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|Deal with the Devil|
17 March 2013
Previously On Political Animals
Lao Beifong paid a visit to the famed oracle Aunt Wu, who foresaw a campaign of lies and deception. She also made a weather prognostic, calling for a severe rainstorm on a specific date. As part of a scheme to tilt the Liberal Party nomination in his favor, Lao convinced General How to schedule the vote for that date, hoping that the poorer Liberals, who tend to support How, would be less likely to vote in harsh weather conditions. Overhearing the plan, Joo Dee became distressed and warned How in a secretive back alley meeting. Meanwhile, General Fong threatened the life of Captain Yung's wife in order to get an endorsement while promising an easy path to the throne of Omashu. Provoked by Kuei, a Ba Sing Se Times reporter, Tanowa's replacement, attacked the Earth King, giving him justification to pass an anti-sedition law banning any written criticism of the king.
"If I may ask just one question, Long Feng, sir, why did you stay so close to the Earth King all those years?" A young campaign aide sat across from his boss in a dimly lit office, speaking over a crackling fire.
The former Grand Secretariat smirked and stared into his green fireplace. "Because power, much like real estate, is all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the to the source, the higher your property value."
The aide pondered this. "Right, but you were basically king anyway. Why didn't you just overthrow him to start with and make it official? Then he never would have gotten in your way."
"That would have simply been an exchange of power for fame, a deadly compromise too many fools make in this era. There's a reason the puppet master is never performing on stage himself."
"Well the way things worked out now, your pretty much under house arrest and you have to campaign for your power instead of just having it."
"First of all, the police are loosening their grip every second. Secondly, power is much easier to keep, much more stable, if it is the people who placed it in your hands. With the support of the people, I'll be more unstoppable than any of our kings have ever been."
"So this is all about power, right?"
"Everything in the world is about power."
"Not the 'rise of the little guy?'"
Long Feng snorted. "Don't tell me you're naive enough to believe that this was ever about some sort of common man's revolution."
"I thought you were going to change the world..."
"A world this old does not change. Only its leaders do." After looking at the aide and seeing that he was troubled, Long Feng sighed. "Of course those who help me in this effort, such as yourself, will be rewarded greatly. Is power not enough for you? Are you no longer willing to help put me in the palace?"
"Oh, of course I am, Sir! You have my undying loyalty!"
"That's good," smiled the man. "For a moment I thought you were about to betray me, but that of course would effectively be committing suicide."
A third voice could be heard at the door opposite to the fireplace where the two men sat. "Long Feng, sir, two women are here to see you," said a man dressed completely in black. The Socialist candidate sat up in his chair and turned his head to see the guests. "Ah, some unlikely but welcomed visitors. Come in." He then looked directly at the man in black and gestured for him to leave. The man nodded and closed the door behind him.
"Well if it isn't the beautiful Joo Dee!" exclaimed Long Feng as he stood. "You can go now, Panchu." The young aide got to his feet and bowed before scurrying out of the office.
"I think we can cut the bullshit," Joo Dee replied.
"Why so cold? And who is your friend?"
"This is Tanowa. She used to work for The Ba Sing Se Times."
"Ah, good for you for leaving that sinking ship. A few more weeks and you might've been mysteriously killed as well."
"Too bad Kuei is terrified of me," retorted the journalist.
"You should be too," Joo Dee stated.
Long Feng returned to his chair and invited the women to take a seat. "Would you like some tea?"
"Alright then. What's this about?"
Joo Dee sat upright. "We have a problem that we need you to fix."
"A problem? What's his or her name?"
"Lao Beifong. You may have heard of him."
"So you've officially made the big switch to Team How. Both of you?"
Joo Dee continued without answering. "Lao's team recently came up with a plan we couldn't anticipate, and we're afraid it just might give him the nomination if we don't act."
"Oh I cannot wait to hear what his plan is."
"That part is none of your business."
"Then you ladies can leave."
"Fine. Somehow he managed to find out when it's going to storm next in Ba Sing Se and tricked How into scheduling the Liberal Party primary for then under the assumption that the poor will be less likely to vote."
"Okay, that almost makes sense."
"We're afraid it could work. The people in the lower class would have to walk all the way through the streets in the rain to the polls, and they don't have servants to go vote for them."
"I'm afraid you're losing my interest. Why should I care?"
"Because your supporters consist mostly of the poor as well. In the general election, he's gonna pull the same shit. I worked with him. He had countless ideas on how to suppress the poor vote."
"Other than the rain? He figures that if he can get three out of the four major candidates, the others being Kuei and Fong, to agree on certain election rules, they'd be instituted. He had no doubts that the other two would be okay with requiring voters to pay a fee or pass a literacy test- or both. You're the only candidate banking on the poor. The Liberal, Patriots', and Monarchist parties would work together to silence the voting block you dominate, working together against a common foe."
"And General How won't do this?"
"How is a man of principle, and he doesn't have anywhere near the financial resources Lao does. You tell me who you'd rather face in the general election."
Long Feng considered his options, but didn't voice what he was thinking. He then turned his attention to Tanowa, who had been quiet. "And what's your part in all of this?"
"Publishing anything against the King is pretty much illegal by now, and I'm already on his bad side. I'm sure he'd be overjoyed, and therefore safer for my own ass, if I published something against one of his opponents."
"Attacking Lao won't help you with Kuei. He doesn't care about the Liberal Party primary."
"I wasn't talking about Lao. I was talking about you. Refuse to help us and I'll make sure everyone in the lower ring gets a neat flyer informing them about the details of all of your crimes and what exactly you intend to do when you're in office."
"Do that, and I'm afraid I'll have to kill you."
"So the writer of the article saying you're secretly evil goes missing... That would make you look a lot better."
"You'd be wasting your time. A lot of my supporters can't even read."
"But some of them can, and that's all that matters. Trust me, an informed populace would be a lot less likely to vote for a candidate who was arrested for treason."
"The facts of my past our public now. No one's been hiding the truth from them."
"No, but someone has been brainwashing them, figuratively, I mean."
Long Feng laughed at Tanowa's reference to his old method, but his smile vanished when he remembered that one of his brainwashing victims was sitting across from him. "Very well, I'm willing to help. What exactly do you want?"
"Your special skills," answered Joo Dee, "and your very special task force."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"We know that Dai Li agents have come flocking back to you like the mindless sheep they are since the end of the war."
"They may have been..."
"Then who better to get Lao out of the way?"
"There is no one better. No one in the world."
Joo Dee grinned. "Then I think we have a deal."
General Fong picked a perfect day to unveil his list of endorsements in front of the people of Ba Sing Se. It was sunny and warm out with a nice breeze and hundreds of thousands of people were walking about and enjoying the weather. That, and it was the anniversary of the start of the Great War with the Fire Nation, a day that is typically remembered by civilians and soldiers alike by visiting the Ba Sing Se Military Cemetery, a very symbolic location to those who either served themselves or lost a loved one in the war. Veterans and families were all paying their respects, and Fong was passing through the cemetery grounds with an entourage including the other Council of Five members, top military officials, and Captain Yung, all of whom had signed the letter of endorsement. He shook hands and spoke with everyone he could find, making sure to express his deepest sympathy and invite them to join him later at the cemetery gates where he would be giving a big speech alongside all the heroes who had endorsed him. Little did he know that General How, Huma, Bo, and Kumbo would also be in attendance.
"Somethin' tells me this is gonna be another wacky political speech that makes me wanna punch someone," stated How's father.
"I'd bet you're right," replied How.
"By the way, son, did you get that whole Lao rain thing squared away?"
"I'm working on something." He and Kumbo exchanged looks, as they had decided not to tell anyone about their plan to deploy Joo Dee and Tanowa to negotiate with Long Feng.
Huma chimed in. "I just hope that awful reporter has stopped bothering you for good."
How simply nodded. He almost forgot about the other secret he had with Tanowa. If Huma ever learned about their kiss, his marriage would be over.
"Look at all these people," she continued. "And think of all the sacrifices they made. Some lost fathers, brothers, sons... This place really reminds me of how important family is."
The word "family" sent a spark through How's brain, and he felt like he had a moment of political genius. "Huma, you should go home and bring Taru here. It's important for him to finally see this place." His wife agreed and left to fetch their son from their home which was about ten minutes away.
Kumbo looked at the former general and raised one eyebrow. "Are you about to use your son as a weapon?"
"They'll be back in about twenty minutes," replied How, completely ignoring his campaign manager. "In the meantime, let's leave so Fong doesn't notice us."
"So it's official," spoke Earth King Kuei. "The Anti-Sedition Act is officially the law of the land!"
A small room full of elegantly-dressed people clapped politely. "Congratulations, Your Highness," said a man to Kuei's left.
"One woman wasn't so satisfied. "Isn't it a bit low to ban written attacks on the King during an election?"
"What's anyone going to do?" the man responded. "He's the King! And he can do whatever he wants in order to stay King."
"But what if the Avatar gets involved?"
"Aang's in the Southern Water Tribe. I doubt he even knows this happened."
"I'm sure there are a lot of officials in the law enforcement who are backing one of His Royal Highness's opponents. Say they don't enforce this?"
Kuei scoffed. "They will enforce this unless they want to find themselves in prison for crimes against the Earth Kingdom."
"With all do respect, Your Highness, I just think we should be a little cautious."
"Have some optimism for once!"
"Yes... Your Highness..."
Just at the entrance of the Ba Sing Se Memorial Cemetery stood a line of men in uniform, with Fong in the middle. To his left stood General Sung and to his right stood Yung, a man only there to save his wife. They faced a crowd of hundreds of people, civilians and veterans mixed in with eager reporters and their classic quills and notepads. Fong turned to Yung and whispered in his ear.
"I was going to have Sung read the letter, but his voice is so incredibly boring. It's best if you do it."
Yung cringed as the man he despised spoke to him. He resented everything about Fong, and he'd rather kill himself than endorse the monster, but he had no choice. He nodded and approached an imposing podium with a golden badgermole symbol embedded in the front. On his sides were two Earth Kingdom flags. He looked down on the podium to see the official endorsement letter complete with at least twenty signatures at the bottom, including his. It gave him physical pain to read the text of the letter to the crowd.
"Citizens of the Earth Nation, we as a people are endlessly proud of our recent victory over the Fire Nation and their ruthless armies, and-"
He was cut off by a few cheers and hollers.
"And we won because of our strength and our unity."
"Now, we must unite a second time, but under a new leader. A strong, proven leader who will take us into the next decade as the strongest civilization that has ever existed. A man who will guide us with his wisdom and his courage."
At the back of the crowd stood four people who wanted to throw up and one child who pretended to be angry too so he could please his dad. "You think anyone's buying this?" How asked Huma, who shook her head. Kumbo was taking notes on everything that was being said, and Bo looked like he was ready to attack someone at any moment. Taru stood by his parents, trying to comprehend what was going on.
"Alright," said Kumbo. "I'm going to wait until the perfect moment in Fong's speech to tell you four to go up there as a family and protest. Are you all ready?" They nodded, and the crowd began to cheer as Yung's speech had apparently concluded and Fong approached the podium.
"My friends, I come before you today for one main reason: The Earth King is not fit to lead our military or our nation, and it's about damn time we remove him as our leader!" The crowd erupted in wild applause. At least that statement was something How could agree with.
"For the first twenty-five years of his life, for his entire reign, Kuei never even knew that every day our men were dying on the battlefield! He was ignorant to the fact that our lives were disrupted for a hundred years! A real leader would've stood up for his people! A real leader would've put an end to this war long before Ba Sing Se fell! A real leader would have destroyed the Fire Nation and salted their soil so nothing could ever grow from it again! It's time that real leader stood up! It's time that real leader was put at the helm! Men and woman of Ba Sing Se, I promise to be that real leader! Under my command, we'll have a nation so strong no one would ever dream of challenging us!"
As the audience burst into a deafening cheer, Yung considered the possibility of Fong being arrested for violating the new Anti-Sedition Act, but then he remembered it only applied to written attacks. Then again, Fong was reading from a written speech. If only that speech were to be turned in...
"With General Sung as my running mate for the office of Vice President, I assure you that your family can rest in peace with the confidence that there is a team fighting for your security and the strength of our nation!"
Kumbo's eyes widened. "Family's the trigger word," he muttered to How. "Go up there! Get ready!" The former general alerted Bo, Huma, and Tyro, and the four of them began to shove their way through the crowd as Fong continued. They got to the front at the exact right moment.
"You can rest assured that we will make the sacrifices necessary to protect our country just as we did during the war."
"What do you know about sacrifice?!" The crowd gasped when Fong was interrupted by the heckler.
"Who said that?" he demanded.
"I did!" People gasped again when General How stepped forth with his family by his side. "I asked what you knew about sacrifice. Me and my father? We both saw war, real war. We each spent years when we risked our lives every day on the battlefield. My wife and son prayed every night that I would come home. But you? The only time you fought during that war was when you attacked the Avatar!" Mixed reactions shot across the masses after that stinging line.
"How dare you?" shouted a furious Fong. "My base was vital in determining our victory."
"No, your troops were. Every day you sent our sons off to die, but not once did you ever even see a Fire Nation soldier!"
Huma saw her opportunity to speak and grabbed Taru. "My husband was ready to die for me and my son here, but you wouldn't know anything about that! You keep flaunting your courage and leadership and strength, but I haven't seen you display any of those. My son can tell you that it's How who's brave and strong! He's the real leader you were talking about!"
The journalists witnessing the shouting match were having a field day, scribbling faster than they've ever before. As the battle raged on, more and more people appeared to be siding with How.
"These men behind me would beg to differ with you, Huma," said Fong, alluding to those who had endorsed him.
Bo laughed. "Ha! The only reason these fellas want you to win is so they get more power. Typical! Don't deny it. It's in your own platform that only military people would be allowed to vote, so why are ya even bothering to get the votes of all these people? Ya hear that, folks! Once you elect Fong, he's gonna take away most of your right to vote ever again!"
How turned to see what had originally been a supportive crowd transform into an angry mob, people shaking their heads in anger and disbelief at Fong. He then turned back at Fong and shot him a face that screamed "Check mate."
"Who the Hell is knocking at my door at three o'clock in the morning?" Lao Beifong swung open the door to his small apartment and jumped back when he saw who was on his front stoop.
"What are you doing here?" Right in front of him were three men in dark green robes and cone-shaped hats. Without a word, one of them pulled back his hands and then shot forward a stone surveyor's chain that wrapped around Lao's wrists. "Help me! Guards!" He struggled, but soon his ankles were bound together, and he fell only to be caught by one of the men and silenced by a rock mouth covering. Two men carried him out the door into the night where he saw his pair of guards unconscious and tied together. He tried to get a good grasp on what the faces of the men looked like.
And then he was knocked out.
Lao's head was throbbing as his eyes fluttered open, and he was both confused and terrified. He had suddenly been kidnapped by Dai Li agents, a group that supposedly was disbanded, and brought to some dark cellar. He was tied to a chair, his feet in a puddle formed by the water dripping out of the leaky pipe above him. The only light in the room came from a barred square whole in the cement wall. "Where am I!" he screamed. "Who brought me here! Do you know who I am!"
"Of course I know who you are." The eerily calm voice was unfamiliar, but Lao could vaguely recognize the face of the man slowly walking towards him. His dark hair was tied in a long queue ponytail.
"I know you! You're... you're... Long Feng! The criminal! You're that socialist thug!"
Long Feng sarcastically pretended to be offended and shook his head. "I don't see why we have to resort to name-calling. "Yes, I am Long Feng, the Socialist candidate for the same office you are running for."
"What's this about? People are going to come looking for me. You made a mistake doing this!"
"Quiet. You'll be released as soon as you agree to a little deal." He snapped his fingers and several Dai Li agents entered the room with eight large metal cases. They placed the chests on the ground and opened them, revealing that each one was filled with gold coins. To Lao's utter disbelief, more chests were continuously brought in until the man was almost salivating.
"See that?" asked Long Feng. "That's enough money to buy your entire family."
"What do you want?"
"It's simple. I need you to withdraw from the campaign."
"Never. You're out of your mind."
"Perhaps, but you are too if you reject this offer."
"I can't be bought no matter how much gold you put up!"
"Are you sure? Don't you want to hear what else I'm offering you?"
Lao eased a bit. "Go on."
"Your popularity with the people of this city isn't high. Actually, it's embarrassingly low. Even if you managed to win your party's nomination, the Presidency would never become more than a distant dream. You would lose, go home a failure, and have wasted all of that time and money. But it doesn't have to be that way."
"What are you saying?"
"I will need a Vice Presidential candidate with bountiful resources, your kind of resources. If you withdraw and let How become the Liberal Party nominee, I will not only give you these riches, but also invite you to join my ticket, and instead of going home with shame and failure, you can have a fortune, victory, and power. Then, when I am done being President I will work tirelessly to make sure you are my successor."
"Join the Socialist Party? I'd be abandoning my principles..."
"Oh spare me. Don't even pretend you're running on principle."
"Your whole campaign is about the common man. You have repeatedly attacked the rich."
"Yes, but my supporters aren't going to change their minds because of you. The rich, however, might see you and change their minds about me. It's your choice. You don't stand a chance in the general election. We both know that. Either go home a loser or take all of this gold and become my Vice President."
Lao seriously considered what Long Feng was saying. He thought for several minutes.
Long Feng sighed. "Very well. Men, throw the gold in the lake."
"Wait!" Lao was breathing heavily. "I'll do it. I accept your offer."
The Socialist candidate nodded and smiled. "Excellent. You made the right decision, Mr. Beifong. My agents will return you to your house now. Get a good night sleep. You'll want to be well-rested for your concession speech tomorrow."
With that, Long Feng left the cellar and proceeded to leave the tiny new Dai Li headquarters. On his way out, he stopped by his secretary. "Write to Joo Dee. Tell her that Beifong took the bait."
The next night...
Four people gathered on an empty street corner, each wearing a heavy coat and some sort of facial covering.
The first to speak was Joo Dee.
"Long Feng finished his part of the deal."
"Who knew that criminal would ever be good for something?" remarked How.
"I'll get started on my hit-piece of him tomorrow morning. I want to get the truth about him out soon," Tanowa stated.
Kumbo shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea. You should wait until everything is absolutely set in stone before going on the attack. We don't want to ruin everything by betraying him too early."
"Everything is set in stone," assured Joo Dee.
How nodded. "The quicker we bring him down, the better." He then shook the hands of both women. "Thank you Tanowa, and thank you, Madam Vice President."
For the collective works of the author, go here.