Title: The Slow Burn
Chapter: 9 of ?
Fandom: Pitch Black
Synopsis: This is a reworked version of chapter 9 (formerly chapter 8) 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 explores the settlement, contemplates the situation and his companions, and makes a disturbing discovery.
The settlement, and the skiff, weren’t nearly as impressive as Riddick had expected from the way the search party had raved about it.
The place wasn’t terrible or anything, but he had been imagining a working town that had been abandoned when the resources it had been set up to exploit ran dry, like hundreds of ghost towns that dotted dozens of barely-habitable worlds. This one hadn’t even made it that far; everything he was seeing told him it had still been in the early phases of setting up.
When there are more work buildings than housing, Riddick reflected as he strolled through the place’s sorry excuse for a main street, you know things didn’t go well.
He wondered just how far along things had gotten before it all fell apart. The escape skiff suggested that they had fallen apart in some kind of spectacular fashion.
That skiff worried him more than he wanted to admit aloud. It had been sitting in this arid patch of dust for at least a decade, based on the weathering it had taken. Fry seemed to think it could get them offworld, up where they could be rescued, and he had publicly agreed with her, but his misgivings had been growing since then. Open to the elements the way it had been for an indeterminate amount of time, there was a good chance that some or all of the electronics had fried long ago. But it had turned on when she connected one of the Hunter-Gratzner’s fuel cells. Maybe her optimism wasn’t so misplaced.
Of course, in the process he’d revealed a little too much about his own knowledge of astrogation and ship repairs, and Johns had promptly assigned him tasks that would keep him as far away from the skiff as possible. Typical.
Those chores hadn’t taken long at all. With Fry and Shazza busy working on the skiff, the Imam and his boys getting the condenser working again, and Paris and Johns generally getting in everybody’s way, almost nobody was paying attention when he slipped away to do a little reconnoitering of his own.
His investigations quickly began to disturb him. Everywhere there were signs that people had not merely left in a hurry, but had been caught up in a full-blown panic. A broken pair of spectacles, a small water-flask, somebody’s chrono… things that shouldn’t have been lying among the dust. Not unless there was big trouble at the end.
Trouble, he suspected, from down below.
Well, it wasn’t such a surprise. He hadn’t actually seen Zeke get taken, but he knew it had happened fast. Looked like these settlers got a taste of the same thing, unfortunate bastards.
As he walked, his mind turned to his companions. If this settlement turned out to be no safer than the crash site, things could get hairy pretty damned quickly, and most of them were still trying to delude themselves as to what the real dangers were. Johns, of course, would do whatever he could to save his own ass, and Fry might do the same. He didn’t necessarily think so, though. She seemed to feel a lot of guilt over almost dumping the passenger cabin. Maybe now that everybody had become real people to her, she would feel obligated to protect them.
Too bad nobody’s ever “real people” to Johns, he reflected.
Shazza was unpredictable. She was still riding the edge of her grief and rage, and doing elaborate mental gymnastics to keep viewing him as somehow to blame. If she snapped, she might do the whole group a world of harm. Paris had already proven that he was worthless when he’d abandoned his post. And, while his apparent addictions were on a much lower level than Johns’, they made him equally unpredictable and untrustworthy. He would probably try to guard his precious bottles at exactly the wrong moment and get someone killed.
The holy man seemed okay, as much as any religious zealot could be, but those kids of his would probably get themselves into trouble. The youngest of the three had wandered off early into the condenser repairs, along with Jack.
Now Jack… Jack was interesting. Riddick had spotted the boy earlier, ducking through the town, with a shaved head and a pair of goggles that vaguely resembled his. In fact, he was pretty sure that Jack and that Ali kid were shadowing him at the moment. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see two heads duck behind a rooftop. Kids… Jack would probably side with him if things got rough, though, for whatever that might be worth. He had the kid mostly pegged now: a runaway who had seen enough to want to ingratiate himself with the biggest and strongest before he could become their meat, and had chosen him as the one to follow.
Sorry to tell you, kid, but I’m not even close to the most dangerous thing on this rock. Then again, he did have a soft spot for kids, one that had put him in harm’s way on more than a few occasions. Jack might be on his side, but that could also make for a chink in his armor. He would need to be careful. That story had already ended badly more than once.
Finally, there was Fiona. He’d saved her for last because she was the most confusing of all of them. It would be easy to dismiss her behavior toward him as the result of grief, madness or numbness blocking her sense of who to avoid, but many of her small gestures and mannerisms had him suspecting that she might not have feared him under normal circumstances, either. The electricity building between them was something he hadn’t felt with anyone since he was a teenager, and he knew he was probably getting reckless as a result. Maybe both of them were falling into what his last shrink had called a folie à deux, and this madness would go nowhere good.
But there were all of the little things, the repeated, consistent acts of simple kindness to consider. The horse bit. Cleaning his cuts. Sharing her breather. Believing him immediately when he said there was something much more dangerous than him in this world’s rare shadows. Things that nobody else in the group had even thought about. She wasn’t the only one in the party who treated him like a person — Jack and the Imam were there as well, and Fry seemed to be on the cusp of doing so — but she was the only one to go further and show him trust.
But probably the biggest thing of all, the elephant clomping after him in the dust, was the very simple fact that he wanted her. It had been a very, very long time since he’d been with a woman, and even longer since he’d been with one who didn’t charge for her time. The sparks that kept flying between them were getting harder and harder to resist.
Still thinking about Fiona, Riddick moved over to a large structure and began examining it.
This is a coring room, he thought with dawning horror as the pieces fell together at last. The whole settlement had been a fledgling mining operation. Fuck, what did you sorry bastards unleash on yourselves?