In a windowless room draped with media equipment of every variety, the sraigsar waited nervously for the interview Slica had arranged for her.
The seconds seemed to stretch on for hours in her worried state. For a moment Gal wondered if agreeing to this had all been a huge mistake on her part. It wasn’t as though her explanation would change what had happened.
A small figure approached then. They had a cat-like appearance with particularly long ears and a bushy tail.
“Gallus, hello! I’m Tyrn from Tabby Star TV,” the reporter greeted with a toothy smile. “Thank you for coming.”
In an effort to be polite, the sraigsar dipped her head in acknowledgement. “Thanks for having me.”
“Of course! When Slica asked me to handle your exclusive interview this morning, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”
“Why is that exactly?”
“Oh, right to the point! I like that,” the reporter cupped her hands together excitedly. “Alright, let’s cut right to the chase, shall we? All the shows that cover Xotiathon have been speculating about it.”
“That would be why I’m here,” the sraigsar said dryly.
“Right. We’re all set up over here,” Tyrn said, and pointed at two chairs that were propped up in front of a bright backdrop. “Take a seat and we’ll get started in a few.”
Gal noticed a cameraman was already standing idly by with a pair of bulky headsets on.
Warily, keeping one eye on him and the camera, the sraigsar walked past him and climbed into the left-most chair. It was slightly awkward to squeeze herself on the top on all fours. These particular chairs seemed built with bipeds in mind, but with a little creative thinking she made it work. She wrapped her tail tightly around the legs of the chair as though to ground her.
In the corner of her vision she noticed Tyrn hold up two fingers and the cameraman nodded in her direction.
“We’ll begin in two,” the reporter explained and then took a seat next to her. “I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say, Gallus.”
You’re not the only one, she thought nervously of Slica.
After the two minutes had passed, the cameraman signaled Tyrn and the cat-like alien briefly turned her attention towards him.
“This is Tyrn with Tabby Star TV,” she announced with a flourish of her bushy tail. “We’re here with special guest Gallus for an exclusive interview! I’m sure you’ve all heard the controversy folks, and now we’re going to hear it from the giraffe’s mouth!”
The hell is a giraffe?
Gal opened her mouth to correct her but Tyrn continued without missing a beat.
“Now we’re all curious, Gallus. What compelled you to bring your children into the arena with you?”
“That’s what I’m here to explain. It wasn’t something I did on a whim.”
“I would hope not,” commented Tyrn, who then sat up and sent the sraigsar an apologetic smile. “Sorry. Disregard that. Please, continue.”
Guilt flared across her face, but she managed a small nod.
“It was required of me. All sraigsars who compete in Xotiathon must adorn. It is a sraigsar tradition to carry our children, generally at the top of our heads,” Gal explained, visually demonstrating by touching her upper neck with her tail.
“You hadn’t adorned in round one though,” the cat-like alien pointed out. “And no sraigsar who has competed before you has adorned while competing in Xotiathon.”
“I adorned at the behest of my sponsor and Yve’s National Committee who is run by the Sovereign herself.” Gal closed her eyes and bowed her head.
It felt good to alleviate herself of some of the blame. Now everyone listening would know exactly who set the action in motion.
Tyrn nodded. “For those who aren’t familiar with Yve, could you elaborate for context?”
“The Sovereign is our supreme leader,” Gal answered stiffly. “She’s the sraigsar with the most prominent bloodline and most influence.”
“Thank you for clarifying,” the interviewer reached out to place a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. “Now what everyone is wondering is why you risked injury to your child to have them out in the arena. Are you telling us you had no choice on this matter?”
“It was either that or I was asked to drop out for breach of contract.”
The interviewer tilted her chin up and frowned. “I see. And you chose to endanger your children?”
Gal’s heart lurched in her chest.
“...I did,” she choked out guiltily, her voice breaking with emotion.
And I’ve been bleeding for my actions ever since, she thought wretchedly. As I should be.
Tyrn leaned in closer on her seat. “Care to tell us why? I’m sure we’d all like to understand the thought process behind your decision.”
Gal’s body tensed and the sraigsar gripped the arms of her chair tightly to anchor herself.
It was already humiliating enough being propped up and put up on display. For everyone to be latching onto her every word and casting their judgment on her mistakes. Now came the hardest part.
She wanted to be honest but realistically Gal knew she couldn’t give away too much. One wrong word was all it took. And then all the risks she’d made to get here wouldn’t matter.
They had to matter.
“I did it because…” Gal exhaled loudly, trying to refrain herself from sniffling. “This is the only opportunity I have to fight for a better future for them. I thought... it’d be worth the risk. I thought it’d be alright.”
Tryn glanced at her with wide eyes. “What opportunity does Xotiathon offer that is worth the risk of losing your children? What were you competing for?”
“Carrnaite. It’s a rare mineral that is used to purify contaminated water for drinking.”
“Is there a water crisis on Yve?”
Gal briefly considered lying. It was a quick and easy way out of this conversation. But it also had the disastrous potential to blow up in her face.
“No,” she said slowly, attempting to organize her thoughts. “There is no water crisis. But procuring a win would provide Yve with means for change.”
Gal winced. Poor choice of words!
“Stabilize our economy,” she added quickly, thinking it was at least partially correct. Though Gal dreaded it immediately as the sraigsar was sure she now came off as shallow. “Carrnaite is worth a lot. And the mineral itself would be useful to low-income neighborhoods on Yve that don’t have clean water.”
“I see,” Tyrn said with deliberation. “While that is commendable I’m not sure I’d agree that’s worth the risks you took.”
A chill settled deep in her bones. Only to be followed by a surge of boiling resentment.
“Why not?” Gal cried out. “I’m not only thinking of the betterment of my children, but of all the other sraigsars like me!”
Tyrn chastised the sraigsar with the click of her tongue. “Sure but at the expense of your children?”
“No! What happened...shouldn’t have happened. It was my fault but it was never at their expense!”
Except it had been.
From the moment she’d won as frontrunner, her children had been a means to compete at Xotiathon. A way to discover the truth behind Campion’s accident. She couldn’t compete without adorning. And she couldn’t adorn without first having children.
But now this was about more than Campion. This was about making things right. If she couldn’t usher in social change by proving she was not the genetic inferiority her society claimed she was; if that was not enough, then she fully intended to use the platform she had left to expose the committee of it’s hypocrisy.
“It hadn’t meant to be,” she trembled, letting her fury absorb her. “But that's exactly the type of change Yve needs."
"Excuse me?" Tyrn's brow furrowed in concern. "I'm not sure I understand your meaning."
"The practice of off-planet adorning. If we really would like to honor our children then we'd keep them where we know they'll be safe. On our own planet."
It was cathartic to finally be able to say it.
But not a moment sooner that it left her mouth she regretted it.
She had a good idea of what would happen if the committee caught wind of this interview. For publicly not condoning their values they'd accost her and punish her however they saw fit. In her position it likely meant they'd see to her disqualification.
"I'm sorry," Gal said and jumped off the chair. "That's all I have time for."
Before the interviewer could cut in with protest, she abandoned her the confines of her seat and made a break for the door.