Chapter 31

I was not allowed to leave for the studio by myself, no matter how hard I tried to sneak past the hotel staff. It felt like a prison. As soon as I left my room, I was approached by a housekeeper or room service who would ask if I needed anything. My response was no, and they asked me to avoid going downstairs.

I asked them why not, and they told me that it was dangerous. "There are a lot of people around," They would say. "Anybody could trip on your tail or get caught on your blades."

I cursed their clumsy nature, but reigned myself in as I realised the truth behind it. I resigned myself to the idea that I would need my supervisors help to get me to where I needed to go. A quick phone call later, and I was being escorted to the first floor by my gang of overly-cautious assistants. They formed almost a circle around me, creating a Human barrier that saved me from the vicious New York world.

The studio was just at the other end of the block, but we still required transport, apparently. I was loaded into a black SUV and we began the shortest journey of my life to date. It felt like the longest. Three Human faces that I barely recognised watched mine. I could just see the clogs turning in their heads and the anxiety approach them. My anger must have been radiating noticeably. Not a word was uttered.

Out of the car I came, and within seconds I was being shunted through another hallway and up a flight of stairs, through a claustrophobic hallway where the photographs of famous faces watched me, judged me. A lot of them were laughing.

Maybe it was fear. Laughter to cover their fear. I was the scary intruder in their precious hallway, an outsider whose chains formed a black ring to hold me in.

One of them was a smiling African-American lady. Young but with a look of experience and intelligence. Compassion. I reached out past my security and with force pulled it from whatever held it in place. My escorts began to panic, but calmed to a perplexed murmur when I placed the frame upside-down on the nearest surface. Her eyes would see nothing.

We found the studio. It was a dark meeting room, the walls covered with a grey material used for sound insulation. However, the lighting was bright, as were the many screens that blinkered up at me from cameras and personal laptops. The crew were ready and in position, looking up at me expectantly and equally impatiently.

The head of the crew, a portly male with receding hair, approached with an unamused expression. "Taku! When we say eight, we mean eight! We start in two minutes!"

"I don't care!" I responded with as much grace as an unexpected sneeze. "If you're so worried about it, get out of my face and set it up!"

The room fell awkwardly silent, as if my angered outburst had cast a dire atmosphere through it. It had, really. Nobody had expected me to be so blunt, and to be honest, neither did I. The director, previously arrogant and with a visible sense of superiority, cowered and waddled back to his seat, looking over his shoulder at me with stuttering movement.

"Well?" I demanded of the room, stood in the centre once everybody had backed a few feet away. "We have two minutes. Set me up!"

After an expected hesitance, two Humans approached me and proceeded to guide me to where I would be sitting. They didn't guide me by hand, rather called me over while remaining out of arms reach.

The stool I was afforded for the interview was wooden and small, but I put up with it. After all, I wouldn't be sat there for long. I put myself on it and swivelled so that I faced the large, main camera. It stared back at me, and the eyes that I saw within were distant and unfamiliar.

Past the camera, I saw the on-looking Humans scratching their heads and muttering amongst themselves. They were confused, baffled, almost panicked. The director looked the most nervous, and I saw beads of sweat running down his head.

I didn't see anybody that I knew. Clarissa wasn't there, and that I expected. However, I thought Toby and Cassie would at least be present to keep things under control. Their faces were suspiciously absent. Again, I wondered why, but my troubled mind could not yet put those vital pieces together, and I clutched my head in my hands, panting heavily as I began to lose myself to some gruesome creature that lurked within my being.

"Mr Kelmut?" Said a Human male. He was stood nearby, hands on his knees as he attempted to make eye contact. "Are you okay?"

"Yes." I replied, keeping it simple and hoping he would leave.

"Do you want some water or something?"

"No."

"Okay. Can we put your phones in?"

I said nothing, but reached out a hand in his direction and felt the rubbery objects being dropped into my claw. I looked up as I placed them into my ear holes and noticed that the Human had quickly vanished. Everybody was in place, and I heard the jingle of a newsroom segment burst into my ears. The director, still a little shell-shocked, was giving me visible indications that I was about to begin.

Suddenly, the news anchor's voice popped into my head with the typical chirpiness and I saw his smiling face on a screen just beside the camera. All the memories of my first interview began to flood back, memories of how panicked I was and how I shook on my stool. I still shook, but not out of anxiety this time. I wanted to begin just as much as I wanted it to finish.

"Good afternoon America," The host spoke. I recognised him as a male called Nick. I had seen his show several times before. The items were light, never big news stories really. His show was mostly there to bring the audience back down after a few hours of hard-hitting news. It was essentially an opinion show. He continued, "The new show on Discovery, Hork-Bajir Homes, airs this week, and though early reviews have deemed the show to be an entertaining, lively and informative look into the lives of our alien friends, there are those who criticise the show's delivery. They say it crosses the boundary into cheap reality television. Are the Hork-Bajir off limits for reality TV? Here with us now to discuss this is television analyst Debra Bradshaw."

The camera shot to her, a red-haired lady with a fake grin from ear to ear and long red nails. "Hi Nick." She swooped with unnatural showmanship, a play for the audience.

The other guest was entirely the opposite. He didn't seem to care about what the audience felt of him. He was sat hunched, wearing an untidy brown jacket and looking forever displeased. He was introduced as Sam Hinchcliffe, a producer for the station destined to air the show. He replied, "Good to be back, Nick."

"And joining us from elsewhere in New York," Of course, he didn't mention that I was mere blocks away. "Taku Kelmut, volunteer at the Yellowstone Centre."

I took it as my cue to begin. Already past the deep breath stage, I was ready to voice my opinions. "I am joining you from the Welvick building," I informed. "I could easily join you in the studio if I was allowed to, but apparently there simply isn't room at your desk."

On the screen, I could see the host hesitating, flinching as I took the unexpected turn. He stammered, looked down briefly at his desk and said, "Well… That wasn't my decision Mr Kelmut, and I would appreciate common courtesy on my show, if you don't mind."

"Yes, and I would appreciate not being seen as a potential hazard. Perhaps I would provide more courtesy if I could do so in person."

He was stunned. His guests probably were as well, but they weren't currently on screen. "If you have a problem, Mr Kelmut," Nick gritted. "You should take it up with those responsible. I was not responsible, so please don't come onto my show and throw those accusations at me!"

"Okay," I huffed. "I'll throw some more appropriate accusations your way if that's preferable."

"It most certainly isn't-"

"No doubt you've brought somebody onto your panel who agrees with what this disgusting programme portrays. I find it atrocious that you would even consider this an argument with two valid sides."

I could see him growing ever more frustrated. His eyes were furrowed, staring intensely down the camera. "Well if you would actually wait your turn, because, you know, I never asked you to start ranting, you would actually hear what my other guests have to say!"

"I don't need to hear what they have to say!" I barked. "What is the point of this game? I'm not here for pointless debate, I'm here to make myself heard. There are no two-sides to this! CrescentCreations have betrayed my trust and exploited my people. They are using them for cheap reality television and harassing those that they film! I-"

"Mr Kelmut… Mr Kelmut!" Nick intruded, bringing me to a reluctant stop. "You don't run this show. You don't get to run your mouth like a rabid dog. Not when I'm in charge! Now, if I could finally bring Sam-"

"I haven't finished yet!" I was vibrating on my stool. Behind the camera I could see the crew watching on, motionless and almost unbelieving. It didn't faze me, and neither did Nick as he tried to bring Sam Hinchcliffe into the conversation. I flicked my snout angrily and interrupted. "CrescentCreations have-"

"Mr Kelmut!" Nick snapped. "If you cannot keep quiet for just a minute I'll cut your mic!"

How I wanted to argue with him, but the threat of being silenced caused me to rethink. I begrudgingly sat back and listened as Sam Hinchcliffe was given centre stage.

He leaned forward in his seat, attention clearly focused on Nick alone. "Thank you. To be honest, Nick, I don't know what all the fuss is about. And I don't know why Mr Kelmut thinks that it's appropriate to come on here screaming and shouting like some wild animal about it."

"You do know." I asserted to clear things up.

We were both on screen together now, our faces side by side, framed in a computer generated white background. Sam was now looking to his camera, indirectly looking at me. "Look, I don't know what's gotten you so agitated, but this is no way to act on television, let alone on one of America's biggest news stations! Let us not forget that, if rumour is correct, it was you, Mr Kelmut, that allowed CrescentCreations into the park in the first place."

I didn't flinch. I knew that it would come up. "Yes, I did."

"So why are you coming onto this show trying to bite our heads off?!" Sam pressed with an almost mocking laugh, shrugging.

"I expected something of value to come out of it," I replied instantly. "I expected documentaries that would fairly present my people. What I didn't expect was a band of egomaniacs running around the park, bullying my people and filming the results!"

"Well you should have thought about that beforehand," Sam suggested fiercely. "If you didn't properly inspect the forms and didn't decide what they were going to do, then I have no sympathy for you! Sorry!"

"I didn't demand your sympathy!" I shouted, beginning to lose my temper again. "I am here to correct my mistakes. Just because I allowed this injustice does not mean that it shouldn't be stopped!"

"What injustice?!" Sam responded, a clear baffled expression on his face.

His rant was only syllables long before Nick butted in. "Okay, alright," He said with a polite laugh. He was trying to break the tension. "As the moderator it's supposed to be my job to keep things civil. I'm going to pass it onto Taku because obviously not everybody here knows why exactly CrescentCreations are wrong to film this series. Could you shed some light?"

"Of course," I grunted. "As I've already said, the crew for CrescentCreations has no interest in filming a series that actually educates and informs. Instead, it has been using questionable tactics to push my people and our staff into creating forced entertainment. My people do not belong in one of your pathetic reality TV shows!"

Nick nodded and passed the mic. "Okay, your response, Sam?"

"I think it's all subjective, Nick. I've heard nothing about bullying tactics and forced entertainment, and I work very closely with CrescentCreations. If something was going wrong, maybe a breach of contract or someone's rights were being imposed on, then I would hear of it! Mr Kelmut just seems to have a problem with reality television, which, let's be honest, is one of the biggest things going at the moment! We can criticise it all we want, but it gets the viewers!"

His words were like painful jabs at my side, irritating me and pushing me ever closer to the edge until I eventually collapsed over it. What annoyed me equally was that I had fallen into the trap. I was playing the game again and letting the machine take control. It couldn't happen, and this time I wouldn't let the threat of my microphone being cut distract me.

"And that is what matters, I suppose," I sneered. "Because the viewers pay you their money, I assume. So typical that you would dismiss the concerns of my people simply because you'll get a few more pennies in your back pocket!"

He glared angrily. "How dare y-"

I wouldn't let him speak up. "Don't think that I'm surprised, Mr Hinchcliffe, because I really am not. I've come to expect it, actually. The only reason CrescentCreations has decided to create this hideous reality TV content is because it would be more profitable than an actual credible documentary. No matter what these people did to mine, you would still deny any wrongdoing because it will affect your income. The company can do no wrong! And who would notice, anyway, that one or two Hork-Bajir have been frustrated by misguided crewmen? Who would care? As long as the masses sat in front of their televisions are given their daily dose of mindless theatre, all is fine!"

Nick tried to pull the show back by moving onto Debra, but again I spoke over him, using my more powerful Hork-Bajir throat to speak over him.

"I'm sick of these Human games! Why must I come on here to be some fool, some puppet to entertain a few people at home who are content to watch us argue and get nothing done? I'm not here to debate your guests, I'm here to tell you that I am disgusted with the way things are done! You sicken me! All of you!"

They weren't even trying to stop me. Nick was looking sheepishly down at his papers, while Sam sat back in his chair with a contented smile that only served to further enrage me.

"I can't stand how violent you are! I can't stand how you stomp around our home like you own us and stare at us like objects to be judged! How do you expect me to stand by and play your games while my people are murdered by their homes, while I am ridiculed worldwide because I cannot perform a flawless interview on first attempt? I'm sure this interview will go much the same way, and I really could not care less. Why must I care about what this foul species thinks of me?"

Now the panel just looked awkward, pursing their lips and gazing off into the distance with exaggerated exhalations. Nick was the most active, readying himself to take back control as soon as he could.

"I won't let this show continue," I asserted, regarding Hork-Bajir Homes. "I know that breaking contract will result in some lawyer army ripping me to shreds, but there will be other ways to get rid of this plague. I urge the audience, please…"

I snapped back and gasped. My entire speech reeled through my mind like a tape player on fast-forward. It caused me to freeze in place, and I almost collapsed under my foolish mistake. Now I was only sick with myself, and it totally replaced all the rage.

It felt like the first interview all over again.

Sam Hinchcliffe huffed a laugh and shook his head. "Do I even need to respond to this guy, Nick? He's come into your show like some wild animal and expects us to take him seriously!" Then he addressed me, saying, "I hope you read the headlines tomorrow because, no doubt, you'll be there."

It was enough to bring back some of the previous rage, though it had soaked in some of the self-pitying that I was drowning in. Almost choking, I bellowed, "I don't need your snarky comments! I don't care for what the headlines say because they're written by people like you!"

Nick forced himself in this time, shaking his head. "Okay, that's it. Can we cut his mic? Please? Get him off my show."

"I'll gladly leave!" I yelped, but as I was speaking those words I saw my image vanish from the screen. I had already been cut.

However, I could still hear them through my headphones. I listened long enough for Nick to say, "I don't allow personal attacks on my show, and I also don't allow that kind of aggressive conduct. There really is no need to act like such a child on national television and I'm sure Mr Kelmut will realise that in time."

I ripped the headphones from my ears and threw them to the floor with a distressed roar. The room around me was deathly quiet, but for the nervous scraping of feet on the laminate flooring. I tried to catch glances, but they all turned away in uncertainty.

Furious with my own stupidity, I rose to my feet, roughly pushing my stool backwards. For a few seconds I held my head in my hands, shook it and played with its thoughts.

How could I have been so foolish? Why could I only see our racial ties only after I had severed them irreparably? How could I have let my rage take over me with such little resistance?

And I knew it would only build upon itself. Already it was bubbling again, and I stormed forward past the camera, if only for relief from the spotlight. The path was cleared, Humans scattering to stay away from the clearly deranged Hork-Bajir.

Should I be angry at that, too? They thought I was dangerous, just like the news panel… At least this crew had a reason to avoid me now. I would avoid me, as well.

As I stood in the centre of the room, the feeling of isolation began to fall on me. The Humans were hurriedly packing away their equipment, and even those whose job it was to attend to me had apparently disappeared. Most of all, the absence of my friends was becoming more obvious than ever. The silence that they left was cruelly allowing my own thoughts to provide me with their bitter chatter.

I began to wonder… Did Clarissa care for me anymore? Or Cassie? Had my inexplicable anger pushed them away?

As for Toby, her absence was a mystery. Perhaps she thought that I didn't need her presence to supervise me. Clearly, I did, and I desperately wanted to berate her about it. She should have been with me, even if she was no longer my tutor. She was an ally, the other seer, the mentor. And she was a friend, too.

How I wished for my friends. They would all be back in Yellowstone, never to hear of what just happened, if I were to remain silent. Blissfully ignorant to the world around them, just how I wanted to be. But I didn't belong to them anymore. I wasn't one of them. Now, too, I most certainly wasn't Human, and too stupid to be a seer. I wasn't anything at all.

I left for the hotel in silence, wondering how the day could get any worse.