Chapter 22

Things became much, much busier since that bizarre trip to Washington D.C.. It was like a great explosion that occurred right beneath my feet that urged me to hold steady while the debris slashed and slammed over every inch of my body. I managed, to the best of my knowledge.

I was deemed to be ready, or as ready as I could be at such an age. Responsibility was finally gifted to me, and I suddenly found myself spending more time in the Yellowstone office building than anywhere else. I worked in Toby's office, sorting files and handling a number of documents relating to the parks media relations. Essentially, I was given the strenuous duty of telling people whether or not they could broadcast from the park, when and where they could do it, and at what times. Due to the everlasting popularity of the location and its inhabitants, I was frequently meeting people who wished to perform activities in our home.

It was certainly tough, but I always knew that it would be. I felt prepared enough beforehand, and it showed when I took the job in my stride. There was an initial learning period, obviously, where I would have to bring in others to aid me, but after a couple of months I knew the routine well enough to tackle it solo.

The job really helped me to learn, much more so than I could have foreseen, and I was steadily getting to know Humans on a more general level. I was interacting with the other workers here, mostly Jon and Jason, the two that I had met on my first visit. It was intriguing to listen in on my co-workers conversations, and oftentimes disturbing. I tried to push negativity aside, but at the same time I found it hard to fit in with them, their discussions so different to those in Hork-Bajir circles.

Everyone seemed to understand. Being of two different races, there would be debilitating gaps between us, and we didn't let them get in the way. I had good friends there, and their presence aided the job greatly.

I was almost two years old. That was the time where my short child life had ended, and the long, though equally rewarding life as an adult began. I was at full height, full width. The blades on my arms and legs were noticeably bigger, longer and thicker at the base, while those on my head raked forward elegantly. Aside, I was slowing down - or rather calming – no longer in need of the energy of a child. Most of the time out of work was utilised gathering bark for the family and socialising with the locals.

Lenk was becoming more and more vacant from our home tree. He had been off searching for the perfect tree to call his own with an eventual kalashi.

Meanwhile, I had a new home of my own.

The Sun was just peering over the tree tops as I headed to our harvestings grounds for the season. At the base of the dense patch of trees I threw myself up from the floor to pinch myself around the nearest trunk. Then I moved onwards in search of those I would spend the early morning with.

Pluk and Ruga had grown, too, and they hadn't really changed at all, aside from being just that little bit taller. I didn't see them as often as I would have liked, but it was always a good occasion when we did. Not only that, but I was beginning to know more people from a wider range, and we would often travel together to see different, unexplored areas of the park.

"Taku back." Pluk greeted as I swept up into their tree, grabbing onto a steady branch and hanging loosely from it.

Ruga turned at the intrusion and uttered the same statement. They both appeared pleased to see me. It had been at least two days, and that was an abnormally long time to not see them.

"Hello," I said. "I'm sorry that I've been away again."

"Taku busy," Ruga replied acceptingly. "Taku go to Humans. Taku different."

Pluk nodded, agreeing. "Taku different, so go."

I smiled, happy that they were as understanding as they always were. Then, I noticed what they had been doing with their time, and started to join them as they stripped bark casually from the trees they were sitting in.

Today, however, it was not just the three of us. Sat between them, watching me silently was Relk, the young female who I had previously had little contact with, other than wrongfully teasing her as a small, naïve child. She was also an adult now, and though I had previously made fun of her for her rather awkward appearance, she was now an exceptionally attractive individual. Her blades were distinctively clean and sharp, her tail long and of a perfect shape. Her snout, which I once thought abnormally large, was now one of her greatest features.

I started to feel strange about her. I couldn't explain it, but it seemed to coincide with my ascent into adulthood. Her feelings were still a mystery to myself and my friends, but we were more than happy to allow her to be with us, as we would be with any Hork-Bajir.

For an hour, the four of us moved slowly through the patch of trees, tactically stripping bark and gathering it in a makeshift basket as we went along. Others would come and go, but our core group remained.

But I had little time for these kinds of activities anymore, and soon I began to raise that point when I thought of returning to work. I had much to do.

I sat back on a thick branch and put my stripped bark to one side. "I will have to go soon." I told them while they stood in close proximity.

Ruga grunted at me, unsatisfied as he paused his own work. "Taku go again? Taku stay."

"I'm sorry. I need to get back. I'm not supposed to be back here anyway."

Pluk was equally disappointed. "Not see Taku anymore. Want Taku stay."

"I wish I could stay," I sighed. "I really do, but I have much to do. I have a meeting with somebody who wishes to film in the park, and nobody else is in to see them. And…" A smile crept onto my face, which my friends were quick to notice.

"Why Taku smile?" Relk questioned, peeking over from around her trunk.

It still seemed so strange to be talking to her, and I always put that down to guilt for what I had said to her so long ago. I never truly apologised to her, and though I felt such a need to, the knowledge that she would have probably forgotten it all made it seem so awkward. It's not like a Hork-Bajir to hold a grudge at all, but my exposure to Humans was changing my basic instincts. It was uneasy talking to her, knowing that I had hurt her in the past.

"Today is the day," I began cheerfully. "That I get my own office! All to myself."

The three looked between themselves, and between them said, "Office?"

"What is office?" Pluk asked curiously.

Ruga attempted to answer his question, gazing thoughtfully upwards. "Office is Human tree. Where Human go."

"Human tree…" Pluk pondered. Then, he laughed. "Humans not live in trees!"

"Do!" Ruga countered with conviction. "Live in big square trees!"

"Have strange leaves," Relk added unhelpfully. "Relk try to eat. Taste bad. Hard."

I shook my head and hid a chuckle. "An office is where a Human works," I informed them. "Where I work. They are not trees, even though I wish that they were."

"So not tree." Pluk summarised. Ruga grumbled.

"No," I concluded. "That is where I will be doing my duties for the Humans. I will have my own desk, my own chair, my own window, and…"

Already I had lost them. They gawked at me, puzzled, and I stopped when I realised that perhaps I was getting a little overexcited. I lowered my head, embarrassed but still giddy. Proceeding to simplify what I was saying wasn't going to work, and I soon resigned to the idea that they simply wouldn't understand the meaning of picture frames or telephones or notepads.

"Pluk want to see office!" He said, slowly shaking his branch up and down.

"I would love to show you, but I can't." I said regretfully, wondering why I bothered to mention it in the first place.

"Why can't?" Relk whined.

"The Humans won't let you into the building. I'm sorry."

The three looked amongst themselves, and one of those rare moments occurred when I couldn't read their expressions and approximately judge their next actions. The answer I eventually received from Ruga was relieving.

"Okay. Taku come back later?"

I nodded reassuringly. "I will. Leave some good trunks for me, won't you?"

They laughed mischievously, and I had my answer to that. I grumbled, but said my goodbyes to them as I set back off in the opposite direction.

I had little choice but to sprint, knowing that there was a good possibility of being late. It didn't make the journey any less pleasant, and I arrived at my destination in a great mood, still so eager to set my eyes on my completed place of work. My feet thumped onto the road surface of the car park just behind the building, and I wandered around to the front with a cautious pace, lest I contact somebody rushing around the next corner.

Things were much different now since the first time I entered the curious landmark. Not aesthetically, but the atmosphere seemed so changed. I was actively greeted by everybody there, and I knew almost every detail of every room so that I stroll casually and know exactly where to go. Strange how knowing a place makes it look so different, even when nothing has actually changed.

The tinted blue glass and high ceiling, as well as all of the modern Human architecture and technology was all cosily familiar, and, like the Humans, welcomed me into a warm embrace.

My office was on the second floor, at the very end by the drinks dispenser (not coincidentally). On the way I would pass by a host of other offices and a tiny lounge, consisting of two cushy chairs and a small coffee table with an even smaller water cooler.

Jason and Jonathan were there. As per usual. I wondered if they ever did any work. As I appeared moving up towards them, Jonathan was quick to call me over.

"Hey, Taku!" He welcomed. "Where've you been? It's nearly 3PM!"

Having no room to sit down, and since neither of them wanted to give up a seat, I stood before the coffee table, looking down on them. "I thought I would take a break. Sorry if I missed anything."

Jonathan giggled and sat forward with hands clasped. "Nothing, actually. Except your new office!"

I smiled. It was an event that they also knew of. "Can I go in yet?"

Jason answered, unmistakably calm and confident. "Last touches done just over an hour ago. It's all ready."

Looking to my right, I could see the door from a tight angle just before the water cooler. My nerves bubbled excitedly, and I felt curiosity pulling me towards it. "I think I'll take a look. Then maybe prepare for my three-thirty meeting with Mr Saxton."

Unsatisfied with viewing from a distance, Jonathan bolted upwards and insisted, "Come on, let's go see Mr Kelmut's new office!"

He adjusted his glasses and his bright red tie, and bounded out in front of me, waving to follow. Jason, as ever, followed coolly behind, bemoaning Jonathan for his unnecessary pace. I joined alongside him.

"Have you seen it?" I asked him as we caught up to Jonathan.

Jason shrugged. "Bits of it. They were moving furniture in this morning. You got nice things."

I grinned. "That sounds good."

"Custom stuff," Jason added when we stopped outside of the door, with Jonathan standing beside like an awkward ornament. "They want you to be as comfortable as possible. It's not often they make offices for seers."

It certainly wasn't, considering our apparent rarity. I was most certainly fervent to see these custom features, but the door itself excited me enough. It was ordinary enough, being just a plain office door with a narrow, vertical rectangular window, but the sight of my name on a black plaque – Mr Taku Kelmut – made the whole event more real. I was very subtly bouncing on my feet.

"Well, Taku," Jonathan said to break a nervy silence. "You going to open it and see?"

I shook my head and my gaze from my own name and uttered "Oh, yeah," under my breath. I reached forward, and with two fingers pulled down the door handle. With little effort I pushed it open, and the stench of new furniture poured over us instantly.

The first thing that struck was the overall green-ness of the room. It was awash with plants, placed strategically around the confines of the office and adding some much-needed colour. A couple of flowers were sprinkled here and there, mixing deftly with the scents radiating from new air fresheners. The flooring was a light brown colour, almost white, and that theme was continued up the walls and to the ceiling, interrupted by two large windows on either side of the central desk.

The desk itself was also new, and built with sturdy, extra-thick faux wood material, topped with a couple of its own small potted plants and a stack of shelves for my files. A laptop sat in the middle, closed for now and allowing the sight of a black chair. A custom one.

The walls were bare, but I knew that they wouldn't be for long.

"Wow, Taku," Jonathan gasped. "Were you planning on living here or something?"

I chuckled. "Near enough. I plan to spend a lot of my time in here."

I entered first, and the pair followed afterwards to do some more in-depth exploration. My first point of interest was the custom chair, and I pulled it carefully from beneath the desk to look a little closer. Just as I had wanted, it granted plenty of room for my tail, which had always been an obstacle when sitting in any Human building. It looked even roomier than Toby's.

"Impressed?" Jason asked, once he had inspected a potted fern.

I definitely was, and I confirmed it with a nod. "I can't wait to start moving my stuff in. I'll do that tomorrow, I think. There isn't much on my schedule."

Jason grinned and leant up against the desk. "You're becoming more like Toby every day. You know that?"

"I am?" I coughed, unusually concerned by the statement. "Oh. Is that bad?"

Jonathan answered cautiously, "Not really. She's just…"

"She's a workaholic." Jason finished for him.

"A work-a-what?"

"Workaholic," Jason reiterated. "Somebody who enjoys work far too much."

"She enjoys it?" Jonathan muttered.

Jason shrugged. "Maybe not enjoys, but she's addicted."

I shook my head defiantly and dropped my backside down into my new chair. "I'm not addicted. Most days, I just want to get away from it. Read a good book instead.

"What book?" Jason asked.

"It's… Well, it's the guide to making an effective spreadsheet on the computer." I instantly realised that perhaps they were right.

Jason laughed and removed himself from the desk. "Not even Jon would read something that boring."

"What are you implying?" Jonathan huffed. "I don't read boring books!"

"Dude, you read the instruction manuals that come with household electronics," Jason retorted. "In every single language."

I laughed. Even I didn't read those. Jonathan straightened his posture defensively and snorted, but it was all in good nature. We spent a while moving things here and there to my liking, and a few minutes before I was meant to have a meeting, they left to get back to their own work. Whatever it was that they considered work…

I sat back in my chair, letting my tail swing idly and comfortably behind, and embraced my new environment. I began to envisage a complete room, with my own achievements and merits hung upon the walls, with a compelling set of books lining the collection of shelves to the left of the door. I gazed at the personal water cooler and eventually poured myself a drink.

Remembering that I had left a bag of items downstairs, I retrieved it and found enough time to place a few items close to me. My picture frame of Mother and Father, of course, sat on my desk, beside Clarissa's encyclopaedia. I hadn't had much chance to read it lately, what with being so busy. Currently, I was reading about the two world wars, but it had been so long since I last read that I was thinking of re-reading to refresh my limited knowledge.

With two minutes to spare before Mr Saxton was due to arrive, and in the midst of pouring myself some more water, I heard a bang from outside of the window, followed by a scraping noise. Puzzled, I raised myself and leaned over to find whatever had caused the disturbance.

It came as a great shock to see none other than Ruga staring back up at me from below the window. He was clung to the side of the building, peeking up through the glass.

"Ruga?!" I gasped. "What are you doing?"

He smiled wide and lifted himself higher. "Find Taku!" He cheered. "Find Taku office!"

His presence meant that the others were here, too, and I opened the window wide to search for them as I berated my misguided friend. "Ruga, you shouldn't be here," I urged. "I have a meeting any minute now, and I shouldn't be disturbed."

"Mee-ting?" Ruga quizzed. "Ruga want to see."

"Sorry, Ruga, but-"

"See Taku!" Came the voice of Relk. She appeared just over Ruga's shoulder, crawling up the large panels that lined the sides of the building.

"Yes, hello Relk." I grumbled. "You two have to go. You can't be here. And… Where's Pluk?"

"Pluk look for Taku," Ruga informed flatly. "Say Taku in big Human tree. But say it not tree. Ruga think that it like tree, but not tree…"

I held my head, and frantically monitored for the missing Pluk. "Okay, Ruga, I don't need the details. Pleas, tell me where Pluk is. You shouldn't be here."

Relk was visibly disappointed. "Taku not want to see friends?"

"Of course," I countered. "Just not right now."

I was so close to climbing from the window and physically shooing them off, but on the verge of that probably misguided idea, something tapped lightly on my office door. It was quiet but discreet, as Human knocks tended to be.

My visitor had arrived, and precisely at the wrong time. I stumbled indecisively for a moment, half of me wanting to move my friends and the other half dutifully wanting to let him in.

"He's here," I warned Ruga and Relk, who were still staring blankly up at me. "Please go, or at least wait for about thirty minutes or so."

Then I retreated from the window with intent to open the door, quickly realising that my friends likely didn't know what minutes meant. I shook the doubt from my head and rushed over to the twice-knocked door.

My brave face returned at just the right time as I opened up the door to the Human male in the light grey suit. He smiled widely up at me, a folder under his arm and a large, shining bald patch on the top of his head. An overpowering scent of deodorant invaded my nostrils, as did a deep sense of warning that this was indeed a man of influence in his field.

I began the introductions. "Mr Saxton, good afternoon." I said, offering a hand to shake.

He stared down at my hand and quickly figured the best way to succeed in that particular formality. "And good afternoon to you, Mr Kelmut."

I welcomed him into my office by stepping aside, and I watched as he strolled in. He barely cast a glance around the room, and went straight for the desk where he should have been sitting. I notice a glaring error right there, made clear when he looked back to me expectantly.

"Oh, sorry!" I gasped, highly embarrassed as I sniffed around for a Human chair. "I'll get a seat for you, Mr Saxton."

He simply nodded, waiting patiently by the desk as I fumbled around the edges of my room in search of a chair. I found one, and hopefully just in time to rescue my composure. Setting it down beside him, I sat down in my own seat on the other side of the desk. Mr Saxton sat himself down and placed his folder on the wooden surface.

"My apologies," I said to him. "I've only just moved into this office. Not much time to prepare."

It was unprofessional, but thankfully he didn't seem to mind. "That's fine, Mr Kelmut!" He chuckled. "And I like the office. Very green…"

I smiled, happy for some reassuring conversation. "My favourite colour."

Saxton coughed into his hand and shifted his seat forward, correcting his posture. "Mr Kelmut," He started with a grin. "Do you watch much television?"

Thrown back by the unusual question, I took a short while to react. "I watch some. I think I mostly watch Animal Planet…"

"Well, Mr Kelmut… Taku? Can I call you Taku?"

"Of course you can." I allowed.

"Taku, I represent CrescentCreations. I'm sure that you're familiar with us." He informed, passing over a small brochure for me to inspect.

"Yes," I replied, glancing over the leaflet. "I have seen the name on a few productions. I hear that the company is interested in filming a documentary in our park."

Saxton winked, and sat back with a satisfied curling of the lips. "Not just the company, my friend. The whole world wants to learn more about our extra-terrestrial friends, and we at CrescentCreations would love to provide the education and interest needed to help our races grow even closer."

I nodded, pulling up my notepad and scribbling down a few bullet points to summarise. "Who have you spoken to thus far?"

He had already anticipated this question, and before I could finish asking he was pulling up a separate file of paper attached by a row of staples. He handed it over, saying, "Here is the list. We have spoken to directors, several networks, the owners of the park and… Well, pretty much everybody!"

I flicked through the pages diligently, memorising the names of all those who had given CrescentCreations their approval, making note of anything I deemed important while Saxton sat back in his seat, casually twiddling his thumbs.

"You have spoken to the admins?" I mumbled as I finished off my speed read.

"We've spoken to everybody," He reiterated. "And they're all very excited about what we have planned!"

"Have you spoken to Governor Hamee?" I pressed, placing down the file.

Saxton shook his head. "No. Her secretary directed me to you, as the one in charge of media handling in this organisation."

I smiled, proud that I was finally being trusted with full control of my position. "Yes. The Governor's signature is not necessary. Though, I always feel the need to take her advice. She has taught me a lot."

"I heard that she was training you." Saxton said.

"She is a very good teacher. I would trust her opinion more than anybody else's."

Saxton nodded, but at the same time he bit his lip, his smile having vanished, and stared down at his files. "I'm sure that Toby would love to see her people get their message across. Let them speak to us as individuals. Everybody knows that the more we know somebody as a person, the more we care for their needs and desires."

"That is true," I agreed. "But tell me, Mr Saxton-"

"Dennis."

"Tell me, Dennis," I corrected. "What kind of activities you would be doing to achieve this? What would your television production do?"

He began his response, but just then I heard a short series of taps coming from the window. I stood from my seat, urged Mr Saxton to continue as it seemed that he was stopping, and went back over to the window. Still managing to listen intently, I peeked downwards to see Ruga and Relk still hanging on the wall outside.

"...And it will offer a whole new perspective to Hork-Bajir life," Dennis was saying. "We know that the audience is there, because for so long now they have been asking for it."

"Tell me about who you will be filming, and how." I requested. At the same time, I was silently trying to grab the attention of my two comrades, and hushing them as they began to laugh at some in-joke they were sharing.

Dennis answered me. "Well, obviously, we would have to ask around, find a Hork-Bajir who wants to be filmed. It's nothing too intrusive, just a couple hours, seeing what they do, getting their views on this and that. Get somebody who is maybe, you know, a little disadvantaged to get people on their side, raise a little money."

"A little disadvantaged?" I pressed, staring back at him and clutching my hands behind my back.

"It could be somebody who lost a close one in the war," He suggested with a shrug. "Some kid with a genetic deformity who can't walk. Just something to get the tears flowing."

I considered it briefly. It was a tactic that I had noticed before on some shows, and means to get an audience to be more receptive to a victim. I felt fine with it, so long as the victim was actually disadvantaged. However, an issue did spring to mind.

"What is the money raised for?"

Mr Saxton grinned, and shuffled again in his seat. Meanwhile, I cringed as I heard my two friends becoming noisier outside. Mr Saxton explained, "Profit will be distributed fairly, I assure you. Of course, a portion will go towards CrescentCreations, and the network."

"Will the park receive funding?" I asked, sitting carefully back down in my seat. "If this programme is meant to aid in the future of our people, I expect that some profit will go to the upkeep of our home."

"Well, obviously," He replied with huffed laughter. "We wouldn't do this without some money going to the park! We discussed this with the local government." He proceeded to hand over another file, one that was fronted by a set of forms involving the company and the official owners of the park. It was a little more reassuring.

"What percentage goes to the aid of our people?" I insisted, pressing for a straighter answer.

Saxton shrugged again. "That is something that we are currently negotiating, Taku, but let me reassure you that the park will get a fair cut of the profit."

Another bang rocked the side of my office, and I had had enough. I excused myself briefly from our discussion and stomped to the window.

"Please," I hissed down to the pair hanging just below. "Be quiet or leave. I am in the middle of an important meeting. I will play again later!"

Ruga huffed up at me, narrowing his eyes. "Get dark soon. Time to sleep. Ruga and Relk have fun now."

"Well, can't you have fun somewhere else, just for ten minutes?"

Relk shook her head defiantly from side to side. "Like it here."

I slapped my hands irritably on the windowsill, growing ever more frustrated at their lack of cooperation. "Then you must be quiet until I finish my meeting."

"How quiet?" Relk asked, and I could tell that they were beginning to annoy me purposely.

"So that I can't hear you," I demanded. "Please, just this once!"

"Okay!" Ruga chirped loudly. "Ruga and Relk be quiet!"

I grumbled, and turned around in hope that they would finally allow me some peace. I even closed the window, just in case of any further interruption.

"My name is Pluk Mett. Taku is Pluk friend!"

My nerves jangled, and my jaw shuddered as a sigh of inevitability found its way through. I looked up to see the giant Pluk, hunching his body forward to avoid damaging the ceiling, performing a rather clumsy handshake with a stunned Dennis Saxton.

"Um, hello," Mr Saxton quivered. "That's nice. Are you, uh, staying?"

"Pluk say hello! Meet nice Human."

I twiddled with my tail in a panic and rushed over, cautiously pushing Pluk away from Mr Saxton. "Pluk, you shouldn't be here!" I grunted at him.

"Pluk come to see Taku office," He defended. "Now see nice Human."

"He's not here to see you," I urged, pushing him implicatively towards my office door. "Now go."

I don't know specifically what caused Pluk to jolt at that moment – perhaps something sharp on the floor or an object that he bumped into – but his tall frame straightened, and a huge crunch came as his head blades pierced the ceiling. Shards of plaster tumbled onto his shoulders.

"Pluk, leave! Please!" I requested more forcefully as he assessed the damage that he had just caused. All the while Mr Saxton was watching curiously from a distance.

"Okay," My massive comrade grumbled. "Pluk go."

He hunched himself down again and squeezed below the door frame as I attempted to keep his other blades from scratching any surfaces. I closed the door behind him, relieved to be alone with Mr Saxton again.

"Some security you got here…" He commented with absolutely no hint of amusement.

I shook my head and sighed, before heading back to the desk where he had deposited some more files. "It's amazing how one so tall can get in unseen or unheard," I added. "But he won't cause any harm. To anything living, at least."

He coughed into his hand again, and now I could sense some impatience. "Where were we?"

"You had just finished informing me of the production. Of course, it all sounds reasonable to me."

He smiled. "Oh, it's all very reasonable."

"I would like some time to consider, though. I will be making some calls and taking some recommendations."

Saxton chuckled and waved a hand dismissively. "Please, Taku, there's no need! I have already made all the relevant calls and filled out all the necessary forms. We've gone through all the processes and the procedures, and so there really is no point of you going through it as well."

I frowned and tapped a fingernail on the desk. "But, I-"

"It's all there, Taku," He whispered, reaching forward and swooping a hand over the three files that he had laid out before me. "I will leave those with you to double check, but I can promise you that everything you need to know is there."

It was becoming a difficult and unfamiliar situation, and I couldn't find appropriate words to say. "Okay…"

Mr Saxton stood from his seat and removed one final pad of paper from his lap. "All you have to do, Taku, is go over all those boring contracts, and when you're happy, just sign a couple of forms to give us your consent. We'll be raising money for the park in no time!"

The pad was placed under my snout. A selection of black and white papers filled with words and symbols, and a dotted line at the end where my signature was needed. I took the files, but didn't know what to do with them at that moment.

I could have asked him for more details, but he was in a rush. He insisted that I consider it, offered to shake my hand, and left.