Chapter 21

"So how do you turn it on?"

"It's that button there," The Human in the blue baseball cap explained. He pointed to a square button on the underside of the huge camera. "The red one."

We were stood in a makeshift studio. Not that I would know what an actual studio would look like, but it was a quick half-hour set up, including a backdrop, a sole camera manned by the Human I was chatting with, and a couple of Humans whose specific jobs were beyond my knowledge. With all of that was a flat piece of equipment displaying a few levers and knobs, and beside that was a large screen. All of that was set up in a government building somewhere near the white house (another landmark that I wished to view), in a side room where nobody would disturb us.

I wasn't disappointed, really, but what I had expected for Toby's FOX interview was to be greeted into a huge network building where I could see all of the studios and all of the equipment. I expected to see Toby sitting beside an author, or perhaps a state governor, as well as the actual host of whichever show she was appearing on. I wished to see them discuss both in front and off of the cameras, and to maybe indulge in the discussions myself.

But the FOX News building, with all of the authors and governors and studios, was in New York. We were in Washington. Toby was joining the discussions from afar, with help from the small assembled crew and one enormous camera.

It didn't stop me from having fun, though. With the freedom to roam that small room, I got busy talking to the crew members, and even got to learn a few little things about how it all worked.

Clarissa was there, too, but I assumed that that was due to the previous day's events. In hindsight, I knew that I had made a dangerous error, and Toby made no mistake in getting that message across. That entire evening was spent making apologies and trying to convince her that no such mistake would occur again. I considered myself lucky that I was able to attend her interview, but I made sure not to step out of line again. Thankfully, the room wasn't busy, and the television crew were incredibly professional, so there was little to fear.

Speaking of Clarissa, she was very much preoccupied with Toby. It was certainly new for me, since I had never really seen Clarissa guiding Toby like she did for me. I knew that it was something that happened a lot for the first few years after the war, but I assumed that Toby was past the learning stage. That wasn't entirely correct, especially when it came to looking good for a camera. Toby was sat uncomfortably on a stool just about wide enough, keeping her position absolutely motionless as Clarissa applied walls of miracle potions and sprays to her face, even whilst having to speak with the crew members.

Toby obviously let Clarissa take the lead in the area of her expertise, though on occasion she would question the need for the items being applied to her skin. She was, after all, not a Human. However, Clarissa was determined.

"Hold still, Toby," I heard her urging as I curiously wandered over. "Do you really want me to get it in your eye?"

Toby grunted, but remained static. "I don't understand the need, Clarissa, and I never have. I am not a Human, and so applying Human skin creams and Human eye shadow seems utterly pointless."

"Stop moaning." Clarissa retorted convincingly.

"I just question the necessity of it, Clarissa. What difference will it make to anybody watching?"

Clarissa hummed and held a mirror up to Toby's face. "A whole world of difference. Do you really want to appear on national television looking like you just got dragged through a hedge?"

"No, but that's not the point. I-"

Toby was halted when Clarissa shushed her loudly. "Toby, trust me. Okay?"

I could see that the trust was there, but Toby still looked displeased at being coated in creams and sprays. "I trust your expertise on this matter, Clarissa. Could you please bring me some water?"

Clarissa left the mirror with Toby so that she could admire the subtle but effective change to her appearance, and went away to fetch water. I moved closer to Toby and could not resist a giggle at her annoyance and the situation itself. To be fair, though, she did look younger, and her skin seemed somewhat softer and cleaner.

She looked to me, but instead of the embarrassment I was expecting, she smirked and said, "At least I didn't let her take my fingernails."

I stopped laughing and shrunk back, ashamed as I looked upon my own blunted claws. I quickly avoided that conversation. "When do you start, Toby?"

"Soon," She answered, putting down the mirror and sitting up straight and tall. I noticed the large camera being wheeled into position behind us. "We just have to wait for our introduction. There isn't too much work to do here."

"You never told me what the discussion was about." I muttered, having only just started to wonder.

"The discussion? Oh," Toby said, scratching at her neck and pulling off a slight layer of a strange green substance that she proceeded to throw into the nearest trash can from her seated position. "It is meant to be a discussion on environmental issues regarding the park. I am supposed to be debating a man called Kevin Hovack, who is a lobbyist for a multi-million dollar corporation based in New York, and also a member of APHR – Americans for the Priority of Human Rights."

"Americans for the Priority of Human Rights?" I repeated. "I don't understand…"

"As their name suggests, they do not necessarily see alien presence on their planet as a benefit. They try to push bills that will limit our rights, claiming that they infringe on their own. They issue those bills both on the local and the national level, and they are very vocal, as you will see."

I clutched at my tail, affected by a swift change of mood. "Do our rights really infringe on theirs?"

Worryingly, Toby paused and glanced down to the carpet flooring. "It is debateable, especially in our case. The APHR criticise our presence and the amount of rights that we have, though they usually concentrate their efforts on the Andalites, mostly because they are more widespread and can infiltrate Human society."

"What is debateable about our rights?" I asked of her.

She opened her mouth to respond, but two syllables in she was interrupted as one of the crew members yelled out the words, "Segment is about to begin! Positions!"

Toby shrugged, and offered to tell me more about it later. "Go on," She continued. "You can't be standing here when the camera is on."

I retreated from her designated area, backing away slowly as the concept of a disapproving group of people unravelled in my head. Suddenly, I found myself pondering every aspect of how I lived, and how my family lived, in an attempt to discover why we would face such opposition. I must have been stood contemplating for a long while, because by the time I had awoken from the trance, the news segment was already underway. Toby was waiting to be introduced.

The screen beside the desk of knobs and levers was lit, angled so that both we and Toby could see, and it displayed what I knew to be the news segment that was shown live all the way from New York. The studio on that screen, where I really wished to go, was vivid in colour – red, white and blue – and the camera was in the midst of a long-range shot that brought attention to a young blonde Human female sat behind a huge rounded desk. She held a pad of paper in her hands, but didn't appear to be reading from it, preferring to smile invitingly for the audience. An audience, I understood, to be vast.

The interview would be aired nationwide, and available worldwide for billions of Humans to see. Everything from personality to appearance was held to such a high standard, and the consequence of the discussion would potentially have such an impact on public opinion…

And Toby was completely unfazed. She was sat on her stool, casually adjusting her tail and picking another form of cream from her finger nails. For a second she caught my gaze, and she smiled as if to say, "Start taking notes."

I was certainly taking mental notes, but with so much going on within my head at the time, I found it incredibly difficult. I was still struggling with the idea of a group of Humans that disapproved of our rights, and with the sheer scale of what could be done in just this tiny room, with Toby's message broadcast to so many ears.

I shook my head and gulped from a bottle of water as soon as Clarissa returned and placed it into my hand. She grinned up to me and patted my arm. "You ready, Taku?"

"Ready?" I asked once I had finished swallowing the cooling liquid.

"You've never seen one of Toby's 'discussions' before? After the amount that she's done? She's great with them," She nodded towards the television screen, just as the anchor was introducing the guests. "This will be fun."

"I hope so," I said, putting on my optimistic voice. "I'd like to see how it's done."

"Yeah," Clarissa agreed, averting her gaze towards Toby. "Because that will be you someday."

To be perfectly honest, I didn't know what to think about that. In a way, it filled me with great dread, and for a just a fraction of a second it felt like the bulky camera was actually resting its robotic gaze on me. Clarissa must have noticed my growing anxiety, and she tugged on my elbow blade to guide my vision to the television screen again.

The camera now showed the blonde female anchor up close, and her words pervaded my senses at just the right time.

She spoke with confidence and poise. "… with recent discussion centred around how the local wildlife is affected by population growth. Joining me now to discuss the issues is Kevin Hovack, a leading spokesman for Fuller Industries and editor for the New York Times."

The camera shot to the host's left, and the man I presumed to be Mr Hovack came into view. He looked like many other Humans that I had come across: well-clothed, perhaps slightly overweight, his medium-length black hair slicked back subtly, and he wore a welcoming smile. He nodded to the camera when it illuminated him.

I took note of Toby's expression when he appeared. She remained emotionless and still.

The host continued, "We also have Professor Don Wakefield, professor of environmental sciences at Stanford University and author of the book Pollution and You: Why we must do something now."

An older male appeared next – Don Wakefield - wearing a light brown jacket and a thick pair of spectacles. His hair was wiry and grey.

"And joining us live from the nation's capital is Governor Toby Hamee, representative for the Hork-Bajir people on Earth."

Toby's face flashed onto the screen, down to her upper chest, and she was surrounded by the strangely convincing backdrop. It must have felt strange for her to be gazing at herself on the screen, especially with the slight delay.

"Now, Mr Hovack," The blonde host addressed, swivelling in her seat to talk to him directly. "You recently made some statements in an op-ed piece for the New York Times about Yellowstone National Park, and a lot of the readers found the content to be pretty controversial."

"Yes, Nicole." Kevin agreed, nodding.

"You suggested that the presence of Hork-Bajir in certain areas is negatively affecting some animals, some plants, and is actually pretty bad for the area in general."

"Yes, I did. But, Nicole, I'd like to clarify something, especially to the viewers out there who actually took offense at what I had to say," He cleared his throat. "I mean, a lot of the criticisers out there are accusing me of some kind of racism towards the Hork-Bajir, or whatever you would call it. That is silly. I'm merely looking at the facts, just as anybody would, to find the best answers to the situations occurring right now and in the future. Sometimes, people won't like the solutions, and sometimes they don't even like the problem simply being pointed out, and I find it absurd that I'm being criticised for just making observations and having the gall to care for our planet!"

Toby was still completely unbroken. She must have been awaiting her turn to speak, but she was showing no impatience, and nor did she show any effect born of what he had said. The host, for the while, was still addressing Mr Hovack.

"You gave some statistics in your New York Times piece," She offered, glancing briefly at her papers. "And it was mostly to do with the Hork-Bajir populations."

Mr Hovack nodded heavily. "Hork-Bajir numbers have been skyrocketing since the war ended, and not just from here on Earth. We still import hundreds of Hork-Bajir from distant planets, in distant galaxies, every year! And as each year goes by, that population has risen and risen, and the space available has gotten smaller and smaller. Yellowstone, in a few years, will not be able to contain the population!"

Now I could see that Toby was itching to respond, and the host (who I now knew to be called Nicole) offered her the floor. "Governor Hamee, I'm sure your predictions aren't quite the same as those given in Mr Hovack's comments. Comments such as this:" She lifted her papers and read, "'It may take several years, but at current rates we could see the Hork-Bajir population outgrow Yellowstone and stretch into neighbouring states, leaving in their trail destroyed trees and destabilised ecosystems, being not so much a profit-maker but a pest.' Governor, how do you respond to the statements made in Mr Hovack's article?"

"The comments given in Mr Hovack's opinion piece are misguided," She stated bluntly. "He has brought up several statistics that have shown previously to be erroneous, and-"

"Which statistics?" Mr Hovack interrupted, his smile already vanished. "You can't just claim that all my statistics are wrong, Governor. Which statistics are you talking about?"

"I was just getting to that," She explained. "You bring up several different statistics, most of which are incorrect, but too numerous for me to dismiss all within the time we have here. I will go over the worst ones."

"Go ahead." Mr Hovack allowed, though in disapproving tone.

"Your article," Toby began. "Bases much of its conclusions on Hork-Bajir population growth, and the main statistic that you bring up is an annual increase of the Hork-Bajir population of sixty-three percent. This number is highly misleading."

Mr Hovack looked annoyed. "Are you telling me that the number is false, Governor?"

"That number was correct in the year 2003," Toby said. "But the reason that-"

"So that number is not misleading, Governor Hamee!" Mr Hovack asserted. "I took my statistics from highly reputable papers, from some of the top researchers in this country! If you have a problem with the numbers, you can take that up with Harvard. You can take that up with Yale. These are solid facts!"

I was getting anxious. Kevin Hovack was certainly vocal, as Toby had warned, and part of me imagined Toby backing down, losing her patience or conceding to his conclusions. However, as I looked at her face, first directly within the room and then on the television screen (which now just showed the opposing pair in a split-screen), I saw no fear and no impatience. Annoyance at being interrupted, perhaps, but nothing to set off the panic alarms just then.

"Please, do not interrupt me, Mr Hovack," She requested calmly. "I must point out that the sixty-three percent increase in the year 2003 was mostly due to the import of Hork-Bajir who had been brought to Earth from Yeerk bases on far distant planets. Since the war ended, Humans and Andalites have decided that all Hork-Bajir found in ex-Yeerk bases and anywhere else in space, with the exception of our home world and surrounding territories, are to be brought to Earth. 2003 was the peak year for imports, and in the years since, that statistic has decreased significantly to the point where imports have little to no effect on population growth."

"Governor," Mr Hovack began again, with no hesitation after Toby's last sentence. "We cannot ignore the fact that the Hork-Bajir numbers have been rapidly increasing, and imports are a big part of that."

"Not anymore," Toby said. "And if we take a look at the statistics for population growth, excluding imports as a factor, the population has only been growing at a very slow rate. The peak increase due to breeding was twenty-two percent back in 2002, and that was no doubt due to the panic that my people had to repopulate after the war ended. I-"

"Governor! The population is still-"

"May I finished what I'm saying, Mr Hovack?!"

At that point, the tempers were beginning to rise, and the host rightly jumped in to separate the two. "Can I just…" There were some more overlapping voices, but they quickly subsided. "Can I just split you two up for a moment to bring in Professor Wakefield, Sanford professor of environmental sciences?"

Toby and Kevin agreed, and allowed a third voice to enter once the host had given him the invitation in the form of a question.

"Professor," She said. "There's obviously a lot of discussion and finger-pointing on this, and I'm sure you've put some thought into this yourself. Could you shed some light on this situation? Do Hork-Bajir numbers really threaten the environment?"

The professor spoke in a deep, monotonous voice, "Well, Nicole, it's rarely, if ever, a black or white situation when you're discussing, uh, population dynamics or the effects that one group will have on another. Everything is so finely intertwined," He demonstrated it by locking his fingers together. "Knotted here and there. Essentially everywhere. Even the smallest of factors can have a huge butterfly effect. So of course the Hork-Bajir will have an impact on where they live, whether it be beneficial or not, because they are not living in a void but in the natural world! As for population size, it's, um, very difficult for us to tell at this stage. It's been nine, maybe ten years since we first met properly as a species, and many of those years were spent adjusting, finding a home, giving them space and giving them the rights that any sentient race deserves. We have seen the population increase, but as the Governor has mentioned, the causes for that increase are inconsistent, and we cannot yet jump to conclusions."

"But professor," Mr Hovack chimed in, directly facing the scientist. "There have been numerous papers in recent years that have been investigating this very problem, and most, if not all agree that we have a big problem on our hands!"

Professor Wakefield nodded. "There have been papers, but there is no consensus. As I explain, we cannot make conclusions when our factors thus far are inconsistent and likely to provide unreliable results. What I don't want to happen here, in general, is that we begin to talk of the Hork-Bajir as if they were some animal. They can speak back to us, and they can reason with us, and so if there is a problem, we don't want to bring down their quality of life. We can work together as friends to bring about a reasonable solution."

Toby broke her extended silence. "We currently have several research groups addressing the issue of breeding, and they are actively discussing these issues directly with my people. It is generally true that a Hork-Bajir kalashi and kalashu pair will only have two children, and from what I have so far seen, the research backs that up. Our creators placed us on an uninhabited landscape, with no predators, no prey, and they had the right mind to make us so that we were sustainable. Despite having no competition for land or food, my people rarely faced overpopulation on the home world, if the stories of our ancestors are true. The limited number of children we have is an in-built method for keeping our numbers consistent."

"Are you trying to tell me, Governor," Mr Hovack began. "That you are going to wave off this issue because you believe stories told by your people, saying that the Hork-Bajir never overpopulated? Do they even know what that means?!"

Toby looked hurt, but still totally serious. She hid any negative emotions well, still. "Mr Hovack, please don't mock my people."

"Mock?" He countered. "Who's mocking anybody?! The fact is, Governor, I quoted, in the article I wrote for the New York Times, from four published scientific papers which unanimously state, contrary your people's farfetched stories, that there is a problem!"

Toby narrowed her eyes and gave a cold stare that made even Mr Hovack lips twitch. She had a trap set in her mind.

"Mr Hovack, could you tell me the names of the scientists who wrote those papers?" She requested.

"Does it matter?"

"Yes."

Mr Hovack backed away slightly, and then replied in a calmer voice. "Two of the papers were written by Schmeichel and Walton, both geneticists. The 2009 paper was by a Professor Singh of Harvard University, and the other paper was by Hudson, Holmes and Garrison back in 2008."

"And what do all of those men have in common, Mr Hovack?" Toby pressed.

"That they're all qualified scientists in top universities?" He offered. "What's your point, Governor?"

"They are all reported members of anti-alien groups, such as LEA or APHR. And you, yourself, are a known member of the APHR, a group that has consistently fought against the rights of extra-terrestrials on Earth. The papers that you site were written by people who don't want us there, and I might also add that all four of those papers have been subject to rigorous scrutiny after alleged malpractice in how they actually got published. I suspect-"

"That's nonsense, Governor," Mr Hovack protested, shaking his head in disbelief. "They're only being investigated because people don't want to accept what's really going on!"

The host intervened again, slowing things before they took off. She had to fight her way through Toby's next rebuttal as it was about to begin. "I just want to mention, before I let you at each other's throats, that the Governor of Wyoming has recently made way for expansion of the Hork-Bajir territory up to the Montana border, and there is the possibility that Montana will begin to allow the Hork-Bajir to cross that border to reach the northernmost areas of the park. Is this something, Mr Hovack, that you are wary of? Does this say something to you about the spread of the Hork-Bajir?"

"It certainly does, Nicole. Not one year has gone by when the Hork-Bajir territory hasn't been expanded, and I don't see that trend ending. And that's even if the local governments and state governments don't allow it. The Hork-Bajir will spread even if we tell them not to."

Toby spoke up instantaneously. "And what would be your solution, Mr Hovack?"

He flustered, and stuttered indecisively before shrugging. "I don't know, Governor. Why should I be the one to come up with the solutions? You're the Hork-Bajir governor, so you are far more responsible than I am for keeping them under control! You're the one who has so far neglected to consider the rights of Humans who live in these areas, and who have lost land and trees because of these expansions!"

"Believe me, Mr Hovack," Toby huffed. "If anybody was negatively affected by the presence of my people, I would be the first to know. As of yet, all the claims of people who have been disadvantaged by Hork-Bajir have been fraudulent."

"That's not what I've heard, Governor."

"Of course not." Toby replied distastefully. "APHR makes certain of that. Let's not forget, Nicole, and everybody who is watching this, that the APHR - the group that Mr Kevin Hovack associates with - has historically been the forum of the vast majority of Humans who have incited or performed violence against my people. The murder of three in Southern Yellowstone last year was committed by one of the APHR's leading members. This is a group that actively wishes to take away our rights and-"

"How dare you, Governor!" Mr Hovack spat. "How dare you slander all of those people who truly care for our environment! How dare you tarnish the name of a group of people who just want the best for our great nation! You should be ashamed of your words!"

From nowhere, the professor spoke up for only the second time. "If I could just come in here, hopefully without getting ripped to shreds," Everybody had a small chuckle at that particular comment. It helped to lighten the mood. "The reason that the Hork-Bajir territory is expanding is not because they no longer have room to live, but because our races are indeed allies, and the Hork-Bajir are in need while their own planet is being repaired. We don't want to be the ally who keeps their friend locked in a cage. We want to see them thrive. I would love to see them thrive, not only for the aesthetics, but because they actually provide some benefit, both economically and for the environment."

Mr Hovack wanted to argue, and started to, only for the host to call an end to the segment.

"I'm afraid that's all we have time for," She said, speaking over Mr Hovack to slow him down. "I'm sure that this conversation will continue, and of course you can also have your say online, just go to…"

She began to list some website and a few other links. Meanwhile, I watched Toby as she went through the process of calming. She had closed her eyes, motionless.

The segment ended, and Toby's camera was shut off. She immediately arose from her stool, stretched her legs, and took a huge gulp of water (which included two entire bottles). As calm as when the discussion started, the governor strolled over to stand with myself and Clarissa.

I didn't know what to say, because it was not what I had expected at all. It was amazing to me how Toby was still so composed.

"Shall we get ourselves something to eat?" She offered to me. I gave her back nothing more than a nod.

We were kindly allowed to have a meal in the building before we left for the hotel. Toby and I were treated to a small but intriguing selection of barks in the main dining hall, along with a few important Humans who happened to work closely with Toby, and they welcomed me with open arms and the curiosity I had come to expect. One of them was another member of the House of Representatives, somebody who my fellow seer knew very well.

They congratulated Toby on her segment with FOX news and told her that she did a good job. In private, she told me that she was a little disappointed with her own performance, that she gave her opponent too much room and that she held back for fear of seeming rude. She said that it still didn't come naturally after all those years.

A couple hours later, the dining hall was much quieter. Clarissa, who had been sat with us the entire time, had spotted a previous acquaintance and had run off to meet them, leaving us two Hork-Bajir to ourselves and near-empty bowls of Redwood bark (a new favourite of mine).

"I would like to take some of this back for my family," I said about the new bark as I held a small piece between my fingers. "It's delicious! I'm sure they would love it."

Toby chuckled. "Redwood is a very nice species of tree. They are huge, much like those back on the home world, and just as tasty."

"Do they have any more to give us?"

"You'll have to ask our hosts," She answered. "I'm sure that, even if they had no more, they would be able to send some to our office in Yellowstone. I will make sure of it."

I smiled and dropped the bark onto my tongue, feeling the flavour ooze over it. Upon swallowing it, and shivering with delight at the spectacular aftertaste, an unwelcomed thought that I had dreamt up earlier flew back into my mind. In a quieter setting, with just her ears to hear, I picked up the courage I needed. "I wanted to ask something, Toby. Something about the interview."

She looked to me curiously. "Yes?"

"Are there people out there who will want to hurt me?"

Any triviality dropped from Toby's face, and she was instantaneously Toby the seer again, all seriousness and no fun to be had. "Why do you ask such a question?"

"You mentioned violence," I recalled. "Something about some of our people being killed. Murdered, I think you said."

Toby sighed lightly and took my hand reassuringly. "That was an incident that happened last year. It is nothing to concern yourself about."

"Does it happen a lot?" I asked.

She didn't want to answer, but she was not going to hide this particular truth from me. "Rarely. It has happened on a few occasions. Mostly they are not fatal, though, unfortunately, some are."

"And who does it?" I pressed. "Is it people like Mr Hovack who do that?"

"Mr Hovack would not do anything like that. He may be obnoxious, but he would not harm us physically," She replied warily. "But there are some like him that would definitely want to cause us harm, for one reason or another. The APHR has been known to attract a few of those sorts, and they do very little to disassociate. Perhaps I went a bit far with what I said, but it is certainly true to an extent."

I dipped my head and tapped a finger on the table before us, still puzzled in many ways. "Is it truly the way Mr Hovack makes it seem? Is it because of overpopulation or damage?"

"It is never easy to say," She uttered as she stared away into the distance. "For some, that is a big issue, but it should not bring about the vitriol that some Humans hold. For a lot of them, it just seems to be the way that they see us. Humans even hold such fears of other Humans who have different languages or ethnicities, so it is not surprising that some see us as a target for their anger," She chuckled bitterly. "I hate criticising Humans like this, after all they have done for us, but sometimes it cannot be avoided."

"So you're saying that some dislike us for no particular reason?"

Toby paused to contemplate the question, looking for some kind of explanation. "I would prefer not to say that there is no reason. Some religious groups, for example, see us as demonic. Evil beings, something akin to creatures in their texts. Others think that there is some conspiracy afoot, that we're the lizard people here to bring about a new world order. Some say we're just generally infiltrating and plan to destroy humanity. Some…" She looked directly at me. "Have you heard of the Hanslett Incident?"

"No." I replied.

She sat up straight, and I knew that she would begin to explain in good detail. "The Hanslett Incident occurred in Oregon at the very end of the war. There was a Yeerk base hidden underground, beneath a large warehouse that belonged to a company called Hanslett & Sons. It was only small, containing about fifty Human controllers and nineteen Hork-Bajir controllers at the time. The base's location was received by the Human militaries that were out to secure Yeerk strongholds and free the hosts within. The military were mostly successful in their raids. There were few casualties across the nation, but the operation carried out beneath the Hanslett building became headline news for tragic reasons, and resulted in several new laws and worldwide controversy."

"So what happened?" I pushed impatiently.

"The Human in charge of the Hanslett operation was one Lieutenant Benjamin Matthews. When they arrived at the Yeerk base, they ordered for surrender, saying that they had the base surrounded. Of course, with the mother ship gone, with no orders from above and no chance of winning, the Yeerks eventually gave in, and all weapons were confiscated. Matthew's troops entered the base, rounded up the controllers, rounded up the hosts, and everything was going as normal. The Yeerks were leaving their hosts, and they complied with every order they were given. Matthew's troops then entered the base to clear things up, and reports say that he started to separate the freed hosts and the remaining controllers into two groups: Human and Hork-Bajir. He allowed his men to continue liberating the Humans, but ordered the Hork-Bajir to a corner. Everybody assumed that it was a safety procedure, but then he told his men to open fire."

That put me off of my bark, and I dropped a piece back into the bowl. "He killed them?"

Toby nodded. "Every single one. His troops had to obey his order, but even they didn't feel it was right. The military were originally given orders to liberate and contain the Hork-Bajir until it was decided where they would go, but he ignored that order. He didn't like the look of them, so he slaughtered them."

"Where is he now?"

Toby stiffened briefly. "Not in prison. There were no laws at the time regarding the Hork-Bajir. We were not Humans, and many made the argument that we weren't technically animals. We were objects, and so he received no repercussions other than those he suffered from ignoring orders. However, the public backlash eventually caused him to quit his position, and he left the military as a disgrace. In too many ways, the incident was tragic, but I will always remember how the Humans came to our defence on that issue, even though they knew nothing of us at the time. That gave me a lot of hope."

I joined her in silent mourning. After what had been an uplifting day, it was strange for it to come to an end on such a crippling and disheartening note. It made me realise something, though. I still knew very little about the people that I had been spending most of my time with, and not everything that I uncovered about them gave me confidence in my surroundings. I was in a dangerous place, but even knowing that cured nothing, because the danger was hidden behind the eyes of strangers who walked the corridors of the buildings that I frequented, and the towns that I slept in. If it weren't for Toby or Clarissa, I would be all alone in a world of mystery, and it was only them that could rein me in wherever I took a misstep. Those missteps, I realised, could have consequences much more severe than I previously thought.

I didn't sleep at all that night.