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.

7.
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…

…eaten.

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…

…godlike.

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.

Cub?

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.

Pynchon.

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.

The Slow Burn, Chapter 8

Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 8 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 8 (formerly chapter 7) 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 attempts to address a glaring inequity in how Riddick is being treated.
Note: When I first wrote this chapter, I had no idea that one of the hallmarks of a Mary Sue was appropriating actions and dialogue associated with canon characters, and that having Fiona give Riddick her breather was so egregious. While she still shares her breather with him in this version of the chapter, I have attempted to ameliorate it some by having her contemplate how monumental the same action on Shazza’s part would actually be (which then does happen later). Plus, a lot more happens than previously. Hopefully it flows better.

8.
Fiona: Offerings

“So, click your fingers and he’s one of us, now?”

Fiona glanced over toward Shazza and Johns where they walked side-by-side. “One of us?” When you’re treating him like a pack mule?

After all of the fuss and drama, she and the others had finally learned just what Fry, Johns, and the Imam had found on their search for water: a settlement. A human settlement, to be exact, and apparently abandoned, but with supplies left behind. One of the Imam’s three charges, a boy only a year or two younger than her named Suleiman, had tried to tell her and Jack about the wonders they had found there, although his English was limited and he kept slipping back into Arabic whenever he got excited. But the place was apparently solar-powered, large enough to house all of the survivors, had a moisture condenser that he was confident he and his two cousins could get working again… and had a small escape craft.

In the wake of Zeke’s death, the decision to switch camps had been immediate and unanimous. Shazza had told her and Jack to take only what they could easily carry because it was a few hours’ walk. The heaviest necessities had been piled onto a makeshift sled. Riddick, now free of his chains, had been put in charge of dragging it—by those very same chains—while the others walked ahead. Somehow, so far, he had been able to keep up. More or less, anyway. He had started ahead of everyone, but was now bringing up the rear.

There was still anger and hostility in Shazza’s voice as she and Johns talked, as if she still blamed Riddick for Zeke’s death. Fiona sighed and glanced back at the man in question.

Riddick had fallen a little further behind the others since she had last looked back. Only Paris was still near him, laboring under his own weighty burdens. The ridiculous man would have found a way to drag his entire cargo hold with him if they’d allowed him to; as it was, he was almost as heavily-laden as Riddick himself. Most of his sacks appeared to contain large bottles of exotic alcohol. Fiona couldn’t imagine that the heat of the suns beating down on them was at all good for his supply. As she watched, one of the wine bottles fell out of a sack and rolled back, stopping at Riddick’s feet.

Fiona couldn’t actually hear what Paris and Riddick were saying, but the pantomime was enough to stop her in her tracks as she suppressed laughter. When Paris extended his hand for the bottle, Riddick gave him a wide, wolfish smile and pretended they were introducing themselves to each other, shaking his hand rather than putting the bottle into it. As the much smaller man hemmed and hawed, Riddick opened the bottle and drank down the entire contents in one long draught, not even stopping for a breath.

It was only then that she realized that, burdened as he was, Riddick didn’t appear to have any bottles of his own — and she, and Jack, and even the Muslim boys had a bottle apiece of something low-proof and potable — much less—

Bloody hell, they didn’t give him a breather.

Paris passed her, his steps shuffling on the sandy slope but quick with panic and his arms protectively spanning his sacks as he hurried forward. Clearly he didn’t want to lose any more of his loot to the man tasked with dragging most of it. As Riddick approached, his mouth quirking, she unslung her breather from her shoulders and held it out to him.

“Here,” she told him. “I think you need this more than I do.”

He stared at her for a moment, his pace lagging as she moved to walk beside him. She continued to hold the unit out. After a moment, he took it and placed it across his shoulders, over the sled’s chain.

“You sure about this, Fee? You ain’t letting yourself in for a picnic here.”

Fee.

Her family had always called her that. Oddly enough, hearing him use it didn’t sting as much as she’d thought it might. There was pain, but it was still remote and muted, staying out of the way of the more immediate concerns around her. She nodded. “Maybe if it gets bad you can let me have a hit or something.”

Riddick nodded, a slight smile crossing his face. Then he lifted the breather tube up and took a long drag on it. “Hmm,” he said after a moment, quirking his lips at her.

“What?”

He leaned over, dropping his voice as if to keep the others from hearing, even though everyone was out of range. “Now I know what your mouth tastes like.” His breath was warm on her cheek, but somehow it sent shivers through her.

Raised voices ahead caught her attention. She and Riddick were entering the canyon Suleiman had described and the others were now leaving them behind, hurrying toward its other end and the slope that would take them into the settlement. Johns glanced back at them, shook his head, and then nudged Jack, who turned and started trudging toward them.

“I think you might be in trouble,” Riddick chuckled.

Johns and Shazza had forbidden Jack from talking to Riddick, but that was hardly going to work with Fiona. She was no child, and had no intention of allowing them to treat her like one. Still, it was clear that Jack was being sent to fetch her away from the Big Bad Wolf, before…

Before what, exactly? Do they think he’s going to throw me down on the ground and have his way with me? And why did that thought make her insides melt?

“Better take this back,” Riddick continued, handing her back the breather. “You know they’ll think I stole it.”

Fortunately, it didn’t seem like anyone had noticed that yet, except maybe Jack. But he was right. Shazza had refused to make another breather for Riddick, although she had claimed that she was just out of parts… all Hell might break loose if she realized he’d acquired one anyway. She was very protective of the gear and of the younger members of the group. It would take an act of God Himself to get her to give Riddick a breather. Or let one of her “kids” — a group that included Fiona whether or not she wanted it to — give him one. That was a battle best avoided.

Before Jack could reach them, Fiona slung the unit back over her shoulders and took a small hit, deliberately lingering on keeping the mouthpiece between her lips.

Am I really doing this?

“Now I know what your mouth tastes like,” she told Riddick. Her voice cracked just a little on the last word and her mouth was suddenly dry.

She couldn’t see his eyes behind the goggles, but the goggles themselves shifted upward just a little. She was pretty sure she’d managed to surprise him.

“Johns says I’m supposed to come get you,” Jack said breathlessly as she joined them. The tall girl, still keeping up her boy masquerade, gave Riddick an apologetic look.

“You two go on ahead,” he said, an amused smile on his face. “I’m not far behind.”

As she and Jack hurried back to the rest of the group, Fiona found herself hoping that, given what seemed to be happening, the younger girl didn’t have a crush on Riddick. Or at least, not enough of one that it would cause problems if—

If what, though? What was happening here? With a pang, she wished Maggie were with her. Of the two of them, Maggie was the one who would have understood just what she was getting herself into.

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.

6.
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.”

“Why?”

“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?

“Aud?”

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.

“Yeah?”

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.

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.

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress