Chapter 43

She clutched the microphone in her right hand now. The bitter Yellowstone weather was doing its very best to damage her professional demeanour and she stood shin-deep in the snow. Not even the thick, fake-fur-lined boots that cosied her ankles could protect her from the winter temperature, not that she would mention it mid-interview. I felt sorry for her up until the point where I realised that I was totally naked, as I always had been. But then, Hork-Bajir are much more capable of dealing with low temperatures. I don't know how. We just are.

Though she wouldn't let it threaten the manner of the occasion, she did point it out subtely: "I've seen a lot of the new structures, and we can actually see some of it now," She spoke, gesturing to the trees behind us where my people worked on a low-level platform. "How do they cope with these weather conditions? They don't seem to stop whatever weather comes in!" She pulled at her shoulder-length, oak-brown hair with a thick blue woollen glove, her interview smile never quite fading.

"I wouldn't know from experience," I began, holding my microphone close to my snout. "But it is well known that weather cycles on our homeworld are very similar, maybe even more extreme than that seen here. That's why our structures are so strong and secure. They need to withstand strong winds."

She grinned and nodded as I expected. "I thought you'd be freezing in bare feet!"

I pulled one from the depths of the snow. I doubted the cameras would catch image that far down, though. Maybe they did. "It is cold, but a nice campfire will warm me later. Though this is not my home area, I will be staying with this group for the night. They made a great campfire."

We had been talking for a while, having covered most of the main points that the media required. The new off-topic conversation was going a little far, and she veered us back. "This area of trees here… Where this new school is being constructed is where a road is going to be built, if the plans go ahead. Now, a lot of people a few years back would say that that simply wouldn't happen! Yellowstone has been protected land since the 1800's and nobody ever saw that changing. But now the State government is aiming to remove the protection status through federal court and will begin construction of a super highway if the ruling is made. My question is: Are they building in an attempt to interrupt those plans?!"

I shook my head, feigning innocence. "I think it's unlikely that the park's status will even be removed, Carly. My people know very little about it, other than the fact that some of their homes would be lost. They are fearful of that, because though we live a relatively peaceful life here, there are still many issues with regard to species integration. By far the majority of Humans are very kind and respectful, but as you know, there are also those who would want to hurt us. A close friend of mine was murdered recently. I saw it happen, but we never identified the murderers. Not only that, but the dangers that Human activities pose is something that we want to avoid. There is a Hork-Bajir stuck in a hospital with most bones in his lower body smashed from a collision with a van. My people have no concept of road safety and I don't think there is enough money around to put them all through classes. To clearly answer your question though: No. As far as I know, they are building these platforms here because of the conditions of the trees and the close proximity to the river."

"Well, some people have suggested that you have asked them to build here, since you know where the highway will be built."

"Some people have also suggested that we are lizard people bringing a new world order," I grinned, pleased at my own comparison. "My people made the decision before I had even arrived in this part of the park for the first time."

"So you didn't have any influence on the position at all?" She pressed for a clear answer.

I gave her one. "Not at all."

Another lie wouldn't hurt, would it?

She pulled her lips again to form a wide smiles and nodded her head forward. "Well, I hope the construction goes well, as well as your campaign."

"Thank you Carly." I said, returning to her a smile of my own.

"And thanks to you, too, Taku," She turned away to face the camera. "This has been Carly Willis reporting for CNN with Taku Kelmut from Yellowstone National Park. Back to the studio!"

The three cameras remained on for a few seconds before we were confirmed to be off-air. Then the pack-up began. Carly Willis, the controversial commentator who had come all this way to talk to me shuddered, now allowing the cold to bring about a reaction. "Wow! Ooh it's so cold up here. I can't wait to get back to that hotel."

"The temperature drops very low here, but it's glorious in the Summer months," I replied. "Even with the cold temperature, I thought that went pretty well."

She had given her microphone and various other equipment to one of her assistants. Now she was rubbing her gloves together and pulling her hat further down her head and pulling her coat zipper right to the very top. "Yeah, I guess. I've had worse interviews. I remember interviewing some Andalite official a few years back about Human use of Andalite-made weed killer. God it was boring, and that guy was such a smug asshole. I hate those guys!"

"I've never had the pleasure of meeting one." I informed, trying not to hint my lack of eagerness to do so.

"You aren't missing much," She huffed, standing from her foldaway chair and adjusting her cold feet in the snow. "Well, thanks Mr Kelmut."

"Taku," I interrupted. " Please call me Taku."

"Taku. It's been a pleasure, and I would stay longer but I don't want to die of pneumonia."

I laughed, finding that I was now almost instinctively attempting a Human laugh. I noticed her cringe slightly. "I understand. It has been an honour meeting you, Ms Willis. I've read many of your works. I admire those who are as firm in their political stances as you are."

She laughed, finally looking me in the eyes again. "Why, thank you, Taku. I would say the same, but I've never seen any articles. Something to come?"

"Yes," I nodded. "As you know, I'm new to this game."

Her eyes narrowed and she looked to me curiously. "Not that new…"

Of course, she hadn't yet brought up my previous interviews. Most people tended to avoid the subject. "I wasn't ready back then. Things are different now."

Carly wasn't totally convinced. I could see that in her puzzling eyes, but she said, "Sure," and nodded to avoid contrasting opinions.

I could see Clarissa in the corner of my eye, stood by a nearby tree, itching to give me my post-interview preen. She could wait a little longer, as could the camera crew. "Ms Willis, where are you based? I hope you don't mind me asking."

She didn't. "LA, but I have family based in New York. Why?"

Just as I had researched. "Oh? I may be in New York soon! It's possible that I'll be on a FOX news panel in a couple weeks' time to discuss this issue further."

"Really?" She added.

"Hopefully. If you're in town, maybe it would be nice to go for a meal somewhere. I'm sure we could discuss the latest events."

That last line was the clincher. I was hoping that the promise of more knowledge on a topic going nationwide would tug at her interest.

She smiled again and it seemed genuine enough. "Sure, Taku. I'll be around."

It was a very pleasing moment for me. It was such a pity when it was ruined. A rumbling, creaking noise filled the air from behind us. I swivelled my neck in time to see the newest section of platforms being built in the trees behind us crumpled into themselves, cracked and with a series of loud bangs snapped from their supporting trees and tumbled into the snow below. Several Hork-Bajir heads popped out from the trees above, quick to move in and inspect the damage.

"Strong and secure structures…" Carly tutted.

I tried to hide my embarrassment, but all I could utter was, "Perhaps they're having an off-day."

As I turned away to curse my own luck, I saw that Clarissa had made her way over. She stepped up to me and immediately started to inspect my claws. I let her without hesitation.

Carly was pursing her lips, something she wanted to ask trying to get through. It beat her. "Between you and me… You didn't plan this?"

My honest Hork-Bajir brain craved to be honest, but that would only serve as a detriment. "I didn't. Mistakes happen, but my people learn quickly from their mistakes."

She smiled. Maybe she believed me. Maybe she didn't. "Okay, Taku," She hummed, turning on her big black boots. "I guess I'll see you around."

She joined her camera crew and I was happy to take a breather with Clarissa. We wandered to the nearest tree and I sliced off the nicest bark I could see while Clarissa did her chores. I was eager to help with the damage from the fallen platform, but I got the feeling that Clarissa wanted to tell me something. I munched contentedly on my bark, waiting.

Thankfully, she smiled when she decided that she could spare some attention away from my arm blades. "So, Mr Kelmut, I have good news! While you were chatting to your new girlfriend, I got a call."

I gulped down whatever bark I had in my mouth. "Oh? Who from? And what do you mean by new girlfriend!?"

"I saw you chatting her up," Clarissa laughed nudging my side with her elbow and showing that sly look that Humans use when they believe they've figured out something secretive. "You invited her for a meal! In New York! You know, the whole different species thing is a bit weird, but, like, I'm thinking I shouldn't judge."

I shook my head urgently. "That was not what I intended at all! I think you've either gotten the wrong idea entirely or you're trying to play a game with me."

She had stopped laughing, but she was still highly amused. "Care to explain to me what you were doing, then?"

I grumbled and folded my arms. "I am trying to build contacts, Clarissa."

She snorted. "Contacts?! With that Carly… Whatserface?! Isn't she that reporter that called the President a terrorist and got everybody pissed?"

"Toby has a notebook full of influential people that she has met over the years. So far, it has been very useful to me, but now I think I need to start doing it myself. Even if she is controversial, she is on my side of this issue and I want her as an ally."

Clarissa sighed, which frustrated me further. "You can be just as stubborn as Toby, that's for sure." She proceeded to tap my left arm, asking for me to unfold them. I relented and let the issue slip by. It was nothing to argue about.

"I just hope she doesn't begin spreading rumours that I requested that these platforms be built here." I murmured, staring over at the wreckage nearby where my people were starting to salvage what they could.

Now Clarissa was the one to look annoyed. She had finished inspecting me and stood back to get better eye contact. "You did, Taku."

"I know I did. But nobody knows that other than you, me and the locals here."

"And what happens when some news reporter decides to ask one of the locals about who told them to build this here?"

I smiled and sliced of some more bark from the tree behind me. "Don't worry. I thought about that."

Clarissa had her hands on her hips. She raised an eyebrow, expecting more detail.

"If they get asked, they'll say that they need a new school."

She seemed confused by my confidence. "Uh, Taku. The second somebody asks who ordered this…"

"They won't say it was me," I chimed. "I told them that it was not me who wanted it."

Her look of cynicism didn't disappear. In fact, it grew. "So who did you tell them did want those new platforms here?!"

"Themselves."

She shook her head and gazed briefly to the ground in disbelief. "And they bought that?"

"Well, it did confuse them," I recalled, rubbing my snout. "But they accepted it and now they believe it."

"You lied to them."

"Please, Clarissa," I spoke gently, dropping the slab of bark I held, understanding that it might be a while before I could snack on it. "I'm doing this for them. Sure, I lied, but I'm doing it to protect them. When the highway plans go ahead, they won't care whose homes are here, the state government is going to cover this place in concrete. Maybe this isn't the best way to stop that, but I'm doing every little thing I can to get me closer to victory. Tell me, what would Toby do in this situation?"

Her angered look was still very present, but I felt that I was winning her over. "I guess she would do something similar… But who said she was always right, huh?"

I grinned and bounced on my feet to celebrate the little victory. It brought a chuckle from my disapproving supervisor.

"I'll tell you one thing that she never did, though," Clarissa said sternly to bring me back down to the ground. "She never took advantage of her own people. I'm still struggling to, you know, accept that."

"Pluk? You know that I spent plenty of time considering that," I replied. Convincing her on this point was becoming tiresome, even though I still had some deep inner doubts. "A Hork-Bajir is in hospital with injuries from a road accident. It's a perfect example to use when we're trying to stop them building a road here! And besides, what's going to happen? I've already made sure that the hospital doesn't get swarmed by the media. He's off-limits, and as soon as he has recovered he'll be back home in the park where, as far as most Humans are concerned, he'll just be another Hork-Bajir."

"Yeah, I get that. I still don't like it." She shrugged. It was clear that she had lost the motivation to carry the argument further.

I sighed. Though I understood that there would always disagreements, I hated to deal with them, especially with Clarissa. "I know, and I understand."

"Whatever," She huffed, releasing her arms and rubbing her hands together to gain some warmth. "When it all comes to bite you in the ass, I'll be there to make sure you don't screw more things up."

I grinned. "Nothing will screw up. You just wait and see, Human."

We started walking, slowly making our way over to the wreckage that my people were steadily clearing up. We made sure not to get in the way, and wandered off to the side where we could survey the area but not be overheard in our discussions. Even with the little disagreements and the name-calling that was becoming more and more frequent, Clarissa was still my closest friend. At least, the closest friend who understood most of the things that I said. I could tell her anything and expect an honest response, good or bad. I remembered initially finding her bluntness to be off-putting and repellent. Later, I considered it to be one of her better traits. Hardly different from Hork-Bajir bluntness, but with Human cynicism and judgement throw in.

"You've become such a politician," She giggled as we came to the end of a conversation about the redecoration of my office at the Yellowstone Centre. "Dear god, Taku, the colour of your walls shouldn't be such a big issue, you know! We don't need to have a vote!"

"I think it's only fair. How does that make me a politician?"

"I don't know… It's just, like, everything you say sounds so formal. And bullshit."

I smiled. "Surely not everything. And that doesn't make me a politician."

"It does," She contradicted. "What've you been reading? I keep seeing you reading stuff on your lunch breaks."

"Oh, those? They're nothing, really. Just some of Toby's old books. Some other ones." I mumbled, secretly rather embarrassed by the content of my own personal library.

"Politics for Dummies?" She grinned knowingly.

"You've looked through my books."

"Of course I have. Why wouldn't I?"

I grunted and hoisted my snout upwards. "Privacy, perhaps?"

"I don't get it, Taku," She spoke, totally ignoring my displeasure. "Why would you want to be a politician?"

"Wouldn't I be one if I became the Governor for my people?"

She looked upwards and then decided to change the question. "Why would you want to be like a politician? Nobody likes those guys!"

"They like Toby." I countered instantly.

"Yeah, because she's a war hero," Clarissa pointed out. "You realise that there have been people trying to assassinate her before?"

"I realise that, yes, but that isn't entirely down to policy. She is not corrupt and that is why she is much more favourable than the average politician."

"To most people, yeah," Clarissa said with a warning implication. "But not everyone."

"Enough." I concluded.

Her expression changed. It bore the look that she would usually give when she wanted to get me to think about something a little more deeply than it was. "You honestly think that acting like a politician is going to make people like you more?"

Admittedly, phrasing it in such a way made me reconsider. Even I, after my brief spell on the periphery of politics, had grown a distrust and often outright dislike of the majority of politicians. Slumping, I almost physically accepted defeat. "I just… Maybe I feel that acting in such a way allows me access to more influential people. I think that is essential."

"Yeah," She nodded. "It probably is. Act like some asshole politician when you're with the politicians. Be yourself when you're around normal people. I prefer normal Taku and I've been told that I'm, like, a good judge of character!"

"I trust your judgement. And I hate when you make me question myself."

She giggled. "It's my job, I guess."