I was meant to be visiting the capitol for six days. I was bed-ridden for three of those. Toby and Clarissa were adamant that they had given me ample warning not to consume any water that came from a tap or the hotel showers, and though I didn't actually recall them saying It, I know that, for a lot of the journey, I wasn't paying much attention to anything external, including their lectures.
It turned out that the water used in Washington via taps and showers contained a number of chemicals that were not so harmful to Humans, but were a little sickening for Hork-Bajir. Toby berated me, and actually provided a full list of the chemicals that could have invaded my system. None of them sounded overly pleasant, and I certainly learned my lesson. I was drinking designated bottle water from then on, and my body quickly recovered.
Those were three days that were originally intended for following Toby while she went about her normal activities. I wasn't able to do so, and was severely disappointed to know that there was so much that I would miss. Nevertheless, it made me ever more excited to utilise the remaining days to the full. When the third came around, and I was assured that I could begin activities the next day, I immediately began to formulate plans. (Not that they would come of much use, I just enjoyed doing it.)
There was still a niggling of disappointment. I was so determined to see the city landmarks, and I had built up the excitement to such a peak that the thought of being unable to see them was a mighty crash to my happiness. But, on that third day, Toby and Clarissa brought me wonderful news. Maybe it was born of sympathy for my predicament, but they had speedily arranged a short visit to the Lincoln Memorial, saying that they thought I deserved to see at least one landmark. I was extremely thankful, and that news almost rid me of the sickness all by itself.
It was good news through a boring period of time. When sick, my days comprised of sitting in the unfamiliar bed, watching a pull-out television and, according to Clarissa, whining like a lost dog. The nights were especially bad, when I actually needed sleep but could find no comfort on the flat surface on the bed. Not only that, but I was unused to sleeping by myself, and after five minutes on the first night I was asking Toby to stay in my room. She was more than happy to do so, but she told me that sleeping alone was something I would have to get accustomed to. For Hork-Bajir, that is not a natural situation to be in.
In the end, I was most thankful to have recovered with days to spare, though Toby passed me stern warnings to only ever use the bottled water. Tap water, chlorinated water, even puddle water was off limits. I wasn't going to argue.
That aside, I was ready to tackle Washington. With Toby having a day off, we planned to visit the Lincoln Memorial, doing a little more sight-seeing, then relax and prepare for her FOX interview the next day. I was free to do as I wished within the obvious boundaries, but it was advised that I use any opportunity to learn about Human city life and the expectations that might one day fall onto me.
Toby was up three hours before me, preparing for the day ahead. I had no idea what the fuss was all about, and I watched as she zipped between our rooms, making notes, checking files and making plenty of phone calls. After a while, she tried to force me from my prolonged snoozing, with the reasoning that I would need to be fully awake when out in the city. I grunted at her mostly, having had little sleep, but she was determined and threatened to leave me in the apartment all day, yet again.
She didn't like me droopy-eyed, hunched, and interrupting every sentence with a yawn. Looking as if I had just got out of bed, basically. She ordered breakfast for the both of us, and ordained that I shower. Then, I was made to brush and floss my teeth. It was a strange experience, and I was revolted at the taste the toothpaste provided.
However, my breath smelled acceptable, something that is essential in Human society (according to Clarissa).
I thought we were ready, but Toby decided otherwise. She made another phone call, and I listened in as she arranged for our "security" to show. It made sense in a way, much like the fences that surrounded our home at Yellowstone and the barriers at the recent gathering in Cheyenne. If we were going into the public area, we would need some kind of protection, both for ourselves and the Humans in the area.
Twenty minutes later, a knock came from the door of my room, and a large Human in black clothing stepped in. He was almost as tall as Toby, and she was quick to introduce.
"Hello, Dave," She greeted, shaking his hand. "I hope you are well."
"I'm fantastic!" He grinned. "We are arranging your transport right now, so whenever you're ready, we can go."
Toby nodded, and then opened her palm towards me. "This is Taku Kelmut. He will be coming, too."
The Human, the only one I had come across who rivalled me for height and exceeded me in width, offered his hand, and I took it. "Hi, Taku." He greeted.
We had little to pack - Nothing, actually, apart from the breakfast leftovers that I would nibble on for the travel. In no rush, and waiting for those accompanying us who had considerably more to take, we occupied our time by mingling with the security who would be acting as our shield, getting to know names and faces. They were large Humans, and while talking to them I discovered that I had unknowingly developed an aversion to the larger individuals, undoubtedly due to what I had witnessed on television. They were often depicted as more violent (a phenomenon I had also sub-consciously attributed to Humans in general, but more so for the bulkier individuals), but I was thankful to see that particular stereotype dissolved from my mind. I was warmly welcomed, and I knew that I was in safe hands.
We were squeezed into the back of a black sedan and driven toward the centre of the capitol. A national park, I was told, that housed three major landmarks: The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the White House, among others. Our arrangements meant that we had a space to sit in the park, and part of the Memorial had been closed off so that we could venture inside. We had not arranged far enough in advance to have a full tour of the area, but we would see it all from afar, at least.
After a short trip, we drove over the Memorial Bridge and into the National Mall. It was late morning, and the area was packed with tourists, as eager as I was to take in the history and the culture, and to use the rest of the day to laze in the summer sun. They paid little attention to our convoy as we drove down Ohio Drive and down towards the Memorial.
It was a square building, large and resting before a large body of water. The structure itself was white and held up with great pillars, like lines of thick tree trunks. It reminded me of Greek architecture that I had seen in my book. Humans stood between the pillars, cameras held around their necks, most of them wearing sunglasses and many wearing hats. It was very reminiscent of scenes that I had seen on television – mostly holiday advertisements.
But yet again, my attention was dragged by the trees that were strewn throughout the park, and they were mostly kinds that I had not seen before. Already, after just a few days, I was craving the comforts of home.
Our vehicles came to a halt on the Southern side of the Memorial building, the parking location separated from the public by a select few members of the security team. It was embarrassing, to be honest, especially since the Humans could see me stumble from the rear door of our vehicle. When out in the open, my ears began to pick out the distinctive sound of cameras clicking, and I came to the instant conclusion that it was just another thing I would have to grow to. I hoped that it wouldn't become too invasive.
Dave the security leader came to check on us, to make sure we were content with the environment, and then he gave us a pass. "Enjoy!" He gifted, stepping aside.
I would have been far too overwhelmed to do much, had Toby not been there. She didn't even need to ask for me to follow her, but she shot me one of her usual knowing looks and walked in the direction of the front of the building. I followed, with a couple of the security team behind.
We had to traverse two flights of steps in order to enter the strange building, and that meant getting very close to the Humans who had quickly started to gather, forming crowds that buzzed with chatter and photography flashes. When our path narrowed, one of the security team walked at my right, blocking me off from visiting Humans who were little more than a metre away.
The interior was huge, and its aura struck me the moment that we stepped foot onto the flooring. We were positioned on the left side, or on the statue's right as it faced out over the park ahead, and what had been sectioned off was a few pillars that had continued inside, leading up to the marvellously sculpted centrepiece. Past those pillars and at the very side of the building were what appeared to be large sheets or plaques. They were hard to see from where I was initially stood, but there was a lot of writing. I made a note to myself to read it, but my first objective was to inspect the massive statue of the man named Abraham Lincoln.
It was even better to see in person, and I stood for a while to admire the work that had been put into it and the dedication to someone that the Humans found so influential. Creating such complex works simply for the memory of important events was such a Human thing to do, and it didn't seem to be the case that they would otherwise forget about the person in question. It was like a bonus, a showing of how much they cared for someone or something, and it was perhaps my favourite of their aspects: The determination to make something brilliant, rather than just leave it as good.
I sensed Toby stroll up beside me. "Is it bigger than you expected?" She asked me.
"Yes," I replied. "It's very big."
"Have you done much research on Abraham Lincoln?"
I scratched at my chin and searched my memory. "Not that much."
She nodded, gazing up at Lincoln just as I was. "What do you know?"
"He was the sixteenth president," I recalled. "And he was in leadership during the Civil War. He... I haven't read much more than that. I haven't got that far in my book yet." I bowed my head, rather ashamed that I had come to see the Human's memorial with such limited knowledge.
"What do you know of the Civil War?" She asked.
I shrugged lightly. "A civil war is when two or more groups within the same nation are in conflict. I think the American Civil War was between two groups called the Union and the Confederacy. Wasn't it a war over slavery?"
Toby nodded. "Partly. Abraham Lincoln was the president during that war, and one of his goals was to abolish slavery in America. Some southern states opted to secede, and they became the Confederacy, while the opposing states called themselves the Union. They fought from 1861 to 1865, and it was reportedly the bloodiest war in America's history."
"You know a lot about the war?"
She smiled proudly. "In my profession, I need to know a lot about the United States of America."
I laughed. "Oh, I guess so."
"Abraham Lincoln was an influential figure for the Union, and they triumphed. Today, he is still celebrated for his actions, such as his attempts to reunite the nation and the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation. His actions were a great step forward in the freeing of slaves in America."
"I'm nearly at that point in my book," I explained.
"Where are you now?"
"I've read about the American War of Independence, and the writing of the US constitution. Before that, I read about how America was founded." I twiddled my tail and proceeded to say, "I've read about a lot of wars. It seems to be something that Humans do often."
Toby nodded, "America is at war as we speak, though perhaps not to the same degree."
I recalled the last time that I watched a news broadcast, and figured that she was correct. Then, I decided to discard what was turning out to be a grim topic and return to the previous one. I looked back up to Lincoln, and smiled. "So Abraham Lincoln freed slaves. Now he has this amazing statue. Where is yours?"
Toby blinked and faced me, puzzled.
I elaborated, "You freed our people, just like Abraham Lincoln freed his."
She shook her head in disagreement, but chuckled lightly. "It's different, Taku. Besides, I merely helped in the freeing of my people. I was a minor piece in a great puzzle."
"Not from what I've heard."
"They are fond of me, definitely," She sighed. "But my people acknowledge me because I was the only one that they could really talk to in the days of the war. Nobody listened to them. Not the Andalites. Not the Humans. Even the Animorphs tended to stay away, unless we were in desperate need. My people were almost just as scared of our allies as they were of our enemies, though they never liked to admit it. I made a lot of mistakes, Taku, and it was not I who swept up the mess."
"I think you're just trying to be humble." I countered, still amazed that she would play down her own involvement.
She shrugged. "My parents were rescued by the Animorphs and… another entity. They came to our aid when it was needed, and gave us a place to live uninterrupted. I would have liked to see them more often, to maybe get more involved in their missions, to play bigger role. I could have freed more Hork-Bajir, if I did, and I could have implemented different tactics. I often disapproved of their methods. They were sometimes reckless, and though I understand the risks of their duties, I felt that they paid too little regard to Hork-Bajir under Yeerk control. The only one of them that I ever spoke to about that was Tobias, and he was too distant at the time to care. That's how it seemed."
"You haven't told me about this before." I said, concerned.
"There are a lot of things about the Animorphs that I prefer to keep to myself. They were the real heroes of the war, and not even the Andalites had the audacity to disagree with that. They rightly have statues of their own in their old home town. If it weren't for them, I would not be here today. My father, who was more of a hero than I'll ever be, would not have been rescued, and nor would Mother. The Hork-Bajir as a race may have gone extinct, because the Yeerks sent us all into their battles, the Andalites didn't see us as anything other than obstacles, and the Humans would never show us any sympathy if they only ever saw us under Yeerk control. Truly, the Animorphs should be our idols, as they are for the Humans. However, they were children, and they also made mistakes and bad decisions, some more excusable than others. Then the Yeerk war ended, and they all went in different directions, both physically and mentally."
I accepted what she said, but I still stood beside my earlier point. "I think you should have a statue, too."
She smiled, almost bashfully. "Thank you, Taku. I'm glad that you see me in such high regard."
"You've done a lot for me," I explained. "This, for example. I must be only the second Hork-Bajir since the war to ever come to Washington."
She grinned. "Mother was second. She refused to let me go alone for the first time."
"Did she enjoy it?"
Toby hummed indecisively, but then replied, "She enjoyed the spa."
"Oh," I retorted blankly.
We stayed a little longer to admire the building. I did my own research and read two of Lincoln's speeches that were present on the walls, and Toby, having seen it on several occasions, turned her attention away, firstly to the distant landmarks and then to the gathering tourists. She didn't exactly revel in the attention they gave her, and, to be honest, I had no idea what she was trying to do. She talked a lot, but it was clearly in her formal style, not meant to entertain and not necessarily trivial. I admired her ability to keep a crowd intrigued, however.
I took some time to think about all the messages that my brain was conjuring since we had arrived, and the relevance of the Lincoln statue to the situation of our people. I thought that maybe Toby was right: Perhaps she wasn't the great saviour that I had envisaged. When slavery was abolished in America, it was not abolished by one of the slaves. Lincoln was not a slave, and I imagined that he would not be associated with those who were. In much the same way, it was not the Hork-Bajir who saved the Hork-Bajir, but somebody of a completely different background who saw injustice and demanded that it stopped.
And as I watched Toby patrol the border between us and them, I came to a few realisations that I had previously contemplated but then came to really know. She was something so important, so integral to the well-being of our people, more so than I ever thought before.
We were in debt. I had seen television shows that detailed such situations, and I understood the value of payment to Human society. If it truly was the Humans that had saved us, then we would be expected to pay them back in some way.
I had to do my bit. I finished up my reading, stretched my limbs, and headed back out of the building and to the first set of steps. It was now the middle of the day, and the sun bore down heavily onto my dark skin, causing my body to warm instantly to the point where I started to pant. The number of Humans had rocketed, and they gathered en masse as they usually did, creating huge, packed crowds that swivelled and jigged past each other like a mob of ants. There were far too many to count, and it was hard to put my mind towards any single individual. It was like one great super-organism.
Dizzied, overwhelmed, and ignorant of pretty much everything that lay before me, I stepped forward with a great smile on my face.
The crowds, who until then were focused on Toby, noticed me, and some stepped over to make themselves known. I was stood just behind one of Dave's team, one that looked like a tall pillar with pan-like hands clutched behind his back. He was my border, a boundary that protected me. I'm not sure whether the Humans were more intimidated by me or him.
A family arrived first: a mother, a father, and two small children. They looked genuinely pleased to see me, though maybe not as much as their flashing camera. We introduced, and I rapidly ran out of things to say, my head preoccupied with my surroundings as more Humans began to arrive.
I didn't know who to speak to, who to focus on. This was not an organised series of greetings like the event in Cheyenne, but a mass wall of faces and words, and I had no idea where to start or even where to finish. In the end, I was merely posing, occasionally grunting a hello or answering a basic, one-word-answer question. I was a camera piece. I was a statue.
I didn't want to be a statue. I looked over at Toby, and saw her in a much more pleasurable setting. She had organised the Humans, pulling small groups aside and answering their various questions with poise and formality. A beacon of reason and humility. A seer.
I wasn't going to be a sideshow.
With a deep intake of air into my lungs, I pushed out my chest and stepped slowly forward. My stride took me past the security, and I stood no more than a metre from the nearest Human.
The reaction was not quite what I expected. They back away just as much as I had progressed forward, their faces turning just that little bit paler. I saw one child panic and run behind its mother for cover.
This was okay, maybe even expected, but I attempted to show that I was not deterred and held out my arms, hands open. "Hello, Humans. My name is Taku Kelmut."
It was moderately successful. My advance past security intimidated some, but it only took those few moments for the rest to start moving back towards me. They knew my name, and their questions became more intense, more personal. Then, I really started to lose control.
They surrounded me further, my identity as the new seer, uttered by several, brought even more Humans, the crowd before me swelling and soon spilling over. They began to move behind me, and I watched with growing concern as the path to the security border began to shrink.
Once again, my throat closed. I was unable to concentrate on the infrequent words that came. I could barely even request that they let me move, my own voice drowned out by the clicking of cameras and calls directed between them.
I was not ready, and I began to twiddle nervously with my tail again. They were growing irritated when I no longer answered their questions, not even the yes-or-no's.
With no other choice but to retreat, I tried to excuse myself. I turned.
My arm moved almost unintentionally as my brain tried to organise the panic that was tickling my nerves. It stopped, as did the rest of my body, when I saw my wrist blade inches from the throat of a small Human child.
He had stumbled, so clumsy at his tender age, sprawling his feet and falling face first towards my exposed blade. He had frozen, and so had the rest of the now silenced crowd.
Stunned and fearful, I stepped back. That was when I saw a large green hand across his chest, stopping his fall and sparing his neck. Toby then used her hand to pull the child back to his feet, and after a moment of hesitation he ran, too shocked to simply burst into tears.
Toby stood tall, and immediately the crowd started to back away, fully aware of what had occurred. Her stare was rested entirely on me, and it was not one of pity. Whatever emotion she felt was clearly struggling to be restrained, and the look told me all that I needed to know.
"Taku, get back behind the line." She ordered, and I was more than happy to obey.