(thanks to Ellie for the title image!)
"No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear."
--Emily Bronte, Last Lines
On his hands and knees in the pouring rain, bleeding into a puddle
already tainted red, Riddick stared at the space where Fry had been
just an instant before. She’d offered him a small, crooked smile
before she was torn from his grasp but at that instant he’d been too
shocked to appreciate the irony. He'd tried to hold on to her but
couldn't make his hands work; fingers were broken and slashed and his
good hand, white knuckled and trembling, still clutched the shiv.
Deep thoughts later, Dickey, get the fuck up.
He tried to stand, but his leg gave way beneath him and sent him
sprawling into the mud. Roaring in pain and frustration, he brought
himself to his knees and froze. Curved, yellow teeth and fetid breath
hovered inches from his face. It couldn't see him -- too close -- and
the rain and mud masked the smell of his blood. His muscles tensed
painfully as he prepared to strike at it but before he could, it
turned and trotted away, calling into the downpour. Releasing a
breath he hadn't realized he was holding, Riddick scowled after it.
Then he heard it. Jack's voice, calling his name.
"Get back in the fucking ship, kid," he muttered. Then, to
himself, "Righteous idea."
Wrenching himself to his feet, he stumbled back toward the skiff,
ignoring the fire racing up his leg. Again he was forced to dare a
narrow passage between two buildings. No choice. No time to go around.
A sudden, blurred motion in the corner of his eye. An ugly,
sharp-crested head peered from behind a large trash receptacle and
sounded at him, seeking him out with its demented whale song. Without
a thought, Riddick threw his weight against the heavy metal bin,
smashing the creature between it and the wall. He didn't turn around.
Didn't need to. He could hear the others descending on their wounded
fellow in the darkness.
"Better you than me, you ugly fucker," he rumbled.
Another creature blocked his path, but he didn't stop. When it charged
him he half-dodged, half-stumbled to one side and slit it from
shoulder to tail, left it bleeding. Again he was ignored in favor of
the dying animal. No hard feelings, he thought. I know how
it is when you got a taste for your own.
The harsh exterior lights of the skiff forced him to squint and fumble
his way up the ramp, where Imam took him by the arm and half-led,
half-dragged him aboard. Without a word he threw himself into the
chair, wiping wet hands on wetter pants in a vain effort to avoid
dripping on the console as he began flipping switches. The engines
were still warm from the previously aborted takeoff.
He raised his eyes and glanced into the darkness as the engines began
to whine. They were out there, just beyond the light, pacing and
snapping at one another in frustration. They soared in tight swarms in
the sky, swooping and diving, pulling up just short of the lighted
cockpit. Through his heavy boots Riddick could feel them scratching at
the bottom of the skiff.
A little space...
He began to power down, flipping off the interior lights and
disengaging the engines for the second time that night.
"Riddick, what are you doing?" asked Jack, a hint of panic
in her voice. "Can we get the hell out of here, please?"
"We can't leave," he responded flatly.
Imam looked up from his hurried prayers, sharing a quick look of
apprehension with Jack before his attention was drawn away by a
skittering on the roof. A creature, a large one, set down on the
craft's stunted nose and began clawing at the windscreen and bashing
it with the sharp front ridge of its head.
"Not without saying goodnight."
One hand flipped the switches and the other drove the throttle all the
way forward, momentarily surrounding the small craft in a circle of
flame. Riddick forced his injured hand to grasp the stick and the
skiff leapt backward into the air, filling the space left by the
destroyed and retreating creatures. It lurched forward clumsily as he
struggled to maintain control and then blasted away from the planet's
He tapped the throttle, drawing Jack’s attention to it. "Hold
that all the way forward," he said quickly. She wrapped her
fingers around the handle and leaned on it as Riddick switched hands
on the stick and steadied the skiff.
There was no shield to raise against the assault and they were left
only with the hope that it would hold as the ship smashed its way
upward through a cloud of claws and wings and flashing teeth.
The skiff's emergency locator was broken and
Riddick, out of adrenaline, couldn’t muster the concentration to fix
it just yet. Rubbing his eyes, he tried to bring the field of stars
outside into focus. No luck. His mouth was dry and he was sweating
even in the chilled air of the cabin. Bad sign. Taken with
the pool of blood sloshing in his left boot he figured he was hurting,
heading for fucked.
Ignoring the pinpoints of light dancing in his vision, he initiated a
diagnostic of the main drive, something their hurried departure had
prevented. It was all he could do not to laugh out loud when the
readout indicated low power, thus confirming that dragging the power
cells for miles over hard ground and through the rain couldn’tve
been good for them.
This just keeps gettin’ better and better, he thought to
He closed his eyes and considered, throwing out possibilities until
only one remained.
Jack’s voice broke through the haze and Riddick’s eyes blinked
open. He looked at her blankly for a moment, then uttered a short
laugh. "Great, you?"
She blushed and looked sheepish. "Sorry, stupid question."
He returned his attention to the controls and banked the skiff into a
long, lazy turn. The course change didn’t settle in with the others
until the planet they had just escaped loomed dark and ominous before
"Where are we going?" Jack’s voice trembled with impending
Riddick responded simply. "Back."
"Back?" she shrieked. "Are you nuts?"
He turned his shimmering gaze on her, eyebrows raised, fighting the
look of amusement threatening to burst onto his face. Riddick wondered
how soft he must have gotten when pre-pubescent girls suddenly felt
free to give him shit. "Am I what?" he asked roughly.
Jack looked poised to dash away from him.
"Perhaps an explanation for our return," Imam said, voice
calm and measured and his expression politely inquisitive.
Eyes still on Jack, he responded. "The cells are damaged, we’re
already running low on juice. We go back, slide into orbit, wait for
the sun to come up and pick up some more. Comprende?"
Jack nodded and Imam responded simply. "If you think that is
best, Mr. Riddick. We are in your hands."
Riddick snorted and looked back at him, and for a brief moment their
gazes met. The blatant honesty in both Imam’s tone and his
expression unsettled Riddick. He'd had lives in his hands before, but
now the decision wasn’t whether or not to end them, but whether or
not he should help them survive. I am a long way from home in
a whole new fucking sense of the notion.
Jack’s eyes were still fixed on him. He could tell she was terrified
and trying hard not to show it. Tough kid.
"Relax, kid," he said, easing up on the throttle and slowing
their approach. "Do me a favor, keep an eye out for debris.
Any really big crap floatin' around out there, give me a
Jack’s face brightened and she nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Sir," muttered Riddick, flashing her a sideways glance. She
didn’t see him, her attention already focused on her task.
When he felt the planet’s gravity take the ship, Riddick set the
skiff nose into the orbit and shut down everything but life support to
conserve power. Working up to the effort he hauled himself out of the
pilot’s seat, right hand gripping the back of it to keep steady.
Time to take care of number one.
Jack's eyes were on him as he fumbled his way past Imam toward the
rear of the cabin.
"Your back is all scratched up," she pointed out.
"Thanks, Professor," he muttered in return, glancing about
Imam stood and retracted the foldout seat, revealing beneath it a
silver briefcase marked with a red cross. He held it out wordlessly
and Riddick took it, disguising the sudden weakness in his knees by
pretending to deliberately lower himself to the floor.
Sitting with his legs on either side of the case, he flipped the
latches and popped it open. Fully stocked, but twenty-two years old.
Maybe older. The bandages were all right. He plucked the faded box
from the case and dropped it on the floor beside him. A sniff of the
antiseptic told him that using the stuff would be worse than letting
his wounds fester. Antibiotic ointment gone crusty in the tube. A row
of tiny glass capsules filled with thick, discolored liquid and
bubbles. Still labeled, but useless. At least a couple of them would
have done him some good.
But where there were ampoules there were syringes and he was lucky
enough to have brought along some juice of his own.
"Thank you, Mr. Johns." The words rumbled low in his throat
as he lifted the slender metal box from the case and snapped it open.
Reaching into his pocket he withdrew a single red shotgun shell.
Jack and Imam exchanged puzzled glances that turned to curiosity as
Riddick popped the end off the shell with his thumb and dumped out two
small glass capsules.
At least, he thought, lifting an ampoule and loading it into
the gun. I’ll be feeling no pain.
Jack rubbed her eyes and glanced around the
dimly lit cabin. Shifting in her seat, she sought a less
sleep-friendly position. She was tired, but more than that she was
terrified of what she saw when she closed her eyes.
She studied her sleeping companions; oddly comforted by their
presence. Imam slept with hands folded beneath his head as for a
pillow, snoring softly and wearing an expression of utter peace. Jack
Her eyes turned to Riddick’s hulking form, his back to the raised
ramp, big arms folded across his chest. In sleep his face lost all
trace of hardness and she marveled at the transformation.
Long, dark lashes rested on cheeks reddened by his time in the harsh
sunlight. The first in quite some time, she guessed. His breath was
quiet and even, drawn through slightly parted lips and rasping softly
in his dry throat. It wasn't the sleep of the innocent but peaceful in
a way she could not imagine him looking when he was awake.
Jack believed Johns at first. Her dad had read about Riddick in the
paper more that once. Indiscriminate murder of lawmen and civilians.
Violent escapes. Cannibalism. It had fled her mind in the face
of one thing. He came back for her. Not once but twice.
She was convinced that everything would be okay because he
wouldn’t let anything happen to her. Only the tense moments of fear
she’d spent huddled in the cave had caused her faith in him to
waver. When he’d returned she’d felt a pang of guilt for doubting
In a flash of inspiration she took a deep breath, slid from her seat
and crept toward him. Two steps. Four. She paused just out of
This is crazy...
Inching forward she felt the tiny hairs prickle on the back of her
neck. Even with her eyes closed she would have felt his presence. The
way a deer knows a lion is hunkered in the bush, waiting. Maybe it’s
not hungry now, but better to err on the side of caution.
Fuck caution, she thought, the voice in her head boasting far
more bravado than she felt. He’s not gonna hurt me.
Close enough now to feel the warmth of his skin, she was sure the
pounding of her heart would be enough to wake him. But he slept
on, even as she lowered herself to the floor beside him. Her leg
brushed his and he flinched, brow furrowing as he shifted his weight
and resettled. She waited until his breath returned to the deep,
constant rhythm of sleep, then snuggled close and lay her head on the
bare skin of his arm. Thus armed against the demons that plagued her
memory, Jack fell fast asleep.
Back at Bryant Hall there was a kid named Eller.
Christopher Eller -- bully-in-residence. He made the rounds, shaking
down the other kids for whatever they had. That was precious little.
If you wanted something you had to give something up for it. For
Big Chris Eller, that something to give was a heaping helping of whup
ass. As a result most were willing to part with their meager
belongings without accepting anything in return.
Then came the new kid; the skinny boy with skin like cream and
chocolate who sauntered into the gym on his first day and stole the
ball right from under the hand that dribbled it. His eyes shone with
dark mischief and his easy confidence and humor drew the other boys to
Eventually, Eller worked his way around to the new guy. Chris was tall
and broad-shouldered and at fifteen weighed about one seventy-five. A
little soft in the middle but a truly imposing figure to a skinny
twelve-year-old six inches shorter and one-oh-two soaking wet with
rocks in his pockets.
"Gimme your hat, Dickey," he demanded.
The other boys backed away, but not only did the new kid stand
his ground, he didn’t even stop dribbling the basketball. "Fuck
The collective gasp from the sidelines made the smaller boy smile.
Chris took a swipe at him and he ducked under, keeping up the steady
beat of the ball on the gym floor. He shot the ball hard and fast at
the back of Chris’ head, hitting him square and causing him to
stumble forward. Howling with rage, Eller spun and threw himself at
the other boy again and again, never so much as brushing him with his
"C’mon, you fat bag of shit," taunted the younger boy,
tossing the ball from hand to hand. "Come get it."
The shocked silence of the other children began to give way to shouts
"Kick his ass, Dickey!"
"Stop calling me Dickey, or I’m kicking yours next,
They cheered louder. Eller, face red and contorted with anger, charged
him again. This time he came up with a handful of the other boy’s
shirt. He yanked hard, sending Dickey sprawling and planted a meaty
fist square in the middle of his stomach.
As the younger boy lay doubled, gasping for breath, Eller whipped the
hat from his head and straightened with a look of glowing
satisfaction. He held the red cap by the bill and pulled it on. His
gaze flicked back to Dickey just in time to spot the scuffed, orange
ball heading for his face. Too late to stop it.
His nose broke with a loud crunch and Big Chris Eller, the terror of
Bryant Hall Juvenile Holding Facility, crumbled to the floor, hands
over his face and wailing like an infant. The other boy got to his
feet, then leaned over to snatch the hat from Eller’s head and
replace it on his own as the other kids crowded around to congratulate
Half awake, Riddick shifted against the wall and
flexed the arm Jack had borrowed, wincing as it was engulfed by the
pins and needles of returning circulation. His mouth was dry and his
lip cracked painfully as he yawned, inspiring a soft but colorful
curse. He was stiff and sore and his ass was numb from resting his
tailbone on the cold, hard floor. There was no doubt in his mind King
Morphine was gone and he was feeling every one of the aches and pains
he’d earned in the last few days.
He looked down at Jack’s bare head; the makeshift goggles slung
around her neck; the way she slept against him, tucked into the curve
of his arm. He had to stop it. She’d come to trust a man performing
under extraordinary circumstances, not the one that usually resided in
his skin. There were things she hadn’t seen and things she didn’t
know and that he sure as shit wasn’t going to tell her; any number
of which would have revealed the true nature of the man she’d chosen
Still, it was comforting to feel her warmth and her soft skin against
his own scratched and battered hide and to know that even if only for
a day or two, someone had willingly put their life in his bloodstained
The light in the cabin shifted and grew brighter, drawing his
attention to the broad windscreen. His brow creased and he
straightened, waking Jack in the process.
"Move, kid," he said, pushing her aside and lurching to his
feet. His injured leg gave way and he stumbled across the deck to the
pilot’s seat. The heavy thudding of his boots woke Imam as well and
the holy man sat up quickly.
"What is it?" he asked, blinking away the last cobwebs of
"Fuck me," Riddick rumbled. Then he started to laugh. It was
a deep, unnatural sound, devoid of humor and reverberating almost
painfully loud in the tight space of the cabin.
Jack leapt to her feet and rushed to join him. Imam took his time,
standing, smoothing his robes -- in no rush to view the sight that had
prompted Riddick’s response.
The large ringed planet had begun to move away, bathing the planet
they'd left in warm, yellow light.
"Whoo, that’s rich." Riddick shielded his eyes and turned,
still chuckling softly as he fumbled around for his goggles. Strapping
them on, he did another run-up on the main drive. Enough juice for a
controlled re-entry. "Nine and a half hours," he said,
glancing back at Imam.
"It had seemed the darkness would last longer," the older
man shrugged. His looked saddened.
Jack dropped into the co-pilot’s seat.
"No way we coulda held out that long," she said, shaking her
head and raising her own set of yellow-rimmed goggles against the
harsh light of the sun.
Riddick glanced at her. The frightened creature that had boarded the
skiff hours ago had vanished along with the darkness and Jack’s
features now reflected eager energy and obvious relief.
"Ladies and gentlemen," began Riddick. "The captain has
put on the ‘fasten seatbelts sign’. Please return to your seats,
fasten your seatbelts and return your tray tables to their full,
Jack held her breath as the ramp lowered. The
air was still shaking off the unaccustomed chill and the breeze that
swept into the small cabin made her shiver. She suspected, though,
that her reaction had little to do with the cold.
"Beach is open," Riddick’s voice rolled through the cabin,
making Jack start. She glanced back at him and was met by a broad,
toothy grin as he added, "Watch for sharks."
Descending the ramp slowly, her eyes fell on the place where Shazza
had been snatched screaming into the sky and she shuddered. Imam
placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as though he had seen the
horror in her thoughts.
"Step carefully, child," he cautioned, pointing toward the
newly revealed suns. She followed his gaze, squinting behind the
goggles until she saw it. Dark spots on the ground. Holes where the
ground had collapsed.
"Oh, great," she muttered, setting her feet cautiously on
the dusty ground. Jack made her way toward the forward cabin of the
wrecked ship, watching each step carefully until she’d made it most
of the way. If this bad boy hitting the ground hadn’t knocked
anything loose over here then her weight sure as hell wasn’t going
to do it.
The Sandkat was still parked by the open door, the plastic dome of its
solar collector gleaming as the blades spun beneath it, charging the
battery. Jack shot it a dirty look for not working when they’d
really needed it.
On the other side of the ship entire walls had been torn away,
flooding the inside with sunlight. Not so, here. Jack placed one foot
on the deck and prepared to step inside.
"Wait!" Imam’s voice boomed across the sand. Jack withdrew
her foot and whirled, heart pounding.
"What?" she yelled back.
Imam was running toward her, hand outstretched and now he lowered it
and slowed to a hurried walk. He came to a stop beside her,
winded. Riddick stood on the ramp of the skiff, watching them.
"Just ‘cause it ain’t dark out here don’t mean it ain’t
dark in there," his voice carried though he did not shout.
"Use your fucking head."
Jack’s face reddened. She glared at Riddick through the darkness of
her goggles but he turned away, receding into the shadows of the
"Come with me," Imam broke the awkward silence. He climbed
into the driver’s seat of the Sandkat. "We must return to the
settlement and bring back as much water as we can."
She glanced at the skiff and back to Imam. "But..."
"I will need your help," he said, gently clapping a hand to
"Yeah, I just..."
Imam followed her troubled gaze to the skiff. "If he decides to
abandon us, child, do you believe that our presence here will prevent
it?" he said softly.
"That’s not what I was gonna say," she scowled, pulling
herself into the seat beside him.
The Sandkat roared to life beneath them. Jack crossed her arms and
leaned back, swinging her feet up onto the dash. When they didn’t
start moving after a few moments, she glanced at Imam. "You sure
you know how to drive this thing?"
"No," he said plainly, frowning at the controls. "But
how difficult can it be?"
With that, the vehicle lurched forward, nearly rolling Jack out of her
seat. It wavered and jerked for a few yards then straightened and
plowed on in the direction of sunrise.
of the DEATH MAIDEN
RETURN TO ENTRY
The characters of Fry, Imam, Jack and Riddick belong to USA films.
No copyright infringement is intended. The rest are mine