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|By Omashu Rocks||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Omashu Rocks||Political Drama||PG||Positive||Subscribe|
9 September 2012
Eight sluggish yet taxing days had passed since Avatar Aang unsystematically declared that the Earth Kingdom, possibly to become the Earth Nation, would hold a Democratic election- the first in its entire history. Over the course of thousands of years, through every war and famine that the ancient country endured, nobody had even conceived the radical idea. This was something for the whacky Air Nomads up in the clouds, not meant for a people traditionally so down-to-Earth- or was it?
How sipped his scalding cup of tea as if it was a chore, and his face showed his discomfort. He put the drink down on the table next to him and stared blankly at the wall on the other side of his small living room. Sighing, he turned to his left and picked up the day's edition of the Ba Sing Se Times, a newspaper he recently made a habit of looking over. There, on the front page, as if written for the sole purpose of making How flinch, was an article headlined "General How Nearing Presidential Bid. The former military commander couldn't believe the text that was right in front of his face, a picture of himself staring him down. He perused the story what must have been six times, growing more furious every time he read the authors "facts" from their "sources". That author, not to How's surprise, was the same woman, Tanowa, who wrote about the massive protest downtown.
Huma entered to see her husband red in the face, the fingers of his left hand angrily tapping his armchair. She read the article earlier that morning, but was too afraid to alert How, determining it was best for him to discover it on his own. The renowned general didn't look up at his wife, but spoke painfully slow into the paper. "I want to know where this journalist got her information."
"They're sneakier than you think," Huma replied.
Finally, How glanced at the woman. "You are the only person I told. There was nobody else at our house."
How rolled his eyes, as if it was possible that his son leaked information to the press, but he began to think about it more seriously. It is possible that he overheard his parents discussing the matter, and who knows what he says in front of his friends at school. He then recalled meeting the mother of Taru's best friend, briefly. To the best of How's memory, she was a reporter.
"Honey, what's the name of Lee's mother?"
Huma gulped, knowing exactly where her husband was going. "Tanowa," she reported coldly.
How shook his head, unable to bring to his lips any words to describe the rage he felt towards his own son. Who would have ever guessed that someone's child could cause their biggest downfall, by accident. Huma, somewhat afraid to speak, struggled to get out her next words. "Tanow will probably want to interview you," she suggested. "I imagine that talk could be anytime now."
Huma was right of course, but the popular reporter did not arrive at How's residence until the next afternoon, by which time the former Council of Five member was eager to sit down with the woman who had just outed him. He swung his door open to greet her with a smile, an expression they both knew was completely fake. He gestured for her to come in and led her to his private study, where he offered her a chair and some tea, her rejecting the latter.
"General How," Tanowa began, "it truly is an incredible honor to be invited into your home."
The word "invited" struck How as odd, but he ignored it. "I actually know you from something else."
Tanowa raised her eyebrows. "I believe our sons are friends," she spoke with a wide smile.
How shook his head and made a clicking noise. "No no, I know you from an article you wrote way before Taru was born. It concerned some very private details about my family." The former general stared the reporter down, letting her know what he really thought of her.
She cleared her throat. "Your wife had a miscarriage..."
The man gasped as if shocked and shook his head, pretending as though he had never heard of this. "Really?" he asked with fake astonishment, still shaking his head. "I had no idea."
The journalist was irritated by How's over-sarcasm, but tried not to show it. "It was a story... I covered it."
"And does it feel good to boost your career by exploiting the emotions and misery of others?"
At that point, Tanowa realized that the interview wouldn't go as she planned, and she attempted to think of another way forward, but once again, How cut her off.
"Is this the part where you ask me if I'm running for President?"
She simply sighed and rose up out of her chair, collecting her things. "No sir, I'm not going to ask you that right now. But when I do, the entire country is going to want to know your answer." With that last remark, she left How alone. Well, more tea for me he thought.
A couple of hours after his unconventional exchange with Tanowa, How decided to investigate City Hall, where everyone was told would be the place to file their Presidential candidacy and form their political party. The trip was inspired by pure curiosity and nothing else, How insisted to himself. Still, he didn't want to make his visit known to anyone, and even told his wife he was simply going to purchase more vegetables. That statement, however, was implausible and How knew it, regretting his pathetic lie on the brief hike to City Hall.
He was making his way down a particularly busy street when he a few people reading posters on walls and the sides of buildings; he decided to check one out himself. As he got closer, he realized the poster bore his face and a caption. Under this man, the Outer Wall fell... twice. Below that read "Paid for by the Earth Kingdom Monarchist Party." How, infuriated, ripped the poster off the wall and tore it to shreds. He couldn't believe that Kuei was trying to push all the blame on him, and he wasn't even running for President. The former general wasn't discouraged, however. If anything, it gave him more inspiration to bring Kuei down.
Once at City Hall, How realized that he had, for the umpteenth time, arrived at something important just as it commenced. Outside the historic building was a parked procession of fancy carriages. It was clear that someone significant was turning in their paperwork to make their run official. How peered inside, and saw a man whom he did not recognize giving a small speech. He quietly entered through the door as some kind of election official at a desk began to speak.
"The Election Committee recognizes the Liberal Party as an official political party throughout the Earth Kingdom, and acknowledges the following platform: free elections, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a free-market capitalist based economy, laissez-faire government policies..."
As the list went on, How became more and more intrigued. From the sound of it, this new Liberal Party was something the former general could really see himself being a part of. Eventually, the man was finished with the reading of the platform, and he turned his focus to the man who previously had been speaking. "The Election Committee recognizes Mr. Lao Beifong as a candidate for President of the Earth Nation in the Liberal Party. So far, Mr. Beifong is uncontested for his party's preliminary election and nomination." After the man finished the formality with a bang of his gavel, the room clapped politely, including Joo Dee who How noticed was there just before before she spoke.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Lao Beifong is a man whose success in business we all marvel upon. Not only has he utilized his ingenuity and hard-work to establish one of our most prosperous businesses, but he has created jobs for thousands of people in this great country of ours. With this in mind, I wholeheartedly endorse Lao Beifong for President of the Earth Nation!" This announcement sparked a much more enthusiastic response than before, with the whole room fired up.
Caught up in the excitement, How made the rash decision to speak himself. "I too endorse this man for leader of our great nation!" exclaimed an exhilarated How. Most people in the room instantly recognized who it was and applauded, thrilled that they had another influential figure on there side. "When I resigned from my position," How continued, "I hoped that someday, somebody we can trust would replace the Earth King. Well now, I see that Lao Beifong is that man!" By that point, the room was going wild, and city officials had to order everyone to quiet down and leave. When the crowds had pretty much dispersed, How approached Lao for a private conversation.
"Mr. Beifong," How started, extending his hand. "I was wondering if we could arrange a meeting sometime to discuss policy and and your plan."
Lao smiled and returned the handshake. "Ah, trying to get that Vice Presidential spot I see."
Feeling a bit awkward, How tried to make his intentions clear. "No Sir, I don't plan on running for public office, but I'm willing to do anything to make sure the best man possible wins this election."
"I'm going to be very busy from now on, but I believe I can make room in my schedule for General How. Why don't we discuss this evening in my apartment."
"Thank you, sir." How bowed and slowly made his way home, thrilled that the rumors about him would stop circulating as Lao Beifong stepped into the spotlight. Like all good things, however, this joy didn't last forever. Once again, it was his wife that had to break the bad news. "A messenger from the Council of Five stopped by."
"More about General Fong filling the vacant seat on the Council?"
Huma shook her head dejectedly. "No, actually. It was from both Generals Sung and Fong. They wanted your support for their new group, the Patriots' Party. Their main objective is to establish some kind of military rule over the country. They said that each election would only be open to candidates who have served at the rank of General or Admiral, and the only people with voting rights would be members of the military."
How roared and stomped, cracking the ground beneath him. Huma flinched, terrified as always when her husband Earthbent out of anger. "I told you not to do that!" the flustered woman protested. The former general was clearly saddened, remembering how much that sort of action upset her. She didn't understand; as a non-bender, she couldn't, but he vowed not to anyways.
"Huma, I'm so sorry," he said sincerely, embracing his wife slowly. She returned the hug and buried her face in his chest. "What are you- what are we going to do about all this? What's happening to our city?" How didn't respond, but he was thinking about the same thing- a meeting with Generals Sung and Fong was in order.
After enjoying tea with Huma and some earth soccer with Taru, the stressed man set out on what he insisted would be his last politically-motivated errand in the city. Sung and Fong! he thought along the way. Where are the posters for those ignoramuses? On this trek, How, for the first time, started to miss the privileges of being on the Council of Five, namely having a carriage and a driver. Regardless, he was pumped with adrenaline as he drew closer to the war room. In an odd, unexplainable way, he almost missed the over-decorated halls and the paintings of famous battles- but that didn't matter to him right now. He was on mission. With incredible force, driven by anger, he shoved the doors to the war room open, only to see five empty seats by a table in front of a detailed. map of the Earth Kingdom. The man sighed furiously before he was interrupted.
"General How," said an unknown voice behind him. "The Council is in recess. Each of the Generals have retired to their offices for the time being."
"Great!" spat the agitated man. "I'd like to schedule a meeting with General Sung for right at this very moment."
The official hesitated. "I'm afraid the Generals are very busy at the moment."
"Well you can tell them that I frankly don't give a damn! I need to see them now."
"Sir, your access to this building has been restricted. I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave."
How looked at the man as if he had four heads, completely incapable of believing what he had just heard. "Your telling me that I'm not allowed here? After all I've done!"
"I'm sorry sir." The man bowed and proceeded to exit through the doorway, gesturing for How to follow him. Shouts could be heard from every corner in the building. "This is an outrage!" echoed a fuming voice. "Do you have any idea of how hard I worked for this nation!" How's resistance only resulted in his permanent banning from the place he dedicated over a decade of his life in, the place he often slept in when he worked through the night. He stormed down the ornate stairs back to the streets of Ba Sing Se, where he immediately noticed more signs from Kuei. Although he was happy to see that the falling of the Outer Wall had now been pinned on General Sung, and that General Fong was labeled "an ineffective leader," there was a new poster featuring How. With this man's guidance, the invasion of the Fire Nation failed.
How didn't tell his wife about the new array of attack ads. In fact, he barely had time to say anything to her as just a few hours after he returned home, he was headed back out the door to meet with Lao Beifong. He found it interesting that the wealthy businessman was renting in the Lower Ring, but he supposed it made sense for him to want to save money when he would only be in town for a couple of days, especially when he would be out and about most of the time.
On the way, he resisted the urge to look at the sides of homes and shops, petrified of spotting another poster. He couldn't avoid one, however, as it drifted with a breeze and landed in front of his feet. The man bent down to pick it up, realizing that he was not nearly as flexible as he once was. After a few back cracks, he analyzed the parchment. He didn't think it would be possible, but he had found something more ridiculous than anything else he had seen in the past month.
What if there was one man, who during the entire reign of King Kuei, was working to keep the people safe? What if there was someone who had a plan to keep peace in Ba Sing Se, win the war, and restore the nation's economy? What if there was a man who came from humble beginnings and never forgot the values of the lower class? Who fought for the poor every day of his career even though the rest of the government was trying to suppress it? Luckily, such a man exists. Watch the "Little Guy's Hero," Long Feng, speak at the Dragon Park this evening if you're interested in leveling the playing field, giving all people in this nation an equal chance at becoming successful.
How read it over a few times, unsure of whether to laugh, scoff, or tremble. It had to be fake; there was no way that Ba Sing Se's most notorious criminal could possibly be delivering a speech. He was in prison, locked up for the rest of his life for crimes against the Earth Kingdom. Although, the former general pondered, the King who Long Feng made the crimes against is widely unpopular. Perhaps the poor weren't as informed of the man's evil as he was. He looked at the Sun's position, realizing that he would be late if he didn't pick up his pace. As How made his way to see Lao Beifong, what he feared most was the possibility of the traitor Long Feng announcing a Presidential run, but as a convict, that would hardly be possible. The brief advertisement was intriguing, however. What could this devious man possibly mean by being "The Little Guy's Hero?"
In Dragon Park, right on time, the masses began to gather around a small, dinky stage made up of two benches. There were no banners, no signs, and no podiums. The people waited anxiously, some of them not even sure what they were supposed to be expecting. All they knew is that some important man was going to be trying to help them. But who was this man and what could he do to make their lives better? To answer their questions, two soldiers cleared a path in the crowd as five more walked through, with some other figure in the middle. As they approached the benches, the two guards intercepted the figure from the other five and guided him onto his makeshift platform. Everyone could see clearly now that the man was in handcuffs, and that the guards were really there to keep him captive. The man looked up, his face giving off mixed expressions of both pride and concern. He scanned up and down his audience, being sure to look as many people in the eye as possible. The man, middle aged with a long, black braid, smiled gleefully and spoke.
"My fellow citizens of this great nation of ours: how great it is to see all of you come out here and begin, with me, a new era of equality and justice." The man cleared his throat. "I am Long Feng, and I bare a simple message of peace and hope... Everyone here knows pain. Everyone at this park today has struggled at some point in there life, whether they can't afford to raise their kids, get the education they want, or if it seems impossible to get a job. Well, there is one common theme to everyone's pain: it stems from the greedy, arrogant, elitist nature of the royalty and the upper class!"
Some people by the park clapped as a few guards shot each other worried looks, and Long Feng paused for a few seconds before continuing. "I too, have been betrayed and attacked by our pious government, locked away without a trial, ordered never to see the light of day because I dared to challenge the status quo! But I am here to tell you that the days of oppression are over! Starting today, no working man will be thought of as insignificant, no lower-ring family will be shoved aside so that the rich can become richer and the poor can become poorer! No more will the Crown put himself above his people so that we have to look up at him and wonder why we must suffer!"
The reaction from the crowd was more vehement, and people began to cheer and shout. "Pretty soon," bellowed Long Feng, "the rich and powerful are going to wonder how they could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us! The people this ring will no longer be looked upon as beneath the rest of this city, because we will be equal! We will be rewarded for our hard work and earn the same wages as those snobs in the Upper Ring do! We will finally be safe in our homes when the government stops dumping criminals in our streets! We. Will. Rise!"
Before he could even finish his sentence, the crowd had gone nuts. Never before had someone delivered such a powerful, inspiring message of hope. "Let me be your champion! I will lead us into prosperity! I will stand up for the little guy and fight the evils of capitalism, and I will bring down Earth King Kuei once and for all!" He had to nearly scream so that his voice would be loud enough to be heard by the roaring crowd. "Join me, and together we will make the Lower Ring and working class equal! Join me as I run to be our first socialist leader! The first President of the Earth Nation!"
At first, the ear-piercing clamor that had erupted was incomprehensible, but soon it could be made out as a chant of glory. "Long Feng! Long Feng! Long Feng!" The speaker was delighted to hear this, but he didn't let his joy get ahead of his strategic cunning. If the people chanted his name, the message would be that he is some kind of deity, just like a king. He wanted his movement to viewed as something from the people, so he devised a new chant. "We will rise!" he beckoned, repeating a few times so that everyone could hear. Pretty soon, the crowd had adopted the revised message, the one that Long Feng hoped would be in the newspaper the next day.
How slipped through the dirty, depressing streets of the Lower Ring, awestruck at how impoverished it was. He noticed a frail, sickly woman sitting on the ground against a wall, cuddling a weeping child complaining about his immense thirst. The mother coughed and tried to explain that she had no money, and that they had to save their drinking supply. Deeply moved by the conversation he overhead, How felt compelled to purchase a clay jar of water at a nearby stand and bring it over to the helpless duo. The woman, dumbfounded by the stranger's kindness, teared up and thanked him exceedingly for his tremendous deed.
"Don't worry," How assured. "Things will soon change for the better." With that, he left the mother and son, now even more excited to meet with Lao and discuss policy. He then realized that it was the hardship of those less fortunate that was really motivating him to help fix his nation. He reached a row of apartment buildings, and it was no question which one Beifong was staying at. Although it wasn't nearly fancy or luxurious, it was the nicest place How had seen in the neighborhood. The front steps weren't creaky, there wasn't a rail booby-trapped with splinters, the shudders appeared to still be in tact, and it didn't seem like the door could easily be pushed open. The former general knocked and it was a young man who greeted him, smiling. "Sir, thank you for coming by. Mr. Beifong is in the back room; I'll take you to him." How nodded and followed the man, noticing that he was very kind- a little too kind.
"Can I get you something to drink, kind sir?"
"No thank you."
"Perhaps something to eat, fine gentleman?"
"That's very nice of you, but no."
"Would you be interested in a back massage, brave General?"
How, a bit caught off guard, stared at the man quizzically before shaking his head and continuing through the apartment. When he walked through a narrow doorway and entered an dimly-lit room, he saw Lao Beifong and Joo Dee conversing on a sofa. When Lao noticed his quest, he stood up to shake his hand. "Ah, General How. What an honor!" He then turned to Joo Dee and said "Would you mind leaving me and the General to speak privately?" The woman shook her head kindly and rose out of her seat to exit.
"We were just discussing the future of my campaign. She's going to be a big help for us, especially if someone else joins the Liberal Party primary election."
"Do you think you'd be able to defeat a primary challenger?" How inquired.
"Well, I suppose that depends on who it is?" He paused and grinned. "But don't get any ideas!" he joked. Both men laughed and Lao gestured for How to take a seat opposite of him. "So," he began. "What is it that you wish to discuss, General?"
How nodded. "If we're going to be working together," Lao slightly flinched at this line, "then we should see where we stand on the issues, particularly foreign policy."
"Ah, now I will say that I am more concerned with domestic issues. Fixing the economy, paying off our debts, and creating jobs is what I'll be focusing on throughout the campaign and in my presidency."
"Right, of course. But you cannot ignore tensions with the Fire Nation. For instance, how do you plan to deal with the colonies?"
"Well, they should leave, obviously."
How gave a faint chuckle. "Right, but how do you plan to get them out? Deportation? Sanctions? Possibly a reward or some kind of incentive?" He took Lao's silence as a sign that he didn't have any answers, so he explained further. "Unfortunately, it's not as simple as telling them to leave." Still, the man did not respond. How could tell he was struggling to formulate an answer, so he waited for a moment.
"I think that..." started Lao. "I think that if we close all economic opportunities to the colonials then they'll be forced to leave. We can call that self-deportation."
How squinted nodded, pretending as though he was actually considering the plan. "I believe the problem there is that our government has never supported the colonies financially. The Fire Nation settlers have been functioning independently from us the entire time So what could we do that's different?" Again, Lao had no answer, so How decided to change the subject. "How about we discuss the Southern Water Tribe? How much do you plan to assist them in rebuilding it?"
"But General can we afford to spend so much on helping another nation when our own is in such hard times?"
"We could ask them to repay us in the future, and in the long term we could actually profit." The room became awkwardly silent, and How moved on. "What sort of reparations do you plan on imposing for the Fire Nation? Also, will you be aiding the Avatar in security for his future family as he tries to bring back the Air Nomads?"
Lao was becoming agitated, as he couldn't answer any of How's questions. Finally, he thought of something. "I'm going to demand that the Fire Nation return all of the coal the stole from us, which will help revitalize our economy."
How couldn't tell if the man was being serious. "But... they've used all the coal. Also, would bringing that coal back really stimulate our economy as much as we need, even if said coal existed?"
The rest of the conversation didn't go well, and awkward moments of utter silence were frequent. By the end, How became extremely nervous that the candidate he backed didn't have a clue of what to do when he was in charge. This troubled How greatly, and when the meeting was finally over, he knew that he had to retract his endorsement. Surely, there's someone better. he thought.
The next day was a holiday, so most people were not working. That made it the perfect time for a sudden speech to be delivered by an unknown citizen. At the Ba Sing Se Times, Tanowa had received a tip to bring her co-journalists to the "Gate of Victory" which was a sculpture that had been built to celebrate the Earth Kingdom's triumph over the Fire Nation. When they arrived, quills and paper in hand, they shoved their way through the crowds to get to the front, where there was a single podium. Behind it was a small flag pole with the traditional Earth Kingdom ensign, and immediately, Tanowa knew what was happening. To get an edge over other reporters, she started working on the headline: "General How Announces Presidential Bid," she wrote. As if solely to prove her right, the man of the hour emerged from the distance and waved awkwardly to the people, taking his spot behind the podium.
"Hello," he began. He waited for his wife, Huma, to stand by his side before he went on. "I know everyone in this city has heard a lot of speeches recently, and I know how easily it is to get excited by some of them. In fact, I got swept up in the excitement of Lao Beifong announcing his-" he was cut off by cheers at the mention of Lao Beifong's name, which made him incredibly nervous. The people there were already supporting someone else. "Umm, anyway. I talked to Mr. Beifong, and as sad as I am to say it, I do not believe he is ready at this time to be elected President of our country. Right now, too many people are living in poverty, and our problems can only be solved if we work together with the other nations and their leaders, Avatar Aang, Fire Lord Zuko, Chief Arnook, and Chief Hakoda. Peace will not come right away like many of these candidates are promising, but if we wall put our differences aside and strive for solutions, we can heal this torn planet."
How wasn't one for making speeches, and he felt completely out of his element. He decided then and there to finish his announcement and go home. "That's why I'm announcing today that I am running for President of the Earth King- the Earth Nation!" Instead of the wild applause the former general was hoping for, his declaration was met by rapid-fire questions from the press.
"Sir did you walk back on your endorsement of Lao Beifong because you're selfish?"
"Did your notable father have anything to do with your sudden decision?"
"Isn't your wife affiliated with the King? Is this some kind of scheme?"
How was perplexed; he didn't have the slightest idea of what to respond with. "I- I- no! None of that is true."
"Sir, General How has declared candidacy for President, as a contender from your Liberal Party."
Lao Beifong, with Joo Dee by his side, grimaced. "Fine. Let's see how he likes it when we turn up the heat."
- The idea of "self-deportation" is an actual concept floated in the 2012 US Presidential campaign, except the real-life idea is much more practical than Lao's.
- The first two chapters have mostly been focused on How. Starting with the chapter three, other characters will receive more attention.
For the collective works of the author, go here.