Chapter 36

I found myself in a deep state of worry after the unexpectedly short meeting. I had arrived with glorious ambitions of standing my ground, re-establishing my reputation and saving my people's home. Instead, I had accomplished nothing other than further distancing myself from the most powerful people in the home state. My mind would not let it go. Not even Pluk's curious and childish questions about his new environment would remove the dreaded thoughts.

"Why do Humans make Human trees with no sky?" He pondered, gazing questioningly up at our hotel room ceiling, sat on the carpet as Sandy filed down his left wrist blade. Even sat on the floor, the giant Pluk struggled not to scrape that ceiling.

I paused, taking the moment to finish reading yet another terrible email on my tired old laptop. In my place, Sandy answered in her typical blunt and condescending way.

"So we don't get cold and wet," She scraped. "It rains, sometimes, you know."

Pluk considered, then pointed a finger to a large potted plant in the corner of the room. "Plant needs water."

Sandy looked over to me like I should be amazed at his stupidity. I tried not to get involved.

"We give it water from a tap!" She brutally explained.

"But…" Pluk retorted. "Taku Kelmut say water is bad!"

Sandy, finally lowering her volume slightly, replied, "For you, it is. It's good for the plants."

"Taku Kelmut drink water from tap," Pluk recalled. "Taku Kelmut go sick."

"That's because he was being stupid."

I huffed and pushed my laptop backwards on the desk, relieved to take even the shortest break from the cruel glowing screen. "Yes, I was stupid. It was my first time in a hotel. I learned from that mistake, just as you no doubt learned from yours."

Pluk flinched, grunted as Sandy's lack of attentiveness caused her to file too close to his skin.

"Well, hold still!" She chastised. "I don't want to be skewered, you know!"

He snorted and looked to me with a pitiable pout. She had been ordering him around all day, and though he loved to take in all the sight and sounds of the big Human habitat, it was always intruded on.

"I think Pluk has been groomed enough," I suggested to Sandy. "We all need rest. It's been a long day."

Sandy's face was one of great irritation when she turned. "I've only got a bit more to do! You can wait."

"I will not wait!" I rebounded. "You may leave for the evening and we shall rest!"

This time, she took the hint. Shaking her head and mumbling something probably obscene, she retracted her equipment from Pluk's arms, packed it away and reluctantly wished us a goodnight. My response was equally unenthusiastic.

Pluk solemnly investigated his newly-filed wrist blades, rubbing a finger where one once grew to a sharp point. "Sandy make Pluk blades not sharp…"

I sighed and pulled my laptop closer again, now better able to carry on with my work. "We've gone over this before. While you're in the Human environment, you must have your blades blunted. You'll get used to it."

Pluk attempted to get up, but as his head blades bounced off the ceiling, he reconsidered and sat back down, leaning against the seat of the brown leather sofa. "Taku Kelmut say that Human friend is nice."

"Yes, I did…" I said back, tapping my claws on the tiny keyboard, eyes fully focused on the difficult email before me. "I said that when Clarissa was my supervisor. I never said it about Sandy."

"Where Clarissa go?"

I stopped tapping on the keys, using my will instead to combat the regret that suddenly encroached. "She doesn't work for us anymore. That was one of my mistakes."

He smiled as he made certain conclusions in his head. "Taku Kelmut learn from mistake! Not make the same mistake."

His optimism was just infectious enough to bring a smile from me. "I won't. It was yet another example of my stupidity that I regret deeply."

Pluk chuckled, almost knocking his head on the ceiling again. "Taku Kelmut is smartest Hork-Bajir that Pluk Mett know."

I tapped away again at the keyboard briefly, but after just three words my motivation left me. I shut the laptop and sunk down onto the desk. "Then you don't know many Hork-Bajir."

"Pluk know lots of Hork-Bajir." He countered, not quite grasping my point.

I got up slowly from my desk and stretched my aching tail. Like with most places, the seating in my hotel room was not suited to my form. From there I struggled over to the sofa and dropped myself onto it, beside Pluk. "Things haven't gone as planned, Pluk. I… just don't think I'm cut out for this."

He cocked his head in a struggle to understand. "What meaning?"

"It means that… Oh, how do I explain this?" I placed a hand to my face and sighed, the content of all those complicated emails flowing through my head. There was no such thing as simplicity. "I am bad at what I do. I don't do it very well."

Even in such terms, Pluk looked baffled. "Taku Kelmut talk to Humans. Talk well!"

"Yes. I… I do more than just talk to them, Pluk. I am like Toby now. I am the one to make sure that no Human hurts a Hork-Bajir. I am the shield, but I am flimsy and cracked. I am not a very good shield."

It pained me deeply to see him look forward, still achingly trying to piece together the meanings that I was putting to him. "Taku Kelmut is shield… Humans hurt Taku?"

"No!" I growled, hunching forward so that I could look at him more directly. "I protect you from the things they do with my words. It's… I'm not literally shielding with my body, I'm…"

I could tell by the saddened expression that the concept of politics was beyond his grasp. I needed to give up before it drove me insane. I felt the bubbling of stress within my chest again.

"Pluk not understand." He whimpered.

"I know," I panted, pulling myself back into my relaxed position. "I'm sorry, Pluk. There is something wrong with me and sometimes I just can't control it. I'm sorry."

He turned to face his body towards me. "Pluk know. Taku different. Not different different. Different."

I laughed as I felt a tear on my cheek. "That makes things so clear," I joked, rubbing the fluid from the base of my snout. "But, I know. I know that I have not adapted to this world. Toby warned me so long ago, but I didn't care. I was naïve, stupid. I couldn't see what this life would be like."

Pluk, again, could not understand my predicament. However, he could see how it affected me, and he put on a brave face. "Pluk here for Taku," He assured. "But Pluk think Taku do good. Taku knows what is best."

I smiled to him, thankful for his support. "Thank you, Pluk," I said. "I know it is hard, but right now I am the only one who can do it. There is nobody else. Toby has gone. Cassie has gone. Every politician in the local area has interests that would impede my people. I just don't know how to do it."

Knowing he was out of his depths, Pluk did not feign to consider a decent solution. He bowed his head, but repeated, "Pluk always here for Taku Kelmut. Taku smart. Pluk is not. But Pluk help."

He then arched his head back so that his head blades came close. I leaned forward and made mine connect with his. "There will be a way," I told him. "The United States of America is formed on democratic principles."

As expected, Pluk turned and looked for a clearer explanation.

I clarified, "The people of America can decide things together. As a whole. It's not totally down to a few powerful individuals. They play a big part, I guess, but Toby and Cassie always told me that the Human masses do have a big say. If many Humans decide that they don't want something, then the people in power may change their mind."

Pluk attempted to simplify it further. "If Human folk want what Taku Kelmut wants, Taku get what he wants?"

"Yes," I agreed. "It is something that Toby has told me for quite some time. It's something called democracy. The normal people get a say in what happens. The only problem is that I enraged the entire country when I decided to get so angry in a television interview. Everyone hates me, and that's probably what I deserve. Nobody will listen to the alien that hates the Human race."

Pluk, in the usual Hork-Bajir ignorance, came up with the effortless solution. "Make Humans not hate Taku Kelmut!"

"I wish it were that easy, Pluk," I chuckled, turning my snout to the ceiling. "But Humans aren't as easy to appease as Hork-Bajir. Humans are much more complicated. If I please one, I offend another. If I offend one, I offend them all. I cannot win such a battle."

"Taku try." Pluk urged. I appreciated his determination to help hugely, so much so that I decided to give in. At least in word. I still felt internally decimated.

"I'll try," I assured him. "We're here for a few more days now, so we might as well make it worthwhile. However, I must learn to control my anger."

Pluk cocked his head. "How Taku do that?"

"If I knew, I would already have done it," I told him. "I'll find a way. Tomorrow, we'll do some exploring. I'll take you to see a Human park, try to get you talking to some of them. If I'm going to sway public opinion, let them know what is really going on, then maybe I'll have a better chance of reversing the decision on Yellowstone."

He grinned widely. "Pluk like talking to Humans. Humans talk lots, but Pluk like it!"

"Good! After that, I'll try to arrange some interviews. Maybe an advertisement. I'll get word to the Humans about what this decision would mean for our people. In my position as acting governor, I should have enough power behind me to get at least something."

Pluk stared blankly. However, what I said was more to myself than to him. It lifted my spirits just a little bit. It could be done.

"Pluk tired," He said, yawning. "Sleep now."

I smiled to him. The strange and unusual concepts were enough to make anybody's brain weary. "Okay. I will do some more work and then I'll sleep, too."

He stretched his limbs, scratching a head blade on the ceiling and then hunched forward to crawl to his sleeping area. He called goodnight, and I repeated it back. Left alone, I huffed to myself, wondering what work I should have been getting on with. There was so much of it. I glanced at a stack of papers on my work desk, then at the laptop. Then I looked to the phone, stood on its receiver on the coffee table.

It was worth a try. I got up and took a small folder from my work desk. It read in large letters "Toby's Contacts."

I flicked through the folder that she had left for me, through hundreds of numbers spread over countless pages. There were the numbers of governors, lawyers, accountants, businesses. All the important people who Toby needed to keep in contact with in order to do her duty effectively.

I found Cassie's number and found myself staring at it. The next page over, I found who I had been looking for. The Wyoming Governor's number was etched in red ink. I reached forward and took the phone from the receiver, carefully dialling the correct numbers.

It didn't take long for the person on the other end to pick up. By then I had composed myself.

"Yes?" Asked the Governor of Wyoming. He sounded terribly frustrated.

"Governor," I said. "I was wondering if we could talk."

He paused. "Governor Hamee?"

"No. This is Taku Kelmut."

"Oh. How did you get my number?"

I could sense that he did not see me as an important caller. "When Toby passed her duties onto me, she also gave me her phonebook. As the acting Hork-Bajir governor, I feel that it's my duty to continue her work and also to act as she would. Right now, I believe she would be doing just as I'm doing now."

"You aren't the governor." He replied bluntly.

"Not technically…" I grumbled. "I wanted to ask you again to reconsider this decision. At least hold another meeting that I, representing the Hork-Bajir people, can attend. I hope that you'd understand why I request this."

"I do. However, as I've explained, Mr Kelmut," He spoke, putting a great emphasis on mister. "You were not invited to the original meeting. Toby was, and she didn't turn up. I am not going to bend over backwards just so you can throw your opinion in when it won't make the slightest bit of difference."

I snorted down the phone. "You realise that I shall oppose this decision with all the power I can afford?"

"You have no power. You can't threaten me Mr Kelmut. You have no political sway, no money, no allies, and quite frankly your reputation among the entire country is appalling."

"That's all true. I can change that."

I heard him sniggering quietly to himself. "Well, I wish you good luck with that. I do sincerely. However, it won't happen, and you won't get any help from me. Just a little advice for you: The media is a powerful thing, Mr Kelmut. Remember that. Cross me, and I will destroy you. Good day."

He hung up. Part of me expected to feel the rage building in my chest, but I already accepted before I made the call that he wouldn't change his mind. I just needed to know my opposition.

I understood his threat perfectly well. And he was correct. Everything was on his side, and with just one or two phone calls he could start a whole smear campaign based on my past television actions.

It was an uphill battle, for sure. It was almost a vertical battle, if such existed.

But I was right at the bottom already. What could I possibly lose?