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|By Omashu Rocks||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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|The Great Negotiator|
21 January 2013
One week after the Liberal Party debate...
"Ten silver pieces for each prediction please!" A young, sweet girl named Meng smiled up at Lao and his business associate, Shao, who was the head of the "Kill How" strategy of Lao's campaign.
"I believed these to be free," protested Shao.
"Well they were, Sir. But ever since Aang came, everyone wants to see Aunt Wu. She had to start asking for money or she'd have a thousand customers a day!"
"If she wants to make money, why doesn't she just predict the patterns of the economic-"
Lao held up his hand, gesturing for Shao to stop talking. "We only need one question... Actually, we'll take two. Just in case." He poured twenty silver pieces into a sack and thanked the girl, who instructed him and Shao to proceed down the hall to a room on the right.
"Welcome, welcome!" A lively woman with gray hair and golden robes sat on a pillow in the center of the room. In front of her was a small fire pit. "Come in! Sit," she said kindly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you... Madam." Lao and Shao took their seats on the other side of the pit.
"Oh, please call me Aunt Wu."
"Alright, Aunt Wu. My associate and I have paid for two questions."
"Very well," Wu seemed a bit put down by the Lao's coldness.
"I don't suppose you recognize me?" asked Lao. Wu shook her head. "I am a candidate for the Presidency of the Earth Nation."
"Oh." The oracle looked down at the floor. "Uhm... I have heard many... interesting things about that whole affair in Ba Sing Se."
"It's quite extraordinary, yes. I would just like to know, what is the best possible path for me to win the election?"
"Oh, I see..." The woman awkwardly glanced around the room a few times and mumbled, obviously nervous.
"Is everything, alright?"
"Mhm, yes... of course!" She clumsily picked a bones from the basket next to her and tossed it in the fire. She waited for the subsequent loud cracks to cease before reluctantly gazing into the pit. "I see..."
Shao chimed in. "Does it say what strategy we need?"
"Of course not. But I do see a tough road ahead."
"How tough?" inquired Lao.
"There is no way you can pull off a win... if you run a clean campaign... I see lies... and deception! It's awful!"
"Looks like we have our answer."
Wu pulled back and sat upright, clearly very uncomfortable. She had a defeated look on her face. "Is that all?"
"Actually," said Shao. "Can't we just ask who will win the election?"
The oracle bit her lower lip before replying. "I'd rather not go any deeper into an event so controversial, if you can respect my wish-"
"That's quite fine," retorted Lao. "But we do have one remaining question, correct?"
"When will it rain next in Ba Sing Se?"
Wu, extremely relieved by the question, smiled and closed her eyes for a moment. For a few seconds, she hummed, then spoke. "In exactly three weeks from today, the Earth Kingdom capital city will see a downpour."
Three days later...
When How and Kumbo entered an unused conference room in City Hall, Lao Beifong was already sitting down at the table. Upon seeing his opponent walk in, he stood and shook his hand, then Kumbo's. "Good to see you, General."
"Mr. Beifong..." How forced a smile as he firmly gripped Lao's hand.
"My associate has just gone to the restroom. He should return shortly."
"Is he a business partner of yours?"
"A very talented one. He helped my organization acquire Biana Farms."
How flinched. "My cousin worked at Biana Farms," he said cooly.
"Is that so?"
"He died of heat exhaustion after working thirty-six hours straight."
"Sorry to hear that. That must have happened under the previous owners. Part of the reason we bought their land was because of their poor managing style."
The former general nodded and turned to a door across the room, from which a man around Bo's age with gray hair appeared.
"Ah, there he is. General How, this is Shao, my good friend and an exceptional businessman."
After another round of pleasantries were exchanged, all four men sat down, Kumbo and How next to each other on one side of a long table and Lao and Shao on the other. The men had arrived to negotiate possible dates for the Liberal Party primary election which would determine the nominee who would face off against the other candidates in the general election.
"Let's get right down to it, shall we?" proposed Lao, who continued after receiving nods form How an Kumbo. "Now that the election has been restricted to within the walls of Ba Sing Se, we believe that we could open the voting polls as early as next week."
How was a bit taken aback, but Kumbo spoke before he had a chance. "That's absurd. It would take more than a week to get the word out to everyone and then prepare the government to hold the election."
Lao raised his hands defensively. "Of course, of course. We completely understand those practicalities, which is why we have come up with a much more reasonable date by which time everyone would be ready."
"What date do you have in mind?" asked How.
"It is actually sixteen days from today, and we believe this is the perfect time for both campaigns and a superb time to hold the first free election this city has ever seen."
"We were thinking twenty-two days from now," responded Kumbo.
How interjected. "But we could settle for a bit earlier. I am eager for this vote to occur, after all." He turned to Kumbo and whispered "Remember I currently have momentum..."
"Hmmm." Lao pondered this. "What about in eighteen days?" He looked at both men across the table, who then looked at each other and nodded.
"It appears we have a deal," smiled How.
"Do you see the rise of these other political parties and their candidates as the sole reason for the division in this country?"
"I do believe they are responsible for most of it, yes." Kuei cleared his throat after answering what must have been the fiftieth question the Ba Sing Se Times reporter had asked him. Apparently, she was the newspaper's most recently hired journalist, taking the place of the veteran reporter named Tanowa who had suddenly resigned.
"And also," added the Earth King. "I just wanted to extend my condolences for the tragic loss of your editor-in-chief. The news of his death greatly saddened me." Kuei expected the woman to scribble what he had said down on her notepad, but instead she froze, and even started to twitch.
"Is everything alright?" asked the ruler kindly.
The woman muttered softly. "You killed him..."
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"You," she said louder. "YOU KILLED HIM!" Without any warning, she leapt from her chair and onto the king, clawing at him, pulling his hair, and digging her nails into his face. "YOU BASTARD! YOU KILLED HIM!" She was immediately ripped off of him and brought to the ground, where she was bound by rock gloves and then rushed out of the decorative room that had been peaceful just seconds earlier. When she had vanished, Kuei smiled, and he was joined by a man equally as pleased.
"You got an even better reaction from her than expected, Your Highness."
The Earth King was thrilled. "And you think this is enough to get rid of that horrid newspaper once and for all?"
"More than enough, Your Excellency. I suggest announcing both the banning of the Ba Sing Se Times and the new anti-sedition laws this evening."
The two men laughed. "Illegal for journalists to oppose my candidacy! It's perfect! Do you think we could include a law against supporting an opponent?"
"I don't see why not!" The duo was on cloud nine, the reason being that nothing could stand in the king's way.
"I didn't give you my endorsement before, and I'm certainly not giving you it now!" In the dark basement of the Omashu Royal Barracks, General Yung sat opposite of Council of Five member General Fong, the infamous Patriots' Party candidate for President of the Earth Nation. "Besides, why do you even need it? Surely you know that Sung withdrew from the race... The primary is yours," he spat bitterly.
The candidate gave a cold chuckle and smiled. "Ah, but I have my sights on more than just the primary, my friend. The main prize is the Presidency."
"Well sorry to break this to you, but the Presidency's never gonna be yours."
Fong's smile vanished. "With your help, it could be." The man reached slowly into the bag he had brought with him and retrieved some sort of document. "Here I have a letter of endorsement signed by all other four members of the Council of Five, including Sung, and also a few other high-ranking officers in our military. With your signature, it could be complete."
"Why would I sign that?"
"You're right. Why would I want the help from someone who was a mere Captain just months ago? Unless of course..."
"It was the signature of the King of Omashu..."
"You crazy son of a bitch. What are you talking about?"
"I have very powerful connections, Yung. I could ensure that you'd have the inside track to the second most powerful office in the entire country."
The general scoffed and turned away. "I can't be bought by any bribe."
Fong smiled wickedly. "How about a threat?"
"What? What's going on?" Yung sprang up from his chair.
"Please, sit," directed Fong. He then turned to two of the four men who traveled to Omashu with him. "Bring her in."
The soldiers bowed and exited briefly, only to return with, to Yung's distress, a young woman with long black hair, handcuffed and gagged.
"You monster!" Yung prepared to attack but was instantly apprehended thanks to the Earthbending of Fong's underlings. "Let go of my wife!" he demanded. "You think these chains will hold me?"
"Of course they won't," conceded Fong. "But I only need you to calm down. It would most certainly be in the best interest of both you and your wife if you were to remain seated and hear what I have to say."
Seemingly helpless, Yung sunk in his chair and gazed at his wife, who stared back, petrified and with tears running from her eyes.
"May I continue?" inquired Fong, who didn't wait for a response. "Those berries you gave your wife this morning weren't your typical breakfast."
"Do you not remember preparing an assortment of fruits in a bowl and writing a thoughtful note before leaving for work this morning?"
"You! You had someone break into my house and forge a note to my wife?!"
"Guilty as charged. But really, your wife should know her plants. Those berries she ingested were picked from the rare Racun Du tree from the eastern part of the Earth Kingdom." He paused. "They're poisonous."
Yung's wife screamed through her gags and wept as the general winced. In reality, the berries were nothing special, but Yung was none the wiser.
"There is however, an antidote," teased Fong. "Unique to the Racun Du tree is a very interesting property. The only thing that can cure the fatal chemicals in the berries, which will take about three months to gradually kill your wife, is the juice found in the leaves of the very same tree the berries came from, not any Racun Du tree, but the very. same. tree. Now if you're smart, you may have guessed that we have already destroyed the entire tree from which those berries came, except for this." As if reaching for a knife, Fong slowly dug his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a single leaf and waved it in front of Yung. "I'll give you this leaf- after the election and after you sign this letter of endorsement. Really, you're quite lucky that this is the slowest poison found on Earth."
Yung spat in Fong's face, but the hostage-taker carried on.
"You should know that if you contact anyone, if I see a single law enforcement officer knocking at my door, this leaf will meat the gentle flame of a candle. Understood?"
Yung had been defeated. With no other options, he merely nodded and looked at his feet, then at his wife, who glared into the back of Fong.
The candidate smiled. "I'm so glad we've reached an agreement, King Yung."
Two hours after Earth King Kuei issued his new decrees against free press, the unaware How and Bo sat contently in one of the most happening restaurants in the city, The Jesti Eatery. The place was packed, but How declined the offer from the manager to skip the line and be seated immediately after arrival. Bo had told him that this would make him look in-touch with the people. When the father and son were finally escorted to their table, a waitress placed with them two menus and walked off.
Bo took off his coat. "Nice o' ya to give Kumbo the night off, son. He's a good kid. Deserves a break."
"We all do," said said How with a smile.
"Excuse me, General How." The waitress had returned with a drink. "This is for you."
"I'm sorry, I didn't order anything."
The woman giggled. "Actually, Sir, this is courtesy of that nice lady over there." She pointed across the restaurant and gave How a wink before walking away. Bo stared at his son and tried not to laugh, his face bearing his classic half-smile. How gazed across the room to see a woman looking back at him, but this was no ordinary woman. It was none other than Joo Dee! What on Earth is she doing here? thought the general. He was hoping that she'd walk over, but instead she simply waved a napkin for a second, then turned and left the restaurant.
"What is going on?" said How out loud. He glanced down at the table. The waitress given him a napkin as well as the drink. After flipping the napkin over, the man noticed some writing. Meet me in the alley three blocks south of this building. Come alone. You have five minutes. Destroy the napkin. Utterly confused, How looked at his dad. "Excuse me for a moment, father. I have to use the restroom."
"Ya mean go woman-chasin'?" The man chuckled as his son left. "Wait a minute," he mumbled to himself. "He's a married man..." He shrugged and decided that he didn't care, but within thirty seconds he became extremely bored. He twiddled his thumbs and looked for something to do. I know... The former mayor got up from his booth and walked towards the bar, approaching a man from behind. He tapped on the man's shoulder, and just as he turned around, he punched him in the face. In no time at all, Bo had successfully instigated a bar fight.
Outside the restaurant, How followed Joo Dee's directions. After passing the third block, he turned left and entered a dark, narrow alley marked by puddles of mud and cats rummaging through garbage.
"Good. You're here," said Joo Dee.
"Shouldn't you be wearing a trench coat?" asked How sarcastically.
"This is serious! It's about Lao Beifong."
"After I watched you two debate, I was seriously considering going back to Lao's campaign, and-"
"Are you saying he won?"
"That's not important. I finally decided to go through with it last night, and I was going to ask to rejoin him this morning, but when I got to his apartment, it just didn't seem right... so I snuck around and listened to a conservation he had through a wall."
How was curious as to how Joo Dee managed to go about doing that, but it didn't matter. "What did you hear?"
"It was awful! They want to rig the primary somehow by scheduling the vote for a day with heavy rain!"
"What? What does rain have to do with anything?"
"Well that's what Lao's wife, Poppy, asked. They told her something about how they already had the support of the rich Liberals and you had the support of the poor Liberals, and something about how poor people might not want to vote in the rain."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I, completely. Something about them having to walk and then they'd be all wet and standing in line in huge crowds. It just probably wouldn't be too pleasant for them."
The general was still dubious of the whole idea. "So did they just guess when it would rain next?"
"I don't know how they figured it out, but apparently it's going to rain eighteen days from now!"
How's eyes widened.
"Well I... I already agreed to a date..."
"Don't tell me..."
"I'm afraid so..." The two looked at each other desperately. "But they originally proposed sixteen days."
"They conned you! That's why I decided against joining him again! He's sneaky and deceptive!"
"I can't believe this..."
Joo Dee was infuriated. "I promise I'll do whatever I can to help you win!"
"I really appreciate that, Joo Dee. I do. But for now, I think I just need to go home and rest."
"I completely understand. I'll come over tomorrow to help out!" With that, she turned, ran towards a dead-end in the alley, and, to How's disbelief, catapulted herself over a wall with an Earth pillar.
"Well I wasn't aware she could do that," muttered the former general. "Life's just full of surprises."
After a long day ruined by depressing news, How returned to his house, assuming Bo would either get into trouble or find something else to do until he got bored. He moved like a zombie as he trotted up the steps to his front stoop. He reached for the doorknob, but something got his attention. The door wasn't locked. Suspicious, he swung the door open and walked inside.
The man couldn't believe his ears. He whipped his head around to see his beautiful wife sitting on the couch. "Huma!" he shouted in joy. She got up and the two ran towards each other. He kissed her and lifted her up, laughing. "I'm so sorry for the way I've been treating you, Huma."
"I'm sorry too. I know this is a really stressful time. I should've been more supportive."
"In his room." Huma gently brought her hand to How's face and kissed him again. "It's good to be home," she said softly.
The election might have just been tipped in Lao's favor, but all How cared about was that he finally had the love of his life back. Family is more important than politics, he thought. And I have a family again.
- "The Great Negotiator" may be referring to Lao, or it may be sarcastically referring to How, or maybe it's referring to the "negotiation" between Fong and Yung. You get to think whatever you want. Freedom.
- The word "Racun" means poison in Indonesian, and "Du" means poison in Chinese.
- President John Adams signed the Sedition Acts into law, forbidding that anyone speak out against the President of the United States. For obvious reasons, this was later repealed.
- The word "Jesti" means "eat" in Slovenian.
For the collective works of the author, go here.