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|Purists & Politics|
Monday, August 11, 2014
When Aroma opened the door, what she saw caused her to yelp and jerk back, dropping her purse.
"I'm sorry!" Euryale exclaimed, shooting down to pick it up as Aroma put a hand to her chest. Aroma had not expected her to be standing just inside of the apartment doorway, grinning anxiously at anyone foolhardy enough to open the door. Other than that, nothing was particularly frightening about her. She even had an uncharacteristically withdrawn stance, which she now resumed, with her legs drawn together as she fussed with the skirt of her plain, green dress. She continued, "I just wanted to know—"
"We talked about this," Aroma said gently, placing her other hand on Euryale's shoulder. "She accepts your apology and says she's sorry she was so harsh, but she still thinks it was right to move out. And I already told you to stop being so hard on yourself over it, because Thiera can be stubborn."
"You'd think it would be the other way around," Euryale noted, looking sideways at nothing in particular.
"Don't worry, you're still pretty stubborn," Aroma said with a playful push. Euryale shoved her back and ended up having to catch her before she hit the floor.
"I'm sorry! Again!"
Aroma, now in a bridal carry, turned crimson and replied sheepishly, "It's alright, but, if you don't mind—?" She pointed to the ground with the hand she wasn't using to hold her cloche hat on.
"Sorry," Aroma said in her lowest, most deathly serious tone possible as Euryale set her upright. Euryale tried to suppress it, but snorted, and then laughed, bending over and placing her hands on her knees. Aroma stood by patiently until Euryale calmed down a little and held Aroma's purse out to her. "Here—you—you want this—back?"
"Thank you very much," Aroma replied, clasping her hands at her waist and bending her upper body as well, though Euryale couldn't see it. Euryale showed no sign that she was about to look up, so eventually Aroma just slowly reached for the purse and stood upright again.
Euryale eventually stood up as well, smiling from ear to ear. "I'm so glad you don't hold it against me that I chased Thiera out of the house. So—you ask her yet?"
"Uh, ask her what? I don't know what you're talking about."
Euryale put her fists on her hips. "Girl, even without the Seismic Sense, I can tell you're lying!" She leaned in and whispered in Aroma's ear, "I know you're sweet on your boss."
Aroma stepped back, eyes wide and clutching the purse hard against her chest. "How—how did you know that?!"
Euryale raised an eyebrow. "Uh, because it's obvious? Frankly, I don't know how Thiera herself hasn't realized it yet. That's pretty dense, for such a smart girl."
When Aroma frowned, all expression instantly drained from Euryale's face, except for her wide-open eyes. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean—"
Aroma raised a hand to stop her. "No, it's okay, I know what you meant." She titled her head, adding, "You really feel guilty about letting her go, don't you?"
Euryale's arms fell to her side and she stared at her feet, which were honestly pretty big, though Aroma told her yesterday that she hadn't noticed. Of course, Euryale knew that she was lying, and awkwardly denied being sad for the rest of the night. Aroma shook her head, and breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that zoning out while staring at Euryale's Yeren toes hadn't caused her to miss what she actually said. Euryale looked up at her, imploringly.
"It's just...do you think we can still be friends? I know some of that was my fault, and I really just want us to all be a big, happy family."
"It won't be easy," Aroma admitted, "But I'm already proud of you for making the effort. Not a lot of people get over bad first impressions easily. Like—well—Thiera. But I promise, once you 2 do hit it off, Thiera is really easy to get along with."
Euryale pursed her lips and stared at the ceiling, undoubtedly thinking. "Wait," she said suddenly, slowly looking back down at Aroma. "...Did you just avoid my question?"
"I'm just waiting for the right moment," Aroma said, stepping inside and slipping her shoes off on the mat. She'd been wearing pink slip-ons with little white flower ribbons on them, to match her hat. Underneath, she had a pair of white stockings, which now pattered on the mahogany floor. While smoothing out her dress, a largely green ensemble with a pink neck frill inspired by an Air Nomad cloak, Aroma heard Euryale close the door behind her.
"Still lying! Still bad at it! Look, you ride home with her before coming here, right? Just stop her before she goes into her house—"
Aroma found herself suddenly grabbed by upper arm and spun around. Euryale then slid her other arm behind Aroma's back and bent slightly forward, continuing, "Assume this position...gaze deeply into her eyes, and say...'Are you a Spirit? 'Cause, Babe, you are outta dis world!"
"I am not saying that!" Aroma yelled, wriggling away as her face grew hot. Euryale snickered as Aroma put her purse on the table beside the door, pointedly avoiding looking back.
"Sorry, just having a little fun. But seriously, it doesn't matter what you say. Just make sure you get the main points across. A. You like her. B. You wanna go out. She's known you long enough that she probably has some idea of whether or not she's interested."
"But what if she's not?" Aroma asked dejectedly, looking down. "What if it affects our friendship?"
"If she doesn't return your feelings, I'll be here to coach you on that, too. It'll be fine, don't worry."
"Well...I guess you're right."
"'Course I am! Now—Officer Kane is still driving you 2 home, right? Has he given you any more trouble?"
"Well," Aroma said, turning to face her friend, "He's not complaining anymore, but he's not a very good conversationalist, either. I get the sense that he doesn't really like us."
Euryale clapped her hands together. "Great! That's how he is at the station, too."
"Is...that really something to be excited by...?"
"Dunno. Don't worry, I fed 'em," Euryale said as Aroma looked at the aquarium beside her purse. Swimming around were 5 fish of varying sizes and mottled gold-silver scales, the most peculiar of which was a fish with 2 little, spiny legs growing out of each of its fore fins, and 1 out of each of its hind fins. It scuttled over the sand at the bottom and into the tiny rock cavern. "9 AM, on the dot, just like you asked me to."
Aroma looked at her, frowning. "I said you could feed them at any time starting from around 9, as long as it was still in the morning. You didn't wake up early just to feed my goldsilverfish, did you?"
"...No. I knew that."
Aroma's frown turned upside-down as she squinted. "You're not a much better liar than I am, you know."
"Well, alright, but in my defense, I have a lot on my mind! The Chief called about another heist. This time, they had a safecracker."
Aroma's smile vanished once again. "They're getting stronger? What do you think they're going to do next?"
"Well, by this point, they've stolen enough yuans to start buying property and paying their members a regular wage. Cars may be too expensive for them, but either way, they are now officially organized crime. You say you haven't seen anything suspicious around the clinic?"
Aroma shook her head. "Uh-uh."
"We may need to get our own place after all, then."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, with Council Elections coming up, there's been talk about cutting police spending. We may not be able to convince the delegates that you still need protection, but I'm convinced this gang knows enough to target you. They knew you were coming from the clinic and they know that Thiera is a waterbender. It would just take a little bit of stakeout to discover that you work there. And now you even have ties with the police, so you know some details about their case."
"Then why aren't they doing anything? The gang, I mean."
"Probably waiting for the department to drop their protection. An attack on you would, of course, prove that you're still in need, but by that point, it may already be too late."
Aroma gave no response. She simply wrung her hands together and stared into her aquarium. The fish turned to stare back at her, with the exception of the one in the cave, who retreated deeper into its hiding spot. Aroma bit her lip and a couple of the fish swam away.
"You don't need to be scared, just trust me."
"Because I'm with you?"
"You don't think I can protect you?"
"You can't protect someone you're not around."
"I can arrange to be with you more often, that isn't a problem—oh, but this isn't about you, isn't it? Right. I'm sorry, but we can't help Thiera if she doesn't want it."
"I know that," Aroma conceded with a heavy sigh. "She said she'd think about training in waterbending self-defense, but she's not sure how she can find the time."
"If we can just convince her to do something to help herself, it's a start. We could ask around for waterbending teachers, maybe? I wish there was something more that we could do. I know it's unrealistic to tell you not to worry about it, but please try not to upset yourself too much."
"...Does this gang have a name yet?"
"Actually, yes," Euryale answered, taking a step towards the dining room. "Come with me."
Aroma followed silently, save for the pitter of her stockings. She looked to Euryale, who simply pointed at the table. Lying below the lamp was a folded stack of off-white papers covered with faded black text. Aroma picked them up and noted from the big, black block letters that this was a copy of The Republic Reporter. The next thing she noticed was that a story had been circled in red. With a bit of confusion, she read off the title, "'Dr. Avici Purports Nonbenders Purest'?" Noticing something else, she added, "Wait...you've scribbled an 'I' over the 'e' in 'purest.'"
She glanced up to see Euryale, arms folded and shaking her head. "I just made the paper look like the copy that was sent to the department today."
Aroma read on, "Dr. Avici is a lead researcher in the budding field of psychophysics. His research focuses on the question, 'What makes a person crazy'? 'Impurities in the brain,' says the doctor simply. He elaborates, 'Whether you call it blocked chi or damaged tissue, the pattern revealed in autopsies is clear: Nonfunctioning brains are quite literally broken.' One of the doctor's more controversial observations is equating Bending with psychosis. 'The brains of Benders are different,' he says, 'They, too, are broken. Benders say that their—their deformity is natural, but we know that's no defense because—because delusions, depression, and hallucinations all run in the family. They are all inborn. Natural. But they still need to be corrected, for the good of the patients and those around—who funds this garbage?!" Aroma's shout was nearly drowned out by her crumpling the newspaper.
"That's a good question. The doctor wants the Council to grant him 500 yuans to fund research into some kind of procedure where he cuts into a person's brain as treatment. He says he's used it to remove Earthbending in Badger Mole cubs."
"What?! That's terrible! Don't the cubs need Earthbending?"
"Yep. Without it, they become confused. They can still find food by smell, but it leads to confusion, self-injury, and eventually death. Or so the stories about this research say, anyway."
"The Council couldn't possibly approve of that, could they?"
"They're all Benders, so I kind of doubt it. What we're wondering is whether the Purists are interested in his actual work, or if they just like being called 'pure.'"
"Are you going to investigate?"
"Chief Beifong wants to, but Dr. Avici is already threatening to sue for discrimination. The Council will probably decide whether or not we can have a search warrant around the same time they rule on the Doctor's research."
"So what do we do now?"
"Go out looking for apartments?" Euryale suggested with a shrug. "I'm not holding out hope that the Council will be willing to extend coverage for you."
"But why not?" Aroma asked.
"It's politics, Aroma, it doesn't have to make sense. Don't worry. I'll do everything that I can to protect you. And that goes for everyone else down at the station, too. But let's change the topic to something cheerier. I'll go get the classified ads."
"Oh, I know!" Aroma exclaimed, bouncing on her heels, "I'll go get the magazines that I bought the other day. There might be some more ads in there."
With that, she dashed off, with Euryale calling after her that the United Inquirer was probably just going to try to sell them a room on the moon. But Aroma wasn't listening. She simply slipped into her room, tossed the balled-up newspaper into a wastebasket in the corner, and looked over to the pile of magazines on her dresser. Drawing near the magazines, she scooped them into her arms and shuffled back into the living room, finding Euryale already on the couch nearest the dining room, spreading newspapers out on the table. Aroma sat next to her, setting her magazines on the floor. When she looked up, Euryale was pointing, so she followed the gesture with her gaze, until she noticed that there was also a green mug on the table issuing a gentle waft of steam.
"Oh, thank you," Aroma said, reaching for the mug to find out that it was comfortably warm, but not painful to the touch.
"No problem," Euryale answered. "But I still say you don't know what you're missing," she added, holding up a metal can which made a hissing noise that couldn't possibly be healthy. The can was painted blue, with Verricola written up the side in red letters.
"I'm sure it's delicious," Aroma said with a hint of caution, "But I'm just not very good with spicy foods. I prefer something savory and sweet, like this tea that you've brewed so well." She took a quick sip and, smacking her lips, asked, "Mmm, is this raspberry?"
"Yes. And it's store bought."
"Oh. Well, you still picked it out well."
"This stuff is really sweet too," Euryale asserted, "And it's not spicy, exactly, it's just sort of...tingly. Sort of like wine, but without the bitterness or the effects."
"Well, maybe I'll try some—later," Aroma said.
The pair simultaneously set their drinks down and picked up fountain pens, fittingly red for Euryale and green for Aroma. Euryale circled something right away, but Aroma just kept seeing ads for Satomobile repairs. When Euryale circled 2 more ads, Aroma reached for the top magazine on her stack and set it down in front of her, at which point she found herself locked in a staring contest with the shimmering blue eyes of a painted lady with wispy white hair.
"Umm—excuse me, Euryale? Do you know anything about Keter Aurora?"
Euryale's head snapped to Aroma, but as she talked, her head gradually tilted upward. "Do I?! What girl in Republic City doesn't? She's almost as famous as the Beifongs! She piloted an Airship for the Fire Nation Royal Fleet, joined the Fire Lord's Council, and she's still so pretty...."
Aroma watched her stare into space for a while before she realized that Euryale wasn't coming back to Earth any time soon. "So," she croaked out. Clearing her throat, she tried again, "So, you're a big fan?"
Euryale glanced at her briefly, before going back to her ads, muttering that she "might have read up on her a bit." She might have been blushing, but it was hard to tell.
"Well, do you know if she's...?" Aroma trailed off, trying to find the words. "I mean, this cover...?"
Euryale looked over. Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "What about it?"
"Well, do you think she's—also—like me...?"
"Aroma...how are you going to hit on your supervisor if you can't even say the word 'lesbian'?"
"But is she?"
"I don't know," Euryale answered with a sigh. "I mean, I've read her autobiography, and she doesn't say anything. She doesn't really talk about romance or desire very much at all, come to think about it."
"...You've read her autobiography?"
Euryale's brows furrowed. "Hey, I'm not the one thinking of asking her out on a date!"
"That's not why I asked!"
Unfortunately, Aroma couldn't hide her blush by flipping through her magazine, unlike Euryale.
"...So, just curious?"
"Something like that," Aroma started, continuing to stare down at her magazine, which was now on a page featuring a painted photograph of a man in a cerulean military jacket with a thick, jet black handlebar mustache. "Do you think it would affect her chances of being elected?"
"Oh—hmm—I don't really know. I don't think the city would have a problem with it, but I'm not really sure. Then there's the rest of the country, the other nations—I have no idea what they'd think."
Now Aroma looked up. "Don't you know the other countries' laws?"
"Not really," Euryale answered with a shrug. "The Earth Kingdom has too many local customs and bureaucratic changes to keep track of, the Water Tribes have a lot of laws on the books that aren't always practiced, and not all of the Fire Nation laws have had postwar re-evaluation. Plus, demographics have changed a lot since then."
"Yes, I've noticed, and that reminds me...if it isn't too personal, you're part Fire Nation, right?"
"Yes, and yes I do plan to vote for Keter, if that's what you're going to ask next."
"I haven't really thought about who I'm going to vote for—is there anybody I shouldn't?"
Euryale placed her finger on the photograph that Aroma had been staring at earlier. "Franz is the standing Northern Water Tribe Councilman and Chairman. He also basically single-handedly created the Agni Kais by buying up a ton of Fire Nation boroughs in order to expand the industrial sector. I don't know who Tarrlok is, but he can't be any worse."
"Are you...saying that he's racist against the Fire Nation?" Aroma asked with a frown.
"Ask anyone else from the Fire Nation, they'll tell you the same thing."
"But then how did he get the job?"
"There are 3-5 other ethnic groups, depending on how you count them. Not everybody knows or cares."
"Don't you think that's a little harsh? I'm sure that anybody would care if they really knew."
"Well, then, he's good at hiding it. It's hard to see it if it doesn't affect you. I know mainly because he's always pressuring us to be more aggressive against Firebending criminals. But he's also always starting programs to help rehabilitate Water Tribe people, which would also explain why so many people love him. Other than him and Keter, I don't really know. The Air Nomad position is never really a big deal. I respect them as cultural leaders, and all, but they're kind of all the same."
"What about the other candidates?"
"Like I just said, I don't really know much about them. The current batch seem to just go along with whatever Franz wants, and I don't know who all is on the opposition yet."
"Well...who do you think would do the most about the Purists?"
Euryale sat back a little, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow. "Oh...well, Franz and Keter are both military. They tend to take a pretty tough stance on crime," she reasoned, "But Franz obviously tends to focus on the Agni Kais and similar criminals. I don't know if either of them would be willing to extend witness protection funding, though."
"But it wouldn't hurt to try, right?"
"Yes, if we can get our case known, then it can only be a good thing."
Aroma looked back to her magazine and flipped a page. Her troubled expression was slowly replaced by a broadening smile and shining eyes as she exclaimed, "Hey, I found an apartment for rent!" As she read the rest, her excitement instantly faded, her brows coming together in disappointment. "It's, uh, on the moon."
Euryale turned away and put a hand over her mouth, but Aroma still heard her giggling.
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