Title: Monsters In The Night
Author: Lattelady
Email: pchristie6 AT comcast.net
Rating: ADULT
Summary: A Fry/Riddick romance. The people who crash on the planet struggle to face their real selves as well as fight the alien monsters around them. As they do, each is called upon to reach deep into their souls and become more than they ever thought they could be. This is a romance in the classical sense, as well modern one.
Disclaimers: All characters taken from the movie Pitch Black belong to the writers, producers and current owners of the movie rights. No copyright infringement is intended. The use of them has been for pleasure not profit.
In Chapter three, Imam’s quote is from William Blake. The quote in Chapter 4 is from the Iliad of Homer, a translation by Richmond Lattimore. Imam’s quote in Chapter 8 is a paraphrase of the philosopher Rumi.
All ideas not taken from Pitch Black are my own. Any similarity between them and any one else’s storied are accidental.

 

Ch. 1 Awakening

“This is the Hunter-Gratznia we’ve cleared the last planetary marker,” Carolyn Fry’s calm voice bid farewell to flight control on Kordis 12.

“You are in the primary shipping lanes and cleared for a main engine burn,” the voice on the radio answered. “Have a good sleep H-G.”

Carolyn smiled to herself as she pulled levers and pushed buttons. The deep rumbling voice of the main reactor jumped to life at her fingertips. It had been a good trip so far and very profitable. With each stop her .5% share of the trip was growing. A quick 28-week run to New Mecca, in the sparsely populated Tangiers System, then they would head back toward the more active Sol Tract shipping routes. They had taken the long way around, traveling what some called the ghost lanes. With every stop they had picked up something unexpected, but profitable. If their luck held, they would make the long run home with a full cargo hold and even fuller credit accounts. She did the math quickly in her head to tabulate her share so far. Was it enough to make the changes that had been plaguing her lately?

There were as many female pilots as men, but few of them chose to fly the sleep runs. Part of her wanted to move to the shorter trips, but the part of her that craved something she was unable to put a name to, kept her going. She was sure the missing piece to her life was out here someplace; all she had to do was keep looking. Until she found it, or could at least put a name to it, the long sleeps with sudden spikes of adrenaline on waking would have to do. She shook her head at the flights of fancy her mind could take. Missing pieces, another life, working quiet runs…come on Carolyn, you’re thinking like a fucking woman again!

She had a hazy remembrance of another life, one with parents and a home. But she knew that wasn’t what she was looking for. When she was orphaned at six her Uncle Sean had come charging into her life, and changed forever what she thought of as normal. She grew up on sleep runs, and didn’t think any kid could’ve had a better childhood. At first she had been everyone’s kid sister, but as she matured into the pretty blonde woman she was now, she apprenticed with her Uncle. Often she was the only female in the crew, but few men tried to step across the line. In the beginning it had been because she was Sean Fry’s niece, but now, three years after his death, it was because she was Carolyn Fry, Docking Pilot.

She lived the life of a sleep jumper, as he had taught her, and she was still treated as one of the guys. Her talent as a pilot and with self-defense, kept any that would try, from changing that. Too often Carolyn had heard the men talking about the women who flew the sleep runs. She had no wish to jeopardize her position on the bridge by an indiscrete act. Even after all this time there was still a double standard. The male jumpers boasted of their many conquests as if they were badges of honor, but the women were just called whores!

‘Well Uncle Sean, you taught me well on that subject too,” Carolyn smiled inwardly as she thought of him and hoped she was making him proud. She was good at her job, and any social life that she had was kept carefully to herself.

“The passengers are all tuck in for the long night,” Owens reported to the Captain as he returned from checking the cargo and passenger bays and began entering coordinates into the navputer.

“Good…” the Captain muttered as he made one last entry in the log. “Another hour or so and we’re down for the long sleep.”

Owens watched Fry and Captain Mitchell discreetly as he worked. From his station he entered the route for New Mecca with all the complicated transfer points from system to system then carefully added an abort code. He knew it was Mitchell’s practice to be the last to leave the bridge before cyro-sleep. Owens’s code would activate a different, much longer, route ten hours after the last person went into cyro.

“You almost ready, Owens?” Fry called out as she secured the ship for running under sleep conditions. The Nav Officer had been flying with Captain Mitchell for years and he was the bane of Fry’s existence. On their first trip together he had made a pass at her. When she’d rebuffed him in her usual no-nonsense manner, he had taken it personally. Too often since then she would look up to see his eyes moving over her. She had an uncomfortable feeling that he knew every inch of her body as well as she did.

“Don’t rush me, Fry, you wanna fly right through a black hole?” Bitch! Owens thought as he looked up at the petite blonde. He would get extra pleasure out of handing her over to the men who he worked for. He hid his smile when he thought of Ms High And Mouthy in the hands of slavers. Oh yes, she may be as tough as a man, but she has the body of a woman. He would enjoy getting a piece of that before she was sold. He had very definite ideas in that department. He knew how to make a woman beg. It was only a question of what she would beg for that amused him.

An hour later as Owens stepped into his cyro locker he breathed a sigh of relief. The Captain hadn’t detected his tampering with the navputer. For the first time in a long while the navigator could see the light at the end of the tunnel. He had let his gambling debts mount up, but he couldn’t help it, the lure of the dice kept drawing him back. There had been nothing he could do when the men came to collect. It was either hand over the Hunter-Gratznia to raiders or die a lingering painful death.

…………………..

22 Weeks later

The Hunter-Gratznia was moving through almost virgin space. It had left the shipping lanes weeks ago and was still 19 weeks away from the designated rendezvous with a black ship that crept along picking off unsuspecting merchant vessels.

A comet had just passed through the sector. If any had been awake to see it, they would have marveled at the beauty of its tail highlighted against the backdrop of the large planet, which was silhouetted by a sun in the distance. Or at least they would have marveled, if they had been stupid enough admire the amazing contrasts of light and dark; and large and small, that hid the disaster that was just in front of them. It was nature’s oldest trick: evil wearing the guise of beauty.

Small asteroids and ice balls pierced the hull of the large ship and continued on through, not stopping for anything that might be in their way. The hull breach caused the computer to go into wake-up mode for the crew, even as other asteroids took aim at the ship.

Carolyn Fry woke to the dizzying red of the emergency lights. As her brain fought to catch up with her body, she saw Captain Mitchell’s sleep locker get hit and he crumpled. Instinct made her explode from her locker, but her legs wouldn’t hold her.

“He’s hit, the Captains dead,” she mumbled as Owens landed on her.

“What the fuck, we’re 22 weeks out and still have 19 until gravity was to kick in.” He tried to clear his head, but all he could think about was where the hell were they. Had his associates double crossed him and hit the ship early?

Carolyn didn’t try to make any sense out of Owens’s rambling; she had to get to the bridge. They were leaking air like a sieve. “What the fuck,” she gasped as the computer showed them the view from the forward camera. They were being pulled into a planet’s atmosphere in a flat spin.

Owens grabbed the radio as Fry fought her way to the bridge, one deck up. He flipped the transmitter to the frequency instructed by the raiders. They may have been weeks away from their planned destination, but maybe he could still pull his ass out of the sling if he worked quickly. “This is ship Hunter-Gratznia, we’ve been knocked out of the shipping lanes and are now…”

All the while he was sending the message his mind kept working. This could turn out better than he expected. If the ship went down and he was the only survivor, who could blame him, after all he wasn’t the pilot? He worked quickly to try and cover his tracks in the navputer, but it had locked him out the second the emergency began. “Damn!”

As he worked, he heard the clank and bang of pieces of the ship ripping away. “Fry what the hell’s going on?” Damn that woman was she dumping the cargo? It would be signing his death warrant.

“Fry, where the hell’s our coms,” Owens worked more switches, still not able to get any control over the navigational systems. “Fry, they trained you for this, right?” He couldn’t help getting a dig at her, even in the emergency.

Then he heard it, the closing of airlock doors and heavy clank that signaled a purge. “What the fuck? Was that a purge, Fry?” Fear gripped his stomach as he realized the woman up front was royally fucking him over, as she calmly dumped the valuables from the ship.

“Too heavy in the ass, can’t get the fucking ass down.” Her tense voice came over the radio as she fought for control of the bucking ship.

They were going in and Owens checked the readouts for the better of the two planets. He was so busy that it only registered slightly that she had purged the next section of cargo. At least they still had the passengers; they would be worth something on the market. The rest he planned on taking out of Fry’s hide.

A sick feeling passed over him as he heard the crash doors behind him begin to activate. “Fry what the hell are you doing?”

“I gotta flush more load,” the fear in her voice was clear over the communications system.

Good bitch be afraid, be real afraid, but its nothing like the fear you’re going to feel when I get a hold of you. There was no way he could let her drop anymore load or he might as well die in the crash.

“I’ve tried everything I know…”

“Well you better try everything twice,” he fought to keep the anger out of his voice.

“Look if you know something I don’t, you get your ass up here and take the chair, Owens.”

“Listen, Company says we’re responsible for every single one of those people, Fry.” That sounded good. Personally he didn’t give a shit, but forty people alive would bring a tighty sum on the slaves markets, while forty dead bodies were worth nothing.

“What, and we both die out of sheer fucking nobility,” Fry ground out. Part of her was amazed the words were coming from her mouth, part of her so afraid she knew she was acting on instinct alone.

“Don’t you touch that handle, Fry!” Owens leapt from his chair looking for something to jam open the airlock doors, causing an over-ride in the purge system. It was his last hope to save anything from this venture.

Grasping tight to the sound of reason in Owens’s voice, Fry worked frantically to gain some control over the Hunter-G. She tried every trick she knew, and invented some along the way, but nothing worked.

As if someone else was doing it, she watched as her hand reached for the red purge handle and pulled. “I’m not going to die for them,” she screamed as she yanked with all her might. “Fuck,” she ground out, as the purge was over-ridden.

“Seventy seconds,” Owens shouted to her. He had succeeded; the little bit that hadn’t been purged was safe. And maybe there might be enough money to be made from that to hold off his creditors for a while. “You still have seventy seconds to level this beast out.” If the crash didn’t kill the bitch, he planned on doing it, and as slowly as possible. She was costing him too much.

All the while she fought the ship and gravity, she felt dead inside, as if part of her mind was still locked in cold sleep: the compassionate part; the human side.

……………………………….

Carolyn curled in her chair, hands over her head trying to protect herself from flying plasti-aluminum. Oh my God, what did I almost do? Her mind was numb as she reeled from the implications of her attempt to flush the passenagers.

Deep inside her head echoed a voice that she remembered as her mother’s. “Don’t be afraid of the dark, Carolyn. There are no monsters there; it’s only the absence of light that keeps you from seeing that. There are no monsters in the dark, dear.”

“You’re wrong about that, mom,” Fry muttered to herself as the wind beat against her face and teared her eyes. She gripped the controls and slammed on the brakes. Her ears were filled with the death screeches of the Hunter-Gratznia, as she skidded along on her belly on a rocky planet, she was never made to touch. “You’re so wrong. I’m the monster in the dark.”

…………………………………

Fuck, Riddick thought as he tested the bindings Johns had added to the ones already there. When the ship began its downward spiral, he had been sure it was his chance to get away, but that blue eyed devil had found him before he had been able to leave the crash site.

What’s this, he sniffed, but was careful to keep his head down and not appear interested. What’s the new smell? He grinned to himself, woman, oh yeah! He sniffed again. Now he recognized her. It was the other one, not the free settler or the kid, but the one from the crew. He’d only caught a brief whiff of her before they left Kordis 12. But this was different. Before she had smelled sweet and innocent, though the tone of her voice when she had spoken to the nav officer had said she was tough and resilient. The contradictions in her could inflame a man’s desires. He had wondered at the time if she was woman enough to respond. But now her smell was changing. The sweet was still there, but maybe not for long, because the innocence was fighting a battle with darkness. Yes! That’s it, a kindred soul. Since he had been left alone in the ship, he allowed himself the luxury of throwing back his head and laughing.

To his surprise he felt swelling between his legs and his pants grew tight. The woman with the darkening soul and a voice like old scotch had given him a hard-on. Yes indeed he would have to find out if she was woman enough. What the fuck would it really matter all women were interchangeable? His laughter stopped as quickly as it had begun as he took another deep breath to savor all the nuances to her scent and found something that he had never smelled before, but wanted badly. He just didn’t know what it was.

But first things first, he rocked back against the post his arms were secured around and found it gave way. He rocked again and began the slow painful process of setting himself free.

………………………………….

His body ached from the beating Johns and the settler woman had given him, but he was damned if he would let it show. A few hours of freedom and he was back where he had started. Tied in the cool dark ship while the others flailed in the heat of three suns. Fools! Couldn’t they see the evidence that was in front of their faces? Naw, I guess they couldn’t, but then in his experience they wouldn’t be the first.

The air shifted, and he head footsteps coming fast and he was assailed by the scent of Carolyn Fry.

She needed answers and she needed them now. Earlier she had only gotten a quick look at Riddick. She wasn’t one to enjoy other’s suffering, besides on the ship she had been too busy to pay attention to anything but her job. But now as she walked quickly toward him she began to feel uneasy. It wasn’t fear; it was something else, but she pushed it aside. She needed to know what was really going on and she had an idea she had come to the one person who could shed some light on the situation.

“So where’s the body?” She stood waiting, watching. All the while he didn’t move. He didn’t even seem to be breathing. It would have been easy to keep watching him, to lose herself in the sight of him. There was something hypnotic about the way he sat there. He was the one who was chained, but she was the one who felt trapped. Stomping hard on the feeling she tried again, and was surprised when her voice came out in barely a whisper. “Do you want to tell me about the sounds?”

Angrier at herself for losing control of her voice, than at him for ignoring her, she gritted her teeth and tried again. “Well that’s fine, you don’t want to talk to me, it’s your choice. Just so you know, there’s a debate right now if we should leave you here to die.”

Carolyn turned to leave, feeling in control of things for the first time since she had been thrust from cold sleep four hours earlier. Then she heard it, a voice like a deep rumble, it made her think of the cognac she liked to indulge in every once in a while: smooth, amber tones, with a bite that caressed.

“You mean the whispers?” I got you now Carolyn. I know all your little secrets. I’ve taken a peek into your soul and it’s mine now.

She was drawn closer as his voice touched her skin. “What whispers?” She heard the vulnerability in her tone and hated it. Johns had said he was a dangerous and she had a feeling that right here, right now, she was facing one of those monsters in the dark that she had been taught didn’t exist. Who better than she to face him down, it took one to know one.

“The ones telling me to go for the sweet spot, just to the left of the spine, fourth lumbar down. The abdominal aorta, it’s a metallic taste, human blood. Copperish with peppermint snaps, but that goes away.” He’d used that line before and it usually scared the shit out of a woman, but to his surprise, this one didn’t budge. He had figured with what he knew about her attempt to kill the passengers it would send her running. Yes this one was definitely worth a second look.

“Want to try to shock me with the truth, now?” Fry stood her ground. He was trying to fuck with her mind and she was damned if he was going to get away with it. Later when she was alone, she knew his words would play along her nerve endings, but not now.

“All you people are so scared of me. Most days I’d take that as a compliment, but it ain’t me ya gotta worry about, now.” He told it to her straight, she had earned that by not running.

“Show me your eyes, Riddick?”

“You’d have to come a lot closer for that.” He still didn’t look up, what kind of game was she playing with him? His eyes would tell her nothing.

The air around him grew heavy, as he sensed Fry moving closer. He could hear her hesitant steps and was surrounded by her fragrance. He concentrated and tried to fill in the colors of her soul by what he smelled. There was a quiet fear, but not of him, and a feeling of loss for the dead man. The battle between sweet innocence and darkness was almost completely buried under a strong scent of…..desire? Oh yes, Carolyn, there may be monsters out there waiting for us, but I’m gonna have a taste of you before they do.

“Closer,’ his quiet command made her steps falter.

Suddenly her palms felt sweaty and she wiped them on her pants. What the hell? He made her nervous. He made her feel things. Things she refused to examine, even as she felt them overpowering her. So for the time being she took the easy way out and told herself that he was a big muscular man and she was a small slim woman, if he were free and he chose to, he could snap her neck and be gone. Swallowing she moved within a foot of him.

Suddenly he lunged, catching her off guard. She lost her footing and her dignity as she scrambled back a few steps before she could stop herself. Face to face with shining gray eyes she had only heard about, she looked him up and down. Yes he could be the monster Johns claimed him to be. She could see that, the possibility to be THAT and much worse. But there was more, a potential for more. Lost in the reflecting pools of his soul she hardly heard the intrusive questions from the boy, Jack. But she heard Riddick’s answer, every word of it. He was speaking to her, for her. Telling her of the darkness that he had lived. So she stood there and listened, letting him say what he needed to. All the while listening in a quiet way that let him talk.

………………………..

As Carolyn walked away Riddick wanted badly to call her back. He had sent her to look in the hole for Zeke’ body. Somehow he knew she would be the one to do the looking. He couldn’t picture Johns volunteering for a job like that and he didn’t think Fry would be willing to delegate it to any of the others, not after what he had heard her confess to Johns. He tried to tell himself that because she was the smallest, of them all, almost as short as Jack, but smaller boned and slimmer, it made sense that she be the one to try and fit in that hole. Sense to who, a coward like Johns?

“Be careful, Carolyn,” he whispered to the shadows around him. “Damn!” He gave his bindings a good tug. Why had she stood there like that? He had told her what he was, and he knew she was smart enough to understand what he was saying. If there had been any doubt, the telltale quivering of her lip as he spoke told him she understood the deeper meaning behind his casual statement. But still she stood there with her huge eyes wide open just looking at him. Damn he had wanted to touch her, feel her skin against his just once before she went off on her fool’s errand.

Closing his eyes he remembered a few hours earlier when he had hidden inches behind her in the skull of a long dead animal. He had sliced a lock of her hair and pulled it close to catch her scent, for what he had thought to be the last time.

Sitting listening so the sound of her receding footsteps, he could still feel the electric tingle from the soft curl against his lips. It was what had made him blow it away as if it meant nothing. Now he wished he had held onto it. If what he suspected was true, he doubted she would come out of that hole alive and he would never get the chance to feel that tingle again.

 

Ch. 2 Face Of The Monster

Fry had always loved the dark, but as she crawled along on her belly through the cramped black tunnel looking for proof that a convicted murdered hadn’t killed, she was beginning to change her mind. The small hole above had been splattered with clotted blood. The doubtful faces of her companions as she pushed her way past the gristly reminder that one of them had died, told her that all but Imam thought she was wasting her time. But it was her time and something about her encounter with Riddick drove her on.

She held her flashlight between her teeth so she could use both hands as she pulled her way along. The darkness in front of her stunk, and between the metal casing against her tongue and the smells all around her, it was leaving a funny taste in her mouth.

Riddick was probably sitting back in the ship laughing at how easily he had manipulated her. The thought lasted until she realized she had entered a large vaulted chamber. Everything else became unimportant, as she pulled herself to her feet, and looked around. A little bit of light slipped through the high ceiling, but it only added shadows to the already dark cave. There were strange hushed sounds and in places it seemed as if something was moving along the walls.

Fuck, was this what her soul looked like? She shivered as the words flitted through her mind, to be chased away by a feeling of evil, and pure dread. To bolster her courage, Carolyn grabbed her flashlight and tried to shine some light into the darker places of the cave.

She swallowed quickly as she looked around and tried to get rid of the odd sweet taste that was being intensified by the odor in the room and the flavor of the metal flashlight that had been in her mouth. That’s when she saw it, the blood covered boot that had once belonged to Zeke.

For one split second things were very clear. She remembered Riddick’s description of human blood and knew without a doubt what the smell was, and why her tongue was covered with the flavor of copper covered peppermints. Then she knew nothing but fear as something jumped out at her.

Fry thought she had been afraid when the Hunter-Gratznia was going down, but she had never felt fear like she did as she tried to claw her way up the chiminy shaped rock toward the light above. Her cries for help echoed loudly in her ears, she only hoped others heard them as well. Hell snapped at her heels and the lifeline that was cinched to her utility belt had become an anchor dragging her down. She knew she had to get into the light or she would be lost to the darkness forever.

………………………..

A voice screamed through Riddick’s head. It was pure fear, the kind born of desperation and need. In that moment he knew Carolyn had found Zeke’s body at the bottom of that hole. Grasping his chains he pulled and began pounding on the walls of his prison. He had to drive out the fear that was being seeded deep in him. The fear that he had been right, and she would never return from that hole. He didn’t question it; he just acted.

…………………………

Suddenly it rained dirt, as a hole was torn open a foot above of Fry’s head. She didn’t care what it was, or how it had gotten there, it led to the light. Hands grasp her and she tumbled out. She head voices and knew she was rambling as she answered their questions, but all she cared about was getting as far away as she could from that dark chimney to hell. There was something down there and it had killed Zeke and it would have killed her if she had been a little slower getting up out of the cave.

Carolyn gulped air in the planet’s thin atmosphere, in hope of gaining control of her racing mind and heart. As sanity began to return, she relaxed for just a moment. Then she was snapped back off her feet and dragged kicking and screaming like a madwoman toward the nightmare below. She could hear her own screams, but the words didn’t make any sense to her ears. All she knew was that she was being pulled back into the dark. As she fought, arms wrapped around her, to pull her back, but it wasn’t enough. The stench from the cavern was hitting her in the face as she begged and pleaded with the darkness to set her free.

There was a movement to her right and she sensed rather than saw Imam. The holy man’s face was serene as he pulled a knife and cut the rope that had been sucking her down. Sitting at his feet, she looked up and caught a glimpse of incredible faith in his eyes.

………………………

They had worked fast to get everything from the corpse of the Hunter-Gratznia that they thought they would need. All that was left were the remaining power cells and those they would retrieve on the next trip. Johns had been adamant about that, but he refused to say why. Privately, Fry thought he was being paranoid about Riddick, but she figured he was a cop, and knew his business. She chalked up her doubts about the redhead to exhaustion from her two little strolls down the corridors of the damned. In the last seven hours she had learned more about herself than she ever wanted to know. She figured if she worked herself to exhaustion, she might be able to forget some of it.

Carolyn had one more official task on the bridge, and then she could join the others. Working as carefully as possible she pulled the housing face off the main console and flipped out the crystal containing Captain Mitchell’s log. As she held the delicate communication device in the palm of her right hand, she froze in horror at the flecked brown of dried blood that smeared across her palm.

“Fuck,” she gasped as she shoved the log into her back pocket and scrubbed her hand on her thigh to get rid of the stain. In her mind’s eye she could see the bright red on the ground. The only true color in the glare of the sun, just before she climbed into the hole. She had no doubt that the boot in the cave and the smear on her hand were all that was left of the tall serious man named Zeke.

Riddick came around the corner of the Hunter-G and found Fry kneeling on the ground, rubbing her hand in the dirt as if to clean off something offensive. She still looked pale from her experience and he refused to acknowledge the relief he had felt when he had discovered she had survived.

“It won’t come off that easily,” he knelt facing her. His large hand turned her much smaller one over to see what she was frantically trying to remove. He blew away the dust on her palm and felt her fingers twitch in response. Even wearing his goggles in the bright sun, he recognized the currency of his trade when he saw it, though it was old and dried. He did a quick check to see where she had injured herself, but quickly came to the conclusion that the blood wasn’t hers.

“Let go of my hand!” She tried to pull herself free, but he just sat there and stared at the darkness on her palm.

His stomach did a slow roll. She was panicked, that’s new. How interesting. Maybe it was time to push a little? He had heard once that if you put an animal into water and warmed the water slowly enough, it would stay there until it cooked. Hhhmmm maybe it was time for a little experiment? Here you go Carolyn, ‘plop.’ How’s the water? Do we have time for a little heat?

“I’m only trying to help, Carolyn,” he whispered as she fisted her hand in his, hiding the stain from him.

“I said let go,” she snapped. His hand was warm on hers and she didn’t like that it felt so good to have someone holding on to her. Please, please let me go her mind cried out. Her rough tough exterior was wearing thin and she was afraid he could see right to the core of her.

“Now why would I want to do that?” He grinned as his strong fingers reached around her fist and pulled it open. Holding her hand spread-eagled in his.

“Damnit all, Riddick, wipe that shit eating grin off your face and let gooo…” her mouth went dry and her breath caught in her throat as he licked the thumb if his free hand and rubbed it across the dried blood in her palm. Every nerving ending in her skin screamed and centered on where he was touching. She couldn’t take her eyes off his slow stroking of her hand.

A moment earlier Fry had heard all the noises associated with a camp getting ready to move. The musical chatter of Arabic as the young boys finished their tasks; Shazza’s soft voice tinged with grief interspaced with Jack’s higher happier tones; Paris and Johns arguing somewhere very close and Imam trying to keep the peace. It all receded into background fuzz. It was just Riddick and Carolyn kneeling together in the bright light of three suns.

He watched her face as he wiped his thumb on his pants and leaned a little closer. When he felt her hand relax in his and saw her eyes darted to his mouth, he raised his thumb and sucked on it. As he slowly pulled it out and reached for her palm, he felt the stiff line of her shoulders give way. He had a feeling that if he hadn’t been holding her hand so tightly she would have crumpled. Why did that make him feel so strong, suddenly?

Until he started caressing Carolyn’s hand, Riddick thought he knew all there was to know about woman. Most of his adult life had been lived in dark places and those were populated by people like him. The women along the way had all been free and easy or came with a price tag. He had assumed that Carolyn fell into one of those categories. Her confession to Johns had added weight to his theory that she was a kindred soul. But as he played with her senses and her mind he remembered other things: a curl that tingled when it touched his lips; and wide eyes that understood that his shined eyes were only an outward sign of what his life had been.

What if he was wrong? What if her darkness was an accident that needed to be prevented? But it was too late now, he had started his game and Richard B. Riddick was a man who always finished what he started.

He ran his wet thumb over her soft palm a third time, removing any trace of the blood that had lingered for so long. He was sorely tempted to raise her hand to his mouth and take a taste of the delicate softness that was under his thumb, but the slightly spooked look in her eyes made him move slowly.

Carolyn sat transfixed as the hard cruel man slowly drove her a little mad. How had he known what she had needed so badly, when she didn’t even know it herself? As he licked his thumb again and moved it across her palm, she took in all of him. He looked like what he was: a criminal, a murderer. He was neither handsome nor kind, but it seemed so right that he was touching her as he was.

Briefly, Johns’s face flitted across her mind. She knew the man was interested in her. He was handsome and law abiding, but the thought of him touching her like this was unsavory. She had always found it less confusing to meet a man on his terms, so why was she sitting there letting Riddick make her feel like more of a woman than she had ever felt? Answers were too hard and her mind was refusing to work. A little voice was shouting in her ear to get up and move, but she didn’t bother to listen to it.

The fifth pass of his thumb over her palm was when he made his mistake. He let his eyes move from hers and saw her as a whole person. Her mouth was slightly open and her hair fluttered around her face, as she sat there watching him caress her. It was then that he realized his seemingly casual touch was the most intimate act he had ever taken part in. For the first time in his life he knew the difference between a whore and a woman. Carolyn was giving of herself to him on a level that he had never reached before and he was only touching her hand! Suddenly his pursuit of an easy sexual encounter had turned into something he had never experienced before. He felt a stab of regret that he couldn’t still see true colors. He wanted badly to know her eye as she did his.

As he watched her, his hand still moving over hers, he felt a tingling begin in his fingers and move up his arm. It was what his lips had felt; causing him to toss her curl to the wind, but this time it was becoming a steady buzz that reverberated through him. For a tiny space of time he had a picture of that cooking pot that should contain Carolyn Fry, as she slow simmered to a sexual frenzy for him. Instead of the petite blonde swimming in the heating water, he had a flash of himself doing a frantic backstroke to stay afloat!

In a moment of desperation, he reverted to type. An easy grin spread across his face and he pretended to look the skin of her hand over carefully.

“There you go Carolyn, that should do it, no blood on your hands now,” he smirked at her as he ran his thumb over her palm one last time. She ripped her hand from his as all the noises of the group came crashing down around her head.

“Fuck,” she spat at him. What had she done, letting her guard down around a man like him? Damn, what did he know? Her mind reeled with the possibilities.

“It’s a bit public for my tastes, but if you’re game?” He leaned in close and she shoved him away as he laughed at her.

“RIDDICK?” Johns called from somewhere in the distance.

Riddick stood quickly and touched his finger to his lips, asking Carolyn to be quiet, as he slipped into the darkness of the ship. Neither of them questioned his asking, nor doubted her obeying. Oddly, both trusted the other.

“Fry, you seen Riddick?” Johns came around the corner of the ship. His eyes were bloodshot and he had an odd tremor in his hands.

“He was around a few minutes ago,” she was able to answer honestly.

“What’cha doing sitting here in the hot sun?” He looked the small blonde over carefully. He knew she had had quiet a fright earlier. What she needed was a man to lean on!

“Enjoying the peace and quiet.” Her eyes and voice said leave me alone, but he didn’t take the hint.

Riddick grinned as Johns missed the insult. He was tempted to listen while she made mincemeat out of the other man, but he had let her distract him enough already. Sliding his goggles onto his forehead, he shoved thoughts of her aside, to get on with business. Something was very wrong and it had been eating at him ever since he had gotten a good look at the planet they had crashed on. He wished the suns would set so he could check out the stars, but that didn’t seem likely.

It only took him a few minutes to find the navputer. Someone, probably Fry, had already taken the facing off the main console, so that saved him time. Working quickly he searched for the black box. It was the Company’s way of keeping track of where its ships had been. The box was a well-guarded secret around the Company. Most flight crews, including the captains were ignorant of its existence. It contained the plotted course and all changes made to the flight plan. Only someone with Company authority could wipe it clean. For a computer the size of a small cigarette lighter, it contained a huge amount of memory.

He would bet his shiv they were nowhere near New Mecca. It was going to be real interesting to see where they really were and even more so to discover who had sent them careening out in space while in cold sleep.

He retraced his steps and listened to the conversation the man and woman where having just outside the Hunter-G.

“We gotta get going,” Johns squinted into the distance trying to catch a glimpse of Riddick. “Imam says there has to be water somewhere back at the mining camp and he thinks he can find it.” He licked his dry lips. Water wasn’t what he needed, but he was damned if he was going to tell Fry what his veins thirsted for.

“What about Riddick?”

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and whatever got Zeke has gotten him too,” Johns reached for her right hand to pull her to her feet. At the moment he didn’t care how much money he would lose if the convict disappeared, he needed a fix and he needed it badly!

“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.” She shifted and pulled herself up, avoiding his touch. It made her shiver when she thought of him touching her skin where Riddick had. Don’t go there, Fry, she warned herself.

“Let the fucker die!” His temper snapped at her odd behavior. What was wrong with the bitch anyway?

“You lookin for me?” Riddick strolled into the light. Between the heat and the need for a fix, Johns had lost it. For the moment, he was still needed, but soon very soon…

“What’cha doing in there, boy?” Johns frowned. What was going on? He would figure it out as soon as he could get to his stash and a spike. But it was hidden in the ship along with the H-G’s medical kit that he had appropriated for the morphine it contained. “We’re leaving soon and you need to harness up,” he grinned at Riddick. “Fry you go with him I’ll be back as soon as I get my things from the ship.”

…………………….

The caravan of weary people trudged over the sand dunes toward the deserted camp they had found early in the day. Fry in the lead, squinted at the three suns and wondered how much worse the heat could get. She had spent most of her life on a ship and her fair skin wasn’t used to the harsh treatment it was getting. With the exception of Riddick and Imam, they had all gotten sunburned. With any luck they would find a med-kit somewhere in that retched settlement, and it would have the necessary Sun-Out pills to protect them from the burning rays.

Looking over her shoulder she saw Riddick bringing up the rear, pulling the heavy sled with their equipment. Between the thin atmosphere and the heat, he had to be tiring, but it didn’t show. She watched him for a moment, under the guise of doing a headcount. It was a joy to see the way his muscles moved as he labored. She had never realized before that a man could have a beautiful body.

He had confused her badly, and nice to look at or not, she didn’t like that. Who was he really? At times he acted exactly as one expected, but at others he had been gentle, almost kind. Involuntarily her left hand ran over her right palm remembering how his skin had felt against hers. It had taken her breath away and left her feeling totally exposed.

For a moment she stared openly at the picture he made trudging through the sand his skin slick with sweat. Then she saw him grin, and give her a barely perceptual nod. It caused the blood to run out of her head, leaving her a bit dizzy. He had been watching her too, and wanted her to know it. Even as she turned and joined Imam, his gravelly voice echoed in her head, ‘I’ve put my mark on you now, Carolyn.’ Shivering she rubbed her right hand against her thigh, much as she’d done earlier. But unlike before, there was no one to help her remove what had been left behind. Was she always going to feel his touch or was he just fucking with her mind?

“Imam?” Fry matched her pace to his; trying to show Riddick his little game meant nothing to her. “I never thanked you for saving my life today.” Her voice was hushed and she had trouble meeting the Holyman’s eyes. She knew she should have done this sooner, but any reminder of what had happened made her feel out of control.

“All life is sacred, so there is no need for thanks,” he smiled. “Besides, any one of us would have done the same. I just happened to be the man with the knife.”

“No,” she shook her head. “It was more than that. You kept your head and knew what to do. I would have been pulled back down that hole if you hadn’t acted.” She wanted to thank him for the calm strength she had seen in his eyes after he cut the rope. It had been a balm to her badly frayed nerves, but that would lead the conversation in a direction she was unable to face.

“Well then, consider it a small repayment for what you did for us when you landed the ship, Captain.” The tall older man turned and shifted the power cell that he was carrying so he missed the stricken look on Fry’s face.

“Please don’t call me that,” she cut in. “The title doesn’t belong to me. I could never fill Captain Mitchell’s shoes.”

“If you wish.” He looked at her closely and could see a pinched expression around her eyes. “I have distressed you, for which I am sorry. I was only using the title as a means of respect.”

“I don’t deserve it,” Fry looked around needing to change the subject, Imam was too perceptive for her to be able to get away with half-truths. “The last time we walked this way, you said you were on a pilgrimage. You called it a…I can’t remember the word you used.”

“Hajj,” he nodded remembering their earlier conversation. “When we left Kordis 12 I was taking three boys on their hajj to New Mecca. All young men between the ages of 8 and 14 are encouraged to take that trip before attaining manhood. But now it has become one of much greater proportions. It involves us all. It will be interesting to discover what each of us finds along the way.”

“You talk as if you think God is involved in this somehow.” She had never been much of a believer in a higher power, at least not anything higher than gravity wells, pulsars, and black holes. If there was a God, He wasn’t on this planet and He was definitely ignoring Carolyn Fry.

“God is everywhere,” he smiled. “The trick is to open our eyes and see Him.” He put his hand on her shoulder and looked into her troubled face. “What did YOU see in that underground cavern?”

The whispered question sent a shaft of fear slicing through her. She felt like she had been turned inside out. “Other than the remains of Zeke, nothing! I saw nothing!” She strode quickly ahead, as her mind screamed out, me, I saw me down, there!

 

Ch. 3 Truths Turned Inside-Out

The skiff’s space doors closed and locked, and Fry breathed a sigh of relief. She was cut off from the others for a while, giving her time to think. That, along with most other things, she did best alone. Their situation had gone from bad to disaster in the amount of time it had taken the group to drink the water Imam and his boys had found. Her mind quickly sorted facts as her fingers flew over the console to bring the twenty-year-old computer to life. They had thought they were safe from the flesh-eating aliens that lived in the darkness deep below the planet’s surface, but they’d been wrong. If their calculations were correct a total eclipse was coming that would darken the planet for a long time, giving them nowhere to hide, and the monsters from below free reign of the surface. The old skiff was all that stood between them and a gristly death.

Carolyn gave a sigh of relief when the computer hummed to life on the third try. She focused her mind on the Systems Check and tried not to think of the strange group of people that were on the other side of the locked doors. She had always made it a practice to avoid the sleepers she carried on her runs, now she knew why.

Turning in the pilot’s seat to remodulate the computer for the new power source, she felt eyes on her and jumped. Riddick! She quickly checked the readouts, but the sys-check had begun. If she hit the emergency exit, it could blow the one power cell they had and they would be back to square one. Watching his face as he walked slowly toward her, she realized he knew it as well.

“They say timing is everything,” he grinned at her. “And I’ve been meaning to get some more time alone with you…unrestrained, that is.”

“I got work to do, Riddick,” it took all her nerve, but she forced herself to turn her back on him. He might kill her, as he had the pilot of the prison transport, but she believed she was safe until all the power cells were in place. He had moved close enough behind her chair that the heat radiating off his body made her skin tingle. In an attempt to keep her hands from trembling, she focused on moving them carefully and precisely over the controls.

“So, what do ya think?” He let himself touch only the tips of her hair with his right hand as he grasped the overhead bar with his left. How she answered his many leveled question would tell him a lot about her. Would she take it as an easy sexual invitation as most women he had known would or was there more to her than met the eye?

“I’m afraid of you. Is that what you wanted to hear?” She turned in her seat and slid around him, feeling trapped in the cockpit.

“No you’re not, at least not right now.” He backed her up until she was wedged between the pilot’s chair and the wall. “I think you’re afraid of you, but before we get into that, I gotta ask you, do you think Johns is a do-right man? Can I trust him?” He could see the answer in her face, making part of him itch to reach for his shiv. He knew that before the skiff doors opened again, he was going to bury something deep inside of her. Her next answer would be the tiebreaker.

“He…” If he had been touching her, she would have lied, but he stood inches away from her and waited. Even though his goggles still covered his eyes, she knew he was seeing deep into her. “No,” she whispered. “You can’t trust him. He has no plans on keeping his end of the bargain, and I believe he’ll kill you if he can.”

“He won’t kill me,” he slid his goggles onto his forehead as he watched the shadowy expressions flit across her face. “I’m worth twice as much to him alive.”

“What!”

“He may carry that nickel plate badge and wear a uniform,” he shrugged. “But he’s just a merc and I’m just a payday!”

She rocked back as if he had struck her, “no!” She had trusted Johns with her darkest deed, and he was nothing but a bounty hunter. The only difference between him and Riddick was that the government put a politically correct spin on Johns’s killing. She paled as she realized the huge mistake she had made.

“And you’re right not to trust him,” Riddick nodded as if he could read her mind. “He’ll tell your little secret any time the going gets tough, and he can use it to his advantage.”

“Oh God!” She gasped, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall. “How did you know?”

“I was inches away from you, hiding in the skull,” he laughed. “Close as we are now, and that fucker, Johns, couldn’t find me, but I heard you loud and clear.” He watched her fight for control as her lip quivered and she paled under her sunburn. “But I was born in a garbage heap, so it wasn’t the first time someone tried to dispose of me. Just so you know, no one has ever tried it a second time.”

“Oh,” a small high-pitched sound escaped her lips before she opened her eyes, and wiped all emotion from her face.

“And you? I’m supposed to trust you?” She let the anger pour out of her. It was the only weapon she had against the soft female feelings he brought out in her and the overwhelming guilt her own actions had caused. “I should just sit around calmly doing systems checks, and waiting for you to slit my throat like the last time you wanted to hitch a ride somewhere?”

“Ahhh, so our boy told you about that did he?” Riddick stepped closer. He liked the feeling of her anger erupting over him, it bubbled against his skin and made him hard just listening to her. Oh yes Babe, feel the passion. He had known all along that she had the potential to sizzle, and this felt so much safer than before. Now it was Fry back in the cooking pot, and he knew he was going to turn up the heat as high as he could before that systems check was over.

“So? Are you going to kill me?” Her eyes dared him to tell her the truth.

For a fleeting second he wondered if she would trade her life for a fuck, but as quickly as the thought surfaced, he knew that when he took her, it would be because she wanted it, anything else would be a waste. “Carolyn, I’ll be honest with you, I truly don’t know what’s gonna happen when the lights go out. When the dyin’ starts I think this little psycho-fuck family of ours is going to pull itself apart.” It surprised him that he included himself in the group, and even more so, that he spoke the truth. A lie would have been so much more convenient.

For a moment she stared at him across the small space. Then she nodded her head in understanding. He’d been honest with her, and strangely that put her more at ease than all the promises in the world.

“But we may have a more immediate problem.” He slowly pulled the black box from his pocket and handed it to her. “Now don’t say I never gave you nuttin.” He had known from the start that he would have to bring her in on this, unless he killed her before they left the planet, and that was looking less likely every moment.

“What’s this bullshit?” She looked at the small device and wondered what game he was playing now.

“It’s not bullshit, it’s a death warrant.” His voice rumbled deep in his chest as he stepped closer to her.

“Stop trying to fuck with me, I got things to do to get this ship ready.” She pushed his cupped hand away, and tried to get back to the cockpit, but Riddick stood like an unmovable mountain in her path.

“If I was fuckin’ with you, it wouldn’t be tryin’, it would be doin’.” He gave her a moment to be sure she understood exactly what he was saying. From the shocked expression on her face he could tell she had never run into a man she couldn’t control before. It’s going to be one interesting time we have, Carolyn.

“You sure you don’t know what this is?” He rubbed the box against her shoulder, pushing her a bit harder.

“No, I don’t! If it is so damned important, why don’t you tell me what it is, and I’ll get back to business!” She was hot and tired and his presence was a strain on her nerves. She just wanted to get on with the sys-check and pretend he wasn’t locked in a confined space with her. Though she knew that no matter how quiet he was or how far away he stood, she’d be able to smell his scent and feel his skin touch hers.

“That’s the Hunter-Gratznia’s black box.” He whispered.

“The what?” Every flight crew had heard stories about the supposed hidden computers on Company ships, but only the greenest rookie believed it. Plenty of searches had been done and no one had ever found anything.

“You heard me, Carolyn, you just don’t want to believe me.” He bent and pulled the housing off the main console of the skiff. “If we’re lucky I can get it to interface.”

“Wait, stop!” She grabbed his arm and pulled. “We only have a limited amount of power. You’re going to screw up the sys check, we gotta get off this planet before the eclipse.”

“The check is safe, it’ll run slower but it’ll run. Those aliens will kill us if they get the chance, but there are other things that can do that too, and worse things than dyin’.” He motioned her to the pilot’s seat and he took the one beside her. From there he could rig a connection somehow. It had been a long while since he needed to do this sort of thing, but he used to be able to do it in his sleep. “Do you know of a planet on the New Mecca route that has three suns?” He threw the question out casually.

“No, but I’m not a navigator and I figured we must have gotten off course somehow.”

“Somehow, is right,” he kept working until the computer in front of him came to life. “There we go, now listen and watch.” Riddick quickly scrolled through all the pre-flight data, and moved to the major course changes. He was almost to the end when he found what he was looking for. “How long were we in cold sleep?”

“Owens said something about 22 weeks, but that couldn’t be right. He must have been rambling. Sometimes getting pulled out of cryo like we did can cause Cold Sleep Disorientation for a while.” She forced herself to remember what happened after ejecting from her locker. “He insisted that we couldn’t be awake because we were 22 weeks out and still had ….19…to go? Maybe I’m remembering that wrong. It’s only a 28 week trip from Kordis 12 to New Mecca.”

“You’re remembering right,” he pointed to the last course that had been signed off by the navigator. “According to this we deviated from the flight plan about 12 hours after leaving the Kordis system.”

“Wait,” she threw up her hands and jumped out of her chair. “You’re telling me that I should believe this nonsense, without any proof. If that were really what you say it is then that would mean that Owens had sold us out! The guy was a chauvinist pig asshole, but he was faithful to Captain Mitchell.”

Riddick didn’t say a word, he just scrolled down a bit further and the computer was filled with the frightened face of Carolyn Fry as she fought to bring the Hunter-G under control.

“What the fuck?” she gasped over his shoulder.

“These little boxes not only record flight information, but in case of emergency, they record bridge activity.”

“Turn it off!” She gasped, her eyes locked on the picture of her frightened face. She broke down and backed away until the locked crash doors prevented her from further retreat. “Please, Riddick, don’t make me watch it. I believe you.” In the background she could hear the computer giving flight instructions to dump the loads. She was afraid the emotionless electronic voice would play in her dreams forever.

She never saw him leave the cockpit or heard him move toward her, but suddenly she could feel him standing inches away. The only sound in the shuttle was her ragged breathing, as she fought to bury the guilt that was threatening to overpower her.

“It’s off,” he growled, hating the panicked looked on Carolyn’s face. “That fucker Owens deserved the kind of death Johns gave him.”

“What?” She shook her head not sure she had heard him correctly. “Johns didn’t kill Owens, I did.” She caught her breath when she realized she’d said the words that’d been haunting her, and didn’t fallen apart; maybe someday she could learn to live with her actions that night.

“Owens killed himself when he was stupid enough to do a course change like that, and thought he could sleep through it. I was talking about the way he died, suffering, with no morphine. That was Johns’s doing. He stole the med-kit for the drugs.”

“Johns is a junkie as well as a merc?” She let out a rough laugh to try and keep the tears at bay, but one escaped, she hoped Riddick wasn’t able to see it in the dark corner they were in.

“You didn’t know?” Riddick ran his hand gently over her cheek, curious about the lone tear. It was the second time he had known her to cry over the crewman who would have sold her out. The first had been when she had made the others leave the ship while Owens died his painful death, but he had been there, listening; bound and gagged in the back of the ship. He had wondered what kind of con she was trying to pull. When he realized it wasn’t a con, but real, it frightened him but made him feel warm inside at the same time. Her response was unheard of in his world. “The man wasn’t worth your tears. He was going to turn you over to slavers.”

“Oh God, Riddick! I left the emergency beacon broadcasting on the H-G, if Owens was leading us into a trap, it’ll tell his partners exactly where we are! We gotta abort and get that thing turned off.” She pushed past him to see what damage had been done to the systems check. It was running, but much slower than it had been. They were going to be stuck in the skiff for at least another hour and a half, unless they did something.

“We’ll be long gone by the time they get here.” He grinned, but it looked more like a death mask. “I’m sure they’ll be invited to the eclipse party, for dinner. All that should keep them too busy to bother with a small shuttle, parsecs away.”

“I don’t think I can take many more surprises like this one,” Fry rubbed her temples as she tried to make sense out of all that was happening.

“Sure you can tough-girl,” Riddick wanted to touch her, but held back. Her vulnerability was showing through the hard exterior he knew she liked to present to the world. He understood all about building an image and how important it stay in tact.

“Ya think?” She turned from him, taking the time he offered to regroup. Owens worked for raiders, the outcome of that made her shiver. Johns was a merc and a junkie to boot. Riddick, what was he? Certainly not the average murderer being taken back to Slam that Johns portrayed him to be? And her, what had she become? She was a coward and a potential murderer. This was truly the planet of the damned. What other surprises were in store for her? “Is anyone on this fucking planet what they seem to be?” She threw up her hands in frustration.

“I am,” he grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around. “Make no mistake about that, Carolyn.” He watched her closely as she digested what he was saying. He knew of at least one other surprise, but decided to keep it to himself for the time being. Jack was probably safer pretending to be a boy, and Fry didn’t need anything else to worry about at the moment.

“I didn’t lie to you. I got the shine job in the Slam, not for mining corbinite or millinite in the asteroide belts, or for one of those special ops units. All my life, until I went to Slam, I needed my vision. Colors were important, when I worked for the Company. I did things for them you can’t even imagine, but that was how I knew about the black box, so maybe it’s….”

“No!” God, he’s a Company spook. We’re all dead! She tried to pull out of his hold, afraid of him for the first time. But no matter how hard she struggled, he wouldn’t let her go.

“Yes!” His fingers dug into her shoulders as he spoke. She was afraid, he could smell it on her, but he had to finish this so she understood what he really was. “Go to work for the Company and learn a trade. You know the game. They test you and try you and play games with your mind until they find the one thing you’re best at doing. In my case it was death. They were good teachers and I am a quick leaner. But they didn’t like it when one of their trained assassins turned on them.”

“Let me go!” She lunged toward him with her fists raised, more afraid of him as a Company spook than she had been when she thought he was a mindless killer. But under that fear there was also anger. She realized that in those unguarded moments when he had been gentle, she’d been harboring a hope that there was more to him than he’d said. That his attitude was an act, but it wasn’t, not only was he a killer, he was the worst kind of killer, one that took money and killed coldly with thought and precision.

Riddick didn’t say a word; he’d been a survivor too long to let a little thing like an angry 98-pound woman get past his guard. His large hands wrapped around her incoming fists and he pulled them behind her back. In one quick movement he shifted and sent her crashing against him. She looked up in desperation, her eyes swimming with tears. It made his mind freeze and his body explode. There was a beating deep in him and he felt himself grow hard again. Temper and tenderness, all wrapped up in one neat little package, who would have thought it would make a woman so desirable?

“What’re you really afraid of, and why are you angry enough to come after me with fists?” He held her tighter as she struggled to get free.

“Let go of me!” She ground out. He had made her lose control and that made her more angry, than afraid. She was drowning in his scent and touch. He was making her feel things she had never felt before and part of her wanted to hate him for it, but she couldn’t.

“You’re afraid of you, and losing control, because you know with me there is no control,” he growled and felt her nipples push hard against his chest.

“No,” she whispered in denial, though it was as if he had read her mind.

“Yes,” he whispered and pulled her closer, trying to still her in his arms.

“Please, let me go,” her breath was warm and sweet against his face, but she held herself stiff, trying to pull away from him.

“Is that what you really want?” The air around them grew heavy as she gave up the fight and let him take her weight completely.

“I…” she bit her lip as doubt gnawed at her.

“What color are your eyes, Carolyn?” The huskiness in is voice caught them both by surprise, as they recognized the familiar phrasing. Had he lost his mind? He had a desirable woman in his arms and it would take just the slightest sensual push from him and he would be where he had wanted to be since he first caught her scent. He would be buried deep inside her. What the hell was he doing, giving her a CHOICE?

“Ahh,” her voice faltered. Held tight against him she felt the hardness that dug into her abdomen, and flushed as she realized he could probably feel her nipples grow ridged against his chest.

“I don’t think we have any secrets form each other now, do we?” He grinned at her, but didn’t make a move, just watched her with his silver eyes that saw all and missed much.

The choice was hers. She would either give herself to him freely, or not at all. There would be no seduction or question of force. Wetting her lips she took a deep breath and stepped off into oblivion, “blue, my eyes are blue.” Her voice quivered as she realized the odds were great that he’d leave to her crash and burn on landing.

“We’ve only got about an hour,” his whisper vibrated from deep within him, as he ran his nose over her cheek and neck. One hand held both of hers securely behind her back, while the other searched for the zipper that opened down the back of her shirt. “I think we need to make it really count.” Was that the rasp of his voice or the sound of her shirt being slowly unzipped?

“Yes,” she shivered as she felt air on her damp skin, and his hand moving across her warm flesh to cup the side of her breast. “Ohhh,” in frustration she moved her mouth over his chest and up his neck, while trying to turn into his hand.

“Easy does it, Carolyn,” he wrapped both arms around her and held her close to his aching body, shaking with desire as her small pink tongue traveled over his skin.

“Please, I want to kiss you so badly,” she moaned as she rocked her hips against his thigh. She wanted so much more, but was unsure of him and of herself, so she followed instinct and kissed anyplace his skin was within reach.

A kiss, she wanted to kiss him? She WAS kissing him. That changed things. Whores tongue fucked, they didn’t kiss. His mind came to a screeching halt. This was what he had discovered before: Carolyn wasn’t a whore. Suddenly he wasn’t sure how to treat her. He freed her hands and holding himself apart, watched her face as the emotions played across it. He wished he could see more than shadows, so he wouldn’t do the wrong thing.

“What’s the matter?” She pulled back when she realized he was no longer participating, just standing, watching her. Suddenly she felt very naked, her shirt had slipped down her arms, exposing most of her breasts. “Where you just fucking with my mind?” She whispered and moved her arms across her chest, mortified that she had been so easily manipulated.

“It’s not your mind I want to fuck.” Then because she deserved the truth, he told it to her. “You caught me by surprise that’s all.” With a hand that shook slightly, he reached for her cheek and pulled her close. Leaning in he covered her lips with his. His first kiss, he hoped she didn’t realize. It was like drinking from a fresh clean pool of water. The longer the kiss lasted the deeper he drank. Letting her fill him with a cool freshness that made his blood burn.

Slowly, slowly, he told himself as he ran his hands down her arms and peeled her top away until it fell somewhere in the shadows around them. His large hands kept hers captive as he pulled them behind her and used them to lock her hips securely to his.

“Oh yeah,” he murmured. He held her wrists tightly in a one-handed grip against the small of her back. Arching her hips against him and keeping her legs straddled snugly over a well-muscled thigh. Looking down at the beautiful blonde woman who trembled against him, as he ran his hand along the side of a small firm breast. Circling, circling, circling, until he filled his palm with one pink tipped mound.

“Ohhh,” little mewing sounds escaped her throat as she tried to move harder against his hand. But he had her too tightly in place. Her helplessness should have frightened her, but it didn’t, it only added to the passion that was sweeping through her.

“That feel good, Babe?” He watched her lips try to form an answer, but no words came out. Long strong fingers separated until they caught a swollen nipple between them, then closed tightly. His thumb moved in to play with the rock hard prisoner in his hand.

“Richard,” she moaned as sensations shot through her making her buck while he slowly played with what he had caught. If he hadn’t been supporting her, she would have fallen.

“Easy Babe,” he whispered as he leaned over to kiss her again. The sound of his name on her lips had made him weak in the knees, though he would never admit it, so he lowered them both to the deck. When he was seated, in the aft section of the skiff, between the benches, he held her securely to him with one arm, and reached behind her to pull off her boots.

Once her hands were free she dug beneath his shirt. Small strong fingers stroked his skin and worked their was around to his back. She pulled at the hem of his top, struggling to get it off him while his arms were locked around her. “I want to feel your skin against mine,” she ground out.

“I think that can be arranged.” He gripped Carolyn’s thighs to keep her splayed against him while she pulled the garment over his head. As his shirt disappeared into a dark corner of the skiff he lowered her beneath him and nibbles on her lips. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but he didn’t know how, or if it was even right. He was traveling down a different road with Carolyn. For the first time he wanted to give as much as take. Her small whimpers of desire had made him want to hear more. It had become vitally important to him to know that he was able to give her pleasure. Was it the planet, was she right, was everyone different here?

She ran her hands over his shoulders and chest, lost in the feel of his skin until she found his nipples. He moaned at her touch. His large hands moved through her hair and pulled her head back until his mouth covered hers. She had never felt so out of control or so secure in her life. Her body caught beneath his, she felt the weight and hardness of him pushing against her, even through their remaining clothes. Every time she tried to pull at the waistband of his pants, he pulled her hands back.

“Please, Richard,” she cried out as she rocked her hips against his groin, but still not able to feel him where she needed him most.

“Not so fast, Babe,” he looked down into her shadowy face and even with his shined vision he could see she was lost in passion. Her eyes huge and her mouth full and damp, the expression of want plainly written for all to see. But he was determined to set the pace for reasons of his own. Shifting his legs, he straddled hers and locked them together.

She had had a few casual affairs between runs, but she had never felt anything like this. “You gotta help me, please!” She begged, and pulled at the back of his pants again. She was drowning in need so intense she could hardly breath. All she knew was that she wanted his touch everywhere, and she would do anything to get it.

“I’m right here, with all the help you need.” He slipped both arms under her, arching her back and bringing her right breast against his mouth. “Now hold on tight and I’ll take you where you need to go,” his voice was a deep growl, making her moan.

Pulling her breast to his eager mouth, he felt her shiver beneath him. Her hands reached for his back and held him tightly, the only solid thing in her shifting world. He took a hard nipple between his teeth and pulled while he sucked. When his tongue moved over the taught bud he felt her nails dig into him as she bucked wildly beneath him, and screams of pleasure tore from her throat. He relaxed his mouth slightly until her screams subsided into moans, then his mouth tightened and he pulled and suck as his tongue flicked over the still hard nipple. Carolyn’s body exploded again as she was rocked with sensations, and held on tighter to the large body that covered hers.

His mouth nibbled his way to her left nipple and taking it between strong lips pulled and sucked while his nimble tongue danced over the hard nub driving her to the edge where a little nibble of sharp teeth pushed her over. Twice more he relaxed his hold, only to tighten again and send her body shattering in all directions.

“Oh my God, Richard!” She gasped, the sounds of her screams still loud in her ears. She held tightly to him while she tried to catch her breath. Her body was on fire from him and still she wanted more.

Her short nails had dug into his back, but it gave him pleasure to know he would have small crescent shapes under his shirt where she had marked him. He slowly lowered her to the deck then sat up.

“No!” She reached for him as he pulled away.

“Shhhh Babe, just rest, we’re not done yet.” He whispered and dug his hands into the waistband of her slacks to pull them off along with the scrap of lace that passed for panties.

He quickly slipped off his boots then stood and pulled off his own pants, before lowering himself to the deck beside her. He ran his hands over her body, marveling at the contrast between his darker skin and her petite paleness.

“Richard,” her eyes fluttered open at his touch.

“I’m right here, Babe.” He slipped his legs between hers and spread them. Then knelt between her thighs. She lay before him like a virgin sacrifice, his for the taking. Her eyes were glassy with an expression he had never seen before. Was this real desire on a woman’s face?

Grasping her hips he pulled her round bottom onto his thighs. The soft blonde curls between her legs were damp and glistening as his long fingers probed and touched, learning her inner self.

“Oh, please!” She cried out as her back arched and she bucked against his hand. The total vulnerability of her position only added to her passion.

“Soon, Carolyn, real soon,” his voice was like melted honey. She felt wet and slick, from desire, and it was making him throb with need. Her muscles relaxed around his fingers, deep inside of her. She was a small woman and he was a large man. He had deliberately done all he could to prepare her for him. His touch verified what he had suspected before; it was going to be a tight fit. It gave him an odd feeling of pleasure and pride to know that if he hadn’t taken care with her, she would have only experienced pain.

“Now!” She gasped, unable to take his probing any longer. “Please, I need you inside of me.” Tears filled her eyes as she struggled with the animal need she was feeling. It was all about him, all about them. Her legs gripped him and she reached to touch him anywhere she could.

“Yes, now!” He lowered her to the deck and covered her body with his. “Wrap you legs around my waist. It’s going to be tight.”

“It will work!” She gripped his face in frenzy.

“That’s what I like, a woman with determination!” He laughed as she pulled his face to hers and kissed him.

She felt him hard and large, touching her wetness then probing, until he slid inside her. She gasped as he filled her deep and hard. “Ohhhh yes,” her words were lost as he perfected the art of kissing, their tongues dancing against each other.

She was warm and wet and very tight around him. He tried to rock slowly, but her hips moved to meet his thrusts, increasing the pace and intensity. In that moment he let go and instinct took over. His hands roamed, fingers pinching and caressing as her legs locked him deep in her. Then he felt it, the quivering deep in her core and she began to throb around him as she cried out his name over and over again. He held her tightly as she exploded in his arms and then he followed her over the edge.

“You’re so beautiful,” she whispered as her brain cells finally began to reconnect. She knew her face was covered with tears, but she didn’t care. “That was so beautiful. I never knew it could be like that.”

Me neither, Babe, me neither! The blood pounded in his head, as he tried to get his mind around what had just happened.

For a moment Riddick rested his weight on Carolyn as he fought to pull back into his shell. He could feel her raspy breathing beneath him and her body slicked with sweat. It made him want to hold onto her tightly, as he’d done when her orgasms had ripped through her. Instead, he balanced on his elbows and put some distance between them.

“Richard!” She murmured, as he would have pulled out of her. Her arms, which were still wrapped tightly around him, moved down his back. Her small hands dug into his buttocks keeping him locked between her legs.

He could have easily broken her grasp and freed himself, but the feel of her body wanting his and the way she called his name were too much for him to push away, though he knew he had to do something before he lost his edge. There was something about the woman beneath him that changed all the rules.

“Our time’s almost up,” he whispered in shock as her lips moved over his bicep and she kissed her way to his shoulder. It made him itch to feel her mouth move over other areas of his body as well. All he really wanted to do was fold her close in his arms, but he knew that was a dangerous road that he didn’t want to take.

“They gotta be wondering where we got to.” He looked down at her naked body below his on the hard floor of the skiff and knew she didn’t belong there. Her pale skin contrasted with his deep tan; her petite frame overshadowed by his larger one; and her dented soul fragile and new compared to the blackened pit that was all that was left of his. What did she want? And how could he possibly give it?

“Just another minute, please,” her nose ran over his chest and drank in his scent. The adrenaline was still rushing through her veins and all she wanted to do was feel him against her. He meant safety and comfort. She didn’t question it, because she knew too soon they would be back to work and she would be alone again. The systems check had cut them off from reality, so for now, she held tightly to the man who had been strong enough to cut through her reserves.

THIS HAD TO STOP AND STOP NOW! “If we’re quick, we can work it in,” he forced himself to chuckle, as he reached back and grabbed her wrists pulling them high above her head. Using his hips to pin hers roughly to the ground, he stretched her out below him. The shocked look on her face only served to strengthen his resolve. “Ya gotta remember that when you play with the animals, you might get bit.”

“No! Stop.” She tried to pull out of his grasp, but he ground his hips into hers, in a rough parody of their earlier dance. She fought the desire he was fueling even as it caused tongues of fear to lick at her senses. If he hadn’t warned her what he had in mind, the flash of bared white teeth would have. She bucked, as she watched his mouth move to her right nipple that was still sensitive from the last time his lips had covered it, and growing harder by the moment. This time there was nothing gentle about him as he bit and pulled, causing her scream to echo throughout the soundproofed skiff. Wild uncontrolled need pounded through her.

“What’s the matter, Carolyn, don’t have the stomach for it whore style?” He could hear her ragged breathing and knew he was missing something. Her scream had carried a note of fear, but it was mainly surprised desire. She didn’t have to tell him no one had treated her like this before, it was written all over her face. Why wasn’t she running scared? He pulled back and tried another tact. “One fuck is much like another, but ya gotta admit that there are some things that add spice to it.” He pulled hard enough on her wrists to send a quick shaft of pain through her shoulders before he rolled off her, his words dripping with distain. “Naaa I’ve never been one for rape. Give me an EASY woman any day.”

“You son-of-a-bitch!” She shouted. Still in a haze of want, she reached for the oxygen tank on the bench above them and aimed it at his head. His words had been a slap in the face. She had been easy for him, even when he had turned it rough she had still wanted him. The thoughts shamed her, but worse than that was what he had made her feel. He had let her feel safe. Let her feel that there was one person she might be able to trust on this damned planet. Worst of all, in her exhaustion she had let him get closer to her than any man had before. She had given him a peek at the Carolyn Fry that lived beneath the cool exterior of the Docking Pilot and he had taken what he wanted, then slammed the door in her face, laughing at her as he did it.

He easily deflected the incoming tank and grabbed her fists as they followed on the heels of it. The anger on her face was what he had wanted. What he knew how to deal with. He was back on safe ground.

“Are you sure you really want to try that?” His voice poured over her like honey mixed with ground glass. He felt her slight tremor as he looked pointedly at her bare breasts, inches from him. “You’re way out matched in this game so if I was you I’d watch my temper.” Neither of them questioned why he had warned her off, instead of just taking what each knew would have been his if he chose to take it.

“Just let me go,” she ground out between clenched teeth. “Just let me the fuck go!”

Fry grabbed her clothes and moved to behind the pilot’s seat where she quickly dressed. She could feel him at the other end of the skiff and it was making her hands shake so badly that she fumbled the zipper up the back of her shirt. She froze when she felt two large hands move hers aside.

“Don’t you touch me!” She turned on him in temper.

“I took it offa you, I’ll refasten it.” He turned her around and carefully moved the zipper into place and slid it up the length of the shirt; they both ignored the shiver that followed his movements.

He cupped her shoulders and turned her toward him. “You’ve been warned twice, now. That’s once more than I usually give. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating me again, Carolyn. I am what I am. Maybe this is one time you should believe Johns.”

“Go to hell, Riddick.” She threw back her head, her chin raised and a deadly look in her eyes. But it was the glint of tears as she quickly slid into the pilot’s seat, to put more distance between them, that caused his hand to reach for her, before his mind kicked in and he pulled it quickly back.

…………………………

The green hull integrity light began to blink and Riddick knelt beside Fry’s chair to quickly reattach the cover to the computer. “When we get back to the Hunter-G, I’ve got to have time to put the box back where it belongs and make it look like it hasn’t been tampered with.”

“But why? The ship crashed, it could have been damaged then, or the pirates could have gotten…” she felt a shaft of cold fear as he shook his head.

“No, believe me on this Carolyn, sometime, somewhere, the Company will come into possession of this box. When that happens someone like me will be sent hunting you.” He watched her absorb what he was saying, as he reached for his discarded goggles and slipped them over his eyes. “You think those aliens out there are scary, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

But she had, she had seen Richard B. Riddick in action. He was scary all right, but not for the reasons he though; for what he did to her peace of mind. She tried to tell herself it was only the planet, but she knew there was much more to it and him than that. So she took the only sane way out and slammed the doors on all that had happened between them. “So we aren’t going to tell the others what we found out?

“Not yet.” He stood and put the box in his pocket. “The raiders are too far away for us to worry about at the moment. Once we get this skiff launched will be time enough to figure out what to do.” He leaned over the back of her chair and whispered in her ear, “besides, Carolyn do you really want the others to see all that’s on this box?” He shouldered the oxygen tank and unlocked the skiff’s doors. His words were left hanging in the air behind him as he sauntered into the sunlight.

………………………..

It had taken a bit of searching, but Carolyn found Johns in a storage area behind the Coring Room. She watched him quietly from the hall as his trembling fingers opened what appeared to be a shotgun round and pulled out a spike. It turned her stomach to see him carefully inject it into the inner canthus of his eye.

“So who are you really?” She strode into the box and barrel lined room, and began digging in Johns’s ‘ammunition’ box . “You’re not a cop are you?”

“I never said I was.” Johns leaned back enjoying the buzz he was getting as the morphine sang in his veins. This was his favorite time, when the drug was fresh and new, giving him a high that said all was right with the world. He was damned if he would let the bitch interfere with it.

“You never said you were a fuckin’ hype, either.” She couldn’t believe she had ever thought the dazed lax man in front of her was attractive! It made her skin crawl just thinking about him, now.

“I don’t see the problem. You have your caffeine in the morning and I have my morphine.” It sounded logical to him, maybe it would get her to leave him alone.

“It becomes a problem when you let Owens die the way he did!” A little voice shivered across her mind reminding her of her own guilt in the matter, but she ignored it. “You’ve got enough drugs here to stop a fuckin mule train. Owens shouldn’t have had to die screaming!”

That was the last straw, Johns grabbed Fry’s wrist and pulled her close. “Sure it isn’t what he was screaming when he died that’s really bothering you, Carolyn?”

“Let go of me.” She wrenched her hand free and took a step back. “You’re nothing but a hyped up Company sanctioned assassin, and I’ve been letting you roll the dice with our lives.”

“You figured that part out too, that’s too bad.” He stood and moved slowly toward her, the morphine having lulled him into a false sense of power. “You been talkin to Riddick?”

“What the hell does Riddick have to do with this.” She stood her ground. She had been pushed by one big man already today, and she was damned if she would let another get away with it.

“Well you were talking about assassins, I thought maybe you and Riddick were doing a head count.” He grinned at her as he saw the fire explode in her eyes. “I’ve killed a few in my days, but old Richard B., well he puts me to shame. Then there’s you, Docking Pilot Fry, how many deaths were caused by you? There were easily forty passengers and you were going to dump us all!” He laughed at her outrage. “If you add in the crew, like your old friend Owens, that puts you in Riddick’s league.”

She moved so quickly his morphed out minded didn’t see her coming. Her right hook landed squarely on his chin, followed by a left upper cut that took his breath away. She swept his legs out from under him, but he brought her down with him. He got in one punch to her left jaw, but she had seen it coming and pulled back, so it landed, but didn’t do much more than bruise the skin. Grabbing him by the shirtfront, Fry dug her right knee into his neck just below his adam’s apple. She was taking in great gasps of thinned air and adrenaline pumped through her veins. Two men, the words kept playing in her mind as the fight with Johns was superimposed with her time in the Skiff with Riddick. Two damned men sending me into adrenaline overload because they wanted to get physical. Well you shit head; I can be physical, too!

“If you ever fuckin touch me again, you’ll find out if I’ve got it in me to be a murderer!” She let him go and stood over him, daring him to try something with her again. “Now I got work to do.”

You’re dead, bitch! His mind screamed as she turned her back on him and left. But first he had time for one more spike.

……………………………

When Riddick had left the skiff he looked longingly at the windmill and the small amount of water it was producing. He could smell Carolyn on his skin and clothes and it was twisting his stomach into a knot. He would have gladly gone thirsty to wash her fragrance off of him, but he knew that no amount of scrubbing could do that. He needed distance and anger. Setting his jaw, he knew he was a mean enough son-of-a-bitch to pull it off, or at least he had been before she had dared him to tell her the truth about Zeke’s death.

Shaking his head at the mess he was in, he saw Imam, Jack, and the two boys in a circle where they had buried the kid who had died a few hours earlier. He reminded himself to keep an extra watch on Jack. By not telling Fry she was a girl, he had taken on responsibility for the child. What the fuck? He wasn’t a man who took on responsibility. Damn you Carolyn!

“Mr. Riddick,” Imam called as the children went off to load water onto the skiff. “Is everything all right?”

“How would I know, Holyman?” The big man looked at the older one, trying to figure out what game he was playing.

“You know a great deal more than you’re telling.” Imam had seen him come out of the skiff, followed by Fry moments later, and they had both looked troubled. More than a systems check had gone on in that locked ship. “The skiff is it not the life raft we had hoped it would be?”

“We gotta get the other power cells here first, until then, that things just another place to keep out the monsters.” Yes, in there he had found a place where the monsters didn’t live, or at least he had, until he had brought them in to scare away Carolyn, but she had been much harder to scare than he had expected.

“Monsters?” The black man raised an eyebrow. “An interesting choice of words. Have you ever wondered what a Holyman is before he looks into the face of God?”

“No Father, I can’t say I have,” Riddick looked around wondering where Carolyn had gotten to, he had seen her leave the skiff a few minutes after he did.

“You should, you might be surprised what you….”

Riddick could feel the sudden change in the light and he stopped listening to the drivel Imam was trying to preach. He turned and saw the large ringed planet appear on the horizon. Time was running out.

The voices of Imam’s boys could be heard frantically calling for ‘the captain.’ Riddick turned from the awe-inspiring sight of the huge planet rising, his eyes darting to the entrance of each building. Where the hell was she and why didn’t she come when the boys called her. Suddenly he realized that Johns was nowhere to be seen either, and a knot formed in his stomach.

The rattle of a door opening to his right caught his attention. She stood in the entrance, her hair disheveled and a bruise forming on her left jaw line. She had had bumps and bruises from the crash and her fight out of the hole. He had seen each and every one of them in the skiff. Though he had been rough with her toward the end, he knew every place he had touched her and just how hard. This one was new! The hackles rose on the back of his neck as he met her eyes. How much more damage did Johns do?

Carolyn could read the question on Rich…Riddick’s face as clearly as if he had shouted it. She shook her head and shrugged. As she moved past him, he reached for her hands and saw the smattering of blood and broken skin on her knuckles. I can take care of myself, her expression challenged.

“We gotta get going!” She pulled her hands from his and pointed toward the sky. “Time’s running out.”

…………………………..

Riddick waited for Johns until the last minute, then he ran for the Sandcat. Let the fucker die here, he thought as he landed on the moving vehicle amide the frenzy of the group. Carolyn had been right, they were out of time. A noise to his right, caught his attention and he turned and instinctively reached out, pulling Johns aboard. He smiled as he realized that she had also been right about taking care of herself. Johns had gotten the worse end of that interchange. For the moment he would let him live. But if there had been any doubt in his mind that Johns would die, it had ended when the spiker had dared put a mark on Carolyn.

 

Ch. 4 Born To Endless Night

As the Sandcat raced the darkening sky to the crash ship, all eyes except Shazza’s were glued to the spectacle of the huge ringed planet rising over their right shoulder. It was going to be a close run, but the dark-haired woman had been handling equipment like the ‘cat since she was a child. Zeke’s death had turned the bouncing trip over uncertain ground into a personal vendetta she didn’t plan to lose.

It took all her skill to maneuver through the canyon of bones and not lose speed, but she did it. The sand hills that followed were equally treacherous, but the ‘cat responded like the animal it was named after, and always landed on its feet. Her hands fought the wheel over each bump and rut-hole, until they skidded to a halt in the shadow of the dead ship. In another life, in Uncharted Territories she would be called a rogue Peacekeeper, who loved and was loved a lesser being, but here she was the Settler Woman, and bloody proud of it!

Jack leapt out of the vehicle and stood in awe of the spectacular show nature was putting on. Her brain told her it spelled disaster for them, but another part of her, that she had always refused to listen to, kept her rooted to the ground staring off to the horizon. She was a child who had seen little beauty and almost no kindness in her life, to be met by the stunning play of size, color and movement, left her speechless. It touched her and changed forever her yardstick of possibilities.

She was vaguely aware of the others’ frantic movements toward the H-G, and Paris shouting something, as he ran to the pod in the distance, but the teenager was still trying to process all she was seeing. It wasn’t until Shazza turned the ‘cat around and pulled it close to her, that the spell was broken. Danger, a little voice shouted in her brain. That was something she was well acquainted with, danger and fear. She mentally kicked herself for standing there like a tourist and not helping with the job that needed to be done. Since they had awakened from cold sleep the adults in the group had treated her as a person, instead of the indentured foster child she was. It was the first time in her life that grown-ups had shown her any consideration, and she didn’t want to let them down by acting like a scared kid.

In an attempt to do something to help, and to take her mind off the coming darkness, Jack jumped into the rear of the Sandcat. She pulled a rag from her pocket and wiped the dust off the cover on the solar battery, winning a reassuring nod from the woman in the driver’s seat. It surprised the young girl how much the small gesture form Shazza calmed her fears and helped steady her nerves.

All the while Riddick was pulling cells from the ship; he couldn’t get his mind off the black box in his pocket. Fuck we cut it too close! Gotta load the power. Gotta put the box back in place! In his hurry he hefts two 35-kilo cells, one on each shoulder, and hauled them out to the waiting ‘cat. But time had run out! Before he could head to the bridge and do what needed to be done, the dense rings that surrounded the huge planet slid past the sun, signaling the beginning of the eclipse.

The results caught them all by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. One minute there was the whir of the solar battery, the pounding of running feet, and of heavy cells being dropped in the load bed, the next all was quiet, as nine people stared at the sudden fall of twilight. Shazza softly cursed as she tried to make the ‘cat’s engine jump to life without fuel. A fruitless task, but one she couldn’t stop herself from trying anyway.

Then they heard it, the voices of the damned as they began to sing. Fry paled as she recognized the clicks and pops that accompanied the almost mechanical hum. She had heard the sound twice before, once in the Coring Room, and once as it echoed back at her from the depth of the hole where she had gone in search of Zeke’s body. Even though she had seen the destruction the creatures could reap, she was pinned in place by the delicate beauty of hundreds of them as they arched skyward. She thought she heard Richard whisper something, but her senses were too overloaded by the sights and sounds in front of her to hear what even he was saying.

It was Imam’s voice that finally caught her attention. “’Every night and every morn, some to misery are born. Every morn and every night, some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to sweet delight; some are born to endless night. We are led to believe a lie, when we see not thro’ the eye, which was born in a night, to perish in a night, when the soul slept in beams of light.’”

At first she thought the Holyman was intoning a prayer, but the words played along her brain, until their meaning sunk in, and she began to tremble. She bit her lip to keep from calling out the man’s name that meant safety. He had made it clear he wanted no part of her, and she refused to make a fool of herself again.

She didn’t remember Paris’s frantic call, or running toward him. She had felt a surge of adrenaline, her legs pumped and her heart raced. Then she was standing with most of the others in the protection of the pod, while Richard and Shazza were trapped on the ground half way between them and the ship. Her mouth went dry as her lips moved in silence, “please Richard don’t move, stay put, stay, both of you.”

Time alternately crawled and flew as she watched the scene that was played out on the desert floor. Then the waiting was over! Hundreds of the bird-like aliens swooped and dove around the two left in the open. In her fear Shazza had tried to out run them, and in a blinding second she was torn apart, meters from safety. The moment played over and over in Carolyn’s mind. She saw clearly what it must have been like for Zeke, and what was in store for all of them, if something wasn’t done quickly.

The others moved inside the pod, but her legs would hardly hold her. It was too easy to picture Richard being carried off in bloody pieces as Shazza had been. Leaning against the door to catch her breath, she hoped she looked casual instead of scared. Her eyes glued to Riddick’s slow walk toward her. Then there was only him and the quiet all around them.

He had seen fear before; it was a byproduct of his trade. He thought he recognized it in all its forms, but the look on Carolyn’s face was something new. He slid his goggles off to see better in the darkening shadows, but it didn’t help. She was scared, almost too scared to stand, but it wasn’t of him or the aliens. It was a kind he had never encountered before. He wanted badly to reach out for her, and wipe the panicked look from her face, but he stopped himself. When the noises started again, he took a deep breath as they both turned to stare out into the darkness. It had been a close call. If they hadn’t been interrupted, he knew she would be in his arms, and he had worked too hard in the skiff to let that happen again.

“Richard, what is it?” Carolyn watched blindly as the sounds grew to crescendo proportions “What is it now?”

He was lost in the site of the creatures breaking through the spires of mud and rock that had protected them from the light. Thousands of them began to take to the air, escaping their underground prisons. Riddick’s stomach knotted when he realized that he had sent Carolyn down in one of those things, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the beauty of their dance as they gloried in the night. It was easier to watch the monsters from hell weave complicated patterns in the sky, than to face what was really bothering him and deal with the woman whose scent was making him hard even as he stood there watching death dancing high above them.

“Like I said, it ain’t me you gotta worry about.” He had his bad boy attitude tight in place, so he turned back to the woman close beside him. It surprised him to find her looking with fascination into the distance that was too dark for her to see. The haunting fear of a minute ago replaced with determination.

“I never did worry about you, until five minutes ago.” She whispered. The sound of his voice had shifted her attention back to him. Her hand moved of its own accord and touched his lips, causing the tough expression on her fact to crack, and become open and soft, filled with remnants of the fear he had seen before.

“Carolyn,” he rasped out her name as he reached for fingers that he wanted to kiss, but refused too. As the last of the light faded, it hit him like a blow to the back of the head; the fear on her face had been FOR him! She had stood there, and had worried about him when he was trapped out on the sands. It humbled him to the morrow of his bones, and he was glad for the total darkness as the last of the sun slipped behind the ringed planet. Only he could see in the blackness that followed, so if his face wasn’t as schooled, as he would have liked, it didn’t matter this once.

She was badly shaken; he had seen it in the last of the light. It was a mirror of what he was feeling, and he wasn’t sure how to deal with that. Death had whizzed past him so close that he could smell it and for the first time in his life, it mattered. Because it did, they needed to get in-doors. He didn’t want to break off contact with her so he reached for her cheek and lightly caressed it as his arm moved around her. For a moment he felt her lean against him before she took a deep breath and turned in his arm. Together they took the first step toward the pod. His hand rested on the small of her back; her shoulder tucked gently under his. As they moved to safety, he knew that something had changed for Richard B. Riddick, and that frightened him more than anything else on this planet.

…………………………..

“Remember the bone yard? These just may be the fuckers that killed every living thing on this planet.” Johns held up a light as the group gathered together, a few feet from the entrance to the pod, the door locked tight. Then the noises started. They sounded close, almost inside the cargo carrier, as well as all around the outer walls.

Riddick scanned the interior, but even his shine-enhanced vision couldn’t pick out any movement in their space. As he moved away from the light to get a better look, he felt Carolyn close behind him and held out his left arm to keep her from moving ahead. He didn’t question why he needed to protect her. It was a delicate balance between caring too much and keeping her at a distance. He was a man who didn’t know shit about being delicate, and even less about caring!

Her slim hand gripped his arm and for the first time he had a taste of what it was like to face danger with someone standing beside him. He looked down at her face close to his shoulder, and could see she was afraid, but would have pushed ahead, if he had let her. How could fear of the aliens make her stronger, while fear for him had made her almost helpless? It didn’t make any sense. Fear was fear, wasn’t it?

Carolyn felt Richard cover her hand with his as they moved. She trusted him to be their eyes, but she wouldn’t let him search alone. When she bumped against his back, and his grip tightened on her hand to keep her close at his side, she knew something was very wrong.

Standing complete still, with the light from the group behind them Riddick could feel the danger ahead. “Come on Johns, you got the big gauge, why don’t you led?” He pushed at the man who was standing safely behind all the others, while holding the large automatic shotgun.

“I’d rather piss glass,” Johns called out as the group separated and the clicks and scratches intensified, a few feet in front of Riddick and Fry. Here’s my chance, he grinned as he raised the weapon. Take them both out in one shot! Get the bitch and the convict! Yeah! His morphine deprived mind roared in tune with the shotgun blasts.

Riddick quickly tackled Carolyn and hit the deck. He tried to take the impact of the fall with his body before he rolled her beneath him. The bounce and ping of pellets whizzed over his head, and the screech of one of the creatures being hit caught them all by surprise.

“Sorry about that boy, didn’t mean to cut it so close.” Johns’s voice echoed through the pod in the silence that followed. Damn I missed! Need a spike, before that crazed killer comes after me! I won’t miss then just need that spike.

“Damn idiot!” Riddick shouted as he ran his hands over the woman beneath him to be sure she was unharmed.

“Don’t.” Carolyn whispered as she gripped his shirtfront. She had felt his shift in weight and knew he was going after Johns. “Don’t give him the excuse.”

He nodded, because he knew she was right, but hated it. “You okay?” He rolled off of her and pulled her to her feet.

“Yeah, thanks.” She smiled at him then threw back her head and marched the short distance to Johns. “You fucker! What kind of idiot stunt were you trying to pull?” Her eyes shooting fire as she gave the redhead a thump on the shoulder. “Now give me that gun before you hurt someone with it.”

“No way Fry!” He ground his teeth and stared her down. In the light from the flashlight he could see the bruise he had put on her jaw and his hand itched to repeat the performance. “This is my shotgun. If you want it, it will be over my dead body.”

“That just might be able to be arranged.” She stood on her toes so she was inches away from his face. His eyes were bloodshot and she could see a twitch at the corner of his mouth. He was out of control and it worried and disgusted her.

“Ha,” he laughed. “We both know you got it in ya, but can you do it with an audience?” He sneered, as she grew pale. Oh Carolyn, I know just which buttons to push with you. You’re mine now bitch.

“People, we really should be moving along,” Paris watched nervously as Riddick moved further into the pod, followed by Hassan. Imam was frantically trying to cut through the wall, into the next container while he kept a close watch on Jack and Rashad, but he stopped a moment and nodded approval to Paris.

“I think we must assume that there are move of those things in here.” The Holyman returned his attention to his work. The more afraid he was the more he had been praying, but somehow he found that keeping his hands busy kept his fear at bay better than all the prayer in the world. Ahh so that is how You answer my prayer, he smiled to himself and concentrated on the torch with more diligence. God was telling him to work, so work he would.

“Must be a hull breach,” Fry moved behind him and held a light to make his job easier. She smiled at Rashad and patted Jack’s shoulder. “How you doin, Jack?” The young boy was broken up over Shazza’s death. It seemed out character, but who was she to judge anyone’s character.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the pod seemed to change. A strange fear gripped Carolyn and she looked around and did a quick head count. Riddick and Hassan were missing! “Richard,” she called out, not realizing she had used his first name.

“Don’t stop burning,” his deep voice answered. Its slow quiet cadence made her shudder.

Riddick’s soft words were the signal for all hell to brake lose. A high-pitched scream, and running feet, punctuated by the odd alien clicks and pops, filled the air. Johns moved in the direction of the noise, his light shining brightly in front of him and his shotgun raised. For one moment he had the satisfaction of hearing Riddick gasp in pain as the bright light hit his uncovered shined eyes. So sorry about that boy, the bounty hunter mused as he continued down the aisle and began shooting anything that moved.

Ten minutes later they were barricaded into the last compartment of the pod. Riddick watched as Fry did her usual head count, a look of sorrow crossed her face at Hassan’s lose, but he could tell she was relieved that only one had died. He was proud of her as she went into action and began inventorying their light sources. He knew as she did, that their only hope of survival was to get back to the skiff.

“The plan, we stick to the plan!” Fry tried to reassure the others.

“Those things are phobic about light, I say we sit here and wait until the sun comes back up.” Johns was damned if he was going to let some bitch that scared too easily gamble with his life.

“I had the impression from the model, the two planets were moving as one and there would be lasting darkness.” Imam’s words painted a picture of calamity on an Old Testament scale.

“These suns have got to come up sometime. We just sit tight and let the sun come up.” Johns needed a spike and his fingers itched to reach for the cartridge container in his pack, but he couldn’t until he had a moment alone. That wasn’t going to happen as long as Fry was pushing them to move on.

“I’m sure somebody else said that, locked in that Coring Room.” Her challenge was written all over her face. From the distance Riddick wanted to warn her that Johns was too close to the edge to be pushed, instead, he stepped closer to the merc incase he needed to intervene.

“We need to think about everybody now, especially the kid, how scared’s this boy going to be out there in the dark!” That sounded good to him. Make her look like the selfish bitch she was.

“Don’t use him like that!”

“Like what?” Johns played dumb.

“As a smoke screen. You deal with your own fears!” Fry realized there was no way around it. It wasn’t going to be pretty. Better now, then out there, halfway to skiff. Nip this coward in the bud right here and now!

Riddick stood and watched as Fry fought Johns for control of the group. It had the potential to turn real nasty, so he carefully gripped the handle of his shiv, incase words weren’t enough of a weapon. Moments later he saw the slight movement of the shotgun, but only because he was standing almost on top of the merc. What surprised him the most was that he had taken an involuntary step forward, and to the left. He had blocked the gun with his body. For a moment his head swam as he realized what he had done. Then he felt the cold muzzle of a side-by-side digging into his neck.

A smirk crossed Johns’s face at the joy he would get from blowing Riddick’s head off. Why didn’t the man look afraid? He had him? Johns watched as Riddick pushed his goggles up to his forehead and smiled. It was then that he felt the slight tapping on his crotch. It made his blood run cold as he lowered his eyes and saw Riddick’s shiv point moving against his balls.

“This solves nothing!” Imam shouted at the two men, then turned to Fry. “Are you sure you can get us there, even in the dark?”

“No, I can’t, but he can.” She looked to Riddick. Their eyes met for a moment. It frightened him when he thought of the trust she was putting in him, but he nodded slowly as if seeing her for the first time.

Johns stood back and watched the interchange between the man and the woman. What was going on here? What had he missed? Then he remembered earlier she had called the bastard Richard? Though his blood cried out for a spike, he hadn’t been born yesterday. The pieces began to float in slow motion through his brain. Riddick had been missing while she did that long systems check. She had mumbled something about having some problems with it, but had never explained what took her so long. When she had attacked him in the storage room and pinned him with her knee, he had thought the scent of sex on her had been his own wishful thinking. Why you disgusting bitch, he grinned. If she was desperate enough for a fuck that she’d screw that scumbag convict, it should be easy for him to get a piece of ass before he killed her. Maybe even while he killed her, that’d be a real ball banger!

And Riddick, how could he use this to twist the knife in him before he killed him? Johns grinned at the larger man’s back, as he thought of the implications of what he had just seen. The convict had been willing to take the hit for his bitch. Not once, but twice he had stood between the woman and a shotgun. Was the icy killer using her or had she been hot enough to break through the man’s barriers? Who’ee Carolyn I’d hate to be in your shoes when the shit hits the fan! I got you both now.

………………………..

The trip through the night to the Hunter-Gratznia went better than any of them could have imagined. It added weight to Fry’s claim that they could make it back to the skiff. For the first time since Shazza died, Jack felt renewed hope. She knew she had let her tough guy attitude slip, but so far they all still believed she was a boy. She smiled to herself at her stroke of genius: imitating Riddick. At the time she had shaved her hair and donned the look-alike goggles, she had told herself it fit with her image of a rebellious teen-age boy. Now she realized it had been more than that. The Convict was the strongest personality she had ever met. On the run as she was, she needed all the illusions of strength she could muster. Since she knew the adults better, she realized that she was safe with them even as a girl, but a lie once started took on a life of its own and there was no stopping it.

While most of the group removed the internal lighting from the ship, Riddick went to the bridge. He was tempted to turn off the emergency beacon, to lessen the chance that the ship would be found by anyone, but as long as it broadcast, it would give the raiders something to concentrate on while they made their get-away in the skiff.

He worked quickly trying to repair the damage that had been done when he removed the black box from its complicated circuitry. He knew he could put it back, but if there were an inspection of the console anyone with a bit of knowledge would be able to tell that the box had been removed. He rocked back on his heels to weigh the possibilities. Which would be the less damaging to Carolyn? Leave a box that had been tampered with, a sure signal to the Company that it had been found; or remove it? The second option had the advantage of destroying any evidence of Fry’s actions during the crash. But a missing box was something that the Company would never allow. He had a real fear that either way a Company spook would be sent hunting her.

“Boy?” Johns broke into Riddick’s concentration. “What you doin up here?”

Riddick acted quickly. He turned and blocked the other man’s view of the console, as he reached in and removed the black box. “Just looking for some more light sources.”

“Ya find any?” Johns didn’t believe him for a moment, but couldn’t figure out why else he would be on the bridge.

“Nothing useful.”

“Well git, then. I’m sure there is something you can do for Carolyn.” The merc had come to the bridge for the privacy he needed for a spike or two. “She sure is something else isn’t she?” Now he had the convict’s attention, and he planned on using it to his advantage. “Likes her sex a bit on the rough side, not something you’d expect for a little thing like her.” He winked in a way that spoke of things that men talked about only between themselves. “But then again a woman would do almost anything to keep from getting her neck sliced with a shiv.” He grinned and rubbed the side of his jaw; he knew Fry had a bruise to match his. Johns’s eyes glowed as if to say, makes you wonder what she was doing with me in the storeroom, and how she really got that black and blue mark.

His stab in the dark had hit home. Well what do you know, she’s a real whore, not only lets him put his convict hands on her, but likes it rough. It had been an easy guess, a man like Riddick wouldn’t know anything but rough, in that the two men had the same tastes. The added pleasure of seeing Riddick’s face turned to stone, made Johns feel powerful for the first time since he lost the argument with Fry.

………………………..

Johns injected a second spike into his eye and leaned back against the wall of the bridge. He knew the others were waiting for him, but he didn’t care. If they were going on this foolish trip he needed all the courage he could get. He looked up and saw Fry at the top of the steps staring at him. His mind did a spin as he hoped it was eating Riddick up to know she was up here with him. He would do his best to drag it out.

“You give him the cells and a ship and he’ll leave all of you.” Johns watched her as he spoke quietly, trying to reason with her.

“I don’t get it Johns, what is so God-damned valuable in your life that you’re worried about losing, ‘sides your next spike?” Her disgust was written all over her face as she watched him slowly stand and move toward her, his shotgun raised.

“You’d be surprised, Carolyn.” He whispered as he pushed the double-barrels against her navel. It was giving him a hard on to watch the cold metal against her bare skin. This time there would be no fistfight.

“Get that thing away from me!” She glared at him.

“What you goin’ to do, kill me? You already threatened that once, and so far I’m still breathin’.” He shoved the gun tighter against her, forcing her to step back. “You know what I think? I think you’re nothin’ but a chicken shit whore. You think you bought your way to safety with that body of yours. It’s a damn fine body, Carolyn, but when Riddick is through with it, you’ll be just as dead and he’ll have the skiff.” He pulled his gun aside and grabbed his pack, as she stood motionless, the blood rushing out of her face. “Now I think the group is waiting for us.” Her nodded toward the stairs for her to lead the way, it took all his effort not to laugh as he followed her down and found Riddick watching them as they descended.

When they headed out into the night filled with monsters, it wasn’t as they had planned it. Johns had skillfully added a few extra ones to their load. In his drug hazed condition it increased his feeling of power to see the doubts he had placed. He only had to wait for the right moment and he would send Fry and Riddick crashing.

…………………………….

Riddick led the way and he was glad the others didn’t see what he did. It was going to take all his ingenuity to get them through the maze of aliens. Maybe it would keep his mind off the dead feeling inside of him. He called himself every kind of fool for listening to Johns’s words, but they had just enough of a ring of truth to make him doubt. The further away from the H-G they got, the more cracks formed in the fragile link he had forged with Carolyn. He had to stop thinking about her like that. She was Fry not Carolyn! If she had used him, she would pay.

 

Ch. 5 The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

The group moved like an asthmatic neon spider across the desert, with Riddick ten paces in the lead. He wasn’t sure whether it was the low oxygen content in the air; his shined purple tinged view of the creatures, which waited for a wrong move on his part; or some combination of both, that added a surreal quality to all he was seeing and feeling. But whatever it was, it was intensified by the echo of Carolyn’s name in his head.

Trudging on with determination, he refused to listen to the words that clawed at him to be heard. For a small space of time she had made him feel things that he had thought were long dead. She had given him hope that he could become human again, and had breathed life into his soul. It was too easy to see the passion that existed between FRY and Johns. In public it showed itself as antagonism, but in private, what form did it take? The question ate at him, even as he did her bidding, and led the group back to the skiff.

Was this what she had wanted all along? Had this all been part of a plan? Was Johns right? Fuck! Had he let himself be used? It would explain why she hadn’t been afraid of him in the skiff. Why she had given herself to him so easily, and hadn’t even tried to fight when his lovemaking had turned crude. Had he been wrong; was she like all the woman in he had known? Had she been willing to trade her life for a fuck, even one that was degrading? If that were the case, she would find that it was a short-lived trade.

He took a deep breath and tried to fight off the feelings that argued with his twisted logic. Gritting his teeth he pushed aside the gentle times between them and called them manipulation. It was easier to imagine that the reason she had been so afraid for him, when she had watched Shazza die, had been because she had known all along that he was the only one who could get them back to the skiff in the dark. And the passion? Well women could always fake that. Cold rage whispered in his ear and fought to win back parts of him that had begun to change by wiping away the memories of things she couldn’t have faked.

It was more comfortable to fall back on the old familiar patterns, than the new ones Fry had brought out in him. It was like slipping on an old damaged coat; one that knew the contours of his soul and was a sure protection against anyone getting close enough to hurt him. She had let him believe in her, and given him a moment of hope; for that alone, she would pay dearly.

Carolyn’s eyes were trained on Riddick as he led them through the dark. She knew something was terribly wrong. What had happened to the man who had made love to her in the skiff, exciting her body even when he was trying to drive her away? The cold distant man, who was their eyes in the night, couldn’t possibly be the same one who had seen her fears at the pod, and had been gentle enough to offer a piece of his strength before the terror began again. She was a woman who stood alone. Who had never let herself depend on anyone, but over the last hours she had begun to depend on him. It surprised her the pain it was causing to realize that she had probably been used.

Was Johns right, was she just a puppet, and a convenient body, until they had enough power to launch the skiff. She hated to believe anything the spike junkie had said, though ever since they loaded the cells for the return trip, Richard had looked right through her. His odd shined eyes cold, and his face hard. Was she just another transport pilot to be killed, when it was time for him to make his get-away? If that were true, she knew that when he finally drove his shiv into her, it would be less painful than having him rip out her emotions as he was doing now. He had made her feel like a woman and she had acted like one, for the first time in a long time. Now she was paying for it with a woman’s feelings.

As she forced her thoughts back to the present, she realized she had begun to shiver. The sand beneath her feet still held some warmth, but since the suns went behind the planet, a chilly wind began to blow. The dropping temperatures would keep them going faster than the earlier heat had, and that was all that was important. Fuck the self-torturing doubts, they would get her nowhere. It was the future that was important, and there would be no future to worry about, if they didn’t keep going.

Paris gasped for breath as he moved along with the group. He had never been a brave man. All his life he had hidden in his antiquities, satisfied that he was safe as long as he kept himself surrounded by art and beauty. Even after they crashed, he had convinced himself that his only worry was too much sun and the inconvenience of a delay. That fiction had lasted until the Settler woman had been torn to bits in front of his eyes an hour ago.

As they wandered in the dark following the bouncing light a few feet in front of them, he was proud of the battle he was waging, to keep the fear that was licking at his soul from consuming him. He knew he was walking a thin line between madness and sanity. If his cowardice was let lose, he would very likely run screaming into the night, and the demons that had followed him all of his life would win. If that happened, what would have been the use of art and beauty in the first place.

Concentrating on the light from his welding torch, he murmured one of his favorite lines from Homer’s Iliad. ‘So they spoke, and tall Hektor of the shining helm shook the lots, looking backward, and at once Paris’ lot was outshaken.’ It always gave him false courage to imagine himself as the warrior Paris from that epic poem. But it didn’t work this time, because the torch suddenly gave a gasp of brightness then died. He tossed it aside in a show of bravado, and reached for the box of lights on the sled beside him. But his nerves were shot, and he fumbled the flashlight as his hand closed around it. The sound of its metal casing bouncing off into the dark made him freeze, as panic won out. Everything else seemed to happen in slow motion.

Jack moved to retrieve the fallen light. Fry screamed out Jack’s name; and Imam took a flying leap, to cover the teenager’s body with his own. As the first monster attacked from the sky, the sounds that filled the air were a combination of shouting voices, shotgun blasts, and the alien’s clicks and pops as it swooped and swirled over its prey.

It was too much for the terror filled antique dealer to take. He knew he had to get away from the source of his fear, but it was all around him. His actions made no sense, but at least he was doing something. With his eyes closed, he crawled as fast as he could away from the chaos. He didn’t hear the others shouting his name, calling him back. He didn’t realize he had shorted out the lighting structure they had created. Death was very near, but even that was better than the unending terror.

In his mind he had became the Paris in The Iliad. As he crouched a distance away from the group he took a swig from the bottle he was holding, as he waited for the daughter of Zeus to find him. He knew the lines, what was taking her so long? ‘But Aphrodite caught up Paris easily, since she was divine, and wrapped him in a thick mist and set him down again in his own perfumed bedchamber.’ The flame from his lighter exploded as he exhaled 45 proof breath. Then he knew the truth! There was no goddess, only monsters and death!

Riddick had stood and watched as Paris lost his battle and it killed him. The monsters tore the little man apart as savagely as they had Shazza. In that moment the convict knew he was NOT going to die running from those things. If it came to a showdown, he would face them with his shiv in hand and he would not die alone!

“Do I even want to know?” Carolyn moved close behind him, staring where Paris had been seen last. She needed Richard’s nearness, since she couldn’t have his touch, but she would be damned if she would admit it. In the background she heard Imam consoling Jack, and knew he could probably take better care of the boy than she could.

“It all depends on what you’re askin’ ‘bout.” He turned toward her for a moment, his face unreadable, then walked away, leaving her staring at his back.

Johns smirked as he watched Riddick ignore Fry; it made him want to laugh out loud. The expression on her face was almost as good as the look of fear that had crossed it earlier, when she had rushed to get to the kid, and had momentarily stood in front of his smoking shotgun. He had been taking out aliens, and had almost taken her out, as well. It had been a close call. He had had to force his finger away from the trigger, but in that moment of seeing her caught between the cross hairs, a better idea had formed. It would be payback for the both of them in one stroke, and if it worked, he would chain Riddick back up and collect the double reward for bringing him in alive!

The little interchange between the two also proved the big man had moved back into self-preservation mode. Without his help, it would be easy to topple Fry and take control of the group. All Johns had to do was wait for the right moment. Lights were being lit all around him so he reached for a torch to help.

That’s when they found it, the markings in the sand from the sled. They had been over this ground before and didn’t even know it.

“Are we lost?” Imam looked up with his light.”

“Listen…” Riddick called out.

“Do you even know where we are?” The Holyman shouted, his anger clear in his voice.

“LISTEN!” Riddick shouted again. This time they did, and could hear the voices of the creatures around them growing louder and louder. “The canyon ahead, I circled it once to buy some time to think.”

“I think we should go now.” Imam had seen the expressions of terror on Jack’s and Rashad’s faces. If they waited much longer the children would be frozen with fear.

“I don’t know about that.” He nodded his head toward the area in front of them. “That’s death row up there.” Then he waited a beat, knowing exactly the damage his next statement would do. “Especially with the girl bleeding.”

“What the fuck you talkin about, she’s not bleeding.” Johns looked at Carolyn as if he would know.

“Not her.” Riddick’s whisper carried menace with it. The spiker had better not know that for sure! “Her,” he turned his head toward Jack, then gave Fry a half smile.

“Fuck no!” Fry moved closer to the young girl with her light held high. Her eyes darted between the teen and Riddick. He had known Jack was a girl all along and hadn’t told her! Why? She thought she could trust him. What else had he been keeping from her and why had he chosen now to go public with his knowledge?

“I just thought it would be better if people took me for a guy.” Jack looked around at the shocked and panicked faces that were staring at her as if she had sprouted two heads. And to her horror she felt her eyes begin to tear up. “I thought they might leave me along. Someone is always messin with me.” She bent down and cried, for herself and for the people who had put their trust in her.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Fry knelt and put her arm around the child wanting desperately to pull back her harsh words, as the implications of what the girl was saying hit home. If the situations were reversed she probably would have done the same thing, so how could she blame her? “Shhh, its okay.” Her anger boiled close to the surface. How could Riddick have used Jack as a pawn to further enflame the group? He couldn’t have chosen a worse time to expose the teenager.

“They been after her from the minute we left the ship. In case you haven’t noticed they’re drawn to blood.” Carolyn heard Riddick talking while she tried to comfort the girl. It infuriated her that he had kept this information from her, when she had been making decisions that affected all of them. It was too late to second-guess herself, but she wasn’t sure she would have made the same choices if she had known.

Carolyn surged to her feet, fighting self-doubt for the first time in her life. It had been one thing to attempt this dangerous venture when she had thought she had Richard’s support. Without it she felt empty and lost. Damn him for fucking with my mind!

“This is not going to work!” She whispered as she walked toward the men. Her eyes shooting angry bullets at the man who had shaken her world, then walked away as if nothing had happened. “We have to go back. I was wrong, I admit it.”

“You’re the one who pushed to get us out here in the first place.” Johns smelled weakness and was moving in for the kill. “I was just starting to enjoy all the fresh air and wide open spaces!”

“What are you, high again?” This was the last thing she needed, a power struggle out in the open, in the dark. “Just listen to yourself, Johns!”

Riddick stood back and watched. He had felt the anger Carolyn had turned toward him, but sloughed it off. After all it wasn’t his responsibility. But deep inside it hurt to watch Johns go after her with ammunition he had provided.

Imam sighed in disappointment at Riddick’s actions. Was the man learning nothing from this experience? Didn’t he see that the small blonde woman he had just thrown to the wolves had the power to lead him to salvation? He waited as long as he could for God to show the other man the way, but when it appeared that the convict was refusing to see the chance that stood before him, he stepped in. “She is the Captain, we should listen to her.”

“Listen to her? When she was so ready to sacrifice us all?” It gave the merc a heady feeling to be able to bring Fry down in public. “During the crash she tried to blow the whole passenger cabin. Tried to kill us all in our sleep.”

“Shut your mouth!” She lost control as he jeered at her. Her shameful deed was out in the open for all to see and it broke her heart that Richard just stood there and watched with a cool detached expression.

Johns’s eyes were cold as he drove the verbal shiv home. “We’re just fuckin disposable, we’re just walking ghosts to you.”

She looked around frantically, knowing that she had to make him be quiet. “Just shut your fucking blow hole,” she screamed as her eyes fell on a twisted piece of long dead bone. She reached for it and threw herself at the grinning man. The bone aimed for his head with all of her might, but at the last moment, she pulled back, unable to do what she wanted so badly to do. She didn’t know which was worse; the desperate need to smash his face in, or the sure knowledge that she didn’t have it in her to kill him.

Johns grabbed her wrists as the bone whizzed past his face. Her actions couldn’t have been more perfect if he had written a script for her. “Now, Carolyn, wouldn’t that be a bit more public than you like it?” He ground out, as he squeezed her hand so tightly that the bone fell from her grip. “I think you just lost this round!” His voice dripped with contempt as he threw her to the ground and knelt to grasp her by the front of the shirt.

“Let me go you shit!” Her nails dug into his hands.

“Is that the worst you can do?” He shook her once before he let her go, and stood tall over her. “I seem to remember you sayin you’d kill me if I ever laid my hands on you again. You’re really a pitiful site Carolyn, all threats and no guts.”

Riddick’s head came up like a shot. What was this? She has threatened to kill him if he touched her again? Was this more of the game she was playing, or had Johns been manipulating them both? He couldn’t take he eyes off of her, as she lay there broken, on the ground. He had been partly responsible for it, but it surprised him that he would give it another thought. And what was causing him to hurt so badly as he watched her cry?

Johns grabbed a flare and popped it against his knee to light it. God he felt good, bringing the bitch down had been almost as exhilarating as a spike. “The verdict’s in, the light moves forward.” He couldn’t have said it any clearer if he had shouted it, the power had just been passed.

Imam and Jack rushed to the woman who was trying to pull herself to her feet. “We’ve all been scared,” Imam muttered as the two of them pulled her up, and each kept an arm around her for support. “There was nothing you could have done to save us during the crash, but you have done much for us since we arrived here.” Now the Holyman understood the demons that had been barking at the woman’s heels since the ordeal began. She had truly been forced to look into the face of God and she felt that she had failed. She didn’t understand that He never asked more than a person could give and all was done as He had planned it. The ending had yet to be written. So we will see, we will see.

“But..” Fry looked into his comforting chocolate eyes and drew strength from his serenity.

“Shhhh, there will be time for talk later. We must first make it to the skiff.” Imam smiled reassuringly and Jack gave her another squeeze.

Riddick and Johns had moved ahead. The others could hear them deep in conversation but couldn’t make out what was being said. Watching them from a distance made Fry’s skin crawled. Had Richard changed sides? Had he been just watching to see who won the struggle, then would support the winner.

Johns held the light high in a gesture to make the convict think he was being considerate of his light sensitive eyes. “If we could make it through the canyon and lose just one it’d be quite a feat.”

“Not if I’m the one.” Riddick watched the other man out of the corner of his eye. What was he planning?

“What if you’re one of five?” The cool way Johns talked it sounded as if he was choosing a sacrificial goat.

“You got someone picked out?” Riddick fought to keep from looking back at the group. He hoped that Carolyn was smart enough to pull them back. Johns was out of control and it was going to get very ugly.

“Well the way I see it we’ve got a few choices. The Holyman’s a pain in the ass, but we need him to help pull the sled. The kid with him is almost useless, but he’s strong and we’ve still got a way to go before we’re at the ship. That only leaves the girl and Carolyn.” He had worked this all out. It was necessary that Riddick make the choice on his own, it would add a sense of irony to the situation.

“Won’t you need Fry to pilot?” Riddick was getting a bad feeling where this was leading.

“I’ve got you, what do I need her for?” He tried to look sincere. Yes the convict would get them off this rock, but once in the shipping lanes and on autopilot, he figured he could take over. Then it was back in cold sleep for you Mr. Richard B. Riddick. “The advantage of using the little girl would be that they already have her scent and Fry has other more pleasurable uses than piloting.” He grinned man-to-man.

“There is that.” The deep rumble to Riddick’s voice should have been a warning to the other man, but it wasn’t.

“But she’s an argumentative bitch that always wants her own way. Besides she isn’t that good a fuck. And I don’t want to get into it with Imam if we use the child. So all you got to do is take Fry out. That’s not too big a job for ya, is it?” He smirked. Once he had Riddick back in custody, he would take great pleasure in telling him that Carolyn’s death had been planned all along. It had been obvious that the convict had cared about her. What fun to tell him that he was the main reason she had been chosen!

“I don’t know, as you said, she has other uses, and good or not, a fuck’s a fuck.” Riddick pushed, he was going to find out the truth here and now.

“Come on man, she’s not that good, besides you gotta dodge those flying fists first.” Johns could feel the need of a spike creeping along his nervous system. He didn’t want to argue this any longer, take the bitch out and be done with it. “Frankly I like a woman who fights back, but she’s nothin now. Broke her damn spirit. I could go back there and she’d give me head in front of the whole group just to be allowed to live. What’s the fun in that?” Too bad he wouldn’t get to do just what he was saying. But if he wanted Riddick to be cut with the same double-edged sword, it would have to be done differently.

“She did like to fight,” Riddick grinned in pleasure as he remembered the gentle lovemaking that was nothing like what Johns was describing. The fucker had to be lying!

“She sure did!” Johns rubbed his sore jaw. “She took a good swing at me before I subdued her. Ya got to admire a woman who can take it like that. Most of them crumple at the first sign of pain, but not her!” In his imagination he was letting his temper lose to get both sexual pleasure and revenge on the woman who had ignored him.

“Ya think she’s like that?” Riddick fingered his shiv as he decided where he would make the fist cut. The man was dead and didn’t know it.

“Oh yeah!” His feelings of power increased as he pictured the bitch tied spread-eagle for his personal use. If it had worked out that way it would have taken her a long time to die. In his drug deprived mind he wondered for a moment if there wasn’t a way that he could to that with Riddick chained as a witness. It would drive the man insane!

“Ya know what I think?” Riddick whispered and drew his shiv. “You’re a lying fuck and we need a much larger bait to keep those monsters distracted.”

From the distance Fry could see the light from shotgun blasts and hear the noises of a fight mixed in with the singing of the monsters. It made her blood turn cold and would have frozen her in place if she hadn’t seen the frighten looks on the faces of the others. “Back, we gotta move back.” She cried out even as her eyes were glued to the confrontation it was too dark for her to see. “Leave the sled, lets get outta here!”

The men tumbled and fought. Each knew that only one of them would walk away. Riddick gasped as his arm was dislocated, but he pulled free and wrenched his joints back into place. His shined eyes glowed in the night and he circled Johns, jockeying for the better position.

“You’re going to die,” Johns cried out as his shotgun was pulled from his hands and he pulled his knife.

“Only one rule,” Riddick panted. “We stay in the light.” He could see the creatures around them that Johns couldn’t. Whoever went down and couldn’t get back up was going to be dinner. He had no plans on it being him. For some reason he wasn’t getting the pleasure out of the idea of killing the bounty hunter that he had imagined he would. Though his shiv strokes were as sure as ever, something was missing. As he closed in for what would usually be the kill, he realized that he couldn’t face Carolyn with blood from a fresh kill on his hands. He didn’t know why, but it had something to do with her fight with the man, some new information. It confused him enough that Johns almost got a knife stroke past him. Shit, I’ll figure it out later or this bastard is going to kill me!

The clang of the knife against his shiv told him that he had successfully parried the incoming blade. He shifted tactics and circled until he was able to catch Johns by the back of the neck and pull him close. “You lying sack of shit! I hope they kill you real slow!” Then his shiv sliced along the other man’s side. Blood gushed as Riddick stepped back, giving the remaining flare a swift kick. It sent creatures scurrying as it bounced off into the distance, leaving Johns along in a circle of darkness as the hungry monsters closed in for the kill.

They were so attracted by the scent of bleeding that they didn’t notice Riddick slip past them, or stand and watch as they circled the panicked man. The two large males that had been fighting for the alpha spot in this flock, since the eclipse had begun, sliced at the injured human. Their claws met as they ripped off an arm, and the sounds of the man’s screaming filled the air. The battle began in earnest over the largest piece of meat they had found so far. As they pecked and tore at Johns, the two males took time out to lunge at each other. He had become the battleground to prove supremacy of the flock.

Each time Johns tried to crawl away, one of them would drive him back, until he finally gave in to shock and loss of blood. Sitting in a stupor unable to comprehend what was happening to him, the junkie waited for the end wishing he had one last spike to make it all disappear. When one of the males finally defeated the other, he celebrated his victory by giving a huge roar and filling his mouth with the head of the prize that was bleeding at his feet.

The sound of a bloodcurdling scream filled the air and made Fry stumble. She righted herself and listened. Shadows from the whiskey bottle lantern she was carrying, danced across her face as she prayed it wasn’t Richard that had cried out like that. Shivering as Imam and Jack looked to her for guidance, she turned to keep on running.

Riddick stepped out of nowhere and she ran straight into his bulk. For a moment she let her fingers dig into his sides as she was assailed with his familiar scent and the secure feel of his body under her hands. Then she remembered he was no longer the man she had thought him to be and pulled away.

Carolyn’s touch brought back all the feelings he had thought he had managed to free himself of. He wanted to stand there and let her small hands wander all over him, but her sudden withdrawal reminding him of the truths he had learned tonight. Johns may have lied about her being his lover, but it was so much easier to live in a world without trust. As he stepped back he realized that he felt safer keeping her at a distance.

“Run back to the ship huh?” He was calling her a coward and he knew it. An angry Carolyn was much easier to deal with than a caring one. “Just huddle together until the lights go out?”

“Stay away from us.” She yelled at him hating the things he was implying.

“Until you can’t see what’s eating you is that the big plan?” He had made them mad, he only hoped it was mad enough to save their own lives.

“What about Johns,” Imam held up his torch trying to look into the distance.

“He died a better death than he deserved.” Riddick turned away, but was stopped when Carolyn ran her hand down his arm to his hand and pulled it close to her. He could see a worry burning in her eyes and he wanted to push it away, but couldn’t, even if he knew how.

“You didn’t..?” She hated the thought that he might have killed because of what the man had done to her. There had been too much hatred and death in his life. She didn’t want to cause him any more grief.

“Naw, but he might have been better off if I had.” He brushed his other hand lightly against her cheek as her eyes closed with relief. The emotion that washed across her face was completely foreign to him. If he didn’t know better he would think she was relieved that he hadn’t taken the man’s life. Dead was dead, no matter what the cause, why should it matter to her. Then he remembered his own doubts about killing Johns. Ahh Carolyn you’ve got my head spinnin, he sighed. He got them all moving forward before he could give it anymore thought.

When they got to the mouth of the canyon, Riddick called a halt to check things out. He examined the body of a dead alien and to his delight found a blind spot. “Fuckers got a weakness.” He grinned then looked up at Carolyn. “Always know your enemy.” Was he talking about her, or the creature, a little voice whispered in his head?

Imam approached the man who had become their leader. He had much to say and little time to do it. “Should we pray together? I’ve already prayed with the others. It is painless you know.”

“Pointless!” Riddick spit out as he kept a watch on the canyon entrance.

“Just because you don’t believe in God, doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in you.” There was much work for him to do if he was to make the man understand. It was the only way both he and the woman would be able to find peace. One was the key to the other.

“You think someone can spend their life the way I have and not believe? Got it all wrong Holyman. I absolutely believe in God and I absolutely hate Him!” The anger and loss were clear in the convict’s voice.

“He is with us none the less.” So that was the problem, the man was in despair. Salvation was within his grasp, if he would only look up and take it.

“Two of your boys are already dead. How much faith do you have left, Father?” What he had meant as an insult came out as a question.

“As much as it takes to get the job done.” Imam looked the man in the eyes willing him to listen to him. “I asked you once before, what do you think a Holyman is before he looked into the face of God. You never gave me an answer.”

“I never gave it much thought.” Riddick shrugged the question off as he did the last time.

“It is time you did, because God is staring you in the face and you are refusing to look back!”

“You think I’m goin’ to be a Holyman?” He laughed at the notion. It was the most absurd thing he had ever listened to.

“No, Mr. Riddick.” Imam laughed as he pictured the rough looking man in turban and robes. “I doubt that is what God has in mind for you. I’m just saying that not all of us are what we seem. I know a man who was a murderer. But he wasn’t brave enough to kill as you did. He did his killing from behind the locked doors of an office. He gave the orders for others to die and never gave it a second thought. He sent men such as yourself out to do his dark deeds. He was a truly evil man, until one day he was forced to see God. Surely if a man such as he could learn to believe, then so could you.”

“What if I don’t want to!” Riddick was tired of the questions and the odd feeling that there was something very important about what Imam was saying to him.

“It would be truly unfortunate, because you hold the key to another’s peace of mind.”

“Enough!” Riddick couldn’t fight his inner voices and Imam’s too. “We can sit here discussing religion until those fuckers come for us, or we can get moving. I for one, choose to move on!” He stood tall over the Holyman, refusing to hear more. “Only see one way, that way.” He pointed toward the narrow opening to the canyon of bones that they had driven through that afternoon. They all knew it was only slightly wider than the Sandcat had been. There was almost no margin for error.

“What about the cells?” Imam patted Rashad to give him reassurance and smiled at Jack.

“I’ll take them.” Riddick looked Carolyn full in the face. He wanted to promise her that the cells were for all of them, but he wasn’t a lier, and he knew that the truth still hung in the balance. So he reached out and gave her hand a squeeze hoping she realized that he would do his best.

“Are you sure you can keep up?” She whispered as she clung to the hand that still held hers.

Damn those blue eyes that worried FOR him. It twisted his soul and made him want to do things to her body that would knock that trusting look off her face. Instead he shook his hand free of hers and pulled his goggles over his eyes. “MOVE!” He shouted. “Just keep the girl between you!” His body ached for Carolyn, but he had to get her away from him. Put some distance between them, before he rolled her beneath him, and proved once and for all what an animal he was.

The ropes around the cells dug into his hands as he pulled them along. If he concentrated on the pain they were causing, maybe he could keep his mind off the woman in front of him. This can’t be, he shouted to himself. She can’t do this to me. I refuse to feel anything, again! The hurt had been too great when he had believed Johns. It had almost cost all their lives. He couldn’t let it happen again.

They ran the maze of bones in the canyon, making good time, until suddenly a huge flock of the monsters came swooping around the next bend. The group scattered as far as the steep walls would allow, but there was almost no place to hide from the screaming diving things above them.

“Do not look up!” Riddick shouted as he kept running.

“They’re killing each other.” Fry gasped as it began to rain blue glop. To her horror, she watched as a swarm of them clustered around Richard, but to her relief, he refused to give into them and kept moving.

“Wait,” Jack called out as she saw the man pull ahead of the group. He had out run the monsters, now he was out running them.

Riddick refused to listen to the voices behind him. He would be home free if he could make it a bit further. What did he need them for? But something in him hurt as if he was bleeding. He couldn’t stop himself from looking back over his shoulder and what he saw made his blood run cold.

Jack had fallen and was huddling under a small arch of bone as Carolyn tried to fight off two monsters with only a whiskey bottle lantern. In that moment he knew he could never stand to watch her die. Pulling his shiv he turned and attacked!

Moments later the warm innards of the monster were laying at his feet. “It did not know who it was fuckin with!”

As Carolyn pulled Jack up, they were attacked from behind, and Rashad was pulled into the darkness, never to be seen again. In that second Imam felt his faith waver, but he looked toward Riddick who was grabbing the cells and moving forward. “I believe, I truly believe,” the Holyman whispered as they moved on.

They hadn’t gone twenty paces when the first raindrops began to fall. At first Carolyn thought it was more of the blue glop, but they weren’t that lucky. She heard a laugh that sent a chill up her spine and realized it was Richard.

“So where the hell’s your God now?” He looked at Imam as they huddled by the canyon wall trying to keep the lights burning.

“All around us, my friend. It is our choice if we see Him or not.” He whispered.

They didn’t see the tentacle that was slowly moving above Jack. Didn’t know that they were in danger until they heard her scream as its knife-edge sliced her shoulder and arm as it tried to pull her up. But Riddick saw and he acted.

In one breath his shiv was in his hand and he lunged, cutting the slimy extension that would have taken the teen to her death. “Take care of her.” He shouted to Imam as he climbed the rocks to try and get a better idea of how far they had to go.

The teenager was almost paralyzed with fear. She could smell her own blood and feel it wet on her hand and arm where she had been cut.

“It’s alright Child, I’ll take care of you.” Imam pulled off his turban and unwound it to bandage the girl.

“Richard, are we close? Just tell me that the settlement is right there.” The panic in Carolyn’s voice made him lose hope. He had let her down. He had let them all down.

“We can’t make it.” He whispered as he turned to her. There was no ‘we’. That had been the problem all alone. For the first time in his life he had been thinking in terms of ‘we.’ Deep inside Riddick had known that he could never be anything but alone. Now all that was left was to prove it to the woman beside him.

His eyes raked the side of the canyon. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but when he found it, he would know. There it was, a space darker than all the rest.

“Here, in here.” He pulled aside a rock and motioned for the others to get in out of the rain and hide. “We go in here.” He could see Carolyn shivering as she pushed Imam, who was carrying Jack into the small space.

She stood in front of him, her hair plastered to her face and her teeth chattering. For one last time he leaned down and kissed her, before he shoved her toward the other two and rolled the rock back in place.

The pain that hit him was so intense that he doubled over, fighting to catch his breath. There, he had pushed her out of his life. Now he wouldn’t have to see her die. Why did it hurt so much? He fought his way to the cells and grabbed the ropes and began to run. Maybe if he ran fast enough he could keep ahead of the feel of her lips on his and the trusting look on her face, that was wiped away to be replaced with horror when she realized that he was leaving them behind.

 

Ch. 6 Inner Truths, Outer Lies

As the stone rolled in front of Carolyn’s face, it took her breath away. She leaned her forehead against the cold rock and shivered as her eyes fill with tears. He’d done it again, damn him! He’d played her for a fool, and she had let him lead them like lambs to the slaughter.

“God works in mysterious ways.” Imam’s deep quiet voice filled the small cave as he gently placed a hand on Fry’s shoulder trying to reassure her. The only other sound that could be heard was the distant calling of the monsters, and Jack’s quick frantic breathing.

“Why’d he leave all of us?” The teen questioned as she leaned against the rock, her arm throbbing with pain, the blood staining the bandage that Imam had wrapped around her wound. “He should ‘a just left me, not you guys!”

“No!” Fry turned, as anger replaced despair. Riddick had been twisting her emotions since they crashed, and she was drained, from feeling so much, in such a short time. Why hadn’t she seen it coming? ‘Because you didn’t want to.’ A little voice whispered back. “He shouldn’t have left any of us!”

They worked quickly to pour all the whiskey into one bottle, in hopes that it would be enough to keep the light burning, but for what? Fry didn’t want to think that far ahead. No matter what they did it wasn’t enough, the liquor had been diluted too much by the rain. All they could do was sit by helplessly watching as the light burned to nothing, and they were left surrounded by darkness and the cries of the monsters trying to get into their cave.

………………..

Riddick grinned as the rain pounded on his face. The mud that was quickly forming made him slip and slide, as he dragged the heavy power cells out of the canyon and up the last hill above the settlement, but he didn’t care. For the first time since crashing on this rock, he felt like himself again. “I’m the biggest baddest mother-fucker around,” he chanted to keep his feet moving, and his mind off all that he had left behind.

…………………

“Carolyn,” the quiet whisper made her jump. Only one person called her that, and he’d run away. It took her a moment to realize it was Imam trying to get her attention. “Look up there.” He grinned in the dark.

“My God, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful.” The ceiling and upper walls of their cave were covered with inch long worms that gave off an eerie green light.

“God, is right my dear,” he smiled as he helped Carolyn pull the little animals off the walls and stuff them in one of the empty bottles.

“Are there enough?” Jack watched them as they worked quickly. The loss of blood and the cold were making her shiver, but she didn’t want to appear weak so she wrapped her arms around herself to stay in control.

“That’s all there are,” Fry shook her head, the doubt evident on her face. There had only been enough glowworms to fill one bottle, and even as they watched one or two of the small lights grew darker and went out. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but it’s all we got. And from the looks of things we gotta hurry, or we won’t even have this.”

“It appears that once removed from their natural habitat, those creatures die.” Imam shook his head at the further loss of any living thing.

“You two go,” Jack whispered. “I’d just slow ya down, and with the way I’m bleeding those monsters’ll be on me as soon as I’m out that door.” She nodded toward the rock blocking the entrance and tried to look brave.

“No,” Fry was adamant. “We go together, or not at all!”

“Carolyn, Jack is right, we can’t all three make it without more light. I’ll stay with her, but you must go quickly, or there is no sense in any of us going.” He handed the bottle to Fry, his unsaid words left hanging between them. The fading light wasn’t their only worry. If Riddick weren’t stopped, he would take the skiff and leave them with no escape.

“All right,” Fry grabbed the bottle. “But I will be back!”

Imam saw the determination written on the young woman’s face, but he also saw the fear and doubt that she was fighting to keep hidden. “There is an old Earth saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

“Yeah, right, either that or He damns them!” She shot back. The Holyman’s words were a painful reminder of her past deeds. How could these people trust her with their lives when she had tried to kill them once all ready?

“You be the one to help us all, and God will be there when you need Him, my dear.”

Carolyn shook her head as she bolted from the cave. The rain pelted her as she ran, making her shiver from cold as well as fear. For the moment anger fueled her, and she was able to push aside everything but her goal. Once she reached it, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t collapse from exhaustion. Biting her lip, she ignored her doubts and kept moving.

………………………

Riddick was meters away from the skiff and freedom when the memories started. A gentle man who spoke of salvation and peace in both English and Arabic; a dark-eyed young girl that looked at him with admiration and trust; but most of all a petite woman who called him Richard.

“No!” He yelled and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. “I am Riddick! You hear me? I’m Riddick. Richard is dead, and has been for a long time!”

He picked up the pace and ignored the feelings of regret that tried to break through his badass demeanor. He was a cold-blooded killer and that could never be changed. For a short period of time he had tried to be someone else, but it hadn’t worked. He was what he was. Now all he had to do was prove it to those who thought otherwise. After all what were a few lives more?

Working quickly he punched in the code that he had seen Fry use to open the rear doors of the little vessel. As he stepped in, he was met by the scent of Carolyn. It was a fragrance that was distinctly hers, and it made his head spin and his blood pound. He knelt and touched the floor between the two benches. Had it been here? Was this the exact spot where she had quivered when he filled he? Listening carefully he thought he could hear her soft moans mixed with screams of pleasure. He gasped in surprise when the memory made him grow hard.

“NO!” Riddick surged to his feet. “She’s just a woman, like any other.” He gritted his teeth as he tried to forget what he had felt when her passions sprang to life at his touch. ‘It was a trick! No woman responded like that,’ it was more comfortable to believe Johns’s accusations than to listen to his own judgment. He moved quickly to the pilot’s seat and flipped on the lights, all the while telling himself it was to keep the aliens out, not to drive away any remnants of the past that might be lingering.

“She will not fuck with my mind,” he muttered as he worked with determination loading and locking down the power cells. If his hands shook, it was from exhaustion and hard work. A man like him didn’t feel remorse. A man like him didn’t feel anything at all, at least not if he knew what was good for him!

……………………..

“Jack you’re freezing let me help you.” Imam moved closer to the shivering girl.

“Naw, I’m okay.” She stiffened and pulled away.

“Not all adults are to be feared.” His voice was gentle, but his stomach tied in knots when he thought what the girl must have been through. “But you are correct to be wary of strangers.”

“I’m sorry, Imam,” she leaned against him and let herself be pulled into his fatherly embrace. “It’s just that…” tears overwhelmed her at his kindness, even in the face of her lack of trust.

“It’s all right, Child.” He patted her back. “I understand. I won’t let anyone hurt you, ever again.” God had seen fit to take the three boys who had been going to New Mecca for their Hajj. It fit Imam’s sense of symmetry that he should be given another, needier, child to care for.

“I’m not going back, ya know.” Jack’s soft voice was muffled against his robes. “You shouldn’t’ve stayed with me, now you’ll die too. I’d rather those aliens get me than be taken back into the system again.” A bitter laugh escaped her throat as she looked up at the gentle man who had protected her on more than one occasion during the long night. “I guess maybe I understand Riddick better than I thought.”

“And what is it you understand about Mr. Riddick?”

“That anything is better than being under their control.” Her words were spoken as if she was old and tired instead of young. “He shouldn’t have left us, especially not Carolyn, but I can understand why he did it. Even when someone cares as much about you as she does about him, staying free is all that matters. I might have done the same thing, so I am just as bad.” In a way she had. She’d pretended to be a boy when she wasn’t, and because of what was going on in her female body, she had been a danger to the group. In the past she wouldn’t have given a damn about the adults, but since waking from cold sleep she’d met people who had changed her perspective.

“None of us knows what we are going to do, until faced with the choices.” Imam had his own demons from the past. He had thought he had dealt with them and God had forgiven him, now he was beginning to wonder.

“No, you always know what you’re going to do, and it’s always the right thing.” She looked at him with complete trust. “If those things get me, you need to tell Carolyn that it’s better than what I’d face if I go back to the world. That way she won’t feel guilt about it. She was hurt bad enough because of the trick I pulled on you guys.”

“Don’t talk like that, Child, we are all going to make it, you’ll see.” He added a silent prayer that it would be true. “And you did what you needed to do to survive, no one blamed you for it, least of all Carolyn.”

Jack shook her head as tears filled her eyes. “I really was an indentured foster child, like I said back there. Looking back I know it was nothing more than slavery, but I didn’t know how bad it was, until I was here with you guys. I guess that’s one advantage of never knowing what normal is. You don’t miss it because you never had it. This planet has been scary as hell, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because now I know what life can really be like. I learned that from you, Shazza, Carolyn, and even Riddick.”

“You like Mr. Riddick, don’t you?” The Holyman smiled at the young girl. She still possessed innocence, despite the terrible life she had been forced to live.

“Yeah, I think I do,” she grinned back. “He’s like me, he didn’t know what normal was until he met Carolyn. But he’s old, so I don’t think he understands. He doesn’t believe she really cares for him.”

“You think there is something between Captain Fry and Mr. Riddick?” Imam had detected the attraction between the two from the beginning, but he was a man who had known love and passion, though it was a long time ago. He wondered what the girl had seen or heard.

“Oh yeah,” she chuckled. “They care. You can feel the spark whenever they’re within ten feet of each other. At first, I kept expectin’ him to do somethin’ real nasty with her, but he didn’t.” She shuddered remembering the things a man could do to a woman; then her voice grew gentle as she tried to express an idea that was totally foreign to her. “But if he ever does, it won’t be nasty, because it’s with her.”

It brought tears to Imam’s eyes, that a girl so young would know so much about the seamy side of life. He wanted to do something that would take away all the bad she had experienced, but at the moment, listening to her talk would have to be enough. He promised himself that if they got off that planet alive, he would do everything in his power to see she never knew anything but kindness.

“Riddick likes to boast about how bad he is,” Jack smiled, not realizing the distress the Holyman was feeling for her. “I think he does that because he’s worried that someone’ll care about him. He uses the badass routine to push people away because he thinks he’ll disappoint ‘em; or worse, he’ll start to care about ‘em, and they’ll pull away.” She didn’t realize until the words were out that she had just told Imam a great deal about herself. In the dark she couldn’t see his wise brown eyes, or the gentle nodding of his head.

“I was allowed to tag after him, ‘cause I’m a kid,” she continued. “But an adult is different, especially Carolyn. She’s special and he knows it. She doesn’t scare and she doesn’t take any of his bullshit. They’re alike, those two. Both of ‘em have made mistakes, bad ones, but when they’re together none of that matters, because being together makes everything right. The sad thing is, it scared the hell out of him, so here we sit, because he had to prove he’s no good, to a woman who understood the badness and cared anyway.”

“Unconditional love,” the Holyman muttered. “It’s a lucky person who gets it, and a rare one who gives it.” He grew strangely silent, as he felt a sadness that he’d kept locked away for a long time. He’d been one of those very lucky ones, but like Mr. Riddick, he’d been too foolish to take the prize that was being offered. Now he had the rest of his life to wonder, ‘what if?’ Shaking his head he forced a smile on his face and quickly changed the subject. “You’re quite a philosopher, young lady.”

“Naw, I’m not, and I’m not a lady!” she shook her head in denial. “When you’re on the run, you learn to watch people real carefully, and since we crashed, there hasn’t been much else for me to do but watch.” She leaned her head against the man’s shoulder and gazed around their tiny cave.

“Imam, look!” She pointed to the ceiling and the small greenish lights that were crawling out of the cracks of the rocks.

“Allah be praised!” He reached for the remaining whiskey bottle and began tearing at the label. “They’re more of the glowworms, they must live deep in the rock.” He watched as their numbers slowly increased. “Soon there will be enough, and we can make another light!”

………………………..

Carolyn stumbled up the hill that overlooked the settlement. In the distance she could see the shuttle. Her lungs hurt from lack of oxygen and her legs shook. She had pushed her strength to the limit in fear that she would be too late. Holding the glow bottle high over her head, she made a dash for safety as the rain poured down around her.

……………………….

‘Come on what’re you waiting for?” Riddick stood in the protection of the skiff, looking back out over the settlement. He was dry and warm and escape was only a second away. Moving with precision, he closed and locked the crash doors. Then slipped into the pilots seat, and began the pre-flight check. As the computer hummed, he looked up, out over the lighted strip in front of him, and his stomach did a quick roll when he recognized a wet, angry Carolyn Fry standing three shuttle lengths away. A whiskey bottle held high over her head.

Carolyn felt her heart pound as she looked at Richard. For a moment she couldn’t move. She just stood there in the bright lights and wait. The decision was his. Would he let her in? Something quaked inside of her at the thought. Why should now be any different, no matter what she had done he hadn’t let her in yet. Life for him was easier with her at arms length, well not always quite that far away. She quickly sprinted to the back of the skiff when she saw him turn and open the crash doors.

“Strong survival instinct, I admire that in a woman.” He stood in the warm dry skiff and watched her three feet below him. The rain pounded on her already soaked hair and clothes. She was pale from fear and exertion, but he refused to feel anything. Emotions led to all he had been running from the last hour, and he knew that if he let her pull him back, he wouldn’t escape. To keep himself from moving toward her, he gripped the door on either side of him and pushed as hard as he could. It kept his body locked in place.

Taking in big gulps of air to relieve the pain in her lungs, she looked up at the man who had come to mean too much to her in the last 48 hours. “I promised them we would go back with more lights.”

“Did you, hmmm?” He stood strong and immovable to her plea.

“What are you afraid of?” She shouted in exasperation. She was fast coming to realize that if she had to do this alone, they would die.

“Me? Afraid?” He laughed to hide the fears she made him feel. She was his one vulnerable spot, but he couldn’t let her know it.

“Come on Riddick, there’s got to be some part of you that wants to rejoin the human race.” She pushed wet hair out of her eyes, as she looked up at him, trying to find the very human side he had shown her the last time they were in the skiff.

He congratulated himself on not wincing when she called him Riddick, and put more steel into his voice as he watched her begin to crumble. “Truthfully I wouldn’t know how!”

“Well then, just give me more light and I’ll go back for them myself!”

“Okay,” he crouched down and tossed her a light belt. “There you go.” He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. There had to be a way he could have her and still remain in control. He dismissed one idea after another as he crouched in the skiff watching her slowly play with the belt.

“Please, just come with me?” Her voice had the same husky, needing quality as when she had begged him to hurry their lovemaking, but this time her face wasn’t contorted in desire, but pain and fear.

“I got a better idea,” he smiled as he looked at her. The answer had come to him: she could stay with him, if he brought her down to his level. It was the only way, since he didn’t believe he could rise to hers. “You come with me.”

Emotions flew across her face as she gasped for breath. Oh God no, please no. She shivered as the possibilities open up to her. For a moment all she could see was being with him. One step and she would be safe and warm, with him. But..but.. “You’re fucking with me, I know you are,” she accused, to give herself time to think.

“You know I am.” He stood tall over her, angry that she would expect so much from him. “You think because you fucked me, you know me. Well, you don’t! I will leave you behind!”

Shocked that she would be right back where she had been when she was dumped out of cold sleep, she leaned into her hands and cried. How many more times was she going to have to live this horror, and in how many different forms? Forced to make a decision between probable death, in a fruitless attempt to save others; or live knowing that she had never even tried. ‘Maybe she hadn’t survived the crash, and this was her own personal version of hell!’

“Step inside.” He had to do this quickly; it had caught him by surprise that it would be so painful to bring her down. When she hadn’t been able to kill Johns he had realized her attempt to flush the passengers had been a fluke, probably caused by panic, mixed with Cold Sleep Disorientation. But by that time it was too late, he had let himself become involved with her, thinking she was a kindred spirit. In reality she had just become lost for a little while. Now if he wanted to keep her he had to destroy her.

Carolyn fought the temptation to walk straight ahead into the warmth of the skiff, knowing the outcome if she did. Emotions beat at her as she crouched down in the mud and the rain, crying openly, not caring if Riddick saw or not. If she held tightly to the ground, she would be able to fight the need to go to him, to be in his arms where it was safe. “I can’t, I can’t,” she whispered as she won her battle for the moment.

“Sure you can. Here I’ll make it easy on ya,” he leaned and reached out his right hand for her. He was sorely tempted to pick her up and carry her into the skiff, but if he did that, the decision would have been taken from her, and her fall wouldn’t be complete. He carefully stayed in the dry well lighted shuttle, and kept his face blank so she wouldn’t see that he was in as much pain as she was.

Oh God, oh God help me, she cried to herself. She gasped for breath as she knelt and buried her face against her thighs. She had ended up just as she feared she would, the last time Richard asked her to make a choice. She had stepped off into oblivion and enjoyed the trip down, but here she was, left to crash and burn while shivering in the rain, and he watched calmly from the sidelines.

“Take my hand,” he didn’t know how much longer he could stand hurting her the way he was. “Come on. Look, no one is going to blame you. Save yourself, Carolyn.”

“No,” she whimpered, as she shook her head. “I…” ‘I’ll blame me!’ Screamed through her head.

“Come on,” he was on the edge. Either he brought her down now, or he left her, he couldn’t take the pain any longer! In long strides he moved down the entryway to stand beside her. Something crawled in the pit of his stomach, but he refused to acknowledge it. If he questioned his actions now, he would be lost. There was no way he could live in her world, so she needed to live in his gutter.

He bent and his hands circled her waist. Her wet clothes hid nothing from his touch. It took all his effort not to pull her tight against him. But he knew she still had to walk up that entry plank on her own. It was part of the deal as he saw it. He let himself help her to her feet, but that was all the help she could get from him until, she had made her choice. He remembered an old story from long ago, and the name Judas rang loud in his mind, but he closed it out as he watched her bent shape take a tentative step toward the skiff.

“That’s it,” he whispered, and wondered why he didn’t feel triumph.

Carolyn walked on shaking legs, one slow step at a time, up the gangway. She could feel a part of her tearing loose inside, and the empty space was filled with a coldness that had nothing to do with rain or lack of sun. She could feel Riddick keeping his distance behind her, and in that moment she began to hate him.

The loud cry of monsters in the night brought her to a complete stop. She had heard that before dying your life flashed before your eyes, maybe it’s true for a death of the soul as well. In that instant the last 48 hours sped through her brain. She saw all the people she almost killed and the ones that she had killed; her actions on the H-G and everything she had done on the planet to try and atone for them. In the end it all came down to five people: Jack, Imam, Riddick, Richard and herself.

She was being torn apart because she loved Richard, but Riddick was systematically destroying her. With the aliens screaming in the distance she made her choice, now he had to make his, and by God she was going to help him!

“NOOOOO!” She screamed as she turned with a roar and jumped two feet back down the entryway, landing on the man who had turned to look out into the night. The impact of her body on his right shoulder sent him skidding in the mud, where he landed on his back in a huge puddle.

“You! You listen to me!” She let her weight carry her on top of him, and straddled his body with her hands wrapped around his neck and thumbs pushed against his windpipe. The rain poured all around them, water running into their faces, and plastering their hair and clothes to their already wet bodies.

He lay mesmerized by the anger and passion that exploded from her. The broken woman of moments ago had disappeared to be replaced by one that roused his desires and awoke something in him he had thought long dead.

“I AM THE CAPTAIN OF THIS SHIP. I AM NOT LEAVING ANYONE ON THIS ROCK WITH THOSE FUCKIN’ THINGS, EVEN IF…” In temper she raised her right arm to hit him to emphasize her words.

Riddick had been a street fighter too long to miss an opening like the one she was giving him. He flipped her over backward, onto her bottom, and slid her around in the mud until she was facing him, then dragged her under him, with her legs spread. Her bottom sat snugly on his right foot that caught her left ankle tight between her groin and his leg. His right hand held her wrists securely to the left of her head, while he his left dug his shiv menacingly below her jaw on the left side of her neck.

It had been a close call what he would have done with her once he got her beneath him. His lips itched to kiss her and his hands to touch her, but now wasn’t the time. For the moment, holding her at shiv point seemed the safest thing to do.

Rain fell in her eyes as she blinked. One second she had been in control, the next he had her flat on her back in the mud, his body leaning threateningly over hers. Her mind kept shouting that they’d been here before, but she knew this was different. Despite the passion that was singeing the air, she was sure it was his blade that was going to be driven into her, this time.

“Get that thing off my neck,” she ground out. She was sick to death of his choices; it was his turn to choose.

“Shut-up!” He blinked rain out if his eyes, as he fought for control. He wanted her, God he wanted her, but in the amount of time it had taken to knock him on his ass, she had moved forever out of his reach. “You’d die for them?” He had to be sure, too much hung in the balance.

“I’d try for them!” She threw out a dare of her own.

“You didn’t answer me!” He saw what she was doing. He had been doing the same thing to her moments ago. She just didn’t realize that he was past the point of crawling out of the gutter.

“Yes I would,” she whispered. “I would die for them, Richard,” her soft voice carried conviction. She knew he might kill her no matter what she said, but she wasn’t afraid. He had told her once that there were worse things than dying, and the last 48 hours had proved it to her. She just might have a chance to win her soul back. Would he be willing to try for his? “I would die for them!” The challenge was clear in her voice.

“I believe you would, Carolyn.” As he flipped his shiv away from her slim neck, he realized she was shivering beneath him. Sliding his goggles to his forehead he saw that her mouth was tinged with blue and her skin covered with goose bumps. Never taking his eyes from hers he let her wrist slip free and pulled her up until she straddled his lap.

“Richard,” she whispered. “Thank God, it’s you.” Tears of exhaustion and relief poured down her face, as she burrowed against him. With his arms tight around her it was like coming home. “You feel so warm and safe,” she murmured as her lips reached for his. She wanted to stay there and never move, but it was neither the time nor the place. He held back, refusing to let her deepen the kiss, no matter how badly he wanted to.

“It’s all right. Babe, everything’s going to be all right.” He caught a handful of rain and gently cleaned her right cheek where he had shoved it in the mud. It was the only way he knew to apologize for what he had done.

“We have to go back.” She held his hand against her face and leaned into it. “And we have to do it now,” her laugh sounded a bit strained. “If I sit in one spot too much longer I won’t be able to get up.”

“We don’t have to,” he shook his head. “I have to!” He knew that he couldn’t let her go back out into the night filled with death. She was exhausted and he had only made things worse for her. If he hadn’t ran, they would all be safely off this hellhole.

“No, not alone, neither of us, along.” She insisted as she shivered against him.

“I’ll make it faster by myself,” as he spoke she kept shaking her head no.

“Damn, stubborn woman! You’re exhausted.” Did she doubt he would go back for them? “Stay in the skiff where it’s warm and dry. I promise I’ll go back for them.” He didn’t need to add that it was the only safe place to wait, but they both knew it. And damnit, he needed to start putting some distance between them.

“I never doubted you,” she held his angry face in her small hands and looked him in the eyes. “I,” she shuddered as she remember her frightening trip from the cave to the skiff. “I’m afraid, the trip here was so terrible. I can’t stay alone. I won’t slow you down, I promise.”

She looked small and frightened and nothing like the woman who challenged him moments ago. Had he done this to her? Had he reduced her to this? Pulling her to her feet he pocketed his shiv and looked down at her. “Time’s a wasting, if you’re going, we better get started. I’ll lead, you carry the light at our backs.”

As they took off at an easy run, Richard had to fight not to take her hand. He didn’t dare touch her, because he wanted her too badly. One thing his life had taught him was that the punishment didn’t always fit the crime. But in this case he figured he was getting off easy. He had been careless and cruel in dealing with Carolyn Fry, and he would spend the rest of his life wondering ‘what if.’ Gripping his hands into fists, to add steel to his determination, he faced his punishment: set her free, so that he could never harm her again.

 

Ch. 7 Midnight Courage Of The Heart

As he led the way back through the settlement, Riddick was amazed at how much more treacherous the footing had become since he had covered the same ground less than an hour earlier. The rain and mud was turning the sandy soil into a quagmire and he doubted he would have been able to drag the heavy power cells through it.

His shined eyes picked out aliens hidden in the dark all around them. The remembered scent of human blood, and taste of flesh had brought them back to the settlement in flocks. Their presence made the going rougher and the trail more difficult. With each step that brought them closer to the canyon, Richard wished that Carolyn had listened to reason and stayed in the skiff. He could hear her gasping for breath in the light oxygen atmosphere, but couldn’t slow his steps to make it easier for her. Against his better judgment he reached behind him and gripped her hand tightly in his. The feel of her skin against his added determination to his steps. Those things would not get her!

They crested a hill, leaving buildings behind them, and slid most of the way down. Three feet from the more solid canyon floor, Carolyn lost her balance and crashed into his back. Instinctively he reached for her, and pulled her close. Since he was unable to prevent their fall, he held her so he took the impact when they landed in the mud, then protectively rolled her beneath him covering her body with his, as they skidded to a stop under a nitch at the mouth of the canyon. Their fall sent the glow bottle rolling out of reach, and left them in the dark with a river of mud running against them.

“Do not move.” Richard whispered in her ear, as he looked up and saw two aliens less than ten feet away. He felt her muscles tense beneath him when his breath tickled her neck. Ignoring the seductive grip of her fingers as they dug into his chest, he slowly reached for his shiv. To his astonishment, the aliens hummed their song of death, but moved away from the two humans pressed against each other.

“What happened?” Carolyn looked over his shoulder, unable to see anything.

“I’ll be damned, they didn’t know we were here!” He slid them out from under the rocks and reached for the whisky bottle light as he pulled his goggles over his eyes. His harsh laughter rang out when he ran his hand in the ‘mud’ around them and got a better look at the woman beneath him.

“Well shit, Carolyn!” He gasped, trying to get his laughter under control.

“What is the matter with you?” She wondered if he was finally cracking under the stress.

“As I said, Babe, shit.” He ran his hand across her cheek and it came away covered in the same blue glop that had rained down on them when a huge flock of monsters had flown over them in the canyon.

“That’s disgusting!” She winced when she saw what they had landed in, and that the nitch that had protected them was acting as a catch basin for the run-off from the canyon.

“Not disgusting, camouflage.” He smeared a line of blue down each of her cheeks as he grinned at her. “Now you look like a merc when he’s trying to be inconspicuous.”

“Thanks a lot! You don’t have to be insulting.” She grunted and sniffed at the goo. It smelled oddly familiar and brought back memories she would rather have forgotten. For a dizzying moment she was back looking for Zeke’s body. All the terror of her search in the caverns hit her, and she couldn’t shake it free.

“Oh God, Richard,” she trembled and reached for the solid strength of the man beside her. When had the need for him become so great?

“Easy Babe,” his voice rumbled in her ear. They knelt together in the rain, surrounded by death, but he took the time necessary to sooth her. It rocked him to his core that she needed him, and even more that she would let it show after what he had tried to do to her. A man like him didn’t deserve second chances.

“I’m okay now.” Her voice caught, as she tried to extract herself from his hold and rebuild her image as tough.

“But maybe I’m not.” He gave up the fight and pulled her so close he could feel her heart beating against his chest. One hand was tangled in her hair as he guided her lips to his. Just this one last time he promised himself as he kissed her thoroughly, and wished for the first time in his life, that he were different.

The loud clicking and popping of the monsters brought them crashing to the present. As Carolyn pulled back, she quickly crossed her arms over her chest in an attempt to hide the evidence of her arousal. Even surrounded by danger he excited her. She was ashamed by her weakness, and overwhelmed by her need for him. Her mind frantically tried to remember what she had been about to say before he kissed her and wiped it clean. “You uh think… they uh… can’t detect us because of this stuff?”

“Somehow it must mask out scent.” He grinned and reached for the neckline of her shirt to pull it away from her skin. He felt strangely proud that he could excite her, as easily as she could him.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” She slapped at his hand, embarrassed that she hadn’t acted quickly enough, and he had noticed.

“That’s the feisty Carolyn I know,” he grinned, and then turned serious. “Can’t have you greeting Imam that way.” His voice rang with a tone he didn’t recognize, as he pointed toward her hidden breasts and nipples that pushed hard against the material that covered them. In the past it had never bothered him when his woman showed off her assets. He wasn’t the possessive type and had even been known to enjoy the occasional threesome. But Carolyn was different. No other man, not even a Holy one, could see her like this! His mind came to a screeching halt. ‘But she’s not yours, and never can be!’ A little voice shouted in his head.

“It’s from the cold!” She pulled her arms tighter around her to hide the truth. His slightest touch caused an ache deep inside of her.

“Yeah, right!” He challenged. She could try to hide it all she wanted, but when he had kissed her, their wet clothes had been an almost non-existent barrier. He had felt the instant response from her. If the monster hadn’t screamed out, he would have slide his hand under her top and warmed the sensitive flesh that had beaded against his chest, until she cried out in release.

“Well, what about you? That’s not a damn reaction to the cold!” She had felt him harden as they pressed together and it had taken all of her will power to pull away, when she longed to have him cover her body with his and slide deep inside her.

His laughter rang out at her accusation. “Hell, I’ve had a hard-on for you since I caught your scent, as far back as the crash. That fucker Johns had me chained, with a bit between my teeth, but I wanted you.” His voice had become dark and smoky as it caressed her skin.

“Richard,” she whispered and reached blindly for him.

“Carolyn?” His eyebrows twitched and he put steel into his voice, as he searched for just the right words. Things were getting out of his control again, and he had to get them back. “You think just one fuck party’s goin’ to take care of a need like that?” He watched his carefully chosen words hit their mark, as she blinked and fought to get her balance back. That’s it Babe, pull away from me. It’s the only thing that’s going to keep you safe.

Cold anger replaced the hot desire of moments ago. “Back to this theory of yours on the alien shit,” she ground out between clenched jaws.

“There’s something about human blood that says ‘dinner’ to these things, that’s why they’ve been following us.” He continued as if he had never been interrupted, but it took all his effort to keep from pulling her back into his arms and whispering words he could only guess at the meaning. “We’ve both got cuts and scrapes all over us, if they’d been able to smell it, they’d have attacked, by now. This blue shit, must be masking it, some way.”

“Jack’s arm is bleeding pretty badly, will it be enough to protect her?” Carolyn squinted in the dark to see how much of the stuff had flowed against the canyon wall and gotten caught in the U-shape of the rock. She felt empty inside. He kept leading her on, then pushing her away, and each time it became more and more painful. If all he wanted was sex, she wished he’d say so, and give her the right to choose for herself. For the moment, she couldn’t think about any of it. She’d take any strength he offered, in any form. Later she would face the truth, and pay the price, later when she wasn’t so exhausted.

“I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot.” He looked grim, as he tore off a section of his shirt and scooped a handful of the blue glop into it.

Carolyn reached over and covered her fingers in the Blue, then sniffed it carefully, mentally prepared for her reaction, this time. “I’ve smelled this before, and not just when I was looking for Zeke’s body. It was in the Coring Room, and the canyon. In fact this whole planet smells like this when the wind isn’t blowing.” She wrinkled her nose at the thought of millions of years of monster excrement that had piled up to give the sand and soil its odd smell and consistency.

“Yeah, the place is a real shithole! But those things out there can’t tell the difference, and that’s all that matters.”

He took a handful of the stuff and smeared it on Carolyn’s face and neck, while she did the same for him. It was a good excuse to touch her and he knew it, but for the moment, surrounded by death, he refused to acknowledge it. When they got safely back to the skiff, would be time enough to start his self-imposed sentence. All he had to do until then was keep her at a bit of a distance and he’d be all right.

The trip back to the cave was easier than they had expected. When they skirted the monsters, the aliens would sniff the air in confusion at the mixed scents. Their wings would move restlessly as they wondered what had passed them by, but they didn’t bother to investigate.

……………………

Riddick rolled aside the heavy rock blocking the cave and was met by Jack’s pale face and Imam’s smile. “Now that is my God, Mr. Riddick!” Relief was written all over the old man’s face.

“How you holding up, Jack?” Fry slid past Riddick and knelt beside the young girl.

“I’m okay, but I still don’t think I’ll be able to make it past the monsters out there.” She held out her arm with the bloody bandage. “You guys go without me.”

“We ain’t leaving nobody behind!” Riddick crouched and began removing the dressing from her arm. “Besides, I think we have a little secret weapon here.”

Imam used Riddick’s shiv to slice away a clean section of his robe and wrapped Jack’s arm securely to prevent any further bleeding. Carolyn helped smear the young girl with most of the Blue they had brought back.

“Yuck!” Jack glared at Fry. “You’ve covered me with monster shit!”

“With any luck, that’ll cover any blood smell.” Riddick grinned. “But to make real sure, we’ll leave a present where it’ll attract the most attention.” He picked up the dirty bandage and put it carefully to the side.

“I’m not so sure I wouldn’t rather be eaten.” The girl rolled her eyes as she smeared some of the goo on the hand of her wounded arm.

“No wise ass remarks from you, kid.” Riddick grinned at her as he covered himself in more Blue. “We’re all in this shit together.”

“You made a joke!” Jack laughed, not believing what she heard. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all.

“Me? I never joke,” he deadpanned. Then he turned serious as he looked at the faces of the others. This was their last chance and they all knew it. “You guys follow me out and wait to the left of the cave, I’ll just be a second.” He grabbed the bloodstained bandage and dashed out of the cave and to the right.

The rain still pounded as he ran ten feet back down the canyon and left the bait for the monsters, before darting back to the others.

“Everybody ready?” The four of them crouched against the rock wall of the canyon. They could hear the feeding frenzy that was going on behind them and hoped it would buy them some time.

Carolyn brushed against Richard and lay an encouraging hand on his leg. He looked back at her for a moment and wrapped his large hand around her thigh. They knew that either, or both of them might not make it to the skiff, but that moment of touch was all they had time for. He held his hand out to her and she placed hers in his, their fingers intertwined. As much as he wanted to just hold on to her, he knew it wasn’t safe. With each raindrop that fell, their camouflage was being diluted and washed away.

“Keep Jack in the middle, I’ll lead the way and everybody hold on tight!” Richard surged to his feet, as hands were gripped on down the line and they took off at a run.

Riddick heard his heart pounding with each step down the canyon. It was working; they were getting past the monsters! He kept the pace as fast as he dared. Jack was weak from blood loss, Imam was tiring badly, and he didn’t even what to think what his killing pace was doing to Carolyn, who was already exhausted.

They were almost to the hill before the settlement when Jack lost her footing and went down hard. Though she tried to break her fall with her good arm, she tore open the gash that was held tightly together with the pressure dressing. Pain shot through her and she began to bleed again.

“Riddick!” She screamed for help as an alien tentacle shot past her, cutting her right leg at the thigh, but not getting a hold of it.

He pulled her to her feet and shoved her toward Imam and Fry. “Go, run! Over the hill get the kid outta here! She’s bleeding like stink!”

As he pulled his shiv to act as rearguard, he felt Carolyn beside him. “What the fuck are you doing here! I said GO!”

“You can’t do this alone.” She was determined to get them all back to the skiff.

“God damnit, get the fuck outta here!” He saw a monster circling to their right. “I’ve been takin’ care of myself for a long time before you came along. Now get the hell outta here!”

“No!” She tried to argue with him, as she waved the light bottle back and forth in an attempt to drive away anything that might be near them.

“Shut up and run!” His fear for her made him grab her arm and roughly shove her up the incline. “And don’t look back!”

“Richard, please,” she gasped his name as she slide over the top of the hill and down the other side.

“I’m right behind ya! Keep going!” He stood his ground, and watched the alien move in for the kill; with two quick strokes of his shiv its steaming entrails lay at his feet!

“Yeah! You chose the wrong human to fuck with!” He turned and took the hill in giant strides.

………………….

Imam carried Jack the last few feet to the skiff. She was unconscious from blood loss by the time he and Carolyn lay her on one of the benches.

“You do what you can to stop the bleeding.” Fry ordered as she tossed the med-kit and a blanket at him, then turned to wait at the bottom of the ramp for Riddick.

Her eyes darted back and forth between the darkness of the surrounding area and the light of the open skiff. She had done this all before, waited in the rain for Richard. Then he had stood in the door, and challenged her to leave the others behind. It made her sick to her stomach to think how close she had come to giving in to his seductive words. But he had been the one who gave in. He rose to her challenge and they had gone back, together. Wrapping her arms around herself to keep her fears at bay, she stared out into the night and whispered his name over and over again.

A human scream in the distance made her jump. “No!” She gasped, then shouted up the ramp, “Imam, I’ve gotta help him. We can’t leave him there to die!” Her eyes were huge as she looked back at the skiff.

“Go my dear, we shall be here when you return.” His voice was full of encouragement and hope, but she didn’t hear it, her mind was focused on controlling her fear.

Carolyn ran out into the night, her glow bottle held high over her head as she called his name. It had been frightening to run through the rain with him in the lead, but to do it without him was unbearable. She had to find him.

“Richard!” Her heart pounded as she rounded the corner of a building and saw no one, and nothing moving. “God damn you Richard, where are you?”

“Carolyn,” her name came to her on the wind, out of the rainy night. “Go back, it’s too late.”

A few steps further and she saw him, crumpled on the ground among barrels and crates at the side of a building. His shiv was locked in a bloody hand as he tried to pull himself to his feet.

“Richard, thank God!” She knelt to help him up, but he collapsed in the mud. “No, damnit, no!” She wrapped both arms around his right arm at the shoulder and pulled as hard as she could. “Ya gotta help me Richard, I can’t do it by myself, you’re too heavy. We’ve gotta do this together!”

“Leave me!” He looked up at her, and tried to hide all he was feeling. God he wanted her! Not just her body, but her, all of her. She had risked her life and come back for him, even when he had been pushing her away. What had he done to deserve her? “Get the hell outta here! One of us has gotta fly that skiff, or they’re dead! Get the fuck outta here!”

“No! I won’t leave you!” What he had said made sense, but she couldn’t make herself leave, so she tried a different tactic. “Come on you coward, get to your feet! I said I wasn’t leaving anyone on this rock; don’t make a lier outta me. After all you’re Richard ‘fuckin bad-ass’ Riddick, are you gonna let these candy-assed monsters beat you?”

“Fuck you!” He knew what she was trying to do, and welcomed the surge of adrenalin that pumped new energy into his body.

“Not if you’re monster food, you won’t.” She shot back.

“You can be a real pisser when you want to be, Carolyn.” He gripped her around the shoulders and tried to get his feet under him. His leg was bleeding badly and he didn’t think it would hold him, but he had to try. He made it almost to his feet, when his leg buckled and they tumbled to the mud.

“I can’t, Babe. You gotta go before they find us. There’s blood all over me, and what little of the blue shit that’s left, won’t fool them much longer.” He pulled her to him for a quick kiss, and then shoved her away. Since he was going to die, he wanted it to be with the taste of her lips on his.

“NO!” She screamed as she grabbed the front of his shirt. “No Richard, please no. I said I’d die for them, but not you, never you. You were supposed to live! I won’t leave you.”

“No damnit, you will not die for me!” He let her pull him part way up. They knelt together as they had done once before. Bodies pressed tightly together, but this time the pouring rain was mixed with his blood. “Just get outta here, Babe. I’ll follow if I can.”

“You can’t do it alone, damnit! Let me help you, we can do it together, I know we can.” She was crying openly and didn’t care.

“Together,” he whispered as he fought to get his legs under him, leaning as much of his weight on her as she could take. It was evident she wouldn’t leave him, so unless he wanted her to die, he had to get them out of there.

“Yeah, together,” she gently touched his face as he tentatively put weight on his injured leg. “Not me for you, or..” the words stopped as she felt something sharp hit her shoulder.

“No!” Riddick shouted as he detected movement behind Carolyn. A monster was close enough to strike. He wrapped her securely in his arms. She would not be pulled away from him, not while he could still breath. “Not for me!” He cried out as he held her tightly to him, and turned them away from the on-coming attack.

The slashing claw cut them both on the shoulder, but Riddick had been successful in keeping her out of its reach. In an instant he threw her to the ground, and the hunter became the hunted. Instead of an easy kill, the creature faced a big man with a blue stained shiv in his hand, and rage that gave his body new strength.

Richard faced off with the biggest alien he had seen all night. “Come and get me you fuckin’ monster!” He shouted as he swung his shiv again and again, but still didn’t bring the creature down. “I will not die running, and you will not get this woman!” Each time he cut at the alien it pulled back and changed position, before charging again.

Riddick wanted to yell to Carolyn to run, but fighting the thing was taking all his concentration. He knew if he took the time to call to her, he would lose. Then she was beside him, armed with a glow bottle, waving it at the huge alien. The small amount of light she provided gave him some breathing room, but it wasn’t enough, they were going to die.

Suddenly the night was filled with a blinding light that caused the monster to howl as his skin was charred, sending it limping off to the safety of darkness. Riddick cried out in pain as the brightness blinded him and he backed away until he stumbled into Carolyn. The light was accompanied by the whir of an engine and the clank and bang of landing gear touching down.

“Thank God,” she whispered as she pulled Richard’s face against her neck to protect him from the brightness. “It’s the skiff! Imam must have figured out how to move the skiff!” She laughed and cried in relief, as they stood and held each other tightly, bathed in the bright lights.

“Together,” she heard him whisper as he pulled his goggles over his eyes. Neither wanted to look to closely at what that meant. Though both knew that Imam had probably made the difference between them living or dying together.

………………………..

The doors of the skiff banged shut as Carolyn fell into the pilot’s seat. She was wet and covered with blood, both hers and Richards, but she didn’t care, they were finally getting off this damn planet.

“How’s Jack?” She looked over her shoulder at Imam who had strapped the girl to the bench.

“Not good, I’m afraid.” He looked grim as he settled beside the unconscious teen. “She is in God’s hands now.”

“I’ll see if we can give God a little help, as soon as we get off this hellhole!” Carolyn shivered as she reached for the controls. They had a long way to go yet. A successful liftoff was only one of their worries.

“We can’t leave without saying a proper good-bye.” Richard grinned at her from the co-pilot’s seat as he powered down the craft.

“Don’t want to be impolite, it wouldn’t be good for interplanetary relations,” she nodded and counted to twenty. If she closed her eyes she imagined she could hear the sounds of the creatures as they surrounded the shuttle.

“But we wouldn’t want to out-stay our welcome.” Richard nodded to Carolyn to be the one to fire up the engines.

“No we wouldn’t!” She hit the lights and punched the power in one quick movement. As they were thrown back in their seats, she wished she could hear the dying screams of the hundreds of aliens that had flocked around the skiff, following the trail of blood they had left behind.

……………………

Looking back from space, on the striking beauty of the three suns being eclipsed by the large ringed planet, it was hard to believe that the horror they had escaped was real. Carolyn took the skiff into a rolling turn and under the asteroide belt that had been brought into the system’s gravity by the passing comet. Once they were in open space she went to auxiliary power to give them time to figure out what to do next.

“Any idea’s where we are?” She looked at the stars trying to find something that looked familiar. “You keep an eye out for visitors, I think I’ve parked us close enough to that asteroid belt so we’ll be almost undetectable.” She nodded to Richard and climbed into the back.

“I gather there is a problem?” Imam moved forward and took the seat that Fry had vacated.

As she carefully checked Jack over, she could hear Richard telling Imam about the black box, the raiders, and Owens’s treachery.

“You are right to worry, my friend.” Imam nodded his head toward Carolyn. “There may be something I can do to help.” The Holyman looked at the stars. “But our options may be dictated by the child’s health.”

“What is it you could do to help?” Riddick was skeptical, but like the other man agreed that Jack came first.

“You forget Mr. Riddick I wasn’t always a Holy man. Just like I don’t think Captain Fry was always a pilot.” He nodded at Carolyn’s almost professional suturing of Jack’s wounds. “Where did you get your medical expertise?”

“When I was a kid, I lived on a merchant vessel with my uncle.” She shrugged as she worked. It had been a long time since she had been called on to do anything like this, and was glad the skill had come back so easily. “The first couple of years I helped earn my keep by assisting the medic. He taught me a lot.” She grinned as she remembered the old man who had helped make her feel useful in those first few months after her parents had died.

“It looks as if you learned well.”

“I can get by.” She turned toward the two men who were looking at her as if she had the answers. “Hell, this is just a step above basic first aide, for crying out loud! All I did was close some deep gashes. That doesn’t mean she’s going to live!” She leaned back against the opposite bench with her face in her hands. She could feel the death grip from that damn planet and wanted to scream at it to let the child go, but she didn’t allow herself the luxury.

Riddick nodded to Imam to be sure he was comfortable with the controls, then he moved to sit beside the woman who had come to mean so much to him. “Carolyn, this wasn’t your doing.”

“I know, but there has to something more we can do for her.” She leaned against his shoulder.

“What about the cryo-sleep lockers?” He nodded toward the two cramped tubes one on each side of the skiff. “Are they operational?”

“Yes! And it just might buy us some time.”

All three adults moved quickly to recheck the sleep lockers, and get Jack safely into one. A quick check of environmentals showed that the slight increase in power usage would be more than offset by the saving in oxygen and water.

“That should do it,” Carolyn nodded as she adjusted the settings on the locker. “We need to keep a careful watch on her vital signs, but I’ve heard stories of injured people living for months like this, though I think we should head straight for the next inhabited planet with a humanoid hospital.”

“May I suggest you two clean each other up, while I check out the star charts,” Imam returned to the pilot’s seat. “If I can get the Hunter-Gratznia’s charts from the black box, and superimpose them on the older ones on the skiff’s computer, I may be able to come up with some answers.”

“We can’t mix the information, or it’ll leave a trail right back to Carolyn!” Riddick glared at the old man. Not willing to do anything that might bring her harm.

“Do not worry, Mr. Riddick, I am adept at handling problems such as this.” He carefully opened the box and pulled out an information disk. “There will be no evidence left behind that the two computers have exchanged information. The trick is to remove only the needed data, while leaving behind the tracking program.”

Riddick was getting a bad feeling. Anyone who had Imam’s skills with Company equipment had to be high up in the organization. The ex-spook had never heard of anyone that high up being allowed to live on the outside. It had been his job, on more than one occasion, to be sure anyone who left was kept very very silent.

“Trust me, Mr. Riddick.” He nodded toward Carolyn. “I will let no harm come to anyone because of my knowledge.”

……………………

“Richard, take off your pants.” Carolyn knelt beside him between the benches on the floor of the skiff.

“What is it about this exact place that makes you always want my clothes off?” He grinned at her as he removed his boot and carefully pulled his injured leg free of clothing.

“Pleaaasssee,” she rolled her eyes at him, then suddenly turned serious. “This is going to hurt. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing in the med-kid for pain.”

“Something else we can thank our friend Johns for.” He grunted, then took her hand and gave it a squeeze. He could see she was more upset about the lack of an anesthetic than he was. “It’s okay Babe, I’ll hold as still as you need.”

She nodded to him and went to work. His leg was cut the deepest and took three layers of suturing. His only response was a gasp he couldn’t suppress, when she gently pulled muscle back in place to close it evenly. She was thankful it was a relatively small wound or scar tissue might cause him permanent damage. Her stomach was rolling by the time she moved to the simple skin closure on his shoulder.

He had never taken his eyes off her face, but since he was wearing his goggles, she didn’t know it. As she concentrated, every emotion had been clearly displayed for him to see. It cut him to the core to see the pain he was causing her, but knew there was nothing he could say or do that would make it easier on her. He eyed the clean bandage on her shoulder and wondered if he would have had the strength necessary to systematically drive a small semi-circular needle in and out of her flesh, if it had been needed?

“There, that should do it.” She whispered. Her hands shook and sweat had broken out on her forehead by the time she had finished. “A few more dressings and you’re all set.”

“Come here,” he reached for the needle holder in her limp right hand and set it carefully aside. “You did great.” He rocked her gently back and forth, as she shivered in his arms. He hadn’t meant to touch her like this again, but he couldn’t stop himself. Later he would send her away, later. Besides he rationalized, she was safe, with Imam present. No matter how casual Riddick had been in the past, he knew he would never touch her improperly in the presence of others.

“Richard,” her hands gripped his face and she looked deep into his eyes. He had gone away from her, again. She hated when he did that, because when he came back he usually tried to push her as far away as possible. Not this time! Before he knew what she was up to, she kissed him, and then quickly pulled out of his arms. “Get dressed, I’ll be upfront with Imam. By the way, keep the leg elevated and until we’re sure how badly it’s going to swell, I wouldn’t wear the boots.”

 

Ch. 8 Comes The Dawn

A wave of dizziness almost brought Carolyn to her knees. The bravado she had needed to turn her back on Richard, and head the few feet to the cockpit had disappeared along with the adrenalin high she had been riding, every since their last run through the night. Her hands shook and she was left feeling fragile and stretched too thin. Trying to regain her balance, she slowly blinked while turning away from both men, Imam at the controls and Riddick aft, on the deck between the benches. But it didn’t help. Her evasive maneuver brought her face to face with Jack’s cryo-locker. In the garish red light of the chamber the teen looked waxy, almost dead. A quick check of the read-outs set her mind at ease, but did nothing to relieve her light-headedness. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool plastiglass that kept the injured girl wrapped in a protective bubble.

She heard Riddick grunt as he pulled on his pants, but refused to turn around until she was back in control. Her stomach still heaved from the pain she had caused him when she had stitched muscle to muscle and fascia to fascia, then finally closed his skin in a neat pattern. Though she found it frightening that he had been capable of sitting in stoic silence while she worked on him, she doubted she would have had the strength to close the deep gashes in his leg and shoulder if he hadn’t. Even in pain he had given her emotional support. It was a heady thought, but one she didn’t dare get used to.

Taking a deep breath she tried to block him from her mind, but too much had happened in the last hours. They were in space; she was the pilot again and, back in her element. Had her mistakes cost her the iron control she needed to survive?

Her thoughts were interrupted as a blanket was wrapped around her shoulders and large hands smoothed it over her arms. In a moment of weakness she leaned against the powerful body behind her, but didn’t give in to the urge to turn and curl against him.

“You need to get some sleep, Babe.” Richard whispered in her ear as he rubbed her arms to warm them under the blanket. Why was it so painful to see her so drained? In the past he had only thought of himself. “You’re done in.”

“I’m fine,” she turned and forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Besides we’re all tired, and there are things to do before, I can sleep.”

“From the look of Imam’s skill at the helm, there are two of us to help you get them done.” He had looked over his shoulder as the Holyman’s fingers flew over the controls. In light of this new knowledge, the quiet man’s cryptic words about his past took on a new meaning.

“Richard, I’m fine!” She snapped. It was taking all her energy to keep from sinking against him and letting him hold her forever. He had made her feel safe when there was no safety, and strong when she had been at her weakest, but it had to stop somewhere.

“Naw you’re not. None of us are, but you least of all.” He had seen the look that came across her face as she fought her emotions. It’s got you too? His first instinct had been to push her away, before he became tangled in the depth of her eyes, but the bruise on her jaw had caught his attention. Johns had put it there and he froze inside when he thought what else the merc might have done to her. His fingers moved lightly over her marred skin. His stomach twisted and his nostrils flared as he tried to find the words to ask her if she had been raped.

“Carolyn, Richard,” Imam called them back to the present. “This should be of interest to you.”

“What ya got there?” Carolyn turned away from probing shined eyes, relieved to have staved off any questions until later. Once her emotions were back under control, then maybe she would have the courage to look at her feelings for Richard, until then she wasn’t ready to talk about them. For the moment she held fast to the illusion that he cared about her, not just her body. It was all that kept her functioning.

“You got some hidden talents, Old Man.” Riddick watched Imam manipulate the computer and black box, easily extracting the information they needed. It was hard to believe this was the same unassuming holy man they had spent the last fifty hours with.

“As I’ve tried to tell you on a number of occasions, Mr. Riddick, I led a different life once.” He arched a brow at the man behind him; pleased his old skills came in so handy.

When they studied the reconstructed star charts they considered themselves lucky to have crashed when they did. The H-G had passed into a section of space known as The Ulysses Triangle. Its furthest corner was marked by the vast black hole Cilia. The sun Hydria, and the dead world of Cassandra formed the base of the triangle. They were a good two weeks from even the most sparsely traveled shipping lanes.

Hydria was a huge unstable gas giant with a tremendous amount of gravitational pull. It had been known to suck ships off course and into its fiery path from great distances. The constant solar activity played havoc with transmissions and often gave off false readings to navputers.

Cassandra was an ice planet caught in the grips of nuclear winter. On official charts it was called by its astronomical designation, Yankee 2020, but pilots and navigators didn’t call it that. Some space jockey with knowledge of Greek mythology had dubbed it Cassandra. The name had stuck, because from the few probes that had survived, to send back any data, it appeared that its long dead residence had repeatedly raped the land and environment by stripping it of any natural resources, then polluted it before killing it and themselves in a catastrophic war. The unstable atmosphere from the dead planet had been creating plasma storms and flinging them out into space at random, since before mankind crawled out of the dark ages.

It was theorized that Cilia, a gaping tear in space, was responsible for the Triangle being filled with pulsars, gravity wells and odd space anomalies. No one knew for sure, since all attempts to study her had failed. Man had yet to build a ship that could get close enough to a black hole to send in probes, without being pulled apart.

“Why in the fuck did that asshole, Owens try to navigate this area by computer?” Fry shook her head in disgust as Imam gave her back the pilot’s seat. There were still some jobs that needed the delicate touch that could only come from a living being.

“He didn’t.” The Holyman pointed to the simulation that was taking shape on the skiff’s computer. “I’ve reconstructed our path from the data in the Hunter-G’s black box. It appears as if we were side swiped by the ion wash of a plasma storm. Anything stronger and it would have ripped us apart. But it was powerful enough to scramble the navputer, and send us veering off into space, away from Owens’s intended course, as well as New Mecca. We’re just lucky we crashed before we had gone much further. Once Hydria got us in her pull, there would be no getting out of here. Even now, we’ll have to be vigilant to keep from getting sucked further in.” All three possible courses of the large freighter had appeared on the three dimensional chart in front of them.

“Fuck! We’re in the middle of nowhere!” Carolyn exclaimed. She could remember her uncle telling stories about ships that disappeared into the Triangle, and were never heard from again. It was even said that space monsters roamed this area. Until a few days ago she had always laughed at the idea of alien monsters, now she was ready to believe anything.

“True, but we’re also, weeks away from the intended rendezvous with the pirates.” Imam worked the math to give them a more accurate window of time.

“So, for now we’re safe, if we’re careful.” Riddick stood quietly behind Carolyn’s chair, his arms rested on its back. Every time she moved her head, her hair rubbed against his skin and sent a tingle through him. It brought back vivid memories of the first time he had felt the silky strands between his fingers, while hiding in the skull of a long dead animal. The soft blonde curls still had the power to make him catch his breath. ‘Damn, what the fuck is happening to me?’ His mind tried to fix on the exact moment when she had become so important to him, but everything since the crash had blurred, except for the knowledge that she had become essential to his well being.

“If this information is correct, we’ve got 3 ½ to 4 weeks before anyone could get to us from the coordinates set by Owens.” Imam looked to the others as they nodded in agreement. “I believe we’re safe for now, even if anyone did pick up our final distress call.”

Carolyn relaxed in her seat, and let her shoulders sag, as she wearily rubbed her face. “First order of the day is to get some sleep, we’ll be better able to plan once we’ve rested. Riddick and I’ll take turns at the con.” She looked up at him, just realizing that he had been absent-mindedly twisting a strand of her hair around his finger.

“Carolyn,” Imam reached for her arm. “Include me in the watch schedule. It’s been a while, but I’ve flown crafts like this one in the past.” His usual open calm expression had turned to stone, as if he was looking into the face of something that was too painful to remember.

“We could use the help.” She covered his hand with hers in a gesture that conveyed support, and thanked him for coming to their aid, when it obviously cost him a great deal. “I’ll take the first watch. In four hours I’ll wake Richard, then he’ll wake you in another four.” She reached for the internal lighting system and set it for ship’s-night, expecting both men to move to the back.

“No.” Riddick stood firmly beside her while he pulled off his goggles, and Imam moved past him to stretch-out on the bench beside Jack’s sleep tube. “I’ll take the first one.”

“That was an order, not a fuckin’ suggestion, Mister!” For a moment she was able to keep up her old tough facade, but it was costing her. She was a pilot again, and this time she would do it right. Nothing would happen to the passengers on her watch! But as he settled into the co-pilot’s seat, she began to crumble.

“Please Richard, don’t give me an argument.” There wasn’t much fight left in her, so she told it to him straight. “This is something I have to do.” If he pushed her, she was afraid she would give up. It would be easy to keep taking his support, but then the old Carolyn Fry would be gone, and she wouldn’t know who she was anymore. That would be fine for the time being, but when this was all over, and she was alone again, she would be lost. It was going to be hard enough learning to live with the knowledge that she had deliberately tried to kill all her passengers, without adding more to her load.

As if he could read her mind, he nodded and closed his eyes as he slid his seat back into a reclining position. “Have it your way, Babe, but I’m here if you need me.” She could be so stubborn and brave, it made his heart hurt. But she was right, they had to start depending on each other less, it would make it easier, when they reached their final destination.

………………………

Carolyn felt her body start to fall forward in sleep. Reflexively she jerked upright and forced her eyes open. Her first response was to quickly scan the navputer before she relaxed and repositioned herself in the pilot’s seat of the old skiff. Only when she knew the ship was safe, did she allow herself to check on her companions. Imam was asleep on his bench in the back, his hand touching Jack’s cryo-tube, as if he would protect her even in his sleep. The sound of his gentle snoring made her smile, as she angled her head to see the man who slept in the co-pilot’s seat.

Richard, her mind froze when she looked at him. He had turned his reclined seat sideways. Had he been watching her from the side while she worked? His injured leg was raised, with his heel hooked into the pilot’s coffee cup holder inches away from her. In the tiny cockpit, he was so close she could have reached out and touched him without really trying. Instead her eyes followed the contours of his body, bringing back stark memories of how his skin had felt against hers.

She was mesmerized by the steady rise and fall of his chest. For the first time he appeared truly relaxed. Even when she had seen him in his cryo tube, he had seemed to be fighting some inner demon, but not now. Taking her time she enjoyed studying him, as she could never do when he was awake. He had come to epitomize strength and safety, over the last few days. He had made her feel things she had never thought she would feel. She was going to miss those feelings when this was all over, because deep in her heart she knew that it was going to end, and he was going to leave her. There could be no other way for them. Two sinners didn’t deserve a happy ending. Sitting there with only the stars to see her, Carolyn faced the truth, and mourned the loss of a piece of her that would be gone forever.

Blinking tears out of her eyes, she had a sudden longing to know what it felt like to sleep in his arms. To feel his body wrapped around hers in the quiet moments of the night; to wake with his breath against her ear as she turned to him in the early hours of dawn, and felt him move against her in passion, as he filled her, until they both cried out in joy. She knew without a doubt that she wouldn’t be able to share these things with any other man. She would probably give in to her body’s needs and experience sex sometime in the future, but intimacy, would never be her, again.

“Carolyn,” Richard’s voice was husky with passion as he returned his seat to a sitting position and leaned across the space between them. “Come here.” He held out his arms, but she had frozen in place.

“I thought you were asleep,” she whispered. She hadn’t seen his eyes open until the light from the stars reflected off of them, and then it was too late. He had caught her staring.

“I know you did.” Leaning over, he easily lifted her onto his lap. To his surprise, she didn’t fight him. “You forget, it meant my life if I was caught napping in Slam.”

“How long have you been awake?” She let him pull her body against his and absorbed his warmth.

“Since you started watchin’ me.” He moved his thumb across her damp cheek and followed the contours of her face until he came to the black and blue splotch on her jaw. “How badly did Johns hurt you?”

His question caught her off guard. At first she didn’t realize what he was asking, but the hard look that had come across his features told her he was serious. “He didn’t hurt me at all.”

“Then how’d you get the bruise?” Why couldn’t he come out and ask her what he needed to know? He had lived a rough life and the women he had known weren’t always treated, as they should be. But with her it tore at his gut to think she might have been violated.

“It’s my own fault,” she wanted to hide her face against him as she flushed in embarrassment, but his hand kept her head tilted gently upward. “After I did the systems check, I was real angry and I guess, well,” she toyed with the neckline of his shirt and couldn’t meet his eyes. “Well I, uh, picked a fight with the bastard. I had a need to hit somebody or something and he was handy.” She felt his shoulders relax as she told him about the fight and how Johns had gotten one punch past her guard.

“Something really pissed you off, did it?” He knew why she had been upset, but didn’t know what to do with the knowledge.

“More likely someone!” She admitted, but raised her chin in defiance of the pain and anger she had felt when Richard had pushed her away after making love. LOVE? How long had she felt that way about him? The thought frightened her badly, so she tried to ignore it. “Besides Johns’d been asking for it from the start, it was about time someone knocked him down to size!” She added in an attempt to keep her emotions hidden.

“Atta girl,” he whispered. Damn, he should have done severe damage to that fuckin merc long before Carolyn had had to take matters into her own hands, but she was one hell of a woman to have done what he should have! He could picture her attacking the much larger merc and pride and relief washed over him. Johns had used lies to try and manipulate both of them. If the fucker weren’t already dead, he would feed him to the monsters a second time.

“You can relax now, Babe. I’ll take care of things.” He felt her soft breath against his neck as she moved closer to absorb his body heat. He wanted to carry her to the back of the shuttle and let passion burn away the memory of the cruel words he had used to taunt her while attempting to erase all that had happened between them during the sys-check. But even if they had been alone, he wouldn’t have done that to her. So he did the only thing he could to try to wipe away the pain he had caused her. He wrapped her blanket around her and held her tightly against him.

“Okay, you’ve got the watch.” She shivered and sighed, as she gave into the need for sleep. Just this one last time she promised herself, as her eyes grew heavy. Once she was rested, then she would be strong enough to pull away. It was only her need for sleep that was causing her to have these odd feelings.

On the other side of the cockpit window, space was vast and full of stars, but there were no fast moving objects hurtling toward them to cause hull breaches or ships that might be tracking them. Riddick enjoyed the view as he watched the readouts from the navputer to be sure they stayed in orbit of the small moon on the outskirts of the asteroide field. In the far distance he could see the eclipsed suns from their monster planet.

Looking down at the woman in his arms he smiled as she whispered quietly in her sleep. Her eyes moved as if she was dreaming and he hoped they were good dreams. What was he going to do with her? The answer was simple: nothing. He was going to do nothing with her. As soon as he was sure she was safe, he was gone. Safe from aliens, safe from raiders, safe from the Company, then she would be safe from him as well. He had almost destroyed her twice; he wasn’t going to let that happen again. Smiling he watched her sleep. It was a chance he would never get again, so he planned on taking full advantage of it.

…………………..

Imam blinked, something had awakened him. The skiff was quiet and he knew it wasn’t his turn for the watch. His first thought was of Jack, but looking up at the gauges he was reassured, there was no change in the child’s condition.

He lifted his head and looked toward the cockpit. Riddick was silhouetted against the backdrop of distance stars, his injured leg rested on the console. Carolyn’s pale blonde head was in the crook of his arm. In an unguarded moment, the hard man caressed her face, then kissed her lightly on the forehead. It made the Holyman smile to see gentleness coming from a man like that. Maybe he finally figured out what this was all about? The satisfaction lasted only until Richard looked up quickly, some slight movement in the back of the skiff had diverted his attention. Then Imam could see the battle the man was fighting.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he sat up and moved stiffly to the pilot’s seat beside Riddick. “And you’re wrong.”

“Just what is it you know, Old Man?” Riddick whispered, but the menace was clear in his voice.

“That she’ll be safer if you leave her.” Warm brown eyes met cold shined ones. Each was reading the other, and neither man wanted to be the one to give in.

“What makes you think I want to stay with her?” Riddick neatly sidestepped the issue.

“I know that look on your face.” The older man’s eyes clouded as he thought back many years. “I used to see it on mine every time I looked in my shaving mirror.”

As if to deny his feelings, Richard slowly stood and carried Carolyn to the back of the skiff. Stooping with her balanced on his knees, he made a nest of blankets on the deck between the benches. After laying her on the padded ground, he took the blanket Imam left behind and wrapped it snugly around her.

“Richard,” she murmured as she fell deeper asleep.

“Right here, Babe, watchin over you.” His quiet words were barely audible, but from the slight smile that crossed her face, he knew she had heard.

Back in the cockpit the two men faced each other from the short distance between the pilot and co-pilot’s seat. Both looked hard and tough. It was time for serious talk and both knew it.

“You’re Company, you got it written all the fuck over you.” Riddick glared at the man who up until an hour ago, he had begun to trust.

“I was Company, but that was almost twenty years ago.”

“Don’t bullshit me! You cracked that black box like a child’s toy. A man who can do that isn’t allowed to just leave. I should know.” He felt for his shiv in his back pocket, it was within easy reach, he only hoped he didn’t have to use it.

“Are you planning on killing me Riddick?” The hard cold voice and stiff expression was one he hadn’t used in years. It disappointed the Holyman to find that it was still a part of his character.

“That depends on you.” Richard looked around the skiff, eyeing the woman sleeping in the back and child in her protective sleep tube. “And on them. You convince me that no harm will come to them, because of you, and you live. Simple as that.”

“You have no worries about yourself?” Imam smiled. Riddick had put the others before himself, and that was a good sign.

“One thing Johns taught me this time around, is that I’ll never be taken alive again, so I don’t matter, but those two, they’re a different story. They deserve to live and be happy.”

“Funny Jack said the same thing,” he could still hear the child’s words echoing back at him from inside the tiny cave. “About not being taken alive. But I agree with you, their safety is of utmost importance.” The black man nodded. “No harm will come to any of you because of me. I had already planned on taking Jack with me, and that issue isn’t open for discussion. I have no one, and she has no one; together we can be a family. New Mecca would be a good place for us to make a real home.”

“We’ll see about that.” Riddick understood what it was like to grow up an indentured foster kid. Being tossed from one ‘family’ to another, your contract sold to whoever needed a strong back to get a job done. In Jack’s case, it was obvious that she had been used for more than labor. Imam’s talk of a family was just what the child needed, but first Richard had to be sure he was being told the truth. In light of what he had just learned, it was hard to believe in the old man. He knew that nothing was as it seemed when the Company was involved.

“I can see you doubt my intentions.” Eyes that had been a hard brown softened in pain. “Ask me what you like, I promise you the truth, no matter how difficult.”

“Tell me how you plan on keeping them safe?”

“Jack is easy,” Imam smiled. “Though most runaways don’t realize it, the foster program doesn’t hunt them. It isn’t economical. There are plenty of homeless children to fill the gaps in the workforce. As long as a child doesn’t break the law, or do anything that would bring undo notice to themselves, they are left alone.”

“You’ve left out the small matter of the Company.” Riddick pushed. “And your involvement in it.”

“They believed I died a long time ago. There is no one alive today that would recognize me. I saw to that when I left.” His voice hitched as he remembered the last orders he had given to one of his favorite spooks, and the tragedy he had been unable to foresee. “If this new incident should cause them to look our way, all they will notice is an old holy man and the child he adopted, living in peace on New Mecca.”

“What about Carolyn, you plan on taking her to New Mecca, too?” The idea of her joining Imam and Jack in a home was painful for reasons he wouldn’t examine.

“No, not even the countless layers of religious laws would keep her safe there. It would be best if it were believed that she died on that planet back there.” The Holyman nodded toward the view screen. “In fact it would be best if you were both reported dead. Because once the Hunter-Gratznia is found, and it will be found one day, the Company will come looking for all survivors. Jack and I can easily be overlooked as useless passengers, but you and Carolyn, are a different matter. If you want her to be truly safe, you must stay with her.” He told a truth that Riddick didn’t want to hear. “I can see that she is well hidden, but only you can protect her.”

“Me? I’d just get her killed, or worse.” He had tried to turn her into a murderer once, just to keep her with him. If she was his even for a short while, he knew he would do anything to prevent her leaving.

“I’ve seen you perform acts of great kindness and bravery, those aren’t the actions of a man with your reputation.” Dark brown eyes probed for the soul of a sinner.

“Riddick did die on that planet, but I don’t know who this new person is, or what he’ll do.” The big man shrugged, afraid to trust himself, no matter what had happened in the last few hours. “Besides, I was born a killer, not just trained to be one. Though the training I received made me fuckin good at it!”

“Are you so sure you’re nothing but a killer?”

“You were Company, you should know the answer!” Riddick’s whisper snapped like a whip. “Their spooks have to be cold-blooded killers. It takes a certain type of person to do that, and I was one of their best.”

Imam watched the large man carefully. The answer to his next question would tell the story. “Had you killed before you went to the Company for training?”

“Naw, but I’d been in trouble with the law, and was headin’ that way.” Riddick shrugged. He remembered the tough kid he had been, made even tougher by his upbringing. But there were other memories too. The joy he had gotten from flying, the year he had been fostered out to the captain of a cargo ship. The man had been kind and had encouraged his hopes of becoming a pilot, even promising him a job after the Company certified him. “But instead of teaching me to fly and navigate cargo ships, I was taught to kill. It turned out that was what I was best suited for.” He pulled his shiv and held it in his open palm.

“They lied to you!” Imam’s quiet words shook the other man to his foundation.

“How do you know that?” His hand tightened around the shiv. He felt his beliefs lurch. Anger was close to the surface, but he needed the truth before he sliced the other man’s throat.

“As you’ve pointed out, I was Company.” The older man turned and checked the navputer, as he steeled himself to tell Riddick the truth. “There must have been a need for an assassins when you were tested. They would have been looking for a person with a strong survival instinct, but not an animal one. He would have had to have potential skills as a pilot and a navigator, so he could travel on his own when on company business, if necessary. It was felt that this kind of person would be more loyal if he believed that he was a born killer, and the Company was making good use of his skills. Unfortunately, it was discovered that over the years, if an assassin was used too often he became the animal the Spook Corps had made him believe he was, or else his real self began to re-emerge and he rebelled against the Company. When that happened, he had to be terminated.”

“You’re saying that’s what happened to me?” Riddick hissed and pulled his shiv, again.

“I am.” Imam challenged. “Think about it. Why didn’t you kill Johns when you had the chance? You certainly had a good reason.” He nodded toward Carolyn, as she tossed in her sleep.

“You never did tell me what ya did for the Company.” Riddick’s quiet whisper made the hackles rise on the other man’s neck. He could tell from the look in the convict’s shined eyes that he was beginning to listen to him.

“I started the Spook program 35 years ago and headed it up for the next 15.” Imam had promised Richard honesty, but he had hoped to avoid this topic.

“You fuckin son of a bitch!” The big man lunged toward the older one. It was the truth, then. The last twelve years of his life had been wasted. They had made him what he was and he had done their dirty work. When his real nature began to show through, and he rebelled, he was thrown away to rot in Slam.

He grabbed the collar of the Holyman’s robes, and yanked him out of the pilot’s seat. Then pinned him to the wall of the skiff. Riddick’s large arm dug into the smaller man’s throat, effectively cutting off his air, while his shiv threatened to cut off his blood supply. “Maybe it’s time we put my real nature to the test!”

“Richard, no!” Carolyn shouted, and grabbed his arm, to separate the two men. She had been shaken out of a nightmare by angry voices. Her eyes were clouded, and it was hard to make sense of what she was seeing. “Don’t hurt him, please.”

“Get the fuck away from me!” He turned to her and tried to pull his arm free, but she held on too tightly. He was filled with rage as he tried to shake her free. His arm swung back, but she wouldn’t let go. He put his body into it, and he felt her grip loosening, then she stumbled and went flying backward.

“Richard,” she cried out in surprise, reaching out for him as she fell.

For a moment he froze in shock at what he’d done. Then as his red haze of anger began to clear, he grabbed for her, but his hand came away with nothing but air. Both men watched in horror as her arms flailed and she landed hard, knocking the air out of her. The blankets she had left in a pile, between the benches, were all that prevented her from cracking her head on the deck.

Riddick’s grip relaxed on Imam and he slowly pocked his shiv. His face was the same hard mask that he had worn when they had first crashed. “I guess I just proved my point, on all counts, Old Man.” He turned on his heel and walked back to Carolyn. Stopping he lifted her to her feet, as he steadied her to make sure she could stand on her own. Then he gently pushed her toward the cockpit, as he draped a blanket around her shoulders. Never once saying a word.

She turned toward him unable to fathom what had happened. But he shook his head and refused to acknowledge her questioning eyes, as he stiffly lowered himself to the deck. Ignoring the two shocked people, he lay back feeling old and drained. He’d done it; he’d finally pushed her away for good this time. There would be no going back, no more touching or pretending that things could be more than they were. Though he would’ve bet his life that he’d never of hurt her physically. At least it had been a controlled situation and she was safe, now.

………………………..

“What the fuck was that all about!” Carolyn slid into the co-pilot’s seat. She looked between Richard’s broad back, that he had pointedly turned toward them, and Imam beside her.

“It is up to him to tell you. Suffice it to say, Richard’s anger was well deserved. If he had killed me, he would have been within his rights.”

“How can you say that?” Her eyes flashed in anger. “It’s my job to keep the peace around here.”

“My dear, conversations with a holy man fall under professional confidence. Not even a ship’s Captain may intrude on that.” He smiled as she rolled her eyes, and huffed in disgust. “You were not hurt from the fall?”

“Of course not.” She recognized the deeper question buried beneath the casual one. “Richard surprised me, but he didn’t hurt me.”

“I’m afraid that he doesn’t see it that way.” Imam looked over his shoulder at the sleeping man.

“He’ll be fine once he gets some rest.” Carolyn pulled her legs up into her seat and rested her head on her knees. She needed to talk to the Holyman about some concerns of her own so she was glad for their privacy.

“I can see there is something on your mind, child.” He offered, as he divided his attention between her and the star charts.

“What Johns said about me is true. I really did try to flush the passenger cabin when we were going to crash. How do I learn to deal with that?” She couldn’t look at him, so she stared out at the distance stars. “Will God forgive me for what I would have done?”

“Learning to live with what happened has to be done from within. It’s something only you can do. I can offer you my opinion, though.” The Holyman gave her his full attention. “But it is a very human one.”

“Anything would be a help.”

In the back of the skiff, Richard had forced himself to stay awake and listen. If the Holyman cut the world out from under Carolyn the way he had him, nothing would save the old man from his wrath.

“You are a strong, honest woman, my dear. From what I knew of Capt. Mitchell’s reputation, he didn’t brook incompetence, especially on his bridge. So it stands to reason you’re a very good pilot, as well.”

“Then what happened to me?” The anguish in her voice made Riddick wince from where he was listening in the dark.

“Since knowing you on the planet, there is only one conclusion I can come to. Some people might call it cold sleep disorientation, but I think it is more than that. I believe that God intended for you to do what you did.”

“What!”

“For a reason I can only guess at, I believe that it was God’s will that you pulled that release lever. If he had meant you to flush the passengers, the mechanism wouldn’t have jammed, and the rear cabin would have been dumped.

“What kind of God do you worship, that would do such a thing?” Carolyn was horrified by what she was being told.

“A loving and forgiving God, but one that makes a person reach for his own salvation.” He nodded toward the back of the ship. “You have made the difference in the life of at least one of us on this trip. You have made him look at himself, as he never did before, and question his values. Think about it, my dear. If you had been a pious always-perfect pilot who never made a mistake, would you have been capable of understanding a man like Riddick. Would you have been willing to go looking for Zeke’s body to prove that he didn’t kill him? But more importantly, would he have been able to accept you as a helpmate and lover if you hadn’t done what you did.”

………………………

In the back of the skiff, Riddick was filled with guilt. He knew the answers to the questions Carolyn was being asked. He could see himself sitting in the hot dead skull, listening to her talk to Johns, while he tried to decide which cut would be the quietest, and if her oxygen was worth the chance of discovery. When he heard her confession, everything changed. Instead of cutting her throat, he sliced off a curl that set his heart racing. She had been his from that moment on. But being his only had caused her misery.

………………………...

“You knew that we, that Richard and I..?” Carolyn flushed to the roots of her fair hair and wondered who else might have suspected what had really gone on during the long systems check. When she was finally able to meet Imam’s eyes, she expected to see disappointment or at least censor on his face, but there was none.

“You have no worry, Child, you were discreet, but you are also human. There is a deep attraction between the two of you, isn’t there?” He smiled and remembered back a long way.

“Yes, but I’m not sure what to do about it.” She whispered, afraid to say the words out loud. “He makes me feel things I never thought I’d feel.”

“The two of you are stronger together than alone. You fill in the gaps in each other, making a whole that is stronger than the sum of its parts.” He wondered what Riddick would think if he heard himself being discussed in such philosophical terms. “The trick will be convincing Richard that he isn’t a liability to you.” Imam smiled sadly. “I hope he doesn’t make my mistake.”

“Would it help to talk about it?” Carolyn could see the pain that thinking of the past was causing the old man. Maybe if she understood what he had been through, she would be better prepared when Richard walked out of her life.

“As I am sure you realized I worked for the Company at one time. I met Emma when I was making my final preparations to get out from under them. She was the daughter of a miner on Omega Prime, and I loved her from the moment I saw her. The time came for me to leave. Everything had been set; every contingency had been planned for, except in my years of meticulous planning I hadn’t planned on Emma. She begged me to take her with me, but I refused, thinking she would be safer with her family until I was sure I was in the clear. I believed that once I got to my sanctuary I could ride out the storm while a trusted friend took care of all those who would kill me. Then I could wait out a few months for the dust to settle, and I come back for her. What I didn’t know was that my friend knew about Emma. Though he followed my orders and disposed of those who would have me hunted, he saw a way out for himself by turning me in. When I returned for her I found him waiting for me with his shiv still covered with her blood. I killed with my own hands that day for the first and last time.”

“My God, Imam, how terrible!” She began to understand why Richard had been so angry. His involvement with the Company had to have run deep, and something he had done in the past must have impacted on Riddick’s life. “Did you know him in your Company days?”

“No, I was gone a long time before he came along. Emma died almost 20 years ago.” A sad smile crossed his face as he remembered. “After I killed the man who killed her, I held her in my arms, not wanting to let her go. Her father found us hours later. It was his quick thinking that saved me. We put my identification on the spook and we burned down the cabin with both bodies in it. Later when the Company found it, one body was ID as mine; the other was officially listed as a Jane Doe. Case closed, all lose ends tied up. One runaway executive and the spook who hunted him dead.”

“I’m so sorry, Imam.” Carolyn reached over the squeezed his hand.

“Some good did come out of it.” He tried to pull himself back to the present. “Her father sent me to New Mecca to hide in a monastery since the thought of going back to the home I would have shared with Emma, turned my stomach. During my long months in hiding I found God. I have come to believe that I was on the Hunter-Gratznia for a reason. If those star charts are correct, then I know why, because we’re only a three-day run from the place I was using to hide. No one knows about it and I never returned after that day. We can stock up on provisions and decide what to do from there. Unfortunately there won’t be a hospital for Jack.” Yes he knew why God had brought him on this trip and why he had lived when so many others had died. It was to help his three companions, who had become lost, find their way. With God’s help he would succeed and so would they.

Riddick had listened to the old man’s story, while he pretended to sleep. ‘But it’s not the same,’ he thought. ‘You didn’t have to worry that you might hurt your woman in a moment of anger! All you had to do was try to keep her safe from others, and you failed you old hypocrite! And that bull crap about being stronger together was an old man’s dreams.’ Riddick knew that he who traveled alone, traveled fastest and safest. Never have anything or anyone in your life that you couldn’t leave behind at moments notice, had always been his motto, and had saved his life on more than one occasion.

He closed his eyes, and tried to will himself to sleep. It was going to be another hard day and he had learned too many truths, in too short a time. Fuck the Company, and fuck doddering old men who were trying to relive their past. But most of all fuck Carolyn Fry, with her big blue eyes, and tough exterior. She had made him want, like he had never wanted in his life!

Yeah, fuck her, but as the thought came, it changed, and memories of her body moving against his lulled him toward sleep. She was nobody’s fuck; with her it was all pleasure, passion and sweetness. His last waking thought was, ‘maybe this was all a cold sleep dream and he would wake up in a cryo tube on the Hunter Gratznia, chained, with a bit between his teeth.’ The thought hurt, but then, at least he’d know who he was, and all this would have been for nothing.

………………………….

Three days later the small skiff negotiated a little known wormhole that was located just outside of Hydria’s reach. It tossed them out into a region of space that was far from Company influence, and close to the boarders of territory controlled by a race of methane breathing aliens.

For the occupants of the ship it had been a difficult three days. They had enough drinking water to last them for a week, thanks to the hard work of Imam’s boys back at the abandon settlement. But food was limited to the few ration bars that were left from the Hunter-Gratznia’s survival kit. Environmentals on the shuttle worked well, but in an attempt to conserve fuel, they had kept life support at a minimum.

Once they had decided to head for Imam’s unknown planet, convincing Carolyn that she would have to stay behind, while the others assessed the damage that had been done by the removal of the black box from the H-G, was the hard part. She finally gave in when she realized her presences would put the others at risk, and Imam promised he would return for her as soon as it was safe. She missed the look that traveled between the two men, who knew it would never be safe for her to live in Company controlled space again.

Riddick had reverted to his former self. Usually speaking only when spoken to, then usually with a wise crack. He didn’t come within two feet of Fry, but she often turned and found him watching her with shined eyes that burned with a need that was frightening. She had become jumpy and tense, as his eyes silently followed her every move. When she would turn to confront him, he would paste a wiseass grin on his face and dare her to say something. They both felt the lose of the other, but neither was willing to risk a full out confrontation to try and clear the air.

The night before they entered the wormhole, Riddick had the watch and Imam slept soundly in his usual spot on the bench beside Jack’s cryo-tube, his hand resting on the plastiglass. Carolyn tossed and turned, unable to sleep. She felt it was the act of a coward who deserted her crew to let them leave her in safety, while they faced off with the Company, if the box should be discovered missing. And the idea of never seeing Richard again was tearing her apart. Now she remembered why she didn’t indulge in casual affairs, it was too dangerous to the heart.

Looking around to make sure that the Holyman was sleeping she got up and quietly made her way to the cockpit and slid into the co-pilot’s seat. She didn’t expect Richard to acknowledge her; he avoided her at all cost, since his argument with Imam that had sent her sprawling on the deck, but she needed some answers and he was the only one who could help her.

“Richard, I need your advice.” She looked out the view screen rather than see him refuse to look at her. “Am I really in that much danger? Couldn’t I just hide out somewhere on New Mecca until this all blows over?”

“You want my professional opinion?” The sarcasm in his voice cut like a knife. “As a spook, that is?”

“Yes, I guess that’s what I’m asking.” Her chin jutted out, as anger fought with pain.

“I figure it’ll take ‘em ‘bout a year to find the Hunter-G, after that, it’ll be touch and go for us. They’ll have spooks watchin’ Jack and Imam, but they should be okay unless somethin’ goes wrong. A large group of them’ll go over every inch of that planet lookin’ for the box, with any luck, they’ll wake a few sleepin’ monsters. It’ll make the Holyman’s story a lot easier to believe. But you’re a different matter, if they find ya, they’ll kill ya and it won’t be pretty and it won’t be quick. Then they’ll start huntin’ Jack, Imam and possibly me.”

“But why? Couldn’t I tell them that I took the box, and that no one else knew their precious secret? Then they’d leave you three alone?” She was being backed into a corner, again and hated it.

“Once they discovered that they’d been lied to, they wouldn’t believe anythin’ ya said. The black boxes are top security. Everybody talks ‘bout ‘um, but no body believes they’re real, most successful camouflage in the universe. It’s like Imam said, ‘the devil’s best trick was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’ If ya saw the devil, he ain’t gonna let you live to tell about it.” Riddick looked at the woman beside him, her legs pulled up in the seat of her chair and her arms wrapped around her them. She looked small and frightened, he hated that he needed to do that to her, but it was necessary for her survival.

“Okay, I get the picture,” she whispered, past the lump in her throat.

“I’m sorry, Carolyn, I never should ‘a taken the box. At the time the consequences didn’t matter.” At all costs she had to remain hidden. The monsters on the planet back there would have given her a kinder death than spooks looking for answers. This was one more thing to add to the pile of guilt he felt regarding Carolyn Fry.

“It’s all right Richard, we needed the information stored there and the star charts on this skiff are hopelessly out of date. We wouldn’t have been able to figure out where we were, if you hadn’t.” She was resigned to her fate. At least living out the next few years in the back of beyond, would keep her from making a fool of herself over the man beside her.

They sat in silence for a long time; both glad the terrible tension was gone for a while. “I was gonna use Johns’s name once we get outta here, but now that I think about it, the bastard is too well known, besides it sticks in my gut to use that name.”

“So Richard B. Riddick is really dead then?” Carolyn angled her head to watch him.

“Yup, killed by the monsters, and eaten, no remains left behind.”

“I had thought of using Shazza’s name, when I get otta here. I don’t think she would mind, and I’d like to know that she’s remembered.” She smiled as she thought how hard the settler woman had worked on the Sandcat. “Besides, no one looks into the face of a free settler.”

“You have a point there.” Riddick shrugged. “Do I look like a Zeke?”

“More than you realize.” Carolyn laughed softly. “Shazza told me that when she met him, he was a Corbinite miner. In fact, he had planned on getting his eyes shined so he could get ahead in the business. He gave it all up to travel the outlaying territories, with her. They were always moving further and further out, prospecting to earn their way until they found a place where they wanted to settle down. And according to the manifest, his last name was Richards.”

“Ya don’t say?” He smiled. “Yeah, that’s a much better fit than Johns!”

Carolyn fell asleep in the co-pilot’s seat, glad for Richard’s companionship, again. When Imam woke her for her watch, she was surprised to find that someone had reclined her chair and covered her with a blanket. She looked into the back of the skiff at the large man sleeping there, and knew without a doubt, he had shown her one last kindness.

She smiled and swallowed the lump in her throat. He had burst into her life and set her emotions aflame. At the moment she would settle for the peace they had found last night. Anything was better than the terrible antagonism that had been between them the last few days. If they were able to part as friends, then there would be only the good memories to keep with her over the years.

……………………….

Four hours later they were in orbit of a small cloud covered planet that was the third from its yellow sun. If they believed the information that their scanners sent back, it was R class, incompatible with human life, but Imam told a different story.

Twenty-five years ago, he had crashed after getting sucked into an uncharted wormhole while trying to escape Hydra’s pull. He found a sparsely populated paradise where the residents were friendly, but uninterested in the happenings outside their world. They lived life close to the land, using solar, wind or waterpower to sustain them. But they lived well and enjoyed life, while telling legends of a long ago planet, which had suffered a fate they were determined to protect theirs from.

Imam believed they were the decedents of the few people who had escaped from Cassandra in the final days before her destruction. The original settlers had done everything in their power to keep from repeating the mistakes that had destroyed their world. Even the technology that was used to hide them had been converted to solar hundreds of years ago.

It only took them half a day to gather provisions and get what they needed from the local village, which was in a small valley 20 miles from the house that Imam had built in his youth. Carolyn was made to feel welcome, and told that she could join them in the village, anytime she chose. All that was expected of her was to live in peace with the people and to respect the land.

Imam had created a home on a rock cliff overlooking a huge green ocean. Though the buildings were roughened by weather, they were safe, and blended in with the centuries old forest that surrounded them on three sides. Game was plentiful, and among the towering old trees there bushes rich with berries, nuts and strange fruits. All of which Carolyn was assured were edible.

The smaller of the two buildings was a work area. Two walls were covered with stacked cured wood, for the fireplaces. But of most interest to Carolyn was a two man craft that sat in the corner, under a dust cover. All markings had been removed from it, and it was badly in need of repair. Though it was as old as the skiff they had made their escape in, its technology was much more advanced. Richard recognized it for what it was: the craft that was flown by the Spook Squad of an earlier era. Imam had been telling them the truth!

They helped Carolyn pull off the covers of the solar gathering units, so she would have power for the coming night. As she worked her stomach heaved, and she blamed it on the fact that if she closed her eyes, she could see herself back in the Coring room performing the same tasks. She kept repeating to herself, that she was safe; there were no monsters here.

Both men would have liked to have stayed longer and made sure she was well settled, especially when they realized how pale and quiet she had become. But time was a luxury they didn’t have. Even if they snuck back through the wormhole they had used to get there, they were still two weeks from the Khyber Pass, a well-guarded route to New Mecca. Jack’s condition hadn’t gotten any worse, but she wasn’t getting better, either. She needed modern medical help, before too much more time elapsed. No one knew what the long-term effects of cold sleep were on a badly injured person. The longer she was kept in stasis, the more likely she would sustain permanent damage, even death.

………………………..

“You’ll be safe here.” Richard and Carolyn walked back through the woods to the small clearing where the skiff was parked. Imam had gone ahead to stow the provisions, and keep an eye on Jack. “I’ve destroyed the black box, so it’ll never be found, and lead them back here to you.”

“I’ll be just fine.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She knew she was going to miss him terribly and it was tearing her apart.

Ten feet from the clearing he stopped. “I can’t stay with you. Don’t you understand that?” He didn’t know who the hell he was, or what he really wanted, though he suspected that she held all the answered.

“I know, Richard.” She looked up at him, and hoped he couldn’t see what she was feeling. She had to bite her lip to keep from saying all she wanted to say to him. The thought of seeing rejection close down his expression, when she told him what she felt, gave her the resolve to stay silent. “I have no claim on you.”

“It’s not that and you know it.” He ran his hand against her cheek, needing to feel her skin against his. “It’s that you wouldn’t be safe with me. I’m nothin but trouble. I can change my name, but I’m still Richard B. Riddick.

“I know exactly who you are.” She wished he’d pull his goggles off so she could see his eyes once before he left. It was dark enough in the shadow of the forest; it wouldn’t be painful for him. “And he isn’t the same man who crashed on that planet, just like I’m not the same woman.”

“Listen to me.” He grabbed her shoulders, wanting to shake some sense into her, but ended up pulling her close enough so he could feel her breath on his neck. “You’d end up dead, by some merc that came hunting me, or someone out for revenge, cause I can’t stay on this backwater planet.”

“Richard, it’s okay,” she caressed his cheek and smiled. “I wouldn’t be afraid.”

“Well I would be!” He couldn’t believe he’d admitted it. It felt as if those words had stripped his emotions naked, and he was standing in front of the universe with his ass hanging out. But once started, he had to finish it. “God Carolyn, I’d die for you.”

“Show me your eyes, Richard.” She whispered as she lifted his goggles onto his forehead. All she saw was her own reflections in their shiny gray depths.

“Ya find what you was looking for?” He had trouble forming the words. Her scent was making him hard as he watched her face inches from his. If he didn’t pull away soon, he knew he never would.

“UmmHmm,” she nodded her head and stood on her tiptoes. “I know you’d die for me, I know you would.” She kissed his hard mouth, as tears rolled down her cheeks. I just wish you’d try for me! As the words echoed through her mind she turned quickly and fought to get back her control. “I love you Richard.” She whispered into the wind as she ran away from him.

Had she said it, had she really said it? No one had ever told Riddick that they loved him. It took his breath away and made him dizzy. He stumbled the last 20 yards to the skiff and pulled himself aboard.

“What’s wrong?” Imam watched as he slouched in the pilot’s seat.

“Nothin! Let’s get the fuck outta here!” His mood had turned foul, and he didn’t want to get into it with the Holyman.

“If you leave her, you’ll be sorry for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t stick your nose in where it ain’t wanted! I gotta do this. It would be wrong in so many ways if I stayed.” Riddick began the pre-flight check.

“Wait,” Imam put his hand on the much larger one of his companion. “A 20th Century Earth philosopher by the name of Rumi once said, ‘out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there.’ Wouldn’t you be willing to settle for a forest on the edge of a large ocean?”

……………………

Carolyn had almost made it back to the cabin when the ground shook and the deafening sound of the skiff taking off thundered overhead. It stopped her in her tracks and made her slide to the ground. ‘He did it. He really left me.’ Tears ran down her face as she sobbed uncontrollably.

“Carolyn?” She snapped her head around at the sound of a deep gravelly voice that jump-started her heart. “Oh Babe!” He knelt beside her, his hands holding her damp face. In an attempt to keep her from being hurt, he had caused her pain her in ways he didn’t understand. With the exceptions of hate and anger, emotions were almost foreign territory.

“You didn’t leave me.” She whispered in amazement, as she wrapped her arms around him and kissed his neck and face. “I meant what I said, I do love you.”

“Shhh Babe,” he pulled her to him and enjoyed the feel of her body against his. He wanted badly to say that he loved her too, but it was a word he’d never used. “If I’d left you, it would have cut out a piece of me that I didn’t know existed.”

“I want to hold you, touch you….” She was lost in the joy of being able to touch him freely, again.

He made short work of her shirt, and his hand moved over her silky skin, until he cupped her right breast. As long strong fingers began slowly stroking the hard nub that pushed against them, Carolyn’s moans of pleasure turned to a gasp of pain. He pulled back in surprise and held her by the shoulders to get a good look at her body. Fear licked at his stomach at what he saw.

“Richard, it’s nothing.” She tried to break his grip on her so she could push against his chest to hide the dark bruises that had been caused when he’d bitten her right nipple in an attempt to frighten her away after making love.

“Looks like something to me!” He knew that since he could detect the difference in her skin tone with his shined vision, he’d hurt her. “Damnit, I shouldn’t have listened to Imam. You’re not safe with me.”

“And you think you’re safe with me,” she roared and threw her body against his. “I want you, all of you, any way I can get you.”

Riddick was taken by surprise at her sudden strength and landed on his back with her straddling his hips. “I remember bein’ in this position once before,” he rasped, as she pinned his arms above his head. “But the view wasn’t nearly as interestin’.” Sticking his tongue out, he slowly dragged it over her injury and felt her tremble above him.

“Richard,” she moaned arching her back pressing closer to his face, but pulled back when he tried to suck the nipple that grazed his lips. “No, not yet,” she whispered as she rocked her hips, into him, feeling him swell beneath her.

“You’re playin’ with fire, Babe.” He warned as she continued to brush against his face, but always kept her tantalizing flesh out of his reach. They both knew he could sweep her beneath him anytime he chose, so he was unsure what she was trying to prove.

“So are you.” Her hands circled his large wrists as she pressed them into the ground. Every inch of her body was on fire for him, but she had to make him see that no matter what she did to him, he would keep her safe. Carefully she shifted her body and brought her right leg up onto his thigh. With a silky moan she gently rubbed her knee along his groin at the same time she arched her back, to tease his cheeks, nose, and forehead with the hard nubs of her breasts. Everytime he moved his head to capture a rosy tip in his mouth, she pull out of reach, egging him on with deep thrusts of her pelvis.

“Carolyn,” he gasped as he began to shake.

A slow smile crossed her face and she captured his mouth with hers, while keeping up the gentle pressure on the swelling in his pants.

“Ooohhh,” Riddick lost control. His need to have her outweighed everything else. His muscles flexed and his body stretched, breaking the hold she had on his wrists. As easily as he’d done on a rainy night on a planet filled with monsters, he reversed their positions. Suddenly Carolyn Fry was spread-eagled beneath him, with her wrists held tightly in meaty hands and his body pinning hers to the ground. But this time instead of holding a shiv to her neck, he was nibbling his way along the curve of her jaw.

“See, you didn’t hurt me, even when you lost control,” Carolyn whispered her voice heavy with passion. “Make love to me…” The words had barely left her mouth when strong lips captured hers.

He growled as he felt her hands dance against his sides, pulling at his shirt. Sitting quickly he yanked it over his head, and stripped away the rest of his clothes until he was sitting in the moonlight with her between his thigh. “You like what you see?” he murmured.

“Very much,” her hand ran over his stomach, moving lower needing to touch him.

“Then strip,” the order tore through the air in his deep gravelly voice, as his hand grabbed her wrist to press her palm against his heat. “And do it slowly.”

His words took her by surprise, and made her dizzy with passion. This was her Richard, the man who was completely sure of himself and in total control.

Carolyn stood and moved to stand in front of him. Her hands shook as she reached for the fastener on her slacks. The night was so quiet they both heard the metal on metal sound of her zipper going down.

“Come here,” he beckoned. “Closer,” he ordered, until she stood between his naked thighs again. Richard reached and unfastened her boots. “Lean on me and hold real still.” When he felt one trembling hand on each shoulder, he looked up and grinned. “Now that’s more like it,” he ground out as he took her left breast into his mouth and began to suck.

“Ohhh,” she moaned in pleasure and tried to push closer to him.

“I told you to hold still.”

“Richard, please,” her deep ragged breaths filled the air as she tried to obey.

“You taste so sweet, Babe.” He sucked and licked her nipple while his other hand slid between her legs, careful to stay on the outside of her pants. “And ya feel it too.”

“I want you inside of me!” Carolyn cried out.

He looked up at her, his eyes reflecting the passion he saw etched on her face. “In that case, you got too many clothes on, Babe.” He reached for her right foot, and began pulling at her boot. She got the message and lifted her foot.

“Now the socks.” His fingers ran over the soft skin of her ankle and instep as her socks joined the mounting pile of clothes in the clearing.

“Ya ain’t through yet.” He reached for her wrists and held them prisoner.

“I want you,” she whispered. With a sparkle in her eye she ran her toe lightly over the naked velvet steel between his legs and was rewarded with a gasp of pleasure.

He quickly wrapped one arm around her shoulders to keep her from moving and covered her foot with a large hand as he ground against her instep until she whimpered in need.

“You want this?” He pressed her tighter against his ridgedness. “Then take the pants off…slowly, and stand back a bit so I can see all of you when you do.”

She took a deep breath as pure need seared through her belly. She needed him badly. Moving back as he’d instructed she raised her head and looked him in the eyes. The passion she saw there thrilled her as she realized he was getting as much pleasure out of their game as she was.

Her hands moved slowly to her hips, sliding her pants over them, and she moved them downward an inch at a time, until they fell in a pool at her feet.

They both sighed at the sight of her wearing nothing but a scrap of red lace, standing in a clearing with moonlight reflecting off her pale skin.

“You’re not quite finished,” the words caught in his throat.

Carolyn bit her lip to keep from moaning. Until Richard she’d never come close to trusting a partner enough to give him this much control. She’d never experienced foreplay or love-making like they were doing now. She knew deep in her gut that the only other time she’d ever really made love had been with him in the shuttle and there’d been very little time to play. But in the short while they’d had, he’d made her feel wanton and innocent at the same time and he was doing it again. With fingers that shook she hooked them into the red lace and felt the material slither down her legs.

“Come here, closer,” he ordered. The first time he’d said that to her they’d been on a dead ship on a dead planet, and his arms had been chained so he couldn’t touch her. Now she was his for the taking. Reaching up he pulled her down beside him. “You’re so beautiful,” he murmured as his lips traveled over her forehead and down her neck. He’d wrapped one arm around her and with his other hand he moved along her hip to her stomach and further down to her damp core. Despite the game they’d played, he needed to be sure she was ready for him. She was so damn tiny and tight he didn’t want to risk hurting her.

“Richard,” she cried out his name as her hips bucked against his hand.

“Easy Babe, we’ve got a lifetime for this.” He gently filled her with one finger and to his surprise felt her muscles begin to tighten until they were contracting and she gasped his name in pleasure over and over again.

“It’s not enough time!” Carolyn cried out when she caught her breath. Her body still yearned for his, needed him, needed him deep inside of her, forever. “There will never be enough time for us.”

As he laid her gently beneath him and slid carefully into her, he realized she was right. No matter how much time they had together, it would be too short. He held her tightly to him, and was shaken to the core. Maybe he understood more about love than he thought he did?

 

In The Years To Follow

That’s how it happened, in a matter of days my life was changed. I went from Jack the run away kid to Jackie a child who was loved and cared for. It took Imam two weeks to get us to New Mecca, and I was in the hospital recovering from my injuries another month after that.

Imam told me the same story he told the authorities, that Carolyn and Richard had died in the last run through the night. He felt it was safer, the less I knew, until things calmed down. They left me pretty much alone since I was so sick, and as they put it, ‘just a kid.’ After all what would a delicate young girl like me know about a crazed murderer like Riddick? And since I was having terrible nightmares about the monsters, my doctors kept the suits the Company sent, away from me as much as they could.

In less than a year, we heard that the H-G was found. The news bands were full of the story. It was made all the juicer when it was discovered that the team that was sent to attempt salvage disappeared with out a trace. But I knew the truth and so did Imam, somehow they must have awakened the monsters, even though there was no mention of an eclipse. The Company took a stunning loss, and gave the planet a D3 designation. It meant no worthwhile resources, and extremely hostile aliens. It was understood that no Company ship would dock there, under penalty of heavy fines.

Richard had been right about the Company, though. Even with the heavy loss of life, they covered all their bases. Less than a month later we discovered that our boarding house, The Sanctuary, was being watched. When we realized that not all of our boarders were what they pretended to be, Imam finally told me the truth about what had happened the year before. As long as we were being watched, we resigned ourselves to never seeing Richard and Carolyn again.

Life continued as always, despite the presences of Company spies. I kept going to classes and helping Imam run the inn. He kept teaching at the school for off-worlders, and making a home for us, as well as those who were visiting Mecca City.

It was during the second year of the watchers that we received the first of the letters. After that they came almost every month, always by the pilot of one cargo ship or another. The first one told us that ‘Zeke and Shazza’ were doing fine, but had decided to head out to see what was beyond the next star system. They sent their love and said they would write. They must’ve gotten the old runabout working. It made my heart glad to think that they weren’t planet bound any longer.

We looked forward to each new letter, sometimes from strange places with names we’d never heard of; sometimes from places that were on the frontier and just opening up to settlers. One thing the letters all had in common, Carolyn and Richard were together and they were happy. The last letter we got, about a month ago, it said they were going to be heading home for a while, because at the time the letter was written, they had an arrival due any day. I liked to think of them out there among the stars. Richard, Carolyn and their new arrival.

Imam taught me that I could be loved, but they taught me that love between a man and a woman was a wonderful thing. I don’t know what each of them gave up to be with the other, and Imam doesn’t speak much about what went on in the skiff after I was hurt, but whatever it was, it was nothing compared to what they would have given up if they hadn’t stayed together. I had watched them while trapped on the planet when we crashed. They fought the alien monsters so Imam and I could live and they fought Johns who would have torn them apart for his own pleasure. But I think the biggest battles they had to fight were within themselves. I know they won, or they wouldn’t be together.

 

THE END

 

 
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