Chapter 29

I let the phone ring. It buzzed frantically in my eye line, the nauseating tone vibrating my entire desk. I had no time for it, and I didn't like using it anyway. I certainly didn't have phone ears, and it always just sounded like one long muffle. Finally, it stopped and left my office to be quiet once again.

Today, there was nobody in the room to roll their eyes and tell me to "pick up the goddamn phone." I was being left to my own devices, and that was probably for the best. Even in the coldest months of the year, the park was abuzz with media activity, and the forms and folders were piling up on my desk. Beside those piles was a collection of broken pens, coated in spilt ink.

All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing, the exhaling and inhaling of the tight office air. My pen-wielding hand was poised, hung over a dotted line on the next droning form, the words blurring together into a nonsensical stain on an otherwise useful piece of paper.

People passed by the office regularly, but I paid them no attention and they did the same for me. Having only been back for a few days, I had already made it clear that I was not on top form, and indeed I was still trying to recover from the events over the last month. My head was still a mess, a cacophony of white noise from all different areas of my life, and it was slowly but surely breaking me down. Clarissa and Toby were the first to notice it happening and commented on it frequently. My other co-workers were beginning to notice too. I hadn't spoken to Cassie since leaving her home.

I avoided her totally, and I'm certain that she avoided me.

As I contemplated my ongoing loneliness, somebody stood in on it and raised a curious voice. It was the weak, almost croaking voice of Jonathan. He was leaning forward into the office, chest covered by a thick stack of files held in both stumpy hands. "Taku? Hi, Taku." He muttered.

I was blinking up from my work, observing him and wondering what he had to show me. "Yes? What is it, Jon?"

"I have a report for you, Taku," He stuttered, slowly approaching my desk. "It's, uh… it's about CrescentCreations."

I raised an eyebrow at his apparent reluctance to enter my office. It had been like this for the last few days. Jon was a good friend of mine, but he seemed much more awkward around me than usual.

I decided to rid him of anxiety. "Jon, I don't know what you've heard, but I'm not volatile. Please don't act so nervous."

"I… What?" He blinked, looking at me unknowingly. Clearly, he had heard nothing. Cassie and Toby may not have approved of my actions, but they weren't the sort to spread rumours. "No, I just came to, uh, give you this stuff. It's kind of… important."

He approached with the jumbled pile in his arms. I pulled some folders away from the corner of my desk so that he could safely drop the load without anything falling to the floor. What fell from his arms were a few files and numerous discs in transparent plastic wallets.

"Important?" I asked, straining my eyes over the mess.

"It's about CrescentCreations," He revealed. "We've had a few reports in from park staff. I don't think you're gonna like it, big guy."

I examined his difficult expression and then proceeded to pull a couple of files from the others. They were addressed to the centre, the first from a staff outpost on the eastern side of the park. I chose that one to skim and sat back in my seat, ignoring Jon for the moment.

I would take in the fine details, absorbing the key words and organising it as a puzzle in my head. After the first page, the story was clear. I dropped the file on the desk, sighed heavily and sat back further into my seat, looking up to the ceiling.

Jon found the bravery to offer part two of the disappointment. "Do you want to see the segments that they pointed out? There are a few. Eleven, I think." He held one of the disc wallets up, the cruel glare shining horribly into my eyes as they came back down from the ceiling.

I said nothing to him, but swept a hand to my left in order to push my idle laptop into view. (The laptop that I barely used because my claws were too big to use it effectively.) Jon took the hint and began the simple process of inserting the disc into the computer and finding a programme to play it through. Once he had completed the task, he turned the laptop towards me, and the video began to play.

It was a segment taken from the CrescentCreations documentary. At the bottom left of the screen were some details in white block writing, the most important stating that it was a segment from Episode One of Hork-Bajir Homes. Behind the writing was a moving image of Yellowstone, probably filmed from a helicopter flying above.

It seemed to be the end of the show's introduction. Tribal-esque music came to a close in the background, and the images changed to the familiar sight of a Hork-Bajir stood lazily in a tree, clasping at some thin branches and gazing across her surroundings. So far, there were no issues.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, however, when narration started. If it could be called narration.

In fact, it wasn't narration at all. It was an interview.

They asked for her name, which she dutifully provided. It was all seemingly friendly as the interviewer proceeded to press his questions and she was willing to offer her answers. The thing that pained me most was just how unaware she was. She had no knowledge of cameras and interviews, and indeed half the time she was moving out of shot, asking admittedly ignorant questions about the crew's purpose and reaching for the camera lens as if it were an amusing toy.

It didn't get any better. By their own admission they followed her for an entire day, the camera forever beside her as she continued with her daily routine. Her family were interviewed, too, as were some neighbours. It was all about life in their locality, what they did during the days and nights.

But the crew wasn't there to develop a great understanding. They were there for the drama and for the amusement. On several occasions they pushed for a laugh, either by asking nonsensical questions or deliberately using sections of film showing the interviewees misunderstanding or misinterpreting events or actions.

The last section provided on the disc was a small slice of footage that revealed little other than a very tired, very frustrated Hork-Bajir. Then the video ended.

Jon was sat twiddling his fingers, only taking a break to readjust his glasses. I saw him purse his lips and refrain from saying anything. He was waiting for me to make the first reaction, and to be honest I didn't quite know how to.

I made another skim over the first report. It was a complaint from the staff outpost stating that the video crew had been harassing some members of the community, both Human and Hork-Bajir. They had been getting in the way of staff, denying them access to their work areas and had been a general nuisance.

"And they are all like this?" I asked of Jon, indicating to the rest of the files splayed before me.

He nodded gravely, and adjusted his glasses again. "There are twelve, I think. Toby took a couple of them to lighten your workload."

"That's nice of her…." I grumbled. "Fine. I'll deal with this. Thanks, Jon."

An awkward silence fell as I waited for him to leave the office, but he stood there like a statue, feet to the ground like his was contemplating. He couldn't find the courage to say what he wanted to say.

"Is something wrong?" I asked of him, trying my absolute best to sound stress-free.

"I…" He began, still staring at the base of my desk. "Me and the guys are going for our coffee break. We wanted to know if you'd come with us. You know. Take a break."

I considered the offer very briefly, but shook my head and replied, "I have a lot to do, thank you, Jon."

He seemed to have broken past the bravery threshold, and started his attempts to convince me. "We really wanted you to come down. We haven't seen you for so long, and you seem a little… stressed."

"I'm very busy." Was my blunt response.

"I know, but… just a five minute break? They say that small breaks make you feel so mu-"

"No, thank you, Jon," I interrupted more forcefully. "I have things to do."

He took the hint and spoke something out of manners, but it was whispered so softly that I couldn't make it out. He turned and walked from the room, calmly closing the door as he left for his break.

I wasted no time in continuing my investigation. I pulled up the rest of the files and stacked them neatly over the work that I had been doing previously. I began to write down the names behind each complaint, took down notes on each file and compiled each type of claim into an ordered list, the most frequent harassment claims at the top. I narrowed the list down to five and wrote them on a separate note.

After that was done, I watched the remaining DVDs. They all followed the same narrative of Hork-Bajir being followed during their daily routines, harassed by the camera crews desperate for golden footage.

They made my people look like idiots and often-times little more than animals. Privacy, dignity and basic manners were not an issue worth their time, and I found myself growing sicker and sicker as I watched the footage, gladly throwing the last disc from the computer to the edge of my desk when it was over.

I had made another five bullet points to bring my list of grievances to a total of ten major problems. The next stage was harder, and required me to use the dreaded phone. I pulled out a large folder from a shelf on the wall and flicked through the pages and pages of contacts until I came across the section for the CrescentCreations company. I dragged my finger down each page, skim reading until I found the contact number that I sought after. Once retrieved, I tapped that number into my phone-holding contraption and placed the horrible creation to my ear.

It rang for quite some time. I thought that I was getting through, but I quickly realised after hearing a voice that I was being put on hold. The classical music that I was offered did little to calm my pulsing nerves.

Finally, I got through to someone.

"Hello! You've gotten through to CrescentCreations! My name is Sue, how can I help you?"

"Hello, Sue," I began in my casual tone. She was not to blame for the issues at hand, so I would not give her an attitude. "My name is Taku Kelmut, and I would like to speak to Mr Fischer."

There was a momentary pause. "Taku Kelmut?"

"Yes, Taku Kelmut, head of media at the Yellowstone Centre, Wyoming," I informed. "I wish to talk with Mr Fischer."

Sue seemed to move away from the phone for a short while, perhaps asking around for my significance. She came back to me, saying, "Okay, Mr Kelmut, I'll put you through."

"Thank you." I said, actually surprised that I was so quickly successful. However, I wouldn't let that minor success get to me, for the phone was soon buzzing again, waiting to connect to the ear of Mr Fischer, the man in charge of the whole CrescentCreations operation.

"Mr Kelmut." Said the voice on the other end on the phone, a disinterested sneer.

I hadn't been caught off guard when he answered and began without hesitation. "Yes, Mr Fischer. This is Taku Kelmut. I understand that you are a busy man and so I will try to keep this brief. I have received a number of complaints about the manner in which your employees are going about their business while filming the programme Hork-Bajir Homes. This morning I have received ten reports from around Yellowstone Park, all summarising staff and resident disappointment at how the process of filming is being handled. I have also seen footage of Hork-Bajir being harassed by your film crews, footage that is apparently worthy of making the final cut in the programme. I want this to change."

His response was instant and wholly defeating. "So? What do you want me to do about it?"

I took my time to formulate a response, almost gasping down the phone. "You are in charge, aren't you? I want this to be stopped!"

"What do you want to be stopped?" He asked in a husky voice.

"I want… The film crew has been harassing both staff and the Hork-Bajir in the park. They have restricted our staff from doing their jobs, they have belittled our people and exploited them for this terrible programme, they have-"

"Whoa, hey," Mr Fischer interrupted roughly. "Mr Kelmut, I understand that you may have concerns."

"I certainly do have concerns!" I stated with growing frustration.

"Yes, whatever. Now I want you, Mr Kelmut, to tell me who signed the contracts that allowed us free reign to film our programmes in your park."

I paused, trying to follow the path he was leading. "The contracts?"

"The contracts," He grumbled. "That we sent to the park's head of media, that gave us legal permission to film our show."

"Well… I signed a few of them." I muttered, my fingers now twiddling a pen on my desk.

"Do you have those contracts with you now, Mr Kelmut?"

I didn't at that moment, but I requested that he wait a moment as I searched for the relevant folder on my shelf. Located, I pulled it down and opened it onto the desk. "Yes, I have them here."

"Tell me, Mr Kelmut," He sighed with a confident, arrogant tone. "Have any of these reported incidents involved physical harm to staff or residents where our film crews have been working?"

"No," I admitted. "There's been nothing physical, but my people-"

"Then the contract hasn't been breached, Mr Kelmut," He interrupted again. "We haven't crossed any legal boundaries, and we're signed up for three seasons of Hork-Bajir Homes. Is that all?"

I was totally stunned, and even my fingers had stopped twiddling. He really could not care less. "Mr Fischer, I… They are harassing my people!"

"Harassing in what way?"

I picked up the notes I had written down, quickly performing their primary function of reminding me of the main points. "They are following my people around non-stop. Individuals, not groups. They are asking ridiculous, obscene questions and using my people's confused answers for entertainment. They are deliberately trying to start drama! I agreed to an informative documentary on my people, not cheap reality television!"

"But you did, Mr Kelmut," Fischer sniggered. "Well, you didn't say that you disagreed. Look, I have the contract right here in front of me. Could you turn to page four?"

I did so, arriving at a large section titled Filming Permissions. I felt a shiver pull at my spine.

"Read along with me, Mr Kelmut. Section three-B, line four: CrescentCreations will be permitted to use obtained footage for any purpose as long as it does not violate federal law."

I placed a hand to my head and realised my mistake. Fischer only aided in rubbing salt into the wound.

"That means that we can make whatever show we want, Mr Kelmut. You signed the contract, and you gave us that right. You want to argue it, I'll send my lawyers. Good day."

He hung up, leaving me no time to respond. I had nothing to respond with anyway. I dropped the phone, not onto the receiver but haphazardly onto the desk. Feeling inconsolably defeated, I let my body loosen and almost collapsed onto the unfortunate desk.

I had been such an idiot. How did I not think to check all of the minor details in the contracts before I signed them? Why didn't I foresee the consequences of letting a money-hungry company enter the park with only the federal law their restriction? My people were suffering because of my stupid, ignorant mistakes.

Once again, my people were being victimised by the brutal, selfish Human race.

I didn't want it to happen anymore, and I knew that I would have to make great improvements to stop the stupid mistakes from occurring again. My own stupidity had gotten in the way long enough, and my cowardliness in front of the Human media was also inexcusable at that point. I needed to be more like Toby: Strong, decisive, unwavering. I needed to see what she would see. She never would have let this error happen.

Fischer had threatened me with legal action. An army of lawyers bearing down on me was not something I wished to pursue, and I needed to find a more efficient way to achieve my goal. I doubted that I could change federal law in a way that could help.

I needed to get the Humans on my side. I had to argue my case on the airwaves, on the television networks, on the internet. I wouldn't need to stop CrescentCreations antics, because public opinion could do that for me. It would mean breaking into realms of new territory, but it wasn't an option any more. I had landed my people in a hole and it was up to me to dig them back out.

I picked up the phone, slammed in a number, and held it to my ear. It rang briefly, but it didn't take him long to answer.

"Hello?" He said, voice worn by the drudgery of a working day.

"Lakeston," I greeted. "This is Taku Kelmut. Do you have time to talk?"