Riddick stood before the open door,
peering into the dimly lit interior of the ship. He
chewed his lower lip, thinking. Nothing moved in there.
Didnt matter. He could smell them, crouched within,
waiting for darkness to come again. Theyd be dead
long before it did but he wasnt up to waiting them
High-pitched shrieks filled the air and Jack leapt hurriedly away from the source of the sound. The open slats of the window covering let in the brilliant sunlight and the creatures hiding inside had gone into a frenzy; slashing and biting and flinging themselves wildly about as their flesh bubbled and dissolved in the merciless light of day.
It had been one thing keeping the creatures at bay out in the open but within the confines of the ship they had nowhere to go when the light
In the back of the Sandkat water sloshed in big, red, plastic fuel containers, sliding toward the back and bumping against the low tailgate. There hadn't been anything useful in the kitchen; it all had been rusted or broken or both. But in a small shed they'd come across the five plastic containers, intact and for the most part clean. Beside them, packed carefully in a small crate were six crystal wine glasses.
Unable to pass through the canyon, Imam had turned the Sandkat up a small embankment that rose to an endless, flat plain littered with chunks of glistening rock. It wasn't the way they'd come, but it made for a smoother ride.
"Tell me something about yourself," said Imam suddenly, offering her an affable smile.
Jack turned her goggled eyes on him, a small crease in her brow. "Like what?"
"Anything at all," he replied. "Where did you come from?"
Jack's chest tightened. If she told him where she'd come from, would he try to send her back? She considered lying, but decided it wasn't worth it. Besides, she'd already done enough of it on this trip to last a lifetime.
"Miami, Florida," she responded. "But my folks moved around a lot."
"Where are they now?"
"I don't know," she shrugged.
He nodded as though her response had yielded some crucial insight. Jack tensed in expectation of his next question, pretending to fiddle purposefully with the laces of her boots.
"Were you not afraid, traveling alone?"
"Nope," she shook her head. Relieved, she turned to look at him and smiled. "Guess I should've been, though, huh?"
Following the canyon eventually led them to the place where they'd entered it the night before. Jack took hold of the roll bar and stood, squinting at something that tumbled across the dirt, driven by the hot breeze. She leapt from the moving vehicle and chased it down, planting a foot on it to keep it from escaping.
The Kat pulled up beside her and lurched to a stop. "What is it?"
Jack stood with it in her hand and regarded it for a moment. It was a thick, creased sheet of paper smeared with dirt and blood and indented with an official-looking seal. Familiar words leapt out at her, chief among them the names Johns, William K. and Riddick, Richard B. It was the permit that had allowed Johns to carry weapons and transport his prisoner on board the Hunter-Gratzner. It stated, in short, that the Foster Corporation, listed as the owner of the vessel, had been forwarded a complete list of the charges against Riddick and had full and complete knowledge of what they were getting into by allowing him on board.
Somehow Jack doubted that.
"Paperwork," she said finally. "Belonged to Johns." She glanced in the direction from which it had come. "We should go see if we can find the sled. There was some food on it. Maybe it's still there."
* * *
The sled had overturned, which was fortunate, for its contents had been beneath it, protected during the night's wild rampage. Water had swept some of it away, but the important part remained -- several flat, silver packages resembling soldiers' field rations. Jack stooped to gather them into her arms. When she looked up, Imam was gone. She dumped the packs into the Kat and trotted off through the tall rocks to search for him.
"Imam?" she called.
"Stay where you are, please," he replied from somewhere nearby. Jack ignored the request and moved warily toward his voice. She found him, eyes closed and face turned toward the sun, his lips moving in a silent prayer. It took a moment for her eyes to register what he'd found. Johns. All that remained of him was splintered bone and hunks of bloodless flesh scattered over the ground like the leavings of some macabre picnic.
Jack's stomach churned and she fought back waves of nausea that threatened to overwhelm her. Finally, she tore her eyes away and began to pace out a wide circle, scanning the ground. Not far away was a plastic box with the lid open. It still held a few shells; four with black casings and six with red. She found the gun as well, lifting it by the end of the handle and holding it with the tips of her fingers as though it were a dead rat.
A glint among the rocks caught her eye and she edged toward it. Setting both down, she squatted beside the half-buried object and brushed away the dirt with her fingers. It was a knife with a short, curved blade and a black handle. She turned to see Imam approaching. Slipping the knife quickly into her pocket, Jack took up the box and gun and got to her feet.
Imam regarded the weapon with a look of thinly veiled distaste.
"What?" asked Jack. "Oh. Thought we might need it."
"Let us hope not," he replied.
As though to punctuate his sentence a loud roar resonated across the plain and shook the ground beneath their feet. Jack's heart pounded wildly against her ribs as she frantically sought the source of the sound. She looked to Imam, and her voice wavered as she asked, "What's that?"
He blinked for a moment, then realization dawned visibly on his dark features. "If I am not mistaken," he said flatly. "It is the engines of our craft."
Jack leapt from her seat and hit the ground running. Imam shouted after her but his words were lost in the thunder of the skiff's engines. A searing wind kicked up a cloud of dirt that stung her exposed skin and she put up a hand to shield her eyes as she dashed to the front of the ship.
Through the windscreen she saw Riddick leaning on the dash, goggles raised and one hand up to keep the sun from his eyes. She was sure he didn't see her and she stood frozen, afraid that he would look up from the controls but equally afraid that he wouldn't. Panic squeezed her heart with icy fingers despite her mind's repeated assurances. He's not leaving he's not leaving he's not...
After a moment the high whine of the engines began to drop off as they powered down.
* * *
"Mind the engines, child!"
Imam winced at his own words though even he had barely heard them. It would have been easier to remember his promise had he something to call her other than "Jack".
It was clear to him the girl was torn between a child's innocent trust and her fear of the man she'd chosen to place it in. A deduction less the work of the holy man than the student of psychology he had once been. Neither study, he supposed, would gain him much insight into the mind or soul of his other companion.
Thus, it was not entirely without his own sense of relief that he heard the skiff's engines cease their noise. Jack scuttled to the rear of the ship as the ramp unlocked with a loud hiss and began to descend. Riddick stepped on and rode it to the ground, his expression unreadable.
As the two of them made their way toward the Sandkat, Imam watched with uncertain amusement as Jack took two or three steps to every one of Riddick's, determined to keep up. He hoped fervently that she would not choose to do so in all things.
"Whadda we got here?" Riddick muttered as he inspected their findings. Spying the shotgun, he snatched it up and checked the chamber. Flicking open the box of shells, he loaded the four black ones. When Jack frowned at him he lifted a red shell and shook it. "Red ones come with a candy surprise." She nodded understanding as he put it back and snapped the box shut.
Next Riddick lifted one of the crystal glasses and flicked it with his fingernail, producing a high-pitched 'ting'. "Now we're livin' in style."
Jack laughed out loud. Both men turned to look at her and she glanced from one to the other. "What?"
Chuckling, Riddick returned to his investigation. "Ooh," he said, holding up a handful of silver packets. "Mmm. Ain't lived till you've had fucking vacuum packed spaghetti." He tossed it to Jack who tore her eyes away from him just long enough to catch it. Turning another over in his hands he read, "Salisbury steak. Oh, yeah. Any actual meat in here? May contain one or more of the following...Aw, who gives a shit?"
He tore it open and squeezed the contents to the top, gulping them hurriedly.
"How is it?" asked Jack.
"Tastes like shit," he deadpanned. "Have some."
Imam could not repress a chuckle. "I will take your good spirits as a good sign."
Riddick shrugged as he twisted the top off of one of the large, plastic containers. "Well, hell," he began, filling one glass and starting another. "No chains, no bit, no Boss Man. Damn good to be able to take a piss when I please."
The holy man nodded. "That is understandable." He watched the container shake slightly as Riddick poured a third glass and set it down hard beside the others. "Now that there is water, we should see to your wounds."
"I'll live," replied Riddick, lifting his glass and tossing it back in one swallow.
"As you wish."
Jack hopped back onto the Kat and draped herself over a seat. Imam held out a glass to her as she pulled open the silver pouch and regarded its contents with obvious distaste.
They ate silently for a time, surrounded by an unfamiliar but welcome air of comfort. Finally, Imam stood and straightened his robes. "If you both will excuse me, I must pray."
THE CREW of the DEATH MAIDEN
RETURN TO ENTRY PAGE