Home Sweet Home
By Minna S. Lunney
"They can’t treat us like this."
Most of the ThunderCats gathered around the Cats Lair conference table acceded the statement by Ben Gali silently, and a few murmured their agreement. Each felt a heavy emotional burden with the news of one kitten’s passing and the other’s plush confinement, along with a heavy sense of injustice. They sat stone-faced, hardly daring to look at one another in the fear of a mutual outburst. "Just who do they think they are?"
"I don’t care who or what they think they’re being. In my book, this is a hostage situation," Panthro snarled.
"I think we all agree that we must find some way to reason with these Latcrisians. So far, they are unwilling to see things from any other perspective save their own," Tygra calmly interjected, eyeing the panther. "We’ve got to convince them that Wilykat and Wilykit belong back with us— and were never theirs to decide for in the first place."
"Unfortunately, they don’t need to listen to us," Cheetara pointed out quietly. "They’re holding all the cards— the ThunderKittens, of course, and their whereabouts are unknown."
"I’ve tried using the Sword of Omens to locate Latcris," explained Lion-O. "Whatever they’re using to block out the rest of Third Earth, it also works against Sight Beyond Sight."
"Some kind of electromagnetic field, then?" suggested Pumyra.
"Not likely. Under a field like that, it would be impossible for them to communicate with us, much less run anything electrical," Panthro countered.
"Perhaps not," Lynx-O jumped in. "Perhaps, being as sophisticated as they claim, they managed to find some way around that... some other type of field, or an alternate power source—"
"Oh, this isn’t getting us anywhere," moaned Snarf from the windowsill upon which he and his nephew were perched. "We need to concentrate on communicating. There has to be something we can say to get them to listen."
"Threats are out. So is plain old reason," the ThunderCat lord remarked humorlessly. "They act as though they’re a level above everyone on Third Earth."
The comment sparked an idea in the architect’s mind. "Then that is precisely how we will treat them."
"What?" Ben Gali was incredulous. "Can you explain that?"
"As we spoke to Forn last evening, it was obvious that he only truly listened to us when we agreed with his... logic." Tygra leaned forward in his chair for emphasis. "If we’re going to have any chance of bringing home the kittens, we will have to relate with these people the way they in which they think is only natural— namely, as our betters. Once they’re lulled by our subordinate manner, we can decide on a more aggressive plan of action."
"Sounds good to me," the cheetah remarked with a weak smile.
"I think so, too," Panthro chimed in. "I just hope I can control myself."
Lion-O nodded encouragingly. "Well then, let’s contact Forn. We need to persuade him to allow us a visit with Wilykat. That way we’ll at least learn the location of Latcris, and we may even be able to take back both of the kittens in the process."
"That could be wishful thinking," Lynx-O cautioned, "but it is definitely worth a try."
Tygra began operating switches alongside his part of the table that activated a lowering viewscreen. His gaze turned to the snarfs upon the sill. "I don’t mean to be rude, but the two of you had better leave the room. Forn didn’t seem to take too kindly to Snarf last evening, and we don’t need him to be wary of our intentions before we can even begin."
"Eh, I guess you’re right, snarfer snarfer," the younger of them acquiesced somewhat reluctantly. "Let’s go, Unc."
"Hmph! I didn’t want to see that pale rascal again anyway," Snarf asserted with a low purr as the two bounded out of the room, their voices trailing down the hallway.
"Hehehe, sour grapes!"
"Snaaaarf! What’s that supposed to mean?"
The screen was primed for use. Everyone sat up a little straighter, and the wise lynx’s ears twitched expectantly. "Go ahead, Lion-O," invited Tygra.
The leader raised his voice appropriately. "This is Cats Lair hailing Forn of Latcris. Do you read?"
The video display flickered moments later, then displayed a pretty young female with pink-blue hair and eyes. "The Executive is not present at the moment," she responded civilly after she had glanced them all over curiously. "If you’ll please wait, I shall see if he is available to speak with you."
"He damn well better be," Panthro murmured as the woman disappeared from sight, slamming a fist into the open palm of his other hand.
Ben Gali growled, more than a little disgruntled himself. "How long is this going to take?"
"Patience," hissed Tygra in an admonishing tone.
They were kept on hold approximately five minutes before the all-too-familiar Latcrisian appeared. "Greetings, ThunderCats," he began wearily, as though he had so many more interesting things that demanded his attention. "I must say, your swift correspondence comes as a bit of a surprise."
"Yes... well, this matter is of great concern to us," Lion-O returned with veiled contempt. "We’ve been discussing something that we would like to implement— with your approval, of course."
"Ah, I see. Do tell what you and your mockery of a democratic body have been plotting."
Sensing the anger building up around him, the tiger stepped into the fray. "As head of the ThunderCat Council, I shall now speak on its behalf. We ask that you allow us to visit Wilykat."
Forn was silent for a few moments. "I’m not so sure of your motives."
"Completely understandable." Tygra was amazed at his own sycophantic ability; he had been worried that he would not come off sounding so genuine. "Which is why we shall allow you to dictate the terms of the visit."
"I have yet to hand over my approval."
"I recognize that. But you have the boy’s best interests at heart, do you not?" he prodded. "I’m sure that if you were to ask him, he would agree to it."
The Executive paused again, studying the Council leader relentlessly with his piercing yellow gaze. However, his attempts failed to unnerve the negotiator, whose amber gaze was placid, almost affable, but refused to waver. "What guarantee do I have that this is not some sort of trick to apprehend the lad?"
It was with obvious difficulty that Tygra made his next, irrevocable plea. Realizing that it was his only option if the conversation were to continue, and hoping that the others would understand, he swallowed tensely before speaking. "You have my solemn oath as a ThunderCat that no effort will be made by any of us to take Wilykat from Latcris during the visit."
Forn was unwillingly impressed. "You seem a man of your word. Perhaps there is some good in you people after all. Very well, you shall be allowed to visit in three weeks’ time. Only two of you may make the journey, and those two may stay no longer than the duration of twenty-four hours. If you prove trustworthy, later visits may be scheduled at my discretion. Please tell me now whom you will send so that I may begin to make arrangements."
The ThunderCats turned toward each other, conversing in private tones. "Who’s to say who is most fit to go? Jaga knows we all want to," began Ben Gali.
"The decision is yours, Lion-O," spoke Lynx-O.
The youth thought carefully before speaking. "We will send Cheetara and Pumyra. The two of you are probably the slowest to anger, and a display of maternal concern may help us later on."
The women nodded deferentially, and Lion-O announced his decision to Forn. "Is there any chance that we may also acquire Wilykit? We would like her final resting place to be closer to home." He figured he might as well try for one kitten if he could not have both.
"Perhaps. I shall give it some thought. If that’s all you wished to discuss, I take my leave." That old uninterested look returned to his countenance.
"Yes, that was all. Thank you, Forn. Cats Lair out." Tygra deactivated the viewscreen.
Panthro’s eyes narrowed. This time, his words echoed the mutual feeling of the group. "It may be the only way, but I hate having to grovel to that arrogant bastard."
The Executive had waited until the last minute to relate the news of the visit to his new ward, and he had hardly expected the ecstatic reaction he had received. For the young boy, the morning of the female ThunderCats’ arrival could not come quickly enough. Forn had difficulty understanding. Were not these the persons he fled from twice? Was he not treated well in his new home?
‘Oh yes, very well thank you...’
Then silence had reigned for a few moments before he had slipped back into the guestroom. Certainly he had not been insincere... but something was most definitely wrong. What, then? On the dawn of the boy’s twenty-fourth day in his new environment, the question had gnawed so on Forn’s conscience that it woke him unreasonably early. He lay still in bed, scarcely conscious of his wife’s presence beside him, and reflected on the past days’ events, hoping for an answer. Though he could hardly imagine how young Wilykat could possibly be unsatisfied.
Forn had been positive that the start of the boy’s schooling would amuse him. The educational facility was the very finest Latcris had to offer: an ideal place for a child who seemed bright and eager to learn. Though he shared no classes with Cale, the guardian was confident that he could make several friends, as he was exotic and foreign, a unique minority among his peers. But as the days passed, the boy grew increasingly unenthusiastic. It became a great task to rouse him from his bed, and he ignored his assignments. Every now and then the Executive thought he saw bruises and scratches on his arms and legs. Once Merra had sent him off to school with an embrace, and he had winced terribly, with a convulsive spasm that had frightened the poor woman. He had dismissed his reaction as due to a very old injury, but Forn was not so sure.
Cale took him to a lovely park not too far from the Ministry each afternoon. Of course, he had to do away with the barbarism that still clung to him before entering the public, and Merra had recognized it too. ‘If you are going out,’ she had wheedled brightly, fingering the sleeve of his tunic just after he had changed out of his school uniform and into it, ‘you may want to put on something else first.’ And so he had gone to Cale’s room and clothed himself in a manner similar to his son’s for such a purpose: black. All black, the symbolic Latcrisian "do not disturb;" otherwise the media would have had a field day with them. Everyone knew that. The days were bright, sunny, and sweltering this time of year; it had been especially so the past few days. Wilykat must have enjoyed himself. There most likely had been droves of reporters huddled around, examining their every move, but they would not have been permitted to snap a picture or ask a question. Freedom from total observation in the public eye was quite comforting.
Of course, he could not have stayed out of the news forever. It was only a matter of time when his picture and name began to surface— in newspapers, on viewscreens, virtually everywhere. But that was the price one paid for prestige. Forn had long ago grown accustomed to the attention he personally received as head of state, and so had his family, which was also carefully scrutinized. They had not minded in the least when their words and images began appearing alongside the Thunderian’s. Satuu had, in fact, been most pleased. ‘Look! You’re on the news with us!’ she had exclaimed the first time as she jumped in place and grasped his arm excitedly with both hands. Forn had looked on with concern when in response Wilykat had wrenched himself from the grip awkwardly and backed away from the viewing-screen a few paces, turning pale. He figured it would take a little while for the boy to adjust. Perhaps his daughter had made him nervous. She had been lavishing a great deal of attention on him since his arrival.
In his spare time, the boy had at first been quite helpful and attentive to Merra, generally doing things only when she had suggested them. As of late, however, he had grown increasingly withdrawn, holing himself up in the guestroom for hours on end. Forn could only imagine what the lad did in the confines of that small chamber, devoid of most everything save the old clothing he and his wife had cajoled him out of ever wearing again, much to their relief. Once, when the coast was clear, Merra had scoured his room and found it basically in order but for a stack of books hidden underneath the bed that she recognized had come out of their library. Most of them were innocuous, but one contained a listing of various toxic plants. Alarmed, she had shown it to Forn, and he had swiftly returned it to the library and concealed it, uncaring of whether or not Wilykat would notice the missing book. Obviously his old subjects and means of learning still held appeal for him. He would have to be trained out of it.
The Executive supposed he had to concede on one point. The boy was terribly upset about his sister. He asked for news of her every day, and the caretaker was pressed to conjure more and more excuses.
She still has a fever...
Her fever is much better today, I’ve heard, but there is still a great deal to be done about the frostbite...
No, lad, they cannot heal her as quickly because physically she is nowhere near as strong as you are...
They’ve told me she can see quite well, but still has no appetite and they cannot release her until— oh, I’m sure you could persuade her to eat, but she her condition has developed into something very contagious and we cannot very well allow you to get sick, can we?
They rarely served to satisfy Wilykat, but there was little he could do except listen and remain hopeful. Concern for his sibling gave him an increasingly pinched and anxious appearance. Oftentimes he stared off into space, and the Latcrisian wondered if she was ever far from his mind. But all this was surely preferable to having told him the truth initially.
Forn sighed. Whatever strange, detrimental hold his former caretakers had on the kitten, it was very difficult to break.
And now two of the wretches were on their way to visit.
And the boy could not be happier.
His values had obviously been corrupted by the base creatures who had raised him. It would take a great deal of time before he recognized the rightness of his new life, and learned to appreciate it.
He will forget them and be at peace, he assured himself. It is only a matter of time.
On to Chapter Five
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