Chapter 44

Clarissa certainly did have good news. In fact, it was excellent news. Things were really beginning to move forward in our plan to maintain the park's status as a reserve and making several appearances on a national stage would really be a boost to public awareness.

We had secured three major slots on widely broadcasted networks at peak times. I was a little sceptical of viewing figures at first, but having gone to my office later to do my research, it became apparent very quickly that it truly was the height of what could be attained. People were really beginning to take notice of our story and that was largely down to the Yellowstone team that had worked day and night to nag anybody in any sort of position they could find. The general curiosity of the population toward our people was also incredibly helpful, especially with Toby still missing. We had been in the headlines already for quite some time. In some ways, Toby's disappearance was a blessing.

I hated to admit it, but her disappearance had not only kept our people in the headlines as the searches and investigations continued (for which I had already been questioned several times), but it also served to elevate my own status. Despite inexperience, previous mistakes and lack of public appearances, I was seen more and more as the representative of my people as the days dripped by. It was the perfect time to capitalise.

My efforts had doubled after Clarissa gave me the good news. I took more time away from my family and friends to push onwards, securing a huge number of smaller public events. I was on at least three a day, ranging from local network interviews at the Yellowstone centre to radio show call-ins. I managed to find the log-in information for Toby's own blog, a website unambitiously named Hamee's Blog and began posting there. A simple, mindless blog post about what my favourite bark post on that site would fetch thousands of views alone! Within five posts, people had gotten over the initial shock and began to accept that I was the closest thing to a suitable placement in Toby's absence.

With Clarissa's help. I connected it to Twitter, to Facebook… To everything I could. Toby's YouTube channel, previously a bland shelf-piece with six two-hour-plus political debate recordings, was given a total makeover and I tried to update it daily, even if the video was a twenty-second rant about a broken photocopier.

I was quickly establishing myself in the public sphere. Everything that was Toby's was suddenly mine, including all the platforms she used to chant from.

Of course, this brought in criticism. My trivialisation of her social networks was seen as immature, an unpleasant blemish on her personal, more formal spaces. However, it was not as if everything I did was that way. I kept most of it at usual standard, especially blog posts where I would usually post updates about the media projects within the park and anything important with regard to the park's status. The most daunting criticism I had to face was the accusation of incapability. My previous showings on live television were still, and forever would be, a mark upon my reputation. No matter how wonderful my latest post, how relevant my latest tweet, how persuasive my last radio discussion, those interviews would be the first images in peoples' heads at the mention of my name.

That was very unfortunate, but I had to move along.

With the good news, of course, bad news wasn't too far behind. Increased tensions between the Humans and the Andalites was increasing motivations for xenophobic actions from certain groups. With the Andalites trying to force the Humans' hand in the war with the Kelbrid race by increasing military activity on the planet, more and more Humans were voicing their want for resistance. This complicated, confusing mess was quickly getting out of hand, and though we Hork-Bajir were not involved in the conflict directly, the xenophobic groups were using the situation as ammunition against any and all extra-terrestrial races.

Security at the park was heightened when threats were made against my people. The state governor and I put aside our differences briefly to discuss the options to better protect both Humans and Hork-Bajir at the park. I was told that my own activity needed to be cut so that I wasn't in any immediate danger. As the new face of the Hork-Bajir, I was seen as the most vulnerable to attack. That scared me.

But there had been no major incidents. The plans seemed to be working and my people were alert to the situation. I felt relatively assured that any major disasters would be avoided.

There was one little issue still on my mind, however: If the Human and Andalite alliance ended – hopefully no war would be involved, because it would likely be very one-sided – where would that leave my people? Our residence on Earth was largely due to a contract written up by the Andalite/Human alliance. If that ended, what would happen to us?

An issue for another day. I would have to do some research, probably later in the day. Maybe I was just being paranoid. I continued with my normal work.

I had just concluded an appearance on yet another internet podcast. This one was much bigger than the last, watched by multiple thousands. Overjoyed at the response and support that I had received, I kicked back in my big office chair and let my head lie back to look at the ceiling. The bare, white ceiling.

Licking at my lips and gulping to revive my throat after three hours of utilising my much-improved Human voice, I felt the need for change. The office was dull, impersonal. Toby's office next door was filled with plant life that was still being maintained, photographs and posters and… just general colour and intrigue. It would make my online discussions far more bearable.

After a stretch and a worry about my fitness after three days of office work, I pulled myself to my feet and gained a general overview of what needed to be done. Firstly, I needed some green around the walls. The plants in Toby's office were missing an owner, surely…

Stepping out onto the open floor, the sounds of bustling and keyboard tapping rush up to me both lower and upper levels. Nobody noticed my emergence, since my floor was almost deserted and I was almost blocked from view to anybody else. Not that it mattered. I moved a few feet along, bobbing my head to my own cheerful beat and opened up Toby's office. Thankfully, the room was still being cared for by the cleaners, so it hadn't been falling into disrepair. It was a simple chore, then, to relocate whatever I felt needed it. Potted plants were the first objects, of course. And since the room dimensions were almost identical, the task of delegating space was no issue whatsoever.

A few other objects followed, such as her tree-shaped clock, her multi-coloured paper clips and her novelty spaceship figurine. While searching through her drawers, I found her Earth Diary. I didn't expect it to be so big, but I put it aside for reading at a less busy time. I was sure that she wouldn't mind.

I thought that I had the finished project. Everything was moved that I thought needed to be moved. I bounced from door to door, peeking my head in to see exactly what was missing…

The photos framed on the walls! Of course, how could I forget?

Photos with Toby on them? I could take her plants, take her chair and take her spaceship, but I couldn't pretend that those photos were mine. They encircled the room, each one more inspiring than the last. They all depicted Toby in some way, either a governor headshot before an American flag or a photograph of her with famous faces, shaking hands or standing side-by-side as equals. I found it ever so strange that no matter who she stood beside, how smartly they were dressed, how astute their aura, she would always appear more formal and more dignified. How strange that a naked tree dweller could do such against a species' that was well-known for their ability to pull off a smart appearance. Maybe that was just my own personal bias.

I didn't have any framed photos of my own. My cheerful mood was rudely obstructed by the revelation and I concluded that it was time to head back to my own incomplete office. I flicked off Toby's light and closed the door, skulking back to my own.

It was as if I had returned to sobriety. The world around me became unfazed and the fact of Toby's earned properties became so obvious and unavoidable. When I stood in my doorway and looked into my office, I didn't see it. Toby's things lay everywhere, a cheap disguise to coat my bland walls.

I sighed. I was just being self-critical as always. All I wanted was colour for the room, something other than plastic white and beige carpeting.

I took my place back in my seat and pulled close the computer to relieve my troubled mind. It was open on my Facebook page, my own post from three hours ago about a new radio appearance at the top of the page, having garnered multiple new comments. The first knocked me.

You're no Toby Hamee.

It was so cruelly placed and suddenly my mind whizzed frantically, picking at my confidence like a group of vultures. I needed a moment to relax, to compose myself and regain whatever feelings I had prior. I closed the laptop and rolled my eyes upwards. I looked directly into Toby's piercing eyes as she leaned over the front of my desk.

I shrieked and flung myself and my chair backwards, the sudden appearance taking sharp advantage of my state.

And then I realised that it was just a fern. I had put the potted plant in front of my desk just a minute ago.

I rubbed at my face as I rolled back into my seat. Sometimes I feared for my own sanity, the abrupt delusions forever stabbing at my psyche. It was gone, so maybe some activity was in order. Sitting up straight, I opened the laptop fully as I decided to do the first blog post of the new week. I had plenty to update the followers on and my last three posts were brief opinions on my favourite plants and trees. I owed them a little more this time.

The light-blue background of Toby's blog page popped up and I followed the links to begin writing the next message.

Dear followers,

It's been a very busy couple of weeks. My last update perhaps didn't explain enough about the depth and thoroughness of the duties I had to fulfil with the film crews and reporters in Yellowstone. Hopefully you have seen some of the interviews in the news cycles or on YouTube! I thought they went pretty well, but I suppose that it's not up to me to decide that…

Aside from those interviews, I've also had to do a lot of micromanagement. As I am still working with the Yellowstone media department, I have done a lot of escorting and supervision for all those film crews. There seem to be more and more each day, which is very good! It means that our cause is gaining traction. At this point, I'd like to thank you all again from the bottom of my hearts for your support on behalf of all Hork-Bajir.

But things will change for a week. I'll be handing my duties over to the other staff at the Yellowstone Center. The reason is simple and wonderful: I'm going to New York!

(I left an emoticon of a smiling face after that sentence. It was a bad habit that I was beginning to perform instinctively.)

My supervisor came to me with this great news the other day. I will be on national TV on no fewer than three occasions! These occasions will be at peak time as well, somewhere between 5PM and 7PM on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, first week of March. Maybe I'll get some more air time here or there, but I am assured that those three interviews will go ahead.

I'm very excited to see New York! Not only for those interviews. I want to see some major landmarks, which of course means that I need to do some pleading at the feet of the numerous people that decide where I am permitted to go. Unfortunately, my blades can be quite a hindrance. If I am allowed to visit some places though, I'll be sure to meet people, so please come along and say hello! I don't bite!

It will also be interesting to visit the establishment where Toby once got arrested for intoxication. I still find that story very funny.

So that's the big news. Maybe it will be of great help to our cause. Everything seems to be going well so far, though I have not come across any major opposition. Nor have I heard much… anything from the Wyoming State Government. That's very curious. I thought they would be attacking from all sides. Perhaps they have nothing to attack, and from what I've seen, the majority is on our side. We don't want the park split by concrete and metal!

But even if they do come, I will do everything in my power to stop them. I have a little more power these days, so hopefully my new place as "pseudo-representative" – is that a good way to put it? I'm not so sure – will give me the voice I need to make a difference. There is nothing I won't do to maintain the homes of my people.

Hopefully I'll see some of you in New York. Or maybe you could come visit Yellowstone. Remember to book tickets early for some of the big events we have coming up, because they go very quickly! See you there!

Taku K

I was happy with the new entry, so I clicked submit. The typing space vanished and the post dropped onto a blue background at the top of the homepage. Now I could wait for comments to roll in for a general consensus of opinions. I didn't feel ready to tackle another file full of paperwork. I'd seen the Hork-Bajir Homes logo enough today that it made me feel sick just glancing at it.

Perhaps I could start putting things together to take to New York. Not that there was much in my room to take, and I was far past the idea of taking Toby's things now. I pulled open a big drawer to my right where I kept travel documents. As a Hork-Bajir, I didn't have passports or anything like that. What I had was more specific to extra-terrestrials and there was an awful lot of it. Piece by piece, I pulled out the bits that I needed and started to put them into a big pile beside my laptop.

The last piece I required was my travel security certificate, a big laminated piece of paper complete with photo and details of who I was and where I was permitted to travel under supervision. It was not very interesting, but what I brushed a finger against beneath it was. It was the wooden feel of a small luxury photo frame.

I retrieved it and turned the case over. The picture was instantly familiar, a perfect shot of myself with Mother and Father. It was the same picture that I had broken on a previous trip. How long had it been in the drawer? Clarissa had obviously put it in there expecting me to find it. I never took that much care when placing travel documents back in their place, so I had missed it.

My eyes drifted to the travel security certificate. Then I dropped it onto the pile, but I kept hold of the photo frame, my focus barely removed.

I had something to fill the empty space on the wall.