Home Sweet Home

By Minna S. Lunney

Chapter Six
Debriefing


Upon returning to Cats Lair, Cheetara and Pumyra first had the small coffin unloaded from the Feliner’s cargo hold— Forn had let them take back Wilykit’s remains after all— then retired to their bedrooms in their respective bases with hardly a word to anybody. Each of them slept a good long while, puzzling their comrades. What could have exhausted them so? they wondered; and they were all dying to know the particulars of the visit, especially whatever had happened after the communicator had been confiscated.

At the Tower of Omens, Ben Gali and Lynx-O were initially unconcerned, certain that their friend would soon rejoin them. But when it seemed that she had slept long and soundly enough to put the average coma to shame, the former took it upon himself to find out once and for all what was going on.

Pumyra grumbled something unintelligibly as she heard the rapping upon her door, shifting slightly under the covers until she lay on her stomach. She had such a headache... she reached her hands underneath her pillow, cupping it to the side of her face. Maybe she had not really heard that.

"Pumyra? Are you all right?"

Ben Gali. There was no mistaking that rasp. "Fine," she replied, yawning a little.

"May I come in?"

That galvanized her. "Hold on a minute!" She leapt out of the bed, quickly slipping her brown dress over her bare body. She did not bother with the rest of the costume; he would understand. "Okay."

He entered with caution and respect, watching as she pulled her bed-sheets straight and neatly into place once more. "Do you realize how long you’ve been asleep?" he ventured.

"Too long, I suppose," she replied with a small laugh. "It was a long trip. Very long... and very tiring." Her head throbbed harder, as though in agreement.

"May I sit down?"

"Of course." She dragged over a chair for him, then reclined on her bed, coiling her bare legs off to once side. "Was there something you wanted to discuss?"

"Well... yes. What exactly went on during your visit to Latcris?"

Pumyra sighed. She wondered about Cheetara, who more than likely had, was having, or would have a similar conversation with her peers at Cats Lair. Where would be the best place to begin?

Try the beginning, you idiot.

Oh, right. She knew that. Her head must still be foggy.

"It was… very strange, to say the least." She paused a bit to formulate her thoughts. "There is something on Latcris called the ‘media’ that seems to dominate the lives of every citizen. There are daily publications and broadcasts to inform the public of goings-on, but all the attention is focused on things that don’t really concern them. Their culture seems to dictate that if there’s something you can stick your nose into, no matter if it relates to you or not, then by all means do it."

"So… this media went after you and Cheetara," the tiger conjectured.

"Yes, in the form of ‘newspersons.’ It was insanity, Ben Gali— there had to be hundreds of them, maybe thousands, all trying to get us to talk to them about the ThunderCats and especially about Wilykat."

He paled— no mean feat for a white tiger. "If they hounded you, just imagine what they must do to him."

"I really don’t want to think about it." Pumyra looked down. "Poor kitten."

"Are they treating him well there, at any rate?"

"It looks that way," she replied. "But they’re still lying to him about his sister. They made us leave before Cheetara could tell him the truth."

"But hours passed between the time your communication with Cats Lair was cut and your return." He hit upon another point that had been bothering him. "What delayed you?"

"Take a wild guess." She massaged her temple with a hand. "Forn took us to speak with a large group of newspersons. I think he called it a ‘press conference.’ At any rate, it was a very long question-and-answer session."

"What did they ask you?"

"You might as well phrase that, ‘What didn’t they ask you?’" She tried to restrict the bitterness in her tone— after all, none of it was his fault— but failed. "Someone wanted to know how our names were spelled, no doubt so they can write about us later. Someone else asked what our intentions were in bringing the communicator. How she had known about that already, I don’t have a clue. And then another person wondered about certain rumors he’d heard. I won’t repeat them, but believe you me, they were preposterous."

And upsetting, Ben Gali added privately, a little startled that she was on the verge of tears. "I take it that somehow we made a bad impression on them."

"No. They’ve been isolated and technologically superior for so long that xenophobia is practically a part of their genetic makeup. To them, we’re lesser than dirt, and just about as ethical. They don’t want to hear about the Code of Thundera; they want to know how often we’ve ‘exploited’ Wilykat. Jerks… they get pure pleasure out of convincing themselves that they’re doing a better job of raising him than we were."

The tiger was shocked. He could not remember the last time she had criticized anyone or anything. "How many questions were there?"

"Fifty."

That was enough to give him a headache as well. He placed a warm hand upon her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. "At least it’s over now, right? And you were able to bring home Wilykit, so—"

She leaned forward and embraced him, hoping that that way he would not see her crying. "That’s just it, Ben Gali. It’s over."

His eyes widened as his arms encircled her. "What are you saying, Pumyra?"

Her voice was very small. "Judging by the way everyone reacted to us, especially over the communicator incident, I don’t think they’re going to let us return."

***

"Come now, lad! The visit was enjoyable for you, was it not?"

He said nothing in reply, but simply continued to sit at the edge of his bed and stare out his bedroom window. The campground below grew steadily day by day.

Forn raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Did they say or do anything to upset you?"

"No." You should know, he added disdainfully to himself. You taped the whole conversation.

"Then would you mind telling me why you’ve been so cold to me and the rest of the family?"

Who do you think you are? I don’t have to answer to you!

The kitten did so anyway, turning around and addressing his caretaker in an accusatory tone. "They said you’ve been lying to me about my sister! I want to know what they meant!"

"They meant nothing. They were simply confused."

He jumped to his feet, practically screaming, asserting himself in a way he had never dared do so before, even among his countrymen. "Then I want to visit her! I don’t care if she’s unconscious, I don’t care if she’s contagious, and I don’t care if I have to hike or ride or swim or whatever to get to Seleya! I want to see her right now!"

Wilykat began to march purposefully out of the room, when a stern hand clamped down upon his shoulder. "I’m afraid that is quite impossible."

It seemed as though all the wind had been knocked out of his lungs, and all the resolve from his heart. He twitched convulsively, reeling dizzily to face Forn. "Then… then they were right. You haven’t been telling me the truth, have you?"

"I have."

"Then why can’t I see Wilykit?"

"Did they not tell you?" he inquired innocently. "They’ve taken her back to their Cats Lair."

The boy felt doubly sick. He stumbled backward, sitting down hard on his bed once again. "Wha— they… they what? But I thought neither of us could leave?"

"We may be a proud race, but we’re always willing to negotiate. They asked for her return, and so we granted it."

"But… what about me?" He was feeling light-headed and nauseated. This can’t be real... can’t be...

"They’re content to let you live out your life here, as are we. I’m sure you’ll find it highly preferable to what your sister has returned to." Forn glanced down at him reassuringly. "Not to worry. You won’t be bothered by any of them again."

Despite the fact that his heart had been trampled upon, his hopes dashed, Wilykat was still highly dubious. "In other words, they aren’t allowed to come back, are they?"

"There’s no reason for them to return. They don’t want you back."

They were the five words he had secretly feared all along. "No, that’s not true!"

"If anything, they were lying to you, if they acted otherwise."

"No… ThunderCats don’t abandon each other…"

"But I’m sure they recognize opportunity when they see it. And you have more opportunity, not to mention more potential, on Latcris than your sister would have had. Why should they want to hurt you by taking you away from here? You see, their intentions are not unkind."

Dead silence. Finally, the kitten spoke once more. "I’d like to be alone for a while."

"Of course." Concealing his triumph quite professionally, Forn exited the room, shutting the door courteously behind him.




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