Author's Note: First, a stupendous amount of gratitude to my mentor and editor, Stupe, for her patient guidance on the often difficult journey of bringing my ideas into text. She has graciously allowed this tale to take place in the wondrous universe of her imagining, so superbly created in her story Chosen. If you have not read it, I would encourage you to do so as an introduction to my humble tale presented here. In fact, I would encourage you to read all of her delightful stories!
Alas, I own nothing in the Predator or AVP universe.
I submit this story as a Winter Solstice gift to all who share my enjoyment of the fanfic gallery. It is presented to honor, and hopefully entertain, all of you who have so greatly engaged me with your writings. I often comment, and you know who you are. Also, this story pays homage to the talent of CoolleKotten on Deviant Art. If you've not seen her Predator drawings, you have indeed missed something wonderful. And lastly, it is to honor my own heritage. What began as a jest with a friend has become a story. So, take a moment, pour yourself something enjoyable, then come back and enter this domain of morality, lust and cultural misunderstanding.
Chapter One: A Sacred and Secure Place
Sally lifted the stoneware mug of steaming morning blend richness to her lips and took a thoughtful sip. Today was THE day and she doubted, even after all the intricate costly preparation, that she was ready. Always meticulous and particular, she had put in long days readying for this hour. It had been two years ago when her recently instated boss had called her into his office to reveal that Earth's largest senior healthcare corporation was planning an expansion into uncharted waters and wanted her at the operational wheel.
She had awakened before dawn, as was her custom, and prepared for the day with the usual routine of meditation and yoga. Not a religious person, Sally still felt that something within her became centered and mindful during meditation and that answers often came to her when her mind was cleared of its normal chattering. The yoga had started when she was in her thirties and had become a way to relax and stay fit at the same time and kept a spring in her step even though she worked alongside many who were her juniors by a decade or more.
She was a senior administrator and seasoned by the industry for some twenty-odd years. That was long enough for her to know she was either being rewarded for her excellence, or being placed into a no-win situation that would lead down the long road of "we've decided to do something else and you're no longer needed". So she listened carefully as her slightly smirking young-enough-to-be-your-kid boss whined how the fattest corporation on the planet needed just one more thing to carry out its plan – her. Sally detested whining, as well as the artificial relationship the boss was trying to form in his efforts to recruit her. No smoothness at all. How in hell did he ever get elevated to this position? He couldn't sell blood to an anemic. If, in fact, he was my kid, she contemplated, I'd have left him out for the wolves, long ago. He went on schmoozing, oblivious to the historical demise that had been planned for him, saying that her reputation for fair-minded toughness, and getting the job done, had landed her this once-in-a-lifetime offer.
She'd asked for time to think the deal over, but in the end, she'd snapped up the bait. A healthy boost to an already decent yearly salary, with quarterly bonuses promised in writing if certain goals were met. Now I know how much money it takes to buy me, she pouted as she made her way in anavy tropical weight wool jacket and matching pencil slim skirt to the front door. The heavy door still smelled of new paint as did all the virginal housing on the compound. She made sure it was locked and then deftly stepped down the walk to her white hybrid parked in the apartment complex parking area.
There had been a rare rain the night before, and the morning desert air was still humid and cool. Sally had been amused when she first came here and realized that while still deep in the complex she could tell that it was raining outside by the air's moist smell and taste. Although from the north, she had taken to this scrub desert with an inborn love of this wilderness that blossomed under the heat of the sun. She enjoyed the rare breaks she gave herself from work to hike the pinion pine woodlands or drive to, not too distant, bazaars of local artists and craftsmen. Blessed by her bulging bank account, she had begun to collect native pottery, jewelry and paintings which now graced her southwestern style apartment.
Eyeing herself in the rearview mirror, she backed the beeping but engine-silent car down the drive to the street. Brushing back the ash brown fringes gracing her forehead, Sally thanked whatever gods there might be that the casual short piecey look suited her as she loathed messing with it. A slather of tinted moisturizer and slick of tinted lip balm outfitted her face for the day. A few age lines and creases were beginning to give character to her pale complexion. Not smoking, and always wearing a huge hat in the sun had protected the near perfect skin her ancestors had blessed her with.
A short fifteen minutes later, she pulled up to the just-completed two-story, pearl grey and white, main building of the compound built like a space station with a commanding central core and arms leading out in six directions. She waved her ID badge at the gate, the titanic dull gray steel bars sluggishly opened and she unknowingly held her breath as she drove through and located her parking spot with the newly placed "Administrator" plaque near the unadorned front entrance. Sally hopped out and strode on long legs to the solid 4-inch thick steel doors. She popped her ID in the reader with a practiced ease and a smaller human-sized rectangle in one of the doors slid open. It closed with a faint hush after she passed through it. Her sensible black shoes making no noise, she walked quickly to her office and inhaled deeply to calm her jitters; it was opening day for Paya's House of Eldercare.
The Yautja Elders had been in a quandary for some time, which was unusual for them. In earlier days, when the Matriarchy ruled, the females had always cared for the extremely rare, truly ancient ones, who had survived child-bearing, or hunts and battle, for so many hundreds of years that their bodies eventually began to fail them. With their religious and cultural emphasis on strength and ability, this was regarded with great shame in the Clans, so the Matriarchs would secret them away to vast guarded underground chambers. There, they would be cared for and come to an honored end in some manner unknown to the general Yautja populous. Rumor had it they were cared for by large robust young females which spawned a great many jokes among the Elders.
But, the time of the Matriarchy had abruptly ended and as a few of the Elders survived into long hundreds of years, more than just physical weakness began to suddenly appear among the Ancients of the Clans. An array of dishonorable behaviors began to be manifested; behaviors such as a failing of the ability to remember, to make sense of words, or to use reason. Hearsay was that sometimes the Elders would call upon an Honored Ancient to lead a hunt, and then ensure his weapons were malfunctioning or dull. However it was happening, Honored Ancients were often disappearing, and this brought about great grumbling in the Clans regarding the lack of respect and honor for the vastly aged – each of the grumblers being hopeful they were on their journey to becoming vastly aged themselves. With no females left to guide them, this grumbling and the back-room conversations about it, were becoming more open and threatened to become public, representing a possible future threat to the High Council's long established organization and rule of order.
The Earth's largest senior healthcare corporation (ELSHC) had kept its acquisitive bejeweled ear to the universe and, hearing of this particular problem, devised its own profitable solution to be presented to the High Council. "Bring us your tired, your worn Hunters yearning for the freedom of their youth. We will establish a sacred and secure place for them to live out the rest of their years, sheltered from scrutiny so that no honorable clan is dishonored again," read their communication.
The High Council Elders clicked their mandibles in a collective expression of relief as the agreements were signed, and items of technical value as well as commodities passed into the caring hands of ELSHC in order for them to fund the building of such a place. On top of this, an agreement for periodic payment was made during the life of each Ancient for his continued excellent care.
A soft chime was sounding in Sally's office, whisking away any momentary calm she might have claimed. The chime warned that the first Yautja transport ship was descending onto the compound's landing pad with the first Honored Ancient about to take up residence within its halls. Her blood pressure rising, Sally set her game face and determinedly stepped out of her office and made her way toward the intake port muttering a quiet prayer to God or Paya or anyone listening that this first admission would go smoothly.
Still steaming from entry through Earth's atmosphere, the dark metal Yautja ship, built for both atmosphere and space, sat like some great falcon with outstretched wing tips arching gracefully from its body to nearly touch the landing pad. The ship's door hissed open, slowly dropping down to form a glistening black walkway from the vessel to the open door of the compound's intake port below. As the ship's door was opening, the intake port's ponderous entrance also opened. Sally clasped her hands behind her back to keep from biting her nails as she watched the imposing ship from the small viewer screen inside the building. God, I hope and pray that we are ready. So much is riding on this first contact, so much is riding on the success of this endeavor.
A group of alien Hunters stealthily appeared from the ship door's discharged mist and made their way down the walkway bulked out in armored regalia, and numerous lethal looking weapons, each on full alert. Masked faces, encased by long braid like locks, swiveled this way and that, up and down, as the entire area was scanned. Sally's heart began to hammer. Her mind ran away imagining prehistoric monster cats, as they stalked silently toward her building as stealthy as any saber-toothed tiger that had ever hunted Earth's plains. The one who stood out as leader bent his arm to consult something on his wrist and then hand signaled commands as they all advanced on the intake port in full fearsome hunting mode.
Sally, like everyone else in the world, had seen the regal Yautja Hunters before on the TV news. She'd also read many translated Yautja-provided reports, a carefully prepared subset of information; complete with what anatomical, biological, behavioral, history and language studies the High Council had deemed necessary to assist in preparing the House. The viewer confirmed what all the reports and pictures had portrayed, tall and substantially muscled, strangely clothed, masked male beings in a combination of armor, high and low technology and loincloth, with a metal codpiece to boot. Now Sally was about to see, up close and personal, what television and photographs made so small and palatable.
The hunters were entering a hologram (more Yautja technology procured as payment for this facility), which to a Yautja or a human of normal brain function would appear somewhat flat and contrived. However, when the ability of the brain to perceive and understand its surroundings was compromised, the hologram appeared real enough. It had been created with the assistance and blessing of the Yaut planet High Council and offered the easiest and safest way to get an Ancient into the facility. This was its first test in real-time.
A'diarfr, the Honorable Ancient, led the five Hunt Brothers down the shipway onto the savannah below. As he drew closer, Sally could zoom in with the viewer. The Ancient's mottled skin was faded with age. His skin bore countless dull marks of previous damage yet did not appear translucent as it did on both old humans and very old Yautja. The muscles bulging out from gaps in the armor were still solid and powerful. Zooming further still, Sally made out that his mask bore etching around the edges and under the eyepieces that she compared to small vertical sticks, some with a rounded branch curving from the top, some with a forked head or base, and still others that branched out to the sides. Shifting her sights to the others in the group, she saw similar markings on each of the Hunter's masks, along with exactly the same insignia in the center above and between the masks' black 'eyes'. It was a triangular symbol that looked like three interlocking crescent moons with each crescent pointed outward to make a three-winged pyramidal design. Sally admired the symmetry and precise artistry of the shape engraved into each mask. She wondered how they engraved it, or perhaps it was some sort of etching, or had somehow been molded into each helm. Pulling back to focus on the Ancient, she observed that from around the back of his decorated mask grew glistening arctic-white locks bearing many small rings, some plain and some with those same stick-like characters. His proud bearing spoke of countless years of experience, and capability in leading the hunt. Yet, Sally noticed that he appeared to have trouble with his balance, and walked more slowly than the others, who held back to stay behind him. Was this the Ancient?
This was the Blue Planet, Earth to its natives, and the Yautja would be hunting the great large-eared tusked intelligentsia of this plain with only hand-held bladed weapons. This would be a true test of courage and honor, that A'dairfr felt he had rightly been sought out by the Clan to lead. It had been centuries since he'd been on the Blue Planet and he was eager to see the vast wilderness again with only few areas colonized by a somewhat intelligent although technically primitive population. He shook his head slightly as his concentration wavered, trying to remember just exactly when his last hunt had been, as the thousands of hunts that marked his lifespan seemed to all run together in his memory. Then he quietly clicked to himself; this was no time to wonder about anything, it was time to concentrate on that most sacred and enjoyable of activities – leading the hunt.
The Hunter band tracked gracefully and stealthily across the savannah, with the exception of the leader, who was somewhat unsteady on his feet. "We will set up a base camp in this place," he formally commanded when they were upon a small rise which afforded a view of a muddy watering hole some 200 noks east of where they stood. "We will be set up before the time comes when our prey will come to the water, we will cloak and wait for that time, and then by the blessings of Paya, a great hunt and many trophies will be ours!" Grunting their enthusiasm, the hunters began to set up the base camp and prepare. Then, one by one they cloaked and became heat-like shimmers against the golden plain.
As his group was preparing the camp, A'diarfr quenched his thirst with a flask of water, given him by one of the others, and set on the ground with his back against a rock, quietly examining his ki'cti-pa and the glint of his favorite naginata, both of which had been in his possession for centuries and were only part of the vast array of weapons he'd amassed over the years. The naginata in particular was admired and had been awarded by his favorite uncle after A'diarfr had slain a particularly nasty Queen Kainde Amedha and barely escaped with his life. A'diarfr reminisced about that gift given so long ago and felt his eyes grow heavy under the glaring savannah sun. Perhaps a brief nap before the hunt began…
As soon as the now drugged Ancient was unconscious, the Hunt Brothers uncloaked and hoisted his massive limp form onto a rolling litter and began stripping it of all armor, mask and weapons, even the metal codpiece, until only the soft loincloth was left. Standing as yet, she thought, unseen in a side doorway, Sally anxiously waited, trying to calm her churning stomach, ready to greet the arriving party. Her concentration on the proper receiving procedure was momentarily forgotten as she took in the jaw-dropping muscular behemoths before her engaged in preparing the Ancient for delivery. When they had finished, they assembled as a group. The tallest one with the unmistakable aura of leader stepped out in front snapping a rumbled command to the others. His huge mass communicated expectation but the eyepieces of his carbon-lock framed mask were unreadable. Slowly, he removed small hoses attached to one side of the mask and, taking hold of it with both hands, broke the seal which hissed with an outgas of alien atmosphere as he pulled it from his face. The others did likewise.
Aliens are here. The Yautja are here and I am about to greet them. "I am not afraid." She uttered the last softly over and over as a mantra of preparation. With the hologram abruptly ended, and the Ancient bared down to his cloth, Sally forced herself into military posture, stomach still somersaulting as she stepped forward with all the conviction of a primary student in her first school play.
She walked deliberately to the group, trying to still her nerves that threatened to shatter like a tumbler under too firm a grip. I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I am not afraid, her thoughts cadenced with each step. As she grew closer and closer, she noticed her head inclining ever more upward till at last she stood before the one standing in front, definitively looking UP in order to make eye contact. Scarcely containing a tremble, she Heplaced her fist over her heart and bowed to the group. She heard her voice as though from afar saying the rehearsed ritual words. "I am Sally, Matriarch of this place, and I am honored to receive your Ancient Elder, the Honored Elite A'diarfr, to reside here in respect for the rest of his days."
The now apparent true leader had been observing the woman standing over to the side. She does not think we see or hear her, he observed with some humor. She is saying something to herself; I hear it, but not well enough to understand the words. He continued watching through amused eyes, as the woman stiffly marched to him. She moves as though she were sacrificial prey, turned out by the others to flush the Hunter out of hiding. Is this the leader, the Matriarch of this place that I am to turn the Ancient over to? Sally made her greeting to him, confirming his suspicion, as the Hunt Brothers also placed their fists to their chests and he growled back in the lowest tones Sally had ever tried to hear, "Sal'lee, I am Elder Ulfr. I place the Ancient Elder, Honored Elite A'diarfr, in your keeping. May his memory be proudly spoken of in our Clan." Ulfr nodded slightly to her, then grunted an order and they turned as a unit making their way back onto the ship which lifted off in surreal silence and was gone.
On the ship, Ulfr relaxed. That went smoothly, just as the High Council said it would. He remembered just a few cycles ago, he had been summoned to the Council for unexplained reasons. He had stood before the assemblage, proud of his life accomplishments, but baffled as to what they might want with him. The Great Hall of Honor was not a place he had been to many times. To be summoned here was a matter of immense importance, often resulting in greater honor, or death. Ulfr stood alone in the vast hall, surrounded by the leaders, the Honored Elite Elders of the Nine Clans, each one a legend in prowess and principle with an unblemished record of excellence and ethics. His own bloodline had produced a few, so highly honored in the past, which added value to his lineage and, along with his achievements, garnered his stellar reputation.
"Honored Elder Ulfr," one of the Council members had addressed him. "We have an assignment of great delicacy for you. You have been selected, out of many, for your honor, your understanding of our code, your history of success in the hunt and your detailed understanding of the language and customs of the Blue Planet." Ulfr was intrigued as the Council member explained what was required of him. He was proud to be chosen as the Elder on an important mission, and he was honored to be the Council's insurance that the mission would be accomplished. His many years of learning the language and manner of the oomans had originally been to benefit his hunt. Hunting oomans was now limited to the few criminals and other unwanteds gleaned by their governments to be doled out to the Yautja for transport to some off-Earth location for the purpose of hunting. He was pleased that his skills could now be polished up and useful for the benefit of all Yautja.
Back at Paya's House, Sally just stood, her mind trying to grapple with what she'd witnessed. She gasped a breath of air realizing she'd not been breathing for some time, and closed her eyes for a relieved moment. They were so . . . god damn huge, she thought. I had no idea they were so . . . forbiddingly magnificent. God, I need a drink. Why was the leader so stiff and formal? Was this uncomfortable for him? He spoke well; he must have encountered us before. Duh! Of course they would only send someone who could communicate with us. Oh my God! They live a long time, has he hunted us in the past? Sally's active mind began to assess and postulate about the Hunter and his behavior.
A'diarfr made slight waving motions with his mandibles as a guttural eruption exited his meagerly toothed mouth, startling Sally who quickly brought her concentration upon him. She stared at the great bulk nearly overloading the gurney with its mass, and brought her eyes to the scarred symbol on his forehead. She knew from her studies that this was a Clan mark, given after a hunt that was a rite of passage into adulthood. What beasts this great Ancient had hunted, she did not have a guess. The strange face with closed eyes seemed even odder up close than in the photos she'd studied. How quickly the forehead slopes back, she thought. The skull is larger than ours for the body size, as is the brain. Are they actually smarter than us? Reaching out to touch one of the bands around a white lock, Sally jumped as another snort blared out from between the wavering mandibles. She stared at him in amazement and then a little giggle leaked from her tinted lips. Ancient Elder Honored Elite A'diarfr was snoring. Paya's House had its first customer.