The Slow Burn, Chapter 7

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 7 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 7 (formerly chapter 6) of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this heavily reworked chapter, Riddick is surprised by an unexpected opportunity.

7.
Riddick: Face To Face With an Angel

Riddick stared in amazement as the girl approached him. She put a package of cotton pads down, the little round things his foster sisters had used to apply something they called “toner” to their faces, resting it on his thigh as if it was the most normal thing in the ’verse to do, and began to struggle with the top of her vodka bottle.

“That’ll make me more thirsty, not less,” he commented. It was hard to hide his amused disbelief.

“It’s not for drinking,” she muttered, wrestling the top off. “It’s for your cuts. Closest thing to rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide I could find. Shame we lost the bloody med-locker.”

Smart girl. He looked her over again. She was all business now, opening up the package of cotton pads and taking one out, then soaking it in the alcohol. He could study her at his leisure while she worked. Her skin glistened with perspiration from the hot suns. She’d put her hair up rather haphazardly, and he felt a sudden, intense urge to run his fingers along her throat and bury them in her hair. The alcohol on his wounds was cold on his skin and stinging in his cuts, which somehow enhanced, rather than diminished, the arousal he suddenly felt. His pants had become uncomfortably tight; he wondered if she noticed.

“You never told me your name,” he murmured huskily.

She looked up at him, meeting his unprotected eyes for the first time. A lot of people flinched away when they saw his shine job, but a look of amazement crept across her face instead. “Fiona Cavanaugh. And you’re Richard Riddick.”

He let his voice drop lower, letting some of his arousal show. “Delighted to meet you.”

She seemed to completely miss the innuendoes he was sending her way, but for the first time since the crash, he saw her smile. It was a wan smile, but a real one. “A pleasure.”

“You do realize that you’re going to get in trouble with Johns again,” he told her.

“Fuck him,” she muttered, soaking another cotton pad.

“I’d rather not. He’s not really my type. You, on the other hand…”

That actually got a hint of a laugh out of her. “I am not fucking him.”

“That wasn’t what I was suggesting.”

Her eyes met his again, and he watched as a flush crept up her cheeks. Now you understand what I’m gettin’ at, babe. It was interesting to watch her without the goggles, seeing the movements of her body heat as it shifted across her skin. If he looked carefully, he could almost imagine that he was seeing through her clothes.

He was gratified to hear the answering huskiness in her voice when she spoke. “Turn your head a little.” He complied, letting her carefully swab the large bruise that the settler woman—he thought he’d heard Fry call her Shazza—had given him on the side of his skull. Gentle as she was, he still winced when she touched it. That one was going to hurt for days.

But in the meantime…

He knew he shouldn’t play these games. But it had been way too long since a woman had gotten this close to him, and it was tempting to see how much closer he could convince her to get and what she might be willing to do. Even if being chained up like this was about as far from his erotic fantasies as he could get.

But he didn’t even know if she was old enough for what he had in mind. Felon or not, that was something that mattered to him.

Never mind whether she’s sane enough, he reminded himself. Jackass.

As she finished tending his wounds, he heard the sound of the merry little group returning. They sounded agitated.

Way to kill the mood. “Sounds like they found Zeke’s real killers. You’d better scoot. Don’t want Johns yellin’ at you again, do we?”

“I don’t want him doing anything to you, either.”

Riddick smiled at the girl. It was a fierce smile, one that would normally warn people that even chained up he was still very, very dangerous. Its effect, however, appeared to be lost on her. “He won’t. Don’t worry about that.”

The concern on her face was plain, and it confused the hell out of him. Why did she care so much? “You sure?”

She was still close to him. Before he could stop himself, he leaned forward and brushed her lips with his. “I’m sure. Now you’d better go.”

Now the girl looked a little flustered as she gathered up her makeshift first aid kit and stood, and her scent had changed in a way that made him suspect all of the restraint he was trying to preach to himself was useless. This wasn’t over, for either of them. He heard her release a shaky breath as she started out of the darkened room.

She feels it, too. If Johns doesn’t kill me in the next few hours, I think this might just be happening.

“Fiona.” His voice was soft, but brought her to an abrupt halt nonetheless. She turned to look at him. “I’ll see you soon,” he told her, slipping as much promise into the words as he could.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 6

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 6 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 6 (formerly chapter 5) of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this heavily reworked chapter, Fiona takes a different approach to finding out who, or what, really killed Zeke.

6.
Fiona: Newer Grief

Fiona was deep inside a large bay in the cargo container, searching for food stashes, when the chaos started. She didn’t even know that anything had occurred until the frenzied shouting, including voices that had been absent for hours, grew loud enough to reach her through the walls. She emerged into the middle of a furious donnybrook.

Johns and Fry were dragging Riddick’s prone, unconscious body into the crash ship. For one horrible moment, Fiona thought he might be dead.

“Just kill him,” Shazza screamed. “Why the fuck won’t you just kill him?”

The Imam, his expression inscrutable, was attempting to restrain her with very little luck. She broke free, darted forward, and kicked at Riddick’s ribs. He groaned softly but did not regain consciousness. Fiona sidled over to Jack.

“What happened?”

“Riddick killed Zeke,” Jack hissed, her eyes never leaving the chaos.

“What? How?”

“Cut him up or something, out by the graves.”

Fry and Johns emerged from the ship, arguing. From what Fiona could overhear, Fry was asking why, in the light of how Zeke had died, there was no blood on Riddick’s knife or clothing.

Good question, she thought to herself. It deserves some answers. Soon.

First, however, Shazza needed comforting. She vaguely remembered that it was Shazza who had held her during the worst of her grief. However Zeke had died, whoever or whatever had killed him, the woman needed the same comfort in return.

The debate swirled around for several minutes. Paris and Shazza wanted Riddick killed immediately. Imam and his boys retreated from the fray altogether, leaving Riddick’s defense to Jack, Fry and — oddly enough — Johns. Holding Shazza in her arms, Fiona didn’t feel able to speak up for Riddick, as much as she inexplicably wanted to. Not that she could muster anything specific to say in his defense. Just a general feeling that everyone was becoming far too trigger-happy.

Finally Fry stalked off, muttering that she was going to question the man. A moment later, Jack sneaked after her. Fiona found herself simply holding Shazza while all of the male survivors watched them in an uneasy silence.

Having grown up on New Ireland, a colony world that her father had always claimed had brought the best and most egalitarian elements of Earth’s cultural past with it, this was Fiona’s first encounter with men who were so… utterly useless in the face of grief and suffering. Did none of them know what to do?

Riddick would, the thought came unbidden. She wasn’t sure what, in their brief interaction, made her believe this exactly… but she did believe. God, maybe I am crazy.

Jack returned first, looking disgruntled. Fry emerged from the hold a few minutes later, her expression deeply disturbed.

“We’re going to find Zeke’s body,” she snarled at Johns when he began to question her.

Shazza stiffened in Fiona’s arms, then broke free and followed Fry. Fiona followed alongside as Fry led them to the cargo container to fetch a long coil of rope. When the group headed for Zeke’s burial ground, though, she found herself hanging back. Her family’s graves were there, and she wasn’t ready to face that. Maybe she could get other answers, instead, while she waited.

Like why she kept having an impulse to trust a man that the newsfeeds had called a “remorseless killer.”

They had also claimed he was a “pure psychopath,” using a term her mother had snapped was centuries out of date in all but the worst publications, and maybe that was it— psychopaths were supposed to be charming. But it was also supposed to be a superficial charm, and Fiona had the strange feeling that she had detected the opposite: genuine concern for her and others carefully hidden behind a façade of cavalier detachment.

Shazza had used up Fiona’s astringent and moist wipes earlier, but she could improvise. She found what she was looking for almost immediately, in Paris’ locker — a bottle of unflavored vodka. It would have to do. From her sister’s locker, she fished out one last packet of cotton cosmetic pads, then carried her finds back over to the crash ship. In the distance, she could see the others clustering around a large hole where, she assumed, Zeke had died.

Riddick had been restrained differently this time. The chains ran through one of the ship’s ladders and looped around some of the other bulkheads, forcing his arms wide. Oddly enough, he almost looked like he was sitting on a throne rather than imprisoned. She took a moment to examine him in the filtered light. No blood. Plenty of new scrapes and bruises that he hadn’t had the last time they spoke, but no blood.

How to even ask about that, though? After all of the accusations that had already been thrown at him, would he even want to talk to her about it? She tried to imagine what her father would say in this moment. Something dry, and droll, and a little silly. Something to put a person at ease. Could she even do that?

Maybe.

“I didn’t realize you’d studied to be a tepanyaki chef,” she told him, after coming up with and discarding a dozen different lines.

His head came up with a quizzical frown. “Say what?”

“Well, that’s the only way I can think of that you could have filleted somebody in less than a minute without getting a drop of blood anywhere on you.” It was hard to speak so casually about Zeke’s brutal death, but the layer of numbness over all of her emotions helped. “That takes talent, not to mention training. I didn’t know they offered those courses in the prison system.”

A sly smile spread across his face as some of the tension left his shoulders. “What can I say? I have more talents than even I know about.”

“You didn’t kill him.” She wasn’t asking; she knew.

“No,” he replied softly, a new look of respect dawning on his dark features. “I didn’t.”

“So who did, then?” Had another survivor seen Zeke kill the man by the cargo container and targeted him for vengeance? That made no sense. But maybe he had seen something from his brief vantage point in Paris’s chair.

“Not who, lady. What.

She had no idea what to say to that. The others were convinced that the planet was barren. Dead. But he was saying that it wasn’t. That they weren’t alone here, and that whatever else was here, it wasn’t friendly. Her whole spirit reflexively shuddered back from the idea.

“Something very, very fast,” he continued after a moment, his expression pensive. “Something much more dangerous than I’ve ever been.”

She believed him, she realized, as much as part of her didn’t want to. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t killed Zeke… he was worried about what had. Whatever had actually killed Shazza’s husband was a genuine danger to everyone, including him. For a moment she felt an impulse to run from the ship, over to the graves, and warn everyone.

But just because she believed him didn’t mean that they would. They were only just coming to terms with the threats they already knew about; more would be overwhelming, and their minds would shy away from the idea the way hers had tried to. Most of them thought she was out of her mind, anyway. She wasn’t even sure they were wrong, but it did mean that she had very little credibility, especially when it came to believing the warnings of someone they were already refusing to listen to. It wasn’t as if she had a tangible threat in mind, anyway. Everything she knew, they already knew, too. They just didn’t believe… yet.

As much as it twisted at her insides, she was going to have to let them find out for themselves what could make a man like Riddick feel fear.

Still, she didn’t have to be completely useless while she waited. Fiona stepped closer, walking over to his side.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 5

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 5 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 5 of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this completely new chapter, Riddick makes some changes to his plans… but maybe not in time.

5.
Riddick: Pouring One Out

Well, that had been several exercises in futility.

The inside of the crash ship was relatively cool and completely deserted. It was a good place to regroup and collect his thoughts.

Riddick had seen a lot of things on his tours of duty, but he’d never seen a planet with three suns before. Not one where people could survive on the surface. The disappointment and frustration over completely losing the cover of darkness was almost eclipsed by his sheer, absurd wonderment at the existence of such a thing.

He’d shadowed Billy and his little brigade for part of their water hunt, but had soon found himself doubling back to check on the prospects closer to home. That merry troop had moved far enough away that they no longer posed an immediate threat. The ones who had been left behind, though, might be vulnerable.

Not to him, in particular. Johns might like to tell stories about him killing indiscriminately, but that was far from the truth. He was more concerned about whatever was behind the bloody cryo locker and its missing contents.

The Englishman incongruously named Paris, he’d soon decided, was the ’verse’s worst sentry, too focused on his cigars and caviar to even notice Riddick’s approach. When something finally did catch his attention, he proved even less impressive.

Idiot, Riddick had thought as he climbed up on top of the ship and watched Paris stalking toward the cargo container. You don’t desert your post. You sound an alarm and stay where you can see what’s happening. Guess I’ll have to do that part for you.

He’d vaguely recognized the man who was staggering toward the container as one of the unconscious-or-dead people he’d seen in the cryo lockers he’d unlocked. Not a threat.

Zeke, however, creeping up behind the man with Johns’ pistol drawn… that was a problem.

Resting now in the cool depths of the ship, Riddick took a small pull from the wine bottle he’d liberated and considered his options.

Zeke would be trouble. Paranoid, on high alert, willing to shoot without warning or provocation… and a damned good shot. His first order of business would have to be getting that gun away from him. Then maybe they could have a nice conversation about what was really what… once he knew that the man couldn’t shoot him. Until then, Zeke was a mortal threat, and not just to him.

One more sip from the bottle and he decided he was done. Any more and he’d lose his edge. The wine was probably the only liquid they had to drink, but that actually made the alcohol in it more dangerous than ever. Better the others got tipsy first; he needed to keep his head clear. Especially because disarming Zeke might not be as easy as he would like.

He carried the bottle with him to a rent in the ship’s hull, on the side away from prying eyes. He was pretty sure the crazy girl had spotted him, but for whatever reason she had kept her mouth shut. Still, he’d prefer not to have people aware of his movements. Not until he was in a stronger position, anyway. Not until he’d dealt with Zeke.

“Sorry about that, man,” he murmured, lifting the bottle for a moment in a toast to the newly-dead. He wondered if any others would wander in from the tubes he’d unlocked and hoped if any did, the survivors would be less jumpy about them. Tilting the bottle, he poured a little out for the fallen, whoever the hell the man had been. And, he thought with a frown, whoever had been in that bloody locker.

He set the bottle down in a nice, shadowy, almost-cool nook of the crash ship before exiting. It was time to deal with Zeke.

As he circled around the area Zeke had chosen for a burial ground, he felt a chill move through him. Some of the same whistling he had heard near the opened cryo locker was sounding through the strange formations nearby. And other disturbingly animal-like noises, as well.

That ain’t just the wind, he thought after a moment and frowned again. Zeke, dragging the body of the man he’d shot over to the grave he’d just finished digging, seemed completely oblivious to the sounds. So much for being on high alert.

Palming his makeshift blade, Riddick decided that he definitely needed that gun more than ever.

A moment later he realized it was already too late.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 4

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 4 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 4 of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this heavily reworked chapter, Fiona deals with the fallout of a shooting, and spies someone spying on her and the others.

4.
Fiona: Eye To Eye With the Devil

“Seriously, Fiona, I’m fine.”

“You’re not, Jack. Your face is turning red.” It was a little hard to tell in the light of the newly-risen third sun — everything looked bluish — but Fiona was positive that the heat and exertion were overwhelming the younger girl.

“So are your shoulders.

Well, damn, they did feel itchy. Of course she was getting sunburnt. “Then let’s both get out of the sun. I’m sure Shazza will understand when she sees us.”

Shazza, who had put the now-notorious cutting torch to work at opening doors in the cargo container, immediately conscripted the two of them to help her in its shade. Fiona begged off for a few minutes so she could hunt up the sunblock and aloe she knew was in her family’s already-open unit, because the itch was starting to turn into a genuine sting. That was how she missed the start of the excitement.

She was still in the process of slathering lotion on her shoulders and back when she heard Jack shout “No!”

Had Mr. Riddick returned? She set the lotions aside, glancing around the compartment for the pry-bar Shazza had given her just moments earlier. Her own survival still didn’t hold much allure for her, but if Jack was in trouble—

A man’s voice, one she didn’t recognize, high with stress and definitely not Riddick’s, began to speak. His words were muffled by the compartment wall, but before she could begin to piece together what he was saying, shots rang out.

Fiona ran back into the main corridor, her pry-bar uselessly raised in one hand, in time to see a strange man crumple to the ground in front of Shazza, Jack, and Paris. Shazza, she realized, was liberally splashed with the man’s blood. Zeke stood a short distance from the cargo container’s opening, lowering a gun.

“It was just somebody else,” Jack was yelling at Zeke. “Somebody else from the crash!

Fiona barely heard Zeke’s answer, arrested by the sight of the man on the ground. For one horrible moment, she’d thought it was her father. The build was similar, but after a closer look her heart stopped lurching and calmed. It wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Her father had died hours ago. A pang of grief skewered her as she realized that she’d gotten through the last several hours by pretending her family was still alive and just off in some other part of the crash site. Whoever this poor man had been, he was a stranger to her. Much of his body was covered in second and third-degree burns, she noticed, wondering if he would have actually survived much longer if Zeke hadn’t shot him.

She stood up and moved away from the body, which still had the full attention of the others, and found herself transfixed.

Someone was sitting on top of the crash ship, in Paris’s chair.

Someone she recognized.

Riddick.

Her breath caught and held. Beside her, she could hear the others still fussing over what Zeke had done, unaware. As she watched, Riddick raised one of Paris’s wine bottles in their direction in a mocking toast before taking a long swallow. She could feel his eyes on them, on her. She almost thought she could make out a smirk on his face and wished her distance vision was better.

Hide, she thought urgently, the nauseating copper tang of blood catching in her nose and throat. They’ll kill you if they see you. Hide!

There was no way he could hear her unspoken thoughts, but almost as if in answer, Riddick stood, stretched once, and dropped lightly to the desert floor. Bottle still in hand, he vanished behind the ship.

The breath that had been lodged in her throat escaped at last.

“Well, now you have one more grave to dig, Zeke,” Shazza groused. “Let’s hope it’s the last. Faugh, I need to get this blood off me.”

“Hey Fiona, you have anything she can use to clean up with?” Jack asked, drawing her eyes away from the ship.

She nodded, hoping her voice would be steady when she spoke and then realizing they wouldn’t care if it wasn’t. “Let me go grab it.”

Her voice, she realized, was entirely too steady. She knew she should be shocked. She should be horrified at how casually death had been meted out to a total stranger, a harmless stranger. She should feel something, but the closest she was able to come was her concern for Jack… and, surprisingly, for Riddick. As she dug a bottle of astringent out of her locker, she wondered how long she would stay numb.

And worse, what would happen once the numbness receded.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 3

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 3 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 3 of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this heavily reworked chapter, Riddick makes his way back to the crash ship after having fruitlessly explored the nearby area, still operating under the assumption that this planet has normal days and nights.

3.
Riddick: Watcher in the Hills

Recon didn’t take long at all. Accustomed as he was to hiding in plain sight and negotiating unfriendly terrain, the crash site posed no real challenges to him. Riddick wasn’t sure if his findings left him impressed with the pilot’s skill or amazed she’d managed to land the craft at all.

The ship had skidded for more than a mile during its crash-landing, leaving a deep groove in the desert as it had torn itself to pieces. Cryo pods had gone flying and were scattered along the back trail. He’d popped the locks on a few, unsure whether their inhabitants still lived but figuring he’d give them as much of a chance as possible. One container, however, disturbed him. It had been wrenched open and was empty, with a small spatter of blood nearby… and what looked like claw marks, or the marks of fingers desperately digging into the soil and being dragged, leading to a small hole in the ground. There was more blood on the hole’s rocky edges, but no sign of the cryo pod’s inhabitant.

He had listened by the hole for several minutes but hadn’t heard anything else, except possibly wind whistling through the nearby rocks.

In the far distance, toward the end of the ship’s skid marks, he could see the wreckage of yet another cargo container. There was no point in even trying to hike the distance to see what was inside it, though; it was burning with dangerous intensity. Useless.

Okay, he told himself as he doubled back. That leaves the resources on board the ship itself, and the cargo container the other survivors are already plundering. Plus whatever exists in nature here.

The heat was powerful, but not the kind of oppressive heat that came with humidity. This was dry, thin air, thin enough that he had felt a little light-headed until he got used to it. He bet it would get every bit as cold when night fell.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d done a night raid to get something warm to wear. His first order of business would be to take Johns out, but the man’s jacket would be way too small for him. Maybe one of the others would have something larger and feel inclined to share. Assuming that the cargo container with everybody’s clothes wasn’t the one burning merrily in the distance, of course.

Next order of business: he told himself, find out what everybody’s up to and how they’re planning on circling the wagons. Johns would be filling their heads with horror stories about him, of course. One or two might even be true.

The crazy girl and another kid had been put to work, he saw. The two were slowly making their way from the cargo container to the main crash ship, a large crate with Emergency Ration labels emblazoned on its sides awkwardly carried between them. In the intense heat, the girl had stripped down to a small halter top and shorts, and he took a moment to just enjoy the show. Weirdly enough, though, the boy still had several layers of clothing on and seemed loathe to shed them, even though he was clearly suffering in the heat.

That’s gotta be damned uncomfortable, he thought, and frowned. More than that, it was dangerous. Tryin’ to give yourself heat stroke, kid? You need to at least take off that vest.

Long sleeves, vest, hat, trousers… the kid was going to be comfortable enough come nightfall, but working in those clothes now put him at serious risk. Was he that self-conscious around the girl? Riddick had vague memories of feeling intimidated by that kind of beauty when he was the boy’s age—

Was I ever that young? Really?

But still, this was dangerous. Very dangerous.

He stole closer, feeling an irrational urge to protect the kids.

This is how Billy catches you, asshole, he reminded himself. And yet he crept closer still.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 2

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 2 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 2 of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this chapter, Riddick has escaped and Fiona learns a fellow passenger’s Big Secret.

2.
Fiona: Girls Traveling Alone

“You stupid bitch, this is your fault!”

The survivors had gathered around them as Johns and Fiona faced off. Johns was waving the cut-up pieces of Riddick’s chains in her face, his own face almost purple with rage.

“What, did he bite through them?” It was probably a bad idea to provoke him further, Fiona reflected. Then again, maybe she’d get lucky and he’d shoot her.

“No, you fucking cunt, he used this!” Johns flung the chains down and grabbed a cutting torch out of his vest. Then he threw it to the ground as well.

“Careful, Mate! We need that!” Zeke stepped forward, grabbing the torch. Engrossed in making sure that it hadn’t been damaged, he missed the look of pure rage Johns flung at him.

He’s completely out of control, Fiona thought, watching Johns.

Good, a strange voice within her replied. Good. She shook her head, trying to clear it away.

“What happened?” Paris demanded. She spared him a swift glance, unimpressed. She’d noticed him earlier and had heard him talking to the others, and it had left her with a distaste for him. He used the sort of effete superiority that mining executives had leveled at her father, in spite of the fact that their academic credentials were far eclipsed by his—

I can’t think about my father now. The wall of pain rose up for her and she fled from it.

“Riddick escaped, that’s what happened!” Johns bellowed. “This idiot distracted me while he made his escape—”

Fiona turned away because she knew she was dangerously close to laughing at the man. That probably wouldn’t be the smartest of moves. The problem was that she kept hearing her father, muttering “redheads and fiery tempers, Fee,” almost as if he was actually standing beside her.

How many voices can fit in my head?

She didn’t dare laugh. She suspected that the tears wouldn’t be far behind, and she didn’t know if she’d be able to stop them again once they started up again.

“Do we have any weapons we can defend ourselves with?” That came from the wild-haired woman who had held Fiona earlier while she’d screamed and sobbed for—

Do not think about it! She concentrated on taking another step away from the group and towards the cargo container. Walk. Just like a normal person. Walk.

“I’ve got a rifle and a pistol. That’s it. Any of the rest of you packin’?”

A murmur of negation ran through the group. Fiona managed another step, feeling more sure of her movements. Behind her, Paris spoke up once more.

“I have a collection of antique tribal weapons, among my things. Perhaps there are some useful items in—”

“Where do you think you’re goin’?” Johns grabbed at her shoulder, swinging her back around to face him, but one of the others — the Muslim cleric — knocked his hand away.

“Mr. Johns, enough! I’m sure she did not mean to—”

She didn’t stay to listen but made herself keep walking, heading for the cargo container. A moment later, a boy fell into step beside her.

“Hey, Fiona, right?”

The boy was tallish and slender, with delicate, almost pixie-ish features. Light brown hair had been cut unevenly, as if in a hurry, and was tucked beneath a cap. The boy was dressed in a way that made Fiona think of old Twentieth Century movies about vagabond children.

“Yes?”

“I’m Jack.” The boy flashed her a grin. “What’s he like?”

“Hmm?” She turned and glanced at him, a little confused by the abrupt shift.

“Riddick. What’s he like? Is he as scary as the newsfeeds made out?”

“I don’t know,” Fiona replied. Riddick? She’d heard that name before. It had been in the feeds the day before they boarded the ship. Spree Killer Captured At Last…

Oh dear. Is that who he is?

“Not really,” she continued. “Maybe. I’m probably not a very good judge right now.”

“Look, Fiona… are you going to your cargo locker?”

“Yes.”

“I was wondering… well… you see…” Jack’s voice trailed off.

Fiona turned, afraid that she was about to get hit with some juvenile proposition. She hoped the boy didn’t have a crush on her or something. She was probably five or six years older than him, and it was the last thing she wanted to deal with right now.

Is there anything you want to deal with right now?

Fair question, even if the voice’s presence disturbed her. There wasn’t. She wanted to be somewhere quiet and empty. Where movement wasn’t an issue or a requirement. Where she didn’t have to see or hear, think or feel.

The deep unease on the boy’s face confused her. Was her unbalanced state so obvious?

Jack took a deep breath and finished the question in a rush. “Do you have any tampons?”

Fiona stared. She forced herself to look — really look — at the youth.

“You’re a girl,” she decided after a moment.

Jack looked around, nervous. “Yeah. But look, please don’t tell anybody, okay? You know how it is… a girl traveling alone…”

Alone. No family. A thousand synonyms flashed through her head and chipped away at the fragile scab over her grief. The weight of it came crashing back down on her. No wonder she didn’t want to move.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry, Fiona, I didn’t mean—”

She took a deep breath and forced the pain back into its cage. “It’s okay. I’d probably try to disguise myself as a boy, too, in those circumstances, if I thought I could actually fool anyone.” She turned and began walking toward the storage container’s far side, where the smaller, private passenger lockers were located. “I think I have some tampons in my gear, sure. Come on.”

She had a large box of them, in fact. While Fiona stood look-out, Jack cleaned herself up and changed, chattering in a deliberately deep and boyish tone about her adventures stowing away on freighters and even the occasional cruise liner. Heading out into the day again, they were confronted by the wild-haired woman.

“There you two are! Don’t go wandering away like that again, yeah? I thought Riddick might’ve grabbed you.”

Jack looked down for a second and then gave her a shy grin. “Sorry, Shazza.”

Shazza smiled, relenting. “It’s okay. Just stick close from here on out. C’mon, now. We’ve got weapons, and you two need to pick some for yourselves.”

Fiona frowned as she and Jack trudged after Shazza, back towards the main section of the ship. Weapons…

“The thing you need to keep in mind about a weapon, Fee,” her father had told her, “is it’s something that can be taken from you and used against you. Knives and guns are tempting things to people who want to feel powerful, but they don’t necessarily make you safer. If your opponent is bigger, stronger, faster, or better trained than you, he’ll still have the advantage. Drawing a weapon is often a provocation to even greater violence…”

Should she take one or shouldn’t she? She wasn’t sure.

Conversation swirled around her in the ship as Johns described what a depraved creature Riddick would be. She watched as Jack picked out a hunting boomerang, frowning. Looking dubiously over the remaining weapons, she reached out and then her hand stopped.

I really don’t have the first idea how to use any of these things.

Her father always said those were the most dangerous weapons of all, the ones that were wielded without any knowledge or understanding. Riddick, she knew, could take any of them out of her hands in a second.

Her fingers hovered over the weapons. Take one or not? What were the risks in each direction?

He might kill me fast if he thinks I’m going to fight… Her hand began to reach for the blow-gun.

The absurdity of it all startled a giggle out of her. She covered her mouth quickly, thankful that everyone else had moved away. Images crowded into her head of just exactly how she might use such a thing in a defensive situation, each more ridiculous than the last. I’m a fool.

Fiona gazed down at the blow-gun, studying its contours. Her mother would have loved the carving on it. The giggle, beneath her hand, turned into a sob. She leaned against the table, taking several deep breaths.

The blow-gun was still on the counter when she headed back out into the sun.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 1

Author’s Note: I didn’t expect to start with this one, but here it is. I couldn’t leave it alone, so I will begin posting the revised chapters, for feedback, while I continue to rework the story. I have a lot of Major Goals with this rewrite, so I’m curious as to whether I’m hitting them.

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 1 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 1 of The Slow Burn, which was my first attempt at fan fiction. It was semi-successful, but I stopped writing it after I found my real calling with Apprentice. Now I’m revisiting it. The story adds an original character to the group of survivors, and this time around I’m trying to strip away any and all Mary Sue qualities she possessed. In this chapter, her presence complicates Riddick’s first escape attempt.

1.
Riddick: Just Wrong

The pain in his arms was a low, dull ache now. Soon it would be fiery agony, once all the other survivors left the area. Riddick had overheard Johns telling the captain how dangerous he was; no help there. With the bit in his mouth he couldn’t even attempt to contradict the merc, or suggest that she ask to see some more comprehensive ID.

It was a shame he hadn’t managed to take the son of a bitch’s head off when he had the chance. It had been the perfect opportunity — everyone else had been off restraining some girl who was screaming for her parents and siblings, trying to reach their burning cryo-tubes. He could have done Johns and been out of his restraints before the bastard had a chance to tell any of them who he was. If only his luck hadn’t stayed the same. Just plain gone. These days, Johns was the one with all the luck.

Which meant he was on his own again. There were no allies here. Well, not immediate ones, anyway. And depending on what he had to do to stay free and stay alive, even Johns’ true colors emerging might not turn them. He had to think of them as The Enemy, individually and collectively. There would be no help for him.

He could hear them leaving. The captain — he’d heard her introduce herself as Carolyn Fry — was calling out something about searching a cargo container for water. Finally he even heard Johns’ receding footsteps. Riddick slowly stretched, preparing himself for the agony to come, when he heard the quiet footfall. Someone was in the room with him.

He went completely still and stretched out his senses. In the years it had taken him to scrape up enough prison currency to pay for his shine job, he’d been forced to develop his other senses to the highest degree possible. They didn’t fail him now.

Quiet breathing. The scent of a woman’s perfume. Vanilla, sandalwood and nutmeg, mixed with the musk of her skin. Expensive perfume, maybe. Unusual, anyway. He was used to more garish scents, but that might have had something to do with the quality of female company normally within his reach… when he had access to women at all. What the hell was she doing on this cheap crate?

He peered through the blindfold, and could make out a blurry outline. A woman, definitely. Idly he wondered what the male-to-female ratio of the survivors was. If they were here for long, it’d become an issue. Then again, if they were here for too long, food would be the issue and it wouldn’t matter how many sexual favors were exchanged.

Don’t matter. I’m gonna be on top of whatever pile-up happens, no matter what. If it comes down to survival, there ain’t anybody on board this heap who can outlast me—

“That’s just wrong,” the woman murmured, jarring him back to his present circumstances. For one bizarre moment he thought she’d heard his thoughts and was contradicting him.

Riddick recognized her voice, even though it sounded almost nothing like her hysterical cries of earlier. This was the same girl who’d been screaming for her family. She had a slight brogue to her speech, he noticed. Probably from New Ireland. He felt her approach and kneel down astonishingly close to him, so close that he could feel the heat of her body by his.

She reached out and began unbuckling the straps that held the horse bit in place. Then she gently removed it from his mouth. She set it aside on the floor and reached toward his face again.

“Not the blindfold.” It hurt to speak; he hoped she could understand what he’d just said.

Her hands stopped, the fingertips resting lightly on his cheekbones. “Why?”

Riddick took a moment to work his jaw and get some moisture back into his mouth. His companion waited, hands still resting on him almost as if they were lovers, while he did. Someone here is just a little out of her head, he thought.

It made sense, though. Only an hour or so had passed since her hysteria had died down. That had been followed by the beginning of the navigator’s screams. With all this drama, he doubted she and sanity would recognize each other if they collided in a hallway.

Someday I’m gonna find a place where there’s no fucking drama and I’m never gonna leave it.

Swallowing one last time, his own saliva like wine to his parched mouth, he tried to talk again. This time it worked much better. “My eyes are very photosensitive. Unless you happen to have a pair of sunglasses lying around, I’d better keep the blindfold on.”

He actually had plans along those lines already. A pair of welding goggles had been set aside near him, after a cryotube had been broken open and its young occupant liberated. But if he tipped her off to them, he’d reveal two things he didn’t want anybody to know — first, that he could see well enough through the blindfold to make out his surroundings; second, and much more important, that the cutting torch had been left way too close to him.

“Sunglasses…” She looked around, shifting her position. If he’d been free, it would only have taken a fraction of a second to overpower her and finish her off. Then she rose and—

Shit! Do not think about the torch, woman!

“Would these work?” She asked him, moving over to the crate where his prizes rested. “They’re welding goggles.”

“Probably. Can’t actually see them,” he lied.

She walked away from the cutting torch without another thought. “I’ll put them on you. Keep your eyes closed.”

Not a problem, babe, he thought to himself with amusement. He was privately amazed that she was willing to get as close to him as she had, but she probably either hadn’t heard Johns’ explanation of who he was, or had been too crazed by grief to comprehend it. For the moment he decided to bask in the novelty of having a woman so near him, and so completely unafraid. There was no way it’d last.

Never does, when they find out who I am—

She slipped the blindfold off of his head gently, and then carefully slid the goggles down, adjusting them until they fit comfortably over his eyes. He opened them, blinking, trying to adjust to the new light level.

The goggles worked better than he’d expected they would. Blocking out most of the light, they left him able to look around without any pain. It was dim within the ship’s hull but a great deal of intense light streamed in through a gash near him. With the goggles, he could make out details beyond just light. He could see the other survivors moving around outside, several of them making their purposeful way toward a distant building.

Habitation? So they wouldn’t have to worry about basic survival, then—

A moment later he realized that was no building. It was part of the ship, broken off, lying canted at an odd angle on the ground. Were those retracted landing struts on its roof? The damn thing was upside down! He knew the crash had been rough but—

Fabric rustled beside him. He turned his attention back to the woman who had liberated his vision.

Pretty. She was small and delicately built — waifish, that was the word — with light hair that looked like it might be red-gold in normal light. Between the glare of the twin suns and the color-distorting effects of his shine job, it was hard to tell. Despite her slimness, her body had lush curves to it that his hands itched to explore. Her face was still marked with signs of her recent spate of deep grief, but it was calm. She leaned over slightly, examining the restraints that imprisoned his wrists, her hair brushing his shoulder. He took a moment to indulge himself and inhale her scent.

“I don’t think I can undo those,” she murmured. She moved back slightly and sat down in front of him.

“You probably shouldn’t, anyway,” he replied with amusement. “I guess nobody gave you the bulletin on who I am.”

She shrugged, the gesture minimal, almost apathetic. “You’re a prisoner. But this still seems a bit like overkill to me. Just where are you going to go?”

“It’s not where I might go as much as what I might do. To you.” He expected her to react like all the other civilians he’d encountered over the years. He expected her to pull back, to stare at him as if he might be something dangerous, a rabid dog in human form. She didn’t.

She did draw back a little, but only far enough to lean back against one of the fallen cryo-lockers and watch him sadly. “Do you really think there’s anything you could possibly do to me after what already happened? The only thing I have left to lose now is my life, and you might be doing me a favor.”

He considered that for a moment, studying her. She reeked of pain, he realized. He hadn’t felt grief that intense, personally or vicariously, since the day Morgan—

“What the hell is goin’ on here?”

Riddick didn’t bother to turn at the familiar sound of Johns’ voice. The girl — whatever her name was — glanced up with the same air of sodden disinterest that characterized all of her gestures.

“Did you find any water?” she asked, sidestepping Johns’ question entirely.

Riddick kept his face expressionless, knowing that Johns would soon be near apoplexy over the girl’s complete disregard for his authority. More power to you, babe. I wonder what you’re like when you’re in your right mind.

“Did you take his bit and blindfold off?” Johns had practiced that voice for years, Riddick believed. It was designed to convey the sort of menace that Riddick knew he could convey just by smiling at someone, and was only partially effective. This was one of the times it failed completely.

“Yes.”

“And what the fuck were you thinking?” Johns’ voice had taken on an odd grate.

“I was thinking that the bit must hurt like hell, actually.” The girl shrugged. “And I was thinking that, unless you’re planning to go ahead and shoot him, you should show him a little more humanity. Things are bad enough as it is.”

Ordinarily, Riddick would have been annoyed. In fact, ordinarily he would have been pissed the fuck off. One of the things he’d never been able to stand was people talking over him like he wasn’t even there, especially when they were talking about him.

This time, though, was different.

Talk all you want, you two. Hell, get into a screaming match. Just don’t pay attention to me and do not notice my cutting torch.

“Okay.” Johns was clearly seething. Riddick glanced up for a quick look. The pseudo-lawman was staring at the girl in complete, absolute contempt. “Well, missy, you can just put them right back on him, right now.”

Riddick almost missed the change, looking at Johns. He almost didn’t see the girl’s face morph into something steely. She stood slowly, bent over, and retrieved the bit and blindfold. Then she raised herself to her full height — not more than 5′2″ by Riddick’s estimation — fixed Johns with a scornful gaze that somehow seemed to beat down on him rather than up, and stalked out of the compartment with the restraints still in her small hands.

Johns stared after her for a long moment, too astonished to react. Then he let loose with a string of curses and hurried after her.

Now’s my chance. Lady, whoever you are, I could kiss you. In fact, I just might. Later.

Riddick slowly rose to his feet and glanced backward. As he’d thought, there was a break in the bulkhead above him. He could do this. Grimly, ignoring the pain in his arms, he raised them as high as he could. After one more deep breath, he gritted his teeth and deliberately dislocated both of his shoulders. He could barely keep from screaming as he pulled the restraints through the break in the bulkhead. Even as he popped his shoulders back in, he felt his knees give out and he began to fall. He managed to grab the cutting torch as he hit the floor.