Falling Angels, Chapter 8

Title: Falling Angels
Chapter: 8 of ?
Fandom: The Chronicles of Riddick
Synopsis: Riddick reaches the gateway station above Pynchon, but a surprising complication stands between him and his quarry.
Warnings: Harsh language, graphic violence/gore, murder.

Locked Room Mystery

“The Dark Queen is Risen! She is coming!”

Riddick glanced over at the ragged-looking man with the placard, PREPARE! FOR THE GATES ARE BREAKING, and shook his head. He turned his attention back to the customs agent. “Get a lot of those around here?”

The agent, a heavy-set woman in her mid-fifties, rolled her eyes. “Can’t get rid of ’em. No papers, no sponsors… no passage back off the station… there are some local charity groups that keep ’em fed, and all, but mostly we’re just stuck with ’em. Your dog’s quarantine papers look to be in order, Mr. Toombs. Do you have anything else of a biological nature to declare?”

“No ma’am,” he told her, his imitation of Toombs’ timbre and accent flawless. He wasn’t getting caught by a voice-printer twice. The vocal modulator was hidden by the high collar of his shirt, tight on his throat but infinitely more comfortable than a prison collar. He silently blessed the damned merc for springing for such excellent equipment; the forged paperwork for the puppy spread out on the table was flawless, too. “Just the food provisions I bought at Helion Gateway Nine.”

“You and your dog will want to stay on the station for the next forty-eight hours while your ship is sanitized and cleared to land, then,” She told him, stamping and signing his paperwork. It amazed him that Galactic Immigration Services had gone back to paper records, but apparently a lot of refugees had been showing up with document chips completely fried by EMP attacks. The official who had printed his records told him that Pynchon was taking no chances and producing hard copies of everything. “Any preference on the accommodations?”

“She will cleanse the ’Verse! She will cleanse all the ’Verses! Her shadow will stretch across all the worlds!”

“Not really,” he said. “Somewhere with room enough for the pup.”

That made the agent smile. Then she frowned a little. “I don’t see its name on here.”

“Well, he’s a birthday present, y’see.” he said with a grin. “Not up to me what he gets named.”

As if he’d ever give the pup away. But it was the best explanation he’d come up with for his reluctance to pick out a name, and he’d practiced it, and the disarming smile that went with it, repeatedly as he approached the gateway station.

Pynchon, he’d discovered, was on a form of high alert, one that thankfully wouldn’t draw attention to him… but it was still inconvenient. The planet had already been experiencing a flood of refugees from the Coalsack systems and was now girding itself for a similar crisis from the Helion system as news of the Necromonger attack began to filter in. From the reports that had begun appearing on the merc network, there was a rising undercurrent of social unrest in Pynchon’s major cities in response to the refugees settling there, along with an increase in violent crimes and missing persons reports.

Not something I want Jack in the middle of, he thought, struggling to tamp down his impatience to reach the girl.

“She is Risen! She is Rising still! She will tower over all of creation!”

The agent glanced over at the station’s resident doomsayer and rolled her eyes. “Even his new shtick is getting old fast.”


“Yeah, up until two weeks ago he was just going on about how we should all beware of what lurks in… what was it? Oh yeah, ‘the hearts of the eyeless.’ I don’t even know where he comes up with this stuff.” She handed Riddick back his papers, along with a small electronic device and a key-card. “This will take you to your quarters on the station. You can use it to navigate to other places as well, like the dining areas and the shops if you need anything. Have a good stay on Pynchon Gateway Three.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said, doing his best impression of what he thought Toombs would have said to someone like Chillingsworth. Respectful with no hint of the man’s normal insolence. He nodded to her and smiled, and then turned out of the long line. The beaten-looking family behind him shuffled forward.

The device led him toward a corridor to his left, one that was right by the doomsayer. He took a good look at the man as he approached. Tall, taller than him by an inch or two, but lanky. The years had not been kind to him and his long, craggy features spoke of a past full of toil, sorrow, and frustration. His hair would have been pure white if it wasn’t so filthy, hanging in unkempt strings that spilled onto his shoulders. His robes, Riddick supposed, had once been elegant and white too, but were ragged, crudely patched in places, and stained.

“Take heed!” the man said directly to him as he began to pass. “She is the shape of all destinies, even yours!”

“Yeah, okay,” Riddick told him. If he didn’t have higher priorities at the moment, it would have been tempting to get into a longer conversation with the man and pick apart his zealotry. But he had business to see to, and the last thing he wanted right now was to do anything that drew attention. He kept walking.

“She was always with you!” the man shouted after him. “She is with you still!

For a moment, Riddick’s stride faltered. What the fuck…?

He had to force himself to keep walking, but a chill had moved through him. There was no way that elderly freak show could know Kyra’s last words to him. And there was no way he was getting involved in whatever psycho-fuck religious fervor the man had going on just because he’d happened to echo the girl. He was on his way to see Jack and find out more about why Kyra had pretended to be her. That was the only mystery that interested him.

He kept telling himself that the whole way to his quarters.

Someone had thoughtfully equipped the suite with a small kennel, lined with a soft dog bed, and had provided food and water bowls and puppy pads. Fancy. The pup, when he set him down, immediately began exploring the room, tail almost rotoring with excitement. Riddick settled his few possessions and then tapped into the room’s newsfeed.

Let’s see what’s going on in New Detroit these days.

The headlines were low-key but hinted at the unrest he’d been sensing. Purdy PTA Files Objection to New Charter School. Mayor Argues For Tightened Immigration Limits. Not Insanity?: Public Defender’s Office Files Self-Defense Plea in Parvinal Murder Trial. Local Student Goes Missing On Way Home From Work.

He opened the last one, feeling a surge of dread, but relaxed as he saw the picture of a man in his late teens or early twenties. For one terrible moment, he’d thought he would see a picture of Audrey Jackson-Badura.

Okay. She’s not in danger. Yet. He didn’t understand just why he had been feeling increasingly worried for her in the last several days, as he star-jumped closer and closer to her location. But with each jump, he had felt the gnawing sensation growing within him that she was somehow running out of time.

Could be me, he admitted to himself. I seem to bring calamity.

Maybe it had just been a run of bad luck, but it seemed like he had a personal disaster machine hovering near him. From the crash of the Hunter-Gratzner and its aftermath on, anyone who got too close to him seemed doomed to an early grave. So far, the only one who had made it out alive was Jack B. Badd, and he’d even managed to visit a dark fate on her would-be double.

What was it between those two girls, anyway?

He pulled up the files again, using his private reader to keep them off of the network. Everything there was to know about Kyra Falnour filled only a handful of screens. Born on a hardscrabble colony, she had been orphaned young and taken in by her paternal grandparents. It was only after her grandfather died that her schoolteachers began reporting signs of physical abuse; a year later, she was taken from her grandmother and began bouncing from foster home to foster home in a way that almost stirred nostalgia within him. A kindred soul, of a kind. She’d vanished at the age of twelve, which fit with what she’d told him on Crematoria. A year later, she didn’t quite reappear, but she was named as the prime suspect in the brutal trio of killings of three belt miners who had supposedly adopted her. Someone, allegedly thirteen-year-old Kyra, had cut them to pieces with a sharpened piece of hull plating.

If she actually did that, she wins the contest hands-down, he thought, and winced. The urge to banter with her was almost choking him.

Another year later, the Merc Network began tracking her on Helion Prime. Somehow she had made it there and had been taken into the foster system, but kept running away every few months the way Lajjun said. When the Al-Walids began laying the foundations to adopt a girl named only “Jane Doe” in the records—

Smart, not using the “Jack B. Badd” name on anything official after what happened on the Kublai Khan…

—they took in Kyra as well, maybe in an attempt to demonstrate their fitness as first foster and then adoptive parents. Or, as Lajjun claimed, so that Jack would have a companion her own age.

Six months later, Kyra and “Jane Doe” both disappeared.

The Merc Network had surprisingly little luck picking up her trail again until she reappeared on Pynchon. She was good at staying hidden when she wanted to, he had to admit. Almost as good at it as he was. Why had she followed Jack home, though? What exactly was the bond between the two girls?

He was about to start reading the handful of transcripts from her legal battles on Pynchon when someone began pounding on his door.

“Toombs, you jackass! Open up!”

Well, shit.

The possibility, that someone who actually knew Alexander Toombs would be on the station, had occurred to him, but he’d hoped it would be an extreme long-shot. Dimming the lights, he moved to the side of the door and drew one of the knives that had passed undetected through the scanners from his boot. He hit the “open” button on the door’s controls.

“About time, you sack of—”

Grabbing the front of the man’s shirt, he hauled him inside and flung him at the bed, hitting the “close” control at the same time. He was on the man an instant later, knife to his throat. In the corner of the room, the pup made a nervous whuffing sound.

“You wanna keep your head attached,” he growled at the man under him, “keep your voice low.”

The man was young, maybe mid-twenties at the most, and had the wide-eyed look of a kid on the verge of panic. Good. “O-okay.”

“Who are you and what do you want with Toombs?”

“M-Mason. Trent Mason. I work for him, I w-was rep-p-porting in,” the kid stammered.

“Okay.” Riddick smiled and eased up just slightly on the knife. “Report away.”

“Where’s…?” Mason tried to look around without actually moving his head and risking its loss. Riddick had to restrain a laugh. “Where’s Toombs?”

“Not here. Give your report.”

“Where—” Mason stopped talking with a gagging rattle as Riddick pressed the knife in again.

Give your report.

“Okay… okay…” Mason began to take a deep breath that stopped, with a hitch, as the blade began to bite into his skin. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the girl like he asked. She ain’t done nothing much until the last few days. Just school and her job.”

Jack. That had to be “the girl.” Of course it was.

“And the last few days?”

“She’s been with that defense attorney. I think they’re knockin’ boots.”

“What defense attorney?” Riddick suspected he already knew. There was only one mentioned in the files. He kept his face deadpan. The guy wasn’t that much older than the girl, as he recalled, but it was an odd development.

“C-Carl Menefee. She even went with him to see one of his clients, that Parvinal character. That’s when things got weird. He was never around much before then and now they’re always together.”

Parvinal. He’d read that name somewhere just recently. Well, he wouldn’t worry about it just yet. “So why do you think they’re knockin’ boots, exactly?”

“She’s been staying at his place ever since then. Just stopping by her dorm room to change before her classes. And she submitted an early move-out form for three days from now. I think she’s moving in with him.”

Well, that was some pretty compelling evidence, he had to admit. “How close have you been following them, exactly?”

“Been in her room a few times. T-Toombs wanted me to see if she had anything that’d prove… prove she was the one who k-killed Chillingsworth, not that Kyra chick. But there’s nothing. Just stuff from her stupid ‘Free Kyra’ campaign. I guess Menefee was helping her with that until the news came down.”

“News?” He’d already figured out that Kyra had taken the fall for Jack, but nothing about this Free Kyra campaign had been mentioned in the Merc Network reports. Riddick suspected that this must have been on purpose, if Toombs had been trying to find a way to go after Jack as well. More pieces were falling into place, and he had a growing suspicion that—

“Crematoria’s gone, man,” Mason told him. “Everybody there’s dead. Ain’t nobody left to free.”

Fuck, there it was. Of course. And even though Kyra had actually survived and escaped Crematoria, she had still died in the aftermath.

My damned fault. Jack probably went to pieces when she heard, and that’s my fault, too… The feeling twisting his guts suddenly wasn’t completely unfamiliar, but did he ever hate it.

“So what happens now, Mason? You and Toombs plannin’ on cashing in the bounty on the girl, now that the first one you cashed in is dead?”

Mason started to shake his head and then stopped as the knife reminded him of its presence. “Can’t. The Chillingworths won’t pay out a second time. Only thing she’s good for is maybe R— y-you… would come see her and we could make a play for your bounty.”

The guy had some guts, Riddick had to give him that. “Think it’ll work?”

“N-no…” Mason swallowed. “Sir. No sir.

Riddick was still for a moment. If everyone left in Crematoria was dead, then Toombs was probably among the body count. Mason probably had no idea just how disposable his boss had treated his hired help. But that didn’t mean that this green merc had no survival instincts.

“So tell me, Mason. You bring your files with you to give to Toombs directly? Or are you storing them somewhere?”

“M-my left shirt pocket,” Mason stammered. “It’s all there. Everything.”

“C’mon,” Riddick laughed as he reached into the pocket. The data card, he was amused to note, was designed to mimic a laundry service card to the casual observer. Cute. “No backups?”

“Toombs said not to put anything on the Network, not about her.”

“You’re seriously telling me this is the original,” Riddick asked, pretending a level of astonishment he didn’t really feel, “and you don’t have any copies?”

They went back and forth a few more times before he was satisfied that yes, this young merc really was that green and had never thought to take out any insurance policies against Toombs turning on him, let alone against one of the EMP assaults that the immigration services had become so worried about. Unbelievable.

Now he just had to figure out what to do with the guy. Ordinarily, ghosting him wouldn’t have bothered him, but he was on a space station, and exactly how he would dispose of the body would be a problem. He didn’t doubt that dozens of cameras had tracked the man to his rooms, and would catch him at whatever disposal attempts he made—

Mason must have sensed his change in mood, because the guy suddenly pulled back from him, escaping the press of the blade just long enough to roll to the side. His hand went for the small of his back and a second later, he had a small pistol out and had put the bed between the two of them. He pointed it at Riddick, his hand surprisingly steady for someone who had been stammering nonstop until then.

Maybe not as green as all that.

“Okay, Riddick, we’re gonna take a short walk to the station master and I’ll be collecting that reward now.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. You can drop your knife, by the way.”

“This thing?” Riddick lifted it up, looking it over as if he’d never seen it before. “This isn’t a knife. It’s a spatula.”

“What—?” Before Mason could continue his thought, the handle of the instrument in question was sprouting from his left eye. His right eye blinked once and he gulped, before his legs gave out and he fell to the ground.

Riddick walked around the bed, kicking the pistol away from Mason’s hand. A small rivulet of blood had begun to flow from the man’s eye, but was already slowing to a stop.

“Well,” Riddick told him as he bent down to pull his weapon free, “It started out as one, anyway. All ceramic and silicone, but the ceramic part takes a good edge. And no metal detector in the ’verse can spot it. It’s one of my favorites.”

He doubted Mason could hear him anymore, but… You never know.

Now he just had to figure out what to do with a very inconvenient corpse.

Riddick knelt down by Mason’s body and began going through the man’s pockets, trying not to give in to the first stirrings of panic.

The one time… the one fuckin’ time… I can’t afford to kill anybody… some fuckhead shows up and insists on me killin’ him…

The pup came over and snuffled at Mason’s leg.

“Cool it, kid,” Riddick told him, forcing himself to keep his voice low. Aside from a gun, the data card, and a key card, the merc had come empty-handed. “I gotta think this out.”

Mason’s key card indicated that his room was on the same level of the station, but a few corridors away. That was a problem. Getting a corpse across the station undetected…

That was it. Jack would know how to do it. She’d told him all about hiding out on a station like this one.

“It really shouldn’t have been so easy,” he remembered her saying. They’d been killing time on the skiff while the Holy Man slept. She’d been in her hero-worship phase and had wanted to tell him everything about her time on the lam, although she’d been weirdly tight-lipped about what she’d been running from.

He sat down by his merc network terminal, not trusting the station terminal with this search, and called up the schematics for Pynchon Gateway Three.

“Normal people have to walk down the main corridors, but there are other corridors, too,” she’d told him. At the time, he’d mostly paid attention because she needed him to. “All the stations are laid out the same. The rooms furthest away from the entries are always the bathrooms. Doesn’t matter if it’s an efficiency or some fancy suite with a dozen rooms. The bathrooms are always at the back. And they all have standing showers with these panels that open into a maintenance corridor.”

There. She’d been right. The maintenance corridors appeared on the schematics, marked differently from the public corridors. And damn if one of them didn’t run from his room to Mason’s!

Little girl, knockin’ boots with a lawyer or not, I might just have to kiss you… Now, what else had she said about that?

“I hid in the maintenance corridors for a few weeks,” She’d explained with more than a little pride. “Once you’re in them, you can go practically anywhere they go… and get into any of the units. Gotta be careful, though. I only ever went in to raid the food machines when people checked out. You could see the check-out lights in the corridor, but it was usually another day before the cleaning people showed up. Not sure why. And they always went in the front doors.”

“So what are the corridors even used for?” he’d asked, earning one of her sunrise smiles in response.

“Plumbing, electrical, heat, all that kind of stuff,” she’d replied proudly. “But maintenance staff isn’t even allowed in the corridors unless they have a work order. Maybe to keep them from breaking into people’s rooms and stealing stuff.” Like she had apparently been doing.

Riddick rose from the terminal and walked to his bathroom, switching off the light and lifting his goggles. There… he could see the difference easily. There was the panel Jack had told him about. A plan was coming together in his head.

Okay, he told himself as he worked. I can use the maintenance corridor to get Mason back to his own room. That’s one problem solved. Next is how to keep people from wondering how he entered my room and never left it, but showed up dead in his…

One problem at a time, he told himself as he set the panel aside. It wasn’t huge, but he would be able to get through it and pull Mason’s corpse through. He’d have to make sure the pup didn’t follow him, but otherwise, this part would be fairly straightforward.

Long as nobody’s doing maintenance along my route… Two bodies would be even harder to explain, although he could maybe make it look like the maintenance guy had tried to burgle Mason’s room and the two had killed each other when he was caught.

Don’t go borrowin’ trouble. Get that corpse out of your room first and worry about the rest once that’s done.

Dragging Mason into the bathroom was easy enough. He shut the door so that the pup couldn’t follow, and then began the process of pulling the merc into the maintenance corridor. The space had almost no lighting, allowing him to work comfortably. He was gratified to see that it was well-labeled; each of the spaced-out hatches like his had room numbers prominently marked on them. He levered his own hatch back into place so that, to a cursory observer, it would look unmolested. Just in case.

The hardest part was simply carrying the merc’s dead weight down the narrow hallway, but it was better than dragging him and risking someone finding physical evidence of their passing later on. Riddick set the body down when he reached a junction where the corridor branched off four ways. He needed to go right, as he recalled, and then left at the junction after that. It would have taken eight of the public corridors to reach Mason’s room, so Jack’s route was definitely saving him time.

As long as I don’t bump into anyone…

The corridor, however, was comparatively silent. He could hear the muffled sounds of a few showers running, and the rhythmic thump of music emanating from a room somewhere to his left, but there were no sharper noises coming from the corridors themselves. He was alone with his package.

Let’s get this done, then. He hefted Mason up again and resumed his stealthiest walk.

Finally he could see the numbers from Mason’s key card on the hatch ahead of him. Lowering the merc down to the floor, he carefully worked the hatch free and crawled through, finding himself in a shower stall virtually identical to the one in his room. Smellier, though. Mason had unpleasant tastes in cologne.

He temporarily arranged Mason on the unmade bed and began a methodical search of the room, finding and pocketing a few things that might have pointed investigators toward him or Jack. Despite his claims to the contrary, the man had copious printouts, many of them about her. Those had to go back with him.

That’s all well and good, but I need to make sure that nobody follows an electronic trail, either…

He set all of the physical evidence he needed to remove from the scene in the shower stall and looked over the rooms again. The only papers left were Mason’s identity documents. Riddick leafed through them, trying to find inspiration.

Religion: none. Huh. It’d be pretty convenient if you had a religion that prevented anyone from conducting an autopsy on you, wouldn’t it? I know there are a few like that. He opened up Mason’s Merc Network terminal, using the dead man’s fingerprints to activate it, and ran a quick search. Church of the Rykengoll? Isn’t that the church Kyra’s belt-miners belonged to? There’s some poetic irony.

Two minutes later, a new printed page with Mason’s new religion on it had joined the man’s papers, and the original page was tucked in Riddick’s pocket.

Now, just how did you die, Mason? Fell on a knife, I think? But how? He had two wounds to cover up and explain away, even without an autopsy: the puncture wound in Mason’s eye and the line on his throat where the blade had begun to cut in.

Mason comes back from visiting Toombs, enters his room… it’s dark and he can’t see… he trips on a chair… Riddick moved one of the chairs into a position where it looked knocked over. His terminal was on the chair, and hits the floor… He set the terminal down, open and lying on its side.

He flails around and stomps the terminal…

Riddick brought his boot down, careful to crush the portion of the terminal that he knew housed its memory chips.

And crashes into the table where he ate his lunch… The table in question still had the remains of the meal, but no steak knife. He checked the utensil drawer and found one, using a napkin to hold it as he brought it to Mason’s throat and pressed it against the shallow wound there. Some flecks of drying blood adhered to the blade as he pulled it away. Now that’s perfect. Okay, that’s his neck… what did his eye?

There was ice in Mason’s glass, he noticed, still melting. Mason must have been finishing his lunch when he got word that “Toombs” was on the station, and gone straight to his room. The man apparently didn’t use a straw—

A straw.

He found three in the utensil drawer, all metal. Perfect.

He crashes into the table and the straw goes into his eye. The steak knife bites his neck but he’s already dead…

A moment later, he had it all arranged. Gathering up the items he didn’t want anyone to find, he put them into the corridor and then wiped down the hatch before levering it back into place.

Okay, that’s good, but how did he get back to his room from mine? The cameras in the corridors would have seen something…

Unless, for some reason, they all stopped working.

He glanced down at the papers in his hands. Everybody was so worried about EMPs lately…

I happen to know a walking, talking EMP…

But how would he make it happen, exactly? The last three times, he hadn’t done anything, he’d just—

I reacted to a threat. Each time. I don’t know why the pup’s eyes were a threat, but… how do I make it happen now?

He was jumping the gun.

Before he figured out how to make it happen, he needed to decide where. Jack said these maintenance corridors serviced plumbing, heat… and electrical. He needed to find a main node, something that, if hit by one of his weird blasts, would take down a large enough area to cover both his room and Mason’s… but would be far enough away from both rooms not to draw unwanted attention to either one.

There… those were electrical conduits. He’d bet that there would be a junction box near, or in, one of the corridor junctions.

Like, say, the main junction, he decided, recalling its position on the layout.

Riddick was glad that his time in the Pit had let him develop an unerring sense of direction. He wasn’t sure when or how he had developed a perfect recall of maps, but he could see, in his mind’s eye, exactly where he was on the station schematic, and where the main junction was. He set off for it.


The main junction area had several large, standardized boxes for power. He’d seen their like in dozens of places. They weren’t even locked, with the local crews apparently assuming that unauthorized access wasn’t possible. He opened them all to ensure they would be at maximum vulnerability.

Now I just need to figure out how to summon one of those blasts…

He sat down, not willing to risk toppling over if he succeeded, and tried to recall just what he had been thinking and feeling each time.

Threatened… helpless… but what else? What was it that he’d kept seeing and hearing when they’d happened? Something from his memories, not from the here-and-now, something that had intruded and had brought back a sense of nameless terror…

Booted feet on the ground. Fire in the sky. A woman’s breathy, strangled sobs…

He felt the tingle begin in his chest and focused on the memories, teasing more out a bit at a time.

Air full of smoke and hideous, vile smells, blood and rot and excrement. Distant screams. Staccato thunder, too regular to be a natural storm… running, shuffling feet and booted feet in pursuit… and those sobs…

“Samahani mwanangu…”

He was in a bin, a rusted metal bin, filled with refuse…

Think he could start out in some liquor store trash bin, with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and not believe…?

Fire exploding overhead—

His chest was burning. It was about to happen—

This time, he felt it blast out from him like a targeted missile. As had happened in the Basilica, he opened his eyes in time to see sparks explode from each of the junction boxes. The distant thump of music he’d noticed earlier went silent.

Huh. I don’t always lose consciousness.

Distant alarms began to sound as emergency systems kicked in.

“Warning,” came a muffled, official voice, from all of the rooms surrounding him. “System power loss detected. Please stay in your rooms. Please remain calm. Maintenance has been dispatched.” The voice then began repeating the message in dozens of languages.

That’s my cue to get the hell away from here. Riddick picked up his papers again and hurried to his own room.

Back inside, he navigated the utter blackness easily, setting his evidence down on the bed and picking up the puppy and setting him on the bed as well. “Almost done, kid, just two or three more quick things I gotta do.”

Riddick walked over to his room door and used the manual override to force it open, closing it behind him. The emergency backup system logs manual overrides. That’s Mason leaving. Now… gotta do the same with his door.

The cameras in the corridors were dead, thankfully, as he took them at a run, looping around quickly to Mason’s room. Mason’s key-card had just enough juice to power the manual override, which he levered open with his napkin-wrapped hand. And then he was inside the merc’s room once again. He dropped the card on the floor by the man’s body.

One more pass through the tunnels, and then I’m done with this farce…

Maintenance workers had begun to arrive in the narrow corridors, but most of them were in and around the main junction. Riddick avoided them all, blending into the shadows when one or two workers almost came too close. Finally he was back in his own room.

Not how I planned to spend my day… but worth it.

It would be hours, he figured, before power was restored, given how thoroughly fried the boxes had been. Maybe even days. He’d take the time to learn everything Mason had known about Jack B. Badd and had kept off of the merc network… and then it would be time to go find the girl herself.

Before any more trouble can try to find her…

It was a wonder, he thought, that the Hunter-Gratzner hadn’t crashed even sooner with the two of them on board.

Falling Angels, Chapter 7

Title: Falling Angels
Chapter: 7 of ?
Fandom: The Chronicles of Riddick
Synopsis: Kyra makes an impromptu return journey to Crematoria… and discovers a new and useful power.
Warnings: Adult situations, mild violence, harsh language.

Soul Survivors

In retrospect, Kyra thought, the decision to return to Crematoria shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Consolidating her power, she found, was going more easily than expected. The lensers and quasi-dead were immediately on her side, although they understood that they were to pretend she was an ordinary acolyte whenever they saw her. Next up were the senior officials.

Those who hadn’t gone chasing after Riddick were generally too old or weak to participate in actual combat; they weren’t particularly ambitious, aside from a handful like Dame Vaako who would need to be handled with either finesse or, possibly, brute force. Taking over a delivery cart had been easy enough and within a handful of days, she had met with, and secured the fealty of, all but one or two. Arranging for them to transition to the Underverse gave her an opportunity to hone her skills at remote mind-control, as she gently nudged subjects into engineering “accidents” that took her foes out.

The entire time, she kept a close eye on Dame Vaako, who was playing at being the Empress of the Armada. The woman’s new obsession was investigating how, even though the electronics in the main control room had still been inoperable, the Purification of Helion Prime had suddenly occurred with no discernible warning.

“It makes no sense,” the Dame seethed, pacing. Kyra kept her head bowed and her expression one of simple concern. “It shouldn’t have happened like that!”

“How…” Kyra started, and then—on the advice of one of the voices in her head—changed the nature of her question. How should it have happened? might be read as facetious or insolent. But a variation on the question would help her learn more about how much of a potential threat the Dame actually was. “How does the Purification work, My Lady?”

There was a time when calling someone My Lady or Sir would have peeved her no end. Now, however, the knowledge that they were her subjects slid just enough hidden mockery into the words that she found she enjoyed saying them.

Dame Vaako stopped pacing and turned to look at her, her expression a little confused. “Honestly, I have never understood it completely. I know that it’s a much more powerful version of the purification we do on new recruits. So powerful, in fact, that it immediately sends everything in its path into the Underverse. But if that’s so, why we don’t just unleash it immediately instead of all of this… street fighting… is unfathomable.”

Because, Covu said inside her head, we need to replenish much more than just our ranks.

She shushed him, promising to ask him for more details later. The first of the Lords Martial loved to lecture for hours on the nature of Purification Energy and the Underverse, but now was definitely not the time.

If we just went around blowing up worlds without bringing in converts, Naphemil added, the rest of the ’verse would have rallied against us long ago.

Kyra hid a smirk. This was an argument that she’d heard several times now. Apparently he was the one who had decided that, if the Rykengolls could hide behind religion, so could they; officially, in the Galactic Register, the conflict was theological and the “greater” authorities’ hands were tied. If the Rykengolls could poison worlds to death in the name of religion, the Necromongers could also scour those same worlds clean. It made her wonder what her last defense lawyer would have said about it all. Something laced with profanity, no doubt.

“Do the controls work now?” she asked. Redirecting the Dame away from any harebrained schemes to launch Purification Towers at target worlds seemed like a good idea.

“Yes, finally, not that we need them at this point. But we still don’t know what he did to them!”

“Maybe it was something he did to the old Purifier,” she suggested, more to send the Dame in circles than anything else.

Dame Vaako turned and looked at her, frowning. “What, exactly, did you see happen on Crematoria? Think, girl.”

Honestly, it wasn’t that bad a command. She’d been watching the whole time, hadn’t she? Willing Riddick to get up…

“The Riddick…” She would have to ask her voices, later, why they always added that article before his name. “…was on the ground, on his knees… I think he was injured. Everybody was closing in on him. Your husband, his soldiers… and the Purifier was standing by the entryway to the hangar, just watching…”

“Like the coward he always was,” Dame Vaako muttered. Kyra had to suppress Zhylaw’s indignant response. His was still the loudest voice in her head, but the others had been growing in strength in the last few days.

“I remember V—Lord Vaako saying something to the Riddick. I couldn’t hear what it was. And then his head tilted back and he began bending backwards. There was this blue-white light on his chest and then suddenly it blasted out. Almost everyone fell over. But the Purifier didn’t. He was still standing.” Kyra was amazed at just how much detail she could actually recall, but knew that part of it was that the guests in her head were observing her memories along with her. “That’s when the sunrise began to catch up with us. The air turned hot and our ship landed, calling everyone to it. The Riddick was lying on the ground. He wasn’t moving… we all thought he was dead. I ran for the ship, too. But… the Purifier… he didn’t. I looked back one last time at the ramp, and he was walking over to the Riddick’s body.”

A Furyan blast wouldn’t affect another Furyan, of course, Zhylaw interjected.

Wait, you know what happened? It took some work to keep her surprise off of her face.

Of course. I always chose Furyans as Purifiers. I hoped that maybe their energies would… bleed into ours. And they did, a little. Just not enough.

Okay, they needed to have a long discussion later about what that meant—

Wait, is Vaako Furyan?

Of course.

The Dame didn’t seem to care that she’d gone silent. The woman had resumed pacing, as swiftly as anyone could pace in a dress as tight as hers. “He might still be alive on Crematoria. Perhaps he used the Riddick as a way to try to escape our creed. He was always a little weasel…”

He was a good man, and I felt his death, Zhylaw fumed.

But he did hate being a Necromonger, didn’t he?

Yes, and no. He believed in our war against the Rykengolls. But Furyans were their own people, and their energies were and are unique. To him, the purification was an act of pollution, and he was always uncomfortable with the way the two energies had blended within him. In truth, I can’t blame him. Before his conversion, he might have single-handedly cleansed every body and soul in New Mecca without sending anyone to the Underverse in the process. Such a loss would rankle me, too. And she could tell that it did rankle.

We need to talk more about that later.

“Come, girl,” the Dame suddenly said. “We need to go find out whether or not he lives.”

Oh holy mother of fuck, she grumbled to her more religious companions. Is this something I need to stop? Personally, she had no desire to see that cinder of a world again.

Actually, no. We have been considering a return ourselves.

Why the fuck would—

In her mind’s eye, she suddenly saw one of the hellhounds, slinking towards her through the lava tubes, its silvery eyes fixed on her.

Not all Furyans have silver eyes, Kryll, who had once been Zhylaw’s master, told her. But the ones with access to their unbridled energies do. It’s a change that occurs around puberty. The story your Riddick told your Jack, about a shine job in prison, was a smoke screen. That’s why you couldn’t find a doctor to perform one on you. But your “hellhounds” are Furyan. I think we will need them.

Am I supposed to snap my fingers and call them to my side? Those beasts had been the only things she’d actually feared in the prison, although toward the end…

We will figure something out. Follow the Dame. The Armada is securely ours. This is a good chance to separate her from it and decide her fate, while we gather the Furyan wolves.

And within a few hours, they were on their way. The Dame was oblivious to the fact that she was surrounded by someone else’s servants; in her mind, she was already the First Lady of the Armada. Kyra, sitting next to her in the pilot’s seat and marveling at just how easy and fun flying a Necromonger ship was, was careful to keep that impression firmly in place. She pretended to sleep when the Dame used one of the quasi-dead to check in with Lord Vaako, listening into their schemes the whole time. Four nights passed that way until they had anything remotely interesting to overhear.

Vaako and the others had tracked Riddick to a space station and had nearly been shot to oblivion when they attempted to invade it. The station was on high alert and taking no chances, especially where Necromonger ships were concerned. But Riddick’s ship was no longer there, anyway, and one of Toal’s lensers had picked up its faint trail. Now Vaako was shadowing Toal, hoping to overtake him as soon as Riddick’s destination was determined.

The exchange left Dame Vaako in a peevish mood, which she took out on the crew… including Kyra. If she had actually been asleep when the Dame decided to wake her, she would have been annoyed, and the woman’s imperiousness was grating on her more and more. The temptation to space her came and went, as Zhylaw reminded her that the Dame was the best way to spy on Vaako and the other AWOL senior soldiers. Instead, she had fun pretending to hide annoyance from her “Mistress” and do whatever random fetching-and-carrying the Dame came up with until her sense of powerlessness waned.

Kyra timed their Crematoria landing for shortly after nightfall, when the worst of the heat would have lifted but the bone-chilling cold wouldn’t have set in yet. She had been brought in, herself, in the daytime, and had no wish to try to replicate the harrowing descent she had witnessed. At the time, she had wondered if she would live long enough to reach the prison. A night landing, although still difficult, was much simpler.

Within minutes of landing, a lenser had found the artifacts that the Purifier had left behind, and another had found his skull. Kyra silently instructed them to hide their findings from the Dame; until they had found and recovered the wolves, she didn’t want to get into a power struggle with the woman over whether it was time to leave yet. Instead, she located the entry to the underground passage that Crematoria’s ill-fated jailors had used in their escape attempt.

“And why,” the Dame demanded, “are we not using the shuttle track?”

“It was damaged when the jailors and the mercs were fighting, My Lady,” she said, climbing onto the ladder.

Dame Vaako glared at her, standing her ground next to the shuttle track doorway. She had pressed the shuttle call button, but didn’t seem to notice that it hadn’t lit up. “Damaged how?”

“An explosion at the other end, My Lady. The other door buckled and collapsed partway onto the shuttle cart. There’s no way to call it to this end. This is the only safe way to the other side.”

“You might have mentioned this before we came here,” the Dame snapped, shouldering the crew aside and stepping up to the tunnel entry. She seemed content to have Kyra lead the way, however.

The walk took hours. They encountered a few bodies along it, some jailors and some inmates who hadn’t been inclined to join the surface run. While the jailors had been shot, both their remains and those of the inmates showed extensive evidence of having been…


The wolves were alive and well, then… and on the hunt. Kyra hoped she could actually get control of them without having to kill any of them, but she wasn’t sure how the hell she was supposed to do that. She wasn’t Furyan, after all. They had apparently liked Riddick, but she didn’t have that quasi-mystical connection to draw on.

We’ll figure something out, Zhylaw told her, his confidence unruffled.

Emerging into the prison control complex gave her a weird feeling of nostalgia. It had only been roughly two weeks since she’d escaped the place, she realized, but it felt like an ancient era.

“Someone’s here,” one of the scouts said as the crew fanned out.

“Show me!” the Dame demanded.

The scout had found a heavily barricaded inner office. Through the thick, assault-proof glass, Kyra could make out a figure huddled on a cot.

That will keep the Dame busy for a while, Zhylaw said, pleased. Where are the kennels?

Why would the wolves still be in them? All signs said that they had free run of the place now.

Beasts return to their dens when not on the hunt. And if they have the freedom to come and go now, it’s likely that they won’t think of those dens as prisons anymore.

That did make sense. Kyra slipped away from the crew, leaving behind instructions that they were to keep the Dame distracted from looking for her.

She knew exactly where the kennels were, of course. On more than one occasion, when she’d fought off an “amorous” guard or killed a rapacious inmate, she’d been locked in them herself. The wolves, although they had hunted her like everyone else at first, had begun to act more playful toward her in recent months, as if they looked forward to her company in the kennels and didn’t feel like ending it by eating her.

And that, Zhylaw commented, is something we can use.

The room was a shambles.

All of the cages had been broken open from within, but there were definite signs that the wolves were still using them. Where they had been spotlessly empty in the past, most of the cages now had odd collections of random items. Clothes and blankets twisted into bedding. Gnawed bones. Random items that she suspected they considered toys.

Alexander Toombs’ remains were scattered throughout the room, as well. Kyra couldn’t help feeling a certain cold satisfaction at that.

In the far corner of the room, curled up, was one of the wolves. Its breathing was shallow, labored.

Shit, I think it’s dying, Kyra thought, and hurried over to its side.

She knew this beast. It had inhabited the cage beside hers, on those occasions when she had been locked in the kennels. It had play-hunted her a few times, but had always let her escape. She wondered suddenly if it had considered her a friend.

Toombs’ knife was buried in its abdomen. The wound had turned septic. Looking at the beast with her other sight rather than with her eyes, she could see that it had spent the last two weeks slowly inching toward death, but now had only hours left.

Damn it, she thought, reaching out and stroking its neck. She was surprised at just how much it hurt to think about this wolf, in particular, dying.

It opened its eyes. Familiar silver, so like Riddick’s eyes, focused on her and the wolf made an exhausted chuffing sound.

“I’m so sorry,” she heard herself telling it. That bastard Toombs had stolen from her again.

She’d almost managed to evade prison time, after all. Menefee had talked the prosecution into a plea deal that would have allowed her to be charged as a minor and serve a gentle slap-on-the-wrist sentence in a juvenile facility. She would have been back with Jack, her beloved Audie, the moment she turned eighteen. Until Alexander motherfucking Toombs had arrived.

And suddenly she wasn’t the one in danger. Toombs was there to serve extradition papers for the murderer of Antonia Chillingsworth: Jack B. Badd. Audie.

Audie would never have survived this place. She wouldn’t have even made it a month. She was strong, but she didn’t have the necessary killer instincts. She was far too kind for a place like this. She’d killed Chillingsworth to defend Riddick, after all, not herself.

There had been no question in her mind. Before Toombs could even see the girl he had come to arrest, she had filed her confession, claiming that it was her on board the Kublai Khan. Audie had told her everything about those terrifying days on the ship, enough that she’d been able to produce a spectacular false confession that neither Toombs—nor a horrified Menefee—could refute. She and Audie had only seen each other once after that, when she had received her soulmate’s tearful promise that somehow, some way, she would get Riddick to come to Crematoria and rescue her.

And she had, too. It had taken years, but he had finally come.

Glancing at Toombs’s remains again, she hoped he’d gone straight to some variety of Hell. He didn’t deserve the Underverse. The poor creature beside her, however, did.

It’s not one of mine. Is there anything I can do to help it? she asked the arrayed Lords Martial in her head.

We can only grant passage to converts. If there was a way to purify it before its due time, we could ensure its passage, but… She could feel their regret.

I’m so sorry, she thought again, leaning forward to rest her head against its.

Only… she didn’t lean forward. Not with her body. It was her spectral head that touched its, passed into it—

Kyra, what are you—

She was somewhere else.

Running, hot wind against her scales, rough stone against her paws. Free of her cage, free to roam, free to hunt, free to feed. Fragile creatures fleeing before her. None of them worthy of her interest except as possible meals. None but one, perhaps? The packmate that wasn’t a packmate? She could look for that one. Play a little. She wouldn’t hurt the creature. It had strength to it, ferocity… she would teach it how to be even stronger. That would be fun.

Up a long trail, onto a metal landing… oh, there you are, small one, fragile but strong, little cub…

Kyra tried to understand just what she was seeing. Her vision was strange, skewed, colors that she didn’t recognize dominating. The creature before her was tall and spindly, stuck on two legs. It was a female, she knew that, and it was slightly polluted by something that she knew she could eradicate if only the cub would let her touch it. It was young. It was strong. It was ferocious. A worthy cub to adopt and clean up. One day perhaps it would let her.

What were these thoughts? They filled her head, taking up the place that had been occupied by the Lords Martial. What was this creature before her? She looked more closely.

Me, she suddenly realized. My god, that’s me!

Kyra-that-had-been was standing before her, facing the Furyan wolf that she was now… staring it down and then leaping from the bridge to catch a dangling rope and swing away. She chuffed, laughing with delight at the cub’s daring move. She had chosen well indeed—

What is happening to me?

If this was that day, though, she realized, then Riddick was here. She didn’t understand how or why, but he was here. The moment she thought of him, she felt the wolf-she-was paying attention. Kin was in this place? She needed to find this creature!

Not sure if she was leading or following, she thought of the waterfalls. That was where Riddick had been when she’d last seen him as Kyra-that-was. Maybe that was where he still was now. She hurried unerringly for them, knowing the exact way even though it was a way that she’d never taken as a spindly human cub.

Stepping through one of the waterfalls that concealed a tunnel, she was confronted by something…


He shone. Light so pure that it made her think of the Underverse, cascading out from him but visible only to her silver eyes. How could no other creatures in this place feel his glory? His eyes were on her, locked with hers, and he held out a hand.

Welcoming her home.

She stalked forward, basking in the light, in the scent of home that emanated from him, until his hand touched her side—

Gasping, she sat back. She was in the kennels, the Furyan wolf before her once more. It was changed. She could still feel the light of Furya within it, but now…

What did you do? Zhylaw asked. How did you purify it?

Instead of answering, she reached forward again, this time with a spectral hand, and slid it into the abdominal wound. Necrotizing tissue melted away, replaced by whole, healthy flesh. She felt the beast’s breathing and heartbeat stabilize even as her physical hand pulled Toombs’ knife out and her spiritual hand wiped away all signs of its passage. The wolf raised her head, silver eyes focusing on her again.


Mother, she answered her. The pure love that flowed between them left her breathless and her mental passengers dumbfounded.

The wolf rose, understanding her completely, and set off to gather her pack. They would come with her to the Basilica. They would join the war and help her clean the ’verse. They would follow their chosen cub, grown so very powerful, and help her find The Ones again…

The wolf passed the Necromonger soldier entering the chamber without paying him any attention, off on her quest to bring the other wolves home. Kyra glanced up at the soldier, who looked agitated. “What’s wrong?”

“My Liege,” he said quietly, “we have gained access to the woman barricaded in that room. Dame Vaako attempted to interrogate her, but she’s delirious. Now she’s demanding we kill her and—what is your command?”

Kyra reached out. Dame Vaako was raging at the soldiers, demanding to know why they were no longer obeying her. That wouldn’t do. Sleep, she thought, sending out as powerful a mental command as she could. When the Dame promptly dropped to the ground, she almost laughed.

“I will deal with this,” she told the soldier.

Almost no women were in Crematoria. The few who were sent here generally didn’t survive long, and most of those who did managed it by trading sexual favors to the most powerful of the convicts. She wondered who among them had survived, but whoever it was, it would make a good test over whether this thing that had happened with the wolf was a fluke or an actual power she possessed. In the back of her mind, she could hear the other Lords Martial arguing over what had happened, more surprised than her. If it was a power, it was one they had never known about before.

The Dame still lay crumpled on the floor of the chamber. On the cot, however, was a woman that Kyra recognized, not as one of her fellow convicts but as one of the mercs who had brought Riddick to Crematoria. She was the one who had been felled by the doors to the shuttle track, her injuries too grim for anyone to worry about caging her. Somehow she had managed to survive this long, and had even managed to barricade herself inside the Warden’s private office. Her food and medicine must have finally run out, though, and her injuries were overtaking her.

But you lived long enough for me to get here, and that might just be your salvation. I hope you’re worth it and not something rotten like Toombs… She knelt down before the cot and leaned forward again, repeating what she had done with the wolf—

—and woke up, gasping, on a small spacecraft.

The rank stench of the craft almost made her gag. The men surrounding her were the worst crew she’d ever been part of, dangerous to fall asleep around, and she only hoped the money would make it all worth it—

It had worked. She was in this woman’s past. But where and when?

Riddick was chained up in front of her, across from her.

Well, if this isn’t someone’s greatest hits track, I don’t know what it is.

She climbed to her feet and made her way over to him. No light cascaded out of him, not this time, not through these human eyes. For all his contained power, there was no sense of godlike puissance now. She wondered if any of the scent she had caught, while a wolf, would still linger on him, the scent of inhuman purity.

Leaning close, she inhaled his scent. Masculine, definitely. And he needed a shower. He smelled of smoke, blood, and death. Nothing of the otherworldly fragrance that she had smelled as a wolf. She reached out, drawing his goggles up to his forehead—

His eyes opened, shining silver, and his legs clamped, viselike, around her knee.

“Did you know that you grind your teeth when you sleep?” he asked her, his voice amused—

—and she was back in the warden’s office.

“Goddamn,” she muttered, and felt the Lords Martial echoing her sentiments as they examined her sudden new memories. She could feel her connection to the woman on the cot even now, the woman who was now one of hers. Reaching forward with her spectral hand, she explored and corrected the injuries that had festered for the last two weeks. This part, at least, was something that Zhylaw and the others recognized and understood. She could feel them debating whether or not she had simply been riding along in the memories of both wolf and merc, or had actually somehow traveled through time and changed their actions.

I’ll probably have to try it a few more times before we can be sure, she told them as she sat back. “Okay. Some of you carry the Dame back to the ship… some of you get to carry this lady. I’m bringing up the rear with some new acquisitions.”

Her soldiers obeyed without a word, completely hers. She had to admit that the feeling of power was something she enjoyed.

Dame Vaako remained unconscious until after they had taken off from Crematoria once more, a full complement of Furyan wolves on board the ship along with one recovering mercenary. When Kyra finally let her wake up, she was groggy and confused. “Where am I?”

“Back on board the ship, My Lady,” Kyra told her, having worked out all of the details of her planned lies. “We never did reach the prison. The tunnel had filled with volcanic gases. You lost consciousness and we carried you back out.”

“I could have sworn…” Eavesdropping in her mind, Kyra snatched away the Dame’s memories of the prison even as she reached for them. “The Purifier…?”

“We found this,” Kyra said, producing a burned and blackened skull. She followed it up with some of the man’s adornments. “With these.”

“So he is dead, then,” Dame Vaako sighed. “This trip was a waste of time.”

Not even a little, Kyra thought as she nodded in grave agreement. This trip was incredibly valuable.

Kyra had timed the Dame’s revival so that most of the soldiers would be retiring to rest when she woke. She pretended to do so herself, curling up in the pilot’s chair and settling her breathing into the deep, slow rhythm of sleep even as she kept the Dame’s attention away from the wolves in the shuttle bay and the mercenary in one of the back rooms. It was time to decide the woman’s fate, after all, once she’d been given one more opportunity to contact Lord Vaako and learn of his progress.

I can control her easily enough, she suggested to the Lords Martial. I can make her my creature.

Her husband might notice the change in her, Zhylaw pointed out.

He’ll definitely notice if she dies, Oltuvm, who rarely spoke, argued.

Dame Vaako, meanwhile, had “sneaked” over to one of the quasi-dead and was talking to her husband through its telepathic connection to its kin on his ship.

I would rather be done with her scheming forever, given all of the—we have a problem, Zhylaw said, uncharacteristically interrupting himself mid-thought.

What? Kyra asked, struggling to keep her breathing even.


What about it? That was where she wanted to go next, of course, but first she needed to drag her errant generals back to their stations—

Riddick is going to Pynchon. Lord Vaako and the others are following him there.

Pynchon. Audie.

Motherfuckers, Kyra seethed. Any chance I can make their heads explode from here?

If only, Baylock replied, suppressing phantom laughter.

We need to get there ahead of them, she thought, pretending to wake up and stretch. I guess the Dame gets to live a little bit longer…

When Dame Vaako walked up to her a moment later and ordered her to set course for Pynchon, Kyra was no longer amused by the pretense that the order hadn’t really come from her in the first place. Things had gotten deadly serious. The new Lord Martial was playing no more games.

Not when Audie’s life might be on the line.

You couldn’t just go back to your hideout, Riddick? Damn it all.

But part of her hoped she might see that heavenly light once more when they met again. The wolves, resting in the shuttle bay, raised their heads and howled in agreement.

Beside her, Dame Vaako, now fully under her control, heard nothing.

Falling Angels, Chapter 6

Title: Falling Angels
Chapter: 6 of ?
Fandom: The Chronicles of Riddick
Synopsis: In an attempt to find out whether she’s right about the Church of the Rykengoll and the Clement Institute, Audrey Jackson-Badura plays a game of cat-and-mouse with a murderer… and receives a terrible message.
Warnings: Adult situations, harsh language.

The Cipher’s Warning

“Have you given any more thought to what I asked you?”

On the vid screen, Menefee – Carl, but she found that thinking of him as a Carl was much like thinking of Riddick as a Richard – smiled at Audrey. “Oh, I’ve done better than that. I asked him. And he wants to talk to you.”

It had come as a surprise to her when, only two days ago, he had mentioned in passing – in one of their conversations that were growing increasingly personal – that he had been assigned to defend a father who had killed his two small children. And not just a father, but the father who had stammered out a heart-freezing phrase to her while covered in their blood. It had also shocked her just how much she wanted to talk to the man again. “Really?”

“Yeah. But.” The smile had fallen away, replaced with a more serious look that she recognized as Menefee’s all-business mode. “There are a few ground rules.”

Well, shit.

It must have shown on her face. “Not actually his. I think he just needs to talk, tell his story. But that’s the thing. I have to defend him, and I have to do it to the best of my ability. So the rules are mine, and they’re for his protection.”

She wasn’t sure if that was better or worse. “Okay?”

“First: you can’t talk to him alone. I have to be present,” he told her, his voice firm. Then it softened. A little. “And just so you don’t think I’m being a dick for no reason, here’s why. As long as I’m in the room with him, attorney-client privilege comes into play. What he says and does can’t be recorded and used as evidence at trial. So maybe you wanted a private conversation with him, but there’s gonna be a third party in the room no matter what, and between me and the surveillance system, I pick me. And so do you if you want to see him.”

“That makes perfect sense.” And, in truth, as much as she wanted to talk to the man, she realized that she didn’t want to be all alone with him.

“Good. Second: if I tell you not to follow a line of questioning, you don’t. There are some things that he could say that even attorney-client privilege won’t protect, and if I know them, I’m obligated to report them. I’ve explained that to him. The standard plea deal in his kind of situation is an insanity defense, and God knows way too many of the people who came from the Coalsack could use it. But last year, a colleague of mine was defending this… schmuck…

Audrey suddenly wondered if Menefee was Jewish. For Pynchon, outside of refugee territory, he was somewhat exotic, and she couldn’t pinpoint his ethnicity any better than she’d been able to figure out Riddick’s once upon a time. Funny how the rest of the Menefee clan – lawyers and prominent politicians, for the most part – seemed completely white-bread. But Carl Menefee, public defender, was an enigma among them, both in his appearance and in his choices. The family Black Sheep, maybe?

On her screen, he shook his head, grimacing. “…And the jackass blew his whole case when they were talking about favorite books. He mentioned that when he was a teenager, his absolute favorite book, his comfort read, was The Darkest Sword by D. G. Kirk. You ever read that one?”

Audrey shook her head.

“It’s a psychological thriller. But the thing is, this bastard’s wife died from long-term exposure to arsenic contamination in their house’s water pipes, something that was initially ruled as an accident until her family found out that he was the beneficiary of a huge life insurance policy that had only been taken out a year earlier, right before she started displaying early signs of low-grade arsenic poisoning. My buddy thought he was gonna have an easy time proving that the family’s accusations were total bull until he brought up that book.”


“Because that’s how the antihero in the book killed his enemy. Slow, low-grade arsenic poisoning. Kaz suddenly realized that the book was a bloody blueprint for that idiot’s murder of his wife. And it’s not true on every planet, but here on Pynchon, if a defense attorney acquires evidence that could be used to prove first-degree murder and doesn’t turn it over, they can be disbarred.” He grimaced and shook his head. “Which in a case like that, who gives a damn, right? That bastard deserves life with no parole. But I’ve defended a lot of victims of domestic violence who killed their abusers, and thank God none of them have ever accidentally handed me proof that they’d planned their lethal act of self-defense ahead of time.”

Audrey suddenly remembered how one of the first things he’d told Kyra, when he’d been appointed as her counsel, was that he didn’t want her telling anyone, not even or maybe especially not him, about any violent fantasies she’d ever had about her “adoptive family,” as the prosecution insisted on referring to those scum-sucking miners. Damn, so that was why.

“So you don’t want me asking him anything that could… suggest he planned to kill his kids or that he was sane when he decided to do it?” Easy enough. She knew, better than he did, what had driven the murders, and sanity had no part of it.

That dark, terrible night, years ago, Kyra had kicked the knife out of Ziza’s small hand, something that had made the little girl howl with anger and pain and finally wakened her parents from their oblivious slumber. Shouting and recriminations had followed in spite of the knife lying in plain sight on the floor. Audrey had always wondered what might have happened if disarming her hadn’t been so easy… if one of them had been forced to turn the blade back on her. If they hadn’t fled Helion soon after, might there have been another night that had ended in a terrible mirror of the Purdy incident?

It had been the last night that they’d slept alone in separate rooms, no matter how many times Abu or Lajjun scolded them. Even locks on the outsides of their doors hadn’t stopped Kyra from simply going out her window and, via a series of heart-stopping acrobatics that Audrey herself had never dared, coming back in through hers. Those last nights, as New Mecca’s high summer reigned, had been full of whispered conversations, increasingly urgent plans, and moments of intimacy that even now stunned her with their power—

“That’s exactly it, yeah,” Menefee told her, jarring her back out of her memories before they could take her anywhere dangerous. “The last thing is that when we go in, I need you to pose as my legal aid. And not to talk to anybody. If they think I’m bringing in some random lookie-loo, there goes attorney-client privilege all over again. As long as they think you’re part of the defense team, though, we’re good. So just… act like you’re some paralegal I’ve drafted and don’t say more than ‘excuse me’ or ‘thank you’ to anybody when we’re in surveillance zones.”

“Okay.” It looked, she thought with a suppressed shiver, like she was going to have to go with the plan that had occurred to her two days ago. If she could. But would she be able to? “So how would a paralegal dress, and what would she be carrying with her if security was poking around in her stuff?”

She was subtle. Her mother, gods rest her, would have said she was sneaky. A few back-and-forths later, in the midst of having him pick out what she should wear and what kind of materials he would give her to tote with them as his Girl Friday, she’d confirmed that nobody – not even, it seemed, him – would think twice if she brought an insulated cup of coffee or tea with her. And he’d agreed to pick her up in the morning.

And then she was in her tiny kitchenette, brewing a tea that she could barely stand to be in the same room with.

People swore by it. It was medicinal, they claimed, and her textbooks hadn’t disagreed so far. But the smell…

It wasn’t quite the same as the scent that had sometimes come in on the night breezes those final weeks in New Mecca. But it was far, far too close for her liking. The first time she’d caught a whiff of it on Pynchon, in a farmer’s market near her father’s and stepmother’s home, she’d almost had a very public panic attack.

The first time she’d smelled the other scent, the one so much like it but …different… had been the day she and Kyra had skipped school to look for Djamila.

They had tried to make friends with the girls on Helion, the girls in their school, but most of them had just been too sheltered, too sure of how the worlds worked, to feel comfortable with. Their own traumas were still fresh, their experiences with the ’verse so contradictory to how the girls insisted it worked, that it was hard to sit still and listen to them hold forth. Maybe that kind of complacency had been part of why, even when the disappearances were beginning, everyone kept finding plausible explanations. The harder and more real world that Jack – she had still been Jack, then – and Kyra knew was one they refused to acknowledge. But Djamila had been different. She had seemed to understand, and had kept the door open for them even when other girls would have shut them out.

And then she disappeared.

The first day, nobody thought much of it. Spring had been shading into summer and with warmer weather came both a rise in respiratory infections – Audrey had once meant to find out why that was, but she had forgotten until now – and a rise in deliberate truancy. Most of the initial excuses for why she was gone were both banal and plausible.

But the days stretched into a week, and that week into the weekend when the concert that Djamila had planned to attend – and which dozens of girls had desperately wanted to go to but hadn’t managed to buy tickets for – was held. Jack and Kyra had gone, courtesy of tickets gifted to them by Abu and Lajjun when they were still feeling generous, and Djamila’s seat had been empty. If she had known she wouldn’t be able to make it, Jack had insisted during the ride back to town, there were a dozen classmates she could have easily sold her ticket to, not to mention three or four close friends, any of whose eternal devotion she could have ensured, if she’d given it to one of them. Kyra had nodded silently, thoughtfully, beside her.

The “rational” explanations of the other girls rang hollower and hollower, until finally she and Kyra decided to go to Djamila’s house and find out the truth for themselves.

They had been to the girl’s house once, months earlier, for her birthday party. It had been a well-tended garden home in one of the more affluent parts of New Mecca, much like the Al-Walid house but on the other side of the large swathe of public gardens that dominated the city center. That day, though, it looked derelict, abandoned… like a shell that would soon collapse from hidden rot. The silence surrounding it was strange and oppressive. Jack would have forged on, determined to break in and see if it really was abandoned, if Djamila’s family had simply chosen to move and not tell anybody, until Kyra’s hand clamped, iron-hard, on her elbow.

“Do you smell that?” the sister of her heart had asked, an uncharacteristic quaver in her voice.

And then she did smell it… the strange, almost undefinable scent that had filled her nose and lodged in her throat. Musty, rich, hideous, a scent that evoked a primal desire to run. She had controlled it, but had let Kyra pull her away. It was coming from the house, from somewhere within the house. And in spite of the stillness and the silence, Jack had had the terrible feeling that something, perhaps the house itself, was watching them as they backed away. It took all of her will not to break into a panicked run.

Djamila never returned.

That summer, as the days somehow grew darker and they began to plot their own, very different, disappearance, the nights had been full of the scents of a New Mecca summer, a mixture of redolent oasis flowers from the nearby public gardens and cooking spices from the nearby market. Even now, those scents could stir a wistful nostalgia in Audrey’s heart, a burning longing for a dream of sanctuary that had died in its nascence. But sometimes, the wind would shift. And then the breezes would bring another scent, that scent, in through Jack’s open window. And beside her, on the bed, Kyra would shudder and pull in on herself, her hand stealing for the knife that she’d taken to keeping squirreled in her clothes at all times…

It was also a scent that had begun to drift into the Al-Walid house from two other, more terrible directions: the cellar that Lajjun no longer let either girl into… and Ziza’s room.

Its cousin wafted into Audrey’s nose now and she suppressed the urge to retch. Friends of hers swore by this tea, she reminded herself. She’d never been able to stomach the idea of drinking it. She hoped she wouldn’t have to drink any in the morning, and that carrying the cup or, at most, pantomiming a sip from time to time, would be enough.

By morning, she was convinced that the tea’s stench had taken over her whole small living space. She showered, trying to scrub the odor back out of her pores, and then put on the dress she hadn’t worn since she’d last gone job-hunting. Half an hour later, she looked as professional as she possibly could… but she was convinced that she still stank of the damned tea. She hoped she was imagining it. Where the tea was concerned, she needed the element of surprise. Reeking of it when she walked in would definitely spoil that.

Menefee – Carl, and she really needed to think of him that way more – didn’t seem to notice anything unusual… past the fact that she was wearing a dress. She had to admit that he cut quite a figure as well in his Public Defender suit. She had learned enough about telling apart the haves and have-nots, during her time on the run, that she could recognize how much more expensive it was than most of the suits his colleagues wore. It was subtle, but she bet it helped him a lot in the courtroom.

“You look perfect,” he told her, putting a slim leather briefcase into her free hand without a glance at the perfectly ordinary-looking thermal mug she carried in the other. “Exactly right for the part.”

“Thanks! You look…” She considered and discarded a dozen all-too-revealing adjectives. “…incredibly dashing, by the way.”

He smiled. That smile was something that she was a little obsessed with, she realized. It reminded her of the all-too-rare moments during her acquaintance with Riddick when he had cracked a smile or even laughed. She didn’t know how anybody could stand up to him, in or out of court, when he smiled like that.

Carl drove. His vehicle was large, very new, and handled so smoothly that Audrey found herself itching to get behind the wheel. She wished her ambulance had shocks this good, and the fifth-hand jalopy she used when she was staying with her father and stepmother was a rattletrap. If things really were evolving with Carl in the way they seemed to be, she was a little surprised. People in his social class didn’t usually tend to date outside of it. She needed to stay cautious in case she was reading too much into his friendliness… and into how many of their conversations were no longer about the Free Kyra cause but more personal topics.

The New Detroit courthouse was a huge, resplendent edifice and Audrey hated it. She and her family had come here every day to fight for Kyra’s freedom, only to be crushed under the heel of a justice system that seemed archaically convinced that little girls should shoulder the blame for the perversions of the ’verse. Now that she was back in it, she remembered that nobody was going to care about her coffee mug, much less what was inside it. Any other kind of contraband – and that wasn’t really what it was, was it? – would probably have been flagged immediately, but she didn’t even have to pretend to sip at it. Every third person in the building was carrying one much like hers.

The worst part was the interview room. It was the same one where she and Kyra had said their good-byes, after everything fell apart. Carl’s hand rested gently on her shoulder and gave it a small squeeze. He must be remembering, too, she thought, and wondered how much he’d deduced from their final, tearful embraces. Most of the tears had, of course, been hers. Kyra had never been a cryer, or even much of a hugger except with her.

They sat down on one side of the table, the side with its back to a one-way mirror that observers could stand behind. Carl turned and looked at the one of the small, silver globes in each corner of the room.

“I am Carl Menefee, defense attorney for Yeshua Parvinal. This session is protected by attorney-client privilege and cannot be surveilled or observed by anyone associated with the prosecution. Observing this session or attempting to use information gleaned from it, without the knowledge or consent of my client or me, is a class three felony under the Pynchon legal code.”

The little red lights by each of the camera globes winked out. Audrey heard the soft click of a door closing in the observation room behind them. A moment later, two guards led Parvinal in, seating him across from them and securing his handcuffs to the tabletop.

It really was a defense session, too. Carl and Parvinal talked about several things before it was her turn, and she listened with interest. She hadn’t been in the room during many of his sessions with Kyra, and she had often missed these parts of the sessions. She wished she’d seen them, because now she understood why, although Kyra had had no faith in Pynchon’s justice system, Carl Menefee had been one of the only men she’d ever genuinely trusted.

“And now,” Carl finally said, “Audrey, here, wants to talk to you.”

Parvinal, who had spent most of the time with his head tilted down a little, raised his head and looked at her with wan curiosity. “Hello, Audrey. Mr. Menefee tells me that you were the ambulance driver who took my Suri to the hospital.”

Suri Parvinal had had to be sedated twice before they turned her over to the hospital attendants, as Audrey recalled. She’d wondered how sane she would be in that position, because Suri had kept being set off every time she looked down at her nightgown and saw her children’s blood sprayed across it.

And this was the man who had done that.

He didn’t look like a killer. But then, most killers didn’t. She knew that all too well. He looked like the sort of man who might do someone’s taxes once a year and just vanish into the crowd the rest of the time, timid and unremarkable. His eyes were clear, though, and full of deep sadness. He was grieving, she realized.

“I wanted to ask you,” Audrey said carefully, making sure to meet his eyes the whole time, “about the Church of the Rykengoll and the Clement Institute.”

Across from her, Parvinal flinched, just a little, at each name. In the reflection of the window behind him, she could see Carl staring at her in confusion.

“We… weren’t members of that church,” Parvinal said after a brief hesitation, and she could hear distaste in his words. “Suri wanted to join, but I put my foot down. It was too… it wasn’t a place I wanted to go. Our kids—”

His voice broke on the word and he took a deep breath.

“…They were enrolled in one of the Institute’s nursery schools.”

“What did you think of it?” she asked.

“Suri handled all of the childcare decisions. She said it was nice.” Across from her, she watched his face twist with complex grief and fear. Grieving the loss of his children, dead at his hand but maybe lost much sooner than that. Grieving the loss of a wife who maybe hated him now. Grieving the loss of a life in which innocent children went to innocent-seeming schools and nothing rough was slouching closer beneath the façade…

But did he know what he was afraid of? “Did you ever read any of their literature?”

He should his head. So he didn’t know. He hadn’t heard that awful phrase before, not until his own children began chanting it.

Would things have played out differently if he’d known it was some kind of twisted company slogan connecting the Church and the Institute? Would he have excused it and gone back to bed that night? Or…

“Where did the knife come from?” It wasn’t a question she had planned on asking. She felt Carl’s arm tense up where it rested against hers. In a moment, he might cut her off, depending on where the answer seemed to be leading.

Parvinal shrugged. “The kitchen, probably.”

“Don’t you know?” So it had played out the way she suspected.

“I didn’t…” He covered his eyes with one hand and his shaking voice dropped to a whisper. “I didn’t bring it into our bedroom. They did.”

Carl’s breath caught next to her. Apparently he hadn’t known that until now either.

“You told the officer,” he said after a moment as he flipped through his notes, “that you had to kill them because they were possessed. You never said anything about them bringing the murder weapon into your bedroom. Why not?”

“Who would have believed me?” The man across the table aimed the most miserable glare that Audrey had ever seen at his attorney. “They were just… little kids. You don’t know what was happening in the Coalsack even before… even before…”

He stopped and shook his head again.

It was time.

Casually, as if it was nothing, Audrey took the top off of her insulated mug, which had been busily keeping the tea inside piping hot the whole time. Its steam was set free.

The moment the scent reached Parvinal, his response was instantaneous. Pale and wide-eyed, he leapt up out of his seat, or at least as far up as he could with his wrists shackled to the tabletop. His chair clattered against the wall behind him. “What—?!”

“What the Hell?” Carl asked, staring at her.

“It’s okay, Mr. Parvinal,” she said, covering the tea again. “It’s not what it smells like. I promise. But you and I both know what it smells like, don’t we?”

He gaped at her and then closed his mouth with a snap, swallowing. He nodded after a moment.

“Did you start smelling it before or after people were going missing?” she asked, and heard Carl’s breath hitch beside her.

“After,” Parvinal said in a shaky voice, and Carl’s breath hitched again. “After. Sometimes… sometimes I thought it was coming from inside my own house…”

It probably was, Audrey reflected. “When did your kids start having eye infections?”

A look of puzzled awe stole over Parvinal’s face. “Two years ago.”

“Did you have pets back in the Coalsack?” This was the question she hated asking most of all. But the Al-Walid family had owned a beautiful little Pomeranian named Habiba when “Uncle Abu” had first brought her and Kyra home with him, until—

“We did. Yes.” If anything, Parvinal’s voice had become shakier.

“And when did they disappear?”

“What—?” Carl began as he righted Parvinal’s chair for him, and then made himself quiet down.

“About a month before our planet was attacked,” Parvinal whispered, slumping into his chair. “Please, I don’t think I can talk about this anymore.”

“I just have one more question, please,” Audrey said, reaching out and touching his hand. He flinched. “Did Suri have a lot of new friends… other mothers mostly… who replaced her old friend circles from, say, even just three years ago?”

From what she knew of his case, their children had been five and six years old. Suri Parvinal would have already had a close-knit group of friends who were also new mothers… whom she would have inexplicably discarded in favor of a different group, just as Lajjun had.

Parvinal’s eyes met hers again and she could see the puzzle pieces beginning to fall into place for him. Naked horror filled his eyes. “Yes. Yes, she did. Did… did you see all of this in the Coalsack?”

Audrey shook her head. “New Mecca.”

Beside her once more, Carl gasped, and she realized that she’d just given away one of the few mysteries about herself that he’d never been able to solve.

Parvinal’s eyes widened. “It’s there too? And we…”

His cuffs had just enough give that he could cover his face with his hands.

“We… brought… it… here…

It was the end of the interview. Parvinal began sobbing, and his sobs became so uncontrollable that Carl had to call for a medic and have him transported back to the secure wing of the nearby hospital.

They didn’t talk as they left the building, both of them tight-lipped and pale. It wasn’t until they were back in Carl’s vehicle, sitting in the courthouse parking garage, that he turned to her, his eyes no longer gentle but hard. “What… the fuck… just happened in there?”

“It’s hard to explain,” and Audrey had been up most of the night working out a rational way to explain it, “but… Parvinal’s wife and kids… they got caught up in a kind of cult. The night he killed them… was the night he probably would have died if he hadn’t turned their knife back on them.”

The rest was impossible to explain. Not without sounding completely insane.

Carl stared at her for a long moment before he leaned back in his seat. “Jesus fuck. Not temporary insanity… self-defense. But he’s… probably spent years questioning his sanity, hasn’t he? And blaming himself, which just got even easier to do given that he killed them…”

He turned to look at her again, amazed comprehension on his face. His eyes were gentle again. “That church you mentioned. The men Kyra was convicted of killing were members. And you mentioned New Mecca…”

Audrey winced. She and Kyra had sworn to keep their time on Helion Prime a secret. It hadn’t helped, but she’d still never told anybody. Until now.

“It was happening there, too,” she told him. In for a penny… “Kyra and I were in a foster home together. The mom was in the cult. With her little girl. The dad… I don’t know if he understood what was going on. He might have. But things were getting scary, so we bugged out. And came home.”

“They must’ve been really scary, to leave a world where nobody could arrest Kyra for one like this.” Carl’s eyes were sympathetic. “Were you on Helion the whole time you were—”

He froze, gasping. For a moment, he stared out at nothing, completely still.

“Carl? Are you okay?”

He shook himself and looked around. When his eyes returned to her, they lit up. “Wow, you’re right here. Look. I don’t have long. Maybe a minute or two. I can’t rightly tell yet. So I need you to listen close, okay? Things are about to start moving really fast.”

“Carl? What?”

“This is important. Riddick’s on his way to you. That’s the good news. The bad news is he’s got a shitton of enemies on his tail.”

“Riddick’s coming here? How do you know this?”

“Audie, I need you to focus,” Carl said, his voice and face both earnest and stern and totally unlike him.

Audrey stared at him, dumbstruck. Audie.

“Things are going to get bad when he gets here. So you keep the people you care about close to you, and out of the center of town. Got me? No heroics. You hunker down.”

“Why isn’t Riddick going to Crematoria?” Audrey demanded, confused desperation loosening her tongue entirely too much. “I need him to go there to—”

“Forget Crematoria. It’s history. You need to keep your family safe. Keep your friends safe. And don’t be anywhere near the center of town when night comes. I’m not sure how long it is now but it’s soon, so not tonight, not any night. I mean it, Audie.”

“How do you know about that?”

“I wish I had time to explain, but I don’t think I—” Carl froze again, and then rocked backward in his seat. His eyes had gone wide, panicked. But his expression and mannerisms were his own again, if fearful. “What the fuck just happened? Holy…”

“I don’t know,” she stammered.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Why was I saying those things? They were to you! About you! What the hell is happening?

“I don’t know!” she repeated. “Everything’s going crazy all of a sudden! I don’t know why!”

She drove him home. He was too shaken to drive. In other circumstances, she would have enjoyed every second behind the wheel, but it was like driving the ambulance the rest of the night after she’d taken Suri Parvinal to the hospital.

Carl Menefee lived in a condo on the twentieth floor of a building that stood on one of the far hills, well away from the city center but with a spectacular view of New Detroit that must have cost a fortune. No other public defender could afford a place like this, but a Menefee could. It was her first time inside. She had wondered if he planned to invite her, and whether it would be appropriate to accept, but there was no question now. His voice had been pleading when he asked her to come up. He was afraid to be alone right now, and could she blame him?

She found herself at one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, taking in the view while he was in his bedroom changing. Below her the world fell away and New Detroit sprawled over the hills into the distance. When night came, she knew, it would look like a spilled jewel box glowing brightly in the darkness. She had the sudden certainty that she would be seeing that view in a few more hours, and that she would be spending the night. She wasn’t sure whether she would be in his bed or on the couch, though.

He called me “Audie.”

Often, in the past, he had called her “Aud” when they talked, and he was actually the only one who had ever done it. It was his name for her, and he was the only one, she realized, that she would allow to use it.

And Audie… that had been Kyra’s name for her, after she’d confided her real identity to her and they’d begun plotting their escape route back to Pynchon. Nobody else had ever used it. She’d been afraid that she’d never hear it used again, but had never expected to hear it like this.

If only she knew what it all meant. What had happened to Carl in the parking garage?


She turned. Carl was standing in the living room entry, still looking hesitant and unsure. He had changed out of his suave suit and was wearing slacks and a light, short-sleeved, woven shirt that she suspected was raw silk. If he hadn’t looked so desperately lost, he would have looked unbelievably desirable. His comm unit was in his hand.


He swallowed. “I…” His voice was strange, husky… tremulous. “I had this idea that I would try to find out more about this cult of yours, on Helion… and I… tried to call a friend there…”

Oh shit, she thought. I never should have said anything. This could bring my whole house of cards down—

“It’s gone,” he said, his expression one of baffled horror.

“What’s gone?” Audrey frowned, not comprehending.

“New Mecca. Helion. The whole system… it’s gone. Like the Coalsack.”

She managed to make it to his expensive leather couch before her legs could give out on her.

“It gets worse,” Carl said, sitting heavily down beside her. “Something… happened on Crematoria, too. The prison… the population… it’s all destroyed. Aside from a handful of bodies, there’s nobody there.”

Kyra. Kyra.

Had that been her ghost talking through him? The thought startled a laugh out of her. Within seconds, that had dissolved into sobs even stronger than Parvinal’s.

Carl’s warm, strong arms came around her and he held her while she sobbed. Suddenly she didn’t care whether she was sleeping on his couch or in his bed, as long as he didn’t let go.

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress