Maikka Fortnight 2012: Catch
Part 4 of the Time is an Illusion series
"So, you figured out that Mai and I are from the past. Do you have any idea how we ended up here?" Sokka indicated the city with a sweep of his arm.
Iroh glanced over his shoulder at Sokka. "I don't have a clue, but I think I know someone who does."
"Your friends who were looking for reenactors?" guessed Mai.
"Good guess," said Iroh.
As they reached the edge of the town square, Iroh peered down the street.
"You do know where you're going," Sokka said hesitantly.
"Of course," answered Bumi, on Iroh's behalf. "He's just looking for a taxicab. It's a long walk to the bay from here."
Iroh raised his arm.
"Taxi!" called Iroh. A "civilian tank" with a row of checkers on its side pulled over toward the curb.
"Oh, that's what these are called? And we get to ride in one?" Sokka's face lit up in a broad grin.
Bumi laughed with delight and clapped Sokka's shoulder. "It's so good to see a younger you. We have a lot to catch up on, Uncle."
"Where to?" asked the taxicab driver, who seemed to take no notice of Bumi's unusual comment.
"The ferry station by the bridge," said Iroh, opening the rear door and sliding inside. Sokka ducked in after him, while Bumi opened the front passenger door.
"Do you want to ride navigator?" he asked Mai.
Mai raised her eyebrow. "I don't know how to get to the ferry station."
Bumi chuckled. "It's more of a figure of speech than a job description. Just thought I'd offer."
Mai eyed the seat next to the driver before climbing into the back next to Sokka. She preferred to sit next to someone she knew. Let the old guy have the front seat.
Bumi shut the rear door for Mai. Oh. Maybe this was a little too close. Now her leg was touching Sokka's. Mai squeezed her knees together and felt her cheeks burn. She hoped no one noticed.
The driver pulled into traffic. "So General, what's it like to jump onto a flying machine in midair?" the driver asked conversationally.
Iroh thought for a moment. "Pretty exhilarating."
The taxicab rumbled down the street about as fast as a kimodorhino could run. Mai hoped the vehicle could go faster, but for now it could go only as fast as the ones in front of it.
The elegant towers blended together as they passed by, and Sokka's leg was still touching Mai's. Mai might not have had a problem with that if she weren't engaged to Zuko…she was still engaged, wasn't she?
"The way I heard it," Bumi cut in, "he wasn't so much jumping as jetting from airplane to airplane, burning each one as he went."
Mai wondered how these airplanes were different from airships. She also wondered why there weren't any lighted signs on this street. She liked the Flameo one, if it was a bit gaudy.
Sokka's eyes widened as he turned toward Iroh. "You burned a bunch of flying machines?"
Oh yeah, that was kind of odd, now that Sokka pointed that out.
Iroh shot an annoyed glare at Bumi before turning to Sokka and Mai. "Well…" He hesitated.
"We've had a lot of surprises today," Mai told him. "I think we can handle a few more."
"You mean you don't know?" the driver asked in a more subdued tone. "Haven't you been listening to the radio?"
"No, they haven't." Iroh's voice was flat. His gaze remained on Sokka and Mai as he spoke. "Listen, Republic City isn't the symbol of harmony you wanted it to be."
"Who attacked?" Sokka asked bluntly.
Iroh sighed, which made Mai want to ask who his grandmother was, but she sensed this wasn't an appropriate moment.
"A revolutionist, anti-bending terrorist group called the Equalists," he replied. "They used advanced weapons and…fighting techniques to try to rid the world of bending."
"Here we are," said the driver. Mai had to hand it to him: he'd saved them a half-hour trek.
The bay was in sight, muted gray under the silver sky, entirely unlike the garish aquamarine that surrounded the Fire Nation. To the left was the biggest suspension bridge Mai had ever seen. But the building on the right outshone even that architectural marvel of the future.
An enormous glass dome rose from behind a palatial front that was plated with gold, or a convincing substitute. The structure had six small, evenly spaced towers that were capped with teardrops. It sat on the end of a long, low pier; its only neighbor was its magnificent reflection in the smooth water.
It was actually a lot more pretentious than anything she expected to see in Republic City.
Mai's sharp eyes saw that a panel of the glass dome was missing, and it looked like one of the arched windows was broken. She wondered if they were damaged in battle.
Beyond the gold building was a statue of Aang large enough to rival the Gates of Azulon. But while Azulon's statue acted as a guard, Aang's statue was more like a guide, taking a steady step toward the city.
Mai supposed that the homeless man would have directed them to this statue, had they asked him where Aang was.
Iroh paid the driver with paper money. Mai didn't even bother to figure that one out. She was too busy processing everything else.
Bumi opened the front passenger door and heaved himself out onto the sidewalk. He immediately opened Mai's door. She sighed, this time with relief, and leaned out into the cool air. Bumi held his hand to her like a gentleman - or more likely he was just grabby and touchy-feely like Sokka. In any case, Mai accepted his hand, and he pulled her to her feet. Sokka and Iroh soon stepped out behind her.
"Tell us more about these Equalists, General," said Sokka. "Are they still a threat?"
A smiled tugged Iroh's mouth. "Not really, Councilman. They've basically dissolved. Two of their main operatives are awaiting trial in prison. Their leader is still out there somewhere, but he exposed himself as a fraud. I don't think anyone's going to follow him now."
Sokka leaned toward Mai. "Did he say-"
"Yes. I don't get it either."
Bumi laughed. "You'll find out." He paused, his grin sliding down his face. "Or will you? If you're here now, how did you continue your lives in the past?"
"I've been wondering that ever since I found out who Iroh is," said Mai.
Sokka and Bumi furrowed their brows, but Iroh's eyes widened in understanding.
"Who am I to you, Iroh? Am I your grandmother, or just your grandfather's former fiancée?" A horrible thought struck her - what if Zuko and the others assumed she and Sokka eloped? No, that was crazy. They would never think she and Sokka would be that irresponsible, would they?
"Don't worry, you're my grandmother," Iroh assured her. "I didn't mean to imply that you weren't."
Relief washed over Mai. So there was a way back - to Zuko and her own time and life. Now her mind was free to spin in other crazy circles.
"Why didn't you say so before?" asked Sokka, flinging up his hands.
"Because it feels weird to call her Grandmother when she's, what, seventeen?"
"Yeah, well it was just as weird for you to call me Councilman."
"He's got a point, kid," said Bumi. "That is kind of inconsistent."
"Maybe so, but I have a feeling Lady Mai isn't ready to be called Grandmother yet."
"You'd be right," said Mai.
"How about Grandmai?" Sokka spread out his arm as if he were proposing a for-real name. Then he seemed to shrink under Mai's intense glare. "Yeah, I should've known that wouldn't go over well."
"Look, why don't we all call each other by our first names?" suggested Iroh.
This was agreed upon by everyone in the unlikely crew as they began to walk toward the unassuming little ferry station nestled between the enormous bridge and the golden palace.
A/N: Republic City is now my favorite LoK character. It has so many facets to explore and analyze