Pioneers

Roger hadn’t thought this through as clearly as one might given other circumstances. It would be fully known soon enough, and nothing he could do now would stop that. Try as he might want to turn back the clock, this was no time for wishful thinking. Going forward was the only remedy.

He looked around the rented hotel suite. His suitcase sat partially closed at the edge of the bed. Three articles sat on the bedside table. He embarrassingly stuffed them into the remaining space in the bag. How could I be so stupid? He thought, trying to minimize any remaining damage to be done. He grabbed the lint brush from the edge of the case and rubbed off the hairs still clinging to his paint legs.

The toilet flushed. Moments later, Cassandra emerged from the washroom, attaching her left earring as she flicked off the light and closed the door behind her. “So? What have you decided?” she asked calmly.

“I haven’t,” Roger replied.

“Haven’t what?” Cassandra asked.

“Haven’t decided. This is going to take on a life of its own anyway,” Roger sighed.

“Well you don’t have much time to cross that bridge,” Cassandra retorted, anger in her breath.

“I’m well aware of that,” Roger replied.

“Really, now,” Cassandra said, as she fished through her purse for her lipstick. “I could have guessed otherwise.” She couldn’t find the shade she was looking for, and went back to the washroom to search there.

Roger didn’t answer. He looked at the television. The rally had started. Placards bearing his name had risen amongst the clutter in the crowd, a swell of anticipation running through the convention centre. The anchor of the show was bantering with an expert on these things. The days’ headline was clear on the scroll across the bottom of the screen. “It all comes down to this.” In a moment, Roger’s handlers would be here, awaiting his departure for the acceptance speech. How today’s revelations would play out was unknown to him. A tinge of panic attacked him. He reached for the cellphone on the desk and flipped it open. No new messages. In his small moment of hesitation, Roger dialed the only number that mattered right now. Three rings later, a female voice answered.

“Peter Dreadwell campaign,” said the cheerful woman on the other end.

“It’s me, Raquel. I need to speak to Pete,” Roger said.

“Uh, he’s in makeup. Let me see if I can get him,” the woman replied.

“It’s urgent,” he answered.

A few seconds past. Silence on the other line. Cassandra came out of the washroom. When she saw him on the phone, she hesitated, and then spoke. “I hope you’re doing what I think you’re doing.”

“Shh,” he beckoned to her. Finally, a voice on the line.

“Roger I have fifteen minutes before I speak. What is it?” the man said.

“Pete I need to tell you something before we accept,” Roger replied.

“What is it!?” Peter shouted back.

“Pete, they know,” Roger answered, trying to muffle his voice as if it would make a difference.

“Who knows?” Peter replied, this time much calmer.

“The papers. The opposition. The staff. It’s going to spread. How much time, I don’t know. But it’s out there,” Roger said.

“How can you be so certain?” Peter said.

“Cassandra just heard it from her insider in the Daily’s newsroom. Apparently it got leaked by someone from the hotel last weekend,” Roger said.

“Any idea how much time we have?” Peter answered, calculating.

“Maybe an hour. Two at tops. Just after the speeches, I am guessing,” Roger said.

A long pause. Roger hesitated on the phone. “Should I call the ship?”

“Yes, alert them. I am going to think up some revisions to my speech. We don’t have much time. Hurry down here to the stage when you can,” Peter answered. “And I mean hurry.”

“Yes, Pete,” Roger replied, and hung up the phone. He let out a great sigh. “Well, that is over. Can you call the ship for me?” he asked Cassandra.

“You’re asking a lot. But that wouldn’t be the first time,” she said. She took her communicator out of her luggage and set it up on the desk. “You better hurry. Get downstairs.”

Roger agreed and grabbed his suit jacket. A tuff of fur tumbled out of a pocket on the floor behind him, but he failed to notice. He opened the door just as the handlers came up the hallway.

“We’re ready for you, Mr. Stead,” said the younger one, puffing slightly from the pace.

“I’m ready too,” Roger replied, without much convincing in his voice.

The handlers walked in front of Roger as they made their way down the hallway. They took the elevator to the first basement floor of the hotel. There, additional staff were waiting and grabbed ahold of Roger’s arms as soon as he stepped out onto the floor. “Mr. Stead, we have makeup in two minutes and then you’ll be seated at the edge of the stage,” said one of the staff.

“Where is Peter?” Roger asked.

“He is already rehearsing with his staff. Last minute changes to the speech, apparently. We don’t have much time. Come this way please,” said the staffperson.

Roger followed and sat in the brightly lit makeshift makeup station. An artist applied some basic powder and concealer. His forehead was particularly shiny from sweat. “Getting nervous, huh?” said the woman, cheerfully.

“Always a few jitters before a moment like this,” Roger replied, trying to smile.

“You’ll be fine. Just picture them all naked!” laughed the makeup artist. Such a terrible, useless old joke, Roger thought. Especially in his case.

After a quick application, Roger was rushed out of the makeup chair and next to the stage. As he walked forward, he noticed Cassandra exiting the elevator. “Roger! I have to speak with you! Now!” she bellowed.

He paused and turned back. “What is it?” he asked.

“Let’s go and find Peter,” she said.

Roger looked at the aid next to him. “Where is Peter rehearsing those changes?”

“He’s in the prep room next to the stage, but… he’s not to be disturbed,” the aid hesitated.

“Take us there, now,” Roger commanded.

The aid flinched at the directness. He escorted Roger and Cassandra to the prep room. He held open the door for the two to enter and then scurried away, afraid to have made a gross miscalculation.

Peter looked up from the paper he was reading from. “What is it?” he said directly at the pair.

“Cassandra just spoke with the ship, and said she needed to inform us of their commands,” Roger replied.

“Well, not exactly,” Cassandra interrupted. “But they did have this to say.”

“What?” Peter asked, belligerently.

“Don’t tell them about the kitten eating at first. They are pretty sure the humans will not respond well to that,” she answered.

“I wasn’t going to,” Peter replied. “It’s going to be enough of a shock.”

Roger was relieved. He had secretly hoped it wasn’t going to be worse. There was a chance the commanders on the ship would have required something much more of them – perhaps, to withdraw their joint candidacies, or flee, or worse – to caution the human race for an attack.

“Should we tell the rest of the staff now?” one of Peter’s aids asked.

“No. They should find out like everyone else,” Peter replied.

“Okay. Just checking. Because this suit is really itching on my scales,” the aid replied.

“Well keep it on. You don’t have to wait much longer,” Roger answered. He, too, was frustrated with the suit he was wearing, but just like in the past, he had to get through another day with it on. After tonight, it might not matter anymore.

“Are you ready, Roger?” Peter asked, noticing his eyes shifting around the room. “I made appropriate amendments to the speech.”

“As ready as I probably ever could be,” Roger replied.

“I’ll be right out the side,” Cassandra added. “Just get through the initial shock and… play it from there.”

“Could we have a moment, then?” Peter asked the others in the room. “I need to talk to Roger in private.”

The staff acknowledged their boss’ need and left quietly.

“We made it this far. There is no turning back now,” Peter said to his friend. “Even that is impressive.”

“I know,” Roger answered. “It’s just going to be so.. different. Do you think they have a clue what’s coming?”

“What, that a couple reptilian kitten eaters are running for the leadership of the United States? They haven’t got a chance!” Peter laughed. “But you know what? I don’t think it’s going to matter. They would vote for a fence post if it promised as many tax cuts as we have.”

“I hope you’re right,” Roger said, a slight sign of relief that the moment had arrived. “Come on, go get ’em.”

The door opened. The applause awaiting their arrival on the stage had swollen to a feverish pitch. The two newcomers to the country made their way. Pioneers, Roger thought, as Peter took the podium and began beaming with excitement.