The rope didn’t burn Riddick’s hands as badly this time and his hands didn’t bleed. There was still that feeling of incredible power, of rightness, as he stood in front of the Moorglade with her graceful deadly keel rising above him.
The feeling had deepened. He looped the rope around his hands and leaned his shoulder into it at first and thought of her as she lifted off the ground. It was easier this time and he had run about half the distance he had the first time before the keel lifted over the grass and gained on him. It could have been that the Moorglade had already flown once, and whatever it was that ran her had held a charge.
What he really thought was that she lifted sooner because he knew that he could do it, because he had already done it once.
Shazza held out her arm for him as he swung up over the side and he smiled openly at her. ‘That’s how Jack sees him.’ Shazza felt herself blush a little, Riddick didn’t smile like that often and usually it was only with Jack as though Jack was the only person that really saw him, and now he smiled for her. He dropped his head to kiss her neck and his smile was gone again when he looked up, but she couldn’t forget that she had seen it in the first place.
Riddick looked up towards the bow at Theo and signaled to Jack in the bridge inside. It was easier to change the sails, if it was by a small degree, from the bridge. The two, Jack and Theo, worked as a team, as though no one else was there, and soon the Moorglade flew along the invisible ley lines, her sails full and flung wide. She still moved surprisingly fast, even though the fierce wind that had driven them to this spot had died down already. The storm was gone, the tattered shreds of clouds were all that was left and they were ripped apart quickly as the sun shone through them.
Joanne stood frozen on the deck and tried to restrain Anna, but the girl pulled free and ran closer. She stopped a few steps from Riddick and just looked up at him in amazement. His head tilted to look over at Shazza, who said nothing but remained perfectly still. Anna stepped forward, silently. He hadn’t known Anna that long, but quiet isn’t what he expected, not after all the questions at first. Her eyes teared up and she looked back at her mother before she stepped forward again, now close enough to touch Riddick. She looked up at him, and goggles or no goggles, Riddick knew that she looked him right in the eye, before her small hand moved up to hold his.
His eyes cut up quickly to look at her mother. Joanne stood frozen with her hands clasped as though in prayer, over her face. She looked as though she was close to tears. He looked down at Anna again and scooped her up. The girl put her arms comfortably around his neck as he walked forward towards Theo, at the bow. He held her close to the railing, so that she could look out over the front, down at the grass that flew by under the keel.
Theo signaled to Jack one last time before he turned to look at Riddick, with Anna on his hip. It was such a strange way to picture Riddick that he grinned as he thought that it only looked strange if you bought everything that was ever said about Riddick. They had both stood here in this exact same place and held Jack to fly over the grass. Theo had seen his care, his respect, with Jack, and so didn’t think he looked out of place with the young girl on his hip.
Anna grinned hugely; she still hadn’t said a word and her silence was the best witness to how she really felt. Her hands shifted against Riddick’s neck as she leaned out to look over the side, down at the grass. She took a deep breath and looked up again at the horizon. She had been to the next village once, it had taken a long time and they had taken the route by the river. This time they flew along the open fields and she was thrilled by it. Old Thomas had told her about this, about flying, but it was still something that couldn’t be understood until it was experienced. This was the first time for her, and she was awestruck.
She looked back at her mom before she squirmed in Riddick’s arms to be let down. Her arms squeezed around his neck one last time and then she was back on the deck. She looked up at Theo first and then Riddick. “Thank you, Uncle Riddick. And Uncle Theo.”
She had skipped across the deck back to her mother as Theo and Riddick gaped at each other, before Riddick ground out, “Not one fucking word.”
Duncan swept the area again just to be sure. He didn’t expect an attack until after dark but he hadn’t stayed alive by being sloppy. “Over there, down by the river.” Johns edged up beside him nervously and his eyes scanned the surrounding forest for any sign of movement. The dead hadn’t yet been buried.
On every other mission where there had been dead, they had stayed with the ship until they could be returned to the Company. Duncan wouldn’t return, and the dead that were here would stay here. He didn’t normally care about burials but it had mattered to him this time and he had the medic carefully wrap the bodies in sheets.
It would have been easier to leave them near the ship, but that was left unsaid as Duncan and Johns set out across the forest towards the river. The clearing overlooked the river and they both looked out across its now calm waters to the forest as it rose again on the other side. It was a beautiful spot but they didn’t say it aloud, and they didn’t look at each other as they agreed to bury their dead there.
The seven bodies were carried out and quickly buried. The graves weren’t deep but it would have to do, there wasn’t time for much else. Night would come soon enough and there were preparations to be made if they were going to survive an assault.
Abrams had asked why they didn’t just leave, stay hidden in the forest and come out again when it was safe to do so. It wasn’t cowardice, it was practicality, and in other circumstances Duncan might have done that very thing.
“The wounded wouldn’t survive out there.” Duncan swept his arm out to the forest around them as he spoke. “They would hunt us down and kill us, which would be even easier if those villagers bring dogs with them. And I’m not a hundred percent sure that Shapiro wouldn’t fall in with the Company, if it meant his life was on the line. We stand a better chance right here.” Until Riddick gets back. He kept that to himself, as if to say it out loud was to jinx it. Another day and Riddick would be here, he didn’t know what time, but he knew it would happen. They just had to hold out that long.
The medic and one of the mercs, Mitchell, began to patch up weak spots in the ship. A lot had been torn loose in the crash, but it was still pretty much intact. The forest had broken some of their fall and most of the damage had been sustained underneath and that would be impossible for anyone to reach.
With enough warning they could hold off the villagers, Duncan hoped. He crouched down and attached another fine filament of sensor wire, and buried the mines beneath it. He didn’t need to look over at Johns to know that he did the same thing. Duncan was surprised, and pleased, by how well Johns had held up. On the ship before they had hit the planet, Duncan had dismissed Johns as a kid but he couldn’t do that any more. “This is going to get pretty bad, Johns.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I guess you already know that I don’t know what I’m doing.” Johns continued to work as he spoke. There was no shame or defeat in what he said; he just simply stated what they both already knew to be the truth.
Duncan moved to another spot to lay more mines. He spoke quietly even though there was no need; there was no one there to hear them, Abrams was on the other side of the ship setting tripwires of his own. “Stay close to me when it happens. Shapiro was one of ours, so he’ll have an idea what we will do; it could get pretty messy. If anything happens to me…”
Duncan looked up when he realized that Johns had stopped what he was doing to watch him intently. He was scared, but he stood quietly and listened. “If anything happens to me, you get out and stay hidden in the forest until Riddick comes, and tell him you’re with me.” Duncan wasn’t entirely sure that Riddick wouldn’t just kill Johns, but he had to trust. There wasn’t any other choice.
“Are you sure Riddick will come?” Johns searched Duncan’s face, to look for any sign of assurance. The idea of being separated and perhaps hunted in the forest was bad enough. To have to approach Riddick scared him even more.
Duncan looked out through the trees to the grassland beyond. He had no absolute proof that Riddick would show, he had no way to be sure. Except that deep inside he knew that Riddick would be back. “He’ll be here, Johns.”
Joanne rummaged in the small galley; there wasn’t an awful lot to work with. She had forgotten what it was to live off a ship’s stores; at home she had just walked out into the garden and picked something to add to the dinner table. At home. She stifled a sob against her sleeve and her eyes jammed shut against the tears that threatened.
She took a deep breath and concentrated on what she was doing. It wouldn’t be great, but it would be hot, and it would be enough for all of them. She was a survivor in her own way. She wasn’t anything like Shazza, or Jack, and of course nothing like the men, but she had learned to cope very well. Her child was alive, she was alive, and they were with people that wouldn’t hurt them.
She knew that they weren’t the sort of people that would sell either of them into slavery, a fear that always gnawed at her and often had her wake with her fists jammed against her mouth to stifle the scream. Marcus had protected her as well; he was a good man in a fashion. What they had wasn’t romantic love, not at all like the books she had read as a young girl, but then again what she had seen in her life before Marcus didn’t give her much faith in that. Marcus had needed a wife, he had needed someone to make a home for him, and he had wanted children. She had already been pregnant with Anna when she met him, and had never been able to have another, but Marcus had kept her, taken Anna as his own and kept her safe. Both of them.
She would go with good. Theo was good, a good man. She blushed, despite her hurt. She missed Marcus, but she had always known that she hadn’t loved him. He was a good man, and Anna would need a father, or at least someone that would protect her, to make sure that she wouldn’t have to live the way that her mother had lived. She got down on the floor, rummaged a little more through the stores, and came up with a grin at the seasoning she had found. She closed her eyes, thought of Anna, and then thought of Theo, while she said a silent blessing over what she had just made.
She could hear the rumble of stomachs as the others filtered into the area around the galley, drawn by the smell of food. ‘Like sharks circling’, she thought with a laugh as she dished out plates. Theo and Riddick lingered around a little longer until she scooped more of what she had made onto their plates, before she made a small dish for herself and sat down on the bridge with everyone else.
There was silence as everyone ate, the best compliment a cook can get. Riddick had wolfed his meal, hovering over the plate, a habit he had learned at an early age and then he sat quietly and watched Theo and Joanne. They looked at each other fleetingly; their gazes said more with every look. Riddick nudged Shazza and then got up without a sound. Shazza tugged on Jack’s arm as they passed, and Anna got up to follow Riddick without the need for encouragement. They closed the door to the bridge behind them.
Shazza stood with Anna in the bow of the ship, and Riddick watched them together from the corner of his eye. He had done the same when Shazza had talked with Jack. He liked to listen to her laugh; Jack always said things that made her laugh, so did Anna.
“So, Uncle Riddick, what do you want to do now?” He smirked across at Jack from his place against the railing. Her crazy grin was back.
“Guess she told you about that, huh.” Jack’s grin got a little wider and she nodded. Her head dropped a little, her shoulders shook, and Riddick knew she was laughing. “You’re gonna bust my balls about this for a while, aren’t you.” He knew she would. ‘Uncle Riddick indeed.’
It was a little funny, all things considered, but he was touched by it too; Anna hadn’t been afraid of him either. It also made him think of what he was to Jack. A friend, a brother. A father? He didn’t know how to be any of those things. He didn’t know how to be an uncle either for that matter. Maybe that they thought that he could would have to do for now.
Jack smiled up at him, a softer smile this time. “Not gonna bust your balls, Riddick. Not this time.”
Riddick leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “What do you say we throw those spears over the side?” he said as Jack looked back towards the bridge; she didn’t want to disturb Theo and Joanne. “They won’t even know I’m there.”
Riddick could only be heard if he wanted to be heard and he slipped through the door to the bridge like a ghost. He crouched, his weight distributed on the balls of his feet, to watch Theo and Joanne as they spoke quietly on the bridge. Joanne smiled too, not like Shazza, her face didn’t light up. It was a quiet smile, and shy. But she did smile.
He turned and disappeared down the corridor towards the bathroom, to grab the shaving soap and a couple of wet cloths. On the way back out he grabbed the trunk with the spear tips and then he was back on the deck without being heard. You don’t survive long in Slam making a lot of noise.
Riddick used the gloves that were in the trunk to handle the spear tips and even then he could feel his hands tickle with the charge. Jack clipped the lengths of fine chain to the short inset metal rings along the railing, and Riddick fastened the chains to the spear tips before he lowered them over the side.
The job was done quickly and they stood by the rail and watched as the tips swung out away from the sides of the ship. Riddick didn’t know if Jack could see it, or if only his enhanced sight allowed him to, but the tips began to glow softly as they floated just above the grass.
Riddick pulled out the can of shaving soap and moved back to sit against the cabin side. Jack sat Indian fashion in front of him to watch him as he lathered up his stubble and pulled out a small blade from somewhere in his clothing. “Don’t you need a mirror for that or something?”
Riddick grinned at her, his goggles looped over his wrist and his eyes tightly closed. “Not too many mirrors in Slam, Jack. I don’t need one anymore.” He had never needed one. The first time he had ever shaved had been in prison; he had never known anything else. He wiped the rest of the soap from his head with a wet cloth and eased his goggles back over his eyes before he opened them.
Jack was still there, her head tilted as she watched him carefully. She watched as he wiped the rest of the soap off the blade before she turned her back to him and took off the battered pair of goggles she had worn since the hammerhead planet.
“You sure, Jack? This would grow in pretty quickly.” He didn’t argue when she gave a curt nod, just lathered the velvet stubble and carefully shaved her head. When he was done he wiped the soap off her head and grinned as she put her battered goggles back on, resting them on her forehead.
She moved to get up but he reached out to hold her there a little longer. At another time it would have freaked her out, and she would have fought, but she knew that Riddick would never hurt her. That if he hugged her it was because he wanted to hug her, not hurt her. She scooted back a little until her back was against his chest and they sat like that and watched the sun go down.
Copyright © December 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx