“Hello there, good sir! My name is Utsana Karani and I’m running for—”

The large oak door slams shut in my face. It would be fine if this were the first time it had happened—hell, even if it were the second or third—but the fifteenth is a bridge too far. I raise my foot but resist the urge to kick the door at the last second.

 

It’s not as if a fight is going to win me any votes.

Admittedly, it seems as if nothing is winning me votes these days.

 

 

 

I sigh and run a hand through the tousled fur on my head. Politicians may be new to Ailur, but perseverance is not. If I’m to be one (and a good one at that), it’s the persevering I need to focus on. I’m here to help people, and it’s my job to convince them of that little fact.

 

Bracing myself for further rejection, I step up to the next door and hesitantly knock. After a few moments, it creaks open and a pair of suspicious eyes peers out at me.

“Hello, my name is Utsana Karani and I’m running for local magistrate of this district. I’m campaigning on speedy trials, fair judgement, and keen attention to community concerns. Can I count on your vote on for the upcoming election?”

I recite it just as the Anagativa suggested, offering my name, my desired position, and my chosen stances alongside a question of commitment. It’s the basic formula that drives the six clans, proposing leaders as the first step to establishing order—and I’ve practiced it to perfection.

If only the Kotakaya eyeing me warily from the other side of the door—as if I’ve got three heads sprouting from my neck—understood either of those two truths. She glares at me behind a brown, wrinkled brow, her clawed fingers clinging to the door as if I might grab for it and infect her with my strange, three-headed affliction at any moment.

 

 

“You’re one of those skin-shedders, ain’tcha?” she spits at me. “Given up yer Kotakayan pride to lap at the Anagativa teat?” I keep my sighs internal and eye rolls to myself, instead offering up a toothy smile in return.

 

In truth, this isn’t the first time I’ve been posed the question, and it certainly won’t be the last if today’s unsuccess is any measure.

This isn’t about just getting their votes—I have to win them too. I take a deep breath before proceeding.

 

“Not at all, madam” I say warmly, “I’m actually a proud Kotakayan, trying to do the most for my community! In the wake of the war, there’s been a breakdown in the criminal system. We simply have too many offenders and too few magistrates. The Anagativa are doing what they can, but it’s my belief that Kotakayans should try Kotakayans—which is why I’m here.”

“Why’d we need you?” the old Kota asks, peering a little further out her door. “Ol’ Jyun Mita’s been tryin’ things ‘round here since I was a wee one. He bein’ replaced or somethin’?”

“Well, yes, in a manner of speaking,” I say quickly. “He’s no longer the acting magistrate…though he is running in the race as my opponent— ”

“Then why’re you tryin’ to take his job?” She cuts me off in a voice that serves as the vocal representation of two hands resting confused and annoyed on a set of hips.

 

 

 

 

Her question catches me off guard.

“I… I’m not attempting to take his job, miss. The position is open to any who wishes it. I’m merely attempting to—”

“Take his job,” she finishes. The door is open wide enough now that I can see two real hands resting on two ample hips. I clench my teeth in something approximating a forced, toothy smile. It’s all I can do to keep from screaming.

 

“The job is open, madam. That’s why we’re trying to find the best possible candidate to fill the role. I’m proposing to you today that I am, in fact, that candidate.”

 

“You ever been a judge?”

 

“Well, no, but I— “

 

“Then why would I want you as one?”

 

“I, uh… well… unlike Jyun Mita, I will operate in a fair and ordered manner. For too long he’s taken kickbacks and altered his judgements based solely on the weight of his pocket. Kotakayans deserve justice without a price!”

“Feh. That’s just the way the world works, youngin’. Everybody’s got mouths to feed and troubles to tend. I’m a dressmaker by trade — y’don’t think I’ve never bumped the big jobs to the head of the line?”

“I understand feeding your family, miss. I do. But this is about justi—”

 

“Justice is all about who’s lookin’ at it. And honestly, lad, I’d rather Ol’ Jyun Mita do the lookin’ for this here town. Now, if you’ve got no more to say, I suggest you get on.”

 

 

 

 

She closes the door before I can so much as squeak, and I’m left reeling. I feel as if I’ve entered a strange new world. Democracy is progress—it gives us choice—and yet the townsfolk are so quick to dismiss it. Perhaps it’s age. Maybe it’s ignorance.

But why wouldn’t she want a choice? What good is it to live without freedom beneath the thumb of another? I’m all questions as I step off her doorstep and trudge to the next.

 

“Hello, my name is Utsana Karani and I’m running for local magistrate. I’m campaigning on speedy trials, fair judgement, and attention to community concerns. Can I count on your vote for the upcoming election?”

“What happened to the old judge?”

 

 

 

 

And the next…

 

“Hello, my name is Utsana Karani and I’m running for local magistrate. I’m campaigning on speedy trials, fair judgment, and attention to community concerns. Can I count on your vote—”

 

“You get out of here, you bootlickin’ son of a lab rat or I’ll—”

 

 

 

 

And the next.

 

“Hello, my name is Utsana Karani and I’m running for local magistrate. I’m campaigning on— ”

“What’s a campaign?”

 

Finally close to defeat, I sit on the street corner, tired and downtrodden with my head bowed and my shoulders slumped. I’ve knocked on a hundred doors and received a hundred rejections. The townsfolk either don’t want me or aren’t keen on democracy…and I don’t know which hurts worse.

 

They’re being offered an option for the first time in their lives—not some court appointee, foreign and mysterious—but a real local, a representative beholden to only them.

Still, they dismiss it all the same. The Anagativa said this would be hard, but they never said it would be impossible. They promised that the vote would help…that it would make us happy…that it would be the cure for all our ills.

 

Yet all this campaigning has done is cure me of an un-ulcerated gut.

These Kotakaya just don’t want what I’m selling.

 

 

 

 

So what do they want?

To go back to the way things were before the war? Before the poverty, before the pain, before the Mad King and his experiments? Back when we had pride and safety and something like hope? I wish I could give it to them.

The Anagativa propose something like it, true, but it’s because they offer it that we deny it.

 

They’ve hurt us too much to be offering hand-outs now. Perhaps we’re just bitter. Or maybe it’s because we don’t understand democracy and the choices it contains. I think back on the old dressmaker and sigh before trudging down the lane to the next burrow.

Maybe I don’t understand it, either.

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