Darkness fell quickly in the forest. Duncan rested his head against the bulkhead, his eyes closed, and just listened. The sound of the birds died away first, not all at once but gradually. A moment of perfect stillness, and then slowly the sounds of night creatures began. He stayed close and listened. That would be the first warning signal, before the tripwires, before anything else, the night creatures would go silent.
The wounded had been moved into the hindmost part of the ship. There was only one man among them fit enough to wield a weapon and he was given one. His leg was broken and he couldn’t travel more than a few steps without aid. Without the ship’s medical equipment the man had to settle for the archaic treatment of painkillers and a splinted leg. He could still shoot if he had to though. The other four could do nothing to help themselves or anyone else. Duncan didn’t watch them, he didn’t hold much hope that they would live through the night. He didn’t hold much hope for any of them.
It was something that he was used to even on Bishop’s canned hunts; there were always times when things went wrong. None of them had gone as spectacularly bad as this one had. He knew that he stood a good chance to get out of this alive, and as he looked across at Johns on the other side of the bay doors, he was pretty sure he could get him out too.
The medic was back with the wounded, and Duncan wasn’t so sure about him either; the man wouldn’t leave the wounded, not if any of the men were still alive. Duncan closed his eyes and let it all go, until only instinct was left. He could only worry about so much, he cold only control so much. The rest was in the hands of fate.
Fate. He had thought about fate a lot since they had landed, and still felt fate’s hand. He looked over to Johns and knew that it was the same for him; they had both felt it when they had passed through the fields. Even if no one else made it out alive, he knew that he and Johns would, because it was the only way it could happen. He didn’t want to trust in that, because he had never trusted in it. He had never believed in fate, until now.
He remained frozen in place and strained to listen, not for a sound, but a lack of sound. His weight shifted absently from one foot to the other, as he worked the muscles to prevent a cramp. How much time had passed he didn’t know, but his eyes opened again when the night sounds died abruptly.
Theo eased back, soothed by the slight motion as the ship rocked gently beneath him. They had been underway for about an hour now, and everyone had moved off somewhere in the ship to wait until they reached the village. Joanne and Anna had gone below to try to find something else to wear. Riddick and Shazza stood in each other’s arms out on the deck of the ship, and Theo had no desire to interrupt. Jack stood by the wheel and looked out over the bridge. Theo had insisted that she take the wheel even though Jack looked unsure, not of flying, but of flying alone.
He sat at the desk where Jack had carefully piled Old Thomas’ papers, and just watched her for a while. Jack’s hand rested easily on the wheel, and he remembered when she had first flown the Odyssey, before they had landed here. Then her hands gripped the wheel hard, with nowhere near the ease with which she handled the Moorglade.
She smiled slightly, her eyes cast out far ahead over the grass, her thoughts cast farther still. She looked confident and assured, a true captain, at home with her ship and comfortable with every part of it.
Her head had been shaved clean of the soft stubble she had sported over the past few days; she still wore the baggy, oversized cargo pants and man’s shirt that she had found. The battered broken goggles that were perched on her forehead had been carefully mended with wire at some point since they had raised the Moorglade.
She looked so much like Riddick in so many ways, and even though he had come to respect and admire Riddick it was still a strange choice for a role model. It was hard to imagine Riddick having ever been a boy though. He wondered if the opposite was true, if Jack had an influence on Riddick as well.
Theo had spoken to prisoners occasionally, on the long trips that would send them back to Slam. It was that, or talk to his idiot brother, so Theo spoke to the prisoners. Their childhoods weren’t something they offered as much as they were something gleaned from many conversations over a long period of time with many different people. A lot of them had lived childhoods as brutal as what they gave out later in life. He supposed this wasn’t too much of a surprise. They lived lives with neither guidance nor protection, to say nothing of love.
It didn’t mean that they didn’t want those things, if not for themselves, then for those they came to love. If anything, they wanted them all the more, because they hadn’t had them. It was impossible to look at Jack and not know that clearly Riddick loved her. His desire to protect her and care for her showed in the love Jack returned. He wondered what sort of man Riddick would have been if he had a different sort of life, if someone had cared for him. Then of course, Theo would never have met him, or Jack and Shazza either for that matter. He would never be here to wonder at these things at all and it all came back to fate.
To think of Riddick as Jack’s father of sorts had him think of Anna again. She would need a father as well, to protect her the same way that Riddick had protected Jack. The universe was an even crueler place for young women than it was for young boys. Women of course were equal in the eyes of the law, and were offered equal protections, again, under the law. But much of the universe didn’t live within the confines of that law, but under an older law, that might made right, and women often fared harshly under that law.
One look at the face of Joanne made that clear to any man with the heart to see it. Joanne of course hadn’t said how it had happened but Theo had seen enough of the universe to know that sort of cruelty. She was beautiful in every other way but that one scar on her face. She was obedient and compliant. Theo knew without the need to ask that she had been considered ‘property’ at some point in her life. Without a man to protect her she could become so again, as could her daughter. Age didn’t matter to a lot of slavers; in fact, it tended to sweeten the price.
It would have to be dealt with before they reached the next village, before anyone realized that she was without protection. But how would Joanne take it herself? He had done the math, and knew that Anna could not be Marcus, her husband’s, child. Clearly Marcus had to know this as well. Theo believed that Anna had essentially lived as a free woman as long as she was with Marcus, as long as she lived under his protection.
Did she fear that this was no longer the case? Would she resent him if he offered to protect her? Would she feel she had no choice? He didn’t know how he could approach her and not insult or offend her, but it had to be done.
He let out a sigh as he turned his attention back to the charts in front of him. Jack had left them in neat piles for him as she had sorted through what Riddick had taken from the old man’s house. The engine, the weapons, another neat stack with notes of a historical nature, with the charts themselves left in a neat pile on their own, closest to the edge of the desk. He smiled; she had done that on purpose, because it would interest him the most.
The charts were incredibly beautiful and his hand whispered across the warm parchment as he unrolled them. He weighed them down with the small weights that lay in a dip in the desk for that purpose. There were about fifteen or sixteen in the stack, and he guessed that they covered the entire surface of Trieste Nine.
Theo didn’t know how up to date the charts were, but if they were up to date, there were quite a few villages scattered across the planet. Trieste nine wasn’t heavily populated, not by any means, but Theo was surprised at just how many villages there were. He counted twenty before he stopped. Most of them didn’t even have place names; they were just small settlements.
What really fascinated him was the carefully laid out pattern of ley lines across the surface. They were concentrated more across Trieste’s vast grasslands, which covered most of the surface fortunately. There were areas of mountains and forests, and rivers, and the ley lines still ran over these, although Thomas had drawn their lines fainter, a series of small dashes, as though the power was less there.
Occasionally the lines would cross and he marked these lines with a small star, a larger star where more lines crossed. He flipped the charts over and stared at an area of grassland, just beyond where the Odyssey had originally come down. Several lines crossed at the same point, and Thomas had marked the place with a large star. There were notes in the margin of the map that described the area as a place of great power. Given where the Odyssey had come down it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine that this is what brought the ship down in the first place. He of course had no way to be sure, bit given that Warfield’s ship had come down close by, it wasn’t such a stretch to believe that this same node had brought down his ship as well.
It might be too much to hope for; it would be, anywhere else but here in this place it didn’t seem so strange. Riddick had said that the Company ship would attempt to hover within the atmosphere for a short time in order to offer protection to the smaller drop ships. If they did so here, they would also be pulled down by the ley lines. Thomas had marked down a few large nodes across the planet, but Theo looked at the space before him and knew it would be here, right here, where they would be brought down. Fate.
He carefully rolled up the charts again and turned to watch Jack as she steered the Moorglade. She still smiled softly, completely at home where she was. At home. That’s what he could offer Joanne, in a way that wouldn’t offend or belittle her; he could offer her a home. A home was something that would be hers, it didn’t mark her as property in any way, but it did keep her safe. Theo grinned at Jack as he walked below to find Joanne.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you, Joanne.” Theo had nearly collided with Joanne as she had come back up from the cabins below, in one of the dresses that had been left behind. She dropped her head demurely and made herself small against the side of the corridor. Her hand had gripped Anna’s arm, guided her past Theo, and pushed her a little when she let go.
Theo stepped back a little, to help make it clear that he meant neither of them any harm. Anna was reluctant to leave her mother alone however and Theo thought that might actually work in his favor. “I was hoping to talk to you, maybe we could go topside, if you’d be more comfortable?”
She was still so shy, her head dropped a little as she nodded and Theo stepped back to let her pass and they walked up onto the deck. They stayed away from Riddick and Shazza, who still held each other and talked closely at the bow of the ship.
“Yes, Theo?” Joanne stood shyly against the railing of the ship and waited for him to continue, and he found that he hated whoever had treated her like that. He had wondered about Riddick earlier, about what sort of childhood the man had, and now he wondered the same about Joanne. It hurt him to think of it; he would do anything to make it better, for both her and her daughter.
He had to be very careful here. “I’m never going to leave this place, Joanne. I’ve wanted to be here, to live in this place, my whole life. When all this mess with the Company is done I’d like to build a home here, but I’m not really very good at that sort of thing.” He made a point of staying a respectful distance from her, so that she wouldn’t feel penned in.
She stood quietly for a moment, not sure what Theo had asked her, because he had surely asked her. No one had ever asked her before. Marcus had been good to her, but he hadn’t asked her either; he had chosen her from a lineup of women brought by a slaver’s ship. She had never been asked before and now that she had she didn’t know what to say.
If Joanne had to choose for herself alone, she wasn’t sure what she would have said. She wasn’t sure she was even strong enough to live by herself, without someone to protect her. She wasn’t Shazza. One look at her daughter, who hadn’t stayed below, but had slipped up onto the deck to stand a short distance away, made her mind up for her. It was her daughter that she thought of when she reached out shyly for Theo’s hand. “I…I could help…” She didn’t really know what else to say; these arrangements had always been made by others, without her knowledge and consent. With Marcus, the arrangements had been discussed in front of her, but she wasn’t integral, she was just present. “I would like that, Theo.” She had just agreed to arrangements for the first time in her life, and she dropped her head and smiled again.
Theo didn’t move more than the tiniest of steps towards Joanne, and raised her hand to kiss the back of it, before he dropped it gently. “I won’t do a thing without asking you first, I promise you that.” He reached out to touch her chin, so that she would look at him and know that he was serious. It broke his heart a little, that she blushed. She had probably never had anyone ask before; he swore he wouldn’t be like the others.
He turned around as Riddick called out from the front of the ship. They had arrived at the village.
Copyright © December 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx