Predator: You Can't Go Home Again

Prologue: The Bitter Truth

Courtney walked with quick steps through the encampment built on the edge of the spaceport, heading for a large hide tent that was decorated with symbols of respect for the one who occupied the dwelling. Her myriad of small, bead and bone adorned braids bounced behind her with her purposeful steps, and she wove with a cat's grace through the Soua standing around the encampment and guarding against Noa attack. They towered over her slight, muscular, five-foot-four frame, by nearly two feet, but that only served to allow her passage through smaller spaces between them.

She was a human, a clusu, or prey animal to the Soua, and forced to come to this planet many rotations prior. Gui'Yata, the predator, or Soua that had rescued her, had brought her here inadvertently to save her life, a favor returned for a similar compassion she had showed him once on Earth. She had stayed alive only because she had immersed herself in their society, learning their ways and passing all of the tests placed before her. Not that it had been easy, many times she thought that she was about to face death at the hands of these consummate hunters and warriors.

Courtney, or Raha, as those she was accompanying knew her, glanced only briefly at the small group that was calling this camp home tonight. A pang went through her as she thought again about why they were here and not in the trees, resting safely in the embrace of Taysa's boughs. The city was gone; nothing but ash and ruins high up the bole of that ancient stand of trees. The Noa had ensured that.

They had decimated the treetop city, not once but twice, in a war of vengeance against the more technologically advanced Soua. That was the reason she needed to talk to Eesa Lyonas, before she left.

The Noa had captured her, and though treated none too kindly while in their care, she managed to garner some vital information. Information that might just end the war, she had a suspicion, and she needed to get it to somewhat sympathetic ears. She had left Quarta nearly fifteen minutes ago, much to Gui'Yata's dismay; and she had felt him searching mentally for her since she had left. She knew he was close behind her. She hoped that she could tell her story before he caught up. Again, her smaller size would allow her to get past most of the obstacles that would slow her bondsman down.

Finally, she reached the tent and burst through the door, startling the Soua in the makeshift shelter. Quona rose slowly to his feet, his grizzled face tightening upon seeing her. The dense grayed spikes edging the crown of his head and hemming in his yellow and orange eyes gave him a wizened and very dangerous appearance. His mandibles were open and a low growl was emanating from his alien throat. His temper was evident in the taut set of his body, his muscles standing out under his grayish-green skin.

"You are supposed to be on the ship!" He growled at her.

She paused, bowing low and adding a sign of apology to the reverent greeting of her superior. The human had rarely seen him this angry before, and realized that it had to be the stress of the current state of affairs. It had obviously worn his normally boundless patience thin.

"I have ordered your departure for your safety, Raha! Do not choose now to disobey me, for the longer you linger the more likely your life will be forfeit."

She straightened, boldly closing the distance between them in a breach of etiquette that could get her killed with any other Eesa. It helped that she was a member of that now defunct governing body from the city of Taysa. Speaking urgently lest he cut her off, Courtney said, "I realize the risk that I am taking here, Quona, and the dishonor should I be caught after the events of this moon cycle, but I must speak with you before I leave," she said using his older title.

"Anything that you have to relay to me can be reported from the ship later. You were already to have broken atmosphere!"

She shook her head, "This must be said in person, where the proper weight can be given to the words, where you may challenge what I am about to say with out the delays of atmospheric transmissions."

Sinking down cross-legged in front of him, Courtney looked up into the grizzled old Soua's face, seeing his irritation and his curiosity warring. He looked about to relent, when a shadow passed across the opening and both turned to find Gui'Yata paused there, looking angry and anxious about Raha's presence before the Eesan.

Quona held up a hand to ward the boy off. He signed to the younger Soua that he would treat with her. Gui'Yata nodded, bowed slightly, and retreated the way he had come, returning to the waiting Taya ship. His orders were to take his human cargo back to Earth. The thought sent a thrill of nerves through Courtney, she didn't want to return home, because it wasn't home anymore. She could relate to a Gratla better than she could human beings anymore. Well most of them anyway, Gerard was a different story. Yes, a different story altogether, and she blushed despite herself, at the thoughts that invaded her brain. Quickly she pushed them out again and refocused, as the Quona settled into his furs and cushions across from her.

He did not prompt her nor question her but his expression was one of intent interest in what she had to say.

She cleared her throat nervously, unsure how her news would be accepted by the grizzled old warrior, treading carefully, and picking her words gingerly she said, "In my time amongst the Noa…I discovered something very disturbing. I would like some…clarification on the matter from you."

Still he remained silent.

"Quona, I am curious to know of Soona's history. Where are the Soua from?"

Quona tilted his head to one side bemused by her question, "We are of Soona…as we always have been."

She looked down and nodded, expecting that answer from him, "What if I was to tell you that Soua as they are now, are not of Soona?"

A flash of anger clouded his eyes, "That is blasphemous!"

"Yes," She answered bowing her head in subservience and not meeting his gaze, "But this is what the Noa have told me."

Again his head quirked to the side, the bone ornaments in his hair clanking quietly together, "Tell me what they think they know about our race."

"I was told," She started, glancing to his face and away again, "It was told to me, that long back in the history of Soona, that the Noa and the Soua were the same people. They were a people divided, what they called 'Clan' lived on the ground in stilted houses or natural caverns and lived off of the land. The 'Brethren' took to the trees, looking for easier living away from the prowling predators below in the forest. The two tribes supplemented each other, and sustained an uneasy peace," she glanced up again, noting that his eyes had widened, but no other reaction was indicated in his features. Courtney moved on realizing that she had his full attention, "A space faring race, one that the Noa referred to as 'The Masters', appeared and stole away a large number of the tree dwelling hunters for use amongst the stars. There, the Noa were made into warriors for an endless Master War amongst other planets, the beings keeping them never soiling their own hands with the task.

"The Masters altered the Noa to better serve the purpose. Eventually, how long after the Noa do not know, these genetically altered warriors broke free, in the process stealing the master's technology, and even a Taya ship and returned here. Returned to a home they only had a vague recollection of."

The Quona had straightened in his cushion looking both angry and thoughtful, "The…human told you this?"

Courtney nodded slowly seeing the defensive stance in Quona's posture.

"It could be that this was told to you to make you sympathetic, Raha," he added.

Courtney looked down, "It had occurred to me, Quona," She looked back into his eyes, "But there are…parallels that could be drawn between your two tribes. The physical similarities are the most obvious. That they could pass for Soua warriors without detection speaks volumes for that tie between the two species."

Quona was growling again, agitated to be compared with such simple creatures.

"There are also similarities in organization. A council, a council that is headed by the oldest, fiercest, and wisest among them, leads their city. They even fight with similar tactics as our own warriors."

"This does not prove that this story the Noa have fed you is true and accurate."

"But Quona, what if no deception was ever intended in the telling of this tale? The Noa say that the Soua began hostilities here on this planet between the two races. When the Soua landed here in a master ship they slaughtered the envoy of Noa who had tried to reestablish contact with their lost brothers. They were unable to reach a common ground, something they once had."

She could see that she had Quona thinking now, and inwardly she sighed in relief. She knew that he would be her best bet to get the truth out there, to be heard and dealt with. The views she was spouting were heretical, that the two races shared a common past, many others would have beheaded her at the first whisper of this blasphemy.

"If it is true, if the acts they talk about really happened, would it not be prudent to again find a common ground? Would it not aid us to end this war quickly and with less bloodshed and lives lost? All this, if only amends could be made for that initial act of hostility."

Quona rose so suddenly that Courtney nearly fell backwards, "I will think on this news, Raha. It does not change the fact that you MUST go, now!"

Courtney jumped to her feet, bowing low before him. She then retreated toward Quarta.