A/N - Starting a new story when I have three in progress is not a good idea.
But I kept thinking; with a new species of "pet" discovered - and one of the most renowned Zithan's parading it about - wouldn't there be more interest? The answer is 'yes'. And the Natki aren't the only ones running a business.
I've decided to keep this story short - at just a few chapters. And this is a draft that will be edited (as always) ;)
To those of you waiting for updates: I'm so sorry they're late! I haven't forgotten them - I just can't write on a schedule because I'm terrible at time management - and thank you for all of the love they're receiving 3
Please review and let me know if you're liking this one too ^^
"We're here!" Alan Derry pulled off the road and parked the car.
Kieran and his siblings, Emily and Hugh, hurried outside. Emily was the youngest at ten years old and she immediately bent to place both of her hands on the ground; stretching her small back from the five hour car ride.
Kieran felt his back crack satisfyingly and breathed in the fresh air. He was the middle child at seventeen and just finishing up high school.
Hugh was the oldest at twenty-one and he hefted Emily's pack, as well as his own. Kieran strapped on his backpack, and their parents followed suit, before locking the car and setting off for the familiar trek.
This was their annual camping trip. It had initially been their mother's (Sarah Derry) idea, as a way to detox from electronics and the stresses of city life.
Alan had always been the outdoorsy type and he'd eagerly suggested camping when Kieran was eight years old. That meant a week in the woods without phone, internet or any connection to the outside world except Mother Nature and each other.
Emily made herself useful by handing out water from one of their cooling boxes.
"Can we make a swing over the water?" She asked excitedly, strawberry curls flying, as she skipped around with her usual boundless supply of energy.
"Right after we set up camp." Alan replied, grinning when his daughter whooped and jumped nimbly over a fallen tree.
"Dad, I'll need to call Amy when we arrive." Hugh said and their mother frowned.
"She knows this is a detox. Why can't she just come along?" Sarah exclaimed.
"Amy's not like that, mom. You know she doesn't like the outdoors." Hugh explained with the kind of slow, exaggerated patience that bespoke an old argument.
Amy was Hugh's girlfriend. She studied economics and was friendly enough. But she preferred fine dining to picnics and ironed all of her clothes. Hugh studied music and most of his clothes were second-hand. It was a marvel the two had fallen for each other.
"You can use the emergency phone tonight." Alan peaceably interjected and Hugh smiled.
"Only tonight!" Their mom stressed and Hugh frowned.
Kieran sensed a long winded discussion ahead and hurried forward to catch up with Emily. She was crouched over a bush.
"What did you find?" He asked.
"Blackberries!" She held up a handful, hands and mouth already stained purple.
Kieran helped her pluck a bunch, and store them in a compartment inside the cooler, until their parents caught up and instructed them to stay together.
They soon reached the lake and set about making camp.
Shouts and laughter erupted from across the water and Sarah groaned. "Tell me that's not a school?"
Emily pulled out her binoculars and climbed up a tree.
"It's a school!" She shouted from a high branch and their mother sighed.
"Can we find another spot?"
"This is the only lake within miles." Alan said.
"But they're so noisy!" But Sarah was already unclasping her pack with a resigned air.
Alan rubbed her back soothingly and kissed her cheek. "I'm sure they'll keep it down."
Just then a megaphone sounded from across the lake and a male voice boomed: "Jason, Adam and Ruth. Get out of the water and put some clothes on."
Sarah glared furiously and Alan sighed.
Later that night they had a dinner of grilled fish, caught fresh from the lake, and a salad of peppers, nuts and tomatoes - followed by s'mores around the fire. A few hours later Kieran led Emily down to the water to brush their teeth.
"I love these trips." Emily said with her mouth full of toothpaste. "Mrs. O'Rourke says we're animals. Apes. Did you know that?"
Kieran raised his eyebrows. "We are animals, Em. Some of us just like to pretend they aren't."
Emily spat her toothpaste into the water. It was a homemade mix that wouldn't contaminate the lake.
"But it doesn't feel like it," She stressed, "Not back there," She gestured vaguely towards the path they'd travelled, "I have to be perfect back home, but out here I feel normal."
Kieran felt a brief ache in his heart. Emily wasn't made for modern day schools. She often came home in tears because she couldn't keep up academically or because she was too aggressive in sports.
"You're normal, Em's." He bent to kiss her brow. "You're just full of life. I'm proud of you."
She glanced up at him - blue eyes large and solemn. "You are?"
"Of course!" Kieran said instantly. "You can run faster than anyone I know and you're not afraid of anything."
She grinned, small face lighting up. "Except homework!"
"I'm afraid of that too." He said gravely and shivered dramatically.
Emily giggled. Her little nose was sunburnt and new freckles were already joining the myriad across her cheeks. He'd have to remind her to apply sunscreen. "Promise me we'll always do this!"
"Every year." He assured.
"Even when we're old." She pressed.
"I'll drag your walking aid up the hill." Kieran swore and Emily beamed, eyes twinkling.
That night Kieran couldn't sleep. The tent he shared with Hugh was too hot, even with the flap open and the mosquito covering in place.
He lay awake, listening to the sounds of the forest, until his bladder squeezed uncomfortably. He grabbed his torch and climbed out into the damp summer air.
The boy wondered far into the woods, stumbling past a brush and scratching his ankles, before finding the group of trees his father had marked for this.
The homemade lavatory was a deep hole in the ground, with a pole stationed at the front to grip onto. A roll of biodegradable toilet paper hung conveniently on a branch - but thankfully Kieran only had to pee.
He set off for the lake next - thinking a swim might tire him out.
When he neared he heard muted laughter and saw a warm glow flicker across the water.
A bunch of kids had lit a fire on the opposite shore - they were sipping drinks and dancing to music, while a few swam in the lake.
Kieran hesitated, then shut off his torch and pulled off his clothes. The moon and stars provided some light, but he didn't think any of the kids would notice him this far off.
He waded in and swam in light breaststrokes, until he was far enough out to float comfortably on his back and stare up at the stars.
He spotted The Little Dipper and Orion's Belt - and he was trying to remember which was the North Star, when a scream sounded across the lake.
Kieran spun in the water and stared dumbstruck at the group of teenagers trapped in black webs. Some were struggling, but most lay frighteningly still.
A huge figure briefly eclipsed the fire, before the flames extinguished and the shore went dark.
Kieran gasped and floundered towards the shore. He had to get help!
He stumbled onto land and fumbled to switch on the torch - the light flashed across the lake and he cursed, shutting it quickly. His heart hammered in his chest and he was absurdly terrified that a massive creature had seen him and would give chase.
Even though it was impossible for anyone to run that fast. Just as it was impossible for anyone to be that tall...
He must have exaggerated the figure in his mind; the darkness was playing tricks with his eyes.
Out of the blue he remembered a lyric from one of Hugh's songs: "If you think about it, it exists. Don't think hard."
The hair raised on the back of his neck and he scurried naked up the hill, urgency making him clumsy, and his wet feet slid in the dirt.
There was a whisper of movement beside him and Kieran swung wildly, switching on the torch and illuminating a harsh triangular face with black eyes and two yellow circles in place of pupils.
Small spikes ran along the sides of its sloping brow and a red body suit covered an athletic form from head to toe.
Kieran's heart slammed into his throat, even as a distant part of his mind assessed the creature as female - and her eyes were trained right on him.
He dropped the torch. A primal instinct inside him recognized a stronger predator and he already knew he was doomed. But the boy still tore up the hill in a burst of life-preserving adrenaline.
He'd barely made it three steps before strong fingers gripped the back of his head and ripped him backwards. His legs scraped through a thicket, but he barely felt it, and a sharp object stabbed into his neck. Numbness spread from the area, and the scream building in his throat died before he had a chance to release it.
Kieran had been miserably awake for a while now - listening to the animal noises around him. They all sounded large and distressed; whining or releasing the occasional howl.
He couldn't move, but he could feel a hard surface beneath him, barely cushioned by a coarse blanket. There was a harsh smell of antiseptic in the air and goosebumps were prickling his skin.
His heart raced in his chest and he breathed raggedly. To lie helpless in an unknown space full of animals was absolutely terrifying. How close were they?
Kieran's hand twitched and he gripped the blanket in a rush of pins and needles. He was finally moving! His muscles shook from repressed tension and and his mouth was dry from hanging open. He managed to swallow.
Moments later it was like invisible bonds dissolved and he tore upright, panting as though he'd run miles. His skin was damp with exertion and a stark pink line ran up his stomach. Kieran felt the sore skin with trembling fingers and looked around anxiously.
He was a prisoner in a long line of clear cages. The identical cubicles beside him all contained humanoid creatures with various animal parts.
A rounded bowl fit into a corner of the cage and that seemed to be the source of the antiseptic smell.
He stared as an orange striped boy pressed his tongue to a grey pad, attached with tubes to his cage, and drank.
Kieran swallowed uncertainly. He was so thirsty - but what if it wasn't safe?
Then again; why catch him just to poison him? And what choice did he have?
He pushed the pad and nothing happened.
He tried to jab or swipe with his fingers and even slammed his fist against the pliable grey surface. Still nothing.
His tongue felt tacky, and kept sticking to his palate, and he finally pressed it against the pad. A gap instantly opened and water rushed into his mouth. It tasted sweet and salty, and the boy hurriedly lifted to test the effects.
His mouth felt fine. His gut too - and the orange striped boy had finished drinking and was grooming his tail.
Kieran leaned forward and drank his fill. Moments later he was struck by a sudden, overwhelming exhaustion.
He lay shakily on the bottom of the cage and wrapped the rough blanket around his shoulders. The cage beside him contained a boy with tipped ears and sleek blue fur. Gold eyes blinked at the Human tiredly, before the boy glanced away.
The days blurred together. Grey aliens, with lavender hair, came and went - opening the top of his cage and lowering a dish of beige gruel with blue cubes. The gruel was tasteless, but the cubes were soft with a nutty flavor and Kieran saved those for last.
The rounded bowl turned out to be a toilet. After use it released a harsh antiseptic spray, right onto his privates, that stung. Kieran was equal parts thankful and disgusted by it.
Once a day a second spray would switch on at the top of the cage and Kieran learned to shut his eyes fast and hold his breath.
His skin was sore and irritated from the harsh chemicals and his blonde hair felt coarse.
He was always tired and always cold. And any attempts to talk to the boys on either side of him resulted in animal grunts or bared teeth.
He cried often. Sometimes his mind was too addled to know why. Other times it was perfectly clear; he was captured, helpless and dehumanized. And he was heartbreakingly lonely.
Every so often the aliens took boys from their cages. Some of them returned, others didn't, and the uncertainty of their fate left a leaden feeling in Kieran's gut.
One day they came for him. He'd just drunk from his dispenser and it had tasted stronger than usual. He'd long since figured that the water was drugged. But he could only thirst for so long.
Clawed red hands lifted him with ease and he sagged in the male aliens arms. Unfocused eyes followed him, as they passed rows of cages, and stepped through a door into a blazing white corridor.
Kieran shut his eyes tight against the light and his sluggish brain woke a little. He struggled weakly, but was instantly subdued with bone-crushing strength.
The boy was placed onto a padded table and his limbs were lathered in a clear gel that felt unbelievably good on his parched skin. The sore patches on his knees and elbows instantly faded, and all traces of redness cleared.
He was then lifted and carried into a gold lounge with bright lights, a bronze table filled with refreshments, and a large glass pen.
Kieran was lowered into the enclosure with several other boys.
One of the grey skinned aliens opened a wide set of doors and a group of tall beings entered.
One boy, with white fur and triangular ears, started growling and the rainbow scaled creature beside Kieran scuttled into a corner.
The Human sat, with his back against the glass, and stared at his lap. His stomach was churning from the strong drink and for a moment he thought he might be sick.
A large hand settled on his head and he blinked wearily. Slowly, so as not to lose the little food he'd eaten, he looked up.
It was a boy. Perhaps his own age or younger. He had mint green skin and violet eyes with slit black pupils. His black hair fell sharply to his jaw, and he wore a dark red robe, with a gold sash tied around the waist.
The Human blinked again.
The boy scratched his scalp lightly and spoke. His voice was low and lyrical. Pleasant. Kieran didn't understand a word of it.
The boy arched an aristocratic brow and glanced to one of the red aliens. The recipient answered crisply and the boy sniffed, attention returning to Kieran.
Abruptly the fingers in his hair tightened and the Human's head was ripped back. The alien watched him closely.
His throat was arched at a painful angle and his scalp burned. Kieran grit his teeth and wrapped his hands around the boy's wrist.
He didn't want to tear his hair out by pulling away - so he pressed closer in an attempt to ease the pressure.
He was abruptly released and the boy gripped his shoulder and shoved him to the floor. Kieran fell hard on his side and his stomach roiled ominously.
The pain seemed to briefly clear his mind and he met the alien's gaze in a moment of sharp clarity. Those violet eyes weren't angry or even malicious. They were curious; he was being tested.