Stepping into this boardroom inside this high-rise office building would make any person nervous. Seated around the large table in the centre were at least a dozen corporate executives, all of whom with their files, laptops, and phones laid out on the surface. The individuals chatted amongst themselves, exchanging crucial financial information or the latest market trends. And in the front of the room was a heavyset man with greying hair and a similarly coloured beard, his intelligent eyes scanning the people around. With an air of authority in his tone, he beckoned the crowd to attention, asking them to focus on the front.
But for Asami Sato, this was both an exciting and intimidating moment. Born to the wealthy Sato family, Asami was an heiress in every sense of the word. Her father was Hiroshi Sato, the heavyset man addressing the crowd in the boardroom. Every step of her life, Asami had been training for this moment. It did not hurt that she exhibited a great interest in engineering, business, and hand’s-on research since she was young. So to finally get to this moment, Asami truly felt she had come full circle.
“She has two Bachelor’s degrees in engineering and business, and recently finished her MBA at the University of Ba Sing Se,” Hiroshi announced. Turning his head to the door, he declared with great pride, “Please welcome my daughter, Asami Sato!”
Asami blushed as she marched into the room, finally addressing the board of directors for the first time. She actually met a few of them in person, but that was in a different setting and capacity. Now, instead of being just Hiroshi’s daughter, Asami was about to become part of the brains behind Future Industries. With the members of the board giving her encouraging smiles, Asami could only hope everything she learned throughout her schooling would pay off!
“From this day forward, Asami will be part of the decision-making team. She will be in charge of our expansion efforts, reviewing all our departments and reporting directly to me,” Hiroshi explained, flipping through his set of notes, “This also includes working with our subsidiary, Varrick Industries, on what new transport and shipping options there may be.”
Hiroshi glanced over to his left, where a man dressed in a bright blue suit sat at the front of the table. Iknik Blackstone Varrick was a shipping magnate from the Southern Water Tribe who merged his company with Future Industries over twenty years ago. Now working closely with Hiroshi and Future Industries, Varrick often brought a flair for dramatics and eccentricities with his ideas. “Great to work with you, Asami,” Varrick stated, waving his arms dramatically, “If you ever have trouble with new ideas, just let me know. I always have a plate of hot peppers ready and I’ll let you hang upside down in my office too.”
Asami cocked an eyebrow at Varrick, not sure whether she should be disgusted or intrigued. “I think I’ll pass, thank you,” the engineer responded. Taking a deep breath, she focused back on the board members. Calming the butterflies in her stomach, she spoke in as confident a tone as possible, “Thank you for this opportunity. I will do my best and I won’t let any of you down. My father made this company great, and I intend to make it even better.”
Again, the board members applauded politely. While Asami kept a smile on her face, her mind continued swirling with various thoughts about her role in the company. “To assist Asami, I am doing some shuffling within the departments, both in terms of personnel and budget,” Hiroshi continued, flipping through his notes once more, “Here is what I am proposing.”
As her father went through his plan on moving things around, Asami thought back to all the things that she went through to get her in this spot. Contrary to the popular stereotype about heiresses to vast fortunes, Asami never saw herself as haughty or materialistic. Instead, she was always gracious and thankful, displaying kindness and openness to all those around her. Even though she could have just stayed at Future Industries throughout her life, Asami chose not to take the easy way out. She challenged herself by applying to the most prestigious universities, doing a double major in two difficult subjects of business and engineering, and even going to graduate school. And even with that, Asami insisted on doing an internship on her own rather than relied on Future Industries. All these things gave Asami some perspective in her life, which let her develop the traits of grit, hard work, and perseverance.
“And to assist Asami in easing into her role, I’ve especially hired an assistant to help her with her work,” Hiroshi added. That snapped Asami back to attention, as her father turned to her. All this time, Asami was standing slightly behind and to the left of Hiroshi, visible to the board members but still slightly blocked by Hiroshi. Now, with Hiroshi leaning right, it made Asami that much more visible. “I’ve looked around for a while now, but after consulting with Varrick, we came to a conclusion and decided to make this hire. Varrick, will you do the honours?”
“Yes, thank you, Hiroshi,” Varrick stated, standing up from his seat, “This hire came from one of my old connections. You realize when I was younger, I actually thought about joining the circus, right? I didn’t want to go to university after high school. I said to myself, why waste my time reading all these books about these things that I’m probably never going to run into for the rest of my life? It was during this time that…”
“Uh, Varrick, not meaning to be rude, but can we get to the point?” Hiroshi requested, pointing at the watch strapped onto his left wrist, “We were going to introduce an assistant for Asami when she starts her work?”
“Hey, I’m getting there. You can’t rush the progress, alright?” Varrick snapped with a huff. The entire board of directors stared incredulously at Varrick as he explained how he met someone who wanted to run away to the circus with him, only to finally settle both their dreams down and went to school. “That person was Suyin Bei Fong, and we ended up going to college together. She married an architect and settled down in Zaofu, and now her daughter is walking in her footsteps. When I asked Suyin if she knew anyone who could help Asami, that was the first suggestion. So please welcome Asami’s new assistant, all the way from Zaofu, Opal Bei Fong.”
Just then, another young woman entered into the boardroom. She has shoulder-length black hair styled in a bob cut, wore a green dress shirt, and carried a small clipboard under her arm. What stood out the most were her eyes, which were bright green. “Hi, I’m Opal,” she greeted the group in a meek, polite voice, “Thanks for having me here.”
Feeling relaxed by her presence, Asami reached out to who would become her assistant. “I’m Asami Sato. Looks like we’ll be working with each other a lot in the future,” she stated, shaking the hand of the Zaofu native, “I’ve heard a bit about you from Chief Bei Fong. Your mom is her sister, so that means you are her niece?”
Opal nodded. But before she could say more, Hiroshi brought everyone’s attention back to him again. “With Opal now working with Asami, we can begin some of the newer projects we have in mind,” he described, asking everyone to flip to the appropriate page, “One of the major ones we will get into involves Varrick and his shipping. As you know, Republic City’s piers are getting full, with more cargo and freight being delivered than ever before. In order to get all our products out to the world, we have to open some new shipping lines. Here is the latest update…”
“Let’s focus on what my dad has to say first. We’ll talk a bit later,” Asami whispered to Opal. With that, the two young women slipped past Hiroshi to take seats at the back of the large boardroom table. With so many new things happening, this could be quite the adventure in the making for both Asami and Opal.
“That’s quite an introduction you got there, Asami,” Opal commented as the ladies marched into Asami’s new office. After Hiroshi adjourned the meeting, Asami was brought to her new workspace, located a few floors below the boardroom. The shine of the fresh paint, the smell of the new furniture, and even the slight breezes coming in from the ajar window all made it a welcoming sign for Asami. It was almost like the office wanted this new start to be as successful for the heiress as possible, something Asami would put to heart.
“Thanks, although your introduction isn’t that bad either,” Asami responded. The office itself had two rooms, with a smaller outer room that was more for sorting documents and files, and the larger inner room for meetings and discussions. Opal was assigned to the outside room, but chose to enter the larger room with Asami to see what she could help Asami with. “So how did it feel to be the lone air bender in a family of earth benders and metal benders?”
“Actually, make that earth benders, metal benders, and non-benders,” Opal corrected her superior, “My father Baatar and my oldest brother Baatar Junior are both non-benders. My mom, my other older brother Huan, and my two younger brothers Wei and Wing are earth benders and metal benders. I’m the only air bender of my family, and that’s because my dad is half earth and half air. It took a lot of convincing from my aunt Lin before my mom allowed me to come to Republic City to learn air bending from Master Tenzin Anil.”
“Well, he’s Vice President Anil now. But yes, it does feel like everyone’s been calling him Master Tenzin for so long that the name stuck,” Asami remarked, thinking about the greatest air bender alive right now. Tenzin Anil was the youngest son of Aang Anil, who was the greatest air bender of his generation. Tenzin had spent decades researching and teaching Air Nomad culture and philosophy, and was a professor at Republic City University for many years before he became President Raiko’s running mate. Through her years in Republic City, Asami’s family befriended Tenzin’s family, and even today Asami was very close with Tenzin’s children. “You realize your aunt Lin is close friends with Tenzin, right? Your mom should have no worries.”
As if right on cue, the Bei Fong sisters slipped into the office. Despite their familial relation, Lin and Suyin were different as night and day. Lin, the older and taller of the two, had on her police uniform, her arms crossed over her chest and a stern look on her face. The two scars on her cheek only made her look even more uncompromising, something that struck fear to even the most strong-willed. On the other hand, Suyin, the younger one by six years, had a warm smile and friendly eyes. Her relaxed stance and casual clothing made her look more like a soccer mom than a powerful leader. “Enjoying your first day, Opal?” Suyin asked her daughter.
“Mom, Aunt Lin,” Opal greeted the siblings, trotting over to pull both into a hug, “It’s been okay so far, and just talking with Asami it sounds like it’ll be great working with her. But we haven’t actually started doing anything yet, so…”
As Opal trailed off, Asami and Suyin chuckled. “Don’t worry, she’ll keep you busy,” Suyin responded. Turning to Asami, she dipped her head slightly at the lone non-bender in the room. “I can’t thank you, Hiroshi, and Varrick enough for having Opal here. I know I’ve been a bit restrictive on Opal when she was younger, but I’m glad she’s finding her place. Just thinking about the arguments I had with Lin about Opal air bending is enough to make me go crazy!”
Another round of chuckles could be heard, and this time even the hardened police chief had to interject. “Suyin, I told you back then that Opal should make decisions based on what she feels is best for her. She shouldn’t do something because it’ll make someone else happy,” Lin chided her younger sister, “I stand by my past words, and judging now, I think she’s just fine.”
“That’s only because I pressured you into letting her stay with you when you wanted her to learn air bending from Tenzin. If Opal had any problems finding an apartment when Varrick hired her, I would have asked you to get involved again,” Suyin retorted. Placing an arm on her daughter’s shoulder, she continued, “I’ll stick around until after the dinner party celebrating Future Industries’ anniversary, but I’ll be heading back to Zaofu after that. You take good care of yourself when I’m gone, okay? If there are any problems, you know who to turn to for help.”
Opal nodded, but it was Lin who got in the next word. “Asami, your father has been telling me about your company’s forty-fifth anniversary party. He said it will take place at the convention centre, and government officials will be invited,” the police chief regurgitated the details aloud, “I’ve spoken with some of the government ministers and they seem to want their own security to be present for that day. I’ve already assigned some officers to assist, but the Minister of Defence and Public Safety wants to evaluate the area anyway. Since the party will be in less than a week, are you able to drop by during the inspections?”
Asami rolled her eyes. While she had been away from Republic City most of the past few years, she knew enough about the Minister of Defence and Public Safety to realize what type of person he was. “Yes, I’ll drop by during the inspections, although we both know how unsavoury that guy is,” she mumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration.
Lin nodded. “He is a slimy guy, I’ll give you that. But because he’s in charge of the military and any preparation of emergencies, there’s not a lot I can do. Even though General Iroh Sozin is a close friend of ours, his hands are tied too, unless President Raiko can overrule him,” Lin stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “For now, we’ll just do as he says. If there are so many high-ranking officials attending your father’s ceremony, then there’s no way we can get rid of him.”
From beside Lin, Opal and Suyin glanced nervously at each other. From that description alone, it sounded like this Minister would be a handful, and most likely someone that Opal would be wise to steer away from. “Do you want me to attend the inspection with you, Asami?” Opal asked, her eyebrows creasing significantly in concern.
Asami waved a hand at the air bender. “I think I can handle this. It’ll be a good test for me when I start dealing with more government departments to get regulatory approvals for things like the piers,” the engineer replied. Shuffling through some files, she showed Opal her set of notes from the meeting. “Don’t forget that my dad and Varrick both want to open up some new shipping lines for our goods, and the only way we can do that is by getting government approval. If I tick off this guy, it won’t look good for us in front of his colleagues.”
Opal bit her lower lip. First day on the job and already a challenging task was before her. A few minutes ago, she was even commenting whether Asami could keep her busy enough. But now, it felt almost overwhelming to know that government officials would be attending a huge celebration for Future Industries’ forty-fifth anniversary ceremony. Having grown up in Zaofu all her life, Opal would be the first to admit that, with the exception of her air bending training in Republic City, she was not the biggest world traveler. But now, it felt like her eyes were being opened by force, and the prospect both excited and intimidated her.
“You know what? I think we should leave these two be for now,” Suyin’s voice snapped everyone out of their thoughts. The younger Bei Fong sister turned to Lin, tilting her head to the direction of the door. “Lin, they probably have a lot to do to get started, so we shouldn’t bother them. You can check back in with Asami later on in the day, if need be.”
Lin and Suyin bade Opal goodbye, leaving her in the office with Asami to stew in their thoughts. These two women in their mid-twenties were now part of a larger organization, and if it meant making this celebration a success, they must do what it took to plan it right.
“That’s all the deliveries today, guys,” a middle-aged man with white hair and long sideburns called out to his staff. Being the owner of a small logistics firm, Toza Cho had been in business for almost twenty-five years. Being the strong earth bender that he was, Toza weathered all sorts of hardships and challenges, including economic recessions and attacks from the Triads. But now, looking at his shop, he realized that things might not look so good.
“Hey Yung, were you able to collect all the amounts owed to us from last month?” Toza asked, turning his head to the man seated behind a barely standing desk in the small office. Yung Lui was as different from Toza as night was from day. While the earth bender was gruff, blunt, and uncompromising, Yung was gentle, caring, and unassuming. It didn’t hurt that Yung was a biracial air bender of United Earth States and Air Nomad descent, but some always wondered how two people of such contrasting backgrounds could work together for so long.
“Yeah, we’re still shy a couple thousand,” Yung responded. He preened his jet black hair with his loose hands, while his green eyes pooled with worry. “I think this month we’re going to be short again. Unless we can hire some civil collector to help us, I don’t know how we can collect from those deadbeat clients. Are we meeting expenses so far?”
Toza clacked his tongue. “If you include our salaries, utilities fees, and gas money, we’ll be barely able to pay rent,” he murmured, scratching his white sideburns, “Not to mention you and I both have mouths to feed, although I’m glad they’re old enough to at least contribute financially to both home and business.”
Yung managed to crack a smile. It was no secret that part of the reason the two very different men bonded was that they both took in orphans to raise as their own. Toza took in two brothers of fire and earth heritage, while Yung took in a younger boy of air and earth heritage. The children had been with them through thick and thin, sometimes helping out with the work in the midst of their schooling. So to see the company in such dire shape, Yung truly worried about their future. “At least they’re still doing okay, right?”
The chatters from two enthusiastic voices broke Toza’s attention. Striding into the small office were two young men, both of muscular build and sporting bright green eyes. The younger of the two, a darker-skinned teen with an undercut hairstyle named Kai Fong, glanced over and greeted the two older adults. “Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Kai asked.
Yung greeted his foster child back. “Hey Kai, we’re just talking about what’s going on with the business so far,” he replied, gently closing the account books and placing down his pen. Yung first brought Kai into his life almost six years ago, when the latter was twelve years old. Something about their shared heritage of half earth and half air and their air bending skills allowed them to bond, and soon Yung granted the right to be Kai’s foster father. “The economy is tight this year, and we have to do what we can to keep this company going,” he explained.
“Hey, no worries,” the older of the two green-eyed teens piped up, his lips stretching into an infectious smile, “I’m sure things will turn around. The United Republic has always turned around when times go bad, so what makes you think it’ll be different this time?”
“Oh, I’m glad you can stay positive even through these difficult times, Bolin,” Toza responded, crossing his arms and pursing his lips. Like Kai, Bolin Zheng was born to a father from the United Earth States. But instead of having an Air Nomad mother, Bolin’s mother was from the Fire Nation. Bolin and his fire bending older brother were taken in by Toza when the former was twelve, and due to their shared earth bending skills, Toza was able to mentor Bolin in many different techniques. “But I think it won’t be over anytime soon, not with this economy.”
“Well, Pabu sure isn’t worried, and if Pabu’s not worried, then I don’t think we should be either,” Bolin exclaimed. Just then, a furry fire ferret climbed out from the inside of Bolin’s brown jacket and stared cutely at the group. Bolin befriended the creature before Toza became his foster parent, and had been a part of this family since. “Isn’t that right, Pabu?” Bolin cooed, pulling out the fire ferret and giving him a tight snuggle.
Everybody, including the usually unyielding Toza, chuckled at Bolin. It was always like Bolin to find the silver lining in every dark cloud, a trait that he managed to pass on to Kai as well. As the two youngsters took their turns with Pabu, Yung and Toza returned to the books at hand. “So if we don’t balance the books, are we out of business for good?” Toza queried.
Yung shook his head. “It’s either that, or we’re not paying rent. We were already late for the last two months, and the landlord has made his fair share of angry phone calls to us,” the air bender reported, “Unless we find a way to turn the business around, we’re kind of stuck.”
“And you can probably expect some uniformed individuals coming to your door, asking you to pack your bags and leave,” another voice chimed in from the doorway. All four people shot their heads up to see the emotionless face of a tall fire bender in a police uniform staring back at them. “I really hope I’m not one of those to evict you, but at this rate it might happen.”
“Come on, Mako. You won’t do that to your own family, will you?” Bolin responded, his grin still crossing his face. Unlike his younger brother, the fire bending Mako was a much more serious individual. He rarely ever cracked a joke, and took every job he had very seriously. He was fortunate enough to enrol himself in a police academy after graduating high school, and had been a police officer with the local police force for just shy of five years. “Even though you’re busy with police patrols, at least you’re making time to come by to make sure we’re doing okay. At least that means you still have a heart, right?” Bolin suggested.
“First off, the only family I have are you and Toza. You’re my brother, and Toza is our foster parent. Yung and Kai are legally a separate family from us, even though we’ve always been close. Second, I still live with you and Toza, so it’s kind of hard for me not to come back here,” Mako pointed out, lifting a new finger each time a new point was raised, “You don’t have the luxury of finishing college the way I did, Bolin. You had to drop out because the company was doing poorly, and had you finished you will have more opportunities out there.”
That created a sombre mood, as the group was reminded of what happened four years ago. When Mako graduated the police college, Bolin was still halfway through his program. But when the economy crashed, Toza’s company lost money. With little funds to go on, Bolin had to drop out of college and put his program on hold. Instead, he spent his time helping out at the company, doing deliveries and picking up other jobs here and there. Mako was only starting in the police force, his salary not high enough to help sustain the company. And with Yung also trying to get Kai to finish junior high, things were dire for them. Now, with the company not recovering anytime soon, Bolin’s plans to finish his degree became slimmer and slimmer.
“And unfortunately, Kai may be in the same spot next year,” Yung pointed out. Kai was now in his final year of high school, and after years of struggle managed to pull his marks into a level that could allow him to get into a post-secondary institution. But with finances very tight and cutbacks in loans and grants for students, Kai might also have to put his college dreams on hold. “No child of mine, whether they be biological, adopted, or foster, is going without post-secondary, so I’ll do whatever I can to get you in, even if it means pushing it back,” Yung stated.
Kai exhaled hard through his nose. Before meeting Yung, he endured poor foster homes with abusive parents, ran away to live on the streets multiple times, and even resorted to stealing food just to survive. The last thing he wanted was to return to poverty, which had been his major roadblock in getting ahead in life. “I promise you, Yung,” he declared, “I won’t give up. You took me in and treated me well, and I can’t let that go to waste.”
Several large black vehicles swerved into the parking lot of the convention centre where Asami Sato currently waited patiently. The young engineer could see men in dark clothes step out, each of them with earphones and other gadgets hanging all over their bodies. Even though it was just a tour of the location by a government minister, Asami could not help but feel that it was a bit over the top. “Who does this guy think he is?” she muttered to herself.
The person in question stepped out of his dark SUV, wearing a slick dark blue suit and similarly coloured tie. He had very tan skin, dark brown hair tied into three ponytails, and stood with an aura of authority. Seeing how he held his head up high and stared at all his assistants with an aloof gaze, Asami tried her best not to gag. “Well, here goes nothing,” she murmured.
The man in the blue suit strode over, with at least half a dozen in his security following him like turtle ducks. Inhaling deeply, Asami pushed whatever negative thoughts she had about the man to the deepest parts of her mind. With a forced grin stretching across her face, the non-bender approached the government official with an outstretched hand. “Are you Tarrlok Yakone, the Minister of Defence and Public Safety? I’m Asami Sato, nice to meet you,” she greeted him.
The man in blue, identified as Tarrlok, took her hand and shook it nonchalantly, all the while showing no emotion on his face. “I’m here to evaluate the safety of the convention centre for your firm’s anniversary, so let’s not waste more time loitering here in the parking lot,” he stated, swiftly marching past Asami. With his entourage following him and not giving Asami even a passing glance, the heiress could not help but fume in frustration.
Shaking her head a few times, Asami trotted up to follow the taller man’s quick steps. Despite being in his mid-forties, Tarrlok was already a senior member of the president’s cabinet. He was appointed to the post of Minister of Defence and Public Safety during Raiko’s first term, the youngest member of cabinet at under thirty-five years old. While Asami lived abroad during her schooling, she was at least aware of Tarrlok’s ability to win over people. His eloquence and persuasiveness gave him an aura of charisma with the public, with many seeing him as a likely replacement to Raiko once the president’s term was up in the next year. With term limits barring Raiko from a third term in office, many would not be surprised to see Tarrlok run for president.
“My father told me that a list of all the waiters and waitresses, as well as all caterers to the party, has been submitted to you,” Asami explained, coming up next to Tarrlok’s left. She barely paid attention to the long corridor leading to the main ballroom. “We made sure that all of them passed criminal and security checks before they are hired. Only those with the longest and most capable records will serve the vice president, his family, and his staff. I understand that President Raiko himself cannot be present, which is…”
“Miss Sato, I’m well aware of that list. In fact, I myself reviewed it twice before I came here,” Tarrlok retorted, throwing a condescending glance at Asami, “And I must say, unless your goal is to show off your company’s riches, I think you should seriously revise that list.”
“Excuse me? What in the world do you possibly mean by that?” Asami demanded. She barely finished the sentence before the group blasted through a set of doors and into the main ballroom. Before them was a stage with a small podium, while a large screen was being set up by IT staff. Close to a hundred round tables, each seating anywhere from eight to ten, were adjusted by convention centre staff. With various voices speaking at once coming from various parts of the large hall, Asami felt like several buzzard wasps were circling her head.
Tarrlok marched them to the first row of tables, where a middle-aged woman leaning on a cane spoke with the head of catering. “Mrs. Sato, I think we should talk. It seems like the plans that your daughter was supposed to be in charge of must be modified,” Tarrlok stated with a sneer to the caned woman, “Is she perhaps prioritizing extravagance over safety?”
The woman turned, blinking a couple of times in surprise. “Minister Yakone, what do you mean? Surely you don’t think Asami wants to put us all in danger, do you?” she retorted. Despite her handicap, Yasuko Sato insisted on helping out Asami. Hiroshi was concerned that Asami might be unable to handle the tough-talking minister, even when his daughter reassured him that she would be fine on her own. “I’m appalled you would even think about that!”
Tarrlok remained unimpressed, instead snapping a finger at one of his assistants, who pulled out a folder for him. “I see that this list outlined twenty waiters and caterers to take on the tables seated by yourselves, your senior management, and the vice president and his staff,” he observed, “Unless you’re trying to showcase how grand you are, I’m limiting it to twelve.”
Asami and Yasuko sputtered in shock. “Minister, with all due respect, we have one table for the vice president and his family, at least another for his staff and advisors, one for my family and Varrick’s family, at least three for our board members and their families, and two more for our special guests and their families,” Asami listed off, pointing at the various names on the list Tarrlok held, “Twenty waiters taking on seven tables means three waiters per table. Two will deal with food and one will deal with drinks. I don’t think that’s too unreasonable!”
“All of these individuals passed criminal and security checks, so they can’t pose too big a risk,” Yasuko added, “If we do it your way, then we’re looking at only two per table. That will really stretch the workload and be inefficient to the staff. Can you please reconsider?”
Tarrlok snickered. “It’s so like your rich people to rub it in the faces of folks who are less fortunate,” he sneered, “Did you happen to forget that Vice President Tenzin Anil will bring his wife and three children to the party? Not to mention that his brother, a retired colonel of the United Forces, and his sister, one of the Republic’s most respected physicians, will also be in attendance. If something happens to any of them, will you offer to take responsibility?”
Before either Asami or Yasuko could respond, Tarrlok began barking orders, although the Sato ladies were not sure if they were at his staff or them. “I want at least two teams of our security at the front lobby at least half an hour before the guests arrive. All corridors leading from the ballroom to the parking lot must also be guarded. With the exception of catering trucks, I want the back delivery doors sealed. The second floor balcony and walkways should all have security posted too,” Tarrlok exclaimed, stabbing his finger on the pages in his folder. Whipping his head back to Asami and Yasuko, he stated with a growl in his tone, “Even the most unlikely people can become threats, don’t you agree? Mrs. Sato should remember that quite well, because that’s the whole reason why you use a cane to walk, correct?”
Yasuko’s mouth opened and closed several times, but too angry and flabbergasted to form words. Meanwhile, Tarrlok brushed past them once more, hustling out with the same level of ferocity as when he rushed in. Beside her, Asami placed a hand on Yausko’s shoulder. “Mom, just relax,” she soothed, massaging Yasuko’s muscles, “It’s not worth getting into it with him.”
After a few more rubs, Asami could no longer feel the hot air from her mother’s breath brush against her skin. “Your father better not hear that, or that man will not get away with it,” Yasuko snapped, waving her free arm at the doors, “I don’t care if he’s the Minister of Defence and is in charge of the country’s safety. If he says that to me one more time, I will guarantee the only safety he will worry about is his own. He’ll be lucky if I don’t give him a concussion when my cane meets the top of his head!”
“I’ve heard some pretty personal attacks in my lifetime, but that one was just below the belt,” Hiroshi commented, observing intently as the nurse replaced some of Yasuko’s bandages on her legs. Every month, Yasuko would have to visit her medical clinic to get her leg bandages renewed, courtesy of an old burn. It was always a gruesome sight when the white cloths were peeled off to reveal the discoloured skin, but compared to what happened twenty years ago, there was already much improvement. “If I get a chance to talk to Vice President Anil personally, I will make sure to bring this up in front of him.”
“Just let it go, Hiroshi,” Yasuko responded with a wince, her attention split between her family and the nurse addressing her burns. She was seated on the examination bed at the clinic, her pant legs rolled up to her thighs while the nurse attended to her. “I originally wanted to cane him after what he said. But right now, I’m just hoping we don’t have to see him at all.”
“What is Tarrlok’s problem anyway?” Asami queried, watching the nurse clean the areas and disinfect the scars, “Is he that interested in getting the presidency that he’s willing to go all-out and be super tough on crime or something? He does realize that not only did you survive the events from twenty years ago, but you also recovered pretty well.”
Yasuko glanced up at her daughter with a fume. “I think he wants to use a famous person as his face to fight the Triads, given these were caused by the Agni Kai gang,” the mother replied while shifting her body to allow the nurse access to her other leg. It was twenty years ago when the Agni Kai Triad invaded the Sato Estate, attempting to loot the place. Being a family of non-benders, the Satos had their hands full with the gang. Yasuko was almost burned alive by one particularly violent member, but luckily one housekeeper tackled that individual, causing the fire blast to miss. Despite this, the flames scorched Yasuko’s lower body, especially her legs. It caused Yasuko severe burns that, had the ambulance not arrive in time, might have taken her life.
“If that’s the case, then Tarrlok should be thanking the Minister of Health for advocating such great technological developments in burn therapy,” Asami commented. Yasuko had to endure extensive surgery on both legs, and took her several years before she learned how to walk properly again. Even now, she had to use a cane, due to both chronic pain and overall weakness in her legs. Luckily, the pain was now under control, but it was obvious that Yasuko would never be the same again. Her role in Future Industries was reduced greatly, and now she focused more on events planning rather than helping Hiroshi run the company.
“I think Tarrlok wants to target us non-benders more than anything else,” Hiroshi added with a frown. Because of this incident, Hiroshi harboured a long mistrust against benders. It took him years, along with Yasuko’s recovery, before he learned to accept benders again. For a while, Asami truly worried that it would affect all the relationships she had with her friends, some of whom were benders. “Isn’t Tarrlok a talented water bender when he was younger? I was at a conference at the Northern Water Tribe around that time and recalled seeing articles of his skill.”
“He is, and apparently he’s a bigshot in that area too,” Yasuko explained. She waved her hand before her face to rid the chemical smell of the nurse’s cleaning solution, which wafted near Yasuko when the nurse scampered past her. “Not only that, he’s also honed his ability to work crowds from that experience, doing shows throughout his college years and even for the first few years after graduating. No wonder he can act like such a showman!”
“If Tarrlok does end up winning the nomination for the next president, don’t expect me to cast him a vote anytime soon,” Hiroshi declared. Just then, two other nurses came into the area and ushered Yasuko off the examination table. The millionaire and his daughter followed the group into a separate room, where a water healing station was prepared. “If Tarrlok really wants to win my vote, he should learn to heal with water bending, rather than mouth off at us.”
“Well, you have Dr. Katara Kuruk-Anil to thank for that. She’s the one who popularized the use of portable water healing stations,” Asami recalled from her history class. Katara Kuruk-Anil was the widow of Aang Anil, which made her the mother of Vice President Tenzin Anil. While water bending had always been used as a healing method, it usually involved a team of nurses with water bending skills, making it unwieldy and user-unfriendly to patients, who had to either go to the hospital or wait for an army of home care aides at home. “But she invented this new portable water healing station that is small enough to operate in community clinics, but also efficient enough to have the same effect. It’s great what a creative mind can do, right?”
“Yes, and I still remember the legacies of both Dr. Kuruk-Anil and her husband. Did you recall that Aang Anil died about a year after you were born?” Yasuko pointed out. After Aang’s death, Katara spent a few more years working as a physician before retiring herself. However, she never stopped modifying and improving on the portable water healing stations. Yasuko put down her cane and allowed the care attendants to support her, letting her gingerly step into the water tank that had liquid covering up to her knees. “She’s got to be in her nineties now, but if you hear her talk, she is still sharp as a tack. I just wish I’m that energetic at that age!”
Hiroshi and Asami observed in amazement when the nurse waved her hands upward, allowing the water to cover Yasuko’s entire legs. The water created a clear sheen that smothered all the scars, covering the disfigured skin like paving asphalt over an uneven road. From the top, Yasuko’s adjusted her grip on the two horizontal iron bars to her either side, all the while letting her entire body relax. Even her facial expression changed, her cheeks going from tense and tight to loose and comfortable in a matter of seconds. “We feel the chi flowing through your legs, and they seem a lot smoother than last time you were here,” the water bending nurse reported.
“Thank you, Miss,” Hiroshi stated, “It’s really great how we have such a great healing tool. I just wish I realized it sooner, but I guess my stubborn side got in the way. I think if I let my bitterness for benders go earlier, the results might be even better.” Because of Hiroshi’s mistrust of benders, he never considered this technique as a healing method for his wife. He resorted to all sorts of crazy techniques, including expensive and painful laser surgery, to heal Yasuko. It was only after watching a family friend who was a water bender pick up water-based healing that he finally decided to give this method a chance.
“Hiroshi, again, it is water under the bridge, no pun intended,” Yasuko stated just as another rush of water went up her legs, “I felt very bitter as well, even depressed, when I was told I would never walk properly. I was still having nightmares months after I was first released from the hospital, and I was frustrated at how useless I felt all because some crazy guy burned my legs. But I managed to walk again a few years later, and with counselling the nightmares ended near the same time. Now I have a new outlook at life, and I think we all should as well.”
“Considering that I’m kind of taking over your former role in Future Industries, after your replacement of twenty years retired, I think I already have that mindset,” Asami joked. She and Hiroshi left Yasuko alone, stepping back from the station and taking a seat on the bench at the far side of the room. “Let’s talk about the celebration event. I already confirmed both the menu and the seating tables. We know Vice President Anil and his entire family are vegetarians. As the main event, we will screen a show of our company’s history within the city, starting from when it started. I know the film is a first-time creation that is under wraps so well, not even our own staff members know about it. We’ll have it delivered to the centre straight from our vault.”
“Well, as long as the route to the convention centre doesn’t get tied up, I think it’s a great idea,” Hiroshi commented, “Although I do wonder how the city police is doing with security, as it seems like Tarrlok’s men are only in charge of securing the convention centre. Let’s make sure to call Chief Bei Fong a day or two before the ceremony to confirm, shall we?”
Mako could barely breathe with the frenetic scene before him. Tonight was the night of Future Industries’ forty-fifth anniversary, and the convention centre was about to be jam-packed with dignitaries. As part of local police enforcement, he was in charge of directing traffic and, if necessary, stopping and inspecting suspicious vehicles. Normally, he was under the command of his local police superiors, but with national government representatives involved, coordination of the activities was handed over to the Ministry of Defence and Public Safety. “And they have to get a snake like Tarrlok Yakone involved,” he murmured in disgust, observing the officers around him set up detours and fencing off various intersections.
Speaking of the Minister of Defence and Public Safety, Mako received a briefing before his assignment indicating that some gangs might use this as an opportunity to wreak havoc. With the Satos celebrating and so many VIP’s attending, the bolder gangs, such as the Triple Threats, might wish to disrupt things, causing damages and potentially blackmailing Future Industries into giving them fees for them to stay out of trouble. While Mako was unaware if the Satos did try to pay off the Triple Threats, it would not surprise him if the Triple Threats did try a stunt like that. “They’re certainly bold enough, with skilled benders in three elements,” he added.
Just then, a hand landing on Mako’s shoulder snapped his attention away. The fire bender almost flinched in shock when the cheerful face of his younger brother appeared into his vision. “What’s going on, Mako?” Bolin asked, lifted his hand off, “You seem to have tunnel vision.”
Mako pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head a few times. “Sorry, this mission is just really taxing,” he responded. Technically speaking, he was not supposed to interact with anyone outside his team. Taking a quick glance around, he made sure his superiors were looking elsewhere before he continued his conversation. “So what’s going on?”
“Toza, Yung, Kai, and I were trying to chase down some debts. Apparently, some of our clients are still not paying us,” Bolin explained. He gestured at Yung, who had a stack of papers under his arm. “Our landlord already gave us notice that if our lease isn’t paid in the next two weeks, we will be thrown out. If we don’t get some payments, we’re in big trouble.”
“Forget about opening in the same location, I think our business may not stay open at all, with the way things are going,” Toza interjected, shoving his hands hard into his pants pockets, “At least I can say you two did well, with Mako being a police officer and Bolin helping me run the business. But with Yung over there still having to send Kai through college, I’m not feeling the most optimistic. We have to find some way to turn this thing around.”
Mako pursed his lips at that comment. It was truly fortunate that when he enrolled in the police college shortly after high school, Toza’s logistics firm was still doing well. The economy was fine and money was flowing, meaning Toza could afford to pay a portion of Mako’s tuition. And when Mako was hired into the Republic City police force, he was able to provide for Bolin with his higher salary. But when the economy soured shortly after Mako joined the force, Toza’s business ran dry and Bolin had to drop out due to lack of tuition funds. While Bolin still learned a lot from helping run the business, Mako knew deep down that Bolin wanted to get the degree that he started. Now, with the business potentially shutting down and the landlord evicting them for failure to pay rent, Mako was worried what would happen to everyone after this.
“Anyway, let’s talk about something less depressing,” Bolin suggested, throwing an arm around Mako’s shoulder once more, “So what’s it like defending the streets for the Satos? I heard they have a big party tonight, so did you manage to get into the convention centre to at least take a peek? Maybe you can get the Satos to hire us to help them out!”
Mako rolled his eyes. “It’s not as simple as just walking up to Mr. Sato and plunking a resume on his lap, you know,” Mako responded, “Anyone wants to be in there, bumping arms with the top guys, flaunting their money and credentials around, but you can’t believe how hard it is to get there. Just being on the beat gave me a lot of opportunities to check out how some of these guys live, and their extravagance is both amazing and ridiculous.”
“Come on, I’m sure it’s not all like that. Aren’t you making a blanket stereotype of all rich people?” Toza suggested. While the older earth bender continued his comment, Mako’s eyes strayed off onto the streets. Several limousines pushed past them, with the United Republic’s coat of arms on the doors. Mako figured that these belonged to either the vice president or some of the ministers, who were invited to this dinner. Given this was where an ambush by the Triple Threats or another gang might be likely, the fire bending officer was on high alert.
Just then, a red sports car slowly turned into an alley. Mako had to squint in order to get a better view, but there was no mistake who the driver was. The shiny blue coat, the slicked hair, and even the crooked grin, all these gave it all away. “Guys, it’s Shady Shin,” Mako called, snapping his fingers at the group of friends behind him. Shady Shin was a gang member who Mako had some run-ins with, as he was the main recruiter for the Triple Threats. Ever since high school Mako had been aware of him, as Shady Shin tried to recruit him and Bolin back then. Neither brother accepted, but Mako’s paths kept crossing with this unsavoury water bender after he became a police officer. “I’m calling for backup, you guys go somewhere safe,” he ordered.
Mako immediately reached for his walkie-talkie on his belt, barking out his observations to his teammates. As the police officer marched closer to the edge of the sidewalk, Bolin turned to the rest of his team with a determined look. “Guys, we got to help him,” the earth bender stated, holding a fist to his chest, “If Shady Shin or the Triple Threats’ leader Lightning Bolt Zolt get a hand on those VIP’s, there’s no telling what damage they can do.”
“Hold on, are you sure you want to do this?” Yung responded, rebalancing the notes under his arm, “I mean, with all this police presence, shouldn’t we just let them handle it?”
Bolin stared at Yung with an unimpressed look. “Guys, Mako and I know what Shady Shin is like. He’s an absolute sleazebag who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Toza knows too, given how many times we told him we refused Shady Shin’s recruitment attempts,” Bolin explained. The earth bender still recalled the multiple times Shady Shin attempted to get him and Mako involved in gang activities, sometimes even threatening them or following them home just to see where they lived. If it wasn’t for the fact that Toza was such a tough earth bender, Bolin was sure that Shady Shin would have kidnapped them for extortion or something.
Toza, Yung, and Kai could see Bolin’s stature strengthen, his spine tightening and his voice getting bolder with every word, “Toza, you always taught us to be honest and honourable, not giving up on your principles no matter what. How can we say we’re staying true to that when Mako is about to stop some VIP’s from being attacked and we don’t help him? I say us two earth benders, with Yung and Kai backing us up with air bending, we can take out the Triple Threats. What do you say we teach them a lesson for messing with one of our own?”
Toza, Yung, and Kai glanced at each other nervously. While they were all benders in their own right, were they in a good enough position to take on the Triple Threats? After all, they could have weapons like guns and blades on top of bending, which would threaten their safeties in more ways than imagined. Taking a deep breath, Toza nodded to his two companions. They slowly edged onto the sideway, following Mako and Bolin down the crowded street.