Yup, it's true, I'm still around. After a lot of rewriting and editing I finally posted another chapter. I hope is meets satisfaction.
It is so strange, this feeling, it is so hard to describe. I felt relieved but tense; joy but sorrow; proud but disappointed. All of these feelings were like a whirlwind in the pit of my stomach and they increased when the ship drifted closer to planet Earth. As unfortunate as it was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it was still incredible at how much I had accomplished: inspiring the slaves with my singing, resisting the tight hold of Commander Melnyk and the Yautja High Elder and against all odds, regained my freedom. I had learned that even in the most horrible of situations, good things still managed to peak its way out—Nadar– ian'ah, Xeenan, Za'Becc, Sor'an and Al were living proof. I got to hear their stories and was able to give them comfort through my songs and talk of freedom. We all relied heavily on each other for strength and reassurance, without them I doubt I would have survived in the citadel. In a way, we have become a close segregate family. But now that I am soon to be home, it was hard to accept that I will never see them again.
I do have every right to feel like this, I just never imagined it to happen fast. The one month that I was away from home felt like a year. I had so many experiences on the Yautja Homeworld, both positive and negative and from them I have become more appreciative of the things that I have been blessed with: food, clean water, clothing, shelter. It was amazing how much of these things I took for granted, how there were so many things I did not need, yet I would sometimes behave like I could not live without them. I would not put this experience on anyone; no one deserves to be treated without dignity or freedom. But it would benefit many others if people would listen to my story and take a moment to think of all the good things they have been blessed with; one can never know how lucky they are, until what they appreciate in life is lost.
I gazed at the Earth before me, sitting in one of the large chairs on the bridge. Sor'an unbuckled himself from his seat and came to my lap, his skinny body snuggling close. He knew we would soon say good bye, as did the others, but we did not say a word. The ship cruised to the other side of the planet, well out of the U.S. TURAIS' visual. I could not help but wonder if Commander Melnyk had figured out what had happened and I had no doubt that once the ship regained full control of their systems, they would send out a search party for me and would probably start with my home. But I did not ask Narar–ian'ah exactly how much time it would take for the ship to get their power back, mostly because I did not want to know the answer. I kept my mind focussed on the present.
Nadar–ian'ah pulled a switch and I sensed the ship descent. My stomach lurched at the sudden drop and Sor'an hugged me tighter when the space craft shuddered in the atmosphere. The sun became engulfed in grey–blue clouds in the glow of the setting sun. It would be dark soon but with the ship's cloaking it would not matter if we came in broad daylight. I gathered Sor'an in my arms and walked to the front of the ship, looking through the window. The ship broke through the cloud cover and flew over the vast green–brown continents surrounded by the blue ocean. I could just make out large mountain ranges and seas that scattered across the giant islands. I felt a sudden surge of anxiousness in my stomach as I stared at my world below me. The familiarity of the planet overwhelmed me with happiness and I could only imagine how I would be feeling once I was back with my family.
"Where do I go Dakota?"
Nadar–ian'ah's voice snapped me out of my trance. She had displayed a large holographic image of the Earth appeared behind me, almost taking up the whole bridge. I looked at her questioningly.
"Touch the area where you live," she said.
I was still confused but I touched the continent of North America and the image focused on the two countries. Smiling I figured out how it worked and tapped the image two more times until I saw a very graphic, areal view of my city. It did not take long for me to find the road that lead to my acreage.
"There!" I cried, "that's my home!"
The Elder nodded and typed in the co–ordinance in the consol and the ship descended even further. I held Sor'an against my hip as I watched the earth become closer, the sun slowly disappearing behind the clouds. The ship gently flew over rolling hills and lakes that dotted between golden plains and green forests. The closer we got to the earth, the more I could see the lights of the cities begin to turn on as dusk approached. I pointed out the window.
"Look Sor'an, can you see those lights?" I asked.
He looked at me, confused of what I had said, until Nadar–ian'ah translated it. He squinted his eyes and shook his head, replying back in his garbled language. The Elder was gracious enough to be our mediator while she navigated her space ship.
"I see bright blotches. Is that your home?"
"No, it's a neighbouring city. I wish you could see the lights, they are like stars in space from up here."
I finally saw the lights of my city; I could see the familiar freeways and roads zip by as the ship continued on its course towards the open prairie in the north. It was not long until I could see my family's acreage. The property itself was very distinctive, one of the few that was marked by a thick line of birch and elm trees that surrounded all four sides of the field. In the east corner of the field was a large pond that held families of geese, ducks and Red Wing Blackbirds for as long as I could remember.
"There it is!" I cried.
The Elder nodded and made a sharp U–turn. The ship descended near the back of my house and right beside the vegetable garden. I could see the house and back deck lights come on as the sun set lower behind the line of trees. I put Sor'an down and made my way to the back of the shuttle, when I suddenly stopped. How would my family react when I arrived on their doorstep? And for that matter, what was I going to say to my friends? I looked over my shoulder and saw the rest of them come up behind me, except for Nadar–ian'ah. They did not say anything, but their faces gave them away. They did not want to say good bye and neither did I.
We waited at the rear of the ship until the Elder came back, holding a black cloth bag in one hand and she pulled a lever to lower the ramp. I stepped out first and the others followed until I stopped. The urge to run to my house was almost too much to hold back, but after closing my eyes and taking a deep breath I turned around and confronted my friends. Al was holding her older brother's hand while Sor'an stood between Becky and Nadar-ian'ah, like nervous soldiers before a battle. There was an uncomfortable silence between us, save for the crickets that were just beginning to sing. I felt a cold ball form in my stomach as I opened my mouth to speak.
"I…I'm not really sure where to begin," I said, feeling very awkward.
For a moment I thought there was no point of speaking. Nadar–ian'ah would be the only one to understand me, but I had to say something.
"I would like to say thank you," as I spoke I became more confident and stood taller, "thank you for everything you have done for me. I'll always remember and cherish these several weeks we faced together. I'm going to miss you all very much."
Nadar–ian'ah translated what I had said and the children ran right into me, hugging me so tight it was hard to breathe. I struggled to hold back tears as I lowered to my knees and embraced them both. Out of everyone, the children touched my heart the most; they were given a second chance to have normal lives and very few underprivileged children are given one at all. Becky approached and I let the children go. She wrapped her arms around me and as she squeezed I could feel her bones press into me. She probably will never gain back the muscle mass a female of her species should have, but I could tell by the strength of her hug that her body was recovering from many years of malnutrition. Becky put her hands on my shoulders, looked at her right wrist and untied her bracelet. She took my hand and placed it on my palm, clicking and grunting. I did not need a translator to tell me what she was saying and I shook my head.
"No, Becky this was your mother's bracelet. I shouldn't have it."
After a series of growls and clicks Nadar–ian'ah said, "She wants you to have it to remember her by."
"No, I can't—"
"You will insult her if you don't take it," interrupted Nadar–ian'ah.
I looked back at Becky, gave her a smile and closed my hand.
"Thank you," I said, "I'm honoured."
She nodded her head and I could tell she was keeping a brave face. Xeenan was close behind her and I was not sure what to do. Even though we had established a connection, I was still not fully comfortable about saying a heartfelt good bye to him. I also did not think Xeenan was the type for that, so the first thought that came to mind was to put my hand on his shoulder and give it a firm shake.
"Good bye Xeenan, take good care of yourself and Becky."
I expected him to do the same thing, but instead he went right in for a hug, his lean arms nearly lifting me off the ground. My body became tense from the unexpected embrace, but then I relaxed and wrapped my arms around his waist. I heard him growl in my ear and I recognised only one Yautja word: Isha. Not once had he ever called me by a name before and I immediately knew that our friendship was more meaningful than I ever thought possible.
The Elder spoke, "He said he will always remember your wisdom and courage and thanks you for giving him and his sister a second chance at a new life."
I squeezed Xeenan tighter, breathing in his familiar musk. A few tears escaped from my eyes, but I quickly wiped them away when the male let me go. Finally I went to Nadar–ian'ah who wasted no time in giving me a strong hug.
"I am honoured to have met you Dakota. You were one of the bravest beings I had ever met. I know your courageous spirit will bring you many good fortunes in the years to come."
She let me go and held out the bag.
"Don't forget this."
I groaned, knowing full well that the giant rat skull was inside and reluctantly took the trophy. Everyone chuckled at my disapproval.
"Where will you go now? What will happen to them?" I asked.
"I will return to my duties at the citadel. Most likely I will be needed to calm the uproar from the escaped slaves," she paused and glanced at my friends, "there are many remote places on my planet and I know of a very secluded area that they can make their home. My father took me there once; it will be a hard life for them, but liveable. You have my word of honour they will be safe."
I smiled, "I know they will. Thank you Nadar–ian'ah."
The area around me was now dark and a cool breeze was picking up. No one said a word, but we all seemed to simultaneously feel that before it got too hard we should go our separate ways. The Elder filed my friends back to the cloaked ship, each one taking one last glance at me before entering. I spoke out once more.
"Good bye everyone and blessings on your new life."
I waved and they waved back and I kept my eyes on the group until the ramp closed behind them. I jogged a good distance away from the ship as I heard the engines power up. The cloaked vessel shimmered as it hovered over the grass then in a split second it turned and silently took off into the star filled sky. I stayed outside a little longer, staring at the spot where the ship disappeared and began to think about the new life that lay ahead for the family. I am willing to bet they will build a lovely tree house in the jungle near a clear, blue stream with the children climbing trees and playing on the soft, leafy floor while Becky and Xeenan take a romantic hunting trip together, and their days will end with peaceful nights of sleep. That was probably the corniest thing I had ever thought, but it was still pleasant.
I looked at the black bag in one hand, the bracelet in the other and wondered about my future. By now the U.S. TURAIS will have gained back control of its functions and I will not be surprised if the army suddenly showed up on the doorstep. As for getting another job, I will never work at Weyland Industries again and it will be interesting to see if anyone would hire me for my talents or what information I could give them about the Yautja; maybe offer me so much money I would never have to work another day in my life. I chuckled, it was an amusing thought. But whatever happens to me, it could not be any worse than spending a month as a slave for the greatest hunters of the universe. If the Yautja could not break my spirit, I suppose nothing ever will.
I turned around and made my way to the house. I could see the warm glow of the lights inside as I stepped onto the veranda and rang the doorbell. After a few seconds my younger sister Heather answered the door and did a double take, eyes as wide as saucers and her jaw dropped. I waited for a moment and watched her mouth open and close, as if she was trying to say something but nothing was coming out. Finally I could not take the silence.
"Hi," I said and held up the bag, "I got you a souvenir."
Could this be the end for Dakota and the Predators…not so sure yet. I think the reason why it took me so long to get this chapter up is because it was hard to finish this story. This was the first fan fiction I had ever posted online and I never thought I would get such a good response from so many readers or make new writing friends. Looking back from when I had posted the first chapter, I can see that my writing style has gradually matured and I have become more aware about grammar and sentence structure. I owe a huge part of that to many consciences reviewers.
I would like to say a big thank you to the fans and friends that have stuck with this story to the end and to those who have reviewed. All of you enabled me to pay more attention to detail and have encouraged me to keep this story going. This has been a great experience for me and I hope to continue the experience with other fictional pieces. I wish all of you the best of luck with your writing and hope that you too get a wonderful experience from publishing your stories.