On My Way
I took in a long, deep breath and slowly opened my eyes. I could not begin to explain how wonderful it felt to inhale without feeling any pain. However, true to Nadar–ian'ah's word, my chest and shoulder felt stiff and sore. But the aching was small compared to the agony I had previously endured.
I stretched out my arms to realise the thin blanket was still covering my bare body and the electrodes. After adjusting the converter on my face I wrapped the covering around me, swung my legs over the edge and hopped off the med–table. I was alone in the quiet room and I was about to step out, when I found a surprise. Laying neatly folded on a counter was a navy, sports bra top and a swim suit bottom that had two marble green overlays on the back and front. I picked up both pieces and was amazed at the texture of the cloth. It felt softer than cotton. I took off the blanket, slipped on the new wear and smoothed out the ankle length covering on the front. The new, clean clothing was much more comfortable to wear than my old attire, especially on this hot and humid ship.
My reflection on the polished wall caught my eye. I could see the scar tissue left by the incision Nadar–ian'ah had made on my chest and it looked as if the skin was burned back together. Fist size bruises remained on both sides of my thorax and my eyes and nose were still outlined in blue; even the sclera of my left eye was still blood-red. I sighed and slipped off the mask to examine my face more closely. The scrapes on my cheeks were completely healed, but most of them left noticeable scars; the biggest were over my right eye and left cheek. I turned to look at my shoulder. Three, jagged slashes ran from the top of my shoulder down to the bottom of my shoulder blade. Turning even more I saw the ten whip scars that I received on my first day as a slave. Seven long lashes ran from the top of my shoulders to the base of my back and three of them stretched crookedly across my waist. I ran my fingers over the raised, red skin, shutting my eyes when I recalled the memory of when I first received them. I shook my head, there was no reason to dwell on the past.
I ran a hand through my hair and felt a sudden sharp sting when my fingers hit a snag. I probed through the rest of the matted hair, looked at the rest of my bare skin and ran my tongue over my teeth. I did not like the filmy feel and I desperately wanted to bathe and brush my teeth. I turned from my reflection and headed for the door. The door slid open automatically as I stepped up to it and I found myself in a corridor.
A line of red and orange lights lit both sides of the ceiling and the walls were covered with complex geometric designs. I touched the right wall and was amazed to find that the patterns had been carved into the metal. I continued my way through the long hallway in the hopes of finding Nadar–ian'ah, Becky or the children. Soon I emerged into what looked like a central room. A glass balcony circled around the middle of the room and ten entrances lined the walls. I looked over the balcony to see a very large consol displaying random pictures of the ship’s rooms, star maps and solar systems. I raised my head and gasped when I saw an oval shape window on the ceiling. Millions of stars zipped by the viewport, indicating that the ship was moving very fast.
I heard footsteps coming my way and Nadar–ian'ah appeared out of the far left corridor. She looked startled to see me. Her slate, chest piece matched her knee length loincloth. Around her hips was a utility belt and she was not wearing her usual gold cloak.
"Dakota, I was just coming to check on you. How are you feeling?"
"So much better. It’s easier to move and breathe. You haven't lost your touch Nadar–ian'ah."
I could see the Elder raise her head with pride as she motioned with a claw for me to follow her.
"Come, I'll take you to your friends."
I jogged up to her as she turned back into the corridor. For a while, I viewed her tall, broad back and watched her long, decorated locks sway back and forth.
"How long was I out?" I asked.
The Elder looked over her shoulder, "You have been asleep for a day and a half.
My eyes widened, I was really out for that long?
"How is Xeenan doing?" I was almost afraid to ask.
Nadar–ian'ah sighed, "He is still unconscious. He had three rib fractures as well as a leg fracture. I had to perform surgery on him as well."
I was hit with a wave of worry, not only for Xeenan, but for Becky, Sor'an and Al. They must be absolutely sick. The Elder stopped beside a closed door and turned around.
"They are in there," she motioned with her hand. "Can you do something for me? I have been unsuccessful in getting Za'Becc to sleep. The children have not slept much either. Could you try and convince them to rest?"
I nodded. I could probably get Al and Sor'an to sleep, however Becky was going to be a challenge. I stepped up to the door and it opened to what looked like a very large hospital room. Four beds lined both sides of the bronze walls and each one of them was surrounded with a grey curtain. At the very end of the room was a round window that showed the stars. I could see one of the curtains had been pulled back on the far left bed and I saw two small forms sitting on high stools. Al and Sor'an turned their heads to my direction and the leapt right off their seats. I noticed they appeared cleaner and their ragged clothes had been replaced with new ones, but their eyes told me that they were exhausted.
"Isha!" they both squealed as they came running towards me.
I lowered myself to me knees and spread out my arms as they slammed into me. The children growled and clicked in happiness as they wrapped their arms around me and nuzzled their foreheads into my neck. I enfolded the two in my arms and give them each a kiss.
"Isha, we were so worried about you," gasped Al.
"We weren't allow to see you in the Operating Room, Nadar–ian'ah told us you needed to heal," said Sor'an. "Are you alight know?"
I smiled down at him, "Yes, I'm feeling much better. Is Becky here too?"
The children nodded and they each took one of my hands.
"Za'Becc has been worried about you too," said Sor'an as he tugged my hand harder to the bed.
I stepped around the curtain and my heart sank. Xeenan was lying on the large bed with a mask over his face and electrodes placed over his bandaged chest. A constant beep radiated through the air as a screen above his head monitored his vitals. The male's leg was completely covered in a dark ,red bandage and was held securely with a silver support. Patches of blue covered several places on his body and there was a noticeable dry spot on the side of his head. Za'Becc was sitting on a stool next to him, holding his hand comfortingly. When she looked up at me I could not stop my eyes from widening. Becky looked no better than Xeenan. Dark bags hung under her eyes, and she looked quite pale. I doubted she had moved from her spot at all. I took another glance at Xeenan and I moved myself around the children so I was near his head. Placing my hand on his forehead I rubbed it and put my other hand on his right ar. I desperately wished for him to wake up and tell us that everything was going to be alright. But my saviour slept on.
I wanted for him to hear my voice, to let him know I was here and maybe bring him out of whatever darkness he was in. I glanced at Becky and the song "Angle" found its way into my head. I turned off the translator, pulled the converter away and closed my eyes momentarily to think of the soft piano music that accompanied the song.
"Spend all your time wait–ing...for that second chance. For a break that would make it okay. There's always some rea–son...to feel not good enough. And it's hard at the e–end of the day...She needs some distraction...oooooohh beautiful release...memory seeps from her veins. Let her be empty...ooooooooh and weightless and may–ay–be, she'll find some peace to–ni–ight..."
I looked over and Becky as I sang the refrain.
"In the aaarrrmmms ooooof the a–an–gle, fly aa–waaaaay from here. From this daaaark cooold med–room...a–and the eeeendlessness that you fe–ear. You are puuuuulled frooooom the wreckage...of your si–ilent reverie–ie. You're in the aaaarrrms oooooff the a–an–gle, may you fiii–ii–ii–ind, some com–fort here..."
From the corner of my eye I saw the children's heads fall foreword then snap back up. I was glad the song was making them relax and fall closer to sleep.
"So tired of, the straight line. And everywhere you tur–urn, there's vultures and thieves at you're back. The storm keeps on twistin'...keep on buildin' the lies, that you make up for a–all that you lack. It don't make nooooo difference...escap–ing one last time...it's easier to belieeeve. In this sweet madness...oooooooh this glorious sadness, that brings me too my kne–ees..."
I curled my fingers around his large arm as I sang the refrain once again, getting softer and softer with the notes until I came to the final few.
"You're in the aaaaaarrrrms oo–ooooooof the aa–aang–el...may you fiiii–ii–ii–i–ind, some com–fort heeeere..."
I saw Xeenan's eyes twitch and the beeping on the heart monitor quickened slightly. Xeenan could hear me and he was fighting to come back. A muffled thump came from beside me and I looked to see Al's head laying on the edge of the bed, while she her little hand clutched her brother's. Sor'an was leaning his head against his hand. I smiled and switched the translator on.
"Okay, I think it's time for you little ones to get some sleep."
So'ran obediently hopped off the stool and walked across the room to one of the empty beds. He climbed up and snuggled down. I approached Al and touched her shoulders to get her attention.
"Al, you too."
She moaned and did not move. I placed my hands under the crooks of her shoulders and pulled her away.
"No," she whined and tightened her grip on Xeenan's hand.
I sighed, "Come on Al, you have to get some sleep."
I pried her hand from her brother and quickly gathered her into my arms.
"No," Al struggled weakly, "I want Xeenan."
"Shhh," I hushed, thumping her small back and rocking from side to side. It was not long until her struggles and whining stopped. The little girl rested her head on my shoulder and her grip tightened around me as I walked to the bed Sor'an was laying in. I continued to sway and pat her back in a steady rhythm, when I thought of the song "Into the West.” I smiled and once again switched off the translator.
"Lay down...your sweet and weary head. Night is falling...you have come to journey's eeeeeennd. Slee–ee–eep know...and dream of the ones who came befoo–oo–oore. They are calling...from across a distant shooooore.
I leaned my head gently against the child's hair.
"Why do you weep...what are these tears u–pon your face? Soon you will seeeee...all of your fears will pass away. Safe in my aaaaarrms, you're only sleee–ee–ping..."
I felt Al's breathing become more rhythmic as I sang the refrain.
"And all will tuuuuurn, to sil–ver glaaaaasss...a light on the wa–ter, all souls paaaass.
"Hope fades...into the world of niiiight. Through shadows falling...out of memory and tiiiiime. Don't say...we have come know to the eeeeend. White shores are calliiiing...you and I will meet a–gain. And you'll be heeeere in my arrrrrrms...just slee–ping..."
I lifted her a little higher and ran my hand through her locks in a soothing manner.
"What can you seeeeee, on the hori–zoooon? Why do the white, gulls, caaaaaaall? Across the seeeeeaaa, a pale moon riseeeeees. The ships have com, to carry you hooooooome...
"And all will tuuuurrrn, to sil–ver glass. A light on the wa–ter, grey ships pass into the weeeeesst.”
I sang the last note very quietly and realised the young one's grip had loosened; Al was finally asleep. I stepped up to the bed and placed her beside Sor'an, who was already deep in his dreams. Pulling up a white blanket, I covered the children and tucked them in, then turned to get my converter and clip it to my face. I glanced over at Za'Becc and saw her head nod forward, then jerk back up as she fought to stay awake. Shaking my head I made my way towards her and placed my hand on her shoulder, but she did not react to my touch. I quickly turned on the translator before I spoke.
"Becky, you need to sleep. Right know."
She did not move, she acted like I never spoke. I shook her shoulder.
"Za'Becc, look at me!"
Like a robot she turned her head and looked right into her blood shot eyes.
"You haven't slept or eaten since you got here, Nadar–ian'ah told me so. If you keep ignoring your body you're going to make yourself sick!"
My friend turned away and held the male's hand tighter. Pain was evident in her eyes.
"Becky," I said more softly, giving her arm a gentle squeeze, "I know how much he means to you. But all I want is for you get some rest. Do you think Xeenan would want you to sacrifice your health like this?"
For a moment she did not answer, then she shook her head.
"No," my friend croaked.
I placed my other hand on her far shoulder, "Come on then Becky."
She leaned over Xeenan, pressed her forehead against his and purred as she gently rubbed over his mandibles with her own. I smiled, thinking it was their form of a kiss. She then gave his hand a final squeeze and tried to stand up. Becky clapped a hand on my shoulder and I braced myself. If she had sat there for over a day, then she would be very stiff. I grunted as she put her weight on me and did my best to support her. I managed to hobble her over to the bed next to Xeenan and she sighed dreamily when her head hit the pillow. I covered her with the blanket and I knew it would not be long until her body surrendered to exhaustion.
"Isha please..." she managed to whisper, "...please, watch Xeenan..."
I nodded and set my hand on her oval forehead.
"I promise and if anything happens I'll wake you."
Becky gave a small nod, closed her eyes and instantly fell into a deep slumber. I walked away and sat down on the stool beside my hero. I could hear the hiss of the mask on his face as it feed him air, the beeping of the monitor filled my ears and I soon became use to the high pitched noise. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the thick mattress, watching Xeenan's bound chest rise and fall steadily.
I took the male's hand and I was amazed at how it dwarfed my own. The skin on his hand felt rough from years of slave work. I glanced at his eyes and I thought about how much I wanted them to open. I longed to tell him how grateful I was for saving my life. I'd even go as far as saying he had gained back his lost honour. But he probably would not believe it if I told him.
I rubbed over the scabbed, claw marks Xeenan had left on my forearms when he hoisted me out of the rapids. I wondered if they would be deep enough to leave scars. I sighed and thought about the rest of my permanent marks. Each one had its own story and I would have to carry these memories for the rest of my life. I knew I could easily remove them with laser surgery, but would I forget about something meaningful?
Like the claw marks from Xeenan. They did not represent suffering, they represented friendship. However, the whip scares on my back and the gashes on my face will always represent torment and hate from the slave masters, guards and High Elder. I groaned, feeling uncomfortable about what to do with my appearance.
I rolled my eyes, did appearance really matter? I was still the same person and I was no different than when I came to the Yautja world. Well no, I should not say that. I have changed. I felt stronger, more confident and courageous. I guess when the impossible has been achieved, every other difficult task seemed to be less of a barrier.
I looked over my shoulder and peered out the window to watch the diamond shaped stars pass by. I found a small sense of comfort as I gazed into space. Another song came to mind, one I heard when I was little, but I could never remember the name. I took in a deep breath before I removed the converter and turned off the translator.
"I can tell time but the mooooooon. I can tell time by the suuuuuuuun. No mater how I mark, the hours light and dark...I see your life's just be–guuuuuun..."
I thought Xeenan's hand tightened over mine but I could not be sure.
"It is morning in your liiiiiiiiiife. Day is breaking oh so briiiiiiiight. You barely made a start, just on beat of my heart. Don't sleep away the morning liiiiiiiight..."
"Plea–ease wake up, leave dark dreams be–hind. Please wake up it's your morning golden day to fiiiiiiiiiiind. Once I had a morning toooooooo." I smiled at Xeenan, "I was free once, just like you."
I sat back on my seat, "It's evening in my life..." I turned to the window, "...all I have is the night..." then back to Xeenan, "...but it's the ear–ly mor–ning for you...for...yoooooooooouuu."
I must have sat there for hours, singing and talking to Xeenan. Becky and the children were still asleep. I heard a growling noise and I put a hand to my stomach. For the last hour it had been growling and churning. I saw a movement and I looked up to see the door open. As if on cue, Nadar–ian'ah walked in carrying a large tray with four small bowls, a plate of fruit and what looked like dry meat. She stepped quietly towards the bed and placed the tray on a table.
"Well done Dakota, you've got them to sleep. However, I was hoping they would be awake to eat."
"Let them sleep, they need it."
I slid off the stool and stretched my legs.
The Elder nodded to Xeenan, "Has there been any change?"
I shook my head, "None."
She stepped up to Xeenan and examined his bandages to see if they needed changing, looked at the monitor and tapped a few buttons, then examined his injured leg. After a few minutes she seemed satisfied and went back to the food. She selected a bowl and have it to me.
“This is a protein and vitamin broth. You’ll need to drink this twice a day to help your recovery."
I looked at the broth and it reminded me of pea soup. The liquid did not have a smell to it, but when I removed my mask and took the first sip it tasted like watery beef soup. I shrugged and drank a bit more. I glanced at the plate and selected an orange fruit that had the skin of an avocado and two small strips of dried meat. As I finished the broth, I saw the Elder take a large piece jerky, rip off a chunk then chew on it. It was interesting how the Yautja eat. While she chewed, her mandibles would close over her inner mouth to prevent the food from escaping and the large folds of skin appeared to provide deeper cheeks to hold the torn meat.
"What kind of meat is this?" I asked as I peeled of the soft skin of the fruit.
"It's from an animal called a Ghequo," she answered, then gave me proud look, "the very animal you killed."
I nearly dropped the fruit and stared at the Elder in shock, "You...you mean that giant rat!"
"Indeed," Nadar–ian'ah chuckled. "I followed your trail through the jungle and found the dead rodent. Those animals are not easy to kill, even young bloods find them a challenge. I wish I could have seen it. "
She slammed a massive clawed hand on my shoulder and shook it.
"You must feel greatly honoured to have earned your first trophy."
I smiled and blushed, "Thanks I—" I stopped when I realised what Nadar–ian'ah had said. "What do you mean by 'trophy'?"
"Why, the Ghequo skull. I knew you would have no knowledge of skinning or cleaning a carcass, so I took the liberty of doing it myself. The skull is mounted in the trophy room if you wish to see it, and when you return to your home planet you can take it with you."
"But I don't want the skull. I killed that rat to stay alive. You can keep it I don't mind."
And I don't want a sharp tooth cranium in my home, I thought, shuddering as I pictured it. Nadar–ian'ah shook her head, laughing.
"All warriors must keep the skull of their first kill, it is their right. I cannot take it from you and it would be dishonourable if I did. I understand this makes you feel uneasy but trust me, later on you'll be very glad you kept your trophy."
Yeah right, I thought rolling my eyes. I did not talk about it anymore since I had a feeling it would be pointless to argue about it further. I finished the pulpy fruit and started on the meat, which tasted like a bland, peppery beef jerky. After swallowing the final piece I reached to the patter for more food when the Elder grabbed my hand.
"That's all I'm allowing you to eat. If you consume too much healthy food at once, you'll make yourself sick."
Even though my shrunken stomach craved more, I ignored the desire and pulled my hand away. I placed the converter back over my face and walked back to the stool beside Xeenan. Nadar–ian'ah rechecked the male, then disappeared for a moment to return with a large syringe. I cringed when I saw how big the needle was. She swabbed the crook of Xeenan's arm, then took the protective cap off of the tip and pressed the tip into his vein.
"This is a stronger dose of the bone fusing serum I injected into you," the Elder explained, "his fractures should be close to healing by tomorrow."
She pulled the needle out and wiped away the speck of blood. I looked over my shoulder to the window and a very important question appeared in my thoughts.
"How long will it be until we reach Earth?"
"About four of your days."
Four days? We were really that close? At long last I can finally talk to my own kind! I put a hand on my watch and was about to activate the communicator, when I suddenly stopped. What in God's name am I'm going to say to them? 'Hi I'm the Assistant Technician who's been missing for a month and I'm on a ship with four extraterrestrials that have been on Earth's hit list for over two centuries.' Oh yeah, I'm sure they would roll out the red carpet no problem! I put a hand on my forehead and let out a long sigh. Well, four days was a long time, hopefully before they were over I could figure out what to say so no harm comes to my friends. I looked up and noticed Nadar–ian'ah was staring.
"Are you alright Dakota?" she asked.
I smiled and nodded, "Yeah I'm fine, I'm just a bit worried about Xeenan that's all."
The Elder knew I was lying, but thankfully she did not press on the matter and nodded to the food.
"When the children and female awake, make sure they have something to eat. If you need me I'll be in the Control Room. There is a communicator on the wall, press the button and you’ll activate the intercom. Take care of yourself, my friend."
"I will, thank–you Nadar–ian'ah."
She bowed her head, turned around and was gone. I leaned forward on the edge of bed and held the male's hand once more. I looked out the window and my stomach twisted with apprehension. For the first time, I wished I was not getting closer to home.