Riddick raised his goggles and looked outward across the fields through the driving rain. Still he could see nothing, but he felt something out there. He had no idea how far away it was but he could feel it and it made all of the short stubble on the nape of his neck stand up. He had long learned to trust that heightened sense of awareness, to leave rather than fight, to fight first rather than be attacked, to kill rather than die. His survival instinct screamed at him now. Something was coming.
Let Theo help him over the slippery railing. There was a time when Riddick wouldn’t have expected a genuine offer of help, but Theo held firm on his arm until he was over. Riddick wouldn’t have fallen but that wasn’t the point. All of the others stood on the rain slick deck until Riddick was aboard and even then no one seemed to know what they should do.
Jack stayed by the railing with her odd assortment of weapons and stared out over the wind swept grass, Shazza right behind her with her hand on her shoulder. Jack had hugged Shazza hard when she first saw her again. Joanne held Anna so tightly her knuckles were bled white by the strain, sitting on the cold deck as though the rain had no effect on her. It most likely didn’t. Anna held her mother just as fiercely.
Theo rested his hand gently on Joanne’s shoulder after he had helped Riddick back on deck. Joanne didn’t flinch at the touch. Riddick watched the contact, the way Theo alternately petted and held her shoulder, before he looked up at Theo. He wondered if he looked like that when he touched Shazza, and thought that he probably did.
Pulled the sack from across his back, Riddick took a step towards Theo and found that he really didn’t want to separate them, but he didn’t think they had another choice. He wanted to lose himself in Shazza, but there was no time, not yet. He felt a terrible sense of urgency that he couldn’t shake. “We need to get them down below.”
Theo blinked away the rain and nodded, before he bent down to pick up mother and daughter from the deck and led them back towards the safety of the bridge. Riddick looked back at Shazza and Jack, torn between the need to talk to Theo and the need to stay with them. He watched as Shazza bent down to talk to Jack before Jack handed her weapons over to her.
“Fifteen minutes, Riddick,” Shazza whispered to him as she sent Jack inside with the others, and stayed out on by the railing, to watch over the fields.
There was no way he was about to leave her out here alone. His expression hardened and then he leaned in the doorway to the bridge and called to Theo; his voice left no room for any argument. “We need to talk, now.” He didn’t wait to see if Theo would follow him out onto the deck. He knew that he would. Jack followed a step behind Theo but stayed under the cover of the overhang.
Theo had barely stepped onto the deck when Riddick questioned him. “How soon can we get out of here.” Both Shazza and Jack turned to watch as the two men spoke; it was all of them again, against whatever was out there.
Theo looked quickly at Riddick’s hands before he answered. “You can’t run in this Riddick. You can’t.” Riddick watched the hard glint in Theo’s eyes and saw what he really meant, that he wouldn’t allow Riddick to try to run, not in this weather. One slip and Riddick would be crushed to death beneath the ship. “What are we facing?”
Riddick eyed Theo carefully. So much had changed in the short time he had known him. Now they faced whatever it was together. There was a time when Riddick would have kept whatever information he had to himself, to use it as an advantage, and that had changed too. “There was a company of mercs in the village.”
Theo looked as though he had been stung, and Riddick watched the reaction carefully. He didn’t think for a moment that Theo was pleased about the development. “It was a military operation; they took out the whole village. I don’t think they found who they were looking for.” Riddick nodded his head in the direction of Joanne and Anna. “I’m most likely listed as having gone down with the Hunter-Gratzner. I think they were looking for you.”
Theo paled and his eyes flicked out over the railing of the ship to scan over the grass as Riddick himself had done. Shazza and Jack listened actively. Theo didn’t deny it, and didn’t say it was impossible or it couldn’t be. His face just got harder. Riddick knew that it wasn’t directed at him; it was like being told a hard truth that you had known all along, it made no sense to deny it, but there was nothing he could say about it either.
“Add to that about a dozen villagers left alive that we know of; they’ve been raiding the villages. They’re the ones that grabbed Joanne and Anna.” Riddick watched Theo’s face twist in anger at that, before he stilled himself and allowed his features to grow cold again. Theo nodded curtly at Riddick to continue.
Riddick thought about the merc that had blown the head off the villager that had held Anna. He had met a lot of mercs in his life, and up until today had only ever met one merc that didn’t behave like a merc. Theo himself. And now there was another one. It’s not like the merc didn’t recognize him either; Riddick saw the awareness in his eyes, when he sized up who he should shoot first. That the merc had chosen as he did interested him. Riddick quickly described the merc they had seen, and what he had done.
Riddick watched as Theo paled further, his eyes wide at the description. Now it was Riddick’s turn to wait. “Oh god…” Theo staggered away from the rail and slumped against the solid reality of the cabin and held himself there. He seemed to freeze, before he flung himself upright and grabbed Riddick’s arms and shook him. “You have to get them out of here! You have to take them and run!”
Theo had started out with ‘what are we facing’ but there was no ‘we’ now; he wanted Riddick to take them and run, and he would hand himself over. He would sacrifice his own freedom. “Who is he, Theo?”
Theo pulled on Riddick’s arm to pull him away from Shazza and Jack, and Riddick allowed himself to be led a short distance away. “Warfield and Bishop, oh god they sent Warfield and Bishop.”
Theo shook Riddick again, or tried to, but Riddick grabbed Theo’s arm firmly and asked again, “Who are they?” He held onto his arm until Theo let out a strangled breath and all of the strength seemed to go out of him at once. Almost all; the cold resolve had returned to Theo’s eyes but Riddick didn’t like what it told him.
“They’re merc hunters, and if they catch me not only will they kill me, they’ll kill everyone with me. They’re beyond sanction, Riddick, no one can touch them. You have to get them out of here, I’ll go…”
“Fuck you! No…!” Riddick stopped himself, caught off guard by his own sudden outburst of anger and not wanting either Shazza or Jack to hear. “Whoever the fuck they are, they didn’t look to be doing so good themselves…”
Theo’s voice dropped to a quiet and rational level, as though he had accepted what was to come. “Riddick, they’ll never stop. If they’ve tracked me this far, they will find me, and they will kill me. They’ll kill Shazza.” He stopped and looked hard at Riddick. “They’ll kill Jack.” Theo closed his eyes as he silently added Joanne and Anna to that list; he may as well have said it aloud, because Riddick heard him anyway. Theo pulled away and rested his hand on the railing of the Moorglade; his hand caressed the smooth wood underneath, a parting gesture. “It was a good run, I never thought I’d make it this far….”
“No.” Riddick wasn’t sure what he said no to, maybe to all of it. Riddick knew that Theo would do this, that he was prepared to leave the ship and walk to his certain death, all to keep them safe. To keep him safe. “No. Not a fucking chance.”
Riddick’s own voice started to rise as he gripped Theo’s arm harder. He had lost so much already, so fucking much. He had woken up drenched in sweat a few nights already, after nightmares where Imam burned and burned, his calm voice speaking to him in the night, out of the fire. Then there was Old Thomas. Riddick knew hardly anything about him but felt tied to him nonetheless, and now he lay still and broken, after he had fought to defend Joanne and her daughter.
“You mentioned two men, describe the other.” Riddick listened as Theo described Bishop, and then shook his head. “If he’s with them, he must be somewhere else. This fucker Warfield was on his own.” Riddick quickly described what had happened with Anna, and noted that Theo seemed puzzled that the merc-killer hadn’t shot him, the child be damned.
“I’ve never heard of them hunting separately. I don’t see what difference it makes….”
Riddick felt that same burst of anger again but it wasn’t directed at Theo this time. He was furious. Hunted for most of his life he had soon learned not to take it personally but something had changed. He didn’t want to run anymore, he didn’t want to be driven off, to escape just barely on some tramp freighter and who knows where home would be after that. He thought of Jack and Shazza and knew that he wanted more for them too. He wanted more and he would have it.
Home. Shazza was home. Jack was home. This place too had become home and as much as he had fought it in the beginning, Theo had become a friend and he hadn’t had very many of those in his life, not real ones, so Theo was home too. It felt uncomfortable and strange but it felt right as well; this place was his home, and these people were his. His home, his family, and he wasn’t going to get driven off, to go back to a drifter’s life.
“No.” Riddick’svoice dropped dangerously, its cold edge enough to cut Theo’s fear to the bone. The image of what was his burned brightly in his mind as he continued. “I doubt those fucking mercs had it any easier than us when we landed, and they probably had a bigger ship. The ones we ran into in the village had weapons, but they didn’t have vehicles, so I’m guessing we’re more mobile, if it comes down to that.” Theo started to listen as Riddick ran off the points in their favor in a calculated tone. “The villagers were taken by surprise, and they were outgunned, plus they had a bunch of fuckers who probably played for the other side, but those villagers fought back, and they injured and killed a few.”
Riddick let go of Theo when it no longer looked as though Theo would jump over the side to whatever end he thought would save the others. “We’re not running. We’re not running from any fucking mercs or anyone else. This place is ours. This is our home.” He faltered over the last word but Theo didn’t say a word, because he knew he was right. There was no going back for any of them.
Riddick looked over his shoulder at Jack and Shazza, and then back at Theo again. Theo ran his hands over his face as a heavy exhaustion settled over him, and turned back to look out across the grass. “If it comes down to it you hand me over, Riddick.” Theo wouldn’t let Riddick silence him, but just spoke more forcefully. “If it comes down to their lives. To your life. I’ll hand myself over.”
They said nothing for a moment, just stared. Riddick opened his mouth to say something and could think of nothing, not a single smart ass comment came to mind. In the end they nodded to each other, the way they had done countless times before when the realization was too big for anything else. “Let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that.”
“What’s the plan?” Theo watched as Riddick broke into a fleeting genuine grin that faded just as quickly.
“I kill this Warfield fucker, and then we take care of the rest. We kill them, and anyone they brought with them. When they get tired of dead men, they’ll stop sending them.”
Copyright © November 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx