Title: A Firefly in the Pitch Black
Installment: 5 & 6 of 13
"We need those cells from the crash ship.” Carolyn Fry announced. “Shit, still gotta check out the hull—--patch up the wings--.” She turned to Shazza and Kaylee. “Get a start on it.”
The mechanic and the Australian nodded before hurrying out of the Coring Room towards the skiff. Kaylee stopped in the doorway and turned to River and Riddick, who were still in the room.
“Come you two, we’ll need help.”
Riddick gave Johns and Fry a look before leaving.
River silently followed, yet when no one was looking she hid behind a couple of barrels. Johns was giving off heated vibes, and since she didn’t trust the handsome blonde (and couldn’t read his mind) she’d stayed behind to hear what he was obviously itching to tell their pilot.
Once he was sure that the others were gone, Johns turned to Fry. “Let’s wait on those power cells.”
“Wait for what?” Fry snapped, rounding on him, disbelief darkening her words. “Until it’s so dark we can’t even find our way back to--?”
“We’re not sure when it happens,” Johns was obviously beginning to lose his patience with the only person he could truly consider his ally on this planet. “So let’s not--.”
“Get the fucking cells over here, Johns.” Fear had turned Fry into a vicious tigress ready to strike at anything in her way--even handsome, blue-eyed devils. “What’s the discussion?”
A muscle twitched in Johns’ cheek, yet to his credit he kept his growing annoyance out of his voice. “Ever tell you how Riddick escaped?”
Fry looked up at him, frown turning confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”
River watched them from her hiding place, hearing all of Fry’s conflicting, frightened thoughts, and Johns’ empty blankness. Why was it that she couldn’t read Johns? With Riddick she knew there was a barrier that kept her out, but with Johns it was just silence.
Of course, it would be her luck that the only person she wanted to hear the thoughts of would be completely silent.
Johns looked around before taking a closer step to Fry and speaking in a softer voice. “He can pilot.”
Fry’s eyes widened, obviously jarred by the revelation. “He can what?”
Obviously pleased with her reaction, Johns relaxed somewhat. “Hijacked a prison transport, made a helluva good run ‘fore I tracked him down.”
“Okay, maybe that’s a good thing.” Faint hope was evident in her voice, wiping the pleasure from Johns’ face. “We’re lucky. We got stranded with a mechanic to help patch up the skiff, and a pilot to get us out of here. I--I’m only a docking pilot, he--.”
“Also figured out how to kill the pilot and the other convicts that escaped with him on the transport.” Johns informed her.
Fry froze, going pale, shivering, before sending him a glare. “You said we were going to trust him now.” Accusation was thick in her voice. “You said there was a deal.”
Johns snorted. “That’s what I said.” His look challenged her to read his mind.
River sure the hell was trying, and feeling more and more frustrated when she couldn’t pick up anything from him.
“Oh,” Fry whispered, realizing what Johns’ true intentions were the same moment River did. “This is a dangerous game you’re playing, Johns.”
“May’ve noticed that chains don’t work on this guy, it’s better for him to have the illusion of freedom.” Johns scoffed at her warning. “And you know what sort of things he’s done, you already told me that you’d heard of his murders. You know monsters like that don’t deserve to be free amongst innocent people again.”
Fry looked away, jaw tense, arms folded over her chest.
“And he sure has taken a likin’ to pretty little River.”
The docking pilot jerked her glare back at Johns. “What are you saying?”
“You know what I’m saying, captain.” Johns looked like he wanted to smirk and frown at the same time. “Imagine what that creature would do to that lil’ woman once we’ll all in the air and he’s killed us--or maybe he’ll just kidnap her and steal the ship, leaving the animals on this planet to do the work for him so he’ll have more time to…enjoy…her.”
Fry looked as if she’d been slapped, and unfolded her hands, taking a couple of steps back. “I--he’s been convicted for murder, I never heard anything about ‘rape’ when they waved the Hunter Gratzner about him some time back.”
“Keep telling yourself that princess, but it ain’t you he can’t keep his goggles offa.” Johns shook his head at her, as if disgusted by her naivety. “Stop thinking with your cunt.”
Fry’s hand shot out and the slap resounded in the Coring Room. “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again, do you hear me?” She hissed, eyes narrowed viciously. “I am the leader here and I demand some respect!”
“Oh believe me, I give the woman who would have happily sacrificed everyone on board the Hunter Gratzner—man woman and child—for herself the amount of respect she deserves!” Johns snapped, Fry’s handprint red against his cheek.
The docking pilot looked as if he’d slapped her back, and lowered her gaze to her boots, body visibly shaking, thoughts of guilt and self-hatred filling her head.
“When you get your head outta the clouds and finally start remembering that he’s a cold-blooded murderer and not some muscular eye-candy you’ll admit that he’s dangerous and can’t be trusted.” Johns pressed on, seeing that he had the upper hand in the conversation once more. “Only way we’re safe is if he believes he’s goin’ free.” He paused. “But if he stops believin’--”
“You mean, if he learns that you’re gonna royally fuck him over.” Fry snapped, obviously not as easily broken as Johns had thought.
River was beginning to like the docking pilot.
“--We need a fail-safe.” Johns continued as if she hadn’t interrupted him. “Bring the cells over at the last possible minute--when Shazza and Kaylee have fixed up the skiff and made it sky-friendly--when we know we’re ready to launch.”
Fry shook her head at him slightly, as if seeing him with different eyes. “He hasn’t harmed any of us!” She told him. “He fuckin’ saved River’s life! Stick to your deal with him—even if only to show him gratitude for saving the girl. Let him go if that’s what it takes--.”
“He’s a murderer.” Johns cut her off mercilessly. “The law says he gotta do his bid, or do you wanna be the one to tell the family of his victims that you let him loose once more because he decided he wanted to save some skirt so he could break her afterwards?”
Fry flinched away from those words and lowered her gaze, backing away from the fight, defeated. “You’re dancin’ on razor blades here…”
“I won’t give him the chance to grab another ship—slash the throat of another pilot—or harm that girl.”
“And what do you plan on doing to keep him away from her?” Fry snorted. “She’s as attracted to him as he is to her. She even went to see him when you had him chained up. And while he might be fucked up, she’s not normal either, Johns. Who knows, they might actually make the perfect couple.” She added, sarcastically.
Johns flinched, obviously River’s visiting Riddick was news to him. “She’s suffered a traumatizing shock, Fry. She nearly died and he saved her. It’s pure hero-adoration shit. She’ll eventually realize how fucked-up he is--but she need to be kept away from him until then.”
“And how do you plan on doing this?” Fry wanted to know. “Keep her from him yourself? Hold her hand and tell her not to talk to tall, dark, handsome strangers with a tendency to get skiv-happy?”
He smirked. “What a good idea, captain.”
She frowned. “Now wait one minute here Johns…”
Yet the blonde had turned and walked out on her.
River watched as the docking pilot stalked away after the law enforcer, obviously not finished with their conversation.
“Knew not to trust him.”
Gasping, River turned and saw Riddick materializing out of the shadows closer to the door. Apparently he too had noticed Johns itching to have a lone conversation with Fry.
“They’re making a mistake.” Riddick told her, apparently not minding her silence. “Waiting until so close to the eclipse…that’s stupid.”
“The fox knows that the wolf is stronger, and to make up for lack of strength, he tries to outsmart him.” River paused. “Yet his ‘smartness’ isn’t smart enough. A wolf’s brain is larger.”
Riddick’s scowl had turned into a wolf-like grin as he listened to her. “Is that so, my lil’ ‘skirt’?” he asked, quoting the name Johns had given her.
River nodded as she went to Riddick and gave the murderer the smile Kaylee gave Simon that made her brother’s thoughts become heated and filled with images of their oneness. “The wolf’s brain isn’t the only anatomy of his which is bigger than the fox’s.” And with another grin, yet this one tinged with the blush on her face, River walked out of the Coring Room.
There was the rumbling of a throaty chuckle behind her before Riddick was besides her once more. “Damned right it’s not.”
River frowned suddenly, remembering Johns’ parting words. “The fox wants to hide the stars in his jaw and keep them from the darkness.”
Riddick tilted his head towards her, a smirk growing on his face. “So I’m the darkness now?” For some reason that metaphor seemed to please him, and his grin turned deadly.
River nodded, returning his smile, enjoying the fact that someone understood her so well. Whenever she was with him the young woman could forget for a moment that she wasn’t like the others, and just pretend that she was normal.
“Yes, well, I want you to stay away from Johns and go with Kaylee and Shazza.” He ordered. “And try keep your mouth shut around him. Won’t take long for the shitter to realize who you are if you keep spouting out like you’ve been doin’ so far,” Riddick paused before adding: “River Tam.”
River shivered at the ripples of pleasure that ran through her at the sound of her name on his lips. “Where are you going?” She asked when he turned to leave her.
Riddick looked back at her with a smirk. “Goin’ta have me a little talk with the captain. Think there’s something about ol’ Saint Johns she might wanna know.”
River frowned at the odd sensation in her stomach at the thought of Riddick leaving her to look for Fry, but she pushed it away. “Okay.”
“Just so you know,” Riddick commended lazily as he began to walk away. “I plan on continuing what we left off in the Comms Room before you went crazy.”
River’s frown was immediately replaced with a goofy grin as she watched him turn the corner and disappear from view. The girl stayed there in that spot, looking at the empty space where Riddick had once been, deciding that she liked the sensations he invoked in her and wanted to explore them further.
She also decided that when she got back to Serenity she’d wave Inara and ask her all the questions Kaylee had been too embarrassed to answer.
Riddick truly wasn’t surprised that Johns was going to either kill him or leave him on the planet for the creatures to play with him a little before having a snack—he’d guessed the blonde’s intentions all along. That was why he’d recommended that Johns just ghost him first, because now that he was free, Riddick wasn’t going down again--and he definitely didn’t plan on becoming Dog Chow now that he had every intention of proving to that little tease what he could do with his ‘bigger’ anatomy.
So that was why he was aboard the skiff, watching Carolyn Fry work on the computer system. Johns and her were the power-duo, the heads of this fucked up little ‘family’, and Riddick decided that it was time ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ got divorced.
But how to get around to the point he was going to drive through without it being obvious that that was the reason he’d come here?
“Looks like we’re a few shy.”
She jumped and whirled around, cursing.
“…cells.” Riddick prompted when it only looked as if she was going to try and calm herself and not pick up her part of the conversation.
He raised an eyebrow at her. So she was going to go along and follow Johns’ orders. That just wouldn’t do. “Strange, not doin’ a run-up on the main drive yet,” he waited a half beat. “Strange unless he told you the particulars of my escape...”
She took the bait. “I got the quick-and-ugly version.”
“An’ now you’re worried about a repeat of history.” He said more than asked.
For her credit, her body didn’t betray the nervousness her eyes did. “Entered our minds.”
“I asked what you thought.” He pressed, taking a step closer, pausing when he realized that her breathing had accelerated…and fear wasn’t the only smell in the air.
“You scare me Riddick.” She admitted in a defensive voice. “That’s what you wanna hear, isn’t it? There, I admit it. Can I get back to work now?” She was getting all defensive, acting bossy and uninterested, yet the way her eyes quickly did a once-over betrayed what was going on her mind when concerning him.
This could actually work in his favor.
Fry tore her eyes from his body and gave him her back.
Riddick came closer and quickly scanned the controls, memorizing them and after a quick analysis he concluded that while he’d never flown one of these before he wouldn’t have any problem doing so if the situation came to that.
Fry’s body radiated tension as he stood so close to her.
Riddick couldn’t help but find her attraction to him amusing, yet he knew that laughing wouldn’t help his mission, so he kept his face dead. “Think Johns is a do-right man? You think I could trust him to cut me loose?”
A beat passed and her tension grew.
God, she was so easy to play with.
“Why, what’d you hear?”
“Well, guess if it were trickeration he’d just do me, huh? Then again…I am worth twice as much alive.” He could have smirked when the truth suddenly smacked her on her harshly. “Didn’t know? Johns aint an enforcer.” He finally allowed himself to smirk when he saw the denial in her eyes and in the slight shaking of her head. “Oh, he’s got that shiny badge an’ all—but I don’t think he’s been flashin’ it around as much as he used to.” His smirk grew. “He’s just a merc and I’m just a payday. That’s why he won’t kill me. The creed is greed.”
The revelation knocked her off stride but she stubbornly refused to believe him. “Save it, Riddick. We aren’t gonna turn on each other--no matter how hard you try.”
The murderer moved up right behind her, using her attraction to him against her, barely suppressing his grin when he heard her quick intake of breath. “I don’t truly know what’s gonna happen when the lights go out Carolyn--but I do know that once the dyin’ starts, this little psycho family of ours is gonna rip itself apart. So you better find out the truth.” He took pleasure in her pleasured whimper when he lowered his face to hers. “Come nightfall--and it will come--you better know exactly who’s standing behind you.”
The monitor chirping: “HULL INTEGRITY—100” played in the background.
Riddick took a step back and turned to leave, his job there almost done. “Oh, an’ ask Johns ‘bout those shakes he gets. And ask why your crew-pal had to scream like that ‘fore he died.” The silence told him all he needed to know, and with the smile of Grim, he left the skiff and a shaky docking captain behind him.
Fry was furious.
And horny as hell…
…But that only added to her fury as she went in search of Johns.
When she realized that everyone other than Johns seemed to be outside doing something productive, she frowned. That frown grew deeper as she saw River helping Kaylee and Shazza finish up the last touches needed on the skiff--and Riddick in the background, arms folded over his chest, watching the young woman was a lazy leer as she bent over to retrieve something for her cousin.
Apparently Johns wasn’t fulfilling his self-appointed mission to be River’s shadow, so that meant he wasn’t outside and didn’t know Riddick was tailing her once more.
So that meant Johns was inside.
Turning around, Fry stormed into the building. The moment she saw him she opened her mouth yet shut it when she realized what he was doing.
With his back to her, shirt off, Johns was bent over a box of shotgun shells and pulled out a red-metal one from its place between the usual blue-metal shells. Removing a glass ampule hidden inside, the mercenary dropped the ampule into an injection syringe.
As he injected the substance into a vein in his arm, Johns’ face was pure bliss.
She’d seen enough.
Riddick had been telling the truth.
“Who are you? Really?”
He whirled around, pulling the now empty syringe out of his vein.
That fury within her was growing. “You’re not a real enforcer, are you? Just some mercenary who goes around talkin’ about the law--.”
“I never said I was.” Johns interrupted, beginning to put his things away, apparently feeling guiltless about the deception.
“Never said you were a hype, either.” She hissed, moving closer, rummaging through his stuff brazenly, and finding a shitload of red shells with the hidden ampules.
“You have a little caffeine in the morning, I have a little morphine.” Johns said in a flat voice from where he watched her. “So what?”
“How could you?” She lashed out, turning on him, shaking one of the red shells in his face viciously. “How could you let Owens die like that when you had enough drugs to knock out a fuckin’ mule-team?!”
“Owens was already dead.” Johns pried the shell from her hands and replaced it amongst the others almost tenderly. “His brain just hadn’t caught onto the fact.”
Something inside her went cold. “Anything else we should know about you, Johns? Christ, here I am lettin’ you play games with our lives when--.”
He caught her arms and moved them around his body, forcing her into an embrace. His hold on her hands grew painfully strong when she struggled to escape, yet she went still when her fingers made contact with the ugly, jagged purple scar he’d pressed them against.
“My first run-in with Riddick.” Johns said as a way of explanation. “Went for the sweet-spot and missed. They had to leave a piece of the shiv in there. I can feel it, sometimes, pressing against the cord.” He let go and pushed away from her. “So maybe the care and feeding of my nerve-ends is my business.”
“You coulda helped.” Fry pressed on, remembering Owens’ pain, his last screams. “And you didn’t.”
“Captain! Captain!” They could hear the Chrislams crying from outside.
They ignored them.
“You just let a good man suffer for hours and die horribly.” Fry spat out, itching to punch him. “That makes you no better than Riddick. At least he killed his victims quickly unless they pissed him off!”
Johns made up his nose in disgust as he looked Fry over. “Yeah, well, look to thine own ass first. Right, captain?”
That cut deep, and not for the first time Fry lamented having confided in him.
“CAPTAIN!” Kaylee’s cry caught their attention, and after sharing long, hate-filled glares, they marched outside to see what the commotion was all about.
Exiting the building, Fry opened her mouth to ask what was going on when she noticed that everyone’s gazes were gang-locked on…an arch in the sky.
Luminous, ominous, it grew from the horizon.
“What do my eyes see?” Paris whispered, wiping at his spectacles as if hoping that it was only a speck on his glasses that he could remove with a sweep of his dirty shirt.
“It’s starting…” Fry responded, watching hypnotically as the arch slowly began to rise, inching towards the suns.
Shazza seemed to shake herself out of the trance first and turned to Fry. “If we’re going to get those power cells from the crash ship--I suggest we kick on. That sand-cat’s solar.”
Fry nodded. “Go get it started.” She turned to the others. “Get everything ready! The solar eclipse is happening quicker than we hoped and we have to go get those cells!”
They rushed out, everyone to get what was needed…all except River, whose gaze were on her feet and then hurriedly went to the spires all around them, face pale, body trembling slightly. Her dark eyes rose to the heavens and closed for a moment, before opening once more. The girl gave the spires once more look before leaving to help Kaylee bring ropes, water and other necessities to the sand-cat.
Fry shivered as she watched the girl.
It was as if she’d sensed something.
Shaking off the silly thought, Fry hurried to get ready as well.
It would seem that in moments everyone had gotten what was needed and hurried onto the sand-cat as they began their hurried journey back to the crash ship.
When the sand-cat arrived at the crash ship it hadn’t completely stopped before bodies jumped over the side and hurried to do what had to be done. River unconsciously reached for the hunting boomerang Paris had forgotten all about and looked at the weapon, mind rapidly processing all the information she’d been fed about it and its techniques.
She watched as Johns yanked the first power cell and started dragging it over the deck. Riddick yanked a second and, carrying it on his shoulder, passed Johns with a kiss-my-ass grin.
Glaring after the murderer, Johns shouldered his cell and stumbled after.
Being the only one left on the sand-cat other than Shazza, who’d wheeled the solar vehicle around, getting clearance between it and the ship, River had a good view of everything that was going on.
The Chrislams lashed a scrap-metal sled to the back of the solar vehicle, rapidly talking to each other in Arabic as they did so.
River suddenly stood and jumped off of the sand-cat, slowly making her way to the crash ship, not knowing why but feeling the need to get as far away from the spires as possible.
Riddick passed her giving her a smirk before reaching the sled, dropping the first cell onto it. Johns did the same only seconds later. Apparently they weren’t as concerned at racing the eclipse as they were competing with each other.
Feeling the flurry beneath her feet grow in intensity, River stopped her trek to the crash ship and frowned, looking up in the heavens in time to see the rings of the planet eclipse the yellow sun.
It was as if God had closed a blind in the sky. And with the dimming daylight came a growing, high-pitched sound that froze River’s blood. Her hand tightened around the hunting boomerang instinctively as she felt them beneath her, going to and fro, hungering, readying…
“Don’t stop…don’t stop!” Fry was calling out encouragements to the others despite the tremble and fear in her own heart.
Paris seemed not to be able to control himself and he did stop, and turn to look in the direction that River was now eyeing--the spires.
The sound was coming from the spires and growing with every passing moment.
River was so intoned with the planet she felt when the red sun was eclipsed, yet as a second darkness fell over the survivors she didn’t dare tear her gaze from the spires.
Everyone had stopped what they were doing and watched in silent horror as something began to pour out of the tops of the spires.
Backlit by coronal light, it first seemed to be smoke or ash, yet River knew better, and soon the others realized that they were living creatures emerging from the depths of hell, hatchlings squealing in delight at their first nightfall.
“Jesus,” Johns sounded breathless. “How many can there…?”
They kept pouring out of the tops of the spires around the survivors, darkening the sky further, rejoicing loudly in their liberation. Mercifully, the hatchlings seemed to be moving away, but one wave cleaved from the other and did a double-take, heading towards them.
“Just a suggestion,” Paris stammered, eyes wide and on the predators in the sky. “But we should probably flee.”
“Cargo Hold!” Fry cried. “Cargo Hold, everyone get into the Cargo Hold! Lesgo! Lesgo! Lesgo!”
River turned, noticed she was right in front of the door of said Cargo Hold, and took one step backwards—inside.
With her bare feet on the cold metal, she didn’t like that now she was a part of the crash ship and not the planet; it was harder to sense the creatures and their movements this way. She moved out of the way as Jack and Paris barreled inside, closely followed by Kaylee, the Chrislams, Fry and Johns.
Noticing two who were not there, River frowned and turned to see Riddick and Shazza—who’d been the furthest out—still out there running towards them.
Hearing the squealing descending on them, both hit the dirt, hatchling torrent raging just inches above them.
It was like a river of razor blades circling them from above.
River’s heart beat quicker, yet this time it wasn’t the nice way it did when Riddick was around. This time it hurt, like it had when Simon had been hurt by the Reavers in Miranda.
She watched Riddick as he watched the hatchlings in awe, no more frightened than a kid lying on his back looking up at the stars. Experimenting, he eased a bone-shiv into a hatchling that’d flown lower than the rest, and watched in detachment as the creature was easily sliced in two.
Feeling assured that Riddick would somehow be fine, River’s attention went to Shazza and she felt the same…fear…that was what Kaylee had once explained was the name of the rare feeling River had only felt twice in her life after being taken from the Academy by her brother.
Shazza looked horrified, as if she was having trouble breathing.
“Stay down…” Kaylee whispered to herself, fists clenched. “Stay down Shazza!”
The hatchlings keep coming, swarming more and more and Shazza whipped a frantic look at the Cargo Hold.
River could see her mentally calculating her chances of making it to the Cargo Hold before without being eaten like her husband had been.
“DON’T DO IT!” Jack must have realized the same thing River had. “SHAZZA! STAY DOWN!”
Suddenly the swarm clashed in the air and flew upwards, leaving the group in silence.
Shazza looked at the Cargo Hold with determination and stood…
“No, no, no, no!” Fry screamed out just as the swarm descended towards those outside with fury from above.
River hadn’t even realized what she’d done until the silver shooting through the air caught the attention of the survivors--and the hatchlings. The blade swinging through the air cut through the darkness, and all around Riddick and Shazza hatchlings fell bloodied and screaming.
The glimmer of silver did a sharp u-turn in the air and flew back towards the Cargo Hold at a blinding speed. River’s hand shot out, catching the hunting boomerang carelessly.
Both the survivors and the hatchlings seemed confused and disoriented from the unexpected attack.
Kaylee, giving River a small smile, turned to those outside. “RUN!”
Distracted by the blood, the hatchlings descended on their fallen siblings, devouring them and giving Riddick and Shazza the opportunity to make it to the Cargo Hold without a chase.
River and Riddick’s gaze met as he casually strolled into the crash ship as if they were having a lovely walk in the park.
She didn’t notice the looks everyone was giving her…
…or the sudden light dawning in Johns’ eyes.
All she saw was Riddick.
“River…” That was Shazza. “H-how…?”
Clicking filled the air and they turned in time to see the spires crumbling, being torn apart from within.
Placing one hand proprietarily on the small of River’s back, Riddick tore off his goggles and watched the happenings with his jaguar eyes.
River tore her eyes off of him and turned to view what he was watching.
The adult hatchlings, the creatures, emerged from the spires. They were large, mammalian, and hammer-headed. Clicking sounds escaped them as they used echo-location, sounding out the world they haven’t inhabited in 60 years.
Nothing that ugly or fucked up could have come into being without the Alliance’s hand in it.
“What is it?” Fry asked.
“What do you see?” Kaylee whimpered, somewhere behind River.
That was the first time that River realized that it was too dark for the others to make out what was going on.
And once again she was reluctantly thankful for all the shit and pain the Academy had put her through.
While her night vision wasn’t half as good as Riddick’s, she had something he didn’t--she had the planet alive at her feet, feeding her everything she needed to survive. After the attack she’d somehow connected with the ‘dogs’, understood them in a primitive, animalistic way that she resented because it made her feel like one of them, like those monsters. She could feel the echo-locations, could feel the creatures…
Was it a connection because they’d both been created by the Alliance?
Could the creatures sense her?
“Like I said,” Riddick’s voice was as dark as the sky above. “Ain’t me you gotta worry about.”
The rim of the planet above overtook both suns.
The world went pitch black.
Riddick led River deeper within the Cargo Hold moments before the vault-like doors slammed shut.
The survivors were locked inside the only secure part of the ship, huddled together, trapped like cavemen in their cave, listening to the howls of hungry sabertooths outside, clamoring for blood.
Jack, Fry and Shazza sat on the floor with their backs against the wall of the Cargo Hold, listening to the sounds of hell outside. The clicking sounds the creatures made were enough to put the fear of God and Buddha in their hearts as they remained silent.
Iman and his two disciples stood by the doors, eyes wide, the leader listening to the sounds outside while the two younger Arabs sent silent prayers to Muhammad, Allah and Jesus Christ for their salvation.
Paris stood close to the boy and women sitting on the ground, pale as paper and shaking like a leaf in the wind.
Kaylee must have realized this, because she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and the man with the wire-frames gave her a shaky smile of thanks.
River stood between Riddick and Johns, both men silent, one thanks to his mental barrier and the other thanks to his brain’s silence, and she felt grounded in the silence. But the young woman couldn’t help but notice the looks Johns was giving her, and it made her somewhat uncomfortable.
“What are we going to do?” Jack asked, breaking into the silence. “Are we going to wait it out and hope they don’t breech the hull?”
“ It might be a good idea.” Paris turned to Fry and then looked at Johns, the self-proclaimed leaders of their little group.
“’Spose that’s what the group in the Coring Room thought too.” Riddick announced in a flat voice.
Everyone in the crash ship flinched visibly at the reminder of the millions of bones picked clean they’d discovered at the bottom of the shaft.
“Well, we can’t wait it out anyway.” Fry spoke up to try and kill the silence. “The chart said the darkness lasted for days. Those predators will get to us if we don’t die of dehydration before.”
Another silence descended on them as they let that knowledge, and the dread, sink in.
“We’re going to die.” Paris bemoaned loudly. “We’re all goin’ ta bloody die!”
“Hushit!” Shazza snapped at the antiques dealer when she saw the terror in Jack’s eyes. “We aren’t goin’ ta die! It jus’ ain’t going ta be easy from hereon out, but we’ll find a way.”
Still, River could hear the doubts roaming in her head as the clicking outside grew louder.
“Well, I’m sorry if I am the realistic one here!” Paris’ voice was loud and irritating. “But I am a dealer of the antique--most of what I sell once belonged to tribes or nationalities that no longer exist. So you’ll understand that I’m a little distressed that I am about to go extinct as well!”
“Quiet everyone. Please!” Iman hissed from where he stood by the Cargo Hold’s door, listening out.
The others piled up alongside him, ears tuned like radars. A clicking sound, closer than the others had been, swept by outside.
They’d been located.
“Why do they do that?” Jack whispered, voice trembling. “Make that sound?”
“Eyes dark to the world are useless, voice and sense must take over.” River read their minds as her gaze lowered to the hunting boomerang in her hand, realizing with frustration that no one could understand her.
“When will she ever make sense?” Paris wailed, echoing the thoughts of most of the people in the Cargo Hold.
Iman suddenly paused. “Perhaps she means that it’s the way they see, with sound. They send out sound waves that reflect back and give them a ‘look’ of their surroundings, like Earth-that-was’ bats.”
River beamed at the holy man.
“Echo-location.” Fry blinked in realization, running a hand through her hair. “That’s what it is…”
More clicking interrupted her, yet the clicking was coming from behind them.
Johns and Fry, the ones holding the lights, twirled around to find nothing but the door of an open container about halfway down the tunnel-like hold.
A volley of uneasy looks passed between them, “How the fuck did one get in here?”, they seemed to ask each other.
“Maybe it was a breech in the hold.” Fry answered the unspoken question. “I don’t know.”
More clicking filled the otherwise silent air.
Everyone’s gaze turned to Johns, who’d been the only one with enough sense to bring his weapons with him--other than River with the hunting boomerang and Iman with his ceremonial dagger.
The blonde’s trouble gaze was on the darkness passed the containers, and when he noticed the silence he turned and nearly jumped when he noticed every single eye on him.
Realizing that they wanted him to go and check it out, he shook his head vehemently. “I’d rather piss glass.”
“Well, you got the big gauges,” Riddick drawled, seeming damned amused with the other man’s situation.
Johns turned and glared at him hatefully. “Wanna rag your fat mouth?”
“Maybe it’s just their beads again.” Jack announced hopefully, motioning to the Chrislams. The first couple of minutes inside the Cargo Hold they’d realized that the beads the Chrislams wore on their clothes made clicking sounds that sounded similar to those of the creatures outside.
It’d scared the shit out of them until they’d finally realized where the clicking sound was coming from.
“No, no, no.” Iman shook his head. “I do not believe--.”
“C’mon man,” Johns turned on Iman, obviously preferring to believe the clicking was once more because of the beads and not because a monster had made its way into their little sanctuary. “You’re drivin’ everybody bugfuck with those things. Why don’t you just lose the gorram--.”
More clicking interrupted his speech--along with toppling cargo somewhere in the darkness.
Everyone jumped, trying to peer into the darkness behind them.
“Big beads.” Riddick deadpanned.
Johns still refused to move.
“I’ll do it.” River announced as she tightened her grip on her hunting boomerang and took a step towards the darkness and the container when Riddick’s hand shot out, his grip tight and unforgiving around her upper arm, keeping her safely within the ring of light and by his side.
Kaylee shook her head at Johns. “Da chong wu dan.”
The mercenary turned to Kaylee a glare for having said he had ‘a big gun, but no bullet’, knowing she hadn’t been referring to the shotgun or pistol he had on him.
As if trying to prove her wrong, he butched up, and sucked on his breather before passing his light to Paris and shimmying towards the open container. Leading with his pistol, he didn’t dare leave the circle of light cast by the two lights and fired blindly into the open door of the container.
Something squealed horribly and then there was silence.
“Someone bring a gorram light.” He hissed, and since Paris wouldn’t budge, Fry went to him.
Once Johns was in the direct path of the light, he eased his head towards the door to spot a few hatchlings on the floor, blasted into dog food.
He sighed in relief and turned to the others. “Okay, We’re okay. Just some small ones that musta--.”
River sensed it and looked up at the darkness above the two blondes in time to see something whoosh for Johns’ head, swinging like a scythe. It caught the pistol instead, discharging it, sending it flying into the nothingness far outside the ring of light.
Paris screamed like a girl, and would have dropped his light if Jack hadn’t caught it before it hit the ground.
In a second both blondes were back with the others and Fry had her light turned in the direction of the attacker, giving them a first, close-up view of an adult predator.
The creature screeched as the light fell upon it and swooped into the shadows.
“Not staying here another--.” Paris didn’t even finish the sentence before going for the main-lever to the Cargo Hold’s door, ready to open it and flee into the night.
Shazza rushed to her feet and lunged for the little man, wrapping her arms around him, locking his arms at his side, and in a surprising show of strength, pulled him bodily away from the door.
“Lemme go! Lemme go, dammit!” Paris kicked and tried to get away, but Kaylee had thrown herself in front of the door with her arms outstretched, letting him know that if he did get loose from Shazza, he wasn’t getting passed her.
“You idiot!” Shazza let go of the struggling man, who hadn’t been ready for her change of tactics and fell to the ground. “You saw what was out there!”
“I saw what’s in here too!” He cried out, hurrying to his feet, looking from the darkness around them to Kaylee, the girl blocking his access to the door gave him a ‘just try it’ glare.
River ignored them and instead searched the darkness for the pistol. Was everyone else suddenly going to forget that they needed it just because the darkness had swallowed it greedily?
Spying a glint of silver in the darkness, River calculated its distance from the light, the fact that there were an undecided amount of creatures in the darkness, and her probabilities of getting said pistol and getting back to the light with all of her extremities, and her life.
The chances weren’t very optimistic.
“Everybody come, this way and we should be safe.” Iman announced, pointing to a container. “Hurry, please.”
In the back of the group, River was glad when Riddick let go of her arm and took a half step in front of her. The path led to where the pistol had been tossed and forgotten. With a swift movement she jolted out of the light, gripped the metal, warmed from its previous use, and slipped back into the light before the survivors realized what had happened…but not before something had tried swiping at her hand and missing by an inch when she’d reached for the weapon.
Clicking on the ‘safe’ mode, she shoved it into the waist of her pants and pulled out her shirt to cover it. She didn’t want Johns, or anyone else, realizing that she’d retrieved the weapon. Their ignorance would be an advantage. This way she could keep the bullets for when they were truly needed, and not every time they saw a shadow.
Allowing herself to be shepparded into a large container, River felt Kaylee’s hand wrap around hers when the door was slammed close.
Jack made a noise and shook his breather unit before cursing softly, putting it down without making a sound other than his nervous wheezing, trying to breathe yet terrified to make a sound and give away their location at the same time.
River passed him the breather unit she had yet to use, and shared a slight smile with the boy who gratefully took it.
There was the sound of a long scratch against metal, drawing everyone’s gaze towards it.
Johns fumbled with a cutting torch abandoned on the ground and got it burning, adjusting the gas to give them better light in time for scythe-like blades to begin pounding against the metal. Suddenly heavy blows, denting the metal, drove everyone back.
“Can you do sumpin’ else with that?” Riddick hissed. “Other than shine it in my face?”
Taking the hint, Johns started cutting the common wall between containers with the cutting torch. It was a race between the sparks of his cutter and the blades that were now making slice holes in the seemingly indestructible metal.
A burn-outlined showed the progress of his work, and when Johns kicked out the escape hatch the first one shoved through was Jack. The others quickly speed-crawled through and Johns got to burning the other common wall as the predators were beginning to shred through the other wall.
Again and again they burnt escape hatches and managed to get through, piling up whatever cargo they could find against them right before the bloodthirsty creatures on their trail broke through to the container before theirs, clicking, sweeping, hunting.
It was going to be a long night.
Inside of their fifth container now, Johns torched away. The mercenary was obviously glad for the distraction, thus enabling himself to keep from being the chicken-shit Riddick knew he usually became when the going went tough.
Paris, Fry, Kaylee and Shazza used the cargo in the room to block the entrance hole—then blocked the cargo with their own bodies.
River had been helping up until that moment, but she pushed away, shadows playing on her frowning face, as she went to the wall and placed her palm against the cool metal. She sniffed the air and turned around, frowning at something on the ground.
Riddick followed her gaze and narrowed his eyes at the dark substance. With two long strides he’s bent over it and ran his forefinger through it, bringing the substance to his nose and taking an experimental whiff.
Cold dread filled him as he suspected the worst and turned, leaving the others.
“Where the hell in he going?” Paris could be heard asking someone.
“Probably scoutin’ the place,” Shazza answered, her voice strained. “He can see in the dark, ‘member?”
Riddick moved to the front of the container, where the darkness prevailed. Something squished under foot and he slipped off his goggles.
There were dead hatchlings on the floor.
All of Riddick’s fears had proven true.
This was the open container Johns had fired into.
Sensing energy, Riddick lifted his face slowly.
There was an adolescent predator squatting over cargo, eating a hatchling.
Apparently, not only were they carnivorous, but cannibalistic as well.
Surprisingly enough, only one sentence entered Riddick’s mind at that moment.
Damn, they’re ugly.
As if sensing Riddick, it raised its hammer-head and swept the area with loud clicks. The creature unfurled itself from its meal and looked down at Riddick, gazes clashing in a deadly stare. It didn’t move to attack the Furyan, yet seemed to challenge his superiority, as a male sensing a rival male in his territory and trying to prove his dominance.
Also, the fact that this was an adolescent, solitary creature meant that while it was fighting for supremacy it was still encoded with the urge to submit to a more dominant male.
Riddick just had to prove to him that he was that dominant male.
Thus he narrowed his eyes and continued with the stare-down, allowing his inner beast to shine through his eyes and take over.
It seemed as if forever and a minute passed as they continued to stare defiantly into each other’s eyes, and when the other creature flinched away it would have seemed as if he were about to win and escape with his life--but that was when he sensed another creature on the cargo above him.
Riddick cursed all the fates.
There was no way he could outstare or outrun these creatures. He was going to die like some snack for some gorram--.
There was a gasp, and he growled, sensing both creatures look away from him and pay attention to the other person who’d walked into the feast-to-be.
“Don’t. Move.” He ordered, keeping his gaze on the predator before him, sensing the other jump onto the cargo above River. The murderer tried to keep the attention of the first predator on him, yet both creatures seemed intent on River, and the younger creature left him as well, going on the cargo on the other side of the first predator. Both were intent on the shivering girl who couldn’t see them, yet obviously sensed their presence.
The second, older predator reached down with its scythe-like blade, probing her as if trying to discover what she was made of.
The first predator jumped to the ground before the violently trembling girl, trapping her gaze as it had Riddick, and raising one of its claws, slowly running it down her arm, slicing through her sleeve and causing a trail of blood to appear…
The elder predator clicked as it took a swipe at her hair from its perch above, grasping some of the black tendrils and tugging up viciously, arching her neck painfully towards its salivating mouth.
The predator in front of her lowered its head to her arm and its snake-like tongue escaped, running up and down the slice-mark, drinking up the blood, making slurping noises as it sucked on the short yet deep wound.
She didn’t react. Her eyes were wide and empty.
She’d gone into shock.
And for some reason the creatures had sensed her the moment she’d arrived and focused all their attentions on her--forgetting all about Riddick.
And that had been their first mistake.
Reaching for his bone-shiv, Riddick gripped it by the blade, aimed, and threw it with all his might. The aim was true and the creature slurping on the blood on her screamed as the weapon pierced it from behind.
The elder creature looked up, confused, letting go of its hold on River’s hair.
Riddick took advantage of the opportunity and ran towards them, grabbing the shiv still embedded in the back of the fallen creature and slicing the creature’s it’s back as he pulled the shiv out. The murderer grabbed a still motionless River’s arm and pulled her quickly after him towards where he’d left the others.
There was a shriek of rage from the elder creature as it realized its sibling had been killed and its prey taken from its very claws.
Riddick could feel it hurrying after them, felt it gaining up on them, and right before it pounced Fry and Kaylee appeared, and Fry’s light shone into Riddick’s eyes blinding him.
With a howl of pain he went down, dragging River down with him.
And behind him a squeal of agonized pain erupted as the light fell upon the creature which had pursued them in the darkness. The sound of wings was interrupted by yet another scream and a loud thud, a human cry, and a metallic clang.
The murderer pulled his goggles over his eyes and willed the horrible headache to go away. His arms were around a still and silent River, subconsciously protecting her body with his, and if it wasn’t for the rapid beating of her heart he would have wondered if she were dead.
Looking up when the light encompassed them once more, Riddick met Kaylee’s frightened gaze.
“What happened?” She cried, falling to her knees next to them, tears of fear in her eyes as she realized that her friend was bleeding.
“I went out to check on something, she must have followed me.” Riddick sat up, dragging the deadweight that was River up with him. “I was surrounded by two of the muthafuckas when she came, and they--they forgot all about me.”
Kaylee’s eyes were filled with worry as she let that sink in. “A huge chunk of her hair was chopped off.” She noticed what Riddick hadn’t. “There’s a small cut in her neck.”
“And her arm.”
Shazza hurried towards them, the hunting boomerang River had been using in her hand. “How is she?” She asked, pale and frightened, throwing herself to her knees next to them much like Kaylee had. “She--she gave me her boomerang when she went to look for you and told me that I’d need it. I—I—it’s impossible to catch! It nearly took off my head when it whirled back!”
“She knew what was going to happen.” Kaylee whispered, eyes widening, ignoring the latter part of what Shazza had just said.
Riddick frowned as he turned to look at the others, who were standing over the decapitated body of the creature Shazza had obviously killed with the hunting boomerang. They were more interested in figuring out why it had burnt so badly when the light had touched it than if River was fine.
“Damned idiot,” he growled, referring to the girl shivering in his arms, whom he was unknowingly crushing in his hold. “If you knew that this was going to happen why the hell did you go there?”
“The night was to stab the wolf in his back, he is one with the darkness and shouldn’t be betrayed.” River whispered, finally blinking, returning from wherever she’d escaped to within her mind when she’d entered shock.
If Shazza found the fact that Kaylee and Riddick had basically said that River could see the future surprising, she didn’t show it. She just looked worried. “We should get you bandaged up.”
Jack suddenly appeared by their side. “River! Are you okay?” He saw the blood and his eyes went. “You’re hurt!” He turned to Riddick and then smiled. “Riddick saved you.”
River frowned as she looked at the boy. “Voice an octave wrong. Adam lost his apple.”
Jack’s eyes widened and he took a step backwards.
Riddick looked up at the little boy and smirked. He’d thought there was something off with him…her. And it was true; now that he thought about it, the child didn’t have a pronounced Adam’s Apple like men did.
“I wonder what she’s talking about.” Kaylee whispered, obviously thinking Adam losing his Apple might have something to do with their survival.
River shivered and buried herself deeper within Riddick, hiding her face in his chest and sighing contentedly.
The murderer tried not to imagine her sighing under him. It wasn’t the moment to have inappropriate thoughts.
“The light, it hurts them!” Fry announced as she hurried over, proud of the discovery of something Kaylee had confided earlier to Riddick that River had known all along.
“Congratulations.” Riddick announced sarcastically as he stood and pulled River with him. His eyes widened slightly when he felt the pistol hidden underneath her shirt, yet thanks to the goggles his expression was lost on the others.
The girl was a sneaky little tease.
Damned if that didn’t make him want her more.
“C’mon, we stay here and we’ll be dinner.” Johns announced as he glared at Riddick and River before going to burn another escape hatch.
They were in their sixth container. Cargo had been shoved against the door and walls. The survivors gathered around Fry’s hand-light, the only hand-light now that the one Jack had been holding had fallen and broken when they’d heard the sounds of the predator’s screams before realizing that Riddick and River were missing.
Kaylee sat next to a crying Jack, and a wounded River. She tore at her own shirt and bandaged her friend once more since they’d been stranded on this godforsaken planet. She was worried. River hadn’t ever just disconnected from her present, especially in the face of danger, like Riddick said she had when the predators all turned their attention on her.
This was the woman who’d killed Reavers and a predator with her own bare hands.
So why had she reacted so violently during this attack?
“One more cutting torch…one hand-light here…two more in the cabin…” She paused. “I think two more…”
“Spirits,” Paris piped up, looking at the pilot. Since they’d discovered that light hurt the bastards, they were looking for ways of keeping themselves completely in the path of light. “Anything above 45 proof burns well.”
“How many bottles?” Fry asked, interested.
“Not sure,” the little man mumbled. “Ten?”
Fry frowned. Obviously that wasn’t enough. They were currently in Paris’ container with all of his merchandise, and her eyes fell upon some very ugly umbrellas. “What about them? Would they burn?” Seeing the look on his face she added: “If you got a receipt?”
That seemed to calm him. “Possibly.”
“Awright,” Fry placed her hands on her hips and turned to look at those huddled around her. “So maybe we’ll have enough light.”
“Enough for what?” Johns asked, suspicion deep in his voice.
Fry turned and glared at him as if telling him to read her mind.
River, who could read her mind, spoke up for the first time since they’d entered the sixth container, her voice a little shaky for Kaylee’s likes. “She wishes to journey out into the night.”
Johns turned to River, eyes wide, before swinging back to a defiant looking Fry. “Oh lady. If you’re in your right mind, I pray you go insane!”
The pilot ignored him, turning her attention on the others. “We can stick to the plan.” She insisted. “If we get four cells back to the skiff, we’re off this rock.”
“I hate to ruin a beautiful theory with an ugly fact,” but considering that Paris was always the voice of doom Kaylee really didn’t believe him. “But that sand-cat is solar, it won’t run at night.”
“We’ll carry the cells…drag them…whatever it takes.” Yet there was a tremor in the captain’s voice.
Kaylee’s eyes widened. Mal had had some woozy ideas during his time as captain of Serenity, but Fry had just completely beaten him in the ‘Bad Ideas’ department!
Go out into the darkness?
At least here in the ship they had some relative safety.
But out in the infinite darkness?
They’d be dog meat!
All around her the faces of the survivors betrayed their troubled thoughts.
And was it Kaylee’s idea, or was the light dimming?
“You mean…tonight?” Jack asked, wiping at a tear. “With all of those things still out there?”
Fry nodded silently.
“Oh. Sure. Why not? Sounds like a hoot!” Paris sounded like he was about to have a complete mental break-down.
“Back it up.” Johns interrupted. “I know this darkness is supposed to last a while if the model is correct--but do we really want to go out there? At least here we have some chance at safety!” His gaze rested on all those in the room before landing on Jack and River. “Look at what happened to River! And—and—think of the kid! He’ll be terrified out there!”
“Oh don’t use him like that!” Fry exploded, turning on her once-ally.
“Use him for what?” Johns growled.
“As a smokescreen for your own fears!” She snapped, looking like all she wanted to do was kick the blonde out to the creatures outside.
Kaylee turned to look at Riddick and noted that he looked damned pleased with the way things were going between them, and couldn’t help but wonder if he had something to do with the falling out of the power-duo.
“Hey!” He narrowed his eyes, taking a menacing step towards the captain. “Why don’t you shut the fuck up for a moment and lemme come up with a plan that doesn’t involve MASS SUICIDE!”
Fry’s eyes were dark and emotionless. “Yeah, like I’d let a hype come up with plans that could concern the lives of others.”
There was a gasp as everyone turned to look at Johns in horror.
He was a hype? A drug addict?
Realizing that he’d already lost a big chunk of everyone’s respect; Johns pulled out his shotgun and pointed it at her. After he’d lost the pistol in the darkness he’d left his shotgun at his side and hadn’t touched it until this moment.
In a movement that surprised everyone, Riddick moved in between Fry and the nose of the shotgun, which bumped the underside of his chin.
“Think of that reward, Johns.” He reasoned in a ‘you-know-you-can’t-kill-me’ voice.
“Yes, well, Riddick, you might not be the only reward I could collect.” Johns spat out.
Kaylee’s heart stopped when Johns’ eyes quickly looked in River’s direction before resting firmly on Riddick once more.
The mercenary knew who River was!
This wasn’t good!
Wasn’t good at all!
What to do? WHAT TO DO?!
“With that in mind,” Johns continued. “I’m willing to take a cut in your reward.”
Riddick’s face was chiseled ice. “How ‘bout a cut in your gut?”
Johns and those witnessing this confrontation looked down to reveal the shiv Riddick held, poised and ready for evisceration.
“I won’t miss this time.” Riddick promised in a dangerous voice.
Johns’ eyes narrowed and a muscle in his cheek jerked as he looked back up at the murderer. “Oh, Trash Baby, you’re gonna regret this.”
“Please,” Iman, reminding Kaylee once more of Sheppard Book, stepped in, trying to make peace. “This solves nothing. Please…”
There was a moment of tense silence as both rivals stared each other down, yet not surprisingly Johns was the one to step back and away from the fight, despite the fact that he had an impressive shotgun and Riddick only had a bone-shiv.
To Kaylee, that spoke volumes about Johns.
Fry smiled at Riddick’s back and placed a hand on his shoulder as a thank you before turning to Jack.
Kaylee heard River growl softly besides her when Fry didn’t remove her hand from Riddick’s shoulder.
“They’re afraid of our light.” Fry told the little boy, not knowing that the girl who, if properly trained, could kill her with only her brain, was glaring daggers at her. “That means we don’t have to be so afraid of them.”
“And you’re certain that you can find the way back?” Iman asked, looking down at his two charges with fatherly worry. “Even in the dark?”
“No, I can’t lead us back to the skiff.” Fry shook her head before giving Riddick’s shoulder a little squeeze. “But he can.”