Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
The next day I and a handful of adult Yautja, including Xeenan and Za'Becc, had to scrub the walls and black floor of the Great Hall. Outside the sky was dark grey as buckets of rain pelted the windows on the ceiling. Five guards were watching us, three of them leaning against the wall looking very bored. I whispered a prayer for the children as I polished the walls with a strong smelling cleanser. The Oven Room was located about thirty feet from where we were scrubbing. The door to the room was open, and I could hear the clang of metal as the coverings of the oven doors slammed shut. Eventually, my group had made its way beside the room. I could now hear the scared cries of the children and a guard shouting at them to work faster. I gripped my rag tightly, trying to block out the noises. Suddenly, there was a terrified scream and a loud bang. Xeenan's eyes widened as he jumped to his feet and bolted to the room. The five guards rushed after Xeenan with whips in their hands, while the rest of us followed. As soon as I stepped into the Oven Room I was slammed by the intense heat. I saw the children gathered around an oven and Xeenan fighting his way towards it. The guards started to slash his body, two of them leaped on his back in an attempt to stop him. Xeenan roared in determination, trying to throw off the huge guards, but he was soon brought to his knees as the guards continued to beat him to make sure he stayed down. I felt someone tug my hand and I looked down to see Sor'an.
"What happened?" I asked.
"One of the females fell in and the oven will light any second!" he cried.
I gasped and looked to the oven. A red cloaked slave master bellowed and the children parted as he walked towards the oven. He stuck is head inside, it was all that could fit because his huge shoulders prevented him from going in any further. The children continued to whimper, looking frightened and confused. The slave master pulled his head out and barked orders.
"There's nothing we can do. Get these miserable creatures out of here."
The little ones screeched, but went silent when the slave master growled. Three of the guards left the semi-conscious Xeenan and began to round up the slaves. I felt anger rise in my chest and I took a step towards the slave master but could not go further when a guard grabbed my arms.
"You're just gonna leave her there?!" I yelled.
"There's no point, the oven will light in minutes,” snarled the slave master.
“I can get her! I can fit through the opening!"
The almost eight foot Predator towered over me as a threatening growl came from his throat. I held my gaze, too angry to be intimidated.
"There's no time ooman! You and that slave will be burned alive!
"Let me try!" I shouted.
He continued to stare at me then shifted his gaze to the guard holding me. He let out a rugged sigh.
The guard hesitated, then let me go. I grabbed Becky's arm and headed for the oven. I stuck my head in and my eyes watered at the heat. The inside of the oven had a six foot diameter and was made out of slick metal. Large hooks hung from the top of the oven and there was a strong odour of burnt meat. I saw the little girl, ten feet down, sniveling and dripping with sweat. She was squeezing herself to the wall, trying to keep clear of the burning hot element in the centre. Thinking quickly, I turned around and sat on the edge of the opening.
"Hold my legs," I ordered.
Becky clasped my ankles tightly and I winced. For someone who was malnourished, she sure hand a crushing grip. I threw myself back and hung upside down by my knees with my arms outstretched. I called out to the little girl and she looked up. I could see fear in her eyes.
"Come here!" I yelled, wiping my watery eyes, "I'm here to get you out!"
The little creature inched her way around the element. She reached up to me but she was too short.
"Lower!" I called.
"I can't go any farther, the opening is too small!" shouted Becky.
The rising heat was disorienting me, I could barely see through my watering eyes and the mask was suffocating me. I shook my head and tried to focus.
"Come on sweetie, jump!"
The girl leapt once for my hands, but it was not high enough. She jumped again and her hand swiped an inch below my fingers. I clenched my teeth and stretched my arms out as far as I could. The girl jumped again and grazed my fingers, but I could not get a grip. The element glowed white hot and the air rippled as the heat became more intense. I heard the roar of an engine and felt the walls vibrate.
“Get out of there ooman, it’s going to light!” yelled the slave master.
"C'mon kid, you can do it!" I screamed.
The little one crouched and with a mighty roar leapt straight up. I caught her by the forearms and squeezed tight.
"PULL!" I cried.
Becky pulled hard on my ankles. My back scraped across the bottom of the stone opening and I cried in pain, but I kept my grip on the girl. Both of us shot out, seconds before a burst of flame consumed the inside of the oven. I let go of the girl, ripped off my mask and laid on my back panting and coughing. I heard the children and adults cheer but it was quickly silenced by the slave master.
"Dakota, are you alright?" asked Za'Becc, who was hovering over me.
I nodded and put my mask back on, "Where's the girl? Is she alright?"
Becky smiled, "She's a little scorched, but she'll be fine. Xeenan is with her."
I sat up and caught a glimpse of Xeenan's bleeding back and the little one in his arms before they disappeared out the door, with three guards behind them. I was amazed that the ex-hunter was able to stand after the beating he got. I noticed the rest of the slaves were being ushered away as well.
"Dakota you're bleeding!" cried Za'becc. She lifted up my shirt.
"Shit," I said, but at the moment, I did not care of my injuries. The girl was safe and that was all that mattered. Two guards flanked Becky and drew her to her feet. The slave master stood above me, took me by the arm and gently pulled me up.
“You’re braver than I thought ooman,” he grunted.
I was so stunned by the compliment that I only nodded. They hauled us down the Great Hall and put us in our compound. I saw Xeenan looking over the girl's burns on the far side of the room. Rain fell through the open window, creating a muddy puddle at the base of the window. The girl had her arm against the wall, letting the rain wash over her burns. Becky took my arm and led me to her bunk. She sat me down and asked me to take off my tank top. As I did she ripped pieces of her tattered blanket and pressed them to my back.
"Ow! Dammit Becky, careful," I whined.
"Sorry," she said.
I looked over my blood stained and torn shirt and made a face. There was no way I could wear it again.
"I don't suppose you have another top I could wear?" I asked.
Becky dabbed my back and gave a doubtful sigh, "I'll see what I can find."
I heard a shuffle behind me and I turned my head. I saw Xeenan standing there, his face swollen and bruised. Yellow, fluorescent blood was running out of the corner of his small mouth. He was staring at me with his right eye, since his left eye was swollen shut. I gasped and covered my bare chest, blushing.
"Do you mind?" I questioned irritably.
Xeenan lowered his gaze but he did not move. After what seemed like a long time he spoke.
"Thank-you...for saving my sister."
I blinked in surprise.
“You’re sister? Why—“
“I know Za’Becc has told you about my incident with oomans,” he growled, “My family was forced to share my punishment and dishonour.”
I felt my gut twist with disgust. I never thought “honour” could be valued at such an extreme level.
"But, why did you risk your life to save her?" asked Xeenan.
I looked at him oddly, "Why do you think? It was the right thing to do. No child deserves to die like that and I'd do it again if I had to."
The male's head snapped up in surprise, but he lowered it again when he remembered that I was still top-less. He sighed.
"All my life I thought oomans were the most dishonourable, ruthless, disgusting creatures ever spawned. I thought they only cared for themselves and no one else," he paused, "but you have proved me wrong ooman. I swear on my sister's life I will find a way to repay you."
I smiled, "You don't have to—"
"Isha, take his offer,” Becky interrupted, “You'll insult him if you don't.”
She dabbed the last of the blood off my back.
"Now we’ll need to find something for you to wear."
Xeenan turned around and went to his bunk. He lifted his mattress and pulled out something from under it. He came back, turned his head and held out a leather bikini top to me.
"Xeenan, where did you get that?" asked Becky.
He shrugged, "I found it lying around the compound some time ago. No one claimed it so I kept it."
I took the top and painfully slipped it over my head, then adjusted it so it would not rub my cuts. I turned to Xeenan.
"So where is your sister?" I asked.
A little head poked out from behind the male. Strange I had not noticed her there. Her skin and hair was the same colour as her brother's, but she did not have as many speckled birth marks. She was over three feet tall, wore a sports bra top, a knee length loincloth and her feet were bare. Small burns dotted her legs, arms and hands. I knelt down smiled at her.
"Are you alright little one?"
She leapt from behind her brother and slammed into me, wrapping her arms around my neck. Cringing, I put my hand on the ground to stay balanced and wrapped my other arm around her thin body. Hugging her close I picked her up as she buried her face into my neck.
"Thank-you for saving my life," she sobbed, "I thought I was dead when I heard the guard say to leave me."
Anger rose inside me, but I forced myself to push it away. This was not a good time to be angry. Rocking her back and forth I gently thumped her bony back.
"Shhhh," I whispered, "it's okay sweetie, you’re safe now."
After a few minutes she calmed down. Suddenly the door opened and two guards stepped into the compound.
"Ooman, the Elders want to see you," growled a guard.
"What for?" I asked, setting the child down.
"Don't ask questions ooman, just come with us."
He advanced towards me when Xeenan stood in front of his path, growling threateningly. I could not believe he wanted to fight in this condition. The two guards took out their whips.
"No don't," I touched his arm, "please don't. It's alright, I'll go."
I stepped In front of the guard and held out my arms in surrender. He shackled my wrists and he and the other guard dragged me out. Before the door closed I looked back and winked at my friends. Down the Great Hall, we went, and through the giant black doors, where the Elders were waiting. The guards knelt to one knee and I went down with them. The lead Elder told the guards to rise and he looked down at me.
"A few situations have been brought to my attention ooman. The first was your rescue of the suckling. That was an honourable act you did and I commend you for it. But this will not change your current position. Secondly, I've been noticing a change in the slaves' behaviour. A number of times I've seen sucklings smile for no apparent reason, while they work. The adults seem to carry themselves taller than they used to."
Crap I thought.
"Furthermore," the Elder continued, "some of the guards have told me that they have been hearing...music coming from your compound."
Double crap. The Elder narrowed his gaze.
"I know you are the cause of this change in attitude. What exactly are you doing?"
I kept a straight face, "I haven’t been anything ."
The golden cloaked male snarled, "You're lying ooman! I'll ask again, what are you doing? I'd advise you to speak the truth."
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the guards raise their whips. I sighed in defeat.
"I was singing."
The male Elder sat back on his cushion, "Ah yes, singing. I've heard that oomans have that ability, but I've never heard one sing before. Sing for us ooman."
I lowered my eyebrows and glared angrily, "What makes you think I'll sing for you?"
The High Elder trembled with rage and roared, "Because if you value what skin you have left on your back, I suggest you do as I command!"
The guards growled and raised their whips higher. Lowering my head in submission I closed my eyes and forced myself to sing "Amazing Grace". I opened my eyes and looked at the eight Predators. Although their faces were blank, their eyes told me they were astonished. The lead Elder cleared his throat.
"Well, I can certainly see why the slaves react well to this. Which concerns me. This singing has obviously built the slaves' confidence. If it keeps building, they may cause an uprising on the Citadel."
A male Yautja on the left side, who had a long jagged scar running across his oval forehead and down to his left eye, barked a laugh.
"I doubt that High Elder. These slaves wouldn't be stupid enough to fight against an army of guards and slave masters. We have them out numbered."
"Don't be so boastful," said a male Predator beside him, his hair heavy with beads, "you should never underestimate your opponent. If one is motivated enough, the odds can tilt in their favour, even if a situation seems hopeless. I agree with the High Elder, this singing could cause a problem. I say we get rid of her before it gets out of hand."
"I agree as well," said one of the females.
The Elders continued their debate, while I lowered my head and tried not to cry. I knew I was dead and I was never going to see Becky or Xeenan or my family ever again.
"Why get rid of her, when we can use this to our advantage," I heard another female say.
I looked up and saw it was the female who had given me the converter. The High Elder narrowed his eyes.
"What do you mean, Nadar–ian'ah?" he asked.
"I mean why throw away such talent? This could be a great addition to the 'Feast of the Gods." You have said yourself, High Elder, that the dancing and drummers are becoming a bore. Why not have the human sing as part of the entertainment?"
"This is a feast to honour the gods!" yelled the male with the beaded locks, "would you disgrace us in front of them by having this creature involved?!"
"Not unless she sings in their praise," said Nadar–ian'ah, "Singing is one of the ways they use to praise their gods. Why not have this ooman do the same thing?"
I could hardly believe it. Nadar–ian'ah was standing up for me again. The High Elder was silent for a long time. I shifted nervously on my knees.
"You have a point Nadar–ian'ah," the male finally spoke, "This would greatly please the gods if she sings in their honour."
"But you have said yourself that this talent could cause a problem. Having her sing at the feast could make the problem worse," said the beaded haired Yautja.
"I have not forgotten that you pauk–de idiot!" roared the High Elder, "Are you questioning my judgment?"
The Yautja cringed and bowed his head, "No High Elder, I apologise for my insolence."
The High Elder settled back on his cushion, "We shall discuss her talent later. Right now, I think this ooman needs to go to the Infirmary. We don't want her to get an infection so close to the feast. Guards, escort her there."
The two guards pulled me roughly to my feet.
"No, I’ll take her there myself," said Nadar–ian'ah.
I stared at her in shock, but the High Elder eyed her suspiciously. She met his gaze.
"With respect High Elder, you know I have a better knowledge of treatment and medicine than those good for nothing Healers we have."
The male exhaled and shook his large head, "Very well Nadar–ian'ah. Do with her as you please."
She bowed her head and stood from her cushion. The guards backed off and the massive female took me by the arm and lead me back into the Great Hall. We travelled for ten minutes until we came to the Infirmary. Once inside, saw it was the same room I woke up in almost a week ago. Nadar–ian'ah guided me to the table and told me to lie down on my stomach, with my top off. Hesitantly, I did as she said and cringed when my bare upper body met the cold steel of the table. I watched Nadar–ian'ah take a cylindrical container, unscrew the top and dip a cloth inside. A dark yellow liquid soaked the cloth. She turned around and stood over me.
"What's that for?" I inquired, nervously.
"It's to clean away the blood and disinfect the wounds. This will sting ooman."
She rubbed my whip wounds and I nearly screamed. It felt like rubbing alcohol was being brushed on my back. After a few minutes Nadar–ian'ah finished and threw the cloth away. She then took out a flat plate, a tube of blue liquid and bag of white powder. She dumped a handful of powder onto the plate and stirred it with the blue liquid. Careful not to move my stinging back I raised my head and asked a question that was eating me up.
"Why are you helping me?"
The female stopped stirring for a moment and raised her head, "I don't know, maybe because I’m impressed that you’ve survived this long."
"Uh–uh. If you didn’t think I had a chance, you wouldn’t have given me this converter."
Nadar–ian'ah went back to stirring, "Well, you clearly couldn’t speak. Something had to be done."
I sighed in disappointment, she was obviously keeping her true intentions from me.
She whirled around and hissed, "Never speak my name human! Lower beings are prohibited from calling Elders by name!"
"Then what should I call you; Yautja?!"
The huge female growled, "What is it ooman?"
Oh, I hated the way she said ooman.
"I know it was you who gave me water when I woke up in here—not to mention almost breaking my neck. But aside from that you helped me then and you're still helping me. Why?"
Nadar-ian'ah picked up the plate and a tool with a flat head and stepped beside me, "Because...I’ve been acquainted with the slave life."
I gasped, "You what?"
"Brace yourself human; this will hurt."
I was about to speak when she scooped a blob of the paste and smeared it over my wounds. This time I could not hold back a scream. The poultice burned and sizzled as it came in contact with my back, sending hot and cold painful flashes down my spine. Tears ran down my cheeks as a foul smell reached my nose. Nadar–ian'ah rubbed more of the paste on my lower back and I gripped the edge of the table, crying out again and swearing profusely.
After what seemed like forever, she finally completed her task and I flopped my head on the table, panting. I squeezed my eyes and rapped my feet on the table when a spasm of pain travelled along my back. Then, as fast as the pain came, the burning sensation left and my wounds felt numb. It took a while for my hands to release their death grip from the table. I felt a clawed hand pat my head.
"Leave that poultice on. It will peel off and your skin will be healed in the morning," said Nadar-ian'ah.
"Son of a bitch that hurt!" I groaned.
I slowly sat up, feeling really drained. I slipped on my top and looked over my shoulder. The blue poultice shone in the light and felt like dead skin. I felt a tap on my shoulder and saw Nadar–ian'ah holding a cup filled with a clear liquid.
"What's this?" I asked warily.
"It'll help with the healing process."
I took the cup, sniffed it and took a sip. It tasted like sweetened water. I drank a little bit more. Nadar–ian'ah stood beside me and watched.
I swayed back and forth, my vision twisting and spinning. My arms felt heavy and the cup slipped from my grip, clattering to the floor and spilling the rest of the liquid out. I did not have the strength to keep my balance and I fell to my side on the table. Move Dakota! Move! my mind cried, but my body would not obey. Nadar–ian'ah’s blurred figure leaned over me.
"Don't worry ooman, it's something to make you sleep. All will be explained in time."
Her voice echoed in my ears as my eye sight went black.