by Jules





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. Didn’t matter. He could smell them, crouched within, waiting for darkness to come again. They’d be dead long before it did but he wasn’t up to waiting them out.

The power cells were two levels down where there was no light at all. He could see easily enough. But five cells meant three trips at least, with his hands full. He’d wait until the others came back. If he was lucky they’d find Johns’ big gauge. He was pretty damn sure they wouldn’t find much of Johns.

His lip quirked, almost a smile. Stupid, dead bastard. Johns used to be something; the only man that had caught up with Riddick more than once. Now he was lizard shit. "Home free, brother," he muttered, turning away from the entrance.

The sun glinted off the skiff’s windscreen and caught his eye. Momentarily blinded, he stumbled and fell hard in the dirt. "Fuck!" he growled, struggling to his feet again. It was more than his eyes.  He hadn't been in the sun for years.  And Johns hadn’t taken the bit out of his mouth long enough to give him a drink for two days before they boarded the ship. The best he’d done was a glass of that cloudy shit they’d gotten yesterday and all the foul-tasting rain he could manage to choke down when he wasn’t running for his life.

Or someone else’s, the voice in his head reminded.

He kicked at a rock and sent it whirling away. "Fuck you," he said to no one in particular.

What the hell was his deal? Had he risked his ass to save Jack or just out of sheer desire to kick the living shit out of something? Maybe both. It was no knee-jerk reaction to another being's peril, that was for damn sure. He’d fought past his instincts every step of the way. Hadn’t done it for Zeke or Shazza, or the Brit with the good taste in booze.

They're dead because they were stupid, he thought. Man’s and nature’s way of weeding out the unworthy. Jack had a good head on her shoulders. She’d had the good sense to stick next to him, after all.

He laughed out loud. Who the hell was he kidding? If human flesh didn’t taste like shit he’d cook her and eat her when he got hungry enough. Sure as hell couldn’t eat those ugly bastards lurking in the dark. Anything smelled that bad couldn’t be healthy for a body.

He picked up a rock and side armed it down the passage that lead to the buried bowels of the ship. It clanged and spun and banked around a corner into the darkness, causing a flurry of unseen movement and an eerie whooping that echoed in the metal cavern.

He needed light. Raising an eyebrow he turned back to the skiff, eyeing the big, white headlamps on the outer hull.



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.

"Whoa," she said simply. 

Throughout the settlement, the sound repeated itself as she and Imam opened all of the windows they could, flooding the buildings with sunlight. 

"I think I found the kitchen!" she shouted over her shoulder. Peering through a cracked and dusty window she made out what looked like a big double sink. Pots and pans hung above it on a crooked rack that dangled crazily from its two remaining hooks. 

"See if there are any containers inside," Imam returned, heading toward her. "And enter carefully, please." 

"Yeah, no shit," Jack muttered to herself. She poked her head inside the door near the big windows. Inside it was bright enough to hurt her eyes, but she left the goggles up, searching every corner, every spot that could serve as a hiding place. She picked up a cracked plastic pitcher and lobbed it to the center of the room. Nothing. Convinced the room was empty, she stepped farther inside. 

The place looked as though it had been left in a hurry and knowing the reason why didn't make it any less unnerving. She headed for a pair of swinging double doors in the back of the room and Imam quickened his pace to arrive in front of her. He opened his mouth to utter yet another word of caution and she cut him off.

"It's okay," she said. "There's light under the doors."

They each pushed in one side and a small, surprised sound escaped Jack's throat. The thin, metal ceiling had been shredded and peeled back in several places like a sardine tin someone had tried to open with a chisel. The floor was covered in a layer of wet sand and a large puddle of the previous night's rain had formed at its center.

Jack saw none of this. She was barely aware of Imam's quietly uttered prayer as her eyes fixed on the bleached bones scattered on the floor of the small storage room. She counted five skulls, most of them broken, with ragged, parallel gouges taken out of the bone. 

It wasn't difficult for Jack to imagine the last moments of these peoples' lives, cowering in this small space, perhaps in the dark, waiting for death to break through and put an end to their terror. She felt a sort of guilty pride in the fact that she had not huddled in the dark to await it but had faced it head-on -- even if most of those who had faced it with her had not survived. No, she thought, because they hadn't. 

"Come, child," Imam's voice broke the spell and she whirled on him.

"Stop calling me that," she snapped. 

He nodded, pacific as ever. "As you wish," he replied. "We should get on with our task before Mr. Riddick comes to think that we have abandoned him."

Jack stuck her hands in her pockets. "Think he'd care?" she asked, dreading the answer. 

She tried not to look surprised when Imam replied without hesitation, "Yes, I do."



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 struck them. 

The first time Riddick thrust the ship's headlight into the dark corridor they battered the inner walls with their flailing bodies and filled the air with the deafening sounds of their agony. 

"Meat grinder," he muttered. 

After a time they settled, withdrawn again into darkness. He turned off the big light in favor of a smaller one he'd also removed from the skiff along with three more just like it. Moving cautiously forward, he squinted past the brightness to see them retreating. As long as he moved slowly it seemed they would do the same. 

Pausing, he fixed one small light and its battery pack so that it pointed down the corridor and another so that it would illuminate the first stairwell. Things skittered away from the circle of light on the deck below, but his body would block some of it out and he turned on another. Descending slowly, he heard their clawed feet scratching on the metal surface.

"That's right," he whispered roughly. "Best back the fuck up."

Riddick tied another of the smaller lights to the railing and turned it so that it shone down the next set of stairs. Switching on the last of them he crept down the stairs, keenly aware of the movement around him. The door at the bottom was still open and he shone the light inside, causing a stir. 

There was a long, narrow corridor before the door to the power room. Riddick stepped into it, glancing quickly in both directions. Not too crowded, he noted with relief. He pointed the beam upward so the light diffused against the ceiling and formed a protective circle around him. Loud whoops filled the corridor as the creatures hovered just beyond the light, sounding him out. He moved slowly, bones and muscles creaking. The space was tight and he knew full well that if the animals were spooked there was no way for him to avoid being ground up in their midst. He wasn't frightened. After all, he'd been locked up in smaller, darker places with meaner things than these.

He paused at the door and peered inside. Small room. Good. Empty. Even better. Once inside, he set the big light on the floor and pushed it into the hall, lens pointed toward the ceiling. In one swift motion he flicked it on, withdrew into the room and slammed the door shut.

Like a stick of dynamite dropped into a pond, it caused everything to float to the surface. The corridor outside was filled instantly with ear-splitting screeches. The thick metal door shook as the frantic animals slammed each other into the bulkheads in an attempt to escape the searing light. 

"Fuck you, too!" Riddick shouted to the other side of the door.

He sat for a time with his back against the door, knees drawn up and elbows resting on them. He closed his eyes and listened to them scream, the ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. 



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."

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The characters of Fry, Imam, Jack and Riddick belong to USA films.  
No copyright infringement is intended.  The rest are mine all mine.