from Shadow who had called themselves her descendants. The writer spoke of her with great reverence, listing her — admittedly impressive — acheivements with high pomp and circumstance.

It didn't, however, give him any detail as to how Kyoshi had accomplished those works. He assumed, judging from the type of actions, that she favored force over politics, which suggested to him that the Avatar was more of a physical power rather than a high-ranking state leader. That would hold with the legendary nature of the title, even if it seemed unrealistic to anyone familiar with a position of leadership — shows of force only served to remove power, not to weild it effectively and improve the lives of one's subjects.

After Kyoshi's acheivements was another history, of an Avatar of Fire by the name of... something unreadable — ink had, at some point in the distant past, been spilled or slashed over his name. His history was likewise smudged, where it wasn't cut out altogether, until the very end, where a date was given for his death: twelve years prior to the end of the Age of Bending, which coincided with the Avatar's disappearance.

A quick cross-reference with the other scrolls showed him the progression of elements: Water to Earth to Fire to Air. So the Avatar that Iroh had unwisely awoken, preserved in the Fire Nation's hands since this scroll was finished, was a twelve-year-old child trained only in bending air.

Long Feng smiled; this would be easier than he'd hoped.