The air was more humid than usual because of the heavy rainfall outside. It was almost noon as I carried more scrap metal up to the Weapons Room. I was really tired today because I had spent most of the night trying figuring out an escape plan. Getting out of my own cell was still a working process, my spear would be an essential part to it. I peered over the balcony at the many guards gathered below and I groaned. I knew there was a night watch after the slaves were put in their compounds. However I did not know how long their shifts were or where they patrolled. I also had no idea where we would go once we were out of the citadel, or how we would get off this planet. Nadar–ian'ah could give me all the information I needed. But how could I meet her? I slammed my tray down, feeling frustrated at the problems flooded onto my head.
I crouched and loaded the metal onto the tray, hearing the rain pelt hard on the outside walls. There was the river, said a voice in my head. I pondered some more. Yes, the river could carry us far and fast. I could ask Nadar–ina'ah how long the river was and if there were any dangers; Xeenan might know more about the river too. I smiled, feeling the plan was starting to come together. 'Now, how do I see Nadar–ina'ah?' I thought. I yawned and rubbed my eyes, I really needed to wake up. I thought of an upbeat song and "Affirmation" by Savage Garden found its way in my head.
"I believe the sun should never set upon and argument. I believe we place our happiness in other people's hands. I believe that junk food tastes so good because it's bad for you. I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do. I believe that beauty magazines promote low self-esteem. I believe I'm loved when I'm completely by myself, alo–one..."
I smiled and without even realising it, I sang louder and dumped the metal on the tray in time with the beat.
"I believe in karma, what you give is what you get retur–urned. I believe you can't appreciate real love 'till you've been bur–urned. I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side. I believe you don't know what you've got until you say good–bye..."
Turning on my heels, I stood up with my full tray and saw the old Yautja, standing at the door. He was leaning against the door frame for support and was gazing at me in awe. I was so startled I nearly dropped the tray.
"How...what was that?" he asked in a rocky voice.
I smiled. He had the exact same look as the slaves’ when I sang to them for first time.
"It's called singing, using my voice to make music," I answered.
He shook his head in wonder, "…So pretty."
I blushed and stepped out of the door. He shrunk back slightly, clinging onto the door frame like a leech and following my movements with his eyes. The male mumbled “pretty…pretty” under his breath. My uneasy feeling came back and Xeenan's warning appeared in my mind. Shaking my head I immediately pushed the warning away and looked around to make sure we were alone.
"Look uh–I have to take this to the Weapons Room. But if you want, I...I can sing to you when I get back."
He nodded furiously, “Yes! Sing pretty, little thing!”
Suddenly he shot a hand towards me and I gasped, stepping away. He flinched and pulled his hand back as he coward like a child who had just seen a monster.
“Sorry, sorry. Bad…didn’t mean too…Sorry!”
My heart was pounding against my chest, but I remained where I was and set the tray down. He kept his head lowered as he shuffled away from me, his right hand clawing at the wall for support.
"It's alright," I said gently, "you just startled me, that's all.”
His breath came in raspy gasps and his mandibles fluttered restlessly around his tiny maw.
"Scared of me…won’t come back. All hate me, everyone…"
I scanned around us again and looked over the railing, seeing the guards and slave masters completely engrossed in their loud conversations. I sighed, thinking this was worth the risk. I lowered to one knee and held out my hand to the old male. He cringed as if I was going to hit him.
“Please come here."
He was very hesitant, I could see terror in his eyes. It took a little more coaxing to get him to take my hand. When he finally did, his skin was cold and I could feel every bone.
"I'll sing one short song, if you wish."
The ancient Predator's eyes widened, "Now, right now?"
I smiled and nodded. Slipping my mask and translator off, I moved to where I thought his ear was and thankfully he remained still. I began to sing "In Dreams" by Fran Walsh and Howard Shore.
"When the cold of winter come. Starless night will cover da–ay. In the veiling of the suuuunn...we will walk in bitter land. But in dreeaamms...I can hea–e–e–ear your naa–ame. And in dreeaaamms...we will meet aa–a–a–gai–ai–ai–ainn..."
I felt his grip tighten over my hand. Whether it was from enjoyment or from the high note, I'll never know.
"When the seas and mountains faaaall...and we coooomme to end of da–ays. In the dark I hear a caaall. Calling me there, I will go there, and back agaaaaiiinn."
I pulled back and saw for the first time, a glitter in the male's black eye. For a long while neither of us said anything. I placed both machines on when he finally spoke, his voice caught in his throat.
I smiled and put my other hand over his, "You're welcome."
I went to pick up the tray and realised that he still clutched my hand. I reached with my free hand, picked up the tray and balanced it on my hip.
"You want to walk with me?" I asked.
The old Yautja nodded, his mandibles twitching and clacking together with excitement. He wrapped his gaunt arms around mine and hobbled beside me. During the walk he continually mumbled “pretty voice…pretty little voice”. I could hear the rain fall in a soothing, hypnotic manner on the building. The world seemed to slow down as we traveled along the balcony. I knew I would never forget this tender moment. When we came to the foot of the staircase he was reluctant to let me go and he gave my hand a final squeeze. The life in his eyes never left.
"Thank–you, little thing. So kind, so strong…wish I was like you. Stay strong, little thing. Stay kind! Stay pretty!"
I smiled heartily at him, "I will."
He smiled back and bowed his head in respect, "Good–bye, little thing."
Letting go of my hand, he turned and limped away, muttering “Strong, pretty thing.” Still beaming, I slowly climbed up the stairs, dumped the scrap into the Weapons Room and travelled back down with a little jump in my step. When I emerged on the first level balcony I nearly ran into the barrel chest of a seven foot, red-cloaked slave master. A phony grin spread across his wide face and my joyous feeling disappeared in an instant.
"Ah, there you are ooman, I've been looking for you. Many of us down below are quite bored and we were wondering if you could sing to us."
He spoke like a stranger trying to convince a kid to take candy from him. I lowered my eyebrows and glared at him. He sighed, moved his hand to his back and pulled out a large whip from his utility belt. The handle was black, heavily polished and the four, tonged ends if the whip was adorned with a long piece of jagged bone. He held the weapon in front of him and caressed it with his other hand, the ends rattling.
"Did you know this is a new whip? Beautiful isn't it? I've been wanting to try it out on a misbehaving slave," he gave me a murderous stare, but kept his voice calm, "Would you like to be the first test subject?"
I closed my eyes and lowered my head in submission. A low trill came from the slave master as he roughly took me by the arm and lead me down to the bottom level. He set me in front of the Yautja and called for silence.
"Attention fellow warriors, the ooman has so generously offered to sing to us."
My stomach squeezed into an angry knot as guttural growls and loud clicks circulated the gigantic mob. They grabbed huge cushions and settled comfortably around me, drinks or food in hand. The slave master clutched my arm again and hissed in my face.
"A word of warning ooman, I and many others can understand your native tongue, so I suggest you choose your songs carefully. I promise, you'll be punished if you sing something that doesn't appeal to us."
Oh really, I thought. I took the mask and translator off my face and once they were all settled I warmed up with 'Amazing Grace' and ‘River Driver’ by Great Big Sea. Three songs later, when the guards and slave masters were completely into my performance, I felt it was time to sing a song called 'You Can't Take Me' by Bryan Adams.
"Gotta fight another fight. I gotta run another night. Get it out, check it out. I'm on my way and it don't feel right. I got–ta get me back. I can't be beat, and that's a fact. It's okay, I'll find a way. You ain't gonna take me down, no way..."
I noticed some of the Yautja—the ones who could understand English—glanced at each other with a bit of a stunned look. I grinned.
"Don't judge a thing 'till you know what's inside it. Don't–push–me, I'll fight it. Never gonna give in never gonna give it up, nooo...If you can't catch a wave then you're never gonna ride it. You can't–come–uninvited. Never gonna give in never gonna give it up noooo..."
I stared at my audience.
"You can't take me, I'm freeeee!"
The agitated snarls of the Yautja reached my ears. Perfect, I thought. The slave master growled something I could not understand, but it was obvious of what he wanted me to stop. I ignored him and sang louder. He snarled in irritation and came stomping towards me. This is gonna hurt! my brain screamed.
His clawed hand hit across my face and I fell to the floor. The slave master kicked my tender ribs and a horrible flash of pain travelled along my chest. I wheezed, holding my side in torment and feeling my right cheek throb from the slap. The slave master grabbed my ponytail and I screeched as he yanked me to my feet. With his hand still clutching my hair, I managed to get the converter and translator on.
"Get back to your duties!" he shouted at the mob.
The guards grumbled as they broke up. The slave master let go of my hair held my arm tightly as he hauled me to the first level. When we came to the littered room, he pulled me to his face. I winced and made a painful gasp.
"You've got spirit ooman, but spirits are meant to be broken! Your songs will not save you from misery and suffering!"
"The day my spirit breaks will be the day I die!" I spat.
He roared and threw me into the room. My left arm caught a piece of metal and a long scratch appeared on my forearm.
"That can be arranged!" he shouted. With a wave of his cloak, he was gone.
I cursed as I sat up and looked at my arm. It wasn't a deep cut, but it bled a lot and stung horribly. I tore strips from my tattered shorts and wiped off as much blood as I could. I pushed my hair out of my eyes and took a deep breath.
"Ahhh!" I cried and held my sore ribs, "this had better be worth it."
I leaned on the wall and painfully pushed myself to my feet, still holding my right side. I prayed this incident would reach Nadar–ian'ah. I retied my hair and bent down to pick up more scrap metal, hating that I would have to carry it in my arms since I left the tray on the bottom level. There was no way in hell I was going back to get it. I scrunched my face in annoyance as I carefully cradled the sharp metal.
It was the middle of the night and the end of the flurry when two guards came into my cell. I could not sleep anyway because my ribs hurt so much and my arms were covered with small, prickling cuts. I was lead in the Infirmary again, where Nadar–ian'ah waited. Once the guards were gone, she shook her head disapprovingly.
"I can't continue doing this. The Elders and guards will become suspicious as to why you recover so quickly."
I shrugged, clinging my side, "I got that beating on purpose. This is the only way I can speak to you."
The Elder let out a rugged sigh and waved to the table, "You know what to do."
I nodded and rested on my back. The machine only scanned my chest and I saw the same image of my ribs in the screen. Nadar–ian'ah pushed a combination of buttons as she looked over the picture.
"Well, your ribs are going to take longer to heal, but thankfully you don't have any lung damage," she walked to a cupboard and selected a container, "I'll disinfect those cuts in a moment. Don't count on singing anymore. The High Elder has ordered that you will not perform for anyone again."
I rolled my eyes and dangled my feet over the edge, "That's the smartest thing he's ever done, " I grinned, "Oh well, at least that old Yautja got to enjoy my singing."
Nadar–ian'ah turned to me, "What old Yautja?"
"The guard's personal slave."
Her brow raised, "So that explains it."
"What? What's wrong?"
"That slave died a few hours ago."
I jerked in shock, "What?"
The female nodded, "His heart gave out and he died in his sleep. The strangest thing was when the guards found him, he had a smile on his face. I don't think he ever smiled once in his entire life."
I shook my head in disbelief and brought a hand to my head, "Oh my God, I..."
I was completely lost for words. I heard Nadar–ian'ah come up beside me and gently shake my shoulder.
"Ooman–sorry, Dakota. Are you alright?"
I blinked, "No–er yes–I mean...ugh! Sorry, I'm a just shocked."
The female nodded, "I understand. I know your race doesn't accept death very well."
I rubbed my forehead, "But...when I was with him he seemed alright."
"He was old Dakota and he didn't have a life worth living," Nadar–ian'ah smiled warmly, "but whatever you sang to him, it must have been so wonderful for him to die with a smile on his face."
I put a hand over my mouth. I did not know why I felt like crying, I hardly knew the male; I did not even know his name. I closed my eyes and pictured him, remembering the life in in his eyes and the last words the male spoke to me.
"Thank–you, little thing. So kind, so strong…wish I was like you. Stay strong, little thing. Stay kind! Stay pretty!"
I smiled, that was it; that was why I felt so upset. For a brief moment in his pathetic life, I gave him hope. If he and other Yautja believed that his spirit will not live forever, I believed it would. His spirit will live on in my heart and memory; and in that way, he will be free. I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw Nadar–ian'ah holding a red capsule in front of me.
"Take this," she instructed, "it's a stronger dose."
Wiping my eyes I took the pill and swallowed it. The female picked up one of my arms and rubbed in the yellow stuff with a cloth. It did not seem to burn as much as before, maybe I had grown accustomed to pain. As she worked on my other arm she spoke.
"Now, tell me why you purposely got a beating?"
I sniffed and cleared my throat. Time to get serious.
"I now need your help Nadar–ina'ah. I've been planning my escape all day. Four others are coming with me."
She nodded as she wiped the long slash on my forearm, "I suspected you were going to take a few with you. What do you need?"
"First I need to know about the night watch–how long the hours are and where they patrol."
Nadar–ian'ah thought for a moment and went to the other end of the room to throw away the used cloth, "The first night watch begins right after the slaves are put in their compounds. They patrol the whole Great Hall and the shifts are five hours long."
Two in the morning, I thought, "Are the guards very prompt when they switch?"
"Yes, tardiness is taken very seriously,” she put a hand to her chin, "I have access to individual schedules, I can change when and where they patrol. How much time do you need?"
I bit my lip in thought, "Can you give me an hour?"
She nodded, "Easily."
I smiled, "The guards don't watch the cells do they?"
The Elder shook her head, "No, they don't bother at all with the cells."
“That's a relief. How do the scanning pads by the doors work?”
The Elder described how it functioned and I was thankful to hear it worked similarly as ones back on the space station. I could easily hot wire it open, but that would require my mini repair kit I had hidden behind one of the bunks. I would have to have Becky or Xeenan deliver it to me somehow.
"Here's the second thing. After my friends and I are out we'll make our way to the main door. Are there any guards there? Can we get that door open?"
"Yes, they guard the door at all times, but only the High Elder has the authority to remove them. Also, the door requires a code to open it and only the guards have the access codes."
Crap. Well, maybe there was a way to “persuade” a guard to unlock the door.
"Okay, when we're out of the citadel I plan for us to head for the river. Will anyone follow us?"
I was really nervous of the answer. Nadar–ian'ah sighed.
"Taking the river is a good idea. The High Elder may send several trackers. He won't bother asking for the Arbitrators help, thank Paya."
"Arbitrators. They uphold the laws of our society and hunt down and kill Bad Bloods."
She must have seen my worried look, for she laughed.
"Don't worry Dakota, the Arbitrators don't consider hunting down escaped slaves to be worth their effort. Even if the High Elder asks them too, they'll decline."
Somehow that did not make me feel any better, "Is there some where you can meet us with a ship?"
Nadar–ian'ah was quiet for a while.
"There is a clearing a short distance from the river, but you’ll have to pass some dangerous rapids and a waterfall. If you stay on the river you will reach them in twelve hours. You'll be able to climb down the cliff by the falls and trek through the forest to get to the clearing."
I nodded, hoping Xeenan would be familiar with the area to guide us through the jungle. Nadar–ina'ah walked to the other end of the room.
"The question is, what excuse can I use to get me to use a ship."
"Can't you go on a hunt or something?" I asked.
She shook her head, "No, I only go on hunts if I am asked to lead it. It's too early in the season."
I slumped my shoulders and fiddled with my fingers.
My unclean hair whipped over my shoulders as I snapped my head to the Elder.
"There may be a way...I think I can...yes! It will work!"
I stared at her anxiously. Nadar–ian'ah grinned.
"There is a mother ship currently out in space. If it hasn't moved, I could tell the High Elder that I've been asked to go there on urgent business."
I felt nervous, "Won't he ask why you're going to the ship? Will he contact it?"
The Elder female shook her head confidently, "An Elder's business is an Elder's business. Inquiring about it is considered extremely rude and disrespectful."
But the uneasiness in my gut would not leave, "I hope to God he believes that. Does...does the High Elder suspect anything? About you or me?"
Nadar–ian'ah shrugged, "He probably suspects a little, but his arrogance and narrow–mindedness clouds his judgment greatly," she chuckled, "I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky."
I nodded and smiled, a bit of the butterflies in my stomach fluttering away. Sighing I looked at Nadar–ian'ah. The escape plan was coming together.
"How long will it take you to get things organised?"
The old female cocked her head, "Four days."
"Then it's settled, four days from now, we will escape."
It will work, it had to work. If anything went wrong, if we were caught, we would be killed. Nadar–ian'ah will most definitely share the same fate as us for helping slaves escape. The plan must not fail, our very lives depended on it.
I yawed for the umpteenth time as I carried scrap metal from the quarter clean room. I only had two hours of sleep last night and I tried to stay awake by humming up beat or fast songs. During breakfast, I had relayed the whole plan to my friends and I asked Becky if she could get my repair kit. She said she would but I could tell she was fretful about it, knowing full well if she was found with it, she would be severely punished and the plan would fall apart. I also solved how to escape my out cell and I asked Xeenan to procure something for me. He promised he would have it on the fourth day.
As I climbed the stairs I had a strong suspicion that I was to replace the old Yautja and become the next personal slave. The guards were going to be sorely disappointed. I dropped the metal onto the pile and turned to leave the room when a thick, rough hand gripped my shoulder.
"Not so fast ooman," the Yautja growled, "you are going to help me load the belt. My companion could not be here today."
I groaned as he pulled me back into the room and situated me beside a few empty holders near the conveyer belt. I knew what to do since I had seen him and his partner load the belt so many times. I placed pieces of metal into the holder and as I picked it up I found it was hard trying to find a good hold, because my hands were so sweaty and the holder was so damn heavy, I had dropped it three times before I could successfully put it onto the belt. The two Predators laughed at me when I struggled with another holder and nearly threw out my back.
Towards mid noon the technician Yautja, who was working on a mask, demanded that I bring the wires from the first level room. Needless to say I was happy to do as he commanded; even with the converter it was unbearably stuffy in that room. I held my side as I made my way down the stairs. Even though the medicine I was given helped with healing, it did not prevent the heavy strain from aggravating my ribs. I emerged onto the first level and saw a guard come my way. I kept my head lowered and as he passed me he gave my shoulder a hard shove. I stumbled into the wall, waving my arms awkwardly to try and keep my balance. I moaned in pain and the guards snickered as he continued on his way. Hate and anger burned in my eyes as I watched him. I had a feeling the next few days would not pass quickly enough.