Ever since they’d crashed on this godforsaken planet Kaylee had been having some very awkward conversations with River, and this had to be one of the weirdest. She’d had to explain the dynamics of possessiveness and jealousy in a relationship, and that, no, it wasn’t correct to kill the ‘competition’.
“But this is good,” she stressed, as the others huddled together, listening to Fry’s plan. “This shows that you’re developing normal adult feelings. I was a little worried when you weren’t jealous of my spending so much time with Simon--it would have been a normal reaction--and the fact that you want Riddick and are jealous because of Fry’s attention show that you’re undoing your programming.”
“So, the desire to hurt her with my brain is normal?” River asked, voice strained, obviously doing her best to speak plainly.
“Well, not with your brain--most people can’t do that--but to hurt or somehow cause pain to the other person involved is normal.”
“And this is because I want the darkness for my own?” She asked slowly once more.
“And if the darkness coveted the stars, he too would feel this emotion if the stars twinkled at the moon?”
“No.” Kaylee couldn’t help but feel proud at how better she understood River now that they’d had to spend so much time together in such close contact. “Simon wouldn’t elicit that feeling in Riddick because Simon’s your brother, and Riddick would realize that he couldn’t steal you from him like that.”
“Oh.” River seemed to be thinking very seriously before looking up. “But any member of the male gender which does not carry my DNA code within him would elicit the response desired?”
“ In a nutshell.” Kaylee nodded.
River tapped her bottom lip with her finger for a moment. “So if this girl were to be close to a male not of her DNA and the wolf were to howl, it would mean he finds her shiny and wishes her for himself?”
Kaylee wondered about the light in River’s eyes, and then frowned when she saw the younger girl looking thoughtfully in Johns’ direction. “River, no.” She warned, not needing to be a psychic to know what was going through her friend’s head at the moment. “He’s dangerous. He knows you’re on the dodge.”
Maybe, if River realized Johns knew she was wanted by the police she would rethink her little plan.
“I know.” River announced before turning and heading towards Johns, who was off in a corner a little ways from Fry’s group, looking at his shotgun.
Kaylee noticed Riddick looking up and following River’s movements towards the blonde mercenary with a scowl on his face.
Well, if River had wanted Riddick to notice her she’d certainly gotten her way.
Hopefully Riddick didn’t kill Johns before her curiosity was sated.
“I wondered about the silence,” River announced, watching with satisfaction as Johns looked up at her in surprise. Obviously he hadn’t heard her coming towards him and the revelation bothered him considerably.
“Silence, princess?” Johns asked, forcing a casual smirk on his face as he gave her a once over.
“In your brain.” River clarified, giving him a once over as well, deciding that he was aesthetically pleasing and that if she hadn’t known of Riddick she could have found herself attracted to him. “There is a silence there unlike the others. Their thoughts are loud and constant.”
He was silent for a moment before looking her over. “You know I know.”
She nodded, tilting her head to the side and once more trying to probe his mind, coming up with silence. “It’s the drugs.” She determined. “They keep you painless and your thoughts silent,” she couldn’t help but smile. “It is a rest for my brain.”
Realizing that she wasn’t being hostile with him, Johns suddenly smirked. “Glad to be of service.”
Wondering if he was like Riddick, silent in the brain yet communicating through touch, River surprised the blonde by placing her fingers on the side of his face and slowly lowering them down the curve of his jaw, not even blinking when the rapid images and feelings filled her.
His hand grasped her wrist and pulled her closer to him, jarring her out of the vision of herself.
River noted with scientific detachment that despite the fact that she found him visibly appealing, his touch did nothing to her. It was like Simon’s touch.
“Trying to say something, princess?” His voice was deeper, his temperature hotter, and his heartbeat had increased.
Going through the symptoms he was experiencing and a possible reason for this sudden change in his body, River blinked, suddenly stumbling upon the surprising answer. He was…attracted…to her.
“You were there, at the Maidenhead.” She told him, remembering having seen herself after being triggered by the commercial, fighting all the large, sweaty, armed men in the Maidenhead until Simon had appeared, called out her name, and untriggered her into sleep with the phrase taught him by those who’d helped him rescue her from the Academy.
Intrigued by this revelation, River forgot the reason of this experiment.
“Yeah,” Johns nodded, not letting go of her wrist or letting her pull away. “Watched you from the moment you came in, and before I could get up and ask ya if ya wanted a drink, you started beatin’ the ruttin’ hell outta all the men around you.”
He chuckled. “Made me reconsider askin’ ya if you wanted the drink—but just a little. Later saw the waves looking for Simon and River Tam, but I hadn’t put it all together until you went all warrior princess again with the boomerang.” With his other hand he trailed a finger up her long neck, once again invoking nothing, not even a little tremble. “You had that same emptiness in your eyes.”
She nodded. Whenever she fought there was an emotional detachment as her feelings and every that made her human were pushed back and the weapon took over.
“You know,” his hand went to her hair much like the creature had. “I’m more interested in you joinin’ my crew than turnin’ ya in.”
River tilted her head to the side, examining him, realizing he was telling the truth.
“Easier to catch the hun dans if I have a gorram reader working with me.” He went on to explain, as if she hadn’t guessed the reason why he wanted her working for him.
A shadow fell over them and Johns jerked to see Fry and Riddick standing over them, one looking smug and the other looking deadly.
River wasn’t surprised, she’d sensed them coming.
“Let’s go do this?” Fry asked, smirk on her face as she looked at how close Johns had River to him. “Or are you two busy?”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.” Johns informed her before giving Riddick a smirk and making show of letting go of River’s arm and hair.
River tried to appear uncaring, yet when Riddick’s arm shot up and his fingers curled brutishly around her upper arm, jerking her back with him as he stalked away she couldn’t help but stifle a giggle. Even with his mental block he was pissed enough to let a few words (…fucker…mine…gonna ruttin’ KILL the bastard…) slip through.
She sought Kaylee’s eyes and gave her a quick, triumphant grin, letting the other girl know that the mission had been a redundant success.
Kaylee smiled and shook her head at her childlike glee.
“The darkness thinks the stars are shiny.” River told Riddick confidently as he continued to drag her away from the mercenary.
Riddick’s grip on her tightened painfully. “The darkness will throw the ruttin’ stars over its knee and slap the gou shi outta them the next time they let that hun dan touch them.” He promised her darkly in a deep whisper.
“The canary placed her claws on the darkness, and the darkness remained silent. When the fox hunted, hungry with bloodlust, the darkness covered the canary, hiding and protecting it from its doom.” River pointed out, trying not to let her resentment at the memory show.
“Canary?” He stopped and looked at her with a frown before turning to look behind them at Fry and snorted in amusement. “I see.”
She didn’t like the shift in his mood. All of a sudden he’d become horribly smug.
“Canaries have no place in the dark of the night.” Riddick slanted a gaze at her, smirk in the place. “They only sing in the day.”
River blinked, looking up at him in surprise. He was speaking her language!
Shaking his head, Riddick chuckled deep within his throat and let go of her, walking towards the others.
The Cargo Hold’s doors opened.
Mixed for maximum light, the cutting torch was pushed outside and swept around to ward off any creature that might be hanging around, waiting for them to appear. Riddick, Fry and the rest stepped out into the night and slowly made their way through the darkness, most trying to ignore the primal sounds coming from just outside the circle of light.
They soon reached the darkened Main Cabin.
“Riddick.” Fry ordered.
The murderer felt Johns’ anxiety behind him, his fear of the darkness and all that was behind him, and while Riddick realized that he couldn’t kill him now for touching what Riddick had decided was his, that didn’t mean he had to save the mercenary if something decided to eat him.
Pulling up his goggles he took a step into the darkness and looked around the inside of the Main Cabin. While there was a lot of wreckage, he couldn’t see anything but…ah…there was a young predator near the entrance.
He paused, feeling Johns growing more and more fidgety with each second, a smirk appearing on his face as he pulled back on his goggles and turned to the others.
Behaving as Riddick had guessed, no sooner had the news escaped his lips did Johns shoulder passed him rapidly towards the entrance, Fry and the others following rapidly behind.
Just as Johns entered the Main Cabin, the predator, sensing the light, buzzsawed over his head and, fleeing the cabin, took off into the night outside.
Riddick was somewhat disappointed that the creature hadn’t taken the mercenary’s head with him.
“Fuck me.” Johns cursed, and turned an accusing glare at Riddick. “You said it was ‘clear!’”
“Said ‘looks clear’.” Riddick replied truthfully, keeping his face straight and emotionless despite the smirk that wanted to curl his lips.
“Well, what does it look like now?” Johns growled out, exasperation and suspicion dark in his voice.
Pulling off his goggles once more, Riddick rechecked before giving the blonde a blank look. “Looks clear.”
Johns narrowed his eyes at him.
Fry sighed in disgust from somewhere behind them. “Just get the gorram lights on!”
River made passed them and entered the darkened cabin, the others scrambling in quickly after her, Johns following once he realized that light was leaving them behind.
Smirking at the blonde’s back, Riddick tongue-clicked just for the heck of it, and from the tensing of the other man’s back, the murderer confirmed it’d fooled him for a moment.
Snorting, Riddick pushed passed him into the Main Cabin.
Fry and Johns were just too easy to manipulate sometimes.
With River holding the cutting torch in the middle of the room to keep away the creatures of the, boomerang fastened to her belt, everyone got to work powering up the cabin’s lights.
When that was accomplished, Riddick watched River turn off the cutting torch to save its light and help Shazza and Kaylee threading nylon through Paris’ misting umbrellas, filling the reservoirs with high-octane liquor, and swapping out O-2 containers. They also got another cutting torch and found a supply of hand-lights.
Riddick and Johns yanked out four power cells from the batter bay and left them by the door so that when they were finished they’d be able to grab them quickly. The one cell left in the battery bay gave them dim light, yet it was enough to keep them safe for now.
Realizing that Johns and Fry weren’t there with them, Riddick wondered where they were. He didn’t like leaving them together because there was always the chance that considering the fact that they would most probably die here, and knowing how sentimental Fry seemed to be, she’d probably want to make peace with the mercenary before they started the journey.
It wasn’t that he cared if they were friends. Usually he wouldn’t have given it a bat of an eyelash, but they were the power-duo of the group, the leaders, and together they were strong and stupid. He needed to keep them clashing if he wanted a chance of getting off this planet.
He snorted, turning his goggles in the direction of River, his favorite scenery of late.
It was amusing to think that she been jealous of Fry.
Sure, he’d stepped in and saved the blonde’s life, but it wasn’t because he gave a shit about what happened to her.
Riddick was a smart person, he knew that with Fry gone Johns would automatically assume the role of leader of the group, and things would go to hell fast for Riddick if Johns became El Gran Jefe. So while he needed to keep Fry and Johns fighting, he needed to make sure the woman was alive as well--at least until they’d made it back to the skiff.
Johns on the other hand, would be getting no help from Riddick. Not only was the hun dan planning on betraying him, but he’d dared put his hands on River, and Riddick wasn’t about to forget that.
“It’s time.” Fry announced, arriving with a scowling Johns behind her.
Peace had yet to be achieved.
River watched as the light died, then suddenly there was the light of a burning wick. Alcohol mist shot across the flame to create a fireball. The two two umbrella torches were held by Shazza and Kaylee. The fabric already burnt away, they belched out fireballs into the night. By the light provided by that, the hand-lights Jack and the two young disciples of Iman were using, and the cutting torches in Fry’s and River’s hands, she could see Iman chained into the first harness of the drag-sled they’d brought with them.
Outside air caressed their skin as Johns, who stood next to Iman, fumbled with the second harness until Riddick helped him into the chains. Mercenary and fugitive shared a look between them, and River couldn’t help but see the irony of the prisoner helping his captor into chains.
Fry, ever the leader, turned to the others, ignoring the sounds of the creatures around them. “Keep the light going.” She gave them all a long stare. “That’s all we have to do to get out of this alive. Just keep your lights burning.”
Riddick looped a hand-light around his neck, placing it to shine light on his back; a beacon to the others so they would always know his location while he was ahead of them.
“Be runnin’ ‘bout 10 paces ahead.” He informed their blonde leader, goggles pulled up and silver eyes on the darkness around them. “I want the light on my back--but not in my eyes. And check your cuts,” he announced as an afterthought. “These things know our blood now.”
“Don’t worry,” Kaylee whispered, and River turned to see her brother’s love smiling down at Jack, who’d gone completely pale. “You’re going to be safe.”
River narrowed her eyes and focused on the child, ignoring the others’ thoughts until she only heard the young girl’s. When she heard the fears in the child’s head her eyes widened and she involuntarily took a head back.
The child was beginning her menstruation!
“Kaylee,” She spoke so that only her friend could hear her. “Keep Jack closer to the light. The smell will tempt them yet they will stay back if he remains closer to the light.”
Kaylee obviously didn’t understand what smell River was talking about, but instinctively moved the young girl in drag towards the light, closer to the sled as well.
Jack looked back at River, mentally asking herself if River knew.
The elder girl nodded.
Jack’s eyes widened.
Having missed the exchange between Fry and Riddick, River looked up when the drag-sled began to move.
They began to run, Riddick the eyes, was in front, with Fry behind him with a cutting torch, and Johns and Iman pulling the sled with the four power cells and eight bottles of booze from in front. Iman’s two disciples, Hasan and Sulieman, pushed it from behind, handlights shining light on their backs much like Riddick, so nothing would come at them from behind.
Shazza and Kaylee each held an umbrella torch, fireballs blazing, while Jack was situated between Kaylee and the sled, holding a handlight.
Paris and River, each holding an umbrella torch and cutting torch respectively, came up in the back despite Johns’ insistence on River and Fry switching places.
River sensed the creatures gliding in the air above them, and lurking in the darkness around them, waiting for their opportunity, yet she decided not to mention it because Pairs was stumbling in fear enough as it was, sweeping his umbrella torch back and forth, every shadow a threat.
She was also sure that she smelt urine on him, yet ignored the stench, eyes on the creatures she knew were hiding around her, clicking, following them from behind, and sniffing her scent.
This reminded her too much of the encounter she’d just had with those two creatures when she’d gone looking for Riddick. While she’d know that he was in trouble and that if she didn’t go there and shoot the creatures they’d eat him, she couldn’t understand what’d happened to her once she’d laid eyes on them up close.
It was as if there’d been instant recognition.
Shivering, River looked behind her once more, seeing a shadow swerve just beyond the reach of the light.
The creatures hadn’t descended upon her with fury as they had when they’d attacked Ali and Shazza. They’d crept up onto her, circling her, and then they’d slowly begun slicing her skin and placing their mouth to her cuts, leisurely feeding from her, taking their time. They hadn’t consumed her in a flurry, tearing her skin from her body and dislocating bones.
The difference in the feeding disturbed her.
As had how she’d gone cold and paralyzed with fear and another unmentionable emotion the those creatures.
“Riddick. Riddick.” Fry was heard right before the sled stopped. They all hustled closer to said object and into the stronger beams of light.
“Where are the sand tracks?” Fry asked, sounding irritated and nervous. “Why aren’t we following the tracks of the sand-cat anymore?”
“Saw something I didn’t like,” was Riddick’s vague answer.
“Such as…” Johns prompted.
“Hard to tell, even for me.” Riddick admitted in a slow, thoughtful voice. “But it looked like a bunch of those big boys chewin’ each other’s gonards off.” He paused to let that sink in. “Thought we’d swing wide. Okay by you?”
That brought the confrontation to a halt.
Paris gulped and looked behind him into the darkness, as if trying to find the scene Riddick had just depicted. Nearby clicking caused him to cry out and jump.
“Let’s move.” Fry ordered before turning to Jack with a reassuring smile. “Just a detour. He’ll get us there.”
More clicking sounded closer to River than she remembered the creatures being brave enough to venture.
Paris noticed this as well and twirled around to look at Fry. “Can we switch?”
“What,” Fry asked, looking confused. “Switch what?”
“ I think I twisted my ankle running backwards like that. And I am not sure I…” Seeing the disbelieving stares he was receiving from the other, he took in a deep breath and tried once again. “Okay, that’s a lie. I just don’t want to be in the back here anymore. If you could just give me a few minutes up there in front--.”
“Don’t be such a fuckin’ coward man!” Shazza snapped, sick of all of his groaning and complaining, of his acting as if every one of them weren’t in the same danger. “Look at River, she was attacked by those gorram creatures and she’s there in da back with you and she ain’t complainin’!”
Paris bristled, squaring his shoulders. “I think River’s proven to be a little warrior princess and with that little boomerang she has a better chance at surviving this!” He stomped his foot. “It is my booze and my umbrellas that are allowing us to get this far and I demand that I get to switch places with the captain up front!”
“She’s the pilot,” Johns, surprisingly enough, stuck up for Fry. “She should stay close to the cells.”
“Oh, so we’re all dispensable then?” Paris snapped, face coloring in his righteous indignation. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’ll switch with you.” Kaylee offered, pushing Jack to the other side of the sled to stand next to Shazza, and made her way back to where Paris was hurriedly and happily making his way further up to in front.
“You should have stayed up there in the front.” River told her softly as they began walking once more. “It’s more dangerous back here.”
“Yes, well, you’re bleedin’ and injured and someone should be here keepin’ an eye on you.” Kaylee sniffed, yet there was a slight mischievous expression on her face.
River looked at her sideways. “Your aura is mixed up. What do you know?”
“Can’t you read my mind, Mei-Mei?” Kaylee quipped, smiling fully and lowering her voice softly so that no one else could hear their conversation.
“Too many voices, everyone thinking.” River shook her head. “Confusing, can’t make out only one.”
Nodding in understanding, Kaylee huddled a little closer to River, lowering her voice. “I forgot to tell you earlier that before you and Zeke were attacked I activated the tracking device Simon gave us.”
River’s eyes widened, she’d forgotten all about her tracking device. Anyway, it was in the sole of her boots--and she’d left her boots behind a long time ago.
“And right before we left the Main Cabin, I checked on it.” Kaylee whispered, eyes sparkling despite their life-threatening situation. “The light had turned yellow!”
“Mother is near.” River whispered, letting herself have yet another reason to hope to survive this now that she knew that Serenity was near.
Kaylee smiled beautifully. “They’re fine. They’re coming for us.” She reached out and clasped River’s hand, squeezing it happily. “We’re going to be saved.”
“Light, please light here.” Paris’ voice is heard asking somewhat frantically at his new position as side-guard.
Still moving, Shazza trained her light on Paris while he refueled, and for a brief moment, Jack was left in the shadows.
Suddenly River felt it.
Feeling one of the creatures above leave its group and descend upon the earth at a break-neck speed, River looked up at the darkness. “Above! Above!” She screamed.
Everyone looked up, yet no one could see what River was screaming about, no one could see the creature dive-bombing for Jack, clicking at a high-velocity like an incoming missile.
At the last nanosecond Suleiman must have noticed the shift in the shadows because he threw himself at Jack and flattened the girl to the sand. The scythe-like blades swing at the Arabic boy protecting Jack with his own body yet miss by inches, soaring up into the air with a screech of pain as Shazza quickly twirled around and aimed her umbrella torch at it.
The confusion had jostled everyone around, as everyone had ducked and taken cover.
Yet the predator wasn’t returning…
…so why didn’t Grim go away?
“Suleiman!” Iman called out in fear. “Are you well? Have you been cut?!” There was silence. “Someone, please tell me if he’s been cut!”
Keeping her umbrella torch in front of her, Shazza pulled up the terrified, yet untouched children up to their feet and back into the circle of protective light. “They’s fine. Young Suleiman saved our lil’ Jack.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a brave, good man, son, riskin’ yer life like that.”
The young Chrislam blushed at her praise.
Kaylee hurried over to Jack and, passing her umbrella torch to Suleiman, hugged the young girl to her heart. “Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
“I—I’m fine.” Jack’s voice trembled.
River ignored them, looking around, eyes narrowed.
Grim was near.
It wasn’t over yet.
“I dropped and broke my light.” Iman said in a soft voice.
“We’ll just get Paris to walk closer to you.” Fry announced and then turned to order the small man to do so.
That’s when everyone noticed what River had moments ago.
Paris wasn’t there, his umbrella torch dropped on the ground.
River looked deep within the shadows, where she could feel creatures congregating. “He’s back there.” She whispered to herself.
Somehow, amidst the confusion, Paris must have run away to get away from the flyer, yet he’d dropped his umbrella torch in his haste to get away.
His terror as he realizes his condition shoots into her, and River screamed as she was forced to feel what he felt, her psychic powers picking up his extreme terror. She felt the sprain he’d gotten when running away, felt the fear as he tried to get back to them, felt when he was slashed from behind.
“River!” Kaylee was at her side once more, bending next to her, keeping the light around her. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong!?”
It was as if the night had claws.
“Oh, sweet Jesus…” His voice carried to her as he fell to his knees in the sand once more.
Blood flew from the wound in his back, the wound that burnt River as if it were her own.
The clicking stopped.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, WILL YOU GET ME SOME LIGHT OVER HERE?!” Paris screamed, helping the others, who’d been searching the darkness everywhere around them, to find his location.
Faces whipped around, but before their lights could save him, Paris was gone, snatched away but a swooping blur.
Light-beams jump fitfully in the air, vainly searching for the creature that’d taken Paris from them.
River felt when the creature drove its scythe-like blades through Paris’ back, and she bent over, coughing up blood.
Suddenly, Paris’ fear and pain disappeared, as did River’s morbid connection to him, and she sensed the Grim leave, sated…for now.
A hand gripped River’s upper arm and pulled her up. She looked dazedly into Riddick’s goggles, which he’d obviously put back on before returning to the light--and her.
The murderer looked at her silently before raising a hand and wiping at the small stream of blood running down the side of her mouth, rubbing the drops between the pads of his thumb and finger.
Putting a supportive arm around her small frame, realizing that she was still suffering the aftermaths of the psychic connection with the deceased, Riddick turned and pulled off his goggles now that his back was to the light again, and looked out into the darkness.
With Riddick touching her, River felt her night-sight improving so that she could make out what it was he watched so intently.
He was watching the predators feasting upon Paris’ dead body.
Carrying a youngling on her back, a female predator arrived late and couldn’t make it through the tight huddled predators tearing at whatever flesh they could come into contact with. With shocking apathy the female whipped the youngling from her back and began devouring it, hunger defeating motherly instincts without much of a fight.
Other predators started in-fights, killing each other for the food that the planet obviously lacked and couldn’t give them.
“What do you see?” Fry asked from Riddick’s other side. “Riddick?”
“Hunger.” He replied in a flat voice, gaze never having left the predators feasting. “60 years of hunger.”
Gou Shi: Shit
Hun dan: Bastard
Into a rising wind, and with heavy hearts at the loss of Paris, the survivors trudged on.
Jack had given Iman her hand-light to wear around his neck, and she now held Paris’ umbrella torch, refueled and coughing fireballs at regular intervals. Kaylee had been traveling in the back with River until Fry’s cutting torch sputtered and died. The blonde had promptly thrown it away into the darkness and taken the umbrella torch from Jack, forcing Kaylee to leave River and go stand next to Jack to keep the boy and the right side of the sled covered in light.
“Bottle count.” Fry ordered when she returned to the front.
“Four fulls, one half.” Jack counted quickly before looking up at Kaylee nervously. “That means we’re halfway there?”
Kaylee wished that she could tell Jack what he needed to hear, but she didn’t want to lie to him either. “Probably.”
She looked up with a sigh. Jack had asked the question none of them wanted to ask. They’d all been content following the light on Riddick’s back, but the man hadn’t spoken to them after resuming their journey, and Kaylee couldn’t help but feel that they’d been walking forever.
“Can we pick up the pace?” Fry ordered in an impatient voice, obviously worried that they’d run out of light before they reached the settlement and the skiff.
“If you think you can do better,” Johns growled, letting the sentence dangle. He abruptly slapped an arm across Iman’s chest, gaze wide and down on the sand before him.
Kaylee looked down at her feet, wondering if there was something she’d missed.
The sound of the shotgun ratcheting caused her gaze to jerk back up in time to see Johns out of his chains, moving forwards, and jamming the nose of the shotgun into the back of Riddick’s neck.
The mechanic’s eyes opened in shock. What was Johns doing?
“We aren’t completely stupid.” Johns growled in a dangerous voice that could have rivaled Riddick’s.
Everyone halted, frozen, eyes wide, watching the confrontation and wondering what had happened to trigger it.
“Stay in the light!” Fry called out, as if anyone was planning on having a nice stroll into the darkness around them. “Everyone! Stay in the fuckin’--.”
“We crossed our own paths,” Iman turned to Hasan and Suleiman, voice grave.
“He’s runnin’ us ‘round in circles!” Johns turned his head towards the others, the nose of his shotgun still pressed against Riddick’s neck firmly. “Look for yourself. Look!”
“Riddick?” Fry’s voice was hurt and angry. “What the hell are you--?”
“You all think too loud and don’t listen.” River scolded them, looking insulted at their clueless state.
The survivors looked at each other in confusion.
Riddick snorted at their silent confusion, shaking his head slightly. “Listen.”
Kaylee knew that she’d mentally tried blocking out the sounds of what was going on around her on purpose to keep from going insane with fear at the constant reminder that blood-thirsty creatures were all around them, in the dark, waiting for the lights to go out so they could devour them without mercy.
She guessed the others had done the same thing.
But now that she’d been told to listen, she strained her ears, and her eyes widened in horror as she finally realized what River and Riddick obviously had known for a while now.
The sound of a hundred Geiger-counters next to a truckload of titanium rode the wind around them.
They were close to a helluvan army of creatures!
“Canyon ahead,” Riddick had yet to turn to them. “I circled once to buy some time to think.”
“’Bout what?” Shazza asked, more curious than pissed.
“About how to kill us and still get these cells to the skiff!” Johns exploded, sending her an ugly glare. “Gorramit, we’re just doin’ the heavy lifting for this prick!”
“I was talkin’ to Riddick.” Shazza replied coolly, glaring right back at Johns.
Riddick ignored Johns and answered Shazza. “About the girl.”
“Girl?” Fry made up her nose, obviously wondering who he was talking about since there were four females in the group of survivors.
“Also been wond’ring what it’s gonna be like when we hit that canyon.” Riddick’s voice was emotionless. “With her bleeding.”
“Who are you jaw-jacking about?” Johns asked, obviously reluctantly believing what the murderer said.
Kaylee turned to look behind her at River in worry. “River?” Her heart skipped a beat. “Why didn’t you tell us that your wounds opened back up?” She was worried; River might have been bleeding to death and hadn’t told anyone!!
“He’s not talking about me.” River announced before looking at…Jack?!
It hit Kaylee like a two-by-four as she remembered River mentioning voices an octave wrong, Adam’s Apples and smells. “Jack!”
The child looked around her in terror, stuttering, close to tears. “I didn’t want everyone to leave me there…back at the ship…that’s why I didn’t say anything…”
“No, we’d never…” Kaylee passed Hasan her umbrella torch and went to her knees, pulling the crying girl into her arms. “Oh God, honey…you should have told us. We wouldn’t have left you. I swear that to you, but you should have told us!”
“I’m so sorry!” Jacks cried, hugging Kaylee with all her strength. “So sorry! I was just so frightened!”
Johns lowered his shotgun from Riddick’s neck, finally getting it. “Aw, this can’t be happenin’ to me…”
Pulling on his goggles, Riddick finally turned around and stepped into the light. “They been nose-open for her since we left. They go off blood.”
Kaylee held the shivering child closer, completely understanding and agreeing with Riddick’s decision not to go straight through that camp of predators while knowing this.
The light on them grew brighter, and Kaylee looked up to see that Suleiman had taken the umbrella torch from Hasan and taken a step closer to them.
She smiled at him in thanks.
“Well, we must keep her close, then.” Iman finally broke the silence that’d descended on them. “Here, she’ll be safe if we put her between--.”
Riddick scanned the darkness around them. “There is no ‘safe’.”
Kaylee shivered, wondering what it was he saw that made him so sure of that.
Another beat of silence passed as the wind gusted, the flames chattered, and the canyon’s sounds moved almost bodily around them.
“It’s not going to work.” Fry announced. “We gotta go back.”
Johns brayed with little amusement. “Hey, you’re the one who got me out here an’ turned me into a gorram sled dog!” He rounded on her. Lately his relationship with Fry was most volatile than his relationship with Riddick. “An’ now you ‘spect me to go back like a whipped dog?”
“I was wrong,” obviously trying to keep her anger and tears in check, Fry glared at the mercenary. “My bad, okay? I didn’t know all the particulars or I wouldn’t have suggested us going out!” She snapped at him. “Now let’s just get back to the ship!”
“I dunno.” Johns sneered at her, eyes blazing with dark fury. “Nice breeze, wide open spaces--you know, I’m startin’ to enjoy myself out here!”
“Are you fuckin’ high again?!” Fry screamed, fury taking over her desire to cry. “Just listen to--.”
“No, no, no, no. You’re right, Fry.” Johns interrupted with false compliancy. “What’s to be afraid of? My life is a steamin’ pile of meaningless toadshit anyhow.” He seemed to be quoting Fry, yet Kaylee didn’t remembering hearing that conversation. “So I say mush on! Canyon’s only couple hundred meters, after that we’re in Skiff City! So why don’t you just butch up, stuff a cork in that kid, and get--.”
“ She’s the captain,” Iman interrupted, obviously angry at Johns for his lack of respect towards their leader. “We should--.”
“ Listen to her? Her?” Johns threw his head back and laughed cynically. “When she was willing to sacrifice us all?”
A beat passed and everyone’s eyes turned to Fry, who looked pale and desperate to say something, yet couldn’t.
Kaylee’s heart stopped.
Was what Johns had just said true?
“What’s he talkin’ ‘bout?” Jack asked in a soft, frightened voice.
“You wanna know what your fearless little leader’s really like?” Johns asked, turning his attention on the little girl. “Well, little Jackie, during the crash--.”
Fry growled warningly in her throat. “This doesn’t help us, Johns.”
“--Carolyn Fry tried to blow the whole ruttin’ passenger cabin.” Johns ignored Fry and continued on, as if feeding from the pain and surprise in the air. “Tried to kill us all--.”
“Shut up!” Fry screamed out, yet wasn’t denying the charges.
“--tried to kill us all in our sleep.” Johns tore his gaze from a shocked Jack and let it roam over the rest of the survivors. “Paris had it right, we are dispensable.” He waited a beat before adding: “We’re just walking ghosts to her.”
“WOULD YOU RAG YOUR STUPID HOLE?!” Fry rushed at him, ready to rip his eyes out, yet he easily shunted her aside.
“We’re not alive because of her--,“ he sneered down at the shaking Fry contemptuously. “We’re alive in spite of her.” His words swung beneath the belt and connected…hard.
Kaylee looked back at a silent River, mentally asking her if it was a lie, or if Johns was telling them was the truth.
There was a pause as River looked slightly uncomfortable before nodding. “The fox is sly, yet his words are truth.”
Fry’s chin quivered and her knees apparently gave out on her, the undertow of events bringing her to her knees on the sand in a defeated mess.
“We can’t go through there…” She whispered, voice trembling with the tears she was shedding.
Johns sneered. “I don’t think anyone gives a rat’s ass what you think anymore, captain.”
Iman pushed him back, and helped a shaky Fry up, glaring up at the mercenary. “Fine, fine, you’ve made your point. We can all be as scared as you are now.”
Johns shouldered his shotgun, reminding everyone of the advantage he had over them. “Verdict’s in. The light moves forwards.” With that he walked out ahead of them, ignoring his now abandoned harness.
The others quickly rearranged themselves so that each side still had a light, and Jack was in the brightest section. Suleiman took Jack’s place and pulled the harness over him, helping Iman pull the sled through the darkness as Hasan continued to push from behind.
They trudged on, slower than before, building reserves for the canyon-run. At rear-point with River, Fry followed like a broken rudder, and while Kaylee’s loving nature wanted her to try and comfort the other woman, she couldn’t help but feel betrayed by someone she’d put her whole trust in, and so she remained silent.
No one noticed as, up ahead, Johns joined Riddick.
Riddick had a lot on his mind.
Too much had happened in the last couple of minutes, and the worst had occurred, Ol’ Saint Johns had taken over the leadership of the group like any tyrant on Earth-That-Was, and Riddick knew that if he didn’t really think things out this could be his end.
He felt the merc coming towards him and faintly wondered if he was stupid enough to shoot him now that the leadership…and the Big Gauge…was in his hands.
“Ain’t all of us gonna make it.” Johns announced, breaking the silence in a surprisingly civil manner.
Obviously he’d realized that he’d broken all alliances back in the group and was looking to form one with Riddick.
That could prove useful.
“Just realized that, huh?” Riddick snorted, eyes constantly around them.
There was clicking nearby and Johns blasted into the night, driving away the sound, and reminding those behind them who had the Big Gauge.
“Ten of us left.” He replied casually. “If we could get through that canyon and lose one or two, that’d be quite a fuckin’ feat, huh? Anyway, that skiff is mighty small, mightn’t even be able to take off with the weight of ten people on board.” He paused. “So us losing one or two would be good thing, right?”
“Not if I’m one of the ‘one or two’.” Riddick snorted.
“What if you’re one of eight or seven?”
Riddick paused momentarily, giving the mercenary a look that said ‘I’m listening.’
“It’s hellified stuff, but no different from those battlefield doctors during the Unification War, when they had to decide who lived and who died.” Johns announced, speaking of the great Unification War between the Browncoats and the Alliance several years ago, in which the Alliance had won and ‘unified’ the universe. “It’s called ‘triage’, okay?”
Riddick shook his head in wry amusement. “Kept calling it ‘murder’ when I did it.”
“Either way,” Johns shook that aside, not rising to the bait. “Figured it’s something you can grab onto.”
“Sacrifice play.” Riddick put it into simpler, cruder terms. “Hack up a body or two and leave them at the start of the canyon. Like a bucket of chum.”
“No, no, I think we should trawl with it.” Johns shook his head, obviously quite serious with this plan of his. “There’s a cable on the sled. We can drag the body behind us.”
“Nice embellishment.” Riddick’s sarcasm was lost on the blonde.
“Don’t wanna feed these landsharks,” he announced with a scowl. “Just keep ‘em off our scent.”
“So, which ones caught your eye?” Riddick looked back, purposely meeting River’s gaze and letting down the mental shield he’d learnt to erect years ago to keep his thoughts secret.
Her eyes widened as she understood the warning he gave her, and nodded discreetly.
“Don’ look, don’ look, don’ look!” Johns’ nervous voice brought his gaze back on the blonde. When he was calm once more, Johns continued. “I’m thinking the little transvestite and maybe the two kids of the Chrislam. They’d put up less of a fight and would be easier to gut.”
Only a coward would pick off the kids of any group when there were adults available, yet Riddick kept that comment to himself. The more and more Johns spoke, the more Riddick wondered what made Johns the good guy and what made him the bad one. They were quite similar, except Johns was a lot more fucked up and a coward to boot.
“What’s her name, anyway?” Riddick asked, referring to Jack, wondering how callous Johns could be.
“Jacqueline?” Johns guessed, obviously irritated by the question. “What do you care?”
Riddick shrugged. He didn’t care; he’d just wanted to know how much Johns didn’t care.
“Then let’s not name the Thanksgiving turkey, okay?” The blonde looked to the right when there was another click, and fired off another shot into the dark before continuing. “I assume you still got a shiv.”
“ What, you ‘spect me to do it?” Riddick scoffed, not believing the pussy Johns was.
“What’s one or two—or three—more for you?” Johns reasoned as if discussing the weather. “Like these killings are going to be the ones to send you to Hell?”
Riddick shook his head at the arrogant, self-righteous, dickhead. “Oh, you’re a piece of art, Johns. They outta hang you in a museum somewhere.” He paused, smirking. “Or, forget the museum--maybe they should just hang you.”
Obviously not taking what he’d said seriously, Johns nodded to himself. “Awright, you kill the girl first--she is the one bleedin’--and I’ll keep the others off of your back. You’ll kill the others when we need ‘em.”
“What?” Johns asked, and then rolled his eyes. “Aw, don’t tell me you’re growin’ scruples.”
The murderer shook his head. “Just wonderin’ if we don’t need bait bigger than three scrawny lil’ kids.”
Johns paused, thoughtful frown on his face, obviously considering this carefully. “You mean like Fry, Shazza and Mr. Chrislam?”
Before Riddick could tell him ‘More like Mr. Johns, a scream from behind them caused them to turn around in time to see one of the umbrella torches being torn apart and three predators attack the survivors behind them.
River had sensed it the moment Riddick let his mental block dissolve, and she’d been surprised at not only the fact that his thoughts weren’t painful and loud like the others—but soft and soothing—but what was going through his mind.
Johns wanted to kill the children to leave as bait?
Nodding in Riddick’s direction to let him know that she’d gotten his message, she’d told Iman to slow down, and while the Chrislam looked at her oddly it was the first time she’d spoken to him and she was supposed to be injured, so he graciously complied.
Unlike the last attack, this time she didn’t feel Grim until there was a scream, and the umbrella torch Shazza had been carrying was ripped in two, destroyed, by an extra-hungry creature who’d flown close enough to slice it with its scythe-like blade.
Mixing more gas into her cutting torch, brightening the flame despite Fry’s orders to keep them on medium so as to conserve the light, River rushed forwards and threw herself in front of Shazza (who’d been knocked back against the sled) swinging the torch left and right rapidly just as the predator circled around to attack the woman who’d been in shadows seconds ago.
Instead of having a sure meal, the predator that’d been bomb-diving towards Shazza was unable to pull up in time and it shrieked in pain as its eyes were charred by the bright flames. At the last minute it managed to divert its course until it crashed violently into the sand behind them, thrashing and clawing at its own eyes.
A couple of the predators around them noticed this and jumped onto the squealing creature, tearing it apart and relishing the easy kill.
Despite that distraction, another predator took advantage of everyone’s attention either being on River and Shazza or the feasting behind them, and slashed at Kaylee, slicing her arm and throwing her into Jack. The mechanic had managed to keep a hold of her umbrella torch, and when the predator swung once more she aimed the torch so that it coughed the fireball into the creature’s face, causing its face to melt slightly as it screamed and also crashed to the sand, becoming victim to its siblings’ hunger as well.
Johns’ shotgun fired into the air as he and Riddick hurried back towards the group, yet a scream sounded out louder than the shots.
Suleiman had un-harnessed himself with amazing speed and grabbed onto Hasan’s hands as the lower half of the younger boy’s body disappeared in the air, in the darkness. Hasan screamed in pain and Iman tried desperately to pull himself out of his harness to help his disciples.
Suleiman sent up prayers in Arabic as his grip on Hasan’s hands slipped, and before Fry or Iman could make it to the child, Hasan had been swept away into the air, scream piercing the night.
Wiping out the pistol she’d kept hidden until that moment, River buried her toes in the sand and connected with the planet again. Closing her eyes she felt the wind, Hasan’s screams, and the flapping of wings, before firing blindly into the night.
There was a screech of pain as her bullets were true and the creature that’d taken Hasan from them crashed, taking the young Arabic boy whose legs were in its mouth with it.
The lights shone towards the young boy, crying pitifully on the ground besides the creature that’d taken it, trying to force its jaws open so he could escape…while the predators around hi, noticed his predicament and began to grow near.
Sensing Grim behind her, River twirled around and shot the predator that’d crept up behind her right between its eyes.
Another shot rang in the air and a child screamed.
River turned in time to see the smoke from Johns’ barrel, and a now dead Hasan collapsing right before the creatures circling him jumped upon his dead body.
“It was better to go that way than to be torn to pieces.” Johns announced in a dead voice when everyone turned to him horror for having shot the boy between his eyes much like River had the creature behind her.
“Enough chum for you?” Riddick asked.
Johns turned and glared at him before turning to the others.
Everyone had tears in their eyes, and Iman, Suleiman, Jack and Kaylee were crying heart-brokenly at the loss of the shy young boy.
Fry’s head was bent, shadows playing over her face, but her shoulders trembled with her silent sobs.
Shazza shook next to River, looking as if it were all she could do to keep a firm hold onto her sanity as the sounds of feasting filled the air.
Feeling a prickling in her eyes, River raised a cautious hand to her cheek and swiped at the clear liquid there, surprised to realize that she’d been crying.
She was never affected by anyone’s death. The only one who’d ever affected her when injured was Simon.
Maybe Kaylee is right, she thought to herself, eyes on the clear liquid covering her fingers and running soundlessly down her cheeks. Maybe I AM undoing their programming.
“They’re busy feasting.” Johns spoke once more. “I say we make for the canyon while they’re not looking for desert.”
They were nine left: Riddick, River, Kaylee, Shazza, Fry, Jack, Johns, Iman and Suleiman. They listened to the canyon and the continual buzz and clicks coming from there, knowing that there had to be countless predators ahead.
“How many do you see?” Fry asked Riddick.
“One or two,” came his vague answer.
“Jack?” Fry turned to the young girl.
She looked up from quickly counting the bottles on the sled. “Three full ones, but we’re going to need a refill soon so…”
Fry nodded, understanding what the child was saying, letting out a sigh. “Doesn’t seem like enough to turn back on, doesn’t it?”
Silence descended on them.
“Only one way to do it.” Riddick spoke, causing everyone to turn to look at him in interest. “Turn the sled over drag it like that, girl down low. Light up everything we got--and run through like dogs on fire.”
A beat passed.
Suleiman looked up and spoke with a thick accent, understanding what Riddick was talking about before the others did. “The sled as a shield.”
“What about the cells?” Fry asked.
“Johns and I will take those.” The murderer announced and the mercenary didn’t voice any objections to the plan.
Fry glared at them. “We’re just here to carry your light, aren’t we?” She looked from Riddick to Johns right back to Riddick. “Just your torch-bearers.”
Kaylee continued to cry silently next to Jack and Shazza, the mechanic hadn’t been able to get over young Hasan’s death.
Shazza had bandaged her arm and stopped the bleeding. They were attracting the predators enough as it was.
“Nah,” Johns sneered at the pilot, regaining her attention. “You’re also here to be our bodyguards.” He passed a surprised Shazza his shotgun. “To make sure we don’t be taken by surprise from behind.” He turned to look at River, who now had the pistol out in full view. “I ‘spect you to make good use of the bullets left.”
She gave him a long, silent look.
Fry frowned at River. The girl had somehow gotten the pistol without any of them knowing, and apparently not only could wield a hunting boomerang from an extinct Earth-That-Was tribe with deadly accuracy, but was only a sure-shot with a gun.
She’d killed that hun dan that’d taken Hasan with her eyes closed.
Obviously she wasn’t some innocent and naïve girl from some backwater planet like everyone had believed of both her and Kaylee.
And Fry was wondering if she should really trust the girl, even if she had been helping them so far.
The girl was obviously trained to kill, and if Fry’s suspicions were right, she was a reader. She’d predicted and known too many things for it to be anything else.
Which meant this girl was from the Alliance, probably an Operative, which meant that she had the power to arrest Fry the moment they got to safety for violating her crew vows of putting the passengers’ lives before her own.
She’d probably even give in Riddick for his murders and Johns for being in possession of an illegal amount of morphine and child-slaughter--not that Fry would blame her for putting Johns away, the hun dan deserved to be in the deepest, darkest slam available.
“ Let’s drop back an’ boot up.” Riddick ordered, pulling Fry from her thoughts.
As they hurried to do what they must, Fry sent Johns and Riddick a look before shaking her head. She was going to have a little talk with Riddick and let him know about the little innocent looking girl that’d caught his attention.
Maybe they could strike up a deal--an alliance--and if they could, things would look brighter for her.
Riddick looked down at the two sets of power cells. They’d been lashed together into two queues that he was more than sure both he and Johns would have no problem dragging behind them. Well, he’d have no problem dragging them, Johns mightn’t be as strong as he usually was now that he wasn’t having his daily shots of morphine.
Working amidst the great bones in the boneyard, Riddick and Johns crafted two new harnesses from the old straps, and close behind them, Iman was muttering something in Arabic.
“What’re doing?” Riddick asked, looking at the Chrislam with slight suspicion as he turned towards the darker man.
“Blessing you two like the others.” Iman announced. He frowned when he noticed the expression on Riddick’s face. “It’s painless.”
“And pointless.” Riddick, a man of no religion, pointed out.
“Amen to that,” Johns snorted, continuing to work on his harness.
Riddick couldn’t help but find the mercenary agreeing with him so much slightly unnerving.
“ I see.” Iman seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “Well, even if you don’t believe in God, it doesn’t mean He--.”
“Oh, no, you’ve got it all wrong, Preacher. I damn well believe.” Riddick shrugged on the harness, and snugged it down. “’Cuz you don’t spend half of your life in lock-down with a horse-bit in your mouth and not believe. And you surely don’t start out in a liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around your neck and not believe.” He chuckled darkly before turning to the holy man. “Oh, I absolutely believe in God. And I absolutely hate the fucker.”
Surprisingly enough, instead of being angry or insulted at the words spoken against his God, Iman looked compassionate. “He will be with us—with you, whether you wish Him with you or not. You were allowed to survive your traumatic birth, to go through what you went through, to crash here, because He knew we’d need you.”
Riddick was silent as he shook his head at Iman and his faith, despite the fact that the man had surprised him into wondering. “Don’t you think God should have sent you someone who cared if you all survived?”
Iman didn’t answer, yet there was deep knowledge in his eyes that pissed Riddick off for a reason he couldn’t name.
“Give my blessing to the girl.” He said gruffly, turning his back on the holy man. “She needs a spare.”
There was silence as Iman moved away.
Riddick shook his head, movement jerky.
“I still sense Grim.”
Looking up Riddick relaxed when he saw River standing by his side. Behind her, Iman and Johns were having a tense conversation, obviously about Hasan, but Riddick ignored them and focused his attention on the beautiful woman standing next to him and looking worried.
“The Reaper?” Riddick asked, remembering the old tales. “Well, darlin’, I doubt Hasan will be the last one killed tonight--‘specially with us going through the ruttin’ canyon with the kid bleeding like she is, so it’s not surprising you sense Old Man Death near.”
“You didn’t let the holy one lay God’s hand on you.” She observed more than accused.
Riddick paused, wondering if she was a believer. “No, I didn’t. I don’t need anymore of His help.”
River tilted her head to the side and looked at him in silence before turning her back to him and looking up at the sky. “You’re like my captain,” she sighed the last two words, causing Riddick to tense because this time she wasn’t trying to get him jealous, she honestly cared deeply about ‘her’ captain. “He was angry with the One beyond the darkness for disappointments in life.”
“I can understand the sentiment.” Riddick grinded out, hearing the wistfulness in her voice.
“He’s going to come here.” River turned to him, eyes innocent, trusting. “He’s going to save us. I sense him close by.” Her smile showed her true adoration for the man in question as she returned her gaze to the darkness above them. “My captain is going to rain down light like drops of water upon us.”
Riddick clenched his fists and looked away.
What did he care that the bitch openly adored this faceless bastard?
The faceless bastard he was going to kill once they were safely off this planet.
Right after I ghost Johns, of course, for touching her.
Riddick snorted in wry amusement, the girl was turning him into more of a murderer than he already was.
“We’re ready.” Johns called, breaking into their time alone. “Let’s go, the skiff’s waiting on us.”
River gave Riddick a timid smile before going to him and placing a soft, innocent kiss on his smooth cheek and backing away. Turning her back on him, she went towards the others, singing softly to herself as she went, as if they were about to go on a family outing instead of into the lion’s den.
Riddick turned and watched her go, awe-struck.
Since when could such a pathetically innocent excuse for a kiss affect him so much he trembled?
Shaking his head, Riddick followed River towards the others as they readied to do the canyon-run.