Of course, Theo had never done anything like this before. He had read about it, sure, but he had never done it. He took a deep breath and tightened his hands on the controls and remembered that he had only ever read about that wormhole too. And he had only ever heard of Riddick. He could do this. If he couldn’t he at least hoped that it would all be over quick because Riddick would kill him, he would skin him alive, if he didn’t get them through this. He would die above the atmosphere of Trieste Nine, within sight of her, and that wasn’t how he was about to go out; he simply wouldn’t allow it.
He looked over at Jack and gave her a string of instructions; the girl listened carefully. Theo knew she was scared, there was no way to hide that kind of fear, but she listened to every word and then turned to the console in front of her, after a quick look back at Riddick. Theo didn’t look back; he could feel Riddick like a black presence behind him, the man’s hard glare had a weight that slowly crushed him lower into the seat. He wouldn’t look back; if he did he would freeze, he would never have the courage for what came next.
The instruments no longer responded but Theo knew that he was on the razor thin line, the point of no return. He could probably pull the Odyssey up, and stay out of the fiery hell of the atmosphere, for now. Instead he guided the ship’s nose downward and felt the pull of gravity as it drew them towards the planet below.
He closed his eyes tightly as Riddick’s hand reached out; he expected death and it felt strange to open his eyes again and realize he was still alive. Riddick’s hand rested on Jack’s shoulder and he whispered her name, and told her she would be all right. His voice was strong and sure, everything in him intent on the young girl, as he rubbed her shoulder slowly. Theo risked a quick glance back to find that Shazza strained forward as well, although she couldn’t reach Jack from where she was. Her hand rested on Riddick’s thigh as she leaned forward, and the connection was formed. It touched him in a way he could spend all day in an effort to explain; it was such a simple thing, but it meant so much more in that it came from Riddick. Theo didn’t have to know the man’s life history to know that wasn’t a normal situation for him to be in, to offer comfort like this.
Theo turned forward and focused intently on the controls, what remained of them, in front of him. Strictly mechanical systems were all that remained, everything else wiped out by the electromagnetic radiation. There were things he could control, like the degree of lift; he would have to play the degree by ear or, given the heat on the hull of the ship, by feel. The atmosphere burned beneath them before it engulfed them in a fiery shroud. Even Riddick’s voice was silent, unable to even whisper Jack’s name in the tension that surrounded them as surely as the flame did outside. All that could be heard in the quiet was the quick pant of Jack’s breaths, and then they were through, as suddenly as it had begun. Everyone exhaled as one.
“We still have to land. It might be a little rough.” Theo didn’t care that his voice nearly broke as he said it. “You did well Jack, you did well.” If he was about to die for this, he would let the girl know that at least, and land them safely. The ground below them was a vast field of green, with water in the distance and some other sort of rough ground further on. It seemed safely uninhabited and Theo believed it would be a safe place to put the Odyssey down. “Everybody hold on; I don’t know how bad this will be.” Neither Riddick nor Shazza leaned back; Riddick wouldn’t let go of Jack, but held her shoulder as the Odyssey first skidded over the long grass and then slammed not too gracefully into the earth. He had tried to keep the angle as shallow as he could, for as long as he could, to allow the ship to slow as much as possible. He prayed it would be enough. He hadn’t prayed in a very long time, but he did then.
The plume of earth and grass and other debris clouded the window in front of them but it did not break. It seemed to take forever before the ship came to rest ungracefully, with hard shrieks of cooling and outraged metal. It was an undignified landing but, as Theo thought, ‘any landing you can walk away from.’ As he heard the click of buckles behind him, he only hoped that Riddick would feel the same way, or at least make it quick.
Theo didn’t struggle when Riddick picked him up and pulled him out of the chair in one hand, enraged to a point where he could barely speak, and pinned Theo against the bulkhead with one hand on his throat. Theo watched the muscles bunch and twitch down Riddick’s arm and across his features as he fought hard with himself. His free hand fisted several times as he reached back for the shiv that Theo knew was there. He found that he prayed again, for it to be quick. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t fight; Riddick’s arm was a steel bar that pinned him fast. He could hear the whispers of Jack and Shazza, as his world started to go black.
Shazza felt every muscle in Riddick’s arm, shoulder and chest ripple underneath her hands as she first pulled at his arm and then, when she realized that was useless, pressed herself to his chest. She had pulled at him at first, until she felt him shake beneath her touch. He was angry, of course. He was furious. But as Shazza felt his heart race and felt him tremble against her, she knew that he was afraid too, and not for himself. Riddick had glanced at her for a moment and it was as though everything in him had clenched, as though in terrible pain. He was afraid, he was angry, because he had nearly lost her and he had no one else to take it out on. She continued the stream of soft, murmured words, joined by Jack on his other side, as they both tried to get him to release Theo the only way they knew how.
Slowly Riddick’s hand eased at Theo’s throat but he hadn’t yet let him go, as though he wasn’t entirely sure that he wouldn’t just kill him anyway. She glanced over at Jack; the girl was shaken and near tears. She had grown closer to Theo in the past few days, and she had lost so much already to lose anyone else. Shazza turned back to Riddick and pressed her body close to his, and forced him to see her, to really see her. Her hand ran over his chest to cup his face, so he couldn’t look away from her when she whispered softly, in a voice only Riddick could hear, in answer to a fear only she knew he had, “I’m not leaving you Riddick, I won’t leave you.”
It was a soft, confused sound he uttered, barely human, as he looked deeply at Shazza. As though nothing else was in the room; for him, very little else was. There was Shazza, and there was Jack, his whole world. They had survived, but he still wanted to kill the person responsible for their near loss. His life without them flashed before his eyes, devoid of joy or meaning; his existence nothing more than the dead weight of an empty life.
He looked at the arm that held Theo as though he couldn’t quite understand what had happened, and then dropped it, as he whispered Shazza’s name and held her so tight to him that it had to hurt. He picked Jack up off the ground and held her as well; his nose pressed to the short stubble of her hair as though to reassure himself that she was alive too. Their arms went around him and held him tight through his shakes.
They were here with him, they were alive. Theo. He had nearly killed Theo; the man that was responsible for them being alive at all. Theo had slumped down against the bulkhead, his hands at his throat as color came back into his face. Riddick wasn’t accustomed to guilt; when he had hurt people in the past, it was because he had wanted them to be hurt, so it was a wasted emotion to feel guilty about it, but he felt guilty for having hurt Theo. He had wanted to kill him, but it was a moment of blackness when he pictured his life without Shazza and Jack in it. He didn’t know how to start, but Theo just got up unsteadily and waved his hand at him, and made his way down the corridor towards the med bay.
He buried his nose in Shazza’s hair and inhaled deeply, just to assure himself that she was in fact still alive, and then he pulled back to look at her; to look at both of them. He ran through what to say but couldn’t say anything; nothing he could think of was enough. He kissed her lips softly, just once, and hoped it would say what he couldn’t. “You’re okay?” He asked them both; he could feel them beneath his hands, and knew they were alive and unhurt, but he needed to ask anyway.
Shazza gazed back at him and nodded. Both Shazza and Riddick broke into huge grins at Jack’s answer. “That was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done!” Her voice shook, but it was with nervous laughter this time; he had thought she might cry but she didn’t, not his Jack. She put her head back and let out a crazy laugh at what they had all just come through, it was infectious, and they were all strung tight; it felt good to just laugh, and he held them a little tighter. Like so many things, the first things were easier with Jack, and Riddick accepted that he loved the girl. It was as simple and pure as that, he loved her. The sound of her laugh as it dissolved into giggles had him grin back at her, unable and unwilling to stop it. He kissed Shazza again softly, unable to tell her how she made him feel, how intensely happy he was just to know she was alive.
His forehead rested against hers for a moment and he let out a sigh. “I have to go see Theo…” It tore a little at Shazza to hear the shame in his voice; she wanted to tell him it was all right, that Theo would understand, but knew anything she said would only make him feel worse. She had lived a settler’s hard life for a long time, and seen enough fights between men to know that only those involved could sort it out, or it wouldn’t be sorted out at all. For better or for worse they had crashed again, and they needed each other. The two men would have to sort it out. Riddick left them at the door to their quarters and went in search of Theo.
He stood in the doorway and watched the other man for a moment. Theo held a cold pack to his throat, and there was a bottle of painkillers on the counter beside him. The guilt came back hard; a lot harder than he would have expected. There was a part of him that just wanted to walk away, to tell himself that Theo would think twice before he risked their lives again. It was Imam’s voice that stayed him; Imam who had called him a decent and honorable man, and who had sacrificed his own life for him, and for the two women he now protected. Riddick uncrossed his arms, they were clenched so tightly that his shoulders hurt when he released them, and walked into the med bay. He did it carefully, not sure how Theo would react. It would be a lot easier if the other man yelled at him or took a swing at him, that he could understand and deal with. Theo was wary, but he didn’t back away from him either. He thought of Imam again, before he spoke. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
The strangeness of the words wasn’t lost on Theo; Riddick didn’t look at all comfortable as he said them, and Theo would be willing to bet good money that Riddick had rarely apologized for anything in his life, if ever. It made what he had said have a weight far greater than the words themselves. He put the cold pack down and tried to keep the hoarseness out of his voice as he looked over at the other man. “You let me live, I won’t forget that.” The two men stood in silence for a moment longer before they nodded at each other and walked back out of the med bay to join Shazza and Jack at the ship’s back bay.
It was Theo that moved forward to hit the manual override to the huge doors, and both Riddick and Theo swung the doors wide. A deep breath and they all stepped out onto what Theo hoped was Trieste Nine. The air was fresh and clean, once they had walked a short distance from where they had crashed, away from the strange metallic smell of the ship. The Odyssey had finally come to rest against the edge of a lush forest; the stones at its foot had stopped her cold. Shazza shivered as she looked out across the vast grassland sea that swept away in front of them, a wisp of her fevered dream on the skiff came back to her and was pulled away again before she could fully see it. Theo’s hand brushed through the high grass and he could have cried; he knew where he was. It was Trieste Nine, he had found it. He watched the sky overhead as four elegant black birds that looked like cranes with long tails skimmed over head with a whisper of wings. He had seen that, in his books.
Riddick reached out his hand and found first Shazza’s and then Jack’s. He had never felt like this before, this strange stillness. Like he belonged.
Copyright © sept 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx