Chapter 5: Robin
Relax your shoulders, Robin Libera thought to himself. The mantra served multiple purposes. First, his shoulders had been tensing up over the last three weeks, ever since he heard of Guru Macaab’s assassination. Preparation for the campaign was stressing him harder than any other life experience. Relaxing his shoulders, he could only hope, would help to dissipate some of the tension perpetually building up in his neck and causing headaches. Secondly, during debates and interviews many of the audience members would be examining his posture and analyzing whether he was stressed, or even lying. Robin needed a relaxed posture at all times to give off a good vibe in the eyes of the media.
Reaching the wall at the end of the room, Robin inhaled deeply, then revolved around to continue walking back and forth.
“Eventually, you have to be able to do this without pacing,” Toni said. “You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know,” Robin responded, “but not for another week and a half. Until then, I just need to get comfortable fielding questions. Give me the next one.”
Toni peeked at her e-tab and scrolled down again. “Guru Macaab was one of the longest-tenured and most well-respected leaders this country has ever seen. How do you expect to fill the shoes of someone with such a reputation, especially considering your age?”
Each of these questions had an underlying agenda, which was why Toni recommended they focus on them rather than the typical questions asked every election, and that Robin knew the obvious answers to. This question in particular was meant to assess Robin’s empathy and ego. They had discussed this previously, and decided if he was asked a question at all similar to this he should put the focus on Macaab and not on himself.
Murder was such a rare occurrence, considering how absolutely necessary it was for everyone to look out for each other’s survival. But to suddenly take the life of a guru was unheard of. The most recent assassination attempt on a guru was half a century ago, and that was unsuccessful. More importantly, it happened in Tuershen, where murder was more common. Fenicia was supposed to act as the quintessence of the new world, thought to be untouchable even to the The Fire Men. This event, on Fenician soil, was unlike any before. To downplay such a heinous act in the public eye would be detrimental to Robin’s run to take the guru’s place.
Robin continued to pace, but stared up into the distance as he paced, pretending to speak to a large audience. “Guru Macaab was a superlative leader. The influence he had on this country as a guru may never be duplicated in our lifetime. I cannot make any claim I will successfully fill his shoes. They are some difficult shoes to fill, as you said yourself. I can only hope to continue his legacy by following his ideologies. We may have disagreed on a few specific issues, but we have more similarities than differences. His determination and dedication were unparalleled. That paired with his concern for the well-being of every individual in this country was what made him a guru to be idolized by all citizens, including myself. If I can be half the man or the leader Guru Macaab was, I think I would still exceed expectations. As for my age, I know twenty-eight is young for a position such as a guru, but allow me to remind everyone Guru Macaab himself was twenty-six when he became a guru. There is more to being a guru than age. I intend to follow Macaab’s footsteps in that manner as well.”
“Well said,” Toni said with a radiant smile. “I felt it. It felt real.”
“It was real,” Robin said, looking at her quizzically. When he saw the sincerity in Toni’s face, he realized he mistakenly interpreted her comment as sarcastic.
“I know,” Toni said, “that’s what I meant. Do you want to do it again without pacing this time?”
“No,” Robin said, “I’ll just take the next one.”
“Okay. This next one is a little bit more difficult…Guru Macaab was gaining interest in funding for secondary assignment research, while your opponent seems to be adamantly against it. What is your take on secondary assignment therapy?”
Robin stopped pacing for a moment and rubbed his neck. “You’re right. That is a good one.” He turned to Toni, whose expression did not change. A few more seconds of thought, and he went for it. “Secondary assignment therapy is an appealing idea; especially to epicenes who may have miscarried their first therapy. Outside of Fenicia, they make up quite a large population. That’s what made Guru Macaab such a respected leader, his main concern was for the good of any and all people. I can agree with wanting what’s best for everyone. But in some regards I can also agree with my opponent, as there are other issues I feel must be addressed before secondary assignment therapy. There are children who are losing their parents to natural causes before they reach their teens. And there are not enough people willing to adopt these children and ensure their well-being. That tears at my heart. I would rather put money into pursuing quality health care and improving results of primary assignment surgery before making secondary assignment therapy a priority.”
“Would you be more willing to consider secondary assignment research if your andy decided to feminate?”
Robin halted midstride and turned before reaching the wall. He faced Toni and his volume elevated. “Why the fuck would you bring my son into—” Robin was so busy taking the defensive he forgot Toni was only doing her job. He was doing so well until this point, and didn’t remember Toni was still in character when she asked.
It wasn’t completely unheard of for parents to treat their child as male or female long before they reach declaration age. It was thought to make the transition easier for the child once they came of age. Unfortunately for Robin, this practice was uncommon, because allowing the child to choose their own sex was empowering, which was important at a malleable age. Robin, for this reason, was in the minority. He should have known this subject would be brought up. Sadly, the family practices of potential leaders were not off limits when it came to interviews with politicians.
“I’m so sorry,” Robin said, his face in honest supplication.
“It’s okay,” Toni said with a reassuring smile. “I know you only snap when you’re stressed or tired. Right now, you’re both, which makes you the most vulnerable. That’s why I asked it.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Robin said. He ambled over to his desk, near where Toni was sitting, and stabilized himself with both hands. “This is really overwhelming for me. I keep thinking we won’t be able to pull this off. Charli has been preparing her campaign for the last three years, and I know if I’m in the running I’ll be running against her.”
“But Charli Phelps is not you,” Toni said as she stood up. “You are the best person for this position. She has the experience, yes, but she doesn’t have the character or the charisma you have. As soon as I heard you had a chance to become Guru I came straight over. Do you know why?”
“Because I’d fire you if you didn’t,” Robin said.
“Yes,” Toni admitted, “and do you know why else?”
“Because I pay you.”
“Okay. Why else?”
Robin couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Mocking Toni’s tone, he said, “Because you believe in me.”
“Because I believe in you,” Toni repeated. “So do thousands of people out there who are waiting for you to take charge. There are only nine gurus in the entire country at any given time, and it’s not random you have the chance to become one. There’s more to campaigning than just time committed. You’re going to become the guru because everyone knows you deserve it. Everyone except you.”
“With a motivational speech like that, you should run for Guru. Wanna switch places?”
“Yeah,” Toni said, laughing from the belly. “I’m sure you’d love taking care of my husband and four kids.”
“Four?” Robin said, “I thought you had five children?”
It was rare for two parents to have three children, let alone five. Toni and Borton were an anomaly. Therefore, it was easy to remember how many children they had. Each one was an amazing feat in itself, and it seemed like they were not planning on stopping anytime soon.
Toni lifted her right hand and exposed the dermal piercings along the palmar aspect of her forearm. There were six piercings all in a line extending halfway to her elbow. Closest to her hand was a white pearl stone, representing her marriage to Borton. The five others represented her children. Four were black obsidian for her andies, and closest to the pearl was an iron stone. She pointed to the iron, representing her son. “One is away at school. He can take care of himself.”
“Oh, right,” Robin finally recalled. “Well…If you really were to switch places with me, what would you do?”
“I’d tell myself to go home for the day. We’ve been at this for the last three days, and I don’t think we would be any more productive if we stayed longer than if we were to go get some sleep. Plus, I haven’t seen my family in a long time.”
Robin wasn’t willing to admit he was not simply asking what to do in that moment, but in general. He just went with what Toni said instead. “Yeah, good idea. I can’t think of the last time I saw Patruka.” When he tried to remember when he last spoke to his wife, he honestly had no idea. If being a guru was anything like running for the position, he wasn’t going to enjoy being away from his family so often for such extended periods of time.
“In that case, I’m gonna leave before you change your mind.” Toni walked over to Robin and the two of them embraced in farewell.
“Thank you for everything, Toni.”
“It’s what I do.”
As Toni exited the office, Robin watched. His eyes hardly left the sex identity tattoo on her neck. Thinking back to her dermal piercings, he wondered how someone like Borton could end up with a wife like Toni. She was strong, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The trifecta was near impossible in this day and age. Yet Borton was the one who got lucky. In another lifetime, Robin and Toni could have been a power couple, maybe even soulmates. Instead, they were running mates, and their relationship was strictly platonic. They had a deep respect for each other, obviously. But it would go no further.
Robin and Patruka were married shortly after their andy was born. The two of them decided to treat nem like a boy, the way parents used to before the SHF Era. Robin was the only one who stuck with it, and became a bit overzealous. Especially now, since Adam was beginning to understand ne had more of a choice than Robin used to allow nem to believe. To this day, it was the only thing Robin and Patruka had fought over, but would not be the last.
By the time Robin left the office, Toni was long gone. Robin’s brand-new bodyguard, Otius, was right outside his office door. Robin was still not used to seeing him. He was a pretty large man, and was only assigned to Robin after the guru’s assassination. It didn’t feel necessary to Robin, but he also didn’t want to end up sorry rather than safe. Otius was good company, so it wasn’t a horrible arrangement.
“Hey, Otius,” Robin said, “I’m ready to head back home. Can you escort me?”
Otius nodded. “I’ll ready the horses.”
Taking after Macaab, Robin did not have a grandiose home. It blended into the neighborhood, and nobody would know it belonged to the Liberas unless they saw Robin ride up to it on his horse. Whatever green paint had not chipped off was faded to the point of translucency. The inside looked more like an apartment than a house. This never bothered Robin. A swanky two-story wouldn’t fit his taste.
Otius rode next to Robin the whole way home. His horse was much bigger, as was necessary to carry his weight.
Dismounting, Robin said, “I don’t think I’ll go in to work until late tomorrow. You can either come by in the afternoon or take the day off.”
“I’ll see you in the afternoon,” Otius responded.
It was worth a shot, Robin thought to himself. He should have known Otius wouldn’t take the chance of leaving him unguarded. Still, Robin offered it to him every day, and would continue to do so indefinitely.
Adam was sitting on the couch inside when Robin strolled into the house. When Robin saw nem, he gave an enthusiastic open-mouthed smile, and expected one in return from his eleven-year old andy. Only he didn’t receive one. Instead, Adam put a finger to nir lips. This could only mean one thing: Patruka was sleeping.
Patruka was a bit of an insomniac. This was partly by choice, and partly a condition she learned to accept. But Robin and Adam could always tell when she had gone too long without sleep. Her mood changed drastically. So, whenever she actually fell asleep, it was of utmost importance not to do anything to rouse her. Still, after giving Adam a hug, Robin couldn’t help but get a peek at her.
Tiptoeing, Robin approached the door to their bedroom. The door was cracked open, which made it easier to open without waking his wife. She was covered in sheets with the exception of her head and right arm, which she used to hold the blankets to her chest. She was laying on her left side, so Robin didn’t have to come in to see her precious face. Her long brown hair flowed down her back. There was a hint of a smile in her slumbering expression. Robin could tell Patruka had been getting the best sleep over the last three weeks than she had for years. The Libera’s did not have any appearances to make around the country, so they were taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep whenever they could. Afraid to make any noise, Robin returned the door to its original resting position and ambled back to where Adam was sitting.
“Did you eat already, son?”
“Yes, Dad,” Adam said. Ne looked a little perturbed Robin called nem “son,” since it implied ne was a male.
“Good,” Robin said with a smile, failing to ignore Adam’s reaction. “Do you mind if I sleep next to you here?”
“No,” Adam said.
“Thanks,” Robin said, leaning back into the couch with his head toward Adam. “Wake me up if you need anything, alright?”
Robin began drifting toward sleep immediately. His mind wandered, but he wouldn’t recall any of the places it went. If anything, he might remember the phrase that had been going through his head for the last three weeks.
Guru Robin Libera.