Jack watched the forest pass by on the left hand side of the ship. A day and a half, two days tops, and the Moorglade would reach the sea. Only two days.
It scared her to be left alone. She looked up at Joanne who now sat up front with Anna and at Duncan and Johns. She wasn’t alone and yet she was. It simply brought home to her how much Riddick and Shazza, even Theo, meant to her, that she could feel so empty without them. She had been alone for so much of her life and now two days felt like an eternity to her. Two days.
She took a deep breath, and let it out in a tightly controlled exhale. There was no way that she could think about what the others, her family, faced. Not if she was to make it through the next two days and not fall apart. She had to be there with the ship when Riddick and the others made their way through the forest. Jack couldn’t disappoint them. She wouldn’t. They needed her and they had trusted her to be there for them. They were alone without her too.
She was the captain now. There was a time before all this had started when that word would have meant a lot less to her. As captain, she wasn’t just responsible for the ship’s course. It wasn’t just about piloting, it was so much more. The responsibility for everyone was now on Jack’s shoulders. The fate of the Moorglade was now hers as well. It was a thought that sobered her even if she was only a twelve year old girl.
Things solidified, hardened. Two days at the most. The chart of the river ahead she had already committed to memory, now all that was left was to sail it, no matter how afraid she might be.
Jack caught Duncan’s gaze from the other side of the bridge. From the hard scrutiny of his gaze, she wondered if he had read her thoughts. Duncan had been in charge or something very close to it from what Jack understood. He had been used to a position of leadership and Jack wondered how she must look, how she must measure up. Duncan tilted his head in the tiniest of acknowledgments and that pleased her greatly, more than she was willing to admit to herself. Duncan could have easily have taken command from her once the others had gone. He may not be able to pilot the ship but he couldn’t know that, even Jack wasn’t entirely sure of it beyond a feeling. Only she was the captain and no one else could be. So be it.
Duncan sat on the other side of the bridge and watched Jack carefully, watched the struggle that she couldn’t hide. For twelve she hid it well, he thought and, as she got older, she would be a force to be reckoned with. Unknown to Duncan, he shared a thought of Riddick’s, that Jack’s shaven head gave her an air of vulnerability and strength both. Unable to hide her fears, she wore them plainly and dealt with them right there as they came up. He didn’t want to think about a life that could teach a girl something like that; he had never had children that he was aware of.
For twenty years he had been willing to allow Bishop to lead even if that leadership was purely symbolic on occasion. Not because he was incapable of leadership but because it was not necessary to insist on a role as a leader. It pleased him to realize that it wasn’t necessary now either, not only because Riddick would kill him if he even had the slightest thought that Jack was hurt. It took guts to be where Jack was now and he admired that. He admired her courage.
Johns came back from the galley with another refill of coffee, and Duncan surmised that he had spent enough time off his leg. That it would hurt he had no doubt but it would hurt worse if he stayed off it. Joanne started when he made a move to stand; she had crossed the bridge before he could get to his feet, before he could wave her off. Johns had crossed the same distance and now they held on to him, one on each arm. “I don’t know if I should be flattered or worried. You two aren’t going to fight over me, are you?”
It was an attempt at humor to hide how much his leg hurt. Duncan looked up to notice that Jack and Anna watched him as well, Jack’s eyes pierced his, far more intelligent and aware than someone her age should be. The tiniest of nods from him was enough for her. He would manage but that she had acknowledged that he would, that he could, and let him cope with it was something else that impressed him. She would make a hell of a leader.
“Shouldn’t you, sorry…” Joanne pulled back a step, unsure once Duncan had stood to his full height. She blushed; embarrassed that she had rushed to his side.
Duncan held onto her arm and Johns as well, and neither of them pulled away from him. Once he had taken a step, Joanne put aside her nervousness and stood close to him again. “I probably should stay off the leg, but I can’t sit still for much longer. Need some air.” Duncan leaned more heavily into Johns so that he wouldn’t lean heavily into Joanne and they walked across the bridge. Duncan favoured the leg but did his best not to let on.
Anna scampered right behind them once they had reached the deck. Joanne tried to get the little girl to settle down to no avail. “Anna, please…”
Johns grinned at her, his head dropped, but Duncan turned to Joanne, an unvoiced laugh behind his words. “Let her run, it’s good to watch.”
A fine veil of sweat covered Duncan’s face when they finally reached the bow. Johns and Joanne shared a look behind his back but he wasn’t fooled. “I’ll go back in a few minutes.” He looked out over the forest while they silently debated. He held onto the rail until they relaxed their grip on him.
Joanne moved a step away along the railing but otherwise didn’t move off. Both Duncan and Johns eyed her with careful sidewise glances. Her smile was wide and full as she looked out over the forest. The wind pulled at her dress and made tangles of her hair. Her scar couldn’t be missed of course, a jagged tear that marred the left side of her face, but there were times when it was less somehow, when she didn’t think anyone watched her and she smiled.
It should have made Johns and Duncan turn towards her; instead they turned to each other. Duncan didn’t need Johns to help him stand but was comfortable with Johns so close anyway and they stood close enough that their elbows touched at the railing.
The Moorglade had passed the ruin that their ship had made upon landing and the trees towered on the other side of the river. What remained of the light still slanted down through the canopy; it speckled the stone foreshore and dappled the water in bright flecks of molten metal. It was beautiful and serene and they stood quietly against the railing as it slowly slipped past, the water untouched by the ship’s passage.
Duncan looked down into the water below them, still quietly amazed at such a simple thing. He had seen hover vessels on other worlds, they were common in fact, but he had seen nothing in all his years that compared to the simple, elegant beauty of the ship. It calmed him. He leaned closer to Johns and pointed down into the clear water at a small school of fish that darted in the shadows cast by the Moorglade and her massive out-flung sails. Silver shadows, their forms so similar to the Moorglade, their fins a reflection of her wings.
He took another deep breath, straightened and his back cracked as he arched. The sense of belonging, of purpose, had deepened with every day that had passed since he had arrived. Duncan had rarely settled in any place for long, even when he had worked for Bishop. A place to live was less a place to live than a place to store his things until he came back and now he didn’t want to leave this place. One look at Johns was enough to know that he didn’t want to leave here either.
The river had widened; the surface as still as glass, like a mirror, but underneath, the current was strong. Small islands dotted the middle of the stream. At first they were little more than clumps of stone, barely above the water, which made him look back at Jack. The girl swung her arm out in the direction of the rocks, a cocky grin on her face which let him know that she had seen them and he had to smile at her. She was arrogant and cocky but she earned all of it.
As they moved further downstream the islands became bigger until they were smaller versions of the forest beside them. Roots of trees twisted by the open wind curled over boulders, smaller than those in the forest beside them, but hardier.
“Marcus would hunt here sometimes…” Joanne had turned from the railing to look across the deck at the islands as they passed. She went quiet again when she realized that she had spoken aloud, she didn’t want to talk about Marcus. Theo wasn’t here to hear her but that didn’t matter.
Duncan felt her discomfort again, the sad expression, the inner quiet. It was an expression he was familiar with. Bishop’s broken secretaries had all shared that expression, at first anyway. It didn’t always stay but at first they were broken. He faced the islands to make it easier on her. “You never went with him?”
The quiet laugh escaped her before she could put a hand over her mouth. “I’m not really very good at that, at shooting. I’d probably get in the way.” She thought back to the day that she had first met those on the Moorglade, when she had first met Theo. She had been armed then but it had scared her so badly that she didn’t know if she could have done it. If not for Anna she wouldn’t have attempted it at all.
The self-depreciation wasn’t lost on Duncan; it was something else that he had heard often, thanks to Bishop and his habit of brutality against his secretaries. He let out a hum of contemplation. “I don’t know about that. I saw some light shot here for some of the weapons. Perfectly suited to practice.” Duncan turned to Johns and looked at him deeply; a quick nod of the head, a wave of his hand, and Johns was off before Joanne could say anything about it.
Joanne turned towards him. If she was anyone else she would have argued, and Duncan smiled softly at her; he knew that he would use her own weakness against her. But not to hurt her. Some of those secretaries had needed a push too. Needed to be reminded that they weren’t broken, only hurt. Johns darted back across the deck with light weapons in his hands and Duncan reached out to hold Joanne’s arm so she wouldn’t run. Duncan watched Jack from the corner of his eye; the young girl watched him very carefully and Duncan let go of Joanne. If Jack believed there was a threat, he fully believed that she would react.
Duncan pressed a weapon into Joanne’s hands before she could object further, his tone gentle, but firm. “There’s no actual shot involved, you won’t hurt anything. It’s just for practice. A small laser and a blinking light when you hit your target. Just to get the feel for shooting.”
She relaxed a little but the weapon still looked odd in her hands; she held it like something that would bite her. Duncan held his own weapon in front of him. It was a strict pose that he wouldn’t have used in reality but it was perfect for the purpose of training. Wide stance, weapon in both hands, he took a deep breath, exhaled. A small blip appeared through his sight and he fired. Nothing was harmed.
Duncan handed his weapon back to Johns and took a step towards Joanne, carefully. She held her arm out with the weapon attached as though it didn’t belong to her. Carefully, Duncan stood behind her, careful not to touch any more of her than was necessary. She was afraid but maybe this would make her less afraid, in time. His hands covered hers, his voice a gentle drone in her ear as he lifted the weapon to a height where she could see through the gun sight.
“Open your eyes, Joanne.” He didn’t need to see her to know that her eyes were closed. “Look for the little red blip…that’s it. Wait for it to go green…breathe, and squeeze, don’t pull.” Joanne listened to everything he said, and did what she was told. Her body jolted a little when she fired, a small squeak pulled from her. Duncan stepped back from her. “That’s the worst of it. Now raise it, look for the red blip, and do it again.”
It was easier the second time, and every time after that. They stayed out on the deck until the sun had nearly set, a thin ribbon of orange fire at the horizon. Joanne had that same wide smile on her face when she turned again, all the thanks she could give.
“Get the fuck back in here!” Jack stepped out onto the deck to holler at them to get back inside. There was no question as to obey or not; Jack’s face was hard and stern and wouldn’t be denied. She didn’t wait to see if they had listened to her, but went back to the wheel.
Joanne went after Anna and herded her back onto the bridge while Johns helped Duncan limp across the deck. It wasn’t as gentle as the trip out; something in Jack’s tone screamed urgency. Duncan limped to stand next to her. “Jack?” She turned to him quickly and looked away again but didn’t answer right away. Her features had aged and there was a deep line between her eyebrows. Duncan fingered the weapon at his waist but Jack shook her head with a huff of frustration. He didn’t know what was wrong but it had to be serious. “Get strapped in.” Duncan stayed beside Jack, his hand tight on a rail beside the wheel; if she faced it, so would he.
When it was just the two of them, Jack spoke, her fear evident in the quiet tone. “I don’t know if I can do this…I’m scared.” She bit her lip and her face hardened even more as she stared hard out over the bow of the ship.
Duncan didn’t look at her as he whispered, “What is it?”
Her knuckles tightened on the wheel until they bled white; she didn’t answer, just shook her head as though the answer would undo her. Duncan gazed out the window finally and waited for whatever had frightened her to show itself.
There was a scrim of mist ahead of them across the entire expanse of the river. Duncan squinted and tried to see past it but couldn’t make it out. Jack’s knuckles tightened and her fear became determination again, a hard stubborn edge to the grimace on her face.
The sound of the river increased until it was a massive roar as the Moorglade moved into the veil of mist. Duncan swallowed and his own hands tightened on the rail. The mist outside shifted and floated across the deck. Sometimes so thick that even the deck outside couldn’t be seen. Sometimes it thinned enough that the river could be seen.
The mist swirled and parted and Duncan felt his breath pulled out of his chest as he looked out at the river ahead. As it disappeared. “Fuck…”
“No doubt. I saw it in the charts but it didn’t fucking look anything like this.” Jack had passed the point of being afraid; her voice was flat and devoid of emotion.
Duncan thought that she sounded an awful lot like Riddick. He couldn’t take his eyes from the sight in front of him but tore a hand from the railing and reached out to squeeze her shoulder once and quickly returned his hand to the rail. “We’re with you, Captain.”
The roar of the cataract deafened them as it raced over the falls. Jack didn’t turn, she didn’t even know if it was possible at this point. Duncan watched her from the corner of his eye as the crazy grin spread on her lips and they sailed out into open space.
Copyright © march 2007 xxxevilgrinxxx