“Blue sun, blue water.”
It was what Imam had told Zeke as he had left with the three young boys to explore the area where they had landed. Abu al – Walid was more than just a scholar of the Koran and the Christian Bible; he was a man that had read everything he could, about history, the sciences, astronomy. And geology.
He would trust to Allah to bring them water; that faith never wavered. He also trusted himself, and he would trust in those around him. Imam and the boys had circled the wreckage twice before their concentric circles had taken them to the strange canyon behind their crashed ship.
Like Johns and Fry, Imam also found the canyon with its fossilized remains to be eerie and disturbing. The wind whistled through the bones and echoed along the steep canyon sides until it felt that the sound was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The children had been frightened the first few times that it had happened, but like children everywhere they were soon enthralled with the place itself, and had taken the strange sounds as a matter of course.
The remains and the sounds were not what had caught Imam’s attention. The canyon walls rose sharply on either side as he and the children moved further along and he tore his eyes from the fascinating skeletons of the creatures themselves to look up at the stone walls. His hand ran along the smooth edges of the walls, paying attention to the pattern of ripples that crossed the surface. Erosion. The canyon was once a riverbed that cut through the earth.
From the evidence cut into the sides of the canyon by running water and rain and time, he guessed that a deep river had run through it. The water had slowly sunk into the earth and the water level had dropped over the years. Then there was the erosion from rainfall, the deep grooves cut into the side of the stone from above.
The planet must have had a considerable amount of water at some point in its history. Beasts this large were not likely to be predators, but ate the grasses of the field. There was water here; perhaps it still ran deep beneath the surface. If they were to follow the canyon they could perhaps find the source of the water. Allah would provide.
Imam climbed a little higher on the canyon wall to better keep an eye on the young boys as they played below. Even after all that had happened, that children could play he saw as a blessing. He watched them a moment longer as they hid from one another in the bones before he turned his attention to the blue sun that had risen before them.
He had never heard of a planet that had three suns and he wondered if this was part of what had turned the world to a desert. The blue sun moved faster across the sky than the two larger suns that had nearly set behind them. He stretched his hand out to measure the distance, and estimated that the blue sun would set in a matter of hours, perhaps ten or twelve.
It was difficult to gauge time when they had only been on the planet a short time, but Imam guessed that, by the blue sun, the days were perhaps as long as forty hours. The larger suns moved even more slowly, and there was no way to tell how long daylight under those suns would last.
The boys had stopped playing and chattered excitedly amongst themselves, crouched over something buried in the ground. They scrambled like mountain goats up the side of the canyon to show him what they had found, a small solar powered child’s toy. There had been people here at one point.
Jack held onto Shazza’s arm. He didn’t know what to do for her; he just knew that she was terribly hurt, and hurt was something he understood. There was nothing that could be said. She had looked out once, towards the pit that Zeke had dug, and her chin had dimpled as she fought back the tears that had threatened to fall. Jack held Shazza harder as a shudder wracked her body, followed by a deep ragged sigh. Her arm had slipped around Jack’s shoulders as she quietly thanked him, just for being there.
Shazza had wanted to go out to the pit that Zeke had dug. Something bothered her about it, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Perhaps it was the only way to deal with the fact that he was gone, to see the body. Johns had been angry, and for a fleeting moment he had even seemed afraid, which only deepened his anger, when Riddick started to talk about what he had heard. Johns had kept telling Riddick to shut up, to shut his fucking mouth, all the while he attached shackles to his wrists and ankles, and a chain at his waist. It appeared that the Hunter-Gratzner had supplies to deal with unruly passengers.
Shazza and Jack picked up the supplies they had taken from Paris’ container and quietly returned to the crash ship. Shazza’s hand silenced Jack as they neared the doors, and they both slipped inside and edged along the dark wall to the ladder that would have led up towards the main deck, had the ship been intact.
Shazza quickly moved up the stairs and found a quiet spot where she couldn’t be seen, but Jack appeared to be fascinated by Riddick and stood with his foot on the lowest rung.
“I don’t want to hear that shit anymore, Riddick! Just tell me what the hell you did with the body so that woman can have some peace!”
Riddick knew Johns was playing to an audience, he knew he didn’t give a damn for anyone but himself. Johns still had to keep Fry interested, and now that Shazza was alone, he knew that Johns would move in on her too, it was only a matter of time.
Riddick’s voice dropped to a dangerous, almost sensual cadence. He had found out early in his life that his voice was as much of a weapon as anything else about him, and he knew how to use it. His tone was coldly rational, powerful, and taunting all at once. “You heard it too, Johns, don’t tell me you haven’t. I’ve watched you.” It was one thing to be afraid, it was another to be seen to be afraid, and Johns hated that Riddick knew.
“Heard what. What the fuck are you talking about, Riddick? Just tell us what you did with the body.”
Riddick kept his eyes closed; they still hurt after being nearly blinded on his walk back to the ship, but he turned his head to follow Johns’ every move, whether Johns said anything or not. The effect it had on Johns was clear and unsettling, as the man paced more and grew more agitated. Riddick’s voice was like silk as he spoke again, “There isn’t a drop of blood on me, Johns, and there’s none on the knife either.”
“So what, what’s your point, you fucking sick bastard, so what if you were careful this time.” Johns’ voice didn’t sound so sure; his words seemed to be an effort to convince himself more than anything. Shazza, from her hiding place on the elevated walkway, looked over Riddick’s body.
Like all of them, Riddick was dusty and dirty and he was slicked in sweat. He had a small cut on his head that looked like it had stopped bleeding some time ago, but other than that, there was not a drop of blood on him. Shazza shuddered as she remembered the pit with its small hole, and the splatters of blood everywhere; then she looked at Riddick again. She wanted to believe, but unlike Johns, she didn’t need to believe, and she wouldn’t lie to herself.
“Have you ever known me to care about blood before, Johns? You know how I like my kills.” Riddick’s head tilted again in Johns’ direction, as Johns paced back and forth. The fact that he could track him so easily even with his eyes closed was unnerving Johns but what was worse was that a part of him believed Riddick was telling the truth about not killing Zeke.
Johns pulled his hat off to run his hand through his hair and his hand shook so badly that he nearly dropped the hat. Shazza watched as Riddick looked in his direction again and grinned ferally at him, and it was as if she could see him clearly for one moment. Riddick would never be careful about getting blood on him; she believed he would revel in it. It frightened her, but it also convinced her; Riddick hadn’t killed Zeke, which meant that something else had.
Riddick could almost smell the sickness on Johns, and could hear the shakes even in his voice no matter how hard he tried to disguise it. He wasn’t at all surprised when Johns threw his hands up in frustration and stormed into a space farther back in the ship.
Riddick pulled the chains once to see exactly how much play he had in them before he settled back against the bulkhead. Jack had made two more trips to Paris’ container and back while Shazza stayed and stowed everything that Jack brought.
Everything about Riddick was a contradiction; he was chained and shackled and yet seemed completely serene and at ease. Shazza didn’t want to think about the amount of time Riddick would have had to spend in that kind of restraint before he learned to feel at ease in the position. Shazza had been restrained, once, a long time ago, and it had nearly driven her mad.
Riddick had toyed with Johns, using the very fact that he was a brutal murderer to put doubts in his head that he had killed a man.
The deeper question that nagged at Shazza was why Riddick had stayed there at all, and why he simply didn’t kill her so that he could escape. The hurt of Zeke being gone was still too fresh in her mind, but she wouldn’t lie to herself, even though she believed Johns would. Something else had happened to Zeke.
“Tell us about the sounds, Riddick.” Riddick was quiet for a moment as he listened to Fry. She had stood in the shadows while Johns had asked his questions. Like Johns Fry stunk of fear, and like Johns she would go to any lengths to hide it, to put on a show for anyone else who watched.
Her breath was shallow and he could hear her heart race from where he was. She might be willing to kill people with the flick of a switch, but only as long as she never had to look at the cold hard fact of what she had done. Fry was fascinated by him, and got closer and closer to him because Riddick could do what she was afraid to do. Riddick didn’t answer her, just tilted his head to let her know that he had heard, and stayed absolutely still as she got closer.
“You mean the whispers.” Both Shazza and Jack froze at the sound of Riddick’s voice, like two mice in a field when the owl is out; a sound from the grave that promised death and emptiness. His voice was seductive and deadly, and Shazza watched as Fry stepped forward as if unable to help herself, her own voice quiet and shaky, her arms crossed over her chest to protect her from a cold that had nothing to do with the temperature.
Fry stepped closer and her eyes darted around the darkened bay, what she looked for she couldn’t say; a weapon? Escape? Help? Fry watched as his head tilted again and seemed to look right at her, right into every hidden part of her.
Fry tightened her arms across her chest protectively. Riddick tilted his head in Jack’s direction almost as if he had caught scent of him, like a predator. His voice dripped power and arrogance as he turned back to Fry. “The ones telling you to go for the sweet spot, fourth lumbar down, the abdominal aorta. It’s a metallic taste, human blood, copperish….”
“Are you trying to shock me with the truth now, Riddick?” Fry’s voice shook even more, as her display of bravado melted; the undertone in her voice rang of sarcasm and bitterness. If Riddick weren’t in chains, she would never have pretended to be so brave. He wondered if everything Fry did was an act, if even she herself knew the answer.
“All you people are so afraid of me. Most days I’d take that as a compliment, but it’s not me you’ve got to worry about now.” Shazza’s leg started to cramp in the position she was in and she shifted imperceptibly. At least to her it was imperceptible. Riddick’s head tilted again, just the tiniest of movements, but it was enough to let Shazza know that Riddick knew exactly where she was, and where Jack was; that he had known all along.
Fry’s voice shook so badly that Riddick didn’t know how she managed to still talk. “Let me see your eyes, Riddick.”
“You’ll have to get a lot closer for that.” Shazza almost giggled in near hysteria, reminded of a childhood story about a Big Bad Wolf. “Closer.”
Riddick didn’t so much move as strike, his body uncoiled and pulled to the farthest extremity of the chain. He had measured the distance without having to open his eyes, gauging by scent or some other predatory instinct. He leaned almost casually against the chain, with barely an inch to separate their bodies and he willed her to step back, to cower before him. Riddick didn’t open his eyes until he was almost upon her. Shazza watched as Fry shrank back in disgust and horror, nearly backing into the wall as she did so.
“Where the hell can I get eyes like that?” Riddick had dismissed Fry, having seen in a moment all her cowardice and fear, her weakness. That she was a woman didn’t matter; Riddick didn’t expect women to be weak just because they were women.
He turned to face the young boy Jack, and, as he thought of women, finally caught the scent which made him smile, a real smile, both inside and out. “You gotta kill a few people.”
“K’, I can do it.” Riddick strained a little closer to Fry, and made her cower back from him even more. Jack took a step down from the ladder and lowered what he had in his hand. It wasn’t lost on anyone there that Jack wasn’t afraid of Riddick, least of all to Riddick himself.
“Then you gotta get sent to a Slam where they say you’ll never see daylight again. You dig up a doctor and you pay him twenty menthol cools to do a surgical shine job on your eyeballs.” Riddick’s voice grew hard when he mentioned being told he would never see daylight again, and Shazza wondered how old he would have been when he had been told that.
Without the goggles, when Shazza could see his eyes, she realized just how young he was. Riddick couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. Shazza couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to be told he would ‘never see daylight again’ and the incredible will it took him just to survive that.
Riddick watched as Jack took a step closer to him and his own smile grew at Jack’s answer. “So you can see who’s sneaking up on you in the dark?”
At that his face broke into a grin; he really liked the kid. “Exactly.” Riddick cast a quick look up at the walkway, and looked directly at Shazza. He had known that she was there all along, but hadn’t said a thing; he hadn’t given away her presence until now.
Shazza looked down at the shocked face of Fry and realized Riddick had done it on purpose; he had wanted someone else to see Fry for what she was. Shazza wasn’t quite sure what that was yet, but she looked down at Riddick as he watched her, and came to a choice of her own.
Riddick frightened her, that was true, but Riddick also hadn’t hurt her, when he could have. He hadn’t hurt Zeke, when he was accused of it. And neither Fry nor Johns could be relied on; their own fear was too great, and all they both cared about doing was hiding it, not dealing with it.
Fry snapped at both Jack and Shazza, her voice bitter and nearly defeated. “Leave. Just leave.”
Riddick caught Jack’s eye, and he nodded imperceptibly at him. It was only then that Jack finished carrying the rest of the supplies up the stairs to Shazza. Riddick looked at Fry and couldn’t hide the honest smile, knowing he would keep Jack’s secret. “Cute kid.”
Fry still shook from her confrontation with Riddick. He was chained, and something deep inside Fry told her that Riddick wouldn’t have hurt her, but he still laid bare every weakness within her; worse, he had displayed it to others, especially to Shazza. She hadn’t even seen Shazza, how did Riddick know she was there?
Restrained or not, Fry felt that Riddick was in complete control of the situation, and it scared the hell out of her. Not unlike Johns, she felt herself starting to hate him for it.
Johns stood next to Imam and the three boys who excitedly showed her what they had found. They started to call her ‘Captain’, and she fought the urge to scream that she wasn’t their captain, that their captain was dead.
Imam started to explain what he had discovered in the canyon, and his belief that if they were to follow it, that it could possibly lead to water. Johns and Fry seemed far more impressed with the solar powered toy however, and they discussed it between themselves, almost dismissing Imam and the boys.
Imam was a peaceful man, but that didn’t mean that he was a stupid man, or that he was weak willed. He had told Johns and Fry about the canyon, despite the fact that they didn’t seem particularly interested. He kept what he had discovered about the blue sun to himself. Imam couldn’t say why he had done it, only that it had felt right, and he trusted in Allah that he had made the right choice.
Just then, Jack had come out of Paris’ container, and Imam asked him if he would please keep the three boys company while he went inside.
“I apologize for the discomfort of your restraints, Mr. Riddick, but I do not believe Mr. Johns intends you to stay like this.” Riddick was taken aback at first when Imam had sat beside him on the narrow bench, as though he wasn’t in the company of a mass murderer at all.
Riddick’s first response was to freeze in distrust; the mask of his expression once again hid all emotion. Both Riddick and Imam watched as Shazza backed up on the catwalk that she was on, and climbed down to the bottom of the stairs to listen. Imam turned slightly to include her in the conversation, and left himself completely exposed to Riddick.
‘Mr. Riddick’ is how he referred to him and the words sounded strange to Riddick. He had never, not even once in his life, been called ‘Mr. Riddick’. He believed that if Johns heard Imam refer to him that way, he would have laughed out loud.
Those few who had ever treated Riddick with any respect did so because they were scared to death of him. He remembered a time, when he had been inducted into the Rangers, where he had felt that respect, but it was from other killers like himself, and this was different, and unfamiliar. That Imam would treat him with respect, with dignity, reached him in a way he couldn’t quite understand; he had no basis for comparison.
Shazza listened as Imam told them about what he had discovered; Imam explained about the erosion, and about the path of the blue sun, and also that he believed that Johns and Fry intended to explore further along the canyon.
Shazza watched Imam as he sat so closely to Riddick and suddenly felt terribly ashamed. She too had judged this man; perhaps she had cause to, but it didn’t change how she felt about it.
Riddick watched her, and caught her eyes when she finally looked up again. Her expression held remorse, and resolve, but no fear; he looked away before she felt uncomfortable. Imam patted Riddick’s knee as though they were old friends as Johns walked over the stones outside of the bay doors and, as one, Shazza and Imam left.
“You do what I say, when I say.” Riddick eyed Johns distrustfully, as Johns spelled out what the new arrangement would be.
Riddick had asked if Johns was going to cut him loose, and watched the man’s face as he answered that Riddick could have just died in the crash. Riddick didn’t believe him, he knew that Johns just wanted him to cooperate, but there was a part of him deep down, the part that had sat next to Imam and had a normal conversation where he was called ‘Mr. Riddick’ for the first time in his life that wanted to believe it could be different.
Riddick looked at this man that hated and feared him, that hunted him and he wanted to believe, for just one moment, he wanted it, and it confused him. Riddick fell back on a mixture of bravado and derision, as he taunted Johns, as he dared him to ghost him, because it’s what he’d do.
Johns raised the shotgun and Riddick let his mind go somewhere else; he would be dead, but he wouldn’t be confused about it anymore, and death at least made sense. It was the second time in a day where he thought it was a stupid and meaningless way to die.
“Do we have a deal?” The bolt of his restraints had been shot through and Riddicks’ arms lowered; death would have been easier. “Think of how this could have gone and didn’t.” Johns could have killed him, but he stood in front of an unrestrained Riddick and held the goggles out to him.
The confusion was back, stronger than before. Riddick didn’t want to have to trust Johns, not ever, not with his life, his survival, but that’s what Johns asked and a part of him wanted to trust. Maybe just to trust someone and have that person trust in him. Riddick snatched the shotgun rather than the proffered goggles, but everything about it seemed unsure.
His voice raised in pitch and volume as he fell back on anger, out of control of his own emotions. “Fuck you!” Johns didn’t move, and only his eyes showed fear, he didn’t back up as he held out the goggles and asked again if they had a deal.
Riddick fought with himself to get his confusion and anger under control, he hated that it showed. A deep sigh slipped from him as he calmly turned Johns’ words back to him. “Think of how this could have gone, and didn’t.” To trust Johns was bad enough, to have to owe Johns was worse. Riddick figured they were even.
They would take one power cell from the crash ship, in case they needed it. Everything else Johns and Fry figured they would need was strapped to a makeshift sled and Riddick took up the rear, as they made their way down into the canyon.
copyright © august 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx