Pairing: Richard Riddick and Carolyn Fry
Monsters In The Night
Ch 8 - Comes the Dawn - Part I
A wave of dizziness almost brought Carolyn to her knees. The bravado she had needed to turn her back on Richard, and head the few feet to the cockpit had disappeared along with the adrenalin high she had been riding, every since their last run through the night. Her hands shook and she was left feeling fragile and stretched too thin. Trying to regain her balance, she slowly blinked while turning away from both men, Imam at the controls and Riddick aft, on the deck between the benches. But it didn’t help. Her evasive maneuver brought her face to face with Jack’s cryo-locker. In the garish red light of the chamber the teen looked waxy, almost dead. A quick check of the read-outs set her mind at ease, but did nothing to relieve her light-headedness. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool plastiglass that kept the injured girl wrapped in a protective bubble.
She heard Riddick grunt as he pulled on his pants, but refused to turn around until she was back in control. Her stomach still heaved from the pain she had caused him when she had stitched muscle to muscle and fascia to fascia, then finally closed his skin in a neat pattern. Though she found it frightening that he had been capable of sitting in stoic silence while she worked on him, she doubted she would have had the strength to close the deep gashes in his leg and shoulder if he hadn’t. Even in pain he had given her emotional support. It was a heady thought, but one she didn’t dare get used to.
Taking a deep breath she tried to block him from her mind, but too much had happened in the last hours. They were in space; she was the pilot again and, back in her element. Had her mistakes cost her the iron control she needed to survive?
Her thoughts were interrupted as a blanket was wrapped around her shoulders and large hands smoothed it over her arms. In a moment of weakness she leaned against the powerful body behind her, but didn’t give in to the urge to turn and curl against him.
“You need to get some sleep, Babe.” Richard whispered in her ear as he rubbed her arms to warm them under the blanket. Why was it so painful to see her so drained? In the past he had only thought of himself. “You’re done in.”
“I’m fine,” she turned and forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Besides we’re all tired, and there are things to do before, I can sleep.”
“From the look of Imam’s skill at the helm, there are two of us to help you get them done.” He had looked over his shoulder as the Holyman’s fingers flew over the controls. In light of this new knowledge, the quiet man’s cryptic words about his past took on a new meaning.
“Richard, I’m fine!” She snapped. It was taking all her energy to keep from sinking against him and letting him hold her forever. He had made her feel safe when there was no safety, and strong when she had been at her weakest, but it had to stop somewhere.
“Naw you’re not. None of us are, but you least of all.” He had seen the look that came across her face as she fought her emotions. It’s got you too? His first instinct had been to push her away, before he became tangled in the depth of her eyes, but the bruise on her jaw had caught his attention. Johns had put it there and he froze inside when he thought what else the merc might have done to her. His fingers moved lightly over her marred skin. His stomach twisted and his nostrils flared as he tried to find the words to ask her if she had been raped.
“Carolyn, Richard,” Imam called them back to the present. “This should be of interest to you.”
“What ya got there?” Carolyn turned away from probing shined eyes, relieved to have staved off any questions until later. Once her emotions were back under control, then maybe she would have the courage to look at her feelings for Richard, until then she wasn’t ready to talk about them. For the moment she held fast to the illusion that he cared about her, not just her body. It was all that kept her functioning.
“You got some hidden talents, Old Man.” Riddick watched Imam manipulate the computer and black box, easily extracting the information they needed. It was hard to believe this was the same unassuming holy man they had spent the last fifty hours with.
“As I’ve tried to tell you on a number of occasions, Mr. Riddick, I led a different life once.” He arched a brow at the man behind him; pleased his old skills came in so handy.
When they studied the reconstructed star charts they considered themselves lucky to have crashed when they did. The H-G had passed into a section of space known as The Ulysses Triangle. Its furthest corner was marked by the vast black hole Cilia. The sun Hydria, and the dead world of Cassandra formed the base of the triangle. They were a good two weeks from even the most sparsely traveled shipping lanes.
Hydria was a huge unstable gas giant with a tremendous amount of gravitational pull. It had been known to suck ships off course and into its fiery path from great distances. The constant solar activity played havoc with transmissions and often gave off false readings to navputers.
Cassandra was an ice planet caught in the grips of nuclear winter. On official charts it was called by its astronomical designation, Yankee 2020, but pilots and navigators didn’t call it that. Some space jockey with knowledge of Greek mythology had dubbed it Cassandra. The name had stuck, because from the few probes that had survived, to send back any data, it appeared that its long dead residence had repeatedly raped the land and environment by stripping it of any natural resources, then polluted it before killing it and themselves in a catastrophic war. The unstable atmosphere from the dead planet had been creating plasma storms and flinging them out into space at random, since before mankind crawled out of the dark ages.
It was theorized that Cilia, a gaping tear in space, was responsible for the Triangle being filled with pulsars, gravity wells and odd space anomalies. No one knew for sure, since all attempts to study her had failed. Man had yet to build a ship that could get close enough to a black hole to send in probes, without being pulled apart.
“Why in the fuck did that asshole, Owens try to navigate this area by computer?” Fry shook her head in disgust as Imam gave her back the pilot’s seat. There were still some jobs that needed the delicate touch that could only come from a living being.
“He didn’t.” The Holyman pointed to the simulation that was taking shape on the skiff’s computer. “I’ve reconstructed our path from the data in the Hunter-G’s black box. It appears as if we were side swiped by the ion wash of a plasma storm. Anything stronger and it would have ripped us apart. But it was powerful enough to scramble the navputer, and send us veering off into space, away from Owens’s intended course, as well as New Mecca. We’re just lucky we crashed before we had gone much further. Once Hydria got us in her pull, there would be no getting out of here. Even now, we’ll have to be vigilant to keep from getting sucked further in.” All three possible courses of the large freighter had appeared on the three dimensional chart in front of them.
“Fuck! We’re in the middle of nowhere!” Carolyn exclaimed. She could remember her uncle telling stories about ships that disappeared into the Triangle, and were never heard from again. It was even said that space monsters roamed this area. Until a few days ago she had always laughed at the idea of alien monsters, now she was ready to believe anything.
“True, but we’re also, weeks away from the intended rendezvous with the pirates.” Imam worked the math to give them a more accurate window of time.
“So, for now we’re safe, if we’re careful.” Riddick stood quietly behind Carolyn’s chair, his arms rested on its back. Every time she moved her head, her hair rubbed against his skin and sent a tingle through him. It brought back vivid memories of the first time he had felt the silky strands between his fingers, while hiding in the skull of a long dead animal. The soft blonde curls still had the power to make him catch his breath. ‘Damn, what the fuck is happening to me?’ His mind tried to fix on the exact moment when she had become so important to him, but everything since the crash had blurred, except for the knowledge that she had become essential to his well being.
“If this information is correct, we’ve got 3 ½ to 4 weeks before anyone could get to us from the coordinates set by Owens.” Imam looked to the others as they nodded in agreement. “I believe we’re safe for now, even if anyone did pick up our final distress call.”
Carolyn relaxed in her seat, and let her shoulders sag, as she wearily rubbed her face. “First order of the day is to get some sleep, we’ll be better able to plan once we’ve rested. Riddick and I’ll take turns at the con.” She looked up at him, just realizing that he had been absent-mindedly twisting a strand of her hair around his finger.
“Carolyn,” Imam reached for her arm. “Include me in the watch schedule. It’s been a while, but I’ve flown crafts like this one in the past.” His usual open calm expression had turned to stone, as if he was looking into the face of something that was too painful to remember.
“We could use the help.” She covered his hand with hers in a gesture that conveyed support, and thanked him for coming to their aid, when it obviously cost him a great deal. “I’ll take the first watch. In four hours I’ll wake Richard, then he’ll wake you in another four.” She reached for the internal lighting system and set it for ship’s-night, expecting both men to move to the back.
“No.” Riddick stood firmly beside her while he pulled off his goggles, and Imam moved past him to stretch-out on the bench beside Jack’s sleep tube. “I’ll take the first one.”
“That was an order, not a fuckin’ suggestion, Mister!” For a moment she was able to keep up her old tough facade, but it was costing her. She was a pilot again, and this time she would do it right. Nothing would happen to the passengers on her watch! But as he settled into the co-pilot’s seat, she began to crumble.
“Please Richard, don’t give me an argument.” There wasn’t much fight left in her, so she told it to him straight. “This is something I have to do.” If he pushed her, she was afraid she would give up. It would be easy to keep taking his support, but then the old Carolyn Fry would be gone, and she wouldn’t know who she was anymore. That would be fine for the time being, but when this was all over, and she was alone again, she would be lost. It was going to be hard enough learning to live with the knowledge that she had deliberately tried to kill all her passengers, without adding more to her load.
As if he could read her mind, he nodded and closed his eyes as he slid his seat back into a reclining position. “Have it your way, Babe, but I’m here if you need me.” She could be so stubborn and brave, it made his heart hurt. But she was right, they had to start depending on each other less, it would make it easier, when they reached their final destination.
Carolyn felt her body start to fall forward in sleep. Reflexively she jerked upright and forced her eyes open. Her first response was to quickly scan the navputer before she relaxed and repositioned herself in the pilot’s seat of the old skiff. Only when she knew the ship was safe, did she allow herself to check on her companions. Imam was asleep on his bench in the back, his hand touching Jack’s cryo-tube, as if he would protect her even in his sleep. The sound of his gentle snoring made her smile, as she angled her head to see the man who slept in the co-pilot’s seat.
Richard, her mind froze when she looked at him. He had turned his reclined seat sideways. Had he been watching her from the side while she worked? His injured leg was raised, with his heel hooked into the pilot’s coffee cup holder inches away from her. In the tiny cockpit, he was so close she could have reached out and touched him without really trying. Instead her eyes followed the contours of his body, bringing back stark memories of how his skin had felt against hers.
She was mesmerized by the steady rise and fall of his chest. For the first time he appeared truly relaxed. Even when she had seen him in his cryo tube, he had seemed to be fighting some inner demon, but not now. Taking her time she enjoyed studying him, as she could never do when he was awake. He had come to epitomize strength and safety, over the last few days. He had made her feel things she had never thought she would feel. She was going to miss those feelings when this was all over, because deep in her heart she knew that it was going to end, and he was going to leave her. There could be no other way for them. Two sinners didn’t deserve a happy ending. Sitting there with only the stars to see her, Carolyn faced the truth, and mourned the loss of a piece of her that would be gone forever.
Blinking tears out of her eyes, she had a sudden longing to know what it felt like to sleep in his arms. To feel his body wrapped around hers in the quiet moments of the night; to wake with his breath against her ear as she turned to him in the early hours of dawn, and felt him move against her in passion, as he filled her, until they both cried out in joy. She knew without a doubt that she wouldn’t be able to share these things with any other man. She would probably give in to her body’s needs and experience sex sometime in the future, but intimacy, would never be her, again.
“Carolyn,” Richard’s voice was husky with passion as he returned his seat to a sitting position and leaned across the space between them. “Come here.” He held out his arms, but she had frozen in place.
“I thought you were asleep,” she whispered. She hadn’t seen his eyes open until the light from the stars reflected off of them, and then it was too late. He had caught her staring.
“I know you did.” Leaning over, he easily lifted her onto his lap. To his surprise, she didn’t fight him. “You forget, it meant my life if I was caught napping in Slam.”
“How long have you been awake?” She let him pull her body against his and absorbed his warmth.
“Since you started watchin’ me.” He moved his thumb across her damp cheek and followed the contours of her face until he came to the black and blue splotch on her jaw. “How badly did Johns hurt you?”
His question caught her off guard. At first she didn’t realize what he was asking, but the hard look that had come across his features told her he was serious. “He didn’t hurt me at all.”
“Then how’d you get the bruise?” Why couldn’t he come out and ask her what he needed to know? He had lived a rough life and the women he had known weren’t always treated, as they should be. But with her it tore at his gut to think she might have been violated.
“It’s my own fault,” she wanted to hide her face against him as she flushed in embarrassment, but his hand kept her head tilted gently upward. “After I did the systems check, I was real angry and I guess, well,” she toyed with the neckline of his shirt and couldn’t meet his eyes. “Well I, uh, picked a fight with the bastard. I had a need to hit somebody or something and he was handy.” She felt his shoulders relax as she told him about the fight and how Johns had gotten one punch past her guard.
“Something really pissed you off, did it?” He knew why she had been upset, but didn’t know what to do with the knowledge.
“More likely someone!” She admitted, but raised her chin in defiance of the pain and anger she had felt when Richard had pushed her away after making love. LOVE? How long had she felt that way about him? The thought frightened her badly, so she tried to ignore it. “Besides Johns’d been asking for it from the start, it was about time someone knocked him down to size!” She added in an attempt to keep her emotions hidden.
“Atta girl,” he whispered. Damn, he should have done severe damage to that fuckin merc long before Carolyn had had to take matters into her own hands, but she was one hell of a woman to have done what he should have! He could picture her attacking the much larger merc and pride and relief washed over him. Johns had used lies to try and manipulate both of them. If the fucker weren’t already dead, he would feed him to the monsters a second time.
“You can relax now, Babe. I’ll take care of things.” He felt her soft breath against his neck as she moved closer to absorb his body heat. He wanted to carry her to the back of the shuttle and let passion burn away the memory of the cruel words he had used to taunt her while attempting to erase all that had happened between them during the sys-check. But even if they had been alone, he wouldn’t have done that to her. So he did the only thing he could to try to wipe away the pain he had caused her. He wrapped her blanket around her and held her tightly against him.
“Okay, you’ve got the watch.” She shivered and sighed, as she gave into the need for sleep. Just this one last time she promised herself, as her eyes grew heavy. Once she was rested, then she would be strong enough to pull away. It was only her need for sleep that was causing her to have these odd feelings.
On the other side of the cockpit window, space was vast and full of stars, but there were no fast moving objects hurtling toward them to cause hull breaches or ships that might be tracking them. Riddick enjoyed the view as he watched the readouts from the navputer to be sure they stayed in orbit of the small moon on the outskirts of the asteroide field. In the far distance he could see the eclipsed suns from their monster planet.
Looking down at the woman in his arms he smiled as she whispered quietly in her sleep. Her eyes moved as if she was dreaming and he hoped they were good dreams. What was he going to do with her? The answer was simple: nothing. He was going to do nothing with her. As soon as he was sure she was safe, he was gone. Safe from aliens, safe from raiders, safe from the Company, then she would be safe from him as well. He had almost destroyed her twice; he wasn’t going to let that happen again. Smiling he watched her sleep. It was a chance he would never get again, so he planned on taking full advantage of it.
Imam blinked, something had awakened him. The skiff was quiet and he knew it wasn’t his turn for the watch. His first thought was of Jack, but looking up at the gauges he was reassured, there was no change in the child’s condition.
He lifted his head and looked toward the cockpit. Riddick was silhouetted against the backdrop of distance stars, his injured leg rested on the console. Carolyn’s pale blonde head was in the crook of his arm. In an unguarded moment, the hard man caressed her face, then kissed her lightly on the forehead. It made the Holyman smile to see gentleness coming from a man like that. Maybe he finally figured out what this was all about? The satisfaction lasted only until Richard looked up quickly, some slight movement in the back of the skiff had diverted his attention. Then Imam could see the battle the man was fighting.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he sat up and moved stiffly to the pilot’s seat beside Riddick. “And you’re wrong.”
“Just what is it you know, Old Man?” Riddick whispered, but the menace was clear in his voice.
“That she’ll be safer if you leave her.” Warm brown eyes met cold shined ones. Each was reading the other, and neither man wanted to be the one to give in.
“What makes you think I want to stay with her?” Riddick neatly sidestepped the issue.
“I know that look on your face.” The older man’s eyes clouded as he thought back many years. “I used to see it on mine every time I looked in my shaving mirror.”
As if to deny his feelings, Richard slowly stood and carried Carolyn to the back of the skiff. Stooping with her balanced on his knees, he made a nest of blankets on the deck between the benches. After laying her on the padded ground, he took the blanket Imam left behind and wrapped it snugly around her.
“Richard,” she murmured as she fell deeper asleep.
“Right here, Babe, watchin over you.” His quiet words were barely audible, but from the slight smile that crossed her face, he knew she had heard.
Back in the cockpit the two men faced each other from the short distance between the pilot and co-pilot’s seat. Both looked hard and tough. It was time for serious talk and both knew it.
“You’re Company, you got it written all the fuck over you.” Riddick glared at the man who up until an hour ago, he had begun to trust.
“I was Company, but that was almost twenty years ago.”
“Don’t bullshit me! You cracked that black box like a child’s toy. A man who can do that isn’t allowed to just leave. I should know.” He felt for his shiv in his back pocket, it was within easy reach, he only hoped he didn’t have to use it.
“Are you planning on killing me Riddick?” The hard cold voice and stiff expression was one he hadn’t used in years. It disappointed the Holyman to find that it was still a part of his character.
“That depends on you.” Richard looked around the skiff, eyeing the woman sleeping in the back and child in her protective sleep tube. “And on them. You convince me that no harm will come to them, because of you, and you live. Simple as that.”
“You have no worries about yourself?” Imam smiled. Riddick had put the others before himself, and that was a good sign.
“One thing Johns taught me this time around, is that I’ll never be taken alive again, so I don’t matter, but those two, they’re a different story. They deserve to live and be happy.”
“Funny Jack said the same thing,” he could still hear the child’s words echoing back at him from inside the tiny cave. “About not being taken alive. But I agree with you, their safety is of utmost importance.” The black man nodded. “No harm will come to any of you because of me. I had already planned on taking Jack with me, and that issue isn’t open for discussion. I have no one, and she has no one; together we can be a family. New Mecca would be a good place for us to make a real home.”
“We’ll see about that.” Riddick understood what it was like to grow up an indentured foster kid. Being tossed from one ‘family’ to another, your contract sold to whoever needed a strong back to get a job done. In Jack’s case, it was obvious that she had been used for more than labor. Imam’s talk of a family was just what the child needed, but first Richard had to be sure he was being told the truth. In light of what he had just learned, it was hard to believe in the old man. He knew that nothing was as it seemed when the Company was involved.
“I can see you doubt my intentions.” Eyes that had been a hard brown softened in pain. “Ask me what you like, I promise you the truth, no matter how difficult.”
“Tell me how you plan on keeping them safe?”
“Jack is easy,” Imam smiled. “Though most runaways don’t realize it, the foster program doesn’t hunt them. It isn’t economical. There are plenty of homeless children to fill the gaps in the workforce. As long as a child doesn’t break the law, or do anything that would bring undo notice to themselves, they are left alone.”
“You’ve left out the small matter of the Company.” Riddick pushed. “And your involvement in it.”
“They believed I died a long time ago. There is no one alive today that would recognize me. I saw to that when I left.” His voice hitched as he remembered the last orders he had given to one of his favorite spooks, and the tragedy he had been unable to foresee. “If this new incident should cause them to look our way, all they will notice is an old holy man and the child he adopted, living in peace on New Mecca.”
“What about Carolyn, you plan on taking her to New Mecca, too?” The idea of her joining Imam and Jack in a home was painful for reasons he wouldn’t examine.
“No, not even the countless layers of religious laws would keep her safe there. It would be best if it were believed that she died on that planet back there.” The Holyman nodded toward the view screen. “In fact it would be best if you were both reported dead. Because once the Hunter-Gratznia is found, and it will be found one day, the Company will come looking for all survivors. Jack and I can easily be overlooked as useless passengers, but you and Carolyn, are a different matter. If you want her to be truly safe, you must stay with her.” He told a truth that Riddick didn’t want to hear. “I can see that she is well hidden, but only you can protect her.”
“Me? I’d just get her killed, or worse.” He had tried to turn her into a murderer once, just to keep her with him. If she was his even for a short while, he knew he would do anything to prevent her leaving.
“I’ve seen you perform acts of great kindness and bravery, those aren’t the actions of a man with your reputation.” Dark brown eyes probed for the soul of a sinner.
“Riddick did die on that planet, but I don’t know who this new person is, or what he’ll do.” The big man shrugged, afraid to trust himself, no matter what had happened in the last few hours. “Besides, I was born a killer, not just trained to be one. Though the training I received made me fuckin good at it!”
“Are you so sure you’re nothing but a killer?”
“You were Company, you should know the answer!” Riddick’s whisper snapped like a whip. “Their spooks have to be cold-blooded killers. It takes a certain type of person to do that, and I was one of their best.”
Imam watched the large man carefully. The answer to his next question would tell the story. “Had you killed before you went to the Company for training?”
“Naw, but I’d been in trouble with the law, and was headin’ that way.” Riddick shrugged. He remembered the tough kid he had been, made even tougher by his upbringing. But there were other memories too. The joy he had gotten from flying, the year he had been fostered out to the captain of a cargo ship. The man had been kind and had encouraged his hopes of becoming a pilot, even promising him a job after the Company certified him. “But instead of teaching me to fly and navigate cargo ships, I was taught to kill. It turned out that was what I was best suited for.” He pulled his shiv and held it in his open palm.
“They lied to you!” Imam’s quiet words shook the other man to his foundation.
“How do you know that?” His hand tightened around the shiv. He felt his beliefs lurch. Anger was close to the surface, but he needed the truth before he sliced the other man’s throat.
“As you’ve pointed out, I was Company.” The older man turned and checked the navputer, as he steeled himself to tell Riddick the truth. “There must have been a need for an assassins when you were tested. They would have been looking for a person with a strong survival instinct, but not an animal one. He would have had to have potential skills as a pilot and a navigator, so he could travel on his own when on company business, if necessary. It was felt that this kind of person would be more loyal if he believed that he was a born killer, and the Company was making good use of his skills. Unfortunately, it was discovered that over the years, if an assassin was used too often he became the animal the Spook Corps had made him believe he was, or else his real self began to re-emerge and he rebelled against the Company. When that happened, he had to be terminated.”
“You’re saying that’s what happened to me?” Riddick hissed and pulled his shiv, again.
“I am.” Imam challenged. “Think about it. Why didn’t you kill Johns when you had the chance? You certainly had a good reason.” He nodded toward Carolyn, as she tossed in her sleep.
“You never did tell me what ya did for the Company.” Riddick’s quiet whisper made the hackles rise on the other man’s neck. He could tell from the look in the convict’s shined eyes that he was beginning to listen to him.
“I started the Spook program 35 years ago and headed it up for the next 15.” Imam had promised Richard honesty, but he had hoped to avoid this topic.
“You fuckin son of a bitch!” The big man lunged toward the older one. It was the truth, then. The last twelve years of his life had been wasted. They had made him what he was and he had done their dirty work. When his real nature began to show through, and he rebelled, he was thrown away to rot in Slam.
He grabbed the collar of the Holyman’s robes, and yanked him out of the pilot’s seat. Then pinned him to the wall of the skiff. Riddick’s large arm dug into the smaller man’s throat, effectively cutting off his air, while his shiv threatened to cut off his blood supply. “Maybe it’s time we put my real nature to the test!”
“Richard, no!” Carolyn shouted, and grabbed his arm, to separate the two men. She had been shaken out of a nightmare by angry voices. Her eyes were clouded, and it was hard to make sense of what she was seeing. “Don’t hurt him, please.”
“Get the fuck away from me!” He turned to her and tried to pull his arm free, but she held on too tightly. He was filled with rage as he tried to shake her free. His arm swung back, but she wouldn’t let go. He put his body into it, and he felt her grip loosening, then she stumbled and went flying backward.
“Richard,” she cried out in surprise, reaching out for him as she fell.
For a moment he froze in shock at what he’d done. Then as his red haze of anger began to clear, he grabbed for her, but his hand came away with nothing but air. Both men watched in horror as her arms flailed and she landed hard, knocking the air out of her. The blankets she had left in a pile, between the benches, were all that prevented her from cracking her head on the deck.
Riddick’s grip relaxed on Imam and he slowly pocked his shiv. His face was the same hard mask that he had worn when they had first crashed. “I guess I just proved my point, on all counts, Old Man.” He turned on his heel and walked back to Carolyn. Stopping he lifted her to her feet, as he steadied her to make sure she could stand on her own. Then he gently pushed her toward the cockpit, as he draped a blanket around her shoulders. Never once saying a word.
She turned toward him unable to fathom what had happened. But he shook his head and refused to acknowledge her questioning eyes, as he stiffly lowered himself to the deck. Ignoring the two shocked people, he lay back feeling old and drained. He’d done it; he’d finally pushed her away for good this time. There would be no going back, no more touching or pretending that things could be more than they were. Though he would’ve bet his life that he’d never of hurt her physically. At least it had been a controlled situation and she was safe, now.
“What the fuck was that all about!” Carolyn slid into the co-pilot’s seat. She looked between Richard’s broad back, that he had pointedly turned toward them, and Imam beside her.
“It is up to him to tell you. Suffice it to say, Richard’s anger was well deserved. If he had killed me, he would have been within his rights.”
“How can you say that?” Her eyes flashed in anger. “It’s my job to keep the peace around here.”
“My dear, conversations with a holy man fall under professional confidence. Not even a ship’s Captain may intrude on that.” He smiled as she rolled her eyes, and huffed in disgust. “You were not hurt from the fall?”
“Of course not.” She recognized the deeper question buried beneath the casual one. “Richard surprised me, but he didn’t hurt me.”
“I’m afraid that he doesn’t see it that way.” Imam looked over his shoulder at the sleeping man.
“He’ll be fine once he gets some rest.” Carolyn pulled her legs up into her seat and rested her head on her knees. She needed to talk to the Holyman about some concerns of her own so she was glad for their privacy.
“I can see there is something on your mind, child.” He offered, as he divided his attention between her and the star charts.
“What Johns said about me is true. I really did try to flush the passenger cabin when we were going to crash. How do I learn to deal with that?” She couldn’t look at him, so she stared out at the distance stars. “Will God forgive me for what I would have done?”
“Learning to live with what happened has to be done from within. It’s something only you can do. I can offer you my opinion, though.” The Holyman gave her his full attention. “But it is a very human one.”
“Anything would be a help.”
In the back of the skiff, Richard had forced himself to stay awake and listen. If the Holyman cut the world out from under Carolyn the way he had him, nothing would save the old man from his wrath.
“You are a strong, honest woman, my dear. From what I knew of Capt. Mitchell’s reputation, he didn’t brook incompetence, especially on his bridge. So it stands to reason you’re a very good pilot, as well.”
“Then what happened to me?” The anguish in her voice made Riddick wince from where he was listening in the dark.
“Since knowing you on the planet, there is only one conclusion I can come to. Some people might call it cold sleep disorientation, but I think it is more than that. I believe that God intended for you to do what you did.”
“For a reason I can only guess at, I believe that it was God’s will that you pulled that release lever. If he had meant you to flush the passengers, the mechanism wouldn’t have jammed, and the rear cabin would have been dumped.
“What kind of God do you worship, that would do such a thing?” Carolyn was horrified by what she was being told.
“A loving and forgiving God, but one that makes a person reach for his own salvation.” He nodded toward the back of the ship. “You have made the difference in the life of at least one of us on this trip. You have made him look at himself, as he never did before, and question his values. Think about it, my dear. If you had been a pious always-perfect pilot who never made a mistake, would you have been capable of understanding a man like Riddick. Would you have been willing to go looking for Zeke’s body to prove that he didn’t kill him? But more importantly, would he have been able to accept you as a helpmate and lover if you hadn’t done what you did.”
In the back of the skiff, Riddick was filled with guilt. He knew the answers to the questions Carolyn was being asked. He could see himself sitting in the hot dead skull, listening to her talk to Johns, while he tried to decide which cut would be the quietest, and if her oxygen was worth the chance of discovery. When he heard her confession, everything changed. Instead of cutting her throat, he sliced off a curl that set his heart racing. She had been his from that moment on. But being his only had caused her misery.
“You knew that we, that Richard and I..?” Carolyn flushed to the roots of her fair hair and wondered who else might have suspected what had really gone on during the long systems check. When she was finally able to meet Imam’s eyes, she expected to see disappointment or at least censor on his face, but there was none.
“You have no worry, Child, you were discreet, but you are also human. There is a deep attraction between the two of you, isn’t there?” He smiled and remembered back a long way.
“Yes, but I’m not sure what to do about it.” She whispered, afraid to say the words out loud. “He makes me feel things I never thought I’d feel.”
“The two of you are stronger together than alone. You fill in the gaps in each other, making a whole that is stronger than the sum of its parts.” He wondered what Riddick would think if he heard himself being discussed in such philosophical terms. “The trick will be convincing Richard that he isn’t a liability to you.” Imam smiled sadly. “I hope he doesn’t make my mistake.”
“Would it help to talk about it?” Carolyn could see the pain that thinking of the past was causing the old man. Maybe if she understood what he had been through, she would be better prepared when Richard walked out of her life.
“As I am sure you realized I worked for the Company at one time. I met Emma when I was making my final preparations to get out from under them. She was the daughter of a miner on Omega Prime, and I loved her from the moment I saw her. The time came for me to leave. Everything had been set; every contingency had been planned for, except in my years of meticulous planning I hadn’t planned on Emma. She begged me to take her with me, but I refused, thinking she would be safer with her family until I was sure I was in the clear. I believed that once I got to my sanctuary I could ride out the storm while a trusted friend took care of all those who would kill me. Then I could wait out a few months for the dust to settle, and I come back for her. What I didn’t know was that my friend knew about Emma. Though he followed my orders and disposed of those who would have me hunted, he saw a way out for himself by turning me in. When I returned for her I found him waiting for me with his shiv still covered with her blood. I killed with my own hands that day for the first and last time.”
“My God, Imam, how terrible!” She began to understand why Richard had been so angry. His involvement with the Company had to have run deep, and something he had done in the past must have impacted on Riddick’s life. “Did you know him in your Company days?”
“No, I was gone a long time before he came along. Emma died almost 20 years ago.” A sad smile crossed his face as he remembered. “After I killed the man who killed her, I held her in my arms, not wanting to let her go. Her father found us hours later. It was his quick thinking that saved me. We put my identification on the spook and we burned down the cabin with both bodies in it. Later when the Company found it, one body was ID as mine; the other was officially listed as a Jane Doe. Case closed, all lose ends tied up. One runaway executive and the spook who hunted him dead.”
“I’m so sorry, Imam.” Carolyn reached over the squeezed his hand.
“Some good did come out of it.” He tried to pull himself back to the present. “Her father sent me to New Mecca to hide in a monastery since the thought of going back to the home I would have shared with Emma, turned my stomach. During my long months in hiding I found God. I have come to believe that I was on the Hunter-Gratznia for a reason. If those star charts are correct, then I know why, because we’re only a three-day run from the place I was using to hide. No one knows about it and I never returned after that day. We can stock up on provisions and decide what to do from there. Unfortunately there won’t be a hospital for Jack.” Yes he knew why God had brought him on this trip and why he had lived when so many others had died. It was to help his three companions, who had become lost, find their way. With God’s help he would succeed and so would they.
Riddick had listened to the old man’s story, while he pretended to sleep. ‘But it’s not the same,’ he thought. ‘You didn’t have to worry that you might hurt your woman in a moment of anger! All you had to do was try to keep her safe from others, and you failed you old hypocrite! And that bull crap about being stronger together was an old man’s dreams.’ Riddick knew that he who traveled alone, traveled fastest and safest. Never have anything or anyone in your life that you couldn’t leave behind at moments notice, had always been his motto, and had saved his life on more than one occasion.
He closed his eyes, and tried to will himself to sleep. It was going to be another hard day and he had learned too many truths, in too short a time. Fuck the Company, and fuck doddering old men who were trying to relive their past. But most of all fuck Carolyn Fry, with her big blue eyes, and tough exterior. She had made him want, like he had never wanted in his life!
Yeah, fuck her, but as the thought came, it changed, and memories of her body moving against his lulled him toward sleep. She was nobody’s fuck; with her it was all pleasure, passion and sweetness. His last waking thought was, ‘maybe this was all a cold sleep dream and he would wake up in a cryo tube on the Hunter Gratznia, chained, with a bit between his teeth.’ The thought hurt, but then, at least he’d know who he was, and all this would have been for nothing.
Three days later the small skiff negotiated a little known wormhole that was located just outside of Hydria’s reach. It tossed them out into a region of space that was far from Company influence, and close to the boarders of territory controlled by a race of methane breathing aliens.
For the occupants of the ship it had been a difficult three days. They had enough drinking water to last them for a week, thanks to the hard work of Imam’s boys back at the abandon settlement. But food was limited to the few ration bars that were left from the Hunter-Gratznia’s survival kit. Environmentals on the shuttle worked well, but in an attempt to conserve fuel, they had kept life support at a minimum.
Once they had decided to head for Imam’s unknown planet, convincing Carolyn that she would have to stay behind, while the others assessed the damage that had been done by the removal of the black box from the H-G, was the hard part. She finally gave in when she realized her presences would put the others at risk, and Imam promised he would return for her as soon as it was safe. She missed the look that traveled between the two men, who knew it would never be safe for her to live in Company controlled space again.
Riddick had reverted to his former self. Usually speaking only when spoken to, then usually with a wise crack. He didn’t come within two feet of Fry, but she often turned and found him watching her with shined eyes that burned with a need that was frightening. She had become jumpy and tense, as his eyes silently followed her every move. When she would turn to confront him, he would paste a wiseass grin on his face and dare her to say something. They both felt the lose of the other, but neither was willing to risk a full out confrontation to try and clear the air.
The night before they entered the wormhole, Riddick had the watch and Imam slept soundly in his usual spot on the bench beside Jack’s cryo-tube, his hand resting on the plastiglass. Carolyn tossed and turned, unable to sleep. She felt it was the act of a coward who deserted her crew to let them leave her in safety, while they faced off with the Company, if the box should be discovered missing. And the idea of never seeing Richard again was tearing her apart. Now she remembered why she didn’t indulge in casual affairs, it was too dangerous to the heart.
Looking around to make sure that the Holyman was sleeping she got up and quietly made her way to the cockpit and slid into the co-pilot’s seat. She didn’t expect Richard to acknowledge her; he avoided her at all cost, since his argument with Imam that had sent her sprawling on the deck, but she needed some answers and he was the only one who could help her.
“Richard, I need your advice.” She looked out the view screen rather than see him refuse to look at her. “Am I really in that much danger? Couldn’t I just hide out somewhere on New Mecca until this all blows over?”
“You want my professional opinion?” The sarcasm in his voice cut like a knife. “As a spook, that is?”
“Yes, I guess that’s what I’m asking.” Her chin jutted out, as anger fought with pain.
“I figure it’ll take ‘em ‘bout a year to find the Hunter-G, after that, it’ll be touch and go for us. They’ll have spooks watchin’ Jack and Imam, but they should be okay unless somethin’ goes wrong. A large group of them’ll go over every inch of that planet lookin’ for the box, with any luck, they’ll wake a few sleepin’ monsters. It’ll make the Holyman’s story a lot easier to believe. But you’re a different matter, if they find ya, they’ll kill ya and it won’t be pretty and it won’t be quick. Then they’ll start huntin’ Jack, Imam and possibly me.”
“But why? Couldn’t I tell them that I took the box, and that no one else knew their precious secret? Then they’d leave you three alone?” She was being backed into a corner, again and hated it.
“Once they discovered that they’d been lied to, they wouldn’t believe anythin’ ya said. The black boxes are top security. Everybody talks ‘bout ‘um, but no body believes they’re real, most successful camouflage in the universe. It’s like Imam said, ‘the devil’s best trick was convincing the world he didn’t exist.’ If ya saw the devil, he ain’t gonna let you live to tell about it.” Riddick looked at the woman beside him, her legs pulled up in the seat of her chair and her arms wrapped around her them. She looked small and frightened, he hated that he needed to do that to her, but it was necessary for her survival.
“Okay, I get the picture,” she whispered, past the lump in her throat.
“I’m sorry, Carolyn, I never should ‘a taken the box. At the time the consequences didn’t matter.” At all costs she had to remain hidden. The monsters on the planet back there would have given her a kinder death than spooks looking for answers. This was one more thing to add to the pile of guilt he felt regarding Carolyn Fry.
“It’s all right Richard, we needed the information stored there and the star charts on this skiff are hopelessly out of date. We wouldn’t have been able to figure out where we were, if you hadn’t.” She was resigned to her fate. At least living out the next few years in the back of beyond, would keep her from making a fool of herself over the man beside her.
They sat in silence for a long time; both glad the terrible tension was gone for a while. “I was gonna use Johns’s name once we get outta here, but now that I think about it, the bastard is too well known, besides it sticks in my gut to use that name.”
“So Richard B. Riddick is really dead then?” Carolyn angled her head to watch him.
“Yup, killed by the monsters, and eaten, no remains left behind.”
“I had thought of using Shazza’s name, when I get otta here. I don’t think she would mind, and I’d like to know that she’s remembered.” She smiled as she thought how hard the settler woman had worked on the Sandcat. “Besides, no one looks into the face of a free settler.”
“You have a point there.” Riddick shrugged. “Do I look like a Zeke?”
“More than you realize.” Carolyn laughed softly. “Shazza told me that when she met him, he was a Corbinite miner. In fact, he had planned on getting his eyes shined so he could get ahead in the business. He gave it all up to travel the outlaying territories, with her. They were always moving further and further out, prospecting to earn their way until they found a place where they wanted to settle down. And according to the manifest, his last name was Richards.”
“Ya don’t say?” He smiled. “Yeah, that’s a much better fit than Johns!”
Carolyn fell asleep in the co-pilot’s seat, glad for Richard’s companionship, again. When Imam woke her for her watch, she was surprised to find that someone had reclined her chair and covered her with a blanket. She looked into the back of the skiff at the large man sleeping there, and knew without a doubt, he had shown her one last kindness.
She smiled and swallowed the lump in her throat. He had burst into her life and set her emotions aflame. At the moment she would settle for the peace they had found last night. Anything was better than the terrible antagonism that had been between them the last few days. If they were able to part as friends, then there would be only the good memories to keep with her over the years.
Chapter 8 - Comes The Dawn - Part 2