Title: To Underverse Come
Email: marion.woolley AT gmail.com
Summary: A direct continuation from the end of Chronicles of Riddick.
Disclaimers: Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick and their characters belong to Universal Studios. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Riddick sat slumped in the cold iron chair, hand covering his face. Kyra's death had broken him, he had watched the life slip out of her eyes. Kyra, who was so full of life, so full of fight…what was left now?
Slowly the world stopped spinning and he became dimly aware of the silence surrounding him; an odd silence. An expectant silence.
Parting his fingers slightly, Riddick peered out at the sea of Necromonger warriors, each one clad in the same grey armour and every one of them looking at him. Vaako stood closest, triple-bladed axe held firmly with knuckle-whitening tightness as he stared with dark intensity at this man before him, this vagabond with no right to be sitting in that exulted throne.
What? What was it? Why hadn’t somebody killed him yet? He had no more fight left.
All of a sudden, like a soft wave leaving the beach, every single one of those alloy-clad giants sank to their knees. Every one, including Vaako.
“You’re shitting me, right?” Riddick murmured under his breath.
You keep what you kill. That was the motto. Only Riddick had believed it to be true when the keeper served some purpose to the cause; last time he’d been replacing the warrior he’d hacked down, but this time...no, really, even he knew that it was beyond absurdity to make him Lord Marshall, it was utterly, utterly senseless. He wasn’t even a convert, he didn’t wear the mark. It would be like putting Shiva in charge of Buddhism, though he had a sneaking suspicion the Necros weren’t so hot on vegetarianism.
It took a long while to sink in. For maybe twenty minutes or more he just gazed out at the bodies genuflecting before him like some greater god. Kyra’s body lay at his feet, he could smell the cold death that enveloped her. All the while his mind was a screaming blank, without thought, without a plan – for the first time in his life he was dumb-struck, wondering why no one was getting to their feet. Vaako crouched with his head bowed, one hand supporting his weight, the other on top of the axe handle resting by his side. He was looking more ahead than down and Riddick could see the knot at the side of his cheek bulge momentarily as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. Experimentally, Riddick whispered the word “rise”. Everybody rose. They had been waiting on his command.
A slow, lazy grin began to spread across Riddick’s lips. A glimmer of the old Riddick re-immerged: a Riddick before New Mecca, before Crematoria, before that godforsaken black hell-hole of a planet, before Fry, even before the Slam. Something truly evil shone in his jaguar eyes and Vaako himself took a subtle step back.
“Well let’s get this show on the road,” he rasped.
Aereon watched from the balcony above. The sense of exhilaration that overwhelmed her at seeing Riddick beat the odds had given way to deep satisfaction at seeing the hoards of death-makers kneel before a ‘breeder’, but now a frown of concern furrowed her brow as she saw the look in the Furyan’s eyes. Something cold gnawed at her stomach. It would soon be time to have a word with young Riddick she thought as she slipped back into the shadows.
Three days had passed and Riddick was getting into the swing of things. He had kept the old Lord Marshall’s inner circle, his ‘team’. He’d even given Vaako a promotion. The guy was a pitiless predator, willing to feast on his own kind in order to get to the top. Riddick detested the man but at least he knew what he was, there were no surprises with Vaako, his mind was an open book and now that everyone had witnessed his treachery he was made uneasy by the promotion and acted eager to please. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer was the theory.
For the most part there was a muted respect for Riddick. For a humanoid to defeat a half-dead in open combat was phenomenal, no one doubted that they were in the presence of a great warrior, which by default in this dog-eat-dog society seemed to give him the makings of a great leader.
He now knew his way around the ship pretty well having escaped from it once. The quasi-dead still made him uneasy. Riddick was used to black and white - you died, you lived, there shouldn’t be any in-betweens, but he accepted their usefulness.
Kyra was a distant memory now, she may have lived a hundred years ago for all he cared, or all he pretended to care. When shit happened you lived by what you knew and Riddick knew how to survive. Survival was cold, it was calculated, it was hard through to the core. Memories and once-upon-a-times didn’t exist in that harsh animal brain of his, they were counter-productive and, more than that, they hurt. He had ordered her corpse to be placed in cryo-keep down in the holding bays. Anyone who touched her or tampered with her would die. That was an order. But beyond that she was forgotten. He had considered a burial in space: catapulting her body into the void on a trajectory to some far-off sun, but although he didn’t want to remember her yet, he didn’t want her to be too far away either. He didn’t know why but for the time being that was just the way it had to be.
The news had filtered through the ranks quickly and just about everything had been put on hold, waiting for new orders. Nobody knew how to prepare for this unexpected creature that had fallen onto the throne; he was an unknown quantity but the Necromonger way had to be obeyed. So far Riddick himself had given no hints as to his plans, in truth he was still drafting out a myriad of possibilities in his mind. The firepower he now had behind him was enough to decimate the known universe and it was certainly tempting. It could be fun to waste a few worlds. It would certainly be fun to waste a few merc haunts. Possibly outlaw mercs? Mercs captured by the Necromongers under his charge would be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. He smiled at that. They could waste any prison planet they liked – only problem was the Necros would expect him to convert the survivors and even he didn’t relish the idea of some of those scumwads ever walking free again.
He considered Furya, but not for long. How could a homeless man go home? He knew nothing of the planet. He’d lived this long without knowing, he was happy to live a bit longer. That dream he’d had on his way to New Mecca had all but faded away leaving him with a sense that, if fate wanted him to end up there, then he probably would. But not yet.
He even toyed with the idea of jumping ship a couple of times. Just take a juiced-up flight out of there. Fuck, he didn’t want to be king of some gothic revival party, there were a thousand other places he could be right now, just duck in a ship and go, leave them to their Halloween trick-or-treat. Riddick found himself in the cargo bay a few times watching the ships come in and leave again. It was a serious option, but it was an option that would always be there so, for the time being at least, he decided to stick it out and see what jokes he could pull from this party cracker situation.
It was after one such ship-watching expedition that he sloped back to his quarters and walked straight into trouble. He was tired and he wanted to sleep. His quarters were in the central citadel that formed the core of the ship. He was within a few feet of the throne room and the cathedral: a stony monument to death. The quarters themselves were impressively spacious with a large anti-chamber, bedroom and lounge all decorated in varying shades of black and grey. The colours suited Riddick’s temperament and allowed him to resign his goggles to a back pocket. The whole ship was a veritable showcase of mood lighting, the only times he had to protect himself were in the loading rooms and when they passed close to a bright sun but even then the windows were heavily tinted. It was a soothing environment.
On this particular night he key-palmed his way into his quarters, poured a goblet of something sweet and strong and slouched down on the couch in his anti-chamber, thinking; just thinking.
“I thought perhaps we could sit in here,” came a voice like honey from the direction of the lounge. Riddick was taken by surprise for a moment, he hadn’t been aware that there was anybody else in his apartments.
“Dame Vaako,” he growled under his breath. As if summoned by the mere contemplation of her name she appeared in the doorway dressed in a long silver dress with a slit up to the top of her thigh and dripping in expensive jewellery taken from many conquered worlds. “How’d you get in here?” He asked, not looking up.
“Ah. I took the liberty,” she explained “of using an override the late Lord Marshall circulated amongst his very close friends, in case of emergencies.” Her words danced from her mouth like a lullaby, the kind of hypnotic trance snakes use to charm their prey before devouring it whole. She was a compulsive liar, he already knew that. However she had gotten access to the room, it was not because she had been a true and trusted ‘friend’ of the old Lord Marshall. That was beyond anybody’s gullibility threshold.
“Whatever you say, doll.” He murmured. “So what do you want?”
Dame Vaako seemed a little off balanced by his tone. It wasn’t the attentions she had expected from a young, virile breeder who had spent the best part of his life in lock-up. It wasn’t the attentions she had expected from an animal, either. She took a sharp breath in, collecting her thoughts, and then exhaled. How did one break a man like this?
“Well, you once told me that it had been a long time since you smelled beautiful. I thought your room could use some freshening up.”
“Funny,” he replied in his steady, low tone “but I don’t smell beautiful anywhere near here tonight.”
This completely threw Dame Vaako. Her mind was calculating double-time, this was far from the response she had expected, it was not how she wanted it to be but that was no reason to throw her toys out of the pram and quit the game just yet.
She wandered over to him, snaking her way gracefully across the room, and knelt seductively between his legs placing one hand lightly on either knee and looking up at him. Every ounce of her body spelled sexy. It also spelled a number of other words: deceitful, dishonest, power-hungry and dangerous. Riddick didn’t flinch.
“It must have been a long time since you had a woman,” she asked brazenly whilst twisting the leg of his black combats playfully with her perfectly manicured nails. “Must be…hard…for a man like you.” A coy smile spread across her deep red lips. In spite of his resolve, Reddick felt his body stir slightly. He had lied. She did smell beautiful, sickeningly beautiful.
“What do you want, lady?”
His icy refusal to melt when she turned up the heat frustrated her immensely. Could it be that she could not win this one? Unthinkable. She began pushing herself up between his legs until her body was flush with his, sliding a hand up over his shirt and pausing briefly at his hard nipple – a sure sign of his arousal – then up around his face and neck. She brought her lips very close to his and murmured softly “my husband is a traitor. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. But I am loyal, m’lord. I won’t betray the faith, I won’t betray you. He no longer deserves me...you do.”
Riddick stifled a full-on laugh at the hypocrisy of this woman. It really did tickle him. Here she was playing whose cock’s harder with a perfect stranger whilst accusing her husband of being the disloyal one. Priceless. But he managed to keep his silent composure, allowing her to make a fool of herself a little longer.
As her lips came towards him for the final time, hungry to kiss him, he slid his hands down her arms slowly and seductively. It wasn’t until Dame Vaako was standing outside with the door closed behind her that she even realised what had happened. He had pulled her arms behind her back, held them with one hand whilst using the other to push himself up off the couch, frog-march her to the door and opened it. It had happened so quickly that she still had her lips puckered as she heard the auto-lock beep behind her.
Rage boiled up in her throat and she had to silently stifle it on her sleeve but almost as quickly she started to laugh. She didn’t stifle this second emotion. She wanted him to hear her. She wanted him to know that the game was on.
Inside, Riddick stepped away from the door and took a long, deep breath which he slowly exhaled whilst running his clasped hands down the back of his head to the base of his neck. It was time for a cold shower, but not before he phoned down to the tec deck and got them to change his security pass.
Riddick was exploring. He was in a most unusual room somewhere on the 24th deck in a little patio garden. The background was black and he wasn’t sure where the dim light was coming from that gave the garden the appearance of moonlight. The only things growing were black pampas grass and scentless voodoo lilies, modified so as not to smell like putrid flesh. Even the Necros apparently retained a sense of smell.
The garden was quartered into four by paving slabs and in the centre stood a black wrought-iron fountain which trickled rather than cascaded. It was silent in the room and he couldn’t quite tell whether it was real or a very high-quality holodeck. The air felt fresh and cool like a storm had broken on a hot summer night. It was peaceful here, incredibly peaceful. He walked up to the fountain and swished his hand through the water.
A change in the air made him spin around, eyes scanning rapidly but not seeing.
“It is tranquil, is it not?” Came a familiar voice from behind him. He spun once again and came face-to-face with Aereon. “I have you to thank for this,” she continued.
“Yes, do you remember when you ordered me to be unbound?” Riddick simply stared at her, eyes burning in the dark “and then you told them to put me in comfortable accommodation. Well, they housed me here. This is my private garden.” He glanced around him once more, taking everything in.
“Hmm. Not entirely to my taste I must confess, however it is a vast improvement on the box that they housed me in before. I can move with impunity. I do not clank anymore when I walk.”
“Why are you still here?” He asked with an air of curiosity. “Why haven’t you made a bid for freedom?”
“And go where?”
“I don’t know. Home. Wherever you people come from.”
“Well now, I suppose I could ask you the same question.”
“I’ve thought about it.”
“But you haven’t done it.”
He met her gaze again and a knot formed at his jaw.
“People like me don’t have a home sister.”
“Everybody has a home, Riddick. Not everybody finds it in this lifetime though.”
“What kind of comforting shit is that supposed to be?”
“I see you haven’t lost any of your former eloquence since becoming Lord Marshall.”
A small smile twinged on his lips and they both relaxed in each others presence a little.
“So,” she asked airily “what are you going to do with your new-found powers? Any thoughts?”
“I don’t know, you tell me, you’re the psychic one. What am I supposed to be doing with them?”
“I’m not psychic, far from it! I simply calculate the odds.”
“Well, what are the odds of me fucking this up?”
She paused for a moment, looking off into the middle-distance before quietly informing him they were “at present…breaking even.”
He laughed and she smiled.
“So, what are your orders to be? You can’t very well sit here in deep space much longer. Sooner or later they are going to get restless.”
Riddick rested on the edge of the fountain and rubbed the bridge of his nose with pinched fingers. “Well,” she pushed “where would you like to go?”
He looked out into the darkness for a minute, eyes fixed on some far-away point.
Eventually he shrugged and dropped his head. “Back in time.”
The elemental didn’t laugh.
“That’s one place none of us can go,” she said wistfully “and it doesn’t sound like the Riddick I knew.”
He looked up at her sharply as if she’d just stung him. She didn’t expand upon her observation and he didn’t need her to. She was right. For a short while, when he first realised the enormity of what had happened, of what he had inherited, he had regressed and gone back to his primal self; he’d felt every bit the born leader, every bit the hunter again. But here…now…that part of him had retreated. He was feeling something deeply unsettling, something like remorse, something like loss. Something like loneliness.
He looked away again. “It shows?”
She nodded in reply, following his gaze back out into nowhere.
They sat there for a long while. Neither one saying anything more to the other until eventually, and without warning or ceremony, Riddick stood up and walked out of the garden.
Lord Vaako stood staring with murderous eyes at the subordinate before him, his face reddening a shade.
“I-I just thought th-that you would want to know, Lord Vaako. It-it’s not what I’m saying, it’s just w-what some of the boys have said, it’s what they’ve seen.”
Still nothing. No words, no change in facial expression, just rock-steady silence.
“I-I mean, i-it doesn’t mean anything, of course it doesn’t mean anything. But I thought p-perhaps you might want to know, is all.”
New recruits, thought Vaako, they latched on to the powerful like ticks to a lion. Was this man for real? He must be making this up in order to get attention. Well, he’d got it.
“If…I…ever…see…you…again,” Vaako began, stressing each and every syllable “I will split you from the top of your head to the sack of your balls. Am I understood?”
The convert went whiter than he already was and nodded stiffly.
“Go now,” Vaako said in a calmer tone. He blew at the weed of a man who scampered off like a feather blown in a gale. “Pointless waste of space” he grumbled as he strode into his chambers, but something niggled at the back of his mind. Shaking his head as if to shake out the doubt, he started to remove his armour and put on a thick dressing gown.
Of course the ingrate was making it up, the boys in the mess must have given him some poor career advice. Despite his own self-reassurances though, the story didn’t sit easy with him.
The man had said that a few of the boys had been heading back to bay last night and that they had apparently seen Dame Vaako leaving the Lord Marshall’s quarters dressed to kill and laughing.
Lord Vaako gritted his teeth and loosened his gown tie which, in his unease, he had pulled so tightly that it almost cut off circulation.
So what though? His lady had often visited the old Lord Marshall out of hours. She’d been a constant visitor both with him and on her own…but then they had always been plotting something together. She had been remarkably quiet these past few days. He didn’t believe that she couldn’t be plotting anything, she was always scheming, always trying to get one step ahead, but whatever she had been thinking of late she had not shared with him.
He knew her too well, that was the problem. He knew, mostly, how her mind worked. He knew the way she smelled, knew the way she felt, knew the way she moved – both literally and metaphorically – and he didn’t like what his instincts were telling him.
Riddick was sleeping fitfully. Beneath the thin silk sheets his naked body was turning from side to side and the edges of his mouth were twitching as if he were silently speaking to someone in the room. A thin whisper of words were almost audible:
“if…iha…ni…ing…no…no caroli…no…for me…not for me….” And then he turned violently again, arm sprawling across the pillow opposite and legs kicking the sheets down to the middle of his torso, exposing his muscular chest “co…umith…comewithme…”
It was unlike Riddick to sleep so restlessly, usually he was motionless and alert, even with his eyes closed; the conversation with Aereon must have haemorrhaged his defences though, let some sliver of darker days finger their way into his dreams. If he hadn’t been dreaming so deeply, if he hadn’t been so absorbed, he would have know; he would have heard the sound of silk unravelling.
Deep in his dreams Riddick was on board a space skiff bound for the starry depths of an unknown universe. He stood there, the confined space forcing him into close proximity with the one other passenger on that lonely voyage: a fierce young woman with dishevelled blond hair and a determined look on her face. His equal.
She smelled so good that he couldn’t resist her but he knew that it was wrong. She hated him for some reason, he had done something so bad but for the life of him he couldn’t think what it was. It was just her. They were just there. Face-to-face. Then something animal took over, her smell intoxicated him, he reached out for her, pulled her close to him and she started to respond, he could smell her sexual excitement and he felt himself aroused, felt himself wanting her more than he had ever wanted a woman in his life. He ran his hand up into her hair and pulled her head back almost savagely as she let out a gasp. He ran his face up her neck, breathing her in, tasting the slight salty moisture on her neck. She pushed against him, running her own hands up to his neck and then back down his chest. He was on fire, wanting to consume her.
She groaned again and he opened his eyes slightly, kissing her neck in the dark.
He opened his eyes slightly.
Riddick sat bolt-upright swimming in a sea of confusion, blinking Carolyn’s face out of his eyes, realising that the scent in his nostrils had changed, that it was something musky and heady but not Carolyn. There were hands on him; naked flesh pressing against him from on top of the thin covers. He swiped out maddened and disoriented, his fist thudded dully into flesh and a choked cry came as someone landed heavily on the floor.
Riddick launched himself out of the bed grabbing his goggles and pulling them over his eyes. “Lights,” he roared, not for his own benefit but knowing that it would expose the intruder, make them self-conscious and put them off their guard. The lights came on instantly, set to their usual dim standard as specified by their programmer. Riddick stood there naked and astounded by what he saw.
Dame Vaako was picking herself gingerly off the floor on the opposite side of the bed, reaching for the end of the covers to mask her nakedness; unlike Riddick it seemed to bother her but then, unlike Riddick, she wasn’t supposed to be there.
“What the hell…” he started to utter, but even before he began the sentence he had a pretty good idea. “How the fuck did you get in here this time?”
“Psychopath,” she spat at him before recoiling from her own words and changing tack like a desperate diplomat trying to reclaim what was left of her tattered reputation. “I mean, you were tossing and turning in your sleep, you looked like you had a fever. I thought I’d sooth you, calm you down. I tried to look after you but you just grabbed me Riddick. You wanted me.”
“Bull. Shit.” He replied tacitly. She stood there bending to make the side of the sheets cover her body, eyes longingly cast over at the silk sleeping gown on the floor, her bottom lip starting to quiver ever so slightly. She looked like a school girl. Even she must have known how ridiculous she looked.
“If you want it, come and get it,” he snorted derisively. Her eyes flashed like a tigress but without the steel conviction he had seen on previous occasions. She looked silly, embarrassed, worn-out. He stood there staring at her, daring her.
Surprisingly she pulled herself up to full stature, allowed the sheet to fall away and then walked fully naked and composed over to the gown. She bent to pick it up and then, whilst starring him in the face, pulled it neatly around her and tied the sash.
“That’s a good girl,” he whispered. “Now run along home.” He felt he should be more harsh on her, maybe pull a knife, give her a little scare, make sure she didn’t try anything clever like that again, but to be honest he was so close to laughing at the absurdity of it that anger was secondary. “Shoo, get gone” he snapped, waving a hand towards the door.
In absolute silence she walked out of the bedroom and a few seconds later he heard the apartment door open then close and auto-lock. Just to be absolutely sure he stuck his head ‘round the door and did a quick scan. She was a tricky bitch and he didn’t put anything past her.
Dame Vaako was burning with shame. For the first time in her entire conversion she felt small. For the first time in her entire life, she had been rejected by a man. She would never live this down, not so long as he remained Lord Marshall, he would hold it over her and gloat.
She stood in the corridor with only the thin silk gown around her, but at least she had that, at least he hadn’t cast her out naked. It was slipping open slightly at the front and she re-arranged it back into place. Then she turned and started the short walk back to her apartments, completely unaware that her husband had been watching from the shadows.
Dame Vaako stepped out of the shower. The hot, steaming water had revived her slightly but her bottom lip was sore and red from where she’d been chewing at it in anxious frustration. How could she have been so stupid? She had read all the signs of his disinterest but still kept going, kept pushing it. This whole mess had been avoidable if only she had taken it slowly, built him up to it. What had she been thinking? But deep down she knew exactly what she had been thinking. She was attracted to the man. He was big and he was strong and he was handsome. He was everything that Vaako had been once upon a time, before battles had ravaged him with scars and the Faith had taken the colour from his cheeks. He was still big and he was still strong, but handsome…she wasn’t so sure anymore. What of her own complexion? She walked to the mirror to gaze at herself, stubbornly refusing to look away as shame goaded her to do. She looked the same as she ever did: healthy, to all intensive purposes; lithe, delicate features, deep vortex eyes that could mirror worlds. She was beautiful. Why didn’t he see that? Why didn’t he want her? Riddick was a man of worlds, he had needs, he had desires…so why didn’t he desire her?
The sound of the main apartment door put pay to any further reflections. It must be Vaako coming home, he would be tired and hungry as usual. He worked such long hours his ambition left him no room for pleasures anymore. She was surprised as the bathroom door opened and his dark-clad figure appeared through the steamy haze.
“Vaako?” She smiled, checking, but he didn’t answer. “Vaako my love, would you like to step into the shower with me? Has it been a long day?” But still no answer. Something was wrong, she could feel it. She reached for a towel but before her hand connected with it he had come forward and caught her wrist. At least she could see for sure that it was Vaako now, for a moment she had panicked that somebody had broken in to their apartment, but the relief was short-lived as she saw the cold, dark look in his eyes. “Vaako, what are you doing?”
He turned suddenly towards the door and she slipped on the wet tiles, her hip crashing against the hard floor causing a yelp of pain to escape her lips. He dragged her along behind him. “Vaako!” Her voice was rising to a shrill screech. “Vaako, what are you doing?” He flung her wet, naked body onto the bed.
“Bitch.” He hissed.
Cold surprise washed through her body. He’d never spoken to her like this before. What was happening?
He was next to her now, holding her throat in his hand. “Betraying little bitch.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” she squeaked breathlessly, panic taking hold.
“Where have you been tonight? Who were you with?”
Suddenly it hit home. Somebody must have told him that she had been in the Lord Marshall’s room.
“Why, what have you heard?” She choked. Wrong response. His hand tightened and tears trickled down her cheeks.
“It is what I saw,” he boomed. “How could you do this to me? After everything – after everything we’ve been through, after all that we have done together!” His own face was reddening and his eyes were welling up. His words came through gasps as if he were the one being strangled whilst her head was pounding with lack of oxygen; feeling as though it were about to explode she could no longer get any words out that might calm the situation. “I love you. Bitch.” But he couldn’t bear to look at her any longer. The betrayal was too deep. Slowly and deliberately he took a pillow from their bed and pressed it down over her face. He felt her thrashing beneath him for no more than a minute or two and then she was silent. He buried his own face against it and began to sob loudly.
Two weeks had passed since the news of Dame Vaako’s murder had rocked the Necro fleets. She had been an integral part of the high command, her face was known by every serving officer and most of the troops. The thought that she was now gone brought mixed feelings. First of all a huge party was organised and everyone sang and drank their way into oblivion in her honour, to celebrate her promotion to full-dead. She had been a true bastion of the Necromonger faith so her place was assured in the Underverse, they would see her again. But distrust also plagued the ranks. Who had done this and why? Was there a greater plot afoot?
Riddick had watched the celebrations with bemusement. This belief in an Underverse, in the idea that to die was a good thing. He couldn’t understand it and didn’t really wish to. The death of Dame Vaako however did raise problems of its own. He may be Lord Marshall, but he wasn’t a convert and he was by far the newest face around town. He knew that suspicion was mounting against him. The men were getting bored, they’d had nothing to do since he took over and when people got bored they started to speculate.
Riddick stood in the command control centre staring at the screens. The room was empty and the only company was the soft, low humming of the equipment and the dull coloured lights from the touch-screen panels.
“What now,” he murmured to himself.
A slight sound to one side made him look up. It was Vaako entering the room. The man looked awful since his wife’s untimely demise. He had been the one to raise the alarm, apparently coming home to find her smothered on the bed. For someone who believed in the glory of the Underverse, he didn’t look so thrilled at his lady’s elevated status.
“M’lord,” he addressed formally.
“What is it Vaako.”
“I- I wondered whether you had any new commands today. I would appreciate something to do.” The man’s voice faltered slightly and his eyes were down-cast.
“Sure. You can go check the cargo supplies, make sure we’re packing enough ammo.”
Vaako’s jaw pulsed for a second. “With all due respect, M’lord, I have already done that several times. How do I know whether there is enough ammo unless I know where we intend to go.”
Riddick looked down at the screen closest to him and ran a thoughtful finger around the edge of the consol.
“Sir,” Vaako continued “is there nothing more practical I could attend to-”
“I would have thought finding the murderer of your wife would be practical enough?” Riddick fixed him with a challenging look and he was sure that Vaako was having difficulty swallowing.
“I-I am doing everythin-”
“Don’t fuck with me Vaako, we both know what happened. It’s just you and me here now, you can speak easy.”
Lord Vaako’s eyes widened as he gazed at this impertinent figure. How the hell did he know? How the hell could he know?
“Look,” Riddick drawled “the way I see it, we both know that you’re a murdering cunt, only one of us has a problem with that and it ain’t me.”
Vaako took a step back feeling for the wall behind him for support.
“How did you know that?” He whispered.
“I can smell it on you. But don’t sweat it, I won’t tell a soul.”
It was too much for Vaako to handle, he had never felt so much the under-dog and he didn’t know how to respond. He stumbled towards the door and as it slid open he paused for a moment, seeming to regain his composure. Turning back to Riddick, who was still examining the screens, he spoke: “You know, some of the men are getting restless. They’ve had nothing to do since you took over and restless men with too much time on their hands start to get restless thoughts.”
Riddick didn’t look up. He knew this, he’d been thinking it for some time now but hearing it voiced by someone other than himself gave it a new level of meaning. He nodded slightly in acknowledgement.
“Just thought you should know that,” he concluded before leaving the room.
It hadn’t been a threat; almost a peace offering. Suddenly he punched at the screen and the flight trajectory command system came on line. Fingers working overtime, Riddick keyed in a sequence of codes and the great ship started to drift slowly, picking up speed. The floor rumbled like a stampede of elephants as the engines fired up. Chaos erupted around in the smaller fleets and side-runners as they scrambled to pick up the new co-ordinates and keep pace. Alarm bells rang out from different places as engineers and navigation staff rushed to their positions to make the digital symbols flashing past their eyes a reality. Riddick stood at the humming centre of his own private universe, hands clasped behind his head, letting out a resolute sigh and grinning. This should make work for idle hands.
Ellegua Five, the pleasure planet for the under-life of the Qestor system, came into view on the holomonitors. Riddick and his command team stood and watched the distant swirl of stars give way to shape and form around them. It was dark enough for Riddick to watch the 3D spectacle with his goggled resting on his forehead. His eyes were burning with cold, unfaltering interest.
Ellegua Five was a ‘roast-spot’, a place where people went to burn the midnight oil, conduct illicit trade deals, fuck prostitutes and generally raise hell. The majority of the planet was covered in water but four or five continent-sized islands swam in its vast blue oceans, each one of them festering with lowlife like old meat festers with maggots. This particular pleasure planet was home to the lowest of the low though. Forget murderers, rapists and fraudsters; this planet was overrun by mercs. It was one of the best known in fifty systems, a playground for small-dicked pissants like Toombs and Johns. As the oceanic theme park grew into view on the screens, Riddick’s mouth split with a wide, expectant grin. Hell, it’s what any ex-con would do if he had the fire power. Riddick felt like all his Christmases had come at once.
Down on Ellegua Five the bars were heaving. It circled a very small sun so daylight was a sort of twilight, which is how the party-goers liked it: permanent clubbing atmosphere. It’s where merc ships came to recruit new crews, once they could sober them up, and spend their hard-earned pay days. It’s also where they learned about new scores, got into fights and tried to hack out a reputation.
One of the largest bars was on the third island, lovingly referred to as Amouria. The bar was the Black Hole and it was heaving with bodies sweating alcohol and thick with the deep blue smoke of Jhaviua, the native herbal high. Men sat at long wooden benches arm wrestling or chugging hard liquor whilst others stood at gaming tables and played retro one-armed bandits. At the back was a section of curtained cubicles where the resident whores were hard at work – hard being the operative word. They catered for all tastes and fetishes, anything to lighten the wallets of the clientele. The noise was deafening but suddenly everything went quiet as the giant wall screens that had been displaying Polion Manduk racing suddenly hissed with white static. A collective boo went up from the dissatisfied crowd and then a split second later a face appeared in high definition. Hush descended as it became clear that this was a ship bypassing the incoming signal.
The four-foot high face that stared in on them was disturbing. It was chiselled and athletic, dark skinned and high-boned. But more disturbing were the eyes. They were like silver pearls that glowed from within…inhuman eyes; the eyes of a beast. Hearing the dead silence, even the clients in the curtained back rooms stuck their heads out to see what was happening.
“Good evening gentlemen,” came the low baritone voice. “I would just like to inform you that, on behalf of myself: Richard B. Riddick, and the Necromonger faith…you are royally fucked.” A huge, dangerous grin spread across the man’s face. “Let the dyin’ begin.” With that the image snapped off and the screens exploded with a high-energy power surge shattering glass out across the disbelieving patrons. Most of them had no idea who the person was by sight, but everyone knew the name and a mass panic ensued. People were killing themselves in the stampede even before the first Necromonger set foot on the planet.
In the control room, Riddick laughed out loud and turned to his henchmen. “So, how does this work?” Vaako and the others exchanged a look of satisfaction, they were finally back doing what they did best. “Watch and learn,” Vaako smirked, “I think you’ll like what you see.”
Riddick turned back to look through the control room window as they made their slow descent, overtaken by hundreds of Carrion fighter jets streaming down towards the planet. The sight of them reminded him briefly of the swarming, razor-sharp fledgling horrors he had once encountered on another dark planet a long time ago, but he shook the thought from his mind quickly. “I want every single one of those fuckers converted.”
Riddick was not disappointed. He was enthralled. Never had he seen such an efficient killing machine as the Necro army. They weren’t afraid of anything – just ploughing themselves forward into the battalions of heavily armed mercs. Now and then a small ball of light would hover up into the sky where a sceptre-bearer had unleashed an ion ball. It would float there like a sentient being for a short while whilst the mercs unleashed their tirade of pulsars and bullets upon it, then it would hurtle back down to the ground, slamming with such force that it left absolutely nothing standing.
He watched various images flash up on the viewing screens. Most of them made him laugh, some of them made him think. The number of ways people were killing themselves was entertaining: throwing themselves out of high-story windows, running into the back of space skiffs as they took off and incinerating themselves alive, one man that particularly made him chuckle was fleeing with such panic and careless abandon that he was looking behind him as he slammed full-force into a brick wall and snapped his own neck.
Riddick could feel his adrenaline rising, he could hear the screams and almost taste the discharge of weapons on his tongue. He was stunned and amazed that all of this had happened at his command but his one regret was that he was up there as a silent observer rather than out partaking of the fun and games. He thought about heading on down to join the party but decided that, for now, it was best to stay put. It wasn’t the carnage on the ground that concerned him, more the ‘friendly fire’ of someone like Vaako or one of his other officers deciding to seize the chance to usurp him. That could happen here in the ship of course, whilst everyone else had their attention elsewhere, but at least these were familiar surroundings.
Vaako and the others had already left the command centre to start rounding up converts and he knew that sooner or later he would be expected to go down and make some sort of conquering speech. It wasn’t his style, he just wanted to revel in the blood bath, he had no interest in the Faith or in gloating over his prize. That job he had already off-loaded to Vaako, creating a new position of sub-Marshall. Riddick got to give the orders, but Vaako got to take the glory. It was an agreement that suited them both although not enough to completely quell Vaako’s ambition of one day rising to the full rank of Lord Marshall. For now though, it was the answer to a problem.
Smoke from the burning buildings made it practically impossible to see anything through the visual monitors anymore. They had sustained heavy casualties which wasn’t surprising as you could always trust mercs to be armed to the teeth.
The whole thing had happened so quickly. In four hours they had brought an entire world to its knees. It had been an easy fight though, this was a glorified whore house rather than an actual homeworld, there would be no underground resistance or gorilla warfare kicking off, it was a simple split-and-spill job: split the stomach, spill the guts.
The main battle was over now, there was just some mopping up to do and Riddick couldn’t wait any longer. The need to hurt something had been rising in him like a hard-on. He had to relieve himself. Stepping out of the lift bay at the docking entrance, he grabbed a set of breast plates, some gauntlets and a scuffed helmet from the wrack then snatched up a couple of drop-point switch blades and slipped a magnum-calibre pulsar gun into the back of his combats.
There was a sudden clicking sound behind him which made him pause. Turning slowly he found he was standing a couple of meters from a lenser. He hated lensers. They all made that noise when he came close – they were trained to rout out the living from slaughter fields and Riddick, being unconverted, still displayed all of his vital signs. They hadn’t found a way to stop them doing that yet, but Riddick knew one. He pulled the pulsar out of his waistband and discharged it at the lenser. Its gargoyle face exploded on the inside of its fishbowl helmet and it slumped silently to the floor. “Fucking things,” he murmured before giving the gun an admiring look. “Least I know this works.” Then he strode out onto the battle field leaving the lens-handler gawping incredulously behind.
There was a moment as Riddick spun from one merc to the next, slashing open the gut then kicking to bring the insides out, that the world seemed to slow down and in that moment he glanced across and saw Vaako cleaving his triple-headed axe down on some two-star low-grader. As if sensing the same distortion, Vaako glanced over and flashed Riddick a grin and a nod before hefting the heavy weapon back into the air for another victim. It was an odd sensation, Riddick and Vaako hacking away and enjoying themselves side-by-side like old comrades. Was he one of them now? A Necro? Nah, not a Necro, never a Necro…but it reminded him of just how quirky fate could be.
A few hours later and the planet was silent save for the crackling of timber and the ringing of distant alarm bells. Thousands of mercs had been rounded up to replenish the fleet and were now pretty much all herded inside the bastillion of the mother ship to receive the mark. It made Riddick smile to think that this time they wouldn’t be converting anyone’s faith as these bastards didn’t believe in anything but their own self-worth; they would be gaining religion. He shook his head and wiped an arm across his blood-stained face. Time to get cleaned-up he thought, walking back to the ship.
Riddick slept like a baby that night, better than he had in a long time. The release of his primal urges had soothed the unrest that had been growing in him since his ascent to the throne. It had been more than that though. Killing those mercs had been a cleansing experience: retribution for years of maltreatment, years of getting shat on from a very great height, for the years of his life he would never get back.
When he woke he showered and dressed, then called up breakfast on the dispenser. He felt supremely relaxed. Was this the shape of things to come? Floating from galaxy to galaxy, laying waste to all the shit holes of the known universe? He couldn’t wait. People always wondered what it was like to make a living from something you loved doing and now he knew. It felt fantastic.
He wanted to enjoy the moment for a while longer so he left his apartment and headed to the throne room to lounge for a bit and think. Where to next?
Vaako stood, waiting for the answer to that question. They were in the throne room, Riddick’s leg over the arm in a casual slouch, his main officer standing before him. It was funny but with all the universe before him he couldn’t think of one place that he really wanted to go. This wasn’t Riddick country. He was used to having to fight for the very smallest morsel, the sheer essence of survival. Now here it all was on a plate. He wasn’t exactly bored, but he wondered what the point of it was. He didn’t have the Faith to spur him on like the others and he knew that too much comfort dulled the reflexes, left you open to the unexpected.
“Tell you what,” he said resignedly. “You choose the next one. Wherever you want so long as it’s home to dick-suckers like the last one, okay? They’re in need of a conversion.”
Vaako looked at him for a long moment. It hadn’t inspired the gratitude or excitement he’d expected. “As Lord Marshall, there are certain duties that you are expected to perform. One of which is to plot our course towards the Underverse, choosing which planets fall. It is not my place to-”
“Yeah, well perhaps I’m prepping you,” Riddick said casually. This got a reaction. Vaako’s eyebrows raised. “Yeah, you heard me. Perhaps this isn’t my idea of a wild time, so before you risk your balls trying to embed that axe in my face, maybe you should just relax and let me make this easy on you.” Vaako blinked but did not reply. He looked down at the floor and then, reaching some decision, nodded and left the room.
“Surprise me,” Riddick breathed after he’d gone, then tilted his head back in a deep yawn: a lion surveying his pride.
Riddick was exploring again. He was in the cathedral, the huge marble monument to death and the Faith. He was looking between the great classical pillars to the back alcoves, to the converts suspended by huge mechanical arms in a strange parody of the Christian crucifixion of Earth. Their heads were topped by a copper bowl transmitting information directly into their brains and on either side of their necks a thick metal spike pierced the skin. They looked like zombies: brainless, motionless vegetables drooling on themselves – much as they had in life he thought with a wry smile. Riddick did not look away, he was fascinated. Even though they had rounded up almost a million survivors from the carnage he was surprised to realise that he recognised one or two faces. He’d done time with a few of them, minor bad-boys who had obviously turned to bounty hunting in a bid to go straight – thought their inside knowledge into the mind of a crim would help them play the game. They’d been wrong. He felt no remorse for any of them.
Riddick was just about to turn away when a lever clunked into action and the lines of suspended bodies suddenly pulled back, retreating into the darkness and off to one side. Seconds later a fresh row of victims appeared with slightly more colour in their cheeks than the ones who had just left but Riddick barely noticed them. As the last set of bodies had been jerked sideways into the shadows, he had seen a young woman’s face, a dark-haired face that he knew as well as his own. An icy chill ran through the marrow in his bones. It had to be some kind of joke, someone was playing a joke on him. Where did that machine take them, where did they go? He looked around urgently but there was no-one to ask. With rising exigency he ran towards the lifts. Someone was going to die for this.
The lift hit level 2.17 and spat him out on cryo-keep. The only lighting on this deck came from inside the upright glass pods that contained the truly dead, preserving their bodies for burial, parts or medical science. Riddick stumbled along them, pushing his way down the endless line to a place that he knew by heart. Dame Vaako’s serene image lay in state on a horizontal pod off to the right but Riddick ignored it and kept going.
Breathing heavily he eventually reached a brightly lit tube towards the back of the cavernous room. Slamming his hands against it in a sense of desperation as much as to stop himself, a wash of relief flowed through him. She was still there, exactly as he’d left her. Kyra’s ash-white features looked silently back at him through the thick, bullet-proof glazing. It hadn’t been her, just some stupid young fool of a girl who must have got herself mixed up in Ellegua Five’s rampant sex-trade.
He stared up at her for a long while, hand full-spread and pressed against the glass, unable to tear his gaze away. The welt-mark of the Necromongers stained an ugly purple bruise on her neck made all the more prominent by the white her skin had gone once all of the blood had drained from her onto the throne room floor.
What the hell had just happened? This was not Riddick. This was not who he was. Give him a one-way ticket into the depths of hell, set the sons of Hades on his back, torture him, hunt him, try to wipe him out of all existence and he’d remain in perfect control, he’d come out on top without breaking a sweat. But give him this ridiculous slip of a girl pretending to be a boy, turn him into a glorified child minder and then take her away to some place where he couldn’t ever rescue her and he fell apart. It had played with his brain, he was seeing things, he was imagining shit. A familiar, primal cry rose up in his body and soul: why couldn’t the universe just leave him the fuck alone?
His riled train of thought was suddenly interrupted by the persistent drone of the early warning systems. Blinking as if waking from a dream, Riddick pulled himself away from the glowing cylinder and, glancing one last time at Kyra’s lifeless face, began walking back towards the main transport cove. Glancing at an information screen before getting into the lift, he saw that the alarms were warning that they were approaching the edge of codexed space: the space that was known, that was mapped. Beyond this was feral space, the wild outback. Riddick frowned and hit the button for central command.
“Where the fuck are you taking us?” Riddick asked, shooting Vaako a suspicious glance as he entered the flight deck. Vaako turned as if expecting him.
“Dreeka Two-Forty,” he said casually “It’s not in feral space, but we need to pass through it to get there. It’s a short-cut.”
Riddick glanced at the mini holomonitor next to him and could see the path programme. Codexed space bulged out at two points but between it was a void of uncharted territory. It was certainly quicker to hop across that than go around the edges. He nodded. “Makes sense.” Then something made him look again.
“No way…” he murmured, gazing at the tiny star systems that floated up in front of him. He moved his hand in between them, touching the miniature planets to draw them into full view and change perspective. A lump caught in his throat. “Hey, is the Inter-Coaster Shipping Lane anywhere near here?” There was a sharpness to his voice that made a few people look up. Vaako shrugged and looked at his own holomonitor but before he could even start to make the enquiry Riddick had found the answer. The ICSL was just inside codexed space up-west of the feral space they were now entering. Riddick’s hands both started to work together whizzing through the green laser of the holographic projections in their own private sign language calling up planet after planet, weaving through inter-stellar space until suddenly he stopped. There in front of him hung a tiny but definite solar system consisting of three planets and three suns. Riddick was motionless.
“What is it?” Vaako ventured.
“I want to go there.” He said quietly.
“I don’t know what it’s called.” He moved his finger down to a control panel and slowly started typing in a string of co-ordinates, his fingers picking up speed with every stroke of the keyboard as his resolve hardened over surprise.
Vaako scowled. He didn’t like surprises; he didn’t like to be out of the loop but it was not his place to question. Once again confusion reigned across the fleets as their mother ship changed course in mid-space. Scrambling to pick up the new co-ordinates there were a couple of near-misses between Carrion holders and cargo runners.
Within the hour they had approached the system.
“The smaller planet,” he ordered “run a bio check on it. Tell me if there is anything living on top or beneath the surface.” Vaako nodded and set to the task, checking the technical crew were working to the urgency of the Lord Marshall’s command. Within fifteen minutes a preliminary check was complete but Riddick insisted on the full scan. Forty-five minutes later the complete low-down was inking its way out of the printers and the field experts were deciphering the codes.
“It’s a strange one,” said Gorgoth, one of the head bio-geo tecs. “There are absolutely no carbon life forms living on the surface of the planet.”
“Not one?” Riddick pushed, but the answer was negative as he knew it would be. His persistence didn’t escape Vaako though, who was becoming increasingly suspicious.
“However,” Gorgoth continued, “there are two notable sub-terranian life forms. The first is larval – a type of glowing caterpillar, sort of a ‘glow worm’. Not masses but a few. I’d have to look deeper to know what’s sustaining them as there doesn’t appear to be a viable water or nutrient sou-”
“The other?” Riddick interjected.
“The other is more complex. There seems to be a reptilian-like life form beneath the surface of the crust. It’s significant. There are a lot of them and they are big but again I can’t tell what is sustaining them. They appear to be nocturnal whatever they are. Don’t appear to be any top-side.” He looked up at the Lord Marshall, waiting to hear what the great man would most like to hear about next.
“But no chance of human life, either above or below?”
Gorgoth blinked and then laughed nervously “you’re joking, right?”
Resisting every urge in his body not to slam the scientist against a wall, he simply gritted his teeth and, with only a stare, coaxed the definitive reply: “no. Not a chance m’lord.”
Riddick exhaled slowly.
“Pull the ships back.”
Vaako frowned. “How far?”
“Far. Pull them right back and heat up the nukes.”
In the sudden silence Vaako’s look of disbelief was almost audible but again he knew better than to question at this point. There was something kicking off here that he did not understand and by the look on the Lord Marshall’s face, it was of real value. Taking a leaf out of his late wife’s book, Vaako resolved to watch and wait until the time was ripe.
The blast from the nuclear explosions that detonated on the desert world sent minute glass granules of liquefied sand travelling out over 90 billion light years of space. Some would get caught in the death throws of dying stars, others would be sucked into dark-matter vortexes, most would mill around planet rings and eventually end up making star matter hopefully for happier new worlds. The bio-geo tecs could now confidently predict that there were no life forms what so ever either above or below the surface of that planet as the planet no longer existed.
Riddick stood looking down at his un-goggled reflection broken by the ripples of his hand stroking the water. The moonlit garden was an unexpected refuge from the events of the day. He had been standing there for half an hour or more, just feeling the cool water flowing around his fingertips. He wasn’t thinking anything. He’d fallen into a calm meditation. There was nothing to think about.
A gentle breeze caressed one side of his face and signalled the arrival of the elemental. She was not visible for a moment, eventually blowing into view when she stood still next to him. She watched him for a long while. He did not look up or make any sign of recognition, he simply watched the ripples over the water.
Eventually she reached out and put a hand on his upper arm, a gentle gesture intended to coax him from his distant hiding place. Her hand felt cold to the touch, like snow was approaching. Riddick made no reply but his hand stopped moving in the water and a single, fat tear rolled silently down his cheek. She left her hand where it was and within a few moments the muscles in his neck tightened indicating a battle of deep emotional restraint. He lost and the first tear was very soon followed by others scorching hotly down his face. He sniffed loudly and gulped for air then, bringing his hand from the water to cover his face, he sank to his knees and clung to the edge of the fountain, his body wracked with sobs.
Aereon simply stood there looking down at him with compassion and distance. There was nothing one could say to somebody in the depths of such misery. She knew these things. The universe knew these things. A child born to be strangled at birth, a man born to be a slave to cruelty, an outlaw born to die in a rotting cell…all of these fates had been prescribed him and all had been avoided and triumphed upon. But now it left a man without a home, a creature alone and unwanted battling everything and everybody with no prize left to win. What was worse was that the creature had, quite unexpectedly, found love and then lost it. Twice. There was nothing one could say to a creature like that, no words to wipe away the misery, no kindness to stem the grief. When he had unleashed the wrath of the Furyans he had unleashed the anger of a lifetime and it had almost killed him. Now he was weeping for the sorrows of a lifetime and it was breaking his heart.
It was not Aereon’s job to play a hand in fate. Elementals were the keepers of logic in the universe, even when logic itself had to be illogical. Their job was to balance the odds by counting the possibilities. They were aloof, above interference and involvement. But when everything was circling the drain, the whole universe…well…what room was left for logic?
Riddick had lulled himself into some sort of quiet now, still crouched-up against the side of the fountain, trembling in cathartic trance; staring yet unblinking.
“You know,” Aereon eventually whispered to the dark “things are often deeper than they seem. Take worlds for instance. From outer space they appear like lumps of rock, little wooden beads in a child’s rattle, clanking together, exploding, reforming and clanking some more. But get up close and you see that it is so much more complex than that. Life forms inhabit these places, they perform their own interactions, they mate, they breed, they fight, they die, they are born. Over and over again, in many different ways. Often I think all situations are like that. That everything is viewed as if from outer space. We see the surface of things and we feel and we react as we would to a new planet. We scan for life, we learn the basics, we consider what interests us. But rarely, if ever, do we fly close enough to the situation to see the complexities behind it; the real life of events.”
Riddick didn’t reply. He was sheltering in the silence of one who has fallen into the river of his own flood and barely managed to claw himself onto the shores of an island. He simply lay there, listening.
“None of us can go back in time,” Aereon continued, “but, I wonder if we got close enough to a situation, say the creation of all that possibly is, that we may not find that the reason for going back in time being an impossibility may not be because time itself does not exist. You cannot go back to something that never was.”
Riddick was looking up at her now, his milky-white pin-points fixed on her with a numb interest. He was still recovering from the monsoon of emotion that had swept away his barriers and defences, he could not keep up with what she was saying, he could not fully comprehend where she was going with her little story but it was a place to focus on and he needed that. He needed to focus on something, even if he did not understand it. It was a soothing voice in the dark, he wanted to listen.
“Without a doubt the concept of time exists, but concepts of many things that do not actually exist, exist. Universal parodies,” she let out a small chuckle and Riddick found himself almost smiling although he did not know why. Without emotions left of his own he seemed to be swept along in hers like a baby smiling because its mother did. “See, now if time itself did not exist, then things themselves would never die. But we know both death and old age to be truths. Or at least I suppose we think ourselves to. Maybe we simply do not fly close enough to those planets to understand the intricacies of what they really are, rather than what our sophisticated technology and superior understanding tell us they must be. One never knows these things.”
Riddick was starting to stir. He shifted his head slightly, looking up at her more intently but still without saying a word. She looked down at him. “Poor thing,” she murmured without condescension “what a world of hurt you have been born to. Would that I could make it better on you, but all I can do is to calculate the odds. That is my lot in this lifetime, that is my place in this universe. That is all I can do and as much as I should do before I reach the gates of the Underverse. ‘Tis a pity the Necromongers got it so wrong, I fear most of the known worlds will precede me there at this rate, they seem intent on passing us through before our….” she laughed “yes, that’s right, before our time. Now there’s an expression. Before our time, that never was.”
Riddick was very much more alert now. He did not pretend to understand what the elemental was saying but he was getting the sense that it was something important, that he should be listening and again it gave him a focus and a focus gave him strength. A moment ago he had been lost in a way that he had never been lost before, he needed to find his way again, to get a foothold on which to pull himself back up. Monsters and demons he could deal with, creatures he could fight in open combat, but things that came from within, things inside of him that attacked his own soul – those were things he felt powerless against.
“See, love and time. If I were a betting type, I’d say that the odds were pretty good that those two were related. The Necromongers, on the other hand, would likely bet against me on that point, and only one of us could leave the winner. Without compassion or intelligence this thing that we call time is a wild horse, it runs away with us, dragging us behind until we are so world-weary, tattered and torn that we cannot take another step. But mixed with this other thing, equally as non-existent but just as prevalent, that we call ‘love’…sometimes chemicals react in mysterious ways. The sum is more than the constituent parts. And like chemicals, and like drugs, the experience of the person effected is reliant on a number of other worlds…worlds we do not ever see close enough to understand: circumstance, expectation and experience.”
What on earth was she talking about? Riddick had no idea, but he could not stop listening, he was hungry for her words, he was feeding on them.
“If one were a betting type, one might speculate that those who scan one world with a certain expectation would reasonably cause a different collision of events to, say, those who scan the same world with a different expectation. One door, two destinations. Not that either are wrong in what they see, but both must be right. One of the greatest dichotomies. Irresolvable one might say. A truth. A certainty. The magical odds.” Aereon smiled to herself. “If, as a matter of speculation, the planets Death, Time and Love did not exists but what they really are, the complexities of what they are, do…well, just think! Anything would be possible.”
Riddick frowned. “Are you trying to say…”
“Oh, no! I am not trying to say anything. I simply calculate and speculate. But, if I were a betting type, I’d probably put the smart money on finding home. Only, probably not in this life.” She looked down at him with an air of detachment. “My goodness,” she said with a yawn and a stretch, “suddenly I am so tired. I think I must rest. Will you be alright here, alone?”
The last word rang in Riddick’s head. Would he be alright here alone? Hadn’t he been everywhere else alone? In fact, the times when he had not been alright were when he had not been alone. He simply nodded slightly, but as she started to drift away a compulsion made him blurt out: “I loved them, y’know.” Aereon stopped and looked back. “I know you did. I know.” And as she wandered away to her quarters she mused that, for Riddick, that had been tantamount to a confession. A brave thing to do.
The night enveloped Riddick. He had been worn out. Emotional emptiness had led to a physical exhaustion and he had dragged himself out of the garden and into his quarters where he’d flopped onto the bed and fallen fast asleep. The dreams had started later, invading his consciousness thick and fast, pulling him along on a tide of hidden meanings and cryptic imagery.
He was standing in a wide open field of green grass, the warm sun on the back of his head. Carolyn was there dressed in a short summer dress, laughing and running around him in circles, shaking a child’s rattle in the air, skipping and dancing. He turned to see her but she kept moving just out of sight. Suddenly she ran towards him and kissed him. He began to melt into her arms, the day was so warm and so perfect and then she cracked him over the head with the rattle.
Suddenly the view changed. He was in a barren wasteland of black molten rock. The sky was thundery red and lightning flashed like a wolf bearing its fangs. The screech of reptilian creatures could be heard approaching and this was the closest to hell Riddick thought that he had ever been. The sky blackened, acidic rain began to fall in sheets and all around darkness began to descend. Riddick realised, with panic, that his eyes were not working. He could no longer see in the dark. As the suffocating fear drew in around him he pulled his face up out of the wrought-iron fountain and looked at the elemental.
Aereon was whispering something but he couldn’t hear what. He bent a bit closer towards her but as he did so her voice became quieter. Still he leant closer. All of a sudden she creamed a word so loud that it hurt his ear drums. She screamed: CAROLYN.
He jumped back in surprise and a glass door closed in front of him, trapping him in a cryo-keep locker. Directly opposite was Kyra, only her eyes were open and her lips were moving. Riddick couldn’t hear what she was saying but he could see her mouth and, straining, made out what she was trying to tell him…U….D….V….S…Un…D..Ver…Underverse. She was repeating the same word over and over. Riddick reached for the release bar and fell out onto a green field with the sun on his back and his head resting on Carolyn’s neck. She was stroking the back of his head and reading aloud to him from a book of poems. The ground began to shake and the earth started sucking down like the sands of an hour glass. Riddick clung to Carolyn but still they went down. They were falling into the past hell, the land of desolate black rock and thundering skies, the land of demonic bats and flesh eating monsters. They were falling. Falling, falling, falling. Riddick looked up in panic but Carolyn simply smiled at him, a happy, carefree smile. Then she reached out her hand and he clasped it in his and they were not falling any more. They were spinning. Spinning and spinning, faster and faster, then she began to radiate a white light – it was blinding. His eyes stung but he could not look away and then suddenly he awoke. Cold sweat prickled his forehead and the room felt as though it were still spinning. “Carolyn?” He asked the darkness but there was nobody there. He knew where she would be.
If he was wrong, this would be the worst mistake of his life but there was nothing that he wanted more, there was nothing he would not give.
The Carrion jet was loaded. Supplies, water, plenty of ammo and the cargo. Just one thing left, one thing he had to get.
Walking into the moonlit garden his gravel voice bellowed out “Aereon?”
The elemental was there, standing behind the fountain. “Do you need to shout? This was such a tranquil place.”
He fixed her with a deadening stare. “What would be the odds you could give me the co-ordinates.”
She looked at him for a moment, suddenly cautious. “I’m not sure-”
“Don’t mess with me. It’s because of you I’m asking. You backing out on me now? This is what you were telling me, wasn’t it. This is the equation your odds added up to, right?”
Aereon cast her eyes down for a second. It was, in her own way, what she had been venturing but by the look on his face she could not help wondering whether she had unleashed something terrible.
“What are the odds Aereon” he growled.
“The odds are good,” she replied quietly. With that, she slipped one hand up into the sleeve of her gown and pulled out a small piece of paper which she held out to him. Riddick looked down, not expecting her to be so compliant. Was this a trick? Was he about to walk into an ambush? He calculated his own odds then took the paper.
“I won’t forget this,” he said, his tone softening to genuine affection. “You’d better get gone before the shit hits the fan.”
Back on board the Carrion jet he did one final systems check and made sure the cargo was secured. It was going to be a long journey.
“Where is he?” Vaako snapped at the guards in the room.
“We don’t know, sir. We’ve checked everywhere but it would appear that the Lord Marshall has left.”
Vaako blinked. “Left. Left the ship? And gone where?” The guards just looked at each other exchanging blank glances. “Well then you’d better fucking find out” Vaako growled and headed to the control room.
Deep, vast space swam before the little ship. The lights were dimmed to minimal and Riddick piloted with his goggles off, scanning the sea of nothingness in front of him. He was typing in the co-ordinates Aereon had given him with trepidation. It would be too late to turn back, they’d know he was missing by now. Vaako would have assumed command. Still, he reasoned, even if the co-ordinates were off, he still had a ship; what more did a man need in space? There would already be a whole lot of mercs not on his back since Ellegua Five. Plenty of time to search the systems, find one he liked, find one uninhabitable by most standards and set up home. Maybe he’d go back to that frozen ice tundra and play with the teddy bears some more. But that’s not what his heart was saying. The dark planet and Crematoria had changed him, both in different but profound ways.
On Crematoria he had found Jack. Kyra. He exhaled a deep, thoughtful breath. He still found it hard to believe that the brat had become a woman, and not a bad looking one at that – a little under nourished perhaps, came from prison life. His jaw clenched as he thought back to the Slam. But Kyra. What a surprise – firstly that she’d survived as long as she had. Every time he made a move she’d been paying attention, watching the way he cut, watching the way he killed; copying. The brave kid had become a fierce little murderess. They’d tried hard to break her but they hadn’t, just like himself. She shouldn’t have had to go through all that shit, he knew that and he wondered briefly whether there was anything that could have prevented it but, like his own life, he knew that you ended up where you had to be. He wished to hell he could undo all the pain it’d caused her but selfishly he wouldn’t have exchanged their time together for anything. She’d expected a hero in him and, for a brief moment back on the Crem, she’d got one. He still couldn’t believe he’d done that – broken his own rule and gone back for her, he wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. That going back for people shit, it was almost becoming a habit. But Riddick was no hero, he never aspired to it, so he guessed that’s why she’d died. A hero woulda saved her – seen it coming. In trying to save her he’d gotten her killed. He was no hero. He wasn’t even a brother. Family didn’t leave family behind, not like he’d left her on New Mecca. He was shit. He knew he was. Wasn’t deserving of Kyra’s affection, but then he tried to tell himself he’d never asked for it. That much was true. He’d never encouraged any of that stuff, woulda been far better to leave them to it in that cave and take the skiff… but you ended up where you had to be. And still, after all that, he wouldn’t have exchanged it for anything.
But Carolyn. Aaah, Carolyn. Now that was a different matter. Carolyn he fiercely wished he’d never met. He wished she’d been a man, because if she’d been a man he knew exactly how that psycho-fuck-up scene would have played out. They all would have died and much sooner than they did. He woulda gone out there to those big ol’ bones, waited a while, probably discovered the skiff and the water then gone back and slaughtered the lot of them for the oxygen, supplies and power cells. The only reason he hadn’t was because of her. The moment she’d let slip her little secret to Johns he’d realised she was his equal. She was made of the same stuff he was and once he got her scent in his nostrils, something had been cemented. All the rest just played out from there right up to this point. If Carolyn had been a man they’d all be dead and he would be hiding out on some planet now miles into feral space. As it was he was navigating to fuck knew where with a conscience heavy as lead and a corpse for company. He glanced back over his shoulder to the cargo bay. Kyra’s lifeless form was staring back from the cryo-tube.
“Fucks sake sis, you ain’t much of a conversationalist no more.”
He turned back to face the engulfing darkness.
Carolyn. Shit. What the hell would she think if she could see him now? What the hell did she think of him then? Musta been enough, she came back for him didn’t she. Stupid bitch, shoulda just kept going when she had the chance. It’s what he woulda done…it’s what he thought he woulda done. That woman had seriously fucked him up. She’d come between himself and his own instincts. He’d known her for three days and he’d loved everything he saw. She’d feared him but she’d trusted him, challenged him and turned her back on him. She woulda killed forty people in the blink of an eye yet she’d given her own life to go back for one when she was already home and dry. He’d often wondered about what woulda happened if she’d just taken his hand, just got on board the fucking ship. He’d dreamt about it often. What had really turned his head had been the way she’d dealt with Johns. When she’d asked him how much he weighed then told him that was how much gutless white meat he was, that had made him laugh. It would have been the perfect point just to sit back and let them go at it, watch them tear themselves apart. One click of Johns’ finger and she woulda been all over the place, literally, then he coulda wasted Johns. But instead he’d stepped between them and he was lying to himself if he said it was for his own good. Stepping into other people’s fights was never for your own good. Something protective had overtaken him where that girl was concerned. He liked her. When they had been up close and personal during that systems check he sure as hell had wanted her. Even then she had surprised him. Nobody ever surprised him. That’s why he liked her.
Sleep was drifting over him now. It had been a long day and there was still a long way to go. He eased the chair right back and started to drift into the comforts of oblivion. “Night Jack,” he muttered softly. “Sweet dreams kid.”
Vaako watched the replay of the scope recordings. He saw Riddick wheeling a large cryo-tube onto a Carrion then checking the fuel leads before boarding the one-man vessel.
“Where’s he going?”
“We don’t know sir. Usually all departing flights leave a destination log but this one was disabled before departure.”
Vaako thought for a moment. “Is the fuel trail detectable?”
“Yes. It was disguised with licium gas but we can pick up the reading, just.”
“Follow him.” Then a secondary thought came to him. “That elemental. Find her, I want to talk to her.”
Aereon looked at the empty jet in the departure bay. She had come down to the docking area shortly after Riddick had left. She’d experienced Necromonger hospitality once before and had little desire to do so again. The ship was there, ready and waiting, but something made her hesitate.
The odds, she thought. There was always something odd about the odds. Something unfactorable. If she were to get on board and leave now would it all be too easy? Besides, that would leave Vaako in charge of a world of destruction. How would they be any better off than under the previous Lord Marshall? No. Business was unfinished here. Something was yet to be done. Something she had not factored for…but what could it be?
As she stood contemplating, five Necromonger soldiers appeared from behind her, weapons loaded and raised.
“You’d better come with us. Lord Vaako wants to see you.”
“Does he indeed,” she mused. “Well then, we had better go.”
In time and space they were suspended. In a galaxy of silence where all thoughts were lost. How they had arrived there he did not know, the co-ordinates did not match what the systems were displaying but however it had happened Aereon had not betrayed him.
Riddick’s jaw dropped slightly as the gateway came into view: a magnificent solid arch that spanned the entire screen. Erected by Oltovm the Builder as homage to the passing point between Life and Death. This was the entrance to the Underverse.
The Carrion’s engines were out, it drifted silently towards the masonic wonder that dwarfed the ship until a tractor charge prevented it going any further. Riddick realised that they were inside an invisible biosphere. Cautiously he popped the top cap on the Carrion and read the monitors that confirmed there were both gravity, air and pressure. He opened the side door but didn’t step out – there was nothing to step on to. He glanced around and as he did so a crisp clicking sound rang out like dominos toppling and previously invisible paving slabs turned over to reveal a semi-translucent pathway towards the gate.
Hesitating for a moment, Riddick eventually took a tentative step out onto the first slab. It was solid. Building up confidence he began to walk towards the great gate. It was a long path and by the time he got close the Carrion was a dot in the distance. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving it so far behind with such a precious cargo on board but he told himself it would not be for long.
As he approached he saw what looked like a little floating guard hut to the left. It seemed almost like a toy model in comparison to the mammoth stone eye that watched him unblinkingly as he walked toward it. He’d expected a barricade of heavily armed war ships to be surrounding such a central cortex of the Necromonger Faith. When he got within twenty feet a single guard stepped out of the hut. He was a much older man, aged beyond retirement with white hair and a long beard. He wore a Necromonger uniform but it didn’t look like the ones on the mother ship; previous issue perhaps.
“Thank goodness,” said the man hoarsely. “You’ve come. Is it time?”
Riddick studied him dispassionately.
“What time, old man?”
He frowned. “You…you are the present Lord Marshall?” Riddick nodded. “Then you must know. The time. The time. Time to pass over, time for the exodus?”
“No old man. Not time yet. But soon.”
The guard peered behind him into the distance.
“Who comes with you?”
“No one. I come alone.” Riddick also took a long, calculating stare behind the guard. “How long have you been here?”
“Me…” the man seemed to have difficulty answering the question. “A long time, I think.”
“Are you the Builder?”
“Oh no, no. Would that I were. If only I were capable of such beauty, such grace.”
“Are you alone here?”
The guard looked Riddick in the eyes, suddenly guarded. “Perhaps,” he said. “Perhaps”.
Yes, Riddick though, you are alone. There was a pause.
“I need to enter the Underverse,” he said eventually.
“That is your right, M’Lord. You may do so if you choose.”
“Do people ever come back?”
The old man let out a rasping laugh and then broke into fitful coughs, wheezing for breath. “Of course they do. Some. Those who choose it and can survive it. The last time I saw anybody was when the previous Lord Marshall came here for just such a voyage.”
Riddick looked behind the guard again considering the big circle in the sky. All he could see was the other side of space, there didn’t appear to be anything inside the arch to suggest a portal.
“Do I just walk up to it?”
“Yes, yes. That’s right.” The old man had a peculiar glint in his eye but Riddick ignored it. Taking one last glance back down the path he gritted his teeth and purposefully walked towards the gate.
When he got to within a couple of feet a massive subwoof of air blasted past him. He expected to land on the floor but instead he remained suspended, unable to reach for his goggles but not blinded despite the intense yellow and orange glow surrounding him. There was a strong smell like warm fields and then he felt as though he were standing on solid ground again, staring into the belly of a lava lamp with a hot wind blowing at his face.
His mouth was becoming dry and his eyes started to burn a little. Now he was able to reach up and pull his goggles down offering some relief.
He waited for what felt like an hour, disoriented but calm. Then the light dimmed slightly and a familiar female voice surrounded him speaking from all directions.
He could not see her but he could almost smell her.
“Riddick, it is you. How did you find me?”
He didn’t know. How had he found her? Had he found her? Where was she?
“That you Carolyn? Where are you?”
“I’m everywhere Riddick.”
He tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry as though a sub-Saharan wind had filled his throat with sand.
“Riddick, I’ve missed you.”
“Missed me? You didn’t even know me Carolyn.”
“I knew you Richard.”
The use of his first name made him shiver. Nobody called him by his first name. Richard was a man’s name, it belonged to a person. He was more comfortable with Riddick, it belonged to a murderer.
“I’m sorry,” the voice continued. “I did not mean to make you uneasy. Relax.” The sound of her giggle rippled around him like water.
“Where are you Carolyn? I can’t see you.”
Suddenly she was in front of him. “Here I am Riddick.” It was her. He hadn’t expected it, one minute she was a disembodied voice and then suddenly she had materialised before him, perfect as she ever was. He swallowed hard this time.
“That you?” He asked, reaching out a hand to touch her face. She took his hand and held it against her cheek for a moment.
“What are you doing here Carolyn? You ain’t a convert.”
“Riddick, we all come here.”
“The Underverse…well, almost the Underverse. It’s sort of like purgatory, but nice.”
“You’re…” he couldn’t bring himself to ask. “You…”
“Yeah, I’m dead Riddick. About as ghosted as you can get.” She laughed again.
“No! Hell no, you’re not. Not yet anyway. You’re just passing through.” A sadness came over her eyes.
“Passing through,” he repeated, still transfixed on her.
“Hey, you brought someone with you,” she smiled.
“The ship. You brought someone with you.”
Riddick blinked and with every effort he looked behind him in the direction Carolyn was staring but all he could see was the orange and yellow. He guessed she must be able to see the Carrion or something.
“Jack. Yeah, I brought her. I’m sorry though. I fucked up. Big time.”
She smiled at him, a warm, selfless glow. “Nah you didn’t. Shit happens, even to you hard man.”
But she broke him off, her manner suddenly sharper and more urgent. “Riddick, you have to decide now. There’s not much time.”
“Listen to me Riddick, focus.” She held him under his chin, looking at her. “You have to decide now Riddick, there isn’t much time, they’re coming.”
“They followed you Riddick, the Necros, they’re coming. You need to decide what you’re gonna do. You have about enough time to reach the ship if you want, you can get out of here, go somewhere – anywhere you want. Or-”
“Or-” He looked alarmed by what she might be about to say.
“Or…you can pass on through. Keep going to the other side.”
He nodded grimly.
“But Riddick, I warn you, if you keep going you won’t find me there. This place, this isn’t somewhere you can stop. Not you. The other side is different, it’s dangerous Richard, it’s not somewhere you’ll like. You have to decide though, quickly, there isn’t much time left.”
“What’s on the other side?”
“I don’t know entirely. It’s a tough world though. Somewhere dark. There isn’t time for this Richard. You’ve gotta make a choice.”
“Will I see you again?”
“No time,” she looked at him with rising anguish.
“Shit,” he clenched his jaw and looked behind him again. This time he could see the world he’d left as if through a fishbowl. There was the hut and the long pathway stretching out to the ship. He looked back at Carolyn. “Stay here, I’m coming back, there’s something I’ve just gotta do.”
“No, Riddick, time! There isn’t ti-” but it was too late, he’d launched himself back out of the vortex landing heavily on the paving slabs. The eye had closed once again and only the cold stars stared through from behind. The old guardsman stood looking curiously down at him.
“You didn’t pass through,” he said. “You’ve been standing at the entrance for the past six hours” he continued. “Why didn’t you step into it?”
Riddick stood up rubbing himself down but even as he looked up to reply he could hear the engines of a very large ship approaching. Without wasting any more time he turned and began running full-pelt towards the Carrion. He had to get Kyra, he wasn’t leaving her behind.
As he reached the little jet he could see the Necro mother ship forming in the distance. Catapulting himself through the open door he climbed over into the back cargo space and heaved the release lever down on the cryo-tube. It opened reluctantly with a hiss of compressed air. Riddick reached out momentarily recoiling at the icy coldness of her skin before scooping her up into his arms and awkwardly steering her back into the main cabin and through the door.
As he turned to run back down the path he heard the first laser fire and saw it whiz past his ear and out into endless space. Glancing behind he saw a dozen or more Carrions headed in his direction and gaining fast. He couldn’t out-run them but he would give it his very best shot.
“Stop him” Roared Vaako. “Don’t let him get to the gate! No breeder can enter the Underverse. He’ll destroy it, he’ll destroy everything we have worked so hard for. Kill him!”
“How did he know where it was?” Asked one of the navigation specialists. “Nobody knows how to get here, even me.”
It was a good question, how had he known? Vaako looked around and his eyes rested on the elemental sitting serenely in one corner. “You,” he said intently.
Riddick’s legs were pumping like steam pistons. He was half-way down the path when a Carrion swooped and fired. The blast landed behind him blowing him forward with terminal force. He landed sprawled flat on his chest. Kyra’s body flew forward another few feet and tumbled to the edge of the path. He scrambled forward desperately like a dog on all fours just in time to catch her wrist as she hovered over the edge. He pulled her up into his arms again, squeezing her in panic and relief as he pushed himself to his feet and started to run again.
“I knew you were trouble,” Vaako hissed. “Never trust elementals, always got some conniving scheme going on.”
“Like your wife?” Aereon said placidly, unconcerned by his fierce approach.
“Is that why you killed her?”
Heads turned in the command room. Vaako went a clean shade of white. He was caught between challenging her and not wanting her to repeat what she had just said. Her cold blue eyes bored in to him mockingly.
“Hench,” he spat at a Necro comrade standing next to him. “Give me your blade.” Hench complied, handing him a nasty bone-handled serrated edge. “Air elementals,” he continued with a smile, “nothing but hot air” and he plunged the blade into her chest.
Riddick was so close now. He was going to make it, just a few more yards. Suddenly he gasped and glanced down as he felt something move. What the fuck! Kyra had started to stir! Her hand was squeezing his arm. The closer he was getting to the portal, the more animated she was becoming! Some weird juju was going down that Riddick didn’t understand, but in his sheer amazement at what he was witnessing he neglected to see the guard coming. The old man had a trick up his sleeve, he’d obviously spent too long on the edges of Life and taken a leaf out of the old Lord Marshall’s book. His soul shadow reached Riddick before his physical body caught up with him, delivering a punch that left the big man reeling. It felt like his jaw had been cracked open and he fell sideways letting go of Kyra once again. Blood started pouring from his upper lip as a second punch was delivered hard and fast to the side of his head.
Vaako’s face dropped shortly before his body did. A jolt of electricity went along the blade and straight to his barely beating heart. It didn’t kill him but he soon wished it had. Aereon had changed. The woman was a hurricane. A sudden blast of vengeful wind swirled out across the entire command centre picking up everything that was not welded down. Scopes and holomonitors went flying, cannoning into walls where the shattered glass of their screens began to swirl in the strengthening wind acting like a thousand razorblades stripping Necros to the bone and lodging themselves in soft flesh and eyeballs. Chairs collided in mid-air, soldiers were bodily thrown against the ceiling and then dropped like lead to the floor where they smashed like broken toys. All the while a high-pitched scream was building like wind through a canyon. The devastation was total and complete. Almost as soon as it had started, it stopped and Aereon re-formed standing next to her seat. Nothing moved, nothing else was left living.
“As Riddick might say,” she smiled indulgently “don’t fuck with me.”
He was dying, he could feel it. He had lost. Maybe not the next blow, but the one after that or the one after that would be the last; the death blow. He’d been defeated but then, he almost smiled through his pain, maybe he could go to that place where Carolyn was…
The pain stopped.
Riddick looked up through blackened eyes.
Kyra was standing behind the old man, his twisted head in her hands, looking down at him purposefully. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing but there was no time to think about it. She held out her hand to him just a few feet from the entrance to the Underverse.
“Let’s go, bro” she said with relish. He grasped her hand and as she pulled him up towards her they both fell into the great gateway to the world beyond.