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.

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Elaine Carter

That shoulder dislocation moment always gives me shivers. I’m hypermobile, and shit moving the way it’s not supposed to *hurts*!