Chapter 42

Things changed very quickly. Before the small segment on local news I would spend my time in the Yellowstone offices, answering the phone maybe ten times a day and replying to dull and mandatory emails. Then, I would scurry off home, avoid my people as best I could and sleep until I had to return.

Everything just exploded, more than I could have ever imagined. I underestimated my own potential among the Human media, for even though my past ventures had nose-dived I was still one of only two Hork-Bajir seers around. With the other one seemingly vanished, that made me even more valuable in their eyes.

So the mere hint of me taking on the State of Wyoming government quickly garnered attention from across the nation. Ten phone calls turned into a dreadful earache. Dull emails became invites to radio shows and podcasts and local events hosted by those who took our side. I quickly found that I was in danger of being over-booked, even though I was just limiting myself to online things that I could do from my office at the time.

It was a shock when I came back to the Centre the day after the segment. The place was buzzing with an unrestrained anticipation. There was a sense that something big was coming and everyone suddenly found a hidden bank of motivation. I received congratulations from most that I saw, the others being too hard at work, or so I presumed.

I admit that I was on quite a high. I couldn't stop smiling.

I strolled into the office with my newfound confidence and plonked myself down to inspect my desktop computer. Altogether, there were eighteen invites, via email, to all sorts of different media outlets; I sat back for ten minutes, playing with so many thoughts in my little Hork-Bajir brain.

After calling several people into the office to gain their opinions, I decided that it was best to let Clarissa decide for me. I trusted her even more than myself and as soon as she arrived, I let her scan through the pile. She mulled it over and picked three out for me. We discussed her choices and settled on two of them. There was a state-wide radio segment hosted by a person who was known as a big Hork-Bajir enthusiast and a popular American podcast run by a non-partisan group that we knew would allow us to get our message across.

Those were the first of many, but we made sure to start out easy. After those first two appearances, I was still utterly baffled by the attention I had received.

The segments went okay. I maintained my dignity and my Human voice simultaneously and I wasn't a trembling mess. However, I was able to make my points without garnering much criticism and had some nice talks with the presenters who were very happy to have me on. The podcast had never interviewed a Hork-Bajir before (which wasn't surprising,) so most of the questioning was about my lifestyle, which I didn't mind at all. In fact, Clarissa thought it would endear me to the Humans. It seemed to work.

So we booked more, accepted more invites. All the while, we watched as support became more vocal. In the space of four days, the story had escalated to the national stage, though it didn't quite reach the heights of headline news.

I was amazed at how many came to our cause. There were many from the local area, of course, but then there was support from places so far away that they could never dream of coming to Yellowstone for a day's trip out.

Taku Kelmut was becoming a name again and not for the same dreadful reasons as before. Needless to say, there was a lot of scepticism around me, but I made it all about my people instead of myself and that deflected most doubt.

But every show and every interview would ask the same questions: What happened in your previous interviews? How can we be sure that it won't happen again?

And, of course, I wasn't going to be able to oppose the governor without fightback. I had not spoken to him since, but I could see the signs of his handiwork here and there. Several pundits and journalists would turn up elsewhere, speaking about how I was trying to negatively affect the state economy and deny the citizens new jobs. Nonsense, of course. They tried to make things far too complicated.

I was going to be seeing a lot more of them soon. I could sense my own urge to confront them emerging beside my confidence.

I had just finished another podcast. (It was by no means a large one, but Clarissa and I had agreed that any time connecting to people was worth the effort, so the fact that only eight-thousand were watching mattered little. I had been on much smaller the day before.) I sat back in Toby's old seat and breathed a peaceful sigh, stretching my hunched body outward. My tail was sore, having been sat at my desk all day chatting to total strangers. It felt good, but it equally felt very bad. It was then when my office door opened to Clarissa's face. She pulled her hand through her hair that had been disturbed by the strong winds outside the building. Desperately, she tried to correct it.

She was carrying a plastic bag with her, cleverly looped between her fingers that were wrapped around a coffee cup. "Hey, Taku. I'm back. You finished talking to those nerds?"

"Nerds?" I blinked, swinging my computer chair away from the desk. "They seemed like very nice people. We got along very well!"

"I didn't say they were bad people, I said they were nerds," She replied, dropping the full bag on my desk. "So it went well?"

"It went very well. They say that they had set their own record for listeners!"

She smiled and took her seat beside the desk. "Do they support you?"

I looked up to the ceiling, recalling the discussions. "They seemed to. We only spent a limited time discussing that. They didn't want to dedicate the full two hours to it."

"But you said what you needed to say, right?"

"I said what I needed to say," I confirmed. "Now I'm thirsty."

Clarissa dutifully reached into the plastic bag on the desk and retrieved the plastic bottle of water she had promised to bring back. I drank from it, but my eyes remained on the bag. Clarissa noticed my attention, and a sly smile spread over her face.

She pulled out a piece of bark. It was unfamiliar, but it smelled glorious. "Thought I'd treat you," She said. "For a job well done."

I reached forward to receive the bark. I thanked her and let my nostrils inspect it. Ravaged by hunger, I began to eat. "This is delicious!" I commented. "If this is what I get for sitting at a computer talking to moderately popular internet personalities for two hours, I will sit here until I lose the use of my legs."

"You can't sit here all day," Clarissa told with unusual seriousness. "You need exercise. For the last three days you've done nothing but sit in that chair, you know! You're going to get fat and that won't look good on you."

"I get plenty of exercise." I huffed, folding my arms.

Clarissa rolled her eyes. "Walking up and down the stairs to get a drink isn't enough exercise for a Hork-Bajir!"

"But I've made such progress," I groaned, turning back to my desktop having finish my lovely bark chunk. "Look at all these emails here. All people who want to interview me, host me, speak to me… I don't have time to run around like an idiot."

She raised her eyebrows and looked away to inspect her fingernails. "Toby always found the time to exercise."

"Oh, must you do that?" I grumbled, slumping back into my seat. "Please, Clarissa, this is an important time for me."

"I know it is, Taku. But, you know, don't be ignoring your personal life. Have you seen your family much this week?"

Suddenly, my petulance fell away and I looked down to my feet. "I guess not. I haven't had the time to travel back home."

"So where have you been sleeping?"

"There's a very comfortable tree just a couple hundred yards outside of the building." I answered sheepishly.

She exhaled with clear disappointment. "You're making the same mistake that Toby made a few years ago. She spent too much time in the office and went, like, totally insane! I know things are going well, but you shouldn't overdo it, you know."

"I'll sleep at home tonight," I compromised weakly. "Though Mother and Father will make it difficult to head back."

She giggled. "That's probably because they love you, Taku."

"Of course, but… I have momentum now. I will do as much as necessary to win favour with the people of this nation. Once I have done that, then I can get back to my people. After all, I'm doing this for them."

She smiled and moved forward. She leant against my shoulder to spy upon my emails. Scouring the list, she hummed, impressed. "Hey, there's quite a few coming in. Any that you really like the look of?"

"Yes," I said, reaching a hand forward and scrolling slowly down the email screen. Halfway down the page, I stopped at a read message. The sender was named by email address, but Clarissa oohed when she recognised the organisation named. "That one is national. I can get a message to the national level slowly through local stations, but I can do it instantly through a national broadcast."

"Wow! You're already being offered a spot on national news! That's great, Taku!" She congratulated.

I sensed that she wasn't quite as ecstatic as she made out to be. I cocked my head and looked her in the eyes. "I imagine that you'd be worried about that."

She knew that there was no point in hiding it. She shrugged her shoulders and pulled her chair beside mine to sit. "You remember what happened last time…"

"Yes, I do."

"I have to admit that, you know… I'm still not quite sure if it's good for you. You've done really good the last few days, but that was easy stuff. Toby could do all that stuff in her sleep!"

I grunted, secretly acknowledging to myself the truth that I was congratulating myself over child's play. "I told you. I'm ready now. I know how to cope with it."

She placed a hand on my bicep, a subtle method to ensure that I was listening with full attention. I faced her directly and took all attention away from the screen.

"You do know that any more crazy shit and I'm banning you from all this?"

"You have told me that many times these last few days," I laughed. "I understand that. What more can I do to prove to you that I'm capable? Please, Clarissa," I pleaded, placing my hand on hers. "Understand that this is what I want to do. This is what I can do. Besides, it is not a debate. It is much like the local report I did the other day. It's even filmed from the same location. And who knows what will happen then…"

"You'll get into arguments again," She warned, maintaining her grip on my arm and not allowing my focus to wane. "If you're going to have shouting battles with anybody, start small. Don't, like, jump in the deep end!"

I smiled broadly and gripped her hand just a little tightly, warmly. "I want you to help me decide."

"Good!" She squeaked, baring her straight, pearly Human teeth.

That night, I relented to Clarissa's wishes. I made that long sprint home and reached my colony long after the sun had set. Most had fallen asleep, huddled tightly around a warm but dying campfire, settled under a sea of multi-coloured blankets that kept out the bitter wind. I didn't want to disturb anybody there, since the only ones awake looked readily prepared to doze off at any moment.

So I ascended my tree, not expecting to find anybody awake. I thought it would be okay for me to just make an appearance, even if it was by presence alone. However, pulling myself into the canopy, I made out the sounds of Mother gently humming to herself. I followed the noise and made myself known. She stopped humming instantly. "Taku! Taku home!" She yelped.

I cringed. Half of the colony would have woken to that. "Hello, Mother," I replied, deliberately whispering softly to make her do the same.

It didn't work too well. Mother was too excited to be quiet. "Taku is home!" She called merrily. Once I had perched on her branch, she embraced me with a kiss and would not let my head blades go for a good while.

"You missed me." I evaluated, allowing her to shower me in affection. Behind us, I heard shuffling.

"Pok miss Taku Kelmut," Mother confirmed, pulling herself even closer. "Not see Taku for…" She broke the kiss and stared upwards to the night sky. "Many moons."

"Four moons," I told her. "And I'm sorry. I've been very busy with the Humans."

Part of me wanted to laugh. I had been gone for much longer periods in the past, but Mother always managed to exaggerate. Not that I minded, because it just reminded me that I meant a lot to her.

"Taku stay?" She asked, her question unhelpfully vague, but she looked at me pleadingly, face becoming visible as my eyes adjusted to the moonlit tree.

"I'll be staying tonight, but I need to go away again tomorrow. Don't worry, I won't be gone long." I reassured.

She kissed me again and I could sense her holding back what she truly wanted to say. Her pause to think spoke that well enough. "Taku come back soon?"

"Taku will come back soon." I replied softly, embracing the new kiss.

The shuffling noise came again. It was not Father, who I could faintly hear breathing in sleep to our right. In the corner of my eye, I could see Lenk listening in from behind us, still very much awake.

"Hello, brother." I greeted quietly.

Mother turned to him. "Lenk Kelmut need sleep," She instructed. "Why does Lenk not sleep?"

He said nothing, wrapped around the branch just a few feet behind us. Perhaps he was exhausted, or alternatively he couldn't think of anything to say. Maybe both. He retreated back up the tree without returning my greeting.

It kept me awake all night.